by Hank LeGrand III
Night was beginning to fall in the tranquil mountain valley, and the long workday at the Topps’ family farm had come to an end. Fall weather had once again returned, along with the exploding colors of the tree’s leaves. The unmistakable sound of the elks’ trumpeting calls had also returned to the valley - announcing the beginning of their mating season. It was truly a wondrous time for the elk, but it could also be a very dangerous time; especially when the elk began wandering down the old wagon train trail from the mountains, down to where the early morning frost had not yet fallen on the tender green grasses. The Topp family - Jim, his wife Mary, and teenage son Rocky - lived on the farm at the lower end of the valley. The roaming elk foraging for food didn’’t really bother the Topp family all that much, except when they had to occasionally chase one or two out of their vegetable garden, or the small corn patch the Topps would plant each year. But what followed the elk down from the mountains, shadowing the animals’ movements did……
ISBN 978-1-59431-751-4 Young Adult / Adventure
Also available in RTF and HTML formats.
Night was beginning to fall in the tranquil mountain valley, and the long workday at the Topps' family farm had come to an end. Fall weather had once again returned, along with the exploding colors of the trees' leaves. The unmistakable sound of the elks' trumpeting calls had also returned to the valley--announcing the beginning of their mating season. It was truly a wondrous time for the elk; but it could also be a very dangerous time, especially when the elk began wandering down the old wagon train trail from the mountains, down to where the early morning frost had not yet fallen on the tender green grasses. The Topp family--Jim, his wife Mary, and teenage son Rocky--lived on the farm at the lower end of the valley. The roaming elk foraging for food didn't really bother the Topp family all that much, except when they had to occasionally chase one or two out of their vegetable garden, or the small corn patch the Topps would plant each year. But what followed the elk down from the mountains, shadowing the animals' movements did…
Rocky had just put his golden-stallion--Comanche--inside the barn for the night. After securing the double doors, with the cross-board, he began walking up the shadow-darkened path toward the cabin. It had been an exceptionally hard day for Rocky at the farm, and partial-exhaustion was starting to take its toll. He was now looking for some well-deserved rest on the cabin's front porch swing. Rocky could soon see the candle's light flickering through the partially opened windows, as he made his way up the path toward the cabin. He could also smell the wonderful aroma of freshly baked pumpkin pies his ma had recently set on the windowsill. The grayish sky was growing darker by the second, and the swirling wind had started to strengthen with an eerie sound--as if some mystical storm were descending upon the valley. Rocky started walking faster, but suddenly, as if struck by lightning, stopped dead in his tracks. He was temporarily frozen in place by the blood-curdling screams of some unfortunate animal in trouble, big trouble. The almost ghostly noises sent waves of chills shooting clear through to his bones! Rocky had never heard such sounds in the valley before, and little did he know they would only get worse.
The horrifying shrills were coming from the woods just across the field behind the barn. Darkness had all but set in now, and the terrible screams were completely saturating the air. Rocky again quickened his pace and was soon standing on the first step leading up to the cabin's porch. Jim Topp was already standing in the doorway, sipping sparingly on a freshly brewed cup of coffee. He was also listening to the horrendous noises, along with watching Mother Nature's oncoming storm. He momentarily lowered his pipe, and turned his better ear toward the barn. Jim Topp was as confused as Rocky, about the strange sounding screams.
"What do you think it is, Pa?" spoke Rocky, as he shifted his western style hat to the back of his head, then leaned down to pull his socks up from inside of his cowboy-boots.
"It's hard to say for certain, Rocky, but a grizzly may have an elk cornered in the woods."
"If a grizzly does have an elk cornered I feel sorry for the elk, Pa. It sounds as though it's being torn to shreds!"
"Well, it's only natural for a grizzly to hunt for food," replied Jim Topp, as he shook his head side to side, and then flipped the remaining drops of coffee to the ground. "Why don't we go inside, son," he continued, after turning to enter the cabin. "There's nothing we can do about it anyway."
The slaughter of the mysterious animal continued for several minutes, then, just as suddenly as the screams had started they stopped. Rocky, after entering the cabin, noticed that his ma had a worried look on her face, and her hands were slightly trembling. Rocky and Jim Topp tried their best to assure her that everything was going to be okay, and that there was nothing for her to worry about. The grizzly had finished with its killing--or at least for the night. Rocky still had doubts as to what had happened out behind the barn, but he had to let it go for now in order for his ma to calm down. He knew she was a lot more scared than she was letting on and, to discuss the grizzly attack would only make her worry more.
Shortly after the screams fell silent, Rocky, along with his ma and pa, sat in front of the fireplace talking about their day, and about other matters taking place on the farm.
"Did you ask Rocky yet, Jim?" spoke Mary Topp, after lowering her knitting piece. Her trembling hands had finally calmed, and her normal facial color had again returned to her face.
"Not yet," replied Jim Topp, as he lowered his pipe from his lips then turned to look in her direction. "But now's as good a time as any."
"Ask me what, Pa?"
"When your ma and I were down in town today we chatted with Mr. Williams at the feed store."
"What did you talk about?" Rocky responded with a sudden interest.
"Mr. Williams told me that our neighbor further up the valley, Matt Petersen, had told him he's thinking about selling the old Henley farm."
"But Pa…the Petersens only moved into the Henley farm last year."
"Well, apparently Mr. Petersen wants to move his family closer to town, due to his veterinarian practice. It seems as though he now realizes it's just too much of a burden, for the folks in town, to bring their sick animals up over the ridge to his place to be treated."
"But what does that have to do with me?" said Rocky, as he leaned over and pulled off his other boot.
"Son; if the Petersens move closer to town, it means they will be selling their farm," explained Jim Topp, after again lowering his smoldering tobacco pipe.
"I'm still not sure what you mean, Pa…
"You're coming of age, now, Rocky," interrupted Jim Topp. "And it won't be long until you'll need a place of your own. Your ma and I had discussed earlier that the old Henley farm would be perfect for you. We also talked about coming up with some of the money, to help you possibly buy it. What do you think?"
"That would be great!" shouted Rocky, as he sprang to his feet. "It does interest me!" he continued, as his eyes widened with excitement. "Do you really think Mr. Petersen will sell me the Henley farm?"
"I'd say you have as good a chance as anyone," replied Jim Topp, as he also stood, then stretched. "Why don't you and I take the horses for a ride up there in the morning…we can have a talk with Mr. Petersen about it. I've been looking forward to meeting him anyway. I've put it off long enough! They've been living up at the Old Henley farm for a while now, and it's not very neighborly of us for not meeting them."
"I think so, too," agreed Mary, "And I'm also looking forward to seeing the new neighbors." Mary had been feeling bad lately--about not making the trip up the valley to welcome the Petersens to the valley, but with all the chores around the farm time for socializing was very scarce.
After a little more discussion, about the Petersens and their farm, everyone went off to bed.
Rocky didn't sleep a wink all night; he was just too excited, and his mind raced until daylight. Just the thought of owning the Henley farm was truly a dream come true for him. Rocky had always thought of one day starting his very own horse ranch, and now his past dreams may be closer to reality than he had ever imagined. He knew the Old Henley farm quite well, though. He had often ridden Comanche up to the peak of the trail, and then sat looking down across the valley at it for hours. Rocky was amazed at how his previous neighbor (Mr. Henley) had been able to take such good care of the place, considering the old timers failing health. Rocky had also enjoyed the peacefulness of the pond, semi-hidden in the Willow Grove; a place where he could get away from his chores for a time, and dream of what could be.
It had been a well-run farm, and the pond--the elderly Henley had created--not only proved its worth through the dry-hot-summer months, but had added to the farm's beauty as well.
Rocky had tried to give Mr. Henley a hand whenever he could, because the strenuous farm work had gotten the best of his aging neighbor. But Mr. Henley had taken ill a couple of years back and was unable to get over it. Mrs. Henley sold the farm to the Petersens roughly a year after her husband's passing. Rocky was taking care of their farm at the time of the sale--because of Jim Topp having a back injury. By the time his pa had recovered, the Henley farm had already been sold to the Petersens. Rocky had all but given up on his dream of ever owning it, but now he had been given a second chance and, he wasn't about to let it pass him by again.
At dawn Rocky climbed out of bed then dressed. After claiming his hat from the hat rack he headed down toward the barn to get Comanche--along with his pa's horse and buggy. Once he had finished saddling Comanche, and fitting his Pa's horse with the harness, he led both animals out of the barn then started up the path in the direction of the cabin. Rocky noticed the glowing of candles shining through the cabin's two front windows--informing him that his folks must also be up.
"This is going to be a big day for me, Comanche," spoke Rocky to his golden stallion, as they made their way up to the front porch. "If things go right with the Petersens. The horses are ready to go, Pa!"
"Not so fast!" was a reply from inside of the cabin from Mary Topp. "You have to come in and eat your breakfast first."
"B-but I'm not very hungry!" cried Rocky, as he shifted in the saddle. He and Comanche couldn't wait to head up the trail. All he could think about was getting there as soon as he could.
"Come inside, Rocky, and eat!" shouted Jim Topp. "We have a long ride ahead of us. You don't want to go all day without eating! Jim Topp knew the ride up to the Henley farm would take a while, and by the time they would make it back home Rocky would be starved.
"Okay…I'm on my way in," Rocky hesitantly replied, then stepped down from the saddle to the ground. "I won't be long, Comanche." After tying his horse to the hitching post and giving his trusty steed a pat on the side of his neck Rocky ran up the steps. He suddenly flung the heavy wooden door open with a bang, then scampered to the table and began devouring his food.
"Slow down, Rocky!" warned Mary. "You don't want to choke by eating too fast…"
"Yes, son," interrupted Jim Topp. "We have plenty of time to get up to the Petersens' cabin!" Rocky slowed his eating, but not by much. He couldn't wait to get going, and he could hear Comanche outside also getting restless. After finishing with breakfast Rocky ran out through the cabin's front door, and in no time was sitting on Comanche's saddle all ready to go.
"Time's a-wasting, Pa!" shouted Rocky, as he backed Comanche away from the hitching post.
"Hold your horses," replied Jim Topp, as he gathered up his boots and hat.
"I'm already holding them," laughed Rocky, grabbing on to the buggy horse's reins.
"I got the message," laughingly said Jim Topp." Here I come. We'll be back later this afternoon, Mary." After giving his wife a look he lifted his hat from the rack. "That boy must have ants in his pants," Jim smiled.
"Have a good trip, you two," said Mary after walking her husband to the door. "And give the Petersens my regards."
"We will, Ma," Rocky replied after turning Comanche in the direction of the trail.
Rocky couldn't wait to get started, and neither could Comanche who was straining at the bit--as if to hurry everyone up. Finally Jim Topp climbed up into his buggy, and then was also ready to go.
"Let's take a ride out behind the barn to the wood line first, Rocky." spoke Jim Topp as he turned his horse.
"Why do you want to go down there?" asked a bewildered Rocky. "Don't you think we should hurry to the Petersens, Pa? Before he sells his farm to someone else?"
"I don't think you need to worry son! The farm's not going to be sold that quickly. Besides; I want to see if there are any signs as to what exactly happened out behind the barn last night with the attacking grizzly."