Many Thanks to my Beta Lori for all her help and to Jo for the collage
Warnings - a little spooky
Vin Tanner paced tiredly around the bullpen, running his hands through his long hair as he waited impatiently for Chris Larabee to come out of his office. The last several weeks had been rough, but the bust had finally gone down that morning. The Clarkson gun running ring had been taken down with no one on Team 7 hurt badly, only a few bruises, but nothing else. Nathan Jackson, their resident medic had been overjoyed.
Everyone had left a half hour earlier, at 3:30 p.m., Chris, the leader of ATF Team 7, had sent everyone on their way. It was Halloween, and he had known that they all had plans for the evening. Buck Wilmington, Chris's oldest friend for over twelve years and team 7's resident ladies' man, had been going on and on about the date he was taking to a costume party. His roommate, JD Dunne, was taking his girlfriend Casey to the same party; the four were sort of double dating with Casey as the designated driver for the night. Nathan and his wife Rain were going to a Halloween dinner party and Josiah Sanchez was riding with them. Chris and Vin were getting out of town as fast as Vin could drive if he could only get Chris off the phone and out of his office.
Just as the slender, blue eyed sharpshooter decided he was going to kick in the door and haul his friend bodily out of the office, the door flew open and Chris strode out, his blond hair a mess and his black duster thrown over his arm.
"Let's get the hell out of here before that damn thing rings again," the tall, green eyed blond said making his way through the outer office.
Vin grinned, grabbed his leather jacket, and fell in step with Chris. Within minutes the elevator doors opened into the parking garage and the two men stepped out.
Chris unlocked his Ram as Vin retrieved his duffle bag and two sacks of groceries from his jeep and placed everything into the back seat of the truck. Chris drove out of the garage and turned onto the wide street and a short time later they were on the highway headed for Chris' ranch.
"Didn't think we'd ever get outta there," Vin groused as Chris maneuvered through the heavy traffic on the interstate. "If it'd been much later we'd might as well stayed home."
"Next time disconnect my phone instead of my computer," Chris told him with a grin.
"Won't be a next time. I'll let Travis know no more busts for us on a holiday, and none on Halloween!"
"Good luck Cowboy."
Vin smiled, "At least we'll have a nice quiet evening to ourselves; no parties, and no kids at the door."
"Kids never came anyway; it's too far out and too long of a driveway. Saves on having to buy tons of candy."
Vin was silent and Chris shot a glance at him. 'You didn't!?' he thought.
"Well. . . I need something to snack on. You want some Peanut M & M's?" Vin asked, unhooking his seatbelt and twisting around to dig in one of the sacks he'd brought and set on the back seat.
"Peanut M & M's? Well, I guess a few," Chris answered. It was about the only kind of candy that he would eat, and then only rarely.
'Vin! Couldn't you find any larger bags?" Chris exclaimed, seeing the four pound sack of Peanut M & M's Vin was opening.
"Naw. This' the largest they had. I got four bags."
"Four bags! Think that's enough for a one night camping trip?" Chris asked sarcastically, holding out his hand. He should have known that Vin wouldn't go anywhere without some kind of sweets.
"'Nuff for me if you don't eat them all," Vin stated as he poured some candy into Chris' hand.
Chris snorted, "Knowing you, they'll be gone before morning."
Vin just smiled as he filled his mouth. Chris shook his head; sometimes Vin was like a child, stuffing candy or some other sweets into his mouth as fast as he could.
The rest of the trip was made in companionable silence. The first bag of Peanut M & M's was gone by the time Chris pulled into his garage. The sun was setting as they unloaded the truck.
Once inside they quickly packed the last of their supplies into their saddlebags, enough for breakfast and a lunch the next day. They changed into more comfortable clothes, then made a quick dinner. After eating and cleaning up the kitchen they headed for the barn, dressed in warm coats and with bedrolls and saddlebags slung over their shoulders.
Soon the two men were mounted and heading for the lake where they planned to camp for the night. They had camped along the lake many times and were looking forward to some peace and quiet. As they rode night fell and the moon rose, round and full; it seemed so close that they almost could reach out and touch it.
They paused at a small creek to let the horses drink. A wispy cloud floated across the moon. Vin had opened another bag of candy and passed some to Chris as they sat while the horses drank their fill. Putting the candy carefully away, Vin looked around the moonlit area. "Sure is pretty out tonight," he said quietly.
Yeah, it is. Should be really nice at the lake." Chris remarked.
They still had over an hour's ride to the lake and then it'd be a little longer before camp was set up. Yawning, Vin glanced at Chris as Peso lifted his head and looked around, ears twitching, water dribbling out of his mouth. Chris smiled at Vin as his own horse, Pony, lifted his head and did the same thing.
"Not going to get there if we sit and enjoy the night Pard," Chris said as he gathered up his reins.
They moved on. Vin dozed as Peso walked quietly beside Chris and Pony. One of the horses snorted and Vin's eyes flashed open. Fog was starting to settle around them, wispy tendrils were slowly swirling around the horses' legs. Vin felt a chill go through him, though he was bundled in several layers of shirts and his buckskin coat. Shooting a glance at Chris, he saw his friend's head also nodding in rhythm to Pony's movement. Looking around at the low lying fog he shivered again and tucked his chin deeper into the folds of his coat, trying to relax.
Within minutes Vin had dozed off again, the constant pressure and stress of the bust wearing on both men. The horses, knew the way and continued to plod calmly through the rising, thickening fog. The face of the moon was obscured, but its white light still glowed eerily in the sky through the haze of the fog.
Suddenly the horses halted, throwing up their heads. Their riders were instantly alert. Chris and Vin looked around but all they could see was fog and the eerie moon overhead. The trail and trees were lost in the fog. They knew the trees were there as the trail went through a forested area for a couple of miles before they reached the lake.
As one both horses whirled, snorting with fear and looking wild-eyed all around them. Their ears twitched and nostrils flared as they tried to see what it was they were sensing.
"Cain't see anythin' in this fog," Vin said, his drawl thick as he tried to control his spooked horse.
"Yeah. Let's get out of here," Chris replied, reining Pony to a standstill with some difficulty. As he looked around again he tried to determine where exactly along the trail they were. "That way," he pointed, instinctively heading Pony in that direction.
Vin and Peso followed closely behind, until Peso suddenly lurched halfway around, his ears pinned back. Vin thought he saw something coming towards them through the fog, and felt chills race through him. Pulling Peso back around, he caught a shadowy glimpse of Pony and Chris disappearing into the fog ahead and kicked Peso into a canter to catch up with them.
Suddenly Vin heard heavy hoof beats coming up fast behind him. He slowed Peso and twisted around in his saddle, thinking it was one of his other team members trying to catch up with them. Time seemed to stand still and his eyes widened in shock as a huge black horse with red eyes suddenly appeared out of the fog almost on top of him. He spun Peso around and spurred him into a dead run as the huge horse came after them. Vin felt his heart thud harder and harder as his hand reached for the holstered revolver on his hip.
The headless rider on the back of the huge animal was as black as the horse, and it was holding something aloft in his right hand.
Vin's gun came free and, turning around towards the oncoming horse and rider, he pulled the trigger, once, twice, then again and again. He screamed Chris' name in his head as the bullets flew from his gun.
Nothing happened. The bullets simply passed through the horse and its headless rider, and they kept coming.
When his gun was empty Vin slid it back into his holster; he didn't have time to reload, and he didn't think it would do him any good anyway. He faced forward once again and kicked Peso harder, trying to outrun the horse behind him. He wasn't sure where he was and wondered where Chris and Pony were. They should have caught up with them by now. He shot a glance over his shoulder and wished he hadn't. The horse's nose was just above Peso's tail, its eyes looking as large as saucers and glowing blood red.
Without warning the huge black crashed into Peso's hip, knocking him off his feet as if he was a pesky fly on his shoulder.
Peso fell, taking Vin with him. Vin yelled in surprise as they went down. He tried to scramble away from the thrashing Peso but as the gelding rolled over, but an iron shod hoof caught him on his left shoulder and he cried out in pain as he came to a stop against a large tree.
"Chris, Chris, where are you?" Vin moaned as he opened his eyes and looked around. The huge horse and rider were right in front of him. In the background he could hear Peso shove to his feet and move off into the trees. He pushed himself back against the trunk, wishing he could disappear.
A loud snort came from the big black horse as the rider threw something at him.
The object smacked wetly onto the tree behind him. Vin ducked, his eyes never leaving the frightening sight in front of him. Horse and rider turned and vanished into the fog as if they had never been there.
Shaking and in pain, Vin pushed himself up. As he stepped away from the tree, his nostrils were assailed by a foul odor, like something that had been dead for a long time.
Cautiously he made his way towards Peso, calling quietly to the unsettled horse. With his right hand he removed his revolver from the holster. Holding it under his left arm, he released the used clip and replaced it with a filled clip of bullets from his pocket. As he reholstered the gun he dropped the empty clip into another coat pocket.
Vin paused and listened; he thought he heard hoof beats ahead of him and hoped it was only Peso, but not really knowing who it was, he looked around for a place to hide. The fog was still thick; he couldn't see five feet in front of him in the eerie half light from the moon. He couldn't figure out where Chris was either. He was sure that Chris would have heard the gunshots at least, even if he was a ways ahead of him. Vin called to his friend subconsciously, praying that he was alright and that Chris could hear him.
The sound of the hoof beats stopped and Vin stood listening, wishing he could see or hear something. Everything was silent in the heavy fog, not even a cricket was chirping. A cloud drifted in front of the moon and the fog seemed to take on a life of its own. Swirling and rolling, the fog ebbed around Vin as if it was trying to cut him off from everything around him. All he could see was the grey/white fog around him that was barely lit from the moonlight.
"Damn, damn," Vin said aloud, as he held his left arm tight against him, trying to ease the pain in his shoulder. Keeping the wan moon on his left he started walking in the direction from which he had last heard the hoofbeats. 'Chris where are you?' he thought, as he forced himself to move through the thick fog.
For a long time Vin moved forward through the fog, several times tripping over unseen, hidden roots and rocks. A couple of times he barely managed to stop himself from walking into a tree or bush that was shrouded in the fog as well. 'This must be what it's like to be blind,' Vin thought as he pressed on.
Between the thick fog and the pain in his shoulder, Vin was in a near panic as he frantically stumbled forward. Suddenly he 'felt' Chris' presence and tried to calm himself down so he could locate his friend.
Something touched his face and he jumped; he reached up to brush it off, only to encounter more strands of it. The problem was, he couldn't see anything. The soft fine strands wrapped around his body, like a living thing, slowing him down.
"Chris. . . Chris. . . Where are you? Help me," Vin pleaded as he struggled forward, fighting the strands holding him back and while holding his left arm tightly against him.
Hearing a low moan ahead of him Vin tried to run forward; he had to get to Chris, he was sure it was his partner. The gossamer strands surrounding him hampered him as he ran through the thick fog. One strand would disappear and two more would take its place.
Almost screaming in frustration and fear, Vin finally 'heard' Chris calling to him, telling him to stay away.
'No way,' Vin thought as he continued forward, suddenly entering a small clearing, an open area that seemed to be brighter and less foggy. He stopped, sobbing for breath as the strands seemed to tighten around him, holding him in place and preventing him from moving forward.
Vin's eye's widened in fear. Chris was there, suspended and motionless about two feet above the ground. His arms were away from his body, his left arm straight out to the side almost shoulder high, and his right hand hovering near but not touching his revolver. His handsome face was twisted in pain. There was nothing to show what was holding him up, nor was there any sign of their horses.
"Chris, Chris! Are you alright?" Vin asked as he forced himself towards the blond.
Chris' eyes slowly opened and he gasped for air. "Vin," he croaked out. "Stay away."
"I can't," Vin answered as he struggled to reach Chris' side. The strands were around his neck and chest, slowly cutting off his air supply as he moved closer to his friend.
"St. . . Stop. . . Vin. . . Danger. . . Look out. . ." Chris gasped out, gritting his teeth. "Stay ba. . . back. . . hurt. . . hurting me."
Vin stopped four feet from Chris, his eyes fastened on his close friend hanging in mid-air and gasping for breath. Vin took a step back and reached for his gun. He drew several deep breaths and took another step back and felt the strands around him loosen more. Watching Chris he saw that he was breathing a little easier too.
"Chris what's going on? What is all this?" Vin asked quietly, afraid to talk too loudly.
"Don't know Cowboy. Where did you go?" Chris asked slowly, his eyes locked on Vin as the fog swirled around them.
"I was right behind you, Chris, then you just disappeared. I. . . I couldn't find you. There was a huge horse. . . rider with no head. . . Knocked us over, Peso took off. . . This. . . this. . . God Chris. . . I don't know. . ."
"It's okay pard. . . there is something here, I can feel it," Chris paused, watching Vin nod his head in agreement as his wide blue eyes took in their surroundings. "Vin, whatever it is, it's coming, and it's big."
Vin's eyes landed on Chris again. He stood stock still, listening to the silence. He could hear nothing, no night sounds, no animals, nothing but their harsh breathing. He took another step towards Chris again and felt the strange strands tighten around him.
"Chris, what. . ." Vin stopped, turning his head towards a slight sound he'd suddenly heard. He saw Chris' head rise as he looked in that direction too. The sound grew louder, a heavy thudding coming closer. Vin raised his gun, positioning himself in front of Chris, and waited as the noise came closer and closer.
Suddenly they heard a loud, wild squeal, and the ground shook with the thunder of hooves. A giant shape of a horse came towards the men. It was an iridescent dark green with large white splotches criss-crossed with giant spider web shapes on its body. Its eyes glowed red with green centers, its nostrils were fire red, and its barred teeth were long and pointed. Its forefeet were more like hard claws, long, and razor sharp. The horse creature slowed and came closer to the men, its hooves gouging up clumps of earth up with every movement, its long black mane flowing down its neck and its black tail waving far behind. As the creature came to a halt it fixed its glowing green eyes on Vin and opened its mouth to show its long sharp teeth, it threw its head high into the air, looking down on the two men. It was then that Vin noticed the mark on the horse's forehead; it was white and shaped like a large Black Widow spider.
Vin felt his mouth go dry. The horse towered over him, its head well above five feet over his head. 'Shoot!' he heard Chris shouting in his head.
Without warning the animal charged and Vin dropped to the ground, firing as fast as he could pull the trigger. The first ten bullets went into the underside of the horse's head, the second ten into the center of its chest.
The horse screamed horribly, a blood curling sound as its head and chest erupted in thick iridescent lavender blood and black bone fragments. Its momentum and power carried it over Vin as one rear hoof struck his injured shoulder a glancing blow. Bone and blood sprayed over both men, and its shattered head clipped Chris' outstretched left arm as it swept past him. Chris' cry of pain echoed in the clearing.
There was a loud crashing noise sounded behind Chris and Vin struggled to his feet, gun gripped in his right hand as he held his left arm against his body. The crashing noise quieted and an instant later Chris crumbled to the ground; the mysterious strands surrounding Vin disappeared, the fog began to dissipate, the moonlight became brighter, time, it seemed, began again.
Vin staggered to Chris' side, fumbling to reach another clip of bullets for his Glock. Chris was trying to get to his feet, groaning in pain. Vin slid his gun into its holster and reached his right arm out to help Chris up.
"Chris, here, grab my hand," Vin told him.
On his hands and knees, Chris raised his head and reached up with his right hand. Vin gripped it and pulled. A moment later Chris was on his feet, swaying slightly as Vin held his arm. Chris looked at his friend's haggard face and tried to give him a reassuring smile, but it was more of a grimace.
"Now that I found you, and. . . and that. . ." Vin brushed his hand over his face, wiping away lavender blood and pieces of bone fragments. "How 'bout you?"
"Okay I guess. What happened?" Chris brushed blood off his face as he looked around, groaning when he tried to move his left arm. "Damn that hurts."
"Is that all? You look like shit Chris," Vin said grimacing as he tried to move his own left arm.
"Where did it go?" Chris asked as he peered around the moonlit glade. The fog was almost gone, chased away by the moonlight. Now they were able to see trees and the trail to the lake.
Vin nodded past Chris, "Over there in the trees." He stepped away form Chris and took several steps towards the darkness, then stopped when he heard a loud gasp from Chris and the sound of him falling. Vin quickly turned back to find Chris lying in a heap.
"Jesus, what the hell happened?" Vin knelt down, rolling him over on his back and running his hand over his limbs.
"Leg," Chris rasped.
Vin moved to Chris' legs and bent over them; he didn't know what he was looking for, but he found something sticking out of Chris' right thigh six inches above his knee.
"Dammit Chris. Can't you do anything without getting hurt?" Vin asked as he looked closely at the protruding object. His stomach rolled and he glanced away as he realized the object was a piece of the horse's bone. He felt in his pocket for his bandana, and wrapping it around the end of the bone, he quickly removed the fragment from Chris' thigh and dropped it to the ground; it was searingly hot to the touch. Next he held the cloth to the hole in Chris' leg, pressing hard to stop the bleeding.
"Don't think it's too bad. How do you feel?"
"Better now. That thing felt like it was burning through my leg." Chris groaned lowly from the pressure Vin was applying to the wound.
"Ah hell Pard," Vin was peering at the hole in Chris' leg in the moonlight, trying to see if the bleeding had stopped. It seemed to be oozing something dark and thick, and it didn't smell anything like blood to him. He tried to get a hold of the ooze but it fell to the ground like a limp rope and disappeared.
Vin could feel the blood drain from his face and fought not to pass out, or throw up. The strange stuff was still oozing out of the wound so he applied all the pressure he could to the wound in Chris' thigh.
"You got a bandana? Could use it here," Vin said between clenched teeth, as his stomach started rolling again.
Chris pulled his bandana from around his neck and handed it to Vin. He was lying on the ground on his back, his gaze going from the white faced Vin to the surrounding trees as he tried to guard them while Vin worked on his leg. Seeing Vin's face in the moonlight he asked, "What's wrong Vin? Tell me."
"Nothin'. Jist tryin' to get the bleedin' stopped. Should be okay in a minute," Vin answered swallowing hard and trying not to shake.
As fast as the dark ooze had appeared, it stopped, and soon bright red blood was pouring from the wound. Vin kept up the pressure as his breath caught in his throat, praying that whatever had been in Chris' leg was gone.
"Breathe Cowboy before you pass out," a quiet, gentle voice told him. Vin gasped for air, not realizing he had been holding his breath. He let the wound bleed freely for several minutes before he decided that the foreign substance was completely gone, then he prepared a bandage to cover the wound and tied the other bandana around Chris' thigh to hold it in place.
"Think you can walk now Chris?" Vin asked, his voice tinged with fear, his hands shaking.
Chris pushed himself up into a sitting position, his eyes on his shaking friend, knowing Vin would tell him if something was wrong.
"Yeah, I can walk. Leg feels better, it's not burning. You alright?" he asked as he struggled to stand.
"Will be when soon as we're out of here," Vin answered as he rose, his eyes going towards the area where the horse creature had disappeared into.
"Want to go see what happened to that horse?" Chris asked, already knowing the answer he'd get.
Vin's eyes flashed to him, a look of fear on his face for an instant before he controlled it.
"No. Let's get outta here. Maybe tomorrow," he replied as he turned and looked around the clearing, trying to get his bearings.
"I think we're almost to the lake. This is off the main trail we usually take. Lake should be over that way," Chris told the shaken sharpshooter.
Vin nodded and moved to Chris' side as they made their way out of the glade and into the trees. Walking slowly and carefully they wended their way through the trees as the moon set, their thoughts on the strange happenings of the night. Just as the moonlight totally vanished they saw the lake ahead of them, and both men let out a sigh of relief.
In the darkness the two men made their way to the edge of the lake and took a short break. They both knew exactly where they were, and hoped that their horses were safe at their campsite, a half mile away from where they sat. The wind came up and they shivered at the cold breeze coming off the lake. They both rose at the same time and started towards their favorite campsite, the sky lightening as they walked.
"What the hell happened to us? It shouldn't be dawn already."
"Don't know, Cowboy, but I don't ever want to go through anything like that again." Vin replied.
Chris looked at him. "Me neither. Next time. . ."
"We stay home for Halloween!" Vin shot back at him, his eyes wide.
"Damn right Pard," Chris agreed.
A horse's nicker stopped the two men in their tracks. Both men were reaching for their guns when they heard another whinny. They relaxed as they spotted two black shapes standing beside the campfire ring of their campsite. Pony and Peso watched them as they slowly approached.
Chris and Vin spoke quietly to their horses and were able to catch them before they spooked and took off; both were snorting at the smell of the lavender blood. The men made sure both horses were all right before tying them to a couple of nearby trees, then stood together and looked at their campsite in the dawning light. The wind seemed to be colder as it blew over them from the lake. Glancing at each other they both nodded, 'Home' and turned back to the horses.
"Wait!" Chris exclaimed before they could mount.
"Need to wash some of this. . . stuff. . . off first I think. Don't like this lavender stuff on me. You need to get it off too," he said looking at Vin and seeing lavender streaking his face and in his long hair. There were splatters of lavender on Vin's buckskin coat as well as his own coat and pant legs.
Vin glanced down at himself, then back to Chris, "You got it on your face and hair too. I'll get something to wash with." Vin turned to his saddlebags and finally pulled out a piece of towel. His eyes landed on his hands and he shuddered; they were covered in blood and dried black ooze with some lavender streaks. He moved to the lake next to Chris, then knelt at the water's edge and dropped his hands into the cold water. Within minutes his hands were clean and there were lavender streaks on the top of the pristine clear water. He used the cloth to wash his face. He was starting to rise when he saw Chris point to his long hair. "Damn," Vin said and turned back, dunking his head into the water and scrubbing his long hair to get it cleaned of the lavender blood.
Gasping from the cold water, Vin raised his head and was trying to squeeze as much water from his hair as he could when suddenly the lake began bubbling where the lavender streaks lay on the water's surface. The lavender turned to thick black ooze and then took the form of spiders which were quickly drowned in the bubbling mass. Within minutes the lake was clear and calm once again, with no trace of lavender streaks, black ooze, or spiders.
Vin gasped in horror as he leapt back away from the water's edge, holding his left arm tightly. A threadbare towel was dropped over his head and he jumped in fright before realizing it was his own towel and used it to dry his long wet hair. Next he took the cloth and frantically scrubbed at the lavender streaks on his clothes and coat. Finally he stepped away from the lake, still shaking at the memory of the drowning spiders in the bubbling water. He looked at Chris as he raised an eyebrow.
"I know, I know, my turn." Chris moved to the lake and knelt carefully at the edge. 'Be careful Cowboy' he heard as Vin handed him the cloth. He quickly washed his hands and face, dunking his head to wash the lavender and black ooze out of his hair. He watched as the water began to bubble once again, and felt Vin step nervously to his side. Vin handed him the towel and he rubbed his head dry, shivering in the early morning light. With his friend's help he managed to get most of the lavender blood off his coat and jeans, then sat down with his right leg outstretched so that Vin could remove the makeshift bandage, clean the wound and cover it with antiseptic cream, and re-wrap it with a sterile bandage from their first aid kit.
Finally both men rose and made their way to the horses. The sun was up, turning the early morning into a kaleidoscope of rich fall colors. Dark green fir trees intermingled with aspen and others whose leaves were gold, red, and orange colors, making the country side around the lake a beautiful retreat of many colors. Fish jumped in the lake, causing rings of reflective colors to expand towards the shore. It was peaceful and beautiful; as the two men took a last look around the area before moving off, they knew they would be back again another time.
Checking their mounts over once more, the two men tightened their cinches and mounted, Vin watching Chris closely to be sure he didn't have a problem with his leg. Together they rode from their campsite towards home. Neither man thought about the breakfast they carried in their saddlebags; they just wanted to get home, but first they were going to check out the horse that Vin had shot.
Riding back the way they'd come earlier both men tensed as they got closer to the little clearing. The horses began prancing nervously and shaking their heads. As they entered the clearing they halted and Vin looked around; nodding towards their right he turned Peso into the woods. Vin shuddered as he felt a chill; glancing over at Chris, he knew his partner had felt it too. Just ahead was a large dark mound with something glittering above it in the sunlight.
Peso and Pony suddenly whirled in fright. Both men fought to keep their horses under control and, despite their injuries, managed to calm them enough to bring them a little closer to the mound until they were finally within ten feet of the enormous creature on the ground. Both men stared at it in horror; mouths going dry, nausea rising.
It was the contorted figure of a dead horse, twice the size of a large draft horse. Its iridescent dark green color was no longer bright, and there were strands of webbing extending from the splashes of white on the horse's sides to the surrounding trees, making the spider webs on the animal connected to the webs in the woods. The trees were alive with black spiders that scuttled from web to web throughout the forest. There was still lavender 'blood' on the ground around the gaping holes where Vin's bullets had smashed into the horses' head and chest. Black shattered bones stuck out at odd angles and from the head oozed a thick black substance that was quickly soaking into the ground. More spiders were emerging from a bullet hole in the center of the Black Widow spider shaped marking on the animal's forehead. The smell emanating from the dead creature was a sickening combination of decomposition and raw sewage.
Vin gagged and turned Peso away; they barely reached the clearing before he was vomiting what little food he'd had in his stomach. Peso stood still, knowing there was something desperately wrong with his rider.
With a lot of effort, Chris managed not to be sick. He rode into the clearing next to Vin, and leaned over and rubbed his back soothingly until the younger man raised his head. Chris passed him the still damp cloth and offered him the canteen of water. Vin wiped his face, then took a swallow from the proffered canteen, rinsing his mouth.
Handing the canteen back to Chris, Vin said shakily, "Damn, I hate spiders. Let's get the hell outta here."
Chris smiled and both men turned their horses, heading for the trail and home.
The sun was well up in the sky when Chris and Vin rode into the ranch yard. The wind was still blowing and they were cold, tired, and hungry, but their shoulders were feeling better. As they unsaddled the horses and brushed them down with one hand, all they could think about was a hot shower with lots of soap. With saddlebags slung over their shoulders, they walked to the house, their right hands still hovering near their holstered revolvers.
Entering the quiet house, Vin threw his saddlebags onto the kitchen counter, then yelped as a small spider skittered across the counter top away from the saddlebags. Cursing, he tore open the cabinet under the sink and knocking things out of the way grabbed the can of Raid. Spotting the little spider making its way to the far edge Vin stepped closer and took aim.
"Got'cha, you little bastard," he snarled as he sprayed the spider, and kept on spraying.
"Ah, Vin, I think he's dead. Look, he's lying on his back with his legs all curled up. Won't do any good to keep killin' him; once he's dead, he's dead. Besides, that's my brand new can of Raid." Chris spoke calmly from his position on the other side of the kitchen, where he was working on making a fresh pot of coffee.
Vin stopped spraying, shooting Chris a dirty look. Moving to the broom closet, Vin grabbed the flyswatter and standing back as far as he could, reached with the swatter, and swept the dead bug into the garbage can sitting at the end of the counter. With a sigh he stepped back and looked at Chris, who was watching him with eyebrows raised.
"I hate spiders Cowboy."
"Guess so," Chris replied with a half smile.
With one hand, Vin unbuckled his saddlebags and dragged the last two bags of Peanut M&M's onto the counter. He placed the saddlebags on the floor near the door, then opened one of the bags of candy. Stuffing a handful into his mouth, he held the bag out to Chris, who accepted some with a crooked smile.
"You going to shower first?"
"I guess. We going to tell the guys what happened to us?" Vin asked, shuddering as he stuffed another handful of candy into his mouth.
"Don't know. Give me some more of those. Not a bad breakfast."