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Ghosts Around the Fire

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It took two days for John to ride to Escalera from the border where he and Landon had helped those people escape. When he arrived in town, he set his eyes on the big mansion lording over the city, and rode up to the gates where three people in military uniforms sat. One of them rose, and called out, “What do you want, gringo? What are you doing here?” The group drew closer to John. “Have you heard, there’s a war going on?”

“My name is John Marston. I’ve been sent here to retrieve a couple of men. Can I speak to your commander?” The lead man looks at both of his men before staring back at John.

“You want to talk to my boss, gringo?”

“I guess.”

“Because I am not good enough for you?”

“No, sir.”

“You think you’re better than me?” He stepped closer to John. “You come to my country, my poor little country, and you think you can be friends with the president?” Anger laced his tone and body language.

“No, sir. I am sorry, sir. Things must have come out wrong. Maybe you can help me?”

“You’ll be sorry, friend,” he said softly moving closer, and his two men leaned forward with their guns. John took a step back. Suddenly the man broke into laughter with his troops. “Relax, amigo. Relax. I had you.”

“Sure, somewhere between the threatening stare, and the soldiers armed to the teeth, yeah, yeah you had me.”

“Welcome to Mexico, amigo!” This time when he moved forward, he clapped John on the shoulder. “Let’s come, eat, drink! And then we’ll talk.” John sat down with the other man at the table the soldiers had been sitting in before. “My name is Capitan Vincente de Santa.”

“John Marston.”

“My country is in pain, John Marston. Terrible pain. The rebels have seized the people by the throat and destroy our way of life.”

“I’m no politician, sir.” Another man appears to wipe the table off a bit.

“And I am no soldier.” Captain de Santa glanced at the new man. “Tequila…” He turned to John and the man moved to grab them their drink. “But we are both beholden to our time. A brave man, perhaps you have heard of him, Colonel Allende. He is trying to preserve the order in our province, to keep our civilization alive, it is tough. They people are confused, and usually swayed. Sometimes in the service of what is right, you got to do terrible things. It breaks my heart.”

“I also am no moralist, sir.”

“I wish I enjoyed your freedoms, Mister Marston.”

“I’m trying to find a man, an American. An outlaw named Bill Williamson.” The captain lent forward before glancing towards the road. “I believe he came here to seek protection from another outlaw, named Javier Escuella.”

“You’re no moralist, but you hunt outlaws?”

“So it would seem. You heard anything of these men?”

“I am the government, or what is left of it. Outlaws seek each other. They are possibly hiding with thieves and killers who pose as freedom fighters in the hills around here. They’re united under one traitor named Abraham Reyes.”

“Where can I find this Reyes?”

“If I knew I would be there hunting him with everything that is true within me. Reyes finds you.”

“Like cholera,” John commented making the men around him laugh. Arthur placed his head in his hand and said nothing while several of the others just shook their heads.

“Something like that. But it’s possible though. My men are trying to lure him into a trap. Possibly you could ride with us? And if everything goes okay, I am sure the Coronel will help you.”

“Okay.” John clinked his shot glass with the captain before downing it. They stood, and the captain yelled for them to move. As the soldiers mounted horses, John joined the captain on the wagon. Setting off, the captain added they must be quick since it was a long ride to Chuparosa.

The two talk about John’s welcome by the Mexican Army, and how he was shot at before he had even crossed the border. Captain de Santa didn’t comment on that, instead choosing to repeat how the peasants were taught that Colonel Allende was an oppressive tyrant. That the Army is suffering a crisis of reputation. John replies he’s heard of the Colonel but he’s not known for his compassion. They tune out of some of the conversation about Allende and how he’s a good, strong man. And more of the philosophic conversation about the state of Mexico’s and America’s governments. They have no context to even comment on the conversation from the land of the dead.

“Who are these outlaws you hunt? This Billy the cowboy and his Mexican friend?”

“Bill Williamson’s a fella I used to know and Javier Escuella…. well, I knew him too.”

“What do you mean, you know these men?”

“We was friends once. They’re part of a past I can’t seem to get rid of.”

“The past is all that’s real, my friend. It cannot be erased. That is the problem with the people here. They spend too much time dreaming about imaginary futures.”

“I know I can’t change the past but I’m sure gonna do somethin’ about the future.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, amigo. My country is full of American criminals, mostly in the service of the rebel pigs. Mexico is an easy place for a man to lose himself, whether he wants to get lost or not.”

“Hopefully not too easy. I ain’t got much time to find these men.”

“There must be a high price on their heads.”

“The highest price.”

“Can I ask how much?”

“I’m not gettin’ paid. It’s… it’s a long story. I’m bein’ made to do this.”

“I will never understand you Americans.”

“Me neither.”

“We have a system of law in Mexico, Señor, and we do not tolerate people who think they can run with their own. However, if you help us, we will help you. No one hides from Colonel Allende for long.” He spoke on more of the rebellion and how it was disease to the country. Marston replies that about the people having the right to stand up for themselves? It serves to make the captain angry telling John not to throw silly ideas at him, and what did he know about the rights of the Mexican people? John admitted he knew very little, and was wondering what was behind the rebellion. The captain’s reply is lies drives the rebellion.

He compares the peasants to cattle and how they can be herded by a few people. It prompts John to ask if maybe they’ve had enough of being called stupid? Captain de Sata tells John he’s talking about things he doesn’t understand as they grow closer to Chuparosa. With a shrug, John replies if he’s asked something, he’ll reply. In anger, the other man asks if John is a revolutionary, and if that was why he was truly there. John replies he probably was one once in a twisted kind of way. Thought he could change something if he fought hard enough. And says he doesn’t know what it is, and that was probably the problem, when asked by the captain on what he was trying to change.

The captain calls revolutions selfish as they’re often motivated by greed and ego. How the individuals put their own needs above those of others. Fighting for change when they know nothing of change. To a poor man that’s been beaten down all his life, any change is going to seem good comes John’s reply. He’s asked if overthrowing the government is going to make a poor man rich. John’s reply? If someone wasn’t helping them, it was only natural they look for someone who would. De Santa calls him naive and asks what he wants them to do. Walk around and give out money to every poor person in Mexico? John laughs calling it a terrible idea. And de Santa goes on saying they first needed to look at why they were poor. Then they needed to work instead of sitting around talking about freedom.

Silence swings by for a couple of minutes before John asks about the man they are looking for. Abraham Reyes, the captain says, calling him a traitor, liar, coward and sinner. A hero that doesn’t nothing, and how the captain has more respect for the shit he took that morning than Reyes. John comments quickly on the nice image before de Santa goes on about how Reyes comes from a rich family, and knows nothing about the poor. He takes advantage of the ignorant and weak-minded. Makes John wonder what he’s telling them.

Finally they arrive at Chuparosa, and John finds out how the train carries no supplies despite the rumor going around it is. It’s a clever bait for a group of needy people. Something the dead know very well. Mounting another horse alongside the others, they escort the train as it shudders down the tracks.

Sometime after the train leaves Chuparosa, the rebels pounce, but they’re no match for the Army assisted by John’s sharp shooting. A trail of dead bodies is left behind the train and the men. The crows and the vultures will have a good eating tonight. Not so much for the rebels who run away after a time allowing the train to hit its destination, Casa Madrugada.

Slowing his horse to a walk, John hitches it to a post before finding the captain. He meets up with the man in front of the saloon where a group of soldiers is walking in. De Santa slaps him on the back. “You did a good thing for Mexico today, Coronel Allende will be very pleased.”

The scene flickers black as they walk in before showing them two soldiers guarding the train. As the soldiers pass each other, two rebels with knives appear from behind the rock and stab the men dead. Another soldier sees them and runs into the saloon where John, de Santa and the others are. The soldiers groan in unison when they hear him, and it’s clear no one wants to move making the captain groan at them between yelling. He asks John to stop the train who complies without question.

Mounting a horse, they watch John chase down the train. He fires at the rebels standing guard, and shots are returned as well. However, barely trained peasants are no match to him, and they quickly fall to his bullets. With no one else shooting at him, John jumps form his horse to the train. The scene flickers to show them dynamite about to blow up a bridge making the dead hold their breaths. However, John is able to quickly slow down the train before it falls into the water below. A narrow escape, and one they’re happy he’s gotten.