Bump In The Night
Posts : 8715
Join date : 2013-08-24
|Subject: Bump In The Night Wed Oct 01, 2014 5:23 am|| |
Okay, It's October. The month of mists and mellow fruitfullness and the spooky month when the Celts believed that the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. Time for you to do your damdest with this month's promp and it's MAP's choice this time.
Bump In The Night
I'm looking forward to your spooky, nefarious , dark doings being recorded. I know you can do a lot with this one.
Just one thing, I know that you had a lot of fun with the shortest possible stories last month and I have been asked to create a new thread for the shortest challenge stories. I have done so, but I have placed it in the 'Fun and Games' thread as I have a concern that putting it alongside the challenge could dilute the story challenge. I am not intending to poll the shortest stories in that thread. Please feel free to contact me with your opinions on this decision and if there is a strong view on doing it differently I will take that into account. There is now a new lower limit on the word count in challenge stories of 150 words - making them between 4,000 and 150 words to reflect the fact that I think extreme brevity isn't the same skill as storytelling.
Posts : 554
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Mon Oct 13, 2014 1:58 pm|| |
Okay, I can't stand that we're nearly half-way through the month and there are no stories. This is a rework of an old piece of mine; among other things I reworked it to fit the prompt. However, because it's polled previously on another site, no need to poll it here.
Heyes shook his head to dislodge some of the rain pooling on the crown of his hat. “Muddy Gap, huh, sure lives up to its name.” The wind picked up sending icy tendrils of water cascading down his neck.
Muddy Gap was a sorry little town -- one street, or rather one mud-slick, and the few buildings standing seemed to be trying to melt in to join the general muck. Once it had been a thriving boom town – once. Now the mine was played out and so was the town. Heyes and the Kid had just finished two weeks clearing a ranch of mountain lions and wolves and were heading south to enjoy themselves when it began raining. Muddy Gap was the first town they’d come to in these mountains in two days.
The Kid shrugged his slicker higher around his neck and shoulders trying to keep out some of the rain as he urged his horse through the ankle-deep mud that formed the main street of the dilapidated town. “Barn’s next to the hotel over there. Let’s leave the horses and get out of this rain.”
“We’d like a room, in the front overlooking the street,” Heyes informed the desk clerk.
“Such as it is,” the Kid muttered. He waited while Heyes signed the register. “Any chance of a hot bath?”
“A laundry for our clothes?”
“Not till Monday.”
“Well Joshua, I guess we’re going to Clancy’s once we unpack but not playin’ poker.”
“I guess so.” Heyes looked at the storm outside then back at the desk clerk. “Just how far away is Clancy’s?”
The desk clerk smiled briefly. “You don’t need to go outside; it’s through there.” He pointed towards a door. On the wall between the doorway and the front desk was a poorly painted portrait of a dour looking woman – with a hawk-billed nose, too many teeth, and no chin – holding a beautiful little blonde child.
Intrigued, Heyes asked, “Who’s that?”
“That’s Mabel and her daughter Harriet.”
“This hotel’s named Mabel’s isn’t it?” asked the Kid.
“She own it?”
“Used to. Here’s your key.” The desk clerk shut the register and turned his back on the men.
Heyes and the Kid raised their eyebrows as they looked at each other but picked up their things and headed up to their room.
The room was in keeping with the town; grey and worn, it had seen better days. The mattress sagged in the middle almost to the floor, and the dresser didn’t sit steady on its legs. The wall paper was peeling in the corner, and it was clear the window leaked. The carpet was stretched and worn, creating bumps and crevices to trip the unwary foot in the night.
“Cheerful place isn’t it?” the Kid commented, looking around.
Heyes laughed. “Come on let’s change and go to Clancy’s; bet this will look better after food and a couple drinks.”
“Might take more than a couple drinks,” the Kid grinned, “but I’m willin’ to try. At least it’s dry.” The wind rattled the window and the damp stain under the sill grew as he watched. “Mostly,” he muttered.
Heyes and the Kid entered Clancy’s and looked around. It looked like many of the bars that they had been in in small towns, but without the liveliness. The only inhabitant was a bartender who was rearranging the dusty bottles on the shelf behind the bar. The rest of the room sat empty and in shadows. They walked up to the bar, ordered the stew and biscuits and a bottle of whiskey, and went and sat at a table. As they lit the lantern on the table, the bartender came over with the bottle and two glasses.
Heyes smiled at him. “It always this busy on a Friday night?” he asked, looking around.
“Not many likely to come out tonight,” the bartender commented and walked back to the bar.
“Real friendly around here,” the Kid grunted as he poured them each a shot.
“Yeah, kinda quiet here alright.”
The bartender brought them their stew and returned to his task of staring mindlessly at nothing.
The partners turned their attention to the food, realizing that they were ravenous. After a few bites they sat back and looked around.
“You know, Kid, I could get to like a place that makes stew this good.”
“Yeah, almost seems like home. Don’t the name Clancy sound real familiar? Somethin’ about stew, too.”
Heyes frowned in thought then grinned, “Yeah, remember Clancy Dwyer, rode with us back with Big Jim – made the best stew in the Hole.”
“Oh yeah.” The Kid took another drink. “Here’s to Clancy and good food.”
“HEYES! KID! Great to see you!” An old man shouted at them.
They looked up and quickly silenced him.
“Clancy! Sit down, sit down. Great to see you, but can you keep it down?” Heyes hushed him as the Kid pushed out a chair.
“For the moment, I’m Joshua Smith and he’s Thaddeus Jones,” Heyes hissed at the man. Clancy Dwyer looked much older than when they had last seen him, riding out of the Hole to take up a new life. His clothing sagged and was full of holes. Clancy himself was greyer and careworn.
Clancy looked at them. “Smith and Jones, huh. And here I’ve been hearing such things about you two since you took over from Big Jim.”
“Well we’re kinda retired, you might say,” the Kid explained, “but we’re still wanted so we don’t need you spreadin’ our names.”
“Don’t worry about that, boys. I won’t, and nobody listens to me anyways.” Clancy grinned, happy to see them.
“How long’s it been, Clancy?” Heyes asked.
Clancy pursed his lips and looked at the ceiling. “Must be eight, nine years.”
“Want a drink? We can get another glass.”
“No. I don’t drink anymore,” Clancy replied, then sat silently staring morosely at nothing.
Heyes and the Kid exchanged glances.
“What have you been up to Clancy? You own this bar do you?”
“Not anymore, not anymore. You remember, when I left Big Jim and the gang it was to marry Mabel – the sweetest, most beautiful gal you’d ever see inside of a saloon,” he reminisced.
The Kid looked at Heyes and mouthed, “Mabel? Beautiful?”
Heyes shrugged. “It was a long time ago Clancy.”
“Well, Mabel was in the family way, and I wanted to take care of her, like a man should. So we took our savings and came here to Muddy Gap. Oh, you wouldn’t believe how nice this place was back then. The mine was going strong; the place was booming. Anyways, we started this hotel and bar. Did real fine with it too…” He trailed off.
“That sounds real nice, Clancy,” Heyes urged him on. “Why’d you sell out if you’re still here?”
“Well soon enough, Mabel had herself a little girl – Harriet. That girl was the light of my life. So full of fun, and laughter, and love. We had a great life, and then I lost it all.” He sighed again. “Life was good for a long time. Harriet grew. She learned to walk and talk. She had the most wonderful laugh, and her favorite thing in the world was to play hide and seek with me. She could play all day.”
The Kid glanced up and noticed the bartender staring at them. When he saw the Kid looking, he turned away.
Clancy continued, “Mabel was just so beautiful; I couldn’t believe she’d marry me. We had a wonderful life, but I got jealous, real jealous, of the men hanging around her. Oh, I knew she loved me, but when I’d drink I’d forget.”
He took a deep breath. “Yeah life was good, till the O’Leary brothers came to town. They had a stake and they thought they were something. Well one of them -- Patrick, Paddy O’Leary… He took a real shine to Mabel. I’d always find him hanging around. Always there ‘helping’ Mabel; telling her jokes, making her laugh. Yeah that Paddy and his brother Michael, just thought they were everything.”
Clancy scowled. “I told him to stay away from her, but he just laughed and came back, again and again. Finally, it came to a head.”
He turned to the Kid. “Can you imagine it? Me, I got into a showdown, an honest to goodness showdown with him in the street right out there. I’d been drinking and getting madder and madder all day – pot valiant, I guess.”
They all turned as if they could see through the walls of the saloon and the rain to the street and see the gunfight happening then.
“Let me guess, Clancy,” the Kid said, “you both missed?”
“No. No, I didn’t miss. Shot him dead, right out there.” Clancy stopped speaking for a moment.
“What happened then?” Heyes urged him on.
“There wasn’t any law here, and most folks agreed it was a fair fight. That should have been it. But Michael, Paddy’s brother, swore he’d get his revenge. I didn’t think about that; I was too busy thinking about my beautiful Mabel and playing hide and seek with my Harriet.”
“It happened the next night, after I’d closed down the bar.” He looked at the two of them. “Sometime that night, there was an explosion. Our house… we had a fine home right by the sign to Muddy Gap at the edge of town. Anyways, our home blew up. There were flames everywhere. The screaming…, the flames… the heat… In the morning, when the ashes had cooled enough, they found two bodies. Yeah, I lost them that night. I lost my beautiful Mabel and Harriet, the loves of my life.” Clancy finished his voice dropping to a whisper at the end. “That’s why I don’t drink anymore. Drinking and jealousy cost me everything.”
Heyes and the Kid were speechless. They turned away, looking anywhere other than at their old friend. As they stared out the window to the street beyond a brilliant flash of lightning blinded them, and a crash of thunder shook the room. When they glanced back at Clancy he was gone, his chair tucked neatly against the table.
They pushed their plates away, appetites gone, and poured themselves two more glasses.
“Poor Clancy,” Heyes commented.
The bartender came up to take the plates. “You two done? You want anything else?”
“No. Say, tell us, where does Clancy live now?”
“Yeah, Clancy the man who used to own this bar. Where does he live now?”
“Clancy ain’t owned the bar for four years. Not since the fire. They sold out right after and left. Headed back east.”
“They?” Heyes asked.
“Yeah, Mabel and her little girl.”
“I thought they died in the fire.” The Kid frowned.
“No. They made it out – sort of. But Clancy didn’t. They found two bodies in the morning – Clancy and Michael O’Leary. With Clancy dead, Mabel and Harriet didn’t want to stick around; they left right after the funeral.” He shook his head.
“What are you talking about?” Heyes exclaimed. “Clancy was just here, talking to us. We’re old friends, knew him years ago.”
The bartender looked them up and down. “There ain’t been a soul in here all night but you two. Clancy died four years ago tonight. It was raining that night too.” He looked at them again. “Come to think of it, it’s rained this night every year since then. I remember the rain last year when we heard…” He hesitated, then muttered, “Heard Mabel and her girl; going east didn’t save them. They had an accident, now they’re dead, too.” He scowled. “I don’t know what you two are about, but Clancy’s dead, and there was no else here. Now I want to close up so take that whiskey and get out of here!”
The partners checked out in the morning. It was grey and damp but not actually raining.
“You’re not staying for the poker?” the desk clerk asked.
“No, we decided we need to get goin’. Folks expectin’ us and all that,” the Kid explained.
Heyes looked at the man. “When did the mine close?”
“Funny you should ask that,” the desk clerk replied. “It was three years ago, yesterday. I remember it was raining hard that day too.”
They paused by the sign on the edge of town, looking at the burned-out ruins of a house that they had missed in the rain and gloom the day before. As they looked, the clouds parted and a watery beam of sunlight lit the overgrown bushes at the corner of the ruined home.
Mist rose around them from the sodden ground.
The high-pitched, happy trill of a little girl’s laugh rang out. “Come and find me Daddy; find me. I love you.”
The clouds closed in again. Heyes and the Kid turned and rode down the mountain without speaking.
Last edited by riders57 on Fri Oct 17, 2014 5:31 am; edited 1 time in total
Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Location : Over the rainbow
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Wed Oct 15, 2014 3:32 pm|| |
The Mindreading Boy
Heyes dropped the dust covers on the floor. “So, is this some kind of museum?”
His new employer glanced around at grinning papier-mâché heads, tumbling fabrics and garish boxes bejewelled with painted stars, moons and lightning flashes. “It was my great uncle’s house. He was a magician, the Magnificent Macari. One of the most famous in the country. That was only a stage name though. His real name was Cagliostro like mine.
A smile twitched at Heyes’ lips. “Never heard of him, but I respect a man who’s clever with his hands.” He strode over to the collection of swords, running his fingers tentatively over the edge. ”I guess it was best to keep on his good side, huh?”
Marie Cagliostro threw back the dusty velvet drapes, allowing caustic sunshine to drench the cluttered room. “His assistant died in a trick that went wrong and he became a hermit. This house is falling to bits.” She shuddered. “The whole place gives me the creeps, but it’s an inheritance and we need the money. San Francisco is growing fast so we should be able to get a decent price with a bit of work. Enzo and I only married two weeks ago, so we haven’t built a home yet. ”
“Not much of a honeymoon, huh? We sure appreciate a job where we can sleep indoors in November, though.” The Kid kicked at a wooded crate. “I suppose there might be something valuable hiding amongst all this. Maybe other theatre folks would be interested in this stuff?”
She nodded. “My husband has someone coming around who knows about it later.”
Enzo Cagliostro put his hands on his hips and scanned the mess. “Maybe all of this will inspire me in my painting?”
Heyes lifted a fake hand, examining it closely before putting back down on the guillotine. “What, you’re gonna put stars and glitter on the walls?”
“Not that sort of painting. I’m talking about my artwork. I’m building up a body of work for an exhibition next year. I’m finally getting recognition.” Enzo walked over to the corner and picked up a brush. “I thought about moving in here, but the light isn’t right. A north light is better for painting. I’ve got an eye on a place overlooking the sea.”
“Inspiring is one way to look at it,” Heyes cast out a hand - a real one this time. “This place sure affects the mood. It’s downright depressing with all these dark walls and drapes.”
“That’s just the amount of work that needs doin’, Joshua,” the Kid grinned. “As long as I’ve known you, nothing's brought you down faster than the prospect of an honest day’s work.”
“It’s an automaton. A mechanical boy. They’ve been making them for centuries.” The man leaned over to look at the back of the doll, its blank soulless eyes staring at everywhere and nowhere. “This is a famous mindreading trick; a bit of legend in the world of magic. Only three were ever made and we thought the only surviving one was in London. To think this has been mouldering away in a corner all this time is amazing. It winds up from here, if it still works,” his hand worked on the mechanism as he continued. “Giuseppe Rocca was a famous producer of these machines and ‘The Mindreading Boy’ was his last piece in 1763. The man was plagued by addictions to drink and drugs. The balance of his mind tilted too far and he murdered his wife in a fit of jealousy before he killed himself. A creative genius, but a terrible human being.”
The Kid’s eyes wandered across the little figure seated in a wooden chair. It was about three feet tall, with eerily realistic porcelain skin and he was sure that the blond, curled hair was human. The boy held out a slate as though about to draw but the unseeing eyes seemed to glitter with a dark, brooding malevolence. His finely-tuned senses caught Mrs. Cagliostro stiffen as the expert continued.
“Yup, these are real works of art. Look at those clothes; perfect miniature reproductions. There should be some chalk. Ah yes, there’s some here.” He slotted it into the little hand and stood back expectantly, his grey eyes darting between the watching people. “Let’s see if he works. Think of a letter; any letter”
“R?” Heyes replied.
The man shook his head. “No, don’t say it out loud. Try to see it in your mind.”
Mrs. Cagliostro nodded, thoroughly intrigued. “Okay, I’ve got one.”
“Good. Let’s try this out.” He stretched out a hand and pulled the lever. The little figure jerked into life before the head turned, apparently scanning the room with empty, obsidian eyes. The little feet began to kick the chair legs like an impatient child before the hand started to move. It pulled back, hovering over the slate as the head turned to stare at the slate. The chalk connected to the surface with a click and slid over the surface until the letter ‘C’ was clearly inscribed. The head turned to regard the room with hauntingly cold eyes as though waiting for approval, then quickly snapped back to the default position.
Marie gasped. “How did it know?”
The Kid turned amused eyes on her. “It’s right? It guessed your letter?”
“Yes,” she blinked in confusion. “How? It’s not possible.”
The man chuckled. “It’s possible. We only call it magic.”
Heyes’ smile widened. “How is it done?”
“I can’t tell you that. It’d ruin the trick.” The man gazed at the now still automaton. “He’s a beauty and he’ll fetch a good price. The rest of the stuff is old, but it could still fetch some money because magicians are always interested in their predecessors. The Magnificent Macari was very famous in his day, and the tragic end to his career will fascinate many. Split this up into lots for a specialist auction, and you’ll do fairly well. The Mindreading Boy is different. A famous piece of magical history like this could attract bidders from all over the world.”
“Really?” Enzo stared at the little figure in bemusement.
“Oh, yes. In fact, that metal boy could bring in more money than the house and contents put together. He’s in beautiful condition and ghoulish as it may be, the fact he’s related to three violent deaths will add to the price.”
The Kid arched his brows. “Three?”
“Yes, Giuseppe Rocca, his wife, and Julia Weedon, Macari’s assistant. They were trying to update the mindreading act using the automaton. Macari was playing a jealous husband supposedly interrogating her to find out which of the men in the audience was her ‘lover.’ All the men were to be encouraged to write a letter before the show, and a sealed envelope was chosen at random. The automaton would read her mind and write the man’s name,” the visitor shook his head ruefully. “It would have been a wonderful illusion, but things got out of hand and Macari got too close when he lashed out with a knife. Somehow, a real knife was confused with the prop knife. He caught her jugular vein.”
Marie blanched. “No! I never knew exactly what happened. That’s horrible.”
The man nodded. “It was just a terrible accident, they were only rehearsing. Macari shut himself away and nobody ever heard from him again. He was a broken man.”
“Does it always write the same letter?” Heyes stepped forward and pulled the lever. The machine trundled back into life, its head turning and scanning the room, followed by the little legs kicking the chair. Suddenly the face snapped around, staring straight at Marie in a discomfiting focus. The hand tapped back and forth, clicking the chalk against the slate over and over again, still holding the woman in a blank stare until she anxiously took a step back.
The Kid stepped forward and pulled back the lever to turn it off. “Why’d it do that?”
The visitor shrugged. “It seems to be stuck.”
“It hates me,” murmured Marie. “I can feel it.”
“Nonsense,” grinned the stranger. “It’s a machine. It’s realistic, but is only a collection of cogs and springs. It can’t have any more feelings than a chair.”
Enzo stretched a comforting arm around her shoulders. “It’s been sitting here for almost sixty years, it’s probably just clogged or something.”
She shook her head, frowning at the metal boy. “I don’t like it. The sooner that thing’s no longer under the same roof as me the better.”
“You’ve done enough,” Marie handed Heyes a glass of wine. “It‘s ten o’clock. Come and sit down, unwind a little before bed.”
He stepped back from the wall. “Yes, everything’s filled now, so, I can sand down tomorrow. There’s not much more I can get done tonight.” He accepted the glass gratefully before dropping down to the floor and sitting cross-legged in the corner. “There’s only one chair. You take it.”
She shook her head and sat beside him, her long legs stretched out in front of her. “I’m fine on the floor. You take it.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. “I like it fine right here.”
Enzo grinned and slipped down beside his wife. “Are you flirting with my woman?”
“A lovely woman who can cook like that?” The Kid raised his glass in salute. “It’s me you should be worried about.”
“All Italian women can cook, Mr. Jones.” Marie blushed, prettily. “We learn at our mothers’ knees.”
“And the most beautiful women in the world too,” Enzo drew his wife to him in an affectionate hug. “No one measures up to my Marie, though.”
“Yeah,” the Kid drained his glass. “We’d best turn in. We’ve got a full day tomorrow. Back bedroom?”
“If it’s not too awful for you,” Marie shook her head, “but, everywhere in here is dark and depressing but I’ve cleaned it out best I can for you.”
“We’ve slept in worse, ma’am. We’ll be just fine.” The fair head gestured towards the door. “Come’ on, Joshua. They’re newlyweds. They need their privacy.”
Marie awoke with a start, her heart thumping wildly in her chest, unsure what had wakened her. She strained to listen through the darkness. Nothing ... silence.
She collapsed back onto the pillows, chiding herself for allowing her imagination to run away with itself, before snuggling into a curl and closing her eyes. She reached out for her husband, but he was gone, leaving only a warm spot on the mattress behind him. He must have heard him getting up. He’d be back soon.
Her eyes flashed open again. There it was; tap, tap, tap. It was only in the distance; almost indistinct, but it was enough to cause a chill to slither down her spine. What was that?
She swung her legs out of bed and reached for her dressing gown, before stepping cautiously out into the hallway. “Enzo?” she called, tentatively. “Are you there?”
She bit into her lip, groping along the wall in the darkness. “Is that you? What are you doing?”
“Who’s Enzo?” Marie jumped at the deep, heavily accented voice behind her.
“Who’s there? Oh, Enzo! Where are you?” She ran down the hallway, her frantic fingers feeling the way.
“Who is this Enzo? Tell me, slut!”
She started to stumble, bouncing against the boxes stacked along the hallway, but she could hear footsteps pounding on the floorboards behind her. They were gaining on her. Terror spiralled in her chest, her breathing coming in great, gulps of anxiety and she rattled at the doorknob. Her hands slid over the brass surface before they eventually gripped and she tore open the door to the drawing room. She turned the key in the lock and stood with her back against it, gulping huge gasps of rasping fear. “Enzo! Where in God’s name are you?”
Prickles rose at the back of her neck. The handle moved slowly in her hand before rattling more quickly. She yelped, pulling her hand away as though burned. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“It’s Thaddeus, Mrs. Cagliostro. Let me in. Are you alright?”
Relief rushed through her. Her still tense fingers scrabbled at the key until she pulled it open and dragged him into the drawing room. “Did you hear him?”
He frowned, drinking in her wild eyes and tangled hair. “Who? I never heard a thing, except for you.”
“The man! He chased me down the hallway. Surely, you must have heard him?”
Heyes entered the room, shaking his head. He lit the lamp and looked down the empty hallway. “I heard you and your husband. Where is he?” He turned. “Did you have an argument?”
“No, I woke up and he was gone. I heard tapping and a strange man chased me.”
“Strange?” Heyes demanded. “Surely that was your husband?”
“No,” Marie’s burning eyes underscored her adamant determination. “That was not his voice. Don’t you think I would know? He had a heavy Italian accent. Enzo was born here.”
Heyes smiled reassuringly, stepping towards her, conscious that he was wearing only trousers quickly donned over his Henley. “We came as soon as I heard you shouting. You’re safe. You’ve got two men here who know how to handle themselves. I’m sure we’ll sort this out as soon as we find your husband. He probably just went to use the outhouse.”
Marie ran her trembling hands distractedly through her hair, trying to drag her jangled nerves into some kind of order. “What’s gotten into me? I’m so sorry; I’m behaving like some kind of child. I must have still been dreaming.” She dropped into the chair. “I’m not staying here tomorrow night. I’ll go to Mama’s. I hate this place.”
Their heads turned. The automaton had jumped into life with a click and whir. The little head surveyed the room, the black eyes sweeping around while the little legs started to kick aimlessly at the chair. The Kid leaned over, examining the figure. They watched the arm move into place and the head slowly turn to watch the hand write on the slate, but it simply connected, over and over again, in an endless mechanical loop. Heyes smiled. “You heard tapping?” The hand clicked back and forth, rapping the chalk repeatedly on the slate. “Is that what you heard?”
A flush burned in her cheeks. “I suppose it might have been.”
The Kid fiddled with the levers at the back. “We must have left it turned on, and the noises set off your imagination. Easy enough in a place like this.”
“Maybe, but,” Alex sounded unconvinced, “it seemed so loud and nearby.”
A tousled Enzo entered the room. “I saw the light. What’s going on?”
“Oh, somethin’ and nothin’,” the Kid folded his arms. “Your wife had a nightmare. Where were you?”
“The outhouse,” Enzi frowned. “A nightmare? Are you alright, Marie?”
She shrugged. “I’m fine, other than feeling a little stupid.”
“Well, no harm done. We’ll get back to bed.”
“Sure,” Marie nodded. “Sleep well and I’m sorry to have disturbed you.
Enzo stared at the automaton. “That’s got to have been what you heard. You’d have been half asleep, it got caught up in your dream,” his voice trailed off. “This damned lever’s stuck.” He yanked at the mechanism and the boy’s head jerked, the arm tapping on the slate faster and faster.
She swallowed down a knot of uncertainty, unable to tear her gaze away from the jet eyes. “Turn it off, please.”
“I’m trying. This damn thing is so stiff,” he muttered under his breath, “if this would just... move, dammit! Just... SLUT!”
Marie’s eyes widened. “What did you just say?”
Enzo’s hissed words were strangulated by a heavy accent. “Slut! Harlot!”
“That was you in hallway. What’s wrong with you? Why are you talking like that?”
“Whore!” her husband turned, her heart stopping at his contorted face. His eyes were transformed into chilling, black holes of hate. The malign pits radiated pure hostility and they were now fixed on her. “Who is he?” He still spoke with a heavy accent. “What man are you throwing yourself at now?”
Whoever this was, he was not the man she has married. She shook her head furiously and edged towards the door. “Man?”
The forehead scowled over the jet eyes. “Where are you going?”
She stopped. She could reach the door in about five paces, but his size gave him an advantage. “Nowhere, where do you want me to go?”
“Fine, just try not to get worked up. There’s no need to get angry.” She stepped diagonally in his direction, heading obliquely for the door.
The blank eyes glittered in her direction. “There’s every need, you can’t be trusted.”
She gulped heavily, a knot of fear sitting heavily in her gullet, unconsciously clenching and unclenching her sweating palms. “Come back to bed. Relax, huh?”
The eyes narrowed. “Whore!”
The fluttering in her stomach spiralled into a panic which coursed through veins, spurring her into action. She bolted for the door, but felt herself grabbed by the collar as he flicked the key in the lock. She fell, knocking over a box on her way down. Strong arms grabbed her kicking ankles, flipping her onto her back. He dropped to his knees, grasping her roughly by the throat. “Die, puttana!”
The long fingers tightened around her windpipe. Her desperate hands plucked at the iron grip, and congested lips gasped and panted for any trace of life-giving oxygen. Marie looked up to the face above her, cast in sinister shadows from the lamp. The unworldly, absent black eyes stared into her soul, feeding on her terror and pain. Her arms flailed about, until she felt the bite of cold steel on her flesh. Pain overwhelmed her senses and sparkles of light stared to drift into her peripheral vision. This was it; her brain was starting to shut down. There was a bang and flash before everything went black.
Marie’s unfocussed eyes flickered open. “Easy now,” the burred figure shifted into focus. “I’m Doc Coffee, and you’ve had a rough time, but you’re gonna be just fine. These fellas here got to you in time.”
She looked over to Heyes and Curry who stood over by the door beside a few strangers.
The Kid nodded. “We shot the lock off, ma’am. Sorry about the damage.”
“Nothin’ to be sorry about, young man. She’d be a gonner if you hadn’t got to her when you did,” the doctor turned back to his patient. “He’d grabbed one of them swords from a box. You got a nasty cut on your arm where you tried to defend yourself and bruising to the throat, but nothing that won’t fix up.” He shook his head ruefully. “Why anyone needs a box of swords in their house is beyond me.”
“Enzo...” she croaked.
“Her husband,” Heyes volunteered. “Break it gently, Doc. They just got married.”
“Yeah? Just married? That might explain why she didn’t know.”
“Know what?” Marie choked.
“Your husband is ill, Mrs. Cagliostro,” the doctor tapped his temple with two fingers. “Sick in the head. He was ravin’ and fightin’ and it took these two men and a couple of neighbours to subdue him. He’s been taken to the asylum.”
“He’s mad?” Marie shook her head in denial. “I’ve known Enzo all my life. We went to school together. There’s never been a sign of it. No, it’s something else.”
“No, ma’am. Maybe it was the stress of getting married. Who knows?” The doctor stood. “He’s in the right place and if there’s any way of curing him, they’ll find it.” He turned irritably at the tapping drifting down the hall. “What in the name of all that’s holy is that noise?”
“It’s that machine boy,” the Kid made for the door. “I’ll switch it off.”
“No!” Marie propped herself up on one elbow. “Take outside. Smash it! Burn it!”
Heyes’ brow creased. “But it’s valuable, ma’am.”
“It’s evil. That’s what got into Enzo. He won’t stand a chance of recovering as long as it still exists. Destroy it! This is over! That thing spreads evil like some kind of infection. First Giuseppe and his wife, then Enzo’s great uncle and his assistant; now me. ”
The Kid cut Heyes off. “Sure, Mrs. Cagliostro. I don’t like that thing much myself. If it helps you at a time like this it’s gone.”
Heyes followed his cousin out into the hallway. “You’re not really going to smash it, are you? It’s worth more than the house.”
Penetrating blue eyes skewered Heyes. “Joshua, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s not to ignore my instincts. We’re a darn sight worse than most animals when it comes to avoidin’ danger and that’s because we think we’re so smart we forget to listen to our souls. If that lady says that thing is a danger to her and her husband it’s gone. I’ve gotta say it sets my teeth on edge too. Who am I to tell her she’s stupid?”
2014 Los Angeles
The detective’s brow furrowed. “Doug, come and see this.”
His colleague stepped over the woman’s body, carefully avoiding the blood pooling around her head. He strode over the painting hanging on the wall, intermittently illuminated by the Scenes of Crime photographer. “What you got, Steve?”
“Something and nothing. You see this? It’s by an artist called Cagliostro.”
“You never struck me as an art lover, Steve.”
“I’m not, but I made it my business to look in to his background when I saw his work at the fourth of these murder-suicides. They’re all similar; the man apparently turns on his wife for no reason, beats her before he strangles her, then he slits both their throats.” Steve’s eyes narrowed. “These are linked. I know they are. There’s one of his pictures at every crime scene.”
Doug frowned. “Have you investigated him?”
Steve nodded. “Sure have. He died in a lunatic asylum in 1917. A pile of his work was discovered in some doctor’s loft after he died and the art world is going ape over it. I checked the gallery too. The owner he’s got a cast iron alibi for all but two of them. For the last one he was being interviewed live on television.”
“What about someone else linked to the gallery?”
Steve arched an eyebrow. “I’m still looking and now there’s been another killing I’m going to take that place apart. One thing’s for sure; the artist isn’t behind it so there’s going to be some other link. Drugs maybe? Or robbery made to look like murder-suicide?”
“You’ve got a good eye, Steve. How’d you notice the paintings in the middle of all that carnage anyway?”
Steve shrugged. “They all look similar. Angry abstracts, different colours, but similar styles. I kinda like them.”
Doug grimaced. “Ya do? I think they’re horrible, but I guess I’m more of a ‘dogs playing poker’ man. This is just splodges. Anyone could have done these. How’d ya even know they’re by the same man?”
The blond police officer rubbed his chin distractedly. “Who knows with these arty types, Doug? It’s probably some kind of signature, like a graffiti artist’s tag, or it could just be subconscious. The lines are kind of abstract. Look here,” Steve pointed down to the right hand corner to a little figure, “there’s a series of lines that look like a little boy with dark eyes, dressed in Victorian clothes. It’s tiny, usually hidden away but he’s always there. That’s how you know it’s a Cagliostro.” He peered closely at the canvas with a shudder. “Yup, that’s definitely a little boy. Creepy little sucker looks straight into you, doesn’t he?”
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb
Posts : 538
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 64
Location : Colorado
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Wed Oct 15, 2014 5:57 pm|| |
This is the final chapter of the series covering the last two months. I've posted a slightly longer version on Fanfiction.net:
Swirls of coffee grounds floating in the mug he grasped in his hands held the Kid’s interest as his partner droned on, reviewing and rejecting numerous ways to chase down Will and his friends. The verbal barrage had begun just after sunrise and Curry had just about had his fill of it. “I’ve been thinkin’, Heyes.”
Hannibal Heyes paused his pacing back and forth in front of the fire ring. His bare feet were filthy and caked with mud from the past two days. The Kid smiled at the sight of them, knowing that his partner was a bit of a dandy and liked to cut a dashing figure; weren’t nothing dashing about Heyes right now.
“I thought we had an agreement about that, Kid.”
“We do, but you ain’t doin’ so good with it so I felt like I had to step in. I’m thinkin’ Will’s a pretty smart man, maybe even as smart as you.”
“Just because he ambushed us, don’t make him smart…”
“Maybe, but Will knows we’re followin’ him and he’s doin’ everything in his power to slow us down or put us off his trail without killin’ us. By now, he’s beginnin’ to realize we ain’t gonna give up and he’s gonna have to get a bit more aggressive.”
“Don’t you think I know that?!! Why do you think I’ve been wearing a groove in the ground? If we run him down, he’s going to fight and we can’t go round these mountains and head him off, not without losing a day or more. He’d be in town by then.”
“Yep, he would.”
“I don’t want him to get to Fort Steele. He’ll lose my money at the poker tables,” said Heyes.
“Nope, don’t want that.”
“Are you planning on saying anything remotely helpful?”
“I am. We haven’t gotten close enough to see them clearly in the field glasses so that means they also can’t be sure who’s on their tail. Most they could know is that there’re two riders followin’ them.”
Heyes looked blank for second, and then a slow, pleased smile crossed his features. “They won’t recognize you.”
“Now you’re thinkin’, partner.”
“But they might recognize your horse. You’ll have to go in on foot.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“You can follow them into Fort Steele and I’ll trail along a mile or so behind you.”
“Hold on a minute!” protested Curry. “I wasn’t volunteerin’ to wander into a passel of bluebellies. I was thinkin’ more along the lines of catchin’ up to Will and strikin’ up a conversation while you get the drop on him.”
“Too risky. Will’s too smart to accept a man on foot showing up in the middle of nowhere.”
“So Will’s smart now, huh?” smirked the Kid.
“Of course he’s smart, I never said he wasn’t.”
“Just not as smart as you, right?”
Heyes smiled. “Right. Look, follow them into town, buy them some beers, lose a few hands of poker, and find out where they’re staying. Tail them if you have to. Then we’ll pay them a visit and straighten things out.”
“You want me to lose my money? Don’t you think you givin’ them all of yours was enough?”
“Are you gonna help me or are you planning to stand there all day pretending to be funny?”
Curry saw Heyes was set on his plan and capitulated. “All right, we’ll play it your way, but you better be watchin’ my back the whole time.”
“I will be, and I’ll make sure no one sees me.” Heyes smiled. “Oh, and I’ll need some cash.”
“What for?” The Kid reached into his pocket and pulled out his wad of bills.
“Just in case you lose your last nickel tonight.”
Pushing open the glass-paned door, Curry stepped into the busy saloon. He’d only walked from just outside of town, but his stacked-heeled ropers were already rubbing his feet and souring his mood. The sight of a roomful of drunken soldiers did nothing to improve it. Geez, he hated Heyes’ plans.
Making his way through a knot of sweaty, inebriated men, Curry bellied up to the bar as the door swung open again and three men walked in. The last man through the door sported a black, silver-trimmed Stetson that the Kid immediately recognized. Seeing Will sporting Heyes’ hat, boots, and holster reminded Curry of how easily this could’ve turned out different.
A foursome at one of the tables threw their cards down and cashed out so the Kid hurried over, pulled out a chair, and sat as one of the soldiers approached him and asked to join him. He turned the man away feigning a southern accent. No further explanation was needed; anyone with a blue uniform was used to being shunned by sullen ex-Johnny Rebs. One of the cavalry soldiers spit in his direction, but Curry ignored him. He let his gaze drift over to Will and his two men. The Kid withdrew a deck of cards from his jacket and started shuffling.
Will picked up a bottle of whiskey off the bar and spotted the nearly empty table. With a slight nod to the seats across from him, Curry sat back and watched as the three men sauntered over and sat down. Will tipped the infamous black hat. “Much obliged, Mister, seems like there’s a shortage of seats. Whiskey?”
“Thanks.” The Kid bridged the deck.
“Looks like you might be a player. How ‘bout a friendly game of five-card draw?”
Curry smiled. “You boys think you can afford to lose to me?”
Will smiled back. “You sound pretty sure of yourself. What’s your name?”
“It’s Mark Clemens. Who am I talkin’ to?”
“I’m Will, that there’s Carl and Hal.” He pulled off the black hat and set it on the table next to his whiskey glass.
The Kid glanced at it. “Nice hat.”
“Thanks, kinda like it myself.” Will caught a passing barmaid and snatched a fourth glass from her tray.
Curry dealt out four hands. He picked up his cards, arranging them carefully before glancing out the front window. A dark-haired man in a raggedy brown coat was sitting next to the steps. Heyes smiled as a passing cowboy dropped a coin into the upended hat he held out. At least one of them would end the evening with some cash.
The four men settled down to play, drink, and smoke. The Kid found them all friendly enough and, under other circumstances, he might’ve enjoyed their company. Will was a tobacco chewer just like Kyle only his aim was much. A darkened stain was spreading across the planked floor under his feet. Carl and Hal were terrible players and the Kid had no problem reading them as easily as opened books, but Will was a different story. He had a constant feral gleam in his eyes and it never changed whether the cards were good or bad. It was as though he had a deep-seated belief he’d win in the end and whatever happened between now and then was of no mind.
The whiskey bottle emptied and Hal and Carl were well on their way to being drunk. Will was still hard to read, but his eyes had taken on a softer, more watery look to them so Curry ordered another bottle, eased up on his own drinking, and settled down to try to pry information from his opponents.
Outside the saloon, Heyes stood up and stretched. His back was aching from sitting on the wooden sidewalk and he was getting antsy. He looked in the window, but failed to catch the Kid’s eye. Scratching his side, he looked up and down the street. Stores had closed as the sun had set and now the sidewalks had emptied. He scratched again, and found himself wondering if the clothes he’d stolen had lice in them. He’d had some luck today: he’d found a pair of broken-down, muddy shoes outside the back door of the house he’d stolen the coat from and they’d fit well enough. He hoped the owner would find the five dollars he’d left for him. Yawning, he settled back down and pretended to doze off.
The soldier the Kid had turned away earlier spent the evening drinking heavily and regaling his friends with war stories. The more stories he told and the more whiskey he drank, the more the line between then and now blurred. All the fear and resentment he’d felt during the war came flooding back to him and he worked himself into a righteous anger at being rudely dismissed by a filthy cotton farmer. He declared his intention to teach the Southie a lesson and shrugged off his friends’ attempts at restraining him. Staggering across the room, he lurched to a stop in front of the Kid and mumbled a confusing challenge. Curry ignored him and continued his play, but Will put down his cards and stared at the man as if he was something dirty he’d found on the bottom of his boots. “You’re disruptin’ my game, boy. You’d best get the hell out of here before I put a hurt on you,” growled Will.
“Butt out, Mister. I ain’t got no squabble with you,” slurred the soldier.
The Kid looked up at him and smiled. “You’re drunk. Go back to your barracks and sleep it off. You’ll be glad you did.”
“Why you sack o’….” Furious, the man reached for his sidearm as the table tipped over and he heard the loud report of a shot echoing in his ears. Reflexively his hand grappled at his side, searching for the gun that was no longer hanging there. He looked down at the cleanly-severed holstered and looked up again, staring stupidly at the blue-eyed man before him.
“Go on now, get some sleep. Ain’t no reason to die tonight,” said Curry.
The man gulped and nodded. His friends came forward pulled him away without protest.
The bartender, shotgun in hand, came over and told them all to leave.
Heyes had jumped up at the sound of a gunshot and was staring through the window when the soldiers burst out the door. Deciding his partner was all right, he sank back down on his heels, his head dropping, and saw a familiar pair of scuffed brown boots go by.
“Dang it all to hell, Mark, that was some fancy shootin’! How’d you learn to shoot like that?” asked Hal. “I ain’t seen no one who could shoot like that.”
“Me neither,” said Carl quietly. His newfound friend had just become a frightening stranger. He stepped around a beggar and strode into the dusty street.
Will said nothing at all, but he was thinking hard. Clemens was obviously a gunnie and he could use a man like that. “Say, Mark, why don’t you come with us and finish the game? We’re usin’ an abandoned shack just a short walk north of town. I’ll give you a sportin’ chance to win some of your money back.” Unconsciously, he reached into his pocket and dropped a handful of change into the battered hat lying next to the bum on the sidewalk and followed the Kid, staring at his broad back.
“I guess I’ll take you up on that offer,” Curry said affably, “since I can’t afford a hotel room anymore.”
Heyes had seen the Kid walk out of town with the three men so the cabin had to be very close. He waited a while and followed them. The moon was nearing full and it cast a soft light on the dirt road they’d taken. Staying just inside the trees, he blended in with the darkness of the forest.
Branches swung with the wind that had kicked up after dark and cast shadows that swayed and danced around him. A movement to his left startled him and he turned his head towards it failing to see the low-hanging limb that caught him in the forehead and staggered him. Grabbing his head, he cursed under his breath before hearing a soft buzzing in his ears. He looked up at the branch bobbing up and down and saw a large hornet’s nest hanging from it. Giving silent thanks that it was nighttime and the insects were mostly dormant, he side-stepped around the tree carefully.
Finally, he saw a faint glow of light through the forest and cut away from the road towards it. Moving forward slowly and cautiously, he stopped within twenty yards of an old, derelict cabin. The porch sagged and the windows were broken, but the roof looked solid. Heyes saw his and Kyle’s horses and mules standing quietly alongside three other horses in a makeshift corral. He couldn’t see anything from where he stood so he crept around the edge of the clearing until he could see the Kid seated across from a window, cards in his hand. Will had his back to Heyes. Carl and Hal had gone to sleep and Carl was snoring loudly.
The Kid looked up and stared straight at Heyes then stood and stretched, lifting his arms over his head and revealing his lack of a firearm.
Damn! They hadn’t planned on having the Kid on the inside and now he was; unarmed. Will was no fool, that’s for sure. He had liked the Kid well enough but he’d been too darn smart to let a fox into his henhouse. He’d taken Curry’s gun off him. Heyes rubbed his chin and considered his options. He couldn’t risk barging into the cabin. He might get the drop on Will, but he had no idea if Carl and Hal had gone to bed with their guns nearby. He wouldn’t take that chance.
“So, Mark, you give joinin’ us any more thought?” said Will.
Curry knew it might be a fatal mistake to decline the invitation. “I’ll ride along with you.”
“Good.” Will laid down his cards. “I call, pair of jacks and a pair of threes.”
The Kid folded his cards face down on the deck.
“I’m also callin’ it a night. See you in the mornin’.” Will stood up.
“Think I’ll take a leak before I turn in,” said the Kid, rising.
He stopped in front of a bush and relieved himself. Buttoning up, he saw Heyes lean out from behind a tree and wave to him to join him. He shook his head no, pointing to where his gun should be hanging from his hip.
He wasn’t about to leave his customized Colt behind. Let Heyes figure out the next move, he was the one who started this whole mess. The Kid walked back to the cabin with a smile on his face.
A smothered, frustrated growl nearly escaped from Heyes’ throat as he watched his partner walking away. What was he going to do now? And just like that, he knew. Too bad if the Kid didn’t like it.
As the sun was starting to come up, Hannibal Heyes sidled up to the broken-out window on the east side of the cabin. Bundled under his arm was the raggedy coat he’d been wearing. He’d located the nest while the hornets were still sleeping and had wrapped it tightly in the old fabric. Cutting it off and removing it from the branch had been easy. Returning to the cabin without awakening the insects had been harder. He could hear an angry, muffled buzz.
With a dimpled, delinquent’s grin, he popped up and shook open the coat through the window. The nest dropped out, hitting the floor with a light bounce. The buzzing grew louder and Heyes ducked back down and ran for the cover of the trees.
Will twitched as a hornet landed on his neck and he sleepily brushed his hand against the intruder which retaliated by stinging him repeatedly. He sat up howling. Grabbing his hat, he swatted at his clothes, further antagonizing the emerging hornets. The Kid’s woke, saw the gray shape on the floor, cursed out loud, and followed Will out the door. Carl screamed and Hal started yelling before racing out of the cabin a few seconds later. All four men stared back into the shack in stunned disbelief, their jaws hanging open, and their hearts pounding.
“Mornin’, Will,” said a baritone voice behind them.
Will and his two men spun on their heels and Curry swiftly lifted Carl’s gun from his holster, jammed it into the man’s back, and angrily growled at his partner. “Really, a hornet’s nest? That’s the best you could come up with?”
Heyes caught the gun tossed to him and shrugged. He was smiling from ear to ear as he reached up and snatched his hat off Will and dropped it onto his own head. “Take off the holster and the boots.”
Will unbuckled the gun belt and held it out to Heyes who took it and slung it over one shoulder. He then sat down in the dirt and pulled off the boots shoving them towards the gloating man.
“You gonna kill us?” Carl asked uncertainly.
“What do you think I should do with you?” questioned Heyes, digging into Will’s pockets. Heyes found his silver watch and cash.
“We let you go, Mister,” said Hal.
“Yes, but that was your mistake, wasn’t it?” Heyes was watching Will. The man stared evenly at him, not afraid, not even angry. “What would you do, Will?”
“Well, I reckon you already know what I’d do. I ain’t no killer. If’n I was, you’d be dead right now and I’d still be wearin’ that fancy hat of yours. I’d plenty of chances to kill you.”
Heyes laughed and holstered his gun. “You’re right. Tell you what, why don’t we go back inside the cabin and light us a nice, smoky fire? Get rid of the rest of them hornets. I’m guessing you’ve got some coffee in there, don’t you? I’d surely love a cup of coffee.”
A short time later, the five men were seated at the rickety table, steaming cups of coffee in front of each of them, the Kid’s Colt .45 lying conspicuously by his right hand.
Heyes spoke first. “The way I see it, you’ve got a couple of choices. We can tie you up and leave you here to work your way loose sooner or later.”
Carl and Hal both enthusiastically nodded their agreement with this plan, but Will sat back and studied Heyes. “So what’s the other choice?”
“You join up with me and my gang.”
Curry choked on the coffee he was swallowing. He coughed hard and rasped out, “What?!!”
“And why’d I want to do that?” replied Will.
“’Cause I’ll make you rich and famous.”
“Being rich don’t matter none to me and famous is for damn fools lookin’ to git their necks stretched. Me and the boys are doin’ just fine on our own.”
“Will, I…” began Carl, only to be silenced by the look his leader gave him.
Will continued. “Why would I sign up to ride with someone who’d risk his neck over an old hat and some boots? Seems to me you ain’t as smart as you think you are, boy. I could’ve killed you easy twice over for followin’ me. But I didn’t. I took the money you cheated me out of and I took a few other things to teach you a lesson, but I didn’t kill you.”
“I don’t cheat.”
“Mister, no one’s that good at poker.”
“He is,” said the Kid.
“Is that right?” Will smiled. “So maybe you didn’t cheat us outright, but you made us think we were sittin’ down with a greenhorn. That’s almost the same as cheatin’. If’n you’re so good at poker how come you have to pretend to be somebody else?” He sat back and looked Heyes up and down. “Hmm, could be you was worried ‘bout someone recognizin’ you. Maybe you’re already famous so you don’t need me.”
“I can always use someone with your brains,” said Heyes.
“No sir, you can’t use me; I ain’t robbin’ and killin’ for you and that’s final.”
“Shut up, Carl!”
“I don’t allow killing in my gang, that’s why you interest me.”
“Well then, that is a surprise; an outlaw leader who don’t believe in killing. Yep, you sure are one of a kind, but I’m bettin’ your own men will probably kill you for the fun of it before you can make me rich. Maybe even this fella.” Will nodded at the Kid.
“Could happen,” shrugged Curry.
“I’m offering you a job, Will. Do you want it or not?” said an exasperated Heyes.
“Fine. We’ll leave you here.”
An hour later, Will slipped one bloody fist from the snug cloth holding him tight to a skinny pine. He made quick work of freeing Hal and then pulled Carl’s gag before untying him.
“Do you know who that was??!!!” sputtered Carl .
“Yep, ain’t too many rich and famous, poker-playin’ outlaws in this neck of the woods; leastways, not with a partner who can shoot like that.”
“If you knew who he was, why’d you talk to him like that? Curry could’ve killed you,” said Hal.
Will smiled. “Nope, that’s where you’re wrong. Curry ain’t no killer and neither is Heyes. Everyone knows that.”
“I think maybe we should have ridden with them.”
“Now, Carl, we had an agreement about that. I do the thinkin’ in this gang.”
“Yeah, but they really could’ve made us rich and famous,” said Hal wistfully.
“And wanted for eight thousand dollars each,” said Will. “Heyes can’t even play a hand of poker without worryin’ about bein’ recognized. You want to live like that? Then go ahead and ride after them. Me, I’m happy bein’ me. I got money in my pocket and food in my belly; why’d I want to go off and get famous? It don’t look to me like it’s worth it.”
Once they’d given it some thought, Hal and Carl decided Will was right. A simple life was a gift.
“The purpose of life isn’t to arrive at death in perfect condition but to slide into it sideways with your hair mussed, your clothes disheveled, a martini in one hand and chocolate in the other, shouting ‘Whooeee, what a ride!’”--Hunter S. Thompson
Posts : 812
Join date : 2013-09-08
Age : 64
Location : Seattle
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Thu Oct 16, 2014 8:46 am|| |
Angels Among Us
“Who’s out there?” The woman behind the door answered the knock, with a voice that sounded old and frail.
“We’re lookin’ for work, ma’am. Tom, the storekeeper in town, said you and your daughter might be needin’ some help round here.” Heyes surveyed the neat as a pin barnyard, with its mended fences and whitewashed buildings, and figured maybe Tom had been wrong. The place was small, but obviously well kept.
The door creaked open, just enough for the barrel of a shotgun to poke through. “I‘ll thank ya kindly to be on your way. Tom had no call tellin’ you to come out here like this.”
“He didn’t mean no harm, ma’am. He just figured maybe we could help out, is all. He said you’d been out here alone for awhile.“ The Kid noticed an enormous pile of freshly chopped logs needing cut and split, but other than that couldn’t see much to do. A chopping block, complete with axes and men’s gloves, sat nearby at the ready.
“We’re doin’ fine out here, young fella. We don’t need no strangers comin’ round, and old Tom should a known better.”
“We don’t want trouble, ma’am. If you don’t have work for us, we’ll be on our way.” The Kid hugged himself, trying to keep warm in the brisk autumn wind.
“It‘s colder than a witches tit,” Heyes muttered under his breath. Looking up at the dark storm clouds building in the sky, he pulled his coat up close around his neck. A whirlwind of fall leaves danced around their feet and blew helter skelter towards the barn. “It’s downright cold, ma’am, and it’s a ways back to town. Could we come in and get warmed up a mite before we head on back? If it’s not too much trouble, that is.”
The door tentatively widened with a loud, grating creak. A young woman, no more than 17 or 18, stepped forward with the shot gun aimed straight at the two men.
“What do you want me to do, Mother?” She flipped her long black hair out of her face and glanced back at the feeble, elderly woman sitting in the rocking chair.
“Step back, child, and let me see ‘em.” Mother stopped rocking and inspected the two drifters. To say they appeared rough around the edges was an understatement. From their unshaven faces and dusty clothes, to their tied down guns, everything about them told her to send them on their way. But Mother had learned a long time ago not to judge a book by its cover. She carefully studied their faces, trying to measure their intent. Old and tired, she could still see they both had a clear countenance and guileless eyes.
“Well, the good Lord says we ought to be charitable and I reckon now is a good a time as any. Come on in, youngins. But leave your guns on the bench outside.”
“Yes, ma’am.“ The two young men heard the coo of an infant, as they deposited their gun belts on the bench. The young woman handed the shot gun to Mother as she gave her attention to the babe.
Mother promptly turned the gun back on her visitors. “Close the door, have a seat at the table and warm yourselves. Sissy, put two more places on for supper. I reckon they might as well fill their bellies while they’re here.”
“Yes, Mother." With the babe in a sling on one hip, Sissy began setting the table and fussing over the food.
“Now, Mother, I think you already know you don’t need to keep that shooter pointed on us.” Heyes offered a reassuring smile to the perceptive old lady, while removing his gloves and coat.
The Kid congenially tipped his hat, before hanging it on the rack next to several other men‘s hats. “That’s right, ma’am, we’ll be just as meek as a mouse. You‘ll see.”
“Don’t waste your charms on me, boys. I’m hospitable, but I ain’t no fool. Do you have names?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am. I’m Joshua Smith and this is my cousin, Thaddeus Jones. We’re mighty glad to meet your acquaintance, ma’am. And you too, Sissy. “ Heyes nodded at the young mother who looked at him warily as she continued to stir the pot.
“The babe is my granddaughter. We call her Sammy, after her Pa.” Mother’s face softened as her eyes fondly caressed the child.
“Fine lookin’ baby.” Heyes smiled warmly at the infant. “Speakin’ of her Pa, is he the one that hauled in all that wood out front?“
Sissy shot a quick glance at Mother as she finished serving up the stew. “Sit. I’ll get the biscuits and then Mother can say the prayer.”
Heyes and Kid obediently found their places at the table. Sissy gently laid baby Sammy in her crib and joined them. Mother sat immovable in her rocker, the gun still squarely pointed at her two guests.
Without closing her eyes Mother prayed, “Father God, for the miracle of each days provision we are truly grateful. Amen.”
The Kid took a bite of the fresh venison stew. “Good,” he paused, tasting the savory concoction. “Mighty good.” He smiled at Sissy and took another appreciative bite.
Heyes inspected the room as he ate. Everything was clean, cared for, and in its place. The pantry appeared well stocked and a fresh leg of venison hung by the stove, apparently being readied for roasting. Fresh vegetables, an unusual sight that late in the season, were sitting on the table along the back wall. A tabby kitten lay curled in a ball, sleeping by the fire.
“Looks like Sammy’s Pa is a good shot,“ Heyes addressed the young woman, “or are you the one that brought down that deer?”
“Me?“ Sissy appeared surprised. “Oh no, I can’t…..”
Mother silenced Sissy with a frown and a nod. “You said you were cousins, Joshua? Where’s your family from?”
“Kansas, ma’am. Our folks were farmers.”
Mother caught the almost imperceptible glance the two cousins gave each other, and could tell the subject pained them. The family bond between the two young men was palpable. Much like she and Sissy, they spoke to each other with their eyes.
She gave them a knowing look. “There’s been hard times around these parts too, boys. I reckon you can either stay or leave when trouble comes. It appears you boys left. We stayed.”
The Kid looked at Mother, puzzled. ”Ma’am?”
Mother leaned in closer, studying the deep, sensitive brown eyes and the clear, sincere blue. She had always known that the eyes were the windows to the soul, and these boys eyes were no exception.
Her voice became low and soft. “A fella can get lost along life‘s path, despite his mettle. But you youngins are finally back on course, now ain‘t that right?”
Their mouths full of stew, and not knowing what to say, the two ex-outlaws just nodded in agreement.
Mother sat back, and after pondering them for a moment, pointedly laid down her gun. “Why don’t you get a pot a coffee goin’, Sissy. These youngins are gonna want it with their pie.“
The gesture didn’t go unnoticed; the air instantly cleared, and everyone relaxed.
The Kid took another biscuit. “We understand you don’t need any hired hands, ma’am. But we sure would like to pay you back for such a fine meal.”
“That’s right,” said Heyes. “It’s almost dark and that storm’s closin’ in fast. If you don’t mind lettin’ us bed down in your barn for the night, we’d be glad to split that big pile a wood in the mornin’.”
“I don’t reckon you’ll need to do that, son. But you’re both welcome to sleep in the barn if ya like.”
“Aw, come on now, Mother. You’re feedin’ us and sharin’ your fire. Won’t you let us do somethin’ in return?” Heyes was as persuasive as he was insistent.
The two women smiled as though sharing a secret. Mother finally agreed. “We’ll be thankful to have your help with whatever needs done in the morning, boys.”
‘Thank you, ma’am. That’s good enough for us.”
After dinner they moved in closer to the fire and Mother told stories of the old days, while they enjoyed Sissy’s coffee and pie. Sissy discreetly suckled little Sammy as Mother rocked and spun her tales with the kitten on her lap. They learned of Father, who had toiled to settle their homestead, with nothing but a prayer and Mother by his side. The day Brother came riding home, Mother was convinced his guardian angel had brought him back safe from the war. When Sissy was given to them late in life, Mother knew she was a gift from heaven, no other explanation would do. And when Big Sam wed their Sissy, the family was complete, but for their unborn babe. It was a story of hard work and sacrifice, but also of hope and joy. It was the story of family, and the two young men listened to every word. They had a hunger to share in that kind of life, and were sorry to see the evening finally come to an end.
“Thank you for a wonderful meal and a fine evenin‘, ladies, but I think it‘s time we turned in.” Heyes reluctantly stood and put on his coat.
As the Kid reached for his hat, he noticed a row of men’s boots lined up neatly against the wall. “Sounds like you’ve got a mighty fine family, Mother. I guess the men are off huntin’ again. When do you expect them home?”
Mother continued to rock her chair. “Soon enough, child, soon enough. Now go get some shut eye.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. See you in the mornin‘.” Heyes tipped his hat, and the two stepped out into the cold, dark night. The creaky door closed noisily behind them.
Sissy turned and looked at her elderly mother questioningly. “I know you’ve got the gift, Mother, but do you really think you should a let them in? They could a been up to no good.”
“Not these two. Least ways, not any more.”
“Shhh, child. You know as well as I do what the good book says about entertainin’ strangers. Angels come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes their wings are tarnished, but they’re angels just the same.”
The storm came in with rolling thunder as the lightening lit up the sky. Hunkered down in the hay, wrapped in the blankets Mother had given them, the partners were thankful to have a roof over their heads.
“I guess old Tom was wrong about the ladies bein’ alone.” Kid restlessly shifted, trying to find a comfortable spot.
“Sure was nice to have a home cooked meal.”
“Do you think we’ll ever have a family again, Heyes?”
“I sure wish someday would come.”
“Me too. Now stop yappin’ and go to sleep.”
Their rest was fitful, as they struggled to relax in the midst of the growing storm. The night was riddled with the sounds of thunder claps and driving rain, a crying baby and noisy axes hacking at wood. It morphed into dreams of hissing steam engines, cattle drives, and gunshots. The pounding hooves of relentless posses haunted their repose. They tossed and turned, until the storm subsided, and finally settled into a deep, restful sleep.
Daylight streamed through the slats of the barn walls, and a rooster crowed, rousing the Kid from his slumber.
“You still asleep, Heyes?”
Heyes groaned. “Yeah. Definitely.”
“You better wake up, we slept too long.”
“Come on, Heyes. Get up, I think I smell flapjacks."
When they stepped outside the barn, Mother was standing in the doorway to the house, leaning on a wooden cane.
“Mornin', youngins. We set aside some breakfast, and there’s a fresh pot a coffee on the stove.”
“Sounds wonderful, Mother.” Heyes stretched his back and yawned. “ Looks like the rest of your family got in last night, and already put in a days work. You should a told them to leave the wood for us.”
The huge pile of logs had been neatly split, bound into bundles, and stacked. Three freshly shot rabbits were hanging by the door, already skinned and ready to cook. A pile of gourds and a bushel of apples were sitting next to the well, just waiting to be made into pies and applesauce. The livestock had been fed and watered, and Sissy had collected the morning eggs and milked the cow.
As the Kid took a step inside the warm, cozy house, he noticed the creak in the door had been fixed. He looked around, expecting to see the men. “Are they out back, ma’am? We sure would like to meet ‘em.”
Standing at the table, Sissy was putting the finishing touches on a lovely bouquet of fall leaves and wildflowers. With little Sammy on her hip, she smiled at the Kid and stepped outside with the bouquet. Mother followed, hobbling slowly, as Sissy headed around the corner behind the house.
Curious, the partners trailed behind, and turning the corner, saw Sissy walking up the path towards the top of the hill. Kid abruptly stopped in his tracks. Under his breath he whispered, ‘What’s goin’ on here, Heyes? I thought they said the men were off huntin‘.”
Staring, Heyes dropped his voice. “Well, they never exactly said that, now did they.”
A large tree stood at the end of the path, with three markers positioned at its base. The two young men watched as Sissy divided the flowers between the graves and lovingly arranged them with care. They quietly stood for a moment, trying to absorb the meaning of the scene.
Finally, Heyes stepped up to the feeble old woman, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, ma’am. What took them?”
“The fever, son. Goin‘ on 6 months ago now.”
Puzzled and concerned, the Kid studied the elderly woman’s face for an answer. “Mother, are you alone out here after all?”
“Alone?“ Pausing, she watched as Sissy continued to fuss over the graves. ”None of us are ever really alone, son.” Looking back at the Kid, she gazed reassuringly into his somber blue eyes. “No, child, we’re not alone.”
"Sweet souls around us watch us still, press nearer to our side; into our thoughts, into our prayers, with gentle helpings glide."
Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Other World
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."
"When angels visit us, we do not hear the rustle of wings, nor feel the feathery touch of the breast of a dove; but we know their presence by the love they create in our hearts."
Mary Baker Eddy, Poems by Mary Baker Eddy
"If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning." Mae West
Last edited by Javabee on Sun Mar 13, 2016 6:08 pm; edited 7 times in total
Posts : 1467
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 63
Location : Camano Island Washington
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Thu Oct 23, 2014 4:24 pm|| |
A short little nightmare from 'Ghosts'. I'll try to write something longer before month's end.
Heyes was in the dark cell. He was scrunched into the corner, clutching his knees to his chest and shivering with cold and fear. Why did he have to keep ending up in this place—he hated it in here; he couldn't even remember what he had done to deserve it this time! His teeth chattered as he stared into the blackness and he groaned in fear at the sound of something scurrying passed him. He pushed himself deeper into the corner and wanted to cry.
Heyes jumped. “Wha...?” He looked around in the darkness and saw nothing. “Who's there?” Even he could hear the tremor in his voice. “Who's there!?”
“Papa! It's me....”
“I can't see you!” Heyes called out. “Where are you?”
“I'm right here Papa. Why aren't you coming?”
Heyes fought harder to see through the darkness that hid everything. He began to feel desperate and getting onto his hands and knees he started to pat the floor, feeling his way forward, trying to find the source of the voice.
“Where are you.....where are you....?”
“I'm right here Papa. I'm waiting for you.”
Then Heyes saw a light shining before him and slowly the form of a little girl began to take shape and she stood there, her thick long dark brown hair curling down over her shoulders and her hands clasped politely in front of her. Just like in the photograph. Heyes reached out to her, trying to touch her, desperately wanting to take her into his arms.
Then the expression on her face tightened and she suddenly looked confused.
“You're not my Papa....!”
“Yes I am, sweetheart.” Heyes assured her. “I am your Papa....”
“No you're not!” she insisted. “My Momma said that my Papa died, so how could you be him?”
“No, no Anya! I am your Papa!” Heyes insisted. “You have to believe me!”
“Why should I believe you?” she sneered. “You're a thief! A criminal! You lie to people all the time! You're not my Papa!”
“Yes, Anya, sweetheart....”
“How dare you call me that!” she screamed at him. “Only my Momma and my Aunt Hester call me that! You're nothing—you're nobody! You have no right to call me that!”
“No Anya!” Heyes yelled out in desperation, but the little girl began to fade away, the light swirling around her and swallowing her up until there was nothing left. “NO! Come back! Anya—please....!”
But she was gone and Heyes was left alone in the darkness again. He desperately patted the floor of the cell, moving forward trying to find her, trying to bring her back. Then suddenly the floor gave way and his hands sank down into the rolling mud that had once been a solid surface. He panicked, trying to pull back but the mud had hold of him and began to suck him down into its depths. He fought and struggled, desperately trying to get free, but it continued to pull him down first to his elbows and then he was up to his shoulders and he started to scream.
He screamed and screamed but the mud kept sucking him down until his chin was sinking into the mire and then he felt the sludge roll into his opened mouth and he sputtered and spit and clamped his teeth shut, pressing his lips tightly together. He could no longer scream but his mind was crying out at full volume inside his head as his nose was pulled under and he could no longer breathe! He fought and struggled until his eyes were pulled into the blackness that was blacker than black and his lungs were burning and he couldn't help it! He couldn't help it and he gasped for air but all he drew into his lungs was the suffocating mud!
Posts : 537
Join date : 2013-08-24
Location : London
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Fri Oct 24, 2014 12:33 pm|| |
I haven't got time to do a story for this month but I thought this sort of fitted the prompt because it involves jolting a family towards the truth in the night. It's just for fun and dome of the new members might not have read it.
It had started out just like any other evening. I sat in the lounge, weaving my late mother’s hair into an intricate pleat. Her beautiful, chestnut hair still shone with a deep, warm glow which caught the light of the oil lamp. I curled the work into a bud, and smiled with satisfaction. It would make a wonderful mourning brooch and would remain a tangible connection to the gentle soul who had left behind a broken home; a daughter and a husband who had nothing in common, but their deep love for the same woman. We merely co-existed.
Ten o’clock – time to take my father his nightly drink. I walked over and unlocked the Tantalus, before pouring the amber liquid into a brandy bowl and placed it on the silver tray.
I tapped gently on the door, waiting to be bid to enter as usual, but the call never came. I frowned and knocked again.
“Go away!” came the gruff reply.
What had I done this time? It seemed as though I could never do right for doing wrong. He could hardly look at me anymore. My obstinacy hardened, so I turned the brass knob and pushed open the heavy mahogany door. My eyebrows arched in surprise. My father sat stiffly behind his heavy, ornate desk, facing a dark eyed man whose dimpled smile welcomed me into the room.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know...,” I didn’t get the words out. A hand clasped over my mouth and the tray clattered to the floor.
“Not a sound,” a voice hissed in my ear. I suddenly noticed that the dark haired man held a gun. Panic spiralled in my chest and I froze against the arms snaked around my body. “Do as you’re told and nobody will get hurt. Do you understand?”
I nodded – hard. That voice meant business.
The dark man walked over and shut the door. I felt the arms release me and I scuttled away from the man who had assaulted me, backing off against the wall with rasping breath. The face confronting me was not what I expected.
Angelic blue eyes, topped off with dishwater blond curls, glittered apologetically at me. “Sit down, Miss Galbraith. I’m sorry you got involved in this.”
“What do you want?” I gasped.
He led me to a chair, and pushed me gently down into it. “Nobody is goin’ to hurt you. I give you my word.”
I gave a nod of disbelief. “What do you want?” I repeated.
The dark one listened at the door. “I think we’re clear.” He walked over to me, his dancing eyes and his gun competing for attention. His brows gathered in concern. “A girl? We don’t need this.”
“Neither do I,” I snapped. “Who are you, and what do you want?”
“We just need to speak to your father,” the dark man replied. “I’m sorry you came in on this.”
“Just take what you came for and leave.”
The dark man shook his head. “We came to find out why somebody had been trying to drive us out of this town from the moment we set foot in it.” He glowered at my father. “And now we know, don’t we, Stubby?”
I frowned. “What are they talking about, Father?”
He didn’t answer, staring off into the night with anguished eyes.
The dark man pulled out a seat. “We’re talking about your father’s past, Miss Galbraith.”
“There’s no need to bring her into this,” my father barked. “No matter what I did, she’s innocent.”
The dark eyes narrowed. “She brought herself in here, Stubby, and now she’s here, she’s going nowhere.”
I shook my head in confusion. “His past?”
The blond man spoke. “We wanted to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, Ma’am, but your father had other ideas – he wanted us to leave town - real fast.”
“So far, we’ve been fired, threatened, and beaten up, and left outside town.” The dark one gave a dimpled, joyless smile.
“That was your biggest mistake, Stubby. When somebody pushes us hard, we push back – you of all people should know that.”
I rubbed my face, exasperation mounting. “What’s going on!?”
The men shared a glance and the blond one stepped closer to me, a warning glinting in his eyes. “Keep your voice down, Miss Galbraith. Please don’t make do anything to make sure you stay quiet.”
I looked up at the tall, lean figure and my stomach fluttered with nerves.
“Leave her alone!” my father snapped. His forehead was beaded with sweat. “Please, Isabelle, just sit still and be quiet. These are dangerous men.”
I stared silently, one from the other. If I’d bumped into these men on the street I’d have thought they were handsome, but there’s something about being on the wrong end of a gun that strips away superfluous details. The dark eyes simmered with menacing anger under a patina of nonchalant charm, and the fair man moved like a panther, ready to pounce at any moment. I gulped, sure the sound echoed around the room.
The dark one pushed his hat back on his head. “So, Stubby Walker has changed his name to Galbraith and gone straight? Who’d have thought it?”
Surprise hit me. “Straight? What are you talking about?”
The fair one folded his arms. “Your father’s real name is Walker, Miss – so I guess that makes you a Walker too.
Doesn’t it, Stubby?”
“Walker?” I demanded.
“Your father’s a murderer and a thief,” the dark man stood with a sigh. “He used to ride with the Plummer Gang.”
“Nonsense!” I snapped back. “He’s a respectable man, he runs the local mine and he’s standing for mayor. If this is some kind of attempt at blackmail, it won’t work.”
“There’s no mistake, Ma’am. You see, I’m Hannibal Heyes, and he’s Kid Curry – don’t you think I’d be able to identify members of a gang I used to ride with?”
My father’s eyes closed with sick resignation. “Is this true?” I murmured.
Heyes stared at my father with hard, cold eyes. “I was young and I’d only just joined the gang, but I remember like it was yesterday. He disappeared with the take from a robbery. Not only that, when he met another member of the gang he shot him dead,” Heyes shook his head. “No wonder you felt the need to put a lot of road between you and the rest of the gang. The statute of limitations has run out on the robbery, Stubby, but there’s no limit on murder.” Heyes fixed my father with a glare. “And you’re standing for Mayor. I’m a great believer in the democratic process, but don’t you think the public should know who they’re really voting for?”
My father’s hands firmed into fists on the desk top. “What do you want?”
Heyes gave a mournful chuckle. “Didn’t it occur to you that we might need the chance to put our pasts behind us too?
You shouldn’t have poked the bear, Stubby.” He paused, dark eyes suddenly flicking over to my father. “We would have earned one hundred and twenty dollars this week, if you hadn’t chased us out of town. You owe us that at the very least.”
“You wouldn’t know the truth if it bit you on the ass. I don’t keep cash in the house. I’m not an idiot. I probably don’t have more than thirty dollars, but you’re welcome to it if it gets you out of here.” My father’s eyes glinted with desperation. “Just how are you going to turn me over to the law without turning yourselves in?”
Hannibal Heyes bit thoughtfully into his lip, before his eyes slid over to me. “How do you feel about knowing the truth,
Miss Galbraith?” He stared into me, watching my heart rate increase, and my breath come in pants of anxiety.
“Keep me out of this,” I stammered.
Heyes arched his brows. “I’d have liked to, really I would, but you’re here now. How does it feel to know your father is a killer? He’s even been in prison. How good are you at keeping secrets, Miss Galbraith? In my experience women aren’t great at it, are they, Stubby?”
“It’s none of her business,” my father barked.
“Her real name’s her business,” Heyes retorted, evenly.
“She’s who I brought her up to be, and always will be. She’s a real fine young woman and I’m proud to call her my daughter.”
I blinked in surprise. My father was never one to have a compliment ready. To say that we had a difficult relationship was an understatement. His contribution to good communication was inversely proportionate to Western Union’s.
“Did you?” I pinned my father with a hard stare. “Really? You killed someone just for money?”
“No! I absolutely did not kill anyone for money.”
“Word has it you shot him down in the street, Stubby.” Kid propped himself on the edge of the desk. “There were dozens of witnesses and it was all over the newspapers. I read about it myself – it made me wonder what kind of outfit Heyes had gotten himself tied up in.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t kill him,” my father growled. “I just said that I didn’t do it for the money.”
Heyes looked pensively at him. “Yeah, as I remember, it you and Dutch never saw eye to eye, did you? You both had a thing for the same girl.”
My father simmered quietly. “He was a no-good, dirty, low-down...,” he glanced at me. “This isn’t the company to say exactly what he was, but he was no loss to the world. He was thrown out of the gang for being too violent. That was why he was in Redhill on his own that day.” He glowered at Heyes. “Remember!? He was a complete animal.”
“Yes...,” mused Heyes. “He came on too heavy with a woman during a robbery. It caused trouble because the men jumped in to protect her.” He shook his head ruefully. “I never allowed that kind of thing to happen on my watch. We were lucky nobody was shot that day.”
“But you killed him and stole their money?” I gazed at the room through filter of tears, “and now they’ve caught up with you?”
Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance. “I promised you that nothing would happen to you and I meant it.” I was sure that
Kid Curry meant to be reassuring, but his brooding presence undermined any platitudes headed my way.
“But what about my father?” I demanded. “What about him? Please don’t kill him. Don’t hurt him.”
Hannibal Heyes walked over and patted my arm gently. “We’re not killers, Miss Galbraith. We didn’t come here to kill him, or anyone else.”
“What, then?” I pressed.
Heyes looked pensively over at the man perspiring by the wall. “We came here to find out why somebody had us beat up and tossed out of town. Now we did, I guess it’s time to move on – and I guess you’d better do the same, Stubby, because if word gets out that you’re here you’ll swing for murder.”
My father visibly slumped with relief. “Yes, we’d better move on, Isabelle.”
I looked around at my home. “Leave here? But mother’s grave is here. I’ve lived here my whole life...”
“They’re just things, Isabelle, we can start again. My skill with explosives got me work at the mine and I worked my way up. I’ve got more behind me now,” my father gave me a weak smile. “I did it once before... I started from nothing.”
Hannibal Heyes flicked up an eyebrow. “Not exactly nothing, Stubby. You took nearly thirteen thousand dollars with you.”
My father’s colour rose. “We needed it, Bella was pregnant with Isabelle. We needed it to give her a decent life – and we did. Look at how she’s turned out. She’s just like her mother, loving, decent and beautiful.”
All eyes turned to me and I could feel my face burn with embarrassment. A smile twitched at Kid Curry’s lips and the hardness fell away from his eyes. “Yup, and modest too.”
“You never really missed that money and it made all the difference in the world to us. All you would have done is go out and steal more – and it would all have gone on gambling, drinking and whoring...” My father frowned. “Sorry, Isabelle.
It was a hard life and it’s the only language men like them understand.”
“It was a hard life,” Heyes nodded, “but not half as hard as prison, which is exactly where you’re headed if anyone else finds out who you are. It was a year’s hard labour wasn’t it?”
“I suppose,” my father muttered.
“Yup,” Heyes nodded knowingly. “You were only just out of jail when you joined the gang.” His eyes narrowed as though capturing an elusive memory. “Come to think of it, you were only there for two weeks and Dutch left about the same time as you - the next morning, in fact. He said he thought he knew where you might be. The next we heard, you’d shot him.”
“Stop talking about it, you’re upsetting my daughter!” my father reached for his top drawer, but stopped dead when Kid Curry’s gun leaped into his hand from nowhere.
“Keep those hands where I can see them,” Kid barked.
“Money...” My father raised his hands. “You wanted money to compensate for the loss of earnings. I keep it in that drawer.”
“Take a look, Kid. We don’t want any more than we lost.” Heyes rubbed his face distractedly, his mind operating like quicksilver behind his dark eyes. “Yeah, Stubby, you arrived, stole the first lot of loot that came your way, killed Dutch, then disappeared for good. You knew Dutch before you joined the gang, didn’t you? You hated him, but you joined the Plummer gang rather than any other outfit. Why?”
“What difference does it make?” my father snapped.
“I play a lot of poker, Stubby. You’ve got tells, and you’re worried about something. After all these years? Why?”
“Why?” my father spluttered, “because Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry have invaded my home, that’s why?”
“Dutch was real mad, when he got back and found out Plummer had let you join.” Heyes fixed my father with intense, dark eyes. “I never thought about it before, you just came and went. What were you in jail for?”
“Fighting.” My father started to twitch, and even I knew he was hiding something.
“Yes. Dutch said you were real violent. None of us ever saw that in you, not until you shot him. I guess he was right, after all.” Heyes stood and started to pace, stopping suddenly to stare at my father as though seeing him through fresh eyes. “You came to get Dutch, didn’t you? The pair of you hated one another because of that woman. I guess the money was too big a temptation, that was just a chance taken in a campy full of drunken outlaws.” Heyes turned and smiled at me. “I learned from that too, Miss Galbraith. My outfit always had someone sober on guard.”
“Well, good for you, Mr. Heyes. It’s just a shame you never learned to keep your sticky fingers to yourself, isn’t it?”
The words were out of my mouth before I knew it and my stomach turned a cartwheel of fear, but the men exchanged a look before Kid Curry started laughing. “You’re right, Stubby. She’s a credit to you. I guess if the haul from that robbery gave her a decent life, then that money wasn’t wasted, after all.”
“It was your wife, wasn’t it?” Heyes folded his arms, darting a look between my father and me “You wanted revenge. I’ll bet it was Dutch you beat up so bad you got a year’s hard labour, and then you followed him as soon as you got out. It all fits – he just couldn’t keep his hands off a pretty girl, and judging by your daughter she was a beauty”
“My wife was the sweetest, purest creature who ever walked God’s good earth. She wouldn’t have given a lowlife like him the time of day.”
Heyes eyes glittered strangely at my father. “No decent woman would, he was a slimy maggot.” He sighed. “The chance of starting a fresh life with the loot suddenly seemed more important than revenge. That could wait. You said yourself; there was a baby on the way... That must have been a real shock, Stubby.”
Kid Curry walked over to the door. “We’ll be goin’, Stubby. Keep your cash.” He tipped the brim of his hat, “Goodnight, Miss Galbraith. I hope we didn’t frighten you too much.”
Hannibal Heyes gave me a glittering smile. “Miss Galbraith, your father’s secret is safe with us. I believe he only did what many men would do to avenge his wife, and I think he put that loot to the best use he could.” He glanced around the room. “If we were to do a straw poll, just about any man in the country would have done the same, if they’d had the guts. You should be as proud as him as he is of you.”
The truth dawned gradually on me – I had just turned sixteen at that time, and I was way more naive than I liked to think. My father had been in jail for a year before my birth, for beating up the man who had been bothering his wife. He wasn’t a cold, unloving, uncommunicative man. He was a man who had loved so deeply he had brought up the child of the man who had raped my mother while he was in jail. Of course he had struggled at times – who wouldn’t?
I married six years later and he gave me away with tears in his eyes. My something old was my brooch adorned with flowers fashioned from my mother’s hair.
Posts : 268
Join date : 2014-01-04
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Sat Oct 25, 2014 5:17 pm|| |
“Jed! You’re walkin’ right up my heels. Will you keep back?”
The younger boy gave a huff of exasperation. “It’s pitch-black, Han. I can’t see a thing.”
“Ya can feel, can’t ya? When you hit me, stop walkin’. We’ll drop everythin’.”
The moon drifted out from a shroud of murk and beamed down on the gaggle of boys sneaking about the shadows of the walls of the home for waywards. The smallest of the four sniffed yet again and backhanded away the snot that never cleared up in all his time a Valparaiso. “This stuff sure is heavy.”
Chugg O’Rourke rounded on his little brother. “You ain’t gonna be complainin’ when all this hard work pays off, Timmy. You’re nine and you’re already in a home for waywards. Thanksgivin’ feasts don’t come along every day; you gotta go out and get your own.” The boy scowled at his rival. “Hannibal’ll tell ya that. This will be the first one he’s had since...” The glare from the dark eyes sent a harsh warning not to complete the sentence. “Well, anyway. He had to tell everyone that he could get extra food for thanksgiving. Yah just couldn’t keep your mouth shut could ya?”
“Folks were gettin’ restless,” Hannibal retorted. “I promised them that for their own good. We’ve been livin’ on bread and rubbish we could barely eat for months. They were ready to raid the kitchens and we all know what would’ve happened if that’d happened. We’d all have suffered. ”
“Yeah, well you promised them a thanksgivin’ feast and there’ll be a riot if they don’t get one, so I blame Hannibal.”
Pugnacious blue eyes gleamed at the oldest boy. “Only because you couldn’t keep your snout out of it, Chugg. Ya didn’t want Han to be more popular than you, so you just had to weasel in.”
“Weasels ain’t got snouts. That’s pigs.”
“I guess you’d know, Chugg,” snickered Hannibal.
“I’m the boss of the dormitory,” Chugg snarled, “and that ain’t gonna change.”
“Ain’t it?” snorted Jed. “Han won’t make them hand over their Christmas oranges.”
“I never,” Chugg protested. “Just half of ‘em.”
Little Jed angled his chin provocatively. “Well, you just wait ‘till this year. You ain’t gettin’ nuthin’. We’re gonna stand up to you and your gang. It ain’t fair you takin’ from the little ‘uns.”
“They gotta learn to stand up for themselves,” the older boy paused to adjust his load from one shoulder to the other.
“Can’t argue with that,” Hannibal reasoned, “but you’ve gotta learn who to fight too, Chugg. Ya tried ta fight me for too long. Ya should’ve made me a friend.”
“I’m doin’ that now, ain’t I?”
“Nope.” Hannibal shook his head. “You’re ridin’ on our coat tails to give the fellas a thanksgivin’ feast because you knew we were standin’ up to you. Our gang was finally bigger’n your gang. You ain’t a friend. A friend doesn’t have to punch ya senseless and to get ya to stop poundin’ on him.”
“You fight dirty. Like a girl!”
Hannibal stopped abruptly and stared at his nemesis with serious brown eyes. “I win, and that’s all that matters. It ain’t my fault if you can’t beat a girl.”
The deposed bully shuffled his feet and pouted at the laughter ringing around the yard, but that was quickly cut off by a lamp gleaming through the darkness and the sound of shouting from the building. Panic set in and Chugg froze. “Criminey! Drop the bags and run!”
Lads scattered in all directions, but it was hopeless. Doors and windows opened amid a clamor of shouting, harsh boots sparking on cobbles and clanging bells. “Stay where you are!”
The boys stopped, with the exception of Timmy O’Rourke, who dropped to his knees and burst into tears.
A lantern was held up, pouring caustic light in the blinking eyes. “The O’Rourkes and them Kansas boys, Mr. Henderson. The usual troublemakers.”
“Again! It’s always them. What’ve they got in them bags?”
Jed felt the bag ripped from his hands. “It looks like…well, pies…”
A woman wearing a plain linen cap tied tightly under her chin peered into another bag. “And there’s cakes in this one.”
“Yup,” confirmed another warden. “It’s all food. Where did you get this, boy?”
Jed’s stubborn chin punctuated the thin line of his firmly closed lips, so the glare turned to Timmy, the weakest link.
“Fassbinder’s bakery, sir.”
Henderson glared at the miscreants, his bull neck reddening with fury. “Stealing! Sneaking out of my establishment, and thieving under my very nose!?” He called over to a man wrapping an overcoat over his nightshirt. “Malory. Take them to the strong room and call the law, that’ll hold them for now. I won’t tolerate this kind of dishonesty. They’re going to stand trial. Tell Fassbinder he’s been broken into.”
Jed felt the coarse blanket pulled back from his face and he reluctantly uncurled from the fetal position. He opened his lips to speak and felt a silencing hand pressed over them.
“Shh. It’s Han. I got the door open.”
Jed sat up, blinking through the twilight. “The door? How?”
“I’ve been fiddlin’ with it for hours. It finally gave. Are you game?”
“But where are we gonna go? What are we gonna do?”
The gleam of the dark eyes told his younger cousin that Hannibal was smiling through the shadows. “We’re getting out of here. You’ll probably just be punished but Chugg and me’ll be sent to prison. I ain’t goin.”
“We can.” Hannibal cocked his head to listen through the darkness before he continued. “I’ve got a bit of money. Fassbinder’s been makin’ our bread with bad flour, that’s why all the inmates have been complainin’ and have had bad bellies. It’s got ground bone meal and chalk in it to make it go further. His rival, Schwab, wants the contract and paid me to swap the sacks over so the staff and trustees get what we’ve been eatin’. The white teeth flashed a grin in the moonlight. I added Epsom salts too, so they’re gonna get… well, they’ll have other urgent things to worry about. Real urgent.”
The younger boy shook his head in confusion. “I don’t get it, Han.”
“Schwab paid me to swap the sacks so he’s have a chance at the bread contract here. I was gonna save the money for later but we gotta go now. I can’t go to jail. Come on.” Jed clambered to his feet. “Bring the blankets. It’s November. We’re gonna need them.”
The tousled blonde head turned towards the sleeping brothers sharing a mattress on the floor. “What about them?”
Hannibal sighed and scratched his head. “They’ll get us caught, Jed. We can’t take them with us. Timmy’s too young and Chugg is too loud. We gotta leave them.”
“I’m leavin’ the door open for them, Jed. The rest is up to them. I can’t look after everyone. I got enough lookin’ after you.” Hannibal shook his head. “Don’t look at me like that. I ain’t bein’ hard. It’s like life threw us in a river. If ya fight and grab at the water you drown, but once ya relax and go with the flow, ya float. This is our current and we gotta go with it. Come on.”
Jed nodded meekly. “Are we doin’ the right thing?”
A moonbeam caught Hannibal’s beaming smile. “What’s gonna happen to you if I go to jail? They’ll put you in the workshop until you can be sold off to do heavy work. You’re my cousin and all the kin I got. Ain’t nobody ever gonna use you like that. I’d planned for us to go in spring; we just gotta go a bit earlier is all.”
“But where are we gonna go? They’ll be lookin’ for us.”
“Sure they will, but we’ll be warm, safe and well-fed until the hunt dies down.”
“We will?” Jed frowned.
“Sure we will,” Hannibal chuckled. “I got somethin’ on Schwab, the baker. We’ll be lyin’ low in his cellar for a week or so. He ain’t in a position to refuse. This thanksgivin’ ain’t gonna be so bad after all.”
Posts : 5114
Join date : 2014-07-12
Age : 52
Location : Scotland
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Tue Oct 28, 2014 12:17 pm|| |
I've done it! Actually finished a story for this month's challenge. A big thank you to Silverkelpie - without your "nip-tucking" and advice how to stay within the word limit, I might have given up.
Please be warned, it's a dark story. I hope you'll like it anyway.
Trick or Treat
It was a beautiful Indian-summer day in late October, nature showing off its most glorious colours. Normally Heyes would have drunk in all this day offered, revelling in the beauty. Instead he felt uneasy, tired and preoccupied. He wished once again he had listened to the Kid’s sense of unease over this job. ‘Bad things happen when we split up.’ How very true.
Not for the first time, he turned around to check if anyone was following him. He just couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, hadn’t been able to shake it for the last two days, not since the first nightmare.
He’d dreamed about a job. They’d scoped the bank, but the new safe had taken him longer to open than he had calculated. Some townspeople had become suspicious of Hank waiting with their horses close to the bank. As soon as they left, the shout went up and before they had galloped out of town the sheriff and his deputies had started shooting. As usual, Kid was last to leave, making sure everybody else got away. Despite all the lead flying, it looked like they would make a clean getaway after all. A last volley of gunfire after the gang before shouts of “posse” could be heard. He checked to see if anybody had been hit and was shocked at seeing the Kid’s rider-less horse lagging behind. He pulled on the reins, forcing his horse to turn around. But it was too late. Deputies were already securing the wounded outlaw kneeling in the dust.
It took two days before they could circle back. He was surprised that the jail seemed to be unguarded and that a rowdy crowd of people gawped at something in a shop window. When he got closer, a feeling of unease and then dread descended on him. It wasn’t a shop exactly, it was the local undertaker’s and the object of attention and verbal abuse was a man displayed in a coffin next to a large sign proclaiming: “That’s what happens to bank robbers!” Vivid red marks from a string could be seen around the neck of the man, the man with curly blond hair, whose still half-open eyes seemed to stare accusingly at him.
“Noooooo!” he howled in desperation …
… and sat up in his bedroll, his scream having woken him from the nightmare. For some reason he could still hear laughter in his mind.
This had been the first nightmare. He was so shaken, he couldn’t go back to sleep, even if he’d wanted to. The robbery had happened exactly like this, many years ago, but the Kid had only been grazed by the bullet and stayed on his horse. They had all made it back to the Hole safely.
He started pacing; trying to rid himself of the nervous energy the adrenaline rush had left behind. It was then that he felt as if there was someone watching him. He melted into the shadows and carefully searched the perimeter of his camp, but could find no trace of a watcher.
The next night it took him long to settle down despite being tired. This time he dreamed he was in Yuma and had received a telegraph from the Kid from Santa Marta. He immediately got on the coach, but an unseasonable rainstorm washed away a bridge and the long detour costed them nearly two days. He was frantic when finally Santa Marta came into view early in the morning. Even before the coach had come to a full stop, he jumped out and ran towards the Alcalde’s office. As he was about to burst through the door, he heard a volley of rifle shots from the yard, accompanied by spiteful laughter coming from behind him.
Again it was his own scream which woke him up and again he could find neither rest nor sleep the remainder of the night.
Throughout the next day he tried to ascertain if someone was following him, because the feeling of being watched grew stronger. If there was someone, he could find no trace of them.
That evening he drank half a bottle of whiskey hoping it would let him sleep without dreaming and give him some rest. He felt apprehensive; one nightmare about the Kid could be explained with worrying about splitting up, but two?
That night, they were hunting mountain lions and were arguing over tracks, 2-hours-fresh or 2-weeks-old. When the cougar attacked, the Kid was its target and he couldn’t get a clear shot. When he finally killed the animal, it had already bitten the Kid’s neck. He tried to stem the blood pumping out with each heartbeat, but it was hopeless. The flood stopped only after the heart had stopped beating.
This time his screams didn’t wake him. He heard the laughter from behind and then a voice asked “How does it feel, Heyes? Enjoying my little show? Got to admit, I was a little disappointed when you came alone, without your partner. I had been waiting for him, but it’s turning out better than expected.”
“Who are you? Why are you doing this? Get out of my head!” Heyes roared at his tormentor.
“You don’t recognise me? After all the time we spent together? How disappointing. You’ll figure it out. As for why - because I want to, because I can, because it’s the perfect revenge. And I have no intention of leaving, might even move in permanently. It IS Halloween in a few nights after all.”
Heyes woke up drenched in sweat. He thought he should recognise the voice, knew he knew it, but it was as if the name and face were hidden in a fog, unwilling to be revealed.
Instead of sleeping he tried to make sense of what was happening to him. He’d suffered from nightmares before, but never had they come accompanied by malevolent laughter and taunting. It felt too real, as if someone knowing his greatest fear had invaded his mind, discovered his memories and changed them into nightmare scenarios, where he failed to save the Kid’s life over and over again. Was he going mad?
He shivered, not only from the cold night air, but also from a feeling of dread which had settled deep inside him. His mind was his greatest asset, he – no, they depended on it; coming up with plans, talking them out of trouble, often enough earning their subsistence through poker winnings. He couldn’t be losing his mind!
He was so tired, he couldn’t think straight. He needed to get back to the Kid; he always managed to ground him. They had arranged to meet tomorrow, surely the nightmares would stop when he saw his friend again, when he knew he was safe and hale.
So it came that the next day the exhausted ex-outlaw had no eyes for the beauty of the autumn colours as he hurried towards the town where he would meet up with his partner.
Occasionally his body slumped down in the saddle, but these short naps were not enough to refresh him, and he couldn’t shake off the feeling of being watched.
Whenever he felt more alert, he pondered his problem. Were the nightmares only a combination of being tired and worried about the Kid, or could there be someone else controlling them? If the former was true, he probably only needed to get back to the Kid for the horror to stop, but if the latter was the case, impossible as it seemed, he needed to come up with a good plan fast. Grimly he thought it might be best to assume the worst. He had to fight back, but how? It felt like being forced to play a game without knowing the rules; no, worse: like trying to win a game of chess with a deck of cards. Did two pairs beat a bishop? He didn’t even know what the stakes were, but he had the bad feeling they’d never been higher. He needed to learn the game and learn it fast. If he could believe the voice, Halloween would be his last chance to defeat the intruder, only one more night left before then.
That evening, as he was drawing close to the town, Heyes began wondering what would happen if he lost. Would he die? Probably not, at least not his body. Would his consciousness simply stop existing, or maybe become a helpless passenger in his own body? Better not to dwell on it, better to come up with a plan to defeat the intruder. Plan B came to him first: if he managed to stay awake throughout Halloween, he might win by default, since his opponent seemed only able to attack in his dreams. Plan A unfortunately proved to remain difficult and elusive.
Why was Halloween so important? It seemed to have a great significance to the intruder. He thought back to his childhood and mostly remembered the stories and games. So, was there a connection to ghosts? Was the invisible watcher some mean spirit?
At last he reined his gelding in outside the hotel. Saddlebags over his shoulder, bedroll under one arm he approached the desk clerk.
“Hello. My name’s Joshua Smith. Has my partner checked in? Thaddeus Jones?”
The elderly man looked sceptically at the worn-out, dusty cowboy, but long years of serving customers made him check the register as bidden.
“He has indeed checked in already…Mr. Smith. And he registered for both of you. If you could just add your signature here?” Heyes complied, relieved that he wouldn’t have to wait for Kid.
“Room 14, here is your key. Anything else I can help you with?”
Heyes summoned a smile and asked that his horse be taken care of. He thanked the clerk and started up the stairs, quickly finding the room. He knocked, giving their secret signal, but there was no reply. He opened the door to an empty room. Heyes dropped his gear and tried to think. He wanted desperately to just lay down on the bed and sleep, but first he needed to see the Kid. Should he take a bath before going out? Change clothes? He longed for a beer. Maybe have a bite to eat.
Head hanging down, the usually so decisive ex-outlaw leader stood in the middle of the room unable to make up his mind. In the end he just splashed some water in his face to freshen up and went in search of his friend.
A few minutes later Heyes spotted the Kid in a café further along the street. Relief flooded him and a warm smile made dimples appear.
“Hi Thaddeus. Good to see you. How did things go?”
On hearing the deep baritone voice, Kid looked up from his steak and a happy grin split his face. “Joshua. Good to see you too,” but once his friend had gratefully dropped into a chair, the grin changed into a worried frown. “What’s wrong? You look like hell!”
“Just a little trouble sleeping. Must have been worried about you,” Heyes tried to make light “Everything went fine, better than expected. That lawyer I was guiding even sent a recommendation to Lom for our mutual friend. And I got paid, plus a bonus.”
Heyes felt his spirits boosted by their reunion. His eyes regained some sparkle when he asked “How did your job work out? I hope you didn’t feel the need to demonstrate your fast-draw too often, without me there to stop you.”
A short blue-eyed glower directed at innocent brown eyes. “Nah. But I’m sure glad to hear you finally learned to collect payment without me tellin’ you how. I got paid as well.” A happy grin shone again from the blond man’s features, to be replaced quickly by another worried look at Heyes’ still greyish colour and the deep black circles under his eyes. He looked like he’d been chased by a posse for days, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about it now.
A good meal helped restoring some colour to Heyes features. They paid and decided to head to the saloon for a beer or two.
While Heyes ordered and paid, Curry found a table at the back of the saloon. Two full glasses in hand, Heyes joined his partner, handed him his beer and both men took a grateful, appreciative first sip. Due to the noise in the room and the placement of their table they had more privacy than at the café. The Kid wasn’t surprised when his friend started the conversation, what startled him was the topic. “Do you remember Halloween when we were kids?”
“Uh huh.” Normally the dark-haired man didn’t talk about their childhood. There had to be more to the question. Best to give him room to go on.
“You remember anything else but telling ghost stories? Maybe something Grandpa Curry said?”
“What was it?” Pleading look from dark eyes.
“He always set an extra place at the table and left a candle burning in the window. I remember ‘cause it kinda scared me. The extra place was for any ‘departed dear ones’. The candle was to guide them home. I was scared that dead people would climb out of their graves and eat all our food.”
“Departed dear ones. As in ghosts?”
“I guess. And Grandpa Curry said in Irish tradition Halloween was the night when the world of the living and the world of the dead were closest, when things could cross over.” Blue eyes became more intent, why was Heyes asking these questions? It was not like him.
The dark haired man muttered to himself “One more night, then it’s Halloween.”
“How come you ask?”
“Just wondering, Kid.”
A harder version of the look was directed at the brown eyes. Heyes played for time by turning his attention towards his beer and drinking deeply, but Kid remained undeterred.
After a while Heyes shrugged “I had a nightmare. Can’t really remember, but it was something about Halloween.”
Now it was Curry’s turn to take a deep draught. There obviously was more to it, but Heyes was not ready to talk about it yet. “I figure you really need to get some sleep, partner. Not like you to be askin’ about ghosts.”
“Reckon you’re right. I am tired. I’ll head over to the hotel. You coming?”
“Yeah, why don’t you take somethin’ to help you sleep?”
Heyes shook his head defiantly. “No! That’s the last thing I need. I just need to stay in control until Halloween’s over.”
“No buts. Just wake me as soon as you hear me dreaming. Got that?”
“Yep.” Both men finished their beer and headed out of the saloon.
Once on the boardwalk Heyes put his arm around Kid’s shoulder “It sure is good to be back together, partner!”
“Sure is.” The blond man kept his face impassive, but he felt unsettled. Something about Heyes wasn’t right.
Back in their hotel room, Heyes got ready for bed, while Kid settled down for his daily gun-cleaning routine. The dark head settled on the pillow, grateful for a comfortable bed and the familiarity of the situation. The smell of gun oil and the soft sounds of a gun being cleaned confirmed that things were back to normal, he could sleep safely, the voice in his head had just been a bad dream.
His exhausted body demanded rest and it didn’t take long for him to fall asleep. When the next nightmare started, they were in Clarence’s cabin, snowed in and the Kid had fallen ill. Beauregard offered treatment, but Heyes didn’t trust him and let nobody else get close to his friend. It became clear that pneumonia had set in. Kid’s fever wouldn’t break and he was growing weaker every day. It was hard to listen to his laboured breathing frequently interrupted by painful coughing fits. Heyes grew more and more frantic, this couldn’t be happening!
It’s just a nightmare. He started to take control when he heard the voice again “Well done, Heyes! So you’ve decided to fight back? Makes it more fun for me, but you should realise you have a lot of catching up to do.”
Heyes tried resisting the voice, tried willing it away as a figment of dream, but still felt compelled to answer. “I was always a fast learner.”
“Maybe, but have you figured out yet who I am?” Demanded the mocking, taunting voice.
He couldn’t wrestle control away from the voice, but maybe he could trick ‘him’ into revealing something? “Someone with bad manners, otherwise you’d have introduced yourself. After all, you seem to be in my head.”
The voice laughed, then answered “Touché, Heyes. You know what? I’ll tell you tomorrow if you haven’t figured it out by then. That famous brain of yours might get bored without a puzzle to solve. Now, you’ll excuse me, you have a dream to finish. Wouldn’t want you to miss any of the rehearsals before the real thing.” The last was said with intense menace, but Heyes could clearly hear a big smile accompanying the chilling words.
The words were barely said, when Heyes felt as if he’d been knocked down. He lost all control of his dream and was back to nursing the Kid, who was now burning up with fever, his breathing shallow and rapid. His coughing seemed to get worse and occasionally brought up blood. Heyes desperately did everything he could think of, cooling his friend down with snow to fight the fever, making him drink as much as he could, keeping him warm when the shivers set in, but nothing seemed to help. Kid dwindled away more and more with each day until finally the rapid breathing slowed, became infrequent and then stopped.
Once more Heyes woke up screaming, hearing the now horribly familiar mocking laughter ringing in his head.
On hearing the scream, Kid shot up in bed, gun in hand looking for an attacker. When he realised they were alone in the room he holstered his colt again and turned to Heyes.
“What’s wrong? You ok?”
“Just a nightmare,” came the muted reply.
Kid lit the lamp to get a better look at his partner. Heyes sat in bed, shivering, arms clutching his knees close to his body, head hanging down.
It wasn’t the first time one of them had woken the other because of a bad dream, not surprising, given their history. Still, Kid was worried; the way Heyes looked he must have had nightmares for several nights. What had happened to his cousin to upset him so much?
Kid got up, filled a glass with water from the pitcher and brought it over to his friend. Heyes looked up with wide eyes, took the glass and drank gratefully. “Thanks, Kid. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to wake you.”
“It’s ok. Wanna talk about it?”
“No. I need some fresh air. Go back to sleep, Kid. I’ll be fine.” Heyes quickly dressed and headed down the back stairs. He was scared. Having his partner back at his side had not been enough to stop the nightmares, the intruder was real and he had no Plan A.
Still reeling from this latest encounter, Heyes tried again to put a name and a face to the voice. Someone who had spent a lot of time in his company and knew his name, who obviously didn’t like him, but the Kid even less, who enjoyed power games and was cruel. And given the nature of the attack, someone who was already dead. When he put this together with the smile he had so clearly heard, he suddenly realised who he was fighting: Danny Bilson.
Heyes’ last job had unexpectedly led to Matherville. Even though he didn’t want to, he had to go into town. It had felt unreal riding through the streets, the saloon looked the same and he thought he could still see a blood stain in the street where Bilson had died. Had the vengeful ghost lingered there, waiting for the Kid or him to return? He couldn’t let Kid know. It had taken his partner long enough to get over killing the man. He had failed to protect him from this guilt, the least he could do now was to shield him from the ghost.
Exhausted as he was and deep in thought, Heyes never noticed the shadow following him. He had grown so used to the feeling of being watched, the real watcher never registered.
Once the Kid realised Heyes was returning to the hotel, he ghosted ahead and slipped quickly into the room. He worried about his friend, who was obviously deeply disturbed by something more than an ordinary nightmare. Kid knew from experience what going for several days without sleep could do to a head. His partner needed some proper sleep to allow his overactive brain to rest; to return to normal. He would do what he could to help. He strode over to the window and looked down - at a pharmacy. Yes, this would be easy enough. All he needed was a long refreshing sleep to get back to being himself again. Heyes would never know.
“Thanks Kid, for getting this ‘Pep-me-up’ potion. I really mustn’t sleep tonight. It’s important. No sleep!” Heyes sat down on the bed, too tired to keep pacing. “No sleep…Plan B…” he mumbled.
Heyes was surprised when the hotel room suddenly turned into Matherville. He turned around when he heard Kid’s angry voice challenging Danny Bilson. Confident grin in place the man squared up to his cousin. The slightest movement, Kid’s gun jumped into his hand, but Bilson’s bullet had already found it’s mark. Heyes caught his friend before he hit the street, but it was already too late.
“Nooooo! Kid! What have you done?”
The scene started to dissolve when Heyes snarled “No need for this, I know it’s you, Bilson!”
“So, you finally got it, Heyes. What do you think of my dress rehearsal?” Defiant dark eyes stared back, not letting the panic show. Plan B had failed and he had never even started on Plan C.
“Of course, I’ll draw things out a bit more. I’ll first have some fun with your partner, before his final surprise.”
“I won’t let you! I’ll kill you first.”
Bilson laughed. “You two already took care of that. But now the tables are turned. You still don’t get it? The nightmares, feeling watched – I did it not just to torment you. That was a bonus. It was to drain you of energy and to slow you down. And it worked a treat. Fully rested you might have had a chance against me, but now?”
When the Kid woke up the next morning he found Heyes still asleep. Despite feeling a little guilty, he was glad that his partner had finally gotten a full night’s rest without waking up from nightmares. He washed, shaved and was buttoning his shirt when he noticed the figure in the other bed stirring.
“Good morning, Heyes. How’re you feelin’?” Hopeful blue eyes looked over at his partner.
“Morning … Kid.” came a hoarse reply.
“I’m sorry I gave you a sleepin’ draught, but you needed to sleep. I couldn’t let you go on like that.” Worry and defiance joined hope in the blue eyes.
A smile appeared on the dark-haired man’s face “That’s alright. I’m feeling much better.” the voice still sounding sleepy, a little higher than usual.
Kid Curry sighed with relief. “I hated trickin’ ya, but you were not yourself.” He pulled on his boots and turned around to start packing.
Dark eyes glowered at the gunman’s back. “Yeah. You tricked me,” the grin re-appeared, “but since a good night’s sleep was just what I needed, you might say it was a treat.” The features, usually so mobile, now seemed frozen into a wide malevolent grin that never reached the eyes, “I’ve waited a long time for this...”
"I can resist everything - except temptation" Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Posts : 834
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 45
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night Tue Oct 28, 2014 10:05 pm|| |
Hope no one minds a recycled oldie this month.
A Bump in the...Day
Hannibal Heyes didn’t know what hit him.
Flat on his back, parallel to the heavens, the grey clouds of an afternoon stalled, as if having hit a wall. Indeed, all motion ceased, save for the stars in his head.
To an unknowing eye, the outlaw leader appeared unconscious, his movement stilled. However, the stirrings beneath the dark hair, though confused, raged.
Where was he? Or, better yet, how did he get here? And why?
Okay, back to the beginning…
Ah, the argument! Him and the men. Over…? Argh! Head hurts. Where was Kid when he needed him?
Right, the men. They’d been holed up all winter, kind of bored. Wanting to get to something…
Wait – the plans. A recent traipse through Buffalo to drum the newly established bank. Gold bound for Fort McKinney. Most of the men thought it an adventure, riches beyond what they had ever undertaken. Being cautious, Wheat thought it too brazen – too many soldiers about, and they had not before tangled with martial authorities. Heyes had to agree, but the enthusiasm of the majority of the Devil’s Hole Gang prevailed. Despite his misgivings, he surveilled anyway, wanting to see for himself whether the plan had any merit, what the chances were for pulling it off and returning unscathed.
Meanwhile, Kid Curry had not yet returned from another trip to Coulson. The bank there presented a more traditional target for them – swoop in on a Saturday night after all was quiet, crack the safe, get away under cover of darkness, long before anyone discovered the robbery. A foray into Montana Territory was something Heyes thought about from time to time. However, going beyond Wyoming was risky. If they pulled off a robbery there, they would be wanted in two jurisdictions. More concerning, could they afford to lose a safe haven? But, ever since the James and Youngers had ventured off their own beaten track and into Minnesota, the idea had attracted him. He was confident they would succeed where their more Eastern counterparts had not. Coulson looked easy compared to Northfield, and their styles were different.
A brown eye opened, catching a too bright but momentary ray, and just as quickly shut with a grimace. The sun briefly peaked out from behind a wandering cloud, and the leaden sky lightened before the orb just as quickly retreated. He breathed more rapidly as a cool breeze chilled him. The ground underneath was cold; he had not noticed it until now.
He willed his breathing to regulate. Thoughts hastened. Plans continued to roll through his mind.
Perhaps the timing was not yet right for Buffalo or Coulson. Both were too likely to put them in more harm’s way than usual. Maybe something even closer to home or a bit further afield; Casper was another place they had never hit and seemed ripe for the taking. Staying in Wyoming had its advantages. Spring had just sprung. Everyone was ready to ride, eager to shake off the winter doldrums and come down from the Hole – get some jingle in their pockets. A long, cold season left them bored and tired of sitting around. The hint of warmth had them stirring, ready to start the robbing season, even if white patches remained scattered about.
Hank had suggested moseying on down to a nearby stage route. Toward the end of the month, a guard riding shotgun was along for the trip, whereas most other times a lone driver sufficed. Likely easy enough pickings to whet the men’s appetites and keep them satisfied until the next job.
Or maybe they should just stay put. Wait! Hadn’t he just had this conversation with himself recently, only a short while ago? Why were these same thoughts swirling, invading his…daydreams?
Heyes shook his head, stirred. His eyes flew open as if just being woken from a restless sleep, a considered, though thoughtful, nightmare. He peered at the sky, looked about, observed his horse quietly grazing on sparse grass nearby.
Ouch! A gloved hand rushed to his jaw – it hurt! Ran his tongue along his teeth; they were all there, and none seemed loose. The stars in his field of vision had lessened, and he now beheld the canopy of bare brown and some coniferous green overhead. A certain branch mocked him.
Ah, understanding! He smirked, rolled his eyes simultaneously with his body. Now prone on his belly, he closed his lids tightly against the dizziness from the motion, opening them quickly at the sound of a horse’s approach. A familiar sorrel greeted his own chestnut as his partner – two? – came into view.
Kid Curry jumped down, swiftly appearing at Heyes’ side. “Can’t leave ya on your own for a few days without you gettin’ into trouble, huh?”
The dark-haired man grunted as he locked arms with the blond and staggered to his feet. He closed his eyes tightly to let the world stop spinning.
Heyes slowly opened one eye, then the other. His partner now appeared as one.
“What’re ya doin’ out here by yourself?”
The outlaw leader sighed. “Taking a ride.”
The blond man grinned. “On the ground?” He bent to retrieve his partner’s hat.
Taking it, Heyes pressed it onto his head. “Argh!” He paused until his grimace subsided. “I needed to think without all the men around.”
“So, you decided to take a nap, without a bedroll?”
“No.” Heyes’ hand again shot to his jaw.
Kid removed the bandana from his pocket. He spit on it before wiping his partner’s chin. “You have a nasty cut there. It’s bleedin’.”
“I know.” Another grimace. “Watch it, will ya!” He moved away from Kid’s ministrations.
The blue eyes danced as he eyed a large branch hanging lower than the rest. “You thinkin’ too much you weren’t payin’ attention?”
The blond man chuckled. “Uh huh. Heyes, I told ya all that thinkin’ would get ya into trouble someday. You’re lucky I came along when I did. Can’t leave ya for two seconds…”
Kid backed off a step, palms up. “Calm down. Just kiddin’.”
“Sorry.” Heyes whacked a hand to his thigh and dust flew. “Told ya, I just needed to get away. The men…”
Kid nodded. “Uh huh. The men’re wantin’ some action, and you needed to think.”
“Something like that. What’d you think of Coulson?”
The blond man shrugged. “Pretty straightforward. Should be easy enough. But, Montana? I’m not so sure about that.”
Kid re-pocketed the bandana. “You thinkin’ better 'bout that gold shipment to Fort McKinney?”
Heyes finished dusting himself off. “No. I think Wheat’s right about that one. I don’t like the idea of messing with soldiers.”
Kid raised a brow. “I don’t either.”
“How about Hank’s stage?”
“I don’t know. We don’t do stages.” Kid eyed his partner. “Heyes, who says we need to do anything right now? It’s still snowin’ some at night. Maybe we should wait ‘til it’s warmer and ya have a better idea 'bout what we should do.”
Heyes smiled. “That’s where my thoughts were taking me, Kid. The men’ll just have to hole up a while longer. Let’s get on outta here and get back. I could use some coffee.”
Two partners mounted up and rode, carefully, back to the Hole.
Notes: The town of Coulson, Montana was established in 1877 and a precursor to Billings, where a city park now encompasses the ground on which it stood. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billings,_Montana#Coulson_.2F_Billings
In 1876, the James-Younger Gang ventured into Minnesota and met its end at Northfield, where citizens stood their ground, fighting back after a bank robbery and several murders, delaying the gang's escape. Two members were killed in Northfield, and the posse caught up with four others, killing another, while the James boys escaped. Badly wounded, the three Younger brothers were sentenced to 25 years in prison because Minnesota did not have a death penalty. Although the James Gang subsequently reformed with new recruits, its glory days were behind them. For more info, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_James_Northfield_Raid#Downfall_of_the_gang
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp
|Subject: Re: Bump In The Night || |
Bump In The Night