Prairie Possessions By Melissa
Synopsis: It is October 30, 1861, the day before Halloween, and the riders are asked to participate in a run that will take them though a sacred Indian Burial ground. Before the run is completed their strengths, weaknesses, and friendships will be put to the ultimate tests. Will they survive….?
The cool autumn day was drawing to a close when Jimmy arrived at the station house back from a run. As he approached the bunkhouse he could hear a heated argument coming from inside.
"Now Buck, you know it isn’t everyday that I ask favors of this sort…" Teaspoon trailed off.
Buck, who was sitting on one of the bottom bunks with his head in his hands abruptly stood and faced the old man, his eyes burning brightly. "That’s more than a favor Teaspoon. You’re asking me to go against everything I believe in!"
Quietly observing the scene in front of him Jimmy walked through the door and waited to intervene if need be.
"Buck," Teaspoon sighed wearily, for obviously this argument had been going for long time. "I wouldn’t ask it if it weren’t of the utmost importance. As you know, I’ve been friends with Indians for most of my life, heck I even married a few, and I understand your beliefs. But you are a rider for the Pony Express, and it is their job to deliver the mail, regardless of where it has to go."
Buck started to shake his head but Teaspoon held up his hand in silence. "If you feel that strongly, I can’t make you go. But three riders are going and I would like you to be one of them since this is Indian Territory we’re talking about here."
It was then that Jimmy decided to make his presence known. "What ride are we talking about Teaspoon?" he asked with a knowing look in his eyes. It was no secret that Jimmy wasn’t the biggest fan of Indians, although he seemed to have made an exception when it came to Buck.
Teaspoon turned to Jimmy surprised. "When did you get in son?" Jimmy just shrugged and Teaspoon continued. "I got word that the Express needs to send some extremely important and urgent documents to Fort Kearney. Unfortunately the quickest and most direct route involves crossing through Spirit Canyon."
Jimmy’s eyes widened at the name. "Spirit Canyon? Isn’t that an Indian burial ground? I’ve heard some real spooky tales about that place."
Buck nodded. "Yes, it’s a sacred burial ground for medicine men and tribal chiefs. It’s probably the most sacred of any Indian land, and to cross it is the ultimate desecration. Nothing can constitute going through it. I don’t see why we can’t just go around it."
"Because son, when you signed up for the Pony Express you made an agreement." Teaspoon looked into Buck’s eyes. "Before anything else, the pouch has got to go through. And if it means crossing sacred land, then there’s nothing we can say or do about it but cross that land. To go around it would mean an extra day or two of riding, and we ain’t got that time"
Jimmy smiled and looked at Teaspoon and Buck. "I’d like to volunteer."
Buck gazed warily at Jimmy. "What reasons do you have for wanting to go?" Buck remembered only all too well Jimmy’s reactions to Indians and Indian beliefs in the past.
"It’s a job and if you’re not going to do it then someone has to. Right Teaspoon?" Jimmy turned sideways towards Teaspoon and smiled again.
"Well son, if you want to go then consider yourself part of the team. Now I’ve just got to see what other two boys want to accompany you."
"Who says it has to be a boy?"
Everybody jumped as Lou walked out of the shadows and into the bunkhouse.
"Lou! What is it with you all sneaking up on me tonight? First Jimmy, now you." Teaspoon exclaimed. "I swear, I think this Halloween spirit is getting into everyone around here."
"You didn’t answer my question Teaspoon." Lou said, her face void of any emotion. It had taken her a long time to get the boys to finally stop treating her like a delicate flower, but she was having a far slower time proving herself to Teaspoon now that he knew the truth about her. And it wasn’t getting any easier.
"Well Lou, it’s a dangerous run, and not one that I feel particularly comfortable sending you on." Teaspoon answered. Bad move.
"A few months ago you wouldn’t have thought twice about sending me!" Lou answered, the anger now VERY visible on her face. "I deserve to be treated the same as the boys. I think I’ve more than proven myself to the whole lot of you!" The petite woman stood with her feet spread, hands on hips, chin thrust forward, face bright red.
Teaspoon shook his head and sighed. "You’re right. If you want to go then go rest up because you’re leavin’ tomorrow mornin’. Now… lemme see… who else is available because we still need a third…" Teaspoon cocked his head to the side as he scratched the back of it and looked thoughtful. "I think that Mr. Cody is free…. let me go see if I can find him.."
"Forget it" Buck interrupted. "I’ll go."
"What?" Jimmy exclaimed. "You were the one who didn’t want to go in the first place."
"I said I’ll go." And with that Buck pushed past Jimmy and stormed out of the bunkhouse.
"What’s gotten into him?" Lou asked Jimmy as Teaspoon just stood back and shook his head.
The next morning the three riders set out for their journey just as the sun was beginning to rise. As they rode off Teaspoon said a silent prayer for them because he knew what they were up against. He knew only too well….
"If we’re lucky we’ll make Spirit Canyon by late afternoon" Lou said to Jimmy, who was riding alongside her. Buck, who hadn’t spoken a word since leaving, trailed behind them, lost in his own thoughts.
"Yeah," Jimmy replied. "After we cross it we’ll find a nice spot to bunk down and finish the rest of this trip tomorrow."
Behind them Buck was thinking about his dear friend Ike. Ever since his death, Buck had always prayed to him and thought about him whenever he needed reassurance. It somehow made him feel like Ike was still around and could still protect him…
Lou was right in her prediction. They reached Spirit Canyon just as the sun was beginning to make its descent. The three riders stopped at the entrance, which was filled with Indian markings and various artifacts.
"Well," began Jimmy, "I guess this is it. Spirit Canyon…"
"Can we just ride through it and get it over with?" asked an annoyed Buck. "I’d like to get out of here before dark."
"What are you waiting for?" asked Jimmy as he started to enter the grounds. As Lou and Buck began to follow they were startled by the sounds of birds above. As they looked up they saw three eagles swarming above them, flapping their wings rapidly and screeching sounds that made all three riders cover their ears. "Don’t worry birdies, we’ll be off your land soon enough…" laughed Jimmy as he continued on.
As they passed through the entrance Lou was stunned by the absolute silence that enveloped them. Living in the desert the riders were used to quiet, but this was the quiet sound of death. She shook her head and tried to shrug away the cold feeling that started creeping up the back of her neck. "Okay, according to Teaspoon we a ways to go before we reach any of the graves, so I’d suggest we speed things up a bit. I have a feelin’ the sooner we get out of here the better."
"Yeah, I have a feelin’ you’re right Lou… I certainly don’t want to still be here when the ghosts decide to come out and play. Ooooooh!" Jimmy raised his arms and mimicking a ghost laughed and turned to Buck. "Right Buck?"
If Buck heard him he didn’t let it be known. He was too busy focusing on the peculiar sensation that he had started feeling the minute they entered the land. It was almost as if a dozen eyes were on him, watching his every move, sensing his every movement before he made it. He even thought for a minute that they could hear his very thoughts. "I’d better stop this or I’ll turn myself mad before we reach Fort Kearney." Buck told himself. He reached down into his saddlebag for the bandana he carried everywhere with him – Ike’s bandana.
Around them stood various stone piles and markings, showing the graves of many of the medicine men and tribal chiefs buried there. Although it was only a couple of miles more that they had to ride, it seemed like the longest journey they’d ever had to make.
Lou glanced over at her two companions. "Alright, we’ve reached the graves, we’re halfway there. Crossin’ through them is going to be the most dangerous part. Once we’re through though we’ll be pretty much okay."
"This is what you were so afraid of Buck?" asked an amused Jimmy. "A bunch of rocks and feathers?"
"Jimmy don’t-" Lou began, but Buck cut her off.
"You may not understand my people and our beliefs, but that’s because you choose not too. That doesn’t give you the right to mock them." Buck answered and began to ride forward.
At that moment the sky, which had been darkening slowly since they first entered the canyon, suddenly turned to the blackest black that they had ever seen. A sharp bolt of lightening ripped through the darkness and struck and uprooted a tree only a few feet from the riders. Buck’s horse, spooked by the sound of the tree crashing to the ground, jumped up in fright and flung Buck to the ground in the process.
"BUCK!" screamed Lou as she and Jimmy both jumped off their horses and ran over to where their friend was lying motionless on the ground, blood streaming from a nasty cut on his head.
"Buck, wake up, open your eyes, do something dammit!" yelled Jimmy, the fear now very visible on his face. He looked up and his eyes met an equally frightened pair of Lou’s as she lit a lantern she had grabbed out of her saddle bag. "What are we going to do?"
Lou leaned over and laid her head against Buck’s chest. "He’s alive. He’s breathing, but barely. I think that we have no choice but to bunk down here for the night and try to take care of Buck as best we can." Jimmy’s eyes widened.
"Here? Lou are you crazy? We’re in the middle of an Indian graveyard!"
"What’s the matter Jimmy?" asked a slightly amused Lou. "I thought you weren’t ‘fraid of no ghosts?"
"I’m not." answered a prideful yet stubborn Jimmy. "It’s just like Buck said. It just ain’t right to be crossing their land, and now we’re going to spend the night and have a slumber party? I say we throw Buck over the back of his horse and wait until we get out of this place before bunking down."
"James Butler Hickok, are you out of your pistol popping mind?" exclaimed Lou. "Buck’s in no shape to travel. We’re stuck here til’ mornin’ so I’d suggest we make the best of it."
"Oh yeah, that’s what I’ve always wanted… to spend Halloween night stuck in the middle of an Indian graveyard with our only protection unconscious on the ground." Jimmy grumbled. "Let’s just hope that all those stories Teaspoon told us weren’t true…." And with that he took out his gun, cocked it into place, and sat at attention.
"Are you going to sit like that all night?" laughed Lou as she cleaned up the wound on Buck’s head.
"If I have to." replied Jimmy, his roaming the darkness looking for any slight movement. The air was still as death, the only noise a coyote howling somewhere in the distance.
CRACK! snapped a twig….
"What in the hell was that?!?" exclaimed Jimmy as he jumped up from the ground. When he didn’t receive an answer from Lou he called out again, this time a lot louder. "LOU?"
"Sssh!" whispered Lou as she quickly lit another lantern. "Do you want to wake the dead Jimmy?"
"Bad choice of words considering where we are Lou…." replied Jimmy looking around and trying to see if anything was there. "Is anyone out there?" he called out.
"Relax Jimmy, it was prob’ly just a rabbit or somethin’." answered Lou.
"A rabbit my-"
"James…." warned Lou.
"Foot. I was going to say foot." Jimmy replied. Lou didn’t look convinced as she gave him a mockingly stern face. "Really!"
"Uh huh…" laughed Lou, not being able to remain serious. Suddenly a quiet moan caused both riders to look down at where Buck was still lying unconscious.
"I think he’s waking up…" said Jimmy.
"Buck? Buck, can you hear me?" asked Lou as she bent down over him wiping at the cut on his head with a piece of cloth soaked in water from the canteen. Buck started mumbling again, but it was not in English.
"What’s he sayin’?" asked Jimmy.
"I don’t know. It sounds like he’s speakin’ Indian, but nothin’ I can make out."
"He’s prob’ly just talkin’ in his sleep like he always does. Y’know how he likes to keep us awake at night."
Suddenly Buck spoke again, still in Indian tongue. But what worried the riders was that it wasn’t his voice that came from his mouth. It was a much deeper, harsher voice.
"What-" began Jimmy.
"-was that?" answered Lou as her terrified eyes met Jimmy’s.
"Your friend is in trouble." came a voice from behind them. It was so unexpected that it caused both riders to jump and turn around, both pulling and cocking their guns at the same time.
"Who’s there?" called Jimmy. When he received no answer he called out again. "Answer me or I’ll just start shootin’ and where these bullets’ll end up I can’t be so sure of."
"I mean you no harm" the voice spoke again. "I want to help you." Slowly a figure emerged from the shadows, and the riders saw that it was an old Indian. His white hair fell straight to his shoulders, his skin brown and rough, like weathered leather. There was something vaguely familiar about him to Lou. Suddenly she realized who he was.
"White Feather?" asked Lou.
"Yes, but you may call me Bob" smiled the old man.
"Lou? Who is this?" asked a perplexed Jimmy. It wasn’t like Lou to go befriending Indians, especially ones who suddenly appeared in burial grounds.
"This is the Indian that helped Buck and Camille when she was possessed. I never met him, but on our way back to town we came across his body and helped Buck bury it…." Lou trailed off.
"Buried his body? Then that means he’s dead…?" questioned Jimmy, growing more uncomfortable by the minute.
"Your friend, he catches on quick…" White Feather addressed Lou. Lou just smiled, but Jimmy did not appreciate the sarcastic remark.
"You wanna tell me what you’re doin’ sneakin’ up on us here?" Jimmy threatened.
"Why, this is my land… you my friend, am intruding on me." said White Feather matter-of-factly.
"Look White Feather, Bob, or whatever you call yourself, what do you want from us?" asked Lou.
"It is not what I want from you…. it is what you need from me."
"Listen old man, dead or not, if you don’t stop talkin’ in riddles I’m gonna be forced to put a coupla bullets in ya, y’hear?" Jimmy said as he slowly approached the old man. Suddenly White Feather's face hardened, and his eyes began to glow. He held up his hands, said something in Indian, pointed towards Jimmy and sent Jimmy flying backwards to the ground.
Lou screamed, as Jimmy too, now lay motionless on the floor.
Lou stared wide-eyed at White Feather. "I thought you were our friend. I thought you were here to help us?"
White Feather smiled and tilted his head in Jimmy’s direction, where he was coming to, looking very confused.
"He’s not hurt. I just had to quiet him up for a minute. He was getting on my nerves." Lou smiled. "Is he always this pigheaded?" the Indian asked Lou. She shook her head yes.
"Unfortunately so. Patience is not Jimmy’s strong point." Meanwhile Jimmy just sat on the ground, still dazed, scratching his head and watching the interaction between Lou and the old Indian. "Now, you said somethin’ before about Buck bein’ in trouble. What do you mean?" Lou asked White Feather as she walked over to where Jimmy was sitting and began to help him up.
"Have you noticed any changes in your friend since first entering this land?" White Feather asked.
"Yeah, "replied Jimmy standing up and brushing himself off. "He’s been real moody. I mean, Buck’s always moody, but today he’s been a real snot."
"It’s just not like Buck…" Lou said. "He’s usually so even tempered, but today he was snappin’ at both of us for no reason."
White Feather walked past her and kneeled down on the ground next to Buck. He put his hand on his forehead and chanted something in Indian. Suddenly Buck’s eyes opened, a red light glowing from them, a low growl coming from his mouth.
Lou gasped and reached out for Jimmy, who pulled her back a couple of feet and placed himself protectively in front of her.
White Feather turned around and looked at where the two riders were standing. "It is as I thought. Your friend has a spirit trying to take over his soul. It is probably a young spirit, one who was not ready to die and is not to willing to spend eternity here. Not yet, anyway."
Jimmy looked at White Feather questioningly. "I thought this was a burial ground for tribal chiefs and medicine men? Last time I checked, they weren’t young."
White Feather chuckled. "So you’re calling me an old man, eh?"
"No I’m calling you a crazy old man" muttered Jimmy under his breath, too low for anyone to have heard.
"I may be old, but I’m not crazy…" smiled the Indian, for he had heard Jimmy.
Buck had closed his eyes and quieted down again, so Lou once more moved forward by his side. "So what are we supposed to do?" she asked White Feather and she looked at Buck’s face intently.
White Feather suddenly turned serious. "You trespassed on sacred ground. In the eyes of the spirits you are evil. If you want to save your friend, you’re going to have to prove yourself to the spirits. You’ll be put through tests, your souls will be visible to all of them, as well as your intentions. If they deem you good enough and worthy enough, they will allow you passage through to the other side safely."
"The spirits will offer you their guidance in defeating this spirit that tries to take over his soul."
"So basically what you’re sayin’ is that we have to become buddy-buddy with the ghosts, right?" Jimmy asked warily.
White Feather nodded. "In the eyes of the spirits, what you have done is unforgivable. But if you can prove yourselves to them and show them that you mean them no harm, they will help you."
"What do we do about Buck until then?" asked Lou, her face filled with worry.
"Try not to wake him…" answered White Feather. "In a few hours the tests will begin. Try to rest up until then. You’ll need it…"
And with that he turned and began walking back towards the direction he had come from, before becoming engulfed in flames.
"What do we do now?" Jimmy asked Lou as she started to build a fire.
"Well, first things first. Let’s get this fire going and try to get some sleep. I have a feelin’ we’ll need all the strength we can get."
"Yeah," answered Jimmy as he pulled his blanket off his horse and laid down next to the fire that Lou had gotten started. It seemed like he had just closed his eyes when he felt a tugging at his arm. Forgetting where he was he mumbled "Leave me be Cody… I jus’ want a few more minutes…" When the tugging didn’t stop he turned over and opened his eyes. He was staring into the most beautiful pair of big, dark brown, and soulful eyes that he had ever seen.
As Jimmy wiped the sleep from his eyes he thought that he must be dreaming. This can’t be happenin? he asked himself. Can it?
"Well it’s about time you opened those gorgeous eyes of yours Mr. Hickok…" drawled a low husky voice. "I feel like I’ve been waitin’ forever for you to wake up…."
"Lou?" asked a disbelieving Jimmy.
"In the flesh…" Lou answered him and he could see that she already had her jacket off and was reaching up to start unbuttoning her shirt.
"LOU! What in the hell are you doin’???" Jimmy exclaimed.
"What does it look like I’m doin?"
"Lou… this ain’t right… you an’ me…" replied Jimmy as he tried to back up away from her. He didn’t understand what was going on. After the one kiss that they had shared together, there had been a mutual understanding between the two that they were just friends.
"Oh c’mon Jimmy… we’re out here in the middle of nowhere… it’s a cold night, we might as well keep each other warm…" she said seductively.
"Warm? You wanna be warm? Okay…. here! Take this!" Jimmy practically hurled his blanket on top of Lou.
"That’s not the kinda warmth I was talkin’ about…. what’s the matta Jimmy? I thought you was a real Lady’s Man?"
Jimmy’s eyes almost popped out of his head as Lou slid her shirt off, now clad only in her longjohns. He had seen her in them before, that’s not what bothered him so much. What bothered him was the fact that he knew she fully intended on taking those longjohns off! And now she was inching her way closer to him reaching out and trying to unbutton his shirt.
"What’s the matter? WHAT’S THE MATTER?!?" exclaimed Jimmy as he jumped up off of the ground and stood above Lou. When she touched him it was as if he had been burned by fire. "What about The Kid?"
Lou huffed. "The Kid don’t understand me. He don’t understand my needs. My womanly needs." Lou stood up and walked over to Jimmy where she pushed a lock of hair out of his face and gently caressed his cheek. She put her lips to his ear and whispered softly, her breath hot on his flesh. "You on the other hand know exactly what I need."
Jimmy closed his eyes. This was the moment he had spent countless nights dreaming about. He deeply wished that Lou would love him the way she loved (or so he thought) Kid. James Butler Hickok had kissed many women in days, but he knew the one kiss he would never forget was the one he’d shared with Lou. His heart ached every time he thought about it and how much he wished that he could tell her how much he loved her. Deep down inside he knew that he would never love a woman the way he loved Louise McCloud.
So what are you waiting for you idiot? he asked himself. This is it! She wants you, not The Kid! But then as Kid’s name flashed through his mind, so did his face. First the many good memories of the two of them horsing around, riding together, and saving each others’ lives. There was never a time when one wouldn’t lay down his life for the other. They were the best of friends. How can I do this? How can I even think about doing this?
Suddenly Jimmy was snapped out of his thoughts by the feel of Lou’s hands on his bare chest. Somehow she had managed to unbutton his shirt and longjohns top without him realizing it. Jimmy knew what he had to do and he had to do it quickly before he changed his mind. With one quick sudden movement he pushed Lou away, grabbed the canteen of water, opening the top and splashed Lou with it, drenching her face, hair and longjohns.
"What the hell?!?" screamed Lou. "Just what the hell do you think you’re doin’ Jimmy?!?"
Jimmy, who now wore a look of total confusion, just stared at her. He was rendered totally speechless.
"Are you going to answer me or not James?" threatened Lou as she grabbed at his shirt collar.
Jimmy ran his fingers through his hair, shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. I’m going crazy. That’s it, I must be totally losing my mind. One minute she’s all over me, the next she’s trying to kill me.
"Uh Lou…. don’t you remember what was happening a few minutes ago?" Jimmy slowly asked.
"Yeah of course I remember. I was fast asleep and then suddenly I feel ice cold water being splashed all over me and I’m standing here half naked drenched to the bone!"
Jimmy just looked at her and nodded, waiting for more.
"Oh my God…. half naked…. Jimmy?" cried a terrified Lou. "Why am I not wearing my clothes?" she gasped as she realized that Jimmy was standing there with his shirt and longjohns top wide open.
"You really don’t remember anything?" asked Jimmy.
"No…" answered Lou as she slowly sunk towards the ground. "Please tell me we didn’t…"
"No, we didn’t."
"Oh thank God!" exclaimed an obviously relieved Lou. Jimmy couldn’t help but feel a stab of pain in his chest at her reaction. "But then if we didn’t, how did we end up like this?"
Jimmy handed her the blanket that he had thrown at her so that she could dry off and try to warm up. As Jimmy told her what happened, her eyes grew as wide as saucers, her pretty face even redder by the second. "I can’t believe that. I don’t remember anything…."
"Could it be that you were sleepwalking?" Jimmy asked her as she warmed her hands over the fire shugging.
"No, she wasn’t sleepwalking…." whispered a soft feminine voice.
Both riders looked up to see an exceptionally beautiful Indian maiden standing before them. She was petite, had thick dark hair down to her waist, and eyes as black as onyx. As she walked towards them Jimmy began shaking his head. After their encounter with White Feather he’s had enough of Indians. Even beautiful Indians.
"Not again…" said Jimmy, but the maiden held up her hand in silence.
"Congratulations. You have passed the first test."
Jimmy and Lou both stared at the beautiful woman with open mouths.
"Test?" asked Lou and the maiden nodded.
"You had to prove to the spirits that you were faithful and honest. They had to know if your souls were true before they would even consider helping you."
"So that whole thing with Lou an’ me was just a test?" Jimmy asked and the color seemed to return to his face. "I thought I was losin’ it there." he finished as the maiden smiled at him.
Lou, noticing the love-struck face that had suddenly appeared on Jimmy’s face, shook her head and laughed. He’ll never change. she thought to herself. Put a pretty girl in front of him or Cody and they both turn into fools. Then she realized that they still didn’t even know who this woman was.
"Excuse me but, who are you?" she asked the maiden.
"My Indian name means "She Who Sings Like a Bird", but you may call me Lily." she answered.
"Well then, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance Lily," said Jimmy as he half bowed to her. "The name’s-" he began.
"James Hickok. And you" she said as she turned towards Lou, "are Louise McCloud."
Jimmy’s eyes widened again as he stared at Lily. "How did you know that?" he asked her.
"May I sit down?" she asked the riders. When they both nodded, she sat down by the dwindling fire and crossed her legs. She nodded in Buck’s direction, where he was in a deep, sound sleep. "Your friend Buck Cross, how is he doing?" she asked.
"How did-" Jimmy started but Lou cut her off.
"About as well as anyone who was possessed by an evil spirit would be doing." Lou finished.
Lily’s face suddenly grew very sad and she shifted her eyes downward so that she was not looking at either of the riders. "I am sorry."
"Sorry? What for?" asked Jimmy.
"Listen Lily… I think that you had better just start from the beginning and tell us what’s going on." Lou stated with a determined look.
"You’re right." replied Lily as she finally looked up, tears in her eyes. "I was sent here by my people to be your guide. My father, Running Wolf, was the chief of our tribe up until a week ago. The Army raided our village and he was killed in battle…" she trailed off.
"I’m sorry for your loss." Lou said, the pain that this girl was feeling was very obvious. But there was something else. Something that she just couldn’t put her finger on.
"My father was a very proud man, and one who didn’t take life lightly. He was famous for telling my people that he would live to be the oldest chief ever. After he was shot, and I was cradling him in my arms, he told me that this wasn’t the end of it. He told me that he wouldn’t leave me and my people to be slaughtered by the white man." With that Lily leaned over, her body wracked with sobs. As Jimmy reached forward to comfort her Lou remembered something that White Feather had said.
"It is as I thought. Your friend has a spirit trying to take over his soul. It is probably a young spirit, one who was not ready to die and is not to willing to spend eternity here. Not yet, anyway."
"Oh my God…." said Lou as she suddenly realized who this girl was. "It’s the spirit of your father who is trying to take over Buck’s soul!"
Jimmy, who had been holding the girl, suddenly jumped up as if he had been embracing a wild animal.
"Please," cried Lily. "Do not hate me. I am here to help you, and to try and allow my father’s soul to find the eternal peace he deserves. He’s not an evil man." she added after noticing the wary looks on the two riders’ faces.
"How do we believe you?" Lou asked.
"If you want to save your friend, then you’ll have to just trust me and believe what I am saying. If I wanted to harm you in any way, then I would have had many opportunities to do so already." Lily stated matter of factly.
Lou glanced at Jimmy and they both shrugged and nodded. "I guess you’re right." she finally told the girl. "I’m sorry for doubting you."
Lily smiled. "It’s okay. Thank you."
"We’ll be the ones thanking you later if you can help us with Buck." said Jimmy.
As if Buck had heard himself being talked about, he started moaning again and said something in Indian. The three new friends looked towards him. Lily ran over and kneeled by his side. "Father?" she asked. Buck’s eyes flew open and they were glowing red again. He started chanting something in Indian, which made Lily’s face turn white.
Lou thought that she was going to be sick. "What’s he sayin’ Lily?" she asked, frightened because she didn’t really know if she wanted to find out.
Lily looked up at Lou, tears streaming down her cheeks. "He says I betrayed him by helping you, and that now I am just as dead as the two of you are."
"LILY!" screamed Lou, for Lily’s back was turned to Buck and she couldn’t see what Lou and Jimmy saw. Buck/Running Wolf had risen from the ground and was now standing right behind Lily. He had taken his knife out of his boot and was about to bring it down into Lily’s back.
Lily looked at Lou and Jimmy and couldn’t understand what was wrong. As Lou screamed for her to look out she turned around and the last thing she saw was the sharp blade of a knife rushing towards her.
"Lily, watch out!" screamed Lou again, closing her eyes for she didn’t want to witness the death of her new friend by the hands of one of her closest friends. At the same time Jimmy jumped up beside her and pulled his gun ready to shoot if he had to. Lily threw up her hands in defense, but she was even smaller than Lou and was no match for a man the size of Buck. She tumbled backwards with Buck landing on top of her, as she struggled to keep the knife as far away from her body as possible.
"You’ve-betrayed-me!" growled the voice of Running Wolf. "You’ve sided with the white man, and now you must pay!"
"No!" Lily screamed as she fought to push Buck off of her. "Father please don’t do this to me!"
Jimmy and Lou looked at each other, neither one knowing what to do. Finally it was Jimmy who spoke. "If I can get a clear shot I’m taking him out."
"Jimmy no!" exclaimed Lou. You can’t kill Buck!"
"It’s not Buck anymore, Lou! If we don’t kill him, that Indian inside of him is gonna to kill Lily, and then he’s gonna kill us!"
"NO!" yelled Lou again as she reached for Jimmy’s gun and forced him to let go.
"Y’know Lou, I just don’t get you." Jimmy shook his head as he ran towards where Buck and Lily were struggling on the ground. Buck was like a wild animal, thrashing around and yelling in Indian. Lily was doing a good a job at holding him back, but Jimmy could see she was tiring and growing weaker by the second.
"Jimmy! Get him off of me!" screamed Lily. Jimmy reached down and tried to grab a hold of Buck’s shoulders, but Buck was moving so fast and with an inhuman strength that it made it an impossible task. Suddenly Lily let out a bloodcurdling scream as she felt the blade of Buck’s knife swiftly enter her body and the release of warm, sticky blood.
"Lily! Oh my God Jimmy! He’s killed her!" screamed Lou as she rushed forward to where Lily was laying. Jimmy finally pulled Buck off of her, but he had fallen unconscious again, and just slumped over. Jimmy then turned his attention to where Lou was leaning over Lily crying. "Oh thank God…"
"Lou? Lily?" asked Jimmy as he approached the two girls.
Lily was lying on her back, her face a mask of terror, but her eyes were open and blinking back tears of pain.
"Lou, let me see her." said Jimmy as he tried to push Lou aside, but Lou wouldn’t budge from her new friend’s side. "Lou? I have to check the wound." Lou finally obliged, but only to move around to Lily’s other side so that she could hold her hand. It was odd, Lou usually didn’t take to other girls too well, but she felt a special bond with Lily.
"You’re going to be just fine Lily, I promise." she told the shaking girl as she tried to calm her with soothing words, stroking her hair back from her face.
"It’s not as bad as it looks," Jimmy finally said as he examined Lily’s shoulder. It’s just a surface cut, and we should be able to stop the bleedin’ with a cloth and some pressure."
Lou looked around for something to give Jimmy and noticed the red cloth lying on the ground. Ike’s bandana must have fallen out of Buck’s pocket during the struggle. She grabbed it and handed it to Jimmy. "Here… use this."
Jimmy took the bandana and pressed it tightly against the wound. Lily squirmed uncomfortably underneath him and Jimmy felt bad for hurting her, even though it was unintentional. After what seemed like hours, the bleeding finally stopped, and Jimmy was able to wash off the bandana and then tie it around Lily’s shoulder as a bandage.
"How are you feelin’?" he asked her, helping her to sit up so she could take a drink of water from the canteen that Lou held out.
"I’m okay…. just a little sore and light headed." Lily answered, her face as white as a ghost. She couldn’t help but stare at Buck’s figure lying on the ground. "Is he?"
"No, he’s not dead" Lou told her. "He’s just unconscious again."
"I don’t know whether to be relieved or upset." Lily shuddered. "He was going to kill me." Lou started to say something, but Lily kept talking. "I knew that you two were going to have to pass another test, but I never thought that it put my life in danger…" she trailed off, almost as if she were talking to herself and had forgotten about the two riders.
"Another test?" exclaimed both riders at the same time. Lily seemed to wake out of her daze and look at the two of them with startled eyes.
"Lily… what ‘other test’ are you talkin’ about?" asked Jimmy, narrowing his eyes.
Lily looked at him, meeting his gaze straight on. "I didn’t know anything about it. All I was told was that you two were going to have to prove your loyalty to Buck. You were going to have to prove your friendship and dedication."
"In other words, you mean that when Jimmy was going to shoot Buck…"
Lily nodded at Lou. "You told him not to, and he listened. Even though he was trying to kill me, your love for him would not allow you to kill him."
Jimmy shook his head in disbelief. "I don’t know how much more of this I can take. If I had shot him we would all be dead right now. Including Buck."
Lily turned to look at him and put her hand on his arm. "I’m so sorry Jimmy. Please understand that I had no idea…"
Jimmy smiled reassuringly at her. "I’m not upset with you. Just this whole damn situation, that’s all."
Lou walked over to check on Buck. Even though he had tried to kill Lily, and she knew that if he were given the chance he would kill her in a heartbeat, she still felt like she had to take care of him. Maybe that’s part of the loyalty test too, she thought to herself. That reminded her…
"Lily?" she asked, as she got up and walked back over to the others.
"I assume this means we passed the second test, right?" Lily nodded yes. "Are there any others that we should be preparing ourselves for?" Again Lily nodded yes.
"Just one more."
"Oh good, one left and then we graduate Lou!" laughed Jimmy as he playfully hit Lou’s arm.
"Don’t celebrate just yet Jimmy. This test I know about. In fact, this is the test that I was originally sent here to guide you through."
"Well, it can’t be much worse than what we’ve already been through." Jimmy said. "What with Lou tryin’ to seduce me and us almost killin’ Buck, I can’t see how it could get any worse."
"James Butler Hickok, why do I have a feelin’ you’re goin’ to regret sayin’ that?" asked Lou as she stared at their little campfire which was slowly but surely growing and creeping around them until it formed an enclosed circle with flames six feet high. And Jimmy, Lou, Lily and Buck were trapped in the center of it.
"What the hell is happening?" yelled Jimmy, as the flames roared up past his head.
Lily looked at the two riders. "The final test. You have made it this far and proven your loyalty to each other. Now you must battle the demons deep within your soul."
"Lily, what are we supposed to do?" cried Lou.
"Sit down." she replied as she sat down on the ground, folding her legs underneath her body. The two riders followed suit and Lily continued. "You must now decide which one of you will take this test."
"One of us?" asked Jimmy. Lily nodded. "How are we supposed to do that if we don’t even know what we’re supposed to do?"
"I can’t answer that for you. You have to decide yourselves."
"I’ll do it Jimmy," Lou finally answered.
"No Lou!" Jimmy exclaimed. "Lily said that this was the hardest one of them all, and if anyone is not going to make it I want it to be me." When Lou started to protest, he continued. "Lou, you have to think about Kid. If anything happens to me, it’ll be dealt with. If anything happens to you, it’ll destroy him," Jimmy reasoned.
Lou dropped her head and said nothing for a minute. When she finally looked up, there were tears in her eyes. "Be careful Jimmy."
Jimmy walked over to Lou and gently brushed his lips across her cheek. "I’ll be fine." He then turned around to face lily, who was still seated in the same position on the ground. "Now what?" he asked as he raised up his hands in question.
Lily looked up at him and stood up. "You must travel to the outside of the circle, where you will be met by your demons," she motioned toward the fire.
"You want me to walk through the fire?"
"Don’t worry, you’ll be safe," Lily continued. Besides, it’ll be nothing compared to what you’ll encounter on the other side, she thought to herself as she shivered in anticipation.
Jimmy turned to look at Lou, who was still crying silently. Deep down inside he wasn’t sure if he was ever going to see her again, so he figured it was now or never. "I love you Louise."
"Jimmy!" Lou called out, but it was too late. Jimmy took a running leap through the flames. Lou closed her eyes and expected to hear him scream out in pain, but there was only silence. "Lily? What now?" she asked, slowly opening her eyes.
Lily offered her an attempt at a comforting smile. "We wait."
Jimmy closed his eyes as he leapt through the flames, expecting to feel his skin melt off of him the second the fire touched his flesh. But instead, he was enveloped in a cool mist, almost as if there was a protective film over his skin. Amazingly he made it to the other side without even a singed hair. When he opened his eyes he was startled by the absolute blackness that awaited him. Not even the moon was visible, it was like he was locked in a room without any lights, doors, windows, or even cracks. Jimmy, for the first time in a very long time, felt a sensation he wasn’t used to. Fear. Suddenly he sensed a slight movement next to him, but as he turned to see who was there he was knocked to the ground. As he struggled to get up he heard someone call his name.
"James Hickok," called a voice. Jimmy knew that voice… he just couldn’t put a finger on it. "C’mon Hickok… ya already killed me once… what’re you afraid you can’t do it again?"
Suddenly Jimmy knew who that taunting, mocking voice belonged to. "Longley! Why don’t you show yourself and fight like a real man?" he called out to the notorious gunfighter that he had killed. But before Jimmy could answer him, Longley called out again. "See, you walk around thinkin’ your so tough, but y’know what? You’re not. You ain’t nothin’ but a yella bellied fool who hides behind his guns!" Longley laughed a long maniacal laugh.
Suddenly Jimmy was surrounded with the sounds of dozens of people laughing and taunting him.
"Coward!" "Wild Bill Hickok! What a joke!" You ain’t nothin’ but a yella bellied fool who hides behind his guns!" "Coward!" "Wild Bill Hickok! What a joke!" You ain’t nothin’ but a yella bellied fool who hides behind his guns!" "Coward!" "Wild Bill Hickok! What a joke!" You ain’t nothin’ but a yella bellied fool who hides behind his guns!"
The voices and laughing seemed to completely take over all of his senses. He wasn’t aware of anything else except the words that kept repeating themselves. Coward, joke, yella bellied fool who hides behind his guns! Jimmy closed his eyes and tried to will it all to stop, but it didn’t work. Everything just grew louder and seemed to grow closer around him.
"Please! Stop it!" Jimmy screamed out as he felt the fiery hot hands of insanity start to take over his mind. I am not going to lose it, I am NOT going to go crazy, he kept repeating to himself. Finally the laughing seemed to die down and the voices subsided. Jimmy slowly opened his eyes, praying to see the light of dawn. What he was met with was the worst sight he’d ever seen.
There, standing before him, were the ghosts of every person that he had ever killed. They all had the same expression on their faces as they slowly began to make their way over to where he lay on the ground.
"No, no please, no… NO!" Jimmy screamed as he felt their icy hands start to grab at him.
"No, no please, no… NO!"
"JIMMY!" Lou screamed when she heard Jimmy’s anguished words echo in the night. She started to move towards the fire wall when she felt Lily grab her and pull her back.
"This is not your fight!" Lily tried to reason with Lou. "If you try to go out there the fire will kill you before you even reach other outside of the circle!" Lou slumped back down to the ground and sighed. Suddenly a soft murmuring caught Lily’s attention. "Lou? I think Buck’s awake! Lou? Lou?" she asked again as she turned to where Lou had fallen into an unconscious slumber. Poor thing, she thought to herself. But then her attention was suddenly on Buck again where he was starting to stir.
"B-Buck?" she called out tentatively. She was so terrified that it was going to be her father again, and that he was going to finish off what he started. She reached up to touch her shoulder.
Buck started to open his eyes, all the while moaning softly. "Jimmy? Lou?"
Lily sighed to herself and began to inch herself over to Buck. She leaned over him and noticed that his eyes were the most entrancing shade of brown she had ever seen, not at all the horrible red that they had been since the first time she saw him.
Buck looked up to find a beautiful Indian girl leaning over him, smoothing his hair out of his face. He knew this wasn’t Lou, but who was she? And why was she leaning over him and taking care of him? Suddenly the girl smiled and spoke his name.
"Buck? Buck, can you hear me?"
Buck tried to move his head to the side, but the pain was too much. It felt like his head had been stomped on by a hundred horses. "W-where’s Jimmy and Lou?" he finally asked. The last thing he remembered was being thrown from his horse in the middle of the Indian burial ground. He feared that this maiden was going to tell him the news he dreaded. Buck started to say something, but he couldn’t get the words out. He felt as if someone was controlling his thoughts and actions. In fact, he didn’t feel like himself at all. Suddenly everything went black as Running Wolf took over.
Lily sensed something was happening, but she couldn’t figure it out in time to move out of the way. Suddenly the entrancing brown eyes turned to a red glow again, and the handsome face that she had been admiring turned hard and cold.
"Oh no..." Lily cried as she realized what was happening. Not again, she thought to herself.
Buck/Running Wolf had risen up off of the floor and was now standing at his full height with his head thrown back in a deep laugh. "You thought you could win, did you? You thought that you and your friends could beat me, did you?" He turned to look at where Lily was cowering on the ground.
In all the commotion Lou had woken and was holding on to Lily with fear in her eyes. This is it, she thought to herself. We’re going to die.
"Oh my dear daughter, you have a lot to learn if you think that I will allow you to betray me! It is too late! Your friends, they failed the final test and now I am free!" Running Wolf raised his arms to the sky and blue lightening shot from his fingertips into the onyx sky.
Suddenly a voice cried out in the night, a voice that had never been heard before tonight.
"No." cried a soft, but determined voice.
Lily and Lou looked behind them to where the voice came from and noticed a figure illuminated in white light walking towards them. As the figure grew closer, Lou’s heart stopped beating for a moment. "It can’t be…" she cried. "Ike?"
"You’re wrong. Dead wrong if you think that I am going to allow you to do this," Ike addressed Running Wolf.
Running Wolf looked at Ike and laughed. "Allow me? My friend, you alone can not stop me."
Lou hadn’t taken her eyes off of Ike since she first realized who he was. She was shaking her head in disbelief. It can’t be, she kept repeating to herself. He’s dead….
"Running Wolf, I will not sit back and watch you kill my friends," Ike trailed off. This was the hardest thing he’d ever have to do. To see the body of his best friend possessed by this evil spirit that he knew he had to stop no matter what – it was almost too much to bear.
"Then don’t watch!" howled Running Wolf as he lunged towards Ike. Ike jumped out of the way just in time and Running Wolf landed hard on the ground. "You’re going to pay for that!"
"I don’t think so." uttered a voice that sounded like it had been to hell to and back.
It was then that Lou realized that the fire around them had died down, and there was Jimmy standing on the border of the ashes. He had his legs slightly spread, his hands on his hips, and a look that Lou had never seen before in his narrowed eyes. Jimmy slowly entered the circle and reached down with both hands to help Lily and Lou up. Lou looked at Jimmy with a smile of relief on her face.
"I thought you were dead…" she said softly.
Jimmy’s eyes twinkled and he laughed. "You can’t get rid of me that easy Lou." It was then that Jimmy noticed the new addition to their group. "My God, is that?"
Lou nodded. "Ike."
Running Wolf interrupted them. "Isn’t this sweet. Such a happy reunion. Too bad you aren’t going to live long enough to enjoy it," he said as his face hardened.
"Hey Running Wolf," Jimmy called out. "A few minutes ago you said something that wasn’t quite right..."
Running Wolf turned towards Jimmy with fierce hatred in his glowing eyes.
"You said that we failed the last test." Jimmy smirked. "You were wrong." Jimmy smiled again as he noticed the glowing figures coming up behind Running Wolf. As if Running Wolf knew what Jimmy was looking at he turned around.
"NO!" he screamed as the ghosts of the Medicine Men and Tribal Chiefs that were buried in the graveyard approached him. "You can’t take me!"
The figures surrounded Running Wolf chanting in Indian tongue. Jimmy and Lou recognized White Feather as one of the figures. As their chanting increased Running Wolf let out another howl.
Ike quietly approached Lily and reached out towards her bandaged shoulder. "May I?"
Lily was frozen with fright and didn’t understand what he was asking for. "W-w-what do you want?"
Lou understood and gently untied Ike’s bandana from Lily’s shoulder. She smiled up at Ike as she handed it to him. "Thank you," she said softly.
Ike smiled back and then turned his attention back to where Running Wolf was surrounded by the Indian spirits. They parted ever so slightly to allow Ike to pass through, and then closed the circle again. Neither Jimmy, Lou nor Lily could see what was happening inside of the circle. All they could hear were the relentless bloodcurdling screams of Running Wolf and the intense chanting of the spirits. With a final scream, and an explosion of white light, the spirit of Running Wolf was forced out of Buck’s body.
As the air began to clear, Lou wiped at her eyes and tried to make sense of the scene before her. Ike was sitting on the ground a few feet away cradling Buck’s exhausted body in his arms, the wound on his head wrapped gently in Ike’s bandana.
"How is he?" she asked.
Ike looked up at Lou and smiled. "He’s asleep for now, but he should wake soon."
Jimmy and Lily slowly inched their way over to where Lou was sitting.
"Lou? Jimmy?" Ike asked. When the two riders looked at him he continued. "Will you do me a favor? Will you tell Buck that I miss him too, but I don’t want him to walk around carrying this guilt anymore? Tell him that I want him to get on with his life and free himself of his pain…" Ike’s voice cracked as he trailed off.
Jimmy’s face fell. "Can’t you stay a little longer? At least until he wakes up?"
Ike nodded sadly. "No, I have to return. Besides, it would be harder for him to have to say goodbye to me again."
As Ike slowly lowered Buck to the ground and stood up, Lou felt as if her chest was going to explode with the heartbreaking pain she felt at having to see her friend leave her again. The tears flowed freely down her cheeks as Ike turned back towards them one last time, smiled and lifted his right hand in a wave.
"Ride safe my friends," he said as he turned away and started walking away until the darkness enveloped him.
"Has she left his side since you brought him back here?" Noah asked Lou.
It had been one week since that night in Spirit Canyon, and Buck was still unconscious. The morning after the exorcism, Jimmy had ridden back to Sweetwater to get Teaspoon and the Doc. They brought Buck back to the way station where the Doc said that he should be okay as long as he regained consciousness. Lily, who felt so guilty about what had happened, had decided that she was not going to leave Buck alone until she knew that he was going to be okay. Day and night she sat by his bedside, stroking his hair, holding his hand and talking softly to him.
Lou shook her head. "No, and I have to practically fight with her to get her to eat somethin’." Noah had been on a run when they returned to Sweetwater, and had only been filled in on the past week’s events that night.
Rachel walked into the bunkhouse and observed the scene before her. "She’s gonna get herself sicker than Buck if she doesn’t rest some."
Lou nodded in agreement. "I know. But she feels responsible for what happened. It was her father that did this to Buck, and somehow she feels like she has to make it up to him."
Suddenly a soft moaning caught their attention and they all turned towards the bed where Buck was beginning to stir. He slowly opened his eyes and realized that he was no longer in the desert. He was in his own bed in the bunkhouse, and as he looked around the room he noticed Lou, Noah and Rachel all staring at him with looks of concern on their faces. Then he turned his head to the side and realized that he was staring at the same woman with the beautiful eyes that was with him in the desert. She looked down at him with the same concerned expression, but then her face lit up in a soft smile.
"You’re awake," she said quietly as she continued to gently stroke his hair.
"W-what happened?" he asked as he tried to sit up, but the pain in his head was so bad that he had to lie back down immediately.
"Whoa, Buck," Rachel ran over to help him. "You’re gonna have to take it easy for a few days, y’hear?"
"What happened?" he repeated.
Lou smiled at him, relieved to have him back with them. "It’s a long story Buck. One that I think can wait until after you’ve gotten your strength back."
Buck was somewhat relieved to hear that, even though the few memories that he had were confusing him and he couldn’t make heads nor tails of them. He remembered the lightening that caused him to fall off his horse, walls of fire, Indian spirits, and for some reason he was filled with images of Ike being with him. Suddenly Buck’s eyes flew open as he vividly remembered trying to kill the young girl that sat there next to him, caring for him. His gaze instinctively traveled to the wound on her shoulder and he couldn’t stop himself from touching it. When she winced his eyes filled with tears.
"I-did that-to you." he stuttered, filled with hatred for himself. He didn’t know exactly what had happened, but he knew that he had caused this innocent girl pain, and probably didn’t deserve to have her sitting here with him. He expected her to jump up and run away from him, but instead she just smiled again.
"It’s okay," she said, speaking slowly. She had the most beautiful, melodious voice he had ever heard. "It’s just a graze, the doctor says I’ll be just fine."
Suddenly everything became too much for Buck to handle and the room began to spin. He closed his eyes and tried to stop the overwhelming dizziness he felt.
"Lily?" Rachel called. When Lily turned to her, she continued. "I think that Buck needs to get some rest for now, and you have got to get some food in your body."
When Lily began to protest, Buck opened his eyes again and squeezed her hand gently. For some reason he knew that this girl did not hate him and did not blame him for what had happened. Lily looked down at him expectantly and Buck nodded. "Rachel’s right, you should get something to eat." When Lily hesitated he continued. "Don’t worry, I’ll be okay as long as you promise to come back."
Lily smiled again and started to get up, but Buck grabbed her hand again. "Wait!" he cried out. Lily turned back towards him. " I don’t even know your name."
As Buck closed his eyes again, he repeated the name to himself over and over. He knew that this was not the end for him and Lily. In fact it was just the beginning.
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