Subsequent Existence


Ezzie 2009 Winner for Best OW Gen Collage

By JudyL

April 19, 2007




Okay, here it is my first officially completed OW Mag7 fic.


I borrowed Chaucer’s name from Kristen, it’s such a great name.


Thanks to Cheryl, who as always, helped straighten out those irritating awkward sentences and filled in just the right word here and there. And also to Ennie and DoggyJ for giving it a quick beta. Any mistakes are mine.


Warning: Deathfic, death of a major character – but don’t go jumping to conclusions.


Yes, I’ll admit it, I read ‘em, I write ‘em and I even enjoy them! <eg> I offer Ezra owies and Ezra angst and… well, hell, let’s just give everybody angst <beg>. Did I mention language? Some swear words too.


Hope you like it.




Ezra shouted a warning to his friends and urged Chaucer after the two fleeing bandits. He had every confidence that one of his fellow peacekeepers would be right behind him.


This gang of miscreants had ridden into town earlier in the day. They’d been fairly well behaved, but something about them made the seven lawmen uneasy and they’d asked the men to leave town.


Just thirty minutes later, a telegram had come in warning about a gang of bank robbers that had hit Eagle Bend the day before. Several people had been killed. Chris rounded up the others and they’d set off after the bandits.


No more than ten minutes ago, the seven had spotted the gang and given chase. Gun fire was exchanged and then the robbers finally turned and fully engaged the lawmen.


Chaucer bounded up the hill not too far behind two escaping men. A shot rang out and Chaucer’s front legs gave way sending the big chestnut to his knees. Ezra was only barely able to get his feet clear of the stirrups before the noble animal crashed to his side taking Ezra to the ground with him.


The last thing Ezra remembered was a sharp pain in his head before the world went black.




Some time later


Ezra opened his eyes slowly, squinting in anticipation of the pain. He frowned and opened them completely. From the position of the sun, several hours had passed. He was lying on his side with one leg trapped beneath Chaucer.


Chaucer! Ezra scrambled up and knelt beside the horse’s head, forgetting about his own injuries. “Ah, my good friend,” Ezra sighed softly, unable to stop the tears that flowed freely down his cheeks. The bullet had hit his gallant steed right between the eyes, killing him between one step and the next.


Ezra rubbed the soft nose. The horse had been his best friend, his only friend, for a long time. Until he met his six brothers. In the years since the seven joined up, Ezra had come to appreciate Chaucer even more. The loyal beast had never failed him.


“I’m sorry my friend,” Ezra said, wiping the tears from his cheeks. He looked up with a frown. Where are the others? They wouldn’t leave him like this. After many hard lessons, Ezra had finally accepted that he was as much a part of the seven as anyone else. And they’d never abandon one brother… unless someone was hurt!


“God, no,” Ezra said, now concerned that someone else had indeed been injured. He stood and started for the last place he’d seen the others. Surely, even if someone had to be taken back to town right away, at least one of the others would have looked for him. Unless they didn’t know which way he’d gone. But then Vin should have easily followed his trail.


“Vin?” Ezra questioned aloud. Could Vin have been hurt? Ezra quickened his pace and soon found himself at the place he’d left his brothers. Several bodies were wrapped and piled by a large rock, but that was standard practice. Obviously they’d had prisoners to transport and too few horses. The bodies of the outlaws would be collected later.


Ezra knew, without even thinking about it, that his friends would never leave one of their own. The body of a fallen comrade would be carefully taken back to town, even if it had to be carried on foot. Ezra cast a worried gaze toward town and started walking.




He made it to town faster than he’d imagined possible. The sun had hardly moved in the sky, but the street seemed unusually quiet for this time of day. Ezra raced up the stairs to Nathan’s clinic, figuring that if someone was injured, this was the logical place to look. He went through the door and stopped. The clinic was dark.


“Mr. Jackson?” Ezra called. “Nathan?” he said, worry coloring his voice. If no one was here, either none of his friends had been injured or… someone was dead. “No,” Ezra breathed, turning to exit the building.


He fairly flew down the stairs and across the street, blowing through the saloon doors as if they weren’t there. Ezra stopped in his tracks and smiled with relief at the sight of all six of his brothers sitting at their usual table. He strode quickly across the room and sat down in his usual chair, a feeling of well-being replacing the panic that had been plaguing his heart.


“I must say,” Ezra said, reaching for the bottle of whiskey in the center of the table, “I don’t understand why you left me out there, but I am immensely relieved to see that no one is seriously injured.” He dropped his hand when it appeared that no one was paying attention to him and took a good look around the table.


Chris stared at the full glass in front of him, his features set in that hard, emotionless mask that Ezra hadn’t seen since their first days as a team. Of course, the gambler, who’d had many years of practice reading the gunslinger, could see that Larabee was hiding his pain. But what was the cause?


Ezra cast his gaze to Chris’ right where Vin sat staring off into space as well. His blue eyes rimmed with red, though no tears were present.


On Chris’ left sat Buck, who had no qualms about the tears that flowed down his cheeks. Buck’s eyes shifted from the table to Chris to JD before briefly settling on Ezra and continuing back to the table.


JD had his head down on his arms. Sounds that suspiciously resembled sobs escaped from the young man periodically.


Nathan slouched back in his chair. His eyes were dry but red-rimmed as well. He rubbed his nose then continued to slowly twist his full whiskey glass without regard to the sloshing liquid.


Josiah looked like he’d lost his best friend. The preacher did not hold back his tears, but his anger seemed to be overpowering his sadness.


“Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” Ezra demanded.


“It’s almost,” Josiah said softly, “almost like I can see him sitting there now.”


JD looked up and straight at Ezra. “I can’t…” he opened and closed his mouth a few times, “he’s… oh God,” he said, letting his head drop back onto his forearms.


Buck and Nathan both put a comforting hand on JD’s back.


“I know, Kid,” Buck said tearfully. “I can’t believe he’s gone myself.”


“Who’s gone?” Ezra asked. “What happened?”


Chris finally lifted his glass and waited for the others to do the same. Ezra looked at the table, but only the bottle still graced its top. The other six drank together while Ezra looked around for Inez. He needed a drink.


Ezra frowned when he realized that the saloon was empty except for the seven of them. That was more unusual than the quiet street outside. Sure, Inez often let them close the place down, but that was well after dark. The sun hadn’t even set yet.


“Could someone tell me what is going on here?” Ezra repeated, leveling his best glare at the others. No one spoke, though several of them glanced his way. “Fine!” He said reaching for the whiskey bottle. “No glass, I’ll just drink from the bottle.”


His hand passed through the bottle and Ezra froze. No one else seemed to have noticed.


Get a grip on yourself, Ezra. You’re just tired and maybe a little dehydrated from that long walk. Ezra slowly reached out for the bottle again, grinning with relief when his hand made contact. He dragged the bottle toward him.


“What the hell?!” Vin exclaimed, straightening up in his chair. “Did you see that?” he asked.


Chris’ eyes were wide as he stared at the bottle and nodded.


“See what?” Ezra asked, his hand still on the bottle, though he’d stopped its motion.


“What?” JD asked, lifting his head.


“The… the bottle moved,” Buck stammered, not taking his eyes off the object in question.


“Of course it moved,” Ezra drawled sarcastically. “I’m growing weary of this game, gentlemen.” He pulled the bottle closer, but this time the expressions on his friends’ faces gave him pause.


They all watched the bottle as if it were cursed. Fear and apprehension filled their eyes. The emotions too real to be faked. Ezra dropped his hand from the bottle and looked at it.


“What? What is wrong with all of you?!” he demanded. “Have you all gone mad?” Maybe it is I who’ve gone mad. I did hit my head pretty hard. He touched the side of his skull, surprised that there wasn’t any blood or any pain. Ezra looked back to his friends. “Please. Someone tell me what’s going on.”


JD had backed his chair away from the table when he saw the bottle move. “What… what did that?”


“There’s probably a logical explanation,” Nathan offered tentatively.


Josiah grabbed the bottle and put it back in the center of the table.


“Oh!” Ezra shouted. “That is quite enough!” He leaned forward and grabbed the bottle lifting it right off the table as he brought it toward him.


All six of his friends frantically scrambled out of their chairs and away from the table.


“What is wrong with you?” Ezra asked his nerves stretched to their limits.


“Ezra?” Vin asked.


“Who else would be sitting here in my place?”


Vin closed his eyes and shook his head then opened them again. “Ez,” he said sadly, then looked at his other brothers. “Do you see…”


Five heads nodded slowly, disbelievingly as they stared at Ezra.


Ezra sighed. “Look, I’m willing to forgive you for leaving me stranded out there. Although I certainly do not understand why you had to leave me. I thought someone had been seriously injured,” he looked at Vin. “Perhaps, Mr. Tanner and that was the reason you didn’t find me, however,” Ezra continued with an indignant glare, “this farce has gone on long enough. I just want to sit here and drink. I have lost a good friend today and I’m in no mood for your shenanigans.” Ezra blinked hard to control the tears that gathered in his eyes at the thought of Chaucer.


One by one the others sat down, not taking their eyes off the gambler.


“What?” Ezra asked, clearly frustrated.


“We didn’t leave you, Ezra,” Chris said.


“Well, then, how do explain the fact that I woke under my horse and walked back to town?” Ezra demanded.


“You…” JD stammered, “You’re…”


“What the kid’s trying to say,” Buck said gently, “is that we did come after you, Ezra. And we found you and Chaucer. You were,” Buck swallowed, “you were already gone, son.”


“Gone?” Ezra repeated, denying the meaning that he knew Buck was applying to the word. “What on earth are you talking about? I only just got back to town.”


“You were dead when we found you, Ezra,” Nathan said sadly. “Hit your head when Chaucer went down. You probably died pretty quick,” he added, his face a mask of guilt at not being able to have done anything for the gambler.


Ezra swallowed, taking in the emotions and seriousness of the group. They thought he was dead, but if he was dead, then how could he be here? “Then how do you explain this conversation, gentlemen? If I’m dead, we can’t be sitting here talking,” he said certain that there’d been some mistake.


“Spirit,” Vin whispered.


“What was that?” JD asked.


“He’s a ghost,” Vin replied, looking calmly at Ezra.


“Hah!” the conman countered.


The others looked at Josiah. “What?” the preacher asked. “Don’t look at me. I’m no expert in spirits and such.”


“Oh, come on,” Ezra said. “You can’t be serious.” He pushed his chair back, causing the others to gasp in surprise, and stood. “Look at me,” he said waving both hands, one of which was still wrapped around the neck of the whiskey bottle. “Do I look dead to you?” He spun in place and waited expectantly.


“You are dead, Ezra,” Chris said firmly, but with such sadness that it made Ezra’s heart ache.


He clamped his jaw for a moment to control his emotions. “Can a dead man do this?” he asked, then turned the bottle up to his lips and took several long swallows. Ezra lowered the bottle with a smirk and saw his brothers staring, not at him but at the floor.


He looked down and saw he was standing in a puddle. Ezra took a few steps toward the table. “Well, I didn’t notice that before,” he stammered. “Inez is usually such a neat housekeeper.” He stretched his arm out to place the bottle back on the table.


Vin reached out to touch his arm at the same time. Ezra turned his head slightly and saw the tracker’s hand go through his arm. Ezra gasped and met Vin’s bright, sad, blue eyes.


“We can prove it to you, Ezra,” Josiah said softly.


Ezra looked at the older man, his green eyes wide with fear.


“Come,” Josiah said.


They all followed the big man out of the saloon and across the street to the undertaker’s. Ezra trailed behind, trying to regain control. What they were saying just wasn’t possible. How could he be dead? He didn’t feel dead. The others formed a half circle around one of the caskets in undertaker’s office. Josiah and Buck pried the lid off and set it to the side.


Ezra stared. His heart beat double time in his chest, then seemed to plunge into his stomach. It was him. Or someone who looked and dressed just like him. Unconsciously, Ezra moved toward the body, drawn by something he couldn’t name. He reached out slowly to touch the bright red jacket. His hand passed right through the body.


He jerked back and looked at his hand, breathing hard. Ezra looked at his friends, seeing sorrow and loss on their faces, then he looked back down at the… his body. He felt no connection to it, but never-the-less, he did recognize it as once being his own. Ezra backed away, shaking his head. He clamped his jaw and tried to control the emotions he knew were written all over his face. Ezra continued to move away from the body and suddenly found himself looking at the outside of the building. He’d passed through the wall without even realizing it.


His friends rushed through the door into the street and stopped, uncertain what to do. Ezra gasped for air. You don’t need air, he chided himself, but it still felt as if he was suffocating. Josiah and Vin stepped closer, their hands outstretched to offer comfort.


Don’t touch me… You can’t touch me anyway… Ezra backed away then turned and ran.




Josiah and Vin reached for Ezra. The pain in the gambler’s eyes was too much to take. Dead or alive, they had to help him. Ezra backed away and before their very eyes, started to fade.


“Ezra!” Josiah shouted, his hand still outstretched.


They never saw him turn and run. He just disappeared from view.


“Where did he go?” JD asked as they all gathered around Josiah and Vin.


Josiah shrugged.


“We’ve got to find him,” Nathan said. “He needs us.”


The others nodded.


“But where do you look for a ghost?” Buck asked.


“Cemetery?” Chris offered.


“Naw, he ain’t been buried yet,” Vin discounted. “Figure he’ll go someplace he’s comfortable. Someplace safe.”


“I’ll check the livery,” Josiah offered. “That’s where he usually heads when he’s upset. To see… Chaucer.”


“Worth a shot,” Chris agreed. “JD, you check out the jail. Nathan, check the clinic. Vin, you know some of those hidey places he likes,” Vin nodded. “Buck and I’ll check the saloon and his room.”


Buck and Chris headed for the saloon. Once inside, Buck ran up the stairs to Ezra’s room. He knocked on the door. “Ezra?” he called softly. After just a moment he cursed and headed back downstairs. If Ezra was in there, he probably wouldn’t answer, and it was possible, that even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to open the door. Why could the ghost manipulate some objects, when others passed right through him?


Buck shook his head, grabbed the key from behind the bar and headed back up. They’d given Ezra’s key back to Inez before she had closed the saloon down for them earlier. Partially for safekeeping until the six remaining brothers felt up to clearing out Ezra’s stuff, but also knowing that Inez might need to rent the room. They knew that Ezra would understand the need.


Buck opened the door and was surprised to see Ezra lying on his stomach across the bed. “Can I come in?” he asked softly.


“Can’t really keep you out, now can I?” Ezra replied tonelessly, not bothering to turn his head. Strangely enough, his words didn’t seem the least bit garbled by the pillow.


The ladies man moved over and sat on the edge of the bed. He realized that Ezra wasn’t making any impression on the feather mattress. Buck reached a tentative hand out to Ezra’s back and couldn’t quite repress a shiver when his hand passed right through the ghost.


“Please don’t do that, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra sighed as he rolled over and sat up. “It’s quite disconcerting.”


Buck snorted. “That’s for sure.”


“Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Wilmington?” Ezra asked, maintaining his poker face.


“It’s ol’ Buck here, Ez. I ain’t been Mr. Wilmington to you in years,” Buck protested fondly. “Besides, that was what I was going to ask you. I know you’ve got to be confused as hell right now, pard. Let us help you.”


“Hell. Now there’s an interesting concept,” Ezra said quietly. “I always knew I’d wind up on the wrong end of someone’s gun eventually. I took some measure of peace in knowing that there were only two options in the hereafter, heaven or hell. ‘Course most people, including myself, reckoned I’d be spending my afterlife burning in the fiery pits of Hades, but I will admit to a small hope for seeing the Pearly Gates.” Ezra stopped and turned wounded green eyes to meet Buck’s worried gaze.


“What kind of hell on earth is this? Have I been condemned to walk among the living, unable to communicate with them, touch them? What have I done that could possibly have earned me this fate?” Ezra beseeched, tears sparkling in his eyes.


“Now, come on, Ezra,” Buck said, searching for the right words. “It’s not all that bad. We can see you and talk to you. And I’ve seen you move things. I don’t know much about destiny, but maybe there’s a reason you’re… the way you are. Maybe there’s something you still have to do, before you get to move on.”


Ezra stared at him for a moment then buried his face in his hands. “God, Buck. I don’t… It’s not fair. It hurts too damn much,” he trailed off.


“Ezra?” Buck said, noticing that the gambler was beginning to fade on him again. “Don’t leave without saying good-bye, Ezra.” Ezra’s form disappeared. “You hear me?! Don’t you leave without saying good-bye!” Buck cried.




Two days later      


Six men and an entire town stood around an open grave. The remaining members of the Magnificent Seven lowered Ezra’s coffin into the ground and stood staring into the hole as Josiah spoke. None of them heard what the preacher said. They were too lost in their own thoughts and worries. Even Josiah seemed to stumble over the words he’d prepared.


Ezra had not made an appearance since his confession to Buck and the six wondered if they’d missed out on a second chance to say good-bye.


Josiah finished speaking and one by one the town folk came up to offer their condolences. Not all of them liked Ezra, but they had all come to respect him and trust him to help the others protect their little town. These men and women had come because he was a member of their community. When they left they were more concerned about the effect the fallen lawman would have on their safety than for the man or the friends he left behind.


Mary, Inez, Mrs. Potter, Casey and Miss Nettie as well as some of the other people who’d had more than a passing relationship with Ezra were the last to pay their respects.


“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Nettie said, dabbing a handkerchief to her eyes. Her relationship with Ezra had started out rocky, yet grown into mutual respect often shown in their playful teasing. Vin patted her shoulder, struggling to maintain his composure.


Casey put her arm around JD’s waist and he automatically pulled her closer as he dashed away the fresh round of tears on his cheeks. Casey lay her head against JD’s chest and let her own tears flow.


Inez tossed a single yellow rose into the grave and stood with her eyes closed as she said her good-byes.  She drifted away with Mary and the others who mourned the loss of a friend, until only six remained to grieve for their brother.


They’d been unable to reach Maude. Telegrams to a few other souls whose lives Ezra had touched had been sent at the same time. Judge Travis had been contacted, but due to time constraints, couldn’t make the funeral.


Finally, Nathan cleared his throat and picked up one of the shovels nearby. “Guess it’s time,” he mumbled.


Josiah’s head came up and he met Nathan’s troubled gaze. The preacher swallowed hard and nodded before taking up a shovel for himself. Chris, Vin, Buck and JD followed, as if the other two had broken some trance that allowed the rest to move. Slowly, one shovel full at a time, the men filled the grave.


When it was done, Buck and Josiah lifted the carved wooden headstone they’d had made and set it into the ground. It read ‘Ezra Standish – Our beloved brother.’


Buck rested one hand on the headstone and lifted his face to the sky. “If you’re still here, Ez…” he choked back a sob and felt Chris’ hand squeeze his shoulder. “We still need ya, pard.”


“Buck’s right, Ezra,” Nathan chimed in, his own voice none to steady. “I figure it’s gonna take us a while to get used to you being… well,” he took a ragged breath, “just think it would be a bit easier if you hung around and let us get used to it gradual like, you know?”


JD shook his head and said, “Far as I’m concerned, Ez, you can stay with us forever. I’m not going to get used to you being gone.”


“Amen, brother,” Josiah agreed, draping his arm over JD’s shoulders.


“Who else am I supposed to get to help me keep these guys in line?” Vin added roughly.


Chris put his hat back on. “You’re part of the team, Ezra. And we want ya however we can get ya. We’ll be in the saloon when you’re ready to join us,” he said with a tip of his hat before turning and heading back to town.


The others followed one at a time until the cemetery was empty of living souls once again. If they’d looked back, they would have seen a faint shimmering of light at the foot of the grave that slowly solidified into a familiar form.


The chestnut hair didn’t wave in the slight breeze. The man’s bowed head lifted and turned so he could gaze after his six brothers. With one sudden shift, he settled his hat on his head. The despair in his eyes dimmed and was replaced with determination. He was a Standish, after all, and where there was life… er, consciousness, a Standish never gave up. Somehow he’d find a way to use his current status to his, his brothers’ and this town’s favor.




Six men sat around the table. A seventh chair sat empty with a seventh shot glass on the table beside it. No one said a thing or moved to touch their glass. If they noticed the strange glances from the other saloon patrons or Inez, they didn’t give any indication.


After a while, the rest of the saloon went on with business as usual. If Inez was less friendly and outgoing than normal, that was understood. She had been close to the dearly departed. The six remaining lawmen were given wide berth and pretty much ignored most of the evening.


Just after dark, the saloon doors swung open. Everyone turned to see who had come in, but quickly realized it must have been the wind. The six men at the back table sat up and scanned the room.


A soft Southern drawl broke their silence. “Mind if I join you?” Ezra asked quietly as he appeared beside the empty chair.


Six faces broke into smiles. Vin pushed the seventh chair out a bit with his foot. “Have a seat.”


Ezra nodded and sat down. He looked down at the glass of whiskey longingly, then brought his eyes back up to his brothers. “I appreciate the thought… don’t let me stop you from enjoying your drinks.”


His friends lifted their glasses in his direction and took a drink. Ezra leaned back in the chair and smiled. For whatever reason, he’d been given another chance, and this time he meant to do things right.


“I must apologize for my abrupt departure earlier. I don’t have very good control just yet,” he admitted.


“You can control it?” Buck asked, surprised. “It didn’t look like you could.”


“Well, I couldn’t at first,” Ezra confessed. “But I’ve been practicing and I think I’ve at least got the appearing and disappearing thing down.”


Nathan looked around the room then back to Ezra. “What I don’t understand, is why we see you, but no one else does.”


Ezra shrugged. “I have no idea.”


“What’s it like, Ez?” JD asked. “Where do you go?”


“Go?” Ezra asked.


“When you disappear.”


“I don’t ‘go’ anywhere, JD,” Ezra said with a sigh. “I can still see all of you, I’m still right here… it’s just that you can’t see me.”


“So, you’ve been in town this whole time,” Josiah clarified.


“Yes,” Ezra said with a slight blush. “It was a lovely service, Josiah. Thank you.”


Josiah’s eyes sparkled suspiciously. He nodded and reached for the whiskey bottle to refill his glass, using the time to blink back his tears.


“Kinda hard to get used to this,” Chris admitted hoarsely, unable to completely hide his emotions.


Ezra blinked rapidly and offered a sad smile. “I know what you mean.”


“I’m glad you’re here, Ezra,” Nathan offered. “We all are.”


The gambler’s smile widened as he met Nathan’s sincere gaze. “That means a great deal to me, Nathan. Thank you.”


“You trying to turn over a new leaf or somethin’ there, Ezra,” Vin teased.


“Well, Vin,” Ezra drawled back, more relaxed, “I figure I’ve been given a second chance, and I do not plan to waste it.” He looked around the saloon and grinned. “That being said, perhaps we should postpone more serious discussion until the morning and hold it in a more private locale.”


Inez cast a worried glance at their table and several of the patrons could be seen crossing themselves.


Chris gave an evil grin which was copied by the other five men and Ezra. Larabee stood, tossed a few coins on the table, grabbed the bottle and then strode to the door. He pushed the batwing doors open then turned to look back at his brothers. “Ya’ll comin’?”


Six heads nodded as they jumped up and followed their leader. Buck let Ezra go in front of him and gave him a friendly push, only to have his hand go through the ghost.


“Buck! I asked you not to do that!” Ezra squawked indignantly.


Buck grinned wickedly and flicked his hand through Ezra’s head.


“Mr. Wilmington! Really!”


The other six gunslingers chuckled as they left the saloon, leaving the people inside to wonder just what they had been drinking.




Ezra Standish had been dead for two weeks and the novelty was wearing off. He was bored. B.O.R.E.D. Bored.


Oh, at first it hadn’t been too bad. The first few days, of course, he’d spent cursing his luck and God and hoping that he would get to move on to… hell, heaven, it didn’t really matter. Ezra just couldn’t stand the thought of being among his friends yet not be able to share ‘life’ with them.


With their help, Ezra had come to realize that he still might be able to participate, albeit much differently than before. He was extremely grateful to his friends for their quick acceptance of his situation. Ezra honestly couldn’t say that he would have adapted so easily to one of the others dying and returning as a ghost were their circumstances reversed. But his brothers had accepted him, every last one of them, without hesitation. And so, with their assurances that he would be missed if he left, Ezra tried to settle into his old habits.


He did run across a few problems.


He couldn’t ride out with them. He didn’t have a horse, alive or other-worldly, as apparently horses, or at least Chaucer, didn’t have ghosts. He also didn’t need to eat or drink or sleep. And of course he couldn’t engage in games of chance with anyone but his six friends.


Ezra tried to find things to keep himself entertained. He really did. He practiced moving objects about, in case he ever needed to provide a distraction. But that didn’t take long to master. After just a few hours one night, he’d learned how to move and manipulate any object up to about five pounds. He could appear or disappear at will and had even learned to just disappear parts of himself.


He smiled in remembrance of the floating head trick he’d pulled on Buck. Ezra sighed. But that had been only one fleeting moment of normalcy.


He’d offered to take the night watch in town. No sense in the others missing out on sleep and being tired during the day, when he didn’t need sleep.


Ezra spent a few more hours practicing another trick he’d discovered. He could just think of a place he wanted to be and in the blink of an eye, there he was. Though, most of the time he still walked to his destination. There were some draw backs to moving instantaneously to another locale. One never knew if another person would be in the chosen spot. Ezra shivered as he recalled arriving in the livery just where Yosemite was standing.


For some reason, everything that Ezra had been carrying when he died had made the transition with him in spirit, so he had a couple decks of cards, both of his guns and his derringer rig, and a number of other inconsequential items. None of which could affect the real world, but still made the gambler feel more at ease.


He played solitaire. A lot. It had gotten old very quickly. Some fun had returned when Ezra discovered that his ghostly deck didn’t have to lay on a surface. He had thoroughly enjoyed the look on JD’s face when he walked into the jail and through Ezra’s ‘floating’ card game.


Still, he was running out of things to keep him occupied. Ezra had even borrowed books from Josiah, Chris, and Nathan. With free time on his hands twenty-four-seven, the ghostly gambler had made quick work of the available manuscripts. Chris had kindly borrowed more books from Mary to keep Ezra occupied, but nothing seemed to keep the agile minded ghost entertained for long.


If he didn’t find something to do with his time, Ezra was afraid he would go stark raving mad.




One week later


Ezra was going to drive them all crazy.


Chris picked his hat up off the ground for the third time that morning, his jaw clenched to keep from cussing the ghost out. Ezra was no where to be seen, but Chris could hear his chuckles following him as the gunslinger made his way to the jail.


The town folk he passed gave Larabee and his glare wide berth.


Chris entered the jail and closed the door quickly behind him forcing Ezra to pass through the door, something Chris knew he hated. Ezra came in with a grin on his face anyway and leaned back against the door.


“I am sorry, Chris,” he chuckled shamelessly. “I couldn’t resist.” Ezra’s grin widened at the glare he received.


Chris dropped his hat on the desk and ran his hands through his hair. “Can’t you go bother someone else?” he asked, frustrated.


Ezra’s grin dropped to a poker face smile. “Of course,” he said quickly. “Good morning to you.”


Chris turned back with an apology on his lips in time to see Ezra ‘pop out.’ Knowing that meant Ezra had left immediately and not just gone invisible, Chris sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. They really needed to find something for the gambler to do. It wasn’t his fault he was… well, the way he was.


And now Chris owed him an apology for being so… Hell. Chris shook his head. He wouldn’t have given it another thought if he’d told Ezra to get lost when he was alive. But now, somehow, it was different. He didn’t want the man… ghost… Ezra, to think they didn’t want him around, but he’d been a constant presence lately, and a constant pest.


Even alive, Ezra hadn’t pulled so many pranks so close together. Hats didn’t stay on heads, glasses moved away as you reached for them. Items weren’t where you left them. Chris shook his head. Ezra was used to being challenged, and they just couldn’t think of a way to keep him busy all day and all night. Maybe it was time to put their heads together and come up with something.




Ezra popped in on the roof of the saloon and slumped down against the wall. “Damn it,” he cursed softly. “How can you be so stupid?” He dropped his chin to his chest and replayed every inane prank he’d pulled over the last few days. “Nothing like giving them a good reason to have me exorcised,” Ezra grumbled.


“What am I going to do?” he beseeched, lifting his face to the sky. “I certainly don’t want them to come to resent me.” He pulled out his deck of cards and shuffled them mindlessly as he tried to come up with a solution. Perhaps he should try and find his mother. Ezra sat up a bit straighter. Travel. That’s it. I can go visit all the places I’ve never been. He grinned. This might not be so bad. He could go to, say… Paris, and be back home in the wink of an eye to regale his friends with tales of fine cuisine and fancy hotels.


Ezra leaned back against the wall again and started making a list of all the places he could visit.




Later that evening, the seven met for dinner at the Saloon. Ezra joined them with a smile on his face.


“What’s up?” Vin asked. They were all careful not to use Ezra’s name in public too often.


“I have decided to go on a sight-seeing tour,” Ezra declared, his smile widening with delight.


“Oh? Where to?” Josiah asked.


Ezra sat forward and rubbed his hands together before resting his elbows on the table. “First I thought I’d go find Mother. I realize I can’t speak to her, but if you know where to reach her… perhaps a letter can be sent before she moves on,” he said hopefully.


Chris nodded. “Sure.”


“Thank you,” Ezra nodded and then continued. “After that I thought I might go see Paris,” he grinned. “It’s always been a dream of mine…”


“Oh man!” JD said. “I wish I could go with you. That sounds great.”


Buck smiled. “Yeah, me too. All those French beauties…”


“I wasn’t aware you spoke French, Buck,” Ezra teased.


“I don’t,” Buck said, “but I do speak the language of love.”


Everyone chuckled.


“You’ll be back afterwards, won’t you?” Nathan asked.


“But of course. How else can I regale you with the wonders I will see?”


“Just wanted to make sure,” the healer replied.


Ezra’s smile dimmed and he looked around at his friends with a more serious gaze. “I realize I’ve been a bit of a pest lately…” he raised his hand to forestall the mumbled denials. “It’s true. I’ve been bored to tears and I do not wish to make you all regret my presence. At least while alive, I could make a contribution in restitution for my annoyances. Now, I’m merely an aggravation with no purpose.”


“That ain’t true, Ez,” Vin denied vehemently. “You’ve been contributing… you’ve been taking the night shift.”


“Yes, but if something happens I must still wake one of you to take care of it,” Ezra said. “I simply think it will be good for me to get out of town for a while, give everyone a break. But don’t worry, I will return,” he said with a bright smile.


The others exchanged uncertain glances then finally turned back to Ezra.


“As long as you do come back,” Chris said catching Ezra’s gaze with his own.


“Oh, don’t worry, Chris,” Ezra said, “I have every intention of coming home.”




The next morning Ezra stood on the boardwalk in front of the jail looking at his friends. They had each wished him a good trip, but looked as if they had eaten something disagreeable.


“Now, gentlemen,” Ezra chided. “I’ll check in by the end of the week if I don’t find Mother sooner. You know I can pop back here any time I please.”


“Just make sure you do,” Buck admonished with a twinkle in his eye. “Don’t decide to stay in St. Louie or some place and haunt their gamblin’ halls. We want ya here.”


Ezra smiled, flashing his gold tooth. He tipped his hat and concentrated on a place he remembered in St. Louis that Maude liked to stay. While it was unlikely that she was there, it was a place to start.


Ezra saw Four Corners and his friends disappear and knew that in just moments he would be seeing the Grand Hotel lobby. He frowned and turned in place as he appeared in the new location. This wasn’t the Grand Hotel… or any hotel. “Where the hell am I?”


Instead of a plush hotel lobby or the noisy streets of St. Louis, Ezra found himself on a dry, shrub-grass infested hill with no buildings in sight. He continued to turn slowly in place as he tried to figure out what he’d done wrong.


Perhaps the Grand is no longer in business. He frowned. Maybe I just tried to go too far too fast. A smaller hop is in order.


Ezra thought about the saloon in Eagle Bend. And found himself surrounded by cowboys in the small, dingy, but familiar Eagle Bend saloon. So far so good. He wondered which town would be his next best step. Is Denver too far? He tried… and found himself on the same dry hill as his first attempt.


“Aw, hell.” He sat down to think. There were several small towns that he knew between here and Denver, none more than a three or four day ride apart. Unfortunately, between Denver and St. Louis lay a lot of territory unknown to the gambler. He’d traveled mostly in the southern states. Indeed, St. Louis was as far north as he’d ever been. And he’d traveled along the Mississippi to get there.


“Well, perhaps I should just retrace my steps.” Ezra stood and dusted himself off, though no real dirt had adhered to his clothing. He chose one of the closer small towns he had passed through on his original trip, the one that had landed him in Four Corners in the first place.


That jump being successful, Ezra popped out again to the next town en route. After three jumps he found himself back on the lonely hilltop.


“Damnation!” Ezra shouted pulling his hat off and slapping it against his leg. “What the hell is going on here?” He huffed and jammed his hat back on his head. “Okay, Standish, think. Why can’t you get to St. Louis?”


He sat down again and started to draw out a map in the dirt. He was so flustered that his first few attempts to lift a stick to use as a writing utensil were unsuccessful. Finally he was able to catch up the twig and sketch out a crude map.


With rough estimates of distance between the various towns figured into the map, Ezra began to get a picture that he didn’t like. He considered what towns lay toward the north and west of Four Corners and decided to try his luck in those directions.


Although he was able to go to several of the towns, he always ended up back on the same hill adding his most recent attempts and failures to the map.


Ezra sat staring at the map, his shoulders slumped in defeat. No matter which way he went, he could only get the equivalent of a couple of days ride out from Four Corners. Ezra was tied to the backwater little town where he had died, as surely as if he were shackled to a ball and chain.




Ezra sat staring at the ground. He couldn’t say how long he sat there, only that when he was finally able to think again, the map was gone, rubbed out by wind… and rain, if his memory served. The gambler sighed and stood. He wanted to go home, but at the same time, he did not want his friends to know that they were stuck with him.


He started walking, not really caring which direction he went, and before he knew it, he was walking down the main thoroughfare of Four Corners. Ezra cursed and made sure he was not visible to his fellow peacekeepers. He did not want them to know he was back in town yet. Not until he could figure out what to tell them.




For the next several days, Ezra avoided his friends, then, bored and missing their company he started to follow them around. He did not let them see him, but he went on patrol and walked the evening watch through town with them. So intent on his misfortune was he, that Ezra didn’t realize they always left a seat open for him at their table in the Saloon, or when they had dinner at the hotel.


Toward the end of the first week, Ezra decided he should probably ‘come home’ from his first adventure. But damn if he knew what he was going to tell his friends. He wandered down the sidewalk and sat down on the stairs leading up to the Saloon. He’d wait until later, maybe dinner time, to show himself. Maybe by then he’d know what to say.


Someone sat down on the stair beside him. Ezra glanced over and saw Vin. The tracker pulled out his harmonica and blew a few notes. Ezra sighed.


“Wanna talk about it?”


Ezra sat up straight and looked at Vin. “What?”


“Do ya wanna talk about it?”


“But… how? You can see me?”


Vin nodded and blew a few more notes. “Seen ya mopin’ around for the last few days, but none of the others seemed to. Figured ya had somethin’ on your mind.”


“You can see me…” Ezra said softly with a shake of his head. “I wonder why?”


Vin lifted one shoulder and dropped it. “Dunno. Offer’s open if ya wanna talk.”


Ezra dropped his chin to his chest and sighed again. “I couldn’t go to Paris. Hell, I couldn’t even get as far as Denver or San Francisco. The furthest I got was a couple day’s ride from here.”


Vin looked out across the street. “You really want to go that bad?”


Ezra stood up and stomped out into the street, not even paying attention to the fact that he walked right through Mr. Conklin. Conklin shivered and hurried down the street. “Yes! No. I don’t know.” Ezra paced back and forth in front of Vin. “I was just hoping to get away for a bit, give you all a break from… well…” He sighed. “I don’t want to be a burden to you. I don’t want you to suddenly wish me truly gone from this plane of existence. I don’t know what I’d do if…” Ezra stopped and looked at Vin, his green eyes pleading for understanding.


“We don’t want ya to go, Ez. Sure, you were makin’ us a bit crazy there for a while, but we aren’t gonna chase ya off for that. Hell, at least if you do piss Chris off enough now, he can shoot ya without killin’ ya.”


Ezra snorted and a smile crooked his mouth. “Somehow that is vaguely reassuring,” he said, retaking a seat beside Vin. They watched quietly for a while as the morning bustle started. “It’s unsettling. I may be safe from harm now, but you are all still vulnerable. What if something happens to one of you? Will you become spirits as well? And if not, then why me? What happens to me when you are all gone?” He blushed. “Selfish, I know, but… I would be very lonely without the six of you.”


Vin nibbled on his lower lip thoughtfully. “Can’t really help ya on that, Ez. Maybe we could talk to Kojay. His people have more experience with spirits, though I’ve never heard of anything like what’s happened to you.”


“Wonderful,” Ezra drawled, “I’m some sort of oddity even in death.”


Vin stood up. “We should probably go somewhere else to talk, and let the others know you’re back.” He headed for the jail.


Ezra stood as well and nodded. “Very well.”




Kojay came out of his tepee as the six men from Four Corners dismounted. He had not seen any of them in several months, even though Josiah usually came out at least once a month to visit.


“Hello, my friends,” the Indian chief greeted. “It has been a long time.”


Josiah smiled as he approached Kojay and offered his hand in friendship. “It has. I’m sorry for not coming sooner,” he paused and glanced over his shoulder. “As it is, we come seeking aid from your holy man.”


Kojay’s eyes widened. “This is… unexpected. Come, join me inside.” He turned toward his tepee and motioned for one of the young braves. “Ask Yi T’on to join us,” he instructed, then ducked inside. The brave darted off.


Josiah led the way into the tepee and breathed a sigh of relief when Ezra entered as well. Even though Ezra wanted answers, he was nervous about dealing with the Indian holy man.


Everyone except for Ezra sat down.  He paced nervously behind his friends.


Kojay looked at the six men and frowned. “Where is Many Bright Feathers?”


Ezra groaned while his brothers grinned at the nickname the Indians had given the gambler.


Josiah shook his head. “Brother Ezra walks another path,” he informed the chief.


Kojay’s eyes widened. “I had not heard. We mourn with you. Bright Feathers will be missed.”


Ezra stared at the chief, unable to deny the sincerity in the man’s voice. He turned his back briefly and rubbed at the suspicious moisture in his eyes.


“That’s part of the reason we wanted to see Yi T’on,” Vin said.


The flap of the tepee opened and the holy man entered. He surveyed the men as he straightened, his gaze falling at last on the red-coated man standing behind the others. Yi T’on raised a hand to grasp the medicine bag around his neck. “I see why you have called me,” he said, closing his eyes he started to chant.


Ezra spun to face the holy man and stumbled back a few steps. “Josiah!” he cried out in pain.


Vin and Josiah leapt to their feet as the others turned to see Ezra fading in and out.


“No! Stop, please!” Vin cried at the same time as Josiah pleaded, “Stop! He means you no harm!”


Kojay stood and put a hand on Yi T’on’s shoulder as the holy man ceased his chanting. “Explain yourselves,” Kojay demanded of them all.


Yi T’on pointed to Ezra who sat on his knees looking rather white, even for a ghost. “They have brought evil spirits into our camp,” he accused.


“Ezra’s not evil!” JD argued.


Chris met Kojay’s glare with one of his own. “We came to you for help and this is what we get? You attack one of my men?”


Kojay frowned as he looked from Yi T’on to Larabee and the other lawmen. “You said Bright Feathers had taken the other path… am I to assume he has not left us completely?”


“That’s right,” Vin defended. “His spirit is still with us. All of us can see him and hear him, but nobody else,” he looked at the holy man, “well, ‘cept Yi T’on there.”


Yi T’on shook his head. “When the dead walk among us, it is never a good sign. He must be sent on for our own protection.”


“Ezra is not a vengeful spirit, Yi T’on,” Josiah said calmly. “He doesn’t know why he’s still on this plane of existence, but he only wants to help. We were hoping you might know why he didn’t go on to his reward.”


The holy man stared at Ezra who had managed to stand and was brushing himself off as he cast rather defensive glares at Yi T’on. “I have never come across a situation such as this. In the past, I have helped restless spirits on their journey. Usually they were people who had died violent, unexpected deaths. They were confused and quite happy to be on their way.” He paused. “There were a few who wanted vengeance and refused to go peacefully, but I’ve never dealt with a white man’s spirit before.”


Vin scratched his chin. “Well, I suppose you did die a rather violent, unexpected death, Ezra.”


“True,” the ghost replied earning a startled glance from Yi T’on. “However, I am not out for vengeance. The miscreants who caused my death have already been taken care of. And while I am not in any hurry to depart, I do not wish to be the harbinger of death either.”


“Nonsense,” Josiah said. “Every culture has their own stories about ghosts, not all of them believe them to be portents of evil.” He looked at Yi T’on. “If you cannot help us, we will leave. We didn’t mean to cause trouble for your people.”


Yi T’on frowned and looked at Kojay then sighed. “Please, sit. Talk. I would learn of your people’s views on… ghosts. Perhaps we might find some answers together.”


Josiah smiled and retook his seat, the others followed suit. After a moment, Ezra sat as well, though he kept his distance from Yi T’on.


Josiah told Kojay and Yi T’on what had happened since Ezra’s death, down playing Ezra’s jokes on the others. Finally he explained that Ezra appeared to be linked to the town, unable to go more than a few days ride from its boundaries.


Yi T’on frowned thoughtfully then shook his head. “I am sorry. I do not know. Some of the stories I have heard spoke of spirits haunting particular places or people, but I do not believe they mentioned how far the spirit could go from those places.” He looked into Ezra’s eyes. “I am sorry, Bright Feathers. I have no answers for you.”


Ezra smiled sadly. “That’s all right, Yi T’on. I appreciate your taking the time to listen. If there is ever anything you can think of that I can do for you, please send word. I’ll come right away.”


Yi T’on smiled and shook his head. “The young one is correct. You are not an evil spirit, Bright Feathers. I hope you find your way.”




The ride back to town was quiet as all seven men were lost deep in their own thoughts.


Ezra actually seemed the least concerned with the lack of answers. He floated along beside the others on his back, hands behind his head watching the clouds. He’d found that he could maintain a set distance from someone and simply float along at that spot indefinitely. It had taken the others a while to get used to it, but now it hardly fazed them.


Josiah sighed into the silence and looked over at Ezra. “You seem to be taking this all very well, Ezra.”


The gambler turned his head toward Josiah and gave a slight shrug. “It’s not like there’s anything I can do about it, Josiah. I can either accept things as they are or wallow in misery at the misfortune of it all.” Ezra pushed himself up into a sitting position, still floating along side the others. “Though I may have no compulsion when it comes to airing my complaints, wallowing is not my style.”


The others chuckled and they continued home with lighter hearts.




They all settled into a more normal routine over the next few weeks. Ezra toned down his practical jokes on the Seven, instead extending some of the pranks to others in town. He did take care not to scare the residents, and he often shared the results with his friends to their great amusement. Their favorite was watching Mr. Conklin unlock the door to his store only to find it still locked when he tried to get in. Ezra had relocked the door as soon as the key was removed.


He took to spending time at various establishments, watching Mary Travis put together the newspaper, Inez set up the bar before opening and Mrs. Potter unload new inventory. Ezra visited the stables daily, still missing his beloved Chaucer. The horses seemed to sense his presence and accepted him without hesitation. It helped ease his loss.


When he couldn’t stand it in town any longer, Ezra took off to one of the nearby municipalities for a few days. He would haunt the saloons and telegraph offices waiting to catch any tidbit of news that might be helpful.




He was spending his second day in River City, when he overheard a plan to rob the bank. Ezra popped back to Four Corners and informed Chris, who immediately sent a telegram to the sheriff in River City.


Several days later, the sheriff wired back thanking Larabee for the warning. The bank robbers had been caught in the act and no one was harmed.


Chris read the telegram aloud to his men. His hazel eyes were full of pride as they met Ezra’s. “You did good, Ez.”


Ezra smiled shyly, his chest puffing out just a bit as he soaked up his friends’ praise.




Inez bent to reach under the bar for her rifle. The brawl was getting out of hand and none of the six lawmen had yet to make an appearance. She straightened and brought the rifle up. A bottle of whiskey was flying toward her face and even as Inez lifted her hands she knew she wouldn’t be fast enough to protect herself. She closed her eyes in anticipation, backing away until she hit the wall behind the bar.


Her eyes shot open in surprise. The bottle hadn’t hit her. Her eyes widened at the sight of the bottle hanging in mid air. Slowly the bottle seemed to drift back down to settle on the bar. Something brushed her cheek and Inez frowned. She could smell just a hint of familiar aftershave. Aftershave she hadn’t smelled in months.


“Seńor Standish?” she whispered.


A faint Southern drawl, barely audible, possibly just imagined, replied, “At your service, my dear.”


Then the presence was gone. Inez blinked and took a look around. The fight was still in progress but the remaining Seven had arrived. She watched as they took control and noticed how when one drunken cowboy pulled his gun, the weapon seemed to slip out of his hand. When a knife made an appearance, the culprit slipped and fell.


Inez started to put together all the little inconsistencies. The six lawmen always seemed to leave a seventh chair available at their table. She’d come across several conversations that seemed odd, almost as if someone had been making comments she couldn’t hear. And why had they kept renting Ezra’s room? Oh, sure, the excuse that Vin or Chris or even Nathan might use it was convenient, but Inez couldn’t recall many nights that someone had actually used the room. And none of Ezra’s stuff had been removed.


She moved out from behind the bar as Larabee and the others escorted the rabble to the jail for the night. Her thoughts kept turning over bits and pieces as she began to clean up. Buck, JD, Vin and Josiah soon joined her efforts. She made some comment about cleaning up in back and left them to finish up, but instead of working, she put her ear to the door and listened to them as they tossed playful banter back and forth.


“Give it up, Buck,” JD said. “He had you pinned but good.”


“That ain’t true, JD,” Buck defended. “I was just letting him get overconfident.”


A short silence, then…


“Now, come on!” Buck protested loudly, the others laughed out loud. “That’s just… what’s the word?”


 Another slight pause in the conversation.


“Right! Slanderous!” Buck continued.


Inez’s eyebrows rose. Slanderous? She grinned and shook her head. She knew of only one man in town that would use a word like slanderous. Inez brushed off her skirt and started working on the kitchen.




Inez locked the doors and took one final look around the saloon. The boys had helped put the tables and chairs back in their places and swept up the glass and debris on the floor. She glanced at the poker tables off to the side and made a decision. She grabbed a bottle of brandy and two glasses from behind the bar and took them to the table they had all come to think of as Ezra’s. Truth be known, she still thought of it that way. Inez sat down and poured the brandy.


She pushed one glass toward Ezra’s usual seat and took a sip from her own glass. “Are you haunting my saloon, Seńor Standish?” she asked.


Rich laughter echoed around her and Inez couldn’t help but smile. “The others,” she said softly, “they can see you and hear you.”


“Yes,” came the soft reply.


“Why not me? Why not anyone else?” Inez asked.


“I don’t know, Inez,” Ezra said sadly. He brushed a lock of hair from her cheek. “You’re the only other person who has even heard me.”


“Do you know why you’re still here? Why we can see or hear you?”


Ezra snorted. “No. I’m afraid there are more questions than answers. I’m only glad to be able to help in some small way.”


Inez snorted in reply. “Not so small, Seńor. That bottle would have hit me right in the face if you hadn’t caught it, and you know how fragile those bottles of Red Eye are.”


She felt his touch on her face again, a gentle breeze against her cheek.


“I could not allow this lovely face to be injured.”


Inez smiled. “Thank you, Ezra. And… I’m glad you are still here. I’ve missed you.”


“And I you, my dear.”




Mary wiped her forehead and stared down at the printing press. She sighed. Three pages to go. But the heat was horrible and she was about ready to call it a day. “Come on, Mary. Just finish it,” she admonished herself. She reached over to the tray containing the letters and pulled out the blocks for the next word. The tray was covering the space just a bit and she unconsciously shoved it to the side, gasping as she realized that the tray was too close to the edge and was beginning to fall over.


Just as quickly the tray stopped, it hung half over the edge tipping toward the floor for a moment and then slowly straightened and slid back onto the table.


Mary watched in disbelief, then moved quickly to that side of the table and examined the floor, the table and the tray. “What just happened here?” she wondered out loud.


A chuckle made her spin toward the door, but no one was there. Something brushed her cheek and then was gone. Mary frowned and rubbed her cheek, leaving ink behind. “What just happened?”




Gloria Potter stared up at the top shelf. “Whatever made me think to store those so high up?” she muttered as she climbed up the ladder. It wasn’t too far up really, but high enough that she couldn’t reach without aid. She climbed up to the box and pulled it carefully off the shelf, then started back down with one hand on the ladder and the other arm wrapped around the box.


Her skirt rustled around her legs and somehow as she stepped down to the next rung, she found herself standing on the hem. “Balderdash!” she exclaimed. “How do you get yourself into these situations?” Gloria looked around and sighed. There was no place to put the box on these lower shelves, at least not without sacrificing the other wares, and she couldn’t just toss the box on the floor either. The contents were breakable.


She squirmed a bit and balanced the box on the rung she was holding onto, then carefully lifted one foot and tried to stretch tall enough to pull the hem out from under. That seemed to work, so she did the same with the other foot, only this time the box shifted and Gloria instinctively grabbed for it and lost her hold on the ladder.


She started to fall and couldn’t get a firm grasp on the rung. Suddenly, two strong arms were around her waist and steadying her until she had a hold on the ladder once again. Gloria closed her eyes and held on tight.


“Allow me,” a voice drawled as the box was taken from her. A short moment later, a hand on her elbow guided her back down the ladder.


Gloria turned as she reached the floor. “Thank you, Mr. Standish,” she said without thinking. She had easily recognized the Southerner’s voice.


“My pleasure, Mrs. Potter,” Ezra replied.


Mrs. Potter suddenly paled as she realized no one else was in the store and that the man she’d thanked had been dead for over two months.


“Are you all right, Mrs. Potter?” Ezra asked. “Should I get Nathan?”


“Ezra?” she asked, putting a hand out toward the voice. “Is that really you?”


Ezra sighed as he realized she couldn’t see him. “Yes, Mrs. Potter. Not so much ‘in the flesh’ though, as you can see.”


“Oh. Oh, my. Well, this is a surprise,” she stuttered, then shook her head and faced the direction she’d heard his voice. “Thank you for your help,” she said with a smile.


Ezra smiled back. “You’re welcome.”




“You got a problem with that, Ezra?” Chris asked.


“No, of course not. But you do realize that Oak Ridge is beyond my limits. I can only go with Buck and JD to just past Eagle Falls,” Ezra replied.


Chris nodded. “I know. I’d just feel better if we could keep in touch with them ‘til then.” He glanced at Buck and JD. “Ya’ll okay with that?”


“Sure, Chris,” JD said. “I wish Ezra could come all the way with us.”


“Yeah,” Buck agreed. “This trial is going to be so boring.”


Ezra grinned. “Well, at least you’ll have the pleasure of my company part way.”




Buck, JD and Ezra rode out of Eagle Falls early on their third day of travel. Buck hoped to make it to Oak Ridge by lunch time. They chatted idly about the trial where Buck and JD would be witnesses to a land scheme. The defendant had made the mistake of trying his con in Four Corners. When Ezra pointed out to the others what the man was doing, they quickly arrested him and found that he had outstanding warrants in Oak Ridge and several other towns. Oak Ridge had precedent over the others, including Four Corners. Buck and JD would be testifying about what had happened in Four Corners.


“I really wish you could be there, Ez,” JD repeated for about the twentieth time. He was a little nervous about testifying. Not that he hadn’t testified before, but it was usually in front of Judge Travis and this time he didn’t know the judge or anyone but Buck and the defendant.


“Not to worry, JD,” Ezra said. “I know you’ll do fine. If you grow too nervous, just imagine the lawyer in his long johns.”


Buck laughed as JD grimaced at the thought.


Ezra looked around and glanced at his watch, which for some odd reason still seemed to keep time. It was several hours past the point where he’d expected to be pulled back into ‘his territory.’ He frowned and checked the watch again. Maybe it was wrong.


“Something wrong, Ez?” Buck asked.


“No… No, not at all. I’m just surprised to still be here.”


JD straightened in his saddle and twisted to either side to get a good look around. “Geez, Ez, I thought you said you couldn’t come this far. Figured you’d have to leave just outside of Eagle Falls.”


“That is what I assumed as well,” Ezra replied softly. “Perhaps I made an error in assuming it was the town I was bound to.”


Buck blinked and frowned. “What do ya mean, Ez? If not Four Corners… You think…”


Ezra shrugged. “I can only go by what I’ve experienced so far, Buck. When I was alone, I could only venture a good two days ride from town. But all of you were in town at that time. Today, we’ve traveled several hours outside of the previous boundary.”


“So,” JD said. “You mean that maybe you’re attached to us? Not a place, but a person?” he said, remembering what Yi T’on had told them.


“Or people,” Buck said slowly.


JD shrugged. “Well, the only way to know for sure is to try it. Why don’t you pop back home and see if you can come back here?”


Ezra chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully. “But what if I can’t get back to you?”


Buck shook his head. “We never expected you to stay with us or come back in the first place. I agree with JD. Better to try it now. We don’t get this chance often. It may come in handy later, if we know it works.”


Ezra nodded slowly. “All right. I’ll go back and inform the others. If I can, I’ll be back within the hour.”


JD and Buck nodded.


Ezra thought about home and found himself in his room. It was his preferred choice since no one else was likely to be in the room. He quickly made his way down to the saloon. None of the others were there this time of the morning, so he went in search of them. He didn’t have far to go as both Chris and Vin were sitting in front of the jail.


He went over to them and sat between them so they could carry on a conversation without attracting attention.


“You’re back on time,” Chris said with a slight nod of greeting.


“Yes, well, something unexpected happened,” Ezra said.


“Trouble?” Vin asked, straightening up in his chair.


“No. But I was able to travel several hours past Eagle Falls with them,” Ezra said. “Well past what I thought was my limit.”


“Well, that’s good news,” Chris said.


Ezra nodded slowly. “I believe I could have gone farther as I made the choice to return, I was not forced.” He watched them think this through then added, “JD and Buck both thought it beneficial for me to return and test out our new hypothesis.”


“And what might that be?” Chris asked.


Ezra ran his thumb along his lower lip. “That perhaps I’m not bound to the town, but to one or more of you.”


Vin pursed his lips and stared off across the street thoughtfully while Chris looked at Ezra and digested this information.


“Makes sense,” Vin said finally.


“It does?” Ezra asked.


“Yup. A lot more sense than you being tied to this or any other town.”


Chris snorted and leaned back in his chair with a slight smile on his face.


Ezra looked from one to the other, confusion clear on his face. “And this doesn’t bother you? That I’m somehow linked to you?”


Chris shrugged.


Vin shook his head. “Why should it?”


“Well… I…” Ezra stammered, then stopped and let his gaze wander up the street. “I don’t know.”


Chris and Vin laughed. Ezra shook his head and sighed.


“Come on, Ez,” Chris said. “Why don’t you go back to Buck and JD, if that works, come back here. I’ll send Vin and Josiah out the other way and we can test this theory.”


Vin nodded. “Don’t figure we’ll have to go far. Just enough to see if you really do center on us. Maybe you can try to reach another place two days out from Oak Ridge, too. That would tell us for sure.”


Ezra nodded. “That is an inspired idea, Vin.” He stood up and straightened his jacket. “I’ll be back,” he said, then popped out.


Vin and Chris exchanged an amused glance then went back to staring down the street.


“Think I should let J’siah know we’ll be hitting the road?” Vin asked lazily.


“Yeah, suppose ya should,” Chris replied in kind.




Ezra was indeed able to get back to Buck and JD and to another town he was familiar with some two days ride from there. When he popped back to town after leaving Buck and JD in Oak Ridge several hours later, he found that Vin and Josiah had already started for River Bend in the opposite direction. He was able to find them and travel a similar distance out from there.


He spent the rest of the time bouncing back and forth between the three sets of friends, thoroughly enjoying his newfound freedom. Granted, he could only go so far as his friends were willing to travel, but it still gave him more liberty than before.


Life was… er, life after death, was good.




Ezra popped back into town with a smile on his face. He’d taken advantage of Josiah’s visit to Vista City to check out some of the towns beyond. He couldn’t wait to share his trip with the others. Josiah was just a short way outside of town now and then they would all be home again.


He sauntered down the stairs to the main floor of the saloon and slipped into the back briefly to let Inez know he was back. He didn’t want to take the chance on startling her as he had one night. She’d dropped an entire tray of mugs when he greeted her cheerily after returning from Eagle Bend. Inez’s language had turned even Ezra’s ears red.


He shook his head fondly and returned to the front where Buck and Chris sat at their usual table.


“Gentlemen,” Ezra greeted as he sat down.


“Welcome, back,” Buck smiled.


“Have a good time?” Chris asked with a slight grin.


“Indeed! I did indeed,” Ezra replied heartily. “It’s quite invigorating visiting new places, seeing new sights. I wish I could convince…”


He was interrupted by JD rushing through the swinging doors.


“We got trouble at the bank!” JD shouted.


Ezra popped out immediately.


“Where are the others, JD?” Chris asked as he and Buck headed for the door.


Ezra appeared inside the bank and took in the situation. The two tellers were lying on the floor, but appeared unharmed. Three armed men had a bag each stuffed to the brim and slung over their shoulders.


“Let’s go,” one of the men said. “Earl and the others will cover us.” He pushed the door open and went outside. Ezra followed them.


“Hold it right there,” Larabee demanded from across the street.


“Chris,” Ezra shouted, “there are at least three others about.” He let himself rise from the ground and took a look around. “There’s two by the livery,” he informed as the shooting started, then it was too loud for him to be heard.


Ezra popped over to the livery and tipped one of the men’s hats over his eyes just as he was about to pull the trigger. The flustered man looked around and elbowed his partner, spoiling his aim as well.


“What’d ya do that for?” he yelled.


Ezra grinned and left the two to argue. He spotted another man up on the roof of the Mercantile and headed that way. Something flew past him just as he was about to reach the roof. It took him a split second to recognize what it was and then he spun in the air and yelled, “DYNAMITE!”


The explosion rocked the area, but fortunately the man’s aim had been poor. No one was injured.


Ezra set down on the roof just as the man dispatched another stick. Ezra watched in horror as the dynamite landed at the base of the building across the street. It wasn’t the sturdiest of constructions, but at the moment was shielding Chris from the gunfire.


The dynamite exploded. The building shook and for a second Ezra thought it would remain standing. Then ever so slowly it began to tilt.


“Chris!” Ezra screamed. He popped in beside Chris as the side of the building collapsed on top of them.


The noise had been deafening, and now, suddenly it was quiet except for the creaking of timbers and the occasional crack as wood gave way.


Ezra opened his eyes and was surprised to see Chris lying beneath him. Somehow the broken building had not crushed Larabee. Ezra could actually feel the weight of the wood pressing on him, and worse yet, he could feel himself getting weaker and weaker.


“Help! Anybody! Chris is under here, I can’t hold it for long!” Ezra shouted as loudly as he could, praying that someone was near enough to hear him.


“Ezra?” Josiah’s voice came through.


“Hurry, Josiah,” Ezra urged.


Shouts for help and replies echoed oddly in Ezra’s ears as his world seemed to shrink down to two realities… Chris’ unconscious form below him and the weight of the building trying to flatten them both.


Josiah rallied the others and started moving broken planks. He couldn’t say how long they worked, but every once in a while he’d hear Ezra’s plea to hurry and send back a quick encouraging reply to hold on, they were coming.


Finally they lifted a piece that gave them a view of Chris. Ezra was no where to be seen, but the rest of the Seven could tell he was there because the section of the building over Chris seemed to be defying gravity. It wavered, up and down, just a few feet above Chris’ head.


“Hurry,” Ezra strained voice urged again as the wood slipped closer to Chris.


Four of them grabbed the edges of the wall and lifted while Nathan caught Chris’ arms and dragged him out from under.


A weary sigh sounded from beneath the wall and suddenly the other four found it to be too heavy to hold. They jumped back as the piece fell to the ground shooting dust into the air.


“Help me get him to the clinic,” Nathan said.


As Buck, Vin and JD helped Nathan with Chris, Josiah looked around. They’d managed to wound or kill all of the bandits. The town had a few more gunshot holes to patch up as well as the pot hole from the first blast of dynamite and this collapsed building.


He frowned as he searched for the gambler’s red coat, expecting to see Ezra’s relieved, yet cocky grin at having been able to help out in this latest crisis. “Ezra?” Josiah called softly.


There was no answer.




Three days later


Chris looked up as his five friends joined him. “Still no sign of him?” he asked.


Vin shook his head. “Nope. Checked every where. He don’t have any reason to be hidin’, Chris.”


Josiah sighed. “He sounded so… weak.”


“I don’t see how he could hold that wall up for so long,” JD said with a frown. “He couldn’t move big things before, just small stuff. And all four of us couldn’t hold that wall off the ground once Chris was out from under it.”


Buck smoothed the edge of his mustache thoughtfully. “Ya think he…”


“What, Buck?” Nathan asked.


“Well, what if he used hisself all up saving Chris?”


“Whatta ya mean, Buck? Used hisself up?” JD asked. “He’s a ghost,” he said, then looked around the saloon and lowered his voice as he continued. “He’s already dead.”


Nathan nodded. “Yeah, but something… some part of him was still here. His spirit, his soul, whatever you wanna call it. That kind of effort has to cost something,” he said looking sadly at Chris.


Larabee refused to meet his eyes. All he could recall was the explosion and hearing Ezra call his name, then nothing until he’d woken up in Nathan’s clinic. He didn’t want to believe that the gambler had spent himself to save his life, but that seemed to be the only logical explanation.


“So, now what?” JD asked.


No one had an answer.




A week passed and the six gunslingers had to admit, if only to themselves that Ezra was truly gone this time. It was like he had died again. The townsfolk didn’t know what to make of the sad, angry men who guarded their town. Only Mary, Inez and Gloria Potter seemed to understand.




Josiah wandered out to the cemetery for the third day in a row. He knelt by Ezra’s grave and tucked a deck of cards into the soil by the headstone. “This isn’t any easier than it was the first time, Ezra.” He wiped his eyes and looked up at the sky. “Chris blames himself.” Josiah shook his head. “’Course that’s nothing new, but try convincing him that it wasn’t his fault. As if the man could have done anything when he was out cold.”


He looked back down at the marker he and the others had placed so many months before. ‘Ezra Standish – Our beloved brother.’ No words seemed adequate to describe the flamboyant gambler, but those expressed their loss the best.


Josiah stood and sighed. “See ya later, Ezra,” he said as he made his way slowly back into town.




Buck walked over and sat down beside Chris. Larabee had a bottle in front of him and a grimace on his face that never seemed to go away. Vin sat silently at the table as well, but nodded when Buck met his eyes.


“This ain’t gonna do no good, Chris,” Buck said softly. He leaned his elbows on the table and looked at his old friend. “Ezra wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself, pard.”


Chris looked up, his hazel eyes dull and bloodshot, more from a lack of sleep than from the whiskey. “Shut up, Buck,” Chris hissed. “You don’t know nothin’. You don’t know,” he reached for the bottle as he continued, “how I…”


The bottle slid away from his outstretched hand. Chris stared at it for a long moment then looked at Buck and Vin for confirmation of what he’d just seen. They both nodded, eyes wide with hope.


“Ez?” Chris whispered.


“Mr. Wilmington’s quite correct, Chris,” a familiar Southern drawl replied. “There is no need to be impugning yourself over what occurred.”


 “Ezra!” Chris exclaimed with a smile as he realized that the ghost really was there. “Show yourself. Where have you been?”


“Alas, I’m afraid I still don’t have the ability to become visible to you, as yet. But things are improving,” Ezra said.


“What happened?” Buck asked, grinning broadly with relief.


“Perhaps you could round up the rest of our friends so that I don’t have to repeat myself,” Ezra suggested.


Vin nodded and strode out the door.


“Inez, Mary and Mrs. Potter, too, if you don’t mind,” Ezra requested.


“They know?” Chris asked surprised.


“Inez and Gloria, yes. And I suspect Mary does as well.”


“I’ll get Mary and Mrs. Potter,” Buck said as he stood and left as well.


Chris grinned and shook his head then looked back toward the bar. Inez was just coming out of the kitchen. “Inez, could you come over here for a moment, please?”


She raised her head and looked at Chris for a moment then nodded. Something was going on with the gunslinger. He hadn’t looked this… happy since… Inez wiped her hands on her skirt as she came to a stop beside the table. “Yes, Seńor Larabee? How may I help you?”


“Just wanted to give you a bit of good news, Inez,” Chris said with a smile. “If you have a moment.”


She took a breath and sighed as she nodded and sat down. “We are waiting for something?”


“The others will be right here, kinda want to wait for them.”


JD rushed in at that moment. “What’s up, Chris? Buck just poked his head into the jail and told me to get my a…” he stopped when he realized that Inez was sitting with Chris. “Well, he told me to get over here fast.” The sheriff took a seat at the table and looked at Chris expectantly.


“We’re waiting for everyone to get here,” Inez explained when Chris just grinned.


Within minutes, the rest of the Seven, along with Inez, Mary and Gloria Potter were seated or standing around the table.


“Well,” Josiah said. “What’s the meeting about?” he looked from Buck and Vin to Chris, wondering what was causing their excitement.


“Actually, I wanted to speak to everyone at one time,” a soft Southern drawl replied.


“Ezra!” JD shouted.


Inez squealed his name and grabbed the closest person in a hug. Chris returned the hug, grinning like a fool as the rest of the people around the table exchanged similar embraces and slaps on the back.


The few remaining patrons cast wary glances at the group and quietly left the saloon.


“Ezra?” Josiah said, breaking into the merriment. “Are you still here, son?”


“Yes, Josiah. Though I am uncertain how long I will be able to maintain contact. I am still considerably weakened.”


“What happened to you?” Mary asked.


“I was attempting to distract some of the outlaws when I saw that one of them had dynamite. He threw the second stick toward Chris and I immediately went to help. I didn’t think about the fact that I shouldn’t be able to help, I just went. The next thing I knew, the building was tumbled down around us and… somehow, I was able to keep that broken section of wall from crushing Chris. Once you all removed Chris… I was so weary. For some time, I am uncertain how long, I just… floated and then I was back in town, but couldn’t communicate with any of you or move anything either. It wasn’t until just a few minutes ago that I was able to accomplish both.”


“Do you think we’ll be able to see you again?” JD asked.


“You could see him?” Mrs. Potter asked.


The men nodded.


“I could only hear him and feel his presence,” Inez said.


“Me, too,” Mary agreed as Gloria nodded.


“I do not know why you couldn’t see me, ladies,” Ezra placated. “Believe me, I would love to interact with you face to face, so to speak.”


All the ladies smiled.


“Wait a minute,” Buck said. “How long have you three known about Ez? And why didn’t you say something?”


“Just what were we supposed to say, Mr. Wilmington?” Gloria asked. “I certainly had no idea until he helped me out. Why would we think you would believe us? Besides, you seemed to want to keep it a secret.”


Buck looked to the others for help. JD shrugged. Josiah just grinned and tilted his head.


“They’re right,” Nathan said. “If we hadn’t been together the first time Ezra appeared, I know I would have had a hard time believing. If it had just been me to see him, I suppose I’d rather keep his visits to myself if I wasn’t sure ya’ll knew. At least then I could enjoy our time together and not worry about whether or not anyone thought I was crazy.”


“I’m touched, Nathan,” Ezra said sincerely.


Nathan smiled shyly. “Well, you may be a pain sometimes, but I miss you when you’re not around.”


“And I have missed you. All of you. You cannot know how frustrating it is to watch the goings on in town and be unable to communicate with anyone.” Ezra sounded upset.


Hands reached out automatically to comfort him though no one made contact of course.


Ezra chuckled. “Thank you, my friends. I am sorry for putting you through that again. I feel myself fading, but know that I am here and hopefully will regain whatever manner of strength I have in due time. Good night.”


“Stick around, Ezra,” Chris said. “We may not be able to hear you, but… well, it’s nice to know you’re around.”


“I shall,” came the whisper soft reply.


They sat and talked for a while and then the ladies headed back to their homes. Inez closed the saloon for the evening and disappeared upstairs to her room.


The remaining Seven talked and relaxed, soothed by the knowledge that Ezra was still with them, in spirit if not body. And even though he didn’t participate in the evening’s celebrations, they knew that soon he’d be back to his old tricks.




JD sat in the chair in front of the jail house with his feet resting up on the hitching post. Ezra balanced on the hitching post facing JD, though he frequently cast looks down the street to see what might be happening.


He’d been back to normal for almost a week now, after two long weeks of minimal interaction with his friends. Now he could be seen and heard and even manage to move small items once again. Even the three ladies could see him now.


Ezra glanced at JD, waiting for the young man to bring up whatever was bothering him.


Finally JD cleared his throat. “So, um, Ez. Do you think that will ever happen again?”


“What ‘that’ are you referring to, JD?” Ezra asked, suppressing a grin.


“Well, you getting so weak that you can’t talk to us.”


“Ah. Well, I suppose that would depend on whether or not I’m required to do something equally as draining as holding up a building,” he said with a smile.


JD rolled his eyes then seemed to contemplate what the gambler had said. “Don’t.”


“Don’t what?” Ezra asked.


“Don’t do it again, Ez.”


“You would prefer I allow the building to crush someone next time?”


“No!” JD exclaimed, dropping his feet to the sidewalk and leaning forward in the chair. “Of course not, it’s just… well, there shoulda been another way,” he finished lamely.


Ezra shook his head. “I don’t believe so, JD. There wasn’t time. And who’s to know if another similar event might take place in the future where I can help only at the expense of myself.” He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “I’d much rather that, than to find out if I am destined to spend my after life with or without one or more of you gentlemen’s company.”


JD frowned. “What do you mean?”


“If one of you dies, will you join me in this,” Ezra waved his hand vaguely, “this half-life, or will you pass on, leaving only the other five and my ghostly self? Personally… I am not ready to find out.”


JD sat back in his chair. Finally he nodded. “Okay, I see what you mean, but still… I don’t want to lose you either.”


“And I don’t want to go, JD,” Ezra replied with a grin. “Trust me, I shall try to avoid such an occurrence, however I won’t worry myself overmuch about it and I suggest you don’t either.”


“Yeah, not much point in worrying about something that might not happen, right?”


“Right. Besides, I find myself more inclined than before to believe in Josiah’s ‘destiny.’”


JD grinned. “It does seem that the seven of us are meant to stay together, doesn’t it?”


Ezra grinned back. “It does indeed, my friend. It does indeed.”






In case you didn’t catch it, the title is a play on Afterlife… after = subsequent, life=existence <G>.


Yi  is Kiowa for two, and T’on for water, I just put the words together and made up the name.


Note: I read NotTasha’s fic, called ‘The Shade of Four Corners’ after I came up with the premise for this story. Fortunately, I think the idea is different enough so that they can both be enjoyed as individual stories. I loved her story though, and if you haven’t read it, you should.


Feedback is always welcomed. What did you think? Judy