This story took up residence in my brain one day, stomping and hollering to be heard. Having never written anything before, and never even daring to imagine that I would, I certainly never believed I would actually post it for anyone else to read, but here it is. My very first writing effort.
Hope and a Future
(Warning – This story involves death.)
Taking in strays. It’s what Rachel had been doing most of her life. She’d taken in cats and dogs, birds and horses, a variety of forest animals and sometimes even people. It was the people that were the hardest. With the animals, she always knew where she stood. People were another story. Sometimes they rode out of her life as quickly as they had ridden in. Other times they stuck around for a while, then took a piece of her heart when they left.
Leaning back against a tree, she removed her worn, black hat letting her dark brown curls fall free. She rubbed a dirty, calloused hand across her tired face and with a deep sigh, looked out over the ranch.
She could see her small log cabin easily from this hilltop. She was proud of the life she’d made here. The place had seemed so perfect before, but not any more.
Rachel’s gaze moved to two mounds of earth. She closed her eyes fighting back the tears, trying to recall every happy moment. There had been so many over the years. Like the summer she took in a couple strays.
Jeremiah’s ma usually went fishing with him on Sundays, but today she had decided to stay home and do some extra baking and cleaning. Those two horse trainers were due in soon and Ma wanted to be ready for them.
He felt a tug on his line and pulled in another nice sized fish. Six. That ought to be plenty for supper. They were biting good today. Ma would be sorry she missed out.
Gathering up his catch, along with his pole and lunch pail, Jeremiah headed back toward home. Home. He couldn’t remember ever living anywhere else, though his ma assured him he had, a long time ago. The open sky, the mountains in the distance, the smell of the meadow after a good rain and Ma. These were the things that meant home to him. Nothing and nobody else really mattered.
Jeremiah had a tough time getting along with other people, especially other kids. It never took them long to figure out he was different than most, then the teasing started. He was sure life was better here than anywhere else on earth. He was happy here with his ma, the animals they took in and with the horses she trained.
“Animals are easier to talk to,” he thought, but he didn’t say the words out loud.
In fact, in all his seven years, Jeremiah had never spoken a word aloud to anyone.
“We should’a been there by now, Heyes.”
“It can’t be much farther, Kid. Ya know, workin’ at a place this far from town just might be a real good thing for us. No sheriff, not too many people, not much chance of anyone recognizin’ us.”
Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes had been on the road for the better part of a week. After their last job for a friend, Big Mac McCreedy in Red Rock, they’d been wandering from place to place. They picked up an odd job here or there and sometimes a poker game to put some cash in their pockets, but nothing too steady.
They heard about a place called the D.C. Ranch that was paying good money for help training horses. The job was theirs. All they had to do was show up. Horses were something they both knew pretty well. Money was something they both spent pretty well, so it just made sense to take the job.
They were saddle sore and tired, in need of a bath and a couple good meals. A job in one spot, sleeping with a roof over their heads and the promise of a hot meal each day was looking about as tempting as an unguarded payroll train to the two, somewhat reformed outlaws.
The sun had moved closer to the distant mountains by the time they found the D.C. Ranch. A young boy was doing a fairly good job of cleaning fish at a table in the yard and a dog was running around announcing their arrival, as a woman stepped out of the log cabin.
“Welcome to the Dream Catcher,” she said, as she pushed her wayward hair out of her face.
She was about the same age as Heyes and Curry with long, dark, curly hair and dark eyes that looked a little tired. She didn’t dress like most women they’d run into. She was wearing men’s pants and work boots and she looked like she’d be able to hold her own in a shoving match with anyone of relative size.
“Howdy, ma’am.” They both tipped their hats as they dismounted.
“I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones. Mr. Bauer hired us to help with training some horses.”
“He did, huh? You ever meet this Mr. Bauer?”
“Well, no ma’am, we didn’t. Just a telegram. Why?”
” ‘Cause there isn’t a Mr. Bauer.” She held out her hand. “I’m Rachel Bauer and my son is Jeremiah.” She nodded toward her son. “It’s just the two of us here.”
“Sorry about that Mrs. uhhh… Miss? Bauer. I just assumed…I mean…well,” Heyes gave up trying to find the right words and shook his new boss’s hand instead.
“It’s OK, happens all the time, and it’s just Rachel. We’re not too formal around here.”
“Pleased to meet you ma’am, I mean Rachel.” Kid shook hands with his new boss too.
Jeremiah had stopped cleaning the fish and walked over to where the two strangers were talking with his Ma. Joshua and Thaddeus both leaned down and shook the boy’s hand.
“Jeremiah, these are the new trainers, Joshua and Thaddeus. They’ll be with us for a while.”
Although he looked them in the eye and smiled, the boy said nothing.
“Jeremiah, you best finish cleanin’ those fish before Dog gets into ‘em. Then get cleaned up for supper.”
Jeremiah ran off to do as his mother said.
“I’ll show you two where you’ll be stayin’. You can take care of your horses and get cleaned up while I finish gettin’ supper ready.”
She showed them two rooms on the upper floor of the cabin and then went about preparing the fish Jeremiah had caught that day.
Supper that night was a pleasant experience. Jeremiah found Joshua, the darker of the two men, to be a very good story teller. He hung on every word as the man told tale after tale of adventures Rachel was quite sure happened only in his overactive imagination. However, she enjoyed the stories too and noticed Thaddeus, the quieter one, seemed to enjoy her cooking immensely.
When the meal was finished, Jeremiah went off with Dog while Rachel, Thaddeus and Joshua relaxed with a cup of coffee on the porch. They discussed plans to begin training the next morning and the training methods Rachel used. Both men were pleased to discover that, like them, Rachel only used the most gentle practices in training horses.
As the conversation turned away from work, Thaddeus mentioned Jeremiah. “The boy is mighty quiet for a seven year old.”
After a quick defensive look toward him, Rachel turned her head away. “Just don’t have much to say is all.”
She stood and called to Jeremiah, telling him it was time to get ready for bed. As she walked into the cabin, she pushed her hair out of her face and gave Thaddeus another quick look. She hoped she hadn’t made a mistake in hiring these two.
Alone on the porch now, Kid turned to Heyes. “I didn’t mean anything by that, just makin’ an observation.”
“I know ya didn’t, Kid, but she don’t know us very well yet and I have a feelin’ it’s been sort of a sore spot for ‘em over the years. Let’s just give her some time.”
Rachel woke early the next morning, tired and groggy after spending the night tossing and turning.
‘Mighty quiet for a seven year old.’ The phrase rang like a warning bell through the night, taking her back to images of her past, of doctors and of Jeremiah’s father.
Throwing back the covers and the black thoughts along with them, she rose and dressed for the new day. She brushed at her hair, wishing once again that it might be straighter and more cooperative. Her fingers were never able to maneuver the curly mass into any sort of style that would keep it from continually falling into her eyes. She settled for covering her head with a bandanna. As she tied it, she thought of the similar one Joshua wore around his neck.
Joshua. She liked him. She could tell Jeremiah did too. That was a small miracle in itself. Her son wasn’t one to take to people too quickly.
On the other hand, there was Thaddeus. She could see her son admired him too, but something about him, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Well, she was sure there was something. She determined to watch him closely.
As she made her way downstairs, the smell of fresh brewed coffee greeted her. Entering the kitchen, she was shocked to discover Thaddeus, standing at the stove preparing breakfast.
“Mornin’! Joshua and Jeremiah are out in the barn. Hope you don’t mind my gettin’ us started.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “‘Bout what I said last night, I’d like to apologize. I didn’t mean ta upset ya, Rachel.”
Kid tried to hide his smile as he watched the look on Rachel’s face change from surprise to total disbelief.
“Course not,” she said as she took the cup of coffee he held out to her, but on the inside she was thinking, ‘Oh, lordy! I really do need to keep a close eye on this one!’
The day was filled with training, sweating, failing, trying again, and more sweating. It was getting close to supper time when they decided they’d had enough.
“I think it went well for the first day, don’t you?” Rachel’s voice sounded excited and hopeful.
She leaned against the porch looking out over the ranch as Thaddeus washed the dirt and dust off his face and neck. He took the towel she handed him, noticing that the way she was smiling right now made her look so peaceful.
“Sure do. You’re a good trainer, Rachel. It’s easy to see you love what you do.”
She looked down at the ground, blushing at his praise. Without thinking, he reached out and pushed back a curl that had come loose from her bandanna.
It was then she heard it. The noise was deafening in Rachel’s ears. The sound of a door slamming shut.
It was then he felt it. Kid knew about walls. He’d begun building his own all those years ago, when he buried his family. He built it thicker and higher at the home and each time he had to walk away from someone he cared about. Yeah, Kid Curry knew enough about walls to know the one he’d just run into was as thick and high as they come.
Time moved on and the training of the horses continued. Day after day, Rachel watched her son grow closer to Joshua and Thaddeus. She saw how both men took time to gently instruct Jeremiah in the handling of horses. They taught him card tricks and coin tricks. Joshua had even tried to teach Jeremiah some sort of trick with an egg, but the result was a large mess and a lighter breakfast than planned. She noticed how both men talked to her son like they expected he would answer their questions. They never made him feel bad when he didn’t. It was something she had learned to do herself over the years and she was surprised at how quickly these two men, strangers such a short time ago, had picked it up.
Rachel also found that she rather enjoyed having Joshua and Thaddeus around. Life got lonely sometimes living way out here, especially with a son who wouldn’t talk to her. Not that she ever had regrets about her decision to come here, just nice to have someone else around to share life with.
Thinking about it now, she realized she’d been wrong in mistrusting Thaddeus right from the start. She was sure now he meant her son no harm. He’d even apologized for his comment that first day. In all her life she never knew a man to do that!
What was it about this man that threw her so off balance? Still, she enjoyed his company and Joshua’s too. Alright, she downright liked them both and it was obvious her son worshiped them, but she herself would keep in mind, they were here to train horses and they’d be leaving soon.
The decision to come to the Dream Catcher was proving to be a wise one as far as Kid and Heyes were concerned. The work was honest, the company was good and the horses were training well. The money they would earn would be enough to see them through for a good long while.
Days filled with the hard work of ranching often ended watching the sun set from the porch of Rachel’s small cabin. Sometimes, Joshua told more of his adventures to his captivated audience, consisting of one small boy. Sometimes, Rachel read a book to Jeremiah while the two grown men tried hard not to show any interest in the ‘childish’ stories.
Tonight, Rachel sat on the porch with an already sleeping Jeremiah in her lap, humming a soft tune. Kid leaned back in his chair, enjoying the peaceful feeling that seemed to surround him here at the Dream Catcher. Did it come from Rachel? From Jeremiah? Maybe it was the memory of what life had been before he’d lost his family. Maybe it was the vision of a life he’d never dared to dream of. Whatever it was, Kid liked the feeling.
He noticed now that Rachel must be getting a bit uncomfortable, still holding her son in her lap. He went to her, lifted the sleeping boy and carried him up the stairs to tuck him into his bed.
Joshua and Rachel remained on the porch, quietly laughing together about the events of their day and silly things Jeremiah had done. When there was a lull in the conversation, Heyes decided to bring up the subject with Rachel.
“Where is Jeremiah’s father?”
There, the question was finally out and it hung in the air like a funnel cloud waiting to drop from the sky.
Though she never turned to look at him, Heyes could see the same wall the Kid had felt weeks before. It was quiet for a while, but then she answered. “I left him.”
The answer was short, to the point, and truthful. She didn’t offer any explanation as to why she’d left him and to be quite honest, Heyes was surprised she’d given him that much.
Then she continued, her voice cold, nothing like the woman he thought he knew. “Joshua, I have never asked you or Thaddeus about your past. Please, don’t ask about mine.”
The conversation ended there and Rachel went for a walk. Heyes never brought it up again.
It was decided on a Saturday evening, they would all go fishing together the next day. This pleased Jeremiah greatly and they all laughed as he jumped around, anxious to share his favorite fishing spot with his two best friends. Rachel was glad to see her son so happy.
Sunday morning after breakfast, while she packed a picnic lunch, she thought to herself that she couldn’t recall a happier time in all of her life. It felt almost like, family.
Joshua came into the kitchen and caught her smiling and humming to herself. He noticed she wore a skirt and blouse today, instead of her usual working clothes.
He whistled softly, “You sure look nice!”
“Guess I’m just happy. You about ready to go?”
“Almost. Jeremiah can’t find his shoe and I have a feelin’ Shoshone made off with it.”
“What?” Rachel was stunned at the thought of Indians on her ranch.
Seeing the fear on Rachel’s face, Joshua realized immediately she had misunderstood.
“Shoshone is what Jeremiah decided to name Dog. A dog’s gotta have a name, don’t ya think?”
“He TOLD you he wanted to name Dog, Shoshone?” She looked at Joshua as if he had lost his mind.
“Well, not in so many words, but yeah, that’s what he wants to call him.”
So, Dog became known as Shoshone from that day forward and Joshua was right; they found Jeremiah’s shoe a short while later, half buried in the garden.
It was the perfect summer Sunday afternoon. They fished, they ate, they fished some more. Rachel and Thaddeus relaxed on a picnic blanket, while Joshua and Jeremiah played a game of fetch with Shoshone.
Rachel lay back, watching the clouds roll by. She thought Thaddeus was asleep with his hat over his eyes.
He startled her when he asked, “What made you choose the name, ‘Dream Catcher’?”
She gave a big sigh before she answered. “I’ve spent a lot of my life runnin’. Seems to me the whole world is runnin’. Either they’re busy chasin’ some big dream, gold, land, a fresh start, or runnin’ away from some nightmare they keep tryin’ to bury. Then I found this place, a safe place, where just maybe dreams can come true. The Dream Catcher.” She finished with a shy smile.
“So which one were you?”
“Were you chasin’ the dream or runnin’ from the nightmare?”
She thought for a moment, wondering just how much she should share with Thaddeus. “Oh, I don’t know, a little of both I guess. Started out runnin’ from the nightmare, now I’m just hopin’ the dream will catch me. How about you?”
“I’m not sure.” Thaddeus got quiet for a while, thinking of all the running he’d done in his life. “Probably the same as you.” Lifting his hat, he studied Rachel’s face before continuing, “You wanna tell me about the nightmare?”
They shared a smile.
Although Rachel didn’t recognize the feeling, a piece of the wall she’d built began to crumble.
The trees of late summer were just beginning to show signs of early autumn when Rachel declared the horse training complete. The horses had been well trained. Their new owners would be pleased.
She rode along next to Joshua and Thaddeus that afternoon, with Jeremiah taking turns hitching a ride behind each of them. The day was a perfect one with the sun shining bright and the leaves rustling in a gentle breeze. The laughter was what she would remember most.
Rachel stopped her horse long enough to take in the picture of the three men in her life. If she were a painter, she would have captured the scene on canvas, but as it was she burned the moment into her memory. Joshua, Thaddeus and Jeremiah. Yes, the day was perfect.
Later that evening, when supper had been eaten and the dishes put away, Joshua got comfortable with one of Rachel’s books. He’d removed his boots, along with his hat and bandanna and sat with his feet propped up on a nearby stool. From the looks of him, Rachel figured he’d be there till morning. She wasn’t even sure he’d heard Thaddeus when he told him they were going for a walk.
They didn’t talk much on their walk. Each seemed lost in his or her own thoughts. Both knew their time together was nearing an end. It seemed so natural to head toward the stream, Rachel’s favorite spot on the ranch.
They stood quietly, listening to the sounds of the night, the water gurgling over the rocks and the crickets singing. Drawing her close, Thaddeus kissed her, very softly, very sweetly, and Rachel knew it meant, goodbye.
Soft thunder rumbled in the distance, a late summer storm rolling in. They walked back to the cabin hand in hand, comfortable in their silence.
Late that night, the storm blew its fury down on the Dream Catcher. The lightning bolts flashed, the thunder cracked, and the wind whipped around the small cabin.
Joshua, still reading by the light of the lamp, was the first to notice after one especially loud crack of thunder. “The barn’s been hit!” he yelled, waking the others in the house.
Barely pausing to pull on their boots, Thaddeus and Rachel were out the door right behind him. Rachel stopped on the porch long enough to tell a very frightened looking Jeremiah to stay put.
By the time she reached the barn and ran inside, Joshua and Thaddeus had freed most of the horses from their stalls. Flames shot up all around them as they chased the terrified animals out into the night.
Coming out the barn door, covering her mouth to avoid breathing in the smoke, Rachel noticed with horror that the wind had blown some embers onto the roof of the cabin. The house was on fire!
She screamed to Jeremiah, “Get out of the house!”
The boy ran to her.
“Take Shoshone and run to the stream. Stay there until we come for you. You’ll be safe there.”
Rachel and Thaddeus were running frantically with buckets in an effort to save the house. The barn was too far gone.
As Jeremiah ran past the barn, he noticed Joshua trying to make his way out with a last horse who had been too frightened to exit on his own. Shoshone must have noticed too and ran inside the barn. The horse finally ran free, but Shoshone was nowhere to be seen. Jeremiah began to run toward the barn door.
Joshua caught him and took him by the shoulders. Looking at the boy’s face, he saw both fear and trust written there. He had seen the look before, a long time ago, on the face of a young Jed Curry.
“Run to the stream, Jeremiah. Wait for me there. I’ll get Shoshone.”
Jeremiah nodded and ran, not looking back.
Seeing what was about to happen, Rachel screamed, “Joshua, NO!” but it was too late.
Joshua had already gone into the barn which was now totally engulfed in flames.
Thaddeus made an attempt to go in after his partner, just as Shoshone came running out and the roof collapsed.
Kid Curry gave a final desperate cry, “Heyes!” and fell to his knees on the muddy ground.
They buried Joshua the next day.
As Thaddeus finished pounding in the wooden cross at the head of the grave, his mind wandered back to a similar time, long ago, when he and his cousin had stood by the graves of their families. He thought he felt alone that day, but it was nothing compared to the emptiness he felt today.
Now the three of them, Thaddeus, Rachel and Jeremiah, stood on a little hill not far from Rachel’s cabin. Thaddeus stood, hat in hand, with a faraway look on his face. Rachel figured it was up to her to say something, so she started out.
“Lord, we haven’t talked to You much, but we’re turnin’ our friend Joshua over to You now…”
A sob prevented her from speaking further.
Seeing that Thaddeus was not going to speak and knowing Jeremiah wouldn’t, Rachel placed a kiss on her fingers and reached toward the small wooden cross. Gently touching the name ‘Joshua Smith’ she whispered, “Goodbye, Joshua” through her tears. Then, taking Jeremiah by the hand, she returned to the small cabin, leaving Thaddeus alone.
“Heyes,” Kid bent down and spoke, his voice barely a whisper, “it wasn’t supposed to end like this.” After a long pause, he continued, “I couldn’t even bury you with your proper name.”
Later that day, Thaddeus had packed up and ridden out. Rachel could tell he was hurting too much to stay. Before he left, he’d given her Joshua’s hat.
“To help keep the hair outta your face,” he’d said. “Besides, Joshua would’a wanted you to have it.”
Turning to Jeremiah, he bent down to look the boy in the eyes. Finding no words, he simply held him close.
Mounting his horse he told her, “Rachel, if you ever need anything, there’s a sheriff in Porterville, Wyoming, Lom Trevors. He’ll know where to find me.”
Rachel just nodded and Thaddeus tipped his hat. Then he rode out. She noticed that he didn’t look back once, not at them and not at the grave on the hill. He just rode out.
A lonely, worn out cowboy sat by his camp fire, with the sun just coming up and tossed the cold coffee out of his cup.
Two years had passed since he buried Heyes. Two years of making his own bad coffee. Two years of living job to job. Two more years of waiting for an amnesty that didn’t come, would never come.
It didn’t matter anymore anyway. Heyes was dead. He was also keenly aware he had buried Kid Curry on the hill that day too. He was tired, empty, alone. He was sick of waiting. Waiting for what? For his life to start? For his life to end?
He thought of Rachel and Jeremiah. He thought of the Dream Catcher and how she said it was a place where maybe dreams could come true. Did he even have any dreams?
Suddenly, he knew what he needed to do. He stood and began to break camp. He was leaving. For the first time in years, Thaddeus Jones knew where he was going. For the first time in years, he felt – hope.
Rachel kept her eyes closed, continuing to remember the events of her past as she leaned against the tree.
The doctors had told her much more than she ever let on years ago. More than just the fact that Jeremiah would never talk. Something seemed to be wrong with his heart too.
Jeremiah’s father hadn’t been any help, wanting to put the boy in a home ‘for his own good‘, so Rachel had taken Jeremiah one morning and left. She was thankful over the years, he had never been able to find them.
During the past winter, Jeremiah seemed to get weaker and weaker. Rachel thought he’d regain his strength with the spring thaw, but he didn’t. And then one morning she found him, peaceful in his bed, with Shoshone curled up next to him. Gone.
Rachel opened her eyes, still sitting in her spot on the hill. Two wooden crosses. Joshua Smith and Jeremiah Bauer. Two big pieces of her heart lay beneath the earth here. The third piece belonged to Thaddeus. She wished he were here now. She needed him. She loved him.
Pushing her hair back and picking up Joshua’s worn black hat, she made her way down the little hill toward the cabin to pack her things. She couldn’t stay here anymore.
That’s when she saw it. A rider in the distance.
She began to run, too scared to hope, but it was Thaddeus. He came back. She needed him and he came back.
As Rachel ran toward him, he saw past her to the two graves on the hill and realized what must have happened.
When he took her in his arms, Rachel touched a finger to Joshua’s blue bandanna, the one Thaddeus now wore. He pulled her close and held her, rocking gently back and forth, and promised he was here to stay. For as long as she’d let him, he was here to stay.
How long they held each other like that neither one was certain, but one thing was for sure. The walls were gone.
That night, Rachel slept peacefully for the first time in the weeks since Jeremiah’s death. While she slept, she had a dream.
It was the perfect summer day. Rachel and Thaddeus sat on a blanket by the stream, with Jeremiah close by, playing with Shoshone.
Suddenly, Joshua was with them, standing near the water, smiling that ear to ear smile.
Jeremiah saw him first, running toward him shouting, “Joshua!”
Joshua picked the boy up, hugging him.
Jeremiah’s smile was as big as Joshua’s as they turned, waving back at Rachel and Thaddeus.
Then, they were gone.
Rachel woke the next morning feeling rested. She kept her eyes closed recalling the beautiful dream. She could hear Thaddeus’ even breathing and knew he was still asleep, lying there beside her. She felt Shoshone stir at the foot of the bed.
A smile crossed her face. She would stay. This was a good place, a safe place. The dream still lived here. Hope still lived here. Hope and a future.
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.