Chapter 52:

Chapter 52 - Barrel of Monkeys


Morgan was standing with his hand cupped to the door when Roulette barreled her way back in from the arena pit. Her sudden entrance damn near knocked him to the floor, but the older man took it in stride; he’d heard the announcement of her disqualification well enough, and for a proud young lady like her, a setback like that was bound to result in a bout of tunnel vision.

“What happened out there?” he asked, stepping back to give her space. “I heard somethin’ about your gun misbehavin’. There any truth to that?”

She looked to him with empty eyes, and the sight of it rattled him. He’d never seen the girl looking so patently unsure of herself.

“They took him away on a stretcher,” she babbled. “Doesn’t do well in cramped spaces, I guess.”

Morgan gave her the side eye, approaching slowly. “Roulette…? You alright?”

She gave her head a shake. “I’m fine,” she said. “You’re up next. We’ll talk later.” She struck out across the room, then, leaving him alone with his pile of concerns. He could only watch dumbly as the door swung shut behind her.

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head, he mused. Guess it’s all up to me now.

The arena staff returned a short time later, their expressions stern. “Your companion had been disqualified from the competition,” one explained. “We must ask: have you been entirely honest with us about your gun’s abilities and limitations?”

“Sure I have,” Morgan replied, indignant. “And my friend was, too! I signed up with her, y’know–I heard it all. There must be some misunderstandin’. She wouldn’t lie about somethin’ like that!”

The staff people–a bald, heavy-set man and a skinny woman with a deeply-lined face–exchanged a look. “I am afraid the issue is quite clear-cut,” the woman said. “She did lie at the time of registration. But if you say you did not, we are inclined to let you participate in the final round.”

“No surprises though, yeah?” her colleague added. “We will be watching you.”

“Fine. When am I expected in the pit?” Morgan asked.

“Right away,” the woman answered. “The girl’s opponent is unfit to continue, so you will be fighting the arena’s champion in round three. Do not make us regret our decision, Wessoner.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Morgan drawled, departing with a wave of his hand. “Best check your tone, though–you’re talkin’ to the next arena champion. Lucky for you I’m real gracious in victory.”

He breezed out onto the field, secure in the knowledge that he’d put his interrogators in their place. Just where do they get off, acting so high and mighty? There’s no way they’re in the right! Roulette’s a lot of things, but she ain’t a liar.

Morgan came to a stop at his end of the pit, gracing his detractors with an absentminded wave. If anything, the crowd’s dislike for him had only intensified following Roulette’s expulsion from the proceedings.

Fortunately, the man couldn’t bring himself to care.

“That last round did not exactly end as planned,” the MC admitted to his rowdy audience, “but I assure you, round three–the final round of these Gunslinger Games–will be free of shenanigans!”

He cleared his throat. “Though you should all know to expect some monkey business, for our next competitor is none other than Sebastopol arena’s defending champion… Simone!”

The crowd went absolutely ape over that announcement, hooting and howling as if they expected the Legendary Gunsmiths themselves to descend from the sky and start giving out candy. Morgan glanced around at them with his arms crossed, just waiting for all the noise to die down.

The people must be pretty confident in their champion if the MC was willing to give the game away like that, he reckoned. From the sounds of it, she shoots monkeys like Dugg shoots moles. Doesn’t sound so terrible, really–those things can’t even dig!

“Her challenger will be none other than round one’s victor, Morgan!” the announcer shouted, instantly turning the spectators’ cries of jubilation to bellows of scorn. “The stage is set for the final confrontation, so let us…


Monkeys. Morgan took off running toward the nearest waist-high boulder, taking care to avoid any of the taller arena fixtures that stood in his field of vision. What are monkeys good at? Climbing, for one. They’re pretty fast, too, I guess… Oh, and they can–

A rock beaned him in the head–not hard enough to draw blood, but definitely enough to hurt.

“NNNnnNGH! They can throw things…!” he grunted, lifting a hand to feel at the growing bump. The round had barely even started, and the nasty little beasts were after him already! He looked back over his shoulder to find that, sure enough, a cute little monkey was standing there clapping its dumb monkey hands and screeching like all get-out.

“Get outta here, monkey!” he hissed, crouching lower behind his boulder. “I got no quarrel with you. I’m just after your boss… Don’t suppose you’d care to point me in the right direction?”

The monkey tilted its head, peering up at him like he was crazy. For that matter, maybe he was; Morgan couldn’t say for certain that the rock it’d thrown hadn’t knocked a screw or two loose.

“Y’know, you’re actually kinda cute,” he continued, smiling in spite of himself. “I think I’ll call you Jojo. What d’you think of that, Jojo?”

The monkey began bouncing from foot to foot, clapping its little hands and screeching away. Morgan chuckled to himself, charmed by the little creature’s antics.

That’s when he noticed more monkeys approaching. Drawn to the screeching like moths to a flame, they ran up to join their cousin one by one until a whole cadre of monkeys had huddled around it, regarding him with curiosity in their eyes.

Aw, shit.

The Gunslinger fled across the dirt, and the monkeys followed. He realized the true terror of them now; in great enough numbers, they’d be able to trip him, claw at him, pelt him with rocks… Whatever they felt like, really. They had minds and bodies sophisticated enough to inflict true cruelty upon him–it was almost like fighting a pack of small, especially dextrous humans.

Worst of all, they made hiding impossible. They were so quick that he had to keep running just to avoid them, which meant Simone would be free to pick him off at her leisure. Strangely enough, though, his opponent wasn’t anywhere to be found. The monkeys chased him all around the pit, forcing him to duck and dive to avoid their rocks and blobs of feces, and in all that time he didn’t catch sight of her once.

Morgan began to succumb to panic. Where could he go? What could he do? If he ran, the monkeys would eventually catch up. If he jumped in the holes created during his fight with Dugg, they’d flood inside and corner him. If he climbed something, they’d climb it better! His only chance was to find Simone and end things quickly, but somehow she continued to evade him. There was no escape.

No escape.

“Ah-hah!” he exclaimed, spinning to confront the monkeys as inspiration struck. He was thinking about it all wrong; he was the human here! He was the dangerous one! They should be afraid of him, not the other way around! For he held the most dangerous weapon known to man–the ultimate problem-solver, and the bane of animals everywhere:

A gun.


He fired into the air, sending the monkeys scattering across the pit. There was no need to shoot them–Simone would just replenish their ranks anyway, wherever she was–but if he could keep them sufficiently cowed by the sound of gunfire, they wouldn’t be able to touch him.

And Morgan would have the time he needed to strategize.

He looked on in satisfaction as the monkeys ran for their little monkey lives, rushing behind debris and crawling into holes to escape the loud, scary noises. Can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner, he marveled. When it comes to the animal kingdom, man really does stand right at the t–

Morgan hollered in surprise as his little pink jacket was tugged up over his head and pulled down in front of his eyes by a team of tiny hands working in unison. The monkeys rushed him from behind, clawing at his body, ripping up his clothes, and pulling his pants down around his ankles. The ones in front of him came out of their hidey-holes and pelted him with rocks until he was knocked off-balance. He stumbled to the ground, cussing all the while, as they made a complete fool of him before an audience of hundreds.

…And then, just like that, it was over. He heard the pitter-patter of their little feet as they withdrew, leaving him to pick himself up off the ground and to recover, physically and emotionally, from his humiliating experience. Thankfully, he wasn’t too much worse for the wear–a little dirty, a little scratched. Nothing too dire.

That’s when he noticed the worst of their crimes:

The little bastards had taken his gun.

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