The sky was darkened by steel-grey clouds, running toward the horizon’s setting sun, as if to extinguish its light on this scene of urban justice. The scaffold, hastily erected seemed eerily at peace in this riotous sky, blood red near the edges like a vein opening and flowing into an nearby gutter.
Angry flashes of lightning as a storm, riding a hot desert wind blew in from the west, drying the mouths of the onlookers, waiting to see this bastard get hung. Flies blew in with the wind, the biting kind, and they seemed angrier than most days, biting and stinging and drinking from everyone. Even these desert-hardened folk were annoyed by them.
Not that it would take much for that to be the case. They had waited all day while the scaffold was being built and they restrained their urge to rush the jail and make their own justice. The sheriff, Brody Atkins, standing outside with his Winchester rifle, freshly cleaned and charged and known for the sharpest eye this side of Texas, and a temper to match made it clear, there would be no justice today but his. In Kansas City, we do things by the book, he said. And he was willing to shoot anyone to make sure they understood.
He always said, a town needed laws. There were mutants and chimera out in the badlands surrounding the gates of Kansas City but that didn’t matter none, if there were no laws in the city either. He ran a fair town. There were two deputies and a town militia, mostly for show these days, that got together once a month to drill and help people keep their shooting skills up. But mostly, charges were burned up on targets, there hadn’t been a mutant attack for over two years. There hadn’t been much of anything until this bandit and his friends show up a few months ago.
The sheriff and his deputies handled the roughest and worst behaved members of that crew in a shoot out where Old Man Percy was killed. But the leader of the group was not around at the time and a warrant was put out for his arrest. Messages from Oklahoma said a man matching his description was wanted for murder and he had taken up with bad men upon being run out of town there. For sheriff Brody Atkins, that was all the incentive he needed. The reprobate was found after he returned to the city, claiming to be out hunting, and was promptly arrested.
Having technically committed no crime, the sheriff could not hold him. But he was relieved of his firearms and told to be on his best behavior while the sheriff waited for a Marshal Van Raken to arrive in town in a few days. The suspect was named J. T. Wilks. He surrendered peacefully claiming he would be found innocent. But in this frontier town, suspicion was akin to guilt. It did not take long for the locals to harass J. T. Wilks in a local saloon.
JT, never known for holding his temper among his people, in the altercation, managed to serious injure several patrons of the bar. During the fight, it became public knowledge JT was a passer, a mutant who could pass for human. It was not illegal to be a passer, but most city’s had ordinances that insisted any unregistered mutant must report to the town sheriff and announce their mutation. Unfortunately, most after making such an announcement were run out of town immediately or killed on the spot. Hence most passers said nothing and did their best to keep their mutations out of the public eye. JT was superhumanly strong, it took nearly eight men to hold him down until he could be bound and brought before the sheriff.
Two of the men he fought died of their internal injuries, several days later. He was promptly returned to the jail to await the Marshal who would also sit as the judge for the trial. Needless to say, while he was not the same man the Marshal was expecting to find, it no longer mattered as he was in violation of local laws in Kansas City. His trial was swift, perhaps too swift, and the judgment was never in doubt. He would hang by the neck until he was dead at sundown tomorrow.
When the time came, JT was brought out in cuffs and many of the townsfolk had never seen him before today. He was a giant, nearly black as coal, with arms that looked as if they were forged of steel. Removed from his baggy clothing, his massive proportions became apparent, especially when standing next to the giant that was Sheriff Brody. JT stood a head taller than Brody. His eyes were in a stern and unsmiling face, sharp lines, as if sculpted from onyx and as he was lead to the scaffold he did not look down.
He looked into the audience, who was breathing shallow and excitedly and he noted the various shapes, colors, sizes and scents wafting upward toward the gallows. The smell came in on the hot wind, with biting flies. The flies landed on everyone but JT. Their avoidance was a small comfort, as the sky grew dark and rain began to fall. It was a trickle at first, and then it grew stronger. The audience, recognizing the weather, simply pulled up their hoods or put up hand-made umbrellas but kept them low to their heads. Men with hats simply pulled up their collars to protect their necks and waited stolidly for the main event.
A reverend came up with JT and stood by him. “Son, is there anything you want to say to the people as a sign of contrition for your acts?”
JT looked at the reverend, and the intensity of his stare, caused the normally nonplussed man of the cloth, who was used to dealing with the damned souls of this world, to look away and clutch himself seeking his holy symbol. “Padre, don’t waste my time. Since your little town knows nothing about justice, I will seek mine in the next life. Now get outta my face. I got some dying to do.”
The sky opened up as JT was positioned over the drop door and the noose was placed around his neck. He did not flinch, nor fight with his captors. The two deputies were stationed across from the scaffold on nearby rooftops and were in position to shoot him if he did not comply. JT had seen them as soon as he stepped on the scaffold, and knew any resistance would get him shot. The rain began to pour so hard, it became hard to see the audience and JT became enraged even as he ignored the charges being read to him. The rain flowed into his ears, over his face, and he could not wipe it away, because his hands were bound behind his back. He could taste the sweat as it rolled down his face into his mouth, mixed with the tang of the sulfurous rain.
“…having been found guilty of murder, you have been sentenced to be hung by the neck until you are dead.” Brody was having to shout over the sound of the rain hitting metallic roofs nearby. A crack of lightning and a boom of thunder sounded immediately after the word dead, as if there was a punctuation to the sentence from on high.
“This is your last chance, my son, God wants to hear your prayers and for you to beg for forgiveness.” The reverend stood near to JT so he did not have to yell. They were intimately close as the preacher whispered to him.
“Tell your God, I rebuke him and there is nothing he can do for me, that I have not already had to do for myself. I don’t need his help or want his mercy. Now get out of my face, Padre, before I do something you’ll regret.”
“May God have mercy on you anyway.” The reverend backs away from JT and looks to he hangman.
“Be about your work hangman, I am beginning to get bored with all of these folk standing around in the rain. Do me.” When JT Wilks looked out over the crowd, he did not feel the peace of a man going to his death. He felt conflicted, wronged and sickened by the need of these people to find a scapegoat for their spiritual weaknesses. His disgust with the world rose into his throat and he roared defiantly as the hangman pulled the switch. His primal scream terrified the onlookers and several turned away in fear. In that moment, a bolt of lightning struck JT as he fell through the trapdoor and the noose tightened only for a split second around his neck. The flash of lightning caught the entire town staring at JT as he lit up with the bolt of lightning from the top of his head to his feet.
Because they were all watching, save the few who turned away, most were blinded by the lightning for many minutes. During that time, the few who had turned back saw JTs burning body lying on the ground, slowly moving, turning squirming as electricity still played across his body, slowly draining into the ground. Steam and smoke rose from him as he got to his knees. His face, looking down was unreadable, and the noose hung loosely around his neck with the burned end still smoldering on his chest along with what appeared to be a scar, on his face and his chest, as if the lightning had arced from his chest to his face before destroying the rope that, by all rights, should have killed him.
As he stood up, the last of the onlookers had seen his giant form rising and crossed themselves with their various religious signs and many slunk away under the cover of the rain. But most stood there wondering what would be the outcome of this turn of events. Sheriff Brody looked to the two deputies and raised his hand, and then waved them to come down to him. Brody climbed down off of the scaffold and began to move toward JT who had already begun walking toward the gates of the city.
“You know I can’t help you, right?”
“Did I ask? Am I free to go? Or will you shoot me in the back as I leave the gate so the chimera will eat my corpse and you won’t have to spring for my burial?”
“Nope, ‘fraid not. I know the law better than the next man. You are free to go from here. God set you free.”
“If you say so.”
“I do have one bit of advice, if you’re willing to take it.”
“What’s that, sheriff?”
“Head for New Texas if you can.”
“Now why would I want to do that?”
“Because if I was to say to the locals that you were heading for New Texas, most would hesitate to follow you.”
“I see. I don’t suppose you could see your way to letting me out of these cuffs.”
“Sorry, no can do. The law says, as the Lord frees you, you must go. No one will stop you from reaching the gate, and I will prevent anyone from following you the next twenty four hours. After that, you are on your own. I hear New Texas is really nice this time of year, and they may have work for you as well.”
Talking louder, JT replied, “New Texas, it is then.”
And then Brody whispered, “Now off the record, while they may have work, there are other things going on there you might want to be aware of and as you get closer to the city. We have heard nothing from them for over two weeks, so something is wrong. A man who brings back news could find his way to making friends.”
The smaller gate set opened while the larger and main gate stayed closed. The sheriff walked out with JT and they continued down the road toward the south. Outside the gate, nature rapidly took over anything that was not the road. Stunted and gnarled trees with strangely shaped leaves hung casting lengthening shadows.
“Personally, I ain’t got nothing against your kind, if you know what I mean. And I wish I could do more to help you, but you understand.” Then the sheriff grabbed JT by his forearm and before JT could move, a knife materialized at his throat. “On the other hand, if this knife were to get dropped during our tussel, I might forget it was out here in my hurry to get inside.
JT kicked upward with his knee into the groin of the sheriff, who managed to turn his hip into the blow preventing the full contact JT was hoping to make. This, in turn, forced the sheriff to move his knife from JT throat and JT snapped his massive head forward, cracking the sheriff on the forehead and knocking him forcefully backward into the dirt. The knife, flew through the air and landed in the underbrush. JT noted its landing but kept his eye on the sheriff. When the sheriff looked back at JT, his eyes had changed color from the deep sapphire blue they were when he was reading off JT’s list of crimes, to a fire-golden hue with catlike slits instead of round pupils. He looked up at JT and blinked again. His sapphires had returned. He got up and dusted himself off before turning back up the road.
“You have a hard head there, partner. I hope you will be able to keep it on your shoulders. Try not to come back here anytime soon. Ya hear?”
“Sheriff, did you do this? I know it is possible for some….”
“Don’t look at me, I don’t know nothing about it. It’s said, the Lord works in mysterious ways. You and He, have unfinished business, I reckon.” The sheriff began whistling some strange tune as he disappeared around the bend heading back to the gate.
Forsaken © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved