A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... Discovering Nolan Paige murdered, Raven Clark confronts Marshal Boxer, but with little result. Later she is approached by the mysterious, long absent Grimm who gives her Paige's diary -- revealing that Paige, and Grimm, were fighters of supernatural evil, come to Serenity to thwart the plan's of the Marshal's dark masters. Emboldened, Raven and Grimm head off to the Outskirts in order to stop the evil schemes once and for all.
But Marshal Boxer has already set out for the old mine...
Astride his impossibly large black stallion, the late Nolan Paige’s bodyguard gave a single nod.
“All right then.” Raven glanced at the starry night sky, and swung into the saddle. “Let’s ri–”
“Could you use one more?”
Startled, Raven jerked Apollo’s reins toward the voice. Grimm’s gaze moved slowly in the same direction.
Standing just outside the stable gate, was Deputy Lake.
Raven fixed him with a glare. “We’re going after the master, no need for the lapdog to tag along.”
Lake lowered his head. “I reckon I deserve that, on some level. But, lately I’ve come to think Serenity could use a hero.”
Raven cocked an eyebrow. “That right?”
Lake nodded. “That’s right. And, if’d be all right with her, I’d like to ride alongside her for a while.”
Raven had to suppress a smile. She looked to her massive partner. “Grimm?”
He met her gaze, but that was all.
Raven looked back to Lake, a gleam in her eye. “If you can catch us, Deputy, you can ride with us. H’yah!”
“The Four are apprehensive. This is ill-advised.”
Marshal Boxer tossed the last bits of kindling on the campfire, squatted on a nearby rock, and squinted at Lars Gunderson. “Well, I’m tired, Frank’s tired, and we need rest. We’ll be to The Outskirts in plenty of time. The Four need not worry.”
Nearby, Lili Gunderson snatched at a something only she could see. “My advice to the ill would be this; get better.”
Lars rolled his eyes, though his grin remained intact. “The Four never worry, but this is a sensitive time. Their power is not yet sufficient, and matters could be made unpleasant if . . . she reaches them first.”
Boxer reached into his saddlebag, threw an apple to Frank, then retrieved a hunk of bread for himself. “If you two hadn’t turned Nolan Paige into pig slop (see Episode Ten: "Veritas" ~ the ed.), we wouldn’t need to make this trip in the first place. I had the hosts chosen, and everything. Was just waiting for The Four to come take them over, before this happened.”
Lars clasped his hands behind his back. “We could not allow Paige knowledge of us; he was far too brazen as it was.”
“Well.” Boxer chewed the wad of bread in his cheek. “Can’t catch all the breaks.”
“Indeed.” Lars turned away.
Boxer looked to the other Gunderson child. “Whatcha got there, Lili?”
She bounded over, and presented the marshal her cupped hands. “An empty fly!”
Boxer peered into Lili’s palms. Nothing there.
Lili giggled, saliva bubbling through her teeth. “I’m going to name him Vincent Griffin.”
Boxer tussled the girl’s hair, and she toddled off. He swallowed another wad of bread from the loaf, when Lars turned abruptly.
Outside the old sawmill, Acting Marshal Richter awoke with the sun, his shotgun laid across his lap. He stretched, and wiped the thick tendril of drool from his jaw, before going inside.
Mr. Johansson, in rolled shirtsleeves, was drenched in perspiration. Serenity’s undertaker dragged a wet mop across the floorboards as Richter entered. “Jeez, Mister J, you been at it all night?”
“Yes sir, Deputy.” Johansson stopped mopping the floor and, using his sleeve, wiped his brow. “I couldn’t leave Mr. Paige in the state he was in. Everything we could salvage is at my office now, where my real work begins. I don’t know if Paige had any family, but we owe whomever claims him something to bury.”
Richter surveyed the room, and whistled. There wasn’t a spot of blood left anywhere.
Richter and Johansson turned to the door, which framed a fretful Muggs. “We got horses missing from the stable.”
“That’s Acting Marshal Richter to you, Muggs.”
Johansson rolled his eyes. “Which horses?”
The big man ticked them off on his thick fingers. “Well, we got the marshal’s horse; that one we knew about. But, Miss Clark’s and Deputy Lake’s horses are missing now, too.”
Johansson leaned on his mop. “Can’t say I’m surprised Miss Clark is gone, given the circumstances.” He swiveled to face Richter. “But where do you suppose Deputy Lake is off to?”
Richter shoved a pinkie into his ear. “Mebbe he went after the marshal to bitch about me bein’ made acting marshal. That’d be jes’ like Stu.”
Johansson scowled. Muggs settled on a nearby bench. “A lot sure has happened since Miss Clark and Mr. Paige got together, huh?”
Johansson nodded. “I was just thinking that myself. They were the eye of this storm of recent events. The last time we had new people in town like this was . . . when was it, Mr. Muggs?”
A big shrug. “I dunno. Things’ve been how they’ve been for as long as I can remember. Until lately, I mean.”
“Indeed.” Johansson stroked his chin with thumb and forefinger. “Thinking about it now, I can’t remember a single distinguishing event in our town’s history preceding Miss Clark’s arrival.” He met Muggs’s worried gaze. “Seems odd, doesn’t it?”
Muggs’s face was twisted with confusion. “Yeah, it kinda does.”
Johansson’s brow furrowed. “Who was marshal before Boxer? Mayor before Brubaker? I’m sorry to say I honestly can’t remember.”
Richter looked up from his jagged earwax. “What year is it, anyway?”
Deputy Lake leaped from his horse and jammed his lips into the tiny trickle of water.
Raven dismounted nearby. “We’re stopping for the horses. The water’s for them.”
“Yeah, well.” Lake got to his knees and wiped his mouth. “In my haste to catch you before you rode out, I forgot my canteen. So, I guess the water’s for all the dumb animals.”
Raven sneered. “Self-deprecation. Cute.” She leaned against a boulder, arms crossed over her chest.
Grimm remained mounted and slowly scanned the horizon in all directions. Neither he, nor his horse, took any water.
“So.” Lake bookended Raven’s posture against the boulder. “What’re we headed for at The Outskirts?”
Raven answered without looking at him. “The thing your boss has kept from you and everyone else in Serenity for the past . . . for a long time now.”
Lake cocked an eyebrow. “And what’s that?”
She finally looked at him. “You’ll see when we get there.”
There was no more conversation for several moments as the horses continued to drink. Lake broke the silence. “Pretty hot today, huh?” He turned to look at Raven and caught her staring at him. “What?”
“I was wondering what you’ll look like ten years from now.”
“It won’t be long, my masters.”
Aloysius Boxer knelt on the stone altar at the center of the chamber; the wizened, base relief demonic visages on the walls framing him on all sides. Lars and Lili Gunderson slept in two of the four severe stone thrones surrounding the altar.
Boxer looked to his left, and listened.
“Yes, she is coming. But we will be ready. You may rely on me, Great One. You have nothing to fear from her.”
Boxer looked to his right and cradled his recently healed arm.
“I . . . was unaware he was with her; I will deal with him as well.”
“A third traveler? No, Great One, I do not know who it could be. No one of consequence, I’m sure. The false scribe is dead.”
“Indeed, all is ready, masters. Rest assured, I will take care of you all.”
Three horses galloped to a halt outside the mine. Deputy Lake absorbed the surrounding rock formations with a whistle. “So, this is The Outskirts.”
“Yep.” Raven dismounted. “I’ll give you the official tour some other time. We’ve got to get into that mine.”
Lake nodded. “Right.” He dismounted, then caught sight of a white horse half hidden behind a boulder to one side of the mine entrance. He pointed the animal out to Raven. “That’s the marshal’s horse, there. That’s Frank.”
“Then he’s beaten us here. Can’t say that surprises me.” Raven pulled a hammer, chisel, and the small, cloth-wrapped bundle from her saddlebag.
Grimm led the horses to a post near the mine entrance and hitched them to it. Raven crossed to Deputy Lake. “No matter, we’re not here for him. We’re here for the chamber.”
“So am I!”
All heads turned to the mouth of the mine, where Marshal Boxer stood, flanked by two wide-eyed, grinning children. The girl giggled incessantly. Boxer folded his arms over his chest. “I’m here for the chamber, too, Miss Clark. It’s under my protection as marshal for the town of Serenity. I order you to return there immediately.”
“You’re out of your jurisdiction.” Raven strode to within ten yards of Boxer; Lake and Grimm fell into step at her shoulders. “We’re going in.”
Boxer looked to Raven’s right and sneered at Grimm. He looked to her left and noticed Lake for the first time. “Stu, it’s a good thing you’re here.”
Lake was stone-faced. “That right?”
“Yes.” Boxer’s lip curled into a smirk. “Mr. Grimm and I have unfinished business, but Miss Clark’s presence here is a public nuisance. Arrest her, and take her back to town.”
When there was no immediate response, Raven turned to Lake. The deputy’s eyes remained on Boxer as he spoke. “I can’t do that, Marshal.”
Boxer’s sneer melted. “I gave you an order, mister.”
Lake cocked his rifle but kept it at his waist. “I’m off duty.”
Boxer glared. “That how it is?”
Lake took a step closer to Raven. “That’s how it is.”
Boxer looked briefly to the sky, then leveled his gaze at Lake. “Take that star off your chest, Stu. You’re fired. I thought you were law. I was wrong.”
Lake’s hand crept toward his badge as he spoke. “You disappear for days at a time and won’t tell anyone where you go.
“You let Richter smash Miss Clark with a shotgun and did nothing to punish him.
“You sat back while a gang of riders destroyed the newspaper and beat Miss Clark nearly to death.
“You were willing to let Mr. Paige get gunned down in the street by that dandy without any help from the law at all.
“You never investigated the fire that killed Art and Carrie Chaney. You didn’t say a word at their service.
“Just last night, you let a brutal murder in Serenity go completely unquestioned. Instead, you rode up here to your precious mine.”
Lake’s hand reached the star on his chest, and he buffed it with his sleeve.
“I can’t take this star off. I’m the only law Serenity’s got.”
Boxer gave a single nod. “Very well.”
Raven turned to her right. “Grimm.”
The massive man in the rust-colored duster stepped forward, eyes locked on Boxer, hand hovering over his gun.
The grinning children on Boxer’s flanks stumbled back a few steps, but the marshal stood his ground. Boxer set his jaw and fixed Grimm with a look that surprised even Raven in its intensity.
The marshal’s hand dangled over his revolver, fingers twitching with anticipation. Grimm’s hand was a sculpture over the heel of his gun.
They bore looks deep into each other. Raven wondered if either had a soul for the other man’s eyes to reach.
Lake’s grip on his rifle was iron.
The Gunderson children cowered against the rocky wall of the mine.
Marshal Boxer drew a deep breath, blew it out slowly, and stepped to one side of the mine entrance.
“Go get them, Mr. Grimm. They’re all yours.”
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.)