|His Own Flesh and Blood
Author: Koelker12 PM
He knew the right choice. But was it the "right" choice? He had a duty, a sworn oath to protect the good from the wicked, but there was another oath he was avowed to keep: to protect his family." Short story. Reviews are appreciated.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Words: 868 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 4 - Published: 07-23-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2700145
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Fifty paces from the weathered wooden platform stood a troubled spectator, dressed in a tattered brown duster and matching Stetson. His face was anxious, bothered, concerned, and laden with stubble. For eyes there were acute jade stones and for nose a defined wedge. The onlooker's gaze remained firmly transfixed on the stage ahead despite the gusts of dusty wind.
Upon the old and battered gallows stood the antagonist of his dilemma. He was a criminal, indicted of ambushing, stealing from, and murdering the crew of a wagon convoy. He had been accompanied by a faction of bandits at the time, however had fallen upon the misfortune of being the only member rounded up and shackled.
The crowd currently gathered around the execution appeared less involved than the jaded-eye spectator. They mumbled amongst themselves, consulted their pocket watches, yawned with exhaustion in the dying light of the afternoon, but he continued to gaze into the bandit's face.
The event had been some cruel joke of God, a wretched turn of events. It was he who had found the bandits in the desert, picking through the spoils of their quarry. He had driven his horse down the trail, pistol dropping heat, the star upon his coat shining brilliantly, and the group had scattered into the wastes like rabbits. When he had captured the man now standing grim and sullen upon the platform, his folly had already passed. His fellow deputies congratulated him on his bittersweet catch, and led the man away with no knowledge of their companion's impasse.
He had not recognized him till he had grasped him by the collar and nearly rattled him to death, but the man before him was his own brother! Shortly after, he had been rewarded a drink, a gift for detaining his own flesh and blood!
He was no less of a criminal, but the guilt was relentlessly horrible. His brother may have taken a radically different path of careers, but he was a likable personality despite, and once a family man like himself. The traitorous act clenched at his heart like a steel trap, painful, hard to escape and impossible to ignore.
The life upon the platform came ever closer to death, steadily, slowly, like the descending sun framing him from behind to look like some sort of heavenly martyr. The accused turned his head, and to his brother it seemed that he may have been looking directly at him, however the aft radiance shadowed his face from view.
He knew the right choice. But was it the right choice? He had a duty, a sworn oath to protect the good from the wicked, but there was another oath he was avowed to keep: to protect his family. His brother had stolen, murdered, and yet he was willing to save him. It would ruin him, but would the guilt of sentencing his brother to death be any different?
Hours seemed to trudge by, until finally a black-clad figure, an executioner, ascended the steps of the platform. The crowd seemed satisfied with his arrival, but remained generally apathetic. Only two individuals seemed to react, grow more restless. Brother and brother, criminal and deputy.
The victim looked up once more into the crowd, and this time his brother was certain that their eyes had met. He attempted to avert his gaze in shame, but their pupils seemed locked by an invisible chain. He could only wonder what was running through his sibling's mind: brother, sheriff, traitor, monster. He found himself placing his hand upon the butt of his pistol, waiting patiently in its holster.
The executioner took a step closer, and grabbed a wooden lever within his gloved hand.
Eyes still locked, the condemned brother gave his sibling a smug smile and a nod as if to tip an invisible hat, a complete denial of the situation. His brother was caught with a surprised expression, but he brushed back his duster with one arm and drew his pistol with the other. The barrel fell into line with the executioner, and the crowd broke into panic at the sound of a gun…
But his finger remained firm, and the bullet still rested in the chamber. He lowered the gun, just as confused as anyone in the crowd. His brother had fallen, still bound by ropes, but his noose had been blasted free and the executioner lay motionless at his side. Gunshots continued, accompanied by shouting and the neighing of horses. With ease he spotted the source of chaos, a group of bandits no doubt in alliance with his brother. Moments later the man upon the platform was free and riding a spare horse that had been brought for him. Together they charged through the crowd to make their glorious escape, but his brother paused.
Their eyes met once more, but the guilt was gone. The outlaw's face showed he was unsure of his brother's feelings, but the sheriff simply gave him a smirk of admiration, and he responded with a smile of his own. He then turned and followed the rest of his group off into the desert, leaving his brother behind with a conscience at rest.