This is in response to the LancerWriters’ March/April challenge. Every picture tells a story. My thanks to “Buckskin” for the help and suggestions. You are the best, Sis!
Word count : 1,415
“Come on Boston, we gotta find some shelter before that storm hits. Let’s go try that shack over there.”
“Wait, Johnny. These people may not want to share their home with strangers. Maybe we should shout out to them first to see if it is okay to approach.”
“You don’t actually think anybody lives there, do ya?”
“Let’s go check it out. We can hold up there until the storm moves through anyway. There is no moon tonight so we have to stop anyway.”
Dismounting, both men cautiously moved to the door. With no response from the knock, Johnny pushed the door open after drawing his gun. The place was empty. Waiting for their eyes to adjust to the dark, they surveyed the cabin. Scott found some old candles and lighted them.
“Well, not bad little brother. It looks like we will be sheltered in this cabin providing it doesn’t fall down on top of us.”
“It ain’t that bad Scott. I tell ya what. I’ll go get the horses bedded down. You go out & find as much wood as possible. No telling how long we will be here, and it is gonna get cold.”
“Bed the horses down where, brother?”
“I noticed a little lean to behind the cabin when we came in. It is not the greatest, but it will keep them out of the weather & safe.”
After each completing their chore, the brothers started checking out their surroundings. The room was not very big. There was a nice hearth which now had a good fire going in it. An old bed which looked like it could sleep two was against the wall; an old quilt covering it. In the corner were a small trundle bed, and a small crib, both near the large bed.
Scott reached down and picked up a worn doll from the crib. Laying it back down, almost reverently, he continued his surveying.
“Hey Scott, come see this. Look on the wall next to the door. It looks kinda like record keeping. See?”
Scott brought his candle over to see Johnny’s discovery. He began reading.
“Tommy, age 2. Tommy age 3. Tommy age 4.” This continued progressively up the wall until Tommy’s age 7.
Johnny continued where Scott stopped. “Look, Sarah, age 1. Sarah age 2” Sarah’s stopped at 2.
Both men remained quiet for a bit. They seemed sad at the discovery.
With the storm starting to move in, the brothers decided to have their supper of jerky and biscuits at the hearth. As they ate, Scott’s eyes went back to the markings for Tommy & Sarah.
“Johnny, you ever wonder why a person would just up and leave without taking most of their belongings? I wonder just what happened here.”
“Boston, this happens all the time out in this part of the country. People come out in search of a dream. They try to make a go of it until the land beats them down. This little scrub farm has such poor land; this farmer probably couldn’t raise much more than a sweat. They eventually throw in and have to leave. Most times they can’t take all their belongings, so they leave what they can’t carry. This farmer probably packed up his family and headed to the next town to start again. I have seen this scene play out many times while growing up and when I started moving from one area to the next.”
Johnny’s narrative was stopped by a scratching sound at the door. Johnny drew his gun and motioned Scott to get ready to open the door. When Scott did, Johnny looked and let out a hardy laugh. A lop eared dog with a matted gold coat bound in. It stopped for a moment, sniffing at Johnny then it continued to the bed. Scooting under it, the dog emerged with a child’s small ball in his mouth, bringing it to Johnny for a game of catch.
“You’re a good fella, aren’t cha? Scott he looks hungry. Got any jerky you can give him?”
Smiling, Scott was watching his brother as he tussled with the dog.
“And why would I give him my supper. How about you give him some of yours?”
“I ate all mine already. But Scott, look how skinny he is. He is probably starving. Got any biscuits left?”
Knowing he could not turn his little brother down once he gave his little boy pout, Scott relented.
“Ok here. But make it last. We may be stuck here for a while.”
The storm seemed closer now, so the brothers made plans to try to get some sleep while they could.
“Come on Chance. Come lie by the fire where it is warm.”
“You named the dog, Johnny?” Scott looked incredulous, shaking his head.
“Well yeah. He’s gotta have a name.” Flashing one of his best smiles, Johnny got up and headed out the door for one more check on Barranca and Charlie, ensuring they were secure.
After a long delay, Johnny finally made back to the cabin. He was strangely quiet, with a downcast look on his face. He went back to the fire, and started stroking Chance’s head.
“Johnny? Is everything okay with our mounts? Is there something wrong? Johnny? Look at me.”
“I’m fine Boston. I think we need to get some shut eye, unless you want us to take shifts.”
“No. We should be okay. Chance can always stand guard.” Scott’s jab at humor did not get a rise from Johnny. Scott decided Johnny was probably just tired. They would talk in the morning.
The storm lasted most of the night and into the morning. The brothers woke to a breakfast of biscuits and water.
Johnny still seemed despondent. Scott decided now was the time for Johnny to come clean.
“So, little brother, are you going to tell me what is wrong or not? I can’t help you if I don’t know what is going on in that head of yours.”
“Scott, remember when we were talking before Chance busted in?” Johnny was worrying the toggles on his shirt, not wanting to look Scott in the eye.
“I do recall the conversation. I don’t get the connection. You were fine when you left to check the horses, and you came back a different person. What happened? Talk to me, brother.”
“I stumbled on something when I was heading back to the lean to. The farmer may have left with some of his belongings, but he left alone. I found three graves. One was marked “Martha; my darling wife and mother. There were two smaller ones. One marked Tommy aged 7. “
Johnny’s voice faltered and he brushed angrily at tears coursing down his cheek. Scott wanted to go to his brother, but knew the timing was wrong. He would need to wait.
“The tiniest one was marked Sarah, aged 2. This poor farmer lost everything. No wonder he did not take everything with him. He was leaving what mattered most in those graves. I wonder where he moved on to, or if he is still even alive.”
Scott felt that the time was right, so he reached over and pulled Johnny into sympathetic arms. Johnny leaned into his big brother and gratefully accepted the support. They stayed that way for a while.
The brothers decided it was time they headed out toward home. Barranca and Charlie were saddled and were prancing, ready to leave. Johnny asked Scott to wait for a minute. He returned to the cabin, and retrieved two items. Going to the back of the cabin by the graves, he placed the little doll on Sarah’s grave, and the ball on Tommy’s. “You are both with your mama so she will take care of you. Your Papa may be there as well.”
With his heart feeling a little lighter, he called to Champ. “Come on boy, let’s go home.”
“Johnny you are not taking that dog home! Murdoch will kill you. You know what he told you about bringing home strays.”
“I can’t just leave him out here to die. Murdoch will understand. He wouldn’t leave an animal to die of starvation. Not even a dumb ol’ cow deserves that.”
“Okay little brother. It’s your backside, not mine.”
They started for home knowing they’d each remember this cabin and the young family who once brought it to life. And Murdoch would understand about the dog. He wouldn’t like it, but he would understand.
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