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Ford picked his way along the slippery, rocky trail. The snow was falling steadily now and he was grateful he'd worn his favorite cowboy hat to keep the flakes out of his eyes. He was cold, though, without his jacket, even with the horse blanket wrapped around his shoulders. It kept slipping down and the drafts of cold wind would slip in under it. He didn't regret giving Brian his jacket, though. He'd have given him anything and everything if it meant keeping him warm, safe and … alive. The mere thought of one of his brothers dying brought tears to his eyes and carried him away to thoughts of Adam. Was he alive? Ford's mind flashed up images of Adam, lying bent and broken on that ledge, all alone. What if he came to and started moving around and rolled off the edge? What if he was hurt so bad Ford couldn't get help to him in time to save him? Tears leaked out the corners of Ford's eyes and though his vision was blurred, he spurred his horse even faster. Faster then was safe on these trails that were rapidly becoming snow covered.
He raced down a hill dodging rocks and trees, vision blurry with the tears and snowflakes. At the bottom he paused. Was it a left or right? He knew the majority of their land very well, but this area wasn't one they ventured into very often. And now that everything was white, it looked so different than usual, and he was momentarily confused. For a few minutes he sat there, frozen, panic over taking him. He didn't know which way to go! What should he do? He was lost. Was it left or right? He couldn't afford to waste time on the wrong trail, his brothers were depending on him. It felt strange and disconcerting to be the one that they were depending on. Why did it have to be me? Ford wondered. I'm not as smart as Crane, or as good at coming up with solutions as Adam or a fighter like Brian. Why couldn't it be Daniel who was here, he's never stop until he had saved them, like he did for us at the mine. Or Evan, his fiery determination alone would get him through. He wished Hannah would be here with him, she'd come up with a way to figure out what to do. Or even Guthrie, it'd be nice to have him along as a companion. Why did it have to be me? I'm nothing but scared and lost. I'm just a kid, one who can't really do anything very good. He sat there, feeling ashamed for who he was and knowing how big of a burden rested on his shoulders.
But for all the wishing he was doing, it wasn't doing him any good, nor Adam or Brian. No one was going to magically appear and save the day. It was him and only him that could do what he had to do. A realization came over him, he may be just little 'ole Ford, who wasn't much of anything, but he was the only one that his brothers had to get them help and he wasn't going to let them down! With a renewed determination he sat up straighter and squinted through the snow. The trail had to be here somewhere!
As he glanced around, he suddenly spied a triangle shaped rock near a copse of evergreen trees. Oh yeah! He thought; I know that rock! That's where Evan and I played king of the mountain that one time. They'd been trying to be the one to stay on the top of the odd shaped boulder and push the other one off. Evan had pushed him too hard and he'd fallen on something, cut his arm and Adam had to take him for stitches. Evan had extra chores for a week. I know where I am now! He turned down the left fork of the trail. It was the one that had taken him and Evan home that day. Evan had been so nice to him on the way home, feeling guilty and sorry that he'd gotten Ford hurt. It had been a long ride home; they'd wandered much further from home than they were allowed to at the time. Adam had been so mad when they got home. Ford wished Evan was here now, it would be so reassuring to have him along and Ford knew he'd remember this trail with no problem.
The trail curved around, then switched back and forth, with roots and rocks creating an obstacle course for Ford's horse. He pressed on harder, determined to shorten the nearly two hour ride he had ahead of him, despite the danger.
Through his mind passed the last images he had of his brothers. Brian, sitting up leaning on the cliff wall, covered in the horse blanket and Ford's coat, cradling is arm and looking pale; and of Adam –so still and lifeless. As he sped along, remembering, he suddenly felt his body lift off the horse's back and go flying through the air.
He was conscious of the strange sensation of weightlessness and then- slam! He hit the ground, hard.
Ford lay in his back in the snow, all the air gone from his lungs. He felt as if he was suffocating or drowning. Desperately he tried to suck in some air, panic striking him. He pulled in a little at first, and felt his lungs puff out a minuscule amount. Then he managed to pull a deeper and then even deeper breath after that. Finally he was able to draw in a huge gulp and fill out his lungs fully. Ahh, what relief he felt. His chest no longer feeling flat and hollow, he could now turn to other matters. He sat up, shaking the snow off of himself. There were a million sore spots forming all over him, especially on his back and shoulder where he'd landed; he'd be black and blue tomorrow for sure, but it seemed to be nothing more than that. He flexed his arms, testing them out, and twisted his neck all around. He was happy to note that all seemed to be in working order. Feeling better, he pulled himself to his feet…
And collapsed right back down. His right ankle, previously quiet, now made itself known. Ford rubbed both hands over the joint, wincing when he felt the source of the pain but relieved that nothing felt broken or out of place. He spun it gently around, seeing what damage was done. He could move it, though it gave him pain. He sank back into the snow for a moment, tears of frustration rolling down his face. His leg hurt now, pulsing in time with his heartbeat and the numerous little pains all over his body made themselves known. He was freezing, hurt and exhausted. He just wanted to sit here for awhile and rest. But he didn't. He pulled himself up and leaning on an obliging rock, he carefully put weight on only his good leg. He hopped, gaining his balance, and then –very gingerly-he put down his right foot. Okay, that's working, he thought. Then he took a step and nearly went down again. The pain shot up and down his leg. He paused, sucking in a deep breath and trying to steady himself to cope with the pain. Experimenting with a few steps, he found if he cocked his foot to the side a little, and limped heavily, he could move.
Now to find Banjo, his horse. Ford swung his eyes around the area. The trees were thick here, with lots of evergreens and they were beginning to turn white with snow. It would have been pretty, under other circumstances and Ford would have stopped to take in the beauty of the land, but he knew he needed to hurry. There he is, Ford said to himself, when he finally spotted the chestnut brown animal a short way off.
"Banjo, come here. Come on, Banjo." He tried calling. The only movement from the horse was his head turning towards Ford. Ford's shoulders sagged and he rolled his eyes. Carefully, he began to hobble over towards the animal. "Come on Banjo, you gonna make me walk all the way over there? Least you could do is come back here for me." On the way over, Ford noticed a large tree root sticking up from the ground, in the middle of the path. "Ah, so this is what tripped you up, eh?" He continued his hobble-walk, gritting his teeth as the pain worsened. "Banjo, come on would you? You're the one that threw me, now you're gonna insist I walk all the way over there?" His light banter was helping to take the stress out of the situation a bit, and he hoped it was calming his horse. The last thing he needed was for Banjo to bolt and run further away. When he finally got within arm's length of Banjo's head he reached out to snag his bridle. He blew out the breath he'd just realized he'd been holding. If he hadn't been able to get to the horse he, and his brothers, would have been in big trouble. Ford ran his hand over the horse's head. "It's okay, boy. Are you hurt?" He did a quick check over Banjo's legs and finding no injuries, pulled himself onto the saddle. The relief of being off the ankle was immediate.
He swung the horse's head towards home. "Let's go boy!" The horse started off at a good clip and Ford was relieved to see he was right about the animal not being injured. It was a small miracle amidst a day of terror.
The two of them picked their way through the trees and trails. The snow was coming thick now, with big, fat flakes that were landing steadily on frozen ground. Everything around Ford was turning white. It was amazing how quickly the snow started laying, but it was just as the weather man had predicted. If all had gone as planned, Ford and his big brothers would have been home safe by now, sipping coffee or hot chocolate and chatting with Hannah and Guthrie. Hannah, Ford thought, what will I tell her? How am I ever going to break this news to her without scaring her half to death? And Guthrie, too. He knew how much Guthrie idolized their bigger brothers. They were both bound to panic no matter how Ford told them the story. It was probably better to just come right out with it, he decided. But it wouldn't hurt to give the tale a bit of a positive spin on how Adam was actually fairing, just to give them both peace of mind until they reached him.
Ford came out of the wooded terrain and entered the flatlands. This is where Brian said he should hurry when he reached it. If Brian knew how fast Ford had been racing down the hills, he'd have killed Ford. Better that he doesn't ever know that part, Ford reasoned. He spurred his horse along, the wind cutting through him. They could really go fast, now, since the ground was even and without so many roots and rocks. This terrain Ford was very familiar with, too. His horse was at an all-out sprint now, as they neared the last section before home. They had less than an hour to go now, maybe closer to thirty minutes, Ford calculated.
Ford had a section of the horse blanket grasped in his fist along with the reins. His fingers were numb despite his leather gloves and his feet felt frozen. His whole body was freezing, and he shook with the cold. His injured foot throbbed with the rhythm of the horse's pounding hooves, but Ford was glad to have the ride. Walking would not have been possible.
He pushed the horse even faster, and they flew like the wind, with the horse blanket flapping out behind him like a cape of a super hero. Maybe I am a super hero, today, he thought to himself. It would feel so good to be coming home with his brothers later, after he helped rescue them. Ford chuckled to himself, shut up Ford, he scolded, you're being ridiculous and jumping waaay ahead of yourself. You're certainly no superman.
He continued on his journey, racing over the family's land. Finally he recognized the outline in the distance of the farmhouse and barn. He breathed a sigh of relief, and tiredly pressed on. Once in the meadow, he passed through it and went right on by the barn and straight up to the house. He left Banjo on the front lawn as he dismounted… and promptly collapsed to the ground as his ankle protested the weight. He was just pulling himself up when the front door opened and out came Hannah and Guthrie. How could he bear to tell them what had happened?