Word Count: 10,800
“Tonight’s the night
for all spirits bright,
to make the man
with all I can.
lest I stray,
to make the bait
and find my mate.”
A sprinkling of dust lightly coated the air before drifting down onto the roaring fire, as the lone figure, a woman, swayed before the large black cauldron. The contents within the cauldron boiled turbulently above the hot fire as the woman dipped her hand deep into a suede bag at her side and dashed another sprinkling of dust onto the fire. A chant left her lips and drifted across the slowly darkening night sky. Raising her arms high above her head she began to spin around as each verse slowly became louder and louder until she was screaming. Suddenly she stopped. She glanced around her, peering into the encroaching darkness around her. There in the distance, she could faintly see the glow of her jack-o-lanterns that lit the windows providing her some comfort for the evening. Each year on the eve of all hallows she carved out gourds, ones that she had grown herself, fearful of the spirit of her deceased father. It had been three years of carrying on the tradition. The frighteningly carved characters would easily scare a young child, but living alone in this desolated part of the woods she kept to herself and never had to worry about such. Not one to stay in one location for long, she knew her sister had directed her to the right place when she had stumbled upon the right place when last year she found this desolated cabin, high up in the Sierra’s. This year she was determined to find a man, one in which to help pass her seed along and she knew that this was the place where man would be found. With one last glance at her fire, she slowly walked towards the cabin, her thoughts on the type of man she wished to posses.
The howling wind made it difficult for conversation, but Joe did his best to listen to what his brother was saying, while at the same time attempted to keep his agitated horse under control. He had been struggling with this new horse since leaving town, even now it seemed determined to turn in circles instead of standing still.
“I’m headed up to the Graham’s place to check and see how Sam is doing after his spell last week. I heard that the missus was pretty upset that he wasn’t able to finish up with some of the fencing around their place.” Adam was saying as he pulled his coat tighter around him. He could feel the chill of the wind as it blew past him. “Is it getting colder out here to you?”
Joe rubbed his nose with his gloved hand as he nodded his head. “Yeah, it feels like the wind has shifted and is blowing down directly from the north.” Glancing over his shoulder he could see the pillows of clouds blowing towards them. “Are you sure going up to the Graham’s is a good idea?”
“Probably not,” Adam replied as he swung his horse around. “If I change my mind on the trail, I’ll see you back at the house in time for supper.”
Pulling the corners of his overcoat closer around his neck, Joe watched his brother ride off. As he rubbed his gloved hands briskly together, he realized that it was times like these that made him wish he had a scarf to wrap around his ears. As it was, his ears were suffering the first onslaught of the wind. Feeling his horse dance beneath him, Joe could only shake his head. It had been a challenge the entire trip from town keeping the horse from running free. The power and strength the horse had awed Joe, but the fool horse needed to learn how to control it. He patted the horse’s neck then rubbed the one patch of white on the horse’s forehead, the only patch of color on its black body. Determined to teach the stubborn horse to walk, he nudged it towards home, wishing once again that he had taken his trustworthy mount this day. Pointing the horse in the right direction, Joe soon was lost in his thoughts, ones of home and warmth.
As Adam rode down the trail towards the Graham’s ranch, he began to have second thoughts about his decision. The sun was setting earlier and the idea of riding home in the dark, even on a trail he knew, wasn’t something he was particularly interested in. He pulled his horse to a stop and sat for a moment in the saddle to think. Finally, he realized that despite his desire to check up on the neighbors, his safety needed to come first. Realizing the common sense of the decision, Adam turned his horse around and started for home.
He hadn’t ridden far when he could distinctly smell what he thought to be a campfire close to him. Strange, he thought, he hadn’t noticed the smell before. As he looked around through the dense trees he couldn’t see any embers or visible signs of a campfire. But the smell was so close he could have sworn it was right next to him. Curious as to who might be out here, Adam led Sport off the road. But as he guided his horse off the main path, it became agitated and jumpy, trying to shy away. Puzzled by his horse’s actions, he kicked his feet out of the stirrups and slid out of the saddle, landing firmly on the ground. With one hand still on the reins, he carefully began to walk through the brush, pushing aside branches and following the smell when he suddenly came face to face with a woman. Startled, he dropped the reins of his horse. The horse, realizing freedom was at hand, turned and went galloping away.
“SPORT!” yelled Adam as he realized his error. He slapped his hands against his pants in frustration as an expletive slipped out. His horse was gone. Turning, he remembered he was in the company of a lady as he had a twinge of regret for his language.
“You are man?”
Adam stared at her. “Yes ma’am,” he answered hesitantly, wondering why she asked such an obvious question. He glanced into the woods and saw the source of the smoke he had smelled earlier. The flames of the fire were shooting straight up into the sky, dancing just beneath the upper limbs of the great Ponderosa pines. Concerned for the spread of a fire he pointed to it. “You do realize that you shouldn’t build such a large fire underneath those trees.” Walking towards the fire, he glanced up at the upper boughs of the Ponderosa and was amazed that it had not caught fire yet. “It can catch fire on the limbs of the trees just above it,” he explained.
A knowing smile spread across the woman’s face as she acknowledged his statement. “That is your fire. I know my fire.”
“Oh,” Adam answered with a strange look on his face. This woman was really weird and the quicker he was able to get away from her, the better. She stood in front of the fire, and the flames created a light behind her dress, letting Adam see the well endowed woman’s frame. A tall woman she was not, more around 5’3” if he had to guess, and she had long black hair that flowed loose around her knees. But it was the dark cape that she wore around her shoulders made her appear short and squat. Tipping his hat towards her, Adam knew that he’d have a long walk back to home, but it was better than staying in the company of this strange woman. His intuition was telling him to leave, and to leave now.
Adam spoke quickly as he took a step backwards, “Well ma’am, my horse has gotten away and I need to go find him.” He turned and started to take a step when he realized that something was wrong. He was going backwards, but he wasn’t moving. He tried again and realized that he still wasn’t moving. He couldn’t move his arms or legs in fact he couldn’t even move his lips and make a sound! It felt as though his entire body was immobilized in stone. Desperately he tried to move, but to no avail. Only his eyes could move and move around they did as he watched the woman as she paced around the fire. It was then that Adam noticed the large black cauldron that was sitting on the top of the fire. With a mixture of fascination and fear, he watched the woman as she approached the bubbling, boiling mixture. She would pick up an item from the ground then hold it above her head as she danced around the kettle, before dropping it down within the dark murky blackness in the pot. Each time she dropped an item into the kettle she would turn and stare at him then stare past him into the darkness. Her eyes dark and mysterious held some sort of special power as she would try and peer deep into his soul. But each time she looked away, the spell would be broken, but would leave behind a wicked smile resting upon her lips. Wicked, yes that’s what it was Adam thought. This woman was wicked, he thought desperate to find a way to loosen himself from whatever held him tight.
Slowly the woman approached him. Her hips swayed seductively beneath her cloak as she smiled up at this man, this man who intrigued her dressed as she, in total black. This had to be the one that the spirits had sent for her. She took a closer step towards him, then reached out and began to stroke his face as she moved her caresses down to his arms and chest. Feeling the solid beat of his heart enclosed within the strong chest, the woman pressed her body up close to his, her head falling against his stomach. Within she could hear it gurgling so she pulled her hands down and pressed upon it. The gurgle stopped. Rubbing her hands further down his body, she was immensely pleased with what she had found. She took a deep breath and took a step backwards, her hands left where they were as she stole a look into the man’s eyes. Her head lifted she peered into his dark eyes, eyes as dark as her own and sought out his soul to read what he had to say.
Adam was uncomfortable. It didn’t matter how much he demanded his body to move it just wouldn’t move. This woman was just plain bizarre, she was nothing like anyone he had ever met before. Feeling her hands roaming all over his body, he couldn’t help but hold his breath as her hands inched in an area where proper women were normally not allowed to touch. Fearful of what she was capable of Adam stood still. Then again, he couldn’t move so standing still wasn’t a problem. He could feel her move away from him, although she kept her hands where they were. Keeping them in the one place was torture for him. Unable to move his eyes away from her gaze, he screamed out for someone, anyone to rescue him from this torture. But sadly no one could hear his cries, his words permanently plugged. Suddenly a cool breeze surrounded the area where her hands had once been. He sighed in relief. But quickly his relief turned to horror when he found himself in a new position. No longer was he standing, but as he darted his eyes around he noticed that he was looking directly into the trees above him. Left and right his eyes darted, desperate to know what was happening. It took a moment, but as soon as he realized it Adam was paralyzed with fear. He couldn’t swallow and he couldn’t breathe in his understanding of what happened. It was with horror that he realized that he was floating horizontal with the ground below him, his body hovering around four feet from the ground. Trying to understand what was going on was hopeless, he was scared. Pure and simple, scared. Again he tried to move, to do anything to get his body out of this catatonic stage. But it was impossible. This had to be a bad dream, Adam thought to himself.
The woman slowly walked towards Adam, her dark eyes glowing like red hot coals from the fire. Chanting to her self, she allowed the words to coat the air, “I have my man, to do with what I can. He is in black and nothing he lacks.” The woman slowly danced around Adam, each time touching him on various parts of the body before stopping next to his inert figure. Slowly she untied the cape that was draped around her shoulders, watching as it fell to the ground. Again she moved, this time doing the same procedure as before. She danced a few more times around him, touching various parts of Adam’s body before stopping on the other side of him. She kept her eyes upon Adam, her own drilling into his as she slipped her hands to the top button of her dress and slowly began to unbutton each button on her dress. Bending her shoulders back, she released the last button and let the dress slip from her shoulders and puddle down at her feet. Dressed in nothing, her white skin glowed as the darkness began to settle around them, the clouds above parting to allow a beam of moonlight cast down onto the pair. Reaching out the woman stroked Adam’s face and gave another smile. “My only man, to do with what I can. You lay above me, as I see, in eager need to plant my seed.” She pulled off Adam’s outer coat in a quick motion and flung it to the side, then began to finger with the buttons on his black shirt. One by one she played with the buttons and then in one motion ripped the shirt, sending buttons flying everywhere, and leaving Adam bare-chested. With a smile that only she could decipher she moved her hands down to his black pants, her hand hovering over his belt. “You man in black, will be my snack. But better wait, when you are my mate.” With one flick of the fingers. she loosened Adam’s belt when she heard a noise behind her. She screamed. There was the great black beast from her nightmares, steam rising from its flaring nostrils just inches from where she stood. Concentration lost, she threw her arms above her head and tried to push the beast away when she remembered her prey. She turned around and cried out in pain. He was gone!
The clouds that had been dotting the sky all evening suddenly broke free once again to allow a long narrow shaft of moonbeam to land upon the beast. It was then that the woman’s nightmare was given a face. It was a horse, a large black horse. The woman took a deep breath and screamed her frustration as she dove towards the horse and the man astride it.
Joe watched from atop his horse as the wild woman dove straight for his horse, screaming wildly as her stark white naked skin glowed in the moonlight. With both hands on the reins he pulled his horse away, but not before the crazy woman grabbed hold of his left leg. Shocked, he tried kicking her away but the insurmountable amount of strength within her arms seemed to outweigh his own. He could feel his strength ebbing away, but when he recalled the picture of his brother hovering above the ground, he swore that wouldn’t happen to him. He fiercely tried to kick her out of his way, but that was nothing to this woman. She was wild as she clawed at him. Joe could feel her nails rake down his leg and couldn’t help but cry out in pain. “Damn you, woman!” he cried out as he struggled to get out her clutches. His horse was already skittish and became even crazier every time the woman came close to it. That is, almost every time. Now it seemed to be dancing in place as the woman approached it. That was strange, Joe thought as he tugged frantically on the reins. Suddenly without warning, his horse flung its head up and reared high into the air. Joe was hanging on tightly to the reins, but it was when the horse came crashing back to the ground on all four legs that the reins somehow slipped out of his hands. Without warning, Joe found himself falling from the saddle and plunged to the earth below. He fell with a thud. Stunned Joe laid there, his breath knocked from him as he stared silently at the woman before him.
The woman released the horse from her spell then focused her attention to the young man who lay at her feet. The green-eyed man was staring at her, and she at him. “You are man, with a tan. Eyes of green, bod so lean. I may…”
“Excuse me,” Joe interrupted, desperate for an escape from this wild woman. “Is that your kettle that is about to boil over?”
Distracted the woman stopped her chant. Glancing over at the cauldron she screamed as she watched her mixture overflow and churn within the pot. Her eyes scanning the area, she ran over to the cauldron and began to stir while she lifted her voice to chant. “Man in black, do come back. Man in green, oh so lean. My seed must plant, less I can’t.”
Joe was spellbound in watching the woman, forgetting the danger that he was in being so close to her. He was about to move when something clamped his mouth shut and began to pull him away from the area. Joe struggled hard against his captor as he was pulled further and deeper into the darkened forest. Grabbing at the arm that held him Joe tried loosening the grasp on him, but before he could make another move a voice whispered in his ear.
“Joe, it’s me Adam. Don’t yell and I’ll let you go.”
Joe nodded his head and felt the hand drop away. Scrambling to his feet he turned to face his brother, his captor. “Adam, what on earth is going on?”
Adam peered warily through the darkness as he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he replied as he rubbed his arms briskly, trying to warm his body up. He nodded his head towards camp while he pulled his ripped shirt around him. “I was on my way back home when I smelled a campfire. I went to investigate, and when I got off my horse that woman appeared and then Sport ran off.” Adam explained. “When I walked into her camp she started to stare at me intently and suddenly I discovered I couldn’t move.”
Joe snorted. “Well if she was naked like she is now, I can understand.”
“No,” Adam replied with no humor in his voice. “She was dressed when I came upon her. It wasn’t until she, uh, well…”
“Adam, you don’t need to explain anything. I can’t understand what I saw back there,” Joe said, interrupting his brother. “I came along about when I saw you lying, well floating in the air. I just knew I needed to get you out of that situation as soon as I could.”
“Thanks Joe,” Adam replied with a shake of his head. “I don’t know how to explain it myself. I was standing and then suddenly I couldn’t move. All of a sudden I found myself lying in the air with her chanting something about planting her seed.” He glanced over at his brother before continuing. “You know, in my head I kept begging for someone to come and rescue me, and by the time she started unbuckling my belt I thought for sure I was a goner. What brought you this way?”
“Sport,” Joe answered. “He passed me on his way home, like he was being chased by a bat out of hell. I knew something must have happened for him to be acting like that, so I took off after him. After I caught up with him, I followed the trail to the Grahams and something made me stop on the trail. Maybe it was the smoke from the campfire or,” he added with a raised eyebrow, “it was your crying out for help.”
“But Joe, I couldn’t make a sound. My entire body was paralyzed!”
“Dang it Adam,” Joe exploded. “I don’t know why I stopped. Maybe it was where Sport stopped, I don’t know! But what I do know is that I led my horse into the woods and came upon you hovering up in the air like you were. By the way,” Joe questioned as the wind whipped past them. “Where’s your coat?”
Sighing deeply, Adam glanced over at his brother who was wrapped cozily in his overcoat. “My coat is in her camp, the same place where your horse is. But I’m not going back in there to rescue either item.”
“My horse!” Joe exclaimed suddenly. He stared in the direction of camp and moaned. “I spent too much time with that fool horse to have it run away from me like that!”
Adam wasn’t paying attention to what Joe was saying, too concerned about his own horse as he peered through the trees and beyond. “Where’s Sport?” A rustling sound behind them answered Adam’s question, as he pushed aside a branch and recognized the shape of his horse. “Sport!” he cried out as he plunged through the overgrowth. Loosening the reins from a briar patch, he brought his horse over to where Joe stood. A quick glance at his brother and his woebegone expression reminded Adam how he felt when he lost his own horse. Before either man could say another word the sound of thundering hoof beats echoed in the air, headed directly to where they stood. Both men parted, Adam dove in one direction, Joe the other.
Suddenly there was silence.
Joe sneezed then carefully looked up from where he had fallen. Pulling his pant leg loose from a branch, he slowly looked up to see his horse standing before him, its nostrils flaring. He slowly stood to his feet and was just about to reach for the reins when a force from behind him forced him down on his knees. “What the…” Joe muttered as he looked up at his horse. It was then that he saw her. It was that same demented woman from before, only this time she was dressed and sitting on his horse. His horse, he thought with disgust. His eyes clashed with hers and suddenly he felt a force within her eyes that seemed to draw him towards her. This woman with her mysterious eyes sought him out as she dug deep within his soul. He didn’t want her there and fought it, but no matter how much he fought, she was stronger. She compelled herself to dig deep within him; to reach further and further down to read his most precious thoughts and fears. In the midst of this Joe felt someone tugging on his arm.
“Joe!” Adam begged as he tugged on his brother’s arm, “Don’t look into her eyes.” He watched in terror what was happening and wanted to command his words to get through to his brother. Over and over he spoke those words until finally out of desperation he tugged on his brother, pulling his body close to his. The spell was instantly broken when Joe broke visual contact with the woman.
Joe collapsed in his brother’s arm, the trauma and tension involved draining his energy. Letting out a sigh, Joe stared at his brother and mouthed the words Thank You. As he lay against his brother, both men heard the sound of hissing coming from the woman’s lips. Neither man had the nerve to look at her, but her words were clear as they drifted in the wind. “You are mine! You are mine! You are mine!” The men covered their ears, but the words weren’t muffled as they were chanted on top of each other as the hiss turned into a shrill scream. Joe’s horse began to rear up in terror from the timbre of her voice, and continued to rear as the shrill scream pierced everyone’s ears. Desperate to find a way to remove this creature from its back, the horse began to buck. Up and down it went until one final leap sent the horse down onto its knees, exhausted. Now that the horse was no longer of use, the woman pulled herself free from the saddle and began to twirl around the area, her black cape spinning around her. “You are mine! You are mine! You are mine!” She shrilled, her hands raised in the air, intertwining with one another.
Numb, Joe watched silently as the woman was torturing his horse, aghast at the end result when it finally collapsed out of exhaustion. As soon as the woman moved away, Joe ignored his brother’s words telling him to stay put and ran to his horse. Sliding down onto his knees Joe began to softly speak to the horse, trying to coax it up. “Come on boy, you can get up,” he said as he rubbed on the horse. The horse began to move, slowly moving into position to stand up when the screaming woman returned and stood next to Joe and the horse. The progress that the horse was making stopped, as the shrill tone shattered its concentration. Irritated Joe whirled around and spoke without thinking, “Would you shut up?!”
Stunned, the woman stopped in mid-twirl, her mouth in an open O formation. Then slowly her eyes focused as she turned to look at Joe. Pointing her finger at him she hissed, “You are mean, you man in green. I want you dead and then your head!”
Joe groaned when he realized what he had said. He tried to stand to his feet but found that they were out of control. Something strange was happening, something, someone was overpowering his body. He was standing, but suddenly he found himself on his knees and vaguely could hear a chant waft through the air. “On your knees, like a flea. Hopping here and hopping there. With one swat, you are not.” The chant swirled in Joe’s head when he realized that something going on that he couldn’t understand, but suddenly he realized that his body was moving. But he wasn’t walking. He was actually hopping from one spot to another on his knees! Crying out, he discovered that his words were lodged in his throat, unable to leave. He screamed in his head for help, “ADAM! ADAM WHERE ARE YOU!! HELP ME ADAM!!!” A heavy pressure began, surrounding his body and tightening around his lungs and windpipe. He began to struggle for breath, desperate for air. His vision was getting dark and darker as he began to pray for deliverance from certain death.
Adam stood off to the side, helpless in how to stop this deranged woman, but now that she was attacking his brother he had no choice. He had to do something. This was his brother! But what could he do? With that question hanging in his mind, he looked around the area and remembered his rifle. Grabbing the rifle from the scabbard on his horse, he stood to one side and pointed it at the woman. She was well into her physical assault on Joe, pounding her fists against his already bruised body and was just beginning to stretch her hands around his neck. With her hands tightening against his brother’s windpipe, Adam fired a shot in the air. The woman stopped and looked at Adam, then slowly let go of the man in her hands and let him drop with a thud to the ground. She took a step towards Adam.
“Stop woman,” Adam yelled. “Or I’m going to be forced to shoot you.”
The woman ignored the orders and slowly began to approach Adam, her eyes locked onto his. Spellbound Adam watched as she stood before him and wrapped her hands around the rifle then smiled. He knew he had to break lose from this spell, but he couldn’t. There was a pressure around his neck as he began to choke, his hands clawed at the woman while he fought for air. Darkness was closing in on him when suddenly the pressure around his neck eased. Adam gasped for breath as his hands automatically went to his neck, where he tried to rub the soreness away. He looked down at his feet and involuntarily took a step backwards. The woman lay at his feet, her arms stretched out on either side of her, but it was the long thin branch that pierced her heart that caused Adam to look away. It was then that he saw his brother, struggling to get to his feet. His pants were torn at the knees, red with blood from the numerous cuts and abrasions on his legs. Then Adam looked at Joe’s neck, cringing when he saw the red imprint of the woman’s hand as she sought to cut off his life.
Adam tried to speak, but the trauma on his own throat caused the words to come out in a croak. “What happened?” he asked, as he stretched out a hand to help his brother up.
Joe let out a deep sigh as he accepted his brother’s help standing. Every part of his body was sore and a quick glance to his knees reminded him why standing was so painful. His own throat raw, Joe could only whisper. “I thought for sure I was a goner, but suddenly just when everything was turning black she disappeared. I was rubbing my neck when I saw that she had you in her clutches.” Taking a deep breath, Joe grimaced as he moved then gave a half-smile while pointing to his pistol that lay just out of reach. “My gun was gone so I looked for something to use instead. The closest thing to me was that branch and I threw it hoping to distract her. Instead,” Joe shuddered as he remembered the way it flew through the air, “it went straight through her. She let out a loud hiss and sank to the ground.”
Adam shook his head in disbelief. “Thanks Joe,” Adam whispered. “I thought I was gone, and was afraid she had already killed you.” A horse neighing in the distance caused both men to turn their heads to the sound. “Looks like your horse is doing better also,” Adam commented.
“My horse!” Joe exclaimed with joy. He moved towards his horse, every part of his body aching as he did so. As he whispered sweet nothings on the animal, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Adam stood next to him with his coat on, leading his horse.
Trying to appear nonchalant, Adam answered the quizzical look on Joe’s face. “Yeah, I found my coat lying on the ground next to my horse. Don’t know how it got there, but then again there’s a lot about this evening I don’t understand.”
“Umm, Adam,” Joe spoke hesitantly, “I think there is something else we don’t understand.”
“Where’s the woman?”
“WHAT?” Adam squawked. He turned and glanced around the area. The spot where they had last seen the woman was empty, a layer of ash in the area. Not even wanting to think of where she went or try to understand what had just occurred, he turned to Joe. “What do you say we get out of here and go home?”
“Great idea,” Joe replied with a grin. Standing to his feet, he grimaced from the pain that shot through his body, but couldn’t help but sweep his arm toward his brother as he spoke. “Lead the way, man in black…”
“Oh shut up!” The man in black retorted, with a glare towards his brother.
“I’m just wondering what we are going to tell Pa and Hoss about what happened out here,” Joe mused as he looked over at Adam.
Adam opened his mouth then promptly shut. Various explanations came to mind, but the most obvious one was out of the question. No one would believe what they had gone through if they hadn’t seen it for themselves. Shoot, if he hadn’t been there he would have never believed the story. Glancing at his brother, Adam’s forehead furrowed as he replied. “You’re the one looking the worst of the two of us. You could say you fell from your horse, because you did, you know.”
Joe couldn’t help but make a face at that suggestion. “That can explain my sore or torn up knees, but what about you and your neck?” Joe queried. “It looks like you tangled with a neck scarf, and you lost,” he added with a grin.
“Oh that,” Adam said as he lifted his hand to rub his neck. It was still sore and talking was getting easier, just it felt so raw. He was lost for an explanation. Looking over at his brother, he saw the same pattern on his brother’s neck, as was on his own. “Well, your neck doesn’t look much better little brother.”
Joe’s grin disappeared at that statement. He had forgotten. He slumped against his horse and was at a loss for a good explanation. The wind that had been blowing earlier felt as though it had picked up an icicle or two along the way, blowing the cold right through the two men. The moon light that had guided the two men towards the trail disappeared, leaving the men in darkness. “Whatever we decide Adam, I think we better do it on the way home. I don’t like the way this wind is feeling, and it looks as though storm clouds are moving into the area.”
Nodding, Adam agreed. Both men checked their horses over, tightening cinches then swung onto their mounts. Rather Joe attempted to swing onto his horse, but he discovered quickly that his sore legs weren’t going to make it easy for him. Instead he cautiously stepped into the stirrups and swung his leg over the saddle. Tightening his coat around him, Joe was glad for the moment of moon light that escaped from the clouds. That was the last they saw of it that evening.
Both men were silent as they took the road towards home, each trying to find a way to explain what had gone on. But every explanation each would come with, they would immediately cast it aside. The wind was still howling around them, but the temperature seemed to drop a degree every step the horses took. By the time they saw the private road to the Ponderosa, they were shivering. Adam, with his torn shirt, was thankful that he had found his coat. Without it, he would have been miserable. But even with it he was cold, oh so cold. He took a chance to look over at his brother and saw that he wasn’t doing any better. The time they had spent in the clutches of that woman had wiped both of them out, and Adam could tell that it had taken a toll on his brother.
“Joe, you ok?”
Adam rode alongside his brother, trying to get his attention. For a brief moment Joe looked up at him, but the green eyes that looked back at him were filled with pain. Concern for his brother’s health overcame the desire to get home. Slowing his horse down, Adam pulled his horse alongside Joe and matched pace for pace as he cast glances at his brother. Joe was riding steadily, but he could see the glistening of sweat creasing across his brother’s forehead. Adam reached over and grabbed the reins from Joe’s hands, pulling on the horse to stop. Leaning over, Adam touched Joe’s leg and pulled away his hand in shock. His brother was burning up, heat was radiating from him despite the chills that raced across his body.
Joe looked over at Adam, his eyes dulled from the pain that had plagued him since he got on his horse. His legs were hurting something fierce, and he was longing to just be home, home in bed where it was warm. He was freezing and just couldn’t get warm. The horse stopped, and Joe sensed the reins being removed from his hands but was unable to do anything but sit there in a stupor.
Suddenly the wind shifted and brought with it large pellets of rain, hurling themselves at the two men. Adam realizing their proximity to home turned to look at Joe. “Boy, we’re almost home. Think you can make it?”
Sensing someone talking to him, Joe looked up not quite comprehending what was being said. He saw Adam staring at him, expecting some sort of answer. So he nodded his head and accepted the reins that Adam placed back into his hands and sat there, watching as his brother rode ahead of him. The rain drops were getting bigger and bigger and came with more frequency, but somewhere high above them the rain switched to ice pellets then interchanged with snow.
Adam was feeling wet and cold all in one package, and it was a feeling he didn’t like. Being one who preferred the comforts of home, being stuck in this substance wasn’t his cup of tea. Turning his head to the side he wanted to see how his brother was doing, he yanked hard on his horse to stop it. Where was Joe? Adam turned his horse around and saw his brother still sitting on the horse in the same place he had left him. Shaking his head, Adam raced back over to his brother and pulled the reins out of Joe’s hands. This time with him leading, Adam took a slower time to make sure that his brother remained seated in his saddle. Occasionally he’d turn to check on him, satisfied to see that he was still there. He could already tell that the cold weather mixed with being unprotected in the elements was bearing down on him. His own body was suffering from the elements. Finally, he saw the edge of the barn in sight. Urging the horses at a faster pace, he led Sport over to the hitching post near the house and slid out of the saddle.
His feet buckled beneath him, but Adam grabbed the saddle in front of him to keep him upright. Tying the reins of Joe’s horse to the post along with his own, he then moved over and helped Joe down from the saddle.
Joe had trouble moving. He felt as though he was stuck on the saddle, in fact it was the only place that was really warm, but even that was being threatened as his brother pulled him down off the horse. His feet hit the ground first, but not before he let out a loud moan from the stiffness in his knees. Fortunately Adam was standing there, or else Joe would have ended up sprawled out on the ground. Leaning his head against his horse, Joe mumbled, “I’m okay.”
“I’m sure you are,” Adam replied. “But first we need to get you inside where it is warm and dry and get this wet stuff off of you.” Grabbing his brother under the arms, Adam helped him across the front porch and pushed the door open.
The roaring fire in the stone fireplace sent off an explosion of heat from within Joe. Where he was cold, he was sudden hot, burning up. He staggered away from his brother and tried to shrug off his wet outer garments. No one was around, it being only himself and Adam. A noise from behind him caught Joe’s attention. Turning, he watched Adam fall to the floor.
“Adam!” Joe yelled. His wet coat half on and half off, he tugged it off as he staggered over to his unconscious brother. “Wake up Adam,” he begged, as he felt his own strength ebbing away. Sagging to the floor, Joe looked up in relief to see Hoss entering into the house with Ben.
Their names merged into one as both men called out their names. Without shedding his own coat, Hoss bent down and picked up Adam, carrying him the short distance to the stairs. Watching Hoss leave with Adam, Joe could feel his Pa running his hands over him.
“What on God’s green earth happened to you?”
Joe tried to answer, but he was so tired. Oh so tired. He raised his hand, but it promptly fell as he collapsed onto the floor. He could feel his pa lifting him, resting his hands on his forehead. He wanted to talk, but he had no energy to do so. Instead, he rested his head against his Pa’s shoulders wishing he could erase the worried look from his forehead. He closed his eyes.
“What do you think happened to them?” Hoss asked as he settled down next to the fire. For the past three hours, both men had been busy taking care of the needs of the other two members of the family. Both had come down with severe colds and they couldn’t help but notice the red marks around each of their necks. Hoss, as he undressed Adam, noticed the ripped shirt that was hidden beneath his coat. Pulling it off his brother, he couldn’t help but notice that the shirt was missing every single one of the buttons. His Pa on the other hand said that Joe’s knees were messed up, scratches and bruises up and down them. On one leg, he had three long deep scratches.
Ben shook his head, “I don’t know. I wish we had been here when they arrived.”
“They couldn’t have been here long before us, Pa; their horses were still hot.”
“I know. I just feel guilty that they worked so hard to get home and we weren’t there to greet them.”
A loud banging sound upstairs caused both men to sit up right in their seats. “What was that?” Ben asked.
Hoss could only shrug his shoulders as he jumped up from his seat. Ben followed his son up the stairs and down the hallway, wondering which room to look into first. Watching his son take the door to the right, Ben went on down the hallway to the other. As he entered into the room, Ben saw Joe sitting upright his arms crossed in front of him as he wordlessly shouted out. Concerned, Ben rushed over to his side and held onto him. “Joe, it’s ok. I’m here. It’s okay.” But the words did nothing to calm his son down; rather it seemed to only agitate him. Suddenly, Joe fell to the bed exhausted and asleep. Ben was still holding onto his sleeping son when Hoss entered the room, sinking down into a chair next to the bed.
“That was weird, Pa, really weird.”
Puzzled, Ben turned to face him. “What was?”
“Adam. He was sitting up in his bed and reaching out to something, wordlessly shouting.”
Ben’s mouth dropped open. “So was Joe.”
“I came into Joe’s room and he was sitting up, his arms reaching out in front of him, and it looked like he was shouting at someone.” Ben shook his head, “This is weird, just too weird. Is Adam asleep?”
Hoss nodded his head. “Yeah, he fell back on his pillow and was asleep.” Looking over at his sleeping brother, Hoss lifted his head to look at Ben. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Ben replied shaking his head, “I just don’t know.”
Slipping out from beneath Joe, Ben pulled the covers up and ruffled his son’s hair before moving away. He motioned to Hoss, and both men left the room together to go downstairs to talk. As they talked, the movement upstairs continued.
Joe opened his eyes. The heat in his room was intense as sweat started to bead up on his forehead and his body. Wondering how he got his nightshirt on, he chucked it off and tossed it to the floor. He needed some fresh air, so he slid his legs out of the bed and as he stood was quickly reminded of his aches and pains. Hobbling over to the window Joe pushed it open, enjoying the cold air that rushed in. There was a sound behind him, and as he turned he saw a woman in his room. She looked like the same woman from earlier in the evening, but there it wasn’t. Trying to cry out for help, he was paralyzed as she approached him wrapping her long fingers around his neck. “You can’t be mine,” she hissed. “So says the signs. My sister is gone, while you’re in bed, I sneak around, to approach your mound.” He tried to reach out and grab something, anything to release the tension around his neck, but she kept tightening her grasp harder and harder. Suddenly a noise from the doorway caught her attention and loosened her hold on Joe. Hissing, she tried to throw a spell at the big man in the door way, but he was too strong for her. There were no secrets in him to be stolen, so she instead eased into the shadows and disappeared.
“Pa! Hey Pa! Get up here.”
Hoss lifted his brother from the floor and carried him back over to his bed. Gently he laid Joe’s head on the pillow and then covered up his chilled body. The room which had been moments ago intensely hot was cool once more. Shutting the window behind him, Hoss sat in the chair and waited for Ben to appear.
Breathless from running up the stairs, Ben ran into Joe’s room and demanded an answer. “What’s wrong?”
“Pa, I really don’t know how to explain it, but there was some woman here in this room that was choking Joe. When I showed up she glared at me, but then she disappeared.”
“It was like she just disappeared in the shadows, Pa. It was really weird.”
Ben was just about to say something when a sound from Adam’s room caught his attention. Motioning for Hoss, both men ran down the hallway to see the same woman with Adam in her clutches. Adam, choking for air, was struggling with the woman. Again the woman turned to see the big man in her presence. “You…” she hissed as she again disappeared. This time Ben watched, his mouth open, as she seemed to vanish into thin air.
“What the…!” Ben stood still as memories started rushing back. Stories his wife Marie had told him from when she had lived in New Orleans of a day at the end of October. Every year many residents in New Orleans would play and conjure up spirits, bringing them from what they believed to be the dead. Voodoo queens were numerous and so were the Catholic priests who were often called upon the so called innocent to cast out the spirits that were brought forward that no one wanted. There was a book somewhere in either his or Adam’s library that spoke of ghosts and demons. Not that either of his son’s were possessed, but there was some sort of spirit games being played. Shaking himself out of his musings, he rushed over to his son and with Hoss, helped lay him back in his bed. His neck had the same red markings as Joe’s. Ben sat down next to his son then turned to Hoss. “Why don’t you go down to Joe and sit with him for awhile. There’s a book I need and I think I might find it in here.”
Without waiting to see if Hoss followed his directions, Ben stood up and started going through the volumes of books in his son’s room. They ranged from classics, to drawing, to geography. Finally, he found the book he was looking for, half up on the shelf. Lighting a lamp, he brought it over to Adam’s bed and started to read through the pages, looking for some sort of sign of what he was looking for.
Not finding anything of use, he turned put it aside and turned back to the bookshelf. On the lower edge of the shelf there was a Bible. Pulling it loose, Ben pulled it onto his lap and began thumbing through the pages, memories of day that his son had received this book. He was nine years old at the time and a pastor had a contest of who in Adam’s age group could quote the most verses. His son, more studious than most, studied the Book every night memorizing as many verses as he could. When the day of the contest arrived, his son blew the other children away. His prize, this Bible. Looking over at his son, he wondered if the key to what was happening to Adam and Joe was locked in this book. He set it down on the table and left the room, heading down to Joe’s room.
“Hoss,” Ben said as he entered the room. “I want you to move Joe down to Adam’s room, and see what ever this is that is torturing them will leave them alone. Or if it does come, we’ll be there with them.”
“But Pa, what if it doesn’t come but waits until we leave the room?”
“I think it will return son. What time is it?”
“Close to midnight,” Hoss answered with a yawn.
Ben patted his middle son on the shoulder. “Why don’t you help me with Joe, then you can go downstairs and pour us both a hot cup of coffee.”
Hoss nodded. Pulling the covers down, he lifted his brother into his arms and carried him down the hallway to Adam’s room. Not sure where to put him, he set him on the other side of Adam until Ben arrived to direct him what to do.
“Pa, there ain’t another bed in here.”
“Shoot, I forgot about that,” Ben replied. He rubbed his face for a moment and looked down at his sleeping sons. “I think for this evening, they can share the bed. They used to do as kids and it won’t hurt now.”
“But Pa, that’s when they were kids.”
“And now they’re sick and won’t know it anyway,” Ben retorted. “Go on and get the coffee.”
Watching his faithful son leave the bedroom, Ben settled back in the chair and watched his two slumbering sons. There was something strange going on, and the fact that both had arrived at the house in such poor shape did nothing to alleviate his fears. There was something going on here, and until he could figure it out he was hopeless as to how to help his sons. He heard the clock downstairs chime its midnight hour and Ben realized it was going to be a long night until the morning. Needing something to keep him awake, Ben leaned over and pulled the Bible off the table. He flipped through it looking for something to read then settled down into the large chair and began to read.
The hours had passed when a sound alerted Ben to a problem. He shook the sleep from his eyes and looked around the room, but nothing had changed. Both Joe and Adam were still asleep, this time in separate beds. Not long after midnight, Hoss had brought in an extra bed for Joe. Already his youngest son had kicked off most of his covers and lay sprawled out on the bed, his pillow knocked onto the floor. A quick glance at Adam showed that he also was deep in sleep. Setting the Bible he had been reading before falling asleep onto the table, Ben stood up and stretched. With each stretch he took, he could fill the kinks in his back breaking loose. Needing a fresh cup of coffee, he muffled a yawn and took one more glance around the room before leaving. As he walked down the hallway Ben could hear the loud snores of his middle son echoing down the hallway. He couldn’t help but shake his head as he disappeared down the darkened hallway then on down the stairs.
Silence was in the room, but something woke Joe up. He stirred slightly, then slowly opened his eyes and looked around the room. Confused, he tried to figure out where he was when a movement next to him caused him to jump. Adam. Why, Joe thought in puzzlement, was Adam in his room? First off, this wasn’t his room. It was Adam’s, Joe realized as he looked around the room. Pushing his feet out from underneath the covers, he hobbled over to his older brother’s bed and leaned over, feeling his forehead. It was warm, but then again so was his, Joe realized as he felt his own forehead. He stood up and looked around the room to see the glowing lamp near the chair, and indention of someone recently sitting there. Joe shrugged his shoulders and being too tired to walk down the hall to his own bed, he sluggishly returned to the one he was in moments ago. Just as he was setting his bottom on the bed something caught his attention. Looking up quickly, he couldn’t help but gasp.
“You!” Joe cried out in horror. There before him was the woman of his nightmares, the woman that his brother and he had met up with in the forest. She stood before him in a long black dress, but with the dress just off her shoulders. Her eyes were a deep violent color and were staring straight at Joe. Stunned Joe couldn’t think fast enough with his fevered brain to do much other than sit there with his mouth open.
“It is I, my name is Cayah. My sister is dead, and I shall have your head…”
“Your sister?” Joe replied, confused as to this turn of events.
“My sister sought, my sister bought, a spell to meet, a lovely drake. Instead she found, a man not bound, who dressed in black, and gave her much flack. My sister is gone, now the devil’s pawn, because of you and what you do.” As she spoke these words, the woman slowly approached Joe and was reaching out for his neck when a sound behind her caused her to flinch. “You…” she hissed as she recognized her sister’s man in black. “You killed my sister, you bad mister. She’s not one to cry, but yet you try. This man is green, who is so mean, must now die, before I fly.”
“Adam!” Joe’s voice squeaked as he tried to move away from this woman. Wide awake now, he grabbed the only thing he could get his hands on, his pillow and swung at her. His mouth dropped as the pillow didn’t faze her, instead went straight through her. Over the bed Joe went, his sore knees the last thing on his mind as he tried to escape from this being. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Adam moving around, trying to talk to the woman.
“Stop there woman, leave my brother alone,” Adam demanded.
Not bothering to stop her perusal of Joe, she hissed back, “My name is Cayah.”
A sound at the doorway caused both men to stop and look, including the spirit Cayah. There stood Hoss and Ben, a stunned look on their faces as they watched this evil spirit pursue Joe around the room. Hoss took a step towards the woman when she suddenly threw her hands towards him and shoved him against the wall, watching as he slid in a stupor onto the floor. Ben stood there speechless as he watched Adam throw himself at the woman, but end up going through her into Joe’s arms. Both men stumbled and fell to the floor, while Cayah stood before them with a wicked look of glee on her face.
She began to laugh, her cackle filling the room and hurting the ears of the men. Ben inched across the room, his hands covering his ears as he went to check on Hoss. Kneeling down onto the floor, he felt the back of his son’s head and could feel a big lump forming. With his eyes still on the trio on the other side of the room, Ben continued to inch around the room, certain he wasn’t seen.
Cayah stopped laughing to look down at the two men who stood before her. The slighter of the two had a bold look to him; he had lost his fear of her she thought as she carefully looked him over. The other stood next to him, the dark man’s fists tightly clinched as he glared at her. Both men looked ready to kill her, but she had to laugh again to herself. She was already dead, they could not hurt her. With that, she threw her hands up in the air and shoved the taller dark haired man across the room. He landed with a thud against the wall, and she noted with pleasure that his eyes were closed and his body wasn’t moving. She then turned her attention to the young man who stood defiantly before her. Ahh, just what she liked. One who dared to cross her and think they could win, she thought. But first, there was another who she could hear slinking around the room. The oldest man, she thought as she stood there for a moment, her ears tracking his movement. She stood there, silent, and waited for the right moment. There it was. He was in direct line for her fiercest blow yet to be thrown.
Joe was watching this woman, her eyes as they narrowed as she looked at him when he realized suddenly that she wasn’t really watching him, rather she was listening. His eyes darted around the room and with a shock realized that it was his pa that she was watching and waiting for before pouncing. Yelling, Joe tried to distract the woman as he saw her start to move, then without thinking he threw himself at her, only to find himself rolling onto the floor on the other side of her. The trauma to his knees was too much as he rolled around moaning in pain.
She wasn’t expecting this as she stopped her plans. It wasn’t time yet for this young man to die, not like the way she was planning for the old man. Quickly she looked around the room. The big man was shaking his head, while the last one she threw was still unmoving. Before she could make a move towards the two men facing her, a motion by the old man caused her to pause. She stopped and stared.
Grabbing a book off the table he held it towards the spirit and started chanting. Over and over he chanted, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to be gone.” He held the Bible directly in front of him, facing the spirit as she squirmed around uncomfortably. The words were not what she wanted to hear, they were hurting her ears. She tried to cover them, block out the words so she could finish the task at hand. Her sister was dead because of these two men, and it was up to her to avenge her death. But the words that this man spoke were forbidden to her ears; she couldn’t listen. She began to shriek, hoping her screams would cover up the words and allow her work to be finished. But she began to notice that the words became louder and louder and louder until she could stand it no longer. With a loud hideous scream, she glared at the three men who were chanting the words over and over and swore to never return.
“You are free, you evil three. The man on floor is number four. He is free, like you three.” Then with one last hideous scream, the woman melted away in the darkness.
With the sound of the scream dancing in the air, the three men shook themselves out of the stupor they were in and stopped chanting. A quick glance around the room showed that they were alone. A noise on the floor sent a sigh of relief through the men as they watched Adam shakily stand to his feet. “What happened?” he muttered, his hand rubbing a sore knot on the back of his head.
“She’s gone, Adam. She’s gone.” Joe replied solemnly. The trauma from the evening was beginning to sink in as the pain in his knee’s increased. Feeling his body tilt sideways, he felt his pa catch him and lower him down to the floor. “Pa, she’s gone…” he said as his voice drifted away.
Joe could feel the cold creeping in under his covers as he tried to snuggle down deeper into the warm crevices. The raging fever from the evening before had died down, before finally leaving his body. His eyes slowly opened and he was flooded with memories on what had happened the evening before. The chair next to his bed was empty, but the coffee cup resting on the table next to it showed that someone had been there at some point. Unwilling to relinquish the warm covers for the cold air, Joe stretched underneath the blankets as a yawn escaped. Relaxed again, Joe pulled his arms out from beneath the covers and put them behind his head. He lay there, looking out the window and watching the snow fall outside, gusts of wind sending it swirling around. A noise at the doorway caused Joe to look over.
“Hi Pa,” he greeted.
Ben walked directly over to where Joe was lying and felt his forehead, pleased to see that it was still cool. “How are you feeling?”
“Like a team of horses ran over me,” Joe replied with a scowl. “But I’m just sore. Last night I was feeling rotten, a head cold hanging over me, but that seems to be gone. Maybe that’s why I was having some really bizarre dreams.” Pulling himself into a sitting position, he continued, “I dreamed that there was some woman who was coming after me wanting to kill me for killing her sister.”
Ben sat on the edge of the bed, and looked into his son’s eyes. “That wasn’t a dream, son.”
“It wasn’t? All of it was real?” Joe asked incredulously. His hand automatically went to his throat, unsure of what to say. The memories of everything that occurred returned, ever more close to home to realize it wasn’t a dream.
“No, I spoke with Adam this morning and he told me what happened before the two of you arrived home,” Ben admitted as he sat down on the edge of his son’s bed. “I’m not sure why this being came after you, or what was really going on, but I’m hoping that she, or it, is gone for good.”
“But it’s gone?”
Ben nodded. “It’s gone. It won’t be back.”
“Are you sure?”
Ben wasn’t sure, but wanting to reassure his son, he nodded. “I’m sure.”
“Thanks, Pa,” Joe said, as he placed his hand on top of his pa’s.
“For what, son?”
“For being there for us. You saved my life, you know.”
“You’re my son, and I love you. I love you, Adam and Hoss, and I’d never let anything happen to you. You’re my blood. Don’t ever forget that, and don’t ever doubt it. I will always be here for you.” Ben clutched his son’s shoulder as he spoke, trying to add emphasis to something he hoped his son already knew.
Joe nodded, and spoke softly, “I love you too, Pa.”
“…And me too pa.”
The words were softly spoken in unison by Ben’s two other son’s who walked into the room and stood next to the bed. Then together all four gave a group hug, grateful to have one another.