The Ranch (Part 1)
Updated: Sep 24
I am very excited to announce this project - thanks especially to support from close friends and colleagues. The Ranch is the start to a series of interconnected stories I have planned. Nothing is better than finding an excellent set of shorts with in depth expanded lore, and that is what I want to provide to you. How this started was an idea I have been taking notes and outlining over the last 18 months, and I have played with the intention of connecting it somehow to A Fold to Extinction. While conducting research for a separate project (yet to be announced) I found the great mysteries linked to Skinwalker Ranch. While reading and listening to stories, the idea finally dawned on me. I hope the following series builds excitement for the long journey we have, and that you as a reader, have fun finding and building the interconnection between stories and books.
Sherman Green and his wife Amy had done two circles around the blazing hot concrete jungle that was Dalhart, Texas. The summer heat was baking anything on the concrete like sizzling bacon as clumps of people shouted and waved colored signs outside. Several men were shouting various slogans, followed by chants from the crowd. Cars lined the small town’s streets. Banners and dolls of green aliens and little green men were being hoisted up and down in the air from the protesters. The sidewalks were clogged with people and pamphlets alike. Protest or not, the two were on their way to a grand adventure for their livelihood, and neither were willing to reschedule, let alone relent.
“I’m never going to get parking.” Sherman grumbled.
“There it is!” Amy pointed across the dashboard.
The little café they were seeking was had an adobe façade, a juvenile attempt to mimic the state’s famous Alamo. The parking lot was roped off, and a bored-looking teen guarded the valuable parking spots with disinterest and sunburns. The sign across the façade of the building read Fite’s Café over oddly placed glass doors. Sherman pulled their pickup truck into the lot. The teen feebly raised an arm to stop them, but Sherman pointed to the café, defeating any attempt at confrontation as he continued to drive. He pulled into a parking spot and stopped his truck.
“This is it!” A giddy Amy announced.
“In less than an hour, we will be the owners of 500 acres for our new ranch.” The couple leaned towards each other and exchanged a short, sweet kiss. “Let’s get to it!” Sherman announced as he climbed out of the truck.
Inside the café patrons sat busily drinking, eating, chatting, and watching the ongoing protest happening outside. The duo swept the seated crowd and between patrons and waitresses caught sight of a single soft woman waving for their attention. Under velvet brown curls of hair was a set of documents neatly stacked in envelops next to a still steaming cup of coffee. Sherman noted the empty seat next to the lovely lady, and the lack of beverage indicating she was alone. Regardless, they greeted Emma Pidge, their realtor, with hugs and handshakes.
“So sorry we’re late Emma, we appreciate you waiting on us.” Amy justified as they took their seats.
“No worries, I suspected the protest was causing a little delay.”
“Yeah, what are they so up in arms about anyways?” Sherman asked.
“Well, there is a new waste processing center the Feds have opened up in the nearby area. It was some effort to reuse old cold-war era sites and well, the locals ain’t too happy with them setting up shop. A few towns are getting the protests lately.”
“Lots of alien jargon on them signs.” Sherman motioned back with a head nudge.
“Well, it has a attracted quite a few conspiracy theorists.” Emma leaned into a whisper. “Some of them believe the military is using it as a cover for experiments with aliens.” The trio chuckled. “Well, let’s get down to business.”
“Where is Miss Burns?” Sherman nodded to the empty space next to Emma. Catherine Burns was the allusive blonde selling the ranch. They had only met her once, and that was at an attorney’s office in Dallas. Since then, she had conducted all of her communication through the realtors and by phone. During their first tour of the property, Catherine’s realtor had confessed that she had not been living on the land for well over a year. While never directly saying it, they picked up on some sort of superstition that Catherine held. It was later, in a nearby diner after viewing the property, that the owner had disclosed Catherine believed the ancient Comanche that had once inhabited the land cursed her property.
“Well, she opted to do all of her signing early with her realtor. I took care of that so we just need your signatures.” Emma said with a glowing smile.
“Too close to the curse, huh?” Sherman joked, leaning back.
“Yeah.” Emma ended the topic by opening the folder and they began to sign the documents. Catherine had not struck Sherman as an eccentric woman, but the ranch seemed to tell a different side of the reclusive woman. She had gained control of the ranch when the previous family had abandoned the land in 1991. They seized and auctioned off the land after seven years of no contact with the family. Catherine had won the auction and the ranch officially became known at the Burns Ranch. Catherine had believed that she had found her dream home. A prominent ridge, which overlooked its sprawling green pastures, wild thickets of woodland, and the stream to the south bordered the remote property to the North. The allure to the property was obvious, the entire estate exudes a tranquil beauty, it was, after all, what had attracted Sherman and Amy.
When Sherman and Amy visited for their second time, they focused on the ranch house itself. They found the main homestead in some disrepair, which was forewarned by both realtors given the lack of attention over the last year. Neither Sherman nor Amy had mentioned anything of the minor repairs needed. What Sherman did point out, however; was the amount of dead bolts securing the home—not just on the front and back doors, but on the interior doors and all the windows as well. Amy pointed out that the front and rear entrances were heavy industrial chains attached to huge metal rungs which were embedded in the brick walls. They had asked Catherine’s realtor, who brushed it off that Catherine had very large and powerful guard dogs she had kept on the property. Sherman and Amy only responded with silent brow raises to one another.
In private whispers, Amy asked Sherman if he felt as unsettled by the odd findings. She waved it off, explaining that Catherine was a single woman, living alone, on a massive piece of land with no help immediately nearby. It was likely paranoia, but a healthy precaution of a single woman living alone. They also were not sure which modifications had come from Catherine or from the owners prior to the auction. Catherine, in their one and only meeting, had seemed distant after all.
Catherine, like Sherman, was a high-end cattle breeder, and the ranch provided the space, privacy, and security for such operations. Sherman was signing the papers to an extremely favorable price, and far less than what the property was actually appraised for. No accusation of a curse could dull the excited glow both he and Amy had while signing the papers. With the conclusion of their signing, they held the deed in hand, what they held in their hands were their ambitions, their livelihood, and their family dream. With short pleasantries and hugs with Emma, they were off to pickup their son and begin their move to their new home.
The Green family started their move early the next day. Sherman drove his truck with his 14-year-old son, Terry, riding shotgun with him. Amy drove a box truck following close behind. Soft red skies softened by pink clouds greeted them coming over a small hill to their new ranch, slowly fading to the blue hue of the day. The light dust tinted their travel with a warm haze as their two vehicle convoy came to a halt at their new home.
“Wow!” Terry exclaimed. “All of this?”
“All of this bud, it’s all ours.”
“Are there fish in the stream?”
“I’m sure you there is, but let’s get unloaded and moved in first before trying to catch dinner.” Sherman chuckled at his son’s sudden boy like enthusiasm.
“Honey.” Amy called from the box truck’s window as he stepped out of his own truck. “What’s that?” She pointed out across the pasture. Sherman squinted, looking out to the South where she pointed.
“It looks like a wolf.” Terry stated. Loping towards them was a large canine figure, moving through the high grass in a Z pattern towards them.
“That’s a big ass wolf.” Sherman stated. He tried to scale the wolf to the far fence. He had to guess it was at least twice as large as any wolf he had ever seen. “Terry, get my gun.” Terry rushed to back to the passenger side Sherman’s truck. Sherman watched the oddly disarming wolf gracefully move towards them as Terry pulled his .44 magnum from the glove compartment of his truck.
“Here!” Terry thrust the large handgun to Sherman. Sherman snatched the gun as the wolf came to a stop some fifty yards away from them. Paying them no mind, the wolf began sniffing at the ground. Even with the distance, they could hear the heavy sniffs and snorts as the animal captured the scents of the land.
“Seems kind of friendly.” Amy called, still in the box truck.
“Stay in the truck.” Sherman shouted back. The gigantic wolf raised its head back up and sniffed at the air as a dog would smell at their master’s dinner plate. The wolf gazed at the family with piercing yellow eyes and began to wag its tail. Despite the intimidating size, the massive wolf turned and continued to trot away without a care in the world to them or their activity.
“Maybe it’s someone’s dog?” Terry ventured.
Sherman looked out back towards their land. He was glad he had not brought any cattle forward yet. “Yeah, maybe bud.” The tension slithered out of their bodies. “C’mon, let’s get moving.” Sherman stated as the wolf shrunk off and away from them.
Later into the afternoon, with the truck unloaded, Amy approached Sherman. “I think we should get the first of the cattle on the land.”
“I don’t think it’s too wise after that wolf today.”
“Honey, it seems docile enough. We gotta’ do it, eventually.”
Sherman took in a long inhale through his nostrils. “Alright, you’re right. Take Terry with you.”
“I will. See you in a little bit.”
Over boxes, he watched Amy and Terry leave in his truck. He paused the organization and unpacking. One of the first things they had brought with them was his beloved gun safe. He spun the combination lock with familiar easy and popped open the door. Inside, he retrieved a Henry repeating rifle chambered in .30-30. He took a case of shells and began to load the rifle. Docile or not, he intended to kill the creature if it dare approach his cattle. He leaned the rifle against the wall near the front door and went back to busying himself with the unpacking of their life into their new dream home.
With the summer heat finally dying down, Sherman heard the familiar rumble of a truck approaching with a trailer. He was busy in the kitchen, unloading their plates into the appropriate area to make space for more boxes that would surely come. He heard the engine shut off and talking from outside. He finished the last stack of plates and rubbed dirt off his hands that had collected from the boxes he had shifted and moved throughout the day.
“Dad!” Terry called from outside. “It’s back!”
Sherman dropped the towel he had been wiping his hands on and bolted for the door. Outside was calm. Amy and Terry were by the front door, facing their visiting wolf again. He was closer this time, though, and Sherman could really size up the beast. He stood six feet, even without his boots on, and the wolf’s head came up to his chest. The size comparison between him and the beast ran a cold flush through his veins. The wolf gave off no hostile demeanor towards them still, and sniffed about the ground once more.
“He has got to be someone’s pet.” Terry observed.
The back of the truck Amy and Terry had arrived in now carried a trailer which had already been unloaded. Sherman glanced nervously towards the corral to the left. He swallowed hard at the decisions to bring their cattle so soon. Inside of the pen stood four of his breeding cows, and four of their calves. The cows were troubled. Their necks bobbed in distress. One leapt in the air and jerked away from the pen’s gate. Agitation flowed through the cows like a wildfire. All except for one curious calf that had ventured to explore the curious world. The curious little calf had stuck its head out between the metal bars, watching the wolf with juvenile curiosity.
In a flash, the wolf was gone. Bounding the short distance the wolf clamped its jaws around the calf’s head. Bleating, the calf thrashed. The wolf tugged, sinking massive teeth deeper into the tender flesh. Blood spray quickly and painted the pen’s bars.
“Son o’ bitch!” Sherman grabbed his readied rifle. The short distance was easy. He leveled the sights on the massive wolf and fired. The shot rang out across the desolate pasture. Yet still the wolf continued the attack—unphased by the shot. Sherman cranked the leveler action down and racked another cartridge into the rifle. Impossible to have missed. The wolf took the second shot as well. No staggering, no yelping, not even a flinch. The throat of the calf was opening, and the resistance had started to die as the wolf pulled the young cow from the enclosure. Sherman racked the rifle and fired a third shot. The impact leaving a poof giving proof his aim was true. With the calf dead, the wolf finally ceased its ravaging of the young cow and took two solid steps back.
Sherman blinked hard over the rifle. There is no way. Few creatures could withstand not just one, or two, but three .30-30 rifle rounds at such short distance. Sherman fired a fourth shot. Finally garnering a yelp from the creature as it retreated further away. Yet the creature stood solid still, staring back at them now. An unnatural stare back and that tightened his throat. Sherman gripped his rifle and tried to maintain his grip on reality as he fired a fifth shot.
With the fifth shot finding its mark, a chunk blew out of the creature as the round passed through it. The giant wolf yelped and retreated further away. The wolf took an unhurried look at the meal it was being forced away from and turned and trotted away from them. Dumbfounded, Sherman and his family watched the horrific creature retreat with grace.
“Terry, go get your rifle.” Terry hurried inside. As Terry sought his own rifle, Sherman rushed to unhitch his truck from the trailer. Without a word Amy was by his side helping draw the truck loose. In only seconds, the truck was free, and Terry was with Sherman as they started out after the monster.
In the short time it took them to pursue, the creature had put great distance between them. The truck had hastened their pursuit, but the wolf had gotten into the tree line. Sherman and Terry ditched the truck and pursued the carnivore on foot. Through tangles of weeds, cottonwoods, and other trees. They would catch fleeting glimpses of the monster sleeking off as they tried to close the distance. The tracks and trail finally led them through a thicket of Russian Olives. The rough shrubs blocked their path, forcing them to go around. Emerging out on the other side of the shrubs, they emerged at the bank of the stream that crossed their property and looked out across a wide open muddy embankment.
They traced back to where the wolf would have had made its crossing. Half way down, they found the massive deep prints of the creature in the mud. The tracks went right to the bank’s edge and ended in the water.
“He must’ve gone downstream.” Sherman stated, though looking down the stream, there was no sign of the giant. “I don’t see any prints on the other side.” He said, justifying his belief. The creature could not have gone upstream, they would have seen the creature when they emerged from around the shrubs.
“Maybe he jumped it?” Terry offered.
Sherman looked across the stream. “That’s easily fifty feet. I don’t think that think can do that.”
Father and son went several miles downstream before admitting defeat to return to the truck. Returning to the homestead with the sun beginning to dip down, Amy was outside waiting for them. She could read from their hung heads that the wolf had outsmarted them. Sherman said nothing and instead went to the where the wolf had been when he had tried to stop the attack. He recalled seeing something come off, a chunk of the creature from when he had shot it.
As he was looking at the scene, Sherman noticed the absence of blood from where the creature had been shot multiple times. He followed the giant prints the creature had left from the ordeal until he finally came across the flesh left over from the shot. The skin was dry, with no blood. The fur looked rough and wiry. The skin was stretched and had an odd, musky odor that resonated from it.
“Looks more like lizard skin.” Terry said, looking over his shoulder as Sherman kneeled examining the piece.
“Yeah.” Sherman responded. In quiet contemplation, he turned his face to the direction the beast had disappeared to and wondered what it truly was that they had encountered.