by M. L. Cooke
A chapter of a historical fiction novel set in the 1800s in Oregon.
| It was one of the driest summers we’d had in years. The evergreens were starting to dry up, and the streams weren't flowing anymore. The ground around them was dry and cracked. This was the summer that my father had to go a very long way to the pond and back to get water for everyday use around the house. Samuel would help him haul the water back, while Poe and I helped to haul the empty buckets there.
It was a particularly hot afternoon when my father went to the pond alone. Samuel and Poe were caught up in cutting the grass in the field to make hay for Ol' Red Eyes, our albino draft horse. I wouldn't be much help without Samuel there, so instead of going with my father, I helped by gathering the grass that Samuel cut into bundles. I may have only been eleven at the time, but I will remember that day for the rest of my life.
My mother sent him off with a rifle and a kiss, and watched out the door until he was out of sight. I went on with my hay-gathering, and soon I was ready to quit. I went inside for a snack, and when I came back out, Samuel was staring off into the woods with a worried look on his face. When I asked him what he was looking at, he said, "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" I asked.
"That gun shot. It came from the direction Papa went." Poe said.
"Did he shoot a deer?" I asked hopefully. It was always a good sign when we got a deer. It meant the herds were moving our way, and we would have plenty to eat over the winter.
"I don't think so. There would have been two shots. One to wound it, the other to kill it,"
"What else could it have been?" I asked.
"Indians." Samuel said it totally serious-like. I could tell he wasn't joking. He went back to cutting the grass saying, "There isn't much we can do now, but wait." I continued to pick up the fallen blades for the time being.
Hours passed, and there was still no sign of my father. Samuel, Poe, and I went walking in the woods calling for him, but there was no answer. We went home defeated. Once evening had turned to night, Samuel went ahead and lit the fire himself. I usually slept on the rug next to the fire. I laid down and tried to sleep.
A loud slow banging on the door jarred me awake. I bolted upright as Puppy, our seven-year-old Black Labrador, began to bark. My mother, Poe and Samuel both went to the door. My mother gasped and opened it wider. There, in the doorway, at nearly midnight, was my father. Bloodied and broken. "Indians" is what he said before he collapsed. Samuel was quick to catch him before his head hit the floor. My father was immediately taken to his room and laid on the bed. I followed them in. Tilly, my eight-year-old sister, as sitting in the chair in the corner crying. Puppy jumped up on the bed and laid down next to my father. My mother told me and Tilly to go back to bed. Tilly usually slept with my parents, so tonight she was to sleep in Samuel and Poe's room. She didn't want to. Instead, she came and sat by the fire next to me.
"Do you think Papas gonna be alright?" She asked.
"I don't know," I answered. There was no way to know. I sat there for a while, moving my jaw back and forth, deep in thought, watching the flames flicker back and forth creating moving shadows on the farthest walls, illuminating the darkest corners. But not my parents' room. She eventually laid down and fell asleep. I gave up my blanket to her, and sat down on one of the three chairs in the living room. I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway.
All night Samuel and Poe were going back and forth fetching things for my mother, until it stopped. They didn't come out anymore. I got up to see what they were doing, careful not to wake Tilly, and opened the bedroom door. Poe was sitting in the chair, his head in one hand. Samuel looked up at me from one of the corners of the room where he was standing, a sad look in his eyes. I looked over at my mother. She was kneeling on the floor with her face buried in the quilt on her bed, sobbing. My father lay unmoving, eyes staring off to nowhere. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to wake up and find that it had all been a horrible dream. I never did. Instead I dropped to the floor where I stood. I sat there, stunned, for hours, until Samuel came and stood me up. When I sat down on the chair in the living room, Tilly woke up. She looked over at me and immediately started crying.
Suddenly, we heard hoof beats outside. They had come. Samuel went and got Poe and my mother from the room and we hurried out the back door. Tilly was the last one out, and she stumbled over a root right when the Indians came pounding through the door. I went back, helped her up, and gave her a head start. That's when it hit me. One of the Indians threw a tomahawk, and it hit the back of my head. My vision blurred, but I couldn't stop now. I ran through the woods, not having the slightest idea of where I was. I didn't know how far I had come until I stumbled on the dry earth and slipped down into a ditch that was about a mile away from our house. After I fell, I didn't have the willpower to get back up again. My eyes slowly closed as I blacked out.
When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. The moon was silently gliding across the treetops, while banks of fog rolled through the trunks of the trees. There were no crickets chirping in the bushes, no owls hooting in the mist. Just silence. I quickly sat up, prepared for the worst. Nothing jumped at me, nothing moved, nothing made a sound. I instantly regretted moving, and I dropped back into the dust. I decided that I had better try and find my way home. I decided that if no one had tried to find me yet, they were most likely waiting until the tomorrow. If they weren't all dead. The thought made my mind whirl, so I did my best to push it away for later.
I got up on my hands and knees and began crawling up the small slope. It was quite the climb, in my current state, and the dust didn't make it better. I finally reached the top. The moon was just beginning to fall below the canopy of the pines. It was getting darker. The moon usually rose as the sun was still in the sky at this time, so I guessed that it was about midnight. I could see a light in the distance, and I instinctively stumbled towards it. I sighed in relief when I came into the clearing in which our cabin was in the middle. There was a lamp lit in the window. I hurried towards it, but when I was halfway there I froze. What if it was the Indians?
I crept up to the open doorway in the front and peeked inside. My mother was sitting in a chair in front of a cold fireplace. Tilly was sleeping with Puppy on the floor near the wall, and Samuel and Poe were nowhere to be seen. I stepped in making myself known. My mother looked up and her face brightened. I stumbled over and sat down in front of her. I closed my eyes and tried to forget. Tried to forget why my head hurt, why I couldn't see clearly, why I wouldn't be able to sleep soundly for years.
~ ~ ~
The days slowly crept by. My eyesight was never returned to normal. Samuel returned the next day, but we never saw Poe again. He and Samuel had run together the whole way, but he refused to tell us of the happenings of that night. Our lives resumed as if nothing was wrong. Samuel took over and did all the providing. It was as if our family had never been torn apart. I never forgave them for that, but I still go along with it. Our father is now buried under a tree across the stream. No one ever goes there, except for me. I go there to think, to remember, to feel. That was where we met. Me and that wolf.