July 2011 Volley Challenges:

Picture

Word

Quote

Song

Fear

Never act until you have clearly answered the question: "What happens if I do nothing?" ~Robert Brault

Just Fishin' sung by: Trace Atkins

The Prodigal by: Mollie
Open and Deserted by: Miss Raye
Unexpected News by: Karen
Man's Greatest Fear by: Mollie
Open and Deserted by: Miss Raye
Fear by: Paola
Fear by: Karen
Shattered Dreams by: Flame
Hesitation by: Miss Raye
What If... by: Karen
Fishing by: Karen
by:
by:
The Prodigal
by: Mollie

The town is the same as the last three. Booming around a mine that'll run dry in two months or twenty years, just on the cusp of becoming civilized. I'll stay until it gets too refined and I start to feel restless or more likely until my welcome runs out, which it always does sooner or later. The boarding house here on the edge of the town, at the end of the street, has a long veranda with chairs and benches filled with the sort of men that flood a town like this, pickpockets, young adventurers, worn out gunslingers content to waste away their days at a card table. I tip my chair back and light a cigarette. The town stretches out before me, noisy, dusty, and dangerous but here, in this little oasis at the edge of things, there's an undeniable sense of peace; it's cozy in a way I find unsettling. I've been living in hotels and boarding houses for over twenty years, since the war ended, kept on the move, never stopped to think or remember, but this place seems to conjure up memories of home and family and it's both a comfort and a torture. My stomach growls with the smell of stew and fresh baked bread. Under a huge canvas tent rough plank tables are set for the roomers and conceivably half the town to eat here. When I checked in the fella that gave me the key said his mother's cooking is well known in these parts and I should get there early if I want to be sure to have dinner. I can see the woman, tall, heavy in the hips, graying hair pulled up in a practical, not pretty, way. She weaves between the tables setting plates and forks. There's something about her, the way she moves, the tilt of her head, that makes me think she was quite the beauty once. She's strong and the hard cases around her treat her with the reverence due a queen, her presence commands that sort of respect. Good thing too, because her daughter, stirring the stew sporadically and arranging jars of wildflowers on the table tops, is far too fine for a rough camp like this. Long black hair, tied back in one braid that reaches to her waist, big dark eyes, a shy and crooked smile, she's enough to turn any gentleman into something else. My cigarette done, I stub it out on the heel of my boot before flicking what's left of it into the street. I rest my head back against the building and tip my hat over my eyes. I chuckle as I start to doze, because I know who I look like, and not for the first time a sudden pang of loneliness strikes through me.

I don't really sleep. I'm still alert, still ready for whatever danger may appear. They aren't dreams that I'm thinking on, just memories, snippets of a past I've left behind me. A dog barks, jolting me back to the here and now. I cock one eye open and peer from under the brim of my hat. A tall gray horse is passing by the boarding house. I can't see all the way up to the rider's face, only his dusty black boot and the four point buck tied behind the saddle. The horse is followed by a big, rust colored dog, long hair, sharp brown eyes scanning the folks along the veranda, like a deputy making his rounds. When the dog sees me, it barks but it keeps on moving, looking over its shoulder at me as though I can't be trusted. The horse stops outside the tent and the rider hands off the reins to the young man who checked me in. The father, I presume, turning away and closing my eyes without watching him hug his wife or greet his daughter.

The dog barks again, closer now. Suddenly beside me, it whines and shoves its cold nose under my hand. No one has showed me such hospitality in years and gratefully I scratch the dog's head. The dog barks again, not angrily, it's as though it's saying my name, wanting to be sure I'm paying full attention. I tip my chair forward again and push my hat back on my head to look down at the dog. It launches itself at my face and drags a slobbery pink tongue across my cheek.

"Rusty, leave the man alone," a deep voice says. The tone is non-committal, apologetic if I'm offended but amused if I am too.

I look at the man with a grin. "He's alright, just bein' friendly is all." I give the dog a good scratch behind the ears as though to thank him for the scrap of friendship he's thrown me. He gives an airy woof in response, a good sound, a happy, contented sound.

"I've never seen him take to a stranger like that before," the man says and I look at him again. This time I really see him, see the quizzical look he's giving his dog, one eyebrow arched, see the long dark hair and the smirk that seems happy and sad all at once. He looks as old as I feel but there's none of the weariness in him that I feel every night in my bones. I doubt he'll recognize me and that's for the best. He'll have read about me in the papers, will know how much I've changed just by looking at me. The clothes I'm wearing would have been embarrassing enough when they were new, too dandified, too slick. Now faded and worn they only look sad. His eyes shift from the dog to me and we stare at each other for a moment. I won't tell him who I am, I'm too ashamed for that but I find that I'm praying, begging God for him to recognize me. He does. "Jimmy?" He holds out his hand, he pulls me up and into a hug. I try to keep the tears from sneaking out of my eyes. I've just crossed a bridge I thought I burned and at last, in some place I've never been, I'm home again.

Man's Greatest Fear
by: Mollie

Carl was not a man who frightened easily. He'd had a more than reckless youth, which had led to more than one fight with men bigger, stronger, and tougher than he was. He'd ignored a quarantine and stayed in a sick camp to nurse the dying, risking infection himself. He'd fought claim jumpers and cattle rustlers and hostile Indians. He'd lived a whole winter alone in the mountains trapping beaver, and even cut off one of his own toes when it gave in to frostbite. He'd bedded an infamous gunslinger's wife every night for three years and lived to tell the tale.

But today as he tightened the cinch strap on his saddle, Carl's hands shook. Today there were beads of sweat collecting across his face and his skin was cold and pale. The screaming started again and Carl felt his heart stop in his chest. When it started again it pounded against his ribs as though it wanted to break free. Kid peered in nervously just as Carl began to lead his mount out of the stable.

"Ain't you left yet, Carl?" Kid asked, his own voice trembling with anxiety. "You gotta get out there quick; she needs help." Carl gulped and nodded. His mouth was too dry to say anything. Kid looked nervously over his shoulder at the house next to the livery just as another scream burst forth, a guttural wordless cry of anguish that slowly formed into a stream of profanity that made both men blush beneath their pallor. Carl mounted up and felt more relieved than anything when Kid slapped the rump of his horse, sending him racing down the street and out of town.

Out of earshot of the McCloud house, Carl's breathing returned to normal, his blood resumed its regular pace through his veins. Even as he relaxed he spurred his horse on faster. "How can he stand it?" he mumbled aloud into the wind that was rushing past his face. The Kid had stayed behind, of course, because it was his duty, but Carl was not to proud to admit there was no bond, no oath he would not have broken to get away from Sweetwater this morning. The Cross house appeared on the horizon and he pushed his horse even faster, knowing that every second counted.

He left his horse in the middle of the yard, too winded to wander far. With his work-roughened hand Carl rapped cautiously at the door and then let himself in with the greatest of care. He winced when the hinges creaked; he didn't expect anyone in the house to be up yet. "Mr. Cross, sir!" he whispered loudly.

Both Buck and his wife peered around the kitchen doorway, coffee cups in hand. "Carl, everything okay?" Buck asked with concern.

Carl shook his head vehemently. Contradictorily he said, "Yes, sir, but Mrs. McCloud's time has come." Mrs. Cross gave little squeal of excitement. Carl thought the poor woman must have been insane, smiling like a fool at a time like this.

Buck nodded at his wife. "I'll hitch up the wagon for you. Isaac and I'll ride in later."

He reached for his hat but Carl grabbed his arm. "Mr. Cross, sir, I think you ought to go too." He lowered his voice and leaned into Buck to speak confidentially. "Mr. Kid ain't takin' it well, sir."

Buck laughed as though Kid were making a mountain out of a mole hill. "Kid will have to make do; we can't leave Isaac out here alone."

Carl looked at his boss with pleading eyes. "If it's all the same, sir, I could stay out here with the tyke, see to the stock for you." He looked sheepishly at Mrs. Cross before leaning in even closer to speak softly in Buck's ear. "There ain't no place in town for a fella to forget what's goin' on in that house; you can hear Mrs. McCloud cussin' all the way up the street. And I figure I'm pretty tough, sir, seen a lot in my life, but something about women birthin'," he shuddered, "gives me the willies." Carl saw the change in Buck's expression, but he stood resolute; pride was the least price he'd pay to save himself from the horror of what was in town.

"Carl," said Buck with a smirk, "I think every man feels that way."

"You do sir?"

"Of course," Buck answered, slapping Carl's back good naturedly. "If we didn't then why hasn't one of us done it ourselves?"

Shattered Dreams
by: Flame

As she looked up at the sky for answers, a tear rolled down Eliza's cheek. How had her life come to this? She was ruined, turned out, and friendless. This was not how her life was supposed to turn out. She was only sixteen and already her life was broken beyond repair. Up until three months ago, everything was going so well. Joe Turner was a handsome boy. All the girls pined after his affections. Eliza was one of them. She was attracted to his boyish good looks. He had a wry smile and a mischievous sparkle that she found irresistible. Her parents agreed to their courting. Everything was perfect. Then, like a house of cards, everything crashed. Eliza spread a blanket out on the ground. She liked this meadow. It was peaceful and serene. She always came here to think. She sat down in the middle of the blanket and smoothed the soft pale blue fabric of her skirt. Right here felt like a fitting place to end her suffering. She pulled a knife out of her drawstring bag as a tear fell from her eye and rolled slowly down her cheek. 'This is it.' She thought. She pressed the point of the knife to the pale skin of her wrist. She closed her eyes and her lips started to move. She murmured prayers either for the courage to cut or for someone to come along and stop her. She wasn't really sure which, maybe both.

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

Buck was riding through some his favorite country on his way back from Fort Laramie. He had been on a special run for Sam and now he was heading home. Since he didn't have to bring back a reply, Buck was content to take his time getting back. It was a beautiful day and he meant to enjoy it.

As he was coming up on one of his favorite meadows, he noticed a girl sitting on a blanket under a tree about 25 yards from him. She seemed about his age, maybe younger, slender, and had long blonde hair cascading lightly over her shoulders. He smiled to himself trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. He couldn't help feeling something was off. Something in the way she held herself gave him pause. She looked sad. He caught the metallic glint of something she held to her arm. His lips parted in shock as he realized what was about to happen and he kicked his horse into a gallop hoping he could get there in time.

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

She heard a horse whinny as the knife broke skin. She opened her eyes and looked up at the approaching rider as she continued to draw the knife down her arm. She barely had time to notice the endorphins rushing through her. He jumped from his horse and quickly approached her staring at the blood running down her delicate arm and soaking her skirt. He slowed to a tentative walk as he neared the blanket.

"No, no, no, no, no!" She cried as she burst into tears. "Please don't come any closer." Her voice begged.

"I'm a rider for the Pony Express, I'm not going to hurt you." The rider said gently hoping his Indian heritage didn't scare her too much.

"Oh, I know you're not going to hurt me." She said, bowing her head in resignation. "You're going to try and save me aren't you? You can't you know. No one can." The last words came out as a whisper and she started to cry.

Buck watched as she switched her knife to her other hand. His eyes grew bigger as he realized the urgency with which she was trying to end her own life. He didn't know what to do or what to say. Then he remembered something his brother used to tell him, *"Never act until you have clearly answered the question: 'What happens if I do nothing?'"* He knew. She was going to die. "May I sit?" He finally asked.

Eliza was surprised. Her deep blue green eyes looked into his and she saw concern and sincerity there. "Please leave me alone." She answered hesitantly between sobs. "I don't ...want or need any help."

Buck lowered himself to the ground and sat on the edge of the blanket anyway. "How did you get here?" He asked gently trying to strike up a conversation to distract her.

"I walked." She replied evasively.

"That's not exactly what I meant." Buck smiled warmly as he said it. "I guess I'm just asking if you want to talk about it."

"There's nothing to talk about anymore. I've come to a decision." Eliza was losing her courage to slash the other arm, but she felt she needed to steel her resolve. Then she looked into his face. This complete stranger's face showed more unconditional love and concern than that of her friends or her entire family had managed. Somehow she felt like if she wanted he would save her and everything would be alright. She closed her eyes started to shake her head violently. "It's not real. It's just a trick. You can't really care. Why should you, you don't even know me." She raised the blade and plunged the knife into her other wrist and drew it down. She let out a small scream as she cut.

Buck looked horrified and he moved to grab her hand, but it was too late. Her blood was now flowing from both arms. He had to get her to let him help her. Not seeing anything else to do, he swept her up in his arms and held her as she cried. He was a little surprised and emboldened that she let him. Maybe he could save her yet.

Eliza decided not to fight the embrace at first. It was nice. She hadn't been held in so long. It was comforting. "I don't even know your name." She sobbed into his shoulder.

"My name's Buck. Buck Cross, how about you?"

"Eliza." She said omitting the last name. She started to push him away as she remembered that she didn't want help. "Thank you for your concern Mr. Cross, but I don't want to keep you from your job." She shoved him back harder this time and embrace was broken sending Buck once more across from her.

"Please call me Buck. I'm just coming back from a special delivery run. I don't have any return mail, so you're not keeping me from anything." He explained. "You look like you could use a friend. Even if you won't allow me to save you, at least I could keep you company." Then he added, "You shouldn't be alone."

Eliza was starting to feel a little dizzy from the blood loss. She looked up at the sky and laughed. "I would have given anything for someone to have said that to me last week, hell even yesterday."

She sat quietly looking at the beauty of the meadow and the wild flowers that had just begun to bloom. "Buck, have you ever been in love?" She asked after several minutes of silence.

Buck sighed. "I thought so, once. It didn't turn out so well. She used me."

"Well, I guess we have something in common. I thought I was in love and he used me too." She stated bitterly. She was beginning to get angry something she hadn't felt before now. Maybe she could tell this stranger her story. Maybe he would understand. The truth was she didn't want to be alone. Not now, not ever.

She kept waging the vigorous debate about whether or not to trust Buck and finally began to speak. "I fell in love with a boy. His name is Joe." She started bravely. "He was sweet and considerate and handsome. All the girls in town liked him, but he seemed to have eyes only for me." She smiled as she recalled the memory. "He even asked my daddy if he could court me and daddy said yes." She started to cry softly.

"What happened then?" Buck asked suspecting that he knew.

"Joe and I…well we…you know. I thought we were going to get married one day. I loved him so much." She felt the desperation in her voice. "I'm pregnant." She finally confessed. "But that isn't really the problem." She hastily added.

"It's not?" Buck asked surprised. "Sorry, please continue." He could see her succumbing to the blood loss, but this was taking too long. Buck was conflicted. He wanted her to give him permission to help her, but he would help her against her wishes if she passed out.

"I told Joe about the baby and he turned on me. I think he is just scared, but he decided that the baby couldn't be his. He called me a whore and left me. I didn't know what to do so I walked home and told my parents everything." She started to shake and sob at the memory. "I'm sorry, I'm sure this all sounds so stupid to you." He could see unconsciousness beckoning to her as her body relaxed and swayed. It wouldn't be long now before she passed out.

You don't have to apologize. I'm your friend. You can tell me anything and it won't leave here." He reassured her. Then he hesitantly asked, "You're parents didn't react well I take it." Her eyes started to flutter closed.

"No," She said quietly trying to keep her eyes open. "They've disowned me. They are going to send me back east and take the baby away when it's born. I wasn't even going to be allowed back." She lamented. "See it's that I was losing everything and I felt like I was trapped, like I didn't even get a say. I lost the boy I thought I loved, I lost my family, and they were going to take my baby. What is there to live for after that?"

She started to sway and her field of vision started to darken. She felt terrified. She looked into Buck's eyes. They were still filled with concern and warmth. She spoke softly, "Please Buck," She choked, "I've changed my mind. Please save me…I don't really want to die." She fell into his arms and passed out.

"Eliza?" He gently shook her. "Eliza, wake up sweetheart." She didn't respond. Buck couldn't believe that her parents could be so cruel. He had to help her.

Buck lowered her gently to the ground and ran to his horse and grabbed bandages and bandanas out of his saddle bags. He quickly and efficiently bound her wrists with the bandages and tied the bandanas tightly around them. He felt her forehead, she was clammy and pale. He wrapped her in the blanket and picked her up and walked over to his horse. He set her on the saddle and then swung up himself and cradled her in his arms and set out for the way station as fast as could. Emma would know what to do. She was a very troubled girl and her injuries were not only physical, but first he had to save her life, then he could worry about saving her spirit.

Author's Note: Thanks to Shauna for being my beta reader.

Open and Deserted
by: Miss Raye

Buck circled back out of sight and slid from the saddle with a whisper of sound. His mount, trained to obey the silent commands of the Express riders, stood docile beside the saguaro and bend his head to snack on the scrub-brush within reach.

He moved back through the cacti, his eyes wary and watchful as the simple structure came back into view.

The cantina looked deserted.

He trained his gaze on the doorway, searching for moment in the form of a darkening shadow, a hushed voice... anything to calm the furious beating of his heart.

A pebble bit into the soft leather of his boot and his teeth pressed painfully together. He slowed his breathing and moved forward... again and again.

There should be noise.

A clatter of glasses, the raucous bark of harsh words from guttural voices, and a low throaty response. There was nothing from within.

The soft dust in front of the cantina was marred with hoof prints, enough for a score of men, but with his practiced eye he saw the truth of it. Four horses, one carrying double the weight.

There, he saw it, his heart dropping into the dust as he realized that the smudge of dark color was blood, coated over with dust.

Moving to the edge of the door he swept a furtive glance inside and saw the mess the men had left behind them. Tables tossed on their sides, broken chairs littering the floor, it was enough to make him mad, but he didn't run inside. He may go crazy but he didn't have a death wish.

Not yet.

"Rosa?" He waited a heartbreaking moment for an answer. "Rosa? It's Buck, are you-"

"Buck? Oh, Dios mio!"

He turned, ducking inside the cantina, his knife in his hand, ready for anything he found.

When he saw her, the precious blade dropped into the dust at his feet.

Her face was bruised, the violent evidence of pain and fear beneath her hair, tumbled down around her shoulders.

Buck approached her slowly, his eyes flickering back and forth between the business end of her shotgun and the tears streaming down her cheeks. "Rosa, what happened?"

She was suddenly in his arms, the shotgun dangling loosely from her hand, barrel dragging in the dust of the floor. He held her gently to his chest, his lips brushing gently over her hair.

"Rosa?"

Her face pressed tightly into his shirt, heated gasps of air seared through the cotton of his shirt as her tears wet the fabric. "I am fine... I am fine..." she repeated the words over and over again, "... I am fine... I am fine..."

"Please," he begged with his voice even as he hoped there was nothing for her to say beyond fear, "tell me."

She leaned back away from him, he dark eyes searching through the shadows of the room into his. "I am fine," she repeated, "now that you are here."

Hesitation
by: Miss Raye

The Kid paced outside the cell, waiting for his brother to look up at him. It was the better part of an hour before Jed complied with the unspoken request. "You want somethin', Kid?"

The younger man stopped dead in his tracks and turned toward his brother. "You're gonna hang tomorrow."

Jed took in the simple statement with surprising aplomb. "Yep... not that I needed you to tell me. Seems like everyone has taken the opportunity to wave that under my nose. Your friend Lou, the Marshal, the Judge, that old man you have out at the station, Emma-" his voice fell into silence at the mention of the station's feisty mother-hen. "So is it your turn now, Kid?"

"Stop callin' me that." Kid's gaze nailed the floor in place as he struggled to speak. "I came here... I came here," he looked back up, "to tell you that even though you're my brother... you're gettin' what's comin' to you."

Surprise lifted the line of Jed's brow higher up on his forehead. "Well, now, Kid, looks like while I was gone you went and became a man, huh?"

Kid's expression soured. "I'm just tellin' you the truth-"

"As you see it."

"Yeah," Kid agreed, "as I see it." He took in a series of short bursts of breath. "You didn't have to kill him."

Jed's smile was easy and still there was a hint of melancholy to it, or perhaps it was the look in his eyes that gave Kid that impression. "A man points a gun at you and you do somethin' about it... or you die."

Kid squeezed his eyes shut and suddenly his mind was flooded with his memories.

The pitchfork's handle dropping from his hands, the odd jumble of shouts from outside the livery's walls, the pain in his hand as he struck Jed, knocking him to the floor. The sure grip of someone's hands lifting him off of his brother and the pale, stricken expression on Lou's face as she bent over Jimmy.

It felt like an eternity before he knelt at Jimmy's side, displacing Ike or Cody or... that memory failed him as he remember the quivering clutch of Jimmy's hand on the front of his shirt. "I thought he was gonna kill you..."

"I know." Kid nodded, looking down at the blood that seeped between Buck's fingers as he struggled to staunch the flow from Jimmy's wound.

"You said... " Jimmy's chest rose with a breath and then he coughed, blood coloring the spittle at the corner of his mouth, "you said..."

Nodding, Kid swiped at tears and realized he was crying. "I know, I told you not to shoot... I'm sorry."

A weak smile tugged at one corner of Jimmy's mouth. "M-my fault... I shoulda taken the-"

"Save your breath, son," Sam knelt at Jimmy's side, his expression fult of staunch determination, "we'll get you over to the doc's and-"

"Tell Emma," Jimmy wheezed out a breath, "I thought... thought-"

And then he was gone.

"He would've shot you dead." The words were dull and empty on his tongue. "He was fast, too fast to let you get the drop on him like that."

A harsh chuckle echoed in the cell. "Didn't seem that fast to me."

The bars creaked and groaned as Kid grasped them, shaking with fury. "He waited... he waited because I said 'no.'"

Jed leaned back against the wall, tilting his head back until it touched the stone. "Damn fool thing to do."

Kid turned away from his brother, his heart breaking all over again. "Yeah," he muttered under his breath, "damn fool."

Fear
by: Paola

Author's Note: This is part of my 'Scarred Kid' series

I stretch myself, pushing my hands on the small of my sore back. It's almost noon and I've been working on our small hayfield since this morning. I wipe my sweaty forehead, I'm not used to working anymore under the sun for such long hours, but I don't complain.

I'm alive, and I'm still useful, that's more than many other young men of my age are. Sure, my back still bothers me, getting itchy and sensitive very easily, but my burns are nothing compared to the wounds of those who lost a limb, or their sight or hearing, or have become paralyzed.

I will never forget the horror of the hospital where I was cured. Those brave and dedicated doctors and nurses did the best they could to alleviate our suffering, but still the place was like hell for me.

I shudder, I don't want to linger on those thoughts, it's not healthy; I've got to focus on what I have now: a beautiful wife who still wants me despite what I am now, and despite the fact I've let her down, choosing Virginia over her.

Lou helped me to heal in every sense of the word. My back is devastated, I know it must be a horrible sight, and still now I'm amazed by the fact she didn't get disgusted by it; on the contrary she makes a point of rubbing a salve on my thickened skin every evening to soften it and make it more elastic

This isn't the most important thing though; she saved my soul when I was nothing more than a wreck, she probably doesn't even realize this but, with her love and dedication, she pulled me out of the dark hole I sank into and gave me life again.

Sometimes I'm so grateful, so overwhelmed, by the love I feel for my wife that I think my heart would burst out of my chest, but at the same time, I can't help the fear that is growing inside of me.

I saw families, couples, friendships, destroyed by the war. The lives of so many people have been devastated, why have I been so lucky? The nagging feeling that one day I would lose everything, that the fate I escaped will reach me and take away from me all that I have, is impossible to dispel so, even the happiest of my days is marred by the shadow of the fear.

I don't want to be ruled by this fear, though, not with all that Lou is doing for me. We will be happy, I have to convince myself of this, and our dreams will be realized, because this is what Lou deserves.

Just when I think of her, I see her at the horizon, as the sweetest of the apparitions. She's carrying the lunch we'll eat together. I have told her a lot of times that there is no need of that, that I can pack some leftovers from supper so that she wouldn't be forced to leave the coolness of the house in the hottest hours of the day; but she didn't listen to me, stubborn as a mule as she is. She doesn't want to miss any chance to stay with me, she said to me; even if it means that she has to walk back and forth from the house every day.

I go toward her, in order to meet her halfway, under the shadow of a big tree that grows in the middle of the field. I wave at her, smiling, but I realize there's something wrong. She raises her hand weakly and I can see that she's pale under the tan she's acquired.

Now that I'm nearer I notice that her steps are unsure and that she's walking on wobbling legs. Damn! I've told her that she shouldn't have come here; the sun is too strong to walk for a long time under it. She must be suffering from a sunstroke. I'll go to her and I'll carry her under the tree, then I'll make her drink all the water we have and I'll strip her down to her undergarments. I don't care if this isn't proper, her clothes are too burdensome for this heat.

Before I can reach her and put in action my intentions. I see her waver and fall in the middle of the field. I run to her and, to my utter horror, I see a pool of blood spreading under her head. My heart skips a beat, my worst fear is being realized in front of my eyes.

I swallow back the wave of panic that is threatening to overwhelm me, and I kneel near my wife. She's sweaty and pale, and her breath is a murmur almost impossible to hear. She must have hit one of the rocks that are still in the field. I blame myself, if I'd convinced her to stay at home, if I'd harrowed the field better, none of this would have happened.

"Lou, honey, do you hear me?" I say, while I gingerly try to move her head to see how severe the wound is. But she doesn't respond to me, unmoving and senseless, while blood continues to spread around us.

Author's Note: Thank you to Wendy and Ellie for their precious help!

Unexpected News
by: Karen

Author's Note: This is a scene from a longer plot bunny that is jumping around in my brain. Hopefully the rest will get written soon.

He was thankful they had left the door propped open so he could see outside from the bed where he lay. It was quiet outside because most everyone was down at the church on the other side of town. Hopefully they newlywed couple would stop by to visit before they left on their trip. He'd made them something special while confined to his bed, something to help them as they started their new adventure of creating a life together.

The stillness of the day, as well as his thoughts, was disrupted as the wedding party exited the church to peals of bells along with shouts of joy and laughter. At the same time a horse and rider came rushing into town past where he lay. He managed to pull himself to the door in order to watch the events unfold. He couldn't hear what was being said, but it didn't take a genius to figure things out.

As the wounded soldier dropped to the ground, he knew his gift would have to wait. There would be no need of it for a while. The groom was going to war.

Fear
by: Karen

Facing the unknown --
Everything slows.
Adrenaline is pumping
Running seems the only option

What If...
by: Karen

Ike watched in horror as his father tossed his younger sister into the deeper section of the pond. He moved to help her as she struggled to keep her head above water. His mother's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Just watch," she said quietly.

"She'll drown," Ike said, as he turned to face her.

"No," replied his mother. "You didn't, neither did I or your father."

Ike looked back at his sister. She was no longer struggling, but happily dog paddling to where their father stood. He relaxed as they joined up with mother and him on the bank.

"Never act until you have clearly answered the question, "What happens in I do nothing?" Mr. McSwain told Ike. "If you'd 'saved' her, she wouldn't know how to swim. You need to be sure before rushing to the rescue."

A few days later, Ike was sorry he'd taken that advice to heart. Due to his not letting his family know that strangers were approaching, they were dead and he was sitting in the office of the head of a mission school. He promised himself to never again wait to act when he saw someone in trouble -- never again.

Fishing
by: Karen

Kid watched as his daughter walked off with her beau. He took a deep breath and went back inside his small cabin. As he stoked the fire he thought back over all the times he'd spent with her alone. All the things they had done that had been so special to him, but had just been growing up to her. He smiled as he sat in his chair and reviewed their life together, especially the numerous times she'd tagged along with him when he'd gone fishing just to relax. He knew Lou would be pleased with the way she turned out, even if she was a bit of a tom-boy -- sort of like the mother she'd never known.

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