by Chris

Disclaimer: I hate to write this, but they are not mine! I’d love to own the character of VIN TANNER, (sigh!). I don’t intend in any way to infringe on the copyrights of CBS .. etc.. and I wrote this tale only for entertainment.

Note: This tale, as well as my first one, "An Ancient Gift" was inspired by the MAG7 episode Obsession and from it, I "borrowed" Ella’s character.

Thanks: I dedicate this tale to my personal buckskin man, an old Shaman from Kayenta, to the wonderful people I met on my journey through Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, and to all the kind inhabitants of the charming little town of Chama, New Mexico. A big hello to Sandy and a hug the size of Four Corners to my wonderful beta -reader, Laurie Anne.

Feedback: You bet … but as usual no bullets …please!

Nathan stepped away from the bed, closing his black leather bag with a snap. Catching hold of Chris Larabee’s arm, he led him across the room to the window.

He looked sadly into the gunslinger's gaunt face and he knew he didn’t have the heart to tell his friend the truth… and yet he couldn’t lie to him either.

"How bad is it, Nathan?" Chris demanded.

"I won’t lie to you, Chris," the black healer said quietly. "You only have to look at Vin to realize that he is desperately ill."

Both men turned to look at the bed where Vin Tanner was stretched out, the angles of bones and curve of ribs clearly visible beneath the sheet, which covered his emaciated body.

The illness had come upon him suddenly, a shuddering bout of nausea and diarrhoea gripping him after a day's hunting. . He had been a bit better the following day, though without appetite – which was natural – but the following day and the day after that he had no interest in food, and when he forced himself to chew and swallow, the food came up almost immediately afterwards. In fourteen days, he fell from his usual 154 pounds to just over 125, and now the skin hung in fleshy bags on his bones.

"Can you do anything for him?" Chris asked.

"I’ve given him some laudanum which will help him sleep and ease the pain," Jackson said. "I’ve tried to spoon tonics and herbal teas down his throat to take down the fever he’s running, but he simply cannot keep them down."

"So, you’re telling me that there is nothing you can do for Vin."

"No, I’m not saying that! I’m simply telling you I’ve done all I could now. We’ll wait a day or two to see how effective my remedies are."

"Damn! He could be dead in a day or two! Have you given up?" Chris asked, his voice rising to a shout. The young tracker in the bed moaned in his fevered sleep and Chris lowered his voice to a whisper again.

The black healer shook his head. "I haven’t given up, Chris. I will not stop trying, you know that!"

Larabee nodded. "I know. I’m sorry, Nate."

He turned back to the bed. Leaning on the bedposts, lightly brushing Vin’s flushed cheek, he asked desperately, "What’s wrong with him?"

The black healer turned to look at the shape in the bed. "I don’t know, Chris, and I’ve never seen anything like it.... No," he said after a pause, "that’s not true. Many years ago, in Georgia, I saw a young man waste away like this. They said he was.. cursed …. he wasted away to skin and bones .. then he died," Nathan finished and glanced sidelong at the gunslinger . "I’m surprised you don’t scoff, Chris."

"Once I would have laughed, but I have lived in this strange land far too long now. I’ve seen things, heard things … " his voice trailed away.

"What is it?" the healer asked, trying to interpret the expression that had flitted across Chris’s face.

Something had flashed into those deep green eyes – understanding .. hope?

He walked straight past Nathan, striding out of the clinic, taking the stairs two at a time. Jackson leaned on the banister and looked over the rail onto the street.

"Chris .. Chris .. it’s the middle of the night Where are you going?"

"To see a magician !" Chris hollered.

+ + + + + + +

The old Indian came awake in the deathly silence that precedes the dawn. Twilight was gray on the sky, but the interior of his hogan was still in darkness. Red, winking embers marked the location of the fire across the little room from the simple cot, but the old Indian didn’t need a light to know the location of everything in his house. He had lived here for more than six decades and its geography was as familiar to him as his own linen flesh.

By the time the rumble of hooves was audible on the cold morning air, he had stirred the embers alive again, adding some good, dried sticks and setting a pot to boil.

Moving slowly now – the damp autumn mornings stiffened his joints – he reached out for two cups.

Chris had just climbed down from his horse as the little door opened and pulling his poncho tighter across his chest he strode towards the old man, wandering how he could stand the bitter morning chill with only a worn out blanket thrown over his shoulder.

"You may remember me, wise man …" he began.

"I remember you, Chris Larabee," the Indian said softly, turning away and disappearing into the interior of the hogan.

The man in black hesitated a moment before he followed him and as he entered he saw, in the indistinct light of the little fire, the old man standing in front of him.

"You're troubled, Larabee," he said simply.

"It’s my friend, Vin Tanner," Chris said and stopped.

The old man poured something into a cup and handed it to Chris, not breaking the silence. Taking his own cup, he sat on a blanket on the floor, gesturing for his guest to do the same. In the shadows, his dark eyes were hard and glittering.

Chris sipped the strong tea, felt it sear its way down into his empty stomach. "Vin’s sick," he said finally. "A bad sickness. He cannot stand, cannot even sit erect. Nothing he eats stays down. He cannot even drink water. Our healer has done all he could for him ..but now I fear there’s little enough left to do."

"Did this illness came upon him suddenly?"

"He was out hunting in the mountains and when he returned he had a bleeding gash on his head. He mumbled something about 'hurting his head' and then collapsed into my arms . We took him to Nathan’s clinic. His conditions worsened through the next night, wracked with bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea that left him ill and shaking the following morning." Chris shrugged.

"Why have you come to me?" the Indian asked from the shadow.

"They say you are a powerful man."

The old Indian laughed quietly. "You know my reputation. My people call me 'holy man,' white men call me 'magician,' but never to my face. I know the uses of herbs and poultices, balms and potions." He shook his head. "A doctor could be much more of help to your friend, so why have you come to me?"

"Our healer has attended my friend every day of his illness, but couldn’t be of any help to Vin. He told me how a young man had been cursed by a 'magician' and that young man wasted away … just like Vin is doing "

"Do you think your friend has been bewitched?" the Indian asked carefully.

"Two years ago I would have scoffed at the very idea . However, that was before what I saw in these places. So many things happened to us and I know that countless strange creatures and ghosts are haunting this land."

The old Indian laughed coldly. "I’m closer to this land than you will ever be, white man .. I was born here : I can understand the inner sounds of the desert, the secret murmurs of the river, the whispers of the woods and the many voices of the free wind … … by the way, I’m still asking you, do you think that Vin Tanner has been bewitched?"

"I don’t know, really I don’t know, but he is my best friend and I’ll do everything in my power that might save him, and I came to you as a last resort "

"Go back to him, and send a wagon at noon for me . I will see what I can do."

Larabee opened his mouth to speak, but the look in the old man’s dark eyes – wild and terrifying – silenced him.

He finished his tea in one urgent swallow and backed quickly from the tiny hogan.

Pausing at the door, he looked back, and the old Indian looked at him. His face was in shadow, only his eyes were visible and they blazed with the dancing flames of the fire.

As his "guest," left the old man walked the almost invisible trail leading to the green heart of the canyon. There, a little stream ceased its rush to form a quiet pool just under a well-shaped arch of red rocks . He had first played in this canyon as a child, and he knew its every trail and tracks by heart.

However, unlike the white men, who thought that a trail through the canyon remained fixed and unchanging, he was aware that it was constantly evolving, moving, growing, just like a human being. He knew enough to respect it.

As he descended towards the river, the air grew still and silent. The fog was thicker here, lying on the stream in a twisting, shifting vapour that came up to the level of his knees. Though he knew the path, he slowed, unwilling to step into the icy water and equally unwilling to move across the arch even though he was carrying the most effective protection of all – a simple eagle’s feather tucked into his belt.

Finally, he stopped and moved the feather through the fog in a spiral, his lips shaping the ancient language of the People. "Hear me, Great Spirit, Grandfather : Here I stand, facing the mountains and seeking for your help! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, for with your power only I can face the unknown," he chanted. The fog hissed and burned away from him. Closing his eyes he drew the damp air into his lungs, allowing the events of the last few days to flow into his mind, drawing images from the earth and air, the emotions printed on the stones . He performed the usual ritual for guidance and aid and once more, there stood his familiar, the Spirit of the wolf, his teacher, gleaming and white in his purity and kindness. The vision betook him and he saw Vin Tanner, slender and tall, his strong, arrogant features shadowed by his slouch hat, his rifle cradled under his arm, a rabbit in his bag. The young tracker strode into the clearing and walked into the remains of a big ranch. He approached to a half broken window and peeped into the empty room. Suddenly, the glass broke into tiny fragments, hitting him on the face. Blood flowed from his forehead as he fell on the ground. Dazed, he didn’t see the strange mist curling and twisting, forming a vague shape in the air around him, clutching at him with gaseous fingers and didn’t feel the slight dreadful touch of an invisible tongue lapping the little stream of blood from his wound. The old Indian watched the tracker drag himself to his feet, leaning on his rifle, using it to support himself . He saw him stagger out of the ruins and begin the climb up to the canyon.

Turning his face towards the arch, he opened his arms and looked again in front of him . Then he saw a dark cloud behind the young man, dark in the sense of pitch-blackness, of an absence of light. Speechless, he stared at the shape before him and the darkness brightened slowly until the silhouette was filled with colours and transformed from cloud to woman - an impossibly beautiful woman. The ghost laughed, throwing her head back and tossing the dark waves of her long hair.

"Who are you?" the old man asked.

"I’m a fallen angel, I’m here to claim a soul and a body, they belong to me, so granted me by the Lord of Darkness, for I'm his beloved one . I died because of two men, Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner. I had to make a choice, and so I did: the wild little savage is bound to die."

She moved away from him. Walking up to the edge of the arch, she stared at the old Indian.

"You have knowledge, man. Knowledge enough to call us forth, to give us a physical existence in this world, but you won’t have any power overus tomorrow night … on All Hallow‘s Eve!" she said and with a final deathly laugh, she disappeared.

Frowning, the old Indian thought he wasn’t sure if he, with all his love and wisdom, would be able to save the tracker.

In the little room, Nathan peered anxiously at his patient as the young man’s face contorted with pain and beneath the covers his legs writhed . The black healer shook his head in despair. Another round of laudanum would be dangerous, and he had dosed the sharpshooter only an hour before. He patted Vin’s shoulder and the younger man looked up at him with troubled and despairing eyes, feebly pitching at the covers, murmuring.


Nathan was touched to see the look of recognition and worry in those exhausted blue pools. "I'm afraid I will have to clean you up, I’m sorry," he said softly.

Nathan fetched bedpan and salve and helped Vin to turn onto his side – that alone was excruciating for the Texan. He screamed in a way that broke Jackson's heart and struggled feebly to push him away.

"I’m sorry to inflict this indignity on you," Nathan said, "but you would become infected if I don’t remove this stool."

With lucid resignation the tracker released a faint sigh, "Do what you must."

Soon the healer was done, and decided to give his patient a very small extra dose of laudanum.

He carefully filled a cup with water, dropping into it some green drops.

"Vin, drink this down," he soothed, leaning on the sick man.

Painful large eyes met his worried ones.

"Nathan, I’ve something ta tell you," Vin whispered, "I’m gonna die, I feel it … my soul isn’t too clean, ya know what I mean … I did things in my life I’m ashamed for, but my body is much more valuable ‘cause of th’ price on my head … take it to Tascosa and collect the five hundred bucks it’s worth … they could be enough to build the new school Josiah is longin’ for."

Fighting the lump in his throat, Jackson lifted the cup to the tracker’s pale lips and said firmly, "Believe me, Vin Tanner, I won’t let you die, so stop talking nonsense and swallow."

"Bossy … " the tracker murmured but drank the brew, the pain washing his battered body being unbearable.

In a few minutes, he fell asleep, his expression the lax and quiet one of deep, painless sleep.

And here Nathan sat again at his friend’s bedside, listening to his soft snoring and knowing that the comforting sound was one he soon would never hear again. What chance did he have against a spell?

Lost in his reverie he almost didn’t notice that the old Indian had entered the room and was standing at the foot of the young’s man bed.

Raising his gaze to the man’s face he asked in a hoarse whisper, "Can you help him, wise man?"

"I cannot make any promises," the old Indian said lifting his right hand, index finger pointing upwards.

"There is not much life left in the boy, but he’s strong. There is a chance, a small one, but a chance nevertheless." He turned to look at Chris standing beside him. "But you must trust me, trust me with the life of your friend." The old Indian turned his head again. "However, before I begin, you should know that the chances of your friend surviving are slim and you must prepare for that!"

Chris nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Bring him to my place late this afternoon. Bring a stretcher and fetch two strong men to carry it.

Use your own men and tell them they won’t speak of what they hear and see at sunset tonight."

"What are you going to do?" Chris asked.

"Tonight we will trade with the Devil himself … or at least what you white men would call a Devil."

A silent procession plodded at twilight through the canyon. The old Indian led the way along the narrow trail. Chris Larabee was at his heels and behind him Nathan and Josiah carried a light wooden stretcher bearing the weightless body of Vin Tanner. Buck and Ezra took up the rear.

The light had faded away and a strange mist was curling up from the damp ground, making footholds difficult in the dark. However, the old Indian moved with ease, his earlier visit having imprinted the path in his mind’s eye.

As the reached the big arch, he stopped ad raised his hand and without turning around he ordered, "Now, you must do as I say – without question."

The five men blurted together, "Yes."

"You three stay here," he said, turning to point at Chris, Ezra and Buck. "Don’t move, don’t even breathe. Now you two come forward and carry the stretcher near the stream "

Vin Tanner was carried near the stream and laid on the ground in the centre of a circle of red rocks. The stretcher was slid from beneath his body and the blanket pulled off him. He was naked, the jut of ribs clearly visible beneath his tanned skin. The young man’s eyes flickered wildly beneath closed lids, and then opened slightly, black pupils huge and dilated, darting around the strange place. He tried to turn on his hips but he was too weak and with a hoarse groan, he passed out. The old Indian covered the still body with a light white sheet and planting a carved staff in the earth just under the arch, he closed his eyes – and sat, waiting.

"Wise man…?" Chris Larabee said, the night had completely claimed the canyon and the stars were beginning to shine in the purple sky. "Wise man?" he called out again, when the Old Indian didn’t move.

"Patience," the man suddenly hollered.

"My friend will die of exposure," Chris snapped.

The old Indian turned his face, a pale oval in the darkness.

"An Evil spirit snared your friend’s soul and by doing so claimed his body. You see that arch. No animal will venture near it and neither bird nor insect will fly across it."

"What is it?" Nathan asked."It cannot be natural."

"This place is one of the gateways between this world and the next, between the present times and the past." The old Indian took a deep shuddering breath.

Chris Larabee coughed into the silence. "And now?" he asked. "What happens now?"

"Now she comes!"

The stench came first – a cloying foulness that pervaded the air. The five men recoiled from the stench, pressing their bandanas to their noses. Only the old Indian seemed unaffected by the smell.

The mist, which had been rising, suddenly flowed into the centre of the arch. The old Indian called aloud, his voice harsh like the cry of a hawk, startling the men.

"Come, join your hands and come, make a circle around your friend," he ordered.

They complied without a word as the mist washed over them, completely blanketing them.

In this very moment, the tracker regained his senses with a faint groan.

Damn, my head's spinnin’, where am I? Everythin's so damn confusin’, he said to himself. But while his lids remained shut, he ran through his mind the reason for shutting them - it was a pause to gain some time for thought – to make sure his vision couldn’t deceive him and to subdue his imagination. However, his action produced a very unpleasant effect, for a dim light seemed to dissipate the mist enveloping his feverish mind, stealing over his senses, and startling him awake. Five men he called 'friends' were around him but a woman stood before him. An icy chill ran through Vin’s frame and sinking back upon the ground, he remained motionless and breathless, glancing at her. Her face was pale and the dark hair fell partially over her high forehead. The eyes were large but lifeless and the young man shrunk from their bottomless stare to look at her thin lips curved in a strangely cold smile.

"It’s time, Vin Tanner, get up and follow me," she said.

Vin looked up at her, "Who are you?" he asked.

"My name is Death and I have come to bring you with me."

"Am I dead?"

"You will be by morning."

Vin glanced at his friends, "What 'bout them?"

"Time will heal their souls."

"They won’t let me go."

"They aren’t strong enough to stop me."

The tracker looked up at the dark woman. "Ella!" he shouted.

"Yes, it’s me, Vin Tanner. Don’t try to fight me. This is the night of lost souls and tonight I’ll have my revenge on Chris Larabee. I’ll take with me your body and your soul and he'll die too, all alone and in grief," she said. Vin felt a searing pain across his chest. His vision blurred and as he reopened his eyes he saw his motionless body laying on the ground enveloped by a strange burning bright crimson mist as he was floating in the air above it.

"What’s goin’ on?" he stammered out, frowning.

"Your soul just left your body, Vin Tanner, so don’t resist and come with me," the ghost snarled.

Looking down at his friends, the Texan saw that every man was surrounded by a sort of aura. "What’s that?" he asked warily.

"Their souls are trying to rescue yours, but they won’t."

Chris' aura was of a dark red colour; Buck’s of an orange sparkling one. Josiah's big frame was surrounded by a dark yellow light, and Nathan’s whole body was emanating a green light while from Ezra’s slight frame floated a faint blue gleam.

"See," the ghost said, "those are the colours of their souls. Chris killed in cold blood too many men, Buck was too keen on carnal pleasures, Josiah's faith is a faltering one and Nathan as a slave in the past, hated too much … about Ezra, well, you know him … They were all sinners and none of them could have enough strength to fight me ."

But suddenly, a new light went up: it was little and bright like a white star and the entire place was filled with a blinding golden light as it mingled with the others.

The dark angel cried out, "Vin Tanner, you are safe. I have no power against a pure soul!" And suddenly, she faded away.

A strange warm breeze dissipated the mist. The old Indian smiled as he turned and saw in the upcoming light of the dawn the youngest of the Seven with his funny hat, joining the circle of his friends.

"J.D., where did you spring from?" Buck hollered.

"Sorry, I'm late, I was at Casey’s," the boy said.

A soft moan came from the body lying on the damp ground.

All the men rushed to Vin, leaning over him. The weary tracker stared at them and it seemed that all the colour of his face had gone into his eyes, for they were startlingly blue. Then he stretched his arm towards the stunned brunette.

"Hey, kid, cain’t explain it, but I’m still here 'cause of you," he murmured, taking hold of J.D.'s hand.

Puzzled, the Easterner looked at the grinning men surrounding him. "I don’t understand," he stammered.

"No doubt about it, little brother, mysterious are the ways of Lord, "Josiah stated.

Chris didn’t utter a sound. He took off his poncho and bending over Tanner, he wrapped his friend in the warm wool taking him up in his arms.

"Get off me, I can walk!" Vin protested fighting the arms encircling him as the sheet and the poncho rustled to a heap on the ground.

"Oh my! A pity no little gal from town is over yonder, she'd appreciate the sight!" Buck boomed smirking at the naked tracker.

"I though you were a 'modest' man, Mr. Tanner!" Ezra teased.

"Oh hell!" Vin breathed as he reached frantically for the poncho, pulling it up to his chin and holding it there, face and ears flushing impossibly scarlet as his knees buckled and he almost went down. With a nod to the gunslinger, Josiah grabbed the young man around the waist, lifted him straight up off his feet, depositing him into the stretcher and tucked a blanket around the shivering slight body.

"Are you comfortable, brother Vin?" he asked.

"I’m jist … fine …thanks Josiah," the tracker murmured, his tired blue eyes fought for a while trying to remain trained on his friends’ faces but his lids closed of their own accord and, giving way to exhaustion, he fell asleep.

Chris looked down at the now peaceful handsome face of his best friend, smiling. He slowly rose to his feet and patted J.D’s shoulder. "You are the best of us, kid, remember that. and … thanks!" he said as he reached for his horse, mounted it and turning to his friends ordered, "Let’s ride!"

The old Indian squinted into the mist. He thought he could see dozens of shapes, twisted figures that were neither men nor devils, fading away. He turned and glanced at the Seven heading towards the town in the pure light of the sun.

Silently he walked away. At the end of the slope he stopped and knelt on the ground, for in his way was a huge white wolf staring at him with strange, deep blue eyes. The beast looked straight at him and howled twice, then turned abruptly, disappearing into the bushes .The old Indian looked up at the sky. The air of the early morning was sharp and thin and the stream was softly murmuring in its way through the rocks. The spirit of death had left the canyon, replaced by real owner of that magic place: the living spirit of Peace.


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