Hollow’s Eve (by Debbie B.)

Summary:  Written with Jennie

Rated:  PG
Word Count:  10,092


 

 

October 30, 1854

The air was cool and crisp, coating the countryside with a thin layer of frost. A full harvest moon shone bright, lighting the trail that the three Cartwrights took into town. The breath coming from the horse’s mouth was another sure sign that fall had arrived.

Ben was wrapping things up back on the Ponderosa. The Army had arrived to finalize a horse contract and inclement weather in the Sierra’s delayed them by days. Not wanting to disappoint his sons, Ben asked Adam to take the other two into town so they wouldn’t be late for the Annual Harvest Barn Dance, promising to join them later.

After tending to their horses in the corral, the Cartwright boys entered the livery stable where the barn dance was to be held. Party lanterns were strung across the rafters, lighting the way as they walked across the hay-covered floor. Bales of hay had been placed around the barn to be used for seating. Hoss wandered away from his brothers to check out the refreshment table.

“Now don’t you get any ideas about wandering off, Little Joe! Pa told you to stay out of trouble and to mind me.”

Joe turned around to find Adam standing with his hands on his hips and legs slightly apart, giving Joe the feeling that he was looking at his father.

“Uh, come on, Adam. I just wanna see who’s all here. I promise I’ll be right back.” Joe gave his brother his best innocent look that he could muster up. “After all it’s a dance, right? What good is it gonna do me, if I have to stayed glued to you all night?”

“Just remember what Pa said. You stay in this barn where I can keep an eye on you. I will be watching your every move.”

“Geeze, thanks for the warning, big brother. Why don’t you just tie a lead rope around my neck and let me follow you around for the night?”

Before Adam could swing out at him, Little Joe gave him an army salute and ran off giggling. Even Adam had to smile at his brother’s antics. He joined Hoss at the refreshment table, pouring himself a glass of punch.

Hoss was taking in the surroundings, when he saw Adam standing next to him. “Hey, where’d Little Joe go?”

“That scamp took off after his friends.” Seeing the worried look on Hoss’ face, Adam reassured him. “Don’t worry; I threatened him with his own life if he leaves this barn without one of us.”

It didn’t take long for Little Joe to gather a group of his friends together. It was easier than he had expected. Most of the adults had lingered over in one corner of the barn, near the stage where the band had set up. With their heads together, the boys started their planning as to what they thought would be a night of mischief and fun; a night that Virginia City would never forget.

Adam was pulled away from Hoss by Miss Jones’ plea for help. She needed his assistance in setting up the dessert table.

“I would love to assist you, Miss Jones. But I really need to keep on eye on Little Joe. Pa is still back at the ranch and I was put in charge of him.” He glanced back at Hoss hoping that he would help him get out of this sticky situation. Everyone in town knew that the teacher had it in for Adam.

Hoss smiled at Miss Jones. “Adam would love to help you out, Miss Jones.” Placing his large hand on Adam’s back, he added, “And don’t ya worry ‘bout a thing, Adam. I can watch Little Joe for a while.”

If looks could kill, Hoss would have keeled over that moment. Left alone Hoss scanned the barn until his eyes rested on his younger brother. Seeing that Joe was not in any immediate trouble, Hoss strolled to the opposite side of the barn to talk to one of his friends.

While in his huddle, Little Joe stole a glance toward Hoss. He saw a large crowd of older boys forming in the far corner of the barn. He was curious as to what Hoss could be involved with and snuck over to find out.

Joe dropped down to his hands and knees and crawled up behind Hoss. He then laid down on the ground, putting his head near Hoss’ boots. He smiled as he heard the older boys talking of some mischief they wanted to create for the town. Knowing he wasn’t supposed to have been eavesdropping, Joe started to back up when Hoss stepped back and landed on his hand.

“OOW!” Hoss spun around to find Joe lying on the floor holding his right hand to his chest.

“Can’t you watch were you’re going, you big ox?”

“Gee, Little Joe. I didn’t see you.” Hoss squinted his eyes as he continued to glare at Joe. “Sides whatch’a doing down there, anyway?”

“Dropped somethin’.” Joe continued to hold his hand as he stared at the ground. “That really hurt, Hoss.”

Hoss felt a little alarmed when Joe continued to favor his hand. He looked around for Adam and then remembered that he was off helping Miss Jones. “Let’s go to Doc’s and let him take a look at it.”

“No way! I feel better already, Hoss. Honest I do.” Joe picked himself up from the ground, sweeping away the hay that had stuck to him.

“No, I insist, Little Joe. If I don’t let Doc take care of it for ya, Adam will have to tell Pa. Then we will both be in trouble.”

Joe thought quickly about what his consequences would be if Pa found out that he was eavesdropping on Hoss. “Okay, I’ll go, but I ain’t gotta like it.” Joe allowed Hoss to steer him toward the door when Joe stopped and looked back inside. “Where’s Adam, shouldn’t we tell him where we’re goin?”

“Nah, I can handle this on my own, besides Adam is busy with Miss Jones.” Both boys walked across the street laughing at the thought of Adam and Miss Jones spending the evening together.

Hoss and Joe were told to have a seat and wait their turn to see Doc Martin. Seemed like a lot of people were having accidents this night. The waiting room was full and Joe frowned knowing they would be there awhile.

“Can’t we just forget about this, Hoss? I ain’t hurt anymore, see.” Joe wiggled his fingers and moved his wrist around to show that it was fine.

“Are ya sure? I don’t want to get into trouble with Adam or Pa.”

“Have I ever lied to ya, Hoss? Of course, I’m sure. Let’s get back to the dance before the food is all gone.” Joe stood and tugged on Hoss’ arm until he nodded his head in agreement.

Once outside Joe stopped and faced Hoss. “Hey, I heard what you and your friends are going to do later tonight.”

“Why you little scamp! I thought that’s what you were doing down there on the ground. You were eavesdroppin’. I’m gonna tell Adam on ya.”

Joe backed up a step. “Well, if you tell Adam on me, then he will want to know what I heard. And I gotta tell him, don’t I?”

“I’m gonna pound ya into the ground, Little Joe. It ain’t fair. Now what am I gonna tell my friends? We had it all worked out.” Hoss eyed the ground, sighing loudly to display his disappointment.

“Ah, come on, Hoss. It ain’t like that at all.” Joe grabbed hold of Hoss’ arm. “Listen to me, will ya? Let me in on some of this action and I won’t tell a soul.”

“I can’t do that, Little Joe. This whole idea was not mine. There are other boys involved.”

“Great! ‘Cause me and my friends came up with some good pranks ourselves. Listen, Hoss. I bet if we put together our plans, between all of us, we can have a heck of a good time.” Joe batted his eyes at him until Hoss broke into a grin. “Come on, whatta say? All of us working together, huh?”

Hoss looked up at the sky and sighed heavily. “I hafe’ta ask the guys first. Most of it was their idea.”

Joe pushed Hoss forward. “What are you waiting for, let’s go.”

Both boys walked back to the barn. Adam was standing in the doorway as they approached.

“Who would like to tell me where the two of you have been for the last twenty minutes?”

“I had to use the outhouse and then I couldn’t find ya, so Hoss took me.” Joe smiled at Adam as he gave his excuse. “See, I remembered that I wasn’t to leave the barn without one of ya.”

Adam looked on suspiciously and then questioned Hoss. “Why across the street and not out back behind the barn?” He leaned back on his heels and placed his hands on his hips, knowing he was going to get a really good excuse out of Hoss.

“Heck, Adam, too many people standing in line out back. Thought it would be faster using another one.” He hesitated and then added. “Sides, Little Joe said he had to go bad, he didn’t think he could wait in line without, well, you know what I mean.”

Joe pulled on Adam’s arm until he looked down. He leaned into Adam and whispered. “Won’t want to take me home cause I had on wet pants, now would ya? I would get ammonia riding home in this cold weather.”

Adam bought their story and was dragged away by Miss Jones to help with more of the refreshments. Hoss strolled over to confront his friends with Little Joe bringing up the rear.

“Hey, Hoss, before you say anything, looky at what I got from Doc. Martin’s.” Joe covered his mouth with his hand, attempting to smother his giggles.

Hoss glanced back at Joe; irritated that Joe would have taken something without asking. “Joe, that’s stealing!”

“Well, not really. I have all intentions of giving it back. I’m just borrowing a little of it.”

Hoss looked at what Joe was holding under his jacket. “What in tarnations are ya gonna do with castor oil?”

“Hoss, dont’cha know what this stuff does to anyone to gets a doss of it?” Joe’s crackling laughter turned many heads as he fought to bring himself back under control.

Hoss grabbed Joe by the arm and hurled him toward the group of boys that was standing near the back door of the barn. “You better quite those giggles before I end up gaggin’ ya. Everyone is looking at us, Joe.”

Joe shrugged his shoulder, “So what, let ‘em look. They don’t know why I’m laughing.”

Hoss pushed Joe into the center of the ring. “What’s he doin’ here, Hoss?”

Hoss placed a reassuring hand on Lucas Tatum’s shoulder. “Nothin’ to worry about, Lucas. Joe here, has some good pranks up his sleeve, dontch’a, Joe?”

“Sure do.” Joe slipped the bottle of castor oil out of his jacket once again. “This is bound to get a reaction from someone.” His giggles shook his body as he fell to his knees. “Let’s put this in the punch bowl.”

Joe was relieved when Hoss’ friends all knelt down, prepared to hear what else he had in mind. “Just gotta remember not to drink the punch.”

Joe’s friends had seen the exchange between the brothers and curiosity got the better of them. Nonchalantly they made their way over to the group. “What’s so funny, Hoss?”

Hoss turned to see Mitch, Todd and Seth, three of Joe’s friends, standing behind him. “Ah, nothin’ boys, just telling some jokes.”

“Ummm, anythin’ we can hear?” asked Mitch, noticing that Joe was winking at him.

“Dadburn it,” Hoss looked back at his friend Lucas. “What’re we gonna do now?”

Lucas stepped forward and grabbed two of the younger boys by their collars, pulling them into the center of the group. The third boy willingly followed. He jabbed a finger in their chest to emphasize his point. “Okay, you’re in. But I will string the three of ya from a tree if ya let anyone else in on this. Got it?”

All three boys nodded their heads and leaned forward to listen to the plans. Wanting to avoid any further attention, the group split up, each heading in their own directions to ready their pranks. All agreed to meet behind the hotel in thirty minutes. Hoss and Little Joe were left standing there, wondering how they were going to escape the watchful eye of their older brother.

Joe noticed that Adam was still trapped in the corner of the barn by Miss Jones.

“Come on, Hoss. Ole Adam here won’t have time to be looking for us; Miss Wannabe has him pinned to her side.”

Hoss clamped his hand over Joe’s mouth to snuffle the giggles. “Quiet, Joe. Dadburn it, every time I turn around your giggles are causin’ people to look at us.”

“Sorry, Hoss. Let’s get out of here and get to work. We have a lot of things to do and only a few hours to do it in.”

Adam continued to nod his head pretending that he was listening to Miss Jones talking. He was looking for an excuse that would take him away from her endless jabber. Adam smiled as he saw his brothers walk out of the barn.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Miss Jones. I really need to check on my brothers, it’s something I promised Pa that I would do.

Pushing her aside, Adam ran to the doorway just in time to see Hoss and Little Joe slip behind the mercantile. He knew the boys were up to something as he glanced around the vacant street, noticing several youngsters trying their best to stay hidden from view. “This ought to be good,” he thought as he sneaked along the back of the barn.

Hoss found a window that wasn’t locked in the back of the mercantile. He hoisted Joe up and watched him climb inside. “Be quiet now, can’t have anyone hearing ya!”

Joe stumbled through the darkness until he found a lantern that he could light. “Hey, Hoss. Gotta match?”

“Joe, you know I ain’t allowed to play with matches.”

“Me neither. But I can’t see a dang thing in the dark.” Joe poked his head back out the window, nearly scaring Hoss to death.

“Don’t do that, Joe. Warn me when you’re comin’.” Hoss snapped his fingers and shoved Joe’s head back inside of the window. “Wait here, be right back.”

Joe crunched down under the window to wait for Hoss’ return. “Geeze, why me? He knows I hate the dark.” Joe sat there nervously biting his fingernails afraid to move. Hoss finally returned and as he handed Joe a match, a hand reached out and grabbed hold of Joe’s hand.

“Ahhhhhhh! Let go of me!”

“Will you two be quiet?” Adam appeared from out of the shadows. “Someone want to fill me in on what’s going on here?”

Hoss looked at Joe, and Joe looked at Adam. Both boys shrugged their shoulders, not sure what to say.

“Come on, this should be good,” Adam encouraged. He sat down on the ground and motioned for Joe to get out of the mercantile. Hoss sighed and placed a pleading hand on Adam’s arm.

“Please, Adam. We just want to have some fun; you know how it is? We ain’t gonna do anything too awful.” He nodded at Joe, “right?”

“Yea, that’s right, Hoss.” Joe giggled and then quickly wiped the smile off his face when he failed to get a reaction out of Adam. Adam rested his chin in his hand and closed his eyes. Joe was getting antsy and reached out to touch Adam. “Are you gonna tell Pa?”

Adam opened his eyes and glared at Joe. “Tell Pa? No, that would be letting you off the hook too easy. Now, telling Roy… well, that’s a different story.” He chuckled as he watched the expressions unfold on his brother’s faces. “All right, I tell you what. Let me in on some of this fun and I promise not to say a word to either one of them.”

Joe’s eyes open wide. “You mean you wanna help us?”

“Yea, Joe. I want to help you. I haven’t had some real fun since I left Boston.”

Adam clapped his brothers on their backs and pulled them in close so he could hear. A few minutes later, Adam was helping Joe back into the mercantile so he could collect the needed supplies.

Adam and Hoss waited patiently as Joe passed out the supplies, consistently watching for anyone that might have wandered too close. With his task completed, Joe took off to meet up with Mitch. Adam slipped through the window and left the cash sitting near the register for the supplies that they had taken. “I can’t believe I am doing this,” Adam commented as he followed Hoss back behind the hotel.

“Okay now fellas, listen up, here’s what we’re gonna do. Seth you and Todd take your hammer and nails and get the outhouse behind the stable and the one over at Doc’s office. Make sure you nail them doors good too. Mitch and I will get the privies behind the saloon and the motel. We should meet back here in about 30 minutes and then we can move the sheriff’s outhouse around to the front door,” Little Joe instructed. “Everyone understand?”

“Sure Joe, but what happens if’n someone catches us?” Seth asked, beginning to get a little worried now that he had finally allowed Little Joe and Mitch to talk him into pulling these pranks tonight.

“Well, just be careful, and don’t get caught. You ain’t gonna chicken out on us are ya?” Joe wanted to know. “What about you Todd, you chicken?”

“Naw, you know me better’n that Joe, I ain’t no chicken,” Seth informed him matter-of-factly. “Come on Todd, let’s get goin’. See ya in a few minutes Joe, Mitch.”

“Hey Joe, you don’t see no feathers on my back do ya?” laughed Todd as he ran to catch up with Mitch.

Little Joe and Mitch giggled. Mitch grabbed the hammer and Joe grabbed a hand full of nails from the old bucket and both boys ran down the dark alley that would take them to the back of the row of buildings and to the privies.

“You hammer the first one Joe, and I’ll hand you the nails,” suggested Mitch when they had finally made their way to the outhouse behind the saloon.

Joe took the nails from his friend and began the job of hammering. He bent the first two nails before being able to get a nail completely into the hard oak that comprised the outhouse. “Darn, this is harder than ya would think it would be,” laughed Little Joe.

“Maybe cause ya a southpaw ‘stead of a regular,” snickered Mitch, who loved to tease his best friend about being left-handed. “Man, listen to all that racket goin’ on in the saloon; the boys must really be tying on a good one tonight,” Seth whispered and handed Joe another nail.

Joe stopped hammering and listened. “Shh…someone’s coming, let’s get outta sight, I think with 8 nails, that should hold the door shut,” giggled Joe and grabbed Mitch’s hand and started running to hide behind some sagebrush that was close by.

Both boys ducked behind the bushes just as the cowboy reached the outhouse. The man grabbed his stomach as if in pain and doubled over, the movement causing him to loudly pass gas, PHEH>>>>>>. The two boys in the bushes covered their mouths to smother their giggles. The man farted again, PHEH>>>>>>> and Joe and Mitch began rolling on the ground, covering their mouths and then their noses.

“God, what did that guy eat?” whispered Mitch holding his nose. Joe could not stop laughing long enough to answer his friend.

The cowboy fought with the door to the outhouse, yanking and pulling on the door, the gastric like orders coming regularly now, PHEH>>>>>PHEH>>>>> but still the door refused to open.

“Damn!” swore the cowboy, PHEH>>>>>>doubling over as another gas attack overtook him, PHEH>>>>>>>>. Finally giving up, he ran into the dark toward the bushes, giving Little Joe and Mitch just enough time to make their way along the back of the buildings until they came to the outhouse that stood behind the motel. They were still laughing so hard that they were hanging on to each other helping the other to walk.

“I think I’m dying,” laughed Little Joe sitting down on the ground to catch his breath.

Mitch sat down with Joe and sucked in deeply of the cool night air. “Man Joe, that cowboy sure did stink!” Mitch pinched his nose and rolled his eyes causing Little Joe to burst out laughing again.

“We better get started on this outhouse before we run outta time,” Joe said when he was finally able to get control of his laughter.

“You nail this one Mitch. Make it fast, we just about got caught a little while ago,” whispered Joe as he handed Mitch the hammer and nails. Mitch made quick work of nailing the door shut as Joe kept his eyes open for any passerby.

“Okay, that should hold it, let’s get back, Todd and Seth should just about be there,” Mitch said softly. Little Joe and Mitch quickly and quietly worked their way through the dark alleys being sure to stay out of the light that was radiating from the lanterns that were lit though out town. It didn’t take them long until they met up with Seth and Todd.

“How’d it go?” asked Little Joe.

“No problem, we nailed the door shut on the one at Doc’s but at the stable,” Seth and Todd started laughing and pushing at each other. “We took the door off and nailed the lid shut over the hole,” giggled Todd, “Then we took the door and nailed it to the back door of the stable so when ole Claude opens his door there will be another door. And it’ll be nailed shut,” laughed Todd and Mitch as they tried to picture the look on the stable boy’s face when he realized he has two back doors.

The other boys had gathered there in the safety of some sagebrush that was growing nearby. Pete Devlin laughed when he saw Adam crawling through the brush. “Don’t say a word, Pete, don’t say a word.”

“Who me?” Pete giggled as he watched Adam work on the largest pumpkin. “What’s that for?”

“In time, my friend, in time.” Adam handed Pete another one of the knives. “You get to work on the others. I don’t want the younger kids messing with the knives.”

Hoss met up with Lucas and together the two of them set off with the wooden ladders in tow. Stalking down Main Street, the boys placed the ladders in front of the doorways of the International Hotel, the Bucket of Blood and Doc. Martin’s office. They laughed all the way back to the sagebrush as they thought of the superstition that most of the folks in town believed in.

Hoss and Lucas were left to finish up carving the pumpkins. Adam crept along the alleyway of the Bucket of Blood, making sure that no one was hanging out in the streets. He motioned for Pete to join him as he broke into a run, heading toward the corral. The blackest horse was roped and led out of the corral and to the town’s cemetery.

“Adam, this has got to be the most fun we’ve had in a long time,” Pete chuckled as he stuffed the white linens full of straw. Adam tied off the sheet with a piece of rope, giving the sheet an illusion of a body. Satisfied with their work, the boys stood back and laughed at their handiwork.

“Now, I understand why Little Joe enjoys these pranks so much.” Adam grabbed his left side as the laughter engulfed him. “My sides are killing me.”

Adam felt Pete’s hand go across his mouth as he burst into bouts of laughter. He pulled Pete’s hand away and brought his giggling under control. “Adam, that is the meanest thing I have ever heard of.” Laughter once again was muffled out as Pete lost the control.

“But, I’m game. There’s a buckboard back behind the barn. We should be able to get to it without anyone hearing us.”

Adam agreed, “The band is playing and there is plenty of dancing and hollering going on from inside. I doubt anyone will hear us.”

They left the black stallion tethered to a tree and snuck back toward the livery stable. With Pete on the look out, Adam hitched up a team of horses to the available buckboard and picked up Pete. “Let’s go get us a dog.” Their laugher was not heard as they headed to the outskirts of town.

Lucas crept along Main Street, careful to stay in the shadows of the buildings. He ran down the dark alleyway coming to a stop outside the window of the mercantile. Pushing the window open, Lucas slipped inside. The candle guided him to the shelf where he grabbed a whiskey type jug. Snuffling his own giggles, Lucas made a beeline for the corral. He glanced around nervously as he pop the cork out of the jug. Thankful for the band’s music, Lucas burst into bouts of laughter as he poured the mineral oil into the horse trough. On his way back to their hideout, Lucas placed the now empty jug under the porch of the International Hotel. Within minutes Lucas was falling to the ground weak with laughter beside Hoss.

The young boys decided to make a brief appearance at the dance to check on things before heading out to continue their mischief. Hoss lead the way and walked in nonchalantly. He made his way through the dancing crowd making sure that he stopped to greet his father’s friends. It seemed that very one was having a good time and hadn’t noticed that the boys were missing.

“We need to do those mirrors before Pete and Adam come back.” Hoss pulled Lucas close and whispered, “Gotta figure a way for Little Joe to get the caster oil in the punch. Gosh, I don’t pity him; there are just too many people around here for my likin’.”

“Don’t know, Hoss.” Lucas rubbed his hand along his chin and then raised his eyebrows. “Let’s leave that one up to your brother, Adam. Heck, he’s the one that went to college, ain’t he?”

*****

The army had finally arrived and Ben had been able to complete the business he needed to wrap up the contract with the army. Now as Ben rode into Virginia City, he felt pleased that all had gone so well. All he wanted now was to spend a quiet evening in the company of his two best friends, Sheriff Roy Coffee and Doctor Paul Martin, both long time friends of himself and his sons. They had planned on spending the evening at Roy’s office playing checkers, maybe even a few rounds of poker, just for fun of course. Later he planned on meeting up with his three sons and ride home with them after the party that was going on down at the barn.

Ben smiled to himself, his sons sure had been excited about this big Hollow Eve’s party, he grinned into the dark and prayed that his two youngest would behave themselves. Both had a reputation for finding trouble at times like this, especially Little Joe. Adam, he thought, was level headed, respectable, trustworthy, no, Adam would be no worry tonight, Joseph, now that was another story. And poor Hoss, young Joseph could talk his middle brother into just about anything, and I would not be the least bit surprised if tonight were no different, thought Ben again to himself.

As Ben made his way down the street past the corral he pulled Buck up to stop. PHEH>>>> PHEH>>>> Ben sniffed the air, “Dang, wonder what’s wrong with those horses?” he thought to himself. PHEH>>>PHEH>>>PHEH>>> Ben couldn’t help but smile to himself, “every nag in the corral has gas!” he laughed out loud. “Come on Buck, let’s get out of here before you start, that’s enough to make me sick.” Ben spoke to his horse and gently kicked him forward. PHEH>>>>> “Whew……”

Ben dismounted and tied Buck to the hitching post down a bit from the Sheriff’s office. Walking toward the door, Ben glanced around and wondered what happened to the hitching post that had been in front of Roy’s office just yesterday. Ben forgot that thought as the door opened and Paul Martin, the local doctor greeted him.

“Hi Ben, we’ve been waiting for you,” greeted Paul.

“Sorry it took me so long, had to finish a little business with the army, hi Roy,” Ben said as he removed his hat and gun, laying them on the desk that was placed against the wall.

“’Bout time you got here, we were just plannin’ on startin’ this here poker game without ya,”

Roy smiled and sat down at the small table he had set up earlier just for this occasion. “Ready?”

Ben and Paul took their seats and began picking up their cards as Roy dealt them. They had played several rounds when one of the drunks who were incarcerated in the jail began to moan.

“I’ll be right back boys, no cheating now,” teased Roy as he rose to check on his prisoner.

Momentarily Roy returned with a look of disgust on his face. Ben, who could not help but laugh, asked, “What’s wrong Roy?”

“Oh, you know how those ole boys are after a night of drinking, in there now stinking up my whole jail,” Roy complained. “Don’t know why they do that.”

Ben and Paul laughed loudly. “On the way here, same thing happened with all the horses in the corral. Wonder what in tarnation is going on?” Ben wondered out loud.

“Might be a sign, you know what tonight is,” offered Paul causing all three men to laugh.

Much later, much, much later that is, the three friends were still playing poker and unknown to them, a small group of youngsters were busy putting the final touches on a scheme, which would later prove to be their undoing.

“Shh…be real quiet now, we don’t want’em to hear us,” whispered Little Joe as he helped Mitch, Todd and Seth carry the old outhouse to the front door of Roy’s office and sit it down. The boys had removed the door earlier, leaving it across the pit in the back. The last thing they wanted was to have someone fall into the stinking hole…that would surely be their undoing and certain death!

“Now ease it up as close to the office door as we can get it and be ready to run when I give the word,” laughed Little Joe, trying his best not to make too much racket.

“What about these two black cats, Joe?” Todd asked. “They sure ‘nough want outta these sacks.”

“We’ll toss ‘em in there in just a minute, at least they have stopped that darn screechin’” Joe said in a low voice.

He wasn’t sure who was with Roy in his office, he did think that his father was to have been there but not having seen Buck, he couldn’t be sure. This made him feel better; he sure would hate to have his father become involved in one of his pranks. He knew what this would cause him if Pa accidentally were the one to fall into his trap. Joe snickered to himself and admitted it would be rather funny and then thought better of it. No, best this is the sheriff only, if we are quick enough, he would never know who put his outhouse on his front porch with the open door to the door of the jail. Then when Roy would come running out of the jail, he would run smack into the outhouse instead of the porch. This thought caused Little Joe to smile to him self. Wouldn’t the sheriff be surprised?

Unknown to the four boys, Ben was indeed there, as was Paul. Ben had taken a break earlier and had moved Buck to the stable and unsaddled him until he would be ready to leave. Little Joe had been unaware of this and soon a chain of events would take place that would have the whole town in an uproar.

When at last the outhouse was placed according to Joe’s instructions, Joe had Mitch and Todd release the two old tomcats and then the four young boys began running making their way back to the meeting place where they planned on joining Hoss and his friends.

It was not long before Adam and Pete met up with the boys. Seeing the looks on the three younger boys’ faces indicated to the rest of them that something good was in store for Virginia City. They took a few minutes to pull themselves together, before Adam spoke up. “Okay, now boys. What we need is some type of a diversion.”

Hoss interrupted, “Diversion? What’s that for?” not quite understanding what his older brother meant.

“It’s a way to draw the people out into the streets to admire our handiwork,” explained Adam as the rest of them exploded into rounds of laughter once more.

“Who’s gonna be the lucky one, Adam?” asked Hoss as he nervously looked around at the group. “I don’t think that I can do it.”

“Got it covered, brother,” said Adam as he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a handful of matches. “Only fair way to pick the schumck,” he laughed as he held the matches in his fist.

“Who goes first?”

An agreement erupted as the boys grabbed for the matches. “Whoa!” Adam pulled back away from the grasping hands. “Let’s do the oldest to the youngest.” Adam stood up and held his hand out above his shoulder. “Okay, I guess that means you first, Pete.”

“Don’t think so, Adam. My birthday comes three weeks after yours,” giggled Pete. “You’re the lucky one.”

One by one the boys took their turn at drawing matchsticks. Laughter again erupted as Little Joe stood holding the smallest match. “Great! What is it that I am suppose to do to make this diversion thing?”

A smile crept across Adam’s face as he cupped Little Joe’s neck with his hand. “I have just the idea for you, little brother.” He leaned down and whispered into Joe’s ear.

“What! Are you crazy!” cried Joe. “I ain’t gonna do that. Someone is bound to tell Pa.” He stood there shaking his head no and backed up slightly out of Adam’s reach. “No way! Naw, not me! Nuh, nuh, no, can’t do that.”

Pete interrupted Joe’s get away and held him in place as Adam stepped forward. He took hold of Joe’s arm and pulled him forward. “Listen, Buddy. This makes sense. You are a faster runner and besides you never show any shame at home about showing off your backside.”

The boys burst into another round of laughter causing them to get an evil look from Little Joe. “If you all think it’s so funny, why don’t you do it?” Joe pointed his finger at Mitch.

“Ah, come on, Little Joe. Adam’s right, you never show any shame when we’re up at the lake swimming. Heck, you’re the first one off with the clothes.”

It took a few minutes of persuasion before Joe finally agreed. He sighed loudly to show that he still wasn’t keen on the idea. “kay, what do I do first?”

Orders where handed out and the group dispersed to their appropriate locations. They had fifteen minutes to get themselves settled in. Adam stayed behind with Little Joe long enough to send him off. Adam took off running toward the cemetery to get himself in place as he anxiously waited for Joe to make his move. The timing had to be just right. The whole plan needed to be followed out in a precious minute-by-minute sequence.

Little Joe stood outside the front of the barn waiting for his signal from within. It didn’t take long for the screams to start. He covered his mouth to silence the giggles then shook his body. He closed his eyes picturing the events unfolding from within the barn.

Lucas had snuck in moments earlier and had emptied a gummy sack of garden snakes and spiders that had been caught by Todd and him self. The critters were crawling all over the apple bushel that was to be used for the apple-bobbing contest. “Figure they would have a girl go first,” thought Joe as the screaming escalated inside. “Wish I could see their faces ‘bout now.”

Meanwhile back at the jailhouse, Ben, Roy, and Paul had been having a pleasant evening, except for the PHEH>>>ing going on in the cells on the opposite side of the wall. All three men did their best to ignore the racket and once the doctor had even suggested he go to his office for some baking soda. He told the others that soda would help kill the gas that Roy’s prisoners seemed to have developed. But before Paul made that choice, all seemed to have quieted down in the cells and so the remedy cure was forgotten.

Meooooooooowwwwww! Hisssssssssssss, Meeeeoooooowwwww!

“What the hell was that?” shouted Roy as all three men jumped from their chairs and ran for the door. It had sounded as if a woman was screaming. Roy was the first one through the door followed by Ben and backed up by Paul Martin. When Roy suddenly stopped, Ben who was close on his heels ran smack into Roy’s back, thus causing Paul to slam into Ben.

“YEAH!” yelled Ben, coming to an abrupt stop only to be shoved into Roy.

Meoooooowwwwww! 

“OUCH!” 

“Move back, somethins’ got my pants leg!” yelled out Roy. PHEP>>>>>>>

“I can’t Roy, Paul move over!” instructed Ben.

“Okay, easy…OH NO we’re fallin!” shouted Paul.

And with that the three men trapped in the outhouse fell as the old privy came down on them, trapping all three friends inside. Ben, still caught in the middle, could barely move; he found himself on top of Roy and Paul was on top of him. Time seemed to stand still and for a few seconds, no sound could be heard coming from the turned over outhouse that served as a prison for the three friends and to two very irate tomcats.

Pissssh……Meowwww……..Hissssssssssss

“Oh God, that was my arm…my shirt…hey get off me you darn cat!” yelled Paul.

Ben struggled to get up, “Paul move over!”

“I can’t Ben, my leg is stuck, don’t YELL at me!” screamed Paul who was trying to remove his leg from under Ben’s backside.

PHEP>>>>>>>>>>>

“ROY!” screeched Ben.

“I’m sorry Ben, I couldn’t help it, it slipped out,” apologized Roy.

Meeeeooooowwwwww!!

“WHO PUT THESE DARN CATS IN HERE??”  “THEY’RE TEARING THE SHIRT OFF MY BACK….OUCH!!” cried out Paul Martin.

“Okay, let’s calm down, Paul can you get up at all?” asked Ben moving slightly so that he could see Paul’s face.

“I’ll try,” Paul said and made an attempt to rise but it was about that time that one of the black cats decided to jump on his head, causing him to fall again on top of Ben.

“Hey! That hurt!”

PHEP>>>>>>>>

“ROY! WILL YOU STOP THAT?? MY GOD MAN WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN EATING???”

“I’m sorry. Okay, I can’t help it, every time you stick your knee in my stomach, you make me fart!” 

“And for your information, all I had to eat was a couple of those pickled eggs over at the saloon and a beer, now will two get off of me!!” demanded Roy who was having the worst time of it, being on the bottom of the pile.

Ben held his nose, “Pickled eggs and beer?? NO WONDER YOU SMELL AS IF SOMETHING CRAWLED UP INSIDE YOU AND DIED!! Paul for the last time, GET UP!!!” 

The tomcats had finally managed to back off from each other, the yelling and thrashing around that the men were doing had caused the cats to become more interested in all the commotion cause by the humans than in the battle they had seemingly called a truce too. In fact at one point the cats exchanged worried looks between each other!

“Okay Paul, on the count of three, you stand up as best you can and push on the top of this thing,” Ben ordered. “One, two, three push!”

Paul rose as far up as he could and managed to raise the privy upward enough to give Ben room to get to his feet. Together they managed to hold the outhouse until Roy could crawl from underneath. As soon as the two black cats spotted an escape route, both ran from under and took off in opposite directions. Carefully the three men righted the privy and stood in silence staring at each other. The sight that met their eyes as each took in the others caused all three men to burst into gales of laugher.

The doctor’s shirt, or what was left of it, was in shreds, his arms had scratches on them and his hair was mussed from having the cats jumping all over his head.

Ben had gotten off easier than his two friends, being stuck in the middle; he had been cushioned from his fall by landing on Roy, and had avoided being attacked by the cats by Paul’s body, which had covered his.

Roy was dirty, all up and down the front of his shirt and pants, the dust seemed to have stuck as if drawn by magnetic force. His hair also was ruffled, giving the appearance of just having risen from a long night’s sleep rather than having been trapped in his own outhouse with two whining friends and two enraged tomcats.

When the three friends were finally able to get their laugher under control they dusted themselves off. “Wonder who the fool was that pulled this trick?” asked Roy, as he tried to calm his wild hair.

“I have a feeling it could have been a certain curly headed, green-eyed eleven year old,” smiled Ben.

Paul Martin tried to stop the smile that began to creep across his face. “Well rest assured, if it was, I owe him big time! Just look at this shirt, and look at all these scratches. He’ll be reminded of this the next time I have to make a house call Ben, never fear, I will repay!” All three men burst into laugher again.

What a night it had been. Suddenly from somewhere down the street shrill screaming could be heard. “What now?” shouted Roy and he took off in the direction of the barn where the Hollow’s Eve party was taking place. Ben and Paul followed close behind, Ben being careful to stay to the side, just in case Roy still had gas problems.

Taking his cue, Joe pulled the bandanna over his lower face and then stepped into the entranceway of the barn; whistled, bent over and dropped his pants to his knees. He turned his head to the side so he could get a better look at the scenery behind him. The older women had their hands clasped over their mouths and stared at him bugged eyed. The younger girls continued to scream as they covered their eyes. Joe’s next signal came from the embarrassed men that dropped the critters they had managed to collect and made a run toward him.

Joe ran off toward the cemetery pulling his pants up around his waist. He had hesitated too long before pulling them back up at the barn. He didn’t have the time to fasten them and held on tightly as he ran. He glanced around behind him just before ducking inside the fence. His eyes grew wide with fear as he saw almost the whole town of men running toward him. He felt a strong hand on his shoulder and was quickly ushered back behind one of the trees nearby. Joe found himself looking at Pete and sighed in relief. Pete then turned him back around as the town’s people entered the cemetery.

Ben, Roy and Paul hurried to make their way to the barn, hoping that the screaming that they were hearing was not a bad sign. Whatever was causing the ladies to raise such a ruckus must be terrible; the noise they were making was ear shattering. Ben had often wondered how some women could make such high-shrill sounds; it was enough to bust a man’s eardrums.

When they reached the barn, the scene was chaotic, kids were running in all directions, ladies were covering their eyes and screaming, men dashed about picking up women who seemed to have fainted, and boys were chasing after someone who had darted out the door ahead of all the rest. Before Ben, Roy and Paul could make any sense out of the happenings, they were mobbed by the stampede of people and knocked to the ground. Ben covered his head with his hands, trying to keep from getting stepped on, Roy, who had been first to the door had seen the herd advancing and had stepped to the side, making Ben an easy target. When Ben fell, Paul stumbled and fell also, his body offering small protection to Ben’s whom lay beneath him.

As the crowd rushed from the barn, Paul was able to whisper to Ben, “This just doesn’t seem to be our night, what do you think?”

When the last of the escapees had exited the barn, Paul grabbed Ben’s hand and helped him to his feet. Stunned, they turned to watch as the last of the retreating partygoers headed in the direction of the motel and the three friends were on the run again. Not having an inkling of what was happening and thinking only the worst; they hurried their steps and arrived just in time to see the crowd enter the cemetery.

Lanterns held high in the air, casting an eerie glow, the men stopped short as their eyes rested on the sights before them. The gentle breeze caused the bodies to sway from the branches in which they were hanging from. Several of the corpses had their hands grabbing at the rope in a desperate attempt to free themselves, as they hung. The group split up walking cautiously around the cemetery, afraid of what else they might find. Gasps of the unexpected where heard through the air as several of the men tripped over other bodies that were found lying on the gravesites. Other sounds of discovery were heard when more bodies were found propped up against the tombstones, holding empty beer mugs in their makeshift hands, giving the impression they were cheering their visitors. To add to the atmosphere, several carved pumpkins had been placed in different locations around the cemetery, throwing off a ghostly shine from the candles that had been placed inside.

With the distraction going on, Little Joe ran down the vacant street toward his final stop of the evening, the International Hotel. Joe unfastened his pants and replaced the bandanna over his face. He opened the door slowly, feeling slightly nervous. Joe peeked inside to see a group of people that had gathered around the buffet table. He felt his heart pounding against his ribcage at the same time the butterflies took flight in his stomach. Joe took a deep breath and whistled, bent over and dropped his pants, revealing his full moon.

The sound of dishes being dropped to the floor overrode the cries of embarrassment from the ladies. Joe wasted no time yanking his pants up around his tiny waist and with a running start, jumped down from the porch to the street. This time he didn’t look back to see if the crowd was following him. He was to busy trying to fasten his pants and belt as he ran down the center of Main Street towards his next stop.

It didn’t take long for Joe to realize that the guests from the hotel were indeed following what Joe felt was a little too close for comfort. Panic overrode his young body as he heard the sounds of the other crowd from the cemetery joining in the chase. He quickly struck the dirt smeared pine box that was lying in the middle of the road as he continued to run to for his safety. It had appeared to be recently dug up from the damp ground.

The exasperated crowd stopped dead in their tracks as the lid to the pine box slowly opened. Many spectators stepped back, falling into the others behind them, as a body dressed in its Sunday’s best, leisurely sat up. A few superstitious people turned and ran like their life depended on them getting away.

To add to the heart-thumping scene, a howling provided the necessary background noise, needed to fulfill the scene that was playing out before them. The sound filtered up from the empty well that stood alone in the dark. It started out low and slowly raised it self to an ear piercing volume, causing many to cover their ears with their hands.

“What in tarnation was that?” asked one of the locals, as he stepped back to further himself from the coffin.

“Don’t riley reckon it’s one of those here bodies from the cemetery, do ya?” questioned another, as he too stepped back to further the distance between himself and the rising corpse.

“All I know is I ain’t stickin’ ‘round to find out!” replied a third, as he spun around on his heels and took off like a puma out on a night hunt.

Several of the older cowboys followed suit, afraid of what might happen if they hung around too long. “Don’t know ‘bout you all folks, but I ain’t wantin’ in line to welcome this here corpse to town. See ya!” yelled another as he ran for the comforts of the Bucket of Blood, hoping to drown out the events of the evening.

The three friends stood gawking at the boy sitting in the coffin. Ben was trying desperately to focus on the boy. ‘He looks mighty familiar. No, it can’t be, it couldn’t be…’ thought Ben. Ben rubbed his hand down the front of his face while shaking his head no. Ben knew for sure that it was indeed his middle son when the child smiled at him. The gapped grin snapped him back to reality. “I can’t believe its Hoss. Little Joe, yes, but not my Hoss.”

As if the clock had chimed, the exact moment had arrived for Adam’s wild ride down the main street that would take him through the heart of town. Carefully he slipped the black cloak over his head and tried to mount the black stallion. The animal was a magnificent creature and Adam’s heart rate increased as he anticipated riding the animal. The black snorted as Adam approached and shied away nervously as Adam tried to mount.

“Easy there big fella, this will all be over shortly,” Adam spoke softly to the beast, trying to soothe the animal’s fear of him.

Adam mounted quickly once the animal calmed down and carefully fitted the large carved pumpkin over his head adjusting it so that he could clearly see through the carved eye sockets. He laughed to himself, he could hardly believe he had allowed himself to become this involved in one of his brothers hair brain schemes. What would Pa say when he found out? Adam had no doubt that pa would indeed find out, oh well, he thought, I’ve come this far, no use turning back now, what’s done is done. Besides he told himself, it feels good being a kid again; I’ve had few times such as this in my lifetime so what the heck?

Kicking the stallion in the ribs, they bolted from their starting position only to stop several feet to have the horse rear its front legs high in front of him and pawed into the air. What a sight smiled Adam, contentment clearly written on his unseen face as he fought to remain seated.

“Yeeeeeahaw!” shouted Adam and kicked his horse again and began his flight through town.

Somewhere from the side of him he heard a woman scream. Unable to turn his head due to the heavy pumpkin on his head he hoped the woman would be all right. Just ahead of him a couple was crossing the street and as he neared, the woman looked up just in time to avoid getting run down. As Adam passed he looked down at the woman and yelled in a screeching distorted voice, “Pardon me, Madame,” the woman fainted dead away and was caught quickly by her escort.

Almost finished with his wild ride, Adam jerked back on the reins as he saw his younger brother run into the street, a crowd of angry men in hot pursuit.

“Adam, help me, there’re about to catch me,” screamed Little Joe, frightened now that the mob was gaining on him.

“Grab hold ‘moon-boy’,” laughed Adam as he extended his hand out to his brother. Joe, who still had not been able to stop long enough to fasten his pants, was jerked from them as Adam handed him up onto the back of the black stallion.

Looking down Joe saw his pants lying on the ground, “My pants, Adam,” called out Little Joe.

“Forget it buddy, too late now, look.” Adam pointed in the direction of the advancing mob and quickly kicked his horse and rode out of town and to safety.

When the mob came to a stop, Ben who had joined them reached down and picked up the dirty trousers. A scowl crossed his face as recognition came to him. “Joseph!” He had known deep down that somehow this night would not pass without the scamp getting into some kind of trouble and now those fears were realized. Just wait young man, you won’t sit for a week by the time I’m through with you and by the time I let you come to town again, Virginia City will look like San Francisco to you!

Ben stood frozen to the ground momentarily as he watched the “Pumpkin Head ride off with what was obvious his youngest son, Little Joe. He thought that maybe, just maybe that what he was thinking, could not be. He shook his head attempting to clear his boggled mind and rethink the situation through. He gave up trying to eliminate the fact that the rider on that stallion could be no other than his oldest son, Adam.

Paul and Roy burst out in spurts of giggles as they both draped an arm around Ben. “Come on, Ben, where’s your sense of Halloween humor?” choked Roy as he leaned heavily on Paul for support.

“Yea, Ben. Give the kid a break. You ought’a know by now that things like this are bound to happen on Hollow’s Eve,” chuckled Paul as he stumbled against Ben from the weight of Roy falling into him.

Ben quickly scanned the area looking for his number one son. “I left these boys under Adam’s care. Where in tarnations is he?” Ben turned and questioned his friends.

Ben’s eyes opened wide as he starred down the street. Roy and Paul turned their gaze to see what had caught his attention. They all stepped back parting the way like the rest of the crowd. Limping down the center of the road was a “thing” dressed in a white ankle length hooded robe. A worn braided rope was tied around its waist and hung down passed its knees. The face of the unknown was charcoal black and it held in its hand a brightly-lit lantern that swayed in time with the creature’s gait. Slowly it approached the three men and came to an abrupt stop. Laughter rang out among the street as the creature absorbed the expressions on his friends’ faces.

“Hey Ben, Roy, Paul. Don’t ya recognize me?” asked the thing.

Ben gulped unable to believe the sight before his eyes. “OH NO! Not you too!”

Roy and Paul slapped Ben on his back and roared with laughter. “Hey Cass, you look great!” exclaimed Roy. “I forgot about this one.”

“So, you like it, huh? It was Adam Cartwright’s idea. Cass scanned the crowd in search of his friend. Speaking of Adam, where is he, Ben?”

Ben still in a state of shock just shook his head. “All I want to do is gather up my mischievous boys and go home. I am feeling tired all of a sudden.”

Cass and Roy grabbed hold of Ben’s arms and practically pulled him along back to the barn. By the time Ben had arrived back at the barn with Roy, Cass, and Paul, his mood had greatly improved. It had been an unusual night to say the least, but not totally wasted for sure. He had seen each of his sons in a new light, one that brought a smile to his face and laughter to his heart. How good it had been to see Adam enjoying his self for the first time in such a long time. Ben briefly wondered had Adam had the chances when young as his brothers each had, would he have been a different young man than the one he was tonight? No matter, Adam was a wonderful man regardless of what his childhood had been like, but tonight, Ben would always remember, his grown son had for just a short while been a little boy.

When Ben entered the barn the first sight his tired eyes fell upon where his middle son and his youngest. Huddled together in the corner, Hoss was helping his younger brother secure a pair of trousers that obviously did not belong to him. Briefly their eyes met and Ben saw the looks of concern on each of their young faces, they were afraid they were in deep trouble. Normally Ben thought, he would have much to say, but since tonight’s schemes had included not only all three of his sons, but his best friends as well, Ben knew in his heart that he would forgive his sons and their indiscretions. Ben nodded his head in a hello welcome and put on his biggest smile as he faced the two young boys. Instantly, Hoss and Little Joe’s faces lit up and they each returned the smile with one of their own.

Adam cringed when the shrill voice of Abigail Jones split through the air. He forced a smile on his face and turned to greet her. “Nice to see you again, Miss Jones,” he lied.

“Oh, Adam. What a wonderful evening this has turned out to be,” she commented. She laid her hand on Adam’s right arm, squeezing slightly. “With all the Hollow Eve pranks you all did,” she winked at him and continued, “Well I must admit that my favorite was you riding down the street on the magnificent stallion.”

Adam forced another smile to his face and swept his hand out in the direction of the refreshment table. “Could I offer you a drink, Miss Jones?”

“Why, Adam. I would love one.” She pressed herself up against his broad chest and rested her head on his shoulder.

Adam fought to contain what little he had in his stomach and started toward the table. He stopped when he felt that familiar strong grip on his left shoulder. He turned his head to meet his father’s face.

“Adam, the punch…..”

Adam interrupted him by holding up his hand. The smile that appeared on Adam’s face this time was not a forced one. He looked at Miss Jones and then back to his father. “I know.”

***End***

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