The Train: Episode 34

On the newly built gallows, Dennis Hodge stood shaking with a noose around his neck awaiting his execution. Too frightened to fight back for fear of what might happen to Gwendolyn, he closed his eyes and told himself at least she would be safe. All that mattered was Gwendolyn, protecting her, and if that meant him dying, so be it.

Standing near Hodge, Reginald Lawson looked out over the crowd at his kingdom, his subjects.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have come here today to address a great difficulty. There is a stranger in this fair town who pretends to be one of you. A brother. But he is not. He is a wolf draped in sheep’s clothing. Young Mister Hodge here was taken in by this trickster. He broke free from the mine where he was being held prisoner for crimes against the town, and in so doing, he killed several of the innocent, hardworking men who were only there to protect him. Now Mr. Hodge, refusing to disclose the location of this vile stranger, must hang for his—.”

When Lawson saw Michael walking through the crowd toward the gallows, he stopped mid-sentence.

“Well bless my soul. Here is the wolf now,” Lawson added.

Michael walked up the steps of the gallows and planted himself between Hodge and Lawson, forcing Lawson to turn his back to the crowd.

“I’ll leave for good, Lawson. Just don’t do this. Let him go. He shouldn’t have to pay for my crimes,” Michael said.

“He isn’t, dear boy,” Lawson spoke in a whisper. “His death is the price of loyalty.”

“Someday someone is going to stand up to you,” Michael warned.

Lawson laughed, “I’m afraid, son, that will never happen. Have you forgotten that I own this entire town and everyone in it?”

With steely determination, Michael gazed into Lawson’s haughty eyes, took a deep breath and said,

“Not everyone.”

In a flash, Michael had drawn his revolver and fired. The bullet punched into Lawson’s chest and out his back, throwing him backwards off the gallows and dead in the dirt. As soon as the sheriff realized what had happened, he drew his gun just as Michael raised his hands and faced him. When Michael spotted Dr. Ricer in the crowd, he mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”

 

 

*          *            *

Dr. Ricer watched in slowly building horror as everything he’d seen in his dream came true. Just as Michael apologized, a rifle shot rang out and hit Michael in the right breast. He dropped off the platform and hit the ground alongside his pistol.

In fear for their lives, the crowd scattered while the sheriff and his deputies ducked to avoid the sniper.

Ricer ran over to Michael and turned him over. When he saw the hole in Michael’s coat, he lost his composure and began sobbing.

“I’m so sorry, Michael. I tried so hard to keep this from happening, but I failed you.”

As Ricer wept over the body, he heard approaching footsteps. When the footsteps stopped beside him, a dog padded over and began sniffing Michael.

“Could you do that later, Doc? We got somewhere we need to be,” Elliot Tombs drawled.

With misty eyes, Ricer looked up to see that Elliot was pushing a wheelbarrow.

“What?” Ricer sniffled in confusion.

“Owwww,” Michael groaned as he slowly came to.

Ricer quickly looked back at Michael. He was beginning to stir.

“Michael!” Ricer whispered.

Michael slowly moved his coat aside and saw where the bullet had struck him.

Patting his chest, he said, “Never was a big fan of law enforcement. Don’t get me wrong. I know they have a job to do, but I’m never taking this thing off again!”

Ricer was stunned when he saw that the Marshall’s badge had stopped the bullet.

“Stop moving, lunk head. You’re supposed to be dead,” Elliot drawled.

Michael rested his head back in the dirt as Elliot said,

“Doc, help me lift him into this wheelbarrow so we can get out of here.”

“What about Lucy?” Ricer asked.

“Relax, Doc. I got her. She’s waiting for you,” Elliot explained.

“And Nicole?” Ricer asked.

“Getting Gwendolyn. She’ll meet us later.”

As Elliot wheeled Michael out of the street, Ricer kept looking at the bullet dented Marshall’s badge.

“What are the odds that a sniper would hit that exact spot?” Ricer asked.

“Bout a hundred to one. That’s why I had Nicole shoot him,” Elliot drawled.

“Nicole shot me?” Michael snapped.

“Quiet, dead man!” Elliot asserted.

Once the three men were clear of the crowd,  Elliot dropped the wheelbarrow and said,

“Ride’s over, dead man. Get up.”

Michael slowly stood on shaky legs.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Ricer said.

“Look, Doc, even though your heart was in the right place, I knew Michael would most likely get himself hung. So I stopped Nicole the other night and told her to shoot him. She’s the better shot, and the rest of you coots would be too busy trying to clean up the mess you made.”

They found Nicole and Lucy with Gwendolyn waiting at the end of the street beside an old shed near the edge of town.

Michael smiled at Gwendolyn as he walked up.

“You should go see Dennis. He’ll be scared and probably a little confused. You never have to worry about Lawson. He won’t be a problem anymore,” he assured her.

“Thank you so much,” Gwendolyn said with tears in her eyes.

As she walked away, Michael turned and called out,

“Congratulations by the way.”

“Thank you,” she said. “For what?”

“You own the town. Behave or I’ll return.”

Her face broke into a sweet smile as she lifted her skirts and hurried away to find Dennis.

“She’ll be all right now. Time to go,” Elliot announced as the train whistle filled the air.

Ricer took Lucy’s hand as they stepped through the shed door into the train station.

Michael looked at Nicole and said jokingly, “You shot me.”

“My pleasure,” Nicole responded.

“Get moving you two,” Elliot pushed. “Time’s a wastin’.”

The last one through, Elliot held the shed door open for Samuel and closed it behind him. Stepping up on the train’s platform, he couldn’t help smiling as the train pulled away from the station.

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