The bunny eyes loomed close. “I don’t intend for you to pass out. I want you to feel every moment, every pain until you disappear. I want you to know without a doubt that you’re done, West.”
“Then let’s jest see if it works like that,” Jasper’s voice croaked. Churchill spun to see Jasper propped up on one elbow. Jasper had tugged the Colt out of his belt. His shot plowed into Churchill’s right shoulder, knocking the revolver out of his fist. Churchill’s face became a billboard of amazement rather than pain.
“You’re about to have a real bad case of losin’ yer focus, Mr. Hulse, or Churchill, or whatever you call yerself.” The second shot caught Churchill above the right knee. Red mist puffed up as he toppled to the leafy earth, screaming.
“Havin’ trouble concentratin’, are ya?”
Churchill struggled to right himself, his left leg churning as he twisted to see Jasper.
“Look like ye might be unfocused, there, Mr. Churchill.” Jasper put a shot into Churchill’s side. The pink lips squirmed as a howl tore out of Churchill’s throat.
Jasper punched two shots into Churchill’s stomach. “Gettin’ gut-shot will take yer mind off jest about anything, Mr. Churchill. Feelin’ a mite panicky, there? Well, then, you’re ready to say goodbye.”
“Jasper, NO! Don’t kill him.”
“Bastard needs to die.”
“Jasper, it’s me, Ethan. If you kill him he might be able to do what he said. Listen to me.”
“How I know it’s you?”
“You know. Cole, snipers, gold,” Ethan gasped. He needed to rest for a few seconds. He gazed up at spidery tree limbs twitching in the wind against a robin’s egg sky. Ethan had seen this image in his dream that morning. He wished he had seen more.
He struggled to turn his head. A few feet away, Jasper examined himself, his hands slowly crawling over his torso like hairy spiders searching for food. With an enormous effort, Ethan inhaled enough air to croak, “Jasper, you bad?”
Jasper’s hands travelled over his midriff. “Best I can tell, he got me in the side. Cain’t tell how bad. I can breathe okay.”
Ethan’s heart lurched as he watched Jasper crawl across the leaf bed to what looked like a jumble of rags. The old scout put his hat over Beth’s ruined face. “That bastard needs to die, Ethan.” He crawled over to Churchill who lay on his back two feet from Ethan. “He’s still breathin’. Why cain’t I finish this piece of shit?”
“You can. Just not yet,” Ethan whispered.
The old scout groaned and rolled over to face Ethan, blue eyes blazing.
“Jasper, I need your help.”
“Hell if I can even help myself, Youngblood.”
“You can do this. Put your revolver to my head and kill me. Then you can kill Churchill.” Except for the creaking of branches in the wind, Ethan heard nothing. He forced his eyes open. “Jasper.”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you. Jes’ don’t see how that helps.”
Ethan gathered his shreds of remaining strength. “Can you help her now, Jasper?”
“Well, I can.”
A rattle came out of the old man’s throat. “How’s that? You’re worse off than me.”
“Why did you call me Ethan? You know it’s me, but how could I be in Ethridge’s body unless what I told you was true? And you heard what Churchill and I said. You know the power I have. You know what he intends to do.”
Jasper snorted. “After that bullet hit me, I had me some visions. I went someplace and then I came back. Maybe I can see a little bit of what yer talkin’ about.”
“I can save her, Jasper, but I need to get free first. Help me now.”
“It don’t seem right.”
“Jasper, would I ask you to do this if I didn’t know what I was doing?”
“You may know what you’re doing, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“You’re just helping me. This body will die soon anyway. I have one chance to change everything that’s happened and I have to do it now before Churchill has a chance to go back. Do it!”
“I’m out of bullets,” Jasper said lamely.
“Use Ethridge’s gun. It has to be around me somewhere.”
Ethan turned his head to look for Ethridge’s revolver. When he looked away from Jasper toward his right, he saw Churchill. He gazed into those pink eyes. -“Hurry, Jasper. I have to die before he does.”
Freezing metal lightly touched against Ethan’s left temple.
“God help me, Ethan.”
“God has nothing to do with this, Jasper. I promise.”
“I done a lot of bad things in my life, but this is the worst.”
Ethan struggled to extend his left hand out of his field of vision. He felt Jasper’s warm, callused paw wrap around it. “You’re a good man, Jasper. Far better than you know. Goodbye and good luck with your gold mine.”
“If I live.”
“If you live.”
Suddenly the sky burst into a nova and hard light screamed through Ethan.