ASJ: The Haunting of Jedediah Curry

The Haunting of Jedediah Curry

By JDSampson

Summary: On a cold and rainy night, Curry comes face to face with his past

He squished when he walked. Wet feet in wet socks stuffed into hard and unforgiving wet boots. Not to mention the wet shirt, pants, long johns and soggy curls each in its own way adding some new nuisance to the word discomfort.

“Why does God hate us?” Kid Curry asked, gracelessly dropping down to the floor in front of the huge marble-mantled fireplace.

“Maybe because we’re sinners.” Hannibal Heyes balanced on his left foot, while he lifted his right directly in front of his partner’s face. “Thieves, reprobates. Hand here?”

Curry scowled, but tugged off Heyes’ boot anyway. “But God is supposed to forgive us our sins, right?” Off with the left boot. Now to work on his own. “That’s what they taught us at the home, right? Repent and ye shall be welcome in the kingdom of heaven?”

Heyes peeled off his coat, started to sling it over the arm of the couch but caught himself. It was just too nice. Fine wood and rich brocade fabric – probably imported from Europe or at least back East. He dropped the coat on the floor in front of the fireplace then added his vest to the pile and began work on his shirt.

“Maybe we haven’t repented enough,” Curry continued, still struggling to remove his own boot. “Maybe trying to go straight isn’t all we gotta do. Maybe we have to do something for our fellow man to make up for all the sins of the past.”

Finally taking pity on him, Heyes bent down, grabbed a hold of Curry’s left boot then pulled. The noise was like that of a pig rolling in the mud. “Personally, I got nothing against repenting, but I’m not in an all fire hurry to get that welcome into heaven.”

Curry lifted his other foot. “Still, going straight’s gotta count for something, but look! We go out of our way to help that widow woman and what do we get in return? Rained on like the day Noah built the ark.” Suck, squish, done.

Finished with Curry’s boots, Heyes went back to stripping off the rest of his clothes. “Seems to me you’re looking at this the wrong way. It’s not about us getting rained on. Rain’s important for the animals and the flowers and makes the grass nice and green. It’s about us finding this big, comfortable house and having it all to ourselves. I’d say somebody up there likes us, not the other way around.”

Curry gave that notion some real thought. Though located in the west, the building looked like the plantation homes that were popular in the south; three stories tall with massive columns around the veranda, six identical windows on the top two floors, two peaked roofs and a rounded second story balcony jutting out further than the porch below. It reminded Curry of the mansion they had rented to pull the con on Wilford Fletcher.

The inside of the house was still fully furnished and in high style, too. Heyes style – brocade fabrics with golden threads, crystal chandeliers and European carpets so soft you could roll up and fall asleep inside of one. They both thought it odd that the house had been abandoned with everything still inside but the thick layer of dust that covered every surface said that the house had been empty for quite awhile, so there was no reason not to move in and enjoy themselves.

“Kid,” Heyes asked, as he stepped out of his pants. “How come you got religion all of a sudden?” He laid his pants out close to the fire, then picked up Curry’s balled up shirt and laid it out carefully as well.

“I wouldn’t say I got religion, it’s just.. . well, I don’t know. I been thinking about some of the things Sister Julia said and Molly – all that stuff about me being the wrong kind of Irish.”

“Well, that’s not exactly what she said.” Heyes replied.

“Called me a son of an Orangeman,” Curry shot back, not really knowing what it meant but feeling insulted all the same. “My granddaddy was a good man, Heyes. A hard working man. Hard work that killed him and left my grandma to raise nine children all on her own and I think she did a damn fine job.”

“Yes she did,” Heyes agreed, amusement lighting the corners of his eyes.

Boots and shirt gone, Curry got on to his knees, freed himself of his gun belt then unbuttoned his pants and pushed them down past his hips. “I hate being wet. When I’m dressed,” he clarified. “All cold and clammy…”

“Tell me something,” Heyes said, turning his back to the fire. “Why did you tell Sister Julia about Valparaiso?”

Curry paused in the struggle with his clothing. “Because she was a nun and she was looking at me with that expression and I had to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

“That’s for court, not nuns.”

“It’s judgment, all the same.” Curry flopped down on his backside then bicycled his legs to rid himself of his jeans. “I’m freezing.”

“Come over here by the fire, you’ll be toasty warm in no time.”

“What I need is a thick blanket. Betcha I can find one upstairs.” With a renewed sense of purpose, Curry got to his feet. “If you’re nice to me, I might get you one, too.” He grabbed the lit lamp from the table then headed into the foyer.

“I pulled off your boots for you,” Heyes called after him.

“Oh, well, in that case. . . “ As soon as Curry left the parlor, the cold and damp of the house sent a shiver up his spine. His long johns, while not as soaked as his outer clothes, were wet enough to chill him, and all was made worse by his bare feet on the drafty wooden floor. Hurrying now, he dashed up the stairs and into the first room he came upon.

A bedroom – a small one for a girl, decorated with flowery wallpaper and a tiny four-poster bed with a filmy canopy on top. Like everything else in the house, the furniture in this room was covered with a thick layer of dust, dust which took flight when he yanked the quilt off of the bed and shook it wildly. Beneath the quilt was a second blanket – this one of wool. Curry took them both then returned to the hall. He dropped the bundles on to the floor at the top of the stairs, then went to check the other two rooms.

That was when he heard it. The sound of the wind whipping through a loose window sash at the end of the long hallway. It had to be the wind because it couldn’t be what it really sounded like – a child’s voice laughing in the dark. He stood stark still, listening, waiting for it to happen again. Nothing.

The second room on the floor was the master bedroom. Here he found a bed with a mattress that was six inches deep with down and feathers. Down and feathers! Not a lumpy, worn hotel mattress. Not a flat, wooden bunkhouse bed. Not the hard packed ground of Mother Nature. A bed big enough for four not just two.

Maybe Heyes was right about how fortunate they were – after all; they could still be dragging their weary carcasses through the sleet and rain – twelve more miles to River Junction. Maybe God didn’t really hate them after all.
Curry set the lamp on the bedside table, then examined the fireplace. There were two logs inside and a small bucket of kindling. Enough to get it going, but not enough to sustain the fire through the night. Not a problem. He’d bring up the wood from the parlor and probably locate more in the kitchen or in the yard. Feeling warmer already, he struck a match on the wall then set fire to a thin stick of kindling. He added a few more pieces, then pushed them down between the logs with the poker. And that was when he heard the sound again.

Not the wind.

Laughter. Right behind him.

Curry whirled.

Nothing.

“You’re it. Come and find me!”

He shook his head; had to be the wind. It had to be.

Curry picked up the lamp then walked slowly out into the hallway.

Again the giggle – a little girl playing a game.

“Hello?” he called, feeling immediately stupid for doing so. “Who’s there?” No answer. “I heard you. Now come out where I can see you. I won’t hurt you. I promise.” He backed up and backed up until his feet were tangled in the heap of blankets that he’d left on the floor.

“Kid!”

He whirled, lost his balance, nearly dropped the lamp, then caught himself. “Damn it.”

“Kid?” Hannibal called again, his voice coming from the bottom of the stairs. “What’s going on?” The steps creaked as he climbed them, so Curry knew he was approaching even though his eyes were still locked on the window at the far end of the hall.

“I’m not sure. I thought I heard someone up here.”

And then there was a cry of surprise and a horrible thump followed by more thumps and cries – a body falling down the stairs. Curry ran down in time to see Heyes hit the foyer floor. The lamp he had been holding smashed beside him spilling burning oil precariously close to his head.

“Heyes! Move!” But he didn’t, or couldn’t.

Curry galloped down the stairs in twos and when he reached the bottom, he set his lamp on the floor away from the burning oil, then caught Heyes under the arms and pulled him out of harm’ way. That done, he stripped off his damp Henley top and used it to beat down the flames. Little by little the fire gave way to the lack of fuel and the smothering effect of the shirt. Heyes moaned, but Curry continued working on the fire. Every ember had to be extinguished or the whole place might go up as they slept.

“What happened?” Heyes asked, making no attempt to move or get up.

“Was gonna ask you the same thing.” One more whip of the shirt and Curry was sure the job was done. “You fell down the stairs. Dropped the lamp.” Finally, he turned to his partner and instantly frowned at the trickle of blood that was rolling down his face. “You’re bleeding.”

“Am I?” He still didn’t move.

“Are you all right?”

“No. I just fell down the stairs.”

“Don’t move.”

“Good thing you said that because I was planning dancing a jig.”

Curry ran into the parlor, located his jeans, then found his handkerchief in the back pocket. Like everything else he owned it was soaked, but in this case that was a good thing. He returned to the foyer and found Heyes exactly where he left him.

“Anything broken?”

“Just my spirit. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the stairs were wet where you walked and I slipped? I thought I tripped over something but….” Heyes stopped speaking to suck in a slow stream of air. It was obvious that even this slight movement of his ribs was painful.

“Figures, huh?” Curry used the wet handkerchief to wipe up the blood trail, following it back to its origin a small crack just above Heyes’ right temple. “Nitro, posses, bounty hunters, jumping from speeding trains and here you’re done in by a harmless staircase.”

A giggle wafted through the air.

“Did you hear that?”

“Of course I heard you, I’m bruised not deaf.”

“Not me. That. That other sound.” Seeing that Heyes was trying to sit, Curry slipped his arm under his partner’s shoulders so he could do most of the work. “Like a voice. Like a little girl.”

“The wind,” said Heyes, then he drew in another slow breath. “How’s my head?”

“Not bad. The scar will give you character and it’ll throw off your description on that wanted poster so I’d say it’s a good thing.” Curry rolled the handkerchief into a tube then aligned it over the wound and tied it in place around Heyes’ dark mop of hair. “If you’re ready to take another stab at those stairs, there’s a master bedroom up there with a bed like you’ve never dreamed of.”

“I don’t know about that. I’ve dreamed about some pretty nice beds.” Heyes allowed Curry to lever him up to his feet, then he eyed the stairs with a dubious look. “I think the parlor sofa would be better for right now.”

“What ever you say.”
”Since when,” Heyes groused, then moaned as Curry grabbed him around the ribs. “Watch the hands, please.”

“Sorry.”

Moving slowly, Curry walked Heyes back into the parlor, then lowered him on to the couch that faced the fireplace. Heyes moaned and gasped as he settled himself down on the stiff cushions but once he was there he sighed with relief.

“Remember that time I used too much dynamite on that Howser and Block and I ended up blowing myself right out of the train car?”

“Nope. Don’t remember that.”

“That’s right. That was before we teamed up again. Back when I was with the Plummer gang.” Heyes smiled at the memory but Curry countered it with a deep frown.

“You know, Heyes, with all the stories you’ve told me about that gang, it’s a wonder you didn’t get that early ticket to heaven.”

“Yeah, the weren’t too bright. But I learned a lot. It’s amazing how much you can learn by nearly getting yourself killed three times a week.” Heyes closed his eyes then sighed. “This is good. Right here. I’ll just lay here. You go check out the kitchen.”

“The kitchen?”

“Sure. You haven’t eaten since breakfast so I know you’re gonna complain that you’re hungry before long. Go see what’s in the kitchen.”

“Heyes, this place has been abandoned for months, maybe years.”

“Not years,” he pointed vaguely toward the bay window seat with its view of the raging storm outside. “Found a newspaper dated six weeks ago. You’ll probably find canned goods or even raw fixins in the kitchen, they’ll be good to eat.”

“Fine,” Curry said, preferring to be active to just sitting around, still he couldn’t let Heyes get away with it that easily so he added, “you lay there and rest. I’ll do all the work like usual.”

Heyes didn’t rise to the bait. He rarely did.

* * *

True to Heyes’ predication, the kitchen larder was well stocked with canned fruits and vegetables, bins of flour and sugar and jars of smoked meats. Just like in the rest of the house, it seemed that the occupants had just upped and left without even stopping to wash the dirty dishes on the table. Strange, was the thought that ran through Curry’s mind, then the hairs on his arms stood on end.

“Jed?” Curry’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of his given name so rarely spoken. “Why won’t you play with me?”
He whirled around; saw nothing but a flash of blond hair.

“What the hell….?”

“Filthy talk! I’ll tell mama and she’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

He whirled again, saw the pantry door slam shut.

“Hide and seek! You’re it! And if you won’t play with me, Hanny will. He says I’m smart and you’re dumb!”

Curry’s knees gave way. He grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and sunk into it as his heart took off like a racehorse on a clear course. Hanny. Hannibal. No one else ever called him that.

“Amaryllis?” Just saying her name aloud made his throat constrict, made his hands shake to the point where he had to fist his fingers tight to make it stop. He stared at the door, torn between yanking it open and running from the room. It was safe to open, of course. There would be nothing inside except for the jars and the bags and the bins of foodstuffs. “This can’t be happening.”

The door creaked open. Curry jumped, clutched the back of his chair just to prove to himself the reality of it.

A tiny head peered around the door. Six-years old. Blond ringlet curls, brilliant blue eyes. The spitting image of her big brother. “I miss you, Jed.” Then she smiled – that ear-to-ear, innocent to the ways of the world smile that always left him caving in to what ever she wanted him to do. He, on the other hand, had never been able to cast such a spell over her – but Hannibal could. One smile from him and Amaryllis would give up Sunday dessert for three whole months if he asked her.

She came the rest of the way out of the pantry, looking like she always did, filthy pinafore, stockings half up, half down, shoes scuffed and worn at the toes. Jed Jr. mama used to call her, always climbing a tree or wiggling through some hole in the ground, tagging after her big brother and that Heyes boy – the three of them getting into one scrape after another.

Curry slipped from the chair and fell to his knees on the floor. “Amaryllis. Oh, God, Amaryllis.” He opened his arms to her, not knowing what to expect. She slipped in like usual, her small arms around his neck, her silky hair tickling his cheek. He wrapped her up in his embrace, squeezing her, rocking her, placing sloppy wet kisses on the side of her face. She was real. Solid. And he knew it couldn’t be, but still, just to hold her again. Just to see her. His throat swelled up and the tears began to slide down his face like the rain on the kitchen window.

“Why you cryin’, Jed?” She pulled his hair and tickled his ear, all the tricks she used to play when they were both supposed to be asleep in bed and she wanted to make him laugh. All it did was make him sob harder, the flood of sweet memories being too much to bear.

“Kid?”

His arms closed around nothing. Curry lifted his head, saw Heyes in the doorway. “Hannibal,” was all he managed, then wept unashamedly in front of his best friend.

* * * *

The sound of his given name on Curry’s lips was startling to hear. He never said it without Heyes coming right after it – Hannibal Heyes – like it was one word. And when it was just the two of them, it was just Heyes, never Hannibal alone.
But if the sound of his own name shocked him, the site of Kid Curry, on his knees on the floor, sobbing like a child was beyond comprehension.

“Kid? You hurt?”

Curry shook his head no, obviously too distraught to form words.

Pushing past his own pain, Heyes lowered himself to his knees in front of his friend. He tried to catch his eye as if the answer might lie there, but Curry blocked him by running his arm across his tear-stained face. Heyes started to reach for him, wanting to offer some comfort but unable to decide on how to do it. He’d never seen Curry so upset – no – he had. One other time. That horrible day back in Kansas when their families had been killed.

“Kid, talk to me.” He touched Curry’s bare shoulder, felt the shiver pass through him. “Jed?”

Curry’s head snapped up. “Why did you call me that? You never call me that. Not since. . . “ He couldn’t finish but he didn’t need to. Heyes knew the exact day when his friend had transformed himself from Jedediah Curry the orphan to Kid Curry the gunfighter. Heyes would liked to have blamed Quick McCoyle for putting the strength of cold steel into his friend’s heart – but logically he knew that if Quick hadn’t done it, someone else would have. And maybe it was better coming from an expert and not a two-bit killer who did it for the thrill. Quick taught him the whole package – how to aim, how to shoot, how to watch a man’s eyes so you’d know when to draw. How to live with the pain that came from shooting a living being, even the ones who deserved it good.
That was the lesson Curry never wanted to hear. At sixteen, all he wanted was to kill the bastards that had taken his family, his entire life, away. And so he practiced, day and night, drawing and shooting until Heyes himself couldn’t take it anymore and they parted ways.

I buried everybody I ever cared about ‘cept you, Heyes had told him before he left. And now, I ain’t got enough left inside of me, to bury you, too.

“Kid, tell me what happened.”

“Amaryllis. She’s here. I saw her. I talked to her.”

“You’re dreaming,” Heyes said softly.

“I’m not!” Curry leaned forward and grabbed his partner by the arms. “I hugged her. Held her and she was as real as you. Exactly like she should be, the way she liked to pull on my hair and play hide and seek in the pantry and, and you – she called you Hanny, just like she used to.”

“Of course she did,” Heyes said patiently. “Because that’s who she is in your head. That’s the girl you remember.”

“But I don’t remember!” Curry shoved the chair out of the way then got to his feet. “Don’t you understand! Before today I couldn’t remember what she sounded like, what she looked like!” He ran his arm across his nose as he sniffed. “I can’t hardly remember what my mama looked like. Can you? Can you close your eyes and see your mama as if she was standing right in front of you?”

Heyes nodded as he slowly stood. “I can. And I can see yours, too. I can see her round face and apple cheeks, pale hair flying in her face as she worked the rolling pin over pie dough. My mama could make a stew but she wasn’t much good with pies. Not like your mama. She was the best at it, crust all crisp and flaky and the filling – so sweet and gooey and warm.”

Curry grabbed the nearest kitchen chair then threw it against the wall with enough force to snap one of the legs in two. “Stop it!”

“Why, Kid? Why can’t we remember them?”

“Because it hurts!” Then he hit the wall himself, slid down to sitting, knees pulled tight to his chest. “Oh God, Heyes. I know she’s dead. I know her body is hundreds of miles away in Kansas buried under six feet of cold, hard ground. I know because we put her there.” He crossed his arms over his knees then hid his face, the tears coming in full force again. “A boy shouldn’t have to bury his own baby sister.”

“No, he shouldn’t but that’s the hand we were dealt and we either play or fold.” Heyes took a chair from the table, moved it over next to Curry then sat down. He started to speak, three times he started, but none of the words that came to mind seemed to be the right words so he said nothing at all. Just sat there, close enough for comfort while Curry sobbed into his folded arms.

“I miss her, Heyes. How’s that sound coming from a hardened outlaw?”

“You’ve been reading your own press again, Kid. Outlaw maybe, but not hardened. You try, but you’ll never get there.” He gave his friend a nudge on the knee. “Come on. It’s cold in here. Let’s go check out that bed fit for a king you mentioned. I ache all over and could sure use some sleep.”

Curry lifted his head then swiped the heel of his hand across his eyes and cheeks. “’kay.” He accepted Heyes’ outstretched hand then used it to lever himself up to his feet. “Thanks.”
”For what?”

“For not making me feel stupid.”

“Glad to be of service.” Heyes stood, moaning and groaning, exaggerating a little, but just a little. It had the effect he wanted. It gave the Kid something else to think about it. Something more important than his own pain. Heyes could have walked on his own but he allowed his partner to shoulder his weight and together they made their way to the foyer and then up the stairs.

* * *

It was still storming. Under normal circumstances, Curry would have enjoyed lying on the soft, warm bed, listening to the tap, tap, tap of the rain on the roof. But on this night, all he could do was listen beyond the rain, straining to hear the sound of a little girl’s voice in the dark. He was lying on his side, one arm under the pillow beneath his head, other arm pulled tight to his chest, fist beneath his chin. Behind him, Heyes’ slow, steady breathing – a sound that had comforted him on many a cold and scary night back at Valparaiso.

Curry could still remember how it felt – those first few weeks – lying on a thin straw mattress, unable to escape the icy drafts that came up from under the floor. Even with Hannibal there, the sorrow and the loneliness was too much for one little boy to bear. Still, night was the only time he’d let himself cry – no one could see him in the dark and if they heard him sniff he could say it was just a cold coming on. Hannibal knew better. He’d whisper words of comfort, pat his back and stroke his hair just like his mama used to do when he was feeling poorly. Hannibal never cried. He thought that was amazing and brave and grown up – all the things he himself wasn’t. They had buried the Heyes family on that day, too. Father, mother, two older brothers. Curry could still feel the ache in his shoulders from digging holes in the hard earth. Seven in all. And that was small compared to the number of bodies that the raiders had left behind that day.

Curry threw the blanket aside then slipped out of bed, moving carefully so as not to wake Heyes. He tended the fire, threw on another log then stirred up the kindling so the flame burned brighter and hotter. The room was nicely warmed now; even the floor didn’t offend beneath his bare feet.

But warmth wasn’t what he needed. He left the room, went down the hall to the first bedroom – the one made for a little girl. With no match to light the oil lamp, he moved in the darkness, eyes adjusted enough to see what he needed to see. There was a chiffarobe on the left side of the room. He opened it, then reverently ran his hands over the satin and lace dresses he found there. On the top shelf was bonnet and hat with flowers for church. He stooped down and checked the bottom – high-button shoes, so tiny they would fit in one hand. And a small trunk. He flipped open the latch and found more clothing – doll’s clothing. Looking behind him, he spotted the doll on a rocker by the bed. He picked up the toy, brought it closer to his eyes so he could see it more clearly. The doll had a porcelain face a full head of curly blond hair. Gently, he blew out a breath and chased away the dust. Amaryllis had a doll just like this one – sent from grandma in Philadelphia. She loved that doll, cried like the devil when it was lost that one time. She never knew that he’d hidden it from her, took it when he was angry with her for something he couldn’t remember now.

“Can I hold her?”

Curry whirled.

She was back. Sitting on the bed, her little feet swinging free over the edge.

“Sure.” He held the doll out to her and she took it, proving in his mind once again that she was real – solid. “You can keep her if you like.”

“No, she doesn’t belong to me and you shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to you.”

A lesson he had never learned.

“She looks like you,” Curry said, carefully sitting down beside his sister on the bed.

“You look like me,” Amaryllis replied. Then she cocked her head toward him and frowned. “But you’re not the same. You got older.”

“mmhmm.”

“I didn’t.”

“No, you didn’t.”

Amaryllis began to wiggle from side to side, humming a familiar tune as she plucked at the doll’s hair.

‘Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free. . .

“Where’s Hanny?”

“Sleeping.”

She wiggled more, bumping his shoulder every time she went to the right. “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

“Did you? Hurt him?”

“I made him fall down the stairs.”

“Why?”

Again she cocked her head toward Curry, sparkling blue eyes peering out from under curly, yellow bangs. “I didn’t want him to see me.”
”Why not?”

“Beeeeecaaaause, of the way he thinks. Hanny thinks with this.” She tapped a tiny finger against her forehead. “And you think with this.” She poked her finger into her brother’s chest.

Curry almost grabbed her hand when she touched him, wanting so badly to hold her again but so afraid that she would disappear like before.

“That’s why you’re a good team,” Amaryllis said. “Where is everybody?”

“I don’t know. The house was empty when we came here.”

Amaryllis turned the doll over in her hands, curiously examining the miniature buttons on the dolls dress and the ribbons in her hair. “I don’t mean the people who were here. Where is mama and papa?”

The control he’d managed to keep so far, melted away with that question. “They’re. . . . “

“They’re dead, aren’t they?” She said, checking out the doll’s shoes.

“Yes.”

“I’m dead, too. Aren’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Why aren’t you dead?”

A question he had asked himself every day for fourteen years.

“Because you disobeyed?” Amaryllis said.

He nodded, the fat lump having settled in his throat once more.

They’d played hooky from school – he and Hannibal. It was such a beautiful day – too beautiful to spend indoors doing sums and practicing your writing. Not that Curry ever needed an excuse to skip school. He hated being confined to a desk, forced to listen and respond by rote. And the lessons were so hard for him, he had to work twice as hard just to be half as good as Hannibal at numbers or reading. Hannibal could skip school for a whole week and not fall behind but not Curry. Still, it hadn’t mattered to him on that day – they had made a plan to go fishing and that was what they did. Then they swam and sunned and climbed the oak tree by the river and swung on the branches like squirrels. And they didn’t go home when school was out. They didn’t go home until they smelled the smoke and by then it was too late.

His home was closest so they went there first. Saw the raiders setting fire to the house and the barn. Saw his mother convulsing on the ground as the life drained out of her from so many wounds. Curry had tried to run to her but Hannibal held him back. Pulled him to the ground then dragged him into the brush on the south corner of the property. Curry fought him, tried to scream – Hannibal pinned him to the ground, slapped a hand over his mouth and held it there until he thought his lungs would burst for want of air.

“You can’t help them now, Jed” he had whispered in Curry’s ear. “You go out there and you’re dead, too. It’s just you and me now.”

Thinking back on it, Curry realized that Heyes must have known – known that the smoke rising from the east meant that his home and family was gone, too. But he never panicked. He didn’t even try to go to them. He stayed there under the cover of the brush, breathing heavy, heart pounding but not allowing Curry to move an inch toward the monsters that were destroying his past, his life, his future.

“When they’re gone,” Heyes whispered in his ear. “Not before.”

Curry knew he was right but still he struggled and fought to get free, but Hannibal just leaned into him more, face in the dirt, rocks and bramble scratching his arms and face. It hurt to fight but it was a pain he deserved, because he should have been home. Should have been there to protect his family. It wasn’t right that he lived and they died.

It wasn’t right.

A small, cool hand brushed a tear from his cheek. “I’m glad you disobeyed. They would have got you, too and Hanny.”

Curry collapsed on to his side on the child-sized bed, no longer able to resist the lure, he wrapped his arms around Amaryllis and pulled her down with him. Tight to his chest, her head tucked beneath his chin, he stroked her hair and kissed her face.

“Sing the song,” she said. “The one Hanny taught me.”

He swallowed hard then faced the fact that the tears wouldn’t be held back. So he let them come as he forced out the words. “Tis a gift to be simple, Tis a gift to be free. Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in a place just right, It will be in a valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to turn and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

* * * * *

It took a second for Heyes to recognize the song. It was rare to hear Curry singing it, though he himself often hummed or sang the tune without realizing it. He knew why Curry didn’t like the song. Knew that it reminded him of Amaryllis and the way she used to sing it, so sweet and clear and over and over and over in order to drive her big brother out of his mind. Still, Heyes took such comfort from the tune; he couldn’t bring himself to stop singing it and had even taught it to the Jordan girls when they stayed at their home a few months ago. Curry had joined in with them that day on the banks of the creek, with lunch spread out on a blanket under a tree. That picnic lunch with the two little girls had reminded him so much of home, but when he thought about those days it made him smile inside and for a little while, Curry had smiled, too.

He had thought that time had done it’s trick. That Curry’s wounds had healed enough to allow him that brief moment of reverie, but now. . .

Heyes looked down at the sleeping form of his best friend of so many years. His long, lanky body was stretched out and overflowing the child-sized bed and in his arms was a doll. A curly-headed, blond baby doll held tight to his chest, tucked under his chin.

A warm wetness welled up in Heyes’ eyes and spilled over before he could think about stopping it. So he didn’t try. He let it go as he took the blanket off of his own shoulders, then used it to cover the Kid.

“Good night, Jed.”

For in the morning, he would be Kid Curry, fastest gun in the west, yet again.

The End

 

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