What the Hell Is Going On?
Vin walked into the team's office area and wandered over to his desk. He was the first one there so he sat down and switched on his computer. He began looking through his email and deleting those that were junk. There seemed to be an awful lot of them today, he thought. All on the same sort of topic as well. He studied them more closely and frowned in confusion. The subject of ninety-nine percent of them was the Wild West. Why should that be?
He heard the sound of footsteps in the corridor and looked up to see one of his colleagues, the undercover agent to be precise, enter the office.
"Mr.Tanner," Ezra said in greeting, putting a finger to the brim of the Stetson he was wearing.
Vin sat and stared at him. "Ezra? What are you dressed up like that for? Have I missed a fancy dress day or somethin'? Is it anything to do with all the junk email I've had today about the Wild West?" Vin watched as the man sat down opposite him and removed his hat.
The undercover agent was dressed from head to foot in the garb of a gambler from the Old West. From the Stetson, three-quarter length jacket and frilly fronted shirt, down to the gun belt hanging around his waist. "I always dress like this and I have no idea as to what you are referring. Email? What are they?"
"Stop kidding me, Ez. You don't always dress like that. You dress fancy but not as over the top as that. You look like a gambler. What's with the gun and gun belt?" Vin couldn't help continuing to stare at his friend. He really was acting strangely. How could he not know about email? He used it every day.
"Guns are a required accouterment in our line of work. We peacekeepers must keep the lawless in line, whether it is with a bullet or by trial and hanging. Anyway you mentioned gambling, I believe. Can I interest you in a game of cards? Five card stud perhaps?" Ezra patted his pockets to locate his deck of cards.
"No thanks. I'm gonna nip out for a breath of air." Vin had come out in goose bumps and he shivered involuntarily. Why was Ezra talking about hanging criminals? What the hell was going on?
"Are you quite well?" Ezra asked, studying his colleague closely. Vin seemed to have turned a whiter shade of pale.
"Yeah fine," Vin said as he rose hurriedly and almost ran to the elevator. He pressed the button several times in a panicked fashion and rushed inside when the doors finally opened. He had a weird feeling that things were not as they should be. He held on tightly to the rail which ran round the side of the elevator and thought back over the conversation he'd just had with Ezra. The elevator reached the parking lot level and Vin stepped out when the doors opened. He wandered out onto the sidewalk and stood against the wall before taking a deep breath to calm himself. He saw Chris drive into the parking lot and he waved distractedly. The blond man ambled back out to see what was the matter with his friend, when he had parked his pickup.
"Hey cowboy. Are you okay?" he asked as he took up a position beside Vin.
Vin couldn't answer for a minute when he saw that Chris was dressed as a gunfighter. All in black as usual but with a six-gun and spurs. "God, not you as well. Are you lot pulling my leg? Why didn't you tell me it was dress up as a cowboy day?"
"What?" Chris asked confusedly.
"Your clothes. You're dressed as a gunfighter," Vin said insistently. Why did neither Chris nor Ezra seem to think they were dressing out of the ordinary?
"That's what I am," Chris answered earnestly.
"No, you're not. You're an ATF agent. Come on Chris, stop the bullshit, the joke's gone far enough," Vin pleaded.
"What the hell is an ATF agent? Is it like a Pinkerton detective?"
Vin stared at his friend in confusion. He could tell Chris was being totally serious with him. His thoughts turned inward and he shook his head as he became aware of a perpetual whooshing sound in his ears. It sounded like the wind blowing through the trees or waves crashing on the shore. It made him panic and he could feel himself starting to hyperventilate.
"Vin? Where's yer buckskin coat? I've never seen you before in the clothes you've got on now. Vin, what's the matter?" Chris asked, as his friend looked about to throw up.
"Hey man. Stop pissing about." Vin paused and took a deep breath. "God, I need a drink. I'll be back later. I've got time owing," he said as he turned and stumbled away, hurrying to his jeep, with the sound of Chris's voice calling his name, ringing in his ears. He got in the driver's seat and pulled the keys from his pocket. His hands were shaking so much that he dropped the bunch of keys on the floor and had to fumble around under his seat to find them. He started the engine and drove out of the parking lot and along to Inez's saloon. He parked and sat quietly inside the jeep while he gathered his thoughts. The whole situation felt totally unreal and he really didn't think his friends would have kept up with the joke, knowing it was freaking him out.
He finally got out of the jeep and walked into the saloon shakily. He stopped just inside the door and looked around the bar and sighed with relief when he saw it looked exactly as it should have done. He relaxed slightly and wandered over to the bar to order a beer from Inez. The sharpshooter lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip. God that tasted good. He felt someone brush against him and he turned to see who it was and went pale.
"Hey pard. You look a bit sick. Are you alright?"
"Bucklin?" Vin croaked as the glass slipped from his hand and smashed on the floor. The ladies' man was dressed as a cowboy too. He had a red neckerchief round his neck and a gun slung low around his waist. Vin looked about him and saw that nobody was taking any notice of Buck's attire or visible firearm.
"Sit down pard. You look as if an elephant just trod on yer pet dog," Buck said as he took hold of Vin's arm and led him to a chair.
"What's going on Bucklin?" Vin asked weakly.
"Nothing's going on. Everything's normal," Buck assured his friend.
"No, it ain't. You're dressed like a cowboy. So was Chris when I saw him." Vin turned to the room's other occupants and shouted, "Why aren't you freaking out? This man's got a gun!"
"Now Vin. Calm down. Let me take you to see Nate." The gunman took hold of Vin's arm again, pulled him to his feet and led him outside. He set off down the street with his reluctant companion trailing behind. Vin stared at the people walking by who were taking no notice whatsoever of the man leading him along the street. He studied the street as he walked and it looked as it always had but things just didn't feel right. Buck turned suddenly in front of him and started to climb some stairs.
"Nate don't live here," Vin said trying to go in another direction.
"Yes he does. Come on inside. Nate? Vin here's feeling a little off color and confused. Can you help him?"
"Sure. Come over here Vin and sit down." Nathan indicated the bed and patted it with the palm of his hand.
Vin sat down and looked around him with wide eyes. There were bottles of potions on shelves and old style medical equipment laid about. He gulped. I hope he doesn't treat me with those, he thought. Nathan approached him and Vin saw he was carrying some leeches. Jesus, that was even worse than the medicine.
"Where the hell are ya gonna put those? I don't want slugs crawling all over me," Vin shouted, trying to climb away over the bed.
"They're leeches not slugs. You're obviously feverish and these will bleed you. You'll feel much better when they've done their job." Nathan picked one up and went to place it on Vin's arm.
"Bleed me! Get away, you maniac. There's nothing wrong with me! I've gotta get outta here!" Vin jumped up and shook off Buck's arm when he grabbed him. He looked at Nathan who was trying to head him off and saw that the healer had three knives strapped to his back in some sort of holster. Vin didn't want to get on the wrong end of one of those pig stickers. He dived through the door before he could be caught and plunged down the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him.
He bumped into JD at the bottom and he grabbed the kid tightly by his shoulders. "Tell me I'm not mad, kid." Vin pleaded as he fixed the boy with a penetrating stare.
"Vin? What's wrong?"
Vin studied the boy and took in the weird hat he was wearing, the cowboy boots and two gun rig. Vin went even paler, if that was possible and whispered, "Not you too." He fell in a dead faint at the kid's feet.
+ + + + + + +
He heard voices and felt a softness under his head. He shifted slightly and thought perhaps he was in bed.
"Hey, I think he's waking up," Josiah said. "How do you feel, Brother Vin?"
Vin opened one eye and took a peek before opening the other one. He looked around the bed and saw the four men who were standing there were still all dressed as cowboys. He turned his head and addressed Josiah desperately, "Josiah. You won't lie to me. What the hell is going on? What year is it?"
"It's just another day in Four Corners in the year of Our Lord 1875. What do you think is going on?"
"Preacher? Is he okay?" JD asked.
"Josiah? Since when have you been a preacher?" Vin asked, confused.
"Now, Brother Vin. I've been one, on and off, throughout my adult years. You know that."
"Oh, Jesus," Vin said as he passed out again.
+ + + + + + +
He woke to the sound of voices again and detected a slightly medicated hospital smell. Dare he open his eyes again, he wondered? He heard Chris's voice and decided to give it a go. He opened his eyes tentatively and looked around him, fearing what he was going to encounter.
Chris's attention was drawn to the bed as Vin moved and he rose quickly and took one of Vin's hands in his. "Hey cowboy. Glad to see you're back in the land of the living. You gave us quite a scare."
Vin stared at Chris and studied his clothes closely. He was dressed in black but in normal everyday clothes. Chris frowned at the intense scrutiny.
"Show me yer boots," Vin demanded. Chris did as he was told and lifted one foot up for the sharpshooter to look at. "Where's Ezra?" Vin asked as he saw that Chris's boots didn't have spurs on them.
"I'm right here my friend. Never fear."
"Let me see you."
Ezra frowned too and looked at Chris quizzically before rising and walking to the bed. He looked down at his friend and watched curiously as Vin looked him up and down several times.
"You're dressed normally."
"Yes, of course. Whatever's wrong Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked.
"What happened to me? Where am I and what year is it?" Vin blurted out.
"Slow down with the questions, pard. You look like an elephant just trod on yer pet dog. Why have you got yer pants in a knot?" Buck asked.
"You said that to me before Bucklin. About the elephant." Vin turned a frightened look on his boss and begged, "Chris will you answer my questions, please?"
"You were in a bad car crash. You're in hospital and you've been unconscious for the past three days. The year is 2002," Chris replied calmly.
Vin sighed contentedly, "It was only a dream then."
"Vin? What did you dream?" Chris asked quietly, as he wondered what could have got his usually calm friend into such a state.
"I kept bumping into you lot, but you were all dressed like cowboys. I didn't understand what was going on. I thought you were playing a joke on me because it seemed so real. Ezra was the first one I saw at work. He was dressed as a gambler and looked like a real rogue."
"Not much change there then," Chris laughed.
"You and Buck were gunfighters. JD wore a weird hat. Nathan had three knives in a holster thing strapped to his back and Josiah was a preacher. You told me the year was 1875, Josiah. It freaked me out. All the buildings I saw were as they are today. It was only you lot who were out of time. It felt real but unreal if that makes sense," Vin said quickly, hardly pausing for breath. He wanted to get the whole affair out into the open and make sure he wasn't going mad.
"Jeez. Sure sounds as if you've had a real adventure," Chris said as he patted Vin's hand.
"I sure did and I don't wanna go back there. When can I go home?"
"Not for a couple of weeks. You can stay with me if you like when you're allowed out," Chris said.
"No offence Chris, but I don't wanna have anything to do with ranches or cowboys for a while. I've had enough of the Wild West to last me a lifeline. I'll stay in town if you don't mind."
"It was only a dream, Vin," Chris said reassuringly.
"I know. You don't think I'm mad, do you?"
"Course you're not. Your mind was just playing tricks on you because of the accident. Who do you feel happiest staying with?"
"Don't know really. You were all pretty weird in my dream." Vin paused as he thought. "Perhaps I'll stay with Ez. He's nuts anyway so I won't notice any difference."
"I don't think I want you, if you're going to insult me, Mr. Tanner."
"Oh, go on Ez. I'll play my harmonica for you."
"Ye Gods! Is that supposed to entice me into letting you abide with me?"
"I'm getting better at playing it."
"You could've fooled me. It sounded like an asthmatic camel last time I heard you attempting to play."
All the men burst out laughing at Ezra's description, even Vin, who had to admit that Ezra was right. Least if he did persuade Ezra to take him in, he could annoy the hell out of the man by playing it. The idea was certainly very appealing.
Ezra finally agreed to have him after a lot of persuasion and Vin grinned slyly. Ezra caught sight of his expression and said, "I'm going to regret looking after you, aren't I? I can see your little mind working out some sort of punishment for me to endure. I'm warning you now that if it has anything to do with that wretched harmonica I will shove it somewhere on your person where the sun doesn't shine."
"I think he means up yer ass," Buck enlightened the sharpshooter as he smiled.
"Quite correct, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra laughed at the look that Vin sent him. The undercover agent didn't think he would get any more trouble from the man now. Keeping Vin in order was just too easy, he thought to himself smugly.
Vin sighed and said, "On second thoughts, perhaps I want to go back to my dream. I don't think it was quite as bad as I imagined. Figure you were all more sane in that world than you are in this." He closed his eyes and went back to sleep to the sound of his friends laughing softly.
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