Authors: Susan Page Davis
FIRE AND ICE
Copyright © 2009 by Susan Page Davis. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
Scripture taken from the H
®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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Robyn Holland stooped over the yearling pup and worked the harness gently over his legs.
Grandpa Steve brought out two more experienced dogs and hooked them to the towline. The veteran dogs would run in the wheeler position—at the back of the team, nearest the dogsled.
The yearlings, Muttster and his littermate Bobble, wriggled and danced, eager to run in the crisp new snow with the big dogs. Robyn hooked them to the towline farther forward, each one beside an older dog who had pulled sleds for several years.
At the very front, Grandpa positioned their pair of leaders, Tumble and Max. “Everybody set?” Grandpa asked.
“Yeah, but I think you’d better let me take them around the loop once before you take over.” Robyn patted the youngest dog’s head and stood. “It’s the first good snow we’ve had in weeks, and the trail’s going to be fast.”
Robyn frowned. “It won’t be like pulling the ATV, you know.”
She bit her lip. Her grandfather had grown frail last winter, his arthritis keeping him from doing much of the dog training that kept them solvent. But when summer arrived and his doctor started him on a new drug regimen, he’d perked up. One of the jobs he’d enjoyed through the fall months was driving teams of dogs hitched to the Hollands’ ATV. In the old days, Grandpa had used a light cart for training on dirt trails, but the acquisition of the ATV three years ago had increased their training options. It gave the dogs more weight behind them, to hold them steady during fall training, building muscle and stamina.
There was plenty of snow now, the last week in December. Grandpa seemed as eager to get out with the sled as the dogs did. He’d suffered a bad cold and hadn’t driven any of the teams since they’d put the cart away in early November. He felt better now, and with plenty of snow on the ground he couldn’t wait to get out on the trail again. But could he control a team of eight dogs, two of which had only minimal training?
“I’m just saying, they were frisky Saturday. Today they’re excited by the fresh snow
frisky. That sled weighs a lot less than the ATV.”
“I can handle them,” Grandpa insisted.
“Oh, I know. It’s just that—”
“Hey, I was racing dogs before you were even thought of.” Grandpa glared at her from his place at the back of the sled. “Are you going to get the snub line, or do I need to?”
“I’ll get it.”
Robyn walked to the line that anchored the team’s leaders to one of the few trees in the dog lot. This year’s crop of puppies pressed against the link fence of their enclosure, watching the big boys. The other mature dogs also stood, panting as they gazed at the fortunate ones who’d been chosen.
She looked toward Grandpa, and he nodded. No use arguing with him, even when he was wrong. But he
been running dogs decades longer than she had.
With misgivings, she unsnapped the line.
“Hike!” At Grandpa’s quiet command, the dogs leaned into their collars and pulled. They made a quick start. The leaders lunged forward, hauling the youngsters with them. The other dogs in the team kept pace, and the sled zipped over the packed snow in the yard, toward one of the trails they used most.
Robyn wished she had hitched up a few dogs to their old sled so she could follow along. But then Grandpa would accuse her of babysitting him.
She watched them until they were out of sight and went to get her plastic toboggan from the barn. In winter she used it to haul water and food to the dogs. She gathered up a dozen water dishes. The water froze and the dishes had to be emptied and refilled several times a day or the dogs would dehydrate.
Her mother put on her coat as Robyn entered the back door of the kitchen carrying half the dog dishes.
“Hi, honey. I’m just about to leave for work. I see Grandpa got his way.”
“I couldn’t stop him. He’ll be all right.” Robyn met her gaze and felt another flash of doubt. “He wanted to go so badly.”
“He’s a good trainer. He knows what he’s doing.” Her mother picked up her keys and purse.
“Yeah. And it will be a short run today—just a couple of miles. He’ll be back soon.” Robyn put the water dishes in the sink and walked outside with her mom.
They both turned without speaking toward the dog lot. The dogs barked and wagged their tails.
Robyn couldn’t help smiling. “They’re all so happy that we’ve got plenty of snow.”
“Yes, it was sparse for a while there.” Her mother peered toward the trail Grandpa had taken.
Robyn walked over to the male dogs’ enclosure, opened the gate, and went in. She stooped to pat Scooter, her brother’s retired lead dog. He was more of a pet than a team dog now, but she sometimes harnessed him with yearlings to teach them trail etiquette. Scooter rubbed against her hand and woofed.
She stroked his ears and straightened. The mountains to the north were solid white against the clear blue sky, with shadows of purple, gray, and navy delineating ridges and cliffs. Who else on earth had such a beautiful place to live and work?
“Here they come.” Her mother’s voice held relief.
Robyn straightened and peered toward the trail. She could hear the dogs running and the faint jingle of the leaders’ bells. As she left the enclosure and secured the gate, Tumble and Max burst into sight. “They’re coming awfully fast.”
She and her mother stepped back as the team tore into the yard. Robyn backed up against the fence, debating whether to interfere.
“Whoa.” Grandpa was riding the brake, but the dogs were still pulling too hard.
A shot of adrenaline hit Robyn. They took the curve in the pathway too fast, and the sled swung around on one runner. Usually by this time of year, the snow was deeper and the sides of the trail banked, but now the sled weaved all over the place. Grandpa wasn’t heavy enough to slow the breakneck pace.
The young dogs used the near wreck as an excuse to leap in excitement, and the older, steadier leaders seemed to catch their mood.
“Tumble!” Robyn stepped forward. “Whoa, Max!” They raced past her with the sled swaying so wildly Robyn had to jump out of the way.
Grandpa’s mouth hung open, and he looked ahead, judging the stopping distance needed before they would crash into the shed that held dog food and tools.
“Dad!” her mother yelled.
Robyn took off in a sprint. If she could jump on the runner beside Grandpa, that might slow them down enough.
“Whoa, you numbskulls!” Grandpa clutched the handlebar and braced for the impact. The sled swung around before Robyn could reach it and hit the corner of the wall.
Max and Tumble swerved at the last second, dragging the young dogs with them. The wheelers took the weight of the sled as they tried to turn and avoid the shed, but Coco slammed into it with her right shoulder. She yelped in pain as the sled slid sideways and tipped over, dumping Grandpa to the ground.
Robyn ran forward. “Grandpa! Are you hurt?”
Grandpa Steve raised his head and looked after the team that still ran, pulling the damaged sled. “Get the dogs! The dogs, Robby! Don’t let them run free.”
He was right, of course. Robyn ran after the sled, calling to the leaders and reasoning to herself that if he were seriously hurt, he wouldn’t have yelled at her like that. Her job was to make sure they stopped running before they got to the highway.
She called to the leaders again. At last Max turned them, just before they reached the road. They made a wide arc into the unbroken snow, and it slowed the dogs down. They came back toward her, panting and wagging their tails. The two youngsters still danced in their harness. The sled skidded along behind them on its side. Coco limped, and her harness mate, Rocky, seemed to have his outside hind leg tangled in the lines.
Robyn spoke sternly to the leaders, and they lay down, eyeing her sheepishly. The wheelers followed, and after a moment the dogs in the middle slunk down and put their chins on their paws.
Robyn took several deep breaths. They were dogs. They were trained to run and to love pulling the sled. It wasn’t really their fault.
It was her fault.
She’d known deep down that Grandpa couldn’t handle a team of fresh dogs anymore. He’d once been a strong man, but those days were over. Between the weight he’d lost in the last year and the muscle he’d lost through lack of exercise, he never should have attempted the stunt. And she should have stopped him.
She unhooked the sled and left it beside the driveway, gathering the end of the towline firmly. “Hike.” Grimly, she walked behind the eight dogs. More subdued now, they obeyed and headed back toward the dog lot, where their individual doghouses sat.
To her surprise, Grandpa still lay on the ground near the shed. Her mother knelt beside him in the snow.
“Is he okay?” Robyn called.
“We’re taking it slow and easy,” Mom replied. The look she threw Robyn did nothing to allay her fears.
Robyn tied the team up with a snub line and hurried to Grandpa’s side.
“They got away from me,” he said ruefully. “I just couldn’t hold ’em.”
“Well, Dad, don’t fret about it. We need to take you to the ER and make sure you didn’t do any serious damage.”
“Naw, I don’t need to go to any hospital.”
“I’ll make the rest of the decisions today, thank you.” Robyn’s mother stood and arched her eyebrows. “Can you help me get him up?”
“Is it serious?” Robyn asked.
“I don’t think anything’s broken, but he bumped his head on the sled and landed pretty hard on his hip.”
Robyn lowered her voice. “You’re taking him in?”
Her mother hesitated. “If he can walk, we’ll take him inside and let him rest. If not, we’ll get him to the car and head for the hospital.”
“Now, Cheryl,” Grandpa protested through clenched teeth, “all I need is a heating pad.”
“We’ll see.” She knelt again beside him.
Robyn got on his other side and slid her arm under his head, around his shoulders. “You ready, Grandpa?”
He strained to sit up but quickly lay back with a moan. After a moment, he said, “Let me roll over on my side. It’ll be easier that way.”
Gently, she rolled him over. He seized her wrist. With both women lifting, he got to his feet with a groan. “Oh man, that hurts.”
“Can you put weight on it?” Mom asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Robyn, honey, go bring my car around here.”
“I’ll drive,” Robyn said.
“No, you stay and put the dogs away. And call the store. Tell them I won’t be in this morning.”
Robyn dashed around front and brought the car to the dog lot. By the time she got there, Grandpa sagged heavily against her mom, his face contorted in pain. They got him into the backseat, and her mother drove away, her mouth set in a grim line.
Robyn walked slowly to where she’d tied up the team. “Made a real mess, didn’t you all? That will teach us to put two rookies in the team at once. Shouldn’t have rushed it.”
But she knew the accident hadn’t happened because of the yearlings. She’d run half-grown pups with her team many times in training. That was how they learned. And each had been harnessed alongside an older, calmer dog. No, it was Grandpa’s refusal to face the reality of his condition, and her reluctance to force him to admit it.