“Nick!” Victoria called out from behind her son’s closed door. “It’s time to get up and get ready for school.” When no answer came, she nudged opened the door and poked her head inside. “Nick, darling, time to get up.”
“Arrrghhh,” came to grumpy reply.
“Come on Nicolas. Courage. Only three weeks to go before Christmas,” she egged on with a light tickle under his chin.
“Mother, don’t do that,” he giggled, brushing her hand off his face. “Awright, awright I’m getting up.” He hauled his weary body out of bed and slouched all the way to his dresser to splash water onto his drawn features. “Three weeks, huh?”
“Three weeks,” she reminded with a smile that spoke volume as to the impending event. She closed the door and walked down to her seven-year-old blond son Heath sleeping in the adjacent bedroom. Again she gently pushed open the door to peak at her sleeping angel. He beam faded as she realized the cherub wasn’t in his bed. Her eyes roamed over the room, scanning every corner for any sign of the little boy.
She proceeded to check every room in the house before alerting her husband. “Tom, Heath is missing,” she cried.
“Missing?” Tom wiped the last spot of shaving cream off his face and tossed the towel aside. “What do you mean missing?”
“He’s not in his room. I checked everywhere in the house and he’s not there,”
“Calm down, Torie. He’s probably by the corral. You know how he loves the horses?”
“It’s not like him to leave the house without telling us, especially in this cold weather.”
Tom took her by the shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “Don’t worry. I’ll find him,” he said reassuringly. “I’m sure he’s around here somewhere. That boy has a knack for hiding in the oddest places.”
“What’s going on?” Nick asked as he exited his room to go downstairs.
“Nick, would you know where your little brother is? Your mother has looked everywhere for him.”
“He’s probably out in the barn,” Nick offered light-heartedly, confident that Heath would be found next to Coco’s stall as it is usually the case. “I can go look for you, Father.”
“Yes please. I’d appreciate.”
Nick descended the stairs and hurried to the stables to check on his horse. He found it peculiar and somewhat troubling that his little brother wasn’t there.
Meanwhile in another part of the ranch, a little blond boy was whimpering underneath a spruce tree where he had found refuge against the cold wind blowing. “Mama, please come and get me, mama. Please,” he begged between sobs. He was curled up in a ball to keep warm as he was only wearing his jammies.
Not far stood a red stallion that the constant whining brought closer to the giant spruce. He reached down his long neck to sniff whatever was emitting that noise. His head shot back at the scent of a human being but instead or scurrying away the animal found himself drawn by the helpless little boy. He neighed to announce his presence to little Heath who quickly shrunk back in fright. “Don’t…don’t hurt me.”
As if he understood the horse shook his head and snorted, taking a few steps back to allow the boy to slip out of his hiding place. “Horsy, you won’t hurt me, will you?”
Again the stallion took two steps backwards and shook his head. Heath held out his hand to make friends and the horse responded to the gesture by inching forward to smell the offered hand. “Horsy, can you help me find my way back home? I was chasing a little bunny rabbit and…and,” he sobbed, “I got lost.”
The horse pricked up its ears and after taking another whip off the boy’s scent, he took off at a gallop. “No!!!!!!!!” Heath cried out. “Don’t leave me. Please, come back.” Heath rubbed his fists against his eyes to ease the sting left by the tears. “Come back,” he begged once last time before slithering back underneath the spruce.
“Allright, Jim, you and Carl take the North Range. Deke and Sam you take Oak Meadows. Jake and Tim, the South Range. Others spread out. Nick and me will look around the ranch,” Tom instructed to his men. Barely had the men mounted their horses that the red stallion they had been yearning to rope for months showed up.
“Look boss, it’s Big Red,” pointed Jim excitedly as he slowly reached for his lasso.
“Father, it’s him,” Nick echoed, ecstatic to finally see the legend up close.
“Son, no sudden move, now.” Tom waved his men to remain calm. “What’s it doing here so close to the house?” Tom muttered underneath his breath. He frowned suspiciously at the animal’s irrational behaviour, wondering the reason for Big Red remaining still in front of his men.
“Father, there’s your chance to catch him,” Nick encouraged. “What’s he doing now?” Nick asked, puzzled as to why the horse was thumping his hoof against the ground.
“If I didn’t know better I’d say that animal is trying to tell us something.” Then with lightning speed, the stallion took off at a tilt.
“Follow him,” Tom ordered with a wave of the hand.
Surprisingly the horse kept a steady pace as so to allow the riders following behind to remain in cadence with him. Finally he stopped and turned to face Tom and his men who halted their mounts. Big Red stomped his front hoof and nodded toward the spruce. Tom slowly dismounted and handed over the reins to eleven-year-old Nick.
“You want to tell me something, don’t you boy?” The horse tossed its head forward towards the tree. Tom glanced over to the spruce and squinted to make out the inert form of a young boy. “Heath!” he cried, scaring the stallion away.
Tom cradled the frigid little form in his arms. “Heath, come on son. Stay with me. You’re going to be alright.” He took the blanket offered to cocoon Heath with it.
“Boss, how is he?” Jim enquired for the other men who stood in the background with bathed breath.
“He’s alive but cold. I’ve got to get him home and quick.”
“Tom, do you want me to ride out for Doctor Merar, just in case?” Zeke offered.
“That’s a good idea. Thanks Zeke.”
As Tom gently lifted his son in his arms to carry to his horse, Big Red returned to stand a few feet away. Tom stopped and stared at the majestic animal that appeared to be waiting for a sign that the boy would be okay.
“Thanks Big Red. I owe you one, boy. You can rest easy. We’ll never chase after you ever again.”
The horse gave a grateful snort and turned back to join his drove of mares.