Summary – October challenge – write an other-worldly story involving one or all the Cartwrights. The unthinkable has happened – all four Cartwrights are dead!
Rating – K, Word count – 2045
Dead Men Tell No Tales
October 30, 1865
Dan DeQuille, publisher, journalist
Explosion Kills Cartwright Family
How can this be? This is news no one expects to report or read. This reporter can attest to the fact that the entire town is in shock. No one ever thought it would be possible for all four members of this magnanimous family to be killed at the same time.
That fateful day, only two days ago, had begun as any ordinary Autumn day. According to the sole witness, tree stumps and boulders needed to be cleared on a piece of land newly acquired by the Cartwrights so it could be used for grazing land for the Ponderosa cattle. With most of the ranch hands and timber crews busy preparing the ranch for the coming winter, Ben Cartwright and his sons decided to handle the clearing themselves. Each man had years of experience handling explosives, so it was no surprise for them to handle a job such as this. All was set to go and….well, no one really knows what happened, except that it went horribly wrong.
Jake Evans, the timber boss for the Cartwrights, was riding up the road to meet with Mister Cartwright when an “explosion to split the earth wide open” shook the ground around him. His thoughts racing, Jake attempted to calm his horse, and himself, as he took cover from the falling debris and waited for the dust to clear. Dismounting he made his way carefully up the rock-strewn trail, his horse following behind. Rounding a curve his heart stopped as his fears were realized. Four bodies lay strewn across the land like so many rag dolls. Jake placed his hat over his heart and bowed his head giving a moment of respect and to collect himself. Being the only one on site, he began the grim task of getting the bodies of his bosses, and friends, into one of the wagons on site and driving them to town.
By evening, the four Cartwrights lay in their final rest at the undertaker, which was closed up tight for the night. This reporter located Mister Evans in Sheriff Roy Coffee’s office along with Doctor Paul Martin and Hiram Baker, the family’s attorney. All four men somberly worked through a bottle of whiskey, trying to drown their sorrows and ignoring the rumors, gossip and wailing taking place in the streets of Virginia City. It amazed everyone, including this reporter, how quickly word spread, even if there were no details to report, other than all four Cartwrights were dead.
The next day, after not learning anything more from the Sheriff, this reporter headed to Bob Parson’s store since he is also the town undertaker. In the back room the four handsome men lay peacefully in four elegant caskets. One might expect nothing but the best for four of Virginia City’s leading citizens. Doctor Martin had confirmed that all the fatal injuries had been internal. On the outside only scratches and bruises appeared which the undertaker had been able to cover up. With the help of the Cartwrights’ grieving Chinese cook who brought the men’s suits from the ranch, Mister Parsons plied his skills to make the four men look quite handsome despite their violent manner of death. Mister Parsons proudly told this reporter of his use of a new technique, called embalming, to make the deceased look as “normal” as possible. His rather detailed descriptions caused this reporter to shorten his visit, and the techniques will not be printed here. It will be enough to have the procession and services the next day to allow mourners to pay their last respects to this great family.
As the sun rose over the quiet little town this morning, four open caskets were lined up at the front of the sanctuary of the church favorited by the Cartwright family. The tiny church was filled to overflowing and the overflow crowd stood outside, listening to the service through open windows and doors. The men’s faces were solemn and the ladies wept openly. Once the last prayer was said over the four men, the mourners slowly filed out. The caskets were closed and the pallbearers reverently carried them outside.
In the shade of a nearby cluster of trees four gleaming black carriages awaited their passengers. One casket was gently loaded into each carriage and the procession toward the Ponderosa began. Only the closest of friends would attend the burial by the deep blue lake. This reporter has confirmed that after the difficult service, the Sheriff, the Doctor and the Chinese cook closed up the house for the final time before returning to town.
It is this reporter’s new mission to find out what happened to cause this horrible tragedy and to learn what will become of the massive Cartwright holdings.
While the sun slowly changed the night to day, a distinguished gentleman lowered the paper to his lap as one corner of his mouth rose to form a sinister smirk. Giving a last look at the photograph of the deceased Cartwrights he tossed the paper into the fire and glanced at the room’s other occupant. Standing by the window she still appeared upset and nervous but a slight nod of her head let him know she was ready. It was time to claim what now belonged to them.
An hour later, while the town was still waking up, two strangers arrived at the office of Hiram Baker, only one day after Ben Cartwright and his sons had been laid to rest. The attorney’s assistant looked up from his desk when the gentleman spoke, claiming to be the new owner of the Ponderosa Ranch. The assistant reported that the attorney was unavoidably detained however he was authorized to give the visitors the keys to the house and informed them that Mister Baker would meet them there.
Menacing gray clouds covered what had been a cobalt sky as a shiny black buggy slowly rolled into the yard of the Ponderosa. The occupants stepped out, wrapping their cloaks about them, hoping to ward off an unnatural gloom that seemed to be connected to the stormy sky. They strolled around the yard checking the empty corral, barn and bunkhouse.
The lady’s eye roamed the empty structures, her voice shaking a bit as she spoke, “I wonder what became of their horses.”
Her question went unanswered as a chilled breeze blew through the forgotten wind chimes on the front porch making her jump. Although the visitors were anxious to take possession of their property, she was second guessing their decision to be out at the empty ranch on All Hallows Eve. The man scoffed when she expressed her superstitious thoughts. Seeing no sign of the attorney they made their way toward the house.
An eerie silence surrounded them as they entered the home. Glancing at the massive fireplace, Ben’s great desk, and the fine furniture, the pair sensed the ghostly presence of four men. They took separate paths around the great room, one admiring the fine furnishings and the other the mahogany desk, bookcases, and gun cabinet. They met at the dark stone fireplace, each face reflecting their haunted thoughts.
Shrugging off an odd nervousness the man took his wife into his arms and kissed her. He could feel her shaking. “Are you alright? It is cold in here. I could light a fire.”
She whispered her answer, fearing a normal voice might awaken the dead. “I’m fine. It’s just the emptiness of the room. Are you sure about all that’s happened?”
He touched his fingers to her lips. “Shh, don’t fret. We’re going to be wealthy beyond our dreams, my love. And it was so easy.”
She backed away and wrapped her arms about herself. “That’s what I mean. Wait, what’s that sound? Do I hear horses?” She stared at the door wide-eyed, as if it was her way to freedom but fearful of what lay beyond. “I don’t think I can stay here any longer.”
He put his arms around her trembling body. “It’s just the wind, darling. A storm is brewing. Listen, it’ll be alright. No one can take this place from us. Not ever.”
His wife pushed away from him, concern flashing in her blue eyes. Her voice rose higher and louder as her fears took hold, “Are you sure no one saw you?”
The man released a longsuffering sigh. “Oh sweetheart, dead men tell no tales. Yes, I made sure no one saw me plant those explosives.”
A gun clicked and slow, quiet footsteps came toward the couple from the kitchen.
“I saw you.”
The woman spun as she instantly recognized that smooth, cold voice; her mouth was agape in an unreleased scream. Her thoughts were in a whirlwind, No! It can’t be. Her eyes widened as she took in Adam Cartwright’s bruised face and bandaged left arm resting in a sling. Despite his slumped stance he held his pistol rock-steady.
“But… you were dead and…and embalmed. We saw it all, the bodies, the funeral. How…?”
Adam’s eyes held no warmth as he took immense pleasure watching all the color drain from Laura Dayton Cartwright’s face.
“I received word from a friend at the Pinkerton Agency in San Francisco that a rather careless detective was snooping around asking about our accounts and wills. Since Pa and I have been rather occupied with my recovery after the fall,” Adam attempted to ease his back and legs into a more comfortable stance, “Pa never had time to change his will which made your husband the heir if all four of us were dead. That has since been taken care of but we allowed the false information to leak out.
“The only way you could inherit all of our holdings was for all four of us to die at the same time. We weren’t certain how you would accomplish that task, until we were cleaning up the blasting site one evening. I saw someone near our next blasting location around sunset. After he planted something near a boulder, he turned and that’s when I saw the face…Will. After you left, Jake and I went to check the location and that’s when we saw the tiny vial of nitroglycerin.”
Laura gasped at that information. “Will! That’s so dangerous…..” Her words trailed off as she realized how ridiculous she sounded. Adam filled in the gap.
“Of course Laura, what better way to make sure we all died but to blow us to kingdom come. Only traces would remain. Is that correct Will?”
Will’s coloring was no better than his wife’s, but his face was beginning to redden with anger. “How did you avoid it?”
Standing a bit taller, Adam smirked. “We made sure we weren’t close when it went off. But we had to make it look convincing since we figured you would be watching from a safe distance.”
Will’s face became stone. “So the undertaker and reporter were in on the masquerade?”
“Bill Parsons? Yes, he had to be. Dan? Oh no, that man can’t keep a secret no matter what. That’s why Bill went into his long winded description of embalming. He had to get Dan out of there before he got too close a look at us.”
With his injuries beginning to get to him during the explanations, Adam leaned more heavily against the dining room wall. Will noticed and slowly straightened his right arm in order to release his hidden derringer. Although exhausted and in pain, Adam’s keen eyes didn’t miss the move. He extended his gun hand outward, aiming directly at Will’s chest.
“Go ahead and try it Will, if you feel you can win.”
In the ensuing silence of the face off, more footsteps sounded on the wooden plank floor and guns clicked. Will slowly rotated his head to take in three more Cartwrights, all looking like death warmed over enveloped in their various bandages and bruises.
A cold, mirthless chuckle rose from Adam’s chest. “Guess you were correct Will. Dead men tell no tales. However you made one miscalculation – living ones do.”
A fun WHN for The Triangle.
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