I woke lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. Cobwebs spread from the center light fixture to the windows. Turning a bit to my side, I felt my achy bones as dust and dirt fell off my arms and legs. I tried sitting up but my back gave way, so I rolled to the side.
Trying to stand, I wondered how I got here in this room and how long I had been here. With my throat parched, I said "Where the hell am I?" I was surprised to hear a distant giggle and laugh as it wobbled in the air around the room. Looking around, there was no one there.
As I crawled over to the window with its broken panes, sunlight penetrated the dirty glass. Holding on to the window frame, I lifted myself off the floor as boards beneath my feet creaked and began to break. Gently sliding my weight over a few inches to a safer footing, I held on to the window and looked out.
I was on the second floor of an old building and looked out to an empty dirt street. I could see ruts in the dirt left by wagon wheels and horse hoofs made over the years. As I looked up and down the street there was no sign of life. However, when I blinked again I thought I saw two cowboys approaching each other from opposite ends of the street. They looked as if they were about to have a gunfight.
The images became clearer as the rays of sunlight peaked around the distant church steeple. Along the sides of the street, crowds of people hid behind posts, parked wagons and at the corner of windows trying to sneak a look while staying out of harm's way. There was a loud murmur from the crowd cheering-on the two combatants and shouting. "Shoot him dead for stealing your horse", and "Don't let him get away with that."
Suddenly the images disappeared as a cloud blocked the sun and the street was empty again. The wind picked up and tumbleweed began swirling around. I blinked and wiped my eyes to refocus but just saw the empty street. Again, I spoke out loud to myself, "I must be dreaming, where did everyone go? Am I hallucinating?" Another giggle and laugh echoed and wobbled in the air around the room. My head spun left and right looking for the source of the sounds. "Is this place haunted and is this a Ghost Town?", I mumbled.
Not seeing anyone, I shouted "Where are you, show yourself and stop this nonsense." I heard another giggle but no one appeared. I remembered hearing stories of Ghost Towns in the west magically coming to life and then disappearing. It's funny how legends and folklore become believable stories, I thought.
Still holding on to the window to steady myself, a bullet came through the pane shattering the glass and nicking my right ear. I flinched from the sting and felt my ear as blood dribbled on my hand. I quickly fell to the floor to shield myself from another bullet, but there was none.
Raising my head ever so slightly over the window sill, I looked down at the street and again saw the two cowboys. But this time they were looking up toward my window and began shooting. Glass shards splattered all over the floor, as bullets ricocheted around the room.
I couldn't believe it. "Why are they shooting at me?", I screamed out loud.
Suddenly I heard one gunman shout, "Come out and show yourself. We found the horse you stole in front of the hotel with our branding mark on its left hind quarter."
The other gunman shouted, "You can't get away, we have the hotel surrounded."
I responded to myself, "I'm no horse thief. The last thing I remember, I was reading a comic book and the dust on the book made me sneeze."
* * *
That's it, I was in the Comic Book and Magic Shop in downtown Tombstone, Arizona visiting my cousins who lived nearby. The proprietor looked like Gabby something, the old cowboy with a white beard that I use to see in old western movies. I told him I was a collector of old western comic books and he showed me to his collection in the backroom. He left me there to browse as he returned to the front of the store and said, "Take your time sonny. Time is all I have now."
As I looked around the backroom, there were hundreds of old comic books in plastic sleeves stacked on shelves. All the books had different titles but shared a similar picture on the front cover. The picture showed Gabby center stage and other cowboys in the background riding horses, herding cattle or fight Indians.
Continuing to look around the room, I saw old black and white photos in picture frames hanging on the walls. There were even the old fashion tin-types depicting Gabby with various cowhands. The poses were with Mexican Bandits, Gunfighters, U.S. Marshalls, Jails, Chain Gangs, Steam Locomotives, Old Cars, Wagon Trains and other landscapes including mountains, prairies, and cow herds. Some closeups were labelled with names like - Billy the Kid, Wild Bill, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and old Indians like Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Crazy Horse and others. If these were authentic pictures, Gabby must be over one hundred years old. Maybe these comic books are a true diary or history or autobiography of his life and adventures. But that is unbelievable, I thought.
I picked out one book and opened it to see a cowhand that looked just like me talking with Gabby at the Red Gulch Saloon and Hotel. We tied up our horses at hitching posts out front and walked through the swinging saloon doors. After playing cards and drinking heavily I passed out and they carried me upstairs to one of the rooms to sleep it off.
The next time I woke I was on the floor of the hotel room and now faced an angry crowd, shooting guns at me. Gabby was nowhere in sight. Speaking out loud, I said, "How did I get in this mess?"
My only escape was to crawl out the side window and jump to the adjoining buildings and work my way down the street, away from the angry crowd. As I climbed out the window, my boots slid on the slippery tin roof but luckily caught on a stove pipe jutting out from the slanted rooftop. Adjusting my balance, I began running and jumping from roof to roof, trying to be quiet as cat but making a thunderous noise like a herd of elephants, as my leather boots hit the loosely laid tin.
At the end of the line of old rickety shanties, I saw a porch with stairs and quickly jumped to the landing and ran down the steps.
Looking around, I saw a young boy walking a horse and he said, "Take my horse and return it later", as he eyed the angry crowd and tried to help. I jumped on a white palomino and began galloping out the back of town. Unfortunately, the angry mob saw me and shouted to the gunmen that I was escaping.
Within minutes a posse formed and the angry mob galloped after me down the trail into the hills. Since I had quite a distance on the gang, I periodically lost sight of them as I rounded turns in the dirt road. To my surprise, I saw a trail leading off into the woods and up a hillside and quickly followed it, hoping to lose the gang of adversaries. As I climbed higher up the hillside, the woods opened into a clearing exposing a cave entrance in the rocks, hidden by brush.
Dismounting, I held the reins and led the horse into the cave and covered the entrance with more loose branches. Bats flew off the ceiling as I went deeper into the cave but soon quieted down. A crack of light came in through the vaulted ceiling and I saw a stream of water oozing out of the rocks and filling a small quiet pool. The horse sniffed at the water and began drinking. Evidently the horse could tell from the smell that the water was good enough to drink. I fell to the ground and began gulping water and washing my face with a handkerchief dipped into the cool liquid.
After spending a night in the cave, I retraced my steps and moved toward the entrance. Not seeing anyone, I moved the branches which hid the cave entrance and walked out into the bright sunlight. The horse immediately found some grass and began chomping away. My stomach growled but I was too afraid to think of food before finding a safe way out of this dilemma.
* * *
My palomino was a dusty white compared to Roy Rogers' horse Trigger who was a true palomino and golden cream in color. Now that things were a bit calmer, I patted the horse's mane and thanked him for helping me escape. The horse recognized my affection and puffed his mouth and flapped his lips while raising his head up and down. I guess our gallop away from the angry mob bonded us in a man-beast friendship. Not knowing what the horse's name was, I just called him Snow Cap for his white color.
It was now time to climb down the hillside to the main trail and work my way to another town and find a safe place to hide. I grabbed the reins and began walking down the slope and saw a quite stream for Snow Cap to drink and pick some berries along the bank. As I got closer to the water, Snow Cap started to jump and made a loud snorting sound while backing up.
I quickly looked at the ground a saw a rattle snake hissing and ready to attack. Keeping my distance, I found a forked branch and luckily jabbed at the snake and eventually pinned it to the ground. I then picked up a rock and killed the viper before it did any damage to me or the horse.
As luck would have it, I now had my dinner and decided to start a fire and cook it on a stick. Fortunately, I had once taken survival lessons during my mountain climbing days. After cooking it, the snake meat wasn't half bad. They always say it tastes just like chicken if you close your eyes. In addition, I ate some berries that I found and Snow Cap ate the grass nearby.
After eating, we began walking down the slope again and came out on to the dirt road. I got on my horse and began riding in the opposite direction towards another town and safety, I hoped. Without notice, two of the posse men came out from behind a large rock and held out a gun, telling me to get off the horse and on my knees.
Before I knew it, Snow Cap jumped and knocked the gun out of one man's hand and I quickly took out my six-shooter and shot the gun out of the hand of the other. I couldn't believe that I even knew how to shoot an old six-gun but this is a comic book and I'm supposed to be a seasoned cowboy. Only in the movies they say, as I twirled the pistol and put it back in my holster.
I got off my horse and tied the two bad guys to a tree and quickly began to ride away from the area. Unfortunately, the gun shot alerted other members of the posse who had camped over-night nearby. As I came around a bend, I ran into the other bad guys who seem to come from all directions and I was trapped.
The posse quickly circled around me and told me to drop my guns and get down. The head bad guy, Ringo, told the others to tie my hands in back and asked the gang what they should do with a horse thief?
They all said hanging is the only punishment around these parts. I guess this is what they call a hung jury.
They put me back up on Snow Cap and walked me over to the nearest tree and threw a rope with a noose up over a large branch. Ringo then came up along side me and said, "Do you have any last words?"
I screamed, "YES! I didn't steal any horse. I tied my black horse up at the saloon and later that day, someone switched my saddle to the stolen horse. That's when you found it."
"I don't believe you," said Ringo.
Ringo looked at the posse members and said, "What do the rest of you think about his story?"
They all looked around and said, "Hang the stranger. He's just a wet nose runt and no one's going to care any ways."
With the crowd giving the OK, Ringo put the noose on my neck and said, "Say your last prays boy, cause it's time to meet your maker."
I said, "Stop, you are making a mistake. I didn't steal anyone's horse. I'm innocent".
Before Ringo could answer, there was a loud gunshot that hit the taught rope above my head and split the line in two causing it to drop limp over my shoulder, preventing the hanging. Everyone was stunned at the action and looked for the source.
Up on an adjacent hillside sitting high in a saddle were three cowboys. One I recognized as Gabby and the other looked like Wyatt Earp from the comic books. The third I didn't know but he was sitting on my black horse, Beauty.
Wyatt yelled down at the crowd and said, "The next one that moves I'll shoot dead between the eyes. The boy is telling the truth and Gabby and I have caught the real horse thief while he was trying to sell Johnny's horse to a traveller."
"Being the U.S. Marshal around these parts, I have arrested the thief and will bring him over to the county jail tomorrow."
"Now let Johnny go, untie him and let him ride up here with us."
Ringo said, "I know you Wyatt for being an honest man, but you are interfering with local justice and we think Johnny is guilt."
Wyatt answered, "I sure don't want to interfere with local justice but I have several witnesses at the saloon that saw the thief switch saddles and steal Johnny's black horse and leave the stolen one in its place."
Ringo said, "If that's true, you can take Johnny but we all better hear about the trial and punishment given to the horse thief in the local paper or else you will have to answer to the town folk later and you will have Hell to pay."
As I joined Wyatt, Gabby and the thief we all rode off into the sunset satisfied that justice had been done.
* * *
After riding off, I closed my eyes and awoke back in the Comic Book Shop backroom. I put the book down and walked out to the front of the store where I saw Gabby.
Gabby said, "Well, what did you think about that story? Was it believable? Did you feel like you were right there?"
I said, "I must have fallen asleep because I really thought I was in Tombstone in the last century, but that's impossible."
Gabby replied, "Oh, I forgot to tell you to just read the comic books and not sniff the magic dust. If you get a good whiff, it will transport you back to the old days and you will become part of the story."
I said, "That sounds impossible, but I think that is just what happened and I'm lucky to be alive."
Gabby continued, "An old Indian medicine man gave me the gift of longevity and a secret bag of dust. He said that the dust will make your dreams and imagination become real so you have to be ever so careful what you wish for."
"Now you tell me. Maybe you should put warning labels on your comic books," I commented.
Gabby said, "That's not a bad idea because I can be real clumsy. While writing my diary in a notebook, I wished that there were pictures to go along with my writing and I accidently spilled the dust. The next thing I saw was a pile of comic books with pictures to go along with my tales and some extra dust remained on each of the comic book pages, so you almost can't escape it.".
With that, I waved goodbye and walked out the front door and said, "Thanks for the visit and experience."
Gabby replied, "Come back again and you can read another story from Tombstone Tales. Have a great day sonny."
I left the store puzzled about what happened and mostly thinking that I was just dreaming. Looking for my car keys, I put my hand in my pocket and came out with the skull of a rattle snake. "What"?