Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Short Story (part 8).

The Night of the Buffalo

Tom had been on the prairie for almost two weeks.  He had become comfortable with the routine and the animals.  He found starting out at daybreak and then taking a rest during the heat of the day worked best for all concerned.  After the mid-day rest, they would travel another four hours or so before setting up a night camp. He found he was able to walk more, and ride less each day, as his body was conditioned by the exercise.

In those two weeks, he had not seen another human, although he could not shake the feeling that someone, or something, had been watching him almost the whole time.  He had purposely chosen not to follow the river, and this would have been a problem if he had not brought along the solar still.  It was the first thing he set up during his mid-day rests and it provided just enough water for him and the animals during those times he was not able to find a stream or other water source.

With his routine, he was able to cover about 20 miles a day without too much difficulty.  He worried about the loads on the animals, but was amazed they seemed to carry on without much effort.  Of course, any chance they had they would stop to graze on the now brown grasses.

As he crossed the rise of a low hill, Tom, Chester, and the mules came to a standstill.  There in the wide valley below was something Tom had never imagined possible.  Before him, as far as he could see were American Bison, or Buffalo as they were called in the history text.  They seemed to cover the earth for miles in every direction.  He decided, then and there, that this would be his campsite for the night.  He wanted to watch the herd until the night came.  He checked his micro weather station and although the pressure was dropping there was no indication of storms, so he figured a night on the top of this hill wouldn’t be too much of a risk.

As luck would have it, there was a small artesian spring that bubbled out of a crevice in some rocks.  Tom chose those rocks as his campsite, and quickly erected the tents, the electronic corral, and the shelter for the animals.  These days he wasn’t hobbling Chester or the mules for he felt with a halter and a long lead tied to a stake they would be more comfortable as they moved around to graze.  Once everything was set up, and he had grabbed a bite to eat he headed over to watch the vast herd below.  As he settled in he felt the wind pick up. 

With that subtle shift, the mood of the herd seemed to change as well.  He noticed the bulls begin to sniff the air and scuff the earth with their hooves.  The cows seemed to shift toward the center with their calves.  With his concentration on the herd, Tom hadn’t noticed the sky darkening.  He had expected it to do so, but as he looked to the Western horizon he was shocked to see not the warm glow of a summer sunset, but the angry dark of thunderstorms building to the stratosphere.  Although he could not hear anything he saw the flashes as the symphony of lightening danced from cloud to cloud and cloud to earth.

He was astonished at how quickly these storms were building and how intense they were becoming.  As they built and moved ever closer the buffalo bunched tighter together, but still they stretched for as far as Tom could see.  Concentrating now on the growing storms Tom could see the bottoms of the clouds as they appeared to become soft and round.  Then, quicker than you could say “get me out of here,” a funnel emerged from the closest clouds and reached for the earth.  Now Tom could hear the thunder, and as he watched in fascination the Tornado began moving directly towards the herd.

As if by some silent signal the entire herd, maybe 10,000 head turned and started running.  Running directly at Tom, his camp, his horse, and the mules.  Tom had moments to decide what to do.  They would be up the hill and on him in less than two minutes.  He had only one thought, the same as the buffalo, survival.  He sprinted to the camp, released Chester and the mules, hit the disable switch on the corral, and kicked the takedown switch on the tent. 

By this time, the first of the herd was reaching the crest of the hill, the very spot Tom had been just a minute earlier.  As they bore down on him the horse and mules took off running.  Tom was about to be trampled.  This would be the end of the grand adventure and perhaps his life.  Just then he remembered his return home mode on his time machine.  Reaching into his pocket, he hit home just as the lead bull arrived.

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