The Hangman’s Stage, (part one)

Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday!

Welcome everyone!  We now return you to your regularly scheduled program!  That’s right, now that I’ve gotten a handle on what to expect from Camp NaNo, it’s business as usual.  That means it’s story time!

Today we revisit some favorite characters of mine.  We’re jumping back into the Westocalypse- the apocalyptic west.  I think it’s about time we find out what trouble Doc, Sara, and Tucker have gotten into.

But, Joe! What happened to your favorite characters last time?  Shoot folks, y’all can look at their first adventure: Easy Money.  Just click it!

As per usual, I’ve split the story into two parts for ease of reading.  (I also happen to like the old style of serial storytelling.)  On Thursday, when the second half posts, I will also post the complete story on my Short Fiction page.  Short Fiction is a collection of every short story I’ve written here on the blog as well as some older stories I’ve posted in secret- sneaky me. Take a look, you won’t be disappointed.

Please feel free to comment on the story.  I’d love to hear from you.  Enjoy.  Have a great day, and thanks for stopping by!

Camp NaNoWriMo word count:  11,293- so far…

*     *     *     *     *

The Hangman’s Stage

Dust whipped through the air, a heavy haze that limited visibility. It was hard to judge the time of day. The blowing sand and dust clotted out the sun, but Tucker knew they had to be getting close. He could hear the deep rumble of the roller above the whine of his speeder bike and knew Doc and Sara were close behind. He veered to the right and slowed, glancing over his shoulder through the dust coated goggles. He moved close to the driver’s window and shouted through the mask on his face.

“Let’s pull it in a spell, Doc.”

The roller throttled down and Tucker landed his bike close by, out of the wind. The sand storm had been ripping through the area for close to an hour now. The passenger door swung open and Sara slid out from the seat, her snake tail coiling beneath her as he leaned against the vehicle. Doc climbed across the cab, following her out. He stretched out the two skinny right arms and brushed dust from the creases of his clubbed left arm. Along his back he had several modified dust masks fitted to the tops of the snorkel tubes he breathed through.

“I say, Tucker, isn’t this exciting! We don’t get dust storms like this back west. Is it a common occurrence in the Wastes?”

Tucker’s stunted third arm was shaking sand from his hat as he pulled the mask free and coughed a lump of spit from his throat. He stuffed a cigar in his mouth before answering.

“Hell, this far in, I’m surprised we ain’t had more.” He leaned into the roller cab and struck a match, touching it to the end of his stogie. “We should make Delphia in ‘bout an hour, maybe two, I reckon. Les jus’ set tight till tha damned wind stops. This here ain’t no good fer tha engines,” he said in a puff of thick smoke.

“When the dust settles we’ll have to change that bandage on yer side, Tuck.” Sara was smiling, she always smiled at Tucker. “Does it hurt much?”

“Hell I ain’t bothered ta notice. ‘Sides I got whiskey, ain’t no better relief fer what ails ya.”

Tucker eased himself down beside the roller, favoring the healing gun shot wound in his thigh. Sara snickered at the slight grimace on his face. Doc busied himself tinkering with some small metallic thing in the passenger seat, a strange look of surprise as it clicked softly in his hands. He flashed a glance at Tucker and Sara with a nervous laugh and hunched over the thing plying a small flat-head screwdriver into the casing.

Within twenty minutes the wind was dying down and the sky began to clear. A haze hung in the breeze, a mist of fine dust. Tucker slipped the mask into a saddle bag on his bike and spun the engine up as he climbed on.

“We rollin’ if y’all ready,” he said

Doc jogged to the drivers side of the roller and climbed in. Sara slithered her way up to the repeating rifle turret in the back. She was pleased to be out in the open air now that the sand storm had passed. The cab of the roller was no comfortable place for the length of her tail, it always left her feeling cramped. The roller rumbled to life and they lurched forward, following Tucker.

Tucker could smell the heavy scent of machine oil and diesel exhaust on the wind. Whatever it came from was close enough to smell. Tucker wanted nothing more than to get to Delphia before whatever it was caught up with them.

It wasn’t long before the towering rusted ruins of a dead civilization could be seen. This was the location for the city of Delphia. It marked the end of places on the map between here and NewY. Everything in the middle was wasteland; desolate, radiated, and dangerous. As they slowed to enter the huge walls that protected the city from bandits and Outlanders, they were greeted by the local law enforcers. Tucker throttled down to land, the roller braking behind him.

“What’s yer business here?” The tin star looked miserable and dust coated. Obviously this post had him standing out in the storm.

“Fuel and sundries, maybe a nights rest ‘fore we head out. Tha boss can give ya all tha particulars,” Tucker said, motioning to Doc.

“Move along, but keep things peaceful like. Yer guns stay with you lest you skin ‘em. Then we take ‘em. Understood?”

“You got it partner.”

Tucker turned back and waved Doc and Sara forward. He spun up his engine and flew inside, following the roller. They stopped in front of a hotel with a lit up sign: Flora’s Bunk’s and Booze’s. Tucker smiled, he remembered the place from his last trip through a few years back. He climbed off his bike and unhooked the saddlebags, slinging them over his shoulder along with his rifle. Doc and Sara climbed out from the roller and grabbed some gear before following Tucker into the place.

The piano music could be heard as they pushed through the door. The barroom was filled, games at a few of the tables, most watching the stage where a burlesque show was going on. Sara knocked her hat back, hanging it from her neck on the bola cord.

“Fantastic,” said Doc. “Real frontier life at its finest. Music, half-naked women, gambling; its enough to make a man leave science behind forever and take up your lifestyle, Tucker. No attachments, no responsibilities- just good old fashioned a drinkin’ and a stinkin’. Isn’t that what you called it, Tucker?”

“Close enough, Doc.”

Sara was looking at a bright colored poster on the wall as they took a table in the corner. It was clear why the table was empty, the piano crackled loudly through speakers hanging above them, the occasional spark jumping across exposed wires. Sara turned back with a grin.

“Y’all see this?” She pointed up to the poster, “The Hangman’s Stage. What sorta show you figure that is?”

“Ain’t no show, that there’s a travelin’ courthouse. Judge, Jury, and hangings on wheels,” said Tucker, striking a match for his cigar.

“Gallows to go,” laughed Doc. “Wonderful! Simply splendid! When do they arrive? I would love to watch a trial, this form of wasteland justice would make an excellent chapter in my book.”

“Hell, Doc, seems ta me damn near everythin’ll make a fine chapter fer yer book.”

Sara looked back at the poster, “Don’t know what day it is, but the show’ll be here on the 19th of the month. How long we stayin’ in town?”

“Long enough darlin’.” Tucker winked and blew a stream of smoke into the fan spinning on the ceiling, “Long enough.”

The piano player, following a cue from the dancer on stage, tickled the keys through the end of the tune. The crowd of rowdy folks hooted and shouted. They clapped and stomped with whatever tentacled, clawed, or scaled appendage they had. Tucker stomped a boot for good measure.

Finally the barmaid found their table. Doc was in the middle of explaining how to infuse juice with his whiskey, an over-complicated version of just-pour-them-in-the-same-glass, when the ground started to rumble. It was subtle at first, noticed only by a few folks in the saloon. Soon all heads turned, hands steadied mugs, and even the piano player stopped playing.

The rumble made sand and pebbles dance across the wood-plank floor. It sent coins jumping across the card tables. As the rumble grew, it began to fill the air. A loud growl approaching Delphia.

Many in the saloon stood and pushed through the swinging doors. They watched the growing dust cloud as it moved towards the city. Tucker glanced at the poster as he stood. He took Sara’s hand and led her to the door with a smile.

“Looks like we jus’ in time to catch the show.”

Sara looked down at her hand in Tucker’s, her cheeks flushing. As they made their way outside, Doc trailing behind them, the shudder in the ground stopped. The heavy drone ceased. A wave of dust rolled over the city. When it cleared, left in its wake sat a huge truck, the trailer painted to match the poster in the saloon. A loud speaker crackled to life with fiddle and banjo. The music dimmed, but played on, as a crisp voice rang out.

“Justice, just ain’t easy in these troubled times, Brothers and Sisters. Just as criminals run wild, Justice is here to tame the beast. Bring out your offenders and derelicts of society to be judged. Let Justice prevail, under the watchful eye, of the honorable Judge Maxwell Law. Court is in season.”

There was little applause, the message clearly didn’t interest the gathered folks. The side of the trailer lifted to form an awning, and the Judge stepped out. He held a cane that shot multi-colored light in all directions. The myriad shades glittered on his mirrored four-armed coat and four-legged trousers, and the music cranked up as if it were a lively shin-dig.

Judge Law raised all his arms. “Brothers and Sisters! Friends of Justice! The Law has come to town!”

The crowd roared with applause and cheers, whistles and shouts.

“That’s right, Brothers and Sisters, the sanctity of your way of life will be improved this very day! Villains beware, you will be on trial. You will be judged. And you will be punished to the full extent of the Law!”

Above the trailer, the mast of the gallow rose up in biblical fashion from within a shower of bursting fireworks. The steel-cable “noose” lowered to within reach from the top of the twenty foot pole. The Judge leaped from the court stage and caught the cable with two arms. He swung out over the crowd and dropped back onto the platform, his arms raised in a grand show. Now he had their full attention.

Judge Law scanned the roaring crowd, a smile like a snake-oil merchant, and stared hard towards Tucker. He waved the music away, silence followed his command. The Judge pointed towards Tucker, his smile fading.

“You, Sir, are a wanted man! Wanted for two murders! There has been a hunt for you for months now! You, Sir, are a long way from the Zona-Vada Territory!”

The crowd was in absolute silence. Tucker’s laugh filled the street.

“I ain’t never been, Sir. Y’all mus’ have me misidentified with some other fella.”

“Not you,” spat the Judge. “You!”

Judge Law jumped down from the trailer, leaving his cane behind. He rushed into the crowd on all eights. Tucker turned. Doc stood just behind him slowly backing away.

“Doc?” Sara asked, sharing a puzzled look with Tucker.

Tucker knew it was possible. He remembered Doc had strangled a man just a few days ago. Although that man was part of a gang of bandits that had abducted him and Sara.

“What’s tha story, Doc?” Tucker glanced back to where the Judge pushed through the crowd. “Jus’ say tha word. I got no qualms ‘bout shootin’ our way outta here.”

“No, no. Not necessary Tucker.” Doc was wringing all three of his hands together.

“Guilty!” Judge Law yelled, as he rushed forward and grabbed hold of Doc. “Guilty! I witnessed the act myself! Two men, two patients, of this Doctor’s were deliberately killed! Murdered” The Judge’s voice rang through the streets, amplified through the speakers from the tiny microphones in his collar. “Murdered, because this Doctor not only wouldn’t administer his craft, but purposely squeezed the life from them- choked them where they lay in need of help. What do you have to say for yourself, Doctor?”

Doc flinched as the Judge pawed at him. “I did it. I killed those two men in Zona-Vada Territory.”

The Judge turned back to the crowd, “Let there be a trial, Brothers and Sisters!”

Two goons wearing shiny silver mock-ups of legal gowns moved in and hauled Doc Shoemaker to the holding cell in the courthouse trailer.

Tucker locked eyes with the Judge, Maxwell Law. He could see in those dark pools, the Judge was a stone-cold killer. Then again, most Hangin’ Judges were.

*     *     *     *     *

Tune in Thursday for the exciting conclusion!


2 thoughts on “The Hangman’s Stage, (part one)

  1. What a cliffhanger! Serials are such fun! I’m glad to see Tucker, Sara, and Doc again. Really enjoying this so far.

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