Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHILL (10/27/16)
- TITLE: The Wolf in the Wind
By Ann Grover
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“Hey, Jack, she know you’re coming home?” Sam leaned over from the upper bank.
“You bet she does.”
“She makin’ them dough-gobs for you?” asked another of the cowboys.
“You bet she is.” Jack laughed, slung the saddlebag over his shoulder, and stepped outside. The others trooped after him, thumping his back good-naturedly, but Billy, grizzled and gray, placed a tanned hand on Jack’s arm.
“Mind the sky, Jack. Should wait till she blows over.”
“Thanks, Billy. I reckon I can outride it.” Jack mounted his horse.
“Merry Christmas, Jack. Give that gal a kiss from us,” the boys chorused as Jack rode off.
It was six months since Jack had seen Sarah, and he wasn’t going to let a few dark clouds hold him back. If the trail treated him well, he’d be home tomorrow night.
Like sunshine, Sarah was, with her flaxen hair and forget-me-not-blue eyes. And she was tough as a willow bush, wiry and strong and never timid when it came to splitting wood or deer hunting. He’d loved her from the first moment he saw her.
It was after Jack crossed the first ridge that several fat flakes kissed his cheek. He tilted his face to the sky. The clouds were low-slung, gunmetal grey. It’ll be fine. Besides, don’t they say, “Big flakes, short storm?” This won’t last.
In the bottom of Jack’s saddlebag lay his pay from working at the Bar M Ranch, and as he rode, he thought about the little spread he and Sarah would buy with his earnings. On a piece of parcel paper, Sarah had sketched out their dreams: a barn, root cellar, chicken coop. A big house for the family they hoped for.
The snow dwindled, settling Jack’s mind, and he jogged along on his horse, mile after mile. At midday, he ate a couple of the biscuits Cookie had given him that morning.
Then like tattered bits of lace, the snow started in earnest. Fine flakes spiraled furiously, needling Jack’s face. He retied his bandana and hunching into his slicker, urged his horse into an easy lope. When twilight shrouded the land in indigo shadows, he stopped by a cluster of pines. After scooping a hollow in the snow, he started a fire, but the wind, with a biting rawness, scattered the burning twigs and tipped over his tea can of melted snow.
Jack pulled his extra clothes from the saddlebag and layered everything he owned under his slicker. Huddled in his bedroll, Jack shivered by the dead fire, and when the sky lightened from jet to slate, he emerged stiffly from his snowy burrow. He brushed the snow off his horse and without bothering to try lighting a fire, he set out, gnawing on a frozen biscuit.
Numbness crept from his toes to his knees. Then he couldn’t feel his legs at all.
Got to get my blood moving.
He dismounted. Leaning on the horse, his feet like heavy boulders, he toiled through the deepening, dizzying snow, the howling wind pummelling him mercilessly. When he couldn’t take another step, he hoisted himself back into the saddle.
Jack’s hands locked like dead wood around the reins, and his breath froze his bandana to his face. Flakes clung to his lashes. The horse slogged on, icicles hanging from its flanks and nostrils, stumbling on the buried trail.
Set the quilt by the fire to warm, sweetheart.
Sarah did, and then reached for him. Falling, falling, falling. Into Sarah’s arms and the downy quilt. Into the snow.
The horse nuzzled Jack’s shoulder, bringing him around. Using the last of his strength, he heaved himself back into the saddle.
Like a silvery, snarling wolf, the wind pursued Jack, hounding him, icicle teeth piercing his flesh, pulling the breath out of his chest.
Got to keep going. Almost home.
The lantern gleamed in the cabin window, beckoning through the whirling snow, drawing him to its flame. Blessed warmth, finally. Sarah, laughing, holding up her skirts as she ran through the snow to him. He melted into her embrace, smelled her hair, felt her kisses on his icy cheek, her arms holding him close.
At first light, Sarah found him by the cabin door, bound by ice to the glazed saddle. Frozen teardrops glittered like diamonds on his smiling face.
Jack was home.
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