A TEXAS TWIST-IN-TIME

 

 

"IF I OWNED BOTH TEXAS AND HELL, I’D RENT OUT TEXAS AND LIVE IN HELL."

--GENERAL PHILIP SHERIDAN, UNION COMMANDER IN TEXAS, 1867

 

 

PROLOGUE—TEXAS, Sept 1, 2000

Depressed. Dry. No energy, no motivation, no inspiration. No desire to look toward tomorrow. Knowing that it would only hold more of the same. God, at times such as this I wonder if there is EVER going to be more. More joy, more contentment, more peace. I would be happier if I could, but I don’t seem to have much say in the matter. "Chemical imbalance", my ass. Might help if the darned prescription service would ship my darned antidepressants…Oh, well. It’s not like they are magic…they make me sleepy during the day and up till 2 am with insomnia at night. Sighing deeply, I reached for the TV remote and hit the "rewind" button, then turned the TV off. Three days off for Labor Day, and I have to deal with both my birthday (Sept 2nd) and extra time off to boot. Even I can kill only so many hours watching episodes of AS&J before I am reduced to a blithering idiot...and I’m rather close to that point just now.

I put my tapes back in their protective covers and smile slightly at the two men on the cover; one grinning widely, the other darker, more solemn, the dark eyes glittering under the black hat. I think again for perhaps the zillionth time, that it’s the eyes that get me…they give me the impression that perhaps this man would understand, would listen to my vain attempts to explain what I myself do not fully understand. Or would have, anyway; if he had not…

NO. I didn’t believe it when I was a teen; I WILL NOT give credence to it now. Getting up to check the mailbox, (Whaddaya know…darned medications are here!) I walked back into the house and once again climbed up in the middle of the bed to look at the mail and pet Banner, who jumped up and sat on top of me as a "slight hint" that he wanted to be petted. (Some "Slight hint…like you wouldn’t get it when a 50 pound mutt leaps on top of you and buries his nose under your armpit?) No interesting mail, so I turn over and curl up around Banner, using his left shoulder as a pillow, listening to his steady and loyal heartbeat as it goes thump…thump…thump…thump…………..loyal…friend…

 

PART ONE

The woman stood outside the ticket window at the entrance, awaiting her turn to purchase entrance to the place where grown men and women play "pretend" and get paid enormous salaries to entertain others with their various abilities at play-acting. Wondering just how she had managed to get 1300 miles from Houston without remembering the trip itself left her only half listening to her blond-haired friend, who was at this moment babbling about stealing some horses and riding down Main Street in the western section of the studio back lot. She allowed herself a half-grin as she thought about the last time she had been here, back in the 70’s, before the reason for coming had suddenly not been there anymore. She was brought back to the present precipitously by her friend, who waved her hand in front of her eyes and whistled.

"Hey, Michelle!! Earth to Michelle!! What do you think about that? I say we GO for it!" Drena’s usual bubbly excitement made it almost impossible to deny her whatever she was asking for, so crossing her fingers in hope that whatever her partner had cooked up would not land the both of them in jail, Michelle found herself nodding affirmation to her friend.

"Cool! We head straight for the Western Town as soon as we get in. I didn’t wanna do the Jurassic park ride now anyway, it still might rain later, and we’ll get wet enough then. Come on!"

Drena grabbed Michelle by the arm and pulled her toward the entrance to the studio, barely leaving her time to grab up the two tickets before she was whisked away on a Grand Adventure. Drena LOVED Grand Adventures, although Michelle had told her enough times that Bilbo said that they made you late for dinner. Dinner was just food to Drena, unlike her friend, who was a big-time comfort eater. Staring longingly at a frozen lemonade stand off to the left next to the entrance to the "Waterworld" show, Michelle sighed as they headed for the back lot tram that would take them to the section of the studio where hundreds of movies, specials and series episodes of various western shows had originated. For someone with a melancholic temperament, this trying to have a life was HARD around type ‘A’ people who had so much creative energy! Stopping abruptly at the sight of Drena bent over talking to some tourists in the back row of the tram, Michelle began to wonder just what her friend had in mind..

Blinking in confusion as the tourists got up and moved to the forward part of the tram, Michelle followed Drena into the last row of seats. They were the only two on that row, and there would have been room for both them and the tourists…what DID she have cooking up inside that over-active brain of hers?! Michelle found out sooner than she wanted as they pulled around the curve and entered Western Street. It was deserted, westerns not being as popular as they had once been. No one saw them as Drena reached over and pushed Michelle out of the tram into the dusty street and quickly jumped out herself.

"What the bloody blazes are you DOING?! You are gonna get us thrown out of the park, you know…" Michelle dusted off the back of her jeans where the street had deposited some of it’s dust when Drena had deposited her butt in the middle of it. Drena reached over and slapped her on the back of her leather vest, which started a fit of coughing, that delayed her response for a few seconds. Coughing fit over, Michelle glared at her crazy friend.

"But Mick, I was afraid you were just going to SIT there and let this chance go by. And you had that far-away look in your eyes. I was afraid you weren’t listening to me…"

"Imagine that, Drena..Someone not paying attention to YOU. Is that even possible?"

"Hard to picture, huh? Come on!"

Drena moved off toward the bat-wing doors to the false-front structure that was the saloon. As she skirted the Old Spanish style fountain in the middle of the road, Drena hopped up on the rim of the fountain and looked over the side.

"Hey, I wish this was running…we could get a picture of you standing on it!"

"Yeah.. Just before they come to haul me off to the jail!" Michelle sarcastically mimicked her friend’s enthusiasm. Drena signed dramatically.

"Come ON, Mick…don’t be such a wet blanket. You never USED to be this boring!"

Thinking "Oh, great…now I’m BORING…" Michelle allowed herself to be pulled up onto the rim of the fountain as Drena stepped down to dig her camera out of her pack and whirled around to yell "Say CHEESE!!". Not yet stable on the rim, and startled by Drena’s actions, Michelle flailed her arms wildly trying not to fall into the cement bed of the dry fountain. Failing miserably as she fell backward, she thought "Oh well, at least I won’t get wet. I may break my back on the cement, but I won’t get wet!" Before her friend could reach the edge, the sky opened up and rain drenched both Drena and everything around her in a cold deluge. Ignoring the rain, Drena looked down in the base of the fountain, which now held a couple of inches of water….and nothing else. No partner. Michelle had fallen into the dry fountain…and disappeared. Drena spent the afternoon looking for her friend, eventually contacting the studio security to explain how her friend had "fallen" off the back of the tram, and how she had heroically leaped off after her only to find her long gone by the time she had caught up to where she had been standing up on the rim of the fountain…

 

 

PART TWO--TEXAS, 1800’S

Trying to hold her breath while being whirled around in circles in deep blue water that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time, she wondered how one could drown in a dry fountain. "Must be some sort of special FX that the studio was going to use for a SF flick or something." Snapping out of her contemplation and reminding herself that whatever it was, she needed to BREATHE as soon as possible, she frog kicked and expected to break the surface of the small fountain. When this didn’t happen, and severely low on O2 at this point, she must have panicked a little and gulped some of the strange-tasting water. Thinking dimly of the irony, she wondered if everyone would think SHE had done herself in too…sometimes people just can’t see Truth when it hits them in the face. In spite of the way things looked, she hadn’t done this on purpose; just as she had never believed that Pete had, either. It wasn’t that they COULDN’T have…just that they DID’NT. "Perhaps the difference was subtle, if it weren’t YOU they would be talking about", she thought as she noted the blue of the water was turning to the inky blackness of unconsciousness.

It was the chattering that was pissing her off. She had thought about it as she slowly floated up through the layers of cotton that seemed to fill her head. Closer every second to a consciousness that she was quite sure would NOT be pleasant in the least; Michelle decided that she was going to take out her ire on whoever was doing that infernal chattering when she opened her eyes and slowly focused on the world around her. The chattering continued, and she groaned as she came to the realization that what she had heard was the sound of her own teeth as her body protested it’s discomfort with the present temperature. Looking around at the leaves of different colors that littered the ground, she slowly sat up, waiting until the vertigo passed before attempting to move again. The white dog that had been curled up at her back jumped up and whined a welcome as he attempted to get close enough to suit himself without crawling inside his human. Now covered with dog slobber as well as the "water" from the "dry fountain", she looked around to note that it, as well as all of Western Street had disappeared. In their place was a small pond that shimmered slightly in the dim light that weaved it’s way down through the forest of large trees in which it sat. Strangely enough, the pond, while being fed from the waterfall over a large rock above it, never filled up; never overflowed it’s bank to become a stream. In the middle of the pond was the explanation for this effect, a small corkscrew in the water that indicated drainage of some sort in the bottom of the pond. Accounted for the "twisting and turning" she had experienced when she fell into the…er…dry fountain? Oh, whatever. Her head felt like her brother had always described his felt on the "morning after." Reaching over to cuddle the large dog closer, she buried her head in his fur and breathed deeply, and was suddenly aware that her head was not the only problem… Quickly turning from Banner, she retched and gagged until the water she had swallowed/breathed in had come back up. Weak, still feeling sick with her head now pounding without mercy, she staggered up to her feet and headed down what looked like a hiking trail that led away from the pond, followed closely by the white dog, his hair in full coat, the feathers on his legs and hanging off his belly almost brushing the ground. While beautiful in full coat, it was hot and she had been sheering him about every three months since she had picked him up from the animal shelter a few years back. Maybe she would let his hair grow for awhile, she thought as she cleared the edge of the trees and came to the little clearing, where a large barn, a small lean-to shed and a log cabin rested invitingly. Not so inviting was the middle-aged woman standing in the doorway with a Sharps rifle resting in the crook of her arm. She raised the rifle and pointed it at Michelle, who stopped short of her goal to reach that doorway. She swayed slightly as she stood there, looking befuddled at the older woman.

"Nituwe he?" (Who are you?) The woman demanded.

"Sicaya ecamu. Omapisni yelo…" (I have a problem. I don’t fell well…) She answered, reaching up to hold her head in her hands. The other woman dropped the muzzle of the rifle toward the ground and walked toward Michelle.

"Taku eniciyapi he?" "Tuktetahhan yau he?" (What is your name? Where did you come from?) The woman placed her arm around the other’s waist and helped her into the snug cabin.

"Pilamaya." (Thank You) "My name is Michelle. I live in Texas, outside of Houston, but I was in California when…" Not knowing how to explain what had transpired, or even how they could understand what the other was saying, she simply trailed off and looked at the woman helplessly. The other nodded and gestured toward one of the three chairs that sat around the small hand-made wooden table. Gratefully, Michelle sank down into one as the other woman reached for a shee-Nah (blanket) to wrap around her. (Yes, Drena, it’s true. Your daughter is named after a blanket. Nice goin, Kid.)

"Hai". (You’re welcome) "Tanyan yahi yelo". (I’m glad you came.) "Loyacin he?" (Are you hungry?) The woman pointed to the Pahn (pot) hanging over the gigantic wood fireplace.

"No, Thank you. My stomach is not ready for food, I’m afraid." Looking wistfully at

the quilts covering the small bed in the corner of the cabin, she wondered how much longer she could stay awake…The woman followed her gaze, and smiling gently she reached for the younger woman and pulled her to her feet and across the room toward the bed. After tucking the covers around the younger woman, she pointed toward the dog that had taken up residence on the hearthrug. Michelle, just now remembering her friend, bolted upright to take him outside, apologizing for the presence of the animal in the cabin. The Indian woman stopped her.

"No. Your Sunka (Dog) will not understand why he is not allowed his usual place…he is as welcome here as you are. As all are. You must remember this, dear one. All are welcome here, and you turn away NO ONE. Least of all the wamakanskan (animals). They need us often, as pejuta wicasa (medicine woman) when others try to harm them. When possible, I leave the door open to allow them access. It is too cold now, and they know where to go if they need shelter. Turning toward the dog she motioned to the edge of the bed. "Sunka, kemah!" (Come, dog!) Banner was a blur as he left the rug and leaped up on the bed next to his human, turning around several times before curling up into himself, back to back with Michelle. He glanced at the Indian woman with doggy gratitude as he settled himself in.

Michelle was already asleep as the woman glanced once again at the lump under the quilts. "Sleep well, my Iyamni choonk-shee ( great-granddaughter). I have waited many seasons for you to arrive, and I cannot stay here much longer." Opening the door and stepping out of the warm cabin, the woman was immediately surrounded by animals of many species, some of which should have been terrified of others but for some reason were not. Many things which should not be, were; here. After awhile, the sight of Sunkamanitu tanka (wolf) romping with Mastinca and Hetkala (Rabbit and Squirrel) lost it’s sense of the absurd and just became accepted as How It Was here in this place. Just because you don’t understand the way of something, doesn’t mean WaKan (God) cannot not make it so…

Glancing up again at the movement of the dark angry mahpiya (clouds) as they moved quickly across the sky, she looked through the trees toward the pond, standing deceptively quiet in the distance. I will have to leave tomorrow, before the weather changes again. "Han, (yes) it will be iska (interesting) to see your world as it is Then instead of Now…

The Indian smiled as she turned back to the cabin to wait for her great granddaughter to awaken. The Kikta (Awakening) should be interesting enough for even her great granddaughter; whom she knew would wake up with many iyunga (questions) and few ayupta (answers). The older woman could only pray that WaKan would suspend her disbelief long enough for her to accomplish her sapaun (mission) in due time. The woman didn’t know exactly when the Tahansi (Cousins) would arrive, or what needs they would have when they did get to the Hidden Forest, but she did know that The Secret she held would color the relationships between them and her great grandchild. The Secret, once discovered by the Tahansi, might well destroy whatever hope existed that Michelle might be able to make right the wrong that had so colored her younger years. A wrong that had already affected the Tahansi once, and might effect them even more in the future… for there was more than one wrong to correct. And, although she herself had partly failed in her attempt to correct the one committed by her father, Marie Cantrell was quite sure for some reason that her own great grandchild would do anything necessary to avoid that same fate on her own Quest.

The remaining hours were spent with Marie explaining much about the Hidden Forest, the Healing Arts, the Two Quests and other issues. Michelle asked several times "Toske Lakotia eyapi he?" (How do you say that in Lakota?); but each time they had found that it did no good, for the holes in her knowledge of the Sioux dialect were the same holes found in Michelle’s. It was almost as if they were sharing the same knowledge source. Michelle had known very few Lakota words before coming here, in fact had not even been sure that her Indian blood was indeed part Sioux as well as Choctaw. Here she was more fluent that she had ever hoped to be. More than once, Marie had to remind Michelle that many questions would remain unanswered, but she would know what she NEEDED to know when the time came for her to use that knowledge. She also told her that to achieve her goal might require great personal sacrifice, as it had with her own mission. It would be her decision at that time, to weigh the two options and decide if she could make the needed sacrifice in order to achieve the goal. Tears filled her eyes as she relayed her own story, both As it Had Been and As it Now Was. Shame made her shoulders slump as she told Michelle how her being torn between her responsibility to The Quest and her father had resulted in only partial success, and how she had lost her father as the direct result of her indecision. While she had changed As It Had Been, As It Now Was had not been entirely successful, and people who would have been saved had not. Marie showed Michelle the chest, the old lock rusty but eventually giving way to reveal the contents within. Each held Michelle’s interest, but it was especially the old moth-eaten homespun linen shirt with the large bullet hole in the back that fascinated her. It was an open front shirt, the four front pockets that had once held ammunition decorated with faded embroidery. That, and the hat; a wide-brimmed slouch hat pinned up on one side. There was an old journal, pages faded and smudged, almost but not quite unreadable. And the gun and gunbelt. Carved ruggedly into the butt of the well-balanced colt revolver were the initials W.C.Q. Michelle’s eyes widened as Marie explained each of the items significance to her. Soon, still tired from her earlier experience, Marie found Michelle’s head drifting towards her chest as she fought sleep. Marie had explained earlier that she would be gone in the morning, and that Michelle was to use the cabin and everywhere left behind as if it were her own, which, in fact, it would be. Michelle protested, not wanting to lose the support of her newly discovered family member; but Marie was strong on this one point…She had to leave, or the events to come would not be set in motion. To stay was to guarantee failure of her great-granddaughters Quest. They both realized the significance of that, and so said their good-bye’s before retiring for the night, Marie on a pallet next to the fireplace, Michelle once again sharing the bed with Banner. Marie had just finished a note several pages in length, leaving it on the table next to the oil lamp where Michelle would find it later. As she drifted off to sleep, a small smile crossed Michelle’s face as she recalled her friend. "Ah, there is no way Drena is ever gonna believe all this, let alone forgive me for leaving her behind if she DOES believe it!" Banner lifted his head as he snuggled closer to his Human, then, sighing loudly he too surrendered to sleep.

 

PART THREE—TEXAS; LATE DECEMBER THREE MONTHS LATER

 

"Heyes, I thought you said we would be SAFER in Texas! You call this SAFE?!" Kid yelled across the gap between the two running horses to his partner, who was at this moment leaning flat out over his mount’s neck in a dead run, slapping his horse with the reins and asking for greater speed to avoid closing the distance between them and the posse that was even now inching closer. Heye’s hat had flown off some minutes before, and was dangling from its tether across his back, his dark hair ruffling in the wind. He barely glanced over at his partner as he answered.

"Kid, there is NO WAY that posse should have recognized us here, we aren’t even WANTED in Texas. Someone must have seen us in that last town and alerted the law…"

"Yeah, well whatever the reason, I have to tell you I’m mightily tired of it, Heyes. Tired of Lom holding the amnesty over our heads like a carrot before a mule, tired of being shot at, tired of running all over the country with no place to call home. If that amnesty doesn’t come through soon, Heyes…." Kid Curry’s voice trailed off as he too spurred his mount toward the forest just to the north of them. If they could just reach those trees, they might have a chance. The horses were about give out; they wouldn’t go much further. Losing them in the trees in the approaching darkness was their only chance as he saw it. His partner’s worried gaze met his own.

"Now Kid, the amnesty’s bound to come through any day now! We just gotta hang on is all. Don’t give up now, partner! Look, we’re almost to the trees…" Heyes gestured across the snow covered ground in front of them to the copse of large trees standing alone. Sanctuary, he found himself thinking. Yeah, right Heyes. It might be sanctuary, or it might not. More likely it was only a little breather before the posse found them. But he needed a few minutes to think, to come up with a plan to save their butts. Just a few more yards to go…Were the gun reports getting a little closer? His partners muffled ‘Oomph" verified this as he glanced over to see his friend grab at his right arm just below the shoulder where blood was leaking through his fingers. Heyes started to slow down but Kid shook his head and continued the breakneck pace.

"Just a graze, I’m ok. We’re almost there!" Kid met his cousin’s eyes and confirmed to him that he was, indeed ok to ride. They would tend him later. Heyes nodded and had just spurred his mount to catch up to Kid’s horse when three more rifle reports rang out. One missed. Heyes had barely registered the sharp burning in his back just below his right shoulder blade when the second bullet creased his temple and he slumped over his saddle, unconscious. Kid had seen the first bullet hit and was ready, reaching over to grab his partner by the belt and catch him as he slid over the left side of his horse toward the ground. At a dead run, Kid man-handled Heyes over his own mount, holding him over the saddle horn with one hand as Heye’s now riderless horse reached the trees and disappeared into the darkened forest. Kid’s horse was a few steps behind, but he too reached the relative safety of the trees and started zigzagging his way around them toward the center of the woods. He could hear the shouts and curses of the posse as they pulled up at the edge of the trees, and wondered why they weren’t following. Strange that they should give up when their goal was so close…

Quickly pulling his mount to a stop, Kid dismounted quickly and gently caught his cousin to ease him toward the ground, kneeling beside him on the forest floor. Very little blood from the temple, which surprised him; head wounds tended to bleed a lot. Of greatest concern was the wound on Heye’s back, from which frothy blood was bubbling out, and the fact that there was no exit wound on his front, which meant that the bullet was still inside his body. Unless it was removed, his cousin would die. Desperately looking around, he spotted the woman coming toward them at a run with a large white dog on one side and a huge Grey wolf loping just ahead of her on the other. Instantly, his gun was in his hand, cocked and ready to down the attacking animal, but the tone of the woman’s voice stayed him from firing.

"He’ cu sni ye!" (Don’t do that!) "To ka ho?" (What’s wrong?) Reaching them and quickly joining him on the forest floor, she noted the head wound and used the cloth from her shirt to wipe the blood away. Looking puzzled, she rolled the prostrate man over and saw the back wound. Suddenly pale and shaking, she started muttering to herself, ignoring Kid entirely. "Oh, God. No…not this. Not again, I can’t lose him again!" She gestured to Curry that he should carry Heyes to the cabin quickly, then she was off running through the woods toward home to prepare what she would need, praying aloud on the way.

"Wakan Wanji, (One God) what is happening here? Unci (Grandmother) told me that I was here to save him, but a chest wound? HERE? NOW? There is nothing to save him WITH, Wakan. No Okuja tipi (hospital), no doctor, just me; a Pejuta Wicasa (Medicine Woman) and a few herbs! I DO have a small kit that I brought back with me the one time I went into the pond a few weeks ago, plastic tubing and some supplies (Boy, had Drena been PISSED when she had explained that she had to go back alone!) …but oh, Lord.. help me, I fear he will need a Sina Sapa (Minister) more than he will need me! Is THIS my mission, Wakan? Have You brought me here only to watch him die this time? Surely not! My Unci failed at her own Quest, but that was due to her own mistakes. How could I have made a mistake already, Wakan? I have just now seen their arrival, for which I have waited these three months. Help me, Wakan!"

Reaching the clearing where the cabin sat, she jerked open the door and ran inside to gather her supplies and get ready for what would transpire here in the next few days. She ran around the cabin, grabbing jars of various things such as Bloodroot, Calendula, Kava, Chamomile, Passion Flower, Valerian, Lungwort, Pleurisy Root, Garlic, Ginko Biloba, Cloves, Anise, Rosemary and Echinachea to use in treating pain, lung congestion, fever, infection, and blood loss. Wishing desperately for a level one trauma center, but knowing from what Unci had told her that it was impossible to take him over, she readied herself and was standing at the table when Kid came staggering into the clearing with his burden. She assisted him the few feet to the table and stripped off the shirt and blue bandana that hung from his neck. His cousin removed the gun-belt and hat and tossed them both over a peg in the wall that was there for such things. Eyes widening as he began to realize her intent, Curry put a restraining hand on her shoulder and a protective one on his cousin’s shoulder. Meeting his eyes impatiently, Michelle waited.

"Just what are you planning to do, lady? He needs a doctor, and fast. Now I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or anything, but you’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you take a bullet outta his chest yerself. Now you watch him, and I’ll ride for a doc…" Kid trailed off as she pulled back out of his reach and glanced again at that pale, ghastly shade of blue that covered Heyes face. Shaking her head firmly, she answered him.

"You do that, he’ll be dead before you can get fifteen miles from here. Besides, there is no doctor, not for almost a hundred miles. Just me. And the Sina Sapa (Black Robe, Priest) at the Tipi WaKan (church, mission). If you don’t let me try to help him, he will need them soon enough. Your choice… PLEASE." She tried to let him see the desperation in her eyes, but was distracted by the sudden coughing fit from the man on her table. Kid looked down, terrified by the amount of blood on his hand where it had been supporting his cousin’s shoulder. He looked up at Michelle again helplessly.

"Do it!" Kid yelled as he stepped back from the table to allow her access.

"Don’t go far, I am going to need your help soon. For now, I need you to get those two jugs on the stove that I have boiling in that pot. Empty one, and dry it. Fill the other one with the water from the pot, all the way to the top. You’ll also see a small pack of supplies over there; there is some tubing in one of the packages. You can see it through the clear paper. Just set it over here next to me on this chair, DON"T open it yet. Giving instructions as she worked, she rolled Heyes over onto his stomach and noted that his breathing was rattling and wheezy, and pinkish froth was trickling out the corner of his mouth. Lung shot, For sure. Kid was busy running back and forth around the cabin, bringing her everything that she had indicated was needed. He brought the large red bag over and set it beside his cousin on the table, noting that it was some type of material he had never seen before. Out of the bag came other things that he was unfamiliar with, gloves made out of some type of stretchy material that Michelle pulled out of the package and placed on her hands, being careful to touch only the insides of the gloves where they would be against her skin. Next she opened the bag and took out the clear tubing, and two black stoppers for the jugs she had asked him to prepare earlier. A large sharp utensil that looked like one of his grandmothers old knitting needles was next, she first used that to put two holes in the stopper of one jug, the one filled with water, and one hole in the stopper for the empty jug. These she sat down under the table. The end of the clear tubing she buried inside the wrapper that it had came in, and laid it on the tabletop. Quickly looking around, she spotted a jar of white power in the cupboard. Kid leaped over to do her bidding, asking questions as he handed her the jar.

"What is that, Ma’am? Some sort of medicine or something?" Kid was so scared for his friend that he knew he was going to burst out cryin if he couldn’t at least TALK to someone, relieve some of the pressure building inside. The woman looked up and gave him a tight smile, as if she knew exactly what he was doing.

"Sort of, but not really. Heyes has a hole in his lung, and after I get the bullet out we have to close up that hole tight around the tubing that I am going to leave inside his chest to help drain air and fluid out for awhile. The tubing will go from his chest into that first bottle, the empty one. From there, the other piece will go into the second bottle, full of water, and create a vacuum seal. The power is talc, or talcum powder; I’ll use some of it as a pleurodesis agent to seal the lung around the tube. It’s a primitive system, but it works. Without it, as soon as the blood inside his chest equalizes with the pressure outside, his lung would collapse. I don’t think he can survive a pneumothorax just now." Michelle was so busy getting instruments ready that she didn’t note the surprised and wary look Kid gave her when he realized that she knew who they both were. He hadn’t mentioned their names, had he? Maybe it slipped out in the confusion when she had first ran at him from out of the woods? He decided to drop it for now, worry about it later when his partner was "out of the woods", too. From the look of things, he soon might not give a damn about who she thought he was anyway. If Heyes died…

Gasping in astonishment, Kid stepped forward as Michelle took the long knitting needle and, placing one finger next to his ribs as a guide, plunged the needle deep into Heyes chest between two ribs, on the FRONT side. Using her fingers to spread the tissue, she pushed the clear tube down until she confirmed that the tube was indeed inside the lung. Then she attached the end of the tube to the jug that was empty. Immediately, frothy air started coming down the tube into the empty bottle. With each breath that Heyes took, the water level in the other bottle rose and fell. Nodding satisfaction, she placed a couple of stitches around the tubing, attaching it to Heyes chest. Then she nodded at Kid to come help her.

"Kid, I need you to hold him while I dig for that bullet. Hold him on his side, and whatever happens, don’t let him move. See how he is starting to turn pink around the lips?" Kid glanced up and noticed that indeed, his partner didn’t look as dusky as he had a few minutes before.

"That’s good, ain’t it?"

"Very good. But, it also means that he may wake up before we are done here, and I have nothing strong enough to knock him out that wouldn’t put him at greater risk. So, DON"T let him move, ok?" Michelle glanced up, noted his affirmative nod, and was immediately moving over to the sink to pour some sort of alcohol over her gloves before picking up the knitting needle again and bending over to better see the bullet hole. Then she took a mixture of something that smelled like licorice, garlic, and rosemary in liquid form and poured it over the area, scrubbing the skin around the hole with a rag soaked in the mixture. Somehow knowing that Kid needed the information, she explained as she went along.

" This is a mixture of herbs that have the ability to kill the germs that can cause fever and infection, Kid. Where I come from, they would laugh at me for using these, they are centuries old and we have more effective ways to deal with infections…but for now, this will have to do." She dried off the area and glanced up. "Ready? Ok…Hold him tight, he isn’t going to like this one little bit." As Kid gripped his cousin tightly and nodded, Michelle once again jammed the knitting needle instrument down into the bullet hole quickly followed by her finger. Kid had thought he was ready, but he had underestimated his cousin’s response, and had to tighten his hold yet again.

"AAAUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!" Heyes bellowed in pain and shock as Michelle continued to probe for the offending piece of metal. His dark eyes flew open wide as he tried to arch his way out of Kid’s grasp and away from the source of agony that was even now more than he could handle. Sweat instantly beaded over his body as he passed out again. Kid closed his eyes to send a grateful prayer heavenward thanking God that Heyes didn’t have to be awake for this insult to his already battered body. Bile rose in his throat at the thought of his friend’s obvious unbearable pain. Michelle glared at him.

"DON"T even consider it, Kid. I need you right now. You can go be sick outside when we are through here. NOT now." Kid came to the conclusion that he both loved and hated this woman right then and there. She was something else. Too bad he hadn’t figgered out WHAT, yet. He would, though…she could count on it. He would. A wide grin spread across her face as she pulled her fingers out of the hole. "Got it!" He forced himself to look…sure enough, there was the bullet. As she threw it forcefully into the fireplace coals Kid had the feeling that she would rather been doing the same to the man who had put it there in the first place. Strange. "Ok. Now we sew the lung closed, and then the tissue and skin…" Working quickly with the things she had brought out of the red bag, she ended with a couple of small squares of white cloth net which she placed some type of ointment on and taped over the bullet wound, which was no longer a hole but a small line about the size of Kid’s thumb with several stitches in it. Nodding at him again, she motioned that he could lay Heyes down on his back. His head lolled over to one side as she placed dry gauze over the wound that she had made in his chest, covering both the hole and the tube. Quickly cleaning the sweat and the blood off of both his back and his chest, she took another roll of the gauze out and started to wrap it around Heyes’s chest covering both wounds. Finally done, she sighed deeply and started to reach for her patient, to move him over to lie down on her bed. Kid stopped her with a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"I’ll get him, Ma’am. Thank you for what you’ve done." He moved to gently pick up his cousin and carried him over to the quilt covered bed, adjusting both pillow and blankets as he settled Heyes in. Michelle pulled one of the three chairs around the table up to sit beside the unconscious man. (She had wondered upon her arrival why there were only three chairs, not four. Now she knew. She could only pray that Heyes would live long enough to sit in one.) Kid pulled another chair over and sank wearily down into it. Michelle looked over at the glistening blue eyes that met her own brown ones.

"Thank you, Kid. I couldn’t have done it without you. Are you ok? I’ll take a look at that arm for you, if you like." She reached over to touch the bullet graze that he had completely forgotten about. He shook his head.

"Later, I’d surely appreciate it Ma’am. Right now, if you think it’s all right, I have some things I need to do outside. Catch the horses, put them in the barn and such." He rose and took his hat from the peg next to his friends black one. She nodded at him, a slight smile crossing her face.

"I understand, Kid. Go ahead, but I think you will find that your sunkawakan are already in the barn. I asked Banner and Sunkmanitu Tanka to show them where to go. Please be back before long though; I need you to stay with Heyes for a bit while I go find some things he will need later." Not even stopping to wonder why he wasn’t surprised that his horse had been taken to the barn by a dog and a wolf, Kid nodded and fled out the door of the cabin, closing it behind him. He barely made it around the side of the wooden building before he found himself on his knees, retching heavily, tears rolling down his face unnoticed and without shame. Leaning against the outside wall of the cabin, he looked up through tears and trees to the stars shining brightly in the cold night sky.

"Thank You," He said to the heavens, and sighed deeply. Little did he know that the woman inside the cabin was doing the same.

 

PART FOUR—TWO DAYS LATER

 

"TWO DAYS?!" Kid paced back and forth around the cabin like a caged beast, concern and anger radiating from him in waves. Michelle sat beside the bed, as she had been each time he had not. She nodded.

"Yes, Kid. Two days. Count it as a blessing, being unconscious means NOT being in pain, my friend. The head wound caused at LEAST a concussion, and without x-ray or CAT scan I can’t rule out a fractured skull. Two days of unconsciousness is not unusual, given the circumstances." Michelle got up and moved to place a reassuring hand on the one holding the coffee cup that he had just refilled for the third time. Kid shook his head as he looked down at her.

"No offense, Ma’am…Heyes and I appreciate everything you’ve done; but I don’t put a lot of faith in those herbal remedies of yours. Are you sure they work?" Kid was often confused by Michelle’s talk of things he didn’t understand. How would looking at a cat help his cousin, anyway? And what in blazes was an x-ray? And why the devil was she always GRINNING at him? Like now. Just look at her, wide grin on her face like she knew the joke and he just wasn’t getting the punch line. Drove him crazy, she did. Damn, he wished Heyes would wake up. Not that he wanted his partner to be in pain, mind you. But he sure needed to be able to look into those deep brown eyes and see his intelligence once again shining out…

"I’m quite sure, Kid. But if you doubt their effects, give me that coffee cup." He handed her the cup, puzzled once again. She held his gun hand out straight and pulled her hand away, drawing his attention to the trembling of his fingers. "You see that? Caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee, is an herbal stimulant. Drink a little, it wakes you up. Drink a lot, you get the shakes." Pouring his coffee out over his protest, she filled the cup with a fragrant brew from one of the kettles hanging over the fire, and handed it back to him with a smile. "Now chamomile, kava, and lemon balm brewed together have the opposite effect. They soothe the nerves, creating a sense of calm and well being. They are also effective as a pain reliever, along with some other herbs such as valerian root and St. John’s Wort. That mixture is what I will use on your friend when he wakes." Noting the face Kid made as he sipped the tea, she smiled and reached for the wild honey and added a dollop to his cup. Carefully taking another sip, his eyes widened as the flavor rolled over his tongue. He looked quite surprised, she noted playfully. Boy, what she could show him if they were at home!

"It’s good, Michelle!" Smiling broadly, he straddled the chair next to her and started to say something when he was interrupted by the quietly rasping but very familiar voice of his partner. Standing up abruptly, the chair fell backward as he closed the distance between them. Heyes was blinking as if to focus his eyes, finally giving up and accepting that blurry was what he was going to get, for now. He also attempted a smile for his partner’s sake, but was forced to change it to a grimace as a deep breath produced a rather sharp and hard to ignore pain in his chest.

"Heyes, did you say something? What is it, partner, what do you need?" Kid’s concern told Heyes what he wanted to know. It must be pretty bad, for his friend to act like this in front of a friend, let alone a stranger.

"I said, Kid; that you should never doubt so pretty a lady as this one. She obviously knows what she is talkin about, since I’m still here in more or less one piece…" The lady in question came forward with a cup of tepid tea previously mentioned and forced almost half a cup down his protesting throat before he could wave her off. Even then, she stopped when SHE was ready. Blasted pushy female! Here he was wantin some whiskey to dull this confounded pain in his chest, and she was forcing TEA down him! Her next comment had him looking at his cousin in confusion. How the devil…?

"This will help with the pain some, Mr. Heyes. You cannot have whiskey due to the severity of your head injury. He looked at her, then back at Kid, who was standing over them with his arms crossed, a huge grin on his face, obviously enjoying his consternation concerning this particular pushy female. He looked quite comfortable around her. Just how long had he been out of it?

"You have been unconscious ever since your friend brought you to me, two days ago. You have a head wound, which is of concern; and I had to remove a bullet from your lung, which is of greater concern. Do not move without help, do not try to get up or even turn over unless one of us is here to assist you. Do you understand?" Heyes glared up at the woman. He decided he’d had enough. His head hurt, his chest hurt, it hurt when he breathed, and it hurt when he didn’t. Who did she think she was, anyway? He would show her! Eyes latched with her own, he tried to toss the covers off himself in preparation for sitting up. Kid glanced at Michelle in concern, but her negative shake of the head stopped him. She reached over and placed one small hand in the middle of his chest, applied light pressure over his sternum, and to his consternation effectively stalled his attempt to assert himself over her. Her voice never changed, except to drop in volume so that he had to strain to hear what she said.

"Perhaps you didn’t understand me, Hannibal. You are not to move. At all. If you do, you may pull this tube out of your chest. I assure you that if you do that, it will be the last thing you do, as you will almost immediately die. Do I make myself clear, sir? Do you understand now, or should I use smaller words?" Aghast, the up to now unchallenged leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, Retired; just nodded. And coughed. Hard. He didn’t say a word as she reached over to make him drink the other half of the stuff in the cup. He just drank.

 

By the end of the third day in the cabin, both Michelle and the Kid were getting cabin fever. Heyes, unfortunately, was just getting fever. Michelle was worried, which made Kid worry. She turned to ask him something and pushed him away, frustrated when he bumped into her.

"Kid, would you PLEASE stay out of my way! Here, take this basket and go out to the woods. About three hundred yards into the forest on the left you will see a large willow tree. Shave off a goodly amount of the inner bark and bring it, please. Heyes has developed an infection, and I need something to fight the fever with. Don’t come back until the basket is full, please."

Kid was out the door before she was done talking. Heyes watched her as she moved around the cabin, fixing yet another of her teas as well as a poultice to place over the wound on his chest where the tube emerged. He could barely feel the gunshot wound on his back, it had subsided to a dull ache that was easily ignored. The chest tube was another issue. There was no ignoring that kind of pain. He panted in between each attempt to speak.

"Sending him off… on a wild goose chase… isn’t very nice, you know." His disapproval seemed to give her pause for a moment, which he noted with interest. "He’s just worried… about me. He doesn’t mean… to get in the way." She sat down next to him and cradled his head in her lap as she gently fed him the new tea. This one tasted acidic, it had a "bite" to it.

"I know that, Hannibal. He has barely left your side at all, even to sleep. He curls up on the floor next to the bed so he won’t be far if you need him. Even during my shift, he refuses to leave. I’m worried too." The last was said very quietly, and she refused to meet his eyes as she voiced her concern.

"So. He’s gone now. You can tell me… Am I dying?" His dark chocolate eyes met hers as she looked up in surprise, and her automatic response died in her throat as she realized that she wouldn’t lie to this man. Not ever. She couldn’t. She loved him.

"I don’t know, Heyes. I think maybe you are. You were doing so well, then this infection…DAMMIT!" Angrily, she dashed the tears away as she started to turn from his knowing eyes. His hand reached out; she froze as he grasped her hand and pulled her toward him. Still holding her hand, his other reached out to gently catch a tear at the corner of her eye, a sense of awe coming over him as realization became assurance in his mind. He pulled her down toward him and gently kissed the tear away, then placed another kiss at the corner of her mouth. She returned the caress, then, trying to strangle back a sob, she rushed out the door as Kid opened it to bring in the willow bark, which he sat on the table as he whirled about to go after her. His partner’s voice stopped him.

"Let her go, Kid. Come on over here…and sit down…for awhile. We gotta talk, pard."

He patted the bed next to him, and Kid slowly moved across the room to sit down next to his only living relative. Half an hour later, he stumbled out the cabin door toward the barn, Banner unnoticed at his heel. He refused Michelle’s offer of dinner, unable to swallow past the large lump in his throat.

After dinner, Michelle fed Heyes some more willow bark tea, along with something for pain and inflammation, still fighting against an unseen but silent and deadly enemy. As dusk fell, Heyes had become more agitated, mumbling incoherently at times in his feverish state. During one of his more lucid moments, Michelle came to a decision. Asking Kid to pull up a chair, she reached over across the bed for the small box with the broken lock and sat it at the foot of the bed. Then she told them she needed them to listen to a story; while they could. And she watched the change come over them both. The light of friendship died in Kids eyes. She couldn’t bear to see the love die in his partner’s so she focused on Kid’s growing anger and refused to look at the man on the bed. As much as she hated it, she felt that she owed them this much. She read from the faded journal at first, but soon closed it and just let the story unfold as her unci had related it to her.

 

Part Five—August 21, 1863

"Such an appalling sight I hope never again to witness—to see unarmed people who had surrendered and given up every dollar they had and treated them with every civility in hopes of saving their lives, shot down and killed—often they were wounded—to hear the shrieks and piteous entreaties of the women and children—to see wounded men lying helpless and dying—their wives throwing themselves upon them to save them—shot again through the folds of their wives dresses—burns out every feeling of humanity for these demons!" --- R.G. Elliott, August 21, 1863, Lawrence, Kansas.

" On August 14th, 1863, Union Brig. General Thomas Ewing, who was Gen William T. Sherman’s brother in law, was assigned to command the District of the Border, where he was faced with the impossible task of stopping the confederate raiders- primarily guerrilla bands; from raiding and plundering around the Kansas Border areas. Ewing, acting on his own, issued General Orders # 10. This stated that they would hold the women suspected of being wives or sympathizers of the gorilla bands and have them moved to a dilapidated three-story building in Kansas City under heavy guard. On that date, one of the guards noted that the building was beginning to separate from its walls, and plaster came crashing down on the women being held there. Four women, including Josephine Anderson, who was Bloody Bill Anderson’s sister, Cole Younger’s cousin were killed. Four days later, Ewing ordered that the women be moved "out of this district and out of the state of Missouri forthwith." On the morning of August 21st, seeking revenge for the incident, Colonel William Clark Quantrill and his band of guerrilla raiders also known as "Bushwackers" road into the abolitionist farming town of Lawrence. Over the course three hours, they burned the town, pillaged anything worth taking, and massacred 164 men and boys, leaving 80 new widows, 250 fatherless children, and a smoldering ruin of a town. No women were physically harmed."

"What the hell are you talking about, woman? Our MOTHERS died that day! Our Grandmothers and sister as well. The only reason WE weren’t killed was because Heyes made me hide in the root cellar out behind Grandma Curry’s barn!" Kids anger and agitation were frightening, but Michelle refused to allow him to divert her from finishing her story. She simply waited quietly, as he ranted and raved. After a few minutes, his partner quietly requested that he sit down and let her finish. She wasn’t fooled however, the steel look in his eyes told her that he, too was unforgiving in this regard. In fact, his quiet coldness frightened her far more than his cousin’s raving could have. She took a deep breath and continued.

"I’ll explain that in a moment. Please allow me to finish this in my own timing. On May 10, 1865, Quantrill and about twelve of his men were staying at a farm in Kentucky. During the night, a Union officer and his soldiers showed up, surrounded the barn, and the guerrillas and soldiers started throwing corncobs at each other. Quantrill was asleep in the barn. Soon the soldiers began to shoot, and they spooked the bushwhackers. Forgetting that they had guns, Quantrill’s men fled to their horses and took off, forgetting Quantrill in the midst of the fray. Running out of the barn, Quantrill yelled at his men to come back. Two of them heard him and turned around to get him, but while he was running to them he was shot in the back, directly in the spinal cord. It took him until 4:00 p.m. on June 6th; almost two months after he had been shot, to die." After that, his wife, Kate Quantrill King took her infant daughter and moved back east to begin a new life. The baby’s name was Marie Cantrell. She was my relative, and the one who owns this cabin. She taught me what I know of homeopathic medicine, and somehow, I think me being here was her attempt at accomplishing her own Quest, that she had failed at so long ago in Lawrence." Michelle opened the box, and reaching inside, took out the ledger, the guerilla shirt with the bullet hole in the back, and the gun with the engraved initials W.C.Q. and laid them on the bedside table. Heyes barely glanced at them; he refused to take his eyes off of her own. Kid, however, grabbed up the items and dashed them into the fireplace, where the journal and the shirt quickly caught and burned brightly for a few moments, leaving only the now soot covered gun as evidence of her story. Kid was so angry that his gun hand was twitching, and he was unable to even look at her, much less speak. Heyes quietly asked the questions she had been waiting for.

"Lady, your story is shot full of holes, just like I am." There was no humor in his dark eyes as she stared at her. "You say no women were killed at Lawrence. We KNOW different. We were THERE. You say it was your Grandmother who owns this cabin, and that she was a baby at the time of the raid. So how could she have "Failed at her Quest" to stop the raid, as you put it? She was an INFANT. Explain that, if you can…and while you’re at it, try explaining all of the other little incongruities that we have experienced ever since we got here. Animals that live together and help each other when they should be mortal enemies. A snow-locked forest in the middle of nowhere where we just HAPPENED to meet you. Medical tools and funny looking tubes made out of things we have never even HEARD of!" Heyes had finally reached his limit, the end of his diatribe was delivered at full volume and resulted in a coughing fit that left him pale and gasping, unable to continue. She reached for the cup of tea at the bedside table, but he knocked the cup out of her hands and it shattered across the room when it hit the hearth. Concerned at the blood she now saw at the corner of his mouth, she tried to look at the chest tube, but he grabbed her hand over his chest and pushed her away. "I’ll thank you not to touch me, if you don’t mind."

"But, your bleeding again, and I need to check the tube…" She had again started to move toward the bed, wincing as she felt the strong fingers digging in both of her upper arms from behind her, where the Kid was now standing. She would have bruises there, in the morning. This was Kid Curry, Gunslinger. Not someone you trifled with if you wanted to live. Not that this concerned her much, now. He bent over slightly as he spoke, his voice clipped and dangerous as he addressed her.

"My… partner… said …don’t… touch… him, Lady. I do believe he meant just that. Now, if you got anything more to say, I suggest you say it now. We’ll be leaving in the morning, either way." Looking at Heyes, who confirmed this with his nod, Kid none too gently pushed Michelle back down into the chair, then slowly backed up and sat in his own. "I’m still listenin. Go on."

""But…you can’t move him, Kid! It’ll kill him for sure if you do!" Frustration caused her to wring her hands in futility. Neither Heyes nor Kid seemed moved.

"You said he’s probably gonna die anyway. At least he don’t have to do it in a Quantrill house, around a Quantrill woman." He spit this out and sat back down to glare at her back as she dropped her head.

"Alright!. Yes, I am a Quantrill relative on my mother’s side. So I’m to be damned for my relatives atrocities? So be it! I’ll explain what I can, and then I get to tell you just what I think of YOU. My grandmother, Marie Cantrell found this place and built this cabin. There is a spring and a pond outside in the woods a few hundred yards away, and it sometimes allows people access to their own past and future, given certain circumstances concerning weather and need. Marie’s need involved returning to Lawrence and stopping Quantrill from making the raid on the town, even if it meant killing her own father! But when the time came, she failed. She was there, ready, gun loaded…but she couldn’t shoot him as he rode by her. She lost him a few months later, anyway. But she did what she could do. She gathered the women and children. Some she found in barns, some in fields, a couple of little boys hiding in a root cellar. You, I presume. They all hid together until the raid was over and Quantrill and his men were gone. THAT’s why there were no women killed in that raid, gentlemen. At least, not in The Way It Is Now. In my history, your grandmother and mothers and sister were not involved in the Lawrence Massacre of August 21, 1863. I wish I had a history book from my time period here, I would prove it to you. Because it IS true. At least she was partly successful in her Quest, and some of the killing never happened. Not perfect, no. Most people aren’t."

Silence filled the small cabin as each of its inhabitants worked through the improbability of the story. Finally, still angry, Kid spoke.

"That some more of your Indian spiritualism, lady? Why don’t you go outside and pray to your "WaKan Tonka", your Buffalo god?" He got up to gently wipe the blood from his partner’s mouth. So he wasn’t expecting to get whacked upside the head by an angry female. But that’s what happened next.

"Ow! What the Devil?!" He whirled around to confront the woman now standing toe to toe with him, her own anger overflowing and not just a little daunting. As she advanced, he was forced to back up or get stepped on.

"Alright, that does it. That’s the last straw, Jed Curry. I have done nothing for the last week but try to help you and your cousin. I have been patient with your temper. I have given you space to blow off steam when needed and grieve in private when I needed someone to grieve with. But NOW you have just gone too far. So listen up, and listen good. Yes. I am part Indian. Lakota Sioux on my mother’s side, Choctaw on my father’s. I am proud of it. But I will NOT have you making fun of me, or of my beliefs, so listen up, I am about to explain them to you. Yes, many Indians do believe in a buffalo god. I believe in WaKan Wanji, the One God. The same God, I might add, that the black robed priests calls Jesu Christos. Jesus the Christ. The same God that your mother, Heyes, and your Grandmother and Grandfather Curry believed in, Kid. The same God that forgives all who ask, unlike us mere humans. The same God I think the both of you believe in, when you allow yourselves leave to believe in anything anymore. So think whatever you like of me, but you best LEAVE MY GOD ALONE!" Glaring at both men, she shook her head when it looked like Curry was going to say something. "No. I am not done yet. As soon as I am, I will go out to the barn until you are both gone in the morning. I won’t trouble you with my presence, but you are going to let me finish this first!" Getting up and stomping around the room, she continued.

"I find it very interesting that two men who hate Quantrill so much that they can carry that hate with them for their entire lives and allow it to include someone who has come to love them both just for BEING a Cantrell, (and yes, my grandmother changed her name to Cantrell as just about all of his relatives did. You see, we are no more proud to claim him than we would be the devil.) Anyway, I find it interesting that two men like that would choose to follow in the footsteps of men who rode with Quantrill. Men like the James brothers, Frank and Jesse; and Cole and Jim Younger, who were THERE at Lawrence that day and who perfected his hit and run tactics of bank and train robbery, helping to build on the legacy that Quantrill started. Just as Quantrill planned and executed the raid on Lawrence to avenge the deaths of the wives of his men at Kansas City, the two of you have followed the outlaw trail using the carnage at Lawrence as justification for your own anger and misdeeds. I do hope you get your amnesty, gentlemen. Unlike the James and the Youngers, the two of you never killed anyone during your tenure as outlaws. And, as we all know…nobody’s perfect." The echo of the door as she slammed it shut behind her on her way out to the barn broke the stunned silence inside the cabin. Kid looked at the door, then over at his suddenly very pale cousin. Concerned, he moved over toward the bed and bent down to rest his hand across Heye’s forehead, shocked by the heat that radiated from him in waves. Taking a deep breath, Heyes quietly spoke.

"I think you better go get her, Kid."

"I think so too, Heyes…you’re burning up again." Kid reached for his sheepskin coat but stopped as his friend answered.

"I know, but that’s not why you need to go get her, Kid."

"I don’t understand, Heyes… if it’s not because of the fever…"

" I think you better go get her, Kid…because I think she may be right."

"Oh. Yeah. Me too, Heyes. I’ll go get her."

"Good idea, Kid. Glad you thought of it." Heyes grinned at his friend and slowly closed his eyes.

 

 

PART SIX—DECEMBER 31

Apologies had been offered and accepted on all sides. Morning dawned with no change in Heyes’s condition, at least not one for the better. Michelle had been praying all night, trying to understand why she too, seemed to be loosing her chance to fulfill her Quest, to make What had been into what now was. To save the life of one Hannibal Heyes, wanted outlaw. The man she loved. Oh, she continued to fight the battle. She went through the motions, carefully and gently dribbling tea into him when he wasn’t lucid enough to take it himself, and talking gently to him while he was awake. He didn’t say much, it was becoming agony for him to simply breathe, and there was now a heavy rattling sound in his chest and an almost fruity odor to his breath. Pseudomonas, then. It would be Pseudomonas that would take him from her. She tried to give the two men time alone to talk, but it was almost impossible for her to leave his side now. Every time she had to leave the cabin to take care of necessities, it was slow agony for her. She wanted to hurry back, she didn’t want to hurry back. She feared for what she would find when she got there. Finally, she and Kid put one chair on either side of the bed, so that they could both be close to Heyes as he drifted in and out. His fever was now so high that nothing she had would even bring it down at all anymore. About 11, just before lunch, he opened his eyes and they could see recognition of both of them. Kid was thrilled, until she pulled him aside and explained that frequently, the dying have a period of time just prior to death that seemed to indicate that there was improvement in condition, when in fact it usually meant the exact opposite. Nodding his understanding, he went back to his chair and Heyes reached for his hand on one side, and hers on the other. Kid glanced out the window over his head and noticed that a cold rain had started falling. It was a dismal, gray day. Appropriate, he thought. The darkest day of his life should look like this. His gaze returned to his friend as he tried to speak.

"Kid. I need you to…promise me something. Will you do that…for me?"

Unable to speak, Curry nodded.

"I tried my… best to take good… care of you, cousin. I’m truly sorry…that I failed…to do the job…the way that…Grandpa Curry asked…me to." Seeing the look of denial on his face, Heyes shook his head and continued. "No, Kid. I was older, and I promised to look after you, not lead you…down the trail…to prison, or even…a hangman’s noose. But I want you to…know…that I’m proud of you, Kid…you always watched…my back…and took better care…of me..than I ever…did for you. I love you, Kid…"

Having trouble breathing himself, Kid opened and shut his mouth several times before anything akin to sound came out. When it did, it sounded a lot like it had when he was twelve, and Heyes would tease him about his voice cracking.

"Heyes, please, don’t give up. Fight, man! This isn’t like you, partner! Come on…"

He trailed off as Heyes smiled sadly.

"I’m tired, Kid… So tired… And I hurt… more than… I can take. And I ain’t got no… fight left in me, pard. Take care of… her for me, ok? And after awhile, take her with you to see Lom. Promise? " Kid slowly nodded. Turning toward the woman on the other side of the bed, Heyes smiled at her and indicated that he wanted her closer. She leaned over him, aware that he was probably having some difficulty seeing clearly through his rapidly dimming eyes. But he pulled again, and she finally recognized what it was that he wanted. Moving carefully, so as not to jar him, she slid up onto the bed and placed his head on her lap. He gave her a mega-watt Hannibal Heyes smile, and mouthed "I love you."

It was a good five minutes before either of them noticed that the silence included the lack of sound that the bubbling bottle attached to the chest tube had made for the last few days. The sound that it had made each time Heyes took a breath.

 

 

 

PART SEVEN—1:30, DECEMBER 31ST

Kid had sat quietly beside the bed for the last twenty minutes, not saying anything. Finally, he got up and gathered his hat and coat and gun, then hesitated for a second before reaching for his cousin’s hat as well. The other gunbelt he left hanging as he walked out the door. She found him in the barn, his horse saddled, Heyes’s horse carrying his hat and coat wrapped behind the cantle and a stout rope hanging off of the horn. He ignored her as she moved into the sweet smelling barn, but she knew that he was aware of her being there.

"That’s it, then. You are leaving." Her voice halted his preparations and he just stood there, head down, hat brim hiding his eyes and his thoughts from her.

"Looks that way, don’t it? Nothin to stay here for, now." He continued readying his mount as she looked on.

"Nothing? What about your promise to Heyes? That’s nothin? You surprise me, Kid. I thought you were more honorable than that." She turned to go but was jerked around by one arm as once again she saw the Outlaw that lived just under the surface of this boy-faced man with the curly blond hair and eyes as blue as a Colorado summer sky. Changeable. Stormy, just now.

"Lady, you know NOTHING about me. I was always the one who wanted to settle down, maybe get married and have a couple of kids, not Heyes. Heyes was always ready to ride on to the next town, the next game…the next adventure. I could have been happy right here for the rest of my days, if Heyes hadn’t died. Besides, what right do you have, calling ME dishonorable?! YOU FAILED, LADY…your so-called Quest was to save my partner’s life…and YOU FAILED." Unable to look at the shock in her eyes any longer, he turned toward the cabin to get Heyes’s body. He knew he was being unfair, he just couldn’t find it inside himself to care right now. She was still standing there, frozen, when he returned with the quilt covered burden slung over his shoulder. Transferring Heyes to his horse, he used the length of rope to secure the burden across the saddle. When that task was finished, he swung up into the saddle and reached for the reins of his partner’s horse, turning them back toward the door of the barn, ready to ride off and never return. As he started off down the trail toward the entrance to the woods, the same trail he had run down less than a week earlier with his injured friend in his arms, Banner came up and whined, trying to bury his head in Michelle’s armpit. Something was twitching in her mind, but she just couldn’t quite pull it up.. Banner took off at a run toward the small pond, then stopped and looked back at her. Suddenly, she had it. Running toward the horses, yelling for him to stop, she reached the horse and pulled on the reins in Kid’s hand. He looked down at her, no expression at all on his closed face as he waited.

"Kid, what day is it?" Out of breath from running, she panted out the seemingly inane question.

"What?! What are you talking about? Let go of my reins."

"Kid, I need to know what the date is today, PLEASE…it’s vital!"

Sighing deeply, he thought about it for a minute. They had rode in here…lets see..oh, yeah.

"It’s December 31st. Tomorrow is New Years Day. Now why is that so all-fired important? HEY!?" Suddenly finding himself pulled from the saddle onto the cold wet ground was NOT something he had expected. Michelle rarely did the expected, he had discovered.

"That’s IT, Kid! I’ve got it! Hurry, we have no time to waste. Bring Heyes’s body and COME ON!" Turning around, she started to run in the opposite direction, first grabbing the reins from the second horse out of his hands and spinning it around to follow her at a trot. He barely caught up with her at the little pond, she already had Heyes’s body down off of the horse and was staring up at the rainclouds as well as at the surface of the pond. He dismounted, stalked up and none too gently forced her to look at him.

"Michelle, I am getting very short on patience here with you, and I suggest that you stop prattling on and explain this to me NOW." Nodding agreement, she started talking faster than he could process everything she said. As she sat on the edge of the pond and pulled Heyes into her arms, he stood with his arms crossed, tapping his boot and waiting for her to start making sense.

"Ok. My Quest hasn’t failed, not yet, anyway. I don’t have time to explain everything, I have less than twelve hours to get everything in place and be where I need to be to fulfill my mission. You can’t go with me, but I promise to bring you back a present, if you are a good boy." His grimace didn’t faze her at all, this time. Somehow, Michelle had gotten her spunk back. In fact, she was so spunky that she grabbed his specially balanced revolver out of his gunbelt and pointed it at him!

"Stay here, friend. I give you my word I will be back before midnight. Please, Kid, try to understand…this is the only way." He understood nothing, but there was little he could do about it while she held his gun…and even less he could do as she leaned backward and fell into the little pond with Heyes in her arms. He waded in after them, but was more confused than ever when he found it less than a foot deep and three feet wide. Because neither his partner nor Michelle were in it. Kid waded out just as the sky opened up and rain drenched his last set of dry clothes.

 

PART EIGHT—HOLLYWOOD HILLS, LATE EVENING NEW YEARS EVE—197O’S

Depressed. Dry. No energy, no motivation, no inspiration. No desire to even look toward tomorrow. At times like this, he wondered if there would ever be more. More joy, more contentment, more peace. More concern from the people around him for the things that mattered…like clean air, clean water, and beautiful places to go and just wait for God to join them. The best part of his show was the location shoots—times when he could be out in the middle of the open spaces that he loved. He had early call in the morning, and he had been drinking too much again. Lately, that had been a problem, and a loosing battle. He was going to have to do something about it, he knew. He knew Dennis was worried about him, had even offered to come over and just be there on nights like this when he found it more difficult. Ben had been watching him closely lately, also. He knew his friends were worried, but he had his hands full just finding strength to make it through each day as it came. Even his sister had recently expressed her fear, begging him "not to leave her." It wasn’t like him to make promises he couldn’t keep, so he had simply told her that no matter what, she was strong and she would be all right.

The doorbell rang and he glanced toward the bedroom where his girlfriend was asleep, then moved toward the door, checking the peephole before opening it. You just never knew when you were a recognizable actor what sort of crazies were likely to find out where you live and show up unannounced at your door on a holiday. But there was only a single person standing outside his door, smiling reassuringly at the peephole. She was tall and dark haired, with brown eyes like his own. Probably a fan who had a little too much to drink and had let her inhibitions go enough to allow herself a chance to track him down for an autograph or to make a pass. Yep, must be a fan, he thought, catching sight of the blue bandana peaking out of her back pocket. He glanced again toward the bedroom, thinking that it was about time to end that relationship anyway…it wasn’t going in a direction he was comfortable with any longer.

Without knowing just why, he turned the doorknob and opened the door, flashing her his best smile. A smile that Ben had said could melt ice into a puddle in a matter of seconds. Part innocence, part incorrigible, all-inclusive. A smile that few ladies had been known to resist.

"Can I help you, Ma’am?", he said as his proper upbringing came to the fore. She smiled back, a little sadly, he thought. Then his own smile faded as he saw the revolver she had pointed at him. It looked familiar and he recognized it as a period piece exactly like the one Ben used in the show. Of course, this was Hollyweird. Guns were available in every type around here, like his own pistol which he had just used that day for target practice and left on the table next to the sofa, so that he could clean it before putting it away up in his closet tomorrow. Looking again at the determined look in her eyes, he wondered if he would get the chance; if there would be a tomorrow. He knew that she could kill him right here, and his own friends and family wouldn’t suspect anything other than suicide…the irony struck him. It wasn’t that it couldn’t have been…just that in his case, it wasn’t. He was abruptly brought back to the present when the woman spoke.

"I need your help with this." Motioning to a quilt covered bundle on the ground next to her feet, she stepped back to allow him access enough to pick it up. Lord, it was heavy! Must be close to his own weight. "Put him down on the floor next to the tree, please." Startled by this, his grip slipped a little and he heard a distinct "thump" as part of his burden slid over his end table, knocking his gun off of the table where it landed next to the tree.

"Him?," he asked. Oh, Lord. She had already killed someone, and for some reason intended to leave the body in his house! Agitated now, she shook the pistol at him.

"BE CAREFUL, Dammit! Don’t…hurt him, please." This lady was crazy! She had a dead body that she had brought to his home, and now she was worried that a little bump on the head was going to hurt it? He nodded gently, trying to move quietly so he didn’t wake anyone…Maybe if he could talk to her, get her to give him the gun…as she bent over to remove the quilt he considered his chances if he jumped her, and decided to wait and bide his time. She was gently inspecting the left temple of the man on the floor, where the scab on a recent injury had broken loose when he lost his grip and whacked it on the table, dislodging his revolver. Glancing down at the naked man lying on the floor, he could hear the roaring in his ears that usually proceeded his passing out. The man looked exactly like him. The woman tossed the quilt at him and he caught it out of reflex as he backed away from the still form on the floor.

"What the…how…who is?" Unable to form the questions running through his mind, he kept backing up out the doorway, followed by the woman. As she turned from him one last time to look longingly at the man on the floor, he decided now was the time to break for it and run. He hadn’t made it three feet when the report from the revolver froze him in his tracks. Hands up, slowly turning around, he shrugged his shoulders at her as she pushed him toward her car, where he noticed a second woman, this one blond, waiting behind the wheel. Opening the front door, she motioned for him to get into the front passenger seat. As he got into the car and closed the door she was jumping into the back seat, gun still ready.

"Move it, Dree! We are running outta time, and it’s about to start raining again any minute!" As they pulled away he heard a scream coming from the interior of his house, and his girlfriends voice yelling "Oh, God, Pete! NO!" as the car carrying the actor peeled away from the curb and down the street, headed toward Universal City.

Deciding that perhaps his best shot was with the blond driver, Pete Duel turned to her in entreaty as she sped down the deserted streets, up Universal Blvd. Concentrating on driving, she just grinned at him and said nothing. Following prior instruction tersely given by the lady in the back, he just rolled down his window and smiled and waved at the night guard at the employee entrance. Smiling back, he waved and hit the button allowing them entrance to the complex. Having never been in this part of the complex before, the blond rolled the car to a stop and turned to him.

"Ok, which way to Western Street from here?" Duel silently pointed to a dirt road that curved around the side of the hill. It was the same dirt road that he and Ben had frequently raced along on horseback, camera’s rolling, when being chased by a "posse" of fellow actors. Drena glanced at her watch and pushed the accelerator down harder. Pete began to wonder if any of them would make it to wherever they intended to take him. In the back seat, Michelle’s voice confirmed that she, too was not comfortable with the tires spinning around curves.

"Easy, Drena. We have ten minutes to go, and I would hate to foul up now when we are so close. You ain’t never gonna get to snuggle with Kid if you get us killed before we make it to the fountain, you know." Duel’s confusion increased. Snuggle with Kid? Oh, boy. Both of these females had to have escaped from the county mental facility! They actually believed he was Hannibal Heyes and Ben was Kid Curry! Hadn’t he read somewhere that it was dangerous to try to convince people having delusions that what they believed wasn’t real? The car skidded to a stop in front of the old "stone" fountain and both females opened the doors and got out. The darker one pointed the revolver once again and he reached for the door handle, slowly resigned to the fact that he was, indeed without choice in the matter. He started to speak one last time, try to talk some sense into them, but the dark haired one had turned toward the fountain and motioned for him to climb up on the rim along with the blond, who was already there. The blond one looked down at her friend urgently.

"Mick, are you sure about this? I mean, you think this is how your Quest was supposed to be? It’s a bit twisted, don’t you think? I mean, I’m going to get to be with Kid, but you…what about you, Mick? What do you get out of this?"

Her friend smiled sadly and answered. "I get the knowledge that I didn’t fail, I just didn’t see the real Quest clearly in the beginning. I wasn’t supposed to save Heyes, Dree. I was supposed to save Pete, instead. Here, I think you better take this, or Kid will never forgive me. Give him my love, and tell him I’m sorry I didn’t catch on sooner." She handed the Colt to her friend.

Drena started to speak again, but stopped when Michelle shook her head.

‘No, Dree. We both knew that the Quest would require a personal sacrifice from me, just as it did from my great-grandmother Marie. I just didn’t know until now what it would be. I thought it was losing the man I loved. In reality, it was in saving a man I never knew." Turning toward the actor, she continued.

"We have a lot in common, you and I. Both of us have a harder time than most making sense out of the world around us. Both of us have felt at times that we had been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time in history. I can’t change that for myself, and I’ll have to find a way to live with that. But I can change it for you, and that’s what’s happening here tonight. In a few minutes, The Way it Had Been will change, and you will get to experience The Way It Is Now. Don’t screw it up, ok? Goodbye, Pete Duel. Hello, Hannibal Heyes." Quickly pulling him down toward her, she planted a kiss on his lips, pressed something into his hand, and backed away from the fountain as the rain started to fall. The blond gripped his arm and pulled him backward off of the rim of the fountain, and as he fell backward, he looked at the blue bandana Michelle had shoved into his hand as she had planted one on his lips. That was the last thing he remembered before he woke up choking and coughing thick water on the bank of a small pond in the woods. Looking up, he saw a familiar blond man running toward him, and grinned. Apparently, some things never change. His partner smiled uncertainly at the pretty blond standing next to him as he looked around at a large copse of beautiful trees, animals and clean water. He could stay here forever, he thought suddenly…

EPILOGUE

A lone figure of a woman stood beside the fountain, staring off into the cloudfilled, starless sky, tears running down her face. Somewhere, sometime, she had the strange feeling that Pete/Hannibal was staring up into the heavens, watching the stars. Turning, she slowly made her way to the car and turned toward home down the Hollywood freeway as the sun started to rise above the San Angeles Mountains. The freeway was almost deserted, and she glanced down with interest at the headline of the first Long Beach Press Telegram as she drove toward home. The headline read:

"Actor Peter Duel found dead in his home, a victim of apparent suicide."

As she reached her own home, she greeted Banner as he met her at the door and exhausted, tumbled into her bed, asleep before her head left the pillow. Twelve hours later when she awoke, Michelle looked at the bandana she was clutching in her hand, and thought to herself that sometimes you just have to go with what Sherlock Holmes always said. You eliminate the impossible, and whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be The Truth.

Wherever you are, Peter…be happy. I love you.

 

 

 

Author’s notes: I know that this story is not going to set well with some. Please understand that I mean absolutely no disrespect to the people whose lives were in some way touched by the tragic death of Peter Duel. I am one of them, myself. Peter died at a time very close to when I lost my own father, and as youth will sometimes do, I think I in some way tied the two losses together, and in doing so allowed one to color the other for almost 30 years. If this story has in some way offended you, please accept my humble apology. That was not my intent. I just, in some way, wanted to offer another perspective on the events. I hope it comforts those as it did me while I was writing it.

I did take literary license without regret while researching this story. All of the Lakota language is correct in so far as I could find it. My great grandmother was indeed Indian, although I am not 100% certain that she was Lakota it would seem to be logical given her birthplace and what information I have on her life. My Choctaw is on my father’s side. As for the events of August 21st, 1863 surrounding William Clark Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence Kansas, any inaccuracy (such as a slight difference on the body count) is lost to History. I have related the story as I found it. It is true, however insomuch as I can ascertain, that there were indeed no women or female children killed at Lawrence. The dead included both men and boys, but no females. I can only say that for the short time that William Clark Quantrill was known as "The Devil Who Rides"; he had a deep impact on the families he encountered. I can’t say I don’t find it somewhat satisfying to know that once brought down by a bullet, it took him almost two months to die. Hardly long enough, but then no one asked me for my opinion.

Michelle R. Pinkerton

Labor Day, 2000