Summary: A Big Valley/Quantum Leap crossover story.
Word Count: 7475
“Dammit Heath, don’t you ride away from me. I’m talking to you boy!” Nick shook his head in frustration and started to spur Coco after his younger brother. He was stopped by the steady hand and calm voice of his older brother who reached over to place his hand on Nick’s arm. “Let him go Nick,” Jarrod said quietly.
“But Jarrod, all I did was tell him I wanted him to go into town with the boys tonight. We’ve been on this trail drive over a week, you’d think he’d jump at the chance to let loose and shake off some of this trail dust. I tell you there’s something wrong with that boy. He’s been acting queer for months now, and I’ll tell you something else, it’s getting worse. I thought this cattle drive would be just the thing to bring him out of that misery he’s been wallowing in lately. But look at him, he’s, he’s, well he’s just different. Surely you can see that Jarrod?” Nick looked squarely into his brother’s blue eyes.
“Well Nick, I have to admit, Heath seems quieter, more reticent than usual if that’s possible” Jarrod admitted. “But you know Heath. He’s never been exactly what you’d consider exuberant”. Jarrod smiled at Nick and patted his arm again, “that’s your department son.”
Nick reined in Coco and stopped. Jarrod reined in alongside his usually volatile younger brother who at this moment appeared to be lost in thought. “What is it Nick”? Jarrod questioned patiently.
Nick thought a moment before replying and then began hesitantly. “I’m not sure Pappy. I just know Heath isn’t himself. I can’t put a finger on it. I just know something ain’t right. You’ve been in San Francisco a lot these last couple of months, you haven’t seen the changes. It’s, well, it’s a lot of little things. For one thing, I know he hasn’t been getting much sleep. I hear him get up most nights and a few times I’ve heard him cry out in his sleep. I asked him if he was having bad dreams and he denied it, but I know better. And he hasn’t been eating. Hell that boy’s usually got an appetite like a horse. Even the others have noticed it. Mother asked him flat out if he was sick and he just snapped at her. Said he just wasn’t hungry. And that’s another thing, he never snaps at mother, but he’s been irritable as an old grizzly lately. Won’t say two words to anyone, and when you do try to strike up a conversation he just snarls or grunts and walks away. Nick thought for a few minutes longer and then continued. “And there’s more Jarrod. I don’t know how to explain it exactly – but he’s scattered. He can’t seem to concentrate. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few months he’s started a job and hasn’t finished it. He gets focused on something and twenty minutes later he’s wandered off to do something else.” Nick paused and shrugged. “Surely you’ve seen it too Jarrod – this week on the trail drive anyway?” Nick looked over at his older brother.
Jarrod looked at Nick and smiled. “I’m impressed brother Nick. I think maybe we’ve been underestimating you all these years. Those are pretty astute observations. When exactly did you notice these changes taking place?”
Nick reflected back trying to remember just when Heath’s behavior had taken such a turn. “Well, it’s kinda hard to say. I mean Heath’s always been pretty quiet. I guess I started noticing it about two, maybe two and a half months ago.
“And?” Jarrod pressed on. “Can you think of any particular incident that might have started this strange behavior pattern?”
“Incident? Hmmm, no, can’t think of nothing in particular……… well….. hey, wait a minute! Yeah, I can Jarrod. I hadn’t thought about until now, but you know it seemed to start a couple of weeks after you got us out of that hellhole prison camp.” Nick’s face lit up with this new realization. “That’s gotta be it Jarrod.” But then Nick’s face fell and he looked at his brother in confusion. “But that doesn’t make any sense Jarrod. Heath healed up in no time. No thanks to that SOB Rizley,” Nick added harshly.
Jarrod nodded his head slowly. “I think maybe you have something there Nick. I agree Heath’s physical injuries healed quickly but maybe he had injuries that didn’t show. I mean, think about it Nick, after what Heath went through in New Mexico at Carterson, I’m surprised he didn’t completely crack after being thrown in that so called work camp. Especially after the whippings and that hideous iron box. Maybe it affected Heath in ways we can’t even begin to imagine”.
Nick shook his head, “But if what you’re saying is true. Well, why wouldn’t he say something to us? Why would he keep it all to himself? That just doesn’t make any sense Jarrod.”
A small grin started to spread across Jarrod’s face and his blue eyes locked on to his brother’s hazel ones. “Right Nick. And who was it that just rode away one morning without a word when he thought he’d been bitten by a rabid wolf? Who was it that wouldn’t or couldn’t confide in his family that he needed help?”
Nick’s look of indignation quickly turned to one of chagrin. “Uh, yeah, I guess I see your point Jarrod. But, what do we do now? How do we help Heath?”
“I’m not sure Nick. Let’s just be patient. Not push him. Maybe if he doesn’t think we’re pressuring him he’ll be more inclined to open up to us”. Jarrod really wasn’t convinced of this, but to be truthful, right now he couldn’t think of a better plan. The two brothers rode to catch up to Heath.
As Heath rode away from his brothers his thoughts were jumbled. He knew he’d been short-tempered with Nick. Heck, all Nick did was offer him a chance to go into town. He should have been grateful. But instead, he was angry and he didn’t know why. Maybe it’s just cause I ain’t been sleeping good lately he thought. But the nightmares. Even in the bright heat of the noon sun, Heath shuddered. He hadn’t had nightmares for years. Not since, well not since Carterson he thought. Why am I having them again now? Heath couldn’t figure it out. Things were great weren’t they? He’d found a family. He’d been with them for over two years now and he finally felt like he belonged. Somedays it almost seemed like he’d always been with the Barkleys. He’d thought he’d given up all his old demons and learned to relax and take comfort in this family he’d come to love. But now everything was jumbled up. He just couldn’t concentrate, and he was depressed and angry, but he didn’t know why and he couldn’t seem to shake it off. Maybe I shoulda never come here he thought morosely, maybe I should just ride off…
At that moment, Heath was overcome by an incredibly strange feeling of energy that overtook his body. What’s happening to me? he thought, as he felt himself being swirled into some strange energy force.
On the hill behind Heath, Nick and Jarrod both watched as Heath and Charger slowly plodded along through the chaparral, seemingly oblivious to the straying cattle around them. Suddenly though, Charger reared, dumping Heath unceremoniously onto the ground. As their brother landed with a thud on his rear-end, Charger ran off looking somewhat panicked.
Nick and Jarrod both turned and looked at each other. They could read each others thoughts. Charger throw Heath? Nonsense. Looking at each other worriedly, they hurried down to their brother.
Sam looked around and tried to get his bearings. He was sitting in the dirt surrounded by chaparral. What was he doing in the dirt? Looking around Sam noticed a horse who had run off a short distance, then stopped and turned, looking back at him. Sam slowly got to his feet, rubbing his sore bottom, trying to piece together this newest leap. He hated these first few minutes of a leap. He must have been thrown from that horse, who was now snorting and pawing the ground looking over at Sam with what Sam could only call a worried expression in it’s big brown eyes. Well, of course, Sam thought. Adults only saw the person whose body Sam was currently occupying, but for some reason, animals, (and kids too), always saw the real Sam Beckett. Being leaped onto the back of that big stallion must have really freaked it out, Sam thought.
Before Sam had a chance to gather himself and try to figure out just where he was this time, two men galloped up and jumped off their horses running to take a hold of Sam’s shoulders.
“Heath! Heath, what happened?” the taller, younger man asked, holding Sam firmly by the shoulders. “We saw Charger toss you off – how could that happen? – I mean – are you all right Heath?”
Sam looked at the two men before him. Both appeared to be cowboys of some sort. “Cool” Sam thought. Maybe I’ve leaped into some kind of ranch. Maybe this would be fun. Sam hadn’t been born wanting to become a Nobel prize winning physician and physicist. As a child, he’d been like every other little boy around, and had wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. He’d loved watching westerns and dreaming about roundups and branding and rodeos. Although he’d grown up on a farm and his family had horses of their own, a farm in Indiana just wasn’t the same thing as a vast cattle ranch in the old west. Sam had spent many an hour, riding around the farm pretending he was Paladin or Gil Favor, or one of his other western heroes.
Sam was again shaken from his reverie by this tall dark-haired cowboy. “Heath? Are you listening to me? Are you hurt?” Sam watched as the tall cowboy turned to the other man and said, “Jarrod, you didn’t seem him hit his head did you?” “Heath, did you hit your head? Say something boy,” Nick finished in exasperation.
Before Sam could form a reply, the tall, loud cowboy turned back to him and started in again. “Heath, look at me. How many fingers am I holding up? Do you know who we are? What’s your name?”
“Whoa, there Nick—give him a chance.” The other cowboy was speaking now. This one was much calmer and quieter Sam noticed. But now they were both staring at him expectantly, waiting for an answer to their questions.
“Well, I uh, 4 fingers, and I am Heath and you’re Nick,” Sam pointed at the loud cowboy in front of him “and you are, you are Jarrod?” He looked at the other man. Sam didn’t mean for it to come out as a question but this was going a little too fast for him. Usually he had time to get his bearings. He couldn’t remember ever having someone immediately start demanding names and specifics. He tried to think as the two men continued to ask questions.
“You seem confused Heath,” the older one continued gently as he added his hand to the one the cowboy named Nick already had on his upper arm. “Why don’t you sit down here for a minute. Can you tell me Heath–what’s your last name and what year is it.” Nick and Jarrod looked at each other. They’d been through this before with Heath. This wasn’t the first time he’d taken a blow to the head. This was a drill they knew well.
Sam was starting to panic. Where in the world was Al? This would be a really good time for the Admiral to show up and let him know what was going on so he could put these two cowboy’s minds to rest. But Al wasn’t here and these two men weren’t going away. Sam looked up at both of them and lamely said, “I uh, I dunno, just give me a minute will you. I’m sure I’m ok. I just, uh, need a few minutes to collect my thoughts” he finished, looking at them hopefully.
The loud one wasn’t buying it. “A few minutes to collect your thoughts!? Jarrod I think we need to get him into town to a doctor. Come on, you bring Charger over here while I help him up. “Can you stand?” he asked, turning back to Sam.
Sam nodded and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet as the one called Jarrod led the skittish horse over to his side.
Charger got one look at Sam and pulled away from Jarrod refusing to come any closer. “What the hell’s wrong with that animal?” Nick exploded. This whole day was becoming too much for Nick. The worry over Heath’s earlier behavior, topped off with this strange accident and now Charger’s bizarre behavior were adding up to one bad day he thought. “Here Jarrod, just help him up on Coco, I’ll ride with him. You bring Charger along.”
As Sam was booted up into the saddle and the one called Nick pulled himself up behind him, Sam looked around. “Come on Al, anytime now would be good”, he muttered to himself.
“What’s that Heath? Who’s Al? Now would be a good time for what?” Nick asked him.
Sam just shook his head as he muttered, “Oh boy”…………………….
Admiral Albert Calavicci paced impatiently back and forth in front of the large computer. “What do you mean you can’t find him?!” he demanded, barking at the computer in front of him. “Some high tech marvel you are” he sneered.
“There’s no reason to get nasty Admiral,” the computer named Ziggy replied in a very female voice. “It’s rare that Dr. Beckett leaps outside of his own timeline. It is more difficult to track him down when he’s gone this far into the past.”
“Look Ziggy, I told you, according to Dr. Beeks, the visitor insists he’s from 1878 and that his name is Heath Barkley. Sam has leaped outside of his timeline before but all of those leaps have been within his own lifeline. So, this Heath Barkley must be an ancestor of Sam’s – how hard can he be to track down?” the Admiral demanded.
Ziggy continued in what the Admiral considered a very patronizing tone; “As I’ve already explained Admiral, Dr. Beckett’s family has traced his father’s lineage back to the American Revolutionary War. However, they apparently never did any search into his mother’s side of the family. Since this Heath Barkley does not appear anywhere within his paternal family tree, I can only assume he is a part of the maternal side of Dr. Beckett’s family. I am currently cross-checking the LDS computer files in Salt Lake City. I’m sure…. oh here it is now Admiral.” Ziggy paused. “Heath Barkley is apparently Dr. Beckett’s great grandfather on his mother’s side. Dr. Beckett’s lineage can be traced back from Mr. Barkley to an Erik Thomsen who emigrated to the U.S. from Denmark in 1796, and to a Nathaniel Barkley who settled in Virginia prior to the Revolutionary War.
“Fine, fine Ziggy”, the Admiral cut the computer off. “So just where is Sam now and why?”
“Just a moment Admiral. You really need to be more patient,” Ziggy added petulantly. “Ah, here it is. Dr. Beckett appears to be on some type of cattle drive in California’s central valley region. The year is indeed 1878. I’m sorry Admiral, but I am still unsure as to the reason for Dr. Beckett’s leap. I can tell you that Heath Barkley is a member of a large, wealthy family from Stockton, California. He has three half brothers and a half sister along with a step-mother. His biological mother and father are both deceased.”
“Half brothers and sister huh? Maybe that has some connection to Sam’s leap. Keep searching Ziggy, but for now send me to Sam, ok?”
Sam, Nick and Jarrod were sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office in the small town of Madera. The doctor was out on another call but his wife insisted he would be back before long.
Sam looked back and forth at the two men seated on either side of him. He tried what he thought was excellent reasoning. “Look Nick – Jarrod. I’m sure I’ve suffered no cranial trauma. I may have a bruised coccyx, but I’m sure it’s nothing more serious than that” Sam finished reasonably.
Both men turned to stare open-mouthed at Sam.
“Huh?” was all Nick managed. Jarrod reached out to feel Sam’s forehead.
Before Sam had a chance to make things even worse, he heard the whooshing sound of a door opening and knew that the Admiral had arrived. He visibly breathed a sigh of relief and looked up to see Admiral Albert Calavicci grinning back at him shaking his head, his kind brown eyes full of mirth. “Cranial trauma? Coccyx? What are you thinking Sam? You’re a cowhand in 1878. Keep up talk like that and your brothers here will know you’re crazy.
“1878! It’s 1878!” Sam spoke out loud. At this outburst, Nick and Jarrod turned to look at Sam and smile, “That’s right Heath” they said in unison. “And you are my brothers” Sam finished up. Nick clapped Sam hard on the back nearly sending him off the bench. Jarrod glared at Nick, who didn’t even realize he had just whacked his “injured” brother. “All right Heath! That’s it! I think he’s ok now Jarrod” Nick finished up happily.
“I told you I was fine. I was just a little… rattled there for a while. Why don’t we get out of here, I don’t need to see a doctor,” Sam looked hopefully back and forth between his two brothers.
“Well, I’m not so sure about that Heath,” Jarrod said, still looking at his brother with a worried expression on his face. “You were pretty addled there for a while, maybe we should still let the doctor look you over.”
“I’m starving,” Nick blurted out. “Now that we’re here in town let’s go over to the hotel and get us some real food. I don’t think I can take another night of Heath’s beans. And if Heath feels bad after dinner, we can come back over here. Maybe the doc will be back by then,” he added. “That is, if being here in town is ok with you Heath?” Nick finished, remembering his brother’s earlier hostility at the suggestion of going into town.
“Sure Nick, its fine by me. I’m pretty hungry too. And by the way, what’s wrong with my beans?” Sam asked.
The three men proceeded across the street to the hotel. Sam was looking around him like a kid in a candy shop. Until Al had said something, Sam had not realized he was in the 1800’s. He certainly should have he realized looking around him at the main street of Madera. Horses, buggies and wagons were the mode of transportation, women wore the long dresses and bonnets of the late nineteenth century, the sidewalks were made of wood and the streets of dirt. Sam felt like he’d stepped back into one of his childhood television westerns. He grinned foolishly as he looked around him. He was brought out of his daydreaming by an impatient cough from behind him. He turned to look at the Admiral, who looked ridiculously out of place in a canary yellow silk suit with an equally hideous emerald green tie. “Sam,” Al began. Sam nodded and spoke to his brothers. “Look fellows, I’m pretty filthy, you think I could get cleaned up somewhere before we eat?” he asked.
Jarrod looked around. “There’s a bath house there next to the hotel, Heath. I’m sure you could get cleaned up there. I’d join you but I need to send a telegram to Mother and Audra to let them know we won’t get to Tehachapi for another five or six days. Nick, you certainly could stand to flake off a few pounds of trail dust,” Jarrod wrinkled his nose at his brother.
Sam looked a little worried. He had hoped to use cleaning up as an excuse to talk to Al alone. He needn’t have worried. Nick said he could get cleaned up later, what he needed now was a beer. He asked Heath to come with him and Sam thought he’d just about blown it again when he started to say thanks but that he didn’t drink. At the look he got from both Nick and Jarrod, he quickly amended his statement to say he just wanted to get cleaned up before having a drink. The men agreed to meet in an hour back at the hotel’s restaurant.
Sam finished cleaning up and was looking at the image of Heath Barkley staring back at him from the small, cracked mirror hanging over the wash stand. He smiled at the young, blond-haired, blue-eyed cowboy with the lopsided smile. Sam turned to Al and said, “So he’s my great grandfather huh? And you say Nick and Jarrod are my half-brothers. What’s up with that?”
Sam listened as Al explained Heath’s background, stopping now and then to check the handlink to Ziggy who continued to provide him with more information.
“Heck of a life this kid’s led, huh Al? But, it sounds like now that he’s found his family, his life is back on track. Why does Ziggy think I’m here?” Sam looked quizzically at Al.
The Admiral, shook the handlink as if that might force it to produce the information Sam was seeking. Looking at Sam, the Admiral just shrugged and told him that Ziggy hadn’t been able to come up with anything yet.
Sam prattled on about how exciting it was to really be in the wild west. He talked on and on about how he was going on a cattle drive and how much fun this should all be. Sam thought maybe, just maybe, this time, who or whatever was leaping him seemingly arbitrarily through time, might have just put him here because “he” knew of Sam’s fascination with the old west and wanted to reward him with a little break.
As Sam rattled on, Al Calavicci looked at Sam with affection. He hadn’t seen Sam this animated and happy in a long time. Lord knew this boy deserved some kind of break. But Al and Sam both knew that it wasn’t likely that this leap was just for fun. The handlink blinked and the Admiral once again checked the small device.
He punched something into the handlink, then turned to Sam and said, “Sorry boy, but there’s um, a small problem back at the project. I gotta go take care of it. Try to keep yourself out of trouble till I get back, ok?” And with that he vanished behind the whooshing sound of the door closing.
When the Admiral stepped out of the imaging chamber—into the Quantum Leap project site far beneath the New Mexican desert– Gooshie informed him that Dr. Verbeena Beeks was insisting he come to the Waiting Room immediately. Dr. Beeks was a psychiatrist, whose job it was to care for what they referred to as the visitor. To everyone but the Admiral, the visitors looked just like Dr. Beckett, and some visitors took to the leap better than others. Dr. Beeks was worried about her current patient and was relieved when Admiral Calavicci finally appeared at her office door.
“Is there a problem, Dr. Beeks?” the Admiral questioned. The doctor just nodded and motioned for the Admiral to come to the viewing window where they could look in, unobserved on the visitor. The Admiral saw a young, handsome man who was now lying curled up in a corner, his upper body locked into a straight jacket, crying pitifully as he banged his head against the wall. He seemed to quiet all at once and fell into a deep sleep.
Al had never known Dr. Beeks to restrain a patient in such an archaic manner and he turned to look at her. His face wore an angry look as he demanded to know why this young man was in a straight jacket.
Dr. Beeks just motioned for him to follow her into the room. Once there, she quickly and efficiently removed the horrid device and got the Admiral to help her place the young man back on the small bed. She checked Heath’s pulse and blood pressure, covered him with a warm blanket and motioned for the Admiral to follow her back into her office.
“I’m sorry Admiral. I was out when he was brought in. He became so agitated the attendant’s were afraid he would hurt himself. They know I have a standing order not to medicate a patient until I have examined him, so one of the attendant’s placed the straight jacket on him to keep him from injuring himself.” When the Admiral looked at her with a puzzled expression, she went on to explain that when the young man was brought in he became very distraught and started screaming that the war was over and that he couldn’t be back at Carterson. He wouldn’t go back, he’d kill himself before he’d go back to prison.
“Carterson?” the Admiral asked.
“Yes,” Dr. Beeks said. “We had Ziggy check. It seems Carterson was a Civil War prison right here in New Mexico. It appears this young man was a prisoner of war there and apparently thinks that’s where he is now.
The Admiral looked visibly shaken as he compassionately watched the young man sleep. The Admiral knew about prison camps all too well. He had been a POW in Vietnam for eight, long, excruciating years.
The Admiral looked at Dr. Beeks and asked if she were sure. This boy in front of him couldn’t be more than 25 years old. If Sam was in 1878, then Heath Barkley couldn’t have been more than 15 or so at the time of the war. Dr. Beeks nodded sadly. Yes, Ziggy was sure. Records were sketchy from that time period, but the war records clearly showed that Heath Thomsen, now Barkley, had been incarcerated at Carterson for 11 months towards the end of the Civil War.
“What are you going to do?” the Admiral looked at Dr. Beeks.
“Well, Admiral,” she began somewhat hesitantly. Everyone involved with the project knew that the Admiral had been a POW. They also knew he never spoke of that time and the subject while not expressly forbidden, was just never brought up. “Well, Admiral”, she began again. I was hoping that you could talk to the boy. You’ve, well, you’ve had some very similar experiences, and I think you could be a big support in helping this young man to deal with this”, she stopped and looked at the Admiral hopefully with her expressive cinnamon eyes.
Al Calavicci’s first instinct was to turn and walk away. He hated to discuss that period of his life. But this young man was here through no fault of his own. God knew he had probably not received any help after the Civil War. The Admiral seriously doubted that the kind of assistance returning POWs needed would have been available back then.
“Admiral? Admiral, Ziggy thinks it is possible that the reason for this leap is for you to help this young man. Ziggy says the reason she is having such trouble with this leap is because the timeline keeps changing. In one time-ine, Heath is Sam’s great grandfather but in another one Heath commits suicide in 1879, and that of course means that Sam is never born.”
Admiral Calavicci didn’t know what to make of this information. Sam’s leaps had always been to right some wrong in the past. It never occurred to the Admiral that the purpose for a leap might be that he, Admiral Albert Calavicci, ex Naval pilot and POW, would be needed to assist this visitor to the future.
“Is Ziggy sure?” he asked.
“No, Admiral. Ziggy gives this version a 62% possibility. But with the continuing timeline fluctuations she just can’t be positive. Dr. Beeks rushed on, “But Admiral, even if Ziggy is wrong, this young man, Heath Barkley, really could use your help. He should be waking up soon, do you think you could be there when he does?”
The Admiral stood quietly for a moment, then silently nodded as he pulled a chair up to the sleeping boy’s bedside.
Sam was riding night hawk. Or at least that’s what Nick had sent him out to do. Sam had seen plenty of westerns and was pretty sure he could figure this out. Heck, how hard could it be?
Sam had plenty of time to think as he quietly circled the herd watching to see that nothing spooked or got to their cattle. He stretched and stood up in the stirrups. He had forgotten how sore sitting in a saddle all day could make a man. No wonder cowboys were bowlegged he chuckled to himself. He was quite sure if he dismounted right now, his legs would remain in that rounded position. To take his mind off his sore legs he decided to sing to the cattle. They didn’t exactly seem restless, but Sam needed to do something to take his mind off his legs and to keep from dozing off in the saddle. Geez, he hadn’t realized cowboying would be such hard work.
For the first few days after the leap, Nick and Jarrod both had hovered over him like mother hens. Neither let Sam stray far from their sight. They had finally seen the doctor in Madera and he has assured both of them that he could find absolutely nothing wrong with their younger brother. But, Nick and Jarrod both seemed to be keeping a close eye on him anyway. Sam couldn’t help but get the feeling it had more to do with his behavior than anything else. More than once after doing or saying something, Sam had caught Nick looking at him with a quizzical expression on his face that seemed to say “where is my brother Heath and what have you done with him?” Well, Sam thought, it isn’t my fault I leaped into the body of someone who has a totally different personality than mine. And this was Al’s fault anyway. Where was he? Sam hadn’t seen him since his first appearance in Madera. It wasn’t like Al to leave Sam completely alone like this.
Sam had managed to pick up a few tidbits these last few days about Heath and his relationship with his brothers. He knew that Heath hadn’t been with them more than a couple of years, that his early life had been a real struggle. This body he was in seemed to instinctively know what to do around cattle and horses, although Charger still didn’t seem to know what to make of his new “master”. He knew this was a much longer trail drive than the Barkleys usually made. They were taking the cattle to Bishop, over on the eastern side of the Sierras. Fresh meat was scarce in the mining camps and top dollar was being paid over there. But it was still spring, and late snows meant the passes closer to Stockton were still snowed in. The Barkleys had decided to get a jump on the other outfits and drive their herd down through the central valley and across the lower passes at Tehachapi and on up to Bishop. Sam also knew that the older brother, Jarrod, was an attorney, and joining Nick and Heath on this drive was a rare occurrence which they all seemed to be enjoying. Other than that, Sam was still clueless as to the reason for this leap. So for now, there was nothing to be done, but to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride so to speak.
Out checking on the night hawkers, Nick caught sight of his younger brother. He stopped to watch him for a moment. Nick couldn’t figure out why Heath’s behavior was bothering him. Hell, just a few days ago he’d been worried sick about Heath’s taciturn and disjointed behavior. Now, it was like Heath had become a new man overnight. Ever since that fall from Charger, Heath had been outgoing; laughing and joking with the men, even singing and telling tall tales around the nightly campfire. It wasn’t that Nick didn’t enjoy this new found side of Heath, he just didn’t know what to make of it—and what was that he heard coming from Heath now? Was that singing? As Nick rode closer to Heath he could hear his brother happily singing to the cattle: “Rollin’, rollin’ rollin’, keep them dogies rollin’, Rawhide! Through all kinds of weather, hell bent for leather, wishin’ my gal was by my side. All those things I’m missin’, good vittles, love, and kissin’, are waiting at the end of my ride. Head em up, move em out, move em out, head em up, Rawhide!”
Nick rolled his eyes as he rode up to Heath. “Boy! What the hell are you caterwauling about? Rollin, rollin, rollin Rawhide!? Where’d you learn such a dumb song anyway? And what makes you think some lovin’ and kissin’ are going to be waiting for the likes of you at the end of this ride?” Nick cocked his head and grinned at his strange brother.
“I, uh, well, I dunno.. I guess I just picked it up somewhere. Boy howdy, Nick you sure ask a lot of dumb questions.” At that last statement, Sam himself seemed taken aback. Boy howdy? he thought – where in the world did that come from?
Nick just shrugged and rode on to check on the next night hawker. As he rode away, Sam could hear Nick’s slightly baritone voice singing – “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’, Rawhide!” followed by his brother’s raucous laughter.
Al sat by Heath’s bed, uncomfortable in a pair of blue jeans and a flannel shirt. Dr. Beeks had insisted he change before the young man awoke. She felt his usual “dapper” attire would not exactly be appropriate to greet this young man from the past.
He watched as Heath’s eyes opened and slowly focused on him.
“Where am I?” “Who are you?”
“My name is Al, and you young man are in a, well a hospital of sorts,” Al answered back in what he hoped was his most reassuring voice.
“A hospital? Why? What’s wrong with me? Where’s Nick and Jarrod?” Heath managed to croak out through his dry throat.
“One thing at a time. You want some water?” At Heath’s nodding, Al helped him sit up and placed a glass of cool water in Heath’s hands. As Heath drank and began to take in his surroundings, Al continued.
“Can you tell me what you remember Heath?” Al questioned the boy.
“Well, I remember I was riding Charger – he’s my horse – and then” Heath stopped looking somewhat nonplussed. “Well, and then there was this light and that’s all I remember. Did Nick and Jarrod bring me here?”
Al nodded. No sense confusing the boy with talk of quantum physics, leaping and time travel. No, Al thought, this would go a lot better if we can just convince this boy he’s in some type of hospital.
Al pulled his chair closer to the bed and looked Heath in squarely in the eye. “Heath why don’t you tell me how you’ve been feeling. I heard about what happened in that prison work camp a few months ago. That had to have been pretty rough on you, especially after what you went through at Carterson.”
Heath looked at Al, with an expression of amazement and fear. How did he know about the prison camp or Carterson, Heath wondered.
Heath hung his head and muttered, “Those ain’t nothing. Carterson was a long time ago and all I got outta that workcamp was a burned leg and a lashing. They healed up just fine.”
“Heath, I’m not talking about your physical injuries. I’m talking about the hurts that don’t show.” Your brothers say you’ve seemed sad lately, jumpy and easily annoyed, that you’ve been lashing out at them – even at your mother”. At that Heath hung his head even lower. “They say you haven’t been able to concentrate, that you aren’t eating. Are they right Heath?”
Heath nodded his head almost imperceptibly. Al took a breath and continued on. “Heath, would you be surprised to know there’s a term for all this?”
Heath looked up at Al but didn’t say anything.
Al resumed his quiet speech. “It’s called post traumatic stress disorder and it’s a perfectly normal response to what you’ve gone through.”
“Post trau stress what?”
“Don’t worry about the title, what you need to know is the feelings you’ve been having lately are a normal reaction to the kind of stress you’ve endured. But what you need to learn, is how to cope with it. Bottling it all up inside you won’t help you to get better. It will just make it worse. I’ll bet you’ve even thought things might even be better if you weren’t around – if you’d never been born, huh? Asked Al.
Heath started to shake his head no, but instead, once again dropped his eyes down to the sheets that he was twisting in his hands and nodded slightly.
“Heath, I’m going to tell you a couple of things right now – then I hope you’ll be ready to talk to me, ok?”
At Heaths nodding, Al went on. He explained to Heath that he needed to give himself the time and permission to heal. That he needed to be able to ask for support from those who loved and cared about him the most. That it might help if he talked to others who had been through similar situations. And that he needed to learn to reestablish his normal routines and healthy behaviors. Making sure he ate regularly, even if he didn’t feel up to it – learning ways to relax at night so that he could get a decent nights sleep. And most importantly to learn to recognize when life seemed to be ganging up on him and when to look for help.
When Al looked at Heath he knew the young man was really listening to him.
Heath felt like he’d been thrown a lifeline and was ready to grab on for all he was worth.
The two men talked late into the night…..
“That must have been really hard for you Al,” Sam looked at his friend sympathetically.
Al shook his head and gave Sam a small smile. “Actually I think it was good for both of us,” he replied. Al had been telling Sam about his talk with Heath.
“But, what is going to happen when I leap out?” Sam continued. “Do you think Heath will pull back into himself again or will he be able to open up, and let his family know when he needs their support?”
Al shrugged and looked hopeful. “Well, we’ve always been unsure just how much people remember about their time in the waiting room. I do believe that God or Fate or whatever is orchestrating all this, wouldn’t go to all this trouble, just to have everything go back to the way it was. I think Heath, while he might not remember the waiting room, will recall enough to let his family in when he needs them most” he finished up.
“Then why am I still here? Why haven’t I leaped?” Sam asked reasonably.
“I don’t know Sam, maybe you were right all along and your reason for being here is just to enjoy playing cowboys and Indians.” Al and Sam’s banter was stopped short by screaming coming from the direction of the river.
“Sam dug in his spurs and urged Charger to the banks of the Kern River. The first of the herd was spread out across the churning, frothing water of the Kern. Nick had traveled up and down the river yesterday looking for a likely place to cross and had reluctantly settled on this stretch. The spring thaw and snow melt out of the Sierras had created a fairly shallow, but turbulent and ice-cold stretch of river. Sam stopped at the top of the bank and looked out – horrified at what he saw. Jarrod had somehow become separated from his horse and was being pulled helplessly under as the current tossed him downstream. The screaming Sam had heard had come from his brother Nick, who was racing Coco desperately downstream in an effort to catch up with Jarrod’s body that was being dragged down the current like some rag doll. Sam urged Charger into a full-out run and took out after Nick.
By the time Sam caught up with Nick, he had thrown himself from the saddle and managed to jump into the icy river where it came to a bend and eddy, and pull Jarrod from the river’s angry clutches. Nick was struggling to pull Jarrod’s limp body to the shore.
Sam met Nick at the bank and together they pulled Jarrod onto the shore. Nick had his head down over Jarrod’s face and was crying and shaking his brother. “No, Jarrod! Breathe! You can’t be dead, you just can’t be!”, he cried.
Without thought, Sam’s training as a physician took over. He pushed Nick out of the way and bent over Jarrod, listening for any sounds of respiration. Finding none he tilted Jarrod’s head back, pinched his nose shut and gave his brother two quick breaths. He then checked his carotid artery for a pulse. Finding neither pulse nor respirations he yelled to no one in particular, “No pulse, no breathing, someone call 911!” He then turned back to Jarrod and seemingly in one motion tore his brother’s wet shirt open, quickly found the xyphoid process, placed his hands in the proper position and began compressing his brothers chest with his two hands. Nick stared dumbfounded as he watched Sam pushing on Jarrod’s chest while counting out loud; 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and,…13 and 14 and 15, then continued to watch mesmerized as Sam again moved to Jarrod’s head and gave him another two breaths. This routine continued for several minutes.
Sam was totally focused on his brother lying before him. “Breathe, and 2 and 3 and 4 and, Dammit Breathe Jarrod, and 11 and 12.” At his next turn at breathing into Jarrod’s open mouth, Sam checked and found… a pulse. It was weak and thready but it was there! Sam continued to breathe life into his brother and was soon rewarded by the beautiful sounds of gagging and choking coming from Jarrod. He quickly turned his brother on his side as he retched, watching him closely to see that those beautiful breaths continued to come.
The other riders seemed to appear out of nowhere. They moved Jarrod away from the water’s edge and someone started a fire, while someone else got both Jarrod and Nick out of their soaking wet clothes and wrapped in warm blankets.
Sam was sitting, quietly watching his two brothers as they laid next to the fire. Jarrod’s breathing had settled into a regular rhythm and Nick had finally dozed off too.
Sam was enjoying this. Ziggy had assured him that Jarrod was going to be fine. Sam was remembering his own older brother Tom and the fun they had camping out as boys. Sam grinned to himself as a long-forgotten song popped into his head. He started to softly sing – “There’s the South San Juaquin, Where the seeds of the dust bowl are found. And there’s a place called Mount Whitney, From where the mighty Kern River comes down. Well, it’s not deep nor wide, But it’s a mean piece of water my friend. And I may cross on the highway, But I’ll never swim Kern River again.”
Nick propped himself up on one elbow and stared at his brother. He had no idea where this sudden turn for singing had come from. But he had to admit his brother had a pretty good voice. And he certainly had no idea what he had witnessed down at the river – but he also knew without a doubt that whatever Heath had done had saved Jarrod’s life. He pulled the blankets closer around him and looked Sam in straight in the eye. “I got just one question for you Heath” he said.
“What’s that Nick?”
“Just who the hell is 911?”
Before Sam could answer, a blue light enveloped him and he leaped……