Topic #71: That's a skunk, not a kitty
Easy to See by: Raye That's a .... by: Raye
The Best Laid Plans by: Lori Save the Kitty! by: Dede
Welcome to the Neighborhood by: Cindy The Favor by: Cathy
Easy to See
by: Raye

It was easy to see that things at the Sweetwater Station were not going to settle back into the old rhythm. The old patterns. As unsettling as it was for most, Teaspoon seemed to take it with a grain of salt. Leaning over to Rachel on the porch swing he gave a resigned sigh. “I guess things couldn’t go on ridin’ on and on without havin’ to change directions a time or two.”

Kid stepped up into the buckboard and gave them a wave before snapping the reins and heading into town. Rachel gave him a grin that looked more like a grimace to Teaspoon. “True enough, Teaspoon.”

A figure stepped out into the yard and froze, watching the buckboard bump and rattle over the nearly worn path toward town. Even with the oversized clothing they didn’t miss the tense set of her shoulders, the hesitant energy vibrating through her body.

“Aw hell.”

Rachel jabbed her elbow in Teaspoon’s side. “You oughta go talk with her.”

“Uh… looks like I won’t have to.”

The bunkhouse door opened and two other riders stepped into the sunlight. Ike passed by Lou with a touch to her shoulder. Buck leaned in to whisper something in her ear. A few moments later she was shaking with laughter and followed them into the barn.

“Things ain’t been right since Lou and Jimmy rode off to Willow Springs.”

Rachel gave him a look and sat back in the swing, her arms folded over her chest. “If you ask me, it started goin’ in this direction a long time ago… we’re just going to have to see where it goes from here.”

*** ***

Kid pulled the buckboard up outside the school house and set the brake. Tipping the brim of his hat to a few folks passing by, Kid climbed down from the seat and straightened his clothes. Preacher Hawthorne stepped up and offered a hand to the Kid.

“Why, son… I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you trussed up in your Sunday best on any other day. Dare I hope that you’ve found some worthy activity to occupy your time?” He caught the sly sideways glance to the schoolhouse and gave a hearty chuckle. “I see… well, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone set their cap for the young lady. Quite the beauty.”

Kid shifted on his feet, giving the preacher a happy grin. “Yes, sir… she is.”

The older man clapped a hand on Kid’s shoulder. “If you should need… my assistance with something of the ‘official’ nature, feel free to stop by and talk to me.”

Bobbing his head, Kid’s feet started to move in the direction of the schoolhouse on their own. “I’ll keep that in mind, Revernd Hawthorne. I’ll let you know.”

The clock in the tower of the Town Hall chose that moment to ring out and nearly cause him to stumble from the walk as a flood of children burst from the schoolhouse door and rushed in all directions. Little elbows bounced off his body and feet trampled over his boots, but he didn’t mind. He waded through the throng and paused at the school house door. The room was empty of people, books and slates littering the desks and pots of paint sprinkled on the teacher’s desk.

“Samantha?”

Kid whipped his hat off his head and held it in both his hands. He listened for a response, but there was no sweet voice calling his name, just some shuffling sounds from the back room. Setting his hat down on the teacher’s desk, Kid picked up a few pots of paint, his fingertips dipping into the colors goo-ing up his skin as he moved toward the utility room in the back.

Holding them aloft so that she could see his efforts on her behalf. “Samantha? I thought I’d bring these back for you to wash-”

Kid froze as his foot faltered on an uneven board, but it wasn’t so much the creak of the wood beneath his foot that sent the world spinning around him as it was the sight of Samantha, in the arms of another man. “What’s going on here?”

She turned, a bright smile on her face fading to a thin line of concern. “Kid?” Her hand stilled on the man’s chest. The gesture wasn’t lost on Kid; the tender touch was familiar, intimate. “Why are you here?”

“Why?” He dropped the paint pots into a basin against the wall and paint splattered back up and onto his suit. “Why? I came to take you to supper.”

“That’s sweet-” she gave him a sympathetic look, “really… but Kid,” she sent a sideways glance to the tall gentleman in a striped suit beside her, “Jared was going to take me to the café. He’s just come to town to work in the bank as one of the officers.”

“The bank…” Kid rubbed his hand over his jaw and stared at the older man, “I suppose that’s a good job.”

“Wonderful,” she assured him, “he’ll be such a well respected member of the community and I’ve been showing him around town, introducing him to the finest people.”

His fingers plowed through the curls on his head as he pondered her words. “Funny,” he chuckled, “you ain’t brought him by the station yet. “

She paused, her mouth slightly open, her hand lifting to her lips as though she’d suddenly remembered something very disturbing. “Oh, well… I guess I just… it must have been a-”

Kid looked into her face and saw the splotches of color staining her cheeks. “No… I don’t think I want to hear what you have to say.” He swallowed hard and let her see the anger in his eyes. “I don’t think I can trust that sweeter’n’sugar sound in your voice. I’ve been swayed by that more than…” he looked at the banker standing at her side, “my share of women that lead a man to believe he’s the one that has their hearts and then take it all away.”

“Now, Kid-” there it was, iron under the sugar, “you didn’t… you couldn’t have thought that… that you and-” her hand settled over her heart and her face drew tight in a worried expression, “you thought that we-”

“Yes.” He stood a little straighter and lifted his chin up so that even the banker could see the anger flashing in his eyes. “I thought you could love me… I thought I proved that when that man, Robert, came lookin’ for you and treated you so bad.”

She opened her mouth to answer him, but he held up a hand.

“Save your words for your fella standin’ there behind you.” His lip curled in disgust, “He’ll need them when you find someone else that catches your fancy.”

He turned and took a few steps away before swinging around to face them again. “Keep your important new friends, Samantha… keep them away from the station. We’re not the kind of people who want to know them.”

A moment later he was gone, the hollow clomp of his boots on the floorboards the only sound left behind him.

That's a...
by: Raye

A series of shorts and Cindy gets the blame...er thanks for!

There was little to do but put up with the childish whims of a little boy with a heart of gold. There was little to do, but gamely follow along, allowing himself to stumble along behind to see the magical creature that held his son in such rapt attention. The barn was a haven for every furry thing that walked the earth and if it was small and furry, his son would find it. Would love it. Would want to keep it for his own. “Look Papa,” the little voice filtered through Sam’s brain, “kitty!”

Black and white striped… Lordy!

*** ***

Life with a gaggle of sisters made for a life in hell. They whined… they nagged… they tried to drown him in the bath. ‘Sisters,’ figured Billy Cody, ‘weren’t worth the silly ribbons in their hair.’

Kathra despised him and knocked his lunch pail over in the classroom. She’d drop his reader in the slop bucket out back by the barn. She wouldn’t care a bit when he cried. Julia weren’t much better. She weren’t as cruel, but she didn’t stop Kathra.

He might be a little snip of nuthin’ but he’d gotten them back. A skunk in their trunk.

*** ***

He’d gotten whupped but good. His backside still stung with the blows of the hickory stick. It hadn’t been anythin’ more than a joke. Papa didn’t think so, covered in stink. His Papa had a mean streak especially when supper was interrupted. Especially when he’d gotten the whiskey in him, drank it down.

The fun was lost in the pain. Regret the only thing he’d remember. Regret and the shadow of his father’s hand on the floor.

His sister slipped into his room and touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jimmy… the skunk… I’d never have told you to do it....”

*** ***

Blond curls the color of sunlight was enticement enough, the promise of a surprise… well, that was worth the wait. “Just a minute, Kid.” He wanted to tell her that if she talked to him with that sweet as sugar voice he’d wait until Judgment Day and then some.

The soft silk of her skin against his field worn fingers was heaven. “Hold out your arms.” He did as he was told and felt something squirm against him. With a giggle she removed the blindfold, “Surprise!”

He stared down into the beady little eyes of a skunk. “Doritha! What?”

Pffft!

*thanks to Cindy and Dee for making sure these were okay to post :)*

The Best Laid Plans
by: Lori

More James and Emmaline. I thank Raye for the way this went.

He was going to be ill. Who knew something like this could be so nerve-wracking? Sure, he had been nervous about facing down Longley that day in Sweetwater, the man was a professional killer after all and reputed to be fast and accurate, but James had done it. And he hadn’t felt like he was going to be sick in the middle of the street. But as he waited for Emmaline to appear, his stomach was clenching in knots and his palms were sweaty.

Then again, he’d never done this before. Had never even seriously contemplated this before with anyone, and so he figured this was how he knew it was right. Love was fantastic, but it could also make a person feel dizzy and unsteady. Like now.

Finally, he saw Emmaline on the path leading to the bridge and his heart felt lighter. She was beautiful and amazing and today he was going to let her know exactly how he felt about her. He was going to ask her to marry him, offer to move from Rock Creek, and vow to support her in her bakery endeavor. He would do anything to make her happy.

Right now he just needed to make it through the proposal without throwing up on her.

He knew the moment she saw him because she paused and looked at him curiously. She hesitated, looked back towards town, and then finally, slowly made her way towards him. Pausing a few feet from each other, Emmaline tilted her head to the side and asked, “James, what are you doing here?”

He smiled nervously and said, “I was waiting for you.”

“Why?” she asked, her body stiff and her arms folded across her stomach. She didn’t look as happy to see him as he’d thought she’d be and his already nervous and anxious stomach jumped and rolled.

“I…I wanted to see you,” he said, his palms feeling clammy and his back beading with sweat despite the breeze. “I wanted to surprise you. Mrs. Robbins helped me out by sending you out here.”

“Hmm,” she said, the corners of her mouth turned slightly downward. “For a picnic?”

“Yeah,” James breathed out, trying to keep from panting while hoping to calm his stomach. “I know how much you like sitting here by the water.”

She made a non-committal noise in her throat and then looked up at him. Instantly the frown on her face was replaced by a look of concern. Her brows drew downward and she asked, “James, are you…are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he tried to assure her, even though he felt ready to fall down. This wasn’t going at all how he’d hoped and planned it. He should have known better with Emmaline. Apparently, nothing with her would ever be easy.

“Maybe you should sit down,” she suggested. “You don’t look so good.”

Maybe he would sit down. He could just as easily tell her he loved her while sitting on the blanket as he could while standing. Of course, he hoped to be able to kneel when he actually asked her to marry him. When he nodded, Emmmaline was immediately at his side, taking his arm and helping him. He liked her proximity, but he didn’t like the manner in which it happened. He was not that bad off.

“There,” she said once he was sitting. “Do you have anything to drink?”

“I…,” he frowned. He was supposed to lay the food out, showing her that he’d chosen her favorites. “There’s some lemonade in the jug to the side and a…”

He never got the chance to tell her about the bottle of wine he’d brought for the hopeful celebration. She reached into the basket and retrieved a glass and poured him a drink. Shifting so she was kneeling beside him, she pressed it into his hand and urged him to drink. The drink was bitter as he tasted it, the hotel hadn’t put enough sugar in it and he tried not to curl his nose at it, but wasn’t quite successful. It settled on his stomach like a stone and made his sides clench.

“Better?” she asked.

He nodded even though it was the farthest thing from the truth.

“I…I wanted to talk to you, Emmaline,” he tried to begin to salvage the moment.

But she shook her head and shushed him. “Just sit quietly for a moment, James. Take deep breaths and just try to relax.”

“I am relaxed,” he snapped. “I wanted to talk.”

“We’ll talk in a moment,” she placated him. “I just want to…”

Reaching out, she removed his hat and brushed back the hair that had fallen in his face. Placing her cool hand against his forehead, he closed his eyes in the pure bliss of her touch. But immediately she removed her hand and shifted and the next moment his eyes flew open as she was once again touching him. This time with her cheek. The soft sent of lavender water drifted over him and he found it calming and pleasant, even though he normally didn’t care for lavender. He preferred rose water on women.

With his eyes open, he was suddenly struck with just how close she was to him, and he suddenly averted his gaze as he found himself staring straight at her bosom. Yes, it was covered, and there was no danger of him seeing anything, but still. He would not have her feel like he was ogling her at this awkward moment. He felt her shift and then her lips brushed over his skin. Of all the ways he ever imagined that act taking place, this was no where on the list.

His eyes widened and flew upwards when she let out an oath he had no idea she’d ever heard. “You’re burning with fever, James.”

“No, no, I’m fine,” he tried to assure her. “I’m just nervous. I…I wanted to make this special for you.”

“Did you ride your horse?” she asked, pulling back to look around. “Or did you…”

He could hear the pleasure in her voice. “You rented a buggy.”

“I did,” he confirmed. “I was hoping we could take a drive later.”

“The only place you’re going is back to town,” Emmaline said succinctly. “So you can see the doctor. James, you’re not well.”

“I am,” he insisted. “I…Emmaline, this isn’t how I meant this to go. I wanted to tell you I love you while we ate and Mrs. Robbins packed some of those little cakes you like so much and I…I have a ring.”

He stopped and frowned, leaning forward. His stomach still shouldn’t hurt so much now that he was admitting everything to Emmaline. He should feel relief. Instead, he felt worse.

“A…a r-ring?” Emmaline’s voice was shaky as her hands fluttered nervously over him.

“I want you to marry me, Emmaline,” he said, looking up at her. The least he could do was look at her if he couldn’t kneel.

“Marry you?” she repeated. “You want to marry me?”

“I do,” he nodded, then instantly stopped because that action didn’t agree with him at all. “I love you.”

“Oh, you silly fool,” she laughed, as tears bubbled to her eyes. “I love you, too. Now stop talking and let me help you stand. We need to get you to the doctor.”

“Not until you answer me,” he insisted. Resisting her attempts as she grabbed at his arm.

“Answer you?” She was gathering what she could and finally shook her head, “I’ll come back for it later. Come on, James.”

“Answer me,” he repeated. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” she sighed, her eyes drifting upwards. “Now please, let me help you stand. We need to get you to the buggy.”

Pleased with her answer, he knew that the ring and the wine could wait. She would not let up for anything and was determined to take him to the doctor, even though he was sure he was doing better. The fluttering in his stomach was due to his excitement over the situation.

“Come on,” she coaxed. “Lean on me. I’m not as weak as you might think.”

He found it necessary to lean against her, even though he was sure he was too heavy. But Emmaline was correct, she was stronger than she looked and she was able to help him as they walked towards the buggy. Why had he parked the conveyance so far away? Had he not hobbled the horse right and it had wandered? That was the last time he rented the buggy from the stable. Clearly the brake wasn’t working properly.

Suddenly he stopped and pulled his arm away from Emmaline and she immediately turned towards him. “James?”

“Emmaline…I…” He wanted to be delicate, he wanted to be discrete, but in the end, all he could manage to do was suddenly turn his back on his fiancée and bend over then fall to all fours.

“It’s alright, James,” she soothed when he finally stopped embarrassing himself in the grass. Her touch was light on his back and he wished he could enjoy the moment. “It’s alright. Let’s get you into the buggy.”

He looked up and discovered that she’d moved it while he’d been indisposed. She really was a reliant woman, and apparently not skittish at all around horses. He pushed himself up to standing and she was there, putting her arm around him delicately and helping him to the buggy. Once he was in the seat, she handed him a napkin and then left him to wipe his face while she walked around to the other side. Climbing up into the seat beside him, she reached for the reins and flicked them lightly across the horse’s back.

She kept the horse to a slow, sedate pace and thankfully they were able to make it back to town and to the doctor’s without the need to stop. By the time they arrived, he was leaning heavily against her side and she was bearing his weight and still managing to control the horse.

“Here we are,” she said, stopping the buggy and setting the brake. “I’m just going to go get the doc.”

“Thank you,” he sighed, sliding down in the seat. “You take such good care of me.”

“Of course,” she smiled at him. “Because someday I’m sure you’ll return the favor. After all…we are getting married.”

Save the Kitty!
by: Dede

Jimmy was miserable.

It was a beautiful day outside. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and it was comfortably warm – even though it was early April. He yearned to do something. He had chores to do around the house, though that wasn’t what he really wanted to do. He wanted to play with his children, take Joshua fishing or take the whole family on a picnic. Anything but what he was doing at that very moment.

*ACHOOO!*

“Jimmy?”

Lou hurried into the room and was by Jimmy’s side in an instant. He squirmed to get his arm free so he could take the clean handkerchief she offered.

“Tank ‘oo,” he mumbled, wiping his nose. He felt this had been going on long enough; two whole days of sneezing and blowing his nose. He stuffed the handkerchief into his shirt pocket because, as the days had gone, he knew he’d need it again.

Lou motioned for him to put his arm back under his blanket. Once he complied, she pulled the quilt up around his neck. He slumped farther down in the chair. He had his legs propped up on the ottoman with the covers wrapped tightly around him. He must have looked just like he was in a cocoon.

“Do you need anything?” She fiddled with the blanket, making sure it was secure. When she was satisfied, she collected his used handkerchiefs and stuffed them into her apron pocket.

“Un-unh,” he mumbled, shaking his head. He regretted the movement because it made his head hurt a little. As she turned away, he cleared his throat. “Hey, I’b sorry,” he said. Lou smiled when he puckered his lips as if to kiss her. He tried to return the smile, ending up with more of a grimace.

“By head feels like it weighs as buch as that dang dog.” As if on cue, they heard Hickok barking gleefully outside. Jimmy grunted.

“I don’t think you planned this,” she said, laughing. She squeezed his shoulder and planted a kiss on the top of his almost-buried head. “I really think you should be in bed,” she said, running her hand across his forehead. “You feel pretty warm.”

“I ab warb,” he muttered. “I’b wrapped up as tight as a pea in a pod.” He emphasized the point by trying to wiggle; he barely moved an inch.

“It’s good for you,” Lou chastised him, again, pulling the covers up around his neck. He answered her worries with a disgruntled sound. Laughing, she went back into the kitchen.

“I bet the kids are habin’ fun,” Jimmy said, sleepily, as he drifted off in his warm, soft shell.

*~*~*~*~*

“Hickok!” Joshua yelled. “You’re supposed to bring the stick back to me.” Joshua ran after the dog, as Hickok, happily wagging his tail, ran away with his prize.

“Joshua,” Em said, watching her little brother run towards the back of the barn. “You aren’t supposed to go that far. Not out of the yard.” She was so annoyed her mother was making her watch Joshua.

“I know that!” Joshua yelled.

Em did understand that her mother wanted them out of the house, not only because of the mild weather, but because of their father being sick. Mama was adamant that no one else catch his cold so she was cleaning constantly, doing laundry every day, particularly with all the handkerchiefs Daddy was going through. She’d even sent Polly Ann back to bed that morning just because the little girl had sneezed. Em, however, had other things to do, such as decide which material to use for her new dress. The dance was in little more than a week.

Antsy to get sewing, Em noticed that Maggie had her nose, as always, stuck in a book. Mama had put Em in charge so it was only right that Em could delegate some of her responsibilities. Of course, it was only Joshua she was in charge of but that didn’t matter to Em at the moment.

“Maggie, I’m going inside, watch him.” Not giving her sister a chance to reply, or argue, Em turned quickly and her skirt swirled around her. She giggled and ran to the house.

*~*~*~*~*

Maggie looked up just in time to see her sister disappear inside. “She always does that,” she muttered. “She’s always thinking of herself and those stupid socials.” Maggie did care about how she looked but nothing like the frills and lace Em put on. Her older sister was always telling her that Maggie would never find a husband in the pages of her books. Maggie knew that because there wasn’t a man in Sweetwater that could match any of the heroes in them. She looked around, spotting Joshua standing beside the barn, peering into the small cluster of trees. “Joshua!” She waited a moment but the young boy didn’t respond. “Joshua! Do you hear me?” she hollered.

“What!” he snapped, though he didn’t turn to look at her.

“Do not go any farther!” She stared at him for a moment longer, making sure he would stay put and, when he didn’t move, she went back to reading.

*~*~*~*~*

Joshua hated how his sisters always bossed him around; two of them at least. Polly Ann was always siding with him, which was only fair – two against two. Unfortunately, they were the younger two. He stopped just on the edge of what his parents considered ‘the yard’ but Hickok kept going. He wasn’t sure what to do next. He glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder wondering if they’d really notice he was gone.

Happily, he saw that Em was nowhere to be seen. “Must’a gone inside,” he deduced. He then saw Maggie had gone back to her book, which normally meant her attention would remain in the pages, changed only by an act of God.

“Perfect,” he said, grinning.

He headed into the trees to find his dog.

*~*~*~*~*

“Daddy! Daddy!”

At the sound of his child’s frantic call, Jimmy jerked awake and immediately tried to jump up. Unfortunately, the blanket wrapped securely around his legs hindered any progress. So much so that he fell, or more like rolled, onto the floor. Not having his hands free, he was unable to prevent his face from slamming into the hard floor.

The door flew opened and Joshua came running in. “Daddy!”

Joshua looked over and saw Jimmy flailing about on the floor. With a puzzled look on his face, the little boy cautiously approached him. “Daddy? You okay?”

Lou came running down the stairs. “Joshua!” She looked around for her son and saw that Joshua was squatting by Jimmy on the floor. “Why are you on the floor?”

“I fell,” snapped Jimmy as he finally broke free of his soft trap. Pushing himself up, he was grateful to his son when Joshua offered assistance. Jimmy had to stand slowly or he’d get dizzy and lose his balance. Lou was by his side, helping too.

“Daddy?”

Jimmy looked up to see Polly Ann, holding her blanket and rubbing her eyes.

“I’b fine Sweetie,” he assured her. Once he felt secure on his feet, he turned to Joshua. “Now what happe’ed?”

“What happened?” Joshua asked. “I don’t know, you were on the floor when I got here.”

Jimmy suppressed the desire to shake his son. “Not that…”

“You were yelling,” Lou said, gently reminding the scatterbrained boy.

“Oh!” Joshua was suddenly distraught, jumping up and down, tears filling his eyes. “She’s cornered! She’s cornered! He won’t leave her alone!”

Jimmy’s head couldn’t handle this and he looked to Lou for help. She smiled and put her hands on Joshua’s shoulders, trying to calm him down.

“Joshua,” she said, quietly. “You need to calm down and tell us what’s happened.”

Jimmy walked over to the chair he’d vacated and reached out to Joshua. The boy immediately went to him and leaned into his father’s arms. “Who is ‘she’? And who has her cornered?”

Joshua sniffed a couple of times. Jimmy tried to nudge the boy so Joshua would look at him but he kept his face buried in Jimmy’s shirt. “Joshua, it’s fine, just tell us.”

Sighing softly, Joshua mumbled, “Hickok.”

Jimmy gently pushed Joshua to face him. He saw the sorrow in his son’s eyes and couldn’t understand what was so terrible that Hickok could have done. Yes, the dog drove Jimmy mad but he was really a lovable, easy-going mutt. “Did you say Hickok?”

Joshua just nodded.

Lou had sat down across from Jimmy on the settee and Polly Ann had climbed up to sit next to her. Leaning, against her mother, Polly Ann gasped when Joshua nodded to Jimmy’s question. “What did Hickok do?”

Joshua looked down at the ground, tears threatening to spill. “He cornered her in the…the…”

“Cornered who?” Jimmy asked once more. He wanted Joshua to answer that question above anything else. ‘If it’s one of the women from town…’

“The kitty,” Joshua answered, barely a whisper.

Jimmy’s shoulders relaxed as he smiled at his son and the tragic announcement. He thought everything was fine and Joshua even seemed calmer now that his daddy knew what was happening. That was until Polly Ann reacted to the news.

“Save the kitty! Save the kitty!” The little girl jumped off the seat and ran over to scramble onto Jimmy’s lap. “Daddy, you have to save the kitty!”

This sent Joshua back into the frenzy. “See? I tol’ ya’ I needed help!” Joshua pulled on Jimmy’s hand, trying to make his father stand up. “Come onnnnnn!”

Jimmy wasn’t in the mood but he knew when he saw the faces of his two youngest children, looking at him with the confidence that he, and only he, could make it all better, he had to do something. Resigned to the fact that he would not be getting any rest until this was over, he asked, “Where?”

Joshua heaved a dramatic sigh, one that always reminded his parents of his Uncle Cody.

“Actually, I’d like to ask a question,” Lou said, quietly, in the way mother’s tended to have when asking something that would get someone in trouble. Everyone looked at Lou. “Where is your sister?”

As Joshua stared at the ground, Jimmy eyed his son. It seemed to him that Joshua was trying to figure out what to say so he wouldn’t get in trouble too. Jimmy definitely knew the ways of young boys. He wasn’t disappointed when Joshua finally answered.

“But Mama, we ain’t got the time,” he pleaded, trying to change the subject. Opening his mouth to continue, Joshua realized it wasn’t working, especially when he saw his mother eyeing him intensely. “Well, I think Em’s in here somewhere and Maggie’s –”

Joshua hadn’t even finished before Lou was at the base of the stairs in a few quick strides.

“Emma Louise Hickok!”

Polly Ann and Joshua both exchanged horrified looks. Their mother rarely used their full names unless she was really upset.

“Lou, darlin’,” Jimmy said, trying to distract Lou. He hated any of his children getting punished. “I really think we need to help this cat…now.”

At the mention of the cat, Polly Ann and Joshua resumed their chant. “Save the kitty! Save the kitty!”

“Fine. You two go take care of it. I’m havin’ a chat with your eldest.” Lou stood as if for a gunfight, fists firmly planted on her hips.

Jimmy chuckled as they walked to the door. The children always seemed to be just his when they were in trouble. “Joshua, where is this cat cornered?”

“Um, well,” Joshua hemmed, looking back at Polly Ann, who knew she couldn’t go so she would act as lookout in front of the window to make sure everything worked out.

“Joshua,” Jimmy said, hand resting on the doorknob.

“Daddy, Hickok wouldn’t bring me the stick,” Joshua said, leaping into an explanation, “I had to follow Hickok, he was gonna get lost. I didn’t know that he’d go in there. And I really had to follow him because – ”

“Follow Hickok where?”

“In the small clump a’ trees behind the barn,” the boy answered grudgingly.

Looking heavenward as if for some support, Jimmy sighed. “Combe on, let’s take care a’ this and then we’ll discuss where this took place.”

*~*~*~*~*

Jimmy slowly followed Joshua into the thicket, looking for the dog. Soon they heard Hickok’s jumping and yipping. As they approached, Hickok was only too happy to show them what he’d found. Delighted, he ran up to them, jumped up on Jimmy, and then ran back to the place where the cat was hiding. By now, Jimmy’s head was beating a steady rhythm as he tried to think. He figured if Joshua held Hickok, once the dog was secured, Jimmy would grab the cat. The best laid plans…

“Joshua, I wan’ you to get a hold of Hickok, while I get the cat outta’ the bushes.” Jimmy motioned for Joshua to do as he was told. “I’b pretty sure she’s jus’ frightened and will run the binute she has a chance.”

Joshua was struggling with the dog. Hickok was determined not to let his playmate go. Pulling against Joshua’s feeble hold, Hickok broke free and ran back to his post. Jimmy nudged the dog out of the way and pulled back the brush. Startled, he saw, not a cat, but a –. “Oh great,” he muttered. Grabbing Hickok, he held the dog back.

“Joshua!” Jimmy yelled, straining to hold onto Hickok. “This ain’t no cat! It’s a skunk!”

Jimmy saw that the skunk, having finally been revealed, took offense to this and began its ritual of hissing and foot stamping, holding its tail high. Jimmy, knowing this for what it was – a warning – tried very hard to make Hickok understand. The dog would have none of it and wanted to play, now that his new friend had come out of hiding.

“Joshua! Run!” Jimmy’s head was pounding and he was wheezing, out of breath from straining so hard. He cursed his cold, lack of strength and, above all, the dog. “Hickok!” he said, gritting his teeth. The dog wouldn’t give in and the skunk had enough.

*PFFFFFT*

Hickok bounded away from Jimmy, who was now covered in the skunk’s weapon.

“Wow! That was neat!”

Jimmy was startled to hear his son’s voice. “Did I not tell you to run?”

“Yeah but I figured you’d need my help,” Joshua answered, honestly.

Jimmy shook his head but couldn’t argue. “Well, I do.” He struggled to his feet, refusing Joshua’s help this time. “No, you will stay away frob be and that dog.” He looked around for Hickok and found the poor animal shaking his head, trying to get the smell out of his nose. Jimmy laughed harshly. “Serves you right!” The dog sneezed a few times in response. “Let’s go home,” Jimmy sighed.

*~*~*~*~*

“Mama! Mama!”

Lou ran out of the house, stopping suddenly on the porch. Her hand flew up to cover her nose. “Good Lord what is that smell?”

“Guess what wasn’t a cat,” Jimmy said, grinning. As they’d walked back to the house, he’d realized, rather happily, that he had a cold. And with that cold went his sense of smell.

“Good heavens!” Lou walked down a few steps, careful to keep her distance from her husband. She waved her other hand as if the action would dissipate the odor. Suddenly realizing who Jimmy had been with, she glanced at Joshua.

“Nope, he’s safe,” Jimmy said. “Jus’ be and the brain over there.” He pointed to where Hickok was rolling around in the dirt, trying to rub the smell away.

Jimmy started up the stairs but was immediately stopped by Lou. “Where do you think you are going?”

Joshua giggled because she sounded funny, just like Jimmy, as she spoke while holding her nose. She grinned at her son.

“Lou,” Jimmy said, trying to remain patient. He might not smell it now but his sinuses seemed to be opening up so he soon would. “I have to take a bath.”

“You are not coming into my house,” she said, shaking her head.

“And where do you suggest I take by bath?” Jimmy asked, mocking her tone, playfully.

She pointed at the horse trough. “You and Hickok can take turns.”

When Joshua burst out laughing, Jimmy feigned a hurt look. “And who was it that saved your kitty?” Joshua laughed harder and Jimmy pointed towards the house. “You oughta’ get in there before Hickok gets at ya’.” He chuckled as Joshua, looking nervously towards Hickok, quickly ran inside.

“Now,” Lou said, turning her attention to her husband, “either the trough or the bathhouse in town.” She laughed at Jimmy’s expression, knowing what he thought of riding into town in his state. She really wouldn’t have let him go, not with him still being sick. Her attention drawn to what to do about getting him cleaned, allowed Jimmy to catch her off guard.

“Aw, darlin’,” Jimmy drawled, smiling mischievously at her as he walked up a couple more steps and maneuvered himself between Lou and the house. “I really don’t smell so bad, do I?”

“Jimmy,” Lou said, the warning clear in that one word. She walked slowly down the steps, her hands held out in front of her, and kept her eyes on Jimmy the entire time. “Don’t you dare…”

He chuckled seductively and followed her. As she tried to turn and run, he was too quick and caught her around her waist, pulling her to him.

“Jimmeeeeee!” she squealed, disgusted by the smell but thrilled to be in his arms.

He buried his face in her neck, kissing softly, as she wrapped her arms around him.

*~*~*~*~*

Joshua found Em and Maggie sitting quietly on the settee. Polly Ann had been at the window waiting until he walked in.

“Did ya’ save the kitty?” she asked.

Joshua giggled. “It wasn’t a kitty…it was a skunk!”

Polly Ann laughed as Em and Maggie wrinkled their noses and replied, “Ewwww!”

“It was funny,” Joshua said, indignantly. He knew Polly Ann would have found it as neat as he had. He was right.

“Did it hit ya’?” Polly Ann asked, her interest piqued.

“No but it got Daddy and Hickok!”

“Gosh,” Polly Ann whispered, “wish I could’a gone.”

They were treated to another chorus of “ewwwww” from Em and Maggie.

Joshua looked over at the two. “Are y’all in trouble?”

“Well,” Em hedged, “Mama wants to talk to Daddy so…” She left it at that and exchanged a knowing look with Maggie. Whenever their mother involved their father, their punishment was seriously lessened.

“Besides,” Maggie said, “you’re the one that went off and wasn’t supposed to.”

Joshua rolled his eyes. “Where’d you get off to? I didn’t see ya’ anywhere.”

“After you ran away,” Maggie sniffed, “I came in to tell Mama.” She looked sideways at Em. “That’s when Mama –”

“I thought you said Daddy got skunked?” Polly Ann interrupted. She was looking out the window again.

“He did,” Joshua said, “why?”

“Then why’s Mama lettin’ Daddy touch her?”

The other three joined her and saw Jimmy twirling Lou around.

“Grown-ups are weird,” Joshua said, as Polly Ann nodded her agreement.

But Em and Maggie just smiled, glancing dreamily at each other, as they watched their father and mother kiss.

Welcome to the Neighborhood
by: Cindy

A/N: This story continues the saga of Buck and Skunk, started in "I Think I'll Stay."

Gray skies filled the horizon, punctuated by dark leaden clouds. The combination added up to a dreary scene overall.

Buck glanced up at the sky as he walked toward the barn, but it was just a momentary thing. That was all the time he had to spare considering the coming weather.

Of course, it was actually the weather that was occupying his time, in a way. The threat of snow was very real, and he still had a lot to do before winter settled in to stay.

Given the look of the sky, that could be later today.

He was behind on his winter preparations, and he knew it. It wasn't until after the word came that the Pony Express would be shutting down for good that he even considered buying a place, so it was late in the season anyway. Fortunately, this small farm had been available, and he'd closed the deal at the beginning of November. The weather had still been relatively mild, and he'd figured he had plenty of time.

That was before Teaspoon had needed him on two posses. They were gone four days on one, five on the other. And…

He caught his step as a furry black blur raced between his feet.

And before Skunk came into his life.

He smiled, watching as the kitten leapt and batted at a string dangling from a feed bag. The wind had picked up, preceding the storm, so it was blowing back and forth. A perfect toy.

He'd intended to move the feed bags into the barn next, but it was too much fun watching Skunk play. So Buck left the bags where they were and headed into the barn instead, shaking his head as he went. Who would have believed he was letting a kitten run his life like that? He certainly wouldn't have believed it just three short weeks ago.

And now? Now he couldn't imagine life without the little guy. The kitten had brought a much needed burst of life to the farm. They ate together, with Skunk happily slurping his milk or chomping on some scraps of meat while Buck ate his sandwich. They spent the long evenings together, sitting by the fire while Buck read a book, a sleepy kitten curled in his lap. And they slept together, Skunk a warm, furry presence on the pillow by Buck's head.

During the day, Buck worked hard getting the farm ready for winter. Skunk "helped" - riding on his shoulder, running between his feet, or sitting smugly right where the work needed to be done.

Come to think of it, "help" might not be the right word…

Buck grinned as the kitten came racing past, mewing at the top of his little lungs. He watched as the kitten dug his needle sharp claws into one of the support posts and scrambled up onto the top of the stall wall. That was the little guy's favorite place, pacing back and forth where he could watch everything.

The horse in the nearest stall gave the intruder a slow glance, then quickly turned back to the feed trough. Fortunately, the other animals had adjusted to their bossy new neighbor, and there was peaceful coexistence.

Mostly peaceful anyway.

Buck tipped his head back, staring at the ceiling. The patch job he'd done on the roof wasn't the greatest, but he no longer saw glimpses of the sky when he looked up. It should hold through the winter, he hoped. And then, if everything went as planned, he'd be building a new barn in the spring. This one wasn't nearly big enough for the horse breeding he hoped to start. It was barely big enough for the four horses and one cow that inhabited it now.

One cow…

He looked over again at Skunk, still patrolling on the wall, and shook his head. The dairy cow was a new addition. Oh, he enjoyed milk himself… but the purchase had been specifically made to make sure that Skunk's daily bowl of milk was secure.

"I hope you appreciate that," Buck said, walking over to scratch the kitten's ears.

In response, Skunk started to purr - all the while giving Buck a look that said he knew the cow, and the milk, was his just reward in life.

Buck refilled the grain bins, all the while supervised by Skunk. When the kitten finally jumped down and went off to investigate some curious scratching in the corner, Buck went back outside. He hefted the first of the new feed bags onto his shoulder and carried it into the barn.

He was just picking up the fourth bag when the first snowflake hit his nose, followed quickly by several more swirling in the brisk wind. That was motivation enough to get the other three bags into the barn quickly before they got covered by snow.

The last bag was on his shoulder when he heard the wagon approaching. Through the swirling snow he could see it heading his way, but he couldn't make out who it was yet. There was something off about the sound it was making, but again it was too far away to determine a cause, so he carried the bag into the barn and dropped it onto the pile.

Skunk came running over, climbing proudly onto the top of the pile Buck had just created. Tail swishing, the kitten purred happily as Buck scratched his ears.

"We've got company coming," Buck said softly, shaking his head as he spoke. He still wasn't sure why he was speaking to the feline like this, but it was something that just seemed to come naturally.

The wagon was closer now and he wandered back outside. He got very few visitors - in fact, Teaspoon, Polly, Rachel, and Janos were the only ones who had even been out to the farm. And he was sure that the wagon didn't belong to any of them.

The snow was coming down heavier, making it even harder to see. But he could definitely hear the problem with the wagon. Instead of the steady creak of turning wheels, there was an extra thumping sound.

It didn't sound good.

Deciding that danger rarely showed up riding in a broken wagon, Buck walked toward the corral fence, hunching up the collar of his jacket as he went. Even so, the cold wind seemed to run right down his neck. And then he waited.

The wagon finally got close enough so that he could recognize his visitors - and he was grateful for the snow to hide his reaction.

Miranda Hopkins was the owner of the farm just beyond his own land - though her parcel was much larger than his. She had been widowed shortly before they had moved from Sweetwater to Rock Creek; something about a hunting accident from what he'd heard. But he had only seen her a few times in town, and actually spoken to her maybe twice, both times when he had been helping Teaspoon. He certainly hadn't expected to see her here.

And he had no idea how she felt about having a half-breed for a neighbor.

He could see the cause of the strange thumping noise now too. The left rear wheel was wobbling quite a bit, occasionally brushing against the bed of the wagon.

Buck met the wagon halfway between the house and the barn. "Mrs. Hopkins."

"Oh, Mr. Cross. I'm sorry to bother you." She threw back the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, sending a spray of snow over the supplies in the back. Accepting his hand in support, she climbed down.

"It's no bother." He ran his hands over the wheel, noting a crack in the rim. "What happened?"

"About a mile or so back, there was a large dip in the road. The snow was blowing, and I didn't see it in time." Miranda grimaced as she looked at the wheel. "I heard a loud crack, and then the wagon seemed to lurch to one side." She looked at where his hands were examining the wheel. "How bad is it?"

Buck shook his head. "I'm not sure yet. I'll need to check underneath, see what the axle looks like."

"It was wobbling so much, I wasn't sure we'd make it home. Then I remembered you had bought this place."

Before Buck could answer, another blanket on the seat seemed to move on its own, sending more snow flying.

"Mama?"

He guessed he should have known the little girl was there - where else would she be but with her mother? But Buck still found he was surprised to find her in the wagon. From seeing her in town, he figured the little girl was probably about three, maybe four. Green eyes peeked out shyly, circled by golden curls.

"Isabel, say hello to Mr. Cross."

"Hello," the girl said softly, pulling the blanket back up so it covered most of her face.

"Hello, Isabel," Buck responded.

"Mama, is wagon broke?"

Miranda nodded slowly as she gathered her daughter into her arms. "I'm afraid it is, dear. I'm hoping Mr. Cross can help us."

"I'm going to try." Buck pointed to the house. "It's nothing fancy, but you and your daughter can wait inside. I'll build the fire up."

"I really don't want to inconvenience you, Mr. Cross," she replied. "I'm afraid it's probably worse than I thought."

"I'm glad to help," Buck said. "I'll take the wagon over by the barn. I have some tools, maybe I can at least do enough to get you home. If not, I have a wagon, I'll take you."

Miranda opened her mouth to reply, but just then Skunk burst onto the scene.

Leaping and batting at the swirling snow, the kitten spun into view, then thudded to a stop at Buck's feet. Tail swishing, he stared at the strangers in his yard.

"Kitty!"

Isabel squirmed in her mother's arms, straining to get to the ground. As soon as her feet touched down she made a beeline for the black and white kitten.

For his part, Skunk seemed to enjoy being the center of attention. He rubbed his head around Isabel's legs and then skipped away a few steps as she laughed.

"That's… Skunk," Buck explained. The name sounded so much more foolish when he said it out loud.

Miranda's right eyebrow rose in amusement, and a smile tugged at her lips. "Skunk?"

Buck shrugged. "He showed up a few weeks ago, when we had that snow. I found him half buried, a stripe of white snow down his back."

"And he looked like a skunk," she finished, the smile in full bloom now.

Buck nodded, returning the smile. "I really didn't want a cat, but he just kind of made himself at home. And the name stuck."

They watched for a moment as kitten and child played, and then Buck turned back to his neighbor. "You could get in out of the cold," he said.

"Isabel thinks the snow is great fun," Miranda said. "Maybe she can play for a few minutes while I help with the wagon."

"All right," Buck agreed; after all, he had offered. He took the reins and led the horse toward the barn, hoping that the wheel wouldn't pick that moment to fall off.

But they made it to a spot just a few feet from the door, where he stopped. He turned toward the corral just as Skunk made a leap from the fence, landing with a soft thud on Buck's shoulder.

Isabel squealed in delight and clapped her hands at the kitten's feat, while Buck just silently gave thanks that he had the jacket on. Even through the thick fabric he had felt the sharp claws dig in.

For his part, Skunk took his stunning leap quite in stride. He leaned over and started to groom himself.

"I see what you mean by making himself at home," Miranda said.

Buck nodded. "I exist to serve him," he replied, though he was unable to keep the smile off his face.

Still laughing, Isabel skipped around the side of the barn, snatching at snowflakes.

"I'm going to unhitch the horse," Buck said, starting to work the harness buckles. "That way the wagon won't move when I'm not expecting it."

Miranda nodded. "I'm really so grateful for your help. I know you have other things to be doing."

Buck shrugged, feeling Skunk start to slide when his shoulder moved. "We're neighbors. Really, I'm glad to help. I just hope…"

"Kitty!"

Buck's sentence died on his lips as he looked at Skunk, still perched on his shoulder. But if Skunk was there, then what had Isabel found? Sure, it was possible that another cat had wandered by - or maybe Skunk was having a party. Or…

He plunked a protesting Skunk into the bed of the wagon and hurried around the barn. Isabel's red-checked skirt was just disappearing past the back corner and he hurried to catch up. There was more red, and then a brief glimpse of black and white.

"No!" he cried, lunging for the little girl. "That's not a kitty…"

^^^^^

Buck poured another pitcher full of vinegar-laced water over his head, using his fingers to rub it deeply into his hair. He figured he probably smelled like a pickle by now, but that was slightly better than the alternative.

Apparently that skunk didn't realize he was supposed to have been hibernating.

He snatched up the bar of lye soap and started scrubbing one more time. His skin felt raw already, but the harsh soap did seem to help. Realistically though, he'd probably need a couple more baths to complete the job.

If the weather cleared in the next day or so, maybe he could see if Rachel had any more of the tomatoes she had preserved. That usually seemed to help…

"Mr. Cross?"

He jumped, sending the bar of soap squirting out of his fingers. He watched it hit the water with a plop and sink out of sight. "Yes?" He really wasn't used to having anyone else in the house.

"I'm making some coffee," Miranda said. "I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all." No sense asking if she'd found everything. His 'kitchen' was tiny - no place to really hide anything.

"How… how are you doing?"

The thin blanket separating them seemed even flimsier as he listened to her voice, so close. "I'll be out in a minute," he said, not really answering.

Buck waited until he heard footsteps move away, then he levered himself out of the tub. Water cascaded down his body as he reached for a towel and started to rub himself dry. When he got to his hair, a mixed odor of vinegar and skunk reached his nose - but at least he thought it was more vinegar now than before. He pulled on his clean underwear, and a fresh pair of pants, and stepped out from behind the barrier.

In the kitchen, the coffee pot was heating on the small stove. Off to the right, a bright fire burned in the hearth. Miranda Hopkins had pulled a chair close to the heat and she sat there, watching her daughter. The little girl was dragging a string along the floor, playing a game with Skunk.

That was Skunk with the capital "S" and not with the small "s" - the one that should have been hibernating.

Miranda got to her feet when she saw him. "How are you?"

"I think I smell like a pickle," Buck replied, trying to smile and make it a joke.

Miranda's smile in return looked pained, and she reached for her daughter's arm. "Isabel has something to say to you."

The little girl's lip trembled and she looked down at her feet. "I'm sorry," she said, very softly.

"It's all right," Buck started.

"I just want play kitty!" Isabel cried, tears on her cheeks.

Buck crouched down in front of her, using his finger to wipe away a tear. "It's all right. I'll be fine. Just stinky for a couple of days."

Isabel looked at him, and her nose crinkled up. "Stinky," she agreed.

"Isabel!"

Miranda sounded shocked, but Buck just laughed. "She's right," he said, getting to his feet. "But no real harm done. And I hope it's a little better anyway."

She sniffed, her own nose crinkling. "A little."

"Isabel didn't get hit?" He hadn't really been able to tell before. The stink from the skunk had been pretty overpowering.

"No, you shielded her."

"Well, that's good."

"I scrubbed your clothes with the vinegar and water. Then I put them out on the porch to air."

"Thank you. It's a good thing you'd bought the vinegar. I'll replace it for you."

"Oh, no. Really, it's the least I can do since it was Isabel's fault. And I'm so sorry."

"Mrs. Hopkins, really, I'm fine. Don't worry."

There was an awkward silence then and Buck took the opportunity to look out the window. The snow was so heavy now that he could barely see the outline of the barn through the storm. "It's really not safe to try and take you home until the storm passes."

Miranda nodded. "It has gotten quite heavy. I'm so sorry we've intruded on you like this, Mr. Cross."

"We may be here for a while so please, it's Buck."

"Miranda," she replied with a smile.

"It'll be nice to have some company," Buck said. He looked back toward the hearth where Isabel was giggling as she played with Skunk. That was something he hadn't heard since this became his home.

It made the place seem more like a home.

"I just bought a lot of supplies," Miranda offered. "I could make something for dinner."

Buck considered his own meager supply of ingredients. "I have some smoked venison in the root cellar."

"I have everything else I'd need to make a stew."

Just the thought of smelling a bubbling stew made his stomach rumble. "Sounds great."

"You haven't tasted my cooking," she warned with a grin.

"But I have tasted mine," he replied with a grimace. "I'll get my boots and bring your supplies in."

Miranda pointed off to the side of the hearth. "I don't think they got sprayed. I wiped them down anyway and put them over there to dry."

"Thanks."

Buck disappeared into his bedroom and emerged a moment later with a pair of socks. He leaned against the wall by the hearth and pulled them on, then tugged his boots on.

By the door he started to reach for his jacket out of habit. But the peg was empty, reminding him that the jacket had taken the brunt of the skunk spray.

Well, he wouldn't be out that long anyway. He opened the door and stepped out, shivering in the brisk wind. Head down, he hurried toward the wagon. Already an inch or so of snow covered the contents, but he brushed it aside and filled his arms with packages.

Starting back toward the house, he paused a moment, looking at the flickering firelight through the frosted window. He could see Miranda's shadow, moving toward the fire.

It would be nice to have someone to share the storm with.

He stepped up onto the porch, stamping his feet to dislodge most of the snow. Then he opened the door.

Skunk greeted him immediately, jumping onto his shoulder from the small table just inside the door. But whether it was the skunk smell or the vinegar, the visit didn't last long. The kitten squawked and jumped down, racing off to disappear into the bedroom.

Isabel giggled, and a quick glance showed Miranda with a hand over her mouth, apparently stifling a giggle of her own. But actually, it was funny, and Buck started to laugh himself. Miranda joined in, and the sound of laughter filled the small room. It mingled with the heat from the fire, giving the house a warm feeling all over.

It was a good feeling, Buck reflected, as he laid the packages down in the corner near the stove. And as he started out for another load, he was struck by another thought.

Regardless of the circumstances, he was very glad he'd met his new neighbors.

The Favor
by: Cathy

“I’m sure one of the boys will be willing to help you Myrtle.”

Rachel’s words reached the bunkhouse before she did, giving most of the riders a chance to get very, very busy—too busy to help the older woman who accompanied her.

Myrtle Johansen was their closest neighbor in more ways than one. She’d been the first person to welcome the group to Rock Creek, bringing over a large pot of stew their first night in the station house. They’d all been grateful for the thoughtful gesture. Rachel hadn’t had time to unpack her cooking pots so they had been facing another day of the trail rations they’d been living on during the move from Sweetwater.

In the days that followed, the older woman had spent more time at the station than in her own home. The boys and Lou had quickly learned that being seen by Myrtle meant being asked to help out in one way or another.

Nearly blind, she always seemed to be needing help doing this or that. Their protests of having other chores to do fell on nearly deaf ears. Their choices limited, most of them did their best to avoid being seen.

“She’s just a lonely old woman,” Rachel had reprimanded after hearing Kid complain about the latest “favor.” “It’s not like she’s asking all that much of any of us.”

“You boys better hope you never get old and alone,” Teaspoon added. “Or if you do, you better at least hope there’s someone around to help you out in your time of need.”

When Rachel entered the bunkhouse, Myrtle close behind, Cody immediately stepped forward to help the older woman to a seat.

Of all of the boys, Cody was the only one who never seemed to have a problem doing the odd jobs that Myrtle needed to have done. “You boys don’t know what you’re missing,” he’d told the others. “Every time I go over there she makes me sit and eat something with her. She’s almost as good a cook as Rachel.”

"What's the problem Miz Myrtle...I will be glad to help if I can,” he offered, ignoring the looks the others gave him.

Myrtle appeared very upset. “There are two kitties that have been carrying on in the back of my barn,” she told him, wringing her hands. “I can’t get them out but I know they are there. I’m sure one of them is Parson Griffin’s calico. She likes to dig into the hay bales to stay warm and catch mice. The other one is new. I’ve never seen it before. It’s black and white, that’s all I know about it.”

Cody’s first thought is that the other cat was probably male and the “carrying on” was more than likely going to produce some additions to the cat population in Rock Creek but that wasn’t exactly something one talked about in mixed company…especially when the mix included some older people.

“Why don’t I just go take a look for you, Miz Myrtle,” he suggested.

“You’re such a good boy, Cody,” Myrtle replied. “When you’re done, you come up to the house. I’m baking a chicken for dinner and just set a pie out to cool when I heard the goings on down at the barn. It’s your favorite—apple.”

Taking her by the arm, Cody led the woman back down the street to her house. What Myrtle called a “barn” was actually little more than a shed. Leaving Myrtle outside, Cody pulled open the door and noticed the hinges could stand to be replaced.

There was very little light in the structure and no lanterns to be found. “Good thing I got eyes like a cat,” the rider murmured as he moved inside.

The only permanent resident was a horse that seemed to be as old as its owner. The old gelding snuffed at Cody as the rider made his way down the narrow corridor that ran the length of the small building.

As he reached the first stack of hay bales, a big fat calico cat leaped from the stack, over his head and literally ran down his back before running hell-bent-for-leather out the still opened door.

“Well that’s half the problem solved,” Cody muttered to himself. “Let’s hope the other ‘kitty’ takes the hint and leaves too.”

Cody moved another couple of feet, then saw the light of a pair of eyes shining back at him. “Here kitty, kitty,” he called softly. “I ain’t gonna hurt you but Miz Myrtle wants you out of her barn.”

The eyes stared at him unblinking, the disappeared as their owner moved back into the hay.

“Come on, cat,” Cody pleaded. “You don’t want to stay in this dirty old barn. You gotta get out in the sunlight.”

The rider moved forward a few steps murmuring softly trying to calm the cat. He thought he had it made when the critter moved out into the pathway, but a deadly chill crept down his spine as he realized this is no "kitty" but a very mad skunk.

Cody broke out into a cold sweat and began backing away very slowly praying to all the while that the skunk will be glad to see him go and let bygones be bygones. "Nice kitty, kitty,” he said softly. “Be a good little black and white kitty and just let me leave and we both can pretend like this never happened."

The skunk, however, had other ideas. He issued a low growl, stamped his feet angrily and began to close the distance between himself and the human being.

Cody’s panic grew as he heard Myrtle’s voice from outside the shed. The woman had moved around to the far side of the structure and was calling to him. "Here dear,” the woman suggested. “Maybe if I beat the broom against this wall we can scare that naughty kitty out so he will go off and play with the other one."

“No!” Cody croaked, then realized that most likely Myrtle hadn’t heard him. Deciding that calling out in a louder voice would more likely than not panic the skunk, he could only pray that something would distract the woman.

Someone must have heard his prayer. "Oh Cody, dear,” he heard Myrtle call. “I forgot to take my chicken out of the oven. I’ll leave the broom right here for you and will be back in just a minute."

Cody’s heart was pounding so loud he could almost believe the skunk could hear it. The sound of Myrtle’s voice had caused the critter to move even faster in the direction of the most obvious exit—which just happened to be behind the rider.

Deciding any movement would most likely irritate the skunk even more, Cody stood where he was and took a deep breath as the critter stomped passed him and scooted off to the yard.

Just then he heard Myrtle outside once more. “Here kitty, kitty,” she called, then added, "Oh, Cody, dear, the little kitty has come out. You can come out now too.”

Myrtle’s return apparently frightened the skunk but, fortunately for both the old woman and Cody, he had gotten far enough from the barn that neither were affected by his natural reaction to the fear.

“You’re such a good boy, Cody,” Myrtle told the rider as he exited the barn and closed the door tightly. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Taking him by the arm, she led him to the house. “You know dear,” she added after a few steps. “I think I smell a skunk. I hope the kitties will be all right!"

Writers Ranch Main Page