by: Sarah W.
Notes: No they don’t belong to me, with the exception of the names you don’t recognize. Unlike CBS I share. This is written using the characters from the Wild West universe, but they are in a much different set of circumstances now. Since I do plan to write more I’ll just call it The Ghost Town AU to avoid (or perhaps create) confusion. Thanks of course go to my beta, any remaining mistakes are due to my own stubbornness.
The gambler lay on the pitted, scarred bar, arms crossed over his chest, one booted foot resting on top of the other. His black, flat brimmed hat was sitting on his face,
The saloon around him hummed with activity. The Standish Tavern was always busy around this time of day. The tourists crowded the bar, demanding their over priced sandwiches and warm drinks. The parents grumbled, the children chattered excitedly, spinning their popguns and shining their tin badges. Ragtime piano played over the hidden speakers.
It was the first day of tourist season at the Four Corners Authentic Wild West Town and Ezra P. Standish was in Hell.
“How ‘bout sliding my kid a root beer, Sam?”
Jonathan Parker sighed and plastered a smile onto his face. “Sure thing, Ma’am. That’ll be a buck fifty.”
Ezra nodded approvingly as he heard the ring of the register. “Smart boy. Finances always come first”
He always missed the delightful clamor the cash register made during the off-season. Perhaps they might use some of the profits to restore the saloon this year. The wiring in the dressing rooms was less than adequate, and the stage could do with new curtains.
The full mug slid through the supine cardsharp. The young boy cried out in surprise as the mug slid past his hand and clattered to the floor, root beer splashing tourist and furniture alike. Broken glass littered the bare wood.
Ezra bolted up right, hat tumbling into his lap. He twisted around, glaring at the young server in the ridiculous costume. There was a momentary scramble for napkins and more than a few muffled curses while a saloon girl ran to fetch the mop and broom. Jonathan glanced towards Ezra, looking through him, and shivered. He rubbed at the sudden goose bumps on his arm. “Sorry, Ma’am.” Ezra relented. It really hadn’t been the young man’s fault. He realized Jonathan had called him ma’am and leveled another glare at the young man.
The tourist who had ordered the root beer spoke up, not realizing that the comment hadn’t been directed at her. “That’s all right, son. How ‘bout you just bring us that root beer this time?” The woman took the root beer and joked, “On the house right?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m really sorry about that. I’ll refund your money.”
Ezra flopped back down on the bar and planted his hat firmly back on his face with a disgusted sigh. “Stupid boy.”
Ezra riffled the deck of cards, trying to ignore the sense of wrongness. The Saloon was quiet now, locked up for the night. Only the baseboard lights had been left on, casting everything in upside down shadows. The chairs themselves were upside down on the tables. All except his. The staff had quickly learned that the chair closest to the wall on the raised dais was not to be touched.
A small smirk graced his features. He had taken to righting the chair himself at night. It had proven to be an effective, if mean spirited way of getting his point across. More than one employee had quit because of that. And they had left his chair alone.
He had decided to be more discreet in regards to his other activities. Though he often borrowed decks of cards from under the counter he made sure they were safely tucked away before the morning shift arrived. The ace of spades still showed up in the occasional odd location, but for the most part Ezra had remained well behaved.
The truth was that Ezra no longer cared for cards. They were too slick beneath his fingers. Too bright. “Standish Tavern” had been printed cheaply on the back, and only reminded Ezra of how much he had lost.
He had been stuck here, watching his saloon. What should have been his saloon. Maude had swept in when she had learned of their- well the- Ezra couldn’t even say the words in his own mind. After – what had happened- Maude swept in, buying the saloon, repairing the damage the explosion had caused. She was a McKinley by then, but the establishment bore the Standish name as tribute to “her darling baby boy”. Always the entrepreneur, Maude had sold out as soon as the saloon started losing money.
Everything was a little fuzzy after that. He remembered long stretches of dust and silence vaguely. He clearly remembered the short time the abandoned building had been converted into a makeshift meeting hall for the Ladies’ Society for Morality. They left soon after puddles of alcohol and clouds of cigarette smoke had begun mysteriously appearing. That had been a difficult maneuver on Ezra’s part, but well worth it.
After that it had been only a sort of sleep, interrupted by the occasional venturous teenagers and encroaching spiders.
He had never heard from the other six lawmen. Perhaps they had made it to the Heavenly gates Josiah was so fond of, or maybe they existed in the same sort of limbo he did. He had desperately hoped they had survived, but the talk in the newly rebuilt saloon had soon quashed any delusions he tried to maintain. Four Corners had lost a remarkable collection of men that day.
He had found himself surrounded by the living, and yet utterly alone. It had almost come as a relief when the town floundered and emptied. Ezra would be the first to admit that he had spent much of the quiet time basking in his own self-pity, left to his own pathetic devices.
Until the tourists.
The damned tourists.
The Four Corners he once knew was gone. Replaced by Four Corners Authentic Wild West Town. Now his days were filled with mock gunfights, family shows, tired parents and fussy babies. His saloon sold candy bars and plastic trinkets. Even his bedroom had not escaped the ravages of commercialism.
An employee in a costume was stationed in his room, which had been outfitted to play the part of a brothel suite. His old bed was the only authentic item in the titillating tableaux and the employee took great delight in regaling the gaping tourists with the tale of Eliza Stanton, a soiled dove who plied her trade and died for her sins on that very piece of furniture. It was her ghost that was said to haunt the saloon, waiting to exact her revenge on the descendants of her murderer. Perhaps if the tourists looked closely they could see the impression her head left on the musty down pillow, or smell the faint lavender of her perfume.
In one hundred years, give or take, Ezra P. Standish had been reduced to a vengeful strumpet, unable to even enjoy the comforts of his own bed.
Ezra shook himself from his dark thoughts and shuffled the deck, dealing himself a hand. Aces and Eights. The Dead Man’s hand. He snorted in disgust and tilted his head up, staring at the rafters and the God that he believed must be laughing at his plight. “You, Sir, think yourself very clever, don’t you?”
“Well, son, perhaps the Lord is giving you a sign.”
“Josiah, I am not your son. And everything is a sign to you” Ezra continued to contemplate the rafters, dismissing his companion. A few minutes passed, and Ezra shuffled the deck absentmindedly, leaving the unlucky hand on the table.
Ezra’s head snapped back down, eyes widening. “Josiah!”
The large preacher was standing at the edge of the dais, one leg resting on the raised floor. His ratty serape hung crookedly on his shoulders; a wide grin nearly split his face. He looked exactly as Ezra remembered him. Josiah stepped forward, grabbing the stunned gambler, crushing him into a bear hug. Ezra returned the hug just as fiercely, marveling at the sensation of being able to actually touch the larger man. The living, Ezra had learned, felt like a faint heat, as if he were sitting too far from the campfire. Josiah, though, felt warm and solid, and strong. Ezra clung to that strength a moment longer before pulling back, smiling madly at his old friend.
A small voice in the back of his mind reminded him that appearances were everything, and he quickly stepped back from the hug, smoothing his vest. He did, however, keep one hand securely wrapped around the knotted fringe of the serape. He indicated the saloon with a sweeping gesture of his free hand. “Mr. Sanchez, Welcome to the Standish Tavern.”
Ezra and Josiah sat in companionable silence, watching the play of moonlight on the floor. They had talked throughout the night, into the next day, and into another night. There had been, Ezra supposed, a lot to catch up on. They sat at a dusty table on the upper floor of the saloon, overlooking the small stage when the tourists began to arrive. The balcony had been roped off due to the rather rickety nature of the old stairs, and provided a peaceful haven for the two friends.
The gambler had long ago learned the art of creating cold spots to deter the living from his desired seating, but it seemed Josiah was unable, or unwilling to deny a tired tourist a comfortable chair. It had been unnerving to talk to his friend while a complete stranger sat in the preacher’s body. There was also the added bonus, Ezra decided as he tipped his chair back against the wall, of being able to sit comfortably without scaring the customers.
Josiah, it turned out, had used his time on earth to learn the ins and outs of the spirit world, while Ezra had been sulking in the saloon.
Josiah theorized that some people were meant to stay on earth. “Destiny, I suppose?’ Ezra had asked, with a raised eyebrow and put upon expression. Josiah had just smiled. They were bound to an item, or place, for the most part, like an invisible leash. The preacher, to Ezra’s amusement, had been tied to his hammer. A stroke of luck which let him travel far and wide in his afterlife, meeting other spirits that shared his predicament.
He had returned to Four Corners in a box of dusty, rusty artifacts. The owners of the theme park decided that a museum was needed to round out their attraction and so fate had deposited Josiah Sanchez on Ezra’s doorstep.
Ezra stood up, and stretched unnecessarily, before jumping over the railing to land on top of the bar a few feet below. He padded over to the display cabinet on silent feet, and started to rearrange the souvenirs to his liking. He looked back over his shoulder at the larger man, still perched in the rafters.
“You are staying, aren’t you?” The gambler spun a plastic shot glass. He gestured to the liquor bottles on display, filled with tinted water. “I’m afraid I can’t offer you any liquid hospitality. An unhappy side effect of going into a family oriented enterprise but I’m sure I can-”
The preacher joined Ezra at the bar, taking the shot glass out of his hands, and nudging him off the counter. Ezra had to step quickly to avoid a less than graceful tumble from his perch. Josiah began putting the souvenirs back in their proper place.
“Those aren’t the spirits I came here to find. This isn’t just a social visit, son. We’ve worked too hard to get back here for just that.”
Josiah grinned broadly. “The newest additions to the museum, of course. The rest of the flock should be arriving soon. I just thought I should come first and warn you before they come storming in. You’ve had Chris so worried he’s about ready to call you out onto the street.”
Ezra sat down heavily, forgetting to stop when he reached the stool. He ended up sprawled awkwardly on the hardwood floor.
“You found the others? They’re coming here?”
Josiah nodded and sat down on the stool Ezra had missed, hooking a boot on the lowest rung. He leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his thighs.
“I found J.D. at a yard sale in Maine, living in that hat of his, about 50 years ago. We spent a long time looking for the others. J.D. managed to track down Vin and Chris to an antique guns show.”
The conman brushed at his red jacket, trying to recover his dignity. The effect was ruined by the still shocked expression on his face. “Their guns?”
“No, their gun belts; Chris’s gun belt. Vin’s harmonica got wedged into one of the holsters so they managed to stay together. Edward, the man who bought JD’s hat and my hammer was a very sensitive man. He could sense us, and even hear us at times I think. We managed to convince him to buy Chris’s gear.” Josiah laughed. “Actually I think Chris glowered him into submission. Our brother seems to take great joy in terrorizing the living.”
“That sounds like Mister Larabee. And what of Misters Jackson and Wilmington? Have you heard from them?” Ezra was keenly aware that he failed to keep the rising hope out of his voice, a sudden desperate need to know that his companions were all accounted for gleamed in his eyes.
“Those two are pretty well known. Nathan is still a healer. We found him and his bottles of potions at a country doctors’ museum in North Carolina. The curator was only too willing to get rid of them when visitors started commenting on the ‘helpful tour guide’ that he had never hired.
“And Mr. Wilmington?”
“Buck had made quite a name for himself on this side of the curtain. It didn’t take much to find him. Apparently a woman had inherited a brass bed frame, and didn’t appreciate Brother Buck’s prior claim. His ego’s still a little bruised from being kicked out of his own bed by such a pretty young lady.”
Ezra’s gold tooth glinted as his smile widened “I can imagine. Have you all been together long?”
“About 35 years.” The smile dropped from Josiah’s face and he knelt down beside Ezra, who was still sitting on the floor. He laid a hand on his shoulder. “We looked for you, son. We looked damned hard. No one we met had heard of you, we couldn’t find any of your things. It was like you had just disappeared. We thought you had for awhile, but we still looked.”
Ezra allowed the touch, enjoying the warmth of it. “St. Louis.”
“Maude had my things sent to St. Louis. I believe she meant to sell them. She sold Chaucer.” Ezra paused, glancing down at the floor boards. It took a moment for him to continue.
“I was stuck here; I couldn’t leave the saloon. I was hoping at least one of y’all had stayed in Four Corners. In the church, or the clinic perhaps, but I didn’t know. I couldn’t check.”
He swallowed past the sudden tightness in his throat and bowed his head to hide the redness that was creeping into his cheeks. Josiah moved to sit beside him, sliding his arm around Ezra’s frame. Ezra dropped his head to the preacher’s shoulder. He was dizzy with relief, exhausted from his years of worrying about his friends. Even as he willed himself to stay awake, he found himself slipping into the first restful sleep he had experienced in a long time. He sighed and closed his eyes.
Josiah tightened his grip around the southerner as he felt him relax. He pressed a kiss to the short auburn curls and rested his chin on Ezra’s bowed head. Silently the preacher offered comfort to their lost sheep, separated so long from the rest of the fold. They would not lose him again. Josiah swore it to himself, settling in to guard the gambler’s rest. It had been too long.
The two men stayed that way, on the floor in front of the bar, until Jonathan Parker came to open the saloon, unlocking the security gate and bathing the room in the unnatural light of the fluorescent bulbs. Ezra jerked into wakefulness and scrambled off the floor. Josiah was amused to see the small derringer pop into Ezra’s hand. “Mornin’, Ez.”
The conman pushed the gun back under his sleeve and tugged at non-existent wrinkles in his jacket. The young employee remained unaware of their presence and stepped through the cardsharp to unlock the glass case housing the souvenirs.
“Good morning yourself, Mister Sanchez.”
Ezra offered a hand to Josiah, pulling him to his feet. Josiah’s joints creaked in protest. He stretched, working the kinks out of his back. Ezra walked to the far side of the room to peer out the door, while Josiah watched Jonathan prepare the saloon for the coming tourists.
“How did you find me anyway, Josiah?”
“You have Ed to thank for that. He likes ghost stories, and well with all of us hanging around he’s become interested in the ‘golden age of the Wild West’ he calls it. You’re famous in your own right, son. He found a write up of Four Corners’ very own ghost in some travel magazine. Between the seven of us we recognized your name.”
Ezra turned to glare at the preacher, trying to gauge the preacher’s sincerity. “This Edward I could understand. But it took all six of you to remember my name was Ezra Standish? Really, Mr. Sanchez, that is unkind. I would expect more out of-”
Ezra whirled around to face the door, eyes narrowing at the sight of the longhaired tracker leaning carelessly on the swinging doors. The other four peacekeepers stood behind him, all with the same wide, silly grins.
J.D. was fidgeting like a puppy kept on too short of a leash, and only Buck’s hand on his shoulder kept him in place. Chris managed to grin and glare at the same time, which proved, in Ezra’s opinion, to be truly frightening. Nathan had taken off his hat, twisting the brim between his long fingers.
Vin’s smile grew wider. “How were we supposed to know you were pretending to be some saloon girl, terrorizing all the men folk?”
Nathan plunked the hat back on his head. “Have to admit, Eliza is a right pretty name though, Ez. You chose good.”
Ezra looked as if he didn’t know whether to hug the two men, or shoot them where they stood. Buck solved the problem, stepping through Tanner to reach the gambler first.
“I told you you were putting funny ideas into his head, Vin, making him wear that dress.” He swept the conman into a hug that lifted Ezra off his feet. He pounded his back fiercely, keeping a tight hold on his friend. “Good to see ya, pard.”
The others quickly piled in, drowning out any objections Ezra might have had to such manhandling. For once, Ezra had none. His own smile, he knew, was just as wide and silly looking as those of his fellow peacekeepers’. “It’s good to see you, too, Mr. Wilmington. It’s dammed good to see all of you.”
Jonathan Parker put down the wad of paper towels had been using to clean the mirror and stared at the reflection of the doorway. He had been almost sure he saw movement. A shadow or something. Shaking his head, he turned back to his work. He really needed to stop listening to the waitresses’ ghost stories. Absently he picked the ace of spades up off the floor, tucking it back behind the counter with the other cards. Things were weird enough in the Standish Tavern without his imagination making it worse.
The Country Doctors Museum does indeed exist in Greenville, North Carolina, though to my knowledge it isn’t haunted ? Pity.
This is my first attempt at M7 fic, though I did dabble in photo manipulation before trying out my hand at writing this fandom. The photo manipulation at the top of this page was, in fact, a direct inspiration for this piece.