Summary: Strange and spooky events begin to happen to the Cartwrights after Ben receives an unexpected gift. Written for October 2019 Chaps & Spurs and Spooktacular Challenge.
Rating: K+ / Word Count: 3911
The Mysterious Crystal Cup
It was a quiet autumn afternoon on the Ponderosa. Hoss, Little Joe, and Ben were inside catching up on some ranch paperwork while Adam was out scouting for a new mine location. Hearing a horse riding onto the ranch, Hoss got up and opened the door to reveal Sheriff Coffee approaching the front door.
“Mornin’ Roy. Please come in. Pa is inside catching up on some paperwork.”
Ben gets up to greet Roy as he steps into the house. “Welcome! This is a surprise to see you out here so early in the day. What brings you out this way?”
“Ben, it is my sad duty to inform you of the passing of Soaring Eagle. You did know him, correct?”
“Soaring Eagle? I don’t believe I do. Wait a minute, yes, yes, I do believe we met a while back on our way out west. He helped our whole wagon train when things were getting difficult. In turn, we helped him and his tribe out the best we could. We only stayed for a few days before we had to get moving again.”
“Well, a few days or not, you must have left quite an impression on him. He was adamant that you have this after his passing.”
Looking at the box, Ben is confused. “I don’t understand Roy. How did he even know where to find me?”
“I’m not sure Ben. All I know is this package here arrived in town the other day with a note for the sheriff attached to it. I’m just relaying the information to you.”
Taking the package, Ben slowly unwraps the paper and then opens the box. A note is inside which he hands off to Hoss. Moving the wrapping aside, he pulls out what appears to be a glass cup. It wasn’t just any ordinary cup. Etched around the outside were images of skulls and what looked like people with three heads.
Gasps of shock were heard around the room as the cup was revealed. “Golly, Pa! Is that a crystal cup?” questioned Hoss.
Tapping the side of the glass, Ben replies, “It appears that it is.”
“Maybe it’s cursed!” Joe exclaims excited at something interesting happening around the ranch for once.
“Now, Joe. It’s probably just some old antique.”
Hoss opens up the note he was given only moments earlier, reading, “What you hold in your hand is an ancient ceremonial cup. It was used for hundreds of years among our people for sacrifices and special offerings. It is believed that it can talk to the beyond, find lost items, and reveal all. It will protect you as long as you treat it well. Should you not, you will be cursed.”
Worried looks were exchanged between themselves. “Do you think it’s true Pa?”
Scoffing at the whole idea of something cursing him, Ben quickly replies to his youngest, “The thing is just an antique glass cup. It is going right back in the box until I can find something to do with it.”
Before any more can be said about it, Adam is heard riding into the yard and quickly dismounting from Sport before rushing into the house.
“Adam, what is it?” Ben asks in a concerned voice. His oldest doesn’t normally rush into the yard like that knowing all too well the dangers of such actions.
“You better come with me. There are some trespassers up on that land we’re surveying for a new mine. I thought it was best to come to get you before I tried to get them to move on.”
“Saddle up my horse for me, Adam. You might as well come too, Roy. You never know when a situation like this could turn ugly.” Turning to both Hoss and Little Joe, Ben hands them over the box containing the crystal cup. “You two find somewhere to put this for the time being. I don’t believe a word about it being able to find things or any of that other nonsense. I expect you two not to open the box and start fooling around with it either.”
“Of course.” Hoss immediately responds. Not hearing an answer from Joe, Ben gives him a pointed look. Frowning at his adventure quickly fleeting away, Joe sadly replies, “Yes, Pa.”
Hoss and Joe waited until everyone had left before Hoss got up to put the box away.
“You know Hoss, I swear I can feel waves of energy coming from that box.”
Hoss gave an incredulous look at the box before saying, “What are you playing at Joe? Maybe you’re just nervous about what’s in the box. It makes me a little nervous having something supposedly so sacred in the house.”
Letting out a sigh and practically rolling his eyes, Little Joe continued. “Not everyone is gifted enough to be able to feel these sorts of things. You know I’ve always had a second nature to the supernatural world. Don’t you at least want to take a look at the cup and see if it works?”
“You heard Pa. We’re to put it somewhere safe until he has time to take care of it. Pa would have our hides if we started messing with it.”
“Aww…come on Hoss. How would Pa even find out? He’ll likely be gone all afternoon with Adam taking care of those trespassers. It’s not as if he sees and knows all.”
Hoss wanted to disagree with Joe. When he was growing up it certainly felt like Ben knew and saw all. Deep down inside Hoss knew that it wasn’t true and really how could Ben find out if they put it back exactly how they found it? “Well, I have been missing my favorite card deck that Adam gave me last Christmas. I haven’t seen it in weeks and I’ve checked everywhere. If Adam ever found out I lost those playing cards he gave me, I’d never hear the end of it.”
“There you go! We could ask the crystal cup where it is. It’s completely harmless. We can test it out to see if it really is as special as Soaring Eagle claims it is. If it can’t find a simple deck of cards, we will know it’s a complete hoax.”
Hoss was doubtful it would work, but Joe was right, what harm could it cause? “Oh, alright.”
Joe excitedly unwraps the cup from the wrappings inside the box once more before setting it on the table.
“I don’t rightly know how this is supposed to work. Are we supposed to fill it up with…blood?” Hoss questions as he starts to feel weak thinking about blood.
“I hope not. Why don’t you just try talking to it? If it’s supposed to be able to reveal lost items, it has to be able to hear your request.”
Nodding, Hoss leaned in closer to the cup. “Ancient cup, I seem to have lost that deck of cards my brother Adam gave me. Can you please tell me where they are?” He silently waited for an answer.
“Well, do you hear anything Hoss?” Hoss shook his head no. “Maybe you aren’t saying it right.”
“There ain’t really instructions on how to do this Joe.”
“Well, you asked nicely. Maybe you have to be firmer. Maybe threaten it.”
“And be cursed. No thank you.”
So consumed in their antics, neither brother heard Ben return. The door opening scared the daylights out of them. They quickly hid the cup under a napkin so Ben wouldn’t see what they were up to.
“Boys, I’m home.” Ben was met with silence. “Boys?” Seeing them sitting around the table apparently doing nothing he has to question, “Boys, what are you doing?”
“Nothing much Pa.”
Ben didn’t buy that answer one bit, but he let the matter drop. “Hoss, is this your deck of cards that Adam gave you?”
Eyes widening in response, Hoss and Little Joe both looked at each other, completely shocked and speechless. Hoss took the cards from his father’s hands and opened the deck to see if they were his. He had signed his initials at the bottom of the Ace of Spades card. Sure enough, there were his initials.
“Are you alright Hoss?”
Not taking his eyes off the cards, Hoss slowly replied, “Yes, they’re mine. Where’d you find them?”
“They were at the bottom of my saddlebag. I have no idea how they got there.” Ben was concerned for his boys. He just knew something more was going on here than they were letting on. Joe was especially quiet which was unusual for him. “Joe are you are as white as a ghost. Are you alright too?”
“Umm…yes Pa. I think I know how it got in your saddlebag. It…it was the cup.”
“Pardon?” Ben thought he knew where this conversation was going, but he had to make sure he had all the facts straight before casting final judgment.
“The cup you got from Soaring Eagle. We looked everywhere for Hoss’ cards. We were desperate so we asked the cup to find the cards. We didn’t think it would work, but it did.”
Temper rising, but keeping it in control for now, Ben states his feelings once more. “I thought I told you both to leave the cup alone? This was just a coincidence, boys. The story behind that cup is complete nonsense. Sure it might have been used in some ceremonies, but its ability to find lost things or reveal the future is just an old legend. Put it back in the box where it belongs and please refrain from touching it in the future.”
Not wanting to push their luck with their Pa, Hoss whispered a “yes sir” with Little Joe echoing him as Ben headed back outside.
Walking through town later that day on their way to get a beer, Hoss and Little Joe continue to talk about the mysterious gift Ben received.
“I think Pa is crazy not to believe in that cup. Soaring Eagle said it was used for hundreds of years and it always worked for him and his tribe. And then it worked for us when we asked about your cards.”
“Pa’s just being cautious. He don’t rightly know why it was sent to him. Plus, it’s like Pa said, it’s probably just a coincidence.”
Joe just shook his head in disagreement as they approached Doc Martin outside his office frantically searching through his bag.
“Hey, Doc. Did you lose something?”
“Oh hi, Joe, Hoss. Yes, I seem to have misplaced my thermometer. I am positive I put it in my bag after my last house visit. I can’t seem to find it anywhere now.”
Joe got that look in his eye as he glanced over at Hoss. “You know, Doc. We may be able to help you.”
“Little Joe, we can’t!”
“Hush, Hoss. It worked once already, why wouldn’t it work now? Even if it doesn’t work, the Doc won’t be any worse off than he is now.”
Hoss feels like he has been talked into a corner with no way out. Sighing at defeat Hoss gives in to Joe’s wishes. “Fine, just once more.”
Excitedly, Joe turned to Doc Martin, explaining the whole plan.
The next day, the whole family was in town picking up some supplies. Joe and Hoss halted in their loading of supplies as they noticed Doc Martin running down the boardwalk and heading in their direction.
“Hoss, Joe! You’ll never believe it! Right after we asked that cup about my missing thermometer, I went to check my bag one more time. I stuck my hand in the bag and there it was in my hand. It somehow just appeared in my hand like, like…magic.”
“That’s great Doc!” Joe replied as a giant smile crossed his face.
“Yes, well I really must be going. I just wanted to let you know that it worked.”
Hoss and Joe continued to watch the doctor as he hurried back down the boardwalk. Unbeknownst to both of them, Ben had stopped his loading as well to listen to the conversation. He could feel his temper from yesterday rising once again as he continued to listen. Ben eyed his two youngest as they watched the doctor depart.
As Joe and Hoss turned around, they came face to face with a furious Ben. He cleared his throat before beginning his lecture. “It’s one thing for you two to use that cup for personal uses. It’s an entirely different thing to be using it around town making yourselves look like fools. I told you both the stories about the magical properties that the cup contains are ridiculous. To say I’m not pleased you both went behind my back to take that cup, MY cup, again after I explicitly told you not to touch it, is an understatement. I’m truly regretting this cup ever came into our lives.”
Ben’s lecture made the young adults both feel like they were young children again and they both wished this conversation was happening anywhere but in the middle of the streets of Virginia City. Wanting to quickly end this discussion, they both responded with a quiet “It won’t happen again” and “Sorry, Pa.”
The heated conversation taking place right in the middle of town had attracted quite the crowd. The sheriff was one of those people who came out to see what the commotion was all about. “Ben, I couldn’t help but overhear about the cup and its special abilities. As I’m sure you know, I have a bunch of unsolved crimes in the area. Would it be possible if I borrow the crystal cup to try to help solve some of the crimes?”
Ben couldn’t believe what he was hearing. First his children, now the sheriff is getting roped into the mystery of the cup. Ben quickly looked at both Little Joe and Hoss as if to say this was entirely their fault before letting out an exasperated sigh. “I can certainly understand your need for it, but what I have been gifted is nothing more than a ridiculous cup made of ordinary glass. It has resulted in a few unusual coincidences, but it has been nothing more than that. Anyone who believes in the traits of that cup is a complete fool. Now, we really need to be getting home. Good day.”
The ride home to the ranch was quiet. Ben was fuming about everyone making fools of themselves over a little glass cup with Hoss and Little Joe at the very top of that list. It was one thing for his sons to act like complete fools; it wasn’t the first time they have. It’s an entirely different thing to have the whole town making fools of themselves and it’s even worse to know it is all because of something he has in his possession.
Hoss and Joe kept quiet, not wanting to anger their father more. Adam, not being able to stand it anymore, eventually decided to break the silence. “You know, Pa. It might be worth it to look into the history of that cup. Even if the legends about it are not true, it might actually have some historical value. I could contact some people I know back east from when I was going to college. At the very least it would put an end to the rumors floating around town regarding the cup.”
“I honestly just want that cup out of our house. I’m half considering throwing it into Lake Tahoe just to be rid of the thing. On the other hand, you might be right. Inquiring wouldn’t hurt anything. Go ahead and send that telegram.”
It had been a long day and they all headed to bed shortly after nightfall. Ben had all intentions of putting the cup under lock and key before he headed to bed, but sleep caught up to him much too quickly. He left the box with the cup on the table fully intending to put it away first thing in the morning before heading up the stairs to his bedroom.
Lying in bed, Ben couldn’t help but continue to think about how ridiculous this cup situation had become. Sure he knew many Native Americans had unique ceremonial practices and many probably used cups similar to the one sitting downstairs. There was no way it could have all the special properties everyone claimed it had, could it? Then again, if it did, would it really curse him and his family if it wasn’t treated well? It was too much for Ben to handle. As he drifted off to sleep, he made up his mind to get rid of that cup as soon as possible.
It had to have been well after midnight when Ben awoke suddenly. It was dark in his room, but there was an eerie stillness in the air. Sitting up in bed, he could see the curtains moving in the wind from the open window, yet outside the trees barely moved. Something seemed off.
He slowly got out of bed, tightening his robe around him. Heading to his bedroom door, he opened it a crack. All was dark, but there seemed to be whispers coming from downstairs. Ben slowly made his way down the hall and to the stairs. Reaching the great room, he could hear the whispers better. It sounded like they were coming from inside the box. Carefully opening the box, Ben removed the cup, placing it on the table. The cup appeared to be glowing a pale green color, despite not being near a window or having any lights on in the room. Immediately, the temperature in the room seemed to drop as a mysterious mist surrounded the cup.
Ben took a few steps back, frightened and not sure what was going on. The sound coming out of the cup became clearer. It still wasn’t completely coherent, but he could make out the general idea of what it was trying to say. “See the old shaft located near the old apple orchard. Silver…silver is plentiful.”
Startled by hearing the words, Ben sat down in his red chair. As he looked back over at the cup, it had stopped glowing and silence reigned again. Ben shook his head. He had to have been dreaming. Cups don’t talk to people. On the other hand, maybe it was indeed trying to reveal something to him. Putting the cup back in the box, he headed back up the stairs. He would have to remind himself to ask Adam to check it out later this morning.
Ben pulled Adam aside after breakfast the next morning. His thoughts from last night were still clearly etched in his mind. “Adam, could you go check out that old shaft near the apple orchard on our far northwest property. I have a good feeling about that location for the location of our new mine.”
Adam couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Ben knew as well as any of them that the mine in question had been unoccupied for years. It was once very prosperous, but resources in recent years had dwindled to the point where there was no point in keeping it open. “Are you sure? That old shaft has been completely dry for years.”
“Yes, I know. Please just check it out once more for me.”
“Sure thing.” Confused, but not willing to argue over the issue, Adam grabbed his gun belt and hat before heading out the door to saddle his horse.
Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe were all outside repairing a portion of the barn later that week when Adam came roaring into the yard.
“Pa! You’ll never believe it! You were right. Old George and I took a look at that old shaft. We didn’t walk 20 feet into it when we saw it: evidence of silver. How did you know it would be there?”
Ben hesitated before responding, not knowing how much of his nighttime experience he should tell everyone. Instead, he settled on just a simple answer. “It was the cup.”
“The cup? I thought you didn’t want anything to do with that old cup.”
“Well, it contacted me the other night. It told me to check it out. Not in so many words, but that was what it was trying to communicate to me.”
“It spoke to you?” Hoss asked confused at this whole turn of events.
“That’s right. I guess I was wrong to believe it was a fake and for threatening to throw it into the lake. I’m now reconsidering my decision to get rid of the thing. If it’s indeed spiritual, we should keep it safe here on the Ponderosa.”
“Well funny you should mention keeping it. I stopped by the telegraph office on my way home. I received a message from my friend back east.”
“So what does he think about it?”
“According to him, the cup is probably just that…a cup. He doubted it has any real value. He said that despite the evidence that the cup can find lost things and seemingly be able to predict the future, it is probably all just a coincidence. However, I did some of my own research and I found out some interesting things.” Adam went on to explain how he found out that the cup was indeed used in ceremonial offerings. It was believed that when a chief died, their spirit would join the cup and keep watch over future generations. The cup had belonged to Soaring Eagle and was supposed to be given to his daughter, Little Sparrow. Unfortunately, Little Sparrow was tragically killed before his death and having no other living relatives, he believed the next best person to give the cup to would be Ben. There is now a little shrine located near the graveyard of their ancestors which is dedicated to Soaring Eagle, Little Sparrow, and all their people. The current owners of the shrine would love to have the cup back so it can be on display at the shrine.
“By golly, so all those things that happened wasn’t a coincidence after all. That also explains why you could hear it talking, Pa. It was all those dead chiefs. Kind of creepy to think about.”
While Hoss was contemplating the significance of the crystal cup, Little Joe was thinking about what this means for all of them. “So that means we get to keep it and let others use it if they want, right?”
“Well, while I’d love to keep it, it wouldn’t be right for us to keep something that didn’t belong to us.”
“But Pa. You know it’s not a fake. Just think how much good it would do for our town. Plus, it was gifted to you.”
“Pa’s right, Joe. It doesn’t belong to us. Best to return it to where it belongs. We wouldn’t want to anger the cup by keeping it.” Joe wasn’t happy with that decision, but in the end, agreed that it was the right thing to do.
As they watched the box get loaded onto the stagecoach, all four of them couldn’t help but think about how the cup had been authentic all along. Knowing that, they hoped it would make it to its final destination. That cup in the hands of the wrong person could be trouble. As the stagecoach rode out of town, they swore they could hear muffled whispers coming from the box. Only time would tell if all would turn out alright.
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