Bear sat at the kitchen table watching the horses in the east pasture. The clock on the stove read 7:22 a.m. It was a beautiful June day. His father, Ralph, came into the kitchen. He took his cup off the counter and poured his first cup of coffee of the day. He joined Bear at the kitchen table.
Ralph refused to call his son Bear.
"Otto, it's a beautiful day. What do you say to us taking Little Ralph fossil hunting down at the creek?''
Bear shook his head.
"Negative. I'm going up to the coalface after breakfast. I'm bringing down a few loads with the Bobcat. I want to get a head start filling the coalbin this year."
"Suit yourself. Kids are only young once."
"Don't get your bowels in an uproar Dad. I'll be along when I'm done."
Ralph took a sip of coffee and smiled
Ralph Patrick Harris, Bear and Trina's only child, named for both their fathers, walked into the kitchen rubbing sleep from his eyes. Sunka, their four-year-old Pyrenees, glued to the boy's side. The boy walked over to the table sat down between his father and grandfather. The dog went to his water bowl.
Bear tousled his son's thick black hair.
"Good morning Ralphie. How did you sleep?"
Ralph Patrick yawned and stretched.
"Really warm. Sunka slept with me last night. He's a bed hog."
Bear and his father both laughed at the boy. Sunka, who was busy lapping up water, looked up at the mention of his name. He walked over and sat down between his boy and his man. Ralph Patrick automatically stroked Sunka's head.
"You want some OJ boy?" Ralph asked his grandson.
"Yes please, sir."
"I'll get it Dad. You enjoy your coffee and see what Ralphie thinks about your plan for the day."
While Bear got his son, a glass of orange juice, his father and son had their heads together whispering about their plans for the day. Bear gave the juice to his son and took his cup to the stove for more coffee.
He held up the pot.
His father nodded and held out his cup. Bear refilled it and returned to the table.
Trina walked into the kitchen with her mother-in-law, Emma Harris. Trina, her long raven hair wound into a tight bun, wore a gray "SUNY ATHLETICS" midriff sweatshirt, neon yellow over black trail running shoes and matching spandex running shorts. Emma was dressed comfortably in a pink velour robe and matching slippers. Her dark auburn hair, neatly brushed, hung loosely to her shoulders. They both came over to the table and greeted their men with kisses. Ralph Patrick got the first kisses, then, their husbands got theirs. Ralph pinched Emma's backside and made her jump.
Emma pursed her lips, with a twinkle in her eye.
"Not in front of the kids Ralph."
Ralph roared with laughter. Trina blushed. Bear rolled his eyes and Ralph Patrick giggled.
"That's not nice grandpa."
Emma smiled at her grandson.
"My champion speaks. You're in for it now old man."
Ralph Patrick giggled again.
"Yeah Grandpa, I have to defend Grandma's honor."
It was Trina's turn to laugh.
"Mom? What have you been reading to my son?"
Emma looked at Trina seriously.
"Sir Walter Scott's, Ivanhoe. It’s good for a boy to learn about chivalry at a young age."
Ralph held out his hands.
"Easy boy. No need to get feisty. I'm just playing with your Grandma. I promise to be nice."
Ralph Patrick looked up at his Grandfather searching his face.
Ralph turned his attention to Trina
"Where are you off to in that outfit you're almost wearing?"
Trina blushed again.
"I run every day. You know that Dad."
Bear and Ralph laughed at this.
Bear smiled at his wife with a twinkle in his eye.
"You're the best advertisement SUNY could ask for. I hope you're billing them for your time. What are you doing after your run?"
Emma turned to her son.
"Trina and I are going to town. Walmart has fabric on sale. We're going to get some flannel with the Transformers print and make Ralphie some pj's and a matching comforter."
Three hours later, sweating, thirsty, frustrated and angry, Bear pulled a bottle of water from the cooler on the Bobcat and pressed the cold plastic against his forehead. After blasting the coalface, he broke three teeth off the Bobcat's bucket. He had to drive three quarters of a mile to the cabin to get the keys to his toolbox and then drive back down to the stage-barn to replace the broken teeth.
"Nearly eleven and not one bucket of coal."
Bear twisted off the cap on the bottle, put it to his lips and drained it. He grabbed another bottle and walked out of the stage-barn into bright sunlight. He could hear his father and son whooping with excitement over some new discovery. The Station was a great place for raising kids. He walked further out into the barnyard. Bear studied the sky over the Grand Hogback. Angry, green-black clouds were building over the ridgeline.
"I'll have to keep an eye on that."
He went back to work.
"There, three buckets done, now I can play." Bear said to himself.
His watch read 14:37. Bear went to the cabin and took three cans of iced tea from the refrigerator. The sky had darkened considerably. Gusts from a freshening west wind blew dust into the air. Bear smelled rain on the breeze. A bright flash lit the sky. Three seconds later the crashing boom of thunder startled him. The storm was coming fast. A muffled roaring noise echoed down the valley.
"Dad and Ralphie are still at the creek!"
He dropped the tea and ran for the stage-barn.
Bear rounded the corner of the building. He spotted Sunka at the far corner of the pasture. Hysteria had taken the dog. He stood atop the twenty-foot high creek bank, barking frantically. Bear threw climbing gear and a one-hundred foot coil of rope into the bed of the six-by-six ATV. He mashed down the accelerator and stabbed the ignition button with his finger. The 1,000cc engine howled into life. The ATV shot out the barn door.
The roaring noise echoing off the ridges drowned the howl of the ATV's engine. Bear looked up the valley. A relentless wave advanced rapidly down Rifle Creek. Bear floored the ATV and bounced across the wide pasture. The speedometer pegged at fifty miles per hour. He winced, hearing the flashflood slam into the culvert pipes at the crossing.
Ralph and Little Ralph were in the deep gulch past the end of the pasture. Sunka raised hell atop the high, nearly vertical creek bank. The boulder strewn creek bed had Dogwood trees right down to the water's edge.
“Sunka must have a critter cornered up there.”
Ralph stared quizzically into Sunka’s desperate eyes.
"What's that noise Grandpa?"
Ralph was hard of hearing.
"Huh? What noise?"
Ralph Patrick was wide-eyed.
"It sounds like a train."
The lightning flash and boom of thunder frightened both of them. Ralph heard the noise now. He smelled the moisture in the air as the pressure wave went past them. He blanched.
"What was that Grandpa?"
"Run for the cut Little Ralph!"
The boy was dumbstruck. His grandfather never shouted at him. Ralph scooped up the boy. He ran for cut in the creek bank. His legs were leaden. His heart pounded. Pain exploded in his left arm. The water, suddenly deeper, drug at his feet. Little Ralph heard the howling engine of the six by six.
"Daddy's coming in the Polaris Grandpa."
"I hear him boy." Ralph panted.
His eyes found the cut in the bank fifty yards ahead. He ran faster. He heard the flashflood hit the culverts. Three seconds and fifteen yards later, a twelve-foot high wall of water, pipes, tree branches, rocks, mud and debris swept up Ralph Harris and his grandson. Little Ralph was torn from his Grandfather's arms. His terrified scream chocked off by water and mud. Ralph and the boy struggled in the hellish maelstrom.
Ralph and the boy's last thoughts shrieked helplessly in their minds.
Bear stopped the ATV next to the cut. Sunka rushed up to him. He ran back toward the creek barking furiously. Bear grabbed the rope and ran headlong for the cut. Reaching it, he stopped dead in his tracks. Rifle Creek was running bank full. He was too late. He ran along the trail atop the bank. Lightning flashed. Thunder rolled. The sky opened up. Heavy rain and hail hammered Bear into the ground. He crawled to the edge of the bank.
"Ralphie. Dad. Ralphie, Dad where are you?" He shouted.
Rushing water, the splintering of wood, lightning and the crash of thunder answered his queries. Bear rose to knees and wept, mocked by the satanic laughter of the storm and flood.