Welcome to the February 2023 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.
To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.
February is the month of love, so here is a romance in the shadow of the gallows in the Old West.
So follow Lola Laverne, singer and dancer extraordinaire, as she faces the gallows and falls into…
Lola Laverne paced the tiny cell. Outside the walls of the prison, the workmen were building the gallows, the thudding of their hammers in tune with the frantic beating of Lola’s own heart. In less than ten hours she would die.
Many had flocked to Silver Dollar City to witness Lola’s execution. Seeing a woman hang was a rare occurrence, even in the lawless West. And Lola wasn’t just any woman. She was Lola Laverne, the celebrated dancer and one of the greatest beauties of the age, who had once appeared on the foremost stages in Europe and whose performance had so dazzled the King of Prussia that he would have made her his queen, had he not been married already. But all that was in the past. Now Lola was a convicted murderess, spending her final hours in a filthy cell in a nowhere mining town, waiting to perform her last dance at the end of a rope.
There was the turn of a key and the door to the cellblock opened. Lola’s heart leaped to her throat. Was it time yet? Were they coming for her already? No, it couldn’t be. The carpenters hadn’t finished the gallows yet.
An moment later, the freckled face of Deputy Stubbs peeked into the dim hallway leading to the cells. Lola relaxed a little. She quite liked Deputy Stubbs. At least, he treated her like a lady, regardless of the circumstances. That was more than could be said for most others.
“Miss Laverne,” the deputy said, “Visitors for you.”
Probably newspapermen, hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous Lola Laverne before she was hanged. Or just ordinary gawkers who had slipped the sheriff a silver dollar or two for the privilege of staring at her.
But the two figures entering the cellblock were not the usual gawkers. For starters, they were women. Two women, both carrying wicker baskets. Everything about them was grey. Their dresses, their bonnets, even their faces. The two women tiptoed along the corridor and stopped in front of the cell, maintaining a respectful distance as if Lola’s predicament was somehow contagious.
“Miss Laverne…” One of the women pulled a small booklet about the size of a Beadle dime novel from her basket and passed it through the bars. “We bring you sustenance for the soul.”
Lola glanced at the plain cover of the booklet and saw that it was a religious tract. “Thank you,” she said politely and put it down on the narrow cot which had been her bed for the past five days. Lola had no intention of reading the tract, but she need not tell the women that. Besides, it might come in handy as toilet paper.
The women pulled something else from their basket. It was a folded piece of black woollen cloth. “We also brought you a dress,” one of them said, “A modest dress, so you need not step before Our Lord attired quite so shamelessly.”
Lola glanced at the plain black garment. It was even more unbecoming than what the women themselves were wearing, if that was possible. Then she looked down at herself, at the elegant gown of emerald taffeta and black Chantilly lace, fashioned after the latest Parisian styles. The choice was clear.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said, “This gown was good enough for dancing at the Paris opera house, so it will certainly be good enough for dancing on the gallows.”
The women folded up the plain black dress again, stuffed it back into the basket and walked away, clearly disappointed. Just before they reached the door, one of them turned around. “We nonetheless believe that Our Lord will find it in his heart to forgive you,” she said. Her companion nodded emphatically. “We too suffered the carnal attentions of Mr Morrison more than once.”
In that case the bastard had been even more desperate than Lola would have thought.
She sat down on the narrow cot, carefully arranging her petticoats. It was very doubtful that God would forgive her. For she felt no remorse about killing Lash Morrison. No remorse at all.
This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Outlaw Love. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.