The Dead of Night (by PSW)

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Summary: Little Joe has an unsettling night.  Written for the October 15 Pinecone challenge (prompt: Oh Joe, Little Joe, give it a rest. We all know Pa likes you the best. — Bob Lee, Phil Visher, Kurt Heinecke), and expanded a bit for the Halloween Challenge.

Rating: G  Word Count: 633

The Dead of Night

The forest was black, lit in patches by the watery moonlight.  The trail flew beneath his horse’s hooves, dark before them and behind, the pinto’s pace impossibly smooth and fast for the circumstances.

Pa is dead.  Pa is gone.

The words drummed inside him, keeping cadence with the even—so even—hoofbeats.

Pa is dead.  Pa is gone.

He was unprepared when Cochise dug his hooves in.  Keeping his seat was impossible, but his arching flight over the black and white head was … graceful.  Slow.  He barely felt the landing, though it did seem like the ground was farther away than it should have been.

A clot of dirt hit him in the face.

Joe looked around, catching his bearings and his breath.  He was in a rectangular section of dug out earth, sides smooth, corners perfect, walls about six feet high.

Six feet deep …

A trickle of dirt fell onto his shoulders.

He looked to the left, and found himself face to face with his pa.  Oh, Pa.  Ben looked so peaceful in death.  Asleep.  His arms were folded across his chest, hat tucked into his hands, hair arranged just so.  His good white shirt glowed almost blue in the pale light, the string tie a dark slash down his chest.

Pa is dead.  Pa is gone.

More dirt showered down from above.

He looked up and saw them.  Their faces were clear, sharp—though they should have been in shadow, backlit by the moon.

“Help me!”  Joe reached out to them.  Adam lifted a shovel and shook down another cascade of soil.  “Wait!  What are you doing?”  He looked to Hoss.  “Hoss?”  His big brother’s scoop was larger—a snow shovel to Adam’s spade—and the damp, heavy dirt covered his hips.  “Help me!”

“Sorry, brother.”  Hoss shook his head sadly.  “Can’t do it.”

“Why not?”

“A piece of us will be buried with him.”  Adam’s voice was calm, patient—like he was explaining a tough math problem or why he’d assigned the hands the way he had.  “We’ll never be the same.”

“But why me?  Why am I that piece?”

His brothers exchanged a long glance, then both tossed in another shovelful of dirt.  Joe frantically brushed it from his hair.  Above him three more men appeared, nebulous and faceless in the weird, shifting light.

“There!  There they are!”

More dirt.

“They killed Pa!  We found ‘em!”

His legs were covered now.

“Let me outa here!  Grab ‘em, we found ‘em!”

“Oh, Joe.”  Adam sighed.

“Little Joe,” Hoss added.

“Give it a rest.”

“A rest.  Give it a rest, Little Joe,” the unknown faces jeered.

“If it makes you feel any better, little brother, we all know Pa liked you the best.”

“The best,” Pa’s killers echoed.  The moonlight filtered around and through their faceless forms.

Adam cocked his head curiously toward Hoss.  “You really think so?”  More dirt across his shoulders.

“Naw.  But maybe it’ll calm him down.  He sure is puttin’ up a fuss.”

Joe kicked frantically, freeing his legs from the ever-growing pile.  “Let me out!  There they are, don’t you see ‘em?”

“We’ll get to them later, Joe.”  Hoss’s voice was soothing.  Kind.  “We gotta finish up here.”

“No!  Let me out.”

He started to surge to his feet, but a pair of strong arms wrapped around him from beneath, holding him close.  Tight.  “Stay with me, Little Joe.  You didn’t stay last time, and look what happened.”

He screamed, and kicked …

And woke.  The light from his low fire flickered.  An owl hooted.  Cochise snorted drowsily.  Joe ran a trembling hand across his sweat-soaked face.

He’d slept longer than he planned.  Pa’s killers were still out there, and he was getting behind.

Joe rolled to his feet and broke his meager camp.

*****

(Missing scene for ‘The Legacy’)

10 thoughts on “The Dead of Night (by PSW)”

  1. That was even more chilling the second time around. Is there no escape from Joe’s torment? Unexpected but great missing scene.

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