Disclaimer: Well, you already know all of that, so I ain't sayin' it!!!
Warning: Hankies might be needed...
Spoilers: Penance. I took it for granted that Josiah finally talked to the guys and told them about his sister... Don't ask me how, I just needed to be true for my story!
Summary: A stranger arrives in town, ready to face his future. Is the man he has come to find ready to face his past?
To self: Watch out for your moods... that could make a strange story, mostly since you don't write it all in, like, a few seconds, but more like in a few weeks...
To readers: When I wrote my poem To The Setting Sun, I had like this urge to write an OW story. Now, they have nothing to do with one another, except the fact that I just love sunsets! And to me, they always are, not the end of the day, but the beginning of the night and the forethought of another day.
To those of you that know a lot more about Native Americans than I do (I'm European and have read a lot, but then, nothing beats first-hand knowledge!): I apologize if the tribe talked about or the location told about are not accurate. I mean no disrespect and if you want me to change my story to be more accurate, please help!!!
Thanks: To Judy, my beta (God, I almost got her lost in all the writings I was sending and them not belonging to the same story!) and to my best friend Florence who made suggestions and whom I just loved driving crazy by not saying anything one way or another <G>
Comments: Yes please... lots of 'em!!!
Size: 55 K
The wind had been blowing for days on end and all living creatures were beginning to feel the stress of the constant whistling. The loco wind, it was called. Although people were more used to it around the middle of summer, when the grass was dry and the riverbeds were empty. But then again, this had been a strange year around. Everything had been late, from spring blooming to birthing events. Yeah, everything had been late, everything but trouble. It had come again and again, nipping on the heels of everybody, like the Devil finally seeking his revenge on the poor weary souls inhabiting the area. Bank robbers, roving bands of thieves, even Mexican banditos had managed to lose their way among the hills. Then, there had been a train accident with lots of casualties. All in all, quite a busy time for everyone... and then, when everything had finally been settling, the wind had come. First, it had been a faint breeze, bringing in rain for the thirsty crops. Then, the breeze had given birth to a stronger hotter wind, drying the little rain that had managed to pool, crackling the earth on higher grounds. Then, with a vengeance, had come the thunderstorms. Dry crops had burned, leaving in their stead a ghastly vision of charred fields like an ugly scar on the face of the earth. And when the clouds had finally broken, letting down on the weary earth gallons of water, it had been too much for the ground to absorb. There had been mudslides in the hills and those lives that hadn't been taken by outlaws and thieves, those lives that hadn't been forfeited to heat and drought, those precious lives had almost all perished in those rivers of mud, surging without warning, barging into lives, and leaving nothing behind but tears and misery. Indeed, it had been the strangest of time...
The old folks around were weary and looking for signs. 'It isn't over', they were saying, 'The Devil won't stop now'. Few human lives had been taken, but for all that depended on cattle and hunts, those losses were terrible. It meant a harsher winter was coming, with almost no reserve to last. Old folks would whisper stories of the Dark One that would be coming, asking for his reward, asking for more souls to feed on. The superstitious ones were praying each time something suspicious would happen, forgetting their civilized manners, reverting to the old ways to save them from the Hungry Shadow. Anything not foreseen was a sign of His coming. Tempers were getting shorter, looking for any excuse to release pent up fears...
Squatting on top of a hill, the rider was looking west, towards his final destination. Nestled amongst the hills, the weary little town had but one major attraction to him. A man on whom depended his future. And he was living in this little town called Four Corners.
The dark-clad figure was lounging in his chair in front of the saloon, feet up on the edge of the rail. To the unsuspecting eyes, he was merely enjoying a hot coffee on a cold windy morning, watching the bushes being pushed around by gusts of wind. But those who knew him also knew nothing escaped his attentive, weary eyes. He knew exactly who was out and where they were.
"Morn'in, Cowboy". A soft Texan drawl that he knew was coming although the man walked with stealth. But then, it seemed he always knew where Tanner was, like they were linked by an umbilical cord.
"Morning Cowboy," he answered, smiling slightly. "Eveythin' quiet?"
"Yep... we have company though..." Tanner added, indicating the easternmost entrance of the town with a shake of his head.
Slowly, Larabee put his feet down. "Trouble?"
"Reckon not... been watchin' town for three days now..."
"Three days?" Larabee looked at him pointedly.
"Yep... was campin' on Widow's Ridge..."
"What do you make of it?"
"Looked like he was waiting for somebody... guess he found him since he's comin' down..." Vin drawled quietly.
Larabee relaxed slightly. If Tanner wasn't worried by the stranger, he shouldn't be either. God knows how much Tanner knew about stalkers and being hunted. If he was relaxed enough, then so should he be... still, why would someone watch the town for three long days before coming down? Not counting the freezing nights either... Both men stood watching the newcomer walking into town. 'Cause the stranger was walking.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Before entering town, he had taken a deep breath. He had been waiting for this moment for so long ... and now that it was at hand, he wanted it to be farther down the line and not just now. How would he be welcome? What would he think about him? What would he do about him? Would he even want to listen to him? Suddenly, all his doubts were back, haunting him like a hunter stalking his prey... That is why he was now entering town on foot. His mind would not play a trick on him and have him turn back, and walking would delay the meeting. He laughed at himself. He had promised, he was honor-bound to that promise. He could not go back on his word. So there he was, on that early autumn morning, getting ready to finally meet the only family member he had left... a family member that wasn't even aware of his existence. What would he do about it, was the big question going round and round in his mind. Would he be dismissed? Would he be mildly interested in him to loose interest in a few days? Would he be curious enough to try and get to know him better?
There, in that small town, was living the only man he had ever longed to meet.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Josiah Sanchez, son of a preacher-man and ex-preacher himself, woke up with a start. What awakened him, he didn't know, but something in him was whispering that Fate was walking into town. He smiled ruefully. When hadn't Fate walked into town? It seemed that as soon as the whole country knew of the seven peacekeepers, Fate had been walking into town, and sometimes, several times a day... but then, when had the Lord ever stopped testing their strength and resolve?
Stretching on his cot, he decided that since he was awake, he might as well get up and start his day. God willing, this day should bring some relief to the weary town. Then again...
He got up, got dressed and quietly exited his room at the back of the church. Stepping on the street, he was about to salute Larabee and Tanner when he noticed they were eyeing something... something that was currently at his back. Curious, he turned around and his gaze fell on the walking man.
Dressed in buckskin pants and shirt, a jacket with indian beads and designs over it, a slouch grey hat on his head and ... his gaze narrowed, surprised and suspicious... the man was wearing a mare's leg and in fact, if not for the mocassins he was wearing, he would have been Tanner's spitting image. Slowly, the man was drawing closer. To anybody, he might look like a buffalo hunter or a mountain man, but to Josiah's trained eye, there was no doubt: the man was walking two paths... he was of mixed blood... half white, half indian... at least, that's what he could deduce from the clothes he was wearing. Idly, Josiah wondered what he was doing around here... he certainly didn't belong to the Seminole village, they would have met before. So, was he looking for someone? Hunting someone?
A glance in Vin's direction and the way the tracker was leaning told him all he needed to know. He was no threat to his friend. Besides, Chris would have already moved and Vin wouldn't be in plain sight.
The newcomer was slowly but steadily walking closer and Josiah had the furtive impression that he was aware of each and everyone of them watching him. There, drawing closer, walking by him and on still, towards Vin and Chris, past them to the Sheriff office... where he finally stopped and let the reins fall from his hand. And the horse, well trained that it was, stopped, neighed softly and settled to wait. The newcomer looked back at Chris and Vin, then turned to the door he was facing. Taking a deep breath, he slowly walked up the steps and before giving himself a chance to change his mind, knocked and stepped in.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
The chair sat, balanced on its two rear legs, Buck half asleep in it when the knocks permeated his sleep-drugged mind. Then, reflexes took over as the door was pushed open and a stranger stepped in.
His right hand loosely hanging over his gun, Buck nodded to the stranger.
Silence as the stranger was looking at him, obviously trying to decide if he could be trusted.
"Can I help you?" Buck asked, slightly uneasy under the watchful gaze... something about the stranger was disturbing him... if he could just put his finger on it...
Suddenly, it hit him. Dressed as an indian or at least like Tanner, what was unsettling were the eyes. Such a light shade of blue, almost translucent and disappearing in the white of the eye. Even more so striking that the skin was tanned, a skin that had obviously spent most of its life in the outdoors. Then the lips moved and it took him some time to finally realise the man was talking to him.
"Sorry, you were sayin'?"
"I'm lookin' for someone... last I heard, he was livin' in the area... tall, salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, 40ish... rings a bell?"
"Well, sorry sir, but you've described about half the population of this here area," Buck smiled.
The stranger looked at him and nodded pensively.
"Don't you have a name? That would help, you know..." Buck insisted.
The stranger shook his head.
"No name, just a description," he said, then slightly tilting his head to the side, he looked at Buck, trying to decide if the man really was truthful or fishing for information. "No problem," he finally said. "You don't mind if I hang around a bit, just kinda look if I can find the guy?"
"None at all!" Buck smiled, thinking it was better to have the man around where they could keep an eye on him in case of trouble. "The saloon has boarding rooms and there's the livery down the street for your horse," Buck said, friendly.
"Thanks," he answered and like a shadow, exited the office.
Buck didn't wait too long before he stood up and went to the window to trace the stranger's whereabouts. He spotted Vin leaning against the fence post in front of the saloon, and as Chris was quietly walking towards the Sheriff office, he stepped out.
"So?" Chris asked.
"Looking for somebody he heard was around... no name, just a description... tall, salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, 40ish..."
"Hell, that could be just anybody around," Chris grumbled.
"That's what I told him... said he'll be hangin' around to see if he can spot the guy... how about we tell the guys and take turns watching him?"
Chris nodded. "Although, I'm not so sure he can't disappear on us... Vin said he spent the last three days up on Widow's Ridge... maybe he was already trying to spot the guy then," he added pensively. "Let's go have breakfast and tell the others."
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
He walked slowly towards the livery, his horse trailing behind him, watching closely the lay of the town from under the brim of his slouch hat. The buffalo hunter was still leaning against the fence post, nursing a cup of coffee between his hands. And the tall man that had stepped from the church was now walking towards the saloon, with a black man by his side, both talking quietly and watching him just as closely as he was watching them.
He almost laughed. He had already spotted them during the last three days, going on patrols regularly. The preacher, the black man, the buffalo hunter, the kid, the cow-boy from the Sheriff's office, the gunslinger and the one with the red coat. This one would really have the other warriors laughing. Always taking great care of his appearance, just like the vain peacock his grand-father had told him about. Yet, after careful observation of the seven men, he had no doubt one was as deadly as the others... even the young one, so enthusiastic and full of life... or the quiet black-clad one. He smiled. Yep, trouble had better not come around or it would die a violent and quick death. The thought sobered him. Would they be willing to help if he told them about his business? He decided he would wait for at least another three days before asking. Just to make sure he couldn't do it on his own.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Inez was coming out of the kitchen, carrying breakfast for the peacekeepers, when the stranger entered the saloon. She smiled amiably as he saluted her with a nod, then walked to the table where Josiah, Nathan, Chris, Vin and Buck were already seated. JD suddenly barged in with his usual energetic and bouncing step... but only Ezra, poised at the top of the stairs, was witness to the swift and catlike reaction of the newcomer. He had noiselessly and effortlessly dropped into the shadows, hand on his gun, back to the wall, facing the whole room, ready for battle... or escape. Then, as the other men greeted their partner, the stranger glided across the floor to the bar. Yes, 'gliding' was the right word. Ezra knew by experience that some of the planks were loose and creaking... yet, as the stranger walked upon them, no noise was heard.
Ezra was still looking at the man, trying to decipher a potential danger, when he had the uncanny feeling of being watched! His eyes made a lazy sweep of the saloon, searching the shadows, until they came across the palest blue eyes he had ever seen... in the mirror behind the bar. 'So, he thought, the watcher was being watched... smart fellow indeed...' Ez finally walked down the steps to join his friends for breakfast, and started exchanging barbs with Buck and JD.
At the bar, the stranger was talking to Inez, asking about a room for the week. And coffee for breakfast, asking if he could bring a cup into his room. Then, at Inez's nod, he slowly ascended the steps and disappeared from the view of the seven friends.
"Why do I get the feeling that this newcomer is more than what meets the eye?" Ezra took out to the rest of them, suddenly quiet.
"Maybe 'cause yer right..." Vin answered.
"Doesn't that guy give you the creeps?" JD asked. "I mean, have you seen those eyes of his?"
"You bet we have," Buck answered petulantly. "They're like... could kill you just lookin' at you... man, it's like... I mean, Chris here, he tortures you with his eyes... you can see yourself die slowly and painfully... but this guy! Damn, it's like, you look at him and you don't even know you're already dead and it's your ghost seein' it all!"
"Maybe it's 'cause he's injun and all..." Vin drawled.
"Maybe?" Buck repeated incredulous. "Hell, the only thin' he's missin' is the damn war-paint!"
"I don't believe our new visitor is here to kill," Ezra quietly interrupted, putting down his mug of coffee.
"How can you be so sure?" JD said, frowning.
"Because, my dear Mr. Dunne, something tells me that whoever he would want to kill would already be dead and be totally incognizant of that fact," Ezra deadpanned.
Chris chuckled and Vin smiled, Buck spit his mouthful of coffee on the table and JD blanched.
"I have to agree on that one, brothers. If he were here to kill, he wouldn't be walking around town like that."
Silence fell on the group of men, until Nathan broke it.
"Hum, guys... every time I look at the guy... I get that feeling..."
"What feeling?" Chris frowned.
"Like I should know him from somewhere..." Nathan shrugged.
"Like there's somethin' familiar but ya can't put yer finger on it..." Vin said pensively. "Yeah, I know, got the same feelin' ever since I spotted him..."
"And you haven't had any idea since?" Josiah asked.
"Maybe, if we look close enough, all of us, maybe we'll get an idea," Nathan said slowly.
"Or, he'll jump us 'cause we'll make him feel like a bug!" JD said worriedly.
The others smiled.
"Don't worry, kid, if he feels like a bug, all you have to do is squash him!" Buck deadpanned.
Up the stairs, hiding behind the corner, the stranger smiled. Maybe, if he stayed long enough, they'll remember who he looked like... and who knows, they might even lead him right to the man he was looking for.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
The day wore on, one of the most tranquil they had had in a long time. Yet, they could still feel like something was left hanging in the air, over their heads... waiting to explode. And the whole town seemed to be privy to that impression. Or maybe, the people were reacting to their protectors' behavior...
The peacekeepers were getting restless. Even Ezra had left the quiet of the saloon to sit in a chair on the front porch and idly shuffle his cards. It had been agreed that none of them would be riding alone on patrol and they would keep an eye on the newcomer without actually following him. So each and every one of them was strategically stationed at a place in town from where they had at least another one in sight, as well as being able to follow anyone walking through town.
If the townspeople had known, they might have thought it was too much of a precaution... but that 'thing' hanging in the air had their hackles raised and they had gone on the defensive.
Vin slowly walked out from between two buildings and joined Chris in front of the Sheriff's office.
"You seen the injun around?" he asked quietly, his eyes still taking in slowly every inch of the street in front of him.
"Yep... on the roof, over the saloon..."
Chris straightened, frowning.
"What's he doin' up there?"
"Don' rightly know... just everythin' was quiet and then he crawls out of his window and get on the roof... Reckon I should join him?" Vin drawled.
"Reckon you should, pard... and watch your back!"
Vin smiled and disappeared in the saloon on the other side of the street.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
He had been laying on the bed, hands behind the head, eyes to the ceiling, trying to reconcile the fact that he finally was so close to his goal, when something had made him sat up, frowning. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there definitely was something... worried now, he stood up, grabbed his rifle, walked to the window and without a second thought, balancing on the edge, he climbed onto the roof. Walking to the middle of the roof, he quietly took the time to close his eyes to center himself and waited until he was sure where that feeling was coming from. Finally, he turned north and opened his eyes... and smiled. A storm was coming, dark gray clouds darkening the sky. And though he couldn't hear the thunder yet, he could see the lightning on the far horizon. So, that was what had everybody on the edge.
"Ain't nothin' but a thunderstorm," he said quietly to the man behind him.
Vin smiled. And the guys thought he was spooky! Noiselessly, he walked up to the man and crouched by his side, both watching the advance of the storm.
"Name's Vin Tanner," he said as quietly.
"I know..." Then, as Vin suddenly looked at him, "Saw your 'picture' hanging on a wall down south... somebody came bringin' a body and sayin' it was you... problem is, he had blown the face off and nobody could tell for sure... almost killed the sheriff on that one 'cause he didn't wanna pay off the money," he smiled.
Then after a lengthy pause, "Name's Jimmy... Jimmy Cloudwalker..."
"You from what tribe?" Asked a curious tracker.
"Ain't they west of here?" Vin asked surprised.
"Were... then, they needed the rez for white settlers... walked the whole tribe two winters ago," he said, his voice taking on a tight edge. "Lost my whole family... then, I broke off... left to keep a promise to my grand-father."
Vin nodded, saying nothing but indicating that he knew all about promises and survival.
"You might wanna warn the people. We're in for one hell of a storm. No rain, but lightning and wind. If anything falls, it's gonna be hail. Might wanna board up windows and such..." Jimmy said, eyes still on the coming storm.
"Won't hardly have enough time to warn the ranches," Vin said, worrying about Miss Nettie and Casey...
Just then, a buckboard entered town carrying the two women and heading straight to the livery. Vin stood up and was about to leave when the light sound of a throat being cleared stopped him.
"You guys need help?" Jimmy asked, almost shyly.
"Any help is welcome," Vin smiled.
Comments to: Thalia0965@yahoo.com