A Weird Western Saga
|Last week in Serenity... A Gypsy curse fell over the town, forcing everyone to speak the truth -- and in Serenity, everyone has a secret. But, unfortunately for Raven Clark and Nolan Page, the one man they wanted to spill the beans, Marshal Boxer, hid out until the curse was lifted. But that night, Nolan Paige spied the marshal leaving the old sawmill; when Nolan went to investigate, he was attacked by the razor-wielding Gunderson Children...and killed...|
She thought about calling out to him, but something about his gait stopped her. He was sneaking, almost stalking his way to the door. Using the same caution, she stepped to the closest shadows, and slowly made her way to the sawmill.
She could see faint light through the weathered door’s slats. She pushed the door open and crept inside.
Everything was bathed in a deep red. She pressed on to the center of the room, where a lantern stood on the floor. Raven Clark vomited at the sight of the mangled pile seeping into the floorboards
Then she recognized it.
Marshal Boxer was finally drifting off to sleep on the cold, hard bunk when Raven Clark stormed into the holding cell, snatched his revolver from its holster, and delivered the butt across the bridge of his nose. She seized the marshal by the collar as he reeled, cocked the gun, and jammed the barrel against his forehead.
Tears streamed down Raven’s face, but she wasn’t crying. “Why like that? You tell me, now. Why?”
Blood cascading from a gash between his eyes, Boxer held his hands at shoulder height. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe you take a step back, and we can talk about th—”
“No!” Raven’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Not this time, you don’t get to do that.” She pressed the gun harder against his forehead. “You tell me why, and then I kill you. That’s how this goes.”
She smashed him across the temple with the revolver, pulled him back up, and planted the barrel against his forehead anew. “Don’t. Use. My. Name. I don’t know you, and you sure as fuck do not know me.”
“Hold it right there!”
There was a metallic click over Raven’s shoulder. “Miss Clark, I wouldn’t like to shoot you, but I will if you don’t put that gun down and step away from the marshal.”
Raven’s eyes never left Boxer’s. “This is between me and him, Deputy Lake. Stay out of it.”
“Afraid I can’t do that, ma’am.” Raven heard Lake step into the cell. “Now, lower that gun.”
Raven felt the barrel of Lake’s rifle near the back of her head. She blew out a deep breath, uncocked the marshal’s revolver, and stepped back to face Lake. “Nolan Paige is dead.”
“What?” Boxer and Lake spoke in unison, with the same tone of surprise.
Raven wheeled on Boxer. “Don’t you dare act surprised. You murdered him.”
Lake’s brow furrowed. “Box?”
The marshal glanced at his deputy, then to Raven. “I didn’t know he was dead, and I certainly didn’t kill him. Now, I assure you, Miss Clark, this office will get to the bottom of—”
“You’re a monster.” She was sobbing, eyes cloudy with tears. “And I’m not playing your games anymore. I’m ending this. Now.”
Boxer and Lake prepared for a shot, but Raven dropped the marshal’s gun, shouldered past the deputy, and ran out of the office.
Lake turned to the marshal. “Should I go after her?”
Boxer shook his head. “No. Fetch Bump. We need to talk.”
His face an ashen gray, Mr. Johansson stood next to Muggs, the stable master. “She came for me instead of Dr. Bullshank. Now I know why.”
They were standing in the middle of the old sawmill, their lanterns revealing more of the scene than Raven discovered. Muggs, his huge hand over his mouth, pointed at the floor. “Is . . . is that bone?”
“Best not to think about it, Mr. Muggs.” Johansson maneuvered out of his cloak, neither man could pull his eyes from the misshapen heap that had been Nolan Paige.
Johansson took a step forward; Muggs took a reflexive step back. Serenity’s undertaker turned to its stable master. “I need you to do two things for me, Mr. Muggs.”
They made eye contact for the first time since entering the sawmill. “What are they?”
Johansson threw his cloak over a three-legged chair, rolled up his sleeves. “First, fetch Reverend McCallum. This room needs the Lord, and it needs Him now.”
“Amen.” Muggs turned to go, then stopped. “What’s the other thing?”
Johansson stood with hand on hips, looking at the remains. “Go to the store; get Tom Putnam to open up. Tell him what’s happened if you have to, but not in front of his children.”
“Ok.” Muggs turned to go again, but realized something was missing. “What do we want from the store?”
The undertaker glanced around the room. “Sponges, Mr. Muggs. All the mops and sponges he has.”
In her room above the defunct Serenity Star office, where she’d slept next to Nolan Paige one night before, Raven Clark was busy. Stopping only to clear her eyes of welling tears, Raven threw everything she’d need for a solo journey to The Outskirts into a satchel. The same one she’d used to carry her possessions to Serenity a year ago.
She crossed to the nightstand, and pulled a small, carefully wrapped bundle from the drawer. Raven peeled away the first layer of thin cloth, when a voice from behind froze her blood in its vessels.
Raven dropped the bundle and wheeled to face the voice.
Standing in her room, filling a third of the space, was Grimm.
The dusty stranger, last seen crushing Marshal Boxer’s arm in one hand (way back in Episode 4: Riders ~ the ed.), extended one of those ominous instruments toward Raven. She staggered back into the little nightstand, but Grimm was not reaching for her, nor was his massive hand curled around a weapon.
He was holding a tiny, leather-bound book.
Deputy Lake closed the marshal’s office door behind him, a faraway look in his eyes. “I just came from the sawmill. It’s . . . it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, Box. What’s left, it doesn’t even look human.”
“Aw hell, Stu!” Deputy Richter rolled his latest nasal treasure between thumb and forefinger. “That sissy got wuht he dee-zerved, yew ask me. Ah don’t even care who done it, long as it’s done.”
Lake was red-faced. “How in hell can you say that, Bump? We’re law!”
Boxer spoke in an even tone. “I have to leave town.”
Richter barely looked up. “Sure, Marshal. Fer how long, d’ya think?”
Lake shot his partner a pointed glare, then stepped forward to face his boss. “Box, how can you leave town now? We need to find out who killed Nolan Paige. We need to start asking questions. We—”
Boxer’s hands were on Lake’s shoulders. “I have to leave town, Stu.”
“But why, Box?” Lake stepped out from under the marshal’s hands. “We got a murder just happened. There could be a mad killer loose in Serenity; we need you here.”
Boxer had his coat on, reached for his hat. “I’ll be back in a few days, maybe longer. I want you two to guard the sawmill. Don’t let anyone in who doesn’t have business cleaning up the mess.”
The marshal strode for the door, but Lake stepped into his path. Boxer stopped, held Lake’s gaze for a moment, then looked over his shoulder. “Deputy Richter.
“You’re acting marshal until I get back.”
From the roof of the post office, Lars and Lili Gunderson watched the crowd gather outside the old sawmill. A large, mahogany-skinned man was scarcely able to hold them at bay.
Lili’s perpetual grin was a bit dimmer than usual. “But why can’t we play with the soupy man some more? I like wet, red things, and he had plenty.”
“Quiet.” Lars turned to the marshal’s office. Boxer emerged, slid around the side of the building, and passed into the shadows.
“Come, Lili. We’re going to the stable.”
The grin returned to its full brilliance. “Cricket rodeo? Joy!”
If you are reading these words, I am dead. I haven’t any idea where I am now, or if I am anywhere, but know, if I am able, I’ll be watching over you from this day forward.
There’s a great deal you don’t know, and for that, I am most regretful. First, I was never employed by a newspaper in New York City or anywhere else. I am, in fact, a member of an order charged long, long ago with the detection and eradication of evil on earth. I was sent to Serenity because my superiors sensed a great evil burgeoning here. I was tasked with discovering the source of this menace, stopping it if I could, reporting back to my superiors if I could not.
Unless my plans have been altogether faulty, Grimm has delivered to you this note, my notebook, and is there with you now. I’m sure his presence is jarring, and requires explanation. I was in league with Grimm from the start; he is part of my order. I decided his assignment, to protect me from harm, was too conspicuous once he took liberties with the marshal’s arm. So, I sent him away from Serenity with my notebook, only to return in the event of my death. Convincing him to go was not easy or pleasant.
You found this letter folded into my notebook. Within the book’s pages, you will find the sum total of the knowledge I’ve accumulated in past encounters with evil. Keep it close to you, Raven. I hope it will be of service to you in the upcoming battle against Boxer and his chamber. I hope, also, that you will keep the book as a reminder of me, though I realize now is not the time for such thoughts.
I wish I could be more than merely words on a page to you now, but alas, my role in your journey is over. With this letter and this book, I pass to you my knowledge, my passion, and my heart. I know you will use them well.
I also present you Grimm. His oath to our order is now in your hands. If there’s need for it, his life will be forfeit for yours. Feel no guilt from this (though, if I know you, you already do); rather honor his commitment to you, and to me.
With your help, Raven Clark, I found what I was looking for in Serenity. What I didn’t rely on, was finding you. That has meant more to me than you will ever know.
Go now, use the tools I have given you, and finish what I, what we, started.
Yours, Now and Forever,
Raven folded the note with great care, replaced it in the little, weathered notebook, and, teary-eyed, looked up at Grimm.
“Go Frank! Ha!”
With Lars Gunderson in front of him, and Lili clinging to his waist, Boxer spurred his horse from the stables and headed for The Outskirts.
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.)