MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — Sunbury Press has released High Passes, John Timmerman’s latest novel, set in the American West.
Ben McCallister returns to the peaceful valley where he grew up, only to find it torn apart in a range war. With lies and deceit on every side, who can he trust?
Snow swirled through the mountain passes, pushed by every contrary wind. At first a heavy wet thing, it hung between snow and rain—the kind of snow that holds to the jacket like a wet hand and drips from the hat brim in sad gray drops.
The drops hardened to ice, and the leather jacket stiffened and snapped with the horse’s gait. The wind rose and howled across rocky passages, drifting snow quickly on the leeward side of rocks.
The sky closed, white sheeting out peak, forest, and valley. By the time the snow rose hock high on the horse, gathering well over an inch an hour, cold settled in like a pick axe’s bite.
Ben McAllister felt that bite deep between his shoulder blades. He also felt his chances of making the ranch sink to near zero. After a week straight of hard pushing, it was tragic to quit this close. That’s the only word he could think of: tragic. The snow was tragic. He had once sworn he would never return. Now maybe he wouldn’t. Not without shelter soon. He and the stallion he rode would be one more icy sculpture against the cold rock of the high passes.
The wind-packed snow an inch deep across his broad back. The traditional rounded and peaked cowboy hat, wonderful for shedding rain, now lay nearly caved in under the weight of ice. From the crown of that hat, over the high, up-turned sheepskin coat collar, and down to the long, muscular tapering of his back, man and animal seemed one desolate being tossed in nature’s grip.
For a time Ben had not named the black stallion. He’d just never thought of a name fitting for the magnificent animal. Then one day, out of the blue as it were, Ben named him Treasure. Mostly, though, they communicated by a series of whistles, finger snaps, and other sounds. Right now Ben let the stallion have its way, hooves skittering on icy rock as it slowly found a trail. Ben scanned the sides: up, down, right, left. Any spot out of the howling wind. He felt the stallion’s muscles tremble anxiously under his thighs, its breath heaving in white, wet clouds that immediately became one with the air.
He felt the horse veer to the right, pause at some tumbled rocks, then slowly pick its way through and Ben had no idea why the animal had gone off the trail. He let it go. Suddenly they stepped into the lee of an enormous rock outcropping, rimmed around by a stand of stunted jack pine. Ben lowered himself and led the stallion well into the shelter of the rocks.
He expected to feel exhilaration to get out of the blasting storm. He didn’t feel that. He felt exhausted. He barely had strength to wrestle the saddle off, his arms trembling with tension and weariness. Well, he told himself, it’s heavy. But it was just the usual: the tooled saddle, the scabbard with Oliver F. Winchester’s finest 30-30, the emptying panniers, and his bedroll. There were things still to be done. He hunted among the jack pine for some firewood. He found small branches he could break over his knee, but they’d do for tonight. He didn’t see any larger ones.
With the hot eye of fire watching, Ben removed the horse’s halter and let him forage. The horse hooved aside the icy snow that had drifted into the clearing and grazed on sparse tufts of grass. From one of the nearly empty panniers Ben scooped a handful of oats. The horse licked his palms clean like a dishrag and then went back to foraging. He deserves much more than that, Ben thought. He made promises of what he would do if they ever got out.
Authored by John Timmerman
List Price: $14.95
5.5″ x 8.5″ (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
Sunbury Press, Inc.
BISAC: Fiction / Westerns / General
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