Lending a Hand

by Lyn

This story was inspired by my annual visit to our local cemeteries. It is a tradition instilled in me by my mother, leaving a single carnation on the graves of family members, whether they be by birth or honorary. My sister and I have continued on the tradition with her passing, leaving blooms on the graves of people we have never met, but deserve the remembrance, as well as adding a few of our own for those people recently gone that have made an impact on our lives. Our final stop is always at a potter’s field, where we leave what flowers we have leftover for those buried beyond without benefit of headstone to identify them by or family to remember them. I added a new stop this year, leaving a few flowers at a monument dedicated to the Iowa soldiers that passed during the Civil War. I’ve used the cemeteries I visit as the basis for the one in this story so the description of the cemetery may not resemble any that are actually in the Denver area.

Disclaimer: Don’t own them, I only wish I did. But I’d like to thank the actors, writers, creators, and producers of this show for bringing us these wonderful characters and letting us play with them. Also thanks to Mog for the use of the ATF universe.

Without thought one foot was placed before the other, arms pumped, breathing was regular but deep, the surroundings peaceful, the moonless sky comforting.

His friends had all had mixed reactions when they found out that he jogged in an old cemetery. And that he preferred to do it at night or in the early hours of the morning. JD had worried about ghosts and spirits. Nathan had mixed feelings about disturbing the sleep of those resting there and the possibility of twisting an ankle in the dark and there being no one near to help. Buck and Ezra both thought him foolish to be jogging at all. Josiah nodded, understanding the peace and calm a cemetery provided. And Chris just shrugged and moved on to other work.

But this wasn’t just any cemetery. It was the oldest cemetery in town, with rolling hills and headstones with character and statuary galore. Far from being disturbed by being there, Vin always felt a sense of calm, a sense of belonging. It was not uncommon for the man to stop in his run to pick up a downed branch from atop a grave or set upright a toppled flag or vase of flowers on one of the few graves still visited.

Vin smiled as he made his way up a rolling hill, past the four cannons and rows of small waving flags that remembered the men and boys that died during the Civil War. He circled around the memorial, moving downward again, waving without self-consciousness at the inlaid photos on the upright headstones in the strong Italian Catholic section.

He always noted the small headstones usually given to infants, many without names, that were butted up against the trunks of trees and marveled at the strength of the child’s spirit that had helped the mighty oaks grow above their graves.

Onward he moved, past newer stones, then up another hill into yet another older section of the cemetery. Vin was especially fond of this area. The headstones and monuments were true works of art. There were rolls of stone or cement made to look like a tubular pillow, complicated metal works that had rusted with time, stone urns, engraved flowers and trees, and Vin’s favorite, a full sized statue of a man with stone sculpting tools scattered at his feet and leaning on a stone pillar.

And off to his right was the potter’s field. Even in the faint light given off by the stars he saw a small cluster of flowers at the entrance to the heavily overgrown area holding so many unmarked graves. Had there been more light he would have stopped and peered down the hill to see if one of the few headstones within had been cleared yet again this year and flowers placed there. But light would not allow it this night.

Vin had only moved a few more yards down the road when he stopped suddenly, disturbed by an unusual sound. Trying to keep his breathing as quiet as possible, he listened, waiting to catch the sound once more.

There it was. Hushed voices and a hissing sound. Even before the odor reached his nostrils Vin knew what it was. An aerosol can. Spray paint. Then a voice laughing out loud and more talking.

Silently Vin moved across the grass-covered hill, using all his instincts to locate the voices. Ghostlike he crept up on the two teens crouching along the side of a brick mausoleum. As he inched quietly forward he could hear the can being shook once more.

"Don’t think that’s such a good idea boys," he said from barely a foot behind the pair. Both boys jumped, one falling to the ground, the other gaining his feet and pressing himself up against the bricks.

"You shouldn’t oughta scare a body like that mister," the upright teen grumbled when he had regained his senses.

"And you shouldn’t oughta be out here messin’ with someone’s final restin’ place," Vin growled back. "Drop the can ‘n get outta here."

"You just stuck your nose in a place it don’t belong, Mister," another voice spoke from the shadows behind Vin. He turned, seeing dark figures stepping from amongst the trees and stones. What he had thought were two boys causing mischief appeared to be more of a gang gathering as Vin counted six, then four more emerging from the darkness, fanning out around him, encircling him. Vin stepped out away from the mausoleum, needing as much room as he could to move in.

"Not lookin’ fer trouble here boys. Jest don’t see no need ta bother the folks restin’ here." Vin turned, surveying the uneven ground, locating headstones, judging the twelve teens and young adults that had him encircled. Vin heard the rattle of a chain, caught the glint of starlight on metal. Twelve to one, not great odds.

"You shouldn’ta stopped. Shouldn’ta meddled in our business." Vin could hear the distinct sound of something heavy being thumped into a hand.

"We could all jest move on," Vin tried. There was no need to fight if one could be avoided.

"Or not," another voice said from behind him.

"Suit yerselves," Vin said then kicked out, his foot hitting solidly on a shoulder. It was going to take all his training to get out of this situation. If they did what most group fighters did, moving in one or two at a time, he might stand a chance.

Vin kicked and punched, twisting and turning as the gang moved in, giving as much as he received, maybe more, until someone got in a lucky swing. Vin felt the branch connect even as he tried to dodge it. But connect it did and Vin found himself falling to the ground, rolling even as he hit and trying to push himself to his feet once more. But the hungry pack descended on him, hands grabbing his arms and pulling him to his feet while fists connected with his stomach, his face, his chest.

The beating continued and Vin felt blackness creeping up on him. Then suddenly he was dropped to the ground, his back digging into the corner of a headstone. Forcing his vision to clear he saw the twelve teens squirming and twirling, slapping at themselves, or punching at the air. Mini tornadoes of wind kicked up dirt and twigs, tossing them at the boys, swirling around them, tossing one then another of the boys to the ground several feet away. White gusts of wind rushed at the remaining boys and before many more seconds passed the boys scattered, tripping over themselves in their hurry to get away.

Even as he watched the winds and tornadoes stopped and seven ghostly figures appeared. One stepped forward, offering a transparent hand to Vin, helping him to his feet before stepping back and standing with the other six, thumbs pressed into an old fashioned gun belt, hip cocked to one side, a wide brimmed hat pushed back on his head. As Vin watched, a wide smile crossed the face and two fingers reached up to touch the brim of his hat in a salute. Then the seven apparitions turned and walked away, their forms vaporizing and disappearing as they moved off.

Vin stood watching until there was no further sign of the ghosts. Feeling more than a bit shaken, Vin turned to leave, but his eye was drawn downward to the headstone he had landed against. Stooping down carefully, feeling all the bruises instilled on his body in such a short time, he looked closer at the stone. Despite the darkness around him, he was able to read the simple upright marker, as though the stone were illuminated from the inside. Vin bit back a gasp at the writing lovingly carved there.

Vin Tanner
Born ?
Died too soon
Buffalo hunter, bounty hunter, lawman
A man with a Hero’s Heart

Vin stood and looked in the direction the ghosts had moved off in. "Thank you…" he whispered after them.

With a final glance at the monument Vin hobbled off down the hill.