Summary: A WHIB (What Happened in Between) for the episode The Honor of Cochise. What was happening back at the camp while Ben was riding as fast as he could to Fort Barry? Read, and find out.
Rated: T (a strong T for racism, gore, and minor bad language)
Word Count: 1,313
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Last Minute Miracle
“It’s kinda spooky, ain’t it? Hoss said, drawing me out of my thoughts and back to the present.
“Hmm, what was that?”
“I said it’s kinda spooky,” he gestured out into the gloom with one hand; the other was wrapped firmly around the stock of his rifle. “Iff’n I didn’t know that them Indians were out there, I’d think that this was just any other ordinary night on the trail—well, I would ‘cept for the fact that there ain’t no crickets chirpin’ in the brush. It’s too dang quiet.”
Lifting my arm, I wiped a wayward bead of sweat off of my cheek with the back of my hand. Despite the fact that the sun had long since set, the air was hotter than the fires of hell with no relief to be had for love or money. “Yeah, I guess it is,” I said, picking up my bandanna and re-wetting it with the lukewarm water from my canteen before running the cloth across Adam’s brow. “Now that you mention it, I haven’t heard a thing all night.”
“Exactly!” Hoss said, shaking his head, “I don’t like this, Joe, I don’t like it one little bit.”
From the darkest corner of our camp, a familiar, but much less welcomed voice piped up. “I’ve witnessed this before in Arizona. It’s them ‘Paches; their presence is so unnatural that a coyote won’t even dare howl if one of them red devils is anywhere nearby.”
Glancing up, I could barely make out the silhouette of the speaker against the darker shadows cast by the large boulder at his back. Ever since Captain Moss Johnson came charging into camp on his foam-lathered horse, he’d been nothing but trouble, and the longer he stayed, the more I disliked him. If it wasn’t for pa’s adamance that my brother and I protect the man with our lives, I would have handed him over to Cochise in a heartbeat.
Now, I had a healthy respect for men in uniform, but something was off about this particular soldier. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the wild light in his pale, blue eyes coupled with the fool talk that occasionally spewed from his mouth only solidified my growing belief that he wasn’t right in the head. In an odd way, he reminded me of a big, old puma I’d seen a few years ago. The beast had gotten a taste for blood and went berserk. He’d stalked through our meadows, taking down steer after steer, leaving mutilated, bovine bodies in his wake. The strange thing was, he hadn’t eaten a single one of the cows he’d killed, he’d just slaughtered them for the thrill of it. In the end, he’d destroyed a good fourth of our herd before Adam managed to put a bullet between his eyes.
“Do ya think pa’s made it to Fort Barry yet?” Hoss asked.
I opened my mouth to reply, but a harsh cackle cut me off.
“”Boy, you’re a fool if you think your pa’s still among the livin’,” Johnson said, “These ain’t your run-of-the-mill redskins—no, sir! They’re Chiricahua Apaches, the fiercest injuns ever to roam the face of the earth. And their chief, Cochise…well now, he’s the worst of the whole lot. By now they’ve probably skinned your pa alive or have him staked out on one of those anthills they’re so fond of. There ain’t no one better at torture than them. Why, one time I saw—”
Hoss suddenly stood up, looming over the captain, his face flushed red with ill-concealed anger. The muzzle of his rifle swung threateningly in the man’s direction. “Quiet, you!” he growled.
“If that were the case,” I said, trying to diffuse the situation and tamp down my own temper at the same time, “then why are we still alive? If he really is dead, then there’s nothing stopping those warriors from swarming this camp and killing us all right now, is there?”
Johnson smirked at me, “Son, you don’t know them ‘Paches like I do. They won’t fight at night; they believe that the souls of those killed in darkness will never rest, but rove the earth forever or some such superstitious rot. No, they won’t attack us until dawn…unless you boys go against your word and hand me over to them.”
Hoss snorted. “Well, mister, it’s a good thing for you that my brother and I keep our promises, unlike some. Iff’n we didn’t, we’d have already handed your sorry hide over to that war party quicker than you can say ‘spit’. It’d be nothing less than you’d deserve after murderin’ defenseless women and children!” Abruptly, he stepped around the fire, leaving a spluttering Johnson in his wake, and made his way over towards me. “It’s men like that that give the Army a bad name. I swear, Little Joe, every time he opens his big, fat mouth, I’m tempted to knock his teeth in,” he whispered, squatting down at my side.
“Forget about him for a second,” I said, and then gestured to Adam’s prone form. “Help me sit him up, I need to change his bandages.”
As I peeled back the stained cloth, bile burned the back of my throat and I barely managed to keep from emptying my stomach into a nearby cholla. My oldest brother’s side was a swollen mess of torn flesh that slowly continued to ooze blood no matter what I did to try and stop it. The bullet was still inside of him, and judging by the heat rolling off of him in waves, infection had set in too. As swiftly as I could, I swapped out the soiled bandages for new ones, and with Hoss’ help, we settled him back on his make-shift bed.
“I don’t know if he made it to the fort by now or not, but I…I don’t think pa’s going to make it back here in time,” I said, trying to ignore the sound of Adam’s pain-filled, ragged breathing.
Hoss’ head came up, and he stared at me, mouth agape. “What? Now, don’t tell me all that nonsense that idiot over there’s been spoutin’ about Indians has gotten to you, ‘cause—”
“It’s not that, well, not just that, anyway….Look, Adam’s not…,” I ran a hand through my rumpled curls as I struggled to rein in my emotions.
Adam always did make self-control look so easy, I shook the stray thought aside and took a deep breath before I continued. “He’s not doing so good, Hoss. I-I just don’t know how much longer he can hold on. Except for the occasional moan, he hasn’t made a sound since he got shot and that was a long time ago. Too long.
“It’s a five hour ride to the fort…if what Johnson’s saying is true, we’ll be dead before pa can bring us some help.”
My big brother tugged his hat off and fingered the dusty brim. “It was always gonna be a long shot, pa makin’ that trip, I know that. But, Joe…I gotta have faith that he’ll make it. It just ain’t in me to give up, not now. Besides,” he gave me a lopsided grin, “pa’s pulled off his fair share of miracles before, whose to say he won’t do it again this time?”
“It’d be one hell of a last minute miracle,” I said, giving him a wan smile in return.
“You’re darn right it would,” he replied, then frowned. “I never figured I’d die protectin’ a no good murderer.”
It was a sobering thought.
“Neither did I.”
I glanced up at the pitch black sky, eyes searching for that first hint of gray that heralded the coming dawn, and at the same time praying I wouldn’t find it.
With a sigh, I stood. “If you’ll sit with Adam, I’ll take the next watch.”
Author Notes (PLEASE READ): Despite what I have written, I am not racist; creating dialogue for the crazy bigot Captain Moss Johnson was incredibly difficult for me, and something I never plan on doing again if I can help it. I actually deleted a lot of his lines because I was too sick to post the garbage he was spouting. That being said, I have to give props to DeForest Kelley for his excellent acting abilities. I’ve observed that the most talented actors are the ones who – when playing a bad guy – can make you hate the character they are portraying so very much.
This story was written for a writing prompt on Bonanza Boomers. I was given the song title “Last Minute Miracle” by the Shirelles and was supposed to come up with a story based solely on the song title itself.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Captain Moss Johnson, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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- That Changes Everything (by Annie K Cowgirl)