Summary: A yearly ride that usually brings sadness brings something else this time. (The choice of the main character is yours.)
Rated: K+ (2,745 words)
© July 2009
Feedback is appreciated
Author’s Note: I woke up early Sunday morning with this idea and some dialogue running about my head. So I got it on paper before I forgot any of it. It’s taken me this long to post because we’ve been suffering from the heat in Washington State and there’s nothing worse than sweating in front of your computer and trying to be brilliant. So I’ve had to work on this at work where it’s cool. Hope you enjoy it.
Come the Morning
The early morning darkness worked against him as he made his way up the mountain and slow deliberate steps were needed. He didn’t really want to disappear over the side, at least not today. This was a pilgrimage he intended on completing just like every year before.
Rising in the dark and slowly dressing, he donned a heavy shirt and coat to stave off the late winter chill. He’d looked back at his wife who’d finally fallen into an exhausted sleep a few hours before and felt her forehead – she still had a fever, a fever that never seemed to end these last few weeks, rising and falling with the sun and the moon. He sighed then and kissed her softly on the cheek desperately wishing for a respite from this spell of bad luck they seemed to be going through.
Then he’d left the house moving silently in the dark and thinking on his children’s angry voices from the night before when he’d told them he was going on this trip alone followed shortly by their cook threatening to leave – again – if they didn’t start eating what he prepared right then, right now.
All in all it hadn’t been a good evening . . . or month for that matter. In fact he couldn’t remember when things had been good. Now that he thought about it, things always seemed to go haywire about now since this was never a good day – not since . . . well, not for a very long time.
Glancing up he spied a bit of light in the black overhead and pushed his horse a bit faster. He had to be at the top before sunrise. It had always been so, always since the first time he’d ventured out into the dark after the news came. No one knew he’d gone and he hadn’t thought to tell anyone as he rode out into the night finding himself atop this mountain fighting off memories that assailed him from every direction. And when the first tendrils of light began to spread across the dark sky breaking up the night as if it had never been, it seemed to settle him, settle his heart that insisted upon breaking. As soon as the various shades of pink began fingering out he found a gentle smile upon his face, something that was hard to conjure as that day progressed, soon to fade once he left the mountain.
And that’s what he needed this day – to smile – for he’d not had much of that lately what with the drought causing what little water there was to be dirty and thick. Then anthrax raised its ugly head and swept through his herd only to be followed by his wife’s illness. Sometimes he thought the world was against him, against any happiness he might’ve found over the years and it irked him. He shook himself. Soon the sun would come and they would speak together as they used to when they were boys. It brought a bit of warmth to his soul those few moments they shared and he could remember how it used to be.
A quick misstep tossed him a bit in the saddle and he pulled back on the reins, steadying himself and his horse as they continued on, a hand absently rubbing the side of the animal’s neck offering as much comfort as he could provide so early in the morning, so early this morning. Thoughts traveled back as they always did to that horrible day when the news came and with it a shattered heart for how could someone so good be taken from this earth while someone like him was left behind. He’d struggled with that until his wife reminded him of everything he had, everything he’d done in this world. He’d nodded to appease her even though it did nothing for him. But he couldn’t live like that and moved on, albeit slowly, always taking the time to remind his children of what they had and what was waiting for them around the bend. A piece of advice he’d forgotten this last month.
Brought back by the sudden stop of his horse, he looked up taking in the boulder in middle of the trail and sighed.
“Well, old boy, it looks like I’m on foot,” he informed his horse as he dismounted, ground tying him within a grassy patch. “I’ll be back.” Hugging his coat closer, he started his solitary hike.
A chill ran through him the higher he got, snow impeding his way at one point but bound and determined, he moved on wondering what his father would say if he knew he was still doing this. Well, his father did other things to commemorate this date and he was sure his brother did something as well. Looking up he noted the sky turning a watery gray and picked up the pace, hoping the clouds of yesterday would be gone so he could look upon the face of the morning sun. It was the only thing that appeased him, silly though it may be.
In record time he made the last barrier – a craggy rock blocking his way. Grabbing on, he hoisted himself up and over and headed for his customary spot. Settling down on the cold ground, he snuggled deeper into his coat and waited hoping he would come. He really needed him to come this time. And then as if the sun had just been waiting for him, its rays broke through the gloom with the power of an edged knife, shooting down to the earth to announce the coming of a new day.
It looked like a slice of pie.
A smirk found him then. That would be something his brother would liken this vision to – a pie – for the rays were obviously slices that had been removed and, as more pieces were taken away, only the empty pan would remain. The sky would be that empty pan once the sun reached its peak.
Scanning the heavens, he watched the glorious pink streamers slowly begin to fade as they were overtaken by a light blue that worked dour thoughts from his head. It also brought reminders of his brother’s eyes and how they raised his spirits each time he looked upon them, how much peace they gave him when nothing else would.
“Ya know I love these kind o’ mornin’s.”
He stiffened at the sound, his heart racing. He came. “Me, too,” he finally responded keeping his eyes on the sky.
“Makes me think on what might go right today.”
“Too many times, though, it just goes wrong,” came his answer, calming at the ordinary conversation.
“But not now. Now is perfect. Nothing or nobody has ruined anythin’ yet.”
He laughed. “Very true. Unfortunately life has a tendency to interfere. For once I’d like it to just disappear.”
“Ah, but then ya wouldn’t be seein’ yer kids grow or that purty wife o’ yourn smilin’ at ya.”
“Maybe so, but sometimes I’d rather sit here and not think or do anything. Is that wrong?” he asked still not taking his eyes from the sky.
“Naw. It’s called takin’ time for yerself. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.”
“That’s what I thought but then I’ve not been thinking too clearly lately,” he admitted. “Everything seems to be . . . off and I can’t get back on track no matter how hard I try. In fact it just seems to get worse.”
“Well, brother, that’s yer problem.”
He turned then, looking to his right, tears springing to his eyes at the sight. It always threw him when he saw him but the sight also brought unrelenting joy for the short time it lasted.
“Ya think too much. Thought we talked about this last time.”
He smiled then. “I think we talk about it every time. But you know me. I can’t just sit back and do nothing.”
“Have ya tried? I mean really tried? Might jest do ya a lotta good ta sit on yer porch and watch the world go by for a moment or two. No tellin’ what might happen. Things might seem right for a change.”
“You think I should?” he asked as his brother met his look and grinned.
“I do. Let yerself rest, brother. Let come what may and don’t see if’n I’m not right.”
He nodded then looked away taking in the remaining clump of clouds that still clung to the spread of blue that was darkening above them. Soon this time would be over, tucked away in his heart to last him another year. He turned back to his brother.
“Have I ever told you how much I love you?”
“Every time but that don’t mean I don’t like hearin’ it.”
He laughed right along with his brother. “Can you stay longer?”
“Wish I could but I gotta visit a couple other folks today. Jest remember ta send my love ta everyone and kiss your wife and hold her tight.”
“I will,” he answered then looked away not wanting to see him leave.
“And remember what we talked about. Sit yer butt on that porch. Ya’ll see what I mean.”
He nodded but didn’t look. He couldn’t look for the empty space next to him would be too painful to see. Instead he concentrated on the sky and thought he saw a shape of a horse in the disappearing clouds moving slowly past as the sun blazed across him sending a sudden warmth into every part of his body. A grin crept onto his face and he hugged himself hoping to keep that feeling within for just a few seconds longer before it disappeared. But, miraculously, it stayed and he forced himself to look to his right, wondering if his brother still sat next to him. All he found was a rabbit staring at him.
Running a hand over a stubbly face, he pushed himself up, took one last look at the rabbit then clambered over the rock and headed down the trail to his horse, thinking it odd how the darkness of this past month seemed lighter in his thoughts, in his steps. Mounting, they started for home and all the while he pondered on how this morning, this day – which normally left him bereft of any ounce of mirth – felt different somehow. The grass seemed greener, the air that passed his face seemed sweeter, the pines taller and his house . . . well, it seemed to welcome him as it hadn’t in so very long.
Dismounting, he flung the reins over the hitching post and looked about him for a moment, noting the stillness, the quiet, and walked over to the porch, staring at one of the chairs, head titled.
“Sit yer butt on that porch.”
Silently moving up the few steps, he snuck up on the chair and carefully sat down, hunching forward with hands clasped in front, ready if something should jump out. When nothing untoward happened, he eased himself back, holding onto the arms as if his life depended upon it. It took but a second for the sounds of incoming hoof beats to reach him and he anxiously stood and leaned against the porch railing, clutching the wood, wondering what new disaster was about to befall them. It was Sandy, their foreman, waving his hat like a crazy man as his horse skidded to a stop before him.
“Boss!” he yelled. “I got news! We ain’t had no more anthrax crop up in two days. And the stream is runnin’ clear again. It’s like magic if’n ya ask me.”
Sandy smiled, beamed more like it and it seemed to spread to him as he eased his grip on the railing.
He cleared his throat. “Did you say the stream’s clear?”
“Yep. And ya know what that means. It’s rainin’ somewheres close and I kin vouch fer that ‘cause my bones is achin’ and they ain’t never been wrong.” He plopped his hat back down. “Well, gotta get back. Jest thought ya’d wanna know so’s maybe ya’ll stop worryin’ some.”
Before he could say anything Sandy was off and he closed his eyes, feeling a bit lightheaded. No more cattle would die and rain was coming. Now if only his wife felt better.
“Sit yer butt on that porch.”
Hearing that voice in his head, he opened his eyes and looked at the chair, running a hand across his whiskered chin. Deciding to tempt fate he eased himself down once again then leaned back to prop the chair against the wall.
So far so good.
Forcing himself to relax, he closed his eyes and let himself drift noticing the birds chirping in the new day and the horses snorting in the barn; ol’ Bessy came next with a moo as the chickens scrabbled in the dirt and the pigs snuffled in their trough. He could’ve sworn he heard the creek that ran behind the house and fancied the idea he could hear cattle a few pastures over working their way through the dew covered grass into the sun to warm themselves. It was a pleasant world he found himself in with no problems, no worries – no fear of what may come. He didn’t want to leave.
“No telling what might happen,” he mumbled just before the sound of tiny feet moving along the porch came toward him and he tensed. What now?
“Papa,” came a whispered voice close to his ear.
“Yeah?” he answered without opening his eyes.
“We, ah . . . well, me and Joey . . . we’re real sorry we yelled at you last night.”
“Yeah, me and Eric,” came a second small voice.
His tension eased and he gave a slight nod. “Apology accepted,” he answered.
“Um, did you talk to him?” asked Eric.
“I did,” came his truthful answer.
“He was really there?” came from Joey, astonished at the thought.
He began to smile as a silence fell and he just waited because he knew more was coming.
“Papa?” said Eric.
“What’re you smilin’ at?”
Without opening his eyes, his smile grew larger. “I’m smiling at everything I have.”
Silence came again then two whispered voices caught his ears.
“What’s that mean?”
He started to laugh then and opened his eyes expecting to look at two confused little boys but, instead, found his wife standing before him. Shooting to his feet, he gently grabbed her arms, all traces of a smile gone. “What are you doing out of bed? It’s cold out here. You’ve a fever . . .”
She pulled one of his hands from her arm and placed it on her forehead. “My fever broke just after you left and I haven’t felt this good in a long time.”
He looked deeply into her green eyes trying to gauge what was going on then decided it didn’t matter; nothing mattered but that she was standing before him skin cool to the touch and very much herself again.
“No tellin’ what might happen.”
Pulling her close, he wrapped strong arms about her thanking his brother for the advice and the help. Soon the boys were hugging their legs and they stood that way for a good long time.
“Well, now,” came a deep voice from the bottom step. “That’s a sight I like to see. Especially today.”
His eyes took in his father’s smiling face and he returned the look, holding his wife closer.
“Me, too, Pa,” he answered glancing toward the beautiful blue sky and tossing it a wink. “Me, too.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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