A Weird Western Saga
in "Serenity: season II"... Fortunes having reversed themselves, and Boxer once more named marshal, Raven
Clark has heated words with Deputy Lake, once more doubting his loyalties, while Boxer meets with Elizabeth Byrnne, the late Nolan Paige's fiance. But a creature prowls the streets and attacks Boxer -- an attack that surprises everyone, Boxer included...
Marshal Boxer rubbed his throbbing jaw. “That your official evaluation, Doc?”
It was dawn. They were gathered in Dr. Bullshank’s office. Boxer, Deputy Lake, Raven Clark, Johansson the undertaker, and the doctor himself ringed the examination table in the center of the room. The body of the apelike creature that had attacked the marshal lay before them. In the corner, Lili Clark jabbed a tongue depressor at the wall.
Bullshank wiped his hands on a handkerchief. “Without a full autopsy, I can’t tell you much, but it’s certainly no kind of ape I’m aware of.”
“I dunno.” Lake looked from the table to the doctor. “Looks basically like a gorilla with all its fur burned off to me.”
“Yeah.” Raven cocked an eyebrow. “And there’d be nothing unusual about that.”
Lake shot her a look as Bullshank pocketed his hankie. “It’s definitely not a normal gorilla, Deputy. I’m certain of that.”
Boxer stepped forward. “How?”
“Well, for one thing.” Bullshank poked into one of the creature’s gunshot wounds, then held up his finger. “Green blood.”
Boxer’s brow knit. “Ah.”
“Also.” Bullshank moved to the creature’s mouth. He pried its jaw open and everyone leaned in for a closer look. “All its teeth are made for ripping and tearing.” The doctor released the jaw and looked at the group. “Normal gorilla’s a plant eater, mostly. They have flat teeth like ours.”
“All right.” Boxer adjusted the bandage on his arm. “I’m going to bed. Stu, you’re in charge.”
Lake nodded. “You got it, Box.”
Raven rolled her eyes.
Boxer looked to Bullshank. “Doc, do whatever you need to do, autopsy it, I don’t care. But I want to know as much about this thing as possible.”
“I’ll do what I can, Marshal.”
“Good.” Boxer turned to the man in black. “Johansson, you help him.”
The undertaker’s brow furrowed. “Um, well it’s not within my vocation or ability to do so, but I’ll—”
“Good.” Boxer moved to the door. “I’ll be asleep if anyone needs me, so don’t need me.”
The marshal opened the door, but a grinning Raven blocked his escape. “What about me? Don’t you have anything for me to do?”
Boxer’s disingenuous grin matched hers. “You could leave town, never come back.”
Her grin remained. “No can do . . . Box.”
The marshal’s features dropped. “Then I’m out of ideas.” He shouldered past her, and left the office.
The rising sun added to the blossom of pain inside his head. The street was deserted save for a lone buckboard at the other end, slowly rumbling toward the school. Boxer turned in the other direction and headed for the marshal’s office. He staggered less than twenty yards before a sound from above brought him up short.
It sounded like . . . flapping.
“So, it’s ‘Box’ again? Why don’t you just get his name tattooed on your ass?”
“Keep ridin’ me, lady. Just keep ridin’ me.”
Raven and Deputy Lake broke their nose-to-nose glare and looked at Johansson. The gaunt undertaker sighed. “Would you mind taking this outside? The doctor, and apparently I, have a great deal of work to do here.”
“Fine.” Raven reached for the door with Nolan Paige’s journal in mind. “I’m going back to my office to find out what this thing is.”
She opened the door, but Lake slammed it closed again. “Forgetting something?” He nodded across the room, where Lili stood, holding the jagged remains of a broken tongue depressor over her head.
“Look, Auntie. Soon everyone will want one.”
Raven stomped toward Lili, but a scream from outside stopped her cold.
Raven, Lili, Lake, Bullshank, and Johansson tumbled through the doctor’s office door together, nearly crumbling into a pile in the street. Another scream pierced the air around them, this one from above.
Lili was the first to see it. “Oooo, exquisite.”
All eyes looked skyward, where a slight, scrawny figure with large, leathery wings was absconding with Marshal Boxer.
“Well.” Raven stood with hands on hips. “I don’t think anyone expected that.”
Lake sneered at her, then scanned the immediate area. The stables were too far away, and liable to be locked this early in the morning. He wouldn’t be able to reach his horse in time to catch the creature. The deputy looked to the other end of the street, where Elsa Benjamin stood slack-jawed next to her buckboard, staring at the retreating flyer and its prey.
Lake cupped his hands around his mouth. “Elsa!” When she looked his way, Lake waved her in. “Over here! Bring the buggy!”
The winged creature headed for the horizon, but had trouble bearing its burden. Lake turned to the group as Elsa Benjamin’s buckboard charged their way. “Doc. Mr. Johansson. Get inside and find out what that ape creature is.”
He undertaker wrung his hands. “Shouldn’t we find Deputy Richter?”
“No. No time.” Lake ushered the men back into the doctor’s office. “Get on that autopsy. And don’t tell anyone about this new creature or what happened to the marshal.”
He pulled the door closed on Bullshank and Johansson, then turned to Raven. “You were going to look that ape thing up in Paige’s journal?”
Lake pointed over his shoulder. “Good. See if our new friend is in there too, while you’re at it.”
“Sure.” She took Lili by the hand, smiling. “I’ll see what it likes to eat. It deserves a reward for ridding us of our problem.”
He fixed her with a glare as Elsa Benjamin’s buckboard skidded to a halt outside the doctor’s office. “Deputy Lake, what is that thing? What’s going on?”
Lake climbed into the seat next to the schoolteacher. “No time to explain, Elsa. In the absence of Marshal Boxer, and as a duly sworn peace officer for the town of Serenity, I hereby deputize you to follow that thing!”
Elsa gulped. “Follow? Why deputy, I couldn’t possibly—”
Lake stood and kicked Elsa’s horse in the rear. “Hah!”
The buckboard lurched after the flying creature, Elsa Benjamin barely able to control it. When the dust cleared, Raven looked down at Lili. “Tea and cookies?”
“Oh, Auntie, how you flatter me.”
The pain started where the scrawny, scabby creature’s talons were curled around his collarbones and radiated down from there. Boxer’s throat was ravaged from screaming, so the pain registered now as a series of moans and whimpers. He couldn’t move his arms to reach for his gun, and the one time he’d looked down, he’d vomited.
Serenity’s marshal closed his eyes and hoped it would all be over soon.
“That skinny thing can’t climb that high while carrying the marshal. If we can get close enough, I should be able to bring it down.”
Lake held his hat in place as Elsa Benjamin’s bonnet flapped in the wind. The schoolteacher struggled to keep the bounding buckboard on the road out of town. “What is it, Deputy? Some . . . massive . . . bird?”
“I have no idea.” Lake concentrated on distance and trajectory as they closed in on the flying creature. “But it’s got hold of the marshal, and we’re going to make it turn him lose.”
Elsa looped the reins around her wrist one more time. “All I wanted to do was work on lesson plans.”
Lili dropped the fourth cookie into her tea as Raven looked up from Nolan Paige’s journal. “This could be something.”
“What’s that, Auntie?” Lili stirred the cookies in her tea with a finger. “The total object?”
“Not ‘the sum thing,’ Lili. ‘Something.’” Raven shook her head. “God help me, I’m beginning to understand you.”
Lili giggled uncontrollably. “There’s no God. Silly Auntie.”
Lake leaned over to yell in Elsa Benjamin’s ear. “I think he’s headed for The Outskirts.”
She glanced over with a furrowed brow. “The where?” (Most town folks can't remember the that the area beyond the town was called the "Outskirts" and was a forbidden ground ~ ed)
Lake shook his head. “Never mind. We have to stop it before he gets there. Can’t you get anymore out of this crowbait?”
Elsa gasped as the buckboard bounced over a large rock in the road. “I beg your pardon! She belonged to my father!”
Lake grinned. “Sorry, just . . we need to get closer.”
Elsa returned her eyes to the road and cracked the reins hard. “Ha! Peppermint, hyah!”
The buckboard rattled at the seams, but they closed on the creature which, tiring, had slipped lower in the sky.
Elsa leaned close to Lake’s ear. “Even if we get close enough for you to shoot, won’t this . . thing drop the marshal?”
Lake grimaced, hearing Raven snicker in his head. He looked at the creature carrying his limp boss, then at the buckboard surrounding him, then back to the creature. He spoke to Elsa Benjamin’s ear.
“There’s only one way this is going to work.”
Raven opened the door to the doctor’s office. “Did you find any—Jesus Christ!”
The ape-thing lay spread-eagle on Bullshank’s table, chest and abdominal cavities wide open. There were organs and tissue on every table, chair and shelf in the room.
Bullshank, elbow deep in bowel, looked to the door. “Yes, Miss Clark?”
Closing the door, Raven concentrated on a dry spot on the wall and inched into the room. “I was asking; did you find a symbol burned into the small of his back? Small, round, like a crest almost.”
“I think. . . .” In the corner, Johansson rifled through pages of notes. “Yes, we did. Measured one-and-a-half inches in diameter. It was a square enclosed in a circle.” He cocked an eyebrow at Raven. “How did you know?”
“I have my sources.”
The undertaker shuffled his notes with a sneer. “Then perhaps you also know what it is.”
Raven looked from one quizzical face to the other as the men exchanged a glance.
“It’s a brand.”
The buckboard hit a small boulder in the road. Lake’s hat flew from his head into their dusty wake. He swore, then leaned close to Elsa. “All right, this is it. We make our play now. We can’t let him get any further.” He checked his rifle one last time. “You remember what to do?”
She glanced at him with pursed lips. “Yes.”
“Okay then, let’s go.”
Elsa Benjamin looked to the heavens, shook her head, and said a little prayer.
“Get up there, Peppermint! Ha!”
There was sound below.
Boxer’s head lolled to one side. He opened his eyes long enough to look down. Through the blur of tears and blood, the marshal thought he saw wheels, Stu Lake, and a flapping bonnet but was sure none of it was real.
He passed out again.
They overtook the flying creature, riding just ahead of it. At this speed, the buckboard jarred violently with every pebble it rolled over. Lake caught Elsa’s eye. “We have to do it now before the buggy comes apart! Ready?”
She gulped, then nodded. All future lessons plans would be done at home.
Elsa unwound the reins from her wrists.
Lake stood and trained his rifle overhead, his aim true despite the tumultuous ride.
“Steady . . .steady . . . Now!”
Lake fired, and he and Elsa leaped from the buckboard.
The shot hit the creature in the throat. It croaked, grabbed at its neck with both clawed hands, and spread its taloned toes.
Boxer tumbled from the creature’s grip. . . .
. . . and into the empty buckboard below. All four wheels splintered on impact. The marshal’s flaccid body bounced once before settling lengthwise into the buggy’s seat. Now a dragging a litter, the exhausted Peppermint slowed to a trot within ten yards and stopped altogether within twenty.
Overhead, the winged creature belched a gravelly screech and disappeared over the horizon.
Some distance behind the buckboard wreck, Deputy Lake and Elsa Benjamin rose from the dust. They crossed to each other and looked at Boxer nestled in the buggy seat.
Elsa smiled. “I’m calling you when it’s time to teach geometry.”
With Elsa riding sidesaddle and Boxer slung over the horse’s back like a sack of feed, Lake tugged Peppermint by the reins, and they began the long journey back to Serenity.
Fifty yards in, Lake picked up his hat.
A single boulder in the rubble blocking the entrance to the Outskirts mine fell away from the pile. In its place lay the bald head of a very old man. He squeezed through the opening, grunting and groaning all the way, and scrambled to his feet at the base of the pile.
His clothes nothing but tattered rags, his throat cracked and dry, the ancient man straightened as best he could and took his first free step in over ten years.
“Hang on, Serenity.
“The marshal is a’comin’ back.”
Next - Episode 4: What Happened
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