A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... During
Serenity's Summer Celebration there seems to be a period of calm, and
even the feud between reporters Raven
Clark & Nolan Paige and the sinister Marshal Boxer seems to have been,
temporarily, put aside. But the town's latest arrivals, the mysterious platinum-haired children that have
some connection to the marshal's dark masters, have their own idea of
fun...and set fire to the wine cellar beneath the packed saloon.
Most escape the blaze...but still trapped inside are the Putnam children, bar keep Art Chaney, undertaker Johansson...and Raven Clark...
“Did you hear that?”
Raven Clark nudged him, but Johansson, the undertaker, was frantically peering over the bar, and didn’t answer.
“It sounded like a scream.” Raven crawled to the other end of the bar, straining in the direction she’d heard the sound.
The bar was surrounded by fire. Flames were licking their way up the walls. It wouldn’t be long before they overtook the ceiling as well. Raven, Johansson, and Art Chaney were trapped.
While Raven listened at the end of the bar, and Johansson desperately sought a path through the flames, Art Chaney lay on his side, catatonic with grief. His beloved wife, the woman he’d rescued from a life of seedy chorus lines and cheap whiskey, was dead, devoured by the same cruel animal now eating his saloon.
Johansson clambered over Chaney and grabbed Raven’s ankle. “We have to make a break for it now -- or we’ll never get out of here aalive!”
Raven glanced at the blazing saloon before them, then back at the undertaker. “All right, help me with Art.”
“Are you insane?” Johansson looked at the blubbering bartender. “He’s had it. We leave him! He’s too big for us to carry anyway.”
Raven was on her knees with Johansson’s collar in her fists before the slight undertaker could blink. “Now, you listen to me! Death may be your business, but it’s not mine! Either you help me get this man out or, I swear to God, you won’t leave at all!”
Johansson’s Adam’s apple bobbed violently, but before he could speak, Raven heard the noise again.
A child’s scream.
She looked back to Johansson, whose expression told her he’d heard the scream, too. “That came from upstairs. I’m going up.”
The undertaker wrenched his collar from Raven’s grip. “Miss Clark, be reasonable! Going upstairs is suicide. We have to leave now!”
She crawled to the end of the bar and coiled into a crouch. Raven looked over her shoulder at the undertaker with steel in her eyes. “I’m going upstairs. Promise me you’ll get Art out of here alive, Mr. Johansson.” A lock of crimson hair fell in front of her face. “Promise. Me.”
The skinny undertaker drew as deep a breath as the smoke would allow, and laid a hand on Art Chaney’s hip. “Yes. I will do it.”
Deputy Lake leveled the hose at the saloon door as Muggs and Eli Gunderson pumped the tank hard and fast. Mayor Brubaker and several farmers organized efforts to keep the pump wagon full of water. Tom Putnam, Reverend McCallum, Avery Cobb, Curruthers the barber, and Deputy Richter lead a group of townsmen, throwing what extra water they could find at the fire. Even Elsa Benjamin, the town schoolteacher, who’d acted as Dr. Bullshank’s emergency nurse across the street in the post office, had come to help fight the fire. The sling ripped from his right arm, Marshal Boxer directed it all. (from injuries sustained back in Episode 4: "Riders" ~ the ed.)
The best efforts of Serenity were brought to bear, but the fire was getting worse.
“This isn’t working!”
Nolan Paige brought his empty bucket to Boxer’s side. “It’s like the water is actually feeding the fire.”
The marshal didn’t turn around. “I know.”
Raven leaped over the last two flaming steps, and tumbled to the second floor landing. Hair matted to her face, her clothes covered in ash, Raven got to her knees and cupped her hands over her mouth. “Hello! Is anyone up here?”
Down the hall, a door opened. Raven saw a small figure jumping about behind a small wall of flames. “In here! Please! We’re in here!”
Avoiding the fiery gaps in the floorboards, Raven scrambled to the door, dove over the flames, and kicked the door closed behind her.
Before she could sit up, all three Putnam children pounced on her with a panicked embrace.
“I want mommy!”
Raven pulled the children from her limbs, and grabbed Dick Putnam’s shoulders. “Have you seen anyone else up here?”
“No, ma’am.” Tears made clean streaks down the boy’s soot-covered cheeks.
“All right.” Raven gathered the children close. “We’re going to crawl into the hallway. Stay close to me, and don’t leave each other’s sight, OK?”
The crying children agreed.
Kneeling, Raven wrapped her hand in her sleeve, and reached for the brass doorknob. Before she could grasp it, a blast of fire from below blew the door open. It cracked Raven across the jaw, knocking her back onto the children.
Dick Putnam pulled his leg out from under Raven Clark and turned over.
She was unconscious.
“Mr. Chaney! Art! Please! We have to go!”
Johansson pulled at Art Chaney’s suspenders, but he could not move the stout bartender an inch. Desperate, the slight undertaker straddled the weeping barkeep, and slapped Chaney’s face to punctuate his words. “She’s dead! Goddam you! Get up!”
Art didn’t move.
Fire burst from overhead and a support beam fell from the ceiling. Johansson toppled from Art Chaney’s hip and shielded his face against the floor.
From upstairs came a scream, ten times the magnitude of the one that had called Raven Clark away. Johansson rolled to his elbows, and his breath caught in his throat.
Art Chaney was sitting up.
Outside the saloon, the firefighting effort continued. Tom Putnam and Eli Gunderson periodically called out to their missing children, their voices increasingly horse. Marshal Boxer and Nolan Paige stood shoulder to shoulder, pitching their buckets of water at the flaming doorway simultaneously.
Paige threw his empty bucket into the dirt. “This is useless! That’s no ordinary fire -- we haven’t made any headway at all!”
The marshal looked at Nolan this time. “I know.”
Paige stepped into Boxer’s face. “I know you know what we’re really up against here. God help you if Raven dies.”
The marshal’s lip curled into a sneer. “God doesn’t keep with Serenity.”
There was a wail from inside the saloon, and a flaming figure charged from the doorway. The blazing form stumbled toward the group of firefighters and collapsed in the dust. Several men threw themselves on the figure, snuffing out the flames. They turned the body over to reveal Mr. Johansson, the undertaker, alive and well.
He was wrapped in an apron.
Dick, Jane, and Abercrombie Putnam were huddled over the fallen Raven Clark, waiting for the end, when the door was knocked from its hinges. The children’s heads turned in unison.
Covered in ash and wheezing, the plump barman lumbered into the room. “Kids! It’s all right! Everything’s going to be all right.”
Flames had followed Chaney through the door. They licked up the walls.
Dick Putman ran to Art’s leg. “It’s Miss Clark, sir! She’s hurt!”
“It’s ok, Dick. We’re gonna save her too. Dontchoo worry, now.” Chaney looked around the room. The staircase up from the bar had collapsed into embers the moment he’d set foot on the second floor landing. He had to find another way out.
The window. Beyond it, across a wide alley, was the squat bank building next door.
Art Chaney made his decision.
Flames were overtaking the room. The stout bartender crossed to the window, and smashed it out with his elbow. He seized Abercrombie Putnam, and hoisted the boy’s face to eye level. “Abbie, I’m gonna throw you across to the roof next door. I want you to try not to get hurt when you land.”
“I’m scared!” The boy sobbed.
“I know you are, Abbie. But this is something only big boys can do. You’re a big boy now, right?”
A sniffle. “Y-yes.”
“All right, that’s what I wanna hear.” Art stepped to the window. “Remember what I said, be careful how you land.”
Chaney grasped the boy by the collar and belt, and flung him out the window. Through the smoke, Art thought he saw little Abbie land safely onto the bank’s roof.
He turned to the remaining children. Three walls of the room were almost completely covered in fire. Chaney grabbed Jane Putnam and, without a word, hurled her across the alley to the roof beyond. “You’re next, Dick.”
On the floor, Raven stirred. Dick Putnam crossed to Art Chaney’s waiting arms. “What about Miss Clark? We can’t just leave her.”
“We won’t.” Art grabbed the boy as he had Dick’s younger siblings. The barman’s breathing was labored. He took a step back, then surged forward and launched Dick Putnam across the alley.
Fire broke through portions of the floor. Chaney turned from the window to find Raven on her feet. “Jane? Abbie?”
“The children’re safe, Miss Clark. Now, come on, it’s your turn.”
Groggy, Raven staggered to the window and, through holes in the curtain of smoke, made out the three Putnam children on a low roof across the alley. She turned back to Art Chaney. “You can’t throw me that far. Even if you could, how would you make it out?”
The flooring under the bed gave way and it fell to the first floor below. Flames made their way across the ceiling. Raven traced their progress with her eyes, then looked back to Art Chaney. He was wearing a warm smile. His arms open; ready to deliver her to safety.
“I belong here.”
Raven began to cry. “No! Art! We’ll find another way. You don’t have to do this!”
The remaining floorboards creaked and burning cinders fell from the ceiling as he stepped to her.
A moment later, Raven Clark sailed across the alley, and the fire swallowed Art Chaney whole.
Falling short of the roof, she hung from its ledge. The ash and smoke had taken their toll, and Raven could not pull herself up. It was only a matter of time before she slipped, and the last act of a kind man would be in vain.
But three pairs of little hands found her arms, and Raven was saved at last.
Across the alley, Chaney’s Saloon collapsed in on itself with a terrible whine of anguished wood, scattering the firefighters on the street. The building settled into a heap of black ruin, and the fire snuffed itself out all at once.
Following the tearful reunion of a family and two lovers, there was silence in Serenity for many hours.
His rented room destroyed with Chaney’s Saloon, Marshal Boxer awoke the next morning on the stiff, smelly cot in the office holding cell. He rolled painfully to his back, and felt a presence in the room. Boxer opened his eyes to find two platinum-haired, wide-eyed, grinning children standing over him.
The marshal sat up quickly, pressing his back against the wall. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
Lars Gunderson stepped forward. “They sent us to you. Their
time is close at hand. Make ready.”
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.)