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Monsters, Pumpkins & Things That Go Bump in the Night

By Bejules

Summary: This story was written for the 2012 Ponderosa Nightmare Challenge. When Sheriff Coffee volunteered to look after Little Joe over a Halloween weekend he had no inkling of what was to come.

Rated: PG
Prequel, Action/Adventure, Mystery, Drama, Holiday
Characters: Little Joe Cartwright, Sheriff Roy Coffee


It was Friday afternoon and Little Joe Cartwright sat in Virginia City’s small school room oblivious to the lessons going on around him. He was too busy daydreaming about the upcoming weekend and the different few days ahead that he’d be experiencing. For the first time in his short life he wouldn’t be celebrating Halloween at home with his family. His father, Ben Cartwright, had decided that his brother Hoss was now old enough to accompany him, along with their other brother Adam, to a horse auction that was taking place in Placerville. Joe, much too young to go with his family, was to have been looked after by their trusty housekeeper Hop Sing. That had been the plan before Hop Sing had been called away to deal with a family emergency, leaving his pa in a quandary. Not wanting to disappoint Hoss and cancel his son’s first horse buying trip, Ben had looked round for someone that could take care of Joe for the few days they’d be gone.

Ben had been somewhat surprised when Roy Coffee had volunteered for the job, but Roy had insisted, saying that he’d take a couple of days off from his duties and would welcome spending some time with the boy. Roy had been a family friend of the Cartwright’s since before Joe was born. The youngster could often be found playing in his office, especially the jail cells, when he’d accompanied his father on his regular visits to see Roy for a chat, or a game of checkers. Ben had appreciated Roy’s offer and knew that Joe couldn’t have been in safer hands than those of the sheriff of Virginia City. If nothing else his gregarious young son wouldn’t be getting into any trouble that weekend, or so he assumed!

When he’d learnt that he would be staying with the sheriff, Joe hadn’t been too keen on the idea and couldn’t hide his upset at being left behind. He’d taken his anger and frustration out on his family; that was until his pa had a little talk with him. Ben was aware of the disappointment his young son was feeling and promised to make it up to the boy somehow, telling him that it was just unfortunate timing that the auction was taking place the same weekend as Halloween. His pa had also made him aware that he was being selfish and that Hoss deserved his chance to go with him and Adam, without having to feel guilty that he was leaving his little brother behind. Joe knew his pa was right, and not wanting Hoss to feel any further guilt, tried to put on a brave face for his brother’s sake.

The more Joe began to think about spending time with Sheriff Coffee the more he thought that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. He could picture the adventures that he and the wily lawman would have together. But the feelings of loneliness and being left behind, especially at Halloween, didn’t go away for Joe as he knew he would miss his family. He’d been especially looking forward to spending Halloween with them, and even more so this year, due to Adam returning home from studying at college in Boston for four years. Joe could only remember the Halloween’s spent with his pa and Hoss and he’d no recollection of ever celebrating any with Adam. He’d tried hard to recall any Halloween memories that had involved Adam from before he’d left for college, but he couldn’t bring any to mind. Yet his recollections of Halloween over the recent years were very vivid and he could recount nearly every detail as he thought back.

With the lights turned down low in the great room, his pa would be in his red leather chair by the fireplace facing him and his brother Hoss. They’d be sat cuddled together on the settee, their faces illuminated by the glow of the fire. Munching their way through toffee apples they’d all take turns to see who could tell the scariest stories. Later they’d go outside to join some of the ranch hands in carving Jack O’ Lanterns from the pumpkins that Hop Sing had grown in his garden. He’d only the previous year been allowed, with his pa’s help, to handle the sharp knife needed to carve out the grotesque faces. Before that he’d been the one to judge which Jack O’ Lantern was the best, and as far as Joe was concerned the more ghoulish and gruesome looking, the better they were. They’d place them on the porch and once lit they’d watch the orange glow and the shadows dancing off the walls of the ranch house. He could remember each year his pa, not wanting him to become too frightened, would take great pains to explain that ghosts and the like weren’t real, and were only make believe. Joe never admitted to his father, thinking it would make him look too much of a baby, that sometimes he did get scared and that just sometimes the thoughts of ghouls and monsters would keep him awake at night.

*****

Friday morning saw the departure of the elder Cartwright’s to Placerville while Joe was sent off to school with instructions for the weekend from his pa. He’d been told, in no uncertain terms, that he was to mind Sheriff Coffee and to be on his best behaviour, or he would face the consequences once his father returned. Joe was upset at his family’s leave taking but soon had a smile on his face. His pa told him that the sheriff had promised to take him along to the Halloween party being organised by the townsfolk, something he’d never experienced before. Ben had spoken to Roy, explaining how Joe was upset at missing out on Halloween with his family. The soft hearted lawmen told his friend that he’d make sure the boy would have a Halloween he was sure to remember. Neither of them knew how true that statement was to become.

*****

Little Joe was in a cheerful mood now school had been let out. He made his way from the little school house on the edge of town to the Sheriff’s Office where he’d been told to meet Roy. Spotting the sheriff in the distance standing outside his office, obviously keeping an eye out for his arrival, he waived and ran the last hundred yards down the street to join him. “Hiya sheriff,” he greeted breathlessly.

“Howdy Little Joe,” replied Roy as he smiled down at the cherubic face that was flushed from his running. “Glad to see you arrived safely son. I’ve just got to finish up some paperwork before I hand everythin’ over to Clem and then we’ll have us some fun for the next few days.” Roy was looking forward to spending the weekend with Little Joe. The boy was a fun loving child and his enthusiasm for life was infectious. “How about givin’ me a hand and then we can head on over to Miss Daisy’s for supper”

"Oh boy! I love goin’ to Miss Daisy’s.”

“Me too son,” Roy replied as he ruffled the curls on Joe’s head and put a hand on his shoulder and guided him towards his office.

“Do you have any new wanted posters for me to look at Sheriff Coffee?” asked Joe as he made his way over to the sheriff’s desk and peeked at the papers on it.

“Sure have. Got a new batch delivered on this mornin’s stage. I was waitin' on you to help me sort through them. Come on and sit and help me.”

Roy spent the next couple of hours catching up on his paperwork before he sat back to relax. He smiled as he looked across at Joe, who was still sifting his way through the posters. The boy was kneeling up in his chair with the top half of his body sprawled across the large wooden desk. His elbows were planted firmly and he supported his chin in his hands as he concentrated on the posters. Joe looked like he was taking in as many of the details as he could and was especially looking at the pictures. Roy knew Joe liked to guess what the men were wanted for by just looking at their photographs.

“Who’s this one?” Joe asked, “he looks a real mean bad hombre. Bet he’s a murderer!”

“Let me look Joe,” said Roy as Joe handed him the poster. He laughed “No son he’s not a murderer, that’s Douglas Jones. He’s a scientist from Philadelphia and he’s wanted for embezzlement and……....” He didn’t get any farther as Joe cut across his words in excitement.

“WOW, a scientist! What’s m’besillmeant? Is he a mad scientist, like the one that brought a monster back to life? Is that what he’s wanted for? Is that what m’besillmeant means, making monsters from dead people? Does he dig up body parts? Bet you’ll catch him in a graveyard! Do you think he’ll come to Virginia City?” Joe was getting so excited and animated, as he bombarded the sheriff with question after question that he nearly fell off his chair. He thought how wonderful it would be to help capture a real life ‘monster maker’ and bring him to justice. His daydreams of a weekend of adventures with the sheriff were coming true.

“Hold up Little Joe,” said Roy laughing at the boys excitement. “First off the answer is no, Douglas Jones as far as I know ain’t mad, and secondly embezzlement means stealin’.” He could see the look of disappointment cross Joe’s features as he answered his questions.

“Well he may still make monsters though mightn’t he? He could still dig up the bodies in a graveyard to get the parts couldn’t he?” asked Joe pleadingly.

Roy frowned. He didn’t want to curb the boy’s enthusiasm but he also didn’t want to tell him lies, but looking again at the disappointment on Joe’s face he thought “what the heck.” Douglas Jones was unlikely to ever be found anywhere near Virginia City, and it was Halloween after all. It wouldn’t do any harm to play along with the boy.

“I reckon you could be right there Little Joe, he could well be a ‘monster maker’. We better put a watch on the graveyard over the next few days. It is All Hallows Eve tomorrow and it’d be the right time of year for him to go and dig up those bodies now wouldn’t it?”

Joe’s mouth dropped open as he heard the sheriff’s reply. He hadn’t really expected that answer and it confused him. His pa, as far as he knew, had never intentionally lied to him but here was the sheriff saying that the man in the poster could be a ‘monster maker’. Yet his pa had told him there weren’t any monsters? He didn’t know what to think and grew silent as he studied the poster again.

Roy’s interest had peaked too. He knew Joe had a vivid imagination but he wondered where the boy had learnt about such things as mad scientists and monsters. He suspected Joe’s eldest brother had played a part in encouraging the youngster, but thought he’d ask anyway. “Tell me Joe just what do you know about scientists bringing monsters to life?” He couldn’t help as a small smile played on his lips and he sat further back in his chair, and waited for the barrage of information he knew was headed his way.

Joe now thought that the sheriff was truly asking his assistance in getting as much material he could that would help in the capture of Douglas Jones. He couldn’t help but picture the look on his family’s faces when they found out he’d been involved in assisting with the arrest of a real life outlaw. He knew exactly who’d told him about mad scientists. He spoke excitedly to the sheriff and in great detail, telling him that it had been Adam who’d explained to him all about a book he was reading, and about how a scientist had used different body parts to build a monster man that he’d brought back to life.

“Well son that’s real useful to know,” said Roy after Joe’s lengthy and detailed explanation. “If Adam’s read all about that in a book it must be true mustn’t it? What with your brother being collage educated he’s only going to be readin’ things that’s going to be informative to him now ain’t he?” Roy could see the pleasure on Joe’s face at being praised and reflected that it was doing no harm at all to make the boy think he was being helpful.

Joe was smiling, but it was because in his young mind the sheriff had just confirmed that monsters were real. He felt proud that the sheriff thought he was old enough to know the truth. After all, he thought, the sheriff must know many more things than his pa did. He reckoned his pa thought that he might be too scared to handle the truth and had only told him they weren’t real so he wouldn’t get too upset. Joe took a deep breath. He wasn’t a baby anymore and now the sheriff was confiding in him he couldn’t afford to let himself get frightened.

They continued their conversation about monsters when it was interrupted as the door to the office opened and Deputy Clem walked in. “Evening Roy, howdy Little Joe,” greeted Clem, closing the door behind him. “I see you and your new deputy have been working hard Roy, if this paperwork is anything to go by.” he said indicating towards the desk.

“We sure have Clem,” answered Joe holding up the wanted poster of Douglas Jones. “I’ve been giving Roy some clues on to how to capture this fella.”

“That’s mighty good of you Joe,” said Clem smiling in amusement,“I’m sure Roy needs all the help he can get.”

“You bet” said Joe as he scrambled down from the chair he’d been kneeling in, the poster still clasped in his hands. “Hey sheriff would you like me to go and put this poster on the board outside?” asked Joe.

“That’s a mighty fine idea son. You go and do that and wait there. I’ll be out in a minute when I finish explainin’ to Clem what I need him to do, and then we’ll go get our supper at Miss Daisy’s like I promised. I’m getting a might hungry now.”

Roy and Clem watched as Joe ran outside to do as he’d been asked, before they both burst out laughing. “I don’t know how you’re goin’ to cope over the next few days with all the energy that boys’ got Roy. He wears me out just watchin’ him!”

"Guess I’m just going to have to find somethin’ interestin’ for him to do to keep him busy.”

Joe was waiting patiently outside the Sheriff’s Office as he’d been told. He looked up again at the poster he’d just tacked to the notice board and shuddered. The man looking back at him had the most penetrating cold eyes that Joe had ever seen. He was sure that with eyes that distinctive he would be able to recognise him. The sheriff had said he wasn’t a mad scientist but he reckoned those eyes sure looked like they belonged to someone that was mad to him. Joe knew the sheriff was very busy but he was going to give him all the help he could in making sure that the ‘Monster Man’, as Joe had now in his own mind christened Douglas Jones, would be captured if he ever set foot in Virginia City.

Joining Joe outside Roy glanced at the board that now carried the poster which Joe had become so enamoured with. “That’s a mighty fine job you’ve done there son. Now the whole town can see his face and be on their look out.”

Joe smiled up at the sheriff wallowing in his praise. He was enjoying his time spent with the lawman and it was already proving to be a great adventure, better even than the ones he’d been thinking they’d be sharing together.

Roy took Joe’s hand in his as they walked together side by side towards the little café situated at the opposite end of C Street, to get their supper. Roy was smiling and Joe was chattering away ten to the dozen. They had both failed to notice a man who stood watching their movements from the shadows, a man that had cold penetrating eyes.

*****

Douglas Jones stepped out of the shadows. He had an uneasy feeling about what he’d just witnessed and moved across towards the Sheriff’s Office cautiously. Jones was once a man who’d been respected in his scientific field when he worked in Philadelphia, but he’d turned to pilfering and thievery to fund his ever increasing exorbitant lifestyle. Realising a criminal existence was a more lucrative profession he’d turned his hand to much bigger things and took on a partner, Clive Davis, a professional safe breaker. Their near downfall had transpired in their last job which involved stealing some rare and priceless gems. They’d both been spotted and identified and had only just managed to get away with the gems by the skin of their teeth. The two men, thinking they had a better chance at avoiding capture if they headed west, set out on the long journey towards California. Everything went well until they reached Arizona where Davis, deciding he wanted to keep the gems for himself, double crossed his partner and left Jones near dead on the trail. Jones survived the attack, and never one to be crossed, vowed to track Davis and the gems down. It had taken him months to follow Davis’ trail but he’d managed to finally catch up with him on the outskirts of Virginia City two days previous.

It had been an unexpected reuniting with his former partner, and as the two of them ended up in a scuffle it was Davis that had become the loser this time. Jones, realising that Davis no longer had the gems on him, managed to glean that they were somewhere in Virginia City, but so far he’d not been persuasive enough to get Davis to tell him their exact whereabouts. He was still working on that little problem, but he had no doubts that he would wear down Davis soon enough, after some more none to gentle persuasion. He had him hidden just outside the Virginia City Cemetery, and although it meant walking through the graveyard to move back and forward to town he was sure that no one would think to look there. He would go back later for some more fun with Davis.

Jones had been keeping an eye on the Sheriff on and off all day. He hadn’t wanted a chance run in with the lawman but he had needed to scope the lay of the land. Not yet sure if news of his crimes had reached this far west he’d been keeping to the shadows as much as possible, watching and listening to what was going on around the town. He knew already that there was a Halloween party taking place the following evening.

Now, as Jones crossed the street he had an inkling of what the young boy and the sheriff had been looking at. Sure enough, as he made his way up the steps, he could see his own photograph staring back at him from the wanted poster. Creeping up to the display board, and making sure nobody was watching, he reached up and ripped down the poster before making his way down the side alley to slip back into the shadows once more. When he was safely out of public view he used a little bit of escaping light from a nearby window to read the poster, before screwing it up in a ball and tossing it away down the alley. With a smirk he thought how the poster would need a murder charge adding soon. Knowing his description had been circulated in the area, made him even more determined to recover the gems and get Davis to talk. He wanted to leave Virginia City as soon as possible, but in the meantime he would keep himself well hidden and out of the way of the sheriff and the young boy.

*****

Daisy was so happy to see Roy and Little Joe enter her café. The sheriff and the Cartwright’s were regular patrons. “Little Joe, honey!” greeted Daisy as she hugged the boy and planted a kiss on his forehead. “What are you doing in town tonight and where are your pa and brothers?”

“Hi Miss Daisy,” replied Joe with a brilliant smile. He loved how Miss Daisy mothered him and he explained to her that he was staying with the Sheriff until his family returned home.

“You come on over and sit down while I get you some supper and then you can tell me all about what you’ve been doing since I last saw you.” She indicated towards a checkered cloth covered table in the middle of the room that was unoccupied. Roy and Joe sat down as she went off to her kitchen to prepare their food. She knew exactly what they both liked to eat.

After Roy and Joe had finished eating Daisy sat down with them at their table and joined Roy in cup of coffee, whilst Joe enjoyed a glass of milk. The three of them chatted away being the old friends that they were, with Joe making them both laugh as he told of his many escapades. They could always count on Little Joe Cartwright to brighten their day and it was always a pleasure to see his love of life shine through.

As they sat talking into the early evening Daisy suddenly had an idea that would help the Sheriff keep Joe occupied and interested for the next day. “Roy I know it’s a lot to ask but I was wondering if you and Joe would like to help out with the party preparations tomorrow? We could really do with some more help.”

“What help do you need exactly?” Roy asked suspiciously. He’d be roped into too many of these things in the past and had learnt from experience.

“We’re going to have Jack O’ Lanterns as centrepieces on all the food tables. So we really need help preparing the pumpkins and of course we’ll need some preparing ready for the Jack O’ Lantern carving competition too.”

“I’m not sure Miss Daisy, what with having Joe over and all.”

“Can’t we help Sheriff Coffee?” asked Joe.

“Well if you want to Joe but I had planned on the two of us doing a little fishin’ tomorrow.”

“Oh boy fishin’!” said Joe excitedly. He loved fishing but he’d noticed the look of disappointment on Miss Daisy’s face and he didn’t want to let her down. “Couldn’t we go fishin’ on Sunday so we can help Miss Daisy tomorrow?” he asked.

“I promised your pa I’d make sure we went to church on Sunday,” replied Roy. It was now Joe’s turn to look disappointed. “But I can’t see why we can’t go fishin’ after church.” added Roy. He reached over and ruffled Joe’s curls; it was a habit he couldn’t seem to stop and the boy was all smiles now. “Looks like you’ve got yourself a couple of helpers Miss Daisy” he said smiling too.

“That’s wonderful boys, but there is something else I needed you to do Roy,” said Daisy as she smiled sweetly in his direction.

“Oh?” said Roy even more suspiciously now.

“Don’t look so worried Roy,” she laughed, “it’s just that Seth Hardy was due to judge the Jack O’ Lantern carving competition, but he’s hurt his back and doc say’s he needs to stay lying down flat for a while, and I was wondering if you could take over from him?”

“I suppose I can if it’s alright with Joe. I don’t want him to miss out at the party,” replied Roy. But as he looked over at Joe could see the boy’s answer. Joe was enthusiastically nodding his head in agreement.

“Does that mean I can enter the competition?” Joe pleaded “Pa let me carve a Jack O’ Lantern last year and he said I was real good at it too. Besides if you’re going to be the judge I stand a good chance of winning?” he said with a cheeky grin.

“Sure you can enter the competition son. It’s the least you deserve if you’re going to help get those pumpkins ready,” replied Roy. “But they’ll be no bribing the judge Joseph Cartwright!” he added laughing.

Roy paid for their meal and he and Joe said their goodnights to Miss Daisy. She wasn’t going let Joe go without a special thank you. She reached over and gave Joe a kiss goodnight “Thank you honey and goodnight. I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

*****

It was dark as they left the café and the pair made their way through the streets of Virginia City on their way to Roy’s house. They were once again walking side by side and Joe’s energy and enthusiasm were still strong and he continued to chatter on. As they walked into the street where Roy’s house was situated Joe looked into the distance. He could just make out the outline of the old warehouse were they would be celebrating Halloween the next day. The sheriff had explained to Joe that the warehouse would be transformed once all the harvest decorations were in place. Joe tried to visualise it and could picture the Jack O’ Lanterns sitting on the cloth covered tables which would be laden with all kinds of food and drink. He was sure looking forward to the following evening.

Joe looked a little further passed the warehouse towards where Virginia City’s cemetery was located. Something had attracted his attention so he looked more keenly and could see a small light that appeared to be moving in the distance, standing out in stark contrast to the dark of the night. He gulped and wondered who would be out amongst the graves at this time of night and suddenly recalled his conversation earlier with the sheriff. A tingle ran up his spine as an image of the ‘Monster Man’ entered his thoughts. He glanced up at the sheriff to see if he’d noticed the light but it didn’t appear he had. Joe was about to tell Roy but when he looked back at the graveyard he only saw the blackness of the night. Then all of a sudden he remembered that the sheriff had told him the graveyard would have to be watched and he reprimanded himself for feeling so scared. He couldn’t let the sheriff know how much that light had really spooked him! “Sheriff, is Clem keeping watch out at the graveyard tonight?” he asked instead.

Roy Coffee was about to answer no when he too remembered the conversation from earlier, so he replied “Why I’m certain he is son. I made sure I told him to do just that for the next couple of nights. We need to keep a look out for that Douglas Jones fella now don’t we?”

Joe breathed a sigh of relief at the sheriff’s answer. It wasn’t the mad scientist, Douglas Jones that had been in the graveyard and he was glad he hadn’t been made to look like a baby. “Yep don’t want the ‘Monster Man’ to dig up those graves. No sir!” replied Joe shaking his head.

“‘Monster Man’?” Roy asked.

“Oh that’s just what I’ve nicknamed him sheriff. You don’t mind do you?”

“It sounds a good name to me son,” He said smiling down at the boy. Roy worried a little now. It didn’t seem like Joe was going to let up on the idea that Douglas Jones would be found digging up Virginia City’s graveyard and he questioned his wisdom at encouraging the boy.

When they at last reached Roy’s house they hurried inside. The fall evening had become too chilly to stand around outside for too long.

Roy had lived in his modest house since before he’d become sheriff and it was a place that held special memories for him. He’d still remember fondly the day’s he’d spent there with his wife, but things had changed and she was no longer with him; he now lived the life of a bachelor. He tended to spend most of his time living and working in his office so there was little need for him to have any fancy furnishings and the rooms were only sparsely furnished. Entering the lounge Roy set about lighting the fire in the small fireplace and they soon settled themselves in front of it enjoying a few games of checkers together. For one so young Joe was a good player. He’d had some good teachers in his pa and brothers over the years and by the time they’d finished playing the games won were even.

Stretching the kinks from his body Roy looked over towards Joe who was stifling a yawn. “I think we ought to head on up to bed now son,” he said. “We’ll need to get an early start tomorrow.”

“Sure Sheriff,” answered Joe “Where am I going to sleep?” He would have normally argued when anyone told him it was his bedtime, regardless of him being tired or not, but he was trying to follow his pa’s instructions and be on his best behaviour for the sheriff.

“Follow me son and I’ll show you.”

Roy led Joe up the staircase and showed him into a small bedroom located at the back of the house. Putting the oil lamp on the bedside table he turned down the sheets for Joe. “All your things are in that bag,” he said indicating to a small carpet bag that was sitting on the chair in the corner of the room. “Your pa dropped it off a couple of days ago, so you should have everythin’ you need. You get yourself ready now son and I’ll be back in a while to say goodnight.”

Joe changed into his nightshirt and climbed into bed to wait for the sheriff’s return. The room wasn’t anywhere near as big as his own and the bed felt lumpy under his small frame, but he was feeling tired and was sure he’d be asleep soon. His family always joked with him saying he could go to sleep on a bed of rocks. They’d always had trouble waking him too; for once he was asleep it was near impossible to get him to stir.

The sheriff was back a few minutes later and seeing how tired Joe looked encouraged him to lie down so he could pull the covers up and tuck them around him. Once he was sure Joe was settled he reached over to the lamp and extinguished the light. Roy made his way back towards the door. There was enough light shining from the lamp in the hall to enable him to see his way across the room. Before he closed the door behind him he turned. “Goodnight then Little Joe, sleep well son and I’ll see you in the morning. If you need anythin’, my room is just across the hall.”

“Goodnight sheriff,” Joe replied.

Joe watched from the bed as the door shut and the little room was plunged into total darkness. Joe wasn’t afraid of the dark but laying there in a strange bed and a strange room his thoughts turned to his family and how he much he missed them. He hoped they were all safe and would get home soon.

*****

Joe wasn’t sure at first what had awoken him. It was unusual for him to wake before morning, so when he opened his eyes he was surprised to find the room was still dark. Unable to see anything, he lay still for a while listening for something that may tell him what had disturbed his sleep. There was nothing, just a complete and utter stillness. He was just about to turn over and go back to sleep when a strange sensation crept over him. Suddenly there was a violent loud crash and then a sudden bright light flared, illuminating the whole room for a few seconds. Joe couldn’t move. He lay frozen in bed, his young mind trying to comprehend what had just happened. He started to shiver as the air around him turned icy cold. That’s when he felt a presence in the room with him. He wanted to throw the covers back off the bed and run, but he couldn’t seem to make his body move. He squeezed his eyes tightly closed, hoping that if he lay completely still that, whatever was in the room with him, would go away. That didn’t appear to be working because something, and he could sense it was a something, rather than someone was moving towards him.

Footsteps! He could clearly hear footsteps! Whatever it was walked slowly towards him; each step bringing it nearer and nearer to his bed! The floorboards creaked loudly in time to the pacing footfalls.

Joe still lay paralyzed in fear. He felt tingles race up and down his spine and goose bumps forming all over his body. His heart was beating faster and faster and his breaths were coming in short gasps. He squeezed his eyes even tighter than he had before as he sensed something leaning over the bed towards him. Then his heart started pounding in his chest as he heard his name “Little Joe, Little Joe, Little Joe….” being softly whispered over and over into his ear and he felt the breath of each word linger on the side of his neck.

He was still in the grip of fear unable to move. There was no way he was going to look at what was leaning over him and he kept his eyes scrunched firmly shut. He couldn’t stand being this frightened anymore. His heart felt as if it was going to pound right out of his chest. He took in a deep breath, and with a huge effort he found his voice and let loose a huge scream. His cries continued then as he yelled “HELP!” at the top of his voice again and again.

Roy Coffee was a light sleeper and could always be counted on to become instantly alert; he had to be in his line of work, so when he heard the scream from the other side of the hallway he woke immediately. Jumping up he lit his lamp and grabbing his gun, which he kept at the side of his bed, he raced out of his room into the hallway. He could still hear the boy’s continuing cries for help and thought that in the very least there must be an intruder in the house.

Quickly putting the lamp on a side table in the hall where it would give him enough light to see by, he reached for the door handle of Joe’s room and flung the door wide, bringing up his revolver to bear on the interloper that he believed he’d find in the room.

Roy stood stock still for a second but hastily came to his senses when he saw that there was only Joe in the room. The boy had his eyes squeezed tightly shut and was continuing to shout for help. There were beads of sweat on his forehead and he was breathing rapidly.

“Joe!” he shouted from the doorway where he still stood. “What’s wrong son?” He put his revolver down on top of the chest of drawers and quickly retrieved the lamp from the hall before making his way across the room towards the boy.

Joe still had his eyes tightly shut when Roy reached his side. He could see the boy looked terrified and thought he must have had a very bad nightmare. Reaching out he put his hand on the boy's arm to try and calm him, hoping to get him to open his eyes. That just made matters worse as Joe almost jumped to the ceiling and started screaming louder. “Joe,” soothed Roy “Joe it’s alright it’s just me son. Open your eyes, it’s alright.” Roy continued in the hope of calming the boy.

Slowly Joe relaxed as he heard the sheriff speaking to him. He opened one eye at first just to check and when he saw it was the sheriff threw himself into his arms. Roy was taken aback when Joe launched himself towards him, but hearing the sobs coming from the boy he drew him closer and offering soothing words of comfort tried to get the boy to calm down.

It took about ten minutes for Joe to get himself under control and Roy could see the boy was still very frightened. He encouraged Joe to get back into bed and covered him up with the bed clothes as the night air was cold. “That must have been some nightmare son. Would you like to tell me all about it?” he asked.

Joe nodded and described to the sheriff what he’d felt and heard. Roy chastised himself for encouraging the boy earlier about monsters as it had obviously caused the boy to have the nightmare. Joe was adamant that he hadn’t been dreaming and it took Roy a while to convince him otherwise. He even opened the wardrobe and checked under the bed to show Joe that there was nobody else in the room. Reluctantly, seeing the sheriff was trying to assure him, Joe did grudgingly concede that it must have been a dream, but his feelings were telling him otherwise.

Roy hoped that we would be able to distract Joe away from the thoughts of ghosts and monsters by keeping him busy the next day, but knew he’d have work cut out being that as it was Halloween. As he tucked the bedclothes back around the boy he could see that there was still trepidation in Joe’s eyes. Roy had never had children of his own so this was a whole new experience for him to deal with. “Son I’m going to leave this lamp turned down low and I’ll leave the bedroom doors open, so if you need me all you’ve got to do is holler,” he hoped that this suggestion would give a little comfort to Joe and allow them both to get a good night’s sleep.

Joe didn’t want to admit he was still feeling scared and also a little embarrassed in front of the sheriff. “Thanks,” said Joe quietly. Not that he thought for one minute that he’d be going back to sleep again that night, but having the lamp and the door left open was a huge comfort to him. He hoped the sheriff didn’t think he was too much of a baby.

Roy was sure he’d made the right decision when he saw the relief on his young companion’s features. Retrieving his revolver from the chest of drawers he bid Joe goodnight again and went back to his own bed.

*****

Joe felt a hand on his shoulder gently shaking him awake. He woke with a start and realised that he must have gone back to sleep again after all. It was morning and the sheriff was telling him that he needed to get up for breakfast and be downstairs in five minutes. Joe sat up stretching and he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Reluctantly, for he’d never been a good riser, he got out of bed and quickly poured some water from the jug on the nightstand into a small bowl, giving himself a cursory wash. He figured he was going to get dirty helping to get the party set up so it wouldn’t matter too much. He could have a good wash and brush up later.

He joined Roy at the dining table and the two of them shared a breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham which the sheriff had earlier prepared. The food wasn’t as good as Joe was used to, but nobody could beat Hop Sing when it came to making tasty meals. When they’d finished eating they cleared the table and washed and dried the few dishes they’d used. Retrieving his hat from the hook by the door and handing Joe his small hat too, Roy asked “Are you ready to help with those pumpkins now son?”

“Sure I am Sheriff Coffee. It’ll be fun.”

Joe and Roy walked the short distance to the old warehouse that was being used as the venue for the Halloween party. Some of the other helpers were already there working on setting up tables and chairs and hanging the decorations, while some were getting things organised for the games and competitions that were taking place before the evening dance would begin.

Joe and Roy were directed to the far corner of the building where they could see a huge pile of orange pumpkins. Miss Daisy waived at them as they made their way over to join her. There were already a few others busy getting the pumpkins ready and Daisy explained to Roy and Joe what they needed to do. As the knives that were being used were very sharp Joe was given the job of scooping out the orange flesh, after the tops of the pumpkins had been cut off. Daisy had given him a metal cup to help him with the task but he quickly found his hands were taking on an orange hue. It took until midday to finish but there was soon a table full of Jack O’ Lanterns, while the larger of the prepared pumpkins had been put aside ready to use in the carving competition.

Roy and Daisy watched with great delight as they observed Joe circling the tables looking at the pumpkins with wide eyed appreciation. Joe had a big smile on his face as he looked at all the different designs that had been carved and they’d given him some great ideas for the competition. Daisy picked up one of the smaller Jack O’ Lanterns and walked over join Joe. “Joe, sweetie,” she said, “I want to thank you for all your hard work in helping us today. It would’ve taken us so much longer but for you.”

“That’s alright Miss Daisy I enjoyed helping. I ain’t never seen so many pumpkins before.”

“Well thank you anyway Joe, and I’d like you to have this.” she said handing the Jack O’ Lantern to Joe. “It’s really too small to do any justice to our displays but I’m sure it’ll look real nice outside Roy’s front door.”

“Thanks Miss Daisy,” said Joe, “It is alright if we take it back to your house sheriff?” he asked.

“It’s fine by me son,” said Roy as he looked at the small Jack O’ Lantern that Miss Daisy had given to Joe. “I can thread a chain through it and we’ll hang it on the porch and light it tonight. How’s that sound?”
“That’d be great sheriff.”

*****

Arriving back at the Sheriff’s home Roy took the small Jack O'Lantern from Joe and as he’d promised threaded a strong metal chain through it and hung it on the porch, just outside his front door. He made sure that it was hung low enough to enable Joe to reach it so that he could have the pleasure of lighting it once it got dark. Joe smiled his thanks as Roy explained to him what he was doing.

In anticipation of the all the party food they would be consuming later on they just had a snack for their lunch, not wanting to spoil their appetites. They passed the time together playing a few games of checkers and Roy read out a few articles in the Territorial Enterprise that made Joe giggle. Once it was time to get ready for the party they both got washed and then dressed in their party clothes. Joe’s pa had packed him a pair of his best trousers, along with a clean fresh white shirt and a black string tie. Although Joe was ready first he struggled with his string tie and had to ask Roy to help.

Once Roy was ready he found Joe waiting for him on the porch. The boy was anxious to light the Jack O’ Lantern, so before walking to the party Roy let Joe strike a match and light the candle that he had place in the centre of it. They both stood back watching the light as it danced around inside the pumpkin, the orange glow seeping between the gaps of the eyes and the sharp toothed grotesque smile.

Roy was pleased with his efforts to distract the boy and thought he must have done a good job as Joe hadn’t once mentioned Douglas Jones the ‘Monster Man’ at all. He’d made sure that Joe had kept busy and reading out the funny stories to him earlier seemed to have had a good effect. He thought that perhaps the boy had got too scared with his nightmare the previous night and had subconsciously pushed the thoughts of monsters out of his mind. Little did he realise that the nothing had been forgotten by Joe and it would all come to fruition later that evening.

Roy and Joe soon found themselves joining the throng of people making their way towards the warehouse to celebrate Halloween. When the pair entered they could see all the Jack O’ Lanterns had been lit and were sitting in the middle of the food laden tables. The musicians had arrived and were getting set up in the far corner of the building ready for the dance. Moving to look around Roy spotted the barrels that were being used for the apple bobbing game and asked if Joe would like to have a go. Joe shook his head. “No thanks sheriff”, said Joe, “I can get an apple anytime at home and don’t have to get half drowned to eat it!” he said smiling.

Roy smiled too. He could never remember a time that he’d visited the Cartwright’s without there being a large bowl of apples on the coffee table, whatever the time of year. “I reckon your right there son,” he said, “and very sensible too. You don’t want to get them fancy duds all messed up!”

The warehouse started to fill up as families gathered around the food and drink tables to participate in the bounty and join in the games. Pulling out his pocket watch and glancing at the time Roy saw he needed to start the Jack O’ Lantern competition. Leading Joe over to the competition tables he positioned him at the top of the table facing the door, where he’d be able to keep a good watch on the boy. Roy stood and rang a hand bell to get everyone’s attention. “Folk’s,” he shouted. “If those of you that have entered the Jack O’ Lantern competition can make your way over to the tables and choose your spot, we’ll get things started.” People made their way out of the crowd towards the tables and did as Roy instructed soon filling all the seats at the tables.

Joe looked up from his position at the top end of the table and saw that he had a clear view of the doorway, through which people were still arriving to enjoy the party. His fellow competitors seemed to be all older than him and he wondered how much of a real chance he had of winning. He was happy just to be taking part and couldn’t wait to start his design. Each competitor had a hollowed out pumpkin placed in front of them and when Roy gave the word they lifted the lids and began. Joe marked out his design and was just about to start carving when Roy reached down and told him to be careful with the knife as he didn’t want him to have an accident. Roy knew just how sharp the knives were.

“No sheriff,” Joe said. “I promise I’ll be careful.” Putting his head down he concentrated hard on what he was doing and with a knife clasped firmly in his left hand started to carve a face in his pumpkin.

*****

Douglas Jones watched as most of the town made their way to the old warehouse. It was unfortunate that it was only a stone’s throw from where he needed to recover the stolen gems and not at the other end of town. He’d eventually got the information from Davis and he’d laughed when he discovered that he’d chosen to hide out so close to where the gems had been buried. His stupid partner had thought that a grave was the safest place to hide them and Jones now had the task of digging up a grave on Halloween without being seen! It had given him one solution to a problem and what better place to hide the body of his partner but in a graveyard. He hoped that with most of the townsfolk being occupied at the party he should have less chance of being spotted.

Jones moved forwards towards the warehouse doors to take a peek inside. He wanted to double check that the sheriff wouldn’t be bothering him. He thought it would look more natural to just walk right up to look inside than to look around furtively. He was less likely to attract attention that way. So choosing his moment when there was nobody else around outside he stood at the open doorway and peered inside. Everything was in full swing and he could see the sheriff making his way around some tables where he looked to be too busy to pay him any heed. Looking towards the end of the table he could see the small boy that had been with the sheriff every time he’d seen him. He wondered if he were the sheriff’s son. The boy seemed to be concentrating on carving a large pumpkin and Jones watched him for a few seconds. He regretted those few seconds as the boy looked up and met his eye. He knew by the expression on the boy’s face, and intake of breath, that he’d been spotted. He turned hastily and ran back across the street to the shadows once more. He would watch from those shadows for a while.

*****

Joe had been concentrating hard but as his hand using the knife began to ache, from slicing though the pumpkin flesh, he sat back for a little rest and admired his handiwork before he resumed his carving once more. He didn’t know what made him look up when he did but he was drawn to the man standing in the entrance way. It was as he looked into the man’s eyes that he knew instantly who it was. He was looking into cold calculating eyes that could only be the eyes of the ‘Monster Man’.

He’d lost his concentration when he stared into the man’s cold eyes but he’d automatically carried on slicing his knife through the pumpkin flesh, but the knife continued downwards and he sliced into his own flesh too. He took a deep breath still watching as the man turned and ran across the street. He needed to find Sheriff Coffee and as he looked around for him he became aware of a burning pain in his hand. Looking down at this right hand he was fascinated to see the edges of a deep cut slowly opening and blood began to pool in his palm. As the blood began to flow faster it wasn’t long before it ran down over his hand and between his fingers forming drips that splattered on the table below.

Looking up he could see the sheriff with his back to him standing watching one of the other contestants. He needed to let the sheriff know about Jones above his own pain and needs. With a feeling of detachment he started to stand slowly, managing to push himself up from the table. Holding his right hand out in front of him he supported it with his left hand and made his way towards the sheriff.

Some of the other competitors were becoming aware of the small boy, with his hand covered in blood moving slowly between the tables. Roy sensing the mumblings going on around him guessed that something was wrong, and turning round to see he gasped in horror.

Joe was finding it difficult to think now and although he could hear voices around him he found it impossible to distinguish the words. He could feel his vision closing in, and although he was aware that the sheriff had reached him he couldn’t seem to focus. He managed to whisper one word before darkness overtook him and he toppled forward.

Roy was dismayed when he saw Joe’s condition and the hand that was a mass of bright red blood. He hurried over towards the boy and arrived in time to hear him whisper the word “monster” and only just managed to scoop him into his arms as he fainted dead away. Roy was barely aware when someone came forward from the crowd, which had gathered around them, and wrapped Joe’s hand tightly in a neckerchief. Then, holding tightly to the small body he ran quickly across town to the doctor’s office.

Doctor Paul Martin was just stepping out of his office door, ready to make yet another house call. He’d got back from dealing with an accident at one of the nearby ranches when on his return he’d found a message asking him check in on Mrs Edwards who lived in town. The doctor had been hoping to attend the Halloween party this year, but being the only doctor in town he often had to live with the inconveniences of not having a social life. He thought perhaps he may still be able to make the party once he made his call, but hadn’t reckoned on Little Joe Cartwright putting paid to any such plans.

Roy called out as he saw the doctor standing on the steps outside his office. Paul looked up peering into the night to see who’d shouted him. He could see the sheriff running towards him with a small boy bundled in his arms. It wasn’t until they reached him that the doctor realised it was the youngest son of his close friend Ben Cartwright. Holding open the door to let Roy carry his burden into his office he indicated to his examining room where he told Roy to lay the boy on the table. “What’s happened?” he asked. Even though the wound on the boy’s hand was plainly obvious he needed to know how it had been caused.

“He’s cut his hand rather badly,” answered Roy “he was carving a pumpkin in the Jack O’ Lantern competition. This is all my fault, I knew I should have kept a better eye on him. Ben’s never going to trust me with his child again!”

Joe began to stir on the table as the doctor gently peeled the neckerchief away from the wound. “He’s lost a fair amount of blood already and that’s a nasty deep wound. It’s going to need stitching, and I’m concerned he may have some nerve or tendon damage.” Paul smiled down at the boy as he saw two green eyes blinking up at him from a pale face. “Well how’s my most favorite patient?” he asked.

Joe still very groggy. “What, what am I doing here?” He was blearily looking around him and recognised the doctor’s office at once. He gasped and tried to draw his hand back as the doctor continued to examine and treat his wound.

“Hold still now Little Joe. I need to get this cleaned up.”

Not yet thinking clearly and with his hand now hurting him fiercely he’d forgotten for the moment that he needed to relay his message to the sheriff. “I want my pa,” was the first thing that he habitually said. He could feel a hot throbbing consistent pain across the palm of his hand and when he was in pain his first thoughts were of needing his pa.

The sheriff was mortified when Joe had asked for his father. It made him feel worse knowing the boy was in pain and the person he really wanted with him wasn’t there. He’d have to try his best to sooth the boy. “Joe your pa’s not here son. Just me and doc but we’ll look after you don’t you worry none.”

Despite his best intentions of being brave Joe started to sob. “Hurts,” he said.

“I bet it does son. I’m real sorry it’s my fault.”

“Sheriff need to tell you something,” said Joe his voice shaking between his sobs and gasps from the pain he was feeling. Roy moved nearer to Joe’s left side to try and hear him better.

Paul was more concerned about getting the blood loss under control and checking Joe’s hand for any lasting damage, than he was in hearing what the boy had to say to Roy. He gently grasped Joe’s chin in his hand and turned the boy’s head to face him. “Joe this is important. Now I need you to move the fingers on your right hand one at a time. Can you do that for me?”

Scowling a little at the doctor, Joe could see from the look on the man’s face that he wasn’t going to let him speak to the sheriff until he’d done as he’d asked. Slowly and painfully he managed to flex each of his fingers until the doctor was satisfied. However the movement had caused his hand to throb even worse and he closed his eyes tightly trying to deal with the constant throbbing.

Paul was a lot happier with his prognosis after he’d seen that Joe could move his fingers, albeit somewhat painfully. The bleeding that had slowed started flowing again and he needed to close the wound. He knew the small boy was in pain, and knowing that worse was to come, he went over to his medicine cabinet and mixed a powdered sedative in some water. “Joe I want you to drink this.” He said holding the glass up to the boy’s lips.

“No! I don’t want that I need to tell the sheriff.”

“Whatever you need to tell Roy can wait until I’ve seen to your hand. Now drink this.”

“No!”

Paul was used to dealing with the reluctance of this little patient and had often had run-in’s in the past, but Joe had learnt that the doctor always won in the end. “Joseph Cartwright! You drink this now or I’ll make sure I give you something that will keep you in bed for the next week.”

“But I need to…..”

“Drink!”

Roy watched the doctor and the boy, and if it weren’t for the circumstances he would have laughed at the scene. Even so he couldn’t help but smile at the deep scowl on Joe’s face and his bottom lip jutting forward. Joe had reluctantly swallowed the medicine and although it didn’t take long to start working Roy could still see his small body trembling. He grabbed a chair and pulling it close to the bed sat down and took hold of Joe’s left hand, as Paul got everything ready that he needed to sew up the wound.

Joe opened his eyes slightly when he felt someone take his hand. He tried to fight the effects of the sedative when he saw it was the sheriff by his side. “Sheriff,” Joe said sleepily “Monster, monst……..” were the only words he spoke as he succumbed to the effect of the sedative and blood loss.

“What does he mean by monster?” asked Paul as he began to painstakingly put stitch after stitch into the small hand.

“Oh I reckon that’s my fault too,” answered Roy. “I tell you Paul, Ben’s not going to let me even speak to the boy again. I seem to have made a complete mess of taking care of him.” Roy explained to Paul about Joe’s exuberance when he learnt that Douglas Jones was a scientist, and how he’d played along encouraging the boy about monsters, and then in the early hours waking up to find him terrified after a nightmare. “This accident is just the last thing,” he added, “and Ben’s never goin to forgive me!”

Paul looked over at Roy as he finished wrapping Joe’s hand and laid it on top of his chest. The lawman looked so upset that Paul tried to instil some humor into the situation. “Roy you should know by now that trouble will always find Joe and volunteering to spend an entire weekend with him, well I’m sure things could’ve been a lot worse my friend.” Seeing that Roy was still worried he added, “He’s going to be fine Roy and Ben will understand.”

“I don’t know Paul,” he said looking down on the small boy who was in a deep sleep. “Just look at him, he looks so small and helpless and I just feel so responsible for him hurting.”

Paul walked over and placing a hand on Roy’s shoulder said “Why don’t you sit with him for a while. I’ve got to go out and see Mrs Edwards but I’ll be back shortly. He’ll probably sleep for a while. Go and help yourself to some coffee while you’re waiting, you look like you could use a drink.”

Once the doctor had left Roy tried to make Joe more comfortable and took off his boots and pulled the bed covers up over him, taking care not to jostle his bandaged hand. He sat watching Joe for a short while and tried to figure how he’d let things go so wrong. He still felt guilty at encouraging the boy. Talking out loud to no one but the sleeping boy he said, “You’ve not had much of the Halloween I’d promised you have you son? Perhaps your pa will let me make it up to you somehow.”

“Roy?” said a voice from behind him. He’d been that deep in thought that he hadn’t heard his deputy. He got up from his chair and joined Clem who stood in the doorway of the examining room. Clem looked over Roy’s shoulder to where Joe lay asleep. Indicating with his head towards Joe he asked, “Is he going to be alright? Paul told me what happened.”

“He will be,” replied Roy washing his hand down his face. He felt drained. It had been a long day and it wasn’t anywhere near over yet.

Clem chatted with Roy for a bit but noticing how tired the sheriff looked he thought it best to take his leave. “I’ll head back to the office now Roy. It’s all quiet with most folks over at the party. It’ll give me a chance to catch up on some of that never ending paperwork we always seem to have,” said Clem laughing. “You rest up some while you can. Joe looks like he’ll be asleep for a while yet.”

Roy looked back into the room where Joe lay and thought maybe Clem was right. He decided to take the doctor up on his offer of a cup of coffee and went towards the kitchen at the back of the building. No harm in taking a little break he thought.

*****

But Joe wasn’t in as deep a sleep as the two men had thought. He’d started to come awake as Clem and Roy had been talking in the doorway. Their words were incoherent at first but as he tried to fight the effects of the sedative he managed to understand some of what they were saying. When he did open his eyes he was surprised to find that he was alone. Still feeling incredibly muzzy he wondered where everyone could be. His thoughts became jumbled. He remembered Clem was going to do paperwork and wondered if that meant the sheriff had taken over the watching of the graveyard. Then he panicked. The sheriff didn’t know he’d seen Douglas Jones! He didn’t want the sheriff to get hurt, especially if Jones already had monsters with him.

Joe wasn’t feeling up to walking all the way over to the graveyard so he shouted for the doc. There was no reply or any sound of anyone approaching and everything remained silent. Joe sighed. It was up to him to go and warn the sheriff.

Sitting up he managed to stagger to the end of the examining table and awkwardly, with one hand pulled his boots back on. Making his way to the main door he slipped out into the night and climbed down the steps of the doctor’s office to the street below. With a big effort Joe started making his way towards the cemetery, walking on legs that felt as if they didn’t belong to him.

*****

Douglas Jones had waited and watched from the shadows across from the Halloween party. He’d expected in the very least that the sheriff would come tearing out in pursuit once the boy had told him about seeing him. When the Sheriff did appear in the doorway he stiffened, until he realised that he was carrying the unconscious boy in his arms and could see in the glow of the lights the bloody wrapping around the boy’s hand. He smiled to himself as he sauntered off into the graveyard. It looked like he’d been given another chance to get the gems. When he’d allowed himself to be spotted he thought he’d have to leave without them.

He’d already located the grave where he knew his former partner had buried the gems and now he dragged over his body from its place of concealment. He was intending to dig up the jewels, make the hole a little deeper and dispose of his partner’s body before filling in the grave once more. Nobody would be the wiser. Lighting an oil lamp and turning it down so low that there was just barely enough light to see by, he ran the light across the name on the granite headstone. ‘Mary Coffee’ the marker read ‘A beloved wife’. As he started to dig, Jones hoped that whoever she was, that she wasn’t going to mind some company for all of eternity.

*****

Joe was finding it difficult to keep himself steady. His hand was throbbing relentlessly and he was feeling lightheaded. All he knew was that he had to warn the sheriff. He reached the street where the sheriff’s house was situated. He didn’t have much farther to go now. He glanced at the sheriff’s house which stood in darkness all but the glowing Jack O’ Lantern that was still hanging where they’d left it earlier. Joe stood staring at its grotesque laughing face for a minute before realizing it may be useful. He made his way across to the porch and climbing on one of the chairs he managed to reach and unhook the chain. There were clouds in the sky that evening, and even though the moon shone through every so often he would need something to see his way through the graveyard. The lantern didn’t give off much light but it would help him to see his way a little.

The streets were almost deserted and those that were about took no notice of the small boy carrying a Jack O’ Lantern with him. He appeared to be making his way towards the Halloween party anyway. Joe could hear the music and laughter coming from the building before he reached the open doorway. He peeked inside as he walked passed and could see people dancing and generally having a good time. He wished he were still inside too, enjoying the evening with the sheriff as they’d planned.

Joe soon found himself at the gates of the graveyard. He shuddered. It wasn’t a place that he’d volunteer to go into alone, and especially not on All Hallows Eve. Just the thought of all the soles of the dead, that were due to rise that night, made his skin crawl. He took a breath to steady himself as he walked through the already open gate and entered the dank, dark cemetery.

It was difficult for him to see over the top of some of the raised graves and headstones but holding his Jack O’ Lantern in front of him he started making his way through and around the graves. He had to be careful that he didn’t run straight into the ‘Monster Man’ and he just hoped that he’d find the sheriff first. He tried to keep himself hidden behind the headstones as much as he could. The light from the Jack O’ Lantern was casting an eerie orange glow as he picked his way passed more and more headstones.

He couldn’t see any sign of anyone else around and he was just about to give up when he noticed the faint glow of an oil lantern about thirty feet in front of him. He quickly sat down behind a large headstone and looking up at this own lantern he reluctantly blew out the candle, reasoning that if he’d seen the light in the distance then his Jack O’ Lantern may be spotted too.

He sat behind the headstone until his eyes became accustomed to the dark and keeping low he peeked out from behind it. He needed to see who it was and hoped with all his heart it would be the sheriff, but his heart sank when he saw who it was. He’d found the ‘Monster Man’! The moon was at last appearing with more regularity and Joe could just make out the spade in the man’s hand. He seemed to be digging and lying near his feet was a body!

He kept glancing anxiously around him wondering why Sheriff Coffee didn’t come out to arrest the man. He leant with his back against the headstone and closed his eyes. What was he going to do? He thought it had been a good idea to come and warn the sheriff but with no sign of him he could only keep watch on Douglas Jones, and pray the sheriff would come soon.

He raised himself to his knees to take another peek from behind the headstone. His eyes opened in fright. The lantern and spade were sitting on the ground by the open grave, but of Douglas Jones there was no sign.

Joe flung himself back against the headstone and shuddered. Right at that moment he wanted nothing more than his pa to come along and rescue him. He always seemed to get himself into these situations, and more often than not meant he had to be rescued by one or other of his family. Tonight his family were nowhere around and nobody knew where he was. But Joe knew where he was! He was sitting in the middle of a graveyard with an evil scientist and a dead body for company on All Hallows Eve! He could feel the cold fingers of fear creeping towards him.

*****

Roy Coffee had been away from sitting with Joe much longer than he wanted. When he’d gone to get a cup of coffee he found the stove had died down. He wasn’t going to bother at first but he took assurances from the doctor that Joe wouldn’t be awake any time soon. So firing up the stove he waited for the coffee to get hot. He walked back into the doctor’s office sipping from his cup to find an empty bed and no sign of Joe. Having quickly looked in all the other rooms and noticing that Joe’s boots were gone he was just about to pull open the main door when Paul walked in. The doctor took one look at the worried face of the sheriff and thought that Joe must have taken a turn for the worse. “Roy what’s wrong? Is it Joe?”

“It Joe alright, replied the Sheriff, “but not in the way you think.”

“What do you mean?” Doc Martin asked, dreading the reply.

“The darn boy has disappeared,” confirmed the sheriff.

Roy briefly explained to the doctor about the stove and finding Joe gone when he got back. The doctor apologised to Roy saying he should have known that the tenacious Joe Cartwright wouldn’t have reacted to the drug he’d been given in the normal way. But that aside the two men were worried about the boy wandering around alone and hurt; they needed to find him fast before more trouble found Joe.

“Have you any idea where he may have gone?” asked Paul

“I really don’t know,” replied Roy. “but we need to find him. If anything else happens to that lad I’ll be beside myself, and Ben will never speak to me again!”

The two friends suspected that maybe Joe, missing his home and family and now hurting, may have tried to make his way back to the Ponderosa. It wouldn’t have been beyond the youngster to do something so irrational. Paul agreed to find Clem knowing they would need to organise a search party if that proved to be the case.

Roy was going to check out his house and the Halloween party first just in case Joe had wandered there looking for him. He arranged to join the doctor and his deputy back at the jail if he didn’t come across the boy.

Paul was troubled about Joe and knew the sedative that he’d given the boy had been a quite a strong dose and could still be affecting his system. He wondered how the boy had even the strength to get himself out of bed, never mind be wandering around outside in the dark!

*****

Roy got to his house as quickly as he could. His house stood in darkness but he did notice that the Jack O’ Lantern was gone. Thinking that maybe Joe had taken it and had gone back to the Halloween party for some reason, he hurried down the street to the warehouse.

The party was in full swing with many people on the dance floor but Roy was able to do a swift search around the large room looking for any sign of the boy. Daisy spotted him and noticing how worried he looked knew immediately that something was wrong. He explained to her about Joe’s disappearance and she told Roy that she’d seen no sign of Joe since Roy had carried him over to the doctor's office.

Roy thanked Daisy and headed back outside where he paused in front of the warehouse doors looking up and down the street speculating where the boy could have gone. He was just about to start back up the road to his office to join Paul and Clem when something in the graveyard caught his attention. He could just make out the soft glow of a lantern and in the low moonlight thought he saw movement.

Frowning Roy questioned if it could possibly be Joe but couldn’t for the life of him think why the boy would be wandering around a graveyard in the dark. Then he remembered that this was Joe Cartwright, and where that boy was concerned anything was possible.

Hesitating for but a minute, he made his way to the graveyard to investigate.

*****

Joe continued to sit huddled against the headstone, having no idea where Jones had gone he didn’t think he dared move from his hiding position. His hand had starting hurting him far worse than it had before and he held it tightly against his chest, trying to protect it as much as he could. He was feeling very frightened and lonely and with the quiet of the graveyard his imagination and thoughts started to run wild.

“What if that man had already got enough body parts to make a fully-fledged monster? What if the monster was making its way towards him even now?” His next thoughts turned to all the people buried in the graves that surrounded him. “Oh Lordy I’m sitting right on top of a grave. What if the sole of the person decided at that very moment to rise up?” He gulped not sure what to do next. He was shivering and it wasn’t just from the cold of the night air.

The deathly quiet that surrounded him was broken by the sound of something moving his way. He recalled the previous evening when he’d heard footsteps and then his name being whispered. His heart started to beat faster and he listened more intently. When he heard a second noise he had no hesitation. He couldn’t sit still any longer; he was going to make a break for it. As he got to his feet he put one foot forward but felt something tugging on his foot. He expected to set off running but was instead pulled of his feet and ended flat on his face, landing heavily on his sore hand. His terrified scream filled the silence of the night!

He’d knocked his hand and it did hurt, but his scream was for the panic and fear he felt as something grabbed his foot and prevented him from running. Even when he kicked out with his other leg he couldn’t get himself loose. Then he felt more terror as something grabbed his shoulders and lifted him off the ground. He lost all sense of reasoning and screamed again. “The monster must have him,” he thought. Although he still felt terrified he wasn’t known as the most stubborn Cartwright for nothing and he wasn’t going down without a fight. Balling his left hand into a tight fist he readied himself and punched out as hard as he could.

“Ow! What in tarnation do you think you’re doing Little Joe?” Came the response to his punch.

Little Joe frowned. The monster sounded awfully like Sheriff Coffee? He felt himself beginning to relax and his heartbeat slowing. “Is that you sheriff?” he whispered.

“Course it’s me, now would you mind telling me just what you’re doing out here in the dark when you’re supposed to be restin’ at the doc’s?”

“I’m sorry sheriff,” Joe whispered now fully calmed but somewhat puzzled why he couldn’t free his foot still, “I can explain really, but can you help me, something’s got my foot.”

“Let me look.” Roy bent down and in the dim moonlight could just make out that Joe’s foot had got tangled in the chains from the Jack O’ Lantern and they had wrapped themselves around the boy’s boot. He reached over and lifting Joe’s foot he slid it out of the tangled chains. He retrieved the Jack O’ Lantern and righted the candle and placing the lantern on the floor he relit it. “May as well have us some light,” he said standing back up to look at the youngster. He was mightily glad he’d found Joe looking none the worse after his little escapade. “Now what say you and I head back into town? I reckon the doc’s going to have somethin’ to say to you!”

“No sheriff we can’t go back,” Joe again whispered, “you’ve got to find Douglas Jones.”

“Joe, what in tarnation are you talking about and why are you whisperin’?”

“I reckon that’ll be because of me sheriff,” said a voice from behind, “reach real slow, drop your gun and turn around.”

The sheriff not wanting to put Joe in any further danger did as he’d been told. When he turned he found himself staring down the barrel of a revolver. Quickly pulling the boy, who’d been standing at his side, behind his back he tried to give him some protection. Joe’s head peeped out from behind his legs as he looked up at the sheriff. “It’s what I was trying to tell you sheriff. It’s the ‘Monster Man’!

“What’s the boy talking about?” quizzed Jones.

“You’re right Joe,” said Roy completely ignoring Jones’ question. “Is that why you’ve been out here?”

“Kinda. I thought you might be here,” came Joe’s reply. “I saw him earlier tonight just before I cut my hand but I never got chance to tell you.”

“No I reckon me and the doc didn’t give you much of a chance to tell us did we?”

“This is all very interesting,” said Jones, “but I don’t aim to stand around here all night. Come and on and get over there,” he said waving them forward with his gun. “You can dig that grave a little deeper and it’ll be perfect fit for another two bodies.” He gestured again with his gun for Roy and Joe to step forward.

“Leave the boy be,” said Roy holding Joe protectively behind him. “He’ll not do you any harm. Let him go.”

“Can’t do that, you two are the only ones who know I’m here. You boy, said Jones pointing towards the Jack O’ Lantern, “fetch that with you, we need more light.”

Bending forward to pick up the lantern by its chain, Joe gasped. His hand was paining him again after his fall, when he’d tripped over the chain attached to the pumpkin. Holding his right hand up tightly against his chest and the Jack O’ Lantern in his left hand Joe smiled. He’d had an idea and maybe he’d be able to help the sheriff by distracting Jones.

Joe let the two men get a few steps in front of him and making sure he had a clear path towards Jones he took his chance. Thankful that it wasn’t his left hand that had been injured he began to swing the Jack O’ Lantern round by the chain. Once he had enough momentum he let go and flung it as hard as he could at the feet of Jones. Just as he’d hoped, the chain wrapped round one of Jones’ ankles and he went crashing down. Turning around at the sound of the man falling Roy took the chance that Joe had given him and dived for the gun that Jones still had clutched in his hand.

Jones wasn’t going to give up his gun without a struggle and the two men were each trying desperately to take control of the weapon. Jones was fighting to save his neck from the hangman. However Roy had the added impetus of fighting, not just for his own life but that of Little Joe’s, and he was determined not to let anything else happen to the boy. It was a hard struggle between the two men and Joe didn’t know which way to turn to keep out of the way of the fracas. He got knocked down a couple of times and had to scramble awkwardly, having the use of only one hand to try and gain his feet. Joe was reluctant to leave the sheriff to deal with Jones alone and knowing there wasn’t much he could do to help, he eagerly egged him on, unquestioningly trusting him to overpower the outlaw.

Suddenly as the two men still fought over the gun Jones managed to get his finger curled around the trigger and Roy only just succeeded in forcing his arm away as the gun fired twice with quick rapidity. Roy started to get the upper hand then and with a good right hook, which landed squarely on Jones’ jaw, he saw Jones’ head snap back with the force of the blow and he tumbled backwards into unconsciousness. As Jones fell backwards Joe didn’t have time to dodge out of the way and he got knocked off his feet again, only this time his head hit the edge of a gravestone.

Panting and out of breath Roy made sure the outlaw wasn’t going to get up and bent down to retrieve the revolver they’d been fighting over. Not sure where Joe was he looked around. It was still difficult to see much even though the clouds were dispersing leaving a soft moonlit glow shining down on the gravestones. When he did spot Joe panic hit him once again. The boy was sprawled flat on his front and he wasn’t moving. Fearing the worse he ran over towards the prone body of the youngster. Roy knew the gun had fired as he and Jones were fighting over it and he’d not seen what had happened to the boy. As Roy approached Joe he prayed fervently that he hadn’t been shot by a stray bullet. Kneeling down he gently turned the small body over and he was relieved to feel the steady beat of a heart under his hand. Still finding it difficult to see he felt his way over the boy’s body to feel for any injury. It wasn’t until he checked Joe’s head and felt his hand come away wet that he realised the boy must have a head wound. Not knowing how serious it was he needed to get the boy some medical care once again. “Heavens to Betsy,” he said to the unconscious boy, “your pa is going to have a fit when he sees what’s happened to you. As for me, I reckon I’d better leave town!”

He scooped the unconscious lad into his arms for the second time that night. He could hear Jones starting to moan and recognized that he needed help. Although Joe needed to see the doctor he had a duty to ensure that Jones was placed in jail. He was just about to fire off some shots to try and get some attention when he heard voices shouting in the distance and the glow of lanterns making their way towards him. “Looks like helps arriving,” he said to Joe but there was no response from the child that he held in his arms. He could see the outline of a group making their way towards him and as they grew closer he could see with relief that his deputy and Doc Martin were in the lead.

He called out to direct them towards him and Clem quickened his pace and was the first to reach him. “Roy are you alright?” he asked, “what’s going on? We heard gunfire.”

“Just get that fella,” he said indicating with a nod of his head, “over to the jail and lock him up tight.” Roy watched as Paul came up behind and he shouted him over. “Paul!” “Thank goodness you’re here, you need to check on Joe. It’s his head.”

Paul stepped forward and holding a lantern up high he tried to gage the condition of the boy held in Roy’s arms. He ran a hand at the back of Joe’s head and could feel a squishy lump that had formed there. “It’s too difficult to tell how bad it is out here Roy,” said the doctor “Let’s get him back to your place where I can examine him properly.”

With Joe securely held in his arms Roy stepped carefully around the gravestones and onto the path that led between them. That’s when he saw more people approaching. “It’s alright folks,” he said, “everything’s taken care of. Clem could do with a couple of you fella’s to help him but the rest of you go on back to town. Nothin’ else here needin’ your attention.” He watched as two men made their way over to help Clem and the rest followed behind him and the doctor.

Roy carried Joe upstairs when he reached his house, Paul having gone on ahead of him to open the doors and light some lamps. He carried him to the small bedroom and gently laid him on the bed before slipping off the boys boots. Paul bent over the bed and started to check Joe over, the scene so reminiscent of earlier that day.

Roy hovered anxiously in the bedroom waiting for Paul to tell him how Joe was. Looking up Paul could see the fearful look on Roy’s face. Paul smiled. “He’s alright Roy. It’s not as bad as I fist feared. The cut doesn’t even need stitches. It looked worse than it was with all the blood, but you know how the head bleeds. It’ll just need cleaning up. He’s going to have one heck of a headache when he wakes up, but other than that he should be fine”.

Roy let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “What about his hand?” he asked.

Paul sighed as he started to unwind the bandages from around the small hand. He was beginning to think that Roy was becoming as bad as Ben when it came to worrying about the youngest Cartwright. “His hand is fine Roy. Now stop worrying. He may have banged it a bit but the stitches have held, and there’s no sign of infection. I’ll rewrap it and check it again tomorrow.”

There was a small moan from the bed as Joe’s eyelids flickered open. It took him a while to focus his eyes and he wondered where he was. He could just make out the worried faces of the doctor and the sheriff peering down at him. “What happened?” He tried to raise himself off the bed only to be pushed back down by the doctor.

“How’s your head feel,” asked Paul. “And don’t say fine because I know from the size of the goose egg you have that won’t be the case.”

Joe looked up at the doctor with a glare. He didn’t dislike Paul Martin, just hated the man’s profession. “It hurts some,” he said. It actually hurt quite a bit, and so did his hand but he wouldn’t tell that to the doctor. He didn’t want any of the man’s awful tasting medicines if he could help it.

“I bet it does” replied Paul cynically. “Do you feel sick or dizzy? And the truth, mind Joe.” He looked on in amusement as his patients scowl deepened.

“A little.”

“Just a little eh?” smiled Paul. “Little or not I want you to stay and rest in this bed for a couple of days. Roy will be making sure you do.”

At the mention of the sheriff’s name Joe look over towards where he stood watching. “Sheriff,” Joe called in a weary voice. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open and felt very tired. “Sheriff are you alright? Jones didn’t hurt you did he?”

“No son I’m fine,” replied Roy, “your quick thinking with that Jack O’ Lantern gave me the chance I needed. Clem has him over in the jail right now so he’ll not cause you any further trouble. What were you doing in the graveyard anyway son? He just hoped that now Jones was behind bars that Joe’s obsession with thinking the man created monsters was over. Then he suddenly realised he had no idea why Douglas Jones had been in graveyard. He’d been that worried about Joe that it hadn’t entered his head to find out

Joe very sleepily told the sheriff why he’d left the doctor’s office to look for him and his need to tell him about Jones. Roy appreciated the young boy’s thoughtfulness and concern about him. However when Joe went on to explain that he’d known that Jones would go to the graveyard because he’d be digging up the bodies, just as the sheriff had said, Roy looked across at Paul who had an amused grin on his face. Roy gulped and wondered how on earth he was going to explain all of it to Ben Cartwright!

“Sheriff, did you find the body that Jones had dug up by the grave?”

“Body?” asked the sheriff, “what body? It was the first time he’d heard Joe mention a body. He frowned and wondered if this was the real reason Jones was in the graveyard. But digging up a body? That didn’t make sense!

Joe even more tiredly now described how when he’d first seen Jones in the graveyard that he could just make out a body on the ground at the side of the grave that he was digging up.

The sheriff and the doctor looked at one another and shrugged. “Doc do you think you could stay with Joe for a while. I think I need to get out to the graveyard again and have a look at what Joe thinks he saw.”

“Sure Roy,” answered Paul, “I’ll wait here with Joe until you get back.” He pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat down. “Joe will probably sleep for a while anyway.”

When Roy looked down he could see that the boy was indeed already fast asleep.

*****

Roy walked out of his front door to go back to the graveyard when he was met by Clem. “How’s Joe?” he asked.

“Doc says he’s going to be alright after a few days’ rest,” replied the sheriff, “but Joe told me he thought Jones had a body out there in the graveyard and I was just going there to take a look.”

“It’s true,” said Clem, “I was just on my way over to tell you. Jones told us everything. He was out there trying to dig up the stolen gems and he was going to bury his partner, Davis, in the grave once he’d dug them up. Says it was an accident that his partner got killed, but I told him that was for a judge and jury to decide. We took the body over to the undertakers for a proper burial. We recovered the jewels and Harvey Simpson has them locked in the bank vault.”

“Well I’ll be,” said Roy who’d been listening keenly. He understood now why Joe thought Jones had dug up the body. “A likely story about his partners death bein’ an accident though. He was quite willin’ to kill both Joe and me!” said Roy.

“That’s what I thought too,” replied Clem, “but there’s just one thing I need to tell you Roy. It’s about the grave that Jones was digging up.”

Roy could see by Clem’s face that he was having trouble relaying the information. “What about the grave? Roy asked.

“I’m not sure how to tell you this Roy and I’m truly sorry, but Jones was digging up Mary’s grave.”

Roy felt sick. “My Mary?” he asked Clem for clarification.

“Yes Roy, I’m sorry it was her grave. I reckoned you’d want to get out there first thing tomorrow and check on it.” Clem looked saddened at having to relay this information to Roy.

Roy couldn’t comprehend his feelings right at that minute. “Thanks Clem.” he said and turned to go back inside his house. Roy stood looking blankly at the small living room picturing the happy times he’d had there with Mary by his side. There was no point in him dwelling on the desecration of her grave. It was just a plot of soil after all. It was his heart that held the true and loving memories of his wonderful wife and it always would until the day he died. He had someone else at that moment that needed his attention and he walked up the stairs to go and look after Little Joe.

As he reached the doorway to walk into the little bedroom he looked in and gasped. There was Doc Martin sitting asleep in the chair which he’d drawn up at the side of the bed in which Joe was asleep. That wasn’t what was consuming his attention; it was the vision he could see behind the doctor that had made Roy gasp. He could see the shimmering outline of a woman. She was bending over the bed as if she was checking, like any mother would, on a sleeping child. The apparition stood up and turned. She looked straight at Roy with a beautiful smile on her face. Roy stood frozen in place, unable to move or speak, as he watched the woman seemingly disappear into the ether.

He came back to his senses and moved towards where she’d been stood and quietly whispered her name “Mary!”

His movements disturbed the sleeping doctor and he woke from his nap. “Sorry Roy did you say something? I must have just dozed. It’s been a long day.” He stood up stretching and looked across at Roy noticing how pale the lawman looked. “Roy are you alright?”

Roy pulled himself back from his amazement. It had been his wife Mary that had just appeared in front of him as clear as day. He knew he couldn’t say anything to the doctor as he’d think he was going crazy. “Sure Paul I’m fine,” he said, “I’ll be alright watching Joe now.”


Paul left with instructions about how to care for Joe and told Roy that he’d be back in the morning to check on his patient.

Roy sat in the chair that Paul had just vacated and he looked down at the sleeping boy. He felt sure that he wasn’t the only one watching over the child and he could feel a sense of calm in the small room. As he settled further down in his chair he realised it would be a long night but he didn’t mind at all.

He began to wonder about the previous evening and the things that Joe had described to him. He’d dismissed Joe when he claimed he hadn’t been dreaming, and insisted that the boy had a nightmare. Now after what he’d just witnessed he knew that not to be the case. He presumed that it had been his wife that had been trying to make herself known, but the boy had been terrified. He was sure his Mary hadn’t meant to scare the boy so, but guessed he was just was too young to understand. He didn’t know why she’d chosen these past two days to show herself. Perhaps it was the fact that Joe was staying in the house. He and his wife had not had the chance to be blessed with a child of their own, and he recalled how she looked to be bending over checking on Joe. He knew that she would have been a wonderful mother. Then again perhaps it was because her grave had been disturbed. Whatever the cause of seeing his wife’s face in front of him again after all these years it didn’t matter to him. He drifted off to sleep with wonderful comforting thoughts.

*****

Joe stirred in the bed as he awoke the next morning. He could see the sheriff asleep in the chair next to him. He felt groggy but his head and his hand were feeling better than they were the previous evening. He was thirsty and tried to sit up and reach across for the water pitcher and glass, but with only one good hand it wasn’t an easy task. His movements woke Roy who became instantly awake. Noticing that Joe was awake too he smiled at the boy. He’d not intended to sleep in the chair but he’d felt such a close comforting presence in that little room that he couldn’t bring himself to leave it. Seeing that Joe was trying to reach for the water he stood and filled the glass handing it over to the boy. “How are you feeling son?

“Lots better thanks sheriff. I guess I slept really well. I’m still feeling awfully tired so I reckon I’ll get me some more sleep.”

“Course you do that son, you need to get as much rest as you can today. The doc will be coming by to check on you later.” Roy laughed at the face the boy pulled. “I reckon tomorrow when your pa gets home I’ll have to weather the storm. I’ve certainly got my fair share of explainin’ to do. I’ll be surprised if he don’t run me out of town!”

Joe smiled. He didn’t think he’d ever seen the sheriff look so disturbed at having to speak to his pa. “No he wouldn’t do that to you. Especially when I tell him how you’ve taken good care of me and all.”

“Well thanks for that son. “I’ll need all the help I can get. Get yourself some more rest now and I’ll fetch you up something light to eat later.”

“Thanks,” replied Joe. “Sheriff Coffee, can I come stay with you again sometime if my family are ever away?”

“Why I wouldn’t think you’d want to son? I’m not sure your pa will ever trust me to look after you anymore Joe,” he said sadly.

“Oh I’m sure he will. I’d like to stay with you again please? You are my hero after all,” said Joe succumbing to sleep once more.

Roy looked at the boy and smiled “Hero indeed,” he chuckled. “I don’t think that’s what Ben Cartwright will be calling me anytime soon.”

A shimmering silhouette watched the scene from the corner of the bedroom her eyes taking in the sleeping boy. Her loving gaze followed the sheriff as he left the room. “You will always be my hero,” her voice whispered and echoed softly across the room.

The End.

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