There wasn’t any wind or rain. Just the sun beating down on Drew’s shoulders. It was clear. Not a cloud in sight. The mountains stood tall against the blue sky cupping Drew and her sister Cara in a valley. The mountains looked soft, the blankets of yellow grass covered every square inch along with the speckles of sagebrush. Further up, the mountains were purple from the clumps of douglas fir. Drew looked around and analyzed the land as sweat dripped from the brim of her hat down to her cheeks. The salt in her sweat stung her oily sunburned skin. She reached up to adjust her hat and wipe the sweat that had pooled beneath her eyelids.
“I thought you said it was gonna be rainy today?” Cara muttered as she adjusted her seat in the saddle.
“I guess not,” Drew said as she pulled her bay horse to a steady stop. The pack horse rested her muzzle on the bay horses rump. Drew stood in her stirrups and twisted her little body to look at Cara.
“Where we goin’ now sis?” Cara said as she stopped and re-tied her pack horses lead. Cara looked drained from the past few days of ridding. Her red curly hair was matted into a ponytail that was squashed beneath her ball cap. Her skin looked oily and tan from the dirt and sweat that she collected. They had been camping for the past two days checking the far ends of Drew’s property.
“Uh, lemme see. We already checked the cows in the far field and in Sun Valley. I think all we have left is to find that bull that broke through the fence near the Big Hole.”
“Alright.” Cara rode up beside Drew and stopped at her knee. “It’s a bummer I have to leave on Friday. Your lucky this is your job.”
“It ain’t really a job,” Drew said as she giggled and looked over at Cara. They shared a smile and continued on.
Drew was a married woman. She married Brewster when she was 21. Her and Brewster bought a little log cabin on a chunk of land. Soon after they bought the land, they bought cattle. She was out on their property everyday with Brewster at her side and a grin on her face. It was her dream since she was young to raise cattle. Nine years later they were still on that property. Cara on the other hand was her opposite. She was four years younger than Drew. Cara worked in an office job and had a little cookie cutter house in a concrete jungle. Her boots were never muddy. Drew was still stumped on why Cara offered to help so quickly while her husband was away. Cara never seemed to like Drew’s line of work. Let alone put herself in the heart of it.
Drew knew every creek and every mountain on her property by heart. I’ve just gotta get over the peak to my left, and we’ll be at the top of the Big Hole, she thought to herself. She looked back to make sure her little paint mare was still trucking on. She brought the little horse from a filly. As far as the bay horse goes, Drew was training him. Drew turned back to look at the rocky trail ahead when she noticed that Cara seemed to be staring off into the clouds. Drew smirked as she spurred her horse into a gallop. Both of the horses transitioned easily and paced each other.
“Seriously?” Cara yelled as she smiled. She booted her horses into a canter. Cara knew how to ride, but was still rough in the saddle. She bounced and flopped along with the horses. She tended to hang onto the horn of the saddle more often than not. As Drew rounded the side of the Mountain she looked back to see Cara yell and kick with all her might. She almost looked like she was sitting sideways. Drew laughed and faced forward.
“Shit,” Drew sat down hard in the seat and hauled back on the reins. “Cara stop your horses! Cliff!” Drew turned around to see if Cara heard her. Soon after, she saw Cara ease up on her horses and bring them to a settle stop behind her. “I can’t believe I didn’t remember that dropped off like that,” Drew said as she peered down the cliff.
“Well. Good thing you stopped in time,” Cara replied as she sat up to look down.
Drew shivered and continued riding along side of the Big Hole. Everything was still. No birds chirped, no wind blew, just silence.
“Do you see that bull anywhere down in the big hole?” Drew asked as she looked down again. The Big Hole was a funnel made up of jagged rocks that poked from the earth. There was a sage bush shoved between rocks here and there on the sides of the cliff. At the bottom there was a pile of trees that looked to be miniature from where Drew was. It didn’t look like the sun reached the bottom. It was just black.
After the long pause Cara replied “Naw, nothin’.”
“Well.” Drew paused to think about the plan of escape. “We’ll ride the length of the Big Hole then we’ll make our way down on the other side of that peak,” Drew said as she pointed to her right. Cara nodded at her as they continued along the cliff.
Drew kept looking down through the funnel. Each time she looked she felt like she was being sucked in. The Big Hole never felt this ominous to her. Drew looked back up at the pencil thin trail. There was a wall of red dirt to her other side. One wrong step and I’m gone. The only way out is either forward or down. She listened closely to each step of her horses hooves. The rocks crumbled as her horses carried her. Every once and awhile she glanced back and noticed Cara looking into the same depths that Drew had grown scared of. Neither of them talked in fear their voices would cause the rocks to fall out of place.
“Only a few more strides,” Drew said trying to make her little sister feel better. Cara nodded. As Drew turned back around she heard the dirt give way. As she looked down she watched the bay horses hoof give way underneath rocks. Her cheeks flushed with panic as her stomach dropped. Her horse lost his footing and went nose first into the rocks. Drew flipped over the top of the horse with its body and smashed Drew’s legs into the jagged rocks. The little paint mare hauled back smashing herself into the red wall to avoid being drug down with them. The lead snapped allowing the little paint mare to stand along side of the cliff. The bay horse continued rolling down the funnel squealing. His voice became raspy and heavy as he neared the bottom. Drew rolled and clawed the rocks desperately to keep from falling deeper into the funnel. Cara watched in horror as her sister fell down the hill.
“Drew! Drew!” Cara screeched. She kept yelling but her voice was cracking in fear. She knew all she could do was watch. Cara looked down the red trail that lead to Drew’s tumbling. That was when Cara noticed there was a sage bush in Drew’s path. “Drew! Sage bush! Look!” Cara screamed flinging her hands in the direction of the sage bush. Drew heard her at the last second and reached to grab at the sage bush. Her hand latched to a branch and slid down painting it red. Her grip was strong on the sage as she hung there. She smiled and laughed with relief as she looked up at Cara, who was standing up in the saddle crying but smiling.
Drew looked down into darkness. A cave? A pit? There was actually a hole down there? She heard a crackling noise and looked up at the sage bush. The branch was splitting under her weight. She looked up at Cara who seemed to have no clue what Drew saw.
“Cara listen to me. I’m GOING to fall. I want you to ride back the way we came and call 911. Then call Brewster,” Drew spoke loud and clear trying to keep her nerves down.
“I’m not leav-”
“You won’t be any use to me standing there staring at me stupidly!” Drew yelled trying to sound angry, but she knew her fear was seeping through her words. She felt hopeless. The branch cracked again showing the fleshy center of the sage bush. Cara stared blankly at her. “Leave! Now!” Drew screamed. Cara shuttered and turned her horse to run in the other direction. The paint horse stood at the edge unwavering. Cara stopped at the trailhead and looked back at Drew, but Drew was focused on the paint horse looking down at her. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks stinging all the skinless cuts. The paint horse screamed and paced when the branch broke. Cara watched her sister slam against rocks as she fell into darkness. With tears welled up in her eyes and her body shaking with panic, Cara kicked her horse into a sprint and headed toward the cabin.
* * * * *
The surging pain woke Drew from her unconsciousness. Her clothes felt matted and wet. It took her a second to realize why she was in so much pain, why she was lying in darkness. Her legs were thumping and felt bare. Her back was throbbing. Her head and arms were heavy. She tried to sit up, but she screamed from the pain as it shot through every nerve in her body. She was weak. How am I supposed to do this? She thought to herself trying to push the pain away. She remembered that she had matches inside the zipper pouch on the pack that went through her belt loop. Grimacing at the pain, she shoved her hand down the length of her torso to reach into the zipper pouch. Her fingers acted as her eyes at this point. A piece of paper, a pocket knife, a Luna bar, and finally the matches. She grinded her teeth as she opened the box of matches and lit one with her other hand.
The match light wasn’t bright, but it was enough to show Drew her surroundings and the damage to her little body. Her jeans were almost non existent. Her skin and flesh took forms on her legs that Drew didn’t even know was possible. Raising in peaks and jetting deep in other places. She wasn’t wet with water, she was matted in blood. There was dirt and rocks imbedded in her skin and clotting the blood. Her arms were hardly covered in skin, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as her legs. She looked at her tummy and chest and noticed in several places the skin was peeled back and exposed multiple layers of muscle that rocks inserted themselves into. It’s a wonder she didn’t bleed to death.
She lit another match and noticed the three walls around her, along with the continual black side. The bay horse laid in front of her. Cold, quiet, a blackened red. Drew leaned over and puked at the sight of the horse. The once energetic bay horse was lifeless, still, dead. She laid back down carefully in the darkness. She focused on the ceiling and tried not to let the images and pain trigger her tears. Staring long enough at what she thought was the cave ceiling, she noticed tiny white dots. They glinted and shimmered. Stars? Are those really stars? Hope creeped into her brain knowing that there was a way out. It didn’t last long. The pain swept away the hope and Drew was smashed back into the surging pain.
“Helpppp, somebody pleaseee,” Drew whined as she began to cry again. She was alone. Entirely alone. Her thoughts kept her company that night. She thought about Brewster, the incredible life they built together. She thought about her sister and where she grew up. She thought about that paint mare that she watched scream and stare as she tumbled down that cliff. She thought about her choices, and how she should’ve never gone near the Big Hole.
* * * * *
“Why the heck did I agree to this?” Cara muttered as she looked around. She was suppose to go back to the cabin to get help for Drew, but she had no idea where she was. Drew had called Cara in a panic about a week ago. Brewster had to stay in town for a few nights to visit his brother in the hospital who had just gotten surgery. Drew still had to go through the property, but she needed another set of hands. Cara half heartedly agreed to help her sister. Now, Drew’s life depended on it. Cara’s mind raced crazily. Every mountain looked the same, every little trail seemed to veer off in a direction she didn’t think was right. There were no sounds, no street signs, no markers to guide her. She was lost.
“Shit.” Cara started to cry. She could feel her heart beat faster as she watched the sun hide behind the mountains. Is Drew even still alive? What’s Brewster going to say? I’m going to be the one that kills Drew. I’m going to be blamed for her dying. Cara sobbed and looked around her. The clouds were painted pink and orange, and the sky was getting darker and darker the longer she stared. The purple tops of the mountains soon blended in with the rest of the sky, leaving Cara and her thoughts in the dark.
As the night furthered, the moon rose from its hiding place casting a shadow of Cara and her two horses. Okay. Think harder Cara. How could I possibly see this god damn cabin? Cara looked around through the sagebrush and tall grass. She still couldn’t see much. Even with the moonlight. That’s it! Cara turned and rode towards the top of the mountain at her back. The horses had been tired from running, they dragged their feet as they trotted, but Cara was intent on getting to the top. Maybe she could see the cabin from the top of the mountain. Then she would be able to get her sense of direction back.
As she reached the top of the mountain she began to look at the valley below her. The moon light wasn’t bright enough for her to see down into it. The mountains proudly stood in the moonlight. Their purple tops poking into the sky, but their shadows cast down to where Cara needed to see. This is my only hope. I can’t risk anything more. She debated whether or not to ride through the dark or wait till sunrise. The sun was the only thing that could show her where to go. This was the first time in Cara’s life where she wasn’t in control of the situation. In the city, the night was still day. A late night still meant you could drive home in the comfort of your headlines guiding you along. Out here, night just meant darkness. No street lamp could show her the way, no cell phone could reach the outside world.
Cara woke up just before daylight. She had grabbed a blanket off her pack horse and balled up on the ground to sleep. If she would’ve known that she was going to be covered in bug bites and ants in the morning, she would of stayed on her horse. She looked at her surroundings. Both of the horses stood quietly tied to a sagebrush behind her, and down the mountain that she had rode up last night, the valley. The sun creeped over the valley like a warm blanket. It wasn’t fast like Cara had imagined it. It was slow, like a mother tucking her kids in for bed. Drew. Cara remembered why she was there and quickly got on her horse. She tied the pack horse tight and looked at the valley below her. She saw the pasture and the tiny black dots huddled together. There was a black rectangle a ways from them. The cows? The cabin? There she would ride down the mountain, faster than she’s ever ridden. There she would call 911, there she would call Brewster. There she would save Drew.
* * * * *
It had been two days. She wanted to die but couldn’t give up. The maggots in the cave had began to weave through Drew’s flesh like butter. She tried to pick them off at first, but she gave up once there were too many to keep track of. Drew noticed a rushing sound late in the night, the kind that a stream or creek would make. She came up with a plan. She was going to drag herself to the source of the rushing noise. Maybe that was a way out. What if they come back and I’m not here? What if they find a way to reach me? I should stay. No, I need to go.
She couldn’t take the pain any longer. She waited until daylight when the little glint of light made it to the cave floor. Particles of dust illuminated and floated around the cave. She looked over at the horse. She had to do something first though. She scooted herself to the rotting horse the few feet away. She stroked his gaping cheeks and attempted to close his ripped eyelids. She pressed her lips to his forehead like she always did. And whispered him goodbye. It was time. She rolled over onto her mountainous leg wounds, grunted, then grimaced in pain. You can do this. She thought to herself as she sat there recollecting the breath that had been taken from her. She lifted her face and rested her chin on the cave floor looking towards the darkness. With each pull, dirt collected in her wounds and stung. She found herself screaming every time she’d dig her fingertips into the ground and yank her dead weight forward. No matter the breaths she took, it was never enough oxygen to fill her lungs. It was pitch black. She kept on pulling herself forward until she reached what seemed to be another cliff. She pulled herself to the edge and reached down. Nothing. She pushed herself just a little bit further to try and reach what was below her. Still nothing. As she gave herself one more scooch the dirt crumbled and gave way. She fell through the air until she hit water.
* * * * *
“What do you mean you can’t find it?” Cara screamed into the phone.
“Ma’am, calm down. You need to describe to us where you’re at.”
“How can you expect me to calm down when my sister is probably already dead? Her name is Drew McCoy! Track her address! Something!”
“Ma’am, I can’t get there off the information given.”
“So much frickin’ help!” Cara screamed as she hung up. I’m no use. I don’t know where to go or how to explain to get here. Such help 911 was. She sat there drumming her fingers on the old wooden dinning table. Brewster made that table for Drew on their anniversary two years ago. Brewster! She picked up the phone and dialed his number. She waited. One ring, two ring, three ring-
“Hey there! How’s the Ranch trea-” Brewster was barely able to speak before Cara interrupted him.
“Drew. She fell in the Big Hole. I just got back. I don’t know what to do. Calling 911 didn’t help a damn bit and she’s still down there.”
“Shit,” there was a long pause. Everything was silent. She questioned if he was still on the line.
“Hello-” Cara muttered. Brewster was suddenly snapped back to life and interrupted her.
“I’m on my way,” Brewster sounded dry when he hung up the phone. Cara paced by the door for about a minute. I can’t do this. I need to do something. Might as well make myself useful. Cara ran outside and changed the saddles on the horses. She filled the saddle bags with just about everything she thought they’d need. Now, I wait.
* * * * *
Rocks spat out from underneath Brewster’s tires as he drove down the gravel road. His heart was racing as his tires slid around each corner spraying a wave of dirt onto the sagebrush and grass that lined the road. The cloud of dust behind him grew with each curve. The dash board that was once cluttered with mail and tools had been spilled in the passenger seat and on the floor. He slammed his palm on the wheel as if to try and make the truck go faster. But his foot was already crammed to the floor. He already called 911 and described the location. He had to do this once before when Drew broke her leg falling off the colt she was training at the time. He swore she was a magnet to trouble. As soon as he reached the house he saw Cara in the driveway with a horse in each hand. Tacked up and ready to go.
“You got a rope?” Brewster said as he slammed the door shut and ran over to her.
“Everything I thought we’d need,” Cara said as she mounted. Brewster jumped on and they kicked off into a sprint. Brewster watched the sage and grass whip his horse’s legs as they ran down the trail. His heart pounded in his throat. The sweat was dripping off his nose to his jaw line. His hat had already blown off his head, but the stampede straps kept it slapping on his back with every stride. His neck was turning red from the straps rubbing. The dirt stuck instantly to the sweat and powdered his face. He tried to wipe his eyes away from the dirt when he spotted something. There was a little brown and white dot ahead of them on the trail. Drew’s paint mare? The little mare was running at them. Full speed ahead, she seemed panicked. What the hell? Brewster slowed his horse down to a walk and twisted to look back at Cara.
“Did you not grab the paint when you rode back?” Brewster said as he looked back.
“No, I figured she’d just follow me back,” Cara stuttered as she realized she completely forgot about the mare.
“Did Drew ever teach you anything?” Brewster yelled. Cara put her head down and started to cry again.
“Quit your crying! I need you thinking! Drew’s out here and we need to find her!” He yelled at her. He was getting irritated with Cara. Drew could be dead by now. Cara should’ve known where to go. She just rode the trails. Doesn’t she ever think ahead? Brewster pulled his horse to a stop and waited for the paint mare to reach him. He had to get that mare. If Drew was gone, this is what he had left of her. The little mare slowed and walked up to Brewster’s horse. She bumped at his side and sighed.
“Come here lil’ girl,” Brewster said as he leaned over to grab the lead, but she pulled her face just far enough so he couldn’t reach her. “Brat,” he muttered under his breath. He got off and grabbed the little mare’s lead when he heard a muffled yelp. He walked over closer to the sagebrush. He saw bits of the river through the sage.
“Where did that come from? Did you hear that?” Brewster said as he looked over towards Cara.
* * * * *
The water was smoother than the ground. Comforting almost. The the cold blanket engulfed Drew and sucked her under. She flailed her skinless arms trying to keep herself above the water. Sucking in as much air as she could every time her lips felt air. She felt the dirt rinse from her wounds and the rocks loosen over every rapid. She was still in darkness floating along the underground river. The river flung Drew’s body around. Smashing her into the walls and sucking her under. I’m going to die. She thought to herself. This is it. Drew let her body relax. This is what it feels like to let go. To die. She stopped fighting. She let the current suck her under and push her to the surface. She closed her eyes and let the pain take over. Every open wound burned. Every broken bone throbbed. Images passed through her head. She remembered throwing the football with her dad on the weekends. She felt the summer breeze and smelled the fresh cut grass. She remembered the day she got married to Brewster. Smiling and looking at each other, their hands clasped together. She remembered their Sunday mornings, the smell of coffee and hot maple syrup. How they shared sleepy kisses giggling in the mornings and that his brown hair was always sticking in every direction. She remembered saying goodbye to her sister when she first moved to the ranch. The tears and warm hugs. She remembered her sisters first high school volleyball tournament. The smell of sweat and old gym mats seemed to drift into her nose through memory. She could hear herself yelling for Cara in the stands, she could see her sister waving back. Her cheeks pink with embarrassment. Tears welled up in Drew’s eyes, but they just soaked into the river, along with the blood. She was melting into the river with her memories. She let herself get drug under again. When she surfaced she heard birds chirping and cows mooing. Is this in my head? She didn’t know if she was going crazy. If she was just losing herself completely. She felt her body slid across the ground as water filled her mouth. Her eyelids lit up when she surfaced again. She opened her eyes to a blue sky. Not a cloud in sight. She noticed the trail that ran along the river. The trail she took to go to the Big Hole. This was where the river came out of! She started to fight again. The adrenaline pumping through her veins allowed her to struggle against the current and flail her way to the river beach. She tried to grip every stone with her hands, but she slid by them one by one. Just grab something! She gave it one last effort, this time using every last bit of energy to grip and pull herself against the current and to shore. She grabbed the biggest rock and latched onto it. She let the current swing the rest of her body behind her, letting it surface amongst the rocks. She pulled herself along the bank and flopped down. She heard a man yelling.
“Help me! Somebody! I’m in the river!” Drew screamed with every ounce of energy she had left. Her wounds were bleeding again. The dirt wasn’t there to clog it. The maggots had been washed out and drowned. The voices got closer.
“Where did that come from? Can you hear that?” It sounded like Brewster.
“I think it came from this way.” Was that Cara?
Drew screamed again. This time, no words. Just noises hoping that they’d hear her.
“Right below us behind the sage!” Brewster yelled. Drew watched the sage bush shake as Brewster appeared. “Drew baby!” He ran up to her and collapsed beside her. He picked Drew up and held her in his arms. Cara followed close behind him and watched them.
“We were just heading to the big hole. How the hell did you get down here?” Tears welled up in his eyes as his voice popped. Drew watched him glance around trying to figure out her path. It was unusual seeing the large man cry and in such a panic.
Drew smiled and muttered gibberish. She looked into his worried green gaze. His cheeks were rose colored, his dark brown hair was matted in sweat and hung over his forehead. He had bags under his eyelids and his normally flush smile was pencil thin. She watched his eyes scan her injuries and his face became pale. The rocks were red beneath her.
“Did you bring an emergency kit or somethin’? I need it now!” Brewster screamed at Cara as he pressed down on some of the bigger wounds. Drew screamed as the pain magnified with each push.
“I got it, I got it,” Cara fiddled about the sacks on her horse. She pulled out an emergency kit and ran over to them. She kneeled beside Brewster as he fumbled through the emergency kit and grabbed the cotton balls. He began stuffing the bigger wounds putting the cotton balls in Drew’s legs.
“You’re gonna be okay babe, you’ll be just fine. Hang with me okay?” Brewster spoke dryly. Drew could tell that he was trying to hide his worry, but she knew him well. He was panicking. He was shaking.
“These aren’t gonna hold. The ambulance should be at the house soon. I called them as I was driving. We’ll have to get her back to the house,” he said again, this time taking his eyes off Drew and looking to Cara. Cara got up quickly and lead the paint mare down to where Drew laid. Brewster wrapped Drew in the wool blanket and picked her up setting her neatly on the little mare. Her legs faced towards him and her body leaned over the saddle. Brewster walked along side the little paint mare, matching her quick pace.
Drew looked down at Brewster and stifled a smile. She listened for sirens, she listened for cars, she listened for anything that would give her hope. Brewster started to jog alongside the mare when she started to trot. Drew grunted with each bounce. The pain was becoming more and more apparent as the adrenaline wore off. Thankfully she didn’t have to keep herself up because Brewster was holding her on. Drew looked up to see the cabin in front of her. Her blonde hair was sticking to her face and her clothes were soaked with diluted blood. She heard sirens. She saw red and blue lights flash against the windows of the cabin. She felt herself slip from the saddle as Brewster carried her to the ambulance pulling up the the driveway. A cloud of dust chased the vehicle as it came to a stop. The EMT’s jumped out and rushed to meet them. Brewster carried Drew into the ambulance and laid her on the stretcher. Cara jumped off her horse and ran up beside the ambulance.
“Watch over the ranch. I’ll call you later tonight to give you an update. But I need someone here,” Brewster talked quickly.
“I’ll be here. Take care of her,” Cara said starting to cry again. Drew looked up at Cara and smiled wearily.
“I love you sis’. Thank you,” Drew forced the words out of her mouth. With each word she lost a little breath. Cara looked at her as tears filled her eyes again.
“I love you too. Relax now. Don’t do anymore talkin’,” Cara said as she forced a smile.
“Thank you,” Brewster looked over at Cara as tears started to stream down his face.
“Okay! Let’s go!” the EMT’s shouted as they closed the doors. Drew watched her sister stand by the little log cabin as the EMT’s hooked IV’s into her arm. She looked over at Brewster who was watching the EMT’s temporarily dress her wounds. He looked panicked and weary. She slowly moved her hand over to his trying not to tangle herself in all the cords. He gently grabbed her hand and looked down at her. She stifled a smile as he ran his other hand through her blonde hair. I’m okay now. I’m going to live.