Maenad

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The Big Bang Theory

Maenad landed on his stomach and slid ten feet away from the correctional building, legs flopping as he went along. Snow and ice pelted him in the face and soaked into his prison issued clothes as he came to a resting positioned. Planks of wood toppled off his back as he coughed violently at the cold air around him. It seemed like the taste of ash and black smoke would take weeks to leave his lungs. Maenad struggled to push himself up out of the mud and ice. His hands slipped in the loose sediment and his right shoulder was still burning from the cut that The Coalmen had given him. He wiped muck out of his eyes and stared, dazed at the landscape. Thick white snow was now blanketing the yard.

Maenad laughed as he came to his knees and flicked the mud off his sleeves. His whole escape operation had quite literally went up in flames in a matter of seconds. Images of the fire-swept coalmen danced before his vision like a moving picture. It had felt like he had just escaped from the depths of a hellish nightmare. I never thought I’d meet the devil in prison, thought Maenad sarcastically. His mind went back to sermons that his father had given about men meeting the devil on the road to perdition. He was always on about meeting the devil in our deeds.

Maenad came to his feet and froze. Standing before him, in the cold prison yard, was an army of about one hundred guards, each one pointing and aiming a 12 gauge shotgun at him. Their faces were lit up by the roaring fire billowing out of the prison cargo bay. Maenad couldn’t help but smile and shake his head at the scene. It seemed that the whole compound showed up for his recapture. There was no way to kill them all without the appropriate weaponry and the element of surprise. They were all keeping their distance this time too. Maenad had failed; and at the moment he didn’t even care. He was exhausted from the fight with The Coalmen.

“Howdy, ya’ll,” said Maenad as he brushed the mud off his shirt and pants. He was trying to look presentable for his recapture.

“You failed, outlaw!” barked an angry voice from the crowd. “No one leaves this prison without going through me, first!”

Maenad turned to see the warden standing at the front of the guards.

“Hello, Bargo, your looking lovely this evening.”

“Don’t you dare ‘hello’ me you son-of-a-Wichita-Whore!” barked Bargo loudly; he was fuming from the day’s events. Maenad could see his face was flushed and red, but couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or from his blood pressure. Bargo had cleared the courtyard and cancelled the execution, all in less than twenty minutes. Everything had been ruined by Maenad’s futile attempt to make it to the outside walls. He ordered some guards to handcuff Maenad and bring him forward. Bargo wasn’t going to play games anymore; this escape attempt would mean the end for him. The guards hesitated slightly as they came forward to handcuff Maenad. Even with the whole lot of them, they still understood what an outlaw could do. They had been cleaning up Maenad’s mess all night.

“What in your right mind made you think you could escape from this prison?” Barked Bargo. “No one escapes! Ever. Unless I put their ashes to the wind!”

“I like a challenge every once in a while,” stated Maenad. He spat out some of the dirt in his mouth. His teeth were gritty and rough from the grains of sand.

“You like a challenge!” said Bargo mockingly as he threw his hands up into the air. “You did all of this for a challenge?” He indicated to the courtyard covered with guards standing in the snow. Bargo walked forward and indicated to the building, which was on fire. Smoke was bellowing up to high heaven. “For a challenge you set the building on fire?!”

From somewhere in the distance shotgun blasts were still tearing through the night sky; causing many to flinch slightly in the crowd. The prisoners were still rioting on the 24th floor. Bargo stepped forward and thrust his fingers at Maenad violently, as if he were stabbing someone through the heart. “You killed twelve of my men and started a riot on the 24th floor, all for a challenge? A challenge!”

The guards brought Maenad over to Bargo.

“Put him on his knees!” demanded Bargo. “By the grace of our lady, this bastard shouldn’t stand in my presence, or the presence of the guards.”

The prison guards kicked the nape of Maenad’s knees and forced him down toward the ground. The mud squished and popped as he sank into it. The wind was slowly drying the mud on Maenad’s face forming a makeshift death mask that crumbled off in places.

“When Supreme Governor Smash gets word of you ruining the execution of the former Governor, he will not have mercy on your soul. As a matter-of-fact, I would be doing us both a favor by executing you right here, and now.” He smacked Maenad across the face and pointed across the yard at the gallows. Maenad could see a lone figure swaying back and forth in the doom and gloom. He figured it was Whitecliff, but really couldn’t tell. Maenad wasn’t big into the political theater that the city folks were. Men were men, and regardless of their station in life they wound up dead in the end. Usually in a wooden box six feet under.

“You’re going to hang tonight Maenad just like that old fool!”

“I get where you’re coming from Bargo, but that’s just going to have to wait.” Maenad smiled as he said this. Dirt fell off his face in clumps. “Because you’re not dead, and I’m not yet done escaping from this here compound.”

Bargo felt like laughing at this ridicules comment. Maenad was practically living on the moon right now. All the smoke from the fire had gone to his head. “Oh, you’re done escaping alright.” He turned and signaled for the men to take him over to the gallows. The guards parted as they dragged the outlaw through the mud and snow. Maenad wasn’t going to make it easy on them; his whole body was dead weight now. The guards at his sides grunted as they pulled him along. Bargo caught this and turned furiously. He punched the outlaw in the face as hard as he could. “You stand up and walk like a man!”

Maenad’s head recoiled slightly. He started to laugh and Bargo grew angrier

“You think this is funny, huh?!”

Bargo stopped the prison guards altogether and grabbed Maenad by the shirt and started pummeling him in the face. His chest heaved in and out as he screamed his frustration, voice echoing off the walls of the compound. For a moment he seemed like a wild animal set loose in a hen house.

“You’re not getting out of prison you fool; wake up and smell the cow pies! You are going to die here just like all the other murderers, thieves, and liars behind these walls.” Bargo’s hand was throbbing as he pulled up on Maenad’s prison shirt. The old cowboy didn’t move a muscle, “Now walk like a man! Have some dignity!”

Maenad, who was cut and bruised with blood trickling from a corner of his mouth, looked into the eyes of the warden and smiled the best he could. What would a guy like Bargo know about dignity and honor? The guy was a walking contradiction. Maenad was going to say so, when he glanced at the prison walls. From somewhere in the darkness he caught the image of several shadows moving across the barriers. He knew that these were not Bargo’s men; all of Bargo’s men were standing in the courtyard watching the show unfold.

Maybe local tribesmen? Maenad knew that the Wichita prison had been built on stolen soil, or so the talk went inside the prison itself. The city slickers had chased off the locals so that they could build a place for criminals to stay. The high walls were also to keep the wildlife out, and that meant all wildlife. The local tribes must have seen the distress of the prison and moved in at the opportunity. Maenad had not planned this, but he was going to take what he could get at the moment. He spat out some blood and spoke with a little more confidence.

“But, Warden, I ain’t done escaping yet! If you would kindly let me go, I’ll be on my way. I’ve got a few people I need to see.”

Bargo sneered at this remark. He wanted to hit the fool some more but his hand was already hurting from the beating. “Fine, have it your way!” He let go of Maenad’s shirt and looked at the guards standing next to him. “Drag him to the gallows! Let’s make this execution quick! We have a mess to clean up!” Bargo started rubbing his temples; trying to relieve the headache forming at the back of his head. His blood pressure was way too high at the moment and his veins felt like they would pop. Today had gone to hell quickly, and cleaning this up for the city folk would be a nightmare he didn’t want to consider at the moment.

The guards pulled Maenad up the wooden steps. His feet thudded against the floorboards as they dragged him over to the noose hanging by Whitecliffs lifeless body. The corpse swayed back and forth in the wind. It made a creaking sound as it went along; as a matter-of-fact the whole wooden platform made a creaking sound as they went along. From in between the floorboards Maenad caught the sight of two eyes looking up at him. The irises were a pretty shade of blue and they vanish almost as quickly as they had appeared. That wasn’t a tribesman, Thought Maenad, tribesmen didn’t have blue eyes.

“The world is changing really fast outlaw,” said Bargo flatly as he climbed the wooden steps. He was trying to regain some dignity after the outburst. His head was still throbbing. “I’ve been to Ballbaling recently and seen some crazy things. Things that will be game-changers for you and your kind. Soon there won’t be a place that isn’t tamed in the Tarmac. People will live in peace and your kind will be locked away; as a forgotten part of history. The new creed of the outlaw being ‘conform or die’.”

“The metal-men,” whispered Maenad as they placed the noose around his neck and set him on the stool. He could see the shadows moving through the crowd now. The men at the back were beginning to drop in numbers; these locals were good at what they did. Maenad had always steered clear of them while out on his own; but sometimes you couldn’t. Ponebrook had been all about that. He had gotten involved and almost wound up married to one of their shaman; and boy was she a looker.

Bargo almost tripped on the unconscious man lying on the platform. He was a heavier fella. Where did he come from? He turned to Maenad. “What did you say?”

“Metal-men!”

“How did you know abou–?”

A deafening bang was heard at that moment as the base of the prison structure exploded outward with fury. The fire had finally reached the gunpowder. Bargo was thrown violently off the platform into the darkness. The gallows pivoted viciously and crumbled to pieces in the shock-wave that spread out from the building. Men cried out as chaos consumed them on all sides. Tribesmen killing and scalping anyone they got their hands on. Gunshots ringing through the air like a bullwhip in a massive cave. Maenad toppled over and landed in a heap of wood and debris. The beam that held his noose landed on his stomach and forced the air out of his lungs. He grimaced as the corpse of Whitecliff landed behind him and propped him up like a human chair. They all lay forced against the outer wall. The huge prison structure billowed with smoke and fire as it swayed sideways and collapsed downward rapidly.

Maenad flinched at this and twisted his body into the beams. He forced himself deeper as the ground shook all around him. Chunks of the building smacked into the outer walls, tearing sections out; men close enough to the structure died instantly. It felt like an eternity had passed. Then the chaos gave way to a horrifying blaze. Fire spread upward and outward like a disease. People fled and the night filled with the voices of the injured.

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