The Unknown Soldiers

by Beth

Notes: May Challenge offered by Michelle Naylor. Do you believe in the supernatural, the unusual, the out of the ordinary things that cannot be explained? What would the boys do when faced with such a situation? Write a story where one or more of the boys are caught up with forces beyond their control. My one stipulation is that there most be some other-worldly figure, (ghost, alien, angel, etc...) there to help them along. Note: This should not be a horror story! 

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Chapter 1

After sixteen days on the trail the seven gunslingers were looking forward to a night at a saloon and a good night’s rest. They were still eight days from Four Corners and the long hours in the saddle had turned everyone’s mood sour. Even the weather seemed to submit under Larabee’s glare.

Vin and Chris had taken the lead, their horses’ shod hooves striking up dust and debris for the others to inhale. Sweat gathered around everyone’s necks, shoulders, and underarms. Josiah wiped his brow with his handkerchief and rolled his neck. He was starting to feel the length of the day in his joins. Even his horse seemed to stumble occasionally, but quickly regaining his feet. Nathan turned and watched as Buck took another long swig out of his canteen, trying to keep his throat moist. JD rode next to him, wishing the trail were wider so they wouldn’t have to be riding behind the four other horses. Noses, mouths, and eyes were full of dust, and the kid had resorted to wearing his bandana around his nose and mouth, much like Ezra did who rode behind them.

“We gotta stop for the night, Chris,” Nathan called to the front.

The leader of the band ignored him.

“Doc’s right,” Vin said, wiping his brow. “There ain’t a town for miles…it’d be best…”

“We’ll ride till dark,” Chris snapped.

Vin pulled his horse to a stop as well as the others. “There weren’t nothin’ to be done for ‘em!” he yelled.

Buck moved up beside the tracker, keeping his eyes on Chris’ back. “Let ‘im be,” he said softly, understanding Larabee’s mood better than anyone.

“Death treats us with brutality, disgrace, humiliation, and pain…and because of it, we deal with it in different ways,” Josiah said calmly, having seen death in all its forms.

“Maybe,” Vin agreed bitterly, “but we all seen what happened.”


What was supposed to have been another dusty desert valley…wasn’t. When Chris pulled his horse to a stop at the base of the rocky incline he had to look at the scene before him in bewilderment. He hadn’t seen this on his way down…hell…he’d never seen anything like this since…his time in the army. He’d ridden this trail several times, but he wasn’t in the South fighting a war, he was in the Unorganized Territory...returning to Four Corners. The once dusty plain brown desert floor was covered in lush green grass that was filled sporadically with yellow flowers. The town looked desolate and overrun with vegetation. Trees of magnificent height shaded the road that looked to have been well traveled. Wagon tracks and prints made from humans and beasts scared the ground, creating a perfect path.

“What the hell,” Buck gasped, looking at the awesome sight before him. “It reminds me of…a town I was in one time.” A smile came to his face and a feeling of peace encompassed his soul.

“Me too,” Chris whispered.

Josiah took a deep breath, sucking in as much fresh air as he could. It was almost a dream as he inhaled. “Smells like the fresh ocean air along the California coast,” he sighed.

“What is this place?” JD asked quietly, trying not to disturb the moment.

“Looks like heaven,” Nathan sighed, a smile creeping onto his lips.

“This ain’t supposed to be here,” Vin said, looking at the sight before him with the eyes of a bounty hunter, and tracker. He knew this land like the back of his hand, and despite the beauty it had to offer, something just didn’t seem…right.

“I would not believe it if it weren’t for my own eyes,” Ezra said cautiously. Like Vin, he knew something was wrong but the pull to the land was strong…stronger than anything he’d ever experienced before in his life.

“Wait, Chris,” Vin gasped, when the gunslinger motioned for his horse to take a step forward.

The warning came too late, and Chris crossed with everyone else except Ezra and Vin.

Buck turned and looked at the remaining two: “You best come along, seems to me this is the best place along this road to get a good meal, good drink, and even better women.”

The horses seemed calm as they walked across the land, even relieved when the smell of grass hit their senses. Vin shrugged and moved forward. After all, what could it hurt?

“Are you sure you want to approach this, Mr. Tanner?” Ezra asked, still standing with his mount on the edge of the majestic landscape.

“It’s the only way to Four Corners, unless we backtrack three days,” Vin sighed, watching the others, “Can’t do no harm I s’pose.”

“That’s very reassuring,” Ezra replied sarcastically, and then kicked his mount forward.


Moss hung from the buildings, like it would in a rain forest, or even the humid environment of the Deep South. A lonely rocking chair sat unattended on an abandoned porch, moving ever so gently in the slight breeze. Saloon doors swung open for no apparent reason, almost as though someone or something was entering or perhaps exiting. Old lace curtains hung out of windows that had lost their glass long ago. A water trough, looking like new, rested in front of the old saloon. Fresh water resided, almost begging the horses to have a drink.

“Think maybe we took a wrong turn?” JD asked, allowing his horse to drink.

“No,” Vin answered confidently. “I’ve rode this trail a hundred times or more, ain’t no way we took the wrong way.” Vin dismounted and tied his horse to the hitching rail.

“Town’s abandoned,” Chris said confidently, and in a softer tone than he’d been using over the last few days.  

“What about the trough?” Nathan asked, looking around the wooden structure that seemed to go against nature.

“Travelers maybe,” Chris answered, looking for a logical explanation.

Buck stepped up to the boardwalk and entered the saloon. All the tables were broken, some lying in heaps while others rested against the wall. Liquor bottles rested on the bar top and around the floor, some broken…others not. The painting behind the bar had been covered in mildew, allowing only a few sections of the surface to be exposed. The shelves behind the counter had been overgrown in mold, even reaching up past the still full bottles of Red-Eye.

“Must have been somthin’ in its heyday,” Josiah said, blocking the entrance with his size.

“Somethin’ must ‘ave happened here,” Buck replied solemnly.

“Perhaps,” the big man responded, “or perhaps we’ve all died and just don’t know it yet.”

“That ain’t funny, Preacher!” JD snapped, moving in beside his best friend.

“Just a thought, Brother Dunne, just a thought.”

“Ain’t been nobody here for some time,” Vin said, following Chris into the saloon. “Except maybe folks usin’ the road and water trough. Looks like stages and wagons mostly…last one was a few days ago.”

“I say we get the hell outta Dodge,” Buck said, feeling a chill run up his spine.

“Where’s Ezra?” Chris asked, looking around the room at the others.


Ezra stopped when he saw the old run down cabin that was overgrown with moss. He watched the rocker move back and forth, mesmerized by its movements. His horse didn’t seem to understand his rider’s hesitance to move forward and the big chestnut tossed his head in aggravation, wanting more than anything to join his stable mates. Ezra kept a tight rein, never loosing sight of the rocker.

There wasn’t anyone sitting there, forcing the chair to move, and the wind was so subtle it couldn’t possibly be forcing it to rock. The window above the chair was gone, but inside the building it looked black…as though nothing was there. Ezra paused a moment, realizing there wasn’t any sounds that normally accompany an area such as this. No frogs were croaking, despite the slow decent of the sun. There didn’t seem to be a bird around, and even the trees lacked the subtle movements that normally accompanied such creatures.


Vin and Chris stepped out onto the boardwalk and looked up the street, surprised to see the Southerner immobile and staring at the last cabin on the road. The horses suddenly jolted to attention, their ears perked forward. JD’s smaller bay jumped back, pulling forcefully on his reins. The hitching post gave way after only a few pulls and JD’s, Nathan and Buck’s horses were rushing down the road, all still attached to the hitching rail.

“Don’t chase ‘em, JD!” Chris yelled, stopping the kid in his tracks. “You’ll scare ‘em more,” he sighed watching them run. “They’ll come back.”

Ezra’s gelding snorted and started moving impatiently beneath his rider. When the sound of an echoing laugh filled the air the horse jumped sideways, fighting the reins and steel bit. Ezra looked up in time to see Chris fighting his own mount while grounded. The big black reared up and struck the gunslinger on the side of the head, causing him to fall backwards, grasping his forehead. Ezra pulled his horse’s right rein tight as the animal jumped toward the cabin, but his efforts proved futile when the team crashed into the awning and porch railings. The gambler’s right leg was caught beneath the weight of his horse but soon released when the animal regained his footing and fled the scene.

Vin, JD, and Nathan rushed for Chris who was dazed and bleeding profusely from his wound. Nathan jumped into action as well, after chastising himself for not having removed his saddlebags before his horse had run from the area. Josiah and Buck ran toward Ezra who was trying to move away from the cabin he’d fallen into.

Josiah reached under the Southerner’s arms and gently pulled him to his feet, careful of his injured leg. “Ezra!” he yelled, trying to get his attention. “Calm down!”

“There is somethin’ unnatural occurring here, Mistah Sanchez,” Ezra replied, his accent becoming heavy. “And ‘d prefer to abscond from this vicinity immediately.”

“Horses just spooked, Ezra,” Buck said, slipping under the gambler’s left arm and shoulder while Josiah did the same on his right. “An’ you know horses…one spooks they all spook.” He laughed, trying to lighten the moment. 

Ezra laughed and nodded his head in agreement, but his voice relayed his sarcasm, “Sure, horses spooked because…well obviously a raccoon scampered out from under a porch…”

“Scampered?” Buck mouthed, looking at Josiah.

“Or perhaps it was wolf…something of that nature…because obviously I didn’t see one!” he snapped, wrenching his face in pain when his leg connected with Josiah’s. “

Everyone stopped again when the same distant laughter filled the air, raining down on them like a heavy cloak. The sky turned black in the blink of an eye, and within seconds rain poured down in buckets. Vin and Nathan quickly got Chris to his feet and drug him into the saloon, not wanting to complicate their situation with someone getting sick. Josiah reached down without warning and picked the Southerner up as though he was a child and with Buck on their heels they rushed for protection.

“JD!” Nathan called, trying to stench the flow of blood from Larabee’s scalp. “Try and find some dry wood and get a fire goin’. Vin you and Buck start lookin’ for some blankets…somethin’ we can wrap up in.”

Chris blinked and tried to force his eyes wide open, trying to clear his vision. Everything seemed to move in slow motion.

“How many fingers?” Nathan asked, placing one hand in front of the gunslinger.

“Six?” Chris answered, knowing he was wrong but honestly seeing six fingers.

“Wrong,” Nathan commented, wishing he had his herbs and bandages. What he would give for some thread and a sewing needle. He grabbed Chris’ chin and forced the blonde to look at him. “I don’t want you tryin’ to get up by yourself,” he warned, “you done hit your head.” Nathan’s eyes were large as he informed his patient of his conditions.

Josiah propped Ezra up against the wall next to the wood stove. “How’re you doin’?” he asked quietly, taking a closer look at the scaring injury that ran from above the gambler’s boot, over his knee, and stopping just below his thigh.

“Unwell,” Ezra responded, not caring about his destroyed pants, or the blood that eased over his leg. He just wanted to leave the area…immediately. “I believe we should vacate the premises,” he said, the fearful expression in his eyes wasn’t lost on Josiah.

“Not until the rain slows,” the big man tried to sound confident. He smiled and ripped Ezra’s pants, exposing the wound more fully. “I didn’t think you believed in such things?”

“Hey guys!” JD called, bounding into the room with an armload of wood. “Look at this,” he sighed, resting the freshly cut logs onto the floor next to the stove. “There’s a whole room in back filled with this.”

“Did you cut it?” Josiah asked, looking carefully at the wood.

“No, it was already done,” JD smiled, starting the fire.

Ezra laughed and then stopped suddenly. “I’m leaving,” he snapped, and then tried to get to his feet.

Josiah reached out and stopped the Southerner from hurting himself more. He turned when he saw Buck and Vin enter the room with their arms full of new blankets and a large box. 

“Found these in an old trunk upstairs,” Buck said, handing Nathan the box. “That’s full of doctor supplies.”

Ezra locked eyes with Josiah and struggled to get to his feet. This was all just a little too coincidental for his liking.

“Keep your seat, son,” the former preacher said firmly, placing his strong hand on the Southerner’s shoulder.

Nathan opened the box to reveal a pocket case of medical instruments. He smiled; everything he needed was lying in this case. Even suturing needles and silk thread lined the carefully created pocket. He removed the container to find a stack of fresh bandages beneath. Nothing looked to have been used.

“Start boilin’ some water,” Nathan ordered, pulling the handkerchief from the gash on Chris’ forehead.

JD moved behind the bar and grabbed an iron pot that was hidden beneath the counter. He left momentarily only to return with the pot full of water. Buck stoked the fire, trying to create enough warmth to dry everyone’s clothing and to keep them warm through the night. He could still hear the downpour outside and knew that they wouldn’t leave until the weather let up.

“Get Ezra out of that jacket of his,” Nathan said, stitching Chris’ wound shut, “an’ make sure he stays warm. The rest of you get out of your wet jackets as well.

Josiah reached forward and helped the gambler out of his coat. He then grabbed a blanket and forced it behind Ezra’s shoulders.

“I really believe this to be unnecessary, Mistah Sanchez. We should be out lookin’ for our departed mounts…”

“Shut up, Ezra,” Josiah gasped, “we’re not goin’ anywhere yet.” He patted the gambler’s shoulder and stood up.

Nathan finished wrapping Chris’ head with a bandage. “Vin,” he said softly, “stay with ‘im. I don’t want ‘im tryin’ to get up. That horse of his struck ‘im pretty good an’ I don’t want any surprises.” Nathan stood up and collected the medical supplies. He then headed for Ezra.

“What do you think is goin’ on here?” Buck asked, poking the fire.

“What do you mean, Brother?” Josiah asked, looking for a bottle of whiskey.

“Anybody home, Josiah?” Buck gasped, raising his arms in an outward fashion. “A swamp in the middle of a desert, clean water for the horses, bandages when we need them, not to mention the medical supplies, and what about the firewood and blankets?”

“Maybe travelers keep the place up…”

“Maybe you’re full of shit,” Buck sighed, sitting in a chair next to the fire.

“What about that sound?” JD asked softly.

“What sound?” Vin questioned.

JD walked closer to the saloon batwing doors and looked out. “It sounds like an old woman laughing…only it’s far away.”

“I hear it as well,” Ezra responded, not wanting the kid to feel as though he were the only one.

“Y’all think we died or somethin’ an’ this is Purgatory?” JD asked, needing to feel something real. Perhaps Josiah’s theory wasn’t all that bad.

“Josiah!” Buck snapped, “You need to lay off the Bible talk.”

“JD and Buck are right,” Chris said, having listened to everyone’s opinions and concerns. He stayed seated and pulled the blanket tighter over his shoulders to warm himself. His vision was clearing, slowly, but enough to give him a better perspective of the room. “The horses?” he asked.

“Rain’s still comin’ down…don’t figure they’ll be back before mornin’,” Vin said, handing Chris a hot cup of coffee.

“Everyone else all right?” he asked, looking up.

“Ezra’s banged up his leg pretty good, an’ he won’t be runnin’ anywhere soon,” Nathan replied, dousing a bandage with some alcohol that Josiah had found.

The gambler hissed in pain when the healer placed the drenched cloth on the long gash over Ezra’s knee. “That was not kind, Mistah Jackson…not kind!” He dug his fingers into the wool blanket causing his knuckles to turn white.

“Drink some of this,” Josiah said, handing him a bottle of whiskey, “It’ll help take the edge off.”

“Won’t do ‘im much good after the fact,” Nathan muttered, more concerned with injuries than the strange occurrences in town.

Ezra sent the healer a scowl and took another drink from the bottle. He watched and cringed with each dab, pull, and wrap of his leg. Thankfully he didn’t need any stitching, but the swelling around his knee let him know that he wouldn’t be walking without a limp for a while.

Nathan reached around and grabbed an extra blanket and then placed it under the Southerner’s knee. “Don’t go movin’ around,” he ordered, “you need to let that leg rest some.” He patted Ezra’s calf after removing his boot and then stood up.

“Found some unmarked cans in the back,” Josiah said, placing the items on the counter.

Vin stood up and pulled his knife from his boot. “Use this,” he said, handing the weapon to the big man.

Ezra shook his head. All they needed now would be a woman to come and let them know their rooms were ready for the night. He looked up toward the stairs…hoping someone hadn’t read his mind. He reached into his vest pocket and retrieved his playing cards and quickly started shuffling.

JD grabbed his handkerchief and dabbed it in the water. He rinsed out what he didn’t need and then moved toward the old painting on the wall.        

“What’cha doin’, kid?” Buck asked, stirring the pot full of beans that Vin and Josiah had opened.

JD didn’t answer. He pushed a few empty bottles out of the way and then crawled up onto the counter top. He paused a moment, feeling as though he were uncovering something of honor, and prestige. He dabbed the panting, hearing the soft cotton of his handkerchief run across the rough canvas. At first he didn’t think there was anything on the canvas, after exposing only a long strip of gray mist and the subtle indication of trees. He wiped again, and the eyes of man came into view, his long graying hair blowing away from his face, and a white bandage covered a portion of his head…JD paused and looked at Chris.

“What?” the tall gunslinger asked.

JD didn’t answer and turned his attention back to the painting. He wiped the canvas again and caught sight of the man’s gray uniform, but his attention was drawn on the dying soldier within his grasp…and the blue uniform he wore. “Guys,” JD said softly.

“Don’t you go fallin’ from there,” Nathan warned, tossing another blanket over Ezra.

JD moved away from the painting after having cleaned it as best he could. The message was clear…and haunting.

“Recognition,” Ezra said, tilting his chin toward the painting. “It was done by Constant Mayer in 1865,” he continued.

“Who were they?” JD asked.

“Does it matter?” Vin questioned, reading the remorse in the artwork without the use of words.

“No,” the kid sighed, “I guess not.”


The stove seemed to glow as the fire continued to burn with the intensity unknown to man. The wood cracked and broke apart as sparks searched out their freedom through the exhaust pipe. Vin continued to whittle on a small piece of wood that he’d picked up after Chris and Ezra had gone to sleep. Josiah watched the flames, learning from their motions and vengeful hold they took on the pale wood they consumed.

“Who would do that to those kids?” JD asked, keeping his eyes on the painting above the bar, but speaking of something entirely different.

Vin shrugged, he didn’t have an answer. As a bounty hunter, and a man who’d hunted buffalo for nothing more than the hides on their back, he knew first hand what injustice was. He understood how a situation could turn ugly within the blink of an eye, but he also knew about remorse, pain, and guilt so heavy he felt as though he were drowning at times.

“Some kind of a monster, kid,” Buck surmised, “a man with no…soul.”

“Think we’ll find ‘im?” JD asked, looking to his best friend for the answer he didn’t have.

“If ol’ Chris has anythin’ to say about it,” the ladies man replied with a hopeful smile, “we’ll catch ‘im, and he’ll get what’s comin’ to him.”

“We’re the only beings on God’s green earth that murder…take a life for no purpose other than the thrill of killing,” Josiah said softly, looking at his friends and brothers.

Vin nodded in sad agreement. “Maybe that’s what we’re doin’ here,” he said softly, looking around the room. “Tryin’ to make up for all the bad we done.”

“Hell, Vin,” Buck gasped shaking his head. “What’ve you done that’s so damn bad?”

The tracker leaned back and looked at the fire. “I always claimed to be friendly with the Indians,” he said, clearing his throat to continue, “but what’d I do when I’s killin’ all those buffalo for nothin’ but the price of their hides. It was good money takin’ in wagons full of robes, an’ a lot of folks used those hides for good…” he paused, “but all that meat was left spoilin’…meat that could ‘ave fed a lot of Indian children.”

“You were only tryin’ to save yourself, Vin,” JD argued.

“Is one white man worth the lives of a tribe,” he said, shaking his head, “I don’t think so.”

Nathan and Josiah watched as Vin went back to carving on his stick. It was hard to believe someone so young could feel the guilt of a man three times his age.

“When I was a boy,” JD started, ignoring Buck’s grin, “I blamed my momma for not bein’ woman enough to get her a husband…or me a daddy.” His voice got soft, and he bowed his head in shame. “I know I didn’t kill her or make her bleed none, but…I think I hurt her in a way I ain’t never goin’ to understand.”

“How old were you?” Nathan asked softly.

“Eight or so.”

“You were just a kid, JD. Your momma ain’t goin’ to blame you for bein’ young and foolish,” Buck tried to argue, but knowing in his heart that the kid’s pain was just as real as any open wound.

“Didn’t make it hurt any less,” the kid responded. “My momma was a good woman who worked hard her whole life makin’ sure I didn’t go a day without food and made sure I had good shoes for winters. I didn’t have no right speakin’ that way to her.”

“No,” Josiah agreed, “You didn’t have a right.” He smiled and looked in earnest at JD. “But if your momma’s half the woman you make her out to be, she knew you didn’t mean what you said.”

“Hope you’re right, preacher,” JD replied, leaning back against his bedroll.

“What about you, Buck?” Nathan asked, “What do you regret?”

“Hell, Nathan,” he sighed, “It’d take weeks for me to get through everythin’.” He chuckled and stopped suddenly. “I regret makin’ Chris stay that extra day in Mexico. Trustin’ those two bounty hunters with JD because they were women.” He lay back and ran his fingers through his hair. “I regret not knowin’ what it’s like to live with one woman, or knowin’ the difference between love and lust. But most of all…” he sighed, unsure of how to continue, “I regret bein’ like so many of the men my momma dealt with everyday of her life.”

“You’re wrong about that, Buck,” Chris said, sitting up, placing a hand on his head. “You ain’t like those men.”

“Yeah,” Buck disagreed, “I am…like them…I don’t have the balls to commit to just one woman.”

“You will, Brother,” Josiah replied with a confident smile, “and the one who captures your heart will never let you forget it.”

“Okay, Nathan,” Buck sighed, “It’s your turn.”

The healer paused a moment, looking up from the instruments he was cleaning. “When I ran from the plantation my family’d been enslaved on, I never looked back. I hid in trees, under bushes, in ponds, and hell…even in the carcass of dead elk.” He sighed, running his hand over his face. “The whole time I was runnin’ to be free all’s I could think about was my family because I’d willingly left them behind.”

Buck lowered his head. Vin paused in his whittling while JD looked from the painting on the wall to the man sitting beside the fallen gambler.

“It ain’t the act of runnin’ that caused me so much pain,” Nathan said honestly, feeling the loss of his father, “it’s the not knowin’ to what happened to my sisters that eats at my soul everyday.” He shook his head and continued cleaning the medical instruments. “I’ve tried lookin’ for ‘em, but for some reason…I think it’s better if I don’t.”      

“To truly know each other, we must first know ourselves,” Josiah said softly, looking at his friends. “When I was twenty-four I killed a man with my bare hands because I didn’t know my own strength. He was a father, a husband, and a brother.”

“Why?” JD asked, looking at the former preacher in a new light.

“I’d gotten drunk and he’d tried to help me out of the saloon…” he paused, “I thought he was trying to rob me.” Josiah shook his head and looked up toward the painting. “Guilt can be a great motivator, or a seeker of destruction.”

Buck turned his eyes to Chris, knowing what the gunslingers regret would be. All of them knew.

Chris shook his head and looked at his longest friend. “I didn’t tell Sarah that I knew about the baby she was carryin’ when we left for Mexico.” His jaw clenched, as an old pain resurfaced. “I didn’t want to tell her that I thought it was too soon…that we should wait.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled regretfully. “I was wrong.”

The room went quiet except for the cracking of the burning logs. The orange flames flickered off the walls illuminating the subtle shifting of legs and arms. The echo of an old woman laughing was gone, and could no longer be heard. Even the rain had let up, and only a soft breeze flew past the buildings.

Buck watched his friend, knowing only a little of what he was feeling. A lot had happened between them over the years. They could fight like brothers, drink beer like best friends, and chew the fat like old timers drinking over a cup of coffee. Sarah had done more than just create a father and a husband in Chris, she created a man with honor, dignity, and most of all spirit. The others saw that…but Buck had lived it.

“It wouldn’t have mattered what you thought and you know it,” Buck said, directing his statement to his friend. He chuckled: “She’d a known what you were thinkin’ long before you said it.”

Chris laughed for the first time in days. “She did,” he admitted softly. “What about you, Ezra?” he asked, knowing the gambler was awake. “What do you regret?”

Ezra sat up and rested himself against the wall. He could see the faces of the others glowing under the firelight. For a building that didn’t have any windows and only batwing doors, it was amazingly warm. Though he longed for his feather bed, he wasn’t uncomfortable. Even his knee didn’t seem to bother him.

Ezra chuckled; there were so many things he regretted in his life. The influence of his mother had caused him to become callus over the years, taking people’s money when they thought he was going to invest it in a legitimate business. Was there one thing that stood out in his mind that he regretted more so than anything else?

He took a deep breath and crossed his arms over his left knee. “I regret running out on the only people I’ve ever known and thought of as friends.” His statement was simple and to the point, but there was much more there than just an admission.

“Never had friends before, Ezra?” Buck questioned, looking to where the gambler sat.

“No, Buck,” the Southerner admitted, “I have not had the…pleasure.” He smiled stiffly, feeling as though he was under scrutiny.

Nathan reached out and patted Ezra’s leg in a gesture of friendship, and understanding.

“I think,” Josiah started, looking around at his brothers, “that forgiving ourselves is half the battle.”

“Amen, Preacher,” Vin replied, looking up with a warm smile.

Chapter 2

Chris stood up slowly after waking from a restful night. He joined Josiah at the batwing doors and looked out over the town.

“I don’t think were alone here,” Josiah said, motioning toward their horses.

All seven animals stood content tied with halters to the hitching rails. All of their bridles had been removed and were now secured to the horns of each saddle. JD’s little bay continued to munch on the tiny remnants of his early morning breakfast.

Chris smiled, looking at the horses. “No, I don’t think we are,” he agreed.

Vin stepped up onto the boardwalk and smiled when he saw Chris standing next to Josiah. “Found this in the stable.” He handed the gunslinger a Confederate gray kepi. “It’s old, but not unused.”

Chris smiled while looking the all too familiar item in his hands. “You boys ready to ride?” he asked, looking up.

“Anytime, Pard…anytime,” Vin replied, stepping through the doors to help the others get ready to go.


Ezra paused in the doorway, watching his friends mount their horses. He turned toward the table near the back of the saloon that held two half cups of cold coffee. They hadn’t been there when he woke, nor had anyone made any coffee. He smiled and bowed his head. “Thank you,” he muttered softly, before leaving the saloon.

The batwing doors swung momentarily before coming to a complete stop. Ezra mounted up, leaving his right foot out of the stirrup. The horses moved forward as though they were of one mind. Hooves stomped on the muddied ground causing the thick black substance to splatter. Teeth grinded against steel bits, and saddle leather squeaked after a long night in the rein.

The seven lawmen were going home.

The saloon doors opened and maintained their position, though nobody was there.

“Look!” JD shouted toward the old worn-out sign that was barely hanging onto its hinges.

Black paint chipped off in spots, while the wood splintered unmercifully. The words, however, were clear. Come again to Recognition.

The End!

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