At early sunrise, Heath was already squatted by the campfire cooking breakfast, while his slugabed brother Nick was still slumbering. He picked up a slice of crispy bacon, walked over to Nick and dangled it teasingly over his face. Nick’s nose started to waggle at the smell. In a lightning flash, his mouth snapped up the slice in one bite.
“Boy Howdy! That’s a hungry bear. Almost bit my fingers off. Ready for breakfast?”
“You know you snore.”
Nick kicked his blanket aside. “We’ve been over this already, Heath. I don’t snore, you do,” he stated bluntly with a yawn and a stretch.
“If you say so, Nick,” Heath humored with a lopsided grin before returning to his bean casserole.
Nick rose to his feet and scratched his belly with a yawn and a sniffle as he scuffed over to the fire and sat. “Let me guess, beans?”
“Yep! With some sausages, bacon and a slice of Silas’s raisin bread.
“Try it. It’s good. Come on, dig in!”
Nick emitted a few unintelligible mutters before he hungrily forked his food into his mouth.
Following breakfast, the boys picked up their hunting gears and plunged deeper into the woods, where the deafening silence engulfed them in a sense of serenity. When Heath spotted a deer in the distance, he assumed his firing position, rifle to the slope, leveling it at his target. Some branches hampered his chances at a clear shot, so he swarmed up a flattened boulder and squatted down. He took aim and fired, hitting the deer in the head.
“You got it, Heath!” Nick whooped with excitement.
As Heath stood up, he lost his footing and staggered backwards, falling off the rock.
Nick laughed at his brother’s stumble, finding it all too amusing, until he rounded to the other side where horror struck him.
“Heath!” he shrieked, diving to his knees on the edge of a boarded up well in which Heath had fallen through. Nick poked his head down the dark hole, squinting to see below and shouted, “Heath, can you hear me down there?”
Heath’s face distorted with pain as he tried to wiggle his contorted body in the narrow hole. His back was arched with his legs above his head. “Yeah,” he heaved out.
“I’m not sure. Every…everything’s kinda numb.”
“Can you move?”
“I tried. There’s not enough room.”
“Hold on, I’ll get you out.” Nick rushed back to the campsite to grab a rope and made a mad dash back to the well. He secured the rope around a tree and edged up to the hole. “Heath, I’m gonna throw a rope down to try to pull you out.”
“Okay.” Heath painfully passed the loop underneath his armpits and clung to it before yelling up to Nick to pull at the rope.
“Hold on!” At first pull, he heard a scream.
“Nick, stop! Stop! Heath screamed in agony. “It’s no good. I’m stuck.”
“Okay. We’ll try something else,” Nick said frantically, pausing briefly to think up of another solution. “Heath, tie the rope around your ankles and grabbed onto to it. That way I’ll be able to hoist you up in the same position without breaking your back.”
“Okay.” Heath proceeded to follow Nick’s instructions. Big brother gave the rope a bit of slack to allow Heath to loop it around his wrists. He gripped his legs and hunched his back forward, burying his chin in his chest as he braced himself for the worse.
Nick huffed and puffed, his aching muscles screaming with each heaved he gave at the rope. He ground his heels in the earth as leverage. He flumped on his behind as the final pull had Heath emerging from the hole. Nick scrambled over to him and pulled him away from the hole, causing Heath to creased up with pain.
“Sorry Heath. Do you feel anything broken?” Nick asked between two pants as he gingerly released his brother from his bonds.
“It’s my legs. I can’t hardly feel them.”
Nick groped Heath’s legs, feeling for any broken bones. “I can’t have you riding in the saddle. You might have broken your back.” He bent closer to Heath’s face to stare into his pained eyes. “Listen to me, Heath…I’m gonna ride back to the ranch to hitch up the wagon. Hang on to your rifle in case some wild animal wants a piece of ya. Will you be alright?”
Heath nodded. Nick ran a soothing hand in Heath’s hair, brushing back the locks hanging loosely on his brow. He gave a tap on his shoulder before he rose to his feet and hurried back to the campsite. There, he swung on Coco’s bare back and kicked him at a full tilt back to the ranch.
Barely two hours later, Heath was settled in his room with Dr. Merar making a grim diagnosis of his condition. At this point, he couldn’t tell if the paralysis was due to a pinch nerve or a dislocated disc. In the case of the latter, Heath could be crippled for life.
Hearts sank at the news. Nick kicked a chair clear across the room in a violent rage before he stormed out of the room.
Victoria hurried after her distressed son, but as she caught up to him, he slammed shut the bedroom door in her face. She rapped on the door. “Nick.”
“Leave me alone, Mother…please,” he implored with a voice she perceived as racked with sobs.
She sighed and reluctantly retraced her steps to Heath’s bedroom.
Later that evening, as the family gathered in the dining room for supper, Nick was upstairs by his brother’s bedside. He insisted on Silas bringing him a tray for he had no intention to leave the room before Heath awoke. He had just finished eating when Heath’s baby blues fluttered open.
“Hey Nick, why the long face?”
Nick’s emotions caught in his throat as he tried to garner the courage to tell his brother about the paralysis. “Heath, Doc Merar said that…”
“Nick, could you do me a favor and scratch my left ankle. It’s itching me something crazy.”
“Yeah, sure,” Nick replied absently. He got up and moved to the end of the bed, where he lifted the sheet off Heath’s foot to accede to his brother’s request. “How’s that feel?”
“Ohhhhhhh yeah,” Heath breathed out with relief as he wiggled his toes. “That feels good. Thanks.”
Nick returned to his chair where Heath, a smug on his face, waited for his brother to realize what he just did. “Heath, did you just ask me to scratch your ankle?”
“That means,” his face lit up, “you can feel your legs?”
“Can you move them?”
“Yeah.” Heath bent up his legs at his knees. “See.”
Nick whooped with joy, clapping his hands together. “MOTHER! JARROD! AUDRA!”
“I guess this means you won’t have me lolling in bed tomorrow?”
“Not on your life, Little Brother. This is a working ranch.”
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