The Exemption List by Dylan James Harper

The Exemption List by Dylan James Harper

The dusty calm of the desert trading town was interrupt by the sounds of a single horse galloping down the main thoroughfare, and its rider’s loud, carrying warning cries.

            “They’re comin’, they’re comin’!” the man on the horse yelled.

            Heads started to poke out of the various houses and businesses along the main thoroughfare. A group gathered on the front porch of the saloon. While a few people looked nervous, most looked confused, even inquisitive. A few kids started running after the horse and laughing. The most exciting thing that had ever happened to the sleepy town involved a confused and rather large buffalo that decided it wanted to traipse down the main road, knocking over everything and everyone in sight. 

            The growing crowd made its way after the man toward the town square, a tentative excitement buzzing through the small towns residents.

            His horse out of breath from running, and himself out of breath from screaming, the man took a few a minutes to dismount and gather himself. One of the saloon patrons offered water to the man, who drank eagerly.

            “Billy, what is going on?” Asked a tall man who made his way through the gathered townsfolk to the man.

            “You’ve come and gotten the whole town out with your shoutin’” the tall man continued.

            “Sorry, brother,” Bill responded, panting heavily.

            “I had to get everyone here, they’re comin’” Bill pressed on, in between deep breaths.


            “Is the buffalo back?” Inquired one of the townspeople from the crowd.

            “No,” stomped Billy, becoming exasperated.

            “No, it’s Joe Jasper, and his gang!”

            Most of the crowd gasped in horror. The children, who had been laughing and playing, stopped, and ran to their parents. Even a small dog, sensing the unease, crouched down between its owners ankles.

            “Well, I guess I see why you couldn’t just yell that.” Billy’s brother remarked.

            One young woman, new to town, poked her head out of the crowd.

            “Who is Joe Jasper?”

            The young woman, Wanda Willow, was a bit of a local celebrity as she had become the one-hundredth person to take up residence in the town, only to be passed up by Susie-May, the new born daughter of Martha-May, the nice woman who owned the inn at the front of the town. Of course, later on Billy West, grandfather of Billy and his brother Tommy, had passed on, bringing the population back down to one-hundred.

            “Who is Joe Jasper?” Billy and Tommy replied in union, both incredulous.

            “I can answer that,” came a voice familiar to the whole town.

            The crowd parted as a middle aged woman in finer clothes, carrying a white parasol in one hand, and steadying herself with an ivory cane in the other, made her way to the center of the group.

            “Mayor Jessup!” Billy exclaimed.

            “I rode here as fast as I could from the next town over to tell you that-“

            “They’re comin’, yes I heard Billy.”

            Mayor Jessup gave Billy a stern pat on the shoulder, the way a parent congratulates a child that’s discovered something very rudimentary.

            “Joe Jasper and his gang are ten men who roam around the West, going from town to town stealing what they want, and burning what they don’t. By the sound of it, they’re looking to visit our small town next.”

            The crowd broke out into nervous murmuring.

            “Now, wait just a minute,” came another voice from the crowd, this time a bit shakier, but with a nervous certainty to it.

            “You say this gang only has ten people?”

            Mayor Jessup turned towards the source of the voice, an older man, sporting small, circular rimmed glasses.

            “That’s right Doc.”

            “Well, there’s a hundred of us!” He replied, his confidence growing, his voice a bit steadier.

            “Well, not really.” Came yet another voice from the crowd.

            Mayor Jessup again pivoted, facing the new voice.

            “Did one of my resident’s leave us Martha-May?”

            Martha-May looked taken aback to be addressed directly by the mayor, but she carried on unfazed.

            “Not exactly ma’am. It’s just that, if Doc here is suggesting we all gang up to fight this  Jasper, we don’t really have a hundred residents for the fight, we only have ninety-nine.”

            “And why is that?”

            “I don’t expect Susie-May will be of much use in a fight,” Martha-May replied with a bit of a chuckle, lifting the young baby curled up in her arms to emphasize her point.

            At this revelation, the crowd let out a collective chuckled.

            “Well, if she takes after her mom I expect it won’t be too long before she is, but you’re absolutely right my dear,” Mayor Jessup stated, starting to raise her voice to be heard by all one-hundred residents.

            “If we do mean to fight off this gang, and I do think it is our only option, we need to get a precise headcount. Is there anyone else who won’t be able to join the fight?”

            “We should probably count Granny Marjory out.”

            Granny Marjory had sacrificed a leg for the town to subdue the rambunctious buffalo. Still alive and feisty as ever, she gave a toothless smile from the back of the crowd.

            “Alright, well, ninety-eight against ten is still a pretty good advantage, and-“

            Cut off yet again, by another voice in the crowd, Mayor Jessup now began to look slightly annoyed.

            “There’s also Skinny Levi your uh ma’am” Billy said, timidly, sensing the mayor’s frustration.

            A loud, muffled protest came from the thick of the crowd as a thin adolescent, who seemed to have the density of a chicken bone, frantically tried to push his way through the crowd, who eventually parted for him.

            “What’s that supposed to mean? I can fight! I can fight just like the rest of them!”

            “Of course you can Skinny Levi,” soothed Mayor Jessup. 

            “However, it might be best if you hold up in the bell tower with Granny Marjory and the young baby Susie-May.”

            “Actually, now that you say it out loud, I really should be there with my baby,” piped up Martha-May.

            Mayor Jessup handed Tommy her ivory cane just to put her hand on her head and rub her temple.

            “I’m not going to be able to make hide nor hare of our numbers here if people keep shouting things out at random.”

            Doc quickly summoned a small notebook from his back pocket.

            “I’ll keep track your ma’am! I’ll make a list of all the people exempt from fighin’!”

            “Thank you Doc. Alright, keeping in mind that the main goal of Jasper Joe and his gang is to take or destroy literally everything we have, and that we’re slowly eroding our biggest advantages, that of numbers, does anyone else feel like they should be exempt from fighting?”

            Several hands shot up among the crowd.

            Mayor Jessup let out a great sigh.

            “Okay, let’s tackle these one by one.”

            After several minutes of deliberating and listing, Doc had finished reading over his list of people exempt from fighting against Jasper Joe and his gang.

            “Doc, can you please, hopefully for the last time, read back the list of names of people exempt from fighting  Jasper Joe and his gang of villainous vandals?”

            “Of course your ma’am”

            Doc flipped back to the first page of his notebook, cleared his voice, and read one-hundred names.

            Mayor Jessup again handed her ivory cane to Tommy, and rubbed her temples.

            “Thank you Doc. Just so I am clear, that was exactly how many people?”

            “One hundred your ma’am.”

            “And remind me again how many people live in my town?”

            “One hundred your ma’am.”

            “Excellent. So our original ratio of one-hundred to one, a ten to one advantage over  Jasper Joe and his gang, a gang of ten total people compared to our one-hundred, is now nothing?”

            Doc looked up at her, realizing her gratitude was perhaps less sincere than he had previously inferred, and his voice became shaky again in reply.

            “Yes, your ma’am.”


            “You yourself agreed with all the reasons your ma’am!” He pointed out quickly, to which the crowd quickly murmured its own agreement.

            Mayor Jessup let out a long, loud sigh.

            “I guess I did.”

            She paused for a long time.

            Finally, she stretched out her hand toward Tommy for her cane, who handed it to her. She began to walk off toward her house. The crowd parted for her, but looked at each other confused.

            “Where are you going Mayor?” Asked Billy.

            “I’m going to pack my things Billy.”

            “Why Mayor?”

            “Because Billy, we’ve lost the town.”

            The next day, Jasper Joe and his gangrode into town, whoopin’ and hollerin’, carrying torches and ridin’ the meanest looking horses in the West. Their excitement at taking down a new town, however, was dulled a bit when they realized that the town they had come to raid was completely empty. So puzzled by this, the whole gang stopped in the middle of the main road, just looking around in confusion.

            “Oh well,” said  Jasper, as he began to load up their cart with all the fine wares that the townspeople couldn’t carry.

            “More for us I guess.”            

And that was the end for the sleepy town, whose population was now zero.


Copyright Dylan James Harper 2020

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