The Journey Begins
The sage brush and sand was the only thing that covered the speckled basaltic rocks for miles. Who would have thought that the Wichita Mountain’s could look so boring and dead from the inside of a GB-7 Hover Stagecoach? The dull afternoon colors of red, yellow, and brown seemed to seep out of the hillsides from all around and bleed into the Desert Tarmac below. It looked like some unlucky cowpoke had spilled a bucket of puke on a dirty frying pan and let it bake in the sun for ten million years. It didn’t look like much to the untrained eye but it meant ‘prospects’ to all the laboring colonies within a hundred miles.
Maenad turned to the other men sitting in the dark cab with him. They were all from the Balballing government up north; one of the only places on earth that was much harsher than the desert landscape itself. The city was full of hot-headed political fools that cared about nothing more than drugs, sex, technology, and easy money… or so it seemed to every outlaw and farmer that could plant a crop and raise a family at the same time.
These particular men were sent by Governor T. William Smash to make sure that the train ‘operation’ ran smoothly. What a joke that was, Maenad could only see these gun bearing bureaucrats as low-life criminals. They had never really seen action like he had seen out in the Wild West. They had never really robbed an ‘IBC’ bank or an armored plated stagecoach surrounded by pistol wielding guards before; and this train was sure to have thirty of them. To any normal minded person, they would look much like an army ant attacking the bottom of a cowboy’s big leather boot. Death would be the only destination for these city-slicking fools; none of them knew how to survive.
Maenad yawned passively and eyeballed a particular man sitting across from him. The guy looked like one of those store-bought cowboys that you hear about in jokes around the campfire with old friends. Even his imposed scowl wasn’t fitting quite right on his untrimmed face. He was wearing a dark leather poncho and seemed to think himself god’s gift to train robbing; or so he practically told everyone on the way down from the city. The whole company hadn’t heard the end to his blabbing since they got in the cab back in Balballing. He had told them about all his adult philandering and small crimes he had committed in the city; as if each one earned him the right to be sitting here in the cab with the present company. Maenad hardy thought that robbing a paper stand on the corner of some street was enough to land this man in the wanted ads in the local bistros. He hated men like these; he hated how they talked themselves up into the atmosphere.
“Where did Governor Smash want us to rendezvous with the horses?” asked Maenad
The man didn’t turn to look at Maenad. He was still trying to hold his fabricated cowboy style, “We’re almost there.” He cleared his throat and spat out the hover cab window on to the rushing ground bellow, “keep your boots on outlaw. You’ll get your chance to kill as much as you want when we’re out on that train. Heck, if you want, we’ll let you do it all for us. I hear you’re so good at killing things in the desert, like families, and children; who to say you can stop a train as well. Smash couldn’t stop talking about how he had nabbed you from that mud-hole of a prison and convinced you to come on this ride” He turned and glared at Maenad with contempt. The rest of the lackeys in the smelly cab laughed.
Maenad didn’t join in on the camaraderie.
A softer voice spoke up over the laughter of the men. “Is it true that you killed a whole militia of men using only you’re sawed off shotguns… during the battle of Ponebrook?”
Maenad took his eyes off all the plastic cowboys sitting in front of him; he promised Mr. Smash that he wouldn’t kill any of them, he felt like breaking his promise. Maenad turned and eyeballed the young man sitting next to him; the kid just reeked of hope… and youthful stupidity. Maenad liked that trait in most people. Stupidity meant that he could use this kid as a shield should worse come to worse, and it usually did out here in the pan handle of hell. There was always someone calling your number. “What’s your name, kid?”
“My name’s Jim.”
“Well, Jim, you shouldn’t believe everything you’re told about the Wild West. There are thousands of stories that old farmers make up to put kids to sleep. They just forget to tell those kids that they aren’t true. Some men are just men and nothing more.”
Jim frowned a bit, “But what about the stories of you?”
Another man who was sitting next to Jim laughed and shoved the boy with his meaty elbow, “Would you shut up about it, Jim? I swear, it’s like we are transporting a three-year-old. I don’t know why Mr. Smash allowed you to come along for the ride. This is no job for kids; frank should have had someone else help him out with the equipment.” He leaned over and reached into the boys brown leather vest. He grabbed the paperback book the kid was concealing from the rest of the group and tossed it over to Maenad. Jim couldn’t react fast enough to stop his companion from revealing his secret. All the other men in the cab were now watching the whole thing unfold. Their eyes were dark and pensive like rodents.
“There’s your problem, you dirty outlaw,” the man next to Jim said as he cleared his throat and spat out the window. “The boys head is in the clouds too much. I saw him put this into his pocket back when we were loading up the stagecoach in Balballing. He thought he was being all secret like, but I saw him. The kid just wants to see an outlaw. I think he’s just going to get himself killed out here.”
“Please don’t read it Maenad…. I swear it’s not mine!” Jim protested.
Maenad looked down at the worn pages of the paperback book and smiled slightly. Something about it all reminded him of his own childhood growing up on the Desert Tarmac. He never actually bought cheesy western books in the stores, but he had heard about them from his brother before his death. The front cover of this particular western was too cliché for words. It depicted a very rugged Maenad running through the dusty trenches of Ponebrook killing militia men with his bare hands. Gun smoke and dust was everywhere. The sun was beating down on the blood covered trench. Maenad’s eyes passed over the title “Real Men of the Wild West, Episode # 38: Maenad and the Ponebrook Massacre!”
“I didn’t even know they made a book about this event in history.” Maenad looked up and chuckled to himself, as if seeing some kind of demented joke in it all. It was just like city slickers to glamorize the ravaging of war, and then turn around and sell it for five-dollars a pop. It was capitalistic crap in poetic motion, Maenad turned to the stupid bureaucrats sitting in the hot cab with him. “Now, how am I going to get the royalties on this little book here? I didn’t hire a publishing agent. I should up-and-sue someone for doing this to me.” He enjoyed using the word ‘sue’ in front of the city folk, it was a city-slicker term and he didn’t know quite what the ‘cow-dung’ it meant but he had heard it used a few times out in the desert. He heard that city folk get scared when they hear the word ‘sue’.
“I highly doubt you will be suing anyone, outlaw,” It was the same fake guy who had made the stupid joke about him killing people on the Flying Bullet. His voice sounded just as pleasing as nails on a school house chalkboard. Maenad wanted to punch him in the mouth and throw him out the window.
“What’s your name, stranger?” asked Maenad. He wasn’t amused.
The smile faded from the guys soft but dark features. “My name’s Paco, pronounced, PA-CO, for you uneducated type.” He cracked his neck and slipped his thumbs into his leather belt as if to seem tougher by doing this. “Why? You have a problem with me outlaw?”
This guys attempt at toughness was almost hysterical to Maenad. “No, not yet, but after the mission I might have something in mind for you.” He held up the western book by the spine and waved it in the air. “Why don’t I get royalties from this piece of garbage?”
Paco laughed again. “Because they changed the story enough not to give it to you. It’s all legal mumbo-jumbo. You wouldn’t understand it outlaw.” He shifted in his seat and pointed at the book. “Why, I bet that whole massacre thing of yours was a farce. I bet you are not the legend that everyone makes you out to be. Mr. Smash was a fool for hiring you for this train ride out in the desert. We certainly don’t need an outlaw for this mission, and we most certainly don’t need you to tell us what to do.”
The cab was silent and the tension was fierce.
“You might be right, “said Maenad softly. “But then again, I’m not doing it for Mr. T. Smash like you fools are. Hell, I am not even doing it for the 3000 gold that was promised us back in the City. I am doing it to settle a score with my good friend Captain J. Maxwell and if anyone get’s in my way I’ll kill them too. We have a lot of history together and I believe she owes me her apology before she dies.”
“Yeah, right,” yawned Paco mockingly. He stretched his legs out and sucked in a valium of dry desert air. “I recon you’ll be dead come this time tomorrow. Just like us all...” He was quiet for a moment. The wheels in his head were turning much more quickly now. “No one has ever done what we are about to do… No one….” The other men in the stagecoach were silent as well. Everyone kind of believed his words. Everyone one thought of his own mortality sooner or later; now was that time.
Maenad looked back over at the kid sitting next to him. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, kid.” He handed the book back to Jim. “Mr. ‘Pecan Pie’ over there is right about a few things in life. We all will be dead in the morning when we get on that train. Well at least some of us will.”
“But they base them all on true stories…” muttered Jim.
“Oh, would you shut it already Jim!” the man next to Jim was getting frustrated. He grabbed the silly little western book and threw it out the window. The white pages fluttered in the air for a second then disappeared as it hit the hard terrain, “the outlaw doesn’t want to hear about his own aggrandizement and neither do I. End of story!” he folded his arms and looked back out the window at all the different colored sagebrush. A small breeze crept into the cab at that moment and washed over everyone. It felt like the nicest thing on earth.
Jim looked shocked, “some friend you are Bill!”
“I am not your friend Kid; never was.”
This made Maenad smile slightly; the kid certainly had something he liked. He wasn’t like the other city slickers in the hot cab. He was different. He was real with everybody. He wasn’t trying to act tough in front of a well known outlaw. Maenad decided at that point he would let the boy live.
Moments later the stagecoach came to an abrupt stop and a voice called out from the top of the cab. It was Frank, the stagecoach driver.
“We’re finally here!”
Every city-slicker left the hover stagecoach to see the new destination.
And Maenad followed them.