Ghost Town M7 ATF AU

The members of Team Seven exited their vehicles and looked around in anticipation. They'd returned to the ghost town they'd visited a few weeks before, clad in old west attire that suited each one quite well and that seemed to bring out their affinity with that era.

Once again, the men were alone in the area. Even with the sun relatively high in the sky, there was still an almost ghostly ambiance among the deserted buildings. A light breeze drifted between the wooden edifices, making small dust devils swirl in the streets occasionally and causing a loose window shutter to creak with a soft moan as it was tugged on its fastenings.

As they'd done on the previous visit, the group strolled the main street first. Pausing for pictures in front of and in the bank, boarding house, mercantile, the restaurant, and Sheriff's office, they all developed a feeling of belonging as they explored a bit more deeply than they had the first time. JD flipped through old wanted posters at the jail, pulling out a tin star and pinning it to his jacket as he talked Ezra into being his 'prisoner' for a couple of pics.

The stuff they'd seen during the last visit still rested in their places, but there also seemed to be a few more things than they remembered in some of the areas. Having made a rather cursory examination the time before, it was hard to say for sure though.

However, when Vin found what appeared to be an authentic newspaper on a small table in the front room of the boarding house, he knew he hadn't seen it on the first visit. Taking in the bold headline under the name of the paper, which was The Clarion from Arizona Territory, some distance away, his mouth dropped open in amazement. Blue eyes scanned the article quickly, then went back and read it more slowly to be sure he had the names correct.

Notorious Gunman Chris Larabee has Shootout in Four Corners!

The streets of our quiet little town ran red with blood as new resident and notorious gunman Chris Larabee shot it out yesterday afternoon with a number of trail hands who were running amok. The cow herders had been drinking and were firing into the shops and air in a hail of bullets. They had just decided to attempt to lynch local healer Nathan Jackson, who had been unable to save their boss from gangrene, when Mr. Larabee and the new clerk at Watson's Hardware intervened. The confrontation took place at the cemetery at the edge of town where the trail hands had healer Jackson in a noose attached to a rope tied to the sole tree. Vin Tanner, the clerk from the hardware store shot the rope apart in two tries, while Mr. Larabee engaged the majority of the rest of the herders. Only one trail hand remained alive at the end of the confrontation, thus proving that Larabee, the famous gunman, is as fast and proficient as rumor has it and that Mr. Tanner is an excellent rifle shot. Mr. Jackson managed to take out one cow hand with a throwing knife, and was then cut free from the rope that bound him, suffering no major damage other than a bruised neck. The three men retired to the saloon without answering this reporter's follow-up questions, Mr. Larabee appearing quite dangerous in all black with his Colt on his hip as he strode away from the cemetery. Mr. Tanner apparently gave up his job as he passed Mr. Watson, who gifted him with the rifle he'd just used so effectively. Hopefully this will serve as a warning to any others who wish to engage in destructive behavior in our corner of the territory.

In other news, several additional visitors have arrived in Four Corners lately. Buck Wilmington has made the acquaintance of several of the ladies in town, while Ezra P. Standish is available for games of chance in one of the town's saloons. A young gentleman from back East arrived on the afternoon stage, just as the gunfight mentioned in the previous article was beginning. This reporter didn't get his name as of yet, but he attempted to take out the lone fleeing trail hand at the end of the gun battle at the cemetery. He was stopped by Mr. Larabee with a shot to the ground by his feet, as Larabee instructed him that you don't shoot people in the back. The young man nodded in acknowledgment and disappeared into the crowd without revealing his identity.

Eyes now wide, the sniper glanced up at the dangerous form who was standing nearby flipping through a book from the shelves behind him.

"Umm…Chris, you've got to see this…"

At the unusual tone of voice, the tall figure returned the volume he held and then strode with his normal fluid grace to where Tanner sat with the yellowed, brittle paper in his hands. The others who were scattered around the room looked up as well.

"What is it Vin?"

The slim figure showed him the headline and then proceeded to read the article about the gunfight out loud, adding the following one about the other recent visitors to the town as well. Chris then took the paper, the rest of the men crowding around to read over his shoulder as if seeing it for themselves might change something.

"Good Lord!" muttered Standish as he tugged absently on the ruffles of his shirt sleeves under the green jacket. Long fingers then reached to take the paper from Larabee.

"Alright, this is gettin' spooky." commented Buck with a nervous look over his broad shoulder.

JD's expression was somewhere between confused and excited.

"See Chris! You really are the incarnation of an old west gunfighter!"

Wilmington slapped at the kid's bowler. "There's no such thing as reincarnation, JD."

Josiah took the paper from the gambler even as he answered Buck.

"Now brother, we shouldn't dismiss something just because we don't understand it. I'm not saying I believe, but the people in India consider reincarnation an everyday thing. And Chris does have an uncanny ability with a gun."

Nathan reached for the newspaper next. "Not sayin' I'm convinced either, but I saw some strange things in New Orleans and Rain's folks believed it was possible for souls to come back."

Ezra nodded in agreement even as he glanced around as well.

"Indeed, there were things that happened in N'awlins that defied explanation when I stayed there. After seein' this… I'm not inclined to dismiss anythin' at this point."

Vin agreed as he glanced back at the articles. "The tribes believe folks can come back, at least those in tune with the old ways. And Chris is almighty fast…"

JD took the paper next. "And it's not just Chris… there was an old west version of you and Nathan, even Buck and Ez."

The ladies' man reached out a long finger to tap at the description of the 'young gentleman from back East'.

"I'd bet my eyeteeth that's you, Kid. So Josiah's the only one not mentioned…"

Chris' hand re-appropriated the paper as the green eyes roved over the articles again.

"It's true it doesn't say here, but if the rest of us were around, I imagine Josiah was there somewhere. After all, this just gives the account of that one afternoon. Back then papers were carried all over since reading material was scarce and local news took days or weeks to reach the more remote areas. If we found more of the issues of this…Clarion…we'd probably discover that Josiah was around as well. I can't image the rest of our alter egos being there without him."

He then looked a bit bemused. "Shit, I can't believe I just said that!"

Dunne still looked puzzled. "But if Chris was famous, and even the paper back then mentioned Buck and Vin, and Ezra and Nathan, how come none of us have ever heard of any of this? Even if they were ancestors, you'd think Chris' family especially would have mentioned that he was named after a famous gunfighter great-great grandfather or something…"

Six other sets of shoulders shrugged. Josiah rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he answered for all of them.

"If it really was old west versions of ourselves, who knows…maybe we weren't meant to find out until now for some reason. Or maybe it's just a cosmic coincidence…"

Chris folded the paper and stuck it in the inside pocket of the hip-length jacket he wore after Vin got a photo of him holding it in front of him.

"Don't think I believe in coincidence that much, Josiah. But as for what it means…I have no idea right now. And don't know of any way to find out unless it's revealed to us like this stuff. Let's just finish exploring the town a little more than we did before and take some more pictures and try not to think about it too much."

Vin gave a wide grin and a wink as they started to leave the boarding house.

"And after we check out the homes and saloons, you and Buck can do another gunfight for us and show why yur old west incarnation was so 'notorious'!"

As they walked out the doors, Chris rubbed his temple with three fingers, copying Tanner's "read between the lines" version of the bird, one corner of his mouth tilted in a teasing smirk.

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The town's houses did seem to show a few personal belongings that had seemed to be missing on the previous tour. But since they were things like pocket watches and ladies' fans that were hidden in drawers and such, there was nothing momentous enough to disturb the group any more than the newspaper had. They did take photos to document the items, as well as posing in some of the rooms.

Chris and Buck then huddled together to pick a gunfight scenario while the rest settled on the boardwalk, Vin leaning against one of the boarding house's support posts.

Larabee and Wilmington had just chosen the scene they wanted to use when the group heard the sound of excited voices coming from the far edge of town. The men casually placed their hands near their guns, all still sporting real ammunition since Buck and Chris hadn't changed to blanks yet. Alert eyes watched to see who would enter the street. When they saw the two boys and their mom from the previous visit they all relaxed, offering welcoming smiles to the trio.

"Mom, mom! It is them!" offered the oldest with a wide grin as he slid to a stop in the dust just feet from Chris.

Anna gave a somewhat embarrassed grin. "Sorry, the boys have begged me to come back here several times in the last few weeks hoping to see you again. They've talked constantly about the gunfight you did for them, and they were just convinced that if we came often enough that you'd be here one of these times. I hope we aren't disturbing you…"

The men shook their heads, all greeting the woman and her sons genially. Josiah gave a wink as he patted the two kids on the back.

"You're in luck. Chris and Buck were just going to do another gunfight, so you're welcome to join us."

Mark glanced at the dark figure of the lean blond. "Are you sure it's alright, Mr. Chris?"

Larabee nodded, giving the older boy a wink of his own as he began changing out the regular bullets in his Colt for the blanks he carried in his pocket.

"It's fine, son. I don't mind. Did you hear from your Dad?"

The ten year old gave a happy grin. "Yes Sir. He called right after we got home the next day after we saw you here. He said he was sorry that he couldn't call on my birthday, but he was taking care of some bad men, like you said."

Anna gave a smile as well. "I sent him the pictures Josiah texted me. He was tickled that the boys got to see 'real gunmen' and said to thank you for humoring them if I ever saw you again." The green gaze caught Chris' hazel one. "He was especially grateful for what you said to Mark. It meant a lot that you explained why he couldn't call and that you understood and didn't judge him."

The impressive form gave her a nod and soft "My pleasure." He then motioned to the boardwalk where the others stood.

"Remember what we said about staying out of the line of fire last time?" the unique voice asked the boys. Both nodded and settled themselves, Mark next to Vin and John by Ezra.

"Stay here so you don't have to worry about us and can concentrate on not hittin' Mr. Buck." offered John with a shy smile.

One hand reached to tousle the smaller boy's hair.

"That's right. Good job."

The duo grinned at the praise, beaming when Chris gave them each a wink.

"Alright… everybody ready?"

At the nods and murmurs of confirmation, the lean blond stepped off the boardwalk and moved into the middle of the street. Vin called "Die well, Bucklin!" with a snicker, using the same basic phrase that he had the time before.

Wilmington gave a grin. "Ain't like I've got a lot of choice, Junior. We all know Chris' gonna win…"

The rest chuckled, Larabee just shaking his head as he loosened his Peacemaker in his holster.

The lanky brunet strode out into the street as well. It got totally quiet except for the whisper of the breeze around the corner of the buildings. Buck and Chris then faced off, about twenty feet between them. Buck mouthed a few insults, and then the pair drew. Again, Chris' motion was simply a blur of black and silver as his hand got the Colt out and aimed before the ladies' man could fire. The sun glinted on the steel of the barrel as the cartridge flew toward Wilmington, then landed in the dust a couple of inches to the tall figure's left. The ladies' man's finger squeezed his trigger reflexively into the dirt as the dark-haired form folded and slowly tilted into the street. A soft expulsion of air escaped him, and then he went still.

Chris stalked up to the limp figure and toed it in the ribs. When there was no response, he holstered the .45 and then strode toward the saloon on the other side of the street, spurs chiming musically. The sound of the batwing doors squeaking on their hinges was loud in the silence, then the spectators broke out in loud applause, and hoots and cheers erupted.

Coming back to the doors, Larabee placed both hands on top and peered out into the street. Then he exited with the walk that resembled a prowl and moved over to offer Wilmington help up.

The ladies' man took the proffered aid, rising to his feet and slapping the dust off of himself with a big grin. When he teasingly asked JD if the kid wanted to take his place for a second fight, Dunne shook his head vigorously.

"Nope! Starin' down Chris' gun scared the crap out of me the last time, even though I knew he wasn't goin' to shoot me for real. Don't have any desire to face him again. The man is downright freakin' scary!"

Vin gave a wink while the rest chuckled.

"Why do ya think those perps we bust start tyin' to get right with their God when they face Cowboy?"

Josiah grinned. "Brother Chris can scare religion into an atheist. I've seen it happen!"

Anna looked impressed. "I can imagine! He looks quite dangerous just like this!"

The redhead let her eyes rove over the gunfighter, the admiring glance taking in the dark figure from head to foot and back again. He definitely looked impressive, but dang, he was gorgeous too!

Anna fanned herself with her hand, then grinned down at the boys. "Don't tell your dad I was drooling!"

Chris let a small grin curve up his chiseled mouth. Offering a soft "thank you", he reached and took the auburn-haired woman's hand and carried it to his lips in a move that even Wilmington envied.

Anna sighed in spite of herself as the sculpted mouth pressed a gentle kiss to her knuckles, his fingers warm where he held hers. One hazel eye winked at her as he released her and stepped back a pace.

His mouth curved up in a genuine grin when the two boys rushed up to him. The imposing form knelt down, stopping just above the rowels of his spurs, and accepted the enthusiastic congratulations of the kids, one hand on each small shoulder as he answered their questions patiently. When John and Mark begged to see another gunfight, and JD added his entreaty as well, the blond looked up at Buck and then nodded. The whole group clapped as the lean form rose and moved off with Wilmington to choose a new scenario.

This time the duo picked the one that started with the fight in the saloon. Chris stormed in and grabbed Buck with a "Buck Wilmington, you shot my brother! Now I'm here to kill you!"

The lean form threw a punch that looked incredibly real, the taller ladies' man staggering outside as if from a massive blow. He then returned the favor, the pair trading punches until Chris grabbed the brunet's arm and slung him into the street, demonstrating the impressive upper body strength he possessed.

Once there, Buck went for his gun. Even as he reached for his weapon, he was beat by the blond's speed. Seeing the barrel come up, he dropped his own Colt and spread his arms out with a "just shoot straight."

Chris did so, missing the lanky form by an inch or two. Those watching barely noticed the bullet casing hit the ground, dust puffing up in a tiny burst as it landed. Buck clutched at his heart as if shot in the chest, giving a theatrical moan as he slumped to the dirt on his back. Larabee watched the 'death' impassively, striding up to the sprawled figure when it went still. He kicked the walnut-handled Peacemaker out of reach with one dusty ebony boot, then prodded Wilmington in the side with his toe. When the ladies' man didn't respond, the bone-handled .45 was given a little absent twirl and then settled almost effortlessly into the silver-trimmed holster high on the lean hip. The hazel gaze flicked dismissively over the 'body' and then raked those watching as if daring anyone else to challenge him. When no one did, the deadly figure stalked to the saloon as if heading for a drink.

Pausing just inside the doors, the dark form waited a heartbeat or two and then pushed his way back out. Clapping and whistling again erupted as Buck cracked open one cobalt eye and then took the hand that was held down to him. Chris pulled the tall figure to his feet and then clapped him on the shoulder with a grin.

The audience moved to surround the two, all as impressed as if it was the first time they'd seen the motions. Chris had proven that his speed and accuracy weren't a fluke and that he could repeat the actions as many times as he wanted with the same outcome. Buck was fast himself, but was used to his old friend's talent, so was happy to 'die' for the entertainment of the crowd. And the fact was that he would…and in fact had… let Larabee shoot at him with actual bullets, knowing that he was safe in the blond's hands, whereas he would be dead for real at the hands of the attempted bank robbers who wanted to kill him. Chris was also uncannily good at channeling the 'bad element', reminding those watching of Johnny Ringo in Tombstone, if it would get him in with a gang of criminals so that he could stop them. Buck was more grateful than he could ever say for his friend and boss' talent and acting ability…and for the fact that the danger wasn't just a persona. Chris really was one of the most deadly men in the world, fortunately he was also one of the most just, with his own strict sense of honor.

Vin had gotten excellent footage of the shootouts on video and some good action photos, though as usual Chris' draw was just a blur in the still shots.

The men once again let the boys handle the guns after they emptied them, Vin and Ezra doing a little target shooting with the mare's leg and derringer, then Josiah showing how he used his pistol left-handed. JD showed off his twin Lightnings, and Nathan did a short knife-throwing exhibition to end the demonstrations.

By now the sun was only a short distance above the mountains that surrounded them, so the men took a few last pictures, including some of the boys with the seven. Anna again offered to take a couple of group shots, so the men lined up in front of the hitching rail by one of the mercantiles, the lowering sun turning Chris' hair to molten gold as the impressive gunmen leaned negligently on the hitching rail and support posts behind it.

Anna and her sons then thanked the men sincerely for letting them watch the gunfights and showing them their weapons. Each of the agents knelt to shake hands and say goodbye to the boys, tipping their hats to the redhead as they stood back up.

The seven then gathered up their things. Anna and her sons started off in the opposite direction, since they were camping on the other side. Waving farewell as the sun started disappearing behind the western mountain top, the group headed for their vehicles. When they looked back, the town was becoming hazy and blue-tinted as the shadows started creeping among the buildings. For a brief moment, all of them swore they could see seven ghostly figures that looked like themselves standing in the middle of the street, then the shapes were gone.

Blinking, they shared a glance and then turned determinedly toward the Ram and Suburban.

Reaching the vehicles, they stowed their stuff and then climbed in. Last peeks at the town showed nothing but indistinct shadows. Deciding that some things just couldn't be explained, they drove off without speaking, even JD quiet until the buildings were out of sight.

Maybe there was a reason it was called a 'Ghost Town'. And maybe they'd find out more about their old west alter egos when they came back.

By DMA