Steamboat Conan Part 1

The Scarlet Citadel except it’s Steamboat Willie

Robert E. Howard and Pauly Hart


A Trapped Rat

The roar of battle had died away; the shout of victory mingled with the cries of the dying. Like gay-hued leaves after an autumn storm, the fallen littered the plain; the sinking sun shimmered on burnished helmets, gilt-worked mail, silver breastplates, broken swords and the heavy regal folds of silken standards, overthrown in pools of curdling crimson. In silent heaps lay war-horses and their steel-clad riders, flowing manes and blowing plumes stained alike in the red tide. About them and among them, like the drift of a storm, were strewn slashed and trampled bodies in steel caps and leather jerkins--archers and pikemen.

The oliphants sounded a fanfare of triumph all over the plain, and the hoofs of the victors crunched in the breasts of the vanquished as all the straggling, shining lines converged inward like the spokes of a glittering wheel, to the spot where the last survivor still waged unequal strife.

That day Steamboat Willie, king of Rinkitink, had seen the pick of his chivalry cut to pieces, smashed and hammered to bits, and swept into eternity. With five thousand knights he had crossed the south-eastern border of Rinkitink and ridden into the grassy meadowlands of The Nome Kingdom, to find his former ally, King Mowgli of The Nome Kingdom, drawn up against him with the hosts of Doctor Moreau, king of Ev. Too late he had seen the trap. All that a man might do he had done with his five thousand cavalrymen against the thirty thousand knights, archers and spearmen of the conspirators.

Without bowmen or infantry, he had hurled his armored horsemen against the oncoming host, had seen the knights of his foes in their shining mail go down before his lances, had torn the opposing center to bits, driving the riven ranks headlong before him, only to find himself caught in a vise as the untouched wings closed in. Doctor Moreau's Mifketian bowmen had wrought havoc among his knights, feathering them with shafts that found every crevice in their armor, shooting down the horses, the Evian pikemen rushing in to spear the fallen riders. The mailed lancers of the routed center had re-formed, reinforced by the riders from the wings, and had charged again and again, sweeping the field by sheer weight of numbers.

The Rinkitinkens had not fled; they had died on the field, and of the five thousand knights who had followed Steamboat Willie southward, not one left the field alive. And now Willie himself stood at bay among the slashed bodies of his house­-troops, his back against a heap of dead horses and men. The Nome Kingdom knights in gilded mail leaped their horses over mounds of corpses to slash at the solitary figure; squat Mifkettians with blue-black beards, and dark-faced Evian knights ringed him on foot. The clangor of steel rose deafeningly; the black-mailed figure of the western king loomed among his swarming foes, dealing blows like a butcher wielding a great cleaver. Riderless horses raced down the field; about his iron-clad feet grew a ring of mangled corpses. His attackers drew back from his desperate savagery, panting and livid.

Now through the yelling, cursing lines rode the lords of the conquerors ­ Doctor Moreau, with his broad dark face and crafty eyes; Mowgli, slender, fastidious, treacherous, dangerous as a cobra; and the lean vulture Captain Hook, clad only in silken robes, his great black eyes glittering from a face that was like that of a bird of prey. Of this Evian pirate dark tales were told; tousle-headed women in northern and western villages frightened children with his name, and rebellious slaves were brought to abased submission quicker than by the lash, with threat of being sold to him. Men said that he had a whole library of dark works bound in skin flayed from living human victims, and that in nameless pits below the hill whereon his palace sat, he trafficked with the powers of darkness, trading screaming girl slaves for unholy secrets. He was the real ruler of Ev.

Now he grinned bleakly as the rulers reined back a safe distance from the grim iron-clad figure looming among the dead. Before the savage blue eyes blazing murderously from beneath the crested, dented helmet, the boldest shrank. Steamboat Willie's dark scarred face was darker yet with passion; his black and white armor was hacked to tatters and splashed with blood; his great sword red to the cross-piece. In this stress all the veneer of civilization had faded; it was a barbarian who faced his conquerors. Steamboat Willie was a Rinkitinkian by birth, one of those fierce moody hillmen who dwelt in their gloomy, cloudy land in the north. His saga, which had led him to the throne of Rinkitink, was the basis of a whole cycle of hero-tales.

So now the rulers kept their distance, and Doctor Moreau called on his Mifketian archers to loose their arrows at his foe from a distance; his captains had fallen like ripe grain before the Rinkitinkian's broadsword, and Doctor Moreau, penurious of his knights as of his coins, was frothing with fury. But Captain Hook shook his head.

"Take him alive."

"Easy to say!" snarled Doctor Moreau, uneasy lest in some way the blackand white mailed giant might hew a path to them through the spears. "Who can take a man-eating rodent alive? By Hercules, his heel is on the necks of my finest swordsmen! It took seven years and stacks of gold to train each, and there they lie, so much kite's meat. Arrows, I say!"

"Again, nay!" snapped Captain Hook, swinging down from his horse. He laughed coldly. "Have you not learned by this time that my brain is mightier than any sword?"

He passed through the lines of the pikemen, and the giants in their steel caps and mail brigandines shrank back fearfully, lest they so much as touch the skirts of his robe. Nor were the plumed knights slower in making room for him. He stepped over the corpses and came face to face with the grim king. The hosts watched in tense silence, holding their breath. The black and white armored figure loomed in terrible menace over the lean, silk-robed shape, the notched, dripping sword hovering on high.

"I offer you life, Steamboat Willie," said Captain Hook, a cruel mirth bubbling at the back of his voice.

"I give you death, pirate," snarled Willie, and backed by iron muscles and ferocious hate the great sword swung in a stroke meant to shear Captain Hook's lean torso in half. But even as the hosts cried out, the pirate stepped in, too quick for the eye to follow, and apparently merely laid an open hand on Steamboat Willie's left forearm, from the ridged muscles of which the mail had been hacked away. The whistling blade veered from its arc and the mailed giant crashed heavily to earth, to lie motionless. Captain Hook laughed silently.

"Take him up and fear not; the rodent's fangs are drawn."

The rulers reined in and gazed in awe at the fallen rodent. Steamboat Willie lay stiffly, like a dead man, but his eyes glared up at them, wide open, and blazing with helpless fury. "What have you done to him?" asked Mowgli uneasily.

Captain Hook displayed a broad ring of curious design on his finger. He pressed his fingers together and on the inner side of the ring a tiny steel fang darted out like a snake's tongue.

"It is steeped in the juice of the purple lotus which grows in the ghost-haunted swamps of southern Boboland," said the magician. "Its touch produces temporary paralysis. Put him in chains and lay him in a chariot. The sun sets and it is time we were on the road for Mifket." 

Doctor Moreau turned to his general Smee.

"We return to Mifket with the wounded. Only a troop of the royal cavalry will accompany us. Your orders are to march at dawn to the Rinkitinken border, and invest the city of Kingdom of IX. The Nome Kingdom will supply you with food along the march. We will rejoin you as soon as possible, with reinforcements."

So the host, with its steel-sheathed knights, its pikemen and archers and camp­servants, went into camp in the meadowlands near the battlefield. And through the starry night the two kings and the pirate who was greater than any king rode to the capital of Doctor Moreau, in the midst of the glittering palace troop, and accompanied by a long line of chariots, loaded with the wounded. In one of these chariots lay Steamboat Willie, king of Rinkitink, weighted with chains, the tang of defeat in his mouth, the blind fury of a trapped rodent in his soul.

The poison which had frozen his mighty limbs to helplessness had not paralyzed his brain. As the chariot in which he lay rumbled over the meadowlands, his mind revolved maddeningly about his defeat. Mowgli had sent an emissary imploring aid against Doctor Moreau, who, he said, was ravaging his western domain, which lay like a tapering wedge between the border of Rinkitink and the vast southern kingdom of Ev. He asked only a thousand horsemen and the presence of Steamboat Willie, to hearten his demoralized subjects. Steamboat Willie now mentally blasphemed. In his generosity he had come with five times the number the treacherous monarch had asked. In good faith he had ridden into The Nome Kingdom, and had been confronted by the supposed rivals allied against him. It spoke significantly of his prowess that they had brought up a whole host to trap him and his five thousand.

A red cloud veiled his vision; his veins swelled with fury and in his temples a pulse throbbed maddeningly. In all his life he had never known greater and more helpless wrath. In swift-moving scenes the pageant of his life passed fleetingly before his mental eye--a panorama wherein moved shadowy figures which were himself, in many guises and conditions--a skin-clad barbarian; a mercenary swordsman in horned helmet and scale-mail corselet; a corsair in a dragon-prowed galley that trailed a crimson wake of blood and pillage along southern coasts; a captain of hosts in burnished steel, on a rearing black charger; a king on a golden throne with the rodent banner flowing above, and throngs of gay-hued courtiers and ladies on their knees. But always the jouncing and rumbling of the chariot brought his thoughts back to revolve with maddening monotony about the treachery of Mowgli and the sorcery of Captain Hook. The veins nearly burst in his temples and cries of the wounded in the chariots filled him with ferocious satisfaction.

Before midnight they crossed the The Nome Kingdom border and at dawn the spires of Mifket stood up gleaming and rose-tinted on the south- eastern horizon, the slim towers overawed by the grim scarlet citadel that at a distance was like a splash of bright blood in the sky. That was the castle of Captain Hook. Only one narrow street, paved with marble and guarded by heavy iron gates, led up to it, where it crowned the hill dominating the city. The sides of that hill were too sheer to be climbed elsewhere. From the walls of the citadel one could look down on the broad white streets of the city, on minaretted mosques, shops, temples, mansions, and markets. One could look down, too, on the palaces of Willie, set in broad gardens, high­walled, luxurious riots of fruit trees and blossoms, through which artificial streams murmured, and silvery fountains rippled incessantly. Over all brooded the citadel, like a condor stooping above its prey, intent on its own dark meditations.

The mighty gates between the huge towers of the outer wall clanged open, and Willie rode into his capital between lines of glittering spearmen, while fifty trumpets pealed salute. But no throngs swarmed the white-paved streets to fling roses before the conqueror's hoofs. Doctor Moreau had raced ahead of news of the battle, and the people, just rousing to the occupations of the day, gaped to see their king returning with a small retinue, and were in doubt as to whether it portended victory or defeat.

Steamboat Willie, life sluggishly moving in his veins again, craned his neck from the chariot floor to view the wonders of this city which men called the Queen of Hearts. He had thought to ride someday through these golden-chased gates at the head of his steel-clad squadrons, with the great red heart banner flowing over his helmeted head. Instead he entered in chains, stripped of his armor, and thrown like a captive slave on the bronze floor of his conqueror's chariot. A wayward devilish mirth of mockery rose above his fury, but to the nervous soldiers who drove the chariot his laughter sounded like the muttering of a rousing rat.

Savannah Pizza Company, Midway, Georgia

        After a lazy Saturday afternoon nap and I felt like getting a slice of American Pizza Pie. My wife and I had visited Stoner’s Pizza in Midway, Georgia before and we had liked it, kinda. 3 of 5 stars. The last time we visited, they had just had a massive fire and they were closed but we had driven by recently and saw a new sign on the door, and they were calling themselves “Savannah Pizza Company” even though, from their five locations, none were in Savannah. “That’s fine,” we told ourselves… A little puffery in advertisement is the norm. So, I’m sitting in the lounger and express to my wife my desire to shop local and buy pizza to eat… Like, now. Cause I’m hella hangry.

So, normally, we’d take the extra five minutes to drive to Mr. Pizza, cause they’re like, AMAZING… Or even go to Pizza Peddler, cause they’re legit great… But Stoner’s (Savannah Pizza Company or Dough Bro’s or whatever new name they’re using) is the quickest off of 95 and so I want to eat as soon as possible, so that’s where I call. “Pauly” I say three times to the very quiet teenager who is taking my order - “Large Black olives, Pineapple, Green Bell Pepper.” Don’t judge me. I appreciate TWO fruits on my pie, because, technically, tomatoes.

We arrive, having drug my wife onto a “date night” which is really just to go pick up the pie and She’s reading a Karen Marie Moning novel on her phone while I’m listening to r/maliciouscompliance on my phone. And maybe that’s why I decided to stand my ground during the next few interactions when I arrived at Savannah Pizza Company.

        A little background on that, I’m married to my third wife and she’s the most wonderful person to me. I was married twice before and both were lying manipulative cheaters who took advantage of my middle name being “doormat.” Not anymore. The more I grow older and learn to love wife #3, the spicer we become in our interactions with other people, because she came from the same place, emotionally. But, growing together as people, we’ve both learned to stand up for ourselves and stand our ground. That’s the reason I’m writing this.

I walk into the door and tell them I’m here to pick up an order for “Pauly” and the same teenager I spoke to on the phone looks over at the two bags and says: “It must not be ready yet. Maybe another ten minutes.” So I say: “Alright, I’ll go wait in the car.” I should have known better because I see one cook walking to the bathroom and another out the side talking to a delivery driver. The pie was on a room temperature shelf, in a delivery bag, getting cold this whole time. But I’m like - “Well, they know what they’re doing. I’ll wait ten minutes.”

So back to the car where the wife is playing a mobile game that we both play together. We talk about the new guild she opened and I’m trying to level up to join it so I can “help” by sending supplies. Whatever. Ten minutes go by and in that time, several people have come and gone, exchanging money for food. I wander in and tell them it’s been ten minutes and I’m ready to pay. The same teenager looks at (what appears to be) the same bags on the shelf and gives a little frown. Her boss, a larger twenty year old lady, looks with her.

“What was the name?” the older one asks.

“Pauly. Large black olive, pineapple, green bell pepper.” I reply.

The younger one frowns again and says: “Here’s a large one for Kelly.” Oh. I understand. Not many people down here get “Pauly” when I say it over the phone. Understanding this I reply.

“Large black olive, pineapple, green bell pepper?” I ask.

“Yeah.” She says. That’ll be $20.18.”

I hand her my card, very reluctant to see her physically typing it in. I’m not a fan of human interaction with my card and make a detail to watch for suspicious charges over the next few weeks. People are people… I can trust machines with my card normally. Whatever. Give me the pie.

I thank her and she thanks me and I walk out with the box and the receipt on top. After exiting, I smell it and it seems… Off somehow. I open it up, Instead of green bell pepper, it was green olive. Whoops. But then I notice it. My hand isn’t warm. This box is cold… And not only that, it’s very, very wet. Almost as if it sat in the window for ten minutes. Interesting. The younger cashier hadn’t put two and two together to realize that. And that’s forgivable. We’ve all made mistakes, especially at that age. But it was the green olives. I’m allergic to green olives. I can’t have them. And I know that’s weird to a guy who loves black olives, but that was the hand dealt to me and I’ve got to live with it… But not pay for it.

So, I close the box with a very disappointed sigh. I can’t trust these guys to get it right so I’m just going to suck it up and go to Pizza Peddler, which, maybe I should have done in the first place. Hey, at least Savannah Pizza Company wasn’t on fire again. I walk back in and tell them I need a refund.

“Hey I just need a refund. There’s no green bell peppers but there’s green olives. Just a refund, thanks.” Like, I hope I didn’t come off snarky or spicy because I was really still super hungry but I wasn’t having any more of their shenanigans tonight.

So the older lady gets involved when the younger one starts apologizing and it’s all good, but I mention that I need both receipts for the transactions and she’s a little confused.

“One for the charge and one for the refund.” I explain, to which she gets it, but then starts talking about it going back as cash and it will take a few days, and I’m like, alright, no problem. Just the refund and then I’ll leave. So she apologizes again and I take my two papers back to the car where a very quizzical wife looks at me, with no pizza. I open the door and look at the receipts before getting in and it’s the wrong receipt for the refund, or so I thought. They had charged $20.18 and only refunded $19.40. Whoops. I go back inside.

“So I think I don’t know, but I think I got the wrong refund.” I show the younger one the papers.

The older one says: “They charge a credit card fee.”

“So you can refund the fee.” I say.

“It’s seventy eight cents.” She says.

“Yeah.” I say. “And you can refund it right? I mean, everything was wrong. Refund the whole amount.”

“Well it's the fee they charge to use a credit card.” She says again.

Now, at this point I have had enough. Just enough. I was probably a little shaky and more than a little upset. I’ve driven twenty minutes to get here, only to wait another ten minutes for a cold wet pizza that isn’t even made properly and then I’m being charged for the honor of doing so. I spy a large plastic tub next to the register and there’s a pile of dollars in there. I reach in and take one dollar off the top and tell them: “Fine. Here’s a dollar, I’ll be right back with your change.”

The older lady is visibly red in the face. At the top of her lungs she screams out: “How dare you touch our tips! Put that back right now!”

To which I reply, “Well I’m owed seventy eight cents, I’ll bring you back the change from my car.”

She promptly opens up the register and slaps down three quarters and a nickel. “Here’s eighty!”

I put the dollar back in the tub, take the four coins and tell her: “Well now I owe you two cents, so I still have to go make change, I’ll be right back.”

And at this point I’m out the door, shaking with anger. I walk out and all I hear is screaming from inside and honestly, I don’t even care if I stole three cents from them. I’ll mail them a check if they decide to press charges.

Honestly though, the “tip bucket” wasn’t sufficiently labeled. It had one of those “Dear friends and companions” messages on it that pretty much one had to read into to understand it was private employee appreciation money rather than just saying “TIPS” in red or whatever. Instinctively I probably understood it was tip money, but these people never even really tried to rectify with the customer the whole situation. It was as if somehow, they were doing me a favor by letting me walk in their door.

And here’s the thing, I’m not just some yahoo who doesn’t understand the way the food industry works. I’ve owned my own cafe and managed several others. Still today I do technician work and cleaning at a very well known franchise location and am paid handsomely for it because I know what I’m doing. So if I were worth my salt as a manager and was working this night and desperately knew that I was number three in the pizza choice for a small town, I would work desperately to try to make things right with the customer. I’d not quibble and argue about a fee you have to pay to your credit card service company. I’d have given me a free drink, or at least… You know… An apology. 

I got none of the above. That’s why I’m giving this location 1 out of 10 or 5 or whatever. I’ll never go back there. I’ll never recommend there… And I’ll actively campaign that they go out of business… Again.

And, you know… Maybe instead of mailing them a check for $.02, they can just take this article as my two cents worth.

Mind Storm - Flash Fiction

 Mind Storm

Groundhog Day, 2024

Pauly Hart

A Flash Fiction for

Bill Rogers was upside down, then backwards, then tragically sideways with a terrible force. The ground was up and the trees were over there and then they were in the window with a terrible sound. There was a motion against him and a scream from Emily and Valerie and Mister Jeff and then the horn wouldn’t stop blaring and he heard sobbing then it was black.

But only black for seconds because when he woke up he was still upside down in the car and Mister Jeff was awake and shaking his head groggily and a demon was screaming at him: “Bill,” but was it really Valerie? There’s no way it was because he remembers that this might be her fault and she wasn’t driving, that had been Mister Jeff, but she had done something maybe? There was a rushing in his mind. The demon became louder until he could bear it no more.

Pulling, twisting, now Mister Jeff is yelling at him about being too hurt. Bill does not care and pulls free and out of the van onto the ground, being freshly plowed by the passenger door, a wet rape mark of pure rage against nature. Bill ran. The family chased after him for several steps, a demon that looked like Emily crying and pleading, falling to her knees, mouth agape. Bill had to find help. He didn’t know if they were really the family he loved, the demon images of fright pierced his mind with lies. He should find help.

He runs down the highway. Other vehicles were pulling over on the side to peer down at the scene, but they weren’t doing anything. They just stood there on their phones. Why weren’t they helping? Some noticed him running and called to him. Fools. I’m not the one who needs help. He turned back towards the van for one last look at his people. Were they demons? Yes. Maybe. He didn’t know. It was all too overwhelming. He loved his people, but the people in the car maybe weren’t his people? Yes they were. They had to be.

He looked up at the cars. There was one person coming down the slope to help. That was not enough. Bill had to find more. He was a good boy. His Valerie always told him so. He was a good boy.

Hang tight master. Bill will get help.