Disclaimer---I don't own them but I enjoy taking them out and playing for a while.
Comments----Thanks, Antoinette for Beta reading this story. Would love feedback.
The one-armed figure stood against the wall, watching as the group of men left Julestown. He'd recognized the blond haired gunslinger as soon as he'd seen him in the saloon. 'I'll get my chance at ya, Larabee. You'll regret the day ya took my arm and my brother from me,' he vowed as he headed for his horse, intent on trailing the group of seven men in hopes his chance would come.
"Well, Stud, are you as glad as I am to get rid of those three?" Wilmington asked as he caught up with the dark clad gunslinger.
"Buck, the next time the judge asks us to escort three adoptive kids to their new parents and I even think about saying yes, shoot me."
"If'n he don't I will. Damn, Chris, what made ya agree ta this in the first place?" Vin Tanner asked as he rode up on the opposite side of the blond.
"Chris just wanted to impress Mrs. Travis," Wilmington grinned at his oldest friend as they continued to ride side by side.
"Buck, keep it up and I'm gonna have to shoot you."
"Sure, Stud," Wilmington laughed. "You just remember this trip from hell the next time you want to impress a lady."
"Mr. Larabee, please don't even think about turning us into babysitters again. Even if it is for a good cause."
"Mrs. Travis is a lovely cause, Brother," Sanchez said with a grin.
"You guys are not gonna let this go, are you?"
"No way, Cowboy, ya owe us big time and we'll let ya know when it's time ta pay yer debt," the tracker laughed.
"You guys are just full of it today," Larabee said as he moved Pony ahead of the others.
"Full of what, Chris?" Dunne called after him.
Larabee didn't turn around as he answered, "Full of... Lets just say bull," he called back. He felt content to be among the men he called friends. Somehow he'd ended up in the role of leader and he had to admit he enjoyed leading the group now widely known as the Magnificent Seven.
"What's the hurry, Chris?" Jackson called.
"He probably doesn't want ta admit he owes us. How're yer shins Buck?"
Wilmington rubbed his shin as they followed the blond gunslinger along the trail. "Covered in bruises. That little ankle biter knew just where to kick."
"Ankle biter, Mr. Wilmington?"
"Well that little fella did bite JD's ankle didn't he?" the tracker grinned as he spoke loud enough for Larabee to hear.
"Yeah, that's right. My damn ankle will never forget the feel of his teeth," Dunne raised his voice as well.
Larabee knew they were talking loudly on purpose, ensuring that he would hear their banter. He turned in his saddle, relaxed his grip on the reins and was about to answer when he heard an alarming sound directly in front of him. The sound of a rattler was unmistakable and Pony reacted instinctively. He rose up on his hind legs pawing at the air and stomping on the raised head of the snake.
Chris, who'd been relaxing and enjoying the ride and the easy banter, was unable to hold the reins and tumbled backwards off the horse.
"Chris!" Dunne shouted as he watched the gunslinger fly backwards and land heavily against the hard packed trail. Six men rushed to help the fallen man.
Chris landed on his back, the air escaping from his lungs in a loud whooshing sound, his head impacting the ground with enough force to make him pass out.
Nathan Jackson grabbed his saddlebags and hurried to the fallen man just as he groaned and tried to sit up. "Lay still, Chris," he ordered and he felt along the gunslinger's neck and back.
"What the hell happened, Stud?"
"Not now, Buck," Jackson told him.
"Looks like Pony was startled by a rattler," the tracker explained as he returned with Pony in tow.
"How do you know?" Dunne asked.
"Pony stomped it," Tanner said as he knelt beside the blond gunslinger. "How're ya doin', Cowboy?"
"Fine," Larabee grated out. "Let me up, Nate."
"I'll let you up when I'm finished," Jackson told him as he removed his hand from the back of the blond's head. "Vin, Buck, lift him forward till I see how much damage he's done to himself."
"Come on, Cowboy, Let's sit ya up," Tanner offered with a grin, relieved that the man didn't seem to be hurt to badly.
"Thanks," Larabee mumbled as he sat forward, leaning heavily on the tracker and the ladies man as his head began to spin. "Oh, shit," he said as he leaned away from the two men and lost what was left in his stomach.
"Hell, Chris, ya coulda warned me so's I could move away."
"Thanks, Tanner, you're all heart," Larabee groaned as Jackson touched a sore spot on his head.
"Chris, this is gonna need some stitches," the healer told him.
"Damn, Nathan, it's not that bad."
"Yes it is, Chris, ya musta hit your head on something cause you got a nice little gash just above the hairline. Don't worry; no one will be able to see it once it's healed. Now just be still while I get it done."
"Wait a minute, Nathan. If you're gonna be messing with my head then I want something to ease this damned headache. Vin, hand me my flask."
Jackson nodded and waited for the gunslinger to take a deep swallow. "Ready, Chris?"
"No, but that never stopped you before," Larabee groaned, realizing too late how his words sounded. "Ah, hell, Nate, I didn't mean that."
"It's alright, Chris," the healer assured his friend. "Now just be still till I get it done."
Larabee gripped the edge of his duster as Jackson began the tedious job of putting in a neat row of stitches. He gritted his teeth and reached for his discarded flask.
"Chris, don't move." Jackson ordered.
"Just need a drink, Nate."
"In a minute. I just have a couple of more to put in."
Wilmington lifted the flask and placed it n front of the gunslingers mouth. Smiling as his friend swallowed the alcohol.
"All done," the healer announced.
"Thank, God," Larabee groaned. "Let's get moving."
"Chris, I think we should stay here for a while and let you rest."
"I'm fine, Nathan," Larabee muttered as Tanner and Wilmington helped him to his feet. He promptly turned away and once more emptied his stomach.
"You're not fine, Chris, you've got a concussion and from the looks of it it's not a mild one," Jackson warned him.
"Nathan, look at the sky," Tanner suggested and all eyes turned to the sky and the incoming dark clouds. "We'd better find shelter before this starts."
"Chris, you're not going to be very comfortable sitting on a horse," Jackson told him.
"I'd rather be on a horse than sitting here getting soaked, Nathan."
"Alright, but you ride with someone."
"No. Nathan, it was just a little knock on the head."
"Yeah and we all know that's the one place where we can hit you and not cause much damage," Wilmington laughed.
Larabee reached for the gun on his hip, "Shut up, Buck, or I swear I'll shoot ya. Damn!" he swore as his long legs folded and he slumped to the ground.
"That's it. Vin, find somewhere for us to hole up. He ain't in no shape to ride far," Jackson ordered as he knelt beside the injured gunslinger.
"Nathan, I can hold him in front of me," Sanchez assured the healer.
"Seems to me there's an abandoned town about two miles west of here," Tanner said as he climbed on Peso.
"You talkin' bout Carson's Bluff?" Wilmington asked.
"Reckon that's the place," Tanner answered. "It's a mite rundown but it'll be a lot better'n stayin' out in this," Tanner explained as the first drops of rain fell on the hard-packed ground. "Think we'd better move out fore this storm hits."
"Alright, Brother, pass em up," Sanchez told Wilmington.
As the ladies man and the healer lifted Larabee to a standing position his eyes flickered and finally opened. "What the hell are ya doing?" he asked indignantly.
"Ya just passed out, Stud, so we're just gonna give ya to Josiah for safekeeping."
Larabee growled as his head pounded and his eyes blurred once more. "I can ride. Just get me on Pony."
"Nathan, I'm fine," Larabee pulled away and stumbled towards his gelding.
"You're a damned fool, Chris," Jackson shouted, not surprised when the blond held his hands to his ears.
"You don't have to shout, Nate," Larabee told him as he lifted his foot and placed it in the stirrup.
"Vin, I'm ok. Let's go before the damned rain gets any heavier," he muttered, turning Pony towards Four Corners.
"Vin, get after him."
The tracker nodded to the healer and hurried after the disappearing figure in black. He caught up with him a few minutes later as Pony slowed and finally came to a stop. He watched his friend fight to stay in the saddle. "Ya ready ta admit ya need some help, ya stubborn jackass?"
"Don't n...need any h...help. Just n...need to go a little slower," Larabee gasped as brightly colored lights danced before his eyes. A soft groan escaped his lips as he continued forward.
"Chris!" Tanner exclaimed as he reached out to grab the falling man, Pony and Peso came to a full stop in the middle of the trail.
"T...thanks," Larabee's voice was edged with pain as the two horses stood side by side. "Just got a little dizzy."
"More'n a little dizzy, Cowboy," Tanner observed, keeping a steadying hand on the barely conscious gunslinger.
"What's wrong," Jackson asked as he caught up with the two men.
"Nothin's wrong," Larabee hissed as he tried to focus on the trail before him. His eyes refused to send clear signals to his brain and he swayed in the saddle.
"That does it, Chris, You're ridin' with Josiah," Jackson's voice told the gunslinger he wasn't in the mood for arguing.
Chris felt someone climb up behind him as he let his eyes slide shut.
"Don't worry, Brother, I got you."
"J...Josiah," Larabee groaned, fighting the call of darkness.
"Yeah, brother, now you just relax and we'll be in Carson's Bluff in no time."
"Hmm," Larabee muttered as he rested his head on the big man's chest, hissing as the stitched wound made contact. He turned his head to the side and kept his eyes closed as the skies opened up and the rain that had held itself in check erupted in a downpour that saturated the seven peacekeepers before they'd gone twenty feet.
The torrential downpour continued as the seven made the final leg into Carson's Bluff. The eight dilapidated buildings that made up the town were eerily ominous as lightening slashed across the midnight black sky. The horses balked at the idea of going into the town but with some encouragement from their riders they finally rode past the first of the ramshackle dwellings.
Chris felt Pony tense under his weight and forced his eyes to open. Rain dripped from the brim of his hat and he tried to see through the blinding sheets. A bright light to his left caught his attention.
A young woman stood before him, surrounded by a seemingly impossible light that did nothing to alleviate the darkness around her. Her rust colored hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, revealing an almost translucent white face. Her lips stood out sharply against her skin, a smile showing a mouth full of stark white even teeth. A yellow dress adorned her supple body, clinging tightly to her breasts. Her arms hung loosely by her sides until her eyes met his. Slowly she lifted them towards him, reaching out as she glided across the open expanse of street.
Larabee watched her gliding towards him, wondering how she was moving without touching the ground. His eyes continued to hold hers and finally his foggy mind registered what he'd been refusing to see. There seemed to be a third eye in the center of her forehead but he knew that couldn't be right. Lightening flashed again and he gasped as it illuminated the blood and gore that seeped from the wound.
She continued to advance towards him as Josiah pulled Pony to a stop.
Chris stared into her dead eyes and watched her lips move without speaking. He knew instinctively what she was asking, but he couldn't help cringing as her cold lifeless hands reached up and touched his cheek. He shivered uncontrollably as her long fingernails stroked painfully down his left cheek.
"Easy, Brother, we'll get you inside and warmed up in no time," Sanchez told him.
The blond tried to pull away from the apparition before him, nearly slipping from the ex-preacher's arms in the process.
"D...don't you s...see her, J...Josiah?" Larabee gasped as the woman continued her ministrations. Once more her mouth opened and this time the words were inside his mind.
'Chris, he'll call you out and kill you. Help me. Help us,' the words faded as her body lost its solidity and she winked out before his eyes.
"Help you. Have to help you," Larabee groaned as Sanchez lowered him into the waiting arms of the ladies man.
"You don't need to help us, Stud, we're the ones who'll be helping you."
"Don't want to stay here," Larabee hissed as Wilmington and Tanner gripped his arms, pulled them over their shoulders and half carried him inside the very building the woman stood before as they'd rode up.
"Not much choice, Cowboy. This ones gonna be one hell of a blow."
"I'll check the livery and see if it's safe to put the horses inside," Sanchez told them. "Ezra, menial labor or no you'd better give me a hand."
"Mr. Sanchez, I shall endeavor to aid in your adventure in this godforsaken town," Standish shouted as thunder rattled the small cluster of buildings.
JD and Nathan watched them move off before hurrying inside the building with the Carson's Bluff sign dangling above the door. The sound it made as it swung back and fourth in the blustering wind sent icy shivers down their spines.
Nathan hurried to the area where Buck and Vin stood holding the trembling blond between them. He reached out to touch Larabee's forehead, gasping at the ice-cold feel of his skin. "JD see if you can start a fire. Buck, Vin, hold him for a second till I find something to place him on," Jackson said, his eyes immediately drawn to the heavy crimson drapes covering the windows. He shook them fiercely, choking as years of dust billowed from the heavy material. With one fluid motion he pulled the drapes down and spread them on the floor, signalling for Buck and Vin to place the injured man on them.
Larabee sank gratefully to the floor, trying to control the icy tendrils of fear as they continued to seek out and destroy his inner warmth. 'Something's not right,' he thought as he lost consciousness.
An hour later Larabee was stripped out of his wet clothes and wrapped in blankets found in the abandoned rooms upstairs. The remaining six men were dressed in the spare clothes they'd carried in their saddlebags. The aroma of stew coupled with fresh coffee permeated the air, lending an almost homey atmosphere to the dust-covered saloon.
JD shivered as he looked around the shadowy interior, watching as strange creatures danced across the walls and ceiling in the flickering light from the fire and candles. "Do you guys know what the date is?"
"It's October thirtieth, JD. Why?" Wilmington asked as he poured a cup of coffee from the heated pot over the fire.
"Sure you were. Bet you're thinkin' about tomorrow night," Wilmington grinned. "Are you afraid of bein' in Carson's Bluff on Halloween night, Kid."
"Shut up, Buck," Dunne told him, his voice not as steady as it normally was.
"Sure kid. By the way I forgot to say...Boo!" Wilmington laughed as the youngest member of the seven jumped.
"Very funny, Buck!" Dunne's voice was laced with anger as he made his own imitation of the Larabee glare he'd been studying.
"Ok, you two. Knock it off 'fore ya wake Chris," Jackson warned.
"Too late," the blond grumbled as he forced his eyes open.
"Hey, Cowboy, how're ya feelin'?" Tanner asked from beside him.
"C...cold," the gunslinger answered.
Jackson touched the blond's forehead, a frown creasing his dark face as he felt the coldness there. "Chris, how's your head feel?"
"Worst h...headache I e...ever h...had," he stammered.
"I'm gonna steep ya some tea."
"Damn, Nathan, he just said he's got a headache and yer plannin' on givin' him a matching stomach ache," Tanner said, half serious.
"Shut up, Vin, or I'll feed you some as well. Maybe I should feed all a some. Ya'all did get wet out there and this tea just might prevent ya from gettin' sick."
"Mr. Jackson, you do realize that you're threatening our well being?"
"Not threatening anything, Ez. Just statin' fact," Jackson said as he poured hot water from a second pot, steeping the willow bark tea and returning to the gunslinger's side. "Chris, gonna sit you forward a little so you an drink this."
"I can s...sit up," Larabee told him.
"Lean em back against the wall, Vin," Jackson ordered as he placed the cup back on the floor. The two men carefully lifted the blond and pulled him back towards the wall, covering him in the warm blankets once more as his body continued to tremble.
Chris fought the descending darkness, his eyes clenched tightly as the two men helped him to a sitting position. "T...thanks," he gasped as he caught his breath.
Jackson helped him drink the fairly hot tea, watching the injured man closely. The continuing coldness of the gunslinger's body worried the healer. Somehow he felt it had nothing to do with the journey in the rain or the head injury. Something was sapping the heat from Larabee and Nathan had no idea how to stop the heat loss.
Chris felt his eyes closing as he finished the last of the tea. His head pounded and he felt colder than he'd ever felt before. He shivered and opened his eyes once more as Buck Wilmington switched places with Nathan Jackson.
"Hey, Stud, JD's afraid of ghosts."
Larabee felt the pull of his sleep weary body as he mumbled. "JD's n...not the o...only one."
"What's that supposed to mean?" the ladies man asked.
"You'll have to wait till later for the answer to that one Buck, he's asleep," Tanner told him.
"Alright, you two help me get him back down on the floor. Don't want him gettin' a crick in the neck from sleepin' sittin' up," Jackson said as the three men lowered the gunslinger to the floor.
Six men watched their sleeping leader, knowing he'd been injured before and far worse than he was right now. Five of the six wondered why the healer looked so worried each time he reached out to touch the blond's forehead.
The gunslinger watched as the seven men rode into his town. His dark clothing was immaculate but gave off a musty smell. The gun on his right hip was tied low, his hand always hovered just inches from the grip. His dark black eyes never wavered from the horse carrying two men. The one he'd been waiting for was slumped forward in the saddle. He knew this was the young man who would give him his chance at revenge. Years of hate and anger led the gunslinger to this point. He would use the dark clad gunslinger to exact his revenge on an old enemy.
He'd smiled as Miss Ellie walked up to the horse, reaching out her hand to stroke the man's face. Miss Ellie was a pretty lady even with what appeared to be a third eye in the middle of her forehead. He still spent countless hours sitting in the saloon with her. He was bound to this town, to this plain of existence until he found a way to end his earthly ties. Miss Ellie was stuck here because of him and he'd promised her it would all be over by midnight on the thirty first. All Hallows eve or as the kids deemed it Halloween. The perfect night for ghosts, haunts, and revenge. His time was coming and the newcomers, especially the blond haired gunslinger, would play an integral part in it.
He stood in the cold rain, watching the interior of the saloon. The blond hair and pale face were clearly visible against the crimson colored drape. He could feel the presence of another specter and knew the time would soon be at hand. His revenge against the man who'd killed him was the only thing that would release him and the others from Carson's Bluff. All he had to do was save the life of the blond gunslinger and his own sins would be forgiven. To fail meant he would forever be stranded in the borders of this town and Chris Larabee would be relegated to join him.
A sly smile covered the second spectral male resident of Carson's Bluff. The years had been good to him after he'd taken care of his enemy, but now it was time to face him again. His son was close by; he could feel the evil emanating from him and smiled proudly. His son would take care of the blond gunslinger while he would take care of his old enemy once more. 'Chris Larabee, I'm calling you out,' he thought.
Larabee strained to hear the voice but it sounded as if it was coming through thick layers of fog. The inky darkness surrounded him as he struggled to open his eyes. A chill ran down his spine as he finally forced them open. He slowly gazed around the interior, wondering where he was and why his head hurt so much. He struggled to sit up and felt someone reach out and touch him. His eyes met those of the tracker and he smiled weakly. "Musta drank too much," Larabee groaned.
"I spect that's what it feels like," Tanner laughed.
"Help me up," Larabee groaned.
"Ya sure yer up ta it?" Tanner asked, frowning when he felt the unnatural coldness emanating from the pale blond.
"Ask me again in a minute," Larabee told him as Tanner lifted him up and helped him shift back to lean against the wall. "Think I'll give up drinkin'," he gasped as he looked around the candle lit room. JD, Jackson, and Sanchez were sleeping on the opposite wall. Standish was sitting next to a crate, flipping cards as if bored.
Chris's eyes fell on Wilmington and he smiled. "I see Buck's found himself a new girlfriend. She's probably the only female for fifty miles and yet Buck's animal magnetism attracted her already."
Tanner gazed into the face of his friend before he turned towards the ladies man. There was no one near Wilmington and he wondered just how badly the blow to the head was affecting Larabee. "What are you talking about, Chris?"
The blond smiled at him before turning back towards the ladies man and the woman stroking his jaw. He couldn't see her face but he could tell she was enjoying what she was doing. Her dark mousy brown hair hung to her shapely waist, her long legs were covered in black silk stockings and he gasped as his eyes lit on her feet. They hovered approximately six inches above the ground.
"Chris," Tanner tried to get Larabee's attention.
Chris couldn't breath. He felt his throat close over as the woman slowly turned towards him. Her face was sensuous and covered in heavy make-up. Her lips were painted in ruby red, her dark lashes standing out starkly against the to white skin of her face. A long thin line ran along her neck giving the impression of a crimson choker. She ran her fingers through Wilmington's hair once more before standing and gliding across the floor towards him.
"N...no," he stammered, trembling as she covered the distance effortlessly. "Dead! You're dead!"
"Chris, what are you talking about? I'm not dead," Tanner told him.
Larabee's eyes didn't leave the macabre sight standing before him. She opened her mouth to speak and he tried to drown out the words.
'He will call you out, Chris Larabee, and when he does you must not let anyone interfere. You must face him on your own or all will be lost,' she intoned as she faded before his eyes.
Larabee stared straight ahead until the last fleeting image of the specter disappeared.
"Chris, come on, Cowboy, breath," Tanner ordered.
"Chris, look at me!"
Larabee blinked and breathed deeply, gasping at the light-headed feeling it produced. His dull green eyes met those of the healer and he wondered at the fear he saw there.
"That's it, just breath slowly," Jackson ordered.
"What happened to him, Nate?" Wilmington asked.
"Don't know, Buck. Seems to be doing fine now though. Chris, how're you feeling?"
"Feel so damn cold," he shivered as he pulled the blankets up over himself as his body slumped forward. Jackson, Tanner, and Wilmington once more placed him flat on the floor.
Josiah Sanchez stood listening to the quiet conversation between the men seated next to the once again unconscious gunslinger. The storm still raged outside but it was nothing compared to the storm he felt was brewing inside the gunslinger. The blow to the head had done something to open Chris's senses and the ex-preacher knew Larabee was seeing and hearing things the rest of them could not. His own beliefs and strong emotional ties made him sense things as well. He knew all was not right in this town but he couldn't quite put his hands on what it was. Somehow he knew that Chris Larabee had just become a pawn in a macabre fight that transcended the normal plains of existence. It was a fight he couldn't afford to lose.
"Are you alright, Mr. Sanchez?"
The ex-preacher shook his head and looked at the gambler. "I'm fine, Ez," he lied.
"Vin, you wanna tell me what happened?"
"I honestly don't know, Nate. Chris woke up and I helped him sit up."
"Was he having trouble breathing then?"
"No, Nate, he was looking at Buck and smiling. Then..." Tanner's voice trailed off.
"He said something about Buck's attracting the only woman for fifty miles."
"What?" Wilmington's shocked voice asked.
"He was staring at you and smiling. I swear he was seeing something I couldn't."
"So when did he start having trouble breathing?" Jackson asked.
"Right after he told me about seeing the woman with Buck."
"That blow he took to the head must've rattled him more'n I thought," Jackson muttered.
"Nate, why does he feel so cold?" Dunne asked.
"I don't know, JD," Jackson shook his head as his hand reached out and touched the cold forehead. "I just don't know."
'Maybe I do,' Sanchez thought as he glanced towards the absolute darkness outside the window.
The one armed man left his horse just outside of Carson's Bluff. He didn't want to be seen until the time was right to take Larabee down. He shivered as he crossed the threshold into the town, his eyes shifting nervously around. 'Stop acting like a durn scaredy cat,' he thought. He waited for the chills running down his spine to stop before continuing into town. The howling wind swept through the motley group of buildings picking up anything that wasn't nailed down. He fought his way towards the lighted windows and skulked past them, chancing a quick glance inside. His eyes caught the figure surrounded by the six men. 'Enjoy them, Larabee, you won't be seeing them much longer.'
His eyes roamed around the darkened street searching for a place to hole up until it was time to make an appearance. He settled on the last building at the end of the street. It would provide him with the perfect view of the town. He ran towards it shivering at a particularly cold spot in the center of the street. He shoved at the slanted door and hurried inside. 'Soon, Larabee, very soon.'
The darkly clad gunslinger felt the man run through him. The time was nearly at hand. Soon he would have his revenge and he would take his leave of his namesake. His eyes followed the newcomer as he disappeared inside the dilapidated building. A smile covered the gunslinger's face at the thought of his final revenge.
The second apparition met the eyes of the darkly clad gunslinger. "It will be our time soon, Samuel, I will kill you once again and my son will kill Larabee."
"Don't count on it, Porter" Samuel L. Carson warned.
"It is their destiny. They will face off in the street tonight as will you and I. Larabee will join you as a haunted member of this decrepit old town. He will be forced to stay with you. Tied to you. His life forfeited because of an old debt."
"I owe no debt."
"You owe me. You took her from me. Her death was at your hands and his shall be at mine. I will take your son from you as you took her from me."
"Chris Larabee is not my son."
"He is closer than a son. His father was more than a brother to you and since you had no sons of your own his son's life will be the perfect revenge. Until tonight, Carson," Richard Porter cackled as his ghostly essence faded away. He knew where his son was holed up and he glided towards the building. He would help him rid the world of Chris Larabee and tonight he would rid himself of a spectral enemy who was keeping him imprisoned in this town.
Morning light streamed through the window, bathing the pale figure lying on the floor in its milky brightness. The sun did little to alleviate the coldness he felt and he snuggled further under the blankets.
'Chris Larabee, I'm calling you out,' the voice sounded angry and Larabee opened his eyes. He sat up to quickly and shut his eyes against the onslaught of pain. Gasping he opened them once more and looked around the room, wondering why the others hadn't reacted to the sound of the voice.
The gunslinger spotted his clothing next to the fireplace and struggled to his feet. He swayed drunkenly across the room until his hands grasped the familiar dark clothes. He didn't notice the mist like presence that surrounded his friends, keeping them asleep and unaware what was happening around them.
The blond fought to get his clothes on and with unfocused eyes looked for his gun. He found it sitting on the same chair his clothes had been moments before. It seemed to take forever for him to get the belt on and his gun pressed reassuringly against his hip. "Dammit," he gasped as his head spun dizzily. He looked at his friends again, his foggy mind unable to grasp why they weren't moving. Barely holding on to consciousness he stumbled out the door into the windswept, rain drenched street.
The one armed man watched the building that held the seven peacekeepers. He'd wait for Larabee to make his appearance and then he'd kill him and anyone who tried to interfere.
The one-armed man glanced around the room until his eyes fell on the misty presence to his right. He recognized the sharp features, the cold eyes, the scarred face, and tried to back away. "N...not r...real! You're...you're dead!" he stammered.
'You want, Larabee, you will do as you're told. Do I make myself clear?'
"Y...yes, Pa," Billy had been scarred to death of his father while he was alive but the specter before him went far beyond terrifying him. It sent a cold knot of fear and dread through his body, causing him to shiver in uncontrollable fear.
'You always were a weak, pathetic, kid,' Richard Porter cackled through dead lips. 'Don't kill Larabee yet. I want him on the street tonight.'
"But they'll leave now that the storm is over."
'No, they won't, Billy, I've made sure of that. Chris Larabee will be here tonight for you to kill. Your brother didn't deserve to die.'
"That's why I have to kill Larabee."
'That's right but not now. Tonight at midnight you will take care of Larabee and I will take care of Sam Carson. We'll see whether this town really deserved the name of Carson's Bluff.'
"Larabee's out there alone now. I could kill him easily," Billy muttered as he pointed his gun towards the staggering figure.
'I said not now,' the specter said, reaching out and placing an icy finger on his son's spine.
Billy jumped as if he'd been stabbed. Cold pain emanated from the point where his father's finger touched him and he groaned as he sank to the floor.
'Stay there until I come for you,' the specter snarled. Billy Porter could not answer. His body slumped to the floor and didn't move as the ghost of his father shimmered and disappeared in a burst of black light.
Sam Carson watched the son of his old friend weaving back and forth in the middle of the street. He could see the lines of pain etched on the handsome face. 'So much like his father,' he thought as he glided towards the younger man. 'Chris.'
Larabee opened his eyes and stared at the figure before him. He rubbed his eyes as he waited for the image to solidify. "Damned eyes are still not working properly," he gasped as the figure before him remained translucent.
'Your eyes are not deceiving you, Chris. I have come with a warning. You and your friends are in danger. You must leave Carson's Bluff.'
Larabee's legs gave out and he sank to his knees in the middle of the silent street. "Who are you? Do I know you?"
'My name is Samuel L. Carson and I knew your father.'
Larabee's head snapped up causing his tenuous hold on consciousness to grow weaker. His eyes began to close as he muttered weakly, "Can't be, Sam, d...died years ago. M...murdered."
'I was murdered, Chris, and the man who did it is here.'
'That's right, Carson, I'm here and I'm going to see that you end up in hell along with him,' Porter indicated the now unconscious man.
'I won't let you kill him,' Carson hissed.
'I know you won't. That's why I had my son come here. He will take care of Larabee while I take care of you. Your hell will be staying in this town. Miss Ellie will once again be mine.'
'I was never yours.'
The two male figures turned to the beautiful woman gliding towards them. 'How can you say that? You and I were to be married.'
'I never agreed to marry you. I had no love for you then and I have no love for you now. Leave here while you can,' the woman warned him.
'Don't say that, Miss Ellie, you were mine and will be again. I just have to make him disappear. I have to send him to hell where he can never interfere with us again.'
'You will not hurt her again, Porter.'
'I was not the one who hurt her before, Carson. You tried to bluff me and you lost that bluff. You're responsible for her death.'
'My death was an accident. Sam is not a murderer but you are. You murdered Selma in cold blood and when this night ends you will be the one in hell.'
'No! This will end tonight but it will end with Carson in hell and Chris Larabee dead by my son's hand.'
'He has nothing to do with this.'
'He has plenty to do with this. He killed one of my sons and maimed the other. This revenge will be twofold and I will have what I want and you will be mine, Miss Ellie.'
'Never,' the woman said as she placed her hands on Carson's arm. 'I will stay with Sam.'
The shunned specter shimmered in the dull light seeping through the incoming clouds. His anger a mirror of the angered darkness that soon overwhelmed the small town. 'Then you will burn in hell with him,' he screamed above the deafening thunder and the downpour spilling from the overstuffed clouds.
'You must help him, Josiah, before it's too late.'
Sanchez's eyes snapped open and he gazed around at the sleeping figures of the other men. His gaze finally stopping on the vacant spot where Chris Larabee should have been sleeping. "Dammit, Chris, where are you?" he asked as he scrambled to his feet. He hurried past the others just as thunder once more rumbled overhead and rain pounded at the weak structure housing them. He opened the door, swearing as he spotted a familiar dark form lying in the middle of the street.
"What's wrong, Josiah?" Wilmington asked as he opened sleep-drenched eyes.
"The storm's back and Chris is in the middle of the street. Wake Nathan and the others while I get him," the ex-preacher ordered as he ran into the street.
"Nathan, wake up."
He healer's eyes opened and he gazed into the worried face of the moustached man. "What's wrong, Buck?"
"Where the hell is Chris?" Tanner asked as he came to his feet. Standish and Dunne following him up.
All eyes turned to the door as a drenched figure stepped inside carrying another form in his arms. "He's freezing, Nathan."
"Get him over by the fire, Josiah," Jackson ordered, completely awake and in healer's mode. "We need to get those wet clothes off of him. What the hell was he doing out there anyway?" he asked but didn't expect an answer. "Buck, pour some water in a cup so's I can steep some tea. We've got to get him warmed up. Vin, put some more wood on that fire." Jackson had little time to watch the activity around him. His eyes were glued to the pale figure of his patient. The skin was cold and clammy and the body was trembling violently. The skin surrounding Larabee's lips was blue, as his breathing seemed to be at a bare minimum. 'God Dammit, Chris, what were you doing out there?' he thought.
"Nathan's is he..."
"He's alive, Vin, but he's so damned cold. Help me wrap him in those blankets and get some of that tea down into him," Jackson said as they finished removing the last of the wet clothing.
Josiah Sanchez watched his friend attend their leader. He shivered as he remembered the soft, melodic voice whispering in his ear. Telling him he had to help him, wondering how he knew instinctively that it was Chris in need of his help. He gazed at the pale form of their leader knowing that this wasn't the only help the man needed today. Somehow he had to save Chris from whatever danger still resided in the abandoned town of Carson's Bluff.
"Josiah, did you hear me?"
"Huh," Sanchez shook his head and looked back at the healer. "Sorry, Brother, what did you say?"
"I said you'd best get out of them wet clothes before you catch your death," Jackson ordered.
"I will, Nate. How is he?"
"Cold," was the quick reply as the healer continued to work at getting the blond wrapped in blankets. A low moan caused him to look at the pale face as dull green eyes opened to slits. "Easy, Chris, just lie still,' Jackson ordered.
"S...sso...ccc...cold," Larabee stammered as his body shivered violently.
"I know you are. Buck is that tea ready?"
"Got it right here, Nate," Wilmington knelt beside his oldest friend and passed the cup to the healer. He gently lifted the blond to a semi sitting position and helped him drink the warm liquid, smiling at the grimace on the blond's pale face.
Larabee tried to sit up further but the sharpshooter's hand reached for his shoulder and forced him back down. "Where do ya think yer goin', Cowboy?"
"G...gotta get o...out of here."
"Ain't nowhere to go, Stud. That storm's come back and we're stuck here for the duration."
"C...can't stay h...here. H...have to l...leave Carson's Bluff."
"Why?" Jackson asked curiously, helping the injured man drink more of the tea.
"Maybe I can answer that, Brother."
"J...Josiah, y...you saw h...her?" Larabee asked, shivering in spite of the warmth flowing into his body.
"No, Brother, I never saw her but I did hear her."
"Hear who, Mr. Sanchez?"
"I'm not sure who she was but I heard her warn me I had to help him."
Larabee's eyes grew heavy as he listened to his friends. A loud clap of thunder sounded overhead and he bolted upright, struggling out of Wilmington and Tanner's grasp. The blankets slipped down his waist, revealing a heaving chest, "We have to leave," he gasped.
"Why?" Jackson asked.
"He told me to get you guys out o...of here."
"Who told you?" Dunne asked, his voice laced with nervous energy as lightening danced across the windows.
"Sam, told m...me to..." Larabee went quiet as his eyes lit on something at the top of the staircase.
Six sets of eyes turned to see what had grabbed his attention only to shake their heads and look back at the injured man.
Jackson tried to get through to the blond but his words fell on deaf ears as Larabee continued to stare straight ahead. "Chris, what is it?"
"She's t...trying to t...tell me something. But...but there's so m...much b...blood. S...she c...can't t...talk."
"Mr. Larabee, I can assure you there is nobody there."
"S...she c...can't t...talk but s...she w...wants me to...to f...follow her," Larabee tried to stand up but was held in a powerful grip, a grip ripe with friendship and concern. He met the blue eyes of the tracker and his body shuddered as he tried to pull away.
"Yer not goin' anywhere, Cowboy," Tanner told him.
His green eyes lost all focus as he struggled to follow the ghost with the crimson choker. Somehow he knew she had the answer to getting out of this town. "L...Let me go!"
"Now you just calm down there, Chris. You've got a bad concussion and you're not right in the head right now."
"My h...head's fine, Nathan," Larabee hissed as he strained against the hands of steel holding him down.
"Yer seein' things that ain't there, Chris."
"How do you know that, Vin? She's there. I can still see her. She wants something," he gasped as lights exploded in his head and everything went black.
"Nathan," Tanner and Wilmington's panicked voices sounded as one.
Jackson felt the strong, fast pulse at the gunslinger's neck and breathed a sigh of relief. "It's ok. He's just passed out."
"What if he really is seeing something?"
"Now, Mr. Dunne, surely you're not suggesting that Mr. Larabee is really seeing manifestations from another plain of existence are you?"
"Ez, if you're asking if I think Chris is seeing ghosts then the answer is yes."
"JD, Chris is seeing things alright. Things brought on by a severe concussion," Jackson told him.
"I never thought you believed in ghosts, Kid," Wilmington laughed, as he helped settle Larabee back on the blankets near the fire. He could still feel the ice-cold skin through the blankets.
"Course not, Buck. It's just that..."
"Just what, JD," Sanchez asked.
"Just that today's Halloween. Midnight tonight is supposed to be when ghosts and other things come out to haunt us."
"There's no such things, Kid."
"Buck, the Indians have plenty of stories of ghosts and spirits. They believe in other worldly beings."
"Ah, come on, Vin, not you too?"
"I've seen things, Buck. I lived with..."
"I know you lived with a couple of tribes, Vin, but do you really expect me to believe in ghosts and..."
"I seen some strange things myself on the plantation, Buck. Some of em could be explained away as swamp gas but others there was no explanation for. I seen my master's own wife after she died. She was a cruel woman in life and I seen something the night she died. Ain't never told anyone bout it but I know it was her and I know she was already dead when I seen her. Knew she was goin' to hell too. Had this dark shadow around her and she was screaming like a banshee. Only saw her the one time but life on the plantation got a little better after she died."
"You don't expect me to believe that, do you Nathan?"
"Believe what you want to, Buck. I know what I saw," Jackson shivered as he placed the empty cup on the floor beside the gunslinger.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways, Brothers," Sanchez told them. "I've heard Chris Larabee described as having a dark soul but something tells me tonight his soul is going to become the reward for the winner of a battle that we may not be witness to."
"What're ya talkin' bout, Josiah?" Tanner asked.
"I've been doing some thinking. Vin, you were supposed to be on watch last night, right?"
"Were you overly tired?"
"Naw, nothin' I couldn't handle. Why?"
"When I heard the voice this morning telling me to help him you were all dead to the world."
"Guess I musta been tired," Tanner remark.
"To tired to wake up when Brother Chris stood up, walked across the room, got dressed, strapped on his guns, and walked out the door?"
"I don't recall ever seeing you that exhausted, Mr. Tanner. It seems something very strange is happening in this town," Standish observed softly.
"I agree and I'm beginning to think we should get Brother Chris out of here before it's to late."
"How, Josiah? In case you hadn't noticed there's a major storm brewin' out there."
"I know that, Nathan, but I think we're better off chancing the storm than what could happen if we stay."
"What about the rest of you?" Jackson asked.
"I say we leave," Dunne answered.
"I'm afraid Mr. Larabee's condition should take precedence. So I bow to Mr. Jackson's opinion."
"I say we stay. There's nothing here to be afraid of and Chris needs to rest," Wilmington announced.
"Vin?" Jackson asked as the younger man stared at the top of the stairs.
"I say we leave," he said, icy hands seemed to touch his cheek causing his body to tremble slightly.
"It looks like we're leaving," Jackson looked at each man, letting them know he wasn't at all sure it was the right choice.
"Me and JD'll get the horses ready," Tanner volunteered.
"Alright, Vin, make sure you bring them around to the front," Jackson said. "Josiah, think you can hold Chris?"
"I can," Sanchez assured the healer.
"Then let's get things packed up," Jackson ordered.
"We'll be back with the horses in half an hour," Tanner told them as the two youngest peacekeepers hurried towards the door.
JD flung the door open and gasped as a gale force wind pushed him back into the room. Vin felt a cold hand on his chest as he was also shoved back inside. The two youngest members of the seven fell to the floor gasping as a thick tendril of fog seeped into the room. Icy shivers ran down the spines of each man as the fog seemed to solidify into the form of a man.
A tall man with cold eyes and a scarred face stood in the door and slowly crossed the open space towards the prone figure.
"Get away from him," Sanchez cried as he threw his large body over his friend, offering the only protection he had.
'You cannot stop me.'
"Don't bet on it," Tanner snarled as he slowly regained his feet and staggered in front of Sanchez and the still unconscious Larabee. It wasn't long before Chris was surrounded by the six men he proudly called friends.
'You may leave now but he stays.'
"We're not leaving without him!" Wilmington hissed.
'Then you will all die,' he cackled as his arm stretched through the others and he placed his decaying hand on Larabee's forehead, leaving a small trail of blood-encrusted dirt in its wake. 'He will soon be a part of this town and will never leave it,' the specter told them as he slowly glided back the way he'd come.
"What the hell was that?" Wilmington asked.
"Hell being the operative word, Mr. Wilmington," Standish whispered.
A low moan made them turn to the two men on the floor. Sanchez lay still, his head turned away from the gunslinger, his eyes misted with fear.
"Josiah, are you alright?" Jackson asked.
Sanchez's eyes finally focused on the dark skinned healer. "I'm f...fine, Brother, but Chris is in more danger than we ever dreamed."
"How do you know?" Tanner asked.
"I could feel its thoughts as the hand went through me. It was evil in life but even more so in death. If it succeeds in killing Chris it'll grow stronger and be able to leave Carson's Bluff. C...Chris would be tied to the town, forever in limbo. Neither dead nor alive. He wouldn't be able to leave," Sanchez explained as he lifted himself off the gunslinger.
"How do we stop it, Josiah?" Tanner asked.
"I'm not sure, Vin. I know in my heart there is a way but what it is I don't know."
"Y...you guys have to l...leave," Larabee's teeth chattered as he forced the words out.
"Yeah, sure, Stud, we're gonna leave you at the mercy of a ghost who thinks it can keep us here."
"B...Buck, i...it t...touched me. I...it won't leave until I'm d...dead. L...leave while y...you can."
"We leave together, Chris," Tanner hissed.
"H...how?" Larabee gasped.
"If we can't get out the front door maybe we can use the back one," Dunne suggested.
"I shall endeavor to find out," Standish said as he ran to check the door, only to be sent sprawling by the glacial hand. Jackson and Wilmington helped pick the stunned man up. "I do believe we are stuck here for the duration."
"Tell it y...your g...going without m...me."
"No!" the single word snapped from six mouths simultaneously.
Larabee smiled weakly in spite of the cold that seeped deep into his bones. He pulled the blanket tighter around himself as he looked at his friends. "Guess I c...can't c...change y...your minds."
"No!" the word came again.
"Forget it, Cowboy, you're stuck with us," Tanner told him.
"Mr. Tanner is correct, Mr. Larabee. United we stand..."
"Divided we fall," Dunne finished.
"I do believe you two may have something there."
"What do you mean Josiah?" Jackson asked as he poured hot water into the cup and steeped more of the tea for the blond.
"I believe the answer could be in our number."
"Our Number. You mean Seven?" Wilmington asked.
"Correct. I believe it has to do with biblical references. The number seven is in the bible in many ways. I could quote you from the bible about the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. The seven Priests and the seven trumpets marching around Jericho. The Sabbath day is the seventh day."
"Jericho!" Jackson hissed at the memory of the prison where Chris had spent some hard time.
"Yes, Nathan, Jericho. Another coincidence. I don't think so. I think we ended up here for a reason."
"What reason?" Dunne asked.
"I think we were brought here to do the Lord's work. I'm not sure what it is yet but I believe Chris's soul as well as our own are on the line tonight."
"How do we fight it, Josiah?" Larabee asked.
"I'm not sure, Brother, but I think it will take the seven of us to defeat it. It's getting late and I think we'd all better get some rest. I have a feeling we're going to need to be strong tonight."
"I'll take first watch," Wilmington offered.
"Alright, Brother, but I'm not really sure what you can do if it comes back."
"I'll do everything I can to stop it."
"I know you will, Buck. Chris, if we fall asleep don't do anything stupid."
"Like what, J...Josiah?"
"Like trying to take it out on your own. If you wake up before us make sure you get us up too."
"Too damned c...cold t...to do a...anything on my o...own, J...Josiah," Larabee stammered.
"Here, Chris, drink this," Jackson ordered.
"What is it?"
"The last of the tea. It should warm you up some," Jackson hid a smile as the gunslinger drank the tea laced with Laudanum. Ten minutes later the blond was curled on his side with the blankets pulled up over his trembling body.
"What'd you give him, Nate?" Tanner asked.
"Tea and a little Laudanum. I figure it'll keep him down even if that thing comes back for him."
"I'm not so sure that will do any good, Brother," Sanchez's ominous words sent shivers through the six peacekeepers who heard him. Each man settled down in a spot close to their injured leader and waited for the midnight hour.
'It is time to meet your destiny, Billy.'
Billy Porter climbed to his feet, the paralysis that kept him there through the day and long into the night suddenly disappeared. "Pa?"
'You will follow me!'
"Yes, Pa," Porter sniffed as he followed the spectral mist out the door.
'Chris Larabee, I'm calling you out!'
"But, Pa, he'll kill me," Billy whined.
'Do you think that matters. This is your destiny. You will face Larabee and whether you win or lose he will remain part of this town.'
"B...but what a...about me?"
'You will be with your brother.'
"I don't want to die."
Porter reached out to his son, his hands going through the human body to rest it's icy grip around his heart, 'There are worse things than dying. Do you understand?'
"Y...yes, Pa," Billy screamed as pain flared in the life giving organ.
'Now call to him.'
"Chris Larabee, I'm c...calling you o...out."
Larabee's eyes opened to darkness and he wondered whose voice he'd heard. The pain in his head was not quite as intense but he still found it hard to focus. The room was deathly silent as he threw back the blankets and searched for his clothes. He knew there was something he was supposed to do but couldn't grasp what it was. 'Josiah, have to wake him,' he thought as he grabbed his dark clothing. He pulled on his clothes and strapped on his gun. The final task was to put on his hat and open the door on the moonless night. The wind whipped around him and threatened to knock him off his feet.
He stumbled into the center of the windswept street, his eyes finally coming to focus on the two forms standing at the opposite end. He felt something cold touch his shoulder and lifted his head. Recognition was immediate and the hand on his shoulder took on a much warmer feel. "S...Sam."
'I'm sorry, Chris, I couldn't stop this from happening.'
"What from h...happening?" Larabee asked.
'Porter wants Miss Ellie and the only way he can have her is by getting rid of me.'
"What's that got to do with me and my friends?" Larabee hissed, his voice growing stronger as he realized the danger to his friends.
'Porter has to have you take his place if he is to leave this town. We have been bound here since he murdered Selma and me. He plans to take Miss Ellie when he leaves here and I cannot stop him because she died at my hands. He is evil, Chris, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.'
"How do I defeat him?"
'I'm not sure you can.'
"There has to be a way," Larabee told the translucent form before him.
'I wish I knew what it was.'
"So do I," the blond gasped as the pain once more tore through his skull.
"Get ready to die, Larabee," Billy shouted above the wind. He'd grown more confident after seeing the way the gunslinger seemed to stagger towards him.
'You must help him.'
Six men gasped as they heard the mournful call. There was no need for words, as each man looked to the empty place by the fire. The wind howled through the widening cracks in the old saloon as the six peacekeepers moved towards the door.
"Draw, Larabee," Billy shouted as he pointed his already drawn gun and depressed the trigger.
Hands that were normally as fast as lightening were slow with the onset of an intense light in front of him. Chris could do nothing to protect himself as the deafening roar of Billy Porter's gun exploded in the night.
Selma manifested in front of Larabee and sauntered toward Richard Porter. No sound escaped her damaged throat but anger flared from her eyes. The bright light standing next to her also formed into a beautiful specter.
Chris recognized the two woman standing before him. He tried to tell them to move but before he could say anything something slammed into his right shoulder, spinning him around. He stayed on his feet and watched the two females walk towards the two figures at the opposite end of the street.
The six Peacekeepers stepped into the street, lending their strength to their friend. As soon as the Six became Seven lightening ripped across the sky and the two female specters glowed with a heavenly light.
'Stay back,' Sam explained as the seven men made to advance on the specters and the loan human.
Billy Porter watched as the two females came towards him. The sight of his father had not scared him as much as the two newcomers. His father had always been scary to little Billy Porter and seeing him as a ghost, although terrifying was not as bad as seeing the two woman coming towards him.
While Larabee and his men saw nothing but two beautiful glowing lights, Porter saw them as evil incarnate. Both figures had long glowing nails at the end of bony fingers and emaciated hands, their hair flew out behind them as two sets of blackened eyes glared at him. Fire blazed around them as they moved towards him.
Richard Porter watched his son become a snivelling coward as the two women reached out to him.
Billy Porter's heart, already weakened by his father clasping it in his dead hand, exploded in his chest and he was dead before he hit the ground.
'NO!' Porter screamed as he advanced on Chris Larabee, ignoring the two female figures standing in his wake. 'I will kill you myself!'
Six men surrounded the dark clad gunslinger, protecting him with the warmth they felt emanating from the female specters.
'Stop right there, Porter. This all ends tonight,' Carson shouted.
'It ends with Larabee's death and my taking Miss Ellie out of here!'
'Wrong! As of now your evil ends. It is seven minutes past midnight and today is the seventh day. There are seven gunslingers here to help deliver you to the gates of hell!'
'They are weak mortals. They can do nothing!' Porter shouted, his voice beginning to lose its confidence.
'That's where you're wrong, Porter. They are strong because of their biblical number. Seven men are strong and their light has been handed to Miss Ellie and Selma. You have lost, Porter. I now have the means to rid the world of your evil.' Carson smiled as he thought of escorting Porter to the gates of hell. The gunslinger's revenge would be to see that the man who'd taken his life, and the lives of so many others in cold blood, would live in a hell of his own making. Porter was a murderer and he would atone for his sins in Hades.
'Your horses are saddled and waiting at the edge of town. Leave now and don't come back,' Miss Ellie warned the seven men as three sets of spectral hands grasped the screaming form of Richard Porter.
"We haven't got much time," Larabee gasped as pain radiated from his head and shoulder.
Wilmington and Tanner grabbed the blond's arms, ignoring the sharp cries as they pulled his arms over their shoulders and raced towards the edge of town. Behind them arose sharp cries and screams as good wagered a battle over evil.
"Pass him up to me," Sanchez shouted as he vaulted onto his horse.
"I can ride," Larabee groaned.
"Not right now, Chris," Vin told him as Buck helped him hoist the injured man upwards. The five remaining men climbed onto their horses. A loud careening noise made them turn back towards the town. They watched as three bright lights surrounded a darker shape and all four disappeared before their eyes.
The dilapidated buildings, all that remained of the town of Carson's Bluff, seemed to fold in on themselves. A loud groaning filled the air as a final streak of lightening rent the darkened sky. Six pairs of eyes watched the clouds overhead part to uncover a swollen moon and a million bright stars shining overhead.
One pair of eyes, green and once more filled with pain, watched three ghostly figures as they smiled in gratitude and left the ruins of the town. "It's over," Larabee gasped as his eyes slid shut.
"I'd better take a look at him, Josiah."
"I think that's a wise idea, Brother. Whatever was residing in Carson's bluff is gone now," he slid the gunslinger into the waiting arms of Buck Wilmington.
Tanner spread a blanket on the ground as JD searched for something dry to start a fire.
"What's wrong, JD?" Jackson asked.
"Anyone else notice nothing around here is wet?"
"Now that you mention it, yeah. Even the ground is dry," Wilmington commented as he placed his friend on the ground.
"Can you explain it, Josiah?" Dunne asked.
"Call it Divine intervention, JD. Brother Chris probably wouldn't have lasted till we found shelter from the storm. Now Nathan can take his time and fix him up before we head for home," the ex-preacher explained as he helped JD start the fire.
"What do you think happened to the town, Mr. Sanchez. Why'd it fall apart like that?"
"At this point your guess is as good as mine."
"Time enough for that later. Vin, bring me my saddlebags. Oh, Damn, I left them in the saloon."
"Ah, Nathan, if ya did how'd they get here?" the tracker asked.
"Hey, it looks like everything's here," Wilmington gasped as he looked at each of the horses.
"Strange!" Standish observed.
"You're not kidding, Ez," Dunne said, a nervous laugh slipping past his lips.
"Looks like the bullet's still in there. I'm gonna have to get it out."
"N...Nathan, w...would you p...please stop warning us of that? J...just do it."
"Hey, Cowboy, How're ya feelin'?
"Like my head's about to explode. Dammit what the hell happened this time?"
"Ghosts," Sanchez said simply.
"What do you mean not again, Mr. Larabee?"
"I thought we got rid of Colonel Anderson and the Ghosts of the Confederacy."
Relieved laughter floated up on the air at the injured man's comment. "Not those ghosts, Chris. This time there were real ghosts."
"Sure, Buck," Larabee sighed.
"Buck, Vin, hold him down."
Larabee felt his two friends reach out to him. Their hands felt cold to his fevered body and he shivered.
"Still cold, Chris?"
"No! Buck and Vin have cold hands," Larabee hissed as he felt Nathan's probe dig deep into his shoulder. He held his breath and tried to remain still as white-hot daggers of pain erupted in both his head and shoulder.
"Almost there," Jackson muttered as he dug a little deeper.
Larabee cried out as the bullet slid from his body. "Please tell me you're done?"
Jackson smiled at the blond, whose pale features seemed even paler in the glow of the flickering fire. "Almost. The bullet's out, now I'm gonna clean it and get you bandaged up," Jackson said as he took the flask of whiskey from the gambler. "Thanks, Ezra," Jackson said.
"Alright, Chris, just a little," Jackson placed the flask in front of the gunslinger's mouth as Vin lifted his head.
"T...thanks," Larabee smiled at the healer. "Alright, Nate, get it over with." Larabee regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. The whiskey soaked cloth pressed against the raw wound and he clenched his teeth to keep from crying out. His last thought before consciousness left him was whether or not he'd rather face Nathan's probe or the three ankle biters.
Larabee leaned against a rock as he waited for Jackson and the others to return. They'd gone back into the town, or what was once a town, to see if they could find any clue as to what happened. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the throbbing in both his head and shoulder. It wasn't long before he heard voices coming towards him.
"Hey, Stud, it's the weirdest thing I ever saw."
"The guy who shot you."
"What about him?"
"His body is still there. Or should I say his grave is there."
"Yeah, there's a headstone and all. It's fresh. Like it was done during the night."
"How do you know it was him?"
"The name, Billy Porter. He musta been related to the ghost."
"I think Sam mentioned something about Richard Porter."
"You think they're all gone, Stud?"
"I hope so, Buck, I don't think I could face down the enemy of another gunslinger, especially he's not flesh and blood."
"Ready to head home, Cowboy?" Tanner asked.
"Do you even have to ask?"
"Come on, Stud, we'll get you on your horse."
"Chris, you let us know when you need to take a break."
"I will, Nathan," the blond rasped as he settled his aching body into the saddle.
They rode into town mid-afternoon of the next day. Chris's shoulder wound showed a slight infection and Jackson insisted he spend the next two days in the clinic. For once Larabee didn't argue. The lingering affects of the concussion made him dizzy and he leaned heavily on Vin Tanner as they climbed up the stairs to the clinic. Fifteen minutes later the injured man was asleep on the tiny bed with the help of a healthy dose of laudanum.
Josiah Sanchez carried the covered tray up the stairs and into Jackson's clinic. He placed it on the table next to the bed that housed the still pale Chris Larabee. One look in the somber eyes told him the gunslinger needed to talk. He waited knowing the man didn't like to be pushed.
Chris looked at the ex-preacher, knowing if any of the men could understand what was troubling him it was Josiah Sanchez. Although the others had seen the ghosts at the end it was him and to a lesser extent Josiah who had the most dealing with the manifestations. Taking a deep breath he looked at the older man and asked softly. "Why me, Josiah?"
"What do you mean, Chris?"
"Why was I able to see the ghosts when no one else could?"
Sanchez leaned back in the chair and placed his hands on his knees. "Well, Son, sometimes fate has a way of showing up when we least expect it. You took a serious blow to the head when you hit the ground and that may have opened up what some people refer to as the third eye. It sort of gives you the ability to see things that are there but not necessarily on this plain of existence."
Larabee looked at the ex-preacher disbelievingly. "Please tell me the eye will close. I don't think I can handle seeing dead people."
"Well, Brother, I can't say that I blame you there. I don't really think you have to worry about it though. I think your third eye had a specific reason for opening when it did."
"Want to let me in on it?"
"I think you were supposed to be in Carson's Bluff on All Hallows Eve. I can't explain it fully but the fact that you knew Carson had a lot to do with it. Four of the ghosts seemed to be tied to the town, probably because of the murders, but I could be wrong. The man who shot you was related to Richard Porter, or at least I think he was, and he was there to kill you. He almost succeeded in doing so but was stopped by the two females. I know there's probably a lot more to it than that but I don't think we'll ever know the full truth. As for myself I've always been a believer in mystical things and that's probably why I was able to hear the voice and heed her warning but once again it's just a guess."
Chris sighed and leaned back on the pillows. "I guess you're right, Josiah, it's something we'll never fully understand," he muttered.
"That's true, Brother. Now what I do understand is that Nathan will be very angry if you don't eat this while it's hot," Sanchez grinned as he placed the tray on the gunslinger's lap and removed the cover. "Think you can handle some of Inez's beef stew and hot biscuits."
Larabee smiled at the older man as he picked up the spoon, Oh, I think can handle it," he returned the smile as he took the first taste of the rich savory stew. He wanted to finish every drop of it before Jackson returned to poke and prod at the infected wound in his shoulder.
Mary Travis listened to the heated exchange coming from inside the clinic. She smiled as she thought of the stubborn blond gunslinger whose very presence sometimes caused her to blush. Brushing at her skirts, and glancing at the paper in her hand, she opened the door and entered the tiny room. "Am I interrupting something?" she asked.
"Just the usual, Mrs. Travis," Jackson snapped, apologizing immediately as he realized how sharp he sounded. "The fool thinks he can just get up and around with a concussion and a festering wound. Now, Chris, you just lie there until I get things ready. I'll be cleaning that wound as soon as I'm done. Don't let him up, Mrs. Travis."
"I won't," she smiled as she pulled a chair closer to the bed. She could see the signs of fever on his face as she passed him the paper.
"It's an old article about Carson's Bluff," she explained as the five other peacekeepers stepped into the room.
"Carson's Bluff? The little town where we had the misfortune to spend All Hallows Eve?" Standish asked.
"That's the one. I knew I'd read something about it. You gentlemen spent the night in a town that hasn't existed in twenty years."
"Excuse me, Mrs. Travis, but the Godforsaken place existed up until three nights ago," Standish observed.
"Would you like to see for yourself?" Mary asked the gambler.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee?"
"Why don't you read it to us," the pale blond asked.
"Alright I will," she said. "Carson's Bluff Chronicle. October thirty first, eighteen hundred and fifty five. Twin murders rocked the town of Carson's bluff today as hired gun Richard Porter cold bloodedly shot and killed the founder of our town, Samuel L. Carson. Porter blamed Carson for the accidental death of Miss Ellie Jones. Samuel Carson's stray bullet struck and killed Miss Ellie during a gunfight. It was later discovered that a saloon girl named Selma Tucker was also the victim of Porter."
"Is that it?" Wilmington asked.
"Go on," Sanchez told her, already knowing what the answer would be.
Mary pulled out a second article and started to read. "Carson's Bluff Chronicle. October thirty first, eighteen hundred and fifty six. A year has passed since the murder of Samuel L. Carson. I am the lone member of this town now and I will be leaving at first light. Carson's Bluff was aptly named as it turns out. Samuel Carson's family thought he was bluffing when he said he was leaving to make a start in the west. His body is buried north of town in spite of his family wanting to have it shipped back to Boston. I seem to be rambling a bit. Please forgive an old newspaperman who doesn't want to see a dream end. Over the past year people have been scared out of their homes by a sinister ghost. I do believe the ghost is none other than Richard Porter. The town is also home to three other specters but they don't seem to scare people. I'm rambling again. The town has crumbled to dust now. There's nothing left but this tiny corner of my home. I have no explanation for why the buildings have collapsed into loose piles of dust seemingly overnight. I am certain mine will suffer the same fate as soon as I leave. It's as if with the death of the town's namesake the town itself died as well. This is the final copy of the Carson's Bluff Chronicle. There will be no more.....William Peace....Editor and Publisher."
"Twenty years ago. It can't be. We were there. We slept in the saloon. Didn't we? Wilmington asked, perplexed at the astonishing clip from the old newspaper.
"There's a little more. But it's from surrounding papers. It seems you gentlemen were not the first to spend the night in the nonexistent town. It seems like the town has appeared every seventh year. Twenty-one years ago Samuel L. Carson died and since then the town appears either on or a day or two before the anniversary of his death," Mary told them.
"Damn, Stud, we were in a real old fashioned ghost town. Sorry, Ma'am," Wilmington laughed without humor.
"That's alright, Mr. Wilmington. I have to get back to the paper but I though you'd all be interested in this."
"Thanks, Mrs. Travis," Larabee's voice seemed distant as he let his eyes close.
"You're welcome. Take care, Mr. Larabee, and listen to Mr. Jackson," she ordered as she left the seven alone.
"Alright, Chris, let's get that wound cleaned and then I'm kicking everyone out so you can sleep."
"I'd sleep better in my own room, Nate."
"I give up," the healer snapped. "I'll make a deal with you. You let me get it cleaned up and I'll let you sit on the landing for a while. Otherwise you're staying in the bed till I cut ya loose tomorrow."
Larabee's face lit up with a grin as he heard the words from the healer. "I'm holding you to that, Nate. I get out of here tomorrow."
"If you do as I say," Jackson finished cleaning the wound and they helped the gunslinger out on the landing.
Chris glared at his friends as they wrapped him in blankets and sat him in the lone chair. "You fellas aimin' to get shot?"
"That'd be kinda hard to do without yer gun, Pard," Tanner grinned.
"Now that we got your undivided attention, Stud, there's somethin' we need to discuss."
"And just what would that be, Pard," Larabee glared at the handsome smiling face.
"We think you owe us."
"Two words, Cowboy. Ankle biters," Tanner drawled.
"Oh, hell, don't start that again," the gunslinger couldn't help but join in on the relaxed laughter with his friends. Thoughts of ghosts and disappearing towns forgotten for the moment as the seven banded together once more.
A light mist hovered over the landing, indistinguishable from the soft white clouds above the town. 'Thank you, gentlemen, for giving us our freedom. Seven truly is a blessed number,' Carson's voice said as the mist winked out and the clouds resumed their lazy path across the sky.