This chapter features a little bit of everyone, so hang in there, your favorite will probably get attention somewhere along the way.
Also, reviews make my day, thanks to all who took the time to send me some kind words!
Ford shivered violently, and not all with cold. He was scared. Terrified, really. He had no idea where he'd gone wrong in locating the trail up the mountain. It had to be here, but it wasn't. Hannah and Guthrie had been brought out here, in this dangerous storm, risking their lives and it was all his fault. He should have made them stay home. And what about Adam and Brian? He'd left them at the storm's mercy. Was there anything else he could have done? Ford recognized his failure in all this mess; he should have done so many things differently.
But how could he fix it now?
Hannah and Guthrie stood huddled beside him, under the overhang. Their horses stood in front of them, which helped block out the wind a bit. The smell of horse was overpowering, but homey; it reminded Ford of working in the barn. Hannah had pulled some sandwiches out of her bag and they stood, shivering and munching, eating by flashlight. Ford wasn't very hungry, but knew he had to keep his strength up.
Hannah watched Ford as she ate. He was quiet, hardly saying a word. She was getting more worried as time slipped by. She needed to get to Adam! He was lying there, just waiting for her. And Brian, what would happen to him, too? He'd been conscious when Ford left, but how long could he last on that ledge? Her stomach churned as she forced down the sandwich, raw nerves making it upset. She huddled deeper against the rocks, trying to stay out of the wind.
Guthrie absentmindedly rubbed his horse's nose, trying to think of a suggestion to make. He was cold and wished he was back home. But that wouldn't help Adam or Brian and he wanted to help them more than anything.
Ford peered out through the swirling snow, waving the flashlight around. That landmark just had to be here somewhere!
"Ford, we aren't going to find that gravestone. It's got to be all covered up with snow by now and in the dark… you staring out there isn't going to make it appear." She tried to gentle her words by resting a hand on his shoulder, "Maybe we should turn around and look for the other trail, you know, the one you came down on?"
Ford shook his head, "That's too much backtracking. The trail has got to be right here somewhere. It will save us a load of time if we can find it. Going back will cost us another hour or more. We've got to get to them!" He pounded his fist into the rocks in frustration.
Hannah knew he was coming apart at the seams and though she was frantic herself, she knew she had to keep him calm. She took his fist in her hands. "That's not going to help, Ford. You'll just hurt yourself. We got to keep it together." She paused to wrap the other arm around Guthrie, including him in the family circle. "If you think that we should go this way, we'll give it a few more minutes. The wind is too bad for travel right now anyhow. It's good to wait here for a little until it dies down. We'll all just keep our eyes peeled for that gravestone. Okay?"
Ford nodded and Guthrie replied, "We'll find it, Hannah. You'll see." Hannah hugged him closer.
They stood that way for an undetermined amount of time, huddled under the rock, the horses standing guard. Ford continued to scan the landscape, using the flashlight, willing the gravestone to appear.
Then suddenly, the wind died down and the curtain of falling snow parted just as Ford's beam of light landed on the gravestone. As if by miracle, there it was! Ford blinked his eyes, not believing what he saw, he didn't want to look away in case the wind turned it into a whiteout again and he lost the spot.
"There, I see it!" He dropped the reigns he'd been holding, and without taking his eyes off the spot, ran, limping, straight across the clearing in front of them, to the marker. When he reached it, he dropped to his knees, his ankle killing him. Here it was, the marker they'd been striving for. Reverently he brushed his hand over the gravestone, pushing off the snow. The marker was blank, worn smooth over the centuries. No one knows who you are, he thought, but you may have saved my brothers, so… thank you. Hannah and Guthrie joined him, pulling the horses behind them, by their reigns. Hannah sensed a strange, cosmic connection that reached beyond time, between the pioneers who had buried their loved one here, and the McFadden family, searching for those they loved. Despite the urgency, Ford took a moment to clear off all the snow, scraping it clean. One day, he'd come back here and honor this person whose marker had helped him find his brothers. He gave it one last pat and rose, shakily, on his bum leg.
"Come on," Ford announced, his voice bold and confident, "Let's go get our family." Taking the reins from Guthrie, he pulled himself up in the saddle, Hannah and Guthrie copying him. He held himself up proud and tall in the saddle, a broad smile on his face.
Ford blazed the trail through the woods, flashlight in hand, feeling very much like the pioneers of the early days who came through here and left that stone. Well, except for the flashlight. He'd never been this way before, but had confidence that it was the right direction. Brian had told him details of the trail and so far, everything was fitting into place. Each time he saw a landmark that Brian had described, his heart leapt and the excitement grew.
Finally, they broke through a grove of trees and saw a glow from a campfire.
"Look, Ford!" Guthrie called out excitedly, pointing. Ford felt the smile spread across his face. They'd made it! Guthrie steered his horse past Ford, who had stopped, frozen at the sight. Ford drank in the sight of the campfire and the sturdy looking lean-to, which his brothers had poured out of at the sound of Guthrie's voice. Hannah rode up beside him and reached a hand over to place it on his shoulder.
"You did it, Ford. You did it." She pulled him in and planted a kiss on his cheek. "You got us here." She smiled warmly at him as she spurred her horse past. Ford took his time, relief flooding his soul. He was with his family now, and whatever happened next, they were together again.
Daniel couldn't believe what he was seeing. Here they were! Ford, Hannah and Guthrie had made it safely here, by themselves. Once he, Crane and Evan had finally gotten here, had rescued Brian, and had Crane caring for Adam, his thoughts had turned increasingly to those that were still unaccounted for. He'd thought about going out to look for them, but he didn't want to leave Brian and Evan either. He had to watch out for them. Evan he'd always watched out for, and Brian, well it was their turn to keep an eye on him for once. So he had felt torn between which factions of the family needed him more, but now, here they were. He ran out to meet Guthrie, who practically jumped off his horse and into Daniel's arms.
"Guthrie, am I glad to see you!" Daniel squeezed his littlest brother tightly against himself.
"What happened? We thought you'd be here before us." Evan chimed in, grabbing a hold of Hannah's reigns.
Hannah couldn't help but smile, even in the severity of the situation. She was so happy to have found them all. "We got a little turned around." She looked at Ford as he rode up. "But Ford here, he found the trail and led us up here." She beamed up at him and patted his leg. "Thanks to you, Ford, we made it."
Daniel and Evan crowded close to Ford. "Way to go brother!"
"Nice job, Ford!"
Hannah broke up the party then by saying, "Where's Adam and Brian?"
Seriousness came over the group as they remembered why they were here, although no one had really forgotten.
"Brian's this way, Hannah, under the lean to. Adam's still down there, but Crane's with him." Daniel filled her in as Evan took the horses to tie them up. Hannah started to follow Daniel, then paused, staring towards the cliff, her heart desperately wanting to get to Adam immediately. But, recognizing that was impossible, she followed Daniel under the shelter instead. The boys had done a good job she noticed, the tarp being stretched down and anchored to the ground behind where Brian lay and held up by large branches in the front. Tree branches were stacked at the sides to block the wind. Another tarp was on the ground, as a floor, making a cozy shelter for Brian. A fire was blazing at the opening. She squatted down next to her brother in law and looked him over. His eyes were shut and his breathing even.
"Has he been awake at all?"
"Oh yeah, we brought him up in the sling, and he was awake the whole time and for awhile afterwards." Evan filled in, having joined them, Ford and Guthrie on his tail.
"Ford here did some first aid on him before he left." Daniel added as Ford knelt on Brian's other side. "Good job, Ford."
Ford shrugged his shoulders, "It would have been better if I had gotten back sooner."
Daniel noticed Ford's self-blame surfacing. Daniel reached over and pulled his brother close. "You did the right thing, Ford, you got them help." He squeezed his brother's neck affectionately.
Hannah was taking Brian's pulse when suddenly his eyes flickered open. He looked momentarily startled, then remembering where he was, relief flooded over him, at the knowledge that he was no longer alone or on the cliff. His eyes flickered over to Guthrie after Hannah and then to Ford. "What…what are you guys doing here?" He smiled at Ford. "Ford! You made it, buddy. You okay?" He reached a hand out to him, which Ford promptly grasped. Daniel and Evan were relieved to notice that the stuttering and slurring had disappeared. Brian must be warmer now.
Ford smiled back, "Yeah, I'm fine, it's you and Adam we were all worried about. How's the arm?"
"Broken." Then, lifting his head and looking around, "Where's Adam?" He tried to sit up; suddenly frantic that Adam was nowhere to be seen.
"Whoa cowboy. Take it easy." Hannah put a restraining hand on his chest and pushed with some pressure to stop him. Her stomach flip-flopped with the mention of Adam's predicament. "Crane's with him now and that's where I'm going next. But first, I gotta know you're okay, too."
Brian smiled up at her in gratitude. He knew how much she wanted to go to Adam, but she was still taking time to check on him. "I'll be okay, the arm hurts, and my head some." Hannah checked the position of the sling and felt his fingers to check for circulation. She peeked under the bandage on his cheek and ran her hands over his head, looking for injuries. Satisfied, she brought her hands on either side of his face and looked him squarely in the eyes.
"I'd say… you'll be alright." She sighed in relief. Then she kissed him on the forehead. Then on impulse, she wrapped him in a gentle hug. "Are you getting warmer?"
"Yeah, they wrangled me into dry clothes and built me this shelter. I'm feeling much better." Hannah smiled at him again.
"I'm glad." She looked at Daniel and Evan, "You guys did a great job."
Evan beamed, and Daniel ducked his head shyly. "Aw Hannah, we just did what needed done." Daniel explained. "The real problem is Adam. We can't get him up. Crane says he made a noise when he checked him out, but otherwise he hasn't woken up."
Hannah hugged herself tightly, this was the information she wanted to know the most, and the information that made her the most nervous. If truth be told, she was scared to death to know the truth of how bad he was hurt. If she didn't know, she could almost pretend everything was alright. She took a deep breath and steeled herself, standing up. The brothers, with the exception of Brian, stood up with her, stepping out of the shelter. "Tell me." Her voice came out forcefully, determined. Guthrie came to her side and took her hand.
"Well, Crane said his shoulder is messed up," Evan began, "Dislocated or broken, he wasn't sure."
"He's got a lump on his head, too," Daniel interrupted," and hasn't woken up since Crane got down there, but Brian said he woke earlier." All eyes turned to Brian, who nodded in agreement.
"He seemed alert, Hannah, like he understood where he was and all. When I told him not to move, he stopped." Brian informed her.
Hannah nodded, processing. "Anything else?"
Evan added, "Yeah, Crane says his leg is broken, he's got a lot of cuts and bruises. He couldn't see very well, but those things at least he could tell."
"We're not getting him up from there in the harness, that's for sure." Daniel's voice was dejected. "He's just too banged up, even if he was awake."
Hannah couldn't say anything; her throat was too tight for words. She walked to the edge of the cliff and peered over. Somewhere down there was her husband, her best friend, the love of her life. If there was any way she could get to him, she'd be there in an instant. She was dimly aware of the brothers following her.
"Don't get too close, Guthrie," came one of their voices from behind her.
"Are you limping, Ford?" Daniel noticed. Ford shrugged, choosing not to elaborate.
Hannah heard them talking behind her, but her attention was down below. "Crane!" She yelled. "Crane!"
It took a moment for Crane to extradite himself from the blankets, but he soon rose and looked up at her. "Hannah! You made it. Thank God! Are Ford and Guthrie with you?" He yelled.
"Yes! We're all here! Crane, how's Adam?" She had to yell each word to be heard over the storm.
Crane knew what she was asking, even if he didn't hear some of the words. "He's the same, Hannah! Maybe a little warmer. But we need to get him up to the fire!" He annunciated each word carefully so they could understand.
"We're working on that, Crane!" Daniel called. "Need anything?"
They had to strain to hear his sarcastic reply, "A helicopter would be nice."
That brought a smile to some faces even in the light of the situation. The group up top made their way back to Brian and gathered near the fire, automatically squatting down so they wouldn't be hovering over him. Hannah trailed along, reluctant to leave the cliff edge, and Adam, behind.
"What are we going to do? We've got to get him up." Daniel implored.
"Won't the search team do that?" Guthrie wondered.
Evan fielded that answer, "Yeah, but maybe not until morning. It'd be better for Adam if we can get him up sooner than that."
"How can we do it though?" Hannah asked, "Any ideas?"
Brian spoke up from his perch in the middle of the lean to, "Can we figure out a way to rig up something? Like some kind of litter to pull him up in?"
Suddenly Ford jumped to his feet, "That's it! A litter!" He began pacing back and forth.
"What are you thinking?" Evan asked
"Hold on, give me a minute." He paced some more, eager faces watching his every move. "I remember reading something like this. It was about some guys who had to build this thing to carry their friend in after he got hurt. A mountain climber I think he was. They were way out in the middle of nowhere and he had gotten hurt and couldn't walk. Any way, they used their coats and some long branches to make this litter to carry him in. How did they do it? I can't quite remember." He rubbed his temples, limping back and forth, willing the answer to come.
"What if we get my wet coat and the one you loaned me, Ford, and see what we can come up with." Brian suggested.
"Yeah, I'll get 'em." Guthrie leapt to his feet and ran to the bags on the horses. He was back in moments with the coats. "Now what?" He asked, handing them to Ford.
"Well… let me see. Somehow they put the poles inside the jackets." He laid them out and zipped them up as he talked. He looked the jacket over. How had they done it? Then he remembered- the sleeves! They'd used the sleeves somehow to hold the branches. "Get me some long straight branches, someone."
Evan jumped up, "Come on Guthrie." They ran off.
While they were gone, Ford's brain worked over time, trying to picture what to do. He turned the jackets over and then back, visualizing the design. The others watched him silently with baited breath. Then, suddenly inspired, he turned the jacket inside out, the sleeves tucked inside.
"That's it, Ford! I see it now." Daniel said, excitedly. With the arms inside, the branches could be threaded straight through them to hold them in place. The jackets would form the bottom of the litter where Adam would lay.
"Good job, Ford." Hannah gushed. "But how do we attach ropes?"
Ford bit his lip in concentration. "That part I need some help on. In the story, they only had to carry him, not pull him up. Do you think we can find a way to tie off the ropes to the ends of the poles and make it sturdy enough to pull him up safely?"
Brian grinned at him, proud of his little, shy brother and excited to have a plan, any plan underway. "Sure we can, brother. We can find a way. Let's get Adam up."
Diligently the brothers and Hannah worked. When Evan and Guthrie came back with two long, heavy strong branches, Daniel tested them by trying to snap them. When they were sure they were sound, they threaded them through the inside-out coat sleeves, forming the litter. That part was easy. Then they had to figure out how to tie off the ropes to create a sturdy, safe way to pull him up once he was on the litter. That took a lot of trial and error until they thought they had a way figured out.
"Let's test it out and see if it will stay straight and level."
They tied off the rope and dangled the contraption over the side, watching closely to see if it twisted and dipped too much. It appeared to be successful, though no one was especially eager to see it tried out. They decided that Hannah and Evan would pull from one end, Guthrie and Daniel from the other.
"I don't know if that will be enough man power to bring him up." Brian interjected.
"We pulled you up didn't we?" Evan countered.
"Yeah, but I was awake and the configuration was different." He looked around from his place on the tarp, searching for an answer. "What if we tie off on a horse? Use one of them to help pull?"
"That's a great idea, Brian. Think you'd be able to guide him so the rest of us can pull and steer the litter up?" Hannah asked.
"Sure, I only need one arm for that." Brian was looking better, now that he was warm and dry. He still shivered, but not so violently or constant. His arm was obviously hurting him a great deal, and every once in awhile they'd catch him holding his head, but this mission had energized him in a way nothing else could have.
They scrambled to get everything into position. When they were ready, they called down to Crane and told him their plans. Crane wasn't crazy about his unconscious brother swinging around above him in the emptiness of space, but it knew it was the only way to get him up and warm tonight. Crane shook off the negative thought, and yelled up to them that he agreed.
Up top, Evan helped Brian up on shaky legs and positioned him by the horse. The rest took their places at the cliff, hands on the ropes, careful to stay back from the dangerous drop off. The litter was pushed off the side by Daniel, who then took up his position in front of Guthrie. He felt the rope sliding through his gloved hands as he and the others eased it down.
Crane, from his precarious perch on the ledge, shone his flashlight into the space above him, trying to spot the litter through the darkness and snow. Finally he saw it, swaying in the wind, but lowering steadily. He watched as it came closer and closer. He reached his hands up, trying to guide it in, and finally got a hold of it. He pulled it down and called up to the others, letting them know he'd gotten it.
Setting the litter on the ledge, he looked over their handiwork. "Oh my God." He whispered into the wind, "We're actually putting Adam on this?" He knelt to look at the litter and upon closer examination, he saw it was actually pretty sturdy for what it was. "This just might work." He said to himself. He maneuvered it onto the ledge beside Adam and began the work of moving Adam onto it. He almost wished Adam was awake to move himself into the litter, but then again, Crane was glad he wasn't. He wouldn't have wanted to be awake for what was about to come, if it were him being strapped on that contraption and pulled up into the sky.
He grunted with the effort of moving a heavy, unconscious brother as carefully as he could. Once he had Adam on the coats, he took an extra rope which had been lowered with the litter, and wrapped it around Adam's body. He tied it off to the foot end of the litter, then wrapped it around from Adam's feet to up under his armpits, even strapping down his arms to his sides. He didn't want him to be able to move at all if he should, God forbid, come to. Crane took his time, carefully going over each knot and rope, checking and rechecking. Finally satisfied that Adam was as secure as he could be, he knelt by Adam's side and tucked the blankets in around him one more time. He checked Adam's breathing and pulse once more. Weak, but steady. What if all this moving was too stressful on him? Maybe they should wait for the rescue crew. But as he brushed his hand over Adam's face and felt the still ice-cold skin, he knew the answer. It was time to get him warmed up, they couldn't wait until morning. He said a short prayer over his brother and then standing up, he tugged on the ropes and called up, "Okay, guys, he's secure."
Crane stepped back and watched the litter begin to rise. He eased his hands under Adam, guiding him as he rose in the air. Soon Adam was over his head, out of is reach, and Crane could only watch helplessly as he was pulled up.
"Careful now! Slowly." He called up. He watched anxiously as Adam continued his upwards journey. All seemed to be going well, until suddenly a gust of wind whipped up, spinning the contraption and sending the end near Adam's head banging in to the rock wall.
"Watch out! "
"He's banging into the wall! Do something!"
"Pull harder on your side, Daniel, try to straighten him out."
They did manage to straighten him out then, but now his feet were hanging lower than his head. Crane was thankful he'd strapped Adam in so tightly or he'd be sliding out right now.
"Pull up more on your end, Evan! Get him level!" They followed the directions well and soon Adam was even once again.
"Together now, pull!" Crane shouted. Adam began ascending once again. Crane was a bundle of nerves down below. His eyes were riveted to the scene above him.
"Please, please." He prayed, not able to get any more words out than that. Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over and Adam disappeared over the ledge.
"Yes!" Crane's hand made a fist and pumped it in the air. The relief was so strong, he felt weak in the knees. They'd done it!
Crane gave himself a few minutes to let his heart stop pounding at such a crazy speed. Then, he checked his harness and ropes and called, "Okay guys, I'm coming up, too."
"I'm here, Crane." Daniel yelled from above. Crane should have known Daniel would wait and watch for him. They'd always been there for each other and nothing had changed now. He hoped the rest of the family was tending to Adam.
The climb was relatively easy, in spite of the snow, dark and cold. Crane didn't even care about those things. Adam was up top, they'd done it! He was being tended to right now and soon they would be able to get him down off this god forsaken mountain. Crane pulled himself up another foot. Daniel shouted encouragement from above.
How fast would they be able to get Adam to the hospital? He wondered. Did he fare okay being hauled up that way? Had they injured him further? His thoughts were so focused on Adam that he didn't even realize how close he was to the top until Daniel's voice spoke almost into his ear.
"There you go, Crane, there's a handhold right there. To your right. That's it." Crane focused on the task at hand. Then, Daniel's hand snaked out and grabbed him under the arm and pulled. He felt the ground with his other hand. Almost there! Daniel continued hauling away and Evan joined him on the other side of Crane, pulling also. He brought his knee up and then the other. Finally, he was back on solid ground, to stay this time.
He looked at his brothers, overcome with gratitude and love, the tears welling in his eyes. He reached out and grabbed them both in a tight hug. Evan and Daniel squeezed him right back. When they finally pulled apart, Crane panted out, "Thanks, guys."
"I'd say anytime, but I'd rather not do this again." Daniel deadpanned, and then broke into a grin. Crane laughed, but with a slightly hysterical twinge. Daniel heard and knew his brother was at the end of his limitations, both physical and emotional.
"Come on, brother; let's get you over to the fire." Daniel pulled him up to his feet, Evan supporting him on the other side. They unhooked his ropes and made their way over to the rest of the family, who were crowded around Adam. He was lying on the tarp, next to Brian, who was trying to get him to wake up. Hannah had already wrapped two more blankets around him and was examining his head wound. Ford and Guthrie were adding more wood onto the fire, in an effort to get more heat. Daniel guided Crane to the other side of Brian and helped him to sit down.
"Hey there, brother." Brian said, wrapping an arm around him and drawing him near. Someone threw a blanket over Crane's shoulders though he was too tired to look at who did it. He watched the scene before him, huddled under Brian's arm, feeling strangely safe and comforted. Why he should feel so good now, before his brothers had even gotten medical help, he wasn't sure. He just knew he was so grateful to be back together-maybe that was it, the fact that they were all here together again. No one was alone anymore, having to make hard decisions on their own. The whole family was here now to back each other up. At that moment he genuinely felt that everything would be okay.
"How is he?" Brian asked Hannah, who had moved on to his torso, pulling back his blankets and unzipping his coat to examine him.
"That lump concerns me, but there's no way to tell what the damage is inside. They do say it's better to have a lump on your head, even if it's big, then to have an indent."
No one disagreed with that. Ford moved closer to help Hannah strip off Adam upper layers, using his knife to cut off the shirt rather than try to pull it off his hurt shoulder. Evan had warm, dry clothes ready to go. As Hannah pulled up his shirt, she gasped.
"What?" Crane was alert enough to ask, straightening up to see. What Crane could not see down below, in the dark, they could all see now by the light of the fire. Adam's chest was covered in a huge purple bruise. It was ugly and nasty and curled around his side across his ribs. Hannah rolled him over carefully, with Ford's help, on his side to see his back. She explained to those who couldn't see, that the bruising continued over his back, too. Her voice had taken on a shaky tone and they could all see her hands shaking as they lowered Adam back down.
Brian spoke up, "We can't move him down the mountain on horseback, not like that. It could be a sign of an internal injury."
"Or just bruises." Evan suggested.
Ford added, "There's no way of knowing which. We have to wait for the rescue team to transport him down."
Hannah was silent, still holding onto the edge of Adam's shirt, the shock evident. Guthrie just stared, too, upset to see his hero in such a state.
"Let's get h-him d-dressed." Hannah managed. They wrestled him into several dry shirts as well as they could around his injured shoulder. Coats were spread over him and then blankets as well. He lay in the center of the tarp, the most sheltered spot. Hannah finished up by bandaging whatever she could see that needed it.
Having done all she could, she took her place under the blankets next to Adam, cradling him in her arms. Brian sat on the other side of Adam, his good arm still around Crane. Evan was next to Crane, with Guthrie sitting in his lap. Daniel and Ford were on the other side of Hannah, completing the family circle. Daniel had put an arm around Hannah, hugging her tightly to him and Ford had his hand on Daniel's arm, as if lending support that would somehow transfer to Hannah.
The trees swayed in the blustery wind, the snow continued to fall, the fire blazed and crackled, and the horses snorted. And the family in the middle of it all just held onto each other, supporting one another. The love they had for their family seemed to almost surround them as a tangible thing. And as they looked around at each other, they all knew this was a moment they'd never forget, the tableau etched as a permanent picture in their minds.