The Magnificent Seven

From New Moon To New Moon
By MMW


October 21

Perspective is a strange thing. You can look at the same thing everyday for years and then one day something happens - a sunbeam falls differently upon it, it's moved to a new place, someone makes a comment - and you see things in an entirely new way.

I was working on the pews in my church today, trying to stay as far away from others as I could, when JD came in to spend some time with me.

He agreed to help me, though with his hand still sore and stiff I was reluctant to have him do much. I asked him to start stripping away some of the varnish around the doorframe leading to the back.

It was good to have someone around, and though I usually enjoy my time alone working in the church, I found comfort JD's questions and chatter. It is hard to remember sometimes that the young have things to say too. Frequently we look only at their lack of years and experience and smile indulgently. But it's important to listen to them, to what they have to say. Everybody likes to be heard at some point, even if they don't know it.

So I provided a sounding board for JD, offering encouraging noises and comments in the appropriate places. That boy sure does love to talk.

It was getting on toward lunch when he called me over to show me what he had found.

Rising and suppressing a sigh, I headed over toward the doorway I'd walked through so many times.

It was easy to spot where he'd stripped away years of dirt and varnish. What I was surprised by was the rather delicate and elaborate etching done on the framework. The care that had gone into it was stunning and I was amazed to find such a work of art out here in this humble church building.

I have always seen the Lord's sanctuary as a place of beauty, a place of rest. I have seen some breathtaking cathedrals and plain stone buildings, but this simple, humble sancutary in the middle of a dusty town subject to violent gun battles, brawls and all the base things man can do to each other, harbored a beauty I hadn't thought existed here.

Tearing my eyes away from the etching, I could see JD was just as moved as I was. I thanked him for showing it to me and then told him we should go get some lunch. He agreed and asked if he could help me in the afternoon as well.

Naturally I agreed.

We had a friendly lunch together and headed back to complete more work. I had finished with one of the pews and took out the varnish in order to protect the wood. JD went back to working on the doorway.

We had been working companionably for a few hours when we heard a shot ring out. Naturally we both turned toward the sound. Rising from my position on the floor, I managed to trip JD who, naturally, fell.

I reached out to catch him, but only ended up applying varnish to his shirt. He caught himself on the still-tacky varnish of the pew with his hand. I didn't think any further about it as we headed out.

It appears things were at a stand-off between a would-be horse thief and Nathan. JD rested his hands upon the butt of his guns as he approached, not wanting to draw unless it was necessary.

We took up positions on the near side of the confrontation and saw Buck, Vin and Ezra take up positions on the other.

The would-be thief was encouraged to dismount and surrender. Everything seemed to be under control. JD moved forward to take him to the jail - at least he was doing so until he realized his hand was now stuck fairly securely to the butt of his gun.

It appears the varnish dried and managed to somehow bond his hand to the gun. I was about to step forward to offer assistance when Buck did so instead. I can only assume he missed his time harrassing the boy. Nodding to my brothers, I returned to my work.

It was later that afternoon that JD returned. He figured I might want to have dinner with him. Apparently it was a combination of Buck lecturing him on being more careful, harrassing him about ending up in such a predicament and concern that I might be lonely that prompted the offer. Whatever the reason. I appreciated the gesture and agreed. They had managed to remove his hand from his gun without any complication, but it was still red as we settled at the restaurant.

We managed to get through dinner without incident. I wished him good night, wanting to retire to my studies for the evening. As I began stepping off the boardwalk to make my way across the street, I thought I caught sight of a snake and stepped back instead.

As I stepped back, my heel landed rather solidly and with almost all my weight on JD's toes. He yelped in pain and as I turned to see what was wrong, I managed to knock him backward while my foot still remained on his toes.

Eventually I realized I should move my foot and check on him.

The fall hadn't hurt him, but the time I spent on his foot couldn't have been pleasant.

Helping him up, I acted as a crutch to get him settled on the bench. There was a lighted lamp hanging just outside the door to the restaurant to show it was open. It cast enough light for me to see. Removing the boot and sock, despite JD's protests, I checked his foot and saw that it was red and perhaps swelling a little, but nothing was broken and he was able to move all his toes. A painful injury, but not long-lasting and not serious.

As he pulled his sock and boot back on, JD took great pains to assure me it wasn't my fault and actually apologized for following close enough to have caused the problem.

God bless that boy. He does see things so very differently it's like a breath of fresh air. But I can't let him take this blame upon himself.

I have spent twenty one days denying that I am cursed. But I know the truth of it and must accept it now. I need to find some time to travel away and remain on my own until this passes. Perhaps Vin will share the location of one of his retreats with me.

<><><><><><><>

October 22

And into the darkness there came a light and with the light - hope.

And if not hope, at lease acceptance and support.

I was sanding the pew I'd varnished yesterday so I could apply another coat when I became aware of a presence at the back of the church.

Stopping what I was doing, I pushed myself upward and froze when I saw it was Vin waiting on me. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, after all, he was the first victim of my curse and has managed to almost completely avoid me.

As I stood frozen, I was able to read his eyes clearly. I initially saw some humor - obviously at my facial expression and perhaps the sawdust that coated me. But that humor seemed to fade to sadness, sorrow and finally to guilt.

This last puzzled me as I couldn't figure out what he had to feel guilty about. My thoughts must have clearly crossed my face because he sighed and nodded for me to take a seat. Knowing he is a man of few words, I tend to listen to those he does say. I was hoping he had come to tell me of some remote location where I could seclude myself.

That wasn't why he had come.

Looking down at his the hat in his hands, he sighed again and began speaking. "I owe you an apology, J'siah," he said.

"No, Vin," I hastily assured. "I owe you one. You were right, I have been cursed and I can't bear the thought of inflicting any more pain on my brothers or the others because of my inattention."

He cut me off and continued. "That's just it, J'siah. That's the curse." He smiled at the puzzled look I knew was on my face. "You told me you weren't paying attention and knocked a man off his horse into a mud puddle. Every accident you've had has been because you weren't paying attention, only you're not only involved in the accident, you take care of us afterward."

I could feel my anger rising. I knew this. I knew I was at fault, that I had hurt my friends, my family. I was well aware of the pain I'd inflicted and couldn't bear to inflict again. As I opened my mouth to express my ire to Vin, he interrupted again.

"I'd feel the same way," he soothed and I read the honest in his eyes. My anger left at that point and I sank into my seat.

"I just can't stand to hurt anyone else," I admitted softly. "What if next time it's something more serious?"

"That's why you can't leave," he replied, as if that explained everything.

Frequently my brothers accuse me of speaking in riddles and not making sense. I wonder if they ever listen to themselves.

Vin shifted in the pew and leaned forward, intent on explaining himself. "Look. Near as we can figure, the curse is that you're going to cause accidents and your friends are going to get hurt - but nothing serious. You go away and stay away from people, either someone's going to get hurt, you're going to get hurt or you'll end up in bigger trouble than when this started. If you stay in town, we can watch your back, kill the rumors and lend whatever help we can."

His offer touched me, but I wasn't sure. His next words surprised me and silenced my last protest.

"That's what we're here for, J'siah. To watch your back, even when we're doing it from a distance," he teased. I smiled in response, but my smile faded as he grew serious once more and he looked down at his hands once more before speaking. "I'm sorry."

Now I was truely puzzled. "Sorry for what?" I asked.

"I had your back, made sure no one had it in for you, but I wasn't there for you," he replied softly. "I haven't been here for you to talk to, to support you, to let you know it's OK and you're not alone."

I felt my heart soften and swell at those words. Taking them deep within me, I hid them away so I would always have them. Not knowing what to say, I said nothing, but watched, slightly amazed as he stood and came forward, offering his hand. Taking it, I smiled up at him, hoping my forgiveness and thanks would show through. It pleased me to see the clouds of guilt leave his eyes.

"Course," he added with a twinkle in his eye. "This don't mean I won't be watching from a ways away," he advised, putting his hat on and adjusting it. "I've had my share of your curse."

I laughed as he turned and headed for the door. He paused at the exit and offered, "Never did thank you for taking such good care of me. I do appreciate it." A heartbeat of a pause and then, "We're here for you J'siah. Whatever you need." And then he was gone.

A man who has one such friend has wealth beyond measure. I was to discover that the vastness of my wealth was almost unfathomable. During the course of the morning, Nathan, Ezra and Buck made their way to see me and echoed Vin's sentiments exactly. I could read the sincerity and truth in them and found myself humbled by their faith in me, even after what I had done.

I spent the remaineder of the morning, lunchtime and the early afternoon contemplating my friends, my good fortune and sending prayers of thanks to the Father. These men, even knowing I could injure them more seriously than I already had, were there for me.

I had settled back into my work and was applying the second coating of varnish when JD appeared, wanting to work on the doorframe again. I could hardly say no and he began once more to uncover the mysterious beauty of that wood.

Finishing the pew I was working on, I wandered over to see how JD was coming. He had done a remarkable job and I was pleased to let him know that. I never would have thought that the boy who could hardly sit still would have the patience to do such delicate and detailed work, yet the results were there right before my eyes.

Patting his back, I suggested we get cleaned up and that I would treat him to dinner. It took him a few minutes to realize that our dinners were free, but the teasing was good for me, for us both.

It was at dinner that the curse caught up. JD still says it was his fault, but I know it was the curse. I think he's denying the curse to make me feel better, I should tell him he doesn't have to.

We were having steaks at a table across the room from our brothers. Dinner had gone well and the food was quite good. I was trying to be extra careful as the knowledge of the curse, the realization I hadn't hurt anyone yet today and the memory of my debacle with Maude were still fresh in my mind. Things progressed flawlessly. Even our dessert was delivered without incident. Of course, we asked for it with our meals, so it all came at once.

I was cutting my steak with the sharp knife when I accidentally knocked the salt shaker to the floor. Since I was relating a tale, my full attention wasn't on what I was doing. When I leaned over to pick up the shaker, I didn't realize I still had my knife in my hand.

JD, seeing the shaker fall, had automatically reached out to pick it up, not expecting my knife to come down at the same time.

Though not as bloody as Nathan's head wound, the resulting injury was still enough to cause several patrons to become squeamish. Nathan and the others had left; Nathan having been called away to help with a fall at a nearby farm. Wrapping JD's hand in a clean napkin from one of the other settings, I quickly got him out of the restaurant and to the clinic.

By the time we got there, the bleeding had slowed considerably and I was able to wash it clean. The wound was about an inch long and located on the back of his hand near the wrist. I made sure there was nothing in it and tended it as best I could. Taking a clean bandage, I wrapped it around his hand and tied it tightly, suspecting that Nathan would need to put in a stitch or two at the deepest points.

I apologized. JD did too. I explained about the curse and he just shook his head, not believing in it. The surety of youth can be a wonderful thing. If only it wouldn't cause him harm in this case. Still, JD is a resolute and sometimes stubborn young man, and I do appreciate him.

Nathan returned and had to insert two stitches.

JD should be fine.

Nine more days.

<><><><><><><>

October 23

Even the most stubborn youth must come to face certain truths in this life. So now, just a few short days after this older, stubborn man admitted there is indeed a curse, JD has as well.

His realization came less from the accidents he experience than it did from the improbability of what happened.

Yes, I did write accidents. Fortunately, again, there was no serious harm, just a few bumps and bruises; a few minutes of discomfort and then recovery.

He, as the others, are making it clear that they are still in my corner and I am still very much a part of them, but from a distance. I am not lacking for a dinner companion, though. Chris returned to town, caught us up on his trip, heard everything that had happened while he was gone and then we informed him of the curse. He said nothing but his skeptacism was obvious.

He agreed to have dinner with me, suggested it as a matter of fact. I almost felt guilty taking him up on the offer, not knowing what could happen. I also saw the look exchanged between Vin and Chris and assumed Vin was in for some teasing from our leader, but the look on Vin's face simply said, "Wait and see".

Still, it was JD that suffered at my hand, or rather, my curse, though I don't understand how it could have happened.

I had returned from a morning ride and was in the livery tending my horse who had picked up a stone. JD walked up and began chatting with me. I was listening half-heartedly as I worked to remove the stone. It was wedged quite solidly.

Applying additional force, the stone popped out and went flying. I was so stunned by the sudden release I failed to track the stone until I heard JD call out in pain and grab at his eye.

Apparently, the stone flew through the air, ricocheted off of the stall wall and hit JD.

Standing quickly, I moved over to his side and encouraged his hand away from his face. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw his eye itself hadn't been hit, the red welt just below the outer corner of his eye testifying to that. Still, his eye was tearing so I can only assume some dust had gotten into it. I told him to let the tears come hoping it would wash the irritant out of the eye.

After a few minutes he was OK, though a bruise was beginning to form.

We went to lunch shortly afterward.

Then in the afternoon, he offered to help me at the church. I had to smile. The boy is fascinated by the door frame. I can't blame him, though, it is rather remarkable.

I was working on making a new leaf for the small table at the side of the platform so I had my tools out and a board across two boxes. I was called away for a few minutes and rested my tools on the end of the wood, where I always put them.When I came back, I returned with a pail of water and a ladel, knowing the liquid would be a welcome break.

I tripped on way my up the aisle. As I fell, the bucket and pail flew out of my hand. I was close enough to the front where I'd been working that the pail, shedding water, arced through the air and landed on the end of the board.

At this point I was able to see JD watching in amazement even as I felt nothing but horror.

Upon landing on the end of the board, the board tipped upward. The saw, sitting on the other end of the board, went flying into the air. As it started its path downward, it arrived handle first and managed to land with enough force to knock the large reading Bible off the bench where I'd had it precariously balanced.

As the Bible fell, it hit the handle of the hammer I'd laid across the top of the toolbox.

The hammer proceeded to travel on a different arc through the air, though not as high as the saw, and landed on JD's foot.

A cry of pain echoed through the church as JD lifted his foot and grabbed at it eventually losing his balance and falling to the floor - cracking his head on the doorframe on his way down.

I quickly got up and raced to his side.

He had one hand holding his foot and the other the back of his head.

I asked if he was OK. He said yes, then turned those wide brown eyes of his to me and said in a voice filled with pain and amazement, "You really are cursed, aren't you?"

I didn't know what to say, so I smiled, reached out and ruffled his hair.

Sitting down next to him, I checked his newest injuries. There was a bruise forming already on his foot and I knew it would be painful for a few days. There was no lump forming on the back of his head, so, apparently he hadn't hit it too hard.

Still, the pain of having hurt my brother invaded my heart eventhough JD forgave me instantly. I knew he would be joining the others at a distant table after this. I couldn't blame him.

The new moon seems so far away.

<><><><><><><>

,b>October 24

The curse struck early today. Well it struck before lunch anyway.

Judge Travis arrived in town this morning just after breakfast. He was passing through on his way somewhere else but wanted to check in with Chris and make sure we were doing fine.

Since he'd been gone so long, Chris asked us all to meet with Travis, which we did.

The meeting was being held in the Saloon since it was closed and empty. Inez brought beers around since she was in the process of cleaning out the coffee pot. That seemed to suit everyone.

Before long, the Judge had been caught up and the meeting was adjourned. I was sitting at the table, alone, finishing my beer when Travis walked up behind me, wanting to ask me a question. I had the beer mug in my left hand.

When he called, I turned to the right, lifting my arm so it wouldn't catch the back of the chair. Little did I suspect Travis was so close.

As I turned my elbow caught him just right so he lost his breath. He bent over slightly trying to catch it and, in my concern, I finished turning and rose, hitting him solidly on the forehead with my beer mug and sending him staggering backward.

Feeling the horror at what happened flow through me, I reached around him to help steady him. In doing so, the mug, which I was afraid to drop for fear it would shatter and cause even more potential for an accident, rather forcefully hit his elbow (I believe the funny bone is what it's called) causing more pain. Having suffered impact there myself, I know how that can tear your breath away.

Somehow I managed to get him into a chair where he took several minutes to recover fully. As his breathing came under control again, I waited and watched. When his eyes opened, I could read the open suspicion in them. I asked him if he was alright and he nodded. I was a little surprised by his next words, but I shouldn't have been.

"Mary told me you were having some problems with accidents," he said. I could only nod. "She told me that some of the townsfolk said it was almost as if you were cursed." I nodded again. It was the truth, after all. "I think I see what she means." I sighed. He gave me a steady look, reached over, patted my shoulder and said. "I hope it all works out for you. I need to say good bye and catch that stage."

I smiled as he left and wondered if that was all that would happen today.

With another sigh, I left my beer mug on the table and headed outside.

I took a long ride this afternoon and found some peace, but even upon my return, I found myself reluctant to be around anyone else for fear of hurting them. I also find myself wondering, even now, 'what if Vin's wrong and this doesn't go away by the next new moon?'

If that does happen, perhaps I'll move out somewhere and become a mad old hermit. Seems there have been a few times in my life I wasn't too far off from that. Suppose I'll just have to wait and see.

<><><><><><><>

October 25

After all the accidents, all the injuries that have occurred, it was what happened today that has finally driven me from town. Chris has invited me out to his home for a few days. I fear his offer was prompted by Buck, but Vin seemed to think it for the best as well. Hopefully it will only take a few days before things return to normal. The others agreed to send someone out when it was safe. We'll be leaving just after dawn.

Today was a memorable day in a memorable month and at no other time this month have I been more terrified than I was today.

The day had gone well enough and I had stopped by the Saloon for an after dinner drink. It was early yet when trouble in the form of a couple of cowboys passing through showed up.

They seemed fairly harmless at first. I kept an eye on them seeing that I was the only one of us there at the time. Then they made a very serious mistake - they set their sights on Inez.

I moved to the end of the bar and did my best to make my presence known. Having seen Inez in action, I didn't immediately intervene, knowing most such situations she could handle herself.

That wasn't the case this time.

At least I didn't think it was the case this time. I might have been wrong. She thinks I was which is why I will be heading out tomorrow morning.

The two cowboys crowded around her and were giving her a hard time. One of them managed to distract her and allow the other to get behind her. The one behind put his arms around her to hold her while the one in front moved forward. It was at this point that I intervened.

Spinning the one in front of Inez around, I suggested he leave her alone.

As the man looked up at me and tried to focus his eyes, I could tell reasoning with him was probably out of the question. I stepped closer so he would have to tilt his head back further and simply growled, "Leave."

Apparently intimidation wasn't going to work either.

The fool swung at me and I, naturally responded. He collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

His friend didn't seem to like that very much and threw Inez to the side. I'm not sure where exactly she ended up, but my attention was on the remaining cowboy. Things were looking like they would wrap up quickly until he pulled a knife. He move surprised me and when he lunged, I fell back.

I can't recall all of the fight, but it was quick and furious.

When it was done, the second cowboy was also unconcious. Taking a step back, I managed to land on Inez's hand.

Hearing her cry, I quickly turned. In the process, I lost my balance and fell. I landed on Inez.

As I landed, my elbow landed firmly on her ribcage and forced not only the air out of her lungs, but caused her head to hit the floor.

Rolling off of her as quickly as I could, I helped her sit up so she could more easily breathe. I checked her as much as I could and asked her if she wanted me to help her up.

The glare I received made Chris Larabee's pale in comparison. I haven't been so terrified of a look since my mother caught me trying to steal candy from the store when I was seven.

Needless to say, when she was on her feet, the tongue-lashing began. As she saw the damage to the bar, she punctuated several of her statements with slaps to my arms and chest which startled me more than anything.

That is, until she used the hand I had stepped on. That caused a fresh cry of pain.

At this point Nathan and Chris had been brought inside by the screaming and, after laughing at my expense, managed to calm Inez enough long enough to allow me to escape.

Nathan brought her back to the clinic and diagnosed a bruised hand, bruises on her ribcage - though fortunately no broken or bruised ribs - and a good sized egg on the back of her head.

I was going to take over the bar, but Chris instructed me to take the two troublemakers to the jail. Ezra had just arrived and would fill in for Inez until she was able to come back and take over. Hopefully that would be soon.

Buck heard about what happened as he returned from his patrol and checked on Inez. He came back and informed me that it would be best if I left town for a while until she calmed down. I know how he feels about Inez and that he was laughing at my situation, but there was a certain underlying seriousness that caught even Chris' attention. Buck suggested Chris take me out to his place and, after a little discussion, he agreed.

Nathan assured me that Inez would be fine in a week or so, though she would suffer a great deal of discomfort until then.

So, sending my apologies through Nathan, I came back to prepare for my journey.

At least I know who will fall prey to my curse for the next few days

<><><><><><><>

October 26

It is peaceful out here at Chris'... home. I must resist the urge to call it a shack, after all I am a guest in this humble abode.

The good news is that there is enough work to do around the place both in the yard and on the ... house... itself to keep us busy until the next new moon if need be.

We arrived shortly after dawn and tended our mounts. Larabee showed me around inside as he checked to make sure nothing had happened while he was away. I knew Vin had been out watching over the place, so I didn't think too much would have happened, though as we examined the buildings and corral, I could see where some repairs and expansion was necessary.

Glancing upward, I noticed there were several shingles that were cracked or had blown away. Having recently re-done the church's roof, I had little qualm about going up high. We discussed what needed to be done, what we could do ourselves and what would need to be bought and Chris set off for town to pick up our supplies while I retrieved the tools we would need.

The only thing I wanted for was a ladder. I hadn't thought to ask Chris to bring one back, but that was OK. The tree to the side would provide enough of a step up for me to reach the roof. Of course, thinking back to Buck and JD's experience on the ladder, I wasn't certain I was ready to take a chance on one myself..

Chris returned just about lunch time. We had a lunch of cold sandwiches and headed off on our appointed duties - me to the roof and Chris to the interior. There was some cleaning that needed to be done.

I had gotten into a good rhythm in my labors and was making good headway on the repairs to the shingles when it happened.

I had noticed the loose shingles around the chimeny and was moving to tend them when I accidentally landed my foot on one of them. That caused me to slide, but I managed to catch myself by planting my other foot on the metal chimney leading to his pot-belly stove.

What I wasn't expecting was to hear my name bellowed from inside the house.

Regaining my grip and my balance, I made my way down off of the roof and around to the front.

As I stepped inside, I was unprepared for what I saw. To my credit, I didn't actually laugh out loud, but it was quite difficult not to.

Apparently Chris had been in the process of cleaning the ash and soot from the inside of the stove when I hit the chimney of it, knocking a great deal of black soot off the side and into the main part where a great cloud of it escpaed - right into Chris' face.

Before me stood the man in black - literally. From head to toe he was in unrelieved black, his face now matching his shirt.

Taking several deep breaths, I cleared my throat a few times and asked, "Yes?" It was then I noticed the streaks appearing on his face as tears tracked down it. Seeing that he hadn't opened his eyes yet, I grew concerned. Walking up, I spoke quietly. "Do you have some in your eyes?"

"No," he hissed back, his discomfort obvious. "I always stand here with tears streaming down my face and covered in soot."

Knowing I would have to move carefully, I told him everything I was going to do before doing it. Placing my hand on his arm, I walked him to the door. We made our way slowly down to the stream. Fortunately I had remembered to bring a cup with me. Having Chris lean forward, I started pouring water over his face and eyes, hoping to clear them.

Before long he was able to blink his eyes open. They were red from the irritation, but after a few tries seemed to focus on me fairly well.

I praise God that there was no damage to his eyes.

The rest of the day finished quietly. Chris has already turned in and as soon as I end this, I will be joining him inside.

<><><><><><><>

October 27

Chris still scoffs at the idea of a curse, though I believe I saw the faintest hint of doubt in his eyes this morning.

He brushed off yesterday's incident with the soot as an accident. After all, anyone could misstep on a roof. I had to agree that was true. I didn't have the heart to tell him I hadn't misstepped like that since I was younger than JD.

Today, he thought I could use a break from the shingles and so we worked on repairing the rails on the corral area. One of them looked to have a bad spot on it. As Chris finished shaping the end of the new rail, I hefted it up onto my shoulder to move it.

I admit my mind was elsewhere, so I wasn't really paying attention when he called my name.

Turning, the board went with me. I wasn't aware I was turning as quickly as I was, but when the board continued on its path, it hit Chris in the forehead, knocking him to the ground.

I started to move to his side when he stopped me and waved me toward the corral. Since he was rising under his own steam, I agreed and headed on my way while he rubbed his forehead.

I was just about there when I decided to turn and check on Chris once more. Perhaps I should have been paying closer attention to the sounds around me. Perhaps then I would have heard where Chris was.

Instead, as I turned, the board swung around and this time managed to hit Chris on the back of the head - sending him face first into a mud puddle that had formed where I had tossed the dishwater this morning.

Horrified, I dropped the board, which, fortunately, missed Chris as it clattered on the ground.

Racing to his side, I was relieved to see him struggling out of the mud puddle. His face was coated in the substance, but the glare he was sending me was pure fire. I stopped cold in my tracks, trying to remember that he didn't shoot his friends and hoping I was still one.

Apparently I was, because as he glared at me, I saw the fire die down and a gleam of humor appear in the green eyes. Soon it was followed by a grin that I returned. Offering my hand, he accepted and I helped him up, grateful he could see the humorous side of the situation.

My momentary relief faded when he swayed as he stood still. Without giving him a choice, I walked with him over to the porch, sat him down and wiped away the mud. I could see the redness where the board had met his head and knew he would have some interesting bruises in the next few days.

Though he is a strong man, I insisted he spend the rest of the day resting, knowing he could be unable to ride into town and see Nathan. He dozed a few times and I made sure to wake him as Nathan does for us when we have a head injury and knew I'd have to wake him several times during the night as well.

He forgave me this incident as he had the one yesterday, but looking at the two black eyes forming on his face, I couldn't help but feel guilt over what my carelessness and inattention had wrought.

Curse or no curse, this has been a trying, and telling experience.

<><><><><><><>

October 28

It appears I have been forgiven by Inez. Today she sent Vin with a lunch basket for Chris and I along with a thank-you note. Chris and I have a few more things to finish up here tomorrow and we should head back to town the day after.

The dinner, what we ate of it, was wonderful. Chris assures me the custard pie (my favorite) was delicious as well. I'll have to take his word for it.

Yes, the curse struck again.

This morning Chris woke up sporting a headache, a bruise on his forehead and slightly blackened eyes. I made sure to make breakfast and coffee as much to try and ensure his good will and forgiveness as to allow him some extra rest.

Breakfast finished without a hitch. Afterward I went up to the roof to finish the job up there. It wouldn't take me the whole day, but it needed to be done - and soon!

It was right around midday when Vin arrived on his patrol carrying the basket and letting me know it was safe to come into town. He assured me it was good that I was getting the shingles done because there was rain coming in the next day or so. I shook my head wondering how he could tell, how he always seemed to know. Perhaps someday I'll ask him.

Inez had packed all my favorites as well as a thank you note. We asked Vin to stay but he said he had to finish his patrol. So he headed off, not quite suppressing the amused smile at Chris's bruises.

Chris and I decided to set up the food outside since it was such a nice day.

Laying a few boards across the saw horses, we made a makeshift table and set the food out. Everything appeared to be there and, while Chris went to wash off, I went inside and retrieved plates, silverware and a knife to use for cutting. We returned to the table at about the same time. I said a quick blessing and we both dug in.

The food tasted much as I suspect ambrosia tastes to the gods of Olympus. Perhaps it was the hard work or perhaps it was having to eat my own cooking, but the meal was exquisite. We were most of the way through when Chris noticed we were missing cups. He volunteered to get the mugs and asked that I bring the water bucket over.

In doing so, I misjudged the placement of the bucket on the table. As I set it down on the end of the board, that particular slat tipped with some force causing the pie to fly through the air and land on Chris' face.

The metal pie plate stuck in place for a few seconds before sliding downward and with a loud slurping sound until it finally fell off and clattered to the ground.

I was stunned, frozen in place. Chris stood there too, not saying anything. I could picture the red anger climbing up his neck and coloring his face and could only be grateful he was holding tin mugs and not wearing guns.

Reaching up, he wiped the custard away from his eyes and blinked them open. In their green depths, I didn't see the anger I was suspecting, but instead a quiet contemplation.

Larabee licked his lips and nodded his head. Narrowning his eyes slightly he allowed, "If I were a superstitious man I might think you were cursed, or that I was." Then he paused a moment, licked away some more of the filling , he added, "But I"m not a superstitious man. Accidents happen. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to wash my face."

I tried not to laugh and did manage to only chuckle a bit. The sight of the fearsome Chris Larabee standing on his front porch with custard pie on his face was one I will not soon forget.

He washed his face and came back rubbing his nose. I moved forward and checked it. It didn't feel broken, but it was red and swelling from where the pie plate hit it. I had him sit down and applied cold compresses for a while. That seemed to help somewhat.

I finished my work while he rested and then cleaned up the yard. Leaving him to enjoy the quiet of the afternoon, I prepared a cold supper and joined him to watch the beauty of the sunset in silence. He was silent because that has become his nature. I was silent becuase I was afraid of saying anything.

I have to thank God for friends such as these men. It isn't everyone who can tolerate such things with understanding and good humor.

<><><><><><><>

October 29

The day is done and I can honestly say that I am happy and thankful to be one day closer to the new moon. I do not, however, envy Chris the ride back. Perhaps he should stay here at the cabin a few extra days until he can comfortably travel.

If you surmised that this means the curse struck again, you would be correct.

I originally thought I would have an early day of it. I was mistaken.

You see, this morning I was up early and made the coffee. Normally we use a rag or towel to take the coffee pot from the stove to the table. I did this, as always, and then turned back to the stove to cook some eggs.

While preparing the food, I managed to get some egg outside the pan. Grabbing the towel from the table, I proceeded to wipe up the mess, setting the cloth to the side afterward.

About this time a still sleepy Chris came in from outside and grabbed the pot before I could offer a warning.

The pot hit the table and spilled while Chris hissed in pain and began cursing.

I quickly grabbed his reddening hand and forced him to put it in the pail of water we had drawn up the night before.

When the sting of the burn had faded enough, he took his hand out and I examined it closely. There were a few small blisters forming, but nothing too serious. I asked if he had any of the burn ointment Nathan used. He did not. I sighed and recommend he go down to the stream and let the cold water run over it. He just grunted and said he'd eat first and then if it bothered him he'd handle it. I could only shake my head.

I thought that was what the curse had planned for the day, but apparently I was wrong.

We, well, mostly I, finished up the last few things we had planned to do around the area well before sunset. Feeling we had earned a break, Chris suggested we go fishing. I agreed.

At first I assumed we were just going to the stream, but he told me to saddle the horses while he grabbed his fishing pole. I did so and we headed off to our destination.

About thirty minutes later we happened upon a pond that I hadn't known existed. The peace of the area quickly surrounded us and I felt an easing of the tension I had been unaware was affecting me. Taking a deep breath, I dismounted and stretched.

Looking at Chris I could see the smile on his face and a peace in his eyes. Without a word, he headed over to the edge of the pond, fishing pole in hand. I followed. He cast a line and waited as I explored the area.

It was a beautiful setting and I could easily understand why he would want to come here.

Before much time had passed, he had a fish landed. It was a beauty too. Taking his catch he grinned at me and said now that he had his dinner, I'd better go catch mine. I grinned back, nodding my acceptance of the challenge.

I waited to make sure he was out of the path of my line before I cast it out into the water. Nothing was biting so I decided to move somewhere else along the shore.

Several feet from where I'd last cast, I thought I caught sight of movement under the water. Deciding to stop here, I forgot to check for Chris before casting my line.

The line went backward, there was a shout and a great resistance. When the rod refused to move forward, I turned to see what had happened.

I felt my jaw drop open in shock as I witnessed Chris Larabee dancing around cursing and trying to reach around behind him.

The hook had caught in the seat of his pants and penetrated the cloth. The tug I gave it seemed to imbed it more deeply into his flesh. Dropping the rod, I hurried over to try and calm him down so I could facilitate the removal of said hook.

As I drew closer, I was rewarded with a glare. Holding my hands up, I assured him I was only there to hurt and make sure he wasn't injured. He glared some more, but allowed me to take a look at the injury.

I could tell the hook was in fairly deep which meant it would be difficult to remove and probably require disinfecting. I relayed this information to Chris who muttered something about cursed preachers and instructed me to retrieve the whisky from his saddlebag as well as the clean shirt he had in there. Getting the simple supplied, as well as my knife and canteen, I returned to my patiend.

There really wasn't any other way to go about it, so I told Chris I would have to cut the seat of his pants in order to determine how deeply the hook was imbedded. Through gritted teeth he instructed me to get on with it.

Trying to do as little damage as possible, I managed to cut into the pants and winced as I saw the metal under the skin. The good news was that it didn't appear to be too deep. The bad news was that he wouldn't be comfortable sitting for quite some time.

Taking a deep breath, I tended the wound and removed the hook. I cleaned the area and placed part of the shirt in there as a bandage and cushion for him.

The ride back was slow and painful for us both. Upon our return, I watched Chris head directly into the cabin, grab a bottle of whiskey and lie on his stomach on the bed. I certainly couldn't blame him.

Only tomorrow to survive now, though I don't envy Chris the ride back to town.

<><><><><><><>

October 30

It wasn't my fault. At least I like to believe it wasn't my fault, yet I know I bear the responsibility.

Chris finally admitted I was cursed and sent me on my way ahead. He will be spending a while at the cabin still, though I did ask Nate to go see him. I didn't have to do much urging, however, since when he spotted me coming in alone, he'd already gotten his bag. I suppose it did save some time. All he asked was "Curse?" I simply nodded and replied, "Not bad, though." He smiled and patted my leg.

The morning started off well enough. We had a pleasant breakfast, cleaned up the cabin and prepared to return to town. Chris had a few things he wanted to check before leaving so I went out to take care of the horses.

For years I have been around horses, ridden horses, saddled horses. I've had good horses, like the one I have now, and ones that would have given Peso a run for his money in contrariness. I just never expected it from Pony so I didn't do my normal checks.

Wanting to spare Chris as much pain as possible, and to get away from his hisses of pain as he sat and the bruises on his face which reminded me of my own failings, I offered to saddle both horses for the ride to town. He agreed.

I proceeded to get the horses ready and then returned to the house to let him know we were ready to go.

I mounted up and waited patiently as he struggled to leave cross the yard.

It was when he put his foot in the stirrup that I realized my mistake in assuming Pony was a well behaved horse. For, as Chris put weight into the stirrup, the entire saddle slipped. But it didn't just slip, it turned quickly dropping Chris on his injured posterior before coming loose and falling on his legs.

He sat there for a few minutes, mouth open in a silent cry of pain. I quickly dismounted and made my way over to him.

Tossing the saddle aside, I told him to breathe as I guided him off his posterior and onto his side. Several shaky, shuddering breaths later he had gain enough control over the pain to speak.

His first words were, "If you're not cursed, you are a plague."

I didn't take that as a good sign.

Ignoring my own desire to wince at the proclaimation, I asked Chris how his legs were. He said fine. Which could mean anything from "fine" to "they've been severed in half". Checking for myself, I didn't feel any broken bones or soft spots where a fracture might have occurred, but from the hiss of pain, I suspect he will have some very bad bruising.

I managed to get him up and into the cabin. Assuring him I would send Nathan out, I left quickly and tended his horse, returning him to the corral, before heading off toward town.

I rode, perhaps, a little faster than necessary, but managed to get to town in what I felt was pleanty of time to get Nathan out before Chris could suffer too long. Nathan greeted me and headed out immediately. I then proceeded to tend my horse and head off toward my room to stow my gear.

After taking care of my things, I headed out and looked around. Buck was by the jail, so I headed over, being careful to keep my distance.

Buck was able to inform me of the excitement in town since I'd been at Chris' place. There wasn't any. But as we were sitting outside on opposite ends of the jail porch, we saw a man enter town on a horse. He didn't seem threatening in any way, but a chill ran down my spine and I thought he seemed familiar somehow, though I couldn't place him.

As he passed by the jail on his way to the stable, he smiled knowingly and tipped his hat to me.

I looked for him later today, but couldn't find him. I'll have to be sure to locate him tomorrow.

<><><><><><><>

October 31

The curse has lifted, my lesson has been learned and my friends are safe.

I woke early this morning and made my way down to the church to see what still needed to be done.

As I finished examining the work JD had completed, I became aware of someone else in the church with me. Turning I spied the man from yesterday, the one who seemed somehow familiar.

He stared forward and took a seat in one of the pews before indicating that I should do the same.

I greeted him an asked him how I could be of service, but he just remained silent and seemed to study me. As I was about to give up on him, he spoke. "Have you learned?" he asked.

In that moment I knew exactly who he was. In my haste to get to Hannah so many weeks ago, I had knocked a man off his horse and into a mud puddle because I wasn't paying attention. This was the same man. I was almost relieved at the revelation because I knew he could confirm that I was cursed and perhaps lift it. Looking into his eyes, I tried to allow my own to openly reveal my heart and the truth of my statement. "I have learned," I replied.

He studied me a moment longer before patting my arm and smiling. "Good," he replied. "It may seem a small thing that you did, but it is these small things that can lead to terrible things."

I nodded my understanding. That is true, many time a moment's inattention can lead to... well, given the past month, it can lead to almost anything. I waited to hear what else he had to say.

"Many years ago I too was in a hurry and too busy to pay attention to what was around me. This led to a great tragedy for me. When you rode past me forcing me off my horse, I reacted in anger and concern. Anger that thishad happened to me, concern that you might suffer as I have. The curse I put upon you was a lesson, a hard lesson. From the last new moon until today your inattention has caused hurt to your friends, enough for you to learn the pain that such harm can cause. Now that you know, I ask that you forgive yourself, but remember the lesson."

"I will always remember this," I assured him, feeling as if a load lifted from my shoulders as he announced the curse had ended. My response was met with a nod of approval.

Rising he said, "The curse has finished and the lesson learned. Be well and be aware." With that he turned and left before I could say anything.

JD came in a few seconds after the man left and asked me who he was. I just smiled, stood, clapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was hungry. As I stepped outside, I saw the old man leaving town. I also caught sight of Vin across the street. As the old man moved past us, Vin came over and asked to join us for breakfast.

On our way toward the restaurant, we managed to pick up Nathan and Buck. Before we finished Ezra appeared as well. Chris was still at his cabin, but I knew he would be fine. I took a deep breath, able to appreciate the fresh air for the first time in a long time. I couldn't stop smiling at my brothers gathered around me.

As I absorbed the friendly, happy, caring faces of my brothers, I felt the trials and hurts of the past month fade and allowed their forgiveness to flow over me. While I had been cursed, I wouldnít allow their forgiveness to affect me, but now... now I took it within myself and allowed it to heal the hurting places, took it as permission to forgive myself.

We are seven again, complete, united, bonded and I felt the power of it. I realized then that this month had been hard not only on me and those I injured, but those who suffered along with me, feeling my pain; for when one hurts we all hurt. Thatís done now. Itís in the past. The forgiveness they gave me I returned to them, letting them know I held no grudge for their avoidance. It was just good to be together.

Tonight I was looking up at the field of stars shining down upon us. My brothers, including Chris who had made his way back to town gathered around me.

Nathan captured the moment when he observed, "Beautiful new moon tonight."

I couldn't agree more

The End.


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