Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat

By: Michelle Denson

"Dadburn that Little Joe!" Hoss exclaimed to the sounds of his little brother's arrival home. Only one person would ride full speed into the yard like that and that was fifteen-year-old little brother to the big man. "Dadburnit Adam, when's he gonna learn not to ride in like that. He sure is lucky that Pa isn't back yet."

His brother stood shaking his head, "It's bad enough he's already late from school, but to compound his problem by riding in like that…well I better go get that brother of ours in and here and to work on his chores before Pa gets home." Adam headed out of the barn doors as his little brother was making his way in.

"Hi Adam, Pa's not here is he?"

"No and your lucky he isn't! Riding into the yard like that. How many times are we going to have to tell you about that? Why are you late from school this time and where is your jacket boy?" Adam stood crossing his arms in front of his chest, a small smirk making its way to his lips. He could only imagine what kind of mischief his little brother was in today. He watched the emotions written clear on the little scamp's face and awaited the story that would follow.

"Ah Adam I had to ride in the yard fast if I was gonna get my chores done before Pa got home" he smiled his most angelic smile known to melt anyone's heart, well almost anyone. He started to lead his pinto pony on towards the barn, but the sound of his brother clearing his throat in the way that he was waiting for his brother to finish his story. He hoped his brother wouldn't press the issue but all hope died when his brother spoke again.

"I'm still waiting for questions to be answered Joe."

"Well, um, Adam I sorta, um, got in trouble and I, um, had to stay after school and clean up. I must have forgot my jacket" he stammered while looking up at Adam with hopeful eyes. He hoped Adam would just be okay with the answer he gave and would not press for more information. Again his hope died when Adam spoke again.

"And Joseph just why were you held after school?" Adam felt like he was pulling teeth at times with his little brother.

"Well you see Adam, I sorta forgot to pay attention to the teacher."

Adam rolled his eyes, same story different day. Why could the boy not just do as he was expected? "Well I'm sure you deserved whatever punishment the teacher saw fit to give you. You better get on with your chores before Pa gets home, otherwise he'' not going to let you go to the Halloween fair on Saturday.

That was all the motivation Joe needed and was off to get his chores completed. He was lucky his brother Hoss helped Joe finish and by the time supper came around his chores were complete. His Pa rode in just before supper.

As they all sat down to eat, Ben looked at his three boys and again was reminded of how much they have grown up. He cleared his throat to get the attention of the boys, then looked directly at Joe. At first he would have sworn that he had a look of guilt on his face but seemed quickly replaced by the widest smile that could melt the snow on the coldest of days. "Joseph, it's only a couple of days before the fair, have you decided on your costume yet?"

"Well Pa, I was kinda wondering, could I bring my epee to the fair?" he asked with a hopeful glance.

Ben was amused, "and why would you need that son?"

"Well Pa I was kinda hoping to have it is all. It would go great with the costume I was considering. So can I bring it Pa?" Again he flashed that smile.

Hoss and Adam gave each other a humored look, knowing there was no way Pa would let Joe bring the epee into town. Ben looked around at the boys then back at Joe. "I'm sorry son, but you'll just have to find something else to use."

"But Pa, why not?" Joe wasn't above begging at this point. It was a good idea and knew no one around would have this costume.

"Joseph an epee is not a toy and someone could get hurt. I'm sorry Joe but you are not taking it, end of discussion."

Joe looked down at his plate with a sudden loss of appetite and began to play with his food. The tone his father just used meant there would be no more heard about it. He looked around the table and saw the humored faces of his brothers. He looked towards his father and finally rested his gaze down to his plate.

Ben was beginning to be annoyed with his youngest, and then he noticed his son's long curls. He should have had his hair cut weeks ago but things have been so busy on the ranch and he kept putting it off. "Joseph stop playing with your food." He knew what he said next would be sure to upset his son farther. "You need a haircut badly. You can do that tomorrow on your way home from school."

"Ah Pa can't it wait until after the fair? Please" Again he flashed his brilliant smile.

Ben knew he should be stern but after the early disappointment his son had, what would a few days matter. "Alright Joseph it can wait until after the fair." He added a bit more sternly "I believe Monday after school would be fine and I want no argument out of you, do you understand?"

"Yes sir, Pa thank you." He was quite shocked his Pa agreed. He hated getting his hair cut when he thought it was so much better longer, besides the girls enjoyed it too. A sparkle of an idea jumped into his head and he began making mental plans for the fair. A fair he would soon not forget.

"Adam, Hoss, what about you two? Have you decided on a costume?"

"Ah shucks Pa, I just plum had no luck with an idea" sulked Hoss. He had been trying for days for an idea but nothing struck his fancy.

Joe giggled, "Hey Hoss you could go as a bunny. You have that suit still from Easter don't you?"

"Little Joe that ain't funny! I'm not wearing that pink rabbit suit. No sir, no way!"

"But Hoss, think of all the little children that would be excited to see the big pink bunny again" Adam smirked.

"Ah Adam, don't you josh me too."

Ben laughed at the light-hearted banter that went around the table. "Well Hoss you only have a short time before the fair." He turned to his oldest and smiled, "What about you son? Have you chosen a costume?"

"Yes sir I have"

"Well what is it?" asked Joe.

"Well Joe, you'll just have to wait until Saturday."

"How about you Pa?" Joe asked giving up on his older brother.

"Well son I believe my costume is ready as well, but like Adam you will have to wait until Saturday."

The remainder of the evening passed like many others with Adam in his chair reading, Hoss and Joe engrossed in a checkers game, and Ben smoking his pipe reading the paper.

The next day Joe found himself once again distracted in the class thinking about the fair and the surprises he had planned for the event. Lucky for Joe his teacher didn't take notice of his lack of attention today. On the ride home he had a sudden idea for a great prank but was going to need some help and extra supplies. He knew if he got caught he would be in big trouble, but the excitement for his grand finale pushed any thoughts of consequences from his mind. He got home on time and had all his chores completed before supper. He needed his Pa in a good mood tonight. It seemed his day was going right. Tomorrow was Friday and that left him little time to get everything in order for Saturday.

"Hey Pa do you mind if I spend a little time with Mitch tomorrow before I get home?" Joe asked after finding his father in a pleasant mood that evening.

"Well Joe I can't see any reason why not, but you will need to have all your chores completed once you get home. So don't be too late. Remember Saturday afternoon we have the fair."

"Yes sir, thank you Pa." Little Joe was ecstatic everything was going perfect. He had some of the items he needed for his pranks hidden in the barn.

That night Joe went to bed early, planning to wake early enough to get his chores done and move all the things out of the barn to hide in town for the next day. The next morning he was up earlier than everyone else and had finished all his chores even earlier than he thought. His family was still in bed and he figured he had time to do some of Hoss and Adam's chores and a few more of his even chores before breakfast. He was so busy he didn't realize the hour was getting late.

Inside the house Ben and Adam were seated at the table sipping coffee. Ben had sent Hoss upstairs to wake his brother. They looked up towards the stairs when they heard the heavy footsteps coming down the stairs.

"Pa, Joe ain't in his room"

Ben wondered where he could be. It wasn't like him to be the first one up. His temper started to rise when he remembered Joe went to bed early. "If that boy snuck out of the house last night he's going to regret that for the next month" boomed Ben while he stood up from the table and made his way towards the door.

Adam and Hoss followed him quietly not wanting to add to his worry and anger.

Joe was busy babying his beloved mare after finishing all the chores. He was checking the back of Cochise's hoof when the barn doors slammed open. Joe jumped up from the sudden sound and Cochise was also startled causing Joe to loose his balance and his body to be flung against the stall. He slipped down stunned and sore. The sound of a deep moan escaped his lips as he sat slumped against the wall.

"JOSEPH" yelled Ben as he watched his son get tossed into the wall. In an instant he was at Cochise's stall making his way to his son. Hoss took Cochise to another stall, while Adam made his way to the other side of his brother.

"Joe, son, are you okay?" Ben asked while checking over his son for possible injuries.

"I'm fine Pa, just got the wind knocked outa me is all."

"You sure Joe? You didn't hurt yourself?"

"Really I'm fine Pa. Why'd you bust in the barn like that? Scared me and Cooch half to death."

Ben helped Joe to his feet and when Joe swayed a bit he and Adam helped to support him. Joe gingerly rubbed the back of his head. It was sore, but considering the wall was pretty hard it made for an easy conclusion that he'd have a small lump.

"Well son, we were looking for you."

Adam smirked before adding, "I guess we found him."

Hoss gave a soft laugh and was joined by Joe and his father. Joe's laugh stopped short as his head rebutted the sound. Ben saw the boy cringe and knew he was in some pain, regardless of the protest he gave.

"Sorry Pa, I didn't realize it was so late already. I woke up early and got all the morning chores done, plus some of my evening chores" he added proudly.

Ben was amused all the worrying about his son getting into mischief and the whole time he was doing what he should. He smiled, "Come on boy let's get you inside."

Joe started to worry about getting on his way to school. He had a lot of items to hide in town before class. His Pa was starting to hover too much and feared that he wouldn't let him ride to school on his own. He finished his breakfast and tried to keep an amused air about him. He was soon pleased that his Pa relented and even said not to worry about his evening chores, just to be home for supper. He saddled his mare and walked behind the barn to retrieve his bounty for tomorrow, then headed off towards town. He arrived late to school, but was quick to explain to the teacher about the accident in the barn for his reason of being late, conveniently omitting the extra stop in town. During the day he spoke with Mitch about the final items he needed, and soon they found the school was over for the day. The teacher brought in cookies for the holiday, and all the kids enjoyed more than their fair share before heading home for the day. Joe made it home that evening quite pleased with him self, tomorrow was going to be a great day.

Dinner that evening was an excited affair of teasing and plans. Joe had to be reminded numerous times to finish his meal. His headache from the morning was gone and like everything else was soon forgotten.

The next morning brought a continuation of last nights excitement. The morning chores were done in record time and soon the four Cartwright's were getting ready for the fair. Ben was the first downstairs and waited in his favorite blue chair anticipating his boys chosen costumes. Soon his oldest was making his way down the stairs. Ben was immediately pleased with his sons choice. Adam was decked out in black leather pants, with a heavy brown jacket that reached down past his thighs. Around his waist was a thick black belt with a small ornate dagger on the left side and a long broad sword on the right.

"Well Adam, that is a very nice costume. I think Joe will be a bit jealous though, you wearing a dagger and a broad sword."

Adam smirked at the thought, "Yeah Pa, I sure hope he isn't too bad about it." He made his was down to the red chair and took in his fathers appearance. He smiled as he took in the sight. There in front of him was a man in long red slacks and a blue stripped shirt. Around one eye was a black patch and above a black bandana encompassing the normally silver topped head. "Well Pa, what a fitting costume you have chosen."

Ben smiled, "I'm just wondering what your two brothers are dressed up as!"

"Here's Hoss now, I guess we're about to find out" Adam remarked when the heavy sounds of footsteps were heard overhead.

Both Adam and Ben grinned at the sight of Hoss in big kacky colored pants held up with red suspenders over a red and blue plaid shirt.

"Son that's a right nice costume you came up with."

"Yeah Pa, sure beats that ole pink bunny suit!" All laughed at that image from last Easter. "I whittled a wooden axe, didn't think a real one would be such a good idea for the fair."

"Yes son, you're very right there. I wonder what's keeping your younger brother."

Joe stood at his mirror taking one last glance at his reflection. He took a deep breath and steadied himself before heading downstairs. All eyes in the room turned to him as he reached the bottom step. Ben was the first to speak. He was a little confused and decided that the best action was to be direct and just ask.

"Son you look very nice, but I'm curious what you're going as?"

Joe looked at the floor and then back up smiling. He really thought he had a great costume. He was decked out in an expensive blue suit, complete with black string tie. His hair was loose and curly, the length coming to reach just a touch under his neck.

Adam sat back smirking; he already had a good guess and would just wait for the reaction to come.

"Well Pa, you see… I'm going as a river boat gambler!"

Adam and Hoss both laughed and Joe couldn't help but grin in their direction. He brought his attention back to his father and noticed he wasn't laughing, but he also wasn't thundering mad. "Uh Pa, I thought it would be fitting. You're always saying my hair is too long." He was nervous as his father stood quietly in front of him. Normally his father's look alone could be scary, but decked out as a pirate he was damn near frightening.

Ben put his hands on his hips and glared at his youngest.

"Uh oh" whispered Adam to Hoss. Both sat quietly waiting for the explosion to occur.

Ben was upset, his son to make a mockery of him. Well after all it is only a costume and come Monday that boy will have one very short hair cut. "Joseph, first thing tomorrow morning you and I are taking a nice trip into town for a haircut!"

"Yes sir." Joe swallowed the lump that had started forming there and smiled up to his father.

Soon they were on their way towards town. Joe said he forgot something in the house and turned back but was quick to catch up to his father and brothers. Ben liked to be early and for Joe that was a very important part of his plan. He knew his father would expect his sons to help set up and for Joe he was more than willing to help. About an hour later, all the booths were set as well as some extra entertainment courtesy of Joseph Cartwright. Guests started to arrive and soon the pumpkin-carving contest would begin.

This was one event that all the Cartwright's would participate in. Joe was quick to hand out the pumpkins to his family before sitting down with his own. The pumpkins were already hollowed out and the tops pre-cut. When the judge gave the word all the contestants lifted their lids and started to work on their design. Hoss sat staring at his pumpkin and started looking around. He noticed everyone else was hard at work, and noticed his little brother was quite excited laughing and giggling two seats down beside older brother Adam. Adam was engrossed in his design, methodically drawing his design before he started to cut into the pumpkin. Hoss looked to his other side and watched his father work for a moment before he looked nausiously towards his pumpkin again. The look was not lost on his father.

"Son are you having a problem with your pumpkin?"

"Um Pa, is there anything wrong with your pumpkin?"

"No son, should there be?"

"Um no sir, but um, you see, um Pa my pumpkin is filled with worms!"

The little spy at the other end of the table started giggling louder until he finally fell to the ground in a laughing fit. Three pairs of eyes found their way to the little one rolling around in the dirt.

Joe noticed a big shadow move over him and fought to control the laughter.

"Joseph get off the ground now before you ruin that suit!"

"Yes sir" he was quickly to his feet, still trying to hide his laughter he bit his bottom lip and turned his laughing eyes towards his father.

"Joseph do you know anything about Hoss' pumpkin?"

"Ah yeah Pa, sorry thought it would be funny."

Hoss started to laugh, "Well Pa it kinda is, ain't it." Ben smiled it was pretty funny to see his middle sons expression and after all it was pretty harmless.

Soon the contest was over and in the end it was Hoss' pumpkin that won first prize. Ben and Adam both had nice designs, but Joe's looked like it had gone through and Indian war party.

The next contest was the pie-eating contest. Joe smiled in anticipation of the gag to come. Hoss of course was entered, never one to give up the chance of free sweets. All the contests, ten in all, sat at the long table with a starter pie in front of them. The judge gave the countdown and on three all faces went into the pies. There was a deafening silence quickly broken by loud screaming and laughter. The women that didn't start running and screaming were fainted on the floor being fanned by their escorts. At the table the one remaining contestant sat drumming his fingers on the table. Thousands of spiders and bugs were running from the hollow pies.

Hoss stood up and slammed his fist to the table in frustration. This was his favorite contest and it was ruined. Nothing got Hoss upset like good food being ruined. He knew exactly who he was looking for, the small brat that conveniently hide himself behind his father and older brother. "Dadburn you Little Joe! When I get my hands on you, I'm gonna whip the tar outa you!"

Joe looked up and tried to contain the laughter. Ben and Adam as well were trying to hold back their laughter.

"Dangit Joseph that was my favorite contest."

"Sorry Hoss, but it sure was funny!" At that point Joe could hold back no longer and was in a fit of laughter. Adam as well lost his control and began to laugh, bringing the eldest of them all to a deep bellowing laugh.

"PA" whined Hoss

"Son, their bringing out new pies right now."

Suddenly the anger Hoss was holding was replaced with a big grin. Soon he was laughing with the others. "Joe that sure was funny, but dadgumit why'd you have to ruin them pies?"

Hoss made his way back to the table and Joe took off quickly with an easy escape.

It was early evening when the family met up again. Hoss had easily won the pie-eating contest and Joe found his friend Mitch to remind him to help with the finale. The family headed over to the hotel for dinner. Joe didn't eat a lot; he had swiped an entire apple pie and had eaten the entire thing when he took leave of the family. Then there were also all the sweets he had wanted to try out. Ben gave an exasperated sigh at his son's lack of appetite. He would have said more because it was a waste of food and money, but Hoss managed to clean both his and Joe's plates.

After dinner they visited some of the other booths. There was a neat display of a scarecrow in a pumpkin patch that a large crowd had gathered around. An old woman came out and sat to tell ghost stories. There were high-pitched screams as women flew from the area. At first everyone thought it was because of the story, but after a few more ladies went screaming or fell to a faint the culprits were noticed. Behind the old lady thousands of snakes and toads went slithering out of the scarecrow scene.

"JOSEPH!" boomed Ben. He was beyond upset and knew without asking that this was Joe's doing. "I suppose this is your handiwork?"

"Um, yes sir" mumbled Joe looking down at his feet.

"I expect you will clean up this mess."

"Yes sir" answered Joe

"And Joseph, have you put you pranks in any other booths?"

"Yes sir" sighed Joe knowing the rest of his evening was ruined for the pranks.

"I suggest you rectify that immediately."

"Yes sir" mumbled Joe and went off to clean up the remaining pranks. He really wanted to see the apple-dunking contest. He had filled the tub with fish from Lake Tahoe. He didn't brighten when he worked out that he could do the grand finale. Technically it wasn't a booth, so with that new thought he happily finished removing the remaining pranks. He also offered his apologies as he knew his father would have him do anyway. As he made his way around he stopped for samples of the sweets, then made his way over to the livery stable in preparation of the finale.

The costume contest was underway and the three older Cartwright's were searching the crowd for Little Joe. Ben was getting both upset and worried, it had been a long time since Joe went off to clean up the pranks.

"Pa I don't see him anywhere," said Adam still glancing around the growing crowd.

"Me neither Pa" sighed Hoss, "Don't go worrying about Little Joe, he's probably just enjoying the fair" he continued.

Ben looked to his two boys, "That's what I'm afraid of." As they all laughed at what kind of mischief the boy could be up to now. "That boy has caused enough mischief this evening. He's on thin ice as it is" Ben finished.

"Pa I'm sure he'll be around shortly" at least Adam hoped so as he was saying it. He could help but feel his brother was up to no good. He knew his father was at the end of the rope for the day as far as Joe's pranks went, but knowing his little brother he knew that the evening would end on a bad note and most likely a sore bottom to a certain curly headed kid.

As the Cartwright's continued to search the crowd a loud scream from the other end of town got their immediate attention. All had the same thought of dread, "What did Little Joe do now!"

In the early evening sky a bright orange glow made it's way closer towards the gathered crowd. The steady sound of hoof beats gave an entrancing rhythm. The crowd was wide-eyed and very quiet. Fear and anxiety made their way throughout. As the light and sound grew closer the fear won out in some and they couldn't help but try to swallow the lump they found in their throats, nor could they stop themselves from taking a few steps back. The crowd was in a quiet trance until again the scream broke through the night and the orange glow came faster towards the crowd. As one the crowd panicked and screams were heard as the people tried to out race the other to find some sort of safety. Many women passed out from fright, leaving their loved ones to decide whether to flee or try and help them. Behind the fleeing crowd the hoof beats stopped and the air was penetrated with another loud scream. For those that stood transfixed by curiosity or pure fear, the sight of a large black horse stood on his hind legs in angry protest. The rider held a large pumpkin that gave off the orange glow from the light inside. It was however the rider that seemed to make those in fear sweat in the cool air with wobbly knees. For on the back was no doubt the body of a young man with only one exception, his head and neck were not in sight. The rider lifted and threw the pumpkin towards the remaining crowd sending the formally glowing orange into a shatter on the town's street. In the moment the light was out and the scream once again penetrated the still night air. The last sound was that of the horse hooves beating a hasty retreat.

The three Cartwright's stood dumbstruck. Like the others that had remained, they found themselves firmly planted to the ground. Soon though the crowd seemed to recover and quickly people started to make their way towards their homes.

Ben looked to his two boys, "I think it is time we find Joseph and head home ourselves."

Both boys just nodded and headed off in search of one kid in some serious trouble.

With the crowd dispersed it was apparent that Joseph was nowhere in sight. It was when they made it to the livery that the boy was found.


Joe jumped and could have sworn he saw steam coming out of his father's ears. Try as he could, he couldn't even look to his father's face, much less in the eye. He stood quietly waiting, knowing his Pa would be quite angry with him. He should have known that this prank was going to be a sure seat warming, but like everything else Joe never considered his punishment until it was too late.

"Well boy, cat got your tongue?" Ben stated in his deep quiet voice. One that was sure to send shivers of fear into any man, much less a boy.

Joe swallowed hard and slowly looked up. His eyes first found his father's and he quickly moved his gave from brother to brother.

"Well discuss this at home young man" Ben stated as he turned on his heal and mounted Buck heading off towards home. The others were quick to follow, Joe of course taking the solemn ride in the rear.

Joe was reluctant to go home, he had left one last prank out for the evening and well now he wished he hadn't, even though it would have gotten a laugh normally now it was just going to add more to his misdeeds. The ride home did nothing to ease Joe's headache and as they got closer to home his stomach was doing a dance all it's own. Yes, Joe thought to himself, I really did it to myself this time.

Adam tried to get his father to cool down; he was only met with cold silence.

As they pulled up towards the yard they were greeted with one last surprise. In the front of the Ponderosa ranch house stood a scarecrow-like figure. The figure wore Pa's green pants and orange vest over a light blue shirt. The body was made out of straw and was faced towards the house. The greeting however that they received was of a full orange moon created from a pumpkin that had been of two formed into one that had a long split in the center, giving the impression of buttocks.

As Joe had figured, the prank had only further infuriated his father.

"Adam, Hoss see to the horses please. Joseph in the house, NOW" he barked already leaving his horse and opening the front door.

Joe got down from his pinto reluctantly; he figured it would be a long time before the two would enjoy a ride together. His stomach was in more knots than he figured possible. He shakily headed towards the house and took a deep sigh before entering.

Adam and Hoss sat on their horses a few more minutes.

"Adam, you figure that's a full moon or a harvest moon?"

Both laughed and dismounted.

"Well Hoss, I'd say if we change the clothes and pant the pumpkin bright red, we'd have Joseph's moon after tonight."

The mood outside lightened and the boy's went off to bed down the horses.

Inside the ranch house the mood was anything but lightened. Ben stood deathly quiet in front of the fireplace. This only caused more anxiety and soon Joe found himself sweating under the scrutiny.

Ben cleared his throat to get Joe's full attention, "Joseph look at me." Slowly Joe lifted his eye to match that of his father. "Son I'm very disappointed in you tonight. You have played pranks on the entire town. Scaring women and children, as well as ruining some of the booths at the fair."

Joe dropped his gaze back to the floor and quietly replied, "I'm sorry Pa, I never meant for anything to be ruined. I only wanted to pull a few gags." His eyes were quickly overflowing with tears, making tracks down his cheeks. The sight of is boy so upset softened Ben, he could never stay mad at his youngest for any length of time. He did have to stay stern so the boy would not run wild.

"Joseph do you know what could have happened tonight? Do you realize that someone could have gotten injured? Your lucky that some of the scared townsfolk didn't take to shooting at you in their fright."

"No Pa, I'm sorry"

"Joseph you will be on yard restriction for the next month. You will leave the yard ONLY to attend school and church. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir"

"Good now go upstairs and get ready for bed. I'll be up shortly to finish our discussion."

"Yes sir" Joe slowly made his way up the stairs. It was still early but he knew he was in enough trouble not to fight off a room restriction for the remainder of the night. He knew that was coming. He also figured he was in for a tanning too. Solemnly he got himself changed and seated himself on his bed. Why do I always get myself into so much trouble he thought to himself. The upcoming tanning he figured he would get only caused his already knotted stomach to turn more and his head was throbbing, no doubt from all the crying and worrying he thought.

The sounds of footsteps and a gentle knock as the door opened brought more anxiety as his father stepped into the room. Joe immediately jumped to his feet but the movement only escalated his already throbbing head.

"Pa, I'm really sorry. I never thought that anything could have caused any real harm."

Ben smiled, "I know son, but you really must learn to think before you act."

"Yes sir."

"Alright son. You're to stay in your room for the rest of the evening. I expect you to be up early tomorrow for church. You have a lot of apologies to make."

"Yes sir" sighed Joe. He was happy he was getting out of a tanning but felt terrible about disappointing his father.

"Alright Joe, goodnight and God bless."

"Night Pa." Joe sat back down on the bed and watched as his father closed the door behind him. Even though he could move forward he still felt terrible. Usually after he got his punishment his anxiety would subside, but he still felt the same as before if not a bit worse. He lay down in bed figuring he must have eaten too many sweets at the fair today.

Adam and Hoss joined Ben in the living room after he left Joe's room. He sat in his favorite chair and started to read the paper. Adam and Hoss soon began a game of checkers. No sooner had the game begun than the sound of footsteps overhead got everyone's attention. The happy atmosphere soon was clouded when Ben realized his youngest defied him by not staying in his room. "Can't that boy mind what he is told" Ben thundered as he rose from his seat. Hoss and Adam gave each other the 'uh oh' look. At the top of the stairs the object of the new mood in the house started to make his way down.

"Just what do you think you are doing young man?" Ben barked, obviously extremely angered by his son's willing disobedience.

"Pa" said Joe. He had quickly started to feel even worse after he lay down. The cramps were getting worse, his head was like a heard of cattle stampeding through it, he was still sweating and felt shaky. "Pa, I don't feel too good." He got out just before a wave of dizziness sent him tumbling down the remaining stairs. He landed at his shocked father's feet.

"Joe" Ben yelled as he watched his son faultier and fall before him. The deep anger was quickly changed with concern as he kneeled down to his son. "Joseph son, are you okay? What's wrong?"

"Pa I don't feel too good" Joe whispered as his face grimaced with pain. He lay in a ball tightly holding onto his stomach.

His brother's were quick to join their father at Joe's side.

"Adam help me get him back to his room. Hoss go get the doctor quickly."

The sound of hoof beats were sound as Hoss quickly saddled and departed for the doctor. Adam and Ben helped Joe back up to his room.

"Adam get me a new night shirt, your brother's soaked clean through." Adam was quickly bringing a new shirt before his father had even asked.

"Pa, I'm gonna be sick." Joe got out before he started to violently heave the contents in his stomach. Just when he thought he had nothing left to heave, the violent sensation returned again. Twice more he was sick before he fell back to the bed exhausted and shivering.

Ben and Adam could only watch with concern with each violent attack. They were both relieved when the attacks ceased, but concern grew with how much it had take out of him. They could feel the fever radiating from him and together bathed him in cool water to try and bring down the temperature.

"Pa I'm so thirsty" Joe croaked from the bed. He was immediately rewarded with some cool water, which he drank greedily. However a few minutes later he regretted that as new waves of pain brought another round of violent retching. With the last energy he succumbed to the violent attack and fell back to the bed exhausted and quickly found peace in a deep blackness.

"Pa, what's wrong with him?" Adam asked with concern for his little brother.

Ben sat at his son's side brushing the soft curls from his brow. Without loosing visual contact with his son he answered "I don't know son, I just don't know."

Adam continued to try and cool Joe down. He couldn't help but notice how much his father aged in just the last half-hour. He always seemed to age beyond his years whenever one of his son's had been sick. Adam was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of hoof beats in the yard. He quickly made his way to the window.

"Pa, Hoss is back with the doctor."

"Finally" Ben said relieved as he headed out to door to meet the doctor.

"Ben" greeted Doc Martin, making his way up to Joe's room. "Hoss told me Joe is sick? What's wrong with the boy?"

"I don't know. He was fine one minute than complaining of stomach pains. He fell down the stairs when he came to tell me. He's also had some violent vomiting and passed out a short time ago." Ben replied as he followed Doc Martin into Joe's room.

"Ben, Adam, go on downstairs. Let me take a look at him and I'll be down in a little bit to tell you what I've found." He ushered them out of the room.

The sound of hoof beats out in the yard brought the attention of the Cartwright's.

"Ben, boys." Sheriff Coffee announced as he made his way to the door.

"Hi Roy, what brings you out this evening? Ben asked

"Well I come looking for the Doc. There was a note on his door that he was out here. Got some sick kids in town. Their folks are just plum driving me crazy. They probably ate too many sweets and now they all have tummy aches." He chuckled but noticed that the older Cartwright's weren't.

"Roy Joe's awfully sick. He was fine one minute but the next he was violently sick and he's passed out up stairs." Ben replied worriedly

"I'm sorry Ben, Doc have any idea what's wrong?"

"He's been up with Joe for awhile."

The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs brought immediate attention.

"Doc, how's Joe?" Ben quickly got out as he made his way to the doctor.

"Ben, Joe's a pretty sick boy. That's not a normal sick from too much candy either." Doc got out.

"Well what's wrong with him?" Adam joined in

The doctor knew this was the hard part. "Well seems Joe's been poisoned."

"Poisoned" came the response from the four men.

"Who'd wanna poison Little Joe?" Hoss asked.

"Doc any idea how he was poisoned?" Roy asked

"Probably something he ate or drank."

"He hasn't had anything since he's been home, he would have had to been poisoned at the fair" Ben stated.

A pounding on the front door got the attention of everyone. Hoss made his way to answer it and found Mr.Devlin at the door. "Hey Mr.Devlin what can we do for ya?"

"Looking for the doctor." He replied as he scanned the room and locking his eyes on the doctor. "Doc Mitch is awfully sick, says he got some bad stomach ache."

"Looks as though I'm in for a busy night. Ben I left Hop Sing with some instructions for Joe. Try to get him to drink some milk and lots of water. You need to flush out his system as much as possible. He's still unconscious, but I'll stop by after I see Mitch and check in on him."

"Oh Doc, there's a bunch of kids in town sick as well. They all complaining of stomach pains." Roy added with growing concern. "Ben, boys. Think I'll ride over with the Doc to the Devlin place see if I can get some answers from Mitch. I'll ride back out later and talk with Joe."

The three men made their way up to Joe's room to begin helping Joe threw his sickness. For the next few hours they worked hard to get Joe to drink and bring down his temperature. Since he was unconscious he didn't put up too much of a fight about all the water he was drinking. Adam sent Hoss and Ben to get some food while he sat with his brother. He was soon rewarded with two glistening green eyes semi-focused on his face.

"Hey Little Buddy, how are you feeling?"

His response was a weak attempted smile and Joe licking his lips. Adam got him a glass of water, which Joe drank quickly.

"Thanks" he replied and was fast asleep again.

When his father and brother came up he told them Joe came around for a short period but was back to sleep quickly. Adam went downstairs to relieve his hunger while Hoss and Ben sat with Joe. He barely made it to the kitchen before horses were heard in the front yard.

"Doc, Roy. How is Mitch and the other kids?" Adam asked

"Well they all are sick but no way near as bad as Joe. How's he doing?" Doc asked

"His fever is down and he was just awake, but went back to sleep quickly."

"That doesn't surprise me. Takes a lot out of you to battle a poison."

"Roy did you find the person responsible for this?"

"Well I have a suspect in my jail. I need to speak with Joe, seeing how he was the worst off he'd be able to help strengthen the case."

"Well let's go check up on that young man." Doc suggested and they made their way up to the room.

The doctor ushered everyone out of the room while he examined Joe. Roy took the time to update Hoss and Ben on the goings on in town. A short time later Doc called everyone back up to Joe's room.

"Ben, Joe's gonna be just fine. His fever is broke and the stomach pains are much more tolerable now. He'll be tired and weak for a few days, but should be back to his normal self soon."

There was a sigh of relief from everyone in the room.

"Doc is he able to answer some questions?" Roy asked

"Sure but not too long. He's still pretty weak and tired."

"Joseph, son, you need to wake up." Ben urged. "Come on son you need to open your eyes."

"Pa" Joe yawned

"Joe the sheriff needs to ask you some questions. Are you up to answering them?"

"Sure Pa"

Roy made his way over to Joe's bed. "Son how are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. I'm sorry sheriff I caused such a ruckus today."

"That's alright boy. That's not why I'm here though."

Joe was confused he couldn't remember anything else he had done to cause a visit from the sheriff.

"Joe can you tell me everything you had to eat or drink at the fair?"

"Why you want to know that?"

Roy gave a look to the doctor and received a nod that it was okay to tell him. "Well Joe seems like you was poisoned."


"Yeah, so can you tell me what you ate or drank?"

"Um yeah, I only drank punch"

"Okay what about food. What did you eat?"

"Well um I ate at the restaurant with Pa, Hoss and Adam; but um, Hoss ate mostly all my food." That brought a chuckle from the group.

"What else son?"

"Um, I had an entire apple pie." He grinned sheepishly. "Um there was candied corn, some pumpkin pie and those other sample sweets."

"Hmm" Roy thought aloud. "Was there anything else?"

"Um, yeah also had some candied apples, but that was all."

"Okay, well that's gotta be it." Roy exclaimed. "Joe how many of those candied apples did you eat?"

"I um finished Seth's. He said it tasted funny but I didn't think so. Mitch said the same thing so I finished his too, and I also had one of my own that I got from the old lady."

"No wonder your so much sicker than the other kids." The doc said

"Who's this old lady Joe? Roy asked

"Um don't know she was nice though."

"Can you describe her for me?"

"Yeah that's easy. She was about my height, kinda hunched over like she had a bad back. Her hair was long and gray. She um.." he stopped and bit his lower lip nervously.

"It's alright Joe you can finish."

"Um she had a big crooked noise with a big ole wart on the end."

"Was there anything else Joe?"

"Um no she just wore a long black cloak. That's all."

"Alright guess that fits the description of the woman I have held in jail."

The doctor noted Joe's growing weariness and quickly sent the men out of the room. Before the last made it through the door Joe was fast asleep.

The group met downstairs and the doctor assured the others Joe would be just fine again. Soon Roy and Doc Martin were headed back to town. Everyone was thankful there was no tragedy on this night. Before they left both turned and just had to ask, "Who's the new hand out front?"

"New hand?" Ben was perplexed he hadn't hired anyone new lately.

"Yeah Ben, dresses just like you" Roy laughed

"Though I don't think your bottom is that orange" Doc Martin added

The round of laughter soon died down as the sheriff and doctor made their way to town. Adam and Hoss proceeded to remove the new hand before their father was anymore embarrassed.

"I just don't understand it Pa, why would someone want to poison a bunch of kids?" Hoss asked worriedly.

"I don't know son. I'm just glad that things did not turn out worse tonight."

"From what Roy said Joe had the worst case." Adam added.

"I'm going to go and sit with your brother for awhile. You boys head on to bed, it's been a long night."

"Night Pa" came a chorused response from the two.

"Good night son's and God bless"

Ben entered Joe's room and sat by the bed like he always did when one of his boy's had been sick. He smiled when he moved the curls off of Joe's forehead.

"I guess you got yourself out of that haircut again." He laughed lightly.

"From now on Joseph the only candied apples you'll be eating will be from Hop Sing's kitchen." Ben turned down the light and kissed his son on the forehead. He rearranged the covers before he turned to rest in the bedside chair.

"Good night son and God bless"

"Night Pa" Joe mumbled in his sleep.

Ben was soon fast asleep next to his son.

In the town jail cell an elderly lady let out a blood-curling laugh. "Better luck next year," she said to herself. As the clock struck the midnight hour the cell filled with thick smoke. The smoke cleared on the last strike of midnight. The jail cell was empty but for a bright red candied apple.