If horses could swear, Peso
would have had the entire U.S. Navy blushing. There was nothing he hated more
than getting wet, and he was well and truly soaked. The black gelding flicked
his ear, trying to at least keep the rain from tickling the inside of his ears.
Vin gave him a pat acknowledging that their predicament was all his fault for
deciding to go out for a ride. They didn't get a lot of rain in this area, so
how was he supposed to know that today of all days it was going to rain? No doubt
the animal would repay him later.
Vin closed his eyes in thanks; up ahead was
what looked like an abandoned town, likely from the gold rush or cattle baron
years of the past. This would have been on the edge of both. Vin grinned, the
livery looked like it was still in good enough shape to keep Peso dry off some,
and he could poke around and explore until the rain stopped. Vin had to smile;
who would have thought there was a whole town on the useless, except for hunting
and fishing trips, land that his old Sergeant had willed him?
He didn't want
to think about the older man being gone. Everyone else had taken one look at the
lanky new recruit who looked about half grown and had decided he was one of those
good for nothing hard drinking, druggies from the inner city that were nothing
but trouble. But the grizzled Sergeant had seen something else, and decided that
Vin Tanner was going to make something of himself, even if it killed the pair
of them. He had informed the young soldier that he would not only take the GED
test at the next offering, but he would pass it or else; and then proceeded to
dedicate his own personal time to tutoring, praising, and bullying as needed.
When the test was passed, he took the kid, as he called him, out to the biggest
steak the youngster had ever seen. He said nothing when Vin stopped the bullies
in the unit from pestering him by systematically getting even with all of his
torments in the most ingenious and creative ways the veteran had seen in forty
years in the service. He also worried a lot less about Vin after witnessing his
ability to take care of himself. When Vin started taking the newbies under his
wing and they looked to him as a leader, the Sergeant responded by recommending
that Vin be promoted. The result was another steak dinner and Vin's Corporal's
stripes. He proved himself a capable leader, well liked and respected by both
those under him and those he answered to. The sergeant was proud of his protg
and Vin had never forgotten his mentor or let him down. They had kept in touch
after the older man retired and Vin had left the service. On the man's death,
Vin had found out that his friend had left him the shack and land they had hunted
and fished at together. He, Chris and Buck were staying there for a week. This
morning Vin had wanted to go off by himself to remember the man on what would
have been his seventy fifth birthday. Chris understood and Vin had departed.
to the usually dry climate, the barn that, according to its sign, had belonged
to someone named Yosemite was not only standing, but in relatively good condition,
just badly worn. Vin striped Peso of his gear and gave him a pat. He took the
remains of an old feed bag and rubbed the animal down as well as he could. Just
out of curiosity, Vin plied the pump a few times, water gushed. Reaching in his
saddlebag he pulled out a large plastic bag; he always had one just in case, and
finding an old pail on its side, he lined it with the bag and filled it. It wasn't
much, but it was something. He offered it to Peso, who drank about half of it.
Not for the first time, Vin was thankful that he had switched to a halter and
bridle combination about a year ago. He untied the lead rope from the saddle horn,
and, checking that the clip was securely attached to the halter, he tied the gelding.
Leaving the reins tied on the saddle horn so the black wouldn't trip over them
and checked the bucket was in reach. If Peso wanted to get out he could, easily
enough, but as long as it was raining, Vin didn't think the animal would move
until forced to and maybe not even then. One last pat to his ornery and beloved
horse, and Vin left to go explore
Outside the barn door his foot hit a mud
patch and slid out from under him. Swearing, Vin's body followed his foot and
his head made a resounding crack as it hit the doorway. Lying on the ground, he
did a quick assessment and found that outside of a tremendous headache, everything
was where it should be and working fine.
Looking back in the barn, he blinked
for a moment, as he could have sworn there was a faint, but clear, burly man with
a thick black beard and mustache standing with a horse's hoof in hand, shoeing
him. It kind of reminded him of when a picture was double exposed and there was
a second imagine on top of the first one.
"Rung my bell better `n I thought,"
Vin muttered, rubbing his hand on the sore spot on the back of his skull and still
feeling nothing but what he should have.
Watching his footing this time, Vin
once more entered the street, or what had been the street, and nearly passed out.
There had been some weird movie or television show JD had convinced him to watch
with him where a guy was in a big movie chamber thing and surrounded by millions
of images swirling and changing at rapid speeds. Vin now knew how the guy felt.
He had been assaulted with a barrage of images when he had looked down the street.
There had been millions, all coming at once.
Taking a deep breath, he opened
his eyes again and looked up at the street. The images had slowed down. A man
in a black duster and another one with a rifle over his shoulder were walking
together towards the graveyard at the other end of town, where it looked like
a lynching was taking place. A young man in a suit and a bowler hat leapt off
a stage couch before it had stopped, with nothing but his saddle.
hit, this one of a stage coach that almost ran over a small boy, but a blond missile
in black grabbed him and hurdled them both to safety, barely. The man looked like
Chris might have in the old west. The same man was dunking someone's head in the
water trough to get information from him. A pair that looked like Buck and JD
were chasing one another around and laughing. Ezra, or someone that could have
been his twin, was walking down the road in just his boots and hat with a table
cloth knotted around his middle with a gun belt over it. As far as Vin knew, Ezra
didn't even own cowboy boots, much less an old west type of gun belt. The Buck
look a like was hustling down the street in his boots and a towel, carrying his
clothes, it looked like he had left the bathhouse. JD was holding a woman in his
arms who had been shot. Buck was fencing with someone; only Buck didn't know one
end of a sword from another!
Vin sighed in relief, the images stopped. Then
he blinked, there at the end of the street were all seven men in a row in Union
army uniforms. Then those, too, faded.
Obviously, Vin had hurt his head worse
then he had thought. Or else he had watched one to many westerns, since he was
evidently seeing his friends as old west gunmen. Maybe he would wake up and find
this had all been a dream. As long as he was here, he was going to at least look
"World Famous Ritz, someone was an optimist," Vin chuckled,
reading the sign over the hotel and filling in the parts that had fallen down
with what logically would have made sense. It was a boarding house and hotel.
He poked his head in the door, but there wasn't anything particularly interesting
in it. It was a place where a bed and meal would have been found if you were traveling.
He shuddered a bit, thinking that it was actually in better shape than some of
the holes he had had to dive into while doing covert ops missions as an Army Ranger.
He smirked when he could have sworn that he was watching Buck scramble out
the hotel's second story window in long johns and unfastened pants and boots,
while clutching the rest of his clothes. The mustached image then lost his balance
rolled off the roof and landed at the feet of the Black clad gunslinger who even
had the blonde's smirking half smile. He also saw Images of his friends sitting
and relaxing in front of the building. Sometimes reading, or drinking coffee,
or just watching over the town and the people in it.
Next came the telegraph
office. It was hard to believe that there was a time when that had been the only
connection between towns and families. He couldn't help himself, he went in and
tapped on a few of the keys. "Computer's better." He commented.
A loud neigh
brought him back outside and had him looking toward the stable; likely just Peso
complaining, but still. There was a doctor's office over the barn. He again saw
multiple images of his friends. Sometimes they were being carried up, sometimes
they got up the stairs on their own with a guiding hand from one or more of the
others. A man that looked like Nathan ran down to meet the men more than once.
Occasionally, one or more would be sneaking out, obviously still injured, and
hauled back by the others.
Continuing with his exploration, he was next at
the bath house. There was Buck, JD, and Josiah in large tubs having an animated
conversation of some kind that ended with JD throwing water over his shoulder
and hitting Buck square in the face. Well, these ghosts, or whatever they were,
at least seemed to have had interesting lives from what he had glimpsed so far.
Across the road was a church, Josiah and Nathan appeared to be working on the
roof. Josiah appeared again, sanding the door frame. Even in this place, Josiah
offered a place of safety and refuge.
Next to the Church was the jail. Again
images flashed of Chris, Vin had decided to give up and just start calling these
ghosts by his friends names, and various others relaxing and sitting in chairs
out on the boardwalk area in front of the jail, just as they had in front of the
hotel. JD was there a lot, wearing a sheriff's badge and trying for all of his
youth to look stern and formidable. At one point, a rifle toting JD was blocking
the door against a mob of town people, backed up by Vin in buffalo-hide, wielding
a sawed-off shotgun. Buck and Ezra were there now dealing with some loud mouthed
kid that they were wanting to quiet down. Chris came storming in and minutes later
dragged a man out by the collar and dunked him in the water trough. It was the
same image he had seen earlier. The group had evidently spent more than a little
bit of time here.
"At least I'm seeing friendly ghosts," Vin told himself,
rubbing his head where it still ached.
Crossing the street, he went inside
and found the images continued. JD at the desk with his feet propped up, going
through all of the wanted posters. Chris and Vin looking at them together more
slowly, committing each face to memory. Ezra sitting at the desk playing solitaire
or any other game he could convince one of the other men to play with him. Looking
at the cells, Vin saw Chris punching someone out. Evidently the blonde had the
same wonderful people skills here as he did in the modern world. Buck was in a
cell talking to JD outside the window in a sombrero. Chris holding his head in
his hands recovering from a bender, Vin had nursed him through a few of those.
Ezra bored and tossing his cards into his hat. Josiah locked up and throwing his
boot out the window to get someone's attention. Nathan was sitting with an older
black man in poor health, who was braiding something. Vin pacing like a caged
animal while Chris tried to calm him down. Vin appeared again, but this time in
the aisle between the cells, fighting with an Indian.
The last image in the
jail was so perfect that Vin laughed until he was nearly crying. Maude, Ezra's
mother, was in the cell now, and had it looking like the fanciest hotel room to
There was a bar now on the side of the street he had originally been
on, but the ghosts had evidently not frequented the place, since there were no
appearances. Funny that, he was now looking for them; half an hour ago, he would
have laughed at the idea of them.
There was a general store and a dry good
store, he saw a faint image of a woman in black in front of the general store,
like the liveryman she must have only been slightly associated with the group
of men. The dry goods store had a quick image of the buffalo-hide clad man sweeping
and wearing an apron, then entering the store and coming out with a rifle that
he held as he joined the black clad Chris and together they walked to the graveyard
to save Nathan. That must have been the near lynching he had seen earlier.
Tavern; I gotta' tell Ez about that!" Vin laughed and went inside. Something told
him this was where his ghosts had made themselves at home. He went in, and it
was like being in twenty bar brawls all at the same time, the images came so fast.
In a minute, the images slowed again. There was the Buck twin near the piano,
downing a beer and flirting with one of the `sportin women' of the town. An attractive
Hispanic woman, looked like Inez who owned the team's favorite bar, was tending
this bar. Ezra was at one of the green felt tables playing poker. The others were
at a table in back that allowed them to see everything without having to leave
anyone's back to the door. JD was having milk and the rest were having beer or
Red Eye Whiskey. This was obviously where the group relaxed and just hung out
together. While he was getting lots of images in here, other than the initial
ones of the bar fight, and it looked like a lot of them had just been blowing
off some steam, the feeling he got here was one of relaxation and enjoyment. He
could have sworn that Chris gave him a nod and near smile as he was turning to
"Clarion News," he read over the last door and went in, there was an
old printing press. It seemed that the town had been large enough to have a newspaper.
There was a blonde ghost woman in here working away on the press while a small
blonde boy was playing in back. Apparently it had been home as well as office.
He blinked as he watched the boy growing up rapidly before his eyes and put something
in a closet. Vin went to see if he could tell what it was that had been put there.
There was something different about that ghost, none of the others had changed
like that. There was a wooden chest in the back of the closet.
"Vin! You here,
cowboy?" Chris's voice could be heard on the street.
"Here," Vin yelled back,
taking the trunk and starting to pull it out. His head sent him an instant message
that leaning over like that would not be tolerated in his current condition.
set of hands took it and pulled it out. Vin gave a slight nod of thanks to Chris
as he rubbed the achy spot on his head.
Chris raised an eyebrow.
my head, I'll be fine," Vin assured him.
"Sure you will, junior," Buck said,
moving Vin's hand and examining the spot.
Chris was in his face looking at
Vin sighed, these two could be such mother hens, sometimes, but at
least Nathan wasn't here. He put all other worriers to shame with his fussing.
"What are you two doing here?"
"We came after you! You left before breakfast
and it's nearly sunset," Chris growled.
"Took us all day to find you," Buck
Vin looked at them, he hadn't been poking around for more than an hour,
maybe two! Looking out the window, he saw it was close to dusk.
`ta worry you. Never knew how late it was," Vin apologized, his accent thicker
Chris shrugged it off.
"Not many people own their own towns,
Vin. Might want to keep it up better, though, looking kind of beat up," Buck teased.
"Could stand a little work," Vin agreed. "Reckon it might be fun to camp here
sometime or something, though, really check it out."
The other two men agreed.
"Grab Peso and let's get you home, Cowboy. I want to get back while there's
still some light," Chris ordered.
"Don't want to be in a ghost town over Halloween?"
Buck chuckled at the blonde.
"All the ghosts in my town are friendly ones!"
Vin retorted with mock indignation.
"Ghosts?" Chris snorted.
all over this place," Buck answered. It was hard to tell if he was joking or not.
Vin looked down.
The older men looked at him.
"Vin?" Chris asked.
just from hitting my head, but all day I've been see the whole team here in old
west gear." Vin sighed and reluctantly related what he had been seeing.
you said, at least they're not bad or mean spirits here," Buck said seriously
after a pause.
Chris glared over at Buck and looked at Vin critically. "Head
injury, we'll have Nathan look at you when we're back. If it gets worse or you
start seeing things again, let me know and we'll have Nathan being the truck to
the shack and pick us up."
"I'm fine, just have a headache is all," Vin groused.
"Right, you're just fine," both men said together. Vin could be lying on the
ground bleeding to death with every limb severed, half decapitated and a knife
sticking out of him and he would say he was fine.
Buck hefted the medium sized
trunk, while Chris walked next to Vin, alert in case he was needed, while the
trio headed to the barn and Peso. Vin saddled up and the trio headed out. The
younger man had hoped the others might have seen the ghosts as well. Somehow ghosts
were less frightening than the other alternatives that his mind came up with.
It had been three days since Vin had
found the ghost town. They had agreed to wait to open the trunk until they could
all be there. They were all seated in the living room, the trunk was in front
of Vin, since he was the one that had found it and so owned it, and besides he
owned the town. They had all been making guesses for the last few days as to what
might be in it and why it had been left behind.
Vin opened it. On top was a
letter. He read aloud.
"It seems strange to be leaving a letter when there
is no one to address it to, but then this day is seeing me do many things that
I could never have seen myself doing. I'm leaving Four Corners, where I was born
and grew up and have now grown old. Unfortunately, like many towns that were bypassed
by the railroad, we've gotten smaller and poorer every year and now have almost
died out. It's hard to believe the busy and growing community this was when I
was a child. It somehow didn't feel right to me to take the things in this trunk
out of Four Corners. It contains the few remaining possessions of seven extraordinary
men, as well as as much of their story as I remembered and was able to gather
from others. They were the stuff the legends of old west were built on, but they
were very real. It was men such as these that tamed the untamable west; they were
the last of their kind and lived at the end of the time when gunfights, and stagecoaches,
and telegraphs and posses were real. Sadly that time is gone, now, and so are
men such as they. It seemed wrong to take these treasures of theirs away from
the town they called home and loved and protected for so long. So, I leave them
here, and if someday this is read by someone, I hope you will treasure the mementos,
but even more that you will read the story and not forget these heroes. William
The room was silent.
"I wonder if Judge Travis is related
to that Travis?" Nathan asked, as silence descended in the room.
"We can ask,"
Chris picked up his cell phone and dialed. The others waited as he left a message
for the judge to call him, assuring that it was not an emergency as neither he
or any of the boys were in the morgue, hospital, or jail. He likely would have
been glared about the suggestions of where the men might have landed themselves,
but there was too much precedence in the past for them to complain. They had ended
up in all of those places in the past. The morgue, thankfully, had not been permanent,
but Buck still got the willies at the mention of the place.
Vin took out the
first item. He took a deep breath, he recognized it from the ghost he had seen
It was a small, two shot derringer that you secured to your arm under
a shirt or jacket. An early concealed weapon. Handling it carefully, he presented
it to Ezra.
The under-cover agent gapped. "I... I could not accept such a gift,
Mr. Tanner." It was in excellent condition, a little oiling and cleaning and it
would probably even work. The previous owner had obviously cared for it well.
"I think it's supposed to be yours, Ez." Vin took a deep breath. "I, I knocked
my head bad just before I started poking around in that town. I kept seeing these
visions or ghosts, or something, that looked like all of us. But they were in
old west stuff, wearing guns, and seemed to have lived in that place for a long
"Cool! I don't mean about you getting hurt, Vin, but about seeing us
in the west!" JD blurted.
Buck smacked him on the back of the head and gave
him a stern look. He quieted down.
"Head injury! Why is this the first I heard
about it? That's nothing to mess around with! Especially if you start seeing things!"
Nathan started in on his most contrary patient.
"I didn't say nothing because
by the time we got back here I was fine, I was just a little out of it at first,"
Vin assured him.
"Fine, You could have all four limbs severed and you'd say
you were fine," Nathan snorted.
Vin didn't bother responding.
be powerful things, brother," Josiah rumbled.
"Didn't learn anything, they
just went on about their everyday lives and I watched. If I was supposed to learn
anything, I missed it," Vin told him. He had learned to take dreams and visions
seriously from a shaman he had met while a U.S. Marshal, his posting had been
next to an Indian reservation and he had spent a great deal of time with the Indians
and was the main person asked for when someone from the office was required to
deal with a problem that involved the Indians, since he was friends, or at least
trusted more than the others, by the tribe.
"Perhaps, as the letter indicated,
they wanted nothing more than not to be forgotten," Ezra suggested.
I wouldn't want to be forgotten after I was dead, like it didn't matter that I
had ever lived," JD commented.
"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed.
were silent. There was something about the idea of being forgotten as if you had
never existed, it was unsettling.
Vin pulled out a Black duster next, and presented
it to Chris. The blonde stood up and tried it on. It fit as if made for him. Taking
it off and draping it carefully over the arm of his chair, he nodded his thanks
and acceptance of the gift from the younger man.
An old worn bible with a leather
cover was next and given to the team preacher. Josiah caressed it lovingly. "I
would imagine this could tell a tale or two."
JD nearly passed out when a gun
belt with matching pearl handled Colts was taken out and handed to him. He was
speechless, for once. His mouth opened and closed like a fish but no words came
"He says thank you," Buck, offered, shaking his head at the young man.
Vin smiled when the next item was a sawed off shotgun in a special made holster,
he kept that for himself. He had always wanted one, and now he had one.
made braided horse bridle was next. Vin closed his eyes and thought back over
all the images he had seen to know who it had belonged to. Opening them, he presented
it to Nathan.
"You don't see this kind of workmanship anymore," Nathan commented,
examining it closely.
Next, was a plainsman type cowboy hat that he passed
to their resident ladies man. Buck grinned and placed the item on his head, it
"See, now THIS is a real hat, kid!" Buck informed his friend
while taking yet another swipe to try and get the Boston Red Sox's cap off his
head. JD ducked with long experience.
A deck of Maverick playing cards was
next; the old type that didn't have printed numbers. Ezra was presented with those
as well, and responded with a two-fingered salute to his friend.
of sorts was next that someone had filled with a list of roots and barks and grasses
and other things of that sort and their medicinal uses. This was passed to Nathan,
who got glassy eyed as he read it. He was all about alternative medicine whenever
possible. "This is incredible, I.. I, thank you."
A black gun belt was next
with silver conchos on it. Chris took a deep breath and swallowed when he was
given it. He collected memorabilia of the old west, especially guns, and this
was a dream piece. "Vin..."
"Like I said, I'm just giving these to the ones
who are supposed to have them, it's yours."
Chris nodded his appreciation and
acceptance, pulling the perfectly preserved gun out and sighing with pleasure.
JD was given a small pile of dime novels wrapped as a group in wax paper. He
was close to drooling. When he saw the title of the top one was the Magnificent
Seven, his gasp was nearly a squeal.
Vin blinked as a buffalo hide coat was
next, and, trying it on found it fit perfectly. He set it aside for himself. He
had never seen anything like it.
A rough wooden cross on a long piece of twine
was brought out and presented to Josiah. He immediately put it on.
reminder of a carpenter. Thank you, brother," Josiah commented.
A red scarf
was next. Vin closed his eyes and saw the Inez woman tying it onto Buck's arm,
who was holding a sword of some kind. The sharpshooter opened his eyes and handed
it to Buck. The mustachioed man raised an eyebrow and accepted it with a nod.
"Well, I guess someone else had a way with the ladies," Buck waggled his eyebrows
and accepted the gift.
At the bottom, there was a small wooden horse someone
had whittled. A gold pocket watch was next to it with the inscription to W.T.
from O.T. 1879. Vin read the inscription aloud.
"W.T. would likely be William
Travis," Chris said.
There was a knock at the door and JD got up to answer
it. He returned a minute later with the judge.
"Boys," the older man greeted
them, nodding to the whole room. "I was driving by when I got the message, so
I thought I would drop in personally to see what the problem was."
him the letter they had found. "This was on top of this chest we found in an abandoned
town near Eagle Bend.
Orin Travis pulled out his reading glasses and read the
letter, then looked up at the men. He had turned white. JD leapt up and gave the
older man his seat. Orin again gave a nod in thanks and acknowledgement.
were thinking maybe you were related to William Travis," Chris explained.
was my grandfather. I remember growing up on tales of his from growing up at the
tail end of the old west era. Never more than about half believed his stories,
they were so incredible."
"I guess this watch is likely yours, then," Vin held
out the pocket watch as well as the wood horse.
The man blinked, "My great
grandfather, the first Orin Travis, gave that to my grandfather when he was a
boy, he lost it just before moving east after my grandmother died."
watched silently, as the man set the watch down and ran a hand over the horse.
"My, my grandfather had a whole herd of these, they were carved for him by a friend
of his mother's. I, I played with them as a boy when he came to live with us during
Ezra handed him a handkerchief as he took off his glasses, and dabbed
wet eyes. The others were silent, obviously the judge had been very attached to
"I guess these are the last things," Vin said quietly, holding
a pile of papers, neatly tied.
The top one was a wanted poster with a drawing
that looked like Vin on it, and his name as well.
"Guess you were a trouble
maker even then, Cowboy," Chris smirked. The others were trying to get over their
"He was a Tanner, so it must have been a mistake," Vin shot back,
pretending to be indignant.
The next sheet was a letter of pardon for the wanted
"Told ya he was innocent," Vin was practically sticking his tongue out.
"Never doubted it, brother," Josiah gave a big toothy grin.
"Recon' I ain't
the only outlaws here, this one's a pardon for an Ezra Standish. Seems he was
arrested for running a con."
"I can believe that," Josiah responded.
took the sheet handed to him by Vin.
"Obviously, another unfortunate case of
mistaken identity that was rectified," the undercover man replied, ignoring the
smirks of the others.
"Yeah, he made a mistake and got caught, then talked
his way out of it," Nathan snorted.
Ezra smiled, showing his gold tooth, and
gave a tip of an imaginary hat.
"Hope the rest aren't wanted posters and pardons
for the rest of us," Josiah said.
"No, nothing official, just...": Vin let
it trail off.
"May I?" Orin asked.
Vin handed him the rest of the sheets.
Orin chuckled. "Cowboy Chris stories. I had no idea that they had been written
down. Seems they were real, not just made up."
"Cowboy Chris?" Chris asked,
raising an eyebrow.
"My great grandmother's friend who carved the horses, was
a gunfighter named Chris, my grandfather use to tell me bedtime stories about
Cowboy Chris and his six friends. I hadn't thought about those in years," Orin
said, quietly, not looking at any of them.
He put his glasses back on and read
the first page, the others settled in to listen.
"It all started one day out
west when a bunch of trail herders rode into town and decided, after getting drunk,
to lynch a local doctor who hadn't been able to save their boss from gangrene..."
Seven men listened and were transported back to another time when another seven
men had come together and made a stand for law and order.
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