Encounter in Limbo

Melissa J  


Rating: G
Synopsis: Adam finds himself stranded in a strange town with some unlikely companions.


Special thanks to Cathy and Marilyn for their comments!


All characters in this story are fictitious characters from various TV series and do not depict any living person. 


Where do TV characters go when they’re no longer with their families? In a way, this story was inspired by the Island of Misfit Toys from the TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  (You never know what will make you think of Bonanza!) But these strangely familiar characters aren’t misfits.  They’re just having an...


Encounter in Limbo     


Adam found himself in the middle of the main street of time.  He never could say how it happened; one minute he was home and the next he was here- wherever here was.  He had been playing the guitar in the living room, and his younger brother Joe was up to his usual antics chasing a girl out on the porch with a frog.  Hoss was snoring upstairs, and his father, exasperated, had gone into town for some peace and quiet.  Maybe he had dozed off, and this was a dream.  It certainly didn’t seem real.

Adam squinted as he looked around, the fine lines around his eyes deepening temporarily.  He blinked.  He was standing in the middle of a dusty street in a town that, he had to admit, looked pretty much like every other town he’d been in lately.  There was a livery stable, a bank, a sheriff’s office, a saloon, and a mercantile.  Adam could see the spire of the little church at the end of the street.  But something was terribly wrong.  It was too quiet.  No doors opened from the stores; no chatter of voices or sounds of horses or wagons issued from the streets.  Not even a dog barking.  Adam started walking.  He tried the nearest building, the bank.  The door opened when he turned the handle, but no one was inside.  Maybe the clerk went to lunch, but then why not lock the door?  Adam next tried the mercantile on the corner.  No one was there, either.  He exited the store slowly and stood back in the middle of the street. Where was everyone? Had an epidemic hit the town and caused an evacuation?  Maybe a nearby mine dried up and the townspeople left seeking greener pastures.  But that didn’t explain what he was doing there or how he got there. Adam racked his brain to think of any business trip he was supposed to take for the ranch, but nothing came to mind.  He even felt his head for any lumps or other injuries that could have caused a memory loss.  Nothing.  He decided to head toward the sheriff’s office and look for any clues to what had happened.

The sheriff’s office was as deserted as the rest of the town.  No desperadoes loitered in the jail cells; no wanted posters hung up on the walls.  In contrast to Roy Coffee’s office in Virginia City, the desk was free of papers.  Adam smiled slightly, then rummaged through the desk.  There was nothing in it, nothing personal to indicate the name of the sheriff or the town.  There was no dust on the furniture, either, Adam noticed.  A phantom maid in a ghost town? he mused.  Leaving the office, Adam decided to try the saloon.  If he couldn’t find any people, at least he’d get something to drink, if there was anything to be had. 

“Hello – is anyone here?” he called out.  Receiving no response, he slowly walked toward the saloon, hand on his gun and ready to draw if necessary.  He pushed the batwing doors open with his left hand, and his brows lifted in surprise.  A dark-haired man was sitting at a table.  He wore a dark coat and a silk vest over a ruffled shirt and string tie, all in all a rather dapper-looking cardsharp, thought Adam.  Indeed, a deck of cards was spread on the table before the man. He looked at Adam with amusement, which turned to unease as he took in Adam’s stance and his gun. 

“Hello there,” greeted the man cautiously.  “You’re new here.”  He indicated his clothes.  “I’m unarmed.  Wouldn’t do you any good to shoot me, anyway.  I’m broke.”

“Don’t worry.  I don’t make a habit of shooting people,” said Adam, leaning against the wall and folding his arms. “I’m Adam Cartwright.  And you are -?”  The other man visibly relaxed and smiled.

“Bret Maverick,” replied the stranger.  Maverick was a good-looking man in his mid-thirties, around Adam’s age.  He shifted nervously.  “Uh – you’re not a gunslinger, are you?”

Adam grimaced.  “No.”

“Well, with that get-up, you can’t blame a man for thinking…” he stopped at Adam’s dark look.  “No offense.  Just that gunfighters make me nervous.”  He indicated his cards with a sweep of his hand.  “Care to play a little poker?” he grinned.

Adam smiled.  “Maybe later.”  He glanced around the room.  “Are we the only ones here?”

“Well, there’s Andy, but I don’t know where he is at the moment.  Why don’t you sit down and relax?  No one’s gonna take a shot at you either.”

 Adam ignored the last comment.  “Does this town have a name?”  He walked over to the window and looked out.  He could see no signs on any of the buildings that indicated a town name or even the names of any businessmen.  “The Livery Stable”, “General Store”, and “The Bank” were all that the signs read.  “How long have you been here?” 

Maverick shrugged.  “A day, a week…it’s all the same.  After a while, you lose track.”

“But there has to be –” Adam stopped.  Walking towards them was a teenaged boy of about fourteen, with sandy hair, wearing a tan shirt and brown pants. The boy entered the saloon, coming to a halt when he saw Adam.

“It’s okay, Andy.  He’s not gonna shoot us,” reassured Maverick, and Adam rolled his eyes. “This is Adam Cartwright from…?”

“My family’s ranch, the Ponderosa, near Virginia City, Nevada.” 

“I’m Andy Sherman from Laramie,” said the boy excitedly. “How did you get here?  Do you know the way out?” 

Adam shook his head.  “I was just trying to get those answers from your friend here.  Did you both take a stage into town?”

Maverick’s smile dimmed.  “I’m not sure,” he admitted.  “One day I was in some little town, playing cards, and the next – here I am!”  Andy nodded.

“I was on my ranch with my brother.  I don’t know how I got here.” Andy swallowed.  “We run a relay station for stagecoaches in and out of Laramie. I don’t remember taking a stage anywhere.  And there’s no sign a stagecoach came through here!  Why can’t we remember?”  The boy turned suddenly and walked to the counter.

Maverick went over to Andy and put his hand on his shoulder.  “Take it easy, Andy.”  The young man turned to Adam.  “Why are you here?”

 “I don’t think any of us know why we’re here.” Adam looked at the youth steadily. “You’re from Wyoming?”

Andy nodded.  “After my father died, my brother and me, we took over runnin’ the ranch.  The Sherman Ranch and Relay Station,” he said proudly.   “Slim - he’s my brother - he’s been real good at keeping everything going.”

Adam turned to Bret.  “And you – where did you say you’re from?”

“I didn’t say,” Maverick drawled.  He leaned casually against the bar.  “As a matter of fact, why is it so important to know where we’re from?”

 “I’m just thinking that perhaps we have a common enemy – someone who’s trying to get some kind of warped revenge.”

Maverick raised his eyebrows.  “Oh? You have someone after you?”

Adam tilted his head.  “I could ask you the same thing.  A gambler can make a lot of enemies.”

Maverick shook his head.  “I’ve gotten out of my share of scrapes, you understand, but one thing I always try to avoid is a fight.”  He looked at Adam appraisingly.  “Well, my Pappy always said, ‘Never make friends with a man who has no enemies.’  Of course, Andy here is just a kid.  Who’d want to harm him?”

Adam shrugged.  “It was just a thought.”  He decided to keep an eye on this Maverick fellow.  The man seemed a little too casual about the whole thing.



Adam continued to look around town, Maverick watching him with amusement but accompanying him to break the monotony.  Adam checked his pocket watch to see how much time had elapsed since his arrival and realized that it had stopped.  Hoss would know what time it was without a watch.  He shook his head to clear his thoughts and looked up. The sun didn’t look as if it had moved across the sky at all.   This situation was making him more annoyed by the minute.

“I know how you feel,” said Maverick as they left the livery stable, Adam marching out in disgust.  “I was angry too when I first got here, but being angry didn’t get me out.”

Adam walked alongside Bret back to the saloon. He had to hold onto his anger; he had the feeling he would need it. “Maybe not, but I’m not staying here any longer than I have to.  You and the boy are welcome to come back with me to my ranch.  My father and I will make sure you both get home.”

Maverick moved his hat back on his head. “Thanks.  Think that will happen anytime soon?”

Adam looked at Maverick sharply.  “Haven’t you even tried to get out of here?”

Bret shrugged.  “There’s nowhere to go even if I did leave.”  He looked down the main street at the edge of town.  There was flat land stretching to the horizon with no trees in sight.  “And how would I get out?  You’ve seen the stores and stables here.  There’s not so much as a wheel for a wagon, much less an animal to pull it.”

“I’ll walk if I have to.”  The set of Adam’s jaw made Bret drop the subject.

Adam, Andy, and Bret were sitting on the porch outside the hotel when Andy tapped Adam on the arm. A young man with short, medium brown hair was heading toward the group.  He was dressed in a crisp white shirt and navy blue pants.  He stopped when the three men on the porch stood up.  The young man took in Adam’s all-black clothes and hesitated, making Bret and Andy grin, and then stepped up to the porch and extended his hand.

“I’m Eugene Barkley.”

Welcomes were exchanged, and Eugene told the group how he came from a ranching family in Stockton, California.  “I was back at school, when suddenly I was standing here in the middle of the street!  What’s going on?”  The others gave their own versions of their similar arrivals.  Reassuring Barkley that he was not the victim of some strange college prank, the men answered his questions as best they could.


“So no one’s tried to leave?”  Eugene asked, puzzled.  The four of them were making their way from one end of town to the other, looking to see if they could find any other roads that led in or out. There was only the main street starting at the beginning of town.

“Well, Adam here has threatened to walk back to Nevada,” said Maverick, eyes twinkling, “ but Andy and I haven’t decided what our next move is yet.”

Eugene turned to Adam.  “Are you really serious about walking?”

“I walked clear across the country with my father,” said Adam grimly. “Give me enough water and I can make it.”

“How much water is enough, Adam?” asked Andy.

“Let’s take a closer look at the other edge of town and maybe we’ll find out.” Adam began walking down the street.  The other three exchanged glances and hurried to catch up.  At the very end of the road, Andy drew back.

“What is it, Andy?” asked Eugene.

“I don’t know,” confessed the boy.  “I…can’t keep going.  It’s like that prickly feeling you get on the back of your neck sometimes, you know?  Except this is like a wall of it.”

Adam put his right hand out.  A tingling sensation made the hairs on his arm stand on end.  He pushed his hand against the ‘wall’.  There was a crackling noise.  He pushed harder.

“Adam, stop!”  Eugene grabbed his arm, and then let go suddenly, his eyes wide.  “I felt a charge, like lightning.”

“Let’s get out of here,” suggested Bret. 

“Bret, you’re not yella, are you?” teased Eugene. 

Maverick shrugged. “My Pappy always said, ‘What good is a yellow streak if you can’t depend on it?’”

“Oh, your Pappy came up with that one, did he?” said Adam dryly.  Bret grinned.

“Hey, I hear something!” exclaimed Andy.  “It’s coming from the other side of the wall!”

The men listened carefully.  They couldn’t see anything past the barrier before them except the flat land that stretched out for miles on end.  But there was a babble of voices coming from somewhere.

“Maybe they can hear us, too!  Hello!  Hello!” yelled Andy.

Adam pushed his hand against the barrier again.  He felt an answering pressure.  “Someone’s over there,” he snapped.  He took a breath and tried to break through before the others could react. He felt a charge go through him, stumbled, and would have fallen if Eugene hadn’t grabbed his arm and yanked him back.  Adam heard a gasp.  Looking up, he saw that the horizon that had been there moments ago had vanished.  Instead, there was another town on the other side of the ‘wall’ with another group of people, gaping at them.  “Who are you?” he demanded.

He couldn’t help staring at the two men and three women before him.  All of them appeared to be in their early twenties, but they looked so – odd.  Their clothes were of a finely woven fabric; neither of the men wore guns or boots.  Instead, they wore shoes and socks. Not ranchers, then.  And the young women…. Adam tried to concentrate on looking at their faces.  The dresses they wore only came down to their knees!  The material must have been torn somehow, only the hems didn’t look ripped.  Adam wondered if they were actresses.  No self-respecting women would be caught dead in dresses that short. And their shoes had narrow heels and didn’t even button up.  Where were these people from?

A young man stared back at him, puzzled. “I’m Mike Douglas, and this is my wife, Sally.” The young blonde smiled nervously. “Nice to meet you,” she said quietly.  “This is Davey Gillis, Mary Stone, and Barbara Erskine.”

“Where are you from?” asked Eugene, trying not to look at Barbara’s legs.  He noticed that Bret had no such reservations.

“Sally and I live on the East Coast, Barbara’s from near Washington, D.C., Mary’s from Hilldale, and Davey’s from Central City”.  Adam frowned at Mike’s answer.  He knew he hadn’t been back east for a while, but he didn’t think fashions had changed that much! “Um, are you all from a rodeo or something?” Mike continued.

“No,” said Andy irritably.  “I’m from Laramie, Wyoming.  Adam’s from Nevada, Bret’s from, uh, around, and Gene is from California.” Mike nodded as if to say, Westerners.

“Can you join us over here?” asked Eugene.  “Maybe together we can come up with some ideas on how to get out of here.”

Mike turned to his companions.  They were all staring at the strange group on the other side.  “What do you think?  Should we risk it?”

“What if we get trapped over there?” murmured Barbara Erskine.  “Their town looks like something out of the Old West.”

“Maybe it is something out of the Old West,” muttered Davey Gillis.  “Look at their clothes!”

“They’re probably thinking we look pretty strange, too,” put in Sally Douglas.  She looked at her husband.  “I know you’d like to explore over there.”

Mike grinned.  “It would put my psychology degree to good use, wouldn’t it?  Think of the information I could present to my classes!”

Sally sighed.  “Well, if you really want to join them, you know I’ll go, too.”  Her husband smiled at her fondly.

Davey chimed in.  “You’re not leaving us over here by ourselves! We’re coming with you, right, ladies?”

Mary looked dubious, but Barbara nodded.  “I guess so.  But I’m not getting stuck washing laundry by slapping dirty clothes against rocks!”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that.  Our clothes haven’t gotten so much as a speck of dirt on them the whole time we’ve been here.  And maybe we can go back and forth between the two places to get things we need.”  The decision made, Mike turned to the men waiting on the other side.  “We’re joining you.  Be ready to give us a hand.”

He and Sally walked hand in hand to the barrier.  Taking a deep breath and giving each other a smile, they stepped forward.  The air crackled, but before the couple could step back Andy, Eugene, and Adam grabbed them and pulled them over.  “Are you all right?” inquired Andy anxiously.

Mike and his wife looked themselves over and nodded.  “Come on over, you three,” called Mike.  The others hesitated, then Davey put one arm around Mary and the other around Barbara, and they stepped to the other side. Everyone stood looking at each other for a moment, and then Mike said to Eugene, “From what you said earlier, it seems that none of you knows how you got here either.  Maybe there’s some kind of pattern for why we ended up here. Do you have any family?” 

Andy said, “I work the ranch with my older brother, Slim, and our friend Jess.”

Adam frowned as he said slowly, “I work our ranch with my father and my brothers Hoss and Joe.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Mike.  “I just left home  - my father, brothers Rob and Chip, and our Uncle Charlie live there.”

Davey Gillis stared at the group.  “My family is made up of my parents and my brothers Dobie and Duncan.”

Mary Stone nodded.  “My father’s a doctor, Dr.Alex Stone.  He and my mother and my brother Jeff live at home.  I’m in college – or I was.”  She received surprised looks from Bret, Andy, Adam, and Eugene at that statement.  “What’s wrong?”

“You’re a girl!” exclaimed Andy.  “Girls don’t go to college.”

“Humph!” huffed Barbara.  “I can tell we’re going to have to set a few people straight around here.”  Bret chuckled. 

Everyone looked at Maverick.  He smiled slightly and decided to answer Mike’s question.  “I run into my brother Bart occasionally.  We both kinda travel around.  Ranch work’s not for us.”

“Gee, don’t you see a pattern?  We all have brothers!” Mike almost shouted.

“So? What does that have to do with anything?”  demanded Andy. 

“Barkley, what about you?”

At the mention of Eugene’s brothers, Mike flashed a triumphant glance at Adam.  His theory was gaining momentum.  The fact that Barkley had a mother and a sister didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

“Wait a minute,” put in Barbara Erskine.  “I’m an only child.”

“Maybe you’re the exception that proves the rule.”


“Never mind,” sighed Mike.  “It was just a theory.”

“Cartwright, he sounds just like you,” Maverick smirked. 

“Anyway,” Mike continued, “what matters is that we’re all away from our families, and we need to work together to get back to them.”

Everyone took rooms at the hotel.  Adam found that Bret was right about the way time moved or didn’t move in the little town.  If they needed to sleep, they slept.  The sun was always shining, no matter what.  If they were hungry, they ate.  There seemed to be plenty of flour, dried meat, canned fruits, and other foodstuffs in the hotel kitchen and in the mercantile.  They took turns cooking, getting water from the well in the center of town, and telling each other their stories.  Davey, Eugene, and Mary discussed their college courses. Adam and Eugene spent time in the smithy looking for any useful tools.  Andy found a guitar in a room in the back of the saloon, and the little group enjoyed the music Adam provided.  Bret was happy because he now had enough people for a good game of poker. He would have been happier if there had been some real money to win, but there was nothing in the town to really spend it on, anyway.

As time went on, everyone settled into some semblance of a routine.  Adam became the natural leader of the group. Although he and Bret were about the same age, Maverick didn’t seem the least bit interested in being in charge. Everyone had chores to do, although there really wasn’t a lot of work.  There were no cattle or horses, no danger from an Indian attack or a gang of robbers.   There were some additions, too.  A young man of about nineteen appeared one day wearing blue jeans and an undershirt, holding a large sphere that he called a basketball.  He introduced himself as Chuck Cunningham from Milwaukee.  Once he found out that there was no basketball team in the town, he sulked most of the time.  Mike explained the game to the puzzled ranchers.  Adam built a backboard, and Chuck was ecstatic.  After that, the noise of the ball hitting the backboard was constant.  Sometimes Mike and Davey joined him in a game, and they taught Andy, who quickly caught on.

Also joining them were two boys, Billy and Toby Martin, and their dog, Lord Nelson. Andy immediately took to the huge dog, and he became a big brother to the boys, who relayed that they lived with their mother Doris in an apartment in San Francisco.  Adam, Andy, and Eugene were fascinated by some of the stories the boys told about the years they spent on the family ranch with their mother and their Uncle Buck.  The boys in turn were in awe of actual men from the Wild West, and they listened with glee to tales of roundups, stagecoaches, and outlaws.

Once the group tried to go through the barrier again, but the wall wouldn’t budge.  They tried throwing furniture and other items at it to see if anything would go through, but everything bounced back.  Adam drew his gun to fire, but didn’t want anyone hurt from a ricochet.  Checking his weapon, he was not surprised to see that it wasn’t loaded.

As everyone was beginning to feel comfortable with their surroundings, Adam found himself trying to stay focused on leaving the little community.  He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, but sometimes he could swear that he heard voices talking about him.  He could never hear entire conversations, but at times the words “Tahiti”, “back East”, and “Australia” were audible.  It was confusing and made his head ache, but when the voices came, Adam fought to join them.  So far it hadn’t worked, but Adam was determined to get back to his family.



One “evening” after a marathon poker session, Bret Maverick sat alone at the card table.  He had had a very successful tournament, finally beating Eugene with a bluff that made everyone watching groan with admiration.  Eugene, of course, took his defeat with his usual good humor, and the crowd dispersed, congratulating Maverick and leaving him with his chips. Suddenly Bret felt a tingling sensation.  He went to the saloon doors and looked down the street.  There seemed to be a beckoning from the barrier at the edge of the town.  He felt compelled to go to it.  “Pappy always said, ‘If you don’t go when the going’s good, you’re gonna get got,’” he said softly.  Without a look back, Maverick headed down the street.

“Adam – Adam, wake up.”  Adam sat up quickly.  “What is it, Eugene?”

“Bret’s gone.”

The little group fanned out and searched the town, but to no avail.  Bret Maverick had disappeared.  The deck of cards was left on the table in the saloon.  There was no sign of a struggle, but Eugene suggested keeping a lookout in case another resident had appeared who was unfriendly.  So far, no one had seen anyone new.  It was a puzzled bunch who sat in the lobby of the hotel.

“Maybe he found a way out,” reasoned Barbara. “Maybe he went to the town we came from.”

“By himself and without telling us?  Bret wouldn’t do that,” said Andy. 

“Maybe he didn’t have time to leave us a message,” mused Mike.  “It seems like whatever happened, happened suddenly.”

A yell came from outside.  Davey Gillis had been acting as lookout.  Everyone jumped out of their chairs and ran to join him.

“Look!  Look down there!”  Davey pointed to the edge of town.  There was a shimmering glow that made the horizon look like it was rippling.

“That’s just the heat,” said Andy uncertainly.

“I don’t think so,” said Eugene. He turned to Adam.  “What do you think?”

“I think we’d better go take a look.  You women stay here with the Martin boys.”

“Adam Cartwright, we’re in on this thing, too!” exclaimed Barbara.  “Men!  You’d think women never got the right to vote.”  The blank looks she received from Adam, Andy, and Eugene made her sigh in exasperation.  “Never mind.  I’m coming too.”  Sally and Mary nodded their agreement.  Adam shrugged, and the group headed down the street.  Mike told the Martins to hold the fort until they returned.  Lord Nelson would be good protection and would alert them of any danger.

No one knew what to think when he or she saw the wall.  It was rippling, and images were vaguely visible.  Then the images became clearer.  Gasps were heard as Bret was seen playing cards in another town.  If he heard the shouts from his former companions, he didn’t acknowledge them.

The wall shimmered.  Eugene gasped as a silver-haired petite woman appeared.  “That’s my mother!”  He watched entranced as she pulled out a locket.  His expression changed to one of horror as she opened the piece of jewelry. “No!” he shouted.  “Mother, no!”

“What’s wrong, Eugene?”  Adam put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and looked at the screen.  The locket held by the woman opened to four sections, revealing individual pictures of two dark-haired men, a light-haired younger man, and a beautiful blonde-haired young woman.  “Who are they?”

“That’s my family,” choked Eugene. “My brothers Jarrod and Nick, my sister Audra…and Heath.”  He pointed to the picture of the light-haired man.  “He’s my half-brother. Heath’s not even her son, but he’s in that locket!  I’m not even in my mother’s locket!”  He turned away from the scene, devastated.

Adam thought about his brothers.  They were all half-brothers, but that fact was rarely stated and, in fact, Adam didn’t think of Hoss and Joe that way.  They were Ben Cartwright’s sons; that was all that mattered.

The wall shimmered again.  “Look!” exclaimed Andy.  Now the scene was of a silver-haired man with a teenager.  Adam looked over and immediately went to the viewer.  It was his father – but who was the boy?  His father was showing the curly-haired youth a tree.  “I remember that tree,” murmured Adam.  Ben was showing the boy where Hoss and Joe had carved their names in the trunk.  Adam’s heart sank when he realized his name was not there.  He stood, stunned. 

There had to be some sign that he had lived there. If only he could see the ranch house!  Were all signs of his existence gone?  He had helped design and build the house; did it look the same?  Was the map he’d drawn still hanging up behind his father’s desk? 

No one had a good experience viewing their families’ lives without them.  Mike was talking to his wife about missing his brothers’ weddings and about a new kid in the household named Ernie; Mary seemed jealous that a younger girl Trisha had been adopted by her family; Andy didn’t react well to the sight of another boy, Mike Wilson, living on the ranch with his older brother; and Barbara was aghast that her father didn’t have pictures of her in the house. The families of Chuck and Davey appeared as though the oldest sons had never been there. The Martin boys didn’t see what had happened in their family, and the others decided not to mention anything in front of them.  In fact, a blonde woman had appeared on the screen working in some kind of publishing office. She didn’t seem to remember that she had two sons and a dog somewhere. 

But the biggest shock came when the images showed a man an attractive blonde was calling Bret.  He was playing cards and cracking jokes like the Maverick they knew, but this Maverick had medium brown hair and intense blue eyes.  From the reaction of the women, this new Maverick met with their approval.  It also seemed that Bret had been reunited with his Pappy, who bore a striking resemblance to the “old” Maverick before his startling transformation.

Later, the men sat in the saloon while the women commiserated by doing some “shopping” at the mercantile.  Adam, Eugene, Mike, Andy, and Davey sat around a table with glasses of beer that were miraculously cold.  It was decided to let Andy sample some, to his delight, but the older men determined to keep an eye on him.  Adam leaned back in his chair so that the front legs were off the ground.  He closed his eyes.  The rhythm of Chuck dribbling the basketball outside with the Martins was becoming familiar and somehow comforting.

“I miss my brother and Jonesy,” muttered Andy, yawning. 

“Who’s Jonesy?” asked Eugene.  He was still upset but tried to keep his spirits up for the group’s sake.

“He’s a friend of the family.  After my father died, he kept an eye on us.  He and Slim made sure I didn’t get into trouble.”

Adam felt a pang.  Andy reminded him of his youngest brother, Joe, when he was that age.  What trouble his brothers were getting into now, Adam could only imagine.   He opened his eyes.  Eugene looked at him sympathetically, reading his expression.

“How about you, Davey?  What kinds of trouble did you get into with your brother?”

“Well,” admitted Gillis reluctantly, “there was the time Dobie had a crush on a girl, and to impress her I, uh, persuaded him to pretend he was going out with the math teacher.”

Adam rolled his eyes and grinned.  That sounded like something Joe would do!  It seemed like brothers were brothers no matter when or where they lived.  “Let me guess. Everyone thought your brother really was going out with the math teacher, and he didn’t get the girl.”

“How’d you know?”

“Take it from an older brother.”  Everyone sat quietly, sipping their beers, when Eugene spoke.

“I’d heard of ghost towns, but I never thought I’d be living in one.”

“Are we dead?” Andy asked, searching the faces of the men seated around him.

Adam thought about the town his brother Joe had sworn existed when Joe had been missing.  Of course, he, his father, and Hoss had found the youngest Cartwright son in a desert outside a ghost town, and Adam assumed the heat had gotten to his younger brother.  Maybe he’d been wrong.  Was he even now lying in his bed at home, delirious with some fever?  Or maybe he really was visiting a town of ghosts, but if so, these ghosts were as puzzled as Adam was. 

“Doesn’t anyone know we’re gone?  Isn’t anyone looking for us?” Andy continued, struggling to remain calm like the others.

“If I know my brother Nick, he’d be combing the hills, and Jarrod – he’s a lawyer – would be using every legal means in the book to find me,” Eugene asserted. “I helped save the valley from an anthrax epidemic!” he exclaimed.  “Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Of course it does,” comforted Mike.  “Just because you’re not there now doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  I certainly got married!” 

Adam smiled at Eugene. “Your family sounds like mine.  I don’t think they’ll give up.  I know my pa won’t.”

“You’re awfully sure of yourself, Adam,” said Davey.  “Aren’t you ever wrong?”

Adam ignored the remark and continued sipping his beer.   He was used to being regarded as stubborn; heck, his whole family was as muleheaded as they came.

Barbara Erskine, walking by the men seated at the table, heard the last few comments.  “You know, my father works for the FBI.  There’s probably an investigation going on right now about my disappearance.”

“What’s the FBI?” asked Andy.



The question of how Bret Maverick had returned to his own time and place was like an itch that Adam couldn’t scratch.  If anyone had been less concerned about his surroundings, it had been Maverick.  Why was Bret the one who had left?  Was he trying too hard?  Maybe he should stop worrying. 

The matter came to a head one “afternoon” after everyone finished a meal in the hotel restaurant.  Chuck, Davey, Andy, and the Martin boys were beginning a game of ball outside; Eugene and Mike started a game of chess; and Barbara, Sally, and Mary were experimenting with hairstyles in Barbara’s room.  Adam sat on the lobby sofa, watching and listening.  Suddenly he was filled with anger.  “No!” he said abruptly, causing Mike and Gene to look up from their match.  “I won’t do it!”

“What’s the matter, Adam?” asked Mike.

“I won’t sit here and live like this, do you hear me?  I won’t!” Adam stalked through the lobby and out the door, Mike and Eugene following, their game forgotten. The girls clattered downstairs at Adam’s outburst, hair in disarray. The ball game stopped as the players realized something unusual was going on.  Adam kept walking. He stopped at the barrier and stood completely still. ”I’m hearing it again,” he said wonderingly. By this time the entire group was standing behind him, chattering excitedly.  Eugene waved at them to be quiet.

“Hear what, Adam?  Adam?” asked Eugene worriedly.  Adam squinted, his jaw set hard, blocking out everything but the sounds in his head. This time you’re not leaving without me!  Adam squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists, concentrating.  As the stunned group watched, Adam’s features began to change.  He became leaner; the fine lines around his eyes disappeared; his hairline moved forward.  His black shirt lightened to a light blue, and his jacket changed from tan to gray; even his hat changed shape.  Adam looked at his hands in astonishment.

“What’s going on?” he said softly, and his eyes widened at the sound of his voice.  He pivoted to find himself staring into the hand mirror that Mary Stone was holding up to him, her eyes wide.  “I’m young!” he exclaimed.  He turned to Eugene and grinned.  He caught Barbara Erskine looking at him appreciatively, and he blushed.  He looked back in the mirror.  “My eyes – they’re blue!”

The wall shimmered, and there was the sound of horses approaching from the other side.  Adam stared in disbelief as the riders pulled up.  Sitting before him was a man in his early forties.  Beside him were a large teenager and a small boy about twelve years old. 

“Pa,” Adam breathed.  His eyes filled with tears.  His father looked so young and …different, with brown hair and his face half-hidden by a large-brimmed hat. 

“There you are, son.  Your brothers and I have been looking for you.”

Hoss grinned.  “Come on, older brother.  Hop Sing will have our hides if we’re late for supper.”

“Hoss…Joe.  You don’t know how good it is to see you,” Adam managed to get out around the lump in his throat.  Then he realized what his younger brother said.  “Did you say come on?”

“Yeah, Adam,” broke in the little Little Joe, “you’re gonna take me fishin’ tomorrow, remember?”

“Son,” inquired Ben, “are you ready? We need to leave now to get back to the Ponderosa before dark.”

Adam swallowed.  It was his family, but from so long ago…and they were waiting for him, they were going to take him with them!  He had almost given up hope.  Maybe whatever had happened to separate him from his father and brothers wouldn’t happen this time.  He’d make sure of it.  “I’m coming, Pa. Give me just a minute.”  He turned and found the others around him.

Mike was smiling.  “Terrific, Adam!  Just like Bret.  Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.”  He stuck out his hand, and Adam took it, regarding the now slightly older man warmly.  “Take care, Adam.  Remember us.”

“I won’t forget, ever.”  Andy clapped him on the back, and Adam ruffled the hair of the Martin boys, patted Lord Nelson, and hugged Sally, Mary, and Barbara.  He shook hands with Chuck and Davey, and then, sobering, he turned to Eugene.

“I’ll miss you, Adam,” said Eugene, his eyes shining.  “If you get to Stockton, look up my family.  Make sure they’re okay.”

“You may see them yourself soon,” replied Adam, but Eugene looked down at the ground.  “I won’t let them forget you,” Adam promised quietly.  They clasped hands, and Eugene pulled Adam into a quick hug.  Turning back to his family, Adam was not surprised to see that his horse Beauty had appeared, saddled and waiting.  He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders.  “I’m ready, Pa.”  He stepped through the barrier easily. Mounting the horse, Adam turned and looked at his father expectantly.

“Let’s ride!” exclaimed Ben.  And with that, the four Cartwrights headed away from town.  Suddenly, they were gone.

The little group remaining stood for a moment, watching with envy.  Then they returned to the hotel to wait.  Somewhere, keyboards were pounding out the latest prequel, sequel, and reunion scripts….

The End           

October 2001


“Departed” characters from TV shows:

Bret Maverick – Maverick

Andy Sherman – Laramie

Eugene Barkley – The Big Valley

Mike and Sally Douglas – My Three Sons

Davey Gillis – The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Barbara Erskine – The FBI

Chuck Cunningham – Happy Days

Billy Martin, Toby Martin, Lord Nelson – The Doris Day Show


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Melissa J

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