(This was written for the August 2015 challenge)
A Stranger in Town
A raspy snore burst from the man sat, more half lying, on the chair in the corner. A battered hat covered his face. His clothes were faded, worn and dirty. He had unkempt hair and a mustache. The other people in the stage depot glared at him. One of the women wrinkled her nose.
“Stage is ready to go folks.” The driver called out as he entered the building. He looked at the sleeping man.
“He for the west bound stage?”
“He got a ticket?”
“Would he be here if he hadn’t? Sold it him meself.”
The driver kicked at the man’s feet, “Hey, hey! Get up, the stage is leaving!”
“Uh, wha?!” The man struggled to sit up and pushed his hat back. “Wassup?”
“Stage is leaving.”
The man struggled to his feet and wove an unsteady path to the door. The 4 other passengers were already seated inside and watched with increasing dismay as the man tried to get into the stage. His foot slipped on the step and he lurched sideways, hanging onto the stagecoach door as it swung wildly.
One of the men looked at the driver, “Does this …person…have to ride with us, can’t he ride on top?”
“In that state? I can’t be hanging onto him and I can’t lose a passenger. He’s paid his fare, so long as he causes no trouble, he rides inside.”
The driver grabbed the man and pushed him inside. The man fell against the passengers’ legs and grunted. He pulled himself up, his hands grabbing at anything, including stockinged legs!
The woman, who had earlier wrinkled her nose, protested. “Good Lord, get it off me! Harold! Do Something!”
Harold sighed, grabbed an arm, wincing at the feel of the rough plaid, and, with the help of the other male passenger, attempted to pull and push the drunk onto the seat. Unfortunately, the drunk did not cooperate. Instead, he pulled away, complaining “’Ere, whatcha doin’? Lemme go!”
He pulled away so hard that his feet slipped out the door and he would have fallen out if the driver hadn’t still been there, grabbed him and pushed him back in.
“We’re only trying to help,” Harold griped.
The drunk ignored him, “Give us a hand,” he demanded.
Harold sighed and pulled him in and onto the seat.
The drunk settled in the corner, legs stretched out, taking up all the leg room. His fellow passengers moved as far away as possible, grimacing and glaring ineffectually as he ignored them and pulled his hat over his face.
Satisfied all his passengers were settled, the driver shut the door, climbed up and shook the reins. The stage lurched and they were off.
Inside, the five passengers jolted. Fortunately, Harold had had the premise of mind to hold onto the drunk and so prevented him from sliding off the seat. The response was another raspy snore.
The snores continued on and off and Harold found himself constantly having to grab at the drunken fifth passenger as he slid off the seat at every bump and jolt. At no time did he appear to wake up.
Finally, the stage came to a halt. The driver got down and opened the door.
“You can get out if you want folks, be here about half an hour while I change horses. You can get a bit to eat inside.”
The two men and two women gratefully climbed out, glad to have an opportunity to escape the drunk.
The man started up. His hat fell off and he grabbed at it, then climbed out of the stage. He stretched his back and legs. His eyes, surprisingly shrewd for a drunk, roved around the area. The driver came out of a barn and walked toward the stage, leading two horses. The man’s shoulders suddenly slumped and he swayed on his feet.
“Where are we?” he whined.
“Way station. You can eat inside.” The driver indicated the cabin with his thumb.
The man shook his head and held up a flask, “Nope, this will do.” He took a long pull from the flask and wandered off as the driver went about his task.
A series of shots broke the quiet. The horses panicked and the driver struggled to hold them. The four respectable passengers and the station master burst out of the cabin as the drunk came back toward the stage, pulling his suspenders up and wiping his hands on his pants. The five people skidded to a halt and the women both shuddered.
The driver came round from the horses, “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” he yelled.
“Wha! Jes’ some fun!”
“Any more ‘fun’ like that and you’re off the stage!”
The man shrugged and climbed into the stage.
The driver took a deep breath, “You folks ready to go?”
The passengers glumly nodded and climbed in.
The man gave them an unfriendly smile. “Any of you folks wanna drink?” he waved the flask around.
“Well, I never!” the wrinkled nose exclaimed.
“That’s okay, I’ll have a drink for ya”, the man responded, gulping down from the flask. “Anyone else?”
Everyone mutely shook their heads.
“Suit yesselfs.” The man continued to gulp liquid down.
The stage jolted.
The man continued to drink from what appeared to be an endless supply in the flask. The other passengers eyes drooped. The man drew his gun and fired out of the window.
The passengers jerked awake as the stage was pulled up.
The driver appeared in the window.
“You again! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Jes some fun – liven things up!” The man’s words were slurred and his breath could have felled a bear.
Looking at the other passengers, the driver was firm. “Sober up or you’re out at the next stop!”
“You can’t do that!” the man protested, “I’ve paid fer Tenstrike!”
“An’ you’ll be off in Buckton if there’s any more trouble from ya!”
“Jes some fun!”
The driver climbed back up and set off again.
It had been quiet in the stage for several hours. For a while, the drunk had stretched out with his hat over his head, but now he was awake and his flask was empty. He began to whine about being thirsty and then, without warning, he fired out of the window again.
The stage juddered to a halt. The driver jumped down, yanked open the door and pulled the drunk out!
“I said no more trouble!” The driver pulled the gun out of the man’s hand and then shoved him, protesting, back into the stage.
A couple of hours later, the passengers wanted to throttle the man. He had whined on incessantly about the unfairness of it all, when all a fella wanted was some fun and a drink. They were so relieved when the stage entered town that they could have wept.
The driver got down, opened the door and pulled the troublesome man out. He stumbled and half fell, but somehow stayed on his feet. The driver threw his saddlebag and gun at his feet and got back onto the stage.
“There’s the saloon!”
“You can’t leave me here, I’m paid through to Tenstrike! I’m gonna see the Sheriff about this!” The man’s eyes wandered to the saloon, “after I’ve had a little drink…”
There was a collective release of breath from Harold and his fellow passengers as the drunk walked, a little unsteadily, into the saloon.
A deputy sheriff approached, “What’s going on?”
“A drunk. He’s been nothing but trouble since we left Rosewood, drinking, bothering the other passengers, shooting at nothing! I’m leaving him here. If he’s sober enough, or they wanna take him, he can get the next stage!”
The Deputy pursed his lips, “I’ll keep an eye on him. All we need right now is a troublesome stranger in town.”
Several hours later, the drunk was still in the saloon. He’d consumed a couple of bottles of whiskey and the bar tender was somewhat impressed that the man was still upright, although he was leaning against the wall by the entrance. So far, he had been little trouble, other than accosting everyone who entered to complain about being thrown off the stage.
The doors opened and the Deputy entered, “the jury’s coming back!”
The crowd started to leave. The drunken man fired into the air, “Yay!”
The Deputy, anxious to be in the courtroom and already fired up from the account given by the driver, grabbed the recalcitrant stranger and hauled him off. The man was half dragged to the sheriff’s office complaining all the way, “I was jes having some fun! You can’t do this to me!” They passed a dog which followed them, barking.
The Deputy pulled the man over to a cell, unlocked it, pushed him in and locked it behind him.
“You can sleep it off in here!” He then hurried off.
Suddenly-sharp brown eyes watched him leave. Then, the dark haired man settled himself on the bunk to wait.
(and, dear reader, if you want to know the end of this story, I direct you to the end of “The Posse that Wouldn’t Quit”)