Better late than never… The post is a touch late due to technical difficulties. But I give you the next leg of The Hangman’s Stage. In case you missed the first part, you can read it here: The Hangman’s Stage, part one.
Enjoy! And thanks for stopping by!
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The Hangman’s Stage (continued)
The crowd of folks followed the Judge. They clung tight to his four heels as he scrambled back onto the platform. Tucker and Sara watched as Doc was dragged around the back of the trailer. Moments later, Doc reappeared and was thrown into a cage at the tail end of the courthouse stage.
The Judge smiled a wicked grin and retrieved his laser-light cane. The colored light played disco-ball on his mirrored coat and pants. Glitters of light danced over the crowd. The Judge Maxwell Law took his seat in the high-backed throne behind a narrow podium. The two goons were joined by six others, also in silver plastic legal robes. Tentacles, spines, porcupine quills, and multi-faceted eyes sat on the panel; it was a jury of peers after all.
The steel-cable noose swung in the breeze in front of the platform. Judge Law stood, two hands gripping the edges of the podium, the other two arms raised to the air.
“This court is now in session!” He lowered his arms and fixed his eyes on Doc Shoemaker. “This- Doctor- is on trial to admit his guilt, Brothers and Sisters! He shall testify to his sin of double homicide. Yes, Brothers and Sisters, today he shall be lifted to the heavens to dance the final steps of the swinging Angels! Can I get a Hallelujah?”
The crowd joined in with a shouted, “Hallelujah!” Followed by a lone cry to “String him up!”
Tucker dropped his cigar and crushed the stub beneath his boot. “This ain’t no good,Sara. We gotta git him outta there.” His stubbed third arm readjusted his hat and absently scratched his scruffy jaw.
“What’d ya have in mind?”
“Still thinkin’ ‘bout it.”
Judge Law hefted his cane and shot a red spotlight on Doc.
“The sinful light of the Underworld has shone its fiery glare upon him. Brothers and Sisters, are you prepared to bear witness to the confessions of the wicked? Can I get an Amen?”
“Amen,” the crowd answered.
“Then it is time to hear from the accused! Doctor Monroe Shoemaker, what can you tell us about your guilt? And please do speak up so the good people in the back can hear.”
Doc stood in the cage and looked out over the crowd. “I’m guilty of the murder, but they deserved it. That’s all I have to say.”
The Judge turned to the crowd and threw up his arms. “GUILTY! By his own confession, Brothers and Sisters! We shall have a hang-ing!” As the Judge stretched his last word, show-boating his verdict, Doc sagged to the small bench in the cage.
“And now, Brothers and Sisters, bring about the next case! The Sheriff was kind enough to drag his criminals to stand before the Law!”
The fiddle and banjo lit up the speakers as Doc was led from the cage. A terrified short fellow took his place. The squat man’s body shook and his skin slick and slime coated. Sara pressed her face into Tucker’s shoulder, weeping quietly.
“Tuck,” she began.
“Don’t worry, Darlin.’ I’ll figure somethin’ out.”
At that moment, Tucker noticed a thin trail of dust sprouting to the west. Riders. At least a dozen or more. Tucker could smell something familiar, although faint. The sweet stink of riding roaches and an all too familiar scent of the bandit gang from the box canyon.
“We jus’ may have reinforcements. They come ta kill us, sure, but them folks here jus’ don’t need ta know them parts of it.”
Sara turned to look. “Where?”
“They’s comin.’ I need fer you to get onta tha roof. Take this, but don’t start shootin’ till after tha first shots fly.” Tucker handed her his rifle and the bandolier full of shells. “Get to it, Sara.”
A bell started ringing, clanging away at a frantic pace. The crowd of people scattered. Pushing and shoving their way to the gate. A lone guard pressed his way through the crowd. He ran to the Hangman’s Stage where Jurors and Judge Law looked around confused.
“Y’all gotta git inside. Bandits comin.’ Leave yer truck and git movin.’”
“What? Dear Brother, the courthouse can’t be left to suffer siege. I’ll need your finest men to stand post here and help defend it.”
The guard scoffed and spat on the ground. “Yer funeral, Judge.” He turned and ran back towards the wall.
The Judge and his Jurors stood for a moment. Judge Maxwell Law looked around at his trailer. It was far too big to fit through the gates.
“Leave the prisoners and the court-trailer. Start the roller, Brother Adam, get us inside those walls.” The Judge flipped a switch behind his podium, killing the lights and music.
Brother Adam, one of the Jurors, jumped from the platform and climbed into the roller that towed the massive courthouse. The others started unplugging cables and wires. They disconnected the trailer hitch and climbed onto the sides of the rig. Judge Law jumped down and took a final look at the trailer. The short man inside the cage was curling into a ball on the floor, crying. The small cage behind the curtain wall still held the others criminals and Doc Shoemaker. Their fate was sealed with their own guilt. Some would have called it murder, the Judge saw only justice.
Judge Law climbed onto the step of the roller and it thundered into the gates. The gates shut behind them and locked.
“Hold fire.” The cry came from the guard captain.
The bandits rode hard up to the gates, each man holding a white flag. A man with snail-like eye-stalks rode to the front of the pack.
“We want no trouble. We want protection!” The cry was echoed by his men. The guard saw then that women and children were mixed in the group, some even sharing a saddle with the bandits. “Please. They’ll be here any minute!”
The guard looked past them, a dark cloud spread over the desert. “What in mercy is that?”
“Axe-bills. I ain’t never seen so many. Please, let us in!” The bandit was desperate. “We got women-folk and youngin’s. Please.”
“Open the gates!” The guard captain turned to the people still gathered in the streets. “Every able body, git a gun!”
The streets filled with panic as the bandits poured in. They jumped from their roaches. Some of the women hauled the beasts off the streets. The children were ushered into homes and shops for protection from coming swarm. Tucker looked up to the roofline and found Sara. He ran inside the saloon and soon joined her. Her eyes were fixed to the west.
“What are they Tuck?”
“I heard axe-bills, and that ain’t no good fer nobody. Them things is vile. They eat damn near everythin.’ Folks, wood, shit I seen ’em eat rocks and metal a time or two.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, drawing her attention away from the black stain of thousands of birds. “Doc done got left outside. I need ya ta cover me.”
“What?” She asked, a look of shock on her face.
But Tucker was already up and running. He jumped across to the next roof, his boots thudding loudly on the wood. The throaty cries of the axe-bills started to fill the air. And the smell of rotting garbage clogged overpowered the dust and sweat and sugar-stink of Delphia. Shots rang out from folks on platforms built up into the skeletal spires of iron leftover from the city that was.
Tucker reached the low roof of a building along the wall and jumped. He hit the ground and rolled, tearing off at a sprint towards the trailer. He could hear a few screams, though they were muted beneath the maniacal warble of the axe-bills.
He jumped up to the platform as the first of the birds ran past the trailer. His pistol flashed out and fired, blasting the lock on the cage, and was holstered just as quick. The squat man jumped up and kicked through the cage door.
“Hang tight, Mister.”
The short man barely looked at Tucker and instead jumped off the trailer and ran. He stopped as a bird slid to a halt in front of him. The feathers were dingy and slick with filth. Tiny red pin-pricks from half a dozen eyes flicked towards him. The bird towered over him, nearly the height of a full grown man. And it’s beak, close to two feet in height and aptly named due it’s razor sharp shape.
The bird whipped its head back and struck. It split the man’s shoulder clean open through his rib cage. The short fellow never had time to scream. The bird mashed over and over, tearing chunks and swallowing. Others joined in. Tucker turned away and ducked through the door in the curtain wall.
The vibration through the ground from so many birds drowned any hope of hearing inside the short hall of the trailer. Tucker pulled two pistols, his right and his stunted third arm cocking the hammers back. He moved to the end of the hall and peeked around the corner. The next room held only cages. Four cages, three men.
“Doc!” His voice was barely heard.
Tucker pulled a lever that should have unlocked the cages. Nothing. There was no power left in the trailer. Three quick shots did just as good a job though. Doc pushed through with a huge smile. The other two ran out a back door, one of them snatched up and spraying blood before his foot left the room.
Tucker grabbed Doc’s arm and pulled him into the hallway. He handed Doc his last pistol.
“Don’t lose that,” he shouted.
Behind them they could hear the door splinter and feel the heavy steps of several birds enter the trailer. Tucker dragged Doc through the short hallway. They stepped onto the stage, crouching low behind the Jurors Box. Axe-bills had already started tearing the stage to kindling as they chewed and chopped through the wood and steel.
An explosion showered them both with rancid bits of meat and tissue. Tucker only smiled, Good girl, Sara, nice shot. Other birds jumped to the puddle of bird behind them as Tucker led Doc around the end of the benches. He looked to the wall of the city and swore. The birds were everywhere, they’d never make it.
Doc leaned close and shouted. “Fuel. The belly of this trailer is full of it! Tucker I have an idea. We’ll probably die, but it will be wonderful I promise you that!”
Doc pulled a small metallic thing and smiled. He pressed the button and ran for the edge of the platform. Tucker watched him drop and scurry beneath the trailer.
“Ah hell.” Tucker swore as he jumped to his feet and followed.
As he slid beneath the frame of the massive rolling courthouse, several the axe-bills tried to follow. The space was too small so the birds started hacking away at the frame. Tucker found Doc working a fitting lose, the small object sitting on the ground beside him. Tucker turned, shooting the birds that worked to follow. Each one he killed was replaced by another, the corpse eaten by the more of the frenzied beasts.
“Hell, we got us an ass-load of them buzzards tryin’ to make us inta food, Doc.”
“That’s acceptable, Tucker.”
Doc worked the fitting free and dropped the small gizmo inside the tank. Tucker looked down the length of the trailer’s underbelly; the fuel tank was nearly twenty feet long. He spun at a familiar sound, trying to see through the gaggle of legs and axe- head faces that clawed over one another to get at them. There was no mistaking the low rumble.
“Doc! That’s gotta be Sara!”
Tucker caught sight of a trapdoor and dragged Doc towards it. He pushed up and peeked through. The stage was empty, all the birds had gathered along the edge to get under the trailer. The gate to the city was wide open, bursts of flame keeping the bird swarm from entering. A single roller thundered across the space between. One of the guards unleashing a rain of lead from the mounted repeating rifle.
Tucker climbed to the platform, Doc right behind him. The roller rumbled in close and Doc jumped onto the back. A gout of flame shot through the floor. Doc yelled into the cab and Sara throttled up, lurching away from the stage.
Tucker holstered his guns and ran. He jumped out and grabbed the steel-cable noose, swinging out over the birds that tried to tear at the roller. The ground shook as the fuel tank exploded. A massive fireball rushing to the sky. The force shattered the courthouse to pieces and threw the debris in every direction. Splatters of bird bits rained down amid the smoldering wood.
The rest of the herd of axe-bills took off running. Scattered by the sound and the enormous pillar of flame. Sara slammed the roller to a stop and slid from the seat. She slithered as close as she could get to the heat of the fire. Tucker was nowhere to be seen.
“Tucker!” Her eyes filled with tears. “Tucker!”
Doc joined her. “That was more than I expected.”
They heard a groan from near the roller and rushed back. Sitting up in the dirt, trails of smoke from his hat, sat Tucker. He was a good twenty feet in front of them.
“Shit, Doc. What tha hell was that thing?” He held his arm as he laid back down. “Arm’s broke for sure.”
“It was a lighter. It was to be a gift for you, Tucker. An electronic heating coil, for your cigars.”
Tucker chuckled. “Wonderful, Doc.”
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Tune in for the exciting conclusion on a special Monday post!