As a bit of fun to see if we can continue Wild Bunch Wednesday for a while longer, this week I'm setting a short story challenge. Below is the first 500 words of a western story and the challenge is to write the next 500 (or so) words.
This scene came about while I was writing my last western Railroad to Redemption. I wrote it as the prologue using my usual technique of writing bits and pieces that I hoped would make sense later. I had no idea who the man was, why he did what he did, whether he survived, or even if he was of major or minor importance to the story.
When I'd finished the book the answer came that he had nothing to do with the story at all, as none of the characters featured again and nobody else felt an urge to mention him, so I deleted the passage. I did wonder about writing a new story with this opening, but I couldn't think how to move it on, so I offer it here in case anyone has an idea how to continue the story.
The rules are that whoever posts a comment first and offers to continue can carry on the story on their own blog. Please provide links back so that people can follow the whole story, and try to post the continuation next Wednesday using the same rules for whoever wants to pick up the pen for the next week. The story can be continued in any way with new characters, new setting, new time-frame etc. The story is untitled and so is open to whoever wishes to provide one. Anyone can end the story, but if they do so, they must provide a 500 word opening to another story some time.
The words below are an unpolished first draft and I haven't checked out the factual elements, so it's fine for anyone who wants to continue to not be as word-perfect as they would normally be. Anyhow, if nobody wants to accept the challenge, then that's fine!
"Come and see this," Merrill Wyman said. "Some fool is standing on the tracks."
Jerome Meeker stopped shovelling wood to join Merrill in peering over the side of the engine. Impossible as it had sounded, Merrill was right. A man was standing on the tracks, around 300 yards ahead. From such a distance and with the evening light fading fast Jerome couldn't be sure what he was doing but he appeared to be just standing there looking down at the ground.
Jerome dragged on the brake lever, tearing a desperate screech from the wheels. The reek of tortured metal overpowered the engine smell. It was a futile gesture as the train would require a quarter-mile to stop, but at least using the brakes would give the fool more time to move.
"Get off the tracks!" Jerome yelled although it was unlikely the man would be able to hear him while Merrill clanged the bell.
The sound would be loud enough to be heard in Matlock, four miles further on, but this didn't alert the man who remained hunched and staring downwards.
They were now 200 yards away and the man had around twenty seconds in which to move or die. Still he didn't react although the brake shoe was locking the wheels and the bell was tolling its insistent plea.
Now Jerome could see that the man was grey-haired and so stooped with age. There was also something familiar about him... But it was almost too late.
Then he looked up, but the train was only seconds away from hitting him. His gaze alighted on the engine looming over him. If its appearance shocked him, he didn't show it. Instead, he raised his arm and clutched in his outstretched hand was a six-shooter. He fired at the approaching train, his mouth opening wide. Blazing hatred contorted his face as he shouted something that Jerome couldn't hear.
Merrill and Jerome both jerked backwards. Lead cannoned off the engine. A stray bullet tore through the small window and ricocheted around before departing.
Then the gunfire stopped.
Merrill and Jerome looked at each other, sighing as they both wondered if the man had got his wits about him at the last moment and saved himself.
Jerome glanced over the right-hand side then backwards while Merrill took the other side. To his dismay Jerome saw a hunched shape lying beside the tracks. The cowcatcher would have tossed him aside but even so the pained look each man gave the other said they didn't think he could have survived the impact.
The train had now slowed sufficiently for one of them to jump down, yet both men stood frozen in place, reluctant to go back and find out what state the man was in.
"You check on him," Merrill said finally. "I'll see if there's a doctor amongst the passengers who can help him."
"I don't think he'd want that help," Jerome said. "He just let the train hit him."
Merrill provided a sorry shake of the head. "He sure did, but why would a man do that?"
Jerome shrugged. Then, with a heavy heart, he jumped down from the train.