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 And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?

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PostSubject: And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?   Mon Dec 01, 2014 9:16 am

It's time to announce the year end's topic and it leave plenty of room for creativity.  Are you ready, pens pointed and keyboards clattering?  Your topic is:




Candle  And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done? affraid  




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PostSubject: Re: And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?   Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:35 pm

Christmas Tree gifts Well, somebody had to do it, so I thought I'd get in there first:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Our old life is over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
and we have to run
No time for a loved one
Or time to have fun

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
When amnesty comes through
It’ll be a new frontier

And so this is Christmas
We have to be strong
To give us a future
No matter how long

And so happy Christmas
There’ll be no crime tonight
No safes will be broken
And banks can sleep tight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
For a brand new career

And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
We’ve given up stealing
And a new life has begun

Our last family Christmas
With all of our folks
They’re now in their graves
But memories it evokes

And so Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's out last one
Of our criminal career

Robbing is over
If you want it
Theft is over
Now...

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PostSubject: Re: And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?   Sun Dec 07, 2014 6:43 pm

Thanks for all the supportive messages about my story. Here is the next part and it fits the prompt.

“How is he, Doc?”


The medical man turned impatiently. “Give me a chance, Gene. I just got here. The sheriff’s not even here yet. He’s still speaking to the Mayor,” he stared down at the barely conscious man. “What the hell happened to him? What have you done”


“He fell,” Eugene Beecher snickered to the gaggle of hillbillies leaning untidily around the sheriff’s office. “Didn’t he?”


“Yeah,” a toothless hayseed chortled. “Three times, inta the butt of a rifle.”


“Backwards,” chuckled another.


“Don’t go lookin’ at me like that, Doc,” growled Eugene. “I found that man doing my wife. What would you do?”


The doctor’s brows knotted in concern. “He forced her?”


“He’d better have.” Eugene Beecher gathered mucus from the depths of his wiry frame. “Ain’t no point in havin’ a guard dog that’ll wag its tail to every stranger passin by,” he grinned through tobacco stained teeth, “if you take my meanin’. I’m tryin’ to be delicate, you bein’ a doctor and all.”


Doctor Murray gave the miner a hard stare. “How is she?”


“She were alright when I left her, Doc,” Gene shrugged one bony shoulder inside his ill-fitting jacket. “I had to bring in this ‘un. I ain’t letting no one else claim the reward.”


“She’d better stay that way, Beecher,” the doctor glared at his opponent in open challenge. “I’ve seen her go around town limping and covering her bruises. If you as much as break the skin I’ll push for charges to be brought against you.”


“A man is allowed to chastise his wife, Doc. It says so in the bible. ‘T’ain’t right to set yourself up higher’n God.”


“There’s a world of difference between chastising and beating her to a pulp, and don’t try that fish-eye stare with me. I’m immune.”


One of the swarm of hangers-on frowned. “He’s what?”


“I think he’s some kind of foreigner,” Beecher eyed the medic with suspicion. “At least I hope that’s what ‘eye-moon’ means. I gotta ask the preacher.”


“It means you can’t intimidate me,” Doctor Murray blustered, noting he had only a deputy to back him up against the town’s toughest family. He paused, alerted by a groan as to the original cause for his visit and opened the Kid’s eyelids before pulling open the man’s shirt and drawing his hands over the ribs and abdomen. “He’s fine. I’ll give him something for the pain and come back in the morning. Don’t forget what I said about your wife, Beecher. If she turns up hurt I’ll be pushing her to press charges.”


“Don’t worry about a thing, Doc.” Beecher stood and leaned on the rifle which rested on the wooden floor. “You won’t see her.”


Doctor Murray drank in the unsavory smile but remained silent. He nodded curtly and turned on his heel before striding out into the night.


The sheriff appeared, glancing at the departing figure. “What’s eatin’ him? I barely got a word outta him.”


“I guess he’s scared of our outlaw friend here,” Beecher nodded towards the Kid.


“Are you sure he’s Kid Curry?” The sheriff laid his hat on the desk and headed over to the pot-bellied stove to pour a cup of coffee. “I’ve told the Mayor, but I don’t want to look like a fool.”


“I’m sure. I used to live in Kansas and that ‘un and his cousin were sent to work on our farm from the home for waywards. They were always trouble. They turned up again doin’ casual work for a friend of mine years later and the fair one seduced his daughter out from under his nose. I wasn’t surprised when I heard they were wanted.” Beecher perched on the desk. “I never thought I’d see him again though; especially when I moved to Wyoming.”


The sheriff nodded pensively. “Well, if you’re right, there’s a reward to be had and the bank staff will be able to identify him. What do you think brought him back here after they robbed the bank?”


Beecher shared a lingering look with his son. “Coulda been any number of things. I suppose we’d better get home and see how your ma is. Huh, Abner?”


“She ain’t no kin o’ mine,” the adolescent snarled. “You married her. I didn’t want her around.”


“You needed a ma,” barked Beecher, “and I needed someone to take care o’ the house while I worked.”


“Then you shoulda got a better ‘un,” Abner retorted. “Her tellin’ me what to do, an barely five years older’n me. ‘T’ain’t right. T’ain’t natural.”


Beecher’s finger rasped at his stubble. “Well, ya may have a point. She weren’t the best wife I ever had. Ya’d think soiled goods like her’d be better in the sack, but she were useless there too. Can’t see what anyone ever saw in her, but what the Good Lord joins together let no man put asunder. She’s my wife, and that’s all there is to it.”


“I suppose. Let’s head home, Pa. It’s been a long day.”


Beecher stopped at the door to allow his hands to file out of the building. ”You look after that ‘un, Sam. He’s worth ten thousand dollars of my money. They’re a tricky bunch, that Devil’s Hole Gang. They ain’t gonna be happy that we got one of their men. I’ve arranged for my men to stay in the lobby of the hotel across the road to make sure you got back up. One single shot’ll be enough to bring ‘em runnin’.” He stared over at the injured man in the cell. “He ain’t goin’ nowhere.”



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PostSubject: Re: And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?   Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:55 pm

Just some childish fluff for Christmas...
----------------------------

December 1859

Dear Mr. Claus,

Howdy. How're you doing? I'm fine. I'm just writing to remind you that I've been extremely...very...well,...pretty good this year. I've gotten good grades in school and done my chores at home like Ma and Pa tell me to.

Now, you may have heard of some rumors flying around about me and I wanted to set the record straight. Firstly, about those fish in the horse trough. I caught them early that morning and I wanted them to stay fresh 'til suppertime. If you've ever ate fresh fish, you should understand. I don't know why Pa got so mad. I was just helping to provide food for the family.

Now about the flag pole incident at school. Yes, I tied George to the flag pole, BUT, he had it coming. He had been picking on my cousin Jed and family's got to watch out for family. Jed's just a little fellow and I got to take up for him. Surely you can't hold that against me. I got to watch Jed's back 'cause he's always getting in trouble. But not bad trouble, so be sure and leave him some presents too.

Okay, about that snake in the teacher's desk drawer. It was just a harmless little garter snake. I didn't know she was THAT scared of them. And I know I convinced her it somehow crawled in there overnight when she came to. I apologize for that but I couldn't tell the truth because Pa would've whooped my hindend and then it would get sore. And if it was sore, I wouldn't be able to sit comfortably in school and wouldn't be able to pay attention, therefore messing up my learning. So you see, I had to keep it a secret for my own good.

As for the disappearing cookies out of Ma's cookie jar, the teacher said in school that because of the fifth amandment, you didn't have to tell on yourself, so I ain't. I plead innocent on all counts.

Now with that out of the way, I have an idea for you. Instead of bringing me a couple of toys and clothes, (by the way, do you realize you give more clothes to kids than toys. Might want to check into that), why don't you just leave me a bunch of money in my stocking. That way, I could get Ma to take into town and I could get what I want and you would have more room in your sleigh for other stuff. To seal the deal, I promise to leave you a cookie and a glass of Pa's whiskey under the tree. I know you probably get hungry flying all over the world. Just don't tell Pa I'm going to borrow some of his whiskey. I don't think he likes to share it 'cause he tells me to stay away from it.

Speaking of Pa and Ma, please leave them something nice too, just make sure I get mine first.

Well, my candle is about to burn out so I better stop writing. I hope you have a nice trip around the world and don't get lost. I suggest you take a map with you just in case.

Oh, and by the way, better just use the door instead of coming down the chimney. Pa will probably have a fire built and you would burn your rear.

Sincerely,
Your extremely well-behaved friend,
Hannibal Heyes

~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

Dear Mister Santa Claws,

Howdy. How are you? I am fine. My name is Jed and I am 6. I live in Kansas. I have been real good this year. I gots a cuple of kwestions for you.

1. Why do you use raindeers instead of horses? Horses would be better. And faster too. I ain't never saw no raindeers befor.

2. There's this rumor that you got a bunch of elfs or somethin' up there runnin' around doin' all your work. Insted of presents, could you just bring me one of them fellers? I need somebody to do my chores around the house so's I can have mor time to play with Han. Han's my cusin. He helpt me lern to write so's I could send you a letter this year. Pleese bring him one of them elfs too.

Oh, and can I pleese have a slingshot? There's some crows gets in the cornfild each year just askin' to be shot.

Pleese leave Ma and Pa somethin' nice under the tree. And my sister too I gess. She piks on me but she ain't all that bad. How about givin' her one present and a bag of roks. I think that's fair for her.

I ain't much for words so's I'm pretty much done. Like I said, I been real good this year.

Your frind,
Jed Curry

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PostSubject: A Winter's Tale   Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:47 pm

I found I had to cut a scene to make it fit the challenge.  At the end of the month, I'll post the longer version in my section above.


A Winter’s Tale


The wind whistled out of the mountains and across the high plain, driving the snow before it, and lashing anything standing in its way. 


The Kid shifted, trying to find a comfortable spot on the back of Heyes’ saddle.


“Will you cut that out?  You’re forcing cold drafts down my collar,” Heyes groused.


“Yeah, well at least I’m blocking the bulk of that wind for you.  Lucky I have your back,” the Kid groused right back.  


“Lucky you have me saving your sorry neck,” Heyes replied.


Curry nodded and glanced over his shoulder at his horse limping behind them with their packs.  The horse’s breath wreathed its face in steam before freezing around the nose.  She snorted and shook her head irritably.  “Don’t blame you, old girl.  I feel the same way.”


He turned back to the silent figure before him.  “Heyes, we gotta find shelter.”


Heyes pulled his snow encrusted scarf from across his mouth.  “I know, I know.  This is sheep country; maybe we can find a shepherd’s cottage or something.”


“Maybe we can find a sheep or two – we could take their wool.”



“Shepherd might not be too welcoming if we show up wearing his flock.”  He laughed briefly then sobered as he glanced up into the falling snow.  Even though it was early afternoon, the heavy clouds and driving snow made it appear darker.  “Maybe we should have stayed in that town.  At least that jail was warmer than this.”


The Kid reached a hand under his scarf to rub the raw marks on his neck, left by the rope that had almost ended his life.  “Right.  Would have been even warmer, once those men returned and finished hangin’ us.  On second thought, there’s nothin’ like a little fresh air.  At least the snow’ll make it harder for them to track us if they have a mind to.”  


Earlier that day


“Can you make out the name of the town?”


Heyes pulled up and studied the faded sign.  “Bel…?  Something like that I think.”  He studied the collection of buildings beyond the sign.  


“Doesn’t look like much, but we should be able to get shelter from that storm that’s coming.”


“Yeah, bed down in a barn or somethin’ if they don’t have a hotel.  I bet they have a bar at least.”


“Most places around here do,” Heyes agreed.


The two partners rode into town, slowing as they noticed the stares they received and the angry sounds that followed their passage.


“Ya know, maybe we should take our chances on that storm,” the Kid muttered out of the side of his mouth.  He stopped short as several men strode into the middle of the street in front of their horses.  Glancing around, he saw they were surrounded by an angry crowd.


“What did you do with them?” one of the men shouted.


Heyes and the Kid glanced at each other.  Heyes put a large smile on his face and the Kid stealthily undid the guard on his holster.  “Do with who?  We’re strangers here, just got to town.  We were hoping to find shelter from the storm.”


“I tell you those strangers took them.  My Jamie says one man was dark and other blond like that one.”


“Yeah, that’s what I saw.”


“Where are they?  Tell us now!”


The Kid looked around at the crowd, “We have no idea what you’re talkin’ about.  Like my friend said, we just got here.”



“Yeah, but we’ll just be leaving and let you folks get back to whatever you were doing.  We can see this isn’t a good time.”  Heyes smiled again and began to turn his horse, the Kid following his lead.


A shout rang out and the crowd surged towards them.  Heyes was hit with a rock and went down.


When he came to he found he was being held by several men.  He looked frantically around before finding the Kid, looking disheveled, his hands tied behind his back and a rope around his neck.


A large, dark man slapped Heyes.  “You with us now?”


“Yeah.”


“You tell us what you did with those children or your friend there will be hanging from that post.”  The man paused.  “If you still won’t tell us, you’ll be joining him.”


“You have no idea how much I wish I could, but we don’t know anything about any children.  You have us mistaken for two other fellas.”


“Mister, we don’t get strangers through here more’n a couple of times a year.  You expect us to believe that we have had two different sets of strangers, both with one dark-haired man and one light-haired man in less than one full day?”


Heyes shrugged.  “Must be what happened because we just rode into this town a few minutes ago for the very first time.”


The Kid, watching this, tried to nod his agreement then grimaced as the rope around his throat tightened with the movement.


As they spoke a murmur arose, and the crowd slowly parted.  A tiny, bent, elderly man slowly made his way forward, hobbling on crutches.  He was dressed in a rusty black cassock and a shabby, large-brimmed black hat was on his head.  With him came a young woman dressed in clothing that proclaimed her profession – about the only profession open to women in those parts.


The man stopped two feet in front of Heyes and looked him up and down.  He turned and looked at the Kid and frowned.  The men holding the rope taut shuffled and looked away.  The rope loosened and the Kid drew in a breath.


Finally, the man turned to the woman beside him.  “Now, sister, are these the men you entertained last night?”


“I don’t think so, padre.  As I told you, it was late by the time they got here and I…” she paused.  “I might have had too much to drink by then myself.  But I’m pretty sure the dark one was a half breed, not this man, and the pale one had hair so blond it seemed to gleam like silver.”  


She looked shyly at the Kid then looked around at the crowd glaring at her.  “But I can’t be sure…” she faltered and stopped.


“Putana,” someone in the crowd spat.  She glared back and pulled her shawl more tightly around her thin shoulders.


The priest surveyed the crowd.  “It seems to me that there is some question whether these men had anything to do with the disappearance and we are wasting time that could be better spent searching for our missing ones.  Put them in the jail, they can wait there while you search.”


The big man glared at the wizened old priest, then bowed his head.  “The word of a whore isn’t to be trusted.  But I’ll do as you suggest, padre.  For now.  But if we don’t find my children, these two will pay.  Their lives for my children’s lives.”  The crowd muttered but stepped back.  


Several of the men hauled the partners to the jail, throwing them harshly into the single cell and locking the door.


~~~oOo~~~


Heyes and the Kid looked at each other then simultaneously turned to glance at the blanket placed over the window – blocking most of the light while freely allowing the cold air to enter the cell through the barred but glassless opening.


“You okay?”


“Neck’s sore, but it ain’t any longer than normal.  How are we goin’ to get out of here before they come back?”


“I’m working on it.”  Heyes shivered as the opening of the door to the room housing the cell caused the blanket over the window to fly up.


Both men turned their eyes to the little priest as he hobbled into the room.


He smiled at them.  “Well there are certainly better places to be, but surely this is better than dangling at the end of a rope.”


“Thanks.”


“Yes sir, we really appreciate that.  My partner here and I have no idea…”  Heyes trailed off as the man smiled and held up a hand with the keys in it.


“I believe we’d all be a little warmer for some soup.  There’s a pot in the front room, along with some cups, but I’m afraid I can’t bring them in for us.”  He gestured at his crutches then twinkled at the pair.  “Perhaps one of you could help me carry in three cups?”


The partners stared at him through the gloom, looked at each other, eyebrows raised, and turned back to him, smiling.


“Sure, happy to help you,” Heyes said and stood by the cell door waiting for the man to unlock it.


~~~oOo~~~


The three sat in the cell sipping the soup.  The old priest, with one of the blankets across his shoulders sat on one cot, while the partners sat opposite him sharing the remaining blanket.


“Good soup,” the Kid remarked.


“Yes, Elana, the young woman who spoke up for you makes it for me.”


At their astonished looks, the little man twinkled.  “Elana is a good, pious woman.  Her husband, Miguel, died several years ago leaving her with two little ones and no resources.  She does what she must to feed her family.”  He smiled at them.  “After all, did not our Lord Jesus befriend Magdalena?  Did He not say ‘he who is without sin…?  It is not our place to judge; it is God’s.  I’m sure, with your backgrounds, you two understand this.”


The two stiffened.  


After a pause, Heyes spoke, “Father, I’m sure we both appreciate your intervention, but could you tell us what this is about?  My friend here and I just arrived this morning; we have no idea why these people want to hang us.”


“Yeah, what’s this about missin’ children?”


The old man spoke softly, a frown adding even more wrinkles to his forehead.  “Last night, late, as Elana said, two men – strangers – came to town.  Tomás Ochoa, when he arose this morning, called to his children, but they did not come.  He looked, and they were gone.  Tomás and his wife searched everywhere but could find no trace.  The other townspeople searched the town, but found no sign of little Mirin or Josu.”


“But why would they think we had anythin’ to do with it?”


“My people are isolated here.  They see few strangers.  Four in just a few hours has never happened before.”  The priest shrugged.  “Like many who live in small communities, they gossip.  They heard that Elana had offered her services to two strangers last night late after my flock were in their beds, and they heard that one stranger had blond hair, the other was dark…”  He trailed off and looked at the two.


Heyes considered the man sitting before him.  “But you are not convinced.  Why?”


“I find it is usually correct to believe the best in men.”  He sat and sipped.  Finishing the soup, he placed the cup on the floor and sighed in contentment.  


He stirred and stood.  “I have enjoyed your visit, but I do think it would be best if we parted company now.”


The partners, too, stood looking uncertainly at him and uncomfortably at each other.


“I am just an old man, easily confused after all.  I’m certain such desperate men as you could easily convince me to come close enough that you could overpower me and take the keys.”  He smiled broadly at them then turned his back, with the keys held out in his hand.


Eyebrows raised, the two accepted the invitation.


Afternoon


Heyes straightened and peered intently through the gloom and swirling snow.  “Kid!  Do you see that up there?”


Curry looked over Heyes’ shoulder, following the pointed finger.  “Is that a hut?”


“I don’t know, but we better go see.”  He urged the little party forward towards the low, dark shape.


As they neared it, the hut or whatever it was appeared to be moving, and they could hear the bleating and baaing of sheep.


Heyes laughed.  “Looks like we found both shelter and sheep.”  He urged the tired horse forward.


“Wait, Heyes, listen.”  The Kid whispered urgently.


Heyes pulled the horse up and paused, straining to hear.  He turned toward his friend.  “It couldn’t be, could it?”


“Sure sounds like a couple of kids to me.”


“We don’t want to be found anywhere near those two.  That town’ll kill us for sure.”


“Heyes, we can’t leave them to freeze to death out here, and if they were taken, then they need help.”


“I suppose, and they are in the only shelter we’ve seen and night’s coming on.”


“So get goin’, just do it quietly.”


The horse balked, refusing to carry them into the sheep clustered around the low building they had reached.  They dismounted and hobbled the two horses, then slowly pushed their way through the flock and around the side of the building.  As they did so, they saw that it was not a hut as they’d thought, but a shed with a back wall facing the way they’d come and two half sides.  The rest of the building had a roof but no walls.


They edged closer, hearing hushed sounds.


“Shh, Miri, don’t cry.”


“I’m cold and I’m hungry and I want my mama!”


“I know.  But it’s too dark now and . . . Hush.  Do you hear that?  Quick, Miri, hide in the straw.”


Heyes and Curry stepped around the side wall to be confronted by a small boy, no more than eight years old, holding a heavy stick over his head as a club, standing defiantly before a large metal bin, holding hay.  The two glanced quickly around then held up their hands, smiling.


“Whoa now, boy.  We mean you no harm.”


The child looked from one to the other.


“It’s cold out here, just looking for a little shelter.  You hungry?  We have some jerky.”  The Kid smiled at the boy and slowly lowered his hands.


“That’s better,” Heyes said, also lowering his hands and rubbing them together.  “This isn’t so bad, blocks the wind at least.”  He looked around.  “Mind if we get our things?  Why don’t I do that, Thaddeus, and you can see if you can get a fire started.”  Heyes headed back towards the horses.


“Sure, maybe you could help me twist some of this hay into sticks for the fire.  What’s your name, boy?”


The boy hesitated then lowered his club.  “It’s Josu.  My sister got lost this morning, and I went after her, but…” he trailed off.


“The weather sure did turn bad, didn’t it?  Real smart of you to find shelter.  Where’s your sister?”  The Kid looked around and smiled when he noticed a pair of dark eyes in a grubby face peering out at him from the straw.  He reached into a pocket.  “You know, I think I have some lemon drops.  Would you like one?”


The girl stared solemnly at the lemon drops in his palm and slowly climbed out of the hay to stand next to her brother.  “I’m Miri,” she announced shyly, reaching out for a candy.


“Hello, Miri.  Josu.  I’m Thaddeus Jones, and my partner there,” he paused to indicate Heyes who had just rounded the corner with the horses.  “My partner there is Joshua Smith.  Now let’s see if we can get a spot clear of any straw and keep the sheep away from it long enough to get a fire started.”  He grabbed handfuls of the straw and quickly began plaiting it into tight strands.  When he had enough, he braided the strands together to form loose logs.


“It’s not much, but we should be able to get a little fire goin’.  Mind if I use your stick as well?”  


Josu silently handed him the stick and clumsily began to help make straw logs.


Heyes bustled over and wrapped Miri in one of their blankets then handed Josu the other one.  “Here, you two look like you need these more than we do.”  He squatted and began plaiting straw.


When they had a small pile ready, Heyes and Curry carefully cleared an area and piled several of their straw logs into a tent.  Heyes set a match to the pile and the straw quickly flared.


Miri and Josu, who had been silent up to this moment drew deep breaths and came closer to the small blaze, drawing in its limited warmth.  Their skin still retained a blue tinge.


Heyes walked over to the saddlebags and extracted jerky and a small flask.  He handed each of them a piece of jerky, before he and the Kid took several.  Finally, opening the flask, he poured a small portion into the cap.  “Drink this.  It’ll help warm you up some.”


The children hesitated.  “We’re too young to drink, Mr. Smith,” Josu protested.  


“Not tonight you’re not.”


Josu took a tentative sip and began coughing.  He tried to hand it back, but Heyes refused.  


“I know you don’t like the way it tastes, but you need it tonight.”


Josu sighed, closed his eyes and, grimacing, swallowed the remainder in one big gulp.


The Kid hid his smile and turned to Miri.  “Now your turn, sweetie.”


“I don’t want it.”


“It’s medicine that’ll warm you from the inside.”


Miri looked at Josu, who nodded for her to take it.  Sighing, she reached out and gagged down most of a capful.


The four settled around the fire, Miri curled against Josu.  Josu tried to keep up with Heyes and the Kid as they braided straw to keep the fire going but soon began to lag.  They ignored him, and in a few minutes he was slumbering next to his sister.


“I think they’ll be warmer if we put them in that bin of straw.”


“Don’t wake them.”


“Don’t think I can.”


The Kid picked the two children up and laid them in the bin of straw, making sure they were firmly wrapped in the partners’ blankets, and then covering them with another layer.


He returned to the small fire.


“You know, I’m kinda surprised this fire’s keepin’ us this warm.”


Heyes looked thoughtful.  “Yeah, maybe it’s all these animals crowded around us.”  He looked at the sheep and the two horses that had also sought shelter under the roof of the shed.


The two said little, sharing the flask between them and braiding straw that they slowly fed to the fire.  Finally, Heyes stood and stretched his hands, cramped from hours of braiding straw.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch.  “Midnight.”


“Hmm.”  The Kid looked up and walked to the edge of the shed.  “It’s stopped snowin’.”


Heyes joined him.  “Yeah.  Look you can see the stars.”


“That one sure is bright.”


“Sure is.”


“Well we better get back to the fire.”  The Kid turned back as Heyes continued to stare at the star that outshone all the others in the sky.  


Pausing, the Kid stared at the fire then looked back at Heyes.  “Heyes,”


“Hmm, what?”


“Don’t it seem to you that this fire’s warmer than it should be and that the straw is burnin’ slower than it ought?”


“That don’t make any sense, Kid.”


“That’s my point.”


“It’s your imagination.”  But Heyes turned from his contemplation of the night and joined the Kid by the fire, his brow creased.  He resumed braiding straw.


The baaing and jostling of sheep roused Heyes.  He sat up and saw it was dawn.  Stretching he realized he felt refreshed, far more than he should have.  Turning his attention to the fire, he frowned at the glowing embers still keeping them warm.  He reached to place on the fire the last of the straw logs they’d twisted.  It burst into a bright flame immediately.  Shaking his head he roused the Kid.


“Time to get going.”


Curry sat up, rubbed his eyes, and glanced at the fire before turning wondering eyes to Heyes.  “You stay up feedin’ it?”


“No.”


The two stared at each other and in unison turned to the fire.


Shaking his head, the Kid stood, stretching.  “Guess we gotta get those two back to that town.”


Heyes frowned and sighed.  “I guess.  Maybe we can leave them on the outskirts and get out of there before anyone realizes it’s us.”


“Maybe.”


Mid-morning


The outline of the town rose from the snow-covered plain, shining in the morning sun.  Heyes and the Kid stopped their horses.  Curry rode with Miri sitting before him on his, no longer lame, horse.  Josu rode with Heyes.


“Okay, sweetheart, it’s time to get down.  You and Josu should be able to walk to town yourselves.”


Josu turned to look at Heyes and at his nod, slowly climbed down, turning to hand the blanket back to Heyes.  “Thank you.  Come on, Miri.”


“No,” Miri cried, burying her face in Curry’s jacket.  “Not till I find my mama.”  She clung to Curry and refused to budge.


The partners exchanged grimaces and shrugs.  His face set, Heyes reached down to help Josu back up.  The small group rode into the town, Curry’s free hand twitched over his gun handle.


As they entered the town a gasp arose from the lone inhabitant.  He ran into the church.  Suddenly a bell rang joyously, and people poured from the church, circling the horses and exclaiming.


“Mama!” Miri shrieked, struggling to free herself from the blanket encompassing her and falling into the arms of a woman who had rushed up to Curry’s horse.


Josu quickly jumped from Heyes horse and ran to his father, who stared then started and swept him into a bear hug.  “Papa, Miri got lost, and . . .  and . . .  Anyway, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones found us and saved us.”


Tomás Ochoa looked over his head at the two.  “Bless you, bless you.”


The little priest pushed his way through the crowd; he watched the little family’s reunion then turned to the two sitting warily on horseback. “As I said, I find it correct to think the best of people.  After all, our Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.  Please join us, you have turned today from a day of mourning to a true celebration of Christmas.”


“Christmas?” Heyes said, startled.


“Yes, did you not know what day today is?  The day our savior was born.  How fitting to have you in our midst today.”


Later


The partners sat back, replete from the feast, tired, hands sore from shaking the hands of the townspeople as they came to thank them.  Heyes turned to the little priest by his side.  “Father, I have one question.”


“Yes?”


“What is the name of this town?  The sign is too faded to read.”


The priest smiled.  “It’s Belén.  You would call it Bethlehem.”
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?   Tue Dec 23, 2014 11:38 pm

Percy trotted down the well packed snow covered road leading into the Jordan's main yard. He was tossing his head in his excitement of being out for a brisk, crisp ride on this wintery Christmas Eve day. The sky was overcast and the air held the tingle of snow but that just added to the festive spirit and Percy wasn't immune to it by any means. The sleigh he pulled was laced with bells and his humans were laughing and singing Christmas carols in time with the jingling of the harness.


The gray gelding snorted and then nickered playfully at the horses out in the pasture and they in turn, kicked up their heels and trotted along beside the new arrivals and sent out their own greetings.


The dogs were next to get into the act and Allie came galloping out of the barn, barking joyously with tail wagging and tongue lolling. She danced and jumped around in front of Percy who tucked his head and tried to avoid trampling her then gave it up and left it up to her to stay out from under his hooves.


Hannibal pulled the sleigh to a halt at the barn door and Ben appeared to take hold of Percy's head.


“Merry Christmas Ben!” Hannibal greeted the young man. “Joining us for dinner today?”


“Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. And Mrs. Heyes,” Ben responded. “No sir. As soon as I get your gelding settled here I'll be heading home to spend the rest of the day with my folks.”


“Well that's nice,” Hannibal commented as he stepped around to help his bulky wife down from the conveyance.


Sally scrambled down from her seat in the back and made a run for the front door of the ranch house.


“I don't see a posse, Miss Heyes!” Hannibal called after her. “What's your hurry?”


“Let her be, Hannibal,” Miranda told him as she tried to see the step that she knew was down there somewhere. “You know how much she loves Belle's spiced apple cider.”


“Oh, yeah.” Han smiled with anticipation himself. “Nothing like that hot cider after a chilly ride out from town.” He glanced down at his wife's foot trying to feel its way. “Need some help?”


“I would appreciate it, yes,” Randa commented dryly. “Just manoeuvre my foot onto the step. I can't see it.”


“Oh. Here, put your hands on my shoulders. Okay good. Now just.....you alright?”


“Yes. Oh Percy, stand still!”


“Sorry ma'am!” Ben called from Percy's head. “I guess he's eager to get out with his buddies.”


Heyes leaned down and taking his wife's booted ankle in his hand, he gently guided it down until it rested firmly on the carriage step. Reaching up he took hold on her waist and helped her to reach ground level.

“Oh, thank you,” she said as she straightened her clothing out. “It will be so nice to have my own figure back again.”


“Won't be long now,” Hannibal assured her.


“Easy for you to say!” she teased him.


He gave her a cheeky smile and offering his arm to her, they made their way towards the front porch.


“Jesse! Merry Christmas!” Hannibal called out when he spied their host waiting for them by the door.


“Hello!” Jesse responded. “We thought it might be you when Allie barked, but Sally running full speed towards the cider bowl pretty much confirmed it.”


Heyes smiled and nodded enthusiastically. He wouldn't mind some hot spiced cider himself.


“Do you need some help?” Jesse asked as the couple approached the steps.


“I think I can manage,” Miranda assured him as she grasped the hand railing with her free hand. “One step at a time.”


Hannibal helped his wife navigate the steps and soon they found themselves in the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the large ranch house that both he and Jed still thought of as their home.


“Here, let me take your coats,” Jesse offered as he helped Miranda out of her bulky layers.


Laughter and conversation were ringing from the family room and the couple made their way in to find themselves places to sit and enjoy the company. Sally had put her cup of cider on the table so that she and J.J. could play checkers. Rosie was sitting on the carpet beside them, wanting to join in but not sure how to go about it. Bridget and Steven were sitting by the fire taking turns bouncing Rachel off a knee while Beth with Thaddeus had found a place next to the big, brightly decorated Christmas tree. Young as he was, little T.J. was fascinated by the sparkling bulbs that danced with the reflection of the of the fire playing upon their surfaces. He was giggling with delight and trying to reach out and grab them.


Belle showed up carrying two more cups of cider and handed them over to the two new arrivals just as they were getting settled.


“Here you are,” she smiled with Christmas cheer. “This ought to warm you up. Glad you got here before it started snowing.”


Hannibal stood and gave Belle a kiss on the cheek.


“Merry Christmas,” he told her. “As usual, you've turned this into a perfect day.”


“It's hardly over yet, Joshua!” she teased him. “Let's not jinx it!”


He smiled and gave her another kiss. “Whatever you say.”


He took the offered cider and handing one to his wife, he sat back down to enjoy the warmth of the gathering.


“Thank you Belle,” Miranda said. “You make the best spiced cider.”


Belle smiled with pleasure. “My grandmother brought the recipe with her from England. It is nice, isn't it?”


Everyone agreed and then proceeded to tap cups with companions who were within reach in a toast to the hostess.


Belle laughed at their antics as she headed back to the kitchen. “Dinner will be awhile yet,” she stated over her shoulder. “So help yourselves to the goodies!”


Hannibal snatched himself a small piece of fruit cake then glanced around the gathering to take note of someone's absence.


“Where's Jed?” he asked Beth. “Don't tell me he's in the kitchen 'helping' Belle with the bird!”


“Oh no!” Beth laughed. “He still had some things to do at home so he sent me and Thaddeus along ahead of him in the sleigh just in case it started snowing. He'll be along.”


“Oh,” Heyes thought about that. “Well, I wonder if I should go meet him.”


“We just got here!” Miranda complained. “You've barely had a chance to warm up.”


“I know,” Heyes agreed. “I'll finish my cider and have another piece of cake. You don't mind do you?”


“Oh, I suppose not,” Miranda gave in. “You and that cousin of yours. I swear you're joined at the hip.”


Hannibal smiled and gave his wife a kiss. “I won't be gone long.”




Jesse had suggested that Heyes take the paint gelding, Spike on his little rendezvous as that fellow hadn't had much exercise of late and could do with an outing. Jesse had been right too. The gelding was eager to pick up a quick gait even leaving the barn and once warmed up was happy to get into a lope and stay with it for the duration.


Heyes had timed the ride well. About half a mile away from the Curry residence, Heyes spotted his cousin riding towards him. As soon as Jed saw him, he took off his hat and waved it in the air.


“Hello!!” came the distant greeting.


Heyes grinned and returning the wave, asked Spike for a longer stride and the two friends met up just as the snow began to fall.


“Hey Partner!” Heyes greeted him.


“Heyes, what are ya' doin'?” Jed asked him playfully. “House full 'a kids got ya' feelin' antsy?”


“No, no,” Heyes denied. “Just wanted to make sure you didn't get lost.”


“Well that's right neighbourly of ya'.”


“It's the least I can do on Christmas.”


“Uh huh. Haven't seen ya' in a few days. Everything okay?”


“Sure,” Heyes responded. “Why wouldn't it be?”


“Heyes, remember who you're talkin' to,” Kid griped. “You always get a little melancholy this time 'a year. So, I'm just askin'. Everything okay?”


“Yeah,” Heyes nodded.


The two men rode on in silence for a moment, the falling snow giving the ride a whimsical, almost fairy tale ambiance to it. Both horses were happily jogging along, tossing their heads and blowing steam from their nostrils. Life was good. Jed waited for more.


“I got to thinking,” Heyes finally continued.


“Uh huh.”


“Just what have we done over this past year Kid?” he asked. “I mean, of any real importance.”


“Well, you're out of prison for one thing,” Jed reminded him. “You're not on parole anymore. That's somethin'.”


Heyes shrugged. “Yeah, but those were things that were out of my control. I mean, what have we done, intentionally to make a difference?”


“We tracked down Karma's lineage for Jesse,” Jed carried on down the list. “and we gave Ames and Wheat and Kyle some real jobs to keep 'em out'a trouble.”


“That was last year,” Heyes continued to be a pessimist. “I'm talking about this year.”


Jed heaved a big sigh. “We're taking on two parolees to come work for Jesse in the Spring. That's gotta count for somethin'.”


'That's happening next year,” Heyes pointed out. “What have we actually done this past year that's of any real significance at all?”


“Stayed alive and out of prison?” Jed was starting to get frustrated. “C'mon Heyes. Can't ya' just enjoy the season for what it is and stop tryin' ta' make it into a competition. Why does everything have to be a competition?”


Heyes smiled and nodded. “Yeah, you're right Kid. Let's just enjoy the season. C'mon, this snow is really picking up. Belle's got her famous hot spiced cider waiting for us.”


“Oh!” Jed's eyes lit up. “Say no more Heyes. Let's go!”


Giving the eager horses a nudge, both animals snatched the opportunity and kicking up snow, they powered up into a hand gallop and made short work of the distance to the Double J ranch house.




Once again, stepping through the front door Heyes was met with the warmth and comfort that seemed to come hand in hand within this household. Jed smiled as he felt it too and they quickly dispensed with coats and gloves and hats and boots.


“There you are!” Belle greeted them as she arrived right on time with more cider. “Hello Thaddeus. Here, have some cider. Go warm up by the fire.”


“Yes ma'am,” Jed gave his mother-in-law a kiss on the cheek. “Merry Christmas Belle.”


“Merry Christmas to you too,” she smiled at them. “Now off you go. Your wives are waiting for you.”


The partners stood for a moment, warming their hands on the cups of cider. They sipped the spicy drink while looking into the family room and watching the antics of both the adults and the children.


Beth looked over at them and smiled to her husband. She had T.J. sitting on her knee and he was smiling and giggling at the antics of his uncle and cousins as they played on the carpet. She turned him a little so he could see the front door and as soon as his eyes lit upon his father, he yelled out a happy greeting and raised his hands in an effort to reach him.


Jed laughed.


Hannibal was watching his wife. She had insisted on standing up and getting her own piece of fruit cake and was now doing her best to sit back down again. The decent onto the sofa was awkward at best and her expression was one of grudging acceptance of her situation. Once she was settled, she also looked over towards the front door and caught her husband silently laughing at her. She rolled her eyes and patted the empty space next to her, inviting him to come and re-join the group.


Heyes laughed.


“Heyes...”


“Kid....”


“I know exactly....”


“....what we did this year.”


They grinned at each other, eyes dancing with mischief and tapped their mugs together in a toast to one another.


“Merry Christmas, Hannibal.”


“Merry Christmas, Jed.”
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Nancy Whiskey

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PostSubject: Re: And So This Is Christmas - And What Have You Done?   Fri Dec 26, 2014 4:09 pm

A huge hand firmly planted on the back of the brown haired man and pushed.  "Keep your head bent!"



Heyes had no option but to comply, even though his face was on fire.



"And you ain't helpin'," the baritone now barked at Curry.  "Put that cheroot out and go fetch some wood.  The fire needs stoking."



"Yes, m'am," the Kid quickly obeyed knowing he was better off outside and busy.  Ma Brown was an imposing and statuesque widow.  Single handedly she ran and worked a ranch like a military operation.  She was a shire horse of a woman who was not to be contradicted.  But there was a soft core to the stonewall exterior.  A pussycat with the bark of a pit bull.



The woman noticed again that Heyes was wriggling.  With hands like hams she pushed the head down again towards the large bowl of steaming water, peppered with herbs.  She re-draped the towel over his head.



"It wont work if you don't keep covered."  She busied around the shrouded head, the voice this time had a softer tone, but although hidden from Heyes' eyes he knew she meant business.



"Yes, m'am," came the croaked reply.  Sniff.



The sound of wood being chopped floated in from outside.  "You ain't dyin', son, might feel like you wanna though."  A fruity chortle had replaced the bark.  "It's only a cold, yeah a bad one, but a cold none the less.  What do ya expect when you and your cousin go galivantin' around at all hours after Lord knows who or what."



Curry appeared at the door, "Wood's all chopped, m'am and I've brought a heap in.  It's stacked beside the stove."



The bark returned.  "Good.  I'll be back in a moment with a fresh kettle.  And no smokin'.  He can hardly breath as it is an you come in pollootin'."  The formidable matron fixed the Kid with a gimlet eye and he almost saluted.  And out she bustled, formidable bosom leading the way.



"How are you feeling?"  Kid asked, settling on the bed with outstretched legs.



"How do you think I'm feeling?"  Red swollen eyes appeared from under a towel beneath hair plastered against a florid shiny face.



"Ma Brown said it was only a cold."  Uttered the Kid with mock innocence.



"Cold my ....," after a brief but impressive coughing fit Heyes croaked, "this is all your fault.  I had my eye on Peggy, but you had to," cough, sniff, cough, "flash that smile and I got left with her drippy nosed friend!"  Sniff, cough, cough, sniff.



"Her choice," came the quiet, smiling response but it was hidden by another cacophony of vigorous coughing.



Impressive as a galleon Ma Brown sailed back in with a fresh kettle and Heyes settled back down to his towelled prison.  "Thaddeus, draw me some fresh water and head to the cold house.  I need a side of beef bringing in.  What with Christmas in a few days I have a heap of preparing to do."  As he reached the door Ma called, "You'll also find a bottle of whiskey in the dresser.  Bring that too.  I think a hot toddy may be in order, and not just for your coughin' cousin here."



"Yes, m'am!"



 ~ ~ ~



Heyes had finished his broth and unable to protest, with a face and throat on fire Ma Brown had made sure he was settled, a hot water-bottle wrapped in a towel tucked in at his feet and a bowl of fresh clear water by his bed.



"You finished the horses?"



"Yes, m'am," the Kid nodded on entering.



"Well, you may as well stay until Christmas.  I have some people coming over, but there is always room for more.  My niece will be here.  A heart of gold, and an eye for a good lookin' man.  Her name's Peggy McGee."  The Kid stopped dead as she turned back to the range to mask a smile at the reaction.  "My late brother's girl."



The blond gunman swallowed slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on Ma and measured every word.  "Yes, m'am, we met her two nights ago at the saloon."  The statement was left hanging in the air.



With a wicked glint she reached for a poker and thrust it into the fire with impressive force.  The voice however was friendly and business like.  "Good, then you won't be strangers at the table."



"No, m'am," came the slow reply.



The poker briefly jabbed at the fair haired man, who instinctively felt for his gun.  "So no funny business under my roof!  Understand?"



"Yes, m'am."



"Good!  Now that is all settled pass me that honey and we'll have that hot toddy."



 ~ ~ ~



Heyes awoke the next morning feeling cooler and stronger.  Best of all he could breath easily and the smell of bacon and biscuits was tempting.  He dressed and followed the scent.



Some green boughs had been brought in and placed decoratively around, with a faded gilded star hanging above the door.  The table was laden and the work-tops covered with pots, pans, bowls.  Heaving with all manner of food, ready to be cooked.  A large bird and beef joint were both expertly trussed up awaiting the oven.



Heyes licked his lips.  "Good morning, m'am.  Thanks for your 'ministerings."



She nodded in acknowledgement plunging a large wooden spoon into a pot and stirred vigorously.



"Have you seen ...?"  But before he could finish the question Ma pointed over to the corner with the spoon.



Hidden behind a large stack of vegetables sat a plaintive figure, hunched beneath a towel over a large bowl of water.  The flushed, puffy face emerged, blond curls streaking down to red tinted accusatory eyes.  The croak was barely audible as Kid sank back below the towel.  "This is Christmas and look what you've done!"

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