One Night in Nowhere
“You gonna make it?” Hannibal Heyes shouted to be heard over the howling wind that whipped around him.
“Is there a choice?” His partner, Kid Curry, grumbled the answer.
Heyes didn’t have to hear the words to know what Kid was saying. He felt the same. It had been a long ride and they were both worn nearly to the bone. “Not much farther.” Heyes tried to shout, but at that moment the black clouds opened and added insult to injury in the form of a frozen, pelting rain.
“Damn and blast it all!!!! I’d sell my soul for a soft bed and a warm fire.” Kid hollered at no one and everyone before he kicked his horse into a gallop and headed down the path.
Heyes laughed and urged his horse to follow. “You forgot a beer and a bath!!!” He hollered at his cousin as he passed him and took the lead.
The town sat in the middle of nothing but desert. The people who found themselves there took that as a sign from God and named is Nowhere.
Nowhere sat in the Eastern part of
The Apache Wars took
their toll on the area, leaving a trail of blood that covered the land. It fueled the already existing legends of the
A lot of history took place around Nowhere. But nothing ever happened there. Which should have been another sign that it was time for something to happen.
But the residents of Nowhere were happy enough mining and selling copper, playing a penny ante game of poker on Saturday night and re-telling the story of the General. They didn’t give much to Nowhere and they expected little in return.
The fact that the General had built his fine mansion on the outskirts of town had been irritating enough to the townsfolk. It disrupted their nice uneventful life. And it wasn’t like he tried to be neighborly before, during or after the construction.
Major General George Stoneman. The General as he was less than fondly referred to. He’d brought a small group of undernourished Apaches with him when he arrived in 1850. Apache’s conscripted into service by the General. For reasons known only to the General, Stoneman needed to prove to Nowhere that he was above the town, even back in those early years when no one there much cared.
He forced these young Apache men into what some might call slavery, as he oversaw the construction of the fine three story gray stone house he designed for his wife. They did so in stony silence, save for the whispered oaths of vengeance towards the man who betrayed their people
For months they had slaved to build the structure. For months the residents of Nowhere grumbled about everything to do with the building of the house, and particularly about the General. They didn’t much like him. And history would prove they had cause.
The townsfolk didn’t know much about the General. Even though Stoneman
had spent much of his career in
In 1850, however, he was just another soldier with something to prove. He’d skirmished with the Indians at every opportunity. By the time he arrived in Nowhere, he’d developed a very simple approach towards Apaches. If they didn’t cooperate, meaning do exactly what he said, they deserved extermination.
People from town would stand and watch in wonder as they built the portico that covered the entry to the house. An A-frame start with turned up edges. Looks like some dang Chinee tea house. Proclaimed Homer Kenyon, who actually had a book that described such things.
The town oooh’d and aaah’d as the black wrought iron and stone fences went up. No one had a fence in Nowhere. They scratched their heads at the carved pieces of colored glass that were glued into the window frames. Shapes of trees and hills and animals decorated those windows and the sun’s reflection through them shot colors every which way.
The town thought this
was very odd indeed. But that was just
the beginning. The wagons of furniture
and household goods made a parade for weeks.
The people watched silk covered settees and velvet covered chairs being
carried up the steps into the house.
Then it was done and the General moved in. People marked that day in October, 1851. They waited for the General’s wife to arrive. She did so with great style and even greater vocal histrionics. Nowhere didn’t know what to expect. They weren’t disappointed. She was a shrewish, argumentative woman who seemed to need attention every minute of every day, and who never seemed to be satisfied with anything. It seemed fitting that she arrived on Halloween.
She brought with her maid, a young Apache woman named Mariddie. The contrast was striking. Mariddie was strikingly beautiful, with dark hair and eyes. Her father had been a soldier and had taken her from her people when he had been assigned to the Major General. He had tired of the burden of a child and had given her to Mrs. Stoneman when she was just 14, many years before they’d arrived in Nowhere. Mari as she was called turned into an intelligent and eager to learn companion to the woman, who at least appeared to tolerate the child.
The General, as he was known, never came to town, just sent Mari in for supplies. The townspeople liked her. They tried to get her to tell them about the goings on in the big house. But the young woman would just smile and say nothing.
Not that anyone
needed to be told what was going on in the General’s house. Why you could be miles away and still
know. There were always arguments coming
from the big house. Mrs. Stoneman didn’t like Nowhere. She didn’t like
The town liked that. It was the kind of excitement they could enjoy without getting directly involved.
Then the General’s wife stopped yelling. Everyone missed the noise. Until they found out why.
The General sent one of the Apache’s to the undertaker to come get the body. The people thought it strange he hadn’t sent Mari. But they never asked why.
In a garbled combination of English and Spanish, the man told the undertaker that she’d hanged herself. Just that day, after sharing a glass of port with the General. Seemed to be cut and dry. Then again, maybe not.
Two days later the General shot that same Apaches dead in the parlor of the fine house, claiming he’d killed really tried to take advantage of his wife and she’d hung herself in shame.
The Sheriff tried to talk to the General. But, well, no one said the Sheriff had a lot of initiative. The General told him to mind his own business. Which is exactly what he did. Anyway, the Sheriff told himself it was just an Apache, and that certainly wasn’t worth going up against the General for.
The Sheriff might have been content with the decision. But the townsfolk weren’t. This was more excitement than the town wanted. They sent a delegation of their most important residents including the saloon owner to talk to the General.
Strange thing, when they got there the house was empty. No General Stoneman. No body of Mrs. General Stoneman. No Mariddie. No Apaches. All the furnishings were there. There was even a chocolate cake lying untouched on the large pine table in the kitchen.
The delegation looked at each other, shook their heads and decided it was in everyone’s best interest if they just ignored the whole thing. Which they did. Except that Curly Jackson, the owner of the Little Piece of Nowhere Saloon took the chocolate cake.
The General, they later found out had moved with no warning and no goodbyes. They figured he’d just taken Mari with him.
A year later, a widow lady named Haskins, moved into the house saying no story about hangings and Indians was gonna stop her. Said she’d bought it from the General. Actually nobody stopped her. From time to time she rented out rooms in the great house, but visitors were few and far between. Less than a year after she moved in, she moved right back out. Her last words before she boarded the stage were that things weren’t right in that house.
Gradually, The paint around the windows peeled and the flowers died. The porch sagged and the front steps buckled. The colored glass in the windows was covered by years of dust and no longer reflected colors at all.
Nowhere returned to comfortable oblivion. Well, almost.
“There, Kid. You see it? Just over there.” Heyes pointed at some buildings vaguely outlined in the distance. The rain had gotten progressively worse as had the attitudes of the two men.
“I see it Heyes. I just hope it don’t up and disappear ‘fore we can get to it.” Kid growled.
“That’s better. I was afraid you were losin’ your sense of humor.” Heyes teased the other man as he once again urged his horse into the lead.
They slowly made their way into town, looking at each of the buildings for the one that said Sheriff. That would ultimately be the deciding factor in their getting off their horses or pushing them further.
“Nowhere. Well that sure does describe this place.” Kid pointed to the splintered sign welcoming visitors to Nowhere, the friendliest little place this side of somewhere. Someone’s long forgotten attempt at a joke.
“Huh?” Heyes looked where Kid was pointing and laughed. “Well maybe no one will come looking for us if we’re no where.”
Kid gave his cousin a distinctly unpleasant look and took a deep breath. “Don’t see no Sheriff Heyes.”
“Nope. But there’s the stable.” Heyes grinned. “See things are already lookin’ up.”
“Uh huh. Anything you say Heyes. Can we just get out of this miserable rain?” Kid sneezed to emphasize his point.
The pulled up and started to dismount only to stop when a wizened man of about sixty put his hands up signaling them to not bother.
“Sorry boys, not takin’ horses.” Hiram Worthington smiled happily from his dry spot inside the stable.
“This is a livery stable right?” Kid grumbled.
“Sure ‘nuff.” Hiram answered genially.
Kid opened his mouth to answer, but Heyes cut him off.
“But you aren’t taking horses?”
“Nope. Got no one to tend to ‘em.” Hiram started closing the door.
“Wait…” Heyes smiled a smile known to persuade men far more intelligent that Hiram to draw to an inside straight. “Look, my friend and I are soaked and there’s just not much more life to these horses. Is there any place we can get them and us out of the rain?”
“Well why didn’t ya ask that in the first place. Keepin’ a man out in this weather.” Hiram spat a wad of chewing tobacco off to the side.
Heyes closed his eyes.
“So where is it.” Kid was at the end of a month long battle with an ailment that left him just feverish and tired enough to be out of sorts with everyone. The last two days of riding hadn’t improved his disposition.
Hiram squinted at the Kid and grinned a toothless grin. “Sorry boys. Why don’t you boys try just out of town. There’re some folks that might be able to put you and your horses up. Try the big gray house, here tell there’s rooms.” Say what you will about Hiram. He did enjoy sending strangers on fool’s errands.
“Thanks.” Heyes pulled his horse up and started forward.
Kid did so as well, turning back only when he heard Hiram’s cackling laugh float by. “Heyes, maybe we should just keep going.” Kid shivered, he just couldn’t put his finger on exactly why.
“Nah, this is gonna be just fine. Just fine. Anyway, we both could use one good night’s sleep someplace where it’s warm and dry. I got a good feelin’ Kid. I think we’re gonna get lucky.” Heyes was trying to be optimistic. It was getting harder as the water kept pouring off his hat brim down his back.
They rode a ways out of town, not seeing anyplace that looked like it had a welcome sign waiting for two, very wet, very cold and very dispirited strangers.
“I think maybe we’d better just find someplace to hole up Heyes. There ain’t no place out here. That fella was just being…neighborly.” The sarcasm dripped from Kid’s voice.
“Yea, maybe…no, look Kid. Over there.” Heyes stopped and pointed to a shape in the distance. Distorted by the wind and rain, it loomed out from around a bend in the road. “Come on.” He started forward without waiting for a response, riding quickly till he reached the large house. “This must be it, Kid.” Heyes dismounted and tied his horse to the gate.
“Better be.” Kid grumbled, as he also dismounted.
A moment later they stood on the covered porch shaking water from their hats and stamping it from their clothes. Their knock was answered almost immediately.
“Yes? Oh my, is it raining? How foolish of me. Of course it is. Why it must be, the two of you are drenched. Can I help you?” The woman looked startled for a moment as she looked at first Heyes, then Kid, but then she smiled kindly at the two men.
Heyes appraised the situation quickly. Elderly woman, maybe in her 50’s, platinum gray hair pulled back in a tidy bun, her dress worm, but clean and neatly mended. He put on his very best little boy face. “Yes ma’am. We were hoping that you might have a room to rent. And a place for our horses. My friend hasn’t been well.” Heyes clutched his hat to his chest and looked mournfully at Kid.
Kid obligingly looked sad, worn and just a bit sickly. Which wasn’t difficult as he was sad, worn and just a bit sickly.
“Oh goodness. You want to stay here? Why how wonderful. I haven’t had visitors in so long. Do come in. There’s a nice big barn in the back. You just put your horses in there.” She smiled maternally at Heyes.
“Yes ma’am. Thank you ma’am. You go on Thaddeus. I’ll take care of the horses.” Heyes smiled at Kid. “G’on.”
Kid nodded thankfully and followed the woman into the house.
Heyes looked out at the pounding rain, sighed and ran back to the horses.
“We appreciate your letting us stay ma’am.” Kid stood in the foyer of the house and looked around. He’d noted that the outside looked freshly painted and that the windows sparkled. There had even been bright flowers in white washed window boxes. What he saw inside reminded him of the time he and Heyes had visited Soapy Saunders mansion in San Francisco.
The hardwood floors gleamed as did the banister that wound from where Kid was standing up to the second and third floors. Plush oriental rugs in vivid reds and blues added color. Lamps and candles lit the house and gave off a warm glow. Kid sneezed and as hard as he tried not to shivered.
She looked closely at him. “You’re not the one.”
“Ma’am?” Kid barely heard her, her voice was so soft.
She quickly caught herself. “Why you’re frozen solid. You poor thing. You just give me that wet coat and take those boots off. There’s a nice big fire in the parlor. You just go on in there and I’ll get you some tea.” She took the heavy coat, made heavier with the water it had absorbed and hung it on the coat rack, ignoring the water dripping from it onto the floor.
“I’ll just leave it on the porch for now, ma’am. We’ll bring it in later.” Kid opened the door and carefully laid the coat on one of the wooden rockers that sat there.
Kid returned to the foyer, stopping just inside to remove his boots. The woman wasn’t there and for a moment, he wasn’t sure what to do. He stood there holding his boots, looking a lot younger and a lot more vulnerable than someone with the reputation of Kid Curry ought to look. The trembling got worse.
She appeared though a set of double doors. “I’ve added some logs to the fire. You just come over here now. Just set your boots by the fire to dry. They’ll be just fine by morning.”
Kid nodded. “Thank you ma’am.” The words came out stuttery through trembling lips. “I don’t want to get anything wet.” His clothes weren’t soaked, but definitely wet.
“Never you mind about that. Here, let me help you.” She took his arm. “Why you’re frozen. Come along. I have just the thing to take care of that.”
She took the boots and set them on the wide stone hearth. Motioning him to sit, she went to a large, distressed wooden chest. “Now you sit right here close to the fire.” Indicating a large, overstuffed chair covered in a deep burgundy fabric, she shooed him to it.
“Yes ma’am.” He smiled at the doily’s that covered the head rest and arms remembering a similar chair he had known as a child. His ma would always yell at his pa for dislodging those doily’s. And his pa would always smile knowing that the yelling was never meant. He hesitated, not wanting to get the chair wet or dirty.
She seemed to understand. “Sit. Please. It’s just water.”
He nodded gratefully and sank into the chair.
She tucked a colorful red and white quilt around him. “I’ll go get the tea started.” She took a few steps. “On second thought, perhaps this calls for something else.” She smiled gently at him and changed course towards a tall decanter full of an amber colored liquid. “Here. Drink it all down.” She handed him a half full glass.
He could smell the liquor before the glass ever touched his lips. He downed the liquid in one gulp and felt the fire as the fine, old brandy made its way through his body. “Ma’am…”
“Well horses all bedded down and fed. There was hay and even some oats in the barn.” Heyes burst into the house, teeth chattering as he spoke. He’d left his coat on the porch next to Kid’s and started into the parlor and tossed their gear on the small throw rug at the foot of the stairs.
Seeing Kid’s boots on the hearth, he quickly took his own off and walked to the fire. “Mmmmmm, that is wonderful.” He turned to face the Kid and the woman and allowed his backside to defrost. “Must have been good fortune that we found Nowhere, ma’am.”
Her eyes darkened as she studied him and the hand that held the glass stopped. Just for a moment. Then something changed. The smile she directed at Heyes was different. As though she saw him clearly for the first time. As though she knew him. “Here my dear, you look as though you might need this.” She handed Heyes a glass filled similarly as the one she’d given Kid.
“Yes ma’am. Thank you ma’am.” He also downed the liquid in one gulp and waited while the fire in his throat settled.
The woman brought another quilt and tucked it around Kid. She put a hand to his forehead and frowned. “You’re feverish young man. You need to rest. You should be ashamed of yourself, going out on day like this in your condition. And making your poor friend go with you.”
Heyes’ smile faded just a bit. “Why ma’am I’m sure he didn’t intend doing any harm…to either of us.” Heyes blinked and glanced at Kid, shrugging his confusion at the woman’s comment.
Kid tried to focus. Somehow this was his fault, but he sure didn’t know how. Right now he wasn’t sure of anything, except that the combination of the brandy, the sudden warmth of the fire and the comfortable nature of the chair he was sitting in was making him a little dizzy. He didn’t realize just how dizzy till he felt Heyes catch him.
“Here now, don’t go falling on this nice lady’s floor.” Heyes helped Kid to stand. “Maybe we should get him to bed. If that would be all right ma’am.”
The woman watched the two for a second, watching the genuine concern that was just below the gentle teasing. Something, like she was faced with a problem that had to be solved, crossed her face. “Of course. Can you get…you know I don’t even know your names.”
“Sorry ma’am. I’m Joshua Smith and this here’s my friend Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes put an arm around Kid’s waist and placed Kid’s arm around his own shoulder and led him forward.
“Well Joshua... and Thaddeus, it’s wonderful to have you staying with me. My name is Mariddie. Mari for friends. It gets so lonely out here and so few people come to the house now. I only have the one room. I hope that’s all right. It’s the room just at the top of the stairs. It’s all ready for you.” There was a touch of wistfulness in her voice. She stared at Heyes again as though she’d met him before.
Heyes brushed it off . “Yes ma’am. Thaddeus and me are used to sharin’.” Heyes slung their saddlebags and bed rolls over his shoulder and carefully guided Kid up the stairs
The room was bright and airy. The fire had been laid and was ready for lighting. The bed linens clean and dust free. It was as though they had been expected.
A momentary chill stiffened Heyes’ spine and he thought about turning around and getting out. But Kid sagged against him. Heyes knew his cousin didn’t have the energy right now to move on. Truthfully, he didn’t have it himself. He hadn’t wanted to worry Kid, but he hadn’t been feeling entirely right ever since he’d almost had his head rearranged by that angry poker player who’d been way too confident in his own skill at poker.
“Can I help?” The woman put a match to the logs in the fireplace and the initial crackle of wood was a pleasant sound against the backdrop of the rain outside.
Heyes tossed their bags on the floor and helped Kid onto the bed. “No ma’am. I’ll get him settled and be right down.” Heyes again pushed concern from his mind. They’d only stay a night. What could happen in one night.
She smiled and gently pulled the door closed behind her. “Don’t be long. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Heyes unbuckled Kid’s gunbelt, realizing at that moment just how tired the man was. Kid didn’t react then or as Heyes managed to get the damp clothes off him. The room was warming up quickly, as Heyes tucked the covers around Kid.
Kid stirred momentarily. “Heyes…”
“Right here Kid. You just g’on to sleep. I bet Miss Mari cooks as good as she keeps house. You need to be ready for a big dinner.” He teased as he put an extra blanket over the younger man.
Kid’s only answer was a mumbled “Thanks…” Before the blue eyes closed and he drifted off into sleep.
Heyes gave his cousin another concerned look, just to make sure, before he dug dry clothes out of his bag and changed into them. He looked around at the room. Simple but sturdy furnishings, a wedding ring quilt hanging on a brass quilt stand, a picture of a man in uniform on the mantle, a porcelain pitcher and basin standing on a wooden stand, two chairs covered in a soft flowery print. He sighed. Yea, just like a bedroom. Maybe he was more tired than he thought. He hung the wet clothes over the chairs to dry. Checking on Kid one more time, he tucked the covers a bit closer around him and padded downstairs in his stockinged feet.
Downstairs was quiet when he returned to the parlor. The quilts had been folded and lay on the settee. Miss Mari was nowhere to be seen. “Ma’am? Miss Mari” he called out looking down the hall towards where he supposed the kitchen was. “Miss…” He started down the hall when she appeared.
“Why there you are. I thought you might be hungry. Dinner won’t be for a few hours, but I thought perhaps these might hold you over.” She carried a plate piled high with sandwiches.
Heyes found his mouth involuntarily watering at the sight of food. He had to admit he was tired, but even more, he was starving. He accepted the plate gratefully. “Ma’am, I can’t begin to tell you how good this looks.”
“Land sakes, it’s just a few sandwiches. Why don’t you come into the dining room and we can talk while you eat. I get so few visitors.” She smiled benignly, leading him to another room on the other side of the kitchen and motioning for him to sit down. She left him momentarily to return to the kitchen and when she returned she was carrying a pitcher of lemonade and another plate stacked with chocolate chip cookies. She gently set the two items on the table.
He looked up guiltily in mid bite of a thick roast beef sandwich. “I guess I was hungrier that I realized.” It didn’t quite taste like what he’d been expecting. Actually there was hardly any taste at all. He chalked that up to his being so tired.
Laughing softly, she walked up to where he was sitting. “No, it’s good to see you enjoy my cooking. What good is the food if no one likes it?” She poured a large glass of lemonade and set it in front of him. “It is all right, isn’t it?”
He took a considerable swallow and smiled up at her. He got the feeling that she might burst into tears if he told her the truth. “Yes ma’am.”
She hadn’t moved, but was looking at him with intense sadness in her eyes. She brushed the dark hair from his forehead. An action that made him instinctively pull back.
She blushed. “I’m sorry. Please forgive my boldness. You remind me of someone I knew once a very long time ago. He had the same dark eyes and hair. Never would stay in place…” She seemed lost in a different time.
He took her hand. “Miss Mari…are you all right? Do you have family here in town?”
She stared at his hand on hers. “Family?” She looked around momentarily confused. “Me? Oh dear no. I have no family. Once a long time ago, but not now.” She moved quickly to refill his glass. “Everyone is gone now. Everyone…. Is he family? The man upstairs? Brothers, perhaps?
Heyes chuckled. “Worse. Cousins. He was sleeping. I should get back upstairs in case…” Heyes pushed the chair back and rose.
“But we haven’t had a chance to talk at all. And you’ve barely touched your sandwiches.” There was a note of annoyance in her voice, which quickly changed. “Of course. Why you must be near exhaustion what with worry and all. You just go on upstairs. I’m sorry there’s just the one room. The rest of the house isn’t…well I just can’t manage as well as I used to.” She rose. “And I do get so few visitors.”
He once again took her hand and smiled gently at her. “Nothing to be sorry for Miss Mari…”
Again, she stared at the hand on hers, this time covering it with her own. “I just want it to be…right.”
It was his turn to stare. He gently removed her hand. “To tell the honest truth ma’am, it’s been a long time since we had such a nice place to stay. And me and Thaddeus are grateful that you’re letting us stay. Now Thaddeus would much rather be down here enjoying your good food. Matter of fact he’s gonna be downright mad when he finds he missed lunch. But after he’s gotten some rest, why he’ll be just fine. And as for it being right, well Miss Mari, it’s perfect.”
She smiled shyly. “It’s just that I’ve been waiting for so long.”
“Waiting, ma’am?” He reached for the plate at the same time she did.
“Yes. Waiting. I almost gave up hope that you’d return…” She fluttered her eyelashes, hearing her own words. “What I mean is that, well it’s just been so long.”
Heyes frowned a little at her words, but chalked it up to her lonlieness. He smiled softly at her. “If it’s all the same ma’am, I thought I’d just take this upstairs. In case he wakes up. Well, you just don’t know him ma’am. When he hasn’t eaten, why he’s a cantankerous as a bear waking up from hibernation.”
She added a handful of cookies to the plate and covered it with one of the red and white napkins that were on the table before handing it to him. “You just rest yourself Joshua. I’ll come get you when it’s time for dinner.”
She picked the pitcher up and walked slowly towards the kitchen.
Heyes watched her for a moment then headed back to check on Kid, opening the door and entering the room quietly so as not to wake him. The contented snores indicated Kid was in a deep sleep. He set the plate on the table and stacked a couple more large logs on the fire, satisfied when he heard the crackle and saw the flames lick higher.
Heyes was still troubled, but he couldn’t put his finger on what the problem was. They were safe and dry. The woman was nice enough, even if her comments didn’t make much sense. Anyway, she took them in without question. A couple of days for Kid to rest up and they’d be on their way. He shifted in one of the chairs, but found he just couldn’t get comfortable. The bed sure looked comfy though. He walked silently to the empty side of the large four-poster bed and as softly as he could stretched out. In a short time his own snores joined Kid’s.
Neither man heard the woman enter, look tenderly at one of the two men, sleeping peacefully and gently covered Heyes with one of the blankets, her whispered words – “sleep well my little love” falling on deaf ears.
Heyes woke first. Starting out of sleep momentarily confused as to where he was. He looked around and saw Kid still sleeping. Relaxing a bit, he looked around and let his eyes adjust to the dim light cast by the fire.
A tap on the door drew his attention and he watched it open slowly. “Oh you are awake.” The woman peeked in. “Dinner’s all ready. Will your friend come down or should I make up a tray.”
“If it’s dinner, trust me Thaddeus will be down.” Heyes grinned. “Somethin’ sure smells good ma’am.”
“It’s so nice to cook for people again. Hurry down ‘fore it gets cold.” She closed the door softly.
Kid was stirring into a groggy wakefulness as the voices reached him. “Heyes…” he mumbled, his blue eyes slowly focusing on his partner.
“Well nice to have you back among the living.” Heyes’ voice might have been teasing, but his deep brown eyes were concerned as he watched his cousin pull himself to a sitting position and rub his face. “You ok?”
Kid smiled. “Yea, ya know maybe I was just tired.” His stomach growled and he looked sheepishly at Heyes. “And hungry. Is that dinner I smell?” He stretched his arms to the ceiling and swung out of bed, looking at himself, wearing only long johns and shot a questioning glance at Heyes.
“Thought you might be more comfortable that way.” There was a brief silence as the two men thought about what to say that wouldn’t embarrass the other any further. Finally Heyes broke the quiet. “Well get dressed, dinner’s ready.” He grinned then thought of something. “Uh about dinner…” He wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“What about it?” Kid ran his fingers through his touseled blond curls.
Heyes hesitated. Maybe he was just imagining it. “Nothin’. Just get a move on. Miss Mari’s waiting
“Miss Mari huh.” Kid yawned.
“She’s nice Kid. Any way, we didn’t have much choice.” Heyes twisted from side to side relaxing the kinks in his muscles. “You comin’?”
Kid laughed. “You go on. I’ll be right down.”
Heyes nodded and headed downstairs.
Kid stretched again. He splashed water on his face and scrubbed it vigorously with a soft towel. Maybe Heyes was right and they’d gotten lucky. His stomach growled again and at least for now all thoughts of anything other than the food that matched the aroma drifting up from below fled from his mind. He hurriedly pulled on his clothes and followed Heyes downstairs.
The table was laid with more food than the two men had seen for a long while. The aroma of rosemary scented roast, potatoes, vegetables and fresh baked bread filled the room. A wine filled decanter sat at the end of the table. China decorated with tiny flowers and crystal glasses sparkled on the linen covered table.
Miss Mari greeted Heyes with a radiant smile. She’d changed into a deep burgundy dress that matched the wine. “I am so happy you’ve come, Joshua. The house gets so very lonely. Will Thaddeus be joining us? Or will I have the chance to get to know you a little better?” There was a coyness in her manner that contradicted the lines on her face.
Heyes chuckled, “No ma’am. Thaddeus will be down in a minute. Everything sure smells wonderful. You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble for us.” He watched the woman turn away quickly and for an instant he thought he saw someone else. A hint of long dark hair and a flashing smile. The hairs on Heyes’ neck prickled.
“I’m starved. Ma’am, don’t know how me and my partner can thank you.” Kid entered the room eagerly surveying the food. “Not too many people out there who’ll take in strangers, much less go to all the trouble of feeding them all this.”
She focused on him for a second, a touch of anger, or maybe disappointment in her dark eyes. When she spoke her voice was stiffly polite. “It’s my pleasure Thaddeus. I so seldom get company and to have… you both here, well it’s nice to have company. I’m going to get the coffee, you two just sit down. Joseph, will you carve the roast?”
“It’s Joshua ma’am.” Heyes picked up the heavy carving knife, testing the feel of it in his hand.
“What? Of course, how foolish of me.” She turned towards the kitchen. “I’ll only be a moment.”
The two men exchanged glances and stared after her.
“Heyes, I’m feelin’ pretty good. What would you say to us leaving in the morning. Somethin’ just isn’t sitting right with me about this place.” Kid frowned. He wasn’t the kind of man to overanalyze a situation. Years of being on the run had sharpened his instincts to the point that if something felt wrong, even if he couldn’t spot the reason, it usually turned out to be wrong.
“I know Kid, but I feel kinda bad, leavin’ Miss Mari. I mean she didn’t have to take us in.” Heyes usually followed Kid’s instincts, but something was drawing him to this place and to the woman.
“Yea, me too Heyes, but I got a bad feeling about this place.” Kid shrugged. He knew he couldn’t prove it, but that didn’t make it less real.
“Let’s see how things go tonight. It’s still rainin’ pretty hard out there. We can get one good nights sleep here and then see how we feel in the morning.” Heyes forced a smile. Truthfully he was thinking that leaving would be a good idea. But one more nights sleep in a warm, comfortable bed and a hearty breakfast might just be enough to make sure Kid was well. He rubbed the lump still present on the back of his head. He wouldn’t mind those things for himself either. “Anyway, we can’t leave before dinner.” He stabbed the roast and started carving.
“Leave? Why you can’t leave yet.” Miss Mari had re-entered the room so quietly that neither man heard her. She was looking directly at Heyes. “Why you just arrived. Please say you aren’t leaving so soon.”
“Uh, no ma’am. I mean, well we do need to be movin’ on. But we were gonna talk about it in the morning. No sense in spoiling this fine meal with talk of leaving.” Heyes smiled first at the woman then at Kid.
Kid followed suit. “Yes, ma’am. We sure wouldn’t want to do that.”
She looked at the tall blond man with a curious stare as though deciding something, then she turned back to Heyes. “Well you’ve done a wonderful job with the roast, Joshua. Why don’t you sit at the head of the table.” She didn’t address Kid.
He frowned, then cleared his throat.
“Oh, Thaddeus, you just take the seat there.” She casually waved her hand towards one of the chair. She stood by the chair staring at Heyes.
Finally he looked at her and hurriedly went to pull her chair out. “Ma’am.” She smiled at him and took her seat. Selecting one of the bowls on the table, she handed it to Heyes. “Potatoes?”
Dinner was over quickly. Despite the perfect appearance, the food wasn’t quite what they had hoped. When first one man then the other put a forkful in their mouth their expressions were mirror images of surprise. It was exactly as Heyes remembered. Tasteless.
They tried everything that the woman handed them. From roast to bread, it was all the same. They finished out of courtesy, forcing the food down until it was gone and hastily declining seconds.
She was surprised when they turned down extras. “Why the General and my Joseph would take seconds and thirds of my roast. It was all right wasn’t it?” The coyness was back in her voice and again she directed her question at Heyes.
“Oh yes ma’am. Must have been those sandwiches earlier.” Kid answered quickly and was rewarded with a confused look from the woman, as though she’d momentarily forgotten he was in the room.
“I was worried…well, why don’t you go and sit in the parlor. I’ll just be a minute cleaning this up and then we can talk.” She began organizing plates to carry to the kitchen.
The two men simultaneously started doing the same.
“Oh no. Please. The General always told Joseph that it was the woman’s job to….well, I don’t mind. Really. Please go sit by the fire. There are cigars in the humidor on the table. This won’t take me but a moment.” Her hands were trembling as she gathered the plates.
“All right ma’am. If that’s what you want.” Heyes nudged Kid out of the room.
“Heyes there’s something strange goin’ on here. I don’t know what so don’t ask. But the way that woman looks at you…well it gives me the willies. Like she’s talking to someone else entirely.” He accepted the cigar Heyes held out.
“Aw now Kid, she’s just an old woman who doesn’t have anyone else. I wonder if the General was her husband.” He twirled the cigar in lips for a moment lost in thought. “Course she did call me Joseph.”
“See, I knew it. Bet if we had a picture you’d even look like whoever Joseph was.” Kid looked around the room spotting an album on a small table in one of the corners. “Here, I’ll prove it to you. There’s gotta be a picture of this Joseph fella in this.”
“What are you doing?” Her shrill voice caught them both off guard as they studied the faded pictures in the album. “Why are you looking at that?”
“I..we’re sorry ma’am. Just saw this here picture album. I’m sorry if we looked at your private things.” Heyes was too busy apologizing to see Kid slip a picture into his pocket.
The woman distracted by Heyes’ voice didn’t seem to notice either.
“Yes ma’am, I’m sorry too. We didn’t mean any harm.” Kid closed the album and walked to the fire. “Have you lived here long Miss Mari?”
“What? Oh, Thaddeus. Yes, I’ve lived here for a long time. I don’t want to talk about myself. An old woman like me. Now I’ll just imagine you have stories to tell? And I’d so love hearing about all your adventures, Joshua.” She sat next to Heyes on the sofa.
They spent the next few hours talking.
Heyes related some of their more law abiding adventures, sipping more of the brandy. He found himself wondering why it seemed to be the only thing that tasted like anything.
The woman laughed at his stories and was just short of rude if Kid interrupted. It became both apparent and awkward.
“Well, I think I’ll be turning in.” Kid finally said when the clock struck 11 PM. “You comin’ Joshua?” He started towards the stairs.
“Yea, I am feelin’ tired.” Heyes was feeling drained. Even with a nap, a comfortable house and a full, if not entirely satisfied stomach, he was troubled and confused. And worried. He didn’t know why he was any of those things. He wanted to talk to Kid, and he rose, thankful for the chance to retreat to their room and talk this out privately with his cousin.
“Oh no, you can’t go yet. Why it’s still so early. Why, even Joseph used to stay up later than this. Just a little longer. Please?” She clung to Heyes’ arm, tears filling her eyes.
Heyes looked at Kid.
The man’s blue eyes darkened and there was a nearly imperceptible squint, the unmistakable and unspoken no. “You should get some rest Joshua. We got a long ride in the morning.” Kid’s voice was firm. Whatever was going on here, he didn’t want either of them to be part of it.
Heyes nodded, grateful at the escape Kid had provided. He turned back to the woman and began disengaging her hand. “I am feeling a little worn, ma’am.” But as he looked in her eyes, he found his will fading. “Well maybe just a little longer.”
They sat down as one, the woman turning to smile at Kid. “You go on Thaddeus. I’ll take good care of Jo..Joshua.” There was just a hint of triumph in her smile.
Kid stared at her, then at Heyes for a long moment. Then he sat back down.
Heyes chuckled. “It’s all right Thaddeus.”
Kid watched his partner, then nodded. “Don’t be long. We should get an early start.” His words were harsh, drawing his partner’s attention from the woman and his movements were brisk as he moved towards the staircase.
Heyes knew what Kid was doing. But he didn’t feel threatened or worried. He wasn’t sure how to describe how he felt. Heyes smiled briefly at Kid. He’d just make some pleasant conversation with a lonely old woman for a little while longer, then go upstairs. And he and Kid would get the hell out of this place in the morning. Yea, that’s what he’d do.
Three hours later a decidedly grumpy Kid Curry was jolted out of the arms of the woman he was dreaming about as Heyes slid into bed.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.” Heyes whispered as he rolled over, curling up into a tight ball.
“Mmmmm. Sure Heyes.” Kid lifted himself off his pillow. “You all right?”
“Me? Sure. Fine.” Heyes clutched at the covers. “Kid? I told Miss Mari we’d stay a little longer.”
“What! I knew it. I knew I shouldn’t have left you down there.” Kid sat up. “Heyes, we are not stayin’ here. I don’t know why, but somethin’s just not right. And we’re leavin’ in the mornin’. Early in the mornin’.”
“I knew you were gonna say that.” Heyes held up his hands to stop his cousin’s voice. “Kid, she’s just a lonely old woman. I…we both need…” He didn’t finish. “Anyway, what harm would there be in stayin’ a couple of days?”
Kid almost blurted out exactly what harm he thought there’d be. But he caught something in Heyes’ voice. Something he hadn’t heard in a long, long time. Not since they’d been kids together in the Home, after…. He chose a softer tone when he did speak. “Long time since we talked about Miss Evie.” He heard the deep sigh of the other man. “That what’s botherin’ you? Heyes?”
Heyes rolled over. “Maybe. She reminds me of her Kid.” The sadness he felt made his voice husky.
Miss Evie had been the one person at the Valparaiso School for Waywards who had gone out of her way to help the two little boys who were delivered to the Home one scorchingly hot day in August, 1863, lost, terrified and clinging to each other.
She always managed to find extra food for the two of them. When she could, she’d sneak a book out of the library for Hannibal. There always seemed to be a cookie hidden under Jedediah’s pillow. She’d gotten in trouble with the Home’s Administrator before for showing some of the boys special treatment. Her only answer was that some of the boys needed it.
They’d been at the Home a year when she was fired. The Administrator told her he was sorry, but her behavior just couldn’t be tolerated any longer.
The two little boys watched as she packed her suitcase. Jedediah had slipped his hand in Hannibal’s, something he hadn’t done in a while.
She told them that she would always love them like they were her own sons. She dried the tears running down Jed’s face, kissed their foreheads and told them to be good boys.
Hannibal had reached up and hugged her, feeling the tears on her face mix with his own. It surprised them both. He’d kept his emotions buried in the year since the two of them had come. He wouldn’t cry though again. Never again.
Miss Evie had held his face and stared into the deep eyes, so much older than his almost 12 years. “Find happiness, my little love.” And then she was gone.
“Heyes?” Kid’s voice startled Heyes out of his memory. “I missed her too. When she left. But Miss Mari’s not her. I mean she sort of looks like her and she sure treats you like Miss Evie did. But the woman downstairs isn’t Miss Evie. And I don’t know what it is, but…Heyes, somethin’s wrong here. The way she looks at you…I think she’s got you confused with this Joseph fella.” He turned over and reached for something on the table. “I wanted to show you this.” He handed Heyes the picture he’d taken from the album downstairs.
Heyes squinted in the darkness to make out the faces. “You took this from her album? That was her private book, Kid.” He turned the picture over unable to make anything out.
Kid angrily snapped a match and put the flame to the lamp. He held it so Heyes couldn’t avoid looking at the picture. “Look at it Heyes.”
The man refused to make eye contact with his cousin. He slowly drew the picture to the light knowing what he’d see.
The woman was Miss Mari when her hair had been dark and her face youthful and unlined. The boy was slender and shy, clinging to the woman’s dress. All dark hair and eyes. A feminine hand had written ‘Joseph, age 11’ on the back.
Heyes stared fixedly at the photo.
“She think you’re this Joseph, Heyes. Maybe he was her son. I don’t know. But she’s got the two of you mixed up in her head. And there’s somethin’ else. This house all painted and waitin’ don’t fit anything about this town. And this room, just like somebody was expecting us to show up. Oh, and that food. Why it was just like it wasn’t there at all.” Kid touched the other man’s arm and once again, his voice softened. “Heyes…”
The dark eyes looked up, luminous in the dim light. “Kid, I can’t explain any of that. And I don’t care. She’s just lonely. Like Miss Evie was. And maybe we can help her.” He swallowed. “I can’t leave her Kid. You go. We’ll meet up in a few weeks. But I gotta stay. I’m staying.” There was a finality in his voice.
Kid sighed. “And I should just go on. And leave you here.”
“No sense in both of us…I mean…” He stopped. “Kid I think I’m supposed to be here. I know it don’t make sense, but it feels like…” He couldn’t say the word.
“Home? Feels like home Heyes? It’s not home. Never was. And she’s not Miss Evie. And she’s not your Ma. I don’t know who she is, but she’s not…. You got ‘em both mixed up in your head Heyes. You’re not thinkin’ clear.” His voice rose as anger, mixed with concern exploded.
“I’m thinking just fine Kid. I know she’s not Miss Evie or my …., well anyway I know that. But I just gotta stay and that’s that. So you go and we’ll meet in a couple of weeks at the most. I just gotta play this out Kid.” He handed the picture back and rolled away from Kid. The conversation was at an end.
Kid chewed his lip wanting to yell some sense at his partner. He finally just blew out the light and punched his pillow. “Fine Heyes. We’ll stay. For a while. But I don’t trust her and I’m gonna be watching her every move.”
The rain continued through the night. Crashing thunder and lightening burst against the house.
The woman flipped through the photo album by the fading light of the fire. She came upon the page where a picture had been removed. Frowning, she looked upstairs, whispering to herself, “He’s mine now. My Joseph’s come home.” She closed the album and walked up the stairs to the room the two men shared. Floating gently into the room neither man stirred as she stood at the foot of the bed and watched them. Her eyes drifted to Heyes. “You’re home my little love. I waited all this time for you to return. No one will take you from me again. Already you know you belong here with me. We must make your friend leave Joseph. He doesn’t belong here.”
Heyes moaned and tossed against the whispers invading his dreams. Images flashed and blended in his mind. A soft voice with an Irish lilt tucking him in and singing him to sleep, an older woman telling him not to say a word about the borrowed book, someone screaming, who was screaming….Ma? No, push that away. Miss Evie…don’t go, please. Everyone goes away. Finally he forced himself to consciousness. He rubbed his sweat soaked face and looked around. His heart was pounding. An image drifted closer to him. “Ma?”
“Yes Joseph, yes my little love. I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” The voice surrounded him.
The fog cleared. “Miss Mari? My names Joshua, Miss Mari. Joshua.” Heyes reached out, but couldn’t find her.
“Joseph. You’ll remember soon. Sleep now.” She was gone.
Heyes swung his arm out, but there was nothing. Had she been there? He felt more confused that he’d ever been. “Joshua.” He said the name as though trying to convince himself that it was correct.
“Heyes? You all right?” Kid woke at the sound of his cousin’s voice and twisted around to find out what was wrong.
“Huh? Oh sure…Kid.” That’s odd. For a moment he couldn’t remember the man who next to him was. “Just a dream. G’on back to sleep.” He stretched out again and forced his eyes closed. “Just a dream”.
Kid woke first. Reaching his arms to the ceiling he listened to the rain, grateful that he and Heyes were indoors in a warm house in a comfortable bed. He’d slept well and felt better than he had in some time. He swung his long legs out of bed, arching his back to unknot the muscles.
He knew he had to convince Heyes to leave this house. Or failing that find a quick way to hog tie him, sling him over his horse and just plain get it done. “Heyes? You up?” It was different for him to be the one waking his partner. He smiled at the thought. He turned when he got no response and nudged the man. “Come on Heyes. Rise and shine. Well maybe not shine, but rise anyway.”
He frowned and turned himself so he was facing his cousin. “Heyes?” He nudged him again.
“G’way.” The muffled response came from the depths of the pillow.
Kid took a relieved breath. “You can sleep later. We’re getting outta here.” He got up and poured some water from the pitcher into the basin. Dipping his fingers in tentatively, he happily found it warm and splashed some on his face. He scratched his cheek and thought about shaving. Then shook his head. When we’re out of this place. He pulled on his trousers and shirt, buttoning it as he walked to Heyes side of the bed. “Come on partner. Get a move on” He gently shoved Heyes over on his back and was shocked at what he saw.
Heyes skin was pallid and clammy. The dark lashes were a stark contrast to the white skin.
Kid put a hand to his forehead. Where had the fever come from. Heyes was burning up. “Heyes. Come on open your eyes.” He walked quickly to the basin and poured fresh water onto a towel. He laid it gently on Heyes forehead and was rewarded by a moan.
“Stop…what….who are you?” The dark eyes flew open. Heyes stared at kid through a hazy fog, knowing him, but not knowing him. He pushed at the towel.
“It’s me Heyes, you’re sick.” Kid replaced the towel and held it.
“Who’s sick?” The woman appeared in the doorway. “Oh is Joseph ill?” She walked forcefully towards the bed and touched Heyes’ cheek. “Why he’s feverish.”
“It’s Joshua ma’am. Joshua.” He said firmly, refusing to budge even as the woman tried to make a place for herself next to Heyes.
“Well young man, I don’t know what you’ve done to him, but he needs a doctor. You’ll just have to go to town and bring one back.” There was a smugness to her voice. As though this was the exact course this was supposed to take. “And you should leave now before he gets any worse.”
“What I did…why I didn’t…” He shook his head and started to move Heyes. “I’m getting my friend out of here.”
“No!” She shouted. “You can’t. He’s sick. Why he might die. Or is that what you want? For him to die. Why I don’t believe he’s your friend at all.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Kid hesitated for just a moment. He didn’t want to leave Heyes in this house alone with this woman for a minute. He looked at the man. He felt more than anything he should pick Heyes up and just take him out of the house. But he knew taking Heyes out in the storm that was still raging might hurt him worse. He glared at the woman. “Look. I’m gonna go get the Doc. I won’t be long. If anything happens to my friend…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. The icy coldness in his eyes was sufficient.
“As though I would hurt him.” There was no missing the accusation in her voice.
Kid strapped on his gunbelt and settled his hat on his head. “You staying with him?”
“Why of course. Do you think I’d leave him?” Why he needs me.” She reversed the towel on Heyes’ forehead, cooing softly as though to a child.
Heyes quieted under her touch.
“I’ll be back ‘fore you know I’m gone…Joshua.” Kid glared one more time at the woman, then ran downstairs. Shoving his feet in his boots he ran out of the house, grabbing his jacket and forcing it on as he ran through the rain to the barn. He threw the blanket, saddle and gear on his horse as quickly as he could and with an urgent slap of the reins he rode towards town.
He’d gotten about a mile when he turned back. The house looked dimmer. He told himself it was the rain. Turning forward again, he urged the horse to move even faster.
He crested a hill and slowed slightly to take the downward side. And the rain was gone. The sky above him was clear blue, not even a cloud marred its surface. Kid pulled up. The town lay in front of him. Nowhere. Just as it had been when they had ridden through. Except it was dry as a bone that had lain on the Arizona desert for years.
“What the….” He turned back for a moment. Every instinct he had, everything that had kept he and Heyes alive all these years was screaming at him to go back. He saw Heyes’ face in his mind and kicked his horse forward. He’d drag the Doc back and then get Heyes out of that place.
He raced into the heart of Nowhere, stopping a man walking down the dusty street, hollering for directions to the Doctor.
The man drew back, startled, but pointed towards a small house at the end of town.
Kid covered the short distance quickly and leapt from the horse. Pounding on the door, he shouted, not caring if he upset the residents. “Doc! Hey Doc! Open the door, I need your help.” He rattled the door with his pounding.
Finally it opened. Doc Henry had been in Nowhere for two years. Consumption had driven him to its dry air. General annoyance with people had caused him to stay in a place where doctoring mainly meant patching up whatever damn fool got himself beat up after the poker game on Saturday night.
He didn’t like loud noises. Especially when they were coming from a very imposing young man who now had him by the shirt front and was shouting at him.
“Look Doc, my friend’s sick. He’s out at Miss Mari’s house and he’s real bad off. Ya gotta come right now.” Kid realized he had the man by the shirt and dropped him. “I’m sorry, Doc, but my friend’s….well, get your bag. It’s not far.”
“Listen here young man. I don’t go running off just because someone’s sick. Someone’s always sick. Now, who’s Miss Mari and where in tarnation is her house?” The Doc screwed up his face and straightened his shirt.
Kid grabbed it again. “What d’ya mean who’s Miss Mari? You know, old woman, lives in the big gray house outside of town. Come on, Doc. My friend’s really sick. Fever.”
The man looked at Kid as though perhaps he was the truly sick man. “Son, I don’t know what you’re shoutin’ about. Now just calm yourself down and tell me again. Who’s Miss Mari.”
Kid felt something cold slither down his spine. He fought the urge to shake some sense into the Doc and he tried to calm his breathing. “Look Doc, I don’t know what kind of joke you’re playin’, but my friend is out at Miss Mari’s house. Don’t know her last name, but she lives in the big house on the edge of town. He’s real sick and I don’t got time to argue. Now, will you get your bag and come with me. ‘Cause if you keep this up, I’m just gonna throw you on that horse and drag you there.”
Doc Henry studied the face of the young man. He didn’t look crazy. But you just couldn’t tell. “All right son. I’ll come with you. But I can tell you right now, no one lives in that big house. No one’s lived there since the General moved out and that was some thirty years ago. Don’t know who Miss Mari is, but I do know she don’t live there. Why that house has been boarded up for years.”
“No. No Doc, you got it wrong. Big gray house. Three stories. Please Doc, stop foolin’.” Kid knew the man wasn’t joking. He knew in his gut. His eyes pleaded with the man to not say what he knew was the truth.
For his part, Doc Henry thought about slamming the door in the young man’s face. But something from a long forgotten part of him made him hesitate. Maybe it was the terror etched in the blue eyes, the desperation that was clear in the man’s voice. “I’m sorry son.” He put his hand on Kid’s arm
Kid heard the words and knew with finality that he’d been tricked. His heart pounded in his chest as he realized that he’d done exactly what the woman wanted all along. That he’d left Heyes back there to what? Fear mixed with anger sent him running to his horse. He leapt into the saddle telling himself it hadn’t been long. That Heyes was fine. That things would be fine.
“You want me to come along?” The Doc yelled after him.
But his words were lost as Kid whirled the horse around and kicked him forward. “I’m comin’ Heyes. Hang on.” Kid shouted to the wind as he headed back to the house.
The dark eyes fluttered open, struggling against the strong desire to remain closed. He was so tired. Just to lie here was an effort. Had someone been here? He looked around, seeing her at the window.
She turned knowing he was watching. “So, you’re awake Joseph. I’ve waited for you for so long. Ever since the General took you from me.” She walked back to the bed and sat down. Pushing Heyes back onto the pillow she smoothed the dark hair from his now feverless forehead. “You remember don’t you Joseph. The General turned you against me. Told you his wife was your mother. But I’m your mother Joseph. He taught you to say those things to me. Things you’d say to a servant. But I knew you hated him. As I hated him.” Her voice grew taut, then calmed. “But that’s done. They’re dead now Joseph. All dead.”
The way she said those words made Heyes squirm.
She rearranged the covers around Heyes’ shoulders. “They thought they could just make me disappear Joseph. He took you and left. He made me go to that place. Told them I was crazy Joseph. And he took you. He laughed at me Joseph and said he’d make a man of you. When I found him, he told me you died. But I knew that was a lie. He always lied.”
Her voice suddenly changed. It was the voice of a young woman. “I didn’t like that place Joseph. I kept telling them I had to find you. I had to find my little love.” They couldn’t keep me from you. I knew as soon as I came here that you’d find me. You were born here Joseph. I knew you’d come home.” She smiled at him. “Do you remember know, Joseph?”
Her words caressed him, taking him to a place where it was safe. Yes, he remembered. A woman’s tender hand, someone who loved him. Yes, he was home. No, this wasn’t home. His head hurt. A face. It made the hurt less. A boy with curly blond hair chasing him through a field, laughing. “Kid…” he whispered softly.
Anger darkened her face. “There’s no one named Kid here Joseph. Is that what you call him? No more. He’s gone. He left you. There’s no one here but you and I now Joseph. I’ll never let anyone take you from me again.”
Heyes fought to sit up, pushing against her hand. He felt so weak. Why was she calling him Joseph. That wasn’t his name. His name was …. He looked at her. “Joshua…my name’s Joshua.” He struggled against the voice that insinuated itself in his memories. No that wasn’t right either. Maybe he was Joseph. He shook his head trying to clear the fog.
“It’s all right Joseph. You drink this tea and when you wake you’ll understand. And we’ll be together. Just as we were supposed to be.” She put a cup to his lips and helped him swallow.
He coughed and tried to push it away. It was bitter, like someone’s old memories. “No, don’t want…stop it.”
She slapped him hard on the back and poured the tea into his mouth.
Involuntarily he swallowed, choking as he fell back onto the bed.
“There. That’s better. Now you just rest. And when you wake up, we’ll talk about all the plans I have for us.” She held him down until he drifted off. “Soon. Soon.”
The dream found him almost immediately. Swirling clouds of blue and red. Faces that he remembered. A gentle smile and laughing eyes. Caring eyes that smiled with a hug after bedtime prayers. The faces merged and were lost. He tossed and turned trying to sort things out. A man. Laughing blue eyes teasing him about losing a train. Train. Something jarred in his mind. Riding next to someone. Kid. Things cleared. Kid, where are you? He shouted, but no sound came from him. Kid I need you…please. No that was wrong. He was the strong one. He had to be. That was his job. Everyone told him. Be strong for…for who. He couldn’t remember. The tiredness waved over him. He heard the name again. No. I’m not Joseph. I’m…I’m…Heyes. Hannibal Heyes. Yes. I won’t forget. Exhausted he sank back into dream-wracked sleep.
She watched him from the door. “Joseph. My little love. Sleep now. When you wake, you’ll remember.”
He moaned at the whisper. The faces whirled and blended in his mind, names mingling. No, fight it off. Kid…. Heyes…I’m….He…Josh…Jos…Jos…Joseph.
It was done.
Somewhere in his head he heard Heyes calling. He tried desperately to control his rising panic as he crested the hill, this time flying over the top, trying to regain control of his horse’s skidding hooves as he once again was pelted by torrential rain and howling wind.
“Heyes! Hang on.” He screamed hoping against hope that if he could hear his cousin, the reverse was true.
The house loomed in the distance. It wouldn’t be long now. Kid flew off his horse, flipping the reins around the gate. Up the porch steps. He slid backward as the steps cracked under his weight. The whole house had aged. The windows were boarded up and the door was nailed shut. He shook his head. This had to be the place. Confused he looked around. Seeing nothing, he made a decision. Shouldering the door he burst into the house. “Heyes!”
The house was dark. The musty smell choked him. No more bright rugs and dust free furniture. The house was empty. Cobwebs hung in great drapes from the ceiling, tangling in his hair. He brushed them away running to the staircase. He took the steps two at a time, reaching the landing that lead to the bedrooms.
“You’re too late…he’s mine.” The house breathed its message at Kid.
He steeled himself against the terror he was feeling and broke into the bedroom, eyes pinned to the place where he’d left Heyes. The bed was empty. “Heyes…” There by the window. “Heyes…thank God…I thought…are you all right?” He turned the figure around so they were face to face.
The man frowned. “My name is Joseph. Do I know you?” The voice so familiar, but so different. Younger, somehow. The dark eyes were dull and lifeless. “I don’t think you’re wanted here. You should go.”
“Go? Heyes – it’s me. Come on you remember. Course you do.” He shook the man trying to jar him loose from had hold of him. “Heyes – you remember, the Home, Devil’s Hole.
There was a flicker in the dark eyes. Just a flicker.
Kid breathed. “Come on Heyes, you’re rememberin’ now. I can tell. Come on Heyes. Try.”
“It’s too late. He’s mine.” She came to stand beside Heyes. “He’s mine.” She repeated firmly. “You must leave.” She waved her hand and effortlessly brushed Kid aside. Her anger filling the room with a sound Kid had never heard before.
“No! Not without my cousin.” Kid screamed over the howl that surrounded him. He watched in horror as the people at the window blurred and changed. He shook his head trying to get rid of the image of a young woman and a little boy standing there. He forced it from his mind. “Heyes! You remember. You gotta. Come on Heyes. Please.” He grabbed Heyes arm. “Come on Han, please. It’s me. It’s Jedediah. You taught me to play poker. I taught you to shoot. Please Han…you can’t give up.”
The eyes flickered again and this time it was Heyes who whispered, “Jed…”
She screamed. “No! No, you won’t take him.” She moved towards Kid.
The dark eyes turned to her. “Ma…..”
Kid darted out of her path, taking only a moment to decide what he had to do. “Sorry Heyes.” His fist connected with Heyes’ jaw and the man crumpled. Kid flipped him over his shoulder and ran from the room.
The house swirled and swayed as he tried to get down the stairs. The staircase creaked and shuddered.
Kid ran as though their lives depended on it. He had no doubt they did. Somewhere in the back of his mind that comment he’d shouted as they first rode towards the house came back to him. I’ll sell my soul… “I didn’t mean it, ok.” This time he shouted to the Heavens. “Help me please!”
The scream surrounded him. “Joseph…” The name lingered as Kid broke through the door.
Heyes was struggling now. Fighting to return to her. “Let go…Ma…” He called out to the woman that only he could see.
Kid dragged him to his waiting horse. “Stop it Heyes. I don’t want to slug you again.”
Heyes hand went to the quickly growing bruise on the lower portion of his jaw. Confused, dark eyes stared at the other man. He shook his head swung at Kid in his desperate attempt to return to the house and to her.
“Not gonna happen, Heyes.” The second punch caught Heyes on the other side of his face, but only stunned him. It was enough. Kid mounted his horse quickly, using both hands to haul Heyes up after him. Like a sack of grain, he held Heyes down in front of him, riding as quickly as he could back up the hill and away from the house.
“Joseph….” The name followed him till he crested the hill. Then there was silence.
Kid pulled up and stopped just over the top of the hill. The gentle breeze ruffled the horse’s mane. A rider approached and stopped.
“See you found your friend.” Doc Henry’s voice was grim.
Kid ignored him and carefully dismounted. He pulled Heyes down from the horse and set him on a patch of browned grass off to one side of the road.
“Heyes…wake up. It’s over.” Silently he prayed it was over. He tapped Heyes face with his hand.
“Here. Try this.” The Doc tossed him a small, sealed vial.
Kid uncapped the container and recoiled from the strong aroma of smelling salts. “Thanks.” He muttered through clenched teeth, and held the vial under Heyes nose.
Heyes jerked violently at the scent and tried to roll away. “What…what’re ya doin’.” He shuffled back, using his feet as power.
“Heyes?” Kid grabbed his arm and held fast.
“Who d’ya think it is? What are ya doin’? You tryin’ to kill me?” Heyes looked around. “How’d I get out here?”
Kid stared at him and then started laughing. He fell back laughing. “Thank You!!!!” He shouted to the blue sky.
Heyes looked confused. He looked at the Doc. “You know what’s goin’ on?”
“Nope. Never do though.” He turned to Kid. “You be needing me?”
Kid shook his head, still laughing uproariously.
Doc Henry shrugged and rode off.
“It’s you, right Heyes?” Kid helped the man up.
“Who else would it be? Kid, stop actin’ crazy. You’re beginnin’ to worry me. And will you stop lookin’ at me like that.” Heyes stopped when pain filtered through his jaw. He squinted at Kid and held his jaw.
“Uh, no one Heyes. Absolutely no one at all. You ready to go?” Kid dusted Heyes off .
“We just got here. Wasn’t it raining? Where’s my horse? And why’d you hit me?” Heyes followed Kid back to where the single horse stood peppering him with questions.
They both stopped simultaneously.
Kid’s mouth dropped open. Great. That he had to remember.
“Just why did you hit me?” Heyes asked. He was moving his jaw around and studying Kid carefully.
“Well it was like this Heyes. That woman, Miss Mari, she wasn’t real and then she had you convinced you were somebody named Joseph. Her son I think. And you weren’t cooperatin’ with me trying to help you. So there really wasn’t anything else I could do.” Kid grinned. “You remember any of that?”
Heyes frowned and shook his head. “Joseph huh. And a woman who wasn’t there. That’s the best you can do?”
“It’s the truth Heyes. Could I make something like that up?” Kid put one foot in the stirrup.
“Guess not.” Heyes sounded distracted. “Kid?”
“Yea Heyes.” Kid took his foot out and turned back.
Heyes smiled at his cousin. “After all these years though, I’da sure thought you would’a tried though.” And then he slugged him. Nodding to himself, he pulled himself into the saddle. “You comin’? Still want to know where my horse is. And about this Miss Mari? She pretty? Must be my turn. Maybe we could flip a coin.” He nudged the horse forward, leaving Kid prone on the ground.
Kid got up. “Heyes…now Heyes cut it out. Will you just wait…” He ran to catch up and caught Heyes arm boosting him into the saddle. “Ya know Heyes, a little gratitude for saving your hide would be nice. Anywya, some day you’re gonna remember all this and then we’ll just see…”
They spent the night in town. The Doc said maybe it would be best if they stayed with him. He did confirm the story of the General and the little he knew of Mariddie.
Heyes still doubted it. He kept laughing at Kid’s practical joke and saying how he’d really have to work at getting even. He did have some memories though and while he refused to admit it to his cousin, they confused him.
The next morning, they rode double back up the hill out of town. Kid had threatened to flatten Heyes if he didn’t head out of town. He was still trying to explain what had happened.
Heyes shook his head and laughed.
“So you’re sayin’ I turned into this Joseph. And that you only hit me to get me outta that place.” Heyes grinned. “So, my horse should still be there. And my gun. And my bag.”
“Heyes I’ll buy you a new horse. And a new gun. I’ll even buy you a new bag. Can we just head in the other direction.” Kid knew it was useless. Heyes had to see for himself. Even if there wasn’t anything there to see.
“Now Kid. We’re almost there. And when we get to that great big house, you can introduce me to your invisible friends.” He chuckled heartily.
Kid fought off the urge to slug him again. “Fine Heyes. But you turn into somebody else again, I might just leave you that way.”
Heyes just laughed. “Sure Kid. I’ll try not to become somebody else.”
“You’ll see Heyes. As soon as we get to the top, it’ll be rainin’ like the devil hisself…”
They crested the hill.
It was just as sunny on the downward side as it had been on the upward side.
Heyes, riding in front, turned and smiled genially at Kid.
Kid took a deep breath.
“So, is that the house?” Heyes stopped about 50 yards from it.
“Yep. And if you have any sense left in you, you’ll just ride right by.” Kid watched the house warily.
“Kid, I had a perfectly good horse. No reason I can see to just leave him behind.” Heyes pulled up to the gate. “Why don’t you just wait here. I’ll go get him and be right back.” He swung his legs over the horse’s head and slid to the ground.
“Forget it Heyes. I’m not letting you out of my sight till we’re clear of this place.” Kid swung down.
“Why that’s downright touchin’ Kid.” Heyes teased his partner every chance he got. He always saw it as his responsibility. Along with making sure there was enough food.
Kid mumbled something under his breath about cousins and jackasses being one and the same, but he followed Heyes to the barn. He drew his gun, not that it would make a difference, but you just never knew.
Their eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light.
“No horse.” Heyes sighed.
“Good. Can we leave now?” Kid had already started walking towards the door. “Heyes?”
“You sure are jumpy Kid. Next town, we should find a nice hotel so you can get some rest.” Heyes sauntered forward.
Kid thought about just dragging Heyes out of the barn. He knew he could do it. It would be worth it. “I swear Heyes if you don’t get a move on, I’ll…”
“Wonder if the owners know where my horse is. Think I’ll just go have a nice friendly chat with them.” Heyes slapped Kid on the shoulder and left the barn on his way to the house.
Kid looked after him like he’d lost his mind. “Heyes, you are crazy. You can’t go back in there. Stop jokin’ and let’s get outta here.”
“But Kid, that was a good horse. What harm can it do.” Heyes ducked as Kid reached out, fully intending on dragging him away.
They reached the steps and paused.
Heyes frowned, some more memories had returned. He remembered the old woman and the food and the feeling of being just a little spooked at something. But little else of what had happened was clear in his mind.
“Can’t say I remember the barn all that well, it was rainin’ so hard. But this does seem a little different.” He fingered the splintered railing and looked up at the porch and the boarded up house. He paused. Another flash of memory made him cock his head and look at the man standing next to him.
“Heyes?” Kid saw the memory find his friend.
“Huh?” Heyes turned, eyes momentarily blank. Then he was back. “Just for a moment there…well, it’s nothin’. Maybe we should be movin’ on Kid. Horse wasn’t all that valuable.”
Kid breathed a sigh of relief and turned to leave. He only got a few steps.
Heyes was still fixed at the same spot.
The sky darkened and ominous rumbling came from behind black clouds that seemed to appear from nowhere.
Heyes started climbing the steps.
The house shifted. Scaling paint gave way to crisp white shutters and flowerboxes.
The sky opened, pelting both men with a freezing rain.
“You’ve come back…” Something whispered on the wind as the front door started to open.
“Oh no. Not again.” Kid didn’t bother asking Heyes this time. He just grabbed him by the back of his jacket and pulled him off the porch and down the steps. “Get on the horse Heyes or so help me…” He shook the other man trying to get his attention.
Heyes blinked, confusion still in his eyes. “Don’t have to get so proddy, Kid. I was comin’. Where’d the rain come from all of a sudden.” He offered his hand to Kid.
Kid swung into the saddle. “Hell.”
The rain had sputtered out before they had ridden far. The men shook off dripping hats and coats and looked at the fork in the road.
“Hey look Kid. There’s my horse.” Heyes pointed towards the animal, grazing peacefully in a field.
“Why does that figure.” Kid shook his head.
“Think I should go get him?” Heyes frowned. He wasn’t sure what had happened or why Kid was so jumpy, but he suddenly wasn’t feeling so jovial about the whole experience.
“I’ll get him Heyes. You just stay put. I mean it. Don’t move.” Kid handed Heyes the reins and strode off towards the horse.
Heyes watched him for a moment, then looked around. Peaceful enough. Just a couple of old wooden grave markers, tilted and overgrown with weeds. He looked back at Kid in the distance, then turned and walked towards the markers.
Squatting in front of the first one, he brushed away the dirt and pulled the weeds loose. Mariddie. No dates, no place of birth or death. Just a name. A name that somehow felt familiar.
Heyes felt Kid behind him at the same time he saw something that didn’t fit. He reached forward and slowly pulled a faded picture from beneath a bouquet of long dead flowers. He took a deep breath and studied the picture of a boy of about 11 with shaggy, dark hair and darker eyes, clinging to pretty young woman with long dark hair.
He finally looked up smiling at Kid and handed him the picture. “Look familiar?”
Kid gave it one look, automatically checking the pocket where he knew that picture had last been. “Must have fallen out when I came back to get you.”
Heyes nodded. “Yea. Must have.”
The two men walked slowly back to their horses.
“How d’ya suppose it got here?”
Heyes thought for a moment. “Wind. You must have dropped it. The wind picked it up and….”
“…and it just wound up right here. At her grave.”
“Must have been. What else could have happened?”
They both mounted their horses and looked at the post that offered a choice of destination.
“Well Kid, which way?” Heyes started laughing.
Kid looked at the signs. Tombstone or Snowflake. He looked at Heyes and groaned. “Snowflake, Heyes. Definitely Snowflake.”