Fence posts flying
Emma's hands ached. Removing the last pin from the edge of the sheet from the line she dropped the warm cloth into the basket and rubbed her hands in her apron, struggling to rub out the pains in her knuckles. Looking up into the wide western sky she let out a sigh. "Where are you Sam Cain?" The demanding ache worked out momentarily, Emma scooped up her basket, tucking an errant corner back in where it was clean in warm.
As she moved toward the house the air around her seemed to have stopped in place, forcing her to walk through the mass almost as if she was wading through it. Lifting her face to the sky she saw the distant dark of night and realized that 'night' was moving. The small vegetable garden that she'd managed to cultivate in the hard soil had been suffering from the oppressive heat and she had been hoping for rain, but not a storm… not now.
Setting the basket on the table just inside the kitchen door she stepped back outside to watch the trail to town.
Sam looked up at the sky and realized the signs for what they were, a storm.He let one breath escape his lips in relief. Just that morning he'd put their children on a stage to see Teaspoon and the others in Rock Creek. Their son, Jamie, and daughter, Abigail, were old enough to travel on their own and had seen this as the best of adventures. The stage would reach its next stop well before the storm would arrive here in Chandler's Creek.
Still, as he urged his horse toward home he realized that he may not reach home in time.
Emma busied herself with the shutters, testing each as she went to make sure they were locked tight and snugly fitted before moving on to the next. With every window in the two story house she had another opportunity to look for Sam on the trail. Every window gave her another beautiful landscape, but nothing of her husband.
He'd left early that morning, their two children safely tucked in beside in on the buckboard seat. Abigail had been the late riser, so excited about their journey the night before that she'd scarcely slept. They'd all paid for it that morning. Emma's task had been to get her willful young woman into her traveling clothes and while their youngest had smiled at the touch of a warm cloth on her face she'd protested when Emma had tried to get her dressed. Still, for a moment in all the madness, Emma had held tightly to her daughter and brushed a kiss over her freckled cheeks and marveled at the burnish gold of her hair, she was all over her father's child and Emma loved to hold her tight when she could.
Jamie had been full of excitement, helping his father load their bags into the back of the wagon and even helped his sister get settled in the middle of the seat, tucking her blanket up near her chin. Emma had been hard pressed not to fuss over her oldest, his face shining with youthful enthusiasm and a growing pride that she'd seen in her boys at the Sweetwater Station when they'd first started their job. She'd suffered through the peck of a kiss that he'd allowed her and waved smiling as they'd started toward town.
Now, all that remained was having Sam safely back at her side.
There was little he could do but ride like the devil was after him. The clouds had descended like a thick grey woolen blanket over the land and even his horse knew how much danger they were in. He barely had to touch his legs against her flank and she was off, her hooves kicking up dust behind them.
Sam pulled his hat brim down, forcing it hat to slide snug and tight around his head. Next, his kerchief. He needed both hands to ride and made quick work of pulling the yellow bandana up and over his nose. He'd survive the flying pebbles and dirt much better this way… keeping his nose and mouth free of the irritating particles and praying that the brim of his hat would do the same for his eyes.
Emma stood in the doorway of the barn and nodded to herself. It was an empty place with Sam gone, the buckboard hopefully at the livery in town. She couldn't imagine him trying to drive it back with the storm coming.
The power building in the air seemed to crawl over her skin and Emma rubbed the back of her neck absentmindedly. There were so many things to do to prepare for a storm like this. There was usually no warning ahead of time, just the clash of thunder… the flash of lightning as the rain poured down from the clouds. At times like those all you could do was run around and tie things down as well as could be done and hope for the best as the worst would hit the walls as though some elemental force had come to call.
Now, there was just too much time to think about what could happen.
As the barn yawned open before her she shook her head and chided herself. "Can't be satisfied, can you, Mrs. Cain?" She laughed a bit at the sound of her own voice. "Going a bit 'crazy' are we, Mrs. Cain?" More laughter. "What would Sam think-"
But that was the question, wasn't it? What would Sam tell her if he was there. "Don't stand around waiting for trouble, Emma… it'll come or it won't… just worry about what you can do." "I'll be ready, Sam Cain," she breathed as she reached for the door. This wasn't the first time a storm like this had come along, but the last time… well, this was the first time that she was alone… and wondering. "Just get home to me."
The howling winds flying at him was no longer a concern. It was outright danger. His mount was quickly becoming panicked. Sam couldn't blame a mare when his own heart was thundering in his chest.
"What-" he tried to throw his hand up to block something flying at him, but the sting and sizzle of pain along his cheek told him he'd missed. A quick press of his fingers along his cheekbone and his fingers came away with blood and dirt. "Damn it." He pulled his hat down hard as the winds lifted up from the ground as if it was trying to launched him mare and all into the sky. A momentary fumble told him that he'd come too close to the river wash near their property. He'd been distracted and hadn't seen the signs, but there was no blaming any- Sam shook free of the fearfilled haze and slowed his mare enough to look around for landmarks.
The mare bucked beneath him, knowing with instinct what her rider did. The storm was coming and they were going to be right in its path.
A pile of boulders that looked like marbles… a sharp cut of rock along a smooth face. Sam looked to the right where a stand of cottonwoods were under attack by the winds. "I'm almost right on top of it."
Without another thought he slid down to the ground and with a few swift movements pulled the saddle from the mare's back. He looked at her for a moment, the whites of her eyes wide rings around the dark centers, ears plastered back against her head. "I'm gonna trust that you know better than I do how to get safely home…. I hope you do anyway…" With a nod he let go of the reins and watched the mare stretch her neck and run.
A moment later he was sliding down the uneven wall of the wash, his saddle on his back his face turned down to avoid the wind. "Now where was that cave…"
The shutters over the windows shuddered as the wind flung itself against her home. Emma, standing in the cellar, her arms anchoring their quilt around her body squeezed her eyes shut and prayed. It was of little concern to her that the wind howling outside was likely destroying nearly everything… even nailed down if the winds became a tornado… she'd be lucky to keep something above her head.
"Sam…" the soft plaintive sound of his name escaped her lips as the walls seemed to shudder, "where are you?"
The crystalline sound of glass splintering had her stomach trying to escape from the soles of her feet and Emma pulled the quilt over her head. "Please Lord… please keep him safe."
Sam was lucky enough to reach the cave-like hollow before the dust and rocks thrown up by the building winds could blind him. Collapsing against the back of the hollow he felt a stone dig into the soft flesh just below his shoulder blade. "Damn, right through my shirt," he lamented, "Emma's gonna have a fit when she sees-"
The howl of the wind went silent as Sam's jaw clenched tight. Emma…
She was all alone at the house. Alone… and here he was worrying about how she'd feel when she saw his shirt. Wrapping his arms around himself he tucked his chin to his chest and prayed. Prayed that she was alive… and that he'd get home to her soon. The cave had been an inspiration, borne of the panic that he'd started for home too late.
Their son, Jamie had been the one to find the cave at first. Falling asleep in its natural shade Sam and Emma had gone frantic thinking that he'd disappeared, come to harm. They'd searched for hours and had nearly decided to run to town to gather help to search when young Jamie, no more than ten at the time had arrived back at the house, well-rested and smiling.
Now, Sam wondered, if it would be enough to shield him from the storm. A groan and a crash, sending a large piece of wood smashing to the ground a few feet from his hiding place had him worried. It looked just like a part of the fence he'd put in a few month earlier. Sam closed his eyes and prayed.
Just as suddenly as the wind had over-taken the house, it just disappeared. The roar in Emma's ears lasted longer and it wasn't until she shook her head to clear it that she realized that outside the cellar doors, the world was blessedly silent. Dropping the blanket from around her shoulders she approached the door carefully, listening for any sounds, in case… just in case the storm wasn't quite done with them.
It took every ounce of strength to move the bolt that locked the door closed from the inside. With her shoulder against the warped wood she leaned into the door and finally popped it open. Emma stumbled into the slanted light of late afternoon and blinked at her surroundings. It was heartbreaking, the damage to the house and barn, but they'd do it together. Sam would-
The sound of hoof beats set off the same pounding rhythm in Emma's chest. Sam's mare cleared the corner of the house, seeming to head straight for the barn and coming to an ambling stop near the center of the yard. "Oh God…" Emma's hands clutched at her middle, hot tears falling to her cheeks when she saw the mare… and no rider, "Sam!"
She found the strength to move closer to the animal, common sense warring with the deep gnawing loss that was threatening to drive her to her knees. Searching hands found the mare all but unharmed even though she shied away from her at every turn. The animal was fearful but… healthy. No saddle… Sam hadn't been unhorsed, instead-
Her heart shuddered to a stop inside her chest and again, her knees threatened to buckle.
"Emma, honey? Are you here?" The voice was coming from the far side of the house.
"Sam!" Picking up her skirts she ran as fast as she could through the debris strewn through the yard. "Sam Cain, I ought to-"
He all but swept her off her feet, his arms closing around her like a vice. "I was so worried about you." They looked at each other, both unsure as to who had actually spoken the words on both of their minds. Emma reached up a hand and traced the jagged cut on his cheek. Wincing, Sam looked down at the blood on her finger tip. "I didn't know I was bleeding."
Her expression crumbled as sobs shook her body. "I just thank God you made it home to me… "
Sam kissed away her tears and ignored the damage around them, toppled fence posts strewn around the yard, broken windows… it was all worthless to him without her. Without the mother of his children. Without the woman that stood at his side, melted in his arms, touched his heart. They'd fix whatever had been broken… together.