Chapter Five: The Fight
The yellow school bus pulled up to their narrow drive on the gravel road where Graydon and Alex Jr climbed aboard. It drove another hundred yards to the "Y" intersection of the Wolf Creek spur and turned around. Their house was the last stop. It was four miles to school.
Graydon sat at the window with Alex Jr. beside him. He watched the sagebrush flats roll by, the rock piles and stunted apple trees and lilacs marking where earlier homestead efforts had withered from lack of water. Wolf Creek is a seasonal stream, its waters peaking during flood runoff in early spring. Come summer it dwindles until the gravel alluvial fan stretching outward from the canyon mouth absorbs the flow. Most summers find the creek bed dry where Wolf Creek empties into the Methow River, but upstream from the canyon mouth there is always enough water to support a trout and whitefish population.
Graydon fought his first fight before the week was over. It was the fourth day and he was sitting alone outside, watching kids in groups playing and gossiping. All grades--elementary through high school--shared the school grounds. Recesses and lunch periods were staggered to minimize mingling and bullying between older and younger students. The students shared a tall gymnasium standing between the elementary and high school buildings. The trouble started behind the gym.
Three older boys were harassing two girls, circling around them. The larger boy moved in, pinned a girl against the wall with his left arm braced across her chest, and ran his right hand up her skirt. The girl shrieked and tried to break free. Donny, youngest son of a prominent orchard and potato farm family, forced his hand between her legs. The other girl trapped in the circle blushed scarlet but said nothing. The other boys nudged each other nervously, laughing.
Graydon didn't remember much afterward. He did recall running headlong to hit her attacker full force with a body check, knocking him away from the girl. They fell to the ground together, himself on top. The surprise of the attack gave Graydon a temporary advantage but that lasted only a moment. Donny's friends pulled Graydon off Donny, who jumped up and lashed out at Graydon with a round-house punch. After that it was a melee of wild punches with Graydon trying to get inside Donny's longer reach.
"You're new here," the Principal said, frowning at a bloody-faced Graydon whose split lip and swollen eye were evidence that he hadn't done well against the larger boy. "You'd best remember that we don't tolerate fighting. If you expect to get along here, stay out of fights. Now what's your story?"
"Sir, he was grabbing that girl."
"What do you mean by grabbing?"
"He had her up against the wall, and he held her there, and he ... he put his hand up under her skirt, sir."
"Well, I don't know about that. I talked to the students who were there and their story is a bit different than yours. The girls said they were being teased and the other boys said that was all that happened until you came charging in to attack Donny without cause."
"No, sir. That's not what happened."
"Son, you'd better understand something. Donny and his friends grew up here and those boys have known each other and attended this school all their lives. Donny's family owns one of the largest orchards in this valley, and his father is president of the school board. Are you trying to tell me that all of those students are not telling the truth about what happened? And I'm supposed to believe you, who's been in our school less than a week?"
Graydon sat silently. He'd long ago learned he could never carry an argument with his step-father, no matter the truth of it, and it was obvious that this situation was similar. His words counted for little. He said nothing further.
"Very well, then," the Principal said, finally breaking the silence. "Let me warn you, we'll be watching you. This is the first and last trouble I'll tolerate from you. Now I suggest that you get out of my sight until time for the bus."
The bus took a long, roundabout route on its rounds past Twin Lakes, up to Patterson Lake, then doubling back to go up the Wolf Creek road. It was a mile's walk from school to the Wolf Creek junction. Graydon could easily hike it in time to intercept the bus. He walked alone that day and every day thereafter when weather was good. Otherwise he had to ride an hour-long route with Donny and most of his friends, and endure their jibes and taunts. There was little danger of more fighting. The bus driver was strict about that. If Graydon sat by himself, away from the others, he could ride in peace.
The girls in his class ignored what he tried to do. They'd rather endure Donny's occasional gropings. They clustered together so nothing more serious could happen; they were more wary of being associated with a newcomer, a loner labeled as a trouble-maker.
Graydon withdrew into himself. He told his mother about the fight. He mentioned that he'd been caught up by one of the bullies. He said nothing about the girl, the principal, or his threat.
Death and Rescue
He stood at the edge of a sandy arroyo. The heat was oppressive. The pungent smell of creosote brush filled his nostrils. Broken sand and gravel flats stretched away on both sides; cactus patches surrounded him, dangerous with needle-sharp spikes. Gunshots and screams erupted nearby.
Graydon seemed to float, approaching the fight. He saw a prone figure laying behind a rock, aiming and firing a rifle. Down the arroyo, a man lay on the sandy stream bed, another lay slumped on the bank, and a third was scrambling away, bent low, running for three saddle horses rearing and jerking their heads against their reins. The man, nearly to the horses, raised and whirled to fire a pistol. He was knocked backwards by a shot from the prone rifleman.
Two children huddled against the arroyo bank. They were Pueblo Indians, dressed typically for the natives of these desert plateaus. The boy, perhaps eight or nine years old, sat bleeding from his nose, cradling a broken arm. The girl, twelve or thirteen years old, lay slumped with her skirt torn away, exposing thin brown legs. Her blouse, torn from her shoulders, hung away to one side. Long black hair framed her face and partially covered the small cones of her breasts. She was alive but barely moving.
Another rifle shot barked; the fallen third man flinched and lay still. His blood spread and soaked into the hot sand. Nothing moved; the air shimmered silently in the heat waves of the desert sun. The boy whimpered, then silenced himself, choking back his cries. The girl stirred slightly. She moved her hand to pull her torn skirt across her legs.
Graydon stood at the edge of the bank, looking down on the scene. The rifleman eased to his feet and walked out of sight behind some brush. He was gone a few moments, then reappeared leading a saddle horse. His rifle was back in its scabbard, its polished walnut stock pointing forward. The horse's hooves dug deep, scooping tracks in the soft sandy bottom as they moved to the two children. The stranger dropped his reins and the horse stopped. A canteen hung from the saddle horn. He pulled two bandanas from his saddlebags and in words of their language, told the children they were safe, their attackers were dead.
He wetted and cleaned the boy's face. He carefully slit his shirt sleeve to uncover a deformed break. He cut slender creosote branches to splint and bind with sliced bandana strips the boy's arm where it was broken below the elbow. He left the canteen with the boy, and spoke more words. The boy drank and lay back to rest.
Turning to the girl, the man spoke more quiet, reassuring phrases and she hesitated a moment, then sat up, holding her torn clothes to herself. He cut more strips from another bandana. She watched warily while he tied her skirt back in place. Using the point of his knife, he pierced slits in the torn edges of her blouse. He threaded narrow bandana strips through them to tie it back over her chest. She was decently covered; she seemed more at ease.
Graydon was living another dream. He was an unseen observer in ... what?
One of the dead men's horses whinnied and another horse answered. The stranger stood, turned, and focused his attention up the arroyo, away from the dead men and their horses. Two native riders approached. One was quite elderly, gray and gaunt, riding stiffly upright. He carried a flint-tipped spear, held forward, status feathers hanging from the base of the stone point. A younger man, tall and scowling, rode beside him.
The stranger stood, waiting. The riders stopped to confront him accusingly, looking down to the injured children huddled under the arroyo bank. The younger rider spoke angry words. The girl answered, and then the boy spoke, and a mixture of expressions crossed the older and younger riders' faces. The younger man dismounted and moved to kneel beside the girl. More words passed between them. Soon, his expression relaxed and he picked her up, carried her to his horse, and set her astride the blanket pad on its back.
The elder rider turned to the rifleman and uttered a single command. The rifleman nodded, picked up the boy and carried him to his own horse. He mounted and turned his horse to fall in beside the Indian mounts. When the rifleman rode past Graydon, standing above them on the bank, he turned his eyes upward, looked directly at Graydon and smiled. With a start, Graydon realized he had seen this man before. The eyes! They were the eyes of the ghostly figure from his first dream!