~ CHAPTER 1 ~
Christmastime was once again upon Four Corners. People were bustling all about. Greeting kin at the stage depot or purchasing gifts with the little money they could scrape up. Josiah and Mary were busy getting the orphans from St. Nicholas' Orphanage settled into the church.
Chris sat outside the jail observing. He wondered if anyone even noticed him sitting there. He remembered the good times before Sarah and Adam died. He was feeling lonely amid all the passersby. His mind wandered often as children ran by screaming and laughing as they played. Mothers and fathers were everywhere telling their children to be good or Santa wouldn't visit them.
Chris' mind drifted back to the first Christmas he spent with Sarah. They were both so happy. They had so many plans for the future. They didn't have much and couldn't exchange gifts. He regretted that and told her so often.
"Sarah, I'm sorry I couldn't give you a gift this Christmas. I promise I'll make it up to you," he told her.
"Chris, I've told you a thousand times; it's OK. I don't need you to buy anything for me. I have all I want right here," she told him as she wrapped her arms around him squeezing him tight.
"You are a gift from Heaven, my dear, Sarah," he whispered to her.
Chris wiped his eyes from his brief memory, hoping no one saw the tear that came to his eye. No one had. In a way, he wished someone had because then he'd know if someone actually knew he was even there. Christmas always was a hard time for Chris since Sarah and Adam's deaths. The couple made Christmas a big thing. Chris remembered Adam's first Christmas.
"Chris, can you come here a minute?" Chris heard Sarah call out to him.
"What do you need?" he answered as he poked his head in the room where she sat in the middle of a bed wrapping some gifts.
"What do you think?" she asked showing him a wrapped gift.
"Looks nice," he answered sitting beside her.
"Do you think he'll like it?"
"He's not even a year old. I'm sure he won't care."
"Nonsense," she replied giving him a peck on the check.
When the wrapping was done, they neatly placed the gifts beneath the tree and went to bed. Chris and Sarah awoke early the next morning - Christmas morning. Sarah took Adam from his cradle. Chris had made the cradle himself. Sarah along with Adam met Chris in front of the Christmas tree. Sarah sat Adam down amidst the gifts. Chris and Sarah sat on the floor on either side of him. Chris opened the first gift for Adam - a small wooden spinning top. He spun the top on the wooden floor. Little Adam's eyes widened with awe of the small wonder. The child giggled with excitement. Sarah was next to open a gift for Adam. She gently removed the paper and opened the wooden box that was revealed. Adam watched her with interest. She carefully took a little wooden train - complete with engine, coal car and caboose - from the box. She hooked the three pieces together and rolled them around Adam as he sat on the floor in front of her. His eyes again wide with wonderment. This was a day neither Chris nor Sarah would ever forget.
Chris still remembered that day like it was yesterday. The smell of the tree. The look of amazement on his little boy's face. The look of joy on his beautiful Sarah's face. The look of pride on his own face as he watched the two most important people in his life. The complete and peaceful satisfaction he felt just watching the two of them. HE was truly happy. Everything he had ever wanted sat before him that day.
But now now, all was different. Chris began to wonder what would have happened if he had never left them so vulnerable. He still felt their deaths were his fault. If he hadn't left them alone, they'd still be alive.
Chris again noticed how no one had so much as waved or nodded to him while he sat there. No one noticed.
"No one would even notice if I wasn't here," Chris muttered.
Chris decided to go for a ride to escape the Christmas cheer that was all about him; yet, he did not feel. He stepped down from the boardwalk to his horse, which was tethered to the hitching post outside the jail. He mounted the steed and led him out of town. Chris rode out a couple miles.
"Probably no one even knows I've left," he said to himself. "Probably wouldn't matter if I ever went back. Maybe I'll just keep riding. They're probably better off if I don't go back. They'd probably be better off if I were never there. If I were never born, Sarah and Adam wouldn't have been put in that situation that they were, and they wouldn't have been killed," he continued to mutter to himself.
Chris continued to ride s he approached a rocky river bed long since dried by the sun. His horse stumbled on the rocks causing both rider and beast to fall. Chris hit his head on some rocks and lost consciousness.
When Chris awoke, he was not alone. Another man stood over him. He could see another horse near his. The man had something cooking in a pot a little ways away. Upon realizing Chris awoke, the man began to speak to him.
"Are you hungry?" the man asked.
"Who are you?" Chris asked back.
"Francis, " the man answered.
"Yes," Chris answered the man's original question.
Chris stood and joined Francis at the pot.
"How long have I been out?" Chris asked.
"Not long. You fell. Hit your head. You look OK. Your forehead was bleeding at first, but not anymore," Francis told him.
Chris felt his forehead. There was no injury. Francis handed Chris a bowl, steaming hot.
"How'd you know I was here?" Chris asked.
"I was sent here to help you," Francis answered.
"Yes, you wished you were never born. Thought you were useless and that folks would be better off without you."
"Who are you? How'd you know that?"
"I told you. My name's Francis. I'm an angel. I have to help you, and you have to help me."
"I have to help you?"
"Yes, I will help you see the difference you have made here, and you will help me get my wings."
"Yes. If I do a good job here, I get my wings. Everytime a bell sounds, an angel gets its wings."
"My mother told me that once when I was young."
"So, will you help me?"
"What do I have to do?"
"Nothing really. I will take you back to Four Corners and show you life there without you as if you were never born. You will observe."
"And you're an angel?"
"Yes, you seem to have difficulty accepting that."
"No no, I just I um never mind."
"OK, let's go, then."
Francis cleaned up and mounted his horse. Chris stood and watched. He shook his head and got atop his horse.
~ CHAPTER 2 ~
Francis led Chris into Four Corners. There was total chaos. There were no bustling Christmas shoppers. No children laughing. The town appeared to have been overrun with wild ruffians. One man was shot dead in front of their horses. When Chris attempted to interfere, Francis stopped him.
"We don't have time," he told Chris.
"Where's the others? I know they wouldn't allow this. Are they out on an errand for the judge?" Chris asked.
"Buck, Vin, Josiah, Ezra, Nathan and JD," Chris told him.
"You will have to find out about each of them on your own; however, I can tell you about Buck Wilmington."
"What about him?"
"Mr. Wilmington died some years ago."
"Yes, I believe, he was killed during the war."
"That's ridiculous! I "
"You what, Mr. Larabee? You were never born; therefore, you weren't there to pull your friend out of the line of fire. I believe it was a fairly quick death."
"Quick death? How can you be so non-chalant?'
"What do you care? You wished you were never born. You said everyone would be better off without you."
"Buck's dead because I wasn't there?"
Chris got off his horse and tied him back to the hitching post outside the jail. He and Francis entered the jail.
"Anybody here?" Chris called out.
"Who wished to know?" a familiar voice answered.
Chris walked back towards the man in the jail cell.
"Ezra?" he questioned.
"Am I acquainted with you, dear sir?" Ezra answered.
"Ezra, it's me - Chris Chris Larabee."
"I do apologize, but I have to admit, much to my chagrin, that I do not know you. However, if you are so inclined to release me from my incarceration, I would be forever in your debt."
"Come, Chris," Francis tugged on Chris' sleeve.
Chris followed Francis while Ezra hollered at them to please have him released at once. Chris glanced back at Ezra sitting in the corner of his jail cell with a bottle of whiskey. He then followed Francis out the door.
"Mary!" Chris hollered as he saw the fair-haired woman cross the street.
"Who are you, and what do you want? You harass me and I'll scream!" she answered sternly.
"It's me, Chris."
"I do not know a Chris."
"Of course you do. Chris Larabee. I saved your son, Billy, when "
"How dare you! What a cruel thing to say! My son was killed when a stage hit him! Whom do you think you are coming here making such cruel accusations?" she scolded.
"Well, I um why's Ezra in jail, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Ezra? You mean Mr. Standish? You a friend of his? I can tell you friends of Mr. Standish are not welcome here. He's a liar, a gambler and a swindler! It's a good thing we caught him before he could leave town with our hard-earned money!"
"Look, I'm sorry I bothered you. Have a nice day, ma'am," Chris said as he tipped his hat.
Chris turned around, and Francis was gone.
"Francis? Francis? Damn!"
Chris walked a little further. He saw a man he thought looked familiar. He was loading a horse with supplies. Chris approached him.
"Josiah? Where you headed?"
"Who wants to know?" Josiah asked as he turned to face the unfamiliar face of Chris.
"It's me Chris Larabee."
"Don't know you sorry, you must be mistaking me for someone else."
"No, Josiah, I was just watching you this morning at the church with the orphans," Chris protested.
"Mister, there ain't no church in this town, and I don't know any orphans."
"Well, where are you going?"
"If it's any of your business, I came to town for supplies - nothing else."
"You don't live here in town?"
"Look. Mister, I don't know what you want, but I rarely come into town. I don't have a lot of need to be around other people. I have no need for them, nor do I want them around me. Now, if you don't mind, I have to go."
Chris watched as Josiah mounted his horse and headed out of town. He began walking towards the saloon. He could really use a drink. He walked in and ordered a drink. The bartender put the glass on the bar and requested payment. Chris searched his pockets; he found no money.
"You have no money, Mr. Larabee," Francis said from behind him.
"No money; no drink," the bartender said taking the glass.
"Francis, where were you?"
"Sorry about that. I had to check on our progress."
Chris started to leave the saloon when he saw a man sitting in the back of the establishment.
"Francis? Is that JD?"
"Yes, it is sad."
Chris didn't bother to ask for further meaning of Francis' response, but rather went directly to JD.
"Hey, JD, how are ya?" Chris greeted.
"Do I know you?" JD responded.
"Don't know you."
"Mind if I sit?"
"Do you know where Josiah's going?"
"Josiah Sanchez ohhh the man that comes into town every now and then. He lives by the river by himself. Some say he's a crazy hermit. I don't know. Never had to deal with him myself. You know him?"
"Yeah, a while ago. Do you know why Ezra's in jail?"
"Yes, Ezra Standish."
"He was caught swindling money from the folks here with some scheme."
"He's an old friend of yours, too?"
"You have strange friends, Mr. Larabee."
"How come you aren't at the jail?" Chris asked JD.
"Why should I be?"
"Well, aren't you the sheriff here?'
"There's no sheriff here. They all either get killed or end up like me."
"I tried to stop a raiding gang from wrecking havoc here. The leader shot me. Bullet hit me in the back. Haven't walked right since. My left leg is stiff. The bullet's still lodged against my spine."
"Where's Nathan? He couldn't get it out?"
"Nathan?" JD asked.
"Jackson." Chris responded.
"Nathan Jackson hmmm oh, the black man. He was hung about the time I became sheriff."
"Francis!" Chris called to the angel.
"You weren't here to help save him," Francis answered.
"What's he talking about?" JD asked.
"Nothing. Look, I'm sorry to leave so soon, but I have to go see someone."
"OK. Bye," JD replied.
Chris, followed by Francis, left the saloon. He headed over to the hardware store. Chris figured if everyone's life had changed because he wasn't there as Francis kept telling him; then, Vin Tanner's life must have remained the way it was before the two of them had saved Nathan. He almost ran inside to see him. He approached the counter.
"Could I see Vin Tanner, please?" he asked the man behind the counter.
Chris didn't know this man. He figured him to be new in town.
"Vin Tanner? Sir, Vin Tanner was arrested by a federal marshal and taken back to Tascosa, Texas to stand trial for murder," the man answered.
"Eli Joe! Damn!" Chris whispered aloud.
"Come," Francis again took Chris' wrist in his hand and led him out.
"Quit that!" Chris pulled away in anger.
"Chris, you weren't born; remember? Vin Tanner did work here, but like the man said, one day a federal marshal took him away. I am at liberty to tell you that he did make it back to Tascosa, Texas; however, he was dead when he got there. You are right; Eli Joe hung him. He had that marshal bring Vin's body in for the bounty. See, he was a federal marshal, but he worked bounties on the side to make extra money to supplement his pay," Francis explained.
"Vin's dead?" Chris asked as he walked back to his horse.
"Yes," Francis answered trying to keep up with Chris' stride.
"And Buck and Nathan?"
"Yes, him, too."
"Well, what about Sarah and Adam?"
"You don't get it; do you?"
"You weren't born! You never married Sarah. Adam was never born. You are right on one account."
"Sarah is still alive, but she will never know happiness. You were meant for each other, Chris Larabee. She is unwed and alone in this world. The happiness she shared with you, regardless of how short the time, would last an eternity. Now, with you never been born, she will never feel happiness and her life will remain empty, unfulfilled by you and your son, Adam."
"No no this can't be! Put everything back to the way it was! I want to go back! I can't let Buck, Vin. Nathan and Billy die. I can't let Ezra rot in jail drunk or JD drink himself to death half paralyzed and Josiah living as a hermit. Poor Mary. She's lost her husband and her son. Please, Francis, I beg you let me live again. I'll never wish for anything like this again. Please," Chris begged as he wiped the moisture away from his eyes.
Chris hopped on his horse and fled the horrific Four Corners Francis had shown him. Soon, he found himself at the same rocky riverbed. His horse suddenly reared knocking him to the ground. He again lost consciousness.
When Chris awoke, he remembered everything. He remembered Francis telling him about a cut on his forehead. Chris touched his forehead and looked at his fingers blood. They were bloody. Chris became ecstatic. He leapt onto his horse and darted off towards town, hoping it was the Four Corners he left. The whole way he kept mumbling and yelling aloud.
"Thank you, Francis! Thank you!"
~ CHAPTER 3 ~
As Chris rode into town, he was met by Vin, Mary, Josiah and Nathan.
"Where've you been?" Vin asked.
"We've been looking all over for you, Chris," Mary added.
"You OK," Josiah asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine!" Chris exclaimed.
"Come to my office, and let me clean that wound on your forehead," Nathan told him.
"Naw, Nathan, it's fine. Really. Hey, where's Billy and Buck and JD and Ezra and "
"Chris, slow down. Buck and JD are in the church with the kids, and Ezra's at the tavern," Vin informed.
"Billy's also with the orphans," Mary told him.
"Great! That's great!" Chris exclaimed again.
Nathan finally got Chris to go with him. He cleaned and bandaged the cut on Chris' forehead. Nathan forced Chris to rest for about an hour. He could only keep him still that long. While Chris was resting, Nathan spoke to the others.
"What do you suppose happened to him?" Mary asked.
"No tellin'. He fell from the looks of it. Hit his head good," Nathan told them.
"Will he be OK?" Vin asked.
"Yeah," Nathan answered.
"Does he have a concussion, or can you tell?" Josiah asked.
"No, just the cut," Nathan replied.
A little later, Chris gathered everyone together at Nathan's office.
"I wanted to tell y'all how much I'm glad to spend Christmas with y'all," Chris told them in his usual quiet tone.
The group looked at each other in bewilderment. This was not like Chris. Seeing how they were all confused, Chris decided to explain a little.
"I got a chance to see life in a whole other perspective. I wished for something and almost got it. When I saw the consequences, I realized I was wrong to wish for it. I sat outside the jail earlier thinking no one needed me. No one even saw me there. I was feeling really down. I know I haven't told y'all a lot about my past, but you see Christmas was a special time of year for Sarah, Adam and me. Not having them here, watching all the families go by well, I just thought everything would be better without me. I was wrong. I just want y'all to know I'm sorry for causing y'all to worry," Chris explained catching himself slightly when he felt he was revealing too much information about himself.
"Chris, it's OK. Besides, it's my fault you left Sarah and Adam alone," Buck told him.
"It's no ones fault, Buck. I don't know what happened, but I can tell you what's done is done. You can't change the past," Mary comforted the two men.
"Everything happens for a reason, Chris. We may not understand it, but we have to accept it," Josiah told him.
"You gonna join us at the church Christmas morning with the orphans?" Vin asked.
Chris smiled," Yes, Vin, I'll be there."
Tale Three: Christmas Miracle
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