Summary – Recovering from a terrifying stagecoach accident, Adam tries to discover why he is haunted by ghostly images. My entry for the October Spooktacular and October Chaps and Spurs double challenge.
Word count – 3980
Rating – K
Blue Mist Hauntings
Arms and legs were flung in every direction. Globs of sticky goo covered him. Moans and snapping wood assaulted his ears. Breathing was a struggle; a fight for any fresh air. Can’t…breathe…can’t–
“Adam! Wake up. Easy son, you’re alright.”
He felt moisture on his lips, cold and pleasing. His eyes flicked open to see the familiar face that went with the calming voice.
“We’re at the way station. Do you remember what happened?”
Ben propped Adam up with a few pillows so he could hold the glass himself. Closing his eyes, Adam sipped more water from the glass, giving himself time to put the frightening fragments of images in order. What was real and what was the nightmare?
“The stagecoach…something happened. There was a heavy fog, then a thunderous noise. The coach spun…the world turned upside down, mud was everywhere. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.” He tried hard to slow his accelerating breathing and heart rate as the images coalesced in his mind. “There was a family, did they make it? How did I get here? Last I remember was being sucked down into the mud. I couldn’t move at all and everything was dark.”
As Adam recounted the horrors of the mudslide, Ben carefully schooled his reactions. His son was agitated enough without seeing those worries and fears reflected in his father’s face. “I’m sorry son, there was no one else found at the site. The station manager told us you staggered in, covered in mud, collapsing at the door. With injured ribs, bruises everywhere and a bad gash across your back, he couldn’t figure out how you made it out at all.”
Adam’s eyes lost their focus as he tried to recall any memories of what his father had just described. His voice was distant, reflecting his inner focus, “I kept hearing screams and moans, a woman and a…child. It felt like a man’s arm wrapped around me and pulled me out from wherever I was. I promised I would get help. I-I recalled the driver yelling that the station was coming up, so I figured it had to be close.” Adam squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember more.
“It’s alright son. You need to rest. I’m sure you’ll recall more later.” Ben rose and placed the empty water glass by the pitcher. “I’ll bring you some broth then you can get some more sleep.”
“How did you know? I mean, you’re here. Joe and Hoss, too?”
Ben sat by the bed again, resting his hand on Adam’s arm. “Yes, they’re here too. We received a wire about the accident and arrived yesterday. You’d been here for about two days before we arrived. The stationmaster cleaned you up and treated you as best he could. He also said you floated in and out of consciousness with bouts of calling for someone, like you were trying to help them.”
Adam acknowledged the details with a slight nod, keeping his eyes closed in an attempt to get the images in his head to coalesce. He could see the faces of a man, woman and child so clearly but if he tried to talk about them they became wispy and evaporated away with his words. Thus, he was unwilling to share the mixed up images in his mind with his father.
“Rest now. I’ll be back in a few minutes with some broth.”
Once Ben closed the door behind him he allowed his own face to reflect his worry and confusion over Adam’s condition. Hoss saw the change immediately as he nudged Joe’s foot with his boot. The brothers stood and followed their Pa to the stove as he worked on the broth for Adam.
“He’s awake. He can recall the accident but…” He felt a large hand resting gently on his shoulder giving him strength to continue. “He mentioned others, a man, a woman, and a child. Said he heard their screams and pleas for help. He said someone pulled him out of the mire, and he promised to get help.” Unable to continue, Ben leaned heavily against the stove.
“Pa, come sit down. Joe can take the broth to Adam and sit with him for a bit.”
The brothers shared anxious looks when their stalwart father didn’t fight the suggestion.
Well after dark, Adam awoke to the sound of metal hitting against wood. Too stiff and sore to move anything more than his eyes he spied a spindly shadow near the water pitcher.
The small man jumped, nearly dropping the pitcher. “By golly, you scared a year’s growth outta me, an’ I ain’t got that many years left.”
A faint smile crossed Adam’s face in the moonlit room. “Sorry. Who are you?”
After turning the lamp up a bit more, the old man brought a chair near the bed and dropped into it. “Name’s Blake Smith, but everybody calls me Smithy. I run this way station. Didn’t mean ta wake ya. Jest wanted to make sure you had some good clean water ‘fore I turned in fer the night.”
“It’s okay. My father said you helped me when I first got here. Thanks for all you’ve done.” Adam raised his hand a few inches off the bed. Smithy took it in his own hand and gave it a gentle shake.
“You was in pretty bad shape when you got here. At first I thought you was a creature from a swamp somewheres, you were that dirty. Leastwise, you were alert enough to be of some help gettin’ you inside. Listen, you need your rest. I’m thinkin’ your family’s gonna be wantin’ ta get you home tomorrow.” He started to rise out of the chair.
“Uh, Smithy, wait. Um, did you go out to the wreck? Did you see it?” Adam grimaced as his sore body protested but managed to inch himself up a bit higher to lean against his pillows.
“Yeah.” Smithy wasn’t sure he wanted to dredge up those memories again.
“I guess that family didn’t make it then.”
“Yeah, a man and a woman, and a little boy. I don’t really know where they were but I heard them after everything stopped moving. They were calling for help. It must have been the man who pulled me out of the mud.”
“Listen, Mister Cartwright. What I saw out there I don’t rightly wanna ever see again. There was mud and trees ever’where from half that mountain comin’ down after them rains. The stage was in pieces and the poor animals half buried. We never did find the driver. But I can tell you I didn’t see nobody else, and the stage people said you was the only passenger. That road’s been bothersome for some years when the rains come. It’s a wonder we ain’t lost people on it every year. It’s some kind of miracle that this is the first bad accident since the one that happened just after I took over here.” Smithy’s tone became edgy as rubbed at his chin whiskers and stood up. “Listen, you need your sleep. I shouldn’t be talkin’ your head off like this.”
Alerted by Smithy’s last words, Adam sat up a bit straighter. “Wait. There was another mudslide? What happened? I’m not very tired right now, so I don’t mind the company. Will you tell me about it, please?”
Smithy hesitated, smacked his lips, and sat back down. “Alright. But I tell you, it’s the last time I’m gonna tell it.” He looked across the bed and out the window before his scratchy voice filled the room.
“I took over this station about five years ago. Not more than a month later there was a mudslide between here an’ Dayton. Back then, this road was used by travellers and the stage line that took it over. Well, a young family came through from Virginia City headin’ toward Dayton. They was in one of them big covered wagons, packed full of everything imaginable. I offered ‘em some vittles and feed for their horses. Said they was gonna buy some land to farm. They were real friendly, and their little boy took a shine to me pretty quick. As they ate, the man asked about the road ahead, what it was like. It’d been rainin’ over the last couple o’ days but I told ‘em it was safe to go that way, as I’d just checked it myself for the stage comin’ in later. They thanked me for the food and headed on their way.”
While Smithy talked, Adam listened intently to the description of the family. Familiar images filled his head as he anxiously waited for the station manager to continue. Smithy scrubbed his face with gnarled hands before jumping from the chair and striding over to the window. Adam strained to hear his next words.
“It weren’t much later, when I was out gettin’ the horses ready for the next stage, that I looked up the road and over behind a hill. I saw the trees movin’.” Smithy turned wide eyes toward Adam. “It weren’t the wind blowin’ ‘em neither, but them trees were falling down that mountain. I jumped on the nearest horse and hightailed it down the road. When I rounded the bend, I ran straight into a mountain of muck and mud, and debris, an’ what was left of the hillside was still comin’ down. Weren’t no way possible to get through so I just sat there on the horse, starin’ and scanning everything for any sign of life. I finally saw a wagon wheel, then a pair of arms sticking out from looked to be part of the wagon. I grabbed the man’s arms and pulled him part way out. But the sorrow, and forgiveness, I saw in those dying eyes was more than I could take. A moment later the man’s hand when limp and his eyes closed.” Smithy turned away as his shoulders shook. “He didn’t deserve to die like that an’ I for sure didn’t deserve any forgiveness. After taking a few moments to get my wits back, I rode back to the station to wire the stage depots in Dayton an’ Virginia City.”
Smithy took a long deep breath and returned to the chair. He leaned close to Adam after eyeing the door. “Now I don’t believe in ghost stories an’ such, an’ what I’m gonna tell you next stays here. I ain’t told another soul but after hearing some o’ the things you been sayin’ I think you oughta hear this. When I rode away from that wreck it was close to nightfall, and I never looked back, but I did notice a strange blue glow around me just as the stars were comin’ out. An’ I’ve seen it several times since then, just after it rains. I’ve also heard some of the stage drivers sayin’ they’d seen strange things like a sudden fog appearing or somebody standin’ in the road right where that hillside came down. It was enough to make ‘em slow the coach down and drive real slow through that area. After hearin’ what you said ‘bout a family, I figured you should know. So there, I’ve said my peace, an’ I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout it no more.”
Smithy shot out of his seat making a beeline for the door. He turned back long enough to share a stern look with Adam. Neither man knew what to think about the light or the images, but Adam managed a shaky smile and a flick of his hand in gratitude. Smithy nodded, closing the door behind him. Still fretting over his memories, the old man missed seeing Hoss slip quickly through the front door. Standing on the stoop, Hoss attempted to sort through the story he’d overheard after he was awakened by voices coming from Adam’s room. He chose to keep it all to himself and only speak of it if the need arose. As an owl hooted, Hoss made his way to the barn to seek more sleep, that is if he could get his mind to settle down. After seeing the results of the mudslide for himself and realizing just now lucky his brother was to be alive made him mighty glad they’d all be heading home in the morning.
Ben finished updating the payroll book when he noticed a shadow cross his desk. He closed the book as Joe made himself comfortable on the corner of the sturdy desk. When the silence continued Ben leaned back into his leather chair and steepled his fingers.
“Is something on your mind, Joe?”
“Well, yeah. I guess.”
Ben studied his youngest son’s features as he ran his hand through his hair while collecting his thoughts. He could pretty well determine the subject before Joe finally spoke.
“Well, it’s Adam. It’s been a month since we got home and he’s still not out of his dark mood. Something’s still bothering him about that accident but he won’t say what. I know he’s still got to let those ribs heal but he won’t even go to town with us.” Joe trailed off not knowing what else to say. Hoss, coming down the stairs, overheard Joe’s comments but settled in the blue chair to see what his father had to say.
“I understand your concerns, and I’ve tried myself to speak with him, but you know your brother. He’ll talk when he’s ready. As for his mood I think he might be perking up a bit. He’s actually going to town with me this morning. So perhaps you and Hoss should get going to check those horses for the Army. We’ll be back in time for a late lunch.”
Joe turned around, hopeful for a different answer.
“I know it’s hard right now but give your brother a little more time, alright?”
“Yeah, Pa. I’ll try.”
Ben took a deep breath as he heard the front door close. Whenever one son would come to him about another, he knew that was the time to get involved. He hoped this trip to town would get Adam out of his doldrums, if that’s what it was. Ben suspected something other than the mudslide itself had affected his son deeply, but he had no proof, yet.
Even though his ribs were still healing, Adam insisted on riding Sport to town rather than taking the buggy. Ben reluctantly agreed, knowing this was not something to argue with Adam about. The ride was pleasant enough with conversation remaining in neutral territory, but Ben wanted to push for more on what was bothering his son since they had returned home after the mountain slide. Nearing town, Ben took his last opportunity. He slowed Buck to an easy walk forcing Adam to do the same with Sport.
“Adam, can you tell me what’s got you so preoccupied lately? Does it have anything to do with the accident?” There he’d finally addressed the proverbial elephant considering nobody wanted to talk about it directly.
Adam took a long time to answer, and to Ben’s relief, finally did. “It does but I’m sorry Pa, I can’t explain further. I don’t really understand it myself.”
“What is there left to understand? After Smithy told us all about how dangerous that road was, you made it your mission to convince the stage company to either fix it or find an alternate, and safer, route.” Ben touched Adam’s arm. “And son, I’m proud of how hard you worked to get the changes made so quickly. Now the stage lines are using that new route between here and Dayton that you proposed.”
Adam lowered his head and smiled half-heartedly. “Thanks Pa, but I think it was more Smithy’s doing than anything I could have said.”
Before Ben could say more, they were entering town. Adam went his way and Ben his, to the bank to get the payroll. An hour later, Ben was ready to leave, but Adam wasn’t at the meeting place. So Ben went searching for him and found Adam leaving the minister’s home. Not wishing to be seen, he backtracked and waited by the livery for Adam to ride that way. When Adam saw his father he reined Sport to a stop.
“Are you ready to leave? I’ve got to get this home.” Ben indicated the saddle bags.
“Not quite yet. Go on without me.”
Noting a distant expression in his son’s eyes, Ben was hesitant to leave but he had to get the payroll safely home.
“Alright. Don’t be too long. Joe wants you to check out the horses this afternoon.”
Adam remained silent, so Ben gave a curt nod and turned for home. Adam watched until his father was out of sight then headed to the saloon. He had a lot of thinking to do, and little whiskey might help things along.
Hop Sing announced lunch despite there being only one Cartwright present. Just finishing his meal, Ben heard the front door open to emit Hoss and Joe.
“I can’t wait to see Adam’s expression when I tell him I broke that stallion in record time.”
“Yeah, you might just keep that record for a long time little brother. Even if you won’t be sittin’ fer a spell yet.”
“Come on, now. I told you I’m fine.”
Ben left the table, hating to spoil their jovial moods.
“Have either of you seen your brother?”
The laughter stopped and Joe twisted around while unbuckling his gun belt. “Of course not. We’ve been with the Army horses all morning. Sorry we missed lunch but we were so close to getting the rest of the string green broke.”
“Pa, why are you asking. Adam didn’t come home with you?”
“No. He said he needed more time to complete his errands. He said he would be right behind me but I’ve been home for almost two hours. Listen you two get something to eat, then we’ll head to town and try to find him.”
“Pa, is there somethin’ you’re not tellin’ us?”
“No, well, I don’t know what your brother wanted to do in town, but after I left the bank, he wasn’t at our meeting place so I went looking for him. I saw him leaving the minister’s home but I don’t think he saw me. I rode back and waited for him at the livery. That’s when he said he was staying a bit longer.”
“Come on Joe, let’s eat what we can while Pa saddles his horse. I think I may know where he is.”
Ben and Joe wanted to press Hoss for more details but decided it was better to let the man get some food. The ride to town would supply its own opportunities for discussion.
As the stars began to appear in the sky, three riders silently approached the tall wooden gate at the Dayton cemetery. Seeing Adam’s horse tied nearby, Hoss, Joe and Ben quietly dismounted. Ben and Joe took up spots near the gate to wait. Hoss looked to his brother and father one last time before swinging the gate open and starting his search through the lonely headstones.
With difficulty, Hoss managed to convince his family that they would find Adam at this cemetery. He was thankful they accepted that without him having to reveal what he’d overheard Smithy tell Adam that night at the station. Upon arriving in Dayton, Hoss alone inquired at the Sheriff’s office about the family killed in the mudslide a few years back. Hearing the tales of blue lights and misty figures only confirmed his suspicions about Adam.
Now as night fell, he cautiously made his way toward the area of three graves surrounded by a short wrought iron fence. Sure enough he caught sight of a familiar black silhouette hunched near the fence. Removing his hat he waited but Adam didn’t acknowledge him. As the evening grew darker Hoss settled his large frame on a small stone bench nearby.
A heavy mist began to roll in causing the temperature to become uncomfortably cold. Not usually affected by the cold, Hoss shivered internally as he felt like the atmosphere was influenced by something other than a change in the weather.
Adam slowly rose but remained standing at the low fence surrounding the three graves. His voice was quiet, almost reverent in tone. “I don’t really know why I came here. It just seemed the right thing to do, to pay my respects to this young family.”
Hoss kept his eyes on his brother’s back as he spoke. “But maybe there’s another reason too?”
Adam’s shoulders rose and fell with a deep sigh. “Yeah, I guess there is.” He turned slowly to look at his brother. “You know don’t you, about the…the other events?”
Hoss broke his gaze and dropped his head. “Reckon I do. I overheard Smithy tellin’ you the story that night in the cabin. Didn’t know what to make of it, so I just kept it to myself, until you up and disappeared this afternoon.”
Adam gave an understanding nod. “I’ve seen them, Hoss, the lights. And heard the voices in my sleep. I talked to the minister and even had some whiskey but nothing made it go away. I finally decided to come here. I took the old road, stopped at the old station house, and where the slide happened. The voices and feelings grew stronger as I rode closer to town. That’s when I knew I had to come here. It was like they were drawing me here, for some reason I can’t fathom.”
Hoss lifted his head to look into his brother’s exhausted eyes. It was as if Adam was pleading for a way to get away from what was haunting him. “Maybe it’s to say good-bye. You know I don’t cotton to the idea of someone’s spirit roamin’ the earth but maybe they was tryin’ to warn others of the danger, an’ well, once you an’ Smithy got the route changed, maybe they can rest now.”
Another slow nod came from Adam as he turned back to look at the graves once more. Hoss saw him shimmy with the cold but remained still, waiting for his brother to make the next move.
Adam finally turned and walked to his brother. “Let’s go home.”
Hoss stood up and followed Adam through the narrow paths of the graveyard and out of the cold mist. As they approached the outer gate, Adam paused and glanced over his shoulder. Hoss followed his gaze. Adam saw the mist, and a hint of blue light fading away. Hoss saw the trees and grave markers reappear as the thick mist dissolved. He never saw the blue light.
Adam took another deep breath and glanced at his brother. Both nodded in silent agreement to keep all of this just between them.
Heading toward their horses, Hoss nudged his brother. “I’m assumin’ you ain’t had much to eat. I got a couple of apples in my saddle bag. Want one?”
Adam offered a lopsided smile and placed his arm around his big brother’s shoulders, beginning to feel more like himself. “Sure.”
After rejoining the family, Adam looked back one last time. All he saw was a peaceful graveyard lit by the full moon. In his thoughts, he felt the family was finally at rest, and so was he.
Founded in 1851, Dayton Cemetery is the oldest constantly maintained cemetery in Nevada. Virginia City’s namesake, Tom Finney (known as Ole Virginie), is buried here. Paranormal investigators say they saw paranormal activity on two different visits including a strange blue mist hovering above a family gravesite, a drop in temperature, and what appeared to be the ghost of a small boy standing at the plot railing.
Tags: Adam Cartwright,
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