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Western Short Story - The Quest, Chapter Three

Updated on August 23, 2011

Chapter Three


The stabled horses rolled their eyes at him in disbelief as he pulled the first saddle off the rack.

“Sorry boys, but I don’t like this any better than you do.”

It was shortly after noon by the time he rode away from the warmth and safety of the cabin. When last checked, Jacob Cross was sleeping fitfully, mumbling a little in his delirium, but he seemed a bit cooler. There was nothing more Chancy could do for him. It was now up to bed rest and Providence.

Uncle Charlie had described the location of the Cross cabin, and there was a good trail that would pass within a quarter of mile of it. The only difficult section was that of Hannigan’s slope, but he’d deal with that when the time came.

Half an hour later, he picked up the trail, and was gratified to discover that it was mostly free of drifts. The wind was picking up, but it was blowing on his back. The snowfall was now steady, but the visibility was still a half a mile or so, and the temperature had risen to nearly twenty degrees. He was making good time, despite the occasional drift. Then he abruptly rode out of the timber, and halted, staring up at Hannigan’s slope.

Eons before, a giant, flat slab of granite had been thrust up by a mighty upheaval of the Earth’s crust. It rose nearly three thousand feet above him, sloping down at a steep angle toward him and the trail he was following. Its barren and nearly treeless face was strewn with countless angular boulders clinging to its smooth surface, and poised in an ageless threat to the unwary traveler. But now, the real threat was the huge drift at the ragged summit. It was several hundred feet thick, and curled far down upon itself. It was unsupported by anything other than its own huge mass, and the trail snaked directly below it for nearly a quarter of a mile.

Chancy studied his route for a few moments. There was one drift about a third of the way across that he would have to clear with a shovel. He could detour and ride down into the canyon, but it would add at least twelve miles, and he would also have to cross the treacherous ice of the stream in two places.

He nudged his horse. The big gray snorted and shook his head, hesitating for a moment. Then he stepped out, and Chancy held his breath. They took the trail at a slow walk, and the wind picked up, creating a low moan from the stand of pines. Chancy felt like moaning with them.

When they reached the drift, he dismounted gingerly and began to carefully shovel a narrow path. Glancing up at the massive drift far above, he shuddered and quickened his pace. Even the horses seemed to sense the danger, and stood perfectly still, abandoning their usual impatient stamping and snorting.

At last, he broke through, and returned to the horses. The shoveled path was too narrow for a mounted man, so he led the horses carefully through the drift on foot. Gingerly mounting on the far side, he eased them along the trail. Far above, he heard something crack loudly, and then silence. He realized he was holding his breath. His shoulders unconsciously hunched themselves against the coming avalanche. He rode on.

Finally, they reached the tree line on the far side, and in another few minutes, they were out of danger. The wind was increasing again and snow was falling faster. Visibility fell to less than fifty yards, so reluctantly, he began to look for a place to hole up. They made another half mile before he found what he was looking for.

A rock shelf jutted out some fifteen feet from the face of a bluff, and beneath it, he could see blades of dried grass under the thin covering of snow. It was excellent shelter for the horses, so he stripped the saddles and gear, running a line between a tree and a boulder, to tie them off. They contentedly began pawing off the snow and cropping grass.

Nearby was a small stand of saplings, spanning about seven feet. Chancy retrieved his hatchet and cleared them of their limbs. He then bent them over and began tying the tops together with piggin’ strings. Soon, he had a roughly rectangular framework, arched over into a crude roof structure. He began cutting low hanging pine boughs, weaving them in and out around his saplings, forming walls, and then a roof. He left a smoke hole in the center of the top and began gathering wood for a fire. He placed addition boughs on the floor for a bed, and placed his blankets on top. By the time he began to build his fire, visibility was down to feet, and the snow had all but sealed the gaps in his shelter.

He checked on the horses one more time, and then pulled a book from his saddle bags. He was reading by firelight in his cozy shelter, when he heard a distant, loud crack, followed by a low rumble. It quickly grew into a deafening and mighty roar, with the sounds of massive boulders crashing together, and tree trunks breaking. Then abruptly, all was silent again, except for the wind and blowing snow.

He shuddered violently, but not from the cold. He wouldn't have to worry about a Hannigan's Slope avalanche on his return. The giant drift that had been precariously hanging on the peak was now piled high in the valley, far below. However, it also meant that the trail he had just crossed may now be under tons of impassable snow.


Chapter Four


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    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 5 years ago

      Will,

      I can't imagine what this could be..except some sort of earthquake..a big detour perhaps in the rescue of Bonny..Looking forward to the next chapter..Wonderful story and writing as always.

      Sunnie

    • profile image

      marellen 5 years ago

      Sounds like an earthquake...poor Chancy...what a hero.....

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      The sound was that of a massive avalanche on Hannigan's slope. I clarified that.

      Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 5 years ago

      Avanlanche...of course!!!!

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 5 years ago

      Hey Will Mary is from Cali I think and me from Texas...Avalanches did not come to mind...hahaha

    • profile image

      marellen 5 years ago

      Your right Sunnie......I'm a Cali girl....we get more earthquakes then anything. :)

    • profile image

      Becky 5 years ago

      He could have just fired his gun before he got to it. That would have set the avalanche off. Really suspenseful.

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 5 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Oh those girls, thinking that was an earthquake, and come on, Will, how does a horse roll it's eyes? Although, I definitely agree with them about going out again. Excellent story, Will!

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great writing Will, I'm totally enjoying it and waiting for chapter four

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Yep, avalanche, and yes Ron, a horse will most definitely roll its big eyes around at you if it thinks you're doing something absurd!

    • profile image

      Becky 5 years ago

      I have seen them roll their eyes. Goats, donkeys and dogs will too.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

      Captivating story! Due to a lack of time I normally don’t follow novels in here, but you’ve hooked me securely with the first chapter, Will. I just can’t imagine living in that cold and sleeping on the snow. Brrrr! All stories like this remind me of Dr. Chivago, and I’m still crying because he had died in that blizzard. Your descriptions are so vivid I can smell and feel the environment. I’m in awe!

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi to all and thank you! I'm up to my a** in alligators at the moment so let me just thank you all!

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 5 years ago

      I did see some eye rolling today..but thats okay I still love ya'll...

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, the only avalanche I have had to put up with is the one from the roof in the winter, when it shot snow straight down on my head! lol really enjoying this story, cheers nell

    • profile image

      Sueswan 5 years ago

      Voted up and awesome. On to Chapter 4.

    • profile image

      Ghost32 5 years ago

      Avalanches kill people every year. These days, the usual victims are guys on snowmobiles, mostly (I suspect) because the engines set up more "encouraging" vibrations to trigger the things.

      Where Pam and I lived in Anaconda, MT, for 4 years (2002-2006), our next door neighbor widow lady to the east had lost her husband just that way. She had two adult sons, who had been with their Dad that day. The avalanche got him and a friend but missed them.

      They still rode snowmobiles.

      Up Votes & off to #4....

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

      Great write, not lost on me Hannagans is 6500ft in the meadows where I hunt. Don't recall that rock face but I ain't looking up. If you ask John [horse] a stupid question he cuts them eyes and that says go ahead walk behind me, haha dusty

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

      I figured on avalanche. Amazing story!

    • GNelson profile image

      GNelson 5 years ago from Florida

      Good read, Keep it up.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      lol...this section had me hooked with the image of "The stabled horses rolled their eyes at him in disbelief." I need to move on... Up and everything...

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Again, thanks for all the responses!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 5 years ago from Jamaica

      Oh oh, I read chapter 4 before this, but no worries, I bridged the gap!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 5 years ago

      Oh, I read the next chapter before this. No matter I love it all the more.. It's like a flashback. Awesome!

    • kirutaye profile image

      kirutaye 5 years ago from London, UK

      Sounds like a close call. Off to read the next chapter.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Cardisa, Pop, and kirutaye!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      Your description of the snow and the ice and the cliff and the drifts was so vivid and chilling, Will, I had to turn up the thermostat on my air conditioning. It's 90 degrees outside and I was cold.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, drbj!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Although I never experienced anything of this nature I have developed a strong respect for what snow can do.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Will ... what on earth are you wasting your time putting these on HP for? You must get the whole lot of them published somewhere ... even if it is Kindle.

      You are too good a fiction writer to skulk about on HP like the rest of us lesser mortals!

      Much love ... x

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi dahoglund,

      Snow has accounted for countless deaths.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Angie Jardine!

      We're working on it! Stay tuned.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Will,

      This story truly shows off your visual mastery of all the senses. It is captivating.. quickly onto Part 4.

      Voted UP and ABI, mar.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Chancy was lucky they got through safely before the avalanche. He's a brave man and I have seen horses roll their eyes.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, Suzie!

      They sure do, especially if they think you're out of your mind! ^_^

    • Maggie-May profile image

      Nadine M AuCoin 5 years ago from the Island of Cape Breton to the Eastern Shores near Halifax, NS

      This is awesome!!! I have always feared avalanches, should be super interesting reading ahead as your main character no doubt will cleverly get through-your descriptions are very real--are these experiences something you've been through or merely imagine?? Bravo!!!

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Maggie-May!

      It's all fiction, but based on real life.

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