Panicked feet broke the silence as they stumbled up the dusty street. J.W’s left eye opened a slit to regard his intruder. A thin figure, barely past boyhood tore round the corner, his cotton shirt ripped exposing a mottled chest. The boy’s dark eyes were wide with fright, streaked with tears and desperation.
“Please Mister. Let me through to the preacher.” Even in his panic, the boy was polite, respectfully awaiting an answer.
J.W stretched, stood and pulled an apple from his coat pocket. “Thieves aughta be punished. Specially you Carnies and Freaks. It’s in your blood.” He took a huge chunk and chewed noisily. “I hope you stole something good.”
The boy straightened and snarled. “I didn’t take anything. I was just - walking.”
Horses’ hooves clattered on the hardened dirt road.
J.W stopped chewing, frowned and looked about the gatehouse quickly.
“Climb up into the tree till they pass. I’ll give you a boost up.”
J.W crossed his arms, slid fluidly down the trunk and closed his eyes.
A half mounted men rode steadily toward him, several extra jogged behind exploring doorways and searching the alleyways. Those on the ground carried wooden bludgeons or hooks used on the docks.
“Ehh! You. See anyone come past just now?”
A loud snore erupted from the slumped figure.
“On your way tumbleweed.” Amos Ewing leant forward on his saddle and hawked. A huge glob of tobacco laded spit rolled over in the dust as it landed beside J.W’s boot.
J.W yawned, stretched languidly, “Wassup?” and looked up at the men with one eye open. “Yer, woke me.”
Hooves echoed in the narrow street as the men drew their horses into a semi circle. J.W pushed his hat up and stared at the ring leader.
The lads from the docks growled as they shuffled in closer to the gatehouse. As one thrust a kick at him, J.W grasped the leg’s progression and pulled violently, using the force to flick himself upward and tip the aggressor ungraciously to the ground. J.W slipped inside an overhead slice, blocking it painfully at the joint and with an outward reap sent the man stumbling into the dust.
With a roar, another attacked J.W with a swinging haymaker. J.W unbalanced him easily with a low sweep to the legs, ducking his head beneath the next hamsized fist. Within moments, the gleeful shouts of a half dozen men about to beat one, turned into groans and gurgles of a score of the vanquished. J.W crouched in a guarded stance watching for the remaining mounted men’s next movement.
A painted horse with its tail held high cantered into the scene. The man in its saddle assessed the situation quickly and, stared hard at J.W before glaring at the two men still on horseback. Continuing to gauge J.W, he barked “Where’s yer sense Amos? Attacking a man in the street? In case you forgot, I’m the law in this town. You’re lucky he didn’t draw his two pistols and shot you down like the dogs you are.”
Terrance lowered his eyes. “Awhh Sheriff, we’d have worn him down eventually. He ain’t no-one you need to worry about.”
“You and Amos aughta know better. Not today anyway.”
They all looked down at J.W, noting despite the exertion of the last few moments, his chest rose and fell normally.
Sheriff Jenkins patted his horse as it stamped and shook its head. “I take it yer just passin’ through Mr Hardin?”
J.W picked up his hat and dusted it off. “Not surprised you know who I am.”
Terrance spat. “John Wesley Hardin. You augtha hang for what you did to Wild Bill. That man’s a God Damned legend. And you had the gall ta - ”
“Like me?” J.W lowered further. “So I can murder in the name of law and order, instead of just doing it when I please?”
J.W leant against the gatehouse and crunched another apple. “Before the sermon this morning gentlemen? I hear its about loving your fellow man, acceptance of all God’s creatures. Helping those less fortunate.”
If you'd like to read a little on the folk at Cyotta Falls and are a fan of Choose Your Own Adventures - check out Dust and Death - an online CYOA, written collaboratively by a group of emergent talented authors. This story is set only days before the main events explored at Dust and Death.