Sunday morning rolled in like a feather floating in the breeze. Three nights in a row the rain came down. Don’t remember the last time that happened. And every morning like it was planned, the sun came up and scorched the ground dry and filled the day. They were hot days and stormy nights. Each day making a little more progress from the day before. When I walked outside Sunday morning no one had been up yet, and the town had gotten some much needed long overdue rest, and I got a profound sense of that walking out the door. Like the town itself_ the wood, the walls, the old shops, everything that made this town what it was and what it used to be, got some much needed rest as well. Everything was quiet.
But still there was something. It was the kind of quiet that came before a fateful crash. Nothing moved. The only sound was the bottom of my boots against the floor. I stopped and leaned myself up against the railing in front of Thelma’s. Started to think about the past few days standing there. It was hard to make sense of it. Still, nothing moved.
My mind didn’t fight the silence neither. I stood there looking out over the town, just looking. I sensed the last few days more than I was actually thinking of them. All seemed kinda like a dream. A blurry drawing sitting on top of a stack of darker ones full of pain. All the while that eerie presence in the air sat and watched like an elder woman in her final hours rocking back and forth in an old chair. The stairs creaked beneath me one note at a time. I could feel the silence. And still, nothing moved.
I already needed to wipe my forehead. As I put my hand back down, a single crow echoed from up above. I looked up and there was a solitary bird circling under the sun. It was the first thing to move all morning. What’s coming? I thought.
My attention hadn’t landed on anything else when I heard the doors swing open behind me. A couple footsteps followed before my conscious swung into the flow of the day and I became aware of hours and seconds. Everybody will probably be up soon I thought as I turned and saw the Man In Black holding a cup of coffee. He offered a “good morning” and joined alongside me. We both leaned back against each of the rails and took a long look over the town. “Same plan today?” I asked underneath the calm lingering presence woven amongst us. “We’ll see,” he replied moving the cup of coffee away from his mouth. Then he looked at me and said, “Come on, let’s go wake everybody else up.”
Thelma was wiping down the bar and cleaning the place when we walked in. That presence followed us inside, and it was still oddly quiet. I think we all sensed something was different that morning. The Man In Black walked over behind the counter where Thelma was and lent her a hand. I walked over and asked for a glass of water, and sat across from the two of them. I propped my leg up on the stool beside me, and Thelma scooped me a fresh glass from one of the barrels. It tasted fine. Refreshing actually.
I sat there and enjoyed it, and was thankful to have it. I finished the glass and set it next to me, never once having noticed neither of us had said anything to each other. I looked at the Man In Black. He was just standing there wiping the counter. I looked over at Thelma and she was wiping down some of the bottles that remained. The silence was woven throughout the room, but struck hard there at the bar. Guess I hadn’t noticed before, and perhaps they weren’t listening. I sat back in my seat a little further and wasn’t tempted to disturb it. Like the water, it was refreshing. The whole morning was kinda like that. Quiet, and refreshing. Maybe things were going to change… I thought. Maybe Frank__
Right then, my thought was cut off and the silence broke.
“What’re you all doing!? This is my town!” came barreling in. It wiped out the silence. It covered that sense from the morning. Our heads turned. Our hearts sank. At least mine did. It was on. This was it.
My legs fell off the stool. And Frank kept shouting from outside. “Who do you all think you are!? Show yourselves! Show yourselves at once!” He kept on going, but the Man In Black was already headed out to meet him. When I turned I saw Thelma. We both knew it… This was it!
Frank’s bellowing stopped. Thelma and I both moved to the windows, and saw the Man In Black making his way to the middle of the road. The town started to stir. Eyes found their way to the scene. And I saw as the town rose to see what was about to happen. The Man In Black stopped right in the center in line with Frank at the other end. Frank must’ve had a dozen or so of his men on horseback with him. The Man In Black stood there, while their eyes locked. The silence swept through again. The show down was on!
Little scatters from either side wrestled around. Little movements here and there as both parties focused in. Frank took notice of something coming from one of the windows across the way from us and spit beside him before he finally addressed the man that killed Cody Lyles, now standing before him. “Ahh, you… You must be the one who killed Cody and the other boys. Fortunate to still be alive in this broken mess of a town. Not for long…”
All their guns drew at once. Like a chorus of fire, each one began hauling off bullets down the road! The sound of thunder roared from the ground and bounced off the town! But the Man In Black dove to the side! He rolled and got to his feet and ran behind the livery stable. The firing stopped and all the men on each side of Frank split off and began rounding around behind both sides of town. After they dispersed gun smoke covered the air where they had parted leaving Frank wrapped in the cloud left by his men.
I looked for Thelma. She was already bringing over tables to cover the windows. I couldn’t help her. I saw the Man In Black taking fire across from us. He kept behind the building and fired back when he could.
Frank was still there at the opposite end in middle of the road. The cloud around him was clearing away a little bit and I saw him looking around at the ground moving forward slowly. He inched a little more and the creaking from the sign we rigged began to crack. He looked over and saw what we did. One more inch forward and the sign came crashing down. He jumped back and the sign landed smack in front of him. Dirt flew up from either side as he began laughing. He pulled his horse back and followed around to the west side where the Man In Black was. Thelma had finished covering up the windows and left only room for me to poke my rifle out.
I looked to see where I could lay cover fire. The sound of gun shots still rang out across the way! I poked around and saw one of Frank’s men get hit from in between a couple of the shops. He fell to the floor and the Man In Black took cover again and began to reload. Shots flew his direction. He kept moving back and forth and kneeling down and returning fire when he could. Frank’s men moved forward and I got eye of them in between the two buildings. I let off a shot and hit a guy on the side. He fell to the floor and they all took cover again moving back. Bullets poured through in our direction, and both Thelma and I hit the floor and took cover the best we could. Gunshots and bullets filled the air! This is it! This is what we’ve been preparing for!
I took a look when I thought it was safe. It was not. One of Frank’s men was headed right for us. He began to lift his arm in our direction when he caught eye of me, but I got him. He was about to let a shot off, but I got him one first right in the stomach.
Up the road some ways I saw a handful of the widows crossing the road. They must’ve seen this. I turned to lay cover fire for them and saw a few of Frank’s men that swooped around on our side coming back. Quickly I aimed and tried to get one of them in my sights. Then they stopped halfway in the road before circling back to Frank when they saw the widows. They snarled at the sight of the women carrying rifles. I got my aim. They took theirs. And the widows tried to load while rushing across. I hit one, and he fell from his horse. I reloaded as quickly as possible, but they all started firing at once. Most of the widows made it across except Ms. Matilda who was left on the floor.
I couldn’t catch my breath and stumbled firing my next shot. They saw where it was coming this time and started firing my direction as well. The widows bunkered down and returned fire and chased them off. They got one of them as they were fleeing back toward Frank. I saw them retrieve Ms. Matilda and caught my breath a little bit.
I tried to follow where Frank’s men had gone but they were already behind the buildings. That’s when I made eye contact again with the Man In Black. He seemed like he had been watching some of what was going on but I didn’t know he could while holding off Frank and his men. We locked eyes and he nodded toward his horse who appeared out of nowhere. I knew what he meant and locked on. He let off a couple more shots at Frank’s men and hauled ass toward his horse.
Frank’s men ran back toward the road after him and fired from the sides of the buildings. I covered him the best I could. He got to his horse grabbed the side and swung on. Frank and his men kept weaving in and out in between the buildings taking shots. Bullets rang through sky! Shots were coming from everywhere! The Man In Black was firing at them. They were firing back. I was laying cover. The widows were taking on some of them from within the old general store. The entire town was being filled with holes. Chips from practically every building were flying all over the place.
Every gun and rifle in town was engaged with one another. The Man In Black let off one more and hit one of them from his horse. He went down in a flash, and the Man In Black made his way for me. “Climb on! Climb on!” he hollered in front of Thelma’s. He grabbed me by the hand and swung me onto the back of him. I barely did anything. I was locked and loaded and began firing immediately as we bursted down the road toward the widows faster than I could count the men. I know I got a couple though.
We drew the attention of Frank and he headed behind the east side of town past the widows. We followed after him, and the widows laid down as much cover as they could. Bullets screamed in every direction but we made it around! When he turned the corner we saw Frank charging us. He was with a second wave of his men that wasn’t with him before. Damn it to hell! Where’d they come from!? They must’ve been standing by waiting for his signal.
They began firing at us immediately. We turned back and as we did the Man In Black dove off his horse. “Take cover! Go! Go!” he shouted. I grabbed the reigns and headed for the side of the old general store. I looked back and saw the man dodge and roll and begin firing at the second wave. I got a good position on the side of the building and tried to cover as much as possible.
The Man In Black kept rolling and firing back. We got two more! We kept exchanging fire before Frank and his men rode off past the Man In Black and headed back for the town. But the Man In Black grabbed one by the side and wrestled him down off his horse. Frank looked back at this and became furious. His face was enraged, and his eyes bled red. He spurred his horse ahead of his men and around the far end of town.
Shots still echoed from within the town. The Man In Black was still caught up wrestling with Frank’s man and the horse was rearing and thrashing his legs beside them. The Man In Black caught a glimpse of me and saw that I was in the clear. He jumped back, and I took the shot. Got the guy square between the shoulders. He went down. Then the Man In Black hopped on the guy’s horse and headed my way. I started to turn back toward town, and booooommm!
Crashing and roaring in the background, sending a cloud of fire and debris in the sky, the old surveyor office exploded and went up in flames. Frank must be carrying dynamite! God, I hope no one was nearby. I kicked the side of the horse and headed into town as quick as I was able. Black smoke was filling the sky, and ruble laid everywhere.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a horse bolting toward the other end of town. It was Frank! It looked like he was headed right toward Thelma’s and was holding another stick of dynamite! I kicked the horse again, this time as hard as I could, and started that direction.
It was maybe fifty yards where Frank was. There was no stopping him, nothing and no one between him and Thelma’s. His eyes and his entire face were bright red and full of hatred and satisfaction. He held the dynamite high, squeezing it for dear life, rearing and ready to lay waste to the final threshold this town held onto. He was moving fast and I was trying to close in the best I could. God, what a madman… How did we ever get involved with insanity like this… I suddenly got the image in my head of Thelma the other day talking to Mr. Rawlingwell. We were so lucky she was here. We were so lucky… Next thing, I found myself raising my rifle and taking aim. I had him. …I had him. My finger pressed the trigger and my rifle went off one final time. All other shots ceased instantly, and Frank Sanders, there at the furthest end of town, laid wasted on the floor.
The dynamite went flying toward Thelma’s and the fuse was still lit. I paid no notice to having shot Frank and just darted toward Thelma’s. “Thelma! Thelma!” I called out. I couldn’t go any faster than I was! Frank was crawling, inching his way like a snake trying to get to it as well. I wasn’t going to make it! I cried out one more time, then at the end of town I heard a snap and a pull and the cracking of heavy wood. I pulled up, and the new entrance sign to the town began to fall. Then I saw Frank turn his head and try to cover himself, and watch as the giant sign came toppling down and crash over his motionless frightful body. The fuse in front of him went out, and so did Frank. And the sign that labeled this town “Sandersville” now lay where it should, as it should. On top of Frank Sanders, just as dead and done as he was. The final exclamation point ending his saga and terrible, evil reign over our town. One last crash, and it was over.