RATING: PG-13 for language
CATEGORY: Challenge - Old West
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Buck and Ezra
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: The January 2005 Challenge: offered by Katherine: Write a story in which euphemisms figure prominently....Open the story with one or end it with one, sprinkle them liberally through the story if you like, just be sure to incorporate at least one in it somewhere. Bonus points if all the boys manage to use one.
SUMMARY: Buck comes across an abandoned house, with Chaucer in the corral... and no sign of Ezra.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
DATE: January 30, 2005
APPEARS IN: Magnificent Shorts #1
Like the Dead
By NotTasha...dead tired of trying to fit so many in
The house had been abandoned for only a few days. The Warner family, tired of hardscrabble, had given up on the land, sold
off their stock and hopped the first train east. The home waited sale – unattended and empty – or at least it should have
Buck Wilmington reined in his horse as he noted movement around the lonely house. In the corral, one horse bobbed about – dipping its head to nibble at the grass. Buck furrowed his brow, wondering at the interloper. He knew that the Warner house and its remaining contents were to be auctioned at the end of the week – that the family was depending on the eventual income to fund their new home.
So why the hell was someone out here… now? Maybe a prospective buyer was just eyeing the investment… or maybe something darker was at work.
Wilmington brought the big grey to trot toward the structure. Probably some squatter, he thought. Maybe a thief. He knew that the Warners had only taken away what could be easily toted, packed and shipped. They left behind their furniture, and were assured that the lawmen of Four Corners would angle their daily patrols past the property and see that the remainder remained until the sale.
“Damn shame for them to lose what little they have left,” Buck commented to Clyde. “‘Course, it would have saved us a cartload of trouble if they’d only stayed to take care of this themselves.” He harrumphed as he rode, wondering at the shortsightedness of some.
As he came closer, the horse in the corral stopped its movement and stood at the gate, watching. When the animal whinnied, Buck shook his head, recognizing the beast. Clyde returned the call of his friend as Buck helloed the house with a, “Ezra, you damn well better not plan to shoot me. I’m coming in!”
He expected to see the gambler appear at the porch and give him a wave or a disgusted look, but nothing moved within the house. Where the hell is he? After all, it was high time he come home!
Ezra had been in Roosterville for the past week. The town was facing a boom, and Judge Travis had requested Standish, needing his talents to straighten out a muddle. Apparently the city records were in a shambles, and someone was required to set everything right for the recently hired sheriff and a newly appointed mayor. The Judge, for some reason, had decided that Ezra was just the man to do the job.
Ezra had grumbled about being loaned out, complaining that it was going to be too much work. The rest of them had given the conman a hard time about it– knowing that Standish would be pulling easy duty during his tenure in that town – shuffling through papers and such while the rest of them put up with weather, townsfolk and outlaws.
“So, the little weasel is finally coming home,” Buck stated out loud. “Probably figured Chris would come fetch him -- looking for blood -- so he hightailed it back before he got too comfortable. Well, it’ll be good to see him.”
Wilmington drew closer, his eyes darting about the property for any movement. Chaucer’s excited pacing was the only sign of life. Why hadn’t Ezra shown his face yet? “Ezra! Hey, Ezra! It’s Buck!”
And yet, no one appeared.
This wasn’t good… this was wrong… all wrong… horribly wrong.
“Ezra!” Buck called again, drawing his gun, trying to find the gambler. “Come on, Ezra! Don’t mess around. You here?”
Darting his gaze in one direction and then the other, Buck looked about the area between the buildings, checked the windows, examined the doorways and porches -- nothing. What the hell was going on? He held his breath, listening, trying to figure out what sort of danger rested here. “Come on, Ezra,” he whispered, fearing the worst.
What had happened to him? Good god, had Ezra met his maker?
“Ezra!” Buck reached the corral, taking only a moment to throw Clyde’s reins over a rung. Have to find him, Buck thought, gotta find Ezra!
Chaucer came up to Buck, snorting and shoving his nose against his chest. “Where is he?” Buck asked anxiously, grasping hold of the gelding’s reins. The chestnut gave no answer – just continued to shove at him. Was Chaucer trying to tell him something? Ezra claimed the animal can nearly speak. “What?” Buck asked. “You have something you got to tell me?” The horse just yanked back his head, to free himself from Wilmington’s grasp. Chaucer pranced away, and then found a place to stand beside Clyde, and was apparently happy to pick at him.
Frowning, Buck stepped back. This was not right… His gaze searched out the area around the corral, as he walked slowly about, looking everywhere for a sign of the gambler. “Ezra!” Buck called. “Ezra! Answer me, goddamn it!”
But there was no response.
“Damn it… damn it!” Buck felt his heart racing as he searched the open space. The barn door stood wide and he made his way to it. He kept his gun ready, even though he knew that whoever had attacked Ezra was probably long gone.
“Ezra! Come on! Where are you?” And he moved onward, as silently as possible, listening to every creak of the barn, every wail of breeze that eked its way through the siding. The sound made the hairs stick up on his neck. It was as if disembodied voices were calling to him, warning him away. Damn it! Where the hell was Ezra? Don’t tell me that he’s gone … not alone here… not now.
The barn was nearly empty – only a pile of straw and remained. Wilmington made his way through, searching, listening, calling. But there was no sign of anything living – not even a mouse crossed his path.
Wilmington, discouraged, spun about, and clomped through the building and out into the open area. “Ezra!” he called again. “Ezra, goddamn it!”
What the hell was going on? Had Standish been attacked here? Had he been taken away? Was he hurt… had he reached the journey’s end so violently?
The silence was painful for the gregarious ladies’ man. “Ezra,” he called again, trying not to imagine what had happened here. Ezra wouldn’t have left Chaucer here! If Chaucer was alone at this abandoned house… then….
The gambler must have come in here – trying to stop thieves from making off with the Warner’s property – and had been rewarded with a dirt nap. The bastards had sent Ezra to the majority – and had left his body here as worm food.
“EZRA!” Buck shouted again, hating the images he was conjuring. He stormed up the front steps of the Warner house, and pressed on the door, finding it ajar. The lock was ripped from the frame. “Shit,” he muttered. “Oh, Ezra…”
He felt sick. Certainly, Ezra would have picked the lock, wouldn’t he? If the lock was broken, then certainly there’d been thieves. There had been no one here to help Ezra when he took them on.
Steeling himself, Buck kept his tight grip on his weapon and stepped forward, into the dimness of the boarded up house. Enough light came through the windows to allow him to see, but the house had a solemn feeling to it, as if it held its breath and closed its eyes against the horrible violence that had been visited there. “Ezra!” Buck called again. Please answer me… please, he silently begged. If you’ve bought your lunch… I swear there’ll be trouble.
The room was mostly empty – only a stiff sofa remained in the main room – and a clunky-looking table in the dining room. Buck moved through the yawning rooms – trying to find his friend – hoping that it wasn’t too late. Dark corners and closets were examined unsuccessfully, as Buck called, plaintively, hopefully.
He reached the kitchen – finding empty cupboards and a cold wood stove. “Ezra,” he called again, hoping. He pressed open the back door to check the rear porch – nothing.
After stepping back into the kitchen, he sought out the stairs.. The wood creaked beneath his feet, sounding like the moaning of souls consigned to damnation. He had a horrible feeling – a terrible gnawing at the pit of his stomach as he strode upward. Ezra had run out of time, he knew it.
Still, he shouted “Ezra!” as he made it to the top of the stairs, hoping. “Ezra! Come on, answer me!” he yelled. Only the wind crying through the cracks around the windows responded.
The first room proved empty – only a straw mattress remained on the floor. It had once been a child’s room and was still festooned in bright stencil-work. Buck stepped out of it quickly and turned in the other direction. In the second room, he found a wardrobe, and a bed frame with a mattress, thick and deep.
There was something… someone… on the bed.
Buck marched into the room, and quickly holstered his gun when he saw the coat and hat that hung on one of the bedposts—familiar – Ezra’s. His heart thudding in his throat, he reached the still form – laid out on the plush mattress.
“Oh, Ezra,” Buck sighed, seeing the insensible pale face, the unmoving body. Ezra’s had gone to the last roundup, alone. “I’m too late. I’m too late!” he moaned as he reached out to his friend. Ezra had probably used his last ounce of energy to come here, to come to the end of the line in the small comfort of this bed.
Wilmington's heart filled with pain, he grasped one of Ezra’s hands and was shocked to find it … warm.
“Not too late,” Buck whispered. “Ezra!” he called, overjoyed at this discovery. “Ezra!” he squeezed the hand, and patted Ezra’s still face to no avail. Ezra didn’t move, didn’t register him at all...but he breathed!
“Come on, Ezra,” he coaxed, getting no response. Ezra lay as if he’d already gone west. “What’s wrong with you, hoss? What’s the matter?”
His eyes scanned Standish, trying to find out what sort of hurt was inflicted on him. “It’s okay, Ezra,” he assured. “I’m here. I gotcha. I’ll take care of you.”
Everything was going to be okay. Ezra wasn’t going to cash in his chips! I can save him! He’s not going to go to any happy hunting ground, not while I’m around!
Just gotta figure out what’s wrong. Wilmington grabbed Ezra’s arms, checking them and then moving them away from his body, feeling along his sides for the sensation of blood, for anything swollen or broken, but the man seemed unharmed. There was nothing easy to see – the harm must have been more insidious and dangerous.
“What did they do to you, Ezra?” Wilmington beseeched as he unbuttoned the gambler’s waistcoat and shirt, feeling around his torso for anything. There were no holes, no strange bruises. Ezra seemed fine – not a thing wrong with him.
And yet, Standish never moved, never twitched – just breathed so slowly and deeply that he constantly seemed about to breathe his last.
What then? His head… good Lord, they must have clobbered him! “It’s okay, Ezra,” Buck murmured as he carefully felt around Ezra’s skull, sure of a brain injury. God, it was only too possible! Ezra seemed to have more than his fair-share of knocks on the noggin. If they’d hurt Ezra’s head, damaged him irreversibly – this would be his end. He’ll recover! Buck insisted to himself. Ezra won’t be hanging up his tack because of this!
Buck searched, running his fingers carefully around Ezra’s scalp, hoping to find something – hoping to find nothing. Had he been drugged? Buck cursed himself, unable to locate what had caused this. If he was only better at this sort of thing, he might be able to help his friend. Why wasn’t Nathan here! Nathan would keep Ezra from going home feet first.
Ezra, who’d been still and silent up until this point, made the tiniest sound, little more than a sigh… and then he started snoring – just a quiet, almost indiscernible sound – but a snore nonetheless.
Buck, his hands deep in Ezra’s hair, let go as if shocked and stood straight. For a moment his face screwed up in wonder. Ezra continued to snore, then smacked his lips slightly and rustled about in the bed as if trying to get comfortable.
Asleep! He’s been asleep all this time! He’s asleep… alive! He’s going to be fine! Thank God... oh, thank God! And, here I am, thinking he’s about to go to his final resting place. Here I am, eating out my liver with worry while he’s taking a cat nap! That little BASTARD! I'll pound him to paste!
Lunging forward, Buck grabbed the southerner by the shoulders and shook him – shook him with a vengeance – shook him like a dog with a bone -- hard enough to make his teeth rattle like dice. “Wake up, you little low-life, scum-sucking, yellow-bellied, cheatin’ son-of-a-bitch!”
Ezra came to with a startled, "ah!" and tried to flail his arms to release himself from the surprise onslaught, but Buck had him contained. His eyes blazing with red-hot rage, Buck repeatedly slammed the astonished gambler into the comfy-depths of the feather bed.
Terrified green eyes looked up at the madman. "Buck...what... are... you... doin'?" he managed to sputter out as he collided with the nicely-soft mattress. Once Ezra realized he couldn’t get his arms loose, he kicked. Buck released his hold and he stumbled to get his footing.
Freed, Ezra shot upright, shouting, “For the love of God, leave me alone!”
“You stupid bastard!” Buck shot back. “What do you think yer doin’?”
Ezra blinked as if he couldn’t believe his ears. “I was sleeping!” he responded incredulously.
“How the hell can you go on sleeping with all the shouting? Ezra, I called your name a couple dozen times. I’d thought you’d bought the farm!”
“This farm?” Ezra asked, confused.
“No! I thought you’d taken the big jump, kicked the bucket, checked out, coiled up your ropes …”
“Shuffled off this mortal coil? Gave an obolus to Charon, crossed the Great Divide, resting at Abraham's bosom?” Ezra snorted as he straightened his clothing. "Sowing the Elysian Fields?" he added so that he'd have one more reference than Wilmington. “Hardly!”
Buck sighed, and shook his head. He let his arms hang at his sides. Hands that had recently been trying to send Ezra to a dreamless sleep, flexed. He opened his fingers and closed them, letting himself calm down.
When he could speak calmly, Buck stated, “I was shoutin’ my head off and you never said a word. You were lying there, Ezra, still as goose waitin’ to be trimmed for Christmas supper. I couldn’t wake you. Then I was messin’ with you , and you still weren’t coming around.”
“Messing with me?” Ezra asked suspiciously, fluttering around with the buttons of his vest., trying to get them closed up as quickly as possible. He became aware of his hair, and ran a hand through it, trying to comb it back into place. “What, pray tell, were you doin’ to me while I slept?”
“Tryin’ to figure out what was wrong with you,” Buck admitted. “You scared me, Ezra.”
“No need for that. I was just…” and he made a flick of one hand. “… asleep.”
“Ezra you sleep like you’re sunning your moccasins, pushing up daisies.”
“I may sleep deeply, but it’s not as if I’ve climbed the Golden Stair or have taken the downward path,” Ezra commented.
Buck shook his head and sat down heavily beside the con man. “Ezra, it ain’t natural, and it ain’t right to sleep as if you’ve gone to your just reward. Ezra, you looked like you were going into the fertilizer business.”
“Reward? Well,” Ezra commented. “I’d hope that it was a monetary one – I gained little from that endeavor in Roosterville.” And he let out a slow breath.
Buck gave Ezra an appraising look, realizing that Standish was, indeed, a little too pale and his eyes had a look of exhaustion about them. “More work than you thought?” Wilmington asked.
“It was monumental,” Ezra admitted. “I thought for a time I’d be going the way of all flesh before I finished sorting out the mess.” He shook his head, as if trying to clear a daze. “To finish it before the arrival of the new mayor and sheriff was almost beyond me. But I managed, in my own fashion. I wouldn’t let it send me six feet under, that’s for certain. Of course, stayin' up to nearly dawn at a game or two didn't help matters.”
“Figures,” Buck stated, watching as Ezra rubbed his eyes. “You look like you’re about ready to turn up your toes.”
Ezra yawned and nodded. “Indeed, I feel nearly ready to give up the ghost.” And he yawned again.
“So, you broke into a stranger’s house to find a bed?” Buck asked.
Ezra gave him annoyed look. “The lock was in that state to begin with. Please, I do have some finesse.”
“Couldn’t just lay down under a tree?”
Ezra shrugged. “I like my comfort,” he stated simply. “And I knew this house was vacant.”
“Scared me halfway to a halo!” Buck complained.
Shrugging again, Ezra stated, “Honestly, it wasn’t my intention.”
Buck watched the gambler whose head started to dip and eyes were half-closed again. He sure did look done in
“Figure you worked yourself nearly to the grave,” Buck stated, watching his lethargic friend.
“Not so,” Ezra replied. “I simply overdid it a bit. All I need is a few days rest and I’ll be as chipper as ever. Unfortunately, I thought I would be able to make it all the way to Four Corners before the call of Morpheus reached me. I fear I had less stamina than expected. Perhaps next time it'll be Hades that calls.”
“I take it, yer gonna sleep a bit more.”
Ezra nodded. “It would probably be wise before I continued on. I believe Mr. Larabee would prefer it if I arrive cognizant and still part of this mortal coil. And I believe stayin' clear of his ire, might keep me from leavin' this veil of tears.”
“How much longer, you reckon?” Buck asked, leaning back on the bed.
With another yawn, Ezra pulled his pocket watch from his waistcoat. His eyebrows raised slightly as he regarded the time. “An hour perhaps,” he concluded.
“All right then,” Buck responded, getting to his feet. “I’ll give you an hour, and we’ll be headin’ home.”
Ezra frowned. “No need to wait on my account, Mr. Wilmington. I can make my way on my own.”
“An hour,” Buck repeated, checking his own watch. “Then we go. I’ll go check on the horses and the property. Make sure everything’s fine.”
“Mr. Wilmington, there’s no reason for you to remain,” Ezra repeated tiredly.
“Got to make sure you actually wake up and make your way out of here,” Buck told him. And besides, he reasoned to himself, I thought you’d paid the piper. Didn’t like that. "Gonna make sure you don’t bite the dust anytime soon.”
“In this bed?” Ezra asked, opening his arms to display the deep feather mattress. “Remind me to attend the auction this weekend. This might be worthy of purchase.” He yawned again and lay back in the cushy softness, soft as a cloud. Perhaps this is how angels reclined. “Yes, definitely worth the investment.”
“I’ll be back in an hour,” Buck stated, watching as Ezra closed his eyes and snuggled into the depths of the mattress. “And don’t get all mad at me when I come to wake you.”
“Well, perhaps a less violent attempt will work better next time,” Ezra murmured.
“Can’t guarantee it,” Buck responded as he turned and left the room. “You know, ‘cause you sleep like the…” and he stopped, because already he could hear that soft, almost non-existent snore. With a chuckle, he left the room.
Hope you enjoyed the story comments