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ONE

The boy walked on the ranch, carrying just a small backpack. The truck that had given him a lift was now just a dot on the horizon. The boy liked to travel light and had little in the way of possessions anyway. All the money he earned doing odd jobs was used to pay for his travels and the extreme sports and activities he did during those. A few days ago he’d been hang-gliding. He’d hoped it would give him some sort of jolt, something akin to fear to hang in the sky like that. Unfortunately, he just liked the feeling and the view from above. Fear, he’d felt none. As usual. That was his curse. This curse might make him the ideal candidate to work at this ranch though. After paying for the hang-gliding he was badly in need of funds to be able to travel further. When he’d come upon the advert hanging on the bulletin board of a local grocery store, where he’d stopped to buy some Cherry Coke, he didn’t think twice of reacting. He asked the store clerk if he knew the ranch. The clerk told him he knew about it all right. There were quite some interesting tales going round about it. Some said it was haunted, others said UFO’s were seen there. People just didn’t like working there anymore. The boy assured the clerk that was not an issue for him. In fact, it sounded like an extra incentive to work there. It took only one phone call to the ranch to be invited over.

“Stop right there,” a voice said.

The boy complied. A man in his fifties with a sun weathered face and a grey beard, wearing a Stetson stood in front of him. He was aiming a rifle at him. The boy didn’t blink at the barrel aimed at him.

“Relax. I made an appointment. I’m the new farmhand,” the boy said, calmly raising his hands.

The man squinted. “You don’t look like one.”

The boy looked at his Ramones T-shirt and Converse All-Stars. He shrugged. “What does a farmhand look like?”

“More muscular. More rugged. Older.”

“I spoke to one Glory Chambers. She told me my age wouldn’t be a problem as long as I was willing to work hard,” the boy said.

The man sighed. “That whole cattle decapacitation thing must have really shook her up then. Should never have allowed her to be in charge of hiring new personnel.”

“Sorry you feel that way. But I assure you I’m a hard worker. I think you can lower the rifle now, by the way.”

The old man grinned. “Rifle scare you, kid?”

The boy almost yawned. “Do I look scared to you?”

The man lowered the gun. “As a matter of fact you don’t. That might be a good thing. You been hearing about the strange things happening here?”

“I heard some rumors about UFO’s and hauntings, yeah.”

“That doesn’t scare you?”

“I don’t get scared.”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “You’re a cocky little shit, aren’t you?”

“I’m not being cocky. I just don’t get scared. Period.”

The sound of a horse’s hooves sounded, heralding the arrival of a beautiful young woman on horseback. Lustrous brown hair danced in the wind. Long, tanned legs in shorts were wrapped around the horse. She was absolutely one of the more striking females the boy had ever seen. She said, “Dad, stop giving that boy such a hard time! Be glad finally someone wants to work at our ranch!”

“I was just jostling a bit,” the old man said. He extended a hand for the boy to shake and told him his name was Caleb Chambers.

“I’m sorry about my father,” the young woman said and with an athletic swing of her legs slid off the horse. She shook the boy’s hand, “Glory Chambers. We spoke on the phone.”

“Nice to meet you.” That was no lie, although she was probably a few years too old for him.

“Come with me and we’ll get you to drink first,” Glory said.

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Jochem Vandersteen

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