Disclaimer: The characters belong to the Glee franchise and most of the plot belongs to the Nancy Drew franchise
A/N: This story is based on Nancy Drew and the Secret of Shadow Ranch. If you know what I'm talking about I'm afraid the ending's been spoiled. A couple of dialogues have been taken almost word for word from that, but I've thrown out some of the more improbable scenerios and managed to make a few creative twists of my own, so hopefully there will be something new for you. Chapter 1 is in two parts because LJ's word cap hates me.
Day 1: JFK Airport 8:30 AM
Well, this is my first entry as a college graduate. Honestly, I feel as if it was all a little anti-climatic. I've been working towards this goal for the last four years and then I had a short walk across the stage in the world's most unflattering black robe and now…what? I'm not sure where my life is going to go from here. All my friends seem so sure about their plans and here I am wondering if I've just wasted the last four years getting a degree in theatre. I thought New York would give me all the answers, but in reality, it just gave me more questions.
But I promised myself I wasn't going to dwell on this during my vacation with the girls. It was Mercedes' idea for us to have one last vacation before we were scattered to grad schools or real life jobs. I thought it'd been a great idea until Tina had suggested that since we'd lived the last 4 years in New York City and had studied abroad in Paris and had spent spring breaks in cities like Los Angeles and Miami, maybe we should try something a little different. So now I'm setting in the airport waiting for the boarding to start for my flight to Phoenix to spend the next 2 weeks at some dude ranch Tina found online.
The girls are all excited about horseback-riding and eating around the campfire and I'd put up some pretty impressive arguments about bugs and heatstroke, but Mercedes cut me off by saying, "But Kurt, if you pass out, think of all the cowboys that'll be there to catch you." I never should have told that girl about my Wild West fantasy of being rescued from train tracks by a stranger on a black horse. So, I let myself get dragged into this madness, but the cowboys had better be cute or I'm going to hitchhike to Cabo.
Ugh, how much longer is it going to be? I hate waiting in airports; there's nothing to do. Usually I'm traveling with someone so we can talk to pass the time, but Mercedes and Tina couldn't get the same flight as me and they won't be flying out for another five hours so I'll have to find some other way to keep myself entertained. Oh finally, they're calling my section. Wish me luck!
Day 1: Phoenix Airport, 12:17 PM
Kurt stretched as the plane finally taxied to a stop. He hadn't thought the flight would ever end, but according to his watch, with the time difference his day wasn't even half over. Kurt was sitting just a couple rows behind first class so he didn't have long to wait before he could grab his overhead luggage and walk into the heat of Phoenix, Arizona. Kurt tugged at the collar of his shirt as he walked up the ramp and immediately made a beeline for the restrooms to change into something a little more comfortable.
Or at least something that wasn't made out of 100% wool.
He had several more appropriate shirts, but none of the ones in this suitcase matched the tight, green pants he was wearing, so Kurt had to do some digging to find a whole new wardrobe. Finally, he settled on a plain red button-up, paired with a black leather vest, soft blue jeans with red and gold rhinestones in a star pattern on the back pockets and as a finishing touch he put on the cowboy boots with two inch heels and roses tooled into the leather that he'd bought specifically for the trip.
Satisfied that even in the backwards country, he would still look fabulous, Kurt opened the stall door to wash his hands and run damage control on his hair. As expected, he got some funny looks and second takes as he tried to infuse some semblance of style back into his hair. And they weren't the second takes of "What a hot guy" he would have gotten in New York, but rather "Is this freak for real" looks. Kurt ignored them all and hoped the people at the dude ranch would be a more tolerant sort.
Eventually deciding that he could only do so much without any product, Kurt grabbed his suitcase and headed towards the baggage claim. As he stood on the moving sidewalk, he pulled his cell phone out to see if he'd missed any calls while it was turned off for the flight.
There weren't any voicemails, but he did have three text messages. One was from his father wishing him a safe flight and reminding him to call when he got a chance. One was from his roommate, or Kurt guessed a more accurate term would be ex-roommate now, Blaine, saying he still had some of Kurt's CDs in his car and did Kurt want him to mail them to Kurt's dad's place or had Kurt gotten his own place already.
Kurt tapped out a reply that his dad's would be fine and he'd send Blaine money for the postage as he made his way to the baggage carousel. He was opening the last text from Tina as he pulled his overstuffed suitcase from the conveyor belt. He frowned as he read the text that just read, "Urgent! Call immediately!"
The girls should be on their flight, but Kurt figured with a message like that he should at least leave a voicemail letting them know he got it. Except then Tina picked up on the first ring.
"Kurt! Finally, thank god."
"Tina, what are you doing? You need to have your phone turned off," Kurt admonished.
"I would if I was on a plane," Tina said with a bitter tone Kurt had almost never heard his cheerful friend use.
"What, was your flight delayed?"
"I wish. No, Mercedes' car got a flat on the way to the airport and we missed our flight. And the earliest they could get us on another one was tomorrow morning."
"What!" Kurt snapped. "You're abandoning me in the heartland of homophobia because you didn't get that stupid car checked out when I told you to?"
"Hey, don't shoot the messenger, I'm just as upset as you are. And we aren't abandoning you, we'll be out there by this time tomorrow."
"Fine," Kurt huffed, "But I'm not happy about this."
"Your displeasure has been noted. We'll see you tomorrow. Save at least a couple cowboys for us."
Kurt ended the call and scowled down at his phone. He was pulled from his plans for revenge by a voice. "Are you Kurt Hummel?"
Kurt turned to see a man, not too tall, but nicely broad and muscled standing behind him. "Yes?" Kurt said, more as a question as to how the man knew his name then an answer to the question.
The man, who was perhaps a few years older than Kurt, gestured to the large sticker Mercedes had stuck on his suitcase that said 'Dude Ranch or Bust'.
"You look like you aren't from around here," the man explained further, giving Kurt's outfit a once over. "Figured you were probably one of the guests coming to Shadow Ranch that I was sent to pick up. Where are the other two?"
"Oh, well yes, I'm Kurt, but that was Tina I was just on the phone with, she's the one who booked a room at your…establishment, apparently she and Mercedes missed their flight and won't be here until tomorrow."
The man frowned and sighed, "Guess I'll just have to make the trip back out here tomorrow. Not like I don't have anything better to do." The last part sounded like it was supposed to be something he meant to say to himself, but he didn't bother to lower his voice at all, so Kurt heard it loud and clear.
The man followed up his rather rude comment by taking both suitcases from Kurt and heading out of the airport without a backward glance.
Kurt blinked, "O-kay, I guess I'll just follow you then," and hastened to keep pace with the stranger. He was lead to an exceptionally ugly, white pick-up truck with rust along the edges and enough dirt to make a mid-sized vegetable garden. The man tossed Kurt's suitcases into the bed of the truck without care for the designer binding and completely ignored Kurt's shout of protest. Then he opened the passenger side door and stood next to it until Kurt realized the door was being held open for him and he climbed into the cab.
This guy was a real mystery, Kurt thought a he watched the man go around the front of the truck. One second he's mistreating Kurt's luggage and the next he's a holding open the door like some sort of Victorian gentleman.
The man didn't say a single word as he started the truck and drove out of the parking garage and onto the highway. At first, Kurt thought he just needed to focus on driving, not used to the busy city roads, but as they left the city of Phoenix behind, Kurt began to think his companion just didn't want to talk to him.
And if there was one thing Kurt didn't like, it was being ignored.
"So," he started, "Are you the owner of Shadow Ranch, Mr. Rawley I think it was?"
The driver gave Kurt a quick glance before turning back to the road, "Nope, name's Dave Karofsky. I'm the foreman. Mr. Rawley's in the hospital."
"Oh, oh my god, is he alright?" Kurt gasped.
"Sure, nothing life-threatening. They haven't told me what all I'm cleared to tell the guests though, so if you want more details, you'll have to call the Rawley's." Dave handed Kurt a business card with a cell phone number on the back. "You won't be able to make a call when we're in the desert like this, but if you wait until we get to the ranch you should be able to get through."
Kurt had a mild brain short-out at the idea that he only might be able to use his cell phone at his vacation site, but was comforted by the idea that if the owners were having problems then maybe he could just get a refund and convince the girls to go somewhere else. Not that he liked the idea of finding fortune in someone else's difficulties, but still, he really wanted to go to Mexico.
He tried to make more attempts at conversation with his strange driver, but all Kurt's inquires were given monosyllabic answers or even just grunts. After about 10 minutes of this, Kurt decided to just give up and let the scenery pass by in silence. There wasn't much to look at, just sand and dirt and shrubs and cacti and not a building in sight. In the entire half hour drive he only saw two shapes off in the distance that might have been houses, or they might have just been heat hazes, it was hard to tell.
Finally, they pulled off the gravel road and onto what could only really be described as a flattened dirt path. They passed under a wooden sign that had Shadow Ranch painted in big, block letters and several horseshoes nailed to it in a tacky attempt at decoration.
Kurt straightened in his seat to survey the ranch and he supposed it didn't really look too bad. Not his style of course, all quaint and rustic instead of the steel and glass that he preferred. But there was a little wooden house with bright blue shutters and a wrap around deck. Despite the dry heat, the yard was clearly well taken care of, with green grass and flowers standing stark against the reddish dirt that surrounded it. There was a decent sized vegetable garden and a couple of small buildings that are probably tool sheds or something. Just on the edge of where the green grass stops there is a large red barn that must open up into the pasture behind it where there are several horses grazing.
Day 1: Shadow Ranch, 1:32 pm
Dave slowed the truck to a stop and got out, going around the front and opening the passenger door for Kurt, offering him a hand down. He then grabed Kurt's luggage out of the truck bed and Kurt winced when one bag is banged against the side, but he refrained from saying anything. He didn't want to alienate the one and possibly only cowboy who didn't seem to have a problem with the gay thing.
Kurt was lead into the house, through a large kitchen and sitting room up a flight of stairs to a bedroom with three single beds made with what was probably homemade (and scratchy) afgans, truly horrible floral wallpaper, and no less than three pictures of chickens hanging on the wall. Still it was clean and there was a large bay window that looked out over the pasture.
Dave placed Kurt's bags on the nearest bed and said, "So, this is where you'll be sleeping, bathroom's just across the hall. Like I said, the cell phone service can be a little spotty around here, especially when you're out riding, but Mr. Rawley put in a new internet router just a couple months ago so we get a real good wireless connection now. And I, uh, hope you enjoy your stay at Shadow Ranch," Dave finished awkwardly before fleeing back out the door.
With all the witnesses gone, Kurt allowed himself to finally let out the groan of frustration he'd been holding in all day. Why, why, had he allowed himself to be talked into this? He should have tried harder to get the girls to compromise with a ski lodge or something, he thought as he slumped down in the bay window. He straightened back up almost immediately when he felt something jam into his back. The damn place wouldn't even let him have a proper sulk.
Kurt turned around to see what was obstructing his way and found some weird metal spokes that looked a little like the hands of a clock. There were three of them, each one above a small, painted bird. Kurt reached out a hand to touch one and was surprised when it moved under his hand. At first he had feared he'd broken it, but then he realized that they all did that, spinning around in smooth, easy circles.
Kurt didn't have any idea what the purpose of these spinners could be. At first he thought it might be some sort of old fashioned lock, but the bench seat opened without any trouble. Kurt ran his hand absently over the afghans inside before lowering the seat back down. What did it matter if he didn't know what the mysterious clock hands did; did he think he was Nancy Drew or something?
Moving back over to the beds, Kurt pulled out his phone in hopes of getting a signal. Fortunately, it seemed like he got a decent one in this room and he dialed the number Dave had given him. With any luck the Rawleys would tell him that they wouldn't be able to accommodate travelers at the moment.
The phone was answered promptly and Kurt heard the sound of monitors in the background before a female voice said, "Hello?"
"Hello, Mrs. Rawley? This is Kurt Hummel, one of the guests staying at Shadow Ranch for the next couple of weeks. Your foreman, Dave, told me to call you. Is this a bad time?"
"Oh no, not at all dear. I asked Dave to have you call us right away; wanted you to hear what happened straight from the horse's mouth." Mrs. Rawley had a kind, motherly voice that remind Kurt of his step-mom, though Carol would never use a phrase like, 'from the horse's mouth.'
"Is everything alright?" Kurt asked.
"Oh everything's fine. I mean it is now. It wasn't last night, of course."
In the background, Kurt could just hear a male voice that he assumed to be Mr. Rawley suddenly break in, "Everything would have been fine if you hadn't made such a fuss."
"How could I not make a fuss?" Mrs. Rawley said, "There was a rattlesnake in our bedroom for Pete's sake."
"Did you say rattlesnake?" Kurt cut in, pulling his feet off the floor and onto the bed. Just to be safe.
"I told Ed to leave it alone and let one of the hands take care of it," Mrs. Rawley replied. "But no, Ed started poking it with my yard stick and all of a sudden, it leaped up and bit him."
"How bad is it?"
"Well, his arm swelled up pretty bad, but the doctors say he should be able to come home in a couple days."
"I'm well enough to go home now," Mr. Rawley said, with a hint of a whine in his voice that reminded Kurt of his father when he was told he had to stay on the couch and rest.
"Oh Ed, you wish," Mrs. Rawley shot back. "If I don't stay here with him, he'll get up and walk right out that door."
"Would you rather Tina and Mercedes and I postpone our visit?" Kurt asked, trying to keep the note of hopefulness out of his voice.
"Oh, good heavens no. You just go along as if nothing ever happened. Go get a horse from Puck, that's the head wrangler, and go riding to your heart's content. I told Finn to go ahead with the cookout I planned for tonight and -,"
"The envelope. Have him take that envelope to Sam," Mr. Rawley broke in.
"Oh good idea, there's an envelope in the rolltop desk in the den marked Sam Evans. The way the roads are set up around here it's faster to ride through our land then to drive around it. You'll have to get that key from Dave since I always keep it locked, but if you could deliver it while you're out riding, we would really appreciate it. And no matter what, don't let the hands scare you with their stories about the phantom horse."
"What?" Kurt tried to say, but he was interrupted by Mrs. Rawley.
"Oh, the doctor's back with the results of Ed's test. I have to go, but I'll see you in a couple days."
"Wait, did you say there was a…phantom horse?" But Kurt's question was only heard by the dial tone.
Slightly unnerved, Kurt put his phone back in his pocket and, keeping an eye out for snakes, carefully made his way back downstairs.
There was no one in den, but Kurt took note of the desk he was supposed to unlock, and in the kitchen there was a tall, dark stranger. Kurt took a few moments to silently appreciate the long legs and broad shoulders in front of him before giving a soft cough to announce his presence.
The man turned around and when he saw Kurt, he greeted him with a big smile.
"Hi, you must be Kurt. I'm Finn Hudson one of the hands here at Shadow Ranch. Have you spoken with the Rawleys yet?"
"Yes I just got off the phone with them actually," Kurt said, returning the smile. What a nice guy, he thought, he didn't so much as double take at the clothes.
"Good, so you're all caught up about the craziness that happened last night."
"Yeah, although they had to hang up before I got the whole story about this phantom horse."
"Oh, now that was creepy."
"Wait," Kurt said incredulously, "Are you saying this phantom horse is real?
"All I know is, last night I was in my bed just trying to get a good night's sleep and all of a sudden this glowing white horse comes running up and starts rearing and bucking and then just runs back off into the night. It was William Schuester's horse," Finn finished with a hushed whisper.
"Who's William Schuester?" Kurt asked, not sure why he was whispering as well.
"He was an outlaw who lived about a hundred years ago. He was in love with Emma Pillsbury who lived right here at Shadow Ranch. Her daddy was the sheriff."
"So, I'm guessing this story doesn't have a happy ending?"
Finn shook his head. "Schuester was eventually captured and hanged and to this day his horse gallops across the desert, cursing people with bad luck and protecting the treasure Schuester left behind."
"You don't actually believe that, do you?" Kurt asked, still trying to turn this into a joke.
"Well, last night Ed saw the horse and then he got bit by a rattlesnake. You do the math."
Kurt searched Finn's eyes for some sign of teasing, but all he saw was dead seriousness. "Alright, well it was nice talking to you, but the Rawleys asked me to get something from Dave for them, so…" Kurt took a couple slow steps back and Finn straighted.
"Sure, I think he said he was going to work on the chicken coop. Just go out the front door and walk straight ahead. You can't miss it. I'll see you around Kurt."
"Not if I see you first," Kurt muttered under his breath as he walked away from the very pretty, but also crazy, superstitious man.
When he stepped outside, Kurt was once again hit by the wave of heat, though it wasn't as bad as it could be. At least it was a dry heat; the humidity in Miami last year had been truly unbearable. Just as Finn had said, Kurt could see Dave standing next to what he had earlier thought was a shed.
Kurt called out a greeting and Dave turned around, though he didn't have the big smile Finn had given.
"Did you talk to the Rawleys?" Dave asked is greeting.
"Yeah, the doctors think Ed will be alright."
"That's good, getting bit by a rattlers no picnic, but he should be out of the woods."
"How did the snake even get in the room?" Kurt asked.
"No idea, it probably got into a mouse hole or something during the day and took a nap and didn't like it when the Rawleys came back and woke him up. You shouldn't have to worry about it. They don't like climbing stairs, so even if another one gets in, you'll be fine in your room."
"Well, that's a relief to hear. Um, the Rawleys also asked me to take a letter to Sam Evans and said I need to get a key from you for the roll top desk?"
"No problem, the Rawleys gave me all their keys before they left for the hospital." Dave reached into his pocket and pulled out a key ring with about a dozen keys jingling on it. He removed one and handed it to Kurt. "Here you go, when you get a horse from Puck, just take the northeast trail out of the corral and it will take you straight to Sam's. Though just to warn you, he doesn't like the Rawleys."
"Don't know. It's none of my business so I never asked. Though I guess you ask a lot of questions."
"I'm sorry. Am I bothering you?"
"To be honest, we were short on hands before and now with the Rawleys gone. Let's just say that right now isn't a real great time to be entertaining guests." Dave's voice was polite as he said this, but Kurt heard the unspoken, 'go away and let me work in peace you flamboyant city-boy,' loud and clear.
"Right, well, I'll just leave you to it then," and Kurt made his escape back to the house.
The cool air-conditioning did little to cool his flushed face. It really wasn't that big a deal that Dave didn't want him hanging around and distracting him from work. Really, Kurt should consider himself flattered that Dave couldn't focus when he was around.
Kurt shook himself and headed into the den. The desk unlocked without any problems and Kurt rolled the top up to reveal, well, a bit of a mess actually. Frowning at the stacks of papers, Kurt started sifting through it to find the right envelope. Finally he found it addressed to Sam Evans just like Mrs. Rawley had said, though she hadn't said it would buried under a stack of papers that seemed to contain the price of beef for the last century.
He snatched up the envelope with a little more force than necessary because he was starting to get really pissed off with the day in general and accidently knocked another piece of paper onto the floor.
With a sigh he picked it up and because he really was a nosy snoop at heart he decided to read it.
I think we all know it was wrong off you to let me go. It was unreasonable and unfair for you to not give me another chance.
You know what your problem is? You don't believe in justice, but I do. My brother and I were both raised to believe that justice would always prevail. Sometimes it just needs a little help.
Wow, that's not ominous at all Kurt thought. He put the paper back on the desk and re-locked it. Now he just needed to find this Puck person and get a horse and he should be good to go. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too long and he would be able to get out of the heat pretty quickly. After some contemplation, he decides to remove his vest before heading out. He's loathe to do it, since the black leather really does complement his out fit perfectly, but in the end practicality wins out.
Kurt went back upstairs to his room and laid his vest out flat next to his suitcase. He also decided to check his phone for any messages while he knows he's in a place that gets service. So, he wasn't really looking where he was going and nearly walked into Finn who was standing in the doorway.
"Oh!" Kurt startled and nearly dropped his phone and Finn gave a sheepish grin of apology.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," Finn says, "And I'm really sorry to have to ask this, but the Rawley's just called and asked me to run a few errands for them in town, and I was hoping you wouldn't mind helping me out with a few little things while I'm gone."
"Nothing really big of course, just a couple little chores, shouldn't take more than half an hour or so. If you could just gather the eggs from the chicken coop and pick any ripe vegetables in the garden, it would be big help."
"Actually, I'm already…,"
"And if you could just get the fire pit outside all set up for the cookout that would be awesome."
"Well, you see…,"
"Thanks, Kurt! You're the best." And just like that Finn was thundering off back down the stairs.
Kurt huffed unhappily. If they just wanted free labor they should have advertized that on their site, Kurt thought bitterly as he headed in search of something to carry vegetables in.
He really wasn't entirely sure what he was doing as he combed through the vegetable plants. He wasn't entirely sure how to tell if something was completely ripe or not and he hoped he didn't pick a bunch of under ripe stuff. Though if he did, maybe these people would take the hint that he wasn't here to do chores for them.
In between trying to decide if a tomato was red enough to be picked and thinking bitter thoughts about the world in general, Kurt kept an eye open for twigs and small sticks. He didn't have many good memories of the mandatory camping trips of his youth, but one of them was learning how to make a campfire. There was something about stacking the logs on top of twigs on top of paper, all arranged in a smooth circle that appealed to Kurt's aesthetics and his father had always looked so proud when Kurt volunteered to build the fire at the beginning of each trip.
Once he was satisfied that he'd spent enough time in the garden and had gathered plenty of sticks, Kurt went back in the house and set the basket on the kitchen table. He really wanted to just leave it there, but the perfectionist in him wouldn't allow it and he ended up washing the veggies and putting them in the fridge as well. Well, he needed the basket to be empty anyway to put the eggs in.
Before he went out to the chicken coop, he noticed a recycling bin by the door and he pulled out a couple pages of yesterday's newspaper. He caught a couple headlines about record high temperatures and bank robbers before he crumpled the pages up for his campfire.
It turned out; the fire pit was actually a pretty decent set up. It was located just a few yards from the chicken coop with a ring of wooden chairs around. This location also meant it was in easy view of Dave who was still working on the coop and Kurt was pleased that Dave would see a side of him that knew how to do something like make a campfire.
Kurt put the crumpled balls of newspaper into the pit and then arranged the sticks from his basket in a neat, tee-pee formation. He looked around for some logs to finish the campfire off with, but didn't see any in the near vicinity. He didn't want to ask Dave where they could be since Dave had made it clear how he felt about being bothered while he was working. He was just thinking maybe he could look on the other side of the house when a shadow fell over him and he glanced up to see Dave standing over him.
"What are you doing?" Dave asked.
"Um, well, Finn got a call from the Rawleys," Kurt stumbled out, "They asked him to run some errands for them so he had to leave and he asked me to do a few chores for him while he was gone."
Dave sighed, "That kid, we only just hired him a few weeks ago, but I don't think he's going to work out. He's not the brightest crayon in the box and he can be flighty and he certainly shouldn't have asked you to do chores. I do apologize for that."
"Oh, no, it's all right," Kurt found himself saying, even though he'd been thinking the same thing himself for the past half hour. "It's not like it's hard physical labor, just making the campfire for tonight and gathering eggs. And I've already picked the ripe vegetables in garden."
"Uh-huh, and did Finn tell you that building the campfire would involve chopping the firewood into small enough pieces?" Dave asked, nodding towards a pile of large logs next to the chicken coop that Kurt had thought were for some construction project.
Kurt deflated a little, "I don't know how to chop wood," he admitted. This was ridiculous, what did it matter if he knew how to chop wood or not? It's not like that was a valuable life skill or something.
Dave must have heard something in his voice, because he patted Kurt on the shoulder and said, "Well, I wouldn't expect you to know how, and I'm surprised Finn thought you would. But you did a real good job getting this started and it will only take me a few minutes to chop enough wood for tonight. Why don't you go riding or something? Weren't you going to go to Sam's?"
Kurt brushed the dirt off his pants, "No, I'm going to get the eggs first. That's at least something I can do."
Dave didn't reply, just gave Kurt an odd look that made him brush a hand self-consciously through his hair, "What?"
"Nothing," Dave said with a small smile. "You're just…not what I was expecting."
Kurt snorted, "Darling, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard that," and headed towards the chicken coop.
The coop itself wasn't much to look at, just a little shed with a chicken wire enclosure attached to it. It didn't look like it had ever even been painted and the door looked like it was about to fall off its hinges. There were about a dozen brown and white chickens pecking around in the enclosure and a couple more inside the shed.
Kurt stood for a couple moments on the door's threshold, bracing himself against the strong smell from the inside of the coop. But the floor looked clean enough, maybe that was just how chickens smelled, so he stepped in.
It was pretty dark inside, light only coming in from the door and a small opening near the floor for the chickens to come and go to their outdoor enclosure, but there's enough to see the row of nest boxes along the wall. Kurt checked each one and found seven eggs that he carefully placed in his basket. There was a large, white hen in the last one and Kurt set his basket on the ground so he would have his hands free to move her. Before Kurt could touch her however, she launched herself at Kurt with a terrifying cackle.
Kurt shrieked and on instinct raised his arms in a self-defensive position. He felt the chicken collide into his chest and feathers brush around his hands and then some scratching at his legs. He risked a peek down and the hen was now viciously pecking at his feet and Kurt was damn glad he'd decided to go with the leather boots instead of the strappy sandals he'd first had his eye on.
He took several quick steps back to get away from the insane chicken and in the process, his back bumped into a solid chest. Kurt yelped in surprise and turned around to see that Dave had come into the coop.
"Are you ok?" Dave asked, looking concerned. "I heard you scream."
"Oh, yes, I'm fine," Kurt said, more than a little embarrassed. "I was just gathering the eggs and that chicken," he gestured at the white menace that was now moving out the little hole to the outside run, "flew at me, but she didn't hurt me, just startled me a bit. I guess she doesn't like being touched."
"It's a good thing I set my basket down," Kurt finished, reaching to pick said basket back up. "Otherwise, I might have broken all the eggs."
Dave nodded, "Yeah, sorry, I should have warned you to steer clear of that one. She can be a right terror when she wants to be. You're sure you're alright?" Dave ran a hand down Kurt's arm, as if checking for himself to make sure Kurt hadn't been hurt.
Kurt gave a reassuring smile, even as he allowed himself to lean a little into the touch, "Yes, don't worry. I'll just take these eggs on into the kitchen for Finn, shall I?"
"Alright, but after that, why don't you get Puck to hook you up with one of the horses? I think you've done enough chores for one day."
Dave held the coop door open for Kurt, more of that strange gentlemanly behavior coming through, and locked the door back up behind him. Kurt had to force himself not to skip back to the house. It looked like there might be a chance for some cowboy romance after all.
Once the eggs had been washed as stored in the fridge, Kurt grabbed one of the canteens hanging off the wall and filled it with water before heading out to the barn. The barn was exactly what every cliché small-town America film had promised Kurt a barn would be like. It was painted a bright red and the inside possessed an interesting mix of smells, though Kurt didn't find it to be nearly as unpleasant as the chicken coop. Most of the stalls were empty, the horses must go out to pasture during the day, but there was a beautiful bay munching contentedly on hay in the end stall.
Across from the stall there was a tack room and Kurt could hear someone moving around inside. He poked his head in and, sure enough, there was another tall, broad-shouldered man with a cowboy hat a dark tan fiddling with a horse bridle. This must be the infamous Puck everyone had been telling him about. Kurt stood for a moment, watching the man work, before moving a little closer to catch the man's attention. When he was still ignored he gave a little cough and still, nothing.
Either Puck was strongly absorbed in his work, or he wanted to pretend that Kurt wasn't there. Well, Kurt wasn't going to stand for that.
"Excuse me, are you Puck?" he said, loud enough that the man couldn't pretend he hadn't heard.
"Yes, what?" the man growled, actually growled and Kurt took a startled step backwards.
"Rawleys told me to get a horse from you to run an errand…for…them," Kurt trailed off into silence as Puck glared at him.
Puck grunted, "Why would they ask ya to do that?"
"Have you ever even been on a horse before?" Puck barreled on over Kurt's words.
"Of course, the campground near my house leads trail rides that my Dad and I used to go on all the time," Kurt didn't think he'd ever be grateful for his Dad making him go on all those rides, but with Puck looking down at him, gaze full of skepticism, Kurt was glad to be able to meet those dark eyes.
"Ya gotta canteen?" Puck finally said and Kurt raised his triumphantly. Puck just snorted, "Right, grab that saddle there and follow me."
Kurt grabbed the saddle and saddle blanket underneath, though it was just as heavy as he remembered the ones from the trail rides being and he struggled a little under the weight, and gamely followed Puck back to the stall with the bay horse Kurt had been admiring earlier. Puck slid the stall door open and walked over to the horse, smoothing a hand down it's neck.
"This here's Bob, gentlest animal to ever be on this ranch. If you can't ride him, there's no hope for ya. Now pay attention, cause I'll only be doin' this once."
Puck took the saddle and blanket from Kurt and easily slung it over Bob's back. He showed Kurt how to cinch it up and where the bridles were kept.
"Bob's ground-tie," Puck said, as he slid the bit into bit into the bay's mouth, "That means when you dismount, just drop the reins and barrin' and earthquake, ol' Bob'll stay put. Now can you mount by yourself or do ya need a leg up?"
Kurt didn't even dignify that with a response, he was only a couple inches shorter than Puck, and pulled himself up into the saddle as gracefully as he could manage. Puck grunted and handed Kurt a cowboy hat, "Put this on, it's got a helmet built in. What's this errand ya need to run?"
"The Rawley's asked me to take a letter to Sam Evans for them," Kurt said as he secured the hat.
Puck's jaw twitched and he said, "Right, well, ya can take the trail outta the corral and go right when ya hit the fork and it'll take ya straight to Sam's," Puck lead Bob out of the stall and the door at the far side of the barn that opened into the corral. "Stay on the trail 'cause I got too much work to do to come find ya ifin' you get lost. And fer God sake's," Puck finished as he opened the corral gate, "Don't be galloping all over the desert, 'cause if you bring Bob back all hot and sweaty, ya can kiss your cowgirl days good-bye, princess."
Kurt wanted to be offended, but Puck was all ready walking back into the barn and somehow, Kurt didn't think telling the grumpy cowboy off was going to stop him from inferring Kurt was a girl again.
Kurt nudged Bob into a smooth trot as he headed off down the trail, insuring that he wouldn't tire the horse out too quickly and invoke the wrangler's ire. Bob was as calm as Puck had said he would be, seeming not to mind if Kurt started singing to himself and not startled in the least when a jackrabbit ran in front of him.
It wasn't long before Kurt knew he would be able to trust Bob not to spook at the smallest thing like some horses were prone to, and he was able to enjoy the scenery going by. All the rusty red that surrounded the area really was kind of pretty when it was lit up by the sun and there were plenty of cacti and shrubs dotting the landscape.
All in all, Kurt found the ride to be rather relaxing. This must be that country de-stressor Mercedes and Tina had been raving about. Kurt had scoffed at the idea before, but really, without the rush and noise of city traffic and people, not to mention the lack of ability to connect to the internet, it didn't seem like there was any way for stress to reach Kurt way out here.
Day 1: Sam's Gifts, 4:17 PM
Even keeping Bob at a trot the whole way, it was still about a 30 minute ride before Kurt made it to his destination. He'd been expecting a house, but he ended up pulling Bob to a halt next to a little store near a road. It wasn't much bigger than the pump house back at Shadow Ranch, but it had been painted an inviting green and yellow with an ornate sign over the door reading "Sam's Gifts."
There was even an honest to God hitching post out front that Kurt had parked Bob by. Apparently the Rawleys hadn't been kidding about horses being the fastest form of travel around these parts.
Inside is an eclectic mix of items ranging from a display of arrowheads to a row of brightly colored ponchos to a shelf of what seemed to be romance novels.
At the far end of the storeroom there was a counter, behind which stood a single man. Another gorgeous man as it turned out. God, if this kept up, Kurt was going to end up with self-image issues. The blonde Adonis looked up from the paper he was writing on and flashed Kurt a brilliant smile that made Kurt go a little weak in the knees.
"Hello, can I help you?" And God, he had a perfect voice to go with that perfect face.
"Yes," Kurt squeaked, and then coughed several times to cover the blunder. "Uh, I mean, are you Sam?"
The man's smile didn't falter, but he cocked his head slightly to the side and said, "That's me, but I don't think I know who you are…"
"Oh, no, you wouldn't," Kurt hastened. "I'm Kurt, I'm staying at Shadow Ranch for a couple of weeks. The Rawleys have had some problems that required their attention, and they asked me to give this to you."
Sam took the envelope from Kurt's hand. "Oh good, this must be their…response…to my," Sam's eyes flicked over the letter as he spoke and as he reached the end he flung it away with a scowl.
"Bad news?" Kurt asked.
"They rejected my offer. I was hoping to buy some land from them, but I guess they aren't interested," Sam sighed. "I'm sorry; you'll have to excuse me. I have to go make a phone call."
"Oh sure, no problem," Kurt started, but Sam had already gone through the employees only door. Poor guy Kurt thought, wonder what he wanted the land for.
Now that his task had been completed, Kurt could just ride back to Shadow Ranch and enjoy some well deserved relaxation, but he ended up wandering around the tiny shop for a while first. There really was an impressive array of objects. Kurt would definitely have to bring the girls here when they finally arrived. Mercedes would love the handmade jewelry and Tina would probably walk out with at least five of the photography prints of desert landscapes.
Kurt was trying on a couple the woven scarves when Sam came out from behind the counter and asked if he could help Kurt find anything.
"Yeah, actually, I'm definitely getting this scarf," Kurt said, indicating the light green one he was holding that looked great against his skin. "And then, could you maybe recommend a good book for me?"
"Absolutely, I don't have that much selection here since I only carry the books of local authors, but I'm sure we can find something. What kind of book do you like?"
"Oh, I think just something light would be good. I don't think vacation reading should make me think."
"Well, in that case, you might like this," Sam pulled out a medium-sized, hardback book and handed it over. It had a picture of a horse running across a desert with the words Like Wind Through My Heart, by Brittany S. Pierce written in bold letters on the cover.
"She's pretty much an unknown writer outside of Arizona, but her stories take place in this area, so she's pretty popular around here. This book even has some historical facts about Shadow Ranch," Sam continued. "Have you heard about Schuester and his treasure yet?"
"I have actually. This sounds perfect, I'll take it."
Sam rang Kurt up and while he was punching the numbers into the old-fashioned register, Kurt's attention was caught by a picture of Sam standing next to a palomino horse.
"This is a beautiful horse, is he yours?" Kurt asked.
"Yes, Saturn, trained him myself."
"Oh, that's cool."
"Mm, I'd like to one day run my own stable and train professionally, but to do that I need a money and money's something I ain't got," Sam said with a rueful smile and a wave as Kurt headed out of the shop with his purchases.
Back at Shadow Ranch, Kurt removed Bob's saddle and bridle and carried them back to the tack room. Puck was still in there, but he didn't bother to help Kurt, even though he was pretty obviously struggling under the weight of the saddle. Finally, he managed to get the saddle onto its designated rack, but in the process he accidently jostled the neighboring saddle and something fell to the floor. Kurt bent to pick it up and discovered that it was actually a birthday card.
He glanced over at Puck and, seeing that he was still absorbed in his work, flicked the card open to see what was inside. His eyes widened when he read:
Happy Birthday! I still can't believe I have a real live cowboy for a brother. Hope you have a great one and eat lots of cake!
Lot of love from your baby sis,
The woman who'd written the threatening letter to the Rawleys was Puck little sister, that could mean that –
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?"
Kurt jumped about a foot in the air at the snap of Puck's voice. He whirled around and, sure enough, Puck was glowering and had most definitely caught him red-handed.
"I-I'm sorry, this just fell on the ground. I was just picking it up."
"You were just snooping through my stuff."
Puck's voice was all gravel and he advanced on Kurt a couple of steps. Kurt panicked and blurted out,
"Your sister is the one threatening the Rawleys. How do I know you aren't helping her?"
Oh, real smart Hummel. Let's goad the potential assailant a little more, shall we?
But to Kurt's surprise, Puck actually took a step back.
"What are you talking about?"
Kurt knew the smart thing to do would be to shut the hell up, but he found himself barreling on anyways.
"I found the letter your sister wrote. She was very upset the Rawleys fired her and she said she was going to make them pay."
Puck looked genuinely shocked and then he just looked really tired. He ran a hand over his face with a sigh and mumbled something that sounded like, "Jane, you idiot." He then looked back at Kurt with a cocked eyebrow.
"So, I'm not the only one whose stuff you snoop through? Here I was thinking I was special."
Kurt flushed, but he held the other man's gaze and eventually Puck continued, "Look, I don't know what idea you've got into your head, but I wouldn't do anything to harm the Rawleys, they've been really good to me. And as to them firing my sister, well, I love her, but, she's a bit of a flake. I probably would have fired her too."
Kurt blinked. "How do I know if I can believe you or not?"
Puck smirked, "I guess you'll have to figure that out yourself." And with that, Puck headed out of the tack room, leaving Kurt trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.
Once Kurt had gotten his pulse back under control, he'd headed back to the house where he indulged in a long, hot shower to get all the dirt and grime from his ride off his body, not to mention all the sweat from his showdown with Puck.
Kurt wasn't sure if he could believe that man that he really wasn't aiding his sister with any revenge plan. Puck had seemed to be telling the truth, but it wasn't like Kurt could be really sure. In the end, he decided he'd just have to keep his eyes and ears open and watch his back.
Wrapping a surprisingly comfortable bathrobe around himself, Kurt headed back into his room where he collapsed in a boneless heap on the window seat. He didn't stay boneless for very long though, having forgotten about the odd spokes and jabbed himself in the back yet again.
Kurt straightened quickly, rubbing his most likely bruised back with a groan and, in a fit of petulance, smacked one of the spokes with an open hand. To Kurt's surprise, this actual does something and the spoke is pushed down about an inch, making a decidedly loud click sound. Kurt frowned, but still curious, he reaches out and cautiously spins the spoke. It makes it's merry way around the circle, but when it's pointed straight up in the noon position, it makes another click sound.
Licking his lips and not realizing he's stopped breathing, Kurt goes through the same motions with the other two spokes. When the third one clicked into place a small panel at the back of the window seat pops open, startling Kurt into falling of the seat with a yelp.
Kurt took several deep breaths and then moves to investigate. Inside the hidden compartment, there was a small pocket watch, and an envelope. The fashonista in Kurt instantly went for the pocket watch and he carefully pulled it out. It looked very old, maybe a century if Kurt had to guess, and was very finely made. Opening it, Kurt found a black and white picture of a young woman that had been torn in half. Kurt gently extracted the picture to exam it more closely and noticed a small hand on the woman's shoulder, so there was supposed to be another person in the picture. Flipping it over, Kurt found the words 'green bottle' written on the back.
What an odd thing to write on a picture Kurt thought, there must have been more on the other side that's been torn off.
Turning his attention to the envelope, Kurt noticed that it wasn't opened. He was holding in his hand a letter that had been sealed for who knew how long. There was barely any sticky left and it opened easily. With only slightly shaking fingers, Kurt pulled out the papers inside. The first one was a letter. It said:
My Dearest Emma,
As usual, things did not work out like I'd planned. Just when I get everything fixed just right for you to go looking for the thing I hid for you, I go and get myself arrested. But no matter what you hear, nothing is going to happen to me. I will be fine and we will be together soon, I promise.
Meanwhile, you can keep yourself busy by looking for what I hid. Start by using this piece of paper to mark where all the rock pictures are. They will tell you where to go next.
I like vexing your brain, because when you are thinking real hard, like when you are playing the piano, you are more beautiful to me than anything in the world. I am sure to be out of here before you find my treasure, but in case I am not, know that it is all yours and you are more precious to me than ten thousand treasures.
P.S. I do not and never will hold what your father did to me against you.
The second piece of paper had a drawing of a rock formation that had been graphed out into even squares. Evenly spaced down the graph were numbers and across the bottom were groups of letters. On the left side of the page were several drawn petroglyphs. It was clearly some sort of cipher and you had to mark down where the petroglyphs were on the rock formation to figure out what the words were.
Kurt allowed himself a couple moments to silently freak the hell out. What the fuck was he doing? Did he think he was Nancy Drew or something? Normal people didn't just stumble onto mysteries like this.
He was jolted out of his panic by a knock at the door.
"Kurt? Are you ready to eat?" Finn's voice came through the door.
"Y-yes," Kurt stammered, "Let me just get dressed and I'll be down in a minute."
Kurt waited until he could hear Finn's boots heading back down the stairs before moving into a flurry of motion to close the panel and hide the papers and pocket watch under his pillow. Then, without even really paying attention to what he was changing into, Kurt put on some fresh clothes and headed to the campfire outside.
The campfire was surprisingly not bad. Dave had saved the seat next to him for Kurt to sit at, Puck seemed almost friendly, and Finn didn't spout out any more conspiracy theories. But what impressed Kurt the most was the food. He'd been expecting hotdogs or something equally as vile, but instead Finn had made a delicious roast lamb, marinated in a mint sauce. Kurt noticed Dave and Puck didn't seem to like it that much, mainly pushing it around on their plates, so he made sure to compliment Finn several times throughout the meal.
Kurt thought the meal was going well considering the circumstances, but when Finn brought out the dessert, a lovely looking, pineapple upside down cake, Kurt realized he may have misjudged the tension between the cowboys.
Puck stood up abruptly saying, "I can't take this anymore."
"Where are you going?" Finn asked. "You can't leave, the Rawleys said were to have a cookout and entertain our guest."
"Yeah, well, I don't call this entertainment," Puck shot back. "The only thing worse than the conversation was whatever that stuff was you cooked."
"That was lamb ragout for your information and it was great!" Finn shouted at Puck's retreating back. "If you couldn't appreciate it, it's because your taste buds are about as good as a sand flea's."
"Actually, I think I'm gonna turn in too," Dave cut in. "Next time, just stick to burgers." He then tipped his hat to Kurt and headed off as well.
"You see that? You see what I put up with?" Finn asked Kurt. "Well, I'll show them." Finn also got up and took some dishes with him to the house, mumbling under his breath "I'll write a best-selling cookbook, that's what I'll do. Then I'll get my own TV show, then I'll do a movie, and while they're out here punching cattle, I'll be a gazillionare."
Well, that wasn't awkward at all, Kurt thought as he started gathering up his dishes to take inside. His attention was caught by the sound of a sharp whinny and he looked out to the pasture, wondering what was causing the sudden commotion.
Of course, it was too dark to really see anything. The only form of light was from the stars and a soft glow off in the distance, probably a house light. Except the light seemed to be getting brighter.
No, not brighter, closer.
Kurt stumbled backwards as he realized that the light was moving, galloping, towards him. The light was, in fact, a horse.
A freaking, glowing, phantom horse.
The creature raced right up to the pasture fence line, but instead of jumping it, the horse took a sharp turn and continued galloping alongside it. When it passed by the pump house, water suddenly exploded from the pipeline, erupting like a geyser into the sky. The horse reared and stamped when it reached the end of the fence and then shot back into the night.
That was when Kurt started screaming.