This was written in response to Bern's Cartoon challenge. The title I stole from one of the cartoon episodes. To say any more would spoil the surprise. <g>
Title: Scrambled Aches
Author: Beth Green


Universe: OW

Characters: Buck, Nathan

Buck rode into town, trailing a brown gelding behind him. A man was secured face-down across the saddle. To the observers on the street, that meant onething: a dead body. JD, Vin, and Josiah headed toward their friend as he rode in.

JD reached Buck before the others. "What happened?"

Buck grimly ordered, "Get Nathan! The man's still breathing, but I don't know for how much longer."

JD hurriedly complied with Buck's request. By the time the tall gunman had reached Nathan's clinic, the healer had everything set up for whatever Buck might bring.

Josiah helped Buck remove the injured man from his horse. The stranger was dusty and bruised, his face covered by a scruffy brown beard that matched the color of the hair on his head. The most obvious injury was to the man's right hand: it was swollen and blackened.

Nathan fired questions at Buck as they moved the man up the stairs and onto a waiting cot. "What happened to him?"

Buck shook his head. "I don't know. I found him lying at the bottom of a cliff. Found the horse tethered at the top. From the lack of footprints where he was laying, if I had to guess, I'd say he fell. Thing is, if he did, there's no way he'd still be alive. Found a gun nearby. Looks like it blew up on him."

Nathan nodded. "That explains the hand."

Buck continued, "I could 've told the fella, if he'd been awake to listen, never to buy a gun from the ACME gun company."

Nathan began a slow and careful examination. He shook his head, stating, "Well, besides the hand and a pretty impressive collection of bruises, it don't seem like the man is hurt too bad."

As Nathan completed his statement, the injured man's eyes fluttered open.  His dark eyes, heavy with suspicion, scanned the room.

Nathan explained, "My friend found you layin' in the dirt. Can you tell us what happened?"

The man frowned and shook his head.

Nathan continued, "You don't remember?"

The man shook his head again, his suspicion replaced by an air of frustration. He looked around and spied his coat upon a nearby chair. He reached for the coat and dragged it over onto himself and proceeded to rifle through the pockets. He pulled out a stack of papers bound together with twine. The injured man one-handedly pulled at the twine until its knot unraveled, shuffled through the papers and removed one to hold up in front of the peacekeepers.

The preprinted sign explained, "CAN'T TALK."

Nathan nodded in understanding. He asked, "Can you let me know where you hurt?"

To both Nathan and Buck's surprise, the man pulled out two other preprinted messages in rapid succession. They informed the observers, "HAND" followed by "PRIDE."

Buck asked, "Somebody do this to you?"

The man nodded in reply. He reached for his coat pocket and pulled out a well-worn, folded sheet of paper. When it was unfolded, the paper was revealed to be a wanted poster. The poster declared that the silent man's quarry was someone known as 'The Roadrunner.'


~beep! beep!