The sun began its slow descent from the Colorado sky. The day seemed to go on forever. John sat atop his palomino, Taffy, and took it all in: land spreading out far and wide in all directions, surrounded by the crags and peaks of the San Juan Mountains.
Sixteen-year-old John Archer was the man of the house...at least for now. He hated watching his mother these days. She was so sad. So pale and thin. Though she tried to pretend life was good, he knew differently.
This big old ranch had never been his father's first choice of a place to be. He favored the open sea with its salty air, waves crashing on the sides of his clipper ship, The Colorado Maiden. The duties of the ranch were always passed to the family members left behind while he roamed to the far ends of the earth searching for some bauble or trinket his import and export business couldn't live without.
John assumed the title “Man of the House” at an early age. Sure, in the beginning it was his mother's endearing way of building his confidence during his father's long absences. But now, he feared the title would stick. He carried a big weight on his young shoulders.
He harbored the resentment he'd carried since childhood that began as a small seed planted whenever his father left, and morphed into a bitterness he seemed helpless to overcome. Try as he may, he carried more angst than worry over the disappearance of his dad. It'd be just like him to turn and hightail it in the other direction. He'd rather be anywhere than here. Shame on me for falling for his words. I can't believe I was so stupid!
And so it began. A transformation. Although a part of him ached for the love of his father, the part that harbored ill will was greater, more powerful. He was determined to keep this ranch afloat come hell or high water.
The palomino on which he sat was his father's favorite. Over the last several months he'd taken to riding her daily. Especially in the late afternoon, like today. He rode her to this place and allowed her to drink her fill from the cold mountain stream that passed through their property. She was a beautiful creature..majestic in a way only palominos can be, yet friendly and gentle. The bond between them was unmistakable; no one dared interfere with their time together.
Because of the dilemma the Archers found themselves in, John was forced to assume duties typically believed to be the responsibility of a seasoned ranch manager. Soon the choice would be made whether or not he'd continue in school or stay home and work the ranch. His little brother, Timmy, was beginning to do some chores, but to John's way of thinking, he was just a little kid and needed to be a kid for as long as he could. His own childhood was stolen long ago by all the responsibility handed him at the ripe old age of nine.
He climbed down from the horse and held her reins as she drank from the stream. John watched the rushing flume as it cascaded over rocks and white-capped, splashing on larger boulders closer to the bank. Today had been a hot one in the valley. He looked around to see if he was alone. Of course no one's here. Who would be here? Chuckling to himself, he sat down on a boulder and removed his boots and socks. He stuck his feet in the chilly water.
“Cold! That water's so cold!” He forced himself to leave his feet immersed in the crystal clear stream. Before long he grew used to it, knowing full well his feet were just numb. He closed his eyes. He was so torn. He'd anguished the past three months over Simon. Where was he? Why didn't he come home? Was he hurt? He didn't know whether to hang onto the anger that fueled his adrenaline or let it go and see how that worked for him. His mother kept saying “God will show us the way!” She even said God knew where Simon was so he wasn't lost at all. Thinking of it now, he just wagged his head, wondering at her profound childlike faith.
John opened his eyes. He wasn't sure how long he'd been lying in the grass with his feet in the water. He must have fallen asleep. The horse was no longer drinking. In fact, she was staring down at him, patiently waiting.
“How long have I been out, girl?”
She whinnied as if in delight, giving him the gumption to get up off the ground and get moving. It was growing darker by the minute and he must hurry home. Just then he heard a crackling sound to his left. “Who's there?” No answer. He craned his neck. “I say, who's there?” He slowly inched his socks and boots back on before mounting his ride. From a higher vantage point he continued to search for the origin of the sound. Finally deciding to move on, he reined the horse toward home just as the sun hid behind the mountains to the west of him.
In a cluster of aspens he stood. He watched as the boy mounted the horse and galloped away. That must be Archer's boy, he thought. He chuckled menacingly. He still had a job to do...and he wouldn't rest until it was done.
Iron Fists in Satin Sheets is scheduled for November distribution through Amazon.com. and will be available in book and Kindle formats.