SUMMARY: Trying to find shelter from a storm, the Cartwright brothers find another type of excitement at Smoky Joe’s Saloon that almost snares one of them forever.
Rating = T Word Count = 2640
Blue Dress Enchantment
Halting on the ridgeline, Hoss waited until his older brother caught up to him. They were on a drive to capture mustangs and had nine with each of them leading three. “Adam, that storm looks mighty bad. We oughta take cover. A storm is coming at us all purple and black, it’s gonna be right awful.”
Once Adam took a good look, he answered. “Not much for shelter in this region. It’s scrub for miles in every direction.”
“What about that old mining camp?”
“Hoss, that’s a good idea. If any of the buildings are still standing. There wasn’t much there to begin with but maybe if enough is upright, we can get a lean-to rigged up.”
Joe reached the spot where his two older brothers had halted. “What are you two jabbering about? If we want to get home by tomorrow, we need to move faster.”
“Joe, you look behind us at all?”
Twisting around, Joe understood. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re thinking that old mining camp.”
“Where Smokey Joe had a saloon?”
Grinning, Adam looked at Hoss. “Figures little brother here would know it by the saloon.”
With a chuckle from Hoss and a frown from Joe, they turned to head to the camp. Once there, they were surprised that Smokey Joe’s Saloon was in almost the same shape they remembered from the last time they had been there many years earlier. Then it had been a once rip-roaring mining camp on its way to oblivion. Most of the men sipped warm beer because it was all they could afford and talked of where they might go next. The camp hadn’t lasted long enough to attract families so there was no church, no school, and no store. There was also no law enforcement which is the only reason it lasted as long as it did. Travelers knew they could have a good time there.
The saloon might still be in operation by the way it looked, and that was good news though because it meant they had good shelter from the oncoming storm. The hard part was pushing the doors open. It seemed it couldn’t be open for business as it took all of Hoss’ strength to force their way in.
“Dang, it’s like the ghost of Smokey Joe don’t want us to come in.”
Looking around the room, Adam assessed the situation. “If the storm gets bad, we could probably get all or most of the horses in here too.”
Hoss agreed. “That’s not a bad idea ‘cept it does feel awful creepy in here. Does it feel kinda cold to you too?”
“I thought it was only me. Yeah, it felt like we walked from summer into fall by walking in the door.”
Meanwhile, Joe was busy doing some exploring. “Hey, look, there’s some whisky behind the bar yet and some glasses.” Moving further on behind the bar, he had more good news. “There are even some rooms back here with beds and everything. There’s no dust and it doesn’t look like any animals have gotten in here. There aren’t even any spider webs or anything. If we bring the horses in, there’ll still be more space for us. This doesn’t look like a bad place at all.”
Still uneasy about the place, Adam noticed more. “The place is clean like someone still lives here. It looks like people have been coming in here.”
Checking out the floor, Hoss noted what looked like boot prints. He also noticed something more sinister when he followed some of those prints. “Brown stains on the floor here. Lots of ’em.”
“Blood?” Adam was getting more worried.
“Could be. I’d say someone died here. Maybe more than one. Old stains though.”
Then they heard Joe talking, and it sounded like he was sweet-talking a woman. Going closer, they were shocked. Joe was talking to a woman in a blue dress. She was much prettier than anyone they ever expected to see out in the middle of scrub lands like these. She turned when she must have heard them get close.
“Now, Joe, who are these handsome men?”
“Gosh, you think they’re handsome. I’m not too sure about your eyesight any more if you can say that unless you’re only being polite. The big smiling one is my brother, Hoss. The one with the scowl that might be nearly downright permanent is my oldest brother, Adam.”
“Ma’am, you live here?”
Hoss was mesmerized. The woman was enchanting with her pretty blue dress, her carefully coiffed hair, and that slightly husky voice she had. He didn’t think he had ever met a more perfect woman and wished he had met her before Joe had. Unwilling to compete with a brother, he was terribly disappointed nevertheless even if it was a brother who had her attention. Waiting for her answer, he was surprised at Adam’s attitude.
“She must live here, Hoss. There isn’t anywhere else to live within fifty miles. What I want to know is why.”
The lady answered, but Hoss could see Joe getting irritated.
“I worked here since before Smoky Joe left this world. I stayed on. I liked it here. People stop by often enough so I get enough to live.”
Before Adam could say anything more or Joe could intercede on the lady’s behalf, Hoss interjected. “Adam, maybe you oughta take a look at them horses and see what we kin do about them. You always got good ideas. We can’t bring them in here now, can we?”
“No, I guess we can’t.” With a sour look at the woman that conveyed all his suspicions, Adam walked toward the front door.
Hoss had another suggestion. “Maybe we could all have a drink? Now that might get things going in the right direction.” Giving Joe one of his best hangdog looks, he figured his little brother couldn’t say no. He was right as Joe grinned and agreed.
“Yeah, Miss, if you want to live out here, what better way than having us buy some drinks.”
“Yes, of course, some drinks.”
It seemed odd to Hoss that the lady sounded almost reluctant to head to the bar to serve them, but she did so he thought maybe it was all his imagination. She got a bottle from behind the bar and wiped three glasses setting them upright on the rough-hewn bar which wasn’t much more that a long timber set on two barrels. It was the right height to lean on so both Hoss and Joe did that and waited for her to pour. Before she did though, Adam called to Hoss to join him at the door.
“Guess I better go see what our older brother wants. Don’t you be drinking all that whisky, Joe. I’m a mite thirsty after catching all them horses and then riding through all that brush country. I could use a little to warm up in here too.”
Strolling to the door, Hoss leaned on the door sill and asked Adam what he wanted. After waving at the nonexistent town, Adam pointed at the horses and the storm.
“There’s nowhere to put them except to leave them tied up in front here or put them on the side of the building to keep them protected from the wind. If we put them on the side, a couple of us would have to stay with them then so they didn’t run off.”
“I don’t like the sound of that, but you’re right. I don’t see any other way of doing it. Leaving ’em here in front, they’ll take the brunt of the storm.” Hoss looked off to his right and then scanned the area off to his left. “Kinda weird, ain’t it? There ain’t nothing at all left of any other building of any kind. I know a lot of ’em were false fronts with only tents in the back, but there was a couple of real buildings like this one. There was an assay office for one. Seems to me there was a mining company office or something like that too. Not a stick of wood left from any of it. Not even a mark or stone to show where they was neither.”
“I noticed. It’s weird. Like how it’s cooler inside than out here, and it smells like sulfur in there too. I didn’t think there was any sulfur wells around here.”
“There you go. Always thinking like an engineer. Maybe she uses sulfur for something else. You know people use sulfur for all kinds of things.”
“Yes, they do.” Still looking uneasy, Adam took a deep breath as if to prepare himself for battle. He didn’t know why, but it felt like he was about to have one. “Let’s go inside and tell our younger brother the bad news.”
When Hoss pushed the door open further so the two could enter, what they saw was Joe about to kiss the woman in the blue dress. Fear and desperation drove both older brothers as they raced to their younger brother, grabbed him, and dragged him across the room and out of the saloon. At first, shocked, Joe didn’t fight, but then, he began struggling. Luckily, both older brothers were much stronger than he was, and adrenalin made them even more so.
“What the heck are you two doing?”
“Do you have any idea what you were about to do?”
“Kiss that pretty woman in the blue dress. She was sweet, but you two ruined it.”
“She had the face of a demon!”
“Hoss, she was pretty!”
Hoss found he was unable to speak, but Adam choked out the words.
“No, she was the devil with the blue dress on. You were under a spell. We all were for a while.”
“Adam, that can’t be!” Seeing how his brothers looked and the absolute terror on their faces, Joe knew it had to be true. Nothing short of what they described could make them look like that. He walked back to the door of the saloon, looked in, and saw it. What he saw turned his stomach. It was hideous. Staggering back, he was a little pale and had two things left to say. “We need to head out. Adam, this is one time I have to say I’m glad you have that suspicious nature of yours.”
“Joe, there’s one thing we have to do.” Adam pulled a tin of matches from his pocket. “We need to do it too before that storm gets here. As old as all this wood is, it’ll burn fast.”
“But, Adam, that’s like, well, you know.”
“Murder? Yeah, like it was going to do to you and has done to who knows who many. No, we’re killing that beast.”
“Adam, ain’t you worried ’bout it coming out here after us?”
“I think it would have already if it could.”
“But you don’t know that, do you?”
“No, I don’t. Why don’t you and Joe take the horses and ride out of town. I’ll fire the place when you’re a safe distance away, and then I’ll catch up to you.”
Despite his concerns and worry, Joe wasn’t going to accept that. “No way we’re doing that. We only want you to be ready for it.”
As Joe and Hoss got their rifles out and ready, Adam got together some dry brush and tumbleweed which he crushed into seven balls.
“Get the horses far away from here and tie them to whatever scrub you can find. Get back here as fast as you can. I’ll wait for you unless I can’t.”
Hearing those words, Hoss and Joe rushed to do as he ordered knowing it was a wise move and wishing they had thought of it sooner. Hurrying back at nearly a run to the saloon, they got in position as Adam moved close to the to the building dried out by years of arid air. He struck a match lighting one ball of tinder which he used to light another as he tossed the first inside. He did the same with all the others lighting one after another the same way. The snaps and crackles of those burning balls were drowned out by the noises of the conflagration when it came because it didn’t take long for the fire to grow and then almost explode. The dry wood was close to the flammability of kerosene once fire ignited it. Screams and curses filled the air making the three men drop to their knees and put hands over their ears. They were in agony as the sounds were deafening and painful. Struggling to move with pain radiating up and down his body, Adam began scrabbling back away from the building.
“We have to get further away. C’mon. Move. Any way you can, get away. As fast as you can.”
Despite the pain and the difficulties of moving, the two younger brothers were so used to taking their older brother’s orders that they did as he said. Slowly they got far enough away that the beast’s effect on them weakened, and they could stand and run. As they got further and further away, the sounds no longer echoed in their skulls and pain didn’t shoot up and down their extremities and along their spine. They turned to look at the blaze as it turned shades of purple, red, and orange. Lightning shot from it up into the sky, but there was nothing there for it to hit.
“I got a gut feeling we need to put a lot more distance between us and it than this.”
Not arguing at all, the three hurried to their horses which Hoss and Joe had tied off quite a distance away. As fast as they could, they rode toward some boulders that offered the only protection they could see. As soon as they got there, they dismounted behind the rocks and did their best to tie the horses together and then secure them with lines tied to scrub. The lightning strikes began hitting all around them, but the fiery flares couldn’t turn corners. They were safe, or as safe as they could be. That nasty storm was still coming their way. Huddled together with their slickers on, they sat on their saddles and bedrolls and leaned against the rocks. They didn’t wait long for the storm to strike. It was as bad as they thought it would be when it rolled over them. Hoss and Adam sat with Joe between them. Each of the larger men held a rope that was tied to the rope lines that secured the horses. They did their best to keep those lines taut. Joe’s job was to hang onto either of them who was struggling to give them extra leverage against the horses panicked by all that had and was happening. After about a half hour, the storm passed.
“Only good thing about some of them nasty ones, they sometimes don’t last real long. Those winds blow ’em by real fast.”
Adam and Joe weren’t listening though as both were staring back where Smoky Joe’s Saloon had been. There was nothing there. No ashes. No debris. Nothing. Like the rest of the town, now it was as if it had never been. Staring at it, Hoss noticed something odd. It had taken some time, but he had finally realized what had made him always uncomfortable in the little boomtown.
“You know, I always thought this mining camp was a little strange. It was always kinda creepy, I thought. Now I think I know why. It was here for what, maybe five years? There ain’t no cemetery. There never was. What do you suppose happened to those men who died here?”
Other Stories by this Author