Written by: roseyn
The Ranger station was long, narrow, charmed with rustic shades of charcoals and a steeply pitched roof ending just metres from the ground. On its right, stood four permanent residences and a couple of bunkhouses for seasonal workers. On its left, a massive storage shed.
All appeared normal as Ray approached the logged-fenced acreage.
Instincts ordered him to proceed with caution.
He immediately obeyed and slowed to a steady trot, the rhythmic thud of the horse’s hooves muffled by the ground’s heavy sludge. An ever-increasing weariness began to consume him. His muscles felt unusually tender, his cheeks burnt from the constant beating of ice-cold winds. He lifted his head. The early morning sun was desperately trying to burst through the clouds, he desperately soaking in whatever little warmth it offered.
Ray pulled up about fifty yards from the gates, surprised to discover them still closed. He swung out of the saddle and loosely tied his horse to the fence. Drawing the collar of his poncho closer to his neck, he headed towards the entrance. He avoided the water-bogged cattle guard that sat just a foot short of the gates and stopped at the welcoming sign. Using it as a safeguard, he examined the area with more care.
The gate’s heavy-duty padlocks were still intact, confirming Ray’s initial suspicions. They were religiously unlocked well before the public opening times of 8am. So why not today?
Inside, the grounds appeared just as troubling. The nearby car park held all the usual suspects, vehicles that Ray knew. But the only sounds of human life were those of wire ropes clanging against the tall flagpole and the USA flag flapping hysterically in the wind.
Again, he tried ringing the station.
Again, no answer.
He glanced at his watch.
Where the hell was everyone?
A disquieting chill toyed with his bones and he shivered. Quickly dropping to his haunches, he did the obvious… called 911. When the call ended, he hunched against the bitter wind and thought out his options.
He could wait for the authorities. But that could be hours, weather dependent. By then Dalton and that Sissy woman could already be dead. As for the station’s crew?
A dozen unpleasant thoughts circled Ray’s head.
He groaned, wondered why he cared… realised he did.
With his gut developing more knots than a macramé class, Ray drew out his gun, ejected the magazine and checked the remaining bullets. He already knew there were five. But the act, somehow, gave him artificial courage.
Ray had never figured himself a hero. Not even close. He did the job he was paid for. No more, no less. To him, storming into the station with ‘all guns blazing’ was just plain suicidal.
He swore and stood. When this damn mess was over, he was going to take one very long, very hot bath.
He gripped the gun in both hands, as Hollywood had taught him.
And with one last, deep breath, skulked towards the ghost-like station.