Don't Know From Adam
All hell had broken loose at the prison near Jericho, and Buck felt he was right in his element. These men were holding two of his best friends captive and no one, but no one, would be allowed to get away with that. He and the other four peacekeepers from Four Corners had tried to resist bloodshed, but the damn fools wouldnt see reason. Buck raised his gun again and fired at the man aiming for JDs back. JD fired at the man he was facing and never knew of the danger behind him. Im gonna have to work with that boy, the tall man thought as he moved deeper into the prison. He looked over his shoulder when he heard Vin shouting at him.
"Buck, where are they?"
"Dont know. Ill check out these buildings." He pointed at the prisoners barracks. "You check out the Wardens Office!"
"Vin! Over there!" The two men looked up when they heard Josiah. The large preacher man was pointing at something near the far fence. Vin and Buck caught up to him and spotted the hole. Josiah leaned over the opening.
"Are they there, Josiah?"
"Nah, nothin but rats."
"Well, keep lookin. Theyve got to be here somewhere," Vin hollered and ran back towards the office.
Buck saw JD and Nathan moving in on the barracks and went to join them. Josiah saw the building not too far from the hole and moved to investigate.
Vin saw movement inside the Wardens Office just as he stepped on the porch. He cocked his rifle and pushed the door open in one motion. A large man was leaning over an open safe, removing large bundles of money. "Hold it right there, mister," he warned.
The man froze. After a few seconds he spoke. "Im the warden of this prison."
"Yeah, you look like it, cleanin out that safe the way you are," Vin said from his place by the door.
"You dont understand. Theres a prison break. Im trying to remove these valuables before theyre stolen."
"Un-hunh," Tanner grunted.
"Well, tell me this, warden. Were lookin for two of our own lawmen from Four Corners. Youd know em as Chris and Vin Larabee. I hear tell they landed in your prison. Want to tell me just where youre keepin em?"
"Larabee? Oh, you must mean 78 and 93, the new prisoners. Theyre lawmen? I think you must be mistaken. They were brought in here by the sheriff in Jericho."
"I aint mistaken, and I aint in a real good mood right now. You might want to save yourself a whole mess o trouble and just tell me where they are," Vin threatened.
"Theyre not here," came the simple reply.
Vin brought his gun up and aimed it at the heavy man. "Youre beginnin to piss me off. Now where are they?"
"No, no! Honestly! They arent here. They escaped last night and my men havent brought them back yet!"
"Yes. Those two have been trouble since the beginning. They knocked out a guard, took his weapon and broke out during the night."
"I dont " Vin started to say when a guard came rushing through the doorway looking for the warden.
"Warden, we cant hold em off. What should we ?" the guard started to ask as Vin cut him off with a fist to the face. The warden slipped away as the man fell to the floor. Vin was going to follow, but another guard ran onto the porch. He decided to handle the problem at hand and take care of the warden later -- right after he and the others tracked down Chris and Ezra.
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Ezra followed Phillips directions as best he could, but he was having a very hard time staying awake. He had lost a great deal of blood and his body resisted every instruction his mind gave. He forced his neck to raise his head once again and looked around. The trees had dwindled to the point where he was surrounded by little more than rocks and earth. The weakened man continued until he spotted a good-sized rise that supported an outcrop of rocks. Looks like a good place to hide a cave to me, he mused. Ezra reined the large horse to his left and urged the beast to continue walking.
Chris, who still lay belly-down in the saddle, began to groan. Ezra patted the man on the back, but it did little to soothe the gunfighter. Instead, Chris began to moan even louder and soon began to squirm.
"I know youre in pain, Chris, but hold on just a little longer. Well stop soon."
Larabee didnt hear the Southerner. He began to move in earnest and struggled against the ropes that held him onto the horse.
Ezra tried not to lean across his friends back, but it was getting harder to hold on. Perhaps he should have let Phillips tie him to the animal as well. He tried to concentrate, to focus on what he was doing, but he felt so light-headed. He knew he would have to cut Chris loose before too much longer, but he dreaded the prospect. Chris had an arm full of a drug they knew nothing about. There was no doubt that it would have an adverse affect on the man, he just didnt know what to expect or how to help.
He looked at the knife in his hand and then in the direction of the outcrop of rocks. He blinked and blinked again before he could actually make out the small opening to the cave Phillips had told him about.
Chris began to twist in the saddle and pull at the ropes. It was obvious to the other man on the horse that he meant he was getting off this animal. Ezra listened to the mumblings that came from Larabees dry throat and leaned over to cut the ropes that tied the mans feet to the right stirrup. Lowering his head to accomplish this small task was probably the most stupid thing he had done of recent; well perhaps not the most stupid considering the events of the past few days. He fell onto Chris back, trying to force away the tiny explosions that had ignited in his brain.
Chris felt Ezras weight begin to crush him. He pulled at the ropes that bound his hands until they bled. Again and again, he tried to get free.
Ezra recovered a little of his equilibrium and raised his head. "Alright, its obvious to me I need not try that again. Easy, Chris, easy." Ezra couldnt see Chris face, but he knew the man wasnt in good shape. He had no choice -- he had to set his friend free.
Holding his deadened arm close to his stomach, the gambler pulled the horse he rode to a stop and slid off. When his feet touched the ground, the pain was overwhelming. He reached for the saddle but found himself sliding down Chris leg. Ezra was on his knees before he could stop the downward fall.
The man tied to the horse began to shout something that Ezra couldnt understand. He looked up to see that the man was now pulling wildly against his bonds.
"Chris, dont! Youre going to tear yourself up," Ezra warned weakly. He leaned forward and began to crawl to the far side of the horse. He still held onto the knife and was about to raise it to Chris hands when he saw what the man had managed to do to himself. Chris had sawed against the ropes until the flesh on his wrists was literally sliced away. Blood ran freely down his fingers and covered the left stirrup.
"Chris! Be still, damn it!" Ezra yelled. He tried to get the knife up to cut the ropes, but the struggling man was moving around too much. "Chris, I cant cut you free if you dont hold still. I could cut your hand off."
Larabee drew his elbows up and tried again to force his hands back down against his bonds. Ezra knew there was little else to do but force the issue. He grabbed Chris head between his own wrapped hands and made the man look him in the eye. "Look at me. I know youre confused right now. God only knows what you must be suffering, but please look at me."
The thrashing man took Ezra by surprise when he actually obeyed. He ceased his movements and stared right into the green eyes that fought to reach him. Standish didnt know if his friend really understood him, but he moved quickly to use the knife while he had the opportunity.
Ezra leaned back and sat on the ground as he watched Chris slide free of the ropes and fall off the horse. The man landed roughly, but appeared oblivious to any discomfort. It looked to Ezra as if he was oblivious to almost everything. The lean man lay on his side, flexing his hands and staring into space. Occasionally, Chris feet would push against the ground, but his apparent lack of coordination and strength ultimately laid them to rest.
The pale gambler stared at his partner for several moments before it dawned on him that they should take cover. He again got on all fours, crawled around the horse and brought himself to kneel next to Chris. "Come on now, we have to get moving," he said, tapping Larabee on the arm.
Chris continued to stare at nothing, but Standish did notice that the man was trying to raise himself from the ground.
"Come on, Chris." Ezra took one of the moving hands and pulled.
Before attempting to rise, Ezra gathered one of the horses reins and wrapped it around his forearm. He then coaxed Chris off the ground and they moved clumsily towards the mouth of the cave. He wasnt sure who was supporting whom, but as long as they were making progress towards safety it didnt really matter.
Realizing that they probably made a pretty sorry sight, Ezra grinned. Step by step they stumbled until finally they reached the entrance to their hideaway. The mouth of the cave was quite large; the inside was large as well, offering one huge "room" to house themselves and their horse. Ezra deposited the animal near the entrance, draping the rein he held over a rock. He then crossed the room with Chris and the two men eased to the ground gently. At last, they could sit down and sit still. Now it was just a matter of waiting. Ezra prayed it would be his friends to find them and not the wardens men.
The peacekeeper force from Four Corners gathered near the main gate of the prison. They had managed to gain control of the facility, and to wire Ft. Yuma for the army to come in and sort out the details, but still there was no sign of Chris or Ezra. They were reasonably certain that the deputy hadnt lied about what had been going on in Jericho, but now it was beginning to look as if he might have omitted a few pertinent details.
Buck seethed with fury as he stomped around the gate. "Where are they?" he screamed.
"Calm down, Buck," Vin answered. "Were gonna find them."
"How? When? They could be dead by now. They probably are dead!"
"Buck " Vin started again but was interrupted when a man on horseback came barreling towards them. He had to step back to avoid being trampled.
"Whoa there," Josiah said as he reached out to help the stranger stop his animal once he had begun to pull back on the reins. "Whats the hurry, mister?"
The black man on the horse looked around the prison and saw his fellow guards either dead on the ground or gathered, seated and bound near the lookout tower. He took in the five men who greeted him and reasoned that they must be the friends of the two prisoners he had been helping. "Im looking for some lawmen. Two of the inmates told me the law from Four Corners would be lookin for em."
"Thatd be us," Josiah advised. "Weve been searchin for two of our men who went missin a couple of weeks ago. Ones tall and blond, the others a little shorter with brown hair."
"Sounds like them. The names Phillips. Im a guard here, or was, it looks like. I been tryin to get those two away from the warden."
Buck moved beside Josiah. "Where are the men you helped? Are they alright?"
"Theyre alive, but they aint been alright since they come in here. The first man, the wardens been mistreatin him somethin awful. Hes hurt, up here." Phillips pointed to his head. "The second man was holdin up til he got caught up in one of the wardens traps outside the prison."
"Outside?" Vin asked. "They escaped?"
"Yeah, but it didnt do em much good. The wardens got men huntin em down."
"Were wasting time. Do you know where they are right now?" Buck insisted.
"I know where I sent em. Whether they made it or not, I dont know. I promised Id try and find help," Phillips replied.
"Well, you found it," Buck said. "Now lets go get those boys."
The five men at the gate mounted their horses and followed their only hope of finding Chris and Ezra.
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Chris Larabee watched as the darkness around him began to move. Large hunks of blackness began to separate from the ebony that filled the room. He wanted to close his eyes and pretend they werent there, but the fear of being caught by the blackness compelled him to watch.
He listened to the slithering sounds the inky lumps made as they melted into each other and then produced arms and legs. The legs were thick and the arms were long and reaching. The black beast that resulted was there to destroy him, to punish him. He deserved punishment; of that he was certain. He had allowed people he loved to die. At a very young age, he had suffered the loss of those close to him and the guilt of letting them down. Now it was time to pay for his sins. Now it was time to suffer at the hands of this hideous abomination.
Chris saw the black monster from the shadows grow a face. It belonged to someone he knew he should remember but was afraid to, to someone who cursed his name for simply being alive when someone more worthy was dead. The pain returned to his heart. His mind couldnt touch the memory but his heart could embrace it with such sorrow that he felt its snaky tendrils reach for the organ in his chest and squeeze until it threatened to never beat again. Chris fought for breath. He needed just one more breath to say he was sorry. When a mouthful of air had finally been drawn, he begged, "Please Forgive me."
The blackness came nearer and tried to swallow him. Itll be over soon, Chris thought as he readied himself for the oncoming agony of death. I wont be the one left behind this time. He closed his eyes and waited for the strike. For nearly his whole life, he had waited for this moment, the instant that the pain would stop. For a little while he had believed he could carry on. He even vaguely remembered saying to someone that the bravest thing to do was to keep on living, but his mind and his heart were so very tired, and he longed to rest and be free of the burden he had been forced to carry.
He lowered his head and waited. Seconds grew into minutes and nothing happened. The heaviness that pressed against him seemed to step away. Then Chris felt a presence other than the beast. He opened his eyes to find the creature gone and turned to find someone else standing behind him.
"Adam," he said in a sentimental tone.
The boy smiled.
The man in the darkness shook himself in disbelief. Had he been killed and not known it? Had his death been so painless that he never knew when it happened? How else could he be here with Adam? How else could he visit the dead?
Chris raised his arms to greet the boy, but the child frowned and turned away. "Adam, wait. Where are you going?"
Adam stopped. The man watched the youth turn again to face him.
"I know I let you down, Adam. I know that. But I want to be with you now. I can stay here with you," Chris said around the emotion that gripped his throat.
The blue eyes of the younger Larabee shined brightly with forgiveness.
"I love you so much. Im sorry I didnt save you. I dont know how I let you die, but I swear Id of changed places with you without a thought. I wish Why didnt I save you?" Chris cried.
Adam shook his head and looked at the man with sadness. Then, as if trying to relay a message, the boy raised his right arm and turned his palm face up. He pulled back the sleeve of his coat until it was gathered above his elbow. There he held it for several seconds, revealing to Chris the long, bleeding claw marks that reached from his wrist to the crook in his arm.
Chris looked at the torn flesh in confusion. It didnt take long though for it dawn on him; the boy hadnt forgiven him for not saving him from the bear. He tried to go to Adam, but was yanked to the earth when a searing pain ripped through his leg. An old injury, long ago healed, reopened and ran red with blood. The fallen cowboy didnt understand, but he accepted the pain. He felt due a lot more agony in atonement for what he had allowed to happen.
When Larabee looked back at Adam, he saw that the boy had also fallen. He lay unmoving on the ground, a mass of torn skin, muscle, ligament and blood.
"No, no, no, no," Chris choked out.
The peacekeeper put a tremendous effort into regaining his feet, and once up, he clumsily staggered towards the boy who lay silent. His progress was halted however when he ran smack dab into the creature from the blackness. It grabbed for him, caught him and slung him to the ground. It then lumbered toward the tattered remains of Adam.
"NO!" Chris shouted as he threw himself bodily at the beast. The creature simply brushed him aside.
The downed cowboy pounded the ground in frustration and spun around to see the creature move even closer to Adam. He rose painfully from the ground a second time. When he brought his hands up to correct his loss of balance, he found a knife tightly grasped in one fist. He had no recollection of where the knife had come from or how it had appeared, but it was a means to fight and he would make good use of it. Chris confronted the enemy that had revisited his nightmares and attacked. He brought the knife down again and again in an attempt to completely obliterate the threat it presented. He stabbed relentlessly until the monster stumbled away and disappeared once again into the darkness.
Larabee walked unsteadily towards Adam and gathered the bleeding body in his arms. The boy didnt move, but he refused to believe that he no longer lived. He chattered nonstop as he tried to stop the wounds from bleeding. He took the clothing he could scavenge from the boy and himself and began to wrap the many gashes. When he had done all he could, he pulled the still body to his chest and encircled it with his arms and legs. If the black beast returned it would literally have to tear through his body to get to Adam.
Chris body began to slowly rock. He kissed the top of Adams head and then rested his cheek there. It was then that the litany began. "Please, God, dont take this boy. I beg you, dont take him... Please "
Over and over, Chris pleaded with the Almighty.
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Ezra watched in horror as Chris Larabee staggered across the floor of the cave and began to literally slay his demons. The distraught gunslinger had managed to stumble across the knife Phillips gave the gambler and used it to tear into the ground near where he lay. Whatever it was that Chris fought, it most certainly had died during the attack. The Southerner listened to his friend rant, rave and cry out for nearly half an hour. Just as Chris seemed ready to collapse, he fell to his knees and began to tend Ezras injuries.
Standish was pretty much covered in the blood that seeped from the wound in his shoulder, so he could understand how the gunfighter might be confused as to what part of him was actually injured. But once the blood was wiped away, it should have been obvious that there was indeed only one wound. Chris was treating him as if he lay mutilated.
Ezra attempted to talk to Chris, but it had little affect. He simply reassured him that he would be all right and that nothing else would harm him. Ezra tried to find comfort in that, but he grew doubtful when Chris tore one of the gamblers sleeves and began to wrap his right forearm, wrist to elbow.
"Chris, Im alright. My arm wasnt hurt," Ezra said calmly as he tried to stop the ministrations with his other hand.
Chris pushed his hand aside and continued to tightly bind the healthy arm. The Southerner began to feel afraid as he realized that Chris was once again in a place of nightmares, induced by drugs and memories. He closely watched the man who tended him and marveled at the care the gunfighter took, but the effort was draining him more and more. Without realizing what was happening, he gently drifted into an exhausted sleep.
Larabee reached for Ezra and pulled him closer. He then gently wrapped himself around the smaller man and settled into a soothing rocking motion. The heartfelt pleadings of a man nearly destroyed by his own past began to echo in the darkness. Silent prayers were spoken near Ezras ears, but only the Good Lord above could hear.
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