Dark Shadows

by Chris & Laurie Ann

Disclaimer: Well, we borrowed them, just for Hallow ‘s Eve, is all that clear? Besides we would like to keep them …much longer. . If you haven’t figured out….

Warnings: pain, angst, strong language and …poem.

Notes. Written by two friends from different countries that met in FOUR CORNERS’ DREAMLAND.

Thanks: To Lynda for her "forgiveness", to Brigitta perfect mate and inspirer, to Florinda for sharing with us her knowledge about the "Dark world".

Across the usual trial of blood and tears,
My HEART has reached at last the sense of LIFE.
You gave me TRUST and by that simple deal,
THE SHADOW failed :It was again the LIGHT.

(Written by Vin to Chris
at the end of this tale.)


The graveyard was silent, a big moon, shining over the little town .In the distance, a coyote called one time, making the air seem to shiver at the haunted sound .The beast howled again and again, two, three, four, six…seven times. Standing in front of the tomb, a woman stretched out her dark, coarse hands towards the sky, humming strange, chanting words as she took a large basin and held it high to reflect the full moon into the water.

"By the power of the Dark Star, come. Come to me Eli Joe and be my instrument in the task," she cried out in a loud, harsh tone.

The water in the basin trembled, little waves running on its surface, and then turned bright red. She knelt and poured it on the tomb, rising slowly to look at the moon. Again the coyote called from nowhere out in the darkness ..


The night in Four Corners was quiet. Mary, glancing out her bedroom window could see only one light in the alley, coming from Vin’s wagon. The tracker was awake. She saw him standing in the glow of the full moon, sensing the air, listening to every sound from the darkness like a wild thing, his long curly hairs fluttering in the wind from the desert. Feeling protected by the presence of the young man down the street, Mary went to bed.

Vin had spent the last three days hunting and only now he realized how tired he was. He glanced down at the ground and saw a bird lying on its side right in front of his wagon. It was a hawk and he approached to examine the animal more closely. It did not appear to have been shot, but its neck feathers were ruffled, out of place the tracker poked at it, the dead bird’s head lolling unnaturally. Its neck had been broken. Vin’s brow furrowed.

Damnit.. The people say that could be a bad omen, he thought. "Ain’t nuthin ‘ ya can do ‘bout it now. Time for some shut – eye, Tanner. Ya deserve it." He murmured, getting himself into the wagon. Having shut the wooden gate to his rig behind him, the young man slowly stripped off his holster, shirt and undershirt, leaving only his pants to cover the lean, muscular body. With a long yawn, he lay upon the well-torn blankets of his bed, and within minutes, was asleep.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson awoke in the middle of the night with a strange feeling of uneasiness. A brilliant flash exploded outside the window. He hit the floor in his bare feet, padded over and peered out the glass, but could not see any storm. Returning to his bed, the dark shinned man took another look out of his window and saw someone standing on the walkway, near Vin’s wagon. He jumped to his feet, quickly dressing himself, and grabbing his back sling of knives.

Running to the wagon, Nathan heard the hoarse, terrified scream echoing in the empty street. Frantically, he pushed aside the canvas flap. Lying on the wooden floor was Tanner, his face purple and his right hand clawing at his throat. One of the tracker’s colorful bandannas was tightened around his throat so tightly that he was having trouble breathing.

Nathan moved over to him, and dropping down beside the semi – conscious man, he loosened the cotton knot. Vin moaned, drawing a shuddering breath as he sat rubbing his neck. Two, unfocused blue eyes set on the healer.

"They…they caught.me off guard," Vin said between breaths, lowering his tousled head on his knees.

"They? " exclaimed Nathan. " There was only one guy. I saw him, Vin." He ran his careful hands on Vin’s head, looking for others wounds. "Let’s take a look at that hard head of your ’s."

"Hell, Nathan, there had ta be at least two of ‘em.far stronger than me. I’ ain’t no fool." The confusing attack caused Vin’s face to redden in sudden anger." They only got my throat… stop proddin’ at me," he protested. The healer continued his ministrations. " That’s enough!" Vin complained, fighting against the healer’s hands.

Irritated by Tanner’s attempts. Nathan grabbed both the tracker’s wrists pulling them over to the side. In Vin’s physically shocked state, it wasn’t much of a battle. The young man before him could handle himself better that anyone he had ever met, so the healer knew he had better take advantage while he could. Tanner was embarrassed by having been caught unaware, hence the challenging attitude. It didn’t matter, if Vin was hurt, it was his duty to help.

." Stop it! Dammit, Nathan …leave me be!" shouted the tracker. Pulling his hands free, he smacked at the dark skinned man ‘s probing ones.

"If you try it again, I’ll call for Chris to keep you in line. So behave!" Hollered the enraged black healer. With a soft string of curses, Tanner surrendered and closed his eyes. Nathan poked at him for a little while longer, and then satisfied, muttered,

"No other damage done, but stay put or I’m going to nail your sorry butt to that cot. "

"Nathan…. I’m fine! Aw hell," sighted the young man.

"Lay down, hear me?" the healer ordered." If you promise to be good, I’ll let you stay here on your own instead of lock you up in the clinic. Deal?"

"S’kay,"grumbled Tanner.

Nathan carefully cleaned the red marks marring the tanned shin of the young tracker ‘s throat, washing gingerly the bruises on the lean chest. The handsome face was covered in dust and grime, and the former slave wiped that off as well.

" What ‘d he do to you, Vin?"

"I’se sleepin’, got woke up and I felt a noose tightenin’ on my throat. That’s all."

"Do you know the man who did this?"

"No, couldn’t see his face, " explained the tracker, his blue eyes staring at his friend,"but sure as hell could smell him. Was stinkin’ like a dead buffalo that had stayed in the sun fer weeks." Vin shook his head, the confusion leading to agitation.

"Maybe you had better come back with me to the clinic. It’s safer," Nathan stated." Git movin’ Vin, it’s late and I’d like to sleep at least a couple of more hours." He tried to help the lean frame up with his arms.

" Stop nursin’ me .Ya promised ta let me be, " growled Vin as he pushed away from the dark skinned man. Curling into a ball, he wrapped himself tightly in his threadbare blanket.

The sound of spurs approaching the wagon drew Nathan’s attention. Turning, he saw Chris Larabee looking at them from the opening.

"Nathan?" the gunslinger asked with concern." What’s wrong with him?"

"Someone tried to kill him, but he’s hurt and being an ornery cuss about it."

Chris hauled himself up into the rig and leaned over the huddled form of his friend." Vin looks at me. What the hell happened to you?" he asked quietly, bending closer to the bewildered young man, slumped on the cot.

The tracker looked up at Chris with wide, puzzled eyes." Damn confusin’. Somebody was here. Tried to ta strangle me." He closed his eyes, breathing painfully through his sore throat." Then Nathan came and whoever did it was gone. I’m fine now, Chris. Jiist only need ta git some sleep …in my own bed." He finished stubbornly, pushing himself up on his elbows.

"Are you working on getting yourself shot or something, Tanner?" Chris teased as he tried to halt his friend’s efforts.

"Damn, a man could jist let me …" groused the young man.

"Cut it out, Vin .I know you like this raggedy canvas you pretend to call home, but you better go to the clinic, and let us take care of things." Chris was certain that the tracker wouldn’t be protected out in the street, after being attacked, and experience made him careful. He glared at Vin when his friend didn’t move." You’re going to the clinic, and no more arguments. Is that clear?"

"C’mon Chris," pleaded the tracker, but it fell upon deaf ears as the man in black glared again at him. With a deep sight Vin eased himself to his feet, and with the help of Nathan, he jumped from the wagon step, gingerly moving to the clinic. The gunslinger walked close behind the pair, his keen, green eyes scouting the town for any sign of trouble.

At the doorway to Nathan’s clinic, Chris turned to his best friend "Look, pard, there is some murdering bastard after you. I’m going to find out where the hell he is and what he wants with you. But give me your word that you’ll let me handle that and you stay here and get your rest."

Vin couldn’t help but smile at the older man’s request." Ya got my word," he said quietly, and grinning broadly added," thanks, Chris."

Larabee extended his hand and the two men clasped forearms before the gunslinger strode out into the street.


Nathan couldn’t sleep. He glanced at the man in the bed who has fallen into a deep slumber. Vin’s handsome face was pale, making the tiny freckles on his sharp cheeks more evident. It gave him back the look of youth and vulnerability that he hid so well during the day.

He’s done wore out. Need to get some herbs for his swollen throat and some tea too, thought Nathan as he made his way to the stairs leading to the cellar. Taking a small glance out a back window, his heart gave a shudder when he caught sight of the hill overlooking the town. A strange red light that the healer was sure wasn’t a fire, glowed on the top of the mound. Nathan turned directly east. The sun was far from rising and he frowned as he listened in the air a sound, one single note, a fading whisper like a ghost echo, followed by the nearby howl of a coyote.

Movement in the corner of his eyes caught the healer’s attention and he tensed, now fully alert to a female figure in his clinic. A black woman that was wearing the white dress the slaves on his former plantation wore. Nathan blinked twice and the woman was instantly there near Vin’s bed, looking evilly at the sleeping patient.

"What the hell are you?" he asked, holding his breath. This was no ordinary woman. The female turned slowly. She was a heavy built, dark woman in her sixties, her thick hair gray at the temples. Her face was large and round, with a huge mouth and deep, piercing eyes. Around the broad neck was an enormous collar of glittering gold.

"You know me, Nathan." She whispered. She sniped off a lock of light brown curls from the limp head lying on the pillow, her big, coarse hand laying on Vin’s chest, just near his heart. The young tracker whimpered as the memory of old gloomy days flowed again into his mind, a full moon, and a hole in the damp ground at the windy cemetery, a corpse…

"Damn lousy witch! Don’t touch him!" the healer warned.

"Your friend is mine, Nathan. The darkness is calling to him. I’ll have his body and soul."

"Never!" shouted the dark skinned man.

"Nathan… I’ve lost my family, so many of them because of the seven men protectin’ this town. I’ll see all of you defeated at last! I’ll see this dusty town turned into an empty " shell!"

Nathan frowned, staring at the strange woman who had raised painful memories from his past, for he found himself unable to move.

"He is mine, Nathan, and no one can stop me. My magical force is dangerous." She took the unmoving body into her arms, exiting the room and disappearing in the shadow of the night.

+ + + + + + +

Walking toward the jail, Chris was really worried. A feeling of cold dread settled in the pit of his stomach, and he knew that somehow it had something to do with Vin, the strange connection they had developed in the last few months, having a lot to do with that. In his mind he struggled to find out the source of his fear and frustration as he reached the edge of the town.

Suddenly the gunslinger was aware of a presence behind him, his gun instantly drawn in his hand as he faced the intruder. A fearful creature stood before him completely covered in mud and watching warily at him. Even upwind, Chris could smell an overpowering stench of decay and death. The shape had a thin jaw, with teeth like a beast’s shoved behind blackened lips. There was no nose on the frightening face, and the most horrifying feature was the glowing yellow eyes.

Chris pulled the trigger and shot, a strange sound coming out from the decayed mouth. It was a chilling laugh, much like a maniacal killer having just satisfied his bloodlust. With an unexpected quick movement, the skeletal hands aimed at the gun, and made it fall to the ground with a supernatural force. The form then turned to Chris, causing the gunslinger ‘s leg to give way. Larabee sank down senseless on the dirt street.

When he woke in the in the stillness of the night, Chris found Nathan beside him, a concerned look in his face.

"Chris, " Nathan whispered," Someone kidnapped Vin."

A chill twisted in the gunslinger’s spine. Gritting his teeth, he scanned the street with unspoken apprehension, his green eyes lost in the dark engulfing the town." I know," he murmured, gaining his feet," but what did it?"

+ + + + + + +

Vin was dreaming. Dark nightmares from the depths of his imagination that took his fears and made them real. He was running and getting nowhere, Eli Jones at his heels, a rope closing around his throat. Awake and scared. Had he screamed? He lay trembling, his body in a lather of sweat as he tried to bring his raging heart back under control. Slowly he opened his eyes, and found he was lying prone on a thick carpet of damp grass with his hands tied behind him. The shock was wearing off, enabling him to feel and think again, but it took several minutes to recall the past events, and why his throat and head hurt so badly. When he did give voice to his pain in a weak curse, it ended in a deep moan.

Suddenly he was knocked harshly to the ground, and he fought to free himself from the grip of the strong hands as he was raised to his knees. Towering over him was a black woman.

"Vin Tanner, do you remember me?" she asked.

Vin glanced at her, and then tossed his aching head. " No, I dun no ‘ xactly who ya are, but I reckon I’ve never met you before."

"I had two sons, once. I gave them the name of ancient warriors. They were twins and you ad your friends killed both of them. Now you all are going to have what you deserve."

"Hell … they were damn, thievin’ murderers, not warriors. Yer sort of messed up about your kin’s real job ma’am."

"No smart remarks, Tanner! You will live and die according to my rules and at my convenience," muttered the woman. She leaned on the tracker, and then opened his shirt, a knife appearing in her hands. Tipping the edge of the blade in a little pot, she ran the sharp weapon on the smooth skin, forming an upside down cross, and encircling it just above Vin’s heart.

"What the hell…. are ya doing ta me?" gasped the young man as tiny rivulets of blood made it’s way down his chest.

"You will see soon enough. Look, I’ve got a friend of yours, " answered the black woman in a hauntingly low voice.

Vin blinked, staring hard into the dark, and suddenly saw a well-known shape. The glittering eyes, the coarse features, the lips curved into an evil grin.

"We meet again, Tanner and this time I will win," growled the shadow, peering down on the captive.

"Eli? No.. It’s not true…yer dead," the sharpshooter barely whispered, horror seeping into his drawl. His wide eyes swung back to the woman in shock.

"He will walk with you by my command!" yelled the witch. " And you will see them all die by your own hands!" Then he raised a hand near Vin’s head, and he collapsed senseless into the grass.


Chris was really upset. All day he and the other peacekeepers searched for the missing tracker, but there was no trace of him. Not even a sign left from the strange woman that kidnapped Vin. It was past midnight, and the gunslinger was tired to the bone, from the useless ride over the territory. Nathan was sitting next to him, outside the jail, waiting for the others to show up.

The first to come up to the pair was the ex – preacher, Josiah Sanchez .The big man sat down quietly by Chris’ side." No tracks of Brother Vin, in town, Chris I’ve scanned every inch of it," he reported in a sad, low whisper.

"He’s not here …I feel it," answered Chris, focusing his pain – fogged gaze on the older man.

Soon Ezra Standish was standing before them, his bright red jacket covered with dust. " Ungrateful day, my friends. JD and I scrutinized the area, but there was no hint of our elusive tracker." The con man let out a deep sight, his frustration and worry evident.

"He’ s in no shape to defend himself," Nathan murmured," and that woman must’ve had some hired gun to help her." He ran a hand over his face." We must find him. I must find him! He was kidnapped in front of me and I wasn’t able to stop that damn witch!" exploded the healer. The others looked at him, understanding the pain and the anguish now clawing at the black man’s heart.

"Nathan, calm down. Why don’t you get some rest? You’re about to drop where you stand. We’re all tired and can’t think straight. I think some food and a good night’s rest will help," Josiah said softly. He was just as worried as them about Vin but they were all worn out after a long day in the saddle.

"We all ride out at dawn," Chris ordered in a steely voice. The five men started to leave when the gunman glanced down the street and jumped from his seat as he saw the familiar lean figure coming towards him from the alley with that unmistakable easy stride.

"Vin? Hell! Where have you been? What happened?"

Deep blue, innocent eyes looked at Chris in wonder." I’se sleepin’ in my wagon. Nuthin ‘ happened ta me."

" You were at Nathan’s...and., " uttered a bewildered Larabee.

"I gotta tell ya, cowboy, I don’t like bein’ trapped in that damn clinic. It makes me antsy, so I sneaked out through a window," an annoyed Vin spat out. He took in the stunned face of his friends with his characteristic lopsided grin. "Why are ya all so riled up about me?" he drawled, taking his normal seat near Larabee. Stretching his long legs in front of the chair, he lowered his slouch hat, shadowing his face." I’ se a mite tired, that’s all," he replied lazily, smiling again at them.

Chris frowned at the statement of the quiet young tracker, but Nathan approached him.

"Are you all right, Vin?" he asked, leaning near the sitting man.

"Hell Nate, stop fussin’. I’m fine!" The tracker rose abruptly to his feet. "I’m goin’ to the livery for a bit. Can’t breathe with all ya ‘ round." With two, long strides, he was gone.

"Nathan?" Chris asked, glancing around at the others in shock " What’s going on?"

The black healer shook his head in surrender. " I don’t know …it sounds … strange."

"It’s only Vin being Vin, " Buck stated, trying to lighten the situation. His mood grew somber when he turned to his old friend and he saw the worry etched in the green eyes. "I’ ll go check on him, " he offered, and followed the tracker to the livery.

Approaching the stable door, the ladies’ man called out into the seemingly empty building." Vin?" There was no answer. Buck entered cautiously inside. Vin’s form suddenly materializing, giving him uneasiness that settled deep in his chest.

The tracker was panting heavily as if in a terrible pain, his large, blue eyes full of a searing terror. His mare’s leg was held in a trembling hand, pointed straight at Buck. Vin struggled to lower the weapon, but wasn’t able to do it.

" Buck, please …git away from me! I can’t stop it! Go away!" hollered the young man, his wavy hairs plastered on his forehead by the sweat of his exertion.

Buck stared at the deathly pale face in surprise and felt his heart leap into his throat when he clearly heard the click of the trigger being drawn back. A shot rang through the still air and the lanky peacekeeper fell to the dirt ground.

"Buck …no!" screamed the sharpshooter, tear rolling down his face. The force that had compelled him to shoot was gone, leaving his body shaking with a sharp pain flaring in his chest. Suddenly hard hands dug into Vin’s slumped shoulders, indicating the black woman was there.

"This is only the first, Tanner," she said in a dangerous, low whisper.

Pain shot up again through Vin’s chest, the mark on his skin burning. Rising to his feet, he tried to avoid her grip, but was met by the laughing shadow of Eli Joe. With a savage cry, the young man ran towards the door, calling on every inch of strength he had left to carry him out into the dark night.

"Run Tanner…. run. You are going nowhere.you will be my plaything till the end, " murmured the black witch. Held against her breast was the tokens taken from Vin. The small lock of hairs, smeared with his blood and sweat, were gathered inside a little pouch, binding the tracker’s soul to her demon until his death. She straightened, and with little effort, half drug Buck’s body to a dark corner of the stable, covering him with a dusty blanket to hide the evidence of what had transpired minutes before. Then as she had come, she silently left.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was in the church when heard the shot. He shuddered involuntarily when the door abruptly opened and a frantic Vin rushed into the sanctuary stumbling to the floor. The preacher knelt beside the fallen man, and took the shivering frame to a nearby pew, laying the semi – conscious sharpshooter down carefully.

Vin’s eyes were open, but unfocused and blank. Soaked in sweat, his lips moved slightly, only no sound came forth. Josiah could see his friend fighting to catch a breath, an unnatural aura emitting from the normally tranquil tracker.

"Brother Vin , you look terrible. I’m going to get Nathan."

Desperately Vin wanted to respond, but his muddled brain wasn’t able to order his vocal cords to speak. He watched the man in dismay, feeling again the burning pain in his chest, this time a buzzing in his ears adding to his distress. A soft whimper escaped as the preacher began to leave his side. He was afraid of being left alone with his nightmares. The door swung open and miraculously Nathan appeared. Vin sighted in relief when he felt the healer’s hands on his sweaty forehead.

"Nathan," Vin exhaled, finally able to speak," help me. …It’s hurtin’." Nathan saw the pain filled face of the tracker, and frowned when Vin ‘s eyes closed, the body falling limp into his arms.

"What’s wrong with him?" Josiah asked, looking in concern at Vin’s color drained features.

"I really don’t know," admitted the black man. He opened Vin’s shirt to check for injuries and gasped in horror, staring at the mark on the tanned skin. " Oh my lord!" he exclaimed. " The mark…look Josiah..the mark is on him!"

The preacher studied the deep, angry red slash in the form of an upside down cross. " You’ve seen that before?"

"It’s a cursin’, and a powerful one. When I was a slave back in Louisiana, I saw men with this carved on them. Only they weren’t men at all, but empty shells without will. Walking dead is what we called them."

As they were talking, Chris entered the room, his gaunt face filled with worry. He met the healer’s gaze and instantly felt an iron grip around his heart. " I want to know everything, Nathan."

The former slave swallowed back a lump in his throat at the sight of Larabee ‘s haunted eyes, well aware their leader blamed him for losing tracks of Vin. Every bit of damage or injury the tracker endured would be scorched in Chris’s soul forever.

" Well, Chris," Nathan paused, unsure how to proceed next. How the hell could he explain what was beyond reason?" I guess I’m not able to explain it."

" Or you won’t," muttered Chris as he leaned near Vin. For several minutes he observed the young sharpshooter, noting the anguished expression on the fine chiseled face even in his state of unconsciousness. He sent his piercing eyes roaming over the motionless body of his best friend, suddenly turning them to the healer with a hiss of alarm.

"What the hell is that?" Chris demanded, pointing to the dreadful red scar just above the tracker’s heart.

Sighing, Nathan lowered his eyes. A gust of wind shook the windows of the clinic, causing the young man in the bed to cry out , his eyes popping open while a slender hand clutched at his chest. Vin jerked up and tried to sit, but before he could fall off the mattress, Chris reached out and held on to him tightly.

"It’s okay, Vin. Lie down," Chris murmured, stroking the ashen, damp features with a cloth Josiah had handed him.

"Chris? Is it really you?" uttered Vin through half closed eyes.

"In the flesh, pard," the gunslinger answered in a soothing tone.

The tracker moaned, tossing his head back and forth, speaking again in a sorrowful and low drawl," I killed Buck…" The other men in the room looked at each other in disbelief." He was there ….him and that damn witch. They forced me ta do it .." Vin squeezed his eyes shut in misery. "I tried…tried to stop ‘em …"

" Who was with you? Who tried to force you?" Chris asked.

Intense sky eyes stared back at the man in black "Eli, Eli Joe," Vin whispered. He groaned as anguish washed over his gaunt, handsome face, distorted by a grimace of pain.

"What?" the three friends exclaimed in unison.

The tracker nodded knowingly." Reckoned ya wouldn’ believe me …..but he ‘s in town ."

Josiah looked out of the window, listening to the wind and remembering the strange feeling he had when Vin first entered the church. "This is a fearful night, Brothers. It’s known as All Hallow ‘s Eve. In ancient times it was believed that the spirits of the dead were free to roam the streets, and even the Devil himself had his dominion over the soul of man . " Pausing with a frown, the ex – preacher began to speak more about the gloomy legends when an eerie sound filled the room. Two ghostly forms appeared on either side of Vin’s bed : the black slave woman and the ghost of Eli Joe.

As she advanced towards the three men, the woman raised an imperious dark hand over them, and Josiah and Nathan found they couldn’t move. Chris on the other hand, slightly resisted her power, his eyes sparking defiance. This disturbed the witch. She had no idea the bond between the blond and the tracker was so deep and so strong. But tonight was a special night, the forces of evil at their strongest. If she was truly have her revenge and Vin’s soul, she would have to deal with this thread immediately …while her power at their peak. Again she raised her hand, an extra powerful spell invoked.

The black wearing gunman froze, but the woman knew it was only a matter of minutes before he broke through. She could feel his determination, the desire to protect his friend at all costs.

" It’s time for my vengeance, Vin Tanner. I’ve planned it in a different way, but the omens are clear to me so I have changed my mind," the witch growled " I want you to kill your best friend ..now!" In her palm was the little leather pouch, and she clenched it tightly while pushing his stunned victim upon his back so he that laid flat upon the mattress. The former slave hovered over the tracker, satisfied of the terror in the wide, blue eyes. Using one of her sharp nails, she scratched into Vin’s healing chest wound, dipping the fresh blood upon the slightly open lips of his prey.

"You are a predator, Tanner, " she whispered, " taste the blood and kill!!"

Vin was only dimly aware of what was going on. His head ached and his chest hurt. A knife was in his right hand as he neared a distorted and blurry shape in front of him. Teeth ground together in agitation as he recognized his tormentor , Eli Joe. Wielding his weapon, Tanner repeatedly stabbed at the murdered ‘s throat until an anguished scream made him stop. He knew that voice…a voice he trusted.

"Vin! No –o – o !" Josiah awoke from his stupor, the cross he wore around his neck held in his outstretched arm.

The young man blinked twice and saw in front of him a fair-haired face with burning green eyes. In that brief glimpse, Van realized he was trying to stab Chris Larabee. His hand trembling he muttered " Kill…kill," over and over as the haunting voice whispered in his ears. Struggling fiercely to regain control of himself, he still found his hand working apart from his will, the blade lowering on the exposed skin of his best friend throat.

"Oh, God …help me!" Vin cried out, and with all the strength he could find , turned the blade towards his own body, straight at his heart. He would sacrifice himself before hurting the man he loved like a brother. But before the blade could plunge itself into his flesh, a thunder echoed through the room, causing the knife to fall from his hand. With a sight of relief, Vin ceased his inner battle and slid to the ground exhausted.

The cross on Josiah broad chest glistened with an intense light, and the preacher grabbed at the black witch throat. She cried out in pain as the little pouch was stolen from her hands, and she dropped half – blinded to the ground. With a shrill, piercing scream, the grinning ghost of Eli Joe disappeared in a haze of red smoke.

Chris hurried to Vin’s side, the weary young man was trying to rise to his unsteady feet," Easy there, pard," soothed the gunslinger, helping his friend to Josiah’s bed.

"I’m fine now, Chris …really," Vin drawled in his husky soft voice, sinking his head gratefully into the pillow. In minutes he was asleep.

Looking on in relief, Chris covered up the drained tracker with a thick blanket. The tranquility was short lived as Vin began to thrash upon the narrow cot. It took the gunman everything he had to keep Tanner restrained.

"Buck !" moaned the sharpshooter." Where is Buck?"

"I’m right here, Vin," the booming voice answered. Vin frowned and looked up to see the smiling face of Buck Wilmington standing to the right, slightly behind Chris on unsteady legs. A red mark on his forehead stood out, but not the damage expected.

"What …what happened ?" Vin asked in wonder. "I thought I .. shot at ya .."

"You missed, Slick. It could be your first time, but you missed, " grinned Buck, pointing to his forehead, "I got this beauty mark from where I hit my head on the ground. Woke up ‘bout an hour ago, and JD found me." The ladies ‘ man stopped and studied Vin’s astonished face. " How ya feelin’ Vin? Yaw look a mite pale. Whoa now, ain’t no ghost …so don’t be lookin’ at me that way!" he joked, ruffling the unruly locks of the younger man.

"Aw hell, Bucklin’, cut that out! Ain’t a baby," Vin complained half – heartedly, trying to punch at the scoundrel. A heavy burden had been lifted, knowing his friend was fine and held no ill will towards the almost deadly deed.

"Okay children…when you’re done playing, I think we should be getting some shut – eye. We still have a town to protect here, " Chris said sharply, shaking his head. A broad smile spread across his handsome face as the first dim light of the day filtered through the church windows." The night is over at last," he remarked, heading for the door. He turned and looked towards his best friend, pleased to see Vin rest peacefully.

When Vin awoke next, he saw in the uncertain light of the dawn Chris’s slumbering form sitting upright against the side of the bed. Even though the witch and Eli Joe were gone, Larabee was still watching his back. The young tracker smiled, words beginning to form in his mind. Quietly he slipped out from under the blankets and tip – toed to the wooden pulpit, knowing Josiah kept paper and ink inside. Finding what he desired, Vin began to put into newly learned letters and words what was in his heart. An ardent student, Vin picked up reading and writing quickly under Mary Travis’ tutelage.

Satisfied, he tucked the folded paper neatly under Chris’s hand, taking great care not to wake the gunslinger up. Crawling back into his pew, Vin adjusted his pillow and closed his eyes, his body and mind still fatigued from his strange ordeal.

Chris had felt the paper slipped under his palm. When he heard Vin’s soft breathing, he unfolded the paper, grinning at the roughly sprawled letters across it.

Across the usual trial of blood and tears,
My HEART has reached at last the sense of LIFE.
You gave me TRUST and by that simple deal,
THE SHADOW failed :It was again the LIGHT.

His eyes moistened as he read the heartfelt poem, amazed at how this young man could find anything special in him. "Damn," Chris muttered softly, wondering how to ever express what this gift meant to him.

Hearing the quietly uttered curse, Vin looked down anxiously from the pew, watching Chris ‘ reaction.

"Everythin’ all right?" he asked hesitantly.

Chris closed his eyes, struggling with his emotions." This poem …it’s incredible, Vin.."

"Jist like your friendship, cowboy, …jist like your friendship ," whispered Vin and smiling softly he drifted in a peaceful sleep.