Saturday, November 9, 2019

Clare’s Problem

Clare met the younger brother when she came to town with her parents, but it was his older brother she fell in love with. There were three brothers, blue eyes and curly black hair belonged to Don, the youngest, Hazel eyes and straight thick brown hair belonged to Brian, the middle son, and Carl the oldest, had dark hazel eyes and straight black hair.

It was their father that Clare had a problem with. He was a brutal controlling man, and he drove his sons like slaves; he treated them like slaves too. He might have owned the biggest farm in the district, he might have been the richest man in the county, and maybe even the state, but that didn’t give him the right to treat his sons the way he did.

When Clare met Don, he was charming and exciting, full of life, but she rapidly discovered that he was a hot head. When she met Brian, however, her heart was lost to those caring eyes and tender hands. It was this as perhaps nothing else that prompted her to free him, and his brothers if she could, from his father’s brutal control. She spent the entire winter working on the brothers, especially Brian. She tried everything she could think of; surely her happy attitude and her caring nature would soften them away from their father, make them see what kind of man he was. But it was apparently all for nothing, when planting season came around, Mr. Hardass rounded up his boys and herded them out to the fields.

In another attempt to make them see the error of their ways, Clare went along. Brian’s father had the biggest machinery. The truck they were going to use today had eight huge tires and on top of them were huge screws that guaranteed that the tires turned no matter what.

At the corner of the field, they stopped. Everyone got out and started to scurry around getting everything all prepared.

After months of fruitless work on Brian and his family, Clare pulled at Don’s shoulder. “You can’t let him do this to you,” she said speaking plainly, but it was as if she spoke to a machine. Don pulled away from her without even acknowledging that she had spoken. She turned to Brian, “You can’t do this.” She looked towards where Carl was talking to his father near the front of the big truck. They were so much alike it was frightening.

“Come on, Clare,” said Brian. “There’s work to do.”

“Brian, how can you do this? How can you let him do this to you?”

“Clare…” Brian started, exasperated. “Come on.”

“Tell me that you can do this,” said Clare. “Look me directly in the eyes and tell me that you do this of your own free will. That you want to do this,” said Clare near tears.

Brian stopped what he was doing and looked at her long enough to look oddly quiet in the activity around him. He came up to her close and looked her directly in the eyes. “I can do this. I want to do this. Some of this will be mine someday.” He handed her a silver cone-shaped thing. “I know what I’m doing.”

His eyes were clear and calm. Clare could see the truth in his words, but then her own tears began to burn her eyes. She turned away and hastily set the thing in her hands down on a small table already cluttered with other things. She dodged under the huge truck and started to run. She could hear Brian calling after her, but she didn’t stop, she couldn’t stop.

Brian caught up with her before she reached the road at the corner of the field. She hadn’t made it very far. “Clare?” he said catching her shoulder and turning her to face him.

“I can’t do it, Brian. I just can’t. I thought I could, but I can’t.” She was sobbing uncontrollably by the time she had finished and Brian pulled her into his strong arms. She was crying so hard she couldn’t have said another word if she had tried, not and be understood anyway.


   

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Beginnings

Volcanoes were oozing hot molten magma down their sides, and spewing thick clouds of ash into the sky, coating the countryside within their reach with a thick gray blanket – the contents of which were hot enough to start fires everywhere. Everyone and every thing – every living creature was in a panic, trying to find a safe route out and away from this show of Mother Nature’s power. The mountains had been rumbling and complaining for many moons, but everyone thought it would settle again soon. The ground rumbling was common, but nothing ever came of it. Maybe an old building would crumble. Maybe a few trees would be knocked over or broken. Maybe there would be a rockslide, but this fury was something new. This fury existed only in very old stories, stories, from which the fear had been washed away by time.

King Mokoseevi remembered the tales that had been told around the campfires when he was just a young one. Then, they chilled to the bone – now, they did the Sam,e but now it came near freezing his soul.

Mokoseevi sensed something different. Felt it to his very core. He and his company of Rangers cut short their hunting trip out into the vast prairie. They returned in time to watch the earth began to come apart, from his vantage point across the river on the hillside, he saw the stones of the houses and shops begin to tumble loose, trees were falling, what few were left were burning. Pisim – home – was falling to its knees. Soon Pisim would be unidentifiable – it already was. Suddenly the earth opened up and swallowed what was left of the city along with a great many of its people. Mokoseevi cried out in horror, as did those around them. They were helpless but to watch from where they were. Even the river had turned against them. The men fell to their knees and wept, howling their agony to the unnaturally darkening sky.

Only those who had run to save their livestock continued to move within the ghostly, haunted landscape. It was a barely controlled stampede. Outriders were fighting to control their mounts in order to control the stampeding animals. Those who fell did not rise again; all obstacles were pulverized beneath the many hooves.

King Mokoseevi and his company of rangers were lost as to be of help. They could only sit on the hillside and watch with gut wrenching sadness as their lives as they knew them, were over. The King was an older ranger. He had tucked fourty winters under his belt. He was a good and noble leader, and he worked hard to be fair to all those in his kingdom. His heart was breaking for his men and their families as well as his own family. He prayed to ‘Mother’ for their safety.

Suddenly, as if galvanized, he called out, “Watch where they go. Sanders, Lakos, find a way across this cursed river. We will gather our people together again and we will rebuild. We will start again somewhere where the ash does not fall.”

Sanders and Lakos took off on their mission – one upriver and one downriver. It might take days for the river to calm from its chaotic froth, but they would find a way across.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

An Old Wooden House

I’m just the housekeeper, but I seemed to have fallen into the position of mother too, to a degree. When the kids came to visit, they always hung out with me in the basement, which is where I lived.

I woke up in a short bed. The room was tiny – barely big enough for the bed and a door – but I’d been cold and curled up so the shortness of the bed didn’t bother me – that is it didn’t bother me until I wasn’t cold anymore. This bed was fine for one of the little ones, but not an adult. I finally wrapped the blankets around me and headed out into the main room and my normal bed. Nobody fit that bed anymore; maybe it was time to turn that room back into a closet.

Covering my bed was this vinyl material someone had bought because it was butter soft, but it didn’t survive very well when you let the dogs on the bed. It was still soft though and I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away yet.

I was woken again by the kids coming home quite late. Someone turned the light on for a second, and then someone tossed something down over the wall that corralled the stares, so I burrowed out from under it and switched ends.

Lisa came tumbling down the stairs with a suppressed squeal – the lot of them were trying to be quiet, but they were failing, but it was funny watching them. Lisa leapt over me to snuggle in beside me on the bed. “Sorry we woke you.” She squirmed, kicking her feet in the air – she was the shortest person of the group, but she had such a big personality. “I had to show you.”

It took me a minute to figure out that she was showing me a new ring and that it was on her left hand. It was a delicate silver thing and the setting was a sweet heart-shaped diamond surrounded by tiny emerald stones – her favorite color – and that was surrounded by another ring of probably diamond stones. Money was never an issue for this family, so I had no doubt all the stones were real. “That’s very beautiful,” I said. I looked over at the bruiser who I knew had given it to her. He might look like some evil biker dude, but he was a good man. “Congratulations.” He nodded and smiled. “I know you’ll take good care of her. You better; she’s my favorite.” His smile got wider.

Suddenly his brother was in bed with us and I was being pushed out. I didn’t worry about him. Jealousy wasn’t in this family, even though these two brothers could play quite rough once in a while. Between these two men, no one would even think of touching Lisa.

Lisa reached across me to something they’d dumped on the table, but was only able to get her fingers on the lid. “Darn it. It’s spilled.”

That’s not all that was spilled. They’d had at least one cooler with ice, and its integrity had not survived the rickety table.

Sleep was no longer a possibility and the bed wasn’t made for three people. It was only a little futon thing after all. I got up, turned the light on, and then headed upstairs in search of some extra towels I could use to clean up all the water and ice. At first I thought of the huge towels kept in Grandma’s bedroom at the top of the house, but I wasn’t certain they were towels – they weren’t terrycloth, and they were enormous for a towel. I went to a guest room and took the stack of five from there. The room was empty – no one would miss them, and I could get them back before the end of the day. Heck I could probably get them back before Grandma woke up.

I came back down the stairs to find the dogs had discovered whatever goodies had been embedded in that ice. Two of them were on the table and another didn’t need to be – he was tall enough. The mess was spreading quickly.

I tried to push one of the dogs off the table, but he wasn’t interested in anything I wanted. I hollered at the guys in the other room where they huddled in front of my small refrigerator. “Come on, guys. Get these dogs off the table.” I had to yell twice, but eventually someone whistled and the dogs left me in peace.

I found the rest of the tin Lisa had been fishing for, but there was no salvaging anything. I scooped most of the ice back into the cooler and sorted the trash out. As I mopped up the water the tablecloth came loose, and I discovered why those tables were so rickety. All three tables had thick, inverted T legs on each end, but I’d never bothered the tablecloths, so I didn’t know that the tops were little more than a wide section down the middle maybe a foot wide, for whatever heavy stuff one wanted to set on the table. Sticking out another foot on both sides were bamboo ribs. To make up the support between those ribs was several layers of heavy plastic. I’d always disliked those tables, but now I disliked them even more. Broken ribs explained the tipped over cooler.

I called to the guys in the other room. “Hey Brian. I need new tables. These are really crap.”

“Okay,” said Brian, but I knew he’d probably forget in like five minutes. He hated shopping. Tell him to buy a table and the first thing he would think of was going to a furniture store. I didn’t need that kind of table.

“Better yet, just get me a couple sheets of plywood and…” I did some quick calculating, “and twenty-eight two by fours.”

He looked up at that. I could see it in his face. He could do a hardware store. “Sure thing. First thing in the morning.”

I tried to shove these three tables into some semblance of their old order only to discover why I never moved them around. The third table I wasn’t planning on replacing fit under the next table, but not well enough to make it go away. Finally I decided I’d just push them all completely out of the way and tackle the floor. This being my space, I neglected the floor quite a bit.


As I went to put the soggy towels in the washing machine, I tripped over the strings and cords someone kept on the floor there. Those cords led to the crawlspace under the main house. Grandma’s brother and a couple neighbor guys had been working on something under there. I have no idea what their project was, and even less of an idea what those cords were for, but I usually didn’t trip over them.

As I walked to the end of my hall, in search of my mop and bucket, I noticed a spark way off in the darkness of the under-house, and then I caught a whiff of smoke. This I couldn’t let alone. I went to investigate.

I found what looked to me like a pile of junk, some of it partially buried in the ground. I never gave it a second glance. What alarmed me was this iron rod sticking down from the floor joists tied to a hunk of wood. Another similar arrangement was poking up from the ground. Both hunks of wood were smoking. Not bad, but still, it was alarming to me; this was after all an old wooden house. I picked up the cords and discovered a copper wire among them. Why would they string a copper wire from this project back to my space?

As I rushed out, intent on going outside to find at least one of the people responsible for this fiasco, I discovered that there must be a lightning storm going on out there. By the time I reached my hall again, the whole area behind me lit up like a small sun had just taken up residence under this house.

All I could think of was getting everyone out, and that Grandma was all the way at the top and still in bed. She never moved quickly.

My living space was now empty; everyone had either headed up to bed or out after my table supplies.

As I passed the back door, I saw them gathered outside. They and others were looking up and around at the outside of the house, and they were cheering and laughing.

Suddenly I thought I understood what they’d done. They’d made some kind of dynamo down under the house, and when a charge from the house electricity wouldn’t start it, they’d rigged a lightning rod from the weather vein at the top of the house. I don’t begin to understand any of it.

Someone said, “Now we can tell the city to go take a flying leap.”


   

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Allies

A Rift Between Friends

The three of us, my two best friends, and I, agreed to accept the invitation of the great and lovely Betty White to do a potluck thanksgiving dinner at her house. We were to arrive the day before and make it an overnight deal of good conversation and good cooking. It was going to be so much fun.

I was unanimously elected to bring the turkey. I liked cooking the turkey, but I didn’t think I was very good at working the rest of the cooking in along with it. I could turn out an okay turkey dinner, my family never complained, but one with all the fancy trimmings – no way.

As I was packing up my saddlebags, I was picturing the postcard table setting. I would definitely have to get a picture of it, and maybe one with all of us around the table too. It would be so beautiful. I just knew it.

That first day was all it promised to be, but trouble started with the cleanup of supper. We’d had oven baked pork chops and there were some left over in the oven. I gave Tomlin the task of putting those in a bag to put in the fridge. I looked back at him just in time to catch him kicking one under the stove.

“Tomlin!” I said, horrified. “Why would you do that? Pick that up immediately.”

“No.” He looked at me with a smug smile and left the room.

I went after him, of course. “Tomlin! Tomlin, come back here and clean up your mess. Betty White is a wonderful lady. Why would you do that to her?”

He just ignored me, so I pulled him around. “Answer me.” I pointed back to the kitchen. “Get back there and clean up your mess.”

“No.”

God! That kid could be such a brat sometimes, and Lisa never did anything about it, not that I could see anyway.

I slapped him. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did. If he’d done this at home, I wouldn’t really care. If he’d done it at my house, I’d have been totally pissed, but this was Betty White’s house. I was appalled and horrified. If no one found it, it would begin to stink soon. Other things might happen because of that. I couldn’t begin to imagine the repercussions of this insidious act, and he didn’t care – not a whiff.

“You go back there right now…”

Lisa and Barbara showed up, likely attracted by my yelling. “What’s going on here,” asked Lisa.

“She slapped me,” said Tomlin, and he turned so she could see the mark.

I pointed back to the kitchen. “This is Betty’s house. You should see what he did, and he refuses to clean it up.”

Tomlin merely rubbed his cheek, and maybe tried to squeeze out a tear.

I was rapidly becoming irrational. Our row would wake Betty any minute now and she needed her rest. She wasn’t young anymore. I grabbed Tomlin by his sleeve and tried to pull him back to the kitchen. I wanted to show them all the proof.

“You need to see. You need to make him clean up his mess,” I said.

“I don’t care,” said Lisa. “You don’t touch my son.”

It was as if death had just walked into that hall.

You could have heard a pin drop at the far end, it was so quiet.

I stared at Lisa as if I had never known her. Maybe I didn’t. “You don’t care? He can insult one of the greatest ladies I know, and you don’t care?” I just shook my head and turned my back on the lot of them.

I went back to the kitchen, the troop of them following. I used a broom handle and raked the pork chops out from under the stove – there had been three of them – and then I wrapped a soapy rag around the handle to mop under there. Barbara, Lisa, and Tomlin just watched. It was impossible to tell what they were thinking. My task done, I said, “I am not about to allow his insult to Betty to just lie there. And because of him, and now you all, I will not be attending thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I will not overlook this. I’m going home. But because this is thanksgiving, and because this is Betty’s dinner, I’ll leave the turkey. You all can figure out how to cook it. I never want to see any of you again.” I went past them to my room to pack.

Barbara came knocking just before I was finished. I hadn’t brought much; it was only over night. I opened the door at her knock, and then seeing her, I tried to close it, but she wouldn’t let me.

“You can’t go now. It’s dark.”

“You think I don’t know my way home in the dark? The roads don’t change just because the sun goes down you know.” I was still fuming. I couldn’t really be angry with Barbara though. She had done like she always did – not take sides.

She offered forward a package. “Take this. It will be a long ride.”

“What is it?”

“Just some leftovers.” For Barbara, it was the only thing she could think of to bridge the gap that was opening between us.

“Leftovers? You make it sound like if I leave tonight, I’ll be on the road for days and will need to camp out at least once before I get home. You do know it only takes me a couple hours to make the trip?”

She looked so helpless, but I was still too angry. I threw the last of my things into my saddlebags and went to get my horse.


The next morning Frank came over. He found me in my front yard, cleaning up more of my garden. It would be snowing soon; I needed to get it done.

“Barbara was in tears this morning when she called,” said Frank. “She said Lisa is fit to be tied. Have you spoken to Betty?”

“I sent her a long letter last night, as soon as I got home. I was too angry to make a phone call – too angry to talk. Writing an email gave me a chance to make sure I said the right things without sounding like a witch. I haven’t looked to see if there was a reply, and I wouldn’t know if she merely read it.”

“I would say she read it,” said Frank. “A taxi was waiting for both of them. Everything they brought was loaded up and they were sent home. I expect Barbara will be here in a few minutes.”

“Don’t you go trying to make me feel sorry for what happened,” I said. “Go home, Frank. Console your wife. She at least was innocent in this fiasco. But don’t expect an apology from me any time soon. Maybe someday, but it won’t be soon. I’m still too pissed for reconciliations.”

Frank frowned but he left. They lived only a couple housed down the lane. More than likely Barbara and I would make up, but Lisa was doomed to be out of my life for the rest of it. What she did – what she allowed, was unconscionable. Fit to be tied – poor baby. That’s what you get when you allow your son to be such an ass.


   

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Medicine Man

Mariah saw him for the first time when she stumbled directly into him while rounding a corner with her arms full of grocery bags. They collided and one of her shopping bags split, spilling its contents all over the street. He quickly bent to help gather her things back into the remnants of her bag, but he wasn’t quick enough to hide the fury that had suffused his dark features before the collision. “Sorry, miss, I wasn’t looking where I was walking,” he said in a voice that was gentle and smooth, belying the fireworks that still lingered in his black eyes.
   
“Are you sure you were trying to look where you were going?” said Mariah with a forgiving smile. “Not many people can see around corners.”
   
He looked up and then around at their location and shrugged. How could he tell her that if he hadn’t been so pissed off at his grandmother, he would have seen her coming around that corner? He finished picking up the scattered groceries and went with her to her truck. He was just straightening from depositing his armload on the floor of the passenger’s side when another voice interrupted.
   
“Is he giving you any trouble, Miss Prescott?” said a blond, blue-eyed young man approaching from behind them. His curly hair was topped with an expensive Stetson hat.
   
“No, Brian, he’s helping me with my groceries,” said Mariah curtly. If he had wanted to impress her, he could have helped her with her bags back when he saw her pass with her arms loaded rather than trying to show off by picking a fight with the first man to give her attention.
   
Her benefactor took the other bag from her and set it on the seat then he turned to leave. “May I know your name? A damsel in distress should know how to address her knight in shining armor.”
   
Brian scoffed and stepped closer. “He knows his place. See, he’s leaving already. Be sure you wash that fruit when you get home. You wouldn’t want any of his germs lingering in the Prescott house.”
   
Mariah Prescott stepped up into Brian’s face, her eyes flashing. She barely reached his shoulder, but if she had been a man, she would have hit him. “When I need any advice like that, I’ll be sure and ask for it. Until then don’t speak to me again. Get out of my sight.”
   
Brian scoffed and sauntered off. When Miss Prescott turned to thank the man who had helped her, he was nowhere to be seen.
   
Two days later, after a row with her grandfather, Mariah took off into the mountains on her horse. Her grandfather was very uncomfortable with her, she knew it, but the fact that he was trying his hardest to match her with a husband, any husband, so soon after her coming home, was hard to accept. He had sent her away to the best girl’s schools money could buy almost before her parents’ graves were cold and then saw to it that her summers were full of trips to Europe until she finally got tired of it and exchanged his tickets to France for tickets home instead. Now, ever since she walked through the door, he had been pairing her off with every eligible man and boy in the county. There were three of them in the living room right now and one of them was that turd, Brian who had been so keen to pick a fight in front of her rather than help her carry her grocery bags to the truck.

She needed some time away from all of her grandfather’s suitors, time to think and decide what she should do. All they wanted was her grandfather’s empire anyway.

Her thoughts were scattered by the distant sound of a rockslide and she decided to go and investigate the damage. Her grandfather ran some cattle up here and if some of them got caught in a rockslide, the foreman would want to know as soon as possible.

She found the slide a couple hours later and was picking her way around the edges of it when she saw something that brought her heart into her throat. Near the top close to the side of the slide, was the sprawled body of a man. She flung herself out of the saddle and was at his side in seconds.

He was breathing, but she didn’t know what to do. There was a spot of blood in the center of his back and he was lying so still. She looked at her horse. She should go for help, but she couldn’t leave him here by himself; there were coyotes in these hills and he was bleeding. She saw his foot move and she crouched down close to him. “Mister, can you hear me? What should I do?”

He didn’t respond to her voice, but he groaned and then started to shake hard for a few seconds before sighing and wilting again. It was then that she realized who he was. He was the man who had helped her the other day with her groceries. “Mister?” He was so quiet.

She lifted his knife from his belt and used it to cut that belt and his leather shirt up his back. It was a nice leather shirt and she hated to do it, but she couldn’t reach the buttons or laces in the front, she didn’t even know if there were any and she didn’t want to roll him over with a back injury, she didn’t know much about emergency medicine, but she knew better than that. The bruise she discovered was rapidly crawling across his back with a nasty scrape in the center. It looked like someone’s fist was balled up under the skin that was rapidly turning purple and black. One of the rocks from the slide must have hit him very hard. She looked around hopefully for some last nook of hidden snow to reduce the swelling, but to no avail. She pulled the shirt closed again and then turned to her horse. She hurriedly pulled off the saddle and blanket and then shooed the horse back down the trail with a sharp slap on his rump. When he came back to the ranch without her, they would come looking for her.

She draped the blanket over the man’s shoulders; it wasn’t big enough to cover all of him, but it covered his shoulders at least, then she reached under him the best she could and dislodged as many loose rocks as she could trying her best to make him as comfortable as she could. She shed her jacket and slid it under his head biting her lip when she saw the blood there too.

He roused slowly curling a finger in the unfamiliar surface beneath his head and then opening his eyes. He looked around with the one eye that would open.

Mariah knelt close, “Mister, you have to hold very still. A rock from the rockslide must have hit you in the back; it looks real nasty. I sent my horse back to the ranch. When he gets there, they’ll come looking for me.”

He sighed tentatively and then grimaced as shots of pain registered in his foggy mind. “Your horse…”

“I sent him back to the ranch.”

He closed his eyes for a moment and then looked at her again as if really seeing her for the first time. “Miss Prescott? What are you doing here?” he whispered.

“I was just riding. I heard the rockslide and came to investigate.”

“You need…to go for help. I’m… I’m hurt bad. Your horse…about a mile away. …grazing. He’s not interested in going back…to the ranch. My truck…” he knit his brows. “My truck…should be on the logging road…don’t see it.” He grimaced and shook violently for a few moments before fainting again.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she watched him convulse. She felt so helpless. How could he see her horse or his truck, she couldn’t and she had a much better vantage point standing than he did lying on the rocks.

The shakes woke him next time. They were violent shakes that curled him up in a ball and wrung sobs from his chest until they passed leaving him panting and on his side.

Mariah got the chance to see the scrapes on his face. She wet her handkerchief with some water from her canteen and dabbed the blood and some of the dirt from them.

He opened his eyes at her touch, the swollen one managing only a slit. “You’re still here. Go for help. Try to get back before dark. Go. GO.”

“I can’t just leave you here alone.”

“You have to. There’s no one else. Now go.”

She went, but not before she helped him drink some of her water from her canteen, which she left under his hand and then tucking the saddle blanket around him the best she could. His eyes were closed again. “What is your name? Who do I tell them is up here?”

He sighed, “John…Ravenwing. I work…for your grandfather… sometimes.” He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t see her leave.

She ran down the mountain in the direction her horse had taken. She toyed briefly with the idea of finding his truck. He said it was on the logging road that meant that it was only about two miles away, but something about the way he seemed confused about it made her trust finding her horse faster. The cow trail she had followed to get here was shorter than the logging road, but the logging road was faster. She figured either way the time would be about the same, but if she couldn’t find his truck, the time lost looking for it could be fatal. They’d find his truck when they came up to get him.

She found her horse just as he had said she would; he was about a mile down the trail. His reins had snagged on some brush and the new spring grass had distracted him from any further interest in going home. He spooked a little as she came up to him a little faster than she should have, but she caught up his reins and led him over to a rock so she could swing onto his back without his saddle.
   

John heard footsteps crunch on the gravel near his face and a small rock bounced off his chin. He opened his eye and saw a dusty worn boot no more than a foot from his face. The boot nudged the canteen out from under his hand and then he heard a low snicker just before the boot moved out of sight and then out of hearing down the trail. John closed his eye again and tried to see. He saw Miss Prescott pelting down the trail on her horse. His truck was still strangely absent from where he had left it, but he couldn’t see the man who had just left here. He hated this weakness in his sight, but at least it told him that his strange visitor had no intention of going after Mariah.

He reached for the canteen, but knew, the moment he took the weight of his arm off his hand, that the idea had been a bad one. He shoved a fist in his mouth to stifle his cries as the quakes shook him again. He didn’t want his attacker to know that he had been awake. He might come back and finish what he had started.

John had been coming to this peak ever since he was a kid to get away from the noise in his head and think in peace for a change. He knew that rockslides happened all the time for little or no reason, but this one had been different. At first he thought it might have been a bear rubbing his itching winter pelt loose a little over enthusiastically on a big rock perched somewhere near the top, but he didn’t see any bear, nor did he see any sign of a bear during his climb, but then he hadn’t been looking for one either. When he heard the noise, he had stood to look. If he hadn’t stood, if he hadn’t been turning, the rock would have killed him or crippled him for life. He could move his feet. He could still feel them. He was enough of a doctor to know that he was in bad shape, but it could have been so much worse.

The Navy had trained him as a medic before sending him to Iraq with the Marines, but as soon as his commanders had discovered his talent they had used him to find missing people. With his unique ability to see, he had earned the moniker of Tracker and he and his unit had gone into some hot places in search of some of those missing people. As a medic, he’d had to set bones and remove bullets under fire, but even after three years there, he had never been injured himself. Now that he was back home, he lay here helpless in the one place he had always felt safest.
   

Mariah pelted into the ranch yard and leapt from her sweating horse without flare. “Grandpa!” she yelled as she ran into the house abandoning the horse to fend for itself.

Her grandfather, Jake Prescott, looked up from his plate at the table. “Where have you been all afternoon? You had guests.”

“Never mind them. There’s been a rockslide up by the old logging road. I went to have a look and I found John Ravenwing. He’d been caught in it. He’s hurt bad.”

Her grandfather didn’t ask questions or make comments; he just rose quickly from the table, changed into his boots, and grabbed his coat. Once outside he yelled for his foreman who scrambled for a stretcher and a med kit while one of the other men fueled and started the truck. Within minutes, she, her grandfather, and four men were piled in the truck and headed for the logging road. It was almost dark before they found him again. Mariah saw that the rockslide had almost reached the road. It had deposited a scattering of fist-sized rocks across it. Mariah didn’t remember to look for John’s truck, which was supposed to be here somewhere.

His breathing was harsh and he was unresponsive when they reached him, but that didn’t stop him from crying out when they moved him to the stretcher. Her grandfather gave him a shot of morphine and he sighed and looked around, but he didn’t really see anyone.

Jake tucked another heavy blanket around him, “You take it easy, John. We’ll get you out of here. You’ll be alright now.”

John focused on the face that was near his, “Sorry…for the trouble…Jake.”

“You’ve never been any trouble, John.” But John didn’t hear him; he had fainted again.

Jake picked up the saddle and Mariah found the canteen, wondering briefly, why it was so far from where she had left it, and then they picked their way carefully down to the road again. The four men tried their best to make the trip as easy on their passenger as they could, but despite the morphine, he was sobbing before they reached the truck. The trip down the logging road wasn’t any better. It was a poorly maintained logging road that had outlived the logging contract by several years. Though Jake did his best to avoid or ease through rough spots, it wasn’t enough. By the time they reached the highway, the men who rode in the back with him had been forced to contain John’s convulsions by force three times.

Jake and Mariah stayed at the hospital with John until he was in his room chocked full of pain killers, muscle relaxers and a soup of other drugs that would get him through the rest of the night in peace. The entire side of his face was swathed in bandages that, though he was very pale, made his skin look dark by comparison.

Jake went home at dawn, but he couldn’t persuade his granddaughter to come with him. She sat there in the hospital room and waited for John to wake again. They had him in traction now and his IV was full of muscle relaxers and painkillers.

Mariah finally relented and went home that evening, but she returned the next day and the next. She dutifully met and entertained all the men her grandfather invited over, but when visiting hours came around, she excused herself and left.

On the afternoon of the third day, John opened his eyes. It took him some time to remember why he was seeing the inside of a hospital room, but parts of it came back especially when a pair of blue eyes that were rapidly becoming familiar swam into view. “Miss Prescott, what are you doing here?” he whispered, his voice unused to talking.

“You keep asking me that question, besides I thought it was only proper to render assistance to such a gallant gentleman in his time of need.”

He smiled; he would have chuckled too if he weren’t being reminded of how badly his back hurt. He closed his eyes and began to stiffen.

“Oh, come on now, don’t do this,” said Mariah with concern. She pressed the button at his bedside and a nurse came in a few moments later.

John looked up at the new person in his room, “Jenny,” he said between clenched teeth, by way of a greeting.

She didn’t miss the tight expression on his face and the tension in his neck was obvious. “You’re hurting, aren’t you?” She pulled a prepared needle out of her pocket and slid its contents into his IV. “This’ll help. It’ll make you drowsy, but that’s okay too.” She used a little penlight and checked John’s eyes briefly and then she counted his pulse while she waited for the drug to take effect. When John began to relax, she turned to Mariah. “See if he’ll drink some water.” She briefly gripped John’s hand where it lay on the covers, patted Mariah on the arm and then left.

John closed his eyes as the pain and tension washed away. He was totally unaware of falling asleep again.

Day after day Mariah came to the hospital and sat with John. Sometimes he woke briefly and sometimes he didn’t, but as he grew stronger, they got a little better acquainted. She’d tell him about some of the things she did in school and some of the places she’d visited in Europe and he’d tell her a little about some of the things he had done with the marines and for her grandfather. The subject about how he could ‘see’ never came up; people tended to look at him differently when he tried to tell them about that and he liked the way those blue eyes looked at him right now. He didn’t tell her about his grandmother either. She was set on him learning to become the tribe medicine man just like his great grandfather had been and the subject had always been a sore one between them.
   

Jake allowed this to continue until he heard that John was beginning to sit up and then he attempted to call his granddaughter's attention back to his plans, plans that did not include her marrying an Indian no matter how much he liked the young man. He was a good tracker and had been instrumental in finding several strays and even a wolf or two that had decided to pray on his stock. He knew of his time in the military and that he had been trained as a medic. He knew he had served in Iraq and had worried about him over there, but none of that gave him the right to associate with his granddaughter. “Mariah, I don’t want you going to the hospital any more. John has family; they’ll take care of him now. I want you to stay here and decide on who you want to marry.” He steeled himself for another blow-up, but it didn’t happen.

Mariah stopped in her tracks. She set her purse down again and turned to face her grandfather. After studying his face for a moment, she sighed and went over to where he stood in the door to the kitchen. She gently took his hand and led him to the table where she sat down facing him. “Alright, grandfather, let’s talk about them. You have called every widower and boy in the county, who you would trust to walk on this land, to come and try to get me to agree to marry one of them. More than half of them are somewhere between my dad and you in age. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to marry someone who is as old as or older than my father is. Of the rest of them, I don’t think there is a single one of them who is the slightest bit interested in me at all and I don’t think they are really interested in this ranch either. I’m fairly certain that almost all of them would much rather sell this place, either as a whole or a piece at a time, for some sort of subdivision or something. None of them need this place nor could they run it if they had it. They all have their own lands or businesses and this ranch would be too much of a bother. All they are really after is the money; they marry me, they sell this place and, bang, they are a billion dollars richer with a pretty little wife on their arm. That doesn’t sound like a bad deal, does it?”

“How can you know any of them would sell my ranch?” asked Jake appalled at the suggestion.

“The only way someone would be interested in this land was if they were genuinely interested in becoming a rancher or if the land were an expansion on their own. Those men are from all over the state, you’ve even found people from half way across the country; do you really think they want to give up what they have to take on running this place? And if they do, why? Have they run what they have into the ground? And if they have, do you want to hand him this place? Grandpa, I want this place. I want to run it just the way you’ve run it your whole life. And I want to hand it down to my kids just the way your dad handed it down to you. So I need to find a man who wants this place for what it is and who wants me for what I am, and what I want. That’s the only way this is going to work. If you keep throwing men at me, if you make me marry one of them, you might as well just start selling this place right now. Now, if you’re worried about my marrying John, that’s not why I’m going to see him every day, I go to see him every day because the whole time I’ve been back here, he’s the only man I’ve met who was nice to me before he knew who I was and he’s just as nice to me now. That’s all, grandpa; he’s nice to me and I like him. And even you have to admit that he’s very good looking.”

“I won’t have you marrying an Indian,” said Jake flatly.

“Fine, we may never get married. We may never do anything more than shake hands, but I still like him and I don’t see anything wrong with having him as a friend. Now you’ve made it abundantly clear throughout the county that I am eligible to marry. I’m sure the news will travel even farther, especially since it is well known that with me goes this spread. I’m twenty-three years old and it’s the twenty first century. I reserve the right to pick my own husband. I will listen to what you have to say on the matter if you will listen to what I have to say as well, but it will be my decision in the end.”

Jake grumbled for a few moments and then said, “You sound just like your father. He was always very good at looking at a complicated situation and seeing a simple solution. It near broke my heart when he let your mother take him away to the city.”

“Grandpa, dad wasn’t a rancher. He grew up here and liked it here, but not enough to become a rancher. He would have come back here, if you had asked him to, but he would have hated it, eventually.”

“I know, his mother kept telling me that same thing, that’s why I let him go.”
   

Mariah went to visit John, and when she returned, she got her lap top out and hooked it up, “Lets check up on some of those men you’re so fond of marrying me,” she said, and her grandfather watched in wonder as she pulled up work history and financial reports on whoever he named. By the time she had worked her way through most of the men Jake had been considering, it was obvious that what Mariah had told him was true. For one reason or another, every one of them looked to be after his money and not the ranch.

There were a few who showed promise and Mariah promised to consider them, but one of those names was Brian Bertram. He was the second son of Frank Bertram who was a friend of her grandfather’s. Rumor had it that he was a top cowhand and very shrewd when it came to buying and selling cattle, but he made her very uncomfortable and always had. She promised herself that she wouldn’t marry him if he was the last man in the world and the future of the human race depended on them making babies. She told her grandfather as much.

He just scoffed. “You’ll be married before I die and if he’s the only one that qualifies then he’ll be the one you marry,” he said determinedly.

“Not him,” she replied firmly. “He scares me.”

Jake looked at his granddaughter with a shrewd look; it hadn’t been a comment he had ever expected to hear from her.