A Christmas Story
It had been three days since the fever set in. Another day drew to a close while Hannibal Heyes sat waiting, watching, hoping for some sign of improvement.
“Hang in there, Kid.” The whispered words of encouragement fell on un-listening ears.
At least Curry rested quietly now, a welcome change from his hours of thrashing and incoherent mumbling throughout the previous night. Most of it had been incoherent anyway. The one sentence Heyes had been able to make out had only increased his concern and intensified his own sense of responsibility for his partner’s current state.
The Kid had looked directly at him, eyes glazed, and pleaded, “I wanna go home.”
Home. He and the Kid hadn’t had a home in years. Only Devil’s Hole, and no one should need to think of this God-forsaken place as home. If things had been different, if only they’d made different choices. Who was he kidding? HE had made all the choices, Curry had simply followed. It was his fault the Kid had a price on his head. His fault Curry lay here now, wounded and maybe…he wouldn’t even think the thought. The cold, hard truth stared Heyes in the face. Kid Curry would have been better off never knowing Hannibal Heyes.
Heyes checked the bullet wound and applied another poultice. Satisfied he’d done all he could to make his partner comfortable for the moment, he left the bedroom.
The cabin was quiet. Kyle and the boys had no doubt eaten dinner in the bunkhouse. Heyes poured himself a cup of coffee. A calendar on the wall reminded him of the date. December 24th. Christmas Eve. Seemed as good a night as any to hope for a miracle.
Leaning against the weathered window frame, Heyes surveyed the freshly fallen snow. Good. They should be safe here and the additional snow would surely cover their trail, cover any traces of Curry’s blood as it stained their path.
He and the Kid hadn’t been back to the Hole in months. Not since beginning their quest for amnesty. Heyes wasn’t happy about having to bring his partner here now, but there didn’t seem to be much choice.
The two had just completed a job, a request from Lom. They were leaving Porterville, heading south for the winter, when they’d been spotted. A posse had been assembled and the fateful shot had been fired, embedding itself deep in Curry’s shoulder. This was Wyoming. Knowing they’d be recognized wherever they went, Heyes had picked the only safe spot he knew. Devil’s Hole.
Heyes returned to his post, the bedside of his injured friend. If he called the Kid a friend, would he in any way trivialize their relationship? Curry was more than a friend. He was essential, a vital part of Hannibal Heyes. His hand touched the fevered cheek and he let out a sigh, ashamed at having to admit to himself he had checked to see if Curry was still breathing — he was.
Heyes pulled a soft chair closer to the bed and leaned back, resting his head. The moon, shining on the snow outside, cast shadows across the yard.
When he and Jed were kids… How long had it been since he’d thought of the Kid as Jed? When he and Jed were kids they would have slipped out a bedroom window on a moonlit night like this to meet at the big hill near the creek. They’d have taken turns sliding down the hill on a sled made by one of their fathers. Finally, both boys would have climbed onto the sled, one on top of the other, laughing until they couldn’t breathe when they tumbled off into a snow bank.
Days without proper food or rest began to take their toll on Heyes, his usually sharp mind growing cloudy, his eyelids growing heavy. “I’m here, Kid.”
As he fought exhaustion, visions of the previous days flashed before his closing eyes. The posse, the gunshot, then, his own hands, covered in Curry’s blood, digging a bullet from his partner’s body.
Heyes’ eyes fluttered open.
The room had grown dark now, and cold. Heyes quickly reached for the sweat-covered brow before he realized the voice that wakened him didn’t belong to the Kid.
“Mr. Heyes!” the voice spoke again.
Heyes shook his head, still groggy in his semi-sleep state.
Although darkness hid the face, the voice was familiar. The visitor lit a lamp, spreading a dim glow over the room, illuminating the man’s features.
“That’s right, Mr. Heyes.”
“I can’t believe it! The last time we saw you, you were…” Heyes stopped. Was he dreaming? The last time he’d seen Joe Sims was the day he and the Kid had buried him!
A smile tugged at the corner of Joe’s mouth, as he read the questions written on Heyes’ face.
Joe lifted the lamp to observe Kid Curry’s unmoving form. He didn’t take his eyes from the wound, but spoke to Heyes, “Looks like he’s hurt bad. Real sick.” Then leaning close to Curry’s ear Joe whispered, “Won’t have to wait much longer now, Mr. Curry.”
Heyes stared in disbelief. “You can’t be here, Joe, you’re…” He stumbled over the next word, as if by speaking it aloud, he might insult the former bounty hunter. “Dead.”
“Right again, Mr. Heyes! Yet, here I am.” Joe smiled again, an irritatingly confident smile. “Couldn’t collect on you and Curry while I was livin’, but I plan to collect an even greater reward now.”
“You can’t have him!” Heyes was standing, yelling, panic flooding through him. It would be the death of the Kid if Joe were to try to haul him in to a sheriff’s office now!
His mind whirled with thoughts unspoken. This was crazy! Joe was not here! This was just a dream! And what did he mean, a greater reward?
Joe moved closer to Heyes, “But I AM here, Mr. Heyes, and I meant exactly what I said!”
Heyes sank back into the chair. “You can read my thoughts too?” He swallowed hard. He had never seen a ghost before, if indeed that’s what Joe was, but his mind told him that was impossible.
Joe nodded. “I can.” Joe sat at the foot of Curry’s bed, facing Heyes. “Know what you was thinkin’ earlier too.”
“Yeah. You was thinkin’ ’bout when you and Curry was just boys, sleddin’. Thinkin’ ’bout what Curry means to you. Thinkin’ how YOU should’a done somethin’ diff’rent and how he’d’a been better off without you.”
Heyes sat silently, listening, mind still reeling with more questions than answers.
“You was wrong on that count, Mr. Heyes.”
“Wrong about what exactly?”
“Come on. I got somethin’ to show ya.”
Heyes looked at the Kid who was still resting quietly, then, at Joe’s outstretched hand. He reached, his finger barely brushing Joe’s.
A loud noise, like a rushing wind surrounded them. Instantly, Joe and Heyes stood inside the school at Valparaiso.
A rough-looking boy, not yet thirteen, sat in the headmaster’s office. He looked bitter, angry. His clothes were torn and one eye blackened.
The headmaster spoke. “Jedediah, you’ve been warned about your persistent disobedience and violence. Doctor Field says the other boy will live, but you’ve left me no choice. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be turned over to the authorities in Lawrence.”
The boy’s defiant expression was his only response.
“That’s the Kid! Only, he never looked so mean as I recall, and nothing like this ever happened! I know, because we were always together!”
Joe raised an eyebrow. “Were you, Mr. Heyes?”
He held out his hand. Heyes touched it again.
This time they stood in a valley, train tracks stretching from north to south as far as both could see. A large boulder blocked a section of rail. The train stopped, shots were fired, lifeless bodies scattered the once peaceful valley.
Horses galloped hard past two unseen visitors and as they did, Heyes saw murderous rage deep in the blue eyes of one gang member, the gunman. Kid Curry. Only, NOT Kid Curry. He was different.
“These are lies, Joe! The Kid was never a killer! These things did NOT happen! NOT like this! I don’t understand!”
Joe grabbed Heyes’ shirt, speaking softly but with great emphasis on each word. “I’m showin’ you what would’a been! What Curry’s life would’a been, without no Hannibal Heyes!”
Suddenly, they were back in the bedroom, the Kid’s motionless form on the bed, sweat still dampening his head as it rested on the pillow.
Joe stood watching Curry whose breathing seemed more shallow, his lips, almost blue.
Turning toward Heyes, Joe continued. “He would’a been alone, Mr. Heyes. Alone! You wouldn’t’a been around ta keep that temper ‘a his in check. Not when he was a boy and not now. He’d’a had no one! And it would’a turned him into the killer you saw.”
The room seemed to grow colder. Heyes could see his own breath coming out in smoky puffs.
Joe’s voice sounded angry. “The choices he made was his, Mr. Heyes. HIS! Not yours! And every man gotta answer for his own choices!”
Fear gripped Heyes. Was Joe here to collect the bounty on Curry’s soul? “You can’t have him, Joe! You can’t!”
Joe’s cried out in a voice like thunder, “NO! That’s NOT why I’m here! What did you learn, Mr. Heyes? Haven’t you been LISTENING?”
Heyes was struck with a sudden revelation. It was like Joe said, “Every man gotta answer for his own choices.”
Heyes had made his own choices and Curry had made his. And just as the Kid was a vital part of Hannibal Heyes, Hannibal Heyes was a vital part of the Kid. Essential.
The voice was quiet and weak, but Heyes recognized it immediately as his partner’s. The sun was up. It was morning. Christmas morning. Joe Sims was gone, and Heyes and Curry were left alone. The Kid opened his eyes and looked around the room.
“I’m here, Kid.” A smile spread across Heyes’ weary face.
He lifted Curry’s head, which felt much cooler now, and encouraged him to sip some water. The Kid gratefully accepted.
“Where are we?”
“We’re safe. Back at the Hole.”
Curry nodded. “Good to be home.”
Right. Home. Heyes shook his head. Only Kid Curry could view this place as home.
“I had a crazy dream, Heyes.”
HE had a crazy dream? Wait until Heyes told the Kid about HIS!
“Joe was in it. Remember Joe Sims?”
Heyes’ mouth fell open. He nodded.
“Joe was here, like an angel or somethin’. Crazy, huh? Said he came to heal me, but first I had to wait until he delivered a Christmas message.”
“A Christmas message?”
“Yeah. He never told me what is was or who it was for. I just hoped whoever it was got the message real quick, ‘fore the waitin’ killed me!”
“Guess Joe got his message across just in time.” Heyes had never felt more gratitude.
The Kid’s eyes were starting to close again.
“Hmmm?” came the sleepy response.
“You too, Heyes.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.