Dale was tired. Riding all day helping these folks out. He longed for his own bed, a drink & a decent meal at the Extown diner. But here he was, doing what he could to keep these folks from taking the wrong trail. Extown was their destination too though none of them had ever been there. He had crossed paths with them at the beginning of “The Cessation Trail”. They were new to this world & needed the direction Dale was so familiar with. He agreed being the kind soul that he was.
There were signs of Nick Deemon's gang everywhere. The stench of cigarette smoke, the smoldering butts & occasionally some members of the gang could be spotted watching them from the hills. In the evenings you could see the tiny glowing embers from their smokes up the mountain. They thought they were hidden. Guess you lose some awareness when you’ve got something constantly dulling your senses. Did the gang think the wagon train couldn’t hear all that hacking & coughing? “Let em take their time.” Dale thought “The longer they wait the stronger we’ll be when it all comes down.”
He had all the members of the wagon train watching for signs of when that might happen. They had plenty of ammunition. All the Winchesters & Colts had been loaded up with lozenges & Chantrix & everyone on the wagon train was gettin a good dose of NOPE every day
The morning had been easier than most but now they were coming up on “No Man’s Land” & there was a lot of danger there. “No Man’s Land”...where the journey has become routine. It was the perfect place for an ambush. Just far enough from the beginning for one to become complacent thinking all is well & just enough obstacles for temptation to hide. If Nick was gonna do anything this was the place. Dale knew if the wagon train made it through, chances were good they’d make it to Extown with very few casualties. If ya wanna get to Extown & join the Elders...ya gotta go through “No Man’s Land”. He had turned to tell the others to keep a sharp eye when he saw the trail rider get knocked off his mount.
“Everybody down & start throwing it back at em!” yelled Dale. It seemed they were everywhere in the rocks but his men were holding their own. The women were doing as much damage as the men, the surprise began to wane as more of Nick’s men were being hit. Dale was able to get behind some rocks at the bottom of the pass & start a climb.
“There’s one of em tryin to get around behind us.” said QuitSlip Pete. “Go take care of im Winston”
Winston was waitin on Dale when he was almost to the top but gave himself away with some falling stones cause he was just a little too eager & couldn’t stay still. From behind a boulder Dale threw rock to divert Winston’s attention & nailed im twice before he knew he made a mistake. At the top Dale could see them all from behind. There were 20 of em. Dale started pickin em off at the closest one to him. They never knew a thing until 11 of the gang were down. When they turned to fire at Dale the wagoneers were able to hit em from behind. They’d had enough & picked up their wounded & got outta there fast. They had been hit with lozenges & Chantrix & were starting to look healthy. They wanted none of that. Dale started down the hillside.
“Help me.” Dale heard a raspy voice. Looking around he spotted one of Nick’s crew left behind. Some help arrived, they carried him down & put him in a wagon away from the others. They gave him a few more lozenges & let him rest. He was losing that pale ashen skin fast & color had started to invade his face. He didn’t care, all he wanted was a cigarette. He wanted that familiar kick at the back of his throat & the burning smoke searing his lungs.
“Well he’s gone. Ran off some time last night. I wish he would have let us help him” one of the ladies told Dale. “I hate when they won’t even listen that you might be able to do em some good.’
“We can’t force em to stay. If they want out, you can’t stop em.” Added Dale “Course I never seen one get away that fast before.
“We're almost through "No Man's Land" so how much further to Extown?” some asked.
“Still a ways to go before we’ll be safe. Everybody just keep on your toes & don’t get cocky.” Dale replied. “We’ll be there soon enough. Let's just take it one day at a time.”