Determination

By Sissy

Texas in the summer can only be described as hot. But after a night of refreshing rain and with the sun barely showing over the horizon, the city of Dallas and everything in it looks as if it has been scrubbed clean.

Except for the dirty mud caked SUV that is moving slowly up the street. It seems the rain has missed it completely. Thankfully the traffic is very light, some cars even stop, as the SUV inches it’s way across the street, climbs up on the sidewalk but when the rear wheels hit the curb it rocks slightly and comes to a complete stop.

It sits there looking like some mud covered prehistoric monster for several minutes, then the door on the drivers side opens and a figure that is just as muddy, steps from the vehicle and begins to climb the many steps leading inside.  The figure stumbles and falls and starts crawling the last of the remaining steps.

People leaving and entering the building, stand back from the repulsive form, that is covered in dried caked mud, turning their noses up at the odor emanating from the figure as it stands and makes it way inside the elevator just before the doors slide shut.

When the doors open, the pathetic creature staggers down the hall and enters through a door left open by someone just leaving, takes five staggering steps into the room then stops, staring at the desk at the rear of the room in the far corner. The site of the empty desk seems to take the last of the energy from the slight frame and it crumples in a silent heap down on the floor.

As the body hits the floor, it seems to snap the Rangers out of their trance and as one they all stand and move quickly toward the creature on the floor. Trivette is the first one to kneel down on the floor and with trepidation, turns over the prone figure and looks down into the mud caked face. He knows it is female but beyond that he has no idea who it was. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket he begins to wipe some of the dried mud away from her eyes. Someone hands him a wet paper towel and he begins to carefully pry away the mud from the face.

Suddenly he stops, completely lost for words. He leans down and wraps his arms around the frail body and, as tears fill his eyes, he begins rocking her, whispering "Oh, God, oh God," so soft, his words go unheeded. “Someone,” his voice breaks, he swallows and this time his voice is clear and urgent.  “Someone call 911 … and hurry!”

Whispers began to circulate the room, "Who is it?" "Could you tell who it was?"

Jimmy picks up the woman and starts to carry her out of the room when he is touched on his arm, "Trivette, who is it?"

He turns and looks at Captain Price, "It's … its Alex."  Then he turns and goes out the door to meet the paramedics.

After being sure she is in the care of the medical technicians, he turns to look at the SUV, still resting half on the sidewalk and half in the street.  He moves toward the vehicle like a man in a daze.  His mind is fumbling over the facts, as he knows them: Walker had left on a short trip to the Brazos taking along Alex and his 21-month-old daughter. A ‘togetherness’ trip, a time to bring their souls together, he had said.

“Walker, man … where are you? What the hell happened out there?” he whispers.  The outside of the car is splattered heavily with thick mud, dried hard and brittle now. When he looks inside the open door, he sees that it is much like the exterior. Dear God, what happened out there?

In the back seat he sees a few of Angela’s toys, a doll and well-worn teddy bear, a half filled bag of diapers, and an open suitcase with the contents tossed about in the car, Angela’s clothes.   On the floor in the front are Walker’s boots, Alex’s sandals and a paper bag with several colored stones.

Why didn’t she radio for help? Sliding into the seat, he picks up the radio mike, and presses the talk button, nothing.  It’s shorted out! A glance at the fuel gauge shows an empty tank. She must have coasted the last of the way here.

He leaves the vehicle and stands on the sidewalk, leaning into the SUV, his hands braced on the roof edge.  Caught in a flood, radio shorted out, out of gas.

By the time Jimmy gets to the hospital, Alex has been cleaned of the mud and is sitting up in bed, the doctor standing at her side.

“Mrs. Walker, you can’t leave the hospital! You are severally dehydrated, and your body is badly bruised. Right now you couldn’t walk ten feet without falling on your face.” He turns to see the Ranger standing in the doorway. “You talk to her, Trivette, convince her to stay her, let someone else hunt for her husband and baby.” With that given advice he leaves the room.

Jimmy sees the frown on her face and knows he has his hands full. As he moves up to the bed, “You know he’s right Alex,” his words soft, “Can you tell me what happened?”

He watches her face crumble and the tears well up in her eyes, and pulls her into his arms.

“Oh, Jimmy … it was awful.” He holds her until the tears turn to sniffles and she pushes away from him. “We were having a wonderful time. Angela was really enjoying the wide open spaces, the discovery of new things,” a smile twitched the corner of her mouth, “Walker even had her eating his grubs and worms and … liking them.” A tear fell from the corner of her eye but she brushes it away. “Our third day there, we could see the rain back in the mountains but we knew we weren’t in the tributary runoffs so we weren’t worried. We spent the afternoon searching for colored rocks, Angela had found a few and wanted more.”

Her face starts to scrunch up, but after taking several deep breaths she continues. “Walker heard it first, a low rumble that seemed to be coming from the bowels of the earth. He grabbed Angela up in his arms and yelled at me to run for high ground.” Tears slowly began to drip down her cheeks, “I … I lost sight of them, but I knew Walker had Angela and he would take care of her. I was so scared, I could see the wall of water coming down the canyon, bringing trees, and rocks with it. I think I was hit with something,” she rubs her shoulder, “but I kept climbing, … it was so hard … the ground was turning to mud right under my feet, … I kept sliding down. I somehow managed to reach the ridge and when I turned back to look for Walker and Angela, it … it was nothing but a sea of mud as far as I could see.”

“Alex, you said this happened the third day out, it’s been almost a week since you left…”

Between deep sobs, “I searched … for … three days … couldn’t … find them. Finally … found the car and came back for … help.”  Her composure finally gives way, and she covers her face with her hands and great heart breaking sobs rack her body.

Jimmy pulls her into his chest and holds her until the fragile body finally stills and seconds later, listening to her even breathing, knows she has fallen asleep. He lays her down, and pulls the sheet up to cover her then posts vigilance in the chair next to her bed.

He knows they are few greater calamities than for a mother to lose her baby, and in Alex’s case it was her baby and her husband, both of whom she loved more than life itself.  I’m going to have one helluva time trying to keep her from going back out there.

Feeling a jerk on his hand, he sits up straighter in the chair, blinking furiously trying to clear sleep from his mind, and sees Alex’s frantic eyes searching his face.

She throws the covers back starts to get out of bed, “Jimmy, I’ve got to get back out there. I’ve got to find them.”

Jimmy jumps up and forces her back into the bed, “Alex you’re exhausted, and you need to get your strength back.”

“Jimmy there isn’t time. You’re into health foods, get some, I’ll eat on the way, I promise, I just can’t stay here and wait.” Her eyes are pleading with him and he sees the strong Cahill determination in them also. He knows the minute he walks out with out her, she’ll go on her own.  Better to have her where he can watch her.

He stares at her a minute then in a no-nonsense voice says, “All right, give me one hour to get you some clothes and some hi-potency food and drink and I’ll take you back out there. But if you don’t eat this stuff I’ll bring you back so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

“Oh, I promise, Jimmy, I promise,” she cries as a small smile spreads across her lips.

“Okay, try to get some rest till I get back.”  He backs toward the door, watching her.

“I will, I will,” she says as she scoots back under the sheets.

True to his word, Jimmy walks back into the room within the hour finding Alex under the covers but her eyes are glued to the door.  When she sees her friend she jumps up in bed, grabbing for the sack that he throws at her.

“Did you get everything?”

“I think so, hiking boots, socks, jeans, a flannel shirt, and bra and panties, I didn’t look, just grabbed. Made sure I had one of each, so they may not match.”

“I don’t care,” she says as she throws the covers off, and as she grabs for the snap at the back of her gown, Jimmy makes a hurried exit out the door. Fifteen minutes later, he hesitantly pushes the door open. She’s sitting in the chair putting her boots on, with a strong look of determination on her face.

***

Angela is squatted down with her diapered butt just barely an inch off the ground, letting her fingers play through the pile of pebbles in front of her. She picks up a deep turquoise pebble, about the size of a pea.

“Look, Daddy,” she says, as she holds it up for him to see.

Walker kneels down beside her and takes the stone from her fingers. “Hmmm … very pretty.” He drops his hand down and begins to sort through the small rocks when he suddenly stiffens. A minute is all it takes for him to realize what the soft trembling is he feels from the ground. He jumps up, looking for Alex.

“FLASHFLOOD, Alex, RUN!” He reaches down to pull Angela up into his arms. He turns and grabs Alex’s hand and begins running for the ridge.

As they start climbing, Alex stumbles and Walker loses her hand. He hesitates and she hollers, “GO! I’m right behind you.”

But somehow, they become separated, and Walker is unable to find her, but with Angela in his arms he forces himself to continue the climb. With the water lapping at his feet, and Angela held tightly in his arms, he takes a quick glance around him, looking for Alex when he stumbles and falls.  He clambers to get to his feet but the water is swirling around his legs, making it hard for him to keep his balance. He sees a dark hole and tries to avoid it but the water is getting stronger and he finds himself being sucked into what turns out to be a cave. Fighting to keep Angela’s head above water, he tells her to hang on to his neck. He has no choice but to let the rushing water carry him deeper into the darkened tunnel.

Walker suddenly realizes that the water is not as swift or as deep as before, and with Angela still clinging tightly to his neck, he gets his feet underneath him and stands, moving along with the water but with less strain on his muscles. As he trudges along, he sees a faint dot of light in the distance, and tightening his hold on Angela, begins to walk faster.

“Daddy, me c-cold,” the little girl whimpers into her daddy’s chest.

“I know, honey, but I think we’re going to see daylight, real soon.” The dot of light keeps getting larger the farther he goes.

Angela squirms around in his arms as he steps out of the stream of water, into the warm light of day. The day is still cloudy but this is definitely an improvement over what he has just left.

Stepping from the stream, he carries Angela to a carpet of grass back under a tree, sits down with his back to the tree, wanting to get Angela to rest a little, he knows she’s exhausted, because he is. Cuddling her to his chest, he lays his hand along side of her face, and murmurs softly, “Let’s take a nap, honey, then we’ll look for something to eat.”

A soft yawn, muffled against his chest, “Look for Mommy, too?”

“Yes, baby, for Mommy, too.” He squeezes his eyes shut, and a tear falls slowly down his cheek. Alex … be safe. I love you. The last thought on his mind as he falls into an exhausted slumber is his wife.

For the next two days, Walker scours the canyon for another way out. The sides are steep and he knew he could never climb out with Angela and he damn well couldn’t leave her behind. With his Cherokee training he had no trouble finding enough food for himself and Angela. During most of the day, the little girl seemed to enjoy the seeking and searching but at night when she lies in her daddy’s arms she cries for her mother, finally falling asleep against her father’s chest. Walker, torn with not knowing whether Alex was safe or even alive, shed tears right along with his daughter. But he felt deep inside that she was alive, he knew the love he felt for her, would let him know if she was gone, and so far all he felt was an emptiness in his arms.

***

Alex stares out the front window as if in a trance, her hands clasped tightly together in her lap.

“Hey, Counselor, better start eating, if you want to be able to help me search for them.”

She slowly brings her eyes around to look at him, gives him a weak smile and picks up one of the candy bars lying on the seat between them. Pulling the wrapper back on one end, she takes small bite, and half-heartedly chews on it.

Knowing she is thinking about her missing family, he tries to get her mind off of their absence.

“Why did you all pick the Brazos for your outing, Alex?”

It takes her a minute to gather her thoughts, and finally she says, “Walker … was going to go by himself.  He’d had a bad time of it when that little boy was killed and I know he needed to get away for a while.”

“I know … I wasn’t there but I heard about it. I know Walker always takes a child’s death hard, whether it’s accidental or otherwise.” He waits for her to continue and when she doesn’t, he prods with, “It was your idea for all of you to go?”

“Yes, it didn’t take much convincing on my part, I think he wanted us with him … he’s changed so much since Angela was born. I think he was really looking forward to just the three of us going off by ourselves. When we left the car, Walker led the way to where we made camp, on the ridge. We could see for miles, the day was warm and the sun was out. We saw the rain clouds in the north but Walker had said this canyon was not a tributary for any flooding so he felt safe.” Her eyes begin to tear up, but she continues, “After … after the flood … when I was searching for them, I saw why our canyon took the water, there had been a rock slide, the water was redirected and … and…” The tears fell then, as she looks up at Jimmy, “We have to find them, I know they’re all right … we have to find them.”

He reaches over and lays a hand on her shoulder, “We’ll find them Alex. I promise.” I just hope we find them alive.

Although she felt no desire to eat, she continued to nibble on the nutrition bars that Jimmy had brought along. To her surprise she had consume three of them by the time they came to the place where Walker had parked the SUV when they had first arrived.

Getting out of the vehicle she climbed to the top of the ridge and looked out over the barren canyon. Tears began to well up in her eyes, as she hopes desperately to see something of her family.  She had searched both sides of the canyon once the floodwaters had passed and had found no sign of Walker or her daughter. She dropped to her knees and the tears came in torrents as she realized the hopelessness of ever finding her loved ones.

Feeling a warm hand on her shoulder she turned and let herself be drawn into his arms. “Hey, Counselor,” he whispers, “don’t give up before we even start.”

When the sobs begin to ease, he pushes her back and looks into her face. “Are we going to look … or do you want to go back?”

Those words bring her head up and determination flows strong once again. “We … look,” and she scrambles to her feet, using his arm to pull herself up.

Using invisible lines they mark off the canyon in sections and begin the arduous task of combing every foot, behind bushes, boulders and in some cases small caves. When it starts to get dark, Jimmy pulls a tent from the SUV and sets up camp. After a light meal, they lie down on their sleeping bags and give into an exhausted sleep.  At least Jimmy did, Alex lay awake a long time, praying for the safety of her husband and baby, until she too, fell into a restless sleep.

***

The next day the search is resumed, this time on the far side of the canyon.  But again nothing is found. At one time Alex finds a cave that looks promising, but as she follows it she finds it blocked from a cave-in.

That evening after eating, Jimmy stands and fires his gun into the air. Three times, startling Alex with the sudden noise.

 “Jimmy, even if he can hear that he has no way of answering it. He doesn’t have a gun with him.”

“Alex, if he can hear that, he’ll find a way to answer it, believe me.”

***

Walker suddenly sits up, not sure what had woke him. Glancing at Angela, seeing that she is still sleeping soundly. He listens for a little while and hearing nothing, lies back down beside his daughter, pulling her into his arms.

***

The next morning after a quick breakfast they begin the search again, but before they start out, Jimmy fires his gun again, three quick successive shots.

***

Walker is gathering berries for his daughter for breakfast when he hears the report of gunshots. That’s what he had heard last night. Someone is searching for them. But how do I let them know where we are?  He gives the berries to Angela and as she eats them his mind begins mulling over ways to return an answer to the gunfire.

***

That night when no recognition of the shots had come, Alex sank even lower into depression. Although sure they were alive, they could be badly hurt, waiting for rescue. It’s been almost a week since the flood. Curling her body into a tight ball, she finally gives in to a fitful sleep and wakes just as the sun is coming over the horizon.  She stretches and gets up to relieve herself then gets the water bottle. As she looks at their provisions she knows they will have to go back soon, another day at the most. As she tilts the bottle up and begins to swallow her eyes catch site of three puffs of smoke drifting lazily up into the clear sky.

When she realizes what she is seeing, she drops the bottle and begins screaming for Jimmy.

“JIMMY! JIMMY! … Look,” and points to the soft balls of smoke in the sky.

Jerking awake at the shouts, Jimmy stands and wiping the last of the sleep from his eyes, stares at the sign of smoke in the sky. He grabs Alex and hugs her close, “See, I told you he’d find a way,” he gets his gun from the bedroll and fires three shots into the sky. Waits a minute and fires three more.

***

Hearing the shots he lifts the large square of bark that he had peeled from an old birch tree and releases three more puffs of smoke into the sky. He is delirious with happiness and picks up Angela and dances around with her, telling her they would be going home soon.

Giggling from the joy that is emanating from her father, she cries out, “Mommy, too?”

“I hope so honey, I sure hope so.”

An hour later he hears the soft drone of a helicopter. “They’re coming, baby, they’re coming.”

As the helicopter comes close, his eyes strain to catch a glimpse of Alex. When he sees her face pressed against the window, tears begin to roll down his face, and with a shaky voice, he says, “See, there’s Mommy.” Angela becomes so excited Walker has a hard time keeping her from jumping from his arms.

With tears flowing freely and her nose pressed to the window, Alex’s heart feels ready to burst, when she sees her husband with her daughter in his arms, standing on the ground looking up at the helicopter.  Her body quivers with the impatience of wanting to hold him in her arms, to hold her baby against her breast. The days since she had gotten separated from them seems like forever but in reality it has only been days. Days of torment and anger and despair, days she hopes she never has to go through again.

When the helicopter lands, Alex swings open the door and ducking down under the blades, she makes a dash toward the man she loves and her daughter.

With Angela wiggling in his arms, he finally sets her to the ground when he sees Alex leave the chopper, and moving with her, he watches as her little legs carry’s her swiftly over the hard ground into her mother’s arms.

Alex leans down and tearfully picks up the laughing little girl, hugging her tightly to her chest, while still moving toward Walker. Wrapping his arms around her and Angela, tears coursing down his cheeks, he murmurs softly in to her ear. “I … I thought I’d lost you.”

Her emotions choking her, “I couldn’t find you, I looked … and looked, I was so scared…”

Trivette moves up to the threesome, his eyes misty as well, “Hey, you guys ready to get out of here?”

Walker finally lifts his head to look at his partner, “Thanks, Trivette, I…”

“Hey, man, no thanks necessary.” Sliding his arm around the three, he begins to guide them toward the helicopter. “How about let’s get out of here?”

In minutes, the helicopter is rising about the valley of his enforced imprison, and with Alex pressed against his side and Angela yawning in Jimmy’s arms, Walker closes his eyes, saying a silent prayer thanking the spirits that his family is safe.

They are taken to the ranch and Jimmy informs them that he will have their SUV returned the next day.  Turning as the noise of the helicopter fades in the distance, Alex, carrying the sleeping Angela, moves into Walker’s arms and they walk up the steps to porch, he opens the door and they go inside.

***

Alex moves upstairs with Angela in her arms and lies the sleeping baby down in the crib. She lays a well-worn Raggedy Ann against the sleeping child then reaching down, she unfolds a blanket and drapes it gently over Angela. Letting out a soft sigh, the baby turns on her side and pulls the soft doll into her chest.

She stands there looking down at her sleeping child, and thinking how close she came to losing her precious bundle, along with her husband, the tears begin to seep from her eyes.  Sensing Walker behind her, she waits for his touch then leans back against him.  As his arms tighten around her, she turns in his arms, burying her face into his neck.

Walker holds her, whispering softly in her ear, letting her know that everything is all right and gently takes her from the room, guiding her into their bedroom, where he lays down with her on the bed, keeping her wrapped in his arms.

 When he feels her finally relax in his arms, he whispers, “Are you all right?”

A deep breath, “I’m sorry, honey, it just hit me that …  I almost lost both of you.”

“I know, I think Angela and I went through the same thing, thinking we had lost you.”

More sniffles, “I hope I never get that feeling again.”

He tilts her head up and brushes his lips lightly over hers, then as she tries to catch his lips with hers, he murmurs against her mouth, “Why don’t we make other … feelings that will make us forget those … unhappy ones.” He draws his leg up, bringing it over hers, and his kiss deepens as his fingers begin working on the buttons on her shirt.

“Yes … oh, yes,” she whispers, pressing herself closer to him, and with out really trying, the unhappy feelings are a thing of the past.

The End