Summary: Adam falls under a spell.
Word Count: 8033
When Adam awoke he had an overwhelming feeling of dread – as if his intuition was trying to tell him something. As soon as he opened his eyes, his heart began to pound. Perspiration dampened his sheets and pillow. He had no idea why. He didn’t recall any nightmares. He just knew that today something would happen that would alter life, as he knew it. The feeling was so strong and ominous it shook him to his very core.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When he sat up in bed and swung his legs out from under the covers he glanced out his window. The sun was just rising. It seemed much brighter than Adam’s gloomy disposition. There was no sign of impending doom on the horizon that he could see. But, Adam couldn’t seem to rid himself of nerves.
All was fine with his father and brothers as well. As a matter of fact, things couldn’t have been better. Adam had had few conflicts with family members the last few months. No disagreements with Joe over immature behavior, or laziness; no arguments with Ben about ranch finances. That in itself was out of the ordinary. Hoss seemed to be immune to discord.
Business was good too. Even his love life was looking up as he’d met a lovely girl name Charlotte Russell. She lived close by with her father Bill. He’d been keeping her company quite frequently in recent weeks. Maybe, he thought, he was due for some strife in his tranquil life. Maybe things were just a little too good to be true – that fate was being tempted.
He hoped his imagination was just being over active. After rubbing his eyes free of sleep, Adam rose from bed to shave and dress as usual. Then, just like everyday, he joined his father and two brothers for breakfast. As he descended the stairs into the living room, he made a conscious pledge to be slightly more wary today. It couldn’t hurt.
“Did you sleep well Adam?” Ben asked as he watched his son approach.
“Like a baby Pa.” Adam replied brightly. “Like a baby.” He made no mention of the strangeness he felt. He tried to ignore his eerie inkling. He took his normal place at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Baby’s don’t snore, older brother,” Joe jabbed. He winked over a Hoss to back up his taunt.
“I don’t snore.” Adam chuckled defensively at the accusation.
“And, pigs don’t fly neither,” Hoss added.
“I’m telling you…” Adam insisted with an indignant smirk, “I do NOT snore.”
“Adam…” Joe reiterated, “… you made so much noise last night I felt the rafters shake.”
“Well, it wasn’t me. It was probably Hoss. He can wake a bear from hibernation with his nightly chorus of moans and snorts!”
“Hoss doesn’t sleep in your room though, Adam.” Joe corrected. “All the racket was coming from behind your bedroom door, not his.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, LITTLE Joe,” Adam scoffed as he stuck his fork into a few flapjacks and plopped them onto his plate. He reached for the syrup. “I have never snored in my life.”
“And just what makes you so special?” Hoss inquired.
“Hawwwssss. You should know by now EXACTLY what makes ME so special,” Adam jested with a wily grin.
“Alright, boys,” Ben interrupted the playful chitchat. “Let’s get down to business shall we?”
“Sure thing, Pa,” Joe chuckled like a chipmunk. He always enjoyed trivial repartee with his siblings. Trying to get Adam’s goat was so much fun. He and Hoss treated it like a sport.
“What’s on tap for today then?” Ben asked as he wiped his mouth of bacon grease. He placed his napkin neatly onto his plate.
“Well,” Adam chewed, “Hoss and I have to finish that last stretch of fence. We have to set about twenty more posts. We loaded the wagon last night so we should be done by suppertime.” Adam focused on his meal as he spoke. Hoss nodded in agreement of his brother’s plan.
“And Joseph? What are you up to today?” Ben queried.
“Got to go into town, Pa.”
“Oh? What for?”
“Oh you know… this and that.” Joe flattened his smile. It made his cheeks resemble perfectly rounded crab apples. He blinked with a flutter. His attempt at looking innocent was lost on his father.
“Details, son. Details,” Ben probed.
“Well, there’s always the mail to pick up, Pa. An…an…and Hop Sing asked me to get him a few supplies. Some flour and sugar. You know… just, plain ordinary regular everyday stuff.”
Ben looked at Joe sideways and squinted but accepted his son’s intentions. He knew Joe had finished his chores for the week and was seeking a little early fun in Virginia City. It was Friday after all. “Alright, son. But, be home for supper. I don’t like you spending too much time in the Bucket of Blood.”
“Bucket of Blood?” Joe sounded shocked. “What would I do in a place like that, Pa?”
“Joe. You’re not fooling anyone,” Adam said.
“Fooling anyone? I’m not trying to fool anyone, Adam.”
“Go and have fun, Joe,” Ben resigned kindly.
“Yeah, but try and stay out of trouble,” Adam advised. “Hoss and I don’t want to have to come in there and save you… again.”
“I don’t need any saving, older brother.”
“Hmmm. If you say so, Joe.”
After breakfast, the family parted, each with his errands to run, poker to play and jobs to be toiled. As Adam and Hoss boarded the wagon, they watched Joe canter off toward Sin City.
“JOE!” Adam shouted out to him. “YOU BE CAREFUL!”
But, he was too far off to hear him.
“I’ll bet you five bucks he won’t be back for supper,” Adam quipped with a nasally sigh.
“I’ll take that bet, older brother.”
Hoss clucked and flicked the reins to move the horses forward. Adam looked around to see if all was clear. So far, so good. But, his stomach was still in knots. Something was wrong. He began to worry about Joe. He just knew he’d be taking a ride to Virginia City that evening to get him out of whatever pickle he’d gotten himself into. It was inevitable.
That must be it. That must be what was eating at him. For some reason, he was heeded a warning from above about Joe. Adam tried to shake off the feeling of uneasiness but knew deep in his heart that what was to be would be. He couldn’t stop it, whatever “it” was. He could not prevent the future. He fought the urge to go after Joe, but settled in the seat beside Hoss instead. He just hoped he wouldn’t regret ignoring the omen.
It was mid-May and the birds were louder than a gatling gun. The sky held no clouds and was as blue as the eye of a peacock feather. A warm breeze caressed Adam’s face like a silk scarf. The air had the aroma of pine and apple blossoms. It was simply a spectacular day. How could anything bad happen on a day like this?
Adam and Hoss didn’t talk much on their way to work. They seemed to just want to take in the beauty of spring. It had taken so long to get here. It was nice to ride along without the burden of coats, scarves and gloves. The pelting of snow against their bodies would not be missed. But, even though the landscape was serene Adam’s gut still churned. He looked over at Hoss who was oblivious to Adam’s turmoil.
“Do you suppose we should go and check on Joe?” Adam blurted out. He looked back over his shoulder as if he could see his little brother.
“Check on Joe?” Hoss said with a scrunched face. He seemed puzzled at Adam’s distress.
“Yes. You know he’s going to find trouble in town. He always does.”
“Yeah. But he don’t need us interfering. He can git himself out of most things. He needs to stand on his own two feet anyhow. We can’t be with him all the time. He don’t need no nursemaid and I don’t want to be no nursemaid neither.”
“But, today is different.”
“Different? What do you mean, Adam? Looks like any other day to me.”
“I don’t know, Hoss. I just have this terrible feeling that something bad is going to happen today.”
“Like what?” Hoss asked without removing his eyes from the road.
“I wish I knew. I just have this hunch that’s all.”
“Aw. Nothing’s going to happen to Joe. He’ll be fine.”
“I hope so.”
“Hey, Adam?” Hoss said, momentarily distracted from the conversation.
“Take a gander at our gee mare. She look lame to you?”
Adam turned to focus on the team of two horses that pulled the wagon. Sure enough, the right horse had a nasty limp.
“You’re right, Hoss. Looks like her left front foot, huh,” Adam agreed. “Pull up a moment and I’ll go check her. Probably just a stone in her hoof.
Hoss stopped the wagon gently and Adam jumped down. Dust clouded around him when his feet hit the dirt. With one eye firmly shut and teeth gritted against the blazing sun, he meandered around to the front of the team. He paused to peruse the horse before crouching to pick up the mare’s foot. He began to probe the hoof for debris or injury.
Hoss peered down at them stretching his neck to make out what he could from his perch. Just as Adam was about to make his diagnosis a jackrabbit darted out of the grass and scampered between the legs of the horses. They spooked and bolted forward. Adam was knocked down by the center hitch. It carved its way over his left shoulder. The horses could not avoid stepping on him as the wagon rolled over top of Adam. He let out a guttural growl.
“WHOA!” Hoss ordered. “WHOA TEAM!”
Trying his damnedest to settle the horses, Hoss managed to hold them at bay and prevent the wagon from doing any more damage. Only when Hoss had the horses under control did he spring from the bench of the wagon. He threw himself to the ground.
“ADAM! ADAM! You alright?”
But Adam was in too much pain to answer. He lay under the axel between the two front wheels. The agony he felt was blinding. It took his breath away. He was so engulfed by it, he did not notice when Hoss grabbed him by the ankles and pulled him to safety.
“Adam?” Hoss tried again. He knelt over his downed brother. “You okay. Hey, Adam?”
Tears filled Adam’s eyes as he tried to battle the shock of the accident. He was afraid his arm had been severed. He glanced under the wagon to see if it lay there still. When he realized it was still attached, he grabbed it and curled up and onto his side. That was the last thing he remembered.
“He’s going to be fine Ben.” Doc Martin reported. “He’s very lucky. If Hoss hadn’t controlled that team like he did… well, things could have been much worse.”
“Will he… will he lose his arm, Paul?” Ben asked with bated breath.
“No, no… nothing like that. His shoulder is pretty torn up. It was dislocated too but I put it back. The wound is as clean as a whistle. Looks worse than it is. He shows no sign of infection. He has no fever. Nothing else is broken – just a few minor cuts and bruises. He just needs to rest and keep that arm still so it can heal.”
“Is there anything we need to do for him?”
“Well, he is in quite a lot of pain unfortunately. I’ve given him some laudanum. There’s a bottle on his bedside table should he need more. Give him lots of water and make sure he eats. He’s going to be fine, Ben. As a matter of fact, you can all go up and see him. I’m sure he’ll want some company.”
“Thank you so much, Paul.”
“I’ll be back in a few days to check on him. He should be up and around by then. Don’t let him lie around in bed too long.”
“Don’t worry, Paul. It’ll be hard enough to keep him there until morning.”
Hoss and Joe saw Doc Martin to the door as Ben made his way up to see Adam. He was elated at the doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis and expected to see Adam sitting up and at ease. But Ben was somewhat shaken to find his son in bed shivering. His whole body seemed to quake uncontrollably. Ben’s jubilance turned to concern. He pulled the blanket up around Adam’s chin assuming he was cold. The fact was Adam truly was in terrible pain.
“Adam?” Ben said as Joe and Hoss entered the room. “Take it easy, son. Doc says you’re going to be fine.”
“Where’s… where’s Joe?” Adam whispered through the agony. He swallowed hard.
“I’m right here, Adam,” Little Joe announced, stepping into Adam’s view.
Adam seemed to be relieved to see his younger brother was safe and sound. He took a deep breath and squirmed in search of contentment. He closed his eyes tightly trying to ward off the intense throbbing.
“Maybe we should give him some more laudanum, Pa,” Hoss suggested.
“Yes, yes. Pass me the bottle.”
Joe picked it up and held it out for Ben to take.
Ben sat on the edge of Adam’s bed and poured some into a spoon. He lifted Adam’s head and tipped it into his mouth. The taste made Adam wince. It momentarily took his attention away from his agony. Ben poured several more doses until Adam finally settled and fell asleep.
“He’s pretty banged up, ain’t he, Pa?” Hoss asked in a worried voice.
“Yes, but he’ll mend. He’ll be fine.” Ben tried to sound positive but he hated seeing his boy this way. It was even more difficult knowing there was little he could do about it.
“You know it’s real strange,” Hoss said.
“Adam told me that he though somethin’ bad would happen today.”
“Really?” Ben replied. “He knew he was going to be run over by the wagon?”
“Well, not exactly, Pa. When we was heading out to fix the fence, he thought Joe was in danger or somethin’. He wanted to turn around and go into town to check on ’im. I guess Adam shoulda been more worried about himself than Joe, huh?”
“That is strange, Hoss. Why do you suppose Adam had this feeling?”
“I don’t know. Adam didn’t know neither, but he just knew… somehow.”
“Well, let’s let him sleep. I’m sure he’ll feel better in the morning.”
Adam’s brothers and father left him to recuperate under the spell of opium. Ben took one last look at his son before closing his bedroom door.
When Adam awoke, he had an overwhelming feeling of dread. The pain that had temporarily been dulled had returned with a vengeance. Only now it seemed much worse. Adam had never experienced anything like it before. It was like a separate entity attacking him, eating at his flesh – annihilating him. It made him writhe. He wanted to scream out but bit his lip instead. A single tear spilled from his eye, down the side of his face and puddle onto his pillow.
Adam was alone. He knew it was the middle of the night. His room was shrouded in the deepest purple Adam had ever seen. There was no sign of sunrise. Only the moon shone through his window illuminating his salvation. He struggled to reach the bottle of laudanum that seemed to taunt him. He grabbed it and uncorked it. He took a long swig. The relief was almost immediate. He took yet another and then calmly replaced the stopper. He then cradled it by his side for when he awoke again. Before falling into sleep once more, Adam peered at his new friend. The 12oz. bottle was half empty. Fear rushed through his body like a stampede of steers. What would he do when it was gone? That was the last thought he remembered.
“Good morning, Doc.”
“Hello, Little Joe.” Doc Martin drove into the courtyard just as Joe exited the barn. “How’s Adam today?”
“He’s still hurtin’.”
“Oh? He should be up and around by now,” Paul said as he stepped down. He pulled his medical bag from the passenger seat of his surrey.
“Oh, he is, Doc, he is. His shoulder is healing real good. Hoss has been taking care of it. He’s not sick or anything; Adam’s just… hurtin’.” Joe shrugged as if he couldn’t explain it any other way.
“Hmmm. Let’s go check on him, shall we?”
The two men walked side-by-side into the house. When they entered the great room, there was Adam sitting in the chair at the bottom of the stairs. His head was down and he kneaded his brow as if molding clay. His right hand gripped the arm of the chair so tightly his knuckles were white. His left arm, bandaged and in a sling, laid lifeless across his abdomen. He did not notice Paul and Joe enter the house.
Ben sat across from his son trying to concentrate on a ledger but was pre-occupied by Adam’s obvious but silent hell. He was happy to see the doctor. He stood to greet him. “Good morning, Paul. I’m so glad you took the time to come out.” He patted the doctor on the back. “As ah, as you can see, Adam is still a little under the weather.”
Adam had yet to lift his head. He was oblivious to everything except his menace.
“Yes, yes. So I see,” Paul replied as he walked over to where Adam sat. He gently placed his hand on Adam’s knee. Only then did Adam realize that the doctor was even there.
“Oh, ah… hi Paul,” Adam finally said with a slight quiver.
Adam’s eyes were sunken and sagged below his furrowed forehead. He skin was the color of paper and looked just as thin. Three days of beard shadowed his gaunt face.
“Looks like you need a little more of my attention, eh?” commented Paul.
“I’m alright,” Adam answered stoically.
“No he ain’t,” Hoss piped up as he emerged from the kitchen with a bowl of soup. He’d hope Adam would take some. He placed the lunch tray on the dining room table then joined everyone in the living room. “That shoulder of his is givin’ him all kinds of trouble, Doc. He cain’t do nothing without breakin’ into a sweat.”
“Well, I’ll fix him up, Hoss. You’ve done well so far.” The doctor straightened up and stood in front of Adam. “Come on, young man. Let’s get you up to bed so I can take a better look at that arm of yours.”
“Let me help you,” Ben said as he moved over to help Adam up.
“I can manage, Ben,” Paul advised as he carefully got Adam to his feet and steered him toward the steps. Hoss, Joe and Ben formed a line behind them. “You boys stay here. We’ll be fine.”
With trepidation, they remained. They watched Adam and the doctor slowly make their way up stairs. In unison, Ben, Hoss and Joe jammed their hands in their pockets and dispersed silently to await the verdict.
Once in Adam’s room, Paul sat Adam on the edge of his bed and removed his shirt and the dressing that covered his left shoulder. Adam tried to be as brave as possible, but every maneuver the doctor made was torture. He stifled a few groans and sucked air through his gritted teeth to try and conceal his misery.
“Alright, easy now. Lay back and let’s take a look.”
With as much control as possible, Adam stretched out. He looked over at the empty bottle of laudanum as the doctor hovered over him.
“Well, this looks very good, Adam. Hoss is quite the nurse isn’t he?”
“I suppose,” Adam murmured.
“But, you are still experiencing a great deal of pain aren’t you?”
“And you’ve taken all of the medicine I left for you a few days ago?”
“Would you like some more to tide you over until you’re feeling better?”
“Yes… I would,” Adam answered simply.
“Sure. I think I have one more bottle in my bag you can have. I’ll put it here for you.”
“Just…just one?” Adam stammered.
“Don’t worry, Adam. You’re healing so fast, you truly won’t need any more laudanum. And, I don’t want you asking me for any more either. Too much of anything can be harmful. More harmful than the illness or injury itself. I don’t want you to become dependant on it. I’ve seen that happen lots of times before. Once this bottle is finished, that’ll be it I’m afraid.”
Adam glanced at the medicine. “May I have some now?” he muttered.
The doctor administered a dose and waited to see it take effect. He pulled the blankets over Adam and left the room.
When he was alone, Adam reached for the laudanum and took several more sips. It was taking more and more of the stuff to get relief. Eventually it would come. After several moments Adam could feel himself relax. It felt so good to be free of pain. He closed his eyes but did not sleep.
Yet again, the fear of running out of laudanum pre-occupied him. He had to find more. If Doc Martin couldn’t supply it, then he’d have to find it somewhere else. Adam lay there until late afternoon – sipping from the bottle as needed and scheming.
Adam’s trance was broken only when Joe came up around suppertime. He softly knocked on the door and stepped in to find his brother sitting squarely in the chair beside his bed. Joe found Adam’s rigid position odd. “Adam?”
“What are you doing sitting there?”
“I just, I was… I don’t know,” Adam answered vacantly.
“Well, ah…Pa wants to know if you want supper brought up to you.”
“No, no. I can come down.”
“Are you feeling better?” Joe asked with a grin.
“Yes, no… I, I think so.”
“You think so? You’re not sure?”
“Sure, I’m sure. Why wouldn’t I be sure? Why all the questions?” Adam sniffed defensively.
“Well, if you’re sure… then it’s ready when you are.”
“Ready? What’s ready?”
“Ummm, supper,” Joe replied with a puzzled frown. “Remember I just asked you if you wanted to have it in your room and you said you’d come down for supper.”
“I never said that.”
“Well, yes you did.”
“I’ll come down for supper. I’ll come down right now,” Adam suddenly sounded urgent.
“Okay, Adam. Take your time. We’ll wait for you.”
“I’ll be right down, Joe. I will.”
Little Joe left the room confused. His conversation with Adam was weird. It was so disjointed. But, Adam certainly looked better and didn’t show any signs of the pain that had been so debilitating the last few days. Joe tried to shake off his concerns and decided instead that Adam had turned a corner in his recovery. The only thing was, Joe wasn’t sure if it was for good or bad.
Ben, Hoss and Little Joe waited at the table for Adam. Joe made no mention of the strange exchange he’d had with him. He didn’t want to worry his father anymore than he already was. Hop Sing was getting antsy about serving dinner. He always had everything perfectly timed. When someone was late it would inevitably wreak havoc with the quality of his food. That upset him.
“Go up and see if Adam is coming Joe, before Hop Sing throws a complete fit,” Ben ordered mildly.
“Sure thing, Pa.”
Just as Joe rose from the table, Adam appeared at the top of the stairs. He descended the steps carefully, concentrating on each foot placement. He was conscious that his inebriation might cause him to tumble. That could be catastrophic.
When he reached the dining room, Adam sat down without making eye contact with anyone. He said nothing – his glazed eyes stared downward vacantly. Seemingly clamped in place across his ribcage was his injured left arm. Adam’s head bobbed slightly between his shoulders.
“Are you alright, Adam?” Ben asked.
“I said… are you alright?”
“Yes,” Adam answered defensively. “I’m alright.”
“Well. I’m glad to hear it. Hop Sing? We’re ready to eat now.”
The Chinaman came out of the kitchen with a platter of beef and a bowl of mashed potatoes. He grumbled incoherently about the meat being dry but it not being his fault. He looked over at Adam and was visibly taken aback by his ghostly appearance. It was a look he’d seen before and it was one he feared greatly. It stopped him dead in his tracks. The blackness of Adam’s eyes, the greenish tinge of his skin and the unmistakable sagging of his body pointed to only one thing – the devastating effects of laudanum. But, Hop Sing remained silent. He tried to conceal his reaction but it was hard to miss.
“Everything okay, Hop Sing?” Hoss inquired.
“Ah…yes, Mista Hoss. You eat supper now.”
As his family dug in to the food in front of them, Adam remained still. He seemed fixed on the tablecloth. His stagnant stare was eerie – almost dead.
“Well, go ahead, Adam,” Ben encouraged. “Doctor says you need to eat to keep up your strength.”
“Someone needs to drive me over to see Charlotte tonight?” Adam blurted out ignoring his father’s advice. His abrupt request was not focused on anyone in particular.
“Well, ah… are you sure you’re feeling up to visiting Adam?” Ben quarried.
“I’m feeling fine,” Adam sounded angry. “Why is everyone asking me that?”
His tone shocked Ben who decided to brush it off due to Adam’s condition.
“Charlotte, ah… Charlotte came by to see you yesterday, Adam,” Joe said trying to lighten the atmosphere. “But, you were asleep. She sure is worried about you, older brother.”
“Oh? And, just what exactly was she worried about?” Adam snarled.
“Well, she heard about the accident,” Joe continued with trepidation. “…and wanted to make sure that handsome face of yours wasn’t damaged. Well, at least that’s the way she put it. I like Charlotte. She’s funny.”
Joe’s comments sailed over Adam’s head. There was an awkward moment of silence that fell over the room when Joe got no reaction from Adam. Joe fidgeted and looked at both Hoss and Ben for guidance. They seemed stumped at Adam’s odd demeanor.
“Did you hear what Joe said, Adam?” Ben asked. “Charlotte is concerned about you.”
“Yes. I heard him. Why wouldn’t I hear him? He’s sitting right there isn’t he?”
Ben scowled at his son’s impudence. “Now listen here, young man. I know you’re not feeling well but that is no excuse for rudeness.”
“I need someone to take me over to Charlottes or I’ll ride over there myself!” Adam demanded.
“I said, watch – your – tone!” Ben’s voice lowered to its basement.
Hop Sing peered around the corner of the kitchen wall to eaves drop on the conversation. He knew what was happening but had no solution in stopping it. The laudanum in Adam’s room was disappearing faster than snow in April. It had begun its insidious wrath on Adam’s body. Hop Sing also knew that once under the spell of opium, there was little anyone could do to break it.
“Now if you want someone to take you to see Charlotte…” Ben expounded as calmly as his temper would allow, “that’s fine but it will have to be tomorrow? I think it would be much more polite to visit during the day don’t you?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Well, I’m sorry, son. Tomorrow will have to do,” Ben stated firmly. “Now try to eat something and then get back up to bed. I don’t think you’re in any mood for socializing. Maybe a good night’s rest will help make you a little more courteous.”
“I doubt it,” Adam hissed.
There was a short pause before Adam stood. He threw his napkin onto the table and stomped back up stairs. The three men sat bewildered at what had just transpired.
“Why’s he so mad, Pa? What’s the matter with him?” Hoss said curiously.
“He’s just tired, son,” Ben reasoned. “He’s in pain. It can break a man. Attack his spirit. We’ll just have to be patient with him.”
“I’ll take him over to see Charlotte tomorrow, Pa. That should cheer him up… for a little while anyway.”
“Thank you, Hoss. I appreciate you keeping an eye on him for the next few days.”
“I’ll watch him Pa. I’ll watch ’im real close.”
When Adam entered his room, he wanted to slam the door behind him. He managed to control his rage but had no idea why he was so anger. He felt as if he were on the edge of madness. A horrific serge of panic suddenly raced through his veins and he lunged toward the bed to grab the bottle of laudanum. He took a mouthful and then collapsed onto the edge of the mattress in silent satisfaction.
Terror filled his senses. His shoulder only ached mildly now. The excruciating pain had been replaced by an overpowering need for the bitter liquid. It scared him. But what petrified Adam even more was that he seemed to have no control over his craving. Adam prided himself on control and discipline but that it seemed, was unattainable. There was only one thing he knew for certain. He would need more.
He’d have to go to Virginia City the next day. He’d have to venture to the seedier outreaches of the town to the Chinese laundries. It was never spoken about, but everyone knew what lurked beyond the borders of the mining village. It was a place Adam never expected he’d have to frequent. It was a sinister place. But, now – he had no choice.
When Adam awoke, he had an overwhelming feeling of dread. His first conscious act of the day was to fulfill his habit. But his anxiety was mainly because he knew he’d have to lie to his family. Today would be the beginning of an entire series of them. That was the only way he could go on. He pulled himself out of bed and prepared to put on a show of recovery.
He carefully unwrapped his bandages and washed his wound. It was clean and closing nicely. He placed a smaller dressing on it and tried to rotate his shoulder. To his surprise, it worked quite well. With conservation in mind, he took a small dose of laudanum as he readied himself for his performance.
He struggled slightly putting on his pants and shirt. But it was his boots that gave him the most trouble. While his arm was much better, Adam realized he had little strength in it. But he plodded on like a trooper. It was the only way to prove he was well. He’d have to be pleasant this morning whether he felt like it or not. He had to convince his father and brother’s that he was better. After successfully washing, shaving and dressing, he took a deep breath, plastered on a smile and went down to breakfast.
“Good morning, everyone.” Adam said brightly as he took his seat at the table.
His jovial facade took his family by surprise, considering the display of ire he exhibited at dinner the evening before. His sudden turn around was nothing short of miraculous.
“Well, good morning to you too, Adam,” Ben replied with relief. “I see you’re out of your sling and raring to go.”
“Yes, Pa. I’m feeling much better today,” Adam answered as he reached for the coffee pot.
“How’s that arm of yours?” Hoss asked.
“Well, it works,” Adam shrugged gently.
“Don’t have much strength though, I reckon,” observed Hoss.
“No, but it’s coming. It’ll be fine. Just fine.”
Adam was putting on a good show so far but Ben, Hoss and Joe were suspicious. They said nothing to upset Adam’s congeniality. They continued on with their meal. Hop Sing looked quizzically at him as well, but he knew that Adam had fallen into a well of addiction. He knew the signs. Adam may be able to hide his dependency from his family, but he could not fool Hop Sing.
“I just need to tend to that new foal and then I can take you to see Charlotte, Adam,” Hoss piped up.
“Ah, that’s okay, Hoss. I can get there myself.”
Ben stopped eating and glanced over at his eldest son. “I think Hoss should go with you Adam,” he said.
“No, no, Pa. I’m fine, really. I can manage. I won’t do too much too soon. I promise.”
Adam was very convincing. He was a good actor.
Ben smiled quietly at him. “Well, I suppose you can’t get into too much trouble between here and there.”
Adam grinned back at his father trying to instill confidence.
“Say hello to Charlotte for me. Invite her for supper one night.”
“I will, Pa.”
Adam’s ride into town was a grueling one. He’d taken his last sip of laudanum several hours before. Now, he was beside himself with a yearning so strong it made his blood percolate. He felt as if centipedes crawled over his skin. The collar on his shirt was so irritating he wanted to rip it away from his neck. His shoulder, that was merely sore that morning, now pulsed with heat. It felt as if it were being stabbed with a hot poker. His wound had reopened and blood soaked through his shirt to his coat. Adam squirmed in the saddle. But, his lust for the stuff was far more powerful than his discomfort. He rode on.
Adam had no intention of going through town and diverted around it instead. He would be recognized if he rode right down Main Street. That would hamper his convert excursion. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was going. The rumor mill was not specific. All he knew was that the Chinese neighborhoods had dens where opium was plentiful. He’d seen them in San Francisco and was appalled when he heard they had infiltrated his community. But, here he was searching them out – desperate for a fix.
Sport dutifully trudged through the mud into new territory. As Adam passed, the local men and woman stopped to stare at him. They rarely saw people of his ilk in this part of town. The only non-Chinese who arrived were nomads and ruffians. They came and went like a drifting fog.
Adam moved down several side streets until he finally began to smell it. Its odor was unmistakable and lovely. His nose literally led him to a small, disheveled shack. He dismounted. But, before entering the den, he looked around to make certain he was not seen. Then with heavenly relief only moments away, Adam went inside.
“Sorry I’m late, Pa,” Adam apologized as he took his seat at the dinner table.
“I was beginning to think you’d be staying at Charlotte’s for supper… again,” Ben said slightly irritated. He’d not seen much of his son in recent days. “How is she? You’ve been over there quite a lot lately.”
“Oh, ah… she’s fine. We, ah… we had a nice time today,” Adam stumbled.
“Good. And, how are you feeling? Has riding caused any trouble with your arm?”
“Not at all, Pa. I think it’s pretty much healed now.”
In fact, Adam’s shoulder had begun to fester. The problem was, he did not recognize the growing danger. It wouldn’t stop bleeding but he drew no attention to it. The drug had masked the pain. And, Adam cared little about anything except his newfound ally.
“That’s wonderful. Time to get back to work then, eh?” Ben suggested cautiously.
“That’s right, older brother,” Hoss said. “Bout time you pitched in. Me and Joe been doing your chores now for a week.”
“Well, actually…” Adam replied sheepishly. “I told Charlotte I’d help her with something tomorrow.”
“Help her? With what?”
“She ah, well it’s her… it’s her father actually,” Adam stammered. He hated lying.
“Bill needs a hand with his… umm, with his roof.”
“His roof?” Little Joe joined in. “Mr. Russell’s place is better kept than a gold watch. He never lets anything go.”
“Yeah, well, ah… his roof has sprung a leak and he asked me to help him patch it.”
“Oh, well that’s the neighborly thing to do, of course, Adam, Ben affirmed. “But, can’t it wait until you’ve finished your chores. You have to do your share, Adam, if you’re in good health.”
Adam’s demeanor instantly changed from congenial to enraged. “No!” He lashed back. “It has to be tomorrow. He asked me to help him tomorrow and I’m going to help him tomorrow. That’s final!” he seethed.
Adam’s sudden and base rant sent his family for a loop. They sat aghast and looked over at him in shock.
“Excuse me?” Ben said with ire. “You do not speak to me that way, young man.”
“I don’t know any other way.”
“Well, you better find a way very quickly or…”
“Or what, Pa?” Adam challenged.
Hoss and Joe hunkered down as if taking cover from the battle that was about ensue. They had heard their father and brother argue before over many issues. But this was different. Adam looked vicious – like a cornered and wounded bull. He seemed wild.
Adam pressed his chin to his chest and leered up at his father from under his brow. His eyes were swarthy and flashed like an incensed badger. The look was that of a heeded warning. It was almost evil. Joe didn’t know how to react to his brother’s rash change in character. He glanced at Hoss who overtly showed alarm.
“Adam?” Ben said after gathering control of his wits. “I’m not sure what has brought on this nasty side of you but I will not have anyone, let alone one of my sons, exhibit such disrespect.”
Adam’s ominous stare never flinched. Its intensity was frightening. He breathed loudly through his nose – his jaw clenched firmly making his cheeks pulse.
“Now you say you are fine,” Ben continued steadily. “You say your shoulder is healed and yet you display the actions of a spoiled child. I’ll not have it, Adam. You’re a grown man and if you are feeling well, as you say you are, then you may help Charlotte’s father when your chores are done!”
Without hesitation, Adam rose from the table without blinking and stormed out of the house gun and hat in hand.
“I’ll go after ’im, Pa,” Hoss said as he began to stand.
“No, no, Hoss. Leave him be,” Ben ordered as he tried to regain his composure. “Once he realizes that he’s being unreasonable, he’ll be back.”
“I don’t know, Pa,” Joe announced. “I’ve seen Adam angry before but I’ve never seen him like this. Something’s wrong.”
“I know, Joe. I know.”
Adam never returned. Several days and nights passed without any sign of him. Joe and Hoss wanted to go after their brother, but Ben asked them not to. He knew it was his responsibility to get the bottom of Adam’s stormy and unpredictable behavior. He was terribly worried and decided to ride over to see Charlotte. Hopefully, Adam would be there.
“Good morning, Bill,” Ben said as he rode through the gate of the Russell’s ranch.
“Howdy, Ben. Long time no see.”
“Yes, yes. It has been awhile, hasn’t it. How are you keeping?”
“Oh, I can’t complain.”
Ben dismounted and tied his reins to the hitching post. He walked over to Bill who was chopping wood to the side of his house.
“How’s your roof? Is it all patched up?” Ben inquired.
“My roof? What are you talking about, Ben? My roof’s as tighter than a beer barrel.”
“Oh, well…” Ben replied somewhat taken aback. “Well, Adam said that…, well I suppose he was mistaken.”
A red flag waved in front of Ben’s face but he tried to ignore it. He always gave his sons the benefit of the doubt and this would be no different – he hoped. Maybe Adam simply misunderstood.
“Is Charlotte about?” Ben asked looking over the place as if searching for her.
“Yes. She’s in her room,” Bill suddenly sounded annoyed. “But, she’s not really up to seeing visitors.”
“Oh? Why not? She isn’t ill is she?”
“Well sir, if you call a broken heart ill, then I suppose she is.”
“Broken heart?” Ben chuckled uncomfortably. “I don’t understand, Bill. Who’s broken Charlotte’s heart?”
“Adam, of course.”
“Adam?” Ben scoffed. “Adam’s been over here everyday for the last several weeks… hasn’t he?”
“We haven’t seen that boy since before we heard about his accident. Charlotte has tried to see him many times. He hasn’t come by here at all to see her and, I gotta be honest with you, Ben, I’m none too happy with him right now.”
“Bill, right now, I’m not very happy with him either,” Ben scowled. He stared at the ground and sighed. “Give Charlotte my best and tell her…, well, tell her I’ll talk to Adam.”
“I’ll do that, Ben. And when you see Adam, tell him I want to talk to him too. My daughter is not to be played with in this manner.”
Ben did not reply. He was incensed that Adam had boldly lied to his face. He’d always instilled in his boys that lying was the lowest form of humanity and that it would never be tolerated. It was so out of character for Adam to be anything but honest. As Ben rode toward Virginia City in search of his son, terror filled every fiber of his being. Adam was not Adam anymore and Ben had to find out why.
It was late evening and Adam had had his fill for the day. He had set up camp not five miles away from his favorite haunts. He was living in an abandoned mine shack. It had become home. He’d spent the last few days in and out of the dens that had become his lifeline. He’d not eaten and now was in need of sleep.
It took him several tries to stand, and when he was finally successful, he stumbled toward the door to leave. When he opened it, a gush of fresh air streamed in giving Adam a feeling of exhilaration. He stepped down into the street and turned to walk back to his cabin to regroup for his next round. But he was stopped in his tracks by a man who darted out from behind the building.
“Hop Sing,” Adam gasped. “What, what are you doing here?”
“I here to take you home, Mista Adam.”
“I have no home, Hop Sing,” Adam brushed him aside. “Leave me alone.”
“You sick man. You need Hop Sing to make you well.”
“I’m not sick. Now go away,” Adam demanded as he continued down the muddy street.
“If you not come with me now, I make you come,” Hop Sing called after him daringly.
“Oh? And, just how are you going to do that?” Adam turned back to face the Chinaman.
“With my help… older brother,” Hoss stated as he stepped out from the alley Adam had drawn even with. The imposing figure of him made Adam step back.
“And mine too,” Little Joe said as he joined Hoss. They created a wall in front of Adam.
“Don’t push me, Adam warned as he crouched slightly to prepare for a fight.
“You’re comin’ home with us, Adam. You’re comin’ home right now.”
Adam drew his gun on his brothers. It was as if he had no history with them – like they were strangers threatening him. Nothing mattered to Adam except the opium his body so desperately cried out for. He’d kill for it.
“Put the gun away, Adam,” Hoss advised as he gingerly approached his brother.
“You’re gonna shoot me? You gonna shoot him?” Hoss gestured to Little Joe. “We’re your brothers. We’re your family, Adam. Now put down the gun before you hurt somebody. Before you do something you’ll regret.”
“I don’t have a family. I don’t need any of you.”
“Looks like you do,” Joe said as he too honed in on him.
But, as Adam backed up, he stepped into Hop Sing’s stranglehold. It gave Hoss and Joe just enough time to grab him and knock him out. Now slumped over Hoss’ shoulder, the three men carried Adam home.
“I’m sorry, Ben,” Doc Martin apologized. “I had no idea Adam would take to the laudanum like that. I have heard of such cases. I’ll be much more careful and diligent in the future.”
“That would be wise, Paul.”
Ben showed the doctor to the door and then closed it, then joined Hoss and Joe in the living room. They sat across from each other in silent satisfaction. Their relief that Adam was safe and sound was apparent.
“Thank you,” Ben said simply as he humbly stood before them.
“Thank Hop Sing, Pa,” Hoss replied. “He knew what was wrong with Adam and where to find ’im.”
“Believe me, I already have, Hoss. But Hop Sing couldn’t have gotten him home without your help. I’m glad you disobeyed me and went after him. But you should have told me.”
“We didn’t want to worry you none.”
“Well, I suppose it was better for you two to face him down. I would have probably handled it badly. I’m proud of you boys,” Ben said squarely.
“So, how is he?” Joe asked. “Did Doc Martin stop the bleeding?”
“Well, his shoulder surely is a mess,” Ben answered as he took a seat. “It will take a great deal of time to heal. But, he’ll get full use of it eventually.”
“What about the laudanum, Pa?” Hoss inquired. “How we gonna fix that?”
“By locking Adam in his room and watching him twenty-four hours a day, that’s how.”
“Lock him in his room?” Joe said puzzled at the prescription. “How’s that going to help?”
“Paul says that the opium has to leave his system. It has to run it’s coarse. The problem is, Adam will still want it and we have to stop him from getting it, even if we have to tie him to his bed. It’s going to be a difficult few weeks for him, I’m afraid. We can’t give in to him. Paul says he’ll try anything to get it. Don’t trust him boys. No matter what he says or does. Not until we know for certain that he’s well.”
“Gosh,” Hoss muttered. “It’s that bad?”
“Yes, Hoss. It’s that bad.”
“Well watch ’im then, Pa. We’ll watch ’im till he’s gray, if that’s how long it takes.”
It did take a great deal of time and effort to keep Adam down. He fought like a wildcat to escape but his family, along with Hop Sing, kept him at bay. After several weeks, Adam turned a corner and life finally got back to normal. His arm had repaired; he’d mended his relationship with Charlotte and his family. He slowly got back to work. He was grateful to his brothers for their diligence and asked them to forgive him. They did.
When Adam awoke one morning, he had an overwhelming feeling of dread. His stomach churned with anxiety. He still craved it. It still haunted him. He was afraid he’d never be free of its power over him. But Adam made a promise to his father and brothers and, more importantly, to himself to fight the temptation. Adam looked out his window to see what lay ahead for him. The sun shone brightly.