The Ranch (Part 2)
Updated: Sep 24
Over the next few days, the Green family had finalized their move in. They brought in their furniture, their clothes, and all their worldly belongings and positioned them to their satisfaction. The tranquil evening air and the bright mornings almost made their first day visitor a gruesome fluke, but nothing more. Sherman tended to their livestock. Terry helped with morning tasks and spent time hunting small game or fishing in the creek. It seemed the American dream had become manifest for the Green family.
Amy had counted her blessings each day. Meeting Sherman was one of the greatest moments in her life. He had single handily ensured she was swept out of what most would consider a rough upbringing. She would always state she was strong and independent, but she was humble enough to accept reality. Born to a broken home, to an unwed teenage mother, she had bounced around the country for most of her early childhood. She had started in Tampa, Florida, an area she knew only as her birth location, and soon found herself living with her biological father in Havana, Florida, a little town if it could even be called that.
Her father, who she refused to ever openly name again, had been at best an alcoholic, and at worse, an abuser. Her mother had been dealing with a flurry of other issues preventing sole custody, to include an addiction of her own. With her mother rehabilitated, she found herself in the care of her paternal grandmother after her father was caught in an armed robbery at a gas station. Her grandmother, while not as abusive as her father, was slowly losing grip of time and at the ripe age of ten, she found she had to ensure she fed herself for most meals.
At the age of twelve, the court finally sided with her mother, who made the best decision for Amy by moving her as far away from Florida as she could afford. They found themselves living in a small doublewide trailer just North of Abilene. There, Amy was introduced to the most normal childhood she could hope to expect. Her mother brought a series of men into her life, yet like the seasons, they came and went. Yet still, it was better than ending each night to her father’s belt, or a drunken tirade on about her own mother, which also would end with yet another beating by a belt.
Having finally lived out her teen problems herself, Amy’s mother finally met someone who would change her life forever. Paul Tague was a man recently freed from the shackles of military life and starting to following in his family’s footsteps of becoming a lineman. Somehow, between Amy’s mother’s drinking and weed affection, Paul found a way to stay, and became the first man to make it through not one, not two, not even three seasons, but years with them. Amy had mistakenly not tried to learn much about Paul in the first year, expecting him to either leave upon realizing who her mother was, or develop into the same man her actual father had been.
When Paul had asked Amy’s mother to marry him, she coly asked Paul, “So I have to call you dad now?”
Paul just chuckled. “You can call me whatever you want. Paul, dad, or old bastard who remembers stuff.”
Somehow that brought a seldom seen smile to Amy’s face. Before the wedding, she had caught herself calling Paul “daddy” and even with her own pause, Paul just accepted it. Neither Paul nor her mother knew that she cried that night, and for once, they were tears not of fear or dread, but of hope. For once Amy got to be a little girl, and even at thirteen and childhood fleeting behind her, her chest felt warm for once.
As Amy grew older, she grew more to appreciate what Paul really represented in her life. He had provided her a real family experience. Their lives had not been drastically changed by the marriage. Paul had not come from money, and no one had ever bragged of the massive paychecks of the Army. They did move in with Paul, but it was to only a slightly bigger trailer. Yet still, it was a family. So after high school, when she met Sherman, it seemed too good to be true to find yet another solid man in her life. She had spent her best years in high school dating a boy Paul had stated flatly, “That boy’s birth certificate is just an apology letter from the condom factory.” It took four years of high school for her to realize Paul had only been telling her the truth.
Sherman had stayed with her, and he lacked a temper she so often expected. On their second date, he had taken her to a lovely breakfast location. They had joked and enjoyed coffee with their pancakes. The little girl she was had tempted him with a game of thumb-war. He had easily beat her with his massively long man thumbs the first time. She tried again, and realizing she was quickly going to lose, she tried twisting her hand away—spilling Sherman’s hot coffee across his lap. Her heart froze, expecting her father to come out of Sherman or for him to morph into her ex and howler about the price of his jeans. Yet, despite her expectations, Sherman just mopped up what he could with a napkin and paid so they could get him a change of pants. She, of course, did not escape completely without punishment. A week later, Sherman gifted her a blue shirt with the word “Thumb-War” struck out in a no-backslash. She humbly accepted the punishment, and would wear the shirt on occasion to this day.
When Sherman asked her to move in with her, she had her final little girl talk with Paul. It was to be the first time living with a man, alone, and as partners. Paul listened as she talked about the young man and everything he did. How proud he was of his cattle work, and how she could not help but compare Sherman to Paul, the only man she wanted to call her father. Paul listened and let her ramble on like the schoolgirl she was and finally, when she asked what he thought, he just turned to her and said, “If you go, don’t turn back.”
And that’s exactly what Amy did. She moved in with Sherman, and they spent a wonderful year learning each other and how to live together. He taught her all about cattle, and she taught him how to sew and knit. Then, one late November day, after a small family dinner where Paul and Sherman had spent the night by a bonfire, Sherman asked for Amy to marry him. Flabbergasted, she did not say yes, but instead said “Are you sure?” Thankfully Sherman was not a nitwit and understood she wanted him as badly as he wanted her. Then the years came quickly, they were married, they moved, and they grew their cattle count. Soon she was pregnant, and then their little family became three. Amy never looked back, she never considered her biological father, she never asked what could have been, and she never regretted where she was. And now, in her dream home, their fairytale ranch, she brewed over admitting she was losing her mind.
It all started at minor occurrences. Amy could not pinpoint when it started. She knew after seeing the wolf, but not exactly what moment was true human error, and what moment something was askew. She remembered one instance she had come home from the grocery store, unpacked the groceries, left the room for a moment, only to return and find the groceries gone. She had gone to the store, yet she found the fridge empty and the counter bare. She stared at the empty counter, hoping to find an explanation to come, but none ever arose. In more recent occurrences, and one that was repeating itself, she would go through her daily morning shower routine. She would put her brush and towel on her sink counter and begin her shower. When she finished, she would step out only to find them missing. Hours later, she would find them in some other random location elsewhere in the house.
Amy thought spending too much time in the ranch house with Sherman working had been a cause for it. She had elected to start a small garden. She had spent an entire day readying the plot. Fresh air is good for you. Sunlight is good for you. She thought as she looked over her freshly arranged flower beds. She returned the next morning ready to begin planting only to find the flowerbeds dug up and missing. Like she had only dug the location out and gone no further.
She sat that afternoon rocking herself on the couch. This is it, I’m losing it. A dreadful fear worse than death gripped her. To lose one’s mind was to lose yourself. What is life if you’re not here? And then Sherman came in from outside.
“Where’s my post hole digger?” He demanded. She shook her head in bewilderment. She had learned early on Sherman was not one for pranks. “You didn’t move it?”
“No, I’ve been inside all day, and Terry is at the creek fishing.”
Sherman wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I was repairing a fence out in the pasture. I turned around only for a second or two and it was gone.”
“I swear it wasn’t me babe. C’mon, I’ll go look with you.”
The two walked the area along the fence for an hour with no tool in sight. Sherman had walked back, with the long quick steps he took when he was angry or frustrated. Amy walked along, silently breathing in reassurance that she may not be the only one going crazy.
The next day, Sherman had a friend come to visit. A big burly man with undeniably Scottish heritage in orange-red hair and a beard to match. Chase Raisor had been a great friend to Sherman in his early twenties, and Chase happened to hear of their new property purchase as he was making a long drive from Atlanta to Las Angeles to document the best bars and pubs across America. The three of them were walking around the back side of the ranch house as Amy and Sherman showed Chase their new little gem in the world.
“Hey boss, what is that?” Chase pointed up at the top of a tree. There, hanging in the tree, was a bright orange 80lb gas powered post hole digger more than seventy feet up in the tree. Amy let out a shivering breath as she eyed the machine. The two never gave a direct answer.
“Who knows how long that has been up there?” Sherman casually said jokingly, but Amy could see the ice had flushed his blood as well.
That night over dinner with their guest present, Amy avoided talking about the odd occurrences, and thus sat mostly in silence as the men talked and joked. Occasionally Amy would raise her eyes and catch Sherman and she knew despite his front for his friend, he too felt the iciness their new home had brought upon them.
Terry, having not been with them earlier to sense the undertone, brought up the giant wolf to Chase.
“You wouldn’t believe it! It was massive, and dad shot it like five or six times—nothing!”
“You guys try and track it?” Chase asked.
“We did, couldn’t find it after it went into the creek.” Sherman dismissed as he poked at scraps on his plate.
“I think we should try and get it at night. Maybe we can all go out tonight and get it?” Terry suggested.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Sherman said, tossing his napkin to his plate. “It probably bled out and died.”
“I don’t know, boss. I’m energized, and wolfs are known to hunt at night.” Chase stated. Sherman looked to Amy and she could only offer raised brows.
“Come on dad, it’s a big predator.” Terry begged, yet Sherman was seeking an answer from her.
“I think we should. It would at least give me some reassurance nothing is moving out there.” She stated honestly.
So the four headed out, armed like a posse, seeking justice. The four moved on foot towards the South. With the sunset long gone, the stars and moon cascaded them in creamy white lights. Sherman and Amy walked in silence with long, slow steps. Terry had moved along with them with jubilance to get a chance to shoot something, unaware of the lurking darkness that shrouded them.
“Look at that, I didn’t realize there was a road out there.” Sherman motioned to the distance. Several hundred yards ahead, a set of headlights were moving along the distant fence line, well within the boundaries of their property.
“I’ve seen that before while I’ve been fishing. I thought people had been taking a wrong turn off the road over there.” Terry mentioned as he motioned towards the road that came in from the East.
“Hunters?” Asked Chase.
“If they are, they are doing it without permission.”
“Best to confront them now boss, with all of us here to back you up.” Chase reasoned.
“You’re right.” Sherman stated as they began to march together in the direction of the lights. Amy lagged behind the men. Something about the lights made her uneasy. They moved too smoothly to her. The lights shifted and started to come in their direction. Their movement changed to a light jog, and Amy wondered why at this point, she could not hear an engine.
They had gotten into what she guessed was a hundred yards of the lights. The lights began to retreat from their advance. Sherman moved ahead trying to get closer, and then the lights took off to the air. They split into different directions above the distant tree tops and then disappeared. The four stopped, stunned in bewilderment.
“What the fuck.” Sherman muttered.