Summary: Caught in a storm together, Adam and Joe reminisce.
Word Count: 2,100
“They’ll come looking for us, you know,” Adam said, his tone quite neutral.
“You don’t need to tell me,” Joe remarked, irritably. “I just hope they have the sense to stay indoors till this storm is over.”
“I was just saying, you don’t need to bite my head off,” said Adam. “I wasn’t getting at you.”
“I’m sorry,” Joe replied, abashed. “But it’s my fault we’re stuck here, and it’ll be my fault if Pa and Hoss come looking for us in this weather.” He looked at the line shack where he and Adam were holed up as the blizzard howled outside.
“Don’t start the martyr routine,” Adam said, rolling his eyes. Joe laughed, which Adam considered a good sign. “How does your foot feel?”
“Sore,” Joe admitted, knowing that Adam would pester him until he told the truth. His oldest brother was the only one who wouldn’t accept ‘fine’ at face value.
Rising from where he was sitting near the stove, Adam drew back the blanket and looked at Joe’s swollen and bruised ankle. “I wish we had some bandages for it,” he commented. “I don’t think it’s broken, but you’ve sprained it pretty badly.”
Ruffling Joe’s hair, he smiled slightly at Joe’s glum face. “Never mind,” he said, “It was a good snowball fight.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Joe’s mouth. “It was,” he said, even though he had lost. “Pity Hoss wasn’t there to join us.”
A short silence fell, broken only by the howling of the wind, and the sound of snow scouring against the walls of the shack. The small building was cold, even with the stove giving out a good heat. Both men still wore their thick outside jackets, as well as having blankets tucked round them. Joe had the only cot, and Adam sat in a rickety rocking chair.
“You ever been in a storm like this, Adam?” Joe asked.
Shivering, Adam sat down on the edge of the cot. “Only once,” he said, “and I hope I never am again.”
“Tell me about it,” Joe requested. Adam could see the cold and pain were taking a toll on Joe. The fall he’d taken had sprained his ankle, and frightened the horses into running off, and it hadn’t been easy for him to limp through the deep snow to the shack. There hadn’t been a word of complaint from him, though. “Adam?” Joe prompted.
“It would have been our second or third year here,” Adam said, looking back. “I don’t know how old I was. Eight or nine, maybe. Perhaps 10. Certainly no older. I had been out doing the barn chores, and when I finished, I decided I’d go off and play. I seemed to have been working forever, and I hadn’t had the chance to build a snowman.”
“You used to build great snowmen,” Joe commented. “Remember the year we made a whole lot of them all across the yard?”
“Sure do,” Adam said, grinning. “I sure remember the talking to I got, as well.”
“A ‘necessary’ little talking to?” Joe questioned, his eyes alight with mischief. He loved when Adam shared bits and pieces of his past with him.
“No question,” Adam remembered. This was the boys’ euphemism for a spanking. “I only did it for you, you little wretch.” He remembered all too clearly the charming little boy who had persuaded him to people the yard with snowmen. He had conveniently forgotten that he had still been young enough to enjoy the process, too.
That charming little boy grinned back at him now, even though Joe was a man grown and in his 20’s. Joe often seemed to revert to childhood when he was hurt, although his charm was always there. Joe’s twinkling green eyes, and quicksilver temperament were uniquely his own, and Adam could rarely admit, even to himself, how much he loved his youngest brother.
“Go on with the story,” Joe urged. His ankle throbbed all the time, and he was cold and tired, but he knew that he was in good hands. Adam would take care of him. He’d been doing it since Joe was born. At times, Joe could cheerfully push Adam down a flight of stairs for treating him like a child, but he adored his oldest brother, even though they often got along like cat and dog.
“Well,” Adam said, patting his brother’s shoulder, “I went off down to where the breaking corral is now. Still within sight of the house – just – but far enough away to make it seem like an adventure. The snow was really deep down there, you know how it gets, and the drifts were taller than I was. It seemed terribly exciting. I started to build a snowman, and lost track of the time.” Adam gazed vaguely at the black square of window, seeing in his mind’s eye that little boy, playing in the snow.
He was silent for a moment, until an impatient movement from Joe brought him back to the present. Rising, he went to check on the water he was heating for coffee. Finding it ready, he made the coffee, still talking. “A storm came in, just like this one today. I had my back to the mountains, and I was so intent, playing in the drifts, that I didn’t notice that it was getting darker. Then, suddenly, it hit, and I was lost in the swirling snow.”
He handed Joe a cup, and his brother sat up, his eyes dark and intent, fixed on Adam’s face. They had all been caught in storms like that, but not as children, and seldom far from home. Joe could easily imagine the fear that the young Adam had felt when he realised he was lost. “What did you do?” Joe asked. He wrapped his cold hands round the warm tin cup.
“Panicked, initially,” Adam admitted. Joe’s eyes widened. Adam laughed. “Joe, I was a kid! Kids don’t think logically.”
“Huh!” Joe grunted. “I thought you always thought logically. That’s what you claimed!”
Grinning, Adam said, “Well, not that day! I was terrified. I almost peed in my pants, trying to work out how I was gonna get home!”
“You!” laughed Joe, his eyes sparkling. “I thought I was the only one who’d felt like that!”
“Maybe we’re more alike than you think,” Adam retorted, but it felt good to show Joe that he was just flesh and blood, not the invincible being Joe often seemed to think that he was.
“So what happened?” Joe asked.
“Well, after bawling and crying, I went back to stand by my snowman. I wasn’t any less lost, I just felt better. And I remembered which way the snowman had been facing. I thought I ought to try and walk home, but the wind was almost blowing me over, so I stayed where I was.”
“Wise move!” Joe agreed. “And?”
“And Pa came looking for me,” Adam said, quietly. “He had tied several ropes together, so he wouldn’t get lost, and he came looking for me. I saw the glow of the lantern, and yelled myself hoarse. How he heard me, I’ll never know, but there he was.”
“I bet he was mad,” Joe commented. He was feeling a little warmer, now the coffee was inside him. He snuggled down under the blankets again. The pain was making him sleepy, but he wanted to hear the end of the story.
“No, not mad,” Adam answered. “He caught me up in his arms, and carried me home, following that rope. He never said a word, until we were safe inside, and I was warm and dry. Then he told me that I had frightened him to death, and I was never, ever to do that again. He explained that I would have died out there in the cold, all for the sake of a snowman.”
There was silence again. Joe was thinking of the times he had done foolish things, and Pa hadn’t scolded him, or snacked him, he had just explained, quite quietly, that he, Pa, had been scared, and why Joe shouldn’t ever do those things again. Those were the warnings that stuck in Joe’s mind.
“Was it like the time I got stuck on the ice on the lake, and Pa came out for me?” he asked, soberly.
“Yes, exactly like that,” Adam agreed. “Hoss was just a tot, but I remember him crying, and Pa saying not to be scared, that I was safe, but he must never go out in the snow without telling someone exactly where he was going.”
“I guess we weren’t too smart out there this afternoon,” Joe commented.
“Maybe not,” Adam said, slowly. “But we can’t be sober and responsible all the time. We’ve got to have some fun. What happened was just an accident. They happen to people all the time, Joe. Lord, you should know that!” Adam laughed at the look on Joe’s face. “And we were prepared, should anything happen. We won’t freeze to death, and we won’t starve.”
The wind moaned round the shack, and the men within felt their eyelids drooping. It wasn’t long before they both fell asleep. It was a cold and uncomfortable night for them both, and Adam roused several times to put more wood on the stove. Joe, as was his want, slept through the night.
Morning came bright and sunny. The blizzard had blown itself out during the night. Joe was eager to be on their way, but as Adam pointed out, they didn’t have a horse between them, and Joe would not be getting his boot back on in a hurry. Even just putting a couple of socks over the injured foot had Joe green at the gills. So they ate some breakfast, and drank some coffee.
Around about mid-morning, they heard shouts outside, and Adam pulled open the door, to see Ben and Hoss, leading spare horses, coming up to the shack.
“Are you both all right?” Ben asked, taking Adam into his arms.
Quickly, Adam explained, and before long, Hoss was putting Joe onto a horse, and wrapping a blanket round him. It was bitterly cold, despite the sunshine. It took them a few hours to ride home, and then they huddled round the big fireplace in the great room, while Ben tended to Joe’s ankle.
“Good thing you didn’t come out in that storm, Pa,” Joe said, relaxing in the warmth.
“I thought about it, Joe,” Ben admitted. “It scared me to think of you boys alone in that weather.” He sighed, and Joe, looking at his father closely, saw how tired he was. “But it would have been foolish going out looking for you. I knew that you were together, and would look after each other. I didn’t want to get lost in that storm, and there are always enough tales of people lost in the snow without me becoming one of them.”
“You went looking for Adam in a bad storm,” Joe said, puzzled.
“He was a child, Joe, and I knew he wouldn’t have gone that far from home,” Ben explained, sitting down beside him. “And I had a rope tied to the barn, and round my waist, so that I didn’t get lost. I couldn’t do that this time, could I?”
“No, of course not,” Joe said. “I’m glad you were safe and warm here, Pa.”
“I’m glad you were safe and mostly warm where you were,” Ben agreed.
They sat cosily by the fire, but the long days in the cold had taken their toll on all of them, and Joe was the first to start yawning. Soon, he had infected all of them. Ben and Hoss helped him upstairs to bed, and Adam looked in to say goodnight.
“Say, Adam,” Joe called, “I guess we’ve got us a tale to tell our kids, haven’t we? A real winter’s tale.”
“Good night, Joe,” Adam said. “And yes, we’ve got a tale to tell our kids – about snowball fights and a storm.”
“Don’t forget the heroic rescue,” Hoss interjected. “I gotta be in on this, too!”
“Bed!” Ben said, sternly, but he couldn’t help laughing as he imagined the tale being told to his grandchildren, in Joe’s inimitable style, embellished no doubt, beyond recognition.
“Good night, Pa,” Joe said. “And don’t worry, you’ll be in the winter’s tale, too.”
“Just as long as you two didn’t become someone else’s tale, I don’t mind,” Ben said.