(A missing scene for Blind Man’s Bluff)
Jelly called the team to a halt. Harness leather creaked and stilled, and the wagon lurched to a stop. Johnny recognized Murdoch’s muted grunt as his father dismounted, and Scott’s soft obscenity over the long ride. Beside him Mattie stirred; she’d been lying at his side, one of her hands, palm down, spread across his chest, patting him in comfort whenever he shifted.
“We’re home,” Jelly announced.
Home – fluttery fear trembled in Johnny’s belly. He couldn’t even see it.
Mattie moved, and his beard caught some strands of her hair – light, she’d told him, long and light. But panic filled the space where she’d laid warm against him.
“Mattie?” Johnny called, his hand groping for air.
Damn this darkness – this blindness. There was nothing – he couldn’t see or feel anything, just the all-out panic clutching at him, cramping him.
Mattie came back, tugged his hand, urged him forward. Johnny held her tight until she squirmed her fingers, telling him his grip was too hard. He loosened a little but not much. He didn’t know where to go, what to do. Home…but it was all strange to him now.
Slowly, awkwardly, he hitched himself forward, waiting for his heels to drop over the end of the wagon bed into air – that unseen nothingness that he kept hoping would hold him up, guide him safely, prevent any stumbling. But it was weightless – and useless. He was useless in its atmosphere.
He was blind.
Doggedly he thrust his legs forward and felt his boots go off the end – and stopped. He heard some scrambling as Mattie, still holding his hand, climbed out first. Johnny re-tightened his hold. The fear floated out of him, a dark shape in the blackness already before him, long, cold tendrils entwining his arms and legs, making him shiver, making him sick…
Scott’s voice, low and calm. Gloved fingers touched Johnny’s sweating forearm, held securely, waited patiently.
Johnny tried to nod, and slid himself over the end of the wagon. Solid ground welcomed his feet, but the fear freshened – he couldn’t move. Home – how could it be home? He couldn’t see it, might never…
“Can I help you son?”
Murdoch – Johnny sensed his father’s big frame near him; it pushed through the pulsing, breathing fear, shifted it downward so he could breathe a little. But it knew he was afraid, knew that he was terrified of walking through the hacienda’s door a blind man.
Scott’s hand left him. But Murdoch took his elbow, his body close and protective, and steered Johnny to the left. Johnny shuffled uncertainly. Mattie’s hand grew sweaty in his; he felt her tremble.
“This is it, Mattie,” he said to reassure her. “This is Lancer.”
She tapped the back of his hand twice to signal that she understood. At least he knew her signs – she could help him see…
Dios, he wanted to see, so badly.
“Here’s the door,” Murdoch told him. “Step up…”
The fear choked him, froze him. His heart pumped erratically, made his ears pound, squeezed all the breath out of him. He gasped but no air came. He couldn’t – he couldn’t do it. Through that door lay all things comforting, familiar and soothing. Things he knew were there – because he had seen them, every day, all the time.
But now he was going through the door a blind man. And he was afraid if he stepped across that threshold the door would seal him in and he would forever remain a man of darkness.
Never again would he see.
“M – Murdoch,” he stuttered, his voice shaking, his body following.
Murdoch’s arm slipped about him, drew him close. “It’s all right, son,” his soft words soothed.
Johnny swallowed, tried to move again.
A hand settled on his shoulder – Scott; he could tell by the long fingers now free of the glove.
His family – their embrace enveloped him, erected a new wall against that dark lumpy fear dancing before him, held fast against its black tentacles trying to pluck at him, yank him into dark permanence.
Slowly he lifted his boot – it bumped the threshold.
Johnny hesitated, swallowed hard, lifted his foot higher, put it down.