This is fanfiction. No profit involved. It is based on the television
series “The Magnificent Seven”. No infringement upon the copyrights held by
CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved
with that production is intended.
RATING: PG for Language
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, Chris and the others
SUMMARY: How will the remaining seven lawmen react to the death of the seventh?
SPOILERS: Small spoiler for Ghosts of the Confederacy.
COMMENTS: Yes, please! Drop me a note, let me know what you think.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Kristen created the name of Ezra's Horse
DATE: March 25, 2000.
WARNING: This is a deathfic.
The Shade of Four Corners
By NotTasha - nothing witty to say about this one.
Chris saw the horses slowly approaching the town. The lone rider kept his head down, his shoulders hunched. A second horse was ponied behind and they made their way through the late summer day and into the long shadows thrown up by the buildings, into the shade of Four Corners. Chris felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck as he went out to meet the rider.
“Nathan?” Chris asked as he approached, “Where’s
Ezra?” He then noticed the travois behind Chaucer. The temperamental gelding
seemed unusually quiet.
Nathan had not answered him, but looked wearily down the street.
“Is he hurt bad?” Chris asked urgently as he tried to see around the following horse.
“He’s dead,” Nathan replied dully.
Chris was dumbstruck. He felt a coldness grip him as he looked back at the travois again. There was a body, completely wrapped in a colorful Seminole blanket, tied securely in place. “No,” Chris breathed.
“I wanted to bring him back gentle,” Nathan said slowly. “Couldn’t just tie him to the saddle.” He urged his horse forward, toward the building near the edge of town with the ominous “Undertakers” sign hanging above its door.
Chris followed, walking beside the shrouded body, not taking his eyes off of it. Ben Mack, the undertaker / cabinet-maker met them at the door. Ben was a perceptive man, quick to tell if his customers were coming to order a credenza or a coffin. The young man met them with a somber face.
Nathan slid off his horse and moved beside Chris. His pants were covered with blood and when his jacket moved away, Chris could see the stains on his shirt as well.
“Nathan,” Chris said urgently, staring at his friend’s clothing.
“Not mine,” Nathan replied. With a sigh he knelt down and started to untie the body from the platform. Chris leaned in to help, his hands moving carefully over the covered body. He couldn’t stop looking at it, knowing that Ezra was beneath that opaque cover - not moving, not breathing, not living.
The gunslinger wanted to help carry their friend into the building, but Nathan would not allow it. He pulled the blanketed form into his arms and lifted it up the steps and into the cool building belonging to Ben Mack. It was not the first time the healer had been here. During Ben’s short tenure in town, they had often brought business to the man. He'd brought his father when the time came, but this was the first time they had brought a friend. Jackson carefully set the body down on the table assigned to that purpose.
Ben looked between the two men and understood, as he understood everything. He had seen a world of grief in his young life, had prepared mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and friends. He could tell from their eyes that this was one of them, one of the Seven, one of the family. He had not spoken a word yet, but moved carefully and quietly around them.
Nathan was trembling, hardly able to stand. “Come on, Nate,” Chris whispered. “Ben will take care of him.”
“No,” Nathan said. “No, I’ll do it. I have to do it”
Ben nodded and finally spoke, “You need some rest, Mr. Jackson. I’ll keep an eye on him until tomorrow. It’ll be nice and cold tonight. You get some rest and we’ll do what needs to be done in the morning.”
Nathan looked at the kind-eyed undertaker. “I have to do it.”
Ben nodded again. “I know. I’ll keep him safe until then. You need your rest now.”
Nathan let Chris lead him out of the cool dim room and out across the street. The healer was barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Chris’ mind was racing with questions but at that moment all he wanted to do was to get Nathan to his room before he collapsed. He was thankful that the streets were empty.
When they passed the incomplete church, Josiah suddenly stepped out. His face, at first bright with the happiness of seeing his friend return, dimmed and filled with worry as he saw the expressions of his friends. “What’s wrong?”
Nathan said simply, “Ezra’s dead.”
The preacher brought his hand to his face and gasped, “Good Lord, no.” His eyes were wide in disbelief and hurt. His mouth dropped open, his mind full of questions that he couldn’t even begin to ask. Chris pulled Nathan into the church and Josiah followed. “Nathan, what happened?” Josiah demanded. Chris could hear the big man’s voice breaking. “What happened?”
The healer sat down heavily on the last pew in the church and held his face in his hands. “It was an accident.” He sighed and lowered his hands to look up at the other two, his eyes wet. Josiah and Chris sat down on either side of him.
“We went to the Seminole Village together. I wanted to check up on some of the folk there. Ezra said he was just comin’ for the ride.” Nathan shook his head. “He had gathered up those kids and was showin’ them card tricks, you know, like he always does...” He stopped, swallowed and corrected himself, “…Like he always did.”
“Then, for payment, he got the kids to show him stunts. They were doin’ somersaults and cartwheels and everyone was laughing. The kids started to bring stuff to show him: needlework, beadwork, carvings, things like that. He was just sittin’ there, praising all the things that they showed him, like a king. They were drinking it all in.”
“Then this boy came over with a ... a shotgun -- just to show it to Ezra -- but he was aiming it into the other kids.” Nathan gestured. “Ezra stood up and he grabbed the barrel. He said, ‘Never...’.” Nathan stopped. He stared off over the pews. Josiah put a hand on his shoulder. “He was tellin’ the kid to never aim a weapon at people. He was saying it softly, like he didn’t want the adults to hear. He wasn’t mad at the boy.”
“It went off,” Nathan whispered. “I was only few yards from him. I tried to help but...oh God, Chris, he took the blast right in his chest. There was nothing I could do.” The healer was sobbing now. Josiah pulled the man close to him, putting a protective arm over the healer. For several minutes, Nathan couldn’t speak. Josiah and Chris said nothing, sitting on the last pew in the otherwise empty church.
Finally, the healer continued, “All I could do was hold onto him for a few moments. I don’t think he knew I was there. He said, ‘Not your fault, an accident, not your fault’. That was it. And he was gone.”
The three men sat in the darkened church and cried. Chris
realized he had not done so in a very long time, but the sorrow that hit him
now, that one of their own was gone, was too much for him. How could Ezra be
gone, so quickly and so pointlessly? Laughing and playing with a bunch of kids
one moment and then uselessly gunned down the next. It was so wrong.
He blinked his eyes against the tears and looked to Josiah. The big man was hunched over, his head in his hands, crying without embarrassment. Sanchez pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and held it in his hands, wringing the cloth. Chris handed his bandana to Nathan who hardly noticed it as it was passed to him.
They’d lost him. They’d lost Ezra.
Nathan finally took the offered cloth, wiped his face, blew his nose and wadded it in his hands. “I have to go sit with him,” he said finally. “I can’t leave him there alone tonight.”
“No, Nathan. Go home.” Chris rubbed his eyes. “Josiah, take him. Get him to mix up something to help him sleep. Stay with him.”
“I will, Chris,” Josiah pledged stoically.
“I can’t leave Ezra alone,” Nathan exclaimed.
“I’ll go,” Chris replied. “I’ll sit with him tonight. You’ll come back in the morning.”
With a weary sigh, Nathan accepted this and let Josiah help him to his feet. Chris watched as the two men made their way out of the church and towards the clinic. They looked like drunks as they leaned on each other and walked uncertainly toward their target. Chris remained a minute more at the door and then he headed to Ben Mack’s. The horses were gone from the front of the shop. He could see the boys from the livery standing in the doorway of their building, watching him as he walked the long way back to the undertaker’s through the now dark street.
Ben was in the room. He had unwrapped the blanket from the body, and had carefully draped the covering over the body, as if the gambler were merely sleeping, as if the blanket might take out that chill that had ruthlessly settled in him. The undertaker looked up as Larabee entered and said, “I’m sorry. I always liked him.”
Ben moved away as Chris stepped forward. Larabee silently stood beside the conman. The blanket had been laid to his neck to hide the damage caused by the accident. He didn’t really look as if he were asleep, Chris thought sadly. No, even in sleep, Ezra had a restlessness to him, like a spring ready to pop given the right encouragement, so full of life and energy. There was no life here.
“Ah, Ezra, I’m sorry,” Chris sighed as he looked at Ezra’s pale and blood-splattered face. It seemed so wrong to find him like this. It was so unlike him. “Ben, could you get me a basin of water?”
“Sure, Mr. Larabee,” Ben responded.
Chris waited. He would never again hear that ridiculously expensive vocabulary. Never have those green eyes narrowed in his direction. He laid his hand on the gambler’s unfeeling shoulder. No more laughter or sly wit, no more intelligent discussions, no more games or banter, no more fierce and secret loyalty, no more irritation or badgering, no more doubting.
Ben returned quickly with a large metal basin and some towels. “Do you need anything else, Mr. Larabee?”
“No, Ben,” the gunslinger said. “You can go to bed. I’ll stay with him.”
The young undertaker nodded and slipped way soundlessly.
Chris pulled a chair beside the table and dipped a cloth into the water. He watched the towel soak into the liquid and then he pulled it clear. He wrung it out slowly and brought it to Ezra’s face. With great patience, he carefully washed the blood from his friend’s face. It had dried into his hair, into his ears, and back behind his head. He worked slowly and intently, knowing that Ezra would not want to be seen this way, not want to appear so dirty or unkempt.
He was so young, Chris thought. He forgot sometimes how young Ezra really was, too young. Chris was careful and slow in all his movements, as if he may hurt the man. He felt so cold. Ezra always hated being cold. This was so damn wrong.
When he was finished, he set the reddened water aside and continued his vigil.
He sat back in his chair, waiting for nothing. The night was a chilly as Ben promised. Larabee found a clean blanket on a shelf and wrapped it around himself. Even wrapped up in wool, he couldn’t get the chill from him. He sat down again in that chair beside Ezra and rested his head against the wall.
He fell asleep at some point in the quiet night. It was morning when he was awakened by the sound of a door swinging shut. He looked up to see Vin standing beside him.
“I knew something was wrong,” Vin said slowly, his face still. The tracker stepped across the room and stared at the body. He pulled off his hat and clenched it in his hands. Chris could see the tracker’s knuckles growing white with the intensity of his hold.
Chris stood, letting his blanket drop, and put an arm around Vin’s shoulders. The tracker asked no questions and the two men were silent for several moments until Chris spoke. “I have to send a telegram.”
Vin nodded. “I’ll stay with him.”
Chris released the tracker and headed to the door. He paused before he left the room, gazing back at Vin, who hadn’t moved yet. Tanner just continued to grip that hat as he stood beside his friend.
The morning was too bright as he made his walk. At the telegraph office, Chris wrote out the note to Maude. At least they knew where she was – Ezra had been laughing about her latest adventure two nights ago. Goddamn – he’d never hear those stories again.
The telegram was the hardest thing he had ever written. “WITH DEEPEST REGRETS. COME TO FOUR CORNERS IMMEDIATELY. EZRA KILLED IN ACCIDENT. AWAITING RESPONSE FOR FUNERAL PLANS.” He damned the telegraph process and the inhumane way it made him send the message. He handed the note to Mr. Juje, the telegraph operator. Juje gasped when it read it.
“Keep it under your hat,” Chris said as he paid the operator and left before he had to say any more.
As he headed back to Ben’s shop, he heard laughter and saw Buck and JD headed toward the jail. The sound seemed so discordant with everything. Chris looked on soberly as the two men laughed uproariously at some joke. Buck was slapping JD on the back as they disappeared into the jail.
Chris was angry at their callousness until he came to a realization. They didn’t know yet, he told himself, and then turned toward the jail and made his way inside.
“Hey, Chris,” JD called as the gunslinger stepped into the building. The young sheriff was leaning back in his chair, smiling broadly. “Listen to this one, it’s pretty good.”
“JD, Buck,” Chris said, his tone telling both men to be quiet.
“What’s up?” Buck responded.
“Ezra got shot yesterday. He’s dead.” It sounded so strange to say those words so bluntly, such deadly words.
JD’s mouth dropped open. “No, you’re wrong. He’s just ... just... you know.... It’s a con or something.”
“What?” Buck spat. He reached for his rifle. “Where’s the bastard who done it?”
“No, Buck...” Chris started.
“Where the hell is the son of a bitch?” Buck was headed to the door. “He’s gonna pay, dammit. Get everyone together. We’re riding!”
“Let me explain.”
“I don’t give a shit. Nobody hurts my friend and gets away with it. Nobody does this!" He shook his head sharply, his face tight with rage. "I’m goin’ with or without you.”
“It was an accident.”
Buck swung around, his eyes fierce. “Doesn’t matter. I’m bringin’ him in. Who done it?” Wilmington stepped toward Chris, ready to fight his friend for the information. “Tell me!”
“A kid up at the Seminole village,” Chris started.
“No, he’s just foolin’ us,” JD declared anxiously. “He’s just pullin’ something.”
“The kid had a shotgun. Didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Chris continued. “Accident.”
“Someone’s gotta pay for it,” Buck said, slamming his hand into the desk. “It can’t be just an accident.”
“It’s just a gag,” JD tried. “He just wants to get out of work, that’s all.”
Buck moved over to the young sheriff and commanded, “Shut up, JD.” And then turned to Chris. “That’s all? Some damn kid shot him by accident? That’s the way it’s gotta end?”
Chris nodded, swallowing tightly. “Ezra’s at Ben’s right now. I just sent a telegram to his mother. We’ll get him fixed up and wait for Maude.”
“Ya guys don’t get it,” JD babbled on. “He’s just pulling something on us. You know Ezra.”
Buck lowered the rifle, letting the butt end rest on the ground. His expression had fallen. Without the fierceness, without a target to attack, Buck felt helpless.
Chris sighed as he looked on the frantic eyes of the sheriff. “Keep an eye on JD, Buck. Keep him here for now, until we’re ready. I gotta go back.”
Buck nodded and Chris quickly left the jail.
When Chris returned to Ben’s shop, he found Vin sitting beside Ezra, talking quietly to him with one hand on the gambler’s head. The blanket that Chris had used the night before had been thrown over the body on top of the others, as if Vin couldn’t stand for Ezra to be so cold.
Chris watched for a moment. Vin, who preferred silence to speech, was talking one-sidedly to the gambler. Whatever was being said, was private. Still, Larabee could catch the tone of Tanner’s voice, the horrible sorrow and the intensity, as if Vin was determined to make sure something was said to Ezra before he was put underground.
Chris stepped back, letting Vin have some privacy yet. He never would have figured that the tracker and the gambler would have become friends, but there was some silent knowledge shared between the two. They both had had their fill of loneliness and abandonment in their lives and both could read people with ease. It was a skill he admired in these two men. Only one now, Chris thought ruefully.
Ben appeared and motioned to him. He followed the undertaker into a large back room, the woodshop. The young man led him past the wardrobes, chests, dressers and tables to where the coffins were carefully stacked in the back.
“I got a shipment of cherry-wood a while ago,” Ben said. “I was going to use it for a chiffonnier, but the man who wanted it left town, so I thought I’d use it for a coffin.”
He carefully pulled back a blanket from one of the coffins at the bottom of the stack, revealing the bright red wood. The box stood out from the plainer pine around it. “After it was done, I thought it was too bright a thing. Not right for a coffin. I figured I’d have to take it apart eventually. But I’m thinkin’ maybe Mr. Standish would like it.”
Chris smiled. “That would be just right, Ben,” he said. “Thank you.”
Nathan and Josiah had arrived by the time they left the back room. Sanchez and Jackson had stopped by Ezra’s room and had brought a clean set of clothing, including his favorite red jacket. Josiah held the clothing as Nathan carried his meager medical kit. “I gotta get all that lead outta him,” Nathan said. “I can’t let him go like that.”
Chris sat back against the wall with Vin, while Nathan and Josiah stripped off the perforated, blood-stiffened clothing. Chris could not bear to see the size of the wound that had vanquished the man. How could so much damage be caused unintentionally? Nathan began his work on the unresisting conman.
Chris flinched at the sound of buckshot being dropped into a pan, so many little pellets. Ben was always nearby, bringing whatever was needed, offering help when he could. The process of removing the shot seemed to take forever. Once that was done, Nathan did what he could to stitch up the worst of it, but Josiah finally stopped him, realizing a certain franticness had invaded the healer’s work. Vin and Chris went back to get the red coffin while Nathan and Josiah washed the remainder of the blood and debris from the body.
Josiah sat on the wooden chair with a woeful sigh as he took up the basin of water and carefully washed Ezra’s hands, getting the blood out from around the fingernails. Josiah patted the hand when he was done, as if to reassure the gambler – and then let out another slow sigh.
They dressed him next. Ben was well-skilled in this art, but let Nathan and Josiah do most of the work. The clothing had to be cut to fit onto the stiffening body. It was strange to think of Ezra as just ‘a body’. Josiah sighed as the fine material was rent, knowing how Ezra would complain. His eyes grew moist again, knowing that he’d never again hear the conman sigh over ruined clothing.
Chris made sure that the derringer was in place once the snow-white shirt was buttoned.
“He won’t be needed that any longer, brother Chris,” Josiah stated somberly.
“He’ll feel better if he had it with him,” Chris replied as he clicked the little gun into the rig. “You know how he can get into trouble.”
Vin picked up the red jacket. He felt the pockets and came up with a deck of cards. “Gotta be sure he has these,” Vin said. “Ezra’d be mighty upset with us if we let him go without ‘em.” He found a book in the other pocket and thumbed through it for a moment. Poetry. That would go, too. They ensured that his flask was full and that he had $20 in his boot, to start up a game.
Chris picked Ezra’s pocket watch from the pile of mangled clothing and cleaned it off slowly. It had made it through the incident unscathed. Chris knew that it meant a lot to the gambler. He wound it and then placed it in Ezra’s vest pocket. He kept his hand there for a moment longer, feeling the thrum of the watch and imagining that it could be a heartbeat.
Josiah painstakingly brushed the gambler’s hair, ensuring that not a hair was out of place, and straightened his cravat. When they were finished, the four of them lifted him and carefully laid Ezra in his coffin. His arms were folded and familiar black hat was settled on his chest.
The men stood back were silent again. There was nothing that could be said.
Buck and JD finally came to the shop. Buck seemed to be dragging the young man with him. JD’s eyes glanced for a moment at the box and then at the other five men. “It’s not true,” he whispered again. “It can’t be.”
Buck led him firmly to the coffin and the two men looked down. JD started to sob miserably, and Buck held onto the young man tightly, as much for his own comfort as for the sheriff’s. The six had lost their seventh.
Casper Juje came running from the telegraph office. His pace slacked and he came to a stop, pausing as if to gather his courage before entering the solemn room. “Mr. Larabee,” he said and handed him the note. The boy glanced for a moment at the strangely red coffin before he ran out again, not waiting for the customary tip.
Larabee shook his head slowly as he read the wire. “She can’t come,” he said angrily. “She said she’ll send a letter explaining.” The others knew without asking who the message was from.
They buried Ezra. And the six tried to return to their usual lives.
Midnight had come and gone. The day that they buried Ezra had passed. Though dark -- a new day had begun – their first day without Ezra. Chris sat alone in the empty saloon, drinking. He glanced to the table where Ezra usually held court with his endless poker games. Chris remembered how bored the gambler always looked, his face a blank, no tells. Ezra would be leaned back, casually, as if he wasn’t really paying attention. He would be drinking a shot or two, making it look like he was getting a little tipsy perhaps, but nothing would escape his attention. At that table, Ezra was in command. It was an impressive thing to watch. Chris frowned, realizing that he would never see that again.
How could he be dead? Such a senseless and pointless thing. Just an accident. It didn’t seem right. Chris wished desperately that there were something he could have done. If he had only realized what was going to happen, he could’ve changed things. What was Ezra doing out there anyway? Chris should have kept Ezra here. Now he was dead. Chris was supposed to be taking care of this team and he had failed.
Larabee never planned to be a leader, never meant for anyone to look up to him. Yet this group of men depended on him. He had gained Ezra’s trust slowly over time, a strange and intricate dance. The gambler had been reluctant to trust and suspicious of everything, an un-tethered soul who saw no point in making attachments to anything. Yet, he stayed here and become part of this town. Why? He was needed here.
Chris didn’t think he would miss the gambler so much. He didn’t think that they would have ended up needed him so badly, that the hole he would leave behind would be so vast. Chris sighed, realizing that Ezra would be alive if he had just left Four Corners long ago. If Chris had just let Ezra go, if he hadn’t tried to tie that conman down.
“What the hell am I doing, anyway,” Chris muttered. “I got no right leading these men, letting them die. I got no right.” God, he needed to be blind-drunk.
The half-empty bottle seemed to dance in his blurred vision. He picked up the bottle slowly and tried to pour himself another glass, but ended up missing it entirely. He put one hand on glass and tried again, pouring the liquor on the table.
“Damn it to hell,” Chris growled, giving up the glass.
He lifted the bottle to his mouth, but his hand suddenly lost his grip on it. The bottle clattered first to the table and then crashed onto the floor, spraying glass and whiskey everywhere.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered. Chris considered getting another bottle from the bar, but if he were this drunk already, he’d better call it a night.
He stood, and was surprised that he could still do it. Maybe he wasn’t as drunk as he thought. He glanced back at the bar but figured he’d might as well get going. He walked slowly out of the saloon and headed to his home.
Two days after they buried their friend, Nathan paced slowly around the clinic. He couldn’t relax, couldn’t calm down. He was so close when it happened. Why couldn’t he have done anything to help? He called himself a healer and yet he could do nothing as Ezra died before his eyes.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed. If he'd only were more skilled. If he'd only was faster. If he'd only known what to do, he might have been able to save Ezra’s life. If he had seen the boy coming. If he had seen the shotgun. If he had stopped Ezra from grabbing the gun barrel. If he had stopped Ezra from playing with those kids. If everyone wasn’t laughing. If he had ridden out alone that day. If he had left Ezra behind. It was his fault entirely.
He ran over it in his head. Ezra saying, “Never...” , the
horrible sound of the shot, Ezra’s cry of surprise and pain. He could still
see the front of Ezra’s white shirt, red with blood, so much blood. Ezra,
sinking to his knees -- his face startled and white, his eyes wide and
terrified. The children screaming, but not moving -- their parents running to
them. The boy standing still -- the
shotgun slack in his hand, his eyes wide as saucers.
Nathan remembered grabbing for Ezra, catching him before he hit the ground and holding him tightly and uselessly -- muttering unheard and empty assurances. Ezra’s voice gasping out, “It’s not your fault, an accident, not your fault.” Ezra’s eyes, bright and going dim.
Nathan could do nothing, nothing but hold onto Ezra for a moment as he gasped and shuddered and died. Ezra didn’t even know he was there. If he only were a better healer, if he only noticed the boy, if only.
“I’m useless,” Nathan muttered. “Damn it! I couldn’t do anything! I let him die.”
‘Not your fault, an accident, not your fault.’ He could hear the words repeating in his head.
“It was an accident, Nathan.”
He turned his head sharply.
“Nathan, it wasn’t your fault.”
Three days after they buried their friend, Vin walked through the dark town, dark thoughts clouding his mind. He had little time in his life to form tight bonds with anyone. How in the hell had he tied himself so tightly to this place? These people? These men? That man?
He’d been a loner all his life, living by his wits, and he found a similar soul in Ezra. They were as different as night and day but the two of them had found an understanding, had come to appreciate each other…no, to truly like each other, to love each other as brothers.
The tracker ran his hand against his eyes, hating the fact that Standish was gone, wanting to have him back. How could you go, Ez? Vin thought as he walked. How could you go?
He looked up when he saw a horse walking aimlessly through the street. It moved from one side of the street to the other, slowly making its way through the town, nickering and tossing its head in confusion. He approached it slowly, muttering soothingly to it. As he drew closer, he realized it was Chaucer.
“Shhh,” he said to the loose animal that pulled away from him, its eyes angry.
“Quiet now,” Vin said softly, lifting a hand easily toward it. Chaucer again pulled away. His head wavered back and forth as if searching for something.
Vin sighed sadly, “Sorry, fella, he ain’t here no more.” He knew that the boys at the livery were taking care of the horse, but nobody could lavish all the attention of Ezra. “Come on, fella, I’ll take you back.”
The horse made a move to bite him and then skittered away, further down the street, whinnying, calling. Vin had forgotten about Chaucer in these past days, his own pain was enough for him. He missed that damned gambler, felt his absence like the shadow of a cloud on an otherwise bright day. Vin hadn’t thought about how much the animal would miss its owner. He sure as hell missed that damn cardsharp, but that cunning and spoiled horse had no one but Ezra.
Vin reached again and the horse moved away. “Just as stubborn as your owner,” he sighed. He followed the lost horse quietly, until it turned toward him. Its eyes went wild and it reared.
Vin took three stumbling steps to get away from the furious animal as its hooves slashed above his head. It snorted and stomped, wanting to smash something. Vin fled backward, afraid for his life. But it stopped suddenly and pricked up its ears, then nickered softly, calmly. Chaucer shuddered and nodded. With a happy snort, the horse cantered quietly back toward the livery. Vin followed it in disbelief, finding it back in its own stall, a content look on its face.
On the fourth day after the burial, Buck sat at the poker table, playing rather poorly. He didn’t know the other men at the table and he didn’t care. He was losing. When he was losing to Ezra, at least there was some fun in it. He could win a hand every so often, enjoy a laugh or two, find enjoyment in the game, but there was no winning tonight. His heart just wasn’t in it. He wished that there was something he could have done, some way to fix this. He played listlessly, finding no joy in the diversion.
The player across from him was a large man with a white Stetson, graying hair and a grim look on his face. He was the one that was winning everything.
The deck was shuffled and his cards dealt. Buck smiled to see the Ace of Spades end up in his hand, Ezra’s calling card. The other cards fell very nicely into place. He drew two and ended up with a full house, Aces over Sevens. He looked up at the man across from him and noticed a strain in that face. His head was darting back and forth and he said, “Do you hear that?”
The others at the table looked at him and Buck asked, “Hear what?”
“Nothin’!” The man grumbled angrily. The game was called and Stetson played his cards, three of a kind.
Buck smiled and revealed his first winning hand of the night. The man in the Stetson looked at him in disbelief. The game continued and the man seemed to become more nervous, glancing furtively over his shoulder. His hat would tip suddenly over his eyes and he would angrily force it back into position.
Buck once again was dealt the Ace of Spades. He drew one and looked at it in disbelief as a flush formed in his hand. Again he won and the man in the Stetson was again incredulous. The stranger whipped his head around and barked, “Who said that!”
Stetson stepped violently back from the table, almost as if shoved. He looked terrified as his hands came down and Buck saw three cards fall out of his sleeve and flutter to the ground. The only thing that kept the others at the table from attacking Stetson was the quick intervention of Chris and Josiah.
The stranger was pulled out of the saloon and sent on his way, admonished to never try cheating again in this town and the man seemed relieved to be gone. Buck stood beside Josiah and Chris on the boardwalk, watching the cheater hurry away. “What was that all about?” Chris asked.
“Dunno,” Buck said. “He musta got himself a conscience or something.”
On the fifth day after the burial, a group of outlaws came upon the town, intent on robbing the bank. The gang had heard that the lawmen had lost one of their own and thought it was time to try them. The six went after the criminals, feeling somewhat unbalanced without their seventh. They took position along the street and, when the gunfight erupted, everyone dove for cover.
JD waited around the corner of the saddle-shop, waiting for his moment to get a shot at them. He was tired, not having slept well lately. He kept thinking about Ezra and the unfairness of it all. How could Ezra, his friend, be taken so quickly from them? He missed the gambler terribly. Missed his humor and his way with words. Missed the way he drove Chris crazy -- missed his comments and complaints. Missed his jokes and his wry smile. Missed his decency and his meticulous ways. Missed seeing him saunter down the streets and hearing him call, ‘Mr. Dunne’. Just missed him.
JD heard the sound of men running toward him. He drew back and prepared to fire when a heavy weight hit him on the shoulder, forcing him to the ground.
A shot careened off the wall above him, sending a shower of shattered wood down on the young sheriff’s head. Panting, he looked up at hole in the wall above him, exactly where his head had been a second ago. He rubbed his shoulder and thought about what had just happened. What could have possibly hit him?
On the sixth day after the burial, Josiah walked slowly through his dim church, thinking about the past week and all the sorrow it contained. Losing Ezra was like losing a son, losing something terribly dear to him. “Why, dear Lord, “ Josiah prayed, “Why must things like this happen?” There had been so much hope for the gambler, so much promise.
The young man had been dealt a difficult hand in life and had made what he could of it. Standish was making a difference here in this little town. Josiah remembered how many people had come to the funeral. The word had gotten out and people from throughout the area had come on short notice to attend. The ceremony had stretched on as people came up to speak on Ezra’s behalf. Little unknown kindnesses were revealed. Josiah wished that Ezra had known how much he had been appreciated.
A group of Seminoles had arrived after the ceremony, when the sky grew dark, their faces heavy with grief. They had brought the boy with them, who was silent, and intensely regretful.
Josiah picked the letter out of his pocket again and reread it. It had arrived that morning and Maude had addressed the letter to him, perhaps feeling that he would be sympathetic to her. She explained her absence in that she would not have been able to travel the distance in time for the funeral. And now that her darling boy had been buried, she saw no reason to hurry. She would come when she could, but did not give a date.
Josiah sighed, wondering how many times that message had gone to Ezra in the past. How many times had Maude told him that she was not coming, would come for him later when it was more convenient?
“I am sorry, son,” Josiah said softly.
He smiled when he thought he heard a voice reply slyly, “I’m not your son, Josiah.”
A week after the burial, the six remaining lawmen sat around their regular table. It was the first time since the funeral that the men were all together. They sat in silence, not knowing what to say anymore. Who would have thought that the death of the irresponsible gambler would have affected them all so greatly?
Buck glanced up at the poker table, where a lethargic game was in progress. “I won a few hands the other night,” he said off hand. “Funny, I kept getting the Ace of Spades.” He smiled. “Made me think ol’ Ezra was shuffling the deck. He even tossed out a cheater. Strangest thing I ever saw.”
JD looked up at him in wonder and asked, “You think it was him?”
Buck laughed. “Nah, JD, I was just thinkin’, that’s all.”
JD frowned and spoke softly, “‘Cause I thought maybe it was him that got me out of the way. Something knocked me down when those guys were shooting up the town. I would’a been killed if it hadn’t happened. I think it was Ezra lookin’ out for me.”
The other men exchanged glances and Nathan said quietly, “I thought I heard him say something to me once."
“I had the same experience just yesterday,” Josiah added. “I thought it was just my old mind playing tricks.” Josiah then added, “I talked to the Semole elders when they were here after the funeral. It seems that boy went into the hills intent on killing himself for what he’d done. He tried to throw himself off a cliff but something held him back, wouldn’t let him move until the others reached him. They figured it was some form of magic; something didn’t want that boy to die.”
Vin looked contemplative for a moment and added, “I found Chaucer in the street a while back. Couldn’t quiet him, but he just suddenly went all calm on me and it was almost like someone walked ‘im back to the livery.”
Chris looked from one man to the other in disbelief. This couldn’t be true. They were just missing their friend, making up things to make him more real to them. Chris remembered the night of the funeral, and the half-empty bottle, how he couldn’t pour himself another glass. Was Ezra trying to cut him off? It was impossible to contemplate such a thing. Was Ezra still with them?
“He hasn’t gone,” JD said. “He’s still here.”
“You think his ghost is haunting us?” Josiah asked.
“Well,” JD said, “Not haunting really.”
“Just hangin’ around,” Vin supplied.
“Do you think it’s because of what Chris told him?” JD asked innocently.
“About what?” the gunslinger questioned abruptly.
“You know, about never running out again.”
Chris drew in a breath. That was so long ago. “He wasn’t bothered by that all this time, was he?” Chris asked.
Vin looked at their leader and said, “He always thought about that.”
On the eighth day after the burial, Chris rode out of town and into the surrounding countryside. The day had been clear and pale and mild. He had to get away for a while. The sorrow that hung over Four Corners was too much right now. He wondered about the conversation that he’d had with the others the day before. How could Ezra have been bothered by that comment for so long? Why did he take it so to heart?
Damn it, Chris thought, it was his own fault that Ezra was dead. If he hadn’t tied the conman to this town, Standish would still be alive. He’d be far from here, but alive. Damn ironic that Standish would be killed in the very village where he’d run out on them, and turned back – turned back only to meet his death. Ezra, if you’d only kept riding...
It's my fault, isn’t it? Chris considered. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. Damn it all!
His horse startled suddenly, misstepping and then rearing back in alarm. Chris, distracted, and not looking up, was thrown. It wasn’t a hard fall. He should have stood and dusted off his pants, looking around to see if anyone had witnessed his embarrassment. But, his head slammed against a rock as he hit the ground and everything dimmed.
He blinked against the blackness that filled his head. Must wake up, he thought. Must wake up. He struggled against it, trying to rise, until he felt someone take hold of him and settle him back to the ground.
“It’d be best if you stayed still,” a familiar voice said. “Quiet now. You'll only aggravate your injury with unnecessary movement.”
Chris looked up through the haze and saw Ezra sitting on his heels next to him. “Not to worry, Chris, our compatriots will be here shortly.”
“Ezra?” Chris rasped.
“I would say ‘in the flesh,’ but that would be entirely incorrect,” Ezra replied glibly.
Chris let that sink in a moment. “So it was you all those times,” he sighed. “You get around.”
“It’s easy when you’re no longer corporeal.”
Chris tried to focus on him, but the image wavered in and out. “You’re a ghost?” he asked.
“That’s one word for it. I need you to stay quiet now. They’ll be here momentarily.”
The shade smiled. “They need only follow Chaucer. He’ll be leaving now and they will follow. He won’t be easily captured.”
Chris blinked his eyes, trying to see the land around him, but it was all a gray blur. He couldn’t see anything but Ezra right now. The gambler was dressed as they had buried him in his red jacket and black low-crown hat, not quite in focus, but clear enough. “Why?”
The ghost looked perplexed. “Because they must find you. They can’t stand to lose you now, my friend.”
Chris thought for a moment about that, realizing how devastated the group would be to lose another member so soon. They were barely handling the death of Ezra.
Chris fought to form words. “I meant, why are you still here?”
“Because I must be,” Ezra replied.
“Because of what I said?”
Ezra cocked his head at the gunslinger and said, “About not runnin’ out?”
“Partially, I would think.”
“You can go,” Chris said quietly. “You must know that.”
Ezra smiled. “I’m well aware of what I can and cannot do, Chris. I’m also aware of what I must do and for now I must be here.” Chris felt his consciousness wavering, the blackness coming, and heard Ezra say distinctly, “They’ll be comin’ soon. They’ll help you. You must fight a bit to remain. Don’t let go.”
Chris blinked his eyes. “Why must you stay?”
“Because I like it here. Because I like the idea of stayin’. Because I’m needed still.”
Chris wished he could focus better, wished he could clearly see Ezra. He looked watery and indistinct. If he relaxed the gambler would come into better focus, but Ezra quickly chided him, telling him to remain, to fight, that the others would be coming.
“We miss havin’ you ‘round,” Chris finally said.
“I know. I’m sorry I had to go. It wasn’t my plan, you must understand. It was an accident. No one’s fault.
“It was a pretty crummy thing to happen.”
“That’s the way of things,” Ezra said with a sigh. “The motives of the Fates are often difficult to understand.” And after a moment he asked, “Will you do me a favor?”
“Will you sell my belongings for me?”
The request hit Chris strangely. He hadn’t considered the disposal of Ezra’s possessions. “We were waitin’ for your mother...”
“She won’t come,” Ezra explained. “She doesn’t want to admit what happened. Maybe in a while, a year or so, she’ll see fit to grace this lovely burg with her presence. Perhaps she shall never come.”
Chris sighed. He remembered his anger when she refused to come to the funeral, and the indifferent letter that followed. How could a mother not come to her own son’s funeral? “I’m sorry, Ezra.”
Ezra smiled thoughtfully. “That’s nothing to be sorry about. I know most certainly that my mother loves me more than she can handle. She simply can’t stand to think of me as dead, my friend. She feels that there was something that needed to be corrected between us and now that this is no longer possible, she is somewhat devastated.”
“Why don’t you talk to her? The others say they’ve been hearin’ you.”
Ezra grinned. “It’s difficult to reach someone when they’re lucid and she is one of the most lucid people on the planet. Besides, I’ve never been able to talk to my mother. Don’t be angry with her for not comin’.”
“I’ll try not to.”
“Regarding my possessions,” Ezra said, “My horse shall not be sold. You’ll see to it that he is cared for throughout his life. The gentlemen at the livery know what he likes, but you and the others may take a moment to give him some attention from time to time. See that someone exercises him daily. Nothing too strenuous, mind you, but he does enjoy company.”
“I’d like my library to go to Vin.”
“His reading skills are getting better every day. He should be encouraged. Give JD my guns, he’s always liked them. He appreciates a good weapon.”
Chris wanted to nod, but his head hurt too badly. He felt disconnected and numb. “Okay, Ezra.”
“Make certain that Buck receives my new saddle. His is in a deplorable state, shameful really. Chaucer will get along handily with the older one. He’s familiar with it, and he likes familiarity. You’ll do that?”
“My wardrobe should be packaged and sent to a man in Eagle Bend, a haberdasher by the name of Edwards. He will find a buyer and get a decent price. Don’t try to sell it in any other way. Mr. Edwards is a fine businessman and understands the worth of well-made clothing.”
“Yeah, okay, Ezra.”
“That would account for the majority of my possessions. The furniture and my room are rented of course. The rest is but trifles. Sell it if you can. Under my bed, just inside the northeast bedpost there is a loose board. You’ll have to manipulate it a bit, but you’ll be able to remove it. Under the floor is approximately $1,000. Send $300 of that to a man named Lund in San Francisco. You’ll find the address in my bed stand.”
“I’ve been paying for something on installment. That will finish the obligation.”
“What is it?”
“A surgical kit for Nathan. Quite the best possible, really. Make certain that Lund sends it immediately. That is what you will give to Nathan for me.”
Chris puzzled, “How long have you been payin’ for it?”
“It doesn’t matter. I simply felt it was necessary to keep the man properly furnished with all of the most modern and professional equipment. You’ll ensure that he understands that this has nothing to do with that incident concerning my poor judgment and the shotgun.”
“Also, please tell him that I knew he was with me after it happened,” Ezra’s voice was quiet. “That his presence helped me tremendously.”
Chris tried to nod again. “Yeah, I will.”
“Another $300 is to go toward the continued care of my horse. He should get a sweet every day-or-so, otherwise he may lose his temper.”
“That’s a lot a money for a horse.”
“Chaucer is used to only the best and I’m expecting him to live a long time. What’s left will be added to the money received from the sale. You will give this to Josiah for the continued restoration of the church and whatever he sees fit. You will do this for me?”
“Yes, Ezra, of course.”
"There's a few things in that box. Burn the letters, the photographs. They'll mean nothing to anyone other than myself. The rest..." he paused and sighed, "...is mostly trifles. If any of the others want it, let them divide it as they see fit."
Chris blinked and muttered, “I'll have it done.”
“Make certain you remember everything when you return to the others. You must remember. This is important to me and should give you incentive to go back. You must go back.”
“Why didn’t you write this down somewhere?”
“I saw no purpose in creating a Will. I never considered the fact that anyone would want anything of mine. But after seeing the lot of you over the past few days and the horrible pallor this incident has placed over you, I felt that this might help. You’ll need to awaken so you can carry this out for me.”
“I’ll do it. What about your mother?”
“She is not the sentimental type and wants nothing of me. She is a remarkable woman. I wish had gotten to know her better.” He smiled sadly. “Perhaps you should send her a letter and tell her that I hold nothing against her and that I love her dearly.”
“This favor of yours is getting awful large.”
“There was something else,” the ghost paused. “Oh yes, I’d like you to have my pocket watch.”
Chris sighed, “Ezra, we buried it with you.”
“Really, Chris, you should never bury something like that. What good is a timepiece to those beyond time? My grandfather gave it to me and I promised him that I would see that it was always properly cared for. It’s in Ben Mack’s shop. Look between the table and the wall.”
“You pinched it?”
“Yes, I pinched it. I have no need for a timepiece any longer. I’d like you to have it. It was… important to me.”
“Thank you, Ezra,” Chris said. His head still swam as he looked at the image before him. Ezra was becoming more indistinct, fading away. “When are the others coming?”
“They’re here already.”
“Time is irrelevant. Much more of it has passed than you might think. Nathan is tending to you.”
“I don’t see ‘em.”
“You’re not in your right mind, and I’ve been distracting you. He’s almost finished with the worst of it and I’ll let you go.”
“No, stay. I want to talk.”
“You have to go back. They’re beginning to worry. They think you are delirious, talking to someone who isn’t here.”
“I always end up feeling delirious after I talk to you.” Chris grinned and said, “Will you be around for a while yet?”
“Certainly, but this conversation will have to conclude now.” The ghost nodded and said, “Wake up, Chris.”
Nathan’s face loomed in front of him and Chris blinked and gasped in surprise.
“Chris,” the healer cried worriedly, “Chris, can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” Chris responded. His head was suddenly pounding.
“You hit your head pretty bad. I thought I’d lost you,” Nathan said, his voice breaking. “Do you know who I am?”
Chris smiled. “Sure, Nathan.” He looked around and saw Vin, JD, Josiah and Buck looking down at him worriedly.
“You kept calling him ‘Ezra’,” JD said. “Kept saying weird things.”
Chris tried to touch his head, but Nathan stopped him. “I was talking to Ezra,” Chris replied and looked around, trying to find the gambler. “He’s around still, just can’t see him now.” He turned to meet the eyes of the other men. “He says he likes it here and going to stay for a while.”
“Told ya,” JD said, elbowing Buck.
The days followed each other as they always had, and the Seven continued to protect the town. The six became used to that tap on the shoulder, that urgent voice that might say, “Buck, behind you!” warning of approaching danger.
He would come and go as he always had, sometimes adding a word or two to an argument or laughter to a joke, or a thought to a plan. He led them to lost children. He pointed out people that he considered possible troublemakers. He kept the poker games interesting, stacking the deck at times in favor of one of the players, running out anyone else who’d dare to cheat. He would accompany the others on their lonesome rounds, just traveling along with them. They could often hear the sound of him restlessly shuffling his cards and sometimes heard odd bits of poetry. They knew he was there.
Josiah knew that it was Ezra who helped him when he was attacked on a dark night far outside of Four Corners. Three men had come out of nowhere and pulled him off his horse, intent on robbing and killing him. But they went white with fear and ran screaming into the darkness, crying out against some unseen force that was pummeling them and whispering threats in their ears. As he walked toward home, Josiah thought he heard Ezra apologize for scaring away the horses.
Once Buck and JD came down with fevers that kept them both bedridden in Nathan’s clinic for days. Nathan said it almost drove him insane listening to the unbalanced conversation that the two delirious gunmen were having with the unseen gambler. Nathan didn’t understand half of what was going on, but Buck and JD laughed most of the time and hardly suffered from the worst effects of the illness.
Vin saw him, too, when he broke his leg, and was taken by wagon all the way home from Eagle Bend. He said that Ezra sat beside him and chatted quietly. The pain seemed to leave him while Ezra was there.
Chris saw him again when he was shot in a gunfight. “You still here?” he asked the shade as he lay in the street outside the bank.
“It’s good to see you again.”
“It’s good to be seen.”
“Why do we only see you when we’re ailing?”
“Because you’re not in your right mind.”
“Then why don’t we see you when we’re drunk?”
“I’ve never been able to hold a decent conversation with one who is inebriated.” He made a fastidious gesture with his nebulous hands.
“I should’a known that. Tell me, how come it doesn’t hurt when you’re here?”
“I’m a distraction. You’re asking too many questions. Be still. Nathan’s already with you. You’ll be right as rain in no time.”
“He appreciates that surgical kit. It’s mighty fine.”
“It’s the best of course.”
“You know you aren’t tied to any commitment here anymore.”
“That’s your opinion.”
“How much longer you gonna stay?”
“Yeah, and what’s that supposed to mean?”
“ I can’t say. Time is irrelevant.”
“You’ve said that before.”
“I like it here.”
“You’ve said that before, too.”
“I’ll stay as long as I’m needed. I never really felt that way before I became involved with you gentlemen. I rather like the experience.”
“If that’s why you’re staying, then you’ll never get outta here.”
“Perhaps,” the ghost replied, “It’s not such a terrible thing all in all.”
“Not so terrible,” Chris said with a smile. “We like havin’ ya.”
The years passed and the town prospered and grew. Maude never did return to the town. The lawmen went on with their business. The Seven continued to protect the town as they had, as they always would.
It became a well-known fact and a source of pride to the town that they were watched over by a spectral source, that a ghost of a gambler guarded them, that the shade of Four Corners was always there. For he was needed, and as long as he was needed he would stay.THE END - 03/25/00 by NotTasha
I would love to hear your comments and suggestions