DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Mark walked in the bunkhouse, and gave him a shove.

“What was that for?”

“Just cuz. I figured you deserved it for something I didn’t catch you doing.”

Tyree chuckled at him. “Probably true.”

Mark had a knife blade in his hand. “What you think?”

Tyree took the blade, and examined it. “Full tang, thick back, good seven inches, sweet bevel. Right pretty blade. You got a handle picked out for it?”

“I got two I am considering. Come take a look. Tell me which will work best. I have a bone and an antler.”

They went to the corner of the stable to Mark’s work shop, and looked over the handles.

“I’d go with the antler. It’s the right length and thickness,” Tyree sorted through the tools, and started to work. Mark watched closely as he measured, cut, drilled, and filed the antler as they talked.

“So we goin’ hunting in the morning? I want to leave early,” Mark asked.

“You gonna let me court your sister?”

“Hell naw. You’re an alley cur,” Mark laughed.

Tyree pulled his fingers through his hair, working through the tangles.

“How early? I am awake before first light,” Tyree finally asked.

“First light is fine,” Mark said. “Oh, did I tell you Lonny is coming?”

Tyree drew up. “What? Hunting? You must have lost your mind. I ain’t going nowhere with that weasel.”

“Yeah. I figured you wouldn’t want to go. He wanted to go. He had no problem with you going.”

“He can eat shit. I wouldn’t go with him to nothing but a funeral, his.”

“Marcie is bringing the coffee, and some fresh baked bread.”

“You flea-bitten skunk. You invited Marcie and Lonny?”

“Well, not exactly. I invited Lonny. And then Marcie said she wanted to go. Then I decided you might enjoy the trip too. Actually, Marcie thought it would be nice if I invited you. Just so you and Lonny have a chance to get to know each other better.”

Tyree reached up ran a piece of blond hair through his fingers. “Grow it out a little longer, Mark. It’ll look better…. On my horse’s mane.”

Mark slapped his hand away. “Crazy heathen.”

Tyree snickered at Mark. It was difficult to take anything he said seriously. He laughed to easily, forgave too quickly. He was willing to get along with anyone.

“Don’t you never shut up?” He growled.

“What?” Mark had that hurt look of his and Tyree curled his lip in disdain. Mark was like a damn six-year old, with all his lip flappin.

“Shut up. I can’t hear myself think.”

“What you trying so hard to think about?” Mark asked shortly. Tyree shook his head. Mark forgave so easily, so ready to be friends with anyone, even him.

“I can’t believe you invited Lonny along. You know I might miss a deer and hit him instead.”

“Sometimes I don’t know if you are joking or not.”

“I reckon that’s why Malachi calls me Coyote.” He muttered to himself.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Tyree cleaned his rifle, and rolled his extra shirt into his bedroll. It would be chilly out and there was always a chance they would spend more than one day looking for that herd of deer. Their breath hung in the crisp morning air. He shrugged his coat on. Lonny was walking beside Marcie, carrying saddlebags. Food, he guessed. Lonny grimaced when he saw Tyree.

“You’re going?” He asked. Marcie gave him a poke in the ribs.

“Lonny,” she warned.

Both of them had tried to be civil with each other. He didn’t want to be, but she wasn’t going to have it any other way. He thought about a conversation that he had been part of with Malone and Mark. Not concerning Marcie, just courting women in general. Malone had been giving one his lectures to Mark, and probably him as well.

“Women are diamonds in a ring. A gentleman is that ring. The higher the quality of the metal in the ring the safer the diamond and the more it shines.”

He had pondered that for some time. The more he considered it the more he wondered if Malone had said it for his benefit than Mark’s.

The blond strapped the saddlebags behind his horse as he cut his eyes toward Tyree. He made a show of helping Marcie onto her horse, though the girl needed no help. Lonny followed her across the pasture, the crush of frost soft under foot. Lonny stayed as close to her as he dared.

The sun sparkled off everything like the worlds was made of crystals. In the pasture several horses ran along the fence enjoying the cold air, blowing steam out their noses. The horses followed them to the end of the fence, then spun and ran the other direction.

They followed the drift fence north until they came to the creek and then followed it into the open above the dam. They stopped to flush a handful of cows out of the brush and break up the ice at the edge of the water hole. The tracks of deer shone clearly on the frosted ground. The low water crackled under hoof as they crossed. They were two miles from the house. The creek twisted in on itself and the bank became steeper. There was heavy brush, gooseberry and hawthorn choking this area. Mark pointed out fresh tracks, a buck and seven doe.

“Big fellow.” Mark commented.

There were thick stands of oak, elm, box elder, buckeye, and hawthorn in swaths along the creek side. Sometimes the bank was bare and broad before the trees formed a line parallel to the water. Other areas, the bank was steep, and they would have to talk the horses into descending it on their haunches.

Mark rode over close and reached for his tobacco.

“You really need to stop that Joker.”

“We are friends. Friends share,” Mark snorted.

“We aren’t friends,” Tyree said with a gruffness he didn’t feel. Mark lifted his foot and tried to kick his butt.

“You just say that cause my jokes are funnier than yours, and I’m better looking.”

“You ain’t choosy about your friends.” Tyree muttered.

They crossed track of deer several times. They followed them to the creek and found a spot where the deer had nibbled at buds and twigs. Along the creek were several wild persimmon trees. Marcie rode under a limb and stretched for a persimmon. Lonny had fallen behind her, searching the ground when he stopped and leaned for a closer look.

“Look over here.” Lonny yipped, pointing at something on the ground. The ground was frosted, and the tracks had clearly been made before it froze. Tyree looked where Lonny was pointing and followed where the tracks led. They were going to the creek, those tracks and big tracks they were. Mark’s eyes widened as his thoughts fell into sync with Tyree’s. Marcie was sitting where those tracks went down the bank.

Tyree was pulling his rifle from its boot as he kicked the buckskin and forced it up beside Marcie. The creek lay beyond the low gooseberry patch, down a steep bank. A chill, deeper than the wind washed through him.

“Get back, Marcie.” He barked the order, “Get back now.”

She turned in confusion at his tone and her horse spun up against his mustang. Both horses screamed and lunged away from the cut-bank. It was all he could do to hang on. There was no controlling the mustang.

The horse reared away and commenced to bucking mid turn. He lost his grip on his rifle, and he cursed as it spun away from him. The frozen ground came up, and he slammed into it, knocking the breath out of him.

Marcie’s horse was crow-hopping madly and Tyree covered his head as it leaped over him. He saw the bear charge out of the brush. It was huge. It looked big as a damn barn, rising up like some reddish monster as it came up on its back legs. He scrambled to his feet, slipping against icy grass and crashing his knee into a rock as Marcie’s screams rent the air, sending ice coursing through his veins. Marcie was on the ground, her horse still pitching as it went off after his own.

He rolled to his feet, and stood, stunned at the size of the grizzly standing over Marcie. It was a sow, a very big one. He watched helplessly as Marcie kicked at the bear as it bounced down on its front feet spreading to either side of her as she scrambled to get away. Tyree’s blood froze as the bear rose up above her. His mind screamed RUN, but his feet didn’t want to move, and then he was moving and his right hand wrapped around the handle of his knife from the sheath on his right hip.

There was a horrific scream as he charged toward the beast. He was only vaguely aware that it was his own voice he heard, as he launched himself at the bear, knife in hand, slashing and hacking. The wet grassy smell of its fur filled his nostrils. Clover. That was what he smelled. That seemed like a strange thing to smell, when the beast now standing over him had massive long teeth, slinging slobber and four inch talons swiping at him.

Claws ripped at him with incredible force, tearing his coat away, leaving it in shreds. He found himself on his back, feeling puny with such a beast roaring in his face. Grabbing a handful of course long fur he slashed. He saw teeth sink into his arm. It didn’t seem quite real, he felt no pain as he watched shredded shirt and flesh hanging from its teeth. Holy shit.

The knife was hideously sharp, it slashed deep, and blood flew. Though there was no resistance, he felt it doing its work. It shook its massive head, flinging drool and blood into his face. The animal roared over him, the sound tearing shrieks from him in response. Blood ran down the blade, down his arm, dripping into his face. He had no idea where Marcie had gone, she wasn’t there any longer, and he forgot about the others as he focused on staying alive.

The beast closed on him, roaring in his face as its teeth crushed closed on the side of his head. He screamed as the teeth dragged into his flesh, he heard the sickening scrape of tooth against bone. He felt the flesh ripped away, not so much pain as the tug of his skin being pulled away. It was almost like what he saw was separate from what he felt.

A rifle barked loudly near enough to his face that he felt the burn of a bullet clip his ear. He screamed again as the bear grabbed his arm and shook it, breaking the knife loose from his bloody grip. He heard the blast of rifle fire again, seeing the flash of the barrel. And yet it seemed too far away, even though he smelled the gunpowder burn in his nose. Everything felt far away. The bear was still jerking him right and left, but he no longer felt it. Mark, Lonny and Marcie’s, voices blended together in panic.

When he opened his eyes, he saw only a blur of red and felt something against his chest. He screamed and twisted, trying to get hold of it and push it away.

“Tyree, stop, it’s me.” Mark commanded in a tone he’d never heard the boy use before.

Get up, got to get up. Oh, god. My arm is gone. I can’t see nothing. Slime in my face. Blood, it’s blood Tyree.

He wiped at his eyes and felt the course hair stuck between his bloody fingers. Long reddish hairs clung to his fingers when he could finally see them.

“Let me up. I’m fine.”

“You ain’t fine. She got a piece of you,” Mark told him. The tone of Mark’s voice was full of panic, but he was firing off orders just the same.

“Lonny get those horses. Marcie bring me a blanket, a shirt, I need to stop this bleeding.

“MOVE.” Mark screamed at them.

“Oh, shit.” Tyree moaned as he saw the dark red blood covering his chest.

The face above him was white. Mark’s eyes were huge, his hands shaking as he pulled Tyree’s coat and shirt away from his chest. “Oh my god.” Mark was repeating as he pressed a cloth under his hand.

He felt a shift, light fading, the world turning out of balance, his energy and warmth seeping out of him. He heard voices around him, and felt hands on him, but it was like bits and pieces of dreams coming to him. Wisps of sound, the smell of blood, the cold frozen ground. Mark wasn’t holding him down any longer.

“Don’t leave me, Mark. Please don’t leave me. I’m dying. I can feel it,” he whimpered despite the desire to fight, life was fading from him. He wrapped a hand in Mark’s shirt and clung to it.

“You ain’t no such a thing. You hang on you mangy alley cur. You just hang on.” Mark told him, but the look on Mark’s face told Tyree he was lying. The fear in his eyes was palpable.

He felt them tugging at him even as his eyes closed.

He could feel the cold wind hitting his face. He tried to wipe his face and found his right arm wouldn’t work, it was held tight against his chest, and he didn’t quite understand why he was on his horse or why Mark was behind him. Looking over the horse’s head, he saw the ranch house, and he leaned back against Mark, holding a fist full of Mark’s coat sleeve.

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