The Dawning Of the Coming Thing
Dirt kicked up around him as he rode his mount into town. It was like any other town on the frontier. Low, one-story buildings with false fronts stretching to imitate a second story, and a hotel with a saloon and a church being the only buildings with honest-to-goodness height. Men and women bustled about on their errands, and they barely gave him a glance. He was sure he'd meet every one of them sooner or later. Besides, he wanted to get settled first before he got to introducing himself to the law abiding citizens of Sunset Ridge. No doubt the law-breakers would get his attention first.
He stopped in front of the brick building with a large sign announcing it was the Sheriff's Office. He dismounted, tied his chestnut steed to the post, and stomped a few days' worth of dust from his boots as he stepped onto the board sidewalk and entered the open door. He glanced around. It looked like just about every other sheriff's office in the west, but this one was different. In a few days, this would be his office.
"Brisco! Brisco County Jr.! My gosh, you're a sight for sore eyes!" The old man with his feet on the desk suddenly jumped up, hustled around it and gave him a bear hug. "My, my, my, you look so much like your mama, but you've got the determination of your father about you. It's a pleasure to finally see you after so many years."
"Did we ever meet?" Brisco asked as he studied the man intently.
"You were just a baby, a wee little toddler last time I saw you." He chuckled. "When I heard you were looking for a sheriff's position, I knew exactly who to talk to in order to make that happen. So here you are, Brisco. Here's your badge." He pinned it unceremoniously onto the lapel of Brisco's jacket and spit polished it until it reflected the sun coming in through the south facing windows. "Ah, it looks downright beautiful on ya. Congratulations, Brisco!" He pumped Brisco's hand vigorously.
"Mr. Weatherly, I didn't expect to be appointed so soon. I need to arrange for..."
"No worries, son. Your trunk arrived by stage yesterday, sent by a Mr. Socrates Poole. It's already been sent over to the hotel. Figured you'd wanna lay your head there until you establish a homestead or find other more permanent accommodations."
"Thanks, Mr. Weatherly. You've had some experience with settling in a sheriff?" Brisco watched the man, gauging his reaction to the question. Brisco had heard that the town was relatively peaceful, but there were some problems of late. The current sheriff, Mr. Weatherly, an old friend of his father's, was apparently quite eager to pass on his appointment to the far younger man.
"No, son. It's just that I'm ready to retire. I'm moving to Hot Springs. I hear it's good for the arthritis." He grinned. "I'll be leaving on tomorrow's stage, so if you have any questions, you better get 'em out in the open right now."
"Well, actually, I..."
"Oh, I've got to go finish packing, Brisco. You just make yourself at home here, and we'll have dinner tonight. You can ask me whatever you like then, okay? Okay!" He waved and rushed out of the office with a wave over his shoulder. "Have a nice day!"
"Well," Brisco said with a exhalation of breath. As he reached up to take off his hat, he glanced around the small office. To the right of the entry way, a large well-used desk stood with a comfortable chair behind it. Against the wall were two wooden file cabinets. Across the room from the desk stood a large gun cabinet filled with rifles and other firearms. It was locked. Brisco looked through the drawers in the desk, but he couldn't find a key. Mr. Weatherly must still have it.
The adjacent jail cells were empty, two smaller ones with a larger one in back. There was only one entrance and exit to the building, and it was the one in which he entered. He settled himself in the chair behind the desk, put his feet up on the edge, and enjoyed his first moments as sheriff. It was peaceful, but somehow he doubted it would stay that way for long.
She worked hard for her money, and she worked even harder to prepare herself for the after-show party that she intended to have with one Mr. Brisco County Jr. Dixie Cousins powdered her nose one last time, grinned at herself in the mirror, practicing her seductive smile. Not that she needed any of that. When she saw that man, something inside her sang brighter than her voice on stage, and her smile was natural, full of passion for a man she loved but could never seem to obtain for more than an occasional night of heat that left her shivering in the cold whenever he was away. No other man could satisfy her like Brisco, and until he was hers completely, she was incomplete.
Dixie threw a wrap over her shoulders, left the dressing room behind the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, and stepped out into the night. She didn't have far to go, just upstairs. As her feet tapped up the wooden steps, she wondered if he would be waiting for her, or if he was off rounding up some outlaw. She sighed. That was the one thing that hampered their relationship more than anything else; his constant need to capture every criminal in the west. If only he would settle down in one place and just deal with that little corner of the world! How many times she said that very thing to him!
"Brisco, there are just too many bad men out there! You can't get them all!" She exclaimed as she blotted at the remains of blood on his upper arm where one of his quarry had shot him. Good thing it wasn't farther to the right. That's all she could think as she tended to him. That and how he was pursuing justice to death.
"You just want me to settle down in a town somewhere so I'll settle down with you. You know that's it."
"Is something so bad about that?" She tenderly swept back his wavy hair from his forehead.
"No, I guess not. I just...I just like the open spaces. Would I really be happy staying in one place all the time?"
"You've made San Francisco your home base. That's settled, if you ask me."
Brisco sighed. "I'm not sure I'm ready for that, Dix." He was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep while Dixie caressed his forehead.
She placed a kiss there and whispered, "You're a stubborn man, Brisco. But I'm a stubborn woman, and I'll be waiting. No matter how long it takes." She lightly kissed his lips. "I love you."
Dixie was at the top of the stairs and entered the hallway. She knew exactly which room was his, because she'd been there more than a few times. She knocked twice, knocked twice again. Their secret call. She didn't hear him beckon her, and she hoped that didn't mean that he was riding off to find another outlaw.
She used the key he gave her to get inside. It was dark and she heard soft snoring. Dixie smiled. Poor baby, he worked so hard today, he's out cold. That's okay, I can wait. She locked the door behind her, tossed her wrap on the chair. She couldn't see it, but she knew where it was. By the time she reached the bed, she'd removed her dress and was in her underthings and stockings. A sly smile crossed her features as she barely made out the prostrate form on the bed and put her knee on the mattress, preparing to crawl over to him and sit astride...
The figure snorted, sat up in bed, and turned up the lamp. "Miss Dixie?"
"Bowler!" She unconsciously crossed her arms over her chest. "W-what are you doing here? Where's Brisco?"
"Didn't he tell you? He was goin' off to Sunset Ridge. He's the new sheriff there." He sniffed. "Personally, I think it's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard, Brisco County Jr, Sheriff."
"I think it sounds mighty fine," Dixie smiled. "It's about time he settled down, don't you think?"
Lord Bowler grumbled under his breath. "It just messes up the perfectly good symbiotic relationship we had, Dixie."
"Symbiotic, huh? Someone's been reading their dictionary." She smirked and got off the bed. "Sunset Ridge, huh? How far away is that?"
"There's a stage that goes there, takes about a half day." He grinned and gave her one of his goofy laughs. "You thinkin' of goin' out there and surprisin' him, Miss Dixie?"
She nodded. "Although, it'll be more like a mission to find out why he didn't tell me he was leaving. Was he ever planning on coming back for me, or even telling me where he went?"
"Oh now, you know he'd never leave you hanging like that! He loves you!"
Her eyebrow went up. Lord Bowler, a man of few words when it came to matters of the heart, saw what she herself knew a long time ago. Brisco loved her, but they could never seem to get their timing right. All that was going to change now. With him settling into a sheriff's job in a town, their chances of a future just got a whole lot brighter.
She quickly dressed behind the screen. "Bowler, please don't tell Brisco I'm coming. I want it to be a surprise."
"You got it, Miss Dixie."
"Good night." She dropped the key on the night stand and left the room.
"Good luck," Bowler wished with a hint of humor in his tone. Brisco and Miss Dixie are finally going to settle down. Won't that be somethin'!
Brisco was in town for less than twenty four hours, and trouble was already brewing. The town was so small, they had only one saloon, but that was enough to bring out the rowdies when the sun went down. He broke up two fist fights, stopped a gunfight in the street, and an assault on a saloon girl. By the time the saloon closed for the night, he was worn out and fell asleep on a cot behind the sheriff's desk. It was just as well, because he wasn't about to get a good night's rest.
He heard heels clomping on the floorboards and woke with a start. Three men stood near the door looking around. Brisco got up and reached for the lamp, raising the wicks on each one on the wall behind him and the desk lamp. He squinted at the men. They were dressed in denim jeans, flannel shirts, and wore strange hats that covered their heads, but the brims were cut off so only a short piece hovered above their faces.
"Can I help you gentlemen?"
"You the sheriff here?"
Brisco's left hand rested on his gun handle casually as he replied and came around the desk. "Yes, I am. Brisco County, Jr."
He eyed their rifles. They didn't look like anything he'd ever seen before. They were sleeker, but more menacing looking. The leader took a step forward and let fly a wad of chewing tobacco. It pinged on the spittoon rim before sliding down into the dark bowl.
"Name's Brackett. These are my boys. We're kinda new in town, just thought we'd check things out. Hope y'all don't mind."
"Why should I? You're not planning on committing any mayhem while you're here, are you? Then I'd mind."
"Nope. Just tryin' to settle a bet. That's all. Now, where's the saloon?" Spit. Ping. Slide.
"Sorry, it's closed right now. I believe it opens up again at eight tomorrow."
"Mister, we've come a long way for some good old frontier whiskey. We can't wait until tomorrow."
Brisco smiled. "I'm sorry to disappoint you fellas, but the frontier whiskey isn't worth the trip, and it stays locked up until tomorrow, eight o'clock. Town ordinance, you know."
Brackett's shoulders shrugged. "Well, thank you for your time, Sheriff. Boys, let's scat. See if we can find a more...hospitable town."
"But Brack, we only have a half hour and then the window..."
"Shut up, Scotty! Don't worry about that. We came here to have some fun, and we're gonna have some fun. Show them fellas at that big ole university that they don't know what they're talkin' about."
"What are you talking about," Brisco asked, his brow wrinkled.
The third man laughed, and it was more like a wheeze. "We built a time machine out of Brack's Chevy truck!"
"Shut up!" Brackett yelled and slapped the man across the face with the back of his hand. "Nobody from here is supposed to know that! Now you've gone and ruined everything! Come on!" He grabbed the man by the arm and hauled him out of the office. Scotty glanced at Brisco, grinned self-consciously, and ran after his friends, leaving the new sheriff to stand alone in the room slowly shaking his head.
"Must be something in the water here."
A loud roar and an explosion caught his attention, and Brisco grabbed his hat off the peg near the door and dashed out into the street to see what the commotion was about. In the middle of the street, a large boxy conveyance shuddered on four fat wheels. Its rear end glowed red. Ahead of it, the town was bathed in white light. Scotty and the other man stood up in the flat bed hanging onto a bar with yellow lights on it.
"Yeehaw! Come on, Brack, gun it!"
The back wheels kicked up dirt into Brisco's face. He flailed and sputtered, the grit stinging his eyes. When his vision cleared, he watched as the four wheeled vehicle drove round and round the wide street without benefit of horses for propulsion. He couldn't help but smile. "It's one of those things. The coming thing! A horseless carriage!"
The carriage ran up the street and passed him, then turned around at the edge of town and quickly returned. It growled and roared as it neared, and Brisco had to jump out of the way or risk being run over by it. The men laughed as they passed. The driver turned the wheel sharply and took the vehicle into an arc that sent it crashing onto the boardwalk and through the saloon wall. Before the dust settled, the two men jumped off the bed. Brackett backed it up into the street, and the two ran inside and came out quickly with bottles of whiskey. They howled with laughter and threw themselves into the cab with their friend, and then took off.
Brisco whistled. "Comet! Come on!"
Comet, who stood contentedly munching on some hay in the corral, perked up at Brisco's call. He trotted to the back of the small space, galloped and leaped over the fence. Brisco grabbed his mane, launched himself onto Comet's bare back, and took off after them. They tore out of town and toward the east. Brisco found himself gaining on them. He suspected that the horseless carriage had more speed than one horse, but they were unfamiliar with the road and had to drive slower. He looked up and saw a light in the east, just beyond the rock outcropping on the left. It was too early for sunrise. Rays of light radiated from it and swirled in a cascade of rainbow colors. It mesmerized him. But Comet only concentrated on catching up to the vehicle ahead of them.
Suddenly, Brisco felt as if something were pulling at him and Comet. The carriage disappeared into the light. Before he could stop his horse, he found that whatever it was had captured them and sucked them into a vortex. It was dark inside, and he couldn't see the red and white lights of the carriage. He and Comet were alone, and everything around him was as black as coal ink.
Comet's hoofs landed on something harder than the trail. It jarred his legs and the vibration worked up through Brisco's body. The horse slowed as they both heard his hoofs clip clopping on the surface. It sounded like cobblestones, only the road below them was smooth. Brisco stopped Comet, turned him around in a slow circle, and studied the dark gray road in the light of a lantern that shone brightly above them. Its bright globe was almost like daylight it was so bright. Everything beyond it was hidden in a cloak of darkness.
They were on a hill overlooking a small town. Judging by how far they'd ridden, it had to be Sunset Ridge. But it didn't look right. He shouldn't have been able to see anything at this hour, but the town twinkled like a sea of diamonds, and a string of them worked up the road from the town to where he was. He turned again and let his eyes adjust to the darkness beyond the bright light. He saw the outcropping, but it looked different. Part of it was missing.
"Comet, what do you make of this?"
Comet snuffled in response.
"Someone's playing an elaborate trick on us. That's what I think." He turned the horse toward the twinkling lights. "Okay, let's go back to town, get some shut-eye, and in the morning maybe we can figure out what's going on." A big yawn escaped him. "Or maybe I'm just dreaming all this."
He rode Comet down the hill toward the town, and with each clomp of a hoof, Brisco felt more and more uncertain about where they were. An occasional homestead cropped up far from the road, with a few much closer. They looked like mansions, and each one had a wide paved road leading up to a large rectangular door, and another narrow walkway leading to the front door. Small boxes stuck up from the ground near the edge of the road bearing numbers on one side, and a metal flag on the other. He didn't have time to study them more intently. He needed to get some sleep, because this was obviously some strange dream, and the sooner daylight came, the sooner he would be done with it.
Brisco urged Comet forward at a canter. It was still slow enough for him to check out the surroundings but still get him back to town in a short timeframe. He came across an area where there were no houses or other buildings, just lights over the street. He saw a pair of lights moving at a good speed along the cross road coming toward him, so he kept an eye on them to see if it was that horseless carriage coming back. Brisco knew the road as the trail that eventually led to Poker Flats. The two lights kept coming, but he was already in the intersection. Something squealed just as Comet screamed and reared up. Brisco felt himself falling off Comet's back, and suddenly his trusty steed wasn't there anymore. For one brief second, he was floating in midair. Brisco landed hard onto his back with a clatter, and the momentum caused him to roll toward a wide window.
Beyond it in a faint green glow, he saw the shocked driver's face just before his forearm hit the glass and his head impacted with it. His still form lay across the hood of the horseless carriage as the woman inside screamed helplessly. Comet limped away to stand just out of the headlights. If he could, he would have run for help, but there was something wrong with his leg. If he could have called out, he would have. But he was just a horse. All he could do was wait.