ANDREA CARTER AND TROUBLE AT THE LINESHACK
Lost Scene #10
Andi awoke with a start. It was pitch black. The fire was out.
How long have I slept? She shivered. The cabin was so cold. Late summer in the mountains might be hot, but the nights were definitely chilly.
She roused herself long enough to creep from the bed and feel her way toward the fireplace. Perhaps a few embers were smoldering.
She yawned. Grasping the poker, she stirred up the dying fire and smiled at the glimmer of life there. She threw some kindling on top, relieved when the fire burst into a friendly flame. She fed it slowly until the blaze grew in light and heat.
I am so tired, she thought as she looked longingly back at the bed. But she needed to check on Mitch. She approached the edge of the bunk and gazed down on the still form.
She could just make him out by the light of the fire, and sighed in relief when she saw he was still breathing. She checked the bandage. It was sticky with blood, but she was cheered to see that the rate of bleeding had slowed down—maybe even stopped.
“Mitch,” she whispered.
He didn’t answer.
Andi felt his head. He was hot, but not horribly so. He was still alive. Perhaps if he didn’t lose any more blood, he’d make it.
Andi returned to her little corner of the bed greatly encouraged. She hoped everything would improve from now on. As she lay down, she thought briefly about the future.
So, what do I do now? It was the last thought on her mind as she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
If Andi thought everything would look better after that first long night, she had an unpleasant realization coming. When she awoke the next morning, the fire was dead, but the morning sun had already warmed the cabin to a pleasant temperature.
She pulled herself off the bed and glanced quickly at Mitch. He was pale, but some of the color had returned to his face. She sighed in relief.
Andi went outside. It was late morning, almost noon, and she was able to see the cabin in bright light. She looked down. Her clothes were a mess from neck to knees. She quickly she found her saddlebags and pulled out a change of clothes. She threw the clothing over her shoulder and headed for the creek.
It didn’t take her long to strip off the filthy clothes and step into the chilly water. She rinsed the blood from her hands and arms and dressed again in the fresh clothes, not even bothering to dry off. Then she dropped the soiled clothes into a small pool to soak.
Andi felt a little refreshed. She looked around in daylight to see what had become of the horses. She whistled and was greeted by the familiar whinny of Taffy. Chase was close behind. Charley, stupid animal that he was, ignored her and was nowhere in sight.
Andi apologized over and over while she unsaddled the poor horses. Both horses immediately rolled in the dry grass. There appeared to be plenty of fodder, and the creek ran through the enclosure.
The icy water had done its work. Andi turned to enter the cabin, feeling almost cheerful. She’d managed to complete an almost impossible task last night, and the bullet was only a bitter memory. If only Mitch would wake up, everything would be perfect.
She froze in shock at the sight that met her eyes when she re-entered the shack. Her happiness fizzled. In the bright daylight it looked worse than she could possibly imagine. It was as though the Battle of Gettysburg had taken place right on her doorstep.
Whiskey bottles and bandages were strewn everywhere. The table was filthy, the floor a disaster. There was dirt everywhere.
Whoever had lived here had been a pig. Dirty dishes filled a pan in a corner. Open cans of beans and other, unrecognizable contents lay exposed to the flies which appeared from nowhere this morning to feast on the mess.
“Yuck.” Andi moaned, knowing her work had only just begun. Mitch would need careful tending for at least a week. They could not live here like this until Mitch could travel again.
“First things first,” she decided. She made her way over to Mitch. He hadn’t moved an inch from where Andi had repositioned his leg after the operation.
Andi sucked in her breath at his appearance. She didn’t recognize this man as her handsome older brother. Dark circles surrounded his closed eyes. Drops of sweat beaded on his forehead. His sandy hair was encrusted with dirt and grime.
As for his leg . . . it was swollen to twice its normal size. Mitch looks like a circus sideshow freak.
Hardly daring to touch him, she finally laid a tentative hand across his forehead. His head felt hot, but not dangerously so. She found a rag and dipped it in the now-cool water from last night, then gently placed it on his head.
Knowing she could put it off no longer, Andi cautiously unwrapped the bandage and stared at the wound. To her surprise, it didn’t look any worse than it had the night before. It was swollen—like the rest of his leg—but it did not show the red infection. She found a clean bandage and wrapped it up again. The old, bloody cloth she put in a basin that contained the leftover whiskey. She’d rinse and hang the bandage in the sun to dry later.
Mitch had not moved during the brief examination. Andi shook him gently, but he lay as still as death. But at least he was still breathing.
Now that the patient had been attended to, Andi turned her thoughts to other matters. She gathered up the old cans and filth and carried them outside, where she tossed them over a cliff into a deep ravine. She spent the rest of the day making the cabin livable. She brought in more firewood to keep the blaze going, and hung a fresh pot of water over the fire.
Jerky movements from the bed later that day sent Andi running. Was Mitch coming around? She sagged when she realized he was only tossing and turning and mumbling in his unconscious state. He continually asked for water, but made no sign that he was aware when Andi poured cups and cups of the liquid down his throat.
“You’ve got to have something more than water,” she decided, setting yet another empty cup aside. She had pulled in the provisions from the packhorse earlier. It was time to take an inventory of her supplies and those in the line shack.
It didn’t take long. She found hardtack, cornmeal, a cans and cans of beans, flour, and a beef jerky—pounds of it. And coffee, of course. Everything a lonely cowhand needed to sustain himself if he needed to find shelter in a remote line shack.
She sighed. “Well, the hardtack is out. Even a healthy person would have to be mighty hungry to eat it. Cornmeal? Well, maybe if it was cooked thin enough. And the jerky?” Andi made a face. She hated jerky. It was tough and chewy, with too strong of a salty flavor for her likes.
However . . .
“Well, meat is the best thing, but you can’t chew.” She addressed her conversation to her brother, who didn’t respond. “Maybe, just maybe . . .”
Her thoughts turned toward the fire with the pot of steaming water. She brought a hunk of the jerky over to the pot. Breaking off pieces, she tossed them into the boiling water, then threw all caution to the wind and tossed the rest of the hunk into the pot. It was possible the good nutrients from the jerky might seep into the water and provide a nourishing broth, a broth that would help make more blood.
It was better than plain water, Andi decided. She felt relieved that she had a plan.
Eyeing the remaining pounds of jerky, Andi sliced off a hunk with her knife and chewed on the tough stuff. She had forgotten how hungry she was, and ate the meat with surprising relish. The hardtack even tasted good.
Andi’s stomach growled its contentment at being filled after a full day and a night of being empty.
Andi completed her cabin cleaning by dusk. She’d stacked the supplies on the counter and on shelves. The supplies for this line shack had been added to what was here, and the garbage cleaned up. The shack had aired out and was beginning to resemble the other cabins she and Mitch had recently checked on.
Fighting overwhelming weariness, Andi went outdoors to tend to the horses. She had never worked so hard in her life! She whistled briefly for Taffy, and the faithful horse came galloping in response to the call. Chase, Charger, and the other packhorse trotted up right behind Taffy.
The two horses belonging to the now-dead men were nowhere to be seen. They had probably found a break in the crude fence and disappeared.
Good riddance, Andi thought. She stroked Taffy’s nose and checked to make sure they could get to the water easily, then bade them goodnight.
Taffy nickered and tossed her head when Andi turned to leave. “Sorry, Taffy. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve done today. I’m exhausted. I’ve no time to spend with you tonight.”
She filled her and Mitch’s canteens from the creek and returned to the cabin. She didn’t want to go out after dark, and she knew she’d need water through the night. Her brother was guzzling it. She stirred the jerky soup. The water had turned a deep brown. She lifted the spoon and tasted it.
“Eww! This is awful.” Her whole body shivered at the horribly salty taste.
Well, Mitch would neither know nor care. She poured a portion of the brew into a cup and approached the bed. “Well, big brother, this is it. It’s much better for you than water. Drink it up.”
Even in his unconscious stupor, Mitch’s throat worked the motions of swallowing, and Andi was able to get it all down in good time. She checked his wound again, poured more whiskey from one last bottle she’d found, and rewrapped it in fresh bandages. She rolled the sun-dried cloths and stacked them near the basin.
“I’m ready for the next dressing change,” she told Mitch. “Just don’t start bleeding all of sudden, okay? Promise?”
Mitch didn’t answer. It had now been a full twenty-four hours since shed’ dug that bullet out. Compared to a day ago, he did look better. His color was good, anyway.
Andi was so tired that she headed for bed as soon as the sun set. As she started to climb up to her small spot at the foot of Mitch’s bed, her foot struck something heavy. Curious, she reached under the bed and pulled it out. Her eyes grew round with surprise as she made out the writing in the dim light: Fresno County Bank.
“Oh, no.” Andi’s heart skipped. “It can’t be. It just can’t be.” She was too tired to think about any more complications. To discover the money from the recent bank robbery lying here under her bed was just too much.
She dragged one of the sacks into the open and pulled it apart. It was filled with greenbacks and gold coins. She fished around for other sacks, and was rewarded with two more. One contained a number of high-denomination bills, and the last sack contained more gold.
“Oh, Mitch,” she said aloud. “Do you think it’s the Dylan brothers lying out there?” She counted mentally.
Two Dylan brothers had robbed the bank, but had another been watching in the alley? Or were these the only threat?
Andi shivered and shoved the sacks back under the bed. She crept onto the foot of the bed. She was asleep before she had taken two breaths.