The Dog Days Of Summer
(Little Ezra - Old West)
Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: Twyla's Very Simple Magnificent Seven Page, Starwinder's, You Want Fries With That?, and The All-Ezra FanFic Archive --- all others, please ask. Some of these stories were posted originally on the Ezra's Littleverse list, and hence also on its archive.
Summary: A boy and his dog and a sunny afternoon. This story takes place sometime before "Only A Hound Dog."
Warnings: Ezra is a little boy, all the rest of the Seven are their adult selves.
Author's Note: Dear Reader, there stories are listed as they were written rather than in a timeline of the series itself. I am writing as the mood strikes and fitting in my small pieces helter-skelter. If the series is ever completed, I shall attempt a timeline for the stories. For now, as I publish, I shall try to note if the story doesn't follow sequentially with the preceding ones.
Completed: 31 May 2003
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes comments
Back to: Shedding
Mister loped up the hill ahead of his boy. His loose neck skin folded in deep wrinkles when he tipped his nose to the sky and let out a low, carrying bay of sound. The twitter of the birds was silenced briefly in respect for the hound's cry.
Ezra climbed sturdily up the grassy knoll, a smile in his eyes for the prideful sound of the animal. Mr. Wilmington had told him that Mr. McClintlock was a lead hunting dog in his day. Now he was mostly tired. Old. But still strong, Ezra decided, as he gazed at the sleek fur and floppy ears canted to listen to his trudging feet.
With a final small 'oof,' the boy dropped to the ground beside the big dog, a book clutched tightly in one hand. By now, Mister had rolled onto his side, ribcage heaving with heavy pants, tongue lolling redly out of his loose-lipped smile of a mouth. Ezra leaned back on two straight arms, having placed his book nearby, and opened his eyes wide to stare up into the clear blue sky, empty except for a few darting barn swallows that had strayed from the small stable Chris and the others had built at the bottom of the hill.
Ezra pushed himself back up to a seated position then, legs sprawled widely in his light tweed trousers. He'd insisted on tweed, not denim, when Mr. Larabee --- when Mr. Chris, had finally told him that he was becoming indecent in his outgrown suit. He blushed in remembrance of that moment in Potter's Store. Fortunately, they'd been alone, over by the clothing stacks. He would have been truly mortified if Mrs. Potter had heard. Thinking back now, he realized that Mr. Chris hadn't said anything until Mrs. Potter had been called away by another customer. Ezra wondered now if Mr. Chris had waited on purpose.
He was distracted in his musings by a grasshopper that mistook his shoe for a perch. He twitched his toes back and watched the insect whirr off in an impossible half-flown leap. Ezra dropped back down on his elbows, plucked a wild wheat stem and chewed the end between strong white teeth. The heat of the mid-afternoon day rose with a dry, dusty haze around his little hill so that he could nearly imagine himself floating on a ship at sea. Or a riverboat bound up the Mississippi.
That thought led to others, of his Mamon and a trip they took together on the mighty river. Maude Standish had been at her glowing best, reaping compliments and cash in even-handed measure, her little son doted upon by the captain and the few other women passengers. Ezra had been there to be a needful distraction so that the captain did not stop the female gamester from practicing her calling with the many festive and wealthy passengers. She'd kept him in her small cabin the first day, until she'd drilled the five year old on what to do and say, then she'd let him loose.
An awe-struck toddler, with impossibly big green eyes full of hero worship trailed after the captain for the remainder of the journey. The boy was full of questions, praise and persistence, charming and distracting Captain Forbicker completely. Maude had reaped plentiful rewards at the tables. Ezra'd earned his reward as well. Ezra felt the touch as if it were yesterday, a warmth on his shoulder, a ghostly hand pressing delicately as he closed his eyes. A few simple words. "You did good, son." High praise from his Mamon.
Ezra snuffled and wiped his nose as it dripped a bit. His eyes had filled and become watery. He refused to let them tear but hadn't as much control over his nasal passages. She had been proud of his deceptions, she said. She'd briefly put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it lightly. He'd walked on clouds for days afterwards, holding the memory of that touch, those words, when he was left that very afternoon, as they docked, with great-aunt Gertrude. For two silent months.
The reddish brown hair that he so carefully combed this morning was now windblown and tousled but Ezra ignored it. Out here with only Mister for company, there was no need for pretense. He'd clean up when he went down the hill for dinner with Mr. Chris. He could hear the light whine and scrape of the grinding stone that his current self-appointed guardian was using to sharpen the scythe, the sickle, and cooking knives. The sound carried up the hillside and gave Ezra a peaceful, secure feeling. Something new. His arms wrapped around his slight frame, hugging the feeling to him as he lay back down flat on the stiff, dry, high meadow grass. A tiny curve to the corners of his mouth gave away his smile of bliss. For bliss this was, a home, a dog, a d- a kind guardian. His dimples poked dents into his smooth thin cheeks, tears receding beneath closed eyelids.
A slobbery tongue slurped across his face, popping open his startled eyes. "Mister!" He pushed at the large hound looming overhead now, dripping drool down upon his face and neck. And, somehow, it didn't matter. He threw his arms around the dark furry neck and hauled himself back up to hug his companion tightly. A gentle grunt from deep inside the dog's chest told Ezra of Mister's happiness. He hugged tighter still and then dropped back down to the grass and grinned in sheer delight when Mister began to play his game of 'nose-tickle' as Mr. Dunne had dubbed it. The cold wet dog nose pushed up Ezra's cotton shirt and rubbed against the boy's ribs, wet tongue roughly licking a small tummy. Ezra couldn't help it, he shrieked in laughter.
The hound was wise in the way of small humans and sat down heavily against his own small possession. With another grunt, he plopped his two large front paws and forearms down across the little one's ribcage, pinning him to the grass. With a full-body sigh, the old dog then dropped his great head upon the child's small chest and cocked one furry eyebrow as if to inquire as to how the day was going for Ezra.
Ezra dug his slender fingers into the cowl of fur that was Mister's neck and scrubbed vigorously, his eyes sparkling as the dog crooned and raised his head as if to seek even deeper massage from those knowing fingers.
"Looks like you two are having a good time."
Ezra's eyes slid to the side, his face smoothing out a bit, but not completely, a soft look remaining as he rested his face on his shoulder and peered past Mister's massive head to Mr. Chris squatting beside them, dark blond bangs threatening to hide his warm hazel eyes. Speaking eyes. Ezra could read the affection and contentment there.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Chris." He had to laugh when Mister tucked his head down and gently touched teeth to his small nose. "Mister McClintlock and I have been enjoying the afternoon." A stray thought sent his eyes toward the horizon where the sun had somehow begun to descend without his awareness. "We're late!" He pushed up suddenly, causing the dog to roll off and scramble for footing with a small yelp of protest.
"Easy, Ezra," Chris smiled at the messy child, all dust and weeds and dog drool and disarray, just the way a child was meant to be. It had taken a bit to get this far and he felt good at the sight of the relaxed, happy child. "Just came up to check and make sure you were alright. Though," he tipped his chin to the dog that now sat beside them, panting lightly, nose twitching, "though, with Mister here, I wasn't really worried."
Ezra rose quickly, brushing with great intensity at his suddenly scrubby looking attire. "I'm fine. Mister takes good care of me." He looked up, "I apologize for losing track of the time."
"No need, Ezra, I'm glad you were up here getting some sun and fresh air." Chris stood from his squat, picking up Ezra's book and tucking it in a hip pocket of his jeans. "How about we go get Mister fed and have some dinner ourselves?" He patted one sharp little shoulder gently, letting his hand linger as he turned his boy back toward the homestead. Feels like a home now, not just a shack. Ezra's being here makes it so.
Green eyes looked up trustingly and Chris let his hand slide up into the grass-mussed hair and ruffled it further. Two months ago, the child would have ducked away and looked askance. Two months ago, he'd been lucky to see a hair out of place. Chris felt his heart swelling, this kid is something special. He ducked down without warning and grabbed hold, lifting Ezra up and up, over his head and settled the small boy on his shoulders.
From his new perch atop Mr. Chris, Ezra straightened his spine, legs dangling down and firmly gripped by large calloused hands. He leaned forward to rest crossed arms on the man's head. One touch from his Mamon. That was all he'd been able to remember this afternoon.
Now I'm making new memories. So many touches, so much to remember. Ezra suddenly leaned back, knowing Mr. Chris would not let him fall, and tilted his chin toward the sky. With a deep breath, he yelled wordlessly at the sky, his joy too big to stay inside him. And then they were spinning as Mr. Chris laughed aloud, turning fast on one heel. Ezra felt a small pang of despair threaten, the day would come when all this would only be a memory too. Ruthlessly, he suppressed the cautionary thought and grabbed Mr. Chris' ears. With a roar, the man beneath him half-galloped them down the rest of the hill, a big old hound dog trotting at his heels and the returning sound of high, childish laughter trickling down behind them.
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