Thursday, March 21, 2013

Frontier Tragedy

Calvin Trask wasn’t the sort anybody was liable to call a friend. It was commonly held as fact he’d been born moody, grew up surly and capped it off as a man by being just plain mean. He was the kind to take offense at the smallest perceived slight and respond to it with a hard fist or whatever came to hand. In the case of the drummer who’d been plying his wares about town, Calvin had caved in his skull with a mattock.

There was little doubt of the instrument of the poor fellow’s demise as Calvin was seen dragging it down the street behind him, its heavy blade bearing mute testament to the use it had been put to. In spite of his seemingly dazed and unresponsive manner, it nevertheless took Sheriff Conlon and three of his stoutest deputies to incarcerate Cal.

From the solitary confines of his cell, he was led before the judge. His refusal to speak at all, let alone in his own defense, culminated in the sentence of death being pronounced upon him. It was an unsatisfactory resolution to an inexplicably horrific act to be sure, but it was what all felt was required in such a case.

Cal evinced little regard as the town made ready for the first public hanging in recent memory. He stood by the jail’s narrow window, shoulders hunched and hands jammed in his pockets and merely…watched. From time to time, he would mutter through clenched teeth, “Swingin’ in the breeze…swingin’ in the breeze. ‘Fore too long I’m gonna be swingin’ in the breeze.” 

Noone had the inclination to try to comfort such a man in his final days, yet the town’s only minister felt compelled to try. He sat in the gloom of the cell reading scripture to a damned soul because it was his calling to do such. The sheriff saw no harm in it as Cal had been heavily restrained and seemed oblivious to the process in any event. As the old preacher’s voice began to give way, Cal inclined his head forward in an attempt to motion the clergyman nearer. Was this to be his confession? Did he seek absolution? The old man leaned close, his ear presented for Cal to whisper to him.

The high-pitched screams brought deputies running. They found the minister rolling about on the gritty floor, blood gushing from a hideous wound. For his part, Cal only grinned through red-stained teeth before spitting the ear of the hapless man at their feet. He was allowed no further visitors. 

On the fateful day, the whole town gathered to watch the spectacle unfold. The sentence was read a final time as Sheriff Conlon fulfilled his duties affixing the noose and assuring all was in preparation. Reluctantly, the law required he provide the condemned an opportunity to make a last statement. Standing to the side, the sheriff nodded to Cal to say what he would and let them get on with matters.

Calvin Trask, self-proclaimed “meanest sumbitch in three counties” fixed the assembled crowd with a jaundiced gaze. He might have had words for Moll Halburn, the only woman who’d ever been known to spend time with him, but if so they went unspoken. He might have had any number of folks to favor with a final remark but he did not. Instead, all were treated to his poisonous, hating glare.

At length, he broke eye contact with all and looked downward, as if he were speaking to someone unseen to the rest. Emitting a piercing whistle, he shouted as loudly as possible, “Hey Divvil! Ya’ll best get ya a right hot spot down there cause the one and only Calvin P. Trask is comin’ to stay. To Hell with all you bible-thumpin’ church-goin’ sanctimonious bastards! Well, whatcha waitin’ for lawman? Pull that damned lever an’ let’s git on with it!”

He was declared deceased at three minutes past nine in the morning and the body placed in an unmarked grave in a far corner of the small graveyard. None mourned for Calvin though, most certainly, he wouldn’t have really cared if they had.

This story was written for the weekly Mid-Week blues-Buster flash fiction challenge based on the song Sam Hall by Johnny Cash.  

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