Summary: Unexpected guests arrive at the Ponderosa on Halloween night. Written for the Michael Landon 2017 Birthday Challenge, it includes a re-imagining of events depicted in “The Strange One” (Season 7).
Rating: K+ (3702 words)
Author’s Note: I love to write stories like this occasionally if for no other reason than to remind myself not to take “me” too seriously. Remember, this is AU (which to me means almost anything goes), and if you’re wondering whether or not there is a sister in this one, the best answer is “it depends.” Explanation offered in this crossover of a ‘different’ kind. Readers with a quirky sense of humor, sally forth and conquer. 🙂
(Any resemblance to the Ties That Bind series is unfortunately unavoidable. The author has agreed not to sue. Just sayin’…)
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
It was a dark and stormy night, October 31, 1860-something, and the Cartwrights had just settled in for the evening. The inclement weather had deterred even the most intrepid trick or treaters, leaving Joe and Hoss with the happy dilemma of what to do with all the Halloween goodies Hop Sing had diligently prepared.
They were halfway through a five gallon bucket of popcorn balls when Joe heard a noise.
“What was that?”
“What?” Hoss was sucking popcorn kernels from his teeth. “I didn’t hear nothin’.”
Pa glanced up from his Rancher’s Almanac. “It was probably just the wind. Feet off the furniture, Joe.”
Joe complied with an eye roll he made sure his father didn’t see. “There it is again. I think someone’s at the door.”
“In this weather?” Pa looked doubtful.
Joe pried the bucket from Hoss and unlatched the door to greet their Halloween guests. Two dark figures stood on the porch. “Aren’t you a little old for trick or treating?”
“Very funny,” said the tall one. “Didn’t you hear me knocking? Boy, I sure didn’t see this storm coming. It blew up out of nowhere about the time we got in view of the house.”
The bucket slipped from Joe’s hand. “Adam, is that you?”
“Of course, it’s me. Stop being a wise guy and let us in, will you?”
“Oh yeah, sure, of course!”
By this time Pa and Hoss had joined them, and everyone was trying to talk at once.
“It’s wonderful to have you home again, son,” Pa beamed as he embraced him. “I knew you couldn’t stay away forever.”
“Welcome back, brother,” said Hoss, grinning and clapping him on the shoulder. “Where’ve you been all this time, anyhow?”
Adam looked confused. “Sacramento. You knew that’s where I went.”
“No foolin’? When we didn’t hear from you we thought maybe you’d drowned at sea or somethin’,” said Joe. “How many years has it been now?”
“What are you talking about? It’s only been two weeks.”
“Are you sure? It certainly seemed a lot longer,” said Pa. “And who is this lovely young lady?”
Joe was about to ask the same question as Adam removed her dripping cape. He saw the worried look that passed between them before she answered.
“I’m your daughter, don’t you know?”
Pa’s face lit up like the sunrise on Lake Tahoe, with a smile as wide as the sky. “Well, this is the best news! I’ve always wanted a daughter. Welcome to the family, my dear! I was beginning to think none of my boys would ever get married.”
“Adam, why didn’t you write and let us know you were gettin’ hitched, you sly old dawg?” Hoss chucked him on the arm.
“Cradle robber’s more like it,” said Joe, thinking she looked awfully young. “What’s your name, little sis?”
Her eyes were wide. “Adam…”
“That’s weird,” said Joe. “Doesn’t it get confusing?”
“All right, no more games,” Adam groused. “I’m wet, and none of this is funny!”
“Well, are you married or not?” Joe demanded.
The response he received was a withering glare.
“Does that mean no?”
Pa frowned. “If you’re not married, then why would you risk this young lady’s reputation by squiring her around the countryside late at night without a chaperon? I raised you better than that.”
Adam took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. “I have no idea what’s going on here, but for sanity’s sake, this ‘young lady’ is my sister, your daughter, Jillian Cartwright, and unless everyone has gone stark raving mad since I left here, you know that!” His voice went up an octave at the end, and in Joe’s experience that meant he was ready to spit nails.
Hoss looked appropriately shocked, but Pa looked a little nervous when he asked, “Um, who is your mother, dear?”
“Marie Cartwright,” she answered in a small voice.
“Wrong!” exclaimed Joe. “Marie was MY mother. You’re just an imposter trying to steal our inheritance!”
The girl burst into tears.
“Little Joe, you mean old thing, you done made her cry,” said Hoss, scowling at him. “Here, doll—use my handkerchief. You’re gonna ruin your pretty blue dress.”
She sniffled. “Thank you, but I don’t own any blue dresses. I’m not allowed to wear them.”
“Well, I hate to break it to ya, but that’s as blue as any dress I’ve ever seen,” said Joe.
A look of horror crept over her face as she examined her attire. “NOOO!” She glanced wildly around the room. “It’s a dream, that’s all it is. I’m going to wake up in the morning in my own bed and everything is going to be just fine.”
“Don’t worry, Jilly. We’ll get to the bottom of this one way or another.” Adam guided her over to a chair and sat her down.
The four men stared at each other, waiting for someone to speak. Adam shifted his gaze to the room, frowning as he surveyed the four walls. “This isn’t right.”
“What isn’t right?” asked Pa.
“This room. The stairs are on the wrong side.”
“They’re right where they’ve always been,” said Pa. “Just the way you designed it.”
“I designed it, but not this way. This is a mirror image of my design. Everything here is backwards. You see it, don’t you, Jilly?”
“Yes.” Poor kid, she looked like a scared little rabbit. Joe was beginning to feel sorry for her, imposter or not.
Pa frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’ll tell you what else don’t make sense,” said Hoss. “Adam, didn’t you say the storm hit just about the time you got here?”
Joe knew exactly what Hoss was getting at. “It’s been storming here for two hours, at least.”
“How could that be? We had a clear sky and a full moon all the way from town, and suddenly there was a thunderclap and a burst of lightning—so close it made my hair stand on end. After that it was a like a curtain dropped, and then the rain.” He looked around the room again. “What the heck is happening?”
Hoss shook his head. “I don’t know, but ever since we brought that spooky gal in here, things just ain’t been right.”
“What spooky gal?”
“The one upstairs with Doc Martin. Me ‘n Joe found her passed out in the bushes while we was out huntin’ the other day so we brought her home. She knew all kinds of things that nobody even told her, and then she kept hollerin’ somethin’ about a fish and an arrow that didn’t make no sense at all. Like I said, spooky.”
“NO,” said Joe, “and NEVER say that name in this house again.”
“Who’s Tirza?” asked Jilly.
Joe narrowed his eyes at her. “She Who Must Not Be Named – didn’t you hear me? Sheesh, you’re somebody’s little sister, all right.”
She returned the frown. “I don’t think I like you very much.”
“I’ll admit, our guest is a rather strange young woman,” said Pa. “She can’t help the fact that she’s different. Second sight is both a gift and a curse. Her own people turned her out because they didn’t understand her. Fear of what they don’t understand often leads folks to do things they soon regret.”
“Pa, do you believe in that stuff?”
“Hoss, I may not understand it, but I can’t dismiss it.”
“Neither can I,” said Dr. Paul Martin, descending the stairs. “In fact, I think this woman is clairvoyant.”
“Clara who? She told us her name was Marie,” Hoss frowned. “That makes her spooky AND a liar. I say we get rid of her.”
“Clairvoyant is not a person’s name. I’ve read a little bit about it. It means someone who has the ability to see things before they happen. Or sometimes they may see things that have already happened even if they have no prior knowledge of them,” Adam explained.
“I was going to say that.” The good doctor sounded a little perturbed.
“You’d better be quick if you want to beat Mr. Know-It-All,” Joe grumbled.
“How is she?” asked Ben.
“Her ankle is improving, but I’m afraid she has a terrible case of low self-esteem. My recommendation is a healthy dose of Cartwright hospitality for the next few days, at least. And a parcel of land.”
“I think we can manage that.”
Dr. Martin turned to Adam. “So the prodigal has finally returned, eh? It’s good to see you, Adam. It’s been a long time. And who is this young lady?”
Just then spooky Marie came hobbling down the stairs. She stopped in front of Adam, and her big eyes grew larger as she stared at him. “Fish…and arrow…and something black! Danger…beware!”
“See what I mean? No sense at all,” said Hoss, shaking his head.
Spooky Marie persisted. “Fish…in the stars, and …arrow in the lightning!”
“And something black, huh,” said Joe, “or maybe, someone IN black?”
“Adam’s wearin’ black.” Hoss crunched down on another popcorn ball.
“Exactly,” said Joe, folding his arms.
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I don’t know—you’re supposed to be the smart one.”
“You should not be here!” Spooky Marie warned Adam. “You do not belong. She does not belong.” She pointed to Jilly.
“I feel funny…” Jilly murmured.
“Let me take a look at you,” said the doctor. “Hmm. Her pulse is thready, and her skin is clammy. I don’t like the look of things.”
“Maybe it’s the blue dress,” Joe surmised. He’d had a bad feeling about it from the start.
“No, it’s more than that,” said Dr. Martin. “Who is she, by the way?”
Adam screwed up his face, looking a little constipated. “It’s a long story, and you’re probably not going to believe it, but I’ll try to make it quick.”
“That is a rather fantastic tale,” said Dr. Martin afterwards.
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I didn’t say that. I’ve known you for a long time, Adam, so I’m inclined to believe you on that basis alone. I do know there are a lot of things in this world that defy rational explanation. I wonder… Have you ever heard of something called a parallel universe?”
“You mean an alternative reality where a nearly identical world exists at the same time in a different dimension?” Joe asked.
His family stared at him.
Dr. Martin looked surprised. “Yes. So you have heard of it?”
“No, I’m just a really good guesser.”
“Well, it has certainly never been proven,” said the doctor. “But in theory, that’s how it could be explained—parallel worlds, each with a Cartwright family, with at least one apparent major difference, and possibly more.”
“But which one is real?” Hoss asked.
“Both of them, though your reality is the one into which you were born.”
“I have a daughter,” Pa said wistfully.
“Well, not exactly. She was born into the other reality, as was this Adam. Where is your Adam, by the way?”
“We don’t know,” said Joe. “We haven’t heard from him in at least two years.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Pa. “This Adam is just as good. He and Jilly can stay here. We have plenty of room.”
“It may not be possible,” said the doctor. “Perhaps Adam could stay, but Jilly doesn’t exist here, and she seems to be fading.”
Hoss dropped his popcorn ball on the floor. “Oh, Lordy!”
Joe’s eyes doubled in size. “Now that’s what I call spooky!”
Jilly had fallen asleep in the blue chair, which was clearly visible through her transparent body.
“No!” Adam exclaimed.
Pa’s tone was both demanding and pleading. “Paul, for the love of Zachary Pete Taylor, can’t you do something?”
“Ben, I’m a doctor, not a metaphysics expert!”
Aroused by the commotion, Jilly sat up, fully materialized. “Why is everyone shouting?”
“You were about to disappear, that’s why,” said Joe. “I’d stay awake if I were you.”
Adam directed a frown at Joe. “There’s no need to scare her.”
“Me scare her? She’s the one scaring me!”
“It’s all right—we’ll figure it out,” Adam assured her. “Stop yawning!”
“But I’m so tired…”
“Paul, what happens if she…you know…” asked Pa.
“Well, like I said, I’m not an expert, but my guess is one of two things. Either she goes back to her own reality…or…not.”
“You mean, like ‘poof’?” asked Joe, sweeping his hands in the air.
“No, no, ‘poof’ is not an option…not on my watch! If I don’t get her home, I’ll be in real trouble with my other Pa. You, Miss Clairvoyant,” Adam gestured to Spooky Marie. “You must know something about this. What was all that business about the fish in the sky and the arrow in the lightning?”
“And somethin’ black—don’t forget that,” added Hoss with a frown, indicating his continued mistrust of their unusual houseguest.
“Fish in the stars,” she corrected Adam. “I do not know what it means. I only know what I see.”
“Well, that’s a big help,” said Joe.
“Fish in the stars,” mused the doctor. “Could that be Pisces?”
“What’s that?” asked Hoss.
“Pisces is a constellation first catalogued by the Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy; in Latin it means ‘the fishes’,” Adam explained. “I studied that in college.”
Joe smirked. “Of course you did. But what does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but coincidentally, the sky was full of stars tonight. In fact, I was pointing out the Big Dipper to Jilly when we saw the lightning—a glimmer at first, followed by a big flash. And then the stars were gone. It was pitch black. For a second there was nothing, and then we were in the middle of the storm. It was almost like coming out of a tunnel.”
“Adam, I think you’ve hit on something. Imagine this—the heavens and the elements clicking into place like tumblers in a lock, creating a momentary ripple in the universe.” The doctor paused before continuing. “Perhaps you and Jilly just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.”
“That could explain how we got here, but right now I’m more concerned about how to get back. We can’t go the way we came, can we?”
“It may be possible,” said Spooky Marie, in an eerie tone. “There are many doors open on All Hallows Eve.”
“All right, so what do we do?”
“Take the road back just as you came. You must be at the place where you met the storm when the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars.”*
“When is that?”
“Twenty minutes, give or take.”
“Better hurry, Adam,” said Joe. “She’s goin’ out again.”
“Jilly, wake up!”
She blinked and yawned. “I’m up. You don’t have to yell.”
“Yell, yell, yell—everybody in this family yell!” Hop Sing entered from the kitchen and handed Jilly a small paper sack. “You take donuts in case you get hungry. Hop Sing’s best recipe, very good.”
“Thank you.” She peeked inside the sack and smiled. “These are my favorite. How did you know?”
“Goodbye, my dear.” Pa kissed her tenderly on the cheek. “If I did have a daughter, I’d want her to be just like you.” He turned to Adam. “I know it’s selfish of me, but I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“Don’t worry, Pa,” Adam assured him. “I have a feeling the other Adam will be home soon. He couldn’t stay away forever any more than I could.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I’m sure I am. And, uh, when he does come back, maybe you should consider giving him a freer hand around the place.”
Pa’s eyebrows lifted. “I’ll give it some thought. Good luck, son.”
Joe followed them outside to the buggy. The horses seemed anxious, but at least the rain had let up.
“Jilly, I’m sorry I was mean before.”
“I’m sorry I said I didn’t like you.”
“The other Joe, where you’re from—what’s he like?”
A corner of her mouth turned up. “He’s a lot like you, actually—sort of a wise guy.”
“Do you two get along?”
“Yes, very well.”
She had a great smile, he decided. It was the kind you can see in a person’s eyes when they really mean it.
“I’m glad. So long, little sis,” he grinned. “Take her home, Adam, and take good care of her.”
“I’ll do my best. Stay outta trouble, Joe,” he called over his shoulder as the team lunged forward into the night.
“I’ll try.” Can’t promise, though.
The front door creaked open behind him. “Come on in, Joe. We’re about to play charades—you, me, ‘n Pa against Hop Sing, Doc, and Spooky.”
“Aw, Hoss—I don’t feel like charades, not tonight.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun, and we need you. You’re the best player. Come on, Joe…”
The sound of his name roused him. “What? Is it my turn?”
“Your turn for what?” asked Hoss.
“I thought we were playin’ charades. Where is everybody?”
“You musta been dreamin’. Pa’s in the kitchen, Hop Sing’s gone to bed, and Adam’s in Sacramento.”
“Adam’s in Sacramento?”
“Yeah, don’t you remember?”
“I guess it was a dream. Did you eat all those popcorn balls?”
“Naw, there’s plenty left.”
Pa came back from the kitchen with a cup of coffee and settled in his chair to read his new Rancher’s Almanac. “Feet off the furniture, Joe. How many times do I have to remind you?”
It was still raining, as it had been all evening. Joe was trying to recall the rest of his dream before it slipped away entirely when he heard a noise.
“What was that?”
“What?” Hoss was licking powdered sugar from his fingers as he polished off another of Hop Sing’s donuts. “I didn’t hear nothin’.”
“Must have been the wind,” said Pa, glancing up from his reading.
“There it is again. Someone’s at the door,” said Joe. An odd feeling washed over him.
Pa looked doubtful. “Who on earth would be out in this weather?”
“I think I know who.” Joe opened the door. “Adam, it is you!”
“Yes, it’s me. Didn’t you hear me knocking? Let me in, I’m soaked.”
“Are you alone?”
“Don’t be a wise guy, of course I’m alone. Who would be with me?”
“We weren’t expectin’ you back so soon,” said Hoss.
“I finished early, no need to hang around.”
“Well, we’re certainly glad to have you home, but you could have stayed in town tonight and avoided the storm,” said Pa.
“It wasn’t raining in town, just a few clouds. I had no idea I’d be riding through a gully washer or I would have stayed. Did I mention the lightning? It was like nothing I’d ever seen. Boy, am I starved. Is there anything in the kitchen?”
“There’s some stew left. I’ll have it warm for you by the time you get into some dry clothes.”
“Thanks, Pa. That sounds great. What is it, Joe? You’ve been staring at me like I’ve got two heads ever since I walked in the door.”
“Sorry, I just woke up. Guess I’m still a little groggy.” He shook off the dream. Dreams had nothing to do with real life, he reminded himself, no matter the similarities. “I’m glad you’re home.”
“Thanks, so am I.”
“Hey, Adam—you didn’t meet any haints on the road tonight, did ya? It is Halloween, ya know,” Hoss grinned.
“Funny you should ask, because something did spook me a little, at least at first. That big black stud that belongs to the Jameson brothers must’ve gotten loose during the storm; he nearly ran me off the road. I saw that fish and arrow brand plain as day in the lightning before he shot off like a bat outta hell. He is one prime piece of horse flesh. I sure wish he was ours. Hoss, do you think they’d sell him?”
His family’s banter wafted from the kitchen along with the aroma of simmering stew, coffee, and cider, and Joe inhaled it all, there on the sofa in front of the crackling fire. He smiled as he closed his eyes. Outside, the storm held steady, but in the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house, at that moment, all was right with the world.
The next day, Hoss returned from town with a wagon load of supplies and the mail, plus one item that was not on anyone’s list.
It appeared to be a woman’s cape.
“I found it right where I turned onto the main road. I reckon it must’ve belonged to somebody passin’ through.”
“It looks like the rain got the best of it, but I’d say this was a pretty expensive garment, so whoever lost it was probably a person of some means, maybe even from around here,” said Adam. “There are initials embroidered in the lining…JMC. Joe, do you have any idea who that might be?”
He shook his head slowly. “No, can’t say I do.”
They’d have thought he was crazy if he’d said the first thing that came into his head. No, it was just a coincidence, anyway.
Happy Birthday, Mike. Thanks for the memories. Love you always.
*From “The Age of Aquarius” — lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni
Bonanza character acknowledgements: “Spooky” Marie appeared in “The Strange One” (Season 7) written by Stephen Lord and Jo Pagano, on which this story is based in part. Aficionados will recall Tirza from “Dark Star” (Season 1) written by Anthony Lawrence.