Challenge - OW and ATF
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra and the gang... both gangs.
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story 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.
NOTE: May 2002 Magnificent 7 Challenge, offered by Michelle Naylor: "Do you believe in the supernatural, the unusual, the out of the ordinary things that cannot be explained? What would the boys do when faced with such a situation? Write a story where one or more of the boys are caught up with forces beyond their control. My one stipulation is that there must be some otherwordly figure, (ghost, alien, angel, etc...) there to help them along. Note: This should not be a horror story!"
originally posted May 2002. Update May
Bolt out of the Blue
Note: This story was originally posted 5/16/2002 as a response to a Challenge asking for a supernatural story. I find it hard to believe that it was 13 years ago! In any case, this story has received the most requests for a sequel. I really didn't think that the 'other side' was do-able, but I finally dug down and managed to get it written. This posting starts with the old story – revised and expanded. The new story starts with Part 3, but you should probably start with Part 1 because some changes have been made.
Agent Standish yawned into his hand and waited. Somewhere, in the little grove, the team's profiler was searching for his golf ball. Ezra could see his mauve golf-shirt through the trees.
Buck Wilmington yelled encouragement, which wasn't doing anything of the sort. Agent Dunne poked around the edges of the deep grass with his club, as if there was hope of finding the little ball anywhere near the fairway. From time to time, Agent Sanchez would utter another curse, but he doggedly continued his way through the rough.
Ezra closed his eyes. He'd spent the last two months undercover, wending his way into the good graces of a businessman who was rumored to be exporting weapons. He was suspected of poisoning those who'd wronged him. It had been bone-tiring to work.
The bust had finally gone down yesterday afternoon without incident. Mr. Hargrove was behind bars, awaiting his trail. The fingerprint evidence was airtight. Hargrove would spend the rest of his life in prison. No one could have been more relieved than one ATF undercover specialist named Ezra Standish.
There were times when Ezra contemplated his choice of profession. Why did he insist on constantly putting himself in situations that disgusted him? Why did he insinuate himself into places he'd rather avoid? Why did he spend so much time learning professions, pastimes, and pursuits that had nothing to do with his preferences? Why did he live among the worst examples of human beings on the planet? Why did he always have to play a part, become someone else?
'Because I am good at it,' Ezra reminded himself. Very good.
But he missed the simple times, like this one – where he could just relax with his friends.
"Found it!" Sanchez shouted joyfully and took a couple of hacks at the newly recovered ball. After more curses, it finally flew, landing not far from Ezra's feet.
Standish glanced at it, with eyebrows raised.
The profiler reached him and smiled congenially. He paused a moment before he stated, "Ezra, you look like you're about to fall over."
"Nonsense," Ezra said and yawned again. "I'm full of vim and vigor."
"Yeah, for an eighty-year-old man," Buck countered, twirling his club like a baton.
Ezra nodded contemplatively. "Yes, but a rather spry octogenarian."
JD shrugged. "Why don't we go in then? We aren't getting anywhere with this game."
"Yeah, we can pay a visit to the 19th Green," Buck added.
"Buck," JD put in, "I thought there were only 18 holes?"
"Mr. Wilmington is speaking of the bar and I couldn't agree more," Ezra drawled. "Gentlemen, let's adjourn and recommence our discussion at the clubhouse, augmented with suitable libations."
"Damn, Ezra," Buck chuckled. "Why do you always have to say a dozen words when two or three will do. Let's get hammered!"
"I got your clubs for ya, Ez," JD said, as he shouldered first his bag, and then Ezra's.
"Thank you, Mr. Dunne. Don't strain yourself," Ezra commented and started toward the clubhouse. He was grateful for the young agent's helpful nature. The idea of dragging that bag all the way back to the clubhouse sounded like a Herculean endeavor at that moment.
It was amazing that his undercover work took so much out of him. He should have been used to it by now. It was, perhaps, the isolation that dragged him so low.
Ezra gazed up at the sky as he moved, noting how clear and mild the day had become. Earlier, when the three had arrived to pick him up, there had been a little rain. But now, it looked as if it would be a lovely day.
He continued taking long strides, eager to reach the main building, ready to unwind with his friends. He certainly needed that. He realized that he was outpacing them when he heard Wilmington's voice from behind him say, "Well, he ain't so feeble if he's movin' so fast!"
Ezra turned to say something to them when it hit him -- like a bolt out of the blue.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
It was dark. It was very dark. He fought his way out of it, back to consciousness.
He felt as if something had struck him, had laid him out. 'What the hell?'
"Ezra?" he heard the voice softly call, breaking through the blackness. "Hey, Ez?" Was that Nathan?
He tried to lift one arm, feeling stiff and sore. Little electric bursts seemed to course through him at the small movement.
"I think he's gonna be okay," Nathan spoke, his voice sounding muddy.
'Damn it,' Ezra thought, 'I feel like hell.' He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids seemed pasted shut. He turned his head slowly, feeling muscles pulling. Where did Nathan come from? Wasn't he spending the day with Rain? He wasn't supposed to show up until they reached Larabee's place.
"Damn, he scared the hell out of us," Buck uttered not far from him.
"I thought we lost him," Josiah's baritone seemed to vibrate though his aching bones.
He was hurt and in a bed. For a moment, his heart raced as he figured his only likely location, (considering his present unpleasant condition) would be stuck in a hospital. Lord, he hated hospitals.
But that didn't seem right. Where were the blips and beeps, the rattle of gurneys, the irritating PA system that never shut up? He listened carefully, but the room seemed remarkably quiet. Maybe they'd shut the door? Why hadn't they thought of that before?
"He gonna be wakin' up soon?" Ah, there was Mr. Larabee. They must have called in all the troops. Well, if Mr. Larabee and Nathan were here…
"He'll wake," that was Vin, sounding more Texan than usual. "He just ain't gonna do it b'fore he really wants to." Hmm, he really should speak to Mr. Tanner about his language skills.
How did they fit so many into one hospital room?
Ezra inhaled through his nose, expecting the unbearable tang of disinfectants that always went with hospitals, but instead, he registered only a woody, earthy, horsy smell. Were they at Larabee's Ranch already? There was a musky smell as well – the odor of unwashed men.
The blanket under his hand was too soft for hospital issue… a quilt? It must be the ranch. 'Why the hell did they take me here if I'm hurt?'
Perhaps, he'd suffered an injury at the ranch and had lost some of his recent memory. Troubling, but it made sense.
He definitely felt strange. It was a disconnected feeling, as if his body wasn't quite his own.
Standish opened his eyes, finding them capable of performing the task, and blinked to focus. The room was kindly dim -- no florescent lights. There seemed to be no electric lights at all -- only the daylight streaming in the window. 'Thank God!'
He squinted, not recognizing anything in the room – this wasn't the ranch. This was… unsophisticated -- rough wood and cloth. Bottles gleamed on a shelf.
"Ezra?" Nathan called softly, drawing his attention from the furnishings.
"Mr. Jackson," Ezra responded thickly and gazed at the medic. He looked rustic -- all in browns, from his trousers, to his shirt to his hat. Was he planning to do some yard-work? The clothes were rather ragged for the somewhat-fashion-conscious Nathan Jackson. He couldn't remember Nathan ever wearing a hat before.
"How ya feelin', Ezra?" the medic asked sincerely.
"Like I got run over by a semi carrying half a double-wide," Ezra murmured. "And then tagged by the one that followed."
"What?" JD called nearby. Ezra turned to face Dunne and was stunned to silence for a moment, looking at what the young agent was wearing. "Ez? You okay?"
"Mr. Dunne, what is that on your head?" Ezra asked, perplexed.
Wilmington guffawed, drawing Ezra's attention to him. Lord! Buck looked like someone's imitation of a broncobuster. 'And a mustache? When? How?' Buck was literally hooting with glee as JD snatched the hat off his head.
Dunne looked thoroughly annoyed. 'JD's hair… good God! Why hadn't I noticed that horrible need for a haircut when I got back from the Hargrove case? Does he ever wash it?'
'Wait, I would have noticed that! I must have been unconscious for… a long time. A coma?'
"Ezra?" His attention turned to Larabee. Ezra couldn't help himself when his eyes lit upon their leader; he laughed. Larabee looked like… some sort of a gunslinger from a spaghetti western, dressed in black from head to toe, a mean-looking cowboy hat perched on his head, an ill-made, unlit cigar crammed in his mouth.
He looked upset.
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra drawled, shoving his elbows under himself and leveraging himself up. "Are you trying to impersonate Mr. Eastwood by any chance?"
"Who's that, Ezra?" Josiah's voice boomed in the small room. Hell, Sanchez was wearing some sort of a serape! This whole room had a western air to it.
That's it. They must be participating a western show. How long have I been out of it? How the hell did I get here? What have they been doing with me while I was in a coma? Toting me about to all their little get-togethers and masquerades?
Maybe he'd been stuck in a fugue state from which he'd finally emerged. By the looks of Buck's mustache and JD's hair…it must have been a long time since that golf game. What had he been doing since then? Why did he just lose so much of his memory? What was Dunne doing with that hat?
He remembered a flash of light. Wasn't that a sign of brain trauma?
"Ezra?" Josiah asked, his voice concerned. "Did you hear me? Who's Mr. Eastwood?"
Ezra grimaced, wondering why his mind was wandering so. He murmured, "Clint Eastwood…of 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' fame -- 'A Fistful of Dollars,' 'A Few Dollars More'' 'Unforgiven'?"
Now why would Sanchez ask that? Hell, every other weekend he was forced to watch one of those films.
"And let's not forget the whole 'Dirty Harry' series and the rabid orangutan in 'Every Which Way but Loose' and its moronic sequel, but those really don't follow the western theme, do they? Although, a trucker in the '70's might be the equivalent of a cowboy." The look of incomprehension on Josiah's face stopped Ezra from saying any more.
His eyes finally fell upon Vin who was standing quietly in the corner. My God! What was he wearing? Buckskins? Filthy, stained buckskins… and that rifle so casually grasped in his hands? What's he expecting -- a commando raid? His hair was down to his shoulders! Perhaps it was a wig.
Vin watched him contemplatively, probably waiting for the joke to take effect.
"Very funny," Ezra said with a chuckle. "Yes, this is all hilarious, gentlemen. Now, if you would remove that preposterous paraphernalia, perhaps we could leave this re-creation and return to our normal lives." He slung his feet out from under the blankets and sat up fully.
Vertigo caught him. He wavered as the room spun like a tilt-o-whirl. Suddenly, he felt the tight grip of Nathan at one side and Buck at the other, keeping him from collapsing.
"Now, Hoss," Buck said. "You better take it easy for a while. I think that lightning might 'ave knocked you down a rung or two."
"Lightning?" Ezra asked as the world righted itself, as the ride slowed and came to a stop -- that flash of light!
"You got hit!" JD cried. "We were just walkin' on back toward town when it just … BANG!"
"There wasn't a cloud in the sky…" Ezra trailed off.
"I suppose it was the exact definition of a bolt out of the blue," Josiah said hollowly. "It struck and you went down."
"You were flat on your back when we got up to you!" JD added.
Josiah continued in his somber voice, "Couldn't wake you, so we carried you here to Nathan's."
"Nathan's?" Ezra repeated, looking around. "Nathan's what?" This certainly didn't look like Jackson's tasteful apartment.
"His clinic…" JD supplied helpfully.
Ezra scowled. This didn't look anything like any clinic he'd ever seen.
"Is he gonna snap out of this?" Larabee asked, looking as if he wanted to spit nails.
Nathan shrugged. "Damned if I know what happened. I ain't never heard of anyone livin' after bein' struck by lightnin'."
What the hell happened to Nathan's grammar? They were all talking like uneducated hayseeds.
"Figger he's plenty tough," Vin stated. Did Vin just say 'figger'?
This was all just too bewildering. Ezra closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands. "Please," he said, "can we call an end to this charade? You've made whatever point you were tryin' to make and I am in no mood to continue."
"Ezra, what the hell are you talkin' about?" Wilmington interjected.
"All this!" Ezra gestured blindly with one hand, supporting his head with the other. "Whatever it is you're tryin' to do to me, whatever joke you're attempting to perpetrate, let's call it an unmitigated success and end it."
He heard a rustle and when he looked up, Larabee was crouched in front of him. The stubble on Chris' chin made it obvious that days had passed since he'd last seen their illustrious leader. That was no false beard growing in. "Ezra," Larabee said quietly, laying a hand on his knee. "Are you all right?"
The piercing gaze of Mr. Larabee told him that this was no joke. Ezra just couldn't figure it all out just yet. Time to regroup -- to figure out what was going on -- to play a part until he knew what to do.
"I'm a bit bewildered," Ezra responded. "But otherwise, unharmed." He looked around the room suspiciously. "Everything is just a little strange right now."
"Lie down. Rest," Larabee commanded. "Things will straighten out."
"Don't argue with 'im," Jackson put in.
"Ya had a pretty busy day, Ez," Wilmington added.
"Damn! Lightning!" JD shouted. "BAM! Knocked him right off his feet." He shook his head in disbelief. "I ain't never seen the like of it!"
"And hopefully, never will again," Josiah added.
"Go to sleep, Ezra," Larabee commanded and waited until Standish had his legs once again under the covers and his head on the pillow.
The men filed out of the room, leaving Jackson behind. Tanner was the last to go. The sniper stood in the doorway for a moment, gazing back at the undercover agent with a stark blue gaze, and then he closed the door behind him.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
"Do you know what's wrong with him, Doc?"
"I don't know, JD. I ain't never heard anything like this. There's nothin' in my books about lightning strikes. I sent a telegram off to Doc Meer. See if he knows anythin' about this sort of thing. Maybe he can catch tomorrow's stage and come 'round to see 'im. 'Course that means it'll be two days before he can get here." There was a deep sigh. "Don't know if it would be worth the effort though. He's not burned or anythin'. Maybe he just lost his memory… or part of it. Didn't seem to know where he was."
"Seemed to know us though. He was acting kinda crazy. Did you understand what he was talkin' about?"
"No," was the sober response. "That strike might have hurt his brain or something. We'll have to keep an eye on him…" Nathan's voice trailed off. Ezra was certain that the medic was looking at him. "Been sleepin' since you all left. Hopefully he'll be feelin' better when he wakes up."
"Yeah…" The computer expert's voice stopped for a moment, becoming softer. "Scared the crap out of me when it happened. We all thought it killed 'im. You should have seen Josiah…"
"He'll be okay. He just needs a little rest. You'd better go. Don't want to wake him none."
"Okay. Let us know if you need anyone to watch for a while." And Dunne left.
In the quiet of the room, he could hear pages being flipped and -- from outside -- the muffled sound of what seemed to be horse-drawn carriages. There was the rattle of wheels, the jangle of harnesses, and the whiney of horses. Otherwise, all was still. The calm was rather… pleasant.
Something strange had happened on that golf course. Everything around him seemed to have sprung right from the 1800's! He was in the Wild West!
It's a dream, he decided – a strange dream. He couldn't recall having one like this before -- so vivid -- so beguiling. It was as if his team had been transported back in time. No, that's not right. It was if his team had always lived in this time period and HE had been transported back. They all knew him… all expected him to act a certain way.
Well, he was the best undercover agent in the business. He could handle this mission and act the part of a 19th century man: a Wild West desperado, a cowboy, a ranch hand? What the hell was he? The others certainly looked like a motley group. Where did he fit in among them?
Perhaps we're a gang of outlaws? Maybe we're all part of a law enforcement organization. What is the Old West version of an ATF unit? Maybe we're a posse! He couldn't suppress a small chuckle at that thought.
"Ezra?" he heard Nathan's soft voice.
"Mr. Jackson," Ezra returned with a yawn as he rolled onto his side.
"Feelin' any better?"
"Very much so." He opened his eyes and gazed back at the medic.
Jackson looked concerned. "Do you find any of this…odd?" He waved vaguely at the room. "Do you know where you are?''
Ezra smiled. "Nathan, this is your clinic. I know full well where I am."
The medic smiled broadly. "That's good to hear!" He moved quickly across the room. "Think you can sit up okay?"
"I'm feeling 100% improved," Ezra responded as he sat up. The room didn't tilt at all. "I may even consider standing."
Nathan looked at him critically. "Well, let's see if you can handle that. Take it easy though. Don't go too fast."
"Thank you, Mr. Jackson. It's good to know that some things never change." Ezra pushed himself to his feet and found he could keep his balance relatively easily. He kept one hand on the headboard for a moment as he surveyed the room from a new angle. He was wearing, he discovered with some degree of embarrassment… a nightgown. No, he amended…it was a nightshirt. Yes, that made all the difference. He ran his hand over the material, rubbing it carefully. Not as soft as the cotton he was used to, but it was better than those gowns from the hospital.
Nathan still hovered nearby. "You doin' okay?"
"Yes, quite well."
"Why don't you take a walk around? Josiah brought some clean clothes up for you. You got the old ones all dusty. If you can keep on your feet, I'll letcha have 'em."
"Ah, very good." Ezra sauntered slowly around the room, taking a moment to gaze at the books on Nathan's shelves, reading such titles as "Dr. Chases Remedy's and Recipes." "Surgery" (Surgery? How could a book be simply called 'Surgery'?) and "Herbs and their Uses." The bottles on his shelf had such alarming labels as "Fever Few." "Gunpowder," "Leeches" and "Laudanum"… wasn't opium in that? He kept his face mild as he watched the leeches squirm in their watery home. Ah, he thought, it's only a dream.
The tools sitting on the counter further made him shudder. They seemed more likely for woodworking or car-repair than for use on human beings. Was that a pair of pliers? A kitchen knife? A SAW? He kept moving.
A mirror graced one wall and Ezra stopped to ensure that he was … indeed … himself. He wasn't disappointed. The image reflected back at him looked like the Ezra P. Standish he had always known and admired. Yes, that familiar face gazed back at him with the same green eyes. His hairstyle was different – longer than was his liking. His hair tended to get wavy when it reached this length, but it handsomely cut. Unlike the others of his team, he found himself with only a 5 o'clock shadow. His sideburns were a little too long. He rubbed at one, not sure if he disliked the look or not.
All in all, he looked good. He smiled, satisfied at his image. Something flashed in his mouth and he did his best not to seem surprised to find one of his premolars graced with gold. He smiled broader to get the full effect and liked what he saw.
Behind him, he could see Nathan's reflection watching him carefully.
"Ah," Ezra stated. "It would be hard to find another image like that, wouldn't it? Pure excellence."
Jackson shook his head and chuckled.
With a measured pace, Standish moved toward the window and pulled back the curtain. Outside, the little rustic room extended into a little rustic town. Horses lined the street, people walked about in period dress. He could read signs that touted: Saloon, Saloon, Jail, Cigar Shop, Telegraph Office, General Store, Restaurant and Saloon. How quaint.
Dixon's Cigar Shop had a "new owner" sign in the window, and another that said "closed." Otherwise, every business seemed bustling with business.
He stood for a long time, watching the little scene outside. This wasn't a re-creation. No, this was too dirty, too lived in to be a mere weekend pleasure. He gripped the window frame tightly as he watched life move on outside the window.
Determinedly, he raised his gaze and looked out at the sky above, searching for contrails, for smog, for jet planes. He looked to rooftops for satellite dishes. He searched for power lines, and found only one line leading from the town – attached to the telegraph office. Then, he searched the people for digital watches, cell phones, rubber-soled shoes -- for anything that might tell him that this was all a façade. There was nothing to detract from the western scene. For all the world, this looked as if he'd been dropped into the Post-Civil-War West.
'It's a dream,' Ezra told himself. 'It's all a dream. It has to be.'
"Ezra," Nathan called. "You doin' okay?"
Ezra licked his lips before he could answer, "Splendidly."
"Turn around, I need to get a look at you b'fore I let you go."
'What, no MRI? No CAT Scan? What about the endless blood-work and the hospitalization overnight for observation?' He turned toward the medic. Jackson strode across the room and looked at him with a penetrating gaze.
"Figure you look okay," Nathan said after a few moments of observation. "You might as well get dressed and head out. I want you to stay close to home for a while though. Can't have you fallin' off your horse."
"Exactly," Ezra agreed. Nathan pointed toward a pile of clothing sitting on the edge of the desk. For a moment, Ezra was reluctant, afraid that the clothing would be of the same ilk as the garments he'd seen on the others. Good Lord, what if they were to dress him in buckskins like Tanner?
He smiled when he drew closer and his hand touched the fine material of a beautiful green jacket. Beneath it, a silk shirt, a lovely brocade vest and a well-made pair of pinstriped trousers with suspenders.
Eager at the idea of putting on such intriguing garments, Ezra carried them back to the bed. Nathan watched as Ezra lifted the silk shirt, examining it for one glorious moment. "Glad to see you actin' more like yourself," Jackson said before he returned to his desk and his book to offer Ezra some privacy.
Ah, it was a lovely shirt, tailored perfectly! The buttons were made of shell! The stitching was beautiful! Ezra paused before he buttoned the shirt up, frowning as he noticed a scar along his side. 'Now,' he thought. 'That was never there before.' But… the familiar scar on his abdomen was gone. Carefully, quickly, he did an assessment of himself, looking for known scars and finding them gone, replaced with new ones in different areas.
There was a bruise on his arm – round and dark. Almost as if a golf-ball-sized projectile had hit him that day. But that didn't happen, did it?
It was as if he had taken over the body of a man who was just like him -- with his name -- who talked just like him, who had friends just as he had in the 21st Century. But this man had lived a different life, faced different woes, fought different battles.
'Lord,' he thought as he picked up the exquisite vest. 'Speaking of woes…did this Ezra have a Maude, too?' He shook his head, reminding himself that this was only a dream. There wasn't another 'Ezra' -- only this odd and disconcerting fantasy.
Once he was adequately dressed, Nathan pointed him to his hat, his boots, a pocket watch and his guns. A wry smile crossed Ezra's lips at the sight. The weapons were just as fine as the clothing. "This Ezra arms himself as well as I do.'
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
Ezra absently ran his hand along the edge of his jacket's lapel as he sauntered along the wooden walkway, enjoying the feel of the exquisite green fabric. He must look like a peacock in this otherwise dull-colored town.
He was, if his clothing was any indication, a professional gambler. It made Ezra smile just to think of it. He'd always considered himself to be a bit of a gamester and here he was living that life. He did fairly well, if the fold of cash found in his boot was any indication.
He'd tipped his low-crown black Stetson to the ladies as he passed and not one of them cringed or scowled at him. Women's lib definitely hadn't hit yet. He held doors open for them, and they blushed so charmingly. It was a thoroughly enchanting little hallucination.
When he reached a 'General Store" he stopped and peered within. It was cramped and dim with long counters running around the interior – shelves were mounted along the walls and a long table ran down the center of the store, topped with various goods. Bags were stacked along one side of the room, butting against barrels.
"Mr. Standish!" a familiar voice called, and he was shocked to find Mrs. Potter moving within. "I received a shipment today," she said amiably. "There's something you might like."
"Oh?" he said moving within.
Smiling, she pointed to one of the glass jars on the counter, filled with candy peppermint sticks. "I know you usually like the round candies, but I thought these might make a certain someone happy. The children certainly are enjoying them."
He wasn't sure what to make of that. He wasn't a sweet-tooth. No, that was Mr. Tanner. Perhaps that's who she meant. Of course, this little fantasy world might be topsy-turvy in some cases.
"Delightful," he stated.
"I can set aside a few for you, if you'd like," she said helpfully.
"That would be appreciated," Standish responded. He frowned when she reached into the jar with her bare hands to pull out a few of the treats. She smiled as she carried them to another counter to wrap them up in brown paper.
'Make a note,' Ezra thought. 'Eat nothing.'
He moved through the store slowly, taking in everything. Most of the products were behind the counter. He'd have to ask Mrs. Potter to retrieve what was wanted. It didn't seem like a very effective way of shopping, but considering the fact that all the food items were out in the open – and bare hands were touching the products – it was probably for the best.
It wasn't as if there was much browsing required since the available choices were few. There was no variety. If you wanted beans, there was one style of canned beans. Soap came in harsh looking bars – probably lye. There was a pickle barrel and another with peanuts in the shell. Behind the counter were bins marked 'flour', 'sugar' and 'coffee' and 'beans'. Ah ha! There was more than one way to buy beans!
It didn't look as if he'd be able to get his favorite Starbucks blend here.
On the floor was a box of apples – all rather mean looking and insect-pocked. It appeared to be the only available fruit, but several other bins held fresh vegetables.
There were bolts of fabric leaned against one wall – gingham and blues and grays, and a little rack of shirts and trousers. It would appear that one shopped for size more than style – or you made what you wanted yourself.
This Ezra must shop elsewhere for clothing.
Another section of the store sold guns and ammo – all out in the open, next to stacks of plates and bowls.
He frowned when he noticed the rack filled with unrefrigerated eggs, bacon and ham. It was a wonder that everyone wasn't walking around with food poisoning. Another reason to abstain from putting anything in his mouth while he was here.
Was the water even safe? Doubtful. Best stick to alcohol.
"Is there anything else you'd like?" Mrs. Potter asked, as he perused her store.
Ezra smiled. "Not today, I'm afraid."
"Do you want these now, or I can save them for later," she said, holding up the carefully wrapped package.
"Later would be fine," he said with a smile, appreciating the customer service but he had no idea what he'd want with peppermint sticks. "Thank you for your thoughtfulness." He had made a circuit of the room and returned to the front. That didn't take long. Shopping adventures would be short excursions in this world.
"Good day," he said and tipped his hat as he left. Mrs. Potter smiled warmly at him.
Out on the boardwalk, he pulled the pocket watch from his vest pocket. It felt like such a natural movement, to rub one thumb over the "EPS" printed on the cover and to flip it open to check the time. He wondered why exactly anyone needed to know the time here.
This seemed to be a place free of timetables. The perfect place to relax.
He smiled as he looked up to see the jailhouse next to a general store, the telegraph office, the restaurant. And then he frowned, tipping his head slightly as he looked at the buildings. They all looked strangely familiar to him, and he couldn't quite remember why.
He glanced across the street and looked about, not feeing the same familiarity. It was odd.
"I see Nathan let you loose," Vin said as he approached.
"Yes, he decided that I could be let at my leisure, since I am apparently fit." Ezra couldn't help grinning at the buffalo-hunter version of Tanner. Agent Tanner was always a bit on the 'wild and woolly' side, but this was taking things to an extreme.
The undercover agent slipped the watch back into the small pocket in his vest and said, "I've been admonished to stay in town for the next few days."
"Probably a good idea," Vin commented. Ezra had to agree. With the strangeness of the dream, he needed some time to get his bearings. Vin nodded toward the door of a saloon that seemed to be named simply 'Saloon'. "Thirsty?"
"Thought so." Tanner led the way into the dim place and toward a table where Larabee and Dunne were already seated.
JD sprung to his feet. "You feelin' better now, Ezra?"
"Yes, Mr. Dunne. Much improved. Thank you for asking." Standish pulled the nearest chair from the table and sat down with a sigh. Vin looked at him curiously and took his seat.
"I've taken you off patrol for the next few days," Chris stated bluntly. "You'll make it up next week."
"Ah, yes. Patrol. Of course." Ezra's attention was on the interior of the tavern. A long bar took up one wall, and simple wood tables dotted the floor. Smokey-looking kerosene lamps hung from the ceiling. Some of the chairs looked as if they'd been broken more than once and crudely pieced back together. The shelves behind the bar were filled with brown bottles -- simple brown bottles without labels. He'd expected earthen jugs with "XXX" stenciled on them.
And the whole place smelled. He hadn't quite gotten used to that. It had an unwashed odor to it, a smell of men and animals, wood and whiskey. It smelled a bit like Larabee's ranch after Chris and Buck and the others had been working at it all day -- and drinking all night.
As much as he hated to admit it, his teammates in this fantasy all needed to take showers – long showers with plenty of that lye soap.
Cowpokes and a few floozies filled the room. Standish was a little startled when he glimpsed Inez Recilios behind the bar -- but at the same time, it didn't surprise him after he'd seen Mrs. Potter. Who knows? Maybe Judge Travis was here too, along with Mary and Billy.
Everywhere he looked, he saw something new (or rather something old) and intriguing. He certainly could dream vividly. Inez brought them each a beer and Ezra examined it a moment. He doubted that the glass had been properly cleaned. He was thirsty though, and decided that the alcohol would hopefully kill anything unpleasant.
He was pleasantly surprised at the rich taste of the brew. This definitely wasn't Coors Light nor Budweiser. The temperature was warmer than his preference.
Chris and JD were going on about recent activities around town, including their frustration at being unable to find out who'd murdered two local men – Cates and Partridge. They had been poisoned. Nathan was able to figure out that arsenic had been used, but so far they hadn't tracked down the culprit.
Ezra commented with them, catching the thread of the conversation and following along well enough to keep up. Vin stayed mostly silent, interjecting a word or two at times. It didn't take Ezra long to comprehend that they were all peacekeepers in this town.
It didn't surprise him one bit.
Chris pulled a stubby cigar from his pocket and sniffed at it experimentally. One end was mashed up, obviously having been gnawed on before. He jammed it in his mouth and glared at Ezra – refusing to light it.
Ezra rather doubted that there were any smoking rules in place here. There was a smokiness to the place, but nobody seemed to have lit up.
Josiah, Nathan and Buck arrived and the conversation continued.
"You gonna light that one any time soon?" Buck asked Larabee, pointing at the bent cigar.
Ezra was served with another dark look. "I don't have time to go to Ridge City," Larabee groused, "and since Ezra saw fit to close down Dixon's cigar shop, I'm going to have to save this one as long as I can."
The others laughed at that, and JD reminded Larabee that Dixon had been selling tainted products, and Ezra had been the one to figure it out. "He saved you all from smoking sawdust."
Chris looked as if it wasn't a fair trade.
The seven of them sat around the table as night fell, as if this was a normal activity. They drank beers and whiskeys -- and talked. It was a totally enjoyable evening, Ezra thought. He could pick up enough of the conversation to play his part and nobody seemed to suspect anything.
Inez came by with a tray of tamales and Ezra's stomach rumbled, reminding him that it had been some time since he had eaten. The others reached in to grab one.
Ezra held back, wondering about the cleanliness of the kitchen. Certainly, nothing here was up to standards. Good God, he'd die of food poisoning if he took a bite of anything!
Everyone else was digging in with gusto and it smelled amazingly good. They must have built up a tolerance for such things, he decided. He'd be sick as a dog. But this was all a dream, wasn't it? And even if it was real, he wasn't even in his own body. This was another Ezra, and this Ezra obviously ate this food. He'd survived it. It made sense that he would be fine.
Ezra was able to snag one of the remaining tamales before Buck got to it, and found the taste amazing. Hot as hell, but the whiskey helped with that. Who could have imagined such tasty food in this rustic place? The spices seemed different from what he knew, but he'd give the meal a 5-star rating on YELP if given chance.
The men kept talking, and then the name Hargrove came up.
Ezra paused and asked, "What do you know about him?"
"Not much more than you, I'd guess," JD said with a shrug. "He's got that big ranch to the north. Comes into town every couple of weeks with his guys."
'If there's a Hargrove in this era,' Ezra thought, 'he more than likely has the same disposition as the one from mine.' "Don't turn your back on him," Ezra commented. "He's a dangerous man." When the other men looked at him curiously, he continued, "The murders of two locals – Cates and Partridge – you said they were poisoned. Mr. Hargrove could have had something to do with them."
"Why would you say that?" Buck asked sharply.
"You got a feelin' about him?" JD inquired.
"Yes, a feeling. And not a good one." Ezra responded.
"One should always listen to their feelings," Josiah put in.
"Well," Buck said with a grin, "There's some feelin's that are more difficult to ignore than others." His eyes fastened on one of the saloon's floozies. "If you'll excuse me." And the ladies' man was on his feet and gone. The others could only shake their heads and chuckle.
Ezra gazed at the men at the table and felt totally at ease, completely happy. Yes, he felt as if he could live this life – a gambler and sometimes-lawman in a dusty western town. It set well with him. He glanced at his colorful jacket and realized that it was perfect for him.
They always referred to him as 'the gambler' after all. Here, he would have a chance to live up to that name.
He could have sat at the table with these men all night, but, finally, after a long evening and many beers, he began feeling one of the effects of drinking so much. "Now if you excuse me, I need to visit the restroom."
JD glanced toward the stairs. "Gonna go rest in your room?"
Ezra cursed himself, realizing his error. He smiled, glad that JD's gaze had at least directed him in the proper direction of his room. He'd need to know that later.
"Yes," he said, hoping that JD's assumption covered his flub. "After I make a short stop at the…." He trailed off, not know the proper terminology for toilet in this century. A 'bathroom' would probably send him to the bathhouse (not a bad idea -- Lord, there'd be no shower, would there?). Should it be 'pit toilet', 'john', 'outhouse', 'latrine', 'lavatory', 'crapper'? Was it even proper to speak of such things? He had a lot to learn.
Nathan shook his head. "You can't even say the word, can you? Yeah, the privy out back is gettin' pretty bad." He looked toward the back door of the saloon. "Someone's gonna have to dig a new one soon."
Out back? Ezra nodded and exited the rear door of the saloon, finding a tiny building some distance away from the others. The sky was just growing dark with evening. Soon, it would be too dark to see.
With a slow and apprehensive tread, he went to find out, first hand, one of the less agreeable aspects of living in the Old West.
"It's all a dream," he muttered as he steeled himself. "Courage, Ezra. Courage."
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
It hadn't taken long to find his room. JD had unconsciously directed him when he'd glanced this way. There'd been a key in his pocket and he quietly tried it in the rooms above the saloon. Once he'd been able to unlock the third and last door, he was met with darkness.
He let the lamp mounted in the hallway light the room, and he quickly found a little kerosene lamp inside the room. He lit it from the hall lamp and went within.
He missed electricity. It was so much easier to deal with. Also, he missed indoor plumbing. The 'privy' had not been kind.
Checking out the room, he decided that this was obviously the right place. The room was small and neat. He explored it with the lamp, finding a rocking chair, a bed, a small dresser with a variety of grooming utensils and other items on top, a shaving stand and wardrobe. The cabinet was filled with jackets of equally fine manufacture as the one he was wearing -- and just as colorful.
'Yes, I definitely shop elsewhere for my clothing.'
He decided it would be easier to see everything with the help of daylight, so he settled the lamp on a bedside table and tried the bed.
Pressing a hand onto the mattress, he found that it softer than was his liking, but he was enormously tired. It was time to find some rest. In the dresser, he found a nightshirt similar to the one he'd been wearing earlier. He hung the jacket in the wardrobe, along with his trousers, before he donned the nightshirt and slipped under the quilt and sheets of the bed.
He sunk into the mattress. Was it actually stuffed with feathers? Thank God, he didn't have any allergies.
He lay there for a moment or two, listening to the sounds coming up from the saloon, and then he lifted the chimney of the lamp, and blew out the flame.
The room was plunged into blackness. No little lights from a cellphone or smoke detector or cable control box. Not a sound came from outdoors. Outside the window, it was pitch black.
In the morning, he decided, this will all be over.
He fell asleep almost immediately, and slept deeper than he had in years.
He awoke slowly, marveling over that incredible dream, expecting to see his familiar bedroom and the glow of his digital clock. Instead, he found that same little western-town room and that wonderful feather bed.
'How very strange,' he thought as he sat up. 'Shouldn't this dream be over now?'
He wondered what he should do next. If this dream was continuing, then what was expected of him? Maybe he really was in a coma, and this was the fantasy that was playing out in his head to keep his mind busy.
Well, if that was the case, he'd might as well check out the extent of his fantasy. He stood and looked about the room again, now that it was daylight.
There was a small shelf stuffed full of books. Obviously, someone enjoyed reading, he thought as he ran a finger along the spines. There were all manner of titles -- poetry, fiction and non-fiction -- all crammed together in the small space. He would enjoy being able to sit back and read, but there was never enough time for that sort of thing, was there?
He pulled down Roughing It by Mark Twain. It looked brand new. When he opened it, he found it was a first edition. Quickly, he flipped to the title page and found this inscription:
"As I have said before, "become a blessing to your friends by ceasing to be a nuisance to them". But Ezra, never stop being a nuisance. You are so very good at it."
And beneath that, the signature -- S.L Clemens, Mark Twain.
He felt his jaw drop as he held the book. It would be worth a fortune! He clutched it, coveting it. Wanting to take this book with him wherever he went.
But no, that wasn't possible. When he eventually awoke, this would be over. With a sigh, he placed the book back on the shelf. This was just further proof that he was in a dream. There was no possible way that he might have met Mark Twain. But his fingers were reluctant to leave the book.
He had not time for reading. He wanted to get out and do more exploring.
Now to dress for the day. The clothing in the wardrobe was all well-made, but some of it was dustier than he cared for – it all needed a good dry cleaning. But, in spite of living in a time without such amenities, most of the clothing looked well cared for. He chose a silk shirt with a fewer ruffles than the one he'd worn the day before. He found a delightful red jacket with a complementary waistcoat and black trousers. The underwear gave him some trouble. He missed elastic.
He figured out how the derringer rig worked (it had been carried in his pocket since yesterday -- he didn't want to fumble with it under Nathan's observation), and suited up for the day.
The shaving stand and straightedge razor alarmed him. He stood beside the small mirror for a moment, feeling the stubble on his face and eyeing the sharp blade. Perhaps he could just go without shaving this morning. Yet, that wouldn't be right, would it? No, he was clean-shaven yesterday. The prominent position of this stand told him that it was often used.
appearances are everything," he muttered to himself. "And
besides… this is just a dream. No damage will be done." He'd need
some warm water. Now, how to get it. He recalled his experience of
the previous day in the outhouse and realized there was no running water here
-- let alone hot water.
He pulled open his door, to consider how he'd go about locating that commodity and found, to his surprise, a little kettle wrapped in a towel at his doorstep. "Well, I guess I think of everything," he said as he brought the kettle into his room. "I even order hot water every morning for my shave. How like me."
Now, there was no excuse.
The shaving soap built up a nice lather with the brush. He'd have to consider switching from shaving cream in a can.
In spite of himself, his hand seemed quite comfortable on the handle of that deadly blade and he managed to complete the shave without cutting off his head or even nicking his skin. He'd received straight-edge shaves at the barber, so he knew the procedure – but he never thought he'd be able to replicate the operation so well. He was pleased with the final effect, running his hand along his smooth cheek and considering adding a straightedge to his list of 'must gets' once he woke up from this dream.
He regarded the finished look in the mirror, liking what he saw. I should wear color more often, he decided as he settled his hat. After cocking his head at the image, he decided he should wear more hats, too.
He felt decidedly comfortable in this garb. Everything fit him so well, even the clever derringer rig and shoulder harness. His gun belt hung ever so precariously around his hips, yet still seemed perfectly matched to his shape. Amazing. He was almost more suited to play the part of a riverboat gambler turned lawman than an undercover agent for the ATF.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
"Ezra," Vin greeted as the undercover agent emerged from the saloon.
"Mr. Tanner," Ezra returned the salutation, touching the brim of his stunning black hat without even thinking of the motion. Tanner was leaning against one of the roof supports, looking like the pure definition of 'idle'. "What is on the schedule for today?"
"Me and JD's gonna ride out to Nettie's place in a bit."
"Nettie Wells?" Ezra kept the surprise from his voice. Was there a Casey here, too?
"Yup." But Vin made no immediate move to leave. Apparently, things moved much slower in this dream-world. Ezra stood beside the sniper, completely comfortable with watching the movements of costumed performers in the street.
'Amazing,' Standish thought, 'how detailed my imagination can be.'
After a minute or two of silence, Tanner asked, "You doin' better today?"
'Why were they always asking about my well-being?' Ezra realized that it was only because they were worried about him. "I think I have my place in the universe figured out again, Mr. Tanner."
Tanner nodded, but Ezra couldn't be certain if he truly accepted this response.
The thudding of feet on wood planks drew his attention and soon Mr. Dunne was flying toward them. Ezra knew, that even in a pre-2000 world, JD Dunne could not move slowly. The kid had more energy than all of them put together.
"Hey, Vin. Hey, Ez," Dunne greeted as he pulled on his jacket. "Let's go, huh?"
Ezra exchanged a grin, seeing that JD had shaved today and his hair looked a
little neater than it had yesterday. Ah yes, even here in the
1870's, JD has his Casey. The two crossed the street and Ezra
followed to see what other surprises would be revealed.
He entered the barn-like 'Livery'. Ezra paused for a moment as they met the dimness, letting his eyes adjust. Inside, dozens of horses dozed in their stalls. This world certainly needed a lot of 'horse-power' to keep moving.
The two men immediately moved down the far right aisle to the stalls near the end. Even the horses are replicated here! There was that big black that Chris preferred at his ranch, the blazed black for Vin, the little bay for JD, Buck's grey, Nathan's long limbed bay and Josiah's giant sorrel -- and finally, the beautiful chestnut in the corner stall that was looking at him with wide eyes.
"Chaucer?" Ezra said quietly as he moved closer. The horse snorted at him and shook his head. As Vin and JD entered the stalls of their horses and got them ready for their ride, Ezra reached out a hand to his favorite mount. "Chaucer, it's me."
The chestnut snuffled at his hand, but Chaucer's eyes never left his face. The horse seemed to peer through him, unsure and uneasy. He snorted again and drew its head away from his hand. The horse stamped and shuffled uneasily.
"Chaucer off his feed?" Vin asked as he looked over his shoulder at them, as the horse backed further into his stall.
Ezra felt the deep disappointment of seeing the fearful look in Chaucer's eye. When the chestnut showed up at Larabee's ranch, Ezra had immediately fallen for it. The others always claimed that Chaucer was difficult to manage, but somehow the two of them just clicked. Whenever he rode Chaucer, he always felt…right. Seeing the horse back away from him and eye him anxiously, nearly broke his heart.
In this world, everything seemed to mirror the real world of his 21st Century existence. Why did this thing have to be different?
'He knows,' Ezra thought. 'Somehow Chaucer knows that I'm not right, that I'm not his man. But this is all a dream, isn't it?'
Vin and JD had finished their preparations by that time and led their horses from their stalls. "See ya later, Ezra," JD called as he brought his Toby into the sunlight. "Try not to get hit by no lightning today."
Vin paused before leaving, watching the very unusual behavior of the chestnut, and the sullen look on Ezra's face.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
Ezra walked along the boardwalk, enjoying the town. He paused at one point and looked across the street to the jailhouse. He blinked and squinted, knowing that he'd seen it before. But in his memory, it was different. He couldn't figure it out.
Why did that image strike him like that, while nothing else in the town held any memories? Curious.
He shook his head and continued walking. As he came to a place named "Virginia's Hotel," he heard a conversation in progress. The brusque words put him on edge. When he recognized voices, he felt all of his senses honed. He stopped and opened the door. The conversation within came to an abrupt halt at his entrance.
He easily recognized Mr. Hargrove, in spite of his new wardrobe. The corporate executive had turned into a rancher, but there was no mistaking his soulless eyes. One of his henchmen stood beside him – Kenny.
timid-looking young man stood behind the desk. It took a moment, but Ezra
realized that he was one of the baristas at his favorite Starbucks. Gone was
Finn's weedy-looking 'soul patch', replaced by a weedy-looking mustache. 'Damn,
they're everywhere,' he thought.
Kenny stood beside the desk, trapping Finn in. No one else was at the hotel's lobby.
"Mr. Hargrove," Ezra said with a nod.
Hargrove gave him a curious look and then said, "Standish, isn't it?"
"At your service," Ezra responded with a little bow.
Hargrove looked annoyed. "We were just having a little discussion. Me and Ken were just talking to Mr. Finnegan, isn't that right?"
The young man threw Ezra an anxious look, and Standish knew something had to be done to get his man out of here. Ezra had seen firsthand what happened to those that crossed Hargrove and it appeared that Finn hadn't earned any points recently with the man.
"What might you be discussing?" Ezra asked mildly. "I'm an accomplished conversationalist."
"Nothing to worry about," Hargrove said. "We're just trying to work something out with Mr. Finnegan here."
Ezra responded, "It doesn't appear that he approves of this discussion."
Finn's eyes went wide. "It's fine," he said, his voice tight and reedy. The man obviously wanted to bolt, but couldn't get around Kenny.
He had to figure out a way to get Finn out from behind that desk and away from Hargrove and his man.
I would like to order a cup of coffee, please," Ezra requested pleasantly,
nodding to the coffee pot that waited on the wood stove. "If it
wouldn't be too much trouble. It's so
much better here than at the restaurant."
Finn's eyes went wide. "No, Mr. Standish. I don't think…"
"Sure," Hargrove said smoothly. "Pour him a cup of that coffee, Finnegan."
Finn tried to back away. "I don't think…"
"Please, I must insist," Ezra continued. "It will only take a moment, I'm sure."
But Finn looked terrified as he gazed from the coffee pot to Ezra. And then Ezra remembered Hargrove's penchant for poisoning people. What the hell was he up to?
"Do it," Hargrove said, his voice low and menacing while Ken gave Finn a little shove toward the stove.
Finn dug in his heels, and looked as if he had no idea what to do next.
"Excuse me, how long has that pot been sitting there?" Ezra inquired.
Finn licked his lips. "Since early this morning," he said, and Ezra knew it was a lie.
Obviously, Finn did not want him to drink that coffee, and it gave him an excuse to move the barista out of the way. Ezra grimaced. "Please, I must insist on fresh coffee."
The transformed Starbucker smiled widely, looking relieved as hell as he lurched forward to grab the pot. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir!"
Hargrove's expression went dark. "Hold on! Where you goin'?" he questioned.
"To dump it…" Finn responded, looking terrified.
Hargrove nodded sharply to Kenny. The man moved his hands toward his gun belt just as Buck slammed the door open.
Ez," Wilmington called cheerfully. "Whatcha
The violent sound was enough to set off Hargrove and Kenny. Both yanked guns from their holsters and aimed it at the smiling cowboy in the doorway. The smile didn't last long.
Damn it! Ezra launched himself at Hargrove. Don't you DARE shoot Mr. Wilmington!
He slammed a shoulder into Hargrove, pushing him into Kenny. They tumbled on the wood flooring. Gunfire suddenly erupted -- damn that sounded loud.
He caught a glimpse of Kenny tangling with Buck in front of the door. A spilled coffeepot lay near the side door and hopefully Finn had run for his life.
As he fought with the rancher/corporate executive, he remembered the sharp and crude tools in Nathan's clinic and wanted to keep as far from them as possible.
Distracted with this thought, Ezra allowed Hargrove to get the better of him, tossing him onto his back. Ezra landed with a painful 'whump' and before he could react, Hargrove slammed his knees into his chest. Ezra gasped as the oxygen was forced from his lungs. For a second, he was stunned. Hargrove pulled a long knife from his belt. Bruised and out of breath, Ezra prepared to defend himself as best he could.
Hargrove grinned, clenching that knife, but the cold sound of a gun cocked stopped him from using it.
"Drop it," he heard Chris demand. When did he arrive?
looked for Kenny, but found his man was cowering just outside the front door,
covered by Wilmington. Faces peeped from the hallway as hotel patrons
came to check out what had happened.
"Drop it!" Chris repeated the demand, and the killer tossed down the knife with an unhappy grunt.
God, he was heavy! Ezra struggled to draw in oxygen.
"And get off him," Chris added. "Now!"
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
"How'd you know about Hargrove?" Vin asked as he sat alongside Ezra on the boardwalk that evening.
"I saw him for what he was," Ezra responded as he touched his chest where Hargrove had kneeled on him. He was still rather sore from the battle, bruised here and there, but thankfully not requiring any of Nathan's pre-20th century skills.
Finn had told them that he'd caught Hargrove putting something in the coffee. Hargrove and his man were about to meet in the lobby with a banker who was staying at the hotel. "Mr. Johnson likes the coffee here," Finn had said. "Just like Mr. Standish."
"Figure you ain't been yourself lately," Vin told Ezra.
"Being struck by lightning will do that to a man," Ezra said lightly. He would give his gold tooth for an ice pack and some Motrin at that moment, but he was currently indulging in another form of pain relief, scotch whiskey, and it was doing a fine job of taking the edge of his aches.
Inez had pulled the bottle from below the counter when Ezra had asked for 'the good stuff',' and it certainly was fine -- perhaps even better than Larabee's favorite Johnny Walker Blue Label.
Vin picked up the bottle, and took a slug. He made a satisfied sound.
Ezra had to admit, this was an extremely pleasant way to spend an evening. The sky was just beginning to dim as the sun sank to the horizon. Reds, pinks and purples colored everything. Night fires were being set up in the street. People sauntered past on the boardwalk, completely at ease with the fact that two men were sharing a bottle of hard liquor on a public sidewalk.
Men on horseback road past, a carriage, a wagon, a coach. People stopped and talked to them, congenially, genuinely. Everything moved slower here. Everything seemed calmer. Ezra felt so at ease. It was almost as if he truly belonged in this dream-world and not his real-life in the 21st century.
It was comfortable. Buck, Josiah, JD, Nathan, everyone…seemed so concerned about him. Chris had stopped by earlier, to see if he was okay. He supposed they were all rather disturbed by the whole 'lightning' event, but it was nice to know that they cared. This really was a very nice dream all in all and he was rather dreading seeing it come to an end.
"You sat in the wrong seat," Vin stated quietly.
"Yesterday. In the saloon. You usually sit in the one that gives you a view of the front and keeps you in sight of the bar."
Ezra turned to Vin and met his probing eyes. It was strange, but thinking back to that moment, it did feel strange to sit in that chair. "I haven't been myself," Ezra admitted.
"Yeah," Vin replied, furrowing his brow. "Seems that way."
Vin turned and looked down the street, seeming to be bothered about something. "So, you aim to tell me what's going on?" Vin asked.
Ezra sighed. It was all a dream after all, so what difference would it make if he told someone. "Mr. Tanner," he said. "It's the strangest thing…"
"What did you do?"
"Did you push a button?"
"I … .ah… I might have. Maybe the yellow button."
"Xlixor!" the multi-tentacled being bellowed. "I told you to stay away from the multi-dimensional-phase-alteration-unit!"
"It was just one button," The equally tentacled, but somewhat purpler thing responded. "I checked the thingy, Biquitmiquist, and the other thingy. Everything's fine." Xlixor undulated indignantly.
Biquitmiquist furrowed three of his upper brows and two of his lower, then blubbered over to the monitor. After a moment of study, he rotated an eyestalk toward the underling. "Xlixor! You miplipit! You've transposed the consciousness of two humanoids!"
"Humanoids?" Xlixor curled his nasal cavities in disgust. "It can't be. I didn't see any do-dads or deelies on the screen. The blinky thing didn't go off."
"Look!" Biquitmiquist gestured emphatically, knocking a few gewgaws and gimcracks from the knick-knack shelves of the cerulean-blue interplanetary craft.
Xlixor further curled his nasal cavities. "Oh fudge!" He ruffled his ruffle and added, "They were kinda alike, those two. Anyway, it was only a second ago."
"You know, days might have passed on that planet."
Xlixor belched miserably. "It was an easy mistake."
"If Commander Frick finds out…."
"You wouldn't tell him!" Xlixor glowed pink.
Biquitmiquist shook his lobes and sighed. "Not unless I want to be punished with you. I don't want to get stuck cleaning out the duck pens again."
Automatically the two saluted, raising tentacles and eyestalks as they murmured, "Long Live the Ducks! We pledge our lives to the All Powerful Ducks."
"Do you know how to fix it?" Xlixor asked quietly after the customary salute.
"Just push the orange button. It should send them back to exact moment all of this started. No harm done."
Xlixor's favorite sucker hovered over the orange button for a moment. "Will those two remember any of what happened?"
Biquitmiquist shrugged all twelve of his tentacles at once. "Who gives a shit. Let's get the ship out of here before Frick finds out."
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
Ezra found himself on his stomach. Josiah, Buck and JD were all near him, calling his name, and suddenly someone was touching his head – Josiah.
He couldn't move immediately. He was only aware of their voices and the coolness of the grass beneath him. He was laying, on his stomach, on a verdant lawn – so different from the desert that had surrounded him.
Hadn't he just been sitting at that wooden sidewalk?
"Don't move him!" Buck ordered.
Josiah still rested his hand from the top of his head. "Ezra?" the profiler said softly, then, "JD, call 911. Buck, flag down security."
Wait… what did they say? With a groan, he pushed himself upright.
"Easy, Ezra," Josiah said, then, "Hang on a minute, JD. He's coming around."
He looked about – the golf course. He was back on the golf course! He laughed to see it again.
"Ezra?" Josiah called again. "Look at me, son."
And Ezra turned to Sanchez, smiling all the wider – finding him wearing that mauve golf shirt and khakis once again. "Josiah!" he said happily.
Josiah smiled back at him, his grin full of teeth.
"Ezra, what the hell happened?" Buck asked.
"Guys, you think he's okay?" JD asked, leaning in.
Ezra looked from one to the next. All three were back to normal – clean-shaven – washed! Returned to the casual garb they'd been wearing on the day they'd started that game of golf – it seemed so long ago.
He was back. Oh, thank GOD!
"Are you all right, Ezra?" Josiah asked distinctly.
"Yes," Ezra responded. Strangely enough, he felt much better this time. When he'd arrived in the 'old west' it had taken him hours to finally be able to move about. He didn't feel so bad now. There was a buzzing in his head, but he otherwise felt all right. "Yes, I'm fine. I'm just a bit… light-headed."
"Should I still call?" JD asked, holding his iPhone and looking anxious as hell.
"Do you think you can stand?" Josiah asked him.
"I believe I can," Ezra replied. "No need to call in the emergency services, Mr. Dunne."
He glanced to JD, seeing the relief as Dunne let his hand drop with the phone. "Glad to hear that, Ez," the computer expert responded.
With Josiah and Buck on either side of him, he was able to stand without difficulty. Buck gave him a pat on his back once he was upright.
"I'm fine," he managed to say. "I must have tripped."
"Damn it, Ezra. It looked like that lightning hit you!" Buck explained.
"Again?" Ezra said with a cringe.
"You been hit by lightning before?" JD asked, his voice a little higher than usual.
"It seems to have become a habit," Ezra rubbed his head as he looked around. Yes, this was definitely the golf course again. It certainly looked like 2015 again. "Thank God," he breathed out.
What a strange dream.
Buck and Josiah were talking still, trying to figure out what had happened and were apparently deciding that a cable beneath their feet had caused the problem.
Josiah and Buck maneuvered him off the grassy patch where he'd fallen, and then Buck waved down the security personnel.
Was that the answer? He'd been electrocuted, and in that short amount of time, had dreamed up that experience? It had seemed like well over a day had passed.
But how could it have happened? It would have taken interference from aliens or something equally ridiculous. It had to have been a dream.
He swallowed, unsure of himself, not quite ready to brush off the entire matter – it had all seemed so real.
JD came alongside him, giving him a smile and a serious look. "You sure you're okay, Ez?" he asked. "Think we should go to the hospital to get you checked out?"
The other two turned to him, with the same concerned expressions.
"No, I'm fine, JD," Ezra replied. "I'm just mulling it over, that's all. I don't see any reason to stop at the hospital." He didn't think he was up to their questioning at that moment. "We were headed to Larabee's ranch, weren't we?"
They looked undecided, but the security team had arrived, and the others were talking to them, trying to explain what had happened. The security team spoke to him, and he smoothed it over, letting them know that he was fine and no lawsuit was impending.
At least, not at that moment.
He just wanted to get away at that point. He wanted to get to Larabee's and see the rest of his team, to assure himself that everything was all right again in this world.
It would take some time to process the whole experience, but there was one thing for certain. It was good to be home.
Bolt out of the Blue II
Lightning Strikes Twice
Note: Now begins the other side of the story. Yes, it took me 13 years to finally write it (is that right). I was avoiding it because I knew the story would get bogged down in descriptions, so I apologize for that ahead of time.
"Now, Ezra," Josiah said. "The ball's not going to hit you… again." He swung his golf club experimentally as Ezra backed away.
"You'll forgive me if I don't believe you," Standish responded, rubbing his arm where the last golf ball had pelted him after a ricochet. "That was most unkind and most certainly bruised."
Josiah trod down a lump on the dry ground and as he eyed the remaining distance to the gopher home that they'd chosen as the 9th hole. "There are fewer trees here." Sanchez pointed with the club's head. "Nothing to worry about."
JD laughed. "I'd worry," he said.
Buck nodded. "He seems to be finding every possible tree in the area. And there ain't many."
"Pure accident, brothers," Josiah commented. He glanced toward Ezra. "Odds are it won't happen again."
Ezra harrumphed. "I wouldn't place that bet. I fear I'd lose no matter the outcome."
They had started the game just outside of Four Corners, pacing of distances and looking for landmarks to mark each 'hole'. Things had gotten dicey when the route brought them through a copse of trees, and then over a little stream carved from a rainstorm that morning, but they had persevered and were now angling back toward home. It was none too soon for some.
When Josiah bought the second-hand golf bag, he'd declared that they would try for a full 18 holes, but there was little hope of that.
Each had claimed a different club as they attempted to play the game with no rules beyond what Josiah was able to pick up during his initial instruction. Their aim was to simply keep whacking at their supply of golf balls and hope to get them to some sort of a hole. It hadn't gone well. Some of the holes proved deep. They were down to their last ball and had to share it, but each refused to give up their assigned club, no matter how inappropriate it was for the situation.
Once Ezra was up, the final ball would disappear. He was just biding his time. He watched as Josiah lined up the shot, and Ezra wondered if the wood was the right club to be using at such a short distance. At least Josiah was better off than Buck with his wedge.
Josiah waggled his club and then waggled his backside and gave the ball a whack. It tumbled and turned and smacked into a rock, sending it in the wrong direction and back to where it had started.
It took Josiah four more tries, but he finally was able to maneuver the ball over the hole. Ezra recorded the score in his notepad.
"Who's ahead?" JD asked.
"It would appear that you are, Mr. Dunne," Ezra said, clapping the book shut, "But of course, a high score in golf is not the aim. It's Mr. Wilmington who's currently winnin'."
Buck flourished his wedge with a smile.
"Now," Ezra said, "Where should we go for our next hole?"
"How 'bout near that fence post?" JD suggested, pointing the putter.
Ezra shrugged. It would do. The post was on a path towards town and the sooner they return to the saloon, the better. "And I'm up next."
Josiah picked up the ball and gave the gambler a stern look. "It's our last one, Ezra," he said distinctly.
"Is it?" Ezra responded.
"You've managed to lose more than half of them," Buck told him.
"Oh dear," Ezra said with a sigh. "Only half?"
"Maybe using gopher holes ain't the best idea," Buck muttered.
Ezra smiled and kicked out a space for the ball. He lined up the shot with his 9 Iron and sent the ball flying. They all watched as it sailed through the air and smacked down near the post. Ezra grinned at the others.
"Mark it off and bring the ball back," Josiah told him.
Ezra gave the man a salute and strode after their last ball.
It was a lovely day. Beautiful blue skies all around. The weather was warm without being oppressive – the recent rain had knocked down the heat a notch or two. It felt good to be out in the world on such a fine day, doing nothing of importance.
Ezra had been busy lately, trying to figure out exactly how the latest owner of the Cigar Shop had been cheating the fine folks of Four Corners. Ezra Standish hated cheats.
Ever since Martin Dixon had taken over the shop, there had been complaints. Oh, his prices were fine – lower than the previous owner. However, nearly everyone had noted that the smokes sold at his shop weren't quite up to snuff.
It didn't take much to figure it out. Dixon had purchased good quality products, but after Ezra had taken apart a few cigars, he'd been able to discover that the tobacco had been mixed with sawdust and sand. After that particular bit of information came out, Dixon was out of business.
Of course, it had caused nothing but trouble – as Dixon had packed up his remaining product and left town. The absence of a Cigar Shop left a hole in the hearts of many around town. Poor Mr. Larabee had already made a trip to Ridge City just to stock up, but was now down to his last cheroot.
If this didn't change up soon, Ezra knew that Larabee would have his hide.
Ezra trekked over the low scrub keeping an eye on where the ball had fallen. If things went well, he could find the ball quickly, give it a little kick into some tight spot and make the last ball disappear and they could end this game.
But, when his eyes lit on the little sphere, he decided he'd let one of the others lose the last ball and allow the game to continue just a little while longer. It was a pleasant day, after all, and the longer he stayed out of Mr. Larabee's line of sight – the better.
With a grin, he picked up the ball and turned toward the others to announce his success.
That's when it hit him, like a bolt out of the blue.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
He heard JD shouting his name, and then Buck. Suddenly Josiah was beside him, touching the back of his head and calling softly.
He couldn't move, not immediately. He was aware only of the voices and the coolness of the grass as he lay on his stomach. He blinked blearily at the green.
So strange. So very strange. Where had this lawn come from? The desert should be stretching out for endless miles. How had he found this little patch of life?
"Don't move him!" Buck admonished Josiah as the preacher continued to lay a hand atop his head.
"Ezra?" Josiah called softly again. "JD, call 911. Buck, flag down security."
Ezra frowned as he flexed his hands amongst the cropped blades of grass. With a groan, he pushed himself upright.
"Easy, Ezra," Josiah said. "Hang on a minute, JD. He's coming around."
There was greenness all round him. He'd never seen such lovely grass. It must have cost a fortune to maintain. The cutting was all so even. How had they managed it?
"Ezra?" Josiah called again. "Look at me, son."
Ezra blinked, finally drawing his gaze from the green and fastened on Josiah. He blinked again, trying to clear his vision. Josiah was clean-shaven, wearing a shirt he'd never seen before. The sleeves were preposterously short and the color was something close to mauve. He was wearing tan-colored trousers, and no hat at all. When had he shaved and changed clothing?
Where was his hideous serape?
"Josiah?" Ezra tried, and he shook his head, trying to clear it.
"Ezra, what the hell happened?" Buck asked.
His attention drawn to the ladies-man, Ezra burst out in a laugh. Buck was wearing an undershirt with a design that seemed to advertise some variety of beer. He wore dungarees, and he was even more amazingly clean-shaven. Ezra didn't think he'd ever see Buck without his mustache. He looked ten years younger without it. No hat.
"Guys, you think he's okay?" JD asked.
Ezra doubted that he'd ever seen young Dunne look so clean. Like Buck, he wore dungarees and a colorful undershirt. He held some strange rectangular tile in his hand and was hatless as well. Where were their manners?
"Where's the party?" Ezra asked. For certainly, there had to be a fancy get-together approaching for all three of them to have shaved that day. They had been caught in the middle of grooming for the occasion and were perhaps about to clean out the livery, considering the way they were dressed.
Did that make any sense?
Just a moment ago, they were outside of Four Corners, traipsing through the desert.
What happened? They had certainly traveled far from their home. A lawn like this could not exist near Four Corners. He frowned at the sharpness of the mountains that bordered them. The Rockies? How could that be?
"Are you all right, Ezra?" Josiah asked distinctly.
Oh, something was definitely wrong. There was no question about that. The green of the ground and the state of the others left no doubt that something was amiss.
It had to be a dream.
"I'm perfectly fine," Ezra responded. Yes, a dream. But his last memory was of golfing outside of Four Corners. When had he fallen asleep?
Perhaps the day of golf was a dream as well? There, that was the solution. He was still in his bed, sleeping since last night. He hadn't yet awakened to meet the day.
"Should I still call?" JD asked, holding the tile tightly in his hand. It seemed to be illuminated.
"Do you think you can stand?" Josiah asked him.
A buzzing filled his senses, and he was lightheaded, but was otherwise all right. This was such an odd dream.
Ezra nodded and let Josiah and Buck help him to his feet. As he stood, he finally realized that he was wearing different clothing as well. At least he wasn't in his underwear like JD and Buck, nor was he wearing mauve like Josiah. He wore a white shirt and dark trousers, nicely made. The shoes fit amazingly well. He felt something tight at his ankle, and couldn't quite figure out what it might be.
No hat though. Apparently, this was a world without hats. Barbarous!
"You sure you're okay, Ezra?" Buck asked as Ezra tried to get his bearings. The lawn stretched out forever! There were little flags dotting the area and an unfamiliar building just over the hill. In the distance, he saw men walking along a hillside.
"I'm fine," Ezra replied. "Just a little unsteady. I must have tripped." It felt strange to stand, as if his body wasn't his own.
"You got hit by lightning!" JD declared. "It just popped right out of the sky and zapped you!"
Ezra looked at JD in disbelief.
"It sure looked like lightning," Buck confirmed. "Not a cloud in the sky though."
"I've heard about it happening," Josiah added. "Lightning can travel great distances. You'd think we'd see clouds on the horizon though." He looked disturbed as he continued. "Might have been an electric arc from one of the spot lights, or maybe a badly grounded cable under our feet." He nodded, deciding that was the answer.
Buck and Josiah backed Ezra off the piece of ground where he'd fallen.
"Do I still need to call?" JD asked.
"He looks okay," Buck said. "We can probably drive him to the hospital."
The other two looked at Ezra who was busily trying to shuck off his helpers. "I am fine," he stated again. "A little unsteady, but otherwise well."
"I'm calling Nathan," JD said. "See what he has to say." He turned his back and walked a few paces as he poked at the tile and then held it to his head.
Was it some sort of megaphone? He might be using it to shout out for Jackson, but instead of shouting, JD spoke quietly into the little rectangle.
Buck waved to someone and Ezra looked in disbelief as a strange cart came toward them. It was nearly soundless as it moved over the green, without horses or any sign of what drew it forward. Buck stepped away to talk to two men in black. Wilmington pointed to the place where Ezra had fallen and men looked alarmed. One of them pulled a device from his pocket, similar to JD's. The other came toward him at a quick pace.
"Are you alright, sir?" he asked earnestly. He wore smoked spectacles that hid his eyes.
"I'm quite well," Ezra responded.
The preacher pointed out the space where Ezra had fallen, and the other person from the cart set up little orange cones to mark off the area. He couldn't identify the material that made up the markers.
Buck talked to the men for a few more moments, and then turned to the others. "Come on," he said. " I gave them my number if they need to reach us. JD will see what Nathan has to say, but I say this game is over!"
Josiah sighed and started striding away, toward a pile of bags not far from them. "We need to get Ezra to a hospital to have them check him out," he decided. He pulled up one of the bags – a golf bag! Like the one they were just sharing, but this appeared to be much more substantial. Buck had one as well.
JD moved beside them, slipping his tile into his pocket. "Nate says that's a good idea."
"Hospital? But there's no need," Ezra insisted.
"We'd better have them check you out," Josiah continued.
"Look at me," Ezra said, spreading his arms. "I'm fine." Truly, he wanted nothing to do with a hospital at that point. He just wanted to sit down and try to understand what was going on.
Josiah and Buck both stared at Ezra.
"Nate said that he's going to go to the ranch now," JD said, picking up the remaining two bags. "I think he can check him out. If nothing else, he can decide whether or not we need to go anywhere. He looks okay."
"I thought Nate was spending the day with Rain?" Buck commented.
"She's got some girlfriends over," JD said. "They're scrapbooking. Nate's been trying to figure out a way to get out of it."
"Scrapbooking?" Buck responded. "I thought that was over."
JD shrugged. "I guess they're trying to finish up the stuff they started years ago. Nathan wants to get out of there. He'll check out Ezra."
"I am fine," Ezra insisted. "In any case, Nathan is much more effective than any hospital doctor than I've encountered."
Sanchez sighed and rested an arm over Ezra's shoulder as he directed the way. "You let us know if you feel strange."
Strange. Yes. This was all entirely strange indeed.
They followed a path that wended through the grassy green. When they came over the top of one last hill, they were looking down upon a large paved area.
The entire space seemed to be covered in tarmacadam and carts of all variety were parked in formation. They were somewhat similar to the one he'd spied on the green, but these were larger, sturdier, more enclosed.
"Hey," JD said. "I want to dump these water bottles." The kid set the two golf bags he was toting next to a blue barrel and pulled bottles from the bags. One evaded him and it clattered to the ground. Instead of shattering, it rolled toward Ezra.
With a frown, Ezra picked it up. The bottle was clear as glass, but very light. The surface was ridged and it flexed in his hand. A most amazing material! Was it glass? It couldn't have been. This was something new and completely different.
The label declared that it had once contained 'pure spring water.' Did someone poison the wells?
Don't drink the water here, he told himself
"Toss it here, Ez," JD said.
Although he wanted more time to study it, Ezra lobbed it at Dunne, who caught the light bottle easily. He opened the lid on one of the blue barrels – the one marked 'plastic bottles' – and tossed it in.
Plastic. Is that what they called that lightweight glass? Strange word.
They continued toward one of the carts. Josiah pulled a key from his pocket and pressed a button on it. There was a click and Buck pulled open a 'Suburban' hatch on the cart.
Within the hatch, there were several pieces of luggage. Josiah, Buck and JD moved the baggage around in order to fit the golf bags in as well, and then Josiah pulled down the hatch. It sealed with a clunk.
"Okay," Josiah said, "Let's go."
Ezra watched as Buck and JD went around one side of the cart, while Josiah went to the other. Sanchez pulled at a handle, and a door opened in the otherwise smooth side of the cart. He turned to look back at him. "Ezra," he said, pausing a moment as he gave Ezra a good look. "You gonna get in the car?"
"Yes, of course," Ezra responded, stepping forward to the last door in the 'car'. He ran his hand along the seam that showed the outline of the door. It looked so perfectly made. How had they managed manufacturing something so finely fitted?
He worked the handle as Josiah had, and he felt the door release. It wasn't entirely unlike the latch on a private train car. No wonder Josiah had referred to this as a 'car'. He swung the door open as he had observed. The door was obviously heavy, but it moved with ease.
JD was already within on the other side of the seat and an artificial light illuminated the space.
Ezra carefully stepped into the coach, and pulled the door shut behind him. It sealed tightly, and, for a moment, he was concerned about the air within this confined space. It seemed as if it was airtight, but, nobody seemed worried.
Josiah turned in his seat. "You sure you're doing okay? Does he look okay to you, Buck?"
Wilmington looked over his shoulder, and said, "He looks fine."
"He was just hit by lightning… or something," Josiah said thoughtfully.
With a groan and a sigh, Ezra said, "I feel fine. Truly, I do. I'm just tired, I suspect. It must have been some fluke of nature," he tried. "It couldn't have been lightning, as you can see, I am totally undamaged." He did feel fine. Whatever had happened had caused no damage to him.
"Keep an eye on him, kid," Buck ordered, pointing to JD.
"Buckle up, Ezra," JD reminded as he pulled a strip of fabric from somewhere behind his ear. He clicked a flange into a slot. "Josiah's a stickler."
"It's the law," Josiah said authoritatively, but then smiled.
Buckle up? Like the buckle of a belt? Ezra found the flange that JD had used and experimentally pulled it from the hole in the frame of the car. It came out with a whir. And yes, the fabric might be considered a 'belt' as it crossed his lap. He found the same sort of slot that JD had used and clicked the flange into it.
It wasn't very much like a buckle though.
Josiah inserted his key into a slot within the car and turned it. The quiet roar and the vibration surprised Ezra. Twangy music filled the car and he looked about, trying to figure out where the players were. Guitars and drums and some sort of piano played with the singer, but none of it sounded natural.
Thankfully, JD was looking out the window and hadn't seen his startle.
The car moved, rolling forward on its own. How? There were no horses. There was no furnace to provide steam power. That roar and rumble certainly had something to do with it. Perhaps it burned some other sort of fuel?
They rolled around the other cars and then made a turn onto a paved street – and suddenly, they took off.
Ezra turned toward the window to ensure that JD wasn't scrutinizing him. He resisted the urge to gasp at the speed. They were racing down the street. The world around them fled away as they continued along the paved road, faster than a stagecoach at speed. For a moment, he held his breath, and then broke out into a smile.
They were moving SO FAST! He felt giddy with the thought of it. Josiah was maneuvering the car onward, turning the wheel to direct the car, moving alongside other similar cars as Ezra did his best to school his expression.
He looked from Josiah to Buck to JD, seeing no excitement in any of them. This must have been commonplace to them. Pity, because this was amazing, the ride of a lifetime! He hoped they would be able to go even faster!
He was going to enjoy this dream!
The twangy music changed to a different style of twangy music, and a woman sang instead of a man. The music was coming out of a screen in the door. Where were the performers? How was the music reaching a vehicle in motion?
Buildings and businesses flew past. Ezra tried to read all the signs and imagine what possibly could go on at each location. Jamba Juice, Home Depot , Express Lube, Best Buy, Rite Aid, 24-Hour Fitness – it really didn't make much sense.
They passed several locations that seemed to have something to do with whaling as the name referenced the book "Moby Dick." The sign displayed a mermaid or a siren. Perhaps they sold whale oil? It must have been precious – people were leaving the establishment with small cups of the substance.
There were multiple businesses with some sort of Scottish connection. Mr. McDonald must be prosperous indeed. Was haggis popular here? The location seemed to be constructed mainly from that 'plastic' material – colored brightly in red and yellow.
He read the words on signs, trying to decipher them. Dry Cleaning? Pizza? Teriyaki? Happy Nails? FedEx? Panda Express? T-Mobile? Perplexing.
Everything was so shiny and bright as if each business was striving to gain attention. It was necessary, Ezra figured, what with the speed of the cars that passed by.
They approached a huge sign that said "Wal-Mart" and Buck said, "Don't forget. Chris needed us to pick up some chips."
Josiah swore and trod on something that caused the car to slow rapidly – a brake. He clicked a handle that made a ticking sound, turned the wheel, and the car changed directions – heading into another large paved area where Josiah drove the car into a marked slot.
Ezra carefully watched as JD released himself from the seatbelt and opened the door. It was easy enough to follow the same process for himself with just a little fumbling.
Nobody said anything, so he just followed the group as they exited the vehicle and started toward a huge building that had to hold an entire city. Glass doors parted without a touch of human hands and they walked into a white glare.
Ezra squinted against the brightness. The floors shone. Harsh lights bore down. Everywhere were signs, trying to draw his attention. There were rows upon rows of products, stretching beyond his line of vision. And people – so many people.
Courage, Ezra, Courage.
Beside him, Buck laughed. "I know, I know," he said. "You probably figured you'd never find yourself in a Wal-Mart, huh?"
"True," Ezra said, surprised that he could speak at all. "Never in a 100 or more years…"
JD laughed at that and said, "Come on. Snacks are back here."
He followed them, staying close because he didn't want to get lost in the mammoth display of excess. Glossy boxes were piled everywhere – with color-tinted photographs that apparently displayed what was contained within. The illustrations didn't help him.
There was an entire shelf dedicated to "As Seen on TV" – whatever that meant. There was something called a "Snuggy" and a "Chia Pet". Hundreds of trinkets hung from a panel. And a shelf marked 'candy' was stuffed with packets of …something. How did anyone know what they were buying when everything was packaged so entirely?
It meant that they had to have a lot of trust in the contents. To Ezra, it seemed like a gamble.
They moved past more clothing than he thought existed – displayed on racks and shelves and rails. Clothing was dyed in colors that he never knew existed, in styles that seemed shameful even for a bedroom. It all looked hideous.
And the people who crowded the place had no issues with wearing the strange clothing. Some were nearly obscene. Some were very large. And so many women in trousers! Not that he minded the forward thinking fashion – in concept. The problem was, many of the women's trousers were far from modest. It was a look more suited to a brothel.
They rounded a corner, making their way past hordes of shoppers, and headed toward the back of the gargantuan market. The amount of foodstuffs was astounding. He couldn't even begin to name the variety and range of food displayed. The area devoted to 'cookies' was double the size of Potters' store. For just cookies!
No wonder so many of the shoppers were of such tremendous size. No wonder that so many of those trousers looked more like sausage casings.
How could all this food possibly remain fresh? There was so much of it. How did they move it all to this location? It would have taken entire trains loaded with products just to fill these shelves one time.
He felt himself hunching his shoulders as he stayed close to the others.
"Here it is," Josiah said, and turned the group down another insanely-bright aisle. There were shelves filled with bags – plastic bags all inflated and stuffed with unimaginable things.
"Doritos!" JD said, snagging a reddish bag. It crackled under his touch.
"Get some Cheetos, kid." Buck said. "I'm grabbing some Fritos. Do you think Chris has any Velvetta and salsa? We can make some queso for dipping."
Ezra understood what 'queso' meant, but the rest was like a foreign language to him. What was in those bags?
"No Velvetta dip," Josiah said. "The last time you made that, I got sick."
"Because you ate too much of it," Buck chided. "Velvetta dip is something you gotta take in moderation."
It didn't sound good.
"Let's just forget about it this time," Josiah said, grabbing a cylinder of something called "Pringles Cheez-ums" from another shelf. "Nathan won't be happy, but I love these things."
Sanchez, grinning, turned and looked at Ezra. His cheerful expression fell. "You feelin' all right?" he asked sincerely.
Ezra nodded, but apparently Josiah knew better. He handed the cylinder to Buck and told the others that they'd meet them in the car.
Ezra was glad for that.
They quickly wound their way through the crush of people and products and wire carts. "You should have told me you weren't feeling well," Josiah said when they reached the car. "Think we need to take you to the doctor to get you checked out?"
"I'm feeling much better," Ezra said truthfully. "And truly, I am fine."
"Just needed some fresh air?" Josiah decided.
Ezra nodded earnestly. "That's it exactly." Fresh air. He tried breathing in deeply, but the air about him was anything but fresh. At least it was better than what was inside that 'mart'.
So they leaned against the car and waited for the others. Ezra watched warily as other cars came near them. There were so many varieties of this vehicle. How did anyone keep them straight?
Josiah asked if he should call Nathan. Ezra shook his head.
He looked up at the sky. The sky never changes, he promised himself. It had to stay the same.
But as he looked up, he frowned. There were white lines crossing the blue. Narrow clouds that made no sense at all. He found one that had been partially created, and watched in fascination as it lengthened before his eyes – like someone drawing a line with a white-ink pen.
What had they done to the sky?
Josiah was talking to him about something, but he wasn't catching most of it, and suddenly Buck and JD returned – carrying sacks made of that plastic material. The 'chips they'd purchased were bulging within the sacks.
"Come on," JD said, tugging open the back hatch. They tossed in the sacks. "Let's get going." And they all boarded the vehicle again.
As they left the facility, Ezra saw a sign that said "Denver", with an arrow pointing the direction. They were near Denver? So those mountains were indeed the Rockies. This was nothing like the Denver he remembered. He had been there. He knew Denver. They had no 'marts'.
Realizing that he wasn't paying attention to what was going on within the car, Ezra listened to the conversation. Buck and Josiah were talking about a recent arrest. Apparently, even in this strange place, they were lawmen. That was good to know. JD was talking into his tile. He seemed to be speaking to Casey. Amazingly, Casey appeared to be answering. Ezra could hear her voice coming through the thing.
So it was a communication device, much more advanced than the telegraph. There were no wires that Ezra could see. Did it transmit through the air?
Casey lived in this strange place, too? Did Nettie exist as well?
Then he noticed the rolled newspaper on the floor: May 30, 2015.
Good Lord. Ezra felt himself gasp, and beside him JD turned toward him. Dunne pulled the device away from his head and asked, "Ezra? Is everything okay?"
Buck looked over his shoulder at them. He first gave Ezra a concerned look, and then turned further to look at JD. "Kid, hang up the phone," he said. Then, he twisted a knob and the music became less oppressive. "Ezra? You still okay? Damn it, JD, you're supposed to keep an eye on him."
JD looked to Ezra. "You're fine right?" he asked.
"Yes," he answered earnestly, getting a little tired of answering the same question again. "Just a little surprised to see the date," he said truthfully.
Josiah, his hands on the wheel of the car, chuckled. "I can understand that," he stated. "How long were you on that last case?"
"Too long," Ezra responded, hoping it was sufficient. So, he was on a 'case'. It might explain what Josiah had said earlier. Were they really in the year 2015? He considered this fact and realized that it would help explain a lot of this!
"Well, we'll be at Chris' soon," Buck stated. "I think we all need to relax."
JD said goodbye to Casey. Then, he poked at the 'phone'. "You let us know if you're not feeling right," JD urged him. "I think this is the last chance we have of stopping at an Urgent Care before we leave civilization."
"I'm quite well," Ezra told him – again. "I would let you know otherwise."
Urgent Care? Leaving civilization? Honestly, he was ready for a break. This world was too full of lights and sights and noises. It seemed as if every square inch of this 'Denver' was filled with pavement or brightly colored buildings.
He'd been to big cities in his life, but nothing seemed to compare to the congestion of this land.
Dunne's attention was again on the device as he idly glanced from one screen to the next, using his thumb to drag the images up or down. At one point, the screen changed to a page of text – and JD slowly thumbed his way through it.
Had they rid their world of books? Ezra wondered, feeling horrified at that thought. And then he heard the conversation in the front seat.
"Now, if we could just close out the Dixon case, I could get a good night's rest," Buck said with a sigh.
"Dixon?" Ezra repeated, in spite of himself. Martin Dixon from the Cigar Shop?
"Oh," Josiah said. "Ezra, you were involved with Hargrove when Dixon came in."
Hargrove? Another familiar name. But Hargrove was a rancher that came to town only occasionally. Why should he be concerned about Hargrove?
"Yeah," Buck responded. "Dixon's just small potatoes, Ezra. We're just trying to nail a guy who's selling some suspicious cigs on street corners."
"JD and Buck have been staking out greater Denver trying to catch the guy," Josiah stated. "He's slick. Moves quickly."
At the sound of his name, JD responded with an "Uh-huh," that proved he wasn't really listening at all, he continued to page through the book-like text.
"Just trying to figure out where he's getting the cigarettes and how he can sell at such a low price. Must have picked them up un-taxed or stolen," Buck explained. "Just need to get our hands on the guy and some of the product so we can figure this out."
Ezra frowned. "Well, maybe he's altering the content," Ezra said offhand. He looked up when he saw Josiah gaze at him in the small mirror at the top of the main window of the vehicle. Buck turned in his seat.
"Come again?" Buck stated.
Ezra smiled, trying to cover. "Just conjecture," he stated. "It's possible that he's adding something to them."
"Yeah, that's another possibility," Buck said. "If he's cutting the product, that'll open another whole can of worms. God, I hope this isn't like that case last year."
How strange, Ezra thought. Not only were the others of his group in existence here, but also Dixon? And he was running a similar scam?
Ezra figured that it was believable that he'd dream up Dixon in this world. He'd just busted up that man's hopes of cheating the people of Four Corners, and Larabee had been busting his butt ever since. But why Hargrove as well? The rancher hadn't been in his thoughts at all. He knew little about him.
Perhaps that proved that this was real – this experience wasn't just a dream or a fever or fugue. He touched the smooth armrest of the vehicle. Plastic again? This definitely felt real.
The press of businesses and cars lessened. The world opened up. Finally, he saw fields and open spaces, trees and unoccupied land. He breathed easier.
Josiah slowed the car to make a turn, and Ezra missed the sense of speed. The vehicle jerked onto a gravel road. He was beginning to think that the pavement extended to all corners of this world. It was a relief to find out that this wasn't true.
The road continued for some distance and then they came to an open space, revealing a house and barn that might have come from his own world.
It still existed. Maybe in tiny places like this – but his world wasn't totally gone.
JD touched something on his device and slipped it into his pocket. "Looks pretty good, don't it?" JD said. "I know I'm ready to kick back."
The vehicle came to a stop, and everyone stepped down from the vehicle. He followed the others to the back of the car, where Josiah opened the hatch. JD and Buck grabbed the plastic sacks that rested on top, and they pushed aside the golf bags to get to the luggage beneath. Figuring his was the last case, Ezra pulled it free. There were wheels on the thing – very clever.
He was doing quite well, he decided. This was all a piece of cake.
"You guys finally made it," Ezra heard Vin say, his voice lacking some of the familiar Texas drawl.
Then, Larabee shouted, "Ezra! What the hell happened at the golf course?"
Some things didn't change.
It was good that Ezra had seen JD, Buck and Josiah first, because his first look at these versions of Chris and Vin would have sent him into shock.
He'd never seen the pair look cleaner! Standing on the front porch of the house, Larabee wore black as normal, but he had neatly trimmed hair and looked as if he'd bathed recently. Ezra had grown so used to seeing Larabee with a week or two of grime, he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the man groomed.
But Vin, Vin was the real stunner. His hair was short. And not just 'hacked off with a handy knife' short, but it appeared as if he'd seen a barber. Tanner's hair was combed and styled, and maybe he even put something in it to keep it in place. He was dressed similarly to the rest of them – shirt and pants and shoes and hatless. No disgusting buckskin jacket or ratty pants.
He looked… decent.
They both descended the steps, intent on speaking to him, but something drew their attention.
Ezra turned as a rumbling came up the road and he spotted another car heading there way. It was different from Josiah's – lower and a bit smaller, but the same sort of shiny black. It pulled up beside Josiah's vehicle, halted, quieted, and then Nathan cracked open the door and stepped out, carrying a satchel.
Ezra grinned to see him. "Everyone's here," he declared.
"Ezra," Nathan said, striding toward him at a gait that Ezra recognized all too well. "JD said you were stuck by lightning?"
"Probably an ungrounded cable," Josiah tried.
"But I saw the lightning!" JD insisted.
Josiah muttered, "We really don't know what it was."
JD shrugged. "I think he got his brain zapped!"
Nathan was on him by that time. "You have any burns on you? Any pain? Any tingling in your extremities? Hearing loss? How's your vision? How's your head?"
Ezra stepped back, a little alarmed by the scrutiny. This Nathan looked much the same as his Nathan, but much better dressed.
It was funny though. Each of them had such a distinctive look in his world. In this weird dream, they all ended up looking rather the same.
"I am quite well, I assure you," Ezra stated. "The Hargrove case has left me somewhat exhausted, and then the incident at the golf course didn't help matters." He paused and added, "And then there was Wal-Mart."
"Come on then, let's get you inside," Nathan said. "I'm going to take a look at you. Chris, do you have a room made up already?" Nathan headed toward the house with his satchel. "I don't know why Josiah insisted on taking you golfing today."
"It's relaxing," Josiah tried to explain.
"Not when you're playing," JD said under his breath as he followed the pair in.
"And then the Wal-Mart," Nathan added, glancing at them. "You should know better than to do something like that to Ezra."
Buck gestured to Chris. "Blame him!" he said. "Larabee made us stop for chips."
Chris shrugged. "If you didn't demolish all the food in this place, it wouldn't be necessary."
"You're bunking with me," Vin said. "We got the office. The rest of these idiots are in the spare room. We got you squeezed in there, too, Nathan."
Ezra nodded as if this was normal to him, but was glad that Nathan was leading the way.
Jackson entered the office, toggling a switch on the wall as he entered. Lights illuminated in an instant.
Gaslight? He heard no accompanying hiss, and the lights came on so quickly.
Nathan set his satchel on one of the two cots in the room. "Sit down. I want to check a couple things." He shook his head. "Fools and idiots, all of you. I know you got run ragged with Hargrove. I told them to leave you alone. Now, I know they're all going riding, and you'll want to go with them and…why are you smiling like that?"
Ezra couldn't help it. It was amazing to hear this Nathan talking exactly like his Nathan, yet finding him in such a strange place. He settled his case next to the cot and sat as instructed. "I'm just glad to be finished with Hargrove," Ezra responded.
What sort of things would they be riding upon? Were the vehicles even more magnificent than the ones he'd already seen? Would they go fast?
Nathan opened his satchel and drew out several strange looking appliances and set them on the cot beside him. He gave Ezra a look as if he expected something out of him. "Ezra… your arm."
Ezra frowned and extended the arm that Nathan had indicated. Nathan pressed fingers to his wrist, presumable to count his pulse as he gazed at a wrist mounted watch. After about a minute, he nodded, seeming to be pleased.
Next, Nathan took one of the appliances – some sort of a hearing trumpet, and plugged it into his ears. The next appliance was wrapped around his arm like a thick cuff. The cloth just magically sealed with a crackling sound. "Relax it," Nathan told him, and Ezra let the cuffed arm fall to his lap. This was new.
Jackson placed the hearing device against his arm and pumped a bulb. The thing tightened and tightened. Ezra sat absolutely still as he did it best to not become alarmed. His arm was being crushed! But he had to trust that Nathan wasn't trying to hurt him. At about the time Ezra was going to shout to stop it, Nathan released the pressure.
Nathan grimaced. "You're running high," he said, "But that could be the stress, huh?"
"Yes," Ezra said. "The stress."
Nathan pulled the cuff from his arm, and the remarkable cuff came off with a loud noise. What was that material?
The third appliance was pointed at his forehead for a moment. It beeped. "Your temperature's good," Nathan commented. "No fever."
"Well, I could have told you that," Ezra said, wondering how anything could register a fever without even touching him. It seemed dubious.
"Any numbness in your hands or feet? Tingling? Burning sensations? Pain?"
"None whatsoever," Ezra told him.
With a sigh, Nathan packed the instruments back into his satchel. "Well, as far as I can tell, you're okay. But I need you to lay low today, Ezra. No joke. We don’t know what happened to you."
Ezra inclined his head. "I will do as instructed," he pledged.
Vin moved into the room saying, "Chris needs some help in the barn. Figure I'd better change my shoes."
Nathan looked out to the other room. "Josiah and I are going to see what Chris stocked for lunch. I don't want you to do anything until you have had something to eat, you hear me?"
"Yes, of course, Mr. Jackson," Ezra responded smartly.
Nathan gave him a long-suffering look and then strode out of the room.
Vin chuckled. "You know he gets concerned about you when you're out in the field too long," Vin said.
"Obviously," Ezra replied, gesturing to where Nathan had disappeared.
"We all do, you know," Vin continued.
What sort of work did he do in this 'field'? He'd been away from them for some time, apparently. He didn't care for that information. How could he work with these men and yet be away for long spates of time? It didn't sound like the best situation for him.
"And then this news about you getting electrocuted," Vin let that statement hang. "What the hell was that, Ezra?"
"I have no idea," he replied.
"Well, Nate has a point. You should lay low today. We'll pop in a movie or something tonight. Keep it easy."
"Yes, a movie popping would be enjoyable," Ezra said, and then realized he hadn't managed the statement quite correctly when Vin gave him an odd look.
"Well, just don't get Nate irate, okay?" Vin said.
Ezra watched as Vin lifted a case, and set it on the other cot. Next, he opened it. If Ezra hadn't seen it himself, he never would have believed it.
Ezra pulled up his own case – a stiff rectangular thing – and settled it his cot. There were no latches or hasps that he could find. He searched for the same thing that Vin had used. Yes, the case had a split in it – all the way around. Some sort of teeth held the split together, tightly sealing it. After a quick perusal, Ezra found the flange. With a little tug, the teeth unclasped. It made a quiet 'zipping' sound as he pulled the flange around, forcing the teeth to release, and completely unsealing the entire case so that he could open it like a clamshell. Unbelievable, and so handy.
And everything within the bag was so tidy. A fragrance came up from the clothing, difficult to identify. It must have been the detergent used to clean everything. At least this world seemed to appreciate cleanliness.
He touched the clothing experimentally. It all seemed to be of good construction. Just the sort of thing he would like, but so colorless. Everything was in neutral and non-distinctive colors. How dull.
"Ezra, you sure you're okay?" Vin asked him.
He glanced to Tanner, finding Vin sitting on the side of the cot, pulling on his boots.
"Quite fine," Ezra responded. "Just, considering my wardrobe."
Vin laughed. "Why does that not surprise me? Did you bring anything appropriate this time?"
"No," Ezra said. "Probably not."
With a shake of his head, Vin leaned in to look into Ezra's luggage. "Try this one," he said, pulling out one of the shirts within. "Get out of that Armani crap. I'll see you in a bit. Stay out of trouble."
To that, Ezra could only shrug. He had no idea what an Armani was. 'Stay out of trouble?' Oh, he'd found a mess of it. That was certain.
Vin left the room, and Ezra was finally alone. He started searching his possessions for information. First, his pockets. He found a rectangular device, similar to JD's. The screen was dark though. He touched it as JD had, but the tile remained unilluminated. Frustrated, he set it aside, not wanting to deal with that nonsense at that moment.
Next, he found a small leather wallet. He cracked it open, locating strange looking bills – US Currency. Even that had changed! He had only $57 on his person. That seemed hardly enough. He'd seen the prices of merchandise at the mart. This wouldn't go far.
The wallet also held an identification card that showed a small photo, his name and his apparent address in Denver. He squinted at the image. That's me! There were plastic cards with raised numbers and his name. He found calling cards – one was from a lawyer in Denver – a Mr. Levi J. Braddock V.
Levi? Ezra pondered the possibility. He'd met a Levi Braddock in Denver during his last trip to that city. Levi was just setting up shop in town, starting his career as a lawyer. As far as he was aware, Levi had no children. He didn't attach any numbers to his name, so presumably he was the first of the line. The man noted on this card was the fifth generation? Had that much time truly passed?
Next, he went through his case. The clothing was mostly identifiable, but the cut was strange. The undergarments had no ties and instead seemed to be held up by an elasticized fabric. That material would definitely come in handy.
There was a smaller bag that was held together with the toothed sealing system. Within it, he found grooming materials of all variety. The shabby little razor gave him pause. There appeared to be three blades, encased in that plastic – but they were so small and enclosed, he wondered how anyone could get a decent shave with such a thing.
There was no shaving soap, but he found a can labeled "Shaving Cream". There were other bottles and tubes within the little case, all made from that same 'plastic' material – all filed with a different cream or gel – each with its own scent and purpose. For a world where everyone washed regularly, there seemed to be a preponderance of fragrances.
Finished with his case, he did a quick perusal of the room. The cots had the ability to fold up, and roll away. It was obvious that he wasn't a permanent fixture at this location.
This room was otherwise meant to be an office – with a desk and file cabinets and a variety of devices that Ezra couldn't even begin to describe, including a large flat panel with a somewhat reflective surface. It wasn't good enough to be a mirror. Perhaps it was a slide viewer, similar to the small device that JD had manipulated?
There was a machine with buttons and different symbols and the words 'print', 'scan', 'fax' and 'copy'. Was this some sort of printing press? There was paper in a tray attached to the device – very white and perfectly cut.
He lifted the lid and found only a glass. Was 'fax' a misspelling for fox? Paper could be foxed, after all, but why would someone want to do that to a page? Perhaps everything in this world was so perfect, that they required a special 'foxing' to make things look real?
Light was coming from a lamp, but instead of a wick and a fuel reservoir, he found a bright glass bulb. The lamp was attached to the wall by a cord. Electric, apparently.
On the desk were several envelopes, addressed to Larabee – his incoming mail. Ezra almost choked when he saw the cost of the postage. Good God, the price was ludicrous!
He paused when he moved beyond the desk. A map – the United States of America. The map looked distorted – the country was strangely shaped. The accuracy of the mapmaker had to be questioned.
The country was all divided and named. So many states! It was to be expected, of course. The United States kept expanding under Manifest Destiny. Strangely, Alaska was floating offshore of the Baja California. He cocked his head wondering if someone had moved Alaska. It looked smaller than he expected. The Hawaiian Islands seemed too close to shore. A printer's fancy, hopefully.
He poked a finger at the border with Mexico, trying to find the spot where Four Corners must be. There was no notation of the location. He frowned at this discovery. A pity.
There was a framed photograph on the wall – the image was foxed with age. He came to a halt when he spotted it, and for a few moments he could only stare. There it was! He touched the glass, reading the line of text under the photo. 'Unknown town in Arizona territory'. It was Four Corners! Good God, here was a photograph of Four Corners. There was the jailhouse, Mabel's restaurant, Potter's store and Juje's telegraph shop. He felt his breath catch at the realization.
It exists, he told himself. It was almost as if he could fall back into his world if he tried hard enough. If he could only reach through the photograph and grasp hold of something.
But how old was this image? It was so yellowed and faded – an 'unknown town'. Where were the chairs that always sat outside the jailhouse? Where were the signs and fixtures that showed life existed there? Why were the windows broken out and the paint peeled down to the bare wood?
The buildings looked abandoned, empty, old and forgotten. What had happened to it all? Where had everyone gone?
And the photograph was obviously already old. The buildings must have fallen to dust by now.
Slowly, he moved his hand from the photo and stepped back. He couldn't dwell on this. Not now – later maybe.
He kept exploring of the room. A bookshelf caught his attention.
Thank the Lord, he thought. Books still exist!
He ran a finger along the titles, and stopped when he reached one titled, History of Fingerprinting. He pulled it from the shelf and paged through it, pausing to read a few pages in in fascination.
Truly? No two fingerprints are the same? He read a bit further into the history of the process, smiling at the discovery. Now, that might come in handy someday. If he had more time, he'd read the rest – and he pressed the book back into place and kept looking.
There was a doorway to the hallway. The room opposite appeared to be some sort of an indoor privy.
Ezra crossed the hall and stepped into the little room. The mirror was enormous. It must have come at great expense. It seemed to be of fine quality, but it had no frame around it
And then, he was able to truly see himself for the first time.
He touched his face where his sideburns should have been. He looked strange without them. His hair was too short. He ran a head through it, not liking it. His hair was much more handsome when the natural wave was evident. It looked as if he'd recently had his head shaved for a lice infestation. He'd never let his hair get cropped so short! This would not do.
He tried smiling and was shocked. For a moment, he thought he had lost his gold tooth – but there was no gap – no tooth was missing. He frowned as he touched the natural looking tooth. Either he'd never lost the pre-molar or it had been replaced by a material that matched the rest of his teeth.
He wondered what the dentists were like in this world, and decided that must have been improved. God help us, I hope they've bettered that experience!
He looked otherwise the same, just like the others. Somehow, he'd thought he'd look different.
Clear water pooled in the toilet. Not unlike the ancient Romans, Ezra decided. Indoor plumbing! There would be no need to go out in the night to look for an outhouse, no need to use a chamber pot. Yes, this was another thing he was going to appreciate in this world.
He found some paper on a spool – soft paper that tore off at perforations – located directly beside the toilet. Oh, he could guess at the purpose of such paper – and approved.
A sink replaced an ewer and bowl. There was no hand pump. He twisted a knob at the basin and was delighted to have hot water at his touch. This would work well for shaving in the morning, even though he doubted the usefulness of the razor. It was a pity that none of it was potable and they could only drink bottled water from a spring.
There was a tub as well, but it didn't look as comfortable as what he was used to. The tub had two nozzles leading to it, one low – just above the lip of the tub. The other was high – nearly on the ceiling. Peculiar. But, at least it meant that one didn't have to bring warm buckets of water from the stove in order to have a decent bath. Another improvement he could appreciate.
Well, he'd best change into that other shirt. Apparently, it was expected. He went back to the luggage and retrieved shirt that Vin had pulled out. It wasn't as finely made as the white shirt that he currently wore, but if they were to get into any heavy work, it would be more fitting to dress like a farmhand.
He found a pair of lesser quality trousers as well. When he removed his shoes, he located what had been gripping his ankle – a pistol harness. Well, he obviously had no derringer up his sleeve, perhaps this was the equivalent? The weapon hidden there seemed to be similar in size to his derringer, but it was unlike any he'd seen before, and judiciously, he decided to leave it alone – for now. He'd take his time with it later.
He hadn't noticed it before, but there was a watch mounted to his wrist, just like Nathan. A convenient thing, making it easy to check the time, especially in this world where waistcoats didn't seem to exist.
He frowned at his wrist. He liked being able to pause a conversation to pull his watch from his pocket, snap open the cover and then click it shut again. It forced others to slow down, it gave the appearance that he had all the time in the world. Conversation could take a different direction following the distraction. Twisting his wrist didn't seem adequate.
It would work well enough, he decided. This world, he supposed, ran on a tight timetable.
Once he had his shirt off, he paused, touching his side where a bullet had grazed him at the Governor's Rally. The injury was gone.
He quickly moved to the mirror again and examined his reflections. Old injuries were nonexistent, replaced with new ones. He traced his finger along a straight scar that ran along his belly. The stitching was well done. The location of the wound might have killed him in his own time and place. This world must have better medical techniques. That was encouraging.
I'm not really myself, Ezra thought. But how? And why?
Either something was wrong with his mind, or he had been drawn his from his own world and deposited here. The vividness of everything told him that the former was a more likely choice. He could never dream up everything he'd been seeing.
There was another Ezra who was supposed to be here. If that was the case, did that mean that the other Ezra was back in his time? What was he doing right now? Ezra frowned as touched the contents of the case. Someone else was going through his things at this moment… or rather at that moment… long ago.
What was the purpose of this switch? Certainly, there must be a good reason.
"Ezra?" Josiah called from the next room. "You want some lunch? You looked hungry."
Ezra smiled. He was hungry, even though he knew he'd had a hearty and late breakfast before all of this started. Perhaps this Ezra didn't manage to do the same.
"I'll be there
shortly," Ezra called in return, as he picked up the shirt and pulled it
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
Ezra was glad he'd seen other marvels before he stepped into the kitchen. He never would have recognized it as a place to prepare food. It looked like an alien world – all gleaming metal and closed spaces. There was no stove as far as he could see.
"Made some sandwiches," Josiah said, pointing to a plate were several square-ish edibles were stacked. "I hope turkey is okay with you."
The food only vaguely resembled sandwiches. The bread was thin and square and perfectly sliced. When he picked up the top sandwich and peeled back the layer of what might have been bread, he found a bright orange square, and beneath that, a white-ish oval. Both of them were thin and uniform, just like the bread. Some sort of foul white paste was smeared over the bread.
It looked hideous and didn't smell like anything he could recognize. He had no idea what the orange item was. It might have been plastic.
What had they done to the turkeys? This meat was not natural. It appeared that the original bird had been pulverized and reformed into some sort of loaf for slicing.
Hoping that no one noticed, he put the sandwich back on the pile.
There were oranges in a bowl – no thank you. He hadn't liked oranges since childhood. But in with the oranges was the largest apple he'd ever seen. He pulled the red orb from the bowl. It was totally unblemished. The color was completely uniform. No sign that an insect had ever set its sights upon it. Were they growing their fruit in greenhouses?
"Hey, Ez!" JD suddenly called as he entered the room. He snagged a sad sandwich from the pile and took a bite. "Josiah, you didn't use Miracle Whip, did you?"
"No," Josiah said as he finished cleaning up. "I know better. It's mayo."
"Thank goodness." JD put the sandwich on a plate and pulled a handful of crisped triangles from a crackling bag. Ezra recognized it as one of the items purchased from the 'Wal-Mart'. The triangles appeared to be fried tortillas, but were totally encrusted in orange powder, even brighter than that congealed square.
Next, JD pulled on a handle on the tall cabinet, opening a long door.
Inside was a lit cabinet that let out coolness. It was filled with cans and bottles and containers of all sorts.
An ice cabinet for storing food. Now, that was a wonder!
JD withdrew a tall carton. After closing the cabinet, he retrieved a glass from the counter, and split open the carton at the top to form a spout. A white liquid flowed into the glass.
Milk – or at least it was some semblance of milk. It looked pale and thin – more like white water than any milk Ezra had known. Was milk so valuable that it needed to be watered down to that extent? Ezra supposed that made sense, there didn't seem to be much free range for the animals.
"You want anything, Ezra?" JD said as he returned the carton to the cabinet.
"Grab me a Bud," Buck said as he came in, taking a sandwich for himself. He gave Ezra a slap on the back as he approached the counter.
JD retrieved a can. "You want one, too, Ezra?" JD asked as he handed the 'Bud' to Buck.
"You know he only drinks the fancy stuff," Buck chided. "We just put some craft beers in, Ezra. Won't be cold for a while. Let him have a Bud for now."
JD handed Ezra a cold can, and Ezra watched as Buck opened his with a popping sound. Ezra tried as well, lifting up on a tab and cracking open the seal.
Interesting, he thought, and so much easier than trying to operate the knife-like opener of his own era. Another improvement he could appreciate. The can was very official looking, decorated in red, white and blue, and the full name was Budweiser – the King of Beers.
Buck took a drink from his own can and made a satisfied sound. Ezra gave it a try as well.
Whatever it was, it wasn't beer. Just like the milk, it seemed to be little more than colored water. With a grimace he set down the can.
Buck laughed and said, "Figured as much." And he went about filling his plate with the fried orange tortillas.
Ezra set the huge apple on a plate, and tentatively took a few of the tortillas from the bag. Apparently, they were called Doritos Nacho Cheese.
When he tried a Dorito, he found the flavor was overpowering. So strange. The food in this era seemed to go one way or the other – nearly flavorless or so coated with so many spices that one could hardly eat it.
He'd stick to the apple. With a bite, he discovered that it was juicy and sweet. Not bad.
It would do for now. But how long would he need to keep this up? Was he to live out the rest of his life in this place? He'd starve!
"That's all you're gonna eat?" Nathan asked, seeing that Ezra had only an apple and a few fried tortillas on his plate.
Ezra shrugged. "It's all I want right now," he admitted.
Nathan shook his head. "I know the others were planning to take off on the horses, but I want you to listen to me for a change, and hang tight."
Horses? Ezra's attention piqued. Hang tight?
"Yeah, Ez," JD said. "Hang out here and watch some TV of something. Chris probably has some shows on his DVR."
"Don't tell me what happened on the last episode of 'Justified'!" Buck said sharply. "I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, so I don't want to know how it ends!"
"You haven't seen it yet?" JD asked.
"I find that hard to believe," Josiah added. "You're usually the first."
Buck grimaced. "Chris and I were gonna watch it after it came out, but we never got around to it."
"There's a huge shoot-out, Buck," JD said quickly. "Everybody dies."
"Goddamn it, JD!" Buck barked. "I told you to tell me nothing! You ruined "Walking Dead" for me already. And stop giving me 'Game of Throne' spoilers! I swear to God, if you send me another email about what happens before I can see it, I'll string you up!"
Ezra wasn't listening to the babble. Horses still existed here? He bit into his apple again, glad that there was one thing he could eat.
Lunch was apparently over, once the others wolfed down their sandwiches. They headed out immediately. Ezra tried another fried tortilla chip, and decided that he liked them. He pulled a handful of the chips from the crackling bag and settled them on his plate.
Nathan pointed him toward the room with the "TV", telling him to sit down and watch. There was nothing in the room that was moving or putting on any type of display. He had no idea what they wanted him to watch. It didn't seem to be very important, whatever it was.
He stood in the room for several minutes, eating the cheesy spiced chips. Yes, he could enjoy these Doritos Nacho Cheese fried tortillas. He frowned when he saw the state of his fingers when he was done, so he returned to the now empty kitchen to wash his hands. Indoor plumbing was definitely a marvelous thing.
He considered going back to Larabee's library, but since the others had left the house, Ezra figured it was a good time to go out and explore the area – and find the horses. That was something he could definitely understand.
He picked up the half-eaten apple and went outdoors. The air here, was cleaner. He breathed in deeply.
The others were in the barn, so he went behind it, spotting a fenced-in pasture. And then, he saw the chestnut gelding in that field. It looked toward him, and then came forward at a quick trot.
"Chaucer," Ezra said with a grin. He quickly moved to the fence to lean against the railing. "Chaucer, my friend. It is so good to see you!"
The horse stopped before it reached him, looking suspicious.
Ezra felt his heart sink. Of course….
"I know, my friend, I'm not who you expected," Ezra said softly. "But I am delighted to find you here. I brought you a gift." And he held out what remained of the apple.
Slowly, with wary eyes, Chaucer came closer.
"I'm sorry that I'm not the person you know, but rest assured, you and I are friends in another world." With a sad expression, Ezra continued in a soft voice. "But we don't share a life here, do we? I depend on you so much, but here you seem little more than an occasional diversion. The other Ezra doesn't live here."
He sighed, "And I would believe that Mr. Larabee spends much of his life away. His work isn't here, is it? I'm certain he is good to you, but how can you possibly attain all the attention you deserve when everyone here has cars?"
Chaucer came close enough to lip the apple out of his outstretched hand. He snatched it, then chewed noisily.
"No peppermints, I'm afraid," Ezra said. "I hope that will be enough."
He reached out a hand to stroke the head of the big animal. Chaucer continued to watch him with apprehension.
It was sad, Ezra thought. His clever Chaucer seemed a little dull in this place. Perhaps he didn't need to be so smart here. This horse was little more than a pet, not a partner and lifesaving traveling companion, not his most trusted friend.
"I doubt that this Ezra ever had the time to teach you any of your tricks. He's away very often, I understand. Do you realize I've spent years with you in another place? That our lives depend on each other there? We were always in it together, you and I."
Chaucer didn't come any closer to him. He seemed to want to – but he wouldn't move. His ears twisted and he blinked. His eyes seemed to bore through him, seeing what the others had missed.
"I'm sorry," Ezra said softly as Chaucer backed away. "This isn't right, is it?"
Ezra turned to find Chris approaching. "Mr. Larabee," he said and smiled.
Larabee nodded. "We're gonna finish up out here," he said. "I don't think anyone's up for a ride today."
"A pity," Ezra said, looking sadly at Chaucer.
There was a roar sound, like the sound of a car – but louder and coming from above. He turned sharply to gaze up at the sky. A man-made vehicle flew above them. It had wings that didn't move. It buzzed. Ezra's gaze followed in fascination. It flew!
Chris looked, too. But his expression was one of annoyance. "Stoker put in a landing strip behind his house," he said. "Guess the modern world keeps catching up to us."
Ezra nodded. "Yes it does." It took everything he had to not shout out in astonishment, to keep himself from jumping with glee and pointing like a child. Men flew! Human beings had mastered powered flight!
Oh! Would he be able to fly as well? Cal Stoker liked him back in that other world. Perhaps he could persuade this Stoker to give him a ride? He could be very persuasive.
"We're heading in," Chris finally said.
"Very well," Ezra responded, forcing himself away. "Lead on."
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
The afternoon was spent 'streaming from Netflix'. The curious phrase had something to do with the dramatization of a dime store novel. It was very odd because the actors played their scenes in the actual locations of the action – and not on a stage. Scenes moved quickly, and the point of view changed often. The play was performed and projected on that large panel. Ezra couldn't even begin to understand how it worked.
The 'movie' was called "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and it seemed to be dramatizing life in the year 1862, but it obviously was not of that time.
The players did a fair job, but there were strange problems. The wrong sort of ammo was used for that year. The flags flown by both sides were incorrect. Why were there so many stars on the Union's flag? If the movie was actually set in 1862, the Gatling guns weren't in use at that time. Doesn't everyone know that? They talked about Lee and Grant as if everyone was familiar with their names, but seriously, in that year, they weren't known. The Confederacy didn't have a Third Regiment. Oh, he could go on!
He supposed Shakespeare suffered from the same issues.
Ezra was never able to catch the name of the main character beyond the nickname bestowed on him. Blondie reminded Ezra of Mr. Chris Larabee. But as Ezra glanced over at this Mr. Larabee, he knew that he'd never get away with using that same name on his Mr. Larabee.
None of it felt particularly real to him – it was a play, after all, and they did a fair job in portraying his time-period, even though most of the buildings looked like set decoration. The landscape was definitely nothing familiar. If that was supposed to be taking place in the desert, where were the cactuses? He'd traveled over a great part of this country and the land shown in the movie looked foreign to him. He doubted that the landscape existed in the United States.
They weren't fooling anyone. But, it certainly was a rousing tale!
And strangely, Buck and the rest of them else had seen this same production before, they were ready for every surprise and knew lines of dialog. They even knew when the incongruent car appeared in the background of a scene. They pointed it out with great gusto.
Now, obviously the car did not belong, so the production must have been performed fairly recently. The car had appeared during previous viewings, so the production had been saved in some manner—like slides for a magic lantern.
Once the performance ended, Larabee talked into his phone, apparently ordering dinner. It arrived about thirty minutes later – three boxes – large squat squares. The scent given off was heavenly.
And Ezra discovered the wonders of pizza.
Now, pizza was something he could enjoy. The meals were formed into large pastry wheels and cut like spokes into wedges, like a pie. It was hot, savory, cheesy and delicious. He tried to identify the flavors – a thin bread-like crust with tomato sauce. The sauce seemed to contain tomato paste, oregano, basil, onion, garlic and maybe a little sugar. Over that was a layer of salami -- pepperoni perhaps? And over that a melted layer of mild cheese.
He sampled the next pie, and found it covered with a spicy sausage with caraway seeds, olives and mushrooms. Again – a delight. The third was thick with vegetables.
He would not starve if he could only find enough pizza.
He drank down the much finer beer, served in brown bottles with fancy looking labels. So much better than the King of Beers. It was almost too cold to swallow easily. The temperature was refreshing and he could easily get used to the idea of cold beer.
It was altogether a delightful repast. He ate far more than he should have, but the flavors were amazing. For a moment he was concerned that his stomach would revolt at so much strange food, but then he recalled that he wasn't using his own body. Certainly, this Ezra had indulged in this particular food before.
In the end, he found himself yawning. It had been a difficult day as he worked to understand everything around him. He was exhausted.
"If you'll forgive me for my early departure, I believe I'll repair to my provided accommodations for the night," he said as he stood.
The others were silent for a moment, and then started laughing. Finally, Buck said, "There you go again, Ezra. You can never just say a couple words, can you? Goodnight! See you in the morning."
It felt rather good to have spent the evening with all of them. They might not have been 'his' companions, but they were certainly fine gentlemen. He felt a little bad for leaving so early, but Morpheus was calling.
He left for the room assigned to him, flipping the switch that Nathan had used earlier to bring up the lights. He blinked against the assault on his senses. The quickness and convenience of the light was a remarkable achievement, but he missed the warm glow of the hurricane lamp at night.
He had no nightshirt in his case, so he decided that sleeping in his underclothes would have to suffice. He spent a few minutes reading through the book he'd discovered earlier, but he was too tired to remember much of anything, so he returned the book to the shelf, flipped the switch off and crossed the room to the cot.
As he lay on the cot, he was surprised by how light the room remained. Even with the door shut, little lights glowed all around him. The printing press device had illuminations, and little dots of lights showed in several places around the desk. And on the desk, he could see bright numbers. It took him a moment to realize that the numbers matched the time. Something was glowing near Vin's cot. Light even came from outdoors where it should have been black. He wondered why they even bothered with the switch with all this other light in the room.
He closed his eyes and listened to the conversation in the next room. His name come up, along with discussion regarding Hargrove and talk about the bolt of electricity that had hit him.
He sighed, wishing they'd let it be, but it felt good to know that they were worried about him. He hoped that the near electrocution helped cover the fact that he wasn't himself.
He wondered how much longer he could manage this charade, and as he fell asleep he hoped that all of this would be over, that he'd awaken in his own bed, in his own time, far from this strange world.
Ezra awoke with a sigh. No feather bed. No comfortable room over a saloon in Four Corners. When daylight lit the room, he found himself still in the residence of Larabee, in a room full of incomprehensible things.
Damn. He'd hoped…
He sat up and noted that the cot beside him was empty, but the blankets had been disturbed. Vin had apparently slept and awakened and was gone.
For a moment, he did nothing, trying to get his bearings, wondering how he would manage another day. It was hard enough getting through the first one. Now, he had to do this all over again. He wasn't sure that he could do it.
His eyes focused on the photograph – the picture of his world. Four Corners looked so quiet and empty and abandoned. What had happened there? It was so full of life. Where had everyone gone? How could it have been forgotten?
So many years had passed. That simple life was left behind in this modern and sleek world. There was no room for that existence any longer. This place was too filled with cars and businesses and buildings and pavement and plastic – with bright lights and noise.
And everyone in my world, after all, is long dead.
That thought stopped him cold. They're all dead, every one of them. Josiah, Chris, Buck, Nathan, Vin and young Mr. Dunne. Even little Billy Travis – grown old and in the ground for a very long time.
He couldn't breathe for a moment at that thought. The loss was almost too much for him to bear.
"Ezra!" Chris' voice brought him back. The alive 21st Century Larabee opened the opened the door and leaned in. "Good. You're up. Get dressed. We got a problem."
"Problem?" Ezra asked, snapping out of his dark mood.
"Just got a call from the local police. They have some missing kids just north of my property. Two girls. We're gonna ride out and help Search and Rescue."
"Of course," Ezra responded as Chris ducked out of the doorway. Ezra heard him exit the residence. He dressed as quickly as he could, putting on a pair of boots that he'd found in the bottom of his case.
The others were already outside of the barn with their horses. They had Chaucer saddled and ready for him.
"We'll head north and meet up with Search and Rescue," Larabee announced, sounding very official. "They're up near Palmer's property. Kids went missing from a sleep-away camp up there. Their names are Emily and Abby Meyer. The staff think they might have headed west toward the Stoker land, but we'll start canvasing my property up north to see if we can catch any sign of them along the way."
Ezra gave Chaucer no chance to balk, quickly mounting and bringing him about. The horse skittered for a moment, unsure, but came into line as Ezra directed him. The others were all mounting up as well, and with a nod, Chris turned and kicked Job to a gallop – heading north.
Ezra and the others fell in behind.
It felt good – it felt damn good to be on horseback. After a moment or two of reluctance, this Chaucer seemed to have completely accepted him. It felt almost as if he was astride his own horse, in his own time as they barreled across the landscape.
They rode hard, crossing brooks and through pines. Ezra kept in the thick of it, towards the front of the group. It felt so good to be riding with these men – it was almost like being home.
The landscape was all wrong, but he figured his group could fit into just about any scenario, if given the chance.
They had ridden for some time, when, suddenly, Vin put up a shout and lifted his hand. They brought the horses to a stop and Vin jumped down from his saddle to read the signs.
Ah, so he's a tracker here as well. It was comforting to know that some things didn't change.
Chris stepped down as well, and Ezra followed. The others remained in their saddles.
"What do you see, Vin?" Chris asked.
"Has anyone been out there lately?" Vin asked.
Chris shook his head. "I haven't. Search and Rescue shouldn't have come this far south yet."
"Someone's been here recently," Vin said. "Came through here, and then went down there in a straight line." He pointed the way.
"And there as well," Ezra said, pointing out where someone had obviously moved through the bushes. "They went west."
Chris and Vin both stared at him.
"You been using your compass app?" JD asked from behind them on his horse.
Not knowing if 'app' was nickname for him, or some other strange new word, Ezra pointed to the sun. "It's morning, so that is obviously east." And he gestured toward where the branches were bent. He continued, "It doesn't appear to be an animal, but I may be wrong."
Chris scrutinized Ezra, and then turned to Vin.
Tanner replied, "He's right. Something went through there."
"An animal?" Chris asked. "Could be that we have a mama bear and cubs."
"Could be," Vin said as he studied the signs. "Naw, there's a footprint here -- a sneaker. A kid's been through here." He nodded in the direction that Ezra indicated. "And, yeah, someone went that way."
Ezra didn't know what a 'sneaker' was but he could see a strange small footprint, marked with a waffle pattern.
"They split up?" Chris asked, looking to Vin, and then to Ezra. "Or maybe they doubled back?"
Vin frowned. "Looks like one person went in there and didn't come back out. So yeah, I think they split up." He gave Ezra an appraising look.
"And then, so should we," Ezra added.
Chris nodded. "Let's find those girls. Nathan, you're coming with Vin and me. The rest of you – you're following Ezra." He stared at the misplaced gambler. "Apparently Standish is a tracker now."
Ezra reached to touch the brim of his hat, but was confounded as he remembered it didn't exist here. Instead, he saluted.
Chris shook his head and turned to follow Vin into the trees.
Buck, Josiah and JD waited a moment until Ezra turned to follow the path he'd seen. They'd go on foot for now, leaving the horses at the clearing.
"How'd you do that?" Buck asked as he fell in behind Ezra. "I didn't know you knew anything about tracking."
Ezra gave him a quizzical look. "I'm no expert," he said. "It's just plain as day. Anyone could have seen it."
"Vin didn't," JD reminded.
Well, Ezra thought, perhaps Vin wasn't the tracking marvel he is in my world. He would have noticed if he had turned in that direction. The skill probably isn't much needed here, Ezra figured.
Josiah used his 'phone' and started talking to someone, explaining their latest activities. Buck and JD took turns shouting out the names of the girls as they walked. Ezra scanned the vegetation for signs of disturbance.
He wasn't a good tracker, but he had learned enough of the basics to follow someone who wasn't trying to hide. They were following a little girl who was crashing through the undergrowth, scared to death. Anyone could have found this trail.
"Emily!" Buck called. "Abby? Where are you?"
"Abby?" JD called out, an urgency in his voice. "Emily, can you hear me?"
And suddenly, a soft sound.
"Didja hear that?" JD asked.
"Abby?" Buck tried again. "Emily?"
Then they heard a quiet little sob. Ezra went forward, calling softly. "Is that you, Emily, my dear? Abby, darlin'? Are you hurt? We're here to help you."
Then they heard a whispered, "I want my mama."
Behind him, Josiah was using the device again, telling someone that they'd found one of the girls.
Ezra couldn't see the girl yet, and he moved slowly, pushing aside the branches of an overgrown bush. "Are you okay, darlin'? We're here to help you."
The others had drawn back, leaving Ezra alone to locate the girl so that she wouldn't feel overwhelmed by the bunch of them.
Another quiet sob, and "I was trying to go back. I was trying… I just want to go home."
"I understand that feeling completely. It's okay, sweetheart," Ezra said as he gave up trying to move the branches and got down on his belly to look under them. He could see her, all curled up in the hollow of a log under the cover of the branches.
He reached out a hand. "Can you come to me, darlin'? I can bring you back to your mama."
"She'll be mad," the girl cried. "I was bad."
"Come now," Ezra said, his hand extended but not touching her. "You weren't that bad, were you? Certainly not. She's gonna be so happy to see you. All will be forgiven. Come to me now, and I'll bring you to her. I'm sure she misses you madly and will be overjoyed to see you again. Oh, I can already imagine the hug you will receive. It will be one of the best ever recorded in history. She misses you so much."
He saw the shape shift about and finally a little face peered out at him.
She smiled -- a tentative little smile on her tear-stained face and she took his hand.
Ezra easily pulled her from under the branches. She scrabbled to her feet once she was out, and Ezra took her hand again shaking it once she was free.
"I'm pleased to meet you. My name is Ezra P. Standish, at your service."
She sniffled and smiled again, saying, "My name is Abby."
"An utterly delightful name, and a delightful young lady as well. I am glad to make your acquaintance."
Ezra looked toward Josiah who was talking into the device. He nodded to him, making a gesture that Ezra didn't exactly understand, but it took that to mean that everything would be fine.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
It was nearly evening by the time they returned to the ranch. Vin and the others had located Emily at about the same time that Ezra had pulled Abby from the undergrowth. Both girls were dirty, hungry and cold, but they'd been transformed from terrified little girls to giddy princesses when they found that they would be riding on horses to meet up with their parents. Of course, the sight of their mother and father returned them to sobbing children again.
The sisters had grown tired of the sleep-away camp, thinking they were being treated like babies. They had struck out on their own, determined to have a real adventure. Then, once they'd become lost and afraid, they'd gotten into an argument. Both had wanted to go back to where they'd started, but they'd lost track of their trail and each of the stubborn girls had gone off on their own path, determined to prove the other wrong.
Neither had been correct.
Once the girls were safely returned to their mother and father, there was a great deal of standing around while Larabee talked with the officials who appeared to be in charge of the situation.
Once that was complete, the ride home proved to be an amiable jaunt. Chaucer was behaving a little more like his regular self, seeming very jolly and full of pep. There was hope for him yet.
Everyone was in good moods, but Ezra caught Vin looking at him several times with a strange expression.
Back at the ranch, Buck, JD and Chris took care of the horses while Josiah and Nathan worked to find something for dinner. Ezra hoped it would be something similar to the pizza. He would enjoy having more of that.
Ezra contemplated shaving now that he had the chance. He never felt quite right until he'd accomplished that task, and the early start had stopped him from doing anything. Still, at that moment, he wanted something else.
After a quick search in the house, Ezra located Larabee's liquor cabinet. He found a bottle of a Scotch Whiskey called Johnny Walker. He took a sip, and decided that "Blue Label" was fine indeed. Yes, he could get used to this.
It was going to be a lovely evening, he thought as he settled into a rocking chair on the back porch. He took another sip and placed the glass of fine liquor on the little table beside him. He sighed when he realized that this fantasy was continuing. He wondered how much longer he would stay. Already the others had mentioned getting back to work in the city, and Ezra wondered what that would be like. He'd been able to manage here so far only because he was in an environment similar to his own.
He was afraid that most of this world was more like a Wal-mart and less like a ranch.
He would enjoying seeing more of this world. There were so many amazing things that he hadn't yet explored. He wanted to discover everything, find out what was in all those strange buildings, see what their office looked like in the city, see what the city looked like. He wanted to try using one of those hand held phone devices. They looked intriguing.
He wanted to work with Chaucer and read more of those books in Larabee's library. He wanted to explore and learn and be delighted by more amazing things. He would like to see another movie. He wanted to see this world.
He wanted to drive a car and go very fast. He wanted to try flying.
But he missed his home, and his face grew long as he remembered that faded photograph.
At this moment, he doubted he could handle the city. He supposed he'd have to come clean with the others. If he were to remain in this time period, maybe Chris would allow him to stay at the ranch and tend to the horses, at least until he learned how to function in this era.
It would take some time, but he'd eventually manage it. He was very good at fitting into any situation.
He swirled the amber liquid in the glass and thought about his home. He might never return to it. It was all lost and gone, wasn't it. Everyone who was dear to him was gone. They were replicated here – similar, but not the same.
He took another sip, thinking about them all. He missed them.
He would manage to live here if that's the way it was going to be. If there was another Ezra P. Standish taking his place in the past, he hoped he was doing well. He hoped he was taking good care of Four Corners, keeping that town alive for a little longer – looking after his friends for him.
"And I'll look after yours," Ezra said, lifting his glass. "To the best of my abilities, I swear, I'll look after them for you."
Ezra turned to see Vin walk toward him, and lowered his glass, hoping he hadn't been heard.
Tanner sank into a chair beside him. "It's gonna be a nice night," he said.
"Yes, indeed it is," Ezra replied.
"What you drinkin'?"
"Something with a blue label."
Vin snorted. "You like to live dangerously, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," Ezra responded.
They sat for a moment in silence as Ezra sipped at his glass.
Finally, Vin said, "That was a good job today, Ezra."
"I am just happy that we were able to find both girls so quickly. It's a pity that they had to spend the night out in these environs though. They must have been terrified."
"How did you do it?" Vin asked. "How did you see that trail?"
"It was obvious," Ezra said.
"Not really," Vin responded.
"You had already seen the trail they had blazed together. I only noticed the offshoot."
"I didn't see it."
"Your attention was on what looked like a continuation of the first trail. I just happened to see that someone had chosen a different path."
"Where did you learn how to do that?"
You taught me, Ezra wanted to say. And as he gazed at Vin, he could tell that Vin knew something. Vin had known something was wrong since this all began.
If this wasn't reversed soon, Ezra knew he'd have to let them in on the situation. He wouldn't be able to manage for much longer without giving himself away.
"Vin," he said. "You see, it's like this…"
"Xlixor! Biquitmiquist!" the hideously purple blob with multiple tentacles bellowed. "Get in here RIGHT NOW! I mean it!"
"Yes, Commander Frick!" Xlixor said frantically, waving his tentacles like a sea of kelp.
"Commander Frick, it's not my fault!" Biquitmiquist snorgled as he lumped into the commander's office after Xlixor.
"Which one of you miplipits touched the multi-dimensional-phase-alteration-unit?"
Tentacles were pointed in all directions. Tchotchkes and clutter came flying off shelves in the frenzy and even Frick found a suckered appendage pointed at him.
"It was Xlixor!" Biquitmiquist oozed. "He's the rood-a-rootie that did it!"
Xlixor crossed half his tentacles over his chest and half behind him. "Thanks, Biquitmiquist. Way to be a total doob. You said you wouldn't talk!"
"Hey," Biquitmiquist undulated and blinked blue. "Frick found out. I ain't goin' to the pens with you." He blurpled to his commander, "It wasn't my fault! He's got a problem with yellow buttons!"
"It wasn't so bad. The blinky thing didn't go off after I pushed the button." Xlixor caroomed. "If the blinky thing went off, then we'd have a problem. No harm done."
Frick furrowed all of his upper brows and extended his lower ones. "Do you have any idea what you could have done!? Do you give a poorah about what may have happened down there?"
Xlixor swirled his tentacles around, accidentally knocking Frick's panel of souvenir spoons off the wall. "It was just two morkers. No big deal. They got switched, but they were pretty much the same, so it's okay."
Frick fumed – pink smoke swirling up from his snorkel. His horns started emitting a high pitched whine and the sweet smell of burning pixies filled the air. "Do you have any idea how much trouble that can cause?"
Xlixor lifted and lowered his shoulder ruffle, and said, "Eh?"
Frick glared at them, directing one eyestalk at each of them. "You better tell me that you fixed it."
"Yes!" Biquitmiquist nodded his entire upper body. "I fixed it!"
"I'm the one who pushed the right button," Xlixor insisted.
"I told him what to do!" Biquitmiquist continued, still a little too blue in color for pleasant company.
"Did you send the humanoids back to the same moment in time when you took them?" Frick pondered.
"Yes!" Biquitmiquist said with great confidence.
"And their memories?" Frick continued.
"Totally and completely wiped!" Xlixor boomed.
"Totally," Biquitmiquist squeaked.
"Fine," Frick blurped. He waited a moment and said, "You know what you have to do…" When neither of the underlings moved, Frick bellowed. "TO THE DUCK PENS!"
Automatically all three saluted, raising tentacles and eyestalks as they murmured, "Long Live the Ducks! We pledge our lives to the All Powerful Ducks."
"Now, get out of here," Frick slobbered. He watched as the two shuffled out of his office and toward the pens in the lower decks.
Someone needed to clean those things. They were getting disgusting.
As the door slid shut, Frick muttered, "I'm getting too old for this shit." He was going to retire as soon as this mission was over, after all.
It was then that the blinky thing started blinking.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
Slowly, he started coming clear of the darkness.
"Ezra?" he heard Nathan's voice, breaking through. "Hey, Ez?"
He tried to lift one arm, feeling stiff and sore. Little pains bursts seem to course through him at the small movement. What happened, now?
"I think he's gonna be okay," Nathan spoke.
What had happened? Why did he feel so poorly? He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids seemed weighted. He turned his head slowly, feeling muscles pulling.
"Damn, he scared the hell out of us," Buck stated from beside him.
"I thought we lost him," Josiah said, sounding morose.
What new experience was this? The last thing he recalled was sitting on the porch with Vin in that strange modern world.
"He gonna be wakin' up soon?" Mr. Larabee, too. They were supposed to be celebrating their success.
"He'll wake," Vin said, his accent had his Texas twang again. "He just ain't gonna do it b'fore he really wants to."
Ezra inhaled through his nose, and was surprised by familiar scents. Gone were all the perfumes and additives. Instead, he found the familiar scent of dirt and horses and unwashed men.
Standish opened his eyes, finding them capable of performing the task, and blinked them to focus. The room was kindly dim -- no electric lights, thank God! How did people function in all that brightness?
"Ezra?" Nathan called softly, drawing his attention.
And Ezra smiled, seeing the familiar healer leaning over him. Quickly he glanced to the others – Chris and Vin, Buck and JD and Josiah. All back to normal in their simple homespun garb, their hats and overgrown hair. They were filthy – as they were supposed to be.
"Oh, thank God!" Ezra proclaimed happily.
Josiah grinned widely, showing off his teeth. "Praise the Lord! He has returned to us."
"Ha!" Buck shouted. "A little lightning wasn't going to keep him down."
A tremendous explosion shook the building, rattling bottles on the wall. Everyone ducked.
Buck, Vin and Chris were the first to the window.
"What happened?" JD called from behind them. The church bell was clanging on its own and horses in the street put up an alarmed cry.
"Something in the sky," Buck said. "Looks like something just exploded in the sky."
JD crowded in with the others. "What was it?"
"I have no idea," Chris muttered as he frowned, he directed his gaze to the street – searching to see if anyone needed help.
Ezra, stayed in the bed – he'd seen too much recently and even an explosion in the sky wasn't terribly strange. He'd seen powered flight and plastic food and Wal-Mart and streaming from Netflix. Nothing was strange any longer.
Josiah stood in the doorway and looked upward. "Strange omens," he said. "First that lightning bolt that hit Ezra. Now, this…"
And everyone was suddenly talking at once, but Ezra sunk into the bed and sighed, so glad to have his old world back around him.
(M7) * (M7) * (M7)
Ezra settled at his favorite chair in front of the saloon, a glass of whiskey on the table, and a book in hand. He'd been trying to read the same page for some time now, but his mind kept wondering.
Two weeks had passed since his strange trip to a distant place. Ezra still found himself mulling it over the experience and considering how it all had happened.
It couldn't be a dream. No, he was convinced of that.
His friends never realized that he'd been gone – since he had left and returned within a short spate of time in their eyes. He couldn't ask them anything about it.
It was strange, because when his arrival in the future had been relatively easy. He'd been able to stand and function almost immediately. Coming back had knocked him out for some time. Maybe the second trip is harder?
Wasn't a soul meant to only travel forward in time? Perhaps moving backward was unnatural, and thus more difficult?
He wondered if the 'other' Ezra had experienced it the same way.
In any case, he'd recovered quickly enough. His friends were concerned that a bolt of lightning had knocked him unconscious, and that he'd been unsettled since then. As much as he bridled under the attention, it was nice to know that they cared.
Just like the others had in the future.
Why had it happened? What sense did it make?
He wished he could talk to that other Ezra – for another must have existed – or rather another Ezra will exist many years from now. He pondered that thought. There was a way he could talk to the other Ezra, even though that man would never be able to speak to him.
He realized he'd erred when he started believing he'd stay in that time period. He'd wasted that precious time that might had been spent learning about investment opportunities -- the zipping fastening device, the glass illuminating bulbs in the lamps, the dungarees, the incredible concept of cars, elasticized material, plastic, illuminated movie panels, 'Netflix' and handheld speaking devices.
It was all well and good to know about these future inventions, but it didn't help to tell him what investments to make – and when.
If he could only make use of the information, he'd be a very rich man.
He'd encouraged Inez to keep a keg of beer in the basement of the saloon. She thought he was crazy, but the cooler beer was appreciated by many.
Pizza – he needed to recreate that particular dish. He'd been able to discover the dish was Italian in origin. But the recipes he encountered so far weren't quite right. He supposed time had altered the dish. With a little work, he was certain he could revise and improve on what he found.
He'd been able to put some of his knowledge to work – with Hargrove. Nathan had kept the glass of ale that had poisoned Partridge, had already tested the liquid that remained in the glass. Jackson had been rather proud of himself when his test proved that the contents was loaded with arsenic, but knowing what killed the man didn't convict anyone.
Ezra wasn't interested in the contents, he wanted to see the surface of the glass – and was able to find exactly what he was looking for. Fingerprints were visible when held to the light.
Ezra had encountered Hargrove and his associate, Ken, on their way to Virginia's Hotel. Both seemed concerned when he'd stopped them, but they seemed relieved when Ezra told them that all he wanted was an image of their fingermarks.
"For the advancement of science," he had said to persuade them.
Ezra's own fingers, at that point, were already dark with the ink from his own experiments that morning. Hargrove and Ken had allowed him to perform the experiment, and had gone on their way.
With a little persuasion, Ezra was able to show the others that the marks provided by Hargrove's inked marks matched the swirls in the prints he'd been able to pull from the glass – using iodine fuming. Nathan's prints were also visible as well as other prints not identifiable. Partridge, no doubt.
It was enough to get Judge Travis' attention – and enough to lock up Hargrove. It took some questioning from Larabee to bring out a confession. Now, Hargrove and Ken were on their way to Yuma prison.
In any case, Judge Travis was intrigued and wanted to know more about fingerprinting, and Ezra had been researching the technique further, remembering the names of some of the early pioneers from Larabee's book.
He glanced at his book, written by Sir William James Hershel. The reading, so far was rather dull, but he'd master it in time. He'd yet to procure anything by Georg von Meissner or Professor Paul-Jean Coulier, but in time, he hoped his regular booksellers would come across something for him.
"Hey, Ezra!" Vin's voice reached him from somewhere down the boardwalk. He clumped toward him, the noise reminding Ezra that in that other world, feet hardly made a sound on the ground. Tanner tossed something to the little table. It clattered. "Found another one."
Ezra looked curiously at the bent and mangled spoon. He had no idea why the desert was suddenly littered with them and other odd bits of clutter. Speculation was that a tinker's cart had blown up and a strange atmospheric condition had reflected the explosion into the sky.
They were having weird weather that day, after all.
It explained the spoons and other trappings, but not the proliferation of ducks that had been seen vacating the area. What were ducks doing over a desert?
"What've you been up to?" Tanner asked.
Ezra shrugged and set down the book. "Just passing the time," he said off-hand.
Vin took a seat beside him at the table, pulling a cigar from his pocket. He lit it and took draw. "I think the new guy is gonna work out," he said, nodding to the newly reopened cigar shop.
"At least Mr. Larabee no longer wants me dead."
Vin chuckled. "He wasn't gonna last much longer if something didn't change. He was getting tired of riding to Ridge City to get what he needed."
"His horse, at least, had plenty of exercise." Ezra sighed. "Chaucer has become incorrigible. Ever since he achieved his first taste of those peppermint sticks from Potter's store, he won't stop demanding them."
Vin nodded and pulled a dusty looking candy stick from his pocket. "They're pretty fine." He said. It stuck to his hand when he tried to return it. "Prices went up at the Cigar store."
"A pity," Ezra said, "But at least we're no longer smoking sand and sawdust."
Vin glanced to Ezra. "You doin' okay?"
Ezra patted his pocket to where a cigar waited in case he wanted one later. "Quite fine, thank you."
"Not that. You just seem kinda different lately. What's been going on, Ez?"
"Do you ever wonder what will happen to all of this?" he asked.
Vin frowned. "All of what?"
Ezra gestured to the buildings that surrounded them. "Four Corners. What do you think will become of this place in the future."
Vin pulled the cigar from his mouth and glanced up and down the street. "Can't rightly say I've thought much about that."
"Will it all go to ruin?" Ezra asked. "Will it be forgotten? Gone to dust? Its name forgotten to all?"
Vin turned his attention on Ezra. "Ain't been something I worry about." He looked concerned. "There's other things that keep my attention."
"No one will remember this little town even existed given a few years time. No one will care once we're gone."
Vin said seriously, "Some of us don't want to be known."
"True," Ezra replied, looking at his friend and remember that he was still a wanted man.
"Why're you troubin' yourself with this?"
Ezra shrugged. "It just seems sad to think that no one will remember."
"But you got that fingermark thing goin' on," Vin said. "Where'd you figure that out?"
"I read about it," he said, touching the book.
"Seem to remember you just got that book," Vin said.
"Elsewhere then," Ezra said. "I read about it in a different book."
"And everyone has a different marking?" Vin looked at his fingers. "Everyone?"
Ezra looked at his fingers, finally clean again after a thorough scrubbing with lye soap. He'd had to buy beauty cream to soften the angry redness out of them afterward. "Yes, apparently."
"Maybe you can show me how it works," he said. "Might be helpful in tracking."
Ezra nodded. "Indeed. I suppose I owe you that favor, as you've enlightened me on how to read a trail."
Vin chuckled. "Ezra, you're hopeless at that."
Again Ezra shrugged. "Perhaps I was," he said, "But I've learned a bit from the master. I've become somewhat adequate at that endeavor."
"Fair trade," Vin said, and extended his hand. "I want to become somewhat adequate at that that fingermark endeavor." He smiled slyly. "Probably be better at it than you are at tracking."
"You're on." Ezra gave him a look and they shook on it.
"The Judge seemed pretty interested in it," Vin went on. "May be that you get us famous for that. Folks might take note and remember who started it all."
Ezra laughed. "Four Corners, home of the famous Ezra P. Standish, pioneer in the fingerprinting technique."
Vin smiled. "See, they won't forget about that, would they? 'Sides, there's plenty of stuff that happened here. People won't forget this place. You'll see."
"Quite true," Ezra said as he released Vin' s hand. "Certainly some of our adventures will be remembered." Then he grinned as he asked, "And Mr. Tanner, have you ever considered an investment opportunity in dungarees?"
Yes, Ezra decided, this just might work out fine.
Bolt out of the Blue III
"And BLAMO! Out of nowhere, he got hit by lightning!" Agent Dunne waved his hands about frantically at Larabee.
"Like the proverbial bolt out of the blue," Josiah added as Nathan poked at Standish in the driveway of Larabee's Ranch.
"We better get you to a hospital, Ezra," the medic muttered.
"I'm perfectly fine," Ezra responded, pulling away. "Please, what I really need right now is a moment to myself."
"You sure you're okay, Ez?" Vin asked, concern in his voice.
The undercover agent straightened his shirt. For a moment, he missed the silk garment. "Fine. I just had a strange…dream while I was out."
"You were unconscious?" Nathan asked incredulously.
"Not for long," JD insisted.
"He was awake when we got to him," Josiah added.
Ezra furrowed his brow. Really? he thought. I seemed to be away for well over a day. Remembering the Wizard of Oz, he stopped himself from saying anything, or mentioning that they were all included in the fantasy. "But as you can see, I'm perfectly fine and in one piece. Honestly, I'd just like to sit for a little while and collect myself."
Buck patted him on the back and Josiah wandered off, saying hollowly to Chris, "I thought he was dead…"
JD added, "BA-ROOM! BANGO! It knocked him off his feet! I thought it zapped his brain or something."
"He should really go to a hospital and let them check him out," Nathan said quietly, knowing his advice wouldn't be heeded. "Don't know why you brought him to Chris' place instead. Come on, Ezra. If you're not going, I'm going to check you out."
So, Ezra followed Nathan to the office that had been set up with two cots.
All in all, Ezra was rather glad to be here instead of the city. He didn't think he was quite ready to go back to the civilized worked just yet. He rather missed the quiet of that strange and wonderful dream.
Stepping into Wal-Mart had been strangely harrowing to him.
It had been such a detailed dream. But he'd picked up some strange facts. He'd have to look into the Hargrove case again. He'd never come across the names Cates and Partridge, but maybe Hargrove was involved with them in this world, too? And Dixon. Josiah and Buck and mentioned that name in the drive here. He wondered if there was some connection there, too.
That was an odd one. Why had he created a Dixon's Cigar Shop in his fantasy when he never heard that name before in his real life?
After Nathan had given him the once-over, Larabee looked into the room.
"This package came for you, Ez," Chris said, handing him bulky packet. "Don't know why you decided to send your mail to my place."
Ezra took the package from Larabee and turned it over in his hands. It was heavy.
"A lawyer brought it by just an hour or so ago. He says he's worked with you before? Seemed really anxious to talk to you about this," Chris watched him carefully. "I told him to take a hike. He left his card though. Said he had questions for you."
Ezra took the card and was surprised to find a familiar name – Levi Braddock V. He'd used their office in the past, so he supposed it wasn't a surprise that they had business with him – but why had the lawyer come to Chris' residence?
He smiled, remembering Mr. Braddock. The lawyer, from their first meeting, seemed intrigued with him, wanting to say something important and was doing everything he could to remain silent on the issue.
Chris looked curiously at the packet, but apparently knew well enough to give Ezra some space. He moved from the room, leaving Ezra in peace.
Alone, Ezra opened the packet, finding another package inside, and an envelope. The envelope was sealed with wax. Once the seal was broken, he pulled out the folded pages, pausing a moment before unfolding the letter, unsure why he felt so anxious. The handwriting was familiar – it was his own:
To Ezra Standish: 2015
It wasn't a dream.
I began with the same thought, but have come to believe that there's no way in HELL that I could have dreamed up any of the things I saw. It is beyond my comprehension.
I have come to the conclusion that I must have switched places – somehow -- with another Ezra P. Standish, over a hundred years in the future. Don't ask me how. Perhaps a celestial being found it entertaining to see our struggles. Perhaps the Fates crossed their lines. Perhaps our Lord God thought it interesting to test us in these new situations to make us better humans (as if improvement were possible). Perhaps it was all just a big mistake.
Honestly, none of that matters. All I know is that I was exposed to an incredible future that beguiles me to this day. I wish I'd had the chance to fully explore your existence in the far flung future. There are so many things that I wished to have seen.
Since my return, I have thought about you a great deal and feel that you must have been thrust into my world as I was thrust into yours. Certainly, you think it was a dream? You must have looked into our nation's history at some point and had some passing familiarity with your past (my beloved present). You have seen 'movies' that try to replicate my time. At the very least, you have seen the photograph on the wall at Mr. Larabee's ranch.
You, very easily, can consider it was all a dream.
I know different. I saw things that can't be imagined, not even by Misters Verne and Wells. I could not have dreamed up the horrors of Wal-mart (avoid it at all costs) or the wonders of pizza (food of the Gods).
You can never talk to me, as I have long departed this earth, but I can communicate to you in the future. I have entrusted this letter to a young lawyer named Braddock. I met him during my last trip to Denver when he'd recently opened a small office to ply his trade.
I found a calling card amongst your affects, listing his office. It is undoubtedly, the same family, the same law office. His establishment will flourish and exist to your day in the far off and unfathomable 21st Century. I have entrusted this package to his care, asking that it be delivered to the address of Mr. Larabee on this date as I know you shall be there. I memorized the address from correspondence found there.
If I am wrong about all this, it will matter not. This miscalculation, this folly, will make no difference to anyone. I will be long gone by this date. This letter will become a curiosity to Mr. Braddock's heirs. It will give them something to laugh about. Young Mr. Levi Braddock the First seemed quite impressed with the tale I told him, and is eager to see this through. I only hope his descendants retain the same enthusiasm. I suppose they'll have something to say to you when this letter is eventually delivered. I can hope that the seal was not broken and this missive was not breached.
If I am right, then there are three things that I must impart to you.
1) It wasn't a dream
2) You really must pay more attention to Chaucer.
3) You work with some of the finest human beings to walk this planet, in any era.
They were always understanding of my difficulties as I adjusted to your place and time. If they, for some reason, remember anything that happened during our transposition (the gentlemen in my time remember nothing), I hope I did a fine enough job of playing your part and they were left with the impression that I had my brain zapped (your JD's terminology) by lightning and was just a little shaky on my legs. My inconsistencies were forgiven and they were always helpful to me. I have been known to be a bit of a chameleon in my time, capable of fitting in with almost any crowd so I believe I did a more-than-fair job in the charade.
Your Mr. Tanner, I'm afraid, was not fooled.
I must say, I enjoyed the experience. I will certainly miss the convenience of electric lights and the indoor plumbing. I have been wondering if such things can be replicated here. Sadly, I doubt it would be manageable. The fingerprinting technique is an impressive tool that I have begun to employ,
In any case, I hope you had an equally acceptable sojourn in my lifetime.
Take good care of your friends, they should be treasured.
-- With affection to myself (in any era), Ezra P. Standish
p.s. Thank you for the 'tip' regarding Mr. Hargrove. We have discovered that his demeanor is as unpleasant in my time as it is in yours. He and his associate are on their way to Yuma Prison.
p.p.s. Do not forget Four Corners or the people who lived here. They are precious to me, and as long as they remain in your memory, then they are not gone from this earth.
Ezra stood quietly. He held the letter for a moment, letting the words sink in, before folding it and sliding it into his pocket. He removed the other item in the package, and unwrapped a heavy book – Roughing It, by Mark Twain. He smiled, feeling a little giddy at having it in his hands again. It still looked in perfect condition.
He opened the book again to see the inscription. It hadn't changed, but a piece of paper was now included.
I believe you might enjoy this novel by a gentleman I have known, Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. He was gaining popularity in my time, but may have been forgotten in yours. That would be a pity, so I am doing my best to ensure that he is remembered.
I met him briefly a few years back, and I believe I annoyed the man, but he did present me with one of his novels. It has been very dear to me and quite amusing. I promised myself I would never part with it, but I suppose in giving it to you, it remains with me. His writing is quite enjoyable and perhaps, this book might remind you of time spent elsewhere.
-- Yours, most sincerely – you know the rest.
He couldn't stop smiling as he held the book. Oh, he would find the time to read this one!
It was real. Everything was real!
The photograph! He remembered now. He stood up and approached the photo on the wall. The jail, the telegraph office, restaurant and general store that had puzzled him in that town -- he'd seen those four businesses lined up in Chris' photo!
No wonder he couldn't place the image in his mind. The photo was of a ghost town. The businesses were abandoned and ramshackle. He needed to see it.
The photo looked different now, he thought. The picture was still old, foxed and yellowed, but there was a life to it. The windows weren't broken, the paint wasn't peeling. Chairs sat on the boardwalk. Signs hung from above the walkway. There were blurs of people, moving along the boardwalk. This was a town alive.
Beneath the photo, where it used to say "Unknown Town" – it now said, "Four Corners, AZ"
Ezra smiled at that, reaching out to touch the little town he had known for little more than a day. It was real. He'd been there.
"Ez?" Vin said quietly and Ezra turned to find him. "You look like you saw a ghost."
"A ghost? Perhaps that's a good word for it," Ezra said stepped away from the photograph, clutching the book with one hand. They were all ghosts now, weren't they? All of the people he had seen and spoken to, all long dead. The thought filled him with a sudden sadness. They were gone.
"You gonna be okay, Ez?" Vin's voice stayed low.
'The finest human beings to walk this planet, in any era.' Yes, Ezra…you're right. They are -- yours and mine.
"Yes." Ezra smiled, and patted the letter happily, glad that the other Ezra had let him know for certain. The book, he would treasure forever. "I'll be just fine."