Give Me All The Strength I Need
PRESENT TIME: WE RE-JOIN HEYES AND KID BACK AT THE CAMPSITE, JUST BEFORE DARK
Heyes had once again been successful in getting Curry to lie back down and he had quit fighting the hands that were doing their best to help him. The dark-haired man could see the pain and wariness that were still present in his partner’s eyes, but in addition they now held a glazed look. A look Heyes recognized all too well; it was the one that usually accompanied a fever he had hoped they might be spared this time. “So much for hope,” he muttered. Reaching out to feel Kid’s forehead, he swore under his breath.
“Couldn’t just one thing go right, for once - is that too much to ask!?” He touched Curry’s shoulder. “Hey, Kid, listen, we’re almost finished, just a bit more. This is the part where I need you to stay real still. I have to seal that wound and the knife is sharp... and hot.”
With a groan Curry turned his head away.
Heyes waited a few seconds, uncertain if his words had been heard before he picked up the knife, washed it off and put it back into the fire, for the last time, he hoped. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Kid’s eyes were closed. I don’t blame you, partner; if it were me, I wouldn’t want to watch you work either.
Heyes hesitated again as his brain worked through things. If he’s conscious, I’m going to have to change my plan around a bit. I can’t take the chance that he’ll knock that knife out of my hand again; I have to be sure. He walked back over to Curry, crouched down next to him and touched the man’s arm.
Before Heyes could speak, Curry opened his eyes. “I know...” His body shook with a shudder before his lids closed, shuttering his eyes once again.
Heyes stood up and his chin dropped to touch his chest. Guess that answers my question. “Kid, I’ve got it all figured out how to get this done. I’m just going to have to change things around a bit since you’re awake. I’m the only other one here, and since I’ve got to make sure you don’t jump around again while I’m trying to use that knife, well, the best way I could figure out how to do both, was to -” Heyes paused to look down at his partner. “Well, I’m going to ‘sit’ on you; that way you can’t move around,” he finished in a rush.
His words were met with complete silence and Curry remained motionless.
“Kid? Hey, did you hear me? Did you pass out again?”
Eyes closed, Curry gave a loud groan before he shook his head from side to side very carefully. “Nope... didn’t pass out again - wish I had!... Heard ya... jus’ fine... not gonna open... my eyes... again... ‘cos then... I’ll know... for sure... not dreamin’... You’re gonna... SIT on me?... THAT’S your... great plan?... You know... what, Heyes?... First you... throw me off... a mountain... then you... flatten me... an’ now you’re gonna... SIT on me?... Still think I’d be... better off... with that posse... safer...” Exhausted by the effort it had taken him to speak, Curry fell silent and his eyes drifted shut again; the exertion had sapped what remained of the weary outlaw’s strength.
Heyes kept watch as Curry’s breathing become slow and steady and shook his head. “Leave it to you to try and joke around at a time like this!” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “You just keep those eyes closed; nothing much worth seeing out here right now, anyways.”
Heyes turned Curry over carefully and positioned Kid’s arms down next to his sides, and then walked over to the fire to pick up the knife. This had better work! His arms pinned, Kid shouldn’t be able to sit up or grab the knife. It was going to be hard enough as it was without worrying about any more interference from his partner. He crossed to stand next to Curry and carefully straddled the man’s back, easing himself down slowly, making sure his knees were pressed firmly against his cousin’s arms.
“Okay, Kid, it’s time.” He took a deep breath and brought the glowing knife forward and pressed it down firmly on Curry’s wound. The air was immediately filled with the pungent smell of burnt flesh. Heyes held his breath, but found he still had to fight down the urge to be sick when the bile rose in his throat. And that wasn’t his worst problem.
From the first touch of the hot metal, the Kid had tensed his entire body, jack-knifing as he fought to get free. His lower lip oozed blood where he had bit down on it to keep from crying out and he kept his eyes closed tight. Curry put up a valiant struggle to rid himself of the immovable force that held him rigidly in place, until he was forced to admit defeat. In his present state, he was no match for either Heyes’ strength or his determination.
Drained, the wounded man lay still at last, his sides heaving as he took in pain-filled gulps of air. Although he knew Heyes was doing his best not to hurt him, it wasn’t enough. The sensation was that of being stabbed with red hot needles over and over again or getting stung by hundreds of angry hornets, and that was putting it mildly.
At one point Heyes was forced to probe even deeper in order to make sure the wound was completely sealed. The intense pain it generated proved to be too much and, pushed beyond his breaking point, Curry passed out again.
“Thank you,” Heyes breathed with relief, grateful for the reprieve it gave both of them.
Standing up, Heyes wiped the beads of sweat that dripped from his brow and tossed the knife in the direction of the fire. He strode purposely towards the river to lean against a rock and allowed himself the luxury of retching. When the feeling had subsided he walked the rest of the way down to the water. Kneeling down, he washed his face and hands then rinsed the bitter taste out of his mouth. You owe me one, partner!
Heyes made his way back up to camp and lowered his weary body down to the ground beside Curry, feeling as if he had aged ten years. “You know what, Kid?” he mumbled. “If you keep this up, I figure I should look old enough to retire long before we ever get that amnesty!” Leaning back against the tree, he looked up into the sky to see that the stars were already beginning to disappear. It had been one long day which had turned into an even longer night. He closed his eyes and yawned as his whole body slowly began to relax.
A few short hours later he awoke to find the sun shining in his face, signaling the start of a new day. Heyes glanced at his cousin; anyone looking at Kid now would find it hard to recognize the gunfighter with the cold, steely blue eyes and the lightning-fast draw. He reached out to touch Curry’s forehead and his eyes widened in surprise not to feel the heat of a fever.
“You through sittin’ on me?” Eyes still closed, Kid’s quiet words startled Heyes.
Making a quick recovery, Heyes grinned. “Just wanted to make sure you didn’t move; there was a big enough hole in you already without me making it any bigger!”
“Good,” Curry breathed. “All I wanted to know...” He swallowed with difficulty. “Sure could use some water; my mouth feels like a field of dusty cotton!”
“Let’s get you sitting up first,” Heyes replied. A short time later he had his partner propped up against a nearby rock and handed a cup to Curry. “Take it easy,” he cautioned. “You don’t want to start coughing and rip open that wound.”
Kid put the cup to his mouth and drank, savoring the cool liquid as it slid down his throat. “Yeah, I’ve been enough trouble as it is,” he muttered. A reflection of his mood, Curry’s words were full of bitterness as he stared down at the empty cup he held in his hand.
From his position above his partner, Heyes sent Kid a look filled with exasperation.
“Okay, Curry - that’s enough – I’ve had it!” Heyes’ voice cracked like a bullwhip in the stillness of the camp. “After all we’ve been through these past few days, I am not about to let you think you get to shoulder all the blame. This is a partnership, remember? We split things fifty-fifty, and that includes the good as well as the bad. We’ve both said and done things we wish we hadn’t, but we can’t change that now.
“If you’re going to be in such a bad mood, then maybe you should just lie back down and take another nap! Maybe when you wake up the next time you won’t be quite so cranky!” Hands akimbo on hips, Heyes projected the epitome of outraged friend and partner, but found himself hard pressed not to laugh at the comical expression on his cousin’s face.
Kid’s mouth had dropped open in bewildered shock from the moment Heyes had called him Curry. His eyes were wide with surprise as well, which was what Heyes had been aiming for. The Kid could really be a pain when he got into one of his moods, but if you could catch it before it started snowballing... “So, what’s it to be, another nap - or are you hungry?”
“Well, now that you mention it...”
The tension between them dissolved as the two men burst into much needed laughter, already knowing the answer before Kid said another word. As their eyes met, Heyes and Curry were quick to realize once again just how long it had been since they had been allowed the luxury to laugh and relax, to enjoy the moment without the threat of someone, or something, stealing it away from them.
CAMPSITE, LATER THAT SAME WEEK
The outlaws spent the next week whiling away the hours, talking and teasing each other, learning how to relax again. The two friends debated over things they were of different opinions on. Heyes would often start something with the Kid, his intent to deliberately rile his partner, in order to enjoy another heated discussion. Heyes pulled out his deck of cards and they whiled away many the hour trying to best each other. As the days continued to pass, so did most of the tension and worry the outlaws had been carrying around with them.
They were sitting around the campfire, relaxing after having yet another ‘friendly’ discussion which had eventually concluded with both men agreeing to disagree. Neither man could convince the other that their opinion was right, nor the other one’s was wrong; however, the one thing they could both agree upon, was that it had been a fun challenge to try.
Curry cleared his throat, as if he was going to say something, but remained silent. A few seconds later, a cough followed.
Heyes glanced up, masking his curiosity. The Kid had been unusually restless all day, and as they had settled down for the night, he had been as jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.
Curry absently rubbed his wounded shoulder and stared into the fire as if it could provide inspiration. He leaned back against the rock with an audible sigh. “Heyes, we need to talk.” There, he’d said it.
“Well, isn’t that what we’ve been doing? Something special you wanna talk about?” Heyes’ mouth turned up in a grin as he gave his partner his undivided attention. His poker face and outwardly calm appearance would have deceived most. Inside, his mind was working a mile a minute to solve the problem before it ever became one; wanting to prevent the good mood they had been enjoying from disintegrating.
Curry tossed some pebbles at a rock before he spoke again. “Heyes, I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’...”
Heyes nodded, took another sip of coffee... and waited.
“Well,” Curry hesitated and then cleared his throat again. Once he started to speak, it was as if a floodgate had broken wide open; he didn’t seem to be able to stop the words from rushing out.
“I still don’t feel right about the way things are... an’ I can’t figure out why, neither. It’s like things aren’t settled. A lot of things didn’t get said. I didn’t tell you ‘bout bein’ shot; you trust me to tell you when something happens - but I didn’t! Guess maybe that’s it; I feel like I let you down. You’re right, you never should’ve had to find out the way you did, walkin’ in on all that blood like that.
“I knew it could bring back bad memories, but I never meant to cause you to feel - I never thought... hell, I’m not sure what I thought, anymore!” Curry raised his eyes to meet those of his cousin. “If I can’t get this... fixed, then I’m thinkin’ that maybe it’s time - maybe it’s best - if we jus’ go our separate ways. Without me around, at least that way you’d stand a better chance of gettin’ that amnesty.”
Heyes had listened to everything Curry had to say; he should have known his partner would take something this important to heart. After being together for so long, he should have recognized the signs. For him, it was almost like re-living a bit of their past. They had played out a similar scene once before, many, many years ago; surely the Kid couldn’t have forgotten? A slow grin formed on his face; Heyes was in his element - this was a problem he knew how to solve!
“Kid, I want you to think back. Remember when we were at Valparaiso? Let’s see, I was about twelve, so you had to be around ten.”
“Valparaiso? Are you kidding? How could I ever forget that place?” Curry grimaced and shook his head, a puzzled look on his face. “What’s that gotta do with anything?”
“Everything, just listen… See, it all started the morning after you had a run-in with those three bullies…” Heyes answered, his words taking them back to their childhood days, allowing ‘Han and Jed’ to tell the story.
1864, VALPARAISO, EARLY THE NEXT MORNING
It had been a normal enough morning; all the usual activities that getting ready for school entailed passed without incident, everyone in a hurry to get downstairs to eat. Meager though breakfast was, it was all you got to eat until lunch and, if you arrived late, you didn’t even get that.
Heyes watched the younger boy’s tedious progress as he struggled in a valiant effort to get dressed all by himself and had to restrain himself. Jed didn’t need for the bullies to see someone help him put his clothes on; that’s all they’d need to start in with their taunting again.
Jed heaved another loud sigh of frustration as he tried to button up his shirt. It was slow going and it didn’t help that his cousin was watching him. He knew why he wasn’t helping, but as much as Jed appreciated the gesture, at the same time he wished Han would just go ahead and help. He was starvin’!
Heyes turned and took a casual look around. Satisfied when he saw it was almost deserted since most of the boys had already left to go downstairs, he made sure they couldn’t be seen, stepped in front of Jed and quickly finished the job.
The impatient boy took off at a run. “C’mon, Han - what’re ya waitin’ for?” he called back over his shoulder.
“I’m right behind you,” Heyes grinned as he followed his cousin.
Breakfast progressed in a normal fashion, too. After they were done eating, everyone headed off to do their chores before they started on the walk to the schoolhouse.
Heyes was assigned work with the older boys while Jed was with the younger ones. “Hurry up and get done, Jed, maybe we’ll have enough time to do something before we have to leave,” Heyes called back over his shoulder as they split up.
The sandy-haired boy nodded absently, but he didn’t move.
Something prompted Heyes to look back. Jed stood rooted to the spot, watching the three bullies. But, it wasn’t just the fact that Jed was watching them, it was the intent way he was staring at the boys that grabbed Heyes’ attention. Added to that was the fact that there was a great big grin on his cousin’s face. At least there was until Jed turned to see that he, too, was being observed. With a quick wave in his cousin’s direction, he hurried off.
Heyes’ eyes narrowed. Jed had looked him in the eye and said he hadn’t done a thing - crossed his heart and promised him... right? Jed had never lied to him. Still uneasy, he headed off to his own chores, his mind busy working to solve a puzzle when he wasn’t even sure that there was a puzzle. Something isn’t right, but I’ll be danged if I know what it is!
Even with an injured arm, Jed finished his chores in record time. After a quick glance at the Grandfather clock that stood in the hall, he hurried upstairs to grab his schoolbooks. A grin on his face, he ran downstairs to join the others who were gathering together in the front hall. Even though Spring was just around the corner, a frost covered the ground and a chill filled the morning air.
Everyone was busy putting on coats, hats and gloves; some of the older ones lent a hand to the younger kids, helping to get all their buttons done up. Most of them walked together as a group, they enjoyed the time outdoors before they were forced to sit still in school.
Heyes had just stepped off the last stair, and was hunting around for Jed when the yelling started. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned towards the source of the noise. Heyes pushed his way to the front and did a double take, mesmerized by the scene that met his eyes.
Michael Peterson, one of the bullies, was yelling at the top of his lungs, but his words sounded more like gibberish than actual words. He was jumping all over the place, waving his arms around like he was going to take off and fly around the room any second. As Heyes looked closer, he realized that not only was Michael yelling, the boy actually had tears running down his face. Then the bully’s words started to make sense.
“Get ’em off of me - get ’em off! Make ’em go away! AAAHHH! Somebody get ’em off me - I can’t stand the creepy things!” All the time he was hollering Michael was frantically trying to yank his coat off his arms. His hat and gloves were already on the floor.
The sight of Michael leaping about like he was doing some kind of Indian war dance looked so comical, it wasn’t long before the air was filled with laughter.
“Boy, he’s sure actin’ like a big sissy, all over a few little bugs!” one child exclaimed.
“Yeah, Michael, thought you were so tough!” teased another.
“Michael’s a baby, Michael’s a baby...” a young child chanted in a sing-song voice.
“What in Heaven’s name is going on here?” Miss Menius demanded as she entered the room. Her words had an immediate effect; silence prevailed as they made a pathway for her to get a bird’s-eye view of the show that was still going on.
“Michael Peterson - you stop that caterwauling this instant!” she commanded. “For heaven’s sake, young man, what are you carrying on about?”
“It’s spiders, ma’am - spiders all over me - crawlin’ in my coat pockets, they’re in my hat an’ inside my gloves! I hate the things!”
“Well I never! Such a big boy afraid of a few little spiders! You might be fourteen years old, but you are behaving like a two year old; stop this nonsense immediately! You should be ashamed of yourself, carrying on like that! You are coming with me right now and we shall finish this discussion in my office!” She took Michael by the ear and, as they made their way through the crowd, the bully ducked his head in shame. Miss Menius turned back to address the group in a stern tone.
“And, as for the rest of you, I suggest you get started on your way to school - before you are all tardy!”
Now that all the excitement was over, everyone scurried around to finish getting ready to leave. It was at that point Heyes realized that Jed had missed the whole thing. Now that’s real strange… Kid’s always around when there’s trouble; in fact, he’s usually the one in trouble! As his eyes scanned the room, Heyes finally spotted his cousin leaning against the wall next to the stairs, sporting a big grin on his face. Heyes frowned. Jed would have had the best seat in the house to see what was going on.
Turning to find himself once more under observation, Jed waved, came down the stairs and crossed over to where Heyes stood. “Boy, Han! Did ya see that? An’ he called me a baby? Never seen anything like it! Imagine someone as big as Michael bein’ afraid of some itty bitty spiders - what a sissy!”
Heyes had remained silent as he stared thoughtfully at his cousin.
“What? Somethin’ wrong?”
“YOU - that’s what’s wrong!” Heyes advanced a step closer to Jed. “Don’t you think it’s just a little bit odd that one of the boys responsible for what happened to you yesterday has something like this happen to him today? You still going to tell me you didn’t do a thing?”
“Han, it’s like I told ya yesterday; honest, I didn’t do one thing to make this happen, I promise!” Jed made the mark of an x across his chest as he spoke. “Cross my heart!”
“Well, I still think it’s strange...” And it didn’t alleviate any of the feelings he had that he was missing something; something important. Whatever it was, it was close, but just out of reach; like the brass ring on a carousel.
“Come on, Jed, we’d better catch up with the others or we’ll be late!” Heyes snapped and pivoted about to leave.
Jed’s mouth curved up in a grin as he fell in behind his cousin. “One down...” he whispered and then quickly hid the grin as they hurried out the door to join the rest of the group; neither boy wanted to start their day off by getting into any trouble.
Jed had great cause to avoid being late. The punishment for tardiness was writing ‘I will be on time for school’ one hundred times on the chalkboard during their playtime. He hated writing and he hated missing playtime outside, but what he hated most of all was missing lunch. And Jedediah Curry always missed both playtime and lunch, because it took him so long to complete the task.
The sandy-haired boy was preoccupied as they walked. Well, guess that’s one way to keep Han’s mind off my arm this mornin’. I’m jus’ gonna havta be real careful an’ not do anythin’ to remind him. Sure wouldn’t wanna miss out on anythin’ else that might happen today…