Riding the Green Light

By: Dante

 

 

Have you ever watched a train pull into a station?

 

It’s truly an amazing spectacle, and I’m not talking about the new trains we have today that are silent and fast, I’m talking about the greasy, dangerous contraption that spews hot white steam in an awe-inspiring display as she pulls into the station under the guiding hand of an experienced conductor and the dirty hands of several hard working men shoveling coal into the blazing boilers of this steel and brass belle of the ball.

 

I don’t think it ever gets old.

 

 

           

Steam escaping from the boiler was propelled across the station planks, creating an odd illusion of fog in the burning afternoon sun.  Several families, some moving back east, and some who just were tired of the new west, as it had been named.  As the boarders waited patiently for doors to be opened, others disembarked, excited for the new adventures and opportunities provided by the west, the excitement of such a foreign land, so far from the boorish east coast and it’s dockside gambling houses. Not that the west was any different, mind you. 

 

Nobody noticed her disembark, and why should they?  She was one of those rare furs who blended in and talked little, she was invisible when she wanted to be.  And she desired no one to see her for now, especially the canvas bag that she carried.  She was beautiful, not in the sense of looks, but of her personality and well rounded appeal. She was a hardworking gal, driven and hard-worn, the scars of little scrapes dotted some of the areas under her fur, but it would take a very close inspection to find the hidden wounds.  She wore an overcoat and worn grey Stetson to shield her eyes as she looked down the main street of her new town. She read the sign above…

 

Seven Hills.

 

 

Our good lady strolled absentmindedly down main street, taking time to memorize the alleys and watch with curiosity the goings-on of the various shops, taking a moment to stop at the barber’s and watch the surgeon painfully remove a bullet from an unconscious patient, along with the arm that the bullet had been in.  She wasn’t any stranger to blood, and she had never liked the idea of being unconscious while undergoing surgery (A relatively new technology at the time) as far as she knew, she didn’t like sleeping while someone with a knife fixed a wound.

 

 

Our good lady smiled and waved a paw at the barber, who waved back and gave a broad smile while brandishing one of his many sharp tools.  At which point the bunny moved on and eventually made her way to the town square, the imposing courthouse building towering above her head. She worked her way up the many steps, weaving in-between the mini-conferences of the politicians loitering the area, she pushed the large door open with a paw, and was greeted by the excited chatter of more politicians. This was one of the many places our good lady wasn’t comfortable being seen in, and she wasn’t noticed as she made her way down the hall to the mayor’s office.

 

Not so with the Wolf.

 

He made as much commotion as he could as he was dragged down the hall, kicking and screaming and protesting all the way, while two guards held each arm and a third carried his effects. Our good lady watched with renewed curiosity as he screamed about the mayor, the unfair treatment he was getting, and the general poor state of government. He was thrown out the doors without any great ceremony and was rolling over the top step when the large door was closed and our lady’s view was blocked.

 

She banished any thought of him from her mind, and decided to continue on down the hall towards the large, mahogany doors that stood between her and mayor townshend.

Our good lady waited patiently in the reception area for the mayor, who, being the gracious and gentlemanly host that he was, fetched her himself.

 

            Mayor townshend was a robust mole, and he had gold half-moon spectacles that sat in front of two beady black eyes that scanned the file in front of him, his nervous paws intertwining and clicking as he never stopped moving them,   probably from a nervous disorder, the bunny concluded.   The Mayor looked up from his busy reading and sputtered out a few basic questions in his barely understandable tongue, always tripping over his own words. 

 

“wo wo would you considder beingg our town’sss new sssherif?”

 

            The bunny gave her sweetest smile, though inside she was bored and tired already of the mayors bumbling mannerisms, but she gave him her patience, knowing he was old, and practically a derelict. 

 

            “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, sir.”

 

            The mayor continued to stumble along “ah yyyes, of course, yyyou wouldn’t, wo would you?” the mayor sweated with the heat of his office, and he pulled at the collar of his shirt to let some of the steam out. “ppperhaps I shooold let one of the deppputies telllll you abouttt our unusual method of dealllling with ciminaminals.”

 

            The bunny simply smiled and nodded again, grateful for any distraction from the mayors quickly tiring tongue. “If you don’t mind.”   The mayor gave and nervous nod and introduced our good lady to the biggest percheron she ever had met, but she had heard of them. They were legends here in the new west, the largest and strongest breed of horses to come out of the old world, they were perfectly suited for work here as law enforcers, the equine deputy offered his paw “hi there little lady, my name’s Abraham Lesky, but you can just call me Abe.”

 

Our good lady offered her paw and shyly smiled. “Leanne. Charmed, I’m sure.”

 

            Abe smiled slightly and looked at the ground, rubbing his stubble with his free hoof, trying vainly to cover the slightly reddish tint of his skin.  “Sure thing, shall we go downtown, there’s an execution of sorts that the mayor thought you might like to see.”

Leanne idly wondered to herself, she’d seen many hangings and gunfights before, but what was it about this one that made it so special?

 

            Abe had a slow gait and an even slower way of talking, the few times he did talk on the way down the hill, he pointed out landmarks, leaving Leanne with some time to sort through her thoughts.  When our good lady did finally return to reality, it was noticeably different scenery; she had been so lost in her own mind that she hadn’t noted that she and Abe were standing near the back of a crowd on one side of the main courtyard that dominated another side of the small town.

 

            Leanne watched silently as a young fox, no more than 17 or 18 was held captive by a coyote and spaniel off to one side of the stage. The fox’s eyes were wide, but he said nothing as he stared at his feline executioner, or perhaps to be more precise, he was staring at the Winchester he held at his side….

 

Leanne’s wild thoughts returned in force. “They wouldn’t really shoot him in public like this, would they?”   Abe just gave a sad nod of his head, “well, it’s not really shooting like you’re used to ma’mm, what old whiskers, that’s the sheriff’s nickname, is holding there is a neuralizer.  Leanne did her best to piece together where she had heard that name before, but it evaded her mind.  What does it do?  She edged over the shoulder of a bystander for a better view of the gun. Abe uncomfortably tugged at his neck collar, “I’ll let the guy who invented it explain all that to you, but you can be rest assured that kid’s in for a wild ride…”

 

            The conversation was interrupted when the feline took a step forward and began slowly to recite the crimes of the fox that had no choice but to sit and listen; Leanne swore she could’ve seen a slight smile on the fox’s face when a few exploits were mentioned. Whiskers was almost finished with the list.

 

“Cattle rustling, highway robbery, and thievery.  This kit has broken almost every law we have here in this great state, and we will now carry out his sentence, in accordance with the law.”  Whiskers turned to a lioness Leanne hadn’t noticed before; she was quiet and waiting on another end of the stage near a waist-high table. “Mrs.  Clarion, you may begin.”

 

            You would have thought that since the fox was silent so far, he might’ve remained calm now, but this was not so. The fox kicked and screamed as he was dragged across the stage, all without effect as he was ceremoniously dumped on the table in front of the Mrs. Clarion and she restrained the fox with a rope about his waist. 

 

Leanne’s eyes opened wide as she suddenly realized what was going on.

 

            A matron in every form of the word, and well experienced in the restraint of little ones, as she liked to think of them, the lioness quickly relieved the fox of his pants and underwear, placing a white pacifier into his mouth to calm him. It wasn’t very calming, for one of the guards had to place a restraining paw upon the fox’s mouth to prevent him from spitting it out.  While this drama took place near the fox’s head, another took place less than three feet away, as the lioness clothed the fox in a diaper, taking time to make sure his tail was comfortable before she pinned everything together and secured him in a pair of plastic pants.

 

            Lifting the fox and dragging him again to the center of the stage, where whiskers awaited him with the Winchester.  The fox cried and struggled to get away, but this time more feebly.  Whiskers raised the Winchester and pointed it directly at the fox’s temple.

Whiskers pulled the bolt on the gun back and the tip of the gun began folding out in a mechanical motion that resembled a blooming flower, a small glowing green ball made up the center of the mini-satellite dish and grew brighter with every second.

 

Leanne had to shield her eyes from the light that suddenly expanded from center stage.

 

            By the time she had forced her eyes to focus, the fox’s eyes were already unfocused and he looked as if he didn’t know where he was, a small stream of electricity that was tinted green, barely visible, ran through the air and penetrated the fox’s skull.

 

            By the time the ordeal was over, the front lines of the crowd started to hold their noses at the scent that began to penetrate the air.  A sure sign that the newborn kit was due for his second appointment with the changing table and Mrs. Clarion.

 

            This time the change went much smoother, for the kit was much more interested in playing with his footpaw than escape.  With the crowd dispersing and the kit being rolled off down the road to a house farther down the river, Leanne still stood there with Abe.  “You don’t really do this to every criminal, do you?”  Abe gave another slow nod of his head “sure we do, and it works, this is the first criminal we’ve had to punish in the last three months.”  Leanne gave an unbelieving look, “where do they go after this?”

Abe gave another toss of his head, partly for directional assistance, and partly to get rid of a fly that was bothering him, “there’s a halfway house down a ways, they go there to get some tender loving care.”  Abe motioned to Leanne with a hoof, “come on, I’m hungry. I’ll buy you dinner.”  Leanne followed behind, again lost in her thoughts, “I just may like it here…”

 

            Abe thanked the young eagle waiter unload the many plates onto the table, Leanne had never met an eagle before, and was quite intrigued with him.  The eagle, his name was James, explained how his family had migrated from the north, how his uncle owned this little restaurant, and how he helped his uncle out be working the tables. James turned to Abe, and gave a light squawk, as excited eagles tend to do.  “Say, did you hear about old man Crane?  He died a few nights ago!  They say that nobody knows what’s going to happen around here if they don’t find the will soon…”  Abe gave James a stern look, and James gave a nervous chuckle.  With luck, the awkward moment was interrupted by a loud screech and commotion in the kitchen. “I’ll be back in a minute ma’mm, I’ll have to go check on uncle Charlie.”  The eagle hustled through the kitchen doors and was lost to sight.  Leanne took note of what happened, but decided not to press the issue.

 

            Abe smiled and nibbled at his bowl of alfalfa and hay, taking a few drinks from his glass of water, you see, Abe never had been much of a drinker, as he explained; he’d just been content to drink water.  Leanne nodded, she’d felt the same way for years, and she had to be in top physical condition to chase down thieves, so she had given up drinking years before.   Abe titled his head in an odd direction suddenly, looking past Leanne’s head, towards the far end of the room.  Leanne turned in her seat, looking past the chattering faces, but she couldn’t see who Abe was looking at.

 

            Abe turned back to Leanne and gave a reassuring look, “I’ll be right back”

Leanne followed Abe across the room with her eyes and took a sip of water, watching him approach two frumpy looking gentlemen who were talking excitedly over something unknown.  Leann continued watching as Abe brought the two men over to the table and introduced them to her.

 

“Leann, I’d like you to meet the two doctors,   Dr. Weatherby and Dr. Stanton. They’re the one’s who’re responsible for the, er, demonstration that you saw earlier.”  Leanne gave a slight start as she finally put two and two together, letting the two Lupine doctors each take her paw in acknowledgement of her.    Abe continued “both of the Dr’s said they would be glad to let us into the laboratory in about an hour, if you’d like to go.”

 

            Leann’s puff of a tail twitched ever so slightly, a dead giveaway that she was excited, though no others saw it. “Sure, I’d love to; shall we meet in about an hour?”  Dr. Stanton looked at Dr. Weatherby with uncertainty in his eyes, but Weatherby smiled pleasantly, and led Dr. Stanton away by the arm, who looked most uncomfortable all of a sudden.

 

            Abe entertained Leann with stories of his service, doing his best to occupy her for the next hour, and the evening wore on with the two taking a stroll in the vague direction of the barnyard laboratory on the outskirts of town.

 

            Arriving at the barnyard, Leanne and Abe were escorted by Dr. Weatherby into the main building, which was surprisingly clean, for a barnyard, that is.

 

            Dr Weatherby led the two through aisles of laboratory equipment, bubbling substances and clear beakers, machines and all manner of unusual things going on in hidden corners of the room.  All over, all manners of furs were taking inventory, writing down various notes as they combed all through boxes and shelves. Dr. Weatherby apologized “you’ll have to excuse the chaos and the mess, you see, we’ve had a robbery we just noticed a little while ago.”   Dr. Weatherby stopped by a small clear case, displaying another rifle with the satellite dish prominently displayed, “where are my manners? Here, please take a seat” Weatherby offered two chairs for his guests while he took a position by a chalkboard.  You wanted me to show you what the neuralizer was, yes?”  Leann smiled and nodded, and Dr. Weatherby began making notations and formulai on the chalkboard, engrossed in his own little invention.  “You see, inside the skull are millions of cells, just like in the body. And like the rest of the body’s cells, this group of cells grows and adapts.”   The doctor stopped to take a breath “however, what the neuralizer does is heat up the brain until we cause damage to the specific portions of the brain that help memory, cell growth, and neural repair.  The gun uses a special biochemical formula that is built into the “stream,” as we call it, for you see, the stream is not electrical, but is instead a combination of electron bonded biological compound, think of it as an airborn virus. This compound follows the neural paths of the brain and heats up the certain areas that we wish to affect.” The doctor took another deep breath “so, when the bio-compound is done cooking the proper brain-cells, these brain cells are forever damaged, and the memory of the recipient is affected for the rest of their lives. This process cannot be reversed, but fortunately, it takes time for the biocompound to take effect, roughly ten seconds of continuous stream.”

 

            Leann read the blackboard, trying to understand half of what was written. “I think I get it, but how many of this neuralizer’s have you made?”  The Doctor scratched his head uncomfortably, “about, er, ten. I’d say, but that’s counting the two that were stolen.”

Abe suddenly looked very concerned “two were stolen?” There was no mistaking the anger in his voice.  The doctor stumbled around his words, “er, yes, that would be how many were taken.” Abe’s eyes narrowed, “and why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”   The doctor again stumbled, “I was… I just… forgot.”  Abe could barely sit, and was gripping the sides of his chair with two strong paws that could very well have been around the doctor’s neck.   Leann got up quickly.

 

            “Why don’t you show me where the guns are kept?  Abe, you stay here.”  Abe nodded, though he wasn’t happy about it, he controlled his anger well, and remained seated.  Dr. Weatherby led Leanne to the safe room and showed her the glass cases containing seven different variations of the neuralizer. Including a new version of the Winchester model, Leann lifted the gun out of the case. “May I take this?”  The doctor was adamant. “No! Absolutely not! We cannot afford to have any more of these dangerous weapons out and about.”  Leanne pulled the bolt, loosing the opening action of the dish. “Listen to me. The person who stole your guns is going to do something bad with them, and I’m going to need one if I’m going to stop him.”   The doctor still shook his head “I can’t! You don’t….er…” The doctor couldn’t finish his sentence once the dish was pointed at his temple, he stuttered for words, but found none. Leanne turned and left the room, while the doctor followed, ever aware of the dish and its glowing green core.  “This is one of the newer models, so it’s a five second charge shot and requires no continuous stream.” Leann smiled at the doctor and gave him a reassuring scritch behind the ear “Don’t worry; I’ll have all the guns back in your possession very soon.”

 

            She walked past Abe and down the aisle towards the door, and Abe had little choice but to follow and thank the doctor for his time before chasing Leann into the night.

 

Fortunately, no good story is complete without a memorable villain, and we happen to have such a character lurking about the surrounding woods of seven hills at this very moment…

           

“Faster, faster!” And through the urgings of both of the stagecoach drivers, the horses pounded onward, sweat and saliva flying through the air as they whinnied and drove harder down the trail, the trees flashing by in a multitude of green as the trail soon widened and the drivers could see the town ahead, they were almost home.

 

But, as with all things related to Murphy’s Law, a gunshot rang out from the wilderness and the driver was thrown from the car, his coach to rampage on until overturning a few seconds later.  The shotgun, a young bobcat of 19 years old, was face down in the mud, nearly unconscious when he was kicked face up; he stared into the smiling face of an older wolf.

 

            “Fortune isn’t with you today, good friend, I’ll be sorry to see you go.”  And without ceremony, the wolf held a pistol for the fox to see, the gaping mouth of the barrel mere inches from the bobcat’s head.  Everything the bobcat saw went white, and faded away.

 

            The bobcat’s body was rolled into a ditch at the side of the road and ignored while the wolf wandered over to the upturned coach. The door, still well locked against thieves, was workable.  The wolf, carefully placing a few paper packets underneath the hinges, wandered off a safe distance and lit the fuses.   Only moments later, with a gaping charred hole where the door once was, the wolf peeked inside and lifted out three wooden chests marked “property of the first Bank of Crystal River”   the wolf allowed himself a subtle grin as he hefted the gold transfer crates onto a small cart that he’d hidden nearby.    Slowly pulling the cart up the road, the wolf chortled to himself about how this might set townshend back a little bit.   The wolf dragged the cart a little ways, and then backtracked to the overturned carriage.  Manhandling parts of the wreckage into a single pile, the wolf set another package of black powder, and watched everything go up in flames.  It wasn’t long until the wolf heard the steady hoof beats coming up the road.   Without a moment’s delay, the wolf slipped into the woods and back to his cart, moving as fast as he could without making too much noise.  

 

            Abe, as I’m sure the reader has guessed, was the one who was staring at the smoldering leftovers from the wolf’s little theft.   Abe sighed as he kicked one of the charred wheels.  He didn’t know what he was going to say to the mayor.  But all was not lost, Abe smiled to himself, this was just what he needed to get Leanne on the trail of his lupine adversary.  The unusually large percheron conspired with himself as he walked the road back towards town, tugging at his vest. 

 

            Leanne had been sorting through old paperwork, reading up on various subjects and familiarizing herself with maps of the surrounding area.   Abe knocked on the glass of the door, and poked his head in.  “Leanne?  The mayor wants to see you about something.”    Leanne nodded and folded up all the papers.  She got up and followed Abe down the hall to the mayor’s office.   Leanne and Abe sat down while the mayor went shuffling about his desk.  It took a moment, but finally the Mayor had everything situated and addressed Leanne with a tone of urgency.  “ma’mm, I’m affffraiiiid I’ve got a biiiitttt of probbllemmm on my paaawws herre” The mayor twiddled his thumbs and Abe interrupted, “What the mayor is trying to say, is that we need someone to track down the old sherrif who’s been.  Shall we say, somewhat destructive of late?”   Leanne furrowed her brow, thinking.  “What do you mean, destructive?”   Abe leaned forward. “He blew up a very important shipment this morning, from one of the mayor’s associates.”  Abe relaxed a bit, trying not to smile at Leanne’s obvious irritation at the news “Too bad about those boys he took out” Abe winced dramatically and shook his head “They were so young.”   Leanne got out of her chair and was halfway out the door when she turned around.  “What’s his name and how do I find him?”   Abe smiled and told Leanne where to find the wolf, “His name is Artemis Lumier.    Leanne made a fast trip to her office, where she grabbed the neuralizer and other assorted bounty hunting necessities before she was out the doors and down the steps of the town hall.  

 

            Abe and the Mayor sat quietly for a moment before the mayor spoke.  “aare yoou ggoin to escort mme to the ttrain station on ffriday?”   Abe grimaced slightly. “Of course I will, you’ll have all the paperwork and money we need to buy out the town, right?”  The mayor nodded and smiled “all rrready for ffriday” Abe nodded and remarked, mostly to himself.  “tomorrow might be an interesting day.” 

 

Leanne walked down Main Street, and made her way south at the edge of town until she ran smack dab into the river that Abe had warned her about.  Leanne made her way eastward for a few miles, ever wary that Artemis might be aware of her presence.  Leanne pumped the handle of the neuralizer a few times, opening the dish and priming the center orb.  There was a low hum for a few seconds, and then the noise faded, leaving only a green glow.

 

            Leanne pulled her hat down low over her eyes, and moved a branch with her paw.  There it was, sitting on the other side of the river, a cabin.  Leanne looked over the area, she noticed the river that bordered the front of the cabin, and she also noticed a glass of lemonade on the front deck.  She was sure of it, Artemis was nearby.    In fact, her deductions were immediately confirmed when she heard the distinctive click of a rifle.

 

            “You might want to put the gun away, missy.” 

 

            Leanne slid the bolt of the neuralizer back, and let the dish close on itself, but the core still gave its eerie glow inside the barrel of the gun, though there was no one to see it.  Artemis gave Leann’s shoulder a tap with the barrel of the gun “why don’t you come on up for a glass of lemonade, missy.  I don’t plan on spending all night out here.”  Leanne started to get up, but Artemis reached over her shoulder “I’ll take that, thank you.” Leanne sighed as the neuralizer left her paws.   Artemis guided Leanne out of the bushes and along the river, till they reached a small stepping stone bridge. Being the gentleman that Artemis always was, he let Leanne go first, if only so he could keep his pistol pointed at the nape of her neck.

 

            Sitting down on the porch of the cabin, Artemis excused himself momentarily and went inside the house to put away the guns for the moment, and to get a glass for his guest.  Leanne watched Artemis go inside, and wasted no time pulling out a concealed gun off of her calf.  She sat down and waited for Artemis to come back out.   But things still weren’t going her way.  For when the wolf finally did relax in the chair opposite from her, he still held his colt, steady and true, pointed right in-between her eyes.   With his other paw, Artemis took the pitcher of lemonade and poured a glass for Leanne.  He offered it to her and she took it with her paw, placing it to the side. 

 

“Thank you”

 

            Artemis visibly relaxed, but his paw remained steadily anchored to the table. “Oh that’s okay darling, it’s the least I can do, what with you planning to shoot me underneath the table and whatnot.”   Leanne sighed again.  “Am I really that obvious?’  Artemis laughed “darling, subtle is not your middle name.  Now why don’t you put that peashooter up here where I can see it?”   Leanne brought her gun up from her lap and set it on the table, in the same positioning that Artemis had.   The wolf eyed the gun “well, don’t we have a little standoff...”  Leanne did her best to remain calm; she knew that no matter what the situation looked like, she couldn’t let her guard down for a second.  “I guess we’ve got plenty of time to talk then.”  Artemis sighed “yup, I guess we do”

 

            They sat there in silence for most of the afternoon, just staring at each other.  Artemis would occasionally tell a joke, trying to get Leann to lighten up just a touch, but he was having difficulty.  “You know, this isn’t really my cabin.”  Leann arched an eyebrow “really now.”  Artemis nodded “This is actually old man Crane’s place.  He’s the old otter who made all this; the town and everything.”  Leanne’s tail puff twitched, “isn’t he the one who died a few days ago?”  Artemis nodded “mmhmm, and I’m the only one that he told who got what before he died.”  Leanne furrowed her eyebrows “What do you mean?”    Artemis smiled “old man crane wanted the town divided among the citizens, and fortunately, those plans didn’t include the mayor or any of his cronies” Artemis took a sip of his lemonade “Mayor Townshend wanted to take the whole town and start doing terrible things.  When the mayor sent me to check on Mr. Crane, I found him on his death bed, that’s when he told me who was to get what in the town.”   Artemis put down his lemonade glass “When I went to report to the mayor about what happened, he saw his great opportunity.  Townshend threw me out, so he could go ahead and buy out the town.”  Leanne noticed that Artemis was beginning to lower his gun.  “Without me in the way, there’s nothing to stop Townshend, although, I’m sure that shipment of funds that I…” Artemis coughed “disrupted helped set him back a little bit.”  Artemis laughed and scratched an itch behind his ear with one paw. “Though I’m not sure how it’s going to keep him down that long.  Once Townshend gets to Crystal River, won’t be too difficult for him to buy out every deed he can get his stinking paws on.” 

 

            Artemis finally stood up from his chair “Listen darling, seems to me that there’ll be no shooting tonight, and since it’s too far for you to walk, why don’t you spend the night here?”  Leanne dropped her gun slightly.  “You promise not to shoot me?”  Artemis laughed again “Only if you promise not to shoot me.”  Leanne offered her paw and Artemis shook it.   The sun had long set over the distant horizon, Leanne and Artemis went inside, where Artemis put both of the guns into a case, along with the two rifles.  Artemis pointed Leanne towards her bed, but Leanne was back in the room before she’d even really left.  “Artemis?”  The wolf turned around “Yes?”  Leanne leaned against a wall “if you only wanted to keep Townshend from taking over the town, then why did you steal the two neuralizers?”   Artemis sat down in a chair; his brow furrowed “what’s a neuralizer?”  Leanne really didn’t know what to say, so she dismissed it for the moment.  “Nothing Artemis, goodnight”   Artemis smiled and nodded, “goodnight darling” 

 

            Leanne lay in her bed; she couldn’t stop thinking about a number of things. But most importantly, if Artemis didn’t steal the neuralizers, who did? 

 

            A sunrise is always a long process.  First the sun must grace the very horizon, setting the rim of the earth on fire.  Then, as the light spans the sky, chasing the night and hiding the stars underneath its all knowing gaze.  It slowly begins to filter into the hidden parts of the world, including the bed of a certain bunny that had slept in. 

 

            Leanne wandered out of her room, looking for Artemis, but couldn’t seem to find him anywhere.  Out of habit, Leanne belted her guns on, and wandered out to the front porch, taking in the views of the magnificent untamed wilds.  She was lost in her own thoughts when she heard the fierce whisper.  “pssst.  Leanne.”   Our good lady turned and followed the whisper, stepping over the bushes and brambles until she found Abe.

 

            Abe was hunched down in a hollow formed by a few larger rocks.  He and Leanne discussed the situation of things for a few moments, Abe telling Leanne that Artemis was out walking in the morning.  Abe was sure that Artemis was planning his next move.  Leanne was doubtful, and she told Abe why.  “But, Leanne, Artemis wouldn’t tell you the truth, what reason does he have to trust you?”  Leanne did her best to keep her voice at a whisper, and calmly explained to Abe all about the gun cabinet, and the discussion she had last evening with Artemis.  Abe nodded his head “I guess that does leave us a touch of a mystery, I suppose.  Then again, there might only be a few loose ends to tie up”   The confusion was easily read on Leanne’s face, until Abe brought one of the missing Neuralizers into view.  It’s core glowing a bright green.  “Sorry Leanne, you’re just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

 

Artemis, whose typical morning habits often took him on a long walk, came striding back up the green hill to a most unusual sight.  Leanne was sitting in a chair to one side, while Abe, his old assistant sheriff, was waiting for him.   Artemis wasted no time, pulling the colt from his holster; he fired two quick successive shots towards Abe, who, unfortunately, was already under cover.

 

“Artemis!  You really don’t want to be shooting at me right now!  I’ve got your little darling right here and if you put up any kind of fight, I won’t hesitate to shoot her right now, you hear?”

 

            Artemis knew there was little he could do, so he decided to vanish into the woods.  The less that Abe would see of him, the better.  To be safe, he tossed his pistol on the ground and answered back “I hear you, don’t worry about a thing. You win.”

 

            Abe took Leanne by the paw, and with the Neuralizer still aimed at her head, he began to backtrack towards his cart. Hopefully, he thought, Artemis would follow them, and he’d get a clearer shot when Artemis showed up in the open.

 

Abe tossed a bound and gagged Leanne into the rear of the cart and jumped into the driver’s seat of the cart.  Abe drove the cart as fast as he could away from the cabin, and not a second too soon, for as he neared a bend in the road, using the term loosely of course, a rifle shot rang out from behind a pile of rocks. The shot was close to Abe, and it took a sizeable chunk out of the wood bench he was sitting on.

 

            Artemis knew there was little time, it didn’t take him long to get back to his gun cabinet for his rifle and pistol.  The wolf mused to himself, Abe was getting soft in his old age, he’d forgotten to fetch the pistol that Artemis had dropped.  Artemis grabbed everything he saw, including the neuralizer and ran off over the hills in an attempt to cut off Abe.   By the time Artemis reached the road, however.  Abe had already gotten too far.   Artemis took off running as only a wolf could.  He had a good idea what was going on, and he knew that Abe was headed for the train station. Artemis could only think of one good place for Abe to go…

 

Crystal River.

 

             Abe drove the cart like a madhorse, rumbling down the main street of town, and nearly running over a shocked James coming out of the general store.  Abe stopped the cart in front of the train station, and hearing the loud screech of the steam engine, Pulled Leanne out of the cart, and went to go meet Mayor Townshend on the platform.  The mayor smiled when he saw Abe, but that smile was quickly gone when he saw who was accompanying him.  The mayor hissed at Abe about how this wasn’t part of the plan.  Abe only had time to warn the mayor that they might need a hostage to keep Artemis off their backs until they could reach the county line. 

 

Had the mayor known that the Abe’s neuralizer was fully charged, he probably would have never stood so close to him during the moments that followed, but such is the nature of our decisions.

 

            Artemis came running into town, hoping above all hope that he wasn’t too late,  he didn’t stop running until he’d gotten to the station.  Artemis leaped up a few storage crates at the back of station, and did his best to quietly move across the roof of the station.  Artemis stood up suddenly, and aimed his rifle where he thought that Abe might’ve been. 

 

            “Don’t worry mayor, we’ll get this done” Abe was climbing the steps into the car when he heard a loud gunshot.  Abe turned about suddenly and was shocked to see the stumbling body of the mayor below.  Abe was quickly over his shock, which turned to jubilation.  He leaned out the door and gave a jaunty wave to Artemis, whom he spotted on the roof 

 

“Thanks Artemis!  You’re a fantastic shot, couldn’t have done it better myself!”

 

            Abe roughly shoved Leanne into a seat, her bonds long removed in exchange for cooperation. But, just to be safe, Abe handcuffed her paw to the seat “You stay here and behave yourself, allright missy?”  Leanne gave a dirty look at Abe, but said nothing.

 

With that final drama, the train gave a loud screech, white steam frothing from its stack high into the blue sky above.  The train’s wheels rotated for a second before catching the metal tracks and moving slowly out of the station.  Artemis left his regular rifle behind in a hurry, and took off running at full speed down the roof of the station.  Artemis was doing his best to try not to slip on the slight grade, but his boots made for a rough trip.  Artemis was still running full speed when he reached the end of the station, where the roof was just close enough for him to make a jump.   Artemis reached the outcropping just as the last two coaches were passing by.  Artemis leaped with all he had, and landed roughly, almost rolling off of the other side of the train. 

 

            In the meantime, Abe was busy rushing through the coaches towards the engine room.   Normally they don’t allow anyone into the engine room unless they’re working, but when you have a loaded gun, the rules don’t seem to apply as well…

 

Abe pointed the gun at the conductor, an older crow with feathers that were starting to grey around the edges.  “Listen to me, I need this train to get to Crystal River as fast as you can, so why don’t you open the boiler to full capacity, and let your boys shovel in some extra coal?”  The crow was about to object to the outright dangerous situation that might’ve caused, but he was reminded of the gun in Abe’s hoof.   The conductor cawed ‘sure thing boss, just don’t shoot no one.”  Abe smiled and retreated to the doorway of the engine room to relax and watch over the conductor and crew.

 

            The conductor and his assistants busily adjusted knobs and levers, and the boys in overalls shoveled coal into the blazing furnace that roared in response to her master’s call.  The train began to gain speed.

 

            Artemis was busy trying to walk along the top of the train while simultaneously trying to load his pistol.  He was doing a decent job of it, and had even made it to where he could almost get a clean shot at Abe’s head from the rear.   Artemis stood and ran to the next coach and aimed.  

 

            This might be a good time to discuss the geography of seven hills and surrounding area.  Seven hills is mostly a foothill town, with quite the selection of geological variety.  What I’m sure is to be most proud of is the mountain range which borders seven hills, but does not crowd the area.  This small range adds to the luxurious peace of the foothills, without imposing too much on any views. This lovely seclusion is amplified by the matching bridge that goes directly over the crystal river itself.  Separated by miles of flat land, this majestic old wooden bridge was well designed and built.  And only adds to the allure of the area.

 

            What’s more to be noticed of these technological marvels of the time; a tunnel that spanned the entire length of the mountain range carved using the latest in mining technology (water cannons, dynamite, etc.) by the Siamese workers. And completed nearly 7 years ago. This tunnel was no doubt a great convenience to travelers who no longer had to use the pass over the mountain. 

 

            It was the roof of this tunnel that Artemis saw coming towards him at nearly 70 miles an hour (an astoundingly fast speed for a steam train) Artemis saw his chance and fired at Abe, but unfortunately, the train’s instability threw the shot.   The shot was not thrown far enough, however, to not still be dangerous.

 

            Abe was still standing in the doorway of the engine room when the gunshot sounded.  Abe, being the experienced law enforcement mare that he was, immediately ducked and covered his head.  It was most disappointing; however, that one of the coal shufflers did not do the same.  The bullet ricocheted through the engine compartment for several agonizing seconds, before pegging the poor boy through the base of his skull.   The boy’s limp body sagged into a corner, near the boiler.  And yet the train still sped onward. 

 

            Darkness was all the Artemis could see, if he’d opened his eyes, that is.  The truth is, Artemis held himself flat to the top of the train.  What else could he do?  Until the bright sunlight on the other side bathed Artemis again, the wolf looked up, happy to be alive, Artemis stood up and brushed himself off.  His relief was short lived, however, when he saw Abe standing on the log car aiming a rifle at his chest.

 

“Can’t leave well enough alone, can we Artemis?”

 

            No time to answer, for the question was preceded by a rifle shot, leaving Artemis on his back.  Wasting no time Artemis crawled back a ways, and opened fire on Abe, wherever he thought he could see something, anything.  Suddenly, the rifle fire stopped.  Atemis, one paw holding his hat down on his head and one paw holding his pistol, moved forward cautiously.   Looking down at the log coach in front of him, Abe was nowhere to be found.

 

            Well, that wasn’t entirely true.  Abe had, in fact, gone through the coach underneath Artemis, and was currently climbing up the ladder on the other end of the coach.  Abe didn’t ascend all the way, but rested his elbows, so that the neuralizer could be steadily aimed at the back of his head.  Artemis was already starting to climb down the other side, so Abe took his shot.

 

            Artemis felt the heat from the neuralizer before it was upon him.  The wolf ducked, and quite luckily, the neuralizer blast took his hat right off of his head.  Artemis spun himself around and aimed the colt at Abe.  Of course, Abe being the smart horse that he was had already ducked and was recharging.  But as Artemis had noticed, his legs were still dangling on the ladder.  Artemis was off running.  Abe had recharged the neuralizer and was already waiting for Artemis to pop his head back up the other side of the coach.  By the time Abe had heard the commotion from underneath, it was too late.  A bullet ripped cleanly through his inner thigh.  Abe howled in fury and pulled the neuralizer off the roof, aiming it right at Artemis’s head. There was little else he could do; Abe knew he wouldn’t be able to run in his condition. So he squeezed the trigger and fired.  He should have known better, Artemis was already down, and the blast sailed right over him, hitting some housecat right in the face, a punishment for trying to get a good look at the show. 

 

The blast blew the housecat out of his seat and into the next one, and for a moment, silence, until the cat started to cry. The housecat’s wife didn’t know what else to do, and her mothering genes kicked into high gear.  She, abandoning all common sense, climbed to the seat in front of her and held her former husband, cuddling his head and trying to shush him.  Her former husband took his thumb into his mouth and suckled it, eventually calming down.

 

            Artemis had stopped for a moment to charge the neuralizer that he had yet to fire once.  He’d seen Abe do it, and it seemed simple enough.  Artemis gave chase to Abe, who had used the distraction to escape, and limp as fast as he could, back to Leanne.

 

            Artemis charged through the coaches as fast as he dared, but he was too late.  Artemis burst through the door of the coach, and saw Abe, neuralizer in hoof, aimed at Leanne’s head.  Artemis aimed his neuralizer at Abe, and everything stopped.  “Come on out and face me like a man, Abe” Abe held Leanne forward to remind Artemis of who’s adult life was hanging in the balance.  “Don’t take another step Artemis!  I’m warning you!”    Artemis sighed, “all right, you win, just don’t hurt her” Artemis put his neuralizer on the closest seat, with the stock of the gun facing him.  

 

            Abe released Leanne, letting her stumble forward, but only for a second.  The neuralizer blast at such close range pushed her until she fell and hit the floor of the coach with a loud thud.  Artemis brought his boot up and slammed down on the stock of the neuralizer he’d left on the edge of the seat.  The neuralizer rotated up into his paws, and Artemis fired the fully charged bolt that struck Abe. Artemis roared, not realizing that Abe had pulled a pistol from his side holster, and had hit Artemis in the shoulder.  Artemis had gotten off lucky compared to Abe.  Abe crumpled to the ground, nearly unconscious.   Artemis stepped gingerly over to Leanne, whom he shook gently with his free paw.  Leanne stirred and grabbed at Artemis’s free paw, pulling it toward her to cuddle. 

 

Abe, on the other hand, was looking most uncomfortable, kicking slightly, and trying to move off his back, but was having trouble at it, finally giving up in frustration, Abe began to cry.  And if you had ever heard a horse throw a temper tantrum, you’d understand why Artemis was so quick to get to Abe and help shush him. 

 

            The train, passing over the bridge of the crystal river, blew its whistle.  Glad to have not seen Abe in the past half and hour, the conductor slowed the train down, and pulled the train into the crystal river station. 

 

            Artemis, having some help from the station, helped Abe, Leanne, and Gabe (the housecat) get comfortable on a luggage dolly that the station worked had piled with blankets.  All the little ones were napping peacefully, oblivious to all around them, even Artemis, who was explaining everything to the station, and was making arrangements to get everyone home.

 

           

            Weeks passed, and as usual, Artemis took his weekly visit to Mrs. Crenshaw’s place, on the outskirts of town.  Artemis waved to James, who was busy waiting tables, but who returned the friendly wave.   Artemis walked slowly; his shoulder still bothered him sometimes.

 

            Artemis eventually reached the porch of Mrs. Crenshaw’s place, and politely knocked on the door.  Stephanie, one of Mrs. Crenshaw’s attendants, answered the door, holding a fox by the paw.  Stephanie explained that Jeremy was a little shy.  Which would have explained why the 17 year old was nearly hiding behind Stephanie’s skirts.

 

Stephanie ushered in Artemis, and let him loose.  Artemis had come to know the house well in the previous weeks, and he knew that his first stop would be one of the rear rooms.  Artemis opened the door quietly, doing his best not to make any sounds on the wood floor.  Artemis padded over to the large crib, and staring down, smiled sweetly at the sleeping Leanne, who was snuggling with her teddy bear.  Artemis petted Leanne over the head a few times, and let her sleep.

 

            Artemis left the room and walked down the hall, stopping.  Surprised as he was to see Abe sitting in the middle of the playroom, playing with some wooden blocks.  Artemis knelt down “Hi Abe!”  The percheron looked up suddenly, smiled and clapped his hoofs together.  Abe was starting to remember Artemis when he came to play, and was always happy to share his toys.   Artemis played with Abe and even helped when Stephanie checked and decided it was time to change Abe’s diaper.

 

            With Artemis helping to hold Abe’s large rear legs, and Stephanie doing most of the dirty work, Abe’s wet diaper was soon taken care of.   And none too soon by the sound of it, for there was crying coming from one of the rear rooms.  Stephanie went to go check, while Artemis and Abe played in the front room.  Stephanie came back, carrying Leanne;   Stephanie sat down in a rocking chair in the corner of the room, and fed Leanne from a bottle.   Leanne suckled contentedly and looked around with curious eyes.

            When Leanne had finished her bottle and had been burped, Artemis held her while he read a story to Abe.  Abe couldn’t understand the words, of course, but he still liked looking at the pictures.  Artemis smiled at Abe, who, still nearly twice his size, continually tried to squirm onto Artemis’s lap.

 

Another week come and gone and another visit to Mrs. Crenshaw’s house, it’s a shame life can’t be all fun and games for everyone.