Topic #16: Cold
Lament by: Tracy
Refuge From the Cold by: Kemara
The Thaw by: Karen
The Cold by: Sameena
Alone by: Cindy
How About A Cold One? by: Debbie
In From The Cold by: Lori
The Cowboy In Me by: Lori
If The Cold Don't Kill You by: Cathy
Frozen Memories  by: Cindy
Tales to Tell by: Cindy

Lament
by: Tracy

I could have had so much.
Sometimes it was offered to me. All I had to do was open my hands. But I kept my hands fisted.

Sometimes it would have been easy to take it. All I had to do was fight for it. But to lose would lose more than I might win.
I had friendship. I did not pursue it. Its reality faded as the memory would not..

I had friends. I shut them out.
They could no longer find me.

I had family. Twice.
But neither could save me from myself.

I had dreams. I refused to reach.
My dreams are dust.

I had love. I surrendered it, and the rightness of that act brought me warmth.
But I lie here alone, and I am cold.

Refuge from the Cold
by: Kemara

The chill seemed to have seeped into her very bones. When she'd planned to leave, she hadn't taken the weather into account. Her flannel dress and wool coat had been adequate a few weeks ago in warmer temperatures, but now, with snowflakes just beginning to drift down, she felt half naked. She cautiously cracked open the door of the shed and peered out into the gray dawn. The maids at the hotel would be stirring soon, and she'd better be gone when they came to get more wood.

She got to her feet unsteadily. The world spun and she grabbed onto the wall for support. When had she eaten last? She couldn't really remember. Oh, there'd been a few discarded pieces of bread from behind a restaurant every day or so, but nothing close to a real meal. She'd seen groups children rummaging through the scrap heaps, but when she tried to approach, they ran her off.

Finally, everything settled again and she eased out of the shed. She tried to close the door softly, but it slipped out of her numb fingers with a bang. Someone shouted and she scurried into a nearby alley, heart pounding. If she got caught...Stop thinking like that, she chided herself. Just concentrate on finding some work. The snow fell harder, covering the wooden sidewalks. It might've been pretty if it wasn't so cold. Soon, her long hair was soaked and water dripped down inside her collar.

Several children ran by, shouting and flinging snowballs on their way to school. She watched them longingly, wishing she were one of them, with a happy family and a warm home. A tear traced a path down her windburned cheek, and she brushed it away angrily. Squaring her shoulders, she stepped into the first shop.

Three hours later she huddled in the doorway of the general store unwilling brave the increasingly nasty weather.

"Go on! Get out of here before I call the sheriff!"

She turned with a start and saw the owner hurrying toward her from behind the counter. As she stumbled into the street, her shoes slipped on an icy patch and she fell face down in the snow. He laughed. "Serves you right! Nosy little brat!" The door slammed as he went back inside.

She struggled to her feet and realized her clothes were now wet through. A blast of wind made her teeth chatter and she shivered violently. She made her way down the road, keeping her head low, allowing herself to be shoved from passersby.

The next alley she came to provided a little protection from the wind. She slid down the wall to sit with her legs tucked up under her skirt, and rested her forehead on her knees. She felt a sob well up in her throat and didn't try to stop it. What could she do now? No one would hire a twelve-year-old girl from nowhere. She was hungry and so cold she couldn't feel her feet at all in her worn shoes.

Maybe she should find a place to hole up for a day or two. Over the past few months she'd learned that sleep was a wonderful thing. Asleep, she wasn't cold, hungry, lonely or frightened. Sometimes, she wished she could go to sleep and never wake up, but thoughts of her little brother and sister kept her going.

She waited until dark before she crept into the livery. The warm air inside felt heavenly. She found an empty stall and curled up, pulling some of the straw over herself for a blanket. In minutes, she was fast asleep.

Bright light woke her. She squinted up to see two men standing over her. One, obviously the livery owner held a lantern.

"Told you I saw her sneaking in here."

The other man nodded. "Yes, thank you Mr. Cooper." He knelt down next to her. "My name is Simon Wicks. What's your name, my dear?"

She sat up and backed away, studying him warily. He was tall and broad shouldered with dark hair and eyes. His clothing was very fine, she thought, his coat falling open to show a brocade vest and tailored shirt.

"Louise," she whispered. Was he the sheriff? He didn't look like one, or a deputy either.

He smiled. "Louise. What a pretty name." He glanced around the stable and shook his head. "This is no place for a young girl to be sleeping. Don't you have family looking for you?"

For a minute she almost didn't answer, still unsure about this stranger. But he was the first person since the orphanage who cared enough to ask. "No, I don't."

"Well, I'm glad Mr. Cooper told me you were here," Mr. Wicks said. "I need someone to do laundry at my business. It's a boarding house, you might say." He laughed softly, as if at a private joke. "I can provide you with your own room, regular meals, and a small wage of course."

Louise could hardly believe her luck. A steady job and a place to stay. Tears came to her eyes.

Mr. Wicks patted her shoulder. "There, there. Don't cry. Come with me and we'll have you warmed up in no time." He helped her up and guided her ahead of him out of the livery. As they passed Mr. Cooper, Louise thought she saw Mr. Wicks press some coins into the other man's hand.

He hurried her down the street, stopping only to take off his coat and wrap it around her. She tucked her hands in the pockets and felt her fingers tingle painfully as they warmed up.

Dimly she realized they had stopped, and she looked up at the grandest house she had ever seen. It had two stories, and lace curtains at every window. Mr. Wicks led her around to the back where a door opened into a large kitchen. The wonderful smells made her stomach churn.

"Charlotte!" Mr. Wicks called out.

A dark haired young woman stepped through a door on the far side of the kitchen.

"Yes, Simon?" She halted at the sight of Louise and an expression the girl couldn't identify flitted across her face, a strange combination of anger and sadness.

"This is Louise. She'll be doing the laundry. I want you to take her upstairs, get her settled in one of the empty rooms." Without another glance at Louise, Mr. Wicks pushed past the young woman into the room beyond. A burst of noise came out as the door shut -- it sounded like laughter and maybe a piano?"

Charlotte smiled at Louise's bewildered expression. "Don't mind Simon. He's a very busy man." She put an arm around the child. "But you're frozen! Let's get you out of these wet things."

As if in a dream, Louise surrendered herself to Charlotte's care. After a hot bath, Charlotte gave her a flannel nightgown and tucked her into bed. She brought up a bowl of soup, sitting beside Louise while she drank it. Then she left, turning the lamp down.

Louise snuggled under the quilts, warm and comfortable for the first time in months. She smiled as she drifted off to sleep. She had a good job, a place to stay and plenty of food.

Maybe she could send for Theresa and Jeremiah before too long. Mr. Wicks might even let them stay here with her. He seemed like a nice man, and she was very lucky he'd come by the livery. Everything will be fine now, she thought and closed her eyes.

The Thaw
by: Karen

He was cold. He’d been this cold before - last winter when he’d tumbled into a snow drift taller than he and had to wait for his father to find him and pull him out – but this cold was different. This cold was colder, deeper, and stronger; this cold started on the inside. This cold was buried deep inside his chest. This cold was the total lack of feeling that had replaced his once warm, loving heart. This cold was what allowed him to survive. If he let it thaw, there would be pain and cold was preferable to pain. This fact he knew from experience so he’d allowed the cold to stay and grow stronger, harder, and more difficult to thaw each day. He’d pushed all others away, denied himself contact with people who could make him care and then leave so that the pain would come back. That’s why he was as surprised as everyone else when he joined in the fight. If he’d joined in to help the people from town beat on the other boy, no one would have thought anything about it; but he’d joined the fight in order to help the other boy, to keep him from being beaten to death. He’d been right about the pain, too. As they fought, he felt the warmth of the blood rushing through his veins melt the cold, hardness in his chest. With the thaw, came pain. With the pain came something else, something unexpected – warmth. Ike smiled as he felt the last bit of coldness leave his body; Buck smiled back and repeated, “Friend” as he showed Ike how to speak using his hands.

The Cold
by: Sameena

Rachel blew her nose loudly and Teaspoon grimaced. It sounded rather like an elephant blowing on a trumpet, that god-awful noise emanating from a woman he normally considered delicate.

“Hand me another hanky, will ya?” Rachel said, her voice so nasal that Teaspoon could barely make out the words.

“Hanky!” Rachel repeated loudly at she looked at Teaspoon’s befuddled expression. “Oh!” she exclaimed in a exasperated voice. Clutching the blanket that covered her lap, she struggled to her feet and grabbed one of the handkerchiefs on the table, glaring at Teaspoon as she sat back down.

“Why didn’t you just say you needed a hanky?” Teaspoon asked, furrowing his brow. He studied Rachel. She looked downright awful. Her hair stuck up in little tufts while her eyes were red-rimmed and watery. And then there was her nose. Her nose was a clown-like red.

Rachel gave him a look that would have withered most ordinary men, but it made Teaspoon grin. He liked living dangerously. “What did you say?” he said, his eyes twinkling.

“Shub ub,” Rachel said.

“Don’t think I understood you, darlin’.” Teaspoon smiled.

“Oh!” Gripping the blanket tightly, Rachel rose to her feet and moved toward the stairs leading upstairs to her bedroom.

“Get some rest, I’ll handle everything ‘round here,” Teaspoon declared happily, getting up as well.

“And de scoo,” Rachel mumbled.

“What?”

“De scoo.”

“‘Scuse me.”

“The school,” Rachel said as slowly and as clearly as she could.

“The school,” Teaspoon echoed. What was she talking about?

It was Rachel’s turn to grin then. “You are gonna have to teach tomorrow.” She walked up a few steps. “I’m too sick.”

“Me?!” Teaspoon exclaimed in a shocked voice.

“You,” Rachel answered. “It’s too late to find somebody else.” She wrapped the blanket snugly around her shoulders. “‘Night.”

“‘Night,” Teaspoon called back, absently. He was going to have to teach school?!

He shrugged his shoulders as he left Rachel’s house and made his way to his room. So he’d teach school. How hard could that be? After all he had learned a bunch of hard-headed boys all about being Pony Express riders, not to mention imparting his wisdom on them on other matters and that had turned out fine. So he was confident he could teach a few children for one day. How hard could that be?

Alone
by: Cindy

I feel so cold.

The fire that took away the shell of who you were is still smoldering, and yet it is cold here. Because you are not here.

You will never be here beside me again.

Your spirit is free, and mine is trapped in ice.

You were my best friend, my brother. The rock to anchor me when the world seemed too crazy. You showed me the good in the white world when I was ready to give up.

I gave you a voice when yours had been taken. You gave me someone to believe in when no one else believed in me.

But you’re gone. The ashes have blown away, the flames are dying. You’ll always be in my heart, but it’s not the same.

You’re not here, will never be here again. There are people around me, and yet I feel so alone.

I feel so cold.

How About A Cold One?
by: Debbie

Cody grumbled once again as he trudged through the snow, heading toward the barn. Things were so dull around the way station lately, he thought he would go crazy out of boredom. The excitement of their first Christmas together as a family was long gone from the air and the New Year's church dance had come and gone, without so much as a single girl willing to go out with him. Now there was nothing left to do but chores and more chores and all around him was snow and it seemed each week only brought with it more snow, which meant more chores.

The rest of the day went slow, even with the extra work the snow caused. Lying in his bunk that night, trying to think of something new he could do to pass the time, Cody suddenly became aware of a movement on the other side of the bunkhouse. There was enough light coming through the window, courtesty of the moon, that he could just make out two figures hurrying toward the door. One was tall and the other short, and if that wasn't enough to give away who they were, stopping at the door to kiss and grope was a sure sign it was the lovers who pretended that they weren't heavy into 'dancing'.

He watched as they slipped out into the night. Cody grinned and had to bite his tongue so he wouldn't verbally announce his excitement over the plan he'd just come up with. It's perfect, he told himself. No one will get hurt and boy was he sure going to enjoy the show afterward!

He quietly climbed out of bed and checked the other bunks to make sure the rest of the guys were sound asleep. Only Noah was out on a ride and he knew Jimmy and Ike slept heavy. The one to be wary of was Buck, he could hear a snowflake fall on the roof. But he hadn't moved since the first two left so Cody figured it was safe to go out as well.

Slipping into his boots and putting his coat on, Cody trudged through the snow once more, only this time he didn't mind it one bit. Making it into the barn without a sound, he paused to get an idea of where the activity of the night was occurring. Spotting a soft glow emitting from a back stall, he was rewarded with groans and whispers coming from the same spot. Getting on his hands and knees, he crawled toward the open door. They must have been in such a hurry to get at one another, they couldn't even be bothered to close the stall door, he reasoned.

Peeking around the corner, his mouth hung open in surprise. What he saw matched the moans and exclamations of enjoyment that he heard. Damn, Lou, he thought, those longjohns sure don't do you justice. No wonder Kid was always trying to get her out here. He forced himself to look away as Kid reached down to grab something on Lou that even Cody found he didn't want to witness.

As he turned his head, he smiled as he found just what he'd been looking for. Reaching into the stall, piece by piece, he removed their longjohns, clothes, and jackets, but thought it was very considerate of him to leave Kid his boots. Lou's boots he took with him.

Quiet as a mouse, he snuck back out and into the bunkhouse before anyone knew he was gone. He looked around then decided to just deposit the items in his arms under Kid's bunk. He then took off his coat and boots and climbed into his bed. Lying on his back, he placed his hands under his head and grinned as he looked up at the ceiling. He silently applauded the excellent scheme he'd just accomplished. He closed his eyes to wait for the fireworks to start, but knew that with those two, it could be a long wait.

* * * * *

The door to the bunkhouse was thrown open, bringing with it a gust of frigid air.

"What the hell?" Jimmy asked, sitting up and grabbing his gun. He pointed it at the blanket clad figure standing in the doorway. "Jeeze, Kid, I could have killed you! What's the idea, scaring us like that?" He put his gun back in his holster and sat on the side of the bed, rubbing his weary eyes.

"Will you shut the door?" Buck shouted. Noticing Kid's bare arms and legs, he asked, "And why are you only wearing a blanket and boots and nothing else in between?"

Jimmy looked up at that statement then looked around the room to see what else was going on. "Where's Lou?" he asked, pointing to the empty bunk.

Since Kid was still standing stock still, Ike took it upon himself to close the door.

"Which one of you took them?" Kid seethed. "'Cause when I found out, let's just say, they're gonna find out I'm not such a nice guy after all." He bared his teeth as he studied each face in front of him.

"Who took what?" Buck asked.

"Our clothes!" Kid screamed. "Or do you think I go around dressed like this in the middle of winter?"

"What do you mean our clothes?" Jimmy asked. "Who 'our' are you talking about?"

Kid looked at him, trying to decipher his question and gave up. "Mine and Lou's," he admitted. "Where are our clothes?!!"

Cody turned onto his side and raised himself up on his elbow. He nonchalantly asked, "Gee, Kid, what could you and Lou possibly be doing out in the barn in the middle of the night that would require you to remove all your clothing?" He innocently looked at Kid for an answer.

Jimmy and Buck stole a peek at one another, trying hard not to laugh as they realized the compromising situation Kid had found himself in.

Kid glared at him, feeling his cheeks getting redder than the color the cold air had put there. He turned as he heard a knocking from the direction of his bunk.

Ike was on the floor, pulling a pile of clothing out from under Kid's bunk.

Ignoring the now very obvious chortle from Jimmy and Buck, Kid sat down and quickly donned his longjohns and pants.

"So, um, Kid, where exactly is Lou at the moment?" Jimmy snickered.

Kid stood up, fully dressed, with Lou's clothes tucked under his arm. "One of you knows full well where she is and you better pray I don't find out which one of you it is," he threatened. He stomped out, slamming the door behind him.

Buck and Jimmy collapsed onto their bunks in hysterics, while Ike silently shook his head, grinning. Cody laid back down and smiled at the ceiling once more. He knew there was no way the Kid would find out it was him - the others were helping him out by enjoying his little prank and irritating the hell out of Kid. Sleep would come easy for him tonight, that was for sure.

* * * * *

No more mention was made of Kid and Lou's predicament in the barn. And the amusing looks they got from the others finally stopped after a couple of days.

Cody found it getting boring around the station again so he was looking for his next victim and he found it in the form of his friend, Jimmy Hickok. Jimmy had left on a short run one day earlier but a snowfall had occurred before he got to his destination. The mail still had to get through so he waited for an answer then turned his horse back toward Sweetwater. It was slow going in the freshly fallen snow so by the time he got back he was frozen and exhausted.

Jimmy was so glad when Noah met him out in the yard and offered to take the pouch to Teaspoon in town. As he was leading his horse toward the barn, Rachel came out of the house.

"Jimmy!" she called, hurrying toward him. "You alright? We were worried about you."

He slowly nodded. "Yeah, no problems, just slow going is all." He headed in the direction of the barn, only to be stopped once again.

"You need a warm bath to relax those chilled bones. I have a tub set up in the kitchen, waiting for you. I've been heating the water, hoping you'd return soon. The tub is half full already and there's a bucket on the stove warming as we speak," Rachel told him. "You take care of your horse then take your time inside. I'll keep the others away."

"Rachel, you are a godsend," Jimmy said with a grateful smile as she rubbed his arm and headed toward the bunkhouse.

Jimmy wasn't the only person smiling. Coming out of the shadows from the side of the barn was none other than Cody. Making sure no one was around, he grabbed a bucket and headed to the back door of the house, which led into the kitchen. Quickly filling the bucket at the pump in the kitchen, he placed it on the stove and took away the one already there. He then slipped back out, quiet as a mouse, as he heard the front door open.

So tired that he almost couldn't stand on his own two feet, Jimmy somehow made his way into the kitchen. Since he was assured by Rachel that he wouldn't be disturbed, he didn't bother checking the back door for company before stripping down to nothing. He took the bucket off the stove and set it by the tub then stepped in. As the steam seemed to latch onto his sore, frozen body, Jimmy let out a contented sigh. He leaned back in the tub, eyes closed, and let the warm water do its healing.

Remembering the bucket he set on the floor, Jimmy didn't care what the temperature of the water was, he just wanted it on him now. He lifted it up and poured its contents over his head.

* * * * *

Rachel, Kid, Lou and Cody looked up in shock as the most heart wrenching shriek reached their ears. While Cody lowered his head to hide a smile, the other three stared at each other, trying to figure out what they'd just heard. It sounded like a wounded animal.

Just then they heard heavy footsteps on the porch and the door was thrown open.

"Jimmy!" Rachel exclaimed. "You look like a drowned rat, what happened?"

Breathing heavy, he directed vicious eyes at each occupant of a seat at the table. The only one he left out was Rachel.

"Now, Jimmy, you should know better than to walk around in this weather with wet hair," Cody playfully chided him. "You're starting to form icicles," he added.

Kid and Lou were at first taken aback by the murderous looks Jimmy was displaying. Now they started to relax and find humour in the situation.

"What happened, Jimmy, you decide to wash your hair in the horse trough?" Kid joked.

"Make your jokes now but take heed, one of you will pay, my friends. Oh yes, one of you will most definitely pay." Without another word, Jimmy headed to his bunk to retrieve a towel out of his chest. He wasn't sure who had done the frigid deed yet but it was someone in this room. Maybe it was Kid and Lou - he did rile them up good with the barn incident. Or maybe it was Cody because, he paused trying to come up with a reason. The only one he could come up with was because Cody was Cody and it was just like he to do something so idiotic.

Cody watched Jimmy grunting to himself as he tried to dry his hair. That was three of them taken care of and not one of them suspected him in the least. This was easier than he thought. Next on his list were Buck and Ike. They were scheduled for a ride tomorrow. It was a short run but since the mail they were carrying was precious documents, two riders were required.

* * * * *

Buck and Ike were scheduled to leave early so Cody decided to 'help' them get ready. He surprised everyone when he walked out of the barn, leading both their horses behind him. "What?" he asked. "You would think you've never seen me saddle a horse before."

"We haven't," Jimmy whispered to Kid, who tried to hide a smile.

"Well, thanks, Cody," Buck told him while Ike signed his appreciation.

"Have a good ride," Cody called, waving after them. He then walked back to the bunkhouse, whistling happily.

* * * * *

The two riders made their delivery without mishap then turned around to head home. Snow began to fall and by the time they stopped for the night in a glen of trees, they were soaked. Buck made them a lean-to out of tree branches to give them a little shelter from the elements. They would sleep a few hours then head out, just before dawn.

"I'm gonna put on some dry clothes before I turn in," Buck told Ike as he took his saddlebag off his horse. He opened the bag then threw it to the ground. "What the ...?"

Ike looked at him in concern but watched as Buck grabbed the saddlebag and proceeded to remove it's contents: shirt, longjohns, blanket. And they were frozen in a solid clump. They both knew the only way that could have happened was if the items were put in the bag wet.

*Who would do something like that?* Ike signed.

"I don't know but I'm starting to get an idea of who might be causing all of us to feel chilled to the bone."

*We can't do something about it out here,* Ike let him know. *Here, you can wear something of mine.* He reached into his own saddlebag and pulled out a frozen mound of fabrics. He stood facing Buck and both men shook their heads in disgust.

They rode into the way station the next morning, exhausted, cold and wet. They handed their horses to Noah, who was startled by the expressions on their faces. "Something wrong, fellas?"

"You could say that," Buck answered. "Where's Cody?"

"Out on a run, he'll be back tonight," Noah told him.

"Good, real good. That gives us plenty of time," Buck said to no one in particular. "As soon as we change and you come back to the bunkhouse, there will be an important meeting." He turned on his heal, with Ike following.

Noah watched them. He wanted to know what was going on so he went right to work on the horses.

* * * * *

"So you see, it had to be Cody," Buck finished telling the others.

"It makes sense," Jimmy said.

"He was the only one to not really join in on the teasing about what had happened to each of us," Kid recalled.

"He thinks he got us good but oh, is he wrong," Buck told them. "We need a punishment for him."

"Yeah, how about a cold one?" Jimmy suggested.

"That's it!" Buck exclaimed. "It's perfect."

"What's perfect? What'd I say?" Jimmy was confused by the excitement showing on Buck's face, which quickly spread to the others.

"Only the best thing we can do to Cody," Buck explained. He motioned the others to come closer. "Now this is what we're going to do ... "

* * * * *

Cody had left for his ride and returned the same day but waking up so early to go on the run left him exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to climb into bed and sleep all snug and warm. Just as he bent to remove his trousers, he heard a thud then a high pitched scream.

Quickly turning around, he saw Lou sitting on the floor, holding her right ankle, while Kid crouched in front of her.

"What happened?" Cody asked. "You alright, Lou?"

"No, she's not alright," Kid answered for her, as Lou writhed in pain. "Lou, that looks bad. Buck, will you come take a look at her ankle?"

Buck immediately went to the young woman on the floor and inspected the damage. "It's getting swollen already. We need something cool to put on it to keep the swelling down but there's nothing in here."

"I've got it!" Kid exclaimed. "Cody, you're closest to the door. Go outside and fetch me a handful of snow."

"What?! Are you crazy? I just got undressed and it's freezing out there," Cody argued.

"It's not that cold tonight and you'll only be out there briefly," Buck told him, biting his lip as he said it.

"Besides, if you don't go and Lou can't walk on her ankle, I'll make you do all her chores," Kid warned.

"Fine, I'll go," Cody grumbled. He didn't bother to put on his coat, as he would be right back. As he stepped to the edge of the porch and reached down to grab a handful of snow, the door suddenly shut behind him.

"Oh, no," Cody muttered. He dropped the snow and ran to the door, only to find it locked. "Hey, guys, come on, this isn't funny. Let me in, it's cold out here."

"Did you hear something?" Noah asked.

"Sounded like a whine to me," Jimmy answered. "Musta been the wind. Suddenly I feel a draft. Anyone want to join me at the fireplace?"

"Sounds good to me," Lou said and jumped to her feet.

"Amazing recovery, Lou," Jimmy teased.

"It is amazing, isn't it?" she agreed as she stomped her 'injured' ankle on the floor for emphasis.

"That's my girl, nothing gets her down," Kid smiled. He sat on the floor then motioned for Lou to join him. She sat between his legs, leaning against his chest. He wrapped his strong arms around her and she put her hands over his.

They heard a pounding noise from outside but Jimmy surmised it must be a loose shutter. He'll have a look at it in the morning.

After a few minutes had gone by, Lou looked around and hesitantly asked, "He's not gonna get sick out there, is he?"

"Don't worry, Lou," Buck said. "We'll only leave him out there about ten minutes. Of course, it'll be the longest ten minutes of his life. Besides, I left him a blanket in plain sight." He glanced at Ike and grinned. He indicated for the others to lean closer to him.

Cody couldn't believe they were ignoring him. It was cold outside! Suddenly he spotted something under the bench and got excited when he saw it was a blanket. He reached down to pick it up and cried out, "What the heck?!"

Suddenly he heard a burst of laughter coming from the bunkhouse. "Ah man," he sighed, knowing what was going on. Boy was he sorry now. He shook his head, feeling sorry for himself, as he held up the blanket by a corner as it dripped all over the porch.

In From The Cold
by: Lori

A/N: Finally, here is the conclusion of the Buck/Justine "Cold Series"...Thank you to Vicki, Raye and Liz for all their help.

Standing beside the house, Buck held the perfectly formed snowball in his hand and waited. She always ran this way. Always. She’d throw a snowball at him which would fall hopelessly short of its target, shriek with a mixture of delight and terror as he aimed at her, and dash off around the house, zigging and zagging behind the various buildings – the smoke house, the chicken coop, the root cellar – but she always rounded the same corner in the hopes of sneaking up on him to try again to hit him.

He leaned against the wooden planks of the house, shifted the lightly packed ball to his other hand and flexed his fingers in his gloves. It was cold today and it would only get colder as winter progressed. Yet he didn’t want to go inside. All too soon the winds would howl, the snow storms would come making treks to the barn to check on the animals miserable and turning him into a caged animal. Some days he didn’t care how icy and cold it was, he would race outside, anxious to breathe fresh air.

Shifting again, he frowned, wondering where she was. She should have rounded the corner by now, trying in her all too cute and adorable way to be quiet and surprise him. Maybe she had strayed out of the tamped down paths of snow and got caught in the loose, fresh snow from last night. He held his breath and listened, straining to hear her footsteps, anything that indicated she was coming and that he didn’t need to go looking for her.

He heard the snowball come, just before it hit his ear, the snow instantly melting and trickling down his neck and under the collar of his jacket. Turning, he stared in open shock at her.

“I got you, Daddy!” she squealed in pure delight and glee. Giggling she clapped her mitten-encased hands and bounced on her feet. “I got you!”

The cold liquid sliding down his neck was forgotten as he got caught up in her joy. “Yes, you did. You sure surprised Daddy.”

“Mommy, it worked,” she called out, turning to the porch where Justine stood, her shawl wrapped around her shoulders, beaming with the same pride he felt at their daughter’s mirth.

“It sure did, Angel Bear. Why don’t you and Daddy come inside now? I’ve got hot chocolate and warm apple pie.”

“Hot choc’late,” Emma squealed excitedly. Running over she grabbed his hands, trying with all the strength of a four year old child to pull him into the house. “Come on, Daddy, let’s go inside.”

Laughing, he scooped her up and carried her up to the porch where he deposited her beside Justine. After quickly brushing off the snow, Emma ran in to her waiting warm drink.

“Is your ear cold?” Justine asked, swiping away the remaining snow, then letting her fingers explore and twine in his hair.

“I don’t know, is it?” he teased, nuzzling her neck and pressing his ear against the underside of her jaw.

“Yes,” she gasped, yet she tipped her head back to allow him to pepper more skin with his lips.

“Think you can help me?”

Her breath hitched slightly and she nodded her head.

“Should we put the kids to bed early tonight?” he grinned against her temple.

“Oh yes,” she ardently answered. “But if we don’t get inside soon, we’re going to spend the entire night cleaning a mess in the kitchen.”

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get inside.”

The Cowboy In Me
by: Lori

A/N: I'm going to try something new with this series. The titles will be taken from the songs on Tim McGraw's "Set This Circus Down." Who knows if the songs will lend any inspiration to go along with the prompts.

The urge to run
The restlessness…
The me that’s never satisfied

The Cowboy In Me – Tim McGraw

It was hard to sleep on nights like this. The storm raged outside the finely built house, the well-constructed storm shutters moving only the slightest bit to betray the ferocity that lay beyond the quiet den. The fire provided ample heat, and the warm woolen blanket across his legs held even the smallest chill at bay. But on nights like this, all he could remember was a cold, drafty room and a thin blanket not providing warmth.

Sometimes it seemed he was still that teenager, fighting to get warm enough, always reaching for something better. He had a good life, a wife, children, the fame and glory he’d always sought, and yet… Sometimes it never felt like what he had was never enough.

Had he really gained a better life? Now that he was Buffalo Bill Cody and had traveled across the country and across the ocean with his Wild West show, was his life really any better than when he was just plain old Cody? There were days, there were nights like this, that he wasn’t really sure.

The times when he should have been satisfied - the times that everyone around him claimed he had a wonderful life - he never was. He always hungered for something more, he always was looking for the next prize to be won, the next brass ring to grab. He didn’t know why, wished at times he didn’t feel this way, but he did.

The wind shrieked outside and the fire snapped in response to the draft from the chimney. With a melancholy shake of his head, he turned his thoughts from the past and back to the fire lit room. He capped the ink and set the pen down on the table beside his chair. The letter to Lou finished…the thoughts in his head quieting down.

Now, maybe he could find peace in sleep. Maybe…

If The Cold Don't Kill You
by: Cathy

A.N. My thanks to Mr. Mark Twain for the various “cures” suggested here.

^*^*^*^

AAAAAACHOOO!!!!!!

“Bless you,” Emma replied automatically.

“That’s some cold you got there, Sam,” Teaspoon commented.

“I know,” Sam replied huskily. “I’ve had it for a couple of days now and I can’t seem to get rid of it.”

“What you need is to go home, soak your feet in hot water, then go right to bed!” Emma commanded.

“What he needs,” Teaspoon contradicted, “is to take a cold shower. That’ll drive that cold right out of him.”

“I’ve already done that,” Sam told them. “Both of them. And I tried the whiskey cure too but all that got me was a hangover to go with the cold.”

The ‘whiskey cure’ Ike signed in curiosity.

“Yeah, two people told me that drinking a quart of whiskey every twenty-four hours would take care of this cold lickity split.” The marshal smiled mischievously. “I didn’t figure it could do any harm.”

“What makes me think you figured if two people told you then twice the cure would be even better?” Jimmy asked with a laugh.

“You’d be thinking right,” Sam grinned sheepishly.

“And you figured wrong, didn’t you?” Emma reprimanded as she reached out to touch his forehead with the back of her hand. “You’ve got a fever,” she exclaimed. “You really should be in bed.”

Sam started to protest, but she wouldn’t hear it. “If you won’t take care of yourself, then we’re going to take care of you! Right, Mr. Spoon—boys?”

Knowing better than to argue with the woman, Teaspoon and the riders nodded their agreement. With only a little protest Sam was led up to a spare room and put to bed.

“Starve a cold, feed a fever, my ma always used to say,” Cody said as they gathered back in the kitchen.

“Other way round,” Lou argued. “Feed a cold, starve a fever.”

“He needs to eat,” Emma replied firmly, dipping a ladle into the stew pot and dishing out a heaping serving.

^*^*^*^

“I’m not really hungry, Emma,” Sam protested. “My throat hurts.”

“Well, this stew is just what you need,” the woman countered. “You haven’t been eating right and you’re not strong enough to fight off that cold. Eat!”

Sam ate. She wouldn’t let him stop until he’d finished ever bit of the stew and bread she had carried up for him.

^*^*^*^

“What’s this?” the marshal asked a bit later as Teaspoon woke him to hand him a quart jar full of what looked like water.

“Salted water,” the older man replied. “It’s an old family recipe. Clean you out and get rid of that cold quick as a wink.”

Sam looked at him skeptically but, considering how he felt, decided it really couldn’t do any harm. The water was warm enough that it did soothe his throat—for a few minutes.

^*^*^*^

“Well, I guess my family never considered eating that much before taking the cure,” Teaspoon mumbled regretfully as he helped the younger man back to bed.

“A quart of salt water?” Emma demanded. “He’s lucky he didn’t throw up more than the stew.

^*^*^*^

Sam had finally dozed off when he was awakened by the sound of his door opening. Buck entered carrying another jar of a dark liquid.

“Whatever that is, I don’t want it!” he told the Kiowa angrily.

“My ma used to give this to me and Red Bear when we were little and had colds,” Buck explained. “It always worked for us.”

Sam eyed him speculatively. He was well aware of the healing herbs and medicines the Indians used on a regular basis. “What’s in it?” he questioned.

“Molasses, aquafortis, turpentine and some other herbs,” Buck explained, pausing as the other man broke out in a fit of sneezing. “You need to take a glassful every fifteen minutes until it’s gone.”

“Oh, why not?” Sam said shaking his head. “Can’t be any worse than what I’ve done up to now.”

^*^*^*^

The next time Sam Cain was aware of his surroundings, he was surprised to find himself securely tied to the bed.

EMMA!” he called.

The woman came running in immediately. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m roped up like a yearling calf waiting to be branded and you’re asking me what’s wrong?”

“Well, you got a little out of hand,” Emma told him, reaching down to until the ropes that bound his arms. “Thanks to that ‘medicine’ Buck gave you.”

“What did I do?” Sam asked, rubbing his sore forearms ruefully.

“Doesn’t matter,” the woman replied.

“What did I do?” the man demanded.

“You were out of your head,” she finally admitted. “You thought Buck was some outlaw you’d been looking for and were trying to take him to jail.”

“Is Buck all right?” Sam asked anxiously.

“He’ll be a little sore for a few days, but he’s not hurt,” Emma assured him. “Serves him right for giving you that concoction!”

^*^*^*^

Over the next few days, Sam tried other “cures” offered him by various well-wishing people. The cold finally left his head and promptly slipped into his chest. His sneezing was replaced by coughing and the sore throat became hoarse to the point that he sounded like a fog horn.

“You know, when I was little,” Kid offered, “and I had a cough, my ma used to give me a little bit of gin. Not very much, just enough to ease the cough and let me sleep.”

“My ma used to do that too,” Lou agreed. “Gin and a little molasses to make it taste better.”

“Gin and molasses and a great big ol’ onion!” Teaspoon suggested. “The gin’ll calm the cough and the molasses will take away the bite from the gin.”

“And the onion?” Sam asked suspiciously.

“Onions are good for what ails you!” the station manager replied. “Ain’t nothing a big ol’ onion won’t cure.”

^*^*^*^

“Now I know how a buzzard must feel,” Sam lamented.

“Or at least what a buzzard’s breath must smell like!” Emma said, trying hard not to laugh. “Why are you listening to them? You don’t need all these ‘cures’ they keep bringing you. What you need is rest.”

“But I can’t rest,” Sam whined. “Even when I am able to doze off, I wake myself up talking in my sleep. Don’t recognize my own voice.”

My ma used to make us a mustard plaster, Ike offered. It always made my breathing easier so I could sleep.

“Now that’s an idea,” Emma agreed brightly. “I’ll go make one up for you right now.”

“I sure will be glad when the doc gets back,” Sam muttered under his breath.

^*^*^*^

The mustard plaster might have worked—except for the fact that before he had a chance to use it Cody got hungry. Sam really didn’t want to know what had prompted the bottomless pit to eat the eighteen inch square “cure.” The mere idea made him queasy.

“I’ve got another idea!” Teaspoon said excitedly a couple of days later. “I heard tell of people doing this up north in Canada. They say it works better than anything.”

“What works?” Sam asked guardedly. He was actually beginning to feel better and was leery of risking his fragile health on something Teaspoon had read about.

“A sheet wrap!”

“A WHAT?” Emma demanded. She moved to put herself between Sam and the obviously demented station manager.

“A sheet wrap,” Teaspoon repeated. “You wait until midnight, you see, and then you go outside and you take a big ol’ sheet and dip it in ice water. Then you wrap the sheet around you. The shock of the cold will drive the cough right outta you.”

IF it doesn’t kill him!” Emma protested.

“It won’t kill him,” Teaspoon argued, his eyes lighting up with the prospect of trying something new. “At least it shouldn’t.”

“I think I’ll just skip that ‘cure’ for now,” Sam decided. “I’m feeling better and I don’t really think we need to go to that extreme yet.”

Teaspoon actually looked disappointed but even he had to admit that Sam was looking and sounding better. “Well, at least we have the option—if you get worse again.”

^*^*^*^

AAAAAACHOOO!!!!!!

Emma looked at Sam who shrugged. “Wasn’t me,” he told her.

Looking around, the woman spotted Cody, handkerchief in front of his nose.

“I’ll start some stew,” she said, heading for the kitchen. “You get to bed!”

“Cody if I was you,” Sam whispered as she left the room, “I’d get on my horse and head for Fort Laramie right now!”

At the boy’s confused expression, he continued. “Round here, if the cold don’t kill you, the ‘cure’ just might!”

Frozen Memories
by: Cindy


Cold . . .

That was the first thought that came to mind as consciousness returned. It was cold, so very cold.

He tried to move, and very quickly a second thought came to mind – PAIN!

Ike took a deep breath as the pain wrapped itself around him, seeming to grip his whole body. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the worst of the wave of pain to pass. Then, moving very slowly this time, he opened his eyes and looked around.

Night had fallen – he didn’t remember it being night before. Actually, he couldn’t really remember much of the day before . . . well, before now.

His legs wouldn’t move, and he couldn’t figure out why. He tried pushing himself up onto his right arm, only to fall back again in tremendous pain. He fought back a wave of nausea, squeezing his eyes shut again.

When the worst of the pain passed again, he tried something simpler. He lifted his right arm, sucking in his breath as pain coursed through his body again. The moon was nearly full in a cloudless sky – but he didn’t need much light to tell that his lower arm was hanging at a wrong angle to his upper arm. The pain got worse as he lifted his arm higher, putting more pressure on what must be a broken bone, but now he wasn’t sure how to get his arm back down. He finally tried moving his left harm, gratified to find very little pain there beyond a sore shoulder. He reached across his body, using his left arm to carefully lower the other arm to the ground.

He rested a moment, then used his left arm to push himself up a little. And then he finally knew why he couldn’t move his legs. His horse lay across him, the animal’s back coming up to his thighs. And the horse certainly didn’t seem to be breathing.

Ike lay back against the ground, staring up at the stars. He was trapped on a cold night, under a dead horse, with a broken arm – and no memory of how he had gotten here.

What the hell had happened?

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

Jimmy lit the kindling and sat back on his heels, watching to make sure the fire took hold. As the flames licked at the twigs and began to burn brighter, he added some larger branches until the blaze was large and steady. Then he slipped his gloves off and held his fingers close to the heat, glad to find some feeling returning to the digits.

That mission accomplished, he looked over at the other person in the camp. Buck was pacing nervously, his eyes never leaving the trail coming from the south.  “Pacing ain’t gonna get him here any faster, Buck.”

Buck paused, looking toward the fire. “He should have been here by now, Jimmy.”

Jimmy nodded. He couldn’t argue that point. “Buck, there’s lots of reasons Ike might be late and hasn’t made it back by now.”

“He had the shortest route after we split up,” Buck pointed out. “But we’re both here.”

“It’s real cold,” Jimmy pointed out, shivering as another icy gust blew through the camp. “Maybe he decided to stay in Bingham, meet us in the morning.”

Buck’s raised eyebrow answered that suggestion before he even spoke. “Ike knew the plan was to meet here after we made the deliveries. He wouldn’t just change his mind like that.” He wouldn’t worry me like that, Buck added to himself.

“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed. Ike wouldn’t do that, not without a good reason – and the cold didn’t qualify. “Could be the delivery just took a little longer.”

“Jimmy, Ike didn’t even have to wait for a reply,” Buck countered. “We both rode farther, waited for replies – and still got here.” He looked off to the south again, pulling his jacket tighter against the growing cold.

“Look, maybe his horse pulled up lame,” Jimmy suggested.

The idea of his best friend on foot somewhere in this weather didn’t make Buck feel any better. “I’m going to look for him,” he said, heading for his horse.

Jimmy got to his feet quickly. “Buck, we don’t know there’s anything wrong.” Though the truth was, he was starting to get a little concerned himself. Ike was probably about the most dependable of the riders.

“We don’t know there isn’t something wrong,” Buck countered. “And we do know he should have been here long before now.”

“It’s dark,” Jimmy pointed out. “Where you gonna look?”

“Plenty of moonlight,” Buck answered. “I’m going to ride into Bingham. If I don’t find him along the way, I’ll ask around in town.” He reached for his saddle.

Jimmy reached his own decision. “Buck, we just got a fire going. Let’s get some coffee, have a cup around the fire to warm up – then we’ll both go find him.”

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

The good news was that he remembered what had happened.

He remembered riding out with Buck and Jimmy, sent to deliver some special courier messages. They’d ridden together to the crossroads, then split up, with plans to meet up again tonight.

He’d ridden to Bingham, made his delivery without incident. He was on the way back to the rendezvous point when he heard it.

Ike closed his eyes, the scream so real in his mind. How could he have not gone?

He’d found them not far off the trail, hidden by a stand of trees. A man and a woman in a wagon, surrounded by four riders with guns drawn. One of the riders had tried to pull the woman from the wagon and the man had tried to stop them. A bullet from one of the other riders had dropped the man to the ground.

Ike had still been formulating his plan when another rider suddenly burst from the trees right in front of him, gun drawn. His horse had shied, rearing up just as the rider fired his gun – and the horse caught the bullet meant for Ike. The wounded animal stumbled backward, slipping over the edge and falling into a gully.

And that was where he was now.

The bad news was that he was in that gully. He could see the outline of the rim only about twenty feet above him – but it might just as well be two hundred.

With only one arm, he’d had no luck moving the bulk that was the dead horse’s body. Between the weight and the frozen ground, he hadn’t been able to feel his legs for a while now.

He was off the main trail by a hundred yards or so. He knew Buck would come looking for him – but in the dark, what were the chances? 

In the cold that was descending as the moon rose, he knew his chances of making it to morning where he was were slim, at best.

He couldn’t call out for help, and he’d been unable to get to his gun to use it to signal for help. It was pinned under his right leg, and with only his left hand to work with, he couldn’t reach it. His right arm was all but useless – he couldn’t have gripped the gun even if he could have gotten his hand under the horse.

Ike shivered anew as an icy gust of wind ripped through the gully. He couldn’t feel his nose, his cheeks stung with the bitter cold, and his back and shoulders were almost frozen.

At least the cold ground had nearly numbed the pain in his right arm . . .

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

Jimmy rearranged the collar on his jacket, trying to pull it up higher. He shivered against the wind that was coming from almost directly behind him as they rode south.

If it was this cold with the wind behind them, he didn’t even want to think about riding back against the wind if they didn’t find Ike in Bingham.

He was trailing just behind Buck as they rode toward Bingham. From the amount of time they’d been riding, he thought they really should be getting close to the town. He was just about to ask if Buck agreed when he saw the Kiowa rider suddenly stop and stand up in the stirrups, studying something off to the side of the trail. “Buck?”

“Wagon tracks,” Buck answered, pointing at the faint wheel impressions. “This isn’t a regular trail – doesn’t even seem to really lead anywhere.”

Jimmy thought about pointing out that Ike probably hadn’t been in a wagon, but he bit back the words. It was the first sign of anything unusual they’d found. “Well, let’s check it out,” he said.

They started forward together. While Buck concentrated on watching the wagon tracks, Jimmy kept his eyes moving scanning the area. It didn’t take long before they saw the wagon.

Jimmy drew his gun, circling one way as Buck went toward the other side, his gun also drawn. Both of them scanned their surroundings, searching for any danger.

Jimmy found something first. “I got a man over here,” he called, dismounting. He knelt by the body. “He’s dead.”

Buck rode to the back of the wagon and looked inside, surprised by what he found. “There’s a woman in here,” he said, jumping into the wagon bed. He held his hand next to her face. “She’s still alive,” he announced as he felt her breath on his hand.

Jimmy came around the side of the wagon. “What the hell happened here?”

Buck just shook his head. He pulled out a blanket that was stuffed under the seat and covered the woman. Then he jumped down, studying the ground. “Whatever happened, if Ike stumbled onto it . . .” He never finished the statement as something caught his eye and he hurried to one side. The level ground they were on dropped off quickly into a gully, and there were tracks by the edge . . .

“Ike!”

Jimmy turned just in time to see Buck disappear from sight. He ran over and looked down, watching as Buck scrambled down the steep side of a gully. Then he saw what had propelled Buck into making the descent, and he quickly followed.

Buck hesitated a fraction of a second as he neared his friend. Ike looked so still, so . . . But just then Ike’s eyes flickered open and Buck dropped to his knees by Ike’s side. “Ike?”

Ike heard the voice as if in a dream. He’d been dreaming about how sad it was going to be to leave Buck behind, and now to hear his best friend’s voice seemed so appropriate. But then he felt a hand on his shoulder, and it seemed so real. He lifted his left hand, finding a warm, firm, real arm under his stiff fingers. He struggled to keep his eyes open, almost believing that he really saw Buck kneeling there.

“I’m here, buddy,” Buck said softly, gripping Ike’s hand. “I’m here, and we’re going to get you out.”

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

It had taken Buck and Jimmy a while to move the dead horse off of Ike. Then Buck splinted Ike’s broken arm while Jimmy scrambled back to the top of the gully. He searched up and down the edge, looking for an easier path, but finding nothing. In the end, they finally rigged up something from the wagon harness to hold Ike, then Jimmy used one of the horses to pull him up while Buck protected him from the worst of the bumps.

With the harnesses reassembled, they hitched their own horses to the wagon and started for town. The animals weren’t used to pulling a wagon, but they adapted quickly. Jimmy drove, trying to balance their need for speed with the extra bouncing that speed would subject the two injured people to. Buck sat in the back, holding Ike on one side and the woman on the other. They were wrapped in the horse blankets and the blankets from the men’s bedrolls – but both still shivered uncontrollably from the long exposure to the cold.

Buck leaned against the back of the seat, tightening his grip on both of the injured people, willing them to hang on. But his thoughts were with only one of them. “Hang on, Ike,” he whispered. “Hang on just a little longer.”

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

The wind whistled and howled outside the window as they waited. Buck paced nervously while Jimmy sat by the fire, trying to warm up. “Buck, why don’t you come over here and get warmed up.”

Buck paused, studying the closed door to the doctor’s treatment room. “I’m warm,” he said absently. And actually, the activity of pacing had warmed him up.

“Well, you’re making me nervous,” Jimmy said. “The doc has to do his work. So will you please come over here and sit down?”

Buck scowled, but he did walk over to the fire and sit down. “He has to be all right, Jimmy,” he said softly.

“He will be,” Jimmy said, trying to sound confident.

“They were out there in the cold a really long time,” Buck said.

“Ike’s a fighter,” Jimmy said gently. “Hell, he’s been kicked in the head by a horse, and shot and he fell on his head, but he pulled through. He’ll be fine.”

Before Buck could answer, the inner door opened and the town’s doctor walked out. Buck and Jimmy both jumped to their feet.

“I think your friend will be all right,” the doctor said. “He most likely suffered a concussion, but he’s awake, so that’s a good sign. That’s a bad break on his arm, but you boys did a good job setting it.”

“Doc, he was so cold when we found him,” Buck said.

The doctor nodded. “I know, and that worries me. But he’s shivering less now, and seems to be warming up all right.”

“What about the woman?” Jimmy asked.

“Ruth Walters,” the doctor supplied. “It looks like she was beaten before she was left there to freeze,” he said, the anger evident in his voice. “But she seems to be coming around as well.”

“Was she married?” Buck asked. There was still the matter of the man’s body they had found.

“Yes. I’m sure from your description that it was her husband Kenneth who was killed.” The doctor shook his head sadly. “Nice young couple, just bought a farm a few miles outside of town last year.” He paused, then added, “Ruth was pregnant, they just found out a week ago. I don’t know yet if the baby survived.”

“We can go back out and get the body,” Jimmy offered. “We just had to get Ike and the woman here first.”

“I just sent my oldest boy over to get the Sheriff,” the doctor replied. “I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you boys, and then he can decide what to do.”

Buck nodded, relieved that they didn’t need to go back out right away. He didn’t want to leave Ike. “Doctor, can we see our friend?”

“Of course, for a few minutes,” the physician replied, leading the way to the back room. “My wife is making some broth to help warm them up.”

Buck and Jimmy stepped into the next room, pausing for a moment to let their eyes adjust to the dim light. A single lantern burned, the wick trimmed way down. There were two beds in the room, and each seemed to be occupied by a blanket-wrapped mummy. But one of the mummies seemed to have a wave of long dark hair, so Buck headed for the other bed.

Ike lay very still, wrapped in numerous blankets. His eyes were closed, but as he got closer Buck decided it looked like his friend was breathing easier than when they had arrived in Bingham. He laid his hand gently on the injured man’s shoulder. “Ike?”

Ike heard the voice, and this time he knew it wasn’t a dream. He opened his eyes, smiling as he saw Buck’s concerned face leaning over him. The weight of the splint on his right arm reminded him of the broken bone there, so he struggled to free his left arm from the cocoon of blankets. With only one hand, his ability to sign was limited – but he was talking to his best friend, so he knew Buck would understand.

Buck watched the shaky movements of Ike’s hand, then he smiled. “I’m sorry you worried me too, Ike. Don’t do it again, all right?”

Ike smiled and nodded weakly, then moved his hand again, trying to ask a question. It was really too bad so many of the signs needed two hands.

Buck watched for a moment, picking up what he could from the signs – and guessing the rest. “The man is dead,” he said softly, not knowing if the other patient was awake – or if she knew her husband’s fate. “We found the woman when we found you. The doc says she’ll probably make it.”

“Must be stubborn, kind of like you,” Jimmy said, stepping up next to the bed.

Ike smiled again and nodded, reaching his hand out.

Jimmy took the other man’s hand, holding it tight. “You had us worried, Ike,” he admitted.

Ike pulled his hand away, signing.

“Yeah, well, we’ll talk about how sorry you are back in Sweetwater,” Jimmy answered. Then he grinned and added, “Don’t think that broken arm is gonna get you out of chores for very long!”

Ike just grinned and shook his head. And then he yawned, the weariness from his ordeal taking over.

The door opened just then and the doctor walked in, followed by a woman carrying a tray with two steaming bowls. He saw the yawn, and quickly stepped in to take charge. “My patient needs some broth now,” he said. “And then he needs to sleep.”

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” Buck said. He took Ike’s hand, holding it tight for a moment before he gently tucked Ike’s arm back under the blankets.

Buck and Jimmy walked out of the treatment room. They stopped near the outer door to button their jackets and pull the collars up against the howling wind. But even as they stepped outside to head for the hotel, Buck could tell the difference. Ike was alive, and he’d be all right. Nothing the wind could do would make it seem nearly as cold as the fear of losing his brother had.
Tales to Tell
a.k.a. Raye's Fault
by:Cindy

The winter storm winds whistled and howled outside the bunkhouse as Cody reached for his writing supplies. The other riders were all off on runs, or had been ‘volunteered’ to help get supplies in Sweetwater, so he had the place to himself.

It was the perfect time to write down some of his adventures. He’d been meaning to send the tales to one of those New York magazines that paid real money for True Life stories of life in the Wild West.

And it was much easier to write without his fellow riders hanging over his shoulder, pointing out where he may have . . . embellished  . . . errrrrrr . . . helped the truth just a bit.

He laid the paper on the table, got out his favorite pen, and pulled the ink bottle down from the shelf on the wall. Then he sat down, flexed his fingers, opened the bottle, raised the pen, and took a deep breath. He certainly had good tales to tell!

Cody reached over to dip the pen into the ink – only to have the pen stop just inside the top of the bottle as though it hit a rock. He sat back for a moment, surprised. But then he got suspicious and picked the bottle up, studying the inside carefully. It would be just like Jimmy, or Noah, or even Ike to have dumped out his ink, and filled his bottle with stones, just to keep him from telling his stories. Why, if one of them had done that . . .

But as he turned the bottle upside down, no stones fell out. So he pulled the bottle closer, finally getting it right up next to his eye.

“Damn, the ink’s froze solid!”

Well, so much for writing on this cold, winter day. He thought about warming the ink bottle over the stove, but that seemed like a lot of work. So in the end he finally re-capped the bottle and left it on the table.

With nothing else to do, Cody climbed into his bunk and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders. It would have been a fine day for writing – but it was sure a fine day for napping too!

He snuggled into the pillow, leaving a fine ring-shaped stain of black ink where his eye landed. Although he didn’t know it yet, Cody was creating a new adventure – explaining the ink stain to Rachel come laundry day!