AS THE DAYS GO BY by Luna Dey and Lisa S.

Authors' Note: This is something that Lisa S. and I brainstormed on and decided to actually commit to paper (or the hard drive in this case). We wondered what it would be like to read Ezra's personal journal. This story is nearly two years old now, because it was printed in a fanzine put out by Demon Bunny Press ( Rights have now reverted back to Lisa and I, and it was time to put it out there so others could, hopefully, enjoy it. As always, many thanks to those who previewed it for us, and to Alex my ever-wonderful beta.

Disclaimer: I do not own them. They are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment; however, if they ever come up for sale, I will be in the front row at the auction.

Feedback: Feedback is welcome and greatly appreciated, but no flames please.

It would appear that I have been reduced to filling part of my waking hours with recording my thoughts and observations in this tome. I cannot help but compare myself to a young woman writing about her most private thoughts and moments or about that kiss stolen by her latest beau when there was a momentary lapse in proper supervision. I find myself with time on my hands when there are no likely prospects for a lively game of chance. There are only so many games of solitaire one can tolerate.

I have not kept a record of this sort since I was a child, and then I did so at the urging of my dear departed aunt. She was of the mind that you could learn the true significance of you actions, thoughts, and dreams, if you wrote them down at the time of their occurrence and then read them back later as if reading them for the first time.

Back then I was too young to appreciate the wisdom of her advice, but now I find myself wondering about my own actions and reactions.

I cannot help but wonder what has possessed me to remain in this backwater town, where true civilization has failed to gain a firm toehold as of yet. I could have vacated these premises months ago and yet, I remain.

Perhaps, I will gain some insight into my own motivations upon rereading my own written words at some later date. If not, at the very least, these pages might provide some hours of entertainment either by their creation in the present, or their perusal in my declining years.

And so I begin:
Today was one of those perfectly irritating days when our illustrious leader had imposed the burdensome chore of dawn patrol upon my person. In all honesty, I have always despised the uncivilized practice of removing myself from a comfortable bed during my best sleeping hours. I rose grudgingly, while the sky was still dark in the West and there was only the faintest hint of the approaching daylight evident in the East.

Despite numerous attempts to avoid these early morning patrols, as Mr. Larabee has made it amply clear on numerous occasions that it is not for me to decide when I am available for my part in protecting this municipality from the wide assortment of brigands and miscreants who seem to gravitate here.

On this particular morning, our young Mr. Dunne rescued me from yet another dressing down by Mr. Larabee. Once again, he found me enjoying the comforts of my own bed long past the time when I should have been awake. You would think the young man would be enjoying his own repose instead of ensuring that I was prepared to begin my duties. Our Mr. Dunne has entirely too much energy and enthusiasm to be healthy, I am sure. I must endeavor to offer my apologies for making an attempt on his life for his unselfish gesture this morning.

I do believe Chaucer also loathes being awakened before daybreak. He was quite surly with me when I tightened the cinch on his saddle. He actually succeeded in nipping my derriere with his teeth when he whipped his head around and bit at me. I must take better care to keep the more sensitive parts of my anatomy out of his reach when he wants to sleep. I believe he and I are becoming too much alike in temperament. I don't know whether it was equine or human who complained the most as we left for our tour around the perimeter of the town, but if horses can swear, he did. Reluctantly, I do admit to one advantage to these early mornings, and I will deny until my dying breath to ever having made this admission: the sunrises are indescribable.

There is a hill to the East, and if I am fortunate enough to make the crest before sun-up, Chaucer and I pause there to watch one of nature's treats. These moments of rare beauty make the interruption of my slumber more bearable. Despite the late start, we were still able to enjoy a spectacular sunrise. The scent of sage and dew-kissed earth greeted me on the morning breeze. The light gradually overtook the darkness; the distant mountains transformed from flat black as the sun shone brightly, setting off the peaks and crags. As the brilliant light crept over the summit, it allowed the features of the mountains to develop slowly, as the dark shroud of night was stripped away to reveal mother earth in all her glory.

Above me the sky was aflame with color and the rising sun was a shade of red-orange that only Mother Nature could create, secure in her smug superiority over mere mortals.

The remainder of the patrol was uneventful, and I returned to town thinking about going back to sleep, but the spectacle that greeted my drooping eyes upon my return chased all thoughts of returning to my bed from my mind. Chickens! There were dozens of the cackling white fowl flapping and running in every direction amid a flurry of feathers and down, sending the more refined citizens scurrying for their lives. I could not resist tying Chaucer to the post in front of the saloon and claiming my customary chair to watch the current entertainment.

Mr. Sanders, from the bank, quick-stepped his way down the boardwalk, leaving a very agitated rooster behind him when he slammed the door in its face upon reaching the sanctuary of the bank. I can’t say that I blame Mr. Sanders for his haste. An angry rooster is a force to be reckoned with, and the spurs on its legs can inflict serious damage to anyone unfortunate enough to end up within their reach. Mrs. Potter, broom in hand, chased a squawking hen out of the mercantile only to discover that two more had slipped inside while she had her back turned. But, the sight that held my attention was three of our ranks chasing chickens. They had managed to right the toppled wagon and retrieve the crates for the elderly gentleman who fussed and fretted over his misfortune. Mr. Dunne, Mr. Wilmington, and none other than Chris Larabee were covered in dust and chicken feathers as they each dashed after their next targets.

Mr. Wilmington had one of the escaped fowl cornered against the steps to the boardwalk. I sat and waited for the explosion that I was certain would happen. I was not disappointed. Just as he bent and reached his hand out to capture his quarry the hen made a final attempt to maintain its newfound freedom. It launched itself straight at its would-be captor in a flurry of flapping wings and flying feathers, while squawking at the peak of its vocal range. Buck lunged backward and stumbled, sending him sprawling on his back in a cloud of dust as he hit the road. The chicken landed squarely in the middle of his chest and looked him in the eyes, just as if it were saying, “Now who has whom?”

I still have not managed to figure how he did it, but Mr. Wilmington slipped a hand up to grasp the legs of the fowl that was strutting around on his chest, and he surged to his feet with a whoop as he held his prize up by the feet. JD seemed to be faring somewhat better for the moment. I watched him hand two of the escaped poultry to the old gentleman and dash off in pursuit of another. As usual, his boyish enthusiasm was very evident in his obvious enjoyment of something so common as catching a chicken. I found myself smiling as I watched him dart this way and that after one feathered adversary and then turn to chase after another when the first one got away.

By this time, a few of the town's folk had joined in the chase.

Young Billy Travis and a couple of other youngsters each had a struggling chicken hugged to their chests and were headed for the wagon. Mary Travis shuffled erratically from side to side, flipping her skirt out wide in an attempt to herd two more of the feathered escapees toward Mr. Wilmington as he headed back into the fray, after he had deposited his recent capture into one of the empty crates. Meanwhile, Mrs. Potter ushered her latest clucking intruders out into the street with a swat of her broom and a loud admonishment to “Get out and stay out!”

A loud curse drew my attention. To my utter amazement, Mr. Larabee stood balanced on a hitching post in an attempt to reach a plump hen that had taken up residence on the neighboring porch roof. At first glance, the chicken appeared oblivious to the hand that moved steadily closer.

I sensed the approach of disaster when the hen suddenly pecked at his hand and sidestepped out of his grasp. Then it happened! His arms windmilled frantically as he tottered on the rail; his slick soled boots made it impossible to regain his balance. In a move that would have made the most accomplished acrobat proud, Chris Larabee did a front flip in mid-air and landed on his back in the horse trough. The splash reached innocent bystanders several feet away on the boardwalk. Fortunately, I was beyond the reach of the unsolicited drenching, but I was near enough to see the expression in his eyes. I cringed at his roar of anger, relieved that for once it was not directed at me.

I know I brought the following onto myself, but it was beyond my control. I laughed; it was not just a snigger or a chuckle, but an all out belly laugh that left me unable to breathe. Tears rolled down my checks as I bent double gasping for breath. Even the sight of a sodden Chris Larabee stalking toward me did nothing to still my mirth. On the contrary, it made it worse. His threats of bodily harm had no impact. His hands grasping the front of my jacket and hauling me from my chair failed to register in my mind, because I was unable to draw my eyes from the drop of water hanging from the tip of his nose.

It was only when I felt myself launched into the air that it finally struck me that I had allowed myself to become too involved in my own merriment. The shock of the cold water in the trough drove the point home all too well. My first instinct was to be angry, but the laughter that surrounded me from my colleagues was somehow comforting instead of mocking. It is curious that it would create such a sensation.

Mr. Sanchez gave my shoulder a squeeze and handed me my hat, after he hauled me from the trough. So, this is how I was pulled from my vantage point outside the saloon and thrust into the thick of the great chicken roundup of Four Corners.

June 21

I am uncertain as to the reason for the recent lull in the number of miscreants to grace our fair municipality, but I am grateful to whatever greater powers that happened to precipitate the event. Perhaps word has begun to spread that Four Corners is no longer the lawless hell hole that it once was, or just as likely, the recent heat wave has made the brigands equally as disinclined to physical exertion of any form, as we are ourselves. They may have sought out a shady place near some inviting body of water to wait out the weather.

I have surrendered and joined the ranks of the less cultured until this oppressive heat lifts, and have abandoned my jackets in favor of shirtsleeves. Besides the numerous stunned expressions and double-takes this alteration in my attire has created, it also provided new fodder for the less than stellar wit of my associates. Mr. Jackson joined in with a comment concerning my southern heritage and that I should be accustomed to the heat. He would be surprised to learn that despite my outward poise, I am near to collapse, and I do believe I heard my feet squish in my boots from the sweat pooled there that my socks were unable to absorb.

June 25

It is quite evident that love is in the air as I watch young Mr. Dunne woo Miss Casey Wells. It seems that everyone in Four Corners, but the couple themselves, is aware of their obvious affections for each other, and I find it refreshing to watch their young love blossom. Today I found the young couple arguing about some trivial matter that I am sure neither will remember tomorrow. As I watched Miss Wells storm away, long-buried memories surfaced, memories of when I was a young lad, quite like Mr. Dunne, and of my first love. Just the thought brought a smile to my lips as I remembered her golden hair, eyes the shade of the brilliant blue sky, and lips that were so soft and full that they seemed to beg to be kissed.

Kiss . . . our first kiss. It was perfect . . . intoxicating, wonderful, and way too short. It will forever be imprinted on my heart and will remain the source of many a dream. I still wonder to this day what she might be doing, where she is, and if circumstances had been different what might have been. I wonder if JD has had the courage to kiss Casey? From all appearances, I sincerely doubt it. Maybe I should offer my advice and counsel to the young fellow. I do know from firsthand experience the nervousness a young man feels when faced with how to properly show one's feelings to his ladylove . . . the anxiety that she might reject you and the hope that she might welcome such a display. I would hate to think JD would seek advice from Mr. Wilmington, who, as much of a "ladies' man" as he might be, lacks the subtle finesse needed to properly court a young lady of Miss Wells’ nature. Should the opportunity present itself, this is indeed a topic that I feel I should raise discreetly with Mr. Dunne.

June 30

The unbearable heat continues to sap our energy and tempers are on short fuses. Even young Mr. Dunne has lost his youthful exuberance and has become somewhat surly. Ever since meeting the young man, I have marveled at his ability to take any situation in stride and maintain a good attitude. Considering the company we keep in this small band of vagabonds that in itself is an amazing accomplishment. However, that all changed this morning. He behaved in a manner that was quite out of character. After spraying a mouthful of soured milk all the way across the table, our youngest member picked up the glass and flung its contents halfway across the room. Needless to say, Inez met his outburst with one of her own. When I retired from the saloon a short time later, Mr. Dunne was busy scrubbing up the evidence of his tantrum.

In an endeavor to keep peace in the ranks, Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Tanner took it upon themselves to accompany Mr. Dunne to the pond outside of town for a swim. As inviting as the thought of a cooling dip sounded, I was not included in the invitation. Hence, I spent the time sitting in the shade in front of the saloon and melting into my boots. When the wandering trio returned, they seemed to be in much better humor. JD appeared to be quite contrite over his earlier behavior. I am not sure how he managed it, but after a stuttered apology, and a rather sheepish look, he succeeded in earning a kiss on the cheek from the fair Miss Recillos.

Upon seeing the improved dispositions of my associates after their sojourn to the pond, I am inclined to follow their example. There is a creek in a wooded area on out beyond the local pond, and if the heat remains this oppressive tomorrow, I shall attempt to slip away unnoticed for a private respite of my own.

July 2

It seems Mr. Dunne has not been schooled on the fine art of flirting. Today proved a prime example when Miss Wells approached, smiled sweetly at the young sheriff and asked if he would like to "go out for a ride and some fishing." Mr. Dunne, who was oblivious to her charms as he continued playing mumbledy-peg, replied he "really couldn't" because he had "sheriff duties" he had to attend to. As I watched Miss Wells walk away dejected and obviously heartbroken, I decided it was time that I offer some advice to the young man. It was at this time that we had a conversation where I shared my wealth of knowledge on the feminine persuasion, which included how to recognize when a lady is flirting. When I was done, Mr. Dunne excused himself to find Miss Wells and rectify the situation, leaving me alone to play solitaire and observe as the town's residents went about their business.

Might I add, it looked as if my advice worked? Several minutes after Mr. Dunne's departure, I watched as he and Miss Wells rode by, clearly on their way out of town. I tipped my hat in salute as Mr. Dunne smiled and nodded, obviously pleased with the final outcome. I felt rather pleased with myself for my small part in educating my young companion, and who knows, perhaps in playing matchmaker as well.

July 4

Today is the day we traditionally celebrate the founding of the nation; however, the heat has put a damper on the festivities. Mrs. Travis suggested that we postpone any celebration until it is somewhat cooler, a suggestion that was met with much approval among the populace. Not only because it would be difficult to enjoy the events of the day in all this heat, but the fear of fire also added to the decision to postpone the observance of the holiday. Our small community has little in the way of fireworks, but I have been told that the more affluent residents contribute to the purchase and delivery of a few of the smaller Chinese style rockets from a company in San Francisco. A stray spark could be devastating to the town with everything so dry from heat and drought.

No one seems to be around at the moment, therefore, I believe this would be the opportune time to slip away to that stream...I feel considerably more human now than beast-like. Indeed, the stream was very refreshing. I managed to find a very secluded area in which to enjoy this respite from the heat. I felt a bit self-conscious about entering the water attired only in the skin I was born in, but I hadn't considered the need for dry clothes for the return to town, and came unprepared. This is something I plan to remedy on future sojourns. After a moment's consideration, the call of the water became too strong and I succumbed to its siren's song. I stripped and walked into the cool current, and instantly goose bumps rose upon my overheated flesh, causing me to shiver slightly. The sensation was positively delicious.

The one unwelcome event of the afternoon came when I was floating lazily in a small shaded pool off to the side of the creek. Something tried to nip at my backside. I admit that my first reaction had been one of self-preservation, and concern for more 'delicate' parts of my anatomy. It turned out to be no more than a tiny fish, and nothing to be alarmed about. Despite that rather rude creature's attentions to my person, I do believe I will have to continue this practice until the heat breaks. This self-indulgence did wonders for my demeanor, which I am quite certain those who must suffer my presence appreciated immensely.

July 10

Today found Mr. Wilmington playing a childish prank on young Mr. Dunne. The day started as any other with the blazing hot sun beating down on the residences of Four Corners. Mr. Dunne as usual reported to duty at the town's jail and had situated himself comfortably in the chair, leaning back as he enjoyed the latest dime store novel when the episode took place. JD opened the bottom desk drawer to retrieve some jerky he had stashed in it for a mid-morning snack only to encounter a rattlesnake. . .a very dead rattlesnake. Needless to say, the sudden appearance of the slithery reptile surprised the young sheriff and sent him reeling backwards, crashing to the floor as he lost his balance. The loud commotion sent Mr. Wilmington and myself rushing into the jail to find JD flat on his back on the floor with his legs still hooked over the edge of the chair. A look of shock crossed his features as he tried to figure what had just happened.

The sight of the young man sprawled on the floor sent Mr. Wilmington, who obviously was unable to contain himself, into a fit of laughter. "What happened? Snake got yer tongue?" Buck wanted to know. Now mind you, even I knew better than to rub it in like that. Mr. Dunne was definitely not happy about being the brunt of a practical joke, and he jumped up and ran after his friend who left the jail in a hurry. "I'll git you, Buck," JD promised as he rushed past me, and I do believe he will. The last I saw of the two of them, JD was gaining on Mr. Wilmington, but I lost track of them when they sprinted into the passage between the boarding house and the mercantile.

July 11

JD exacted his revenge today, revenge that left a very upset Mr. Wilmington. It seems Buck had escorted a young lady back to his room for a demonstration of his "animal magnetism" when the incident took place. During their private interlude, the lady encountered a very dead rattler tucked carefully in Buck's bed. Her screams could be heard from the far corners of the town as she rushed out of the room clad in only her shift, with Mr. Wilmington following closely behind, trying to persuade her to stay.

A very mad Buck Wilmington stormed out of the boarding house to find his compatriots, myself included, longing on the boardwalk, enjoying the brief respite from the heat. Mr. Dunne tried his best not to laugh but failed.

"It ain't funny," declared Buck and he stomped past and into the saloon. "You just don't do that to a man," he grumbled and laughter erupted from the rest of us.

July 15

It appears our small backwater town is becoming quite the metropolis. I found out today that Mrs. Travis has arranged for a schoolteacher to educate the increasing number of children that are arriving in Four Corners. Some would say this is a small step toward developing into an established municipality and they are quite pleased at the prospect.

Others continue to balk at such progress and growth, preferring the "good ole days."

The big concern at this point is where the school will be established.

Josiah has offered the use of his church until something more suitable can be arranged. He has been busy making desks for the children. When the room is needed for school, some of the pews can be set against the wall to make room for the desks. Josiah is definitely in his element. For such a bear of a man, he is truly a gentle giant at heart.

Mr. Wilmington is anxiously awaiting the new teacher's arrival. It never ceases to amaze me how it doesn't occur to him that not every woman who is moving to town will be young and unattached. We have heard no details about her other than that her name is Flora Truman. For my part, I will be pleased to have someone more cultured and educated to converse with, but I too would not object to young and unattached.

July 19

STILL HOT! Rumor has it that Mrs. Grainger was seen sitting in her parlor in nothing more than her chemise. One has to wonder how this tidbit of information was procured, but if I were a woman, I would certainly divest myself of as many layers of apparel as possible, within the realm of decency. Within the privacy of my own home, the realm of indecency would be mine to explore as well. In fact, it has been my usual place of residence as of late. I find myself holed up in my room, the door locked, and me stripped naked with a basin of cool water and a cloth. The bathhouse has been doing a booming business since the start of this heat wave. It has become necessary for a time limit to be placed on baths so that all may have the opportunity to partake of the cooling waters. I have to wonder how the others are passing the time on those days when a swim is not possible. If I could, I would just go camp at that creek and stay naked, but as a gentleman, I cannot indulge my whims in that manner. Not to mention that Mr.

Larabee would hunt me down like a rabid dog, certain that I had taken flight again. Weighing Mr. Larabee's wrath against the heat, I'll take the heat anytime.

July 24

RAIN! Glorious rain! The day began like so many in the past month, but in the afternoon we noticed the first hints of the approaching rainfall. When the clouds rolled in, they brought with them the cool gusts that precede the precipitation. All through the town, people emerged into the street or onto the boardwalks to revel in the brisk wind. The first large drops fell amid puffs of dust and the townsfolk cheered. Children dashed into the road as the rain began to come down in earnest. The hardest heart could not help but hear the delight in those squeals and smile at the laughter of the little ones, as they quickly became soaked to the skin.

What happened next had me staring in disbelief and created an image in my mind that will undoubtedly be one of those that will go with me into eternity. Mrs. Travis stepped out into the rain. That in itself was nothing out of the ordinary, but there was such pure joy radiating from her at that moment; it took my breath away to watch her. Her eyes closed as the soothing water washed over her upturned face. She stood there letting the water soak her hair and dress, completely oblivious to the eyes that watched her. Suddenly, arms thrown out wide, Mary Travis began to laugh and twirl like a schoolgirl. In that moment, I got a glimpse of how she must have been before so much tragedy touched her life. I have always thought of her as beautiful, but today she was enchanting.

July 29

Miss Flora Truman arrived today by stagecoach and caused quite a stir. Of course, Mr. Wilmington was taken by her stunning beauty. Unfortunately with his attention focused elsewhere he landed quite indecorously in the horse's trough. I watched from a distance as the young lady offered her hand to Mr. Wilmington to assist him out of the water and then said something that obviously eased the cowboy's embarrassment. It is quite apparent the lady comes from refinement by the way she carries herself and I wonder how she will like this small community which clearly does not have all the sophistication and social benefits of a larger, more established city. As she walked past her gaze caught mine and lingered for a moment. I tipped my hat in salute and she smiled softly, her soft blue eyes filled with excitement at arriving at her new home. Hours later I found my thoughts drifting back to Four Corners' newest arrival, intrigued by her loveliness and style and silently hoping I would be afforded the opportunity to meet her.

August 2

I find my hand shaking as I write tonight. Until I came to Four Corners, I always had to rely on my own wit and cunning to stay alive and out of jail. It is still difficult for me to remember that there are others now to assist in watching my back. I am afraid to begin to let my guard down for fear that, should I find it necessary to leave this town, I will have lost my edge and end up on the wrong side of a set of bars - or worse, that I would end up dead.

As usual, I was engaged in a rousing game of poker when someone took offense at my method of dealing the cards. I was really quite affronted. The lout accused me of dirty dealing; I could have beaten him with half a deck and one hand tied behind my back. I was in the process of telling the cretin just that, when I found myself staring down the barrels of three pistols and a sawed off shotgun. At the moment when I seriously began to fear for my life, Mr. Larabee lurched to his feet and staggered drunkenly toward the bar, demanding another drink in a very loud voice. There was some commotion as Inez, clever woman that she is, caught onto what he was doing and refused to serve him more.

I find myself indebted to Mr. Larabee. Considering his attitude toward me on most occasions, I would have thought he would be pleased at the opportunity to be rid of me, without having to take it upon himself to do the deed. Amazingly, he not only came to my assistance, but he did so by pulling a bit of a con of his own. My accuser didn't know what hit him, literally. At one point Mr. Larabee was actually hanging by his elbows from the bar as his legs threatened to give out under him. Inez pointed out his drunkenness, a dangerous move if Chris had been, but in this instance, it was perfect.

With a roar that would make a grizzly proud, he pulled himself back to his feet and attempted to grab the pretty barmaid, which earned him a resounding slap with a wet bar towel. While the sight of the fearsome Larabee reduced to such a pathetic state distracted everyone, the remaining members of our little band managed to maneuver to better positions without attracting the attention of the brigands. During their lapse in attention, I managed to back away a few small steps, but before I could go too far my accuser started to turn back.

If I had not still been on the business end of four firearms, I would have applauded what happened next. Our normally fearsome leader decided that he had suffered enough humiliation and attempted to weave his way to the door, only to stagger right into my adversary, throwing him off balance. The man instinctively grabbed at Chris to keep from falling.

Chris pulled his gun in one swift motion and placed it firmly against the jaw of the man who was struggling to keep himself upright. The look on the man's face was one that would have been worth preserving for posterity. His eyes bulged and his chin quivered when he felt the touch of cold steel pressing up against his jawbone.

It was truly inspiring to see Chris in action, and I was grateful that we were on the same side. The sound of several other hammers being drawn back registered on our senses, as did the sound of heavy objects hitting the wooden floorboard when the lout's accomplices dropped their guns. Each now felt the bite of hard steel in his back and raised his hands in surrender.

What surprised me even more than my rescue was what Mr. Larabee said next. "I do believe you owe Ezra an apology."

I must admit that I was probably as stunned as anyone else in the bar by Chris’ demand. No one had ever done something like that for me before. After a stuttered apology, the band of miscreants was escorted from the saloon bound for a night in jail. I was about to express my gratitude, but my new feelings of camaraderie were short-lived. Chris moved in close, and in a voice barely above a whisper, he made it clear that if he discovered that I had been cheating, he would not come to my aid again.

Why do I continue to endure this? Does the man really think that poorly of me? And, if he does, why did he defend me today? I admit that for a few short moments, I felt like I belonged here with these men, and it felt good. Reality can be a cruel companion. Chris still doesn’t trust me. It was more than his words that made that clear; I could see it in his eyes. Why does it bother me so much that he doesn’t believe in me?

Since when do I need, or even want, the approval of someone else?

Mother would be so disappointed to see me wishing for the acceptance of these men.

August 3

It appears I have made Mr. Wilmington green with envy when I had the good fortune to escort Four Corners' teacher, Miss Flora Truman, to share an evening meal tonight. I could feel Mr. Wilmington's glare as we walked past him on the boardwalk and must admit it reminded me very much of Mr. Larabee's menacing scowl. I found Miss Truman an enchanting young lady and immensely enjoyed her company. As I escorted her back to her quarters at the boarding house, I asked if she would be interested in joining me for another meal tomorrow. Her positive response made me feel like a young schoolboy, and I silently wondered what Mr. Wilmington's reaction will be when he finds out I have another date with Miss Truman. Speaking of which, I do need to make sure my red jacket is in pristine condition for this special engagement.

August 6

One of the town's oldest citizens died last night. In the heavy heat of full summer, it was not wise to delay his interment and Mr. Sanchez presided over the memorial service for Mr. Barnes. It seemed that nearly the entire town turned out to pay their last respects and to give a consoling hug to his widow. He was a likable old man, who never met a stranger. There was always a wide, toothless smile on his wizened face, and always a kind word on his lips.

Mr. Barnes was one of the first residents to make me feel truly welcome in this town. I came to wish for opportunities for our paths to cross. He always greeted me with a grin and a friendly pat on the back or the shoulder. I never liked anyone to call me 'young man'. I have worked to hard at creating my persona, and being called young did nothing to add to the effect that I wanted to create. It is strange how I looked forward to hearing those words from this frail old man.

Mr. Sanchez summed it up nicely when he said that Mr. Barnes was the essence of what is good in Four Corners. He touched the lives of many; he certainly touched mine. He will be missed.

August 8

I had a most unpleasant experience today. The afternoon stage arrived with an unannounced visitor. Mother stepped from the stuffy interior with orders for how to handle her precious luggage spewing forth before her feet even touched the dirt of the street. She says she is here to put some distance between herself and her latest suitor, but I suspect there is most likely an ulterior motive to the visit. There always is. I wonder what great con she has devised this time that she will use to try to lure me away with her? One thing I have learned with her is that she will tell me in her own good time, and not before. All I can do is wait, and endure her visit and those dreadful stories she tells to humiliate me in front of my fellow peacekeepers. Considering that thought, I should get downstairs to attempt to save as much of my dignity as possible. It is impossible to tell what she will tell them about me, if I am not there to stop her.

August 10

The town is in turmoil today. Two of Mrs. Cottrell's children came down with the measles. Mr. Jackson seems to think that they caught them from some of the homesteaders who passed through town a few days ago. He has asked the Cottrell's to stay in their home to avoid spreading the illness further if they happen to be carrying the disease. The children and their mother are ensconced at the clinic, which now boasts a quarantine sign. At present, all we can do is wait and see if any more cases are discovered. Our resident healer is obviously concerned about this situation, and he pores over his medical books to see what can be done for the little ones. He told us that he feels helpless to do much more for them than try to keep them comfortable. Mr. Jackson is also keeping his distance from the rest of us from the landing at the top of the stairs. If we bring food or other necessities, we are instructed to place them on the landing and then go back down before he will come out to retrieve it.

August 12

Mr. Jackson is looking very tired. Three more cases were discovered today and moved to the clinic to be cared for. The children are running a high fever and Nathan is hard pressed to keep up with making enough of his remedies to take care of all five at one time. I have experienced this before, and I fear that it will get much worse before it gets better. JD finally convinced Mr. Jackson to allow him in to assist, after assuring our healer that he had measles when he was a small child. The general consensus is that once you have had them you won't get them again. I am not sure this is entirely true, but it was clear that Nathan needed help and our young sheriff would be the least likely to succumb to the contagion.

There is a general mood of sadness mixed with a tinge of fear that has settled over the town. The uncertainty has people on edge. No one knows who will be the next to take ill, or how many this scourge will claim.

August 14

We received word there was a sighting of Ella Gaines in a neighboring town. Chris as well as Vin, Buck, and Josiah headed off with hopes of successfully finding the woman who is responsible for the deaths of Chris' wife and son. I sometimes wonder what I would have done if I were in Chris' shoes. If it were my wife and son who were brutally murdered, what would I do? Seek revenge on all that got in my way? Hunt down the murderer and kill him or her with my own bare hands? Wallow in my sorrow with the helps of the alcoholic persuasion? I have a feeling I would have done no better than Chris.

As for our epidemic, it has now claimed six more in the last two days, and the small clinic is nearly bursting at the seams. The mood in town is becoming increasingly agitated. The streets are so quiet with the little ones either ill or behind the closed doors of their homes. I find myself missing the sound of youthful laughter and the general din of children at play.

August 16

It seems our good healer has succumbed to the measles. Much to his protests, he has been sent to bed to rest and recover and JD and Mrs. Cottrell are providing care to the afflicted. The first to fall to the illness are said to be improving. That was welcome news and gave me hope that this could be weathered without any loss of life. The only one I had truly considered to be a friend when I was a child died from seizures caused by a raging fever from the measles. I would not want to see this happen here. Mrs. Travis has taken on the responsibility of providing medical assistance to the town. Since our other comrades are currently out of town, I have been busy due to the measles outbreak trying to keep the residents calm. There was a small altercation earlier today where I had to subdue several residents who attempted to burn down the clinic, declaring we were covering up the severity of the situation, and that everyone would experience a gruesome demise. This unruly group is now residing in the jail sleeping off their drunken state.

August 18

We received good news today with the announcement that Mrs. Hadley delivered a healthy, bouncing, baby boy with the assistance of Mrs. Travis and my mother. My mother's involvement in the delivery, needless to say, surprised me since I thought she no longer had a maternal bone in her body, but today she proved me wrong. It was a sight I never thought I would see. My mother stood in the door to the Hadley home, cuddling this tiny squirming bundle. The look in her eyes as she reached out to let those miniature fingers wrap around one of her own was one I do not recall ever seeing before. I wonder if she ever looked at me like that when I was swaddled and resting in her arms? JD informed me today that there is more improvement and the first ones to become sick are now able to go home. He said that Mr. Jackson is being uncooperative and doesn't want to take the brews he needs to keep his fever down, and my young friend admitted that he got some satisfaction from repeating Nathan's own words back to him. If the situation had not been so serious, we could have enjoyed using Nathan's own remedies to cure the healer. My offer to supply assistance was refused. Mr. Dunne is right; with the others still gone, someone has to watch over the town.

August 21

My four fellow associates returned today and unfortunately they were unable to locate the elusive Ella Gaines. Mr. Larabee has taken the news in usual fashion by heading straight to the saloon. Over a round of drinks, I filled them in on the recent measles epidemic and the other town events. The weary travelers were happy to be back - Mr. Wilmington immediately finding a young lady to escort back to his quarters while Mr. Sanchez left to check in on Mr. Jackson. It seems he too has had the measles, and he was sure that JD and Mrs. Cottrell could use a break. With the arrival of my comrades, I was afforded a hiatus from being the only peacekeeper on duty. I was torn between my wish to spend some uninterrupted time reacquainting myself with my feather bed and my desire to engage in a lively game of chance. When I noticed three unfamiliar faces at a table in the back, I decided sleep could wait a little longer.

August 22

The last of the children were released from the clinic today, with orders to rest in bed at home for a few more days before returning to their previous activities. It seems that we have only one remaining patient, and he is anything but agreeable. Once the fear of contagion passed, those of us who hadn't battled the disease in our youth were allowed to visit Mr. Jackson. He had obviously had a rough time with the illness. Despite his natural dark coloring, he looked pale and weak. JD said that Nathan had been hit particularly hard, and at one point, his fever was so high the healer had become delirious. Fortunately, the fever broke relatively quickly but it clearly took a toll on its oldest victim. Mr. Jackson has often stressed the need for continued rest even after an illness breaks. He insists that the body needs time to fully recover or you could find yourself ill again. Now that the emergency was over, and he was on his way to a full recovery, we took our chances to dish out some of his own medicine and advice. I, for one, enjoyed my chance to sit with Mr. Jackson. It was a vindication of sorts to watch him grimace from the foul taste of some of the same concoctions he had used on us on numerous occasions.

Mr. Wilmington was scarce last evening but made an appearance bright and early this next morning, looking quite refreshed and relaxed. Mr. Dunne was exhausted after his tenure as substitute healer and headed for his bed. He retired right after having an early supper and did not make his presence known again until lunch the next day. I honestly believe that young man managed to out-sleep me.

August 27

I watched the stage depart with mixed feelings today. Mother decided it was time to move on to her next con. I had been given the opportunity to see a side of her that I hadn't seen before, well, not when it was sincere. She had assisted Mrs. Travis on at least two more occasions after the delivery of the Hadley's baby. I am still amazed at her behavior on this visit, and I find myself wondering about her motivation. Mother never does something that won't eventually pay off for her, but for the life of me, I can't think of what she thought to gain from this. When the stage pulled away she actually leaned out of the window to wave in farewell, and I swear I think that she blew me a kiss.

September 1

We received word that Mr. Jock Steele will be gracing us with his presence again. It seems our esteemed writer is hoping to pen a sequel to the very successful literary tome regarding my comrades and myself that was titled "The Magnificent Seven." Mr. Larabee was quite displeased to hear about the author's impending arrival to conduct research. He used a selection of words to voice his discontent that I think would be prudent not to record here.

The other men have taken the news differently . . . Mr. Dunne and Mr. Wilmington are anticipating notoriety and fame with the prospect of future novels of our adventures and heroisms. Mr. Tanner has announced he will "lay low" during the author's stay especially considering there is still a bounty on his person, and Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sanchez have remained indifferent - neither expressing feelings either way. Myself, I am looking forward to Mr. Steele's visit and the opportunity for a lively exchange regarding the monetary aspects of the sale of these books. I can envision a whole line of novels titled "Ace of Spades" that would incorporate my travels and adventures in my profession and that would no doubt make me a very wealthy man.

September 7

Mr. Steele arrived today and his visit promptly sent Mr. Larabee to his rundown shack in the woods. I am sure it was either kill the 'annoying' author or leave town. Mr. Larabee wisely chose the latter. Mr. Tanner took the opportunity to invite himself out to the cabin, in an effort to avoid calling attention to himself to the visiting author.

Mr. Steele has been full of amusing antidotes and stories of his adventures, weaving many delightful and intriguing tales to my fellow comrades and the residents of this small town. He has become quite the popular person. Everyone wanted the opportunity to tell his or her story with hopes of it turning into literary muse. After prying Mr. Steele from the Undertaker's grasp - who was busy telling tales of his

gruesome trade of work - we enjoyed an evening meal and had an in-depth conversation about the financial aspects of the publishing business. It was an enlightening discussion; one that I hope will lead to a literary partnership with a New York publisher in the not too distant future.

I would be embarrassed for any of my associates to discover this, but I have been attempting some sketches of possible book covers. I have never claimed to be an artist, and I don't think I did too badly, but I know they would never let me live it down.

September 12

Today marks my one-year anniversary in this backwater town called Four Corners. Who would have believed I would have stayed this long? But yet, there is something here that keeps me from leaving. Maybe it is the desire to prove myself . . . to prove that I am better than the two-bit con artist my Mother raised, or maybe that I know it infuriates her that I am wasting my "God-given talents" as a "sheriff"? Perhaps it is because of the promise I made to Mr. Larabee to never "run out" on him and the others? My mind was thus occupied when young Billy Travis happened upon me sitting in my customary chair in front of the saloon earlier today. He noticed this book in my hand and that I had been writing in it. Ordinarily, I would not wish to draw attention to this little black book, but something about the innocence in those eyes drew more from me than I would normally give. I found myself explaining the purpose of this tome and passing on the words of wisdom my aunt gave to me so long ago.

My discussion with Billy did stir things up a bit in my mind, and it prompted me to look deeper into myself. Why do I remain here? The question burned in my mind and I felt such a need to know the answer. When I got up, the weight of this book in my jacket pocket drew my thoughts back to its pages. My aunt believed you could find your answers in your own words and just maybe she was right. On my way back up to my room, I picked up something to eat and a bottle from my private stock. I didn't want any interruptions as I combed through these written pages seeking a truth I sincerely hoped would be there.

Now, food consumed and bottle forgotten, I contemplate the meaning of what I just read. I was surprised to discover that every page told of my attachment to this town and its residents. The pages describe the camaraderie I have found with this group of six men that I now call friends. Friends. That isn't a word I thought would ever be associated with me, and I find that I like the feel of it. This place and these people have filled a great emptiness inside me, and I realize now that my life had held no real meaning before I landed in this community - this place I now call home.

Happy Anniversary!