Phantom Creek
Chapter 1: Lost Creek

Copyright© 2019 by Wendell Jackson

It had been a warm day, the afternoon winds were just beginning to stir, when Old Man Walker heard a vehicle pull into his service Station. It had been slow as far as business was concerned. He had expected traffic to really pick up, now that the war was over and had been for several months. Gas was no longer rationed and supplies were increasing. Most of the local men had returned from the service, and were settling back into civilian life.

A few were in hospitals, recovering from wounds. And some were never coming home. The high desert community had suffered the loss of a number of young men to the war.

The only business’s in the road side stop, was the gas station that also held a small café tavern business. The other business was the small general store across the highway. There was a total of five houses, and one barn, which served as a church during the summer months. The small cluster of houses, became known as Walkerville, though the name was originally named Red Shirt, after an Indian that wore the top of a pair of red wool long handles. Why it came to be called Walkerville, no one knew. It just happened.

Most of Walkers customers came from the surrounding ranches. Ranches that extended down the length of the many wide canyons across the desert floor. Gas rationing because of the war, had put a stop to most cross country traveling. Only long haul truckers moved along the highway now, and very few of them, since most freight was shipped by rail, and there wasn’t a rail road this side of the small mountain range that separated the northern desert from the wind swept and sand blown town he lived in. Most of his business now was delivering fuel to the out laying cattle ranches. So it wasn’t often that his café Tavern had a customer, unless it was some trucker that needed a rest stop.

Walker was curious to see a Grey Hound bus stopped several yards from the gas pumps. The bus line didn’t usually stop, unless there was a passenger getting off or the flag was out, indicating there was a passenger waiting. He gave a quick glance out at the business sign, to see if he had left the flag out. He was known to forget to take it down, and have the drivers stop for nothing. Some joked that he was just lonely and wanted to chat. They were always good natured about it, as it did give them a few minutes to stretch their legs. Today though, there was some one getting off.

Walker could see a man in uniform moving up the isle towards the door. He’d seen enough uniforms these last four years and could spot a service man a mile away. The driver swung open the door and got down, pulling a military sea bag behind him. Setting it beside the Service stations sign, the driver turned and waited for the Marine that was stepping down out of the bus. Some words were exchanged, and the driver shook the Marines hand, before getting back in the bus and prepared to continue his route.

Standing there in a uniform that almost fit him, was Alan Wakefield. The sight brought a grin to John Walkers face. He quickly crossed the open ground between them and grabbed the young mans hand.

“Glad you made it back, Son. I heard you caught one.” he said referring to Alan being wounded, while shaking his hand and throwing an arm around him. “Come on, this calls for a drink.” John gestured towards the Service Station and the combination store and tavern at the back.

“Could I take you up on that later. I don’t want to show up at the house with alcohol on my breath. Aunt Eleanor might take my head off for it. There’s some things, she’s not ready to except in a Wakefield.” Alan declined with a faint smile.

John gave him a nod, and said he understood. Aunt Eleanor was strong in her religious views. Drink, even beer was something to be avoided. He could sense that Alan wasn’t too steady on his feet, and asked him if he was okay.

“Yeah, I’m fine. They wanted to keep me for a couple more weeks, but I’m tired of hospitals and regulations. Had to promise that I would rest and recuperate.”

“We heard that Iwo Jima was pretty rough.”

“Guess it was.” Alan nodded. “I wasn’t on Iwo. Okinawa was the last one for me.”

“Yeah, that’s right. It was Clair Welder, on Iwo Jima.” John said, remembering it all now. “Went to the movies, suppose to see him and his out fit. He wasn’t in the newsreel, guess he was killed some time before. His folks didn’t get the word until a week later.”

“Yeah, there was a lot of that.” Alan grimaced, “Any chance on using your phone. I need to call the ranch and have some one come get me.”

“Hell, that will take half a day for them to come and get you back home.” John said reaching down and picking up Alan’s bag. “You take my Pickup. Its got good tires and a full tank of gas. Besides the phone lines have been down for two days. Had some strong winds and the company’s been working on getting them back up.”

“Oh I couldn’t put you out.” Alan referred to the loan of the truck.

“Its no put out. I’m not going any where, and you can bring it back next week or so. Besides, it’ll make me feel good, thinking I’ve done something for you.” John moved towards the truck and put the Sea Bag in the back. “You come on in, and at least have a soda before you go.”

“I can sure do that.” Alan gave another half smile. It was clear that he wasn’t a hundred percent recovered.

“Well, you come in and get out of the hot sun. Don’t worry about bringing the truck back if your not up to doing much.” John was concerned about Alan’s physical condition. He could see how pale he was, and not the vigorous youth that went to war several years ago. “Your brother can bring it back. He works here a few days a week. Gives me a break.”

The afternoon sun was hard on the eyes, as Thomas Wakefield tried to make out who was coming up the road. He could see the dust rising before the vehicle came into sight. As yet it was too far to tell who it was.

“Hurry up with that spanner.” His uncle called out, seeing he was standing and looking down the canyon. “This water is cold.” He was holding a bolt in place on the flood gate. They had been working on it most of the day, and had dropped the wrench they needed in the water. Tom had to get another one, as the water was deep and cold. He promised he would retrieve it later when the water was warmer. Later it would be warmer after the sun had time to warm it up.

“Some one’s coming.” Tom pointed out, as he quickened his pace with the wrench. “Are we expecting anyone?” It was rarely that they had visitors, so it peeked his interest to know who was coming.

“Just pay attention to what were doing here. Don’t want to drop this one too.” Paul growled. He was focused on the job at hand and didn’t want to spend all day with it. It took only a minute to tighten the bolt and stabilize the gate. Paul gave Tom a nod, and the young man, grabbed the wheel and began spinning it, lowering the gate, slowing the outflow from the pond.

“Should have let it all run out. Could have got the spanner out.” Tom was thinking how cold the water was, knowing he would be the one having to retrieve the wrench.

“Would take too long to fill it back up. The cattle coming in this evening would be wallowing in mud, just to get a drink. We don’t want to be pulling stuck cows out of mud, I’ve got better things to do this evening.”

“Hey, that looks like Walkers pickup.” It was closer now, and Tom recognized the old ford. “You suppose he’s coming to get Harold to work. He probably was suppose to run the station today.”

“Harold needs to do the work around here.” Paul Simmons scoffed. “He got a damn deferment because of the ranch, he could at least do something to earn it.” Paul was not happy with his nephew. Harold was tallest of the three sons, of his deceased Sister, and the laziest. It irked him that Alan had joined the Marines and went off to war, while Harold, the next oldest, stayed back and rarely lifted a hand to do anything on the ranch. Cash money was scarce and so Harold worked for Walker, earning a few dollars pumping gas at the service station. It put some coins in his pocket, which a man Harold’s age should have.

Most of the work was done by Paul and Tom, the youngest of the brothers. Austin, put in a days work every day, setting an example for his son’s. The lesson fell short on Harold, as he was only interested in keeping himself in pocket money. Since the only paying job within half a days ride by horse was the Service Station, owned by Old man Walker, Harold couldn’t stray too far. It wasn’t unusual for Walker to drive out and pick up Harold to help out at the station.

The pickup neared them and came to a stop on the road beside Paul and Tom. Alan got out of the cab and called out to them before they could see clearly through the dust that billowed up around the vehicle. “Hey, what does a fellow have to do, to get a welcome back?” Allan called out.

Tom was already moving towards his brother. Grabbing him roughly in a hug, Alan winced from the contact. “Careful, I’m not in the best shape.” he had to say something to get Tom to release him from the hug. His early release from the hospital, was a bit too early. He was still healing from wounds that almost cost him his life.

“Sorry,” Tom released him and stepped back. “ But you sure look good. God its great, we’ve missed you.” Looking his older brother over he exclaimed “You look alright to me.” He was grinning, but now he could see Alan was thin and a bit pale.

“Welcome home. We didn’t know you were coming.” Paul extended his hand, clasping his nephew hand in a firm grip. “You should have let us know.”

“Didn’t know my self. Had to do a lot of talking and promising, to get released.”

“Aunt Eleanor said you were wounded.” Tom was looking him over, trying to see any signs of scarring. “Out side of being skinny, and a little anemic, you look okay.”

“I’m doing okay. Just needed to get home.” He said, while looking towards the house.

“You back for good?” Paul wondered, not sure just when the Marines would release the men now that the war was really over.

“Yeah, I have to check in with the veterans hospital, for some follow ups. But Yeah, I’m home for good.” The grin was spreading across his face as he talked. They all shook hands again, and headed towards the house.

“Eleanor” Paul called out to his wife. “We got company.” There was a shuffling of noise from the kitchen and directly Eleanor came to the Side door, wiping her hands dry on a dish cloth. With one hand shielding her eyes from the sun, she peered at the men walking towards the house. Her eyes settled on Allan and she fairly flew down the steps to him.

Throwing her arms around Alan, she hugged him close and tight. A wince of pain, as Alan’s injured side was squeezed snugly, caused Eleanor to drop her arms and step back. “Your hurt.” she exclaimed and looked him up and down, trying to perceive the injury.

“Just a little tender in spots.” Alan conceded. “I’m okay, or will be in a week or so.” He assured her.

“Lets get out of this sun, it can’t be doing you any good.” Seeing his pallor she was concerned he might burn. “We have apple pie, and milk.” She turned him towards the house, and pointed towards the cooler at the creek where it flowed into the pond. That was Tom’s signal to retrieve the milk jug from the cooler. The ice box had been out of ice for several days, now and they were forced to use the cooler as a back up.

“We don’t have coffee, but now that the war is over, maybe things will get better.” Paul said as he walked with Alan and Eleanor to the house.

“We’ve been drinking pine needle tea.” Tom called back at them as he ran to retrieve the milk from the cooler.

In the house, Aunt Eleanor bade Alan sit down at the kitchen table, at his usual place, where he’d always sat. “I thought about this table and this chair a lot the last few years.” Alan softly spread his hands out over the table cloth, enjoying its smoothness. When Eleanor sat a slice of apple pie in front of him, he realized that it had been a long time since he ate off a plate instead of a metal tray. He was home.

The side door opened and Harold walked in. He’d been cleaning and sweeping out the barn when he notice Walkers pickup parked beside the house. Before his eyes could adjust from the bright sun light he asked “Mr Walker here?” He didn’t think they needed another fuel delivery, for the kerosine stove, so it was not normal for him to be here.

“No, its me.” Alan spoke up. “ And I’m eating the last of the apple pie.”

“Hey, Alan.” Harold exclaimed with a grin. “Good to have you back. I’m tired of doing all your work around here.”

Paul grimaced at Harold’s claim of doing all the work. He was tired of trying to get any amount of work out of him. All the things needing done, Harold skipped over and took on the simplest of tasks, leaving the hard ones for him and his younger brother Tom. When Austin the boys father jumped him about the lack of work he was getting out of him, Harold would list those simple tasks as if they were the hardest jobs any one ever had taken on. It irked the father that out of his three sons, Harold was the tallest and most physically fit of anyone on the ranch. For him to claim the easy tasks and leave the hard work and time consuming jobs to others was dismaying. He missed Alan who did what was needed and looked ahead for what should be done the next day, week and months ahead.

The war years had been tough, most of the young men capable of ranch work, had been drafted or joined up for the duration. Paul and his brother in-law Austin, were left to work the ranch with only Austin’s younger son’s to help. Tom had worked hard, held up his end of the load, but Harold just couldn’t focus on the jobs at hand. At first they thought he was wanting to join the war effort, like so many others had, but he never did. Because the ranch was raising beef, like most of the other outfits, Harold was given a deferment. He wouldn’t be drafted. But because of the deferment, he had to stay at the ranch. Tom pondered the idea of turning his brother in, but decided it wasn’t worth it. Eleanor didn’t want Harold to go off fighting the war. So many young men, weren’t coming home, and she didn’t want any more kin folk taken away with it.

Eleanor soon had them all seated around the table, eating apple pie, and drinking pine needle tea. Allan was the only one having milk with his pie. Tom excited that his brother was back from the war, kept asking questions about what all he’d done. Since the marine seemed reluctant to speak on the fighting, Eleanor asked Tom if he hadn’t read any of the letters Alan sent home, hoping that might answer some of his questions.

“There wasn’t that many. I suppose he didn’t have the time to do much writing.” Tom said in his own defense. “Mr Kinkade took some of us to the movie house in Burns a couple times. Watched the news reels, thought we might see you or some of the others. Didn’t though.”

“Weren’t many cameras where I was. Mostly just combat photographers.” Alan told him. “I don’t think any of those made the news reels.”

“Saw the one on Tarawa.” Paul spoke up, as he studied the pie he was eating. “I hope all the fighting wasn’t like that.”

Alan didn’t speak for a few moments and the table grew quiet as Tom and Harold both look back and forth between Paul and Alan. Each wondering if indeed the horror of what they’d seen on the movie screen was the same for all the fighting. “I think in some places it was worse. I didn’t make Iwo Jima, from all the reports it was a slaughter.”

“That’s enough talk about the war for now. Its over and Alan is back home. Were fortunate that he’s back with us. So many boys aren’t coming back.” Eleanor broke in. “Lets give thanks to the lord for Alan’s return.” She bowed her head, and every one followed her lead, as she began to pray.

Austin arrived home as Eleanor was saying the prayer and finishing up with a recitation of the lords prayer. A large grin spread across his face when he saw his son sitting in his place at the table. A spot that had remained vacant during his absence. Austin crossed the room in quick strides and hugged his son, as he was standing up to greet his father.

“Careful,” Eleanor warned. “He’s still tender from his wounds.”

“Yeah, I forgot about that.” Austin still grinning stepped back and ran his eyes over the man standing before him. “You look good to me. Glad you home. You’ve been missed.”

“I’m glad too, and I’ve missed this place more than I can ever say.”

“I left old Lucy at the hitching post when I saw John Walkers pickup. Wondered what the hell he was doing here. Doesn’t usually come for Harold until near the end of the week.

“He insisted I take it, said the phone lines are down. It was the only way to get home, unless I waited until Wednesday when you might come to pick up supplies.”

“Well. Bless his heart. He is a good man. I don’t suppose he will be needing it until tomorrow some time.” Eleanor commented.

“He said my brother could bring it back, I guess you do some part time work at the garage.” Alan directed his question at Tom. Tom just shook his head and pointed across the table at Harold.

Harold bristled at Tom’s pointed finger. “I work there part time. It gives me some pocket money. Dad is pretty stingy when it comes to handing out cash.”

“If a certain person would pull their weight around the spread, we could spare some pocket money.” Austin leveled a stern look at Harold. “As it is, we’ve done pretty good, and we will be having a family meeting soon, now that Allan is home.”

Harold was fuming at his fathers remark about pulling his own weight around the ranch. “I do my share. No one can say I don’t.” Harold grabbed the collar of his own shirt, where it was obviously worn. “How else am I going to get a new shirt, if I don’t get some cash money.”

With a voice filled with sarcasm, Austin remarked that the improvement in his wardrobe was out standing. It was obvious that any money from his job at the station, hadn’t gone to buying a shirt. He knew his son spent his earnings in the bar at the back of the station. There were no teetotalers here at the ranch, but there also wasn’t any drunks. So far Harold had shown up for work sober enough to do the job, but he bore the sign’s of a nights drinking when he did.

“Well, enough about Harold’s part time work. Alan’s home and its time we did a little celebrating.” Paul scooted his chair back. Getting up he walked over to the kitchen cupboard where the whiskey was kept. Opening up the cupboard door he reached in and pulled out a bottle. It was more then half full, which Paul noted with a grin, and held it up so everyone could see it. “Looks like we have enough to straighten out a few kinks.”

“Just remember tomorrow is a work day.” Eleanor cautioned. She didn’t care much for drinking, but as long as it was done with out swearing and fighting, she didn’t say much.

“We’ll just put some color back in Alan’s cheeks.” Paul came back to the table, while Tom gathered some glasses and quickly set them around the table.

Austin gave Tom a discerning eye as he saw that the young man had set a glass for himself too. “Just make it a small one. Your still young and I don’t want you getting too familiar with hard drink.”

“Its just for the toast Dad.” Tom gave a warm smile. “Tomorrow is a work day, like Aunt Eleanor said.”

Paul, poured a splash of whiskey in each glass, pausing for a moment when he came to Tom. With a wink, he poured the same amount into his glass.

Setting the bottle down on the table and raising his glass, Paul turned to Alan. “A lot of praying and hoping, and you’ve finally come back to us. Scarred, but thanks to god, your alive and home.” he said before putting the glass to his lips.

“I’ll drink to that.” Austin raised his glass towards his oldest son. “I know it wasn’t an easy ride, son. But your home, and I’m glad. Proud of you too.” Then he too drank from his glass.

“Yeah, Welcome home.” Harold too raised his glass and drank.

“Here’s to the Marine Corps and all that served.” Tom said as he gave a nod towards Allan. Taking a big sip of his whiskey, he blanched at the nauseating feeling it gave him, but he managed to swallow and suffered a slight shutter at the effects. Whiskey wasn’t something he was going to take up any time soon, but he did like the feeling it gave him, once he managed to get the burning liquid down.

Lifting his own glass, Allan thanked his family and Said that it was good to be home. They drank the toast and sat the glasses down. “Lets bow our heads for a prayer.” Eleanor’s voice brought an agreeing nod from all.

After the prayer, Austin started to rise, saying there was a horse that needed taken care of. Tom quickly slid his chair back, and told his father, he would see to it. Austin settled back down in the chair and looked warmly towards Allan. “I want you to think about staying on here. I know, you’ve seen some of the world, and probably feel like seeing a lot more. Just want you to know that your still a part of this ranch. Some day it will belong to the three of you.”

Harold bristled again on hearing his father’s words of all three of his sons owning the ranch. “That isn’t going to work out. This place isn’t big enough for all of us.” He may not have worked as hard as everyone wanted, but he’d put in more sweat and strain than Allan, and felt he deserved a bigger share if not all of the ranch.

“Were going to make it bigger. We have plenty of land.” Austin had been expecting Harold to voice an objection, as he knew his second oldest son had a problem with anyone but him owning the ranch. He continue to speak reassuringly. “We have the upper mesa, and black canyon. We’ll be running cattle on them within two years.”

“How, there’s no water on the upper mesa, and Black Canyon dries up by August.” Harold was showing some anger. “All we have is this canyon, and were running all the cattle it will support now.”

“We’ll get the water. The Mesa will provide plenty of feed. Just needs water, and I have a plan for that. As for Black Canyon, we can dig wells along Phantom Creek and pump what we need.” Seeing the disbelief in Harold’s eye’s, Austin added. “The waters there, the creek is just under ground. We need to figure a way to get it out.”

“It’s a gamble. You don’t know that the waters there. Not for sure.” Harold shook his head, in exaggerated disbelief. “We need to face reality. There’s a limit to what this ranch can produce, and I for one am tired of eating rabbit and sage hen.”

“Well, we’ll just have to see.” Austin said putting a final touch on the discussion. “When I came to this Canyon, it was just tumble weed and jack rabbits. I made it produce and by god, I’ll make it bigger and better.”

Paul cleared his throat and poured another splash of whiskey in his glass, then pushed the bottle across the table to Austin. “Harold has a point. Selling our stock to the U S government, hasn’t left much for us to feed on. Wouldn’t hurt to slaughter a steer for our selves. I wouldn’t mind a steak or two once in a while.”

Austin chuckled and shook his head at his brother-in-law. “Tom brings in a good supple of venison and elk, and yet you want beef.”

“A sheep would be good once in a while too.” Paul laughed.

“I know where I can get a mule.” Austin added, lighting the mood.

“No thanks.” Allan joined in. “I’ll settle for Elk and Venison any time. Ate enough canned beef. Worse tasting stuff there is.”

Seeing the serious talk was over, Harold excused him self from the table and left to finish up some chores before dark. Once he was gone, Paul looked to Austin and shook his head solemnly. “It’s not going to work out with him. He’s got a bur under his saddle. Even if he had this place all to himself, it wouldn’t do.”

“What about Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Paul here?” Allan asked. “Don’t they deserve something?”

“Of course. We have an arrangement, and we’ve agreed to have you three brothers take over the place in ten years. We’ve made some money these last years. The war didn’t hurt us, just put some hard ships on us, but we made money. We have enough to do some expanding. If everything works out, we’ll be adding the Bailor ranch to ours.”

“How’s that?” Allan was surprised that his father was thinking of the Bailor spread. It was a small ranch but had plenty of water. Glass bottom creek ran through the place, and the ranch was named after it. He couldn’t see why the Bailor’s would sell out.

“Well, old man Bailor died a couple years ago, and his widow Barbara is tired of the place. We’ve been taking care of things, like making sure the hired help tends to business. Course, I haven’t been pressuring her, but there’s a good chance that I might marry her and combine our two places.”

“What about the daughter. You think she would just give up her claim.” Allan remembered that Barbara’s daughter was a bit of a hand full.

“Constance? Why with three young men on the place, I can’t see where that would be a problem. Far as I know, the girl hasn’t been claimed by any one. Any way, that’s something we can deal with later.” Austin seemed pretty sure of himself and that one of his son’s could come up with the girl. “If we get the Bailor place, we’ll have all the water we need.”

“How are you going to get the water here. The Kinkade place is between us. Old Charlie isn’t going to let us dig a ditch across his land.”

“Don’t be so sure.” Paul said. “Kinkade needs water. We can make a deal, one way or another.”

“This is quite a bit to think on. I just get back, expecting things like they use to be. Its all moving too fast.”

“The war sped things up.” Paul added. “Now all these broken down ranches have a new shot at life. The war open things up.”

“What happens now, the war’s over. Things will surely slow down.” Allan surmised.

“Some, I suppose. But not food. There’s still a demand for beef. We couldn’t supply enough during the war. Everything was rationed. Now its over, the rationing will be too, and the demand is still strong for beef. The more cattle we have, the more money we make.” Paul slid the bottle back towards Allan, who shook his head no. He didn’t want any more whiskey at the moment.

“There’s still Harold, who doesn’t want to share.” Allan pointed out. “I take it, he’s not in on your plans.”

Austin sadly shook his head. “No, he’s been worse than any hired hand I’ve ever had on the place. Have to check his work, and can’t take his word on anything.”

Paul was quick to point out. “Don’t worry about Harold, he isn’t planning on being here much longer. He’s too restless, wants some excitement.”

“He could have joined up.” Allan dryly added. “I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone, but if he wasn’t doing anything here, he just as well had.”

Austin nodded his head. “I thought he might, but we got a deferment because of the ranch and our beef contract with the government. I don’t think he wanted to take orders from anyone.”

“Old man Walker lets him practically run the gas station. Everything except the bar. Walker doesn’t trust anyone around his booze.” Paul told him.

Austin eyed his son for several moments, and then asked him. “What about you? You willing to settle down on the ranch? It would be a partnership with your brothers. Think it over, I need to know, but you can take your time. Just decide one way or the tuther.”

“I still say, Harold isn’t going to stick around. He won’t be part of it, and if he starts making noise about dividing the ranch, he can be bought off. Which I think would be best for all concerned.” Paul took the bottle and poured a splash in his glass. “It will be just you and Tom. And Tom’s a good hand. The two of you can reason things out.”

Allan leaned back in his chair, he was feeling the glow of the whiskey and thinking about the future of the Ranch. “Who’s going to have the biggest say in what goes?”

Austin grinned, knowing that his oldest son was going to except the Ranch under the conditions out lined. “As of now, that would be you. Course when the time comes when I step down, we will all look things over and come to a final decision then. I don’t see where things would change, in that regard. We will have to enlarge the place. If and when you marry, a wife might not like putting up in this house.”

“God, Dad. Your not thinking of me marrying that Bailor girl.” Allan scoffed, with a slight grin.

“You could do worse.” Austin laughed. “More than one big ranch was put together by marrying some ones daughter.”

Morning came with Tom and Harold repairing fence along Crystal Creek, a small ditch of water that cut down from the upper mesa. A flush of water from a recent rain, had washed out the fence, and now they were working to get it back up. The ground where the fence posts had been was now swept clean of soil. All that was left was bed rock. Harold was all for just stringing the wire, and letting it droop down, with just a post to act as a spreader for the several lines of barbed wire. Tom went back to the truck bed and pulled out a roll of what they called chicken wire. It was normally used to screen the chicken coops, but today it was going to serve another purpose. Tom was going to cut a section and use plyers to construct a tube. The idea was to fill the tube with rocks, so that it wouldn’t wash away, and would remain up right, serving as a fence post.

Harold saw Tom bring out the chicken wire and knew what his brother was thinking. “There’s no way that I’m going to spend the whole damn day, packing rocks for a god damn fence post.”

“You got a better idea?” Tom fired back at his older and taller brother. He was tired of Harold making every job they worked on, miserable. The work took longer due to his reluctance to do the job and get it done.

“Yeah, You can pack them rocks by your self. I’m heading for town.” Harold took his leather gloves off and threw them through the truck window. Jerking the door open he slid in and shut it hard behind him. He was done creeks and fencing. Now he was heading for an easier afternoon. Tom yelled that he needed the supplies out of the truck, and he was leaving him with out a ride. “You got ten seconds to get what you need, and then I’m gone.” Harold told him and began starting the engine.

Tom grabbed the rest of the roll of chicken wire, and then lifted out the spool of barb wire, as the truck lurched forward. Harold spun the tires, sending rocks flying as he headed the truck back to the Ranch. Feeling the heat of anger building, Tom watched his brother disappear down the road with the dust billowing up behind the truck. There was nothing to do, but turn to the task at hand. Tonight if Harold was at the ranch, Tom was going to have words with him and maybe throw a few punches in, to make a point. It wouldn’t be the first time they had come to blows, but it wasn’t often. Harold was just too much bigger and that gave him an edge in their fisticuffs.

Taking a good look at the job ahead of him, Tom figured out the placements of the rock piles. With just himself to do the job, he didn’t want to add extra posts if they weren’t needed. Cutting the chicken wire and making the fat tubes was easy. He had his plyers to pinch the wire together, but needed the wheel barrow that was still in the truck, to transport the rocks to the wire cages. With out it, he would have to carry each and every rock by hand. He was certain that if Harold was at the Ranch tonight, he would surly punch his brother right in the mouth.

The fence took three of Tom’s chicken wire rock cages to span the washed out ground. His boots were not exactly the best for walking, the high heals were fine for a saddles stirrups, but hard on the ankles when packing rocks over uneven groung. He finally got the cages filled sometime around noon. At lunch time, he also realized that

his lunch was still in the truck. It was just another reason he was going to punch Harold in the face. Tom certainly wasn’t as big as Harold, but he was quick and was thinking over how he could get in and deliver several good punches before Harold by his size took over the fight. Thinking about what he would do to his brother, kept his anger on edge, and his work pace at a higher tempo. When the cages were finished and he strung the wire, he had some trouble getting the lines tight. Using several lines of wire he twisted them together with a long stick. The lines came tight, and pulled the fencing in place. He was able to tie them off with out much trouble, but it would have been simple with an extra pair of hands. It was more than good enough to keep the cattle from moving down off the mesa.

The upper mesa was the summer grazing and it was hard to keep them up there as they preferred the grass along the creeks that wound down through the canyons. That was the wintering grounds and until late fall, the cattle were to be kept off of the low lands. Even with the fencing in good repair, a large range bull would some times push through and lead a small herd to the lower pastures. Riding fence was a regular job that had to be done often.

Tom didn’t have a lunch, but he did have the creek with its slow trickling water. That was where Allan found him when he rode up leading another saddled horse. He also had a sack with Tom’s lunch. Tom was resting by the creek, tired from packing rocks to the wire cages. He’d picked the bigger rocks, so he wouldn’t have to make as many trips, but the bigger rocks were heavy and more tiring to carry. Exhausted he now lay relaxing among the rocks of Crystal Creek, enjoying the cool water on his bare feet.

Tossing the lunch sack to Tom, Allen looked at the result of the young mans toil. “You did a passel of work gathering all those rocks.” Allan commented. “Did Harold help any before he lit out?”

“Only if you think Bitching and moaning is help.” Tom stated none too happy about having done all the work by himself. “He drove off with the wheel barrow too. I could have really used that.”

Looking over Tom’s work with the fence, Allan was impressed. He knew that gathering the rocks had took a lot of time and many trips. He could see that the bottom of the first rock cage was filled with smaller rocks than what was thrown in as Tom had tired of making all the trips. The larger rocks filled the cage faster, but were heavier to carry and pack over to the wire.

“I wanted to come sooner, but Dad had me help with a few simple chores in the barn.” Allan offered as an apology for arriving after the work was all done.

“Dad said, you were still recovering from your wounds. We both agreed that you should heal up before taking on a full work load.” Tom said as he rustled through the sack lunch. Coming up with a sandwich wrapped in wax paper, he opened it up to see that it was scrabbled egg and butter. “Sure getting tired of egg sandwiches.”

“Well, Tom, your eating real eggs and not the powdered mess I’ve been eating for the last four years.” Allan smiled at him. “I would have given just about anything to have a real egg sandwich.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Tom agreed, feeling a little ashamed at himself, and realizing that Allan had put up with a lot worse. “Just that we have all this beef on the place, and we eat more rabbit and venison. Having a steak is not even a rare occurrence.”

“Well if it makes you feel better, I was eating spam for the last five months.” Allan said, then pointed to Tom’s sandwich. “Men would stampede to get one of those.”

“Spam? What’s that?” he’d never heard of it.

“Meat in a can. Just hope you never have to eat the stuff.”

“That bad?”

“Not at first. Its got some spice to it, not the kind I prefer. It would have been okay, once in a while, but it was all there was.” Allan let his gaze drift down the creek, and across the canyon cut. “Maybe it was just the stench of...” He didn’t finish, just let the unspoken words mix with the silence and the rustling of the wind.

Tom knew of the stench his brother spoke of, he’d heard from other sources of how the enemy dead were left laying where they fell. Sniper fire and fighting kept the burying details from removing the rotting decaying flesh. The whole island they were fighting on, reeked of death. The smell blocking out all others, so that only the ache of hunger could induce the men to open the rations. Allan never got use to the smell of death. Some stuck cigarettes in their nostrils, hoping the tobacco would filter out the stink.

Looking down where the creek flowed into the canyon, Allan’s gaze sought out the land marks he remembered before leaving for the war. Nothing seemed to have changed, the clump of tall trees that covered the face of a converging canyon were still standing. A stirring of air, moved the tops gently, while several birds could be seen flying about them. It was peaceful. There was also another feeling, and that was the feeling of being alone.

“What about the Bailor girl. What’s she like?”

Tom looked up to see if his brother was asking in a serious manner or not. “You thinking about what Dad said last night. About hooking up with her?”

“Maybe, but mostly if I stay on, I’d like to have a woman that would fit in. Not very many take to this life. The weeks and some time a whole month goes by, that nobody comes around, or we go see any one. Its lonely no matter how much family we got.”

“Well, Constance is a, well kind of a quite person. She attends church like the rest of us, and sings just as loud as everyone else. Other then that, she doesn’t say much.”

“What’s she look like now?”

“You know, you remember her?” Tom, hadn’t thought about Constance for some time. His interest was with Alice Kinkade. Her fathers ranch was between Bailors ranch and theirs. Alice was the prettiest and closest girl living near them. That was the story of Constance Bailor, always further away and no one took the time to see her other than their shared time at school. It was summer now, and everyone was busy working, so there wasn’t time to go courting.

“Yeah, I remember a very young girl. Too young for the likes of me. I was wondering what four years have done for her?”

“That’s easy to find out. Just come to church with Aunt Eleanor and me. Constance will be there. Be getting off on the right foot, if you do.”

“That would be a smart thing to do. It wouldn’t hurt me either.” Allan surmised. Looking around at the work his brother had done. “How much more you got to do?”

“There’s some fence down further on up the line, but it’ll have to wait. With just the horses, I’d be spending the night at the line shack. I’ll do it tomorrow, if the truck is still running.” Tom said as he struggled to his feet, his ankles still sore from his riding boots and contending with the twists and turns of walking over uneven ground.

“Those boots aren’t much for walking in are they.” Allan observed.

Swinging up into the saddle, Tom looked back over his work before giving the horse its lead. The tools he would pick up tomorrow when he returned with the truck. He didn’t like leaving tools laying out, but when burdened with a brother like Harold, it was unavoidable. “No, but I will wear something more practicable tomorrow.”

“Still they look good filling those stirrups.” Allan smiled. “I got a pair of boon dockers you can have. Make you a trade maybe.”

“I’ll keep em, but only wear em when walking is not on the list.”

With several more amusing comments, they rode with an easy gate down through the mesquite covered slopes for home. Allan asked Tom, what it was that drew Harold to Walkers Service Station. “He can’t pay much, there’s not that much business, is there?”

“There’s more traffic, at least that’s what John Kinkade tells me. He rides in every other day to pick up the mail. Picks up ours and Bailors too. Saves us the trouble. But your right, Walker doesn’t pay much.” Tom agreed, then added. “John said he heard a couple men in the tavern part, talking and laughing about something Harold did. He has this thing he pulls on people getting gas. Sells them cans to hold the extra gas after the tanks full.”

“What do you mean.” Allan questioned, “What gas?”

“Well, Harold tells them, they have to pay for the gas he pumps up into the glass whether their tank can hold it or not. They get mad and all, but he insists and sells them a can to hold the extra. He keeps the money for the can, or most of it. That’s where he makes up the difference of the low pay.”

“I’d think they wouldn’t pay for more than they used.” Tom was shaking his head.

“Harold makes them pay for the gas while its still in the glass. Then he fills their tank. Then if there’s any left over, they either leave it or buy a can to carry it in.”

“Does Walker know that he’s doing that.”

“I suppose he does, but he won’t do anything about it. He’s making money on the selling the gas cans, and Harold gets to resell the extra gas, if they just drive off. I suppose Harold gets a cut from it.”

“I’d think some one might call the cops on him.” Allan spoke with disgust thinking that a Wakefield would be running such a scam.

“The Sheriff came by once, said it wasn’t good business, but since they hadn’t broken any law and no body wanted to press charges, there wasn’t much he could do. Harold doesn’t say anything to me about it, but John said he heard that he can make as much as two dollars each time.”

Harold had taken Walkers truck back to the Station, and left the ranch truck parked beside the barn. Tom, checked over the truck after watering and feeding the horses. He made sure there was plenty of gas, and extra wire for the next days fence repair. He couldn’t chance that Harold would have left the truck with enough gas to get to the job and back. He didn’t think they would see Harold until the next day, if then. When he worked at the station, he some times stayed over night. Which was okay with Tom, as he didn’t really want to confront Harold for leaving him to work on the fence alone.

At dinner, when every one was finishing up and Eleanor was about to serve desert, Uncle Paul brought up the subject of fixing the fence. It was clear to everyone that Harold wasn’t going to be of any help. Allan said there was no reason why he couldn’t give Tom a hand. If he was well enough to ride a horse, he could surely help with stringing wire. He also pointed out, that it was good for him to get out side and enjoy the clean air. Once all the fence mending was done, they could work on their fathers pet project. Digging for water.

After dinner, Paul and Austin sat out on the front porch, smoking. Paul had rolled his cigarette and lit it from the lantern hanging by the steps. Austin used a match to light his pipe and puffed a cloud of blue smoke out over the railing. As the breeze caught the smoke and drifted it down towards the canyon mouth, Austin spoke about digging for water along Phantom Creek.

“I checked last week, the water’s just about dried up. Now’s the time to do some digging.” He glanced over at Paul who was leaning back in his private rocker. “You and Tom could ride out there come Monday, and pick out a spot.”

“I suppose the last place to dry up would be the best for volume.” Paul paused as he blew a smoke ring. He blew two more, before continuing his talk. “Maybe we should survey the creek and land around it. Find the best route to pipe the water.”

Austin shook his head no. “We need to keep the water there in Black Canyon. Pumping enough for the cattle will be difficult enough. No way could we pump water over the ridge. Maybe later when we get power lines up there, but with only wind power it can’t be done. The wind isn’t strong enough or steady enough in Black Canyon. Not like on the Ridge.”

“If we set the wind mill, up on the mesa, rig up a generator.” Paul pondered the thought.

“We haven’t got that kind of money.” Austin cut in.

“But if we find water, that’s how we can use it. It can be done, but like you point out, it takes money.”

Paul was right, it was a way that would get the water needed to turn the mesa into good pasture. All Austin needed to do, was figure out a way to come up with the money. Every thing they earned during the war was being invested in acquiring more land. Mostly they were leasing federal lands, but until they got a reduction in fees, they didn’t have extra money. It would take two years before they could ship a herd off to market, but Austin didn’t want to wait that long for water. Digging the wells, along Phantom Creek would be a step in the right direction, and when they had the money to either string a power line, or build their own wind generating system, the wells would be ready.

Eleanor came out of the house and took her usual rocker beside Paul. The work was done for the night and she fanned herself with hand fan. “I for one would welcome an electric stove. Cooking on a wood burner is just too much during these summer months.”

The men nodded their heads in understanding. Some meals during the summer, had to be served out side, due to the heat from cooking. It was just too hot to eat inside. Winter was different, as the heat from the stove was needed to keep the house comfortable.

Mulling things over, Austin made the statement, that they needed to add to the firewood supply at the line shack. Also pointing out that the fence would need extra tending since an elk herd had taken over the mesa. The Elk was always knocking down the wire. A man was needed to tend the fence line, or come spring, they would have to round up cattle scattered across the high desert.

Paul agreed that it needed to be done, but also pointed out that Tom had his hands full, and didn’t have time to work on a wood supply for the line cabin. “Harold should take on that task. He’ll be riding fence this winter too. For once he might do a good job, since he’d be staying at the cabin too.”

“Lets hope he realizes that. His performance around here so far shows a lack of responsibility.” Austin went on to add, “There’s several snags near the cabin. He can fall those, and buck em up for fire wood. Won’t need to haul any up there.”

“If he does it, we’ll be getting some work out of him, for once.” Paul said dryly.

Eleanor spoke up, having listened to the conversation. “Well, Harold needs to do more. Young Tom, has been doing everything asked of him. The only time he’s had off is when we go to church.” Sighing softly she continued. “Allan isn’t well. There’s blood stains in his shirts. He should be back at the veterans hospital, and get that issue cleared up.”

“He told me, it’s a draining tube. It’s infected, and wasn’t completely healed to start with. They only let him come home, if he regularly reported in.”

“I like having him here, but Austin, the hospital is hundreds of miles from here. We can’t be running him back and forth. Either he stays there until he’s completely healed, or we get him to a doctor in Burns or Bend.” Eleanor was thinking about the day long trips to and from Town. It would cut into valuable time needed on the ranch.

“I guess we can afford some doctor bills.”

Paul pointed out that the Veterans would pay the doctor bills, they just needed to make sure he see’s one.

“Well, we’ll discuss it with him in the morning.” Allan stated.

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