The disclaimer is and always will be I dont own em and never made a plug nickel off em. Wish I did. This story takes place prior to Wyverns story Childs Play. The first in a series of Stories called the Journey to Four Corners. This an AU created by Wyvern where Ezras a child and the remaining seven are adults.
There was a huge commotion in the saloon, chairs were flying, and whiskey bottles exploded as the hit the walls. Fists slammed into ribs, noses and jaws as men were spewing vulgar insults the fighting escalated until a single shotgun blast stopped the melee. Ezra knew someone had worn out his welcome. The boy didnt want to look afraid that he would be seen, so he remained where he was hidden under the bar behind the watered down stock with a derringer clutched tightly in his hand.
Long after the fight ended, the saloon had quieted down quickly and Ezra had fallen asleep listening the tavern owner and the bar maids clean up the mess left behind by the drunken ranch hands. Long past midnight the small lad finally left the security of his hiding place after concealing the small pistol in the lining of his jacket, the place was dark, and a quiet sigh escaped the boy knowing he would be unable to find a better place to wait for his mother. His mother Maude was in pursuit of another paramour when she had said in a note to wait for her at the saloon. He hadnt seen her in three days luckily the owner of the less than reputable establishment one Mr. Barrett allowed him to gamble for a substantial cut of his winnings and a filthy pallet in the back room.
Like many the others whom his care was entrusted to, Barrett wanted little to do with the eleven-year old as long as the money came in Ezra knew he could stay. Knowing that didnt help, he was hungry and after the first night in the saloon he had figured out that there was no food kept in the building, and what he had bought earlier ended up scattered across the floor when the fight broke out, a another sigh escaped him as he slowly made his way to the back room, he have to wait until morning.
The mid morning bustle woke the young southerner he stood up trying to make himself presentable as much as his wrinkled and slightly dusty clothes would allow. Too early for potential marks, he careful scanned the saloon before he set out onto the boardwalk to get a meal. His Mother was nowhere to be seen. No surprise there, he looked around the small town of Pine Gulch before cross the dirt street to the restaurant. Ezra smiled as he stepped inside thankful that he had a modest stash of money to tide him over until his mother returned. The widow Peterson ran the small eatery the grandmotherly woman waved him over to the kitchen as soon as he cleared the threshold.
Come on in the kitchen boy.
Good Morning Mrs. Peterson you are looking quite lovely this morning. Young Mr. Standish greeted her as he followed her into the cramped kitchen.
Hush child, Ive kept yer breakfast warm so ya better eat fore it gits cold.
Thank you Maam.
Jist eat, yer nothing but skin an bones.
Ezra gave in and ate quietly while watching the woman skitter around the kitchen preparing meals for the patrons. He was getting his meals in trade from the widow he spent his mornings helping her by washing dishes and clearing tables. Ezra still wasnt sure who sweet-talked whom but he wasnt going to be hungry in the near future. The boy had even considered Mrs. Petersens offer to stay under her roof but his need for money kept him at the saloon. Small trade was good for a short length of time but not over extended lengths of time. The deal he had with Barrett had been backed with money therefore would last longer perhaps until his mother returned. Ezra had no way of knowing when Maude would return, he had been left for days at a time sometimes months at a time the boy never knew in advance just how long his mother would be gone.
The quickly finished the meal and set about cleaning the establishments filthy dishes after fetching a step stool, hot water, soap and a bristle brush. The hours passed by quickly the mid day crowd as the widow Peterson called it Ezra didnt agree that nine men constituted a crowd, the place was cleaned and really for the dinner crowd. The boy bid good day to the woman and made his way to the Mr. Barretts saloon. Spending the evening amazing, stupefying but as always separating the locals from their hard earned cash before returning to his pallet in the backroom to sleep and begin his day again.
A week had passed when Ezra received word from his mother, the note asked her darling boy to join her in Happenstance and enclosed with the note was enough money to buy passage on the next stage to meet her. Lady Luck, the boy smiled had not abandoned him after all. Ezra was relieved, the last two nights at the tables had not gone well when word got around that he could actually beat grown men at their own game. As a result his winnings had been meager and he quickly turned them over to Barrett rather than possibly incur the mans wrath alone. Mrs. Peterson had been kind and once again offered the lad a place to stay, this unnerved the lad but he didnt have time to wonder about this womans continued attempts at kindness he had received a letter from his mother earlier that day and hopped on the first stage out of town.
The wary child sat quietly within confines of the stagecoach watching the landscape pass under the rising sun, his fellow passengers were in varying states of rest. The boy was thankful the adults ignored him after another early morning departure Ezra was bone tired it had been six days since he left Pine Gulch and just four days since left Happenstance after his mother left him a ticket to Barstow and a message that he would be staying with his uncle until she could return. It was the first time his mother mentioned he had an uncle, honest to goodness blood kin. All his other uncles were her paramours a few he liked, most he did not and he wasnt sure how he should feel towards this Uncle, he would find out soon enough the stagecoach would be arriving in Barstow by midday.
The young lad watched as the town came into view, it wasnt at all like last few towns he been through. Barstow seemed almost civilized. Maybe, he sighed just maybe it would be different here after all. His uncle according to Maude was an extremely religious man and she told the boy to be on his best behavior because she had gone through a lot of trouble insuring that her elder brother Matthias would take him in. Ezra straightened up in his seat as they slowly pulled to a stop in the heart of town and waited patiently as the adults stepped off the coach before he follow suit. The driver handed the boy his carpetbag and pulled the team away. Barstow was the last stop before the stagecoach began its return trip. The boy scanned the street before he saw a man he assumed was his Uncle in conservative dress, a formidable looking man with a dour face sitting in a wagon. The boy straightened his shoulders and set off to speak with the man.
Excuse me kind sir would you happen to be my Uncle Matthias?
Mr. Stiles boy, I see you are ever ounce my sisters child. Get into the back of the wagon, I have business I must attend to and I dont want to hear a sound from you. Understand!
Ezra stood in the middle of the street with his mouth open before he snapped it shut and quickly nodded as he climbed in the back of the wagon. Silently wondering as he tightly clutched his worn carpet bag to his small frame what he had done to anger his Uncle, he wanted to ask but thought better of it and sat quietly while Uncle Matthias urged the team of horses on. The thirty-minute trip was silent until they stopped at a fenced in home the lay on the edge of town. The reverend hitched the team and turned to the boy.
Stay in the wagon.
Reverend Stiles ordered the weary child, then walked towards the house and out of Ezras sight. The boy was hot. The weather was unseasonably humid sand he was starting to sweat in his dark green wool jacket. After a moment he removed the stifling attire carefully folding the garment and stowing it in his carpetbag. Ezra sat in the wagon for an hour before his thirst and hunger got the better of him despite his uncles order he left the wagon in search of a drink. The boy had started towards the house when he saw his uncle walking towards him. The man didnt look happy as he got closer the man spoke to the boy.
Boy what did I tell you?
Ezra stood stock-still.
I was thirsty
The boy never got to finish. His Uncle back handed Ezra sending him flying to the ground, kicked him twice before hauling the disoriented child into the rear of the wagon. The stunned boy sat with his arms wrapped tightly around his legs blinking back the tears. Blood running unchecked from his nose, the boy was afraid to move as he listened to his Uncle rant. The wagon slowly moved away from the house and away from town as the man seethed.
Bastard cant listen
Ezra was terrified, he could run but where would he go. The wagon had stopped and his Uncle pulled him off shaking a fist at the boy as he spoke.
Perhaps I did not make myself clear Boy . You will do what I say when I say it. Understand!
The boy nodded.
I cant hear you!
Yes what Boy?
Yes Mr. Stiles.
One thing you must understand Boy is you are a bastard, an unsanctified soul unworthy of being in the same town with a dignified folks. Get back into the wagon, I taking you to my home.
The small lad climbed back in settling himself next to his carpetbag before carefully wiping the blood from his nose on his shirtsleeve. Ever the fool, he believed once again his luck would be good. He mentally shook the thoughts away, he would get through this he would find a way to please his uncle after all he was a Standish and his mother taught him well. Almost an hour later the arrived on the road leading to the Stiles House, there was a large corral holding a dozen horses. The boy perked up, how he loved the large beasts. Maybe it wouldnt be so bad if his uncle would ignore him like most of his caretakers had.
Boy this is where youll be staying. Ezra uncle said as he showed the boy the inside of the stables. The young southerner looked around, no better or worse than the countless other places he had stayed. I want you to know that the family was deeply disappointed with your mother the sinful whore got knocked up before she was even the proper age to court. Understandably she had to be cast out, now after all this time she asks me to take in her bastard. Perhaps there is hope for you boy, that you havent learned your mothers nefarious ways. Youll earn your keep, I trust you can read boy?
Yes, Mr. Stiles.
Good because I have a list of chores for you. The man handed the list to the boy.
If you dont get the chores done in a timely fashion youll forfeit your meals until you do. Am I understood?
Yes Mr. Stiles.
Youll be sleeping here The man pointed into an empty stall.
The discretion earned him another slap across the face.
Dont speak unless spoken to! The older man admonished the lad. Ezra bowed his head as his uncle continued. Seeing as you dont know the rules Ill let it go. The first you know do what you are told and when you are told to do it. Second rule is dont speak unless spoken to, the hired help as been instructed of this rule. Third rule there chores that must be done before noontime if and only if they are done on time youll get fed, the same applies for the chores to be done by sunset. Fourth rule you dont cross the threshold of my home ever. Youll be corrected accordingly if I ever catch you breaking these rules. Best get started.
Matthias Stiles left his nephew standing in the barn. Maude Standishs baby boy stared at the list his Uncle left him, there didnt seem to be a way out of this. He sighed, looked around for a place to begin. The boy started with cleaning the tack, wishing he had remembered his belongings when he got off the wagon. Duped again, when would he learn that adults did not have his best interests in mind? Why did he have to irritate his mother, wanting her comfort and attention he knew it annoyed her when she was running a con. Maude was trying to persuade a potential paramour to lavish her with gifts when he, like an idiot, ran to her complaining of a bellyache after being hungry enough to eat old food. Maude left him in the care of Mrs. Peterson, where he was violently ill for the better part of the day; Ezra pushed the memory away and concentrated at the task that lay before him.
There was no food for the poor boy as night set in, hunger pain woke him early had him rising before the sun in a vain attempt to accomplish enough so he could eat. The days passed slowly eventually he found an effective method of finishing his chores. The regular hands avoided the boy. No one wanted to anger Stiles all except Ole Hattie a former slave given the task of bringing meals to the boy. He was a proud lad she could see it in his eyes and the way he held himself a proper little mister. That evil man was trying to break the boys spirit, to quote the man reform the boys wicked ways. Hattie did what she could to feed the boy, she would sneak biscuits, jerky or whatever else she could to the child. Stiles was spiteful the more chores the boy did the more got added to the list the more meals it seemed he have to miss.
Old horse blankets some how turned up in the stall where the child slept, they were neatly put away with the tack each morning and retrieved each night a small comfort for which he was thankful. Ezra was also thankful for the old black woman Hattie who brought his meals almost always with a little extra something to help him make it through the long days. A layer of filth started to cover him, pests had taken up residence in his clothing. Where was his mother now, she would at least make sure he was clean. The mornings riding made things almost bearable. The horses seem to appreciate him and they didnt mind when he talked to them, he was careful no one was around when he did after all how could the horse speak to him first. One horse in a particular was his favorite a palomino filly he named Buttercup, after all his uncle thought it was foolish to name a beast. She had big expressive brown eyes and a soft muzzle, which she nuzzled him often with while he grooms her. These small comforts kept him going.
Weeks had passed since Maude Standishs son Ezra had taken full time residence in the barn, after a lifetime of tutoring her boy was debasing himself, ruining his fine hands with menial labor. Back breaking labor would be a more apt term according to his uncle he would be earning his keep. That he did and then some rising with the sun he fed the livestock, mucked the stalls, cleaned the chicken coops and basically everything a grown man would do to efficiently run a ranch his shortcomings corrected with a booted kick or a closed fist. This left Ezra with little time to think, Uncle Matthias had taken his carpetbag and he hadnt see it since. The boy was filthy, he hadnt bathed or changed clothes since his arrival three weeks before he wasnt allowed anywhere near the house. No one talked to him or acknowledged him the last words addressed to him where his uncles list of daily chores, where and when meals his meals would be and the order not to speak unless spoken too. Ole Hattie was the only one who secretly defied those orders she was an old black woman who brought his two meals a day.
Little Mister where are ya? Foods here!
Ezra looked around making sure no one was in earshot before he rushed over to the woman and the food. He ate the cold chicken and dumplings from a tin bowl with his hands, his hunger overtaking his manners. The woman smiled briefly as she watched the boy wolf down his food, Stiles was a foul creature to let the boy live in such a state.
Slow down Little Mister, ya might bite those fingers off if yer not careful. Lordy child you stink. Her nose wrinkled at the odor coming from the young lad. The boy stopped eating and his face flushed with embarrassment.
Dont know where my other clothes are and dont want to ask for bath water.
Dont worry Little Mister Ole Hattie will think of something fer the clothes but this is fer that smell. She said as she slipped a small piece of soap into the boys hand. The old woman smiled before she gathered the tin bowl and left him once again with the long list of chores. The boy slipped the soap into his pocket watching Ole Hattie walk towards the main house. There was little to be thankful for the old woman was one and the other was right then his favorite time of day, he had to groom the horses, well that and the early mornings when he had to excise the younger horses. The privilege of exercising the horses was for no other reason than Ezra was the right size, Stiles was avid horseman and to the man it was another way to show the boy his place. Ezra just didnt see just what the error of his ways was.
The sun had set long before Ezra finished his chores and Ole Hattie was calling him for his meager supper cold chicken and dumplings left over from Stiles own plate as well as the other hands she wasnt allowed to give him anything but scraps like a dog. Not nearly enough for a growing boy she took pity on the boy and snuck an apple for him along with a clean set of her sons old clothes. Ezra shoveled the food into his mouth, eating the apple core and all.
Thank you. He didnt have the energy to say another word as he hugged the old woman.
Little Mister you clean up now and Ill see what I kin do bout getting them clothes washed up. Theres a bucket of warm water an a towel right here so better get to it quick like afore Mr. Stiles notices I been gone long.
The boy did as he was bid, as fast as he could he washed himself and changed into the clean attire. The woman smiled, taking the clothes and left with the sodden towel and clothing hidden in the wash bucket. Ezra curled up in his bedding and fell asleep feeling better than he had in weeks.
The morning came too fast the boy woke quickly and set about his morning chores. He was exhausted but his fear motivated him, one of his duties was to maintain the corral fences. Apparently sometime during the night one of the young horses tried to jump over knocking one of the rails down. The young palomino filly Buttercup had pulled up lame, Ezra rushed to her side and was relieved that it wasnt a serious injury. Before rushing off to get help he set the rail back in place. The boy ran back to the barn slamming into his Uncle. He forgot the rules.
Mr. Stiles He shouted instantly regretting the transgression when his uncle slapped him across the face.
Boy did you forget your place?
Ezra stared at him and dropped his head down.
I thought so What is so important that you forget your place?
Mr. Stiles one of this Fillies tried to jump the fence and pulled up lame.
Where is she boy?
Mr. Stiles shes on the far side of the corral.
Go back to the horse boy, Ill be there shortly.
Ezra returned to the injured filly, she nuzzled the front of his shirt as he rubbed her blaze. The boy saw his Uncle Matthias approaching with a pistol in hand.
No Dont please No.
Ezra stepped in front of the young horse. Stiles slapped the boy out of his way. The child started to cry as he lay on ground of the corral, and jumped the sound of the pistol and horses body hitting the earth. Mr. Stiles jerked the boy to his feet as he hissed.
Your manners are awful boy, they need to be corrected.
Ezra was dragged to the barn.
Defy me again boy and Ill take a strap to you. You still have to be punished no food until Sunday. That ought to give you time to think on your manners.
Sunday was four long days away no one was permitted to go anywhere near the boy. The young lad made it through two very long days before he noticed his uncle leaving for town and he snuck into the house taking an apple and a slice of bread. He was afraid to take more that it might be noticed. Ezra didnt know how he would make it through another day without food. Those hungry thoughts followed him into his dreams.
Pain exploded in his side ripping him from a deep sleep, Ezra tried to escape the painful attack before he was fully awake.
BASTARD . THIEVIN BASTARD . CANT MIND YOUR MANNERS I SAID NO FOOD
Green eyes popped open as his Stiles continued his tirade, the boy made the mistake of moving away from his uncles painful kicks.
OH NO YOU DONT BOY
Uncle Matthias looped a rope around one wrist and tied it firmly to a cast iron hitch then repeated the process on the other wrist splaying his young charge against the barn wall. The enraged man tore through the stable area until he found what he wanted a large rag and a riding crop. Tying a knot into the rag he grabbed the boys hair and snapped his head back.
OPEN YOUR MOUTH.
The pain alone made Ezra gasp, Uncle Matthias shoved the knot rag into his mouth made a crude gag, which the man tied tightly at the back of his head. The frightened lad felt the hot breath on his neck as Mr. Stiles leaned in close to say the words
Im going to correct your wicked ways Boy
Stiles stepped back and hit the boy across the back with the crop all his might behind each blow. Ezra screamed into the gag as the blows rained down on him igniting an agony that tore at every fiber of his being. His Uncle raged on spewing forth obscenities.
BASTARD HEATHEN DEVILS SPAWN
He only stopped when the crop broke and he realized the boy had passed out.
Son, its a hard lesson but I have to correct your misguided ways.
Matthias Stiles was breathing heavily when he removed the gag and undid the ties that bound the boy to the hitch. Ezra slumped to the ground and rolled away from the monstrous man.
DONT MOVE AWAY FROM ME BOY
Matthias Stiles grabbed his bastard nephew by the arm and pulled hard. There was an audible pop and the boy started screaming as his shoulder was pulled out of its joint only silenced when the man backhanded him into a stall door where he slid boneless to the floor.
The quiet songs of birds filtered into the barn. Cursing the boy slumped against the stall, he reached over snatched a handful of hair and pulled him to his feet. His nephew hung limply as he roughly threw him over his shoulder and carried him from the barn. Walking towards the house he stopped at the wood box, dropped the boy inside only after securing the lid with a padlock did he return inside his home and began to pack.
Ole Hattie started to worry when she returned to the Stiles house to find it empty. The hired hands were rounding up the horses.
Mizz Hattie replied Mr. Russell he was Mr. Stiles ranch boss she stopped as he was walking towards the corral.
Whats goin on?
Mr. Stiles decided to sell his horseflesh in the stockyards left his morning to set up an auction in Aberdeen, left instructions for you to close up the house and for the livestock to be sold off.
Wheres the child?
Dont rightly know maam, both of them werent here when I showed this morning. All I gots was a note.
The woman ran towards the barn ignoring her instructions. The boy was nowhere to be seen she looked into the stall were he slept the blankets were crumpled in a corner. A bloody rope hung from a hitch and there was bloody smeared on the door. The black woman began questioning anyone who crossed her path. No one saw the boy. She was about to check the house when she noticed a padlock on the kindling box a bloody handprint on the lid. Lord only knew where the key was. She found a stone and began to pound on the lock with no luck.
Damnation what are you doing woman? Mr. Russell asked startling Ole Hattie.
Got to open. The box, ...think...the boys in there. The old woman was gasping from her exertions.
Why didnt ya say so? The man rushed off returning with a pry bar and a hammer making short work of it by tearing the hasp away from the wood lid then he opened the box sending the lid crashing against the house revealing the battered and bloody child.
My God Im going to git Doc Henry.
Mizz Hattie, Ill git him myself after we the boy inside.
Mr. Russell gently removed the small boy following the old black woman into the kitchen and set the child down on the table.
Ill be right back. The mans words hung in the air even after the door slammed shut.
Hattie grabbed towels and placed them under the childs head. Brought a bowl of water with a rag and began to wipe the blood from the side of the boys face. The woman tended to Ezra and true to his word Mr. Russell had brought back the Doc.
Muffled voices were talking quietly of to the side of him.
Doc I apologize for bringing you out here like this.
Hattie you done the right thing. You should rest a moment. I want to have a good look at the boy, from what I see here he will need a fair amount of tending if hes going to see this through.
The boy was still confused as the darkness enveloped him once again.
Despite all her reservations Ole Hattie set up a room for the Little Mister after the doc said he couldnt travel and after the initial examination Doc Henry brought him into the room to tend to his injuries. The only blessing was the boy remained unconscious throughout the old sawbones ministrations. Setting the shoulder back into the place, old doctor stripped the boy of his clothes before applying salve to the bloody welts that covered the childs back and wrapped the cracked ribs. He finished off by bandaging the shoulder across Ezras chest and a putting few stitches to close the head wound.
Stiles do this like Russell says?
As God as my witness I believe he did.
Sheriff will have to be told.
You know he wont do nothing against Mr. Stiles.
Cant let him lay another hand on the boy, dont know if what hes done already wont kill the boy. The child is weak and has a fever.
Dont think hell be back anytime soon, least ways thats what Mr. Russell says.
Hope youre right Mizz Hattie. Im going to mix up a tea for the boy see if you can git him to take it. For the pain and fever.
Do my best Doc.
The old black woman smiled at the elderly doctor who smiled in turn and left the room.
Comfortable and warm, these sensations greeting him as he returned to the waking world four days later, Ezras head ached in tempo with his shoulder and ribs. His back hurt the pain it was almost bearable. He could her someone humming a soft tune next to the bed and the steady creaks of a rocking chair in motion. He furrowed his brow trying to remember and noise ceased.
Ole Hattie called to the injured child.
The boys eyes fluttered open, revealing the panic that sweep through him as the memories returned.
Little Mister its all right yer safe. Mr. Stiles left on business four days ago. Thirsty?
The boys fever had broken in hours earlier a thin sheen of sweat still covered his pale face. She watched as he tried to decide if his was or not. A weak nod. The woman gently lifted the boy helping him hold the tin cup of warm medicinal tea followed by a cool cup of water. She was about to lay him back on his side when he grasped her arm. The black woman sat down next to Ezra and tenderly held the frightened child until he drifted off to sleep again. Thankful that the boy was steadily recovering and she remained hopeful that their plan would work out.
Plumb wore out Mizz Hattie, the bump on his head aint whats keeping him asleep. Hes been out since the fever broke.
Werent right to leave the boy like that, busted and tore up.
You know Stiles did that to the boy, man has a mean streak.
The boy lay there listening, he moved slightly and the pain of his brutalized back caused him to groan.
Little Mister you awake?
In response to the question he opened his eyes and looked at her.
A brief nod.
I fetch that beef stew out the kitchen for ya Mizz Hattie an Im goin to bring back a cup of my tea.
Thanks Doc .
Ezra watched the grizzled old man leave the room.
Thats Doc Henry hes been looking in on ya whilst I been tending to ya.
Left five days ago, I got worried when I couldnt find ya in the morning it was almost night afore we found ya shut away in the kindling box. Thought you were dead.
Is he coming back?
Dont rightly know sent word to your ma though soon as yer well enough to travel yer going to yer cousins in San Francisco. Mrs. Peterson will take you there. The boy looked confused so Ole Hattie continued.
Mrs. Peterson says you works for her in Pine Gulch, only knows this cause we wanted to find out where yer ma was. Stagecoach driver says you come from Happenstance and when we wired there they says the little mister came from Pine Gulch. Thats when Mrs. Peterson stepped up and bullied the wire operator into find where yer ma was. I guess they had words and yer goin to yer cousins. That is after we get a little more food into ya.
Doc Henry had gone to the towns sheriff the day after he tended young Mr. Standish. The Doc charged into the sheriffs office demanding that Mr. Matthias Stiles be brought up on charges. The lawmen claimed there wasnt a thing he could do there were no witnesses to the alleged crime, that the word of the child meant nothing against the respected Mr. Stiles. The sheriff planned on turning a blind eye to the others aiding in the boys escape but he would nothing with the charges against Stiles.
Nine days later as young Ezra was once again on his way carpetbag and all, still snugly bandaged, heavily dosed with Doc Henrys medicinal teas and accompanied by the kind Mrs. Peterson and her hired man. Ole Hattie bid him a tearful farewell and already packed up to visit her own son, knowing she could not stay because Matthias Stiles was returning to Barstow later in the week.