Topic #53: River
|In My Memories by: Miss Raye
The Edge by: Cindy
|Worries In The Dark by: Miss Raye||River Refuge by: Jo|
|A Man With
All The Answers by: Tracy
||The Color Of My Skin by: Miss Raye|
|In The Middle Of The Night by: Lori||Headin' West by: Dee|
|Gathering At The River by: Cathy||By The River by: Miss Raye|
| Collective Soul by: Dede
||River by: Nikole
| Why Did The Rider Cross The River? by: Lori
Ike sat back against the tree and whisked off his boots, setting them beside him. He pulled off his socks and flexed his feet in the grass.
Slowly he let his eyes drift closed as he listened to the quiet around him. Buck started to laugh and the mood was broken, Ike opened the eye closest to his friend and slanted a scolding look in his direction. When Buck continued to laugh, Ike raised an eyebrow and poked his friend in the side.
Buck choked on a laugh and he waved his hands to ward off Ike’s finger. “Stop... stop… Ike!”
Satisfied that he’d made his point, Ike sat back against the tree and looked out at the river below them. He smiled in satisfaction as Buck struggled to catch his breath. After years of being friends, Ike knew exactly where Buck was the most ticklish and knew when to use it to his advantage.
He knew Buck was half-heartedly glaring at him, but he let his worries slip away. The river below was happily burbling along through the grasses and it was a peaceful moment that he was loathe to ruin.
A sparrow dipped into view and flew low to the ground, its rounded belly nearly touching the top of the grass.
Turning to Buck he gave him a half-smile. *when i was little, i used to wish for wings*
“You’d look pretty strange with wings.” Buck had a blade of grass between his fingers. “What made you want them?”
Ike shrugged, but raised his hands to continue. *don’t really know* He shrugged his shoulders. *just wanted to have that freedom*
Buck nodded. “I can see what you mean. Everyone wants to escape once in awhile.”
*when I was hiding from the men that,* Ike let out a silent breath, his shoulders sagging at the end, *that killed my family, i wanted to fly away. not escape. get help.*
Buck set a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I know, Ike… it’s not easy. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” He gave his friend a worried look and then settled back into the grass. “You shouldn’t have to think about it ever again, Ike. You should put it behind you.”
They sat there in silence and Buck, as much as he tried to fight it, started to fall asleep there in the shade of the tree and in the company of his best friend.
Ike gave his friend a little smile as Buck’s eyes slid closed and he lay down in the grass beneath the tree.
He enjoyed these moment with Buck. Those easy moments when the laughter was plentiful and the silences golden were special memories to him. That was when he felt like he was amongst family.
In their time, he and his sister had done much the same thing. Run down the river bank and sit beneath the trees. They’d remove their shoes and stockings, almost always remembering where they’d left them. Then, if their father didn’t call for them, they’d spend hours down by the water.
He’d learned the names of every creature that hopped, crawled, or flew down by the river and they laughed more than they talked.
Ike relaxed against the tree and listened to the wind singing through the grasses. Stretching his senses down the slope he heard the water, tumbling and rolling through the grass and rocks in the riverbed.
He heard voices, rising up from the rocks, lifted to his ears by the wind.
“Ike! Wait for me!”
“You’ll have to run faster, silly… hurry up, we’re going to lose it.”
He could hear the way she struggled to run and so he slowed his own pace.
“It’s okay, we don’t have to catch him, we’ll find another frog.”
How she laughed at him, “We don’t need to catch the frog, Ike... Why can’t we just watch them hop?”
He remembered stopping in the water, the river flowing past him, taking the frog away, out of reach. He’d looked at her in disbelief. How could she not understand? “You just can’t let them get away, you know? You have to keep the best ones so you can always have them with you.”
She’d pushed him and he’d fallen into the river on his backside, sputtering in the spray. “You can’t keep them in your pocket, they’ll die.” She’d danced away her face alight with joy. “You have to let them go so you can enjoy them; it’s no good if you take them away from their families. You can’t leave them alone!”
He’d splashed her with the cold river water and her face had gone red. “My dress!” From there it dissolved into laughter. Laughter and splashing water, he was lost in the memory.
Ike laughed in his sleep, his chest shaking with joyful memories, his eyes weeping tears for his family.
When he awoke, Buck was down by the river, splashing water on his face and for a moment Ike heard his sister’s laughter, heard his own in reply… and finally the sounds of his father’s voice calling them home. Home to family. It was perhaps only a flight of fancy, but then, Ike had always wanted to fly.
A/N: This is a sequel to “The Thunder Rolls” (Quick Fic
The scream brought him instantly wide awake, his senses searching for the source.
Buck swung his feet over the edge of his bunk, rising to his feet and reaching for his gun in one smooth, fluid motion. A few steps and he was at the door, pulling it open and heading outside.
He didn’t hear anything else, but he was sure the scream had come from the house. Clad only in his longjohns, bare feet slapping in the mud, he raced that way.
He took the front steps in one large stride, pausing only long enough to take a quick look at the porch. Under the overhang, the floor was dry, giving no indication that anyone had come through the rain and entered that way.
Still, he knew the value of being careful, so he slid to one side as he opened the door. Then he spun quickly into the front room, crouching and checking the room quickly, his gun leading the way.
He didn’t see anything amiss.
Footsteps on the stairs caught his attention and he turned that way – but it was just Rachel coming down. Her hair was disheveled, and she was still tying the belt on her robe. She jumped when she saw him, but then she raised her hands and shook her head.
She didn’t know what was going on either.
Now footsteps sounded on the front steps, and a moment later Teaspoon appeared in the doorway, his own gun drawn.
Buck raised a finger to his lips, asking for quiet, and shook his head.
Teaspoon nodded and crept closer. “I was comin’ for coffee,” he whispered. “Thought I heard a scream.”
“We heard it too,” Rachel replied, equally as quiet. “There’s no one upstairs.”
Buck just nodded and turned away, slipping silently toward the back of the house. If Rachel hadn’t screamed, that left only one other person known to be there . . .
He got to the kitchen door, entering with his gun leading the way. At first he didn’t see anything – but then his eyes found her, slumped against the wall, partially hidden by the stove.
There wasn’t anyone else in the room that he could see, and the back door was closed. Of course, there could still be danger – but he trusted Teaspoon to watch for that.
Placing his gun on the counter, Buck dropped to his knees next to Lou and reached for her shoulder. He didn’t see any obvious signs of injury as he touched her, and that was a relief. “Lou?”
At first she didn’t move, except for the shaking of her shoulders. Then the shaking spread to her whole body.
“Louise, what’s wrong?” Rachel asked.
When Lou still didn’t move, Buck finally took her shoulder and gently pulled her around toward him.
He was totally unprepared for the red-rimmed eyes that turned to meet his – eyes that seemed to reflect both deep sadness and fear all at once.
“Lou, what is it?” Buck asked again. And then a sudden thought hit him – it should be Kid there comforting his wife. But Rachel had said no one was upstairs . . . “Lou, where’s Kid?”
Lou’s reaction to the question was one none of them would have anticipated. She opened her mouth, as though she was trying to answer, and then she just sobbed, burying her face against Buck’s chest.
Buck instinctively wrapped an arm around her, holding her tight as she cried uncontrollably.
Teaspoon stepped closer, confusion evident on his face. “Buck, you didn’t see Kid at the bunkhouse?”
Buck shook his head. “No.”
“And Rachel, you said no one was upstairs?”
“No, no one,” she replied. “I stopped to check the spare room when I heard the scream, but it was empty.”
Buck looked back down at Lou. Her sobs seemed to be easing somewhat, but she still held tight to him, not seeming to be ready at all to answer questions.
That’s when he saw the paper clutched tightly in her hand.
Keeping his left arm wrapped tightly around her shoulders, he reached down with his right hand and pried her fingers loose, pulling the papers free. There were several sheets, but he recognized Kid’s handwriting on the top page. He pulled his hand higher, getting the page out of the shadows . . .
He only had to read the first few lines to understand.
“Buck, what is it?” Teaspoon asked.
“Kid’s gone,” Buck said simply, not even trying to disguise the anger in his voice.
“What?” Rachel came up and dropped to her knees next to Lou, reaching over to stroke the younger woman’s hair. “Oh, honey . . .”
Teaspoon had taken the letter from Buck and was scanning the contents. “He just had to go and do it,” he muttered.
“What does it say?” Rachel asked.
“It says he loves Virginia more than me,” Lou said softly, her voice breaking. She finally looked up, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her nightgown. “He’s gone.”
“He put all the money in Lou’s name,” Teaspoon said, looking at one of the other papers. “And he had a lawyer over to Plum Creek draw up divorce papers.”
Lou sobbed again at those words. “He promised ‘til death . . .,” she whispered.
Rachel reached out her arms, and Buck gently slid Lou over to the other woman’s care and then he stood up. He paused just a moment, looking down at his distraught friend, before he picked up his gun and headed for the door.
Teaspoon caught up with him in the front room. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to find him.”
“Buck, that’s real noble – and lord knows I’d like to have a few words with Kid myself. But look at that rain. You can’t track him in this mess.”
“To get to Virginia, he’s gonna have to cross the Missouri. Only a few places to do that.”
Teaspoon considered that for a moment. “Guess that’s true,” he admitted. “But what if you can’t find him this side of the river?”
Buck sighed. “Then I give up and come home,” he said softly. Once on the other side of the river, there were too many ways Kid could travel.
Teaspoon nodded, considering his next question. “You figured out what your plan is if’n you do catch up with him?”
Buck’s jaw tightened noticeably. “Roping him and dragging him back here crossed my mind.”
“I can see how it would,” Teaspoon said. “But given the hurt he’s already caused, you figure that would really do any good?”
There was silence for a long moment before Buck finally shook his head. “No. But he owes more than sneaking out in the middle of the night and a letter.” He turned to face the older man. “I have to try, Teaspoon.”
“I know. If Clemson and Hobbes weren’t off deliverin’ that prisoner, I’d be saddlin’ up to go with ya.” Teaspoon paused, looking at Buck as if just seeing him for the first time. “You figurin’ on gettin’ dressed before you go?”
Buck looked down at his own muddy feet and dirt-spattered longjohns. “Guess I might.” But just that little exchange helped take some of the tension away.
Teaspoon clapped the younger man on his shoulder. “You go get ready,” he said. “I’ll see if I can rustle up a couple of sandwiches or somethin’ for you to take along.”
“Thanks, Teaspoon,” Buck replied.
Soft sobs coming from the kitchen followed him as he opened the door and left.
The Missouri River stretched out before him, as far as he could see to the left or to the right.
It was deep here, with a fast current – and that was the problem.
Kid’s gaze turned back to the bridge leading across the river to St. Joseph. The narrow span was really his only way across without going well north or south. But one of the early season wagon trains was heading out on the way west, and the bridge was crammed with slow moving wagons, people, and livestock.
He squinted, shading his eyes against the morning sun – there was still no end to the procession in sight.
With a deep sigh he grabbed his bedroll from the back of his horse, and spread the oilcloth on the ground underneath a tree overlooking the bridge. The rain continued to fall, but the tree offered some protection. And hopefully the oilcloth would keep him from getting too wet while he waited.
If only he hadn’t stopped last night . . .
But after riding through the night when he left Rock Creek, and then the next day, both he and his horse were tired.
Add to that the fact that he hadn’t slept well for quite some time as he planned his departure, and he’d wound up sleeping much longer than he had planned. And now he was paying for that sleep by being stopped at the river.
To make matters worse, it hadn’t even been a restful sleep. He’d had too many nightmares for that.
He’d dreamed about Lou . . . of course. All sorts of horrible things. In one dream she’d transformed into a huge, monstrous being that had devoured him.
In another, she had died – and that’s the one that made him shudder.
He shook his head to clear the dreams away. He’d made the right choice – the only choice he could. And he’d done everything possible to see that Lou would be all right.
He had to believe that . . .
Buck stopped on top of the hill, looking down at St. Joseph across the river. His eyes took in the bridge across the Missouri as he patted his horse’s neck. “I know you’re tired,” he said, as much to himself as to the horse. “I am too. Either we find him here, or we don’t – and whatever we find, we’ll rest.”
He watched the wagons streaming slowly across the bridge, the latest in the long line of settlers heading west. Then he turned his attention to the river’s bank, looking first south, then north.
And that’s when he saw the horse.
He couldn’t be sure from a distance, but it certainly looked like the same color horse as the new one that had disappeared from the barn the night Kid left.
Lost in thought about his dreams, and his future, Kid didn’t hear anyone approach.
“You broke her heart, you know.”
Kid jumped and spun around, reaching for the gun he had placed off to one side. He stopped and sank back to the ground when he recognized the speaker. “Buck. What are you doing here?”
Buck dropped the reins, hung his hat on the saddle horn, and stepped up under the tree. “No, Kid, I’d say the real question is what are you doing here.”
Kid sighed, running his hand through his hair as he stalled for time. “Did Lou send you?” he finally asked, fighting to get the name past his lips as he avoided the question.
Buck shook his head. “I didn’t tell her where I was going, and Teaspoon said he wouldn’t tell either.” He paused, waiting until Kid’s eyes met his own. “We didn’t want to hurt her.”
“How’d you find me?” Kid asked, still looking for a way out. “The rain . . .”
“Only so many ways across the Missouri, Kid,” Buck pointed out sharply, clearly not pleased at the evasion of his question. “Made sense you’d follow the Pony route to St. Joe. Well, as much sense as anything you’ve done.”
Kid just sat there, but he got the message -- he had already done the hurting, and Buck needed answers. “You wouldn’t understand . . .”
“Try me.” Buck’s voice was firm, angry – it wasn’t a suggestion.
“It’s my home . . .”
“No.” Buck’s voice was angrier now. “Your home is with your wife.”
“Virginia is my home,” Kid said, his own voice rising in anger. It had been hard enough to reach this decision – he didn’t need to be second-guessed.
“You left Virginia, Kid. Just like I left the Kiowa.”
“I wasn’t kicked out,” Kid argued. “I can go back . . .”
“I wasn’t kicked out either,” Buck said, cutting off the protest. “I left because I knew there was more – just like you did.” Buck paused, shaking his head. “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss something about the Kiowa,” he said, softer now. “But that doesn’t mean I could go back, not now. And you . . . you’ve found more out here than I have.” Like the love of a good woman . . .
Kid slumped back against the tree, his brief outburst of anger gone – replaced by emptiness. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
There was silence between them for a few seconds as both men contemplated what to say or do. Buck finally pointed to the east. “See that river, Kid? It only flows one way. That’s the way nature meant for things to be. Trying to go back to something you left behind, that’s like swimming upriver against the current. It ain’t easy, and lots of times when you get there, you find out it wasn’t worth the effort.”
“People I know are dying back there,” Kid said, his voice a whisper.
“People you know died here,” Buck countered. “They cared a whole lot more about you than people back in Virginia you ain’t seen or heard from in years.”
“I was born there . . .”
“It’s not what you left behind, Kid!” Buck took a deep breath, looking over at the wagon train making its way slowly westward – a symbol of change if ever he’d seen one. “This whole country is changing so fast, whatever you left back there, it’s gone now. Changed forever.”
“Jimmy and Cody signed up . . .”
“Jimmy and Cody don’t matter here. Neither of them left a wife behind in tears like you did – a wife you just promised to love and protect ‘til death do you part.”
Kid looked away, unable to watch Buck’s face when he asked his next question. “How bad did she take it?”
“I’ve never heard a cry like when she read that letter,” Buck replied honestly. “And I hope I never hear anything like it again.”
Kid pulled his legs up and rested his arms on his knees, burying his face in his hands. Everything Buck said made sense, and yet . . . “I just have to go,” he pleaded softly, tears starting to make warm trails down his cheeks.
Buck just stood there, his fists clenched, trying to make sense of everything.
Kid looked up nervously. “So what are you gonna do?”
“I told Teaspoon I oughtta rope you and drag you back,” Buck answered. “But he said it wasn’t worth the trouble.” He sighed in frustration. “I also considered beating your head into the ground, but with that thick skull of yours, it probably wouldn’t do any good.” He fixed Kid with a hard stare. “I’d settle for just knowing why.”
“I guess I can’t really explain it,” Kid said, struggling for the words. “I just know I have to do this.”
“Well, I guess you better figure it out before you get to Virginia,” Buck replied. He shook his head. “A man should know what he’s dyin’ for.”
Kid drew in a deep breath and let it out. “Tell Lou . . .”
“I’m not telling Lou anything,” Buck said quickly. “I guess you already said everything in that letter.” He paused, shaking his head. “How could I go back and tell her that you love her, but you can’t explain why you’re leaving her?”
Kid dropped his head, staring at his hands. Maybe there really wasn’t anything else he could say.
Buck turned to his horse and grabbed his hat, placing it on his head. “You’re a fool, Kid,” he said softly.
Kid just looked away, hiding the tears that he had no chance to stop now.
“You know what you’re leaving behind.” It was a statement, not a question.
Kid nodded. “I know,” he whispered.
Buck just stood there, staring, trying to understand. But he now knew that wasn’t going to happen – just like he knew he’d never see this man he had called friend again. “Ride safe, Kid,” he said. He had nothing else he could say. With a heavy heart he mounted his horse and turned away.
Kid heard the hoof beats disappearing into the distance, but he just sat there for several minutes, letting the tears flow. Finally he looked up, wiping at his eyes. He was alone again on the hill.
Down below, the last of the wagons and livestock were just clearing the bridge. Slowly, he got to his feet and wrapped up the bedroll, securing it behind the saddle. And then he mounted and headed toward the river.
He stopped just short of the bridge, looking at the river flowing down below. And he thought of Buck’s words about swimming upstream – he could almost feel the current pushing against him, pushing back to Rock Creek.
But he’d come too far, hurt too many people, and burned too many bridges to do anything but continue on now.
He started forward again, onto the bridge. On the other side was Missouri, not actually part of the Confederacy, but overall sympathetic to the southern cause. And beyond that was the road to Virginia.
And when he got there?
Well, just like the water flowing in the river beneath the bridge, he’d find out when he got to the end of the journey.
Emma leaned against the wall, clutching Jimmy’s jacket to her body. It was selfish really, keeping it, but the chill in her fingers, the white around her knuckles was enough to make her ignore the need to be gracious.
It didn’t help that her mind was already filled with guilt. She listened through the bare curtains that hung from the ceiling and heard Jimmy tossing on his mattress. Emma squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to forget.
To forget the earnest look in his eyes, the naked passion he’d let her see. He’d bared his emotions for her and even though she’d tried to let him down easy. It hadn’t worked. She’d hurt him. She’d hurt him in a way that only a woman can, she rejected him.
It didn’t matter that she was nearly ten years his senior, women-folk in the West were in such short supply that wasn’t an issue. She knew that wasn’t the real reason, but it was easy to say. It was much too easy to give him that answer.
Just like it had been too easy to cling to him after she’d been attacked. Yes, it was so easy to be held in his arms and have him whisper that he’s “gonna take care of you.” In those moments it was only too easy to believe that it was alright to let him think that she could be his, because it was only too easy for her want him as much as he said he wanted to be hers.
She didn’t need a glass to tell her that her cheeks were painted red with a flush. She’d let things go too far when she’d let him kiss her. She knew it was coming, she’d seen the look on his face. She’d seen it and she’d waited. Waited for it… and wanted it, if the truth be told.
“It’s just the situation that makes you feel that way.”
“You felt it too, I know you did.”
“Feelin’ somethin’ don’t make it right.”
It didn’t. Goodness knows it doesn’t, but it didn’t stop the heat that flooded through her body.
Emma covered her mouth with her hand. She could almost feel the pressure of his lips on hers. “Oh Lord,” she whispered into the darkness, “What would I tell Sam?”
He’d warned her to stay in Sweetwater, told her it wasn’t a good idea to head into this area, but she’d gone anyway. Here, in the dark, she could admit to herself that a little part of her decision to go had been because he’d told her not to. She’d put her chin up in the air and said she was going.
Sam. ‘Oh, Sam.’ He’d done his best to convince her to stay, embracing her and promising… promising… oh he was a man that knew how to promise, but a Marshal had a lot to do before he could spend time with her.
“I’d never leave you, Emma.”
She sucked in a shuddering breath, her lungs straining against her ribs as she struggled to calm herself. Tears flowed down her cheeks and she swiped at them with the back of her hand and then the edge of her nightgown. She’d discounted him for being young, but there was the sound of integrity in his voice. Jimmy Hickok wasn’t one for wasting words that was certain.
Huddled in his jacket, Emma fought against the urge to go to him. To try to find words that rang true in her own ears, but she knew that it wasn’t the best idea. He was hurting, he was confused and she was worried that she’d be all too susceptible to giving in if he were to press the issue.
It was hard to admit. Hard to say how weak she really was when she had worked so hard to cultivate the image of strength. Then again, she’d told Jimmy about her baby. Told him of her heartbreak and her sorrows and he hadn’t flinched. Hadn’t run from her and called her needy.
She swiped her hand across her cheeks and chided herself like a little girl. ‘You’re being ridiculous,’ she warned, steeling herself against the cold.
A soft purple light crawled over the horizon and she willed herself to sleep. Sam was coming. She had to hold onto the hope that he would come to their aid. She had to believe it, because if she had to lean on Jimmy Hickok any longer she was afraid of how much more she would slip into her silly wonderings. She was not the kind of woman that gave into flights of fancy, but something about his intense gaze made it all to easy to wonder.
“Why am I old enough to get killed and not old enough for you?”
Truly, she didn’t know the answer.
The run had started out bad and gone downhill from there…..Ike and Buck were on their way back from a special run Teaspoon had assured them would be a piece of cake. Yeah right….
“Get a good night’s sleep boys you’ve got a long ride ahead of you.” Teaspoon spoke jovially as he patted Ike on the shoulder and left the bunkhouse after dinner. Buck and Ike finished clearing the table and made the usual preparations for the ride in the morning.
Just before dawn they were all shaken out of their dreams by a tremendous crash of thunder. Cody sat up so fast he hit his head on Jimmy’s bunk. Lou had screamed and Jimmy scared them all by having his gun at the ready before his eyes were open.
“Sounds like a pretty nasty storm we better check on the horses; if the storm scared us they must be really spooked.” Kid said as he lit a lantern and proceeded to get dressed. They others agreed and began dressing; both Buck and Ike hoped the storm would pass quickly so they wouldn’t be riding in the rain.
They exited the bunkhouse and knew they were in for a wet morning; the barn door was open. Teaspoon poked his head out of the barn and motioned them to him. He was saying something but another crash of thunder ate his words. They ran to the barn and looked at four broken stall doors, six horses had escaped. Katy and Lightning were both still there as was Jimmy’s shaking palomino but the horses the other’s rode had been spooked along with three others. Sampson the donkey was braying loudly and Ike went to calm the frightened animal. Jimmy, Lou and Kid all carefully eased up to their horses and attempted to calm them. Buck tried to calm the others that were still in the stalls but Cody was stopped by Teaspoon.
“You remember to lock the barn door last night? You were the last one in…” Teaspoon grumbled.
“I was tired Teaspoon, I, I, um, I don’t remember….” Cody whined as the thunder rumbled again this time from a distance.
“Well, get those horses saddled and go looking for the others. Get a move on before they’re all the way to St Louis!” Teaspoon growled.
Two hours later all the horses were back in the barn, Emma had fed Ike and Buck breakfast and they were mounting up to begin the run. Buck’s vest was still damp and both of them had wet boots and hats; neither was happy. The day turned hot and they had to stop frequently to water the horses and themselves. At one rest stop Ike’s horse managed to kick a paper wasp nest and they had to make a run for it. Both the horses and riders were stung multiple times. When they stopped for the night they discovered that the coffee pot had been left behind. The wasp stings itched constantly even though Buck had made compresses for both of them from mud. The night was hot and the ground was hard; neither man slept well.
The next day was just as hot but, if anything, was drier and the dust was choking them. They had to stop frequently and reapply the compresses to the wasp stings which itched even worse as their bodies sweated. They finally reached their destination around noon and found that the person they were to deliver the message to had left to meet Teaspoon back in Sweetwater. The two frustrated riders switched horses and began the return trip, again forgetting the coffee pot. At one rest stop Ike managed to rip his pants right up the seat on a branch and found a breeze where he usually didn’t! At another Buck was eating a piece of hard tack and bit his cheek hard enough to draw blood.
Both men were in bad moods and rode in silence. They found a place to camp for the night and Ike discovered that the flint he kept in his back pocket had left when he ventilated his pants, fortunately Buck had his. They were covered in sweat, dust and the mud from the wasp sting compresses; the night insects swarmed around them biting any exposed flesh and the two riders spent another uncomfortable night under an orange moon.
Again the morning dawned hot and although it was had to believe, even hotter then the two previous days. They rode without incident for the first part of the day until a snake slithered across their path and spooked both horses. Neither Buck nor Ike was paying attention and found themselves sitting on the dusty ground. Ike had landed on an ant hill and both men soon found they were under attack from angry ants while the horses watched from a safe distance and the snake which had caused the whole mess slithered silently away.
After they had managed to shake off most of the ants they remounted and continued on, by mid afternoon they were exhausted, sore, sweaty, hot and very grumpy. Buck decided they needed to take a small detour and led them to a river with a deep pool in the center perfect for swimming. They could either push the horses and be home well after dark, or swim in the cool water; the decision was an easy one. Soon both men had shed all of their clothing and were enjoying the refreshing coolness of the water as it washed away all the frustrations of the last three days and a few stray ants. The tall prairie grasses offered them both privacy and a song as the warm wind stirred the long blades into a whispered graceful dance.
They swam until their skin resembled a prune. The sun was setting as they finished dressing and made camp. They let the horses run free and settled down for a much needed rest. They awoke to bright flashes of light as the sky above them blazed with heat lightening. They watched and listened and the sound of the thunder drew closer and Mother Nature put on a brilliant pyrotechnics display. Ike remembered too late that the horses hadn’t been tethered and rose to look for them. He had walked about a quarter mile from their camp when he spotted an amber glow in the distance, closing fast. He ran to the camp and found Buck already tying their gear together.
*WILDFIRE* Ike signed forcefully.
“I know Ike….here grab your saddle and put it in the river near those rocks. We’ll never out run the fire. COME ON!” Buck shouted as the embers started floating over their heads.
They ran into the river, dropped the saddles and dove into the deeper parts as the flames became visible. Buck and Ike took great gulps of air as the fire came toward the bank of the river just as it started to catch on the opposite shore they ducked beneath the surface. The world looked red all around them. Just when they felt their lungs would explode the red died away as quickly as it arrived, they surfaced. The air was acrid with the smell of burnt grass and they coughed but the fire had moved on. Only the grass and smaller bushed burned. The trees, although singed were not burnt; they retrieved their saddles and climbed out of the water.
They spent the rest of the night drying out and wondering where the horses were. They began walking at first light toward the station. They had been walking about three hours when they spotted a wagon. They recognized the driver and the out riders so they sat down and waited for the others to come to them.
“You two sure are a sight for sore eyes.” Teaspoon greeted them from the driver’s bench. “We saw the fire last night and when the horses showed up a few hours later we feared the worse.”
“We’re ok mostly…but Teaspoon if this was your idea of a ‘piece of cake run’…I’m afraid to see what you’d call hard tack!” Buck joked.
*We left our gear back at the river can we get it now?* Ike asked as he climbed into the back of the wagon keeping his exposed backside out of Lou’s sight.
“Hey Ike, how’d you get the new necessary hold in your britches?” Cody laughed. Ike rolled his eyes and Buck sighed but smiled.
“Well, Cody you’re gonna find out anyway so …..” Buck told them all about their easy run and their river refuge.
“Teaspoon, are you busy?” Kid asked as he entered the Rock Creek Marshal’s office. “I really need your advice of somethin’ real important.”
Teaspoon tipped back his battered hat to see that Kid looked considerably worked up over whatever the ‘something’ was. The young man ran his hand through his hair and looked every which way about the office as if he could find the solution to his problem hiding in a corner. Teaspoon sighed and took his feet off the desk where he’d put them while he took his customary afternoon nap.
“Pull up a chair, Son, and tell me what’s got you all discombobulated.” Teaspoon dragged a chair over to face opposite him and Kid sat himself down.
“Well,” Kid started. Beads of sweat covered his brow and his fingers worked away at each other. “Lou and me been married for five years now and –“
Kid was cut short as Teaspoon held up a hand and nodded sagely.
“Say no more, Son. I know ’xactly why you’re here and you come to the right man,” Teaspoon said. His voice was full of comforting reassurance.
Relief washed through Kid like a sun shower on a hot July day. Teaspoon had never yet let him down. The man had an answer for just about everything.
“Son, I’m goin’ to tell you somethin’ that I learned a lot time ago.” Teaspoon leaned forward conspiratorially. “Now listen up good ‘cos this is vital information for a married man.” He paused to check that Kid was hanging on every word, then he took a deep breath and stated with all the conviction of a man who knows, “Men and women is like streams and rivers.”
Kid’s blue eyes looked blankly into Teaspoon’s. His brow was furrowed and Teaspoon could tell that the young man was having trouble digesting this important piece of information.
“You see, when you and Lou first fell in love it was like the meetin’ of a slow steady river with one of them lightnin’ fast mountain streams and there was bound to be ripples.” Teaspoon punctuated his analogy with a waving motion of his hand. “But you finally settled down and now you’re followin’ the same winding course through married life together. There’s times when your river’s goin’ to flow nice and straight and calm. That’s the easy part when everythin’s goin’ along smooth and you ain’t fightin’, but then there’s them unpredictable currents. Bein’ married to a spirited woman like Lou means you’re goin’ get more than your fair share of rough water. That’s when you got to stick together. But you hang in there, you hear. ‘Cos I’m tellin’ you it’s a wild ride but it’s worth it.” Teaspoon gave Kid an encouraging thump on the arm. “Now off you go and remember to keep your powder dry.”
Kid didn’t move. He sat in his chair wearing a dazed and confused expression. He gave his head a little shake to clear it in order to find the right response to all the wisdom that Teaspoon had seen fit to heap upon him.
“Kid? Why’re still here?” Teaspoon asked.
“Well, truth be told, Teaspoon, I got no idea what you’re talkin’ about. I only wanted to get your advice on what I should get Lou for our anniversary!”
He sank to his knees beside the river and found that yet again, he was wrong. The rush of water couldn't hide the sounds of his ragged breathing, his sobs. How he longed to be a man like his brother. How he longed to be truly Kiowa.
They were a people of nature, who lived off of the land that surrounded them and took their shelter in the loving arms of their mother, the Earth. They were a people colored like the earth beneath their feet, rich and vibrant, bearing life within the bronze of their flesh.
He reached into the water of the river, cupping his fingers to hold it in, to capture the silvery chill of the water for himself. Bringing it up to his lips, he stilled his breathing long enough to take a long drink of it, to feel it slip down his throat into his body and become a part of him.
Wiping the back of his hand over his face he erased the tears he felt on his cheeks. They merged well with the water, becoming one together and falling back to the earth.
Putting his palms on his knees he peered out into the water and looked at the multitude of life living beneath the surface. It must be so peaceful there within the water, he was sure you couldn't hear the sounds of screaming, the sounds of taunting voices. It must be so much more inviting than the world he lived in.
Perhaps Coyote the shape-shifter could be persuaded to show him the secret of changing his shape. Maybe he could become a fish and swim away in all that silence.
Then again, perhaps the other boys were right and Coyote would find him lacking. Surely the Gods laughed at a boy whose blood was as confused as he was. Would Coyote eat him instead of helping him?
What if coyote thought he was truly Kiowa? Then he would help, wouldn’t he?
Yes, he would help.
Shoving his hands into the chilling waters, he wiggled his slender fingers under the rocks that lined the river bottom and was rewarded with the soft squish of mud.
With one last look of distaste at his pale skin he pulled handfuls of the rich brown mud from the bottom of the river and started to smother his skin with it.
He covered his shoulders and chest, his neck and his face. His face was nearly unrecognizable.
His frenzy of movement stilled in a single heartbeat, the instant he heard her voice.
Buck couldn’t meet her eyes. Could not stand to see the love and sympathy in her gaze, for that would be he final undoing. He wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears then.
“What have you done?” He heard her speak in the white man’s tongue and felt bile spill into his mouth. She picked up his hands and wiped the mud from his fingers, dipping them into the water and scrubbing at them.
“I like it.” He spit out the words, venom in every syllable. Her eyes met his and he forgot his next thought. She had such power over him.
She was after all… his mother.
With tears gathering on her lashes she swept water over his cheeks, gently clearing the mess from his face. “Why?”
“Why do you use their tongue? Why do you ask me to use it? Why, Mother?”
She would not gather him into his arms; he held himself away from her pleading hands, so she folded them into her lap and answered her son with patient words. “Because you are of their world, just as you are Kiowa.”
“I’m not Kiowa!” He folded his arms across his chest and a clump of mud fell from his elbow. “I’m not like them. They laugh at me.”
Her eyes were full of understanding. “That’s why you covered your skin with mud. To look like a Kiowa?”
The words burst from his lips. “Why not? Why can’t I fit in? I wanted to make my skin dark like Red Bear. I wanted to ask Coyote to make me Kiowa, to make me like my brother. He would help me if he thought I was real.”
“You are Kiowa.” The tone of her voice shocked him. Buck looked up into his mother’s eyes and for the first time since he could remember he saw anger. “You are Kiowa, Buck, never forget that.”
“But, my father-”
“You are not him. You will never be like him.”
He saw the trembling of her hands and forgot his own painful thoughts. He forgot to hate as the love he felt for his mother swept away his anger. “Isn’t he in my blood?”
“As I am, Running Buck. Remember that my blood sings through your veins as surely as that of the man who fathered you. That means that you are truly of both worlds, but rest assured, my son, you are now and will always be a true Kiowa.”
He hung his head and the weight of the world bowed his shoulders. “That is not what they see.” He could still hear their taunts in his head; feel their hands pushing him away.
“So you thought to color your skin to please them.” The words sounded silly and he was shamed to hear the disappointment in her voice. She extended her hand and pointed one finger to the center of his chest. “I can not make you believe something you refuse to hear.” He heard the catch in her voice, but he could not bring himself to give her the solace she wanted. “You are headstrong, my son, in that way you prove over and over to me that you are Kiowa.” A fleeting smile graced her lips, “Come, let us wash the rest of this mud from your skin and we will join your brother at his fire.”
He hesitated, looking at his mother with fear in his eyes.
She reached out her hand and covered his, giving it a gentle caress. “You can not change the color of your skin, Buck, but you can show the courage of your heart. That will mark you Kiowa above all else. That will show you where you belong.”
* * **** * *
Buck knew that Ike and Kid must be nearby waiting for him, he sat against the stone with his brother, listening to his dire warnings. He didn’t want to believe that it was true. “I would never kill you, my brother.”
“But I would have to kill you, my brother.”
He watched Red Bear walk away and heard his words with a sinking heart. “Never look back.”
Collecting his horse Buck took her reins heading out of camp. His eyes searched the ground, memorized each stone, each symbol that decorated their dwellings. He wanted to heed his brother’s words and ride from the camp, his face to the future, but there was a voice echoing in his mind, calling him to a place beside the spring.
The path was an old one, nearly grown over with brush, but he continued on and was rewarded with the first scent of water filling his lungs with life.
Buck left his horse nosing through the brush beside the river. Anyone coming down to walk at the water’s edge would have seen him, on his knees beside the gently flowing stream, peering into the water.
He put a finger to the lines of white and red on his forehead and smudged the paint until it turned blended against his skin. The lines didn’t matter anymore, not when the heart that beat within his chest was strong and filled with honor.
After a long moment he plunged his hands in and lifted it up to his face, silvery drops of water slipping between his fingers and falling back into the river. Buck swept the water over his face and scrubbed his skin clean. In his mind he heard her laughter and felt her lips upon his brow. He thanked her for her love, for her patience while he raged at his birth. He gave her the honor that she deserved; he decided that he would become the man she had always wished he would be. The wind swept past him, chilling the droplets of water on his skin in a gentle caress and there, deep in his heart he felt her pleasure.
In the middle of the night
He no longer jackknifed up in bed when he awoke. The dream that had haunted him for years, ever since that day he accompanied Emma to the fort to visit her pregnant friend and jumped in the river to save her and ended up needing saving himself, had long since ceased to make him wake with a start. But his breathing was ragged, his heart felt like it was about to burst if it couldn’t gallop out of his chest, and this time he was covered in sweat, soaking his skin, his clothes and the sheets on his thin mattress. With a groan, he raised his arms and ground his eyes with the heels of his hands. He hated this dream.
He sat up, his body aching with age and hard living, and swung his feet to the side, resting them on the uneven hardwood floor. Thankfully he was alone and wouldn’t have to explain his restlessness and why he no longer had any desire to sleep. He felt ancient tonight; beat down with the years that had passed and the events that had transpired. His elbows rested on his knees and he ran his fingers through the graying hair, and then clenched it roughly in his fingers. Maybe pain would help wash away the lingering remnants, clear the fog from his mind.
Water had always seemed to be his nemesis. At least in his dreams. When he first dreamt about the river, it was after he returned with Emma from the fort. In his dream, the river hadn’t been slow and tranquil; it had been rough, choppy and had snatched her from the side of the raft. He’d jumped in after her, had fought to keep himself afloat while searching for her, but he hadn’t been able to find her. He’d somehow managed to pull himself to the bank, and then was faced with the task of returning to the station and telling everybody, especially Sam, that he’d been unable to save Emma. He’d woken up in a blind panic, yelling and waking up the bunkhouse until he remembered that Emma was alive and well in her house and the whole thing had just been a nightmare.
He had hoped to never have a dream like that again. But more hand come in its place. The details might have changed, but the feeling was always the same. The river was his enemy. It was either taking people away from him or keeping him from reaching his friends. It kept him from where he wanted to go and forced him to places he didn’t want to be. It wasn’t a refreshing, inspiring thing; it was a malevolent, terrifying entity. He hated water; he hated rivers and had come to traveling miles out of his way to avoid them. He couldn’t always do it, but he certainly tried.
Tonight though, tonight’s dream had been different.
The river had started out small. A trickle in the mountains, cool and inviting. Jimmy had approached it warily, not wanting to cross it, not wanting to deal with whatever evils it would bring his way. But it had lulled him, it had teased him, it had almost seduced him with its placidness. Forgetting himself, he had decided to cross it. And that’s when it had changed.
He stood from the bed and shook his head roughly. He needed to get out of the room. He knew that if he stayed in his room he would simply be stuck in a pattern of obsessing over the dream and picking it apart, wondering what it meant. He knew what it meant; it meant nothing. Dreams were just things his brain came up with at night, sometimes holding his worst fears, sometimes holding his hopes. But in the end, they meant nothing. He didn’t believe they foretold the future like Buck did. He didn’t believe they were omens or warnings. They were…just dreams. And he didn’t want to think about his anymore.
Five minutes later, he stepped out on the wooden sidewalk in front of his hotel and then stepped into the dusty street of Deadwood. What he needed was a drink. A good, stiff drink would chase the remnants of his dream away and help him relax. Then he could go back to sleep. Just a drink, or two, maybe even a game of cards, and then he’d head back to his room and finally get a decent night’s sleep.
As he stepped up to the batwing doors of the No. 10 Saloon, flashes of his dream washed over him and he shook his head in angry annoyance.
After much hesitation, he finally decided that the river was small, harmless and he could cross it easily.
He pushed open the doors and stepped into the smoky, murky room, nodding to a few of the patrons as he made his way through the room and up to the dull, scarred bar.
As soon as he nudged his horse into motion, and the first hoof hit the water, the river seemed to grow. Widening, deepening, until it was up to his knee in no time.
“Whiskey,” he told the barkeep with a curt order. The older man nodded and quickly pulled out a dirty glass before pouring out the drink.
His horse lost his footing, caught up against the tide, no longer able to find bottom. He tried to stay on, but he floated off the saddle, and soon the reins slipped from his grasp.
He turned towards the call, taking a sip as he eyed the men in the corner of the room. The one who’d called him motioned to a free chair. “Care to join?”
He struggled against the current, trying to keep his head above the frigid, tumultuous water. He was being swept downstream, and the banks of the river were getting farther apart.
With a careless shrug, he ambled towards the table, dipping his head in greeting to the men assembled. The only chair available was facing the corner and an old warning of keeping his back to the wall licked up his spine, but he forced it down and pulled out the seat.
After a long fight, the water seemed to be winning, weighing him down. He was barely keeping his head above the surface, desperately gulping for air each time he broke through, but still swallowing more water each time.
“Deal me in,” he said, laying his money on the table.
He waited until the five cards were dealt before picking them up and arranging them in his hand.
He couldn’t reach the surface. He couldn’t break through. His lungs were burning, desperate for air. Then he slammed into a rock lingering beneath the water’s line and the world went black as he sank towards the bottom.
The dealer looked up, his eyes went wide, and before Jimmy could ask what was wrong, he heard the sound of a hammer pulled back, and a gun fired into the night.
And then there was weightless nothing.
“You thinking of making the river your life, son?”
“Just headin’ west,” the young man replied as he stared out at the river that was swiftly passing by.
“My name’s Sam Clemens, I’m the pilot’s apprentice.” He held out his hand.
“Folks just call me Kid.”
“Saw you helpin’ load the wood at our last stop. You goin’ far?”
“Nope, just the next port,” Kid replied. “Do you know the name of the town?”
“That would be Independence. It’s a good jumping off spot for a young man wanting to go west. Do you know what you want to do when you get there?”
“No, sir. I figured I could find something when I get there.”
The whistle sounded to alert the town of the appoarching steamer. As they neared the town dock a short time later, Kid saw people hurrying down to the steamer. Men mostly but there were a few women, too. Most of the men were here to help unload goods, others looking for work. There were people meeting family members and some just looking for news from back east and down river. There were even a few soiled-doves looking for company.
“I’d make for the other side of the town, Kid. You might find work there. The Captain’s a good man but I can’t say that for some of the others that run this here river. Take care of yourself.”
“Thanks.” Kid replied and headed for the gang plank.
“Son,” the Captain said pulling Kid aside. “Take this,” he pressed a couple of coins in the young man’s hand, “you may need it. Don’t stay around here too long or you could end up working this river for free. If you do decide to ride the river mention my name and I’ll see that you get a good spot on one of my boats. You’re a hard worker, and lord, knows those are few and far between these days.”
“Thank you, sir,” Kid said with a smile. After leaving the boat, he took the advice of both the captain and the pilot and headed away from the dock.
“Think he’ll make it?” Sam asked. The boy reminded him of his younger brother, and he hate to see any harm come to him
“If he stays away from the docks, he should be ok.” The Captain scratched his beard thinking for a moment, then said, “Should have told him about that new business that is starting up out of St. Joe. I think they’re callin’ it the Pony Express, supposed to run mail from here to California. I think he’d do good with that.”
William F. Cody was dying. He knew it and he knew that it would be soon—no matter what the doctors Louisa kept bringing in to poke and prod at him said. Strangely enough, it really didn’t matter. Other than the fact that he was leaving family behind, he was ready to go.
He’d had a long and illustrious life, more illustrious than anyone in Iowa or Kansas where he’d grown up would have ever believed. He suffered his ups and downs and he liked to think that most of his life had been on the “up” side. Now, in his sister’s home, in the “bosom” of his family, he was tired and ready to sleep the final sleep.
His only wish, if he could have had any wish granted, was that he would have one last chance to say good-bye to those who had meant so much to him in his life. In his innermost heart, he firmly believed that some of these same people had made him the man he was—even though he’d never admit that to anyone.
Men like Teaspoon Hunter, the stationmaster at his “home” stations in first Sweetwater and then Rock Creek and Sam Cain the local marshal had taught the cocky younger Cody much more than he ever dreamed he would learn. And women like Emma Shannon and Rachel Dunne who had tolerated the antics of the young men who lived in their bunkhouses and given many of them the type of love and guidance that few of them had ever experienced before.
But most of all, Cody wished he could say good-bye to the “boys.” These were the first real friends he’d ever had. They rode together, fought together—and sometimes fought each other. They stood together against adversity and finally, sadly, had drifted apart.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t try to find them,” Cody lamented softly. Louisa and his sister strained to listen to his words.
“Find who?” his sister, May, asked quietly.
“I didn’t have to find Ike or Noah,” Cody continued, her words unheard. “They were already dead. And Jimmy, too.”
He struggled to sit up but the effort was too much. “Damn that Jimmy,” he continued angrily. “He had so much to live for but he let his temper and his reputation take too much of his life!”
“Ya know, I was always afraid during the war.” Turning towards the women, he groaned as the pain shot through his back and side. “I was always afraid I’d meet up with Kid and would have to kill him . . . he was a Reb, ya know.”
Shaking his head sadly, Cody added, “I never did think he was so much in favor of slavery as he was against the government telling people what they could and couldn’t do. But it wouldn’t have mattered. He was a Reb and I was Union and we’d have had to try to kill each other. Guess God was looking out for both of us, since I never did see hide nor hair of him.”
“Bill, you really should get some rest now,” Louisa said.
“I’ll be resting long enough real soon,” Cody countered. Seeing the look on her face, he smiled. “Don’t you worry none, darling. I’m ready to meet the others at the river.”
“The river?” May looked to Louisa for explanation. The other woman shrugged her ignorance of the reference.
“One of the songs they used to sing at the church Emma made us boys go to was ‘Shall We Gather At The River’,” Cody explained. “Right after Ike died we all decided that we’d all meet at the river one day.” His laugh turned into a painful cough.
When the spell had passed, he continued hoarsely. “We all decided we’d meet at the river and have a good old time. But I sure wish I could have seen ‘em all one more time before that.”
He paused for a moment to reach for a glass of water. Louisa jumped up to help him.
“I hunted for Kid and Lou after the war,” he said. “It wasn’t easy since I didn’t even know his real name. I almost found ‘em too. Came real close. Kid had been killed at Gettysburg but Lou had a home in Virginia.”
The man sighed. “I got there too late. She’d died not more than a month earlier from pneumonia. They told me she’d sat at Kid’s grave for days and nobody could make her go home—until she got so sick she couldn’t fight ‘em no more.”
His voice became harsher. “Lou never struck me as one to give up on anything. She was stronger than that. Sure she loved Kid, but that wasn’t a reason to give up on life. She had a lot of life left to live and dang it she should have lived it!”
“Bill, please,” Louisa pleaded. “You shouldn’t be getting yourself worked up like this.”
“I’m all right!’ her husband insisted.
“It should have been easy finding Sam and Emma, him being a marshal and all,” he continued. “I should’a been able to track them down out in Wyoming but it was just like they disappeared off the face of the earth. The last place anyone knew anything about them was in Cheyenne. He worked there for most of three years. But then . . . maybe they went farther West, I don’t know. It should have been simple . . . “
Cody’s voice trailed off and for a moment the two women thought he’d fallen asleep. Louisa was reaching down to pull the blanket up around him when he spoke again.
“Teaspoon Hunter died in 86. He wrote me once or twice through the show. Said I was finally getting paid for telling my tall tales.” Cody grinned wryly. “He had some pretty tall stories himself in his days—but we come to find out most of his were true.”
“I read somewhere that Rachel got married again and moved back East. I had Pinkerton men trying to find her but they never did . . . worthless bunch of so and so’s. They just took my money and I don’t think they even tried.”
“At least I know something of what happened to most of them,” he added thoughtfully. “Except for Buck.”
Cody shifted again, trying to get more comfortable. “I always knew it would be hard to find Buck – especially if he didn’t want to be found. Of all of them, I think he’s the one I wonder about the most. We were his family and I have this feeling that when we all left he got lost somehow. Especially since he didn’t have Ike anymore. I wonder if he’ll be at the river.”
He began to hum softly. While a bit off key, both May and Louisa recognized the tune. Together the two women began to sing.
“Shall we gather at the river,
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
On the margin of the river,
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
Ere we reach the shining river,
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
At the smiling of the river,
Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
As the song finished, Cody looked at the two women and made his final request of them. “You make sure they sing that at my funeral.”
His eyes closed then and he slept the final sleep.
Shall we gather at the river,
It had been a time of innocence. A time that while he yearned for something like it, he knew he didn’t…couldn’t belong. Not to something so pure.
Not when he had blood on his hands.
Spending time with Alice had been like a trip back in time. A trip to an easier place where he could almost see himself rolling back his sleeves and enjoying the feel of dirt under his nails… just to see her smile. Just to hear her say his name. “James.”
He surveyed the congregation that had gathered together for this somber occasion and he felt their pride. Alice was spring, flowers on the hillside and birds in the brush. He was the cold bite of winter, ice blocking the stream, a lone predator on the hunt. There was nothing to hold them together except his stubborn need. He wanted her… physically, yes… but it went so much deeper than that. Jimmy wanted the peace that she represented… that this place represented.
Peace. It was an addictive thought and yet, he knew it was well out of his reach. Knew that there was something lurking in his life, in his soul that would never truly accept the life that they led, no matter how much he wanted it.
He’d considered it; sure he’d even tried it that night in her room. He’d imagined his life with her, laughing, working at her side … looking over his shoulder. It hadn’t taken long to realize… that his mind would always turn to the shadows… would always worry what would happen next.
There just wasn’t much room in his life for peace. He’d been too long on one path that he didn’t think he could ever find his way to another… even with her help. What if he dragged her down with him? Would he be able to survive the thought of pain in her eyes?
So, here he was beating a fast retreat before he gave into his weakness for her. He’d saddled his mount that day; he’d used the time to shed the ties he’d made. Steeled himself for the pain of separation and willed his heart to go silent. That was the only way he’d be able to leave.
Now, he was a world away, even though he could hear her voice over the gentle bubbling of the river as it moved past the assembled group. Jimmy heard her vows spoken over the beating of his heart. He wanted more for her… more than what he wanted for himself, and so
Ere we reach the shining river,
The gentle rocking motion and soft sounds of the water rhythmically slapping the sides of the boat were soothing and aided in Jimmy's sleep after his long, hard ride.
Jimmy opened his eyes and stared up at what he expected to be the bunkhouse ceiling. Only seeing pitch black, he quickly lifted his head to look around. The movement caused such agony that he had to squeeze his eyes shut against the searing pain. Placing his head slowly back onto what should have been his pillow and bunk, he breathed deeply, waiting for the pain and dizziness to subside. Once more, he opened his eyes and, looking up, still saw nothing. Nothing except a darkness that was beyond anything he'd ever seen. There'd been some moonless nights out on the plains that caused one to not see a hand in front of them but this...this was different. A shiver ran up his spine.
'Where am I?'
He remembered coming home from his run. Though it had been longer than most, it had been uneventful. He'd eaten supper with the others, even had enough energy to poke fun at Cody's new hat, but once Teaspoon had called lights out, Jimmy was asleep before his head hit the pillow. As he thought about the pillow, he raised his hand to touch what his head was on and felt only hard wood. Hearing the sounds of water and wind, an eerie sound almost like moaning; he tried to lift his head once more.
There still was pain though not as intense as the first time. He decided not to push it and gently placed his head back down. Sighing, he ran his hands over his face and felt hair on his upper lip.
"Oh, Mr. Hickok," a raspy, low voice said, "you're awake."
This time he wasn't as cautious lifting his head and sat up quickly, his hands flying to his hips touching nothing. The spinning sensation in his head was compounded by the boat rocking so he grabbed for where he thought the edge of the boat was to steady himself. His right hand hit the side but his left hand grasped air. The boat was larger than he thought. How had he ended up in a boat? And if he had facial hair, how long had he been out? As he regained his balance though, he realized he had bigger worries - where were his guns? He looked around frantically, still not seeing anything.
The more he heard from the voice the more it grated, causing Jimmy to cringe. The sound reminded him of when the hayloft door had come loose in a storm and had rubbed against the side of the barn. The riders hadn't been able to fix it for almost two days because of the wind and the wood against wood scraping had driven Jimmy almost mad. Snapping himself out of his musings, he looked back and, straining his eyes, he saw a hooded figure standing at the stern with a staff, guiding the boat.
"Who are you?" he asked as he tried desperately to catch a glimpse of the face deeply set in the cowl.
"Hmm," the figure murmured.
Jimmy had the odd impression of whomever - or whatever - was standing there, tapping its finger against its chin in thought. Of course, Jimmy saw that both arms of the robe were moving the pole. At least that's what it looked like to him.
"Let's answer your first question and move on from there."
Confused, Jimmy looked intently at the figure. 'That was my first question,' he thought, trying, again, to get any kind of idea what this person looked like.
"Well, no, actually, your first question was about where you are." The figure chuckled at Jimmy's dumfounded expression. "Don't look so surprised."
The voice's harsh laugh made Jimmy's skin crawl. Looking around, hoping to find a way out, he was startled by a high-pitched keening.
"Oh, don't be too distressed by the noise," the voice said matter-of-factly. "I suppose an introduction would help." The figured cleared its throat and, holding the staff with one hand, he bowed slightly and announced, "I am Charon, at your service."
"Karen?" Jimmy repeated, a slight smirk on his face. How could someone named Karen concern him? That was a girl's name.
"No!" Charon barked, annoyed at the effrontery of this insolent man. "It's Charon - C.H.A.R.O.N. - Charon. I am the ferryman."
Jimmy shrunk back at the sound of the being's booming voice. The rumble caused the whole place, wherever that was, to shake and the keening surrounding them increased. Glancing around, trying to locate the source of the wailing, possibly some animal in pain, he absentmindedly rubbed his fingers over his moustache. His fingertips continued around, tracing the lines around his mouth, slowly moving up to the wrinkles around his eyes. Where had all this come from?
His expression changed from one of puzzlement to one of fear, something he instinctively knew he hadn't felt in a very long time. He had to think of some way out of here but how?
"Uh, the ferryman?" Jimmy asked tentatively, hoping that he could garner enough information out of his captor so as to plan an escape.
"I ferry the travelers to their destination," Charon answered, as he went back to steering the boat. As Jimmy pondered this, wondering what destination, Charon continued, "And there is no escape."
Shocked again that this thing knew what he was thinking, his voice barely a whisper, he asked, "Who are you?"
"As I said, Wild Bill," Charon began. He paused a moment, before asking, "May I call you Wild Bill? I mean that is what all your friends call you."
Jimmy's eyes grew wide; he'd never wanted that moniker. He hated Marcus for creating such a character and attaching him to it. He opened his mouth to denounce the name but nothing came out.
"Well, Wild Bill," Charon said, laughing, "I'm the ferryman, an important position here, and I've been looking forward to you being a passenger in my boat." He quickened his pace, increasing the movement of the boat, causing Jimmy to clutch the side again. "We are a tad behind schedule. We should have reached Styx by now, but we're still on Acheron." He held a robed arm out over the river. "Can't you hear the souls calling?"
Now completely terrified, Jimmy realized that the keening was indeed the wailing of other people and the rumble intensified. Standing abruptly, he searched everywhere for sight of land or something. But, the darkness gave nothing away. Running his fingers through his hair in distress, he stopped when he felt something wet at the back of his head. As the realization of what it was hit him, the blood rushed through his body and a wave of dizziness over came him. The boat was rocking precariously but Jimmy didn't care, he had to get away.
"You must sit down, Wild Bill," Charon ordered, his bellowing voice causing the water to churn. "Mr. Hickok sit down! You are my passenger! There's nowhere for you to go!"
Jimmy didn't care at this point since he had nothing to lose. The rumbling was so loud by now; Charon's voice was almost drowned out.
"I ain't no one's passenger!" Jimmy yelled, as he gulped in a huge breath and dove into the inky depths of Acheron
Gasping for air, his eyes flew open but this time he saw the bunkhouse ceiling. He was in Sweetwater.
"It was a dream," he muttered, shaking his head quickly to stop the low rumbling sound that still rang in his ears. Relieved, he closed his eyes again and breathed deeply.
Unfortunately, the rumbling grew louder.
Startled, his eyes flew opened; worried he'd see Charon. But, relieved, all he saw was the bunkhouse ceiling and yet, the rumbling was there. Concentrating, it finally dawned on him what it was.
Chuckling softly, Jimmy never thought he'd be so happy to hear that sound in all his life.
Sitting up slowly, he propped himself on one elbow and glanced over to where his gun was still hanging. Staring curiously at the Colt, he wondered why, in his dream, he reached down to both hips. Dismissing it as just a part of a dream, he looked around the bunkhouse. Everyone was sleeping peacefully, even through Buck's noise. They'd accepted it as a part of him, just as they'd accepted Jimmy's temper or Kid's need for control, or Cody's mouth. As family, that's what you did. Family.
Sighing, he laid his head back on his pillow, only to pop it back up and touch the back of it tentatively. Happy to feel nothing but hair, he calmed down and closed his eyes to sleep.
"I'll never be Wild Bill," he mumbled. "And I'll never be your passenger Karen." And, with a small grin, he drifted off, into dreamless sleep.
Indian proverb, ‘a little rain each day will fill the rivers to overflowing’
“Want to talk about it?” Buck questioned as he walked up to a sulking Kid.
“Ain’t nothin’ to talk about.” came the sullen answer.
“Suit yourself…” Buck answered indifferently.
If he didn’t want to talk, he wasn’t going to make him. He had learnt long ago that certain people who needed to get something off their chest would prefer to do so in their own time. It was considered polite to ask about what obviously bothered someone once, but most considered it to be annoying if asked about it twice.
As Buck turned around to walk back to where he came from Kid spoke up again.
“I can’t believe she’s mad at me… I ain’t even done anything!”
Buck tried to respond but quickly realized he had tried to soon. Once Kid got started you’d just have to wait till he was finished.
Leaning against the corral fence Kid continued his story “I come back from the worst week long run and she… she just has a go at me. For no reason at all…! ”
Trying his best to keep a straight face Buck nodded, indicating to Kid that he was listening. He knew Lou was a handful and had a tendency to combust at the slightest irritation, particularly when the naïve Kid would be completely blind to one of her attempts to make an extra effort for him. With all the boys constantly around, the fact they were apart so often taking turns on runs and the given that she was pretending to be someone she wasn’t, made making any kind of effort hard enough as it was.
“She knows what it’s like to come back after a week in the saddle. I was tired, sore to the bone and just wanted to get some sleep. Now that ain’t too much to ask, am I right?” Kid carried on blowing off steam.
No longer being able to conceal the amusement on his face Buck shrugged, afraid that if he did anything else he would burst into laughter. At this point in their relationship both Kid and Lou had settled down a bit, the persistent fighting had stopped and they had a found a natural calmness around each other that suited them and everyone else around just fine. The two would only lash out at each other when circumstances caused them to.
Or better said; Lou would lash out at Kid for reasons that were obvious to everyone but him.
“She had to pull in a lot of favors to get the day off…” Buck answered as he placed himself alongside Kid, leaning against the fence.
Buck knew he had hit a sore spot with the remark when he didn’t get an immediate response to his statement and waited patiently for Kid to take a moment to think it over.
“I know… “he finally admitted grudgingly. “But it still don’t make things right…”
Buck sighed. This was going to be one of those days where everything just seemed completely out of whack. Though he normally sided with Lou, usually having the better arguments, today he understood where Kid was coming from and couldn’t blame him for being slightly upset.
Buck did wonder however, if Kid had actually taken the time to hear Lou out before saying no to whatever she had asked him. But judging by Kid’s surly behavior he could easily conclude that certainly had not been the case. It didn’t exactly come as a big surprise, Kid being who he was.
That, and the fact that Lou herself had a unique way of confusing Kid to a point where he didn’t know whether he was coming or going anymore convinced Buck that the two needed a little help in the right direction.
“There is a Kiowa saying, ‘For the friendship of two, the patience of one is required’.” he started. “You and I both know Lou ain’t the patient one in this ‘friendship’ between you two…”
It was Kid’s turn to sigh this time round. “That’s a real beautiful saying Buck, but I didn’t even get a chance to defend myself... I just don’t know why this is such a big deal.”
For a brief moment Buck contemplated asking Kid if he really couldn’t think of any reason why Lou would be so upset with him, but then quickly decided against it. Lou had already told him about her plans, tremendously excited that she had finally managed to get it all together. Buck realized he was going to have to spell things out for his Southern friend, not quite sure if he chose to ignore what took place right in front of him or was genuinely clueless as to why she blew up on him like she had.
Buck inwardly decided it was a combination of both.
“Kid, a little rain each day will fill the rivers to overflowing…” Buck a continued with a playful expression on his face.
Not quite understanding what Buck meant by that, Kid threw him an unintelligible look “Let me guess, more Kiowa wisdom…”
“Not Kiowa, but it is Indian…” Buck answered matter of factly, expectantly waiting for any form of reaction.
When Kid’s sullen mood didn’t change, Buck was skeptical whether his friend had even listened to what he had been saying at all. His last words should have been a dead-giveaway for the reason why Lou had been very displeased with his reaction when she had tried to lay out her plans to him and yet nothing indicated he gotten the hint. He just stood there grumpily pouting like a little child that had been punished without good reason.
Buck nudged Kid’s elbow and threw him a pointed look “A little rain each day…River… overflowing….?”
Kid grumbled inaudibly, making it perfectly clear he was not in the mood for cryptic statements when the true meaning of Buck’s wise words finally sunk in. Blushing all the way down to his toes he didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or offended by his friend’s remark.
“What are you talkin’ about Buck…?” Kid rebutted while he straightening himself.
“All I’m sayin’ is that you haven’t exactly been able to spend much time together… If a river don’t flow properly, it’s bound to run over one day.”
Kid’s chest puffed up in offence. “Our river flows just fine I’ll have you know! Not that it’s any of your business!”
Buck shrugged indifferently. “Alright, if you say so…”
With that, Kid pushed himself from the fence he was leaning against and marched over to the bunkhouse, with a look of sheer determination plastered on his face.
“Where are you goin’?!” Buck yelled after him, hoping he had been able to steer the Kid into the right direction.
“To stir up some currents!!! He barked without looking back.
A/N: This is what happens when you’ve got a head cold, you’re whining to get out of writing a story so that there isn’t an unlucky number for submission totals, and a friend isn’t being too sympathetic.
Why did these things happen to him?
He really didn’t understand it. He was a good rider, the best at the station actually, he didn’t go looking for trouble, it usually just found him, and he didn’t stir up trouble among his fellow riders, he’d learned his lesson on that one after being knocked flat by Hickok one day. And he didn’t deliberately try to provoke things. He’d especially learned his lesson after messing with Buck’s medicine pouch and having an unbelievable amount of bad luck while on a run.
But he’d behaved recently. Well, really, behave was such a subjective word. He thought he’d been good; others might not so readily agree with him. It was really all a matter of semantics. But that was getting off the point. He didn’t think he’d done anything to warrant what was happening to him now.
He could just see going back to the station and trying to explain this to Teaspoon and the others.
“See, Teaspoon, the reason I lost the mochilla was because I had to throw in an attempt to call off the attack.”
“The attack, Mr. Cody?” he would ask with that infernal eyebrow twitching up and a confused wrinkling of his forehead.
“Yes, Teaspoon,” he would try to patiently explain. “The attack. The pack was hard on my heels and it was either save the mail or save the horse. I figured the horse was more important. See, I added a little food to the pouch in an attempt to distract them.”
“A pack of what?” someone would ask. Probably Hickok. He was always giving Cody grief.
“A pack of wolves,” he’d answer. At which point everyone would double over in laughter and think he’d just lost the mochilla through carelessness.
Nobody would believe he’d been chased by a persistent pack of wolves that wouldn’t give up no matter how many times he twisted and turned and double backed and tried to shake them. It was almost like they could read his mind. Like they could anticipate his moves. What he needed was something big, something that the wolves wouldn’t be able to follow him across. Something like a canyon, or a river.
But there weren’t either of those around at the moment. Besides, unless his horse suddenly sprouted wings, he didn’t think he’d make it across. And with his luck, the wolf pack would swim the river and continue on with the chase. He was running out of options here. He’d used his last pack of firecrackers, and that hadn’t stopped the wolves, he’d fired his gun at them, and that hadn’t stopped them. He’d tossed what food he did have – and man was his stomach rumbling in protest – and that hadn’t stopped them either.
Holding tight to the reins he cast a desperate look around while sending up a volley of fervent prayers. There had to be something.
And then he saw it. A clump of green on an otherwise brown, flat endless expanse of ground. Green trees, trees meant water, and maybe, just maybe, it’d be a river that would deter the wolves.
Wheeling his horse around, he dug his heels into his mount’s flanks and reminded himself to apologize later to the animal when they were finally safe. Along with making sure the horse got an ample supply of oats as a reward. What he really needed was a little bit of luck, and he hoped that this time he found it.
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