Western Short Story
Stud Carbon, Free From Jail
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

After two years in jail for a crime he did not commit, Stud Carbon was freed by a crooked judge who started his own sentence in Yuma Territorial Prison. The judge was also looking for new favors for his comfort, and perhaps his life thereafter behind the bars. Making Good Too Late is a crime in itself, more so if it happens behind bars with all kinds of death on the prowl night and day, angels of death, devils of death, oh, Death itself with lock and key making the rounds of internal and eternal miseries.

But death comes in broadest daylight to the wary as well as the unwary.

Stud Carbon, freed by fortune, chance and new honesty, began to look for the real killer, somewhere out there on the wide grass, in the curl of slow hills settling each and every gaze cast on the horizon.

But the first thing that grabbed his interest, this day of days, was hearing the sound of a train coming around a far bend in the tracks and then, as he let his eyes run over the landscape, he spotted a man trussed to the railroad tracks, one hand and one foot tied to each iron rail shining in the Western sunlight. And that trussed man had a black death rag wound about his eyes, so that he could not see his death coming, but he could feel it thundering at his extremities, could hear it, death never so dark, as this approaching him. It was not like a gunfight with bandits or tribal hordes where both his spirit and his fear might be mounted within him, ready to give his all, his life surely, to the outcome of the day.

Stud Carbon rushed to the figure, not even checking to see if he was alive, but to cut him free, his mind forecasting the life of a man, handless, footless, unable to stay on a horse, unable to ride, unable to survive on his own. The pictures made Stud shiver and shake all over. He’d seen many atrocities in his days, women killed, children killed, by accident or by intention, but this was worse than the Specter of Death; this was death itself about to happen in front of him again, this time twisted with brutal hate, a message tough enough for the wildest gang to get straightened out, to cut a new trail in life.

Or else.

The earth beneath Stud Carbon trembled as he dismounted and ran to the trussed-up figure, the awful power of a huge black engine of the rails coming ‘round the bend like the thunderous repetition of drums upon drums, whole damned legions of drums and their pounding in roar upon roar, all deafening with threats. He believed the Earth itself could possibly be rendered open by such power, never mind the bony wrists and ankles of a man bound, truly bound, for Hell. For a quick moment, he felt ropes tightening on his wrists at the ends off his sleeves, inside the comfort of his boots.

He could imagine no crime this big, no sin to be atoned, no judge to decree such an ending, even as he remembered his own relegation to the quiet horrors of prison, yet able to breathe all the time, able to manipulate his hands and fingers all the time, measure his way with each footstep taken forward, or backward, at any hour of the day.

Anew, as if warning the Earth itself, the train whistled and tooted a couple of times as Carbon whisked the knife through the ropes and rolled the once-trussed body away from the tracks even as the engine, slowing down at the sight of the activity on the rails, passed over the spot from which the taut figure was freed from possibly the bloodiest mess he would ever see, bar none other in this life, short enough as it was on its own time.

The man freed from a certain and crushing death and the man freed from nearly a thousand days in jail, each gasped for their breath as they found themselves face to face on the ground, the train engineer staring down at them muttering, “My God man, what was this all about?”

The man with ropes still clinging to him in chunks and odd lengths, replied, “This fellow just saved me from certain death at your hands who had no reason in this, as did he; no reason in the world but to arrive here at this time, as if sent to save me by the good Lord himself.”

“Ah, but I did,” said Stud Carbon, to the near-dead companion and the near killer engineer, “I was just freed from prison for a crime I did not commit and am searching for the real killer. I assume the same God who freed us both had cast upon us a bond, as brothers, as boon companions, to form an alliance for the search of killer and near killer.”

“By gorree!!” said the engineer, “By gorree!” He threw his hands in the air and yelled at his fireman, “Did ja hear that, Igoe? Did ja hear that?”

The fireman shook his head in disgrace at the near-crime he might have fed with his own shovel.

At that utterance, Stud Carbon added, “And I swear by all that’s holy, my man, that you were sent by that same God to be the witness of our bonding. If you have any words to that affect, dear man of the steel, please tell us,” He leaped up to touch the engineer’s hand ass it swung out the side of the engine house.

“By gorree!” the engineer said “By gorree, let it be, let it be. I wish I had some gin to bless this bonding, but you are brothers freed from sin. From this day forward, you are brothers freed from sin and I am more than positive that some folks, right from this minute, have begun to worry what’s coming after ‘em.”

He nodded his head with a solemn nod, as many men in charge do, for self-awareness. It was a signal for movement.

Then the engineer spun about in his train cab and said to his fireman, “Alright, Igoe, let’s get on to Houston and tell the whole world this story. Not many of ‘em gonna believe us, as they haven’t in the past, but something tells me, this time things might be a little bit different.”

He tooted his whistle and the engine huffed and puffed with a chug and they were on their way.