Crooked Creek, Montana Territory
Thunder woke Emma from the first decent night sleep she’d had in months. She looked around at the dark room. It wasn’t the crash of thunder or even that grizzly her neighbor swore she saw last week. The front door of the one-room cabin reverberated as the pounding continued.
Emma reached for her husband’s old Colt Navy Revolver, the only thing he’d left behind when he went to fight and die in the war. Her husband had taught her how to use the pistol on the long wagon ride out west, but only small critters ever saw the bullets from the well-oiled gun. She pulled back the lever and pushed away the heavy quilts.
On bare feet, she moved along the wall to the small window by the front door. The moon was high but dim, and all she could see was the outline of a man hunched over. She stepped back when the thunderous knock was accompanied by a plea.
“Anyone in there?”
Emma considered not responding. No lamps were lit, but the remnants of logs burned in the fire. The man would not believe the cabin was empty, and if he did, he might decide to come in anyway.
“Who are you?” Emma quelled her nervousness.
“Thank God. Casey Latimer, ma’am.”
Emma slowly lifted the bar blocking the door. She moved a few paces back. “Come on in but be warned. I’m armed.”
The door swung open and the man stumbled inside, falling at Emma’s feet.
“If it’s all the same to you, ma’am, I’ll just stay here.”
Emma waited, but she only heard the man’s heavy and ragged breathing. With one hand holding the Colt, she lit a lamp and returned to stand beside the stranger. Her bare feet stepped in something wet and sticky. She lowered the lamp until it illuminated the small pool of blood seeping between the cracks in the boards and staining the edge of the rug.
“Gracious, Mr. Latimer, what have you done?” Emma set the lamp on her eating table, and after a deep breath and moment’s hesitation, she lay the pistol down beside it. “You might have at least fallen inside far enough for me to close the door.”
Emma gingerly pulled underneath his arms, but he was too large. She then tried to move his legs enough to secure the door against any animals that might smell the blood and come looking for an easy meal. She spent a few seconds recovering from the exertion of maneuvering the long legs and studied her unexpected guest.
“At least you had the good sense to pass out.” Emma hurried to lay the quilts from her bed on the floor. She grit her teeth and raised the edges of her long, white nightgown. Once more, she attempted to drag the unconscious man but to no avail. “I want to apologize in advance, Mr. Latimer.” She rolled him once, hefting his body closer to the fire. From there, she managed to lift first his torso, and then his legs, onto the quilts. Long strands of copper hair fell from her loose braid, and she quickly secured the heavy mass before returning to her patient.
“Let’s see what you’ve done to yourself.” Emma removed his long coat away from the injured side. The dark shirt beneath was soaked through. “There’s no help for it. The shirt must go.”
Emma hurried to gather supplies and retrieve the lamp from the table. She cut through his wool shirt and peeled back the edges. A wound, long and deep, scored the side of his chest, curving along the ribs. Her concentration set, Emma soaked up the blood around the injury.
Methodically she cleaned the wound and checked for signs of dirt or foreign material. Satisfied that she’d done all she could, Emma threaded one of her needles and stitched the skin until a meticulous line of silk sutures replaced the jagged cut.
Emma sat back on her feet, rolled her shoulders, and then reached for an amber bottle. She spared a quick glance at the patient before pouring a healthy dose of the liquid over the stitches. Latimer twitched and his body shifted, but his eyes remained closed.
Once she’d done all she could, Emma gathered her supplies and cleaned up the blood from the floor. A few more logs were added to the dying fire, and she tossed the bloody rags into the ash. The cloth ignited and the flames returned to life. She draped the last blanket from her bed over the long body.
After she scrubbed her hands in a basin of cold water, she sat in her grandmother’s rocker. Her husband had lovingly transported the rocker and her books across the plains and over mountains because a stubborn wife had refused to leave them behind.
The Colt rested in her lap. “You better wake up in the morning, Mr. Latimer because I don’t want to have to explain a dead man in my cabin to the sheriff.”
End of Excerpt
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“Emma of Crooked Creek”
A Crooked Creek Short Story
The war is over between the North and the South, but the battles at home are just beginning. Emma Hawkins is a dedicated doctor in the little town of Crooked Creek, Montana Territory. Casey Latimer is a wounded soldier in search of a new home and a new beginning. When Casey, battered and bruised, quite literally falls at Emma's feet, she is duty-bound to help him. What happens next is something Emma never expected.
“Emma of Crooked Creek” is the first short story installment of the Crooked Creek series set in post-Civil War Montana.