Don't Know From Adam
Whispers. Constant, droning whispers so persistent that his loudest screams hadnt been able to drown them out. Why wouldnt they stop? Why were they badgering him? All he wanted was to sleep. Just to find a corner of his world that wasnt filthy and wet and so damned full of those incessant whispers.
Chris Larabee sat huddled in a corner of literally the most miserable hole he had ever known. It was an underground prison cell that he had been confined to again and again for his defiance of the local prison authority. The warden of the prison outside of Jericho had seen fit to try and break his most unruly inmate, number 78. His best efforts of confinement, starvation, humiliation and physical abuse had done little to sway the conduct of his latest prisoner however. That is, until he had introduced a whole new style of punishment; one that was growing more and more successful in curbing the willful prisoners disobedience.
The warden looked down at Inmate 78 and smiled slightly at the obvious hell that filled the prisons "hole." "You wont be so insolent next time," he smirked. "Then again, after enduring your current sentence, you may not see a next time. Other than the example I could use you to set, theres really not much reason to keep you around. Oh, but there is the entertainment value." He raised his sight a bit. "God only knows theres little enough of that around here."
The warden rankled when he noticed that what he was saying was lost on the man below. He turned sharply and irately signaled for his men to drag up their newest, somewhat semi-conscious recruit. The man that hung limply between two guards raised his head when he was roughly brought towards the edge of the underground pen. His eyes tried to open in the late afternoon sun, but the glare was too much for them.
The neatly dressed man in charge of the prison looked at his newest prisoner in disgust. "You honestly thought you could fool me." He shook his head in mock disappointment. "Damn fool. I hope he was worth it."
The warden looked back down at the blond man in the pit. "78! We have a little company for you. Perhaps your brother here will fare better than you have." He looked over at the man hanging beside him and laughed. "But I doubt it."
The heavyset man ordered the cage top to be raised and jerked his hand towards the opening in the ground. "Throw him in. He can watch out for his kin until the next time we execute the prisoners sentence."
The guards reached down, took hold of the dazed mans upper arms and lower legs, and unceremoniously tossed him into the darkness. There was a dull thud and the sound of air being knocked from unprepared lungs before the henchmen turned to follow their taskmaster away. The metal grating was slammed shut over the prison cell below and its occupants were abandoned to the misery it was designed to create.
+ + + + + + +
Chris tried to focus on anything other than the whispers that continued to call out to him. He backed further into his corner and put his hands over his ears. He rocked slowly and began to mumble to himself, "Go away Go away I dont want to hear you. Damn it, just go away "
There was just no reprieve. The hushed voices actually seemed to be inside his head. Larabee turned his head slightly and caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. He brought his body around to face the motion, but he couldnt exactly locate what his eye caught tail of. Then he heard a single voice that seemed to stand out from the others. It was a male voice, young and soft-spoken. Chris tried to make out the words, but there was such a rush in his mind he couldnt hear properly.
Ever so slowly, Chris tried to stand on his feet. There was something in this abyss with him and he had to find it in order to protect himself. He peered through the shadows without leaving the corner wall he leaned against. He had to blink a couple of times before a blurred image began to coalesce a couple of feet in front of him. His sight took in a young man with blond hair and brilliant blue eyes, but his mind couldnt attach the bright young face to a name. The boy was truly beautiful, with an open face that exuded innocence. Chris felt he knew this youth, very well in fact, but he simply couldnt force a connection in his brain.
The unsettled prisoner reached a hand out towards the image. "Who?" He pulled away from the support of the pits stone wall and leaned forward. "I know you." His words came out in a gravelly voice. "You dont belong h-here. You shouldnt be here Get away "
The boy graced Chris with the sweetest of smiles. His bright blue eyes shined with such trust and affection that even though the trembling man was confused and disoriented, he knew full well that such goodness was completely out of place in this hell. The hand that reached for the boy hesitated before dirty fingers came to rest on the smooth skin of his cheek. A smile played around the edges of Chris mouth when he felt a familiar tug at his heart, and the next few seconds brought a name to his mind and lips. "Adam."
Chris stood up straight and looked down at the young man. He began to drown in the blue eyes that trapped his gaze. He couldnt tear himself away from the blue the blue
A shudder ran through Chris. A cold dread overcame him as a mind-numbing change began to take place. The blue began to distort, transform and fade as it slowly melted into green. The boy vanished in a transparent blur and another face looked up at him. A face that was full of concern, that was coated with dirt and mottled with bruises; a face that held green eyes.
Larabee felt reality slip away. What the hell was he doing? Of course there wouldnt be anyone in this place of misery with him, certainly not a young boy. He felt his balance slipping as well and he swayed forward. When he didnt hit the ground, he remembered that the eyes hadnt disappeared -- they had just changed color. Someone was still here with him. Hands came up under his arms and shoulders leaned into him. Somewhere in the distance a voice was again calling to him. This time however, the sound wasnt a whisper. The whispers were gone. At last, he sighed to himself, theyre gone. The relief was so overwhelming that Chris gave in to the welcome blackness and followed the whispers away.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was rudely brought back to consciousness by an abrupt meeting with a stone floor. The air was forced from his lungs on impact, and the slamming of his torso and limbs to the ground blew the cozy oblivion he had known moments before away.
Aww, hell, what have I gotten myself into this time? Became his first complete thought.
His second thought was interrupted when he raised his aching head and heard the sound of heavy breathing to his right. Uh-oh.
"Whos there?" he asked, not really wanting to know.
No answer came forth.
"Pardon my sudden entrance." He managed to situate himself in an awkward sitting position. "I assure you it was not -ouch- intentional."
Ezra tried to adjust his eyes to the gradation of light in the pit. Where he lay was dimly lit by the few sun rays that managed to make their way through the metal bars overhead. The remainder of the cell fell away into darkness. He first rubbed the back of his head then scraped at his brow before he continued. "In fact, I would be quite overjoyed to take my leave providing someone was willing to offer a leg up." He looked overhead and noticed the metal grating that capped off his escape. "Well, perhaps not."
The breathing continued to come from the darkness, but Ezra couldnt help but notice that it had taken on a very irregular rhythm. Someone was indeed with him, but whoever it was didnt sound as if they could do him harm at least, not at the moment. The Southerner went from his seat to his knees, all the while keeping an eye on the dark corner. Gradually, his eyes adjusted to the light and a form became visible; a man in tattered prison clothing as best he could make out.
"My pardon, sir, but are you able to speak?" Ezra asked as he knelt on one knee.
Again, there was no answer.
Ezra looked around and took in the stone walls and floor. The pit he had been thrown into was empty, save himself and the heavy breather. It was somewhat cooler in the hole than it was up top. Actually, it was getting downright chilly and the dampness did nothing to help stave off the discomfort.
The gambler rubbed his arms with his hands and leaned into a bent over position in an effort to raise himself to his feet. Moving his hands to rub his back, he straightened up until he stood erect. When he had accomplished that small feat, he decided it was probably time to assess his situation.
How had he gotten here? He remembered drinking with the deputy at the saloon in Jericho, and he recalled Sheriff Quince coming in requesting he follow him to the prison. He had been brought inside the prison fence and escorted directly to the wardens office. Just as he was being introduced as Chris brother from Four Corners, someone else entered the room a guard. There was a brief conversation between the guard and the warden then all eyes were on Ezra. That was the last moment he could clearly bring to mind.
The figure in the dark corner made a motion to stand and drew Ezra back to the situation at hand. He started to move away from the stranger, but stood his ground when he heard an all too familiar groan. How many times had he heard that sound before -- either as the result of injury or simply too much drink?
A hand came up towards him. Ezra didnt move. He looked down at the hand as it entered the small path of sunlight that lit the part of the cell he occupied. The hand was coated in filth and its fingernails were rimmed in dried blood. The hand trembled as it neared his face. Still he didnt move.
It nearly scared Ezra out of his skin when another voice finally did join in the one-sided conversation. It was difficult to make out the words, but the voice most definitely belonged to the missing lawman.
When an arm and then a shoulder came into the pale light, Ezra couldnt repress the joy he felt at having found the Sevens leader. He smiled at Chris, his gold tooth shining even in the dim light of the hole. "Mr. Larabee, you are truly a sight for " The grin fell from Ezras countenance when Chris face floated into the meager light. "Oh, dear Lord. Chris? What have they done?"
Huge blue and purple bruises marred Chris features. There were also contusions and wide-open cuts on his head, face and neck, and he had a short beard that was caked in dirt and blood. Overall, it looked as if his face had been used as a battering ram of sorts. It was so swollen in spots that it looked contorted. What really stopped Ezra in his tracks however was the look in Chris eyes; they were haunted, tormented. The suffering in those eyes far exceeded anything the gambler had ever seen before. The gunslinger had always borne more than his share of demons, but there was something different in the way he looked at Ezra now, something that frightened the smaller man.
The heavy breathing quickened as Chris leaned towards Ezra. He muttered mostly unintelligible sounds until Ezra was able to make out a single word. Adam. Before he could react, the gambler felt a hand on his face. Oh, this cannot be good, Standish thought as he reached for the battered gunslinger.
Ezra felt Larabee straighten a bit, standing taller. He gazed up at the face looking down on him and tried to make out the dance of emotions that played there. At first, he thought he detected a tiny bit of joy. The lines around Chris eyes softened and his lips quivered into a nervous smile. Then, in an instant, the peaceful face erupted into one of disbelief and fear. He felt a shudder in the man beneath his hands and the weight of his body rocking towards him. The shorter man accepted the burden of his friends body when he realized that oblivion had replaced Chris confusion.
The two men sank to the cold ground in a heap. Chris weight was more than Ezra had expected, but he did manage to pull him back into the corner the gunfighter had previously occupied. When he felt the shaking in Larabee increase, he positioned himself between the stone wall and the unconscious man. Removing the dark jacket he still wore, Ezra pulled Chris back onto his chest and covered him with the fine fabric. The chill in the pit had turned to cold, but at least this way he could create a small amount of warmth.
"Mr. Larabee, you and I seem to share this ability to find trouble," he said softly.
Chris mumbling stopped and he began to moan softly. Ezra wrapped his arms around his leaders waist and pulled him closer, too tired to be embarrassed by their cozy closeness. When Ezras hand brushed across a soggy bandage on his companions side, Chris jerked unexpectedly in pain. There was just about no light remaining in the pit, so moving to check what was wrong was useless. Instead, he re-settled Chris against him and used his fingers to pull the loose bandage up. Probing the area with his fingertips, he made out the familiar feel of stitches. He also detected moisture around the wound. Whether it was blood or infection, Ezra wasnt sure, but since there was little he could do about it, he recovered the injury and rested his hand on the restless mans arm. It took a moment, but Larabee began to settle in the warmth provided by the Southerner.
"I am so very glad that you are not awake at present, Mr. Larabee," Ezra snickered. "I do believe you would object most strenuously if you could see us, and fighting me right now would do you little good. Its best if you just stay asleep."
Chris twitched in Ezras arms several times over the next couple of hours, but he never spoke or opened his eyes. The gamblers backside and shoulders were beginning to ache, but every time he tried to move, Chris protested with a groan.
"Well," Ezra gave in, "at least were staying warmer."
A yawn filled his lungs with the moist air of the hole they lay in. "Im not exactly sure whats been happening to you, Chris, but know that I will do everything I can to get you out of here." Oh yes, you are certainly in a position to do that now, arent you.
Ezra drew Chris closer again and rested his head back against the prison wall. I will get you out, was his last thought as he joined his fellow lawman in a fitful slumber.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Buck arrived in Jasper Creek with little enough trouble from their prisoner, Ben Reynolds. The young man they had returned to the local sheriff was wanted for bank robbery and attempted murder, but Buck had a hard time believing the boy was capable of much more than playing hooky from school. Still, you never knew what went on in a mans mind. The two lawmen from Four Corners shut the door behind them as they left the jailhouse.
Buck spread his arms and stretched his muscles. "You know, he just dont seem like a badun to me."
Vin stood beside the tall man on the sidewalk in silence.
"Vin? Ya hear me?"
Thoughtful eyes looked up at Buck. "What?"
"That kid in there. He just dont seem like he coulda done what hes been accused of."
"Guess not," Vin answered after a couple of seconds.
Buck put a hand on his friends shoulder. "You still ponderin on Chris?"
"Yeah. It just dont feel right, him bein gone so long."
"Look, Vin, like I told Mary back at the saloon, hes a big boy. He just needed some space, thats all. I bet hes back home already," Buck said only half-heartedly. "Besides that, JD and Ezra are watchin things. And Nathan and Josiah should be back from the Indian village any time. If Chris aint back by the time we are, well ride out and find him."
"His being gone is different this time, Buck. I cant hardly explain it." Vin rubbed at the back of his neck.
"I tell you what, were both so tired we can barely stand. Why dont we take the horses down to the livery and then check into that hotel over yonder." Buck pointed across the street. "I think a couple o nice soft beds might feel real good about now."
Buck could see the protest flash across Tanners face and threw a hand up to stop him.
"Vin, we cant do nothin tonight. Its a long ways back to Four Corners and I dont want you fallin out of your saddle. Well get some sleep and then head back in the mornin."
Vin didnt answer.
"You know Im right."
"Yeah, youre right. Probably just worrying over nothin anyway. Lets get these horses bedded down," he said as he reached for his mounts reins.
Buck gathered up the reins to his own horse and followed Vin down the dark street. He hated to admit it, but something about Chris extended vacation didnt sit well with him either.
Ezra jerked awake when something sharp struck his upper arm. He instinctively fumbled for his Derringer, but there was no rigging to drop the sweet little weapon into his hand. He skittered to one side and shook his head to drive away the cobwebs that masked his thoughts.
"Wha-what? What is it? Whos there?" His sight tried to focus, but there was nothing around him but darkness. Was it morning or not? What hit him?
Then a voice came to his ear in a menacing tone. "Prisoner! On your feet!"
There was a pause before it dawned on Ezra just exactly where he had been sleeping. Damn! It wasnt a dream.
The startled captive stood slowly and looked up in the direction of the voice. "Whos there? Where am I?" He tried to sound as formidable as the disembodied voice overhead.
"I, prisoner, am your Lord and Master." The warden moved into sight at the edge of the hole. The grating had been raised and the vivid blue fall sky served as a backdrop.
Ezra stood akimbo. "Lord and what? Surely you jest." He raised one hand to wipe at his face. Slowly, an image of Chris came to mind. Trying not to panic, Ezra spun around, looking each corner of the cell over carefully. No Chris.
"Where is he?" Ezra asked no one in particular. "Where is he?" He turned in the direction of the warden. "Where is Chris?" he shouted.
"Inmate 78 has been removed to other accommodations."
"What accommodations? Where have you taken him, you overstuffed, pompous " Ezra was cut short by something being dropped into the pit beside him. He moved aside and turned to look down at the folded cloth by his feet.
"Those are your new clothes. You will put them on and you will do as I say. Your life outside this prison no longer exists. Who you were is of no importance. You are now Inmate 93, and you will behave according to the rules of this facility or you will end up like Inmate 78."
The gambler picked up the pants with his thumb and forefinger and looked at them with disgust. "I do believe you have mistaken me for someone with no taste. This attire is criminal in more ways than one. I will not be wearing it, so why dont we just move along with this little interview."
"Inmate 93, you will either change into those clothes on your own or I will send Briggs here in to do it for you."
A huge, sweaty ox of a man leaned in next to the warden.
"This will be the only choice you have for the duration. However, I do believe Briggs would be very grateful for the chance to help you out of those fancy duds of yours," the overweight warden growled lasciviously. "If you know what I mean?"
Ezra felt sickened as he caught the eye of the repulsive Briggs. He fought back the thoughts of the animal touching him and slowly began to remove his waistcoat and shirt. The warden laughed out loud, and he and Briggs watched as Ezra eventually changed clothes. Such an invasion of privacy was overwhelming to the gambler, but he managed to keep his poker face intact throughout. The thoughts of that slime above ogling him was very unpleasant, but he knew that Chris had probably undergone far worse so he pulled himself up with dignity and ignored his observers as best he could. He had to find out where Chris was.
Once the warden had won his point, he ordered the guards to haul the newly attired man out of the hole. Ezra grunted as he was roughly pulled up and deposited on the ground topside.
"Your hospitality is somewhat lacking, warden," he said as he tried to regain his feet.
Before he knew what hit him, Ezra found himself back on the ground, his belly aching from the angry blow he had been dealt. An irate cry caught his ear. "You will not speak to me unless you are given permission to do so. Do I make myself clear?"
Ezra caught his breath and started to speak. He thought better of it and just nodded his head instead.
The warden looked back to the guard. "Good. Now Inmate 93 will be joining the work crew in the yard. See that he puts in a full day. I have another prisoner who requires a lesson in behavior." That said, he dismissed Ezra and the guards from his thoughts and walked away.
Ezra stood once again and was forced to wait as his feet were fitted with chains. He tried to reason with the guard who locked the chains in place. "This truly is a mistake. I havent done anything to warrant incarceration at least, not recently."
The guard ignored him. Ezra looked up and tried talking to the man who held the gun on him. "I really just came here to take Chris home. I can get the money the sheriff wants."
The guard looked at him, puzzled, but he did not seem to take much notice.
"At least tell me where Chris Larabee is!"
The kneeling guard stood and reached out to push Ezra in the direction of the rocks behind him.
"Tell me where Larabee is! Hes ill! The man needs a doctor!"
The push became a shove and Ezra had to comply before he found himself back on the ground again. He finally turned around and for the first time noticed the men working in the "yard." They all seemed to be laboring, quite unenthusiastically, in the art of brick making. Ezra fell strangely quiet when he realized where he was being directed and what he was expected to do.
"Oh no they have got to be joking " he mumbled.
The insistent prodding in his back informed him that they were not.
+ + + + + + +
The past two days had not been good ones for the gambler. The gruel that had been passed off as food, the slab that had impersonated a bed, and the work that had been made apparent his only means of escaping a beating made for a very worn out and unhappy man. Add to that the matter of a repulsive guard named Briggs eyeing him every moment of the day with a look that had nothing to do with his job, and "unhappy" took on a whole new meaning. Ezra couldnt comprehend what the guard found so fascinating about his person, but it sent chills up his spine.
Ezra looked down at his hands as he shuffled his feet in time with the prisoner in front of him. His palms bled freely from the blisters that had ruptured hours ago and had given way to deeper, more painful slices in his skin. The shovel he had been forced to use for such a long period of time had won the battle this day.
Standish tried not to stare at his numb fingers, but without his eyes to tell him that they were still attached to his hands there was no other way to know. He pulled them closer to his chest and tried not to cry out loud. His mind gave in and spoke the frightening words that rolled around his head. I may never again be able to hold a deck of cards, much less shuffle them. Why the hell did I ever leave Four Corners? He shook himself and tried to snap out of his misery. You know why, you damn fool. Chris needed you still needs you. Youve got to find out where theyve put him.
Ezra was jolted when he ran into the prisoner in front of him. Why had they stopped? He had just managed a bit of momentum, now he didnt think he could take another step.
The exhausted man lowered his focus to his hands again.
A voice vaguely came to his ears but really didnt register in his mind. He wished he had something with which to wrap his hands. They really did look awful.
"Inmate 93! This is your last warning!"
Good Lord, why doesnt someone just pay the 93 cents? Ezra asked himself without really thinking. His mind was elsewhere, considering the possibility of tearing off a bit of his shirt to bandage his shredded palms.
WHAM! Ezra almost didnt feel the blow to his back almost. He fell to the ground for just an instant before he was roughly jerked up to stand on wobbly knees.
"Inmate 93, do I have your attention now?!" an angry voice yelled at him.
"My wha ?" Ezra was completely dazed. He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. He felt the muscles in his back contract around the piece of him that had just been struck. It was just seconds before his belly tightened as well, forcing a feeling of nausea to nearly overwhelm him.
A large hand gripped the front of his shirt, and Ezra found himself being assaulted by possibly the worst breath he had ever encountered. The stench turned his stomach.
"Im going to be sick " he tried to say when he could take in a breath of his own that wasnt filled with the stinking air that was being blown at him.
"You do and youre a dead man!" More foul air came at him.
"Oh, Lord " was all Ezra could say ahead of the vomit that made its way from his belly and up his throat. The guard that held him quickly turned loose when he felt the gamblers stomach contents spew in his face and across his chest. Ezra dropped to the ground and continued to throw up.
Once again there were hands pulling at him and an angry voice bellowed, "Damn! You little piece of "
"Briggs!" another voice shouted. "Briggs, leave him be. The warden wants you!"
Briggs? Was that who he had thrown up all over? Good, Ezra thought. Maybe now I wont be so attractive to him. He smiled to himself for a moment before he tried to find out who had stopped him from being mutilated.
The Southerner moaned when he tried to raise his eyes to see the man who now stood over him. It was Phillips. Thank the Lord for this mans timing. He caught the mans eye and for a moment thought he spotted just a twinge of sympathy there. Then the look was quickly gone and Ezra was being drawn up on weak legs.
"Inmate 93, best you pay attention when youre being called," Phillips advised.
"Excellent counsel," he wheezed and wiped at his mouth.
"The wardens lockin you up special. Looks like youll be gettin to see that friend of yours." The words came out softly but Ezra still couldnt make out their sincerity.
"My friend?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah, but I dont know if thatd be a good thing or not."
"Why is that?"
"Reckon youll be seein that for yourself. Come on," Phillips said as he nudged Ezra toward a small stone building just past the hole.
It took Ezra a little longer than he would have liked, but he finally came to stand outside the small building. He was about to inquire as to why he was being moved (although he had no complaints about leaving his previous nights accommodations), when he heard a thick, guttural cry come from within. He looked back at Phillips with a stunned look on his face.
Phillips gave a somewhat defeated shrug. "Hes been at it for a while now. Dont know his demons, but the man has spent his share of time with the devil."
Ezra was taken aback, not believing the sounds emanating from the small shack. He was apprehensive about confronting whatever was causing the tortured cries, but he knew he had to help. "Allow me to enter," he said halfheartedly.
"That was the idea, 93." Phillips stood a bit stiffer as another guard joined them. He nodded at the man and instructed, "Take them chains off his feet and put Inmate 93 in with the other prisoner. Wardens orders."
The other man complied, sneering at Ezra as he passed him and walked into the cell. The next shout from Larabee came louder to Ezras ears now that there was no door between them. He heard the cell door slam shut behind him and was left alone with Chris.
"Mr. Larabee?" he asked nervously, spotting Chris backed into the far corner of the tiny room. They were alone. In fact, the only other things in the room were two filthy old cots which had obviously seen better days, a couple of blankets, a bucket that most certainly served as a privy, another bucket filled with water (he hoped), and a low-burning kerosene lamp. The only light, aside from the tiny flame in the lamp, entered the cell either from the cracks in the ceiling or by two tiny windows above his head.
"Mr. Larabee, can you hear me?"
The man who stood opposite him jerked with awareness when he heard something or someone move in the room. "G-go away."
"Chris, its Ezra," responded gently.
Chris stiffened and flattened himself against the wall. "Get away from me. You cant be here."
"Chris, whats wrong?" Stupid question, he thought, what isnt wrong.
"Get back! Go away!" Larabee shouted.
"Im afraid I find myself unable to go anywhere. Lets just talk a bit, shall we? Maybe we can determine what the problem is," Ezra tried to reason.
The gambler moved a step closer and got a better look at Chris. The man he faced was wide-eyed and breathing entirely too fast. There was the same far-away look in his eyes that he had seen the night he found him in the hole. His face was covered with the wetness of perspiration and what appeared to be fresh blood. The blond hair that Chris usually kept swept away from his face had fallen forward and was now matted to his forehead. "Ahh no, Chris."
Chris gaze began to drift. Ezra spoke again with more resolve. "Mr. Larabee, look at me. Do you know where you are? Can you see me?"
The wandering eyes returned to Ezras face, but still there was no recognition. "Chris, you have been missing for over two weeks. Mrs. Travis has been terribly worried. When we received the telegram from the prison requesting your bail money, she and I thought it best that I assume the role of your brother in light of the fact that the real Vin Larabee was otherwise occupied."
Chris stared at Ezra but the Southerner couldnt tell if he was actually listening. He continued to try and draw Chris back. "A most clever ruse, requesting a brother you never had. It wasnt difficult to see something was up. I came into town as the other Mr. Larabee in hopes of setting you free. It looked as if I was making progress toward your release, but something went wrong. Im not really sure what."
Ezra watched Chris for a moment and detected a slight change in his demeanor. Though he didnt think that any of what he was saying was getting through to the man, he did believe that the soft-spoken words were somehow soothing him.
Chris head slowly went back to rest on the stone wall that supported him. "You shouldnt be here," he sighed.
Hopeful of progress, Ezra stood a bit more at ease. "Neither of us should be in this hellish squalor. At the moment however, it appears we are to remain the unwilling guests of the warden. For a short while longer anyway."
"Whyd you follow me?"
Ezra noticed a slightly higher pitch to Chris voice. "Mr. Larabee, following you was not my "
"Go on home."
"Go on home. You cant be following me. You cant be here," Chris insisted.
Ezra closed his eyes against the knowledge that the Sevens leader was still lost in a place he didnt seem to be able to reach. "Chris, please. Listen to me."
"You go on home now! I mean it! You know what kind of trouble it means if youre caught out here with me," said a voice again touched with agitation.
"Chris, wait, you have to listen to me," Ezra pleaded.
Just as Chris stood away from the wall, an argument about to leave his mouth, a small commotion could be heard not too far away from the small cell. Larabee squeezed his back closer to the wall and listened. "Its here," he whispered.
Ezra looked back over his shoulder so he could glance at the door. There didnt seem to be anyone there, so whatever the commotion was it probably had nothing to do with them. He looked back at Chris and watched as a scene began to unfold before him.
Chris stared at the wall across the room. His eyes were locked, as if he had switched them off for a moment in order to redirect all his energy and abilities to his hearing. "Dont move itll know were here."
"It? What are you talking about?" Ezra questioned.
"Be quiet! Itll hear us," Larabee said firmly.
Ezra frowned at the insistence in Chris voice. "Chris, what is it? What do you hear?"
"Bear," he answered succinctly.
Bear? Oh, this is just going from bad to worse, Ezra thought.
Another noise came from outside the building that had a direct result on the terrified man trapped inside. Chris eyes broke loose from their lock on the wall and began a thorough scan of the rest of the room. He brought his hands up to push at the hair that clung to his face then he rubbed at a cut over his right eyebrow. "Think. Think. What do we do?" he said to no one. "Shouldnt move we shouldnt move." Only a moment passed before Chris disobeyed his own mumbled orders. He lowered his hands and began tapping the stone to either side of his body. A rhythm began and before long the anxious man began pounding his fists to the point of nearly breaking bone.
Ezra couldnt remain silent and still any longer. "Chris, youre going to hurt yourself," he said a little louder than he had intended.
Larabee didnt look up, not until Ezra stepped towards him. Chris caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and it was all the encouragement he needed to launch himself at the unsuspecting Southerner. Ezra didnt move fast enough and before he could get away from the body that came towards him he was painfully knocked to the ground.
Chris behaved like a madman -- kicking, hitting and screaming. Ezra raised his hands to try and fend the blows, but the bleeding flesh on his palms forced him to withdraw them and use his forearms and elbows instead. "Chris! For Gods sake! Chris, stop!"
Chris fought like a crazed animal. "Get away from him! Leave him alone! I said, leave him alone!" he cried. "You cant have him!"
Ezra heard the pleas of his friend even as the blows rained down. The wild man struck anywhere he could land a punch. When the fallen man could catch a glimpse of Chris face, he saw murderous rage coupled with utter horror. Then out of nowhere, as if dragged away by unseen hands, Chris fell back against one of the cots. His hands still tried to strike but they were becoming more and more sluggish with their efforts. He screamed again, sending chills down Ezras back. "ADAM! For the love of God NO!!"
Ezra scooted away from Chris and turned to roll onto his knees. He faced the man who had just tried to beat the crap out of him and noticed the look on Larabees face. His heart filled with sadness and pity. Adam, he thought, not Adam. Of all the terrors this man could relive in this place, why Adam?
Larabees voice began to wear from overuse. His words, though still loud, sounded grittier and more painful. "I have to stop him save Adam! NO! Dont!"
Ezra dared once again to lean forward. This time there was no assault. There wasnt even a flinch. Wherever Larabees mind was, he had been taken even farther away from Ezra and the prison than before. Careful of his hands, the newly battered Southerner moved close enough to Chris to sit beside him. Chris didnt appear to detect the movement, nor did he seem interested in escaping his presence. Instead, he raised lost eyes and trembling hands until they both fell on Ezra.
"No more, please Hes just a boy Please, let him go," the trembling man begged.
Mesmerized by the abrupt change in Chris behavior, Ezra trapped the terrified mans clutching hands in his own and spoke slowly and deliberately. "Chris, its all right. Settle down now. Settle down."
"I have to help him Whyd he follow me out here? He had no business " He stopped his words and once again seemed to be listening.
Standish noticed the concentration on the peacekeepers face and tried to hear for himself whatever it was that had caught Chris attention. "What is it?" Ezra whispered.
"Hes here. The bears still here."
Seconds passed as the two men listened for the sounds of the beast that seemed so real to the gunfighter. Chris then tried to get up, using Ezra to pull against.
"Ill kill him! I swear it!" Larabee was determined to stand, but Ezra still managed to pull him back down to the floor.
"Chris, be still! There is no one here but us! No one!"
"The bear! Climb, Adam! Get away from him!" Chris fought the hands that held him. He struggled with every ounce of his strength, but he had so little in reserve that his attempt to stand was feeble. Then, unexpectedly, there was a catch in his breathing that startled the man wrestling to keep him down.
Ezra looked at Chris face and watched horror fill his blue eyes. Time seemed to freeze for a moment. Neither man blinked, breathed or spoke. As the seconds passed, Ezra suddenly felt Larabees body jerk. Chris head fell back across Ezras cradling arm and a scream was torn from his throat that could have reached the depths of hell. "NOOOO!!!!! Oh, God!"
"Chris! Chris!" Ezra screamed back.
"Chris, what is it? Tell me whats wrong!"
"What hurts?!" Ezra tried to break through Chris pain. "Answer me!"
"I cant get up! I have to get up! Help him! Adam!"
"Chris, stay down. Lie still. Lie still!"
"Oh, God, NO! I put him down there! I did! The bear he didnt die! Climb, Adam! Get away from the bear!" Chris once again envisioned an enemy that wasnt really there.
"There is no bear. Do you hear me? There IS NO BEAR," Ezra maintained.
Chris wasnt having any of it. "Kill him! Stop him please make him stop."
"Look at me! There is no bear! You and I are alone here!" Ezra vowed.
"Im sorry, Adam," Chris whispered into Ezras face. "I should have tried."
Ezra gathered the weakened man in his arms. Despite the pain in his hands, he held on as tremors gripped the gunslinger. A breathless groan snaked its way from Chris chest and past ashen lips. An instant later, a deathly stillness fell over him that caught Ezra off guard. Larabee went completely limp and his head rolled to rest against the gamblers chest.
"Chris? What is it? Whats happening?"
The Sevens leader didnt respond. The breathing that had been struggling to find rhythm earlier seemed to fade. It was as if the man had simply shut down.
"Help!" Ezra called to anyone who would listen. "He needs help! Someone!" The gambler turned his head when he heard a sound behind him. "Someone help him," he repeated in earnest.
The wardens face peered down at him from a window in the door. Strange. He didnt notice that opening when he came in. Regardless, he tried again. "This man needs a doctor!"
"Pity!" The warden laughed.
"Get this man some help! Help him! Listen, you " Ezra clamped down on the name-calling he had in mind, trying to give Chris every chance. "Consider this. If he should expire, warden, you will not be able to collect his bail."
"Oh, were way past bail, lawman."
Ezra winced only slightly, but it was enough to provide his captor with tremendous satisfaction.
"Thats right. I know all about you and your fellow peacekeeper there. It really is a shame that you two are such fakes. It could have brought quite a price -- setting bail for two brothers. Now Ill have to find another use for you or not." The warden laughed loudly and turned away from the window. "Keep an eye on those two," Ezra heard before the window closed.
An overwhelming gloom surrounded the two men on the cell floor. Ezra gazed down at the man in his arms and noticed that Chris breathing still seemed to be too irregular and too infrequent. "Larabee! Dont you do this! Dont you dare!" Ezras accent thickened a bit. "Chris!"
Ezra began to rock unconsciously hoping the movement would bring Chris back. "It would appear the guard was correct. You have been visited by the devil on more than one occasion." He pulled at Chris again. "What on earth happened to you and that little boy of yours? It was bad enough you had to lose him, but you both appear to have suffered far too much in his short lifetime."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra decided shortly after Chris passed out that he had to do something. Anything. Even if it was nothing more than lick his wounds and play nursemaid to the unconscious man across his legs. He managed to work his way out from under his colleagues body and onto the cot he had been resting against. It had grown very dark in the cell, but Ezra remembered the kerosene lamp and made the gallant effort of reaching it, lighting it and bringing it to rest on the floor between the two cots. Having accomplished illuminating their quarters with the somewhat comforting flicker of lamplight, he set about moving Chris from the floor and onto the cot furthest from the door and nearer the corner that Larabee seemed to favor earlier.
Moving Chris was a monumental task. The unconscious man was taller and heavier than Ezra; he was also dead weight. Furthermore there was the fact that Ezras hands were now bleeding to the point that they were slippery. He couldnt exactly get a firm grip on the man. He worked the better part of twenty minutes before he had Larabee settled on the makeshift bed and covered with a blanket. Through every pull and tug, Chris never made a sound.
A very tired gambler sat on the empty cot alongside Larabees. He knew he needed to tend to Chris, to check his injuries, but his hands had once again begun to cry out for attention. Ezra needed to get them wrapped so he could at least use his fingers to help Chris without bleeding all over him. He hated to even look at his hands, but he had to try and help himself. Ezra looked over at the bucket on the floor. I pray that there is indeed water in that pail.
Slowly, he worked his way over to his only hope for relief. He knelt down and put his nose to the bucket. No smell -- that was a good sign. He wondered about its purity and decided that testing it was the only answer. He picked up a ladle that hung off the back of the container, scooped up a small amount of liquid and brought it to his lips. The cool wetness eased past cracked lips and down his dry throat. It didnt taste at all bad or peculiar so he drank again. How wonderful it felt just to drink.
Ezra looked back at Chris. He had to get some of the precious liquid down his throat as well, but in his present condition, he didnt feel hopeful. He would have to wait for his partner in this rat-hole to awaken.
Feeling the discomfort again in his hands, he knew he would have to use a small amount of their water supply to administer to himself and Larabee. He couldnt contaminate the liquid remaining, so he scooped a ladle of water out of the bucket. Holding a trembling hand palm up, he carefully poured the ladles contents over his bloody sores. The cool water felt more like streaming fire as it washed over his skin and off his fingertips. He hissed through the pain and looked away from his quivering hand.
"Grin and abide," he muttered to himself. He knew he had to clean his wounds despite the discomfort. Gently, he switched the ladle from his right hand to his left and repeated the dousing. The burning pain passed once the rinsing stopped and the air-drying began. A cool numbness soon began and he nearly fell over from the sensation. Ezra gave himself a moment then reached down to tear the bottom of his shirt into strips. Once he had enough material to wrap both hands, he began the arduous task of bandaging himself.
It took every effort to finish binding his hands, but once done he did feel slightly better. At least now he could manage touching things with a little less pain.
All right, Ezra. Youve seen to yourself, the gambler tried to rally. Now its time to assist Larabee. Just take a breath and focus. He needs you. Just focus He sat quietly on the floor for a moment. His mind truly couldnt fathom the fatigue in his body. It just couldnt comprehend the lingering effects of the past couple of days. It simply couldnt. It therefore didnt. Ezra fell asleep where he sat.
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