With dust storms coming up almost daily and the whole center of the country in a drought, life on the Wild Lands Ranch is getting tough. Timothy Abbey wishes there was something he could do to help, but with the price of cattle falling to the point where people are essentially giving them away, there isn’t much to be done. Without any money coming in, his mom can’t afford to pay the hands, but they still need the help on the ranch. Timothy hates what has become of his family, and the ranch, as his mom trades her body for help on the ranch. When the men come after him too, it’s one wolf who comes to his rescue.
Derek has been curious about the Abbey family for years, and especially about Timothy. The wolves watch over the humans to make sure they stay out of the forest, but for Derek it’s more than that. When he overhears the men talking about going after Timothy while he’s out with two of them on a cattle drive, Derek knows he has to warn him. But in doing so he’ll risk exposing himself, and every wolf he knows, leaving their fate up to Timothy.
Timothy Abbey heard the cow chime from across the ranch and took off running. There was only one reason for his mother to be using that triangle of metal to call for them all—another dust storm was rolling in. The big barn needed to be secured first. His brothers were already working on the smaller buildings. The horses neighed nervously to each other as he settled the heavy latch over the door, locking them in.
With over a thousand head of cattle on Wild Lands Ranch, there was no way to secure them all in one building as he had the horses. They’d just have to do the best they could out in the pastures.
“Timothy!” a young voice screamed over the rising wind.
“Darn,” he grumbled, changing course from dashing for the house to heading toward the tool shed, where his youngest brother, Daniel, was huddled against the side of the wooden slats. Without a word, he lifted Daniel into his arms and took off running toward the house.
The wind kicked up wildly around him as he ran. Thankfully Daniel was only five, and small for his age, because any heavier and Timothy would have struggled to carry him as far as he had to. Daniel clung fearfully to his neck, and Timothy wished he had some words for his brother to calm him down, but the best solution would be to get him inside. At least inside they wouldn’t have to worry about dirt and grit getting into their mouths.
Long minutes later, they made it to the house and toppled through the front door, bringing swirls of dust with him. He set Daniel down and brushed off his hair and shoulders. “Hide under the table,” he instructed. Daniel already knew the routine, though, and was halfway there before Timothy had finished telling him what to do. His next oldest brother, Emory, was only seven, and he was already under the table.
“Ma!” Timothy called out.
“Put something under the door!” she yelled back to him from upstairs, seeming to know in her motherly way what he needed.
Timothy stripped off his shirt. It would help create a barrier from the dust, even if it was only thin cotton. Once that was done and the house was secured from the impending dust storm, he huddled with his brothers under the table. He wasn’t afraid, but he could tell they were. They whimpered and clung to him like calves during a thunderstorm. He wished this was only a summer thunderstorm, instead of yet another heart-wrenching dust storms. They’d been getting worse, and this one seemed to be the most powerful of them all. He heard it whip against the house, shaking the boards each time the wind blasted against them.
The hands had gone quietly into another room where they listened to the storm as well. Their mother came downstairs minutes later, along with a hand. He looked smug as he met Timothy’s gaze. He needn’t do that. Timothy knew what they’d been doing up there. He was a grown man, and he understood the price of cattle was dropping, along with their weight, and their workers still needed to be kept happy.
His mother’s hands shook as she made them all some coffee. Timothy ventured away from his siblings to go to her. But when he stood beside her, he didn’t know what to say. The drought they’d thought would be over with each change of season had only grown worse, and for the past several months, dust storms had ravaged their ranch. There was talk of selling, but his pa would have never allowed that. He was long gone, buried ‘bout ten years back, but he knew his ma wouldn’t sell the land.
The cattle, on the other hand... well, they were anyone’s guess. Timothy knew they couldn’t afford to feed even a small fraction of the herd they’d kept. Same went for the horses. But with cattle bringing in half what they had only four months earlier, selling most of the herd likely wouldn’t have paid for food for the rest of them. And that still left the horses to feed and the hands to pay. If the ranch was green, the way it was supposed to be, there wouldn’t be a problem, but the land had become too dry for even weeds to grow.
“I’ll take Cloud down to the auction in the morning,” Timothy said as he leaned against the dining room table near her. His horse was a good, solid animal. Selling him had to mean they’d be able to pay for something they needed.
His ma shook her head, and tears sparkled in her eyes, but he knew there wasn’t anything for it. “Take a ranch horse instead. Not Cloud.”
“Selling one of them would bring in little more than five cows. They aren’t worth much. You’d need three of them to be worth as much as Cloud, and we need those three more than we need him. You know it too.”
She nodded and sniffled. Timothy felt like crying too, but it was time for him to step up. The cattle were thin. If he didn’t get them more food soon, they’d starve, falling over dead in the fields. Then his family would have nothing. If he had to sell the horse he’d raised from a weanling and trained himself to make sure the cattle survived, then that was the choice he’d make.