Summary: Not who you might think!
Word Count: 2376
It was approaching dusk when Adam finally arrived home. He had been on the trail since early that morning, stopping only periodically to water his horse. He’d been away for over a month, peddling Ponderosa timber, and Adam was more than hungry and overly-tired. With the early October air nipping at his neck, he dismounted, curled his collar up around his chin and walked Sport into the barn for a well-deserved rest.
Entering the barn, he found it empty. He knew his family, along with Hop Sing and the rest of the ranch hands, were finishing up the fall cattle drive, but he expected everyone to be back by now. The fact that he had the place to himself was titillating. A few days of plain old peace and quiet suited Adam just fine. He planned to enjoy every tranquil moment until his family’s return. When exactly that would be, he reckoned a few days at the most.
“Well, it looks like it’s just you and me boy,” Adam said to Sport as he laboriously removed the saddle from the sorrel’s back. “Are you as hungry as I am?”
After feeding and bedding down his steed, Adam gathered his saddlebag and belongings and proceeded out of the barn to the front door of the house. To his angst, he found the place bolted up tighter than a drum. He never thought he’d find no one home when he arrived. Adam was all but locked out.
“Damn,” he hissed. “I hate having to break into my own house.”
He dropped his stuff where he stood and proceeded to the side of the house. The replacement cost of the kitchen window was little price to pay for entry. Hop Sing’s griping would be worse than the hit to Adam’s wallet. Adam popped the glass with his elbow and tore his coat in the process.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” he said with disgust. “Could anything else go wrong?”
After inspecting the rip and making sure his skin was intact, he crawled inside using the butcher block as a step but he missed placing his foot dead center and it tipped over sending Adam head over heels into the far wall. He crashed loudly into the shelves that held the dishes, and several plates showered down onto him, smashing them to bits. When the dust settled and the rain of tableware ceased, Adam let out an irritated sigh.
“Owoo,” he said with little emotion. “That was graceful.”
With his dignity now totally vanquished, he raised his hands to the heavens in frustration, then got to his feet but slipped slightly on the broken shards of china. Adam held his arms out to gain his balance and then groped around in search of a match. The house was darker than a bat’s cave. He was finally able to light a lamp and carried it through the kitchen, into the dining room and living room, lighting the house as he went. He then made his way around to the front door, opened it and re-gathered his gear. He stood still for a moment, somewhat satisfied with his meager accomplishment.
“Aaaah. Home sweet home,” he sniffed.
Once he got himself up stairs, washed, into a fresh set of clothes, and had stoked the fireplace to blazing, Adam could finally fix himself a bite to eat. After sweeping up the glass and china rubble from the kitchen floor, he foraged for food. But, alas, there was little to choose from. He found a single strip of beef jerky, a battered pear and what was left in the cookie jar. The oatmeal crumbs were a little stale but tasty nonetheless.
“A meal fit for a king… hardly. The trail offered more nutrition than this.”
Not wanting his time alone wasted, Adam pulled out a book he was saving and cracked it open. He sat comfortably beside the hearth with his socking feet facing the flames. He wiggled his toes to absorb the heat. He breathed deeply with contentment and began to read. But it was not to be, as he could simply not keep his eyes open any longer. He had to leave the story for another day. He gave into his fatigue and headed up to bed. Adam turned down the lanterns and retired putting his long day behind him.
It wasn’t anything earth-shattering that suddenly spooked Adam from a sound sleep. He was flat out on his stomach, with his face mashed into his pillow. He lifted his head and squinted his sleepy eyes to look at the clock that was conveniently lit by the full moon. Its brilliant rays beamed through Adam’s window making it easy to read -– 2:18 a.m. He held his position momentarily to tweak his senses. But there was nary a sound –- just the usual nightly chorus of crickets and periodic hoots of the owl that lived in the barn. Several moments passed as Adam’s breathing and heart rate slowed. He let out a gratified sigh that all was well and let his body sag back into its previous slumbered position.
But, Adam’s peacefulness would again be interrupted, as there came a definite bump in the night. Adam shot into the sitting position this time. Then, yet another knock echoed up from the living room. Now Adam was fully awake. Someone was in the house. He swung his legs over and sat on the edge of the bed. His heart rate accelerated.
“Pa?” Adam whispered loudly. “Hoss? Joe?”
There was no answer. He had no choice but to investigate. Adam stood and threw on his robe. He then tiptoed to the door of his bedroom and opened it swiftly. It banged against his big toe and he let out a muffled yelp. With teeth clenched and hissing quietly, he bit his finger to battle the pain.
“Owooo,” he seethed.
Once he’d gained control and his stubbed toe had stopped throbbing, he peered through his bedroom door before moving forward. He crept down the upper hall; his bare feet felt the chill from the cold, plank floor. Adam stopped at the top of the stairs and peered around the corner. With one eye only, he looked down into the living room. What he saw made Adam’s heart race even faster and he quickly stepped back to make sure he’d not been detected.
“A bear!” he said under his breath. “She must have gotten through the kitchen window.”
Adam took another look to be sure. It was a bear all right –a grizzly, a big one. She would surely make herself at home if given the chance. But how could he get her to leave without hurting her? He didn’t want to do that. There was no need for that. This was Adam’s fault, not hers.
She continued to rifle through Ben’s desk and tore down the bookshelves, making quite a mess as she went. Adam knew better than to leave a way for critters to get into the house. Most of the time, the intruder was a possum or a raccoon, but this was quite the visitor. He was just so tired, he plain forgot to board up the window he had broken.
Then it occurred to him that he was utterly defenseless. The gun rack at the bottom of the stairs was out of reach, as was his holster that lay on the sideboard near the front door. As he sized up the situation, the bear continued to ransack the place. Adam would have to come up with a plan and fast. Hopefully, he pondered, this sow was alone, as a mother with cubs was the most dangerous creature in these parts.
He snuck back to his room, being careful not to make a sound. He scrambled to put on his clothes. Adam then decided to climb out the bedroom window and get to the bunkhouse. Hopefully, there would be something in there he could use to scare her off. This, Adam reckoned, would be quite a difficult task.
“How could I be so stupid?” he muttered to himself as he struggled to make his escape. “What an idiot I am!” he chastised in a quiet mumble.
Once through his second floor bedroom window without incident, he made his way along the half roof that hung over the front porch. Now at its edge, he had no choice but to slide over, hang from it and drop to the ground. It was a longer way down than he remembered. As a kid, he would often use this way as an escape route to meet his friends after dark, but as a full-grown man, Adam was finding he wasn’t as nimble as he used to be. He dangled there for quite a while before finally gaining the courage let go. He landed awkwardly and twisted his ankle as it buckled underneath him. Yet again, Adam had to stifle his exasperation.
But he could not take time to inspect or wallow over his injury, as he could hear the bear rummaging through the house like a tornado. She was a hungry girl and would stop at nothing to find food. Adam just hoped she would give up when she realized there was nothing to eat. In the meantime, the Cartwright’s treasured possessions were being destroyed.
Adam limped to the bunkhouse and found it locked up too!
“For Pete’s sake!” he grumbled. “Doesn’t anyone trust anyone anymore?!”
Again, he elbowed in a windowpane to gain entry. This maneuver was a bit more challenging as the opening was small. Adam wasn’t exactly a giant like his brother Hoss, but he was tall and well built. After pulling himself through, he ended up doing a handstand and flipping over on to his feet.
“Huh, that’s better,” he commented aloud at his newfound agility. “I should join the circus when all this is over.”
The place was darker than India ink as well, and Adam felt around for a match. He lit yet another lantern and began the search for some sort of weapon to help in the removal of a 900lb. bear. What that particular tool was, Adam had yet to discover. Nothing. The place was cleared of anything valuable. It was then that Adam heard the smashing of dishes. The bear must be in the kitchen now. Hop Sing was going to have Adam’s head if he didn’t do something and fast!
Ignoring his now swelling ankle, Adam hobbled to the barn and grabbed a pitchfork. Yes, that could be the ticket. He carried it like a rifle and moved stealthily across the courtyard to the broken kitchen window. It was his only entrance back into the house. He peered in to see the bear sitting on her rump eating a loaf of bread as if she were at a picnic.
“Heeyyy?? Where did you find that?!”
His sudden outburst startled the bear and she immediately rose to her feet and stood on all fours with her neck stretched out to intimidate. She let out a monstrous roar so loud and threatening Adam could smell her breath. It wasn’t pleasant.
“HAHAAAA, GET OUT OF THERE!!” Adam shouted back at her.
But the bear stood fast. Adam picked up some rocks and started hurling them at her. Even though it caused even more damage to the kitchen, the projectiles were the ticket. She took one square between the eyes and it made her flee to the dining room, allowing Adam to make his way through the broken window. This time, even though he was lame, his entrance was much more dexterous. Running on nothing more than pure adrenalin, Adam skulked his way into the dining room with pitchfork at the ready. His heart pounded.
He found the bear licking her wounds on settee. This was Adam’s opportunity to make his way around to the front door, unlock it and open it up as wide as he could. The bear was consumed with her wound and seemed unaware of Adam’s movements. Now, with all the bravery he could muster, Adam shifted around to the bottom of the staircase and poised his pitchfork to attack position. The bear was oblivious to Adam’s whereabouts. Then Adam lunged at the bear, poking her in the back with the pitchfork.
“AAAAAHH!! GIT! GET OUT OF HERE!!”
Adam’s sudden attack spooked the bear and she scramble over the top of the settee, across the hall and out the open front door. Adam rushed to the door, and before slamming it closed, saw the bear disappear into the night.
Breathing heavily and holding his chest to calm his cardio system, he leaned against the front door to gain his wits. He’d never experienced anything like that before. It was terrifying and invigorating all at the same time. Now it was time to face the music and finally see all the damage the bear had done. He found a match and lit the lanterns once again, only to find utter devastation. Just about every piece of furniture was smashed. All of his father’s books lay scattered throughout the main floor. The smokestack from the wood-burning stove was broken in two and soot now covered everything. His father’s desk was mauled and scratched and Adam’s favorite blue, velvet chair was torn to shreds. The only thing that seemed to survive unscathed was the grandfather clock that stood dutifully beside the front entrance. That was the only thing that gave Adam some semblance of relief.
Overwhelmed by it all, with the pain in his ankle now increasing, Adam threw up his hands in defeat. He had had enough. With a resolute grown, he slowly made his way up the stairs and fell into bed.
Even the loud chirping of morning birds could not awake Adam from his deep sleep. And when Ben, Hoss and Little Joe rode into the courtyard, home from their month-long cattle drive, Adam didn’t hear them either. But, when his family entered the house and discovered the place totally ransacked, Adam was suddenly and terrifyingly aroused from slumber by the thunderous sound of his father’s voice.
THAT, he heard.