by Lori Jacobson of Volga, SD
Pa stepped down off the porch and ambled off to the barn. His mind was on getting oats for the horses but he couldn’t stop looking at the black clouds moving across the sky. The ranch hadn’t seen a good rainstorm in a month and the ground could use a good soaking. The wind whirled a dust devil around Pa’s legs just before he stepped into the barn.
Sam struggled to unhook the bottom of his jeans from the barbed wire. Will, his older brother, was running ahead shouting, “Come boss, bossy, bossy. COME BOSS!”
“I thought I saw her heading straight north!” Sam screamed just as he got loose. Will replied, “You come around from the west side and I’ll go east, maybe we can catch her before she reaches the canyon! Just don’t freak if you see her, holler, and I’ll come get her.”
Will’s comments made the heat crawl up Sam’s neck. He was tired of Will always taking over. He usually thought his older brother was pretty great, but sometimes he just made Sam so mad. One of these days, he was going to show Will that he could take care of himself.
Sam felt the pit of his stomach tighten. The wind was really coming up and it looked like it was pushing thunderheads in front of it. The canyon wasn’t too far from the pasture, but the terrain was treacherous. Sam, only twelve, wanted to impress his older brother. He watched Will’s back until it disappeared past an evergreen tree.
As he made his way, dust swept itself through the woods, engulfing everything in its path. Sam’s eyes burned and his throat ached with dryness, but he pushed on, calling for the calf. He strained his eyes to see through the trees, looking for the black and white heifer. His heart thumping, Sam broke through a thorny bush and entered the clearing. He looked at the specks of blood forming on his hands, and then he looked up. The calf was standing near the canyon edge, bawling.
Relief swept over him in a hot sweat. It trickled down his face, mixing with the caked-on dust. He carefully made his way towards the calf. Frightened, her brown eyes were wide and glossy. As he approached, Sam tugged at the rope attached to his belt. Calmly making a slipknot, he reached over the heifer’s back and gently stroked as he slid the lasso over her head.
Thunder began to roll across the sky and the air temperature dropped suddenly. The wind was cold against Sam’s face. Rain is coming, he thought to himself. Although the looming storm worried him, he was still overwhelmed with relief and pride that he had found the calf.
Cutting back through the west side of the woods, Sam hoped to meet Will. Not having any pathway, he tried to find spots where it would be easy for the calf to tread.
Breaking through a low, dense bush, Sam came across a horrifying sight. Will was lying face down with his right arm jutting out at an awkward angle. Looking as if attacked by a bobcat, his pants and shirt were badly torn and his left leg was bleeding. Rushing to him, Sam could see the purple mound swelling on Will’s forehead.
Grabbing Will’s left wrist, he could feel the pulse beating. He ripped off his own flannel shirt, tore it into strips and furiously began to bandage the bleeding leg. The storm was opening up. Large drops of water beat down on his neck and back, stinging with their force. Sam tied the calf to the nearest evergreen, the branches’ needles tore at his skin. Quickly but gingerly, he rolled Will onto his back and slid him next to the calf. Being three years older, Will’s weight strained Sam’s back. He didn’t notice the pain. After getting them both as far under the tree as possible, Sam placed the broken arm across Will’s chest. By then, the storm was raging.
Rain beat hollow dents in the dusty ground and the wind mercilessly thrashed tree branches around. Sam held tightly to Will, closed his own eyes and listened to the calf bawl for its mother.
After what seemed like hours, the storm subsided. Some of the younger trees had been partially uprooted and brush was flattened to the ground in many places. Sam felt as if he just had the worst beating of his life.
Will began to moan and wake up. He stared up at Sam, his eyes full of fear and confusion.
“It’s okay now, you’re gonna be alright,” Sam told him.
“I… I think I was attacked,” Will’s voice cracked.
“Don’t talk.” Sam cautiously took off Will’s flannel shirt and fashioned a sling for his arm. Hoisting him up, Sam looked at his older brother. The pride he was feeling earlier had been replaced with affection. “Come on, let’s get you home.”