Topic #7: Sweet Dreams/Nightmares
Premonition by: Donna Ree
Rest Assured by: Karen
Close Shave by: Cathy
Hair, A Voice, And a Cornflower Blue Hat by: Cathy
Freaky Friday by: Sameena
Topsy Turvy by: Nora
The Encounter by: Melinde
The Ninny and The Worry-Wart by: Lori
If Only by: Cindy
Sweet Onion Dreams by: Cindy
Facing the Demon by: Cathy
Turn About by: Cathy
Fade To Black by: Cindy
That Was His Name by: Cindy
Hands On Experience by: Dede
The Sin Of The Father by: Erin
A Cool Wind From The North by: Lori
Who's Who In Sweetwater by: Cathy
Premonition by: Mary Ayers
Whiskey & Horses by: Raye
What the-? by: Raye
They Made Me Do It by: Cathy
Wide Open Spaces by: Raye
He Was a Brother by: Debbie
To Dream of Happiness by: Destardi
Premonition
by: Donna Ree

Playing poker. That’s all he’d been doing since he could remember. He always sat with his back to the wall, but this time one of his so-called friends and prankster took his chair before he could get to it. No amount of coaxing or idle threats could make the guy move. So he sat uneasily in his fancy duds playing cards, toying with his mustache.

Another losing hand. He threw in. He was about to get up when he was dealt in again. What the hell…what could harm could come from playing one more hand?

As he looked at his cards he was actually glad he stayed in the game. Queen of hearts, 2 aces and 2 eights. He bet heavily. How could he go wrong with a hand like that?

“Wild Bill!” He heard someone call. He tried to ignore the voice. How he hated J.D. Marcus and that moniker!

Suddenly, he heard the telltale click of a hammer being cocked. Before he could react he felt a horrific pain in his head and all went black.

Jimmy awoke with a jerk and abruptly sat up in his bunk. His clothes were drenched in sweat and his breathing labored.

A dream. It was only a dream. Or was it?

“Jimmy, you alright?”

Who was that? The voice sounded so familiar, but…He reached for his gun. It wasn’t there. Then he remembered it was hanging from the end of his bunk. He dove for his gun, pulled it from its holster, cocked and aimed it at the voice all in one fluid motion.

“Jimmy! It’s me! Lou.”

Lou. Lou? Where had he heard that name before?

Then realization dawned on him. He was in the bunkhouse, napping. He was back working for the Pony Express. He touched his face – no mustache. No facial hair at all. And his clothes…well, they definitely weren’t the same clothes he had on earlier in his dream.

Slowly, he looked at Lou. He lowered the gun and gently eased the hammer back down. The look of pure fear on her face made him feel lower than a snake, knowing he put that fear there.

“Jimmy?” She asked shakily.

“Aw, Lou, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare ya’.”

“It’s alright.” She managed, no meaning a word of it. “Have another nightmare?”

“Yeah.” Was all he could say.

“Why don’t you go out and get some fresh air?” She suggested. “Might do ya’ some good.”

On his way out the door, he practically knocked Cody over.

“Jimmy! Watch where you’re going!” Cody stood in the door, watching his friend take off toward the tack room.

Cody walked in the bunkhouse, took one glance at the ashen look on Lou’s face and knew what happened.

“Let me guess, another dream?”

“How ever did you guess?” Lou shot back sarcastically. “Sorry, Cody. He just about blew me away this time.”

“God, Lou. You alright?”

“Other than being scared out of my mind? Yeah, sure, just fine.” She replied.

“What are we gonna do? This is the fifth one he’s had this week!”

“I think we need to tell Teaspoon what’s been goin’ on. Maybe he’ll be able to help.”

“I think Jimmy has the same idea.” Cody peered out the window. “He’s out there talking to him now. Uh oh.”

“What?” She asked, immediately concerned.

“They’re headed for the sweat lodge.”

“Good! He needs it.” Came her reply. When she saw the look Cody shot her she said, “What? It’s not your head he nearly shot off! He’s my best friend, but he needs way more help than you or I can give ‘im. Maybe the sweat lodge is just what he needs.”

***

After an hour in the heat of the sweat lodge, Jimmy began pouring his heart out to Teaspoon, not leaving any detail of his dream out.

“And this is the fifth time you’ve had this exact same dream?”

Jimmy nodded.

“Son, what I think yer having’ is called a premonition.”

“Premo- what?”

“Premonition. It kind of means you’re foretelling your future.”

“If you mean tot ell me, Teaspoon, that all I have to look forward to in life is getting shot in the back of the head, you might as well put a bullet in me now – after I hunt down J.D. Marcus and put one in him first.”

“Now hold on there, son. A premonition is just a warning of what’s to come if you don’t change your ways. It means if you keep on the path yer headed then that’s what’s gonna happen. But ya’ got your whole life ahead of you to change. If you do a lot of soul searchin’ and make an effort to change, chances are your premonition won’t come true. Ya’ see what I’m trying to say, son?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Was all Jimmy could say.

“Good.” Teaspoon said, ladling some more water on the coals. “Now you stay in here and do some more thinkin’ on what I said. When yer done we can do some more talkin’ if ya’ want.” He rose to leave, but added one more bit of advice before leaving. “You also might want to do some talkin’ to that girl of yours, too.”

“Lou? How’d you know she was…”

“I’ve got eyes, don’t I? I see how you two look at each other when you think no one else is lookin’.”

“But she’s Kid’s.” Jimmy protested weakly.

“Was. She was Kid’s. ‘Sides, a heart doesn’t have any say in the matter – it just decides on its own who it belongs ta’. And if I’m not too much off my mark – which I’m not – both of yer hearts already belong to each other whether you two know it or not. I have a feeling she’s just what you need to change your premonition.”

With that bit of sage advice, Teaspoon left Jimmy to his thoughts.

Rest Assured
By Karen

The stars twinkled overhead, sparkling like diamonds flung onto a dark velvet cloth. The moon was hiding its face so the darkness was almost complete – except for the brightly shining stars. The evening was perfect, yet filled with a restless spirit. The nearby stream babbled its way over the rocks that lined its bed as if it were unable to make itself comfortable. The gentle breeze that blew stirred the few remaining leaves clinging to the tree branches. The leaves were unwilling to let go; they were clinging for all they were worth in a useless attempt to stay connected to the tree that gave their life purpose. Gradually they all let go and drifted on the evening air onto a new resting place.

The horse bridles mad a soft clinking sound as the animals tried to settle themselves for the night. They too felt the restlessness in the air. They were having difficulty calming themselves despite the hard days ride. This wind was trying to tell them something; it was whispering softly to all the creatures. It was sharing a secret of upcoming change and adventure. It was teasing the listeners by not telling the news loud enough to be understood.

Even the horses’ owners were troubled by the wind’s story. They both slept, or rather tried to sleep. They too were restless - tossing, turning, unable to settle down completely. They too were trying to understand the message the wind was carrying - the news of what was ahead, the news that would change their lives forever.

Ike sat up; he’d heard something. He calmed his breathing and sat to listen. He couldn’t hear anything except the horses and the stream. He should be able to hear more. He got up and went to calm the horses. That was when he heard it again. It sounded like someone was crying or laughing softly. He couldn’t decide which it was. He turned towards the sound and carefully began walking. It was leading him back to the campsite and the small fire they had built to ward off the evening’s chill. He glanced at Buck’s bedroll; it was empty! Buck wasn’t in the camp area. Ike quickly surveyed the area. After a few minutes, just when the panic was about to set in, he located Buck sitting at the edge of the stream. He went to his friend’s side. The sound grew louder, but still Ike couldn’t decide what it was – crying or laughing.

Ike crouched next to Buck. He studied his friend closely. Buck wasn’t making the sound; but he was listening to someone or something. He didn’t seem to notice Ike at all. Whatever he was listening to had him completely under its spell. He was answering it using a language Ike had never heard before. He sat quietly and watched. Soon, the sound stopped and Buck woke up. He looked around, confused. When he was Ike sitting next to him, he asked, “What happened? How did I get over here?”

Ike shrugged. *I’m not sure. I went to check on the horses; when I came back, you were here. You were talking to someone, but I couldn’t understand what you were saying. It wasn’t in English.*

“Did you see anyone else?” Buck asked as he returned to his bedroll suddenly chilled by the night air. He added a few sticks to build up the dying fire.

*No, but I heard what sounded like someone crying or laughing. I couldn’t decide which it was. Maybe it was both,* Ike said as he joined Buck by the fire. *Any ideas?*

Buck nodded, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think I was talking to my mother.”

*How?* asked Ike.

Buck sighed, “I was thinking about tomorrow; worrying about what will happen. I was afraid that they would want you, but not me. Or . . .” he let the sentence die when he saw Ike’s face. He let his mind drift away back to his dream and continued talking, “I must have fallen asleep and started dreaming.”

*Do you remember what it was about?* Ike asked.

Buck smiled and nodded, “I was little and my mother was telling me I had to stop being afraid of everything. I was around five summers old and I hated to leave her during the day. I kept getting in her way when she was trying to work because I was afraid that someone would take her away if I let her out of my sight. She took me to the river where I was created, and told me that I couldn’t let fear run my life. I had to learn to be strong so I could grow to be a warrior like my brother. I remember her telling me that everything would be fine; I had nothing to worry about. She showed me how the river sued to run a different course than it did then. Somehow the path became blocked, and it changed its course to go around the dam. She told me that if it hadn’t done so it would have died. She said we were like the river; we had to keep changing and growing or we too would die. If I didn’t leave her and go learn to do the things a warrior must do, I too would stop growing and die. If I didn’t get out of her way she wouldn’t be able to do her work and not only would I die, but she and my brother would also. She promised to watch and guide me as the bank did for the river, but that I needed to flow within that guidance. I needed to go and explore to learn about myself.” Buck paused, remembering his mother’s lecture and how it had enabled him to start learning and growing away from her, but still under her every watchful eye.

*She must have loved you very much to take such time to teach you,* Ike said. He was remembering how the other children and the mission used to taunt Buck about how his own people did not want him and had sent him away to be with strangers.

Buck smiled, “She does. That’s why she came to me here; to remind me not to be afraid; I am to face tomorrow’s challenge as a warrior.”

*Was that her that I was hearing?* Ike asked.

“She wanted me to share this message with my new brother; she needed you to hear her so you’d find me and ask,” Buck answered as he lay back down. “She wanted you to know that we don’t have to worry. Everything will be fine as long as we stick together.”

Ike lay down with a smile. He could rest easy now; they both could. They could rest assured that tomorrow would be the start of a wonderful new life together – as brothers as well as friends.

Close Shave
by: Cathy

Cody woke up in a cold sweat. For a heartbeat of a second he started to cry out, only to realize that he couldn’t make a sound. Panic began to set in as he tried to force words past his lips.

“Billy?” a quiet voice found its way through the panic. “What’s wrong?”

Looking up, he saw Buck Cross’ face, concern showing plainly on the dark features. He tried to speak again, tried to tell Buck about his sudden muteness, but couldn’t get the words out. Finally, he grunted and pointed to his mouth.

“What’s wrong? Something go down the wrong pipe?” the Kiowa asked.

Shaking his head violently from one side to the other, Cody pointed once again to his throat, then clamped his hand over his mouth.

“What’s going on?” Jimmy asked sleepily from his bunk across the room.

“I’m not really sure,” Buck admitted. “Is your throat hurting you?” he asked Cody.

Again the other boy shook his head. Scrambling down from his bunk—his mind registering that even this action wasn’t quite right—he moved to the common table where he found a pencil and a piece of paper.

I can’t talk, he wrote in block letters.

Buck read the note, a confused look on his face. “Billy, you haven’t been able to talk for a long time. Not since before we met. Don’t you remember?” he asked.

Cody stared at the other man. Something was very wrong here. First he was in the wrong bunk. He had always slept in the one against the wall. Ike slept in the bunk above Buck. That’s the way it had been since they had first joined up with the Pony Express. Ike was the one who couldn’t talk, not him.

Unconsciously Cody ran his hand through his . . . where was his hair! The feeling of panic intensified to even greater heights. He pushed past Buck, almost knocking the other man off his feet in his haste to get to the mirror someone had hung over a peg on the far wall.

The face that stared back at him was his, William F. Cody’s, but there was something terribly wrong. His long blond hair was gone—he was totally bald!

Panic was now replaced with anger. He didn’t know who’d done it, or how they’d done it, but when he found out—well, whoever it was, was going pay and pay big time.

“Come on, Billy,” a strange voice was saying. “Go back to sleep, will ya? It’s late and I’ve got a run tomorrow.”

Cody whirled to stare at the man who lay on the buck by the wall—HIS bunk. It took a moment, but as he recognized the man, his own mouth dropped open and he stood gaping. Closing his eyes tightly, he willed the apparition to disappear—only to find it still there when he opened his eyes again.

It’s not possible! he thought frantically. He could believe this was all part of some weird practical joke. They were always threatening to get even for the harmless little pranks he played on them occasionally. While he was able to believe that, for whatever reason, the others would be crazy enough to shave his head and even willing to believe that they had discovered some kind of plant or herb that would have made him unable to speak, he knew there was no possible way that they could have . . .

Ike propped himself up on one arm. His light brown hair was, if anything, even longer than Buck’s. “What’s wrong with you, Billy?” he asked in a rich baritone voice.

I’m dreaming, Cody decided. I have to be dreaming, this CAN NOT be real!

He closed his eyes one more time, hoping against hope that he would wake up to find this nightmare was all a figment of his imagination.

“Billy?” Buck asked, starting forward to help his friend who was swaying dangerously.

It even FEELS real! Cody thought as Buck put his hand on his shoulder.

He opened his eyes one more time to see Buck, Ike, Jimmy and Lou staring at him with looks that ranged from worried to mildly frightened on their faces.

All right, he decided. I’ll play along. Since this is my dream, I should know sign language as well as Ike does.

Turning to Buck, he started moving his hands about. I had a—what was the sign for nightmare anyway? he wondered, settling on—bad dream.

Buck’s eyebrows raised almost to his hairline. “A what?” he asked, not understanding what Cody was saying.

A bad dream! Cody repeated, trying to use his facial expressions to convey the meaning. This is the ultimate nightmare, he decided. I can’t talk with my voice and they can’t understand my signs.

Buck was still staring at him, as were the rest of the riders.

Oh, forget it, he thought, waving them away. I’m going back to bed. When I wake up again, I’ll be fine. I HAVE to be!

The others stared at him as he climbed up into his bunk and turned his back on them. Within seconds, he was asleep and snoring loudly.

~*~*~*~

“Wonder what he was dreaming about this time,” Buck mused.

Looks like he was trying to sign, Ike pointed out. But if he was, he wasn’t making much sense.

“Well it’s better than him talking in his sleep,” Jimmy Hickok offered sleepily.

“Or snoring!” Lou agreed.

“Do you think we should wake him up?” Buck asked.

“Nah, let him sleep,” Jimmy said. “He’s quiet now. If we wake him up he’s going to have to tell us all about his dream—and none of us will get any sleep.”

The others nodded in agreement. Ike looked at his bunk where Cody lay sleeping, then moved across to sleep in Kid’s empty bunk.

Better here, than to have him end up in bed WITH me if he has another bout of sleepwalking, he signed when the others looked at him questioningly.

Buck and Lou returned to their bunks and all four were soon fast asleep. A few minutes later Cody woke with a start. The first thing he did was reach for his head.

“Thank God!” he whispered fervently as his hand touched hair. Smiling at the sound of his own voice, he vowed, “That’s the last time I eat Teaspoon’s cooking before bedtime!”

Hair, A Voice and a Cornflower Blue Hat
by: Cathy

Ike McSwain sat under a tree, eating some of the food he’d bought at Fort Bridger. It had been a long haul this time, but he’d made good time. He often wondered where Teaspoon came up with the “special” runs he always seemed to be sending the boys on. Ike reckoned he’d done more “special” runs in the last two months than all of the regular runs he’d done since he’d joined the Pony Express almost six months ago.

He didn’t really mind doing these rides. The riders were given extra pay for runs not on the regular routes and it sure as heck beat sitting around the station trying to keep from dieing of boredom. The only part he didn’t like was going into places where he wasn’t known. His bald head and inability to speak often made him the subject of curious looks and occasionally some not so nice remarks.

For the most part he took the insults in stride. He’d been this way almost as long as he could remember and there wasn’t anything he could do to change the way he was. He accepted himself as he was, but he couldn’t help but wish occasionally that others would do the same.

Today had been one of the days when the words had been more than he could take. Especially from the girl. She was just about the prettiest thing he’d ever seen, but he’d discovered very quickly that her beauty didn’t extend beyond her looks. Ike had listened to her for just a short time before leaving the store and the fort, deciding that sleeping on the trail was preferable to having to fight his urge to slap the girl silly.

The only thing that had stopped him from doing exactly that, then running, was the girl’s companion. The second girl wasn’t pretty by any means, but she had come to Ike’s defense quickly and firmly. Her smile of apology had lit up her otherwise plain face and Ike had realized without words that she was sincere.

Ike lay beneath the clear sky, counting the stars until he began to doze off. Just as his eyes were closing for what would probably be the last time, he saw a shooting star streak across the sky.

“Make a wish!” he heard his mother’s voice say. Smiling, he did, then turned on his side and fell asleep.

~*~*~*~

Morning came as clear and bright as the night had been clear and dark. Ike threw back his blanket and stretched to get the kinks out of his body. Raising his hands over his head, he got a very strange sensation of something soft and furry on his head.

Trying to remain calm, in case whatever it was also had teeth, the rider reached up and grabbed a handful of the furry softness, then gave a quick jerk to throw whatever it was to the ground.

“OUCH!” he yelped as, too late, he realized “whatever it was” was firmly attached to his head.

Moving quickly to the creek, he looked into the mirror-like surface—and gasped in surprise. The “furry whatever” was hair! He gave a second, gentler tug, and discovered the hair most definitely belonged to him.

“I’ll be damned,” he said, then stood in wide-eyed wonder as he realized he had said the words aloud.

His first thought was that he was still asleep and this was all a dream. Then his stomach started to rumble with hunger.

“If it was a dream, I wouldn’t be hungry, would I?” he mused. For some reason he wanted to keep speaking. He could just barely remember his voice as a child—and was pleased to hear it had settled into a nice baritone.

“Guess I should fix myself some breakfast,” he decided.

~*~*~*~

“OUCH!” Ike yelped for the second time that morning. He had decided to test his dream theory by picking up the hot coffeepot barehanded. If it were a dream, he reasoned, he wouldn’t feel the heat. “All right, I’m an idiot,” he muttered.

An idiot who could now speak and who now had hair after over ten years as a mute and closer to twelve baldheaded. While his breakfast was cooking, he wandered frequently over to the creek to check his reflection. He kept expecting to find he had changed back to the “old” Ike, only to find that his hair was still in place.

“I don’t look half bad,” he commented. “Wonder what she would think if she saw me now.”

As quickly as the words left his mouth, Ike decided he really needed to find out. He was in no hurry to get back to the station—well he was because he wanted to share his joy with his friends, but he decided that going back to the fort was more important to him right at that moment.

Experiencing an unusual need for a bit of revenge, Ike cleaned up his campsite, saddled his horse and rode back the way he had come the night before.

~*~*~*~

It hadn’t taken him long to find the girl he was looking for. Accompanied once again by her friend, she was trying on hats at one of the fancier stores. As Ike entered, a clerk approached him, immediately offering her help.

“I was thinking about buying a hat for a good friend of mine,” he improvised, thinking how, if he had come into this store yesterday, he would more than likely have been ignored. “She hasn’t had anything nice for quite a while and I think it’s time she did.”

“But, of course!” the clerk intoned. “I’m sure we’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. We’ve just received a new shipment from back East.”

As the clerk bustled about, showing him hat after hat, he kept a careful eye on the pretty girl who was watching him out of the corner of her eye. Whenever he would turn in her direction, she would preen, hoping to be noticed—but he appeared to ignore her.

Finally, Ike decided the time was right. The girl had just tried on a cornflower blue hat and was tilting it this way and that, all the while asking her friend’s opinion. The rider moved a bit closer, then spoke. “If I might be so forward,” he said quietly.

“Be as forward as you like, sir,” the girl said coyly.

“I really think this hat,” Ike said, reaching out to remove the hat from her head, and to her surprise, turning to the second girl, “would look much better on you.”

Setting the hat at a slight angle on the girl’s head, he smiled widely. “See, it brings out the color in your eyes, which I might add, are quite beautiful.”

The young woman flushed a deep red but smiled back at him. “Thank you,” she said shyly.

Behind him the pretty girl all but sputtered her indignation. “Why I never!” she said.

“I’m sure you haven’t,” Ike told her firmly without looking back. “Please tell me you’ll buy this hat, Miss ?” He waited for her to supply the name.

“Weston,” she answered. “Judith Weston. And I would love to buy the hat but it is far too expensive.”

“Then perhaps you’ll allow me to buy it for you,” he offered.

“Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly!” Judith protested. “I don’t even know you, Mr. ?”

“Mc Swain,” Ike contributed. “Perhaps you will allow me to buy you the hat if you accept it as repayment.”

“Repayment for what?” the pretty girl demanded.

“A kindness Miss Weston showed to a very good friend of mine yesterday,” Ike answered, not taking his eyes off Judith.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” the girl told him. “I don’t remember doing anything unusual yesterday.”

“Which is further justification for my act,” he countered. “Someone as lovely as you, on the inside as well as out, deserves to be treated to something beautiful.”

Waving the clerk over to them, Ike said, “I’ll take the green gingham—and this one?”

Smiling at Judith’s nod, he accompanied the clerk to the desk where he paid for both hats, then waited patiently for the gingham to be wrapped. The entire time, he listened to the pretty girl ranting about her friend accepting a gift from a strange man. His smile broadened when he heard Judith say, “Shut up, Margaret!”

~*~*~*~

“Will you join us for dinner, Mr. McSwain?” Judith asked as they left the store.

“I’d love to, Miss—“

~*~*~*~

A loud whinny from his horse woke Ike from his dream. For a moment, he hoped, but the hope was dashed as he felt his hairless head. With a sigh, the rider got up and started another day.

Freaky Friday
by: Sameena

*author’s note: yes, this is inspired by the movie of the same name and the Quick Fic prompt.

“I ain’t saying that you need help,” Teaspoon sputtered helplessly. The puny rider before him simply glared. He pushed up his glasses and his brown eyes appeared magnified as they fixed themselves on Teaspoon.

Lou, Lou, Lou, Teaspoon thought. What am I going to do with you? All he had suggested was that Buck tag along on this run. The Army had rumblings from the Kiowa and Teaspoon figured that Buck would be a big help.

Lou spun on her heel and marched out of the bunkhouse. He thought she was small and weak. He didn’t even know she was a girl and he still thought that.

In her rage, Lou didn’t notice Emma standing there and she ran straight into her. “Slow down, Louise,” Emma said.

“Sorry,” Lou mumbled.

Emma noticed the girl’s state and asked, “you wanna talk about it?”

“No,” Lou answered curtly. She sighed then. No reason to take her anger out on Emma. It wasn’t her fault. “It’s Teaspoon.” She then began speaking rapidly, trying to explain how she felt. She knew Teaspoon wasn’t trying to belittle her, but he made her feel so insignificant, especially when she saw how much responsibility he gave the boys.

Meanwhile in the bunkhouse, Jimmy was sitting on his bed, listening. He had been witness to the whole Lou/Teaspoon exchange and when it was over, all he had asked was what time it was. He still didn’t know what the time was and now he was trapped, listening to Teaspoon rant and rave.

“It ain’t that I don’t think he’s a good rider,” Teaspoon exclaimed. “It’s just well... sometimes he seems kinda soft. Don’t you think?” he asked, looking desperately for someone to join him in this particular belief.

“She, he,” Jimmy said quickly, hoping Teaspoon hadn’t heard his error. “He holds his own.”

“I know,” Teaspoon sighed. “It’s just well, sometimes I wish he could walk a mile in my shoes.”

And right at that moment, outside the bunkhouse, Lou told Emma, “I wish he could walk a mile in my shoes.”

Suddenly a gust of hot air rushed past Lou and Emma, blowing the bunkhouse door open.

Emma saw Jimmy and Teaspoon peek outside then. “Never you mind,” she told Lou soothingly. “We’ll think of something.” She called out to Teaspoon and Jimmy. “Supper’s ready.”

Later that evening, Teaspoon crawled into his bed. He had turned in early as he had a headache. Lou did too. He wished he could have talked to the boy, but Lou was still upset and obviously ignoring him. Oh well, tomorrow is another day, he thought as he drifted off.

*~*~*

Teaspoon opened his eyes. What was he doing in the bunkhouse? Shaking his head, he crawled out of bed and crept quietly to the door, not wanting to wake any of the other riders who were sleeping soundly.

As soon as his feet hit the floor, he felt someone grab his ankle. Stifling the urge to scream, Teaspoon followed the hand all the way up to the bunk it snaked out from. Kid. Well obviously Mister Kid thought he was being clever.

“Can’t sleep,” Kid said, his voice soft and low.

Teaspoon shook his head. What was wrong with Kid? He sounded downright seductive. Teaspoon shuddered. What was wrong with him? Kid, seductive?!

“We can go for a ride,” Kid continued, his hand wandering up Teaspoon’s leg.

Teaspoon reached down and slapped Kid’s hand away. He knew something was wrong with those two, but dragging him into this? Was Kid crazy?

Kid sat up. “What’s a-matter? Maybe I can help?”

“Help?” Teaspoon exclaimed. “Why would I need your help?”

Kid’s eyes flashed in anger. “Fine, go off on your own. Go try to prove you’re as good as everybody else, like always.”

Teaspoon shook his head.

“Sometimes I don’t understand you, Lou,” Teaspoon heard Kid mutter. “All I’m trying to do is help you.”

Why was Kid so insistent on helping him? Teaspoon wondered as he hurried to the door. He could manage on his own. He stopped then. Lou!

*~*~*

Lou rubbed her eyes as she climbed out of bed. She looked around. What was she doing in the tack room? Sighing, she stepped outside, ready to head back to the bunkhouse and sleep in her own bed. She would worry about why she was here tomorrow.

She spied Jimmy and Cody outside arguing. “What’s wrong?” she called out.

“Nothing,” they muttered.

“Don’t look like nothing to me,” Lou replied cheerfully. “Maybe I can help.”

“We can figure this out on our own,” Jimmy began.

“It’s him,” Cody cut in. “He asked me to switch runs last week and now he won’t switch with me when I need him to. It ain’t fair.”

“I switched with him the last time he needed help,” Jimmy yelled. “Let him find some other sucker. He’s always trying to dump off the long runs.”

“Boys,” Lou began.

“You’ll just take his side,” Cody mumbled and marched away. “Like you always do.”

“He don’t either,” Jimmy shouted at Cody’s back.

“You boys should be old enough to settle this without bickering like this,” Lou chided him. Cody and Jimmy sounded just like Jeremiah and Teresa.

“Maybe we would if you didn’t treat us all like kids,” Jimmy retorted, striding away, obviously irritated. “Honestly Teaspoon, no wonder Lou was mad at you. You treat us all like we are five.”

“Well maybe if you didn’t act like you were five,” Lou shot back. Then she stopped. Teaspoon!

*~*~*

The next morning, Lou took her seat at the table. No one was there yet. She rubbed her eyes, what a strange dream she had had last night. When she awoke this morning, the first thing she did was race to the mirror, relieved to see her own face reflected back at her.

A few seconds later, Teaspoon entered. He took his customary spot at the table. And when Lou glanced at him, she saw the shadows under his eyes. He looked like he had slept about as much as she did.

Teaspoon glanced at Lou. “Listen,” he began. While Lou said, “Teaspoon.” They looked at each and began to laugh.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” Teaspoon said. “Never meant to make you feel like I didn’t believe in you. It’s just that your boys are like my very own-”

“And you worry,” Lou interrupted. “I know. I guess it doesn’t help when we act like children.”

Teaspoon chuckled. “How ‘bout we make a deal. I won’t baby you all-”

“And we won’t act like we’re five,” Lou cut in, once more.

“It’s a deal,” Teaspoon agreed. Now came the hard part, he was going to have to try to talk to Kid and Lou about their ‘relationship’. But maybe he could put that off for a while.

Topsy Turvy
by: Nora

"Supper's ready!" called Rachel as she rang the steel triangle to call the riders in from their chores. Standing on the porch, she wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. Her high-necked dress and three flannel petticoats she was wearing made the mildly warm day seem like a real scorcher.

Buck was the first one to arrive at the table, talking non-stop, "You should have seen it, Rachel. There I was, surrounded by desperados. I only had but one bullet left. I thought I was a goner when-"

Buck was interrupted by Lou's arrival. With her hair in ringlets tonight, she looked pretty enough to stop any man in his tracks, even motor-mouthed Buck.

"Why Rachel, that supper looks absolutely divine," gushed Lou in an accent that made one think of a Georgia peach. It was just as sweet and seemed to drip from her lips.

Buck reached out for a roll but his hand was slapped away by Lou. "Proper manners dictate that we must all be at the table and served before one begins his meal."

"Lou's right," agreed Rachel. "My goodness Buck, you were just in here for a snack an hour ago. I know you're not starving."

"Aw, Rachel," Buck began to protest, but was cut short by Ike storming in and slamming the door behind him. His hands exploded into a fury of signs which made the ladies in his presence blush. Rachel scolded and Lou squealed in disgust.

"Don't fuss so much, girls," laughed Buck. "This is one of Ike's better moods!" Even though he told the truth, Buck's remark brought on another series of hand gestures, none of them repeatable.

Kid and Jimmy walked in next, not causing as much excitement as the other riders had.

"Anyone seen Cody?" Rachel asked. She knew Noah was on a run but hadn't seen Cody for a while.

"Not in a couple of hours," replied Kid. "Maybe he went to town or something."

"Well, let's start without him then, or the food will get cold," reasoned Rachel. "And before Buck starves."

"Uh, Rachel, shouldn't we say the blessing first?" Jimmy reminded her. Before she had a chance to reply, Jimmy volunteered to say grace.

"Gracious heavenly Father," he began, "We beseech thee, oh Lord, to help us through our day. Bless thy hands that prepared this food, and bless it to our bodies. Help us to be righteous and merciful. We ask thee this in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen."

"That was a very interesting prayer, Jimmy," Lou commented. She had never recalled hearing so many strange pronouns before.

"Well, you might say I'm practicing," smiled Jimmy.

"For what?" asked Buck.

"I've decided to become a Quaker preacher. Preach the gospel. They believe in non-violence, like myself, you know. When the Express ends, I'll have a back-up career."

“That religious stuff is for women and children,” scoffed Buck. “Only the weak need religion.”

Before anyone else could comment on Jimmy's announcement, in walked Cody, covered head to toe with sweat and dirt, "Sorry I'm late, Rachel. I was putting up the new outhouse you wanted. I think I'll wash up now. And don't worry about saving me any supper, I ain't really that hungry."

~*~*~*~*~

Teaspoon awoke with a start, nearly bolting out of his bed. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness before trying to figure out where he was. Finally, he realized he was safe in his tack room. What a wild dream, he thought, smiling to himself. Only, was it more of a sweet dream, or a nightmare?

The Encounter
by: Melinde

Buck tucked his hair behind his ear as he continued to read under the tree. The story was good but he was tired. His eyes slipped shut. He forced them open fighting the urge to sleep. This was his day off and he hated wasting it sleeping. It didn’t help that he wasn’t sleeping well at night. He lost the fight and slid down to lay on his side.

~*~*~*~*~

“Daddy!” The little girl cried as she ran to Buck. He looked at her not recognizing her. He only picked her up because he didn’t know what else to do with the barreling torpedo of a girl. “Where have you been daddy?” She asked then smacked a kiss on his cheek. “We’ve been waiting for you forever,” she said in her five year old exaggeration.

“Who’s been waiting?” Buck asked the little girl gently.

“Me and mamma, silly.” The little girl struggled to get down from Buck’s grasp. He looked up to see a woman he vaguely recognized staring at him with caution and concern written on her face. “C’mon daddy, it’s time for dinner. Mamma just called me in when I saw you. You haven’t been home for days, daddy. Where have you been?” The little girl pulled Buck by the hand. Buck stopped in front of the woman.

“Ma’am.” Buck wrung his hat in his hands as he stood in front of her. He felt compelled to follow the little girl through the threshold, but remembering his manners he asked, “Would it be alright if I stayed for supper?”

She watched him for a few moments and answered, “Of course.” She led him to the table and dished stew onto his plate. “I hope you don’t mind rabbit stew.”

Buck smiled at her as he took his plate. “No ma’am. I suddenly feel very hungry.” He ate his stew with gusto and renewed hunger that he hadn’t felt in weeks. When he finished he sat back in his seat, “That was excellent stew.”

“Call me by my name.” She said in hushed tones. Buck’s head snapped up to look at her. “You can’t can you. You don’t know me.” Her voice started to grow higher in pitch and volume. “You don’t remember me or your daughter! Where have you been?! What’s happened to you?!” She burst into tears. The little girl sat in her seat, eyes wide, brimming with tears and her hands over her ears.

“Mommmmmy!” The little girl cried, “Don’t yell at daddy. He’s come home. If you yell at him he’ll go away again.” Buck just stared at the two of them.

“Ma’am I mean no disrespect, you seem familiar to me but you’re right I don’t know your names.” Buck looked around the room. “I don’t know how I came to be here.” Sweat started to pour from his brow. His stomach turned and he groaned clutching his midriff. The woman started laughing. The little girl was giggling behind her hands. “I don’t feel well.” Buck tried to get up but couldn’t. “What was in the stew?”

“Revenge, for leaving us. I knew you’d come back one day. You deserved this Kyle.” The woman cackled.

“Kyle? I’m Buck. I’m not Kyle..” He gasped and tried to drink some water. He turned to the little girl. “Help me, sweety.” Her face became distorted as she continued to giggle. She got out of her chair and walked to her mother. She morphed and melded into her mother’s form becoming one being. The laughter was getting louder. The pain in Buck’s stomach grew worse. He covered his ears and tried to stand again. He fell to the floor.

“You will never leave us again, Kyle Masey .” She walked to where Buck was laying. “I killed you once and I’ll do it again.” She drew back her foot and made to kick him in the side when the door flew open.

“Noooo!” A masculine voice intruded on Buck’s brain. “You will not kill again, Bridgette. I’m here to take you and the little one back with me. We don’t belong in this life. Leave him be.” Buck could barely open his eyes at this point and tried to stay conscious enough in case he could get free from his tormentor.

Klye, I didn’t mean to kill you or our daughter. You just don’t understand.” She begged the unseen man. “Our daughter died. She was only 5 years old and you blamed me.” The woman’s haunting sobs filled the cabin. “She needed me. I couldn’t save her.”

“Bridgette, you made her sick to take care of her. You killed me because I found out. You’re sick Bridgette. I’ve come to take you home.” Kyle’s voice became soft. “We forgive you, Bridgette. Don’t we, Connie.” The little girl’s presence separated itself from the woman.

“Yes, daddy.” The sullen little girl moved to her father. “C’mon mommy. It seems pretty where daddy will take us.” She said in an ever hopeful five year old voice.

“You’ve been here too long, Bridgette.” Kyle took her hand. “You passed on years ago but never came to me. I still love you and everything will be alright.” Buck was able to discern when they left. His pain was replaced by a serene feeling. He had the best sleep he’d had in weeks.

~*~*~*~*~

Buck awoke on his side. His book closed next him. Sitting up he leaned against the tree and rubbed his face. “Wow, what a dream.” Buck slowly gathered his things and stood up. His eye caught on a heart carved in the trunk of the tree. Carved within the heart were the words Kyle + Bridgette forever. He smiled ruefully and offered up silent prayers for their spirit journey.

The Ninny and The Worry-Wart
by: Lori

A/N: Sixth in the continuing Jimmy/Brandy saga.

Before she turned out the lamp beside her bed, Brandy couldn’t help but get up one last time and look at the dress hanging in the corner. She lightly ran her fingers over the soft silk, traced the intricate stitching pattern on the bodice and skimmed the lace trim. Her wedding dress. For tomorrow.

Sometimes it felt like a dream that she would pinch herself and wake up from. She and Jimmy were getting married. Six months ago, she never would have imagined they’d be here. The fights and the foolish things they’d said to each other had nearly torn them apart. But they’d made it past them, stronger, wiser, ready to face their life together.

With a smile born of pure happiness she took one last glance at the dress and turned for the bed. She took off her wrapper and laid it across the chair, turned down the lamp and climbed into bed. This time tomorrow she would be married. She and Jimmy would be on their wedding trip, and she couldn't imagine her life getting happier than it would be the moment the preacher pronounced them man and wife. She gave a chuckle in the darkness…maybe that was until the day came that she could tell him he was going to be a daddy.

Yawning deeply, she turned onto her side and slowly drifted to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~

With a strangled cry, Jimmy awoke, drenched in sweat as the haunting remnants of his dream lingered in his tired brain. He fought with the sheets tangled around his legs, then dragged his hands across his face and shoved his hair back. Slowly his breathing returned to normal, and he lay back down on his bunk. He had to get some sleep, but every time he closed his eyes it was the same terrifying nightmare.

He was standing at the front of the church, waiting for the doors to open and Teaspoon to walk Brandy down the aisle. But the doors never opened. Nervous twitters from the guests reached his ears; had she finally wised up and realized it would be a mistake to marry him? Despite what the rest of the town may think, he knew she wouldn’t leave him standing there. Something had to be wrong.

Just as he was ready to ask Buck to go see where Teaspoon was, the marshal shoved opened the doors and collapsed just inside the doorway. Blood and dirt covered his face and hot, red liquid seeped from a hole in his side. Immediately Jimmy raced from the church, turning in circles wondering where Brandy was and who had taken her. Just as he knew she would never leave him standing like a fool, something in his gut was telling him that Teaspoon had been wounded trying to protect her. Next thing he knew, he was on his horse. He would ride after her, ahead of the others, searching everywhere for her. But he never found her. He would end up trapped, never in the same place twice. He would hear her screams echoing in the dark. It was always dark. Always cold. Always the same ending.

The captor would taunt him, claim this was retribution for the lives Jimmy had stolen from him. Since he had lost his happiness, it was only fitting that Jimmy should be robbed of his. Then a shot would echo through the night, and Brandy’s cries would fall silent. Jimmy would rush forward, ready to inflict pain, ready to welcome death, ready for anything, only to jerk awake gasping for air and realize that once again he’d been dreaming.

The nightmares began coming every night when the wedding was just two weeks off. Before then, the worry had always been in the back of his mind, but nothing like this. This was torture. This was a cruel and sadistic pain being inflicted on him. His life would be worth nothing if Brandy wasn’t beside him, and yet as Buck and Teaspoon repeatedly told him, it was only a dream. It was only right for him to be nervous, but nothing was going to happen.

Buck had even taken him to the bluff yesterday morning and prayed for him. Jimmy had never been very religious, by either White or Indian standards, but he appreciated the gesture from his friend. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to be helping. Even now, laying in the darkness listening to his friends’ slumber, he couldn’t shake the vestiges of the dream. Sleep wouldn’t come now, he was too tense, and it would only make him crazy to lay there. And his tossing and turning would earn him another angry retort from Cody.

Slowly, he climbed off his bunk, grabbed his boots and coat and headed out the door. Swiftly he saddled Sundance and headed off for a ride. He meant to go to the bluff, figuring Buck would hear him leave and come to join him. Instead, he found himself riding in the direction of Brandy’s house.

He stopped and tethered his horse just outside the yard, and climbed off. He didn’t want to wake her, and it was obvious she was asleep. The lights were out, and a peaceful air hung over the house. She wasn’t awake with worry. She wasn’t pacing the floor nervously, imagining all sorts of horrible things happening. She was probably dreaming, sweet thoughts of their wedding filtering through her mind.

And suddenly he felt foolish. He was a nervous wreck and she was asleep. He was being a worrywart as Teaspoon would say. His friends were by his side, they would protect him, stand by him. Lou was actually staying at Brandy’s to help her in the morning. Nobody would get by Lou if they were foolish enough to try anything. He smiled as peace washed over him.

It was just pre-wedding jitters. And he’d had a bad case of them. Teaspoon said he had ‘em all six times. ‘Course he hadn’t had as long of an engagement as Jimmy had, so that probably explained why Jimmy’s were worse. Feeling relieved and suddenly tired, Jimmy climbed back on his horse and turned for the station.

~*~*~*~*~

Laying in the darkness, Brandy strained her ears as she thought she heard the sound of a horse moving away from her house. But considering the dream that she was trying to forget, it was probably just her overactive imagination.

After all, just because she dreamed hordes of armed men burst into her wedding, guns drawn and lead flying, it didn’t mean someone was lurking in the shadows of her house. Sure she knew people would always be after Jimmy because J.D. Marcus labeled him Wild Bill , but that wasn’t to say people were going to show up on her wedding day. She’d specifically told Mr. Parsons at the paper that she didn’t want their wedding announced until it was over. Some fool might pass through town, read it and pass the word on to someone else.

But just because she’d done that, didn’t mean she was worried. She just didn’t figure there was a reason to court trouble. She was just nervous. Being a silly ninny as Lou would say. In fact, she knew if she went into the guestroom and woke Lou up and told her she’d had a dream and then thought she’d heard hoofbeats outside that Lou would say ‘Go back to sleep, you silly ninny. You’re just nervous ‘cause you’re getting married tomorrow.’

So that had to be it. Nothing was going to ruin her wedding day. Teaspoon was going to walk her down the aisle, she was going to be Jimmy’s wife and she was going to be happy. ‘Cause she’d shoot the fool herself that dared to try and stop it. Foolish nerves indeed.

Determination filling her, she rolled back over, and slowly dropped off to sleep.

If Only
by: Cindy

He checked the mirror again, carefully smoothing down a few stray strands of hair. Then he straightened his tie, buttoned his suit jacket, placed his hat carefully atop his head, and stepped out of his office and onto the boardwalk along the street. He drank in the sights and smells of a perfect day.

All around him, the hustle and bustle of daily life in Sweetwater went on. The town was growing, with new business, and many more residents. It was good to know that much of the growth had come under his leadership.

A few people called out greetings to him, waving and smiling at their beloved Mayor. He smiled back and tipped his hat, then started down the street toward the hotel. He had an important lunch meeting coming up.

He'd only gone a few steps when he heard his name being called, and he saw Miranda Webster waving him down from across the street. He stopped and waited as she crossed, her newborn daughter cradled in her arms.

"Oh, Mayor Cross, I'm so glad I saw you! I wanted you to meet little Agnes."

He looked down at the cooing infant and smiled. "She's beautiful, Miranda – like her mother. I'm sorry I hadn't made it out to see you yet."

"Oh, we know how busy you are, what with everything you do for Sweetwater," she replied. Then she held the infant toward him. "Would you kiss her, just for luck?"

His smile widened. "Of course," he said, leaning down to brush his lips against the baby's forehead. It was hardly the first such request he'd received as Mayor. He laughed as a tiny fist wrapped itself in his long hair. "You take care now, Miranda," he added as he disentangled himself.

Miranda beamed and headed back to finish her errands. He watched until she was back across the street, then he started toward the hotel again. He'd only made it a few steps when he heard someone else call his name.

Becky Gilmer came out of the dress shop, a brightly wrapped package in her hand. "I'm so happy I ran into you, Mayor Cross. Mama was just saying this morning how she'd dearly love it if you would come for dinner tonight." She smiled her best smile, batting her eyelashes coyly.

He smiled at the flirting, enjoying every moment of it. It was one of the perks of his job that he didn't think he'd ever tire of. Still, with his position in the community, it was time he thought about settling down with a wife. He could certainly do worse than Becky, with her golden blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and intelligent wit. "Well, I'd love to, but I can't tonight," he answered. Not with a dinner date already set with Katrina Havelin, another beauty vying for his attention. "What about tomorrow?"

Her smile had fallen when he said no, but now she beamed. "Oh, tomorrow will be just fine! I'm so . . . I mean, mama will be so pleased," she said. She held out the package. "I'll wear my new dress."

"I'm sure it's lovely," he replied. "But not nearly as lovely as you." He took her hand and lightly kissed the back of her fingers.

Becky sighed as he released her hand, reluctant to have him let go. "Tomorrow night, then," she whispered.

"Tomorrow night," he agreed, giving her the small half-grin that made women swoon.

Becky backed away, running into a chair outside the dress shop. She laughed nervously and turned toward the street, stumbling over the step and nearly falling as she tried to not take her eyes off of him.

He watched as she disappeared into the crowd, then continued on. Again he'd only gone a few steps when he heard his name called. He turned and saw Standing Wolf coming out of the Trading Post toward him.

As Mayor, one of his proudest accomplishments was the peace he had forged between the Indians native to the area and the white settlers. Some of the new businesses in Sweetwater, like the Trading Post, were Indian owned. Other Indians made their homes around the town. Everyone, Indian and white alike, depended on the economy of the town, and they had learned to work together in peace. In fact, he had been so successful that the governor had asked for his help on a wider scale. His lunch meeting now was the first step toward brokering what he hoped would be a lasting peace for the whole territory.

"How's business at the Post?" he asked as the other man approached.

"Everything is good," Standing Wolf replied. "Some days there is more business than we can keep up with, but this is good."

As Mayor, he couldn't agree more – they could deal with too much business. "Let me know if you need more help at the Post."

Standing Wolf nodded. This was what the people of Sweetwater loved about their Mayor – he was willing to help everyone, no matter what the problem. "So far, we can manage," he answered. "Little Elk wants you to come for a meal," he added, passing on his wife's message. "Her niece is coming on the stage today."

He thought about his schedule – Katrina tonight, Becky tomorrow night . . . "What about Thursday night?"

Standing Wolf nodded. "Thursday."

With another social engagement settled on his calendar, he continued toward the hotel, smiling and greeting folks along the way. It made him feel good that he didn't see a single frown in his town as he went.

He reached the hotel just as the door opened and William Tompkins walked out. As one of the long-standing business owners in the town, Tompkins played a key role on the council that had helped craft the booming burg they lived in today. Even with competition from the Trading Post, his general store had been expanded several times and continued to be profitable.

Tompkins smiled a greeting. "I was hoping to see you today," he said. "Jenny's due on the stage tomorrow, and we'd sure love to have you over for dinner."

Jenny. He smiled at the memories. And as far as he knew she was still single – definitely someone to keep in mind. "I'm free on Friday," he offered.

"Friday's just fine," Tompkins agreed. "Gives Jenny a couple of days to settle in." He paused, then added, "I know you'll do fine, but good luck with this meeting. That peace is important to all of us." Then he held the door open for the Mayor to enter the hotel.

He straightened his tie one more time, then removed his hat as he approached the dining room. He could see the private room in the back, with several Army officers and representatives of the various Indian tribes already present. Well, he had the example of Sweetwater to show them, and together they'd work out a plan that worked for everyone.

And then he could concentrate on dinner with Katrina tonight . . . and Becky tomorrow . . . Standing Wolf's niece on Thursday . . . and Tompkins . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~*~

Buck gasped, coming suddenly awake. He lay still for a moment, breathing heavily, then he looked around. Fortunately, none of the other riders seemed to have been disturbed.

He glanced at the window, noting the first small hint of dawn starting to color the sky. That meant he still had a little more time before he was expected to be up, so he lay back, letting his breathing calm, then he closed his eyes.

Maybe the dream would come back, if only for a little while. It felt good to be accepted. And right now, outside of his Pony Express family, about the only place he found acceptance was in his dreams. But in his dreams he could be Mayor, he could forge a lasting peace – he could do anything.

He heard the barn door creak open and knew that Teaspoon must be up. A couple of the other riders were starting to stir too, reinforcing that the day was starting.

Buck opened his eyes and sighed. He'd promised to go to town with Rachel today and help with supplies. That usually meant being under constant observation at the store – as if he'd load supplies that didn't belong to the station!

He sat up quietly and began to pull on his clothes. At least when he was with Rachel, people didn't tend to be quite as outright nasty to him as at other times. They didn't necessarily like her past, but they afforded her more civil treatment as a woman.

He grinned. He'd still bet that reality didn't end with an invitation to dinner with Tompkins the way his dream had!

Sweet Onion Dreams
by: Cindy

The town was dressed in its festive best as he walked down the street toward the church. Even from here he could see the brightly colored signs around the canopy set up for the party celebrating the coming of spring.

The streets were oddly empty, he noticed, but he brushed the thought away. Everyone must already be at the party, he decided – though he really didn’t think he was late.

But as he reached the canopy, the area underneath was empty of people. Tables and chairs occupied one corner, and some long tables held the baked goods the women of Sweetwater had provided for the festivities. Still, there was no one there watching the food, or putting the final touches on the decorations, which seemed very odd.

He walked over to the table, admiring the many treats displayed there. The assortment included cookies of every flavor, cakes with fancy icing, and more types of pie than he’d ever seen in one place. He snuck a glance over his shoulder – still no one there. Well, that meant no one to tell him he couldn’t be the first to sample the pie!

He cut himself a generous slice of apple pie, savoring the first few bites of sweet fruit and flaky crust. Then he reached for the blueberry pie. Might as well enjoy the tasty treats now, before everyone else was there vying for some. He lifted the second piece to his mouth, ready to take a bite . . .

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He dropped the pie on the table. He knew that voice – but it couldn’t be! He turned slowly . . .

Beulah Winchell Hunter came striding across the floor, the twins in tow, each boy trying to pull her in a different direction. “I should have known I’d find you here, having a good time, leaving me with your sons,” she accused loudly. “Well, you can just take care of your boys, because tonight is my night to dance!” She pushed the two boys into his arms.

Teaspoon just looked at the two boys, seeing younger versions of his own face staring back at him, then turned to look back at Beulah. She was happily swaying on the dance floor – though he could hear no music, and she had no partner.

He looked back at the boys. Beulah had been wife number six – and the last one! By the time they had split, he’d wanted nothing more to do with marriage. He hadn’t seen her for over fifteen years.

And they didn’t have any children!

He put the boys down, noting only in passing that they immediately rushed for the table with the pie. He started toward Beulah, intending to get some answers!

“Daddy”

He spun around, knowing the voice couldn’t be referring to him – yet also knowing that it was.

Beatrice walked toward him, as beautiful as the day he’d first seen her. She held hands with a girl who looked to be about six or seven. As Teaspoon watched, the girl’s face alternately looked like Amanda and someone else – someone with Beatrice’s eyes and smile. “Elizabeth?” he asked.

“Hello, daddy,” the girl said, now looking like Amanda once more. She picked up a piece of pie, looking like Elizabeth again when she turned around.

Teaspoon shook his head. He’d never seen his daughter as a young girl, hadn’t even known about her until she was grown – and dead. He looked for Beatrice, but she had disappeared.

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He spun again, watching as Beulah stalked back toward him. This time she held a little girl with curly hair in her arms. “How dare you run off and leave me alone with little Matilda!” she demanded. “You should be here to take care of your daughter!”

Daughter? He shook his head again, looking around for an answer. It had been fifteen years, there was no way any child would be this young . . .

“Teaspoon!”

He turned at the new voice, finally noticing some music playing. It was a mariachi sound, reminding him of Mexico, and Texas . . . He stopped, blinking hard and shaking his head. It couldn’t be . . .

Dolores Rios walked across the floor, her daughter Rosa at her side. He recognized them easily, having just seen them a few weeks earlier on his return visit to the Alamo. But Rosa now looked to be only about eight or nine, a girl still, not the beautiful young lady who still had Buck and Jimmy talking. “I told you I would not expect you manãna,” Dolores said sadly. “But now you’ve missed so much of Rosa’s life.”

He opened his mouth to explain, but just then Dolores spun around. By the time she faced him again, she was no longer Dolores . . .

The face of his second wife, Ruth Benfield Hunter, smiled back at him. She held a squirming infant out toward him. “Oh, Aloysius, isn’t our son handsome?”

He took the boy in his arms, his mind reeling. Ruth had died shortly after their wedding. They’d had no children . . .

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He twisted sharply as Beulah came back into view. The teenage boy next to her alternately looked like him, and like Beulah. “Your son has been dipping the girls’ braids in the ink wells,” she screamed, drowning out the music, which had now switched to a waltz.

Teaspoon shoved a piece of peach pie into the boy’s hands and reached for his bandana. It had gotten very hot under the canopy . . .

He stepped away from the table, away from Beulah, and Dolores, and Beatrice, and the children . . .

But the dance floor was suddenly full. He recognized many of the faces. His first wife was there, and wife number five . . . Women from all the moments of his past floated by, smiling, pointing, pushing children toward him.

All around he heard calls of “Daddy!” until it made his head spin. More and more children filled the dance floor . . .

He tried to make sense of it all. He couldn’t possibly have fathered all of these children – could he? There were things that just didn’t make any sense, but it was so hard to think clearly about it. The women he saw had played parts in his life over more than thirty years, yet few of the children were even teenagers. It just didn’t make sense . . .

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He saw Beulah coming toward him again, at least ten small children holding tightly to her skirts. No, it just couldn’t be true!

He pushed past the food tables, noting the happy children with pie smeared all over their faces. He needed to find a way out, but everywhere he turned there were more women, and more children.

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter! . . .”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Teaspoon awoke with a start, taking in a deep breath. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness then looked around. Much to his relief, the familiar outlines of the tack room greeted his eyes.

He sat up on the edge of the bed, reaching for a towel to wipe away the sweat that had formed on his brow. Where in the world had that dream come from?

Pulling on his pants and boots he headed for the door, stepping out into the yard. Everything seemed normal now. Dawn had just arrived, and as he watched the bunkhouse door opened and the riders began to straggle out. Buck and Jimmy went to the well to get fresh water while Ike and Cody headed for the house to help Emma bring down the goods for breakfast. Meanwhile Kid headed for the barn, probably to saddle Katy, Teaspoon guessed. Lou was due in this morning, and Kid was the next rider up.

Yup, all in all, everything seemed very normal – a welcome conclusion after the strange dream! He looked around once more and smiled. He had all the kids he ever needed, or could handle, right here.

“Guess I shouldn’t o’ ate that second onion last night,” he muttered as he headed back in to get ready for the day.

Facing The Demon
by: Cathy

“Jimmy!” Lou yelled.

Hickok opened his eyes to find himself surrounded by his friends in the Pony Express bunkhouse. All of them wore sleepy expressions of concern. He would have been angry that they woke him up except for the fact that the dream he’d just been experiencing had scared the hell out of him. He wasn’t afraid now, he realized but he had been—enough that he was glad someone had been around to wake him up.

“Sorry,” he apologized, remembering the scream that probably awakened and alarmed the others.

“What was it?” Kid asked.

“Just a bad dream,” Jimmy told them.

Sounded more like a nightmare, Ike signed.

“Yeah, I guess it was,” Hickok admitted.

“You want to talk about it?” Lou asked.

“Nah,” Hickok responded. “It wasn’t nothing to be concerned about—now.”

“You sure?” the female rider asked.

“Sure,” he replied, for the first time in a long time knowing his words to be true. “Go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you all up.”

~*~*~*~*~

Jimmy lay quietly waiting for the others to fall asleep. As he waited, he considered the dream that had caused so much of a furor. He had bad dreams off and on since he was a kid, but not like this one.

The “Thing” was different from any of the childhood nightmares. The “Thing” had made its appearance just after he left the Judge’s home. Something he couldn’t see was chasing him through the trees. No matter how hard he ran or how often he zigged and zagged, he couldn’t escape. It stayed on his trail and never more than a few feet behind him.

He’d never really understood why he’d never just stopped to face the “Thing.” When the dream first started, he’d been unarmed and scared silly. As the years passed, the apparition had come less frequently and he’d begun to carry a weapon in the dream. But even armed—even knowing he’d be able to defend himself—he was scared. He had still run from the “Thing.”

And it had still followed. Just out of visual range but always there, breathing heavily, close enough for him to feel the heat of its breath on the back of his neck.

After joining the Pony Express, the dream had begun to fade almost entirely. The “Thing” had only haunted him after something had happened to disrupt the family he had grown to count on. He had reckoned it was knowing there were others around. He seemed to sleep lighter, as if afraid of waking them. The dream never really got a chance to take hold.

Tonight had been different. This was the first time he’d had the dream since he’d killed Brad, taken care of the Judge and had started wearing the pair of pearl handled revolvers. Tonight, for the first time, he’d been so tired that the dream was on him without warning.

But for some reason he had been less afraid. He had still run, but not with the fear driven adrenaline that he had experienced before. In fact he’d even turned the tables on the “Thing” and had started running towards it, until finally it had been the one running away.

He’d finally caught up with the “Thing,” cornering it against a rock wall. Jimmy had been surprised to find that the “Thing” was human, at least from the back. It had refused to face him, even after he’d had it trapped and had yelled for it to turn around.

Finally he could take no more. He had stepped forward, taken the “Thing” by the shoulder and spun it around to face him.

That’s probably when he had awakened the others he decided. He remembered looking at the “Thing’s” face and screaming. A shiver ran through the rider as he remembered what he had seen. All these years the “Thing” had been him. He’d been running from himself.

He could only wonder now what had given him the courage to face himself. Jimmy didn’t figure he’d ever really know. It could be the security of people he knew to be real friends, or maybe he had just grown enough to deal with his demon. One thing he did know though, he had faced the “Thing” and it wouldn’t be bothering him again.

Jimmy’s eyes closed wearily. He couldn’t remember being so tired before. A small smile formed on his lips as he fell asleep again.

Turn About
by: Cathy

Buck Cross stood in a line with five other young men waiting for Teaspoon Hunter to make his decision. What the older man would decide would mean the difference between the Kiowa half-breed eating that evening or going hungry until he could track down some game.

The other five boys were standing a bit apart from him, almost as if they were afraid to get too close. No one looked in his direction, unless it was out of the corner of their eye. It was almost as if they were expecting him to pull out a knife and scalp them then and there.

Hunter walked slowly down the line, questioning each boy in turn. One of them, the bald one turned out to be mute as well. His friend, a young scrawny, almost girly looking kid, explained that he had been sick. Hunter nodded sympathetically.

One by one, the station manager for the Pony Express asked each boy’s name and what made him think he’d be a good rider. He seemed pleased with their answers, smiling and nodding frequently.

The smile disappeared when he came to stand in front of Buck. “Sioux?” he asked almost maliciously.

“Kiowa,” Buck answered.

“But not a full blood,” Hunter stated.

“My father was white,” the boy explained.

“We don’t need your kind,” Hunter said firmly. To the others he added, “Pay day is the end of the month, your room and board is on the company. I’ll show you where you can stow your gear.”

Buck watched as the group walked away, leaving him standing alone on the side of the road. To add insult to injury, the clouds that had been gathering for the past couple of hours opened up, dousing him through and through. Thoroughly discouraged, the boy did nothing.

This had been his last hope. The ad hadn’t said Indians didn’t need to apply and he had hoped the station manager would be fair enough at least to give him a chance. Buck was grateful for the rain at that moment—it hid the tears he was crying.

“Better move along, Indian,” a voice growled.

He looked up to discover a man wearing a sheriff’s badge standing too close to him. “I’m not doing nothing,” he muttered.

“Best to keep it that way,” the sheriff grunted. “Get moving before I run you in for loitering.”

Buck considered letting the man do just that. At least he would have a dry place to sleep and maybe even get fed. Then again, he’d been in jails before. As long as he was alone, he would be okay. He just didn’t want to take a chance that he wouldn’t be alone.

He walked slowly along the sidewalk, trying to stay close enough to buildings to be protected from the wind driven rain yet far enough away that the white storekeepers didn’t feel threatened.

Passing the general store, he noticed the storekeeper stacking canned goods in a window display. The man caught his eye and, for once, didn’t turn away. Instead he motioned for Buck to come inside. Surprised, the boy hesitated, only to have the man wave again.

“You look half-drowned, boy,” he said cheerfully, as Buck entered the store. “You better get home before you catch your death of cold.”

“Don’t have a home,” Buck murmured.

“What?” the man exclaimed. “You mean you’ve been living out in this weather?”

“Yes, Sir,” Buck answered, not looking up.

“Well, we can’t have that!” the man said. “You looking for a job?”

“Yes, Sir,” the boy repeated. He looked up finally to see the man smiling at him.

“I can’t pay you much,” the man told him. “But there’s a cot in the storeroom and you’ll get three square meals a day. That and say a dollar a week sound all right to you?”

“What do I have to do?” Buck asked suspiciously.

“You know how to read?” the storekeeper asked. “Do sums?”

“Yes, Sir,” Buck answered as confidently as possible.

“Good!” the man said. “For now I have some boxes of canned fruit out back that need to be brought in and put on the shelves. Soon as I can find out how well you can do, I’ll let you work the counter. You think that’s fair?”

“Yes, Sir!” Buck replied with cautious optimism.

“First things first though,” the man said. “First you get upstairs and get yourself a hot bath. Can’t have my employees getting sick on me now, can I? While you’re getting the water ready, I’ll find some clothes for you to change to. Then you can come back down and sweep out the store and get yourself some clean linens and things for the bed in the storeroom.”

“Yes, Sir,” Buck said again. He was still stunned at the speed with which he’d found a job and what could become a home.

“All right then, you get,” the man said, motioning the boy toward the stairs. “Hey, boy,” he called just as Buck reached the door. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Buck, Buck Cross.”

“You can call me Bill, Buck.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Buck?” another voice called.

“What?” he answered, prying one eye open to see his friends sitting or propping themselves up to stare at him.

“You’re dreaming mighty loud,” Jimmy told him.

“Yeah,” Lou agreed wearily. “I can’t sleep with you muttering like that.”

Good dream? Ike signed.

“It was weird anyway,” Buck admitted. “Tell you about it in the morning.”

Fade To Black
by: Cindy

He never saw it coming – but he heard it.

He heard the click of the gun hammer being pulled back. And before he even had time to figure out where the sound was coming from, he heard the sound of the shot being fired.

Kid gasped as the bullet buried itself in his side. He dropped his own rifle and drew both hands to the gaping wound, trying to stop the blood that was spilling heavily onto the ground; trying to hold on to life.

He stumbled away from where he was, trying to get into the trees. His own soldiers were in there somewhere and he wanted to be found by them, not the Union forces who had been forcing them back.

His feet felt heavy and numb, and he was having trouble moving them. Finally, he tripped, sprawling onto the ground at the base of a huge old oak. He lay still for a moment, gathering his strength, then pulled himself up to sit against the trunk. He chanced a glance at the wound, only to find blood still seeping through his fingers, no matter how hard he pressed.

He was so tired – and COLD! He knew he'd never been as cold as he was now. He guessed that was a little strange, since it was late spring in Virginia. And he hadn't been cold before he got shot . . .

From all around him came the sounds of people moving through the trees. Sometimes he thought he saw shadows of the soldiers, but he wasn't sure. There seemed to be something wrong with his eyes, and it was hard to focus.

He pressed up against the tree, willing it to keep him hidden. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a few minutes . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Lights and shapes swirled around him in a dizzying dance. It was hard to make out any details, but he concentrated, trying to make sense of it all.

Finally, the swirling slowed, and details came into focus. Kid recognized the place immediately. It was the Pony Express station in Rock Creek. He even recognized the WHEN – November, 1861. The Pony had run its course, replaced by the telegraph wire.

Just beyond the station he could see the farmhouse he and Lou had just purchased, with a little financial help from Buck. Of course, the farm wasn't really close enough to be seen from the station, but maybe that didn't matter right now.

Maybe it didn't matter either that the town of Rock Creek was nowhere to be seen.

He moved closer, though he was sure he wasn't walking. He saw Teaspoon come out of the barn and walk toward him.

"I seen a lot of war and fighting in my time, Kid," the older man said sadly. "And it don't never seem to solve anything for long, just gets lots of people killed."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"This war don't need you, son," Teaspoon replied. "You're needed here."

In a swirl of light Teaspoon was gone, and Rachel was there instead. "Kid, you just got married. You gotta think of what Louise wants and needs."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"Your wife and family need you more," Rachel said. Then she disappeared in another swirl of light.

Jimmy took her place. "Don't do it, Kid," he said, his voice angry. "Think about Noah, and Ulysses -- and that damned Missouri militia. That what you wanna fight for?"

The words flew between them, fast and furious – the same argument they'd had many times.

States' rights!

Slavery!

States' rights!

Slavery!

Jimmy finally just shook his head. "It ain't worth losin' what you got here, Kid."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"Virginia ain't your home anymore," Jimmy replied. Then he disappeared in a puff of angry red smoke.

Buck walked through the red haze to stand in front of Kid. "You've got a home here now, Kid. And a family. There's nothing left for you back east."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"Lou needs you," Buck responded. "I'll help her all I can, but I'm not the one she needs most."

Kid tried to respond, but Buck was gone, replaced by a wall, solid except for a single door. He wondered briefly how the wall had gotten there, but then he opened the door.

The door opened onto a meadow, filled with tall prairie grass and multi-colored wildflowers sawing gently in the breeze. Three young children played happily by the edge of a creek that sliced through the meadow like a crystal clear blue ribbon. He couldn't help but notice that the older boy looked a lot like him . . .

"That's what we could have, Kid, if you stay."

He turned, finding Lou at his side. And then he understood that the children were theirs, his and Lou's.

"We won't have this if you go, Kid," Lou continued.

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"I need you more, Kid," Lou answered. She laid her hand over her stomach, and started to say something, then stopped herself and just shook her head sadly. "I need you more," she repeated.

Before he could respond, he found himself back on the other side of the door. He was on his horse, leaving. Parts of Rock Creek reappeared now as he rode, the people of the town watching him go. A few people waved kindly, their own southern sympathies pulling on them too. More people, however, just glared angrily at him, but he kept riding.

Then he stopped and looked back. He knew he hadn't done that when he had really left Rock Creek – knew he couldn't look back and still keep going. But this time he looked.

She was there, watching him leave. As he continued to look back, her face seemed to come closer. At the same time, a brilliant white light appeared, and soon all he could see was Lou's face, surrounded by the nearly blinding glow. He couldn't help but notice the sad look in her eyes. She was so close, he should be able to touch her . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

He woke then, shuddering suddenly from the utter cold that wrapped his body. He fought to get his eyes open and focused.

The white light was fading, already gray around the edges. And the gray kept covering the light, turning darker and darker.

But he could still see her face.

He shuddered again, and coughed up blood. There couldn't be that much blood left in him, he mused, looking at the pool gathering around him.

He heard it then, a sound like hundreds of little bells tinkling among the trees. He looked up, seeing no bells – but she was still there, though just barely.

The gray was becoming black, nearly blocking Lou from his sight. It seemed to be spreading faster and faster. He didn't want her to go, not yet. There was so much he wanted to say, and should have said before now.

He tried to raise his hand, to reach for her, keep her with him. But it was too late. The light faded, and blackness ruled.

"Lou . . ."

That Was His Name
by: Cindy

She gasped as another contraction hit, knowing that this was both the most painful, and the most exciting, time in her life so far. The doctor's calm voice, and Rachel's presence holding her hand, helped ease her fears. She heard the doctor tell her to push, and she pushed with all her might . . .

A voice said, "It's a boy!" and then Kid was there by her side. His face showed a mixture of concern, happiness, and weariness. All of that disappeared behind a huge smile as she put the infant into his arms.

Kid checked all the little fingers and toes, marveling at the perfection. "He's perfect, Lou," he whispered. "Just like his mama."

"And his papa," she replied. She reached to take the baby back . . .

The scene seemed to ripple in front of her, and then she was out of the bed, and sitting at her kitchen table. To one side, two young children played happily, building a tower out of blocks. Jeremiah and Theresa were on the floor with them, helping.

The back door opened just then, and Kid walked in. He stopped to give hugs to the children, then watched as they returned to their building. He turned to Lou, a silly grin covering his face. "Wanna go for a swim?" he asked his wife.

She smiled in return and stood up to go with him. It wasn't likely they'd even go near the water, but they'd sure have fun anyway! And with Jeremiah and Theresa there to watch the younger children, it was a perfect time . . .

Another ripple, and now they were in the meadow. To one side she could see their home, with the new addition to the back that had been needed as their family grew. She turned the other way, smiling as she watched Kid wade into the creek with their youngest child, letting her feet barely touch the water. The baby squealed in surprise as the cold water tickled her toes, then laughed as she began to kick, soaking her daddy in the process. Their other children were playing tag on the other side of the creek.

The scene rippled again, and now it was winter. There was a fire roaring in the hearth, and a huge pine tree stood in one corner of the room. Brightly wrapped packages filled every inch under the tree, and the children sat nearby, stringing popcorn to decorate the boughs. It was Christmas Eve, and they would celebrate as soon as Kid got home . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She woke with a start, the paper falling from her fingers. She shivered, though the room was warm. For a moment she could almost believe . . .

Lou shook her head to clear the thought, then reached down to pick up the telegram. There had initially been so much joy and hope when they'd bought this farm. Even when Kid had left to go to war, she'd still had hope. Hope that they'd build the life, and the family they had always dreamed of. When he returned . . .

Except, of course, he wouldn't be returning.

Her fingers closed on the paper, and again she shuddered. She stared at the paper, not really seeing the words. She knew them by heart anyway. "Captain Moneypenny was killed . . ."

She clutched the telegram to her breast, fighting back a sob. Her eyes filled with tears, though for all she had already cried, she couldn't imagine where even more tears were coming from.

Buck heard her coming and he sat up on the bed. He had fixed up the tack room behind the barn for his own use, and that's where he normally would have been. But this wasn't a normal night, and he knew Lou shouldn't be alone in the house, so he was using the guestroom tonight. Anticipating that he'd be needed, he hadn't even bothered to get undressed.

Not that sleep would have found him very easily tonight anyway.

She paused at the door, which stood partially open. "Buck?"

"Come on in, Lou."

She pushed the door open and walked in slowly, the telegram still clutched in her hand. "It hurts so bad, Buck."

"I know, Lou." He could well remember the pain when he lost his mother, and Ike.

He stuffed a pillow behind his back and held open his arms. She climbed onto the bed, curling up against his side. The feel of his strong arms around her didn't make the pain go away, but it helped.

"We had so many dreams," she said softly. One of those dreams chose that moment to stir, twisting and kicking. Lou put her hands over her swollen belly, feeling the life growing inside of her. "I can't do it alone."

"You're not alone," he said firmly. "I'm not going anywhere. Teaspoon, Rachel, Polly – they're all going to help you too." The three of them had been at the house most of yesterday, and well into the night, helping Lou through the shock. "And as soon as the weather clears, we'll get your brother and sister from the orphanage, just like you planned."

Lou nodded, holding her breath as the baby kicked some more. "I think it's going to be a boy," she said. "We'd decided, if we had a boy, we'd name him James."

"That's a good name," he responded.

"James Perseus," she said softly, rubbing her hand slowly over the baby.

"Perseus?" He knew the name from mythology, but . . .

She curled up tighter in his arms, burying her tears against his chest. "That was his name," she whispered.

Hands On Experience
By Dede

‘Where am I?’

He lifted his head. Lying naked on a bed of gloriously vibrant wildflowers, he dropped his head back down and took a deep breath. The fragrance was intoxicating. He sat up on his elbows, looking around. The air seemed to shimmer as a voice called to him on the wind.

‘That voice! Like music, no, wait, bells.’ He smiled as he remembered the visiting bell choir who played at the mission school.

‘I don’t think I’m in Sweetwater anymore,’ he mused as he turned his head. He saw the image floating towards him but he couldn’t make out the face.

‘What’s she saying? I don’t understand it…WHOA! What the – ‘ His body quivered. Caresses. Soft hands. On his face, down his neck, across his chest, his arms, over his stomach, down to –

Buck jerked awake. The dream…again. It’s the same each time and had been for the last two weeks. He looked around to make sure he hadn’t disturbed the others. Mercifully, they were still sleeping. Buck dropped back on his bunk and sighed. He wasn’t sure what he wanted more – for her face to come into focus or her hands to complete their path!

*~*~*~*~*

“BUUUUUUCK!!!!!!” Lou yelled, unhappily.

Buck started and looked around. Confused, he realized he was standing in the barn holding the pitchfork in his slack grip. He looked at the hay. It was still where he’d started…an hour ago. ‘Guess it doesn’t pitch itself,’ he sighed inwardly.

“Hmmmmm?” Buck mumbled, staring back at the pitchfork. He set it down, shaking his head to clear the fog.

“Have ya’ heard a word I’ve said? Rachel wants ya’ to go with Ike to get the supplies. NOW!” Lou finished quickly, plowing through her words like he might stop listening.

“Sorry Lou. I’m outta’ sorts. I haven’t slept great the last couple a’ days,” Buck apologized, rubbing both hands over his face to wake up. Noticing Lou’s intense stare, he saw the doubt in her eyes.

“A couple of days? How’ bout a week or more? Buck, you’re worn thin,” Lou stated emphatically. “Well, go get the supplies,” she softened. “Maybe you can get to bed early tonight,” she added, watching Buck leave.

Buck slowly walked to where his friend and the buckboard were waiting.

*You okay?* Ike signed. Buck sensed his friend’s concern. Ike knew the importance Buck placed in dreams and the affects they could have on a person. As Buck just stood there, Ike nudged him.

Climbing up onto the seat, Buck muttered, “Let’s go.”

Ike rolled his eyes and, with a sigh, followed his friend up onto the buckboard.

*~*~*~*~*

Back at the station, Buck wearily climbed down. “I’m gonna’ put these books in my trunk. I’ll be right back.” Ike just nodded and began taking the supplies in the house.

Buck walked into the bunkhouse, fully intending on doing exactly what he’d said, but his bunk had other ideas. It seemed to call to him and, as he sat down, he slumped over, his head on his pillow, and drifted off to sleep.

He was on the wildflowers. ‘I’m not waking until I see the face of this…this…siren!’ he unconsciously decided. He heard a voice calling to him and sensed he should know who it was. Then he felt the soft touches, both calming and sensual. Ah, there was the image. The seductress started to come into focus. Closer. Closer. He struggled to hear what she was saying…his name! And the voice was becoming stronger. The face was becoming clearer…a little more and he would be able to see it…just a bit more…closer...there he could see – it was…it was...it was Jimmy. JIMMY?!?

“AHHH!!!”

Leaping off his bunk, Buck got his legs tangled in his covers. ‘How did I get under these?’ Buck wondered distractedly as he suddenly fell. Landing face first on the floor, he found himself staring at a familiar pair of boots. Pushing himself to his knees, he looked up into the face of his ‘seductress.’

“Dang Buck! I’ve been yellin' your name for the last five minutes!” Jimmy snapped, “Come on! We need your help with the supplies!”

Buck slowly stood as Jimmy walked to the door. Pausing a moment, Jimmy turned to look curiously at him. “You okay? Must’ve been some kinda’ nightmare, huh?”

“You have no idea,” Buck mumbled as he followed his friend out into the day. “You have no idea.”

The Sin Of The Father
By Erin

I am walking, drifting in the cool autumn night, no destination in mind just wandering unable to rest, when I see her. She's in the clearing in front of me, wearing only her night shift. Her ivory skin glistens bathed in the pale hollow moonlight. I silently, stealthily move toward the large oak in front of me. My glare strays past it to this angelic creature in front of me. I have seen her before in town. As I watch her with a strange awe fascination she walks toward me. I crouch like a cat waiting my prey. Has she seen me? Found me out to be a watcher? My breath quickens as she stops only a foot away from me. Her shift is thin and I find my imagination running in directions that I know it should not be, but I feel no guilt.

She is picking wild flowers and is carrying a small bouquet of them in Her thin hand. As she leans to pick the violet in front of me her shift Falls forward and for a moment she is bared in front of me. My senses are heightened beyond anything I've ever known. I can hear the night mist falling to the ground and the sound of the flower stem snapping is deafening. An unspeakable anger overtakes me and I realize I have her by the arms. A sound and fury that defies all things human plays out before me. My hands on her body, her struggle, her terror, and her tears. Her body is red now but my heart is ashamed to feel so white. I hear a cry, in a strangled voice as my mind's eye watches the young woman, violated by my hands. I am the sin of my father. With that thought I woke glancing round I found myself in my bed at the station. I quickly look around seeing the other riders sleeping. I am staring at the ceiling with hot tears staining my face. It seemed so real, so vivid. How, how could I do that to anyone? I can’t sleep, I can’t face those thoughts again, ever!

A Cool Wind From The North
By Lori

A/N: Thanks to Vicki for the inspiration in chat. See, never tease me when there's a plot bunny bounding around.

Late one night, beside the dying embers of the fire where he'd roasted his supper, Buck turned on his side, a soft murmur escaping his lips. Pulling the blanket closer around him, he smiled and settled deeper into his dream. These were the kind of nights he loved to be out on runs. Skies not marred by clouds, that shone with thousands of stars, and enough of a wind that kept him comfortable but not too cold to sleep. A nice, refreshing wind from the north to cool the land, and most of all, refresh his spirit.

“Justine,” he murmured again as he settled deeper into his bedroll.

Justine, the hotel owner’s daughter and manager of the restaurant in Hamm’s Bluff…

The Silver Wind Hotel, was new, owed by foreigners – as the whispers in town went – and Buck hoped that they might be more amenable to him staying there than the other hotel owner was. He did not want to bunk down in the livery stable again, as he’d had to do the last time Teaspoon had sent him on a run here. He probably could have mentioned it to Teaspoon, but he didn’t want to. It wasn’t the stationmaster’s fault that the majority of the towns he went to viewed him with nothing more than barely concealed contempt.

So it had been with an uneasy spirit that he set off for Hamm’s Bluff the day before. One night on the plains then he would be able to deliver the special run, pick up the return mail and head back to the safe confines of the bunkhouse. But as he grew closer, the thought of sleeping in the livery stable when all he wanted to do was have a nice hot bath and a comfortable bed was making him in a surly mood.

He set off to the Silver Wind Hotel, hopeful, yet resigned, to see if foreigners would view his skin with the same disgust as others did? When he opened the door and started for the main desk, his heart sank like a stone into his stomach. The brunette behind the counter certainly didn’t look foreign, and when she smiled and asked if she could help him, he didn’t detect any accent to her speech. Perhaps the whispers were wrong. But still, she hadn’t stepped back in fear, or look at him like he was going to leap over the desk and scalp her, so perhaps there was hope.

“I need a room,” he said.

“Certainly,” she smiled. “Just sign in here, and I’ll get your key.”

And that was that. He got his room, got his bath set up and when he walked into the restaurant, the wait staff didn’t look at him with revolt in their eyes and seated him at a table. He could barely contain his surprise when the same brunette approached.

“Good evening, Mr. Cross. Is everything alright with your room?”

It took him a minute to tear his gaze away from her green eyes that looked like a field of clovers dancing with the wind. Slightly embarrassed, he cleared his throat and nodded. “Oh…yeah, thanks.”

“Good, I’m glad. Would you like to look over our menu?” she asked, and held out a piece of thick paper.

“Thanks.”

“Just signal when you’re ready to order.”

Then with a smile, she turned and headed back into the kitchen. He had really hoped to see her again that evening, but the restaurant became very busy and he would see her occasionally as she came out of the kitchen long enough to instruct a waiter on an order, and then she would be gone again. After ordering desert and two cups of coffee, he realized he wouldn’t get a chance to actually speak to her again and went up to his room.

Early in the morning, Buck headed out. The sooner he picked up the mail for the return trip, the sooner he could return home. Hamm’s Bluff was still an unfriendly town, despite the surprisingly cordial reception he’d received from the hotel staff. Knowing it was too early for any restaurant to be open, he planned on making his breakfast beef jerky and hardtack. It wasn’t great, but he was anxious to get out of town.

He had just given his key to the desk clerk and was turning for the door when a voice stopped him in his tracks. “Mr. Cross?”

Slowly he turned toward the restaurant and saw the woman from the day before sitting at a table in the empty room. “Yes?”

“Are you leaving us so soon?” she asked, motioning for him to join her.

“Well,” he said, even as he drew closer, “I have to pick up the mail and head back to Rock Creek."

“So, you work for the Pony Express then?” she asked.

“Yes,” he nodded, finally sitting down across from her. “Have since the beginning.”

“You weren’t planning on leaving without breakfast were you?” she smiled.

“I wasn’t expecting any place to be open this early.”

“Lucky for you, my father put me in charge of the restaurant when he decided to open the hotel.” She stood and smiled at him, “How ‘bout I fix us breakfast? We’ll have the kitchen all to ourselves.”

Despite his earlier desire to leave, he found himself agreeing. Justine – she insisted he call her by her name when he insisted she call him Buck – made breakfast for the two of them and then lead him to the private dining room near the family quarters. They fell into easy conversation as they ate and when a waiter came bustling in saying he was sorry to interrupt but she was needed up front, Buck realized that more than two hours had passed.

Slightly chagrined, he apologized and said he had to be going. Justine asked if runs usually brought him to Hamm’s Bluff, and sadly he said no. He didn’t tell her, but he made a promise right then that the next one would definitely be his. Justine was kind, funny and a true beauty, inside and out. He would be happy to return to Hamm’s Bluff, as long as she and her family lived in town.

As he headed out on the trail, he turned and saw Justine standing outside the hotel, waving good-bye. It was the first time he ever longed to stay. She had brought a cool, refreshing wind of tolerance and acceptance and he didn’t want to leave her presence. He could only hope that the next time he arrived, the reception was just as welcoming…

As Buck dreamed on, the breeze blew softly, washing over in a caress, lifting the hair off his face, and brushing across his cheek, much like Justine’s lips.

Who's Who In Sweetwater
by: Cathy

“Sam?”

A hand gently shook Sam Cain by the shoulder, bringing the man to immediate awareness. The marshal jerked around, his hand reaching for the pistol he had belted to his hip.

“Sam, it’s me!” the voice attached to the hand said quickly.

“Buck?” Sam said groggily. “Is it really you this time?”

“This time?” Buck Cross asked. “What do you mean?”

“It was just a dream,” Sam murmured. “Thank heavens!”

“Must’ve been some dream,” the rider commented. “You want to talk about it?”

Sam hesitated. The dream had been pretty strange, but he wasn’t sure he really wanted anyone to know about it. Then again, this was the third time in as many days that he’d had the dream so maybe talking about it would be a good thing. At least it was Buck, he decided. The Kiowa would be less likely to spread the story around—or to laugh about it.

“As long as you promise not to laugh,” he said carefully.

“I’ll do my best,” Buck agreed.

“Well the dream starts off just like now. Someone shakes me awake,” Sam explained. “It’s Emma, only it’s not Emma.”

“Huh?” Buck asked.

“It looks like Emma, but she says she you,” Sam told him. “She says there’s trouble over at the bank and that Teaspoon and the rest of the boys are on their way.”

Buck had a confused look on his face, but he nodded for Sam to continue.

“I go out and there’s Lou dressed in Teaspoon’s hat and Jimmy is wearing Cody’s shirt and carrying Cody’s rifle. They are all pointing at the bank and telling me to hurry.”

Sam looked at Buck to see if he was laughing. The rider was straight faced but there was a twinkle in his eye that told Sam he was fighting to stay sober.

“Teaspoon comes up only he’s signing like Ike does,” Sam continued. He was into it now; he might as well finish it. “So we head over to the bank and, sure enough, just as we get there, there’s this big explosion and the window blows out. I run on and find out that the Barton gang is robbing the bank.”

“Who’s the Barton gang?” Buck asked.

“They’re a new bunch,” Sam told him. “I just got the paper on them this morning,” he added, shoving a couple of wanted posters in Buck’s direction.

“Anyways, the gang comes out of the bank carrying saddlebags full of money. But it’s not Barton—at least not the Barton in these posters.”

“So who is it?” Buck questioned.

“It’s Ike, Cody and Kid,” Sam replied. “They start shooting and then . . . “

The lawman looked up again. This time Buck was laughing. Quietly, but laughing none-the-less. Sighing, Sam shook his head.

“I knew I shouldn’t have told you,” he said angrily.

“I can’t help it, Sam,” Buck said, fighting to breath through his guffaws. “You have to admit it is funny.”

“What are you doing here anyway?” Sam asked, changing the subject.

“I was just wanting to tell you that there was a bank robbery over in Maysville earlier this week,” Buck replied. “I’m guessing it was these guys but no one over there had a name for them.”

Sam stood, picking up a hammer to nail the wanted posters to the wall outside the sheriff’s office. “If you see them around anywhere, you let me know, all right?”

“Sure, Sam,” Buck agreed. “But should I be looking for the guys in the pictures—“ he waited until he was far enough away that Sam couldn’t take a swing at him. “—or Ike, Jimmy and Cody?”

Premonition
by: Mary Ayers

The first thing Buck recognized was the pungent scent of burning sage. It surrounded him, enveloping him in a thick, heady mist. For a moment, everything around him seemed to be smoke. Even his body felt as if it were dissolving away into the haze.

Before he knew it, he was lifted up into the air. Twisting and twirling, he floated through an endless smoldering cloud-propelled forward by a driving, uncontrollable wind.

His heart thumped hard in his chest. He wanted to question where he was and where he was going-but before the thought had a chance to shape itself into words, he felt his feet touch down on a patch of soft earth. As the veil of smoke slowly lifted, he found himself standing in the middle of the prairie. He turned slowly around once surveying the grassy sea as it swayed and bowed before him in the breeze. Though he'd lived on the prairie most of his life, he didn't recognize this specific place.

The sudden sound of an eagle's cry cut through the sky. He raised his eyes to meet its call, hoping to find guidance, but he was met only with empty space. Confused, he lowered his gaze and was met with a sight that caused his jaw to drop. There, not ten feet ahead of him, knelt a man who looked exactly like him. It was him. His hair was a bit longer, his face more pale. But in every other respect, they were exactly the same.

Curious, he stepped toward his twin image. The kneeling Buck didn't notice his approach. Instead, he remained intent on filling his revolver. His fingers trembled with anger as he loaded each bullet. Buck felt his twin's desperation shake right through to his bones. He saw the kneeling Buck's jaw tense, his eyes glistening with hot, unshed tears. Something terrible had happened. But what?

Before he had a chance to consider the question further, Buck found himself standing in the middle of a town. His eyes rested on a window across the main street that read "Rock Creek Jail". Rock Creek? Where was this? He had never heard of a place called Rock Creek before.

He heard a gun cock and he turned to find the image of himself that he had seen on the prairie standing behind him, with gun at the ready. Again, he didn't notice Buck, but seemed to be waiting for someone else. His eyes were cold and distant-almost mechanical. Buck felt a chill steal through him. The expression he saw in his own face was the look of a cold-blooded killer. What the hell did he think he was going to do with that gun?

"I ain't up to a fight."

Buck spun around to find a well-dressed man with near shoulder-length blond hair standing in front of the jailhouse door. He seemed to look straight through Buck, smiling smugly at the Buck holding the gun.

The stranger pulled back his long black coat to show that he carried no weapon. Buck noticed that he was wounded. He turned toward the image of himself. He still held the gun. But now, it was pointed with cold precision at the stranger's heart. His face remained expressionless-except for the slightest hint of sadness that seemed to press up against his pursed lips. Buck's heart jumped up into his throat. Surely, he wasn't thinking of shooting a man who was not only unarmed but injured as well?

"You're just like that dummy friend of yours."

Buck's eyes widened. Dummy friend? Ike. He swallowed back the sickness that rose like a wave within him. Once more, he looked into those eyes that were the mirror image of his own. Again he saw the cold, calculated stare of a man determined to achieve the ultimate revenge. Now he knew. Something terrible had happened to Ike.

"You ain't got the nerve."

A shot rang out. He spun toward the stranger who stood, dazed and a little surprised by the bullet wound in his chest. Then, the stranger's lips curled into a knowing smile. Suddenly, the stranger disappeared and in his place stood Ike, his eyes wide with shock. Buck watched in horror as another shot blasted forth from the other Buck's gun and tore through Ike's chest.

Ike's mouth dropped open in stupefied indignation. But instead of directing his attention toward the man who'd shot him down, Ike turned his gaze toward Buck.

"Why me?" Ike mouthed silently.

"Ike?" Buck whispered, staring back at his friend's helpless face. He felt the tears sting in his eyes, as all he could do was watch like a paralyzed man as his best friend sank to the ground in a puddle of blood.

"No!" Buck gasped. His eyes flew open, his breath coming in smothered gasps as he began to grasp the world around him. He let his gaze wander across the darkened bunkhouse and then out the window at the full moon keeping watch like a silent sentinel over the sleeping riders.

He stumbled out of his bed and headed toward Ike's bunk. He sighed with relief as he saw the figure of his friend rise and fall beneath his blanket. Ike was breathing. He was alive. He knelt down beside his best friend and rested his head on Ike's shoulder. The rider started, but when he knew Buck had awakened him, he sighed good-naturedly.

Buck wrapped an arm across Ike's chest, letting the sure and steady beat of his friend's heart remind him over and over that it had only been a dream.

Ike gripped Buck's hand reassuringly and Buck felt the tears begin to fall.

"Don't ever die," he whispered.


THE END
Whiskey & Horses
by: Raye


"I wonder what's got Lou smilin' like that?" Kid discarded his hand of cards, leaving the full house hidden face down as he pondered the mercurial mood of his on-again-very-off-again-sweetheart.

The other riders took in Kid's question with hidden mirth. He was still on the outs with Lou and was looking for anything to make it better. If he hadn't annoyed them all in turn over the last few days as he tried to get them to speak to Lou on his behalf, they MIGHT have been a little more eager to help. As it stood, they left Kid ALL ON HIS LONESOME.

And when Lou found out about it... she was less than thrilled with his efforts. In fact she'd stopped talking to him all together. Now, he was on pins and needles around her and it was starting to drive the other riders batty.

They all turned to look at Lou as she squirmed under her blankets. She let out a loud satisfied sigh and they all began to wonder what was going on inside of her sleeping brain.

***************

They reined in their horses in this little one horse town at the edge of no-where. Lord knows how they'd decided on the meeting place and no one cared, what mattered to the rag-tag bunch of riders was that they had all made it... in almost one piece.

Hardly a word was spoken as they dismounted and half-heartedly tossed their reins over the hitching post. They didn't worry about their mounts wandering away; if the horses were half as tired as their riders, they didn't have the energy to go anywhere until they got a drink.

There was a woman at the head of the group. Her head held high, she showed no signs of her exhaustion, except for the sightly wild look shining in her eyes. Anyone catching her bright brown eyes staring in their direction would wonder what exactly was going on inside of her mind.

She wrapped her knuckles on the hard wood of the bar. "Barkeep! Barkeep!" She waited for the shortest of moments before repeating her demand. "Barkeep! I am ready to order!"

From the end of the bar, the man with the balding head of peppery hair gave a half hearted wave before turning back to the customers standing beside him. His posture was dismissive and the look on his face, unmistakably sour.

"Hellllloooo!" The shouted greeting was promptly followed by a shrill whistle. The riders looked to the petite woman standing in their midst and swallowed their nervous laughter as Louise removed her fingers from her mouth. She truly seemed unphased by the attention she was garnering. "I'm waiiiiiiiiting!"

The bartender raised a brow in their direction but made no move to answer her summons.

Cody leaned his elbow on the bar and gave his companions a wide grin. "Well now, looks like he's cuttin' you off, Lou."

Ike shook his head and turned away from Cody's sad attempt at humor. Louise did NOT look like she was in the mood.

"Yep," answered Noah in a hearty sing-song tone, "and you ain't even had ONE yet."

Her almond eyes slanted a bit more as she sized up her adversary. "We'll just see, men.... we'll just see."


He sauntered up to the bar, shouldering the riders aside as he stepped up even with Louise. His eyes never left her face, even as he addressed the man standing before him. "Step aside, boy and let a real man show you how to handle a woman."

Noah stepped out of the way, his wry grin was bright against his dark skin. "It's your funeral."

Jimmy cuffed him on the shoulder and nodded toward the big galoot that was leering at Louise, looking straight down the front of her dress. "Oh Lord, this is gonna be fun."

Leaning in closer, Ike motioned to Buck, *I say she draws blood*

Kid shook his head at the prediction. "That's one bet I'm not going to take you up on, Ike."

"Not much of a sportin' man, Kid?" Buck's half hearted joke elicited a round of laughter through the close-knit group.

"Naw," Kid looked to the floor as a blush spread over his cheeks. "I just don't like losing my money and I think Ike's got this one dead to rights."

Cody nodded, his head bobbing up and down on his shoulders. "I think 'dead' is the exact wording here."

True enough the liquored up cowboy was leaning over Louise like a vulture, fanning his stale breath over her face.

Louise looked about ready to explode, but somehow she maintained her composure for the moment. "Get out of my face."

"Well, now, little Miss... you don't really mean that."

There was dangerous glint in her eye and the boys knew that this wasn't the whiskey talking. "I don't?"

"Naw..." He waved off her look with a booming laugh. "I've seen your kind before."

There was a sudden shock of silence in the room as the riders prepared for mayhem to break out around the little lady standing at the bar. "My kind?"

He leaned in closer and bared his yellowing teeth. "Yeah... pretty... cute like a button... simple-"

"Simple, huh?" Her voice grated from her throat and the riders all took a step back. "I'll show you simple."


Ike leaned closer as Buck whispered, "Forget blood... he'll be lucky to walk out of here."


Louise put a sappy little smile on her face and batted her eyelashes at the big galoot. "So why don't you tell me more... and buy a girl a drink."

He returned her sappy little grin and all could see the rotted teeth revealed in his mouth. "Sure, honey... whatever you want."

Touching her fingers to her flushed cheek, Louise leaned closer to the cowboy and let out her husky little chuckle. "OOhhhhh now, you said I was simple..." someone cleared his throat in the crowd, "so, why don't YOU tell me what I want to drink? Hmmmm?"

He hitched up his pants and gave her a Texas sized wink. "Well, now you're talkin' Sweet Thing!"

The cowboy called over his shoulder. "Hey.. bring the little lady a glass of champagne, man. She'll be a little more 'bubbly'."

Noah's groan could be heard in the silence of the room.

"Champagne?" Lou questioned.

He leaned back against the bar and wedged a gnarled toothpick in between his teeth. "Sweet and bubbly."

"OH." She formed the word with her jaw clenched tight and a pounding pain in her head. "That's nice..."

Jimmy couldn't help the convulsive laughter that he hid within a coughing fit.

She let out a little squeak of surprise and looked down at her right leg. "Oh no!" Her little feminine squeal had the cowboy enthralled.

"What's wrong, darlin'?"

Louise turned out her heel. "I think I have a rip in my stocking!"

"You sure 'bout that? I don't see anything."

She looked up with a pout on her lips. "It's there.. don't you believe me?"

"Whoa no, step back, cowboy."

The tall inebriated cowpoke waved off Cody's warning. "I'd like to believe you, little lady.. but I don't see a thing."

"Well," she breathed, "Let me show you."

Louise leaned over even farther and lightly pinched her hem between her fingers. Slowly, she began to raise the edge of her skirt from her ankle to her calf. "Do you see it now?"

He made a huge pretense in looking over every inch of her skin before pronouncing in slow syllables. "Nope... don't see anything that ain't supposed to be there..."

"You won't be seein' anything when I-"

Louise silenced Kid with a glance and lifted the hem farther. She passed her knee and continued on to her thigh.

If she had turned to the side she might have seen Ike grab at Buck's arm as the mute rider lost all color in his skin.

"Then what about here?" Her tone was all sugar and lightness, her expression seemingly guileless and sweet enough to give Jimmy another toothache.

The cowboy seemed to take GREAT pleasure in leering at her milky skin. "Looks pretty damn good to-"

**BAM!** Louise grabbed his head and brought it down on her knee, knocking his cowboy hat to the floor before releasing him to fall bonelessly at her feet. Brushing off her hands she settled her skirt and let out a rather un-ladylike groan.

"What's wrong?" Buck was shaking with laughter.

Louise pointed out a foot and showed the boys the damage. "Now I really have a run." Turning from her horrific revelation, Louise turned to the bar and looked at the still empty surface.

She wrapped her knuckles on the bar. "Now, can I get a drink? Hmmm?"



The bartender lifted his head from his own quiet conversation. "Why don't you get one of that motley crew you came in with to get you another drink?"

"Really now?"

He waved her off as he turned back to his engrossing conversation. "Really."

It took Lou all of a split second to decide her course of action and somewhere in the back of her mind, she said a thankful prayer that Teaspoon was back in Rock Creek. This wasn't going to be pretty... and to him, she was always a lady.

With a firm hand, she reached out and grasped the top of a wooden stool and pulled it in front of her. Settling it in the mounds of damp sawdust at her feet she set one bent knee on the top of the stool and leaned up and over the bar trying to gain a purchase as she went.

Suddenly it seemed as though the Saloon was overflowing with male customers. For they had noticed in an instant what the other riders took a long moment to notice. Lou, leaning over the bar, almost with her stomach over the bar top. Now, normally, that wouldn't phase them, she was known for scrambling over boxes and fences at the Station, but this wasn't the station... and Lou wasn't wearing pants. The thick crinoline beneath her skirts was doing a more than 'admirable' job of adding body to the yards of luxurious cloth AND lifting it in the air like a flag on Founder's Day.

Some fresh, bright color splashed over the cheeks of her companions, although not everyone could say it was from shame, for riding certainly didn't do any harm to the shape of her behind. No sir, not at all.

Those same hours of riding had given her a pair of legs that could earn a Hurdy gal a bucket of money and then some. They all saw the tempting display of her ankles and a few men, standing at the right angle might have garnered a look at the back of a knee.

Jimmy looked at Kid and caught the look flickering in the Southerner's eyes. Heaven help the man that did more than look. It was going to get ugly.. fast.

Scrambling up onto the bar she found her way back to her feet. Miraculously avoiding the wet spots and discarded peanut shells, Lou's heels planted into the wood allowing her to stand just a few inches taller than the mirror behind the bar.

Looking to her right she smiled in triumph. "I've got your attention now, don't I?"

A rousing cheer rose up from the group gathering behind the riders and one voice rose up from the back. "You got MY attention, Darlin'!"

Tired as he was, Kid reached for his pistol.

Lou continued on like a steam engine. "Well?" she asked the bartender, "are you going to take my order?"

He nodded to his friends at the end of the bar and wiped his hands on the rag hanging from his belt as he measured his steps toward the young woman standing on his bar. He took his time crossing over to her, dragging his feet in the thick layer of sawdust behind the bar. "You're gonna order? You old enough to drink in a Saloon?"

Louise reached in the low neckline of her dress, garnering another round of cheers and wolf whistles. She withdrew a large wad of bills and waved them in the air, ignoring the glare she received from one particular pair of eyes at her feet. "I've got money and I want to order. As for my age, a lady NEVER reveals her age." She dropped the bills on the bar at her feet and watched as the bartender picked them up in his greedy little hands and fanned through the bills.

"All right.. all right..." he mumbled as he shoved the bills into his pocket, "what do you want?"

She considered his question for a moment before answering in a clear contralto tone. "Whiskey for my men... and beer for my horses."

You could've heard a pin drop for all the noise that circulated the room.

"Beer for what?"

Louise nodded. "I'm ordering beer, for our horses. It's been a long ride and I'm sure they're thirsty. Besides, the horse troughs outside look filthy!"

"They're HORSE TROUGHS," the bartender argued, "they're supposed to be filthy".

"Not at my Station they're not."

"Well, you ain't at YOUR station and I'm NOT gonna take beer out to them horses!"

"Really?"

"REALLY!" The bartender slammed his hand rag on the top of the bar and stared down the young hellion in his saloon.

She waved her arm at the door. "You heard the man, boys, bring them in."

The bartender turned white as one of Emma's sheets. "What?"

Louise gave him a tart look over her shoulder. "The horses. I believe you said you wouldn't take them their drinks outside, so I'll have them brought inside."

Kid didn't blink an eye when he brought his fingers up to his lips and blew out a shrill whistle. The crowd of thirsty cowboys started to back away from the door as a clatter of metal was heard just outside the door.



The batwing doors burst inward and Katy appeared in the opening, her head held high above the gathered crowd. Taking in the view, the high-spirited Express Pony nodded once before pawing the hardwood floor with her hoof. As she stepped further into the saloon the other Express horses followed suit.

The four-legged companions ambled up to the bar and raised a shoed-hoof and set it on the shiny brass foot rail. Turning back to the bartender who look like he'd forgotten how to breathe, Lou leaned in and whispered-

******************

"... that in your pipe and smoke it!" She ended the mumbled phrase with a big grin and a snap of her fingers.

Kid nearly fell on the floor. "That doesn't sound good, does it?"

Cody sniggered behind his hand of cards and shook his head. "Wanna take my ride, Kid?"
What the-?
by: Raye

Everyone wants to have a son. I'm no different. I've always wanted a boy to carry on the family name... someone to talk to, to share my hard won wisdom with...

to beat common sense into his skull with a mallet... ah, .. the joys of fatherhood.

So it weren't no surprise when I had that dream again last night.

There we were, squattin' down at the edge of the pond, cane poles clutched in our hands... watchin' the sunlight bounce off the waves... well, okay.. so there weren't no waves.. but the sunlight still shone off the flat glassy surface like Emma's good silver platter. It was the blinding light that I blame for the confusion.. after all, we were havin' ourselves a normal 'conversation' when things got kind of funny.

"Nice day."

"Yep."

"Havin' fun?"

"Yep."

"Uh.... hungry?"

"Yep."

Hungry, well so was I. Now where did I put the lunch basket?

A *plunk* down in the water turns my head, but there is nothing I can see in the water and I begin to wonder if my son is yearning for something a little more... fun?

"Got a bite?" Can't hurt to ask, right?

"Nope."

"Did you see somethin' a minute ago?"

"Nope."

"Still hungry?"

"Nope."

"Good."

This wasn't what I had in mind. Time with my son is supposed to be... well, perfect. *SIGH*

"Hey, Teaspoon?"

*What happened to Father? Papa? Somethin' along THOSE lines..*. "Yeah, son?"

"How much longer we gonna sit here and wait?"

"Well, we've got a few more hours of light-"

"Well, blast it, these skirts are starting to itch!"

*OH MY*... I certainly didn't expect.. *THAT*

Somethin
' hard and gritty seems stuck in my craw, high enough to cut off my air, but low enough to hold down my breakfast as I turn.. just enough... to see 'him' in the light. There, hunkered down on a rock is my pride and joy... the fruit of my loins.. the legacy of my life... trussed up in linen and lace.. and looking like... "Lou?" The name croaks out of my throat like a hung-over bullfrog.

Lookin' right pretty in a dress, my young... 'son' turns a darlin' little smile in my direction. I don't know what to do... what to say... I am AT A LOSS FOR WORDS.

All I can say is, that's the last time I eat a Bloomin' Onion.. or any more of Lou's 'experimental victuals'. My old heart just can't take it.
They Made Me Do It
by: Cathy


The woman’s voice asking for him got Cody’s attention immediately. He wondered briefly how anyone would have known he was here, but that worry drifted off immediately as he saw the owner of the voice.

She had to be the most beautiful woman Cody had ever seen-until he saw her companion. The two women swept across the floor to where the man sat.

“Mr. Cody?” the first woman asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Cody replied, rising as much to his feet as the booth where he sat would allow. “William F. Cody, at your service.”

“I’m Miss Beam,” the woman said. “And this is Miss Brady. We’re here to help you with your book.”

“My book?” Cody asked, confused. “I didn’t know I was writing a book.”

“Of course you are,” Miss Beam informed him. “You sent a short story to our publisher and he has sent us here to make sure you finish the entire book.”

“But . . . But I don’t even have an idea for a book,” Cody protested.

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Cody,” Miss Brady said. “Miss Beam and I have more than enough ideas for you.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a large stack of paper and a bundle of pencils all sharp and ready to go. Placing both items in front of Cody, she sat primly on the bench across from him.

“Please do begin,” she ordered.

Cody looked from the paper to the woman across from him, then up at the other woman who was still standing beside him.

“How did you find me?” he asked, stalling for time.

“As your editor, it’s my job to know exactly where you are and what you are doing at all times,” Miss Beam replied. She pointed to the stack of paper. “You must begin, Mr. Cody. You must have at least twenty chapters done before you may sleep this evening.”

“TWENTY CHAPTERS!” Cody roared. “There’s no way I can get twenty chapters done!”

“Twenty chapters,” Miss Brady confirmed, smiling broadly.

“But I don’t even know what to write about!” Cody argued.

“Just start writing,” the women said in unison. “We’re certain you’ll come up with an idea soon.”

Cody started to get up but quickly realized Miss Beam had him trapped in the booth. The only way he could get out would be to shove her off the bench. She didn’t look like someone who could be easily shoved. Not to mention it wasn’t Cody’s way to be rough with women.

He picked up one of the pencils, still stalling, hoping someone would see his predicament and come to rescue him. Strangely the restaurant that had been full just minutes before was completely empty. In fact it looked as though it was closed for the night. Cody was alone with the two women-two women who were looking at him expectantly.

Five hours later, Cody had written a total of five words on the paper.

A Story
By William F. Cody


He was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. Miss Beam was tapping her finger on the table. Miss Brady was watching him eagle-eyed. Cody was becoming desperate. He couldn’t believe that two such beautiful women could turn out to be such slave drivers.

“Mr. Cody-“

“NO!” Cody yelled. “I can’t write anything. You can’t make me!”



“Cody!” Lou’s voice penetrated the haze.

“I can’t write anything, Miss Beam, honest!” a groggy Cody protested. “Let me sleep and then I’ll be able to write, I promise.”

“Cody, wake up!” Lou ordered, shaking him.

“Lou?” Cody gasped.

“Yeah, Cody, it’s me,” the female rider said. “Who’s Miss Beam?”

Cody sat up to look around. He realized he’d fallen asleep at the table in the bunkhouse in Sweetwater. The dream had seemed so real, he guessed because he’d been trying to write another story. Looking down he saw the paper before him contained only five words.

“Nobody important,” he answered as he realized Lou was still waiting for an answer. “I was just dreaming.”

Gathering up the paper, he wadded it into a ball and threw it into the fireplace.
Wide Open Spaces
by: Raye

Thunder boomed overhead as Lou struggled to fall asleep. The others had long since drifted off, leaving her wide awake and shaking.
She didn't blame them, couldn't... this was one secret she still kept. This stupid, irrational fear.
A flash of lightning heralded another wave of the storm and another volley of thunder rumbled through the thin walls of the bunkhouse like cannon fire making Lou's knuckles appear whiter than they really were, but she couldn't appreciate the difference. Not when she had to concentrate on breathing through clenched teeth.
The walls were closing in... slowly, inch by bleedin' inch, closer.. tighter around her body. Somewhere in the back of her mind she said a little prayer of thanks that she had the top bunk. Down there, where Kid slept.. it would feel too much like a .... like a... she couldn't even say it.. think it.
There was one more thing that she wanted to avoid thinking about, but it never failed.. on nights like this... it always came back.
"Louise!"
Shivers knifed through her back and pierced her heart. Hearing his voice was like dying all over again.
"Louise! I know you're in there!"
Go away.. Go away... she began the chant again... in her mind when her voice refused to work. Go away.
"Little girls hide away... while big girls learn how to play."
Her heart thudded against her ribs, desperately trying to escape the fear.. the coming pain.
'It's just a nightmare,' Lou clung to the hope in her words as she shivered under the covers.
A flash of lightning splashed white light across the room and a cold dash of reality to her fears.
"It's no nightmare, girl. You're not even sleeping..."
The sheet clutched tight in her hand ripped beneath her punishing grasp, a terrible rasping sound that echoed in her ears. Still the others slept on while her nightmares came to life.
'I left you behind.'
"Not far enough... not ever far enough."
She squeezed her eyes tightly together as she struggled to wake from this living hell. 'I left you behind.'
Laughter, cold and stiff like an icy wind. "I'm here."
Lou trained her ears, searching the quiet sounds of the bunkhouse for an intruder.. for the source of her fear... but there was nothing.
"Inside of you."
Heat billowed through her body, bringing an icy chill to her skin. She knew his words had more truth than she would ever admit. He'd left himself inside of her mind... infecting every shadow.. every corner... every memory of her past. They were all colored with his anger, his darkness.... and her pain.
He'd proven the words... left them implanted in her mind... so many years ago.. so many years... and still just like yesterday. And here she was... alone in the dark with him.
Another crash of thunder shook the walls of the bunkhouse and tiny particles of dust showered down over her head and slipped into the open neck of her long johns. The tiny little particles strafed across her skin and set her into action.
She slipped off her bunk and landed on the floor beside Kid's bunk but he didn't stir. Lou pulled at the ends of her collar and prayed that her meager gesture would rid her of the irritation... and give her a chance to gather her wits again.
They clung tightly to her skin and Lou felt the panic rise again. Tiny grains of dirt.. dust... attached to her skin... just like his touch.. his fingers... his memory.
Then the shaking wasn't enough.. the fear wasn't enough... it was eating her alive.
"Louise?"
Then it didn't matter... the rain, the thunder, not even the damn lightning. She had to leave. Barefoot and frightened she breezed through the darkened bunkhouse and escaped out the door. Another two steps and she was sinking in mud. It sucked at her feet, drawing her deeper into the muck and she felt herself revel in the earthy mess for a moment.
Cool against her skin, the rain washed down her pale cheeks and slid down her neck. 'Walk.' She walked out into the rain storm, willing the waves of water to wash her clean. Take away the stink of his thoughts in her mind.. the darkness of his touch. There had been no amount of soap to take it away before, but here... here... staring at the wide open land before her she felt a little bit of it sluff from her skin and fall into the mud at her feet.
The wet slippery mess squished up between her toes and over the tops of her feet as she weathered the deluge with a half smile. The water pulled at her skin, dragging her hair down and plastering it against her shivering flesh.
Lou tipped her chin down and watched the rivers of rain swim beneath the thick cotton cloth and wash out over the tops of her feet. She smiled, her mind a blank, and lifted her face again... lifted it into the downpour and let the waves wash over her face.
The bunkhouse door opened with a whisper. "Lou?"
She heard the familiar voice and knew the warm tone in the deepest part of her heart. "I need a minute."
"Alright... you got it."
The door didn't close.. didn't shut her out... he left it open, waiting for her to return.
Here there was nothing shutting her in.. nothing holding her down... nothing... but wide open spaces.
Writers Ranch Main Page
Summer 2003 Quick Fics


Topic #7: Sweet Dreams/Nightmares
Premonition by: Donna Ree
Rest Assured by: Karen
Close Shave by: Cathy
Hair, A Voice, And a Cornflower Blue Hat by: Cathy
Freaky Friday by: Sameena
Topsy Turvy by: Nora
The Encounter by: Melinde
The Ninny and The Worry-Wart by: Lori
If Only by: Cindy
Sweet Onion Dreams by: Cindy
Facing The Demon by: Cathy
Turn About by: Cathy
Fade To Black by: Cindy
That Was His Name by: Cindy
Hands On Experience by: Dede
The Sin Of The Father by: Erin
A Cool Wind From The North by: Lori
Who's Who In Sweetwater by: Cathy
Premonition by: Mary Ayers
Whiskey & Horses by: Raye
What the-? by: Raye
They Made Me Do It by: Cathy
Wide Open Spaces by: Raye
Premonition
by: Donna Ree

Playing poker. That’s all he’d been doing since he could remember. He always sat with his back to the wall, but this time one of his so-called friends and prankster took his chair before he could get to it. No amount of coaxing or idle threats could make the guy move. So he sat uneasily in his fancy duds playing cards, toying with his mustache.

Another losing hand. He threw in. He was about to get up when he was dealt in again. What the hell…what could harm could come from playing one more hand?

As he looked at his cards he was actually glad he stayed in the game. Queen of hearts, 2 aces and 2 eights. He bet heavily. How could he go wrong with a hand like that?

“Wild Bill!” He heard someone call. He tried to ignore the voice. How he hated J.D. Marcus and that moniker!

Suddenly, he heard the telltale click of a hammer being cocked. Before he could react he felt a horrific pain in his head and all went black.

Jimmy awoke with a jerk and abruptly sat up in his bunk. His clothes were drenched in sweat and his breathing labored.

A dream. It was only a dream. Or was it?

“Jimmy, you alright?”

Who was that? The voice sounded so familiar, but…He reached for his gun. It wasn’t there. Then he remembered it was hanging from the end of his bunk. He dove for his gun, pulled it from its holster, cocked and aimed it at the voice all in one fluid motion.

“Jimmy! It’s me! Lou.”

Lou. Lou? Where had he heard that name before?

Then realization dawned on him. He was in the bunkhouse, napping. He was back working for the Pony Express. He touched his face – no mustache. No facial hair at all. And his clothes…well, they definitely weren’t the same clothes he had on earlier in his dream.

Slowly, he looked at Lou. He lowered the gun and gently eased the hammer back down. The look of pure fear on her face made him feel lower than a snake, knowing he put that fear there.

“Jimmy?” She asked shakily.

“Aw, Lou, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare ya’.”

“It’s alright.” She managed, no meaning a word of it. “Have another nightmare?”

“Yeah.” Was all he could say.

“Why don’t you go out and get some fresh air?” She suggested. “Might do ya’ some good.”

On his way out the door, he practically knocked Cody over.

“Jimmy! Watch where you’re going!” Cody stood in the door, watching his friend take off toward the tack room.

Cody walked in the bunkhouse, took one glance at the ashen look on Lou’s face and knew what happened.

“Let me guess, another dream?”

“How ever did you guess?” Lou shot back sarcastically. “Sorry, Cody. He just about blew me away this time.”

“God, Lou. You alright?”

“Other than being scared out of my mind? Yeah, sure, just fine.” She replied.

“What are we gonna do? This is the fifth one he’s had this week!”

“I think we need to tell Teaspoon what’s been goin’ on. Maybe he’ll be able to help.”

“I think Jimmy has the same idea.” Cody peered out the window. “He’s out there talking to him now. Uh oh.”

“What?” She asked, immediately concerned.

“They’re headed for the sweat lodge.”

“Good! He needs it.” Came her reply. When she saw the look Cody shot her she said, “What? It’s not your head he nearly shot off! He’s my best friend, but he needs way more help than you or I can give ‘im. Maybe the sweat lodge is just what he needs.”

***

After an hour in the heat of the sweat lodge, Jimmy began pouring his heart out to Teaspoon, not leaving any detail of his dream out.

“And this is the fifth time you’ve had this exact same dream?”

Jimmy nodded.

“Son, what I think yer having’ is called a premonition.”

“Premo- what?”

“Premonition. It kind of means you’re foretelling your future.”

“If you mean tot ell me, Teaspoon, that all I have to look forward to in life is getting shot in the back of the head, you might as well put a bullet in me now – after I hunt down J.D. Marcus and put one in him first.”

“Now hold on there, son. A premonition is just a warning of what’s to come if you don’t change your ways. It means if you keep on the path yer headed then that’s what’s gonna happen. But ya’ got your whole life ahead of you to change. If you do a lot of soul searchin’ and make an effort to change, chances are your premonition won’t come true. Ya’ see what I’m trying to say, son?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Was all Jimmy could say.

“Good.” Teaspoon said, ladling some more water on the coals. “Now you stay in here and do some more thinkin’ on what I said. When yer done we can do some more talkin’ if ya’ want.” He rose to leave, but added one more bit of advice before leaving. “You also might want to do some talkin’ to that girl of yours, too.”

“Lou? How’d you know she was…”

“I’ve got eyes, don’t I? I see how you two look at each other when you think no one else is lookin’.”

“But she’s Kid’s.” Jimmy protested weakly.

“Was. She was Kid’s. ‘Sides, a heart doesn’t have any say in the matter – it just decides on its own who it belongs ta’. And if I’m not too much off my mark – which I’m not – both of yer hearts already belong to each other whether you two know it or not. I have a feeling she’s just what you need to change your premonition.”

With that bit of sage advice, Teaspoon left Jimmy to his thoughts.

Rest Assured
By Karen

The stars twinkled overhead, sparkling like diamonds flung onto a dark velvet cloth. The moon was hiding its face so the darkness was almost complete – except for the brightly shining stars. The evening was perfect, yet filled with a restless spirit. The nearby stream babbled its way over the rocks that lined its bed as if it were unable to make itself comfortable. The gentle breeze that blew stirred the few remaining leaves clinging to the tree branches. The leaves were unwilling to let go; they were clinging for all they were worth in a useless attempt to stay connected to the tree that gave their life purpose. Gradually they all let go and drifted on the evening air onto a new resting place.

The horse bridles mad a soft clinking sound as the animals tried to settle themselves for the night. They too felt the restlessness in the air. They were having difficulty calming themselves despite the hard days ride. This wind was trying to tell them something; it was whispering softly to all the creatures. It was sharing a secret of upcoming change and adventure. It was teasing the listeners by not telling the news loud enough to be understood.

Even the horses’ owners were troubled by the wind’s story. They both slept, or rather tried to sleep. They too were restless - tossing, turning, unable to settle down completely. They too were trying to understand the message the wind was carrying - the news of what was ahead, the news that would change their lives forever.

Ike sat up; he’d heard something. He calmed his breathing and sat to listen. He couldn’t hear anything except the horses and the stream. He should be able to hear more. He got up and went to calm the horses. That was when he heard it again. It sounded like someone was crying or laughing softly. He couldn’t decide which it was. He turned towards the sound and carefully began walking. It was leading him back to the campsite and the small fire they had built to ward off the evening’s chill. He glanced at Buck’s bedroll; it was empty! Buck wasn’t in the camp area. Ike quickly surveyed the area. After a few minutes, just when the panic was about to set in, he located Buck sitting at the edge of the stream. He went to his friend’s side. The sound grew louder, but still Ike couldn’t decide what it was – crying or laughing.

Ike crouched next to Buck. He studied his friend closely. Buck wasn’t making the sound; but he was listening to someone or something. He didn’t seem to notice Ike at all. Whatever he was listening to had him completely under its spell. He was answering it using a language Ike had never heard before. He sat quietly and watched. Soon, the sound stopped and Buck woke up. He looked around, confused. When he was Ike sitting next to him, he asked, “What happened? How did I get over here?”

Ike shrugged. *I’m not sure. I went to check on the horses; when I came back, you were here. You were talking to someone, but I couldn’t understand what you were saying. It wasn’t in English.*

“Did you see anyone else?” Buck asked as he returned to his bedroll suddenly chilled by the night air. He added a few sticks to build up the dying fire.

*No, but I heard what sounded like someone crying or laughing. I couldn’t decide which it was. Maybe it was both,* Ike said as he joined Buck by the fire. *Any ideas?*

Buck nodded, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think I was talking to my mother.”

*How?* asked Ike.

Buck sighed, “I was thinking about tomorrow; worrying about what will happen. I was afraid that they would want you, but not me. Or . . .” he let the sentence die when he saw Ike’s face. He let his mind drift away back to his dream and continued talking, “I must have fallen asleep and started dreaming.”

*Do you remember what it was about?* Ike asked.

Buck smiled and nodded, “I was little and my mother was telling me I had to stop being afraid of everything. I was around five summers old and I hated to leave her during the day. I kept getting in her way when she was trying to work because I was afraid that someone would take her away if I let her out of my sight. She took me to the river where I was created, and told me that I couldn’t let fear run my life. I had to learn to be strong so I could grow to be a warrior like my brother. I remember her telling me that everything would be fine; I had nothing to worry about. She showed me how the river sued to run a different course than it did then. Somehow the path became blocked, and it changed its course to go around the dam. She told me that if it hadn’t done so it would have died. She said we were like the river; we had to keep changing and growing or we too would die. If I didn’t leave her and go learn to do the things a warrior must do, I too would stop growing and die. If I didn’t get out of her way she wouldn’t be able to do her work and not only would I die, but she and my brother would also. She promised to watch and guide me as the bank did for the river, but that I needed to flow within that guidance. I needed to go and explore to learn about myself.” Buck paused, remembering his mother’s lecture and how it had enabled him to start learning and growing away from her, but still under her every watchful eye.

*She must have loved you very much to take such time to teach you,* Ike said. He was remembering how the other children and the mission used to taunt Buck about how his own people did not want him and had sent him away to be with strangers.

Buck smiled, “She does. That’s why she came to me here; to remind me not to be afraid; I am to face tomorrow’s challenge as a warrior.”

*Was that her that I was hearing?* Ike asked.

“She wanted me to share this message with my new brother; she needed you to hear her so you’d find me and ask,” Buck answered as he lay back down. “She wanted you to know that we don’t have to worry. Everything will be fine as long as we stick together.”

Ike lay down with a smile. He could rest easy now; they both could. They could rest assured that tomorrow would be the start of a wonderful new life together – as brothers as well as friends.

Close Shave
by: Cathy

Cody woke up in a cold sweat. For a heartbeat of a second he started to cry out, only to realize that he couldn’t make a sound. Panic began to set in as he tried to force words past his lips.

“Billy?” a quiet voice found its way through the panic. “What’s wrong?”

Looking up, he saw Buck Cross’ face, concern showing plainly on the dark features. He tried to speak again, tried to tell Buck about his sudden muteness, but couldn’t get the words out. Finally, he grunted and pointed to his mouth.

“What’s wrong? Something go down the wrong pipe?” the Kiowa asked.

Shaking his head violently from one side to the other, Cody pointed once again to his throat, then clamped his hand over his mouth.

“What’s going on?” Jimmy asked sleepily from his bunk across the room.

“I’m not really sure,” Buck admitted. “Is your throat hurting you?” he asked Cody.

Again the other boy shook his head. Scrambling down from his bunk—his mind registering that even this action wasn’t quite right—he moved to the common table where he found a pencil and a piece of paper.

I can’t talk, he wrote in block letters.

Buck read the note, a confused look on his face. “Billy, you haven’t been able to talk for a long time. Not since before we met. Don’t you remember?” he asked.

Cody stared at the other man. Something was very wrong here. First he was in the wrong bunk. He had always slept in the one against the wall. Ike slept in the bunk above Buck. That’s the way it had been since they had first joined up with the Pony Express. Ike was the one who couldn’t talk, not him.

Unconsciously Cody ran his hand through his . . . where was his hair! The feeling of panic intensified to even greater heights. He pushed past Buck, almost knocking the other man off his feet in his haste to get to the mirror someone had hung over a peg on the far wall.

The face that stared back at him was his, William F. Cody’s, but there was something terribly wrong. His long blond hair was gone—he was totally bald!

Panic was now replaced with anger. He didn’t know who’d done it, or how they’d done it, but when he found out—well, whoever it was, was going pay and pay big time.

“Come on, Billy,” a strange voice was saying. “Go back to sleep, will ya? It’s late and I’ve got a run tomorrow.”

Cody whirled to stare at the man who lay on the buck by the wall—HIS bunk. It took a moment, but as he recognized the man, his own mouth dropped open and he stood gaping. Closing his eyes tightly, he willed the apparition to disappear—only to find it still there when he opened his eyes again.

It’s not possible! he thought frantically. He could believe this was all part of some weird practical joke. They were always threatening to get even for the harmless little pranks he played on them occasionally. While he was able to believe that, for whatever reason, the others would be crazy enough to shave his head and even willing to believe that they had discovered some kind of plant or herb that would have made him unable to speak, he knew there was no possible way that they could have . . .

Ike propped himself up on one arm. His light brown hair was, if anything, even longer than Buck’s. “What’s wrong with you, Billy?” he asked in a rich baritone voice.

I’m dreaming, Cody decided. I have to be dreaming, this CAN NOT be real!

He closed his eyes one more time, hoping against hope that he would wake up to find this nightmare was all a figment of his imagination.

“Billy?” Buck asked, starting forward to help his friend who was swaying dangerously.

It even FEELS real! Cody thought as Buck put his hand on his shoulder.

He opened his eyes one more time to see Buck, Ike, Jimmy and Lou staring at him with looks that ranged from worried to mildly frightened on their faces.

All right, he decided. I’ll play along. Since this is my dream, I should know sign language as well as Ike does.

Turning to Buck, he started moving his hands about. I had a—what was the sign for nightmare anyway? he wondered, settling on—bad dream.

Buck’s eyebrows raised almost to his hairline. “A what?” he asked, not understanding what Cody was saying.

A bad dream! Cody repeated, trying to use his facial expressions to convey the meaning. This is the ultimate nightmare, he decided. I can’t talk with my voice and they can’t understand my signs.

Buck was still staring at him, as were the rest of the riders.

Oh, forget it, he thought, waving them away. I’m going back to bed. When I wake up again, I’ll be fine. I HAVE to be!

The others stared at him as he climbed up into his bunk and turned his back on them. Within seconds, he was asleep and snoring loudly.

~*~*~*~

“Wonder what he was dreaming about this time,” Buck mused.

Looks like he was trying to sign, Ike pointed out. But if he was, he wasn’t making much sense.

“Well it’s better than him talking in his sleep,” Jimmy Hickok offered sleepily.

“Or snoring!” Lou agreed.

“Do you think we should wake him up?” Buck asked.

“Nah, let him sleep,” Jimmy said. “He’s quiet now. If we wake him up he’s going to have to tell us all about his dream—and none of us will get any sleep.”

The others nodded in agreement. Ike looked at his bunk where Cody lay sleeping, then moved across to sleep in Kid’s empty bunk.

Better here, than to have him end up in bed WITH me if he has another bout of sleepwalking, he signed when the others looked at him questioningly.

Buck and Lou returned to their bunks and all four were soon fast asleep. A few minutes later Cody woke with a start. The first thing he did was reach for his head.

“Thank God!” he whispered fervently as his hand touched hair. Smiling at the sound of his own voice, he vowed, “That’s the last time I eat Teaspoon’s cooking before bedtime!”

Hair, A Voice and a Cornflower Blue Hat
by: Cathy

Ike McSwain sat under a tree, eating some of the food he’d bought at Fort Bridger. It had been a long haul this time, but he’d made good time. He often wondered where Teaspoon came up with the “special” runs he always seemed to be sending the boys on. Ike reckoned he’d done more “special” runs in the last two months than all of the regular runs he’d done since he’d joined the Pony Express almost six months ago.

He didn’t really mind doing these rides. The riders were given extra pay for runs not on the regular routes and it sure as heck beat sitting around the station trying to keep from dieing of boredom. The only part he didn’t like was going into places where he wasn’t known. His bald head and inability to speak often made him the subject of curious looks and occasionally some not so nice remarks.

For the most part he took the insults in stride. He’d been this way almost as long as he could remember and there wasn’t anything he could do to change the way he was. He accepted himself as he was, but he couldn’t help but wish occasionally that others would do the same.

Today had been one of the days when the words had been more than he could take. Especially from the girl. She was just about the prettiest thing he’d ever seen, but he’d discovered very quickly that her beauty didn’t extend beyond her looks. Ike had listened to her for just a short time before leaving the store and the fort, deciding that sleeping on the trail was preferable to having to fight his urge to slap the girl silly.

The only thing that had stopped him from doing exactly that, then running, was the girl’s companion. The second girl wasn’t pretty by any means, but she had come to Ike’s defense quickly and firmly. Her smile of apology had lit up her otherwise plain face and Ike had realized without words that she was sincere.

Ike lay beneath the clear sky, counting the stars until he began to doze off. Just as his eyes were closing for what would probably be the last time, he saw a shooting star streak across the sky.

“Make a wish!” he heard his mother’s voice say. Smiling, he did, then turned on his side and fell asleep.

~*~*~*~

Morning came as clear and bright as the night had been clear and dark. Ike threw back his blanket and stretched to get the kinks out of his body. Raising his hands over his head, he got a very strange sensation of something soft and furry on his head.

Trying to remain calm, in case whatever it was also had teeth, the rider reached up and grabbed a handful of the furry softness, then gave a quick jerk to throw whatever it was to the ground.

“OUCH!” he yelped as, too late, he realized “whatever it was” was firmly attached to his head.

Moving quickly to the creek, he looked into the mirror-like surface—and gasped in surprise. The “furry whatever” was hair! He gave a second, gentler tug, and discovered the hair most definitely belonged to him.

“I’ll be damned,” he said, then stood in wide-eyed wonder as he realized he had said the words aloud.

His first thought was that he was still asleep and this was all a dream. Then his stomach started to rumble with hunger.

“If it was a dream, I wouldn’t be hungry, would I?” he mused. For some reason he wanted to keep speaking. He could just barely remember his voice as a child—and was pleased to hear it had settled into a nice baritone.

“Guess I should fix myself some breakfast,” he decided.

~*~*~*~

“OUCH!” Ike yelped for the second time that morning. He had decided to test his dream theory by picking up the hot coffeepot barehanded. If it were a dream, he reasoned, he wouldn’t feel the heat. “All right, I’m an idiot,” he muttered.

An idiot who could now speak and who now had hair after over ten years as a mute and closer to twelve baldheaded. While his breakfast was cooking, he wandered frequently over to the creek to check his reflection. He kept expecting to find he had changed back to the “old” Ike, only to find that his hair was still in place.

“I don’t look half bad,” he commented. “Wonder what she would think if she saw me now.”

As quickly as the words left his mouth, Ike decided he really needed to find out. He was in no hurry to get back to the station—well he was because he wanted to share his joy with his friends, but he decided that going back to the fort was more important to him right at that moment.

Experiencing an unusual need for a bit of revenge, Ike cleaned up his campsite, saddled his horse and rode back the way he had come the night before.

~*~*~*~

It hadn’t taken him long to find the girl he was looking for. Accompanied once again by her friend, she was trying on hats at one of the fancier stores. As Ike entered, a clerk approached him, immediately offering her help.

“I was thinking about buying a hat for a good friend of mine,” he improvised, thinking how, if he had come into this store yesterday, he would more than likely have been ignored. “She hasn’t had anything nice for quite a while and I think it’s time she did.”

“But, of course!” the clerk intoned. “I’m sure we’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. We’ve just received a new shipment from back East.”

As the clerk bustled about, showing him hat after hat, he kept a careful eye on the pretty girl who was watching him out of the corner of her eye. Whenever he would turn in her direction, she would preen, hoping to be noticed—but he appeared to ignore her.

Finally, Ike decided the time was right. The girl had just tried on a cornflower blue hat and was tilting it this way and that, all the while asking her friend’s opinion. The rider moved a bit closer, then spoke. “If I might be so forward,” he said quietly.

“Be as forward as you like, sir,” the girl said coyly.

“I really think this hat,” Ike said, reaching out to remove the hat from her head, and to her surprise, turning to the second girl, “would look much better on you.”

Setting the hat at a slight angle on the girl’s head, he smiled widely. “See, it brings out the color in your eyes, which I might add, are quite beautiful.”

The young woman flushed a deep red but smiled back at him. “Thank you,” she said shyly.

Behind him the pretty girl all but sputtered her indignation. “Why I never!” she said.

“I’m sure you haven’t,” Ike told her firmly without looking back. “Please tell me you’ll buy this hat, Miss ?” He waited for her to supply the name.

“Weston,” she answered. “Judith Weston. And I would love to buy the hat but it is far too expensive.”

“Then perhaps you’ll allow me to buy it for you,” he offered.

“Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly!” Judith protested. “I don’t even know you, Mr. ?”

“Mc Swain,” Ike contributed. “Perhaps you will allow me to buy you the hat if you accept it as repayment.”

“Repayment for what?” the pretty girl demanded.

“A kindness Miss Weston showed to a very good friend of mine yesterday,” Ike answered, not taking his eyes off Judith.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” the girl told him. “I don’t remember doing anything unusual yesterday.”

“Which is further justification for my act,” he countered. “Someone as lovely as you, on the inside as well as out, deserves to be treated to something beautiful.”

Waving the clerk over to them, Ike said, “I’ll take the green gingham—and this one?”

Smiling at Judith’s nod, he accompanied the clerk to the desk where he paid for both hats, then waited patiently for the gingham to be wrapped. The entire time, he listened to the pretty girl ranting about her friend accepting a gift from a strange man. His smile broadened when he heard Judith say, “Shut up, Margaret!”

~*~*~*~

“Will you join us for dinner, Mr. McSwain?” Judith asked as they left the store.

“I’d love to, Miss—“

~*~*~*~

A loud whinny from his horse woke Ike from his dream. For a moment, he hoped, but the hope was dashed as he felt his hairless head. With a sigh, the rider got up and started another day.

Freaky Friday
by: Sameena

*author’s note: yes, this is inspired by the movie of the same name and the Quick Fic prompt.

“I ain’t saying that you need help,” Teaspoon sputtered helplessly. The puny rider before him simply glared. He pushed up his glasses and his brown eyes appeared magnified as they fixed themselves on Teaspoon.

Lou, Lou, Lou, Teaspoon thought. What am I going to do with you? All he had suggested was that Buck tag along on this run. The Army had rumblings from the Kiowa and Teaspoon figured that Buck would be a big help.

Lou spun on her heel and marched out of the bunkhouse. He thought she was small and weak. He didn’t even know she was a girl and he still thought that.

In her rage, Lou didn’t notice Emma standing there and she ran straight into her. “Slow down, Louise,” Emma said.

“Sorry,” Lou mumbled.

Emma noticed the girl’s state and asked, “you wanna talk about it?”

“No,” Lou answered curtly. She sighed then. No reason to take her anger out on Emma. It wasn’t her fault. “It’s Teaspoon.” She then began speaking rapidly, trying to explain how she felt. She knew Teaspoon wasn’t trying to belittle her, but he made her feel so insignificant, especially when she saw how much responsibility he gave the boys.

Meanwhile in the bunkhouse, Jimmy was sitting on his bed, listening. He had been witness to the whole Lou/Teaspoon exchange and when it was over, all he had asked was what time it was. He still didn’t know what the time was and now he was trapped, listening to Teaspoon rant and rave.

“It ain’t that I don’t think he’s a good rider,” Teaspoon exclaimed. “It’s just well... sometimes he seems kinda soft. Don’t you think?” he asked, looking desperately for someone to join him in this particular belief.

“She, he,” Jimmy said quickly, hoping Teaspoon hadn’t heard his error. “He holds his own.”

“I know,” Teaspoon sighed. “It’s just well, sometimes I wish he could walk a mile in my shoes.”

And right at that moment, outside the bunkhouse, Lou told Emma, “I wish he could walk a mile in my shoes.”

Suddenly a gust of hot air rushed past Lou and Emma, blowing the bunkhouse door open.

Emma saw Jimmy and Teaspoon peek outside then. “Never you mind,” she told Lou soothingly. “We’ll think of something.” She called out to Teaspoon and Jimmy. “Supper’s ready.”

Later that evening, Teaspoon crawled into his bed. He had turned in early as he had a headache. Lou did too. He wished he could have talked to the boy, but Lou was still upset and obviously ignoring him. Oh well, tomorrow is another day, he thought as he drifted off.

*~*~*

Teaspoon opened his eyes. What was he doing in the bunkhouse? Shaking his head, he crawled out of bed and crept quietly to the door, not wanting to wake any of the other riders who were sleeping soundly.

As soon as his feet hit the floor, he felt someone grab his ankle. Stifling the urge to scream, Teaspoon followed the hand all the way up to the bunk it snaked out from. Kid. Well obviously Mister Kid thought he was being clever.

“Can’t sleep,” Kid said, his voice soft and low.

Teaspoon shook his head. What was wrong with Kid? He sounded downright seductive. Teaspoon shuddered. What was wrong with him? Kid, seductive?!

“We can go for a ride,” Kid continued, his hand wandering up Teaspoon’s leg.

Teaspoon reached down and slapped Kid’s hand away. He knew something was wrong with those two, but dragging him into this? Was Kid crazy?

Kid sat up. “What’s a-matter? Maybe I can help?”

“Help?” Teaspoon exclaimed. “Why would I need your help?”

Kid’s eyes flashed in anger. “Fine, go off on your own. Go try to prove you’re as good as everybody else, like always.”

Teaspoon shook his head.

“Sometimes I don’t understand you, Lou,” Teaspoon heard Kid mutter. “All I’m trying to do is help you.”

Why was Kid so insistent on helping him? Teaspoon wondered as he hurried to the door. He could manage on his own. He stopped then. Lou!

*~*~*

Lou rubbed her eyes as she climbed out of bed. She looked around. What was she doing in the tack room? Sighing, she stepped outside, ready to head back to the bunkhouse and sleep in her own bed. She would worry about why she was here tomorrow.

She spied Jimmy and Cody outside arguing. “What’s wrong?” she called out.

“Nothing,” they muttered.

“Don’t look like nothing to me,” Lou replied cheerfully. “Maybe I can help.”

“We can figure this out on our own,” Jimmy began.

“It’s him,” Cody cut in. “He asked me to switch runs last week and now he won’t switch with me when I need him to. It ain’t fair.”

“I switched with him the last time he needed help,” Jimmy yelled. “Let him find some other sucker. He’s always trying to dump off the long runs.”

“Boys,” Lou began.

“You’ll just take his side,” Cody mumbled and marched away. “Like you always do.”

“He don’t either,” Jimmy shouted at Cody’s back.

“You boys should be old enough to settle this without bickering like this,” Lou chided him. Cody and Jimmy sounded just like Jeremiah and Teresa.

“Maybe we would if you didn’t treat us all like kids,” Jimmy retorted, striding away, obviously irritated. “Honestly Teaspoon, no wonder Lou was mad at you. You treat us all like we are five.”

“Well maybe if you didn’t act like you were five,” Lou shot back. Then she stopped. Teaspoon!

*~*~*

The next morning, Lou took her seat at the table. No one was there yet. She rubbed her eyes, what a strange dream she had had last night. When she awoke this morning, the first thing she did was race to the mirror, relieved to see her own face reflected back at her.

A few seconds later, Teaspoon entered. He took his customary spot at the table. And when Lou glanced at him, she saw the shadows under his eyes. He looked like he had slept about as much as she did.

Teaspoon glanced at Lou. “Listen,” he began. While Lou said, “Teaspoon.” They looked at each and began to laugh.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” Teaspoon said. “Never meant to make you feel like I didn’t believe in you. It’s just that your boys are like my very own-”

“And you worry,” Lou interrupted. “I know. I guess it doesn’t help when we act like children.”

Teaspoon chuckled. “How ‘bout we make a deal. I won’t baby you all-”

“And we won’t act like we’re five,” Lou cut in, once more.

“It’s a deal,” Teaspoon agreed. Now came the hard part, he was going to have to try to talk to Kid and Lou about their ‘relationship’. But maybe he could put that off for a while.

Topsy Turvy
by: Nora

"Supper's ready!" called Rachel as she rang the steel triangle to call the riders in from their chores. Standing on the porch, she wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. Her high-necked dress and three flannel petticoats she was wearing made the mildly warm day seem like a real scorcher.

Buck was the first one to arrive at the table, talking non-stop, "You should have seen it, Rachel. There I was, surrounded by desperados. I only had but one bullet left. I thought I was a goner when-"

Buck was interrupted by Lou's arrival. With her hair in ringlets tonight, she looked pretty enough to stop any man in his tracks, even motor-mouthed Buck.

"Why Rachel, that supper looks absolutely divine," gushed Lou in an accent that made one think of a Georgia peach. It was just as sweet and seemed to drip from her lips.

Buck reached out for a roll but his hand was slapped away by Lou. "Proper manners dictate that we must all be at the table and served before one begins his meal."

"Lou's right," agreed Rachel. "My goodness Buck, you were just in here for a snack an hour ago. I know you're not starving."

"Aw, Rachel," Buck began to protest, but was cut short by Ike storming in and slamming the door behind him. His hands exploded into a fury of signs which made the ladies in his presence blush. Rachel scolded and Lou squealed in disgust.

"Don't fuss so much, girls," laughed Buck. "This is one of Ike's better moods!" Even though he told the truth, Buck's remark brought on another series of hand gestures, none of them repeatable.

Kid and Jimmy walked in next, not causing as much excitement as the other riders had.

"Anyone seen Cody?" Rachel asked. She knew Noah was on a run but hadn't seen Cody for a while.

"Not in a couple of hours," replied Kid. "Maybe he went to town or something."

"Well, let's start without him then, or the food will get cold," reasoned Rachel. "And before Buck starves."

"Uh, Rachel, shouldn't we say the blessing first?" Jimmy reminded her. Before she had a chance to reply, Jimmy volunteered to say grace.

"Gracious heavenly Father," he began, "We beseech thee, oh Lord, to help us through our day. Bless thy hands that prepared this food, and bless it to our bodies. Help us to be righteous and merciful. We ask thee this in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen."

"That was a very interesting prayer, Jimmy," Lou commented. She had never recalled hearing so many strange pronouns before.

"Well, you might say I'm practicing," smiled Jimmy.

"For what?" asked Buck.

"I've decided to become a Quaker preacher. Preach the gospel. They believe in non-violence, like myself, you know. When the Express ends, I'll have a back-up career."

“That religious stuff is for women and children,” scoffed Buck. “Only the weak need religion.”

Before anyone else could comment on Jimmy's announcement, in walked Cody, covered head to toe with sweat and dirt, "Sorry I'm late, Rachel. I was putting up the new outhouse you wanted. I think I'll wash up now. And don't worry about saving me any supper, I ain't really that hungry."

~*~*~*~*~

Teaspoon awoke with a start, nearly bolting out of his bed. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness before trying to figure out where he was. Finally, he realized he was safe in his tack room. What a wild dream, he thought, smiling to himself. Only, was it more of a sweet dream, or a nightmare?

The Encounter
by: Melinde

Buck tucked his hair behind his ear as he continued to read under the tree. The story was good but he was tired. His eyes slipped shut. He forced them open fighting the urge to sleep. This was his day off and he hated wasting it sleeping. It didn’t help that he wasn’t sleeping well at night. He lost the fight and slid down to lay on his side.

~*~*~*~*~

“Daddy!” The little girl cried as she ran to Buck. He looked at her not recognizing her. He only picked her up because he didn’t know what else to do with the barreling torpedo of a girl. “Where have you been daddy?” She asked then smacked a kiss on his cheek. “We’ve been waiting for you forever,” she said in her five year old exaggeration.

“Who’s been waiting?” Buck asked the little girl gently.

“Me and mamma, silly.” The little girl struggled to get down from Buck’s grasp. He looked up to see a woman he vaguely recognized staring at him with caution and concern written on her face. “C’mon daddy, it’s time for dinner. Mamma just called me in when I saw you. You haven’t been home for days, daddy. Where have you been?” The little girl pulled Buck by the hand. Buck stopped in front of the woman.

“Ma’am.” Buck wrung his hat in his hands as he stood in front of her. He felt compelled to follow the little girl through the threshold, but remembering his manners he asked, “Would it be alright if I stayed for supper?”

She watched him for a few moments and answered, “Of course.” She led him to the table and dished stew onto his plate. “I hope you don’t mind rabbit stew.”

Buck smiled at her as he took his plate. “No ma’am. I suddenly feel very hungry.” He ate his stew with gusto and renewed hunger that he hadn’t felt in weeks. When he finished he sat back in his seat, “That was excellent stew.”

“Call me by my name.” She said in hushed tones. Buck’s head snapped up to look at her. “You can’t can you. You don’t know me.” Her voice started to grow higher in pitch and volume. “You don’t remember me or your daughter! Where have you been?! What’s happened to you?!” She burst into tears. The little girl sat in her seat, eyes wide, brimming with tears and her hands over her ears.

“Mommmmmy!” The little girl cried, “Don’t yell at daddy. He’s come home. If you yell at him he’ll go away again.” Buck just stared at the two of them.

“Ma’am I mean no disrespect, you seem familiar to me but you’re right I don’t know your names.” Buck looked around the room. “I don’t know how I came to be here.” Sweat started to pour from his brow. His stomach turned and he groaned clutching his midriff. The woman started laughing. The little girl was giggling behind her hands. “I don’t feel well.” Buck tried to get up but couldn’t. “What was in the stew?”

“Revenge, for leaving us. I knew you’d come back one day. You deserved this Kyle.” The woman cackled.

“Kyle? I’m Buck. I’m not Kyle..” He gasped and tried to drink some water. He turned to the little girl. “Help me, sweety.” Her face became distorted as she continued to giggle. She got out of her chair and walked to her mother. She morphed and melded into her mother’s form becoming one being. The laughter was getting louder. The pain in Buck’s stomach grew worse. He covered his ears and tried to stand again. He fell to the floor.

“You will never leave us again, Kyle Masey .” She walked to where Buck was laying. “I killed you once and I’ll do it again.” She drew back her foot and made to kick him in the side when the door flew open.

“Noooo!” A masculine voice intruded on Buck’s brain. “You will not kill again, Bridgette. I’m here to take you and the little one back with me. We don’t belong in this life. Leave him be.” Buck could barely open his eyes at this point and tried to stay conscious enough in case he could get free from his tormentor.

Klye, I didn’t mean to kill you or our daughter. You just don’t understand.” She begged the unseen man. “Our daughter died. She was only 5 years old and you blamed me.” The woman’s haunting sobs filled the cabin. “She needed me. I couldn’t save her.”

“Bridgette, you made her sick to take care of her. You killed me because I found out. You’re sick Bridgette. I’ve come to take you home.” Kyle’s voice became soft. “We forgive you, Bridgette. Don’t we, Connie.” The little girl’s presence separated itself from the woman.

“Yes, daddy.” The sullen little girl moved to her father. “C’mon mommy. It seems pretty where daddy will take us.” She said in an ever hopeful five year old voice.

“You’ve been here too long, Bridgette.” Kyle took her hand. “You passed on years ago but never came to me. I still love you and everything will be alright.” Buck was able to discern when they left. His pain was replaced by a serene feeling. He had the best sleep he’d had in weeks.

~*~*~*~*~

Buck awoke on his side. His book closed next him. Sitting up he leaned against the tree and rubbed his face. “Wow, what a dream.” Buck slowly gathered his things and stood up. His eye caught on a heart carved in the trunk of the tree. Carved within the heart were the words Kyle + Bridgette forever. He smiled ruefully and offered up silent prayers for their spirit journey.

The Ninny and The Worry-Wart
by: Lori

A/N: Sixth in the continuing Jimmy/Brandy saga.

Before she turned out the lamp beside her bed, Brandy couldn’t help but get up one last time and look at the dress hanging in the corner. She lightly ran her fingers over the soft silk, traced the intricate stitching pattern on the bodice and skimmed the lace trim. Her wedding dress. For tomorrow.

Sometimes it felt like a dream that she would pinch herself and wake up from. She and Jimmy were getting married. Six months ago, she never would have imagined they’d be here. The fights and the foolish things they’d said to each other had nearly torn them apart. But they’d made it past them, stronger, wiser, ready to face their life together.

With a smile born of pure happiness she took one last glance at the dress and turned for the bed. She took off her wrapper and laid it across the chair, turned down the lamp and climbed into bed. This time tomorrow she would be married. She and Jimmy would be on their wedding trip, and she couldn't imagine her life getting happier than it would be the moment the preacher pronounced them man and wife. She gave a chuckle in the darkness…maybe that was until the day came that she could tell him he was going to be a daddy.

Yawning deeply, she turned onto her side and slowly drifted to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~

With a strangled cry, Jimmy awoke, drenched in sweat as the haunting remnants of his dream lingered in his tired brain. He fought with the sheets tangled around his legs, then dragged his hands across his face and shoved his hair back. Slowly his breathing returned to normal, and he lay back down on his bunk. He had to get some sleep, but every time he closed his eyes it was the same terrifying nightmare.

He was standing at the front of the church, waiting for the doors to open and Teaspoon to walk Brandy down the aisle. But the doors never opened. Nervous twitters from the guests reached his ears; had she finally wised up and realized it would be a mistake to marry him? Despite what the rest of the town may think, he knew she wouldn’t leave him standing there. Something had to be wrong.

Just as he was ready to ask Buck to go see where Teaspoon was, the marshal shoved opened the doors and collapsed just inside the doorway. Blood and dirt covered his face and hot, red liquid seeped from a hole in his side. Immediately Jimmy raced from the church, turning in circles wondering where Brandy was and who had taken her. Just as he knew she would never leave him standing like a fool, something in his gut was telling him that Teaspoon had been wounded trying to protect her. Next thing he knew, he was on his horse. He would ride after her, ahead of the others, searching everywhere for her. But he never found her. He would end up trapped, never in the same place twice. He would hear her screams echoing in the dark. It was always dark. Always cold. Always the same ending.

The captor would taunt him, claim this was retribution for the lives Jimmy had stolen from him. Since he had lost his happiness, it was only fitting that Jimmy should be robbed of his. Then a shot would echo through the night, and Brandy’s cries would fall silent. Jimmy would rush forward, ready to inflict pain, ready to welcome death, ready for anything, only to jerk awake gasping for air and realize that once again he’d been dreaming.

The nightmares began coming every night when the wedding was just two weeks off. Before then, the worry had always been in the back of his mind, but nothing like this. This was torture. This was a cruel and sadistic pain being inflicted on him. His life would be worth nothing if Brandy wasn’t beside him, and yet as Buck and Teaspoon repeatedly told him, it was only a dream. It was only right for him to be nervous, but nothing was going to happen.

Buck had even taken him to the bluff yesterday morning and prayed for him. Jimmy had never been very religious, by either White or Indian standards, but he appreciated the gesture from his friend. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to be helping. Even now, laying in the darkness listening to his friends’ slumber, he couldn’t shake the vestiges of the dream. Sleep wouldn’t come now, he was too tense, and it would only make him crazy to lay there. And his tossing and turning would earn him another angry retort from Cody.

Slowly, he climbed off his bunk, grabbed his boots and coat and headed out the door. Swiftly he saddled Sundance and headed off for a ride. He meant to go to the bluff, figuring Buck would hear him leave and come to join him. Instead, he found himself riding in the direction of Brandy’s house.

He stopped and tethered his horse just outside the yard, and climbed off. He didn’t want to wake her, and it was obvious she was asleep. The lights were out, and a peaceful air hung over the house. She wasn’t awake with worry. She wasn’t pacing the floor nervously, imagining all sorts of horrible things happening. She was probably dreaming, sweet thoughts of their wedding filtering through her mind.

And suddenly he felt foolish. He was a nervous wreck and she was asleep. He was being a worrywart as Teaspoon would say. His friends were by his side, they would protect him, stand by him. Lou was actually staying at Brandy’s to help her in the morning. Nobody would get by Lou if they were foolish enough to try anything. He smiled as peace washed over him.

It was just pre-wedding jitters. And he’d had a bad case of them. Teaspoon said he had ‘em all six times. ‘Course he hadn’t had as long of an engagement as Jimmy had, so that probably explained why Jimmy’s were worse. Feeling relieved and suddenly tired, Jimmy climbed back on his horse and turned for the station.

~*~*~*~*~

Laying in the darkness, Brandy strained her ears as she thought she heard the sound of a horse moving away from her house. But considering the dream that she was trying to forget, it was probably just her overactive imagination.

After all, just because she dreamed hordes of armed men burst into her wedding, guns drawn and lead flying, it didn’t mean someone was lurking in the shadows of her house. Sure she knew people would always be after Jimmy because J.D. Marcus labeled him Wild Bill , but that wasn’t to say people were going to show up on her wedding day. She’d specifically told Mr. Parsons at the paper that she didn’t want their wedding announced until it was over. Some fool might pass through town, read it and pass the word on to someone else.

But just because she’d done that, didn’t mean she was worried. She just didn’t figure there was a reason to court trouble. She was just nervous. Being a silly ninny as Lou would say. In fact, she knew if she went into the guestroom and woke Lou up and told her she’d had a dream and then thought she’d heard hoofbeats outside that Lou would say ‘Go back to sleep, you silly ninny. You’re just nervous ‘cause you’re getting married tomorrow.’

So that had to be it. Nothing was going to ruin her wedding day. Teaspoon was going to walk her down the aisle, she was going to be Jimmy’s wife and she was going to be happy. ‘Cause she’d shoot the fool herself that dared to try and stop it. Foolish nerves indeed.

Determination filling her, she rolled back over, and slowly dropped off to sleep.

If Only
by: Cindy

He checked the mirror again, carefully smoothing down a few stray strands of hair. Then he straightened his tie, buttoned his suit jacket, placed his hat carefully atop his head, and stepped out of his office and onto the boardwalk along the street. He drank in the sights and smells of a perfect day.

All around him, the hustle and bustle of daily life in Sweetwater went on. The town was growing, with new business, and many more residents. It was good to know that much of the growth had come under his leadership.

A few people called out greetings to him, waving and smiling at their beloved Mayor. He smiled back and tipped his hat, then started down the street toward the hotel. He had an important lunch meeting coming up.

He'd only gone a few steps when he heard his name being called, and he saw Miranda Webster waving him down from across the street. He stopped and waited as she crossed, her newborn daughter cradled in her arms.

"Oh, Mayor Cross, I'm so glad I saw you! I wanted you to meet little Agnes."

He looked down at the cooing infant and smiled. "She's beautiful, Miranda – like her mother. I'm sorry I hadn't made it out to see you yet."

"Oh, we know how busy you are, what with everything you do for Sweetwater," she replied. Then she held the infant toward him. "Would you kiss her, just for luck?"

His smile widened. "Of course," he said, leaning down to brush his lips against the baby's forehead. It was hardly the first such request he'd received as Mayor. He laughed as a tiny fist wrapped itself in his long hair. "You take care now, Miranda," he added as he disentangled himself.

Miranda beamed and headed back to finish her errands. He watched until she was back across the street, then he started toward the hotel again. He'd only made it a few steps when he heard someone else call his name.

Becky Gilmer came out of the dress shop, a brightly wrapped package in her hand. "I'm so happy I ran into you, Mayor Cross. Mama was just saying this morning how she'd dearly love it if you would come for dinner tonight." She smiled her best smile, batting her eyelashes coyly.

He smiled at the flirting, enjoying every moment of it. It was one of the perks of his job that he didn't think he'd ever tire of. Still, with his position in the community, it was time he thought about settling down with a wife. He could certainly do worse than Becky, with her golden blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and intelligent wit. "Well, I'd love to, but I can't tonight," he answered. Not with a dinner date already set with Katrina Havelin, another beauty vying for his attention. "What about tomorrow?"

Her smile had fallen when he said no, but now she beamed. "Oh, tomorrow will be just fine! I'm so . . . I mean, mama will be so pleased," she said. She held out the package. "I'll wear my new dress."

"I'm sure it's lovely," he replied. "But not nearly as lovely as you." He took her hand and lightly kissed the back of her fingers.

Becky sighed as he released her hand, reluctant to have him let go. "Tomorrow night, then," she whispered.

"Tomorrow night," he agreed, giving her the small half-grin that made women swoon.

Becky backed away, running into a chair outside the dress shop. She laughed nervously and turned toward the street, stumbling over the step and nearly falling as she tried to not take her eyes off of him.

He watched as she disappeared into the crowd, then continued on. Again he'd only gone a few steps when he heard his name called. He turned and saw Standing Wolf coming out of the Trading Post toward him.

As Mayor, one of his proudest accomplishments was the peace he had forged between the Indians native to the area and the white settlers. Some of the new businesses in Sweetwater, like the Trading Post, were Indian owned. Other Indians made their homes around the town. Everyone, Indian and white alike, depended on the economy of the town, and they had learned to work together in peace. In fact, he had been so successful that the governor had asked for his help on a wider scale. His lunch meeting now was the first step toward brokering what he hoped would be a lasting peace for the whole territory.

"How's business at the Post?" he asked as the other man approached.

"Everything is good," Standing Wolf replied. "Some days there is more business than we can keep up with, but this is good."

As Mayor, he couldn't agree more – they could deal with too much business. "Let me know if you need more help at the Post."

Standing Wolf nodded. This was what the people of Sweetwater loved about their Mayor – he was willing to help everyone, no matter what the problem. "So far, we can manage," he answered. "Little Elk wants you to come for a meal," he added, passing on his wife's message. "Her niece is coming on the stage today."

He thought about his schedule – Katrina tonight, Becky tomorrow night . . . "What about Thursday night?"

Standing Wolf nodded. "Thursday."

With another social engagement settled on his calendar, he continued toward the hotel, smiling and greeting folks along the way. It made him feel good that he didn't see a single frown in his town as he went.

He reached the hotel just as the door opened and William Tompkins walked out. As one of the long-standing business owners in the town, Tompkins played a key role on the council that had helped craft the booming burg they lived in today. Even with competition from the Trading Post, his general store had been expanded several times and continued to be profitable.

Tompkins smiled a greeting. "I was hoping to see you today," he said. "Jenny's due on the stage tomorrow, and we'd sure love to have you over for dinner."

Jenny. He smiled at the memories. And as far as he knew she was still single – definitely someone to keep in mind. "I'm free on Friday," he offered.

"Friday's just fine," Tompkins agreed. "Gives Jenny a couple of days to settle in." He paused, then added, "I know you'll do fine, but good luck with this meeting. That peace is important to all of us." Then he held the door open for the Mayor to enter the hotel.

He straightened his tie one more time, then removed his hat as he approached the dining room. He could see the private room in the back, with several Army officers and representatives of the various Indian tribes already present. Well, he had the example of Sweetwater to show them, and together they'd work out a plan that worked for everyone.

And then he could concentrate on dinner with Katrina tonight . . . and Becky tomorrow . . . Standing Wolf's niece on Thursday . . . and Tompkins . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~*~

Buck gasped, coming suddenly awake. He lay still for a moment, breathing heavily, then he looked around. Fortunately, none of the other riders seemed to have been disturbed.

He glanced at the window, noting the first small hint of dawn starting to color the sky. That meant he still had a little more time before he was expected to be up, so he lay back, letting his breathing calm, then he closed his eyes.

Maybe the dream would come back, if only for a little while. It felt good to be accepted. And right now, outside of his Pony Express family, about the only place he found acceptance was in his dreams. But in his dreams he could be Mayor, he could forge a lasting peace – he could do anything.

He heard the barn door creak open and knew that Teaspoon must be up. A couple of the other riders were starting to stir too, reinforcing that the day was starting.

Buck opened his eyes and sighed. He'd promised to go to town with Rachel today and help with supplies. That usually meant being under constant observation at the store – as if he'd load supplies that didn't belong to the station!

He sat up quietly and began to pull on his clothes. At least when he was with Rachel, people didn't tend to be quite as outright nasty to him as at other times. They didn't necessarily like her past, but they afforded her more civil treatment as a woman.

He grinned. He'd still bet that reality didn't end with an invitation to dinner with Tompkins the way his dream had!

Sweet Onion Dreams
by: Cindy

The town was dressed in its festive best as he walked down the street toward the church. Even from here he could see the brightly colored signs around the canopy set up for the party celebrating the coming of spring.

The streets were oddly empty, he noticed, but he brushed the thought away. Everyone must already be at the party, he decided – though he really didn’t think he was late.

But as he reached the canopy, the area underneath was empty of people. Tables and chairs occupied one corner, and some long tables held the baked goods the women of Sweetwater had provided for the festivities. Still, there was no one there watching the food, or putting the final touches on the decorations, which seemed very odd.

He walked over to the table, admiring the many treats displayed there. The assortment included cookies of every flavor, cakes with fancy icing, and more types of pie than he’d ever seen in one place. He snuck a glance over his shoulder – still no one there. Well, that meant no one to tell him he couldn’t be the first to sample the pie!

He cut himself a generous slice of apple pie, savoring the first few bites of sweet fruit and flaky crust. Then he reached for the blueberry pie. Might as well enjoy the tasty treats now, before everyone else was there vying for some. He lifted the second piece to his mouth, ready to take a bite . . .

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He dropped the pie on the table. He knew that voice – but it couldn’t be! He turned slowly . . .

Beulah Winchell Hunter came striding across the floor, the twins in tow, each boy trying to pull her in a different direction. “I should have known I’d find you here, having a good time, leaving me with your sons,” she accused loudly. “Well, you can just take care of your boys, because tonight is my night to dance!” She pushed the two boys into his arms.

Teaspoon just looked at the two boys, seeing younger versions of his own face staring back at him, then turned to look back at Beulah. She was happily swaying on the dance floor – though he could hear no music, and she had no partner.

He looked back at the boys. Beulah had been wife number six – and the last one! By the time they had split, he’d wanted nothing more to do with marriage. He hadn’t seen her for over fifteen years.

And they didn’t have any children!

He put the boys down, noting only in passing that they immediately rushed for the table with the pie. He started toward Beulah, intending to get some answers!

“Daddy”

He spun around, knowing the voice couldn’t be referring to him – yet also knowing that it was.

Beatrice walked toward him, as beautiful as the day he’d first seen her. She held hands with a girl who looked to be about six or seven. As Teaspoon watched, the girl’s face alternately looked like Amanda and someone else – someone with Beatrice’s eyes and smile. “Elizabeth?” he asked.

“Hello, daddy,” the girl said, now looking like Amanda once more. She picked up a piece of pie, looking like Elizabeth again when she turned around.

Teaspoon shook his head. He’d never seen his daughter as a young girl, hadn’t even known about her until she was grown – and dead. He looked for Beatrice, but she had disappeared.

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He spun again, watching as Beulah stalked back toward him. This time she held a little girl with curly hair in her arms. “How dare you run off and leave me alone with little Matilda!” she demanded. “You should be here to take care of your daughter!”

Daughter? He shook his head again, looking around for an answer. It had been fifteen years, there was no way any child would be this young . . .

“Teaspoon!”

He turned at the new voice, finally noticing some music playing. It was a mariachi sound, reminding him of Mexico, and Texas . . . He stopped, blinking hard and shaking his head. It couldn’t be . . .

Dolores Rios walked across the floor, her daughter Rosa at her side. He recognized them easily, having just seen them a few weeks earlier on his return visit to the Alamo. But Rosa now looked to be only about eight or nine, a girl still, not the beautiful young lady who still had Buck and Jimmy talking. “I told you I would not expect you manãna,” Dolores said sadly. “But now you’ve missed so much of Rosa’s life.”

He opened his mouth to explain, but just then Dolores spun around. By the time she faced him again, she was no longer Dolores . . .

The face of his second wife, Ruth Benfield Hunter, smiled back at him. She held a squirming infant out toward him. “Oh, Aloysius, isn’t our son handsome?”

He took the boy in his arms, his mind reeling. Ruth had died shortly after their wedding. They’d had no children . . .

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He twisted sharply as Beulah came back into view. The teenage boy next to her alternately looked like him, and like Beulah. “Your son has been dipping the girls’ braids in the ink wells,” she screamed, drowning out the music, which had now switched to a waltz.

Teaspoon shoved a piece of peach pie into the boy’s hands and reached for his bandana. It had gotten very hot under the canopy . . .

He stepped away from the table, away from Beulah, and Dolores, and Beatrice, and the children . . .

But the dance floor was suddenly full. He recognized many of the faces. His first wife was there, and wife number five . . . Women from all the moments of his past floated by, smiling, pointing, pushing children toward him.

All around he heard calls of “Daddy!” until it made his head spin. More and more children filled the dance floor . . .

He tried to make sense of it all. He couldn’t possibly have fathered all of these children – could he? There were things that just didn’t make any sense, but it was so hard to think clearly about it. The women he saw had played parts in his life over more than thirty years, yet few of the children were even teenagers. It just didn’t make sense . . .

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter!”

He saw Beulah coming toward him again, at least ten small children holding tightly to her skirts. No, it just couldn’t be true!

He pushed past the food tables, noting the happy children with pie smeared all over their faces. He needed to find a way out, but everywhere he turned there were more women, and more children.

“Aloysius Harcourt Hunter! . . .”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Teaspoon awoke with a start, taking in a deep breath. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness then looked around. Much to his relief, the familiar outlines of the tack room greeted his eyes.

He sat up on the edge of the bed, reaching for a towel to wipe away the sweat that had formed on his brow. Where in the world had that dream come from?

Pulling on his pants and boots he headed for the door, stepping out into the yard. Everything seemed normal now. Dawn had just arrived, and as he watched the bunkhouse door opened and the riders began to straggle out. Buck and Jimmy went to the well to get fresh water while Ike and Cody headed for the house to help Emma bring down the goods for breakfast. Meanwhile Kid headed for the barn, probably to saddle Katy, Teaspoon guessed. Lou was due in this morning, and Kid was the next rider up.

Yup, all in all, everything seemed very normal – a welcome conclusion after the strange dream! He looked around once more and smiled. He had all the kids he ever needed, or could handle, right here.

“Guess I shouldn’t o’ ate that second onion last night,” he muttered as he headed back in to get ready for the day.

Facing The Demon
by: Cathy

“Jimmy!” Lou yelled.

Hickok opened his eyes to find himself surrounded by his friends in the Pony Express bunkhouse. All of them wore sleepy expressions of concern. He would have been angry that they woke him up except for the fact that the dream he’d just been experiencing had scared the hell out of him. He wasn’t afraid now, he realized but he had been—enough that he was glad someone had been around to wake him up.

“Sorry,” he apologized, remembering the scream that probably awakened and alarmed the others.

“What was it?” Kid asked.

“Just a bad dream,” Jimmy told them.

Sounded more like a nightmare, Ike signed.

“Yeah, I guess it was,” Hickok admitted.

“You want to talk about it?” Lou asked.

“Nah,” Hickok responded. “It wasn’t nothing to be concerned about—now.”

“You sure?” the female rider asked.

“Sure,” he replied, for the first time in a long time knowing his words to be true. “Go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you all up.”

~*~*~*~*~

Jimmy lay quietly waiting for the others to fall asleep. As he waited, he considered the dream that had caused so much of a furor. He had bad dreams off and on since he was a kid, but not like this one.

The “Thing” was different from any of the childhood nightmares. The “Thing” had made its appearance just after he left the Judge’s home. Something he couldn’t see was chasing him through the trees. No matter how hard he ran or how often he zigged and zagged, he couldn’t escape. It stayed on his trail and never more than a few feet behind him.

He’d never really understood why he’d never just stopped to face the “Thing.” When the dream first started, he’d been unarmed and scared silly. As the years passed, the apparition had come less frequently and he’d begun to carry a weapon in the dream. But even armed—even knowing he’d be able to defend himself—he was scared. He had still run from the “Thing.”

And it had still followed. Just out of visual range but always there, breathing heavily, close enough for him to feel the heat of its breath on the back of his neck.

After joining the Pony Express, the dream had begun to fade almost entirely. The “Thing” had only haunted him after something had happened to disrupt the family he had grown to count on. He had reckoned it was knowing there were others around. He seemed to sleep lighter, as if afraid of waking them. The dream never really got a chance to take hold.

Tonight had been different. This was the first time he’d had the dream since he’d killed Brad, taken care of the Judge and had started wearing the pair of pearl handled revolvers. Tonight, for the first time, he’d been so tired that the dream was on him without warning.

But for some reason he had been less afraid. He had still run, but not with the fear driven adrenaline that he had experienced before. In fact he’d even turned the tables on the “Thing” and had started running towards it, until finally it had been the one running away.

He’d finally caught up with the “Thing,” cornering it against a rock wall. Jimmy had been surprised to find that the “Thing” was human, at least from the back. It had refused to face him, even after he’d had it trapped and had yelled for it to turn around.

Finally he could take no more. He had stepped forward, taken the “Thing” by the shoulder and spun it around to face him.

That’s probably when he had awakened the others he decided. He remembered looking at the “Thing’s” face and screaming. A shiver ran through the rider as he remembered what he had seen. All these years the “Thing” had been him. He’d been running from himself.

He could only wonder now what had given him the courage to face himself. Jimmy didn’t figure he’d ever really know. It could be the security of people he knew to be real friends, or maybe he had just grown enough to deal with his demon. One thing he did know though, he had faced the “Thing” and it wouldn’t be bothering him again.

Jimmy’s eyes closed wearily. He couldn’t remember being so tired before. A small smile formed on his lips as he fell asleep again.

Turn About
by: Cathy

Buck Cross stood in a line with five other young men waiting for Teaspoon Hunter to make his decision. What the older man would decide would mean the difference between the Kiowa half-breed eating that evening or going hungry until he could track down some game.

The other five boys were standing a bit apart from him, almost as if they were afraid to get too close. No one looked in his direction, unless it was out of the corner of their eye. It was almost as if they were expecting him to pull out a knife and scalp them then and there.

Hunter walked slowly down the line, questioning each boy in turn. One of them, the bald one turned out to be mute as well. His friend, a young scrawny, almost girly looking kid, explained that he had been sick. Hunter nodded sympathetically.

One by one, the station manager for the Pony Express asked each boy’s name and what made him think he’d be a good rider. He seemed pleased with their answers, smiling and nodding frequently.

The smile disappeared when he came to stand in front of Buck. “Sioux?” he asked almost maliciously.

“Kiowa,” Buck answered.

“But not a full blood,” Hunter stated.

“My father was white,” the boy explained.

“We don’t need your kind,” Hunter said firmly. To the others he added, “Pay day is the end of the month, your room and board is on the company. I’ll show you where you can stow your gear.”

Buck watched as the group walked away, leaving him standing alone on the side of the road. To add insult to injury, the clouds that had been gathering for the past couple of hours opened up, dousing him through and through. Thoroughly discouraged, the boy did nothing.

This had been his last hope. The ad hadn’t said Indians didn’t need to apply and he had hoped the station manager would be fair enough at least to give him a chance. Buck was grateful for the rain at that moment—it hid the tears he was crying.

“Better move along, Indian,” a voice growled.

He looked up to discover a man wearing a sheriff’s badge standing too close to him. “I’m not doing nothing,” he muttered.

“Best to keep it that way,” the sheriff grunted. “Get moving before I run you in for loitering.”

Buck considered letting the man do just that. At least he would have a dry place to sleep and maybe even get fed. Then again, he’d been in jails before. As long as he was alone, he would be okay. He just didn’t want to take a chance that he wouldn’t be alone.

He walked slowly along the sidewalk, trying to stay close enough to buildings to be protected from the wind driven rain yet far enough away that the white storekeepers didn’t feel threatened.

Passing the general store, he noticed the storekeeper stacking canned goods in a window display. The man caught his eye and, for once, didn’t turn away. Instead he motioned for Buck to come inside. Surprised, the boy hesitated, only to have the man wave again.

“You look half-drowned, boy,” he said cheerfully, as Buck entered the store. “You better get home before you catch your death of cold.”

“Don’t have a home,” Buck murmured.

“What?” the man exclaimed. “You mean you’ve been living out in this weather?”

“Yes, Sir,” Buck answered, not looking up.

“Well, we can’t have that!” the man said. “You looking for a job?”

“Yes, Sir,” the boy repeated. He looked up finally to see the man smiling at him.

“I can’t pay you much,” the man told him. “But there’s a cot in the storeroom and you’ll get three square meals a day. That and say a dollar a week sound all right to you?”

“What do I have to do?” Buck asked suspiciously.

“You know how to read?” the storekeeper asked. “Do sums?”

“Yes, Sir,” Buck answered as confidently as possible.

“Good!” the man said. “For now I have some boxes of canned fruit out back that need to be brought in and put on the shelves. Soon as I can find out how well you can do, I’ll let you work the counter. You think that’s fair?”

“Yes, Sir!” Buck replied with cautious optimism.

“First things first though,” the man said. “First you get upstairs and get yourself a hot bath. Can’t have my employees getting sick on me now, can I? While you’re getting the water ready, I’ll find some clothes for you to change to. Then you can come back down and sweep out the store and get yourself some clean linens and things for the bed in the storeroom.”

“Yes, Sir,” Buck said again. He was still stunned at the speed with which he’d found a job and what could become a home.

“All right then, you get,” the man said, motioning the boy toward the stairs. “Hey, boy,” he called just as Buck reached the door. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Buck, Buck Cross.”

“You can call me Bill, Buck.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Buck?” another voice called.

“What?” he answered, prying one eye open to see his friends sitting or propping themselves up to stare at him.

“You’re dreaming mighty loud,” Jimmy told him.

“Yeah,” Lou agreed wearily. “I can’t sleep with you muttering like that.”

Good dream? Ike signed.

“It was weird anyway,” Buck admitted. “Tell you about it in the morning.”

Fade To Black
by: Cindy

He never saw it coming – but he heard it.

He heard the click of the gun hammer being pulled back. And before he even had time to figure out where the sound was coming from, he heard the sound of the shot being fired.

Kid gasped as the bullet buried itself in his side. He dropped his own rifle and drew both hands to the gaping wound, trying to stop the blood that was spilling heavily onto the ground; trying to hold on to life.

He stumbled away from where he was, trying to get into the trees. His own soldiers were in there somewhere and he wanted to be found by them, not the Union forces who had been forcing them back.

His feet felt heavy and numb, and he was having trouble moving them. Finally, he tripped, sprawling onto the ground at the base of a huge old oak. He lay still for a moment, gathering his strength, then pulled himself up to sit against the trunk. He chanced a glance at the wound, only to find blood still seeping through his fingers, no matter how hard he pressed.

He was so tired – and COLD! He knew he'd never been as cold as he was now. He guessed that was a little strange, since it was late spring in Virginia. And he hadn't been cold before he got shot . . .

From all around him came the sounds of people moving through the trees. Sometimes he thought he saw shadows of the soldiers, but he wasn't sure. There seemed to be something wrong with his eyes, and it was hard to focus.

He pressed up against the tree, willing it to keep him hidden. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a few minutes . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Lights and shapes swirled around him in a dizzying dance. It was hard to make out any details, but he concentrated, trying to make sense of it all.

Finally, the swirling slowed, and details came into focus. Kid recognized the place immediately. It was the Pony Express station in Rock Creek. He even recognized the WHEN – November, 1861. The Pony had run its course, replaced by the telegraph wire.

Just beyond the station he could see the farmhouse he and Lou had just purchased, with a little financial help from Buck. Of course, the farm wasn't really close enough to be seen from the station, but maybe that didn't matter right now.

Maybe it didn't matter either that the town of Rock Creek was nowhere to be seen.

He moved closer, though he was sure he wasn't walking. He saw Teaspoon come out of the barn and walk toward him.

"I seen a lot of war and fighting in my time, Kid," the older man said sadly. "And it don't never seem to solve anything for long, just gets lots of people killed."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"This war don't need you, son," Teaspoon replied. "You're needed here."

In a swirl of light Teaspoon was gone, and Rachel was there instead. "Kid, you just got married. You gotta think of what Louise wants and needs."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"Your wife and family need you more," Rachel said. Then she disappeared in another swirl of light.

Jimmy took her place. "Don't do it, Kid," he said, his voice angry. "Think about Noah, and Ulysses -- and that damned Missouri militia. That what you wanna fight for?"

The words flew between them, fast and furious – the same argument they'd had many times.

States' rights!

Slavery!

States' rights!

Slavery!

Jimmy finally just shook his head. "It ain't worth losin' what you got here, Kid."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"Virginia ain't your home anymore," Jimmy replied. Then he disappeared in a puff of angry red smoke.

Buck walked through the red haze to stand in front of Kid. "You've got a home here now, Kid. And a family. There's nothing left for you back east."

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"Lou needs you," Buck responded. "I'll help her all I can, but I'm not the one she needs most."

Kid tried to respond, but Buck was gone, replaced by a wall, solid except for a single door. He wondered briefly how the wall had gotten there, but then he opened the door.

The door opened onto a meadow, filled with tall prairie grass and multi-colored wildflowers sawing gently in the breeze. Three young children played happily by the edge of a creek that sliced through the meadow like a crystal clear blue ribbon. He couldn't help but notice that the older boy looked a lot like him . . .

"That's what we could have, Kid, if you stay."

He turned, finding Lou at his side. And then he understood that the children were theirs, his and Lou's.

"We won't have this if you go, Kid," Lou continued.

"But Virginia needs me," he pleaded.

"I need you more, Kid," Lou answered. She laid her hand over her stomach, and started to say something, then stopped herself and just shook her head sadly. "I need you more," she repeated.

Before he could respond, he found himself back on the other side of the door. He was on his horse, leaving. Parts of Rock Creek reappeared now as he rode, the people of the town watching him go. A few people waved kindly, their own southern sympathies pulling on them too. More people, however, just glared angrily at him, but he kept riding.

Then he stopped and looked back. He knew he hadn't done that when he had really left Rock Creek – knew he couldn't look back and still keep going. But this time he looked.

She was there, watching him leave. As he continued to look back, her face seemed to come closer. At the same time, a brilliant white light appeared, and soon all he could see was Lou's face, surrounded by the nearly blinding glow. He couldn't help but notice the sad look in her eyes. She was so close, he should be able to touch her . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

He woke then, shuddering suddenly from the utter cold that wrapped his body. He fought to get his eyes open and focused.

The white light was fading, already gray around the edges. And the gray kept covering the light, turning darker and darker.

But he could still see her face.

He shuddered again, and coughed up blood. There couldn't be that much blood left in him, he mused, looking at the pool gathering around him.

He heard it then, a sound like hundreds of little bells tinkling among the trees. He looked up, seeing no bells – but she was still there, though just barely.

The gray was becoming black, nearly blocking Lou from his sight. It seemed to be spreading faster and faster. He didn't want her to go, not yet. There was so much he wanted to say, and should have said before now.

He tried to raise his hand, to reach for her, keep her with him. But it was too late. The light faded, and blackness ruled.

"Lou . . ."

That Was His Name
by: Cindy

She gasped as another contraction hit, knowing that this was both the most painful, and the most exciting, time in her life so far. The doctor's calm voice, and Rachel's presence holding her hand, helped ease her fears. She heard the doctor tell her to push, and she pushed with all her might . . .

A voice said, "It's a boy!" and then Kid was there by her side. His face showed a mixture of concern, happiness, and weariness. All of that disappeared behind a huge smile as she put the infant into his arms.

Kid checked all the little fingers and toes, marveling at the perfection. "He's perfect, Lou," he whispered. "Just like his mama."

"And his papa," she replied. She reached to take the baby back . . .

The scene seemed to ripple in front of her, and then she was out of the bed, and sitting at her kitchen table. To one side, two young children played happily, building a tower out of blocks. Jeremiah and Theresa were on the floor with them, helping.

The back door opened just then, and Kid walked in. He stopped to give hugs to the children, then watched as they returned to their building. He turned to Lou, a silly grin covering his face. "Wanna go for a swim?" he asked his wife.

She smiled in return and stood up to go with him. It wasn't likely they'd even go near the water, but they'd sure have fun anyway! And with Jeremiah and Theresa there to watch the younger children, it was a perfect time . . .

Another ripple, and now they were in the meadow. To one side she could see their home, with the new addition to the back that had been needed as their family grew. She turned the other way, smiling as she watched Kid wade into the creek with their youngest child, letting her feet barely touch the water. The baby squealed in surprise as the cold water tickled her toes, then laughed as she began to kick, soaking her daddy in the process. Their other children were playing tag on the other side of the creek.

The scene rippled again, and now it was winter. There was a fire roaring in the hearth, and a huge pine tree stood in one corner of the room. Brightly wrapped packages filled every inch under the tree, and the children sat nearby, stringing popcorn to decorate the boughs. It was Christmas Eve, and they would celebrate as soon as Kid got home . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She woke with a start, the paper falling from her fingers. She shivered, though the room was warm. For a moment she could almost believe . . .

Lou shook her head to clear the thought, then reached down to pick up the telegram. There had initially been so much joy and hope when they'd bought this farm. Even when Kid had left to go to war, she'd still had hope. Hope that they'd build the life, and the family they had always dreamed of. When he returned . . .

Except, of course, he wouldn't be returning.

Her fingers closed on the paper, and again she shuddered. She stared at the paper, not really seeing the words. She knew them by heart anyway. "Captain Moneypenny was killed . . ."

She clutched the telegram to her breast, fighting back a sob. Her eyes filled with tears, though for all she had already cried, she couldn't imagine where even more tears were coming from.

Buck heard her coming and he sat up on the bed. He had fixed up the tack room behind the barn for his own use, and that's where he normally would have been. But this wasn't a normal night, and he knew Lou shouldn't be alone in the house, so he was using the guestroom tonight. Anticipating that he'd be needed, he hadn't even bothered to get undressed.

Not that sleep would have found him very easily tonight anyway.

She paused at the door, which stood partially open. "Buck?"

"Come on in, Lou."

She pushed the door open and walked in slowly, the telegram still clutched in her hand. "It hurts so bad, Buck."

"I know, Lou." He could well remember the pain when he lost his mother, and Ike.

He stuffed a pillow behind his back and held open his arms. She climbed onto the bed, curling up against his side. The feel of his strong arms around her didn't make the pain go away, but it helped.

"We had so many dreams," she said softly. One of those dreams chose that moment to stir, twisting and kicking. Lou put her hands over her swollen belly, feeling the life growing inside of her. "I can't do it alone."

"You're not alone," he said firmly. "I'm not going anywhere. Teaspoon, Rachel, Polly – they're all going to help you too." The three of them had been at the house most of yesterday, and well into the night, helping Lou through the shock. "And as soon as the weather clears, we'll get your brother and sister from the orphanage, just like you planned."

Lou nodded, holding her breath as the baby kicked some more. "I think it's going to be a boy," she said. "We'd decided, if we had a boy, we'd name him James."

"That's a good name," he responded.

"James Perseus," she said softly, rubbing her hand slowly over the baby.

"Perseus?" He knew the name from mythology, but . . .

She curled up tighter in his arms, burying her tears against his chest. "That was his name," she whispered.

Hands On Experience
By Dede

‘Where am I?’ He lifts his head. Lying naked on a bed of gloriously vibrant wildflowers, he drops his head back down and takes a deep breath. The fragrance is intoxicating. He sits up on his elbows, looking around. The air seems to shimmer as a voice calls to him on the wind. ‘That voice! Like music, no, wait, bells.’ He smiles, remembering the visiting bell choir who played at the mission school. ‘I don’t think I’m in Sweetwater anymore,’ he muses as he turns his head. He sees the image floating towards him but he can’t see the face. ‘What’s she saying? I don’t understand it…WHOA! What the - ‘ His body quivers. Caresses. Soft hands. On his face, down his neck, across his chest, his arms, over his stomach, down to -
Buck jerks awake. The dream…again. It’s the same each time and has been for the last two weeks. He looks around to make sure he hadn’t disturbed the others. Mercifully, they were still sleeping. Buck drops back on his cot and sighs. He isn’t sure what he wants more - for her face to come into focus or her hands to complete their path!

“BUUUUUUCK!!!!!!” Lou yells, not sounding too happy. Buck starts. Looking around, he realizes he is standing in the barn holding the pitchfork in his slack grip. He looks at the hay. It’s still where he started…an hour ago. ‘Guess it doesn’t pitch itself,’ he sighs inwardly.
“Hmmmmm?” Buck mumbles, staring back at the pitchfork. He puts it down, shaking his head to clear the fog.
“Have ya’ heard a word I’ve said? Rachel wants ya’ to go with Ike to get the supplies. NOW!” Lou finishes quickly, plowing through her words like he may stop listening.
“Sorry Lou. I’m outta’ sorts. I haven’t slept great the last couple a’ days,” Buck apologizes, rubbing both hands over his face to wake up. Noticing Lou’s intense stare, he sees the doubt in her eyes.
“A couple of days? How’ bout a week or more? Buck, you’re worn thin,” Lou emphatically states.
“Well, go get the supplies,” she softens. “Maybe you can get to bed early tonight,” she adds, watching Buck leave.
Buck slowly walks to where his friend and the buckboard wait.
*You okay?* Ike asks. Buck senses his friend’s concern. Ike knew the importance he placed in dreams and the affects they can have on a person. As Buck just stands there, Ike nudges and looks at him.
Climbing up, Buck mutters, “Let’s go.”
Ike rolls his eyes and, with a sigh, follows his friend up onto the buckboard.

Back at the station, Buck wearily climbs down, “I’m gonna’ put these books in my trunk. I’ll be right back.” Ike just nods and begins taking the supplies in the house. Buck walks in the bunkhouse, fully intending on doing exactly what he had said, but his bunk has other ideas. It seems to call to him and, as he sits down, he drifts off to sleep.
He’s on the wildflowers. ‘I’m not waking until I see the face of this…this…siren!’ he unconsciously decides. He hears a voice calling to him and senses he should know who it is. Then he feels the soft touches, both calming and sensual. Ah, there’s the image. The seductress starts to come into focus. Closer. Closer. He struggles to hear what she’s saying…his name! And the voice is becoming stronger. The face is becoming clearer…a little more and he would be able to see it…just a bit more…closer...there he could see - it’s Jimmy. JIMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Leaping off his bunk, tangling his legs in the covers, Buck is suddenly falling. Landing face first on the floor, he finds himself staring at a familiar pair of boots. Pushing up to his knees, he looks up into the face of his ‘seductress.’
“Dang Buck! I’ve been yelling your name for the last five minutes!” Jimmy snaps, “Come on! We need your help with the supplies!” Buck stands up, watching Jimmy walk to the door. Pausing a moment, Jimmy turns to look at him, unease in his voice “You okay? Must’ve been some kinda’ nightmare, huh?”
“You have no idea,” Buck mumbles as he follows his friend out into the day, “You have no idea.”

The Sin Of The Father
By Erin

I am walking, drifting in the cool autumn night, no destination in mind just wandering unable to rest, when I see her. She's in the clearing in front of me, wearing only her night shift. Her ivory skin glistens bathed in the pale hollow moonlight. I silently, stealthily move toward the large oak in front of me. My glare strays past it to this angelic creature in front of me. I have seen her before in town. As I watch her with a strange awe fascination she walks toward me. I crouch like a cat waiting my prey. Has she seen me? Found me out to be a watcher? My breath quickens as she stops only a foot away from me. Her shift is thin and I find my imagination running in directions that I know it should not be, but I feel no guilt.

She is picking wild flowers and is carrying a small bouquet of them in Her thin hand. As she leans to pick the violet in front of me her shift Falls forward and for a moment she is bared in front of me. My senses are heightened beyond anything I've ever known. I can hear the night mist falling to the ground and the sound of the flower stem snapping is deafening. An unspeakable anger overtakes me and I realize I have her by the arms. A sound and fury that defies all things human plays out before me. My hands on her body, her struggle, her terror, and her tears. Her body is red now but my heart is ashamed to feel so white. I hear a cry, in a strangled voice as my mind's eye watches the young woman, violated by my hands. I am the sin of my father. With that thought I woke glancing round I found myself in my bed at the station. I quickly look around seeing the other riders sleeping. I am staring at the ceiling with hot tears staining my face. It seemed so real, so vivid. How, how could I do that to anyone? I can’t sleep, I can’t face those thoughts again, ever!

A Cool Wind From The North
By Lori

A/N: Thanks to Vicki for the inspiration in chat. See, never tease me when there's a plot bunny bounding around.

Late one night, beside the dying embers of the fire where he'd roasted his supper, Buck turned on his side, a soft murmur escaping his lips. Pulling the blanket closer around him, he smiled and settled deeper into his dream. These were the kind of nights he loved to be out on runs. Skies not marred by clouds, that shone with thousands of stars, and enough of a wind that kept him comfortable but not too cold to sleep. A nice, refreshing wind from the north to cool the land, and most of all, refresh his spirit.

“Justine,” he murmured again as he settled deeper into his bedroll.

Justine, the hotel owner’s daughter and manager of the restaurant in Hamm’s Bluff…

The Silver Wind Hotel, was new, owed by foreigners – as the whispers in town went – and Buck hoped that they might be more amenable to him staying there than the other hotel owner was. He did not want to bunk down in the livery stable again, as he’d had to do the last time Teaspoon had sent him on a run here. He probably could have mentioned it to Teaspoon, but he didn’t want to. It wasn’t the stationmaster’s fault that the majority of the towns he went to viewed him with nothing more than barely concealed contempt.

So it had been with an uneasy spirit that he set off for Hamm’s Bluff the day before. One night on the plains then he would be able to deliver the special run, pick up the return mail and head back to the safe confines of the bunkhouse. But as he grew closer, the thought of sleeping in the livery stable when all he wanted to do was have a nice hot bath and a comfortable bed was making him in a surly mood.

He set off to the Silver Wind Hotel, hopeful, yet resigned, to see if foreigners would view his skin with the same disgust as others did? When he opened the door and started for the main desk, his heart sank like a stone into his stomach. The brunette behind the counter certainly didn’t look foreign, and when she smiled and asked if she could help him, he didn’t detect any accent to her speech. Perhaps the whispers were wrong. But still, she hadn’t stepped back in fear, or look at him like he was going to leap over the desk and scalp her, so perhaps there was hope.

“I need a room,” he said.

“Certainly,” she smiled. “Just sign in here, and I’ll get your key.”

And that was that. He got his room, got his bath set up and when he walked into the restaurant, the wait staff didn’t look at him with revolt in their eyes and seated him at a table. He could barely contain his surprise when the same brunette approached.

“Good evening, Mr. Cross. Is everything alright with your room?”

It took him a minute to tear his gaze away from her green eyes that looked like a field of clovers dancing with the wind. Slightly embarrassed, he cleared his throat and nodded. “Oh…yeah, thanks.”

“Good, I’m glad. Would you like to look over our menu?” she asked, and held out a piece of thick paper.

“Thanks.”

“Just signal when you’re ready to order.”

Then with a smile, she turned and headed back into the kitchen. He had really hoped to see her again that evening, but the restaurant became very busy and he would see her occasionally as she came out of the kitchen long enough to instruct a waiter on an order, and then she would be gone again. After ordering desert and two cups of coffee, he realized he wouldn’t get a chance to actually speak to her again and went up to his room.

Early in the morning, Buck headed out. The sooner he picked up the mail for the return trip, the sooner he could return home. Hamm’s Bluff was still an unfriendly town, despite the surprisingly cordial reception he’d received from the hotel staff. Knowing it was too early for any restaurant to be open, he planned on making his breakfast beef jerky and hardtack. It wasn’t great, but he was anxious to get out of town.

He had just given his key to the desk clerk and was turning for the door when a voice stopped him in his tracks. “Mr. Cross?”

Slowly he turned toward the restaurant and saw the woman from the day before sitting at a table in the empty room. “Yes?”

“Are you leaving us so soon?” she asked, motioning for him to join her.

“Well,” he said, even as he drew closer, “I have to pick up the mail and head back to Rock Creek."

“So, you work for the Pony Express then?” she asked.

“Yes,” he nodded, finally sitting down across from her. “Have since the beginning.”

“You weren’t planning on leaving without breakfast were you?” she smiled.

“I wasn’t expecting any place to be open this early.”

“Lucky for you, my father put me in charge of the restaurant when he decided to open the hotel.” She stood and smiled at him, “How ‘bout I fix us breakfast? We’ll have the kitchen all to ourselves.”

Despite his earlier desire to leave, he found himself agreeing. Justine – she insisted he call her by her name when he insisted she call him Buck – made breakfast for the two of them and then lead him to the private dining room near the family quarters. They fell into easy conversation as they ate and when a waiter came bustling in saying he was sorry to interrupt but she was needed up front, Buck realized that more than two hours had passed.

Slightly chagrined, he apologized and said he had to be going. Justine asked if runs usually brought him to Hamm’s Bluff, and sadly he said no. He didn’t tell her, but he made a promise right then that the next one would definitely be his. Justine was kind, funny and a true beauty, inside and out. He would be happy to return to Hamm’s Bluff, as long as she and her family lived in town.

As he headed out on the trail, he turned and saw Justine standing outside the hotel, waving good-bye. It was the first time he ever longed to stay. She had brought a cool, refreshing wind of tolerance and acceptance and he didn’t want to leave her presence. He could only hope that the next time he arrived, the reception was just as welcoming…

As Buck dreamed on, the breeze blew softly, washing over in a caress, lifting the hair off his face, and brushing across his cheek, much like Justine’s lips.

Who's Who In Sweetwater
by: Cathy

“Sam?”

A hand gently shook Sam Cain by the shoulder, bringing the man to immediate awareness. The marshal jerked around, his hand reaching for the pistol he had belted to his hip.

“Sam, it’s me!” the voice attached to the hand said quickly.

“Buck?” Sam said groggily. “Is it really you this time?”

“This time?” Buck Cross asked. “What do you mean?”

“It was just a dream,” Sam murmured. “Thank heavens!”

“Must’ve been some dream,” the rider commented. “You want to talk about it?”

Sam hesitated. The dream had been pretty strange, but he wasn’t sure he really wanted anyone to know about it. Then again, this was the third time in as many days that he’d had the dream so maybe talking about it would be a good thing. At least it was Buck, he decided. The Kiowa would be less likely to spread the story around—or to laugh about it.

“As long as you promise not to laugh,” he said carefully.

“I’ll do my best,” Buck agreed.

“Well the dream starts off just like now. Someone shakes me awake,” Sam explained. “It’s Emma, only it’s not Emma.”

“Huh?” Buck asked.

“It looks like Emma, but she says she you,” Sam told him. “She says there’s trouble over at the bank and that Teaspoon and the rest of the boys are on their way.”

Buck had a confused look on his face, but he nodded for Sam to continue.

“I go out and there’s Lou dressed in Teaspoon’s hat and Jimmy is wearing Cody’s shirt and carrying Cody’s rifle. They are all pointing at the bank and telling me to hurry.”

Sam looked at Buck to see if he was laughing. The rider was straight faced but there was a twinkle in his eye that told Sam he was fighting to stay sober.

“Teaspoon comes up only he’s signing like Ike does,” Sam continued. He was into it now; he might as well finish it. “So we head over to the bank and, sure enough, just as we get there, there’s this big explosion and the window blows out. I run on and find out that the Barton gang is robbing the bank.”

“Who’s the Barton gang?” Buck asked.

“They’re a new bunch,” Sam told him. “I just got the paper on them this morning,” he added, shoving a couple of wanted posters in Buck’s direction.

“Anyways, the gang comes out of the bank carrying saddlebags full of money. But it’s not Barton—at least not the Barton in these posters.”

“So who is it?” Buck questioned.

“It’s Ike, Cody and Kid,” Sam replied. “They start shooting and then . . . “

The lawman looked up again. This time Buck was laughing. Quietly, but laughing none-the-less. Sighing, Sam shook his head.

“I knew I shouldn’t have told you,” he said angrily.

“I can’t help it, Sam,” Buck said, fighting to breath through his guffaws. “You have to admit it is funny.”

“What are you doing here anyway?” Sam asked, changing the subject.

“I was just wanting to tell you that there was a bank robbery over in Maysville earlier this week,” Buck replied. “I’m guessing it was these guys but no one over there had a name for them.”

Sam stood, picking up a hammer to nail the wanted posters to the wall outside the sheriff’s office. “If you see them around anywhere, you let me know, all right?”

“Sure, Sam,” Buck agreed. “But should I be looking for the guys in the pictures—“ he waited until he was far enough away that Sam couldn’t take a swing at him. “—or Ike, Jimmy and Cody?”

Premonition
by: Mary Ayers

The first thing Buck recognized was the pungent scent of burning sage. It surrounded him, enveloping him in a thick, heady mist. For a moment, everything around him seemed to be smoke. Even his body felt as if it were dissolving away into the haze.

Before he knew it, he was lifted up into the air. Twisting and twirling, he floated through an endless smoldering cloud-propelled forward by a driving, uncontrollable wind.

His heart thumped hard in his chest. He wanted to question where he was and where he was going-but before the thought had a chance to shape itself into words, he felt his feet touch down on a patch of soft earth. As the veil of smoke slowly lifted, he found himself standing in the middle of the prairie. He turned slowly around once surveying the grassy sea as it swayed and bowed before him in the breeze. Though he'd lived on the prairie most of his life, he didn't recognize this specific place.

The sudden sound of an eagle's cry cut through the sky. He raised his eyes to meet its call, hoping to find guidance, but he was met only with empty space. Confused, he lowered his gaze and was met with a sight that caused his jaw to drop. There, not ten feet ahead of him, knelt a man who looked exactly like him. It was him. His hair was a bit longer, his face more pale. But in every other respect, they were exactly the same.

Curious, he stepped toward his twin image. The kneeling Buck didn't notice his approach. Instead, he remained intent on filling his revolver. His fingers trembled with anger as he loaded each bullet. Buck felt his twin's desperation shake right through to his bones. He saw the kneeling Buck's jaw tense, his eyes glistening with hot, unshed tears. Something terrible had happened. But what?

Before he had a chance to consider the question further, Buck found himself standing in the middle of a town. His eyes rested on a window across the main street that read "Rock Creek Jail". Rock Creek? Where was this? He had never heard of a place called Rock Creek before.

He heard a gun cock and he turned to find the image of himself that he had seen on the prairie standing behind him, with gun at the ready. Again, he didn't notice Buck, but seemed to be waiting for someone else. His eyes were cold and distant-almost mechanical. Buck felt a chill steal through him. The expression he saw in his own face was the look of a cold-blooded killer. What the hell did he think he was going to do with that gun?

"I ain't up to a fight."

Buck spun around to find a well-dressed man with near shoulder-length blond hair standing in front of the jailhouse door. He seemed to look straight through Buck, smiling smugly at the Buck holding the gun.

The stranger pulled back his long black coat to show that he carried no weapon. Buck noticed that he was wounded. He turned toward the image of himself. He still held the gun. But now, it was pointed with cold precision at the stranger's heart. His face remained expressionless-except for the slightest hint of sadness that seemed to press up against his pursed lips. Buck's heart jumped up into his throat. Surely, he wasn't thinking of shooting a man who was not only unarmed but injured as well?

"You're just like that dummy friend of yours."

Buck's eyes widened. Dummy friend? Ike. He swallowed back the sickness that rose like a wave within him. Once more, he looked into those eyes that were the mirror image of his own. Again he saw the cold, calculated stare of a man determined to achieve the ultimate revenge. Now he knew. Something terrible had happened to Ike.

"You ain't got the nerve."

A shot rang out. He spun toward the stranger who stood, dazed and a little surprised by the bullet wound in his chest. Then, the stranger's lips curled into a knowing smile. Suddenly, the stranger disappeared and in his place stood Ike, his eyes wide with shock. Buck watched in horror as another shot blasted forth from the other Buck's gun and tore through Ike's chest.

Ike's mouth dropped open in stupefied indignation. But instead of directing his attention toward the man who'd shot him down, Ike turned his gaze toward Buck.

"Why me?" Ike mouthed silently.

"Ike?" Buck whispered, staring back at his friend's helpless face. He felt the tears sting in his eyes, as all he could do was watch like a paralyzed man as his best friend sank to the ground in a puddle of blood.

"No!" Buck gasped. His eyes flew open, his breath coming in smothered gasps as he began to grasp the world around him. He let his gaze wander across the darkened bunkhouse and then out the window at the full moon keeping watch like a silent sentinel over the sleeping riders.

He stumbled out of his bed and headed toward Ike's bunk. He sighed with relief as he saw the figure of his friend rise and fall beneath his blanket. Ike was breathing. He was alive. He knelt down beside his best friend and rested his head on Ike's shoulder. The rider started, but when he knew Buck had awakened him, he sighed good-naturedly.

Buck wrapped an arm across Ike's chest, letting the sure and steady beat of his friend's heart remind him over and over that it had only been a dream.

Ike gripped Buck's hand reassuringly and Buck felt the tears begin to fall.

"Don't ever die," he whispered.


THE END
Whiskey & Horses
by: Raye


"I wonder what's got Lou smilin' like that?" Kid discarded his hand of cards, leaving the full house hidden face down as he pondered the mercurial mood of his on-again-very-off-again-sweetheart.

The other riders took in Kid's question with hidden mirth. He was still on the outs with Lou and was looking for anything to make it better. If he hadn't annoyed them all in turn over the last few days as he tried to get them to speak to Lou on his behalf, they MIGHT have been a little more eager to help. As it stood, they left Kid ALL ON HIS LONESOME.

And when Lou found out about it... she was less than thrilled with his efforts. In fact she'd stopped talking to him all together. Now, he was on pins and needles around her and it was starting to drive the other riders batty.

They all turned to look at Lou as she squirmed under her blankets. She let out a loud satisfied sigh and they all began to wonder what was going on inside of her sleeping brain.

***************

They reined in their horses in this little one horse town at the edge of no-where. Lord knows how they'd decided on the meeting place and no one cared, what mattered to the rag-tag bunch of riders was that they had all made it... in almost one piece.

Hardly a word was spoken as they dismounted and half-heartedly tossed their reins over the hitching post. They didn't worry about their mounts wandering away; if the horses were half as tired as their riders, they didn't have the energy to go anywhere until they got a drink.

There was a woman at the head of the group. Her head held high, she showed no signs of her exhaustion, except for the sightly wild look shining in her eyes. Anyone catching her bright brown eyes staring in their direction would wonder what exactly was going on inside of her mind.

She wrapped her knuckles on the hard wood of the bar. "Barkeep! Barkeep!" She waited for the shortest of moments before repeating her demand. "Barkeep! I am ready to order!"

From the end of the bar, the man with the balding head of peppery hair gave a half hearted wave before turning back to the customers standing beside him. His posture was dismissive and the look on his face, unmistakably sour.

"Hellllloooo!" The shouted greeting was promptly followed by a shrill whistle. The riders looked to the petite woman standing in their midst and swallowed their nervous laughter as Louise removed her fingers from her mouth. She truly seemed unphased by the attention she was garnering. "I'm waiiiiiiiiting!"

The bartender raised a brow in their direction but made no move to answer her summons.

Cody leaned his elbow on the bar and gave his companions a wide grin. "Well now, looks like he's cuttin' you off, Lou."

Ike shook his head and turned away from Cody's sad attempt at humor. Louise did NOT look like she was in the mood.

"Yep," answered Noah in a hearty sing-song tone, "and you ain't even had ONE yet."

Her almond eyes slanted a bit more as she sized up her adversary. "We'll just see, men.... we'll just see."


He sauntered up to the bar, shouldering the riders aside as he stepped up even with Louise. His eyes never left her face, even as he addressed the man standing before him. "Step aside, boy and let a real man show you how to handle a woman."

Noah stepped out of the way, his wry grin was bright against his dark skin. "It's your funeral."

Jimmy cuffed him on the shoulder and nodded toward the big galoot that was leering at Louise, looking straight down the front of her dress. "Oh Lord, this is gonna be fun."

Leaning in closer, Ike motioned to Buck, *I say she draws blood*

Kid shook his head at the prediction. "That's one bet I'm not going to take you up on, Ike."

"Not much of a sportin' man, Kid?" Buck's half hearted joke elicited a round of laughter through the close-knit group.

"Naw," Kid looked to the floor as a blush spread over his cheeks. "I just don't like losing my money and I think Ike's got this one dead to rights."

Cody nodded, his head bobbing up and down on his shoulders. "I think 'dead' is the exact wording here."

True enough the liquored up cowboy was leaning over Louise like a vulture, fanning his stale breath over her face.

Louise looked about ready to explode, but somehow she maintained her composure for the moment. "Get out of my face."

"Well, now, little Miss... you don't really mean that."

There was dangerous glint in her eye and the boys knew that this wasn't the whiskey talking. "I don't?"

"Naw..." He waved off her look with a booming laugh. "I've seen your kind before."

There was a sudden shock of silence in the room as the riders prepared for mayhem to break out around the little lady standing at the bar. "My kind?"

He leaned in closer and bared his yellowing teeth. "Yeah... pretty... cute like a button... simple-"

"Simple, huh?" Her voice grated from her throat and the riders all took a step back. "I'll show you simple."


Ike leaned closer as Buck whispered, "Forget blood... he'll be lucky to walk out of here."


Louise put a sappy little smile on her face and batted her eyelashes at the big galoot. "So why don't you tell me more... and buy a girl a drink."

He returned her sappy little grin and all could see the rotted teeth revealed in his mouth. "Sure, honey... whatever you want."

Touching her fingers to her flushed cheek, Louise leaned closer to the cowboy and let out her husky little chuckle. "OOhhhhh now, you said I was simple..." someone cleared his throat in the crowd, "so, why don't YOU tell me what I want to drink? Hmmmm?"

He hitched up his pants and gave her a Texas sized wink. "Well, now you're talkin' Sweet Thing!"

The cowboy called over his shoulder. "Hey.. bring the little lady a glass of champagne, man. She'll be a little more 'bubbly'."

Noah's groan could be heard in the silence of the room.

"Champagne?" Lou questioned.

He leaned back against the bar and wedged a gnarled toothpick in between his teeth. "Sweet and bubbly."

"OH." She formed the word with her jaw clenched tight and a pounding pain in her head. "That's nice..."

Jimmy couldn't help the convulsive laughter that he hid within a coughing fit.

She let out a little squeak of surprise and looked down at her right leg. "Oh no!" Her little feminine squeal had the cowboy enthralled.

"What's wrong, darlin'?"

Louise turned out her heel. "I think I have a rip in my stocking!"

"You sure 'bout that? I don't see anything."

She looked up with a pout on her lips. "It's there.. don't you believe me?"

"Whoa no, step back, cowboy."

The tall inebriated cowpoke waved off Cody's warning. "I'd like to believe you, little lady.. but I don't see a thing."

"Well," she breathed, "Let me show you."

Louise leaned over even farther and lightly pinched her hem between her fingers. Slowly, she began to raise the edge of her skirt from her ankle to her calf. "Do you see it now?"

He made a huge pretense in looking over every inch of her skin before pronouncing in slow syllables. "Nope... don't see anything that ain't supposed to be there..."

"You won't be seein' anything when I-"

Louise silenced Kid with a glance and lifted the hem farther. She passed her knee and continued on to her thigh.

If she had turned to the side she might have seen Ike grab at Buck's arm as the mute rider lost all color in his skin.

"Then what about here?" Her tone was all sugar and lightness, her expression seemingly guileless and sweet enough to give Jimmy another toothache.

The cowboy seemed to take GREAT pleasure in leering at her milky skin. "Looks pretty damn good to-"

**BAM!** Louise grabbed his head and brought it down on her knee, knocking his cowboy hat to the floor before releasing him to fall bonelessly at her feet. Brushing off her hands she settled her skirt and let out a rather un-ladylike groan.

"What's wrong?" Buck was shaking with laughter.

Louise pointed out a foot and showed the boys the damage. "Now I really have a run." Turning from her horrific revelation, Louise turned to the bar and looked at the still empty surface.

She wrapped her knuckles on the bar. "Now, can I get a drink? Hmmm?"



The bartender lifted his head from his own quiet conversation. "Why don't you get one of that motley crew you came in with to get you another drink?"

"Really now?"

He waved her off as he turned back to his engrossing conversation. "Really."

It took Lou all of a split second to decide her course of action and somewhere in the back of her mind, she said a thankful prayer that Teaspoon was back in Rock Creek. This wasn't going to be pretty... and to him, she was always a lady.

With a firm hand, she reached out and grasped the top of a wooden stool and pulled it in front of her. Settling it in the mounds of damp sawdust at her feet she set one bent knee on the top of the stool and leaned up and over the bar trying to gain a purchase as she went.

Suddenly it seemed as though the Saloon was overflowing with male customers. For they had noticed in an instant what the other riders took a long moment to notice. Lou, leaning over the bar, almost with her stomach over the bar top. Now, normally, that wouldn't phase them, she was known for scrambling over boxes and fences at the Station, but this wasn't the station... and Lou wasn't wearing pants. The thick crinoline beneath her skirts was doing a more than 'admirable' job of adding body to the yards of luxurious cloth AND lifting it in the air like a flag on Founder's Day.

Some fresh, bright color splashed over the cheeks of her companions, although not everyone could say it was from shame, for riding certainly didn't do any harm to the shape of her behind. No sir, not at all.

Those same hours of riding had given her a pair of legs that could earn a Hurdy gal a bucket of money and then some. They all saw the tempting display of her ankles and a few men, standing at the right angle might have garnered a look at the back of a knee.

Jimmy looked at Kid and caught the look flickering in the Southerner's eyes. Heaven help the man that did more than look. It was going to get ugly.. fast.

Scrambling up onto the bar she found her way back to her feet. Miraculously avoiding the wet spots and discarded peanut shells, Lou's heels planted into the wood allowing her to stand just a few inches taller than the mirror behind the bar.

Looking to her right she smiled in triumph. "I've got your attention now, don't I?"

A rousing cheer rose up from the group gathering behind the riders and one voice rose up from the back. "You got MY attention, Darlin'!"

Tired as he was, Kid reached for his pistol.

Lou continued on like a steam engine. "Well?" she asked the bartender, "are you going to take my order?"

He nodded to his friends at the end of the bar and wiped his hands on the rag hanging from his belt as he measured his steps toward the young woman standing on his bar. He took his time crossing over to her, dragging his feet in the thick layer of sawdust behind the bar. "You're gonna order? You old enough to drink in a Saloon?"

Louise reached in the low neckline of her dress, garnering another round of cheers and wolf whistles. She withdrew a large wad of bills and waved them in the air, ignoring the glare she received from one particular pair of eyes at her feet. "I've got money and I want to order. As for my age, a lady NEVER reveals her age." She dropped the bills on the bar at her feet and watched as the bartender picked them up in his greedy little hands and fanned through the bills.

"All right.. all right..." he mumbled as he shoved the bills into his pocket, "what do you want?"

She considered his question for a moment before answering in a clear contralto tone. "Whiskey for my men... and beer for my horses."

You could've heard a pin drop for all the noise that circulated the room.

"Beer for what?"

Louise nodded. "I'm ordering beer, for our horses. It's been a long ride and I'm sure they're thirsty. Besides, the horse troughs outside look filthy!"

"They're HORSE TROUGHS," the bartender argued, "they're supposed to be filthy".

"Not at my Station they're not."

"Well, you ain't at YOUR station and I'm NOT gonna take beer out to them horses!"

"Really?"

"REALLY!" The bartender slammed his hand rag on the top of the bar and stared down the young hellion in his saloon.

She waved her arm at the door. "You heard the man, boys, bring them in."

The bartender turned white as one of Emma's sheets. "What?"

Louise gave him a tart look over her shoulder. "The horses. I believe you said you wouldn't take them their drinks outside, so I'll have them brought inside."

Kid didn't blink an eye when he brought his fingers up to his lips and blew out a shrill whistle. The crowd of thirsty cowboys started to back away from the door as a clatter of metal was heard just outside the door.



The batwing doors burst inward and Katy appeared in the opening, her head held high above the gathered crowd. Taking in the view, the high-spirited Express Pony nodded once before pawing the hardwood floor with her hoof. As she stepped further into the saloon the other Express horses followed suit.

The four-legged companions ambled up to the bar and raised a shoed-hoof and set it on the shiny brass foot rail. Turning back to the bartender who look like he'd forgotten how to breathe, Lou leaned in and whispered-

******************

"... that in your pipe and smoke it!" She ended the mumbled phrase with a big grin and a snap of her fingers.

Kid nearly fell on the floor. "That doesn't sound good, does it?"

Cody sniggered behind his hand of cards and shook his head. "Wanna take my ride, Kid?"
What the-?
by: Raye

Everyone wants to have a son. I'm no different. I've always wanted a boy to carry on the family name... someone to talk to, to share my hard won wisdom with...

to beat common sense into his skull with a mallet... ah, .. the joys of fatherhood.

So it weren't no surprise when I had that dream again last night.

There we were, squattin' down at the edge of the pond, cane poles clutched in our hands... watchin' the sunlight bounce off the waves... well, okay.. so there weren't no waves.. but the sunlight still shone off the flat glassy surface like Emma's good silver platter. It was the blinding light that I blame for the confusion.. after all, we were havin' ourselves a normal 'conversation' when things got kind of funny.

"Nice day."

"Yep."

"Havin' fun?"

"Yep."

"Uh.... hungry?"

"Yep."

Hungry, well so was I. Now where did I put the lunch basket?

A *plunk* down in the water turns my head, but there is nothing I can see in the water and I begin to wonder if my son is yearning for something a little more... fun?

"Got a bite?" Can't hurt to ask, right?

"Nope."

"Did you see somethin' a minute ago?"

"Nope."

"Still hungry?"

"Nope."

"Good."

This wasn't what I had in mind. Time with my son is supposed to be... well, perfect. *SIGH*

"Hey, Teaspoon?"

*What happened to Father? Papa? Somethin' along THOSE lines..*. "Yeah, son?"

"How much longer we gonna sit here and wait?"

"Well, we've got a few more hours of light-"

"Well, blast it, these skirts are starting to itch!"

*OH MY*... I certainly didn't expect.. *THAT*

Somethin
' hard and gritty seems stuck in my craw, high enough to cut off my air, but low enough to hold down my breakfast as I turn.. just enough... to see 'him' in the light. There, hunkered down on a rock is my pride and joy... the fruit of my loins.. the legacy of my life... trussed up in linen and lace.. and looking like... "Lou?" The name croaks out of my throat like a hung-over bullfrog.

Lookin' right pretty in a dress, my young... 'son' turns a darlin' little smile in my direction. I don't know what to do... what to say... I am AT A LOSS FOR WORDS.

All I can say is, that's the last time I eat a Bloomin' Onion.. or any more of Lou's 'experimental victuals'. My old heart just can't take it.
They Made Me Do It
by: Cathy


The woman’s voice asking for him got Cody’s attention immediately. He wondered briefly how anyone would have known he was here, but that worry drifted off immediately as he saw the owner of the voice.

She had to be the most beautiful woman Cody had ever seen-until he saw her companion. The two women swept across the floor to where the man sat.

“Mr. Cody?” the first woman asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Cody replied, rising as much to his feet as the booth where he sat would allow. “William F. Cody, at your service.”

“I’m Miss Beam,” the woman said. “And this is Miss Brady. We’re here to help you with your book.”

“My book?” Cody asked, confused. “I didn’t know I was writing a book.”

“Of course you are,” Miss Beam informed him. “You sent a short story to our publisher and he has sent us here to make sure you finish the entire book.”

“But . . . But I don’t even have an idea for a book,” Cody protested.

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Cody,” Miss Brady said. “Miss Beam and I have more than enough ideas for you.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a large stack of paper and a bundle of pencils all sharp and ready to go. Placing both items in front of Cody, she sat primly on the bench across from him.

“Please do begin,” she ordered.

Cody looked from the paper to the woman across from him, then up at the other woman who was still standing beside him.

“How did you find me?” he asked, stalling for time.

“As your editor, it’s my job to know exactly where you are and what you are doing at all times,” Miss Beam replied. She pointed to the stack of paper. “You must begin, Mr. Cody. You must have at least twenty chapters done before you may sleep this evening.”

“TWENTY CHAPTERS!” Cody roared. “There’s no way I can get twenty chapters done!”

“Twenty chapters,” Miss Brady confirmed, smiling broadly.

“But I don’t even know what to write about!” Cody argued.

“Just start writing,” the women said in unison. “We’re certain you’ll come up with an idea soon.”

Cody started to get up but quickly realized Miss Beam had him trapped in the booth. The only way he could get out would be to shove her off the bench. She didn’t look like someone who could be easily shoved. Not to mention it wasn’t Cody’s way to be rough with women.

He picked up one of the pencils, still stalling, hoping someone would see his predicament and come to rescue him. Strangely the restaurant that had been full just minutes before was completely empty. In fact it looked as though it was closed for the night. Cody was alone with the two women-two women who were looking at him expectantly.

Five hours later, Cody had written a total of five words on the paper.

A Story
By William F. Cody


He was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. Miss Beam was tapping her finger on the table. Miss Brady was watching him eagle-eyed. Cody was becoming desperate. He couldn’t believe that two such beautiful women could turn out to be such slave drivers.

“Mr. Cody-“

“NO!” Cody yelled. “I can’t write anything. You can’t make me!”



“Cody!” Lou’s voice penetrated the haze.

“I can’t write anything, Miss Beam, honest!” a groggy Cody protested. “Let me sleep and then I’ll be able to write, I promise.”

“Cody, wake up!” Lou ordered, shaking him.

“Lou?” Cody gasped.

“Yeah, Cody, it’s me,” the female rider said. “Who’s Miss Beam?”

Cody sat up to look around. He realized he’d fallen asleep at the table in the bunkhouse in Sweetwater. The dream had seemed so real, he guessed because he’d been trying to write another story. Looking down he saw the paper before him contained only five words.

“Nobody important,” he answered as he realized Lou was still waiting for an answer. “I was just dreaming.”

Gathering up the paper, he wadded it into a ball and threw it into the fireplace.
Wide Open Spaces
by: Raye

Thunder boomed overhead as Lou struggled to fall asleep. The others had long since drifted off, leaving her wide awake and shaking.
She didn't blame them, couldn't... this was one secret she still kept. This stupid, irrational fear.
A flash of lightning heralded another wave of the storm and another volley of thunder rumbled through the thin walls of the bunkhouse like cannon fire making Lou's knuckles appear whiter than they really were, but she couldn't appreciate the difference. Not when she had to concentrate on breathing through clenched teeth.
The walls were closing in... slowly, inch by bleedin' inch, closer.. tighter around her body. Somewhere in the back of her mind she said a little prayer of thanks that she had the top bunk. Down there, where Kid slept.. it would feel too much like a .... like a... she couldn't even say it.. think it.
There was one more thing that she wanted to avoid thinking about, but it never failed.. on nights like this... it always came back.
"Louise!"
Shivers knifed through her back and pierced her heart. Hearing his voice was like dying all over again.
"Louise! I know you're in there!"
Go away.. Go away... she began the chant again... in her mind when her voice refused to work. Go away.
"Little girls hide away... while big girls learn how to play."
Her heart thudded against her ribs, desperately trying to escape the fear.. the coming pain.
'It's just a nightmare,' Lou clung to the hope in her words as she shivered under the covers.
A flash of lightning splashed white light across the room and a cold dash of reality to her fears.
"It's no nightmare, girl. You're not even sleeping..."
The sheet clutched tight in her hand ripped beneath her punishing grasp, a terrible rasping sound that echoed in her ears. Still the others slept on while her nightmares came to life.
'I left you behind.'
"Not far enough... not ever far enough."
She squeezed her eyes tightly together as she struggled to wake from this living hell. 'I left you behind.'
Laughter, cold and stiff like an icy wind. "I'm here."
Lou trained her ears, searching the quiet sounds of the bunkhouse for an intruder.. for the source of her fear... but there was nothing.
"Inside of you."
Heat billowed through her body, bringing an icy chill to her skin. She knew his words had more truth than she would ever admit. He'd left himself inside of her mind... infecting every shadow.. every corner... every memory of her past. They were all colored with his anger, his darkness.... and her pain.
He'd proven the words... left them implanted in her mind... so many years ago.. so many years... and still just like yesterday. And here she was... alone in the dark with him.
Another crash of thunder shook the walls of the bunkhouse and tiny particles of dust showered down over her head and slipped into the open neck of her long johns. The tiny little particles strafed across her skin and set her into action.
She slipped off her bunk and landed on the floor beside Kid's bunk but he didn't stir. Lou pulled at the ends of her collar and prayed that her meager gesture would rid her of the irritation... and give her a chance to gather her wits again.
They clung tightly to her skin and Lou felt the panic rise again. Tiny grains of dirt.. dust... attached to her skin... just like his touch.. his fingers... his memory.
Then the shaking wasn't enough.. the fear wasn't enough... it was eating her alive.
"Louise?"
Then it didn't matter... the rain, the thunder, not even the damn lightning. She had to leave. Barefoot and frightened she breezed through the darkened bunkhouse and escaped out the door. Another two steps and she was sinking in mud. It sucked at her feet, drawing her deeper into the muck and she felt herself revel in the earthy mess for a moment.
Cool against her skin, the rain washed down her pale cheeks and slid down her neck. 'Walk.' She walked out into the rain storm, willing the waves of water to wash her clean. Take away the stink of his thoughts in her mind.. the darkness of his touch. There had been no amount of soap to take it away before, but here... here... staring at the wide open land before her she felt a little bit of it sluff from her skin and fall into the mud at her feet.
The wet slippery mess squished up between her toes and over the tops of her feet as she weathered the deluge with a half smile. The water pulled at her skin, dragging her hair down and plastering it against her shivering flesh.
Lou tipped her chin down and watched the rivers of rain swim beneath the thick cotton cloth and wash out over the tops of her feet. She smiled, her mind a blank, and lifted her face again... lifted it into the downpour and let the waves wash over her face.
The bunkhouse door opened with a whisper. "Lou?"
She heard the familiar voice and knew the warm tone in the deepest part of her heart. "I need a minute."
"Alright... you got it."
The door didn't close.. didn't shut her out... he left it open, waiting for her to return.
Here there was nothing shutting her in.. nothing holding her down... nothing... but wide open spaces.
He Was A Brother
by: Debbie

I entered the stable to find the two men in a heated argument; the younger man, my best friend, has been shot in the shoulder and is trying to defend himself against the older man who sits astride a horse, pointing a gun, and threatening to kill the younger one.

"Don't do it!" I warn him then see the older man turn the gun on me and as the younger one screams 'no', I pull the trigger and watch as he falls from the horse.

As I come closer, he says something to the younger man that I can't make out then falls from his grasp, dead.


Tossing from side to side to try to clear the scene that kept replaying itself in his mind, Jimmy suddenly sat upright in bed. Beads of sweat ran down his face and, as he tried to catch his breath, he swung his legs over the side of the bunk and held his head with his hands. He couldn't recall the last time he'd had a nightmare and here he was on his third one that evening and it probably wasn't even midnight. Why did this nightmare keep coming back to plague him each time he fell asleep? He looked around the bunkhouse, which was illuminated by a full moon, and noticed the tossing and turning that was going on across the room. He realized then that he wasn't the only having bad dreams that night.

Not wanting to attempt sleep again, he quietly pulled his pants on then went to the wash basin on the nearby dresser and splashed cold water on his face. He didn't even bother to dry himself before he slipped out the door and sat on the porch, leaning against one of the posts.

Why couldn't he stop thinking about it? It wasn't like it was the first time he'd used a gun. He'd shot other men before, some to wound and some to kill, but he'd done it and moved on. Why was this different?

Jimmy stretched his legs out and stared up at the moon. Any other night, he would have admitted it was a beautiful sight but tonight, all he saw was a bright round ball.

I had no choice, Jimmy said to himself. If he hadn't fired when he did, he might have been shot or his friend killed and there was no way Jimmy could have let that happen. He'd been forced to shoot to save another person's life before but this wasn't like the other times. This man that he had killed wasn't a nobody with a name he didn't know or a face he'd never seen before or a person he hadn't talked to, he was more than that. And he was much more than that to his friend. He was a relative ... he was a brother. He was the Kid's brother.

I shot and killed the Kid's brother, Jimmy said to himself once more, staring out into the night.

"Jimmy."

Startled, Jimmy whirled around and saw Kid standing over him. It took him totally by surprise because he hadn't heard the door open or the sound of footsteps on the porch.

"Couldn't sleep?" Jimmy asked, knowing full well what the answer was.

Kid shook his head as he sat on the steps next to him.

"Yeah, me neither," Jimmy muttered, leaning against the post once again.

The two sat in silence until Kid softly said, "It wasn't your fault, Jimmy. The way I saw it, Jed left you no choice. You did what you thought you had to. He had a gun pointed at you, you figured he was gonna shoot you and you'd just heard him threaten to kill me - you had no way of knowin' he wouldn't have done it. "

Jimmy closed his eyes for a moment as the scene came back into his mind. He shook his head and said, "If only I hadn't seen him go into the stable with you goin' after him, or if I'd just gotten there a few minutes later ... Kid, he was your brother, your family." Jimmy turned toward him, not wanting to hide the sadness he felt.

Kid didn't take his eyes off the ground as he replied, "Yeah, he was." It hurt saying it in the past tense but he took a breath then continued, "And I tried to talk to him, brother to brother, tell him what he was doing was wrong, that his life wasn't worth trying to steal that gold shipment for the South. I pleaded with him to just forget about it, that we should concentrate on being together again after all these years and be thankful for that. He wouldn't listen to me. I was his brother and I was trying to help him. He got so desperate, he figured I'd let him go if he threatened to kill me. For the briefest moment, I actually wondered if he would do it. He told me my answer the second before he died."

Jimmy sat up straighter, feeling more guilt and looked at him. "Kid, I only wanted to stop him, just like you, I didn't set out to kill him. I keep thinking about everything I took away from you," he admitted.

Kid shook his head and explained, "No, Jimmy, he took it away long before yesterday, even long before he left me in Virginia. He was my big brother, he was supposed to look out for me and for a while he did but the only person he really wanted to look out for was himself. That's why he took off on his own. We never had the type of relationship brothers are supposed to have. I could see he needed me and I wanted to be there for him, like a brother should be, and he wouldn't let me. He took that opportunity away from me."

"Kid, I've never had a brother but not a day went by when I didn't wish that I had one," Jimmy said, trying to understand.

Kid looked at him and told him, "You do have a brother, Jimmy, right here, and you have three more in that bunkhouse. We may not be blood related but it's like Teaspoon's always saying, we chose to be a family. I thought I'd gotten something back when I'd found him, that maybe he'd changed but after a while, I realized, a person like that can't change." Kid stood up and added, "I wouldn't be able to get through this if it wasn't for the new brothers I have. They've never let me down yet and I hope if the time comes that I can do the same."

Jimmy locked eyes with Kid as his words sunk in. Kid didn't blame him but it still hurt.

"I'm gonna try to get some sleep," Kid said. "You comin'?"

"I'll be there in a minute," Jimmy answered then watched Kid go inside. He stood on the porch, looking out into the great expanse of darkness, wondering when he'd start to feel better about what he'd done, assuming it was probably around the same time Kid felt he could get over it. Talking to Kid made him better understand what led up to that moment and how it couldn't have been changed. But he was still bothered by one difference between killing Jed and killing the other men he'd had to face.

"He was a brother," Jimmy whispered into the night. "He was a brother."
To Dream of Happiness
by: Destardi

In the two years since he’d been gone, she’d spent many evenings sitting in the rocking chair on the front porch watching her children and grandchildren playing. Today was no different, she settled into the rocker with a soft sigh, her thoughts on the man who’d loved her for more close to sixty years.

Setting the hand-carved chair into motion she let the rocking motion and familiar creaking to sooth her into sleep. Closing her eyes she smiled as memories of the first days of her marriage filled her mind’s eye. She drifted back to the day she’d discovered she was pregnant and the reaction she got from him.

The strong smell of roses filled the room as she brushed out her hair, she smiled at the sleeping figure in the mirror that lay in the big bed he’d carved for them. Sighing she rose and headed back to bed, dawn was still a few minutes away.

Sliding under the covers she snuggled up to him and wondered briefly if he’d be as happy as she was with the new life they’d created. She had been to the doctor yesterday and been told shew as pregnant. Thinking of when she was due, she realized the baby had been conceived on either their wedding night or during their honeymoon.

"Morning." The husky growl drew a smile from her as she traced the contours of his bare chest.

"Morning darling." She whispered kissing him with abandon.

"Mm, you’re up early this morning." His husky timbre drew a shiver from her.

"You slept in." She replied gazing into his eyes. The familiar look of love and devotion that was reflected warmed her soul. Smiling at him she moaned softly as the sheer nighty she wore melted away under his hands as they slowly made love.

Later that morning they sat on the front porch in matching rockers watching the sun rise as three riders rode up from town. Liking hands they rose to greet the men who had come out to help them.

"Morning you two. Planning on doing any work today?" The familiar baritone drew laughter from the young couple.

"Of course." Laughing they mounted the two horses that stood patiently waiting for them and rode out to check fences, and round up the horses to check over the herd.

All day she worked beside the men, doing her share a secretive smile on her face. When the men rode out, she sat down at the table and waited for him to finish eating. After their meal, they followed the usual pattern that they’d established ages before.

"What are you so happy about?" His teasing drew a chuckle from her as they sat on the steps wrapped in each other’s arms.

"What do you mean?" She asked softly.

"You’ve got this look on your face that’s so peaceful, and happy. Just wondering why."

She thought for a moment and grinned, "I was thinking of Ike and Emma."

"Really. Emma’s suppose to be here next week ain’t she?"

"Yes, but I was thinking more of the names than the people." She replied leaning into him.

"Why?"

"We have to have names for a baby."

"Why are we talking about it now?" He asked, confusion in his voice. She waited patiently for a minute then laughed as he hugged her hard. "How?"

"Love, if you don’t know I ain’t gonna tell you." She replied laughing.

"I know that. How far along?"

"Nearly two months. I was figuring and came to the conclusion it was close to our wedding night." She laughed at his shocked face.

"You’re sure?" He whispered gently. "You mean you went to the doctor and everything?"

"Yes dear. I wen tot he doctor." She replied softly. "Are you happy?"

"Very much so." He laughed hugging her close. "A child of ours. God I can’t wait to be a father!"

"You will just have to wait. I ain’t due tomorrow you know!"

Laughing the pair watched the stars winking at them and wondered if the others would be just as happy as they were. When the stars were high in the sky and the moon’s light cast a shadow on the ground they rose and headed inside to bed. She could feel the warmth of his body next to her, the way he kissed her softly as they undressed each other to rejoice in the love they felt for each other.

She frowned as she felt someone shaking her, opening her eyes she glanced around and saw the familiar forms of a paint mare and a black gelding. Leaning forward she stared, the two horses had long since passed on and in fact were buried up on the hill under a stand of oak trees.

"Love." The soft accent drew her attention to the man standing to her side. It was as if the years had faded away, leaving only the young man she’d met so many years before. His white hair had been replaced with the sandy curls of his youth, the weathered skin was soft and shadowed by the stubble he got about supper time. The major difference though was the blue eyes staring at her, they saw her, and were filled with idealistic hope, and love for the future. He looked much like he had on the day of their wedding, young, hopeful, and filled with joy.

"My darling." She whispered fearfully, surely she was dreaming. It had been years since she’d seen him like this. Reaching out a hand she sighed as she felt the warmth in his face and the way he turned to kiss her palm before taking her hand and leading her down to the horses.

"Where are we going?" She asked softly, she would go with him anywhere but curiosity picked at her mind.

"Home. The boys, Teaspoon, and Rachel are waiting." He replied helping her into the saddle.

Reaching up she ran her hands through the long auburn locks and smiled, "Supper on?" She asked softly.

"Supper’s on." He replied as they galloped out of the yard to meet the five riders who were awaiting for them.

She stared at the young faces of the boys she had ridden with for so long before she was married and they’d moved from Rock Creek. "Hi guys. How are you?"

"We’re good." Ike’s voice drew a smile from her as they turned west.

She urged her horse into a gallop. Together the seven rode off, flanked by the golden glow of the afternoon sun. They didn’t see the young woman step onto the porch and kneel next to the old woman who sat slumped forward in her rocking chair a smile on her weathered face. Time had faded away leaving them with their youth, and their exuberance, they were family again and they knew Rachel wouldn’t be happy to have them late for supper.

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