A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... While the town
prepares for the annual Summer Celebration, Raven
Clark and Nolan Paige
get their hands on the official town chronology of Serenity...and
discover some curious discrepancies, not the least of which is that the
record stops ten years
earlier. Meanwhile, Marshal
Boxer has learned Paige isn't what he claims...but he's keeping
that information to himself, for the moment.
Two platinum-haired children are dropped off in Serenity -- the illegitimate off-spring of the Reverend McCallum. Marshal Boxer "offers" to preserve the reverend's reputation by taking charge of the kids himself. He drops them off with the Gunderson family. But the two children clearly have some connection to the greater evil that infests the town, and which the marshal serves...
A chorus of laughter went up from those at and around Marshal Boxer’s table. The Serenity Summer Celebration was in full swing, with Boxer at its epicenter. The marshal ordered a round of drinks for his table, then launched into another tale of high hilarity.
In a dark corner on the other side of Chaney’s Saloon, the mood was less celebratory.
“OK, so what do we know for certain?”
“Well.” Raven Clark sipped her beer. “According to the chronology, we know Boxer wasn’t here as recently as ten years ago. We know the marshal at that time was a man named Grady O’Halloran. And, based on the birth announcement for Abercrombie Putnam, we know everyone in town is likely ten years younger than they should be.” She took another sip, then put her mug on the table. “What any of that has to do with the Outskirts mine or Boxer’s protection of it, we don’t know.”
“Mmm, indeed.” Nolan Paige downed the last of his beer. “But maybe we can make some educated guesses. The chamber in the mine must have something to do with the ten-year gap in recorded Serenity history.”
“Maybe.” Raven ran a hand along the tabletop. “How do we know Boxer didn’t just sweep into town ten years ago, kill this O’Halloran, declare himself dictator marshal, and order the chronology stopped?”
Nolan reclined in his chair. “I know you have great animus for this man. But I think that’s a bit too literal an explanation for what’s going on in Serenity. You haven’t even taken the mine chamber into account.” (where they saw very strange things back in Episode 3 ~ the ed.)
Raven mirrored Paige’s posture and folded her arms over her bosom. “Maybe the chamber gave him some sort of . . . power to take over.”
“That still wouldn’t explain why little Abbie Putnam turned seven last year when he was born seventeen years ago.” Nolan probed his mug handle with a finger. “No, whatever’s at play here, I think the chamber itself is at the heart of it.”
“Maybe so.” Raven peered across the saloon, fixing Marshal Boxer with a glare. “But a chamber can’t act on its own.”
Below the Summer Celebration, Dick, Jane, and Abercrombie Putnam found their way into Art Chaney’s wine cellar. Hide and Seek amongst the casks and racks quickly lost its appeal. The children were about to rejoin the party, when two platinum-haired figures their size appeared on the cellar steps. “What’re you doing?”
Instantly leery of the bowl-headed pair on the steps, Jane and Abercrombie moved behind their older brother. Dick stepped forward. “Nothing. Who’re you?”
The boy spoke. “Lars and Lily Gunderson. We’re new.” (They came to town last episode -- remember? ~ the ed.)
Dick crossed to the bottom step; his siblings close at his back. “Well, we’re about to go back upstairs. Nice to make your acquaintance.”
“Is this all wine and stuff?” The girl, Lily, clomped down the steps and toured Art Chaney’s stock.
On the steps, Dick Putnam eased his brother and sister past the new boy. “Uh, yeah. Well, we’ll see y’all at the par-”
“Don’t do that!”
It was Jane Putnam who’d screamed. Dick looked down to see Lily Gunderson with her right hand on the open spigot of a whiskey cask. The spirit was rapidly pooling on the cellar floor, droplets splashing up on the other containers.
In Lily’s left hand was a lit match. A wide grin on her face, she dropped it in the whiskey.
“--Fuck you tawkin’ about? I ain’t cheatin’!”
“The goddam ace’s stuck to your forehead, you stupid sunuvuhbitch!”
Deputy Richter and Muggs, the stable master, threw the poker table aside, and the brawl was on.
Marshal Boxer, Deputy Lake, and Art Chaney moved in quickly to break things up. Boxer easily pulled Richter out of the fray, but it took the combined strength of Lake and Chaney to restrain the hulking stable master. Boxer shoved Richter against the bar. “Alright. Alright! That’s enough, Bump!”
Richter wiped at his bloody lip. “Yer lucky the marshal’s here, boy.”
“What’d you say?” Muggs surged forward, his mahogany forehead ridged with vessels.
It was all Deputy Lake and Art Chaney could do to keep the huge stable master at bay. Lake stepped in front of Muggs, both hands on the big man’s chest. “He’s drunk and a shitty card player, Muggs. Don’t mind him. Come on, now.”
The corded tendons of the stable master's log like limbs relaxed. Lake and Art Chaney sighed their relief. The deputy pat Muggs’ broad chest. “There’s a good man. You straight?”
Muggs stood at ease, but his gaze remained riveted to Richter. “Yeah, I’m straight.”
Boxer stepped to the center of the scene. “Alright, it’s all over, folks. Just a little misunderstanding over a friendly game of cards. Art, how about a round for the house, put everyone’s nerves at ease?”
Chaney was re-tying his apron. “You got it, marshal. Carrie! Let’s get everyone a round of the good wine. It’s in the cellar.”
Caroline Chaney nodded as a cheer went up from the crowd. “The good wine, comin’ right up.”
She crossed to the wine cellar door, opened it, and was instantly engulfed in flames.
The entire saloon stood in transfixed shock. No one moved a muscle as Caroline Chaney, bathed from head to toe in fire and howling in anguish, staggered from the cellar door and into the saloon.
The occupants of a nearby table regained their wits and leaped from their chairs as the flaming barmaid collapsed through it. On impact, her body ignited the alcohol on the table; the splintered table flung the resultant liquid fire to all corners of the bar.
Within moments, multiple parts of Chaney’s Saloon were on fire, while flames belched steadily from the open cellar door.
The panic began.
The screams of women, the hollers of men, and the crackling sound of flame devouring wood filled the saloon. Thick, black smoke soon followed. Raven Clark and Nolan Paige dove from their chairs when a fireball from the scene of Caroline Chaney’s gruesome death landed on their table. They jumped to their feet, Nolan with a firm grasp on Raven’s wrist. “This way! Stay low!”
They made their way toward the front door in a low crouch, dodging tendrils of flame and fleeing patrons. Just above the cacophony, Raven could hear Marshal Boxer and Deputy Lake crying out for order and calm. People were running in every direction, upending tables and chairs in their panic. More and more alcohol, long the lifeblood of the Serenity Summer Celebration, was now feeding the fire that threatened to kill them all.
They reached the table Carrie Chaney had gone through; a pile of fire and an acrid stench were all that remained of her. The sight brought Raven up short, and before Nolan could pull her away, a body careened into both of them, knocking the couple to the floor. Nolan got to his knees in time to see Deputy Richter regain his balance and stagger through the front door. Paige turned to grab Raven’s hand, but an ebony curtain of smoke swept around him. Unable to see and overcome by smoke, Nolan fell back to the floorboards, and passed out.
He didn’t know if it was the arms of mortal men, or his immortal soul rising to rejoin its creator, but something was lifting Nolan Paige from the floor of Chaney’s Saloon. He was guided between two walls of fire, held low under the fog of smoke, and delivered to the crisp night air. His head clearing as well as his vision, Nolan realized he’d been dragged from the saloon by two men, his arms around their shoulders. He looked to the left and found Deputy Lake. Muggs, the stable master, was on his right.
The two men dragged Nolan Paige a safe distance from the bar and laid him in the street. They trotted back toward the saloon, where they helped Marshal Boxer herd the crowd of escaped patrons away from the burning building. With everyone a safe distance away and Dr. Bullshank, himself with a seared arm, frantically tending the wounded, Boxer and Deputy Lake took stock of the survivors.
Art Chaney, the three Putnam children, the two new Gunderson children, and Raven Clark were missing.
Boxer waved his arms over his head to get the crowd’s attention. “Alright, listen here, people! As quickly as we can, we’re going to take the wounded to buildings across the street, and then Muggs, Deputy Lake, and I will fetch the pump wagon from the stable. I want every other able-bodied citizen to lay hands on whatever water they can find and bring it here. It’s going to take all of us to fight this fire. Now, move it!”
Nolan Paige refused to be taken to the safety of the post office; he staggered into the street instead. There, he found two dozen citizens of Serenity haphazardly throwing cups, pitchers, buckets, and a few troughs of water at the flaming hulk that had been Chaney’s Saloon only minutes earlier. Paige trundled forward and waved his arms, trying to attract attention. “No. No! You’re wasting water! We’ve got to concentrate our efforts on the doors. There are people trapped inside. We have to get them out!”
Deputy Richter shoved Nolan back with one arm. “Shut up, yew stewpid quill! We know what we’re doin.’” Richter thrust his bucket of water at the fire, lost his grip on it, and watched it sail into the flames after its contents.
The thunder of hooves was heard up the street. Nolan turned to see Marshal Boxer astride the pump wagon, whipping its horses toward the saloon. Deputy Lake and Muggs hung from either side of the tank.
Boxer pulled the horses to a halt and leaped from the wagon. “Listen up! As soon as we get the hose going, I want everyone to use their water to replenish the tank. We have to concentrate our water on the doors if we’re to have any chance of getting trapped people out.”
The two dozen disorganized firefighters rushed to follow the marshal’s plan, and Nolan Paige wondered why he even bothered.
Raven Clark rolled out of the way of a falling support beam, and dove behind the bar. She got to a crouch and realized she wasn’t alone. Art Chaney was curled into the fetal position at the base of the bar, quaking with sobs. Raven pushed through some small debris and threw her arms over the stout bartender. “Art! Get up! We have to get out of here!”
It was as if she wasn’t even there, Chaney continued to cry. “Shoulda been me. Oh God, why wasn’t it me?”
Raven laid her head on Chaney’s side and squeezed him. There was a small explosion from the other side of the bar and a wave of flames arced over them. Raven shielded Art Chaney with her body as another figure emerged from the smoke and tumbled behind the bar next to her. The man rolled over, and sat up. “Oh, Miss Clark, thank God I’m not the only one left.”
It was Mr. Johansson, the town undertaker.
Across the street, on the post office roof, Lars and Lily Gunderson looked down on their blazing creation and the effort to stop it with giddy glee, the flames flickering in their bright, wide eyes.
To Be Continued Next Week . . .
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.)