Notes: May Challenge
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Ezra gripped his side as blood continued to seep between his fingers. He listed forward in his saddle as his horse kept on a steady walk to nowhere. He could hear Troubles hooves pound the fresh snow into the ground and his iron shoes slipped on stones buried beneath the white powder.
The town hed ridden out of hadnt been partial to gamblers or the company they kept. However, that wasnt why he now carried a bullet in his side. It had been the botched bank robbery and the fireworks afterward that had earned him the wound.
He couldnt remember how it happened exactly, just parts. He remembered being on Troubles back and heading out of town. Shots being fired, and a blinding pain entering his side. He remembered people shouting, some crying, and a stampede of mounted horses rushing passed him. He couldnt remember who they were, or what they were after, the pain in his side kept his attention occupied. He could see his blood soaking the fine material of his vest. His hands did little in keeping his life force within his body.
Ezra remembered stopping in front of the sheriffs office and someone patting his leg. But for some reason he was now on a trail he wasnt familiar with. He pulled his hand away from his side and found his fingers dripping with blood. His head swam, and he grabbed the saddle horn with his other hand, trying to keep his seat. His cheeks felt frozen and his muscles continued to spasm.
The cabin looked inviting like a home. Trouble came to a stop in front of the porch. Ezra tried to call for help but found himself mute. He tried to grab his horses main as he fell from the saddle but he failed to catch himself as he landed harshly on the ground. Though the snow chilled his bones it was soft, and for that he was thankful. He felt soft hands grab him under his arms and he tried to get his legs beneath him. He stumbled several times on the steps, but when the door to the cabin opened, a warmth like that of a bath hit him and he slipped to the floor in a heap.
Vin leaned against the awning post and watched the end of the road as though he were expecting someone or something. He nodded to Chris who stepped out to join him. Their silence was noted, but not unwelcome. The usually warm weather was now cold and a few snow flurries had passed through the area, keeping farmers, ranchers, and miners indoors. Heavy coats and hats were now the fashion in town, and smoke billowed from every chimney within the community.
Tried wirin Kettle Falls, Vin said with an underlined worry in his tone. Hank said the lines down.
Chris nodded and slipped a cheroot between his lips. You got a feelin? he asked, and then lit his smoke.
Vin looked up the road again and nodded: Yeah I do. He slipped his hands into his pockets and rolled his head trying to loosen the tightening muscles in his neck. Ezra should ave been back by now.
Could have found a game or somethin.
Maybe, Vin tentatively agreed. If he aint back by mornin Im headin out. His statement left no room for doubt.
Ill go with you, Chris replied, inhaling deeply and releasing the cheroot smoke through his nose.
Soft and tender hands unbuttoned Ezras vest and silk shirt. He was too weak to protest. The pain in his side continued to torment him and as a result he cried out when the pressure became unbearable. A soft hand brushed his cheek in reassurance. Despite the warmth in the room he shivered and a heavy blanket was pulled up to his waist. He felt someone move his hands toward the wound on his side, and once again he applied pressure to his injury.
He tried to focus his eyes, but everything was blurry. He could hear the faint laughter of a child and the animated sounds of toys being dropped on a hardwood floor. The smell of fresh bread baking filled his senses, and when he focused hard enough the sound of a spoon scraping a pan filled the air.
Ezra hissed and gripped his side when a sharp pain hit. Please, he cried out, wanting it to stop. The pain persisted and at times got worse, as though something inside him were moving and he couldnt stop it. P pl please, he hissed, st stop.
A soft hand brushed his cheek, and malleable almost inaudible reassurances were whispered in his ear. His fist closed around something and he held it tight refusing to let go. A sudden peace came over him and he went limp, still clutching the objects in his hand.
Mud and Digger moved patiently side by side, both horses completely content in each others company. Theyd been on the road for hours, but despite that, they were eager to obey any command ordered to them. The snow seemed to thicken when they reached the mountain bluff. Winter showed no mercy for those who lived in the higher elevations.
Chris pulled his gloves on when the cold bit at his hands. He pointed in the direction of Kettle Falls and Vin nodded. They were almost there.
I told the others wed be back in a few days, Chris said, keeping his voice even.
Itll do Buck some good to get out of bed, Vin chuckled, while chewing contently on a piece of jerky. Dont look like it snowed any since yesterday. He looked down. Reckon we should ave seen some tracks
Unless he didnt come this way, Chris answered, pulling the rim of his hat down.
Tanner shook his head: Said he wanted to ride through on his way back see what the town was like.
Chris nodded in acceptance. He watched as the town came slowly into view. Smoke gathered above buildings like a dense fog. Horses were tied to hitching posts and doors were closed, keeping the heat inside. Few people walked up and down the boardwalks, but there were a few children out playing, building a civilization of snowmen. Chris shook his head and smiled. One of the snowmen wore a badge; another had an empty bottle of Red Eye shoved into the split on a branch that was being used as an arm.
Think that big one could pass as Josiah? Vin asked with a chuckle.
Damn close, Chris answered, guiding his horse to the sheriffs office.
The two lawmen pulled their mounts to a stop and Chris dismounted, handing his reins to Vin. Stay here, Ill go ask if anyone knows anything.
Vin nodded in agreement. He knew why the gunslinger wanted to go in alone. With a bounty still on Vins head, it wasnt a good idea to be moving around so openly. Silently, Vin thanked his friend.
Chris entered the office to find the sheriff writing on some papers. His graying hair poked out from under his hat and his long beard hung wildly around his chin and neck. He looked up and sighed, tossing his pencil onto his desk.
Can I help you? he asked sternly, grabbing his cup and heading toward the blazing stove for more coffee.
Im Chris Larabee
Law down in Four Corners, the sheriff surmised, I know who you are. He poured his drink and added some sugar. He motioned with his hand to another cup and nodded when Chris shook his head at the silent offer. What brings you to Kettle Falls? he asked, returning to his seat behind his desk.
Im lookin for one of my men, Chris answered flatly.
Unless he was a stupid kid with false hopes of robbin a bank or a gambler he aint been through here, the sheriff replied, taking a tentative sip from his cup.
Gambler? Chris asked, his hopes rose.
Young fella, fancy dresser, smooth talker
Chris grinned: Sums him up pretty good.
The sheriff frowned and shook his head. We had a bank robbery attempt here yesterday
He all right? the gunslinger asked abruptly.
That I couldnt tell ya, the sheriff answered. He rode up to the office here, after me and my boys rode after them robbers. Millie, the waitress at the restaurant, said she saw him and she went to get Doc Riley cuz she thought Standish was hurt. But by the time she got back he was gone aint seen hide nor hair of im since.
Chris removed his hat and scratched his head, all in one movement. You sure he aint in town?
The sheriff nodded: If you didnt pass im on your way up here you might want to ride north a ways. Theres quite a few homesteads out that way, might be that he got confused and rode off in that direction.
Chris nodded and turned toward the door. Thank you, Sheriff
Lewis, he smiled, Tom Lewis.
Thank you. Chris tapped his hat rim then turned and left.
Well? Vin asked, handing the gunslinger his reins.
He was here, Chris answered, slipping his foot into the stirrup. Sheriff said to ride north says Ezra might ave been hurt and rode up that way. He adjusted his seat in his saddle.
Vin nodded and kicked his horse in the direction. Lets find im then, the urgency in his voice was clear.
Vin pulled Digger to a stop and dismounted quickly. Chris watched, a flash of hope rushing through his system. He watched as the tracker reached into the snow and retrieved a black hat.
Its Ezras, Vin said, dusting the snow from the crown and brim. He handed it up to Chris who took it and sighed. Reckon were gettin close. He remounted his horse and kicked him forward.
Ezra could see her outline, but that was all. His head continued to swim and each movement he took made it worse. He felt warm and seemingly comfortable. Light invaded the room through the windows and he saw her dark curls hanging around her face. She glowed when she smiled.
He blinked, trying to clear his vision, but he failed. His throat was dry and he yearned for water. His arms and legs felt heavy too heavy to move. But the pain in his side wasnt nearly as bad as it had been. Ezra closed his eyes and listened to the subtle sound of silence. He felt a soft hand touch his cheek and he turned toward it, seeking comfort of any kind.
The cabin was hidden in the shadows of trees. Vin urged Digger forward when he heard the soft whinny of Trouble. Chris rode close behind, praying for good news.
Trouble tossed his head when he saw his stable mates come close. He remained in his position in front of the run down steps of the old cabin. The recent snowfall still sat collected in the seat of Ezras saddle.
Vin and Chris both jumped out of their saddles and rushed for the cabin door. The tall gunslinger tripped when his foot pushed through the weakened steps. He felt Vin grab his shoulder and together they entered the home.
Ah hell, Vin gasped, stopping abruptly.
Chris moved passed the tracker and toward the small cot that Ezra lay on. Chris reached down and felt for a pulse, and sighed when he found one. See if you can get a fire goin in that ol stove, Vin, he said, squatting down next to the gamblers form. Ezra, he said softly, patting the bloodied face. When he didnt get a response he pulled Ezras jacket away from his chest and found a makeshift bandage covering a bullet wound. Shit.
Vin started up a fire with some boards hed managed to pull from the wall in a back room. He filled the coffee pot he always carried with snow and placed it on the stove, praying that it boiled quickly.
Chris pulled the bandage away from the wound and sighed when it didnt look angry or swollen. He was, however, shocked at the amount of blood he saw, but relieved when the Southerner showed no signs of a fever.
Brought in the saddlebags, Vin said, crouching down next to Chris. You think the bullets still in im?
Wish I knew, Chris sighed, running his hand over his face. Wish Nathan were here.
Vin reached up and placed his palm over Ezras brow. He aint got a fever.
Chris nodded: Get me a shirt our of my bag. Maybe we can just bandage im up real good, get him out of these wet clothes, and then we can take him to town come mornin.
Vin reached out and grabbed Chris saddlebag. Ill see to the water, he said, watching as Chris started ripping a shirt into strips.
Ezra gasped for air when he felt someone reach behind his shoulders and lift him into a sitting position. His head lollrf forward and he didnt have enough energy to open his eyes. He felt something warm touch his side and he managed to lift his knee slightly before letting it fall back into place.
Were almost done, Ezra, Chris said in an unusually soft tone.
Vin forced the gamblers head up as he pulled him onto his chest. Slowly and carefully, Vin worked Ezra out of his jacket, derringer rig, vest, and shirt. Dont think hes gonna be happy about his clothes.
Specially when he sees hes wearin my shirt, Chris replied with a chuckle, tossing a black shirt to Tanner.
Chris finished tying the bandages around the Southerners waist and then moved to help Vin get a shirt on the gambler. He grabbed Ezras wrist and started wiping the blood away from his hands. Carefully, the gunslinger forced the gamblers fingers open from their firm grip. The bullet fell from Ezras palm and landed with a thump on the narrow mattress next to a bloodied pocketknife.
Vin and Chris eyes locked on the objects and then each other.
You dont think the sharpshooter sighed, looking again at Ezras bloodied hands.
Chris shook his head, unwilling to think on the subject. He helped Vin lay the Southerner back down on the cot and then cover him up with their blankets from their bedrolls.
Ill throw some beans on, Vin said, shaking his head.
Chris nodded and slumped down next to the cot. He looked around the cabin, noticing for the first time how desolate and old it was. There wasnt any glass in the windows, and it probably never had any. There were shutters on the inside, and most had fallen off their hinges. Broken furniture rested around the room, some having been the home of rodents and bugs. At least the stove had been in working order. Part of the roof had been torn away but despite that the cabin stayed relatively warm considering the cold temperatures outside.
He watched Vin stuff more wood into the stove and made a move to get up when a small wooden toy caught his sight. Chris moved closer to the broken table and lifted it slightly and pulled out the small carving of a lion. He ran his fingers over the knife marks, over the rough mane, and over the crude scars indicating a long tail
Whats the matter, cowboy? Vin asked, dishing out two plates of beans.
Chris leaned back with his breath caught in his throat. He looked at the toy, moving it over and over in his hand. I made this, he muttered, ignoring the plate of food that was placed on the floor in front of him.
What? Vin asked, sitting Indian style on the rough floor.
I made this, Chris said again, holding the toy out for Vin to look at.
The tracker took the carving and looked it over. Hell, Chris, he sighed, lots of folks whittle been known to do it myself.
After Adam was born I went and got a book so I could carve im the animals on Noahs ark he shook his head and chuckled, thats my bad attempt at a lion.
How do you think it got here?
Chris shook his head: I dont know. He took the carving back and continued to turn it over in his hand.
Ezra looked up and noticed his dull surroundings for the first time. He could hear a fire burning as flames consumed wood. He turned his head slightly and watched the orange reflections dance off the walls.
Welcome back, Chris said, moving in behind Ezra to help him sit up.
Where am I? Ezra asked hoarsely, fumbling with the cup the gunslinger handed him.
Was hoping you could tell us? Chris asked, motioning to Vin who was once again filling the stove with wood.
Ezra shook his head and sighed, realizing he was too weak to bring the cup half full of water to his lips. Chris understood what was happening and helped the gambler drink. Vin stepped up to the bed and smiled.
You look a hell of a lot better.
Ezra chuckled, leaning unknowingly against the gunslinger.
What happened? Vin asked.
The gambler furrowed his brow, trying to remember. There was a woman he said softly.
Where? Chris encouraged, wanting to know what happened.
Ezra shook his head and weakly rubbed his face. A house
Youve been here since you left town two days ago, Vin replied, Tracks led us to you.
No, Ezra replied, struggling to sit up. He fell back exhausted. She took the bullet out.
You remember gettin hit? Chris asked, breaking off Vins statement.
To some extent Ezra muttered, feeling the heaviness of his eyelids.
Chris moved out from behind the gambler and helped him get settled. He stood and moved closer to the stove. Though Ezras words had been few, the story was clear to him anyway.
Maybe he was seein things, Vin offered, leaning his back up against the cot.
Maybe, Chris said, feeling that there was more to the story. He just wish he knew what.
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