The midnight sky was clear and beautiful, as if a master painter had compiled it from his waking dreams. The desert landscape loomed in all directions like infinite space; seemingly having no end or beginning. The old folklore’s of the middle country say that the Tarmac Desert was made by God himself to separate heaven from hell. Down south is where the farmers slaved all day over their crops and herds, busting their butts for meager rations while the people in the northern country live life up to the fullest in luxury. Up north it’s beautiful and green because it rains all the time, while down south it’s hot and sticky because the sun beats down so had on the iron sediment it bleeds. The Tarmac Desert is what ultimately separates the wicked from the righteous, only the righteous live in hell for the rest of their adult lives. The only thing remotely pleasing about the Tarmac was the night.
“The Desert certainly turns into a different place at night.” whispered Bill to the cool night air. His breath was like a fog as it passed his thin red lips and escaped into the atmosphere. His feet searched for the right footing as he walked away from the sleeping camp to a more secure location on the plane. The darkness was good; it would provide a little protection from seeing eyes. The last thing Bill needed was for that outlaw Maenad to know where he was headed and what he was doing out here this early in the morning. Maenad had not returned in well over six hours and it had only taken a few hours after sunset for the whole crew to fall asleep. Now that everything was still, it was time for Bill to mosey on out of the camp and give Captain J. Maxwell the heads up. She would no doubt be waiting for his report on the operation to over through the Bullet Train.
Maxwell must be warned that the outlaw Maenad is with the company, thought Bill as he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the small transmitter. He stuck the long end of the device into the ground and knelt down beside it to configure his message. His thick finger rested nervously on the brass button at the top of the antenna. A soft breeze rolled by his ears as he pushed in the encoded signal rapidly. It had been a few years since he had used morose code for the Bearish Railroad Company up north in Balballing. He hoped that what he was sending would make it to the captain before morning. When Bill was done he folded up the little transmitter and stood up; he was a little light headed from leaning over the button. He placed the device carefully back into his pocket and turned around.
“Lovely evening we’re having, Bill,” came a firm voice from the darkness.
Bill’s heart sank into panic as his eyes focused on a dark silhouette in front of him. He couldn’t see the face of the shadow but he could recognize the voice from anywhere. His throat got dry and tight as he tried to speak. “Hello, Maenad, how long was you standing there?”
“For about ten minutes.”
Bill’s heart sank even further into despair as he contemplated the time. Cold sweat began to form on his long, wrinkled, forehead. Surely Maenad would know that he wasn’t out here pissing on the planes. The outlaw would have seen the brass transmitter he had stuck into the ground moments ago, wouldn’t he? Bill had to make something up to save himself from what could potentially be a bad situation.
“I was just giving Governor Smash the heads up on our operation out here in the Tarmac Desert. He wanted me to report to him before tomorrow and I kind of forgot to do it so here I am.” Bill cleared his throat nervously and shifted to one side. He was trying to keep his hands from shaking all over the place. He had never been so scared in his life, and for good reason, he was playing a deadly game of bluff with a well known outlaw. He had heard terrible stories about desert outlaws before. One time a man had tried to cheat an outlaw at a Game of Worm Wood Poker by using a blind card up his sleeve; the man had thought that he had gotten away with the sly card play all night, but the outlaw had seen everything unfold. He had let the man take his earning that evening and met up with him in the morning. Bill heard that the outlaw had drug the man into the Desert and shot him dead, but not before the man admitted what he had done to disserve his punishment. Bill knew how outlaws dealt with traitors, and it was never something pretty to be hold. “You know how Governor Smash can get when he doesn’t know what is happening. Sometimes he can make a mountain of a molehill.”
“I thought it was Frank’s job to report to the lousy Governor.”
Bill laughed loudly; he was dying inside. “Yeah, well, we both know how Frank can get sometimes. I think the heat is getting to him!”
There was a slight pause. Bill could see Maenad’s eyes staring at him from under the shadow of his leather cowboy hat. He looked more like a benighted spire than a man at that moment in time. It looked as if hell itself had spit this creature out and let it roam the earth in search of death. Outlaws were creature that preyed on the souls of man; there was no better description for it. The devil had given them his powers and it scared the heck out of people. Outlaws where stronger and could move abnormally fast than normal men.
“Did I ever tell you how my brother died, Bill?”
Bill shook his head nervously and put his hand on his six-shooter. Whenever an outlaw had a story to tell it was never good for the one hearing it; outlaws where not the type to open up and tell you about their life.
“He was shot in the back of the head by another outlaw. It was after we had robbed the IBC International Bank of Wichita five years ago. The operation went smoothly but the ruthless outlaw needed to tie up a few loose ends before she could leave, apparently we were the loose ends. My brother never saw it coming.” Maenad lifted his hand and lit his cigarette. From the glow of the match, Bill could see no emotion in the man’s face. The air seemed to get colder with every syllable he uttered. “That same outlaw tried to kill me, but I got away. It was that same outlaw that was leading Governor Ooters militia at The Battle of Ponebrook in ‘86 where the legends say I killed 200 men. You know Bill, where the legend called it a massacre.” He blew out a puff of tobacco smoke; Maenads emotions where turning bitter in his chest as he recalled everything that happened to him. “I wasn’t there at Ponebrook to support the south colonies upraising, Bill. I was there to kill the bloody outlaw that shot my brother. Heck, I was there to kill everyone that supported that outlaw that killed my brother. I was there to leave a crater in the souls of men for leaving my brother dead! I gave up everything to find her and kill her… even the one I loved.”
Bill’s breathing got heavier. His right thumb twitched over the stock of his gun. “I don’t know what you are talking about outlaw. I would never dream about–”
Maenad’s voice was cold. “Run, Bill!”
“What?” asked Bill in shock. “Have you gone crazy? Where would I run to?”
“I said run.” Maenad drew his shotgun so quick that Bill didn’t even have time to finish his next thought. The only thing Bill saw was the red fire that left the gun-barrel. Shooting pain rocketed up Bill’s right side and collided with the neurons in his brain. His six-shooter was stripped from his waste in a cascade of buckshot and blood. Bill cried out in horror and collapsed to one knee instantly. Blood was now pouring from the open wound at his right hip. He could feel the little bee bee’s burning brightly from somewhere inside his skin on his thigh. Tears began to well up in his eyes as he gripped his leg.
Bill pierced the sky with a loud scream.
“Run!” yelled Maenad heartlessly.
“Please, Maenad! Please!”
“There will be no mercy for you!” barked Maenad. “Now get up and run!”
Bill tried to get to his feet but the pain was too great; he fell over again and started to sob uncontrollably. Blood was now seeping onto the iron sediment around him. “I can’t run! It hurts too bloody bad!” In the distance a desert wolf howled loudly at the moon. Its pack was on the patrol for wounded and helpless creatures they could devour easily. In Maenads vindictive mind, Bill fit that description of a helpless animal to a tee. They could smell the blood of a spy from a mile away and so could Maenad.
“I gave you a chance to run, Bill.” Maenad put his gun back in its holster and smiled so big his white teeth showed. He looked like the devil himself. Bill could see that there was something about the whole scene that pleased Maenad very much. Something about having power over his enemies that made him feel alive.
“It looks like the wild life will get you, but before they do I want you to know the name of the outlaw that killed my brother.” Maenad knelt down and whispered the name into the cold night air, just barely so Bill could hear it “J. Maxwell.” He reached down and drew a cross in the dirt with his finger. To an outlaw the symbol meant death and vindication.
Bill’s eyes got wider.
“That’s right, Bill,” said Maenad darkly. “And I plan to make the Ponebrook Massacre look like a picnic compared to this train robbery tomorrow.” Maenad stood up and threw his cigarette aside. A cool breeze carried the glowing embers a few feet before they went out forever. Maenad watched them go as he walked away into the night.
“You’re a fool, Maenad!” yelled Bill in desperation as he clawed at the sediment around his knees. He was trying to grasp hold of some dignity before he died; it wasn’t working. “A bloody fool, you hear me! I already told Captain Maxwell that you were coming. They will smear you guys all over the Desert Tarmac tomorrow! Oh, and you will lose, Maxwell’s got big plans for you Maenad, big plans.”
Maenad stopped and turned slightly. His voice was haunting.
“Good, that’s how I like it.”
In moments the outlaw vanished into the night back drop like an apparition. It was amazing just how smoothly the human like creature moved through time and space. Bill looked out over the plains franticly for any signs of wild life that might be watching him. Terror began to rise in his heart as he saw the wolves threw the sage brush and tall grass. His eyes caught hold of all their glowing yellow eyes. Tarmac wolves were known for their immense size and straight. These things were strong creators and would not be kind.Bill screamed one last time.