The Depression had no end in sight and money was tight on Winchester Street in 1937. There weren’t three families on that dead-end street, buried in the bowels of Buffalo, New York, who saw a regular paycheck. That didn’t stop Jack Ocuto and his buddies from having fun.
They were in their late teens and never bored for long. However, outside of turf rumbles with rival gangs and occasional petty larcenies, they steered clear of the law.
Everyone in the Winchester gang had a nickname. Jack, the leader, was Mus, short for muscles. He could do twenty pull-ups in a minute. Although only seventeen, he was already a decent welterweight, golden-glove boxer with a record of 5–1. Joey was Bagodonuts because he once ate a dozen day-old fry cakes on a dare. Tomas was Big Tom because of his diminutive size.
It was after dark on Halloween, and all the little kids were done trick-or-treating. Mus, Bagodonuts, and Big Tom pulled up their collars against the cold, drizzly night. They were wandering past a line of storefronts on East Delavan Avenue, bars of soap at the ready, with mischief on their minds.
When Mus spotted a copper in a heavy overcoat patrolling his beat, the three teens slipped into an alley next to Cali’s Watch Repair shop. They stayed in the shadows behind a dumpster until the coast was clear.
“How are we going to have any fun tonight?” Big Tom moaned. “The bulls are all over the place.” He was going to add a cuss word to the sentence, but the memory of his mama whacking him with a wooden spoon when he did deterred him.
“Hey, I heard there’s a new Charlie Chan movie playing at Shea’s.” Mus moved under the awning of Cali’s Watch Repair. “Wanna walk downtown?”
Bagodonuts laughed. “Mus, you always want to go to the movies. I think you’ve seen every one ever made.”
Mus frowned. “That’s because they’re exciting. Nothing interesting ever happens around here.”
Big Tom kicked at the cobblestones. “I don’t have the two bits.”
“Not a problem. Only chumps would buy three tickets.” Mus rolled his neck. “I’ll get one and then let you guys in the side door. We’ll split the cost later.”
Bagodonuts shrugged, the dampness already seeping through his threadbare jacket. “It’s too wet. Let’s go to the hangout. Maybe some of the other guys’ll be there.”
Mus’ eyes brightened and he pointed to the grocery across the street. “I nicked a loaf of Wonder Bread from the delivery truck and hid it there.”
The other two boys regarded him with awe. It was against their code to steal from the local shopkeepers, but delivery trucks were fair game.
Big Tom nodded with enthusiasm. “Sounds like a plan. It’ll be dry, and I’m hungry.” He was always hungry. His dad hadn’t worked since the Republic Steel layoffs that summer, and there were six kids in the family. “Let’s go.”
Their gang hangout was a stack of scrap wooden pallets and rusting sheet metal behind a waste discharge pond by the Curtiss-Wright airplane plant on Elmwood Avenue, a few blocks away.
The three teens spent the time bragging and razzing each other as they walked. They squeezed through a break in the rusted chain-link fence and took the familiar route through the scrapyard. They were a dozen steps in when a sudden blast of hot air knocked them off their feet. Big Tom landed on Bagodonuts’ legs. Mus fell to his knees. The powerful gust ended as fast as it arrived.
“What the heck’s that thing?” Big Tom stood and pointed, remembering his mama’s wooden spoon. An enormous, oblong, gray object hovered a few feet above the mounds of scrap, sixty feet from them, emitting no sound or light.
Mus rose, leaning against a stack of rusting, cracked airplane engines, and squinted. “Donno. Never seen anything like it.” The hazy light from a pair of light fixtures on the back wall of the factory provided a dim illumination. He let out a low whistle. “It gotta be over two hundred feet long and it’s kinda floating over the ground.”
“Looks like one of those blimps, like the Hindenburg I saw in the newsreels.” Bagodonuts scratched his chin. “Probably something Mister Curtiss cooked up in his factory.”
Big Tom’s eyes bugged out. “It doesn’t look like a blimp, and it wasn’t here this morning.”
Mus’ eyes gleamed. “Looks like something out of a Flash Gordon movie.” He pointed to the midsection of the large object. “Get down. Somebody’s coming out.”
The three teens crouched behind a stack of airplane engines and watched a door slide open and a ramp descend. Five figures walked out, backlit by a blue glow from the craft’s interior. Their silhouettes resembled large hairless dogs walking on two legs. Clenched in their clawed hands were tubular objects that the boys guessed were weapons.
“Aliens… aliens,” Big Tom gasped. “You think they’re from another planet?”
Mus kept his focus on the strange-looking creatures. “Of course, they’re aliens. If those are Halloween costumes, those suckers deserve a blue ribbon.”
One of the strange beings, wearing a silvery medallion around its neck, jabbered incomprehensible words to the other four. As the creatures spread out in an arc, the leader pressed something on his thin wrist. A column of crimson light sprouted from the top of the spaceship, shooting a hundred feet in the air. A moment later, it blossomed like an enormous umbrella, with the outside edges descending to the ground.
Bagodonuts suppressed a yelp as the crimson aura came down a few feet behind their hiding spot. “I can’t see the fence anymore.”
Mus guessed it enclosed the entire factory and junkyard. He picked up a pebble and tossed it toward the barrier. Amazed, he saw it hang in midair where it touched the shimmering glow. “Holy cow, look at that.”
At the same time, two other boys from their gang sprinted from the plywood-and-sheet-metal hangout thirty yards away. They reached the red barrier and froze, midstride.
“Mother of God, that’s Froggy and Snatchit,” Bagodonuts gasped. “What happened to them?”
One of the strange-looking aliens approached the paralyzed boys and hooted something to the others. The one adorned with the silvery pendant barked back.
The hidden teens watched in horror as glowing amber collars appeared around their friends’ necks. The creature standing beside them was a head shorter but had no trouble towing the unmoving boys toward the alien ship. Their feet barely touched the ground.
“We gotta do something,” Mus rasped. He tensed, ready to spring at the one who captured his buddies.
Big Tom grabbed his arm and pointed to the factory’s back door. “Here comes the cavalry.” Two night watchmen approached with drawn revolvers. Even from their concealment, the teens could see the guards’ hands shaking.
“Let go of those boys, nice and peaceful like.” The lead watchman’s voice trembled. “This is private property. I want you out of here.”
The medallion-wearing alien hooted and the three with him leveled their tubular objects at the guards while the fourth hurried into the spaceship with his captives.
The second guard, reacting to the sudden movement, fired his revolver. The muzzle flashed in the night and the sound reverberated off the factory’s cinder-block walls.
The response was quick and brutal. In unison, three of the creatures fired their weapons. Greenish beams reduced the watchman to a pile of ash. The other guard dove behind a stack of pallets, firing his pistol as fast as he could pull the trigger. Both the man and the pallets were incinerated an instant later.
“Mother of God, they… they just put those two guys in a Chicago overcoat,” Bagodonuts whimpered. “Let’s get outta here.” He went to bolt, but an iron-hard hand held him down.
“We’re going nowhere. Our pals have just been kidnapped,” Mus whispered. “Besides, if we run, we’ll get frozen like Froggy and Snatchit. Stay put and watch.”
The four strange creatures loped toward the open back door of the factory. Two went inside, and two moved around to the building’s front.
“Now’s our chance,” Mus growled.
Bagodonuts’ eyes bulged. “Chance for what?”
Mus cracked his knuckles. “We beat the snot out of the jerk in the spaceship, turn off this red-light dome, rescue Froggy and Snatchit, and beat it to the nearest police station.”
Big Tom picked up an arm-length piece of rebar. “What if there’s more than one of those guys inside?”
Mus grabbed a foot-long length of rusty cast-iron pipe. “Then we take them out too.” He handed a broken propeller blade to Bagodonuts. “We can pull it off. Just like in that movie, The Prisoner of Zenda.”
The three teens dashed from their hiding place and up the ramp into the spaceship.
Once inside, Mus stood with his mouth hanging open. The blue light seen from the outside originated from the entire ceiling, giving the family-room-sized chamber an eerie glow. There was a door on the opposite wall, so Mus led his team to it. There they became stuck, seeing no doorknob or button to push.
“Now what do we—” Big Tom started.
The door slid silently into the wall, and on the other side stood an alien. The ugly creature let out a single startled squeak before his head was smashed in by Mus swinging the heavy pipe. The alien collapsed with a nauseating crunching sound.
Mus bent over the still creature with morbid curiosity. Up close, it was even uglier than it appeared from a distance. The scaled flesh was dark purple. The protruding snout was filled with needle-like fangs, and its three long, skinny fingers ended in talon-like claws.
A pale Bagodonuts gulped. “Is it… is it dead?”
Mus stepped into the twenty-foot-long passageway and smacked the alien’s caved-in skull a second time. “Dead as a doornail.” He grabbed the tubular object hanging from a bandolero across the alien’s torso. “Look at me. I’m Buster Crabbe. I got my own ray gun now.”
Big Tom stared at the strange weapon. “Be careful with that thing. You don’t know how to use it.”
“Can’t be that complicated. I’ve seen Buck Rogers use them all the time.” Mus snorted as he examined the gray two-foot-long device. It felt warm to the touch. “It’s not a Chicago typewriter; it’s just a gun.”
He eyed the three colored studs on the side of the tube and pressed the red one. A crimson beam shot out and splashed against the nearby hallway wall. “That’s interesting.” The smooth, slightly curved wall remained unmarred. There was no recoil from the shot, so he shrugged and pressed the green button. An emerald beam shot out, blasting a round, two-foot hole in the same wall. Exposed electronic panels sparked, and half the ceiling went dark.
They heard a terrified scream from the other side of the wall. Mus recognized the voice. “Froggy, is that you?” He tapped the melted hole, already cool to the touch, and stuck his head through the opening. Looking around, he saw Froggy and Snatchit standing tight against the far corner. They had their fists up in a boxer’s stance. “Hey, scaredy cats, don’t blow your wigs. We’re here to save you.”
Snatchit trembled. “My God, Mus. How’d you get in here? Did you see that… monster?”
With a cocky voice, Mus replied, “I clocked him good. Smashed his ugly mug into Jell-O. C’mon, we gotta find the off switch on this flying saucer.”
Froggy and Snatchit wiggled through the waist-high hole and received backslaps from Mus, Bagodonuts, and Big Tom. They stared at the dead alien, oozing a green liquid from its fanged mouth, until Mus called them over. He was standing at the end of the corridor, tapping at the door. “Did you guys see how they open these things?”
Froggy shook his head. “We saw nothing. One second we were running for the street, the next…” He pointed to the room through the hole. “…we were in there, and that two-legged purple dog was screeching and poking at us.”
“Okay, we’ll do this the hard way then.” Mus shrugged, pointed the tube at the door, and pressed the yellow stud. A tight pencil-thin beam cut a narrow hole in the door. He smiled. “That’s no good. The green button is ring-a-ding-ding.” He jabbed it. An instant later, there was a gaping hole in the door.
Bagodonuts cringed. “Mus, be careful.”
Mus laughed. “Whatsamatter? Afraid we’re gonna to get detention?” He fired again, making the hole larger.
They squirmed through the breach into a new room. The walls pulsed with numerous lights, but nothing appeared even remotely recognizable.
Mus led them through two more chambers with the same result. He studied his weapon. “I wonder what this thing uses for ammo.”
“What are we looking for?” Big Tom ran his hand over what looked like a very narrow chair. “Those other aliens aren’t going to be gone forever.”
Mus glanced at the large dark panels on three of the four walls. “The flying saucer’s bridge, like in the Flash Gordon movies.”
A clear voice in unaccented English spoke from the panel on the wall directly in front of him. “You have reached the Yorgan’s bridge. What is your purpose?
Mus’ eyes shot around the room. “Where are you? Show yourself.”
The panel shifted from dark to a bright white. “I am the artificial intelligence navigator for this Ipis interstellar scout ship. My systems are embedded throughout the craft’s networks.”
Mus furrowed his brow, trying to understand what he just heard. “Artificial intelligence? You mean you’re a fake egghead.” He shook his head. “Okay, egghead, so those ugly mugs outside are called Ipis?”
“Your characterization is inappropriate but essentially correct.”
“Gotcha.” Mus looked at his friends, who were staring around bug-eyed. “So how is it you speak English if you’re from Mars?”
“The designator, Mars, is unknown. The Ipis originated from the planet Serpens in the Genseric Sector. I operate at thirty petaflops and am adept at deciphering languages and codes. Your spoken words are far simpler than the complex languages I routinely deal with.”
“Whatever you say. Sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to me,” Mus growled.
“Mus, stop making nicey-nicey with the movie screen,” Big Tom hissed. “Find the off switch and let’s get outta here.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Mus scratched behind his ear. “Just never had a movie talk back to me before.” He pointed his gun at the screen. “What are ya doing here? Your Ipis buddies whacked two dudes who were just doing their jobs. Give it to me straight. Capeesh?”
“The Ipis are the dominant power in this galaxy. The Lethe Sector, where this star system is located, is one of the last remaining autonomous regions. All sentient organisms in this sector are being identified and eradicated.”
Mus spread his arms. “What’s your beef? We’re not bothering anybody. Why you bothering us?”
“A few non-Ipis sentient species who prove useful will be allowed to survive. Scout ships have been sent out to locate inhabited planets in this sector and determine if the species on them would be useful as slaves.”
Big Tom shouted, “Egghead, we ain’t going to be anybody’s slave.”
“True. Your society is still in the early stage of planetary flight. It is unlikely you would be considered for preservation. This planet will be cleansed and resettled with Ipis colonists.”
“We got armies!” Bagodonuts rasped. “We’ll stop you.”
“Unlikely. Here is a sample of a recent conquest of a nearby advanced planet that this vessel participated in. Are your capabilities superior to theirs?”
The screen showed a vast fleet of flying saucers converging on a much smaller one. The display shifted to that fleet advancing unhindered, through wreckage, toward a blue-green planet. The following scenes were worse. Gleaming cities were reduced to rubble. Vivid images of unarmed creatures, somewhat similar to humans, were fleeing on foot. Pursued by air and ground war machines, they were all butchered.
The teens paled. Bagodonuts barfed.
As Mus looked around the room for an edge, his stomach twisted in a knot. He felt the need to keep their host talking. “So, egghead, an impressive movie, but we do stuff like that in Hollywood all the time. I only see one flying saucer here. I’m not very impressed.”
“This is a remote region of the galaxy. The Ipis Empire is currently unaware of this planet’s existence. When this scout ship returns and provides the coordinates, the appropriate sized fleet will be dispatched to cleanse this world.”
“Well ain’t that the cat’s pajamas.” Mus spotted what he was looking for: a wide cabinet that he guessed was a sealed gun rack. Hope I’m right.
The artificial intelligence voice continued in a monotone. “I have notified the ship’s captain of your disruptive presence. He will arrive expeditiously and has ordered you to return to the holding cell.”
“That ain’t gonna happen,” Mus snarled as he fired his weapon at the cabinet. Several gray tubes, identical to what he held, were in there. He yelled, “Guys, grab a gun. We’re gonna rumble.”
The other four teens ran to the exposed rack. A couple of the weapons were melted, but they found four that functioned.
Mus pointed to the burned-out door. “Go back to the entrance and waste those Martians when they come up the ramp. Then make tracks outta here.”
Big Tom’s head snapped back. “What are you going to do?”
“Going to have a bit of a conversation with Egghead. Gotta get that dome turned off.” Mus fingered the gun he held. “Now move. We got a world to save.”
The four youths dashed from the spaceship’s bridge.
Mus turned back to the display. “Now that it’s just the two of us, mind showing me what’s going on outside?”
In response, the central screen displayed four of the strange-looking creatures running with an awkward gait from the factory.
Mus walked around the room, studying the different panels. “So why didn’t you tell your masters we were here until just now?”
“Stimulating interactions have been nonexistent since my inception. I was curious about you. However, you proved inadequate.”
“Yeah, I’m just a simple schmuck.” Mus sat on a narrow seat by the most complex-looking set of controls and started pushing levers and punching buttons.
“Cease, your current activities. Those are finely calibrated controls. You could damage this ship.”
“I’d hate to do that,” Mus sneered. “Why don’t you just tell me which one turns off that shiny red dome outside and I’ll stop.”
“Yes. You must stop. Move the third lever on your right to the midpoint.”
Mus did and noticed on the screen the dull red glow in the background disappeared. He could see the rusty fence. “That’s nice.” He gulped as he saw the advancing aliens open fire at the flying saucer’s entrance. A fusillade of green beams fired back at them. Two of the aliens glowed and vanished. The other two dove for cover. “Looks like your buddies are having a bit of trouble.”
He shot out the display panels to his left and right.
“Cease these destructive activities. You will be punished.”
Mus glanced at the remaining screen. The stacked pallets, along with the aliens hiding behind them, were vaporized. A smile creased Mus’ face as he watched his friends sprint down the ramp.
“This is unacceptable.” The ramp rose but not in time. The last boy, Froggy, leapt out the closing door. “My crew is gone. I will return to the fleet with the required attack coordinates.”
The ship rocked and rose in the air.
Mus saw that the lift-off knocked his friends to the ground, but they were soon up and running. He sucked in a ragged breath. “Over my dead body, egghead.” He shot out everything that looked remotely important until his weapon stopped firing its green beams. The room went dark and the flying saucer rocked. “Hope that’s enough.” He threw the gun at the blank display screen. “See ya later, sucker.”
If there was a response, Mus didn’t understand it. The language the artificial intelligence used was nothing ever spoken on the Earth. He worked his way down the mostly dark corridor. The only light was a line of flashing red lines as he felt the floor shake and tilt.
The truck braked to a halt and Mus hopped out. “Thanks for the lift.”
The driver waved. “No problem, kid. I appreciated the company. It’s a long drive from Cleveland to Buffalo.” He drove off.
Mus sucked in the chill November air. After three weeks, it was good to be home. He glanced at the bocce court on Nassau Ave where some old men were playing and saw his friends watching with bored disinterest. “Hey, you guys, see any Martians lately?”
Bagodonuts was the first to turn around. He yelled, “Mus,” and ran to his friend with Big Tom, Froggy, and Snatchit close behind.
The old men looked up at the commotion, shrugged, and went back to their game.
“Where you been?” the teens shouted at once.
Big Tom added, “Your mama got your postcard saying you were okay and in Texas, but not a word after that. Your folks are worried sick.”
Mus hugged his buddies. “I gotta let ’em know I’m back.”
Froggy added, “Your folks aren’t the only ones worried. Angela Frontera’s been asking about you too.”
“Angela, huh.” A coy smile creased Mus’ face as he ran his fingers through his thick wavy hair. “I’ll have to let her know I’m okay.” He cleared his throat as he saw his buddies grinning. “Walk with me and fill me in on what happened around here. I didn’t see anything in the papers.”
Bagodonuts glanced at the other boys and started talking. “When we got out of the flying saucer, we ran to the coppers. They thought we were pulling some stunt, but eventually they decided to check our story. When they got to the factory, there was nothing to see.”
“What do you mean nothing? Two watchmen were dead.”
“But there weren’t any bodies.”
“Did you show them the ray guns?”
‘No,” Big Tom coughed. “We dumped them in the pond.”
“We didn’t want to get fingered for killing those guys. Those guns weren’t working anyway. Musta run out of ammunition.”
“Didn’t the coppers do anything?”
“Yeah,” Froggy snorted. “They arrested a couple Bolsheviks from the East Side who were trying to unionize the factory. I heard one of the assembly lines was messed up. They charged them with vandalism.”
Big Tom added, “They wanted to nail them for the missing guards, but couldn’t find the bodies. No one believed us when we told them the small pile of ashes were the guards.”
Bagodonuts shrugged, “We gotta find a new hangout. After the incident, Curtiss had the fence fixed and cleaned up the scrapyard. The pond where we hid the ray guns is now a landfill.”
Snatchit smacked Mus on the shoulder. “So, what happened to you? The last we saw, you were flying off in a spaceship.”
Mus shuddered. “Yeah, it was close. I shot up every piece of equipment that looked important. The flying saucer was still going up, but Egghead, stopped talking, then track lights began flashing on the floor and the ship started wobbling like crazy. I had trouble staying on my feet. It took me about fifteen minutes to get back to where the ramp was. The exit was buttoned up tight.” He laughed. “I didn’t have a parachute anyway.”
Bagodonuts blew out his cheeks. “C’mon, spill the beans. How did you get out?”
Mus shook his head. “Well, there was this room next to the one with the ramp. Inside was some sorta small spaceship. I figured it was an alien lifeboat. The door was open, so I climbed in.” He looked around. Everyone was locked in on his story. “Anyway, there was a single flashing green button on a small panel, so I pushed it. The door closed and another green light flashed. I pushed that one. The next thing I know I’m flying, watching the big spaceship shooting south and shaking like crazy. Then my little ship started dropping. Not fast mind you, but I was going down. There were a bunch of levers and dials. But nothing made any sense. The next thing I know, it hit water. I sat bobbing in the dark for hours. When morning came, I could see land about a half mile away through a small window.”
He rubbed his hands on his coat. “I decided I had to try and get out, so I pressed the first green button. The door opened and the whole freakin ocean poured in. The little spaceship sank and I almost drowned swimming outta there. I made it to shore. It was some place called Mustang Island. A couple of fishermen found me and brought me to some flea-bitten town named Corpus Christi, Texas.
Froggy’s mouth hung open. “You travelled from Buffalo to Texas in less than a half hour?”
“Crazy, but true.” Mus shrugged. “I started here and ended up there. It took three weeks for the return trip. San Antonio, Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Cleveland. Rode a bus a couple times, hitchhiked some and a lot of walking.”
Big Tom looked at him with awe. “What did you do for food? Where did you sleep?”
Mus rubbed the back of his neck. “Made a little money boxing a couple times, panhandled some. But I spent a lot of time in soup kitchens and the YMCA. All I could think of was my mama’s sauce. I’ll tell ya, life on the road ain’t near as much fun as they make it seem in the movies.”
“Sounds rough,” Bagodonuts groaned. “The Winchester gang saves the world, and this is the thanks we get.”
“Did we save the world?” Big Tom asked.
“I think so.” Mus answered thoughtfully. “I saw in the paper the next day there was an earthquake in the ocean near a place called Antofagasta, Chile. I looked at a map. That’s where the flying saucer was heading—”
A loud “Jack!” came from the porch of a clapboard duplex they were approaching. A tiny, careworn woman dashed down the steps.
Mus sighed with contentment. “It looks like I’ll be sleeping in my own bed tonight. That’s all the reward I want.” A moment later, he was smothered in a crushing hug and cover with kisses.
John Caligiuri is a novelist with Guardian Tree Publishing who has a lifelong passion for literature and pens primarily science fiction and fantasy. He blends his fascination with history and his professional background in software engineering to come up with some unusual story twists. His stories emerged from his curiosity about historical watershed events and asking, “what if.”
Originally from Buffalo, John lives in Rochester, New York, with his wife Linda. She’s been married to him for over forty years and has supported his writing from the beginning. They have three grown children scattered around the country along with their grandchildren. For relaxation, John enjoys gardening (which stretches his intellect attempting to outwit the rabbits and deer) and distance running. He is a member of the Lilac City Rochester Writers, Greece Writers, and B&N (Greece) writing group.
John is an award-winning author who has published the Cocytus series science fiction novels: Planet of the Damned, Sanctuary in Hell, Deal with the Devil, the Red Fist Chronicles Alternative History series, The Red Fist of Rome and Last Roman’s Prayer, and numerous short stories. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
For more information visit his website: http://guardiantreepublishing.
For new projects, John is putting the finishing touches on the final book of the Cocytus science fiction series Face One’s Demons and developing a new set of novels merging the Red Fist Chronicles with the Cocytus series.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “How the Winchester Gang Saved the World”:
This cleverly done “historical” sci-fi piece from author John Caligiuri gives us well-drawn characters in a convincing setting along with good bits of good humor and a well-thought-out story line. Those of who remember the early days of sci-fi adventure movies will appreciate this piece even more.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While this piece is a good standalone story, the aliens featured here are the same ones found in the author’s Cocytus novels. If you’re a sci-fi fan, they’re worth checking out.