Excerpt from my book - Desperate Journey
American Title II Finalist
Now available from Samhain Publishing!
An excerpt from A Desperate Journey
All rights reserved - Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication.
copyright © 2008 Debra Parmley
Sally saw a ferry and a store, but no one seemed to be about. There was a sign by the door. “What does the sign say?”
Rob read it for her. “Rates of ferriage. Horseman ten cents, man on foot five cents, one-horse wagon fifteen cents, two-horse team twenty cents, four-horse team thirty cents, the other rates are for cattle and the rates double at night.”
He turned to Moss. “I don’t mind paying the extra ferriage to save time.”
Moss muttered, “Ought to be half what he gets regular, seein’ as how I ain’t got a wagon no more.”
Rob went inside to look for the ferry driver and came back out. “He’s too drunk to take anyone across tonight. He’s passed out. There are extra beds. We can settle with him in the morning.”
Sally settled Carolyn into the bunk nearest the fire. On the other side of the fireplace, the ferryman sat, tipped back in his chair, his jaw hanging open as he kept up a steady snore. The jug in his hand rested on his thigh, while his hat threatened to fall off his bobbing head.
“It’s stinky here, Mama,” Carolyn said.
“Yes, sunshine, I know.” Sally’s nose twitched. “Roll onto your side facing the other way and it won’t be so bad.” She smoothed Carolyn’s hair. “Go on to sleep.”
Soon her daughter was sleeping soundly. Moss and Rob had settled the animals for the night and stoked the fire, and Sally slid into bed beside Carolyn. Rob and Moss took the bunk against the wall, Moss still muttering under his breath about his wagon and being charged for a full team he didn’t even have.
“Hell, old man. I’d pay you just to shut up,” Rob said. “First sunlight I aim to be up and crossing that river.”
The room fell silent and Sally curled onto her side away from the men with a smile as she hugged Carolyn close.
The next morning, Sally had just fixed the coffee and was starting the bacon when the ferryman woke.
“Well, damn my eyes if it ain’t an angel come to save me,” the man roared as he stood with a lurch.
Sally jumped and took a step back.
“Ain’t you the purtiest thing,” he said with a leer.
She smiled nervously, not wanting to anger him.
Rob chose that moment to enter the store. “Morning. It’s about time you were awake. Name’s Rob.”
“Fletcher, but you can call me Fletch.”
“We need to buy passage across the river.”
The ferryman’s gaze drifted back toward Sally. “Cain’t take you across.” He shook his head. “Not for another two weeks.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Water’s running too high.” Fletch stepped behind Sally. “That bacon sure does smell good.” He peered over her shoulder. “You smell mighty good too.”
“That’s it.” Rob’s voice hardened.
Sally heard the cock of a gun and turned.
Rob stood with his gun pressed to Fletcher’s head.
“I think you’ll be taking us across. You’ll be taking us across today.” He jerked his head. “Sally, get your things.”
“Ye heard the man,” Moss argued. “That water is too fast, too high.”
“We’re going now.” His tone brooked no argument.
“Ain’t we goin’ ter eat first?” Moss persisted.
“Lost my appetite.” Rob’s jaw clenched and he nudged Fletch with his gun. “Now move.”
Sally watched Rob force the ferryman out the door and her hands shook as she gathered their things. “Carolyn, you stay away from those men and do as I tell you.”
Even her bubbly daughter was subdued by the force Rob had brought into the store. And just when she’d begun to relax around him.
But he was no better than Luke. He was just another man who would use force to get what he wanted. And men like that were dangerous.
Sally reached for Carolyn’s hand while they silently watched the men load the ferry. Rob stood atop the bank with his hand on his gun as Moss began to coax the mules up the dock and onto the ferry.
“You better pay me double like you said,” Fletcher shouted to Rob.
The coolness and steel in Rob’s reply made Sally shiver. “You’ll get your money when we’re on the other side.”
“Stupid cowboys,” Fletch muttered with a frown. “Water’s too high.”
Rob’s expression did not change, yet Sally knew he’d heard the man.
“Get them mules on up in front, just them two,” Fletcher directed Moss, as he squinted against the sun. “Get ’em up on that hitching post.”
Moss hitched the first two with a grumble.
“Now them other two in the middle.” Fletcher frowned. “And keep them calm. I don’t want no animals giving me trouble.”
“Don’t ye worry none about my mules.” Moss hitched the other two. “I know my business good as you know yourn.”
Rob led his horse up the ramp next. As Moss took the reigns from him he said, “I hope like hell you know what you’re doing.”
Rob merely grunted.
Finally Fletcher called to Sally, “Come on, little lady, you get on over here by me.” He held out his hand to her.
Though Rob’s eyes narrowed, he said nothing, just continued to stand with his hand on his gun as he watched them.
Sally lifted Carolyn up to Moss and reached for Fletcher’s hand. Though he was behaving like a gentleman now, his bloodshot eyes took her in. “That’s it,” he said as he helped her onto the ferry, his sour-whiskey breath making her wish she could hold her nose. His hand was raspy, rough and strong.
She waited till he turned away to push off from the bank to wipe her hand on her dress.
The ferryman grabbed a pole and gave a shove off the bank.
Moss squinted at him when he turned back around. “I ’spose ye expect me to hep ye.”
“One of you has to. I let my men off for two weeks till this river is ready to cross, and they’ll be at the nearest saloon till I send for them.”
They both glanced at Rob who stood by his horse, his right hand never far from his gun. He’d just displayed how fast he was with it.
“It’s gonna be hell to get this ferry back across the river by myself.” Fletcher grabbed the rope and began walking hand over hand down the length of the ferry.
Though the ride was smooth at first, Sally eyed the rushing waters into the middle of the river and wondered what would happen when they reached it. From the glances of the men, they were wondering the same thing. This did not reassure her.
Carolyn stood with Sally in the middle where it was most stable. She bounced up and down with excitement.
Sally gripped Carolyn’s shoulders. “Stand still.”
“Ma’am, you got to control your child,” Fletcher said as he continued working the ropes.
Sally looked down at the cold, dark, swiftly flowing water, remembering with a shiver of panic that neither she nor Carolyn could swim.
“Carolyn, sit down.”
Her daughter obeyed and Sally looked for something to hold onto. The ferry didn’t feel so sturdy as it began to creak and shift with the water becoming steadily rougher. Sally’s knees shook as her thoughts ran with the dark and dangerous river. The creaking grew louder as the mules shuffled and shifted their hooves.
The whites of their eyes rolled in fear when the boards of the ferry began to moan and groan. They didn’t like this raft any more than she did. She briefly touched the brooch at her neck and reached out to balance herself against a mule.
“I told you this river was too fast,” Fletch growled at Rob as the creaking and groaning grew louder and the river shook the ferry.
They were three quarters of the way across and the ropes were straining as Fletcher and Moss strained to pull them across.
The rear guide post holding the guide ropes snapped in two.
“Son of a bitch!” Fletcher dropped to the floor of the ferry, holding on, just as the ferry flipped around, lurching and twisting as if it were playing crack the whip.
Carolyn and Sally screamed.
“Damn it! Sally, hold on!” Rob shouted.
The mules brayed and his horse whinnied. The horse and mules struggled against their ropes and the strain snapped the hitching post in half. One mule jumped off into the water, making the ferry tip even more.
“Dang nab it, Critter!” Moss turned and shouted.
His favorite mule was swimming toward shore with all the gear on its back while a second mule followed. At the same time, a third fell onto its hindquarters braying and Moss caught hold of it, fighting to get it under control. The fourth kicked back and Rob’s horse, which had been dancing in fear, fell into the water along with the fourth mule. The commotion tipped the ferry, flinging them all into the water, except for Fletcher who clung to the one remaining pole, cursing all the while.
“Mama!” Carolyn screamed as she was flung from Sally’s arms.
“Carolyn!” Sally shouted. Raw panic seized her as the current carried Sally downstream in the opposite direction.
“I’ve got her!” With two long strokes, Rob reached her, grabbed her by the back of her dress and reached for the saddle of his horse.
Moss was already holding the tail of one of his mules as the animals swam to shore.
Sally thrashed and screamed as the rushing water carried her further and further downstream, bobbing her up and down in the water, her heavy wet skirts twisting around her legs, threatening to pull her down.
She bobbed, the river alternating between dunking her and allowing great gasps of air.
She grabbed part of the broken hitching post and clung to it to keep her head above water.
Rob glanced back, realizing Sally hadn’t swum to shore. A look of horror crossed his face when he saw how far the river had taken her.
“Help! I can’t swim!” Sally screamed and swallowed water as the river carried her swiftly downstream.
“Sally!” Rob called. ”Hold on!”
She’d drifted too far beyond his reach.