Summary: There’s a mysterious spooky light, a mesmerized older brother, a worried Hoss who has heard some stories from Hop Sing that give him reason to worry, and a bad situation that Ben has to handle.
rating: T word count: 2185
The Light In the Forest
For weeks, eleven-year-old Hoss was worried about his older brother. He had a bad feeling in his gut that his brother was getting himself into a heap of trouble. Hop Sing had told Hoss stories about how men could be bewitched by spirits of the forest. It could be so dangerous there. Some of those monsters and demons were deadly according to the Ponderosa cook.
“Chi Mei hides in the trees of mountains. When sun goes down, hunts man and boy, cuts man and boy.”
“Chi Mei is monster with knife. He always cuts.”
“What if the sun is still up?”
“Chi Mei still there in dark places waiting. Chi Mei is most ugly monster. Get too close to where no sun shines, and he cuts.”
Hoss had no more questions about Chi Mei. Every time Hop Sing told him another story about demons or monsters, he would ask one or two questions. Then he would swallow down his fear and vow never to enter those dark forests alone. Hop Sing would bow a little to acknowledge the agreement and each time, inside, he smiled with satisfaction.
For years, it was with stories that the small cook was able to get the large boy to stay away from the dark woods especially when his father wasn’t around to protect him. Unfortunately, such stories had never worked with the bolder and more logical oldest son. He ventured into those forests with confidence and disdain for stories of any dangers.
As a result perhaps of that, Hoss saw a disturbing sight one night. In the distance, there had been a light, fading in and out, in the trees far from the house. Drawn to his window to check out the full moon and curious to see if he could ever see one of those monsters emerge from the edge of the forest, he caught the image of a light in his peripheral vision. It was in that forest to the west, and he watched it wondering what it was. He didn’t think monsters would want any light where they were so it was a curious thing he couldn’t explain. Then he heard a window open, and by the sounds he heard, it was opened wide. Leaning forward, he saw his brother, Adam, slip out onto the porch roof and climb down the post at the end of that porch roof using the vines there like a natural ladder. Silent as a cougar, Hoss’ older brother crossed the yard heading directly toward the trees where that light was. In the dark clothing Adam often favored, he disappeared into the darkness.
Scared for his brother’s safety, Hoss watched for what seemed like hours until he saw his brother come back walking like he had worked all day. Of course, he had and now he had missed a lot of sleep too. So did Hoss. In the morning, both boys got a grilling from their father who was concerned first that they might be ill and then that they had snuck out together to do some mischief.
“No, Pa, I was in my room all night. I didn’t go nowhere.”
“Pa, I swear to you that I did not sneak out with Hoss to go do some mischief.”
Noting how his older brother had phrased that so as not to tell a lie but leaving out the important part of what he did do, Hoss kept silent. Their father settled on the admonition that they needed to try to get a good night’s sleep so they could work and not have an accident.
“Being tired can make someone careless. I don’t want either of you boys to get hurt because you haven’t had enough sleep.”
Despite that close call, several times, Hoss saw that light in the forest and each time he did, the same routine was followed. His brother Adam would sneak away from the house and risk being attacked by Chi Mei or another monster or demon. Staying awake and worrying or at least trying to stay awake but usually falling asleep in the chair by the window, Hoss would wait until his brother returned to the house. It was only then that Hoss could return to his bed and fall into a more restful sleep. Usually the next morning, Adam looked terrible with dark circles under his eyes. Their father would of course ask what was wrong, and Adam always had the same kind of answer.
“Oh, Pa, I had things on my mind, I guess, and didn’t sleep as much as I should have.”
“Well, tonight, you go up to bed earlier to get a good night’s sleep.”
“Yes, Pa, that’s a good idea.”
It was getting to be a routine, but it was not a healthy one. Whenever Hoss got a chance, he tried to ask Adam where he went at night, but Adam only got angry with him.
“Have you been spying on me? I don’t like anyone spying on me and watching my every move. I have my own life that is no one else’s business. I want you to keep your nose out of my life.”
“It’s only because I’m worried about you. There are monsters and demons in that forest.”
“Don’t worry about those fairy tales Hop Sing has been telling you. I can assure you that there are no monsters or demons where I’ve been going. It’s just the opposite.”
Hoss gave him the best advice he could give at his age.
“Adam, I don’t think you ought to go out to that light in the forest at night.”
“I told you to stop spying on me. What do you think is so bad about a walk out to the trees anyway?”
“You look terrible in the morning. It ain’t good for you.”
“It’s my decision where I go at night.”
“If it really was your decision, you wouldn’t go sneaking out your window at night. You should talk to Pa about this.”
“Pa treats me like a child. I can’t talk to him about this.”
“You should. What’s so important about going out there at night anyway, and what is that light?”
“You ask too many questions. Stop talking about it before you find out more than you want to know.”
That stopped Hoss because the answer was beyond any understanding he had. What he did know was that his brother was getting into some kind of trouble. He was sure of that, but he was no snitch. This was going to have to be settled by Adam and their father, but Hoss hoped it wouldn’t be too terrible when it happened.
The pattern of Adam sneaking out like that some nights went on for quite a few months until a woman showed up one day to talk to Ben. She was older than Adam by some but not as old as their Pa. When the carriage came into the yard, Hoss was outside chopping wood. First, she asked for Adam and their father. When only their father was available, she asked Hoss to show her inside. She had some of that paint on her face just like some of them ladies in town did that Pa said Hoss ought not to talk with. The paint on her face was why she and the others were called painted ladies. It was why the men in the bunkhouse said things about them and laughed. Hoss didn’t know why those things were funny any more than why she was there to talk with his father. He did see how worried Adam was when he got home from working and saw that carriage parked up by the house there. It wasn’t more than a few minutes after Adam got back and their Pa sent that lady away and none too politely either. He didn’t help her into her carriage like most men would help a lady. Instead, with his hands in fists on his hips, he was standing in the yard like he was gonna give her one of them necessary talks if she decided not to leave like he told her to. He spoke kind of harsh at her too.
“There’s no need for you to ever come back. If you do, you will be treated as any trespasser would be. I think I’ve made myself clear on that issue.”
She didn’t say anything, but she looked really mad staring at Adam like he had done something wrong. But she did drive away which was all their father wanted. Then he pointed at Adam.
“I need to talk with you.”
Ben Cartwright didn’t have that angry look he had sometimes when he said he’s got to talk with one of his boys. It was more of a worried one. The way he talked was almost gentle too not the roar that Hoss had expected. The two walked off for a time side by side like they were gonna talk over some business. Adam did have his head down, but their pa put a hand on his shoulder like he knew what was wrong. Hoss certainly didn’t. They didn’t come back until much later, and dinner had been ready for quite a while. Hop Sing didn’t seem upset though. That was strange too. It was like he figured that Adam and his father needed that time for some reason. He always seemed to know what was happening and what everyone in the family needed most. Nothing was said about the two not being on time for dinner. They sat down like it was normal, and Hop Sing started bringing out the food like everything was on schedule which it wasn’t. Even Little Joe seemed to sense that he ought to be quiet and not complain. Hop Sing had given him a cup of warmed milk and some cookies before dinner. That alone must have told him that this was serious business because he never got cookies before he ate his dinner.
That evening, Hoss saw the light in the forest again. Standing on the porch next to Hoss, Adam saw it too. He turned, and he walked back into the house without saying a word. Hoss watched, and Adam didn’t leave the house that night. The next night, pretty much the same thing happened. Hoss never saw that light again. A month later, Adam left for the east and college. Once after that, Hoss saw that lady in town when they were in to get supplies, and then he never saw her again. He figured she must have moved on. Lots of people did that looking for a better chance in life.
It took a couple of years, but Hoss finally got the courage to ask his father about that lady who showed up, why she was there, and what had happened. His father muttered something about ‘gold digger’ and then said nothing more about it except saying it was a closed chapter and only for Adam to explain if he ever wanted to do that. Well, Hoss knew Adam and figured that wasn’t likely to ever happen, but he did figure quite a bit of it out by himself as he got older and understood more things.
After Adam returned from college, Hoss asked him about it once when they were drinking and Adam had more than his usual to drink. Even then, Adam said nothing at first, and Hoss thought that even under the influence, he wouldn’t answer. Then Adam said what was a lot for him to admit to anyone, but it was enough for Hoss to understand what had happened.
“Hop Sing was right in what he told you. A man can be bewitched. I was bewitched, but it wasn’t magic. I learned that some people know how to get to your weaknesses and use them against you. I’ll never know if that baby she said she was carrying was mine because I know she was with a lot of other men. I hate thinking that it could be my child and be raised by her, but my life with her would have been hell. Pa taught me how to protect myself before I headed east on my own. He wanted me to be able to take care so nothing like that would happen again. He didn’t lecture. He talked to me man-to-man. It was something I had wanted for a long time. I had been fighting him on that issue for so long. That act of rebellion though was a poor way to try to be my own man. Hoss, I never want to talk about this whole mess ever again. All right?”
“All right, Adam. I understand.”
They never did talk about it again, but Hoss learned from it, all right. He learned to listen when wise folks told him things, and he told everyone else who would listen to good advice to do the same. He learned to trust his feelings about a situation too even though he called it his gut when he had those kinds of feelings. When something seems bad, it probably is.
Other Stories by this Author
- For Diane (by BettyHT)
- Changes In Plans (by BettyHT)
- Another Stranger In Town (by BettyHT)
- Hoss In Charge (by BettyHT)
- A Degree In Engineering Can Be Deadly (by BettyHT)