Sundown Hill – Three
After spending a half day at the veterinary clinic, Cooper was back home with several stitches and a wrapped leg. The father, Rick, had plenty of time in the clinic’s waiting room to speculate about the black coyote. He brought home all the ideas the townsfolk had in regards to this aggressive animal. He gave an open invitation to anyone who may know how to track it.
“Are they going to shoot it?” pouted Maya.
“No. There will be no shooting around this household,” proclaimed Rick. “I think it is a good idea for us to find the coyote and send it to a safer place.”
“It may have been spooked away from the refuge by a hunter,” said Sarah, Maya’s mom.
The Witchita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is one of the best kept secrets outside of southeastern Oklahoma. The majestic acreage teeming with animals was just another reason the family moved to the state. Maya called Cooper over and placed a blue and gold friendship bracelet on Cooper’s right leg as he gently licked the side of her face.
“That will help you heal faster,” said Maya with certainty.
A week had passed and the cold, morning air that crept through Maya’s window awakened her at last. Autumn was arriving and she couldn’t rely on the sunlight to get her out of bed. As she pushed the covers off with her feet, Cooper jumped to the floor. Maya went over to close the window, brushed aside the loose-weave burlap curtain, and looked out to the rolling hills. Today would be the day, she thought. She could no longer deny the calling of Sundown Hill. She went quietly down the stairs, opened one of the cabinets, and grabbed a pair of scissors out of the organizer. Maya turned an ear to the stairs to make sure she had not stirred her mother to action. She kneeled down, cut the wrapping off of Cooper’s leg, and tossed it into the trash. They kept the dog food under the sink. She poured out a small portion and filled the water bowl. As Cooper began to eat, Maya grabbed a strawberry yogurt and had a quick breakfast.
“Come on, Cooper. Let’s sneak out before mom gets up.”
At the last second, she grabbed another yogurt and stuffed it into her backpack. They made their way swiftly up to the hill. Maya had no trouble locating the go tablet. She placed her hand on Cooper’s head and touched the center of the nothingness. However, at the last second, Cooper picked up the sound of mom’s callings and he lost contact with Maya.
Maya found herself on a ridge trail looking outward to the valley below. The golden yellow hues of the leaves and the lush greens of the grasses and conifers were weaved together in such a graceful way, Maya shivered out a tear. She could see railroad tracks extending for miles alongside a river as they disappeared between two mountains. Farther out, the mountains were topped with snow and the view brought her into the reality that it was quite cold. There was no sight of a town or even a building. In that moment, she recognized Cooper, her chaperone and her protector, was not there. She thought it best to make her way down to the tracks. The trip down the valley would take a few hours.
When she finally arrived at the railroad tracks, she remembered an old trick her father taught her to determine if a train was coming. Looking forward, she placed her right ear on the railroad tie and listened. There was nothing to hear or vibrations to be felt. She walked for ten minutes, kneeled down and listened again. This time, she thought she felt something like the shimmy of car with a rough idle. She turned her head the other way to listen.
“Ahh!” Maya lets out a long shriek.
The train was approaching from behind her. She scrambled to her feet and began to calm down once she realized how slow the train was going. Still, it only took three or four minutes for the train to reach her and when it did the conductor blew the whistle loudly. The sound was deafening and Maya covered her ears as she watched the engine pass by. The brakes squeaked and sparked as the cars slowly moved along. She noticed some of the railcars were branded with Canadian National. Now she was certain she was in Canada. The train was still moving too fast for Maya to try and cling to a ladder or hop into an open side door if she could find one. She spotted one side door open some twenty cars behind her. Only one. She started to jog along to time a jump. Suddenly, the air behind her filled with the sound of a coyote’s cry. Maya looked back and over her shoulder. It was Old Duffy and he was closing in on her fast. She stumbled and fell forward. Her hands kept her from a complete fall and she started to run. Looking to the left, she could see that one and only one open rail car. She had to make a jump for it as the coyote was nearly upon her. Just as she leaped, a man appeared at the doorway of the open railcar and extended his hand as far as he could. Maya clenched on as Old Duffy grabbed the bottom hem of the jeans on her left leg. The jeans tore away and Maya was safe inside the railcar.
“What’s a young girl like you doing out here in the wilderness of Alberta?” asked the stranger.
Looking up at the man, Maya noticed his silver eyes and says, “I’m here to help you.”
“Oh, really!” said the man. “How do you intend to do that?”
“First, tell me your name. I’m Maya.”
“Well, my dad always said if you want help, you always have to tell people your story. So, what’s your story, Wendell?”
“For many years, my brother and I were in business together. He owned most of the business. He was the brains and I was the workhorse. We made custom cabinets. He passed and I did not have the skills to run the business. The economy slowed down two years ago and the money stopped coming in. I’ve been riding trains ever since.”
“But why? Why not get another job,” Maya said confusingly.
“I wanted to see the beauty of nature before my time came instead of wasting my life in a small workshop,” Wendell’s voice grumbled to a close. “Besides, jobs are scarce now.”
“I’ll find you a job when we get to the next town,” Maya defiantly exclaimed.
“First, we’ve got to bandage up that left hand of yours,” said Wendell.
Maya looked down at her hand to see the skin all scrambled up and bloodied from her fall while running to catch the train. She faints from the sight and Wendell sets her down gently on the wooden floor of the railcar. Wendell wraps her hand with gauze and applies a safety pin to keep it on tight.
“You are very lucky to even be on the train,” said Wendell.
“How’s that?” said Maya.
“These days it’s hard to find a freight car with its doors open,” said Wendell. “The yard bulls do a good job of train inspection and keeping riders off of them.”
An outcrop of rocks dotted with scrub trees and bushes came into view. As the train passed, Maya thought she saw Old Duffy sitting atop one of the boulders. A minute or two later, Old Duffy darts from the edge of the woods and starts running toward the train. He is now sprinting alongside the freight car. Maya freezes in panic as she fears Old Duffy is going to make a jump for it. He does. Now inside the freight car he heads straight for Wendell. The coyote bites him on his left bicep. Wendell lets out an angry yell and Maya shrieks as she awakens rattled.
“Whew! It was just a dream.”
“You keep resting, Maya. We are still hours away from Edmonton.