Summary: A What Happened Next for “Twilight Town.” (I have altered a few things as to the way they were in the episode and took the liberty of adding an incident that was not in the episode at all)
Word Count: 2600
Joe Cartwright sat in the rocking chair on the porch drinking in the cool night air that flowed down from the surrounding mountains. Except for the late summer night sounds of tree frogs and crickets all was silent. An occasional “hoot” was added from the old owl that had taken up residence in one of the tall pines in the ranch house yard. Behind him, the house was dark. It was 2:00 in the morning and everyone else was sound asleep.
Joe had awoken just as the grandfather clock by the front door sounded the last strokes of midnight. Unable to go back to sleep and craving fresh air he had thrown on a pair of pants and shirt and made his way barefoot downstairs through the dark house and outside.
Now he sat breathing deeply of the clear pine-scented air. His thoughts drifted back to his recent stay in the town of Martinsville, and the mysterious events surrounding that stay.
He had been on his way home with $2,000.00 from the sale of cattle in his saddlebags.
Stopping to aid a man he had encountered lying in the trail, the man had rewarded Joe for his help by hitting him over the head and stealing Cochise. He had trudged hatless, for what seemed hours through the Nevada desert. Spent, he had fallen flat on his face in the baking sand. Forcing himself to rise, his gaze fell upon a welcome sight, a town shimmering in the distance. He almost cried with relief as he forced himself to his feet. Joe couldn’t recall a town being in this god-forsaken wasteland and was half afraid it was a mirage, appearing as it did out of the dust and haze.
Staggering into the edge of town his relief that is was no mirage turned to dread as he took in the tumbled-down buildings and empty street. At the edge of panic, his gut-wrenching scream of “Nooooo!” echoed through the deserted town. . The relentless sun seemed to explode to enveloped him and he passed out.
Joe blinked his eyes open and caught a glimpse of the feet of the crowd that had gathered silently around him. He hardly had time to wonder at the sight when unconsciousness claimed him again.
Slowly waking, Joe’s hand tentatively went to his head in search of the source of the cool wetness he felt there. He pulled off the damp washcloth that he found and looked at it in puzzlement. Realizing that he was lying in a bed, he looked around the small bedroom that was slowly coming into focus. Sitting beside the bed was a girl around his own age with red-gold hair and eyes as green as his own.
She said that her name was Louise Korman and that the bedroom he was in was part of the living quarters behind her father’s store in the town of Martinsville.
Joe looked around the room bewilderedly. “But there was nothing here when I came. Nothing. This town was deserted.”
He grabbed her arm as she walked toward the bed. At the startled look on her face, he sheepishly let go. “I’m sorry; I just had to know about you, about the whole town”.
“The whole town was at a funeral”, the girl explained. “We were burying our sheriff.”
Joe, still in a daze, insisted that the town was deserted when he arrived.
“The sun can do strange things to a man’s head, Mr. Cartwright. You should rest.” Louise’s voice was soothing and her smile dazzling.
Joe reluctantly complied, knowing that she was right. He hoped that a good night’s sleep would help him make some sense of what was happening.
Over the next few days the people of Martinsville seemingly couldn’t do enough for Joe. As he recuperated, the ladies of the town plied him with soup and the men stopped in often to talk and play cards.
There was a strange incident, however, when he glanced at the open window and saw a dark-haired women leaning on the sill staring at him. Startled, Joe looked away. When he looked back again she had vanished.
The next day on a walk around the town with Louise, they encountered the woman that Joe saw at the window. Louise introduced her as Mrs. Obreon, their late sheriff’s widow.
Joe’s polite “Pleased to meet you” was countered with an unsettling tirade.
“Don’t be pleased to meet me; don’t be pleased at anything that happens in this place. Leave this town while you still can. Tell him, Miss Korman, or don’t you know what these people are planning. They are going to kill you just like they killed my husband.”
Louise hustled Joe away, “Ever since her husband died, she’s been imagining all sorts of things.”
Their encounter with the widow came back full force to Joe on the day he was ready to leave Martinsville, and found that he couldn’t. There was not a horse in town. The Matthews gang had taken them all the day they killed the sheriff and had been keeping the towns people virtual prisoners. Even more shocking to Joe, he was told that even if there were any horses, no one would loan him one or even sell him one to ride out on.
Matthews and his gang were expected back any day. The citizens of Martinsville were under no allusions as to what their fate would be on the gang’s return. They wanted Joe to pin on the sheriff’s badge and lead them in a stand against Matthews. He argued that he was too young and inexperienced for the offered job. They insisted his youthful idealism and courage was what was needed.
Joe left the rocker and paced the porch, unheeding of the chilly boards against his bare feet, as his mind drifted back to the events leading up to his agreeing to help rid Martinsville of the threat of Matthews and his gang.
Needing to think about the nightmare he found himself in, Joe sought solitude in the empty livery stable. As he sat on a hay bale, lost in thought, he did not hear the creak of the door as it opened or the soft footsteps that approached. He was startled to feel a pair of hands on his shoulders.
Joe stood and turned, and was not surprised when he came face to face with Louise. Her troubled green-eyed gaze reflected in his green eyes.
“Joe, I’m sorry. We weren’t honest with you. We did try to trick you. But we’re desperate. You don’t know how desperate. My father and the other men realize that they are partly to blame by not standing up to Matthews. They’re ready to stand up to him know. But they can’t do it alone. They need someone who isn’t intimidated by Matthews. You’re a godsend, stumbling in here like you did. It’s as if you were meant to be here now.
“Felix Matthews wants me, Joe. I’ve managed to hold him off, but this time when he comes back I’ll be his just like everything else in this town.”
Joe took Louise in his arms and tilted her face up to look into her tear filled eyes.
“They should have asked me, Louise. Laid it out man to man. I’ll do it. But I’m only doing it for you. The thought of Matthews touching you……….”
“Joe, it can’t be just for me. It has to be for the whole town or it will be for nothing. Say you’ll do it for the town.”
“All right. I don’t understand, but if it’s that important to you. I’ll do it for the town.”
Joe tightened his arms around Louise and bending his head to hers gently grazed her lips with his. Louise responded, but then broke away. Taking Joe by the hand, she silently led him to the ladder to the hayloft.
Louise’s lips again found his and Joe hungrily responded, pulling her down onto the hay-covered floor. Undoing the silver hairclip from her hair, Joe buried his face in its lilac-scented softness and his fingers eagerly sought the buttons on her dress, while Louise slowly unbuttoned his shirt.
The only sound in the darkening, stuffy hayloft was Joe’s ragged breathing and Louise’s soft murmuring of his name. All doubts vanished like dew on a hot morning at the touch of Louise’s cool hands on his body, and Joe knew at that moment that he would do anything Louise asked of him.
Staring into the darkness surrounding the ranch house, Joe knew now what had woke him. He had heard “Joe” whispered in the darkness of his room. The soft echo of a whisper, as Louise had breathed his name as they lay intertwined in the dusk of the hayloft.
Joe dropped into the rocking chair and huddled there as if in pain, physically aching for the feel of Louise in his arms. Not wanting to believe that he would never hold her again. Not wanting to believe what his father had told him as he sat propped against that boulder, dazed and confused, after the shootout with the Matthews gang.
Joe, Mr. Korman and the few other men from Martinsville who hadn’t backed out, had stormed the rocks where the gang had sheltered. They had stormed the rocks and been cut down. Joe had faced Matthews and had felt 3 bullets slam into his belly. But there he was, hot, tired, dirty, and very confused but alive and unhurt except for a throbbing headache. And most miraculously, his father was there cradling his head and holding a canteen to mouth.
Joe drank eagerly till his father took the canteen away, “Joe, take it easy, son, before you get sick. You can have more in a little bit”.
Squinting his eyes against the glare of the sun, he looked around dazedly. Not only was Pa there but Adam and Hoss as well, and they had Cochise with them. A lone man lay dead, sprawled in the dirt, the man who had stolen Cochise. There was no sign of Felix Matthews, his gang or the small group of men from Martinsville.
Adam had checked Cochise’s saddlebag. Every cent of the money Joe had received from the sale of the cattle was still there.
Joe told them that he wasn’t alone. There had been several men from Martinsville there also. Where were they? What had become of the Matthews gang?
His father had told him that there couldn’t have been anyone from Martinsville. It was a ghost town. It had been a ghost town for years. That there was even a legend connected with the town. That after the cowardly townsmen had let the sheriff get killed without coming to his aid, his widow put a curse on the town. All the citizens were doomed to walk the streets of Martinsville for all eternity until someone came along who was foolish enough or brave enough to risk his life for them.
Pa tried to tell a very confused Joe that after being hit on the head and trekking hatless across the desert like he had, it was no wonder he was imagining things.
Joe, upset, turned his head away from his father. Ben tenderly took his son’s chin in his hand and turned his head to look into his eyes. “Joe, if a man knows something deep in his heart, just knows it, he doesn’t have to argue about it, he doesn’t have to prove it, just knowing it is enough.”
Ben helped Joe to his feet and settled his hat, that they had found while on his trail, on his head. Joe climbed gratefully onto Cochise. They started to head out, but Joe turned Cochise in the direction of Martinsville and was off at a gallop. When his father and brothers caught up with him, he was sitting there staring at Martinsville as he first saw it, tumble-down and deserted. Joe fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the Martinsville sheriff’s badge that he had put there when pressed by the men to accept it, not wanting to pin it on. After one last puzzled look at it, he dropped in into the dust of Martinsville, then turned Cochise’s head around and silently followed his family as they started for home.
Joe absently rocked the chair back and forth as he tried to sort it out in his mind. He had been in Martinsville for several days and it had been full of people. He had held Louise in his arms. Her lips against his had been warm and real as had been her smooth lithe body in the darkness of the hayloft. How could that have been a hallucination? The lilac scent of her soft red-gold hair was still so strong in his memory that it was in his nostrils when he had woken a little while ago.
And how to explain the fact that if he hadn’t been taken in by the people of Martinsville, he would have been long dead. He could not have survived for that many days in the desert without water. That was one question that his father or brothers couldn’t answer.
The clear cool air was helping somewhat. Joe remembered what Pa had told him at the time about knowing something deep in his heart. Joe did know down deep in his heart that, at least for a little while, Martinsville was alive, and that Louise was alive and warm and oh, so appealing, and his. He knew this, with all his heart, even though his head told him it was impossible. He would stop trying to rationalize it and just let it be.
Feeling more at peace with himself than at any time since coming home from Martinsville, Joe smiled to himself, yawned and stretched like a contented cat. It was hours yet to daylight. His mind at ease, he could finish what was left of the night sleeping soundly without the jumbled thoughts and vague feelings of unease that had plagued him.
Joe entered his room and sleepily made his way to his bed. Moonlight streamed into the open window and cast a patch of light on the bedspread. Otherwise the room was dark. Joe stopped abruptly and looked around uneasily. He had lit the lamp on his dresser when he woke up earlier and he could have sworn he had left it burning when he went downstairs. Joe nervously ran his fingers through his tousled curls as his nose twitched at the faint smell of lilacs that permeated the air. The same scent that he had smelled upon awakening, but thought was the remnant of a dream.
He looked anxiously around as he crossed the room to the dresser to relight the lamp there. He stopped when his eye was caught by two objects glinting in the patch of moonlight on his bed. Forgetting about the lamp, he dropped to the bed and hesitantly took the silver hairclip and the other object in his hand.
The moonlight was bright enough that Joe could make out the words engraved on the highly polished surface of the silver star: “Sheriff” “Martinsville”.
(or is it?)