I wrote this for two reasons. The first is that I like Tex and Mary as characters, and as a couple. It's a little odd that their relationship parallels that of Dirk and Frances, but at least this one is implied to work out. The second reason is to fill in a few plot holes of the game. For example, during the second night, Shorty sends Nancy looking for Tex, but she can't find him anywhere. Admittedly, the reason I give for him being away is a little racy, but again, that's my own interpretation.
Zeke is never seen on-screen (save for his saddle, which is next to Bob's), but I made him a black horse for the simple fact that the game sets up Tex as a false outlaw. I just played off of that.
Tex, for the life of him, simply couldn't comprehend it. In the long forty-three (forty-four as of tomorrow) years he had lived in or alongside the Arizona desert, he had never seen such a sight as he had last night. A phantom horse? He was skeptical of calling it that sort of thing, and his lack of belief was justified. If every legend about the West was true, everyone would be too afraid to ride.
Zeke's hooves thundered over the dust and dirt. Tex glanced from left to right over the sprawling legions of cacti and scrub brush, blots on a vast expanse. The clear blue sky matched the desert in its openness, continuing on and disappearing over the mountain peaks. Clouds patched it here and there, but otherwise there was nothing. Tex smirked behind his bandana. This made him a hypocrite. Whatever that horse was, it had caused quite a stir. Like Dave, he doubted a direct correlation between the horse and the rattlesnake, but nonetheless, the horse had drawn his attention long enough for his boss to be harmed.
Of course, Ed had walked into that one by irritating the snake, but the fact remained that Tex hadn't been there to prevent the occurrence. This was why he took what lead what he could find, turning his sights toward Dry Creek. Admittedly, his reasoning was contrived, as it rested on the fact that phantom was synonymous with ghost. Tex doubted it was really anything, but he needed his own peace of mind. As farfetched as the idea was, it would suffice. Even if nothing was there, and the horse sighting really was an isolated incident (which he suspected to be true), Zeke could use the run. Besides, that Drew girl was going to be busy with chores for the duration of the morning. He grimaced. The thought of her already gave him a bad taste in his mouth. She asked far too many questions, and she really had no place to do so. Last time he checked, she didn't even live in this area. At least she wouldn't be around forever. Tex wasn't looking forward to the two other girls eventually showing up, but he could deal with it.
Shadow Mountain stood forebodingly in the distance, its great face tinted a reddish-brown in the sunlight. Even from this distance, the surface of its side was clearly uneven, its eroded and otherwise disjointed rock edifices impossible to climb. Tex knew better than to try his luck on it. Zeke, at the very least, would injure himself, and at the very most, horse and rider would take a painful tumble, ultimately resulting in broken necks at the bottom. The mountain was more chilling to glance upon at night, when its face was completely black, and it cut off the light of the stars due to its height breaching the skyline. The cowboy knew nothing was up there, but it didn't necessarily take the apprehension away. It was one area of the desert where no one could go.
Dry Creek was fittingly located close by. Tex turned his attention away from the mountain as it drifted away with the distance, diminishing from the titanic to the insignificant. Rising before him was a small, ramshackle collection of buildings, their structure reduced to nothing but rotten boards, faded signs, and chipped paint.
Leaning back, Tex drew Zeke to a trot. Come to think of it, he hadn't really premeditated any sort of complete plan for this. Then again, considering the situation, he had a good excuse. Most of the buildings were sealed tight. The crooked structures rose higher and higher. Tex narrowed his eyes at the black line of the fence that marked the cemetery. One day, this town would crumble to dust, and the desert would swallow it up. All evidence of its existence would be wiped off the map.
He drew his hold lighter on the reins, until he finally gave a slight tug on them. The black horse came to a halt, letting out a short breath through his nose. Tex lowered his bandana, and reached out to pat the side of Zeke's neck. "Good boy."
The sign that indicated the name and population of the abandoned town was much-weathered, and barely hung onto its post, the chain having rusted. The hitching post that stood alongside it was cracked, and splintered. He decided not to dismount. It would take far less time to ride. The only destination he could think of was the cemetery, but again, Tex hadn't a clue what to find. If there was a glowing horse up ahead, he would have seen it by now.
Squeezing his legs around Zeke's torso, Tex continued forward at a slow walk, noting each detail. Scorpions occasionally liked hiding out in the enclosures that the fallen boards provided, and he wasn't willing to chance a mistake. The buildings were too spaced out to shadow horse and rider, but the shades they cast upon themselves were somewhat sinister, especially in front of the jail, whose porch was completely intact.
Heat waves radiated out in the distance, causing the cemetery to waver before his eyes. The sheen of Zeke's hide stood out proudly in the sunlight, each bead of sweat visible. Tex fought the urge to reach for his canteen. The less time he spent here, the better. The silence was crushing. Away from the town, it had been natural, with the desert supplementing scrub brush, and fostering the growth of small animals. Here, however, there was nothing of that sort to be seen. It made Tex uneasy, and his horse was in agreement with that, his ears pricked for any trace of sound other than the monotonous clomping of his own hooves. The letters that marked the words "POST OFFICE" gradually slid by. That building had clearly seen better days, the boards of its overhang having caved in.
Tex made it to the gap between the two words when Zeke shattered the silence with a quick-released breath. The next moment, he let out a high-pitched whinny as he reared back on his hind legs. Reflexively, Britten gripped the reins, drawing them toward him with an exclamation of surprise. The cowboy's hat fell back, the stampede strap catching on his neck. Tex squeezed his eyes shut for a moment at the pain of the sun's rays striking his eyes. He reopened them just as rapidly at a squint, attempting to focus on the shape of Zeke's head instead. It was difficult. The sun continually flashed through to him past his horse's ears, which were laid flat against the sides of his skull. Zeke made no indication of feeling the pressure. Letting out another hysterical whinny, he kicked his legs blindly in the air while his rider held on for dear life.
"Easy, boy!" Tex ordered sternly as he fought the instinct to cling to the stallion's shuddering torso with his own legs. That action would only cut off his air supply, ultimately causing him to become even more terrified. Zeke crashed his front half to the ground a few moments after his master's call, sending dirt and dust flying.
Before Tex could catch his breath, Zeke reared back up again with a loud snort. Luckily, he had been prepared for this, gripping tightly again, but not enough to yank Zeke's head back. The horse, meanwhile, swung said head side to side, haphazardly whipping his mane around.
"Zeke, steady!" Britten yelled, giving a sharp tug on the reins. The stallion reacted by slamming back down again, jerking his head forward as he took a few galloping steps. Tex bit his lip to keep from crying out as his arms were yanked along. Just as quickly, Zeke halted, planting his front hooves firmly in the ground. Breaths whistled out of the horse's nostrils while his tail swished against his hind quarters.
Moments passed slowly, and it seemed as if the ordeal was over. Tex, however, wasn't convinced. He could see the still-flattened ears. Keeping the reins firmly in his hands, he breathed hard, and coughed a few times at the stifling dry air. He was wise. Zeke's hind end gave a hefty jerk, his back legs kicking up in the air.
Tex kept his feet planted firmly in the stirrups, even though his efforts shot daggers of pain into his legs. His body from the waist up was flung forwards and back. Seizing the saddle horn with a grunt, and jerking himself to a halt, Britten looped the reins around it. Zeke was so concerned with bucking him off that he had quit swinging his head from side to side. The resistance brought the stallion's head back, though without the sufficient force to injure him. "Settle down!" His rider shouted.
Giving a few loud snorts, and a final upward lurch of his rear end that caused Tex to let out a hiss of pain, Zeke finally submitted, crashing his hooves back down onto the hard-packed earth. Tex raised an eyebrow as he watched the two black ears rise back into the air. Zeke was by no means temperamental. A stallion prone to having fits would be useless on a cattle drive. Painstakingly, he uncoiled the reins, and turned the stallion, which was all too happy to comply, away from the ghost town.
It wasn't until Dry Creek was a good distance away that Tex bothered to place his hat back on his head. To be honest, he felt embarrassed. It was a good thing no one saw that. He gritted his teeth. This wasn't the '80's anymore, but he was still acting like it was. Once again, he'd tried something stupid, and nearly gotten himself killed. What had he been thinking, riding out to Dry Creek, a practical death trap? It was no wonder Zeke reacted like he did. There had probably been a scorpion nearby.
His jaw slackened. No, that was foolish. He'd been out to Dry Creek a few occasions before, including one when he saw a tiny colony of scorpions sunning themselves on the rocks near the outhouse. Zeke hadn't so much as swished his tail. Whatever was dwelling there as of late, it wasn't natural. Tex wouldn't admit he was scared, but a considerable chill did run down his spine despite the heat. Keeping his gaze firmly ahead, he never once looked back at the ghost town. If there was one thing he knew for sure, it was that he wouldn't be returning there for a long time.
"Sorry to hear about the pump house," Mary consoled as she drew up her reins, "Any idea when the water problem will be fixed?"
"Zeke, knock it off. You know who he is," Tex scolded his horse, who was sniffing at the leg of Mary's palomino, "Nope, we're not sure yet. As usual, Shorty's whining. At least he has the city girl to moan to now."
Mary chuckled. "He's out of your hair for once."
He nodded. "'Specially since my ears are still bleeding from last night. I'm surprised he didn't scare that damn horse off himself."
She shook her head. "It makes no sense," she paused to raise her index finger for a moment, "Even if the story was real, how could something like that manifest itself just now?"
Tex shifted in the saddle. Unlike him, Mary did believe at least somewhat in old legends, but only those of her people, the Navajo. He could understand that, even though sometimes it stalled conversation between them. He never did have the heart to tell her that he considered such stories pure fantasy, but she got the hint in any case. This time, however, he asked, "What do you mean?"
"Simple," she replied, "the legends I grew up hearing had a solid timeline. If a spirit was said to exist, it existed for many years. That 'phantom horse' hasn't been seen until now. It just doesn't fit."
It was a stretch for Tex to wrap his mind around, but he still nodded. The way Mary talked about this sort of things made something clear to him. The legends created by the natives weren't just simple tales; they were integral parts of their livelihood. The pioneers, on the other hand, told stories in order to add ambiance to the mysterious West.
Squeezing his legs, he prodded Zeke forward before guiding him into a trot. She was soon to follow with her own horse, Banner. "Whether it fits or not, I don't care. Point is, that horse comes galloping by, and we're in for it." No reply came, and he didn't bother waiting for one. Softly hitting the reins against the black stallion's neck, Tex picked up speed.
Shadow Ranch's fence line ran alongside his left. The only eyes that would see them from this angle were those of the cows in the pasture. The palomino's hooves thundered after him, drawing closer and closer. Turning his head back, he saw Mary catching up to him, her graying black hair flying in the breeze, her turquoise necklace swaying back and forth, and a determined look on her face. Even at this age, she still had a sense of youthfulness to her. Unfortunately, he hadn't been in the picture yet when she had been that young.
Smirking, he whipped the reins, sending Zeke into an all-out gallop, darting further and further from her. Green and light brown blurred as the black sped by, the palomino close behind. "You'll have to do better than that, Mary!" Tex taunted, releasing a hand from the reins to wave her on.
A few moments later, he had to retract it as a wall of gold blew dangerously close by, and a hard shove hit his shoulder. It wasn't enough to send him falling, but it did leave Tex grasping for the reins again. "What? Couldn't catch that, cowboy!" Mary called over her shoulder, holding a hand up to her ear mockingly.
Tex's response was another whip of the reins, and a leaning forward in his seat over Zeke's neck. The stallion rocketed after his rival. Britten just wanted to forget everything. The phantom horse, the incidents, Dry Creek itself, the Drew girl snooping through his stuff…What a hell of a way to spend a few days, let alone one of them being his birthday. Riding provided that freedom.
Zeke leapt over a fallen scrub tree, and came down right behind Banner's whipping tail. Tugging the reins to the left, Tex traveled from the palomino's tail to the right side of his rear. "Heeyaw!" A final loping stride from Zeke brought him next to Mary, who was now also low to her own horse's head.
"What took you?" She called.
"Somethin' wrong with bein' a gentleman?"
"That's how you lose!" Mary replied, veering away from him as Banner put on another burst of speed. The gold stallion's opponent was ready for it this time, keeping pace. Frustrated grunts and growls resounded from both riders as they swerved back and forth, attempting to pass one another.
Coming up fast was their destination: a scrub tree. A reservoir glistened beyond. With a final cry of aggravation, Mary steered her palomino away from Tex just in time to avoid crashing into the trunk. The stallions passed it in unison. Their riders drew them to a halt before dismounting, and allowing them to go off and drink from the water.
"Being a gentleman?" Yazzie inquired with a sly smile, folding her arms, "Is that what we're calling it now?"
The cowboy rolled his eyes, leaning back against the tree as the adrenaline rush drained out of him. "You don't like what I have to say, then don't ask." His tone lacked hardness.
She looked out at the horses. "At any rate, I'm glad this 'phantom' hasn't come by my shop," turning back to look at him, she added, "Not to say I believe in it, but this is the second time."
Rising from the tree, Tex walked over to her. "In the case that it does, I'm not far off." He stopped before her, standing partially in the shade.
According to the ranch's resident "expert" (in other words, Shorty) on the subject of the phantom horse, the horse only haunted the ranch. That didn't explain the hoof prints Tex had found that morning after handling a few chores around the ranch's perimeter. He knew the ranch's horses like the back of his hand, and this new set had been unidentifiable to him. The prints had been deep and shapely, definitely from a shod horse, and they had led off from the ranch in the direction of Mary's. He wasn't sure if those same prints had been left after the horse's first appearance. The day that had followed the horse's debut had been so filled with turmoil that if there had been any tracks, they would have been buried. Tex couldn't shake the fact that he might have been on to something by going to Dry Creek, but he knew better than to head back there. Besides, he wasn't around to play detective, unlike a certain titan-haired nuisance.
She smiled, but it fell just as quickly. "Thank you, but for your own sake, take care of yourself for once."
"I'm still in one piece, ain't I?" He asked defensively, indicating himself with a jerk of his thumb.
Mary cast her glance downward on him, shook her head in disgust, and turned away from him. Tex realized immediately what she had looked upon, and placed his forefinger and thumb to his temples, rubbing them. That wasn't the smartest thing to say. Yazzie was a strong, smart girl. Tex would never have involved himself with her, and took the risk of losing his job for it to be so, if she was otherwise. Still, sharing his bed with her carried a trade-off: she could see things he normally hid from others. Standing most prominently among his collection of scars was a deep, but much faded, pair on his chest. Each one was jagged, but circular in shape, and hideous to look upon. Tex himself avoided seeing them whenever he could. The scars had their own nasty story, and she knew it as well as him. They were from the first time Tex had nearly met his end.
When Britten had been a young man, he had gotten a job as a cowboy on a ranch different from the current one. He'd had quite a bit to prove to the other hands, who were more seasoned, and his pride tended to get the better of him. Case in point, when a cow had spooked during a cattle drive.
A rattlesnake, disturbed from its nest by the noise, had been the reason for the scare. The heifer had bolted, and Tex had gone after it, knowing full well it could have started a stampede. Unfortunately, in his rush to action, he had ignored the commands of the other cowboys to stop. A heavy pounding of hooves had drawn his attention away from the first cow, just in time to see another cow, likewise startled by her companion, charging right for him.
The next thing he had known, her horns had embedded themselves in the neighborhood of his rib cage, causing blood to spurt almost immediately, soaking his shirt and her horns. Tex, after letting out a scream of pain, had passed out from blood loss. He had later woken up in the hospital with a few fractured ribs, and a letter of dismissal from his employer for his recklessness. Tex had been lucky to escape with his life, and he had never lived it down. What he had expected to do, miraculously stop a stampede, and become a hero? Please.
"Sorry," Britten muttered, coming over to Mary.
"Nothing to be sorry for," she replied, turning back to look at him before pointing at his chest, "But you see my problem?"
"Yep," was his simple answer, "but give me a little credit. If something happens, and it's between the ranch and me, you know what's going to be more important."
She lowered her hand in supplication. "Well, at least you keep your morals."
Tex caught it. "Somebody has to," he replied before pressing his lips to the back of it.
He wasn't the only one with scars. Aside from a few burn wounds from fires that occasionally kicked up during droughts, hers were completely unseen. Some of the things Mary had told him, Tex wished he hadn't known, especially the brutal Long Walk. What rubbed salt in the wound was that some people thought it was still the 1800's. Tex had come quite close to knocking the teeth out of one such man a few weeks before.
He had been enjoying his time with Mary at a bar a few towns over when a drunk patron and his rather large buddies began making a few suggestive, as well as racist, comments at her expense. No sooner had the ring leader called her a squaw than Tex had had him by the neck. It was all Mary could do to stop him before he got into a five on one fight.
"Thanks for the petrified wood," Yazzie commended, "It'll look great with the new display."
Straightening up, he replied, "Don't mention it. I'll keep my eye out for more if ya need."
She threw her hands up in the air for a moment before slapping them back down at her sides. "Who knows, maybe one day the Rawleys will finally sell me that piece of land." Her blatant sarcasm said otherwise. A moment later, however, she gave a small smile. "At the very least, I'd be able to see you more."
Returning it, he replied, "I'm willing to make do for now."
Shaking her head again with a laugh, Mary wrapped her arms around him. "I think we're a little too old for this foolishness," she joked. Her voice became sultry as she added, "Which reminds me, seeing as how today's your birthday, I have a little surprise for you."
Tex played along, letting go of her with one hand to cup her cheek, and stroke it with his thumb. "I'm guessing I have to wait on it?"
Mary smiled knowingly. "You'll see. Meet me at sunset."
"Fine by me," he replied before trailing his fingers down to cusp her chin. Tilting it up, he placed his lips on hers. Yazzie utilized her hand positioning on his back to push him closer to her, deepening the kiss. For a moment, Tex felt fine once more. There was nothing to worry about, and only a pleasant night with his lady to look forward to. He knew she was right; they couldn't do this song and dance forever. Maybe…Britten shoved that thought away for the time being. He couldn't deny the intensity of his feelings for Mary, but a relationship was still a far cry from marriage. Jane was a shining example of that. He'd just have to give it time. Oh well, at least he had the decency (as well as the desire) to consider popping the question. That was a start. Mary's push subsided a little too soon for him, but he drew out.
"I called the sheriff before I came over here," she informed, and after giving a wave of her hand, added, "Don't worry, I didn't mention your name. I just told him that someone I knew rode up to Dry Creek, there was something there that shouldn't be, and it threatened the horse and rider," Mary shrugged, "Not much to go on, I admit, but if it's abnormal enough that you warned me against going up there, obviously something's wrong."
Even though he guessed the rest, Tex prodded, "What did he tell you?"
"He'd drive out there if he had time," Yazzie stated plainly, "Go figure." At that, she turned back to look out at the horses, and the towering mountain in the distance. "Whatever is there, let's hope it just stays away. You have enough problems on your hands."
Tex would have spat, had she not been standing nearby. He couldn't help but feel guilty about being away from the ranch tonight, especially since he had a feeling that the "phantom horse," wasn't quite finished yet.
A breeze stirred Mary's hair and skirt as she slid her hand in his. Still, Dave did give him the night off, and that probably wouldn't happen again for a good while. Besides, Britten knew that the moment trouble brewed over there, he'd drop everything in a heartbeat. In the meantime, he could take what he could get. Mary ran her thumb absent-mindedly over his. Nothing really happened around here, anyway.