Home For the Holidays (by Southplains)

Summary:  Inspired by a Pinecone prompt.
Rating: K
Word Count:  1400


Home for the Holidays

 

A doe bursting out of the underbrush was all it took for Ben and his saddle to part ways.

His first reaction was mild surprise that the old buckskin could still move quickly enough to unseat him so easily. Then again, his own reflexes weren’t what they used to be. It wasn’t entirely Buck’s fault, nor had he run far. Years ago, if he’d been spooked like that, he’d have hightailed it all the way down the mountain and back to the barn. But age had a way of making horses, like men, choose not to expend unwise energy. After a couple of indignant snorts, he ambled back toward Ben, reins dragging in the snow and a decidedly sheepish look in his brown eyes.

Had Ben not felt his left leg snap when he landed wrong, the day would’ve ended with him climbing back on and heading for home, none the worse for wear other than a few bruises and some extra aches in his joints.

But the damage had been done.

He lay there, cold wetness seeping into his coat, and silently cursed his inability to react as quickly as he once had.  One little sidestep, and he’d fallen off his mount just that quick. It was embarrassing. Or it would be, if anybody was around to see. He gingerly tried to move his leg, almost blacked out from the pain, and decided he’d gladly put up with the humiliation of someone seeing how he’d tumbled from the saddle if only they were here to help him out of this mess.

He’d hear about this from Hop Sing later. The cook had glowered at him this morning when he’d informed him he was heading up to Johnson’s Pass to look for those wayward heifers.

The truth was that he’d just needed to get out. Hop Sing had seen that the Christmas tree, though smaller than it had been in previous years, was decorated and lit, and the smells wafting from the kitchen had told him Christmas dinner would be delicious. But Ben knew he would barely taste it. With his sons years in the grave, Christmas had long ago lost its joy for him. Sitting in that silent great room, with a warm fire flickering and no one around it, was more than he’d been able to bear. The worsening storm outside was far more enticing than the empty house. Out in the snow with pine in his nostrils, he could ignore the memories, if only for a short time.

“Mister Ben have no business riding that far in this weather. Hop Sing go get cowboys.”

Hop Sing had already been halfway out the door and headed to the bunkhouse when Ben waved him back. “They’re gone. I gave them orders to pull the herd off the south slopes and into the foothills,” he’d said. “Should have done it last week, but this snow caught us by surprise. I don’t want to wait until they get back to look for those stray heifers. If we get more snow tonight, we might lose them completely.”

Hop Sing had frowned and shaken his head. “Mister Ben, we old men now. Need to stay by warm fire in this weather. Go out there, up that mountain, ask for trouble!” He’d folded his arms, set his mouth in a grim line, and added that quick nod of his that defied any argument.

Ben hadn’t listened, of course. He’d long ago lost count of the times he’d gone against Hop Sing’s advice and later wished he hadn’t. This was just one more to add to the list.

The cold damp was burning like fire now. In a few minutes, he’d start getting numb, and then he’d really be in trouble. He had to get himself back into the saddle or Hop Sing would never get the chance to tell him, “I told you so.”

He rolled onto his right side, gasping at the pain the movement caused, but managed to get onto his good knee and then up onto one foot. He took a couple of lurching hops in Buck’s direction, but the snow drifts quickly sucked him back down in a floundering heap. His scream made Buck shy away.

Ben eyed the quivering buckskin. “Look at us,” he gasped. “Pair of old fools.”

 

 

When he woke, it was to warm horsey breath in his face. He was surprised that the pain seemed to be ebbing. Maybe he could get his feet under him long enough to— He strained, only to fall back again. Buck snorted softly, as if to say, “Come on, you have to try!”

“Sorry, old friend,” Ben told him. “I can’t do it.” The horse, though slower now, knew how to stand solid against the straining heave of a roped cow, how to set back on his hindquarters to whirl quickly and head off escaping strays, how to stand quietly ground-tied for hours, and a hundred other things that made a good ranch horse invaluable. But he didn’t know how to run for help. “Should’ve taught you that, I guess,” Ben chuckled. The laugh turned into a cough.

He thought the cold temperatures might be abating, for he felt a little warmer. “I’ll just rest a minute,” he told Buck, “and then I’ll try again.” He shut his eyes and let sleep take him. He drifted, the pain less and less . . .

 

 

“Pa. Pa, wake up.”

“Adam?” Ben froze. Astonishment was an understatement. How on earth— He opened his eyes to find himself lying on the settee in the great room, warmth from the fire toasty against his face. Adam was leaning over him, smiling. Joe and Hoss bore wide grins at him from over Adam’s shoulders.

“Welcome home, Pa,” Hoss said, and helped ease him into a sitting position.

Ben thought he must have hit his head in his fall. What was going on? He looked around, trying to get his bearings. Everything looked as it had this morning, with the exception that the Christmas tree was larger, as it had been back when his sons were—

He rubbed a hand over his eyes, confused and troubled. “How is this possible?” he asked. “How are you all here?” He was dreaming. That was it. He was still lying in the snow, dreaming.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Pa,” Joe said. Women’s laughter issued from the kitchen, and Ben jerked his head toward the sound. He knew that sound. It was familiar . . . “Our mothers,” Joe said gently. “They’re in there preparing a Christmas feast since Hop Sing won’t be along for . . . oh, for awhile.”

“You’re home for the holidays, Pa,” Hoss said.

Ben stared at them all. Adam sat down beside him, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together in that way he had. He looked at Ben, his eyes searching.

“Do you understand, Pa?” he asked softly, and suddenly Ben did understand.  They were together again, all of them, his sons, Elizabeth, Inger, Marie, all of them. Decades of joy  flooded through his heart, suffusing him with so much warmth he knew he’d never be cold again. With a glad cry, he leapt up to throw his arms around his sons—his beloved, treasured sons.

 

Up on the mountain, near Johnson’s Pass, a shivering old buckskin horse hung his head and nickered softly in his master’s ear. An hour passed and his friend grew cold. At last the horse turned away and headed down the mountain toward his warm stall and his nightly feed. In a year or two, he’d join his master.

But not today.

 

The End

 

 

Author’s Note:

I began this little story this morning as a response to Cheaux’s November 1 Pinecone Challenge, “Home for the Holidays”. But I was working on an older version of Word, and I couldn’t figure out how to make the word count work (limit for Pinecones is 499) and by the time I figured it out, I was finished and had 1,250 words. So I decided instead to post it here in the library. 🙂 Thanks, Cheaux, for the prompt!

Also, thanks to Snookie, my 28-year-old gelding who, this October, picked a beautiful day and a shady oak beneath which to lie down and peacefully drift off into a sleep from which he did not awaken. I will miss you, old friend, and I am thankful your passing was of the gentle sort. I will see you again at the end of the trail.

 

Tags:  Christmas, Holiday

Other Stories by this Author

Bookmark(0)

No account yet? Register

Author: southplains

28 thoughts on “Home For the Holidays (by Southplains)

  1. It’s so nice to see a new story from you, Southplains, and this was a good one. I love your take on “Home for the Holidays”–unexpected, but so warmly fulfilling, and a poignant reminder that we’re all headed home . . . just not yet.

    1. Thanks so much, Puchi Ann! Yes, one day we will all be home. 🙂 I’ve missed our boys; writing this was a comfort to me in my own year of loss. I’m so pleased it brought you some enjoyment.

  2. Thank you for this story of hope promised and hope fulfilled. It may seem to be an out of the ordinary Christmas tale, but I think it is perfect.

  3. I lost my Dad a few months ago and this will be my first Christmas without him. This beautiful story made me smile (along with a few tears) as I consider the celebration he’ll be part of this year. I’m glad your Snookie had a happy final day.

    1. Aw, Questfan, I’m so very sorry. I’ve been there, and those “firsts” are terribly difficult. My little brother died on the first day of autumn this year (almost 20 years to the day after my dad’s passing) and nothing seems the same. Part of life, but oh, such a hard part.

      I am so happy that this story made you smile and think of what joy your dad is enveloped in. No other comment on one of my stories could be more meaningful.

      And oh, dear Snookie—thank you. I still look out in the pasture expecting to see him.

  4. Southie,

    How good to see a littlebitta Bonanza from you again! I loved it, every word. And while it’s nice to know you are writing other things too, you know the Cartwrights–every time you think you’re out, they pull you back in again! Keep on writing, sister, and bless Snookie for saying farewell under a peaceful tree and leaving you with a little inspiration.

    sandspur

    1. Thank you, friend! Yeah, those Cartwrights–just when you think you’ve forgotten them, here they come, lol.

      Thanks so much for your lovely review. While I absolutely love hearing from all readers, thoughts from a writer of your caliber always carry extra weight. 🙂 May this holiday season bring you much joy and peace.

  5. That’s poignant and touching. Beautifully written. I’m glad the Cartwrights are all together now.

    By the way, I’ve been delighted to see you writing again. You’re a good writer!

    1. Aw, thanks, Sierras. I don’t really stop writing; I just sometimes write about things that aren’t in the Bonanza universe, lol. But those Cartwrights always seem to draw me back!

      Thank you so much for the kind words!

    1. So sorry for the pain, Jose! 🙁 I admit to shedding tears while writing it. I normally shy away from writing about Cartwright deaths, but I’m afraid losing my own losses this autumn have put me in a melancholy mood. I should write something happy now!

      Thank you for reading and telling me your thoughts!

  6. Ils sont tous la, dans la larme qui coule sur mon mouchoir.
    Ponderosa reste gravé dans ma mémoire et mon cœur, ainsi que dans les cœurs de vous tous qui, par vos écrits, à la vie, à la mort laissent une trace des Cartwright.

    1. Thank you, Monique. I don’t usually like to write about the deaths of the Cartwrights, so this was a departure for me. But the Cartwrights, like all those whom we love, will always be with us!

  7. Oh how sad! But at least they are all together again. It makes the next journey not so scary when you know you’re going to be with your loved ones again.

    1. It made me sad too, wx4mk. But yes, there is a greater place waiting for us. I feel so sad for those who believe this is all there is. 🙁

    1. You are so welcome, Patina! It was a quick one–maybe because I don’t like dwelling on the deaths of Cartwrights for very long, lol.

  8. Always happy to read another story from you, Southplains, even a short one. Wow, that tugs at the old heartstrings, and hits all the happy spots too. Warm fuzzies for sure…*sniff* Hugs to you for the ‘inspiration’.

    1. Thank you, AC1830! And thanks for the hugs–it’s been a very rough couple of months. I lost my younger brother on the first day of autumn. I am, of course, devastated. To lose my old horse friend a month later seemed like more than I could take. But I, like Ben, will see my loved ones again one day. 🙂

  9. Touching and heartfelt, SP. A perfectly told tale in just the right amount of words generating warm fuzzies all over … let me grab a tissue.

    1. Thank you, Cheaux, for the kind comments and for providing the spark found in your Pinecone challenge. This place could not operate without you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.