A Promise Kept

Carol Pahl

(c) 1999

This fanfiction borrows the charactors from the televsion program The Magnificent Seven and I don't mean to infringe on the rights of CBS, MGM, The Mirisch Corp, or the Trilogy Entertainment Group.


"I hope we return in time this evening to get a game operating. Doing these favor runs for the Judge is costing my pocket lining serious injury."

"What's the matter, Ezra? No suckers in Eagle Bend this trip? I can't wait to get back to my own bed. Feels like weeks since I've gotten a full night's sleep." JD yawned, trying to emphasize his point.

"Better keep your mouth closed, JD. The arthropods seem to thrive this season. I'd hate to pry one out of your mouth."

"You're right about that. They're almost as big as a three-legged..."

"What's that glow?" Ezra interrupted.

The younger man gasped, "The town! It's on fire." He kicked his horse into a dead run, leaving the gambler behind in the dust.

= * = * = * =

The town shone bright as daytime as a fire engulfed a full city block. JD raced his horse to the tragic scene, searching for other members of the peacekeepers. Several water brigades relayed buckets of water to the neighboring buildings.

A woman near the back of a three story burning building screamed catching the young man's attention. JD ran to the hysterical woman, "Mrs. Hill, what's wrong?"

"The children, eight children are trapped upstairs."

JD looked up and saw small hands pounding on the glass window. Quickly stripping off his gunbelt, coat, and hat he thrust them into the teacher's hands. "I'll get them out," he exclaimed as he raced toward the inferno. Climbing onto the back porch, he shinnied up the wooden column easily. Swinging up onto the roof, he ran to the nearest window. The fire hadn't reached the empty room so he kicked in the window. Racing against the smoky menace filling the building, JD cautiously opened the door to the interior hallway. Remembering the children were trapped in the next room, he fought his way through the blinding smoke. He used his shoulder to shove the swollen door, entered the room and quickly closed the warped door.

"Hey, kids. I aim to get you all out of here but we've got to move fast. Now we gotta stay together." He looked at the scared faces and pushed his own fears and exhaustion away. Though he recognized most of the faces one sent terror to his core. He didn't know the little girl's name but he knew her parents-Hiram and Annie. Forcing his breathing back to normal he lined up the children. This had to work because failure wasn't going to win the battle.

JD led the small group out the door into the smoky hallway. "Don't talk. Save your breath," he ordered, inhaling the deadly gases.

Slowly he guided them down the back stairs towards the domestic help's entrance. The heat and smoke took away their breath and the youngest girl cried for her mother. Finally they reached the small entry room. The locked, thick wood door refused to budge. JD could feel the heat intensify as he grabbed a substantial hunk of kindling. The lawman smashed the etched window and ran the wood around the jagged glass remaining in the opening. He stripped off his vest and laid it over the wooden frame for more protection.

Smoke billowed out the front of the burning building while flames eagerly devoured the wooden interior. JD helped the oldest girl out of the window. She grabbed the next child as each was guided through the opening. Quickly six children crawled through the broken window. Waiting for the last child, they heard a scream as the building shook. An enormous explosion blew the burning structure skyward. The older children gathered the others and chased them away from the falling debris.

= * = * = * =

"Mama, I want my mama," moaned the little child. Trapped in the rubble, she tried to move but something held her small leg. She reached down to free herself and felt the sticky moisture on her hand. The darkness hid the extent of her injuries. The feeble attempts to move tired her and she fell back to sleep.

= * = * = * =

"Ezra, when did you get back? You missed all the excitement."

"Not so, Mr. Tanner. We returned in time last evening to witness the explosive finale to the conflagration. Any theories as to the cause of the inferno's creation?"

"Tom Black attempted to burn some trash but he didn't keep an eye on it. Before anyone knew what happened, the whole damned block burned."

"Any casualties?"

"At least three didn't get out of Tom's building. I don't know about the other places."

Buck walked toward his friends, surprised to see the gambler. "When did you get back? I didn't know the kid was around."

"He should be around here somewhere. After discovering the fire's eerie glow illuminating the evening's sky, he took off towards town and I was unable to catch him. For someone so tired, he certainly gained energy forthwith."

= * = * = * =

During the morning the town's residents began the arduous task of cleaning debris from the streets. Injured victims filled a makeshift clinic located in an army tent. Nathan hurried from bed to bed, checking the burned and injured while Mary Travis, Inez and other women assisted him with cleaning and bandaging their fellow residents.

"Mr. Jackson?" called Mrs. Hill. The healer sat beside a small table mixing herbs to treat the burns. "May I leave these with you? Mr. Dunne took them off before he went into rescue the children. I didn't see him afterwards to thank him."

"Ma'am, JD helped you last night?" A puzzled look crossed Nathan's face.

"I'm sure it was him. Isn't this his coat and guns?"

"I didn't realize he was back in town. Who did he help?"

"Several of the students were trapped on the second floor. JD climbed in the window and in a few minutes the children escaped through the porch window. I collected the children following the explosion. I didn't see him later. One of the children is missing but maybe Sara Turner made it out with the other group before the rest were trapped," the woman explained, wiping her dirty face with a sooty cloth.

Nathan gently rubbed the pearl handles of the Colts that most definitely belonged to the youngest of the seven. He walked to the tent opening and looked towards the smoldering rubble. Could it be the young man's tomb?

= * = * = * =

"Mama, Mama!"

"Sorry sweetheart. Looks like it's just you and me." The male voice came from the darkness.

"I can't move, mister."

"Whoa! Don't pull your leg. It's caught under my neck. Your shoe's cutting into my throat." He reached his hand up and slowly unbuttoned the child's hightop boot. "OK, try it now." The young man held the shoe as the little girl pulled her foot from under his neck. Trying not to gasp at the pain coursing through his body, he softly asked, "What's your name? I'm JD."

"I know who you are. You killed Betsy's mama."

Panic grabbed the boy's heart. During the fire when he lifted Hiram's youngest daughter through the window, he prayed again for forgiveness, but the bitter reminder squeezed his chest.

The child asked, "Are you alright? Why can't we get out of here? I'm hungry!"

JD felt darkness closing around his consciousness. "We need some help, missy."

"That isn't my name, it's Sara."

= * = * = * =

"Throw all the wood into the cellar," ordered Seth Voit, one of the burnt building's owners. "We'll burn the rubble there, then bury the rest. Let's get this mess cleaned up." Men grabbed the debris littering the street and threw it onto the smoldering remains. The remaining embers lit the dry wood and flames devoured the remains while smoke bellowed heavenward.

= * = * = * =

"Mister JD, you awake? I'm hungry."

"Hi Sara. Can you see anything?" JD couldn't move. Pinned between large structural members of the building, he could move his hands but his head was held looking away from the little girl. He brought his left hand up and rubbed her leg. "You hurt any where?"

"My leg hurts and I'm cold. I want my mama. Why can't they get us out of here?"

"They don't know we're here. Can you see any light? I can't move my head."

"Help! Help!" she screamed but no one answered her cries.

= * = * = * =

"Mr. Larabee, my daughter, Sara, is missing. We can't find her anywhere." The distraught father feared the worst.

"Would she have any reason to be in one of the buildings?" The dark clad gunslinger looked calm on the exterior but his soul trembled with the grizzly memory of loosing a loved one by fire.

"Yeah, she should have been with the other students."

"Mrs. Hill has several children with her yet. Let's go see her."

Walking from the sheriff's office the two men met Nathan Jackson. "Sara Turner is missing," Chris explained to his associate.

"I know, let's go back inside. I was just coming to tell you."

"What's up, Nathan?"

"I'm sorry Mr. Turner but Sara never made it out of the building. JD rescued the other trapped children but the place exploded before he got her out. Nobody's seen either of them since the blast."

"JD?" Chris felt the squeeze in his gut. He felt sympathy for the grieving father beside him but his own heart broke with the loss of the young man. "Any chance they survived that explosion?"

"I was on my way there to look it over. I noticed some folks are burning the debris and trash in the other cellars.

"Let's go!"

The three men hurried towards the eerie remains. Chimneys reached toward the sky while the rest of the building lay in ruins.

"The White girl said he lifted them out the back door."

They stared at the pile of broken boards and smashed windows piled in the cellar but the fire hadn't burned the area yet.

"We got to at least try to rescue them."

"My wife would want to bury Sara next to her mother," the father added numbly.

"Mr. Turner, I realize what you're going through but I ain't givin' up hope till I know for sure. They could be alive!" Chris' eyes snapped as he spoke with the stricken father.

= * = * = * =

"Mr. JD, you awake?" The little girl spoke softly.

"I'm here, Sara. Are you alright?" His hand firmly but tenderly held her small one.

"I'm scared. Why hasn't anybody come yet? Did they forget about us?"

The young peacekeeper didn't want to tell her the truth. Only Ezra knew of his return before the blast. Would the other children tell anyone that Sara never got out of the building? He couldn't tell her that most likely they were presumed dead and no one would even begin looking for them. His back ached and he could feel nails puncturing his skin. JDs legs dangled, straddling the floor joist trapping him, numbness spread up toward his waist.

"You've got to be brave, Sara. Can you see anything?" He couldn't turn his head toward the nervous child but his hand never left contact with the little girl's hand.

"It seems brighter so I suppose it's daytime."

"If you hear any voices yell or scream. Don't be scared, Sara. I won't leave you."

"I won't leave you either, Mr. JD" She squeezed his hand.

Trying to distract the young girl, JD asked. "What's the first thing you'll do when they rescue us?"

"Hug my mama and papa and then go get something to eat."

"That sounds like a great plan."

"How about you, Mr. JD? What do you want to do?"

"Can I join you for that meal?"

"I'd like that! Then what will you do?"

"I want to get on my horse and take her for fast ride."

"Will you give me a ride on your horse someday? I've seen you ride. You don't bounce like some fellows do."

JD smiled in the dark. "I'd love to give you a ride on my horse. After we eat we'll go riding someplace where we're free."

"Do you promise?" She squeezed his hand tightly.

"You betch'a, Sara. We'll go ridin' together when we get out of here." JD prayed he could keep his promise but he felt his strength draining. If rescue didn't come soon this would be his and Sara's tomb.

"Mr. JD. Why did you shoot Betsy's mother?"

In a weak voice he tried to explain the horrible reason, a good cause gone bad. He told her about his mother and her dreams for his future. She shared about her loving parents and older brothers. Gradually JDs voice faded but his grip never released her hand. The numbness centered in his back spread up towards his head. His legs held no feeling.

In the silence, Sara heard a faint call. "Sara! JD!" Was someone finally looking for them? Did she imagine the call?

"Down here. Help us! We're trapped," she yelled.

"Sara, is that you?"

"Papa," she screamed. "Papa, get me out of here!"

The three men standing around the cellar looked at each other. Rescue would require more help and a slow process to reach the trapped little girl.

"I'll go get more help, Chris."

"Great Nathan. Tell Vin to bring some rope." Chris looked across the rubble and saw men about to throw fire in the debris piled in the hole. "STOP!" he yelled. "We need some help. There's a little girl trapped down here and she's alive!"

"Sara, sweetheart. We'll get there real soon. We've got to move the wood above you," yelled her father.

"Hurry Daddy."

Chris noticed the lack of JD's voice. He knew the boy would yell if possible. Were they in time or hadn't he survived the explosion?

Buck, Josiah and Vin raced up to the two men.

"Nate said you discovered a trapped victim?" Vin asked, coils of rope surrounding his shoulder.

"A little child?" Buck questioned.

Chris nodded and then added, "There's more, boys. JD was last seen in this building last night, rescuing the children. He and little Sara didn't make it out. He doesn't answer our call."

Buck's face dropped. The kid was his closest friend. A few weeks earlier a woman shot JD down in cold blood and he almost died. Buck couldn't stand the thought of loosing him again and started to throw boards out of the pile.

"Hold it Buck. We need to have a plan. We aren't sure what's holding the girl. If we move the wrong board the whole structure could collapse onto them."


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