Summary: While a robbery is taking place in Virginia City, a diversion is set. Joe struggles to find help for his pa and brother who are being held hostage.
Rated: T (6,860 words)
The Sky is Falling
Why won’t they shut up? What are they hollering about anyway?
I wonder where I am. Virginia City, I think, but from what I can see through the black fog it certainly doesn’t look like Virginia City.
I want to sit up and see where I am, but I can only lift my head a little bit off the ground, just enough for me to see down the road. I’m lying in the middle of the street…I guess. I’m not sure how I got here. Why am I laying in the street?
Yeah, this definitely can’t be Virginia City. Virginia City doesn’t have crumbling black buildings and if this was Virginia City, the International House would be at the end of this road. The only thing I can see at the end of this road is a huge building that’s collapsing to the ground even as I watch.
Where’s Pa and my brothers? Why are these people still screaming? It sounds like they’re yelling the same word over and over again, but I can’t understand what it is over those damn bells! They won’t stop ringing! What are they saying?
And those bells aren’t in my head like I first thought. It’s the bell outside the fire house. I can see that the fog isn’t fog at all… its smoke and it’s choking me.
Things are clearer now. I can see that the sky isn’t falling at all, its ashes and they’re blowing over from the International House. The mercantile has smoke pouring out of the window and Mrs. Ashby’s dress shop is still ablaze. The blacksmith’s shop isn’t even standing anymore.
Here comes Mrs. Dorsey running down the street. She went to school with Adam and he’s still good friends with her husband, Daniel. She’s always telling me to call her Christy, but I never do. They just stopped by the house the other day to show Adam their new baby girl. I remember Hoss telling me that the baby was a real blessing, because just after the Dorsey’s came by the house, Daniel’s mother passed away.
Mrs. Dorsey has soot smeared across her face and her long dark hair is falling out of it’s neat bun. She is screaming and clutching a small bundle. She’s got it wrapped in her apron and she’s holding it really close to her body. Oh no. The baby. I fear the worst and I’m relieved when I hear a loud cry coming from the bundle. The baby’s crying isn’t nearly as loud as Mrs. Dorsey’s screaming though.
“He’s in there!” She screamed through her sobs. “Help! Please help! My Danny’s in there!”
She kept screaming that over and over. I tried to see what she was pointing at…the funeral home. That’s where Daniel was probably making arrangements for his mother.
Damn, I wish I could get up and help him. I keep trying to get up, but I can’t. Why can’t I move? I’ve got to get up and help him. Mrs. Dorsey’s screaming grows loader as suddenly the roof of the funeral home caves in. Mrs. Dorsey collapses to the ground sobbing into the bundle that she’s holding protectively in her arms.
Hoss was right. The baby is quite a blessing.
I’m looking around at the chaos that’s surrounding me. What’s happened? The entire East side of town is either burnt to the ground or blackened beyond recognition. In fact, it looks like the only places on C street that aren’t damaged are the Bucket of Blood saloon, and… oh, God…
The bank. I was at the bank with Pa and Hoss. Pa had some business to take care of while Hoss and I collected supplies. We got done pretty quickly though.
“Wanna grab a drink at the Silver Dollar?” I suggested. I saw my friend Sam Weston’s big dun horse tied to the hitching post outside the saloon.
“Naw, let’s just go to the bank and wait fer Pa.” Hoss replied. He was just in a hurry because Pa promised to take us to lunch at Miss Daisy’s. There’s nothing Hoss loves more than Miss Daisy’s peach cobbler and homemade ice cream, not that he’d ever tell Hop Sing.
I must have been pretty hungry too because I agreed and we headed over to the bank. Pa was still sitting in the outer office waiting to talk to Mark Fischer about a money transfer, so Hoss and I slid into the vacant seats next to him.
“Howdy, Pa.” Hoss greeted.
“Did you boys get all the errands taken care of?” Pa asked.
“Yes sir, and we got that rifle ordered for Adam’s birthday. Charlie said if he sends the order out today it should get here just in time,” I told him with a smile.
“Very good, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get it in time.”
“Hey Pa? Ya reckon this is gonna take much longer?” Hoss asked in that whiney voice he gets when he’s real hungry. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Pa knows Hoss’s tone as well. “Hoss, there will be plenty of time for lunch once we get all of our business taken care of.”
“I don’t think it’s lunch he’s worried about Pa, its dessert. He hasn’t stopped talking about Miss Daisy’s cobbler since we left the house this morning,” I explained.
“Well, I ain’t had any in right near a week!”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “A whole week Hoss? How on Earth have you managed to survive?”
He pinched me hard on the leg and I yelped.
“Boys, please!” Pa scolded us in a harsh whisper.
“Sorry Pa.” We said softly as we exchanged glares.
The door to Mark Fischer’s office finally opened and Mr. Fischer and another man came out. Mr. Fischer shook his hand and bid him good bye before turning to Pa and motioning him in. “I’m ready for you Ben. I do apologize about that wait.”
“Not at all, Mark,” Pa said, shaking his hand.
“Not to worry, Mr. Fischer, the only pressing issue is Hoss’ stomach,” I teased.
“Ya won’t think it’s so funny when I pass out from hunger and you have to get me back on ol’ Chubb.”
“Oh no, I’d just tie a rope from your boot to his saddle and let him drag you home.”
“We’ll try and make it quick so it doesn’t come to that,” Mr. Fischer said, chuckling at our antics.
“Come along boys, I’m sure Mark has better things to do than listen to you two bicker at each other.”
“We’ll just wait out here for ya, Pa.” Hoss said.
“Oh, no, you won’t. You could both use a lesson in running the business side of the Ponderosa.”
“See, Big Brother, I told you we should’ve waited at the saloon.” I jabbed Hoss in the ribs with my elbow.
Pa had always taken advantage of any opportunity he could find to teach Hoss and me the business side of the running of the ranch. This being one of those opportunities, we all crammed into the small office. It was hopeless; Hoss and I spent the whole meeting jabbing each other in the ribs and stepping on each other’s toes. Pa shot us more than glare, and that should’ve been warning enough, but we couldn’t seem to help ourselves. I only vaguely heard the front door to the bank slam open. Even closed off in Mr. Fischer’s secluded little office we could hear someone yelling.
“Fire! There’s a fire at the hotel!”
The small window in Mr. Fischer’s office door gave us a clear view into the rest of the bank; everyone was running outside to help put out the fire. Hoss and I nearly flipped our chairs over running to the door. I made it there first, just in time to see four masked men coming in the front door. They closed the shades on all the windows and two of them slid a heavy wooden desk in front of the door.
Hoss grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me away from the door. All four of us crawled behind Mr. Fischer’s fancy oak desk.
“Ben.” Mr. Fischer called in a very soft whisper. He was pointing to the tiny window around the side of the desk.
Pa shook his head. I knew Hoss and Mr. Fischer definitely couldn’t get through the window. Mr. Fischer wasn’t nearly as tall as my brother, but what he lacked in height he made up for in girth. I doubted Pa could either and I, maybe, could have squeezed through, but it would have been a tight fit, as it didn’t look like the window opened very far.
I motioned to Hoss who nodded back at me. It always amazes me how we can communicate without a word passing between us. We both crawled around the desk and crouched down behind the door and Hoss looked over his shoulder at Pa and Mr. Fischer, who were both unarmed and taking cover behind Mr. Fischer’s fancy oak desk. Then he nodded at me again and I brought my pistol up to the window and used the butt of my gun to bust it open.
That’s when the shooting started, bullets were flying past us. Everything happened so fast after that.
Hoss and I were holding our own against the four men on the other side of the door. Then I heard Hoss yelp and his gun clatter against the hard wood floor. I stopped shooting to make sure he was alright; maybe that was my first mistake.
“Hoss!” I called and I heard Pa call him also and he started to crawl towards us. Hoss was clutching his hand, but waved Pa back with his uninjured hand. It was just a graze. Thank God.
I must have been distracted just long enough for the robbers to get the upper hand. I turned away from Hoss and pointed my gun out the window. My head exploded with pain and the world went black.
When I woke up my head was throbbing horribly and I had to blink repeatedly to clear away the dark haze that threatened to take me back under. I tried to get my bearings again.
We were still in Mr. Fischer’s office, but the office door was open now and one of the masked men was leaning against the door jam. He wasn’t paying much attention to us, though he was busy twirling Hoss’ pistol around.
My head was resting against Pa’s leg. I could see blood on his pant leg and I worried that he might be injured. I raised my head to see where the blood was coming from, but the world started to spin out of control. The room was growing dark again and I dropped my head back down. Things started to get brighter when I heard Pa’s deep voice.
“Little Joe…Joseph, look at me, Boy!”
Pa’s voice was gentle, like it always was when one of us was hurt. Even the time we got the new bull and I decided to try and ride it. He was huge, the biggest bull I’ve ever seen! Hoss affectionately called him Ralph. Why Ralph? Who knows! Hoss just loves giving animals people names. Awful strange name for a bull if you ask me.
Mitch Devlin had just gotten back from Sacramento where he was visiting with his aunt and uncle. They had taken him to watch a real rodeo. We just have small ones in Virginia City, mostly roping and bronc busting, but Mitch said in Sacramento they rode bulls. So we had decided to give it a try on Ralph. What can I say? We were fourteen and just plain stupid, so of course, trying to outshine Hoss, I went first. I wasn’t doing too bad considering he was the meanest tempered animal I’d ever laid eyes on. The real trouble started in I tried to get off, I had my leg half way over his back and was ready to make a run for the corral fence the second my foot touched the ground, but the bull threw another bucking fit that sent me flying. On my way back down Ole Ralph’s horn went straight through and broke my leg. Pa used his gentle comforting voice that day too, however when I was back on my feet he gave me a tanning I’ll never forget.
“Joe, take it slow.” Pa said. “Your head is bleeding.”
“Shh, I’m right here.”
“A bullet grazed you. Now stay quiet.”
“He’s just fine, he’s right here.” Pa leaned back a bit so I could see Hoss. He looked okay, just a little blood on his hand and Mr. Fischer also seemed to be intact also.
Then I remembered the blood on Pa’s leg.
“Alright?” I asked.
I think it took him a minute to understand what I meant because he gave me a funny look. Then recognition crossed his face. He smile and replied, “I’m fine, Joseph. You’re the one bleeding.”
That’s when I realized how much my head really hurt and how jumbled my thoughts were. I reached my hand to the side of my head where it seemed like the pain was radiating from and I was surprised when my fingers met a warm, sticky substance. I jerked my hand back quickly only to find my fingertips coated in blood. Well, at least I knew for sure where it was coming from. I sighed deeply.
Despite the dizziness it caused, I sat up and leaned back against the desk. I was seated furthest from the door, next to Pa. On Pa’s other side was Hoss and next to Hoss was Mr. Fischer. Pa and Hoss were talking now, so quietly I couldn’t even hear them and I was sitting pretty close to Pa.
Hoss kept gesturing towards the window then to me. Pa shook his head in a way I knew all too well. Usually when Pa shook his head that way, with that stern look on his face it meant that he wasn’t going to budge and that the discussion was over. Hoss must be making a compelling argument because Pa stopped shaking his head and then looked over at the window. He looked at it for a long while, almost as if he was studying it. Now I realize he was measuring it in his head.
Then after staring at the window for what seemed like forever, Hoss nudged his arm to get his attention, but Pa held up his hand. He turned from the window and looked at me, studying me like he had done to the window. Hoss looked at me too and to be honest it was making me uneasy.
“What?” I asked, trying to keep my voice quiet.
Pa nodded and spoke just loud enough for both of us to hear. “You’re right Hoss…I think it will work.”
I looked back and forth between Pa and Hoss to see what kind of plan they had cooked up. I’ve trained Hoss well on the art of conniving and Pa may not look like it, but he could be pretty darn sneaky when he wants to be.
Neither one was providing me with any answers. Instead they were talking again in that quiet voice that I couldn’t hear. They stopped talking and both turned to look at me again. Then they looked at each other and back at me. I was getting irritated, my head was pounding and why wouldn’t they just tell me what was going on?! Hoss must have something planned, but what? And why we’re they looking at me like that?
“How ya feelin’ Joe?” Hoss asked. He spoke so casually like we were at home playing chess in front of the fire, not caught up in the middle of a bank robbery and being held hostage by four armed criminals.
“Fine,” I growled in a low voice.
“Do you feel dizzy at all? Sick? You were out for quite a while, Young Man.” Pa said.
Dizzy, yes. Sick, well besides the bile I’d been swallowing back ever since I woke up, I was sick of Pa and Hoss beating around the bush!
“I told you I’m fine,” I repeated. Pa took a firm hold of my chin and turned my head so he could look at the gash.
“It’s pretty deep.” He muttered. I didn’t know if he was talking to me or Hoss. As he got a closer look and poked around a bit, he mumbled something about ‘luck’ and ‘close calls’ that I didn’t quite catch.
“We can’t let these guys get away with it. Do you think he can do it Pa?” Hoss asked impatiently.
“Do what?” I demanded. I guess I forgot to watch my volume, because Pa and Hoss shushed me immediately. I couldn’t help it. Nothing annoys me more than people talking about me like I’m not sitting right there.
After making sure we hadn’t gained the attention of the guard posted at the door, Pa turned to me.
“Little Joe, I think we’ve got a plan.”
The plan? The plan was awful!
I knew we didn’t really have any other options, but it was risky. Hoss was right though, we couldn’t just let these low down crooks run off with people’s hard earned money. They would, too. They would get away with it if we didn’t stop them.
They probably would have been on their way out of town already if we hadn’t gotten in their way. They obviously hadn’t planned on dealing with hostages or interferences of any kind. They couldn’t just leave us; after all, we’d seen their faces. However, it looked to me like they weren’t eager to add murder to their list of offenses.
If Hoss was right about them setting the International House on fire, our time was limited. The hotel may be on the far end of town, but from the overwhelming smell of smoke in the air and the distant sound of screaming, one could wager that the fire was not only still going, but spreading as well.
The men were at the door of the office, huddled in a circle. One was a dark haired man with a mustache, he appeared to be the leader. Next was a tall lanky guy who seemed a little too excited about the whole situation and he was stroking the trigger of his gun in an alarming fashion, like nothing seemed more appealing to him than blowing our brains all over the walls of the small office. Then there was the guy who had been guarding the door, he only looked a little older than me. He had blonde hair and the beginnings of a braid. He seemed the most frightening to me because he was so calm, eerily so. The last man was short, rotund and all but having a panic attack. He was pacing around nervously and sweating so badly I could see it from where I was at the far end of the office.
“You said this would be real easy, Pete. In and out–that’s what you said. We set that fire so no one was supposed to be here! You said–”
“I know what I said, Hank!” The man with the mustache, Pete, snapped.
“I can’t hang, Pete. I can’t hang!”
“Shut up, ya yella belly!” The lanky, trigger happy guy yelled. He backhanded Hank hard enough to make him stumble back against the wall, which Hank slid down until his rear end found the floor.
“I can’t hang.” He continued to mutter under his breath as he shook his head.
“He’s right ya know.” The young blonde one said. He didn’t even bother to look up, instead he was picking at his fingernails with a knife he’d pulled out of his boot. “Jail sure ain’t the same as gettin’ your neck stretched.”
“You chickening out too Will?” The lanky man asked tauntingly.
“No, just sayin’. I don’t care what you do to ’em, long as I get my money.” Will pushed himself away from the door jamb he’d been leaning against and pointed his knife at the lanky guy. “And why don’t y’all just yell our names to the heavens, Eddy. Hell, write it down for ’em that way they’ll know just what to print the wanted posters.”
Once Will was finished with his little outburst he went right back to picking at his nails.
“Hank you keep an eye on them, we’re gonna figure what we’re gonna do with ’em.” Pete said. He and the other two men left Hank with us, who was now back on his feet, but didn’t look any calmer.
“Listen up, Little Brother.” Hoss said leaning over Pa so we could hear each other. “Mr. Fischer says he’s got a gun in the top left drawer of this desk. Pa and me are gonna get that guy’s attention and Mr. Fischer’s gonna make a move for the gun.”
“Yeah and what am I gonna do?” I asked.
“Well Little Joe, Pa and me, we reckon you’re just small enough to fit through that window right there, so when we’re distracting the guard you’re gonna squeeze through that window and get the sheriff.”
“And where do you suppose I’m gonna find the sheriff? I don’t know if you heard, but half the town is on fire! You think Roy Coffee’s just sitting at his desk, drinking coffee and waiting for the next crisis?”
“You got any better ideas?”
I tried to think of something, anything that didn’t involve me having to leave Pa and Hoss with a bunch of desperate bank robbers. Reluctantly I shook my head.
I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder and knew it had to belong to Pa. “Joe it’s the only chance we’ve got. Don’t worry about us. You just go find some help, alright?” He asked. He forced me to look him in the eye. “Joe.” He repeated my name again when I didn’t reply right away.
“Yes sir, I will.” I could feel the tears welling in my eyes and willed them away, now was not the time for this. Pa and Hoss and even Mr. Fischer were counting on me and all I wanted was to hide my face in Pa’s leather vest like I was a kid again.
Pa pulled me closer to him, rubbing my neck the way he always did when I was riled up. “Everything is going to be alright Joseph. Just concentrate on getting through that window was fast as you can and finding some help.” He pulled my head to his chest and held me tightly for a moment. “And whatever happens here, it’s not your fault.”
The lump in my throat threatened to take over as Pa let go of me. I swallowed it down the best I could and squeezed my eyes closed until the tears disappeared and I got my emotions under control. I found myself wishing I was calm, cool and collected like my brother Adam. He would never let his emotions get in the way of what had to be done, not like me. I’m nineteen years old and afraid to open my mouth because if I do I’ll undoubtedly burst in to tears. Get it together, Joe! Speaking of Adam, I hoped he was safe.
I just waited for the signal from Hoss. I was glad that Hank had taken Will’s place as our guard. I didn’t think Will would have thought twice about shooting one of us, but Hank was so shaky and nervous that he was bound to make a mistake or freeze all together.
Hoss’ nod was about as subtle as an elephant in the room. He and Pa stood up and started shoving each other and shouting at one another. Mr. Fischer tried to stay low as he hurried to the other side of the desk. Pa shoved Hoss into Hank knocking him off his feet, that’s when remembered my job and started moving toward the window. I was about to crawl through the window when I saw the other three men running into the room.
I saw Will shove Hank out of the way with a stone cold “Move.” He raised his gun. It was aimed at Mr. Fischer, who now had the gun in his hand.
“No!” I cried before I could help myself. I lunged to try and tackle Mr. Fischer out of the way of the bullet, but I was too late. I dove for the gun instead, which had fallen on the desk. I slid across the desk landing less than gracefully on the other side, the chair bouncing off my ribcage and back against the wall. I looked around to try and figure out where everyone was. Hoss was wrestling with Will for the gun and Eddy was lost somewhere in their scuffle. Pa and Pete were on the ground exchanging blows and Hank was on still on the floor, utterly shocked at what was happening.
Hank seemed to regain his senses and raised his gun which he’d somehow managed to keep ahold of throughout the whole exchange. He was aiming at Hoss who had Eddy on the ground. I just wanted to graze him, I swear, but he took a step towards me and the bullet hit him right in the chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.
“Joe!” I heard Pa yell, “Go!” My job! I forgot about my job! I carefully slid the gun across the floor to Pa and I ran to the window. I started to crawl through, when I heard gunfire behind me. I turned around just in time to meet eyes with Will. “Joe, hurry!” Pa yelled louder this time.
I saw Will struggle out of Hoss’ grip and run towards me. I could barely squeeze through the window, but when my feet touched the ground on the other side, I started running.
“NOOOO!!!!” I heard Pa yell. That was the last thing I heard before pain exploded in my back and the world went black.
Now here I am in the middle of the road. The sky isn’t falling, Virginia City is burning to the ground, and I can’t move.
I look back at the bank and can’t see anything, not Pa or Hoss or any of the gunmen. My back is wet like I’m lying in a puddle and it hurts. God it hurts, but that’s not important. I have to get to my feet and find help. I am able to roll on to my stomach, but I tried to push myself on to my hands and knees, my body refuses to cooperate.
I want to rip my hair out. Pa and Hoss are counting on me and I can’t move. I can’t lay here and do nothing! I have to get up! Finally, I managed to get to my hands and knees. I’m pretty close to a hitching post; maybe I can use that to pull myself up. It was exhausting crawling to the post, but I made it.
I’m grabbing the post and using it to drag myself to my feet. The pain in my back is getting harder and harder to ignore. I am keeping a firm hold on the post as I look around for someone who can help me.
I can see now that most of the men are on the other side of town fighting the fire. I am still relatively close to the bank so the other side of town seems like a million miles away. On this side of town women, children and the elderly are more or less watching the men as they put out the fire and I can hear them screaming for loved ones.
I feel really light headed, who needed help again? Gosh standing up is an awful lot of work, maybe I’ll just sit down for a while and then I’ll remember what I was doing.
Hmmm that’s weird I thought I heard…
“Hey Joe, you alright Pal?”
I opened my eyes, I don’t remember closing them. Sam Weston? What’s Sam doing here? What am I doing here? I’m on the ground leaning against this hitching post–Pa! Pa and Hoss, Sam can help me.
“My Pa…” Damn why was it so hard to talk? To think?
“What’s that Little Joe? You don’t look so good, did ya breathe some of that smoke?”
I grabbed his shirt as tightly as I could. “The bank…”
“Your head’s bleeding Joe, let me help you over to Doc’s. You’ll probably have to wait awhile though, lots of people got hurt in the fire, but–”
No, listen Sam, why aren’t you listening? “My pa and Hoss…the bank, help.”
“Don’t you worry Joe, the bank is fine, the fire didn’t even touch it. I’m sure your Pa and Hoss are out helping with the fire. It’s almost out, ya know.”
“No! The bank…robbers…fire…my pa…” Tears of frustration were threatening to fall. Why can’t he understand me?
“Robbers? Joe you ain’t makin’ a lick of sense, there ain’t no robbers, it’s a fire and they just about got it put out now. I really think you need the Doc.”
“No, listen!” If I had the strength I would shake him.
“Oh! Sit tight Joe. I see Adam.”
Oh, thank God! Adam would know what to do.
Adam was kneeling beside me now with Sam. How did they get here so fast?
“Joe, you alright Kid?” Adam asked. He was trying to look at the wound in my head, but I swatted his hand away.
“Where’s Pa and Hoss?” Adam asked.
“Joe slow down. You’re not making sense.”
I know! I know I’m not making sense. Concentrate, damn it! “Robbers, bank. Pa and Hoss…”
“There’s robbers in the bank?” Adam asked.
I nodded. “Pa and Hoss!”
“Are they in the bank Joe? Oh, God. They’re hostages.”
“How many are there?”
I’m trying to think. I’m getting a little dizzy. Adam shook my shoulder a little. I must not have said anything.
Three, I think. There were four, but I think I killed one… yeah Hank, guess he won’t have to worry about hanging anymore and–
“Joe, focus boy! How many?”
“Okay, is it just Pa and Hoss in there?”
“Mr. Fischer, the teller? He’s in there too, Joe?”
Well, yes, but…”Dead.”
“Okay.” Adam turned to Sam. I could see Adam’s mouth moving, but I couldn’t understand the words. Sam nodded and ran off to the crowd of people at the other end of town.
Adam turned back to me and patted my shoulder. I want to tell him not to, my back still hurt. It hurt a lot actually. It’s hard to think about anything else now. Adam’s talking to me, but I can’t respond. He shakes me and pats my face.
The world is getting dark around the edges again. The relief that help had finally arrived is overwhelming. I slump against Adam.
“Oh God!” I hear Adam gasp before the world goes dark and the pain in my back began to fade.
Pa and Hoss are in the bank with those robbers, I couldn’t get to them. Adam’s there too, trapped inside the bank. I don’t know how he got in there. I’m outside on the other side of town and I’m running to the bank. All the buildings around me are on fire except the bank. I see that tiny little window and I can see in, but I’m still so far away.
Pa, Adam and Hoss are tied up in the office and one of the gunmen, who I recognize as Will, is pouring the kerosene out of all the lamps in the office and spreading it on to the floor.
I’m running and yelling the names of my Pa and brothers, but as I get closer to the bank the window keeps getting smaller and smaller. Finally I make it to the bank and the window isn’t a window anymore; it’s more of peep hole, just big enough for me to see through.
I put my eye to the hole and Will looks at me and smiles, then he strikes the match and drops it in to the puddle of kerosene surrounding my Pa and brothers.
I woke up in a place I know all too well, Doc Martin’s office. I’m a bit surprised that it’s still standing. The only things I remember are those terrible dreams. At least I hope they were dreams, they seem so real. Adam is by my side. He’s asleep with a book in his lap and his forehead resting against his fist. He looks like he’s been there for a while.
Where are Pa and Hoss? I don’t even want to let my mind wander. I hate to wake Adam, he looks exhausted, with a couple days’ worth of stubble on his chin. I wonder how long it’s been. Forget it. It’s not important. Right now I need to know about Pa and Hoss.
“Adam.” My voice is so soft I couldn’t even hear it. I try to move hand, not only did that send a shooting pain through my back, but despite my efforts my hand only moves about an inch. I can’t hold back a sharp gasp the pain caused and that is enough to stir Adam.
Adam looks around, to find what woke him and finally looks at me.
“Joe? About time you woke up.” Adam said. He feels my forehead and nodded in satisfaction. “How do you feel?”
“Pa?” I croaked. My throat is so dry, but Adam seems to understand and grabs a glass of water that is conveniently placed on the bed side table. He helps me lift my head so I can drink and I’m glad he did because I don’t think I could have done it by myself. “Pa? Hoss?” I ask again more loudly this time.
“They’re just fine Little Joe, a little worse for wear, but thanks to you, they’ll be fine.” Adam stood up and stretched. “Sit tight, I’m going to find Doc Martin. He’ll want to know you’re awake. Will you be alright for a minute?”
The door opens before he makes it half way across the room and Doc Martin comes in. He looks from Adam to me and smiles.
“I thought I heard someone talking.” He said. “Good to see you awake young man. You’ve had us worried.”
“How long?” I wonder. Hoping they’d know what I meant. Why is talking so tiring?
“You’ve been here four days now.” Doc said.
Four days?! What have I missed in four days? There are so many things I wanted to ask, about Pa and Hoss, the robbers, the fire, and what happened after I passed out four days ago?
“Pa? Hoss?” I asked again. I know I am kicking a dead horse, but I need to make sure. The only thing I really remember before waking up are those awful dreams.
“They’re fine.” Doc Martin assured me. “They’re just getting some sleep Joe.” He turns to Adam.
“Why don’t you go wake your Pa? He’ll want to hear the news and I need to check this boy over.”
As Adam left the room, Doc looks me over and changes my bandages. He explains that I had taken a bullet to the back and that, since he couldn’t take it out right away due to the amount of casualties from the fire, it had gotten infected. He didn’t go in to detail, but he made it sound serious. Other than that I had some stitches in my head.
“It was touch and go. You really had us worried and you’re going to have to take it easy for quite a while.” He said.
He keeps telling me that Pa and Hoss are fine, just bruised. I’m not going to believe it until I see it with my own eyes. I know better than anyone the lies that people will tell you while you’re ill.
My back hurts, bad, and I am so tired it was getting hard to keep my eyes open. Doc Martin wants me to take some laudanum, but I refuse. Not until I see that Hoss and Pa are alright.
I am holding my breath as the door opens. I try to raise myself up on my elbows so I can see better. It is hard to see since the light in the room is coming from the lamp on the table by my bed. Doc Martin put his hand on my chest so I can’t move.
A sigh of relief burst forth when all their faces come into view. Pa has a large bruise on his cheek and Hoss’ hand is bandaged and he has a split lip. Pa hurries to me and sits on the side of my bed. He puts his hand on my forehead just like Doc and Adam had done earlier, then he strokes my hair, careful not to disturb the bandage that’s there.
Hoss pats my hand. “Hey, Sleepin’ Beauty. Glad to see ya awake.”
“Hey, Hoss.” My voice is soft again. Talking is a lot of work.
“How do you feel, young man?”
“I…I’m sorry Pa,” I blurt out.
“Sorry?” He asked.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get help sooner and I–”
“Joseph, you have nothing to be sorry for. In fact, Hoss and I both owe you a thank you. We never would have gotten out of that mess alive if it hadn’t been for you.”
I find that hard to believe. “It’s true, Little Brother.” Hoss said.
“I’m the one who should be sorry.” I don’t know why Pa is sorry. He pauses. He’s staring at the ground. He has a strange look in his eyes, haunted and guilty, but he shakes his head as if expelling the awful thoughts. “You could have been killed, Joseph.”
“Not your fault, Pa.” I told him. He smiles at me and takes my hand. “Pa? What happened to the robbers?”
“Well, Adam and Sam Weston showed up with about a dozen men. Those robbers didn’t stand a chance.” Hoss said.
“Did you get ’em all, Adam?” I asked.
Adam looks from Pa to Hoss. “We got two of them. The last guy disappeared. I don’t know how he got away. We had the place surrounded, but the posse has been out looking for him.”
“Which guy?” I already know the answer, but I have to ask.
Hoss replied. “That young blonde fella. I think his name was–”
“Will.” I want to throw up.
Doc Martin makes his presence known. “Okay, I think it’s time this young man takes some medicine and gets some rest. That’s enough talking for now.”
The doc forces me to take the laudanum and I know I’m making a funny face at the awful taste. The medicine may ease the pain, but mostly makes me feel warm. Maybe it’s knowing that my pa and brothers are okay that makes me feel warm? Either way, they are at my side and that makes me feel safe and secure.
“Just my luck that half the city is burnt down and Doc’s office made it through without a single scratch.” I slurred.
Pa continues to hold my hand and my brothers stay close also. I lay back against the pillows and close my eyes and as I drift off to sleep I hear my brothers laugh. My family is safe. All is right in the world.
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