Summary: A strange, unusual, and perhaps a bit weird out-of-this-world tale featuring Adam and explaining some things that happened on Bonanza with a supernatural twist.
Word Count: 18,292
The screams rent the air. The screams were almost inhuman in their intensity. The pain tore from legs to back and up to his chest and yet the cat continued the attack. Curled into a ball, Adam protected his face and vulnerable abdomen but knew he would die for the cat was relentless in its attack. He knew the screams were his but couldn’t stop. Suddenly there was a respite from the horrendously painful attack, and he dared to glance with one eye to see what the cat was doing. If it was playing with him, there was no hope, but if it was distracted perhaps he did have enough strength to get to the stream and submerge. Surely he thought this black cat was not big enough nor strong enough to pull him from under the water. As he looked, the cat’s back was to him. He gathered what strength and resolve he had and then took two steps and fell more than dived into the water where he was soon joined by Numaga. They were alive. By some miracle, the cat had not killed either of them. They submerged until they had to push up for air. The cat was gone. The pain wasn’t gone and continued to send stabbing reminders with every movement but the cold water of the stream was washing the wounds and soothing them.
With little strength left, the two teenage boys worked their way to shallower water where they could sit. Then they could breathe without undue effort and still the water did its healing cleansing and cooling of the damaged tissues. As the two boys looked at each other, they realized that the injuries were superficial. They did not understand it, for the cat had been ferocious. It was probably two hours before they heard calls for them. Using what strength they had left, the two boys called out to let the searchers know their location.
“Oh, my God, Adam, what happened to the two of you? You look like you were mauled by a mountain lion.”
In a voice made weak by blood loss and the shock of his ordeal, Adam answered. “It was, Pa. It was, but it was all black. It screamed and jumped, and we couldn’t get away. It clawed me first and then jumped Numaga, and when I tried to make it go away, it jumped on me again. I hit it, Pa. I hit it in the head with a rock as big as I could lift, but it didn’t seem to bother it at all. It just turned on me.”
“Yes, son, but you saved Numaga’s life with that action. If you had run or jumped in the water then, it would have killed Numaga.”
“Where is Numaga?”
“His father and uncles were here too. You collapsed almost as soon as you saw me. They helped me get you out of the water, and then they pulled Numaga to safety too. He said the same story. His father was very grateful to you, but I’m afraid your friend may not be so grateful.”
“But why, Pa. I did everything I could.”
“I know you did, son. But you see that may be the problem. You saved Numaga’s life. Now he feels he owes you, and he did nothing to help you. In the eyes of his tribe, you became a man today. Numaga did not.”
As Ben helped his son onto his horse, and then climbed up behind him, the big black cat watched from above. It licked the blood from it paws and then rubbed its snout to clean that even as its large tongue lapped the blood from around its mouth. It had cut the boys in a number of spots and then licked the blood that poured from the wounds until his tongue had caressed the torn flesh over and over again. It had not been able to find a mate in all these years. Without a mate, and with no offspring, the old cat was finally dying. It had lived centuries and had wondered many times what the lifespan of its species was. It had walked the earth in the guise of a man many times, but the effort to do so proved to be too much trouble and it had given in to just running as a cat. But it was a lonely life, and the cat desired company and an heir. The young Paiute, Numaga, had seemed a good candidate, but on his leaving, it was clear that his jealousy and anger could override his more honorable characteristics.
As the old cat watched, he sensed that the young white boy, Adam, had more good in him. Like all creatures, there was a mixture of the good and the bad, but he seemed to hold the good in high regard and even now fought the bad. The cat could sense how he was trying to forgive the creature that had attacked him. That amazed the cat. He had never sensed that in a human before. Perhaps this would be the one in whom his saliva would merge into the cells of his body and give him the powers of the black cat. Only time would tell. In the next full moon, he would wait for this one to emerge. It would be a frightening time for him, and he would need guidance. The old cat knew his time neared but also knew that in how he gauged time, he had many years left. He would teach this young one. He knew it now. He had an heir. He could feel the energy rising in the young one’s body even as he slumped in exhaustion against his father’s chest. The exhaustion was the result of his ordeal but also the transformation that was beginning in his body.
“Yes, Ben Cartwright, you are his father, but now I am his father too. He will lead two lives. One in your world and one in mine.” The cat sent a silent message to his heir. On his horse, Ben felt the hair on his neck and arms stand up. He wondered if he was sensing the cat nearby. His horse did not react so then he thought that perhaps it was the fear for his son’s well-being that had caused the reaction. He rode as swiftly as he could toward home.
Doctor Martin was summoned. Once he got there hours later, he found that Marie had bathed the wounds and cleaned them. He helped her put salve on and bandage the injuries which didn’t seem very serious. Ben watched as they worked and held Adam’s hand against the pain. Somehow the wounds didn’t look as bad as they had at the creek when they had found the two boys. The cuts or slashes looked superficial now when he had thought there were deep gashes when he had first pulled Adam from the cold water. He thought perhaps it had been all the water mixing with the blood that had made it all look so terrible. He was relieved now to see that Adam was not apparently in any danger.
“Ben, those gashes are already healing. I would normally say that there’s a risk of infection because a cat’s claws and teeth usually cause nasty infections in wounds they make, but not this time. Perhaps the immersion in the cold water you mentioned did have a very beneficial effect. He is pale from shock I presume because he couldn’t have lost that much blood from such superficial cuts. I would say there’s not likely to even be any noticeable scarring after a few years. They will fade away to almost nothing.”
Listening carefully, Marie especially could tell from the doctor’s words and his manner that he was perplexed by this case. Marie had heard of a case like this in New Orleans from long ago when it was said a young woman had been hurt just this way. She had disappeared from her home a number of years later and none could say what had happened to her, but there had been whispers of some dark magic that had occurred, and that she was a shape-shifter. Marie had discounted the stories except at night when the lamps were turned down, there was a little fear that the stories were real. Now she wondered about her eldest son. Had he been infected by some strange malady? She knew Ben would never believe her. She decided to go riding up there sometime in the next week to see what she could learn.
“Paul, is there a chance that the cat was infected?” Ben worried about rabies.
“There’s no way to know, Ben without seeing the cat. I do think it’s unlikely. Now keep him in bed for at least a day, and then only let him get up and walk around the house for a few days. No work, and make sure he eats and drinks well. I’ll check back in a few days.”
Doctor Martin had left, and when he returned three days later, Adam had shed the bandages and there was little to show from the attack. He was sitting on the porch reading when the doctor drove into the yard.
“How do you feel, Adam?”
“I feel fine.”
“Oh, I know that’s always your answer. But, honestly, are there any lingering effects from your ordeal?”
“I may be a bit tired, but it’s getting less every day.”
“All right then, I want to have a word with your father, and I’ll be on my way.” Inside the house, Paul could see that Ben did have concerns.
“He’s not sleeping well, Paul. He tosses and turns all night long. We can hear him, but he claims there are no nightmares but instead just very vivid dreams.”
“I don’t know what to say, Ben. This has been an unusual case. Adam has healed amazingly well. I guess time will tell if those dreams pass. Let’s just be very happy that it didn’t turn out any worse.”
Ben and Paul shared a glass of brandy. Then they heard a terrible sound outside followed by Adam’s frenzied yell for them. When they got outside, Marie lay on the ground with her head at an awful angle. Adam knelt by her side with an anguished look begging his father and the doctor to please say this couldn’t be true. But it was.
The cat watched from a distance. It had not meant to terrify the woman. It had only wanted her to go away when she came nosing around his home. Now she had perished and he could feel his boy’s pain. He wished he could soothe him somehow, but it was still too soon. He would wait.
Nothing physical that could be noticed changed for Adam over the next months. He had to soothe his little brothers who were devastated by the loss of their mother. He took over much of the ranch responsibilities as his father seemed numb with grief and often forgot to do some things. Soon the ranch hands came to him for decisions so they could get an answer quickly. Adam worked with the foreman and the two of them kept the ranch going until Ben began to come out of his stupor. There was no time for Adam to hunt, fish, enjoy reading, or go visit with friends. He started his day early and ended it long after everyone else had gone to bed. He was amazed at his own stamina. Normally he had required eight hours of sleep per night to function effectively and stay in good humor. Now he seemed able to sleep only a few hours and function quite normally and feel fine.
For some unfathomable reason, each night Adam seemed to awaken around midnight and he was drawn to his window. He often climbed out on the porch roof and basked in the moonlight. He did not understand how the moon could be so soothing, but he always felt better afterwards. He would then sleep for three hours and be up before anyone else. Hop Sing said he would get sick staying up so late doing paperwork and then rising the next morning to do chores so that he could take his brothers to school before returning to head out to work with the men on the day’s tasks.
After about two months, Ben started to take more charge of things including trying to take charge of his sons. Joe and Hoss were easy and quickly adapted to their father being in charge again. Adam resisted. He was seventeen years old, and had shouldered the burdens of running the ranch while his father grieved. He had not had time to grieve, but he had made sure that his brothers did so that they could heal. He worked and worked, and when his father made some accusations, he responded angrily.
“You didn’t care about Marie. You never accepted her as your mother. That’s why you could function when the rest of us were hurting so badly. Now it’s time for you to step back and do as you’re told.”
“I couldn’t grieve. I had too much to do and there was no one else to do it.”
“Don’t take that tone with me. I had every right to take time to mourn the loss of my wife. I have lost three wives. That costs a man something. I needed time to heal.”
“I have been giving orders on this ranch for two months, and you think I should just stop and act like a child taking orders?”
“Watch your tone with me, boy.”
“I am not a boy. I haven’t been a boy for a long time.”
“You are my boy, and you will do as you’re told or you can have a talk with me in the barn. Maybe that will remind you who’s in charge here.”
The thought that his father thought he could tan him shocked Adam. He had not been tanned in a couple of years. Of course he had given his father no reason to do that either. Now he was being treated as a boy again. His temper flared. “Am I your son or am I an employee. You treat me as one when you want work done, and then as the other when I have an opinion. God forbid that you would have to listen to an opinion from me. Maybe I should have waited for you to tell me what to do for the last two months. What kind of ranch do you think you’d have now if I had done that?”
Frustrated and angry as well as feeling some guilt, Ben had slapped his son then. He immediately regretted it, and apologized, but the look in Adam’s eyes said that it would not be forgotten. Adam turned and walked out of the house. Ben would not see him for three days.
The black cat watched as Adam rode away from the house. He had come to watch for he had felt the turmoil in his new son from many miles away. Each time Adam sat in the moonlight the changes in his body multiplied. He already had the improved healing and stamina of the black cat. More good things would happen, but in this state, the young man could also cause the shift to occur and it was too soon. But if it did happen, the only way he could survive it was if the old cat was with him. He ran a trail parallel to the young man’s and noted how he avoided dense copses of trees and piles of boulders. He was learning fast how to avoid danger. With the trail he was following, it was clear he was heading to the Paiute camp. The old cat feared what he would experience there, but there was no good way to stop him.
As Adam rode into the Paiute camp, he enjoyed the greeting of the men there. They called out to him and pointed to where Numaga’s family had their wickiup. As Adam neared it, he dismounted and walked toward the dwelling. What happened next surprised him. Numaga saw him coming and deliberately turned and walked away. He did nothing insulting but it was clear that he was very upset with Adam. Numaga’s father stood then to talk with Adam.
“It is not fair, but he blames you for the attack. He blames you for the laughter that rang in the camp when the story was told of how a white boy saved him.”
“But we were together. What else could I have done?”
“I thank you, but my son does not. He has scars on the outside but also on the inside. He has not healed well. I fear that someday there will be a bad meeting between you. For now, all that I can do is wish you well and to hope that you have a good life. I do not think it wise for you to come here again.”
Thanking the chief for his good wishes, Adam mounted up to ride out. The old cat could feel his heavy heart. He had lost a friend and had angry words with his father only two months after his mother had died. The old cat did not know all of the history of the family or he would have been even more concerned over the deep sorrow his heir had. Instead he followed behind him as he traveled not back home but higher up into the trees and high pastures. When the old cat spotted the small cabin up ahead of them, he realized that the young man sought solitude. That was good for the change could happen any time now, and the old cat would be near. He would be able to guide the young one and quell his fears and teach him. It would be a frightening and demanding time but he sensed a strength in this one that he himself had not had. He had needed much help. He sensed that this young one would only accept the help that he absolutely had to have. He would do the rest alone. This would be a powerful black cat once he reached his maturity.
Adam took care of his horse first. Then he took water into the cabin with him as well as his saddle, saddlebags, and rifle. At least he had thought to bring those things. He had not packed food, but there should be some basic stores in the cabin. He found beans only and set some to soaking in a kettle by the fireplace after he got a good fire going. He drank a lot of water, and laid his bedroll down by the fireplace. He had an uncanny desire to remove his clothing which he found odd, but when he had eaten and was ready to sleep, he gave in to it. He kept his rifle by his side and his pistol under his right hand. Then he fell into a fitful sleep that seemed to be the only kind he had any more. He attributed it to Marie’s death because he did not understand the other changes that were taking place.
The full moon lit the cabin reasonably well through the one window. Adam pulled his bedroll into the shaft of moonlight that bathed one large section of the cabin floor. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, he was sure he must be dreaming. He felt like his body was crawling with millions of insects inside him. It was not an unpleasant feeling but it was very strange. He stood and the blanket dropped from him allowing him to see himself in the moonlight. It could not be but his body appeared as black as night. He reached out to touch his left arm with his right hand and there was fur dark as night emerging from his skin. He wanted to wake up from this dream but his feet could feel the floor so what was left of his conscious mind told him that it was no dream. He went to the door and opened it to escape this nightmare, and as he emerged into the moonlight, he dropped to his knees only they weren’t his knees any longer. He was down on all four legs, sleek powerful legs. He raised his head and felt the powerful shoulders move. Gingerly and then with increasing confidence, he began to run faster and faster until the speed of his running brought wind to his face with all the smells of the forest and pasture around him.
The young black cat smelled the fear of prey as he ran by, and the uncertainty of the other predators who saw him. He smelled the reek of day old offal from a hunter’s kill, and the sweet smell of fresh grass and cool water up ahead. Suddenly he felt a presence by his side and smelled another who smelled like him. He glanced to his side and an older black cat ran with him. He sensed no danger and ran as fast as he could until he reached the bank of the stream. There he stopped to drink his fill. The old cat did the same, and something remarkable began to happen. Before his eyes, the old cat transformed into a man who walked into the stream and splashed and laughed.
“Come in, come in. Use your mind. Tell your body what you want to do. Be firm in your thoughts and join me here. In the moonlight, you have the power to do it already.”
The young cat sat back on its haunches and thought. Then it ordered its body to change back. Those funny feelings started again, and he rolled onto his side as he felt his body transform for he knew now what it was. Once he did, he found he was hot and sweaty so that he cool stream was the place to be. He stood and slipped into the water.
“Do you know what has happened?”
“You are the black cat that attacked me. I recognize your smell. I have healed but something has changed in me. I don’t understand it, but I know I was this and then that and now this again. What happened to me? You must know.”
“You are now a shape-shifter. You can learn to control it with your mind. For now, you need the moonlight to accomplish it, but with only a few days of training, your mind will be able to do it on command. Some do not like the power they have received and command it to never happen. It is your choice but the power can be used to accomplish much good.”
“What if I wanted to do bad things?”
“Then the power within you would destroy you. You would cease to exist in either form.”
“What good things can I do in the other form?”
“You will not know until you know. I understand how enigmatic that is, but I cannot know what circumstances in which you will find yourself. I know that I have done good for many people by eliminating terrible things. I do not know your destiny, but I sense in you a strong sense of wanting to do good. But sometimes we cannot accomplish that in our human form. The form of the cat creates other options. You will know when you need it.”
“Are you always a cat now?”
“Yes, in many ways, I am. I tired of the human form with all the demands. I sought the peace and solitude of the cat but only after hundreds of years of doing good. My time is much shorter now, and I have accepted that I have done what I could do. It is your turn now.”
“Hundreds of years?”
“Yes this cat side provides us with more longevity regardless of the form you choose. You could stay in your human form and still have all of those extra years.”
“Are there more of us?”
“Yes, but so few this far out here in this form. I could not find a mate to create an heir. There was no female for me. I chose the other way. When you were hurt, I put my cells into your body. They chose you, for if you had not been suitable, the wounds would have healed normally. Your skin is almost unblemished. The cells accepted your nature.”
“Numaga was not accepted?”
“No he was not. He had much good in him but he lets the bad hold sway too much. We are not a perfect breed, but we must always live on the side of good even if we sometimes stray into darkness. You do not have to be perfect. You can make mistakes. But you must seek to do good with your life. You need to go make peace with your father. Your family needs you still.”
“It is a long way back to the cabin.”
“Then let us run like the wind. Command and it shall be so.”
When Adam returned home, his father saw a strength and a confidence in him that he had never seen before. Adam stood before the desk in the house as Joe and Hoss waited by the kitchen. “I’m home. I apologize for speaking to you disrespectfully. The tone of my comments was not acceptable, but I do stand by the ideas I expressed.”
“You think you are too old to be tanned?”
“I do. I think I assumed enough responsibility here to be treated as a man.”
“Then what should I do to punish you?”
“What would you do with a man who used a tone with you that you did not like?”
“I would order him not to use that tone with me under penalty of losing his job here.”
“Then that is what you should do with me.”
“But you are my son. I could not fire you and send you away. I think perhaps we could come to a compromise. There are extra chores that could be assigned for a hand who doesn’t do as told. Will you accept that?”
“Then for the next three days, you will spend your evenings chopping wood for two hours after dinner.”
“Yes sir, I will do that.”
That night, Joe came into Adam’s room late and wanted to sleep next to him. Joe had been very sad that Adam had been gone for three days. Adam wanted to go run with the cat, but he fought the urges down and the change did not come. The old cat had told him he could do that, and he was relieved to find that it was true. It would be his decision of how much time to spend in that world rather than the one he knew so well.
Later that year, Adam was going to be going to college. He told the old cat as they ran.
“You will do well, I am sure. But once you are away from here, you may find it more difficult for a time to control the change. Concentrate when you need to and do not let anything distract you. When you are with a woman, and I am sure you will be, the urge to mate will be very strong. You may but not in the cat form. You cannot plant your seed as the black cat in one who is not chosen. Do not let your cells into another. This will be difficult, but if you willingly pass on your cells, they will decide if the person is worthy or not. It could be devastating if the person is not worthy.”
“Wouldn’t I know?”
“Adam, I thought Numaga was worthy. After hundreds of years of this, I was still wrong. One cannot see into the heart of a person.”
“What about kissing?”
“It is only planting your seed or putting your cells into the blood of another while you are the cat that may be wrong to do. Kissing and loving with a woman are fine and as I remember, very enjoyable.”
“I’ll be in the east where you’ve said there are more of our kind. What do I do?”
“They will sense you and you will sense them. Make friends. Perhaps you will even find a mate, but realize that mating does not mean a life together. We are a solitary breed. We come together to run and even to do good, but we do not live together usually.”
Suddenly, Adam was speechless. “But what if I wish to marry and have children?”
“Do not worry so. As a man, you may marry and father children. You cannot pass on the black cat cells except when you are the cat. I married twice and fathered children with my first wife. I have seen ten generations of my first children be born, live, and die. It is a melancholy thing but can be very rewarding too. I see one of my human descendants before me right now.”
Shocked for just a moment, Adam understood a lot then. “That’s why you’re out here. You followed my father because he is a descendant of yours. Then you are my ancestor twice over, in the human form, and in the cat form.”
“Yes, Adam, I am. I am also Adam. And someday in the future, there will be another Adam and you may pass the mantle to him.”
“For some reason, our lineage seems to be mostly male. There could be a daughter, but the odds do not favor it.”
“What did you do when your family saw that you did not grow older?”
“I disappeared in a way to make them believe I had perished. It was after my wife died. I had done some things to make myself appear a bit older but it was getting to the stage where questions would have been asked.”
That was the last conversation Adam ever had with his ancestor. When he returned from college, he sensed that the old cat had gone. He hoped he had not died, but there was no way for him to know. He ran up to the hills on the first night he was home and could find no trace of him. He did sense an evil presence, but did not know what it was. He had met many others of his kind in the east and had been able to ask many questions and learn, but here he was alone with no one to ask.
In Boston, he had tried to do good. There were three men who had been preying on young women. Adam set out to hunt them down. He found them in an alley near a boardinghouse and they had accosted a young woman. Her clothing was torn by the time he arrived. The three men never saw him coming. He had attacked and torn out their throats before they had a chance to grasp the weapons they carried. He had saved the girl from the attack, but she was so traumatized by his actions that she ended up in a sanitarium. No one believed her story of course, but the authorities could not explain the injuries the three dead men had suffered either. The others in Boston recognized his intent, but had warned him of so visible a presence. They told him he had to be more clever and certainly far more subtle. The whole experience had soured him on that life, and he had worked to suppress it, but some things were not so easily suppressed. His sensing of evil near him in Boston and since then was acute.
Now at home again, it wasn’t long before Adam was close enough to sense the evil presence repeatedly. On one of those days after splitting off when riding with his father, he found a Bannock man, Bruno, injured because he had been trying to protect his wife and another woman from the trader Mike Wilson and his brother and friend. Adam knew as he rode toward Wilson Station that this was the source of the evil. He didn’t change though for he was sure that his human side could handle this problem.
Unfortunately, even though Adam had been able to save the women, there were Bannocks who did not accept what had been done to defile their women. Bruno led them to Wilson Station where they took their revenge and they killed and mutilated the ones who had taken and abused their women, but nothing they did could kill Mike Wilson. He was an evil being and he escaped. Adam knew then that he would have to kill him.
In Virginia City, Wilson blamed the Paiute for the attack and blamed Adam Cartwright for the attack that took his brother and his friend. He lied and slandered until he had stirred things up enough that there was a mob mentality and a desire to punish the Paiute. The first attack on the Paiute was a disaster with men who had been drinking and others who held grudges against the Paiute joining with the militia, and again Mike Wilson started the fiasco. Adam was captured and knew that he could change and escape but thought that there would be no attack as long as he was held hostage. He hoped that somehow, he could stop this madness. Chief Winnemucca, father of his one time friend and chief of these Paiute, told him he would die if there was an attack. He was not so bothered by that but when Numaga entered the wickiup intent on killing him then if not later, Adam was shaken. He still did not truly fear for his life and was even able to jest with his father and brother when they were allowed to see him. But with all the hatred building on both sides, Adam did not see a way to avoid the loss of a lot of innocent lives.
Later he would realize he should have changed and gone after Mike Wilson then, but he was still too young to have that kind of wisdom. His dreams would be haunted for years with the deaths of so many innocents that day that he could have saved by pursuing another course. But Adam had let his confidence in his human abilities override his knowledge of what he could do in his other form.
On the day the military marched on the Paiute because Ben and Joe had been too late in getting Bruno and the others to come to stop the bloodshed, Adam lay on the rocks behind the Indian lines with his hands tied behind him. Winnemucca intended to have Adam’s throat cut in front of those who came to attack if they did not withdraw. Adam called on the change for only his arms and as the metamorphosis occurred, the ropes dropped. He changed back to run away to try to stop the military from perpetrating another injustice on the Native Americans. Numaga saw that he was getting away and chased him. As Adam ran to the top of a massive boulder and yelled for the military men not to fire, Mike Wilson shot and killed Numaga who was coming up behind Adam. As Winnemucca saw his son fall, he fired and killed a soldier. Both sides opened fire then as the military commander ordered his men to fire.
Grabbing Numaga’s knife, Adam raced into the brush to change. It took only seconds with the adrenalin coursing through his body. When he had changed enough, he slid the knife across his tongue coating it liberally with his cells. Changing back, he ran forward intent on finding Mike Wilson. Instead Wilson found him, and as he raised his weapon to shoot, Adam threw the knife striking him in the chest. The effect was almost instantaneous as the cells sensed evil and worked their destruction on him. Cells all over his body exploded and he died almost before he could draw his next breath.
Too late to save Numaga and the other Paiute sons who died that day, Adam also saw soldiers and civilians strewn across the hill. His father and Joe rode up then with Bruno and the others who had attacked Wilson Station. It was over, but the cost had been much too high. That night for the first time in years, Adam left his room in the middle of the night, changed, and ran for hours. He wished so much that the old cat would return to help him. He had not felt comfortable in his own world today and didn’t know what to think of that.
Ben had told him it wasn’t his fault, but Adam had knowledge his father did not have. Adam knew that if he had hunted Mike Wilson as soon as he had realized he was evil then many lives would have been spared. Adam would not hesitate like that again when he smelled the scent of evil on a man or a woman. He would be the hunter now. He would not wait for tragedy to strike. He would trust his other-worldly senses. After all, if he made a mistake, the cells would not kill the one he attacked. He understood now what the old cat had meant about making mistakes. He could make mistakes because the cells would not. So now on a regular basis, he would hunt evil and eliminate it. He would let his cells destroy so that if he was in error, the person would not die.
As soon as Adam met Lady Chadwick, he knew she was evil. He had been told in Boston by others of his kind that he was unusual in that he could sense the evil even when he was in his human form. Some of the others would get a vague sense of unease about a person but would have to change to verify their assumptions. One of the problems he had was that his father knew that Adam had never liked Linda. Adam had been a boy when he first met her and found her distasteful. When he met her again as an adult, the knew why he had not liked her from the start. The woman had an evil heart. But first Adam had to convince his brothers and then his father, that she was up to no good. She seemed to know he was her enemy but couldn’t do anything about him. He had no doubt that if she married his father, she would summon help to eliminate her only real threat. So he struck first and effectively. He waited until she had done enough to show her true colors.’
“Surely, you’ve noticed when all this trouble started. I mean, you noticed it started when one thing happened.”
Hoss looked confused, but Adam knew he had Joe right away. “That’s right. Ever since she got here, things have been going wrong. We need to check into a few things.”
“Well you two seem like you’re all fired up on accusing her. But how about if we wait until we actually have evidence of something instead of your suspicions.”
“You’re right, of course, Hoss. Joe and I didn’t mean to say she was guilty of anything only that it looks highly suspicious. We’ll so as you say. We’ll check it out.”
By the time Adam was done, his brothers had been convinced, her man-servant had confessed, and his father had called her a witch and ordered her out of his home and out of his life.
To Adam, that was only the first step. She was evil. She would be back to wreak havoc or she would destroy the lives of other good people. He began his plan to finish her. He had to get close enough to her though so he asked his father if it was time for him to take those contracts to San Francisco and get them finished. His father had agreed readily because he no longer enjoyed those trips whose only purpose was negotiations. He much preferred to let Adam handle those. The next day, Adam was on the stage to San Francisco where all of his contacts had told him he would find Lady Chadwick. Checking in a nearby hotel, Adam spent time in the restaurant and the lobby of Linda’s hotel waiting to make a chance encounter with Linda. When it happened, he was almost as surprised as she was.
Dressed for what looked like a party or the theatre, Linda walked into the lobby in the early evening unescorted. Adam saw her as he exited the dining room, and both had that surprised and then wary look. Gracious as always, Adam walked up to her, grasped her hand, and kissed the back of it.
“Delighted to see you, Lady Chadwick. I did not expect such a beautiful woman to grace the lobby of this hotel.”
“Adam, I’m surprised that you are so nice to me. The last I saw of you, you had that angry look of yours, as well as that self-satisfied smirk for which you are so famous.”
“Ah, but that was there, and were we there now, I would still look the same. I protect my family and my property with the same fierceness that you exhibited when trying to acquire both. Here though, we are both on the hunt, and that makes for a much less emotional situation for me as for you as well, I would guess.”
“Ah, you have the debonair charm of your father with an even more suave manner than he was ever able to portray. What are your plans here, if I may ask?”
“Certainly, my lady. I have come to finalize some contracts for the Ponderosa. And you? I would assume you have something in the works for a woman of your intelligence and talents is not going to be idle for long.”
“I’m always looking for an opportunity, but as yet have not decided on a course of action. Perhaps you and I could attend the theatre together tonight and discuss some possibilities.”
“Lady Chadwick, I would be most delighted. Perhaps you and I could find some mutually beneficial endeavor profitable to us both.”
“You would be willing to work with me knowing what you know?”
“My lady, as long as the Ponderosa and my family are not involved, I would certainly consider any endeavor. It will be good to consider working with such an intelligent and beautiful woman.”
“Well, then, let us get a carriage, my man in black. I understand now perhaps why that is your favorite color of dress. You are an outlaw at heart.”
Grinning and doing nor saying anything to dissuade her of that opinion, Adam hailed a hansom. After assisting Lady Chadwick into the conveyance, he asked her which theatre they were attending. When she told him, an eyebrow rose in surprise, but he told the driver the destination and settled in beside her. Linda rested her hand on his forearm, and Adam leaned close to her allowing her to bend for a kiss or only to speak intimately. She chose the kiss, and he did his best to make her believe he was enjoying it. The theatre that was their destination was the type that most refined women would not attend. Lady Chadwick had reserved a curtained booth for them to watch the show without being seen by the other patrons. By the end of the evening, Adam saw all the signs of sexual arousal in her, and suggested she might like to return to the hotel. In the hansom, she kissed him deeply thrusting her tongue into his mouth and grabbing him until he told her to stop.
“But why? I thought you wanted to.”
“My wanton lady, I do and very much, but if you keep that up, I won’t be able to walk through the lobby.”
Linda laughed then for she had power over this man and intended to use it to her best advantage, but for tonight, she was thinking she would let him pleasure her in every way he knew how. In her mind, there was no reason that business, revenge, and sex couldn’t all be combined in a wonderful package. She was feeling as good as she had felt in many months, perhaps years. She remembered a similar feeling when she had bedded Ben Cartwright and then spurned him to marry Lord Chadwick. The power to hurt like that was even better than the pleasures of the bed. She did continue to caress Adam’s chest and unbuttoned one button so that she could run her hand inside to pull on the soft curls on his chest and make him wince.
“Pain and pleasure can be so delightful together.”
“As soon as we can get to a bed, I can see how much of each you can tolerate.”
At the hotel, Adam escorted Lady Chadwick to the stairs but let her walk up alone. He whispered to her that no one there need know of their budding close alliance, and that she could ready herself for him. He walked to the salon and ordered a brandy that he downed in one swallow. Up in the room, Lady Chadwick pulled a pretty silver dagger and placed it under her pillow. Then she took off her dress, tearing it and popping buttons from it and did the same to her undergarments. After that, she pulled on a diaphanous gown and robe that left very little to the imagination. Hearing a knock on her door after a short wait, she opened it to find Adam standing outside. She pulled him in and started doing all the things she had wanted to do as they returned to the hotel. Adam began breathing heavily and caressing her. He pushed her back to the bed and dropped his jacket and shirt after she unbuttoned them. He pulled off his boots, and she quickly undid the buttons on his pants freeing him from his clothing. He pulled Linda down on the bed with him. She was looking forward to having this much younger man give her pleasure, and then she would end his life gaining revenge not only on him for his machinations against her but also against his family who would mourn his loss and be humiliated by the publicity of a son and brother killed in self defense while attacking a woman in her hotel room.
For the moment though, Lady Chadwick was intent on enjoying the physical attentions of such a young and virile man. Once she was pleasured and sated, she expected that he would be exhausted. It would be a simple matter she thought to pull the dagger and plunge it into his back. Then she would wait as he bled out until his eyes dimmed and his breathing slowed until it stopped. Just that thought was making her even more aroused, when suddenly there was something very odd about her lover. He felt different, and as she opened her eyes, she saw a large powerful black cat with its mouth wide open descending toward her neck. He made only the most shallow of wounds but held her in his mouth until his cells had enough time to make their way into her. He felt her arm struggling to reach beneath the pillow but knew he had nothing to fear in this form. Linda pulled the dagger but was only able to punch weakly at the black beast that held her. Her mind registered confusion and shock then for the dagger was exceptionally sharp but never penetrated even a fraction of an inch into the black beast. It was her last coherent thought as cells in her brain and heart began to explode. She died quickly. It was a merciful end for a being who had done so much harm.
Withdrawing from the corpse with a shudder of revulsion, Adam changed back and dressed. He took the dagger from her hand and placed it on her desk. Then he gathered up the torn clothing and put it in the fireplace in the room where it was all soon only ashes. Next he carefully arranged Linda’s body on the bed. He poured out a small amount of whiskey leaving that glass on the bedside table. He removed a packet of laudanum from his pocket and sprinkled it in the whisky mixing it well. Finally he checked to make sure the small puncture wounds from his incisors were not too noticeable, and under her unbound hair, he thought they were unobtrusive. He left her room and then the hotel by the back staircase and made his way to his hotel where he enjoyed a very good night’s sleep.
The next morning, Adam packed his bag, grabbed the contracts he had completed, and checked out of the hotel. Arriving back in Virginia City, he read the article in the Territorial Enterprise about how Lady Linda Chadwick had perished in an accident at the hotel where she was residing. There was some brief background on her and not much else. Again Adam wondered how much evil was already there when a person was born. He liked to think it was none, and that all the evil he found in some people was the result of their choosing it when they could have done otherwise. It was a question that would never be answered. He did know that it would be easy for him to be seduced by the black cat form. He resisted the change frequently now because he wanted to be sure he could resist it when he needed to do that, and he was worried that giving in to that temptation might lead him to give in to other temptations for there were many such possibilities. He needed to work on his own conscience and sense of morality for he could tell how flawed there had become.
As Adam tried to sleep that first night at home, he found it eluded him entirely. His conversation with his family had reinforced the doubts that had begun to plague him. They had expressed regret that such a beautiful woman had died before having a chance to right the wrongs she had committed, and Adam knew he had been the one to deny her a chance. She had not been actively pursuing an evil plan. He thought that she had meant to do him harm, and had he waited, he would have learned if she would have or not. Now he wondered more and more if she would have, or if she had been only preparing to defend herself if needed. But when he remembered the torn clothing he had seen before pushing her to the bed, and how the anger had risen in him then, he thought that perhaps he had done the right thing. Unfortunately, there was no way for him to resolve that moral dilemma for he had ended the drama before it had reached any conclusion.
Facing his thoughts on the change to the black cat, caused Adam more anguish. He had to face that he was addicted to the change. He wanted to do it every night for the feelings it gave him of freedom, power, and moral certainty. Like any addiction, he wondered how could he control it so that it did not control him. He lusted after it never able to get enough. The change was on his mind more than his family, his responsibilities, and his friends. But the deadly sin that plagued him most and robbed him of peace at night was his arrogance. His human arrogance so detested by his youngest brother was a pale shadow of the arrogance he had when in the black cat form. When he was the black cat, he decided and acted without regard for law, human or divine. As the black cat, he was the law and the executioner. It exacted a heavy toll on his human side.
By the end of the first week he was home from San Francisco, he was angry. Why had he been given this power that he had not requested and now no longer wanted. He began to hate that it was something that he could not remove. He could work on any other aspect of his personality to make changes. He could try to improve himself. But that power to change had him in thrall as effectively as chains and shackles. He could not break free, and it was eating at his soul.
Irritated and irritating was the best way to describe the state that Adam was in. He was snide and sarcastic in his remarks striking out at anyone. Then he would feel guilt over what he had done. More and more he was feeling that he was not in control of himself. He thought perhaps he needed to get away to try to clear his mind of the confusion and doubts that plagued him and not only made him miserable but all those around him.
Unable to understand why Adam was acting that way, and unwilling to let it go on until hands quit or Hoss hit him, Ben decided that he would send Adam and Joe on a mission to deliver some cattle. It would be an arduous drive through some dry and inhospitable country. Ben thought it might be what Adam needed to work out whatever was bothering him so much. Joe would like to go because Joe always liked to go. He would enjoy the drive and especially enjoy the celebrating at the end. It worked out pretty much as Ben expected. Adam agreed to go and Joe was pleased to go. As the drive progressed, Adam was more and more pleasant to those around him. The hard work and long hours allowed him to work some of the tension from his body and kept him so busy, he could not brood. By the time they finished the drive, he was in a good mood. He slapped some money down for Joe to use for a very pleasant few days of celebrating, and after a bath and a hot meal, he headed out for the solitude he needed next. Joe was to meet him at Signal Rock, and from there they would head home. Adam anticipated being able to wrestle some of his demons into submission during those few days.
Unfortunately the Cartwright habit of carrying large sums of money worked again to cause disaster. Adam thought later that it was one more sign of his arrogance that he thought he could carry five thousand dollars and not worry about being bushwhacked. He was very wrong of course. They took his money, his horse, and his weapons. With guns trained on him, he could not change. He had nothing left and they expected him to die. After they left, he could have changed but knew he would hunt those men and kill them in the black cat form. He couldn’t bring himself to allow that. Finding Kane’s camp had seemed like a godsend at the time. Soon he discovered that he was very wrong about that.
As Adam lay shivering in Kane’s camp, sitting tied to a post and unable to sleep, he had to wonder what his youngest brother had thought when he got to Signal Rock and found there was no one there to meet him. Joe would have known immediately that something was wrong. Adam was usually early to anything because he abhorred being late. Now he was very late and still not so sure what he should do about it. Kane was evil or crazy or suicidal. Adam kept getting mixed signals. He longed to change into his other form and escape this torment, but found that he couldn’t do it. Kane said he was arrogant for thinking he was a better man, and maybe he was, but now he was convinced he should only kill evil people who sought to kill him or others. He couldn’t draw that conclusion yet about Kane and that bothered him a great deal. His moral certainty had been lost.
Again and again, Kane had increased his workload. First it had been three days of hard rock mining in exchange for assistance in leaving. Then it was without the mule when Kane shot it and forced Adam to assume the work of a beast of burden. He was forced to eat his meals in the hot sun and with his fingers. Then he was forced to work until he found that vein of gold Kane claimed was in that cave. His rations had been cut again, and his sleep diminished to almost nothing. The lack of food and water, sleep deprivation, and overwork would kill him unless he took the other form soon. He thought about it and knew that his other form would attack Kane. Adam wasn’t sure yet if that was the action that was necessary.
The next day, Adam was pushed over the edge in his human form. He proved to Kane that there was no gold in that cave, and Kane had told him he knew it all along. Kane set up another game as he called his actions. He set out food and water, and said whoever got to the rifle he placed between them could kill the other and take the rations necessary to survive the trek out. Adam lost all of his self-control at that point. He rushed Kane and got hold of the rifle and smashed it. He couldn’t tolerate these games any more. Kane fought him and fell. Crazed by the torture and deprivation, Adam grabbed Kane’s throat to strangle him but stopped when he realized what he was doing. He grabbed the food sack and the water and began to stagger away.
Unfortunately before Adam made good his escape, Kane yelled out that Adam was in fact killing him by leaving him there with nothing. Over and over again, Kane yelled out that he had won. Adam could have left, but his pride made him come back. He could not let Kane say that he had won. He could not even let Kane think that he had won. He came back because of his pride, another facet of his arrogance. He did think he was better, and now set out to prove it. He was in effect sentencing them both to death, but that no longer mattered. He had to win. He had to prove that he could not be driven to kill. He had to know in his own heart that he could control the baser aspects of his personality. There was not enough food and water there for the two of them. As Adam walked, he was more and more certain that he had let another deadly sin into his personality. He was now vexed with his own pride. He began to wonder what other people thought of him with his many faults. He took small amounts of the food and the water giving some to Kane each time until it was gone. He was pulling Kane on a makeshift travois and had done that since they had left Kane’s hopeless mine. He looked ahead and saw only barren wilderness. He expected to die.
Starting to chuckle at himself, Adam thought that he could have changed and lived, but now it wouldn’t matter. If he changed, the black cat would be just as weak and with that black coat even more susceptible to the heat of the sun. It was funny really and he had to laugh. He would die from his sins, and he was supposed to be the one who would fight evil. It was so ironic it was funny. Then he dreamed his father and brothers were there to rescue him, and he couldn’t stop laughing. But with his father’s embrace, he realized they were really there, and the laughter turned to tears. How did he ever end up with a family so dear. He didn’t deserve it. He was sure of that.
Ben’s voice had penetrated the brain fog. Adam heard his name and felt his father’s arms. He was soothed by both but couldn’t stop crying and crying. He had lost control. Control was something else he had long prized and now his family saw that he didn’t have that either. He wondered what had become of the man he was.
“He looks like he’s been in a battle with somebody.”
“Pa, the man on the stretcher: he’s dead.”
Carefully and with Hoss’ help, Ben managed to get Adam to some shade. There over the next few hours, they gave him sips of water. He became nauseous several times but never retched as he managed to keep the fluids in his system. Hoss left after a short time to go get more water. They couldn’t take Adam to water yet, so they would have to bring the water to him. All through the night and into the next morning, one of them was always at Adam’s side ready to give him water or soothe him when he dreamed his awful dreams. Again and again, Adam cried out in nightmares screaming he didn’t want to be the black cat. Other times he would yell out that there should be no more games. There was terror of the dark and terror at falling asleep again, but Adam’s exhaustion would not let him stay awake. By the morning, all of them were feeling the effects of Adam’s nightmares. None had rested well. Joe went to retrieve his horse and rent or buy a wagon to use. It didn’t seem that Adam would be able to ride, and in these conditions, their tired horses could not tolerate a double load.
As the morning moved into afternoon, Adam became more alert. He drank more water and was able to tolerate small amounts of food. He had a haunted look that made Ben and Hoss long to ask him questions, but Adam had trouble even looking at them so they knew it was too soon. Joe returned later in the afternoon with an old wagon and had both Sport and Cochise tied behind it. In the wagon were supplies and an old mattress. Joe had gotten Adam’s saddlebags, and had extra canteens of water. With some soap and rags, Hoss helped Adam bathe the worst of the grime away. It only made the bruises and abrasions stand out more. There were tracks on his shoulders that looked like they were made by a harness. None of them could understand how Adam had received such bruises, and Adam was silent. There was no conversation with him as he nodded or shook his head in response to questions but offered no explanations.
Once Adam was reasonably clean, Hoss helped him to dress. For some reason, he preferred Hoss’ help. Again there was no explanation from Adam. But that night, he ate dinner with them and drank quite a bit of water. Physically he was recovering from his ordeal. That he had survived out here for weeks made no sense to any of them. Obviously he had been with someone. Whether the dead man was a fellow sufferer or the perpetrator of the harm was left unexplained. There were fewer nightmares that night as Adam slept on the mattress in the back of the wagon.
The first morning as they traveled, as Hoss drove the wagon, Adam laid in the back seeming not to have the energy to even sit up. About the time Hoss was considering they might stop for lunch, Adam did stand but rather unsteadily and grabbed the back of the seat that he climbed over to sit by Hoss. Hoss reached out an arm to steady him as he moved to the seat for he didn’t want him to tumble over the side. Hoss decided to keep going for a while because as long as Adam had shown some initiative, he wanted to encourage him. Eventually Hoss’ stomach started growling and Adam smiled at him. He knew then that he could stop and pulled the team to a halt. Ben and Joe had been waiting and wondering why Hoss didn’t stop, but when they saw a more normal look on Adam’s face, they realized that Hoss had been trying to help pull him back to them by treating him just like he always did. After a quick lunch, they climbed back on the wagon with Adam taking his spot next to Hoss who smiled at him and got a small smile in return. Hoss felt like his brother was slowly coming back to them.
That evening, Adam apologized for ruining their sleep the previous two nights. He promised to try to remain calm that night so that the others could sleep. Adam again slept in the wagon although he did not sleep until the very early hours of the morning. He laid awake but breathed softly and regularly so that his family would think he was sleeping. He wasn’t at all sure that he could prevent those nightmares so he stayed awake through force of will so his family could sleep. He spent time thinking about his predicament, and decided that he could not use the change. It was corrupting him, and until he could develop a philosophy to guide his actions, he would not use the power that he had. Adam kept that pledge to himself and did not use the power to change for several years, and when he did, it was to heal and to help others. He didn’t tell his family about what had happened in the desert with Kane until almost a year had passed. Then in a calm and dispassionate voice he told the tale but left out most of the emotional torture and all of his own psychological torment.
Looking forward to his wedding, Adam had to smile. He wondered if Peggy would like the dress he had helped Laura pick out for her for the wedding. Adam hadn’t seen the dress Laura was going to wear but assumed it would be tasteful. He knew Laura was not the adventurous kind so he expected a traditional gown of some kind. He had in mind a few presents for her to use during their honeymoon, and that made him grin. Although, Laura and he had only kissed, he thought it was probably her nature to be reticent. Her first husband had been a drinker, a ne’er do well, and a womanizer. Adam hoped that when she realized he was none of those things, she would warm to his advances, and they could have an enjoyable intimate life as well as a pleasant family life. Adam had hoped to find a woman with more passion who loved him deeply and wasn’t afraid to express that to him, but none of that had happened.
As Adam worked on the house he was building for Laura, he thought about how much of a surprise it would be for her and Peggy. He could just imagine Peggy’s delight at the large bedroom he had made for her, and the furniture he had for that room. He wanted to get Laura and Peggy away from the ranch that held so many difficult memories for them. He thought they could all have a fresh start. He had already asked his father if Peggy could stay at the Ponderosa ranch house for a few days so that he could take Laura to this new house to start their life together. He had talked to Laura about the two of them having a few days together before Peggy joined them. That conversation had not gone well.
“Adam, that’s just so much change for Peggy to have to get used to. A new father, and then being with your family instead of us right away. We should postpone the honeymoon until Peggy has had a chance to get used to everything.”
“Peggy adores being with Hoss. She’ll love having a few days with my Pa and brothers doting on her.”
“And Will. Will will be there too.”
“Of course, and Hop Sing, and a bunch of hands. She’ll have a great time.”
“I’m not sure about that, Adam, I think we need to talk about it more.”
“We talk about things a lot, but we seem to have trouble reaching any conclusions.”
“Now don’t start putting pressure on me. You know how that makes me feel. Why do you always have to make everything so difficult? Why can’t you be happy with the way things are?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Think about it, though, will you? I don’t think it’s asking too much to have a few days with my bride.”
“I’ll think about it. Now it’s getting late. You need to get your rest. I wouldn’t want you to have an accident because you were too tired.”
“Laura, it’s only seven. I can still get plenty of rest.”
“Oh, it’s only that I worry what your family must think with you over here so much. When you get home after dark, what they must think of me.”
“Laura, we’re getting married. Do you think it bothers my family that I’m over here? As to being tired, I have a lot to do before the wedding.”
Ending the conversation then with one of her looks, Laura had handed him his hat, and he had gone home. He was tired but not sleepy. He was still up when Will sauntered in hours later. Will had a sheepish almost guilty look on his face that night. Adam had teased him about cavorting around the countryside and all the fathers who would be after him with a shotgun soon if he kept it up. But Will had only said it was jealous fiancées who worried him. Adam had wondered at what he meant, but Will went up the stairs without explaining anything.
It was hot working on that roof, but if Adam wanted to finish the house before the wedding, he couldn’t let the heat interfere with his work. He knew he should have been drinking more and felt a bit light-headed. He was moving across the roof to the ladder when he was hailed. He looked to see Will driving up in the carriage and Laura was with him. Adam wasn’t watching where he stepped and fell.
For days, Adam wasn’t fully conscious because of the fall, and he had these weird dreams where he imagined a strange conversation.
“Maybe it’s best this way. We won’t hurt him by telling him now.”
“You can’t mean you would rather have him dead.”
“I would never want to live that way. Laura he broke his back. He may never walk or do anything again.”
“I can’t wish for him to die, I just can’t. Peggy loves him so much. He asked me to marry him. Oh, I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what to think. Will, this is our fault. God is punishing us with this.”
“How could he be punishing us? Adam’s the one lying in the bed and paralyzed.”
“But now we can never be together. I will carry this guilt to the end of my life. If we hadn’t called to him, if we hadn’t distracted him, he wouldn’t have fallen.”
“Laura, we went out there to tell him the truth. We can’t be blamed because he had an accident. Adam wouldn’t want you to throw your life away waiting on him. If he lives, he won’t be able to be a husband to you. He’ll be your patient and nothing more.”
“I won’t mind. It’s the least I could do for him.”
Weeks later, Adam’s strength increased, but his legs were still useless. As he lay in bed at night, he wondered what he could do. He wanted to see if he could change. It had been years since he had last tried it. During the intervening time, he had spent a lot of time thinking about the power and how it should be used. He would never hunt a human again. He would try to use the power to do good things. He would also use it to fight evil that attacked him, those he loved, or innocents who lived in the area. He had spent hours and hours reconciling what he could do with what he should do. He knew that the philosophical conversations he had with himself should have happened much sooner, but he had been so naive in his morality and ethics not understanding how complex such philosophies needed to be. Over and over he had wished to have others with whom to discuss these issues, but he had been alone taking much longer as a result to get a philosophical construct that could withstand a critical examination. He supposed there were still flaws in the logic of it, but until he faced situations that exposed them, he would have to accept that. He could not correct what he did not know.
Using a wheelchair, Adam was able to get around more and more. Each day, Hoss helped him downstairs and into the chair, and each night, he had to be carried back to his room. During the day, he got along quite well. He knew that if he tried the change, he would have to do it while in bed in his bedroom for he could not move anywhere on his own. One night when he was sure that everyone was asleep and would not be opening his door to check on him, he called on the change. It happened slowly but without a problem. He found he could walk around his room with ease. He had briefly considered leaving his room but feared what would happen when he had to come back. If someone saw a large black cat climbing to the porch roof and into his room, he worried about what they would think and what they would do. After enjoying some time being able to walk, he climbed back into his bed, snuggled under the covers, and changed back. The hardest part was getting his nightshirt back on. As he did so, he was shocked that he could feel his legs again. He laid back and moved his toes. That was all he could do, but there was only one conclusion he could draw: being the black cat had started to restore his damaged nerves. He didn’t know how much could be repaired, but he waited anxiously for the next night and the opportunity to test the theory. For the next three nights, Adam managed the same thing. The results were the same as he got more and more feeling in his legs and began to work the muscles a bit after he changed back. The only negative was Hoss being a bit bemused in the mornings.
“Now, I get ya in that durn bed jest fine. I come in here in the mornings and you’re all a mess with them blankets all twisted up and that nightshirt all twisted round ya. Now how do you manage that anyway? Nah, don’t say nothing. I’m always a little bit ornery until I get something to eat in the mornings.”
Grateful that it was Hoss and not someone who would question him further, Adam grinned and said it took him all night to do it so that Hoss would have some work to do for a change. It gave them something to joke about as Hoss helped Adam take care of his needs. It was an embarrassing time for both of them so having something else to talk about helped. Once he was dressed, Hoss carried him down the stairs and set him in his wheelchair. He always sighed in relief at that point for there would likely be no other humiliation for him until they reversed the procedure in the evenings. Adam spent the day in the wheelchair and told Hoss that today he wanted to try it outdoors. Hoss was more than willing to help him over the door jamb and outside after breakfast and then again after lunch.
After Hoss left, Adam realized that Laura’s carriage was in the yard. Wondering where she could be, he pushed the wheelchair toward the stable. What he heard froze him for a time before he pushed himself back to the porch where he sat lost in thought. Those dreams he had been having weren’t dreams. They were real, and Laura and Will were in love as well as being consumed by guilt. Well, in another couple of days, he decided he could try to fix that. He didn’t get those days though. Will was determined to leave. As Laura said goodbye to him, Adam struggled to get out of his chair. His father saw him and thought to intervene, but Adam declined his help. He stood shocking everyone there. Doctor Martin had confided confidentially to all of them that he thought there was no hope of Adam ever walking and probably never having children either. To see him stand was a miracle. Adam told Laura to go to Will, and at that point she knew that he knew. She went to Will. Adam said all the things that he was supposed to say but he meant none of them. What he did mean though was that he wanted them to be happy and not to feel guilty. As for loving Laura, he wondered if he ever had truly loved her, and knew he could never love her now because he could never trust her. She would be his cousin’s wife, and he would love her as much as he loved any distant relative, but not like he loved his immediate family.
There was nothing over the next year that made Adam change. There were incidents but he was able to handle what he needed to do without using the black cat. He did begin to feel that wanderlust gaining in strength. He wanted to see so much of the world. With the dream of marriage to Laura all gone, he had nothing to settle him down and make him develop stronger roots on the Ponderosa. He loved his family and he loved the ranch, but he was dissatisfied and wanted more. What had held him in place for so long was that he didn’t know what more was. He had thought for a time that it was Laura, marriage, and having his own family. He no longer had that plan. He was thinking that there didn’t seem to be anyone who would stay with him. His dreams of the wonders and curiosities of the world drew his mind to wander and wonder until the day he told his father he was leaving.
That conversation which soon included his brothers did not go well. Adam brooded for days about it, and knew that he still would go but wished that somehow he could get his family to understand. There was much he could not tell them though. He stayed longer and got more and more ornery. When he failed to see the terrible flaws in Howard he knew he was losing his intellectual edge and needed more challenges than riding fences, herding cattle, and making money. Within weeks he was gone. His family was sad, but after those earlier conversations, they had come to accept that one day he would leave. All they could exact was a promise that he would write and would someday come home.
As Adam made the promises, he wasn’t at all sure about the second one. However because it did not have a time limit, he thought he could honestly promise it. He did write, but as he traveled the world, it became harder and harder to post letters. Sometimes for half a year or more, he would be traveling in places that most others feared to go. He always had that safety net of the change although he knew it wasn’t foolproof. It did save him a few times though.
After seven years, Adam returned to California. He wasn’t sure how his family would feel about him at that point, and remained incognito. He traveled to the high Sierras and made the change running with the wind and exploring the lands that many men would never see. In his cat form, he watched his family from afar. It was fortuitous that he did for he followed the stage Hoss was on one day. Hoss explained later to his family how great luck had saved his life that day and the life of his future wife who was already carrying their child.
“This big old black cat jumped out in front of the stage spooking them horses something fierce. Well the driver had to work like the dickens to get those horses stopped and all calmed down. And wouldn’t ya know it. There was an avalanche right ahead of us. If that durn black cat hadn’t a run in front of us like that, we woulda been pushed right down that mountain side and into that river. I don’t think any of us woulda made it.”
“Hoss, I am so happy. Did you say a black cat?”
“Some of the ranchers have seen a black mountain lion around. That’s very unusual. Nobody has lost any cattle though so we’re hoping it’s only traveling through. There can’t be too many of those.”
“Anyone hunting it?”
“Not that I know of, but some of the trappers and hunters would love to get it. That hide would be worth a small fortune.”
“Yeah, that would be pretty nice to have. I can just see it there on the floor in front of the fireplace. You wouldn’t have to worry about sparks burning holes in that rug. That one’s so black, you’d never see any burn marks on it.”
“I hope no one shoots it. It would be a shame for a magnificent animal like that to be shot. I only hope it leaves the herds alone so it doesn’t get hunted down.”
“I wonder if Adam does any hunting while he’s traveling. That could explain why we don’t hear from him for so long.”
Almost immediately, Hoss regretted that statement. His father was getting older and beginning to wonder if he would ever see his oldest son again. Hoss had to change the subject again just as abruptly if he could.
“Pa, you all ready for the wedding on Saturday?”
“Yes, son, I think I am. I am so happy that I am finally going to get a daughter-in-law and such a nice one too. I just wish your brother could be here.”
“Pa, Joe will be back by tomorrow. Don’t you worry about that.”
“That’s not the son I was thinking about. But that’s enough of that. Lets go see how your future wife and Hop Sing are doing getting dinner ready. I don’t hear any yelling, so that’s got to be a good sign.”
All day Friday, there were deliveries for the wedding. The dress was delivered by the seamstress who did one more fitting. There were deliveries of food, wine, and party decorations. Hoss, Candy, and Joe spent the day making the yard ready for all the guests who would be there. Several of Hop Sing’s cousins were there all day helping with the baking and the cooking. As the family relaxed around the dining room table that night with Candy and Claire, there was a knock. Ben wondered what else was being delivered. When Joe answered the door, he stood in shock for a moment, and then waved the arrival in. Joe preceded him to the table, and Ben was wondering who or what it was.
“Joe, what is it?”
What Ben heard made him lose his voice and his ability to react for a moment.
“Hi, Pa. Am I still welcome here?”
Ben stood and walked to Adam without saying a word. He looked so serious, Adam didn’t know if he was going to get a hug or a slap in the face. He got a little of both he supposed. Ben hugged him with a fierce scowl.
“Why didn’t you write? Why didn’t you tell us where you were? Why didn’t you tell us you were coming home?”
“Pa, I found it hard to write where I was. When I finally decided to come home, I realized that a letter wouldn’t travel any faster than I would. What’s going on, by the way?”
So Adam was introduced to Claire. Adam saw a man at the table dressed like he used to dress many years ago. He was introduced as the ranch foreman, Candy Canady, who didn’t seem to like Adam at all. Adam had no idea why there was such animosity in the man toward him because he sensed nothing but good in the man. Claire was all smiles because her fiancée was. Hoss hugged Adam so hard he thought he might have a cracked rib or two. Joe was happy and pleasant but guarded with Adam. Adam understood all of the reactions he got except Candy’s. He was surprised that his room was occupied. Candy volunteered to go to the bunkhouse, but Adam insisted that was not necessary. He asked if there was a guest room open. The downstairs guest room was unoccupied but would be used as a dressing room for the ladies the next day.
“I won’t make a mess, I promise. I won’t even try on any of the dresses in there.”
Hoss laughed the loudest at that. “Older brother, I don’t know about you. You ain’t taken to wearing women’s clothes now that you been gone so long, now have ya? I mean, is that why you was worried about coming home?”
Laughing in response, Adam had an answer. “Not at all. I don’t have much in the way of clothing with me though. I traveled light most of the time. I hope you don’t mind if I look a little casual for your wedding.”
“You can wear anything ya got. As long as you’re standing next to me, I don’t care what you’re wearing.”
Seeing Joe as well as Candy glower at that, Adam had to try to calm things down. “Hoss, I don’t have to stand with you. I’m sure you will have all you need with Joe.”
“Nope, I got two brothers and as long as both of ya are here, I want both of you next to me. Heck ifn I keel over, it’s gonna take two of you ta catch me, anyhow.”
“You can think it over, and talk it over with Joe. Maybe by tomorrow, you’ll feel differently.”
Suddenly Hoss understood and stammered out an affirmative to Adam. Ben suggested they all have a drink to celebrate. When Claire said no, not in her condition, Adam raised an eyebrow. Hoss laughed with a bit of embarrassment and confirmed what Adam suggested. Ben suggested that Joe could go get the boxes of Adam’s things stored in the hay loft, but when Adam saw Joe’s reaction, he said he could go himself. He grabbed a lantern from the porch and walked to the stable. As he was rummaging through the boxes to see which ones he wanted to take to the house, Hoss climbed up the ladder and sat on some hay.
“Reckon Joe is a bit angry with you. I thought he was over it, but after the way he was tonight, I guess he ain’t.”
“How about you?”
“Me, you know me. Ifn I was upset with ya, I woulda told ya. Nah, once I read some of those letters ya sent to us, I realized you sounded just like you did when you was younger. That’s when I knew you needed to do it. I was hoping to get more letters, and really hoping you’d come home. You’re here so I got half of what I wished for. What’s the real reason ya didn’t write more?”
Smiling gently, Adam sat down on a crate. It was always Hoss he had the most difficult time fooling. It had been that way ever since they were young. Hoss might not know what really happened, but he would know when Adam was leaving out some very important parts. He knew he had to explain more, and there was an important fact he could include that might satisfy his brother. “I had malaria. I almost died. I must have picked it up when I crossed Panama. I was on a ship headed to Australia, and I got sicker than I have ever been in my life. I swear Hoss, I wanted to die and thought I was. Every part of me hurt so badly and there was nothing they could do for me it seemed. I was out of my head with fever quite often, and for me, those were the good days. Once the worst of it was over, I was bedridden for months. I couldn’t do much of anything, and the doctors told me I could relapse. I didn’t know if I would live or die, and I was too weak to even sit up in bed. I saw Australia out the window of the house where they cared for me. That’s when I decided to head home.”
Nodding Hoss accepted that. He climbed down, tossed up a rope, and asked Adam to lower the boxes or crates he wanted. Once they had those down on the stable floor, they made two trips and brought them into the house. On the second trip, Hoss had one more comment. “When you think you can trust me enough, tell me the rest of the reasons why you left and what’s going on with you.” Then he smiled and walked in the house with a box of Adam’s books.
The next day, Adam stood by his father’s side as Hoss married. At Hoss’ side, Joe was relieved and disappointed and didn’t understand why. He was happy to be the brother standing with Hoss but wondered why Adam had not insisted on being at Hoss’ side to especially after being asked. He thought Adam should have made a bigger deal out of Joe’s reaction to Hoss telling Adam to stand with him and started to think that perhaps he wouldn’t be sure his brother was back until they had a fight. It didn’t take long. A pretty blond woman, Yvette, was at the wedding celebration and had come as part of the group of actors and actresses who were going to be putting on a play in Virginia City the following week. Joe had invited them after meeting them in town and being immediately attracted to Yvette. But at the party, Joe didn’t get to dance with her much. For some reason, she was spending most of the time dancing with Adam.
As Hoss had said his marriage vows, Adam had a funny niggling feeling that finally caused him to turn around. When he did, he stared directly into the dark green eyes of a beautiful blond woman. She smiled demurely at him, and tilted her head slightly in his direction. He felt his pulse increase and was sure his face had just turned at least a bit darker as blood rushed to the surface and to his extremities. At that point, he had been quite happy not to be wearing a jacket because he would have been unbearably hot. As the crowd moved outdoors for the dancing and the food, Adam accepted the greetings of many old friends and was introduced to many people he had never met, but he was anxious to find the woman who had so easily intrigued him. He felt she might ensnare his heart and he so wanted that to happen. When he found her, she had the same slight smile with which she had first blessed him as well as enigmatic comments.
“I’m Adam Cartwright, long-lost brother of the groom. And I have not had the pleasure of meeting you yet.”
“Hello, Adam. We have never met, but I think I know you. I’m afraid I am an actress so not one with the social standing to be in the company of one of the richest men in the territory.”
“Let me guess. Joe invited you.”
“Well, of course he did. I am very grateful to him for that.”
“As am I. And I have never held social standing in much regard. It is what is in a person’s heart, mind, and soul that matter. Everything else is a social construct and lacks intrinsic value.”
“You have a beautiful voice. It would be wonderful to hear you on stage for the next hundred years or so.”
“I prefer the audience. What play are you performing?”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it shall be my last performance.”
“I will look forward to the performance, but why would you end your career. You are still young.”
“Not so young as I look, and the publicity is becoming a problem.”
“Now that I understand. Would you be willing to dance?”
Delighted that Adam had asked, Yvette took his hand as offered, and they danced. She never moved from his side and that meant it was difficult for others to take a turn on the dance floor with her. Jealous eyes followed the couple, and the foremost of those were Joe’s who seethed with anger at his brother. After several failed attempts to get Yvette’s attention, Adam mentioned that she perhaps ought to dance with the one who invited her. He said he would get some punch and wait for her. So Yvette danced with Joe for several dances and bantered lightly with him, but her eyes sought out the tall dark Cartwright with whom she wished to spend much more time. As they had talked of his travels, a plan had emerged in her mind. She would have to think about it more, but she thought it might work.
Asking Joe for a break by claiming she was a bit tired, Yvette maneuvered closer to Adam who stood at the refreshment table with his eyes locked on her. Before Joe could return with punch for her to drink, Adam had whisked her back onto the dance floor for a waltz. Ben came up beside Joe.
“They do make a handsome couple.”
“I invited her. The least he could do would be to back off a little.”
“Uh, do you mean Adam and the blond? I was speaking of Hoss and his wife. They want to leave soon, and they were hoping you were ready to make your toast.”
As the musicians took a break, Joe stood to make a toast, and then the crowd showered Hoss and Claire with rice and congratulations as well as a few hoots and catcalls from some of the men who had been at the punch bowl often. After Hoss and Claire drove off in their decorated carriage, the band started up again, and Joe looked for Yvette but couldn’t see her anywhere. When he realized Adam was no longer in the crowd of partiers, he was even more angry than he had been before. He wouldn’t be so brazen as to hunt for them, but he was determined that his oldest brother would get the benefit of his anger later. Candy walked up to him then seeing how angry he looked.
“Your brother Adam sure knows how to stir things up.”
“Yes, he does. He always did that. I wonder now why I ever missed him.”
“Your father and Hoss seem very pleased.”
“He and Pa argued all the time it seemed. He messed things up for Hoss a couple of times too. Seems they can forgive him anything.”
“I know. It bothers me that he let you and your brother and father suffer all those years, and then he just walks in here like he owns the place.”
“That’s just it, Candy. He worked and gave everything he had to help build this place for almost thirty years, and then he just walked away. I never understood it, and I never will. I guess I’m upset with him because I worked my way into running a lot of things around here, and now that’s he’s back, everything is going to be a contest between him and me. He always wants to be in charge and I’m not going to back off just because he’s older. He’s been gone for all this time. He can’t know as much as I know about running the ranch now.”
“What’s making you so mad in particular tonight?”
“I invited Yvette and he’s been with her all the time. Now they’re off someplace together.”
“Did he know you had your sights set on her?”
“Maybe not right away, but I’m sure he knows now.”
“Well, I came over to tell you that I was dancing with Alice Harper, and she said she wouldn’t mind at all if you were to ask her to dance. It’s the bird in the hand thing, Joe.”
After spending the rest of the evening with Alice Harper, Joe’s temper calmed and his mood improved immeasurably. When he saw Adam helping Yvette into a carriage, he realized that Yvette had been crying, and then he was angry again. Adam held her hand and handed her a handkerchief before she departed. After Alice left with her brother, Joe walked up to Adam with a challenge.
“What did you do? Yvette wasn’t crying before she went off with you.”
“We talked a lot. She’s had a hard time of it, and she was only crying on my shoulder, Joe. There was nothing sinister about it.”
“Well, maybe you ought to stay away from her. I was the one who invited her anyway.”
“Joe, it wouldn’t have worked.”
“Oh, so you’re the expert on who we should love again. I’m really glad you weren’t here when Hoss was courting Claire. You probably would have ruined that too. I’m beginning to think you’re the Cartwright curse.”
“Or maybe the accursed. Either way, Joe, you appeared to have found someone else to romance so what is the major objection you have?”
“That’s just it. It’s none of your business. Nothing that happens here is really any of your business any more. You chose to leave. You can’t walk back in and expect to have the spot you left.”
“I never intended that. I guess it was a mistake for me to come back. I so missed all of you though. It’s unfortunate that you feel that way, Joe, and I won’t fight with you about it. The past is what it is, and there’s nothing I can do about it all now.”
“Who the hell are you anyway? Have you lost your backbone entirely?”
“It’s not something I need to argue with you. I can use rational logic.”
Unable to spar with Adam like that, Joe walked away. Candy walked up to Adam then.
“You know I’ve watched your father and brothers suffer for years waiting to hear from you. You don’t seem to care about them much to have done that.”
“Why do you care so much, Candy?”
“They’ve become like the family I never had. They’ve treated me well and let me make my home here. I would do anything for them. I can’t understand how you could walk away and hurt them like you do. You’re gonna leave again, ain’t you?”
“Probably. I’ll stay on for a bit, but this isn’t really my home any more. And there are reasons I can never explain to you or anyone else as to why I do what I do. My father knows and I think Hoss understands too. Maybe someday Joe will accept it as well, but I can’t control how he thinks any more than he can tell me what to think and to feel.”
At that, Candy walked away too.
The next morning was Sunday and Joe escorted Alice to church and saw Adam drive up with Yvette. There were some sneers in the congregation that the eldest Cartwright was with an actress, and Joe received a lot of smiles as he introduced Alice to everyone. Joe was feeling a bit smug then, but the more time he spent with Alice, the more he realized this was someone he could love. It didn’t even bother him when he took Alice on a drive to the lake, and they saw the carriage Adam had been using, and later found two stacks of clothing neatly folded. Alice blushed, and Joe smirked as the two walked back to their carriage to leave. Joe thought about stealing the clothing, but decided it would be too cruel to Yvette. Up on the cliff near them, two black cats, one with hazel eyes and one with dark green eyes, lounged in the sun watching them.
About a week later, the play’s run was over, and Adam and Yvette were having dinner when Alice and Joe entered the restaurant to meet Alice’s brother. Pleasantries were exchanged and then each got back to their conversations. Two men entered the restaurant and signaled to John that they wished to speak with him. Adam and Yvette looked intently at them and then at each other. Both had sensed that evil had entered the room. For months, they took turns watching over Joe and Alice until the fateful day when the ruffians accosted Alice at the home Joe had built for them. John was killed before Adam and Yvette could intervene, but Alice and her unborn baby were safe. When Joe arrived, alerted by a hand who had seen men riding toward his house, Alice had an amazing story.
“Oh, Joe, they killed John. Then this incredible thing happened. Two black cats raced out of the trees and killed those awful men. I was so frightened they would hurt me, but they looked at me and then ran off. Joe, it was weird, but they looked familiar somehow. It was as if I knew them from somewhere, but I’ve never seen a black cat before.”
As Adam and Yvette talked later, they were in agreement. Yvette had not killed since those early days in New Orleans. Like Adam, she had become filled with grief and dismay over her actions and had spent even more time than he in contemplation and reflection. She had traveled as an actress for several decades but knew the talk was beginning about how she aged so little. Adam knew he would face the same questions and that people already might be noticing that Hoss and he looked more to be the same age. Joe no longer looked twelve years younger than Adam especially with those gray hairs increasing at a rapid pace.
“So, we’ll marry and then we’ll travel to Australia to see my family. I have no family anywhere, but your family doesn’t know that. It is a subterfuge that is necessary. In several decades, you can come back here as your son. No one will question that.”
“Will you return with me?”
“You know that I can’t. How could we explain that your look-alike son married someone who looks exactly like his mother? No, I will stay in Australia as long as I can. We will have to come up with a plan for the next life after that, but this story will work for the next generation of your family, and you know it too.”
In the tack room of the stable, Hoss had been listening though. He was very confused. He had suspected for some time that there was something in Adam’s life that had made him leave and would likely make him leave again. He didn’t know what it was, but in observing Adam, he had noticed a few things that defied explanation. Now he had heard this weird conversation. He decided he needed to think about those anomalies and try to figure it out.
Standing with the aid of a cane, Ben reached out to the grandson visiting from Australia. He was hoping he would stay a while.
“A.C., it is so good to finally meet you. I was so sorry to learn of what happened to your parents. I’m glad you got to have them with you at least until that happened. Tell me, was my son happy in that life he chose?”
“Oh, yes, he was a contented bloke. He worked hard and played hard. Never a bludger.”
“What happened? We only got the letter saying that your parents were killed in an accident. Then you wrote to tell us that you wanted to come live here for a time.”
“Pa was determined to tame this brumby we caught. Well the men were knocking Pa about not being young enough to tame her, so he decided to ride her. She threw him off, and he fell hard. Stunned he was. Ma ran to him, and that bloody brumby kicked her in the head. She died instantly. Pa lingered on but his heart was gone, broken. He passed after two weeks. Then there was just me, and I wanted to come here to meet all of you.”
Ben was well over eighty years old at that point. But he was so relieved to finally meet the grandson he had never seen. The young man was tall and sported a dark beard. He certainly favored his father’s looks and had the same color eyes. Joe and Hoss and their families were there, and there was a grand party to welcome the long-lost relative.
Anxious to see the place, A.C. rode out with Hoss the next morning. As they reached the ridge above the lake, the two men paused to appreciate the grand vista.
“Welcome home, brother.”
Looking at Hoss with astonishment, Adam could only stare until Hoss said more.
“I bet if you cut that beard off, there’d be that little scar on your upper lip too. I seen a few marks on ya that got me thinking. I wondered years ago why you never got any older all of a sudden, and I did. Then I saw how you mounted up on that horse, and I knew. Ever since you hurt that hip of yours all those years ago, you mounted up like that. I ain’t got no idea how it happened. I’m only glad I got to see ya one more time. Pa’s thrilled of course even if he thinks you’re your son. I know ya can’t trust a bunch of people with your secret so I won’t be saying nothing to nobody. I kept my thoughts to myself all these years. I can keep doing it, but would you please explain it to me cause it’s been driving me crazy sometimes.”
With a sardonic little grin, Adam dismounted and sat in the grass. Hoss sat beside him and heard the tale from that attack when Adam was seventeen through many of the adventures until then. It took many hours and they were stiff from sitting by the time Adam was done talking.
“Thank you, brother. I had to know. So someday, you’ll get older?”
“I already am but more slowly than you or anyone else.”
“She’s living on our station in Australia. She’ll sell eventually and move to California. I’ll join her there. Her name will be Eve, and she’ll have red hair.”
“So, Adam, when I’m gone, you gonna look after my kids and my grandkids for me?”
“Just like I did when I stopped that stagecoach all those years ago?”
“That was you? Thank you, brother, thank you. I knew I could always count on you.”
Sitting at a quaint table at their favorite neighborhood restaurant, Adam and Eve enjoyed some California Chablis and clams tossed with linguine. They held hands and talked of the new millennium. They had built Cartwright Corporation into a multinational conglomerate of timberland, cattle, ranches, mining, wine, computers, and aircraft as several generations of themselves. Plastic surgeries and hair dyes had become remarkably helpful. That day they had handed in their official retirement papers. They had no direct offspring for they had agreed never to place this burden on anyone else. Their great-great-great many times over great nieces and nephews would run the company. Finally looking the age one would expect from an elderly couple, they planned to live in the home they shared on the banks of Lake Tahoe until age or illness claimed them. They had fought evil for most of their long lives, and it was time to retire from that as well. Love born of shared experiences had grown and matured into a lifelong commitment to do whatever it took to make the other happy. And happy they were, but anxious now to join their family members who had gone to the great beyond so many decades earlier.