A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... The town has finally recovered from the trauma of the saloon fire, and it's back to business as usual -- which in the case of Marshal Boxer and the two enigmatic Gunderson Children, means preparing for the coming of the mysterious Four, and in the case of Raven Clark and Nolan Page it means trying to figure out what it's all about.
But things don't stop in Serenity, and another force may affect matters, in the form of a Gypsy curse...
“Toss him over the line, boys!”
With simultaneous grunts, Deputies Lake and Richter tossed the gypsy over the Serenity border. The jewels on the man’s clothes chimed as he crumpled in the dust.
Mayor Brubaker stepped in front of the deputies, barrel chest out. “That’ll teach you to beg for money in my town, mongrel. Off with you now. Go on.”
Brubaker turned his back on the gypsy, mounted his buckboard, which Richter drove, and headed back to town. Lake escorted them on horseback.
The gypsy dusted his satin pants. “’Conjure me deh weemon, mahk dem dence for me, mahk dem geev me deh mouth and hand sex, hend mahk dem deeappear behfore hanywon sees.’ I do all dees dings for heem, and he throws me ehway like deh garbage weethout even deh pay? Heh! I weel mahk heem pay! Oh yes.”
The gypsy knelt and dug a hole on the Serenity side of the border. When it was deep enough, he reached into his shirt, withdrawing a knot of charms from around his neck. He fumbled through the charms, pulled one free, and dropped it into the hole. A wide, near toothless grin etched into his face all the while, the gypsy scooped dirt back into the hole, and got to his feet.
Nolan Paige awoke with the sun. He stretched, rolled over, and laid his hand on Raven Clark’s bare belly. “’Morning. Time to go to war.”
Her eyes still closed, Raven smiled and stretched, tendrils of crimson hair spread over her pillow. “Does war always have to start at sun-up?”
“Afraid so.” Nolan gave Raven’s stomach a light, playful slap, and hopped out of bed. He crossed to the window. “As long as there’s no rest for the wicked, there will be none for the weary.”
He heard Raven’s footsteps round the bed, and soon her forehead was pressed between his shoulder blades.
“Well, you’re definitely the best sex I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.” Raven stood bolt upright as soon as the last word escaped her lips, more awake than she’d ever been. “Uh . . that’s not what I . . . oh God.” She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. “Please tell me I didn’t just say that.”
“It’s ok.” Nolan took her hands in his, and looked Raven in the eye. “The first time we made love was my first time doing anything with a woman. I was so nervous, I thought I would certainly vomit.”
His jaw dropped, his eyes were saucers, and he covered his mouth with both hands. “Raven, I am so sorry. That is absolutely not what I meant to say. The very last thing I want is for you to know the truth. I mean . . know about my inadequa-” Hands at his temples, eyes like saucers. “Oh, I could not want to die anymore than I do right now. Please accept my apologies. I don’t know what’s come over me.”
Raven smiled, threw her arms around his waist, and pulled him close. “It’s all right. When we first met, I thought you were an absolute sissy. Still do, kind of.” They jumped back from the embrace, her hands on her cheeks, his on his hips, both wearing masks of shock. “Jesus, Nolan, I’m so sorry. That’s not what I wanted to say. It’s-it’s what I was . . ”
“Thinking?” Nolan’s arms folded over his chest as Raven nodded. “The things I said were what I was thinking at the time, as well.”
“Hmmm.” Raven stood with one hand on her hip, her brow furrowed. “See, I’d like to mull this one over with you, but what I really want is your hands squeezing my . . . dammit!”
Raven and Nolan Paige walked the street hand-in-hand. Around them, the town of Serenity was a maelstrom of honesty. They passed the undertaker’s workshop, where Mr. Johansson stood opposite an elderly woman, arms crossed. “You’d better choose a coffin quick. You don’t look like you’ll last the day.”
Chuckling, Raven and Paige crossed the street, where Mr. Curruthers stood outside his barbershop, muttering to himself. “And now both my razors are missing. Ah, if only I’d joined the theater. I’ve wasted my life.”
Raven and Paige stepped into a nearby alley. Raven leaned on a barrel, arms folded over her chest. “Well, whatever this is, the whole town has it.”
“Indeed.” Nolan mirrored her pose, leaning against a wall. “But what’s causing it? Maybe it’s some kind of a-”
They rushed to the mouth of the alley. In the street, Harriet Putnam chased her husband down the street with a broom. “I’ve given you three children! Let’s see how your goddamn hips look after that!”
Raven and Paige exchanged a glance and a guffaw. Nolan caught sight of a bulbous figure working to remain in the shadows outside of Serenity town hall. “Isn’t that the mayor?”
Raven squinted. “Yes. Seems like he’s trying to avoid everyone.”
Nolan arched an eyebrow. “I think perhaps our august leader knows more about this than he’d like. What do you think?”
Raven grinned from ear to ear. “I think that thing you do with your tongue is-Gah! Sorry. What do I think about . . . what, now?”
Paige fixed her with a glare. “Follow Brubaker to his office and get him to tell you what he knows about all this honesty.”
“What are you going to do?” Raven was red-faced.
Nolan shifted his glare to the marshal’s office. “I’m going to find out if everyone in town is compelled to confess their thoughts today. But, I’ll be thinking about your breasts, mostly.”
“How long do I have to be here?”
“Until The Four can determine what is at play in Serenity.”
His lantern jaw resting on both hands, elbows on his thighs, Marshal Boxer sat on a crate in the old sawmill, little Lars and Lili Gunderson flanking him. He shifted his gaze to the boy. “I’ll be missed, you know. If this turns into a crisis, they’ll wonder where I am.”
“Unavoidable.” Lars’s baby toothed grin was as rigid as ever. “The Four cannot allow you to divulge their plans during this period of rapacious truth. Soon, They will have understanding of its cause, and you will act.”
Lili spun in place. “Ooo, acting! Will it be like the circus? It will, won’t it?”
Boxer got to his feet. “How do you know I’m even affected by this? I don’t feel any different.”
The boy looked into Boxer’s eyes. “What do you think of The Four’s plan, Marshal?”
“Oh, well, creating me to prepare Serenity as a vessel for their return to physical form is sheer brilliance. It’s . . .” Boxer returned to the crate and slumped. “Point taken.”
Boxer cocked an eyebrow. “Anything you want to tell me, Lars?”
The boy’s static grin did not reach his eyes. “We are unaffected.”
“A magical gypsy? You expect me to believe that?”
Mayor Brubaker swallowed hard, his back against the office wall, Raven’s hands gripping his lapels. “I’d love to be able to say anything else, Miss Clark. But, I beg of you, release me. I’m telling the truth! It seems we can do nothing else today, does it not?”
“It does.” Raven pulled the mayor from the wall and shoved him into his desk chair. “So, you threw this magic gypsy out of town last night, and today we’re all under his spell. That about right?”
“I believe so, yes.” Brubaker fumbled with his handkerchief, then mopped his brow. “Please, Miss Clark, we have to do something about this. A town is built for holding secrets and I fear I may have more to keep than most. Perhaps the marshal can-”
Raven seized Brubaker by the parade sash. “You’re not getting anywhere near the marshal, Mayor. You and I are going to the border, and you’re going to show me where you tossed that gypsy. Got me?”
Brubaker was all quivering cheeks and beaded sweat. “Yes, I will show you.” Raven released him, and the mayor got to his feet. “By the way, I find your forcefulness quite exhilarating. Sexually, of course.”
“Thanks. So does Nolan.” Raven slapped her forehead in disgust.
Brubaker fingered his mustache. “Oh . . . really?”
Raven rolled her eyes. “Damned gypsies. Let’s go.”
Nolan Paige and Deputy Lake stood nose to nose.
“I won’t ask again, Deputy! I’ve got a town-wide bout of unfortunate honesty to deal with. My superiors are demanding answers on an increasingly regular basis, and I can’t seem to get Miss Clark’s nude breasts out of my mind! So, for the last time, where is the marshal?”
“I don’t know where the marshal or Deputy Richter are, so get the hell out of my face, Paige! And, if you think you’ve got problems, I work with a man I can’t stand the sight or smell of, my boss may not exactly be who I thought he was, and my desire to help you and Miss Clark find out what’s really going on in this town is dead set against my sense of duty as a lawman. It’s tearing me apart inside, damnit!”
Nolan took a step back. “Well, there we are, then.”
Lake’s hands went to his hips. “Yeah, I reckon so.”
Paige backed out the door, and into the street.
“I had the deputies throw him over the border right here.”
It was dusk. Raven and Mayor Brubaker stood at the Serenity town limits.
The mayor twisted his handkerchief around his knuckles. “I don’t see anything unusual. I really think we should go back to town and inform Marshal Boxer. I’m sure he’ll know what-”
“Quiet.” Raven looked to the dimming sky, then at the area around them. Her gaze paused at the ground near her feet, and she crouched in the dust. Running her hands over the dirt, Raven stopped at a small mound of dirt, that was darker than the surrounding dust. “Looks like someone buried something here.”
Brubaker crossed to stand over Raven as she dug into the mound. Six inches down, something glinted in the fading sunlight. Raven pulled it out, opened her palm, and wiped the fresh dirt from around it.
“It’s a gypsy charm.” Brubaker was squinting through a monocle at the tiny piece of metal in Raven’s palm. “They use them to curse those who’ve wronged them.”
“Know anyone like that?” Raven stood and glared at the mayor. He scowled. Raven probed the charm with a finger. “It’s very light, as if hollow.”
“It is.” Brubaker buffed the monocle with his handkerchief. “To hold the curse.”
“Ah.” Raven took the charm in two fingers and held it at arm’s length. “This must be the cause of all the heartfelt testimonials in town. How do we undo the curse?”
“I surely could not tell you.” Brubaker shoved the monocle into a tiny pocket in his vest. “But I’m sure the marshal knows what to do. If we could just take the charm to him, I’m sure he could-”
“Oh, piss on that.” Raven dropped the charm to the dust and crushed it under her boot heel.
In the old sawmill, Lars Gunderson started from a deep meditation, and turned to the slouching Boxer. “It is over.”
Lili Gunderson’s grin faded ever so slightly. “No more inside-out circus fibs. Poo.”
Nolan Paige wondered the street, looking in windows. It was evening and there was no sign of Raven anywhere. She and the mayor had not been seen in town for hours. Nolan was about to give up and return to the newspaper office when, at the end of the street, the door to the old abandoned sawmill opened.
Marshal Boxer stepped outside, checked the street, and slipped into the shadows near the building.
Paige swallowed the lump that had welled up in his throat and dashed to the shadows nearest him.
Nolan carefully opened the old sawmill door and stepped into the blackness. He felt along the walls, picking his way through the decrepit mill ruins, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
A lantern flared to life in the middle of the room. Two children, a boy and girl, were standing in the lantern light; wide, humorless grins etched in their faces.
Nolan stumbled forward. “What are you doing here? This is a dangerous place for children.”
Paige reached the center of the room, and gasped.
Each child held a barber’s straight razor.
Nolan stumbled backward, tripped over a fallen beam, and collapsed to the dirty floorboards.
The boy stepped forward, his razor gleaming in the lantern light. “The Four send their regards, Mr. Paige, but you can proceed no further.”
They were on him. Lili Gunderson’s first slash found Paige’s throat, severing his vocal chords and windpipe in one clean stroke.
The Gunderson children cut with inhuman speed and precision, and Nolan Paige was heard in Serenity no more.
Serenity is copyright by Jason Chirevas. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)