Montana Slim, Chip, Steve and Tennessee Jim had put on their slickers as the storm approached. The towering clouds brought darkness like a flashing blanket over the plains, and with the darkness came rain. As they topped a slight rise, they all felt a little nervous. The open prairie is no place to be in a thunder storm. Ironically, the same lightning that posed such a serious threat showed them the way to safety…or so it seemed. In the flashing light they saw what looked like a deserted town half a mile straight north of the group. In the blue-white light, trees, hovering over the buildings, seemed to writhe in the howling wind. To the silent watchers it gave the town the aspect of a living thing. By the time they got to the town, the first blast of the storm had passed and settled into a steady rain. They led their horses into a tired looking barn at the south end of town. It was the first building they came to.

  Inside the barn, Jim produced a battery powered light from his saddle bag. He switched it on, but Slim grabbed it and turned it off.

  “We better stay in the dark ‘till we find out what those gunshots were all about.?

  “I suppose you’re right,? Jim said, “I’ll get up in the loft and see what I can see.?

  “Good idea? said Slim, “Steve, stay down here and cover us from the door. Chip, you’re a romantic guy. Let’s take a walk in the rain.?

  “Real funny, Slim. Just don’t try to hold my hand.?

  It was pitch black in the little barn and Montana Slim was groping for the door when it suddenly opened! A distant flash in the sky showed the boys the silhouette of a large man in the doorway! In the brief instant of light, Slim saw a gun in the stranger’s right hand. He drew his own gun and fired, knocking the gun from the newcomer’s hand.

  “YEEOOW!? the big man yelled, “Why I’ll…?

  Everything happened fast then. Steve had picked up Jim’s battery light and as the fracas started, he turned it on. The big man had swung wild in the dark and hit chip on the shoulder, knocking him against the wall as Montana ducked in close and brought his gun down hard against the newcomers jaw. Most men would have gone down from a blow like that, but this guy just backhanded Slim, driving him into a four by four post. Chip dove into the stranger, catching him behind the knees and bringing him down. Steve and Slim jumped on him then and the four of them rolled under the loft. This guy was incredibly strong! He rose to his feet and flung all three of the wranglers away, this time sending Chip through a support post. There was a loud CRACK and the loft collapsed, dropping Jim right on the strangers head!

  “WHOA!? Jim yelled.

  “OOF!? said the stranger.

  “I wish I’d thought of that.? said Slim.

  The big stranger was knocked out cold. He lay next to Jim, who was making peculiar noises and rolling around in the wreckage of the loft.

  “Well boys, there you have it.? Montana Slim said. “If you can’t handle someone, just drop Tennessee Jim on his head.?

  “Seems to work pretty good.? Steve said. “Chip, grab yer rope. We better hog-tie this feller, but good!?

  Slim helped Jim to his feet. “Shake it off, cowboy. We’ve walked in to something, and I think I know what it is. We better keep our eyes open and our guns ready. If this guy is who I think he is, there’ll be a couple more like him real close by.?

  I was walking slowly up the dark, windy street. My whole face felt broken, there was a sizeable lump on the side of my head, and I was holding a noose in my hand. You just never can tell how a day is gonna end up. Where was my horse? Where was that crazy woman and her giant son? And what were they up to, anyway?
  Then I heard a shot! It came from the far end of town.

 I ducked into the nearest building. Distant lightning provided the only illumination, and in the sporadic flashes I saw a movement on the south end of town. Then a light came on in the old barn! The wind was blowing from the north, so I couldn’t hear too much, but it sounded like a fight was in progress! I eased back into the deserted street, listening and watching as hard as I could. There was a crash, then some whooping, then silence again.

  At this point, my horse sauntered into the street from the west. He looked casual, moving slowly across the street in front of me. A particularly bright flash in the sky showed him to me plainly. I had barely digested the fact that he seemed to have six legs, when I saw the muzzle flash from a gun pointed at me over his back!


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