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 Heat

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PostSubject: Heat   Wed Jun 01, 2016 12:51 pm

Here is your mission for June, should you wish to accept it.  Write a challange story, between 150 and 4,000 words long on the prompt chosen by Skykomish.  Your topic is: 


roasting hot  HEAT.  beachside




So time for you to get writing, but don't forget to finish up your coments for May before you start.  Late babies need as much love as early ones.


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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Thu Jun 02, 2016 5:48 am

I'm not much of a writer, but another poem came to me:

When the heat comes, it falls

like a blanket over our sensibilities

Folds of feelings smothering our instincts 

In runnels and channels,

in waves of soporific dormancy.

Drowning the mind and intellect

In the deep recesses of my mind I can think only of water.

To find it, to drink it,

to consume so totally that I am immersed in its revivifying depths.

But all there is is desert, death, and dust

clogging, cloying, and choking

Desiccating, depleting, and exsiccating the very life from the man.

He slipped away in a seeping sweat

Poor Seth added more to life than the grinning, smirking sneer

who now relaxed under the chink of glass

and jingling rough music of the saloon

The heat pours into throats and ears

It fills burns lungs with a smothering staleness.

But it does not blot out the anger and hate

The buckled-up discontent comes in bursts

And chests rise in righteous fury

but the aim is sure,

one step at a time,

taking them closer to the smiling man

who would find the smile wither an die.

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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Fri Jun 17, 2016 9:33 pm

A trickle of sweat rolled slowly down the flesh of his bare back, gathering momentum from the droplets it picked up in on its journey over the muscles rippling under the silky skin.  She couldn’t help herself; she leaned over and deftly ran velvet cheek lips over the dewy back, drinking in the male essence and savoring the salty whisper of her kiss.  He turned.  “Hey, I’m tryin’ to work here.”
She merely gave a saucy flick of her head and turned away, but her dark eyes twinkled with mischief, betraying the roguish playfulness which cut through her high breeding.  He shook his head, the curls plastered to his forehead in the stultifying heat.  “Let me get this finished, will you?  Then we can go down to the creek.  Sheesh, you females are the worst.  This heat gets you all fresh and uppity.”

He thrust the pitchfork into the pile of straw but stopped, a smile twitching reluctantly at his lips at the gentle nudge, and the feeling of her hot breath on the nape of his neck.  “Stop that.”

The lips slid around to nuzzle and nibble at his ear, causing him to twist his neck into the mushing lips.  “Stop it, Maggie.”

Maggie was not to be so easily put off.  Her tongue flickered over the fleshy lobe and heaved a deep breathy sigh before he was pushed towards the barn door more insistently.  The water from the creek glittered in blinding diamonds against the blue as the gushing and gurgling rush of the water promised a cooling refreshing flush of crystal chill.  His gaze slid between her and the inviting rush.  “You wanna go in, huh?”  The nodding head made his smile widen.  “Well, come on.  Fancy a swim?  I could so with one too.”
The nodding head confirmed that was exactly what she wanted.  “Come on.  I can clear up here later when it’s cooler.” 

He grabbed a halter, but she was too quick for him.  Maggie was already running down to the creek, raising frills of white water as she splashed and frolicked.

Hannibal Heyes approached his grinning partner and leaned on the handle of his pitchfork.   “She’s one ornery mare, Kid.”

“Yeah, she is.”  The men shared a sparkling laugh as they watched the horse dance and play.  “Ain’t she great?”
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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Wed Jun 29, 2016 1:47 am

Solitaire

This is for all the lonely people, thinking that life has passed them by,
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup, and ride that highway in the sky.

  ~from Lonely People, Dan and Catherine Peek, 1974

Shadows dripped from every corner of the room.  Light diffused around the edges of the drawn shade, hinting at a still wondrous late afternoon sun.  The open window let in the heat of the day but did nothing to warm the coolness within.  She faced him.

“I don’t invite just anyone up here, you know.”

“So why me?”

“You seemed like you could use some company.”

Jed “Kid” Curry’s eyes narrowed.  “Because I was drinkin’ alone?”

Her lids half sagged, the weight of yet another explanation already taking its toll before she could close the deal.  “I’ll treat you real good.  Lord knows I have the experience.”

The blue eyes sipped a glance, rather than drink a longer view.  “What’re you doin’ this for?  Better to be bakin’ cookies for your grandkids.”

She drew close.  Too close.  Her hand found his cheek.  He stepped back.

“What’s the matter?  Only some young looker will do?”  She approached again.  

He grabbed her arm.  “Look, really, don’t you have somewhere else to be?”  His back now at the dresser, he stood looking at her, the stare the opposite of what his adversaries feared.  His voice dropped.  “I didn’t come up here to do what you’re thinkin’.”

Eyes of a sudden wide with rage, she stepped back.  “Then why?”

His voice remained steady.  “Because you said you wanted to talk.”  He smiled.  “I’m a good listener and have nothin’ better to do right now.”

“So you can mock an old floozie who’s seen better days?”  She turned toward the window, gesturing to the street below.  “All those supposedly good people of this town judge enough.  I don’t need it from customers.”

He remained where he stood.  “I’m not judgin’.  But I’m not a customer, either.”

Her eyes burned courses his way.  “Save your petty talk for the young, pretty ones.  I suppose they’d appreciate it more, if they understood what it meant.”  She paused, her mind churning.

“Look, like I said, I thought you wanted to talk, and I had the time.”  He looked away a moment before facing her again.  “I’ve seen what somebody judgin’ somebody else can do, and it’s not pretty.”  He withdrew his billfold from his pocket.  

Light replaced the suppressed rage on her countenance.  “That’s more like it.  You won’t regret it.”

“I ain’t changed my mind.”  Curry placed a twenty-dollar note on the dresser.  “You need money?  I can spare some.”  He replaced the wallet in his pocket and turned toward the door.  “I gotta go.”

“Wait!”  The plaintiveness of her voice stopped him.  “I am not a charity case.  I work for my pay.”

He half looked over his shoulder.  “Fine.  But, why this?  You speak too good to be in a saloon.”

Her eyes dropped to the floor.  “I was a teacher back East but lost my job when the school burned down.”  She looked up.  “Then I took a position as a private tutor and companion for a girl whose mother died and came West with the family when they settled in San Francisco.  When my charge turned 16, her father arranged a grand tour of Europe for her with her aunt as chaperone, and I was dismissed.”

Curry’s gaze stayed with her.

She continued.  “Since then, I have had the misfortune of not finding suitable employment.  Small town school boards will hire local girls to teach around farming cycles, and larger towns and cities want male tutors.  Occasionally, a doting school board member will champion an accomplished young woman for hire, more with an eye toward a future daughter-in-law, and looks matter in those cases.  No one wants a dried-up old prune.”  Realization hit.  She straightened, her head high.  “But, there I go again, sounding pitiful and feeling sorry for myself.  Please forgive me.”  She sighed.  “So, I do what I have to do to eat and keep a roof over my head.  The boardinghouse is modest but clean.  The lady who runs it feels sorry for me, I suppose, but pity is the last thing I want, or need.  Until I can procure a position somewhere, I have no other options.”

Curry shrugged.  “Cookin’?  Cleanin’?”

She laughed a mean streak, startling him.  “Young man, my nose was always in my books.  I did not learn to keep a house like other girls.  First and foremost, I sought to educate – myself and others.  I know how do to very little else.”

He thought a moment.  “I have a friend in San Francisco who might know families needin’ a teacher for their daughters.  I could get in touch …”

“No, that won’t do!”

He blinked at her sudden outburst.  She took a deep breath, smoothing her bar-room attire.

“I am sorry.  I am jumpy at times.”  She paused, resolute.  “Thank you for your kind consideration, but I shall not return to San Francisco.  The experience was … well, I would rather not get into that.”

“Ma’am?”

She waved him off.  “Never mind.”

Perspiration rising on his neck, he grabbed at his collar, only to find it unbuttoned.  Tension hung like a heavy curtain.  He wore a wry smile.  With his knife he would cut through it if he thought it would open her eyes, but that was a losing battle and he needed to stem his losses.  He turned once more, his hand on the door knob.  “Sorry for your troubles, ma’am.  I gotta go.”

“Wait.  Please?”

He sighed, dropped his head in resignation.  “Ma’am?”

She slinked the few steps to him, wrapped an arm sinuously around him, and pressed into his back.  “Let me …” she breathed.

He stiffened.  Her hands wandered over his person, played at the gloves hanging on his gun belt.  A lightning quick hand grasped hers, plying it away.  He turned.  “Look, ma’am.  I told you, I’m sorry for your troubles.  This isn’t right.”

Opening the door, he disappeared without a backward glance.  

She hurtled herself to the dresser and grabbed the twenty-dollar note, throwing it after him.

-***-

Curry descended the stairs, in no hurry, lost in thought.  He wiped at the beads of sweat on his brow, expected for indoors in Arizona in June, or maybe an uncomfortable reminder of an encounter he would rather forget.  Heading straight to the bar, he signalled for a beer.  Sippus interruptus, he spit out the brew as a blow hit his back.

“Nice to know you’re choked up to see me!”

A dimpled grin caught Curry’s bleary-eyed glance.  “Hey …”

Hannibal Heyes raised a brow and lowered his voice.  “Joshua!”

“I know.”  Kid rested an elbow on the bar, sinking his head into a raised hand.  “Sorry.”

“S’okay.”  Brown eyes twinkled, the voice still quiet.  “Saw you come down.  You look exhausted.”  Heyes winked.  “Didn’t have to leave on my account.”

Curry side-eyed his partner.  “You don’t know the half of it.”  He paused.  “How’d the delivery go?”

“Good.  Don’t change the subject.”

Kid sighed and shook his head.

Heyes leaned in close.  “That good?”

Curry bored a look into him.  “We just talked.”

“Talked?  Do tell.”

“I did.”  Kid grabbed his beer.  “Don’t you have poker to play?”

Heyes grabbed at his own mug.  “There you go changing the subject again.  Talked, huh?”

“Yeah.  You’d get along real good,” Curry deadpanned.

Heyes smiled.  “More like you and the needy.”

The steps creaked.  Heyes looked up to see a wizened blonde tinged with grey descend the staircase.  The spangled dress looked odd on her, as did the proud smile she wore with it.  Shouldn’t she be …?

Another creak.  She stared at Kid.  He focused on his beer.  Heyes caught a reluctance from his partner and looked at her again.  She caught his eye and winked.  The brown eyes went wide.

The partners’ eyes met.  Heyes opened his mouth.  Nothing came out.

Curry stared hard, daring the silver tongue.  “Joshua …”

Heyes grabbed his beer.  “Time for poker.”

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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Thu Jun 30, 2016 10:23 am

Heat stroke

The wavering, shimmering heat cut across the quivering shades rising over the brow of the hill on the road into town.  The boy backhanded away his dripping sweat and blinked into the silvering haze, trying to decide how many there were.  Two?  Or one with his own mirage?  Was the stultifying heat playing games with his dehydrated mind?  No; there were two figures, elongated and flickering in the miasma, approaching in the slow sedate pace you’d expect in this climate. 


One of the stick figures raised an arm which appeared to break and blink in the iridescent coruscation.  Was he waving?  The boy narrowed his eyes under the shade of an already-calloused hand.  No, he had removed his black hat and seemed to be wiping his brow.  Was it them?  Had they come?  The lad dropped his rake and ran in the direction of the little wooden house at the end of the field.  “Ma!  Ma...they’ve come.  Just like pa said they would.  Everythin’ gonna be alright.”


oooOOOooo


The horsemen drew to a halt at the crossroads, the fair one frowning down at the boy dancing from foot to foot in excitement.  “It’s this way, mister.”


“To Comfort?”  The man in the black hat frowned.  “The sign said the town was straight on.”


“Yeah, but the farm’s down here and Ma’s expectin’ you.  She’s makin’ you dinner and said to bring you and show you the bunkhouse.”  The lad’s face spread into a freckled grin.  “We’re real glad to see you here at last.  We need the help.  Ma’s desperate.”


“Dinner?  Bunkhouse?”  the fair man turned a questioning gaze on his companion.  “Exactly how much have we got to buy dinner, Joshua?”


“Fifty six cents,” the dark man replied tersely.  He turned back to the child.  “We’re not the men you’re expecting.  We don’t know anything about any jobs.”


“Oh!”  The boy’s hazel eyes glittered with tears of disappointment.  “But pa promised he’ send someone to help us when he went to jail.  He promised, and pa ain’t never lied to me.  We can’t manage.”  His shoulders slumped.  “This’ll break Ma.  She can’t keep the place goin’ without no help.”


“Well, if your pa said he’d find someone, I’m sure he will,” Heyes shrugged.  “It just isn’t us.”


“Why can’t we go and see if we can help the lady until the real fellas turn up?  She’s clearly strugglin’ and we need jobs.”  The blue eyes narrowed and fixed on his partners.  “Fifty six cents, Joshua.  Why don’t we at least ask?”


The dark man paused, deep in thought.  “What’s your pa in jail for?”


“He hit Roeburn right in the face in front of the sheriff.  Roeburn dammed the river and starved us of water so he was desperate.  Please, mister.  Just come and see Ma.  She needs help.  Just come.  Huh, mister?”


The men exchanged a conversation in a glance.  “What’s your name?” asked the dark man.


“Jared.  What’s yours?”


“I’m Joshua Smith and this is Thaddeus Jones.”  He nodded off towards the farmhouse.  “Do you want join me up here?  We can ride double and get there quicker.”


oooOOOooo


The tiny woman appeared to have been carved from seasoned oak.  Her knotted face was as brown as a nut and years of hard labor had left the thin arms stiff and gnarled with tendrils of sinuous brawn even when at rest.  She was as hard as the life that fashioned her and the tanned face which merged into the very land she worked showed the self-same wrinkles and crevices.  She smiled, her dun eyes gleaming.  “Welcome.  I’m sure glad to see you.  Hank told us he’d get us some help, but it looks like he’s done us proud.  Jessica Martin’s the name.  I see you met Jared.”

The boy jumped down and scampered towards his mother.  They ain’t the men, Ma.  They said they might help until the other fellas arrive though.”
Jessica’s brows met in a frown.  “Not the men?”  Her eyes fixed on the tied down guns.  “Who are you and what do you want?”

“Thaddeus Jones and Joshua Smith.”  The Kid dismounted and led his horse over to the well.  “The boy put it as well as I could, ma’am.  He stopped us up on the road and asked us to help you out because you were desperate.  We find ourselves between jobs at the moment.  If you want help, we’re happy to fill in until your husband’s friends arrive.  If not, we’ll move right on into town.  Any chance of some water for the horses in any case?  It’s real hot out.”


“Help yourself.  It’s the only water we got because Roeburn can’t cut that off, but we can’t get it out to the fields.  It’s the only think keepin’ body and soul together.  What line of work did you say you were in?”


“We didn’t, Mrs. Martin.”  Heyes responded.  “We usually work in security, but we’ll turn a hand to anything that pays, a long as it’s honest.  You need farm hands?”


“Yeah, Hank really didn’t send you, did he?  I need more than farmhands.  I need someone to negotiate with Roseburn.  That well doesn’t water the fields, and with no crops I’m gonna have to give in and accept his offer.”


“Offer?” Heyes interest was suddenly piqued.


“Yeah, he wants to buy this place out, and when Hank refused he dammed up the river to starve us out.”


“He did?” The Kid paused, ignoring the probing glare from his partner.  “He can’t take no for an answer, huh?”


“We’re not here to take sides in any dispute, ma’am,” Heyes cut in.


“Fifty six cents,” the Kid hissed.  “What’s that gonna buy?”


“...but if you want help around the farm for a few days, we’re your men,” Heyes smiled. 


“I can’t pay,” Jessica shrugged.  “It’ll be just bed and board.  Hank was getting’ old pals to help us out.  They owed him, he said.”


“Well, bed and board sounds good enough for me, ma’am,” the Kid delivered his most gracious smile.  “We ain’t exactly flush at the moment.  We’d be grateful enough for that while we find somethin’ else, and that should give your husband’s friends time to get here.  We’re most grateful.”


oooOOOooo


“How many times have I told ya to git?” demanded the barman to the little man at the end of the bar.  “We don’t serve your type here.”


Two sets of eyes locked instantly on the slight, but upright figure in the ragged but brightly-colored shirt, staring at the barman with eyes as dark and hard as wet pebbles.  The lined, brown skin and the braids decorated by beaded bands marked him out as much as the high cheekbones and heavily accented speech.  “Ma said my money was good here.  Ma said I can buy whiskey.”


“Yeah?  Well Ma ain’t here.”  The barman leaned on the counter.  “I told you I ain’t servin’ you.  Now git!”       


“I got money.”  The man insisted, banging coins on the bar top.  “I drank here.  I want whiskey.”


“I don’t sell no whiskey to injuns.”  The money was slid back to the ragged man.  “Want me to throw you out?”


Heyes rolled his eyes as the legs of the chair next to him scraped back on the wooden floorboards, but he stood to support his partner who strolled over to the bar with a deceptively casual air.


“I want to speak to Ma.  She said I could buy whiskey here,” the little man insisted in his clipped articulation.  “My money is as good as anyone else’s.”


“Yeah, where’d you get money?  Did you steal it?”


“I earned it fair and square.  I showed strangers around.  They’re doing some kind of survey for the government.”     


The barman snarled and reached under the bar to grab something as yet unseen as the Kid’s voice drifted over to the arguing pair.  “Is there really any need for that, friend?” 


There was a frigid quality to the voice which gave the server pause.   He hesitated under the glacial gaze his hand still under the counter.  “What’s it to you?”


Heyes stepped forward and dropped some coins which rolled and rang on the polished wood.  “A bottle of tongue oil and three glasses.”  He smiled broadly.  “Please”


The man’s eyes narrowed, looking between the two ex-outlaws.  “Is that extra glass for him?  I told you.  I ain’t sellin’ to him.”


“You’re not selling to him.  You’re selling to me.  What I choose to do with it after that is none of your business.  The man seems pretty sure that the owner lets him buy here, so it seems to be just you who has a problem with it.”  


The native nodded.  “I drink here.  He’s too scared to do this when his Ma is here.”


The barman glanced back over at the steely glint in the blue eyes before reluctantly standing up straight and reaching for a bottle.  “Make sure he don’t cause not trouble.”    


The Kid gestured with his head towards the table.  “Come on.  You’ll be fine with us


oooOOOooo


“Okomi,” the man held out a callused hand.  “Okomi Sweezy.  Thank you.”  The black eyes glittered with mistrust.  “But why?”


The Kid kicked out a chair.  “Let’s just say we know what it’s like to be unpopular.  Sit down and have a drink.”


Okomi nodded and clipped into the seat.  “You’re strangers in town.”


“Yup,” the fair man replied, apparently refusing to answer the implied question.  “You’re not.  Judgin’ by the way they treated you, I’d rather be a stranger.”


“I’m Hinono'eiteen.  You call that Arapaho.  Okomi means ‘coyote.’”


“Coyote?” laughed Heyes.  “You sound like our kinda fella.  Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.”


“You speak real good English,” grinned the Kid.


“Yeah.  The missionaries beat it into us when we were kids.  Ma said it’d help me to make a living.  She didn’t know the half of it.” the jaw tightened, “but at least us dark ones got to stay with our families.”  He supped deeply at his drink.  “Are you surveying too?”


Heyes’ poured the drinks.  “Surveying for what?”


“Dunno.  They’re just doing some kind of map for the government,” Okomi replied.  “They wanted someone who knew all about the land here. “


“Local men?” asked the Kid.


“Nope.”  Okomi paused.  “Why?”


“We just finished a job,” Heyes cut in.  “It only lasted a couple of days before the fellas we were fillin’ in for turned up.  We managed to get a couple of days pay but that’s about it.  Are they hiring?”


“Dunno.  They moved on out of the area.  Headed west.  Good job too.”  Okomi poured himself a huge drink and slammed it back. “This heat’s gonna break soon.  This place’ll be a mud bath.  Take my advice and move on.  Workin’ here’ll be horrible.  I’m goin’ back to the reservation.”


“It’s going to rain?  How do you know?” Heyes frowned. 


“Rain?  It’s gonna do more than rain.  I know this land.  I know everything about it.  I know how the insects swoop, the birds fly, the locusts sing, and the breeze changes; and every whisper tells me a story.  Trust me.  You did me a favor.  I’ll do you one.  Move south if you want to do any ranching work.”


The partners exchanged a glance.  “Good to know,” murmured the Kid.  “Thanks.” 


“You two have been great.  I gotta go.  I don’t want to cause trouble for you.”  Okomi stood.  “Head south.  This place is about to be one huge puddle.”      


oooOOOooo


The Kid lifted the glass to his lips, the blue eyes fixed on the man in the brown hat staring at them from the end of the bar.  The man pulled himself upright and strode over to the table.  “You two strangers in town?”


“I’m guessin’ you already know that, friend.”


A frown flickered over the man’s face.  “You working out at the Martin place?  She’s sure doin’ well if she can afford four men to work on a place like that.”


“Nope, we heard she was lookin’ for help, but the two men her husband arranged showed up and took them right out from under us.  They’re friends of her husband apparently.  I guess us needing wages can’t compete with pals helping out for nothing,” Heyes replied.  “Seemed decent enough fellas, bought us a drink and gave us some money for starting to clear the place up for her.”  His eyes darkened, “seeing as we can’t afford to buy one for ourselves.”


The man arched a brow.  “You lookin’ for work?  I know a place that’s hirin.’  It strikes me that he’d be interested in a couple of men like you.”


“Yeah?”  Heyes eyes danced.  “We’d be grateful.  It looks like we’re sleepin’ rough tonight.  Where can we find him?”


“His name’s Roseburn and his land is right next to the Martin place.”  He nodded towards the door.  “Although you might not like to work there if you’ve made friends with the Martins.   I saw the two men working for her come into town with you.  That little one sure seemed real familiar with you.”


“Those fellas?”  The Kid grinned.  “Never saw them before in my life.  I think they only brought us into town for a drink to make sure we were off the property.  When can we meet this Roseburn?”


“How about tonight?”  The man extended a hand.  “The name’s Smart.  Bob Smart.  I’m Roseburn’s charge hand.  If you fancy coming out to the ranch I think I can promise you a bed for tonight in the bunk house for your trouble.”


The Kid rammed back his drink, his chair scraping the wooden floorboards as he stood.  “What are we waitin’ for?  Right now we’re facin’ a choice between a bed and a meal.  Sounds like we can have both.”


oooOOOooo


Roseburn swiveled around in his leather chair to greet the new comers.  His grey eyes narrowed at the smiles which belied the tied down guns and the confident stance of the two men across the desk.  “Smart says you worked for Martin?” 


“Nope,” Heyes replied.  “We tried to work for Mrs. Martin, but her husband had already sent a couple of his friends to look after her.  We were out of luck and headed to town.”


“We figured we’d just keep on passin’ through,” added the Kid, “until we met your man here.”


Roseburn swiped the crumbling cigar ash from his extravagant waistcoat.  “You two don’t look you’re your average drifters.”


“We’re not.  We’re on our way to a job in Porterville, but we need to pay our way.”  Heyes eyes gleamed with mischief.  “You don’t look like your average rancher.”

Roseburn’s chin raised in challenge.  “I’m not.  I’m running for mayor and certain to win.  This town’s really going places.  You might want to stick around.”

“Yeah, it’s a bit off the beaten track for us,” The Kid replied.  “We’re on our way to a job but it doesn’t start for a couple of months so we’re kind of strapped for cash until then.  Do you need some short term labor?”


“It won’t be a backwater for long.  This time next year the place’ll be twice this size.”


Heyes’ brow creased in curiosity.   “Yeah?  Something big happening?”


“Well nothing I can talk about, but you might want to stick around if you want a place with a future. There’ll be money to be made, that’s for sure.”


“Sir, all we really want to know is if you can offer us work right now.”  Heyes’ cheeks dimpled.  “It’s great that you are so enthusiastic about your home town and all, but we’re kinda tired of sleeping rough and eating what we can catch.”


“I need a couple of men to watch a dam I had built.”  The grey eyes scrutinized both men.  “Day and night.  I got a feeling that Martin hired those two men to knock it down.”


Heyes shifted his weight from one leg to the other.  “Why did you built a dam?”


“That’s none of your business,” barked Roseburn.  “All I need is for you to guard it to make sure it stays where it is.  Is that gonna be a problem?  If it is I ain’t got work for you here.”


“No problem at all,” the Kid replied, fixing Roseburn with a steely gaze.  “Nobody is goin’ to move that dam.  Not while we’re watching it.  I’ll make sure of it.”



To be continued...

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MoulinP

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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:59 pm

With apologies for borrowing Ronnie Barker's broom joke ....

Heat

The Kid picked up the coffee pot and poured.


“Heyes, d’ya want some coffee?”


No answer.


The Kid looked round. Heyes was sitting at the table deeply engrossed in a book propped up in front of him. There was a big stack of other books at his elbow and there were several more on the table, face down and open at various places. Every now and then, he scribbling on a pad.


“Heyes?”


A grunt.


“D’ya want some coffee?” the Kid asked louder.


Another grunt.


“Is that a yes or a no?”


Ambiguous grunt.


The Kid rolled his eyes. “Okay,” he sighed. “Try this. One grunt for yes, two grunts for no.”


Different noise, one of discovery.


The Kid replaced the coffee pot. “I give up.”

He shook his head and walked passed the studious Heyes to the door. “I’m goin’ over to the bunkhouse. Play poker with the boys. Wanna come?”


“Awh, mmmm, er? Oh. No coffee for me,” mumbled Heyes.


The Kid backed out of the door with his eyes wide and left the cabin.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



After a lively evening in the bunkhouse with the boys, drinking whiskey and playing cards, the Kid weaved his way back to the leader’s cabin in the early hours. As he clattered in, he was surprised to see Heyes sitting at the table exactly where he’d left him.


“You ain’t still sittin’ there are ya?” he asked slurringly obvious.


“Must look like it.”


“What ya doin’?” The Kid came and swayed next to the table. He leant over to peer at the book, releasing noxious breath over Heyes.


“Aggh! Go away!” Heyes flicked him away. “How much ya had to drink? An’ you’ve been smoking those cigars Wheat’s brother sent at Christmas!” Heyes fanned his face in disgust.


“S’nothin’ wrong with ‘em,” the Kid protested.


“Nothing right with ‘em either!”


“C’mon, let me see what ya doing.” The Kid picked up a book, held the spine facing him and then at arm’s length trying to focus on the title. “Me … met …” A blink and more swaying. “Met …al … ur … gy. Meta … lur …gy!”


“Yes. Metallurgy.” Heyes took the book back smoothly as it was about to fall from the hands of the rapidly spiralling Kid, who collapsed awkwardly into an easy chair.


“What’s it ‘bout?” the Kid asked, apparently unaware that he was no longer on his feet.


Heyes gave him a look of disdain and didn’t answer.


“What’s it ‘bout?” The Kid was louder.


“It’s a part of science concerned with the properties of metal and its production.”


The Kid grunted. “Not much of a plot.”


Heyes rolled his eyes and shook his head. He looked at his work, sadly. He hated needless interruptions. He was on to something. He knew it. By the time, he looked back at the Kid, that man was asleep with his head on his hand.


Heyes sighed, smacked his lips and got up. From the Kid’s bedroom, he retrieved the quilt from his bed and draped it over him.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The next morning, the Kid woke with a hangover the size of Texas, a mouth like a dried up river bed and stiff from sleeping in the chair all night. He moved his legs gingerly and pushed back the quilt. The room was empty although the table was still full of whatever Heyes was doing. Groaning the Kid got up, stretched the kinks out of his back and headed for his room. On the way, he passed the open door of Heyes’ room. Heyes wasn’t there either. The Kid shrugged and collapsed on his bed fully clothed. He was asleep again in moments.


Meanwhile Heyes was poking around in the old disused blacksmith shed. The forge inside hadn’t been used for years and the shed had become the Gang’s unofficial dumping ground. Heyes was clearing a path so he could look at the forge. Anything in his way was flying out of the door behind him.


Across the yard, Wheat stood on the bunkhouse porch, watching. The noise of clanging, thudding, clinking etc. soon attracted the rest of the Gang to join him.


“What in tarnation is goin’ on?” Lobo asked, struggling out of the door, pulling his suspenders over his Henley.


“We under attack?” Tate cried, still in his long johns but gun in hand.


“Nah! By the looks of it I’d say Heyes is spring cleanin’,” Wheat sniffed.


“Sheesh! He’s ‘bout two months early,” said Kyle, hitching his pants.


An odd collection of items was beginning to accumulate in the yard. A campanology set with the smallest hand bell missing, old newspapers, boxes, tins of paint (really?), a broken window frame, a three legged chair, and loose bedsprings. The last causing howls of laughter from the bystanders as Heyes scooted after them as they bounced away from him. Before finally juggling them into obedience. A baby carriage (why?) flew to the top of the rapidly growing pile. Half a stagecoach wheel (again why?) followed it. The dead plant called Terry that Kyle had lovingly nurtured until finally forgetting to water. Heyes heaved out twelve crates of empty whiskey bottles, false smiled at his audience, gave them a hard look and disappeared inside again.


“Think he wants us to help?” Kyle asked uncertainly.


Wheat leaned back against the bunkhouse wall and folded his arms.


“Nah! He’s enjoyin’ himself. We’d jus’ be spoilin’ his fun if’n we went an’ helped out. Oh! So that’s where that went.” Wheat crossed the yard quickly and retrieved a broken broom handle, complete with brush head. He returned with one in each hand. “S’good broom this. Only had two new handles and four new heads,” he mused, looking to reunite them.


Much later ….


A now sweaty, grimy and out of breath Heyes reached where he wanted to be. He stood hands on hips and puffed as he considered. The buried forge was not in as bad a condition as he thought it might be. Perhaps all the detritus he had hefted out of the way had actually protected it.


The fire hearth stood in the centre of the wooden building, the brick built chimney rising above it. A set of large double doors stood closed and barred opposite the yard door. In front of the hearth still stood the anvil, tongs and hammers ready for use. To one side was a bench, yet to be uncovered, but likely containing other blacksmithing tools. Heyes leant over and peered up the chimney. Yep he could just make out daylight but no doubt, the chimney would need a good sweep before use. He straightened up coughing from inhaling the old coal dust, smearing some over his cheek. He contemplated the hearth once more, gave a deep sigh and inadvertently rubbing more coal dust over his chin as he continued his contemplation.


“I reckon that’ll do,” he muttered and strolled outside purposefully.


To find the Gang had made themselves comfortable on the bunkhouse porch, reclining in chairs in the sun.


“Ain’t ya got anything to do?” Heyes asked, irritably.


“Nope,” smirked Wheat, seeing Heyes’ blackened state. “We’ve been watchin’ the entertainment.”


The boys sniggered.


Knowing he was the recipient of their mirth, he gave them his best Hannibal Heyes look. “Well get this … .”  What could he call it? “Jus’ tidy up!” He waved a hand over the pile and stalked off back to the leader’s cabin. Suddenly he turned. “An’ DON’T put it back in there!” He pointed at the shed.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Back in the Land of Nod, the Kid was blissfully unaware his slumbers were about to be interrupted. When Heyes discovered just how filthy he was when he smeared coal dust over his books. Muttering curses, he pumped water into the sink and washed his hands.


The Kid lay where he was, listening. Did he get up and enquire? Would it be best to lay where he was until Heyes went out again? Finally, curiosity got the better of him. With a grunt, he got up. He staggered to the door and poked his head round.


“D’ya mind keeping it down out there? Some folks are trying to sleep!”


Heyes spun round, wiping coal dust over a towel. He grunted at seeing it. He hadn’t done such a good job of washing up as he thought.


“Ah! Sleeping Beauty awakes! I was ‘bout to send Kyle inta kiss ya!” Heyes chortled at his little joke. In reply, he received the look.


The Kid came closer and peered at Heyes.


“What’s that on ya face?”


“What? Where?” Heyes went to the mirror above the fireplace. “Ah!” He scrubbed at this face with the towel. “I’ve been busy while ya been sleeping. Clearing out the old blacksmith shed.”


“Why?” The Kid was immediately suspicious. When Heyes got an idea, it usually only meant one thing. Work for him.


“Figgered we might use it.”


“For what?”


Heyes twitched his head. “Ah, well, I ain’t ready to say but if this works then …” Smug grin. “We might jus’ be able to retire!”


The Kid pulled a face. He’d heard that one before. He waved a hand dismissively and turned back to his bedroom.


“When ya ready to tell me, I’ll be in here sleepin’.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Heyes spent the rest of day in the blacksmith shed making lists. The next morning the Kid found him atop a buckboard heading out.


“Where are you goin’?” he demanded.


“Into Rawlins. I’ve got things to get.”


“Into Rawlins? You can’t get what ya gotta get in Burton Wells?” Burton Wells was the nearest town to the Hole and the Gang members known there. They had an unofficial agreement. As long as they didn’t cause trouble they were free to walk the streets. The bigger town of Rawlins further away was a different matter. The proximity to a gang of notorious outlaws made folks suspicious and the Gang rarely ventured there.


“Nope but I reckon I can in Rawlins.”


The Kid looked at him in silence for a moment. “Want me to come along? Watch ya back?”


Heyes considered and then shook his head. “Nope the two of us together might jus’ make the folks of Rawlins suspicious. This is too important and I’ve gotta job to do. I’ll be a day or two. If I ain’t back say in …” He pursed his lips. “… two days, come looking for me.”


The Kid sighed doubtfully. “Alright Heyes have it your way. I think ya makin’ a mistake goin’ into Rawlins but … it’s your neck.”


“Trust me, Kid. I know what I’m doing,” Heyes assured him and twitched the reins. “See ya, Kid.”


As Heyes trundled away, Wheat stepped onto the porch of the leader’s cabin beside the Kid.


“Where’s he goin’?”


“Sheesh!” The Kid shook his head. “Rawlins he said. He’s got some plan brewin’.”


Wheat looked at him in alarm. “I’ll tell the boys. If we light out now we’ll be gone by the time he gets back.” He started for the bunkhouse.


The Kid stopped him.


“Now Wheat ya ain’t goin’ nowhere. You dunno what it is yet.”


“Yeah Kid, that’s what worries me! You’ll head out too if ya take my advice.”


“I ain’t gonna run out on my partner. I know he’s a little weird at times but he comes through eventually. Jus’ have a little patience.”


Wheat rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. “Yeah,” he admitted begrudgingly. “But ya gotta admit, Kid. He’s had us doin’ some pretty dumb things. We’s serious outlaws! We’ve gotta reputation to think of!”


“Jus’ wait ‘till Heyes gets back an’ then hear him out.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Heyes was back in two days with a heavily laden buckboard, the contents of mysterious lumps and bumps protected by a tarpaulin. As he came to rest in the middle of the yard, the Gang came out to greet him. Heyes applied the brake with a sigh and climbed down. He was stretching his back with a grimace as they approached him, eyeing the buckboard warily.


“Howdy Heyes,” Kyle greeted with a grin.


“Kyle,” Heyes acknowledged, starting to untie the tarpaulin.


“What ya got there, Heyes?” Kyle was curious to see what was underneath.


“Equipment, Kyle,” Heyes said, brightly, throwing back the cover. “Give a hand, fellas. Put it in the blacksmith shed.”


Heyes walked round the end of the buckboard and up to the Kid. He stood and grinned knowingly, as he stripped off his gloves. The Kid regarded him, warily. He was also unimpressed.


“I’m back.” Heyes waved his hand in front of the Kid’s face.


“So I can see. What …?” The Kid watched in disbelief, at the things the Gang were unloading.

Bellows, large scissor tongs, something that looked like a big beaker, strips of metal – he didn’t know what, leather aprons and gauntlets, sacks of charcoal. Wheat had a leather visor in his hand. He was looking at it suspiciously.


“We’s going on hold-ups in disguise now?”


Heyes rolled his eyes and pointed to the shed. Kyle followed struggling to hold together chimney-sweeping equipment. Heyes smiled as he watched the diminutive man juggle his way to the shed. Shaking his head, he looked back at the Kid.


“D’ya wanna tell me what this is all ‘bout now?”


“Nope.”


Heyes set off for the leader’s cabin. The Kid rolled his eyes and stalked after him.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The next morning found the Gang in the blacksmith shed.


“First thing we’ve gotta do is sweep the chimney. I’ve got these here brushes to do the job. Now I need a couple of ya outside to tell me when ya sees it coming outta the top of the chimney.” Lobo and Preacher, sensing the easier job, scrambled to see who could get outside the fastest.


Heyes shook his head and shuddered.


“Er Heyes I dunno how to break it to ya but I reckon ya have a problem,” Wheat said.


Heyes spun round.


“What’s that, Wheat?”


Wheat was standing by the side of the chimney holding the rod with the brush on the end up against the flue.


“No way that’s gonna reach right to the top.” Wheat chortled. Sure did feel good to get one over on Hannibal Heyes.


Heyes looked at him knowingly. “Well now Wheat that’s jus’ where ya’re wrong. It’ll do the job just fine.” Heyes widened his eyes as Wheat’s face crumpled with incomprehension. “Until recently, in London and the big cities back East, raggedy boys were sent up with a brush.” He spun round. “There ya go Kyle your big moment.” Heyes looked innocently at the Gang’s answer to a raggedy boy.


“I ain’t going up there!” Kyle protested, hitching his pants. He looked from Heyes to Wheat then to the Kid. All three looked serious. “I ain’t,” he added, still unsure.


“C’mon Kyle I’ll give ya a boast,” Wheat said, holding his hands ready to provide the lift.


With a swallow, Kyle started to move forward. Suddenly, Heyes broke into a broad grin; the Kid smiled and shook his head, while Wheat chortled. Heyes slapped Kyle on the shoulder.


“Ya mean ya weren’t really gonna send me up there?”


“Naw! You’d of only got stuck an’ we’d havta leave ya there.” Heyes strolled away leaving Kyle to swallow hard. He wasn’t sure Heyes was entirely joking.


“This is how these work.” Heyes screwed two of the rods together and then added the one with the brush on the end. “This goes up the chimney and ya keep adding more rods to the end as ya push it up until the brush comes out the top.” Heyes looked round at his companions. None looked convinced. “Well let’s give it a whirl huh fellas?” he said, irritably.


Grumbling.


“Heyes this had better be worth it,” the Kid said, passing Heyes another rod.


“Trust me, Kid. Have I ever let ya down?” Heyes straightened, holding his hands out wide.


The Kid gave him the look.


“Jus’ keep screwing the rods together and shoving it up the chimney. I’ll go check on the boys outside.” With a faint smile on his face, Heyes disappeared.


“Still time to light out Kid,” Wheat murmured as together they forced the rods up the chimney.

The Kid just grunted ambiguously.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Sheesh! Kid, what’s with all the smoke?” Wheat coughed as he walked into the leader’s cabin two days later. The Kid and Preacher were at the table sharing a bottle of whiskey.


“Mebbe we got ourselves a new Pope?” Preacher slurred, and hiccupped.


The Kid ignored him as Wheat closed the door and came further in.


“Kid, me an’ the boys hav’ been talkin’ an’ ya gotta talk to him. I mean this is getting’ outta hand. It’s been two days now. All this smoke an’ secrecy. Ain’t natural.”


“He won’t tell me what he’s doin’ Wheat. Ya seen the sign!”


On the door of the blacksmith shed was a No Entry Sign. It had been two days since Heyes had holed himself up in there. Apart from the occasional sound of hammering and other odd noises, the only sign that Heyes was still alive were the emanations from the chimney. The plumes of smoke had varied in their color and density. This morning’s variety was the thickest and most cough making yet.


“I’m tellin’ ya Kid, ya gotta talk to him else me an’ the boys … .”


“What makes you think I can talk to him?” the Kid protested.


“Well you’s Kid Curry. You could shoot him or somethin’.”


“I ain’t shooting my partner!”


Wheat sniffed and shrugged. “Well I’s only meant a little bit. In the leg or somethin’ …” Wheat looked hopeful. “Jus’ enough to … you know …”


The Kid scrapped back his chair suddenly, forcing Wheat to take a step back quickly.


“Okay, Wheat.” The Kid was ominously low as he reached from his hat. “I’ll go talk to him. Tell him how you all feel.” He settled his hat on his head. “I’ll risk getting’ it in the neck for ya but …” The Kid said, menacingly close to Wheat. “I’m tellin’ ya …” The legendary trigger finger jabbed itself into Wheat’s shoulder. “… whatever he’s doin’ in there is a plan an’ he’s workin’ it out. We jus’ need to give him more time.”


Wheat swallowed and reluctantly nodded.


“’Ppreciate ya goin’ in there Kid. On behalf of the boys an’ all.”


The Kid gave him a final look and went.


“Sheesh!” Wheat relaxed when he’d gone. “For a moment there I didn’t think he was goin’.”


“The Good Lord works in mysterious way,” opined Preacher.


Wheat snatched up the bottle of whiskey and took a gulp.


“Yeah and so does Heyes!”


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The Kid thought it only polite that he knock on the door first. When there was no answer, he raised the catch. To his surprise, the door opened. He stuck his head cautiously inside and instantly met a wall of heat so fierce it almost singed his eyebrows.


“Sheesh! Heyes.”


Heyes was standing in front of the fire and looked round. A wide grin spread across his face.


“Ah, Kid! Was jus’ comin’ to get ya.”


“You were?” The Kid came in slowly. The fact that the Kid had violated the No Entry sign without any recriminations was ominous. The Kid proceeded in with caution.


The double doors were open but the heat inside was still unbearable. Heyes was down to his underwear, now black with soot. Over the top, he wore a large leather apron. He beckoned the Kid in further.


“Ya jus’ in time.”


“Yeah? Jus’ in time for what?”


“I need a hand. Grab a pair of those gauntlets. Oh an’ ya might wanna lose the gun. It’s kinda hot in here an’ if that heats up … .” He winced and shook his head.


The Kid hesitated but he had seen the look in Heyes’ eye. This was no time to be arguing or questioning. He knew from experience it was easier to just go along with what Heyes asked. He’d find out later what it was all about. He reached down and untied the thong from his leg.


“Yeah, why is it so hot in here?”


“Ah it’s gotta be the right heat or it won’t work,” Heyes nodded. He stood hands on hips and didn’t seem worried by the heat, wasn’t even sweating. Not like the Kid was beginning to.


“What won’t?”


“Fusion.”


“’Course.” The Kid false smiled at him and shuddered. No idea!


He put his gun belt out of harm’s way and put his hat on top for good measure.
“I’ll explain all in good time but jus’ do as I ask for now. Here.” Heyes threw him another leather

apron. “Best put that on as well.”


With a look, the Kid donned the apron and pulled the gauntlets on. Heyes was poking the fire with a metal rod.


“I reckon this is jus’ ‘bout hot enough to give it a try.”


As the Kid watched, Heyes picked up a strip of reddish metal and dropped it into the big beaker. Using tongs, he positioned this in the fire.


“What’s that?”


“It’s a crucible. For melting metal.”


The Kid gave a nondescript sound.


Heyes pulled on the leather visor and leaned over, watching the metal he had dropped in begin to melt. With a nod of satisfaction, he took a different coloured strip of metal and pushed it towards the fire but not in it.


“Here’s what I’m gonna do …” With a small laugh, he raised the visor so the Kid could now hear him. “When the metal in the crucible has melted, I’m gonna raise the temperature of the fire …”


“Raise it! Sheesh!” The Kid wiped the sweat dripping from his forehead with his forearm.


“Yeah,” Heyes said patiently. “Jus’ a little more. Then I’m gonna drop this other strip into the crucible. It’ll melt real quick. Then I’ll give it a stir and then we …”


“We?”


“Yeah, you an’ me are gonna get hold of the crucible with these here two handed scissor tongs and WE’RE gonna pour the contents into the mold I prepared earlier. Simple huh?” Smug grin.


The Kid looked doubtful but didn’t get a chance to say anything further as Heyes leapt into action. Before the Kid knew it he was on the other end of the scissor tongs and under Heyes’ instruction. Together they poured the contents of the crucible into the mold.


“Now what?”


Suddenly exhausted, Heyes sat heavily on a stool.


“Now we wait for it to cool ‘afore I can tell if it worked.” Wearily he took off the visor and stripped off his gloves. “Boy, the heat in here,” he sighed and puffed.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next evening, a bathed and refreshed Heyes slipped through the door of the bunkhouse. Seeing the Gang and the Kid playing cards, the smug grin appeared. Hiding something inside his blue/grey coat, he walked over.


“Heyes, you coming to join us?” the Kid asked with a smile. His partner looked a lot better than the last time he had seen him. So tired he had collapsed onto his bed as he was and immediately went to sleep. The Kid had draped a blanket over him and left him.


“Not exactly. I’ve got something to show ya.”


The Gang looked up curiously and then down on the table where Heyes deposited the something.


Mouths dropped open as they all stared at the yellow, shiny object.


“Is that?”


“Naw …?”


“You’ve made …?”


“That’s not …?”


“Heyes tell me you haven’t …?”


All eyes looked up at their leader, standing hands on hips, grinning broadly.


Suddenly the cabin plunges into complete darkness.


Cries of panic are heard. “Hey! What’s goin’ on?”


One by one, pairs of eyes begin to appear in the blackness.


“Sorry fellas,” We hear Heyes’ voice. “I can’t tell you right now.”


“Why not?” the Kid demanded.


“MoulinP’s hit the word count limit!”

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I'll post this and what happens next on my thread in a day or two.

Note: In 1875 a law was passed in the UK that stopped boys being sent up chimneys.

_________________
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname
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Stepha3nie

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Posts : 4973
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 48
Location : Scotland

PostSubject: Re: Heat   Thu Jun 30, 2016 8:55 pm

This isn't the story I wanted to write for "Heat", but one comment during last week's chat made a bunny hop. It isn't a great story - don't expect much plot. But I hope you'll have fun reading.
I apologise that it's not polished or beta'd - there simply wasn't time.


A town in the Wild West, mid 1880s
 
It was dark when he left the livery stable and made his way over to the hotel.  He really looked forward to sleeping in a nice, soft, warm bed, not on the cold hard ground.  Arriving at his destination, he decided it would be safer to sneak in - for some reason the desk clerk earlier seemed to have taken a dislike to him.  Better not to antagonize the man, or his screeching female, any more.
He ghosted up the stairs without making a sound.  Granted, he had some training doing things like this, but he was still proud of his skills.
Only one dim lamp tried to illuminate the corridor, but even in full darkness he would not had any trouble finding the right room.  After all, he prided himself of possessing more well-honed senses than sight alone.  Now, he only had to get past the door without waking anyone.  He grinned.  He loved a challenge.
 
 
Moments later
Once inside, he eyed both beds in the room.  Which one to choose?  He didn’t want to annoy anyone by his selection, or play favorites, but the promise of greatest comfort won out in the end.
Carefully choosing the spots where to place his feet, he approached his selected bed.  A lump under the quilt stretched most of the length of it, but he judged there was plenty of room left for him.  He’d just squeeze in here, at the bottom.  Slowly, he oozed onto the mattress, trying very hard not to make a noise or otherwise wake anyone.  They might try to make him sleep in the stable again!
He waited a moment, ears perked and all his senses alert, but all remained quiet.  He allowed himself to relax a little.  Oh, this was nice.  So much better than the floor.
Maybe, if he was careful enough, he could also get under the quilt?  The temptation was too much, and when he had selected the best point of entry, he snaked his head under first.  A little squirming and inching forward and his shoulders had followed.  Yes, this was even better, soft and warm and comforting.  Curling to one side, he brought most of his body under the cover.  After more wriggling and sliding he had reached his goal and could no longer be detected from outside the bed – that is, except for the additional lump he now formed under the star-patterned bedspread.
 
 
About an hour later
One of the shapes under the quilt, the smaller one, began to move.  At first, it stretched out, next the twitching started, grew stronger, until the entire lump was engulfed.  When it came to rest once more, it had moved up on the bed.  The other, larger lump stirred and mumbled something unintelligible, but settled down again, a little closer to the edge of the bed.
From the second bed, the groaning of springs suggested the occupant had rolled over.  But when no further movements or sounds were forthcoming, it became clear that the earlier disturbance had not woken him.
Soon, the only sound to be heard was the even breathing of the sleepers.
 
 
A little later
The larger of our two lumps stirred, but finding movement towards the middle of the bed inhibited by the smaller lump, it instead shifted further down on the bed.  Its lower half extended an appendage and on encountering free space, a second one soon joined it, so that the larger lump now ended up lying almost diagonally across the mattress. Soft snoring emanated from under the quilt.
 
 
Some more time later again
The bed containing the two lumps witnessed more action.  The smaller lump seemed inclined to make up for size by stretching as far and wide as possible, ending up occupying its entire top half.
The snoring grew in volume, not surprising, really, as it was now produced by two throats.
 
 
Roughly two hours later
The two lumps under the star quilt had not moved much, but suddenly there was a commotion where the larger shape had consolidated into an oval mound.  A grunt started it, then the lump untangled itself, and a dark-haired head, followed by an arm, emerged speedily from the cover.  After a few deep breaths, the arm was drawn up until it covered most of the sleepy face. The next audible sounds might have been mumbled words, something like “Sheesh, Ki’. Weally?”
It didn’t take long until the regular rise and fall of the quilt indicated that the man was fast asleep once more.
 
 
Close to dawn
The head with the long brown tousled hair got tucked closer towards a Henley-covered chest.  The sleeper moved a little, drew his right arm closer to his body and tucked his right hand under his left armpit.  The legs were probably also drawn in, completing the fetal position, but the movement was obscured by the quilt still covering more than half of the body.  A grunt and smacking of lips sounded through the dark room, before the man settled back into deeper sleep.
A short while later, there was more movement in the bed.  Only, this time it happened all under the quilt, at the other end.  The still fully hidden lump there rose, curled and settled down again with a satisfied grunt, thereby dragging the cover a little further up towards the headboard.  Snoring once more emanated from under the quilt.
 
 
Dawn
Light had crept into the room, not bright sunlight, but the greyish pre-dawn light filled the place and made it easy to see the well-covered lump on the doubly occupied bed rise.  It moved towards the side where the quilt no longer covered the mattress.  Slowly and carefully, the edge of the cover was raised and something emerged.  It was small and black and looked very much like the nose of a large dog.  After two rapid sniffs, it was followed by a furry dark brown face with clear eyes and alert ears.  One long, luxuriant yawn later, the rest of the body emerged, slid off the bed and tiptoed to the exit.  It was high time to leave the hotel, before anyone spotted him and raised the alarm.  Like the evening before, he ghosted along corridors and stairs, and by the time the sun had cleared the horizon, he was safely back in the livery stable.  Nobody would know of his little sojourn.
Until his friends came for him, he would make good use of his time by remembering the pleasures of the night before.  The soft mattress that supported his body while giving way in all the right places.  The warmth under the quilt, shared with his human, until it became almost too hot.  Feeling engulfed by the mingled smells of his friend and himself, by the quilt, by comradeship; hidden away from any danger, letting himself go.  Dim ancestral memories of wolves’ dens floated towards his consciousness, while he pondered the cleverness of men’s inventions and their general lack of generosity.  At least, he had made a good choice.  His humans were better than most!
 
 
Meanwhile in the hotel room
The curled up dark-haired man began to stir.  By now, most of his slim figure was exposed to the cold morning air, and he shivered in his long johns and henley.  A hand reached out and blindly patted around on its search for the warm cover.  A loud yawn split the face wide.
This sound woke the man in the other bed. Blond curls emerged from under the cover and sleepy blue eyes searched for the source of the noise.  The eyes blinked twice then opened wide.  A frown creased the forehead before a smile settled over the features.  Looking fully awake – and amused – now, the man sat up in bed and turned towards his partner.


The two of them were used to waking up in strange places and under off circumstances, but this was a new one for Kid Curry.
His cousin, friend, partner Hannibal Heyes, former leader of the Devil’s Hole gang and one of the two most successful outlaws in the West, lay curled up in his underwear at the foot end of a hotel bed, blindly groping for a quilt.  A quilt, which covered more or less the rest of the bed – except a thin slice on one side close to the headboard, where the bedcover resembled a kind of nest.  This exposed slice of bedding was covered with something that looked suspiciously like hairs from a dark fur.


Curry got up and walked over to his friend’s bed.  Yes, definitely hair that hadn’t grown on a human body.  Heyes must have heard the Kid’s movement because he uncurled and yawned again.  Heavy eyelids rose to expose bleary brown eyes which looked around in confusion, trying to make sense of the situation.  Something was wrong.
The bright grin on his partner’s face drew tired brown eyes to merrily blinking blue ones.  Something was very definitely wrong.  Why was he facing the window, when he was sure he had bedded down facing the door, why was he so cold, and why, for Pete’s sake, was Kid grinning like that?
 
“Mornin’, Heyes.  No, don’t tell me.  You were readin’ one of those books again before sleepin’, right?  Was it the one about people who turn into wolves during a full moon?”
 
“Huh?” was all the usually so loquacious one of the partners could manage.
 
“The moon looked pretty full to me last night…  And I know you always need to figger out how things work.  But don’t you think you’re goin’ a little far this time?”
 
Earnest blue orbs beamed down on the tousle-headed sleepy one.  For once, Hannibal Heyes had nothing to say.
 
“But you better learn to behave yourself!  Shedding all over the bed, even curling up on it.  What will people say?  At least you didn’t howl at the moon.  Although, your singin’ sometimes…”
 
“How come…?  What do you…?  Why am I..?  I didn’t..!”
 
Finally, Heyes’ brain caught up with events.
 
“Ha, ha.  Very funny, Kid!”
 
“Lifting the quilt, he spotted more of the dark fur spread along one side and across the top half of the bed.  As understanding dawned, a deep dimple appeared.  Brown eyes found blue ones again, and both men said it together.
 

“Coffee!”








P.S. For those, who didn't recognise the sneaky duvet-thief - best read my Coffee stories first.

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Moonpie
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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Thu Jun 30, 2016 9:10 pm

The cracking of a twig caused the ex-outlaws to snap to attention, guns drawn in the blink of an eye.  There was nothing to see, not in the blackness of a night only briefly illuminated by the flickering flames of the campfire, and the brightness only served to deepen the shadows and blind the eyes to the approaching interloper.  Both men jumped into a well-practiced drill and rolled off into the night, melting into the shadows as easily as any denizens of the night.

“Where is everyone?”  An elderly man led his scraggy mount into the clearing.  “Hello?”

There was a pause before a baritone voice drifted from the tree line.  “Hi.”  A dimpled smile suddenly appeared in the gleam of the campfire.  “You’re alone.”

“Sure am,” the old timer replied, patting his mount.  “I saw the fire and hoped old Meg and me could get a heat and some companionship.”

The dark eyes drifted over to the fair man who appeared at the other end of the clearing.  He nodded, confirming that the man was indeed, on his own.  Heyes relaxed and the smile widened.  “Sure.  What are you doing all the way out here on your own?”

“I’m headed to Denver for my granddaughter’s weddin’.”  A gummy smile confirmed the man’s pleasure at the unexpected company.  “It’s real cold out tonight.  I couldn’t resist the chance of some company.”  He sniffed the air.  “Is that stew?”

Kid Curry came forward, holstering his gun.   “Yeah.  You want some?”

“Do I?  I’ve been in the saddle all day and these old bones are protestin’.  I ain’t used to this.  Silas Mansfield outta Samuel’s Creek.  You?”

“Joshua Smith and this here’s Thaddeus Jones.  We’re headed to Denver for a job.”  Heyes held out a plate to Silas.  “Here.  Take a seat and we’ll look after your horse.  You look hungry.”

                                                                 ~~~~~~~~~~

The little group settled down, the cares of the day running away as they wound down towards bed time.  Silas had contributed to the party with his bottle of bourbon and it was three thoroughly relaxed saddle tramps who leaned against rocks and trees exchanging quips and stories.  The old man tipped some more of the amber liquid into his tin mug and past it around to his hosts. 

“This ain’t the first time I’ve been travelling on my own and followed a light.  I’ve gotta say this is a whole lot more friendly than that night.”  Silas raised his white bushy eyebrows and fixed both men in turn with serious rheumy eyes.  “That was one frightenin’ night, I can tell you.”

The cousins exchanged a glance.  “Why?  What happened?” asked the Kid.

Silas sat up staring into the embers as the glimmering chinks of light deepened the shadows of a million wrinkles on face as tatty as an old paper bag.  “It were out on the outskirts of Denver.  It weren’t a day like today. It were the fall and the cold and damp had got right into my bones somethin’ terrible.  I’d been away at a funeral and my mood was low, so I guess I wasn’t in the best frame of mind and a storm was comin’ in.  I was desperate for a heat.”  He paused to watch the spiral of twinkling sparks floating up into the air on a spiral of heat.  “I must have been desperate to stop at the old Johnston place.”

Silas sipped at his drink before he continued.  “It was an old place about five miles out of town, but it was a filthy night and I needed some shelter.  The old Johnston place was the scene of a terrible murder and it had been deserted ever since.  They say that the old man had married a young girl and was real jealous.  Nobody saw her much after the weddin’; and then, there ain’t nobody ever saw her alive again.”

The Kid’s brow shot up.  “He killed her?”

“He surely did, as sure as I’m sitting here.  He fired all the servants until it was just her and him in the house.”  Silas shrugged.  “She never saw the light of day again.”

“Did he hang?” asked Heyes.

“Yup.  He danced at the end of a rope alright.  Her folks kept being turned away from the house, and eventually they turned up with the law.  What they found in the back room showed they was right to be scared.”

“A body?” the Kid murmured.

Silas nodded his craggy head.  “Poor little girl was starved to death.  The animal never even had the guts to do it quick and clean.  They found her locked in the attic room, her fingers bloody and torn where she had desperately scratched at the door.  There were deep scratches in the wood.  It was like being buried alive.”  Silas let out a long breath and leaned back against the tree.  “The men who saw the body said it was the cruelest thing they ever saw.  After that the house stood empty.  Nobody would go there.  They all said it was haunted by the ghost of that poor girl.  So you can imagine how desperate I was to even think about shelterin’ in that place.”

“Sheesh,” the Kid shook his head.  “And you were alone?”

“Just me and old Meg there,” Silas nodded off towards the horse who stood nickering and nodding with his new found friends.  “There was a stinker of a storm comin’ in and I had to take shelter.  I didn’t want to, not the way the place stood out in the top of the ridge with the lightenin’ flashin’ and playin’ all around.  Sometimes a man has no option.”

“Well I’m glad it’s not like that tonight,” Heyes agreed.  “We’ve got no shelter out here.”

“Yeah, well.  That’s as maybe.  I was sat downs stairs in what would have been a grand drawin’ room with a fire lit and the storm ragin’ all about outside.  I’d brought Meg inside.  I thought a few hoof prints were the last thing to worry about, given that the place was fallin down around my ears, so she was settled and happy.  Horses ain’t heard no stories.  I weren’t so calm, but with my belly full of beans and whiskey and the warmth startin’ to creep into my bones I started to feel a lot more comfy like and got out my bedroll and drifted off to sleep,” Silas raised one eyebrow menacingly, “for a while anyway.”

Wide blue eyes glittered across the campfire.  “What happened?”

“I wasn’t sure if I were a dream at first, but there it was, sure as I’m sittin’ here.  I heard it.  I swear I did.”

The Kid leaned forward.  “Heard what?”

“It were far away, but it was there.  I sat up to see if I was still asleep.  But, no.  There it was again.  ‘Rap, rap, rap…”

“Someone wanted to come in?” Heyes queried.

“T’weren’t comin’ from the door.  It was coming from the heart of the house,” was the hoarsely whispered reply.  “It was inside.”

“Had you checked the place,” Heyes persisted.

“Nope.”

“So it could have been someone inside?”

Silas shrugged.  “That’s what I thought.  So I called out.  ‘Who’s there,’ I called.  I waited listenin’ for an answer.  There was nothin’ but the sound of the rain whippin’ at the windows and the wind whistling down the chimney.  The place was thick with silence and then I heard it again, ’Rap.rap, rap.’”

Two pairs of eyes widened as the old man continued.  “Well I can tell you, the hairs stood right up on the back of my neck.  But I had to know, so I took my candle and went out into the hallway.  I shouted out again.  And that’s when I was sure.”

“Of what,” both men asked in unison.

“That the sound was not only comin’ from inside the house, but that it was comin’ from upstairs.”

“There was someone else in there,” Heyes stated determinedly.  “There had to be.”

The gray head shook ruefully.  “Nope.  It was just me and Meg, and she was quiet in the main room.”

“Somethin’ rattling in the wind,” the Kid suggested.  Heyes looked over at him agreeing vehemently.

“Well, I took my little candle and climbed the stairs, one by one by one…..”

“That’s how everyone climbs stairs,” quipped Heyes, ignoring the glare from his cousin.

“I was half way up and I heard it again.  ‘Rap, rap, rap’.”  Silas glowered at Heyes.  “It was nearer this time.  The noise was coming from the top of the house.”

“Upstairs?” The fair head tilted in question.

“Yeah.  There I was, creepin’ up and up and my blood turnin’ to ice every time I heard it.  ‘Rap, rap, Rap…,” The old timer threw back another mouthful of bourbon.  “My blood turned to ice every time I heard it but eventually I followed it, all the way to the top of the house and I stood there outside the attic room door.”

“And?” the dark-eyed man demanded. 

“I stood right outside the door, scared to make as much noise as a mouse, but I swear my heart leaped out of my chest at the sound I heard next.  It cut right through me, severin’ every nerve I had left.  It was as if the person was standin’ right next to me.  “Rap, rap, rap….”

“From the attic room?” Heyes asked.

“Where the girl died?” added the Kid.

“Yup, the very same.  I reached out a trembling hand and touched the handle,” Silas’ outstretched arm acted out the movement, “and took hold of the cold, hard door knob.  My heart was in my throat when I heard it again.  ‘Rap, rap, rap’.”

“What was it?” demanded the gunman.

“I turned the handle and peered around the door, as scared as a kitten.  My candle guttered in the draught when I entered the room.  Some ice-cold breeze grabbed at the flame, but it jumped back to life.  I was never so glad of a light in my life.  The door creaked with a wicked screech and the light pushed into every corner.  And then I saw it….”

“What!?” both men urged.

A wicked smile cracked the leather face.  “Wrapping paper.”

Heyes dropped his head in his hands while Kid Curry picked up an empty bean tin and launched it at their chortling visitor’s head.  He dodged out of the way with a laugh.

Heyes shook his head.  “Tell me.  Are you Irish?”

The old man looked surprised.  “My ma was.  Why?”

“You remind me of our Irish grandpa,” Heyes replied.  “We’re cousins and share him.  My ma used to say it was amazing he lived to be as old as he was without anyone killing him.  Go to sleep, Silas.”

The old man grinned as he got out his bedroll.  “Goodnight.  It was just a campfire story.”

“Goodnight,” the Kid grinned.  “Your grandkids are gonna turn you into a legend, Silas.  If you aren’t already.”  
                   




Notes

I can't remember if this was a 'Dad's Army' or Dave Allen joke.  Full credit to whoever.  It still makes me laugh today.
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Hunkeydorey

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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Thu Jun 30, 2016 9:27 pm

“There’s been a robbery.  In broad daylight!” 

All eyes turned to the matronly figure filling the doorway with immediate outrage and indignation 

“A robbery?” Miss Brown asked.

“Daylight robbery. I left my apple pie sitting on the sill to cool and it has disappeared.  I know one of you did it.”

Miss Brown looked down at her class, scanning the room from her tall desk.  “Does anyone have anything to say?”  Her gaze landed on two shifty-looking boys at the back of the class.  “Jedidiah?  Hannibal?  What do you know about this?”

The dark-eyed boy shook his head and shrugged, while the blond boy blinked huge blue eyes.  “Nuthin’, Miss.”

She climbed down from her stool.  “Are you sure?  Whenever there’s any mischief around here it seems to have you two connected to it.  What did you do at break time?”

“Nuthin’,” the boy replied again.

“You must have done something.  Who else were you with?” 

“Susie and Charlie.  We were playin’ tag.”  His lip curled derisively.  “At least we were tryin’ to before Susie came botherin’ us.  Stupid girls can’t play for toffee.”

“I never!” called a shrill voice from across the room.  “I never did anythin’ for a boy for toffee.  Honest, Miss Brown.”

“That’s enough, Susan.  I’ll get to you in a minute.”  The teacher turned back to her chief suspects.  “Tag?”

“Yes’m.  Charlie was it and Susie kept comin’ over and gettin’ in my way.  I already told her I didn’t want to play rope with her.”  He rolled his eyes.  “That’s a dumb girl’s game.”      

“Where did you go in this game of tag?”

The older boy suddenly sat more erect and stared intently at the Jed who continued on blithely.  “All over.”  He visibly wilted under the gaze of the steely school teacher.  “Well, the yard and right around the school.”

“Around the school?”  The teacher’s eyes narrowed.  “That’s near Mrs. Crouch’s house.  You live near the school, don’t you?”

“I surely do, and it’s the bane of my life,” the matron agreed.

“Yes,” Miss Brown returned her scrutiny to the boys.  “So you were in the area when the pie went missing?”

“So were half the school,” muttered Hannibal.

“What was that?  Speak up.”

“I said most of the school were there,” the boy replied through a petted lip.

“Then someone must have seen what happened?  Who saw?  Anyone?”  She scanned the room once more, seeing only a sea of mute faces.  “So I’m back to you two, and heaven knows you treat the Ten Commandments like they were multiple choice.  You know what stealing is don’t you, Jedidiah?”

“I guess...”

“You guess?  If I were to take all your money, what would that make me?”

“His wife?” giggled the dimpled boy.

“No, Hannibal.  It would make me a thief,” snapped Miss Brown.  “And what happens to thieves?”

“They go to hell,” responded Hannibal, clearly glorying in the opportunity to use a mild profanity.

“They do indeed, Hannibal,” she arched a brow, “and you needn’t look so pleased about it either.”

“But I knew the answer.”

“I don’t care.  I know there are some words you just enjoy sneaking into the conversation whenever you can.  I don’t want to hear it, do you understand?”

“This is why I hate school,” sniffed Jed.  “I can’t read, I can’t write, and they don’t let you talk neither.”

“I want you to talk, Jed.  I want you to tell me who stole Mrs. Crouch’s apple pie.”  She folded her arms.  “I know you know what happened.  It’s written all over your face.”

The younger boy took his sleeve and wiped it firmly over his cheeks before glaring back but remaining silent. 

“Jedidiah, I’m going to ask you once more.  Who stole that pie?”

“Why do you keep askin’ me?”

The dark eyes rolled.  “Because you can’t stop talking when there’s a bossy woman askin’ the questions, that’s why.  You’re a sucker for it every time.”

“That ain’t true.”

The older boy snorted.  “Yeah?  Any nun, teacher, our friend’s moms, even the preacher’s wife.  You’re like a wind up toy.  You just go and go until you run out.  No wonder she came to you first.”

“I came to you because the guilt was hanging out of you,” the teacher retorted.  “It’s obvious that you know something about this. Out with it.  What did you do with the pie?”

Guilty eyes dropped to the floorboards.  The teacher pressed on.  “Jedidiah?  What did you do with the pie?”

The tousled head dropped.  “It’s behind the hedge apple.”  

“The Osage hedge?”  The teacher shared a triumphant look with Mrs. Crouch.  “I knew it.  I knew you were behind this.  You’re nothing but a good-for-nothing little scamp.”

“That’s not fair!” Hannibal protested.

“What’s not fair about it?” demanded the teacher, grabbing a squirming Jed by the ear.

“Because he didn’t do it.  He knows where it is but he’s coverin’ for someone.”

“You expect me to believe that?”

“Yes’m, I do.  Because of the evidence.”

“Evidence?”

Hannibal’s lips firmed determinedly.  “Ask Mrs. Crouch if that pie was hot when she put it in the sill.  Ask her.  Ask her if she did it when the bell went for morning break.”

The teacher’s brows knotted as she looked over at the accuser.  “Yes.”  Mrs. Crouch replied.  “Just when you rang the bell.”

“So it was burning hot?” the earnest dark eyes pressed.

“Yes.  Straight out of the oven,” the matron asserted.

“Really hot.”

The teacher gave a huff of irritation.  “Hannibal, Jed has admitted he took the pie.”

“No he didn’t, Miss.  He said he knew where it was.  He saw who put it there.  He didn’t do it.”

“Enough, that’s ridiculous,” Miss Brown dragged a wriggling Jed out in front of the class.  “Sit down.”

“I won’t.  He didn’t do it and I can prove it.  He’s covering for someone.”  Hannibal pointed over to a blushing Suzie.  “He’s too soft.  He’ll take the punishment for a girl.  She did it.  She took the pie.  We both saw her when we were running away from Charlie.”

“You can’t prove that,” yelled Suzie. 

“I can,” shouted Hannibal.  “I ain’t my cousin.  I ain’t gonna be lettin’ him take the punishment for somethin’ you did.   I ain’t that soft on girls.  Check her hands.”

Miss Brown let go of Jed who rubbed his reddened ear.  Her brow lined with curiosity.  “Check her hands?  Why?”

“Check them.  The pie was hot and she dropped it because of it.  That’s why it’s still behind the hedge.  Check them and then check Jed’s.”

Miss Brown grabbed one of Jed’s hands and looked down at the healthy pink skin.  “Susan?  Let me see your hands.”  The girl thrust her hands into her armpits and shook her head.  “Susan, I must insist.  Let me see your hands.”

The teacher grasped the girl’s hand and gasped at the reddened, blistering skin.  “You’ve burned them.  Susan, go and plunge the, into cold water immediately.  Jed, why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

“Because he’s soft around women, Miss.  We saw her, but I ain’t lettin’ Jed take the blame.  He’d let you, but I won’t.  You got the thief.  Let Jed alone.”

The teacher nodded.  “It looks like we caught the culprit red-handed, Mrs Crouch.  Jed, please go and sit down.  You must learn stand up for yourself, you really must.  Your big cousin isn’t always going to be around to look after you.”
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skykomish

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PostSubject: Re: Heat   Fri Jul 01, 2016 2:42 am

I started this story earlier this month, but my computer got sick, and I couldn't get back to the story.  The computer is still at the technicians, so I tried rewriting from the blank screen today on my husband's PC.  Please forgive any typos, as this had to be redone in one sitting.




In the Heat of the Moment


1902   



Most folks say that I have my mother’s eyes and hair, but the shape of my face and the dimples are all Pa.  As for how my mind works, that comes from both of them. 


I wanted something from Pa that day.  I had just turned sixteen, and he promised to answer my questions about his past when I was sixteen.  He avoided my questions for a long time.  I knew all the tall tales that he and Uncle Jed told to entertain us when we were children, but now I wanted the stories my father wouldn’t tell.  He promised me, and I decided that today he was going to pay up.


“Papa,” I crooned at my sweetest.   “I made you some fresh lemonade.”  He was sitting in the shade on the porch, feet propped on the railing.  Late on a Sunday afternoon in June, it was unseasonably hot and humid.  The bees were buzzing around Momma’s wisteria hanging heavy on the vine.


Pa offered a sideways glare, softened with just a hint of a smile.  “What do you want, Amanda?”


“Can’t a girl offer her father a refreshing drink without wanting something?”


“Not in this family.”


We both laughed.  His boots plopped onto the porch.  Leaning forward he took the lemonade.  I sat in Mama’s rocking chair and meticulously arranged my skirts while he sipped his drink.
 

“Warm out here,” I remarked, just to fill the time.  I know how to get things from my father.  I think every daughter does.  With Hannibal Heyes that meant knowing when to stall. 


When I looked up, his warm brown eyes were boring holes in my skull. 


“Isn’t it sweet enough?” I asked, gesturing at the lemonade.

Pa grinned.  I love my father’s smile.  When he’s truly amused or pleased, his smile can light a cold December night.  It warms me to my toes.  Mama says that it’s a more powerful weapon than the famous silver tongue. 


“Out with it, Amanda.  What do you want?”


“I want to know what happened the day you and Uncle Jed lost your parents.”


“You’ve heard your Uncle Jed tell about that. “


“I don’t want Uncle Jed’s story.  I want yours.”


I know it’s not possible, but I swear that the bees stopped buzzing and the temperature dropped twenty degrees.  His eyes turned that cold that fast.  I figured I was looking at the leader of the Devil’s Hole gang, not my Pa.

“No.”

I paused.  His reaction made me wonder if I really wanted to know.  I refused to drop my eyes.  After seconds that stretched like hours, the ice melted from his eyes.  I saw him swallow.


“You don’t really want to know, Amanda.  I never even told your Uncle Jed that whole story.  Some things are better left alone and never discussed”


I knew what was bothering him then.  Some instinct born of living with him every day and being raised by him gave it away.  I did want to know, and now I knew how to persuade him to tell me.  “I’ll still love you.  No matter what happened or what you did, I‘ll still love and respect you.  I trust you, Papa.”


He dropped his head into his hands and combed his fingers through his hair.  Glints of silver caressed his temples.  He raised his head and met my eyes.  Turning away, he stared at the distant mountains.   Dark clouds crowded the horizon like a cluster of old women in mourning.  A stray breeze ruffled his hair and my skirts. A storm was coming this way.  Maybe the heat would break after it passed. 


“Are you sure?” he whispered.   “It isn’t a pleasant memory.”


“I’m sure.”


He settled back in his rocker and watched the distance with unseeing eyes.


“It was nearly September in 1863,” he began in a low growl.    “It was a fierce summer, and August was the worst.  The corn stalks in the fields was green and drooping, nodding their heads in the heat.  Harvest wasn’t far off.  The farm seemed to waver in the swelter.  The humidity was so bad that nothing would evaporate.  Sweat coated you like oil, and the air felt like a fetid breath from an old man.


“I was cleaning out the barn.  Well, mostly I was stirring the straw around and feeling sorry for myself.  It was too dang hot to be doing anything.  The smell in the barn was sharp and ripe in that weather.   I was twelve years old, and dead certain that my parents treated me like a slave.


I decided to sneak off to the swimming hole, just for a bit to cool off.  I convinced myself that I would take a quick swim and then come back to finish my chores.  Of course, I spent more time at the creek than planned.  I don’t know how long I was there.  I dozed off under the willow tree with my feet and legs dangling in the water.


I woke up to the thunder of hooves and the hollers of a bunch of men splashing through the creek on horseback.  Lucky for me, they were down the hill aways, and I was hidden in the shade by the branches of the weeping willow.  There was nothing out our way but the Curry farm and our own spread.  I had no idea where those men could be headed, but I knew that they had to pass our place on their way to the creek.  I hopped off the willow root.


I started for home at a brisk walk, but as I rounded the hill, I saw smoke.  That’s when I started to run.  Our barn was blazing.  At first I was puzzled by the silence.  Surely the horses should be screaming. That’s when the smell hit me.  Burning flesh.  I slowed down and almost threw up.


I started to run again.  The slap of my bare feet on the hard-packed earth echoed ominously.  My foot steps and the crackling of the fire were the only sounds.


As I neared the barn, a wall of heat barred my path.   I veered right toward the house.   The carnage outside our home brought me skidding to a halt.  I rested my hands on my knees and gulped air.  A rivulet of blood carved a trail through the dust, creeping toward my bare feet.   I looked up.  My family were strewn about the courtyard like bleeding and broken dolls.”


Papa stopped talking.  His hands were shaking.  I clasped his fingers.  His grip hurt as it convulsed around my knuckles.  He loosened his hold and turned his head to meet my eyes.


“I won’t describe the details of the bodies, Amanda.  There’s no point in telling you about it, and I don’t want to relive it.”


“I understand.  Just tell me what happened next.”


“I checked to see if anyone was alive.  I grew numb as I found each of the bodies.  Rebecca was the worst.  She had just turned sixteen.”


He smiled at me, but it was the one that doesn’t touch his eyes.


“Just your age.  We called her Becca.”  He choked on a strangled sob.


Drawing a deep breath, he continued.   “They were all dead.  Once I was sure, my thoughts leapt to the Currys.  As I left our place I grabbed an ax, just in case.  There was blood smeared on the handle.  At the corner of the blade was a gobbet of something covered with dirt and blood.  Hair was crushed into the mess.  I dropped the ax.  Looking around, I saw no other weapon handy.   I checked the house, but it seemed that the raiders had taken my Pa’s firearms.  I went back to the ax.  Using a rag from the kitchen I cleaned the handle.  I wiped the blade in the weeds.  Dried to brown in the heat, the grass crunched and crackled against the edge.  I shouldered the ax and started to leave.  Before I made the gate, I lost my lunch in the bushes.  It was a long run to the Curry farm house.


“My breathing was coming in gulps and heaves by the time I reached the Curry place.  I started to shout for Jed and his parents, but was stopped by the sight of Mary Elizabeth, Jed’s older sister.  It looked like they caught her running away from the house.

“There was no fire here.  The silence lay over the farm in a thick blanket.  The air was hot and heavy like the gasping of an angry god.  I crept toward the house.  The shattered body of Jed’s pa sprawled at an angle down the front porch steps.  Slinking near the walls, I rounded a corner at the back of the house.  At first all I could see was the ripped and bloodied calico of Mrs. Curry’s dress.  Even in such a state, her face looked peaceful.  I closed her eyes, and that’s when I saw Jed.  He was curled up in a ball behind a bush.  He looked in one piece.  I scurried around the bush and turned him over.  He was warm.  A large goose egg and a purple bruise stained his right temple.  I laid my ear on his chest above where I thought his heart should be.  It took a minute, but I heard a steady beat. Next I felt him exhale on my cheek.  He was out cold.  But he was alive.”



Papa bolted from his chair and began to pace.  I went inside and grabbed a glass and some whiskey.  He poured a drink and downed it.  He poured a second, and then propped one hip on the railing.  He set down his drink and met my eyes.  I searched for a smile to offer him, but I couldn’t find one.  He picked up the threads of his story and forged on.


“I left Jed hidden behind the bush and went into the house.  I was looking for some water and bandages.  As I was searching the house, the sound of someone singing drifted in from the distance.  It was a soldier’s marching song, and it was getting louder.  I grabbed my ax and hid behind the tool shed.  I could see where Jed was hidden and the approach to the house.

“The intruder came into view.  It was a crazy union deserter who had been holed up in a cave in the hills.  Pa and Mr. Curry had warned Jed and me to stay clear of the soldier and his cave.   He seemed pleased by the carnage.  By the looks of the bulging blanket at his back, he had been looting what was left of our farms.  In his right fist he held a long hunting knife, covered in blood.  Had he been with the raiders?  Or was he just adding his bit to the slaughtered?  I still don’t know.


“It was looking like the soldier was going to move along when he caught sight of Jed’s ma.  He hooted and hollered and made gestures I won’t describe to my daughter.  I knew that he was a crazy coot, but until that moment I didn’t know that he was so full of bitter hate and anger.  Despite the heat, I felt cold slither down my spine as he scuttled over to Mrs. Curry’s body.

“What would he do if he saw Jed?   His back was turned.  I couldn’t see.  What was he doing?  Then he raised that gory knife high above his head.  I didn’t plan; I acted.  The next thing I remember is the spray of blood and seeing red.  The soldier dropped.  Large gashes split the flesh of his back.  My ax dripped blood.   I threw up on his legs.  Didn’t know I had anything left to bring up.


“I flung the ax at the tool shed, and dragged his body away from Jed.  I ran to the water pump and scrubbed at the blood.  When my skin was clean and nothing else would come out of my shirt and pants, I put the wet clothes back on a trudged to the house.  My feelings had gone silent.  I was numb and bone weary, but I still needed to tend to Jed.

“I brought him some water, and bathed his face with a wet cloth.  I tried to clean his goose egg and get him to drink.  Despite my nursing, Jed came to.  We both cried a bit and were thinking what to do when Jed’s baby sister tip toed onto the back porch.  Jed grabbed her before she could see their ma’s body.  He held that little girl tight.  Turns out she hid in a pile of dirty laundry through the whole raid.   She was only three.  Brave little thing.


“I moved all of us toward the water pump.  Jed cleaned up a bit.  We tried to help Emily Ann, but she was only three and wanted to do it herself.  Mostly she streaked her face with mud.  It made Jed and I laugh.  After that we started walking toward town and met the wagon coming to check out the smoke.  You know the rest.”




He lifted his whiskey glass to me and drained it.  I ran to the porch rail and hugged him.  

“Uncle Jed never found out?”

“No.  The town’s folk cleaned up the bodies.  They never asked about the soldier.   I never said anything.  Never wanted to face it.”


 My father turned toward the hills with an arm around my shoulders.  We watched the clouds swirl and churn in the fading light.  The silence stretched between us and the coming night.  We were awfully quiet for a pair from the Heyes family.  A flash of lightning split the gloom, and the plop and splatter of large raindrops served as warning.  Then the heavens opened and the wind howled as the deluge began.  We watched the rain and the lightening from the porch while the wind blew away the heat.

_________________
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
- Leonardo DaVinci
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