They had just entered the long and narrow draw past Sounding Creek when the storm hit. It had been threatening from the moment they had left MacAllisters, the sky filled with brooding clouds that seemed even more ominous in the last light of the day. They had hurried to reach this valley before the storm, in the hopes that it would provide some cover for both them and the cattle they were trailing. At the very least, Amos thought as the rain began to spatter his duster, it would keep them from scattering everywhere once the winds and the rain truly hit. Nothing had gone as expected to this point though, and the encroaching darkness and the storm promised only more misery.
If he were a superstitious man, Amos might have thought the omens were against them from the start. Coming down to MacAllisters from the north, where the three of them had holed up for two days in Davenport’s old sod shack, getting in each others way and on each others nerves, they came across a dead cow lying abandoned in the scrub. The coyotes and crows had already been at it for at least a day, the smell of it so putrid the horses shied away. Amos had stopped to study it for a moment, out of curiosity more than anything, while Wright and H. S. continued on. There had been no evident signs as to what had caused the animal’s death, which was not out of ordinary in any way, but which he still found disconcerting for some reason.
The cattle had not been around Gillespie’s Lake as H. S. had said they would be, but spread out in the surrounding hills. On the one hand, the hills offered the three of them the benefit of cover from anyone who happened to be passing by, although H. S. had assured them that was extremely unlikely, with MacAllisters gone to Calgary and their hands all in Lethbridge for a day of drinking and whoring. More importantly, though, it had made rounding up the cattle quickly impossible. They had run them around the hills for hours until both the horses and the cattle were exhausted. It had been difficult beyond measure to get them past Gillespie’s Lake as all the animals wanted to do was drink.
It left them well behind schedule if they wanted to be across the border before morning, and also forced them to conduct the most perilous portion of their journey in darkness, something Amos had been keen to avoid. He did not think about that now, pressing his hat down more firmly upon his head as the drops turned into a torrent and the wind began to howl. A flash of lightning sparked to the south and west, illuminating the miserable cattle as they picked their way down the draw, followed a short time later by the low rumble of the thunder.
The air itself felt charged and wild, as though the storm clouds above were about to spill below and engulf them. The animals were disconcerted by it, Amos’ horse jumping about as though there were rattlesnakes at his feet.
“God damn,” he said and spurred the horse up to join H. S. who was staring up into the rain at the clouds.
“I hope to hell there’s no hail in this,” H. S. said to him.
“You think we should stay here in the draw?” Amos said, turning his horse about so that he was looking back the way they had come. “Wait out the storm.”
H. S. shrugged, “Could be an idea. Cattle might be easier to handle if we keep them down here. Don’t know if we can though.”
Amos was about to reply when a bolt of lightning illuminated the sky around them. He waited a moment for the thunder that was to follow, so that he would not have to shout over it along with the rain and wind. As he did so, he glanced from H. S. up the trail to where they had entered the draw and was certain he could see the form of a man in amidst the shadows there. In the instant that he saw the form there was another lightning strike, blindingly bright and nearby, the thunder following atop it almost instantaneously. By the time he opened his eyes again, blinking furiously against the sting from the flash, nothing was visible but the coalescing shadows.
“What is it?” H. S. shouted at him.
Amos shook his head and slapped his horse on the haunch, starting back up the draw. The trail they were on was already a muddy, slippery mess and the horse had to pick its way carefully up the, now precarious, incline. The wind blew the rain directly into his face so that it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of the horse. When he arrived at the spot where he was certain he had seen the man standing there was no one there, nor was there anyone that he could see in amongst the shrub and trees that dotted the trail. He leaned down from the horse to inspect the ground and could make out a variety of hoof prints, no doubt from their own passage, but nothing else.
from Riders on the Storm