Ghost Riders in the Sky
Synopsis: Pre-Lancer fic. A WHB the Pilot.
Disclaimer: Lancer is owned by 20th Century Fox -- dangding it all. Inspired by the song of the same name. Big Steve Long was a real gunslinger who died in 1868 so he and his story fit well.
Thanks to Mary for beta reading. This is for the 40th anniversary (9/24/08). I hope you all enjoy. Char :-)
Ghost Riders In The Sky: 1/1
Johnny Madrid rode away from Mesilla. This last job had left him with a sour taste in his mouth worse than last month's rot gut whiskey. He'd been riding with Day Pardee for the last four months. Day was fast becoming the big dog in the southwest. Yet, to Johnny, each job made him feel less like a gunhawk and more like an outlaw every day. He wasn't sure he liked the feeling.
Then Day's voice would roll through his mind. "Look at how much money we made, John." Was it all about the money? Day seemed to think so. Hell, he did too, didn't he? Wasn't that why he became a gunhawk and worked so hard to be good at it? To get respect, to be feared, and to make enough money that he wouldn't be kicked in the gut anymore. The poor, pitiful, half-breed boy digging in people's trash looking for leftover food. When he'd picked up a gun, he'd vowed never to be that boy again.
Johnny had had a lot of bad things done to him in his life. And lately, he'd been doing a lot of bad things. Not just using his gun. He'd busted a few heads, burned a few barns, anything to get the job done. Almost anything. Not that Day had the same inhibitions he had.
Johnny stopped his horse, pulled his canteen up, and took a big swig of water. Tonight, when he camped, he'd open the bottle of tequila he'd taken ... stolen ... from the saloon. He poured a little of the water on his bandanna and rubbed it across his face and neck. He enjoyed the feel of the water, tepid though it was, on his hot and sticky skin. The sun was a real scorcher today; the rays seemed to burn even his tan skin. It made Johnny remember his Mama telling him to be a good boy because he did not want to burn in the fires of hell. He chuckled at the thought. He didn't have to wait until he died to go to hell. He lived there every day. Always had, and he figured he always would. Why should his life be any different once he was dead?
"Johnny boy, what is wrong with you?" he questioned himself as he dug his heels into the black stallion's side and the two of them took off across the southern desert at a gallop. Some would say like a bat out of hell. He was headed for Chihuahua ... he didn't know why other than he had an urge to go down below, to Old Mexico. He'd been contacted by some farmers in Sonora for help in a revolution. He'd flat out told them no. They didn't have any money. There was money in Chihuahua; he just had to find the right angle.
After a couple of hours of riding past tan and red mountains on hard packed red dirt littered with scattered patches of green undergrowth, he pulled up his horse and watched the black storm clouds rumbling towards him in the sky. "Just what we need, huh amigo?" he asked his horse. "We need to try and find some cover before this storm breaks."
Keeping one eye on the fast approaching storm and another on the scenery around him, Johnny rode toward the ridge. He knew trying to outrun a storm was foolish, but then he'd never been one to be overly cautious. Maybe because he just didn't care if he lived or died. Hadn't for a long time. Johnny did not care if he lived or died, but he damn sure cared if he lost. Johnny Madrid did not plan to lose ... well except this race with this storm. You just couldn't beat ol' Mother Nature when she was set on letting loose, and from the way the wind had started whipping up around here, this storm was going to be doozy.
Stopping along the lip of the ridge, Johnny looked out scanning the area below for shelter. He was also looking for the watershed, not wanting to get caught in any temperamental flashfloods. The thunder behind him sounded like a herd of angry, stampeding cattle. Johnny snorted at the thought. Cattle stampeding around as a thunderstorm ... Johnny boy, he thought, you are loco.
skittered beneath him and he grabbed the reins tightly, trying to take back
control. "What's wrong, boy?" he asked softly. As the nervous horse turned,
Johnny saw what was wrong. He shook his head, not believing his eyes. The
thunder ... the clouds ... in the sky was a mighty herd of red eyed cows plowing
through the ragged sky and up a cloudy draw.
Their brands were still on fire, a red-orange flame shooting from their sides like lightning bolts. Their hooves seemed to be made of steel, flashing in the sky like the barrel of his gun. Their horns were black and shiny and Johnny could feel their hot breath as they seemed to barrel over top of him in the sky.
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky when he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry. Men ... ghosts of men ... riding herd. Johnny was breathing hard, he wanted to run, but he was frozen in place. He looked at each man as they passed him in the sky on horses snorting fire. Their faces were gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat. They'd been riding hard, looked like they'd never had a break.
"What the hell --" the words froze in his throat with a sickening thought. Exactly. Hell.
What? As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name. "I'm Madrid." He held on tightly to the reins, fighting to keep the stallion still, as the apparition rode the cloud down to sit before him on the ridge.
"Remember me, boy?"
Johnny nodded, his throat seemed constricted, but he croaked out, "Big Steve Long. You were lynched last year up in Laramie." Johnny knew the man ... had known him ... up in Laramie. He called himself a deputy marshal, but had used the position to steal ranches from people too scared to stand up to him. Those that had stood up to him had died.
Johnny had been a brash nineteen year old when he rode through Laramie. He had known about the land troubles, knew what Long and his half-brothers, Ace and Con Moyers were up to. The ranchers had asked him to come for protection. But he hadn't helped. After listening to the families, Johnny had ridden in. Madrid was an awfully expensive gun to hire and those folks just did not have the cash. He wondered now, how many people had died because of his inaction. Long and the Moyers had not been stopped for another six months after Johnny had ridden out of Laramie.
"Johnny boy, if you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range, then you have to change your ways today or with us you will ride, trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies."
Before Johnny could reply, Long turned his fiery steed and in a giant leap, they were back in the clouds thundering after a herd Johnny knew they'd never catch. Thirsting for water they'd never drink. Change his ways? What'd they expect him to do? He wasn't cut out for swamping or even herding. Being a gunhawk was all he knew ... really knew. And he was good at it. Johnny Madrid, good at his trade.
Change. How'd they expect him to change? It was too late for him. A shudder went down his spine. They said it wasn't too late. He could change.
Those people in Sonora needed his help, his gun. Just like the people in Laramie had. They did not have any money to pay him for his services, but they were good people. Good people who needed his help. Help they were going to get. In forty hours, maybe less if he hurried, he could change his destiny.
Johnny turned his horse west and galloped off towards Sonora. "Viva la revolución!"
To the beginning ...