The bear hadn’t eaten in weeks. His hunger guided him, his temper rising as his search for food went on and on. Hunters had poached the area clean in the summer and the rivers were lined with rotting fish. As he lumbered through the forest, a scent wandered into his nose, the gentle smell of lavender.
Rebekah Ward shivered and pulled the brown oilskin duster over her shoulders. A cool breeze blew through the valley, making the snow covered pines whistle and shake. The white powder crunched underfoot as she made her way to the stable. She opened the large wooden doors now cracked and polished from years of use, and walked towards the stall where Rico was staying.
“Hey boy,” She called out to him, “Have you been good? Dad sais you were causing a ruckus yesterday.”
Rico pulled his head back and whinnied, excited and happy to see her. His ears were perked forward, and a glint of love was in his eyes. Rebekah reached his stall and leaned over the wooden door to pat Rico on the cheek.
Rebekah walked over to the cross ties and picked up a bucket. She carried it to the wash stalls and turned the tap. No water came out, just a soft hum of pressure building in the pipes.
She frowned, and dropped the bucket. She walked out of the barn towards the shanty little house with the red chimney, a look of solemn frustration on her face as she followed the path of footprints in the snow up to the wooden porch.
Cody Ward sat on an oak rocking chair next to the railing, a pipe smoking in his hand. Sawdust covered his black duster, and his Stetson was the same faded brown as his curly locks of hair. He looked up at Rebekah with quiet eyes. He noticed the sunken shoulders and balled up fists.
“What’s eating you, champ?” he asked.
“The water’s out dad.”
Cody scrunched up his face and spat. He kicked the empty whisky bottle beside the chair and stood up. Rebekah began putting her short jet black hair into a ponytail, as she often did when she was nervous. She hoped that bottle wasn’t fresh when he started drinking.
“Shit, what did I tell you last week Beck, what did I say this very day last week?” He asked.
“I know, listen I know what you said dad. I meant to turn on the heaters on, I was just so busy with Rico. I think I’m really turning him around!” She said.
“What are we going to do about water? The roads are out this time of year, there’s five feet of snow in every direction. It could take weeks for a hydro to get a guy out here!”
“We still have the water tower dad, won’t that last until the pipes are fixed?”
“There’s enough water in the tower for the two of us. The horses drink too much, they will have to go thirsty.”
Rebekah was hurt, but far from showing it to her father.
“Can’t we just give them some until we know when the waters going to come back on?”
“No, not one drop Rebekah. I don’t want to see you out there, carrying a bucket for that horse of yours. I’ll reach up and take my shotgun down out of the stable, and take that animal out in the woods.”
Rebekah balled her fists and stormed off towards the stable. She wasn’t used to her father being this way, he had changed ever since the accident five years ago, claiming her mothers life. A thirst for liquor had overtaken Cody, and where he was once kind and gentle he was now harsh and disciplinary.
When she reached the stable she evened the water out between the horses. She hoped that Cody was wrong and that the water would be fixed sooner then later. She decided to wait until her father was sober to talk to him about giving the horses water from the tower.
Minutes after Rebekah woke up the next morning, she went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. She wanted her dad to feel relaxed when she talked to him. She opened up a cookie tin and placed three chocolate chip cookies on a plate.
Cody came into the kitchen, grumbling about the cold. He smiled at Rebekah when he saw what she had prepared for him. It was his favorite treat, and he knew she probably wanted something from him.
“What is it Beck?” He asked.
“I want to give the horses water. Just for a few days dad, what if the hydro guy is fast? The horses don’t need to suffer for no reason. Just a few days, then we can see how much water we have.” She said.
“We could be out here for months hon, not going to happen. You’re not thinking about what will happen to us if we feed those horses water and the hydro guy doesn’t come. We need that water, possibly until springtime.” He said.
“So you just don’t care if the horses die?”
Cody opened his mouth to answer, then closed it, thinking. There was a time when he would have walked a hundred miles to save one of his horses. But the horses would die, just like Susan died, and it was all just the same.
“I do care Rebekah, I just care more about you. I can’t let you dehydrate yourself over some animals. I won’t have this conversation again.”
Tears welled up in Rebekah’s eyes, she pressed them away with her fist in contempt.
“You bury them then, just like you bury mom with that bottle every night.” She said.
This cut deeply into Cody, and he left the kitchen without another word.
While Cody cut wood to stack by the fireplace, Rebekah made her way to the water tower with a wagon and a water bucket. She filled it and brought it to the stable. She placed them in the corner of Rico’s stall and prayed the horse would drink fast before her father checked on him. She felt wrong not helping the other horses, but saw her fathers logic as much as she hated it. Just enough for Rico and us, she thought.
Day by day Rebekah returned to the water tower. The other horses began to look tired and depressed, while Rico stood healthy and happy. It was four days after the water went out that Dexter fell victim to dehydration. Another two days after, Marley and Dakota followed. Skyler lasted the longest, seven days.
Cody noticed that Rico seemed to be in perfect shape while the other horses were dropping like flies. While he was walking through the stable drunk one night, he saw that there were fresh water stains on the wooden floorboards. As he put the pieces together Rebekah walked into the barn and saw him standing there staring at the floorboards.
“What are you doing dad?” She asked.
Cody began heading towards the shotgun he kept hung over the cross ties.
“I’m gonna shoot that damn horse, that’s what I’m doing.” He said as he reached up and retrieved the gun.
“NO DAD!” Rebekah screamed, putting herself between the horse and Cody.
“I told you they would just have to take what happens to them, we need that water Beck.” He broke the shotgun down the center and loaded a shell.
“You bastard! I’m not watching this, I hate you!”
Rebekah ran out of the stable and took off into the forest. Now that she was away from Cody the tears came freely, she had owned Rico since he was a colt. She had no idea where she was going, just that she had to get away from the monster her father had become.
Cody saw her run into the forest and swore under his breath. He headed for his tool shop, and grabbed his emergency gear. He saddled up Rico, tied up his shotgun and loaded the emergency kit. Hoof prints followed the footprints of Rebekah’s gumboots.
The river was cold, but shallow this time of year and so her boots did just fine keeping her dry. Rebekah stepped out a few kilometers south of the ranch. The brush had grown over the river for most of the way, so that a horse would not be able to maneuver the terrain very well. She knew her father wouldn’t risk putting the horse in the water too long or else he’d end up on foot.
She travelled another ten kilometers before she realized how lost she was. She found a cave with a refrigerator sized opening that looked relatively clean and dry and set down a moss bedding. She opened up a vile of lavender, the smell reminding her of her mother. She set it aside and laid down on the moss, falling asleep quickly.
Cody had no difficulty tracking Rebekah. He saw that she took the river, and guessed she hoped he would have a hard time in the brush. He would run Rico in the river until he froze to death if it meant finding his daughter and bringing her back home.
He kicked Rico and pulled the reigns towards the river. The moon cast a reflection of light across the water. Rico reared when he touched the cold water, nearly sending Cody sprawling. The shotgun tugged at the drawstrings, loosening and swinging a little more freely.
“Woah” Cody yelled, sending his heel into Rico’s side again.
Rico was in and out of the river, bucking and snorting. Cody pulled the reigns tight. Rico stopped, his front legs still in the rushing water. As Cody pushed him to go forwards, he reared up again with all of his force. Cody was knocked over sideways, screaming and grabbing out for the reigns. His fingers reached out and grasped the butt of the shotgun, pulling on the drawstrings as the river pulled him down. Rico bucked and the string snapped, sending Cody into the depths of the water with a loaded shotgun in hand. Rico jumped into the river and began dredging downstream.
Cody was launched downstream for half a kilometer before he caught his bearings and was able to stand up. His brown cowboy boots sopped with water. He began his trek down the river, grim faced, thinking about Rebekah and wondering how lost she must be.
Rebekah awoke to the sound of branches breaking outside of the cave. She sat up, listening, and heard the low breath of a large animal. She froze in fear, not knowing where to go. The cave only had one entrance, and it was small with no hiding places to be found. She sat and waited, five minutes turning into ten, her shoulders getting tense and sore. Finally she picked up the courage to move. She decided she was going to look outside, and run in the furthest direction of whatever was out there.
She pulled a lighter out of her jeans pocket, and slowly moved towards the mouth of the cave. As she got within two feet, the breathing entered the dark cave, the shadow of a large body blocking the light of the moon. Rebekah screamed and struck the lighter in front of her, a small flame lighting up the cave and the face of the creature.
Rebekah’s eyes grew to the size of tea-saucers, and her mouth dropped open as she registered with shock the great beast in front of her. Her face slowly turned from shock to a smile. She walked over to the tall brown horse, and patted him on the cheek. He whinnied and looked on at her, his ears perked forwards.
Rico reared up in terror, a look of pain in his eyes. Two large paws were wrapped around his hindquarters, sharp black claws digging into the skin and creating a zig-zag of open flesh. The bear roared and bit into the emergency bag tied to Rico’s back. The bag came loose and the contents were tossed all over the ground. Rebekah screamed and backed away, still holding the lighter out in front of her.
Rico bucked with his hind legs, sending a mighty blow to the bears ribcage. The bear fell over backwards and laid there for a second, stunned and having the wind knocked out of it. Rico pulled his head out of the cave and trampled over the bear, running out into the densely packed woods with blood trailing out behind him. The bear rolled over onto it’s feet and chased after him.
Cody heard the screams, and began running after the footprints in the snow. He reached the cave in time to see a bear roaring and taking off into the forest. He ducked his head down into the cave and saw Rebekah quivering. He embraced her and ran his fingers through her hair, like he used to when something had upset her. She quickly came out of the haze she was in, and realized Cody was soaking wet.
“You need to get out of those wet clothes dad, and we should build a fire. You’ll freeze to death!” She said, and began gathering up small sticks that were laying about the cave.
Cody went outside and grabbed the axe that had fallen out of the emergency bag in Rico’s tussle with the bear. He hacked up some fallen logs, warming himself a little in the process. He brought them into the cave and laid them over top the small fire Rebekah had started with the sticks.
He took his jacket and his jeans off, and laid them down by the fire to dry. Rebekah pulled her duster over his shoulders and rubbed his hands with hers as he warmed himself.
By the time his clothes had dried, the sun was just cresting the mountains to the east. Birds chirruped their morning song and the smell of fresh snow permeated throughout the cave. Cody pulled his jeans on, donned his jacket, and walked outside stretching his hands up into the cool air.
The bear charged at him from forty feet away, a great roar emanating from it’s stomach.
Cody scrambled into the cave and reached for the shotgun leaning up against the wall. When he came back to the mouth of the cave, the bear was ten feet away. Cody stepped outside, cracked the barrel, checked that there was still a round in the chamber, and closed the barrel up again. He brought the shotgun up and squeezed the trigger.
A dull click came from the hammer hitting the firing pin. The water had soaked the gun, and although he thought it had dried well enough by the fire, the shell had been ruined permanently.
He fell over backwards in fear, the bear lumbering on closer and closer. As he crawled towards the cave on his back, the bear came crashing down on his legs. Huge shining white teeth bit down on his calf with tremendous force, snapping the bone in three places. Blood began to pour out of the wound.
Rebekah ran out of the cave, screaming. She watched in horror as the bear clamped down harder on Cody’s leg. Then she saw something moving fast towards them through the forest, a large shadow with pointy ears.
“Rico!” She yelled out.
Rico barreled into the bear full force, knocking it off of its feet. Before it had a chance to stand up, Rico was over top of it stomping and kicking, 1100 pounds of force came down onto the bears robust frame and bones were cracking and breaking with each kick. A final stomp came down on the bears head, cracking the skull in several places and leaving the bear a pile of fur in the snow.
There was now a lot of blood coming out of Cody’s leg, and it was bent and twisted in a disgusting way. He would need medical attention soon or he would bleed to death.
Rebekah readjusted the saddle on Rico and built a platform of logs next to him. Cody’s leg was too mangled to sit up on the horse, so she mounted the saddle while he laid over top of her thighs. They began the short trek back to the ranch.
Cody woke up the next day in his bed, a dull throbbing running up his leg. He rolled over onto his side, and pulled himself up sitting. He reached for the crutches by the nightstand and used them to stand up. He dressed himself and made his way to the porch. He lit his pipe and smoked it in the rocking chair for awhile before making his way to the stable.
He picked up a bucket and laid it down in the small red wagon. As his leg moaned at him to go back inside, Cody Ward walked up the hill to the water tower to gather water for Rico.