It was a most wondrous thing, for a certainty, to be free of his infernal prison at last, and free to plot dire revenge against the witch who threw him there. Revenge, the very idea of it, his thirst to dole out blood and pain and death in retribution, had been his solitary sustaining beacon in decades of darkness, and was by now hard as diamonds and cold as his soul. It was the single thought that filled his mind to brimming as he stood with his feet on the dusty dry surface of the earth, the sun shining down warm on his shoulders.
Until he turned a full circle, looking around him, and realized he did not have the slightest notion where to begin.
Wellaway, a witch needed to be found, and she was not located right here before his very eyes, so he began to walk. He took sight of the long valley he was in, the foothills surrounding him and the distant rise of great mountains, and figured whatever cursed magic had trapped him for so long had belched him back out into Purgatory, a laughably rude jest on its own. The trees he could see, the grasses on the plain, the very angle of the sun told him he was far in the North, and he hated the North, with its endless winter and its rigid people. Might be he could depart from this aggrieved place. He thought perhaps he ought to return to Tombstone, where the sun would scorch a man to nothing but a husk and dust, or mayhap he might travel all the way back to his beloved southern Georgia, and the comfort of familiar pine and cypress and voices that were tinged with honey and laughter, but these were only idle longings, and his heart was not in it. He knew he would have to begin his search here. He could do no otherwise; there was naught for a man but to fight and die, or fight and survive, and he intended the latter. Wyatt would go on about a man's duty to justice, but that was Wyatt. He was going to look after himself, and wrest his revenge from an uncaring world.
It was not long before he started to see strange things as he travelled, things both wonderful and uncanny. He encountered a trail almost immediately, wide as four horses, and in the dirt there were wagon-tracks unlike any he had ever seen before. This odd road led him to another, stranger one: vastly wider and with a hard macadam surface, though he wondered why a road like this would even be built, for no army in the history of the world had ever existed that needed so wide a road for marching. He followed that one as well. In a few minutes, a strange conveyance hurtled past him, with almighty speed and what sounded like the blare of a dozen oboes. A second vehicle came rushing soon after, but slowed to a halt as it pulled aside.
A grizzled old man inside the carriage asked, “Heading to town? Need a lift?”
He just stared wide-eyed, at this wagon with no horse attached, before he tipped his hat, muttering, “Much obliged.” He knew the world must have changed over the course of the years lost to his tribulations, but now faced with it, he could not comprehend the magnitude of it. He had much to learn, and fast.
The ride in the horseless wagon was terrifying, the velocity with which they raced down the macadamized road greater than even the train that had originally brought him West, but he survived. When the old-timer asked him where he was heading, he said he did not rightly know, so he was left off somewhere around the center of town. Wandering, he encountered what was plainly a saloon in the middle of strange buildings with strange signs advertising who-knows-what on them, so he thought it a reasonable choice to enter. And it was in that saloon where he met a descendant of his dearest friend, and saw a pistol he had not seen in many years, and started to wonder what sort of madness was going to ensnare him next.
He needed a place to sleep, and he needed money for this new world full of new things. The bare fact of it was, he had but few coins and they did not seem to be legal tender here. He had found this out when the proprietor of the saloon (he was, of course, named Shorty, although he did not seem particularly small of stature) became more and more irate with him when he had nothing else to offer, until finally a girl stepped in, placating the barkeep by stuffing paper in a jar, and talking in circles. Another Earp, apparently. Wyatt had settled here long enough that he had left his name on the land, and more than one of his progeny remained.
It was the enemies of his friend that provided the solution to his problem, oddly enough. He had discovered the group of outlaws, men outside of time and touched by the demonic; some he even recognized from the years prior to the witch's curse, a thing that seemed to surprise them as much as it surprised him, but then quickly grew ordinary. They were mostly mean as snakes and they all hated Wyatt, which meant they regarded him with malevolent suspicion, but they were also greedy men, and some stupid enough to continue trying to win back the money he had taken from them playing at cards. They provided him with a small income, sufficient to his modest needs until he could find a better source, and thus was his first problem solved.
Being cursed and thrown into a well does not present the best opportunities for dental hygiene, and now with a little money in his pocket, he intended to remedy that unfortunate detail. After judiciously asking around after the location of the general store, and learning that it was in fact called “the supermarket” by everyone in town, he embarked upon making his purchases.
Once he had arrived, and had been directed to the proper aisle (“right down there, on four,” the young cashier had pointed and said in an all-fired hurry, as if he was so eager to ring up the other customer's dry goods that he could barely take the time to answer a single question) he stood bewildered by the array of dental brushes displayed before him. It was all a gaudy splash of every color known, reminding him of nothing so much as a fan dance he had once seen performed at a bordello in Dodge City, with peacock feathers. He grinned at the recollection, but then turned his attention back to the brushes, all different sizes and shapes, each in its own little box. How on earth was he to make a determination? He needed one, not a hundred.
It was as he stood there, contemplating enough choices to freeze him to inaction, when he saw the younger Earp, Waverly, approaching while pushing some kind of a wire cart on wheels. She noticed him as well, and apparently noticed his dilemma, speaking up as she came near. “J-ohn Henry?” she queried, hesitating slightly on the name. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
He shrugged, and nodded at the display. “I seem to have a plethora of options from which to choose,” he replied.
“What type do you currently use?” she asked.
“These are all quite different from that to which I am accustomed,” he answered truthfully. He wondered if this was some ruse, or trick to trip him up, but Waverly seemed genuinely trying to be helpful, without ulterior motive. She did have a certain sweetness to her, this young girl, he admitted to himself.
She tapped her chin with her finger a couple of times. “Well,” she began briskly, as though delighted to be able to present information, or solve a problem. “My dentist says that most people should be using a medium-bristle brush, so you probably can't go wrong there. Like this one,” she said, plucking a bright green toothbrush off the rack and handing it to him. “And then any fluoride toothpaste will do, they are all pretty much the same.”
“Tooth. Paste?” he said, scanning the shelves. “I was hoping to find a jar of tooth powder, but I am afraid that I see none of it here.”
“Tooth powder?” she repeated, with a note of incredulity in her voice. “That's awfully old-timey of you. I don't think they carry that.” She was giving him a queer, questioning look, and he realised he had somehow stumbled, although he had no idea how, or why.
“Ah, then,” he said, grabbing one of the small boxes that bore a name that he recognized. “Perhaps this would be suitable?” The red letters said Colgate, and he remembered when the tooth cleaning gel that company made had been a wonderful new product, one he tried to convince all his patients to use. Of course, in the days when he practiced, hardly anyone had brushed their teeth no matter how strenuously he recommended it, and dentistry had been mostly the removal of diseased and broken teeth. Clearly that had changed between then and now, if only judging by the large number of brushes for sale in this mercantile.
Waverly eyed the toothpaste, then broke out into a smile. “Yup, that's fine,” she said. “So, are you all good?”
“I am indeed,” he said.
“Alrighty! See you later,” she said brightly, with a little wave goodbye.
Later, when he had gone back to his trailer and was able to use his new purchases for the first time, he was quite simply amazed. For a certainty, time had improved the implements of dental hygiene, and he marveled at the silky bristles of the brush, not harsh in the least bit, and the new-fangled tooth-paste had been a joy as well, the taste of it so fresh and minty and without any unpleasant aftertaste of soap. It had been so entirely pleasing that he immediately brushed his teeth for a second time, and then stood admiring his clean mouth and his happy visage in the small mirror above the sink. “There you go, you old scoundrel,” he addressed his reflection. “That was even better than you remembered it.” In this strange, changed world, there was at least one thing that was no challenge at all.