In the Year AU
General - all of the guys - Not mine, but I let them play in my universe
Beta - Rosalee, and Melissa - who took me to task. Thanks Gals!
** Head talk**
"When are Chris and Ezra due back?" JD slid onto the chair beside Vin at the table occupied by Josiah and Buck. They were eating breakfast in Ezra's restaurant adjoining his hotel and saloon. Rain poured down outside and the wind blew hard enough to lash the side windows. "Is this constant rain going to slow them down?" JD asked. He reached down to pet Ezra's two huge cats, Flower and Heather, who were sprawled across the men's wet boots purring happily.
"The judge let me know he received a call from Yuma Prison. They'd made it to the prison and left three days ago, they didn't spend the night in Yuma, so should be home late today or tomorrow," Buck answered as he took a large bite of his breakfast. "Damn, listen to that wind." He shook his head as one of the metal shutters slammed against the building.
Over a week ago, Judge Orin Travis sentenced Bart Jacobs to prison. Two days after the trial, the prison wagon that makes the rounds of the local towns, was contacted to pick up the prisoner. Due to the weather, it wouldn't arrive in 4C for two weeks. The weather was delaying the usual fast response. The Judge, not wanting to leave Jacobs in the local jail, requested the peacekeepers to deliver Jacobs to the Yuma Prison.
Only Chris and Ezra were available to take on the task. JD, the appointed sheriff of 4C, couldn't leave the town unguarded, and Vin had pneumonia. Buck had a leg wound from the shoot out with Jacobs and his gang. Josiah was on a personal errand, not expected to be back for two more days. Buck and Vin both volunteered to go with Chris and Ezra but Nathan forbid it. Nathan and his wife, Rain, had a full clinic with many townspeople sick, so Nathan wasn't available. No one was happy to stay home. Jacobs threatened that his gang would be back to get him. The rainy weather was causing many complications. Travis had really wanted three men to take Jacobs, but settled for the two.
Staring out the window, Vin sipped his coffee as he watched the rain pouring down. He knew the area needed rain, but not this much. Rain in the desert like countryside made everything come to life. The green areas would flourish. The dormant seeds would break out of the dead land and come to life. There were many areas the rain only added to the land destroyed by the nuclear war years ago. These places the land would wash away and cut into the ground forming dangerous flash floods and new eroded canyons. Trails and roads were under water in many places. Vin put his mug down and ran a hand over his face. He wished he was with Chris and Ezra to help them get safely home.
With a sigh, Vin turned to his breakfast and finished eating. With a glance at the others, he rose and placed his hat on his head and pulled on his rain gear, "I think I'll try to radio the guys."
Buck answered as he sipped his coffee, "Good idea. Think you can get a hold of them in this rain?"
"Got to try," Vin headed out the door. He trudged across the muddy road. He thought of the few reports they'd received the past several days from outlaying areas. There was just too much water.
Inside the sheriff's office, Vin removed his dripping slicker and damp coat. He hung them near the stove and checked it, stirred the embers and then added wood. Wiping his hands on his pant legs he went to the radio equipment and turned it on. He hoped the room would get warm fast as he began the set up to call Chris.
As Vin set the radio dials he tried to contact Chris through the mental connection they had. Nothing. He shook his head thinking Chris was far enough out that he couldn't reach him. He pressed the call switch and made the call. A burst of static was his answer. He tried another setting and received the same loud, ear ringing noise. He tried another setting with the same result. He shut the equipment down. The weather won this round. No way he could get a call out to Chris. Leaning back in the chair, he stared out the window at the rain and hoped that Chris and Ezra were all right. He would try again later. He settled in for the day, listening to the rain pounding on the roof.
Miles from 4C two drenched riders topped a low hump of ground and halted their horned horses. Huddling in their wet clothes, under rain slickers that no longer protected them from the rain, they stared at the landscape they needed to cross to reach 4C.
The rider in a dark slicker on the black horned horse glanced at his companion. "Well now what?" Chris Larabee asked.
Ezra Standish, in a similar wet slicker, shook his head making rain fall off his hat and down his chest. "It appears Mr. Larabee, that Ms. Mother Nature is throwing everything she has at us trying to prevent us from reaching our humble abodes in a decent frame of time."
Chris rolled his eyes and turned his gaze back to the landscape that looked like a large lake. His black horse stomped his hoof on the wet muddy ground.
"We have to find shelter, someplace to wait out this storm. I don't think we'll get across that right now."
"I believe that you are totally correct. Who knows how far it stretches. I cannot see the end of this lake." Ezra wiped the rain off his face and turned his horse around in a circle as he looked over the countryside.
"Not sure how far we need to go to find a place to stay for the night." Chris stated as his gaze picked out the landmarks that were still visible.
"I think if we backtrack a mile or two, there's a trail that leads to an abandoned house. We could stay there. If the water isn't too deep, we should make it all right."
"Lead on Mr. Larabee. We need to get out of this infernal rain."
The horses grumbled and shook their horned heads. Their heavy manes sent water flying on the soaked riders who cursed at them as they turned back.
Having to back track had the horses growling their displeasure, as rain hit them in their faces. But there was no way they could cross the land in the other direction. Chris hoped they could find the old homestead before night fell. Once they were on more solid ground, they urged the horses into their mile-eating canter. After two miles, Chris pulled his black to a stop to scan the area. He spotted what looked like a roof about a quarter mile ahead barely visible through the rain. He turned Pony in that direction.
Ezra turned his red bay horned horse to follow Chris. He shivered and hoped the shelter would be adequate for them and their horses.
Pony and Chaucer, sensing they were almost done for the day, broke into canters. Once more the muddy, hoof deep water splashed up their legs covering the protective long hairs that grew from almost knee to hard hooves. They roared as they moved and picked up the pace as they too wanted out of the rain.
Splashing through another pool of water, they reached the dilapidated house. They made a circuit around the building, looking it over for intruders or sign someone or something might be holed up inside. The paint was gone. The siding a streaked grey color. The porch floor had fallen away leaving only a few cracked boards near the door. The roof leaned at an angle but it still covered the porch. Nothing in the area moved, there was no sound except for the rain that seemed to be quieter even though it pounded on men and horses. Silence wrapped around the old house.
The horses growled and sniffed the air; then growled louder and shook their heads.
"It's all right Chaucer, it�s shelter for the night only. We will not have to camp out in this hellish rain again." Ezra swung out of the saddle and stepped under the slanted roof, stretching as he pulled his gun. Chris dismounted. his gun came free of his holster as he stretched.
Once they worked the kinks out of their backs, Chris pushed the scarred door open and they stepped through the door. Guns up, their gazes shifted over the room, one gaze going to the left and one to the right.
With sighs, the two men moved into the house. The floor was dirt except one corner that held several floor boards against the wall. The wall on one side held a large fireplace. The wall on the other side of the room held a boarded up window with a pile of old dried grass under it. A large opening that looked to once be a wall between two rooms was gone, the other room that they could see might have been a kitchen. The part of the wall that was left, showed signs of the wood being taken apart and used in the fireplace. A large window in the front of the room was boarded up, some boards on the inside, most on the outside preventing wolves getting into the house. The two men figured the house would be safe.
"Home sweet home for the night. Let's get the horses in here, there's enough room. I didn't see any other place that would be safe for them." Chris said as he turned back to the door, holstering his blaster.
An hour later the horses were comfortable in one corner of the large room. A fire crackled in the fireplace. Steam rose from the pan of canned stew they were heating. Both men were sitting on their bedrolls in front of the fire with one of their blankets wrapped around their shoulders. They were dressed in their damp extra clothes and savored the warmth. Their wet clothes hung from nails on the sides of the fireplace.
They were finally out of the rain that pounded on the roof. After eating, they rolled into their bed rolls. They listened to the creak of the old house, the crackles of the fire, and the snorts of the horses. They both fell asleep and the two horses kept watch. Their horned heads turned back and forth. They were on alert guarding their sleeping humans.
Chris stirred, a dream making him uneasy. He tried to wake up but drifted even deeper into the dream.
A white house with a white railing around the long porch appeared. Dark green shutters were on each side of the windows. A man walked out the door and into the grey mist surrounding the house. Chris heard a loud nicker of an unseen horse. A moment later a dark, spotted horse appeared with the man on its back. The horse halted by the porch and the man yelled something into the house. A woman with bright red hair appeared and threw something at the man who laughed and kicked the horse into motion. They vanished. The woman twisted her hands together and leaned against one of the porch uprights. Movement caught her interest and she stared with her hands fisted. Figures materialized in the mist moving menacingly towards the woman. She ran into the house and reappeared with two blasters. She aimed at the figures. It was hard to tell what was coming towards her. In the mist they looked like they were human but also wolf. Some of their large eyes glowed a bright blood red and others were brilliant yellow. As they moved closer, odd colored specks swirled around in their eyes.
She yelled something that made the figures pause. She started shooting at the figures. A shrill loud screech sounded as one of the figures evaporated. More began to move towards her from the mist. She kept firing. The noise coming from the beings was horrendous.
Chris tried to cover his ears as the screeching became louder. He fought to wake, but could not get his mind to listen to his commands. He thought he could hear horses roaring in the background, but still he dreamed on, unable to awaken from the nightmare.
More figures could be seen in the vapor that blanketed everything. Even the woman began to become hazy. But her blaster kept firing and the screeching continued. It seemed like many hours passed, and then the mist began to turn red. The creatures in it were in a frenzy. Only a matter of minutes passed when they broke and rushed the woman who stood calmly yelling at them and firing her blasters. The creatures reached her. She screamed as they fell on her and tore her to pieces. In moments she disappeared. The creatures, with bloody mouths hanging open, tore into the house and through it, ripping everything inside apart as they moved. It seemed they were searching for something, or someone. Mist followed the figures into the house then flowed out with them as they moved around the building. They moved to a barn and in minutes it was in shambles, with the livestock in it torn apart with hideous shrieks. The building fell in on itself. The creatures gathered in front of the house and the mist disappeared taking them away. Silence fell over the area and the stink of blood permeated everything.
Crying out, Chris finally escaped the dream. He found himself standing over his blankets looking at Ezra. Ezra was kneeling on his bedroll, blaster in hand as he searched the room. Chris realized his hands held his blaster and revolver.
The men locked gazes for several moments. Ezra shook himself, "Mr. Larabee, if you received the same disturbing dreams as I did, I suggest we leave these premises."
Chris nodded his head, "Let's get the hell out of here."
Their horses were roaring furiously. With a glance at the boarded window, they could see the dim light of dawn seeping around the cracks in the boards. Dried clothes were grabbed and rolled into their bedrolls, tied on saddles and they saddled their horses.
Chris led Pony to the door and with a glance at Ezra, he threw it open and they rushed out. They swung into their saddles and sped away from the house. From the corner of their eyes, they saw a mist engulf the house. Both men nudged their horses to go faster. The horned horses lowered their heads and their long legs stretched out willing to leave the area. Large chunks of mud flew from their hooves as they dashed down the wide trail.
The horses raced over the ground as they headed back towards the main trail. When they reached the turn the men stopped the headlong rush, and looked back. There was nothing to be seen of what had been there, everything was gone.
The horses reared in displeasure. The men corrected them, making them stand. Uneasy, Chaucer and Pony pawed the muddy ground. They were anxious to be on their way. They didn't like the place any more than their riders did.
Chris and Ezra exchanged glances as they calmed their horses. With a shrug, Ezra patted Chaucer's neck and said, "We will not speak of this. Chaucer, home. Take us home."
Chaucer turned his head and sniffed his riders leg then nosed Pony's neck. With a low growl both horses turned and headed towards the north, moving away from the flooded landscape. Their riders exchanged a look and let them go. They knew the horses would take them home.
It was barely daylight as Vin saddled his black horse in the large livery stable. Peso nudged him companionably. Peso's head rose high and he grumbled a greeting as Josiah walked to a nearby stall.
"Vin, do you mind company?" Josiah asked as he began to tack up his horse.
"Think I need someone along with me 'siah?"
"No Brother Vin. I just have a feeling, and Preacher could use the exercise. If you don't want us, I'll head in the other direction." Josiah settled his saddle on Preacher's back.
"It's all right. Just going out and see what the land looks like. The rain is stopping, should be done by sunrise. Going to be cold though." Vin led Peso out of the stall and waited for Josiah.
Minutes later, the two men rode out of town with the horses splashing through the large mud puddles on the road. Once out of town, they turned their horses to move beside the road, where the mud wasn't as deep and fewer puddles.
Three hours later, they were well away from the road having cut cross country nearing the steep hills and cliffs southwest of 4C. They marveled over the water that covered large sections of the land. The rain had stopped a short time after they left 4C, and the sun was trying to cut through the dark vermilion grey clouds. A cold wind started blowing an hour before, making both men pull their coats tighter around them.
Another hour passed, when all at once the horse's heads rose as high as they could raise them.
With nostrils wide, the two horses roared. Their loud roars echoed over the land bouncing back at them from the steep hillside to the left of the riders.
Josiah and Vin listened for an answer to the horses as they pulled them down to a walk. Nothing was heard. They exchanged looks. "Think its Chris and Ezra?" Josiah looked ahead.
"Guess there's only one way to find out," Vin answered just as the noise of gunfire and blaster fire echoed ahead. With barely a glance at each other, they spurred their horses and pulled guns as they headed towards the noise. They were afraid their brothers might be in trouble.
They rounded the hillside that had turned into a long cliff on the left side of the trail. To the right of them, boulders were strewn around, evidence that a long ago earthquake shook the cliff side down from the left. Beyond the rocks was a wet empty desert. Slowing their horses, they kept looking around. Blaster fire came from ahead of them, and then the sound of a revolver. With their guns in hand, they urged their horses into a gallop.
They heard a roar ahead of them, and Peso answered. The sound of the heavy hooves hitting the soft ground was covered by his bellow. The riders raced around a curve of the cliff. With one glance they took in what was happening. Ahead of them were three men hiding among slabs of rock shooting at an unseen target. One man, hearing the horse roar, turned. He yelled to his partners. He shot his blaster at the two horsemen.
Vin reined to the left, Josiah went to the right. They fired at the men killing two immediately. The third man dashed around the rocks. He met with gunfire from the other side.
Silence fell over the area. Vin and Josiah reined in their horses.
"Chris?" Vin shouted.
"Come on," Chris yelled.
Josiah and Vin dismounted. Once they made sure the two bushwhackers on their side of the rocks were dead, walked around the slab of rock. They instantly spotted the third man lying face down a couple of feet from the rocks. There wasn't much of his head left. Raising their eyes they saw Chris and Ezra come from a small opening.
They moved several steps before they stopped. Chris and Ezra leaned against each other. They looked as if they were holding each other up. Josiah and Vin rushed to their sides, leaving their horses ground tied.
"We're all right," Chris stated as he slid to the wet ground with Ezra beside him.
"You both look like it, brother." Josiah replied as he started the process to find any wounds. Chris and Ezra were a mess in mud caked and splattered clothes.
"We are mainly tired Mr. Sanchez. It's been a hell of a twenty four hours. Ouch, that is my shoulder you are mauling Mr. Tanner." Ezra exclaimed.
"Sorry Ez. I think it's out of place. I'm not going to touch it again." Vin turned to Chris, "I see some blood on you."
"Let me check your shoulder Ezra. Vin would you check Chris's wound? Then could you get their horses so we can get out of here when we're done." Josiah said.
Chris grinned. "It's only a scratch, just need a little bandage."
Vin just looked at Chris for a moment and then pulled Chris' shirt out of his pants, exposing his side. A bloody groove, four inches long still oozed blood. Vin stepped to Peso's side and grabbed his saddlebags. Dropping next to Chris, he dug through one side of the saddlebag and pulled out a roll of bandages and a cleaning cloth. In minutes, he had the wound cleaned and was wrapping the bandage around Chris when a yell came from Ezra.
Chris and Vin looked at Ezra and Josiah. A smile was on Josiah's face as he watched Ezra carefully move his arm around, before nodding his head.
"Give me some of that bandage Vin. I'm going to wrap your arm to your chest Ezra, so it doesn't pop out before we get you two to Nathan's." Josiah said reaching for the bandage.
Vin rose and headed in the direction Chris pointed to where their horses were hidden. Vin looked for signs of the outlaw's horses, but didn't see them anywhere. Leading Pony and Chaucer to the other horses, he left them with Josiah's horse and mounted Peso.
"I'm going to look for the outlaws horses. I'll be back shortly," Vin told them as he rode away.
Vin backtracked from the rocks where the men had hid. He followed deep hoof prints in the drying ground to a place where he found more horse tracks. It looked as if seven or eight horses had been held in a small gully for some time. He found a trail leaving the ravine. It lead alongside a steep cliff before it opened out onto a muddy plain. Following it he noted the trail headed north before it turned west. Most of the hoof prints were of shod horses. He wondered why all of the outlaws hadn't attacked Chris and Ezra.
Shaking his head, Vin turned back. If the men continued the way they were going, they would either be in 4C before the four of them arrived, or the outlaws would find another place to set up an ambush. As he rode back to the others, he thought of how long it would take to get to 4C. He knew several ways to get back to town, hopefully without running into another ambush. But no matter which route they took, there was always the possibility of an attack.
Reaching the others, who were mounted and ready to head out, Vin quickly told them what he'd found. He laid out the different routes to get to town.
Chris exchanged a look with Vin and nodded his head, "Let's get out of here. We'll take what they throw at us, where ever it may happen."
"Let's go," Vin turned Peso and nudged him. The big black took off, as if shot from a gun, with the three other horses following him.
An hour later, the riders were well away from the cliffs and rocks and entering a green area several miles long, and twice as wide. Vin slowed and motioned for the others to spread out. The horses were on alert and a low roar came from them as four heads rose high. Their eyes looked everywhere for danger.
Vin motioned towards the trees and brush grouped together a good half mile away. The trees were in the center of the green area. He halted Peso and waited as the others gathered around him.
"Make a stand and force them to come to us, or try to get past them?" Vin asked.
For a moment, the three men thought about it as their eyes scanned the trees ahead of them. They couldn't see any movement, but their horses were staring and blowing through their noses, the sign they were sensing danger.
Chris eased himself in the saddle and glanced at Vin. "It's a trap. Can we bypass this area?"
"The best, or fastest trail to town goes through there. We can veer wide. Or we can head for the hill and cut across the foot of it." Vin pointed to one of the hills in the distance.
Chris looked at Ezra and Josiah, to see if they had anything to say. They both shrugged, and smiled at him letting him know they'd follow wherever he and Vin led. "Well, let's swing around as much as we can. We're warned. We'll be ready."
With a nod, Vin reined Peso and led the way at a canter across the green expanse. The horses hooves cutting deep into the drying ground. Vin kept the trees on his left side. He wasn't going to let them out of his sight. He watched Peso's ears. They were constantly moving. He knew the big horse was on alert and his ears were a quick warning sign.
All of the men kept an eye on the trees in the distance. They felt exposed in the open area and bent low over their horses necks. They didn't want another fight with the outlaws.
The trees to their right thinned as the four reached the halfway point of the green area. So far, there was no sign of an ambush. The horses were beginning to relax, though they were still on alert.
They passed the last of the trees and brush and the land was open once more for several miles. No one was in sight. Each man breathed a sigh of relief. Vin led them back towards the trail and continued west.
As they cantered along the trail, Vin thought of other places where an ambush could be set. He knew they would pass within a half mile from the trail to Chris and his ranch, he knew of several places near there that offered shelter for an attack. There were a number of places between the ranch and town where a trap could be set up. He thought it would be easier to take care of the Jacobs gang out in the open instead of town, where there might be more injuries.
They passed the partly hidden trail to the ranch and everything remained quiet. The men tried to remain calm and still be prepared for anything that might happen. The horses were relaxed and cantering easily. Another mile had passed when the horses threw up their heads and turned towards some large boulders. Gunshots and blaster fire rang out.
Peso leaped to the left as Vin pulled his Mare's Leg, cocked it and prepared to fire. Pony jumped to the right and Chris pulled his gun rapidly and began shooting before Ezra and Josiah had a chance to get their guns aimed.
As Ezra and Josiah separated, Vin kicked Peso into a run to circle around the boulders. His friends heard the deep throat sound of the Mare's Leg as Peso disappeared behind the rocks.
Chris' bullet's hit the boulder sending shards of rock ricocheting crazily. The men heard a man's painful yell before more gunfire was fired at them. Josiah fired his blaster, providing cover fire for Vin. Ezra, though one arm was bound to his chest, guided Chaucer with his knees. He fired his revolver giving Chris cover. Chris urged Pony to circle the opposite way from Vin.
Vin was behind the hidden men and firing at them. They barely heard the scream of pain from one of the outlaws. In moments, the gunfire from the boulders stopped and a man yelled 'Stop' loudly. A gun was thrown over a boulder, a blaster followed.
"Come out with your hands in the air or you're dead," Chris called. He'd halted twenty feet from the side of the boulders but couldn't see the men. The jumble of boulders had prevented him from circling completely around them to reach the outlaws.
**Two, and a wounded man. Coming out** Vin sent to Chris.
A moment later two men, supporting a third man, walked out. The men had their free arms in the air and the other one supporting their friend. They came to a halt before Chris. Josiah dismounted, and under the watchful eyes of Chris and Ezra tied the men's hands and then checked the wounded man, before he tied his hands together.
"He's got a bad leg wound," Josiah said to Chris as he moved to his horse and pulled some bandages out of his saddlebag. He returned to the man who'd sat down on the ground. He cut the pant leg away from the thigh wound and wrapped the bandage around it, slowing the blood running down his leg.
Vin found all of the bushwhackers' horned horses behind another bunch of boulders seventy five feet from where the men had been. A man was sitting on one of the horses, gripping the reins of four with the others standing nearby. He was bent over his mounts neck that was red with blood. More blood seeped from a large wound that evidently passed through his chest and exited his back. One side of his back was covered in blood to his waist. His lips were almost blue. Vin figured the other men were letting him die.
Vin took the reins from the man, and led them to where the other men were gathered. The free horses followed. He passed a dead man lying behind the boulders.
Once Vin arrived with the horses, Josiah pulled the wounded man up and got him on a horse. He tied his good leg to the saddle. He then helped the other two men on and tied their legs to their saddles. He checked the badly wounded man and found he was dead. He bowed his head, and said a quick prayer then he moved him to lay across the horse's back, and tied him on. Vin led the horse to the boulders and helped Josiah put the other dead man on the horse with the first dead man. Neither man would care.
With a last glance around, the men turned their horses once more towards 4C leading the outlaws and the extra horses.
Late afternoon stretched over the town of 4C. Long shadows appeared as the orange sun disappeared. Dark clouds, that had floated high in the sky all day, once more crowded the sky, low and threatening. As the riders entered town, it began to rain.
Josiah stopped at the jail with the two prisoners as Vin halted in front of the undertakers with the dead. Chris and Ezra continued on with the wounded prisoner, halting in front of Nathan and Rain's medical clinic. The extra horses stood quietly in the street.
JD and several of the town's men came running. JD gathered the loose horses reins and handed them to the men before he went to Chris' side.
Nathan and Rain rushed out of the clinic and helped the prisoner off his horse before Rain turned to Chris and Ezra.
"What happened? Who are these guys? Are they the rest of Jacobs' men? Are you all right?" JD asked in one breath as Chris dismounted.
"Ambushed, Jacobs men, yes and yes," Chris answered handing Pony's reins to JD.
Nathan helped Ezra off his horse as JD took hold of Chaucer's reins. "Mr. Dunne we are fine, just a few scrapes. Would you please care for Chaucer, give him an extra measure of grain."
"Sure Ezra. I'll take care of him and Pony too. Did you have to ride through every mud puddle in the territory? Chaucer is so full of mud, I can't tell what color he is suppose to be. They all need a good cleaning." JD grinned at the look on Ezra's face. Before Ezra could say anything JD tipped his hat the way Ezra always did, "Don't worry Ezra, I'll take good care of him and Pony." He led the two horses away.
Vin and Josiah arrived as Chris and Ezra were entering the clinic. Chris paused and looked at Vin.
**All taken care of** Chris heard and with a nod entered the clinic. Inside he found Buck standing with a crutch under his arm. He could tell the man had been asleep. Chris grinned at his old friend. "You always wake up looking like that?"
Buck ran his hand over his head. His hair was standing on end on one side of his head and pressed tight to the other side. "Heck Chris, I didn't expect you to be here before I had time to pretty up. And Rain is married, none of my gals came to visit today. I think Rain ran them off since Sally brought me a pie she baked two days ago, and I got sick from it. I'm fine now. Rain said she thought it gave me food poisoning. I'm not sure Sally really wanted to get rid of me that way, but maybe she did. I haven't had a chance to talk to her and find out. I can't believe she would want me gone enough to poison me with a pie I love. " Buck grinned and slapped Chris on the shoulder. "Glad to see you two back. We were getting a bit worried with this weather being so bad. And a bunch of Jacobs' men still out there."
"Damn rain, there's lakes where there's never been water. Good to be out of the rain and home though. Oh, before you ask, Jacobs is in prison and most of his men are dead." Chris answered.
"I totally agree Mr. Larabee. It IS nice to be home," Ezra added.
Josiah and Vin headed for the stables, following JD, leading the outlaws last three horses. The horses all needed a good brushing and feed. Two of the outlaws mounts would go to the undertaker for payment for his services. The rest would be sold or given to Yosemite, the stable owner, for payment of caring for them. Unless one of the peacekeepers wanted any of the horses, they got first pick.
A couple of hours later, the seven men were sitting at their table in Ezra's restaurant enjoying a hot meal and coffee. Chris and Ezra especially savored the meal, having eaten rations going and coming on their trip. Inez left a large platter of fresh baked oatmeal raisin cookies for them before she left. She knew all the men would enjoy the treat.
Flower and Heather were under the table. They moved from one pair of legs to the other, their purrs were loud in the quiet restaurant as they rubbed against their friends. Rain came in, tossed her rain coat on a chair near the fireplace and sat down. Both cats promptly went to her and curled around her legs before laying their heads on her thighs. Laughing, she reached under the table and petted their heads. Once she'd touched each one, they moved to make another round of the men's legs. Sipping her coffee she smiled at the seven men as she reached for one of the cookies on the plate in the middle of the table.
"Your wounded prisoner, who said his name was Cline, will be fine. You can move him to the jail tomorrow. Mary let me know that she contacted the Judge, he will be here in four days." Rain told them. Nathan had handcuffed Cline to a bed before he left ten minutes earlier. He wasn't worried for Rain, since she carried a blaster and knew how to use it. He'd injected the man with antibiotics and a sedative. Cline was almost asleep by the time Rain chased Nathan away..
"Thanks darling, for finishing up on Cline," Nathan kissed her cheek, holding one of her hands.
"I knew you had to talk with everyone. It wasn't a problem, and Cline was no trouble. Very quiet and patient. Not like you six men." Rain's large smile took in the six other men around the table. Several faces turned red, Chris just grinned at her and Josiah gave her a toothy smile.
Rain winked, "I wouldn't trade any of you though."
Relieved laughter rang out. Flower and Heather sprawled under the table, lying on as many booted feet as they could. Life was very good now.
EPILOGUE One month later ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The old dilapidated house in the mist shook as if something struck it a mighty blow. For several minutes it shimmered in the shrouding mist then it faded from sight. Nothing was there to indicate a house, barn, corrals, well house, and a large garden had ever been in the area. When the mist cleared away, the rain continued to come down. It fell on a flat, brush covered area, a few twisted trees were growing where the house once stood.
The man stared in shock at what he'd just witnessed. He looked around, rubbed his eyes and turned his gaze back to where the old house had stood minutes earlier. A shiver went up and down his spine as his horned horse shifted uneasily grumbling its displeasure.
Gathering the reins, the man turned his mount and rode away. No way would he homestead in this place. He'd been told there was a town in the area and he headed in a northern direction hoping to find it. He didn't want to be anywhere near this location. He pulled his slicker tighter around him and nudged his horse into a canter.
Behind him a large wolf slunk through the brush where the house once stood. It paused a moment watching the horse and rider leave. He wasn't that hungry and continued on to find his companions. Once the horned horse and rider and the wolf were out of sight, nothing else moved in the misty rain. Silence reigned.
The stranger entered 4C and made his way to the large building with a sign that declared it was a hotel, restaurant and saloon. After the morning he'd had, he needed a drink. Once he dismounted and tied his slicker to his saddle he entered the saloon. He spotted seven men around a table with drinks and plates of food in front of them. A shiver went down his back as most of the seven glanced at him. Several other men were lined along the long varnished bar.
At the bar he ordered a beer and glanced at the two men standing next to him.
The bartender sat a beer in front of him and moved away. Taking a long drink of the cool beer, the man looked at the men watching him. Clearing his throat he asked, "Have any of you ever seen that old house about six hours south of here? Sits off the main road?"
"Long time ago," a gruff old man answered.
"I was just there, and, well� It sort of just disappeared into the air. I thought I was dreaming, but it was there one minute and gone the next."
The men lining the bar laughed and one clapped him on his back. "Great story mister. Here, I'll buy you another beer."
The seven peacekeepers watched the interchange and Chris and Ezra exchanged apprehensive glances. They had never told the others what happened when they stayed the night in the old house. They believed the man's story.
When the noise and laughter quieted down, the old man raised his grizzled head. His faded brown eyed gaze moved over the seven before he turned to the stranger and spoke in a gravelly voice.
"That place is haunted and it comes and goes as it pleases. The family who lived there were killed, no one ever found their bodies, just blood. Its believed a mist appears and then the house. It's there for a time then gone. If someone is caught in it, they usually don't live to tell about it, though there has been a few survivors who got out before something happened. No trespassing signs were put up about fifteen years ago, but they disappeared along with the house. Stay away from there and you will be fine." He finished his beer and with another glance at Chris and Ezra, left the room. Silence fell over the drinking men.
Chris and Ezra's horrified looks were quickly covered as they glanced away from their friends and out the window. The old man rode past the building on a faded colored palomino horse with clipped horns. As they watched him ride away he melted into the air near the end of town.
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