Home > Half a Cowboy

Half a Cowboy
Author: Andrew Grey

 

Chapter 1

 

 

BEN WAS cold—actually, way past cold. His feet and legs had once been like ice, but now he felt nothing except fear… both ahead and behind him. The fog from his breath hung in the air, and his lungs ached. Ben pulled his coat closed and shoved his gloved hands into his pants pockets, flattening them against his thighs to try to force some warmth into them.

He should have stayed in the car, but no one was going to find him there. He swore under his breath, silently berating himself for going that fast, letting panic override his better judgment. But the car had flipped and ended up far enough from the road that no one would ever see him, especially with the wind that had been blowing earlier wiping away the marks in the snow. The windows had broken in the crash, so the vehicle didn’t offer much protection anyway. He needed to find shelter and help.

Fortunately the wind had died, but that also meant that the sky had cleared. That was both a blessing and a curse. The moon shone in the sky, lighting the snow so he could see where he was going even this late at night. But it also meant that the temperature had dropped quickly, and it felt like it was still dropping.

Ben had only one thing on his mind—he had to find shelter. He kept telling himself that over and over with each trudging step through the snowdrifts toward the rise in the distance. He had to make it. That rise might be his only chance to see if there was anything out in this desolate country. He thought he might have seen some buildings this way as he’d driven through.

A shiver began in his back and ran all the way through him, causing his entire body to shake. The Wyoming cold sapped his energy, and Ben knew he was coming to the last of his reserves. His time was running out. He was tempted to just lie down in the snow and give up.

“Shit,” he moaned to himself as he took another few steps, the snow not quite as deep as it had been. He made some progress, but the air crackled with the dry cold, and the only sound was the crunch of brittle ice under his shoes.

Step after step, breath after breath, he pushed forward, turning toward a bend in the vegetation… then gasping. A light. There was light.

He hurried forward, fell, then pushed himself back up. Finally he found the road again, which made the going easier. Somehow he must have gotten turned around and gone the wrong way, but there it was. He hurried along much faster now, the pain in his feet returning with the activity. At least that meant they were still working and not about to fall off or something. Ben tried not to think about anything other than the light, which seemed to be mounted on the outside of a low barn or outbuilding.

Shelter—that was all he could think of. He didn’t see other buildings, but maybe they were closer to the trees in the distance. He didn’t stop to think about it. All his mind screamed at him to do was get out of the cold so he didn’t freeze to death.

Ben couldn’t believe he had finally broken away from his life of fear. It had taken months to get up the courage, and he had gone in the direction Dallas would least expect: away from the city, away from everyone, out into the wilds of the west and as far from the comforts of civilization as he could get. Of course, it had been his pursuit of those comforts that had gotten him into trouble in the first place. Ben should have known that no one gave something for nothing, and Dallas had offered a life and comforts he had only dreamed about. Definitely more than a kid from Beaumont, Texas, who barely had a high school diploma and who had spent much of his teenage years in foster care, should expect. Unfortunately all the good things Dallas showed him were on the surface, with darkness, fear, and control just underneath. Dallas had been looking for a plaything, a pretty young trophy he could manipulate and show off when it suited him. And Ben had fit the bill perfectly.

He pulled his thoughts away from things he could do nothing about and concentrated on the lights getting closer. And they were, thank God.

The building was indeed a barn, and Ben heard the shuffling of animals inside. He paused at the door before trying to open it, hoping to hell he wouldn’t get eaten by a huge dog once he entered. Then again, anything was better than freezing to death. He pulled, and the door swung toward him, leading to a cavern of darkness. Ben stepped inside and closed the door, standing still as beasts moved in the shadows around him.

Nothing touched him, and he closed his eyes to help force them to adjust. When he opened them again, there was just enough light coming in through the windows to illuminate the outlines of where he was.

It was noticeably warmer inside. He stomped his feet, which ached, but he did it again to rid them of the snow, and brushed his legs off as well. Slowly he walked down the center of the barn, large shapes looming out of the darkness toward him. Horses—they were horses. He sighed a little and inhaled the scent of fresh hay tinged with droppings. Okay, so it wasn’t as fresh-smelling as he might have liked. But it was warm—well, warmer. He looked around for something, anything, to wrap himself up in.

At the far end, there was a workbench under a window with horsey stuff hung above it and what looked like some folded blankets. They were probably for the animals, but Ben was too cold to care. He lifted two of them and turned to find a place where he could lie down. He was so worn out, his eyes kept drooping and his legs shook. He needed to get warm.

He turned into a dark space with maybe straw on the floor. It seemed dry and clean, so he spread a blanket on the top and lay on it after taking off his boots, pulling the other over him as he shook from head to toe. His feet and hands ached and he was thirsty and still cold, but the blankets helped.

Doing his best to let go of some of his fear, he closed his eyes, willing himself to warm up between the blankets, which smelled like the horses around him. Not that he minded. They didn’t seem interested in him, and Ben realized that it was their heat that was keeping the barn warm. At least he was no longer freezing. He figured that as soon as the light came in through the windows, he could venture out into the day and figure out his next steps. He needed to put as much distance behind him as he could as quickly as possible. He had made it this far. If he could get to one of the big California cities, he could blend in, find work, and become a face in the crowd where no one would know he had been a criminal’s plaything. No one would be able to find him, and he would be safe. Taking a deep breath, he finally relaxed as the cold that had gripped him so deeply seemed to lose its hold.

 

 

SOMETHING DEEP in Ben’s dreams shifted. Doors creaked, and he heard footsteps. He tried to figure out where they were coming from, along with the insistent tapping sound that he couldn’t place. He burrowed deeper into the blankets, desperate to keep the intense cold he knew was waiting out there for him at bay for a little while longer.

“Would you like to tell me what you’re doing here?”

The deep, rough voice cut through Ben’s dream and yanked him to full reality. His memory returned in a rush, and he jumped up, nearly tripping over his own aching feet. He had intended to be gone by now, but he must have slept deeper than he intended.

“Answer me.”

“I….” He ran his hands through his hair. “I’m sorry. I… the car…. I was freezing….” His knees buckled under him, and he ended up back on the floor of what he now saw was a horse stall.

His head swam, and the world around him seemed to spin as bells rang in his ears. He tried to get up again and this time managed to stand and even take a few steps without falling down, but it took all his willpower to keep on his feet and pull on his boots.

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