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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8378 Posts

Posted - 10/18/2015 :  15:26:06  Show Profile
THE NIGHT OF THE PORTAL TO ETERNITY

In time there is no present,
In eternity no future,
In eternity no past.
The "How" and the "Why," Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), English poet laureate

~ ~ ~


“Such a lovely afternoon for a buggy ride, don’t you agree, James?”

Jim West glanced down at the petite woman sharing the carriage seat then looked off toward the horizon. “For the moment. Those clouds in the west don’t look very promising.”

“Oh pooh!” Viola French cried, tightening her grip on his right arm. “It would not dare rain on our outing.”

Jim chuckled. “We’d best keep an eye on it, nevertheless.”

“Well, we had better hurry then. I do want to show you that marvelous spot I discovered. Why, I bet no one in this whole area knows about it but me!”

Jim did not reply, shaking the reins to stir the horse to a faster pace. Bemused, he thought about how he had been more or less coerced into this afternoon jaunt. Not that he had any problems being in the company of a pretty woman. Viola certainly was that. Her dark hair and bright blue eyes would attract any man, but combine those features with her heart-shaped face and full mouth—well, saying no was difficult; even her predilection to talk too much did not create a deterrent.

She did not live in Wells River, Wyoming, she told him the day he met her in the hotel lobby. “Bumped into her” was an apt description of that first encounter. He had descended the stairs and gained the bottom step just as she hurried around the lowest newel post and started up. She had insisted it was her fault, apologized profusely, and wanted to treat him to a cup of tea at the restaurant next door. However, he had been on his way to meet with Ben Archer, the local lawman, and a long time acquaintance. One of the reasons they had chosen Wells River as a rendezvous spot was because of Ben’s presence. Somehow, he had found himself agreeing to meet her later for the midday meal in that café. He had not, of course, allowed her to pay for that meal.

That had been yesterday. He had met or encountered Viola several times since then, including at lunch again today when she suggested the buggy ride. She told him that in the week she had been in Wells River, awaiting her uncle, she had explored the area on horseback. She did so want to show him a lovely hillside that presented a view of the entire area. Today would be the perfect day.

Viola chattered on, interrupting herself a few times to give him directions toward the site she wanted to show him, pointing with the furled parasol she had brought along. The clouds seemed to preclude the need for shade. Her conversation primarily consisted of her excitement about being an heiress. She had, she told him numerous times now, received a letter from her uncle who lived in Minnesota. The letter had contained the news that another uncle, the brother of this uncle and her father, had died and left his ranch to his two brothers. Since her father was deceased, she was the co-heir. They had agreed to meet in Wells River before continuing the journey to Texas.

That’s not so strange, Jim mused. Artie and I decided on this town as a meeting point—primarily because of Ben; but it was also convenient. They had been assigned to deliver papers to officials in Twin Falls, Idaho as well as Butte, Montana. Deciding to split up and each make a delivery in order to speed things along, they had checked a map for a somewhat central point. Initially they thought Cheyenne would be the best spot. However, they selected Wells River upon realizing their old friend was in this town. They would then ride on together to Denver where the Wanderer was undergoing some repairs and refurbishing.

I wish I could get rid of this feeling. Jim stopped himself from physically shaking his head. The sensation of uneasiness had washed over him almost the moment he rode into town yesterday. After meeting with and talking to Ben Archer, he learned nothing of import had occurred in the area; the sheriff had nothing to report regarding a crime or the suspected presence of any outlaw. The town was peaceful.

Yet the sense persisted—a vague feeling of foreboding and uncertainty. Twice he had been sure that if he turned around he would see some type of danger behind him. The second time he had actually paused and looked behind him; nothing appeared.

He glanced at the young woman on the seat beside him as she pointed the parasol ahead to a break in a wooden fence along the roadside. Nothing in her demeanor seemed amiss. Viola was excited about her inheritance as well as, he thought, the chance of impressing a single man she had unexpectedly encountered. The chattering was no doubt due to her emotional state.

Jim slowed the carriage as it approached the opening. “Are you certain it’s all right with the landowner for us to enter there?” he asked.

“Oh yes. I saw it on one day and experienced some trepidation in that regard as well. However, in town I asked someone and was told that the property is not owned by anyone now. That’s why the fence is not repaired. Look. You can see that other riders and even a buggy of some sort has gone through previously.”

“Yes, I do see. All right.” So much for no one else knowing about the site!

He slowed the horse even more and guided it carefully in through the break in the fence. The target was a tree-covered hill about five hundred yards across the field. Jim could see that the trees either had been cleared or else had grown so that a wide-open space was available at the summit. Viola had been enthusiastic about the wonderful view of the countryside at this site. Jim had to wonder now how such a low promontory could present the scenic panorama she raved about.

He remained silent, however, continuing to experience the sense of foreboding and unease. For no good reason, he chastised himself. Maybe I’m afraid she’s going to start talking about marriage and children!

“What are you smiling about, James?” Viola asked, peering at his face.

“Nothing really. Just the idea of being with such a lovely companion, I suppose.”

Viola giggled but did not say anything, only scooted a little closer to him, slipping her hand again under his right arm. Jim steered the horse into the open area among the trees, his eyes scanning the perimeter, and seeing nothing unusual, especially noting the wheel and hoof tracks that indicated the site was visited regularly. Probably a courting spot, he mused. Nonetheless, the apprehension did not diminish.

“There!” Viola cried, waving her free hand. “Isn’t that lovely?”

Jim let the reins relax after halting the carriage facing the opening of the space. He looked in the direction toward which she gestured and prevented himself from frowning. This view was nothing special, as he had suspected might be the case. The elevation of the hill was not enough to provide a vista much beyond the road they had been traveling from town and the fields on the other side.

“Very nice,” he murmured.

“Mr. West!”

Jim leapt to his feet, disregarding that he almost knocked Viola off the seat. His right hand went inside his jacket and came out gripping the pistol as he spun toward the much-too-familiar voice. Doctor Miguelito Loveless stood just inside the line of trees off to the right, with the giant Voltaire beside him, and four men, all holding guns, at one side. One man also had a coiled bullwhip attached to his belt.

“Mr. West,” Loveless said again, taking a single step forward. “How good of you to come. I have need of your services.”

“Is that right? To do what?” Jim cast a quick glance at the young woman. She was sitting quietly, gloved hands folded on her lap. He could not see her face but he had an ugly suspicion she was smiling.

“Why don’t you hand your weapon to one of my friends and come down to the ground. We can have a lovely conversation.”

“No, thanks. I’ll remain here, with my…”

His words were cut off as Viola abruptly swung her furled umbrella up and toward him. The middle of the umbrella’s shaft struck the barrel of his gun with enough force to cause the weapon to fly out of his hand toward the back of the carriage. It struck the back of the buggy’s frame then bounced to the ground.

Loveless moved forward now with slow, measured steps, his companions following. “Very good, Viola, my dear. You were saying, Mr. West?”

“I said I’ll remain here.” Jim’s voice was as hard as his expression.

“Very well. For now.” The diminutive doctor paused about ten feet from the buggy. He nodded to Voltaire who took two long strides forward to clasp his massive hands around her trim waist and lift a squealing Viola from her seat.

“What is it you want?” Jim asked as Viola was set down. She immediately straightened her garments.

Loveless rose up on his toes, hands clasped behind his back. “I need your sterling character.”

“What?”

“Have you ever heard of ‘the Portal to Eternity,’ Mr. West?”

“No, I have not. Return my weapon to me and I’ll be happy to send you there, however.”

“Really, Mr. West. That is childish.” The doctor frowned deeply.

“It seemed heartfelt to me. What the devil are you talking about, Loveless? What is this portal? More confounded skullduggery on your part?” Jim wanted to keep the little doctor talking as long as he could. The four gunmen were slowly and almost casually surrounding the buggy.

“I’m talking about what is considered an Indian legend. Many tribes adhere to it. Portals that lead one into a…a mystical land, where all ailments are healed and one never ages or dies.”

“And you believe it?”

Loveless’s chin came up. “I have good reason to, but I won’t go into that now. The entire point of the matter, why I need your services, is that only certain chosen people can pass through the portal into that magical place.”

Jim’s brow knotted. “You think I’m one of those people? Why?”

“It occurs to me that all of your hairbreadth escapes from death may not be entirely due to skill or luck.”

“You forget Mr. Gordon.”

“Even Mr. Gordon’s cleverness may not explain it all. You have other abilities, Mr. West. You see ghosts.”

Jim could not hide his surprise. “Who told you that?”

Loveless smirked, again coming up on his toes. “I have my ways.” He grew serious again. “But I believe you have an innate, perhaps not entirely discovered, talent. A mystic one.”

Jim folded his arms on his chest. “You believe I’m a wizard of some sort. You’re growing crazier and crazier, Doctor.”

“Not a wizard exactly,” Loveless sighed, his expression that of a man speaking to a thickheaded child. “More like a… a shaman. A warlock. In the tribes, primarily the shamans or medicine men—and women—are the ones who can pass through the portal.”

Now Jim sighed, also in exasperation, but of a different sort. “All right. Suppose I can pass through this imaginary portal. What good does it do you? Do you expect me to bring back some kind of treasure?”

As interested as he was in this bizarre conversation, Jim did not lose track of the four men with guns. One had remained fairly close to Loveless. Another was at the back of the buggy. This one held his gun but had allowed his arm to drop at his side. The other two had positioned themselves one alongside the horse, the other by the buggy. Now the one by the horse had moved over to speak in a low voice to his colleague.

“The only treasure I want is the healing power it offers,” Loveless stated.

Jim cocked his head, shifting his weight slightly. “You think it will make you… normal size?” Thunder, which had been far in the distance, was now moving closer. Jim saw a flash of lightning out of his peripheral vision. The clouds were growing darker and thicker.

“Perhaps not that,” Loveless sniffed. “But I do possess other… uncomfortable problems.”

Jim knew that. The first time he had met the little man, Loveless had calmly spoken of the pain he endured almost constantly. He had spent days in a wheelchair when his little legs gave out on him for a period. From time to time, Jim West came close to feeling some sympathy for Miguelito Loveless… until he remembered the disasters that the doctor wanted to perpetuate on humans around the world.

“Then how does it help if I go into the portal?” Jim persisted.

The moment came then, as Loveless hunched his shoulders, looked down at the ground, and turned away slightly to stare off into the thick woods surrounding most of the clearing, as though considering how he could answer this question so that such a thickheaded child might comprehend. Before he had a chance to face the buggy again, Jim went into action. The two men on his side of the buggy had remained standing near each other, two or three feet apart. Jim spun and launched himself toward that pair, spreading his arms out to catch each of them around the neck.

They yelled in protest, but the momentum of Jim’s leap took them backwards, falling on their rumps as their assailant leapt agilely to his feet. He took one quick look to see if either of them dropped a weapon that fell close at hand. One was still holding his gun, the other’s had launched a half dozen feet away.

Forget that! Jim took off running, hearing cursing and yelling behind him. As he attained the woods, Loveless’s voice followed him, a loud, hysterical screech.

“Stop him! Stop him! Don’t kill him! Get him! Don’t kill him….!”

W*W*W*W*W

Friends are much better tried in bad fortune than in good.
—Aristotle (384-322 BC), Greek philosopher


Artemus opened his eyes and stared at the darkened ceiling of his room. What had awakened him? The rain had mellowed to a steady downpour, no longer pounding against the windows and walls; the thunder and lightning that had been so ferocious was now a distant rumble and occasional pale flash of light.

He rolled over to pick up a match from the bedside table, striking it to check the watch also on the stand. He then sat up in the bed, a little surprised that he had been asleep. Then again, I was in the saddle for nearly twelve hours. Even Jim would have been worn out after a ride like that. The trek from Sheridan to Wells River had been uneventful until he reached the town, met with Ben Archer, and learned that his partner had been absent for several hours after taking an attractive young woman for a buggy ride.

“I expect Jim sought shelter for them both,” Ben had offered. “Some old line cabins are out in that area.”

Because of the storm, Artemus knew launching a search would be futile, and probably ridiculous. Ben was probably correct. What surprised Artie was that Jim had gone out with the weather on the way, but when he mentioned that to Ben, the sheriff grinned.

“You haven’t met the young lady.”

After Artemus had had a good supper at the sheriff’s home with Ben’s family, he retired to the hotel and the room Jim had already reserved for him. He had pulled off his boots and removed his jacket before lying down, figuring just to rest while he listened for his partner’s return. However, he had slept.

What roused me just now? He was certain he had heard something…

Then he saw something: the thin strip of dim light under the connecting door. Slipping off the bed, Artie picked up his pistol from the bedside stand and walked quietly to the door, where he pressed his ear against it and listened. Sounds of movement emanated from the other side. With caution, he put his hand on the doorknob and turned it, pushing the door open a fraction.

“Come on in, Artie. I’m awake. Sorry if I disturbed you.”

With a sigh, Artie opened the door more widely and stepped into the room. Jim was sitting on the bed, shirtless. His dripping jacket and sodden shirt were hanging on either side of the back of lone wooden chair in the room. Jim’s hair was badly mussed, and Artemus noticed the damp towel on the bed.

“Where in the world have you been? Don’t tell me you brought your lady friend home through this weather.”

Jim glanced at him with a sardonic expression, lifting up one leg to start tugging to remove the boot. “My ‘lady friend’ is likely cozy and dry somewhere with an acquaintance we share.”

“What? Who? Loveless?” The name leapt to his tongue.

“Give that man a cigar. Miguelito Loveless is in the area. Artie, how the hell does he always seem to know where we are?”

Artie shook his head, stepping further into the room to perch on the edge of the seat of the chair. “Spies?”

“Or else he taps our telegraph wires somehow. I don't know.”

“So what did he want? What happened?”

Jim put the boot off to the side and peeled off his damp sock before starting on the other boot. “Miss Viola French presented herself to one and all as a charming heiress, waiting in Wells River for her uncle and co-heir before traveling to Texas to claim their property. I don't think anyone doubted her. I didn’t. She should be in Lily’s troupe. She’s a good actress.”

“You went for a buggy ride with her?”

“Yep. Her idea. I tried to talk her out of it considering the approaching weather but Viola is a very determined female.”

“And pretty.”

Jim flashed a rueful grin. “And pretty. She wanted to show me a particular spot on a hill about ten miles south. When we got there… the doctor made his appearance.”

“What is he up to this time?”

Jim sighed, setting the second boot aside and straightening. “He wants me to enter the ‘Portal to Eternity.’”

Artie’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Jim was equally surprised. “You’ve heard of it?”

“Yes. American Knife told me about the legend sometime back.”

“Does he believe in it?”

“Yes.”

Jim frowned, shrugged his bare shoulders. “I guess he would. It’s his tribe’s lore.”

“He told me when he was a boy, a woman entered their camp and was identified as the younger sister of his grandfather, a woman known for her medicinal knowledge and powers. The thing is, his grandfather was white-haired and wizened at the time. This woman was in her twenties. All the elder tribe members recognized her as White Deer, so named because her mother saw an albino deer the day before she was born.”

“They could have…”

Artie nodded. “Believed what they wanted to believe. But according to American Knife, the woman had items that White Deer took with her the day she disappeared, some thirty or forty years earlier. She told them that she had entered a portal and had been living there all this time, thus had never aged. Struck with a sudden longing to see her blood kin and tribe members again, she had temporarily left the… whatever it is. After a few weeks she departed again and has not been seen again.”

Jim was quiet for a long moment, staring at the floor. Then he lifted his gaze. “According to Loveless, only certain people, like shamans, can enter through this portal.”

That caused a frown to grow on Artie’s face. “Then why you?”

“He has it in his head that I have some kind of special… powers.”

“What?”

“Yeah. He specifically said he believes that my frequent close escapes from death have to be due to more than skill or luck. In his mind, I’m using magic or something. He also mentioned ghosts.”

Artemus could only shake his head. “Well, we know how he gets ideas in his head and can’t be shaken from them. I don’t understand how you—even if you can enter through the portal—how that is to help him.”

“I’m not clear on that either. We didn’t get that far when I saw my chance to escape and took it.”

“And strolled through the rain all night.”

“Ha! Artie, the moon was covered with clouds. I was unarmed in strange territory in the pitch dark, except for lightning flashes. I was also keeping out of the reach of four armed men. Even though I heard Loveless give them specific orders to not kill me, I really didn’t want to encounter them. So I had to do a lot of evasion, not to mention trying to figure out which way was town. I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally see some lights.”

“Yep, sounds like fun. When the rain stops—if it ever does—I guess we need to go looking for the good doctor.”

“I plan to,” Jim replied with a touch of sharpness in his tone. “I’d like to find the lovely Viola as well. Where does he find these women?”

“You keep asking unanswerable questions, James. Get some sleep. We’ll figure some things out in the morning.”

W*W*W*W*W


Artemus was more amused than surprised when his partner entered through the front door of the restaurant next to the hotel the following morning. “What did I tell you?” he murmured to Ben Archer as Jim made his way to their table.

“How do you feel, Jim?” Ben asked. “We thought you’d be sleeping ‘til noon.”

“I’m fine,” Jim replied, hanging his hat on a nearby hat tree.

The hat, and all of his attire, displayed the results of being soaked and left to dry without being pressed. Like Artie, Jim had packed only an extra shirt and underwear. Artie suspected that Jim felt worse about his disheveled appearance than his lack of sleep.

“Artemus told me what happened to you,” the sheriff went on after the restaurant’s owner had hurried over to serve Jim coffee and take his order. “I’m really surprised about Viola.”

“You’re not the only one,” Jim replied wryly, lowering his cup following a hot swallow. “She seemed rather flighty, certainly not the kind of woman Loveless utilizes. I’m guessing that was a total act.”

“Ben and I were discussing this business of the portal,” Artie put in. “Tell Jim what you told me, Ben.”

The sheriff lowered his own cup. “When I first came here a few years back, an old Arapaho man lived in the area. I got to know him pretty well and spent a lot of time talking to him. He had some great stories. One was about this ‘portal to eternity,’ and he claimed a gate was known to be in this area. He said that he wasn’t a shaman so he did not have access to it. Nonetheless, he knew it was here. I took it with a grain of salt, of course.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Artie inquired, not expecting a reply.

Now Jim’s plate was delivered, and all three coffee cups refilled. He waited until the waiter strolled away. “Loveless certainly seems to believe it. He said he had reason to, but did not explain further. As I told Artie last night, we didn’t get into the part about how I’m supposed to help him enter this portal.”

“What gets me,” Artie said, “is why he believes you have some kind of… supernatural power that will allow you to enter. I would assume an Indian legend means Indians can enter, not white men.”

“You got to admit,” Ben interjected with a smile, “Jim has had these skin of the teeth escapes for as long as I’ve known him, even during the war. I always figured he had a good guardian angel, however.”

Jim assumed a hurt expression. “Why won’t anyone credit my skill and daring?” The other two laughed and Jim smiled then. “Ben, we’ve known Loveless a long while. He does unexpected things, time and again. One day he is willing to murder thousands of people, men, women, and children. The next time, he’s talking about creating a paradise for children.”

“Everything he does is a contradiction,” Artie said. “Never has a man been more predictably unpredictable.”

“I’d like to meet him sometime,” Ben Archer stated.

“No you don’t!” both agents spoke at the same time.

The sheriff chuckled. He was a lean man with a ruddy complexion to go with his sandy hair. Close to Artemus's age, he had been in a regiment that bivouacked near to where Artie’s regiment had set up camp. They had encountered each other at some point, became friends, and the friendship continued over time, enclosing Jim West within it. A policeman in Detroit before and after the war, Ben emigrated westward after his marriage a couple of years ago.

“We’ll just have to see what happens,” Ben said then. “At least the rain has let up, but it’s going to be messy riding out to look for tracks.”

Finishing their meal, the three men went back to the sheriff’s office, where Archer’s two deputies were waiting. The five of them got their mounts and headed out toward the “scenic hill” that Jim had been lured to the day before. As expected, the muddy roads slowed the journey. None of the riders wanted to risk injury to their horses, so all were cautious.

When they did reach the hill, Ben confirmed Jim’s thoughts about the area being a courting spot. “Folks also come here for picnics,” he said.

The buggy he had rented from the livery stable was sitting where he had parked it. At least someone had unhitched the horse and tied it off to one side where it could reach some standing water and a bit of grass. Jim found his pistol half submerged in the mud, needing a thorough cleaning. He wrapped it in his handkerchief and stuffed it in the saddlebags on his saddle. All the tracks had been washed away, however, including those created last night along with all the courting couples and picnickers. The men rode or walked into the woods in different directions but located no signs of anyone having been there recently.

“Loveless could not have planned better weather,” Artie grumbled as they returned to the buggy to hitch the horse again.

“He probably caused the weather,” Jim smiled.

Artie had to laugh. “I would not be the least surprised.”

“Do you think he’s still around?” the sheriff asked.

“Oh, yes,” Artemus assured him. “Miguelito Loveless is not a man to quickly give up. He wants Jim for… whatever he expects Jim to do at this so-called portal. A miracle cure would be priceless to Loveless. He isn’t giving up this easily.”

Jim saw how his partner was gazing at him. “What? You want me to lock myself in jail so Loveless can’t get at me?”

“I expect you to be extra alert, James, and not do foolish things like wandering off alone. Loveless is here. He’s not going to go away, at least not until he’s convinced his plan is not going to work.”

Jim sighed. “Yes, mother. I’ll be careful.”

“Good. Let’s get on back to town and out of this mud!”

W*W*W*W*W


Returning to Wells River at midmorning, they cleaned their muddy horses and themselves, then went back to the sheriff’s office to discuss the situation. The two deputies, young blond Jake Stebbins and older, balding Phil Goddard, wanted to know more about this Dr. Loveless fellow. Artie gave them a quick summary and saw how astonishment registered on their countenances. Like their employer, they were more accustomed to handling drunks, petty thieves, and the occasional rustler.

“I heard tell of this portal thing from Ben,” Goddard said. “Figured it was just a crazy Indian story. They got lots of them. I grew up near some Sioux in Minnesota, and used to hear them all the time.”

“It may well be a legend,” Artie nodded. “But our friend Loveless doesn’t usually chase legends.”

Ben Archer looked at Jim. “And he thinks you can go through this gate because you’ve managed to get out of a few scrapes.”

“Seems so,” Jim nodded.

“He also mentioned ghosts,” Artie murmured thoughtfully then quickly looked around, hoping no one had heard him.

“Ghosts?” Jake Stebbins echoed. “What’s that got to do with it? You ever see a ghost, Mr. West? My Grandma swore she did. Said her uncle who hanged himself came to see her. Have you seen ghosts?”

Jim shot Artie an annoyed glance. “Not really. Had a few nightmares, I guess.” He did not want those stories getting around anymore than they already apparently had. (For my stories involving encounters with ghosts and things that go bump in the night, see The Night of the Little Girl Lost, The Night of the Dead Man’s Revenge, and The Night of the Demon Horseman.)

It worked to some extent. Phil chimed in with a story he heard from his hometown about ghosts, and Ben reckoned he had heard a few stories back home in Michigan. He also mentioned a friend who had visited the site of the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and swore he saw ghostly troops marching and fighting. “Homer isn’t a drinker or a storyteller, so I don't know what to make of that.”

Eventually the topic came back to the current problems. Artemus finally had the last word. “It seems to me that we are going to have to wait for Loveless to make the next move. We don't know where he is and no way to find out.”

Ben then suggested lunch. Artie concurred but Jim mentioned that he would like to clean up that muddy pistol before it rusted or corroded. He would do that, which he thought should not take more than a half hour, and join them at the café.

James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros

California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8378 Posts

Posted - 10/18/2015 :  15:27:29  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W

He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,
And he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.
Translations--From Omar Khayyam, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), America essayist and poet



Jim had left the saddlebags with the saddle at the livery stable when they returned from their trek to the hill where he had met Loveless. He now walked to the stable to retrieve the weapon, along with his gun cleaning equipment, returning to the hotel and his room. The barrel had some mud in it, so he spent the first few minutes cleaning that out. A good wiping and oiling of all surfaces followed. Jim had just reloaded the weapon when a knock sounded.

Holding the gun. he looked toward the door. “Yeah?”

“Jim, it’s me.”

Recognizing the voice of his partner, Jim put the pistol on the bed and went to unlock and open the room’s door. To his utter shock, instead of the smiling face of Artemus Gordon, he was staring at the broad chest of the giant Voltaire. Lower than Voltaire, another familiar voice spoke.

“You see, Mr. West, Mr. Gordon is not the only one who can mimic voices.”

Spinning, Jim took a step toward the bed and the weapon there, but a vise-like hand gripped his shoulder, jerking him back, while another massive paw closed over his mouth. Loveless entered the room, shutting the door while Jim remained helpless as a child in Voltaire’s grasp. The little doctor then produced a small brown bottle and a folded up cloth, onto which he poured odorous liquid from the bottle. He passed this to his massive minion, who opened up a couple of fingers to grab it and press against Jim’s face.

“Not too much, Voltaire,” Loveless purred. “We want him asleep, not dead…”

Abysmal blackness closed in.

W*W*W*W*W


Ben Archer put his empty glass on the table. “Sure is taking Jim a long while to clean that little gun.” When Jim had not appeared by the time they finished eating, they had retired to the saloon down the street, asking the waiter to tell Jim where they went when he showed up.

Artie smiled. “How much do you want to bet he fell asleep? He did not get much last night after a strenuous hike in the rain.”

“Want me to go check on him?” Jake inquired, his glass also empty.

The sheriff had informed Artemus when they entered the Two-Dollar Saloon that he had a rule for himself and his deputies: one beer a day while on duty. “Much too easy to just keep drinking, then something comes up that needs a clear head—and no one has one.” Artie knew that Ben had had first-hand experience with too much alcohol. His father.

“I’ll go,” Artie said, getting to his feet. “I want to be the one to torment him about taking a nap.”

With a grin and a wave, he departed from the saloon, crossed the street to the hotel, and made his way to the second floor. He knocked on Jim’s door then knocked again. Not like Jim to sleep that soundly… Artemus grasped the doorknob. It turned easily in his hand.

W*W*W*W*W

Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends.
—Euripides (485-406 BC), Greek tragic poet


“The desk clerk saw Jim come in, never saw him leave,” Artie spoke grimly to the three local lawmen in the sheriff’s office. “I’m guessing Loveless came in through the back way. For some reason, Jim opened the door to him. He must have been tricked somehow.”

“Takes some doing to trick Jim West,” Ben commented.

“Yeah.” The word came out as an exhaled breath from Artie’s chest. He ran his fingers through his dark hair. “I don't know where to start looking!”

“Pretty sure that this Loveless will take him to where he thinks a portal is,” Jake put in. “If we knew…”

“But we don’t,” his boss interjected. “If old Jack Two Rivers was still alive, we could go ask him. That’s the Arapaho I told you about, Artemus.”

“I don’t suppose anyone else in the area would know.”

Ben shook his head. “Not that I know of. Jack didn’t make many friends. I think I talked to him more than anyone else did. We…”

The sharp knock on the closed office door halted the sheriff’s words. Phil was nearest the door so he stood up and opened it. He then took a quick step back, staring at the tall Indian man standing there; Indian, with long black hair, but in white man’s clothing.

Artemus leapt to his feet. “American Knife!”

The deputy stepped back further as the Cheyenne shaman moved to take Artie’s extended hand. “Gordon. Where is James West?”

The somber expression on American Knife’s handsome face startled Artie. “We don't know. He has disappeared, and I’m afraid Loveless has him. What brings you here? Why are you asking about Jim?”

“I had a dream, Gordon. I was doing a vision quest. I went into a trance and this dream came to me, saying that Jim West was in desperate trouble and only I can save him.”

“That may well be true,” Artie experienced a sense of relief, although the tension and fear remained. “How the devil did you know we were here in Wells River?”

“Because in my dream I saw a river of red, and that is what the Cheyenne call this river. The River of Blood.”

Ben spoke up then. “During the spring melt, some red soil washes into the river, turns it red.”

“Where is West? He is in trouble?”

“I’m afraid so. I don't think he’s in real danger at the moment, but he might be once Loveless is finished with him. Loveless wants Jim to find the Portal to Eternity.” Artie spoke quickly and somberly.

“Ah.”

“You don’t seem surprised. I understand that only certain people can enter that portal.”

“Yes, that is true. Jim West may be one of them. I’ve suspected that from the first time I met him.”

“He’s no shaman!” Artie protested.

“No. But men may possess other qualities.”

Ben Archer spoke up. “Artemus, I don’t think we’d better waste too much time.”

Artie nodded. “You’re right. All this can be talked about later. American Knife, do you know where the portal is in this area?”

“I do.”

“Then let’s make some plans.”

W*W*W*W*W

So on he fares, and to the border comes,
Of Eden, where delicious Paradise,
Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure green,
As with a rural mound, the champain head
Of a steep wilderness.
Paradise Lost (bk. IV, l. 131), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer, and patriot


“Thank you, Antoinette.” Jim found that his throat was still somewhat raspy even after the cool drink the doctor’s lady offered him, holding the glass to his mouth for him.

She smiled that winsome and—he sometimes thought—subtly wistful smile. “You are welcome, Mr. West.” After one more glance at the bound man, she strolled back toward the tent that she was apparently sharing with the charming Viola, who was not nearly as talkative now as she perched on a stool outside the tent opening, staring at the ground.

Jim knew that the solution used to knock him out in the hotel room was not chloroform—at least not the chloroform with which he was familiar. The odor was different, as were the aftereffects. He had awakened here in this woodsy glen with a very sore throat and blurred vision. The vision had cleared after a few minutes, and while his throat was not as raw feeling now, it was not yet normal.

He had awakened on the ground, bound hand and foot, his jacket removed. Loveless no doubt suspected the garment of disguising secret weapons, and he was right. The buttons were both gas and explosives; a fuse was hidden in the collar. Jim was sure the heels of his boots had been removed, emptied, and reinstalled. He could sense a slight difference in their weight.

He had not, however, seen Miguelito Quixote Loveless since he had awakened. Only Antoinette, Viola, and Voltaire, who was seated on a stool near the larger of the two tents that were in the clearing, and the four gunmen, lolling about, playing cards or as one was doing, loading, emptying, and reloading his pistol.

Jim did not know how long he had been unconscious, although the sun was more than halfway from the horizon in the west. That could mean he had been out for well over an hour—perhaps two or three hours. Twenty-four hours could have elapsed, making it the next day. He rather doubted the latter scenario. He was not hungry, but the drug could be dulling that sense. Nonetheless, aware of Loveless’s predictable unpredictability, he knew that could well be the case.

Voltaire suddenly got to his feet, and almost at that same moment, Loveless emerged from the tent. He paused there, hands behind his back, rocking up on his toes and heels, gazing up at the sky, at the trees, at the ground—everywhere but toward his prisoner some twenty feet away. At last his blue eyes lit on West and opened wide. Quickly he walked toward Jim, Voltaire at his heels.

“Oh, Mr. West. I hope you had a good nap.”

“I prefer naps of my own choosing.”

“Yes. Well, you made this necessary when you foolishly escaped last night. I’m glad to note you did not catch a cold after being in that rainstorm.”

“I feel worse after the administration of your anesthetic. You need to do more work on it.”

“I know. But again, if you had not behaved so rashly last night, it would not have been necessary to use it.”

“What now?”

“What now?” Loveless beamed. “Now you are going to help me learn how I can enter the Portal to Eternity.”

“Where did you ever hear of this so-called ‘portal’?”

Loveless clasped his hands at his waist. “On one of my… sojourns to, er, contemplate the ills of humanity…”

“You mean an escape from the law.”

The doctor glared for a moment, then continued. “One evening an old Indian man came to my door seeking help. Being the humanitarian and physician that I am, I could not refuse. I soon realized he was not as old as I first thought, but very ill. A cancer of the stomach, for which I could do little. He started to beg me to take him to the ‘portal.’ When I queried that, he informed me of the legend of the ‘Portal to Eternity,’ where all illnesses and signs of aging would be erased.

“I was very intrigued, naturally. He was fading fast, however, and in no condition to be moved. Before he passed he told me the full legend, and that only certain chosen people could enter through the portal. He did say that in certain cases, ‘others’ could partake of the curative powers, but he passed away before I could find out how. So that is what you are going to do for me.”

Jim shook his head. “Why would I do that?”

“Oh, I don't know. Curiosity? Faithfulness to an old friend?”

“Which friend?”

“Me, of course. We have known each other a long while, Mr. West. We have been through many trials and tribulations. I should think you would want to help me find a cure.”

Jim cocked his head. “Suppose I do find this portal for you. Suppose I go through it and learn that you can indeed enter and be cured of all that ails you. What then?”

Loveless frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, will you then kill me? Will you continue your mad attempts to slaughter innocent people by the thousands? Will you give up your ideas of conquering the world?”

“Oh.” The doctor made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “I haven’t given that much thought.”

Jim saw the gleam in Loveless’s eyes. “I’m sure you haven’t. Suppose I refuse to do your bidding?”

“I’m sure you realize that I would not kill you, being as you are such a necessary factor in my plan. No. But I can kill Artemus Gordon.”

“And when he is dead, you lose any leverage over me.” Jim’s gaze was hard.

“Do I?” Loveless smirked. “I think I know you better than that, my old friend. You would not sit idly by and allow innocents to suffer on your behalf.”

Anger boiled within Jim West and he curbed the feeling. He knew that this was what he expected Loveless to say. Loveless knew that that was what he had been expected to say. “All right. I’ll give it a try. What if you are wrong? I think you are. I’m not a warlock, let alone a shaman. I don’t have magic powers of any kind.”

You are wrong, Mr. West. We will prove that when you walk through the portal.”

“When will that be?” Jim had no idea where he was exactly, but he knew that Artemus would be looking for him. Delay would be the best strategy. Loveless had other plans.

“Right away. I will admit I do not know exactly where the portal is, but I expect you will find it.”

“How?”

A flash of irritation crossed the doctor’s countenance. “How should I know?” He turned and waved to the four minions, who reluctantly climbed to their feet and came toward him. “Untie Mr. West and guard him closely. If he escapes again, the four of you will suffer for it.”

Jim was amused to see the apprehension on the faces of these four rough men. He did not know how long or how well they knew the doctor, but obviously, it had been long enough and well enough. He was quickly jerked to his feet and the bonds cut away. The four men surrounded him as Loveless led them away from the clearing and into the surrounding forest.

The little doctor strutted as he led them down an unmarked path, breaking his stride only when he had to step over or around a root or a rock. A couple of times he glanced back at the men following him, eyes gleaming with triumph and anticipation. Finally, about a hundred yards away from the camp, Loveless paused and waited until the five men reached him.

“Look there, Mr. West.” The doctor pointed into the surrounding woods. “What do you see? Tell me!”

Baffled, Jim turned his gaze in the indicated direction then spoke honestly. “Trees.”

“What? Is that all?”

“Some bushes. A few wildflowers. What am I supposed to be seeing?”

“A door! A gate! A portal! This is where it is supposed to be. Or close to it.”

Jim could only shake his head. “I believe I suggested that you might be wrong in your ideas about my abilities.”

Loveless glared, turned and walked another ten feet. “Look here.”

Jim did. “Same thing. Except here, I can see a rabbit on the other side of that root. See the ears?”

The little man was steaming. “You’re lying!”

“I’m not.”

Now Loveless stared at him a long moment, eyes narrowing. “All right. All right. Perhaps the gate or whatever it is, is not visible even to the… the chosen ones. Walk in there. Between those trees. Don’t try to run. I don’t want these men to kill you, but they can certain bring you down with shots to your legs.”

Jim sighed, glanced at his four guards. They would enjoy shooting a federal agent, if only to wound him. He stepped away toward the woods and walked inside the trees Loveless had indicated. After about a dozen feet, he paused and looked back.

“Far enough?”

The thwarted dwarf spoke sharply. “Yes. Come back. Let’s go back to the first place I indicated.”

They did so, and again Loveless instructed Jim to walk in among the trees. After about ten or twelve feet, he paused to look back. To his surprise, Loveless and his men were not visible. In fact, the trees seemed to have changed. The ones he had passed between were now much closer together, and of a different species. Jim was unsure if he recognized the species.

“Loveless! Dr. Loveless? Are you there?”

No response came to his shout. Jim went to the trees and explored around them. More trees and other growth were beyond. He could not see where he had come through. He was certain he retreated farther than he had traversed to enter. Again, he did not recognize the types of half the trees as ones that grew in this part of Wyoming. In fact, some of them looked almost tropical in origin. Frowning, Jim retraced his steps, passing through the trees in front of him, until abruptly he stepped out into a broad open meadow. So broad, in fact, he could not see the other side, which faded into the horizon.

“What the hell is going on here?” he murmured, walking out toward the meadow, very conscious that he was unarmed. A broad flat green meadow like this was not very usual in Wyoming at this time of year, nor actually in any time of year, unless it had an excellent water source, especially not one this large in the midst of the hills that bordered the area where Wells River was located.

He continued to walk, always gazing around him, and pausing now and again to look behind him. The trees were still there, but they were the only trees in view at the moment. The grass under his boots was lush; colorful flowers—again some unrecognizable—were interspersed in the grass. He did not hear any birds at this time, nor see any animals. Where was the water source?

The sky was a brilliant, crystal blue. Thus far he had not seen the sun, which seemed strange. It should be above the horizon at this time of day, as it had been back in Loveless’s camp. What is going on here?

Jim West refused to consider the “portal” that Loveless had insisted was present in this area, and especially not the fact that he, James West, possessed some means to be allowed to enter through that portal. That was all legend. Nonsense. It had to be.

As he walked, he became aware that the surface of the ground was ascending toward a low rise. He continued to move, experiencing some tension. What would be awaiting him over that summit? He and Artemus had had many strange experiences in their time as government agents, had viewed things that were thought impossible, or not even considered by humans, scientists or not. This quiet meadow had his nerves on edge.

What is this place? Where am I? His previous refusal to accept the fact that he had indeed passed through the “portal to eternity” wavered a bit. Suppose he really had. Could he find his way back to his real world? Am I the only one here? Those questions kept running through his mind along with the need for caution, well aware that this could be another trick perpetrated by Miguelito Loveless. Despite what Artie had said about American Knife’s ancestor, believing in such a world was challenging for a man like James West.

W*W*W*W*W


“How much farther?”

American Knife cast a patient glance toward the man riding beside him. “Another hour. Do not fear, we will be there long before nightfall.”

Artie sighed, looking back at the half dozen men following them, including Sheriff Ben Archer and his deputies. The other three men were ones who had served on posses for Ben Archer. They had not been told the full story of Jim West’s disappearance, nor of the man believed to have kidnapped him. Both Ben and Artemus had agreed to that. They simply did not have the time to convince those men of the truth. That could come later.

The Cheyenne shaman had admitted he had never seen the supposed gateway to eternity in this section of Wyoming, but he had seen the map drawn on buffalo hide that marked all of the portals in the general area. Artie had been startled to realize how many apparently existed. If they were real. That was what bothered him the most.

Loveless seemed to expect Jim to lead him to this particular portal. What would happen if Jim could not? Artemus knew that that would be the case. Jim had never heard of the portals until he encountered Loveless last night. Even now, he knew only the story Artemus repeated to him, told by their Cheyenne friend. The strange little doctor could be very volatile. How long would his patience endure?

Absently Artie patted his saddlebag. Its contents were extremely important. They could only hope that the plan they had discussed for well over an hour before leaving Wells River was the right one, and that circumstances would exist to allow them to initiate it. He looked at his companion again.

“Have you ever gone through the portal?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

American Knife was silent for a long moment, and Artemus, thinking he had committed a breach of propriety, was about to apologize, when the Cheyenne spoke. “I have no wish to never age, to remain the same forever. I want to experience the phenomenon of growing old. I am to marry next spring. I want to be beside my bride, aging together. I want to watch our children grow.”

Artemus nodded, realizing he had the same thoughts. “Good. I hope we are to be invited to the wedding.”

The chief smiled one of his rare smiles. “Gordon and West are always invited. Any time, anywhere.”

W*W*W*W*W

Too curious mans! why dost thou seek to know
Events, which, good or ill, foreknown, are woe!
Th' all-seeing power, that made thee mortal, gave
Thee every thing a mortal state should have.
—John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and dramatist


Jim slowed his pace as he approached the top of the rise. He felt particularly vulnerable, being without weapons of any kind. Although he understood this to be a peaceful place—if indeed it was the ‘Portal to Eternity’—he was a stranger, and worse, a white man on Indian sacred ground. If he was wise, he probably should turn and go back to find the portal and exit.

Nonetheless, he continued forward, curiosity getting the best of him. The view over the rise might be the same as that behind him—oceans of green grass and wildflowers. Nearing the summit, he warily bent down slightly, and peered over the top. Then he straightened, unsure if he was seeing what he thought he was seeing.

A lake. A very large lake. Or possibly an ocean. Pure white beaches rimmed the periphery of the water, as the liquid splashed lightly on the sand. The expanse of water continued out over the horizon, and stretched from left to right continuously; he could not see green on either side of it. Even more surprising, perhaps, was the fact that a woman was sitting on the beach right below him. Her black hair gleamed, and her garb appeared to be creamy-colored buckskin.

As he stared, her head turned and she peered up to him. After a moment, she lifted a hand and beckoned to him. Jim hesitated only a second or two then started down the slope. The woman got to her feet and walked to the edge of the grass to await him.

Jim spoke first. “Hello. I’m James West.” She was indeed attired in a soft buckskin dress that reached her knees. Jim recognized the design of the beads that decorated it as Cheyenne. Her dark face was smooth-planed and beautiful. “Are you White Deer?”

She smiled. “I am White Deer. How is it you know of me?”

“I am a friend of your great nephew, American Knife.”

“I see. Come, sit down. You have traveled far.”

Jim realized the truth of that. He had probably walked several miles, although he did not really feel tired. He followed her onto the sand, and sat down beside her. “You have been here a long time.”

“Yes, I suppose I have. Time means little in this place. Why have you come?”

He hesitated, realizing he had better be honest. “I was forced to enter the portal by a man who wants to know how he can enter himself.”

“Ah. He is not… like you?”

He knew what she meant, that the other man was not “chosen.” “I guess not. He is not a good man either. But he had physical problems that he hopes this place will cure.”

“No doubt they would be cured.” She nodded and seemed to be amused by something. “You wish to bring him here?”

“Not really. In a sense, I do have great sympathy for him. He lives with pain. I cannot imagine a life like that.”

“No. You are a strong man. I can see that.”

Jim gazed at her. “How is it you speak English so well? I know you have not spent much time in the outside world, especially since the white man came.”

White Deer laughed musically. “It is this place, James West. The people who come are from many different tribes. This place allows us to speak our own language and the person we speak to hears it in his own tongue. I hear you speaking Cheyenne.”

“Well, I do know a little Cheyenne—very little—thanks to American Knife. I could never carry on a conversation like this. How big is this place?” He waved an arm toward the body of water.

“It goes on forever,” she replied. “Would you like to see more? Perhaps meet other people?”

“Sure. Why not?”

White Deer produced a canoe from among some bushes that were further down the shore. The two of them climbed into it. He did not offer to take the paddle. She was, he was certain, very proficient with it. Dipping a hand into the water, Jim was not surprised to discover it was almost warm. Tepid would be the right word, he decided. Not cold, not warm.

“Where is the sun?” he asked.

“That I have never discovered. We do not need it. The temperature never changes.”

“Not even at night?”

“Night does not come. It is always like this. At first, I missed the darkness, but now I don’t even think about it.”

“Where does your food come from?”

White Deer’s smile widened. “We do not eat unless we want something… to do. When we meet other friends, they will probably bring out a feast. That is very special, and you should feel honored.”

Jim was more than a little baffled. “What do you do with your time? Do you weave or… or hunt… what?”

“As I said, time means nothing. I have no idea how long I was seated on the sand before you appeared. Hours, I suppose. It is peaceful.” She cocked her head. “Do you think you would like it here?”

“I’m not sure. Not at all. It’s so very different from the outside world, from the life I know.”

“I hope you decide to stay. You should not go back to that bad man. He might harm you.”

“He might try. He has tried before. You might say he makes my life interesting.”

A touch of sadness appeared in her eyes. “You should stay. I hope you stay.”

Jim nodded. “I might consider it.” He smiled, and the sadness vanished.

W*W*W*W*W


As American Knife entered the small clearing, Artie looked up from the items he was sorting on a blanket he had spread out on the ground. “Anything?”

“Yes. Your Doctor Loveless, along with two women and four men—one of them a giant—are in a camp a hundred yards or so from the portal. Another man is apparently watching the portal.”

“No sign of Jim?”

“No.”

Artie gritted his teeth for a moment. “Either he escaped, which is doubtful, or he entered the portal.”

Ben Archer came over from the log where he had been sitting with a couple of other men. “What do you think we should do, Artemus?”

The Cheyenne shaman spoke before Artie could. “I can go in through the portal and seek West.”

“No.” Artie shook his head quickly. “Thank you, American Knife, but that is not a good idea. We have no idea what is… there, through the portal. Jim might be in plain sight, or he might be miles away. I think we have to wait until Jim returns… whenever that is.”

American Knife dropped to his haunches. “I recall my father talking about what he was told concerning the portal. He said time slows down there. As far as White Deer was concerned, only a year or two had elapsed since she first left home and entered the portal, instead of the nearly forty years in our time. She was very surprised to see people she recognized had aged.”

Artie nodded thoughtfully. “So even if Jim feels he has remained inside the portal for a few days, it may be, oh, less than an hour in our time.”

“Exactly.”

“This is sure crazy,” the sheriff said, shaking his head. “When old Jack told me about this portal, I figured it was just a story.”

“Like stories told by the white man, some Indian stories are just stories, sheriff. This one is real. If Gordon and West told you about some of their experiences, you should know there is more than meets the eye in many stories, no matter what their source.” The Indian smiled slightly.

Archer chuckled. “So I’m finding out! So what do you want to do now, Artemus?”

“I still think we wait until Jim returns through the portal, no matter how long that is. We can’t charge Loveless with kidnapping if we don’t have a victim!”

W*W*W*W*W

One morn a Peri at the gate
Of Eden stood disconsolate.
Lalla Rookh--Paradise and the Peri, Thomas Moore (1779-1852), Irish poet


Jim smiled at the woman walking beside him. He could not remember when he had felt more content, or if he had ever felt more content. That is, until he thought about the people waiting for him in the outside world. Artie must be frantic, and Loveless is likely exploding with anger. With no demarcation of day and night in this strange world, he was unsure how long he had been here. He suspected at least two days had elapsed, possibly three. Or more.

White Deer had been his tour guide. They had visited the small group of people who resided across the lake—and it was a large lake and not an ocean—and from there, moved on to find other people, some of whom she had not even met before. Most were Indians from various tribes in the United States and Canada. Two were from as far away as southern Mexico; only one other person was white, a woman who was known as a healer in the other world. Jim was simply astounded by the vast size of this world, and even more astonished at how they could walk the long distances from place to place without becoming utterly exhausted.

The various residents welcomed them warmly. Even though food was not needed to survive, it was a social media, and everyone prepared a delicious meal for the visitors. Jim had to tell his story to each new person they met. Everyone was interested, sympathetic, and full of assurances that Jim could remain in the new realm for as long as he desired. He could even be directed to another exit so that he would emerge far away from his enemy.

Most important of all, any he asked told him the same thing that White Deer had informed him when he has inquired of her if and how it would be possible to bring a non-chosen one through the portal of eternity. The method was simple. He needed only dive into the bottom of the lake to find a snow-white pebble. Have the other person put that pebble in his or her mouth, and the person could walk freely through the gate. Very importantly, the person must not lose the pebble or the exit would be closed forever.

Jim considered that as they approached the lake again and the waiting canoe. Suppose I acquired the pebble, gave it to Loveless with the entry instructions—but told him to throw the pebble back into the lake. He would be imprisoned here forever. Unless, of course, Loveless figured out that he had been lied to, and retrieved the pebble, which Jim decided would be the case. Likely, he would go on a rampage in the outside world once returned.

“Do you wish to acquire a pebble?” the Cheyenne woman asked as the canoe launched and she started paddling.

“No.” He looked out over the water and abruptly changed his mind. “Wait, yes. Yes, I do. Where is the best place to dive for one?”

Naturally, the best spot was in the middle of the lake. White Deer pulled in her paddle and allowed the canoe to drift. Jim pulled off his boots and shirt, diving into the tepid, clear water. Three dives into the deepest depths were required before he spotted the white pebble gleaming on the lake floor. Grabbing it, he surfaced and with White Deer’s assistance, climbed into the canoe.

“Is this it?” He held the pebble out in the palm of his hand.

She nodded. “Are you going to give it to this bad man?” She picked up the paddle and started toward shore.

“No. I have a friend who might be interested in seeing this place.”

“Does that mean you are not going to leave forever?” Her dark eyes sought his.

Jim sighed. “I have to leave, White Deer. This is not my life. If I return, it will be a short visit with my friend.”

Her smile was sad. “I understand. Others have felt that way over time. They enjoy the peacefulness, but care more about the people they left behind.”

“You could come with me.”

She stopped paddling again, allowing the canoe to drift over the gentle waves. “I went to the outside world once, to visit my family, as you know. At the time, I thought I would probably not want to leave them again, that I would return to a normal life. I could not. I had spent so much time here that the outside world was pure chaos to me. I could not sleep when everyone said it was time to sleep. Killing animals for food was abhorrent. One morning I slipped away and returned to what had become my home.”

“That might happen to me if I remained here long enough,” Jim considered. “I have friends—as well as enemies—who are waiting for me, people who depend on me to help them with their troubles. I can’t abandon them.”

“I know. I have known that from the moment you arrived. I am afraid I am going to be lonely for a while after you are gone. I will recover. But I will never forget you, Jim West.” She started paddling again for the opposite shore.

“Nor I you, White Deer. I might return someday. I can’t promise that, however. You will always be in my thoughts.”

James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8378 Posts

Posted - 10/18/2015 :  15:28:40  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W

It is not every question that deserves an answer.
Maxims, Syrus (Publilius Syrus; c. 1st Century BC), Roman (Syrian-born) mimographer



“He’s back, Doctor. I got him!”

Jim entered the clearing, the man with the gun behind him. That man had been perceptive enough to stay back sufficient distance to make it more unlikely that his prisoner would be able to turn and jump him before he could get a shot off. Even knowing that it was unlikely that his guard would shoot to kill, accidents could happen, especially in the heat of a moment of attack, thus Jim had decided to bide his time.

Loveless rose from his stool, something akin to astonishment on his face. “You’re back!”

“Looks like it,” Jim replied calmly. He had rather thought that the doctor would be anxious and perhaps even angry over the length of time he had been gone. “Did you miss me?” He paused about six feet away from Loveless, who crossed his arms over his small chest and peered at the agent.

“What did you find out in such a short time?”

Now Jim was surprised. “How long was I gone?”

Loveless produced a large gold watch and opened it. “Two hours and thirteen minutes.”

“Two hours?” Jim could not hide his amazement.

“Why does that appear to surprise you, Mr. West?”

Jim recovered quickly. “You took my watch, remember.” Loveless had been unsure but what it might be another weapon. “I kind of lost track of time.” So… what appeared to be several days beyond the portal was only a couple of hours out here!

“All right. What was it like? What did you learn?”

Jim shrugged. “Beautiful place. Lots of green grass, blue sky, shining clear water.”

“Paradise?”

“I suppose it could be termed that.”

“Did you meet anyone?”

“A few people.”

“What did they tell you?”

“Not much.”

Loveless’s patience died. “Mr. West! I want to know what you learned about the possibility that I could enter through the portal!”

“No one had any information about that.” Jim noticed that the man who had accosted him the moment he had stepped out through the portal, after a warm farewell with White Deer, as well as the other three guards, were standing around them now, listening intently. None were holding their weapons.

The doctor’s small body stiffened. “You are lying, Mr. West!”

Jim retained his composure. He did not want to say or do anything that would cause the guards to become more alert. “Lying? Why should I lie? About what?”

“You did ask about my entry through the portals. You surely inquired about the healing properties. You must have! That was the whole point of you going in there.”

Jim shook his head, smiling slightly. “I guess I was so impressed and astonished by what I encountered, I forgot.” In no way did he want Loveless to suspect he had carried a white pebble in his hand when exiting the portal, dropping it the instant he knew he was completely back in the real world.

“You are lying!” The words were spoken more firmly, the blue eyes blazing. “Tell me!”

Jim sighed now. “Doctor, I am telling you the truth. Besides forgetting, I doubt whether the few people I met would have known about such a thing. They were quite ordinary. A couple of shamans, a white woman who was a healer in her former life. I did not encounter, nor did I hear mentioned, any sort of leader who would possessed such information.” He certainly did not want to inform Loveless about Bright Owl; that would have excited the little man beyond control.

Loveless was quiet a long moment, one toe tapping, arms folded, deep fury mirrored on his face as he stared at his prisoner. “Open your shirt,” he said suddenly.

“What?”

“I… said… open your shirt! Unbutton it nicely or I’ll have these men rip it off.”

Nonplussed, Jim slowly unfastened the buttons of his shirt, and when Loveless gave a further command, pulled it aside to reveal his tanned chest. The doctor took a few steps close. “Aha! There are curative powers. The scar under your lip has vanished, Mr. West, as well as the various battle scars on your body. Look!”

Jim lowered his gaze to his own body. Loveless was correct. The scars, some that had been deep and larger, others barely visible, had all disappeared. His skin was completely smooth. “That’s interesting,” he murmured.

“Are you continuing to insist that you have no information for me? Nothing about the healing properties or the method by which I could enter through the portal?”

“Sorry. Want me to go back in?” This time I may take advantage of White Deer’s offer to show me another exit!

Loveless continued to gaze hard at him. “No. I cannot trust you, sad to say, Mr. West. I have another idea. You think you are clever. Let me tell you how clever you are. Remember sometime back when I planned to use a drug on you that would compel you to tell the truth? Ah, I see by your expression you do. I have perfected that drug. I do not have it with me here. I can take you to where it is, however, and that is what I will do. You will tell me the truth! I will have the truth.” [See The Night of the Familiar Stranger for the reference to the truth drug.]

As Loveless started barking orders to break up the camp, Jim knew he did not have much time. He would no doubt be bound for the trip to wherever this drug was located. While ropes did not always mean a permanent barrier, he also did not have his usual tools. It was now or never. All attention was on Loveless for the moment. The guard closest to Jim, to his left, had turned slightly away. Voltaire was a good dozen feet away, near where Antoinette and Viola were seated.

Jim moved then, hurling his body toward the man who had turned away, striking him with his shoulder. The man yelled in anger and protest as Jim quickly regained his feet and started in a run toward the tree line. If he could get inside the forest, he had a good chance of eluding them again. However, he did not count on the other man’s proficiency with the bullwhip he carried until the end of that weapon curled tightly around his ankle, throwing him to the ground.

He rolled over just in time to see that man toss the whip aside. All four men came at him before he could get up this time, grabbing his arms and legs and binding him with ropes that Loveless eagerly supplied. They dragged him to a nearby ponderosa pine and secured him to the trunk with ropes.

“When are you going to learn, Mr. West?” Loveless asked, standing in front of him with arms folded, shaking his head. “You are not always the only one with the ideas. After what happened last night, these men were on the alert and ready for you. All right, gentlemen. Let us get everything packed up. Wiley, go get the…”

His words stopped when Antoinette, seated on the chair by her tent again, suddenly cried out. “Miguelito!”

All looked at Antoinette, and then turned their gazes in the same direction as hers. An old man had just entered the clearing. He had a long stick that he was leaning on as he paused to gape at the residents of the glen. That he was Indian was obvious by his darkened skin and sharp facial features, despite they were much distorted by deep wrinkles and sagging skin. He wore a cotton shirt, very faded and much too big denim trousers, along with worn moccasins. His hair was long and shaggy, mostly gray with only a touch of black here and there. A beaded leather band was around his head at the forehead.

“Who you people?” he called. “Why you here?”

Loveless moved closer to him, smiling benignly. “We are visitors, old man. Just passing through. What brings you to this part of Wyoming?”

“Me Red Crow. Me find door. Live forever.”

Jim thought that if it was possible for a human’s ears to actually grow taller and extend above the head, Loveless’s would at this moment. He leaned forward. “Do you know where the door is, Red Crow?” he asked sweetly.

“Me find,” the old man replied.

“Are you a shaman?”

“No, he not shaman,” a new voice replied, as a tall, much younger Indian entered the clearing at much the same spot that the old man had. “He crazy. Grandfather, you come home now.”

“Me no crazy!” Red Crow protested. “Me find door and go in. I know how!”

The newcomer shot a wary glance at the others in the cleared area. “Who that man?” He pointed to Jim.

“Oh,” Loveless waved a dismissive hand. “He is a bad man. He tried to steal from us. We will take them to sheriff-man. Now tell me, Red Crow, if you are not a shaman, how do you plan to enter through the portal?”

“I know!” Red Crow insisted.

“Grandfather crazy,” the younger man said, putting a hand on the old man’s shoulder. “Old age, it make his brain crazy. We go home.”

“And who are you?” Loveless asked. “Are you really his grandson?”

“I Sharp Knife. Friend. Old man crazy.”

Loveless cleared his throat. “It seems to me that you have no dominion over Red Crow if you are not kin. Red Crow, do you know where the portal is?”

The old man waved an arm. “Here. I know here. My grandmother, she tell me. She go to portal, not see again. She lives forever. I wish to join her.”

“But how? Do you know how?”

“Secret.”

“Grandfather,” Sharp Knife persisted, “we go home. Come now.”

All attention, including Jim’s, was on the tableau playing out. He recognized the pair, of course, and could only wonder what their plan was. Neither appeared to be armed. Jim then stiffened as he heard a slight sound behind him. He did not move, however. Moments later he felt a tug on the rope that held him to the tree trunk.

“Old man,” Loveless began, and catching a glance from the younger man, amended his greeting. “Red Crow, I will give you much money for the secret to admittance through the portal. We can enter together!”

“Ah! Why you want to go there? I don’t need money in there. It is paradise. All is free!”

“I want to go there for the same reason you do. I want to be cured of my ailments and live forever. What can I give you in exchange for the secret?” Some desperation crept into the doctor’s voice.

Jim sat very still as he felt the knife work at the ropes on his wrists. He kept his eyes on the men gathered around the two Indians. All were attentive on the drama playing out there. Must be Ben, he mused as he felt the ropes fall away. He kept his hands behind his back, and a moment later, the hard cold handle of a pistol was pressed into his hand.

“Be ready!” a voice whispered behind him. He heard the movement going away from him.

Loveless was still trying to convince the two Indian men to sell him the secret of entering through the portal. Old Red Crow seemed to be willing, but the younger Sharp Knife was adamant, saying it must not be done. The two women at the tent and the four minions listened and watched intently, perhaps with their own thoughts of what they would do with the power to enter through to the land of eternity.

Jim remained unmoving, as if interested in the tableau himself, waiting for the signal and wondering what it would be. Then it came. Old Red Crow looked toward him and winked. Jim leapt to his feet, the ropes falling away.

“Loveless! Don’t move! All of you raise your hands!”

Complete shock washed over the faces of Loveless and his men when they all spun around, as they saw their prisoner free and holding a gun. Loveless opened his mouth, probably to say something about him being only one man and he could be shot down, when Ben Archer and his two deputies plus two men Jim had not seen before stepped out of the surrounding trees, positioned so they would encircle the camp.

“You can’t do this!” the doctor screamed then. “You mustn’t interfere. These fine red men…” He waved a hand toward Red Crow and Sharp Knife, glancing their way. Abruptly his diatribe halted as he saw guns in their hands. “What is this?”

Artie lifted the wig off his head, and disposed of the crooked nose. “This was a set-up, doctor. And you fell into it, hook, line, and sinker. Are you all right, James?”

Jim strolled over. “I am fine. Better by the moment. Ben, I hope you have arranged some transportation for our guests.”

“Sure have. Phil, go get that wagon.”

“American Knife! How did you get here?”

“It’s a long story, West, better saved for a more relaxing time.”

“I agree,” Artie smiled. “Let’s get Dr. Loveless and his friends behind bars. How does that sound, Jim?”

“Music to my ears, Artemus.”

W*W*W*W*W

In durance vile here must I wake and weep,
And all my frowsy couch in sorrow steep.
Epistle from Esopus to Maria, in Chambers' "Burns' Life and Work," vol. IV, p. 54, Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scottish poet


“We’ve got him.”

Artie’s voice was soft, almost disbelieving, as he gazed at the closed heavy wooden door that separated the three cells from the main office. They had just locked the cell doors on Loveless, Voltaire, and Antoinette, as well as the four thugs Loveless had hired for this misadventure and Viola. The two women were in an end cell, with blankets hung to give them privacy. Loveless and Voltaire occupied the one at the other side of the block, while the four gunmen were in the middle.

They had searched the indignant Loveless and somewhat perplexed Voltaire thoroughly, finding any weapons or gadgets that might be used in an escape attempt. Voltaire was free of any weapons; his strength was his weapon. Loveless had possessed a small pistol and some pellets that Artemus guessed were probably drugs of some sort. Of course, the four men were disarmed.

“But for how long?” Jim replied to his partner’s comment.

Artemus displayed some surprise. He clapped his hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Don’t be so pessimistic, James, my boy. We have Loveless behind bars. How long has it been since we could say that?”

“Don’t forget what happened those other times.”

“We’re going to have a twenty-four-hour guard,” Ben Archer put in. He had sent his two deputies home to get some rest. They were to return at midnight to assume guard duties that the two agents and the sheriff would hold until then.

The sky had been darkening when the two vehicles bearing the prisoners and all the paraphernalia Loveless had in his tents were brought into town. The doctor had worried about leaving them behind, even when assured by Artemus that everything would be collected and brought along. “We might need some of it as evidence.” Loveless had scowled darkly.

American Knife stood near the door. “James West, what did you see?”

Time and the business of gathering up the prisoners and loading the wagons, then escorting them to town and being fully on guard had precluded any conversation earlier. Artemus had been dying with curiosity, and he was very glad to hear their friend ask that question.

“Have you never been there?” Jim asked.

“No. Never. I remember my great aunt saying it was total peace.”

“That’s about it. The sky is clear. No clouds—and no sun.”

“No sun?” Artie echoed. “But it’s not dark?”

“Bright as day, all the time. Takes some getting accustomed to. There is no sense of time. No morning, no noon, no night. Honestly, I thought I must have been there for several days, perhaps as many as four, but Loveless said I was gone a little over two hours. That must have something to do with the perpetual life.”

“That’s what we figured,” Artie nodded.

“Who did you see?” the shaman asked.

“I met your aunt, White Deer. A lovely woman. Very charming.”

Artie bit back a smile. She probably had similar thoughts about you, James. “Anyone else?”

“Maybe a dozen more, of various ages. Most were men, but a few were women, including a white woman who was a healer in her previous life. Almost all were somewhat older, from various tribes around the nation. I was told that the land extends ‘forever,’ but no one had ever approached the end of it. They also did not know how many resided there. Most had come through the portal and never left, and those who had left—like White Deer—soon returned.”

“But you left,” Ben commented.

Jim shook his head. “Not my kind of life. I have no desire to live forever. What I can’t figure out is why I was able to enter in the first place.”

“You were ‘chosen,’ West,” American Knife replied.

“By whom?”

The Cheyenne shrugged. “The great mystery.”

“Hey, why not me?” Artie demanded.

“How do you know you’re not?” Jim grinned. “We can go by the portal and see what happens.”

“Maybe. Jim, I just noticed—that scar under your lip is gone.”

“Yeah. Loveless noticed too. All the injury scars on my torso appear to have been taken away. Part of the ‘healing,’ I guess.”

That is interesting. I imagine it excited the doctor.”

“Very.”

Artie smiled with the thought. “I think right now I’m going to my room and clean up. Plus I’m hungry.”

“I was served food by the residents beyond the portal,” Jim mentioned. “But it was not very substantial. They don’t have meat there. No animals. So I’m hungry as well.”

Ben was laughing. “If Jim and American Knife stay here, I’ll go to Pop’s and ask them to send some food for us and the prisoners.”

“We will stay,” Knife replied. He waited until the two departed, then turned to Jim. “Tell me more about White Deer.”

“Not a lot to tell, actually. She is very happy there. She enjoys the serenity and that she doesn’t have to worry about her next meal or anything else. They don’t need to eat or sleep unless they want to.”

The shaman shook his head. “That is not a life.”

“I felt that way too. I don't know, possibly if a person stayed there long enough you become… inured to it. White Deer said that while she enjoyed seeing her family during her one trip out through the portal, she was very unhappy with the style of life. The confusion and the need to ‘work’ to eat and live.”

“I imagine it would be strange. My father said that White Deer was always different. He noticed that even as a boy. Not just because she was a talented shaman. She was simply… different.”

Jim cocked his head. “So you have no desire to even see what it’s like?”

“None.” American Knife was silent a moment. “Perhaps I am a coward. Perhaps I wonder if I might like it too well. I want to live my life with Silver Bird, to raise the children she bears for me. I want to see my own grandchildren.”

“I understand completely. Wait a minute.” Jim turned toward the door to the cellblock, having heard a shout. Cautiously he opened the door, and seeing nothing amiss, stepped inside. “What can we do for you, doctor?”

Loveless was grasping the bars. “Are you going to leave us to starve?”

“Oh, are you hungry?”

“I am.” The little man was almost trembling with rage.

“Don’t worry, food is coming. Behave yourself now.”

“This is not over, Mr. West. You know no jail can hold me.” Loveless spat the words out.

“We’re going to try, Doctor. We’re going to try very hard.” Jim closed the door and turned back to American Knife. “I don't know…”

“You have doubts, West? You don't think the sheriff can keep the small man in jail?”

“You know some of his history, Knife. We’ve told it to you. Loveless has a knack of disappearing. He always seems to be prepared to do so. It feels… not right to see him behind bars. Why wasn’t he ready to escape from the camp? He always has an escape route.”

“Perhaps because the sheriff and Gordon’s plan foiled any arrangements the doctor made.”

“Perhaps.” Jim shrugged then. “I don't know why I’m worrying so much about it. I guess it’s ingrained in me now, where Loveless is concerned.”

The door opened and Ben Archer entered. “Food will be here in about a half hour. I sent word to my wife that I’ll be here until midnight. Either of you want to go do anything?”

“I will get a hotel room,” the Cheyenne said. “I must leave first thing in the morning, but I want to sleep well tonight.”

“You could come with us to Denver to get the train,” Jim suggested. “We can take you back to your tribe and save you the long ride.”

“I thank you, West, but I prefer to go back the way I came, on horseback. It’s a long ride but it is time to think.”

American Knife went to the hotel then to book a room, and returned in the company of Artemus, who had changed back from his Indian garb to his usual trail attire. He was glad to hear about the food, which actually appeared soon after his return to the sheriff’s office. They spent time dispensing vittles to the prisoners, doing so carefully and watchfully. They then were able to settle down and enjoy their own supper.

To pass time the four men played low stakes poker. American Knife was a very good player, having learned from his classmates at Dartmouth. Periodically one rose to go check on their prisoners. The only report was that everything was quiet, although Loveless naturally had comments for his tormenters, West and Gordon. The eating utensils were collected and counted; one of the four gunmen tried to keep a fork but it was taken from him.

Shortly after midnight, the two deputies returned, freeing the four to head for their beds. Goddard and Stebbins were warned to not listen to any entreaties for help or anything else. “Come to the hotel and get one of us,” Artie instructed. “Loveless will do anything to get out of that cell.”

W*W*W*W*W

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage,….
To Althea, from Prison (IV), Richard Lovelace (1618-1658), English cavalier and poet


This time Artemus knew exactly what awakened him. Sitting up he threw the blanket back and grabbed the trousers he had left on the end of the bed. Fastening them he padded in his bare feet to the door that connected the two rooms. Jim was sitting on the bed pulling on his boots. “Sorry I woke you, Artie.”

“What’s going on?”

Jim got to his feet, reaching for the gun belt hanging on the headboard post. “I just have a feeling. A bad feeling.”

“What time is it?”

“I don't know. Around three, I think. I’m going to go check the jail.”

“Wait, I’ll come with you.”

“No time. Follow me.” Jim headed for the door, opened it, and closed it behind him.

Artie sighed. This was not the first time his partner had behaved this way, following an innate sense of trouble. He returned to his room to finish dressing then went down the stairs and out the lobby door into the coolness of the early morning. When he reached the sheriff’s office, he found Jim kneeling on the floor alongside the body of deputy Phil Goddard. Jake Stebbins was at the desk, his head on his arm. The door to the cell area was standing open.

“Is he dead?”

Jim glanced up. “No. Deeply unconscious. Same with Jake. They were drugged or gassed.”

Artie looked toward the open door. “Loveless…?”

“Gone, of course. All of them. We made a bad mistake, partner.” Jim got to his feet.

“By…?”

“By not searching the women. One of them, Antoinette probably, must have had the gas pellet, perhaps disguised as her earring or a necklace bead. Who knows? Take a look in there.”

Artie went to the door and peered around. The blankets were still protecting the women’s cell, but at the other end, where the little doctor and his giant companion had been held, two of the bars had been bent, easily creating space for a small person to slip through. Artie sighed.

“We also neglected to take Voltaire’s strength into account,” he said, reentering the office area.

Jim stood with his arms akimbo, glancing around. “I think Jake and Phil were playing cards—gin rummy it looks like—and didn’t hear the slight noise the bars would make. Loveless got out, obtained the gas in whatever form it was in from Antoinette, and likely poked it under the door. Not much would have returned back into the cell block, and the deputies would have just passed out.”

“Phil may have noticed,” Artie speculated, “got up from his chair, but didn’t make it far. Should we get a doctor?”

“I think they’ll be fine once they wake up. But we might get them to beds, maybe at the hotel.”

Artemus gazed at his partner. “You don’t seem overly upset about this.”

Jim’s expression was wry. “I guess I’m accustomed to it. Loveless is… Loveless.”

“I’ll go down to the livery stable and see if what I expect to see happened.”

“You mean that they recovered their buggy and the wagon with all the gear. Go ahead. I’ll head out and notify Ben, get these guys taken care of.”

“Better wake Knife when you get to the hotel. He won’t like being left out.”

Nature was not kind to the lawman. Artie was waiting in the office to inform Jim and the sheriff that the doctor’s paraphernalia, plus the four thugs’ horses, were all gone, and shortly after that, rain began to fall. The precipitation started lightly at first but was soon coming down as hard as the night Jim had escaped from Loveless on the hill. Tracking the wagon and horsemen was going to be difficult anyway; the rain made it impossible.

Artemus realized he was not particularly surprised at his partner’s indifference to the escape. They had not been able to hold Loveless in any jail previously, and in fact had rarely had the opportunity to lock him up. The only certain thing was that they would encounter him again, somewhere, sometime.

They departed from Wells River the following morning, making a detour before heading south. Jim led the way first to the site of Loveless’s camp, completely bare now, and then to the spot where he had passed through the portal. There he found and picked up the smooth white stone he had dropped, about the size of a silver dollar, although slightly thicker. He held it out to his partner.

“Here’s your ticket.”

Artemus took the stone, held it in his upward turned palm. “This is what would allow a… an ordinary person to enter through the portal?”

“Yep. Want to visit?”

Artie gazed at the stone then glanced over the trees that surrounded them. “Where? Can you see a gate or something?”

Jim shook his head. “I was as surprised as anyone. I walked through there and suddenly found myself in another world.” He pointed in the direction he had taken a couple of days ago. “What do you think?”

Artie’s curiosity was strong. Nonetheless, after a few seconds of consideration, he handed the stone back to Jim. “No. Not now. Hang onto it. Maybe some day we can both go in again. We might need to.”

Jim smiled, understanding Artie’s reference. If one of them was seriously injured or ill, the portal to eternity might be required. He took the stone back and jammed it into an inside jacket pocket. “Let’s get to Denver, then.”

Epilog


“Good morning, James.” Artie glanced around from the eggs he was beating with a whisk as the door opened from the section of the car where the staterooms were located.

“Morning, Artemus. Coffee made?”

“Suppose I said no?”

“I might have to kill you.”

Artie laughed. “It’s made. Nice and fresh.” He turned, carrying the bowl toward the pan heating on the stove. He looked at his partner again, turned away, and then turned back, halting his steps, still holding the bowl. “Jim! Your scar…!”

Jim lifted his coffee cup and took a swallow. “Yeah. It’s back. All of them are.”

Artie was silent a moment. “It’s been two weeks… do you suppose that the ‘cure’ endures only as long as you stay within the portal?”

“Seems so. White Deer told me she started feeling uncomfortable when she visited her tribe. I rather thought it was due to the different life, the fact that they had a day and night, times to eat—rituals. She wasn’t accustomed to it. Now I’m wondering if it was because she started to age. Her body felt different. She did not realize that is what it was.”

“It probably wasn’t really noticeable,” Artie nodded. He completed pouring the eggs into the pan, picked up a spatula to stir them. He put the spatula down. “Jim, what are we going to tell Loveless?” His lips twitched.

Jim just grinned openly. “That will be a singular moment, won’t it?”

“But better he knows beforehand. The disappointment will be less.” Artie picked up his own coffee cup, lifted it high. “‘All’s well that ends well,’ James.”

Jim touched his cup against Artie’s. “‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’”

Artie’s mouth dropped open. “As long as I’ve known you, partner, you still can surprise me.”

“Because I can quote Shakespeare?”

“A little. But… rather obscure Shakespeare. When did you read A Winter’s Tale?

“I don't know. In college, I suppose.”

Artie turned to tend to his eggs and Jim moved by him toward the door to the varnish car. He paused and looked back. “Good coffee, partner.” He pushed on through the door.

“Exit,” Artie murmured, dumping the eggs onto a serving plate and adding sausage from another pan, “pursued by breakfast.”

The End


I never heard of a “portal to eternity” in Native American lore and legends. I simply thought that the idea would make an interesting story. I hope you agree.

The vaulted void of purple sky
That everywhere extends,
That stretches from the dazzled eye,
In space that never ends;
A morning whose uprisen sun
No setting e'er shall see;
A day that comes without a noon
Such is eternity.
Life, Death, and Eternity, John Clare (1793-1864), English poet


James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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