Rise and Shine
Jim woke up from his deep sleep just as the first rays of the western sun were coming up over the horizon. The desert landscape was still covered in dark shadows as he rolled out of his woolen blanket and stretched his lanky frame. He breathed in the dry air deeply and watched as the rest of the camp prepared for the Bullet Train to arrive. There wasn’t much talk this particular morning; the whole place seemed as quiet as a church graveyard. Everyone in the company seemed to be focusing on the huge task that lay ahead.
“You ready for today, kid?” came a voice from the side.
Jim jumped slightly at the presents of the stranger. He turned to see Maenad staring at the blood red horizon in front of him. His demeanor was solemn and overbearing like a high-rise mountain looming over a quiet valley. His dark brown outlaw eyes were as calm as a babbling brook. To Jim he looked like a guy that had stared death in the face so many times it didn’t bother him anymore. He was brave and fearless, all the characteristics that Jim wanted to be when he got older.
“As ready as I think I can be.” Jim shifted on his feet uneasily. He felt like he was standing in the presents of royalty now. All the books he had ever read about outlaws told him that these people were a force to be reckoned with, like an earthquake or a tornado. Jim hoped to reach that status one day in his life, to be so good at something that no one could touch you. He looked over to Maenad and tried to suppress a smile. “But I am not the one going to rob a high speed Bullet Train today. So, I guess I shouldn’t complain.”
“It’s going to be a hot day today.”
The outlaw seemed to be avoiding the subject altogether.
“How do you know?” asked Jim. He squinted into the sky.
Maenad caught his attention and pointed to all the desert lizards running around the camp; from what Jim could see, the creatures where no bigger than a loaf of bread. A big orange spot covered a majority of the head and occasionally a hiss could be heard coming out of the creature’s triangular mouths. Each one was seeking shelter under a rock or bush; they looked as if they were scared of the rising sun. “The farmers call those lizard’s clipos and they know the desert better than anything out here. If you ever need a lesson on survival, Jim, just watch those things for awhile. They’ll tell you when to travel and when to rest during a day in the Tarmac Desert. There also very poisonous.” Maenad cleared his throat. “That’s one of the first lesson my brother taught me when I was young. It’s stayed ever sense.”
“Was your brother an outlaw, like you?”
“Yes.” Maenad looked over to the boy for a second and studied him thoughtfully. He saw Jim as one of those kids that wouldn’t shut up when it came to asking questions. He was probably the type that could pound a subject into the ground by asking way too many, who, what, when, where and why’s. I bet he gave his teachers hell in the public education system back in Balballing city, thought Maenad. Jim just needs some life experience to hush up all those questions inside of himself. Hell, all any boy needed was a little life experience before they die, and that is what Maenad was planning on giving the kid.
“My brother was a long-range outlaw.”
Jim raised an eyebrow and looked over at Maenad. “What’s a long-range outlaw?”
Now I’ve done it, thought Maenad as the question left the kids lips. Here come all the bloody questions about outlaws. He pointed to the nearest cliff range in the distance; he was going to humor the kid with a short response and nothing more. They were facing north now as he circled a whole rock formation with his index finger. He wanted it to be clear that he was referring to the whole mountain range.
“If you were to set a Wichita coin piece on that mountain side over there my brother could find it in two seconds and shoot a hole straight through Governor Whitecliff head. He was amazing at finding things like that; as if nature just told him where everything was.” Maenad smirked and scratched his face as he thought about his brother before his death. “He was the best at range finding when it came down to tracking spies. He taught me some things about finding them and I taught him some things about outlaw standoffs and stings. Hell kid, we both were jealous of each other’s talents when it came down to the bottom line. We were always trying to outdo one another by robbing what we could rob and showing the other. It got us into a lot of trouble, Jim, especially when we teamed up and decided to go after the big fish in the cities up north.” He frowned and paused for a minute as he thought back, “it also got him killed; the moron was a romantic!”
“What do you mean?” asked Jim.
Maenad clinched his jaw shut; somehow he knew inside that the conversation was going to lead to this point. He couldn’t blame Jim for wanting to know. Maenad had said way too much to the kid already, but something inside of him wanted to just let it spill out. He had been holding it in for far too long, “he fell in love with this young blond firecracker he met in Elwood City. He trusted her so much that he let her in on our plans to rob one of the biggest banks in history. We were planning on pulling the biggest bank robbery that the northern county had ever witnessed before in years. We had it all planned out to the very date.” Maenad laughed almost sarcastically at his own words, “We wanted to walk right into the IBC Bank of Wichita and hold the whole place up and then get out of there before the local authorities showed up. We were going to do it during one of the governors state addresses so that it would take slightly longer for the Sheriff and his men to arrive and give help. At the time I didn’t know that the girl my brother loved was an outlaw like us. We had everything worked out and then the time came…”
Maenad paused and thought; he was trying to form his sentences right.
“Then what?” asked Jim pressingly. He was getting a little excited about the story. He had read and heard a lot of stories about outlaws but never one from an actual outlaw himself. It was like a dream come true.
“And then life happened, people who you thought where your friends just stabbed you in the back without thinking twice. We had walked into a trap that day, Jim!” Maenad’s fists clinched hard as he tried to control his emotions “That young blond thing from Elwood was working with the local authorities to try and catch us for a reward that was placed on our heads. She had been following our robbery patterns for months in the Tarmac Desert and figured out how she would catch us. It turns out that pretending to be in love with my brother was the best method for having us except her. My brother couldn’t believe what was going on when he found out about her lies. The local authorities had let us rob the Bank of Wichita and tracked us all the way back to our hide out in the Tarmac Desert.” Maenads lip quivered with anger as he recounted it all, “that’s when she shot him in the back of the head.”
Jim was stunned, “who shot him?”
“That young blond thing from Elwood, her name was Jessica Maxwell. She said that she was going to make a distraction and then she shot him before he could make a move. She broke a rule that all outlaws uphold.”
Jim was quiet for a second, “How did you escape?”
There was a long pause.
“We were never in on it to kill anyone, Jim. That was never our motivation. Before that time I had no real human deaths on my hands; heck, I even had a Girl that I was interested in up in Wichita City. I think she loved me too.” said Maenad as he thought about his brother laying on the hard ground dead, “We were doing it just for the sport of it all.”
“Is it possible to become an outlaw?” asked Jim timidly.
Maenad felt like laughing hysterically at this ridiculous question. The kid might as well have asked if it was possible to become an oak tree or a prize winning stallion. Outlaws were born outlaws; there was no becoming an outlaw once you were born an ordinary citizen of the country. You either discovered you had the right stuff in you from a young age; or you fell into line with the rest of society. The rules had to be set straight with this boy.
“Why do you want to be an outlaw, Jim? It’s nothing like what it says in your story books. It’s a hell of a high risk lifestyle to live. Everyone resents you and fears you because of your abilities. Everyone wants to kill you or throw you in jail. Everyone’s looking to be equal nowadays, to take the special person and bring him or her down to their level.”
Jim was quiet. He could hear some emotion in Maenad’s voice as he spoke, which was rear for a man of his caliber. It was interesting to see that Maenad wasn’t a mythological creature like the story book had shown him as. Maenad was actually a real human being. He had family and feelings just like any normal person would have. He wasn’t just a killing machine build by nature to destroy; he had true motives that drove him. Jim was going to say something further when Frank called out to everyone and ruined his chances.
“Has anyone seen Bill?” asked Frank. Frustration was apparent in his gestures as he looked around the camp for the missing city-slicker.
“Looks like that son-of-a-cow-turd done up and left us in the middle of the night, Frank, probably was scared out of his britches that we were facing that Bullet Train today” said Paco with a wheeze as he finished rolling up his sleeping blanket. He was in the process of tying the fabric off. “Why, I bet he’s halfway to Wichita by now; probably with some cute bold thing from the local tavern, that two timing son-of-a-gun!”
“Stop being stupid Paco, he couldn’t have left us.” Frank looked over to Bill’s stuff. It was lying in a heap on the ground not three yards from the fire pit they had dug last night. It looked like someone or something had rummaged through the leather bag and then left it. Frank looked out over the desert landscape one last time in bewilderment. There was nowhere for any man to go for miles. “He left all his stuff here. Besides, there is no way in hell anyone could cross the Tarmac Desert without enough water and provisions. It’s impossible to do unless you’re an outlaw. People die this far out…”
“Maybe he didn’t run away.” Came a soft voice from the group.
The company turned and looked at Mitchell. The tall city slicker was one of Paco’s interesting friends from the city. The whole company recognized him as the man who hadn’t said a word the whole darn trip; as a matter-of-fact, neither Mitch nor his brother had said a word sense they started their journey. They had both been as silent as sinners in church. It was almost a breakthrough for the whole company to hear him speaking now.
“What do you mean, Mitch?” asked Paco.
Mitchell got quiet and straightened up a bit to appear more credible in his witness. His eyes shifted to Maenad and locked on his calm demeanor. The company followed his long gaze over to the rugged outlaw standing by Jim. Pretty, soon everyone was staring at Maenad for an explanation to what had happened to Bill during the night. One minute went by, then two, then three… nothing was said.
Frank finally broke the awkward silence. “Maenad, have you seen Bill?”
Maenad’s expression was unrevealing. His answer was flat and cold. “No.”
“Did you kill Bill?” asked Paco with amazement.
“You sure you didn’t kill him?” asked Paco.
Maenad was quiet.
One minute went by then two.
“Well, that’s just Jim-dandy” said Frank in frustration as he kicked the dirt at his thick leather boots. The day was already starting out on the wrong foot; he could tell that this was a sign of things to come. They were short a man and the Bullet Train would be here in a few hours whether they liked it or not.
“Who the heck is going to drive Bill’s horse now that he is dead?” He pointed at the outlaw sharply, frustration mounting in his features; his voice was beginning to rise and his face was turning a horrible shade of pink. “You had better have a good excuse for killing Bill, because Governor Smash won’t stand for this!”
“Jim can take Bill’s place on the horse,” said Maenad.
Frank was utterly shocked at this new suggestion coming from the outlaw. It just seemed like one incompetent rider was being replaced by an even more incompetent rider, and somehow that made everything alright. He felt like packing up and leaving them all behind to fend for themselves in the desert. It was absolutely absurd to think that Jim could help by throwing himself into battle that he didn’t know anything about. What good would that do? Frank would have to tell his father that the boy just died out in the Tarmac for no good reason at all.
“Did I just hear you say what I thought I heard you say outlaw?” He looked over to Jim to see if the boy supported the statement. The boy looked just as shocked as everyone else in the group. The boy had one job and one job only; he was to stay in the camp and help his uncle Frank get the hovering stagecoach ready to go back to Wichita City. Not go riding at breakneck speeds through the Tarmac Desert robbing trains and killing people. Frank felt like he was taking crazy pills; he wanted to shoot something or someone.
“This kid can barely pee standing up and you want to strap him to an atomic device and send him head first into a train? Why, I bet if we did that he would implode in a heartbeat.” He laughed hysterically at the idea of Jim imploding and looked at Jim with contempt. “Is that what you want Jimbo. Do you want to implode?”
Jim looked terrified at the thought. He shook his head.
“The boy can do it,” said Maenad as he lit his cigarette.
Frank was laughing uncontrollably now. He started coughing out phlegm and white spit as he went along. “Okay… okay… Whatever you say outlaw.” He looked at Jim and smiled devilishly as if seeing a hidden meaning in all the chaos that was happening. “I hope you believe in all those stories you read about outlaws, boy, because you are about to become one.”
Jim looked over to Maenad with horror. What had just happened didn’t seem real to him. He felt like he was still under his woolen blanket sleeping.
“The boy can do it.” Maenad blew out some smoke from his nostrils. His voice sounded confident as if he knew something that the rest of the company didn’t know.
“WOOO WEEE!” yelled Paco at the top of his lungs. He walked over to Jim and slapped him on the back as hard has he could. Jim lurched forward a bit as the city slickers grip got tighter on his slender shoulder. Paco spoke up even louder so that the lizards hiding under ground could hear him. “Looks like we’ve got ourselves another death wish, boys! Hey Mitch, you might want to order up another coffin for us all.” He laughed and shook his head as if to correct himself. “No, wait, scratch that, we can put him in the coffin we made for Bill. It might be a little large but Jim doesn’t care. I forgot we had an opening.”
The other men in the group laughed at the image of little Jim in a grown mans coffin. Jim felt like throwing up the contents of his stomach at that moment; his head was spinning. He came out here to help Frank load up the hover stagecoach and then got back to the city. He didn’t want to get involved like this.
“Okay that’s enough,” said Frank as he picked up a stick and started drawing something unusual in the sand around his feet. He had had enough of all the comradely; it was time to get to business. “I don’t have all day to argue the craziness behind Maenads suggestion. That bloody Bullet Train will be here in one hour and I still need to show you some stuff about how everything will work. Everyone gather around and shut up.” He pulled out a flask of whisky and took a few gulps. “This is not going to be a walk in the park!”
Jim walked over to Maenad.
“Why did you do that for?”“Hey kid, you’re the one who wanted to be an outlaw, remember?” Maenad smiled as he thought about their previous conversation. Somehow he knew the kid was regretting his words. “I figure every kid needs some life experience to quiet all the questions inside. Consider this your first lesson, Jim. Survival!”