Summary: It’s a story for the Halloween season with otherworldly goings on that involve Joe and Adam in an eerie and chilling mystery that almost sends one brother home without the other.
Word Count: 1551
Taking the short cut across the desert wasn’t usually a problem. The weather had been reasonably mild and they had plenty of water and food. The first night had passed very peacefully with less threats than most other routes would have had. The three men had plenty of time for talking and sharing all sorts of tales and teasing. All of that had ceased that afternoon as they saw the dark clouds forming over the high peaks of the Sierras. Adam Cartwright had lived in the area long enough to know what it meant. There was rain up in the high country that would send flash floods into the dry washes and there would likely be strong winds and possibly lightning too before the day was done. They needed cover and there was little to be had. They pushed hard going toward the storm but that was where they were likely to find some cover from its fury as well.
The brothers took turns with their drover Micah in leading the pack-horse who objected to the hard pace much more than their mounts did. The storm threatened for several more hours and then hit with an intensity that promised that it would get much worse before it blew itself out. With lightning strikes every few minutes across the sky, there was a need for the three men to look for some kind of cover. They regretted not finding something sooner, but the barren landscape they had been traversing left little in the way of respite from the storm. They reached an old stage road that made travel easier so that their pace picked up and increased their hopes of finding something suitable before the heavy rain hit. They could smell it in the air and knew that was what they likely faced next. Seeing the shape of the building along the old stage route was an unexpected favor, but Little Joe Cartwright was surprised.
“Adam, I thought you said this old stage station burned down and the station master and his wife died in the fire?”
Even more surprised than Little Joe, all Adam could do was shrug as he, Joe, and Micah rode hard in that direction desperate for shelter from the impending storm. He had heard that news from a driver on the stage on one of his trips. He could no longer remember which one but was sure that had been the story. How it could be so wrong, he had no idea.
Once they were there, they took care of the horses first tying them inside a dilapidated lean-to stable that at least still had a roof and one wall that were functional. Pulling the saddles and the bed-rolls, they rushed to the station and inside to escape the storm just before the rain began to pour down in a deluge. Despite the fury of the storm outside and that the door banged back and forth in the wind, it was amazingly quiet and still inside the building. As Adam looked for something to prop against the door to keep it closed, Micah and Joe began laying out their bed-rolls remarking on their great good fortune.
“I’m glad we found such a good place to spend the night, Joe.”
“Yeah, good thing we didn’t listen to my older brother there. We’d be stuck out there trying to stay dry under some lean-to somewhere with a smoky fire and a cold dinner.”
Something made Adam hesitate though, and he didn’t roll out his bed-roll. He even stopped his search for something to prop the door closed. He hadn’t felt right since entering the building. To him, it felt colder inside than it had outside, and it seemed like it was getting colder by the minute. More worrisome was that he kept getting the impression of seeing things in his peripheral vision, but whenever he turned to look, nothing was there. He couldn’t be sure, but it appeared to be getting darker in the room too because Joe and Micah were getting harder for him to see. Their images were growing somewhat dim and even seemed to waver in the semi-darkness.
It was at that moment that Adam knew something was terribly wrong. They had no lantern and no candle yet it had been lighter inside than out when they entered. It had made no sense and yet Adam hadn’t questioned it as if something had blocked his mind from thinking that, but now he began to question everything. It was probably his doubt that allowed him to begin to see more and keep some of his rational thought processes working although even they weren’t functioning as well they should have been. When Adam saw what he saw next, he should have reacted more strongly than he did. As he stared into the darkness in the recesses of the room, Adam could swear he saw two pairs of red eyes in the now shimmering gloom in those areas of the room. Knowing that there had to be something unholy in that room, he backed toward the door that had again swung open in the wind. Almost desperately, he called for the attention of the other two men.
“Joe, Micah, we should leave.” Then he knew he had to be more forceful. “We have to leave. We have to leave now.”
Pausing only briefly in his task, Little Joe didn’t even look at him to respond. “Go out into that storm. You’re crazy.”
Micah was silent as if he didn’t even hear Adam.
“Joe, Micah, we’re leaving. Now!”
Both men ignored him. Stepping close to his brother, Adam grabbed his arm and tried to pull Joe to the door, but he fought him with an insane intensity shocking Adam with his strength and the way he snarled almost inhumanly back at him. Forced to release his hold on Joe, Adam backed to the doorway and tried to think of something to do to save his brother and Micah too if he could. As he gazed into the darkness that was growing ever more dense, he saw the red eyes now had grotesque red smiles too. He stepped just beyond the sill. When he did, his vision began to clear even more, and he saw the ugly teeth of the demons and began to see their outlines as well. He knew he had to do something and had only one idea that he thought might work.
“Joe, your mother was a whore!”
With a scream of rage, Joe turned and threw himself at Adam knocking both of them backwards out the door and into the mud. He tried at first to put his hands around Adam’s throat to throttle him. The two rolled on the ground in the rain but stopped in shock not only at what Joe was doing but at what they heard first and saw when they turned their heads toward the old station. The storm’s fury was drowned out by Micah’s screams and the soul searing howls of the demons. With flashes of lightning, they saw only the burned station ruins with their bed-rolls and saddles lying in the midst of them. There was no sign of Micah. The demons were gone too. It was as if Micah and the horrible beasts had never been there.
“Adam, where’s Micah?”
“I don’t know, but we can’t follow him there. He’s lost to us.” Adam paused. “Joe, I’m sorry about what I said. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Joe knew then why Adam had said what he did earlier. The insult had been to inflame his anger and get him to leave the station because all the rest of his mind was numbed by those demons. Joe stood and backed away as Adam did the same. Nearly covered in mud and with rain pelting them, they didn’t even care. They took the reins of their horses and of Micah’s horse as well as the lead rope of the pack-horse and walked away into the night intending to get as far from that old stage station as they could. By the light of day, it might seem silly to ride home bareback and try to explain this to their father, but nothing was going to make them go back inside those walls again.
A week later, they returned with a wagon and shovels. They dismantled what was left of the station and buried the bricks in multiple graves around the area. All the wood was burned. It seemed to burn with a greenish hue. When that was done, reading from a paper, Adam said a prayer that the minister had given him. Then he dropped the paper into the coals of the fire and it burned red-hot with a flame that shot several feet into the air before white smoke blanketed the area. Smiling, he motioned to Joe that they could go home with a clear conscience. No one else would be trapped by the demons of the old stage station.