Lonnie Gentry is the novel Mean Pete is currently working on. It's MP's first venture into the Young Adult Western genre, though MP thinks adults will love it, as well...
Excerpt, Chapter 41
THE GENERAL TOSSED his head wildly and loosed another piercing whinny.
Casey’s mare joined the stallion a half-second later with its own ripping whinny. Lonnie whipped his head around to see what appeared a cabin-sized creature moving down the opposite, wooded slope, ahead and on his right and obscured by pines and aspens and occasional tamaracks and spruces.
Sunlight shone on the beast’s cinnamon fur that rippled as it ran down the slope, mewling and snarling.
Holding his reins tight in both hands up close to his chest, Lonnie shouted, “Bear!”
He meant to add, though of course he hadn’t really needed to, that they’d best make a hard run for it. But as though Casey’s mare was violently offended by the word “Bear,” the horse pitched suddenly off her front hooves, lifting her head and fear-sharp eyes and buffeting mane high in the air to Lonnie’s right.
Casey screamed, “Lonnie!”
The boy reached for the girl, to try to keep her from falling out of her saddle, but just as he did, Casey went flying backward off the mare’s rump. The General gave a similar, sky-clawing pitch onto its rear hooves, causing Lonnie, who’d loosened his grip on his reins and was leaning too far out from his saddle, to lose the reins all together. Knowing that he was going to fall now no matter what, he kicked his boots free of his stirrups and gave a shrill curse that his mother would not have approved of but would no doubt have forgiven him for, under the circumstances.
That was a vague, short-lived thought, gone without a trace just before the ground rose sharply at an angle to smack Lonnie on the shoulders and the back of his head. He cursed again as he rolled down the slope they were halfway to the bottom of, wincing as a sharp stick poked his right thigh.
When he rolled up against a thick, half-rotten log, bells tolling in his head and his brains feeling as though they were about to slither out his ears, he looked up. Casey was rolling toward him on his left, her hair and the slack of her coat flying wildly.
The girl’s tumble was stopped by a slight, flat shelf in the slope that was heavily padded with forest duff. She lay for a moment, head on the downslope, feet on the upslope, arms and legs akimbo.
The forest was spinning crazily around Lonnie. There was an old leaf in his right eye, causing that eye to burn. There was another one in his ear, and bits of leaves and pine needles in his hair. Some had fallen down the back of his coat and his shirt, raking his skin.
Despite his disorientation, he managed to gain one knee.
Casey was also climbing to her feet, leaves and pine needles falling from her tangled hair and her shoulders.
The mewling and growling continued to grow louder, as did the thuds of the running beast’s four feet. Lonnie turned to see that the bear was only a few yards from the bottom of the ravine that was only about a twenty-foot gap between the steep slopes. He turned to Casey at the same time that Casey turned to him, her mouth and eyes wide, and they screamed each other’s names at the same time.
Lonnie turned toward where he’d been thrown off the General’s back. Both horses had fled into the ravine and were now galloping swiftly out of sight, the General leading the mare, both horses trailing their reins, until they were gone from view altogether.
Not only were both horses gone, but Lonnie’s Winchester was gone, as well.
“General, you gall-blasted skunk of a worthless...!”
Lonnie let his voice trail off as he automatically grabbed his hat off the ground and scrambled up the slope and over to Casey. As he did, he cast another look down the slope at the bear.
The bruin wasn’t cabin-sized, he could see now that it was closer. But it was at least as large as a good-sized freight wagon. It would probably have dressed out close to a thousand pounds. Its long, shaggy, cinnamon fur was silver-tipped across the hump behind its head, forming a silver swath down its back to its broad rump.
It was now lumbering up the slope in the direction of Lonnie and Casey, shaking its heart-shaped head with one straight and one ragged, flopping ear, and opening and closing its mouth as though showing off its long, yellow, razor-edged teeth, one strategic swipe of which could very likely tear Lonnie in two...
The sun flashed off its large, glassy brown-black eyes, which owned the mind-numbing, cold-blooded savagery of the wild primeval. The grizzly was like the cold soul of the universe that would kill you without thinking only because, if it thought about it all, it would have regarded life as nothing more than silly ornament.
Lonnie locked gazes with the beast for a single moment, and the universe yawned at the boy. His belly tumbled into his boots. The beast’s mindlessly brutal eyes silently vowed to impersonally, without malice, rip Lonnie limb from limb and to devour every inch of him and to chew his bones clean afterwards, simply because he was hungry or because his territory had been invaded, or merely because he could.
That gaze almost caused the boy’s knees to turn to warm mud and to buckle.
Leaving both him and Casey a sure, easy meal for the charging bruin...
Lonnie shook himself out of the trance. Feeling a cold sweat bathing every inch of him beneath his clothes, he charged up the slope, grabbed Casey’s hand, jerked her brusquely to her feet, and then turned and started running toward some rocks he’d only half taken note of.
Many of the rocks appeared to be boulders. They’d probably tumbled long ago from the ridge crest and now rested haphazardly and like giant, fossilized dinosaur eggs amongst the trees. Lonnie thought that he and Casey might be able to find sanctuary somewhere amongst those rocks though he had no idea where, exactly. Maybe they could climb one of the boulders, some of which appeared nearly as large as a two-story house.
Lonnie knew that grizzlies--and the big boy after him and Casey was surely a silvertip griz, if it was anything and not a rabbit!--could climb trees large enough to hold their weight, or could tear down the tree that couldn’t hold them but which housed their prey.
Could they climb rocks, as well?
As Lonnie ran, breathing hard, he felt Casey pulling back on his hand. He turned toward her. She was limping badly.
“Casey, come on, we gotta--!”
“It’s my ankle again!” she screamed as she dropped to a knee. “I’m sorry, Lonnie!”
She glanced back at the bear charging up the slope behind them. The big, shaggy, snarling beast was within seventy yards and closing fast. The bruin might have been large and ungainly, but it seemed to be running as fast as General Sherman could gallop when given his head.
The ground rumbled beneath Lonnie’s boots. As the morning breeze swirled, it filled Lonnie’s nose with the beast’s heavy, sickly sweet fetor. It was the stink of some large, dead, vermin-infested, shaggy thing wrapped in the rotten cucumber stench of a rattlesnake den.
Casey peeled Lonnie’s hand from around her wrist. “Run, Lonnie--for godsakes, let me go, and run!”
“Not a chance!” Lonnie hollered, crouching to drag Casey’s squirming body over his shoulder.
He turned toward the upslope and amazed himself by how fast the ground seemed to be passing beneath his hammering boots. By how quickly the jumble of scattered, gray boulders was growing larger ahead and above him...
“Lonnie, you damn fool!” Casey screamed, punching his back with the ends of her fists.
Lonnie figured that Casey weighed maybe only ten or fifteen pounds less than he did, but with his heart’s fierce pumping and the weird, powerful energy surging through his veins, the girl seemed to weigh nothing at all.
Lonnie gained the stone escarpment jutting out of the side of the slope, and without even pausing to plan his course, he headed for a narrow, dark cleft in the bulging stone wall ahead of him. If the cleft went nowhere, and was shallow enough for the bear to reach in for them, Lonnie and Casey would quickly be bear bait.
Fortunately, while the cleft was indeed only about six feet deep, it didn’t dead end. It’s ceiling opened onto more, higher rocks, and Lonnie thrust Casey up through the open ceiling and onto what appeared to be a granite ledge above them.
Lonnie could smell the bear’s ghastly stench so strongly now that his eyes were watering and his lungs were contracting against it. He didn’t bother to look back, because he didn’t want to see what he knew he would. But in the periphery of his vision he saw the raging bull griz run up to the cleft, shutting out the light and filling the natural closet in the rocks with dark, stinky shadows and the ear-piercing echoes of its enraged roars.
The beast was so close to Lonnie that the boy could feel the heat of its dead fish breath. He winced as one or two of the beast’s razor-edged claws--as long as pitchfork tines--tore into his back with one clean swipe through his coat and his shirt.
“Ow, goddangit!” Lonnie yelped.
“Lonnie!” Casey screamed, looking down at him from the ledge above him. Her blond hair hung toward him, nearly grazing his forehead. She thrust her right hand down toward him, as well.
Lonnie ignored it and leaped up for a handhold on the opposite side of the cleft from Casey. He found one, found small cracks and ledges in which to stick his boot toes, and began climbing the eight-foot wall. He climbed in a mad, horror-stricken frenzy, feeling the bruin’s paws swiping at his boot heels. Lonnie hoisted himself over the edge and rolled clear of the dark cleft in which the bear’s roars continued to echo so loudly that they seemed to be originating from inside Lonnie’s own head.
The bear stench wafted up through the hole in the escarpment, between Lonnie and Casey on the other side of it, and for a quick second Lonnie thought of the ground giving way to vent the enraged screams of demons trapped in Hell...
Lonnie closed his eyes, relieved to be out of the beast’s reach. Gradually, his heart slowed.
But then Casey groaned. “Oh, no, Lonnie--he’s climbing up here!”
(I'm hoping that Five-Star will publish this in hard-cover and trade paperback and in large-print, as well.
Mean Pete intends to publish the digital version his nasty ole self...within a year or so....)
Here's an alternate cover. Let me know which one you prefer, will you? Or, maybe neither...