Yellowstone Redemption(3)By: Peggy L Henderson
“Your mother will be busy tending to the sick and injured,” her father’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“But I’ve always helped her with that,” Sarah tried one more time. At this point, she had nothing to lose. She glanced from one parent to the other. Her mother strode towards her and wrapped her arms around her shoulders in a warm embrace, then held her at arm’s length.
“Sarah, I know this is disappointing. But you’re a beautiful young woman, and you don’t have a husband’s protection. Where I grew up,” she turned to glance at her husband. Sarah wondered at the conspiratorial look that passed between them. “That wasn’t such an issue. But here, an unmarried woman is fair game. You know that.”
Yeah, Sarah sighed inwardly. She did know that. Her mother was right, as usual. She’d been revolted and alarmed at some of the ways men tried to fawn themselves at her at last year’s rendezvous. It had gotten worse each year. And she had caught the hungry looks of some of the men who came to trade here with her father.
She was well aware that the only reason none of them had ever acted on their obvious intentions was her father’s reputation. Daniel Osborne was known throughout the mountains as a man who protected his family fiercely and without mercy. There wasn’t a trapper who had heard his name who dared make rude comments or suggestions towards his wife. And the services and goods her parents provided to the mountain men in this remote wilderness were highly valued. No one wanted to get on Daniel Osborne’s bad side. But at the rendezvous, trappers came from all over the Rockies. Her safety, and virtue, may not be ensured simply based on her name.
Sarah nodded in defeat, hanging her head. She resigned herself that she was stuck here in the valley this summer, doing . . . what? She’d be bored out of her mind for the six or so weeks while her parents were gone.
Chase Russell groaned. The pounding in his head increased when he tried to lift it off the hard ground. He squinted his eyes into the bright sun overhead, then closed them again, fighting off the dizziness. The loud roar of the nearby waterfall drowned out all other sound. A shadow, then a sudden unexpected gush of hot air on his cheek made him flinch. It happened again, and this time it was accompanied by the sensation of sandpaper scraping across his face.
Chase forced his eyes open, and hauled himself off the ground. He stumbled over the slippery rocks and landed several feet in the frigid river. A cold wave slammed into him like a lineman’s tackle, and threatened to push him further into the rushing current. He gasped in surprise and shock. Quickly, he scrambled on hands and feet over the jagged rocks, back to the safety of dry land. The icy water jolted him fully awake. A couple more feet, and the tremendous current of the river would have swept him away.
A creature with pointy horns and tan-colored fur that hung in thick tufts off its shoulders and back stood where he lay moments ago. Dripping wet and shaking from the cold, he hauled himself off the ground, keeping a wary eye on the . . . what was that? Hell if he knew one animal from another. It wasn’t a bison, he was sure of that. He’d already seen plenty of those. Luckily, it wasn’t a bear. It looked more like a goat on steroids. It didn’t look intimidating anymore, now that he was a safe distance away, out from underneath its coarse tongue. He remembered seeing goats at the fair one year when he was little. His mother had encouraged him to enter the goat-milking contest, but he’d scoffed at her. Touch one of those things? Hell no. The closest he let himself come to animal skin was the pigskin covering of a football.
The creature stared back at him, its mouth moving in a rhythmic, circular motion. It appeared to gloat at him.
“Shoo! Get out of here!” He waved his hands in the air and took a step towards the stupid thing. Alarmed, the walking cheese factory jumped away, and gracefully sprang up the steep incline of yellow and red colored rocks about twenty yards away from the river.
His gaze followed the effortless movements of the animal, as it sprang up the sides of the canyon. Shit. It was going to be a long haul back up. The top was barely visible, some nine hundred feet from where he stood. His feet were still blistered from the hike down. Damn those guys anyways! Why the hell did he go along with their idiotic schemes? Just to prove he wasn’t some namsy pamsy city boy? They all wanted to be here, had volunteered for this. He didn’t have a choice. He was here to keep his nose clean, not get in more trouble. But trouble always had a way of finding him. At least it had the last four years.
It hadn’t been his idea to come to Montana to do the community service portion of his drug conviction. He’d finished rehab. Montana was his mother’s suggestion. Her sister’s husband had connections in Yellowstone, and he’d pulled some strings with the Department of Corrections. Now he was stuck here for the summer, part of the trail maintenance crew that cleared the popular hiking trails of downed trees, controlled erosion, and other crap. It was hard physical work, but it beat picking up trash along an L.A. freeway. At least he’d stay in shape, since there was no workout gym close by.