Down Time

by Helen Chavez

Disclaimer: Fellers ain’t mine, so jist borrowed ‘em and will promise to give ‘em back at the end of the day. Although I wouldn’t mind hangin’ on to the preacher man fer a while …

Comments: Well, I did it again – I got myself into trouble with the Jezebelles List-Mom Melody, and she gritted her teeth, slapped my wrist and issued me with another Penance.

Want to know what I did wrong this time? Well, it was pretty big, I can tell you. I forgot my ‘THUD!!!!! Warning’. Now what’s that, you may well ask. It’s like this. Now, all of the Belles have this terrible habit of falling off their computer chairs when they see pics of Josiah and/or his alter ego Mr Ron Perlman, deliciously handsome man that he is. This leads to a lot of bruises and raised blood pressure, so they have to be warned well in advance when pictures are posted on list. It gives ‘em a chance to put cushions around their chairs and have the BP pills at the ready. And I forgot. Hence the Penance.

This time, I had to write a Christmas story based on a picture from the files, and this is the one they chose, darn it! I know it’s from ‘One day Out West’, but I’ve just made it a little bit of a ponder from Josiah, and isn’t anything to do with the episode in question.

It turned out a little bitter-sweet, I’m afraid. But I was in a melancholy mood, so I’m sorry if it’s not the usual jolly, festive fare one would expect. Don’t ask me why it turned out this way, it just did. Josiah has always struck me as having had a hard, hard life, and is still questioning his own beliefs and principles. This is his first Christmas with the Seven, and I don’t think they’ve been together that long, so they’re still getting to know one another.

Well, Lord, it’s that time of year again.


And here I am, Josiah Sanchez, sittin’ in a saloon, sippin’ whisky and thinkin’ about how the year’s been, as always. Seems to me Christmas always turns out to be a time for hopes and wishes, prayers and celebration. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be, I reckon.

Y’know, thinkin’ about it, I ain’t had a happy Christmas since … damn, I don’t know when. When I was a boy, it all seemed to be hymns and candles and bein’ quiet and solemn if my father had anythin’ to do with it. Even when Momma was alive, it was … well, it certainly wasn’t what you would call fun. And after she went, Pa just became kinda … fierce, if you get my meanin’. It was so hard, Lord, tryin’ to explain to Hannah why he made everythin’ so goddamn difficult. Took him a few years to drive both of us away from him. Me, I was the lucky one. I could leave and get on with livin’, or so it seemed. But Hannah … he drove her into insanity, Lord, and I didn’t do a damn thing to stop it. I should’ve … but I didn’t. And now, the only family I got is livin’ in Vista City, not knowin’ who she is or who I am, most of the time. Hannah didn’t deserve that, Lord! She was so beautiful … so … so helpless, and I wasn’t there to stop what he did to her. What he beat out of her with his fists and his belt and his words.

My guilt made me angry, Lord. At You, at my Pa, but mostly at myself. But You already know that, don’t You? Maybe I still am angry at You, especially when I go to see Hannah. That’s hard on a man, seein’ his only livin’ family the way she is. It hurts so bad all I want to do is die for a week afterwards.

But then, Lord, You did somethin’ pretty damn strange.

You sent me here, to Four Corners.

And then You sent me them.

Those six men that spend most of their time drivin’ me crazy worryin’ about ‘em - either that, or makin’ me want to tear ‘em limb from limb for bein’ so … well, you know what I mean. They’re enough to drive a man to drink. If I didn’t already like a whisky, that is. Oh, by the way, Lord, this is pretty good whisky. It’s Ezra’s, his ‘celebratory libation’, he calls it. It’s a single malt Scotch. One of Your more interesting creations, I must say. God Bless the Scotsman who invented it.

Anyway, these past few months have kept me on my toes, at least, although I didn’t particularly appreciate the bullet holes in my leg and back, Lord, thank You very much. Damn’ near killed me. Still, we saved the Seminole village, killed that mad sonofabitch Anderson and made it out of there alive. Just.

The Judge asked us to stay on for thirty days to help keep the peace in town … I thought it’d never work. One or the other of us would high-tail it out of there pretty soon, I figured. But … thirty days later, we were still together, and we hadn’t killed each other into the bargain. And so that’s what it’s been like the past few months. The seven of us, workin’ together tryin’ our best to stop the bad guys and not get ourselves killed. It works pretty well, really, although we’re all different.

But as for Christmas …

I don’t know how the hell we’re goin’ to deal with it, Lord. I mean, just look at ‘em. All of ‘em. Sittin’ here with me playin’ poker and takin’ some ‘down’ time.

All except for Chris, that is.

There he is over in the corner … the whip-lean feller in black, pouring his pain down his throat along with a couple of bottles of that rot-gut he drinks. He’s been there all night, and I’m pretty sure he’ll either punch Buck or Buck’ll punch him before the night’s out. Buck Wilmington, Chris’ oldest friend who’ll probably get a mouthful of abuse for carin’ whether Chris lives or dies. And that, Lord, is because You took his wife and son from him. Some crazy, vindictive bastard killed ‘em, burnt ‘em alive in their home while Chris and Buck were in Mexico sellin’ horses. Why You allowed such a thing, I’ll never know, but You turned him into this bucketful of hate that is Chris Larabee. A good man, Lord, a decent man, who doesn’t care if he lives most of the time. How the hell he copes at Christmas I’ll never know. Well, maybe I do. Salvation is at the bottom of a bottle of Red-Eye, and in the bed of some whore in Purgatorio. But at least we’ll be here for him when he gets back. If he gets back, and some crazy gun-totin’ kid doesn’t blast a hole through him when he’s drunk and brag about how he took the great Chris Larabee.

Talkin’ of kids … what about JD, Lord? A boy. A greenhorn, at that, who came out here to the west because he read about it in a dime novel. A dime novel, for God’s sake! He’s a good kid, though. A tad eager – well, more than just a tad – and always tryin’ to do what’s best, and usually gettin’ himself into trouble no matter how hard he tries not to. The Judge made him sheriff, y’know. Have You ever heard of such a thing? Why, the boy’s still tryin’ to figure out which way’s up, if you ask me, and there he is, doin’ his damnedest to keep law and order in a place like Four Corners. Craziest thing you ever saw. Still, along comes Buck and kicks his ass once in a while and does what he can to keep the lad alive long enough to grow into a man.

But JD finds Christmas hard. This one will be the first one without his Momma, and he’s all alone. Why take the boy’s mother, Lord? He’s a good kid, just young, and he needed his Momma for a while yet. She must have been one helluva woman, Lord, as he’s got a heart as big as Texas and the whole world is still black and white in JD’s eyes. No grey. He wouldn’t know deceit if it stood up and whupped him. He’s a credit to her, and that’s no mistake.

But, You sent him Buck Wilmington, and I suppose that’s a point in Your favour. Big, fun-lovin’, good-natured, hard-as-nails Buck Wilmington. He served his apprenticeship lookin’ out for Chris, so the boy’s easy to watch and make sure he don’t get holes drilled in him. But Buck’s got his own hardships, Lord, and You’ve not been easy on the man.

I’ll tell you one thing, though. He sure loves Christmas. He has enough yuletide cheer to light up Kansas City and then some. He loves the whole thing … the carols, the gifts, the whole shebang. Now, it ain’t got anythin’ to do with Jesus’ birth, Lord, I’m sorry to say. It has absolutely everything to do with lovin’ his fellow Man – or woman, in Buck’s case. As You know, he just loves the ladies, and they love him, and it sure don’t matter what they look like – they’re all beautiful in Buck’s eyes, and he respects the hell out of ‘em. And do you know where he got that from, Lord? Not from the Good Book, I can tell you. Nope, he got it from his Momma, who was a fine lady. Maybe not in the eyes of those prissy, church-goin’ do-gooders who wouldn’t know good intentions if they were handed to ‘em on a silver platter. No Lord, Buck’s Momma was a whore. A prostitute. A ‘lady of ill-repute’.

Perhaps, though, that was Your intention. You gave him a Momma who loved him and brought him up to be a fine, fine man. He’d give his life for that boy, just to keep him safe, and Buck don’t judge, Lord. He just protects those he cares about, and to hell with the conventions. But sometimes … sometimes I wonder just who the hell is supposed to protect Buck. There’s a sweetness and heart to Buck that’s as rare as hen’s teeth, and I’d sure appreciate it if You wouldn’t send him any more pain, because he has enough with Chris. You do know he blames himself for Sarah and Adam’s death, don’t You? I know Chris don’t blame him for stayin’ that extra night in Mexico, but Buck sure does. And I don’t know if he’ll ever get over it. No sir –

Damn! A full house! Just how the hell he does that I have no idea! But that’s Ezra for you – I should know better than play poker with Ez, that’s for sure.

That’s Ezra P. Standish, to You, Lord, and he couldn’t give a damn about Christmas unless he could make a profit out of it. He sure is a challenge, and I ain’t talkin’ about playin’ poker. Goddamn popinjay, all gold tooth and flashy words, and a soul more twisted than a sidewinder. Why the hell You inflicted him on the rest of us I’ll never understand, unless it was just to keep us on our toes. But then maybe You’ve decided that inflicting us on Ezra was the way to go. He needs something to put him on the right road, but you sure as hell can’t force him to do anything. He’s lazy, self-centred, acquisitive, deceitful, childish … and that’s just for starters. And that, Lord, is because You gave him a Momma like Maude. All right, she’s a handsome woman, but she’s used and neglected that boy all his life. But – and that’s one helluva big ‘But’ – there’s something in Ezra that’s so … so … endearing, if that’s the right word. You should see him with children. They put a look on his face that would break your heart, and he doesn’t talk down to ‘em like a lot of folks. They see something in him that no one else can, and I’m damned if I can find out what it is. He keeps it buried deep, deep inside, Lord, underneath fancy words and slick smiles. Damn, that boy can talk nineteen to the dozen and not say a darned thing that means anything. Not like Vin.

Vin Tanner, the man-boy, all blue eyes, long hair and short words. Sometimes I can go a whole day and only hear Vin sigh. Oh, he smiles sometimes, that shy, slow smile that makes his eyes light up, like when he sees an eagle up in the high places. Or when that goddamned horse of his tries to take a chunk out of his ass and Vin just slides past those teeth like a fish in a mountain pool. His Momma was nothin’ like Maude. She gave Vin a pride in himself that Ezra’s never had, even though Vin’s Momma died when he was five. Now that was an awful thing to do … takin’ a young child’s Momma like that. He was raised all on his lonesome, and it’s been hard and left a lot of scars. But he’s a fine young man, Lord, despite all that’s happened to him. And he has a bond with Chris that might be the savin’ of Larabee yet, if Vin don’t get himself killed for that five-hundred-dollar bounty on his head. And that for a murder he didn’t commit. Why did You make it so hard for the boy, Lord? Why did he have to grow up tryin’ to make sense of a world that’s done nothin’ but kick him in the teeth. And yet … and yet he has a wisdom I ain’t never seen in someone so young, although I know it ain’t from books because I got a sneaky suspicion Vin can’t read, and if anyone could get somethin’ from book-learnin’ it’s Vin Tanner. It would bring him alive Lord, and he’s been denied so much for someone so young. A damn shame.

And then there’s Nathan.

If anyone has a cause to dislike Christmas, it’s Nathan Jackson. Born in chains and slavery, Nathan knew nothin’ but hardship and pain. I know, because I’ve seen the scars on his back from the whip. Yet he’s a God-fearin’ man, Lord, and I can’t imagine why. What did Nathan and his family ever do to deserve the life they had? Because their skins were dark instead of white? How in Your name could You allow such a Godawful thing? His ‘owners’ were church-goin’ folks, I know, because Nate’s told me. And I’ve no doubt that they thought they were allowed to own other human beings in Your eyes – after all, God’s a white man, isn’t He? Why did they think that, Lord? And why did You allow Nathan’s beautiful Momma to be violated by the man who ‘owned’ her, and allow her to kill herself when she found she was carryin’ his child? Why?? Yet … Nathan is a good, kind man who seeks to do nothin’ but help his fellow man, white, yellow or black. Nathan doesn’t care. He could be bitter and twisted by it, Lord, but he isn’t – or if he is, he doesn’t show it. He likes Christmas for the hope it brings. And this from a man who went through slavery and a war, seein’ all that is evil in Mankind. I don’t know how he does it, I really don’t.

So, Lord, if You’re wonderin’ what all this ramblin’ is about on my part, then I’ll tell You.

Why us?

Why did You bring us all together, here, in Four Corners? What is it about we Seven that makes You decide we should hang around together, watchin’ each other’s backs and makin’ sure we all make it to the end of the day?

Because if You think I’m here to be some sort of shepherd to this strange little flock, then think again. My shepherding days are over long ago, and all I am now is a burnt-out ol’ preacher-man with a taste for whisky and a talent for self-destruction. All right, I’ll patch up that old church, because it sure needs some care and attention and a town needs a church, but that’s as far as it goes. My penance stops there.

But maybe …

Maybe You sent them to watch over me. But I thought You were tellin’ me with those crows my time had come, and I can tell you when Nate was diggin’ that damn bullet out of my back I would have been glad to meet my Maker. But You wouldn’t let me go, would You? Even when I begged You to take me all those years. When I woke up Buck was there, all bandaged up but still grinnin’ like a loon. Vin and JD hollerin’ outside like a couple of kids, playin’ the fool, and Ezra tellin’ tall stories to the Seminole children and showin’ them card tricks. Chris sittin’ beside me and Buck both, the look on his face tellin’ us he was glad to see us alive and kickin’. And Nathan just pleased as punch that we’d made it.

Maybe You’ve decided for some reason that we are each other’s salvation, although I have my doubts. But still, I have to admit it seems to be workin’ so far.


I suppose You think that’s pretty funny, Lord, don’t You?

But then, You are supposed to work in mysterious ways.


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