A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... On the Outskirts of town, Raven Clark and Nolan Paige discover what appears to be an abondoned mine -- but isn't. Inside, is a strange temple, and a supernatural force with deadly powers. They escape the mine, only to encounter Marshal Boxer outside. But to their surprise, he lets them go. They would have been even more surprised if they had seen him, moments later, kneeling worshipfully in the cave! Meanwhile, all three are unaware that the mysterious Grimm was observing them all.
But, for the moment, all seems calm in the good old town of Serenity...but only for the moment...
Caroline Chaney, spurred by her husband’s cry, hiked up her long skirt, dashed around the bar, and hurried into the street. She didn’t run three paces in the dust before colliding with a man dressed entirely in black. Reverend McCallum seized Carrie Chaney by the shoulders to steady them both. “Careful there, Mrs. Chaney. Where’re you off to in such a rush?”
Carrie grabbed the preacher’s shoulders in return. “Oh Reverend, Art’s in big trouble! There’re a bunch of strange boys in there ready to cut him up. I’m going for the marshal!”
“God help us.” McCallum tightened his grip on her shoulders and looked at Chaney’s Saloon, then back to Carrie. “Go. Get Marshal Boxer. I’ll see if these men will give an ear to the Lord’s word.”
“Oh thank you, Reverend.” Carrie pushed away from the preacher and pounded dust for the marshal’s office.
Vaughn McCallum looked at Chaney’s Saloon, swallowed hard, and walked slowly toward the door.
With the marshal out of town, it was up to them.
There were a dozen horses hitched outside the saloon that Deputy Lake didn’t recognize. Most looked flea-bitten and malnourished. The deputies and Carrie Chaney scarcely set foot on the first wooden step outside the Saloon when a black-clad body crashed through the front window and tumbled to the floorboards.
“Reverend!” Carrie kneeled at the preacher’s side and turned him over. McCallum’s face was a bloody mess and he was unconscious.
Lake felt perspiration bead on his upper lip. He took a deep breath and turned to Deputy Richter. “Bump, stay here and cover the door. Carrie, fetch the doc.”
Deputy Lake squared his shoulders and went inside.
The lead rider pulled the blade tighter against Art Chaney’s throat. “Anyone else wonna talk ta me ‘bout th’Lord?”
Eleven other riders, the dozen of them strangers to Serenity, laughed heartily as the saloon regulars cowered in the corners. The head horseman was about to demand another round of whiskey from Stick, the piano player, who had been pressed into service as a waiter, when a man entered the bar. Art looked up to see Deputy Lake. Alone.
The lead rider took instant note of the star on new arrival’s chest and the rifle in his hand. “Well, well, lookee wuht we got here. I didn’t think this town had no law.” He looked the deputy over. “An’ goin’ by tha look uh’yoo, they ain’t.”
That drew another guffaw from the other riders, but Deputy Lake, noting the revolver at each horseman’s hip, ignored the din and stepped forward. “We got more than enough law for the likes of you, mister. We also got an ordinance against firearms.”
The riders exchanged a few amused looks, then turned to Lake and laughed. The leader nodded to a few of them, and the riders slowly flanked the deputy. “Tell you wuht, tin star, how ‘bout you come ‘round an’ collect’em.”
Deputy Lake glanced at the grimy faces surrounding him, then turned to the leader. “Let the innkeeper go, and we’ll call it even.”
Behind the bar, an empty mug slid out of Stick’s sweat-soaked palm and shattered on the floorboards. Less than a second later, eleven pistols were drawn, a rifle shouldered, and the lead rider’s blade drew blood at Art Chaney’s throat. Lake’s sights were trained squarely between the lead rider’s eyes.
The entire bar held its breath until the head horseman cracked a broken-toothed grin. “Well, wuht’re we gonna do now, tin star? You got enough lead in that rifle fer alluvus?”
“No.” Lake’s eyes narrowed. “But if any of these boys makes a move on me, you drop first.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Stu.”
Every eye in the saloon jerked to the door, where Marshal Boxer was standing with a grin on his face and his hat pushed back from his forehead.
The lead rider’s blade broke contact with Art Chaney’s throat as the man focused on the tall, broad marshal. “Yoo . . . yoo stay where ya’are. Ah’ll cut his throat if yoo don’t.”
“I can’t have that, partner. He pours the drinks in this town.” Boxer closed the distance to the lead rider. He passed Deputy Lake and settled in front of the head horseman. “I also can’t have you throwing my preacher through the plate glass. So what say you let the barkeep go, and you and I will talk. Man to man.”
Lake lowered his rifle when the marshal stepped into the sights. He glanced at the other riders and found them with guns lowered, staring slack-jawed at Boxer.
Across the room, the lead rider relaxed his hold on Art Chaney, and the saloon man used the opportunity to clamber away. Art wasn’t even to his feet before Carrie Chaney burst into the bar and collapsed into an embrace around him. It would be a long time before the bartender and his wife would break the tear-soaked clinch.
Marshal Boxer smiled at the Chaney reunion, then turned back to the lead rider. “You did the right thing, my friend. Let me show you out.” The dirty horseman stood dumbstruck as the polished lawman slung an arm around his shoulders and walked him toward the front door. The other riders exchanged a few dim glances before trailing after the lawman and their leader.
Outside, Raven Clark and Nolan Paige had pushed their way to the front of the gathered crowd. Marshal Boxer emerged from Chaney’s Saloon with his arm around the lead rider’s shoulders. Deputy Richter snapped to attention and moved toward the crowd. “Awright, make way, make way. The marshal’s comin’ through.”
The small sea of townspeople parted to allow Boxer, the lead rider, and eleven other grizzled horseman passage. As they approached the riders’ hitched horses, the marshal began whispering into the lead man’s ear.
Raven watched the scene with a furrowed brow. As the riders began to mount up, her eye caught something that made the breath catch in her throat. She turned to Paige to see if he’d noticed it. The look on his face told her he had.
Right before the lead rider pulled himself into the saddle, he and Marshal Boxer had shared a brief glance.
Both were smiling.
“We’re off duty for the night.”
It was almost midnight, and the twelve filthy riders were back. Marshal Boxer stretched in his chair and yawned wide as his deputies exchanged a quizzical look. Nolan Paige stomped to the marshal’s desk. “Off duty? Do you mean to suggest you’re going to sit there and allow those animals to destroy The Star office, kill Raven Clark, and do who knows what else?”
Deputy Lake appeared at Paige’s shoulder. “Seems to me Mr. Paige is right, Box. Why aren’t we-”
The marshal silenced his deputy with a raised hand, then turned his attention to Paige. “I’m sorry to hear Miss Clark’s having a tough night. But my deputies and I are off . . . duty.”
Paige’s fist thumped the marshal’s desk. “Damn you, Boxer!” He turned on his heel and, shouldering past Deputy Richter, headed for the door.
The marshal’s voice stopped Nolan cold.
“You know, Quill, I think I’d feel more neighborly toward Miss Clark if she weren’t so unfair to me in this paper of hers. Take the editorial in this week’s edition, for example. Such venom.”
A bolt of realization struck the pit of Nolan’s stomach. The smiles. He slowly turned to face the marshal. “You! You told them to come back.”
Boxer grinned at Paige over steepled fingers. “Did I?”
On the street in front of the demolished printing press, shattered glass, and splintered wood that had, until tonight, been the Serenity Star office, twelve strange riders stood in a ring. At its center, her trousers ripped off, her blouse torn open, and bruised at the cheek and thigh, was Raven Clark.
The lead rider stepped into the circle and wiped a thick tendril of cloudy saliva from his chin whiskers. “Awright, boys. Ah’ll show yoo how she’s done, then y’all kin have her.”
Raven stumbled backward and fell. Her face and leg throbbing, she balled her fist around some dirt and waited for the lead rider to get close enough.
But the circle of eleven grizzly horsemen was broken when one of their number fell face-first into the dust to the sickening sound of wood cracking against the skull. All eyes turned to see Nolan Paige standing where the eleventh rider had been, a sawed off, double-barreled shotgun in his hands.
“Let her go.”
The rusted shotgun belonged to Art Chaney, who thought it best to retrieve the old firearm from the cellar following the day’s events. When the marshal proved treacherous, Nolan appealed to the Serenity regulars, but fear still gripped them all and not a hand was raised in support. Chaney lent Paige the old shotgun, perhaps out of guilt, and wished him luck against the riders.
Now, facing eleven dirty faces with guns to match and holding a weapon he had no idea how to use, Nolan was quite certain he was going to need more than luck.
The lead rider looked Nolan over and smiled. “A sissy dude widdiz daddy’s buckshooter. Jesus, don’t this bitch have any friends in town?”
Nolan trained the shotgun on the man in a way he’d seen on the covers of dime novels. “You stand away from the lady and leave town, sir, or I will kill you.”
The lead rider crossed to Nolan in three steps and pressed his chest to the barrels of the shotgun. “That whore is gettin’ fucked tonight by as many uh these boys as wants a piece uhver. Yoo got sumthin’ ta say ‘bout it, sissy? Pull’em triggers an’ say it.”
Nolan pulled both triggers, but nothing happened.
The lead rider giggled maliciously. “Gotta cock it first, dude.” He snatched the shotgun from Nolan’s grasp and rammed the butt into the writer’s jaw. Nolan toppled to the dust to a chorus of laughter from the other riders as the ringleader settled over him. The man planted his tattered boot on Paige’s chest, cocked both barrels, and lined them up over Nolan’s eyes. “This is how a man does it, sissy.”
The blast followed immediately, but it didn’t come from the shotgun.
The lead rider was dead before he hit the dirt, a neat hole punched in his forehead. Before anyone could react, two more shots rang out, and a pair of riders spasmed to the ground. Nolan Paige craned his neck to see the source of the shots.
Standing in front of the saloon, holding the largest revolver anyone had ever seen, was Grimm.
Raven crawled to Nolan Paige and they huddled together as Grimm moved to stand over them. The towering stranger kept his bulky, black gun trained on the remaining eight riders and peered at them from under his hat’s wide brim.
Without a word, the remaining riders scrambled to their horses, left their dead, and were gone. None were ever seen in Serenity again.
When the last rider was out of sight, Dr. Bullshank and Art Chaney hurried from the saloon. Giving Grimm a wide berth, they circled to Raven and Paige, and helped them up. Art Chaney removed his apron and wrapped it around Raven’s waist. His arm slung around the doctor’s shoulders for support, Nolan looked up at the tall, dusty stranger with the huge gun. “Thank you, Grimm.”
He’d been staring off after the retreating riders, but Grimm’s head turned briefly to Nolan, and gave a single nod.
Once Raven and Paige were moved off the street, Boxer stormed out of the marshal’s office with his deputies in tow. He ordered Lake and Richter to arrest the unconscious rider and get the dead horsemen off the street before stomping through the dust to face Grimm. “We’ve got an ordinance against firearms in this town, Mr. Grimm. I’ll take that hand cannon. Right now.” He held out his hand for the gun.
Grimm glanced at his still smoking gun, then at the marshal’s palm. He looked Boxer dead in the eyes and holstered the gun. “No.”
Grimm turned to walk away, but Boxer grabbed him by the shoulder. “You don’t turn your back on me, mister. I’ll have that gun..”
The marshal reached for the stranger’s hip, but Grimm caught Boxer’s arm by the wrist. They locked eyes. The stranger tightened his grip and the bones in Boxer’s arm were crushed with sharp snaps and cracks. The scream that followed resonated as far away as The Outskirts.
Grimm released the marshal’s arm and returned to his table in the saloon.
Boxer, his face frozen in a mask of disbelief, sank to his knees and cradled his mangled wrist.
Next - Chapter 5: Duel
Previous - Chapter 3: Chamber
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.)