Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/911409-The-Night-Before-Christmas
by KLH
Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fanfiction · #911409
Stranded in the snow, can Buck make it home for Christmas?
The Night Before Christmas
by Karen

Growing up in the Kiowa village he'd never even heard of Christmas. He smiled in spite of his situation as he realized that it probably wouldn't have mattered; he still wouldn't have celebrated much because of who he was -- the unwanted result of a violent attack.

That thought brought his memories around to when he'd left the village to see if he could fit in any better in his father's world. He hadn't. He was just a unwanted as before - until he'd met Ike. Everything had changed when they became friends.

Thanks to Ike's friendship and encouragement he had a great job and a group of people who accepted him for himself. That's why he was out here in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard. He'd wanted to be home for Christmas; he'd wanted this year to be special.

He silently cursed the decision to push ahead when everything and everybody he knew had told him to wait. It was just that tomorrow would be the first time in his life he'd be celebrating Christmas, and he was lucky enough to be with family. He'd even purchased something special for each one of them. He shook his head as he realized that he would be lucky to make it home in one piece, much less by tomorrow.

The snow was falling quickly and soon it would be too dark to see the trail, thanks to the clouds that brought the storm. In a very short time the snow would be too deep for the horse to continue. The rider pulled his coat tighter around his shoulders and his hat down on his head. He was pretty sure he knew where he was on the trail and that there was nothing to offer protection. His eyes scanned the area for any available shelter. His eyes found only whiteness. As he urged his horse forward, he noticed a flicker of light out of the corner of his eye. He slowly turned his head that direction. He wondered how he had missed the cave earlier.

He turned his mount in the direction of the cave. As he approached, he noticed the faint smell of damp, burning wood. He carefully dismounted and walked towards the opening, leading his horse.

"Hello? Anybody here?" he called.

A man appeared as if from thin air. He looked at the rider with obvious misgiving. The rider kept his hands away from his body.

"Do you mind if my horse and I share your cave? We won't bother you. We just need a place to hole up until the storm passes," the rider asked hopefully.

The man merely shook his head and as quickly as he appeared, he vanished back inside.

The lone rider led his horse towards the cave. There was an area just outside the opening that offered shelter from the snow and wind. A rude fence had been put into place and inside it was a small mule.

The rider quickly unsaddled his horse and covered it with its blanket. He made sure that something was available for it to eat as he led it into the pen. He then gathered his belongings and entered the cave.

He had to stoop to get through the entrance, but once inside could stand straight. The cave was much larger than it appeared from the outside. The rider set down his belongings and scanned the area.

A small fire made the cave cozy and warm. The man was tending the fire and talking to someone. It was hard to see the other person. The man was talking in a strange language, but the newcomer could tell from the tone that he was trying to reassure his companion.

The traveler took off his coat and hat. He placed them on top of his saddle and packages. He turned back to find the man seated by the fire and quietly staring at him. Peering from behind the man's legs were the frightened eyes of a girl.

The newcomer followed the gaze of the girl and realized she was looking at his weapons. He very slowly removed his gun belt, then took the knife out of its sheath, and placed them both on the ground next to his other belongings. He turned back to face the couple and smiled.

"Thank you for letting me stay," he said. "My name's Buck Cross and I ride for the pony express. Are you folks from around here?"

The man stood and shook Buck's hand. "I'm Jose, and this is my wife, Maria," he said. "We are new to this area. We were trying to find our family." He turned back to face the girl. As he knelt back beside her, Buck noticed that she was with child. She appeared to be in pain.

"Anything I can do to help?" Buck asked.

Jose once again shook his head. "Not unless you know how to stop a baby from coming."

Buck shook his head. "I can't do that, but I might be able to help so it doesn't hurt as much." He went to his belongings and returned with two small pouches, a cupful of snow, and a spoon. He quickly melted the snow. When the water was warm, he added some powder from the first pouch and then carefully opened the tea he had bought Emma for Christmas. He placed some of the tea into the mixture. He stirred them together.

"Have her drink some of this," he said as he handed the cup to Jose. "It will make the pain less," Buck explained. "And maybe it will help her get some rest so she'll have her strength later when she really needs it."

Jose nodded and helped the girl to drink. She smiled at him and shyly glanced at Buck. Soon she was resting.

"Thank you," Jose said. "She is so young. I had hoped to make it to town so she could have help. The snow slowed us down, and then the pains started. That was yesterday evening. This morning, we couldn't continue because the pain was too much for her.

Buck smiled at the man. "I'm glad I could help. Where were you headed? Maybe I can go get the doctor once the snow lets up," he said as he prepared more tea before returning the package to his bags, then he shared what little food he had with Jose.

"Sweetwater," Jose replied. "I might have family there. We were hoping they could help us."

"That's where I'm going," said Buck. "Who's your family?"

"We heard that my cousin, Is . . . " Jose started to reply but stopped when Maria screamed.

Buck glanced at her. "I think she's having the baby now," he said. "You go help her. I'll try and find things to help tend him once he's here."

Jose went to Maria's side. "Everything was lost. We have nothing other than what we're wearing," he told Buck. He then turned his full attention to Maria because her breathing was becoming more labored.

Buck went back to his own belongings. He took out the remaining gifts and set them aside. The dime novel, sweets, drawing pad and pencils wouldn't be of much use. The new leather hat strap and scarf could come in handy. He placed them nearby and started more snow to melting so he would have water.

"I'm going to go see if I can find anymore wood. She and the baby will need to stay warm. I'll be back as soon as I can," Buck said as he handed the items to Jose.

Jose nodded. "Thank you," he said as he once more turned his attention to his young wife.

Buck quickly donned his coat and made his way back into the blizzard. He was gone for a while because it was difficult to see in the blowing snow, but he finally managed to gather an arm load of fairly dry wood. He added a little to the fire and once more began to work with the items he'd kept out for use.

While Buck was working on getting things ready, Jose sat with Maria. He held her hand and offered her words of encouragement.

Maria panted shallowly. This eased her pain so she could speak to her husband. "We will need his knife," she gasped out.

After another contraction left her body, she continued, "Something to tie the cord, and..." she groaned as the pain once more wracked her body.

Jose brushed her hair from her face. "Something to wrap him in," he said. "I'll be right back."

Jose quickly made his way to Buck's side. Buck handed him the knife, hat band, and scarf. "I'm making more tea, and trying to find something to clean him with."

Jose nodded his thanks and returned to his wife's side. She was still panting and fighting back the screams of pain the contractions were trying to cause. After a few minutes, she gave up. Her screams filled the small cave.

Jose continued to speak calmly to her. He cast a frightened look at Buck who continued to work at the fire.

When Buck saw Maria grab her knees and begin pushing, he grabbed his spare undershirt and tore off a sleeve. He used the sleeve to carry the pan of water closer to the couple. He settled in next to Jose and did his best to help without looking directly at Maria's private area.

After several more contractions, Maria gave one final push and her son fell into Jose's hands. Buck cut the cord and tied it with the leather hat band he'd purchased for Kid. He then took the baby from Jose and gently began to wash the small boy.

Once the baby was clean, Buck wrapped him in the shawl he'd been meaning to give to Lou. He then handed the boy to Jose and returned to the fire to make another cup of tea for Maria. He offered her the sweets to help build her strength, and helped her drink the tea. When she was finished, Jose brought their son to her. He placed the baby next to her. Maria hugged him to her and soon Mother and child were soon sleeping peacefully.

"Why don't you rest too," Buck suggested. As he fed the first few pages of the dime novel into the fire to keep it going.

"I must keep watch," Jose answered.

"Why?" Buck asked. "They're both fine."

"The others will come. I must protect them."

"I'll keep watch. Hopefully, this storm will be over by morning and we can get to Sweetwater. Once we get there I'll try and help you locate Maria's cousin. You need to rest. You won't be any good to them if you're sick," Buck said.

"No, they are my family," Jose argued. "I must keep watch."

Buck sighed. This man looked ready to drop where he stood. "I tell you what," Buck said. "Why don't we take turns? I'll go first. You go lay down with your family. I'll stand guard until I'm tired then I'll wake you."

"Not until you're tired. Wake me at midnight," Jose said.

"Fine," said Buck. "I'll wake you at midnight."

Buck watched Jose settle in next to his family. Soon he was snoring lightly. Buck smiled as he watched the family sleep. He glanced around the cave and realized that there wasn't much wood left. He fed a few more pieces into the fire and settled down to contemplate his situation. After a few hours, he decided to check on the animals and see if there was any usable wood nearby. He'd already used the dime novel to keep the flames going. He'd rather not use Ike's sketchpad if he could help it. It would be nice to return with at least one present.

Buck shrugged on his coat, grabbed his hat and crawled out of the cave. After the warmth of the cave, the winter cold hit him hard. As he straightened up from the exit, a brightness he had not expected greeted him. If anyone asked him, he would have sworn he heard singing. He turned towards the animals' pen, took one step, and was buried in snow falling from above.

Buck woke up back inside the cave. The fire was out and the cave was cold. There was no sign of the family. Buck grabbed his coat and once again climbed out the cave entrance. The day was beautiful. The sun was shining causing the snow to sparkle. The air was crisp and his breath made little clouds when he breathed out. Buck went to the animal pen where he had sheltered his horse. The horse was there, tied to a small tree, saddled and ready to go. There was no sign of the mule or any kind of fence.

Buck returned to the cave to gather his things. He was not surprised to find them already packed and that everything was there. He once again looked around the cave. It looked different - smaller - than it had last night. He didn't remember that plant with the blue flowers being there. He shook his head, and returned to his horse.

A few hours later, Buck rode into the way station.

"Well, there, Son," Teaspoon greeted him. "Am I ever glad to see you."

"Sorry, I'm late, I got caught up in the snowstorm," Buck said. He was cold, tired, wet, and very confused. Had it all been a dream? If so, what was its message?

"That's alright. I'm just glad you're alive," said Teaspoon.

"Why wouldn't I be alive?" asked Buck as the other riders came to join them.

"Seems there was a really bad snow slide by Red Butte," said Lou. "We thought you might have been caught in it."

"Didn't make it that far," said Buck. "Spent the night in a cave a few hours east of there." He decided not to mention the family until he'd had a chance to talk to Ike in private, but he had a feeling he knew what had happened - Ike had been praying the rosary for Buck's safe return.

"Well, looks like we're going to have a Merry Christmas after all," said Kid. "For a while there we weren't too sure."

"Now that you're home, everything's perfect," said Teaspoon.

Disclaimer: Ed Spielman created the characters of The Young Riders for television. The series aired on ABC TELEVISION from 1989 - 1992.

© Copyright 2004 KLH (klhorak at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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