Bad Moon Rising

by Heather F

Originally posted August 21st,2004. Moved to blackraptor April 2012



I see a bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

The oppressive black night draped heavily over the abandoned town. Nothing moved. Every breath taken seemed an intrusion, a blight on the very night itself.

Vin Tanner wanted nothing more than to climb down off the roof, grab his horse and ride the Hell out of this damnable town.

They should have told the Judge "No" to this particular outing. Larabee should have listened harder or perhaps Vin, himself, should have been more forceful in his protests. It was too late now. The seven were all in place. Death hung in the air. There was no escaping.

Nothing moved below him. Nothing dared whisper a breath.

They were stuck here, stuck in this maze of deceit and trouble; up against odds that seemed to breathe their doom.

Vin Tanner wanted to grab Peso and the others and head for the hills before death seeped its way into their ranks.

They weren't going to escape tonight. Not intact. Not as the Seven. Fate and Destiny seemed loath to follow them into this abandoned Hell. They were marked and they couldn't leave; no more easily than they could run from a fight.

The others were spread out, despite their instinctive desire to stay together.

The streets were quiet; laden in immobility. Nothing stirred. The very air lay deathly still as if a dark shroud enveloped the forsaken town.

They shouldn't be here. None of them; not the seven, not a single one of them should be here, down there hunkered in amongst the deep shadows of a moonless night.

Death didn't need light to seek out its victim. It did its best work in blinding darkness.

Tanner leaned against the false front of a ruined building roof. His sparkling blue eyes stung the area with a piercing look while his heart drummed relentlessly in his chest. It seemed as if it were trying to get as many beats as possible in, before it stopped.

They needed to run. They shouldn't be here. Not here. This was wrong. Deadly wrong.

They were not cowards, by no means were the Seven cowards, but they were not stupid either. They had survived as long has they had, individually and as a group, because of skill and finely honed instinct.

Instinct told Vin to run.; grab the others and slip from this waiting trap.

It was in the stagnant air. Death had soaked itself into the very shadows and waited.

The darkness was suffocating. The stillness was akin to a tomb; not even the discarded, curled paper on the dirt street wavered or lifted in the unnaturally calm night.

Storm clouds rolled in from the Northwest, rolled in like the horses of the Apocalypse that Josiah was so certain would find them.

Perhaps it had found them. Perhaps the Apocalypse was upon them this very night.

The air nearly sparked with building energy.

Sweat snaked down from under the brim of Tanner's slouch hat. It tracked between the corner of a reddened eye and sharp bridge of his nose. He blinked; and just caught the shape below him.


He had nearly missed it.

Tanner tucked his Sharpes in close to his shoulder and dipped his cheek to the stock. He curled his finger neatly around the trigger. Unconscious of his movements but aware that he would take a killing shot.

Across the mud dried main street, up on a warped and pot marked boardwalk a shadow moved within a deeper shadow. A silhouette that would not have been seen.

Tanner focused his gaze and froze a half expelled breath. His world focused down the length of his barrel to the shadow more than 50 yards across from him down on the street.

Movement again, to the left.

Tanner ignored it. His focus lay squarely on the blackened figure of death that melted serenely into the background of the store front just across the street from him.

Movement came from the right. Tanner ignored it.

The trap was springing. Not quick like the leg traps of merciless bastards who hunted without the skill of a predator. Instead this trap was closing slowly, a stalking menace of a carnivore well practiced in pack mentality and ability.

The seven were being matched if not bested in their own form of hunting.

Deeper shadows leached out from beneath natural shadows. Death moved under the cloak of darkness. Dark specters within the black ink of night.

Tanner ignored the movements down below the street to his left and right. He focused on his original target, unwilling to readjust his aim. Everything was a threat.

They shouldn't be here, the seven should not have been in this dead town, with a storm rolling in from above them.

They should have been gone, should have kept on riding.

Death was in the air.

Movement again.

The hunters were converging, slowly, cautiously, the predators slunk from their hiding spaces putting their trap into motion.

Hunters hunted hunters. A battle for survival. Not because one was hungry, not because one needed to defend home territory. A battle because the nature of man made it necessary. It was in their nature to fight, to dominate.

One would dominate because they could, because they could take from others without any care of reprisal or empathy. They took because they were predators for the sake of being able to exert their horrific powers over those lesser than themselves.

The others were predators because it was in their nature, subdued and hampered by the basic decency of right versus wrong. Predators but protecting their own hides as well as the others, acting for the benefit of those that could not act for themselves. They were fearless hunters who faced down others that transgressed in their territory or lay carnage to what was believed just.

Tanner narrowed his eyes and squeezed the trigger.

The unnaturally loud bark of his rifle herald the beginning of the end.


I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin

The flash of the muzzle gave his position away. Even as his muzzle flashed, Tanner was swinging the barrel of his rifle around to another moving target.

He wasted no time staring at the dark shadow that grunted and fell in a puddle within the deep recesses of the building front.

Pistol shots and rifles barked their signature sounds within the night. The pop and blast of different weapons were punctuated but the occasional cry of human pain.

The bark of his one rifle heralded an apocalypse --- one of earthly proportions.

Vin Tanner squatted behind the roof front and mechanically loaded his weapon. Bullets whistled and gouged themselves into the false front, spitting splinters into the air. Tanner hunkered further down, quickening his reloading. He involuntary flinched as bullets gnawed their way, one after another, through the wood.

It was a bad night. A bad moon was on the rise.

They shouldn't be here tonight. They should have kept riding, should have stayed back in Four Corners. They should have been anywhere but here.They were in trouble. Death cloaked this deserted town, kept its streets bare and threatened all that walked within its boundaries.

Bullets tore through the still night. Muzzle flashes revealed enemies and allies both.

Mens' cries went unaided.

Tanner swung his rifle up over the edge of the roof front. His eyes tracking down the barrel of his rifle.

He squeezed another shot off. Almost simultaneously a faceless demon fell to the ground.

Another scream. Agonizing in its ferocity and fear.

Tanner felt his heart race. It sounded too close to Buck's voice.

The tracker swung his gun left and fired a shot before his brain consciously registered the target. Someone else fell, flung backward, lifeless before their sprawled arms and legs could hit the dirt-caked boardwalk.

Another scream. Someone hollering for Nathan. JD from the sounds of it. Too far to the west for Tanner to cover them.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

A shadow skittered from behind a cluster of barrels, scurrying like a sea crab for the surf with a seagull hot on his heels.

Another form melted from the blackness raising a weapon. A muzzle blast, from a deceptibly close third figure, roared from behind, flinging the shadow forward, chest first into the street.

Tanner kept his eyes on the crab walker. Watching as a man he knew to stretch over six feet and a couple hundred pounds, scurry from blackened shadow to shadow, like a box crab. God loved and protected a medic. Vin had learned that in the war.

The wind picked up.

Gnarled tree branches with drooping leaves clicked together and scraped across buildings. Leaves were folded and torn by their roots from knotted grey branches that twisted and beat themselves and their neighbors.

The clouds descended on the abandoned town, enveloping it in their fury. Rain lashed out, caught between warring winds. Thunder exploded overhead. Lightening streaked the sky, striking down from the heavens with mindless ferocity.

Thick heavy rain beat the earth as the wind howled and tore down streets, between boards and through clothing.

Tanner's hat rim bent and flapped upward, threatening to fly from his head.

Through the silver curtain of torrential rain, the hunter watched for hunter.

Movement to the left.

Tanner swung his rifle, tracking the vision with his eyes and gun barrel. The tracker hesitated. The silhouette sparked of familiarity.

A flash of lightening split the sky. The dove tail coat, the flat crowned hat spoke volumes of who stalked the boardwalk with unholstered guns.

A shadow suddenly sprung to life, unmelting from the wall of a building, swinging an axe handle.

The lightening flash vanished under a booming clash of thunder.

Through the rain and moonless night, Tanner fought to focus on the two shadows. One standing over the other, swinging away as if clubbing a porcupine.

Tanner squeezed the trigger.

The club flew through the assailant's hand before a fourth strike could mar the flesh of the downed gambler.

Thunder bellowed overhead.

Muzzle flashes pierced the night, unheard over the rage of the storm that beat down upon the town and its dual pack of predators.

Tanner watched the two unmoving silhouettes that lay crumpled on the boardwalk. No awning protected the down peacekeeper from the stinging bite of the vicious rain that flung itself to the ground.

A third form slithered from the alleyway toward the downed gambler, keeping close to the shadows, only its outline, slightly darker than the inky blackness of night, gave it away.

Lightening flashed, casting the town in a shocking brilliance of light.

The players in the area were exposed to all.

Sanchez uncurled from the wall and dragged Standish by his coat collar from where he lay in the middle of the wilted boardwalk.

Nathan hovered over Wilmington with Dunne standing sentry just daring anyone to charge his zone of defense.

Tanner thought the boy a fool; a brave fool, but no less the fool. A sniper doesn't care for posturing.

The lightening blinked out as thunder rolled and erupted, clashing with a hateful intensity. Buildings shook.

Tanner swung his head to the southeast. A strong sense of movement had him smoothly switching his gun barrel to a new direction.

With straining eyes, the one time bounty hunter squeezed the trigger.

The body down below flew awkwardly off balance back into the pooling rain water.

The ground was unwilling to soak up the rain that beat so mercilessly upon it. Nothing would force its way up from the dry baked soil. No life would be grown in this sparse ground.

Tanner's blue gaze cut through the waving curtain of rain, searching.

To his right, deep within the dark recesses of an alley moved another. Black on black. The sharp extension of an arm nearly invisible against the cloaking darkness of the punishing night. Tanner watched the shadow, judged its view and followed the gaze of the blackened spectre that sat unknown to the demons that mauraded through this desolate town.

There to the left, hunched against the night, impervious to the blowing wind and lashing rain, prowled yet another demon. Tanner simply squeezed the trigger, unconsciously aware that his gun barrel followed the movements of his eye. The predator was slammed against an abandon store wall with a crack and a thud which was drowned out by a horrific clap of thunder.

Lightening split the night.

Tanner swung his gaze forward, expecting to see Larabee tip his hat in acknowledgement.Instead, Tanner's gaze, landed on Larabee as the dark gunslinger stepped from the alley wall, raised his gun directly at Tanner and pull the trigger.

Lightening disappeared, as thunder roared its supremacy.

A sharp spiraling wind tore past Tanner's cheek, nearly burning it. A body grunted and tumbled backward. The closeness of the sound had the tracker swinging 180 around and coming face to face with the open mouth, shocked glance of a standing dead man with a neat hole in his head.

The man stuttered backward a half step before crumbling to the rooftop.

Vin closed his eyes for a just a second.

He swung back around facing the alley way.

Larabee was gone; heading back no doubt to their prearranged meeting place. A haven of sorts, only a couple hundred yards west of town within the trees.

It was time to leave. They couldn't win here. They wouldn't survive here, not where the devil smile hidden within every dark recess. Tanner collected his gun close to his chest and crawled past the staring dead man.

They needed out of this town; away from this place or they were doomed.

The storm raged across the street, the relentless wind pushing it Southward. Night once again became deathly still. Water puddled in the streets and snaked its way through worn ceilings and walls.

The respite in the building fury would not last.

Part 3

"Doc?" Larabee asked. He tended his gun with the same intensity and care that he had at one time lavished on his wife. Like a life line that would keep him afloat in turmoil. His wife was gone now, but his gun had always been at his side, steadfast and dependable.

"Buck can't travel, neither can Ezra," Jackson finished binding the horrific bullet wound that had exploded out a wedge of meat and skin from Wilmington's side. If intestine or stomach or spleen were within the bullets path, then Wilmington would be dead within seventy-two hours. Thirty-six if he was lucky. But Buck was young and strong and though, while in most instances that was best, in very few scenarios it would be a curse. Wilmington, if truly 'gut' shot would linger and die a miserable death. The bullet didn't punch a hole through the center of his abdomen. Instead, it had torn a path through the flank, ripping out a deep handful of skin, fat and muscle. Blood squirted from tiny bleeders as well as percolated from larger veins. Blood covered his clothes, Nathan's hands, and tinged the standing puddles that greedily sucked the body heat from Wilmington.

Buck's pale features, splattered with mud and his own blood offered up a weak smile at best.

"I can ride".

"You'll kill yer self," Nathan answered grimly.

"Could be dying as we speak," Buck replied keeping a steady eye on Jackson conveying that he understood the nature and possible severity of the wound.

Larabee cursed the day he ever met Buck Wilmington and he wanted to spit on the fierce friendship that outlasted a war, a family and it's often too onesided devotion. Damn the man and his easy going manner.

JD blanched at the remark and backed away.

"Might be right about that Buck," Nathan's brown eyes welled for just a moment before drying under the harsh reality of reliving a too recurrent nightmare.

"We can't stay here," Vin spoke quietly from the dark shadows of the surrounding trees. The town lay below them, a dark pit in the moonless early morning. No stars broke through the heavy cloud cover of a storm that refused to completely flee the area.

"Death breathes around us," Josiah rumbled out. He melted from the forest leading two more of the Seven's horses. The other five milled around the reins which were clasped in their riders' hands. The horses wanted away from this desolate area and its rotting vegetation.

"Git Ezra on his horse," Larabee ordered as he swung himself into his saddle. His black gelding pinned his ears and faced the town below unwilling to let a predator sneak up on his flank.

"Chris," JD circled around his young bay, holding the reins tightly in a clenched fist hoping the tremors that shook his core did not display themselves in his grip.

"Chaucer will keep 'im on," Vin answered, "he's a damn nuisance of a horse but he's good at what he does," Tanner and Sanchez hauled Standish to his feet and practically tossed the gambler into his saddle.

Chaucer moved under the unbalanced weight. Standish sat folded in the saddle, his emerald coat draped over his bare shoulders, his right arm trapped to his chest, swathed in bandages. A bandage circled his head under his flat crowned hat; his right eye swollen closed and dried blood covering his ear. He had no understanding of the world around him.

Sanchez gathered the big chestnut's reins and walked to his own horse. Chaucer dutifully followed. Standish swayed with the motion of the horse.

"Buck and Ezra can't travel," JD continued to protest, "we could kill them. Hell, Nathan, ya said yerself busted ribs could puncture a lung if ya ain't careful." Dunne stared pointedly at the healer and then the gambler who sat slouched in the saddle unaware of the damage to his midsection.

"Gonna die if we stay here JD," Vin answered, matter of fact and slid into his own saddle.

Peso pranced about, ears flat back and teeth bared. Tanner ignored his horse, empathizing with the animal's unrest and need to warn the world away.

"Mount up JD, yer wastin' time," Buck gritted out from clenched teeth as Nathan single handily pushed and shoved the big man into the saddle. Buck's big grey stood his ground and waited patiently.

"We're gonna kill'em." JD ground out as he swung into the saddle using the saddle horn, bypassing the stirrups.

"Better than a bullet to the head," Chris nearly snarled back as he rode by the young sheriff, "cuz that's what's gonna happen if we stay here." Larabee's anger wavered between self disgust and frustration. For three years he had hunted down a bullet to end his life. For three years he had flirted on the edge daring anyone faster than himself to cut him down. He brazenly faced the Devil too many times to count and each time he had walked away the victor when all he desired to do was lose. It had galled him time and time again that he didn't have the strength to let himself lose, that he couldn't find someone faster and more heartless than himself. Tonight he might have found that combination and he didn't crave it anymore. Instead, he gathered his men and tossed them on their horses lead them away from certain death. He coveted his survival as much as he demanded his men to survive.

They had been outnumbered if not outclassed. That town had harbored a foe far greater than the Judge had realized. Tanner had been right days ago when he shook his head indicating they had been making a mistake.

They all had sensed it and ignored it. It still might get them killed.

The seven rode out, single file, filtering into the sparse forest under the guise of night.

Trees loomed and arched overhead. Their twisted branches scratched at one another, waving their leaves and making movement, disguising the movements of the real predators that snaked their way through the depths of the black forest.

Larabee lead from the front. Tanner brought up the rear. His sparkling blue eyes nearly glowed in the suffocating blackness of night.

The seven horses clumped their way through the forest splashing mud and standing water. The softened earth sucked at hooves and weighted itself on muscleless lower legs. Bellies and cinches were caked promising irritation later in the ride.

Tanner stared over his shoulder at the receding path that twisted back away from them leading back toward the cesspool of a dead town.

It was not the night to be out, it was not the night to be hunting down butchers of men. The moon wasn't right.

The moon had rose bathed in blood.

A bad omen. Death had followed them to that town and now rode amongst them.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee lead them through the night. He kept their pace at a walk with no rest in sight. He pushed horse and rider alike. They followed the storm clouds, they trailed the damage and carnage wrought by the ferocious wind and relentless rain.

The hunters had become the hunted and it burned them.

Destruction lay at nearly every turn. Trees lay broken and snapped, the few isolated homesteads that dotted the area, lay scarred by the tempest that continued to brazen its way across the land. Sorry fools had tried to eek out a living here but nothing could thrive, despite the hardiest individuals. It seemed as if the Devil occasionally danced with Mother Nature and both reveled in destroying the backs of those that dare defied them. The homesteads were nothing more than empty graves inviting and tantalizing, just waiting to be filled.

Larabee skirted around them, knowing their pursuers would corner them and cut the Seven down.

Nathan rode beside Buck. Not twenty-four hours later and the ladies man sat cloaked in a fever. His big grey stepped lightly and confidently despite the fact that his rider sat heavily across his shoulders.

Sanchez flanked the gambler, whose lips had turned blue and a rattled breath bubbled pinkish froth to rust stained teeth.

The seven marched onward following the black clouds of the storm.

A wind kicked up and almost gleefully sliced through clothing.

Mother Nature and The Devil were in bed together and aiding their pursuers.

Part 4

The third day they still walked. Horses limped with heads hanging down. A fierce intermittent running gun battle over the last 64 hours had The Seven still moving. Horses' hides carried the burning furrow of grazing bullet wounds of near misses. Riders rode tense and exhausted as muscles tried to shiver to create warmth in the frozen drizzle that leached their strength and tried to wash away their resolve.

The big grey nearly dragged his nose on the muddied ground. Wilmington bobbed in the saddle, glistening with sweat that defied the chill that seized his bones.

Chaucer dragged his toes through the sage covered ground, oblivious to the lack of cues from his rider. Standish drooled bloody saliva from partially closed chapped lips. His head bobbed to his chest. His bandaged mid section occasionally caught on the horn of the saddle forcing Sanchez to repeatedly separate the two.

Larabee doggedly lead them through sage, over foothills and down mesas.

Tanner brought up the rear. His rifle lay across his lap as his eyes skiffed across the land.

The storm clouds boiled and bunched on themselves, casting their third day into early shadows.

Death was locking its grip on them. Their pursuers were herding them back into the waiting storm.

Larabee could only think of one place they could reach before the triad closed around them.

+ + + + + + +

Nettie Wells stood on her porch, Spencer carbine in hand. She lowered her gun as soon as Larabee's even tempered gelding stuttered to a stop at her porch.

The horse nearly looked as done in as its owner.

Five of the seven men slid from their saddles, legs weak and bowed as if they had forgotten how to stand.

Wilmington and Standish remained bent and melted bonelessly forward over the neck of their horses.

"Bist git in out of the storm, boys," Wells ordered in her tone that could have broached hospitality or hostility all within the same breath.

"Casey!" the old woman hollered out to her niece, "You best tend those animals and then git your butt back in this house right quick."

Vin Tanner stumbled up the steps, the Sharpes rifle and his own gripped securely in his two hands. He stopped and stared at the old homesteader. He didn't want to bring this fight to her doorstep. He wished to spare her of the impending deaths that were sure to fall over their little group. Nettie didn't deserve this, she shouldn't be punished for being their friend; for being loyal.

"I know son, Bad moon 's been on the rise for some time now," She turned to the side, "You bist git them boys inside and git ready."

The men stumbled past, hauling in gear, rifles and supplies. Chris stood to the side ignoring the activity around him and searching the landscape surrounding the Well's homestead. His eyes darkened, their pursuers where out there. Waiting.

The Seven would make their stand and face their enemy from behind the solid walls of Nettie's little home.

The old homesteader would understand and take some pride her capability to help. And her niece? Casey was as tough as her environment and like the crops raised in this arid land, she deserved better, but made due with what she got.

Larabee ignored his men and watched the darkening hills that loomed behind the out buildings and corrals.

Standish stumbled, latching onto Josiah as if grabbing for the last furtive handhold before a deadly fall. Sanchez returned the grip and nearly carried the younger man through the door.

Wilmington was slung between Tanner and Jackson. The three stumbled up the steps and into the house.

Death was in the air.

+ + + + + + +

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

"Here it comes," Nettie whispered out as the first of the rain hurled down from the sky. The late afternoon had become as dark as night. Wind suddenly whipped itself up, stirring up the grass and dirt and trying to rip dark green leaves from their anchors. The leaves fluttered and turned, but held strong.

Thunder rolled overhead. Lightening flashed and struck at the ground in a powerful display as to what was to come.

Wind brutally pushed the storm upon the little homestead.

Men hunkered down at windows, rifles at ready, pistols loaded set aside for a close quarter battle. They squinted their eyes and tried to see movement through the curtain of billowing rain that cloaked the area.

The damn storm had settled back over them like it had in the Hell Hole of a town they had escaped from with barely their lives.

Nettie and Casey sat close to the floor behind the overturned table with ammunition at ready. They'd reload whenever needed.

Standish sat propped against the inside wall adjacent to Sanchez, unaware of where he was or why. The gambler's head rolled back into the corner, his left eye open and dazed. He occasionally licked at chapped pale lips. A pistol lay in his lap. Ammunition sat within easy reach. With one hand he could reload weapons faster than most. Though he could not comprehend the events or tension around him, his fingers and hands knew the movements needed to load a gun. The thinking intelligent mind lay missing.

Sanchez would keep Standish safe as long as his guns remained primed and ready.

Wilmington lay curled flush faced under the window between Vin and Chris. Two bricks of ammunition lay within his reach. A pistol sat secure in his holster. A fever raged behind startlingly blue eyes. His hands shook with fever and blood loss, but muscle memory kept him more efficient than most greenhorns in their first gun fight.

Nathan and JD watched their backs at the bedroom windows. The two men sat comfortable with their jobs and secure in their ability.

Lightening flashed with nearly blinding intensity just as thunder split the sky in two.

The first gunshot was disguised under an explosion of thunder. The shattering of glass heralded the start of another battle.

Muzzle flashes creased the late afternoon. The wind whipped rain like throwing darts against the corral fences and pastures. Horses whinnied and raised their tails running the length of the fences while their manes lifted and flared in the gusting wind.

Death rode in on the wind.

The men returned fire.

The sharp tang of gunsmoke and heated gun barrels filled the small homestead. Casey's young fingers slid bullet after bullet into cartridges, sliding full weapons out from behind the table toward the men who needed them.

She turned her attention to Mr. Wilmington. He lay curled on his side, loading weapon after weapon, occasionally trying to lift his head to get a shot off through the window above him. Each time he succeeded he'd flash the young girl a winning smile. A fever brightened his eyes and flushed his face. Infection scoured his belly wound.

Aunt Nettie feared they were watching a dead man live amongst them. Mr. Wilmington didn't seem to mind. Nothing ever seemed to scare the seven, least when they were all together, or so Casey believed.

Casey feared that they may win this battle but lose the war. Mr. Wilmington looked near death but if he pretended not to care then Casey would pretend not to notice. Buck Wilmington looked even worse than Mr. Standish.

The gambler lay slouched next to the preacher, mindlessly loading one weapon after another. His one good eye was on the far side. Casey could only see the deeply bruised swollen right eye that appeared to have eaten the actual globe underneath. His breath rattled like a new born calf with an incomplete upper jaw. She expected to see milk come out his nose at any moment. Instead, only blood, foamy, pink blood seemed to occasionally dampen the corners of his mouth, offsetting the ghoulish blue appearance to his chapped lips. Even the fingertips of his left hand were a bluish pale color.

Death had visited the seven and it terrified Casey more than the bullets that ricocheted around her little home.

Thunder roared, clapping and exploding all around them in a cacophony of noise. Lightening streaked the outside world, striking at will, with the whim of a dangerous man/child.

Bullets spat and dug themselves into wood and exploded through glass.

Men screamed outside as hot lead spiraled and tore through soaked flesh.

Rain cascaded angling downwards.

Sweat, gunsmoke, and heated metal filled the small house.

Guns barked their violence only to be muffled by the fury of nature herself.

Vin Tanner hollered out and was thrown back from the window. Blood seemed to hesitate and then stream down from a jaggered cut over his eyes. A piece of glass protruded from his forehead like a visor. Larabee turned and saw it. In a quick motion, he tore the glass free and flung it to the side. Blood flowed from the wound over Tanner's face and into his eyes.

The bounty hunter quickly tied a bandana to his forehead and wiped his eyes clear. He fired his gun haphazardly disrupting the rhythm that had been mistakenly set.

Another cry of anguish rolled under the weight of the storm. The gunfire paused for only a moment and then a soft, "I'm ok Doc. Not near the heart." JD had taken a hit.

Wilmington gritted his teeth and fired his rifle through the window without looking. An answering cry was heard in the yard.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

Sanchez reached for another gun without looking, knowing that the gambler would place it in his hand.

Sanchez waited a fraction of a second longer than usual.

He waited in vain.

The preacher swiveled his grey eyes toward the gambler and found the younger man slumped in the corner, unseeing, despite having one eye open. His lips a darker slate blue than they were a moment ago, the fingers of his left hand a pale grey. Small shallow breaths rattled under the dirty bandages that encompassed his chest.

Sanchez slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes.

Vin had said a bad moon was on the rise. He had warned them. They had started to believe in their own infallibility.

They were paying for their over-confidences in spades.

The preacher felt his anger boil. He would not wait for the Apocalypse. He would not hope to recognize it as is bored down upon him and his brothers.

Sanchez grabbed up his rifle and faced the window roaring his defiance. He would be his own earthly plague.

The ex-preacher, the preacher defrocked and shunned by the religious sects across the country, found no mercy in his blackening soul. He felt no desire to search for it.

There was a bad moon on the rise and it was his to control.

Part 5

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

Larabee waited for Wilmington to hand him the next loaded weapon.

It never came.

The leader of the Seven peered down at his friend of twelve years and found him staring glassy eyed at nothing. The blue eyes showed no life, no spark. Drool puddle under the big man's pale features.

Larabee stared at the blank features of his oldest friend and saw flashes from a lifetime ago; Sarah and Adam, Sarah waving good bye, Adam riding Buck's big grey and laughing. Larabee, in that flash of time, relived the joys and horrors shared by Buck and himself.

A bullet sparked woodchips into the air, pelting Larabee's temple and cheek, stinging him back into the now.

The dark gunslinger pried his loaded pistol from Wilmington's cold grasp and turned back toward the window.

Vin couldn't figure what had happened. What had suddenly caused the rabid change in firing in Larabee and Sanchez. The bounty hunter surmised Buck or Ezra had finally passed from them. Perhaps both of them had. It would explain the furious brazen attack that suddenly sprang from both Chris and Josiah.

Bullets flew from their guns with startling ferocity and deadly accuracy. They fired, uncaring of who they hit and how. There was no code of honor, no hesitancy in how they fought.

They fired to maim, kill and cripple those that had crippled the Seven. They fought as men with nothing left to lose.

The storm had brewed and hunted them down. The predators had hunted them and nearly dragged them down for the kill. Now, those hunters outside, realized that they cornered predators not used to being penned.

God help those poor bastards that threatened the Seven.

Vin Tanner put the Sharpes down and picked up his well worn trusty rifle.

He had nothing else to lose.

Nettie would understand.

The matriarch read the fear in her niece's eyes and smiled grimly at the young girl. Casey had seen and confronted death at too young an age. She understood and recognized it.

The way the five men were fighting now, it seemed as if the other two in their midst had slipped from them.

The popinjay of a gambler, with the devil in his smile, and a fledging angel in his heart, had possibly slipped away. The womanizer, with a hug in his arms that spoke of promise and comfort, passed from their plane.

Nettie smiled grimly at her niece. She wanted Casey to live to marry that young upstart of a Sheriff. She wanted her Casey to raise her own children and teach them. She wanted her little girl to understand that life was to be grasped and held onto in a fierce grip and not to be dawdled upon with airs of foolishness.

The stormed barreled over the land, reigning down on it with brutality, punishing all those that dare move about during its supremacy.

Nettie smiled at her niece. There was nothing to fear. They were together, they were with their Seven and they were fighting a just fight.

If they were to pass from this world today then they would do it as family, doing what was right.

Nettie patted her niece's hand and then turned her attention back to loading weapons and sliding them toward the dark specter of a gunslinger and his silent partner.

Wind battered the windows and walls of the small homestead.

Blood soaked the outside pastures and ran in tiny rivulets through the mud into the small pigpen.

Bullets furrowed deadly paths through cloth and skin alike. The men outside fell to the ground one by one frozen in death.

Gunfire dwindled and finally ceased.

Silence held the land. Everything seemed to hold its collective breaths.

The wind paused, the rain lost its whipping intensity. In a moment, the looming skies lightened and the stormed moved on.

People in the house began to move.

+ + + + + + +

Blue sky peaked out from behind low grey clouds.

The green glistened more brightly than it had in weeks.

Birds cautiously sang.

Casey tentatively peeked her head out from around the table and stared at Mr. Wilmington.

She gasped when she saw him blink, lick his lips and then stare at her. He offered her a slow wink and a weak smile. His eyes fluttered closed and he seemed to relax into the floor.

Casey giggled in girlish delight and marked relief. She sank back behind the table and grasped her aunt and cried.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah leaned across the floor under the window and nudged the gambler's coat down a bit. He felt for a pulse. A weak hand raised up and pushed his hand away.

"Desist," a raspy Southern accent hissed out in annoyance. Standish slid bonelessly even further into the corner.

Josiah fell back on his haunches and laughed.

+ + + + + + +

48hrs later

Tanner sat on the roof of the barn enjoying the feel of the sun on his shoulders. A slight headache pulsed under his forehead where Nathan had put fifteen stitches two days ago.

The tracker nailed another shake back into place. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Nathan and Josiah buried another of the marauders that thought they could ravage and kill across this territory at will. They might have succeeded had they not come into Judge Travis's area of protection.

The old man was rabid and swift in his pursuit of justice.

The bodies had laid where they had fallen for well over a day ago. The seven had fought another battle within the confines of the house. Nathan had nursed Buck and Ezra for the past 36 hours without rest. He had given them every chance to survive and finally left it in their hands and whatever God they might have prayed too.

It had worked. Despite the deadly infection, or the frothing blood. Nathan had worked another miracle with Josiah and the others at his side. Buck and Ezra had survived and slept the last 12 hours without having to fight for every breath or every heartbeat.

Tanner hammered another shake home. He paused and watched as Chris fixed another rail in the corral fence. Larabee needed to work alone, needed not to have to give direction or have others looking for him to take the lead. The man deserved a break.

The others recognized it and left him be.

JD and Casey were sent to find the horses that had escaped from the pen during the gunfight and run off into the surrounding landscape. It would give the others some peace and quiet and give the two kids a chance away from the smell of blood and spent gunshells.

The fresh smells of earth after a storm were still thick with mud and abundant with life. Those creatures that were spared seemed to flaunt their existence. Birds sang louder, rabbits grazed in broad daylight and barn cats sunned themselves in the open.

Tanner fished out another group of roofing nails from the box at his side and lined up another shake. He paused when he spotted the two forms ensconced in blankets on the porch.

Wilmington still held a low grade fever, though much lower than the one that raged the night before. The bone weary cold that had gripped his body for so long had slowly started to leach from him taking his strength with it. It had been five days and he was still alive. He would live. Buck would survive. Nathan either worked miracles or Buck was the luckiest SOB that ever lived. Jackson didn't deserve burden of miracle worker but his foul teas and stick laden broths had saved two lives that surely should have been lost. The others were thankful for him and his talents and were even more thankful that it was Buck and Ezra that had to drink the foul liquids and not themselves.

Tanner let his piercing eyes stray to Larabee. Chris would survive too.

Movement on the porch had the bounty hunter seeking the source.

The gambler was up to his old tricks, albeit slower and more carefully, the Southerner was slowly coming back to his old self. His lips and fingers had lost their bluish tinge. The rattle had disappeared only last night as the fever had finally broken while he half lay/half sat supported by Josiah who had worked to keep the gambler's torso more elevated. It prevented him from drowning in his own blood. That was how Nathan explained it. Josiah acted as bed board and pillow for the struggling southerner. Ezra would never know it, unless someone told him. His ribs and shoulder would not mend near quick enough but his sharp wit was coming back with each passing moment. He no longer stared at them with a half hooded, uncomprehending, glazed eye. He spoke clearly and understood questions. And with some disgust, he had, this very morning, requested that Sanchez stop supporting him like a child. The words were there but not the hostility.

Tanner watched the two men for a moment. The gambler sat flipping cards with the fingers of his left hand as easily as if he did it with his right.

Wilmington tried valiantly to disrupt the gambler's hand trying to break the rhythm; make the gambler drop his cards.

The two sat within striking distance of each other.

It reminded Vin of a story Josiah told him, something about a guy name Dante or Virgil and a level of Hell, or perhaps an Inferno.

It made no sense to Vin at the time, but watching Buck and Ezra irritate one another while unable to escape each other's company made Josiah's story more enlightening.

Tanner watched them for a bit, chuckling all the while.

Buck and Ezra would both succumb to Nathan's new brew of tea within twenty minutes or more. Nathan and Josiah would then have to haul their dragging butts back into the house and back to their respective beds. Ezra propped up on pillows or perhaps Josiah if the pillows weren't strong enough, and Buck would ensconced in Nettie's bed with his bandage removed and the partially open wound allowed to dry in the air.

Vin sat back on the roof and rested his wrists over his bent knees with the hammer dangling in one hand.

The angry storm clouds of two days ago had vanished revealing a soft blue sky. Tonight a quarter moon would be on the rise.

There was nothing to fear in that kind of moon.

The End

Bad Moon Rising : Creedence Clear Water Revival.

I see a bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.