The Potter's Field by The Desperado's Daughter

For once, Chris Larabee had no idea what to do. Not one of his men had been able to avoid capture. He couldn’t come up with a plan because he didn’t know where the hell they were.

Chris strained against the shackles which bound his hands to the wall overhead and looked around at the underground prison. It had hard-packed dirt walls and high gopher-sized windows with short little bars over the front, clearly preventing any gophers from escape. It smelled musty and dank.

And it smelled like death.

There were bones and what appeared to be shallow graves, if they could be called graves at all. This seemed to have been a prison or dungeon that doubled as a potter’s field for those who had died there. Some bodies had been covered with just enough dirt to hide them. Some poor skeletons just lay where the bodies had finally died.

Chris had had to fight a rush of nausea when they were first brought to this hellhole. The men he rode with, some of the toughest men he’d ever known, were clearly overwhelmed as well. They’d never seen a place like this. Chris certainly hadn’t.

What the hell was it? The more he studied his surroundings, the more confounded he was. Tired of trying to figure this out, Chris let his eyes settle on the man sitting closest to him. Vin Tanner was asleep—and that worried Chris.

His friend had fought so hard—first through the g**d**n desert, where they’d nearly lost Ezra. Second when they’d been shackled then blindfolded. At least Vin had had the good sense to quit fighting before he got his fool head beat in. Lastly, Vin had fought like hell—well, they all had—-when, after being thrown into this underground cell and after being relieved of their blindfolds, one of their captors decided it would be funny to drag JD into a corner and shackle him to one of the corpses. Vin Tanner was madder than Chris had ever seen him—-damn near making one of their captors a soprano by driving his knee into the man’s groin. Vin had taken a shot in the shoulder for that.

Whatever these men wanted with them, whatever grudge they held against Chris Larabee and his men, they didn’t have to do that to JD. This situation was almost unbearable for the seasoned gunfighters. Until they’d reached this place, JD had been every bit as stoic as his friends. He had shone no fear when they’d been captured. He’d made it through the desert without complaint. He’d even stayed quiet when their captors had hurt his ankle throwing him to the ground here.

But when the blindfolds came off, and Chris and his men found themselves in that horrible place surrounded by nothing but death, the young man’s stoic presence began to crumble. And yet, JD still said nothing. Chris could see the beginnings of terror in his young friend’s eyes. Unfortunately, so could one of the captors—the one called Shad.

Wordlessly, Shad had jerked JD away from the others. Amid the protests of Chris’ men, the tall, muscular man dragged the boy to the corner in which a couple of men who had died recently were evidently awaiting burial.

"No, please,” Chris heard JD say. "Please don’t do this.”

Shad had laughed, and at that moment, Chris knew he would kill that man.

"Please . . .” JD had said more urgently as he landed heavily atop a corpse.

And when Shad had bound the boy’s ankle to the ankle of the dead man, Chris heard JD call for him. Yet there was nothing Chris could do. The mighty Chris Larabee could only listen to the pitiful cries of a boy whose only dream was to grow up to be like him.

Chris’ jaw tightened as he watched Shad shackle JD’s wrists to the dead man’s. Nathan and Josiah were yelling protests. Buck was talking to the boy, telling him to breathe deeply and stay calm, promising JD that he would get him out. Ezra . . . poor Ezra just reached a hand toward his friend as though he could help, but he passed out with the slight effort.

Vin had watched in silence. Chris had seen the look on Vin’s face change to something hard and deadly, and he wondered what Vin was planning. He hadn’t expected the tracker to bolt straight to his feet when Shad got closer. He certainly hadn’t expected Vin to attack Shad like he had.

Chris wasn’t surprised that one of the other captors had shot Vin.

Damn . . .

Nobody could get close enough to Vin to help him. Chris had talked to him softly. He couldn’t tell how badly his friend was hurt. Vin was as likely to lie as tell the truth when it came to being wounded. Chris figured if he talked to him, maybe he could keep him from slipping away.

But now Vin was asleep, the slight rise and fall of his chest the only clue that he was alive.

Chris sighed. He didn’t feel very “magnificent” just then.


In some sick, sad way, Josiah Sanchez knew he was exactly where he belonged. Granted, he’d always thought hell would be a lot bigger. But when he’d pictured it before, it looked like this—-dark, eerie, just enough light to illuminate the horrors that were in the room—-just enough light to imply a world outside that the damned could no longer ever be a part of.

He figured there’d be death surrounding him, with its distinctive smell of decay. He even figured there might be folks there that he knew . . .

Most of his friends had demons chasing them—-certainly Chris Larabee did and Josiah felt sure that Ezra Standish had ghosts in his past. Buck Wilmington would no doubt be dogged by some angry husband.

The “fallen” preacher, as Josiah saw himself, didn’t know what, if any, skeletons might be lurking in the closets of Vin Tanner or Nathan Jackson.

But JD-- he didn’t deserve to be here. He was a kid—-a greenhorn. It was that one observation that assured Josiah Sanchez that he was not in Hell.

But he was pretty damn close.


Shackles. Nathan Jackson was, in general, a man who remained on an even keel. But shackles . . . In the face of shackles, Nathan had to fight to remain the man he’d worked so hard to become. Anger would paralyze him. He knew that; he’d experienced that. And right now, that wouldn’t help anyone.

He worked his wrists around the inside of the rusted cuffs. The angle at which his hands were attached over his head, leveraged with his own body weight, made breaking his hand impossible. If his hands had been bound behind his back, he wouldn’t have had to fight the weight of his own body, and he could do whatever he had to to free himself—-even if that meant breaking a thumb or hand.

There was no time to curse his captors, though. Right now, he and his friends needed a plan, and from the looks of things, he was the only one thinking straight.

Ezra was in no condition to help. Vin wasn’t either. And Chris was shackled in the same way Nathan himself was. Chris so distracted with the wounded, he was going to be useless—for a while at least.

This really might be hopeless.

Except . . .


Buck was trying to talk to JD. He was trying to bring the boy back. JD lay bound hand and foot . . . and utterly terrified.

“JD, listen to me now . . .” Buck was saying. “You’ve got to pull yourself together, you understand?”

JD didn’t respond, even though Buck’s voice was as insistent as it was gentle. Nathan listened.

“JD, that man has met his maker, ok? He can’t hurt you now.”

The poor kid was trembling. “JD!!” Buck raised his voice. “Look at me, son.”

Nathan could see JD try to raise his head, only to fall weakly back to the dirt.

“That’s it, son,” Buck said. “Try again, OK, I’m right here. We’re all right here.”

Again the head lifted, and JD trembled violently. Just as he was about to collapse for a second time, Nathan spoke.

"Don’t look at it, JD. You have to get closer to us. You have to help Ezra and Vin." Nathan spoke more urgently. “They’re hurt, JD, and you’re the only one who can help them.”

Nathan glanced at Buck while he spoke. His friend nodded his encouragement. They both watched the young man try to pull away from the corpse. Then JD’s breathing became shallow and he said in a very high, yet weak voice, "His eyes . . are . . . open .”

Nathan interrupted him quickly. "Don’t look at ‘em, JD. Come on, now, look at me, don’t look at them.”

For a moment, JD couldn’t seem to pull his vision away.

“JD!!!” It was Chris Larabee. "We don’t have time for this, now. You get up and get over here. Drag the f***ing thing with you.”

JD looked at Chris, and Nathan could see the struggle in the hardened gunman’s eyes as Larabee spoke with increased anger. The pain in Chris’ eyes belied the ferocity in his tone.

"He’s too heavy,” JD said.

“Bullshit, JD. Roll with him if you have to.”

The fear returned to the kid’s voice. "Please, Chris, don’t ask me . . .”

"Vin’s got a bullet that’s killing him, and Ezra’s so sick that if we don’t do something right now, he doesn’t have a chance. Now, do it!”

Nathan looked at Buck, who was becoming angry, but Buck held his tongue. Chris knew what he was doing.

"NOW, JD!” Chris commanded and, with that, JD tried to pull the body with him. The weight made it nearly impossible. Before anyone could make another suggestion, JD used his shackled hands to encircle the corpse’s upper body, hugging the dead man to himself. Then with a yell, JD rolled toward the middle of the cell, gaining momentum as he did.

Nathan nodded slightly. Now they were on to something.


Ezra Standish groaned and rolled over. Oh God . . . they’d buried him. They’d thought he was dead and they’d buried him. And damn them, they’d been too cheap to give him a proper burial.

No, it wasn’t *them* -- it was his mother. She had taken his money and then she’d had his body thrown into this . . .

What the hell was this?

“SOMEBODY!!!!!!!!! HELP ME!!!!!!!! I’M NOT DEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


Josiah? It couldn’t be. “JOSIAH?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“I’m right here, Ezra,” the deep voice said. “You don’t have to yell.”

“Are we dead?” the gambler asked.

“I’m not,” Josiah said. “I don’t think you are yet.”

Ezra started to turn toward the preacher, but his head swam and his stomach did as well. “I’m close, my friend. . . oh God . . ."

“Lay back, Ezra. Rest easy.”

Josiah started sounding a bit distant somehow. “You’ve been really sick.”

An image crossed Ezra’s consciousness. “The desert?”

“Yeah. But you’re gonna get better now.”

The voice started to fade. Or was that still Josiah?

“You hurtin’, Ezra?”

Yes . . .


Aren’t they listening?


He didn’t know which crashed over him first . . . the corpse or the kid, but whichever it was, the combination felt like getting run over by a stagecoach.

Chris grunted under the weight. JD and his "burden” kept rolling until they slammed into the wall. The boy groaned heavily.

“JD?” Buck asked. “You ok?”

Chris pulled himself up and looked at Buck. It seemed that neither of them could see the young man well. “JD,” Chris said. “You’re doing great, son. Are you all right?”

Another groan . . . only this one with effort. “Yeah . . ." JD’s voice was muffled. He seemed to be trying to control his breathing.

“Aw . . . "

"What?” Chris asked Buck, but he didn’t have to wait for an answer as he saw JD bury his nose in his own sleeve . . . and leave it to Buck to know what to say.

"Well, he ain’t had a bath in a long time, JD. Can’t hardly fault him for that.”

For a strange moment, there was no sound, then JD chuckled. Even though he had to be aching all over, JD pulled himself up and started working his arms back over the dead man’s head. “Buck, you really are full of crap.”

The kid was still laughing softly even as he began to heave.

Chris hadn’t even realized that Vin had waked up, much less that he’d made his way over to JD. “You shouldn’t be movin’ around, cowboy,” Chris said.

But Vin wasn’t going to be told what to do. Chris watched as the tracker reached up to rest his bound hands on JD’s back.

"Easy, kid," Vin's soft voice wafted through the dismal cell.

"Vin . . . " JD's breathing relaxed slowly and he raised his head. "Lie down -- you're hurt."

"Rather be hurt than dead."

"We ain't gonna die," JD said, sharply. Then he tried to move again.

Chris couldn't really tell what he was doing. But he could hear the kid.

"You tied or shackled?" JD asked the tracker.

"Tied . . ."

JD looked around, then back at Vin. "All right," JD said gently. "Lay back. It's ok. I'll get you. Tied in front of you?"

"Yeah . . . " Vin's voice was a bit weaker this time. Chris wished he had some idea of how much blood his friend had lost.

"JD," Chris began, but was harshly interrupted when the building . . . erupted.


The men whose hands were shackled over their heads were most vulnerable. They couldn't curl up against the onslaught of rocks and dirt that shook from the walls of the ancient room. Not that Ezra could do much better. He was so weak. But he at least rolled onto his stomach and tried to put an arm over his head.

A flying stone caught Chris Larabee on the side of the head, rendering him unconscious and Nathan Jackson's shoulder was wrenched out of the socket. Vin had been thrown so far back that he landed on Buck's legs.

One could not help but be disoriented. Dust made it even more difficult to see in the dim space than it had been before.

"We must be on a fault line," Buck said slowly. "Hell of an earthquake."

But it was Josiah who figured it out. He was the first to see the grisly truth.

"No earthquake," Josiah said, and for once his mighty voice was unsteady.

"What?" Buck asked, then he looked to where he had last seen JD trying to help Vin. "Oh . . . sweet Jesus . . . "

JD had been shackled to a corpse . . .

Which had been rigged with an explosive.


Nathan felt a hand on his ankle--a weak hand. Once he quit squinting against the intense pain in his shoulder, he looked down and saw Ezra's bewildered eyes looking back at him.

"I heard . . ." Ezra struggled to speak. "I heard you . . . scream . . . "

"Wrenched my arm out of place is all," Nathan answered.

"What happened?" Ezra lowered his head again, resting it on Nathan's ankle. He seemed not to have even the strength to look around.

"I'm not sure . . . "


"JD? Kid?" Josiah and Buck were both calling out to the young man.

"Come on, son," Buck's voice grew more frantic.

Vin kept hearing something . . . couldn't tell what it was . . .

His ears were ringing, and with all the yelling . . . he couldn't tell . . .

"Shut up a minute!" he hollered, and he raised his good hand. "Listen . . ."

After a moment, the din settled and Vin could hear what he was listening for.

Sounds of the outdoors. Voices outside.

"See that light?" Vin whispered, and those who could, looked at the low shaft of bright sunlight that cut across the middle of the prison. He pointed toward the great gaping hole in the side wall. Buck followed his direction, but it seemed that Buck only saw the light framing the two bodies which lay in a heap on the ground.


The room was horrible. Judge Travis had heard about the so-called "Potter's Field" but he'd never seen it. Even the great Pinkerton team hadn't been able to find the strange labyrinth where enemies of the outlaws often spent their last tortured days.

When Ezra Standish had been dragged out into the desert, everyone had assumed it was over some bad gambling scam. But when Larabee and his men had gone after him and never come back, Travis had become suspicious.

Travis had moved quickly. He'd assembled a posse and trailed the peacekeepers from Four Corners. There was no sign that anyone had been hurt--yet what kind of gang would be able to overtake seven trained men?

And where the hell were they?

Last night, Travis and his men had settled down to sleep at Hiram's Gulch. The trail was leading them in a circle, g**d*** it, and he was tired of being led around by the nose hairs.

Why he'd become intrigued by the ghost stories of the town's children, he'd have to ponder on later. Divine intervention, maybe. Travis couldn't rule that out. He'd noticed the clump of children in the alley between the livery and the warehouse. They were listening to the ground and speaking in low "ghost story" tones. At the sight of the foreboding judge, they scattered--all but one.

Travis managed to catch the little boy by the arm. "I won't hurt you boy, I'm a federal judge." The judge wondered absently why that didn't impress the child . . . much less reassure him. But no matter. He wanted to know what the children were so intrigued by.

And he got a quick answer.

"The dead knocking in their graves," the boy answered. "They sometimes knock during the day, but . . . " his voice became suitably sinister, ". . . at night, they fight to get out of hell. They almost reach the surface, then the sun comes up . . ."

"And they are quiet again," the judge offered.

"No, then we have to go to school and we can't listen anymore."

The judge grinned. "Do they ever make any other noise -- other than knocking?"

The boy thought a moment. "Sometimes they scream and wail, but usually they just knock."

"Sounds like a mighty scary story," the judge commented.

The boy nodded, then cocked his head to the side. "Can I go home now?"

The judge patted his shoulder and let the child run off. He paused, remembering stories like that from his own childhood. He started back to his room.

Then he heard the knocking.


Buck took a sip of his whiskey and set it down on the table. JD picked up his glass and took a bigger sip than Buck's.

And coughed.

His friends laughed -- Chris with a bandage around his head, Vin and Nathan both with slings, Ezra looking dapper, though still weak.

Josiah didn't laugh, but rather, raised his own glass to offer a toast.

"To embracing our fears . . . and being saved because of them."

"Here, here . . ." Ezra echoed.

JD grinned and shifted slightly to take the pressure off of his broken leg.

"I'd rather not have to . . . embrace one in person again."

"Yeah, but if that corpse hadn't been there--between you and the judge's explosives," Nathan commented, "you'd have been blown to pieces."

He was interrupted when the batwing doors of the saloon flew open and Judge Travis strolled in, bearing the weight of his office in his carriage.

"Boys . . . you have the distinction of being the last victims of the infamous Potter's Field."

"I thought it was out in the desert somewhere," Chris said.

"So did every lawman in the territory. That's why it was so successful."

"Who would have suspected it was under a warehouse in the middle of town," Vin added.

"Well, we have recovered over 60 bodies down there and that solves many missing persons cases."

JD took another sip -- a more careful one this time -- and sighed. "I'm just glad it wasn't 67 bodies."

"Me too, son," Travis said. "You boys are lucky."

Buck grinned, "The Gentry boys aren't so lucky. They'll be looking at prison walls for a long time yet."

"True," the judge added. "That's some consolation. And there's a little more consolation, too."

The men watched as the judge pulled out a roll of money. "Almost all the cases had rewards on them. You boys have made a hefty little profit."

Ezra smiled broadly. "Ah, remuneration . . . a beautiful thing."

"Thanks, Judge," JD said, frowning. "I'll get mine later. I think I want to go bed for a while."

"Sure, son, you did good work."

JD nodded his thanks and, with Buck's help, went back toward his room.

Chris wiped his lips on his sleeve. "Kid's gonna carry that demon with him as long as he lives."

"But he'll also carry the knowledge that he beat it," Vin said. "If the judge hadn't busted us out, JD would've gotten us out of there. And he knows it."

The men raised their glasses again. "To JD . . . "

And at the top of the stairs, Buck squeezed the young man's neck. JD had heard them and smiled.

He'd be ok.



This story could have been an epic and it probably should have been. It is ripe with missing scenes. If you want to dive in and write one (or more), send them to me and I'll post them to my page. Here are some possible scenes:

Ezra being kidnapped

Ezra in the desert

The guys finding out that Ezra is missing

The guys finding Ezra

The guys being captured and taken to the Potter's Field

More interaction in the Potter's Field

The aftermath of the explosion

The rescue

One or more of the guys facing down Shad (the guy who shackled JD to the corpse)

The return to Four Corners

The recovery


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