Fickle Frog Productions
Published by Fickle Frog Productions Mandurah, Western Australia www.ficklefrogproductions.com.au Copyright © 2012 Stacey Logan All rights reserved First paperback edition 2012 By Fickle Frog Productions Fickle Frog Productions, 16 Foster Rd, Coodanup WA, 6210, Australia www.ficklefrogproductions.com.au 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1 ISBN: 978-0-9872934-1-1 Printed in the United States of America This book is a work of Fiction. This work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process, nor may any other exclusive right be exercised, without the permission of The Writer: Stacey Logan
Email: [email protected]
1 The speed with which the ground was approaching startled the boy as he fell, face first towards the pavement. Throwing his hands down to break his fall, he felt a jolt through his wrists and he cringed. Catching his full weight he wondered if the action would prove to be more costly than beneficial. A tingling sensation ran through his hands, convening in his fingertips for just a moment too long. Straightening his arms, he pushed himself up from his position parallel to the ground and paused for just a moment to breathe away the pain of the impact. He had not intended to let the situation get so out of control but he had been caught unawares. ‘Get up,’ said the instigator of the assault. A boy three years his senior had been trying to find an excuse to assert his authority for weeks but until that moment, he hadn’t been given the opportunity. Purposefully rising to his feet, the younger of the two locked his steely dark eyes on his assailant and smiled a wicked smile void of congeniality. Straightening to his full height, his black hair 5
hung over his eyes, adding to his menacing posture as the muscles in his jaw tightened. His arms remained rigid by his sides but his fists were balled, the only true sign of his anger. Dark brown eyes, usually alight with a boyish glint, fixed on his opponent, a short stocky boy with brown hair and a pinched face. ‘I’m up,’ said the younger of the two, barely keeping his anger in check. ‘Not for long.’ Displeased by his ability to return to his feet, the stocky boy allowed his temper to get the better of him. He stepped towards his younger counterpart and immediately balled his fist, throwing it at his face. Dancing out of the way, the usually flighty youngster focused all of his attention on ending the fight. He lashed out with a powerful uppercut that caught his antagonist on the chin, rendering him unconscious before he even hit the ground. The boys that surrounded them cheered, despite the fact their friend was on the pavement, and as they checked to make sure he was still breathing, the victor slinked away from the commotion, making his escape. ‘Man, you just got knocked out by a twelve year old… how does that make you feel?’ He heard one of the onlookers laugh as the boy started to come to. Kicking a trash can as he made his way through an alley that would eventually lead him home, the thirteen year old scowled at their underestimation of his age. He was taller than most of them—who were sixteen or older—and clearly stronger, yet they still looked at him as little more than a child. He wondered just how many more times he would have to fight to prove them wrong. Lost in his thoughts he walked through the town, hoping he’d make it back to the reservation before dark. Time had slipped away and he’d never hear the end of it if he didn’t get home soon.
The boys weren’t the only ones who treated him like a child. His mother babied him incessantly, despite his having learned everything his father and his grandfather could teach him before they both passed away shortly after his tenth birthday. For three years, his mother and grandmother had tried to keep him focused on learning—what they referred to as “the finer points of hunting”—from the other men on the reservation but not one of them had been able to contribute to his education. They told him things he already knew and they didn’t appreciate his ability to flawlessly execute tasks they still had difficulty with. He could hunt and track, he could fight better than anyone he’d come across and—thanks to the women in his life—he could cook and sew almost as well; and he was bored. Picking up his feet, he began to run as he made it to the outskirts of Billings. Though small, it was the biggest city in Montana but in almost every other state it would have lucky to be classified as anything more than a large town. It was relatively isolated, which had been one of the few things that saved them from the first serious assault on US soil; the bombings of 2065. As a small child, his grandmother had told him that the war had started over fifty years before he was born and that it would rage until man destroyed one another. He didn’t doubt the truth of that. In his short life, he had seen much and it made him wonder if the destruction of mankind would be a bad thing. Though Billings was a small city and had avoided the worst of the assaults they had been subjected to a total of three air raids, the first of which had come a year before the bombings in 2064. It was that attack that had been responsible for the deaths of his father and grandfather. The two men had lingered in the house to ensure everyone they cared for had safely made it to the shelter, and when they were certain everyone was safe, the pair had run for cover, being shot down as they fled. Only ten years old, the
boy had raced into the shelter and turned in time to see both of them fall face first into the dirt. It was an image that would haunt him for the rest of his days. Forcing his wandering thoughts to return to the present, he marked his position and increased his pace. His mother wasn’t going to be happy. In a couple of minutes the sun would be behind the mountains and after a couple more, the sky would be dark; and he still had three miles to go. It was late summer and the days were longer, but once the sun started its descent, it didn’t take long for the darkness to wash over the land. Taking a deep breath, he put his head down and sprinted across the uneven and shadowy terrain. As the last traces of light were leaving the sky, he could see his home on the horizon and he pressed on, willing himself to make it inside the door before his mother had a chance to notice that it was dark and he was not home. Covering the last few steps, he paused, took a deep breath to compose himself—regardless of the fact that the sweat that matted his hair to his head was a dead giveaway he’d been running—and entered the house. He looked around, expecting to see his mother in the kitchen and his grandmother by her side but he saw no one. A frown creased his brow as he moved into the hallway, listening for any indication of where they might be. Upstairs, he heard a soft shuffling sound that he recognized; his grandmother’s footsteps coming from within his mother’s bedroom. Taking the stairs three at a time—his long legs capable of doing four—he made it up in no time and was knocking lightly on his mother’s door in seconds. ‘Mom?’ he asked softly as he slowly pushed his way inside. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the soft light that was emanating from the lantern by her bed. The war had seen the increase in household costs rise exponentially and after losing two
incomes, they had been forced to cut back where they could. He found his mother sitting in bed, tucked in securely, propped up by pillows. She looked pale. Even in the golden light of the lantern her naturally tanned complexion looked pallid and her long black hair, usually so straight and shiny, was ragged and tangled. His grandmother was pouring her a glass of water from a pitcher sitting on the sideboard. Her long gray hair was pulled into twin braids, a style she had worn every day of his life. ‘Adam.’ His mother smiled softly and extended her hand, bidding him to come to her. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked as he placed his hand in hers, searching her eyes that matched his own in hue. ‘Are you sick?’ ‘Just a cold, I’ll be fine,’ she said dismissively as she gripped his hand. Her fingers brushed over his skinned knuckles and she looked at the wounds critically. ‘You’ve been fighting again.’ ‘I didn’t start it,’ Adam assured her. ‘But I bet you finished it,’ his grandmother interjected happily. ‘Who was it this time?’ Adam looked down. ‘I don’t know. Just some city boy.’ ‘How old?’ The little woman’s equally dark eyes were alight and her tone a little too appreciative. ‘Red Wing!’ scolded Adam’s mother. ‘You could at least pretend to disapprove.’ ‘Why? The boy is strong, we should be thankful.’ She turned her ancient eyes on her grandson once more. ‘Well? How old was he?’ Adam shrugged. ‘Sixteen? I’m not sure.’ Red Wing laughed merrily, the skin around her eyes forming deep creases. ‘Sixteen! I bet he was pretty angry when you beat him.’
‘I couldn’t say. I left before he came to.’ Adam’s mother groaned and Red Wing’s laughter reached a frenzied pitch. It took a few moments before she was able to calm herself. ‘You’re just like your father.’ Adam grinned broadly before he turned serious. ‘I’ll go fix something for dinner.’ He loosened his mothers hold on him and exited the room, making for the kitchen. He had done no more than gather the pots and set to boiling the water for the vegetables when his grandmother joined him. She stood beside him at the bench, peeling potatoes in silence for a short while but when she spoke, her tone conveyed her concern. ‘It’s more than a cold, boy.’ ‘I know,’ he said sadly and continued to peel. His mother’s grip on his hand had been weak and though she tried to hide it, he could tell she was exhausted. He wondered what kind of ailment could hit her so hard and fast. She had seemed a little off color when he’d last seen her, over dinner the night before but now, she seemed greatly diminished. ‘She’s been sick for a long time and made me promise not to tell you, but things have been getting worse.’ Red Wing stopped what she was doing and looked her grandson in the face. ‘She’s dying, Shadow Hawk.’ Tightening his jaw, the boy nodded. His eyes filled with moisture and he took a deep breath. He had not expected to hear those words, he wasn’t ready to lose her but the last thing he wanted was for her to suffer. Deep inside he knew that when she left him, he would be sad for a long time. Two weeks from that night, his mother drifted off to sleep and did not wake. The people on the reservation gathered to farewell her, singing the ancient songs that would guide her to the spirit world. Adam could not recall a day he had ever felt so alone. One by one, the people he loved were being taken from
him and he was powerless to stop it. Red Wing had told him that his mother had died of a broken heart, that the loss of his father had eaten away at her and after three years of constant mourning, her body had given up the fight. He wasn’t sure if he believed it was possible to die from loving someone but it was the only explanation told to him so he accepted it. Sleep rapidly became an important part of Adams life. He spent at least fifteen hours a day lost in dreams that were far more enjoyable than his reality and as he opened his eyes after a particularly long slumber two months after saying goodbye to his mother, he was greeted by Red Wing’s face looming over him. ‘You’re still alive then,’ the old woman’s tone was void of humor. ‘Go away.’ Adam rolled over. ‘No. Get up, we’re leaving.’ ‘What?’ ‘We’re leaving this place. It’s not good for you to be here.’ ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ Red Wind smiled humorlessly. ‘Yes; you are. I’ve packed what you’ll need. We’re leaving in an hour.’ ‘Well how long will we be gone?’ asked the irritated boy. ‘As long as we need to be, now get up.’ Her words were final and she huffed out of his room, her old feet pattering lightly on the stairs as she cautiously descended them. She was nothing if not stubborn and it seemed she had definitely made up her mind. Adam sighed, unsure if he fully understood what she had said and decided it might be best to join her downstairs. Wearing pajama bottoms he had long outgrown, their cuffs sitting over three inches above his ankles, he looked a comical sight to the old woman who waited for him in the kitchen. His unkempt hair was hanging in his face and he scratched his head sleepily. Red Wing smiled. He was far too important to just leave to rot in the place
his parents had died and it was her job as his last living relative, to make sure he didn’t follow in his mothers footsteps. Red Wing nodded to herself as she appraised him. He was old enough; it was time for him to learn about behaving like a man. ‘Where are we going?’ he asked, heading toward the fridge. ‘Anywhere, everywhere, it doesn’t matter. I think we’ll head south.’ Adam pulled on the fridge door to find it empty. ‘Where’s all the food?’ ‘I gave it away. Like I said, we’re leaving in an hour, can’t very well leave the food to rot.’ Red Wing tossed him an apple. ‘This will have to do until lunchtime.’ Adam caught the piece of fruit and looked around his home. The furniture had been covered with sheets and there were boxes everywhere. He frowned. Surely his grandmother couldn’t have done all this since last night! ‘What’s going to happen with all this stuff?’ he asked while taking a bite of his breakfast. ‘It’s been taken care of. Come on, finish your apple then get dressed. We have a lot of ground to cover and I’m not getting any younger.’ The boy sighed and went back to his room to find some clothes. On the floor in front of his wardrobe he found a pack with most of his garments inside. There was a T-shirt and a pair of utility pants left out but everything that still fitted him had been crammed into the pack. He wondered how he had slept through Red Wing ransacking his closet and shrugged it off. If there had been another air raid, he couldn’t be sure he would have heard it, one little old lady going through his belongings seemed like the sound of a butterfly’s wings in comparison. He quickly dressed and returned to the kitchen with little thought—most of his days recently had come and gone with little
thought. It seemed the only way to numb the pain was to block everything out and just shut down, he thought it likely that was the reason he could sleep so long. With a resigned sigh, he looked at his room, knowing that if Red Wing had anything to say about it, he wouldn’t make it back there any time soon.
Red Wing tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for her grandson to return. She had been anticipating this day since her husband died. Losing him and their son in the blink of an eye had been almost more than she could bear. Had she not been needed to take care of her son’s wife and her grandson, she would have left immediately. Every fiber of her being told her it was time to move on, except her heart. She couldn’t leave what little remained of her family behind, but with the recent loss, she had run out of reasons to stay. Besides, Adam would benefit greatly from wandering. The boy’s knowledge was superior to any man on the reservation but he lacked experience. He could hunt, but he had no idea how to do so when his belly had been empty for days, and he could smell a storm coming but he knew little of the land beyond his home or how to find shelter in a foreign place. These things she would teach him through experience. But on top of all that, there was something else. She no longer felt safe on the reservation. She knew something terrible would happen and the only place they would be safe was south. Yes, she knew it was time. When he descended the stairs, she was relieved to see he had shouldered his pack and she wouldn’t have to tell him to return to his room to collect it. He was brighter than his father had been at that age, but, she conceded, unlike his father who had been
shielded from adult life for as long as possible; this boy had been self sufficient for three years. ‘Good, you’re ready.’ She bent over and picked up her own pack. ‘Let’s go.’ She wasn’t sure if she expected him to put on one last, grand show of protest but he did not. If she didn’t know any better, she would have said that the light had returned to his eyes—all at the mere possibility of an adventure. Leaving the reservation had been easier than either of them had thought but as they neared the state line, Adam began to doubt that they were doing the right thing. Walking with Red Wing had been slow. She was older than she appeared and by their fifth day on the road, Adam had started to wonder how far they would get before she completely ran out of steam. They had been averaging less than ten miles a day, a distance Adam could have completed in a few hours if he were alone, and he was finding it difficult. His feet were sore and his legs ached as he minimized his stride to match his grandmother’s. He was expected to hunt when he wanted to eat, build shelter when he wanted to sleep, collect wood and make a fire. All things that he knew how to do, and could do well enough, but that had started to become annoying chores after just the first two days. Watching him hobble around the campsite it was clear he was not enjoying himself at all, a fact Red Wing had counted on. If she could alter the source of his misery from the deep emotional pain he’d been wallowing in to a dull, physical ache, then perhaps—when things got easier—he would not realize he had been duped into getting on with his life. It was a gamble but if there was one thing Red Wing knew about thirteen year old boys, it was that they had the attention spans of gnats and that their hearts would heal, if given the opportunity.
The sullen boy tossed firewood from the pile he had collected into the flames and poked at it with a stick. ‘What’s wrong, boy?’ Red Wing asked feigning impatience. ‘Nothing,’ he sulked. ‘Bah!’ Red Wing barked, ‘You’re impatient, just like your grandfather.’ ‘Is that why we’re doing this; to teach me patience? If it is, we can stop now, I get the idea.’ Adam continued to prod the flames. ‘It’s not about that, Shadow Hawk.’ ‘And why do you keep calling me that? My name is Adam.’ ‘Your name is Shadow Hawk. Some people just call you Adam.’ ‘Whatever,’ he said dismissively. Red wing studied her grandson. She wished she could ease his hurt but there were things—though few—that were beyond her abilities. She rubbed her gnarly old hands together to stimulate her circulation and yawned. It had been a long day and keeping a snail’s pace was also taking a toll on her legs. She was still fit, for her sixty-three years, and making this boy think she was frail was one thing she was looking forward to ending. ‘I think it’s time for sleep. We’ll get an early start tomorrow, so we can go a little further.’ Red Wing stood and stretched, making a show of her fatigue. ‘Awesome,’ was the only response she received as she left her grandson’s shining company. The morning dawned as every other did, too quickly for Adam’s liking. He groaned as he rolled over on the hard ground. Red Wing was up and fussing over the camp fire, heating water for tea and cooking only the Sprits knew what, making a lot of noise as she did so. He had slept under the stars, as he had since their third night on the road. Red Wing snored, and tossed and
turned when she slept and being crammed into a small tent with her, he had received too many bruises to count as she flailed about, obviously dreaming. He didn’t mind the open air, but it meant he got little peace when dawn arrived and Red Wing woke and started puttering about the place. It became painfully obvious to him that teenagers needed more rest than old people. He sat up, finally admitting to himself that no more sleep would be had and he moved closer to the fire. ‘You’re awake,’ Red Wing observed and Adam’s black face regarded her. ‘So are you.’ ‘Good, have some tea, there’s a little rabbit left over from last night if you want to heat it for breakfast.’ Adam made himself a cup of tea, wishing he had taken a moment before leaving his home to grab some coffee. He hadn’t quite developed the taste for it but he felt he could, if it provided him with a little extra energy in the morning. His mother had been a coffee drinker, many times saying that she was useless to anyone before her first cup in the morning and given Adam’s sluggish start, he felt that perhaps he suffered from a similar condition. Fixing his breakfast, Adam took a moment to survey their surrounds. He had spent so much time sulking over the past week he had barely seen the land they were traversing. The summer skies were blue and clear and the sun shone its warmth down upon them. They had entered the Bighorn Canyon region, which used to be a National Recreation Area, and Adam wondered what it must have been like in the past, when tourism was at its peak. Since the wars intensified, people rarely left their homes, and even more rarely; their towns. Even if it hadn’t been too expensive it definitely would have been too dangerous. It was
a shame, Adam conceded, their homeland really was quite beautiful. He didn’t know where Red Wing planned to ultimately take him but he hoped, for her sake and his own, that they would skirt some of the more mountainous terrain they were likely to come across. As much as he wanted to see and experience the wooded hills, he feared his grandmother—who was putting up a fairly good fight as it was—wouldn’t be up to the task. Their first real challenge was going to be crossing the Bighorn Lake to get to the National Forest. His lack of knowledge about what they would face was alarming, the places she had told him they would go were little more than reference points on a map to him. He just hoped his grandmother knew more about it all than he did. ‘We’re going to cross the lake today.’ Red wing pulled out an old map and showed Adam where they were. ‘No matter which way we go, we’ll have to cross but if we cross here, we have a clear path to the state border.’ Adam studied the map. ‘How wide is that?’ he said jabbing a narrow point in the river like tail that came off the main body of the lake. Red Wing shrugged. ‘A hundred yards, maybe two.’ Adam narrowed his eyes as he regarded her. ‘Can you swim that far?’ Red Wing laughed. ‘No, that’s why I have you here. You’re going to build us a canoe.’ ‘What?’ Adam laughed also. He’d never built a canoe before. ‘There are small trees you can use for the frame, and we can use the shelter’s hides to form the casing. I’ll show you how it’s done. We won’t take the time to build a big one, seeing as we won’t be able to take it with us, but I can sit in a little one while you swim it across.’ Red Wing smiled and took her grandson by
the arm, leading him back to their shelter so he could deconstruct it. ‘A bull boat?’ Adam asked and Red Wing tilted her head curiously. ‘Yes, a bull boat; slightly modified but essentially, yes. What do you know of them?’ ‘Not much,’ Adam conceded as they packed up their camp. ‘Only that they’re not that easy to make in a short space of time.’ ‘You’ll do fine,’ Red Wing assured him and no more was said about it until they arrived at the lake and she immediately started giving him instructions. Reaching the water, Adam looked towards the opposite shoreline and realized, with thanks, it wasn’t that far at all. He was a strong swimmer; there had been a pond of reasonable size near their house and he had spent many summer days there, paddling away the hot midday hours. He knew it wouldn’t take long for him to make the crossing. Surveying the area he found there were many small trees that would provide him with the framework of the bull boat and with little thought, he fetched the small axe from his pack and started collecting his materials. He quickly worked up a sweat and after he had gathered and stripped the saplings he would use for the frame, he peeled his shirt off and set about weaving the flexible wood into a latticework. Once they were woven, he strapped them to a hooped rim that he had quickly fashioned. It wasn’t perfectly rounded but he doubted that would matter. The final step of attaching the hides—tightly stretched across the frame—to the hooped rim was completed shortly after and in view of the final product, Adam studied his creation dubiously. ‘Is this really going to work?’
‘I can’t see why it wouldn’t.’ Red Wing looked over the small construct and nodded her approval. ‘I think it will do nicely.’ Adam took a deep breath and picked it up. It was light, though a little awkward as he moved it to the water’s edge and with little contemplation, he tossed it in. He was a touch surprised to see it floating and wondered if it would stay that way once Red Wing was inside. Before he would allow her to climb in, Adam pushed it out a little further and examined it, making sure it wasn’t taking on water. The hides seemed to be doing their job and he could see no reason why they shouldn’t try it. Pulling it back to the shore, he tossed their packs in and took Red Wing by the arm, helping the little lady step into the round bottomed boat. When she was settled on the packs, he pushed his very first bull boat out on to the water and tentatively guided it to the other side. Its round bottom made it a little difficult to manage but he quickly got the hang of just how hard he could push before it would begin to rock and they made it to the other side without incident. ‘Well done, boy,’ Red Wing said with a glint in her eye. ‘Not only did you make a bull boat, you got me safely to the other side, and got rid of that smell that’s been following you around for the last three days.’ Adam looked at her and couldn’t help but laugh. He felt lighter than he had in weeks. Shaking the water from his hair, he set about dismantling the boat in the bright sun. His stomach rumbled, his light breakfast proving insufficient under the vigorous activities of the morning. He sighed in resignation as he gauged it was still an hour or so before lunch. As he worked, Red Wing talked. ‘Now that’s out of the way, we should have a pretty easy walk until we hit Colorado.’
Losing focus on her words, Adam continued his task, trying desperately not to think about his hunger. Before he knew it, he had dismantled the boat and folded the still damp hides into a length he could hang comfortably from his pack to air as they walked and then they were underway. As they moved on, Adam noticed a change. He was uncertain if it was his hunger that was making him move slower or if Red Wing had managed to pick up the pace. He studied her back as she strode in front of him, no longer looking quite so frail and quickly dismissed the possibility that she had fooled him into thinking she was weaker than she actually was. He was tired, and obviously delirious from hunger, and she was still as old as ever.