Written By: (in alphabetical order)
Debbie, Dee, Donna Ree, Erin, Jessica, Karen, Liz, Mary A, Melinde, Raye, Sameena, Tracy, Vicki

The town was in an uproar. Two days ago several outlying farms had been demolished by an unseen attacker and it didn't help that there had been a number of dust storms in the area. The veracity of the storms had turned the air into a moving wall of earth wherever it journeyed. Most folks couldn't see two inches in front of their noses during those storms, so it was a mystery that became the topic of conversation from around the pickle barrel in Tompkins' store all the way to the sewing bee. What terrible fate had befallen their little town?



"It's a curse," Tompkins said under his breath, casting an angry eye at the group of riders standing by the door. As usual, buying nothing, just wasting space.

"A curse?" Teaspoon chuckled. "What have we done to be cursed?"

Tompkins stared at the riders. "Maybe you should look in your backyard."

As Ike began to gesture angrily, Buck pushed his friend's hands down. "Don't bother. He's not worth it," Buck muttered. He pushed the door open and stepped out into the wind, no longer willing to stand in that store and listen to that man.

'Not another storm,' he thought to himself. Whoever or whatever was
preying on the farmers in the area would be sure to take advantage of the
impending weather.

Pulling his neckerchief over his mouth, Buck lowered his head and struggled toward his horse. He only stopped when he ran straight into Jimmy.

Jimmy quickly recovered his balance. Placing one hand on his head to keep his hat from blowing off, he reached out with the other to grab Buck by the arm. "Going somewhere?" he shouted, hoping that Buck heard him through the wind.




"Storm's gettin' worse. It's too dangerous to be outside, Buck," Jimmy yelled. He gripped Buck's arm harder as he felt the Indian try to pull away. "I know Tompkins' store ain't no picnic, but it's safer than bein' out
here!"

Buck shook his head. "Forget it, Jimmy. I'd rather be blown away by this wind to kingdom come!"

**Come . . .**

Buck froze. "What was that?"

"What was what?" an irritated Jimmy replied. He tugged at Buck's arm, ready to drag him into the store, but Buck stood stock still. "Come on, Buck! Back into the store!"

**Come back. . .**

Buck's breath caught in his throat. It was a voice. He was sure of it  now. It was a woman's voice--so low and sorrowful, it seemed to mourn in harmony with the wailing wind. It was ghostly--other worldly--and yet. ...so familiar.



"Did you hear that?" Buck asked Jimmy. Jimmy looked at him in surprise. They both took off around the building toward the voice. When the wind got to be too much they took refuge in the livery.

"What was that?" Jimmy asked as he caught his breath.

Buck turned and looked at Jimmy, "I heard someone calling. Listen!" Buck shushed Jimmy. They both stood there straining to hear anything through the wind.

**Come back.**

The voice was coming from the wind. It was hard to pinpoint from which direction. The boys looked at each other as the eerie voice continued its lament.

**Come back to me. please.don't leave. Ahhhh.**

The sobbing started and the wind grew fierce. Jimmy grabbed Buck's arm and pointed down the street. Buck clutched his medicine pouch and started uttering prayers.

"What the hell is that?" Jimmy asked.

"Nothing good as I see it. We've got to tell the others." Buck answered between prayers.

Jimmy and Buck made their way back toward the store. The wind buffeted them every step of the way. They scrambled through the door of the store. Kid and Cody helped them close it against the elements.

"Well, boys, what did you see?" Teaspoon asked as he lounged against the counter with a cigar in his mouth. Buck rubbed a hand across his face and said, "I'm not sure I believe it, but-"

Jimmy stopped Buck in mid-sentence afraid that if they said something  that the others would think they were crazy. "He thought he heard something in the wind," Jimmy finished.

"No," Buck corrected him, "We did hear something, like a lady crying and asking for help."

Cody laughed saying, "You hearin' ghosts now, Buck?" Noah and Kid couldn't help but snicker at that, and Lou sitting on the counter covered her face afraid she was going to laugh too.

"I know it sounds weird but something is in that storm. Come on outside and listen for yourselves." Buck replied. He had to be honest with himself he'd react the same why if he'd not heard the pitiful moaning his self.

"I ain't going out there and get blown away," Cody replied.

"What afraid of a little wind, Cody?" Jimmy taunted angry that the others didn't believe them.

"I'll go," Lou said jumping down from the counter. The other riders not wanting to be out done by a girl followed her to the door.

As they stepped outside, the force of the wind seemed to intensify. The riders took two or three struggling steps toward the street, the boardwalk creaking uneasily under their weight. Down the road, a loud crash
indicated that someone's picture window had buckled under the power of the storm. The riders peered anxiously through the swirling dust and debris, unable to see more than two feet in front of them despite their best efforts.

"I don't hear nothin', Buck," Lou finally spoke after several long minutes, yelling to be heard over the whistle of the keening wind.

Buck sighed, running a hand through his hair. He cupped his hand around his mouth and leaned toward the female rider. If any of them were going to believe him, he knew it would be Lou. Buck shouted, "I'm telling you, there was a--" As quickly as it had risen, the wind died, and Buck's final word echoed in the suddenly quiet street, "voice!"

Multiple sets of eyes blinked rapidly in the abruptly still air. It only took a few moments for the dust to settle on the ground. The riders exchanged glances before Kid finally spoke up. "Well, whatever it was, it's gone now."

"Yup," Cody agreed. "And I don't know about you, but these dust storms are leavin' me mighty parched. I'm headin' to the saloon."

Lou grabbed Cody's arm as he moved to head down the street. "Don't you think we ought to take advantage of this lull to get back to the station?" she scolded. "Rachel might be worried."

"Awwww Lou, it ain't like we can ride in this weather. And we're goin' to have to wait to make sure another storm don't come in. I'm goin' to the saloon." At Lou's exasperated expression, he added sulkily, "For a sarsaparilla, Lou. A sarsaparilla. Anybody gonna join me?"



"Sounds mighty good, Cody. I sure could go for a cheese sandwich right about now, but I'm with Lou. I think we should head on back to the station." Jimmy spoke up.

"C'mon, Cody, I'll go with ya'." Kid said. He and Cody headed off in the direction of the saloon.

An upset Lou stuck out her tongue at the back of Kid, making a face at  him. Jimmy snickered. "Uh, feel better now, Lou?" He asked her.

"As a matter of fact I do." She replied. "As for that cheese sandwich, I do believe I can manage one of those when we get back to the station. I think Rachel has some cheese down in the root cellar." She looped her arm in Jimmy's and headed for their horses. "Are you boys going to the saloon or back home?" She asked, indicating Ike and Buck.

Buck wasn't sure. He remembered the mournful cry beckoning him. But all was silent now and the storm was giving them a reprieve to get home. He looked at Ike who nodded. "We're going back with you. Don't wanna get stuck here in town any longer than we have to." He indicated Tompkins' store, but really didn't want to stick around to see if the voice came back.

The four mounted up and headed back to the way station, leaving Teaspoon to his own devices.

As the group rode out of town, a sorrowful cry went unheard by the  riders. "Nooooo, please come back."




Unnoticed by all of them, two old but sharp and canny ears had overheard their conversation. Old Eric Camber cowered behind the rain barrel outside of the store, having already been moved on from the saloon earlier. He might be the acknowledged town drunk, a seeming prerequisite for all mid-nineteenth century Western towns, but for all the appearance he gave of being an alcohol-addled sot, Old Eric knew what was what. He hugged his nearly empty whiskey bottle to his breast and whimpered as he heard Buck and Jimmy talk about the voice. After the riders had moved on, Eric collapsed backwards against the wall. Fear sent sharp fingers to tear at the memories buried deep in his mind, and released the guilt that hungered to spring from its hiding place.

Eric's body shuddered as the terror now stalked his waking mind as it had his dreams. His eyes darted about the empty air, searching uselessly for the manifestation of a guilt-ridden memory. He scrambled unsteadily to his feet and dropping his bottle, grabbed the rim of the barrel and screamed into the unnatural quiet of the vacant street.

"Come and get me then! Come and get all of us!" Tears born of extreme panic coursed down his sunken, grimy cheeks, then he lurched out from behind the barrel and crashed through the door of the store.

Teaspoon looked up and pressed his mouth into a tight, slight smile of regret. Thompkins was sure to 'ask' him to 'escort' old Eric out again,  and Teaspoon didn't like to do that. He had a soft spot for the old Scotsman who could play a mean game of checkers on his more lucid days. He cast an eye towards Thompkins, who sure enough, was drawing breath to yell abuse at  the old drunk, but Eric got in first.

"She's back. She's back and this time she's going to make us all pay just as we should have done all those long years ago." Eric's face reflected his horror.

Thompkins lost all colour from his face and had to keep a hand on the counter to keep himself from falling down. His right knee began to wobble as it always did when he got frightened. Really frightened. Gut-wrenching, mind-numbingly terrified.

Confused, Teaspoon left his seat and went to put a comforting arm around Eric but the old man pushed him away. Eric careened about the store, his hands tearing at his hair.

"She be worse than the Banshee I tell you. She's going to tell everyone what we did. She's been calling to those riders of yours. All sad and sorrowful. Ach, there's no place to hide from her. She'll tear all of us -"

Eric broke off his frenzied ranting to clutch at his chest. A voice that only he could hear must have spoken to him. His eyes moved back and forth trying to focus on something unseen.

"She's here. The cold hand of her revenge is on me heart, squeezing the life out of me," he managed to say with barely enough air in his lungs to give the words voice. He lumbered towards Thompkins but his legs gave out and  he fell to the floor with a thud, causing the nearest stack of canned goods to topple to the floor. One can rolled across the floor and came to rest  near Tompkins' foot. He seemed not to notice as he stood staring into space with unseeing eyes. Teaspoon was across the room and by Eric's side in an instant. He carefully turned the man over so he lay with his back to the floor. His eyes were opened wide; his face frozen in a look of sheer terror. He gasped and breathed on final , "Beware," before giving up his battle with consciousness.

Teaspoon put his head near the man's mouth to check for signs of life. The old man was still living. His breathing was shallow and rapid, but he was still drawing breath. "Someone go get Doc Barnes over here quick," Teaspoon shouted.

He didn't look up to see who left, but he heard the quick shuffle of running feet and the creek of the door opening and closing. He made Eric as comfortable as possible before directing his gaze at Tompkins.

Tompkins was still clutching the counter for all he was worth. His knuckles were white due to the force of his grip. He was fighting to get control over his emotions. At the present time he was slowly losing the battle. His terror continued to grow as Eric's words echoed through his brain . . .

"She's back, She's back, She's back . . ." Teaspoon watched as Tompkins' face registered a flood of emotions. There was the initial look of terror that had taken over when Eric first spoke. This was quickly followed by disbelief, and finally anger before starting over with terror. Finally, after a few minutes, Tompkins composed himself enough to stope staring into space and look around the room to see who else was present. When he saw Teaspoon sitting on the floor next  to Eric, he had to once again fight away the terror that threatened to overtake him.

"Is he dead?" Tompkins whispered.

Teaspoon shook his head, "Not yet. He's still hanging on for now. Care to. . ." Tompkins again stared off into space with unseeing eyes. Teaspoon watched this with great interest. As soon as Tompkins composed himself, Teaspoon asked, "Care to explain?"




Try as he might, Tompkins couldn't get any words out after whispering,   "It was twenty years ago."  He closed his eyes, trying to clear his head of memories, no more like nightmares, that kept resurfacing ever since Eric had entered his store.

They'd let her down, all of them - a whole town's worth of people.  She'd come to them for help and they'd turned their backs on her.  They didn't want to get involved in someone else's problem, a problem that could have brought them all down with it.

Tompkins looked up to once again see Teaspoon staring inquisitively at him. He mustered up the nerve to speak once more,  "They were after her ...  and him.  She said he didn't do it but we wouldn't listen.  It was easier to turn our backs, until that one night when all hell came crashing down around us.   By then it was too late to do anything for her."  He rubbed his eyes, hoping that would make them focus on what was going on in front of him.

Before Teaspoon had the chance to ask who the woman was, the door to the store opened and Doc Barnes walked in.  Teaspoon stepped aside as the doctor set about examining Old Eric.  He would wait until the doctor was through before questioning Tompkins once more.

By the time Doc Barnes was done, Eric had regained consciousness.   Hearing he would be fine with some much needed rest, Tompkins quickly offered to put Eric up at his place until he was feeling better.

Teaspoon nodded his agreement to the arrangement then helped Tompkins get Eric out of there.  He would have to wait until tomorrow for more information.

Meanwhile, back at the way station, after the riders had filled Rachel in on what had been going on in town, they left her house to head to the bunkhouse. Jimmy, Lou, Buck and Ike didn't get more that ten feet from the steps when they heard a moan from the direction of the barn and someone cry out, "Help us, please!"

The four took off, looking all around the outside and inside of the barn, not finding anyone.

As Lou and Buck were heading around front to meet up with the others, Lou kicked something with her foot.  Stooping down, she slowly rose to her feet bringing with her the last thing she'd expect to find out there:  a child's doll.

"Oh my god, Buck?"  The sound of Lou's voice caused Buck to turn back and  see what cause her to stop.

"What've you got there Lou?"  She held up the doll for him to see.

"Where do you think it came from, how'd it get out here? Have you ever seen anything like it?"

"what dolls, yes Lou, I've seen little girls with dolls.."

"That's not what I mean, look at it, it ain't just a rag doll, like Miss Annabell Mupplepuss..."

"Who?"

"My doll, that i gave to Theresa, at the orphanage.  No, this doll, is different, its wood, and glass, obviously loved and well cared for... I wonder what happened to the little girl that owned her... I bet she misses her
doll."

Just then the wind picked up and started blowing again.




Buck threw an arm around Lou's shoulders protectively as they ran for the bunkhouse. As they reached it, and the wind-blown dust began to swirl into their eyes again, they saw Jimmy and Ike helping Rachel into the bunkhouse.

After everyone rushed inside, Jimmy and Ike forced the door closed against the howling wind and everyone took a moment to rub the grit from their eyelashes.

"I don't know how long we can keep this up," Rachel said tiredly. "We can't live like this."

"Neither can she," said a stranger's voice from a shadowy corner of the room.

Rachel gasped, whirling around to face the voice, as her protective boys quickly drew their guns and formed a screen between the old man in the corner and Rachel and Louise.

"Who are you and what the heck are you doin' here," Jimmy demanded.

"They call me Mad Dog, and I was hoping to speak with Teaspoon," the man told them, raising a hand in peace and stepping farther into the main part of the room. So dim was the little bit of light that managed to filter through the dust storm and into the room that the riders had a hard time making out his features. Darkness seemed to dominate him, light practically disappearing into the heavy creases of his face.

"What's your tribe?" Buck asked, for clearly this man was one of the native peoples. His long, heavy silver hair, the shape of his nose, and his fathomless eyes made that plain enough. But the old man seemed to carefully avoid any of the identifiers that might give away his tribal affilation.

"I belong only to myself," he answered, not seeming to appreciate the young Kiowa's nosiness. "I need to speak with Teaspoon Hunter. He lives here, yes?"

"As I live and breathe," came Teaspoon's voice from the door. The riders turned, all but Jimmy, who kept his gun trained on the stranger who invaded their home. "Mad Dog," Teaspoon continued, squinting as if to make sure he was not seeing a ghost, "is that *you?*"

"Yes, my friend," the old man answered, breaking into a sly grin. "It is good to see you. There's a story I need to tell you, one that will explain what's been happening lately, and one that will tell you what you must do to put an end to the voices."

"If I have to dump grease over my head again.."

Mad Dog silenced Cody with a look and continued on. "But there are those that are missing from this circle, ones that need to hear the story more than you."

"Look, I'm all for getting rid of these storms and voices.. but I don't want to wait..."

"Kid," Lou put a restraining hand on his shoulder, "Let him talk."

Nodding to the young woman, Mad Dog turned back to Teaspoon. "Let us waste no time, for there is little left to us."



The group reassembled in the wee hours of the morning, covered in dirt and suffering from sleepless days. They crowded into Doc Barnes' examination room with their 'guests'.

The grumbling in the room was deafening, most newcomers having been rousted from sleep by the riders and dragged out into the middle of the storm. Teaspoon waved his arms to attract their attention and called for quiet. "I'll make this as short and sweet as I can." His pointed gaze cut off a protest before it could be voiced. "You're all here for a reason... what, I don't know yet, but this couldn't wait... you're all apart of this for one reason or another, so you're all a part of the solution. Now.... I expect you to listen up and listen good... This here," he stepped back as Mad Dog made his way into the lighted circle in the center of the room, "is Mad Dog. He is a venerated elder of the Paiute nation. He has come here to help us, and you *will* give him the respect he deserves."

Teaspoon stepped back into the ring of men and waited for the complaints to begin.... but they didn't. Wether it was the late hour or some other cause.. the tired townsfolk waited for the old man to begin.
"There was a great wrong done here. Great in its evil... great in its antipathy... and now it has come full circle... now it demands retribution."

Old Eric stirred on his sick bed, his eyes wide with fear, "Beware... beware..."

"Hold on a minute," Tompkins couldn't hold his tongue, "We're supposed to believe you?"

Mad Dog did not acknowledge the outburst, continuing on, "Twenty years ago, storms, such as this, plagued the land... howling winds loud enough to drown out the cries of those in need.. those who should have had your compassion."

Jim Bartles, the aging banker, took in a shaking gasp of air. "You don't think he's talkin' about that injun and his squaw-"

Teaspoon's eyes narrowed as he felt Buck tense beside him in the crowded room.

Mad Dog's focus was on the story... the pain. "A family came here, seeking a life together, here in the 'fronteer' of the white people... the place of fabled new beginnings. They came here to live in peace and you could not find it in your hearts to grant it to them."

"It was immoral-" Bartles was sputtering his frustration, but no one was listening.

"It's true," Tompkins began. "They came here. A man they called Soaring Hawk." He couldn't keep the bitter taste from his mouth or the harsh sound from his voice. "A woman, and her daughter."

"His daughter.. his daughter..." Old Eric's eyes seemed locked on Mad Dog.

"Yes, *his* daughter." Mad Dog's gaze rested for a moment on Buck. "A half breed was not welcome in this town."

"They didn't take a hint."

"Shut up, Bartles!" Tompkins looked pea green in the lantern light. "We shouldn't have done it... we should have waited."

"Waited?" Howled Bartles. "Wait for our women folk to start thinking a red man had a right to touch them.. that a white woman could stomach it... no, we did what we had to do!"

"They died.. they died... "

Bartles turned white as a sheet, "That's right, Eric, they DIED. We drove them out into the storm... drove them straight out of town...saved ourselves from their heathen example!"

"You mean.. it's them?" Cody shivered in the heated room. "They're the ones causing this storm.. the attacks?"

Mad Dog nodded slowly. "Their pain... their separation... they need peace."

"Separation?" Buck looked to the old man with a haunting question in his eyes, "They died together, didn't they?"

Tompkins answered him. "But we didn't know they were dead.. didn't know until days later when we found them..." he gulped down a shaking breath, "... found them just outside of town... we couldn't admit... couldn't believe what we did... so we hid it the only way we knew how."

"That's right," mumbled Bartles, "we buried them at the three furthest points of the town... far away from the decent folk."

Jimmy looked at the Banker with a burning glare. "That explains the farms... right?"

"But we found this doll..." Lou held up the little doll and her voice caught in her throat. "It was at the bunkhouse-"

"That was their cabin," confirmed Tompkins.

Lou clutched the little doll to her chest and bit down on her bottom lip.

"Make amends... make amends..." Eric moaned from his cot.

Teaspoon removed his hat and pressed his fingers against his temple. "Sounds like Eric here has the right idea. Sounds like the town needs to make amends to that poor fami-"

"Don't you dare.." hissed Bartles, "... don't you call them a -"

The door slammed open and a punishing wind blew through the group circling the room until it reached Jim Bartles. His eyes grew wide as though he stared into the gates of hell before him and then a single strangled cry was torn from his throat. His head lolled forward like a limb from a broken doll, limp and heavy. Slowly.. with a macabre grace, Bartles slid to the floor, dead.

The assembled group froze in fear as the lantern flames around the room flared to life, burning bright and casting shadows on the wall. A tall, lithe figure dressed in a breechcloth flickered against the black wall, a hand raised in triumph as a woman's pleading voice was heard. *peace... bring us peace...*

A deep gutteral voice was heard. A masculine tone that split the darkness of the night. *honor us in the ways of the people*

The howling wind swept out of the room, the same way it came in, slamming the door behind it.




There was only silence in the room... only the ringing sound of fear was alive in the air.

"In the ways of the people..." Teaspoon repeated,  "Buck, do you know what that means?"

Buck's eyes shone like dark stars as he looked to the Station Manager, "Their spirits are trapped... we need a funeral pyre... set them free... they don't want to be held here."

"No.. No... let them goooooo...."

Tompkins moved closer to the ranting man and set a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Eric... we'll set it right... I'll see to it." His gaze rose through the flickering yellow light to meet Buck's. "I'll see it's done the right way. I promise."

The winds swirling around the building died down to a whisper of sound that was nearly imperceptible to the gathered crowd, they could only hear the rush of fear blazing through their veins and the gentle sounds of a child's laughter.

The worst was over... peace was back in Sweetwater.
 

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