BELIEVE

   Denise Meyers

 

                                                                                         “ If you truly believe clap your hands.”—Peter Pan

 

 

“Scotch!” Her turquoise eyes shined liked polished gems in rage. “Who are you callin’ a drink?! I’m a Scots-woman with an emphasis on Scot!”

 

 At one glance a body wouldn’t think that a woman like her had enough power to make a grown man shrink back in fear. But the ticket agent did just that despite her being such a trim young thing. She was tall and slender. Striking to any man who looked her way. Her loose honey-blonde tendrils bounced from under the gathered brim hat that she wore. Its rounded crown gave her a sass that emphasized her already riled temper. She shook her fist at the rude little man in a demonstration of defiance at a term that was not fancied by proper Scottish folk. Her voice thickened with a Scottish burr as she continued the tirade.

 

“If ma father was here he’d be givin’ ya what for!” she turned around to face the younger and smaller woman to her side. “ Of all the nerve, I canna believe people canna understand the difference between a drink and a person!”

 

“Now, Aileen, there’s no sense wurkin’ yaself up ov’r it.” She tried soothing her, as her familiar melodious Irish brogue earned the woman’s attention. “Come, sit ya need to calm down a bit before that man be callin’ a constable a round about.”

 

The younger girl ushered her to the chairs that lined the far wall where they had placed their baggage. Looking on in concealed amusement as they waited their turn were two very handsome former outlaws gone straight, Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes.

 

“Kind of reminds me of grandma Curry don’t ya think?” Kid laughed in a hushed tone.

 

Heyes, thought about it a moment and nodded in agreement. Stepping forth, “ Yeah and I knew enough to get out of her way when she did. This fool just seemed to aggravate that lady more, ” he turned to the ticket agent, “Two.”

 

Hearing the last part of the conversation, the partially baldheaded man snorted, “She ain’t no lady. Them kind are nothin but trouble. Wild and crazy woman ought to be locked up. And tight”

 

A shadow darkened on both outlaw’s faces hearing the insult. Going on about a lady was bad manners and not usually tolerated in the West.

 

“Well you musta said something upsetting to set her off like that.” Kid leaned over onto the counter.

 

“Didn’t say a thing. Just said those damned Scotch.” He denied, shuffling the money in the draw and retrieving two tickets from another.

 

“Ahh,” Heyes sighed with a false smile, and then turned serious, “You do know that that’s a word that gets ‘em all riled up for nothing.”

 

“So, what do I care?"

 

“You care because we care,” Kid said simply then adding a smile.

 

“And so who the heck are you that I should worry?”

 

“Two men who could make your life very miserable. So you will go over there and offer the lady an apology.” Heyes explained coolly.

 

The man’s eyes narrowed and demanded, “And just because you say so, I’m supposed to?”

 

“No, it’s because of the fact that if my partner has to suffer on that stage with an angry lady; he don’t do sufferin’ well. And when he suffers I get ornery.” He paused to let the man soak up the new information. “Now just get over there and make the lady feel better.”

 

The man just looked at him like he’d been sitting in the sun to long, but the firm set jaw and narrowing glare gave him pause, as he thought about it being best to simply do what he was told. He slipped the tickets across the counter, opened the door begrudgingly to the small waiting area and stepped through. He approached the ladies followed closely by the two former outlaws. With one swift motion they flanked him to be sure he would make good on his apology.

 

Sheepishly the man shuffled over like a child, engaged in a battle of wills with a parent. “Ah Mam,”

 

Two throats cleared, a subtle indication that he failed to do something. He thought a moment then with an unpleasant jerk he swiped the visor off his head.

 

“Mam,” he began again.

 

A couple of coughs corrected him this time. He whipped around with a “what now?” look. Kid simply jerked his head at the other girl while he stood poised with his thumbs casually stuck in his gunbelt. Much to the man’s chagrin, he obeyed and tried again. “Ladies,” he paused waiting for another correction. Getting none he continued, “sorry about making you upset.”

 

Both women simply stared.

 

Heyes strolled up to the man, slapped him on the back in an exaggerated way that had more meaning than words. “Now I think you can do better than that?” he said in a conspiratorial whisper.

 

He glared at Heyes in defiance. He had enough of this business. Kid reading the cues and to support his threat slid up to mans side. He reminded the man, “ I really hate being ornery.”

 

Irritated he took the hint then tried for a third and hopefully final time, “ Ladies, I do humbly hope that you accept my apology for being rude to ya’ll back there.” He bowed his head, not in repentance but in complete embarrassment.

 

Aileen first stared at the ruffled man, then to Kid and Heyes. “Apology accepted.” Although she wanted to give the beastie another piece of her mind, the serious way the two men had handled the situation proved adequate enough. And anything else would be an affront to their good deed so she chose to curb her tongue. Heyes withdrew his arm jerking his head over his shoulder as he released the man to go about his duties. The wretched man grumbled the entire way.

 

“Thank ya both,” she smiled in such a way that Kid felt something touch him. “But it was totally unnecessary.”

 

Kid returned a smile, “No Mam, being out here in the west sometimes a man needs a reminder.” Both took off their worn and dusty hats.

 

“Even with a lil’ proddin’?” the Irish girl asked astonished.

 

“Sometimes,” the smile on Heyes’s face caused the girl to glance away, with one of her own tickling her dainty feminine lips.

 

“Well once again our thanks, to ya both.” She nodded in both of their directions.

 

“It’s been our pleasure, ladies.” Both got out in unison and broke into a light soft laughter.

Kid looked to Heyes, then the ladies, “Our sincerest apologies ladies, we forgot to properly introduce ourselves. My name is Thaddeus Jones and this is my partner Joshua Smith.

 

Again she flashed them a perfectly innocent but bright and warm smile, “ This is my cousin Maggie Delaney and I’m Aileen Macleod. Maggie stood acknowledging both men, as both nodded in her direction.

 

 

“LAST CALL”

 

“I think we better get going,” Heyes, said eyes fixed on Maggie.

 

“Yeah or that ticket operator is gonna start hatching chicken’s if the four of us stay any longer,” Curry finished for his partner.

 

“Indeed,” agreed Aileen smiling.

 

Maggie bent to pick up her bag; Heyes reached for it at the same time. His hand covered her delicate gloved one. With a warm caring smile, “Lady such as yourself shouldn’t be worrying about carrying heavy things.”

 

“It is not that heavy. Thank you Mr. Smith but I can manage nicely,” she protested meekly as hint of a blush warmed her face.

 

“Go on lass, it’s alright to be allowin’ Mr. Smith to help ya.”

 

“But I…”

 

“Nonsense. It’s quite acceptable.” Turning to the boys, she’s not used to be treated as such. When her papa went of and got killed…”

 

“Aileen!” she was horrified.

 

“Let me finish lassie,” she continued dismissing her completely, “Her and her mama had to take over the farm and do all the work, with no men around.”

 

Maggie rolled her eyes.

 

Sincere sympathy reflected on their faces. They turned to Maggie and Kid spoke. “ Mam, were awful sorry to hear that.”

 

Heyes nodded and smiled. “Well then that only means there’s one thing to do,”

 

Maggie’s emerald eyes danced with fear, “Mr. Smith?”

 

“That I’ll personally have to see fit that you get proper treatment.”

 

The same hand that he had touch quickly shot to her mouth in shock not knowing what to make of it all.

 

Aileen tried to swallow a small chuckle “I think he’s referring to the fact of treating ya properly lass.”

 

“I’m sorry Mam, I didn’t mean to scare you like that,” He apologized, his heart tugged when she stole a look between the three of them, not only looking confused but so innocent especially the way her dark spoon bonnet set on her head making her look like a girl of about eight.

 

“And will ya be seein’ to me as well?” Aileen asked eagerly, but not in a wanton way.

 

“Oh yes Mam. It’d be my pleasure.” Kid flashed her one of his boyish smiles.

 

“Shall we ladies?” both men asked in unison as they allowed them to pass in front.

 

“Thank you.”

 

The boys hung back a tad. “You’re gonna have to put an extra shine on that silver tongue of yours cousin to get her to warm up to you.”

 

“Ah, she’s just shy.”

 

“That’s what I mean. “

 

“Like yours is real the real friendly type huh?”

 

“Yeah. I do like that.”

 

~~*~~

 

Hours later the ride had left a lot to be desired. It was far worse than any road either of the two outlaws had traveled in a while. Inside the passengers were treated to a wayward ride that tossed them about like unfastened cargo. They’d all be battered and bruised before they got to their destination. The only pleasurable thing about it was the fact that the ladies often landed on them after a serious bit of rough road. And they’d be considered fools not to have enjoyed that.

 

It didn’t go pass their notice that Aileen had shoed Maggie to the other seat, forcing them to pair up. It was equally apparent that Maggie was not happy and very uncomfortable. Curry and Aileen got along very well. In fact, she was so comfortable with him she slipped her arm through the crook of his elbow keeping it there, chatting happily.

 

Heyes on the other hand was sure he had gotten the rotten end of the deal. Maggie it seemed was harder to open than a Broker 404. But the journey wasn’t over yet and being a man of determination he’d be the one to open her up. Without warning the coach suddenly stopped.

 

“Why are we stopping?” Maggie looked around worried.

 

“Rest stop Mam,” Kid supplied evenly.

 

She looked at Heyes to fill in what Kid left out, “Why can’t we just go on? I’m fine, despite all this pitching about. Do all of ya need the break?”

 

Heyes didn’t know what it was, was she naïve or daft? He had to drop his head to compose himself. “Mostly it’s to switch off the horses. Horse’s can’t be expected to go on to complete a full ride, and live.”

 

She sighed deeply. “Oh that was quite stupid off me. I should have thought about the animals.”

Kid and Aileen stepped out while the two continued to talk. His eyes softened, noting she might not be so self-centered after all. In fact she really might be shy. “ And even though you may not think of it now but you’re body will thank you for getting out and walking around. Especially if your tall like Thaddeus and myself. That tumbling about will wear on a person real quick.”

 

He extended a hand up. This time she accepted it without comment or response.

 

“Yes, it is tough when you’re tall,” Aileen smiled agreeing having heard Heyes’s comment.

 

Maggie contained a snicker that wanted to escape into a laugh, a private joke it was. “Uh-huh, real tall and brave too.”

 

Heyes was comforted with the fact that she had some potential and that getting to know her might not be painful after all.

 

“Do ya think there may be pie to go with that coffee? I must admit pie and coffee sound really good right about now.” Aileen’s eyes sparkled like sun kissed tropical waters.

 

Kid laughed, he liked her enthusiasm. She reminded him of a cool breeze on a blistering mid-summer day in Kansas. Welcome and well liked. She was full of joy, and life, it was refreshing in world like his.

 

“Maggie, ya know that pie is good for what ever ails ya as grandmam would say,” she said turning slightly before she was led away by Kid.

 

“Not hungry,” she mumbled in a child-like voice.

 

Heyes offered her his arm, “Come on Miss Maggie, I promise you won’t regret the break.”

 

She couldn’t help but look up into his eyes this time. They were a chocolate brown that boasted how very warm and inviting they were. She knew that she could feel safe and protected by the man that owned them. But it was his youthful boyish looks, the dashing tilt of his hat that made him seem playful and relaxed. Together it reached out, gathered her up and enticed her. Making her feel as though he could be trusted with the deepest secrets. But she couldn’t, wouldn’t. Circumstances prohibited it.

 

“Perhaps, you’re right,” she conceded, her face written with every thought that had just occurred to her. “ But I need to find the privy Mr. Smith. If ya don’t mind I’ll meet you inside. If that’s alright?”

 

He smiled, “Sure Mam. I believe it’s over there to the left of the main building.

 

“Thank you,” she replied sweetly and sincerely.

 

He watched her as she glided easily over the ground. He’d keep a protective eye on her throughout their journey he decided. He had suspected she needed some time to herself being cooped up with three other people. Sometimes he’d get that way and needed time for himself. Still there was something else, something hidden just below the surface. She was afraid, of what exactly he wasn’t sure of.  The more he got to know her the deeper the puzzle got. And the more he naturally had to uncover.

 

~~*~~

 

He had gone in to grab a cup of coffee, nodded his greetings to the station owners then went back out to stand on the porch. He found it was a bit too crowded in there for him. And he wanted to give his partner some privacy, well sort of. The two of them appeared knee deep in conversation with sharing stories and pie. Not that he minded his cousin enjoying himself it was rare that men like them got to enjoy a ladies company. Especially the soft finer ladies and not the hard types that they were routinely accustom to. Men like them had to take it where they could.

 

 

He drew a slow sip from the cup drinking in his surroundings as well. He knew that the stop had been there for 8 years, but it looked worn in as if it had been there forever. If it wasn’t for the amount of horses held up in the corral, the place would just appear to look like a regular farm.

 

His quick assessing eyes noted where the high and low ground was. There was a stand of trees to his left on the other side of the road and the scrubs up the slope to his far upper right. Neither making a proper place for an ambush. Thankful he was of that considering their luck with layover stations. He was confident that his cousin had already determined the area’s strong and weak points finding nothing of concern.

 

 

Finished, he decided there was nothing out of place except little miss Maggie. As if on cue, he saw the hem of her skirts swirling about from the corner of his eye. Gone was the playful girl. Back was the nervous filly. Disappointment settled in on him. He was getting to like the other side of her. Carefully he analyzed how her eyes flitted about, eyeing her surroundings. She raised his curiosity several notches. Could someone be following them? He wondered. She acted as if she did. But then there was her cousin. Didn’t make like someone who was running. Unless she didn’t know anything at all. No it was evident that Maggie was the only one nervous about something. And he was determined to find out why.

 

~~~*~~~~

 

“A wonderful piece of pie don’t ye think Thaddeus?” Aileen beamed hardly able to contain herself.

 

“Yes, Mam, very nice. But I think that your company made it all the sweeter.

 

She blushed. Then moved to his side scooping up his arm again, “You will ask won’t you,” she asked her eyes darkening in seriousness.

 

It was a simple request and now that he got to know her, he felt like he could resist her nothing. “Don’t worry, I’ll ask.”

 

She smiled. Seeing her cousin she hopped down the steps to coax her inside. “Maggie, lass ye still have na gone in and had a piece of pie.” Snatching up her arm. “Honestly ye need to eat lassie. At least try a bite. The lady of the house has several types to chose from.”

 

Heyes didn’t take his eyes of the pair of them. “What?”

 

“What, What?”

 

“You know what.”

 

“Oh that.”

 

“And,” he turned to face the taller but younger man.

 

“Aileen asked if we could be kind of like their body guards.”

 

“Bodyguards?”

 

“Yeah, until we split off.” He watched them appreciatively, then added wistfully, I wouldn’t mind guarding that body.”

 

“It figures. How much are they paying?”

 

“ It figures what? And about paying…”

 

Heyes sighed deeply. His gut said no, but he did just decide he was going to do the very same for Maggie. But he wasn’t about to let on. Heyes’s next sigh was akin to a mouthful of words.

 

“I know. I knew I should have said no. Tried even. But after all that back at the station, I just couldn’t. And she’s just so happy all the time. I hate to disappoint her. I couldn’t think of a better reason why we shouldn’t.

 

“Our sanity.”

 

Before Kid could get another word in edge-wise.

 

“Maggie, ye’ re such a worry-wart it’ll give you wrinkles ye keep frownin’ like that.”

 

“Worry to much?” she hissed in a whisper. “We’ve got lots to be worrin’ about and ya should not have involved two strangers.” She paused for a moment glancing down. As an after thought she added.” “Two very nice ones at that.”

 

They were unaware that the “hole” the buildings provided amplified their voices carrying it clearly to the men.

 

“They’re experienced men, tough men, cowboys, they can handle anythin’. And by the way ye are such a pessimist, missy. A dark cloud ready to open up rainin’ on somebody’s parade.”

 

The two men wiped away the smiles that snuck up on them. For some reason there was a ring of familiarity about it.

 

She looked up her eyes sincere, “I’m sorry,” pause, “ Wait a darn minute I’m not a dark cloud.”

 

Kid shot Heyes a meaningful look. Heyes returned with a ‘what?’ look of his own.

 

“I’m not a pessimist. I’m just being practical.”

 

Heyes turned, “See.”

 

What followed colored his mood again.

 

“We’re in danger, we should not be gettin’ them into it.”

 

“I dunna understand this danger ye keep talking about. But I’m sure they can handle it,” Aileen was encouraging, “ Why I bet Thaddeus is fast and smooth with that gun of his. Like a legend I’m quite sure.”

 

The two strolled up, “Miss Maggie, the stage is about to leave soon, you might want that drink now.” Heyes offered an opportunity to cool down before they really blew up on one another.

 

“Yes a drink of water would be a good idea.” Maggie agreed.

 

They looked on as the girls entered the house. “What do you suppose that was all about?”

“Haven’t figured it out yet,” said Heyes. “But I’m aiming too.”

 

~~~*~~~

 

Aileen bounced out of the house cheerfully; managing to sweep away some of the clouds that began to form over the trip. “She’s na happily eatin’, but she’s eatin’. Thanks to ye Mr. Smith.” She leaned in placing a kiss on his cheek.

 

“Mam?” He didn’t expect that.

 

Kid simply watched, with arms folded in amusement.

 

“Ye got her to do somethin’ I’ve been unable to for days.”

 

“And that is?” Kid asked interested.

 

“To eat.”

 

“Now why, would you have such a difficult time in getting her to eat?” Heyes tried. “I’ve noticed that she has been a bit tense.”

 

“Tense? Mister, call it as ye see it. She’s more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

 

“That would be a way of describing it,” he snickered sarcastically. “But why?”

 

“ Heavens to Betsy man!” she exclaimed not certain of all this confusion, “Now why on earth do ye think?”

 

“Aileen, darlin’, seriously, were men not mind readers.” Kid leaned back against the rail.

“Could be a lot of reasons,” Heyes added looking to Kid for suggestions and not getting any.

 

She rolled her eyes, “Now surely if the both of ya would put yer minds to it ye would be figurin’ that she’s homesick for one and two, all of this is,” she waved her hand around to include the landscape around them. “new to her. She’s not exactly worldly. A wee bit sheltered if ya ask me.”

 

“So why didn’t you two just stay in Ireland?” Heyes set out more line and bait.

 

“Her mama died. She was livin alone and so was I. So I went about to collect her up, being the older more mature one decided it was time we struck out on our own. With no family for either of us, it seemed like the right thing to do.”

 

“But, here? It’s awful dangerous.” Kid did pull his share when he felt the need to.

 

Her eyes questioned, his sudden switch from sweet fine boy to hard-lined distrusting interrogator. Naturally it caused her to go on the defensive. “ There’s no opportunities there in Ireland or Scotland for that matter. And I won’t go on about England.”

 

Heyes ruffled a bit, but not enough to be noticed. “You have a problem with England?”

 

She looked at him as if he was daft, “ I’m Scottish and she’s Irish, what do ye think?”

Both men acknowledged this “But you still didn’t answer his question, Aileen. Why do you need our protection?” He felt lousy about doubting her, but Heyes was kith and kin and you don’t turn your back on that.

 

She pursed her lips giving him a hardened look that spoke volumes of her ballooning annoyance, “ Had it occurred to ye our needs were a matter of convenience? I simply asked that while we traveled together that ye keep your eye on things not sign a bloody oath bindin’ us together.” She threw her hands on her hips shifting into “that” stance. “ Did it ever occur to the both of ye that if we came across highwaymen, wild beasties, or Indians for that matter, someone who knew what to do would be a smart thing to have around?”

 

In truth, the obvious was too easy and it really hadn’t crossed their minds. Only “the what” did. But they didn’t feel shame in doubting them. Women could be as vile and poisonous as men sometimes worse yet, especially if a man let his guard down.

 

About this time she was getting prickly, “Don’t let my bubbly personality fool ye both, aye I’m carefree, and seem like I’m not about bein’ serious. But that’s just my nature. And if I was anythin’ but, I wouldna be doin’ that young lass a bit of good.”

 

Ok, that was a fair argument.

 

 “Now Maggie on the other hand has emotions that are as fertile as freshly tilled soil, and an imagination to boot. She can take a simple shadow and convert it into an evil little puppet bent on hell and damnation.

 

Heyes couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at her colorful descriptions. He took stock in what she said. It was possible and made sense but still he was a man of caution.

 

“Honestly gentlemen, its ye’r presence that brings us a sense of security even if it’s an illusion. And I had thought by ye’r demonstration back there,” she jerked her head from the way they came, “at least, that I could impose upon ye for the time being.”

 

Heyes looked down, back up at her considering what she had said. “She was awful agitated.”

 

“You gotta admit that, Aileen.”

 

“ For heavens sakes, what is it that ye are so disbelievin’? She’s a prideful girl and not in a bad way, she doesn’t like beholdin’ to no one.”

 

“ And if I remember correctly so are the Scottish.” Heyes argued not willing to back down until he pulled out all of the truth.

 

She couldn’t argue with that. “Aye true as that maybe,” the wind dropping out of her sails, “ I’d be a fool not to ask assistance puttin’ both of our lives in jeopardy. And as shallow and unlady-like as it is, I enjoy the scenery.”

 

A small smile hinted at Kid’s lips. Heyes couldn’t help a smirk of his own.

 

  “Darlin’ mind if I have some words with my protective older cousin?”

 

“No, please do.” She turned when she heard Maggie’s approach.

 

“Now what is goin’ on?” Maggie requested, curious as to what her scheming cousin was up to now.

 

“I think they’re arguing about whether or not they’ll be helpin’ us.”

 

Maggie’s shoulders slumped bearing the new weight Aileen inadvertently placed upon her. She closed her eyes hoping to find the inner strength to endure it. “What did ya tell them?”

 

“The truth,” she said simply.

 

Maggie’s eyes grew wide as saucers. She knew her cousin had a way of spinning things just what exactly had she told them? “What truth?”

 

“Simply that we’re two women, alone in a world without proper chaperones.  Traveling in a dangerous world and that your mind dances on the side of fancy.”

 

“What???!!!”

 

“Keep your voice down, you’ll wake the dead.”

 

“Meanin’ what?!” She demanded lowering her voice.

 

“You’re a nervous Nellie.”

 

“Oooooh!” her eyes flashed, she stomped her foot, “By the saints you keep mixin’ up trouble. WE don’t need anymore trouble.”

 

“I only told the truth.”

 

“ That ya may have, but ya have a way of spinnin’ better than a weaver turnin’ wool into yarn.”

 

“Maggie, I’ve about had enough of ye’r dark attitude. Soon ye’ll be draggin’ me down into that well of despair ye have been dippin’ into.” Her eyes darkened threateningly, or so it appeared.  But in truth it was hurt, that was brewing into anger. It was hard trying to help her cousin.

 

Maggie was determined to stand completely on her own and not be coddled by her cousin nor ridiculed by anyone. She stomped off for a showdown with Kid and Heyes.

“Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones.” Her tone was familiar yet polite.

 

Giving each other a look that expressed the same sentiment, but best to stay quiet,  “Mam?”

 

Hell hath no fury like an irate Irish woman or any woman for that matter.

 

 “You’ll not be needin’ to be keepin’ your word. At least not in full. First I’ll not be about beholdin’ to anyone.” She glared at Aileen as she emphasized anyone. “I made the choice to come here knowin’ full well the risks I’d be about takin’. And I’ll not be about havin’ anyone babysit me.  I’ll take whatever comes my way, as MY responsibility. With my head held high!” She spun about to climb in the coach. The three of them were flabbergasted, at a loss for words at her uncharacteristic outburst.

 

Aileen choked out a few words that came out cracked,” It’s worse than I thought.

 

“Mam?”

 

“Aileen?”

 

“Don’t ya see? In her moodiness, she’s been withdrawn. I thought perhaps maybe a spark was left. But I was wrong,” she felt lost.

 

“Oh she’s still got a spark.” Heyes remarked with a steadily growing annoyance

 

Her eyes sparkled with tears about to spill. “She’s shuttin’ down can’t you see it?” Looking at Heyes then Kid.

 

Kid couldn’t stand to see a woman genuinely brought to tears, so he put his arms around her drawing her to him, as she tried to choke back the threat of tears. “If I know my cousin, we’ll both help you as long as you need it.” Kid said soothingly.

 

Lost and helpless she looked up at him, he reached out and caught a tear as it rolled down her face. “Hey, I wanna see the sunshine you make, not the rain,” he whispered in her ear.

 

~~~*~~~

 

Heyes watched little miss Maggie from his where he stood. A thousand thoughts went through his mind, all in a struggle to decide if it all was a clever act or not. He’d run into some good cons in his time this could be one, and yet he fully wanted to believe in her.

He observed how she took her seat. The same spot, but she half twisted herself giving them her back. Putting distance and space between them all. About to turn and walk away for air he caught a gloved finger swipe away a tear from her partially hidden face.

That was when she jumped up abruptly, reached to open the door. Her foot reached for the step, missing completely. Her frantic hand gripped the handle of the door tightly as it swung open. Reacting quickly Heyes leapt in before she could further injuring herself.

 

“You alright? He spoke into her hair gathering her into him. All questions he had left him, for the time being.

 

“Yes, I think so,” she whispered embarrassed and gasped mouthfuls of air in response to the shock.

 

“You need to watch carefully.” He scolded, kindly. “Rushing out like that you could have broken that cute little ankle of yours or worse yet the lovely little neck.”

 

Flattering words that were punctuated with a charming smile would have made any other girl swoon; had the opposite affect on her. Instead her chest tightened in anguish. Painfully her eyes worked themselves up again.

 

 “It would have made everythin’ all the more easier and Aileen would be free,” she thought. Her throat tightened when she tried to speak, “ Then it would be finished, nothin’ left to feel.” There she said it, the damn broke allowing the wayward tears to betray her further.

 

He grasped her roughly about the shoulders lightly shaking her, a flush of anger swept across his face. “ Woman, don’t you ever say a thing like that. Do you hear me?” He understood that kind of pain more than she could know. But throwing away a life so casually wasn’t something he’d accept from anyone. No matter what the reason. “You’re young and extremely beautiful. Things will work out. They have away of doing that.”

 

“Ya don’t understand,” she whispered hopelessly.

 

“Yes I do.” He was firm and unyielding about it.

 

“No ya don’t. It would be better, and I’d be sure that none of ya get hurt because of me, I’m tired of people dying because of me.” It was a frail and drained plea.

 

“What are you talking about?” his baritone softened in compassion.

 

“Papa died when he went to find work because I came along. Then mama died protecting me.” She focused on his chest ashamed to look in his eyes.

 

“You mean she worked herself into the ground.” He wanted to clarify what she meant.

 

She shook her head, “An evil wicked man came to the house to take me away. Said it was time but she wouldn’t let him. She shot him, but didn’t kill him. He swung and she hit her head on the corner of the table.”

 

Heyes closed his eyes, seeing it play out in his mind. “Time for what?”

 

“ Don’t know. But I ran and hid like a coward until he was gone.” She said it so flat and evenly, having buried it long ago. “ Do ya now see why I don’t want ya doing anythin’ for me? Why I don’t want either of ya and Aileen to bother?” It was a partial lie, for the most part was the truth as well.

 

His mind took him away from her, Kid and the layover station. Taking him to a time long since passed, and better off forgotten. His body reacted against the memories that pushed to surface. His stomach rolled into a knot while his throat contracted in the conspiracy to choke him.

 

Heyes wrestled to focus on her and not himself, it was horrible that a sweet young thing should take responsibility for something that was out of her control. Unfortunately the thought cleverly led him back to his own very personal situation, of how powerless he was to save his own parents or cousin’s family. The horror scenes flashed before him causing him to relive the past.

 

*****

He heard the shots despite the distance. They had become a familiar sound having heard about the trouble along the borders but being that he was all of 12 it didn’t register. Taking it for granted that it was someone else and secure in the knowledge that it wouldn’t come to his own doorstep. That was well and good until he saw the lifeless bodies scattered around his house as if a strong wind had came barreling in from a prairie storm whipping the laundry line apart dropping linen and clothes everywhere.

*****

Maggie could read the horror flickering behind his eyes. One of the few and extremely rare occasions that he had let his guard slip. His grip tightened on her shoulders as the worst of the memories clutched at him. She watched transfixed as he vied for control and shook the images from his mind. His jaw tightened while his eyes darkened dangerously setting his poker face firmly in place. Then his voice dropped in a low whisper that caused her to tremble, “Get back in there and stay put. And I’ll not have you talk about things being better if you weren’t here.”

 

She opened her mouth to protest but closed it just as quick. His hard cold glare was enough to frighten a scared man straight. Meekly she climbed back in settling into her place. He on the other hand backed away going opposite from the coach to gather himself, to lock away the images hopefully, permanently.

 

It did make him wonder about the intensity in which they had taken. They hadn’t gotten that awful powerful in such a long time. A very long time. So why is it that this woman comes along and pulls them straight out of hell, where he had buried them?

 

******

When he finally found Jed he was unconscious. A shot grazed his head leaving his face bloodied and his hair matted. But thankfully that was all. Up until that point he had thought for the longest that he had been a lone survivor. Especially when he had taken on the horrific job of burying both families in stride. Not once did he allow himself to mourn and cry. He didn’t know why then, but it was all that he had left, it over rode any good memories he had. And it gave him an edge. A fine honed edge found on a good blade of steel. He would need that to survive and exact the bitter vengeance that rose in him like bile. But all that had vanished just as quick when he found Jed. The edge however stayed never leaving, as he needed it to look after the younger boy.

 

****

He balled his fist punching it into his other hand. It was her fault for bringing all this to the surface again. He wanted to shake her and hard. She was taking him on a runaway wagon ride straight to hell. Damned he wanted to hate her for making him feel this way and yet a part of him simply wanted to pull her close hold her tight hiding her and he from all the pain. He shook his head to clear his jumbled thoughts. His jaw tightened more. Kid often accused him of being moody and melancholy, and there she was mirroring him and he didn’t like it one bit.

 

 

She was younger than him he’d guess by about five years.  And she wanted to just throw her life away. He shook his head.  Just like he did when he and Kid had split up before their reputations were made and legends born.

 

****

 It wasn’t up until a few years after they successfully ran away from Valparaiso orphanage that they had split up and went their separate ways. Brought on by a senseless argument, the details long since forgotten. Now they had been back together for a good solid seven or so years, reforging a bond that once seemed forever severed. He had become reckless during that time. Got him into several tough situations where he didn’t care one way or another about living or dying. Then one day he broke when it all crashed in around him. Where he felt like he was wallowing at the bottom of a pickle barrel wasted. That was when he up and left the Plummer gang and bumped into Kid again.

 

It started off as a cool how do you do to strained conversation. From there it progressed to both of them sitting in on a very boring out poker game that ended with Kid backing up Heyes when a disgruntled player drew on him over a play and a robust pot. They mended their shattered fences and come full circle. Back home. And home was them being together. They were all they had left in the world, each other. And by the grace of god they had been spared and neither had the right to throw away such a simple gift.

 

They were family. Cousins. No they were more than that. They were brothers. Special kindred. There were three kinds of siblings, those got along, those lukewarm to constant fighting. And then there were those who moved heaven and earth for each other. Granted they still argued, but hell, that was expected when a body is together nearly day and night. And that’s just how Heyes saw them. Family by blood, brothers by soul.

 

****

 

Kid watched feeling like an outsider from the side of the coach. He had helped Aileen in already. But waited so Heyes would know he wasn’t alone. He hated when he got like this, and when he did; it usually took a lot out of the older man. Kid knew to be patient and wait for him to come back from the land of the walking dead. He hated when Heyes would shut him out. He wanted to help him put to rest whatever it was that ate at him. But Heyes wouldn’t accept help on this from anyone. Not even Kid. Kid knew he was protecting him, and grateful for it. But he also knew that it would eat Heyes alive if he didn’t let it go. Somehow he needed to help him bury it all for good. Kid shook his head knowing that it was all a waste of time to dwell on it. But sooner or later he knew Heyes would come around. He always did. He just needed to give him time. That girl on the other hand was going to drive him nuts in the mean time.

 

The driver finally called time and the two silently climbed aboard. It was going to be a long, hard ride.

 

~~~*~~~

 

 Having ridden for quite a spell, the silence had grown heavy and thick. Putting a strain on a complicated situation. Heyes stole a glance at Kid and Aileen. Kid just sat there, eyes focused out of the windows. It looked as though someone had taken away his new toy. Aileen’s smile and beacon had faded. Now she simply rested her head on Kid’s shoulder.

 

And little miss Maggie, she was completely turned around with her back to him watching the night blink by. He let a sigh go. Clever man that he was, he decided that he should do something about all of this. He leaned over Maggie’s shoulder to see what she was pretending to look at.

 

Kid raised an eyebrow in interest. Aileen looked up at him for an answer. He shrugged his shoulder then jerked his head over to watch Heyes play this hand out.

 

“Find anything interesting out there?” he asked poker faced, yet like an interested boy of 10.

 

She turned her face toward his, feeling his warm breath against her cheek. She blushed, and then blinked a few times in an attempt to figure out what he was up to. But before she could open her mouth to speak, he slipped off his hat, providing them some quick privacy. Stealing a kiss as quick as that.

 

 

“MMMMM… apple,” he commented as he licked his lips then turned back around as if nothing occurred. Maggie blinked again, putting her gloved hand on her mouth in shock.

 

“So, Thaddeus so just how long did Aileen say she needed us?”

 

~~~*~~~

 

 

The stagecoach had stopped. Had been but for how long neither men knew. Alarm and caution quickly converted into an alert state of being. Heyes shifted first. Carefully laying a sleeping Maggie on the seat. Watching to see if she stirred. When she didn’t he withdrew his gun, then motioned his intentions to his partner. Kid had followed suit, but Aileen awoke. Quickly he silenced her by putting his fingers to his lips before she could speak. Withdrawing his own revolver he was poised and ready for Heyes sign. Heyes raised his fist, to extend his fingers in count. On the rise of his third finger each man slipped out of opposite doors ready for action.

 

Aileen with eyes and a mind still clouded from sleep, watched wide-eyed when the doors shut. Shuttering her and Maggie completely from the outside world. She had noticed that sometime during the course of the ride someone had been courteous enough to pull the shades down. She glanced over to the still form of her cousin, thankful that the girl wasn’t privy to the goings on out side. But when Maggie awoke, she feared the younger girl’s fears would seize her in a tight grip and send her spiraling into another bout of hysteria. At this point she was grateful that she had solicited the men’s help despite Maggie’s protestations against it.

 

Outside, both men completed a thorough sweep of the area securing it. Satisfied that there was no threat they replaced their weapons into their holsters. The door creaked open both reacted by reaching for their guns, but hardened skill and keen sense kept them from drawing as Aileen peered out.

 

“It’s all safe. You can come out if you like,” Kid pulled open the door offering a hand to which she gladly took.

 

She could see it was well into the night with a bright silvery moon high above her head casting long creepy shadows over the semi-desert landscape. A shiver sent chills over her covered skin confirming her fears in anticipation of Maggie’s reaction. Kid saw her shiver. Mistaken he moved her close to keep her warm.

 

 Maggie stirred. The stillness had slipped into her unconscious rousing her from sleep. She yawned and stretched to shake the cobwebs from her drowsy mind. Once clarity had asserted itself she indeed became a bit anxious at finding the coach empty. The door had been left slightly ajar, just enough to allow a sliver of moonlight through, behind that were the voices. Rising to her feet her heel caught in the hem of her dress tripping her, making her hit face first on the floor.

 

Kid being closer rushed to the door. He reached in scooping her up into his arms. She yelped crossing her arms in front of her defensively. He rocked her from side to side, with a soothing brotherly voice,” Hey, hey now It’s just me Thaddeus.”

 

She looked up calmed by his voice. When he was sure she was fine he carefully set her on her feet. “What’s goin’ on?” Her voice trembled partly from fear, partly from pain.

 

Heyes strode over, hoping to add to her sense of security. He slipped his arm around her tucking her close. He couldn’t stand seeing her fear. For a moment or two she turned her head into his chest hoping to snatch up some strength and calmness, her fist tightened in his shirt. He let her nestle there if that was what she needed, gingerly he plopped a kiss on the top of her head. “We haven’t quite figured that out yet.” He said in response to her question.

 

“Especially on account that it doesn’t “make” any sense.” Kid added.

 

“What doesna make sense?” Aileen was afraid to ask.

 

Both men shot a glance to the front of the coach. It was empty, no driver, and no horses. Just plain empty.

 

When Maggie finally pulled herself from the comfort of Heyes’s protection to see what they were talking about her eyes went wide, her skin paled as the white as the moon. Aileen was most assuredly right. She could see it coming.

 

 Stepping forward she calmly spoke, “Do na worry, Joshua and Thaddeus are here they’ll be sure to keep us safe.” It had to be said, if not for Maggie’s benefit but for her own sense of diminishing confidence.

 

Her effort was poorly rewarded. A gambit of emotions surged across Maggie’s face, which Aileen wasn’t prepared for it. But the men reacted; Heyes stepped in to deflect the storm that was about break, Kid pulled Aileen back placing her behind him.

 

Fear, coupled with a deep sleep she had come from proved to be a volatile combination. She exploded, her barrage directed at her cousin. “I told ya not to involve them! It was crazy, they’ll get killed trying to protect us.”

 

Heyes tried to reassure her, he touched her arm, and “None of us are going to die.”

 

She yanked herself away from him. Began to pace, absorbing her surroundings like a dried sponge. Pure terror twisted her soft features into a tormented mask.

 

 “What manner of place is this? Where are we? What by name of all the saints is this kind of foul trickery? Is this evil magic?” She pointed to the vacant space before the coach. Her wild frenzied eyes bore into each of them. “Where are the trees? The grass? The life? There are no hills, just cold empty rock! Where’s the green? I can’t smell the green!”

 

Heyes closed his eyes, he begged silently for this to end.  “Take it easy, you’re getting yourself all worked up over nothing.

 

“Maggie, this is natural for this place. It’s sorta like a desert.  It’s normal not to find a lot of green things here because of the lack of water. Seriously there’s no magic or trickery.” Kid explained hoping to put her at ease.

 

She turned to Heyes, “Ya can’t honestly tell me that this place isn’t evil or malicious can ya?”

 

“Well, uh, no. I guess some consider it that way.” He admitted freely.

 

“You have nothing to worry about you’ll be fine. You have our word.” Kid added.

 

She shook her head. “Are ya all daft? I’m not worried about m’self. It’s all of ya that concern me. How many times do I have to say it? I am not about to have any more deaths put upon my head!”

 

 “Enough! Margaret Mary Delaney! Do ye honestly think that either of these men are incapable of seein’ us safely through lands that are unfamiliar to us.”

 

“Well no I don’t. But…”

 

“I completely agree that this kind of land is something we are unfamiliar with. All people are frightened of the unknown.”

 

“It’s not in the unknown it’s…”

 

She lowered her voice, “But these two kind-hearted gentlemen are far from whishy washy. They’re strong and come from strong stock.”

 

“I never suggested that they were incapable.”

 

“It’s clear that time and circumstance has forged them into cool sharp steel, long on honour heavy on smite. I ask ye who better to escort us then men such as these? Who better than those that know the land, the beasties and people. Granted they may not know what lurks behind every shadow, every nook and cranny, but they do know what could.

 

Maggie stopped trying, Kid and Heyes stood in awe.

 

“It all comes down to this, my lass. Do you believe? Can ye find it within yourself to believe that these two men can handle whatever comes their way?”

 

A spark clicked finding something that had been hidden deep. Her chin dropped in shame and embarrassment. She had been carrying on like a banshee.

 

 Strong stock, she didn’t know what background Smith and Jones came from. Yet there was something about her older cousin’s knowing, she had to trust in that. But she couldn’t let go of what tormented her, her own knowing. Well she was going to have to allow things to be as they were. She squared her shoulders in a false resolve. Standing tall she looked Curry dead in the eye. “My actions musta seemed like a crazed wild woman to ya. But she’s correct.” She nodded in Aileen’s direction. “This place scares the beejeebers outta me. I know not how to handle it properly. But I’d be beholden to ya if ya would accept my apology. But if ya didn’t I wouldn’t blame ya either.”

 

He never faced such a sincere apology like that in his life and didn’t know how to react. “No offense was taking Mam. It’s understandable how a fine lady such as yourself could get worked up in a situation like this.”

 

She nodded, moved to Heyes. “ And after the horrendous manner that I behaved I wouldn’t expect ya to be feeling none to good about it either. And I don’t expect to be sitting on your good side for awhile to come.”

 

“Honestly Mam, you have had me a bit worried, but I understand what brought this on. Sometimes it gets to me if I let my guard down. Which is what I suspect about you.” He placed both hands on her shoulders looking onto her eyes. “ If there is one thing I do know about women, Irish women especially, they can pull a strength from way deep that will get them through most things.

 

Kid choked back a chuckle, Heyes had just admitted to something he never does at all. But he knew it was important for her to regain confidence. “How about we head for that abandoned town I saw over that ridge.”

 

“Good idea, and we can decide what to do in the morning when light breaks.” Heyes agreed.

 

 

~~~*~~~~

 

Aileen had somehow managed to pluck some sleeping dandelions on their way into the abandoned town. Kid watched her do this, “You know those aren’t supposed to be growing here.”

 

She looked up, “They dunna know that.” She said it so innocently that he burst out laughing.

 

 “Now what do you plan on doing with them. They’re all closed up.”

 

“Dunna know yet. But as much as I like the moonlight, do ye think we can go inside now? I dunna like being to far from her while she’s like this.”

 

“Joshua’s good with people, he’ll have her forgetting about how scared she is.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.”

 

 He nudged her forward on to the boardwalk leading her to the hotel where Heyes and Maggie had already gone. Once inside Aileen plopped down on the worn and long-forgotten divan that sat off to the corner in the lobby. When she sat a cloud of dust poofed up around her. She hacked and cough. Kid removed his hat to fan it away.

 

“Come sit with me,” she patted the cushion causing more dust to fly.

 

He shook his head laughing, “In a minute.”

 

She watched him circle the room. He passed by the doorway that led in to the dining room. Heyes was talking but it wasn’t clear enough to hear what he was saying. Then again he wasn’t apt to be eaves dropping on him either. Satisfied and comfortable he strolled back to Aileen.

 

“ Are ya dun yet?”

 

“Yes Mam.”

 

“Did ya find evera thing in order?”

 

“Seems so.”

 

“Good I want to be tellin’ ye a story.”

 

She never ceased to amaze him in the short time he came to know her. “A story?”

 

“Yes, about how the dandy-lion got its name. It’s very special.” She was very sincere.

 

Intrigued he said, “Let’s hear it then.”

 

She began, “Well now it happened a long, long time ago from what I heard. I think somewhere up in the highlands but I canna be sure. There was this fine old field where this little faerie princess would come and dance about. Ye see a secret meadow hidden within a lot of brambles and ancient twisted trees. Some trees as old as forever.

 

The meadow was her favorite place. All a rollin’ carpet of green splashed with bits of sun bursting flowers. This little pixie she danced in the early hours of the mornin’ and be about kissin’ each flower so each one would burst open to welcome the new day. 

 

 She would sing, frolic, and dance so full of life that she was. Sometimes the wee lass was known to step up an curtsy to each flower as if acceptin’ an invitation for a dance. Then she’d flitter about holdin’ on to a leaf spinnin’ and twirlin’.

 

Not even the rain could do much to stop her from her merry-makin.” She paused, reducing her voice to a near whisper.

 

  “But she didna know that she was bein’ watched and had been for days.” She looked around to make sure no one had been listening. “ By a ruthless old hag.” She put her fingers to her lips.

 

   “As the story goes she was evil, very wicked. Always made the worst kind of remedies that turned out to be nothin’ but poisons. Some go on to say she was cookin’ up a special brew that required faerie essence. There be just one more she needed. That it be one that be full of ever-lastin’ youthfulness, happiness and bright joy. Aileen was all that. Careful was the old woman to plot her next move. She went about mixin’ up a special hex; a sleeping potion.”

 

Kid was thoroughly entertained by the animation she presented the story with. Her voice would raise and lower just at the right times.  Just how his grandpa Curry would do it he decided. His eyes twinkled at the fond memory.

 

“So the hag went about her nastiness, placin’ shiny objects through out the field knowin’ just how the wee folk loved shiny baubles. Just as she had been expect the little one floated in seeing the sparkly’s through the blades of grass she became distracted. She   buzzed around like a little bee gatherin’ sweet succulent nectar. She picked up each stone and examined it carefully.

 

Ah but the dandy fellas swayed in the gentle ticklin’ breeze but they couldna speak to warn little Aileen. She yawned, the hex was workin’ her gettin’ a wee bit sleepy. Down she laid on a bit of soft green moss, tufted like a down bed fallin’ fast asleep.”

 

Her eyes grew wide in excitement “Hag made her move, steppin’ over the brambles she did. As she placed her foot into the meadow somethin’ nipped at her ankle. She looked down to find not thin’ there but a little dandy fellow. Evera time she place her foot down, she got nipped.”

 

Almost as good as Heyes he thought, almost.

 

She hoisted up her skirt, sure enough there be wee bite marks and tiny droplets of blood drippin’ from them. Figurin’ there was some kind of wee beastie runnin about. Determined she bent down to picked up the little thing.”  Her voice rose. “And that’s when she saw one of the dandy’s reach out to nip her! Oh my!  His bloom opened full, he shook terribly so even a bit of a roar came from his tiny little being. Old hag she reached again and a handful of them dandies leaned in and bit.”

 

“Ach! What wicked magic is this! She yelled.”  So did Aileen. “Of course there was no answer. A blindin’ roar shot up, risin’ from the grass shakin evera thin’ around her. Scarin’ her in to a crazed fright. She ran. A rut from a nearby tree lifted from the earth trippin’ her. Droppin her to her face. Surrounded she became, the dandy’s all in a rage dove in tearin’ into her flesh! Ach! It was a frenzy unlike any other seen before! In minutes she was gone.”

 

“Now they were about figuring how to wake the sleepin lass. Perplexed they were. Ye see a normal a spell would wear off when the person who cast it was dead, but she being an evil and malicious sort broke all the rules. Havin used ingredients that were forbidden in the world of magic.

 

One grand dandy tried his little voice again. First it come out a touch squeaky then bellowed into a glorious roar. And right down the line the others followed suit until she moved. She stretched and sighed. She got up looked around seeing the field as it always had been.”

 

Kid had been truly transfixed by her story. She had delivered with such intensity. He was disappointed when it ended. He laughed, “So are you the little faerie of the meadow?”

 

“Me? Oh goodness no! Me a faerie, why would ye say such a thin’?”

 

“You’re named after her for one.”

 

“Oh, that I am.” She pinched the heads off of the flowers she held in her hand and dropped them into Kid’s pocket.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Just somethin’ for ya to remember the story.” She smiled up at him.

 

He had a thought, chewed on it a bit then announced, “I like the story but I think I’d change a small piece of your story.

 

Shocked, “What?” No one ever dared meddled with a tellers story.

 

“It wouldn’t be proper for a lady to be going about kissin men folk, faerie or not.

 

She put her hands on her hips and blushed a touch “Oh and why not?”

 

“Because a gentleman should be starting the kissing. He said teasingly.

 

“Oh?” she softened her approach, “How would that be?”

 

“Like this.”

 

He leaned in lips barely touching, gently laying his lips upon hers like a butterfly kiss.

 

“I’m na sure I understood how that was supposed to be. Would ye try that again?”

 

~~~*~~~

 

When Kid and Aileen finally came in he relaxed some. It was surely turning out to be some crazy ride! Why was it every time they got on a stagecoach something always happened? He’d have to talk to Kid about that.

 

It was amazing he thought how a derelict place like this was still semi furnished. It looked as if the town folk just up and left terrified of something. He pulled the frayed drape across the rod as he thought about it. When he turned around, he caught miss Maggie deep in some curious business. Totally outta character for what he’d come to the unpleasure of being treated too. Now this was something new, very refreshing…he smiled, getting a glimpse at what lay secured tightly in her sealed safe.

 

He flicked his hat back on his head, lazily crossing his arms over his chest. He was going to soak in the rare moment that she let her guard down. As he watched he finally took stock in looking at her. She wasn’t as tall as her cousin. In fact she was shorter, considerably so. But if he were to hold her close to him she’d nicely fit under his chin. He could also tell the frumpy dark dress she wore concealed not only the warmth and inner beauty that she let out freely now, but a pleasant feminine form that made him react in a man’s manner.

 

She stepped in the rays of the moonlight, the glow amplified her already simple beauty into a radiance that made her seem like a magical creature. Ready to steal his heart away. There she stood, reaching into the beams, forming them into an imaginary ball within her hands. With those very slender and delicate hands he watched her bring them to her face, close her eyes in a most passionate way blowing on them. A throaty growl escaped, he shifted, stirred by what he saw. Unable to maintain the distance between them he slipped up along her side quietly so as not to startle her. He peered over her shoulder whispering gently, “What cha got? A firefly?”

 

“Oh!” she startled anyway.

 

He hadn’t judged correctly how engrossed she was in her activity. To avoid a serious mishap he quickly caught her in his arms fearful she would fall. “Sorry angel, I just wanted to see what you had caught.” His baritone came to her ears in a soft flowing whisper.

 

With wide eyes she looked up at him. He seemed like a young schoolboy. Her face colored, he knew he had embarrassed her. He waited patiently. His interest clearly perplexed her.

 

“Oh it was nuthin’ but a bit of whimsy.”

 

“I like whimsy, “ he admitted, tilting his head with a playful smile sweeping across his face.

 

That made her lose all train of thought.

 

A fact he could plainly read on her unschooled features. Using it to his advantage he wanted to draw her out further. With another tender smile he commanded, “Tell me.” The smile and the now husky laced whisky baritone made it difficult for her to resist his command, it made her swirl inside.

 

“Moonbeams,” she said in a meek unsure voice, afraid of his response.

 

His smile deepened with sincerity, as his deep eyes reflected a complete trust that made her head swim. She thought to herself, “What manner of charmer was this man?” Aloud, “Catchin’ them to make a wish upon.” Did he buy it?

 

“What cha wish for?” he teased.

 

Her eyes darkened he could see a flicker of green, “Mr. Smith, I’m shocked!” in mock annoyance. “One does not go about tellin’ one’s wishes. They don’t come true that way.”

 

His eyes twinkled mischievously.

 

“OOOO you wicked boy!” she tried pulling out of his arms.

 

“I’m not wicked,” he denied in a playful laugh.

 

“Ya are so!”

 

“Why?”

 

“For trickin’ a girl, that’s why.”

 

“I did no such thing.” He denied holding back a grin.

 

“Well….ya tried.”

 

“But you’re not afraid anymore are you?”

 

She considered it a moment. “Well no…”

 

“Then…”

 

Before he could finish his latest testament to teasing, she reached in plopping a very schoolyard kiss on his lips.

 

Startled he hadn’t expected such a brave move from her. She must have mistaken his reaction, because she broke through his grip pulling away. Swiftly she mounted a defense, “ Now don’t be thinkin’ I’m an easy girl that ya can have your wicked wanted ways with.” She wagged her finger at him. “But that was just sayin’ thank you for puttin’ up with my shennaniagans.”

 

“First of all the word is wanton, and I didn’t take it that way. But if you like we can continue to discuss it more.”

 

She stepped back, still unsure of his intentions and his mood. Deciding to keep it playful, yet contained she held up her hand halting his advance, “Now Mr. Smith you can be about puttin’ those kind of thoughts away and outta of your mind.”

 

“What thoughts? I can assure you Miss Maggie Delaney I have nothing but you’re interests in mind.”

 

“Oh do ya now? I believe ya’r full of nothin’ but blarney. Mr. Smith.”

 

He laughed, “ Me full of blarney? That would be Mr. Jones, seeing how’s always full of something.”

 

“Oh, and I’ll be tellin’ him about that! Some friend you are.”

 

Neither could keep it up much longer, bursting into laughter.

 

“Seriously where did you learn about Moonbeams and wishes?”

 

She sobered from the playfulness, turning about putting her back to him. “My papa.”

 

No, he wasn’t going to let her put distance between them, not again, not when she come so far. He moved to her, placing a gentle hand to her elbow, guiding her to face him. “Something special I take it?”

 

She nodded. He could see the light fading from her. “Like what?”

 

“Many things he did. I think because he felt bad about bein’ gone so much. I think he did it so I would never forget him.”

 

“Seems like he may have taught you something else, did you forget that?”

How did he know, her thoughts? She didn’t want to say it he’d make fun of her.

 

He lifted her chin with is finger. “What else? Something really special?”

 

She nodded, “To Believe.”

 

He cocked his head, “Believe what?”

 

“In anything I guess. He never said specifically, just never forget to Believe.” Her voice became a hushed whisper, “Especially if we never saw each other again.” She looked up for his reaction.

 

He guessed as much. “I wanna make a wish.”

 

She blinked caught off guard. He was so sincere. But indulged him anyway. She stepped into the moonlight then back a smidge, cupping her hands like she did before. “Stand here beside me, and put your hands over mine.” She instructed.

 

He did that, sort of.

 

She felt him come up behind her wrapping his arms around. Nervously, “I said beside me and your hands must hold mine, not my waist.” She scolded.

 

“Ah but I like this way, better.”

 

He was such a brat. “It won’t work that way.” She admonished him again.

 

“I don’t know, we could try.”

 

She groaned her displeasure. He did as she instructed facing her.

 

 “Now turn towards me, but hold onto the ‘cup’. Stomp your feet three times.”

 

“You didn’t do that.”

 

“I forgot.”

 

They just looked at each other.

 

“Make the wish and blow it into your hands.”

 

He did this. “Now what do we do?”

 

“Now you step back.”

 

Disappointment was clearly written all over his face. She wasn’t going to give him another opportunity to play. She took a confident step forward reaching for his shirt pocket opening it dismissing his presence altogether. She placed the “wish” inside, tapped the imaginary wish down let the flap fall and buttoned it. “There,” she said, “ Now your wish won’t fall out.”

 

Her dainty eyes glittered with innocence. Again affecting him on an instinctive level. He growled his response as he lifted her chin and closed his eyes to savor her feminine scent. Their lips touched like a feather on a wind light and airy. Manipulating the opportunity to his advantage he held their lips in a brief limbo to set the tone. He pulled back to determine her reaction, to see if it was to his advantage to continue. Yet he would not forcibly take anything he was not freely offered.  Pleased, he could see she was heady, still lost in the kiss. Lifting up his arm he cradled it behind her neck steadying her. Dipping in once again he delighted in tasting her warm and still apple-flavored lips. Motivated by the way her body reacted to his attentions he crushed her against him hungering for the softness that she offered.

 

For her it was a new feeling, sweeping over her in waves. His kiss was as powerful as pixie dust, totally capturing her and stealing her away. Her thoughts swirled around her mind flying in no particular direction. He was warm and powerful, and his manly spice, reminded her of cinnamon, on a brisk fall wind. The mixed combinations took her on a ride like a free spirited horse galloping through open countryside. She reached up grasping onto his arm fearful that she would fall. She knew she wanted to completely surrender to him.

 

He broke away reluctantly, they needed air.

 

She sighed, gazing disappointedly into his hungry eyes “Oh, Mr. Smith!”

 

“Joshua, Maggie, Joshua, “ he breathed seizing her once again.

 

~~~~*~~~~

 

The air had become stale and choking, hanging with a heavy curtain of unease. Heyes woke with a start. The event that had preceded should have left him well satisfied. And with Maggie nestled most comfortably in his arms by all means contented. But the hairs on the back of his neck frizzled with intuition. In the shadows he saw the drapes part with Kid’s familiar form between them, gun guardedly in hand. For the second time that night he reluctantly slipped out from the warm supple body of that woman. Before he got to his feet his gun was tucked comfortably in his own hand.

 

“What?” he whispered so as not to startle the women.

 

“Not sure, woke up with one of those feelings.”

 

“Which one?” Not referring to the feeling.

 

“This one, there’s only two ways in, out there, more to cover.”

 

“Let’s get the girls awake, then …”

 

A blood-curdling scream came from where Kid left Aileen. Both men rushed in to find Aileen weeping and trembling with fear. A sweep of the room proved there was no danger. Maggie hurried to Heyes’s side where he pushed her protectively behind him. Still covering Kids back. Kid moved to Aileen’s side. Checking her for injury.

 

Aileen looked up to Maggie. “I’m sorry that I dinna believe ye. I simply thought it was just another one of yer fancies.”

 

“Ya saw it?” her voice soft with disbelief as she edged from behind Heyes.

 

“Aye, it was horrible! The most horribly wicked beastie that I have ever had the displeasure to see.”

 

“What?” Kid asked.

 

“What did you see?” Heyes gave Maggie a questioning look as he addressed Aileen.

 

Maggie wasn’t surprised. She answered without emotion. “A Nuckelavee.”

 

“A WHAT!!!!????”

 

She knew this time would come, it sounded ridiculous even to her own ears but it was the truth. Reluctantly she began the explanation. “It’s supposed to be a fictitious beast that comes from Scotland. It is very malicious and kills.”

 

“Kills what?” Heyes’s eyes narrowed. Patience and compassion were long gone, the dangerous outlaw settling in.

 

Her heavy sigh gave her misgivings substance.  Sharing further information was necessary but would undoubtedly attract more hostility as well as an unshakeable skepticism. “What I got to say yar not goin’ to believe nor like.”

 

“Look I’m tired of your games woman. You’ve done nothing but put me and my partner through hell.” Heyes said sternly in an even voice but anyone could clearly see the resentment that brewed within him.

 

She did feel ashamed for how she tormented the two of them honestly it was never her intention. She looked to the floor for comfort instead found backbone. “For the record I have told ya that I did not want any of ya involved includin’ Aileen. None of ya have listened to me so don’t be puttin’ the blame on me for how ya are feelin’ Mister Smith.”

 

He glared at her. She ignored his anger and the implied threat. He couldn’t possibly do any worse to her than what she expected to come. “It can kill anything. But mostly faeries.”

 

“ Lady I don’t know what you hope to accomplish… Faeries?” he paused processing this “you’re sure one crazy woman! And you’re cousin, I can’t seem to figure out where she stands in all of this.” He ranted throwing up his hands in surrender at the insanity of it all.

 

She crossed her arms over her chest, “During this entire occasion Mister Smith, I had not expected ya to be believin’ anythin’ I had to say. And for your information I have not played any games contrary to ya ‘re mistaken belief. Especially when I have no clue as to what games ya’re talkin’ about.”

 

Getting a headache Kid said simply, “Whatever it is it’s large by the sound of it. Could be just an overgrown mountain lion.

 

Heyes accepted the levelheaded suggestion of his cousin and nodded. Heyes marched into the other room to get away to think things through. The only thing he was certain of was that Kid had things under control and he wouldn’t be to far if he was desperately needed.

 

Kid repositioned himself by the door to keep watch. Aileen moved up to him placing her hand on his arm. “I didna believe her. I thought I was doin’ right. If I had known…I would have for sure would never had asked.

 

He talked to the glass in the window, “Lady, I don’t know what to believe. What I do know is that we’ll make good on our promise and then we’ll be rid of you both. The sooner the better.”

 

Hurt by his declaration she backed away numb, settling in the corner far away from him. She drew her knees up hugging them.

 

Heyes simply wandered back into the lobby.

 

“That brilliant mind of yours come up with a plan yet?” Kid asked mainly to check on his cousin’s condition.

 

Heyes just shot him a look.

 

“Guess not.”

 

“Seen it yet?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“You’re sure it’s still out there?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“You reckon it’s huge?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“Can’t you say anything but yup?”

 

“Yup,”

 

Heyes rolled his eyes then began pacing again. His first problem was that he didn’t know exactly what it was, so he couldn’t come up with anything workable. He should go with the premise that Kid was right and that it was a cat. But something deep told him that wasn’t and that miss Maggie despite her lunacy was. He didn’t like it when he was torn on an issue. He glanced over at Aileen who for once in his opinion was quiet. It was unnatural, she looked so alone and crushed. He didn’t like that either. His throat tightened uncomfortable, leaving a dry lump behind. She had taken a leap of faith in taking responsibility for her cousin’s care and now looking at her she had risked a lot only to be let down so hard.

 

But Maggie… he looked around to see how she was reacting. “Where’s Maggie. Anybody see her?”

 

“She was just here,” Kid looked around. “A moment ago.”

 

“Aileen, did you see where she went?”

 

“No.” she didn’t even look up.

 

Heyes cursed, “Now what’s she up to?” he was on his last nerve.

 

From outside there was a pitiful moan tangled up with a variety of other unidentifiable sounds. Both men peered around the door cautiously to see what they were up against. Down the middle of the street on their left there was little miss Maggie in a stand off brashly facing down the monstrous creature. It towered above her, it’s solitary blazing eye pulsing a top an enormous mouth that dribble a sticky goo. Flinging the slobber in gloopy streams in every direction as the oversized head rolled on a neck that was to weak to bear it. The creature was unbearably repulsive with a mix of a horse body, exaggerated human arms that scraped the ground. Completely absent was definitive flesh exposing the revolting innards.

 

 Both men raced out of the door only to stop mid stride when they fully absorbed the complexity of the situation. They watched in horror as she fell to her knees reaching up to withdraw the pins from her chestnut hair. Allowing it to fall in a graceful cascade around her shoulders. She opened her arms spread them wide in supplication and wait.  Shots rang out from behind her. The creature howled in agony. Maggie gathered her skirts, stood and whipped around in fury.

 

“Go away! All of ya! It’s me it’s after. It’s taken ma family and now its come for me. It will leave ya alone it has no scent for ya.”

 

 “Stop! Don’t do this Maggie!” Heyes yelled afraid.

 

“We believe you!  You don’t have to do this! Let us handle it.” Kid added equally afraid.

“Ya’re both wrong. I HAVE to do this. How many times do I have to repeat that I don’t want any more blood on ma head? Do ya understand how tired I am of it?”

 

“Yes, we understand but you don’t need to die to do it!” Heyes argued vehemently.

 

Just as he finished the creature reared. The fin feet swiped at her back catapulting her face first in the dirt. Taking the advantage Kid covered while Heyes reached for her arms yanking her to her feet.

 

“Leave me be!” she protested struggling.

 

“Not on your life woman. Not while I’m around.”

 

They retreated up the street putting distance between them and the creature. Halting only to grab Aileen. “We can’t stay here at the hotel.” Kid yelled winded.

 

“And we can’t run, not in the open.” Heyes added.

 

Both men calculated for options.

 

“The church, it’s on the other side of running water. It can’t cross.” Aileen offered.

 

Heyes raised an eyebrow in question turning to Kid. “That what you remember?”

 

“Sound about right to you?” Kid then directed the question to Maggie.

 

“As far as I know.” She responded.

 

Following the only plan they had they crossed the bridge. Once on the other side Heyes jumped down in to the shallow creek kicking at the supports. Kid followed to assist.

 

“What are ya doin’?” Both women questioned, wondering if now the boys had not gone mad.

 

“You said it can’t cross running water. But it might be able to cross a bridge.” Heyes said as a matter of factly.

 

It made sense and both women started to stomp on the bridge.

 

“What are you two doing?” Kid wondered if they weren’t the ones that had snapped.

 

“Lookin for loose boards. We could pry ‘em up.” Aileen explained.

 

 It made sense as well.

 

 “Just be careful.” “It’s closing in,” Kid announced shooting a glance down the street.”

 

Heyes stole a look himself, “Yeah I see that.”

 

After some good solid kicks the two men succeeded in separating several of the worn supports. The women located some aged spots pulled loose planks free. Problem was they didn’t think about which side they should have pulled them from.

 

“You’re gonna have to jump.” Heyes said climbing onto the bank noticing their predicament.

 

“In a dress?” Aileen balked.

 

“Come on darlin you can do it.” Kid encouraged waving her toward him.

 

“Thaddeus ye’re gonna catch me?” She hoped.

 

“What did I tell ya earlier?”

 

In complete trust and faith she hoisted her skirts up and leaped. He caught her.

 

“Get her inside,” Heyes shouted to Kid.

 

“What about you?”

 

“I got her.” He jerked his head toward Maggie.

 

Kid and Aileen raced up the steps. Kid shouldered the door to break it open.

 

Heyes extended his hand waving her toward him. She looked at it, then to him doubtful.

 

“I’ll catch you.”

 

She shook him off. “No.” Turned and looked over her shoulder. “Ya need to go.” She was serious.

 

“Maggie,” he felt it well up within him, having a good idea what she was thinking.

 

“No,” she took a step back looking over her shoulder again.

 

He had to use a new tactic, “Maggie, please. You can’t do this.”

 

“I have to do ya not understand?”

 

“No Angel, honestly I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this. But what I do know is if you wait any longer, you’ll not only kill yourself, but you’ll take me too.”

 

Her head snapped around, “No, I can’t have that.”

 

One thing of it all, he was sure of was her feelings for him. “Then jump.”

 

It was nearly on her, but the slump and slither it had to take as it moved gave her time to get away. She backed up to the edge of the bridge moving closer to it and away from him.

 

 “Maggie!” he shouted thinking she wouldn’t choose him.

 

However she hoisted her skirts and ran for all she was worth. The force of her effort coupled with the now broken supports caused the bridge to collapse. He caught her barely as they fell to the ground with her landing on top of him. “Ya lied Mr. Smith.” She peered into his eyes. “Ya said you’d catch me.”

 

“Sorry, you caught me off guard,” He smiled. “Now lets git!”

 

~~~*~~~

 

Inside Kid had managed to find a lamp, and extra oil. Kid didn’t know how, but then again he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth either. Aileen on the other hand couldn’t stand the bumper crop of cobwebs that grew so well there, so she swept them away.

 

Together near the front of the church they gathered sitting on the risers. “Alright girls, details. I want to know everything about it. Leave nothing out,” Heyes ordered. Leading was one of the many things he was best at.

 

“As Maggie said it is a Nuckelavee. Comes from Scotland folk stories, dependin’ on whose doin’ the tellin’ it may be a water beastie or a sea faerie. It is describe as being a gigantic horse with human arms and legs and fins for feet. Again dependin’ on the teller, it’d be comin’ from bogs and dead water ponds or the sea. It’s a known to be a shapeshifter but it’s awfully terrible at that. And when it does it gets all out of shape becomin’ nothin’ more than a blob. What I dunna understand is that it is suppose to smell like rotten eggs.” she pondered that a minute and continued. “ Always male and evil and malicious. It will kill humans and faeries but rarely catches them because the smell is a forewarning. That’s it.”

 

“Maggie?” Heyes turned to her.

 

“She’s right.”

 

“What else?” Kid nudged. He could see Maggie had more to say.

 

“That’s it.”

 

It’s not is it Maggie?” Heyes looked at her knowing by her reaction.

 

“No.” She sighed again with the little girl voice. “It all would have been much simpler if ya let things be as the were.

 

“ Come on now Maggie, tell us what we need to know otherwise we won’t be able to do a fair enough job in protecting you or us.” Kid used his own brand of charm.

 

“It’s only the messenger, it doesn’t know what it’s doin’, just what its commanded to.” She sighed, reluctantly.

 

“And that is to kill you?”

 

“Yes.” She was ashamed.

 

“Maggie quit stalling.” Kid gave her several opportunities but time as well as his own patience was running thin.

 

She looked at him then to Heyes and exploded, “Revenge! It’s all about revenge.” She jumped up to her feet and began pacing as she attempted to recant the story. “Several generations back. Oh this is ridiculous and I accused ya of blarney earlier, Mr. Smith? Ya’re going to say it’s me, and that I need to be locked up in some asylum.”

 

“Maggie, focus!”  Aileen chastised her. “Nobody is going to an asylum if there’s no one alive!”

 

She looked to all of them sighed in deep resignation, “Fine, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” She took a deep breath. “ Several generations back there was a faerie war. A really terrible one. It was so bad that the king had to secretly enlist the help of two fine human gentleman, cousins they were an Irish and Scot.

 

The king had promised that if these two mortals beings helped save Faerie Land he would reward them greatly. He would be doin’ so by givin’ them his most precious gift of his daughters. Of course they had won. There was a big hoot-dee-doo for a celebration and the weddin’s. Down through the generations, their families swore to be protectors of the Faerie Land. Until out of nowhere Faeries began dyin’, at first no one knew the cause.

Until it came to our family.” She passed a look to Aileen. “ The purpose became known. The elders of both the families thought it wise to change the names, and wipe out family memories. When you and I were born there was some other safety plans put into place. But it got to papa first and then to your mama and papa. When it took your mama, it wasn’t an illness like ya thought. Ya’re papa had my mama put some magic on her to make you think so. It was a way to keep ya safe.”

 

“After the three of them were out of the way, he came after us. Mama did the best she could to protect me, but we know that didn’t happen. Ya and I are the last left alive.  Ya unfortunately don’t have all of your special abilities but only some.”

 

“What creature could have such a hatred?” demanded Aileen.

 

“ A troll.” She said the word with no emotion. She despaired at spilling the truth.

 

Both men’s eyebrows raised.

 

“Why did he start attacking in the first place?” Kid wasn’t sure he bought into this, but who knew?

 

“I’ve never heard of any of this, it sounds like nothin’ but fancy.” A tired edge filled Aileen’s voice. Maybe these men were right about her cousin.

 

She looked straight at Aileen, “The Dandy-lion Faerie.”

 

Kid and Aileen shared looks.

 

Heyes didn’t like being left out, “What Dandelion Faerie?”

 

“I’ll tell ya later.” Kid brushed him aside.

 

“Rubbish!” Aileen exclaimed, “It’s nothing but a story.”

 

Maggie continued ignoring the comments, “ The quick version,” she turned to Heyes, “A hag wanted to snatch the little faerie and the dandelions kept her from doing so. The troll, her child, saw it and apparently swore revenge to destroy all little folk because they were the ones responsible for killin’ its mama.”

 

Kid shot a glance to Aileen, “ I thought you said you weren’t her.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

“She’s not.”


          “Am I missing something here?” Heyes asked annoyed.

 

“She told me the story earlier in the hotel,” Kid said.

 

“Thanks,” like that explained everything to Heyes.

 

“I thought it was just a story.”

 

“It is just a story.”

 

“It’s not just a story.” All eyes turned to Maggie. “For the most part anyway.”

 

Heyes’s head was spinning.

 

 “Honest, the secret was kept from you. Where you lived it was easy, most folks out grew those ideas.”

 

“Why?” Aileen wondered.

 

“I just told ya for protection. We are the last.”

 

“That Troll kill them all off?” Kid questioned

 

“No.”

 

“Well than who?” Heyes demanded.

 

She found something more interesting in the floor to look at, she didn’t want to say it.

 

“Maggie!”

 

She just looked at Heyes.

 

“ Nobody believes in them any more,” Heyes supplied the answer solemnly not needing her to say it.

 

Kid looked up, “We did as kids.”

 

“But you don’t anymore.” Maggie finished flatly.

 

Both men looked down.

 

“It’s nothing to feel bad about, most children forget when they become grown-ups. That’s what they’re taught.” She defended them.

 

Heyes turned his back, steeled in seriousness and flashing to another time; something’s just automatically erase those kinds of innocent things. He thought sadly.

 

She stepped toward him “And those kinds of things too.” She left her hand resting on his arm. Warm sensitive eyes met his pained ones. Heavy silence sat upon them both as they shared.

 

“Well what do we do know? If I remember things correctly these things loose their power in daylight. And then we can get outta here.” Kid thinking back to the stories he heard as a kid.

 

“To where and with no horses?” Heyes tried to get his cousin to think.

 

“Fire should kill the Nuckelavee, being that it comes from water,” Aileen suggested.

 

“Salt won’t kill it but it will make it easier to do that.” Maggie thought aloud.

 

Heyes thought back, “Salt, now why do I remember that?”

 

“Grandma Cu…”Kid bit down on the name, “Used to say some folks used it in the old country as a charm against monsters, witches,” he gulped, “and faeries.”

 

Maggie softly smiled fully attentive to Kid. “Grandma Curry was right about that. But it won’t harm us. We weren’t brought up as real faeries.”

 

“Now wait just a minute, I don’t like any of this, it’s all too much to take in,” Heyes put up his hands pushing away the fast coming information.

 

“Han…” it didn’t feel right, “Mr. Heyes,” Maggie’s voice was soft and soothing.

 

He stared, at what point did she change again? Grandma Curry was right they are bewitching. He thought.

 

“For your information I am not trying to be.” She declared.

 

She was reading his mind again. Something he wasn’t keen on. To many things she had done since he met her made him shy back, and then there were times he wanted to sweep her into his arms. He… turned around and shook his head no; he wasn’t going to let her confuse him. But what he didn’t know was that she understood the both of them from the beginning. The problem was, her fear and anxiety got in the way. She was still adamant about not getting them involved and getting her cousin out of there. She was upset when Aileen came to get her. Aileen no longer had a faerie scent and the troll couldn’t find her. But together, he would destroy them both. Her eyes glistened with moisture, Heyes watched her, reading “her” like a book. He could tell she was about to slip again.

 

“Alright.” He clapped his hands together.

 

It snapped her back.

 

“ We know that salt and fire will do some damage, but what else do we know?”

 

“Bread?” Kid offered.

 

“Food? Now??” Heyes rolled his eyes.

 

“He’s right. Mama used to set out bread around the outside of the house.” Aileen defended him proudly.

 

“Oh.” Like that was informative.

 

“Bibles, crosses, especially iron ones. 4 leaf clovers, prayers, hymns, red threads or ribbons, daisy chains---“ Aileen ticked off a litany of items.

 

“Church bells.” Maggie added.

 

He rubbed his hands together. He began to pace again, vocalizing the situation. “Let’s put this into order. We’ve got two monsters to deal with,”

 

“Yes.” They all agreed.

 

“One is less powerful than the other and should be a piece of cake.”

 

“Yes but I don’t know about being a piece of cake.” Maggie commented.

 

“Heyes, “ There was a warning in Kid’s voice.

 

“And our strongest efforts will be about the troll.”

 

“Yes.” Both girls chimed in again.

 

“We’re already in a church so…

 

“Everything related is our weapon!” Aileen piped in getting his direction.

 

Heyes smiled, he did get their attention. Kid rolled his eyes thinking back to one of Heyes’s pep talks in front of the gang.

 

“Maggie and I will look for what we need,” Aileen announced ready to be in control of what she could.

 

“Good but no going outside!” Heyes warned, hinting that he wanted no trouble and not giving Maggie another chance to try and be a hero.

 

“Aye!” Aileen understood completely.

 

They took off leaving Heyes and Kid together. They’re not the gang Heyes.”

 

“I know, but Maggie was starting to backslide again.”

 

Kid nodded, he understood, “ I’ll be about checking that rope to the bells now.”

 

~~~*~~~

 

The girls were still gathering whatever items they could find while the two outlaws continued to consider the possibilities. “ How are we gonna handle the troll when it comes? We’ll have weapons but what about a plan?”

 

“I was talking to Maggie, she said the only way to kill it was sunlight.” Heyes answered as a matter of factly.

 

“What! Now how are we gonna get it into the sunlight? Well be lucky we last the night.” Something about Heyes’s expression didn’t sit well with Kid. “What, there’s more isn’t there?”

 

“Well, now that you mention it,”

 

“HEYES!”

 

“It’s wearing some kind of amulet. Keeps it from getting killed. All we have to do is get it off.”

 

“Is that all?” Kid rolled his eyes. “It’d be easier to rob the Wells Fargo Clearing House in Denver.”

 

“Nah, it’ll be a piece of cake.”

 

Kid glared, “We hope.”

 

“Trust me. The good thing is we’re in a church so were safe.”

 

A loud thud and thundering crash came from outside. Both girls screamed from the from the storage closet. Both men jumped up, “Are you two alright?” Kid called out after them.

 

Aileen came out first with Maggie following, loaded down with goods.

 

“Yes,” Aileen announced, “the sound merely startled us.

 

“Good as long as you’re alright. And it’s still outside…”

 

The east wall came crashing in, followed by a mangled neigh. Revolvers flew in to each of the men’s hands quicker than a summer wind stirring up dust devils. The two men pushed the girls behind them ready for the advancing attack. Black syrup oozed from the holes that Kid had laid into it earlier. The eye throbbed as it inch forward, fins slapping the hard wooden floor with a thunk. Kid remembered where he left the jar of kerosene and dove for it. He slung it to Heyes. Catching it, he threw it hard smashing it into the beast. The jar shattered spilling the contents over the creature just as Kid fired the fatal shots. Both connected on the beast instantly exploding into flames.

 

Heyes lunged to get clear from the shots and to cover the girls. The smoke billowed from the barrel of Kid’s revolver rolling upward in a ball toward the ceiling, scrambling to his feet, gun aimed at the creature he moved over to the rest of them.

 

The flames engulfed the creature into a fiery ball. It shriveled in on itself as the heat and flames accomplished the task. Sucking out the moisture. Having no more fuel to feed the flames, the fire winkered out leaving nothing but smoking dust on the floor.

 

“You alright KID?” Heyes shouted.

 

“Yea fine, just a little bruised, what about you?”

 

“We’re alright.”

 

“How was it able to get in?” everyone demanded looking at Maggie.

 

Aileen scurried over to Kid giving him the once over, despite the denial of his being hurt. She wanted to check herself.

 

“I thought you said we’d be safe here,” Heyes looked at her.

 

“We’re supposed to be.” She didn’t have an answer.

 

“It could be cause nobody’s worshiped here in such a long time,” Aileen offered coming up with a solution and satisfied that Kid was unharmed.

 

“The spirit’s gone out of it,” Heyes added realizing she was right.

 

“Because it’s abandoned,” Kid finished.

 

Heyes melted into a pew feeling defeated, “We’re Troll food,”

 Aileen put her hands over her face, Maggie turned and paced.

 

“Yeah, but we’re here. Granted we ain’t attended a service in a month of Sunday’s and then some. But it doesn’t mean we don’t know how.” Kid offered to Heyes a glimmer of hope.

 

He just stared at him. The wheels began to turn. “I suppose then we need to believe.” Turning his head toward Maggie.

 

~~~~*~~~~

 

Heavy thunder shook the earth, the building and the air. A shadow fell over the open space blocking out the light of the moon. An ear splitting yowl shook the eaves and rafters finally shattering the remains of the windows. Maggie dropped to her knees in agony, falling over then curling into a ball unable to move. The others simply covered their ears cowering together.

 

Heyes crawled over to her, shaking her despite the pain in his head.

 

“What’s wrong with her?” Aileen and Kid called to him.

 

“She’s froze up.”

 

“What? Maggie!”

 

“Frozen?”

 

“No more like paralyzed.” He explained.

 

They couldn’t do a thing for her at the moment. Instead they concentrated on what they could. Quick thinking, Kid grabbed up some of the solid boards that were scattered across the floor and began lashing them together quickly forming a couple of crosses.

 

Aileen handed Heyes the lone bible that was found.

 

“We’re gonna need to pull that amulet off of him,” shouted Heyes over the din.

 

“Him how do you figure it’s a him?” Kid shouted back.

 

“Simple Kid, if it was a girl all I need to do was smile.”

 

Kid rolled his eyes, “I’ll keep it distracted with this, you go for that fancy necklace.

 

“Kid, be careful.”

 

“Heyes just you worry about getting that necklace,”

 

The Troll ducked through the gaping hole. It was a sizeable creature just over six feet tall. Mottled brown and olive scales served as skin to covered a misshapen human form. Its abnormal head seemed out of place for the proportion of its body. The eyes sunken under a heavy brow were flat empty ovals that hovered over a long flat broad nose and smaller thin mouth that could barely contain two of his oversized teeth that hung over. Coarse coal hair grew in patches on its otherwise baldhead. Jutting up from either side of his head were two very elongated ears.

 

Thinking this would be a piece of cake after Kid had gotten a good eye on the creature he heaved the makeshift cross smacking it across it’s lopsided head to get its attention. Problem was all it did was turn to Kid opening a clawed hand slashing Kid’s left arm. Kid fell to his knee clutching it in pain.

 

“KID!”

 

“Thaddeus!”

 

“I’m fine just get that thing.” Gathering himself he struggled to his feet. Realizing he misjudged the creature’s defenses. “I don’t know how long I can hold it off!”

He grabbed up the making shift bat/sword wailing into it again.

 

Heyes dove in reaching, but as it swung to face him the charm swished out of his reach for his reward he received a grazing blow to his head from the creature’s forearm, which sent Heyes catapulting.

 

Aileen struggled to her feet, running for the cubby that contained the rope for the bells. Flinging the door opened she stormed in grabbing the old rope. Praying that Kid/Thaddeus was right when he said it was stable. At first pull nothing happened. Again nothing. On the third try she put forth all her might yanking the rope to the floor. At first they groaned dreadfully from the lack of use, screeching like an owl against being pressed into service again. In another effort she saw the fruit of her frustration borne! Loudly they tolled! The harmony was off, but boasted a sound that could be heard for miles. In another measure of true blue Scottish spirit of the fight Aileen began belting out one of her favorite songs. If that didn’t bring the spirit back into the forlorn building nothing would!

 

Loudly she sang, “AMA-ZING GRACE, HOW SWEET THE SOUND….”

 

Kid parried following through with a backhand. Only to be battered against the wall. Heyes taking notice of the confused state of the beast he charged in like a Brahma bull. By placing all his weight behind his shoulder he was able to set it off balance.

 

“THAT SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME!”

 

Maggie began to stir. Kid rolled to his feet swung the cross like a highlander’s broadsword defending his land and his clan. Heyes scrambled to his feet again diving for the elusive swinging pendant, his hand closing around it just as the beast sidestepped left, Heyes went right yanking the charm off. Falling to his knees he heaved the talisman through the open wall, flinging it like a lit stick of dynamite.

 

“I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW I’M FOUND,”

 

 The collective effort of the fighting, song and bells tormented the beast horribly.  It cupped its hands over its ears thrashing wildly about, demolishing the interior of the structure further.

 

“’TWAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEEEEEEE!”

 

“That woman can talk and sing all she liked from now on he didn’t care.” Heyes thought.

 

It slunked forward, Heyes low crawled to Kid who in intense pain clutched his side. Wildly the troll flung its arms about, Heyes covered Kid, just as the arm arced about to tear into Kid. Heyes took the blow instead he rolled off in pain, Kid clamored to his feet.

 

It slashed again, ripping away the wall where Aileen pulled on the bells. Heyes snatched up a piece of jagged wood, whacking it like a bat. The creature’s tough skin hindered any blows. The force reverberated back through the wood. The power of it brought Heyes to his knees. With Kid behind him he ducked presenting Kid an open opportunity to lay in a swing of his own.

 

“Thunk.”

 

Aileen belted out another verse despite the battle that raged around her. “’TWAS GRACE THAT TAUGHT MY HEART TO FEAR AND GRACE MY FEARS RE-LIEVED,”

 

Kid slid under a pile of debris while Heyes got tossed like a rag doll against the wall. Finally Maggie was able to struggle to her feet although wobbling. She began to shake violently. The troll reached down to pick up Heyes but Maggie flew through the air aiming for the trolls face. She was determined to annoy it long enough to provide a distraction that would give the two men the advantage they needed. Heyes hurriedly helped Kid from under the pile. Together on the same page silent communication passing between them they picked up a pew running it like a battering ram into the creature. The force and adrenaline that built up in the two men propelled the three of them through the opening.

 

A mix of bright colors from an artist’s pallet washed across the darkened sky. Behind the troll a red fireball burst up from the horizon in a blaze of glory. The beast shook in violent tremors. Smoke swirled from around its feet, steadily seeping from the rest of its body. Cracks began to snake out like spider webs. A rumble of thunder rose from some unknown depths signaling the impending doom.

 

Heyes and Kid dove for cover as the rock shot off dangerous shards exploding like mortar fire. When the dust finally settled, the sun sat high glowing brightly, the bells silenced. Both men raced inside, finding Aileen hovering over Maggie, fighting every effort not to cry. Maggie barely moved, her breathing shallow.

 

Kid lifted Aileen pulling her into his arms. Heyes knelt down, gingerly touching the younger girl’s shoulder. An iridescent wing flexed, she stirred.

 

“Are ya alright?” her raspy voice struggled, drained eyes gazed at his.

 

“You went and did it anyway didn’t you Angel?” Heyes was angry but it conveniently masked his fear.

 

“Had to. If something happened to ya, Thaddeus would be beside himself,” she coughed. A ribbon of blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.

 

Kid stroked Aileen’s hair as she buried her face into his chest.

 

“How?” He wanted to keep her conscious.

 

She forced her eyes open to answer, “What?”

 

“How do we help you?” Kid finished.

 

She managed a smile, ever so weakly. “Ya already have. Ya need not do any more. I …,” she coughed again, “I’m grateful for what ya’ve done.”

 

“Maggie…Tell them, please.” Aileen pleaded as she bravely pulled her head away from Kid.

 

Maggie shook her head, and then glanced down to her side painfully rolling to her left. There, impaled was a 12-inch splinter of wood.

 

“No!” Aileen yelled.

 

Kid closed his eyes choking back the lump that formed in his throat. Heyes, checked his own lump, removed his jacket balled it up to put it under her head for a pillow. Then he slipped his shirt over his head without regard to unbuttoning it, he didn’t have time.

 

“This is gonna hurt Maggie, breath out when I tell you.”

 

“Heyes?” Kid questioned, knowing that the wound was fatal.

 

He ignored him. “On three, I’ll count forward, then you do it. Understand?”

 

She blinked her eyes, she knew this wouldn’t work, but she wanted to allow him this last bit.

 

“It won’t work.”

 

“Joshua, Thaddeus is right.” Aileen added painfully.

 

He glared at them both, Kid knew he wasn’t going to listen he was too damned stubborn. He looked at Maggie’s face. Clearly she wasn’t protesting so maybe it would help Heyes to do this. Deciding he knelt down, “I’ll do that. You hold her, she’ll need you more there.”

 

Heyes nodded, they switched places. Kid took a deep breath, gathered Heyes’s shirt in one hand readying it for when he pulled the wood from her. His voice was sure, full of compassion, but Heyes could tell there was a hint of fear to it. “On three. One…two…three!”

 

In a swift motion he gripped it, pulling it out, quickly putting pressure on the wound with the other. Maggie drew in a sharp breath, the only sound that came from her. Heyes held her tight. Aileen knelt placing her hands over Kids to help put pressure on the bleeding.

 

Maggie looked to each one of them a serene smile on her face.

 

“I still want to know how to help you?” Heyes tried again.

 

“I appreciate it but there is nothin’.”

 

“Maggie you’re holding something back, I know it. The troll is dead, and Aileen needs you. Tell us.” Kid demanded, lacking force.

 

“Aileen is normal. More human than I’ll ever be…”

 

“And just what has that got to do with the price of eggs in Ireland?” Aileen insisted trying to inject a little humor.

 

“It’s just that, how can ya, any of ya believe I’m real?”

 

So that was it. Heyes lifted her up into his arms and held her closer, “You’re here,” he said.

 

“But do you believe?” Maggie questioned them all.

 

“I do,” both Kid and Aileen declared simultaneously.

 

She rewarded them both with a warm smile. “But ya Joshua,” she whispered “I can’t, if ya don’t. And I don’t expect ya too. To much has gone before ya’re eyes.”

 

            He lightly fingered the tip of her limp wing, “Well beautiful lady, I don’t think I can argue with this.”

 

She giggled in a little girl’s voice, “That tickles,” then coughed. She closed her eyes.

He pulled her closer and kissed her hair.

 

 

~~~~*~~~~

 

The whistle blew as the steam hissed swelling into a cloud from the sides of the outbound train. Kid and Aileen stood together talked in whispers, saying their goodbyes. Heyes looked on pleased as he leaned against the wall, arms folded leisurely over his chest. The scent of lavender preceded her approach, so he stood there still, pretending he didn’t know she was there. A chin poked over his shoulder, he could feel her warm breath caress his cheek.

 

“They look cute together don’t ya think?”

 

He snapped around real quick sweeping her into his arms. “I’d much rather concern myself with you at the moment.” He stole a kiss that left her breathless.

 

“My, my, my, Mr. Smith ya are a rascal.”

 

He smiled, “ Can’t argue with a beautiful lady.”

 

She blushed.

 

“Ahem.” Kid interrupted coughing to announce their intrusion.

 

“Just one question, Aileen and I can’t figure out.”

 

“What’s that?” Joshua asked.

 

“How come, I can’t do what Maggie can do?”

 

Heyes, looked softly at Maggie eager for her explanation as well.

 

She sighed long and deep. “ At the time she was born there was a great celebration in Faerie Land. But because things were the way they were each Faerie blessed her with a special gift. The last being an ancient all knowing healer who gave her the gift of anonymity. It would forever hide her faerie essence from everyone including her. The little old woman spoke a few words, sprinkled pixie dust and the blessing has held to this day, and will hold forever. Aileen will live a natural life.”

 

“What about you?” Kid wondered.

 

She found a spot on the floor to gathering her thoughts. “I’m two years younger, lot’s of changes happened. This special healer lived in a home where the family acknowledged her and she in turn protected their daughter. Right up until the time she was able to marry. A gent came to court her. A non-believer. Everyday he would say or do somethin’ that would prove that her belief in such was nothin’ but nonsense and in some cases bordered on evil. Finally one day, she woke up, came around to his kind of thinkin’; decidin’ it was nothin’ but fairy tales and nonsense and swore she would never teach her children such ridiculousness. At that point an arrow of disbelief struck the little healer making her no more. So the blessin’, the gift was to never be passed to me.”

 

“I’m so sorry Maggie!” Aileen hugged her.

 

She smiled, “ It’s no worry.”

 

“What about those ahem… things” Heyes nodded toward her back.

 

She shook her head, “ They’ll never happen again. It takes to much, when one is like this,” she gestured to her human form. “It uses up an awful lot. A one shot deal.”

 

“So how many died?” Kid wondered.

 

“With all the troubles in Ireland, people leaving, coming here, most left their beliefs at the gates of the harbors saying they’d start fresh and leave the old behind. Thousands of arrows were released each one finding a faerie or elf endin’ so many lives. In truth I don’t know how many.

 

“But the troll did some damage too right?” Heyes asked.

 

“Yes, you remember I said it was the child of the hag who tried to kill the sunshine faerie? It was for him that she was gathering all the faerie essences, to change him back to his human form.”

 

Heyes shot an ‘I told you’ look to Kid.

 

 “Yeah, Yeah, yeah.” Kid acknowledged. “ How did he get turned in the troll?

 

“The hag was fightin’ with a Lord. He wanted her to leave his land, she said she had clan claim and she wouldn’t. She used her knowledge to create a hex one so filled with hate that it only bounced off the love and good of the Lord and his people.

 

Since causing harm in the magic world is wrong, it goes against all of the laws. And with every law of nature…”

 

“There’s always a cause and effect.” Heyes finished.

 

“Exactly.”

 

“And it backfired harming her son,” added Kid.

 

“It was that precise reason why I was never taught nor allowed to use any of that kind of magic. The potential of harm was too great. It was forbidden. But there was one I was taught, permitted to use and always a reward comes from it with many more riches than a “Pot ‘O’ Gold”.”

 

“Good deeds,” Kid said.

 

“Caring words,” Aileen added.

 

“And a smile,” Heyes finished.

 

“Aye, because whatever you put out always comes back, several times greater. I’d much prefer a blessin’ than a curse.” Maggie finished.

 

~~~*~~~

 

Epilogue

 

“Heyes, you know something?”

 

“I will when you tell me.”

 

“I really liked them. Aileen was like a breath of fresh mountain air in a Wyoming meadow full of wildflowers. And blueberry pie.”

 

“Blueberry pie? Kid I wonder about you. Sometimes you act as though you never get enough to eat.”

 

“ I eat fine, thank you.”

 

Silence passed between them for a few long minutes.

 

“ Do you miss her? She looked like…”

 

“Yeah, she got under my skin, “ he responded annoyed.

 

“Yeah, you do hate it when that happens. But she seemed so…”

 

“Magical.” Heyes added into the air.

 

“I’m not sure I believed any of what happened. I mean it was a stretch.”

 

“It did seem that. We woke up in the stage as if nothing happened. The horses and the driver were back.”

 

“But Maggie’s explanation back there at the train station?” Kid pulled up his horse. As an after thought, he touched his pocket. “Heyes.” He sounded alarmed.

 

“What?” He stopped pulling the reigns back around.

 

Kid reached into his pocket pulling out a handful of yellow nuggets. Heyes gigged his horse closer. Peered into his cousin’s open palm looking up for an explanation.

 

“They were dandelion petals.”

 

Heyes studied the other man a moment or two, digesting this. Then he reached for his own pocket unbuttoning it he pulled out little opalescent balls.  Pearls. His ‘moonbeam’ wish. Rolling them around with his gloved thumb, he looked up “I guess I do.”

 

They both smiled.

 

 

~~Fin~~