Prompt: Crumble into chaos
Title: Death Become Unto Law
The marshal slouched against the coarse logs that comprised the walls of his jail cell, an impotent and defeated figure in the miasmic gloom. His badge perched in his hand, the lone bastion of hope in the despair that encroached upon his soul. This badge, he thought, meant power and responsibility, but above all it meant capability. So when the flimsy door of the Sheriff's office was kicked in and the chiming rattle of keys pierced the silence, he was not surprised. He was the only man to which this town could turn.
A disheveled citizen awkwardly tried to unlock his cell door in the darkness.
"I can't light a candle. They might see," he explained as he went about his clandestine task.
The marshal stood and walked to the door, inspecting his rescuer. A mining pick leaned against the man's shoulder, swaying in time to his jerking movements. Blood was on its edge, gray in the dark.
"Go get my gun," the marshal commanded, reaching through the bars to grasp the set of keys. The miner obeyed him, searching by touch for an aged cabinet, from which he retrieved the elongated silhouette of a rifle. He tossed it to the marshal, who caught it deftly as he stepped out from the unlocked cell, an oily click ringing out sharply as he checked its ammunition.
"I brought you extra ammo, Marshal," said the miner, handing him a small, ornate box. Within were several dozen elegant bullets that shone with the same fierce golden light as his badge. Both were symbols of fear, pain, and death.
"You douse 'em in holy water?" he asked as he slid each bullet into his bandolier.
"Sure did. Went up to the preacher's place and he gave me a full basin to use. Kept some for myself," he said, lifting his canteen as its sacred contents sloshed.
"You don't have to stick around, son," the marshal said, cocking his rifle as he loaded the last round. The miner was almost as old as he was, but the marshal was a man to which even the venerable were called "son." A relieved expression crossed the other man's face and he exited through the back door obsequiously.
His badge once more resting on his chest, gleaming, the marshal stepped out into the main street of the town, blackened dust rolling from underneath his boot heels as he paced forward. Scraping footsteps reverberated across the faces of charred buildings, sparks still drifting into the inky sky as the embers of the fire slowly expired. The glow was dim, but between the billowing smoke and the light one could not see the stars.
"Why don't you come on out here and we'll settle this," he called to the town.
There was a muted susurration, as if the buildings were whispering to one another.
"We don't follow the law of man, Marshal!" shouted a disembodied voice. It could have come from any direction.
"Well that's good," said the marshal, spitting, "'cause I ain't here to arrest ya."
A shriek emanated from what was formerly the general store and the marshal swiveled, rifle at his shoulder. A woman with a torn dress stumbled towards him. He had been introduced to her when he rode into town, but he had forgotten her name.
"Stop there!" he shouted, finger on the trigger.
"Marshal, please," she pleaded, eyes red from tears and wide with terror.
"I can't take chances, Miss. Not with them," he replied, reaching into his coat and hurling a wooden object at her. "Catch."
She reached out her hands, the item teetering on her fingers before she clasped it. It was a crucifix, and the mere fact that she could touch it assuaged his fears.
"Run to the church, and don't stop for nobody," he said, turning again with the barrel of his rifle pointed down Main Street as the woman's quick footsteps faded. With a cautious but inexorable step he pressed onward, fastidious eyes searching the burnt shells of buildings.
"You can't stop us, Marshal," said an abrupt, echoing whisper to his left, but when he swung to face it, no one was there. "We razed the town and we will raze the earth." He swung again to his right, seeing nothing but moving continually down the street.
A keening scream rent the night. Somewhere, the woman had put the cross to use.
The marshal's stubborn steps left boot prints in the ash. A shadow flared against the door of the stables and he entered slowly, a man's weeping floating past his ears, perceived but not truly heard.
"They killed her, Marshal," said a crumpled stable hand, cradling a small child in his arms and weeping. "They killed my girl."
"Touch that horseshoe, Bill," demanded the marshal, his rifle aimed unerringly at the man's torso as he nodded towards the errant shoe.
"Touch the iron."
Panic crossed Bill's face as his gaze flitted from the marshal's stone countenance to the metal horseshoe.
"What's that got to do—?" he began before the marshal interrupted.
"Touch the goddamn iron and I'll know you ain't one of them!" he bellowed.
Bill hesitated before attempting to scramble away, and the marshal shot his retreating form. The stable hand disintegrated in a flash of fire and molten flesh, sizzling and burning as his short, bestial scream was cut short. Only the bullet, dipped in holy water, remained, falling to the earth amidst the cloud of hellfire.
He slowly moved towards the prone girl, prodding her with his foot, only satisfied when she did not move. His guard was only lifted to kneel down and close her staring, vacant eyes.
Outside, the murmurs flooded the warm night air, buffeting him with a thousand dead words.
"…you son of a phlox. Leave…"
"…kill you dead, Marshal…"
He continued onward. Only when he was at the town's crossroad did they attack. They still looked human, but their minds weren't, and they leapt at him with makeshift weapons and undulating, hellish battle cries. He stood his ground, the menacing noise of his rifle's lever-action punctuating the deafening explosion of the bullets, the clatter of the lever almost as terrifying in the brief, nascent silences as the shots that rang out shortly thereafter.
A cloud of sparks and ash ringed the marshal and mingled with the existing byproducts of fire. He still walked forward, pushing ammunition into his rifle. There was one man that he had not seen yet.
"I know you're out there, Sheriff!" he called again. There was a faint rustling in the cornstalks beyond the town's outskirts, and the marshal made for the rigid lines of crops. "I don't know what you are, but sooner or later, the law catches up with everybody."
He saw the dim outline of a human body, standing, waiting, and he crept towards it. Too late he saw that it was a scarecrow, hanging there with a madman's grin, dangling from its pole like a corpse. Fear punched him in the gut, and he was tackled from the side, rifle lost in the stalks. The marshal wrestled with the impossibly strong man that had leapt upon him, but the sheriff's hands were forcing themselves towards his throat. His muscles ached and trembled and were on the cusp of failure.
And all the scarecrow did was watch, staring not at the two men but at the badge of the US Marshal, lying half-buried in the dirt.
Edited by Apocalypse, 24 August 2010 - 11:02 PM.