Notes: (The Mother Nature Challenge) offered by TwylaJane
Show me Mother Nature, at her best, her worst, the raw elements must figure into the storyline almost like a character unto itself. Whether it is heavy rain showers, twisters, flash floods, heat waves, hurricanes, mud slides, earthquakes, fish falls, plague of locust or even a blizzard the choice is yours.
Again, I beta-ed this myself it might get a little scary so I apologize in advance!!!!
Please send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris grabbed the telegram from Ebons hand, causing the telegraph operator to shake in his boots and quickly turn back toward the safety of his office. Chris read the slip and crumpled it in his hand before tossing it to the ground.
Vin could have sworn he heard him growl.
JD! Chris barked.
The kid jumped after having tossed his knife into the boardwalk. Yeah? he said softly, quickly standing to attention.
I need you to ride up to Dale and haul Ezras ass out of jail. He tossed the telegram to the ground before storming off.
Thought Ezra was goin up there to get a package for the judge? Vin asked, pushing the brim of his hat up.
Buck reached down and grasped the telegram: SHERIFF OF FOUR CORNERS STOP STANDISH ARRESTED FOR DISORDERLY CONDUCT STOP WILL RELEASE ONLY TO PROPER AUTHORITY STOP SHERIFF MILLS.
Just as Buck finished reading the note, old man Dempsy walked by, tapping his cane on the boardwalk. He chuckled softly to himself, as he started passing by. Larabee sent Standish to Dale alone? he laughed again, knowing something the others didnt. His long gray hair hid his eyes, and his old shabby clothing gave way to the label hed earned as the town nut.
Whatre you talkin about Dempsy? Vin asked, unwilling to let the mans comment drop. Dempsy may have looked and acted strange, but there was a bizarre wisdom about him.
The old man stopped and looked across the road, knowing hed have to cross it eventually. Ya see, Sheriff Henry Mills aint particularly fond of gamblers an he hates Southerners. He reached up to scratch his beard. Heard one time that Mills lost is wife an daughter by them Rebs while he was livin in Kentuckydamn boarder states, dont know their asses from their elbows. He spit, and stepped off the boardwalk. You best send that boy fer yer friend ifn hes still alive.
Maybe one of us should go with im? Vin offered, looking toward the kid. Nobody had even heard of Dale until the judge asked Ezra to go.
Cant spare anyone, Josiah said softly, regretfully. Not with the Holms brothers on the runthats why Chriss been such a bear theyre headed straight for us.
If this Mills is such an ass, JD, you best take your badge, and use it. Buck looked off into the distance, wishing he could go with him.
If I ride hard Ill be there by late tomorrow, JD said, grabbing his hat off the chair and picking up his knife. He adjusted his hat before slipping on his guns.
Be careful, and dont let that sheriff bull you, Buck said harshly, having worked in law enforcement long enough to know that nobody wore their badge the same.
JD nodded before trotting off toward the livery.
Think hell be all right? Nathan asked, feeling suddenly sick to his stomach.
If he can find it, Vin replied, with a shake of his head.
JD burst into the livery and rushed toward the stall where his little gelding was held. He saw Tiny from the corner of his eye, but didnt pay him any mind. Like a man on the run, he quickly saddled and bridled his mount, knowing he had a destination to get to, and knowing a friend was in need.
Wherere ya headed in such a rush? Tiny asked, tossing a bundle of hay into one of the stalls.
Ezras gotten himself into some trouble, and Chriss sending me off to get him, came the rush of words.
Tiny shook his head: Easy to do in this country, he muttered under his breath.
JD finished tying his bedroll to the back of the saddle and was about to lead his horse out, but he paused for a moment. Whats the fastest way Dale, Tiny?
The older man paused a moment and squinted his eyes in thought. Fastest way would be to go through the lower ranges follow the Petersons property until you hit snake crick, and then head north you cant miss it. Hed heard stories of Dale, mostly from men on their way through, and none of them were good.
JD smiled and nodded, before heading out of the stable. He felt honored to have been asked by Chris to retrieve Ezra and he hoped he could fulfill his duty.
Buck watched JD ride out of town at an easy gallop. Unease settled in his stomach, but he knew Chris needed him here, and if the Holms boys showed himtheyd need both JD and Ezra back in one piece.
Buck? Vin said, sneaking up behind the gunslinger.
Yeah, came the soft response.
We got trouble comin.
Dale wasnt a large town; in a matter of face it could hardly be considered a town at all. Only four buildings stood: the sheriffs office, bank, a small grocery, and a saloon. It was a community of farmers. Not a lot, but just enough.
JD pulled his horse to a stop in front of the sheriffs office. He looked around, and dismounted, not seeing anything suspicious.
The sheriff walked out of his office, and leaned against the doorframe. He rolled his cheroot over his tongue before placing it between his lips and lighting it with a casual air about him. Can I help you? came the gruff voice.
Im part of the law from Four Corners, and Im here for Ezra Standish, JD said firmly, trying to sound firm and professional.
The sheriff chuckled and shook his head. I was expectin somebody bigger.
JD looped his horses reins over the hitching post, trying to ignore the barb. I can contact Circuit Court Judge Orin Travis if I have to. He looked up and met the sheriffs eyes. He meant what he said. Ezra Standish is one of the lawmen from Four Corners, you dont have any right lockin him up.
He aint the law here, boy. He spit out his cheroot. Your lawman, he motioned with his thumb toward the jail, got into a bit of a fight at the saloon. A sinister grin appeared on his face, one that expressed his lies. Gamblers aint good for nothin cept fillin the cemeteries.
JD took a step up onto the deck and looked the man in the eye. I know a lot of men whod disagree with you. He wasnt taking the mans bull.
Mills crossed his arms in front of his chest. Theres a twenty dollar fee in gettin your friend out an then youre expected to leave here an neverever come back particularly if hes with ya.
JD looked out to his right, and saw the black clouds rolling toward them. A storm was coming, and by the looks of it it would be a big one. Well need a place to stay for the night.
Not here you wont, came the terse reply. He stepped forward, towering over JD and looked hard at the kid. Dont want no Rebel conch sittin in my jail cell, smellin up my good Yankee beddin. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys and then tossed them onto the office floor. Aint you or any of your friends welcome here boy. The words dripped from his tongue like oil from a skillet.
JD refused to back down, he knew how to play the game hed seen Chris do it a million times. This sheriff was a coward, living in a past that needed to be buried. He moved passed Mills and headed into the office, grabbing the keys off the floor in one sweep. What the hell? he yelled out, rushing toward the cell where Ezra was being held.
The gambler lay on his side, his face toward the back wall. JD didnt wait. He opened the cell and thrust the door open, allowing it to hit the wall and ring momentarily. Ezras shirt was in disarray, bloodied in sections, untucked from his pants, and ripped at the left shoulder. He still wore his boots, but he was covered in dirt, as though hed been ambushed. JD reached forward and touched Ezras shoulder, wishing Nathan had come with him wishing he werent alone.
What in the hell did you do to him?! JD yelled, standing upright. He moved out of the cell and retrieved Ezras hat, jacket, and weapons from the hat stand, while never taking his eyes off Sheriff Mills. His thoughts, however, were solely on Ezra.
Resistin arrest in this town will get you more than youre willin to pay, came the cold reply.
JD returned to the cell and slowly rolled the gambler onto his back. Blood marred his hairline, and had dried along the left side of his face. His right eye was black, but not swollen. Ezra, JD said softly, trying to rouse him.
Slowly, confused green eyes appeared. They were pain filled, glazed, and distant, but they were there. JD knew without looked that Ezra had bruised ribsif not broken ones, in the sections that his shirt didnt cover his skin was covered in black and blue marks probably made by boots. JD shook his head and slowly helped the gambler sit up.
Ezra cried out, leaning heavily against the kid. Ezra shook, from exhaustion or pain, JD didnt know, either way he only wanted to get the gambler to safety.
We got to get you out of here, Ezra, he said softly, slowly slipping the gamblers jacket onto him. Trying not to cause him more pain, but it didnt seem to matter what he did Ezras quick breaths and slight moans told him more than what he needed to know. Wheres his horse? he demanded of the sheriff.
Need that fee first, came the concise reply.
JD rolled his eyes and slowly reached into Ezras boot and pulled out his money, thankful that he still had it. He pulled off twenty dollars and stuffed the money back into the boot. He turned suddenly and handed the money over. I want a receipt with Ezras name on it!
The sheriff raised his eyebrows and hesitantly nodded. The kid seemed to know what he was doing. Mills walked over to his desk and pulled out a small notepad and wrote out a proper receipt. He handed it to JD and quickly returned to his desk and took a seat, kicking his heels up onto the desktop.
Wheres his horse?
Theres a corral out behind the saloonyoull find im there.
JD tightened his fists, digging his nails into the palms of his hands. You got a telegraph office in this shit hole? He was young, but he wasnt stupid and he understood the importance of having a powerful presence.
Wait just a minute, the sheriff stood up, pushing his chair back, causing it to fall over. You aint got no right comin into my town
Whatd you do? JD took a threatening step forward, tired of the bullhe was angry about the whole situation. Jump him on his way into town, or out?
What in the hell are you implyin? The sheriffs face reddened, and he spit when he spoke.
The sound of thunder rolled and echoed the storm was getting close.
JD turned and headed back into the cell. He placed his hand on Ezras shoulder, not wanting to cause im further pain. Weve got to go, Ezra, he said softly, carefully slipping his arms under the gamblers.
Ezra groaned, feeling every kick, hit, and punch hed received from three days before. He stood up on shaky legs, feeling his ribs throb and send shards of pain to his toes. Ezra felt his arm move up and around JDs shoulder and a strong arm gently move behind his back and around his waist for support.
You better get that slimy piece of Southern ass out of here, before he happens to fall on the open end of my pistol, Mills snapped, pulling a rag out of his desk to wipe down his weapon.
You better pray he makes it back to Four Corners alive, otherwise youll hang for murder, JDs tone took on a deep sound, threatening promising.
Together, Ezra and JD moved out of the sheriffs office slowly, but efficiently. Ezras grip increased on JDs shoulder both out of pain and his need for balance. They treaded toward the corral, receiving nothing but looks of suspicion and pity from townsfolk.
Trouble trotted forward when he saw the familiar faces, he was still saddled and bridled. Nobody had bothered to remove his tack. Ezra winced, feeling for his horse, but it was good seeing he was seemingly healthy. JD carefully positioned Ezra up against the fence and quickly retrieved the chestnut from the corral. The wind had picked up, and he knew they wouldnt get to shelter before the storm hit but he couldnt risk staying in town.
Youve got to help me out here, Ezra, JD said softly, moving behind the gambler to get him mounted.
Trouble stood still while JD managed to get the gambler in the saddle. Sweat gathered and beaded on Ezras forehead and he leaned over the horn and pommel, grasping Troubles mane with the white-knuckle-death-grip. JD made sure Ezras feet were in his stirrups before taking Troubles reins. Hed lead them out of town and hopefully the gambler would stay seated.
JD mounted his own horse and slowly headed out of town, keeping one eye on Ezra, and the other on Sheriff Mills. Youll be hearing from Judge Travis, he warned, walking past.
I look forward to it, Mills snickered.
Vin dived behind the covered wagon and grasped his wounded arm. He swore to himself for missing his target and quickly grasped his mules leg, unwilling to stay down. He could hear the others firing their weapons.
The gang was large, and theyd come prepared. They hid behind their horses and anything else they could find. Every business owner had closed shop and were now hiding in cellars. Tiny had even closed up the livery, trying his best to keep the horses safe.
Josiah tackled Nathan and together they rolled off the boardwalk. The fiery explosion caused both men to cover their faces with their arms and crawl away from the heat. The building went up in flames quickly, and nothing could be done to save it. Thankfully it stood by itself, not risking the whole town.
Chris fired his weapon, hitting what he shot. Men went down with grunts and groans, only to stay where they lay. He used empty beer barrels for cover when he needed it. The gang had more members than expected, eighteen in all, and with JD and Ezra out of the picture things were getting hairy.
The sound of Vins sawed off firing let everyone know he was okay, for now. Josiah and Nathan had both managed to find a safe hiding place and had quickly returned to the impromptu battle. Buck was still stationed up high, firing his rifle from the saloon balcony.
YOUVE GOT FIVE DAYS TO LEAVE HERE! The oldest Holms brother yelled, sitting atop his chestnut gelding, looking the Stonewall Jackson himself. He motioned with his hand for his men to leave, and they did, charging from town at a gallop. Dust spit up behind horse hooves.
Several members of the gang lay dead and dying in the street, others scrambled for their mounts.
Five of the seven slowly appeared, dirt and dust marring their features. Blood continued to trickle from the wound on Vins arm. A long gash bled freely from Josiahs temple, and a black eye was appearing on Bucks face after falling from the balcony and hitting his head on the railing.
They were lucky.
It could have been worse.
Chris stepped out into the middle of the street and watched the gang speed away. He knew a posse would be futile, the gang was known for having hideouts, and Chris wasnt about to risk his mens lives.
Nathan wrapped Vins arm with a cloth and was quick to escort he and Josiah to his clinic. Members of the gang could wait if they lived that long.
Buck reached up and gently touched his eye. Whatre you plannin? he asked, stepping up behind Chris.
We know what to expect, came the confident reply, well be ready. He took a step forward and paused, pointing his gun toward one of the men that was still alive. Get yourself up to Nathans, Ill take care of this. He reached down and pulled the man up by his shoulder and pushed him forward.
Im shot, you son-of-a-bitch! the gang member snapped, holding his thigh.
Unless you move Ill shoot you again, came the meaningful response.
The outlaw struggled to his feet and stumbled toward the jail with Chris pushing his way.
Rain poured from the sky, drenching everything in its path. It fell in sheets, and hit hard. Tree branches bent beneath the force, bushes bowed and arched while the trail was soon flooded with mud. JD walked his horse slowly down the path, searching for anything he and Ezra could use for cover. The gambler rode beside him, still hunched over in his saddle, his hat hiding his face, rain falling from the rim of his hat like water over falls.
A forceful wind picked up, whipping tree branches and sending rain in all directions. JD thought that sometimes the summer storms were the worst maybe he was right. With a gray and black sky leading their way, both men thought about places theyd rather be: bed, a hot bath saloon
Ezra reached up and rubbed his face. He looked up, trying to focus on more than the hunger in his stomach and the thirst of his throat. Hed gone far too long without either.
You remember what happened back there? JD asked, pulling on his horses reins, slowing him just a bit.
Ezra fiddled with his canteen, trying to get his fingers to work and pop the cork from the lip. JD reached out and helped him, still frustrated that his friend was in such bad shape.
I aint real familiar with the area, Ezra you know of anyplace where we could hold up for a whileleast until the storm passes? JD asked, realizing the gambler wasnt in a talkative mood.
Ezra took a couple of long pulls from the canteen, just enough to wet his throat and slowly shook his head. He didnt know of anyplace to stay. He grasped his ribs with his right arm, just trying to get comfortable. He hurt, from head to toe and riding wasnt helping any.
JD watched him, wishing he could do more to help. Theyd been riding for hours and had yet to come across a house, or even an abandoned shack, anything to get them out of the weather. Ezra was his responsibility. JD pulled his horse to a stop, stopping Trouble as well, and looked around the countryside. Trees lined his right, and tumbleweeds his left. He caught sight of a fence post peaking up though the weeds to his left. He turned and glanced at Ezra, and watched him take a couple more pulls from his canteen, watching his hands shake like the leaves on the trees.
Theres got to be something up close, JD said with authority. He pulled on Troubles reins and headed out toward the post, hoping a fence was there but hidden and then maybe theyd come across its owner.
Ezra just nodded, not caring where they went, as long as they ended up dry.
JD saw the light flicker through the window, and immediately his heart started to race. He was soaked to the bone and his teeth chattered as though it were the middle of winter. Even his knuckles were stiff. He could only imagine how Ezra felt. He hadnt heard a peep out of him, except for the occasional gasp for air.
Hello, the house! JD called, wanting to warn the inhabitants that they were coming near. He pulled his horse to a stop, not wanting to overstep his bounds.
The front door opened and an older man stepped out. He held his shotgun firmly in his grasp and looked out toward the two riders. Whatcha ya want? he hollered out, making sure his weapon was pointed in the right direction.
JD urged his gelding forward and slumped over the pommel of his saddle. My friends hurt, and I need to get him dry and get him some food.
Dont want no trouble from ya! the older man yelled back.
Were lawmen from Four Corners we just need a place to stay and get dry! JD returned, hoping he heard through the pounding rain.
The old man stepped back and leaned his rifle against the doorframe and walked closer to the steps. He brought his hand up to his brow and looked out toward the two men. He caught sight of the individual hunched over his saddle, barely managing to stay on. You best bring him in, he called out, before turning and heading back inside his home.
JD didnt wait to dismount; he was off his horse immediately. He led Trouble forward, and moved back toward Ezra and touched his thigh.
The gambler looked toward the kid, but didnt really see him, exhaustion, pain, the cold they had all taken their toll.
JD reached up and slowly pulled the Southerner down surprised by his increase in weight, JD shifted his knees in order to keep standing. Rain had soaked them both through. He was surprised when the older man stepped up beside him and helped him carry the gambler into the warm house.
Best get im on the bed, the old man said, grasping Ezras waist and arm, trying to keep him standing.
I really appreciate this, JD said, catching his breath after they laid the gambler down.
Boy looks to be in bad shape, the old man said, moving toward the stove. Ill put more water on.
JD nodded in understanding and quickly removed his own jacket and boots. He looked hard at the gambler and shook his head. He really wished Nathan were here, hed know what to do, how to help. Im JD Dunne, and my friends Ezra Standish.
Ted Wilson you can call me Ted or Wilson dont really matter none. He continued with his duties, watching the young mans unsure movements.
JD reached inside himself and took control just like he had back in town. His stomach turned, but he knew what he had to do. He sat on the edge of the bed next to Ezras hip and quickly started unbuttoning the gamblers shirt. He gasped when he saw the dark blue, almost black bruising that covered Ezras torso. The clear impression of the bottom of a boot nestled perfectly on his left side adjacent to his elbow.
That son-of-a-bitch! JD almost yelled, but kept his voice downjust barely. He gently pulled back the material of the now ruined shirt.
Ezra lay motionless, absorbing the comfort of the bed and the heat of the fire. His eyelids moved slowly, blinking like a child on the verge of sleep.
Your friend get caught up with Mills? Ted asked, resting a washbasin on the commode next to the bed.
Yeah, JD replied softly regretfully.
Had a couple of cowboys come by here bout a year backboth pretty beat upnot this bad though. He reached out and placed a comforting palm on the Southerners forehead. Hes got a good fever runnin through im its gonna be a few days before hes fit to be on his feet again. He wanted to say if but he didnt want to distress the young man anymore. Ol Mills is a son-of-a-bitch to the bone. Hates Southerners, Texans, Mexicans, Negros, Women an just about anyone else that confronts im. The only person Mills likes is Mills. He shook his head and motioned for JD to go stand by the fire. Had a run in with im bout four years backI shot himhe shot me, an that were the end of it. He shrugged, gently slipping Ezras boots off, despite seeing the money, he shoved it back into the now empty boot and continued as though it didnt mean a thing to him. When he finished he removed Ezras socks. Folks keep quiet bout im, cant see why, but I spose theyre like me stay purt near to myself.
JD listened to him talk, while watching his gentle movements and mannerisms. The house was warm and comfortable, and it would serve them well, at least for now. He stepped forward to help Ted get Ezras shirt and jacket off.
The gambler gasped at the movement and pulled his knees up, trying to ward off the pain. He felt his shirt being pulled from his back, and he hissed, feeling the fabric tug at the open wounds it had stuck to. He rolled his head to his right and rested against the unknown individual who graciously helped JD.
Ive got ya, boy, Ted said softly, soothingly. He looked at JD and motioned for him to grab the cloth in the hot water. Best clean these wounds before we lay im back down. He made sure he had a firm grasp on the injured soul, and he watched as JD carefully started cleaning the scrapes, cuts, bruises, and scratches. Damn shame folks ave to be so mean.
JD nodded, feeling slightly sick to his stomach. Nathan was much better at this than he was he really wished Nathan were here. Mills fight in the war? he asked, trying to strike up conversation. He called Ezra a Rebel conch.
Mills shook his head and laughed, causing the kid to smile. The only reb Mills as known is that patch of hair on his ass. He shook his head again. Man turned tail an ran when the war startedheard tell some of his friends a while back came through town, gave im a hard time bout it. Served im right, the cuss.
What is a Rebel conch? JD dumped the rag back into the washbasin and quickly returned to his duties.
Its a term that was used quite a lot durin the war for Southern white boys it aint somethin that needs repeatin. He adjusted his grip on Ezra and pointed toward the far wall. In that there cupboard is small tin filled with healin ointmengo get it an well put some on is back fore we lay im back down.
JD did as he was asked and carefully unscrewed the lid. He reseated himself behind Ezras exposed back and carefully applied the smooth ointment over the wounds. Shouldnt we wrap them? He looked up and met Teds eyes.
Nah, came the knowing reply. Hell sleep good for a while, aint no point makin him wear somethin were just goin to have to take off im in a few hours.
JD stood up and watched as Ted carefully laid the gambler back down. His ribs are gonna be sore for a long while. He shook his head while in thought.
Ezra squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember more than the moment he was in. His body hurt, as though he had been run over by a stagecoach. He pulled his hand off the bed and quickly brought it to his eyes, covering them from the pale light in the room.
JD was by his side in an instant, Ted momentarily forgotten. Howre you feeling, Ezra? came the excited question.
Like a hundred miles of hard road, came the soft, yet forceful reply. He let his hand drop back on the bed and he took a lazy look around the room before laying eyes on JD. What happened?
You dont remember? came the concerned question.
Ezra rubbed at his head, feeling the pain behind his eyes. Ah remembah askin a young man about Judge Travis package. He shifted uncomfortably, gasping when he moved wrong.
It were probably a few of is hired hands, Ted said, moving toward the bed with a cup of tea, he aint known for doin his dirty work hisself.
A clash of thunder shook the home for a brief second, causing all of its inhabitants to pause in motion and in thought. Ezra jumped slightly, and gripped the blanket, causing his knuckles to turn white. A bright light from outside glowed through the windows creating an image of daytime. The lightening hit immediately after the thunder rolled.
I better go see to the horses, JD said softly, grabbing his coat from the chair next to the stove.
Put em in the barn, Ted said softly, and make sure you tie em securely dont want em runnin off ifn that thunder rolls again.
JD nodded and looked toward Ezra before heading out the front door. The gambler rubbed his eyes, trying to gather his bearings, but succumbing to the exhaustion that was slowly claiming him. Ted shook his head and quickly started preparing for the night. The rain would only increase, the lighting would only get brighter, and the thunder would shake the house.
Ezra took a deep breath, feeling the pain in his side. He chose to ignore it and simply concentrated on closing his eyes and sleeping.
Vin pushed the brim of his hat up from his eyes and looked at the black clouds that were slowly coming his way. He shook his head and looked toward Buck who sat reading the paper on the porch of the saloon. Hope JD an Ezra had enough sense to find shelter.
Buck shook his head: Ezra out in the rainwillingly? Youd have better luck gettin Chris to laugh out loud.
Vin rolled his eyes: Thats if Dempsy was wrong in what he was sayin about Sheriff Mills.
Hell, Vin, Dempsys a fool an he aint got sense enough to pour piss out of a boot.
He may be a fool, but he knows folks from around here an I wouldnt be so quick to ignore what he has to say.
Both men turned and waited for Chris to say his peace as he stepped up onto the boardwalk. Josiah and Nathan just got back, said they found a site were they think the Holms brothers were at. Josiah wasnt sure, but he thinks hes found theyre hold up. He paused and ran his fingers through his hair, after moving his hat off his head. Remember the old Blackly place? he waited until they nodded. Theyre probably out there figure we can hit them before they hit the town again. Ezra and JD should be back tomorrow sometime
Nobodys goin anywhere with that storm comin up, Vin said, pointing his finger toward the black clouds. When that hits, its gonna hit hard and strong. Figured Id ride out and check Netties place, make sure shes ready for it Ill ride out and check a few of the others as well.
Chris nodded: theyd have to wait. Buck, you ride out and warn McKlenelys and the Petersons, then high tail over to the Carters and make sure theyre cattle aint gonna stampede. If the storm hits before you get out of there, have them put you up for tonight. I dont want either of you out ridin in this. Ill have the others help me get the town ready. He watched as Buck stood up and slowly head toward the stables. Chris looked toward Vin and saw those worried eyes. What?
Vin shook his head and started down the steps, as though everything would be all right if he didnt say anything.
Vin? Chris pushed.
The tracker turned and paused. That storms gonna be a bad one, Chris, theyre aint gettin around it.
If Ezra an JD aint back by tomorrow Id best go searchin for em. There was a warning in Vins eyes that went heeded.
I want you here for the Holms brothers.
Vin shook his head and pointed toward the storm. If those boys are hold up in the old Blackly place youll find em surrounded by water by days end tomorrow, stranded and beggin for help.
I hope youre right, Vin. Chris watched the tracker closely.
You know I am. He turned suddenly and left.
Chris turned and watched as Vin headed toward the livery. The clouds were rolling in as though preparing themselves for the storm they so willingly held. Chris shook his head. He should have knownhe should have been paying more attention to that around him, rather than the gang before him. Now now, he had two men somewhere out thereand soon to be two more and he was unable to do anything
JD sat by the window, watching as the rain poured from the sky. It pounded the ground, creating mud puddles and the rising water swept quickly down narrow makeshift streams. Small twigs and leaves created damns along the waters path, never stopping it, just slowing it down. Another bolt of lighting lit the sky, and for a brief moment everything went still by its power.
Alive, aint she? Ted said, sitting beside the bed where Ezra lay, wiping his brow with a cold cloth, trying to stem the fever in his body. My wife told me once that lightin and thunder were lovers that could never unit that rain yer watchin is their tears.
What happened to her your wife?
She passed away a few years back. He was quiet for a moment, wondering how long the storm would last, wondering how long Ezras fever would continue.
JD looked toward the gambler and watched him brush his face with the palm of his hand. He was exhausted, but unable to sleep, aching and unable to get comfortable he lay there wishing he were someplace else anyplace else. JD knew it, he could tell by looking at him.
A sudden gust of wind caused the branches of the trees against the home to slap the exterior.
JD jumped and moved back from the window and toward the bed where Ezra lay.
Aint seen a storm like this since the spring of 68, lost my barn cuz of it. Ted picked up the porcelain bowl and took it to the kitchen table.
The sudden roll of thunder caused everyone to jump. Ezra grasped his side with his left arm and pushed himself up on the bed. JD looked toward the door as it swung open from the force of the wind. Ted simply shook his head. A clash of lighting lit the sky and a crack like that of a bone snapping filled the room beyond comprehension.
Instinctively, JD reached out and grabbed the Southerner, not giving him enough time to complain as another crash echoed. The front of the house splintered and creaked as glass shattered and wood broke apart as though it were dry twigs.
The trees branches invaded the home like a spiders web did an abandoned den. Leaves and twigs broke and snapped, flying in all directions. The tree actually bounced twice before coming to a complete rest, allowing the wind and rain to enter the now destroyed building.
JD lay atop Ezra, protecting him with his own body. He could feel the stings of the whipped branches on his back and legs they stung, but didnt break any skin. He was lucky. He moved slightly after hearing the gambler gasping for breath.
Ezra pressed his left fist, cheek and hip to the floor as he tried to roll onto his side. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried desperately to pull his knees up.
Oh hell, Ezra, Im sorry, JD quickly apologized, rolling off him. He reached out and grabbed a blanket and covered him, trying to at least keep him warm while the wind and rain continued to be relentless. TED! the kid yelled, standing up straight and taking a quick look around. Dam, he sighed, that was close. TED! he yelled again. When he didnt get a response he moved toward the tree and found the man that had been so kind to them buried beneath the heavy girth and impaled by a branch. He looked as though he died with a smile on his face.
Ezra sighed and tried to move.
Stay put! came the order from JD. He didnt want to yell, but he didnt want the gambler hurting himself more. Im gonna go check out the barn. He pulled his jacket up and around his neck and closed the front with his hands and quickly sped off toward the barn.
Wind and rain hit his face like small stones. The trees swayed back and forth, looking more brittle then they ever had. Shingles from the roof of the house and barn flew off with a violent force. JD dodged and ducked as flying objects passed his head. He swung the barn door open and fought against the weather to close it again. The horses still remained tied in their stalls, though by their nervous behavior it was easy to see how fearful they were. Ears perked forward and were quickly rotated, eyes remained wide and looking toward any and all sounds, tails swished back and forth, and hooves struck the ground with impatience.
At least it was dry.
JD quickly found a corner of the barn the one furthest from the closest tree, and quickly started laying out saddle pads, blankets, and straw trying to make a bed of some sort. He grabbed a pail of water and rested it next to the bedding and took one last look around the barn before making his way outside again.
The storm wasnt about to let up.
JD found Ezra curled up on the floor, grasping the now wet blanket hed been covered with. Puddles of rain had gathered around his head and feet, but he refused to acknowledge it. JD reached out and grabbed their guns that still hung on the chair that hadnt moved how odd? He grabbed Ezras boots and jacket before moving toward the gambler.
Weve got to move, Ezra you cant stay here. He moved his hand under the gamblers right shoulder.
Ezra groaned and sucked in a painful breath as he was forced to sit up. His jaw muscles clenched and he ground his teeth as he was forced up onto his feet. He leaned heavily on JD, unable to stand on his own. Hed been sore before, but now .
JD grasped Ezras waist with his left arm and forced the gambler to move forward. The Southerner hissed when sensitive feet struck rocks, sticks, and other painful debris. Wind and rain whipped passed their faces. JD opened up the barn doors with a breathtaking feat. He quickly escorted Ezra toward the makeshift bed and carefully deposited him before rushing back toward the doors to close them.
The barn creaked, reminding JD of a witchs rocking chaireach motion created an allusion of suspense, a reminder of how brittle life was.
JD paused and looked around the barn, knowing hed have to make due with the limited supplies he hadwhich wasnt much. Slowly, he moved back toward the gambler who laid on his sideshaking from the pain or cold, JD didnt knowperhaps it was both.
They were both wetnot soaked, but damp enough to be uncomfortable. JD tossed a dirty blanket over Ezra and sat down beside him.
Some food for thought, the kid said softly, Im gonna kick Larabees ass when we get back.
Ezra chuckled softly, gasping for breath when he finished. Ill supply the steel toed boots.
JD replied with a soft laugh of his own that would be a site to behold.
It brought to Josiahs mind the book of Genesis as he leaned against the doorframe of the saloon, watching with suppressed interest the isolated state Four Corners found itself in. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man, he spoke softly, just loud enough so those closest to him could hear.
Chris shook his head as he watched the four riders come into town, hunched over their saddle horns, drenched to the bone looking more like death than life. The two front riders each ponied a horse behind them, each horse carried a dead man over their backs.
The Holms brothers seemed to have learned the hard way that the weather can break a man faster than a bullet can, Vin said, pulling his foot off the chair and standing up straight.
Chris shook his head, knowing hed have to send some of the area residents over to the church to stay while they used the jail for more traditional reasons. Half the town was boarded up, the other half was being used as safe havens for those that didnt have a place to stay during the storm. Families had been placed in every available place even the cells in the sheriffs office.
Chris stepped down off the boardwalk, his boots sending droplets of mud in all directions. The wind whipped his long duster around him like the Grim Reapers cloak. He stood in the middle of the street, ignoring the weather, or the rain that bit at his skin. His jaw muscles flexed and clenched.
We aint here to cause problems, the eldest Holms said.
Problems already been caused, Chris replied. He watched as Nathan moved across the street and toward the sheriffs office to clear out the cells. We were lookin forward to seein you again under different circumstances of course.
I can still shoot you dead.
You can try, Chris responded, hearing the cocking of Vins sawed off. If you all want to make it to tomorrow, youd best toss your weapons to the ground.
His warning went heeded. Three of the four tossed their weapons to the ground and slowly dismounted. The last Holms brother looked hard at Chris, wanting only to see the man die, but it wouldnt happen, not today.
The eldest Holms brother slowly tossed his weapon to the ground and then dismounted. His eyes were like coal: cold, emotionless, hard fearful. Chris didnt care; hed seen eyes like that before hed had eyes like that before. With the tilt of his head he directed the men toward the jail, Vin and Josiah followed, each with their guns pointed toward the back of the men.
What happened to the others? Chris asked.
River swept em down when it started risin we found Paul an Kip but they was dead already, the youngest replied. He sounded sad, but there was a distance in his voice that kept him one step away from feeling the pain of losing family. He walked steadily toward the jail, as though this were just another chapter in his life.
Prison was hard on everyone, particularly the young.
JD opened the barn doors and sucked in a deep breath. The sun peaked through the clouds, highlighting the land and its components. The damage had been done. A few trees and thousands of branches lay scattered around the area looking more like a childs bedroom filled with toys than the wilderness. The house that he and Ezra had come to seeking shelter was destroyed, and JD had to bow his head in sympathy.
He turned and looked toward the gambler who slept peacefully on the blankets and hay. His fever was gone, and now he was able to sleep without waking every time he moved. JD removed his jacket and tied the barn doors open, allowing the fresh smell to enter his lungs without hindrance. He looked toward the destroyed home and then grabbed a shovel he had a man to burry.
Vin finished tying his bedroll to his saddle and looked up as Chris walked toward him, leading his big black. Nothing was said as both men finished preparing for the trip they were about to take.
Buck stepped out of the saloon and kicked his foot up onto the boardwalk railing. Judge ill be here in two daysdont figure hes gonna be in too much of a hurry.
Chris nodded; he already knew that. He swung up onto his horses back and waited for Vin to do the same. People around town moved carefully across the street. Children jumped mud puddles and made mud pies, while adults treaded carefully through the area, however pointless their endeavors. Horses had mud up to their bellies, and wagons had splattered it up and around the flat beds and out onto anything within their reach.
Everyone was lucky. The wind had knocked down one tree on the outside of town, and it had been a dead one that some of the farmers were going to cut down and chop up for firewood anywayso that worked out for the better. The rain had left its mud and infiltrated a few homes, but it was manageable.
Well be back in a couple of days, Chris said, waiting for Vin to finish. Make sure you keep an eye out, just in case those other brothers made it.
Figure if they did theyre halfway to Mexico by nowprably on a raft. Buck snickered at his own joke. Be careful out there an bring em home.
Aim to, Buck, Vin replied, urging his mount forward.
The two men rode past the church as Josiah dumped another pan of water out onto the street.
Two farmers each claimed to own a certain cow. While one pulled on its head and the other pulled on its tail, the cow was milked by a lawyer. Josiah shook his head and didnt say anything else as he turned and headed back into the church.
Vin cocked an eyebrow while Chris shook his head, understanding Josiah was more than a mystery it was an accomplishment, and today was no different. Both men had to laugh though, when they spotted Nathan cleaning his fingernails with his pocketknife while sitting between Mr. Stevens, the bank manager, and Mr. Wendle, the feed store owner, while they argued over who was supposed to fix the broken board in the boardwalk neither claimed ownership when it broke but both claimed it while it was fixed.
Think Nathans gettin an ear full? Vin asked with a soft chuckle.
Payback for breakin the board, Chris replied with a laugh all his own. You sure you cant go with us? he called toward the healer.
Cant, Chris, Nathan replied, Emma Harris is havin her baby an Ol Mr. Brants still nursin that knife wound.
Chris nodded, he knew how difficult it was for Nathan, having more patients than he did time. Youll be here when he get back? He just wanted to make sure, just in case the healer got called away.
I will be, came the confident reply.
Mud slides, downed trees, and puddles weighed heavy on the land. Temporary scars that would pass over time. The horses moved slowly, carefully, through the debris, placing their hooves in open spaces. Chris gave his horse his head, allowing him the room he needed to traverse over the land. Vin did the same. Both remained silent, allowing only the soft breeze to conjure their senses.
Mother nature was not a mild force, and she reminded men, young and old, what she was about, what she could do, and to never take her for granted. It was a simple matter of respect and taking the time to learn her tells. Black clouds could go ignored, but not for long. She sent them for a reason and she left it up to man to decide how to handle them.
Look, Vin yelled, pointing toward the house, or its remains, in the distance.
Chris pulled his horse to a stop and shook his head. Better go check it out, just in case they need some help.
What about JD an Ezra?
Hell, Vin, for all we know they could be there.
It wasnt a sight Chris or Vin had anticipated seeing. JD, without a shirt, covered in sweat, leaning on the handle of a shovel standing before a grave.
Vins heart sank and he kicked his horse forward, chasing after Chris. They jumped downed logs and pulled their mounts to a stop, causing mud to splatter and spray.
JD turned and wiped his brow. Mud lined his features, hands, and arms evidence of the hard work hed preformed. He looked up as Chris and Vin stopped their horses. Their faces were lined with worry, obviously they didnt know who was buried within the freshly dug grave.
Its about time you got here, JD said, grabbing the handle of the shovel before turning and heading back to the barn.
JD! Chris yelled, he wanted answers.
The kid stopped and wiped his brow. He was tired, dirty, hot, and in need of a bath and a good nights sleep. He wasnt in the mood to sit and explain every detail to Larabee. JD shook his head and tossed the shovel, not caring where it landed.
Vin dismounted, unsure of what was coming, or why he just knew shit was about to fly.
I just got done buryin a man who helped save Ezras and my life, Chris, I aint in the mood to tell you why we didnt make it back in time to shoot some gang members, or apprehend another disorderly drunk. Ive had a hard couple of days and Ezras had worse
Youre both okay? Chris asked, wanting to take care of his first concern.
Yeah, but not because of the common sense you or the judge share. He turned and looked hard at the gunslinger. From now on, nobody and I mean nobody, goes into any unknown town alone! He spoke with authority and he meant to be heard. Any of us! He looked from Vin and then back to Chris. I dont care for what reason if it has to do with the judge or Four Corners we all go with back up!
What in the hell is this about?! Chris snapped.
Its about you endin up in Jericho, Ezra getting the shit beat out of him in Dale, Josiah getting accused of murder and the list goes on.
What does this have to do with Jericho? Chris asked confused. He hadnt been on a job then it was just him being in the wrong town at the wrong time.
It has to do with all of us getting into trouble when we head out alone were a team, we should start acting like oneand that means looking out for each other, even if we dont think we need it. And I mean it, Chris, nobody goes anywhere alone ANYMORE!! I am tired of this shit! He turned and headed back toward the barn.
Chris turned and looked toward Vin. What in the hell was that about?
Think you just got a tongue lashin.
Chris snarled and shook his head before heading toward the barn.
They found JD saddling up his little bay and Ezras big chestnut. Ezra sat on a sack of feed, seriously contemplating how he was going to slip his jacket on.
You all right? Chris asked, stepping toward the gambler.
Ah have been better, came the mundane reply. Ezra ran his fingers through his dirty hair. He looked up, exposing his fading black eye, the beginnings of a beard and mustache, and a healing cut just below his hairline.
Ya look like hell, Ezra, Vin said softly, grabbing the gamblers jacket and helping him slip into it.
Hes got some busted up ribs so hell need help getting mounted, JD snapped, leading both his horse and Ezras toward them.
Ah yes, the good sheriff of Dale didnt take a fancy to my bein there. He smiled, despite the pain written in his eyes as he moved.
Vin couldnt help but nod in agreement as he helped the Southerner to his feet. Together, he and Chris got him mounted.
Ill head on over there Chris started.
Not alone! JD snapped. Im tired, hungry, I want to see my girl, and I want to take a nice hot bathnot necessarily in that order. I need some help getting Ezra back to town and NOBODY is going to Dale or any other shit town alone! He flung himself up into his saddle. Now lets gothe day is wasting.
Vin pushed his hat up off his head and scratched his scalp. How longs he been like this?
Ah couldnt tell you, Ezra replied, leaning over the horn of his saddle. He seems to have been in a pleasant mood until you got here.
Dont start, Ezra, Chris said, slipping into his saddle.
Quite frankly, Mister Larabee, Ah find it releavin to know the boy has a temper it balances out the group a little better.
Ezra urged his horse forward, knowing the Larabee growl was intended for him.
Chris clenched his jaw and breathed.
Hes right you know, Vin said softly, not bothering to hide his smile.
Chris looked hard at the tracker. One leader for this band of misfits is enough.
Hes not the leader, Chrisnever will be, but its good to know hell tell ya what hes thinkin beats tryin to guess.
Like Ezra Josiah Nathan and even themselves.
Slowly, Chris nodded. Lets go home.
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