Word Count: 2800
The caravan of trucks and cars that had wound its way along the narrow, rutted mountain road finally pulled into its destination. The Sierra Nevada Mountains provided a splendid backdrop for the wide meadow. Near by, Lake Tahoe sparkled blue under the early morning sun.
Motors were barely shut off when men and women poured from the vehicles and truck doors were thrown open and equipment hauled out. People scurried around laying electrical cables, setting up huge lights, arranging cameras. Others were busy arranging more mundane items: folding chairs, tables, coffee urns, coolers, paper plates and cups, boxes of donuts and sweet rolls.
Off to one side, a few men were unloading saddles, bridles, and assorted western riding tack. Nearby, four horses, restless from the long ride cooped up in their trailers, were being carefully unloaded.
The horseman leaned back in his saddle and took in a lung full of the crisp mountain air. He was a large man, well suited to the big black gelding he rode. Morning was his favorite time of day. Usually, well fortified with an ample breakfast of flap jacks, sausages, eggs, biscuits, and plenty of coffee, he had made do today with a single cup of coffee, a couple of biscuits and an apple, which he was now munching.
Skirting Lake Tahoe, the horse stopped in his tracks, twitching his ears and snickering. “Hey Chubb, what’s the matter boy?” The man spoke soothingly to the horse and stroked the gelding’s neck. “Come on, we’ve got work to do. Don’t you want ol’ Hoss to win the bet he’s got goin’ with Adam and Joe over who finds the most strays this week? Well, you better. If I end up havin’ to buy the beers this Saturday night at the Silver Dollar, you’re going to be one sorry horse. Come on now.” The man twitched the reins, but the horse wouldn’t budge, except to prance nervously.
Getting a little apprehensive himself, the man scanned the familiar landscape, but everything seemed as it should. He fed the horse the apple core, and just as he was about to urge the black forward more firmly, a strange glint of strong light coming from the direction of a meadow his older brother Adam and he had dubbed “Moose Meadow” as children, in honor of a moose they had spotted there, caught his eye. Dismounting, he tied Chubb behind a pile of boulders and stealthily, for a man his size, made his way to a vantage point in the top of the pile where he could see into the meadow without being seen by anyone there.
Four men stood in a group, listening to the instructions being given to them by a man holding a clip board and a stop watch. The man doing the talking was dressed in kaki trousers, a white dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, tennis shoes and a baseball cap. The four men doing the listening were garbed in clothing reminiscent of another time. The oldest of the four; a distinguished looking man with silver hair wore brown whip-cord trousers, blue shirt, fancy tan leather vest, and a cream-colored Stetson. Standing to his left, the youngest of the quartet wore a green corduroy waist-length jacket over his light brown shirt. His tan trousers clung to his lithe form like a glove. Dark brown curls peeked from under his pushed-back beige Stetson. A cigarette dangled James Dean like from his mouth. Flanking the silver-haired man on his right, and towering over him, the large framed man in the loose cream-colored shirt and plain brown leather vest stomped out the cigarette he had been smoking and taking off his high-crowned, ten-gallon hat, ran a hand through his thinning sandy brown hair. Standing a little behind the other three, the fourth man was dressed all in black, from his black Stetson to his black shirt, leather vest, trousers and boots. On his face, at odds with the cowboy attire, was a pair of black framed Ray-Ban sunglasses. All four men wore side arms from a century past.
“OK, fellows. You all set to shoot the new opening ride up?” The man with the clipboard looked at the other four in turn. “Let’s get started then. Oh, and Pernell…” The man pointed to the black clad man’s face. “The Ray-Bans.”
The four mounted the waiting horses: the silver-haired man, a placid buckskin; the black-garbed man, a spirited chestnut; the big man, a sturdy black; and the young curly-haired man, a flashy black and white pinto. Together they trotted to their assigned spots in the meadow. *
Hoss Cartwright’s mouth dropped open and his blue eyes widened as he stared unbelieving and slack-jawed at the sight in Moose Meadow. Strange vehicles that reminded Hoss of his late friend Daniel Pettibone’s “power wagons”, only more elaborate set parked beside what looked like small houses on wheels. As Hoss watched, some of these “power wagons” started with a roar and rolled down the rutted road. Even as shook up as Hoss was at the moment, he couldn’t help but shake his head at the doubts people had about Daniel’s invention and felt vindication of his faith in his friend. Apparently someone saw the potential in the “power wagon” and built a whole passel of them. Too bad Daniel’s widow and infant son wouldn’t see any income from Daniel’s successful idea. Scattered around was a bunch of strange looking equipment, the use of which Hoss couldn’t even guess at. Oddly dressed men and women were scurrying busily around.
Hoss’ attention shifted to what was going on in the meadow. Four men sat on horseback like they were waiting for something to happen. What in tarnation were Pa and Adam and Joe doing here with these people? Hoss’s eyes widened till he thought they would pop out as he recognized the fourth man and horse in the meadow. Never mind what Pa, Adam, and Joe were doing there, how could him and Chubb be down there!? Hoss looked down behind the boulder; Chubb was tied to the tree where he had left him. He looked down at himself. He was dreaming. Of course. That was it. That had to be it. With his eyes closed he pinched the back of his hand. Ouch! Well that was real. Hoss tentatively opened his eyes and gazed back towards the meadow. There they still were!
Before Hoss could do anything else, a man hollered something Hoss couldn’t hear and pointed towards a row of metal and glass “somethings” attached to one of the little house’s on wheels by long black cables. Suddenly, the whole meadow erupted in a blaze of white light, the likes of which Hoss had never seen. It was like looking into the sun. Hoss didn’t wait to see what would happen next. Shouting “Oh lordy!”, Hoss slid down the boulder he was perched on and leaped onto his horse in a move that even his little brother would envy, and rode hell for leather for the house.
SLAM, CRASH! “Pa! Adam! Joe! Whoops!” Hoss Cartwright burst through the heavy front door into the ranch house, tripped over the Indian print rug in front of the credenza, and landed in a heap at the feet of the family cook Hop-Sing.
Having heard Hoss’ uncharacteristically panicky shouting, Hop-Sing had run from the kitchen, not knowing what kind of trouble to expect. He stood above Hoss, clutching his meat clever in one hand and gesticulating with the other, muttering angrily in his native Cantonese.
Hoss extracted himself from the rug and staggered to his feet, shaking his head to clear it.
Hop-Sing continued in English, poking a finger in Hoss’s face. “What matter with you? Almost break door down! Yell! Make Hop-Sing almost chop finger off with clever! Mr. Cartwright not here. Went to town. Good thing for Mr. Hoss, Mr. Cartwright not here to hear all noise! Mr. Adam not here either. Little Joe in barn.”
Retrieving his ten-gallon hat from the floor, Hoss dashed back out the door, leaving Hop-Sing again muttering angrily in Cantonese. “Yell, bang door, make noise, scare Hop- Sing and Hop-Sing almost chop finger off. Hop-Sing go back China. Humph!”
“Dagone, that Hoss!” Joe Cartwright complained to his pinto, Cochise, as he saddled him. “Sneakining out of here before breakfast. I just bet he high-tailed it to Moose Meadow this morning. Hank said there seemed to be a lot of strays over there. Thinks he’s gonna put one over on me, does he?”
The paint gelding looked at Joe, flicked his tail, and snorted as if answering.
Joe led his horse out of the barn just in time to see his brother Hoss barreling across the yard towards him yelling, “Joe! Boy, I’m glad I caught one of you fellas before you both left!” Hoss halted his flight inches from knocking Joe over, and bent over, hands on knees to catch his breath.
“Hoss! What’s goin’ on? Something happen to Pa?” Joe asked with alarm, looking at is wild-eyed, red-faced older brother.
“No, no, nothin’ like that” Hoss answered, vigorously shaking his head. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, but something is! Where’s Adam? Both you fellas gotta go to Moose Meadow with me and see this! You ain’t gonna believe me otherwise. I don’t even believe my own eyeballs!” Hoss had recovered his breath and was pushing Joe onto Cochise.
“All right, stop shoving! I’m coming!” Joe glared at Hoss and sighing in exasperation, vaulted into his saddle. Hoss was mounted and waiting on Chubb. With Hoss leading the way, the brothers galloped out of the yard.
“Your crew is getting that new fence up faster than I thought they would, Red. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t a little extra in your pay envelope this week.”
Adam Cartwright broke off his conversation with the foreman of the fencing crew and turned to look at the riders approaching at a gallop. Squinting against the bright sunlight, he was surprised to see that the riders were his brothers.
Adam and Red both jumped back out of the way as Hoss and Joe pulled up their horses only inches from the two men.
“What’s the matter with you two knuckleheads?” Adam shouted as Cochise reared up seemingly right over him.
Hoss jumped from his horse and grabbed Adam by the arms. “Come on Adam! Mount up! I gotta show both of you!” Hoss was practically babbling as he attempted to drag his older brother towards his sorrel, Sport.
Adam dug his heels in. “What the devil? Will you let go of me! What is wrong with you? Joe? What’s going on? I thought you were at Moose Meadow!” Adam escaped from his larger brother’s clutches and was practically sputtering in anger as he glared from one brother to the other.
Joe, still mounted, with one leg hooked over the saddle horn, pushed his hat back and shrugged. “Hey, don’t look at me. I’m just being drug along. Our brother did the same thing to me back at the house. Practically threw me on my horse and insisted I come with him. I think going without breakfast just plum addled his brain. Maybe you ought to humor him. I don’t think he’s dangerous, though.”
Red, taking this all in with a big grin on his face, wiped it off quickly when Adam turned to him. “Give me a report tonight on how the fencing is coming.
“All right. Let’s go.” Adam sighed, glanced at the sky as if beseeching God to spare him from loony younger brothers, mounted Sport and followed the brothers in question.
Red shook his head and returned to his work crew, grinning to himself. There was never a dull moment when the Cartwright brothers were around.
The brothers were almost to Moose Meadow when Hoss reigned in Chubb. “We better leave our horses here and go on foot the rest of the way. There’s some mighty strange goin’s on in the meadow and it might be a good idea to take them by surprise and get the drop on them before they hear us comin’ and get the drop on us. They have metal boxes that could blind a fella!”
Adam and Joe just sat their horses and stared first at each other, then at their brother, then back to each other. Joe’s eyebrows were raised and Adam’s forehead wrinkled as he pinched the bridge of his nose. Metal boxes that could blind people?! Poor Hoss was worse off than they thought.
“Hoss, maybe we just should go back to the house and you can get something to eat and then lay down and rest.” Adam reached over and patted Hoss’ shoulder.
“Yeah, Hoss. You left awfully early this morning and didn’t have much breakfast. Maybe we should go home like Adam said.” Joe maneuvered Cochise so that Hoss was between him and Adam.
“Dadburn it!” Hoss shook of Adam’s hand. “I knew you fellas wouldn’t believe me unless I showed you! So I’m going to show you! Now come on and be quiet!”
Hoss slid from Chubb’s back and quickly tied him to a bush. With a glare over his shoulder at his brothers he stalked off, leaving Adam and Joe no choice but to follow.
Hoss was the first to reach the top of the rock formation where he had several hours earlier spied on the strange goings-on in Moose Meadow. He turned around to make sure his reluctant brothers were still following. Down below, Adam and Joe were toiling and grumbling their way up the hot boulders. “Shhhhh.” Hoss hissed at them. “They’ll hear you. I told you, we have to get the drop on them. They could be dangerous”.
Hoss reached down to give Adam a hand up while Joe scrambled past him and peered cautiously over the edge of the rock formation.
“Uh, Hoss? Get the drop on who?” Joe had his hat off scratching his head, a puzzled look on his face.
Adam was now beside him, also looking into the meadow with a puzzled expression.
“What’s the matter with you two?” Hoss’s voice trailed off as he looked down into Moose Meadow at what his brothers were seeing. An empty meadow.
“I saw all of that! Everything I told you fellows I saw! Dadgum it! I didn’t fall asleep someplace and dream it! I saw it. With these two eyeballs!” A very dejected and confused Hoss Cartwright glared at his brothers and pointed to his own blue eyes.
The three brothers sat on the porch enjoying and after dinner cup of coffee. That is, two of the brothers were enjoying their coffee. The third just stared into his.
Adam looked pained and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, it’s a good thing for you that Pa decided to stay into town tonight. You didn’t have to explain all of this to him.”
They had gone over and over the subject of the strange occurrences in Moose Meadow on the ride home, while they ate dinner, and now while having their after dinner coffee. Adam and Joe had come to the conclusion, which Hoss hotly denied, that he had fallen asleep and dreamed it all. That could be the only explanation for the outlandish things Hoss had told them he had seen. Especially the part about him being on the rocks watching himself down there with the others.
Hoss sighed and set his untouched coffee down. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I did get up pretty early this morning. The only other explanation I can come up with is that I’m plumb crazy. I don’t much like that explanation. But dadburn it, I sure can’t remember stoppin’ for a nap! Well, I don’t know about you fellas, but I’m goin’ to bed. Goodnight.”
“Good idea. A good night’s sleep will do you a world of good. Goodnight.” Adam patted his brother’s broad shoulder on its way past him.
“Yeah, goodnight, big brother. See you at breakfast,” Joe added.
A few hours later, the full moon shown down on the ranch house and it’s sleeping inhabitants. The same moon illuminated Moose Meadow and the four-legged creatures that were its nighttime inhabitants. A deer sniffed curiously at a doughnut that was dropped that morning from a box marked “Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnuts”. Nearby, moonlight glittered off of a pair of black rimmed Ray-Ban sunglasses which had been left behind by the black clad actor who was part of the cast of a popular Western.
*The writer has no idea how the ride-up would have actually been filmed. I imagine it was a lot more complicated than I depicted.