Part 4:

Early the next morning, just before sunup


Vin scanned the ground, picking up the tracks of Chaucer in the dusty earth.  It was easier now with the early morning sky lightening up the trail.  Soon the sun would be up and Ezra’d be even easier to find.  Vin looked up at Chris and smiled.


“What are you so happy about?”


“Chaucer picked up a stone.”


“Best not let Ezra catch you smiling at his horse’s suffering.  He’d probably shoot you.”


“Don’t have nothin’ ‘gainst that horse, Cowboy.  Just glad we’ll have a chance to catch up to him.  Reckon he had to stop not too far ahead.”


Vin mounted up.  He nodded to Buck and Josiah, letting them know things would be okay.  They’d had to leave Nathan and JD behind to look after the town, but he knew they were there in spirit.  He spurred his horse into a brisk gallop, the others doing likewise.  Ezra had to be just up ahead somewhere.


Twenty minutes later, as the sun began to spread out like gold across the desert, the four of them came across a couple of small caves.  At the entrance to one of them stood Chaucer, prancing nervously.


Josiah got down from his own horse to check on Chaucer.  Ezra hadn’t even tied him to anything—not like that animal would run off on him.  That horse was loyal to the bone.  But where was Ezra?  There were no signs of a camp.  No fire.  No bedroll.  Nothing.


The others had dismounted and begun to search, calling Ezra’s name at they fanned out.  Buck decided to check the caves.  The caves weren’t that deep and the rising sun gave off enough light for him to see by.  Nothing unusual in the first two.  The third cave was a little deeper, but he could still see enough.  Then he found the strangest thing.  A neat little stack of clothes.  He took one of the items closer to the mouth of the cave to get a better look.  It was Ezra’s green vest.  “Chris!  Vin! Josiah!  Get over here!  I found his clothes!”


The other three ran up to him.  Vin looked at the vest Buck held.  “That’s one of Ezra’s favorites.  He wouldn’t leave that behind if he could help it.  Where you find this?”


“Back in there.”


The three worried men followed an equally concerned Buck into the cave, looking for anything else out of the ordinary.  Chris noticed a wall of rocks near where the clothes lay.  “Look at that.  Those rocks didn’t fall like that naturally.  Someone stacked them.”  Chris walked over to the wall and carefully pulled a couple of small stones out.  The gunslinger peered through the little opening he’d made, trying to see what was on the darker other side.  “Vin.  What does that look like to you?”


Vin peeked through the hole.  “It’s a body.  Not...?”


“Can’t tell.  We need to get this wall down fast, boys.”


The four were careful not to pull out the wrong rocks and starts a little avalanche, but with eight desperate hands they made short work of the wall.  When the light streamed into the exposed little alcove, the men were stunned.  Ezra Standish lay in the dirt completely naked.


Josiah was the first to move.  He had to know.  The ex-preacher listened carefully to Ezra’s chest.  The breath he’d been holding burst from his lungs when he heard his friend’s heart beating.  “He’s alive!  Thank the Lord!  He’s alive!”  Josiah didn’t see any major wounds, didn’t feel any bumps on Ezra’s head.  He picked the young man up and carried him out of the alcove and out of the cave to get a better look. 


Buck laughed, some of the tension leaving him at hearing Ezra was alive.  “You sure we wanna do that, Preacher?  Do we really wanna see Ez better, him being in the all together like that?”


Vin smiled slightly.  “What’s the matter, Buck?  You think maybe you’re gonna have a reason to be jealous?”


“Nah.  I just don’t want ‘Ole Ez to feel embarrassed later.”


Even Chris was amused.  “I don’t think you have to worry about that.  Nothing seems to embarrass Ezra.  Remember the checkered tablecloth?  The purple dress?”


They all smiled when they thought of the crazy things Ezra had done.  Four Corners wouldn’t be the same if he didn’t come back.


Vin got a couple of blankets from their bedrolls.  He put one down on the ground for Josiah to lay Ezra on.  He draped the other one across Ezra.  It was then he saw all the scratches on his friend’s chest.  Ezra’s fingers were bloody and raw, too.  Had he been scratching at that rock wall, trying to get out?  Sure the wall was sturdy, but with a little work, he should’ve been able to pry the rocks out with his fingers like they had.


Josiah was also concerned that Ezra hadn’t so much as twitched when he picked him up.  “Come on, Son.  Wake up.  We know you aren’t well acquainted with the early morning sun, but we came a ways to get you.  Let’s see those green eyes.  Wake up!”  Ezra didn’t move.  “What’s wrong with him?  I knew we should’ve brought Nathan with us, Chris!”


“Someone had to stay behind.  We drew lots, remember?  We had no way of knowing he’d be injured.”


They checked him over, but could find nothing to explain his condition.  He didn’t have any head injuries they could see.  Why wouldn’t he wake up?  What happened to him out here?


“We need to get him back to town!”  Josiah mounted his horse.  He had Buck and Chris lift the gambler up to him.  The older man held Ezra in front of him, talking to him quietly, trying to coax him back from wherever his mind had gone.  The others got on their horses, forming a barrier around Josiah and Ezra to keep the rest of the world out.  The four rode back to town as fast as they could without jarring their precious bundle.


Ezra felt himself wake up from that deep sleep that always overcame him after he transformed back into a person.  For the first few hours after the moon would set and the sun would begin to rise, he was completely insensate—and completely vulnerable.  He imagined it was his mind’s way of dealing with the trauma of his situation, but that didn’t make it any less acceptable.  To be exposed in such a manner, unable to think or move or even react, frightened him in a way he couldn’t describe.


He felt warm.  Strange.  Most times he was naked and cold.  He forced his heavy eyelids to open.  Where..?  He looked up to see Josiah’s face.  The man was gazing intently ahead.  Ezra closed his eyes.  He must be asleep and dreaming.  That was the only explanation.  It was a pleasant dream to have Josiah in it.  If he were lucky, perhaps he would have frequent dreams in the future about his old comrades in Four Corners.  That would ease his loneliness to some degree.  Yes, it was dream.  Ezra relaxed, drifting off into a regular sleep.  The others never noticed.