By Tara Adams.
Thunder sounded and raindrops collided with the high winds causing the logs of the cabin to whine and creak. Arranging the candle in a better position for light, Ava Greeley sat down the stocking she was knitting and gently traced the cable pattern with her finger. It was an old technique taught to her by her Irish grandmother from the old country. The swirls in the fabric made her long for her grandmother’s stern, but loving tongue. She could imagine being lectured for wasting time and skill on something as fancy as cables for a man’s sock. ‘He will just wear them out in the end, child,’ she imagined her saying.
A single golden curl had come loose from her braided bun, and she tucked it delicately behind her ear as she pondered what her grandmother might have said about her recent decision. The candle flickered as the latch on the door lifted and cold air was let inside the small cabin. Grasping her shawl closer to her chest, she surveyed her brother as he attempted to maneuver around the heavy door. He hauled his right leg towards him with his hands as he sat to begin the difficult process of removing his muddy boots. Trying to hide her irritation, Ava left her knitting to close the door.
Fisher hissed at his sister. “I got it.”
“I know that,” Ava said trying to quiet her nerves. “I don’t want to feel the cold while you are getting to it. That’s all.”
“I did what I could.”
Ava knew that meant that he got the horses into the barn. He was unable to ride, and it was up to Ava to load the feed into the stalls. She didn’t mind the extra chores and actually enjoyed being around the animals every morning and night. Though, she didn’t enjoy her brother’s self pitying looks whenever she bundled up to go out to the barn.
There was a moment of silence between them until thunder broke the stillness. “As far as I know, the storm didn’t do any damage.”
“The stones weren’t thrown?”
“I wish you would stop worrying about those stones, Ava. They are in the ground good.” Fisher frowned and shook his head as he finally tugged the boot off his damaged leg. “Worrying over their graves every time we have a high wind isn’t going to bring ‘em back.”
Ava would have told her brother that she felt like looking after the stones was a matter of respecting her parents, but this conversation had been repeated for many years between them. Instead, Ava started to slip on her knitted pantaloons under her layers of dress and petticoats. The siblings had lived side by side for so long and she had nursed him after his accident, that it seemed silly to shield her bare legs from her own brother.
Fisher looked up at her and then away to save what privacy there was left. “He hasn’t made it yet.”
“I gathered as much. Maybe after feeding and brushing the horses, I should take one of them out to look for him.”
“No.” Fisher caught her eye and stared at her with a heavy frown. Ava pressed her lips together in an attempt not to laugh. It wasn’t that she thought her brother incapable of stopping her with a gimp leg, but that he reminded her so much of their late father. There was a time that Ava had been quite frightened by that gaze because it was usually followed by a firm hand on her backside.
“I think I will, little Brother.” She pulled on her coat, rustled her Fisher’s hair and planted a kiss on the top of his head. She knew this sisterly action would have irritated any grown brother, let along one with a damaged limp.
Grasping a lantern in one hand, she slipped out in the rain to make the long walk to the barn. Her feet knew the way without glancing down. Every once in awhile, Ava stopped to listen to the wind and wonder about which wild animals were watching her evening stroll. She hoped they were thinking more about shelter from the rain than they were thinking about their hunger. Once at the barn, she sat the lantern down to move the heavy door.
“It’s me, funny animals.” Ava continued to hush them as she hung up the lantern and closed the barn door to the wind. Their body heat made the barn warm and their earthy smell was a comfort. She greeted the first horse with one of her four pieces of carrots. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed there was a fifth horse that she did not have a carrot for.
Her body stiffened. “Who is there?”
“I don’t mean harm, ma’am.” The man had a loud voice but stood outside the light of the lantern. “I am looking for the town Nobel Hollow. I think I got off track in the storm.”
“You missed it by about ten miles, traveler.”
“Oh.” The man’s voice stumbled, and Ava was sure that she heard a hay bale being kicked. “I am actually supposed to meet a man there named Fisher Greeley. Perhaps you could point me in the direction of his ranch?”
Ava smiled. “What business do you have with him?”
The man again whispered something that Ava assumed was a curse. “I guess you could say that I had some family business with him, ma’am.”
“Well, you are probably tired and hungry. Why don’t you come back to the cabin with me? I can introduce you to my brother and get you pointed in the right direction.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I really appreciate the hospitality. I don’t mean to offend. I should talk with your kin to see if I can borrow a horse, but I will skip the meal because I am two days late to meet Mr. Fisher.”
“I am not offended. It sounds like your business is urgent.”
“Well, then we don’t have all night. Why don’t you step over here closer to the lantern and allow me to tend to your horse?”
The stranger stepped into the light as Ava walked into the darkness. The horse immediately nudged at her coat pocket for a carrot. She aided in the animal’s request and set to dry brushing the sweaty froth off his skin. She allowed him a few gulps of water before removing the bucket until he cooled down.
“You are good with him. He doesn’t usually warm up to folk.”
“I’ve not met too many horses that I have had a problem with. Provided their master’s have been good to them.”
“I’m Benedick J. Orrick. I apologize, ma’am, for not giving you my name sooner.”
“No matter. Come along. Let us get you to the cabin and get you dried out.”
“I appreciate you taking care of my horse first.”
Ava stood on her tippy toes to grab the lantern. “I like horses better than men. Will you hold this?” She handed him the oil lamp and proceeded to tuck loose strands of hair back into her stacked braids. She didn’t want to walk into her brother’s cabin with her new fiancé and her hair all askew.
“I share your sentiment.”
Ava stopped and wondered if he had read her mind, “Excuse me?”
Benedick’s mouth seemed to toss itself into a grin which created laugh lines around his blue eyes. “I like horses better than men, too.”
Giving a polite nod, she led him back to the cabin. Upon entering, her brother grew wide eyed and gave a quick glance to his rifle in the corner. Ava made a quick introduction, “This is Benedick J. Orrick. He says he wants to meet with Fisher Greeley.” Benedick took off his hat.
The wrinkles in her brother’s forehead dissipated. He held out his hand towards Benedick. “I’m Fisher Greeley. I see you met my sister, Ava Greeley.”
Benedick’s eyebrows shot up. While still holding his brother’s hand, Ava felt him assessing her.
He released Fisher’s handshake and addressed Ava. “If I may be so bold, you are very beautiful.”
The bridge of Ava’s nose crinkled. “I can cook, too.”
Fisher shook his head and looked up tentatively at Benedick who said, “I didn’t mean that as an insult, ma’am. I look forward to your culinary skills as well.”
Ava gave him a polite nod and retired behind the dressing panel to shed some of her outdoor clothing.
“Have a seat, Mr. Orrick. Speaking of culinary skills, would you care for some of my sister’s stew?”
“Yes, that would be a treat. I’ve had nothing but hard biscuits for several days.”
“Not much surrounds these parts.”
“All the more reason for me being here, I suppose.”
“I think my letters explained the brunt of it. Do you have any questions?”
Ava came out from around the dressing panel as her brother sat a bowl of stew in front of Benedick. She inched towards the half finished sock and covered it up with her shawl, so her groom would not see his future gift.
“I have a few questions.” Turning his attention to Ava, he said, “This is very good stew, ma’am. I would ask for seconds, but I don’t want to seem too greedy.”
“You may have seconds as long as you don’t mind helping yourself.”
“Ava!” Fisher hissed.
His sister shrugged. “He is going to be here awhile, Fisher. I am not waiting on him hand and foot the whole time.”
Benedick got up and went to the stove for his second helping. Ava enjoyed seeing his shoulders move as he laughed. It had been a long time since there had been any laughter in the cabin.
Benedick turned towards his fiancé. “May I have a word alone with your brother?”
“No.” Both Ava and Fisher spoke the word at the same time.
Benedick glanced between the siblings, “It is just that your brother required proof of my ability as a lawman and a protector.”
“If it has to do with me or our homestead rights, Fisher will want me to hear.” Ava didn’t take her eyes off of Benedick, but knew that Fisher had nodded in agreement.
Benedick sat the bowl down on the table and removed a leather pouch from his coat. He took a deep breath, “I want to settle down and run a ranch. I want a wife by my side. Maybe children if God sees the good. What I don’t want is to be a lawman any longer, but if my chosen family is threatened I will use whatever skills I have to deal with the matter.”
From the pouch, Benedick J. Orrick removed a long piece of thread which was strung with human fingers. Some of the bones had visible cracks where the needle had been pushed through. Some still contained the rotting flesh of the victims.
Her brother spoke in a low tone. “That is all the proof I require, Sir.”
Ava looked at the carnage and said, “I suppose your skills will save me from taking matters into my own hands.”
Benedick shuffled on his feet. Fisher placed his temples in his hands and sunk his head between his knees.
Tara Adams lives in North Eastern Montana with her husband and two dogs. She expecting a daughter in June of 2015. She enjoys writing and has found great joy in exploring different genres as she strengthens her craft.