This story is by Benjamin Boekweg and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Montego stumbled down the shuttlecraft ramp. The chains around his arms rattled like a haunting ghost. They were fastened to a thick pine board across his back, keeping his arms elevated. Two caballeros behind him shoved him forward with the butt of their blast rifles. Their gray uniforms and knee-high black boots were impeccably clean. These men were just as much show as their uniforms. All the real fighting had ended when Montego surrendered.
At the base of the ramp, Montego fell to his knees. A pair of shiny red boots walked up to him amidst the dusty summer breeze. Montego looked up. The dark eyes of Don Dario Torres sparkled with a glint of triumph. He stood tall in his imperial red jacket and black trousers. A blast pistol lay holstered at his waist with a flowing scarlet cloak about his shoulders.
“Well, well, Don Montego de la Diaz. After six long years of playing cat and mouse, I have finally caught the fox. What have you to say for yourself?”
Say for himself? What was he supposed to say for himself? Was he supposed to apologize for rescuing the poor and oppressed on this backwater planet? Should he be ashamed for being an inconvenience to the corrupt officials? Montego looked away.
Don Dario’s expression darkened. “Say something.”
Montego looked at him. “Congratulations?”
Don Dario’s nostrils flared. He backhanded Montego and then grabbed a handful of his hair, yanking him to his feet. “You think you’re so hilarious. Well, you’ve humiliated me for the last time. I’ll make an example of you like never before!”
“Then I shall return, to haunt you.”
Don Dario dragged him to the stone ledge. A quick death? No, Don Dario wasn’t that merciful. Montego peered down. Thousands of innocent faces stared up at him. The entire province was gathered together. Don Dario had become quite the showman. Montego sighed in relief. The people needed to witness his death. It was the only way it could have any lasting meaning.
Don Dario shoved Montego to the ground and looked out over the crowd. “So, this is your precious legend! This is the man you put your trust in; the elusive fox, the curse of New Capistrano.” He grinned. “It’s time I put an end to—”
“Let me see him!” A woman cried out. It was Esperanza. What was she doing? She was rich enough to make requests of Don Dario, but not enough to overrule him. Even he had limits; one annoyance too many, and he would make her disappear quietly.
She emerged from the crowd and started up the steps. Her red and white floral dress ruffled in the breeze. “Let me see him one last time.”
Don Dario fingered the blast pistol on his hip, considering. Then he smiled. “Of course, Doña Esperanza. I am a man of civility, after all.” His smile fell. “Two minutes.”
He stepped away, and Esperanza approached Montego with casual, dignified steps. It must have taken a lot of self-control not to run to his side and throw her arms around his neck. She kneeled before him and leaned in to whisper.
“Don Montego, what are you doing? You let this happen.”
“I had to.”
“Why? These people all look up to you. They see you as one who can save them.”
Montego looked down. “They see what they want to see; they see a lie.”
Esperanza lifted his chin with a sharp jerk and stared into his eyes. “It was your decision to wear that mask and cloak. You deliberately played into the local folklore. If anyone is lying, it’s—”
“And what is a legend?” he asked in a hoarse whisper. “It’s simply a convenient lie.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but no words came.
Montego motioned toward the crowd with his head. “These people need a symbol; something enduring that they can rally around.”
She sniffled. “A corpse?”
Montego looked away.
She shook her head, a tear running down her soft cheek. “What these people need is hope.”
His eyes widened. “Six years?” What did she know of it, anyway? Her answer was always hope. If six years of avenging the helpless and aiding the oppressed hadn’t given them hope, what would? Hope was not the answer. They needed something more potent. Something that would motivate them to take action. Some may call him a legend, but he was still just a man. A man can be killed, but a legend never dies. To be of any further use, he had to cross into immortality.
She sniffled again and looked away. “You are determined to vanish away then?”
“No, Esperanza. I need you to keep the legend alive. They need something larger than themselves, something Don Dario cannot touch.” He took a deep breath. “I need you. And they need a martyr.”
She looked back into his eyes. “I think you are the one who needs a martyr.”
Montego eyed her curiously. What was she suggesting? Didn’t she realize he was doing this all for them? It had to be done. Something needed to change, and this was the only course left.
Don Dario returned, tiny pebbles grinding under his boots with each step. “Time’s up.”
Esperanza stood, wiping the tears from her eyes and facing Don Dario. “You have the wrong man.”
He looked at her with an amused smile. “I’m not buying it. You’re desperate to save this love of yours—”
“Don’t be so dense, Don Dario. Of course, I want to save him. It’s no secret to your eyes that my heart aches for him. But I want his life bad enough that I will exchange my confession for it.”
Montego shot a horrified glance in her direction. What confession? This was not part of his plan. She was improvising.
Don Dario raised an eyebrow. “Keep talking.”
“Don Montego is just one of several servants that I use to punish corrupt officials and avenge the oppressed. You knew your methods were not flawed. The real reason you could not catch the fox is because you were hunting for a single man.”
“Esperanza?” Montego said, scrambling to his feet. “What are you—”
One caballero slammed the butt of his blast rifle into Montego’s stomach, dropping him to the ground.
Don Dario drew his blast pistol with wide eyes. He looked as if all the puzzle pieces were finally fitting together. “And he wasn’t even a man.” Without another word, he pulled the trigger. A green bolt of light shot out from his blast pistol and burned into Esperanza. She collapsed to the ground with a stunned expression on her face. A thin line of smoke snaked into the air from her chest.
Montego stared, his chest growing cold. If the crowd made any sound, he couldn’t hear it. Not even his heart wanted to beat. The daughter of Don Pedro Moreno, the most wonderful creature ever born, was shot like a diseased dog. A hard ball formed in the pit of his stomach. Heat rose through his neck and into his head. Regardless of what happened to him, Don Dario needed to die, too. He would have to be quick to get in close enough before Don Dario could shoot.
Montego took in a slow, calming breath. Then he gripped the chains that each arm hung from. For Esperanza. He lunged backward, smashing the board that was across his back into the caballero behind him. A loud crack sounded. The second caballero again slammed the butt of his blast rifle into Montego. It struck the board he was chained to. It splintered and broke in two.
Montego jumped to his feet. He rammed his shoulder into the other caballero before charging at Don Dario. Startled, Don Dario fired wildly. Montego tackled him to the ground. They wrestled around until Don Dario was on top, choking him with his own chain. Montego struggled to push him off. He was not strong enough.
“All that effort and bravado,” Don Dario said through gritted teeth, “for nothing.”
The crowd below looked on in amazed terror.
Montego shook his head. It’s more than that now. He took one more breath and shouted, “For Esperanza!”
Men and women charged up the stairs. “For Esperanza!”
The caballeros scrambled to pick up their blast rifles as the crowd mobbed them, beating them down. Moments later, dozens of hands pulled Don Dario off. He thrashed about, yanking his arms free from the crowd and cursing at them. Then Don Dario’s foot slipped on the ledge. He flailed his arms wildly until gravity would no longer be denied. His yell ended with a muffled thump. Montego rolled onto his stomach, coughing until he caught his breath. Why did the people act now and not six years ago? Nothing had changed…or had it? Perhaps the legend had already given them hope. And all they needed was a call to action.