RATING: PG... for some light swearing
STATUS: Complete
CATEGORY: OW - Challenge Story
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, Josiah and Buck
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: This is in response to Jean's August 2001 Magnifiction Challenge:  " The challenge is to write a story of 2,500 to 3,500 words titled "Charades." The setting is the Old West and the last words/line of the fic must be spoken by Ezra and will be: "So shines a good deed in a weary world." This is to be a dramatic fic, not comedy."  
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Drop a line and let me if you liked it.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:  Kristin created the name for Ezra's horse
DATE: Finished August 3, 2001

By NotTasha - twisting in the wind

The three men ducked their heads against the wind and watched in a mixture of horror and fascination as the phantom danced.  It undulated and jigged, moving across the open land in the oppressive weather.  It played in the field, swaying back and forth, continuing on its path.

"Don't seem to be comin' our way," Buck said, raising his voice above the wind, his gaze fastened on the bizarre dancer.

"Maybe it's movin' off," Josiah put in, glad to have some distance from it.  "Strange to be seein' it here.  I didn't think they formed in this climate."  He held onto the brim of his hat with one hand as the wind tried to catch it.  The horses bowed their heads together, pressing close for protection and consolation.

"The climate has been decidedly odd recently and stranger phenomenon have been known to occur," Ezra added, gripping Chaucer's reins tightly.  "Old Man Stoker claimed that ball lightening chased him into his house and out the backdoor last year, and if you believe Howard Williams, it snowed in Clarkston one July in 1820 or thereabouts."

The other two men didn't hear him, and Ezra hardly paid attention to his own words as they watched the tornado gyrate in the distance.  The wraith played in the hot, dank weather, kicking up the pale earth as it moved.

"Ain't comin' toward town," Buck said with relief.  "May just peter out in a bit."  He turned his head toward his companions, smiling at the way their attention was riveted on the twister.   Both Standish and Sanchez watched with the same rapt expression, their jaws held tight and their eyes squinted against the wind.  Wilmington continued, "Can't say I ever seen one before.  Always thought it'd be a terrible thing.  This one's almost pretty."

The twister rumbled then, sounding like a locomotive in the distance, sounding suddenly angered.  Buck returned his gaze to it as the tornado took on a darker tone, throwing up debris in the distance.  "God, it hit something."

The tornado had changed its nature, turning from a playful sprite to a purveyor of destruction.  Ezra's eyes went wide with realization.  "The Mitchells!"  he cried, and dug his heels into his horse's sides.  Chaucer reared and took off in the general direction of the black destroyer.  It continued past the homestead and onward through the open land.

"Damn," Buck mumbled, heading after the southerner, with Josiah close behind.

"Lord, save them," the preacher murmured as he urged his steed alongside the others.

The tornado gambled across the field, lifting its feet and hopping, skittering up and down for a few dozen yards and then, it was gone.  It just faded away, unraveling itself, looking like a twirling woman, with skirt lifting far too high for modesty, and then dissolving mysteriously.  The day became strangely still as they continued at full gallop across the field.

Ezra concentrated on finding the Mitchells' house.  It was a pretty little farmhouse, set up with a windmill a barn, and half a dozen outbuildings.  There was a chicken coop, tool shed, privy and a doghouse.  He could picture it clearly. The Mitchells' home was a familiar landmark and a resting-place that all the Seven utilized on their rounds.  They were always welcome , no matter how grubby or tired or ornery they might be.

Standish felt a cold horror as he drew closer to where he thought the house should be, seeing nothing that stood above the beaten scrub.

Nothing  --  that was their first realization.  There was no landmark, no way of knowing where, exactly, the house should be.  Where they almost there?  Were they acres off course?  No marker remained to point the way under the greenish clouds.  They came to a quick stop and spun their horses around, trying to find the little complex.

"There!"  Josiah shouted and they took off in a new direction, toward the shambles that the preacher had discerned.  They slowed as they approached the broken remains.  Wood, shattered glass and twisted bits of metal were strewn about, leaving no true idea where the house, barn, chicken coop or doghouse once stood.  "Sweet Mother of God," Sanchez mumbled.

"Mitchell!"  Buck shouted, dismounting.  "Ronald!"

"Pamela!"  Josiah's voice boomed, calling for the man's wife.

"Megan!  Abby!"   Ezra cried, cupping his hands around his mouth, as if to be heard over the wind, but the weather had become mild, as if in shock.

"Mitchell!"  Buck yelled again, striding through the wreckage.  It seemed that no two boards remained as they were originally fixed.  Here and there things had been whipped into piles, twisted and tossed and torn utterly apart.  How could this have been a home?  "Mitchell!"

"Help," a voice called.  "Please, God, help us!"

The Fmen turned sharply and ran toward the sound.  There, underneath a mound of beams and broken bits that had once formed a homestead, they could see a man.  "Help me!" Ronald Mitchell cried.  "My girls, please.  Help us!"

Buck crouched down to peer into the space where Ron was trapped.  "You okay in there?"  He smiled when he saw Ronald and his two young daughters peering back at him.  The girls were terrified, and Ron clutched them tightly to himself, shielding them as he had protected them during the maelstrom.  They seemed hardly able to breathe, so tight was his hold on them.

"We're okay, I think," Ron said heartily.  "Thank God you came!"

Buck and Ezra immediately started picking away the wreckage, but part of the windmill had fallen over Mitchell and the girls, creating a buffer that probably saved their lives, but now impeded their rescue. Josiah grabbed one of the shattered beams that lay nearby, and used it to leverage up the debris.  Ezra offered a hand to Ronald, and the farmer shoved one of his daughters toward him.  "Abby, go with him," he ordered and the little blonde scrambled out, followed by her dark-haired sister.  Neither of them seemed to be hurt; they were more frightened than anything. They clutched greedily at the gambler as he hauled them to their feet.

Once his children were safe, Ronald joined them.  He smiled faintly.  His head was scratched and bruised, his shirt was torn and little angry wounds could be seen through the tears, where bits of his home had been fired at him like missiles.  "Thank you," he said, shaking Josiah's hand vigorously, and then Buck's and then Ezra's.  "I can't tell you how much…"

His gaze fell on his daughters.  Their faces were pale and their eyes were wide as saucers.  They clung to Ezra, because he was there. They might have clutched at a scarecrow if it were the only thing available.  The two seemed utterly unable do anything more than hold onto Ezra's jacket and shudder.

"I almost lost them," Mitchell said quietly.  "It tried to pull them outta my arms."  His voice caught and he took one step toward his girls.  Suddenly, an anguish crossed his face.  His gaze shot away, scanning the flattened remains of his home.  "Pamela," he moaned.  "Pam!"

"We'll find her!"  Buck promised.  He tried to grasp Ronald's shoulder, but the man spun out of his hold.

"Pam!" he shouted, careening around the scattered, shattered remains of his house.  "Pammy!  Please, dear Lord, let me find her!"

The girls started crying and Ezra put a hand on each of their shoulders, drawing them close.  They clung to his familiar blazer and watched their father with frightened eyes.  "It's going to be all right," Ezra said softly, hating the fact that he might be lying to them.

"Ezra," Josiah said in a low voice, "You think you can keep them occupied for a bit?"  Sanchez glanced sorrowfully at the girls, seeing their fear only heighten by their father's strange behavior.

Ezra nodded and gestured before him.  "Come, my ladies, let's get out of the way.  There's work to be done and menial labor doesn't suit us."  He'd only need to distract them for a short time, trick them that all was well.

"Mama," the little blonde cried.  "I want my Mama."  Her hair hung in disheveled ringlets, and her gingham dress was dirty and torn from their ordeal.  "Want to find her."

Ezra herded the girls away from the damaged home.  They were like little sleepwalkers, moving dumbly where Ezra persuaded.  "Your father and my compatriots are much better suited for that endeavor, dear Abby.  We will only get in the way."

Megan clung to Ezra's hand, stealing glances over her shoulder as the other men searched. She was a year older than Abby, almost identical to her sister, except she had gained an inch or two with age and her hair was ink-black.  Her extra year made her wiser in everything.  "Mr. Standish is right, Abby," she stated.  "We'll go over here."

Ezra steered them carefully away from where he remembered the doghouse once stood, where there once was a chicken coop, from what used to be a barn.  Somewhere there was a dog named Rufus, and a flock of white chickens, a milk-cow called Belle, horses named Hank and Suzie, and Tiger -- a bent-tailed tabby.  There was no sign of these animals.  Nothing moved, save for the father and his daughters, the lawmen and their horses, and frail bits of cloth caught in the deceptively mild breeze.

Clear of the wreckage, Ezra found a stone too large to have been molested by the vengeful wraith.  He gestured the girls to sit, positioning them with their backs to the rubble.  Facing them with a smile, he asked, "Now, darlin's, what shall we do to pass the time?"  Behind the girls, the men tossed wood, metal and broken windowpanes, looking frantically through the wreckage.

The girls, like twins, sat in the same positions.  Their little hands tucked between their knees, their heads down, their shoulders hunched.  They sat so close together that they almost seemed to meld into one another -- one two-headed, trembling child.  Megan sucked in her breath and Abby said, "I want my Mama!"

"I understand completely," Ezra replied, recalling how often he had wanted his mother as a child.  "But our job is to wait while they look.  Let's do our very best at it.  I know that you'll be well behaved young ladies."  He watched over their heads as his friends and Mitchell searched.

They both nodded and Megan bit her lip.  Their little dark eyes filled up with tears.

"Perhaps we could play a game to pass the time," Ezra started.  "Do you know any games?"

"We play house with Mama," Abby said. "And I like to play dollies."

"Mama reads to us," Megan said longingly.  "I have a wagon that's fun and a toy horsy."

Your dolls, books, horsies and wagons are gone, my dears, Ezra thought.  You can't even play house any longer if there is no house.  "I'm afraid that those won't suit our present circumstances.  Do you know any word games, perhaps?"   Meeting only confused looks, he continued, "Do you know any games that don't require paraphernalia?"

"Mr. Standish, what's a parrfenaleyah?" Megan asked seriously.

"Things," Ezra responded simply.  "Do you know a game that doesn't require us to use any…things?"  Again, meeting baffled expressions, he tried, "Like charades…" Ezra watched as Josiah stopped over a pile of shattered wood, straightened suddenly and called for the other two.

"What're charades?" Megan asked.

"It's a game where one participant acts out the name of a play, or book, perhaps a famous person or historical event and the others try and guess what they are portraying."

Abby smiled sweetly -- such a lovely little lamb.  "That sounds like fun!"

Ronald and Buck ran to where Josiah was working, and Ron fell to his knees, throwing his arm over his eyes as Buck and Josiah tore at the wreckage.

"Have you read many books, my ladies?" Ezra asked.

"We know lots," Abby declared.  "We have a fairy book that Mama reads to us.  There's lots and lots of stories in the big book."

Ezra sighed.  "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the Brothers Grimm.  Let's make this simple...for me.  We'll take turns portraying various animals.  The first one to guess correctly gets a chance to befuddle the others, all right?"  Ronald had gotten to his feet again and was helping Josiah and Buck to move the wood.  The farmer moved erratically, his arms flailing about almost uselessly as he attempted to disassemble the pile.  He swung one board wide, nearly crowning Buck in his wild attempt to move the mountain.   Buck and Josiah stepped back, regarding his frenzy, before carefully moving in again.

Abby chimed, "I know lots of animals, lots and lots!"

"I know more than you do," Megan said petulantly to her sister.  She bit her lip again and turned to Ezra.  She was a pretty child, even in her indecision.  "You go first!"

Ezra rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically.  "Very well, then."  He rubbed his chin as if in contemplation as he watched Ronald stop his jerking motions and fall to his knees again.  He reached into the debris that the others were trying to move.  He grasped something.

"I'm ready," Ezra stated, and then he stood very tall, his head back, his arms stiffly at his sides, and a proud expression on his face.  His eyes half-closed, he marched about in a circle, stepping high and bobbing his head as he moved.  He snorted.

"A goose!"  Abby declared.  "A chicken!"

"Chicken?"  Ezra asked incredulously.  "Have you ever seen a chicken walk like this?"  He lifted his knees high as he strutted.

"Yes!" Abby replied with a laugh.

"You're bein' silly," Megan stated, giving her sister a shove.  "He's a horse!  I know he's a horse!"

Ezra watched Josiah and Buck gently lift the woman out from under the wood.  Her face and side were bloody.  Ezra recalled that Pam was such a tidy woman, always perfectly dressed.  She preferred pale colors, like the blue striped dress she wore now, so terribly stained with red.

Megan started to turn toward the scene.

Ezra bowed at the waist and brought his face close to Megan's, rippling his back like a horse's long neck.  "Peppermint?" he whispered softly into her ear.  "Do you have a peppermint?"

"Chaucer!"  Megan squealed.   "You're Chaucer!"   The named horse raised his head and whinnied, making the girls laugh. The chestnut and his companions stood not far from them, away from the wreck.  He twitched his ears, looking expectantly toward his owner.

"He wants his candy!"  Abby giggled.

"Perhaps he does," Ezra responded, making a quick signal to the horse.  Chaucer snorted and returned to pawing the ground and huddling close to the others.  The animals were obviously uneasy in this weird weather.

Buck and Josiah lifted the battered woman onto a blanket, settling her carefully.

"My turn!" Megan cried.  She got onto her hands and knees, unconcerned that she was adding dirt to her already filthy dress.  She crawled about, rubbing her back along Ezra's leg, butting into her sister, meowing plaintively.

As Abby laughed, the farmer touched his wife's head.  Pamela moved feebly, lifting a hand, to be quickly enfolded in her husband's hands.  She didn't open her eyes as she turned her head slowly to one side and then the other.

"What am I?  What am I?"  Megan demanded and then meowed again emphatically.

"A lemur?" Ezra asked.  "A coati-mundi?"

Abby giggled and Megan declared vehemently, "NO!"

"A felis domestica?"

"No, silly!"  Abby put in.  "She's a kitty!" She slid down from the rock. "It's my turn now!"

Megan sat where she was as Abby took her position on all-fours. She panted and barked, waggling her hind-end enthusiastically.

"A dog!  A dog!"  Megan shouted.  "No!  I meant, a moose!"  She giggled into her hands at her joke.

Ezra watched Ronald Mitchell crouch over his wife.  He held her hand tightly in his and ran his other hand over her forehead and around her face, caressing her gently.  He kissed her hand, her face.   He spoke softly to her.   Buck and Josiah stood silently beside them, looking stricken and hopeless, watching what was unfolding before them.  She wasn't moving any longer.

"I'm not a moose!"  Abby was indignant.  "I'm a doggie!"

"You're not supposed to say!"  Megan chided. "You'll ruin the game!"

"I get to go again 'cause you said 'moose'!"  Abby declared and squatted. She tucked her thumbs into her armpits and started cackling like a proud chicken on a nest.

"No!  You just took your turn!  It's me again!" and Megan mooed.  The girls' laughter sounded like silver bells.

Ezra watched as Ronald reluctantly released his grip on his wife.  With extreme care, he crossed her arms over her breast, and raised his hands to his face.  Buck and Josiah removed their hats and bowed their heads and the group in the wreckage became absolutely still as the girls played.

Suddenly, Ronald stood.  Ezra squatted down beside the twittering girls.

"Quiet now," he said softly.  "Here comes your father."

Mitchell half-ran toward his daughters.  He had a strange loping gait, his arms flung out to the sides mindlessly.  He came to a stop several feet from them, his face all wet from tears, his eyes red and swollen.  "Oh, Abby.  Oh, Meg," he moaned.

The two girls drew back, shy for a moment, afraid.  They had never seen their father cry before.  Ronald Mitchell was a strong man, a good man.  He was a Daddy and he never showed fear or pain or sorrow.

Ron fell to his knees and held out his arms.  Megan regarded her father.  A year older and wiser than Abby, she suddenly understood.  "Mama?" she cried.  "Mama?"

And she saw the tears flow unrestrained from her father's eyes.  She ran the few steps to him and flung herself into his arms, sobbing.  Abby stood stock still for a moment more, and not really understanding yet, then followed Megan.  Ronald wrapped his arms around his darling children and rocked them in the open field.

Ezra, seeing his services no longer needed, moved to where Josiah was wrapping Pamela Mitchell into the blanket.  Buck poured water onto a bandana and washed the blood from her face, to prepare her for her children's eyes.

Ezra gazed down on the poor woman and remembered how she had loved to serve them lemonade.  It was a precious commodity, but she had always been proud to offer it to the peacekeepers when they loitered on her front porch.  She was a strong woman and a good mother.  Her girls looked like her, in smaller versions.  Abby had her blonde hair, and Megan carried her father's darker locks.

Buck looked up as Ezra came beside them.  "It's a sorrowful thing," Wilmington said despondently. "At least she didn't suffer for long."

"We'll see to her properly," Josiah added with a nod.

"It ain't right."  Buck ran the back of his hand against his eyes.  "Those poor girls, without a mama now.  A kid needs a mama."  He wetted the bandana again and gently cleaned her face, while Josiah's blanket hid the damage done to her body.  Her hair was a fright.  She was always so particular about her hair.  Ezra could recall that when he came upon their house during one of his patrols, she'd always be patting her hair into shape for 'company.'  That was the image that remained with him, Pamela Mitchell, patting her hair into shape as she hurried off to make lemonade.

Ezra considered getting down beside Buck to try and straighten her golden hair before her daughters saw her in such a disordered state, but he couldn't bring himself to move any closer to her.  He couldn't do anything just yet.

"Ya did a fine job keepin' those kids calm," Buck said.  Ezra gazed toward Wilmington and saw the compassionate man looking at him in concern.  "It was a good thing you did, a good deed."

"Just doin' my best to avoid any menial labor," Ezra responded dully.

Josiah finished securing the protective blanket.  He spoke a quiet prayer and then sat back on his heels. He looked toward the father with his daughters and then to Ezra.  "What sort of a game were you playing with those girls?"

"Charades," Ezra returned, "Or some abbreviated form of it."  The other two nodded absently.  "My Uncle Owen used to love the game. Perhaps that's why I can't seem to gain any appreciation for it."  He watched the father clutch his precious girls tighter.  They clung to him like lemurs on a branch, like coati-mundis in the rain-forest.  "And now," he said, "They shall have a similar distaste for it.  They shall recall for all time that they laughed and played charades while their mother died."

He sighed, kneeling down beside Buck to do his best to straighten Mrs. Mitchell's hair.  "So shines a good deed in a weary world."

THE END - by NotTasha

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