Yellowstone Redemption(5)By: Peggy L Henderson
“Shit.” He wrestled his shirt out of the branch’s grasp, and pulled it on over his head. He cringed when the fabric scraped the skin on his back. Damn, he hadn’t realized he’d gotten sunburned. The tingle of his skin became more intense with each passing minute, exacerbated by his movements. The soft cotton shirt felt like sandpaper across his tender flesh.
“I’m going to kill you, Todd,” he ground out between clenched teeth, and shoved his way between more trees. Where the hell was that path? He should have reached it by now. The hiking path led parallel along the canyon rim. There was no way he could have missed it. The further he walked, the darker the forest closed in around him, the sun obscured by towering lodgepole pines. The air chilled, replacing the heat from the shadeless canyon. His boots squished loudly in his efforts to trample through the moist and soggy ground.
Water trickled nearby and Chase followed the rippling sounds. He dropped to his knees at the edge of a shallow creek that snaked through the underbrush. Giardia be damned. He cupped his hands in the cool water, and splashed it on his face and neck. He refilled his hands repeatedly, gulping the water as fast as he could. With his hands on his thighs, he inhaled sharply and tilted his head back to stare beyond the canopy of the trees.
Where the hell am I? I couldn’t have missed the path. Was it his imagination, or had the blue patches of sky that peered through the trees turned an ominous dark gray? It happened so fast, it was as if someone had turned out the lights around him. Before the thought had barely formed in his mind, he heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. This day couldn’t get any worse, could it?
Rain pelted him without mercy. Ferocious wind forced the lodgepoles to swing and bend ominously in its wake. One downed tree on your head, and it’s all over, Russell. He wrapped his arms tightly around his middle, and trudged on through the forest. He kept his head bent into his chest, and only glanced up every so often in hopes of spotting the parking lot. He had no idea how long he walked, but the rain and wind were relentless.
Darkness swallowed up the trees in front of him, and Chase’s body shook violently. He could barely move. His boot caught on something, a tree root maybe? He stumbled forward and yanked his foot free of the protruding obstacle. Before he could catch his balance, he fell to the soggy ground. He spit the mud out of his mouth and wiped at his eyes. You need to find shelter, man. No, just a little further. The parking lot is just a little further. He tried to stand, but the world around him tilted, and he sagged back to the ground. Crawling on hands and knees, he forced himself forward. His body refused to listen to his brain. The muscles wouldn’t obey.
I have to get to the parking lot. Find shelter. No, everything will be okay once I get to the parking lot.
He couldn’t feel the ground beneath him anymore. Couldn’t tell if he was crawling on rocks or soft earth. Was he still in the forest? He willed his head to move so he could look up, but the darkness hindered his vision. Shit. I’m going to . . . kill . . . those guys. Right after I rest here for a minute . . . so tired.
Voices! He definitely heard voices. His body no longer felt cold. He wasn’t shivering anymore. He was so damn tired, he couldn’t move. Someone was hauling him off the ground. He tried to open his eyes, but his lids felt like one ton anchors. He caught a quick glimpse of movement, but it was blurry. He tried to blink, tried to open his eyes, but it was no use. He was floating through the air. Something slammed into his gut and his breath rushed from his lungs. His world tilted upside down.
His head floated freely, swinging from side to side. He had lost all control over his body. He forced his eyes open again. The ground moved underneath him. It was like looking at the road while riding a bike. Only, instead of smooth pavement, dirt and rocks and tufts of grass moved beneath him at surreal speeds. The ride jolted and churned him like a puppet without a master.
Soft melodious sounds of a woman’s voice mingled with deeper voices penetrated his mind. They sounded far away. Someone hurled his body through the air and whatever had pressed so hard into his gut was gone. His back made contact with hard ground, and all nerve endings caught on fire. He willed his eyelids open one more time. Through the haze and fuzziness, the vision of a dark-haired angel stared back at him. Chase drowned in the pools of her deep blue eyes.
Sarah stared at the man on the ground. His lids fluttered open for a mere second, and she caught a glimpse of emerald green eyes. The hint of a smile formed on his lips, and he groaned weakly before drifting back into unconsciousness.
“We found him wandering alone in the woods near the canyon of the E-chee-dick-karsh-ah-shay. The cold has made him sick in the mind.” The deep voice of the Absaroka warrior standing behind her tore Sarah’s gaze away from the man. She turned to look at the three Indians.
“Dosa haiwi will know what to do with him,” a second man added.
Yes, Mama would know what to do, but she’s not here. She wasn’t about to let these men know that her parents were gone. The man they brought suffered from exposure. Even she knew that. She could help him without her mother’s presence. But that meant he had to stay here. She was alone. Her father would be furious if he found out she had kept a strange man in the house in their absence.