SUMMARY: in Fuji, Joe asks Adam what the weird thing is that he has brought home. Adam says it is art. Hop Sing claims it is much more than that. Another tale for the Halloween season. Now includes the story of how Adam brought it home, Most of the Time, and the story of what happened next, Rest In Peace.
Rating = T Word count = 7974
Most of the Time
Most of the time, riding on a stage was an unpleasant means to a necessary end with other passengers squeezed in beside you. Frequently there were passengers who could have benefited greatly from a long soapy bath and laundered clothing, and even with that, the combined smells of breath and other odors usually had the coach air pungent at the least and loathsome at the worst. However on this trip home, Adam was pleasantly surprised to be accompanied only by a family of three. The father was a quiet man, but he and his wife were intelligent as shown by the words they did choose to speak, and their daughter was a delightful diversion from the boredom of the hours of bouncing around on the hard seat. With only four in the coach and the nice fall weather, it wasn’t stifling in the coach either. The little girl was the one who initiated the first conversation.
“Mister, are you a real cowboy?”
“I’m real and I work on a ranch, so I guess you could say that.”
“Yes, I’m a real cowboy.”
“Can I draw your picture?”
“I don’t know, can you?”
The little girl’s mother intervened at that point shushing her. “Don’t bother the man, dear. Let him ride in peace.”
“I wasn’t bothering him, Momma. I was talking with him, but he talks kind of funny like my teacher did.”
“Ma’am, she wasn’t bothering me. In fact, I found her conversation entertaining. Does she draw much?”
“Yes, she draws quite well especially for someone her age. She likes to sing too. There’s not much she can’t do when she decides to try, but she is still very young. Once we get settled again, I hope we can find a good school for her so she can develop her talents.”
“May I please draw your picture, mister?”
“You’re very smart, aren’t you?”
“People tell me that all the time, but I don’t know why.”
“Well, perhaps because you figured out why I teased you a little bit earlier and asked your question quite properly this time.”
“Oh, and that makes me smart?”
“Smarter than most.”
The little girl had drawn several pictures of Adam then with him telling her a little about perspective and shading that she didn’t know. The little girl’s parents seemed quite pleased with Adam and the attention he gave their daughter. When they got to the way station and sat down for a meal, they had a nice conversation about what each had been doing in California. The man was a minister and had been holding camp meetings to convert people, but now had an offer from a congregation in Colorado and was headed there. Adam pulled out the piece of artwork he had purchased from a Chinese vendor. It was quite unusual, but he liked the lines of it, and it seemed to be quite old too. The little girl too was taken with the piece and examined it carefully.
“The woman who sold it called it fuji. I’m not sure what that is, but we have a Chines cook who’s like part of our family. I’m sure he can explain more about it.”
“I wouldn’t have anything to do with that Chinese hoodoo voodoo stuff. That looks like some of that stuff they use. Mark my word. Only bad things will happen because of it. I don’t think the Chinese should be allowed to bring things like that into our Christian country. There was too much of that in California. That element needs to be cleansed from there.”
The driver agreed with the minister complaining about the influx of foreigners.
“We have freedom of religion and equality among our core values. I don’t think those are only meant for white Christians. And aren’t we all foreigners?”
The driver’s assistant was a recent arrival and sided with Adam. However, it was clear the two sides held opposite points of view which had ended that kind of conversation, and they had moved on to other less controversial subjects. Before they left, the station master mentioned that there had been quite a few strong storms but that they had mostly passed to the north.
“We’ve had some rain, and you might find some muddy roadways. Take your time through those stretches, and there shouldn’t be a problem. The stages coming from that way have reported some problems but nothing impassable. The stage line has adjusted the time schedule to allow for delays like that.”
The driver was relieved. “That’s good to know. So, I don’t have to push hard if the going gets difficult?”
“Nope. Keep the stage, the mail, and the passengers safe. They know in Virginia City that you will be in a bit later than originally scheduled.”
It was reassuring for all of them to hear that. They climbed back into the coach and resumed their journey encountering some of those muddy stretches as they had been warned. On one particularly steep grade though, when Adam expected the driver to slow, he speeded up instead causing the coach to slide from side to side. They had to grab onto the sides of the coach to avoid being tossed to the floor. The lady screamed frightening her daughter, and Adam yelled out the window to the driver, but there was no response. Only a moment later, the coach began a frightening slide down the side of the slope and into a dry wash. Luckily, it didn’t overturn and none of the horses were seriously injured. Banged up a bit, Adam checked with the other passengers to make sure no one was injured beyond bumps and bruises before he climbed out to demand some answers.
“What the hell were you doing speeding up on that grade?”
“I tried braking and everything I knew to hold those horses back, but it was like they were spooked. They wouldn’t slow down.”
The driver was so shaken that Adam had to accept what he said especially as the man working with him, Arnie, agreed that was what had happened.
“It’s true, Adam. We couldn’t do nothing except hang on.”
They weren’t far from Virginia City, but it would be hours before they were missed and hours more before anyone came looking for them. Most of the time, stages arrived late, and the news had been sent already that they might be as much as two hours later than expected. It wouldn’t be until they were many hours overdue that people would be unduly concerned. The driver and Adam looked at the slope they had come down. The driver stated the worst of the news.
“The horses will never pull the coach up that grade.”
Considering their options, Adam asked the driver if he had rope in the boot. He did.
“We can get the horses up on the road and carry up the luggage. With the passengers and the luggage out, the horses should be able to pull the coach back up the slope. Then we could reload the coach and hitch the horses up again. With any luck, we could be back on the road in a couple of hours.”
“That could work. We won’t be able to go very fast. Most of the horses have bruising on their legs. They can pull but not too hard.”
“Well, as long as we get moving, that’s about all we can hope to do then.”
So, the work began of getting the horses unhitched and up the slope. Then as Arnie kept them there and did his best to calm them, the others carried up all the luggage and anything else loose from the coach. The minister told his wife and daughter to go up the slope, but they wanted to stay with him. As shaken as they were by the near catastrophe, they all understood the family’s desire to be near each other. Adam helped the assistant driver get ropes tied to the horses as the minister and the driver got ropes secured to the coach.
As they were about to begin to use the horses to pull the coach up the slope with the driver and the minister pushing it, they heard noise from only a short distance away. It sounded like thunder, but there were no storm clouds that they could see. It didn’t take long though for Adam, the driver, and Arnie to yell warnings for they knew what it must be even if there were no signs of one.
It was a flash flood except it was like no flash flood they had ever seen. It was a wall of thick mud more than anything else with rocks, brush, and tree limbs embedded in it. Horrified by what could happen, Adam rushed to go to the aid of the family, and the edge of the flash flood caught him and nearly pulled him under. Within seconds, the driver and the minister vanished under the wall of brown. With the coach shielding them, the mother and daughter were temporarily shielded but the force of the flash flood was too much, and it overwhelmed everything washing the coach and the two away. The assistant driver grabbed Adam’s arm and dragged him up the slope to safety on the road despite a tree that was toppled catching them with some of the branches. From the road, they watched the flash flood subside as quickly as it had arrived. Horrible crashing, splintering, and roaring were replaced by near silence as even the birds stopped singing. There was nothing left except an ugly brown streak with tree limbs and other debris protruding. That’s what the rescue party found when they arrived to find Adam and the assistant driver sitting among the luggage with the horses tied nearby.
“Adam, are you all right?”
In emotional shock, Adam was physically bruised as was the assistant driver. Both had been battered by tree branches as they struggled to escape the wall of mud. Adam’s arm was wrenched too as Arnie had gripped it and pulled him up the slope to save his life. Then they had sat through the night until the rescuers arrived with lanterns in the early dawn. The emotional impact of what had happened was even greater on the two men. Feeling guilty for surviving when the others had perished, both wondered what else they could have done.
“Adam, Arnie, you did all you could do. No one can fight a flash flood.”
Wagons were brought to carry the luggage as men headed out to look for bodies. Ben stayed with Adam and Arnie doing his best to help them clean up and get some food and water. Blankets were wrapped around each man. Joe and Hoss went with the search party. They came back after a few hours with the other searchers.
“There’s nothing to be found, Pa. Me and Joe and the others went all the way to the river. It’s so swollen with floodwater that nothing that went into it is gonna be found anywhere near here. Maybe if we followed it all the way to the ocean or wherever it goes.”
“Was there any sign of anyone?” Ben had hoped there would be something that would help his eldest son with some closure because he was obviously quite upset.
“No, not much.”
Joe dismounted and walked to where Adam sat. He opened his green jacket and pulled out a small mud-caked doll. “We found this caught on a branch. It must have floated to the surface.” Joe handed it to his oldest brother who took it in his hand and stared at it. Joe put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Slowly, Adam stood. He turned to Joe, and in a rare display of emotion, hugged his youngest brother as tears managed to squeeze out from his tightly closed eyes. Joe wasn’t quite sure what to do so he patted Adam on the back. It was all over in perhaps thirty seconds but was a profound experience for Joe who had no idea Adam could feel so deeply. Most of the time, Adam was very much in control of his emotions, and didn’t show his hurt that way. Joe was shaken too by the experience. Hoss walked over to guide Adam to a wagon where he climbed up onto the seat for a ride back. Ben put a hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Joe. He needed that. You were the medicine he needed the most.”
“We were talking while you and Hoss were out searching. I think that little girl reminded him of you when you were little, and he felt terrible about not protecting her. But then you were there, and he was reminded that he had protected you, and he still had you; he still had his family.”
“I’m real glad we still have him too, Pa. We could have lost him too.”
“We could have, but we didn’t. Now, let’s go home.”
Hoss tied his horse behind the wagon where Adam sat and climbed up on the seat beside him. “Want me to drive?”
“Yeah, my arm is darn sore. Arnie yanked me out of the mud and up the slope. Saved my life but that wrenched my arm pretty hard.”
“I’ll be sure to thank Arnie for that. Saving your life that is, not for wrenching your arm.”
Taking the reins, Hoss watched as his older brother wiped mud off the doll in his hands. He didn’t seem to want to put it down. Hoping that it might help, Hoss asked Adam to tell him about the little girl, and on the ride home, Adam talked of the little girl who could draw so well and her mother who hummed songs as they traveled. By the time they arrived on the Ponderosa, it seemed Adam had come to terms with what had happened. He spoke about the events of that tragic day a few more times, and then gradually seemed able to let the memories rest. He showed his family the piece he had purchased from the Chinese woman and set it beside his chair. Most of the time, it seemed all had returned to normal even if there were moments when a look of sadness passed across the oldest son’s face when he thought of the family who had been lost in an unexpected flash flood.
Sitting in the darkened kitchen, Hop Sing couldn’t believe what Adam had brought into the house and what he had so innocently thought was decorative and would look good on the table by his chair. It rested there now. He had heard the conversation at the dinner table the night Adam had returned from his trip and had not thought much about it until he had seen the main object of that conversation. Mostly his focus had been on the subject of the conversation.
“We’re glad to have you home, safe and sound. There have been so many accidents and problems lately, I didn’t know if we should send out a rescue party when you were late.”
“It was awful, Pa. I guess you could call it a flash flood, but it was more of a combination of what I’ve heard them call a mud slide in California and a flash flood. What came down that wash was so thick no one could move in it. As soon as that father and the driver were hit by it, they went under. The two of us manning the ropes tried to keep hold and keep the stage upright, but it was no use. We never had a chance against the force of the torrent of thick muddy water that rushed us.”
“How’d you end up in that wash anyway, older brother? You ain’t been real clear on that.”
“Hoss, I wish I knew. We were traveling along so well and then suddenly veered off the road into that wash. Luckily the stage didn’t overturn so we were all safe, but sadly not for long. We put a rope on the coach and the others were going to push it. The lady and the little girl stood beside the coach and waited for us to be done.”
“Couldn’t you warn them to get them out of there?”
“Joe, we had no warning ourselves. There was no storm anywhere that we could see or that we knew happened. That flash flood was as sudden as it was a surprise. Yes, we yelled to the girl and her mother to run, but like the driver and the father, they never had a chance to get out of that wash. Because the mother and daughter were on the opposite side of the coach, at first we hoped they were sheltered by it, but that was a futile hope. Then it was over and there was nothing we could do.”
“Did you try?” Ben guessed he probably had, but thought Adam needed to get that out too.
“I was going to try, but the man with me grabbed my arm and pulled me up the slope. He said there was nothing either of us could do. He was right.” His voice breaking, Adam paused then. “That little girl with the dark eyes was so sweet and so talented. She drew pictures for us on the coach. Her mother said she could sing like an angel too. She was very smart, and now she will never have a chance to grow up and develop her talents.”
It got very quiet at the table then for a time. Joe thought someone ought to change the subject before things got any more maudlin. Guessing he had the perfect ploy for that, he asked Adam about an item he had brought home with him.
“Where’s you get that weird thing by your chair?”
“It’s not weird, Joe, it’s unique. I liked the lines of it. I purchased it from a Chinese woman in San Francisco. She has a little shop where she sells small items like cigars and maps. I saw that when I went in and liked it.”
Joe smirked. “Only you would like something like that. I would have bought some cigars.”
“I did that too.”
“Now you’re talking. So you going to share or keep them to yourself.”
“I’ll share if you pour the brandy as long as Pa thinks that’s all right.”
Ben smiled before responding. “I think as long as you’re providing the cigars, and Joe is doing bartender duties, I could hardly refuse.”
Hop Sing came out with dessert then and was curious as to what Adam had bought from a Chinese woman in San Francisco. When he saw it, he was shocked to see it in their home and knew what he had to do.
“Mister Adam, you do not know what it is that you have. It is fuji. You do not know the power of Quanzhen teachers and fuji. The board is portal to the dead and the spirit world. No one can know the evil to come from that board and enter this home.”
“Hop Sing, how could a simple marker like that on that circular board possibly bring a spirits here?”
“Mister Adam, the fuji is used to summon spirits who wander. Sometime, when they are done, the spirit is not yet ready to leave or not want to leave. The sauce-tray will keep moving in circles and go back this way and then that way and not go back to center. One must be patient and wait until it return to the center, but if it does not, then the spirit will come into the home and possess someone. Unhappy, restless spirits and evil spirits are the ones who do that.”
Spending his life dedicated to learning and knowledge, Adam wasn’t going to accept something not based on logic and facts. “I don’t think anyone here will be possessed. We don’t believe in wandering spirits anyway. It’s all superstition. Don’t worry.”
“Mister Ben, must worry. Many good reasons Qing Emperors banned it.”
With similar views to Adam but mostly from a strong Christian ethic, Ben too dismissed the warning. “I don’t think we need to worry, Hop Sing. There won’t be any spirits summoned to our home.” With a smile, Ben let Hop Sing know the conversation was over.
When Hop Sing returned to the kitchen with his shoulders slumped, Hoss spoke on the issue. “You two sure we don’t believe in spirits and spells and such? Remember Old Patty?”
Hoss hadn’t addressed Joe at all, but the question made him wonder. “Who is Old Patty?”
Hoss figured that telling the story might give his father and older brother some time to think about what they had told Hop Sing. “She was pretty old when we got here. I barely remember her, but I remember the stories about her, and Adam and Pa talking about it. I remember Adam and Pa both telling me never to make fun of Old Patty. Now I do remember she wore some real peculiar clothes and smelled bad most of the time. She had tooth that stuck out over her lip too.”
“Sounds like she was ready made for a children’s song. Why couldn’t you say anything about her?”
When Adam and Ben stayed silent, Hoss told the story. “Old Patty had a pet bear. She fed him, and he protected her and her cabin. She kept him close to her place so the bear was no trouble to nobody. One day, it was missing. That same day, Abe Jenkins brought in a green bearskin to trade for liquor. Everybody knew what he done, but none could prove it. Now, Old Patty was a midwife and healer when she was younger, and we didn’t have no doctor here regular like. So she done that kind of thing here too and took care of broken bones, ladies having babies, cuts, bangs on the head, sick ones, and all. From that day on, every time she took care of someone, she said, Let the pain and suffering be gone to old Abe Jenkins ’cause he wants what belongs to another so let him have this. People didn’t think too much of it at first, I guess. Oh we snickered about her and made fun of her some, but never when she was near or could hear us. Even that stopped though after about six months.”
“Why? What happened after six months?”
“It wasn’t so much what happened after those six months. It was what had been happening during those six months. Nobody’d seen Abe for a long time. That wasn’t so unusual. He wasn’t a friendly sort. He kept mostly to himself, but then one day, Sheriff Coffee had to go out to see him to deliver his tax bill seeing as how he didn’t come into town. Well he found Old Abe was a mess, and he died in less than six hours of the sheriff knocking on his door. He had lost near fifty pounds, had broken ribs, oozing sores, and was blind.”
“I wouldn’t make fun of a woman like that either then. You think she put that curse on him then?”
“We mostly did. Nobody ever made fun of Old Patty after that. Nobody ever crossed her in any way. Fact is, they went out of their way to be nice to her hoping she’d forget about them mean things that was said and how some of the children had acted downright un-neighborly toward her. Pa made me bring over some fresh milk one day.”
“Were you scared?”
“My knees were knocking and sweat was running down my back. She scared the willies out of me. But she thanked me and called me by my name. So I knew she knew who I was and still smiled at me. I smiled back and we talked a little about the cow that gave all that milk. She told me of a family who had a baby who needed more milk. I said I’d tell Pa, and she thanked me. I wasn’t scared of her any more for what I’d done, but I wasn’t going to do nothing more either. So I was always on my best behavior around her.”
Not so willing to give in, Adam had an alternative explanation. “She worked as a healer to the sick and did what she could. She might have known Abe was sick and likely to get sicker. She could have used that. He might have bought that whisky to ease the pain, and killed her bear to get it because he was mad that she couldn’t help him. Then he stayed home because he was getting sicker.”
“Older brother, that’s an interesting story, but it ain’t the way the story’s been told for the last twenty years. I don’t think you can rewrite history to make it fit your ideas.”
To Ben, this discussion had gone on long enough. “That’s more than I wanted to hear about tragedy and superstition. It had to be told, but now it’s done. Let’s move on to more pleasant topics. Adam, didn’t you say you bought some cigars?”
While Hop Sing cleared the table and the men enjoyed their cigars by the fireplace, all Hop Sing could do was stare at the fuji marker and dish. He had to do something but didn’t know what to do. It may have been banned but the teachers had gone underground, and the practice had spread across the world. Hop Sing was not going to allow one in this house with his family, but he didn’t know what he could do. He had tried to warn them, but they had dismissed his warnings as superstition. Getting busy in the kitchen, his mind worked on a solution to the dilemma, but he didn’t immediately know what to do. That night, he burned incense and asked the gods for help. He hoped for a sign or a message of some kind, but nothing came to him.
For three nights, Adam had trouble sleeping. His family understood after what he had been through with the stagecoach accident. Although Adam never discussed the bad dreams he was having, each night, the little girl with the dark eyes who had slipped away in the raging muddy torrent came to visit him in his mind. When he wasn’t sleeping, he found it nearly impossible to concentrate on his work and couldn’t bring himself to read, to draw, or to sing in his leisure time. Although he told no one, he kept hearing her telling her stories and laughing that little girl laugh. Every time he had complimented her drawing, she had laughed because she was so delighted to have someone praising her so much.
Down the hall, Hoss was having an equally difficult time sleeping at night because during the day, he kept hearing a woman humming as he worked. Whenever he looked around, there was no one there. It was distracting enough that several of the men made comments about his lack of concentration concerned that his inattention might cause an accident.
It wasn’t any better for their younger brother Joe who thought at first that one of his brothers was playing tricks on him. When he worked at chores, tools kept being moved and sometimes into positions where he could have been hurt if he hadn’t noticed. He didn’t sleep well at night wondering if his minds was playing some cruel tricks on him. Unwilling to tell Adam because he was afraid his oldest brother might laugh, he didn’t tell their middle brother because he wanted to find a way to handle it on his own. That wasn’t working out.
It wasn’t only the three sons whose sleep was disturbed. Ben had known Charley, the driver, for decades. The man could swear with words that Ben hadn’t heard since his seafaring days. Charley knew them all and then some. All of a sudden, Ben found himself using some of those words whenever he was frustrated by his paperwork or irritated at any little thing. It took a huge effort not to spout off with those words when his sons were present. He didn’t know how to stop himself and finally decided to speak with his eldest son hoping that perhaps he could explain what was happening. He did know that Adam would be discreet. Three days after the accident, Ben stopped in Adam’s room, and while they were talking about nothing in particular, he looked at his son’s desk seeing three drawings in Adam’s sketchbook.
“So, you were finally able to draw. These are a surprise though.”
“What? I haven’t been drawing.”
“There are three drawings here.”
Moving over to the desk, Adam stared at the drawings. They were three drawings of him sleeping, one apparently for each of the previous three nights. In one, he grimaced. In another, he was frowning. The third showed him with his mouth open like he was saying something. He couldn’t explain how the drawings got there. They made him nearly sick to his stomach though when he thought he recognized the artist by the drawings. Not willing to say anything like that to his father, his sickly look and silence communicated his unease. His father had reason to suspect the same but didn’t share his thoughts either.
Of course, the whole incident had to be told to Hoss and Joe at dinner which prompted a discussion. Joe was the only one to ask the obvious question though.
“If you didn’t draw those pictures, then who did?”
“I don’t know. I guess somebody thought to play a horrible prank. It’s not funny though.”
Hoss decided he ought to say something before his brothers started arguing. “It’s funny. I think I been hearing somebody humming lately. Soon as I look around to see who it could be, then I can’t hear it no more. It’s hard to work though looking around wondering where she is when I know there ain’t nobody there. At first, I thought it was Joe playing games with me, and I was gonna tell him it wasn’t no funny prank.”
“Why didn’t you say something to me?”
“I made my mind to do just that, but the next time it happened, I saw you over by the barn talking with Pa.”
“Why didn’t you think it was Adam, then?”
“I’d seen him ride off with some of the men to do some work at the mill. I knew he wasn’t around.”
Snapping his fingers, Joe started to tell his story. “I thought you two were setting me up for something. Tools keep moving on their own, it seems, when I was doing chores. It got scary when pitchfork was laying prongs up when I backed out of Cochise’s stall. I’m lucky not to have stepped on it. I was mad and was going to tell Pa or Adam had done it, but then I remembered he rode to the mill and I saw you across the yard. Pa asked me what was wrong and I gave him the short version.” Joe looked around at his family worried that they wouldn’t believe him, but all were quiet.
When no one said anything to that but seemed inordinately interested in their meals, they all knew. They had had the same kinds of experience and didn’t want to say more because it was too weird to contemplate and none could think of why it was happening. Things were definitely getting strange around the house, and no matter how many candles or lamps they lit, it seemed darker too. None of them connected it to Fuji, but Hop Sing did.
In the kitchen, Hop Sing listened to all the stories and worried. After clearing away the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen, he did not retire to his room as he usually did. No, he waited in the darkened kitchen for his opportunity and kept the stove burning instead of banking it for the night. As he heard his employer’s bedroom door close and counted the doors closing until he knew all three sons were in their rooms, he raced for the Fuji marker and board and before he could be stopped, they were in his stove and burning. After setting cleansing incense to burn, he washed his hands and went to bed. A dark wraith in Ben’s room grimaced, faded into gray fog, and disappeared. All through the house, dark corners were not as black any longer. It was quiet too.
As Adam walked to breakfast in the morning, he noticed his Fuji was gone. “Hop Sing, where is the Fuji?”
“I burn it. I hear all evil it do to family.”
Speechless, Adam stared at Hop Sing as he retreated into the kitchen. When he took his seat at the table, he noticed his brothers looked well rested. They agreed with his conclusion.
“I expect to get a lot of work done today with nothing to bother me.”
“Me too.” Joe actually was looking forward to working. It was going to prove the sprits or whatever they were had gone.
Ben said nothing, but later while working, he realized he hadn’t had an outburst or used any inappropriate language even in his thoughts.
At dinner the discussion was how everything seemed to be back to normal. Hoss and Joe knew as well as Ben did that Adam still didn’t like his property being destroyed. They assumed his mood had something to do with that. They weren’t going to let it ruin their good mood. As they ate their dinners, Ben, Hoss, and Joe reported how the day had gone so much better. Adam was quiet and the others knew how he could be moody so they didn’t think anything of it. Within a day, it was all forgotten as they got on with their lives. Every morning, they greeted the sun, dressed, shaved, and headed out to work after eating one of Hop Sing’s hearty breakfasts. For Adam there was one extra routine. Every morning, he tore a sheet from his sketchbook with the new drawing from the night, rolled it up, and threw it in the small stove in his room. She never missed a night.
Note: Fuji was the original talking board or planchette system developed about 1100AD in China. Ouija was a commercial game based on an already popular practice and was sold starting in about 1890 in the USA.
Rest in Peace
The first to notice the changes was Hoss, but Ben too soon noted the physical effects in his eldest son. Both were observant at meals as Adam pushed around the food more than eating, declined dessert claiming to be full, and often skipped breakfast saying he wasn’t hungry yet. They knew it pointed at some underlying problem but had no idea what it could be, and as usual, Adam wasn’t talking. He also wasn’t sleeping or at least not sleeping well.
Tormented at night, Adam couldn’t rest properly. It was those drawings and the dreams they inspired. Every morning when Adam woke, he checked and there would be another one there. Sometimes it was a sketch only and other times a more detailed drawing but always featuring him. The first ones had shown him in bed sleeping, but now they were more likely to show him outside working or even traveling. Trying to sleep had gotten much more difficult over the past week when the scenes in the drawings were usually him leaning against the side of a stagecoach and looking out the window. He couldn’t bear to eat with the nausea brought on by the memories of that last stage ride and seeing that little girl and her mother swept away by a torrent of mud and debris. When he did sleep, his dreams were so real as the crushing mud pressed in on his chest and filled his mouth and nose blocking his ability to breathe and robbing him of sight so that he smothered in lonely absolute darkness. Sometimes he saw the driver and the father fighting an unseen force with the mother rushing in to help before they were swallowed up by the darkness even as the little girl reached out to him.
“Help me, Adam. Please, help me!”
He would have except he would awaken at that point in those dreams expecting to be covered in sweat. He never was. Instead he was chilled and had a difficult time getting warm again. Shivering in the darkness, he would pray for the relief brought by the light of dawn.
To Adam, this was weakness and childish fears that he should be able to fight on his own. He couldn’t bring himself to admit to anyone how his nights had become hell. Although he considered drinking himself into oblivion in order to sleep or taking sleeping powders, he rejected both ideas as substituting one form of weakness for another. No, he was determined to endure until he couldn’t. That came sooner than he anticipated and with the brother who didn’t suspect there was such a serious problem.
On the ranch, there were some mules that were much too feisty when corralled. Several times, they had managed to push open the gate and had to be rounded up. It was a waste of valuable ranch time to hunt them down, rope them, and bring them back. They were useful for so many tasks though that a way had to be found to keep them where they belonged. Joe suggested that a metal gate lock would stop them. They were so stubborn and smart, no ordinary wooden latch was good enough. Ben and Hoss agreed. It was Joe’s idea, but Adam was better at forging such items and it became his task. He drew up a plan and was all set to make the latch and hook the next day.
In the morning, Adam fired up the forge and got the metal pieces laid out. With a tub of water beside him, he got to work. However, it was an unseasonably hot day for fall, he hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours, and as usual, he had skipped breakfast except for a cup of coffee and a biscuit. Joe rode in to get some supplies for the fence mending he and Hoss were doing and thought Adam looked shaky at the forge. Wondering what was wrong, he walked toward him and broke into a run when he saw his older brother begin to fall forward toward the hot coals of the forge. With his momentum, he was able to knock Adam away from danger as both toppled to the ground in a heap.
“What the hell are you doing, Joe?”
“Saving your skin, that’s what! You were falling into the forge. I stopped you.” Standing then, Joe looked down at his oldest brother whose shirt was unbuttoned. “Adam, what’s wrong? You’re skinnier than I can remember, and I don’t think I ever saw you look so pale.”
Pulling himself up, Adam meant to tower over his younger brother and deny everything that he had said but couldn’t. Instead, he almost fell again. His body betrayed him showing how weak he was. He had to grab onto the corral fence to stop himself from falling. Joe looked around at what Adam had accomplished and realized he had managed very little of the project. With his hard-working diligent brother, that alone was evidence that there was something very wrong.
“I’m taking you to the house. I’ll come back and take care of the forge once I get you inside. No arguing either. You’re sick.”
There was no logic or fact that could stand against what Joe had seen. Adam agreed but was worried knowing how his father would react. Inside the house, Ben was concerned, and Joe explained what had happened as Adam sat in a chair. When Joe went outside to clean up the forge, Ben sat with his son and began to question him. As Joe worked, Hoss rode in wondering why Joe hadn’t returned with any supplies. They were only working a short distance from the house. Joe explained what had occurred with Adam, and the two went to the house hoping to hear some answers. They found their older brother sitting quietly with their father as Hop Sing hovered near them after bringing out some food and coffee.
Looking at his curious brothers, Adam turned to his father. “You may as well tell them now. You will or you’ll tell them later behind my back.”
“Adam, don’t be like that. We care about you. It’s not behind your back to share information necessary to help you.”
Dropping his head, Adam conceded, and Ben turned to his younger sons.
“Adam has been having bad dreams about that little girl and the others who died in that wreck. He can’t sleep. He finds it hard to eat. This has been happening since the accident. Those drawings never stopped. There’s a new one every morning.”
Although Hop Sing had suspected Fuji had left a taint, this was worse than he imagined. “Where are drawings?”
“In my room.”
“You have anything else from wreck?”
“Just my things. My valise was up on the road. I brought that home.”
Joe remembered something more though. “Adam, I gave you that doll we found. What did you do with it?”
Frowning at that memory, Adam nodded. “Oh, yeah. I think I put that in my dresser. I forgot about it. I thought maybe at some point to wash it and give it to another little girl.”
“No, no. Doll must be buried.”
“Yes, must take drawings and doll back to where this happened. Bury them there. Spirit of little girl trapped here. Must give her way to leave.”
Ben had thought all along that Adam was doing those drawings almost in a sleep walking kind of state and wasn’t about to believe in trapped spirits instead. “That’s enough of the hocus pocus magic theories. Adam has been plagued enough by bad dreams. We don’t need to give him more fodder for those.”
Hop Sing ignored him as if he had not spoken and never let his attention waver from Adam. “Did any of the people speak against Fuji? Did any say things that could make that spirit portal angry?”
“No, not in so many words, but it was clear they thought it wasn’t worth anything because it came from the Chinese people. Arnie and I both made it clear we didn’t like that kind of talk.”
“And you two live. Others all die.”
Hoss added his support then too. “From a muddy flash flood that shouldn’t have happened and was worse than any you ever seen.”
Joe was a believer too. “You know, it all makes sense now.”
Although Ben didn’t believe in the substance of the conversation, he could see that it might give peace of mind to his son. So he gave in and accepted what Hop Sing suggested. “Perhaps, it would be worth a try to do as Hop Sing has suggested. Go bury that doll and the drawings. Then you can come home and sleep easy and start eating again.”
“When?” Clearly Adam wanted to do something. Being a victim was not something that he was willing to accept. He wanted to fight back, and Hop Sing had given him a way to do that.
“We go in morning. Must be done in light of the day with sun over our shoulders.” Hop Sing clearly intended to be part of the group.
It was a somber mood that night. In the morning, all looked at Adam who nodded indicating he had another night the same as all the rest. With the doll and the drawings under his arm, he walked out of the house and packed all into a canvas sack slinging it over his horse that Hoss and Joe had already saddled. Hoss walked out and handed him two biscuits with jelly.
“No way you can make that ride without eating. I got more of those and some apples too. It ain’t the best of food to build up your strength, but it should be something your stomach can take.”
There were no arguments from Adam because everything Hoss said was correct. He noted too as they rode how either Hoss or Joe was by his side. Clearly they weren’t confident in his ability to make the ride, but he was determined to do so. They got to the site in the early afternoon, and Joe pulled a shovel from the pack horse as Hoss grabbed the sack from Adam.
“I think Hop Sing has some ideas about how we do this. Why don’t you two talk this over while we dig a hole and get ready to take care of this sad business.”
Turning to Hop Sing, Adam noted he had pulled an urn from his pack. Holding it far from his body, Hop Sing walked to the dried remnants of the flood. He opened the urn, tipped it, and let the dust inside float away across the debris and soil caked on it. Then he turned to Adam.
“It is ashes of Fuji and incense I burned to cleanse it. Now let us find peace for that little girl and for you.”
Hoss had placed the sack in the bottom of the hole he and Joe had dug. Joe dropped the doll in on top of it. Then handed the shovel to Adam.
“I think maybe you need to be the one to bury them.”
As Hop Sing nodded, they faced the east and Adam began shoveling the dirt back into the hole. Strange sounds echoed down the valley, and Hop Sing warned them not to turn and for Adam not to stop. Clouds passed across the sun as chill winds blew down at them. The temperature dropped about ten degrees until Adam dropped the last of the dirt back into the cut in the earth. As he tamped it down, the noises returned to the normal sounds of birds. The sky cleared, and the temperature warmed. Adam nearly fell against his brothers.
“You all right?”
“I feel like a weight was lifted from my chest. I’ll be all right. You have any more of those biscuits?”
“No, but I think Hop Sing packed up some fried chicken ’cause he figured we might not be making it back tonight. You all right staying out here tonight?”
“Maybe we could ride part of the way back. I don’t really want to camp here.”
Joe agreed. “Good idea. It’s kind of creepy to think of camping here. Let’s go find a nice spot, and we can enjoy our evening. I packed a bottle of Pa’s brandy so we could celebrate.”
“He’s not gonna be happy ’bout that, Joe.”
“Hoss, he won’t know for a while. I took it from the cellar.”
So a nice warm campfire, coffee, some songs, and four men enjoying generous amounts of brandy in their coffee cups after filling up on fried chicken. It was a good evening, and an even better night as Adam slept well with no nightmares and no drawing in sight in the morning. A little girl tragically lost could finally rest in peace.
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