Lying naked on his bed, Chris Larabee stared long and hard at the ceiling. It was a non-threatening ceiling, but he had the urge to shoot holes in it anyway.
Stay out of this, cowboy. This ain't your fight. Lucas James' words swam painfully through his whiskey-soaked brain, leaving a burning brand in their wake. Cowboy, cowboy, cowboy... Vin had called him a cowboy too, but Vin was one of the good guys-- James was not. Chris resolved to shoot Lucas, just as soon as he woke up tomorrow.
Sleep overcame the weary gunman--or perhaps he passed outóbut either way, the dream was unleashed.Chris'd been trailing the herd for an eternity, or so it seemed. Whatever color his clothes had been at the start, they were dust colored now. He didn't think they'd been black--not in this hellish dream.The stink of cattle lodged itself high up in his nostrils, becoming permanently imbedded, and marking him for what he was--a cowboy. His legs were bowed, his smile ready, and he chewed tobacco as if the dream depended on it.Chris urged his cowpony toward a lagging steer. "Get along, little doggie.'Somewhere in his mind, a scream could be heard. Somewhere outside his mind, too.
Vin Tanner heard his new friend's cry and sped from his room to stand at Chris' door, only to find Buck blocking the way.
"Trust me, Vin. Chris is OK." Buck eyed Vin with amusement, the tracker had an aversion to clothes at times. Times like now. Only Vin's obvious concern for Chris kept Buck from bringing up his nudity.
"It sounds like..."
"I know what it sounds like, but he'll be all right. Ya see, he's got this little problem with the C word." Buck seemed to think that this was sufficient explanation. Vin was unsure.Six eternities and a lifetime later, the herd was stopped for the night. Outside of the dreamscape, Chris' sweat-soaked, naked body writhed in horror at what would soon transpire. A whimper escaped his lips. "No. Please, no!"The Dream Chris had tended his horse and spread his bedroll. The smells from the chuck wagon made his stomach growl as he stood in line to get his grub. Cookie had made a stew, and Chris ate with relish, washing it down with coffee. Offered a turn at the whiskey bottle, he turned it down.Still caught in the tow of his dream, Chris fumbled for his Colt. He had taken to hiding his guns out of reach whenever he was called a cowboy. Attempts on his life were routine with this dream--his own attempts, that is. Lacking a bullet to end his misery, the dreaming man writhed on.
"The C word? Which C word we talkin' 'bout here?"
Buck Wilmington stared with mock exasperation. "The C word--C as in cowboy."
"Ya mean he really does hate bein' called that?" Vin thought he could hear sobs from beyond the door.
"Yes sir. Triggers his nightmare." Buck opened his hand, showing Vin the former contents of Chris' revolver. "He hides his gun away, but I wanted to make sure. He always tries to shoot himself. Hell," Buck grinned, "the first time he had the dream, he shot me!" He chuckled. "Chris is a lousy shot when he's asleep..."
Vin stared at Buck's hand in horrified disbelief. "SIX?"
""Yeah, well...even sober and awake, Chris has suicidal tendencies." Buck grimaced. It wasn't so bad that Chris loaded six rounds into his Colt, but now J.D. was following his potentially fatal example. It was a mad world.Dinner had finished, the jokes had been told, and now the dream entered its final, excruciatingly painful, nearly fatal, phase."Hey Larabee--whatcha waitin' on?" The Trail Boss irritably inquired."Sure thing, boss-man." Dream Chris wore a wide grin as he fetched his guitar from a wagon and broke into song--Red River Valley.Finally able to break loose of his nightmare, Chris Larabee bolted upright in his bed and screamed. Loud.
Outside in the hall, Buck and Vin exchanged knowing looks. In Vin's case, the knowledge was a tad fresh, but it didn't affect the quality of the look.
"Damn. Glad that's over." Vin turned to go back to bed, just now realizing his state of undress. Buck, at least, wore longjohns.
"Not yet." Buck cocked his head to one side, listening.
The two men heard crashing sounds, a stream of profanity, and a sudden ominous silence. With a hinge-threatening violence, the door flew open. Red-eyed and miserable, Chris stared at his friends. "Saloon." He strode past them, fastening the last undone button of his shirt.
Buck grinned. "Now it's over. Free drinks! Chris always buys afterward..."
Affecting a disgusted look, Vin mulled over the situation. "Hell," he grinned, "sounds all right to me. Just got to get some clothes on first."
Buck watched as his new friend turned away, and listened as his old friend's spurs jangled their way out of the boarding house. Life was good, he reflected. Chris was still alive. J.D. hadn't shot himself, yet. The bathhouse hadn't raised rates. Blossom's husband's timing was still just a tad off... What more could a man ask for?
Joined by a newly clad Vin and, after a gentle reminder, donning his own outer garments, Buck made his way out of the boarding house and on into the saloon. Swinging the doors wide with a brilliant grin, Buck heard a drunken cowhand challenging Chris at the bar.
"You got a problem, cowboy?"