Summary: A voice from the past whispers to Joe.
Word Count: 1375
“Go home, Joe,” came the soft voice from behind him.
“Go home to your family,” the voice came again.
Slowly he turned around and what he saw would change his life forever.
For years, Joe had been traveling by himself — the only time he ever thought of his family was on holidays. After he had fought with his father, he had stormed out of the house, vowing never to return. It had been a silly fight, really; his Pa had told him to go build a fence that Hoss and Adam had been told to build. He had refused and his father, in a fit of rage, had told him that if he didn’t want to obey the rules, he could leave. Well, he had mounted Cochise and left without so much as looking back.
Two weeks later, he had been arrested for attempted murder. At his trial, he’d been found not guilty, but that didn’t stop the rumors that were told about him. Those rumors had driven him farther away from every thing he knew. They had driven him to take a little know but popular trail called the “Outlaw Trail”; for five years, he’d been the only person to travel the trail who had done nothing wrong.
In that fifth year, he had run into a girl, Christina Slater, whom he grew up with. He was very surprised to see her since she was supposed to be dead.
“Chris what are you doing here?” Joe asked.
“I live here now,” she’d replied.
It had been a whirlwind romance as he learned about what she had been doing for the past couple of years and why she had not come back. After they had been courting for about two months, they decided to get married. Six months latter she announced that she was pregnant, eight month’s latter their first child was born and they named him Benjamin Slater Cartwright. When Little Ben was born, Joe rode to the nearest town hoping to find someone to help Christy around the house. He came back with Hop Ling, the oldest brother of his Pa’s cook Hop Sing.
“Do not wolly ‘bout wife, Mistah Cartlight; I take good cale,” Hop Ling told him each time that he left to go to work. However, he couldn’t keep himself from worrying.
Six months after she had Little Ben, Christy got pregnant again, but sadly, she suffered a miscarriage. Not two months later, the Ute’s attacked their home and Christy went down in a hail of bullet’s trying to protect Little Ben and her home. Joe rode to the scene just in time to see her go down, and in a fit of rage, he slew more than ten Indians single-handed. The Indians soon backed off and left. Joe then ran to his fallen wife; he picked up her body and, crying the whole way, took her into the house. Two days later, they laid her in the ground under her favorite tree in the yard.
After mourning for two weeks, Joe had sent Hop Ling and Little Ben to his father with this note:
I know I was wrong to leave that day and I’m sorry. I would like you to take care of my son for me, Hop Ling will explain to you the circumstances in which I send them. I love you Pa and I really am sorry I left like that; I hope you can forgive me if not I understand. I realize my mistake now since I’ve led a hard life from the time I left to now and I likely will continue in this way of life till I get shot or come home. Will you please tell Adam and Hoss I love them and miss them? Pa, I love you so much and I miss you,
Your loving son,
After he sent Hop Ling and Little Ben away, there was nothing holding him to the little clearing that had once been a happy home, and once again, he had started to wander. After he had been traveling for two weeks, he had a vision of his wife and all she did was glare at him; when he blinked and looked to where she had been standing, she was gone! Over the next couple of weeks, she haunted his waking and sleeping hours. Then he started to see his mother standing there with Christy, and soon he saw with them his Pa and brother’s staring at him with longing in their eyes, silently begging him to come home. Still he ignored them, and soon there was only Christy standing there once again, but now she was the one silently begging him to go home.
For three years, he traveled around trying to ignore the images and sometimes the voices. Until he wound up right where he’d started. One week from his father’s birthday, he stood over his wife’s grave and stared off toward the mountains and home, asking himself the one question that he’d asked so many times in the past years, ‘Do they miss me or are they glad I’m gone?’ Suddenly, from behind him, he heard a voice.
“Go home Joe.” The voice, sounded eerie and haunting, and it made him shiver.
“Go home to your family,” Again, the voice came, making him turn around.
There behind him stood his wife. She stood there in the moonlight, her black hair blowing across her pale face, smiling a sad smile. ‘That is always the way she looks,’ he thought, sad and forlorn; of course, it might have to do with the fact that she herself could never go home.
“Go home and tell your father you’re sorry; do the thing that I never will be able to.” Her voice was soft and sounded as if she was the wind itself.
“But he told me to leave,” he said, trying to make an excuse for her.
“Go home, and if he sends you away again you can always join me,” she said as her blue/black eyes glinted with unshed tears.
“Fine, I will go home as you say, but, my dear, if he does take me back, I will return to get you,” he said, going over to saddle his horse.
“If he takes you back, then I won’t be here when you return,” she said, walking over and placing a kiss on his cheek, a kiss that he thought felt more like when a drop of rain falls and hits you.
Just before he left, he turned to say good-bye to the only home that he had known for the past five years. And there in the moonlight stood a lone head stone that said:
Beloved wife and mother
Died of a gunshot wound trying to protect her home
He wiped a lone tear from his eye and said, “Good-bye, Chris, and thank you.”
As he rode up the road leading to the Ponderosa a couple of days later, he thought he heard his wife whisper in the trees, “Be a good son and be a good father.”
As he rode into the yard, he saw his brothers playing with a small boy, and his father in the rocker on the porch. When the small boy heard the horse, he looked up; when he saw who it was, he yelled, “Papa! Papa, you came for me!!”
As he got down from his horse, Joe was nearly knocked off his feet by his four year-old son. He hugged his son and looked to where his father and brothers stood, their mouths hanging open. His father was the first to recover from the shock of seeing him for the first time in ten years.
“Joe, is it really you?” his Pa asked.
Joe realized at that moment that he had changed a lot; his once constantly smiling face had grown hard and serious during his years away, and his hair was getting gray at the temples. But all he said was, “Yeah Pa, I’m home.”
And it was true — Joe Cartwright was finally home. And looking down from their spot in heaven Marie and Christy Cartwright smiled.