Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 5a

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Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 5a Empty Christmas Story - Oregon Way part 5a

Post by Ranger52899 on Sun Dec 23, 2018 12:08 pm




23rd December



            They’d switched to American for this part of the argument, although Jean-Luc was starting to slip in more and more French phrases as his temper slipped away. Dale leaned on the table, speaking more clearly and a little more quietly rather than louder, pushing his voice through the racket.

“Gentlemen, may I draw your attention back to the key matter at hand. A tripartite agreement by definition involves mutual responsibilities; that is not negotiable. Where one party is in need, the agreement sets out the terms and conditions relevant in ensuring protection of the investment of all three of you, and those must be balanced, without preferential terms for any one party, not least to manage stability of currency values between you.”

So stop whining, sit down and let’s establish the limits of your actual requirements to protect your interests.

The biggest challenge was to protect the interests of all three parties, to co ordinate them together in the fairest and most honest way possible, since that was the strongest way to keep the relationship a successful one. He’d done the same in no few brats meetings at home, except he infinitely preferred the yelling of a brats meeting; it was a good deal more honest, you knew exactly where you were with it, they all played by the rules and had the same strong principles despite the noise and the heat of the moment, and whatever was said, they’d do the repairs afterwards with no bad feeling.

Sarah walked past the end of the board room table.

Dale felt something in him lift at the sight of her. Rooms like this and meetings like this had been his battle ground from his late teens, and the high speed processing and intellectual challenge of the situation in front of him was absorbing – but nothing deeper than that. Nothing stronger than that. Nothing like what Sarah, or anything to do with the ranch, drew straight out of him.

He stepped away from the table and took her hand, and they left the men arguing around the musty, coffee stinking board room and walked out on to a snow dusted prairie. No one looked round as they left.

“What are we doing?” Dale asked politely of Sarah as they walked. Her hand felt very small in his, quite alarmingly fragile, and yet it held onto him strongly and led him after her. She gave him her usual, beaming smile, skipping importantly beside him with her bare feet in the snow, but she didn’t answer out loud. She never did. Children were hiding in the landscape. It was an open prairie, there was nowhere to hide, and yet Dale was aware of them. Three little boys and a little girl.

“All right?” Flynn’s voice said quietly beside him. Dale blinked in the darkness, coming back to the blur and to a bed between Flynn and Jasper’s warmth. He’d half sat up.

“I’ve got it.” Jasper said quietly. Dale felt Jasper’s arm cross him, reaching over to grasp Flynn’s arm, and he got up to let Dale out of the bed. “Dale, need to find the bathroom?”

Yes, good luck with getting Flynn to roll over and go back to sleep. He’d been on what Tom would have referred to as Defcon One since the shipyard. Dale put a sympathetic and deeply affectionate hand on Flynn’s back as he felt Flynn roll out of bed too, immediately awake and uncomplaining.

“It’s a block at the back of beyond, down the garden.” Dale felt a sweater put into his hands and saw the outline of Flynn pulling his own on. “Dale, get dressed properly. There’s snow out there.”

He and Jasper were patient with his middle of the night bathroom visits. They both understood that they were often more to do with taking a break from sleep to let his subconscious process whatever it was he’d picked up on more than any physical need. It was lucky they did understand; otherwise Dale thought they’d have hauled him in front of a urologist by now, and that would have made for an awkward conversation.

They all three of them dressed and went out to the icy bathroom block beyond the pond. Snow was no longer falling. There wasn’t much more than an inch, just a sugar crust dusting on the ground and over the bushes when Dale touched them, pure white and frozen solid in the darkness. The air was very still, he could see their breath misted strongly as they breathed, and the smallholding and the miles and miles of open prairie around them was silent. The paths wound everywhere through the garden in an ornate pattern beneath the soft beams of a few solar lights. It was a peaceful place and Dale knew exactly what their hostess meant about ‘clarity’. The openness of the land, the fresh water on it made the energy here very pure. And the thousands of years of history on it filled it with energy too. Like home.

“This is a beautiful place.” Jasper said to him. He had his arm lightly through Dale’s and Dale could feel the peace in him too. He would be as aware of the calm energy here and the focus it created.  

“Ash Hollow’s that way,” Flynn said to Jasper as they walked, exploring the paths more than purposefully going back to bed, since the three of them were in the habit of night time wandering together outside like this. “We saw the museum yesterday and walked the hill. They lowered the wagons down on ropes, it’s half as steep again as the road down into Three Traders. It would be a hell of a job walking a team down there with a rolling weight behind them.”

“Who are your visitors?” Jasper asked mildly. Flynn stopped on the path beside the pond.

“You see them?”

“In flashes. Small. There’s several of them. Over there, by the gate into the pasture.”

“There’s five of them.” One by one they were coming into view. Through the blur of bushes Dale could see Reid and Hannah walking through a flowerbed of low bushes, stooping to rub and sniff at leaves. Herbs then. A herb bed. Jesse was walking along the top of the fence rail with his arms outstretched, and glanced over and smiled at him. Sarah and Clay were in the pasture beyond the garden, running in the snow although they left no trace on its surface. “Sarah’s been collecting other children ever since we started on the trail. These are places they knew, they’ve been enjoying themselves.”

In the pasture, Sarah turned to look at him. Dale walked slowly down the path to the gate, leaning on it to watch her. Reid looked up at Flynn and followed him. Hannah skipped down the path by Jasper as they walked.

Flynn’s arm closed around his waist, he leaned on the gate beside Dale.

“What is she telling you about?”  

“She camped quite near to here. In the hollow. She thought it was beautiful, they rested here two days. It was like a holiday.” Dale paused, following the images from Sarah. They came in a rush, fragments of things he recognised. The smell of woodsmoke, the creaking of wooden wheels moving, a pasture soaked with dew in first light. “Most days they got up before dawn. Cooked breakfast, hitched up the wagons. They walked all day. Stopped around six to make camp for the night, they were too tired to do more than eat and go to sleep. At first Sarah’s mother tried to put up the tent every night for them to sleep in, but after a few weeks it was more than she could manage. The weather was fine so they slept beside the wagon. Or under it. Sarah liked that. Every day was always the same. But here they stopped and rested. In the evening when they were here there was music every night. People had time to get out instruments and play, they weren’t too tired. She saw the firelight and fell asleep to them singing or telling stories. Her mother baked cookies. Although Jesse and the other boys stole them as fast as she could make them.”

“Did all the children come here to Ash Hollow?” Jasper asked him.

It wasn’t easy to sort through the bits and pieces of information, there were five of them sharing it at speed tonight, although the flow from Sarah was by far the strongest, and with Jasper here it was even stronger than usual. Clearer. “Sarah did. Jesse. Hannah. Sarah was with them here. I don’t think Reid was. I don’t know about Clay.”

“What is it they’re out here for tonight?” Flynn sounded compassionate. “What do they want you to see?”

“Nothing. They’re just playing. That’s all.” Dale watched Reid and Hannah run out into the pasture to join the others. Playing. The kind of messing around, throw and catch games that broke out on the ranch between them. Dale understood it from the heart, how it felt to be silly and to mess around with people you loved.

“And it’s about us.” He added to Flynn, since here in the clarity of this place he understood it clearly from the children. “What they want us to see. Not just me. A lot of why they’re here tonight is you. Sarah’s always liked you, but you remind Hannah of her father. He had your gift with animals, the same kind of friendships with them. Jesse sees you as like them. One of them. ‘Another farmer’s brat’. That’s the phrase he thinks. And Reid – they just like being out here with you. It’s like the foals at home when you walk through the pasture.”

Their foals knew the steady energy that emanated from Flynn, that cared about everything and everyone, that calmed and kept the world stable for you. They knew it at gut level the same way Dale and Riley did. It was the energy every animal on their ranch responded to, that made every horse come straight to his hand, and made the foals trail him as he worked. A practical man who had grown up running stock and crossing vast, rough and wild ground to do it. The children were drawn to him. Dale swallowed on a rush of fierce pride. Of course they were drawn to this man. Who wouldn’t be?

“Well that’s poleaxed him.” Jasper said comfortably, lounging on the gate with them.

“The trail was exciting,” Dale said, slowly since it took time to turn things into words and interpret accurately, with the nuances the children meant, even though he understood this one from the heart. “It was one long adventure which was – not always easy. They want to be here, they want to see it again. You make it easier. You make them feel safe.”





            Flynn went on strike regarding bunny chow for breakfast. He lit the fire outside once they had the snow off it, and Jasper and Dale ate what was left of the food, leaving Flynn to toast bread and finish the jam. Tom would have made acerbic comments about Top qualifications and diet. The outline of a stocky man in brightly coloured clothes passed them taking an armful of logs towards the house and waved. That was no doubt Yokurte. Angel followed with more logs and paused to talk to them; she appeared to be in highly drapy green garments today from what Dale could make out, which looked inadequate for an inch of snow frozen hard on the ground. She nearly floated through the garden, as if she barely touched the ground.

“You found us all right?” she said happily to Jasper, adding the logs to their pile. “How do you do?”

“Nice to meet you.” Jasper shook hands. “I’m sorry we’re here in midwinter, I’d like to see your organisation when it’s busy with clients.”

“You take clients yourself?”

“We all do as a group, but in a different way. One at a time, resident with us.”

Angel put a hand through Dale’s arm, joining him beside the fire. “So there’s two of you with interesting energy.”

“Actually there’s five of us.” Dale said with no intention of explaining that in depth. “With somewhat of a team approach, different specialisms, a mosaic and multi disciplinary approach-”

Flynn’s hand slid down and patted him discreetly on the seat of his jeans in a stop teasing people kind of a way.

“Well you can’t argue that it isn’t?” Dale pointed out. The pat this time was firmer.

“Thanks for having us here Angel, it’s been a real experience. We’ll be on the road once it’s defrosted a bit.”

“What comes off you is very interesting.” Angel said to Dale. “Did you see the light orbs in the garden last night when the three of you were out walking? I’m sorry, I really wasn’t spying, I don’t sleep much and my studio looks out over the garden. They were so beautiful. It was lovely to see them, I’ve never seen one that clearly never mind so many. Do those orbs happen for you a lot?”

“I don’t usually see orbs, no.” Dale said with perfect truth. “It tends to be people.”

“You’re – kind of an energy focuser, aren’t you?” Angel said thoughtfully. “No, maybe ‘energy freer’ would work better? You contain and release it. Unclutter it. Get it moving in the right direction.”

“Usually I kind of hold energy in place so that more competent people can work with it. I’m a trouble shooter by career.” It tended to be a range of troubles from temperamentally unstable French bureaucrats, brats, Whats, horses and sheep, but it was accurate.

“You said it was specific to the land you live on?” Angel asked him. Dale smiled.

“Yes. Specific to the place and the people there.”

“You have a private practice.” Angel said with understanding. “That’s lovely. I wish you well with it, it’s been lovely to meet you all. There is one thing I’d like to do before you leave if I may?”

She moved past Dale. Dale saw the blurred figure of her put her hands on Flynn, firmly turn him around and then her hands gently rested on his shoulders.

“You’re carrying a lot of stress. How sore is your back?”

“You won’t get him to admit it,” Jasper said dryly. Flynn grunted.

“He’s exaggerating. It’s just too many nights in strange beds.”

And driving hundreds of miles, and managing me. More than slightly guilty, Dale watched her work. The energy around her hands was bright, the flare was visible in the blur. Then she patted Flynn and let him go.

“See how that goes. Have a safe journey.”





            Despite Jasper being there, Flynn still drove. When the roads were bad, he always did; it wasn’t a responsibility he’d hand off to any of them, and Jasper didn’t argue with him, but having his company in the car, just his being there, was good. The road was salted, the asphalt clear although snow covered the grass and the prairie on either side. It was a bright day, the sky was grey but crisp, and the air was still, and they drove at a slow, steady pace for the first hour or two. Then Jasper leaned forward from the back seat and touched Flynn’s shoulder.

“Turn up there.”

It was an unsalted road, Dale felt the difference beneath the tyres, but they were used to snow and ice driving in the winter, the snow was only an inch or so deeper this further west, and the four by four could take it.

“Where is this?” Dale said to Jasper, who was leaning forward to see.

“A visitor centre. There’s a parking lot up here.”

“You’ve been up here before?”

“I walked up a few times when I was travelling this road.”

It was possible to look out of the window today without images becoming too blurred and confused to bear. There still wasn’t much detail, but he could recognise the sweater Jasper wore, and see the outline and shapes of text on the road signs. There was no one else in the car lot. Flynn parked, and Jasper handed them their coats, holding out a hand to Dale.

“Come look at this.”

There was a grey building housing the visitor’s centre, but Dale’s eyes went straight to what was beyond it. A spire of rock across the snowy prairie, disappearing up into the sky. Standing there with Jasper’s hands on his shoulders, he recognised the distinctive shape immediately.

“Chimney Rock.”

It was one of the most well-known landmarks of the Oregon trail.





They passed through Scotts Bluff. The next primary stopping point for wagons in Sarah’s day was Fort Laramie on the banks of the river. The town of Laramie itself was busy, chaotic with the Christmas shopping rush. Flynn took the car through a coffee drive-through where they got sandwiches and coffee, and they parked in the snowy car lot at what remained of the fort. In its heyday, decades after Sarah’s visit, it had been a military reservation nine miles long and six miles wide, the largest and best-known fort on the Northern Plains. In Sarah’s time it had been a small fur traders post, known as Fort John, the resting point at the beginning of the long climb up through the foothills to South Pass through the Wyoming mountains. Casper did not yet exist, and the US Army wouldn’t start to protect and provide a presence for emigrants on the trail for another year. There was nothing between here and Wind River but the trail.

Now it was a preserved historical site of standing buildings and standing ruins on the open plains. It was quiet today, only few people were visiting and wading through the several inches of snow on the ground, but the three of them were used to being outside in all weathers and dressing for it. Sipping coffee as they walked, they made the slow tour of the fort, along the streets of remaining buildings. The buildings housed rooms set up as they would have been mostly long after Sarah’s time when the military were here; the barrack with its line of grey blanketed soldiers’ beds and blue uniform hung on the walls, the guard house, the traders’ store with jars of coffee, candles and furs, the officers’ dining room and the bedroom and the military artefacts were interesting enough, but all the time it was in Dale’s mind that they were nothing connected to her. In one of the downstairs stone rooms stood a wagon without canvas, just the wooden frame on its wheels. Flynn paused there, looking in detail at the size.

“Such a small thing,” he said eventually. “To take all that load all that way. A whole family relying on one of those and the stock that pulled it. Are the children here?”

“I haven’t seen them yet today.” Dale looked with him at the wagon. “But then none of these buildings were here in Sarah’s time. She wouldn’t recognise it, the fort she knew is long gone.”

“What were you meaning this morning about holding energy still?” Jasper was leaning against the wall near them, looking at the carts in the room through the bars. There was only them here. Dale put a hand out to hold the rails, thinking about it.

“You know the way things work with David. He has a connection to me. He can find me, and I’m the one in the here and now, so if I’m aware of someone stuck I hold the connection in place and he can reach through to them.”

Since the first one. Since Roger. Jasper and Flynn had been with him that first time.

“So what do you think is happening with the children?” Jasper asked him.

Dale shook his head. “I don’t know for sure.”

“Your best guess?”

“The best hypothesis I have so far… Sarah has the connection to me. It’s as if visitors have a kind of inner picture or feeling of the places they go to or the people they like to be with. As if it’s a code or a signal they can home in on when they want to. That’s how Sarah was able to be in Wisconsin with us. I was there, and she was interested in the place. Now we’re on a route she knows she seems to be using me standing in a place as a focus, and then David to reach whoever it is she wants to connect to that she knew in those places. Clay. Jesse. Hannah. Now they’ve found the signal for each other it seems as if they can find each other at will. David’s been more than happy to help her. I think she wanted to find the children she met on the trail. The ones that meant the most to her.”

“What about Reid?” Flynn asked.

“Reid was just visiting the fort. I saw him and drew Sarah and David’s attention to him. I was worried about him.” Dale smiled, thinking about it. “Sarah adopted him. He doesn’t seem to mind. He doesn’t have to be here with them and the other children.”

Flynn folded his arms, eyes still on the wagon. “None of them survived the trail, did they? Every one of them means a family that put their heart into this, took one of these wagons all this way over hard ground, and they lost their child doing it.”

Flynn and Jasper were standing quite close and Dale saw the movement of Jasper’s arm, the hand that brushed Flynn’s back.

“About a fifth of the people that came down the trail were children.” Dale said softly, hearing the tone in Flynn’s voice. “The statistics are that about one in ten of the population who travelled didn’t make it, and children were vulnerable to accidents. Illness. Cholera around the Platte river because of the number of people washing and swimming and grazing animals there.”

“Do you know what happened to Sarah’s four?”

“No. Not at all. To most people I meet, it was a few minutes in the whole picture of their life and they weren’t interesting minutes. Their energy goes to what sparks more energy, the things they want to share.”

“Like watching stock break out of a pen and run all over a road.” Flynn said to the iron railings in front of them. “Or setting a fence on fire and putting it out without getting caught. Or having a knife that was all yours. The brightest moments of memory.”

“Yes.” That was something Dale had learned himself, slowly and with patient help from this man to understand it. “That’s where the strong energy is for them as much as anyone else. You say it to me. The good memories matter.”

Flynn put a hand down to find his, winding his fingers through Dale’s and the three of them stood there together by the reconstructed wagon.

“What about Reid?” he asked after a while. “What does he remember?”

The one who had possibly been alone at the fort. Of course he would be the one that concerned Flynn the most; he cared about anyone in difficulty or a vulnerable situation.

“I don’t know.” Dale admitted. “It’s kind of Philip’s rules. They either choose to tell you themselves, or it’s on a need to know basis. Idle curiosity isn’t exactly…. Polite. It isn’t about me and what I’d like to know. No matter how frustrating that might be.”

“There was a sign for the original fort Sarah would have known.” Jasper led the way out into the soft, slow fall of a few drifting flakes from a grey sky. “Across the parade ground.”

There were no remains left of the building that had once been the source of so many people’s comings and going here. Near to the Laramie river, Fort John as it had been in Sarah’s time, had long since fallen down and given way to the more modern buildings around it, and the officers’ quarters now sat partially on the site.

In front of the fort had been an encampment of tents of traders of all kinds. Three or four times a year it was hugely swelled by native American traders, who came to barters for dry goods. Furs and hides, beads and flour, sugar and beans, coffee and leather. The noise and the smells and the tents had spread out so far in all directions, with many feet always moving between them in the grass, the big cannon on the front tower of the fort pointing outwards, and the endless herds of animals picketed and gathered and corralled while people camped. Their wagons were a long way up river, some walk from the fort since the camp was so big. Mama washed their clothes by the river, and at night as she lay under the wagon in her roll of bedding, the singing and the noise was loud and came from close by the newly built fort walls with the big black cannon on the front. Little girls didn’t go into forts.

“There was a camp here by the fort walls.” Dale said aloud as they walked slowly on towards the river. “It was enormous at times of the year when Shoshone people were here trading. Sarah’s father bought supplies here. Coffee. Flour. He bought her mother some carved beads, for her birthday. Blue beads on a leather string. Sarah thought they were beautiful.”

Sarah stooped in front of him to touch a flower in the grass, as though in her mind she picked it. Jesse slowly faded into view on the bank, his arms folded on his knees as he crouched, watching the snow floating down on the water. Clay and Hannah were walking hand in hand towards him. Dale looked for Reid, moving unhurriedly and with care. There. A little way behind them, and mostly behind Flynn. Trailing them. Not good with children, Dale gave him a cautious smile. Reid’s face didn’t change and he ducked a little further back behind Flynn.

That was always a safe place to be.

David was standing on the river bank some way off from the children, his hands in his pockets and his back to the water, surveying the remaining fort buildings. This place had been deserted and derelict for forty years when he first came to their lands. It was only Sarah among the Falls Chance people who had ever known it, for a few days one summer.

continued in part 5b
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Post by dragonquest1313 on Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:57 pm

I love how Flynn is concerned for the What children, and how they "poleaxed" him, that he was the reason they came out to play, and that was because they felt safe when around him.

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Post by iam on Mon Dec 24, 2018 8:59 am

Angel is such a dear, I'd love to see her again!

I'm not surprised about Flynn's bunny chow strike, but I googled them and they look delicious! I'd be happy leave the toast and jam to Mr Eats-Only-Half-A-Cow-And-Cookies.

It's so lovely that the children have a sense of Flynn and that they feel so safe around him despite him not sensing them. I wonder how that works.


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Post by curious1_53 on Mon Dec 24, 2018 5:04 pm

She moved past Dale. Dale saw the blurred figure of her put her hands on Flynn, firmly turn him around and then her hands gently rested on his shoulders.

“You’re carrying a lot of stress. How sore is your back?”

“You won’t get him to admit it,” Jasper said dryly. Flynn grunted.

“He’s exaggerating. It’s just too many nights in strange beds.”

And driving hundreds of miles, and managing me. More than slightly guilty, Dale watched her work. The energy around her hands was bright, the flare was visible in the blur. Then she patted Flynn and let him go.

“See how that goes. Have a safe journey.”

This made me wonder about Jasper's "back massages" throughout all the stories. Was there always more than just a physical massage involved? If so, did Jasper know, or did it just happen?
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Post by Nonni on Wed Dec 26, 2018 5:02 am

I was hoping they'd get to see Chimney Rock. I'm getting very excited to see what is next, but, once again, it is bedtime so the rest will have to wait.
This story is such a beautiful gift and I'm not really minding prolonging the joy of anticipating what comes next.

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Post by Trisha Louise on Wed Dec 26, 2018 12:25 pm

Dale understood it from the heart, how it felt to be silly and to mess around with people you loved.

How are you the same man who was so adrift watching Riley play a game with the horses? Are you the same man, Dale? I adore this story, every line I've read so far, but this one leapt out at me. I can feel it in my chest, a lightening, a release. What a triumph! I want to think that the scared and overburdened little boy on the stairs has found that path to run with these kids. 

Ranger and Rolf, I'm so glad you wrote Dale to this point. Having been rather invested in Dale's story for so many years now and having had a hundreds of discussions with some very dear friends about him and his journey, it's a delightful gift.


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