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The breeze slid softly through the slumbering town, rustling the uncut grass. It was a little bit past midnight, the witching hour that few dared to venture out in. The wind brushed against a dark, worn building with the word SHERRIF nailed above its door. The whisper knocked a stained, brittle piece of parchment off the door and onto the wooden deck. . The typed, black words: WANTED dead or alive headed the paper Etched into the parchment side by side were two similar and rugged faces. A small paragraph underneath the portraits warned the citizens of the area about how dangerous these two criminal brothers were.
A half-mile to the west of the Sheriff’s office was a large, ornate building known as the House of Justice. It’s white wood doors opened and swallowed criminals of all ages. It would spit them out only after the impervious sentence of death. The trials were merely a formality in the end. Everyone knew that once you stepped foot into the House of Justice, you had walked into certain death. It was an unspoken truth that had never been questioned.
“Todd!” A strained whisper called. Bill Saunders, one of the two wanted brothers, held a can of kerosene in his calloused hands. He stood beside the House of Justice and squinted at the darkness.
“Hold your horses,” an answer came from behind. Todd Saunders was pouring the last ounce of flammable liquid from his container onto the imposing building. He threw the can carelessly to the side and turned to his brother. His eyes fell pointedly to the identical can in his hands.
“You done with that?” Bill had forgotten he was holding the empty thing and tossed it aside like his brother.
“Is it ready?” He asked, gesturing to the House.
Bill reached into the pocket of his scratchy jacket and pulled out a matchbox. He took a match and stroked it against the box. An orange flame engulfed the tip of the little wooden piece. The two watched the flame flicker, admiring the dance they had seen so many times before.
As Bill dropped the match onto the kerosene, he smiled and said, “Here we go again,”
The flame spread quickly, following the trail the brothers made. In less than two minutes, the entire House was covered in giant flames. The brothers watched the fire ravage the structure. The light of the destruction outshined the stars in the sky. It reflected against the pride in their eyes. Another horror house was gone.
“Fire!” A shout interrupted their admiration. “The House of Justice is on fire!”
A cacophony of commotion followed. Men were jumping out of their houses while children yelled at the display of light, wondering what was happening.
“That’s our cue,” Todd announced.
The pair broke into a run towards their horses, which were hidden behind the Sheriff’s building. They passed the mob of residents running in the opposite direction without detection. They slid around the building and climbed onto their horses.
A clear shout suddenly reached their ears, “There they are---them Saunders brothers!”
“Our reputation precedes us,” Bill joked as the two kicked the sides of their horses. They rode away from the town in the direction of the woods. They almost flew over the ground as they entered the empty forest without hearing any sounds of anyone following. They were in the clear. They had gotten away with it again.
They set up camp for another night in the wild. They were accustomed to such conditions, especially after a job. They didn’t miss the niceties a home had anymore. All they needed was some food and the sky above their head.
“I was thinkin’ we should hit Fredicksburg next,” Todd told his brother as they set up for the night. “I’ve heard the sheriff’s is slicker than a snake.”
“Sounds like a good opportunity then. “ Bill agreed, lying against a tree.
It was quiet for a few minutes as they mulled over what they had done. They never were the talkative types, especially after events like these. Similar to many times before, the impact of their actions only hit them after the dust had settled. They never regretted their actions. However, the seriousness of it was not something they took lightly.
Their lifestyle wasn’t one they chose. Their father had been executed for not paying his debts and stealing a few dollars for his family. Their mother had had to raise them on the streets after being evicted from their home by a cruel landlord. Their life was hard, much harder than it needed to be. No one in their tiny town dared to help them for fear of similar suffering and the boys grew angry. They were angry at the system that had killed their father and put their family through excess struggles and pain. When their mother died after being denied entrance into the town hospital, they lost their reason to hold in their rage. The head doctor of the facility had determined that her economical status didn’t require any medical attention. The next day they burnt down his house.
At first, they acted out in rage. However, the older they were—the more considerate they became. The places targeted became places and symbols of corruption. They moved through towns where people were ruled by the immoral and burned their power.
“Don’t run. Just stand.” An unfamiliar voice ordered the two. Todd and Bill jumped up from their places. Their eyes scrutinized the situation. Five armed men surrounded them.
“Bill and Todd Saunders,” One of them spoke, gun shaking slightly. “Y’all are under arrest.”
The trial, if one could call it that, was brief and fixed to punish them as severely as possible. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes before the judge hammered his wooden piece and declared full guilt and a sentence to death. They expected as much.
That night, their final night, they did not sleep.
The midmorning light warmed the land and the sky was a clear blue. The perfect day for a couple of executions, the sheriff and deputy joked as they lead the Saunders brothers towards the remains of the House of Justice. A crowd had gathered around, waiting expectantly for news travels quickly in a small town. A makeshift stand had been constructed upon their capture. It wasn’t much and it lacked the trap door. There was only a hole in the floor where they would fall and swing to their deaths.
Bill and Todd shuffled towards the crude symbol. Their expressions were emotionless. Fear played on their heartstrings, but they would not allow any one to see that. Neither wanted to die, but if they must—they would die with their dignity.
They clambered up on to the stand, shoved into their positions by the law. The town’s priest began reading their final rites.
The townspeople were silent. Their eyes were on the stand. The usual excitement these events held was missing. The residents did not react with the passion they would with the other criminals. The looked on in respectful silence at these two men who they had never met before and yet had sacrificed their lives to protect them. They weren’t fighting the law, but this wordless show of rebellion—this refusal to cheer at their execution—proved that the brothers’ efforts were not in vain.
A change was coming like a winter storm.
Bill shared a smile with his brother as the hangman tied their nooses. The rough texture chafed their skin.
“You ready, brother?”
They closed their eyes and took a collective final breath.
And the sun shined on while the people grew strong.