Summary: While Ben is away on business, Adam is in charge of his two younger brothers. Predominantly a prequel.
Rating: K+ Word Count: 1001
From the Murky Depths
Ben had gone to Genoa on business and was not due back until the following day. This left eleven year-old Hoss and six year-old Joe under Adam’s supervision. The day had not gone too badly, but Joe always balked at going to bed, with or without his Pa.
Joe and Hoss, already in their nightshirts, were shooting marbles on the livingroom floor when Adam put down his book and informed them, “Ok you two, time for bed.”
“Aww come on, Adam. Can’t we stay up a little longer?” Joe begged. “Pa won’t know.”
“Yes, but I’m the one that has to answer to Pa when he asks me whether you went to bed on time. We’ve managed pretty well all day. Don’t start giving me trouble now, Little Joe. Just git going!”
Hoss knew better than to argue with his older brother and began gathering up the marbles and putting them in a leather pouch. Joe did not bother to help and stomped up the stairs. He was sitting on his bed with his arms crossed tightly across his chest when Adam entered to tuck him in.
“You know Pa always tells a story at bedtime. You just gotta tell me a story, Adam.” Joe pleaded.
“Oh alright. So what kind of story would you like to hear?”
“A scary one!” Joe shivered with delight.
“Now wait a minute. Does that mean you’re going to be crawling in bed with me in the middle of the night?”
Joe sat up straight and shook his head. “Nope. I’m too old for that.”
Adam eyed his youngest brother skeptically. “Promise?”
“Pro – mise.” Joe hesitated momentarily, “but – can Hoss come sit with me and keep me company while you tell the story?”
Adam hollered toward the doorway. “Hoss! Joe wants you to come listen to his bedtime story!”
Soon both the younger Cartwright brothers were sitting together tucked under the blankets. Adam pulled the chair that his father usually sat in up close to the bed.
“One day, a few years back, Pa and I were riding along the Truckee heading for home.”
Joe broke in. “Where were me and Hoss?”
“You were just a baby and Hoss was about the age you are now; so you were here with your Ma.”
Joe looked a little sad. “Oh, ok. Go on.”
“Well, it was starting to get dark. Pa was thinking we ought to make camp since we were too late to get back that night. All of a sudden we heard this hissing sound, you know like water on a hot pan, except it sounded like a whole lot of water on a bunch of hot pans. We couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from, but then there was this big cloud of smoke that appeared above the boulder we were near. Pa told me to stay real close.”
Little Joe leaned into Hoss and pulled the blankets up tight under his chin. Hoss’ eyes were glued to his older brother.
“We kept on toward the clearing in front of us until we heard it!”
“What? What did you hear, Adam?” Joe squeaked.
“We heard this moany, growly kind of sound. Liked to scared the – well anyway – you can bet I was really scared.”
“Gosh, Adam if you were scared, it must really have been scary.”
“It was, but I didn’t let on to Pa, and then we heard the splashing.”
“You mean like when we swim in the lake?”
“No I mean like the sound of a hundred horses crossing a creek!”
“Gol- ly Adam!” Hoss interjected.
A faint smile crossed Adam’s face, despite the fact that he was probably going to regret telling this tale later. He recovered quickly, scooted his chair in until his knees were touching the mattress and went on.
“We rounded that boulder and there was this pool of churning, steaming dark water.”
Hoss and Joe’s eyes were now like saucers. Adam leaned in toward his brothers and began to raise himself slowly from his chair as he continued.
“All of a sudden, up from the bubbling deep came this dragon so ugly and breathing fire. It scorched that boulder black for a hundred feet!”
Adam yelled, and with arms spread wide he launched himself onto his brothers leaving them screaming in fear. Not before getting a sound pummeling, Adam rolled off the bed howling with laughter.
“Doggone you Adam! You liked ta scare me and Little Joe ta death!” Hoss panted.
“Adam, I’m gonna tell Pa what you did. That was mean!” A teary-eyed Joe stuck out his lip.
After regaining his composure, Adam shook his finger at Joe. “Just remember, little brother, you’re the one who asked for a scary story.”
Years later just about dusk on a cool fall day, Joe quickly stripped out of his dusty clothes and into a steaming pool in the shadow of a large boulder. Adam and Hoss exchanged glances as their younger brother splashed in the warm water.
“So, Joe, do ya remember when Adam told us that tale about this place?” Hoss was working to get out of his shirt and vest.
“Gosh, how could I ever forget that. Don’t know when I was ever more scared as a kid. Hey, where’d Adam go?”
“He’s just makin’ sure the horses are secure for the night.”
“Oh, ok. You gotta get in here, Hoss, this is great.” Joe ducked his head and allowed the steaming water to trickle down his neck.
Soon Hoss joined his younger brother and started flailing his arms to churn up the water. “Ya better watch out, Joe. I think that dragon may be comin’ up from the deep!”
Suddenly Joe was hit from behind and taken under the surface of the water. He came up spluttering as Adam roared. Joe shoved him backward while Hoss held his sides, his guffaws echoing off the wall of stone nearby.
“Dammit, Adam. Wasn’t once enough. And Hoss, you wait. I’ll get you both for this!