Shawn Holt, alias the Alabama Hammer, lifted his muscular arms high above his head as the fans below roared in delight. “I am the greatest!” he bellowed. “Nobody can defeat me!”
He had just finished dispatching his wrestling opponent, Josh "Cyclone" Blake, in front of an arena packed with rabid fans as well as a live television audience. Of course, his victory came as no surprise to him, or even to Blake for that matter. After all, it was what the script dictated. Like all of his bouts, some writer had settled the outcome of this match long before either man stepped into the ring. Most of the paying customers were well aware of this, but it obviously did not faze them. Otherwise, they would have saved their money.
The announcer, a skinny pencil-neck whose name Shawn had never bothered to learn, leaned in with his microphone. “Hammer, I understand that Mo "Snakes" Morrison has challenged you to a steel cage match. How do you respond to that?”
Following the script, Shawn threw his head back and laughed. He did not have to force it very much; seeing the announcer struggle not to react to his sweaty odor was plenty enough to inspire a belly laugh. “I say, bring it on! Everybody knows that a hammer will crush a snake’s skull! The Alabama Hammer fears no one! Any challenger, any time, any place, and I will triumph!” For dramatic effect he pointed out into the crowd, who obliged him by eating it up.
That ought to help the ratings and the gate, he thought with pride. His and Snakin' Steak’s bout would be the headliner when the show visited his hometown of Birmingham in a month, but it was never too early to start selling it. If he knew the folks back home, half of them were probably going online right now in a frenzied attempt to snag tickets.
He would win in front of the home folks, of course. The writers had already settled that.
As usual, Shawn was the last one to leave the autograph session after the match. By consistently signing more autographs than anyone else on the tour, he had developed a nationwide fan base. This translated into more manufactured success in the ring, as the writers were hesitant to prescribe anything but victory for their show’s most beloved figure. Besides, as one of the older wrestlers once put it, it helped him remember who really signed his paychecks.
By the time he entered the arena’s underground parking garage, all of the other wrestlers had departed. He strode toward his Corvette, his heavy footsteps echoing through the emptiness. As always, Shawn picked up his pace. Something about being alone in such an empty place always made him uneasy, a secret he guarded with his life. Even though he was little more than an actor playing a character on television, he still had an image to uphold.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a voice call out, “Are you the Alabama Hammer?”
Shawn spun around, momentarily forgetting himself in his alarm. “Who’s there?” he demanded.
“It’s only me. I’m a huge fan of yours.” From behind one of the concrete columns stepped a young blonde, roughly college age. “Nice reflexes, by the way.”
One of the biggest differences between Shawn and the other wrestlers was his attitude toward would-be groupies. While many of them welcomed and even solicited groupies, Shawn found the entire practice disgusting. His body was his livelihood, after all, and in his mind the endless parade of wanton women lingering outside the arenas represented a risk for disease he refused to take. When he finally did settle down, he wanted to be with what his parents had always called a “good” girl, not someone who had been around the block often enough for her odometer to have rolled over.
This girl fit the groupie profile perfectly. Why else would she be waiting around here like this? Besides, everything about her appearance had been carefully engineered toward that end. The one oddity was her skin, which had a bizarre orange tint that Shawn quickly attributed to long and frequent sessions in the tanning bed. No doubt most of the other wrestlers would have considered her ripe for the picking, but she only put him on edge.
Indeed, the fact that she had not already left with one of the others suggested that she had waited specifically for him, a thought that made Shawn cringe. Not having another wrestler around to serve as her second choice would make this even more awkward. Maybe I’m too harsh, Shawn thought. Under different circumstances, and if she had employed a more understated look, he might have found her quite attractive.
Get it over with. “Hey, look, I know you’ve been waiting, but I don’t go anywhere with anybody after events. Nothing personal, that’s just my rule.”
The girl poked out her bottom lip and gave him the puppy-dog eyes. “Are you sure? I waited especially for you.”
He felt a pang of guilt in spite of himself; this girl was a pro. “I’m sure,” he said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me….”
If her outfit had sleeves, she would have been wearing her disappointment on them. “Fine,” she sighed forlornly. “But can I at least have an autograph?”
Shawn hesitated. It would be better to make the break as clean as possible, but he hated to disappoint that simple a request. And she knows it, too. “Do you have a program?” he asked as he fished in his pocket for a pen. I’m not signing anything else, he added mentally.
“Sure,” she said, proffering the program and a pen. “And please, use my pen. I insist.”
Whatever gets me out of here, Shawn thought, still uneasy about being here alone at this hour. “This thing doesn’t write,” he complained, shaking the pen.
“Click the button.”
Shawn did so, and immediately an electric shock coursed through his body. As he yelped in pain, the darkness in the garage got deeper. He was unconscious before he hit the pavement.
Why is it so cold in this hotel? Shawn thought before he realized that he wasn’t in a hotel at all. Hotels sported a ton of fancy amenities, but in-room snowfall was not among them.
Opening his eyes, he saw a slate-gray sky overhead—snow clouds. Flakes drifted almost horizontally under the influence of an icy wind that threatened to freeze the blood in his veins. Yelping in panic, Shawn jumped to his feet, looking around frantically.
He found himself standing in a far more desolate place than anything he could ever have imagined. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but snow. The land appeared perfectly flat, reminding him of the last time the tour had taken him to the plains of the Midwest. The barrenness seemed to stretch on forever.
Shawn shivered, as much from the sight before him as from the cold. Being alone in the parking garage had made him uneasy—for good reason, it turned out—but that was nothing compared to the apprehension he felt now. He found the desolation far more eerie than anything a horror film director could concoct. With rising anxiety, he yearned to see something, anything to break up the emptiness.
“Awake at last,” a voice quipped. “That electro-stun has a stronger effect on you Earthmen than I anticipated.”
Shawn turned to see the girl, who this time opted for an outfit that would have made an Eskimo seem underdressed. Only her orange face, which he now recognized as part of an alien heritage, was exposed. Behind her stood a multitude of other orange people bundled up against the elements.
“Who are you?” Shawn demanded. “Where am I? Why have you brought me here?”
“My name is Nopia, and I am a special agent in my people’s service. This is Dollan, my home planet. I brought you here because you are the greatest fighter on your on planet. You said so yourself.”
“I said so….” Shawn began before his jaw dropped. She couldn’t be serious, could she? “Look, you don’t understand. That’s just….”
“We have scoured the galaxy, searching for a champion to help us defeat Garnackus, and I alone have succeeded. You will be our champion!” As one, the others cheered in unbridled approval.
She really believes, he thought, suddenly feeling sick. They all do.
“If you can handle Garnackus as masterfully as you did the Cyclone, then my people will be saved. Please, say you will help us, and you will be our hero. You will have any price you ask,” Nopia continued.
Shawn let out a low whistle and shook his head. “Listen, Nokia….”
“Uh, that’s Nopia,” she corrected, embarrassed.
“Whatever. You don’t get it. All that Alabama Hammer stuff, that’s just acting, see?”
“No,” Nopia replied with a frown.
This can’t really be happening, he thought as he rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to tell you, I’m not really….”
“Foolish Dollanites!” boomed a voice from behind him. “How long before you surrender yourselves to me?”
The people behind Nopia began to scream, their terrified words drowning each other out as their voices merged into one chaotic din. The only thing Shawn could make out was someone’s cry, “It’s Garnackus!” Under the circumstances, that was the last thing that he wanted to hear.
With great reluctance he turned and immediately regretted it. About a hundred yards away stood a huge, green figure that resembled nothing so much as a crocodile that had somehow mastered the trick of standing erect. Bulbous gray eyes protruded on either side of its massive snout, and even from that distance Shawn could easily see its formidable teeth. The monster glared at him and made no effort to hide its contempt.
“We have a new champion to face you!” Nopia shouted back, confidence in her voice. “From the planet Earth, we bring you the Alabama Hammer!” The crowd erupted in an ovation that paled anything Shawn had ever known back home. No pressure, he thought darkly.
Garnackus threw back his great reptilian head and laughed. “So none of you Dollanites can stand up to me? I figured as much! You are nothing but a puny race of weak, pathetic….”
From there the giant unleashed a string of expletives that rivaled anything that Shawn had ever heard on tour. He glanced at Nopia incredulously. “So, you speak English here?”
She shook her head and tried to suppress a smile. “While you slept, I stuck a translator chip in your ear. It looks similar to what your people call ‘hearing aids,’ but it enables your brain to convert over two hundred languages into your native tongue. That’s also how we understand you.” She pulled back the hood of her parka just enough to reveal the device in her right ear.
Grimly shaking his head, Shawn mumbled, “No, you don’t understand at all.”
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer, having already turned back to stare at Garnackus. Deep down he had always hoped to parlay his success in the ring to a career in Hollywood, much like The Rock had done, and this seemed like something straight out of a movie. If only it were.
Desperately trying to stall, Shawn asked, “Who is this guy, anyway?”
“For many centuries his race and ours occupied separate hemispheres of our world and did not interact, peacefully or otherwise. We tended our lands and our natural resources carefully, and though we knew not abundance, neither did we lack for anything. Unfortunately, the Kiprians were poor stewards of their resources, and in time they had reduced their hemisphere to a barren wasteland much like this one. Only then did they turn their eyes toward us, or more specifically to our lands. We might have been happy to help them rebuild, but they were merely interested in conquest.”
“So they did all this? How?” Shawn gulped.
“Yes. Their plundering of the resources wipes out all vegetation, and it throws our climate off kilter. Everything they touch becomes either a frozen wasteland like this or else a burning desert. They are encroaching deeper into our territory every day, and not far from here is one of the last bastions of our unspoiled land. As for Garnackus, he is the Kiprians’ champion. In every place they have captured, he challenged the inhabitants to send out a champion to battle him for ownership of their land.”
“And then he wins,” Shawn finished, barely above a whisper.
“Yes, assuming that the people did not merely surrender. No one among us can stand against him. That’s why we recruited you once we learned of your outstanding record of victories on your planet.”
In her eyes Shawn saw a childlike earnestness that silenced his protests even as he opened his mouth to object. The rest of the Dollanites stared at him in the same desperate anticipation, and he immediately felt guilty. These people had been terribly misled, and honesty bade him to set the record straight. He had to tell them who he really was, a washed-up ex-football player who was trying to become a movie star.
A blast of arctic air slapped his face, and Shawn suddenly found that he could not confess. Regardless of his true identity, he was the only hope these desperate people had left. What if it were my home? he thought. The eyes of the children in particular hammered the point home. They may not have much hope with me, but without me….
“Surrender, Dollanites! You only delay the inevitable!”
Here goes nothing. Stepping forth, Shawn did what he knew best. “Garnackus! I’ve listened to your smack long enough! It’s high time for you to shut your ugly pie hole before I have to come shut it for you!”
Cheers erupted from the Dollanite ranks, while Garnackus gaped back at him from across the tundra. “You dare to defy me, puny Earthman?”
“You and your kind have done enough! It’s time somebody mopped the floor with your scaly hide!”
Garnackus laughed again. “For such a puny sack of meat, you talk quite a game. What happens when I slaughter you?”
Shawn didn’t want to think about it, but he was committed now. “What happened every other time you won, stupid? Maybe you reptiles really do have tiny brains! I think the better question is, what happens when I beat you?” If, you mean if.
The Kiprian fell silent for a moment, obviously having never considered such a possibility. Pressing on, Shawn shouted, “You lose, I want all of the Dollanites’ territory returned to them, or else your people will all feel my wrath!”
“Ooh, that’s good!” Nopia whispered, clapping in glee. “The Kiprians take their fighting code seriously. If they accept a challenge, they won’t back down from their word!”
If they have to make good, Shawn glumly finished the thought.
“Have it your way, Earthman!” Garnackus retorted, making little effort to hide his amusement. “Now, we fight!” Without further ado, the alien charged forward. Left with no other recourse, Shawn followed suit.
The expanse between them was slightly longer than a football field, giving Shawn more time than he really wanted to contemplate the duel. Although he had talked his best game, he feared that victory would not be a realistic goal; the best he could hope for would be to not go down easily. Even that, he realized, might be a stretch.
He’s bigger than I thought, he reflected with dread as he drew nearer. Unbidden, a memory came back to him, of a story he had probably heard a dozen times back when his mother would drag him to Sunday School. David and—what was the giant’s name again? Oh, right, Goliath. Shawn wasn’t sure he had much in common with David, who at least had a weapon, but Garnackus would probably have given Goliath pause.
Within seconds the vile stench of Garnackus’ scales struck his nose, almost driving him to retch. The giant reptilian threw a roundhouse punch with his left arm, catching Shawn squarely in the jaw and sending him spinning into the snow. The impact had left him stunned for a moment, but thankfully the coldness of the snow revived him almost immediately. Without thinking he rolled to his right, barely eluding a second blow that surely would have snapped his spine like a toothpick.
Shawn sprang to his feet and put several yards between him and the Kiprian. In horror he realized that his entire arsenal of wrestling technique had gone out the window. How could he use the Sledgehammer, his signature move, when he couldn’t get close enough to touch him?
He needed a weapon.
Glancing at the ground, he spotted five triangular stones resembling pint-sized javelins. Immediately he scooped them up, squelching a momentary doubt about whether he was even allowed weapons. No different from swinging a metal folding chair in the ring, he decided, deliberately ignoring the obvious difference: He had never tried to kill anyone with a chair.
Snarling, Garnackus spat out something that the translator couldn’t handle but that Shawn felt certain was some sort of obscenity. “Fight me!” the Kiprian commanded, and then began to charge forward once again.
He would only have one chance at this. There was no time to aim, which was probably just as well; there was a reason that his high school football coach had played him at linebacker rather than quarterback. Afraid to look, Shawn could not resist the impulse to shut his eyes as he brought his arm forward and released his projectile.
Please, let this work….
There was a low, stifled grunt from his opponent, followed by a thunderous impact as Garnackus hit the ground. So powerful was the impact that it literally tossed Shawn six inches into the air. Good thing it’s all level ground here. That could have caused an avalanche for sure. From several yards away the Dollanites began to whoop and cheer, prompting him to timidly open his eyes.
Surprisingly, there was virtually no blood. Garnackus was dead, beyond a doubt; Shawn’s missile had caught him squarely between its monstrous eyes. Never before in his life had Shawn ever thrown anything with such pinpoint accuracy. Eat your heart out, Coach Johnson, he thought. Peyton Manning, too, for that matter.
You couldn’t do that again if your life depended on it, he realized, quickly humbling himself.
Just then the crowd of Dollanites came rushing up to him, easily putting his fans back on Earth to shame. Then again, they had more on the line than anyone in any arena back home. Leading the charge was Nopia, who threw her arms around him in unbridled gratitude. “You have saved us!” she exclaimed. “Oh, thank you!” Suddenly remembering herself, she released him and pulled back, a sheepish look on her face. Even beneath the orange pigment, Shawn could tell that she was blushing.
Ordinarily after a win like this, the Alabama Hammer would have done his best routine, trumpeting his prowess to adoring fans who were already convinced. Now, however, it seemed out of place. For once, he was not the Alabama Hammer; he was Shawn Holt from Birmingham, who probably couldn’t replicate his triumph if he tried. Bravado seemed almost obscene.
“Glad I could help,” he said humbly.
© 2008 Stoney M. Setzer
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.
Stoney Setzer is a middle school special education teacher near Atlanta, GA. In addition to spending time with his family, he enjoys writing, reading, watching old movies, and cheering for the Atlanta Braves. Stoney's speculative piece, "The Watchman" appeared in "Dragons, Knights & Angels" and his biblical flash fiction, "Awakening" appeared in Issue 2 of ResAliens.