The Hangman’s Stage

Written by: Joseph D. Stirling (2013)

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. 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.

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!”

“Wonderful!”

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.”

Sara helped Tucker to his feet. His side was slick with blood, soaking his shirt and running down his leg. He waved her concerned look away with a pained smile.

“Jus’ split some stitches is all.”

Doc climbed down from the roller and rushed over. He slid Tucker’s pistol into the holster. His two slender right arms carefully examined Tucker’s arm. He nodded with a quick smirk.

“Your arm is fine, Tucker. It has only been dislocated. I can pop it back in now. It’s going to hurt tremendously, I assure you. But then, it’s going to hurt no matter where it’s done.” Doc yanked down on Tucker’s arm. There was a wet, sucking pop and Tucker cried out. “There we are. Isn’t that better Tucker? Now to re-stitch your side.”

Doc jumped to his feet and ran to the roller.

“Hey, Doc!” Tucker cradled his shoulder as he stood. “How ‘bout we get some whiskey in me ‘for ya start.”

Tucker turned towards the city and started walking. Sara slithered along beside him. The glitter of light from the city gate was unmistakable, Judge Law was on his way. His entourage of silver plastic clad goons on his heels. Tucker shook his head.

“That sum’bitch is comin’ fer Doc.” He spat into the dirt. “Tell me how shootin’ this prick is a bad idea? I can’t see no down side to it.”

“Doc cleared them buzzards off. It’s gotta be worth somethin’ to clear him up, right? Hell, them axe-bill’s woulda ripped this place down.” Sara glanced back at Doc as the roller started up.

“I ain’t never seen no herd so big. Somethin’ had ta spook ‘em enough to gather like that.” Tucker dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigar. He wedged into the corner of his mouth. He fished around his pockets for a match with no luck. “Hell.”

Doc drove forward, heading back towards the city. Judge Maxwell Law and his Jurors stepped over the bodies of a couple axe-bills and got in front of the roller, hands out in front of them. Doc hit the brakes and leaned out the window.

“Can I give you a lift back to town? If not I would ask you to get out of the way. I would hate for anything bad to happen to a Judge.” Doc’s wry smile sent the Judge into fits.

“How dare you! How dare you threaten a member of the courts! You, Sir, have taken your criminal behavior well too far into the realms of indecency! I’ll not stand for it.” The Judge stomped a foot. Behind him, one of the axe-bills bodies stirred and slowly stood. It fixed its six eyes on the Judge’s glittering mirror coat and pants. “Furthermore, the charges of attempting escape from custody and failure to adhere to the laws of the court will be applied to your case!”

Doc glanced at Tucker’s rifle in the passenger seat and pushed the driver’s door open. He thumped his clubbed foot out and took aim.

“Help!” The Judge screamed, waving his arms in a panic. “The murderer has a weapon! Kill him!”

Doc fired. The explosive rocket round hit the axe-bill that reared up behind the Judge. Maxwell Law and his Jurors were thrown to the ground by the concussive force as the axe-bill splattered, bits flying into the air. The Judge turned, eyeing the gooey carnage with a dry laugh.

“Hah! It seems you’re coming to your senses.” The Judge turned back to Doc. “Your trial and hanging will proceed as planned. The guilty, you see, always get what they deserve.”

The Judge’s head split, almost exactly down the middle. The Jurors stood dumbfounded, staring at the beak that came spinning down from the sky. It still smoked from the explosive shot. Judge Law gurgled a final breath and dropped to the ground.

Doc set the rifle back in the cab. “Did the Judge Maxwell Law, ever tell you how he saw what I did, or who the two men were?” He asked the Jurors, who turned to face him. “His real name is Elroy. Maxwell Elroy. The two I killed were called Marvin and Matthew Elroy. They were his younger brothers.”

Tucker and Sara watched the Jurors closely as they listened, Tucker’s hand resting on a holstered pistol. The Jurors stood still in their plastic silver robes, patiently listening.

“You see,” Doc continued, “he and his brothers beat and raped two women. Phyllis and Phoebe Mulligan, aged 13 and 15. They deserved it I assure you. And the only reason Maxwell there was still alive is because I thought him dead already. Seems fate fixed that problem. Now, if you would be so kind as to move out of the way…”

Doc slid back into the seat and closed the door. Tucker smiled as the Jurors moved and Doc pulled ahead. Sara wrapped an arm around Tucker’s waist as they continued into the city.

It didn’t take long for the Jurors to load into the rig and leave the city. A trail of dust and the diminishing thunder of the engine following them out. Tucker unbuttoned his shirt and planted himself on a bench out front of the saloon. Doc cleaned tucker’s side and removed the torn stitches. He got to work re-closing the knife wound again.

“Dreadful work, Tucker. This is the second time I’ve had to sew you back together.” Doc chuckled quietly. “You’ll have to wear a sling for your arm too. It’ll help the shoulder heal.”

“Yer the doc, Doc.”

Doc smiled and finished the stitches. He swabbed the wound clean again and bandaged it. Sara winked at Tucker as he buttoned his shirt and tucked it in. As he buckled his belt, Sara struck a match. Tucker leaned in and puffed gently to light his cigar. He stood with a sigh.

“Ya ever get tha feelin’ somethin’ big’s ‘bout ta happen?” Tucker rolled the cigar around his mouth.

Doc shot him a knowing look. “Tucker, you have no idea…”

END

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2 thoughts on “The Hangman’s Stage

    • Thank you! Glad you liked it. This was a sequel to Easy Money. I had the idea for the setting a long time back in High School, but didn’t actually write any of it till this year. It just took me a while to find the right mix of post-apocalypse, science fiction, and western. 🙂

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