Laresa awoke from her rejuvenative sleep, once again restored so that she might walk the world outside her ring when the call came. Relaxing amongst her cushions, she hoped that call might be some time in coming. The nature of her most recent Masters had given her little desire to anticipate the call.
Her servitude to Famke had been pleasant, and lasted throughout the woman's life. Famke had died peacefully of old age — her many children at her side — far from her controlling stepfather.
The following three Masters to command her were far less pleasant individuals. All had immediately succumbed to their baser desires, using her body before even considering any other wishes. Naturally, they had left her unsatisfied — an all too common occurrence.
A common lie, one Laresa had discovered was easy to draw from a Master without breaking the rules of her servitude, had freed her from their control as well. Each man had denied he was married when asked the question, sending her back to her ring and across the face of space and time once more.
Lying back, Laresa parted her thighs and let her fingers play over her velvety folds. She had done so frequently over the last eighty years, always dreaming of another Master who would think of her needs and give her release — perhaps even one who would ask how she might be freed from bondage.
She dreamed of that now, as her pleasure mounted. In her mind's eye, she lay with a handsome man because she desired it, freed by his wish from an eternal life of servitude.
Shuddering, her cries of pleasure echoing off the walls of her prison, Laresa reached her peak. When she opened her eyes, the daydream faded in the face of reality. Sighing in a mixture of satisfaction and resignation, she sank back to the cushions to await the call of a Master.
Hillsboro Texas — 1877
The townsfolk shied away with good reason when Clint Hendershot lurched out of the Old Rock Saloon, two bottles of whiskey dangling by their necks from his weathered right hand. None knew the name of the man — or his reputation — but one look at his scarred, square-jawed face — and the free hand near his gun — marked him as a dangerous man.
Clint scowled at the frightened folk, his deep-set, green eyes squinting in the sunlight after being inside the dim saloon for several hours. He'd been of a mind to celebrate after he and the rest of the gang had taken the stage, and this was the first place he'd come across when they rode away from each other after the robbery. Each man's share of that poke was enough to live the good life for a few years, and not a one had trusted the others with so much money in their pockets.
Damn town fulla sheep, and not even a damn whore to be found, Clint thought, as he stumbled across the boards to his horse. He stowed the whiskey in his saddlebag and stepped up into the stirrup.
"You're a dead man, thief!"
The voice rang out from somewhere behind him, and Clint immediately spun, drawing his gun. Drunk or sober, he could shoot the fangs off a rattler, and he planned to kill whoever was gunning for him first.
His hand started to tremble when he discovered he had drawn down on a boy, no more than twelve years old. The lad could have been a twin to Clint's younger brother, taken by the pox at about the same age as the wide-eyed boy now wetting his pants across the rutted dirt street.
Clint's arm fell to his side, and the boy fled as soon as the barrel of Clint's Walker Colt pointed away from him. Ashen and trembling, Clint watched the boy run off. He could see an image of his younger brother, blood pouring from a bullet hole, standing in front of him with a betrayed look on his face.
Holstering his gun, Clint turned back to his horse, leaning up against the animal, and noisily retched up the liquor he had drunk. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve afterward, Clint unsteadily mounted his horse and rode out of town. A few miles out, he hurled the two bottles of whiskey to the ground and rode away from them.
Somewhere in Kansas — 1880
"You'd be Clint Hendershot," the young man said, staring hard at Clint, who was emerging from the corn stalks in his garden.
Clint froze, resignation washing over him. What he'd feared these last three years had finally come to pass. Somebody he'd wronged in his old life had found him, and come to kill him.
"Pardon?" Clint said, hoping to dissuade the teen that he'd found the man he was hunting.
"I said — you'd be Clint Hendershot, the man who kilt my Paw on a stage outta Cheyenne twelve years ago. The man who kilt my Paw for two bits an' a pair of boots. The man I come to kill, so my Paw can rest in peace."
Slowly raising his hands, one holding a wooden pail filled with ears of corn, Clint responded, "You've got me confused with somebody else, Mister. My name's William Westwood."
"You're a damn liar, a thief, and a murderer," The sandy-haired young man accused, drawing a pistol, cocking the weapon, and taking aim.
Clint hurled the bucket at the boy and dived toward the horse. Luck was on Clint's side, because the sudden action spoiled the young man's aim. Clint took a glancing hit to his arm, painful but not dangerous. Reaching up, he grabbed the other man's coat and jerked him from his horse. Luck wasn't so kind to the unseated rider, because his boot caught in the stirrup, hurling him headfirst into the ground.
Snatching up the pistol that had tumbled to the ground, Clint panted for breath and stared at the young man. After a few moments, he nudged the boy with his boot and got no response. A closer look told him the kid was breathing, but he was obviously unconscious. Blood was starting to trickle out from where he had had hit his head on a rock in the tumble.
Clint stared at the gun — the only real solution to the problem that was lying on the ground before him — and sighed. He couldn't do it; he wasn't a bad man anymore. That terrible moment three years ago had broken him of drink and viciousness forever.
Tucking the pistol into the waist of his pants, Clint leaned down and grabbed the boy under his arms to drag him into the house.
Clint had taken and treated enough wounds to know how to sew the slice in the teen's head up, but he was no doctor. He had no idea why the kid was still unconscious, or if he would ever wake up.
Rifling through the young man's pockets and saddlebags hadn't helped much either. The only unusual thing Clint had found was a ring, gold with a big amber stone. It didn't tell him anything about who the boy was, or what to do about him.
Spinning the ring between his fingers, Clint stared at the boy on the bed across the room. If he ever woke up, it was the end of Clint's new life. He'd have to go on the run, because he wouldn't kill the kid for seeking revenge upon the man who had taken away his father. Even if the story that brought the kid here was all twisted up, and Clint hadn't actually shot the young man's father, surely he'd killed somebody else's and deserved a bullet or a hanging for it.
Taking a sip of water from a dented tin cup, he stared at the ring again. He'd spent nearly all his money buying up this place and livestock. If he were going on the run, he would need money. Otherwise, he would have to go right back to his old life.
Clint shook his head, put down his cup and thought, Takin' this now, or takin' something else later, it's all the same. It's either death, or goin' back to wickedness.
The gold band looked like it might fit, and that thought distracted him from his dark musings for a moment. Sliding on the ring, he found that it did fit, although it felt a little tight. Clint twisted the ring back and forth, and then started when wisps of smoke swirled and gathered between him and the bed across the room. The ring on his finger also grew alarmingly warm.
Standing up, he jarred the table and sent the chair crashing to the floor behind him. The tendrils thickened and then coalesced into a beautiful woman.
Stumbling backward, Clint stared at the woman with fearful surprise — and desire. The woman had hair that was impossibly light, looking almost as if it was spun of silver in the faint light of the room. The sparse clothing that covered her displayed her womanly charms well. A thin vest barely constrained her well-rounded bosom, leaving her stomach bare. Billowing pants — made of some material Clint had never seen — hid her body, while the airy fabric gave tantalizing hints of what lay beneath.
Laresa sighed inwardly, recognizing the time in which she once again walked the world outside her ring. The last time she had visited this period, she had been enslaved by a man of ill demeanor, with no care for personal cleanliness. The man before her, and the rough surroundings, gave her little hope that this visit would be any different from the last.
"You summoned me, Master. How may I serve you?"
Clint's eyes narrowed when she spoke, and he asked, "Who are you? How'd you get in here?"
"My name is Laresa, and you summoned me, Master," she responded with a slight bow of her head.
Looking down at the ring — still warm and flickering with a slight glow deep in the gem's facets — Clint understood that there was some magic in the ring. Looking back up at the woman, he asked, "What are you, then — a witch?"
"I am a genie, Master, not a witch," Laresa responded, hints of irritation creeping into her melodious voice. This was yet another thing she disliked about this time period, being constantly associated with dark magic and child-stealing crones.
Vaguely, Clint recalled the stories he had heard from other children before his family had moved west. Genies granted wishes, anything a man could desire, if he could believe what he had always thought to be whimsical stories.
Looking at the woman, he felt a stir in his loins. She was beautiful, and with so much soft flesh bared to his eyes, his body was responding naturally. Wishes, huh, he thought, I wish that kid had never found me. I wish he'd find some peace and go on with his life, so I could go on with mine.
"As you command, Master," Laresa said, and the boy vanished from the bed.
"The he... Where did he go?"
"I have returned him to his home, as you desired. He will have no memory of having found you, and in his heart he believes that the man who murdered his father is dead," Laresa explained.
"What about that knot on his head? Did you wake him up?"
"He is in perfect health, Master, exactly as you desired."
Clint bent down and picked up the chair he had upended in surprise upon Laresa's appearance. Sitting down, he blew out a long breath of air and stared at the woman, "So, you can do anything I ask?"
"There are limits, Master."
"I cannot return the dead to life, nor can I change events, such as wars, that affect many people throughout the flow of time. I can alter memories, but I have no power over feelings."
Again remembering the stories, Clint muttered, "So I got two wishes left then."
Laresa rolled her eyes. She hated those stories and the misconceptions that came with them, "No, Master, your wishes are my command for as long as you desire, or until you break the rules."
"Then call me Clint, it makes my skin crawl bein' called Master. Ain't no man owns another. What are these rules?"
"I will not abide a lie. If you speak falsely to me, I shall vanish, never to return."
Clint grunted by way of acknowledgment, "It sure would be nice to have this place fixed up, and have water that didn't taste like it came out of a swamp."
Laresa was a little perplexed by the image in her Master's head. He only wished for what he had to be like new, for the soil to bring forth a bountiful harvest, his water to be clean, and for a porch he could sit on in the evenings while drinking coffee and smoking his pipe.
With a thought, Laresa made his dream a reality. Clint started, but then smiled and laughed, looking around. Even his clothing was clean and new. Picking up the tin cup, now free of dents and full of clear water, he took a sip. He shuddered and sighed, "Like it came straight from a mountain stream."
"Is this what you desired, Clint?" Laresa's voice betrayed that she had expected more from his wish.
"I reckon this is exactly what I was thinkin' of. I've been a bad man, and I know that havin' too much attracts too much attention." Raising one eyebrow, he asked, "You can hear what I'm thinkin'?"
"I can see your desires in your mind. You need only speak your wishes in simple words, and I can make your true desires come true."
Clint winced, remembering what he had been thinking about while looking at her earlier. "Well then, ma'am, I'm right sorry for what you saw in my head earlier then. It ain't right for me to be thinkin' them thoughts about you."
Laresa smiled, "I am unashamed of my body, and unashamed to be desired." Laresa could see the darkness in this man's soul, but it was darkness buried. He had truly turned his life around, turning his back on the wickedness of his youth. Clint's apology for desiring her was heartfelt, and honest.
"Can you do for the other folk I hurt in my youth, when I was fulla beans and drink, like you did for that kid? Can you make right the wrongs I done?"
"I cannot breathe life back into those who perished by your actions, but I may do much the same as I did for the youth who lay sleeping here."
"Do that then. Them folk all deserve better'n I gave 'em."
Laresa sifted through Clint's memory, finding it difficult at times through the fog of liquor that clouded most of the memories. She found each action he had taken that hurt someone else, and did what she could to make it right.
Widows found money they needed desperately. Men healed from crippling injuries. Women forgot his violent, whiskey driven advances.
"It is done," Laresa said, as she opened her eyes.
"Just like that, huh?"
Clint shook his head and smiled. If not for what he had already seen, he wouldn't have believed her. As it were, he found it difficult not to believe this woman. "I reckon I'll sleep a lot better at night now."
Looking at Laresa, Clint asked, "Do you eat? If I'm not askin' somethin' improper."
"It is not needful to me, but I have found enjoyment in it during my times outside the ring."
Thinking about what he would like to prepare for her, by way of thanks for removing some of the burden upon his soul, Clint tried to work around what he was missing in his mind.
"Allow me," Laresa told him. Everything he had envisioned, perfectly prepared and steaming, suddenly filled the table.
Clint looked at her and chuckled. The revealed swell of her breasts, barely hidden beneath the vest she wore, drew his eyes again, and he closed them, turning away slightly before re-opening them. "Can you..."
He saw the change happen in his peripheral vision. When he looked back at Laresa, she wore a blue summer dress that covered much of her body. It did little to disguise the fact she was a woman, but it did hide the tempting skin that her previous clothing had revealed.
Laresa sat down in a second chair that she created on the opposite side of the table from Clint, and they started filling their plates from the feast before them.
Several hours later, Laresa sat in a rocking chair, opposite Clint in one of his own, on his new porch. The full moon and the stars lit the night after a fabulous sunset had dazzled Clint's senses.
He took another sip of his coffee, and then placed the stem of his pipe back in his lips. Both the coffee and the tobacco were above and beyond anything he had ever tasted. "I hope I ain't been botherin' you with my talkin'. I don't see folk out here very often, and I don't seek 'em out. I ain't talked to a soul 'cept the animals in months."
In truth, Laresa liked his earthy, well-reasoned philosophy. Having walked a dark road for so long, Clint had become a deep thinker in the years of solitude after giving up lawlessness. "I do not mind, it is quite pleasurable."
Clint laughed, "Folk would be lookin' at us all odd if they saw us. You all beautiful and young, me all scarred up and older than dirt."
"None save you can see, or hear me, Clint."
His brow furrowed, "What if I wished folk could see you? I wouldn't want folk to think I'm not right in the head — talking to myself and all."
"Since such is your wish, it shall be so. Others shall see me even as you do now."
A thought flitted through Clint's head, wishing he wasn't so scarred and weather-beaten, as he looked at the beautiful woman seated in front of him.
Laresa smiled, and produced a mirror from thin air. She handed it to Clint and his pipe dropped to the porch when he saw his face, unlined, clean-shaven, and missing the scars that had always cut across it. Laresa's blood stirred looking at him, because he was ruggedly handsome beneath the years of neglect and hard living she had just removed from his face.