A/N This takes place somewhere between Ten Cent Hero and Matched Pair.
Every time the hard leather of the mochila hit Jimmy's hand, he knew it was going to be an interesting day. There was nothing he liked better than to ride out on an Express run. The feel of the saddle and horse beneath him was all he wanted to feel. He regretted many things in his young life, but joining the Pony Express wasn't one of them. The only times Jimmy seemed to get into trouble was when he wasn't on a run.
Today he wanted to use to forget. He had angered a writer who in turn wrote a book about him. It wasn't a good book or an important book, but it started a reputation he didn't deserve or desire. Saddling up his horse, Sundance, this morning made him feel better. He knew he was about to be set free from worry for a little while. It was a much needed break from the misery he had been experiencing lately. Jimmy let the wind blow his hat off and felt it fall down his back. There was nothing in the world that felt better to Jimmy than the wind blow through his hair. It felt like freedom.
Jimmy had been riding for nearly an hour when he came upon a clearing with a wagon that looked like it had broken down. The wagon wasn't like anything he had seen before. It looked like a tiny house on wheels. It had a roof and what looked like a pipe from a potbellied stove sticking out of the top. The clapboards were unpainted and very weathered while the dark green paint on the window shutters was old and chipping. A pair of massive black horses grazed on the sweet prairie grass just a few yards from the wagon.
Slowing Sundance to a walk Jimmy rode into the camp. He could smell something cooking and followed the aroma to a steaming pot held over a smoldering fire. On a fallen log, a small older woman sat knitting. Her red and green dress was more colorful than he had ever seen a woman of her age wear, but it looked absolutely right on her. The pale yellow shawl with the rainbow of colored tassels made her seem like she was from another place and time. She wore lots of jewelry and it jingled and clanged together as she knitted. Jimmy had never seen a woman that looked quite like she did. She looked up at him, not surprised but expectantly.
"It's about time you got here young man," she said with a slight foreign accent and a warm smile. "I was about to start lunch without you."
Jimmy cracked a smile at her and jumped down from Sundance's back. "Do you need some help?" he asked sincerely.
"Well of course I do, otherwise you wouldn't be here," she answered matter of factly.
Jimmy looked at her quizzically and tethered Sundance to a nearby tree. He came back to the log and the woman had put her knitting away in a basket.
"Help me over to the pot," she said and Jimmy obliged her. She hovered over the pot and stirred the contents. Pulling a ladle full of stew out of the pot she gently blew on it and took a quick taste. "It needs just a pinch more salt."
Jimmy watched her season the stew and from what seemed like nowhere she pulled out a couple of wooden bowls. She filled a bowl for Jimmy, handed it to him and then filled one for herself. Jimmy helped her back to the log and sat down next to her. Out of her apron, the woman produced two spoons. She handed one to Jimmy.
"Are you going to tell me what I can do to help?" Jimmy asked curiously.
"After we've had a bite to eat," she said. "You are an impatient one aren't you?"
Jimmy laughed. Teaspoon had remarked that very thing not long ago. "I guess you're right," he replied.
Jimmy took a bite of stew. It was the best stew he had ever tasted. He would never tell Emma that of course. Jimmy looked over at the woman. "It's very good, thank you."
The woman smiled knowingly at him. It was almost as if she knew his every thought. It was a little unsettling. Jimmy decided his best course of action was just to enjoy his lunch. He felt her tap him on the elbow and looked over at her. She was holding out a piece of crusty bread. He had no idea where it could have come from unless a loaf was tucked into her knitting basket. Jimmy decided he didn't really need to know. It smelled fresh baked and it made his mouth water. He took the offered bread and bit into it. It was every bit as delicious as it smelled. Jimmy ate the rest of the meal appreciatively and mopped up the final bits of stew with the bread. He was completely sated.
"Isn't that better?" the woman asked.
"Yes," Jimmy answered nodding. "Now, how can I help?'
The woman held out her arm for Jimmy to help her off the log. Jimmy took it and she led him to her wagon. She pointed at the front wheel. He could see the problem right away. Several of the spokes were broken and more were threatening to break.
"I have a new wheel stored on the other side of the wagon," she said.
Jimmy left the woman and went to retrieve the other wheel. It was right where she said it would be. She must have known she would have trouble on her journey. Though Jimmy was having a hard time understanding how this woman could hitch up her own horses to her wagon. She seemed to only be able to do simple things that didn't require a lot of strength. Jimmy decided he didn't really need to know right this minute. He took down the wheel and rolled it to the other side of the wagon and leaned it against the wall. Jimmy found some large branches to hold the wagon up while he removed and replaced the wheel. It took most of the early afternoon and Jimmy was a bit sore and tired when he completed the task.
Jimmy almost jumped out of his skin when he turned around. The woman was standing near him and was holding out a glass of lemonade. He had no idea where it came from and didn't see where she could have made it. He took all the same and it was the most refreshing lemonade he had ever tasted.
"Well, I should be on my way," Jimmy said. "Do you want me to hitch up your horses?"
"Oh no, young man, I not leaving yet," she said. "Why don't you come inside and I'll read your cards."
"Read my cards?" Jimmy asked. He had no idea what she was talking about.
"I read cards, Sonny," she said. "I don't have money to pay you for your help, but I can read your cards."
"I don't need nothin', ma'am" Jimmy said. "Besides you already gave me food and drink."
"I insist," she said and took his elbow. She nodded to the back of the wagon where Jimmy had seen a door.
Jimmy didn't want to deny the woman her pride so he walked her to the back of the wagon. He didn't think anything was wrong with humoring the lady. She had been very kind to him. She fed him and gave him lemonade to drink. The least he could do was let her pay him the only way she could.
The door creaked when she opened it and Jimmy could see a lantern burning low inside. He followed her in and sat where she indicated. It was a small but comfortable chair with a plush cushion on it. He looked around the room. From the outside he had remarked that the wagon looked like a tiny house on wheels. The inside proved it. It was a lot bigger than he thought it would be. There was indeed a potbellied stove in the front corner by the door and he could see a bed in the front just behind the horses. There were several built in shelves and cupboards around the room. In front of him was a small round table with several tasseled table clothes with the corners offset. The woman sat in front of him and unwrapped a large deck of cards from a silk handkerchief. She set the deck in the middle of the table and looked at him.
"What is your name, young man?" she asked. "Before I read I would like to know your name."
"James Butler Hickok," he said.
"Ah, yes, very formal, but you have other names people know you by," she stated.
"My friends call me, 'Jimmy'," he said uncomfortably. For the second time today he felt this woman bore into his soul.
"There is another name," she said looking intently at him. "One you did not choose and do not like. One you do not answer to, but many know you by that name. What is it?"
"Wild Bill," Jimmy answered in a whisper. It was almost involuntarily the way it just came out of his mouth.
She nodded in appreciation. "I am Madame Zora," she said.
"I don't really believe in stuff like this," Jimmy said as she warmed up her hands.
She smiled almost into a laugh. Jimmy thought it best not to protest and just let the woman do what she did.
She flipped the deck of cards upside down and fanned them out. There were pictures on the cards that Jimmy had never seen before. Some looked very nice and some looked frightening. He had no idea what to expect. He had never heard of someone reading cards before.
"When is birthday, James Butler Hickok?" Madam Zora asked.
Jimmy looked up from the cards into Madame Zora's kind eyes. There was something about her he trusted. "May twenty-seventh," he said.
"Ah a Gemini," she observed. "That makes sense."
Jimmy looked quizzically at her as she looked through the deck of cards. She picked up a card and flicked the corner. "Yes, this is you," she said and laid it down in the center of the table.
Jimmy looked at the card while Madame Zora gathered the rest of the cards together and started to shuffle them. There was a picture of a man with a white horse with a sword held aloft. Madame Zora placed the deck in front of him.
"Shuffle," she said. She pointed to the card on the table. "This is you, the 'Knight of Swords'. I think you are in two halves and both are fighting one another. 'Wild Bill,' this is a new distinction, yes?"
Jimmy nodded. "A man named Marcus wrote a book about me," he answered. "That's what he called me."
"I see," she said studying the card and Jimmy's face. "Yes, this is you. See how the man rides into the wind with his sword held out?"
"You fight the name, 'Wild Bill'," she said flatly. "This is you."
Jimmy looked back at the card and took in all its markings. "Ok," he said.
"Shuffle," she said pointing at the cards in his hand.
Jimmy shuffled the cards and then placed them face down on the table.
"Cut the deck," she instructed.
Jimmy did as he was told and cut the cards.
She took the deck from him and turned over the top card and looked at it. She looked up at Jimmy and then laid the card on top of the 'Knight of Swords'.
"This card is 'Chariot,' it is where you are now," Madame Zora said. "It symbolizes victory. Perhaps the man who wrote about you has been defeated, yes? Or you have had a great success. Maybe you just like being in charge, eh?"
Jimmy felt a sudden flash of heat. A slight sheen of sweat appeared on his brow as his mind raced thinking about when Marcus wrote that book. He saw Gabe Calder and that boy. He didn't even know the young man's name. He remembered Cody telling him about how they stopped Marcus from ever writing about him again.
Jimmy focused back on Madam Zora and the cards on the table. She drew another and looked at it and then looked up at Jimmy. She placed this card horizontally across the other two. "This card is called 'The Sun'. It is blocking your victory."
Jimmy looked at her and studied the card. There was a small naked child riding a white horse with a blazing sun in the background.
"This victory," she said. "It is complicated by your fame, I think. Even though this, Mr. Marcus has been defeated. The damage has been done. It will be a hurdle for you to overcome for a long time. Unless this fame is what you want."
Jimmy frowned. It wasn't what he wanted. Not at all. His mind flashed on images that were new to him. People he didn't know in places he didn't recognize were scared of him or calling him out. He put his hands on his face and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. He wanted to make the images go away. He thought briefly about telling the woman to stop the card reading. He didn't like this and didn't want to know anymore, but the thoughts about what the rest of the cards held was too tempting for him.
"Shall, I continue?" she asked and Jimmy nodded. She drew another card and placed it below the crossed cards. "Justice. This is the root. This is where everything started. Do you know any lawmen or lawyers or judges? Perhaps you wish to be one of these men? Do you long to be a marshal, James?
Jimmy nearly as he looked at the figure on the card. He was clad in a red robe and sat with a sword in his right hand. Jimmy felt sick as he flashed to the Judge and Brad, his friend. He had trusted the Judge and all it got him was a quick draw and path to an early grave. He hadn't seen them in a while and briefly wondered if he would ever see them again. He didn't think he wanted to, especially now with Marcus's book out there. He tried to think about better influences. Teaspoon and Sam came to mind. They were both really good men and seemed to have a better view on life than the grim one that the Judge held.
Madame Zora drew another card. She pulled it up and smiled. Jimmy felt better. The first cards were unsettling and rang a little to true. He suspected if she didn't know the things he told her she would have no idea how to get to him.
"This is Ace of Wands," She said and she laid it on the left hand side of the table directly across from the crossed cards in the middle. "This is your recent past. It means you were confident about your future. You were feeling your potential and your mind was open to many possibilities that you had not known existed."
"That sounds about right," Jimmy answered. He wondered if he could get that back.
The woman drew another card and frowned. She looked up at Jimmy and looked back at the card and laid it above the crossed cards in the middle and in a straight line with the Justice card below. "This is Eight of Swords," she said. "This is how you see yourself. It is what you accept about yourself as true. It is also what could be where you think you are heading."
Jimmy swallowed hard. The look on the woman's face wasn't happy. He looked down at the card. There was a figure in the center of the card surrounded by what looked like a cage of swords. She was blindfolded and bound. "That doesn't look good," he said. "What does this card mean?"
"It means that you don't think there is an escape from your situation," she said. "Perhaps you think you cannot escape the destiny of 'Wild Bill' or perhaps another situation. Notice there is no one around her though and her feet are not bound. You do not need to stay there."
Jimmy wasn't sure he believed her. The way people looked at him and the challenges that some men threw down to him were wearing him down. Right now he didn't see how any of it would change.
Madame Zora drew another card. She looked at it closely. "This is the Eight of Wands," she said.
"Is that good?" Jimmy asked as she set the card down on the right side of the crossed cards.
"It could be," she said. "It symbolizes pieces falling into place. Have you a project or a goal in life that is being realized."
Jimmy didn't really feel like this card was all that good. The only pieces he could see falling into place were the ones that the Judge and JD Marcus put into play. He didn't feel like he was in control anymore. There was a time when he wanted to be the best gunfighter. He was good at it, but no one was gunning for him then. He was just another guy that was good with a gun. He remembered back to when he first met Teaspoon. The man had asked him a few questions about his gun and he was arrogant in his answers. He wanted to be a hotshot. It didn't take long after that meeting that he wanted something more out of life.
"It feels more like being pelted with more things I can't change," Jimmy said. "That no matter what I do, I'll never be able to bail that much water out of my sinking ship."
Madame Zora sighed. She felt sorry for this boy who felt like he was being swallowed whole by a version of himself he didn't create, but had all the tools to take it on and become imortal. He could be extraordinary at something he didn't want to be.
"Perhaps the next cards will help," she said. "The first seven cards really give us a picture of who you are, who you've been, and based on those things, who you could be. The next four represent question, 'What now?'"
The woman took the top card off the deck and looked at and then gave Jimmy a scrutinizing look. She laid down the Two of Swords on the table in a new line on the lowest right hand position on the table.
"You are trying to decide on direction," she said. "You have two paths laid out in front of you. This card means you are avoiding making decision. Perhaps you are trying to decide if you should keep fighting against 'Wild Bill' or embrace it."
Jimmy looked at her pleadingly. He knew she was right. It was in the back of his mind always. It might be easier if he just embraced it. He didn't know if it really would. It seemed like the forces of nature were always pushing him in the direction of 'Wild Bill' and he kept resisting.
The sweat was collecting on his brow as images of both paths swirled in his head. He had no real idea of what the world would be like on each path, but he could imagine. He liked the path without 'Bill' in it, but it didn't seem like that was really an option. He wiped the sweat from his brow and implored her to continue with the look in his eyes.
Madame Zora nodded and drew another card and laid it directly above the previous one. "Ace of Swords," she said.
Jimmy could tell this wasn't making her happy. "What does it mean?" he asked.
"Well, this position on the table is meant for how others see you," she answered.
"So how do others see me?" Jimmy asked almost not wanting to know.
"This card says to me, that others see a path for you that you aren't willing to acknowledge or accept," she said trying to gauge is reaction. "It doesn't mean necessarily that others see you as this 'Wild Bill'," she said. "It could be that they see you as Jimmy, but you aren't willing to accept it. Of course it could also mean that they do. They might think you are weapon they can control."
If he had been looking for a clarifying sign, that wasn't it. There were many times where he felt like he was fighting both paths. He had Emma and the other riders pulling him in the direction of Jimmy Hickok and the rest of the world pulling him toward 'Bill'. It didn't seem like his life was his. Perhaps the next card would make it clearer.
Madame Zora reached for another card and drew. She looked at it and her eyelids drooped a little.
"What?" Jimmy asked.
"This card represents your hopes and fears," she said and laid down another card in directly above the previous one. "This card is called 'The Devil.' It is not good card. I'm sorry."
"There isn't a way to avoid being him, is there?" Jimmy said.
"There is, but if you don't, I'm afraid you'll never escape misery," she explained. "You will trap yourself there. 'Bill' is bad path and one that will lead to your destruction, I fear. The further you walk down that path, the harder it will be to come back."
Jimmy started to see flashes of gun battles. He saw people he once knew being gunned down by his hand. He saw Brad, a man he once considered a brother, but still a rival, dead on the ground. He saw Brad's gun in his hand. He saw himself strap both guns on –a matched pair. The Judge had gifted them to the two boys. He saw people calling him out, wherever he went. It would never stop.
"There is one more card to draw," Madame Zora said.
Jimmy wiped the sweat from his brow once more and nodded. "Wait, what does the last position mean?"
"This last position," she began as she tapped the table above 'The Devil' card, "signifies the overall outcome. It is the most likely result."
This card seemed to scare Jimmy more than any other card she was about to draw. Jimmy watched carefully as she drew it.
She looked at it and her eyes grew wide. Madame Zora laid the card down in the top slot on the side. "The Ten of Swords," she said.
Jimmy looked down at the card and with a confused look he peered back into Madame Zora's eyes. The card had a man lying face down on the ground with ten swords stabbing him in the back.
"That doesn't look good, does it?" Jimmy asked. He didn't really need her to tell him it was bad.
"James, I believe looking at whole spread, your choice is clear," she said. "If you follow down the path of 'Wild Bill' Hickok it will destroy you. It might take a day it might take twenty years. My inclination is for the later." She tapped her finger on the Ten of Swords. "This is the result of that path. I do not see happiness there. You would be famous and immortalized in stories and legend, but it would lead to a short life and one void of true and long lived happiness."
Jimmy looked at the spread of cards taking in their appearance and position. He shook his head trying to break the hold that 'Wild Bill' had on him and his life. He didn't think he had the strength to fight it, but he wanted to. He needed to. Jimmy tried to remind himself he didn't believe in this sort of hocus pocus.
"I have to be going," he said.
"Yes, you have probably lingered around here much longer than you intended when you stopped to help me," Madame Zora agreed. She looked sadly at the boy. "I'm sorry. I try to help. I do not think I helped you."
"Do you need me to hitch up your team of horses?" Jimmy asked as he walked over to Sundance.
"No, my son should be along any minute," she answered.
Jimmy mounted up and gave the woman a quick look back. He hadn't put much stock into fortune tellers before, but the way she was concerned for him touched him and it seemed like she sincerely wished she was wrong. He kicked Sundance into a gallop. He was running behind schedule for sure. Perhaps he would come back and make sure the old lady's son had shown up.
It was the next morning before Jimmy had started on his way back to Sweetwater. As he neared the clearing he gave Sundance an extra little kick. He wanted to see the woman again. Perhaps she had a different message for him today. As he entered the clearing, Jimmy knew right away that something was very wrong. The wagon was still there but it looked like it had aged several years in the course of one day. The shingles on the roof were covered with moss and brambles and the wheels were sunk into the hardened ground. Jimmy shook his head. This was the place, he was sure of it. Jimmy jumped down from Sundance to take a closer look. The back door to the wagon was falling off its hinges. Jimmy cleared the overgrowth away and looked inside. There was no evidence that anyone had been there for years. The wagon was empty. All the furniture he swore was inside was missing. There was just dirt, broken glass, and ashes. The stove pipe was still hanging from the roof and the floor was rotten beneath it. The potbelly stove that occupied the space was long gone. He could see in the ashes a piece of paper that looked like a one of Madame Zora's cards. He couldn't tell which one, but it had been partially burned.
Jimmy vaulted back onto Sundance's back and trotted his horse away from the clearing. He didn't know what to think. He didn't think he could tell any of the others. They would never believe him.
I guess I've been on a Jimmy kick lately...Hmmmm. I thought this was part of a different story, but alas it is not so I wrote it down as a one shot.