What's In A Name challenge entry. Title by Karen

A light breeze rustled the leaves on the trees just to the left of where three figures stood in the doorway of the mission school. They were an unusual group, a Nun, a bald headed teen aged boy and another teen aged boy of obviously mixed blood. Both boys were carrying small bags and looked scared.

“You have the address of Mr. Richardson? He’s agreed to give you both jobs taking care of his animals and any other chores he needs done at least through this winter. You’ll also help with the harvest, like last year, I assume. So I’m not sure what you’ll be doing until the fall. I’ll be sending several other boys over there then to help too.” Turning toward the darker of the boys she said, “Buck you are probably a bit younger than Ike and you don’t have to leave here yet if you don’t want to. I wish we could keep children here after they turned sixteen but those are the rules and we have to live with them. I’m sorry.” She said turning to Ike again.

“I’d like to stay with Ike, but thank-you Ma’am.” Buck clutched his bag nervously in his hands and shifted his feet slightly.

“Very well, best of luck to both of you. Good-bye, write and tell me how you’re doing. God bless you both.” She hugged each boy and kissed them gently on the cheek. They hugged her, turned and stepped out the door toward whatever the future held.

The breeze gently caressed the boys’ faces and pushed Buck’s hair around before he put on the slightly battered hat he’d been given. Ike looked at Buck and placed his own hat on his head. *You’re really going to let your hair grow?* He signed as they passed the gates of the school. *It’s funny I hated this place but now that its not home anymore I think I’m going to miss it.* Ike turned and began walking toward the farm that would be their new home for the next few months.

Buck looked back one last time at the school. He’d found this place four years ago as a scared, cold and starving young boy somewhere around twelve years old. He remembered it well, there had been a cold wind blowing as winter arrived early. He’d been almost wishing that he would die and then he’d seen the buildings he was looking at now. At that moment he hadn’t cared what this place was he was only hoping for some shelter from the cold. The wind seemed to push him toward the buildings were he’d been found hiding in the barn that evening. The next few weeks were a blur. These people knew nothing of his people and they had forced him to cut his hair, took away his earring, medicine pouch and the knife his brother had given him and took the clothing he’d been wearing and gave him white men’s clothes in their place. Then he met Ike and they became brothers, he was still taunted and scorned by the other children but Ike was different. He hated some of the things the white people did to him and in some ways they were no better than the Indians, but he had worked hard and learned the language, learned to read, write and do sums. He had been pleasantly surprised to find that the medicine pouch, knife and it’s sheath were all in the bag he’d been given. The earring was there too, inside the medicine pouch, he was sure he’d have to re-pierce his ear; not something he was looking forward to. Buck was Kiowa and proud of it. “Yeah, I’m letting it grow……I don’t know if I’ll miss this place or not.” Buck followed Ike without looking back.

~*~*~

The next few months were even harder than either boy could have imagined. Mr. Richardson hated Buck and made sure Buck knew it. He’d given Ike a bed in the bunkhouse with his other hired hands but Buck was assigned a bale of hay and a couple of blankets in an unused stall in the barn. Buck had been told there just weren’t enough bunks but Buck knew better. The rest of the hired hands either mistrusted Buck or were outright hostile towards him; he was an outcast. They tolerated Ike because he was white but ignored Buck as if he didn’t exist. Buck decided that being ignored was only marginally better than being taunted all the time. Buck was allowed in the bunkhouse for his meals but he and Ike sat alone at the end of the table and usually got only the very last bits of food. Buck swore that as soon as spring came he was leaving. He’d saved his money and bought himself a warmer coat and boots that weren’t falling apart from one of the hired hands that was leaving to get married and head further West.

Ike had faired somewhat better, he had also saved his money and had added to his meager possessions but he agreed with Buck, they needed to leave. The end of January found Buck shivering under his blanket in the barn and wishing he were back at the school. Two weeks later Mr. Richardson called both boys to his office and told them he was taking a new boy from the mission school and they would no longer be needed. He handed them their last pay and told them to be gone by the end of the day.

They gathered their belongings and were gone within an hour. The cold wind still had a bite to it; they pulled their cloth coats tighter and trudged on. The next few days they wandered further west, stopping at the occasional farm to see if there was any work to be had. There wasn’t much available but they managed to pick up a few jobs in exchange for hot meals and a bed of straw in the odd barn.

~*~*~

By the ides of March they were cold, tired, dirty and hungry. Ike had been offered a couple of jobs but as soon as they saw Buck the doors were slammed. On several occasions, only Ike had gone in looking for work while Buck remained hidden nearby. Ike would sneak food out to him or let him in the barn after everyone else had gone to bed. They were beginning to get desperate. Buck was growing very uneasy about being able to live in the white world. Ike kept telling him that things would get better and that spring was coming. He was sure the warmer weather would send more opportunities their way. Buck agreed only marginally, the warmer weather meant that food was easier to find and the ground wasn’t as cold. Most days the sun warmed them up as they continued walking across the vast plains following a trail that had been cut by the wagons of settlers headed toward their new lives in the new territories. Ike spotted a sign for a town called Blue Creek and they decided to head toward it.

~*~*~

They were walking through the town when Buck got hit in the face by a piece of paper blowing around in the cold March wind. He was just about to crumble it up when he happened to catch the headline. ‘Wanted! Young, skinny, wiry fellows.’ “Hey Ike, look at this” Buck said excitedly reading the paper to himself. Ike came over and read over Buck’s shoulder while Buck read out loud.

“Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred”

“Well that sounds like us….wa’da ya think?” Buck turned to Ike.

*Does it say where we go for this?* Ike looked at Buck’s face. *Are you sure? Expert Riders? We both know how to ride but Expert? Willing to risk death? DAILY? I’m planning on living to see my grandchildren I don’t know about you….* Ike looked up at Buck again and saw something, almost pleading, in his eyes. *We’re almost seventeen or at least I am and we’re both orphans so I guess….* Ike just didn’t want Buck to be rejected again. He knew how much the cruel looks and words hurt Buck even though he tried to hide it. Some people wouldn’t even wait to hear Buck’s name before they pronounced him worth something less then horse manure.

Buck had read the small print while Ike was talking, only half paying attention to Ike’s gestures. “It says to report to the General Store for applications and further details. You ride real good and I grew up on horses so that’s not a problem…What’s life if you’re not taking a risk now and then? It sounds like fun….come on, all they can say is no….there it is.” Buck pointed toward the general store. Ike shrugged and followed Buck into the store.

Ike’s fears were all set aside when the man never even looked up at them; he was busy with another man who had a large list of items. He just asked them to swear that they’d follow all the rules then handed them each a paper to sign and told them where to report. After they signed the papers he handed them each a Bible and some money. Both left their new Bibles on the counter. Buck didn’t believe in it, he’d read all the stories but to him that’s all they were, and Ike already had his own. The man told them that they were being paid in advance so they could get to the station on time and would be ready to work. Finally the man looked up, gave the two the once over and shook his head but said nothing. As they were leaving they heard him mumble “good luck” and laugh.

They were told to report to Emma Shannon’s place a couple of miles out side of Sweetwater. They had to be there as soon as possible but without horses they would be walking. Buck asked directions from the shopkeeper and they were in luck. One of the suppliers for the general store was headed there as soon as his business was finished in Blue Creek and he offered them a ride, for a small price. The trip was over a day and a half long but riding was better than walking and the boys considered the price they paid well worth it. They arrived in Sweetwater late in the day and inquired at the livery stable where the Shannon farm was. The man at the livery looked them over for a long time before telling them the directions to the new station.

They had walked about halfway there before it became too dark to see the road. Buck somehow managed to snare a rabbit and Ike built a fire to cook it. *I’ll be happy to have a real meal; I’ve eaten too many rabbits in the past two months. Think about it, a steak and gravy, mashed potatoes, and maybe peas or carrots, fresh bread and butter.* Ike smiled and rubbed his stomach.

“Yeah, I’m sick of rabbit too. I’m kinda hopin’ that Miss Shannon will feed us something good. I hope we don’t have to cook for ourselves. I’d love a good cup of coffee.” Buck smiled at Ike and frowned at the rabbit.

They finished their meal talking about all the different things they liked to eat. When the bones were picked clean, Buck buried the remains as Ike tried to stoke up the fire. A cool wind had picked up and was finding any bare skin to chill. Both boys shivered as they pulled their coats closer and settled down to sleep; they dreamed of the new life they were to start tomorrow.

Dawn found them huddled against the morning chill. They stood up stiffly, and brushed off the dirt from their cold beds. The fire had gone out sometime over night but the cool wind had vanished; a warm breeze took its place They had walked about a mile when they heard a rider behind them.

They turned to see a young man on a beautiful brown and white horse riding toward them. Horse and rider approached them and slowed down, finally stopping beside them. “I’m looking for Emma Shannon’s place, do you know how much further it is?” the young man asked.

“We’re looking for that too.” Buck answered. “I don’t think it’s much further if that guy back at the livery was right.”

The rider dismounted and stood beside his horse. “I’m Kid and this is Katy.” He patted the horse. “I’m going to be a rider for the Pony Express, how about you?”

Ike was nodding and Katy pushed her head toward him for a scratch. “Yeah, us too…..This is Ike McSwain and I’m Buck Cross. Ike doesn’t talk but he can hear just fine.” Buck said as Ike scratched the horse in her withers.

“Pleased to meet you!” Kid extended his hand first to Buck and then to Ike. Buck had been almost too surprised to remember what he was supposed to do; no one ever shook his hand. Ike had smiled and shook Kid’s hand then he made a few movements with his hands; both Buck and Kid watched.

“Ike says that your horse is beautiful, have you had her long?” Buck translated. They all started walking and spoke as they continued down the road.

“Thanks, I’ve only had her about a month but I feel like I’ve had her forever. She knows me really well.” Kid replied. “Do you know anything about what this job is all about?”

“I guess it’s like a relay thing with letters or something. I still have the paper…..” Buck dug into the pocket of his coat. He pulled the paper out and read the whole advertisement as they rounded a corner of the road. He heard Ike thump his chest three times.

*That must be it!* Ike signed excitedly as Buck looked at his friend. All three young men stopped and looked at the buildings that had appeared before them. There was a small white farmhouse surrounded by a white picket fence, a large red barn with a corral between it and the house, and a short squat grayish brown house that had to be a bunkhouse. Ike thumped again. *Looks friendly enough…..well, here we go.*

As the three boys entered the yard they could see a couple more boys standing in the yard talking, one tall like Buck and the other much shorter. A red haired woman spotted them, smiled and waved them toward her. “I’m Emma Shannon you must be more of the Express Riders?” The wind was ruffling her hair sending a stray curl across her face.

“I’m Kid, this is Buck Cross and Ike McSwain.” Kid answered when Buck didn’t say anything, he pointed at Buck and Ike as he introduced them.

“Well, I’m happy to meet you all; Mr. Spoon will be here in a couple of hours or so. That’s the bunkhouse go on in and pick a bunk, there’s a trunk for each of you to keep your personal things in. Are you hungry? I was going to make some breakfast for the others….” Emma smiled as they all nodded. “Kid?” He nodded as she looked at him. “Please feel free to put your horse in the barn and feed her. Breakfast will be in about a half hour so get settled in and cleaned up” She turned and entered the main house. The other two boys had gone into the bunkhouse when Emma started speaking with the newcomers.

“So far so good….” Kid said. “I’m going to take care of Katy, I’ll see you in the bunkhouse in a few minutes. He continued toward the barn leading Katy to her new home.

Buck and Ike turned toward the bunkhouse and entered. Buck noticed that there was a single bunk and one upper and one lower bunk still available. Ike chose the upper bunk above a yellow haired boy in buckskins who was reading a book and Buck noticed that the short boy was on the upper bunk over the empty lower one. He glanced at Buck with something that looked a bit like fear so Buck decided that he’d leave that bunk for Kid, which left Buck with the single one.

He’d just finished putting his few things in the trunk under his bed when Miss Shannon entered carrying a plate of eggs and bacon and another full of toast. He was closest to her and quickly took the larger of the two plates from her, putting it on the table. The small boy jumped down and asked in a funny voice if there was anything else to get. “Thank-you Buck. Yes Lou, there is a pot of coffee on the stove over at the house. Would you mind getting that for me?” The smaller boy, Lou, left the bunkhouse and Ike jumped down to help get the dishes and flatware. Ten minutes later they were all eating the best breakfast they’d all had in ages and were complementing Emma.

“Thank-you all, I’m glad you like my cooking, I’m your cook and house mother I expect you to behave as if I was your mother while you are around me. I will be assigning you all chores to do around the bunkhouse and the barn; you’ll be expected to do them on a daily basis.” The yellow haired boy groaned, Emma’s brows knitted slightly but she continued. “If we all work together we will have a good clean home and healthy animals. I do not tolerate fighting, cursing or drinking; neither does Russell, Majors and Wadell, so please keep that in mind. Mr. Spoon will meet you all over by the trough beside the barn in half an hour so finish up and get over there, I’ll clean up here.

Forty minutes later they were all lined up along a fence facing the horse trough when a man broke the surface of the water, grabbed a horse’s tail and wiped water from his eyes. A gentle wind caressed Buck’s face as he watched the man who would become a father figure to him, slather bear grease under his arm pits. Buck raised one eyebrow as he watched Teaspoon pull his trousers on, and hoped this wind was bringing a favorable change in his direction.

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