Summary: Strange things are afoot on the Ponderosa in these three after-dark vignettes.
Word Count: 1063
A Midsummer Nightmare
‘Twas the night before sometime
A few weeks ago
The Cartwrights were sleeping
At least Ben, Hoss and Joe
Poor Adam was tossing
And turning in bed
While visions of Laura
Whirled in his head
She was whining and moaning
She was all in a snit
She was nagging and droning
And pitching a fit
“Don’t you love my new dress
And my big eyes of blue?
Adam, don’t go to sleep
While I’m talking to you!
I don’t care if you’re tired
Or how hard you’ve been working
It’s your duty to compliment me —
And you’re shirking!
(While we’re on the subject…)
The shutters need painting
The fences need mending
Peggy wants a new pony
And the garden needs tending
Someone’s at the door —
Oh look, it’s Aunt Lil!
She’ll be staying six months
What’s wrong, are you ill?
(Well, I feel another one of my headaches coming on…)
I’d like some more tea
Would you get me a cup?
Blah, blah, blah…are you listening?
Adam Cartwright! Wake up!”
He woke up in a sweat
His eyes wide with fright…
‘Twas a dream. “Praise the Lord…
She’s NOT Mrs. Cartwright!”
Saddle weary and bone tired, Hoss Cartwright tethered his horse outside the line shack. He’d been working since dawn rounding up strays and repairing the fence line on the eastern border of the Ponderosa and felt as though he could sleep for a week. It didn’t matter where; he could sleep on the ground if had to. But the bunk sounded mighty fine.
There was a can of beans in his saddlebag, but for one of the few times in his life he was too tired even to eat. Sleep was the only thing on his mind. He stopped at the door of the shack, pausing long enough to yawn and stretch, when a noise reached his ears. Someone was inside.
His fingers curled around the butt of his gun, but he didn’t have time to draw it before the door flew open.
“Well, are ya comin’ in or ain’t ya? I got supper all ready.”
Hoss let out an exasperated breath. “Obie, what in the world are you doin’ here?”
The old man smiled. “Me and Walter decided to pay you a little visit,” he drawled. “It wuz his idea, actually. He said he knew you’d be comin’ this way, even figgered when you’d be here.”
Hoss raised his eyebrows. “Walter figgered that?”
“Yeah, ain’t he a caution?” Obie gazed fondly at the dog. “Just look how glad he is to see ya.”
Walter lay sprawled on the bunk, eyes half-closed, limp as a rag doll. Hoss frowned. “Listen, Obie, it’s not like I ain’t glad to see you, but I gotta be honest. I gotta get some sleep!”
“Well, the way I figger it, a man’s gotta eat.” Obie dished out a heaping plate of beans and set it on the table. “Me and Walter fixed your favorite, just the way you like ‘em.”
Hoss swallowed hard, beads of perspiration forming on his forehead at the spicy memory. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Aw, it weren’t no trouble at all.” Obie sat down across from Hoss. “When you’re done eatin’ I’ll set up the checkerboard. Walter said he’ll play the winner.”
“I didn’t know Walter played checkers,” said Hoss skeptically. “How come he didn’t play with us last time?”
“Aw, he didn’t want to embarrass ya, you bein’ company and all.” Obie hooked his thumbs in his suspenders and leaned back in his chair, puffing on his pipe. “Truth is, checkers is his favorite game. See how excited he is? He can’t hardly wait.”
Hoss studied Walter, whose only movement was to close his eyes completely. He shook his head before turning back to Obie. “Is he any good?”
Obie nodded. “Beats me two outta three,” he chuckled. “Ain’t he a caution?”
Hoss sighed. He knew he was no match for Obie and Walter in checkers or anything else. “How ‘bout pourin’ me some of that scaldin’ hot coffee of yours? I figger I’m gonna need it.”
Yep. It was gonna be a long night.
The Haunting of Joe Cartwright
Darkness falls, as silent as a stone. The stars burn bright and cold; there is no warmth in the moon’s silver glow. My breath hangs in the air like an eerie apparition. How fitting. It is indeed a night for ghosts, for even in my solitude I know I am not alone.
Many things can haunt a man, mistakes for things he has done, regrets for things left undone, but nothing like a woman and love gone awry. She is with me always, wherever I go, waking or sleeping; wherever I turn, I see her face, her eyes, her lips, her smile. Her arms reach for me, teasing, beckoning, pleading with me to come away and forget all and everyone I knew before her. It almost happened. Somewhere in time, enchantment became obsession and then right became wrong, so very wrong.
There were those who saw what I could not, but their warnings fell on deaf ears. The spell of her kiss was strong and I an eager and willing subject, and so I happily offered myself as a sacrifice on her moonlit rock of love. A wolf howled in the distance, and that’s when things got a little hazy. I woke up later in a cold sweat on a pile of chicken feathers after dreaming I was kissing a fish. I’ve been a red meat man ever since.
I also earned a valuable lesson that night. Never trust a schizophrenic gypsy woman, no matter how oddly attractive she is. She almost got away with everything before I knew what was happening..
I shiver, and not just from the chill memory. That darn Tirza took my green jacket.
Thanks to David Dortort for the Cartwrights, and to Bonanza writers Ed Adamson (“The Waiting Game”), Lois Hire (“Any Friend of Walter’s”) and Anthony Lawrence (“Dark Star”) for their unforgettable characters Laura Dayton, Walter & Obie and Tirza.