Summary: This was written in answer to the Chaps and Spurs challenge. I really don’t know why the words led me to this. I guess it could have to do with the holiday coming up.
Rated: K+ WC 2650
Adam again reined in Sport, his worry and agitation growing. “Come on we’ve been traveling across this mountain of slate for hours now.”
The man who was in the lead turned back and faced his prey. “Come on Cartwright, surely you’ve got a stronger constitution than that.”
“Maybe I do but I’m beginning to fear you’re leading me on some wild goose chase.”
“I may be but patience is a lesson we must all learn.”
“Listen are you going to take me to my brother or not?!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get there.” He’d never known a man so anxious to get to his own perdition.
Finally they arrived at a small but lively camp. Joe barely saw the men ride up and if not for the fact that one of the men he’d been sitting with drew his attention to them he might not have even looked up. “Hey Adam! What you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?! What are you doing here?!
“Just being friendly.”
“How? By losing everything you have to them at poker?”
Joe may love his oldest brother but he hated his condescending attitude. “So I’m on a losing streak right now. I’ll win it back. I’ve done it before.”
Something about this place was just rubbing Adam the wrong way. “Joe why don’t you quit while you’re ahead.”
“But I’m not ahead.”
“You’re still breathing aren’t you?”
“Adam I don’t think they’d kill me for losing.”
“No but I might, and once pa finds out he might as well, so for your own good mount up and lets get on home.”
“Come on, let the kid stay.”
“Listen I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Stan Tirich.”
“Alright Stan. Why should I let the kid stay? Is it because he still has five dollars left to lose?”
“Adam I only got three.”
“You’re not helping your case any Joe.”
“I got an idea. Why don’t you play for it?”
Adam didn’t like this man. Something about his eyes made Adam feel sick to his stomach. “What?”
“One hand. You win he goes with you no trouble. He wins you both stay and play.”
“Hey that’s a good idea Adam.”
Why couldn’t his brother see the danger in this man’s smile? “NO. Come on Joe.”
“Ah come on Adam.”
The longer they were in this camp the more uneasy Adam was becoming. Why did it seem as if the people surrounding them had doubled since he’d arrived? Where could they have come from? The only way into the camp was the way Adam and Stan had come in and no one had ridden in that way because Adam had kept one eye on the only path of escape. “May I please speak with my brother?” Adam wasn’t sure why he was asking permission, it just seemed like the best thing to do.
Stan smiled. This man could remain civil no mater what. “Sure. Go ahead.”
Adam hurriedly pulled Joe aside and even though he was talking as quietly as his anger and fear would allow him he felt no mater how far away they stood or how quietly they spoke Stan would still hear what was being said. “Come on Joe, lets just go.”
“But Adam it’s just one hand. What are you afraid you’ll lose?”
“Joe I don’t like it here. There’s something just not right.”
“You’re starting to sound like Hop-Sing.”
“Fine. Now lets go.”
“Adam, come on. I know I’ve gotta’ win soon. I’ve never gone broke, sure I’ve been down to a dollar or two but I always seem to win back enough to keep me in the game. Besides if I can’t beat you I may as well give up, but once I do beat you it’ll break my losing streak. Don’t ya’ see?”
“Joe please lets go. This place is really bothering me, and that Stan…I just don’t know but there’s something about him I don’t trust.”
“You’re acting like an old woman Adam.”
“Fine I’m an old woman. Lets get on home and you can tell pa and Hoss that.”
“Yes Joe I’m serious.”
Joe knew for his brother to be so willing to accept the ribbing he knew would follow he was really distressed by something. “Okay, lets go.”
Adam let out a sigh of relief and headed for his horse. He turned around to ask Joe where Cochise was tied up but noticed his brother seemed to have been distracted by something. “JOE!”
Stan seemed to appear out of nowhere at Adam’s side. “He’s already mine, but you are free to leave.”
Adam knew he had a name but for some reason it didn’t seem to ring true anymore, if it ever had. “Who are you?”
“You know, even if you don’t want to believe it. I promise you if you leave by the time you’ve ridden a mile you’ll convince yourself you had to be wrong because it’s just not possible. I swear the only time it will seem believable is in your dreams.”
“I’m leaving and I’m taking my brother with me.” It was the first time Adam sounded demanding since meeting up with Stan.
“You know the only way that’s going to happen is to play him.”
Although Stan expected him to run to his horse and ride out at break neck speed as so many men before him had when given the choice between saving themselves or someone they loved, but Adam turned and headed back into camp without a moments hesitation. That’s when Stan began to worry that this might not go quite as he had planned.
Stan ran after Adam and caught up with him hoping again to scare him into running. “You do know what this could cost you?”
For the first time Adam felt he was gaining the edge. There was a slight change in Stan’s demeanor. He’d gone from sounding so certain he’d get what he wanted to sounding not quite so sure that things would go his way. “I know what leaving here without him will cost me.”
“I suppose your father would be upset. So you fear him more then you do me?”
“This has nothing to do with my father. JOE, come on we have a game to play.”
Joe didn’t know what had brought about this change in Adam. Only seconds ago he was all fired ready to leave. “Hey that’s great! Come on everyone, come and watch me beat my big brother.”
Brother sat facing brother as the crowd gathered around them. Adam glanced only once at the faces in that crowd and swore he saw familiar faces. He only took that one glance because he knew they were faces he couldn’t be seeing, ones he didn’t want to see again.
The cards had been dealt and the bets placed. Joe again looked at the cards before him. Had there ever been a more beautiful hand? Joe looked at his brother and smiled. There were few things Joe felt he could beat Adam at but poker was one of them, but even at that he couldn’t always win.
Joe kept looking at his brother and he felt his smile slowly fade to be replaced by a feeling of guilt. As he studied his brother’s face he could see in it a man who’d sacrificed a lot. Joe knew he was the reason for some of those sacrifices. Sure he and Adam butted heads a lot but that didn’t mean they didn’t love each other. He knew even in the most heated battles that had taken place between them the brotherly love they shared always won out in the end. Joe thought would it be so terrible to let him win just this once? It seemed so important to Adam that they leave and if he let him win they could do so without any trouble. For some reason Joe believed if he beat Adam there would be nothing but trouble if they tried to leave. So he decided he’d let his brother win. He’d know he’d let him wouldn’t he? And he was sure some day he’d be sure to let Adam know it as well.
Adam had been watching his brother’s face and he knew he was beat. Sure the kid had a good enough poker face with strangers but Adam could always easily read his youngest brother. No sense in delaying it any longer. “Joe are you playing or not?”
Joe gave is brother one last smile. “I fold.”
Adam couldn’t believe his ears. “What?”
“I said I fold big brother. You going deaf?”
Stan couldn’t believe his ears either. “FOLD!? You can’t fold!”
Adam felt a relief wash over him. “You never said he couldn’t.”
“But he’s got you beat!”
“And how would you know that Stan? Have you been cheating him? Have you cheated everyone else that’s here as well?”
“Just look around Cartwright. You know they all belong here.”
“But we don’t. Come on Joe.”
Suddenly Joe was as anxious to leave as Adam. When he had first saw the fire and rode into this camp he’d seen nothing but friendly faces. Now when he looked around he could only see desperate ones. He only saw people who wanted to hold him and keep him here, perhaps as some reminder as to what life was like. Kind of like a man who has been locked away will strain for the slightest glimpse of the sun and sky or any other reminder of freedom.
Adam and Joe mounted up and left camp.
“Did you really think you’d get a Cartwright?”
Stan looked at the man who dared to question him but he was too tired to do anything but admit defeat. “It was worth the try. I almost had the little one. I would have too if he other one hadn’t come looking for him.”
“Didn’t you make a try of him once? You failed there too didn’t you?”
“Next time I’ll get the middle one. I won’t leave any room for failure.”
“Oh you’ll fail because you can be sure they will come looking for him. See they got something most of us never had. Something that keeps them together even when they are miles apart. Something that helps them to find each other no matter how lost they become. I believe it’s called family.”
Joe couldn’t take the silence any longer. “Adam.”
“I know Joe you let me win.”
Someday Joe would have to ask Adam what gave him away. “Well yeah but I think if I had won we would have both lost.”
“Yeah I got that feeling too.”
Again a silence fell as brothers rode side by side. They weren’t riding particularly fast because as Stan had said the ominous feeling the camp had evoked in Adam was fading with every hoof beat until the camp was just a camp filled with people. They were people who would haunt both brothers for some time, at least in their dreams.
“Adam why didn’t you go?”
“I know Stan gave you the chance to leave.”
“You wanted me to leave without you? Pa would have had my hide.”
“Yeah I guess so.”
Joe sounded so forlorn that that would be the only reason for his brother’s refusal to leave without him and, for some reason, right now that bothered Adam. “Joe, you’re my brother and I’d suffer anything, go anywhere I had to, to bring you home safe.”
“Yeah but why Adam?”
“Joe are you saying you wouldn’t do the same for me?”
“Of course I would.”
“I guess…well…well because pa would have my hide if I didn’t.”
“Exactly little brother.”
Ben heard the horses ride up and all the worry he had been feeling was quickly turned to anger by his relief in finding out that they were alright. “So you two finally made it home.”
“Sorry Joseph? Do you know how worried your brother and I have been?”
“Pa it’s late. Can we please talk about this tomorrow?”
“You’re right Adam, it is late, it is very late and…”
Hoss had often said that Joe and Adam were more alike then either would admit but one look at the expressions on their faces would make it tough for even them to argue it wasn’t true. Hoss couldn’t put a name to it exactly but it was an odd one. “Pa I think we all need some rest. If we try to talk about it now we may all say things we might regret later.”
“I guess you’re right Hoss. Let’s all get to bed.”
Everyone quickly fell asleep but there were two who didn’t stay that way for long.
Joe quietly crept downstairs. For some reason he wanted to get a fire going. It would shed more light then the lamp. He saw that someone had beaten him to it though. “Adam? What you doin’ up?”
“Same thing you are.”
“You mean you kept dreamin’ bout those people too and how they all reminded you of someone else?”
“Yeah someone who had no right to be there. At least not above ground any way.”
“You got that feeling too did you?”
“Yeah.” Joe was a little shaken by Adam’s willingness to admit something that made no sense might be true. “Adam did you ever meet Stan before? He sure seemed to know you.”
“Joe I know this is going foolish because he didn’t look like him or talk like him but, those eyes, I’ll never forget those eyes.”
“They were Kane’s. I guess that’s fitting though because if I were to consider anyone the devil it would be him.”
“Sure. He said his name was Stan Tirich right?
“Well yeah but what has that got to do with the devil?”
“I’ve been sitting here trying to keep my mind occupied and I’ve stumbled across something. If you rearrange the letters in Stan Tirich you can make them spell Anti-Christ.”
“Aw come on Adam you don’t really believe…”
“Maybe not but some things are just easier to believe at night.”
Joe and Adam sat and watched the fire. They both dozed off and when they woke up they both realized dawn would be upon them soon.
“Come on little brother. It won’t bode well for us if pa finds us sleeping huddled together like two frightened rabbits.”
Joe went to follow after his brother still haunted by what Adam had been implying last night. Maybe it was because the sun hadn’t yet begun it ascent in the east.
“Adam you don’t really believe that…well that…come on Adam the devil? I mean you’re only saying that to scare me. You figure if I even half believe it’ll keep me in line right?”
As the sun began to lighten the sky their moods lightened as well.
“Maybe Joe. The way I see it the devil will get you soon enough.”
“Oh and I suppose you’re some kind of a saint.”
“No but with you as a brother I’m being put through my hell right here on earth.”
They had finally reached the top of the staircase and Adam turned to go to his room and Joe to his.
“Good night Joe.”
Just before he entered his bedroom Adam had one more observation to make. “Joe you will have to admit one thing. That campfire did burn hotter then any you’ve ever felt.”
Joe stared at his brother’s closed door and as he reached for his door knob he thought to himself, it sure did.
Other Stories by this Author
- This Won’t Work (by Storm)
- Memories (by Storm)
- The First Thanksgiving (by Storm)
- Love Lost, Destiny Found (by Storm)
- The Magic Of Christmas (by Storm)