Archive for the ‘Book 3 Survive Texas Dead’ Category

It took nearly a month for Liz to get to feeling like herself. She got up one morning and was up and dressed before she realized she was anxious to face the day. She slid her hand over the slight swelling in her lower abdomen and smiled. Brian would be happy. She, like Will, had decided this baby would be a boy. Brian, like all other men, always wanted a son and they had talked about another child, but Claire had been so young.

Liz took a deep cleansing breath, opened the door, and left the room. She had gained almost six pounds according to Cassie at her last check-up. With the return to health, Liz began spending mornings in the garden while taking over some of the office tasks in the afternoon. There was a constant influx of scavenged materials and needs to be control and monitor storage and distribution. There were color codes, letter codes and even numeric codes. It all depended on who made the request, the current inventory and the trips planned outside the compound. The result was a large metal building nearly bursting at the seams. She was working on a supply wish list when an alarm sounded inside the house. There was someone at the drawbridge. Liz rushed to the front window where Cassie looked toward the gathering in the distance. “What do you see?” Liz asked.

Cassie passed Liz the field glasses she had been using. “It’s a pretty large group. Maybe three dozen people, men, women, and children. Some of the vehicles are pretty old and ratty looking..”

Liz pressed the glasses to her eyes. She adjusted the sight then watched as Will and eight men and four women roll up to the bridge in four pickups. Each of the residents were well armed with rifles and handguns as they exited the vehicles and took a defensive position behind their trucks.

The majority of the visitors had parked two hundred yards from the draw-bridge, while a single truck approached the opposite side of the arroyo.

“What do you want?” Will called out from behind the hood of his truck.

A large man with his left arm in a sling stepped out from the truck and stood clear of the vehicle with one arm raised. “I want to speak to the man in charge.”

“You got him.” Will yelled back impatiently.

“My name is Ben Nascha. We come to help build a community here.”

With a snort, Will answered. “Why would you think we would be doing that?”

“A man who lived at the Eagle Pass Reservation. A man known to Pablo Hernandez.”

“You know Pablo?”

“No,” Ben answered.

“If this man knows about this place why isn’t he talking to me?” Will snapped in response.

“He died. We were attacked by the cartel when they started moving north. They killed everyone and looted everything useable in their path. We had left only a few days before they made it to Eagle Pass.”

“I hate to hear that, but I still don’t know you.”

“Pablo will know of me. I am the brother of the man who died.”

“Maybe, but right now the best we can offer is a place to camp.” Will pointed at the trees in the distance.

“That’s understandable,” Ben answered.

Will started to walk away then turned back to add, “Living here is not a free ride, and we don’t take in the infected.”

“That old bastard?” Tate laughed. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened to Randy.” Her face grew serious. “All I know about him is he bought an old run down hunting lodge out there about three years ago. They’ve been fixing it up. The website just went live before, well… It looked pretty sweet. Pretty big lodge with a dozen cabins or so.”

“So it could be a safe place for the girls?”

“Hell yeah,” Tate answered. “Last I heard they planned a self-contained facility since they were so far off the beaten path.”

“You could take the kids!” Matt brightened.

“Wait a minute, cowboy. I don’t do babies.” Tate protested. “I didn’t babysit as a kid, and I don’t know shit about taking care of no babies.”

Jake laughed. “My boy, Matt knows all about changing diapers and makin’ bottles.”

“Not so fast, folks. Dip-shit there owes me a new truck. He has to hook me up before I’m willing to go anywhere with or without kids.” Tate snorted.

Matt raised his hand in defeat. “I know what I owe you. When we get the camp set up, I’ll go with you back to Hondo. But that means me and the kids go to Pine Springs with you.”

“It’s a deal. But, I don’t do crying babies. I drive. You take care of the kids.” Tate added.

“Fine.” Matt conceded.

Tate got to her feet and handed the empty bottle to Larry. “You folks got a week then I plan on heading north.” She breezed out the back door leaving the table of soldiers to stare at the black ink visible around her shirt.

“Well, shit,” Mumbled Matt. “I guess that settles it.” He looked around the table then continued. “We have a plan so let’s get some sleep before we have to stand guard duty. We’ll call a meeting after breakfast. All adult will need to attend.”

Jenkins and his companion got to their feet and headed for the door. Matt followed them out into the summer night. Heat still wafted up from the hard packed dirt of the parking lot. Dark of night had settled on the camp leaving only a hint of light from the moon and stars. A soft glow from lanterns and candles could be seen around the blinds in the rec-room building.

Jake walked up behind Matt and cleared his throat. “I can’t be going to Pine Springs.”

Matt turned to face him. “Wasn’t planning on it. I noticed how you’ve been sleeping upstairs.”

“All she’s got is that baby. I won’t let her loose the boy. Besides, I think I love her.”

“Then she’s a lucky woman.” Matt slapped Jake on the back. “I’m not taking you or Larry when I go.”

“What do you mean?” Jake asked.

“It’s going to be just me, Tate and the girls,” Matt answered. “Anyone else going would leave the camp shorthanded.”

“How will you get back? She’s planning on staying.” Larry asked.

“I’ll figure out something. I imagine the grandfather will be glad enough to have the kids, I can talk them outta vehicles of some kind.”

“I don’t like it,” Larry commented. “You’ll be driving back alone.”

“You don’t have to like it.” Matt got to his feet. “I’ll be heading out in a few days to help Tate pick up a rig. And if we find what she’s expecting in Hondo we’ll be bringing back a full tanker. That’ll solve our persistent fuel shortage, at least for a while.”

The five soldiers sat around the kitchen table for over an hour. Lists were made, inventories consulted and options discussed, some dismissed while others added to the list. Eventually, the items on the list were prioritized and scheduled for implementation.

“There’s a small front-end loader in the barn. We can dig out the hill and slide in a small shipping container near the playground. If we cover it with soil and plants, it’ll be warm, but the kids can survive for a couple days. We can put in a couple vent pipes with a wind vane for ventilation and a composting toilet behind a curtain. If we store water and MREs, the kids could hide up to forty-eight hours. I can make it easy to open and secure from the inside.” Jenkins commented.

“If we get everyone trained, we’ll have thirty-plus adults protecting the camp,” Larry added. “Then we can start thinking about sending the girls to their grandfather.”

Matt, with his elbows on the table and clutching a cup of coffee, moved his head from left to right and sighed impatiently. “It’s over four hundred miles. Even if we could make it to Guadalupe National Park, we’d have to find the place.” Matt lamented. “All I have is a road number and name of the site.”

Jake answered. “It’s a chance to get them to their family. Hate to see you break your word, man.”

“How in the hell can I leave? It takes all of us working full time to keep this camp going.” Matt snapped.

“Can you live with not?” Jake answered. “Besides, we’re going to be training everyone.”

Matt scowled. “Getting them there would be at the expense of the camp?”

“Not necessarily if we ensure everyone could help defend the camp, you could take off a couple days to go to Guadalupe National Park.” Larry grinned. “You were gone four days with Tate, and we managed just fine. You aren’t as indispensable as you think.”

At the sound of footsteps at the door, the conversation fell silent. Everyone turned to see a slender silhouette standing in the doorway. “Is this a private meeting?”

“No. Come on in,” Larry called out. “Is there something we can help you with?”

“Got any beer?” She settled on a stool in the corner while Jake opened the frig and passed her a bottle of Lone Star. Tate shrugged an inked shoulder, and the tattooed panther’s eyes peeked from under the wife-beater. “Better than nothing, I guess. You said something about Guadalupe Park.”

“Yeah. It’s where Amy and Claire have a family,” Larry chimed in. “We were headed that way when we ran across Jenkins and the busload of kids. They were in pretty bad shape when we got here, so we decided to stay a day or two. It got complicated, and we never moved on.”

“I guess so with the fuckin’ Pied Piper there.” Tate laughed when she saw Matt cringe. “Where ever he goes, he picked up strays. Haven’t you noticed?”

Jake chuckled. “Yeah. He has been doing that, lately.”

“I was heading to Pine Springs Canyon on the east side of the park. I have family there. He used to talk about some crazy shit back in the day, but no one ever believed him. I guess he knew more than anyone knew. He met some old man at the VA once. The man offered Randy a job. He’s been living out there for the past couple years. I’m hoping Randy made it into Houston to get my mom and sister. I think his name was Edwards, Edmond or something like that.”

“Edmonds? He’s the girl’s grandfather.”

Leon searched his bag and found a small LED flashlight. He used the narrow beam to walk to the stove in the diner and turned on a gas burner under a metal pot of water and threw a handful of coffee grounds in the water. He lit a candle on the table near the prisoner and pocketed the flashlight. When steam rose from the pot, he crossed the room to the stove and turned off the burner. He watched the grounds settle then poured a cup of coffee.

“Mind if I have a cup?” Henry whispered as he struggled to sit with his hands still bound together around the leg of a bench.

“I suppose it won’t hurt for me to watch you drink coffee.” He poured a second cup of coffee. “Don’t know how you gonna drink it, cause I ain’t cutting the zip ties.”

Henry chuckled softly. “You give me the cup, I’ll manage.”

Leon passed him a cup then settled on a bench where he had a clear view through the front window. He brought the cup to his lips and slurped the hot liquid.

“Not good,” Leon whispered. “But it’s coffee.”

Henry clutched the big cup and leaned close to suck at the hot liquid. “Ah…thank you. I know you don’t have any reason to believe me about the people in the camp. Most are good folks. Just got tangled up with assholes.” He slurped at the coffee again.

“Why didn’t your menfolk step up and do something, man?”

“Only people with guns were Grant’s people. When he didn’t come back, the people he left behind are even worse.”

“Who stands guard?” Leon asked as he poured another cup of java.

“Wilson was the name of the man your boss killed. He only left six men behind to keep the camp in line.” Henry held the cup toward Leon. “I tried to talk to Wilson about making some changes. That’s when he locked up the women and made me come on this raid.”

Leon refilled Henry’s cup of coffee. “My guess is you’re lucky to have survived. Is that why you didn’t have a gun?”

Henry nodded. “Wilson told me if I didn’t get with the program, I was useless. He was right, I couldn’t save that woman’s husband or her son. If I had tried, I’d be dead.”

“We saw what you did to protect them,” Leon answered. “That counts for something in my book.”

Henry looked toward the first hint of dawn shining through the large plate glass window. “I guess we’ll see when your boss wakes up.”

One by one the sleepers awoke and found their way to the coffee pot. Margo poured a cup of coffee and took a swallow then coughed coffee across the counter.

“How can you drink this shit? You make coffee, and it’s filled grounds? Why didn’t you use a filter?”

Margo poured the contents of the pot down the drain, used bottled water to rinse out the last of the ground and then refilled the pot with water. She laid out a filter, poured a cup of grounds then put another over the top. She walked to the counter and retrieved a stapler. She folded the edge of the filter over, stapled the edge, folded and stapled again until she had an enclosed packet. She tossed the bundle into the boiling water, then repeated the procedure for a second pot.

Ten minutes later, coffee was being passed around when Brian walked into the diner. He was given a Styrofoam cup and took a swig. “Not bad…not bad at all.” He nodded at Leon. “You have hidden talents.”

Leon laughed. “Not me. It was her. She’s more resourceful than we thought.”

Brian walked to the pot with the coffee and saw the filter packet floating on the rich dark liquid. “I guess so.” He walked to where Henry still sat on the floor and pulled a knife from his belt. He slid it between the man’s wrists and freed him from the bonds.

“I understand.” Elaine wiped at a tear sliding down the side of her face then answered, “We’re ready to go.” She struggled to her feet picking up the bag of supplies with Sandy following suit.

Brian led the women to one of the trucks and helped them inside with Paula at the wheel. He walked around the back of a second truck and pulled at the rope hanging on the roll bar and used it to bind Henry’s hands and feet. Billy, Leon, Juan, and Margo each got into the remaining vehicles, and they caravanned back to the gas station.

Once the women had settled inside the gift shop, Brian and Billy went back outside and pulled Henry across the bed of the truck. They slid him off the tailgate none too gently and deposited him on the ground.

“Alright, Henry Dodd, this is your chance to live. I want to know everything about the camp.” Brian leaned toward Henry menacingly.

Henry held up his tied hands in surrender. “You got it….”

Henry talked for nearly an hour before Brian finally spoke again. “You’re sure of the numbers?”

Henry nodded excitedly. “A man by the name of Grant was in charge until last week. He left with a group scavenging and just never came back. Most people figured he ran into the military or took on someone he couldn’t handle. Anyway, that’s when this bunch took over. You have to understand, not everyone in the camp is bad. Grant brought in a bunch of assholes right after the attack, and everyone is afraid to do or say anything. One of the men you killed was a decent man, too. He was just too scared to do anything about it just like me.”

“Decent?” Brian interrupted. “It’s so-called decent men standing by while others do harm that will be our downfall, not the damned dead!”

“I know. I’m ashamed of what I watched happen, but I had my family to think of.” Cringing, Henry pleaded. “You got a family? Wouldn’t you do whatever it took to protect your family?”

Brian turned away. He kicked at a cigarette butt on the concrete. Henry was right. If he were honest with himself, he would do whatever it took to protect his family. Finally, Brian spoke. “We’ll do more talking tomorrow.” Brian pulled Henry to his feet. “For now we’re going inside and get some rest. We’ll have a guard, and you’ll stay tied up for the rest of the night. Any trouble and you’re dead, no second chances.”

Henry gave a quick nod. “You won’t have any trouble with me.”

Brian led Henry inside the gift shop, and found a place for him to sleep away from the others but in plain sight. He secured Henry’s hands around the bench leg then turned to Billy. “Get some sleep I’ll keep an eye on our friend and wake Leon in a couple hours.”

Brian settled on the office chair he had used earlier and watched the night slip away. It was a quiet passing of time. Around three, his eyes grew heavy, and he woke Leon.

Leon started, looked around, then stood and stretched his arms wide, muscles bulging in the undersized, t-shirt. “I got it, boss. Anything I should watch for?”

“All’s quiet. Just keep an eye out and watch sleeping beauty over there.” Brian nodded toward Henry. “He hasn’t moved since I tucked him in.”

“He sounds like a freight train.” Leon laughed.

“Just make sure he stays where he is. I don’t want him moving around while most of us are asleep.”

“Got it,” Leon answered to Brian’s retreating back.

Paula and Margo parked the vehicles near the camp. Both women ignored the gathering of men and their clean up activities to walk up to the two women huddled together near the car where they had been chained.

“Hi. I’m Paula. This is Margo.” Paula stepped closer with bottles of water in hand.

The woman looked up and stared without speaking. Paula gave each of them a bottle while Margo handed them a plastic store bag with beef jerky, fruit cups and a handful of candy bars.

“I’m sorry. We didn’t find much in the truck stop.” Margo whispered.

“This is fine.” The woman whispered. She nodded to her daughter to eat, but she just stared straight ahead.

“I’m sorry about your family.” Paula sat down next to the woman.

Margo followed suit. “Steve and the guys came as soon as they saw the gunfire. I’m sorry we were too late.”

“So am I.” The woman whispered. “My name is Elaine, Elaine Ward. This is my daughter, Sandy.”

The woman pushed greasy hair from her face while she studied the bag on the ground. She looked up then silently opened the bottle of water. She took a drink then passed it to her daughter. Sandy finished the bottle of water and Elaine opened the second. They both drank without speaking for a couple minutes then peeked into the bag. Elaine opened a package of jerked meat and passed a piece to Sandy then pulled one out for herself while Margo and Paula waited quietly.

“We haven’t eaten in a couple days.” Still chewing, Elaine opened a fruit cup and passed it to her daughter.

Sandy tipped up the cup and spilled the sweet syrup and fruit into her mouth. She licked at the dribbled of syrup with a hint of a smile on her lips. When she realized what she was doing, she started crying. “They’re dead.” She looked at the food horrified. “How can I eat when Daddy and Danny are dead?”

Elaine put her arm around her daughter. “It’s alright. You have to eat. Your body is hungry. Your dad and Danny would want you to eat,” Elaine tore off another piece of jerky and put it in her mouth in a show of support for her words.

Brian approached the women. “Ladies? Is there anything I can do over here?”

Elaine looked up and studied Brian for a moment. “You’re military?”

“Yes, mam. Captain Brian Jameson. I’m sorry we couldn’t do more for your family.”

“Me too.” She introduced herself and her daughter then added. “What now? The van is destroyed?”

“You get your choice of trucks from the four these assholes were driving. You can come with us, or you can head back out to wherever you were going.” Brian answered. “We’re loading everything from your van into a truck then we’ll head back to the fueling station where we were staying. We’ll spend the rest of the night there. We can talk about your options in the morning, and you can make those decisions then.

Elaine nodded. “What about my son and husband? I’d like to bury them.”

Brian sighed. “I’m sorry. The best we can do is put them in the van and burn it in the morning. We don’t have the tools to bury them, and we can’t chance a fire tonight.”

When Zack handed Steve the camp shovel, he slid off the log and scooted over to a slight depression in the ground. He pulled away a couple handfuls of scrub grass then began to dig. He looked to see Penny watching and smiled as he wiped the moisture from his brow.

“You want to help?” Steve asked.

“Uh-huh,” Penny answered.

“I need lots of little pieces of wood.” He held his hands apart about six inches. “About this long and no bigger than your thumb, can you do that?”

Penny grinned. “Uh-huh.” She ran to a nearby tree to begin picking up sticks.

When she brought the first handful, Steve pointed at a place nearby. “There’ll be fine. Don’t wander far.”

Penny skipped away giggling while Steve completed the first hole when he had gotten down twenty inches. He cleaned to hole of the last of dirt then slid over to begin a second smaller hole. When he got to the same depth, he reached into the first hole and joined the two.

Zack hung the green tarp while Della and Darlene began sorting supplies for an evening meal. He walked over to Steve carrying an armful of small limbs and branches.

“Thought you were building a fire. What’s the hole for?”

“It’s a Dakota fire hole. Remember all the fires we saw? No one will see our fire below ground,” Steve answered.

“Want me to help?”

“Sure.” Steve passed Zack the shovel. “We need to expand the bottom of the big hole a little more. Make it about the size of a five-gallon bucket. Don’t open the top any larger if you can help it. We’re going to use that grating to cook on.”

Steve sat back and began weaving together the dried grass into a tight ball.

Zack shoveled and scooped dirt then sat back. “I think I got it.”

“Put this in the center and add sticks around it in the shape of a T-pee. Add bigger sticks as you work your way out. Leave access to light the tender.”

Della and Darlene walked over. Della sat down a pot of water. Have you got a fire going? We need to start boiling water.”

Zack stuck a lighter into the hole for a minute, then sat up just as smoke wafted from the hole in front of him.

“What are you two doing?”

“A Dakota Fire takes less fuel and burns hotter. Did you bring that metal grating?”

“We should have brought more supplies,” Della commented as she handed him the camp grill.

“A little trapping or hunting and we’ll be fine,” Steve answered. “Even at just twelve miles a day, we can be there in less than a week.”

“How far did we ride today?”

“Seven, maybe eight miles. No more than that.” Steve answered.

Della interrupted. “The way my legs and butt feel, I can’t imagine going further than we did today.

Darlene echoed Della’s sentiment then added. “Besides, I don’t think Penny can take riding more than we did today.”

“Then we’ll go as far as we can,” Steve answered.

Zack stepped out of the saddle and nearly fell to the ground. After flexing one leg after the other, he tied the reins to a tree limb and did the same for the pack horse. After removing the supply bags, Zack pulled a rope from a bag and set it aside.

“If you take care of the horses, we’ll set up camp and fix a meal,” Steve announced as he began loosening the cinches on his mount’s saddle.

“I got it. I’m not sure I can even sit down right now,” Zack answered.

Zack walked to Darlene, and she dropped Penny into his waiting arms. Penny giggled and wiggled, anxious to be let down. Zack put her on the ground, and she darted away.

Darlene called out to her retreating back. “Don’t go far.”

“I won’t” Penny answered as she headed for a patch of bluebonnets.

With help from Zack and Steve, Della and Darlene pulled saddles from their horses, wiped them down with handfuls of grass and then passed the reins for Zack to lead them to the stream. At seeing Steve limp around the horses flank,

Della walked up with the black mare and held out her hand. “G’me.” Steve started to protest, but just shrugged and handed his horse’s reins to Della. “You go sit down and pull off the prosthetics. Your legs are still too raw to be wearing them for so long.”

“It’s more my ass, then my butt.” Steve laughed then walked to a fallen log and sat down with Penny where she drew shapes in the dirt. Steve pulled up his pant legs and pulled the artificial lower legs from his stumps. He rubbed the pink skin and sighed with relief at no sign of ulcers.

“Why don’t you have feet?” Penny asked.

Steve looked up and smiled. “I lost them.”

“Where? I can help look for them.” Penny tilted her head to one side and studied his face. “I’m good at finding things.”

“I’m sure you are, but they’ve been gone a long time.” He smiles. “Besides, I have these.” He held up a prosthetic.

Penny looked a little confused then smiled. “Okay. I’m getting hungry. Are you hungry?”

Zack appeared at Steve’s side and opened one of the packs. “What should we do first?”

“Give me the shovel, I’ll take care of the fire, you can hang the tarp from that branch to the ground. It’ll give us cover in case it rains.”

Steve reined his mount around and led out, with Della on the black mare first to follow. Darlene followed Della with Zack bringing up the rear leading the pack horse. Steve led the group across the rugged terrain until it suddenly they were back at the edge of the blacktop. He studied a sign in the distance, then pulled a map from his pocket. They were approaching Miller Ranch Road. If they continued on, they should be back on State Road 90 and could head back north. They rode for another hour, near a water treatment plant, then they were back on 90 with fewer signs of the tornado damage. They saw a small white square white building in the distance.

“Is that Marfa again?” Darlene asked.

Della answered in her best Obi Wan Kenobi voice. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

“Party pooper,” Darlene answered amid peals of laughter.

The five horses plodded away from the distant remnants of Marfa. They followed the roadway a short distance away while dodging around scrub trees and mesquite.

“Why aren’t we riding up on the road?” Della asked.

“We need to be able to hide quickly. We don’t want to take a chance someone on these back roads sees us.”

As the afternoon wore on, Penny began to whimper. Steve glanced to the raised train tracks in the distance and wondered if they would find a train sitting on them at some point. His gaze followed the tracks to a green belt perpendicular to the track and road ahead about a mile away. It could mean water and a place to camp for the night.

He tapped the stirrups against the horse’s belly. Water would let them clean up, have a meal and provide a place to rest the horses for the night. He turned to Della and called out. “We’ll stop up ahead, let’s get there.”

With a new enthusiasm for the last leg of the day’s journey, the trio following Steve picked up their pace. When they neared the small draw, they found a trickling stream surrounded by lush grasses and a variety of trees including a few sprawling-branched oak trees. Steve led the others farther away from the highway into a dense grove of trees. Steve got down from the dark brown mare and handed the reins to Della. He carefully picked his way to the stream and looked back at the overpass crossing the highway. They would be hidden from any passing traffic. He looks from right to left and found a level area under the thick limb of an oak about twenty feet from the stream. A little further downstream was a less brushy area with plenty of grass and close to the water.

He walked back up the bank and waved at the waiting group. “This’ll do. After we unsaddle the horses, we’ll take them down there.” He pointed to the grassy area a short distance away.

It took nearly two hours to sort through supplies and decide what they required instead of what they wanted. Steve, Della, and Zack made three stacks: one of the absolute essentials, another one of items at least one of the trio thought was needed, then the last pile of expendable. A second pass reduced the items to what they could get in three huge duffle bags. When they were finished, they sat down and stared at the remaining supplies.

“I hate leaving so much behind,” Zack commented after a long pull at a bottle of water.

“I feel the same way, but we can only take so much,” Steve answered. “Come on, big guy, time to move out.”

The two men saddled the horses as a sense of uncertainty settled over the small group. On each saddle, they tied saddle bags with extra water and supplies and bed rolls. When they were finished, Steve still worried about the supplies being left behind. He passed around more bottles of water, jerky and energy bars. Everyone ate quietly lost in the realization of the sudden changes. Since none were more than casual riders, they were hesitant at best.

“Let’s mount up. Darlene, do you want Penny in front or back?” Steve asked.

“Front. I think.” She answered.

Darlene mounted, got settled with her feet in the stirrups, then Zack passed Penny up to sit in front of her mother. Della mounted by herself and pulled on a baseball cap. Steve reached up to the saddle-horn and pulled himself into the saddle. He pushed his prosthetics into the stirrups and rose up to adjust his seat.

“Well, Zack. Are you coming?”

“I got this,” Zack answered.

He grabbed his own saddle and stuck his left foot into the stirrup. He bounced on his right foot, but the horse shied and pranced away leaving Zack hopping after him.

Steve used his prosthetics to bump against his mount’s side and turned the reins to guide his mount to Zack’s horse’s side. He grabbed the bridle and held the skittish mount still.

Zack stepped back into the stirrup and with a quick jump swung his leg over the back of the saddle. He pulled himself up and settled on the seat. “Good to go,” Zack announced with a broad grin as Steve released the bridle and handed him the rope attached to the pack horse’s bridle.

“Follow single file and stay about ten feet apart,” Steve ordered. “Zack, bring up the rear and hang onto the pack horse. You can wrap the rope around the saddle horn a couple times but don’t tie it. Just in case.”