I thought the day my younger brother waltzed back into my life was the day everything changed. I couldn’t have been more wrong. That didn’t happen until the night of July 4, 2016. That was the night the lights went out and stayed out. That fateful night was only the beginning of 10 months and 1,200 miles through hell. Jason Sterling, my brother, told you his story. My name is Braden Sterling. It’s my turn to tell you the tale of our journey from a tiny town in Kansas to Elko, Nevada, and The Ranch.
“I asked you a question, boy!” the voice croaked.
“I…. Uh…. We don’t have any weapons, sir,” I finally choked out the words. Alex and I both had our hands in the air.
“That’s my problem?” the door creaked open a few more inches to reveal the wrinkled face and wild, Einsteinian white hair of an old man who couldn’t have stood more than five and a half feet tall. His clothes hung on his skeletal form, but the shotgun never wavered in the slightest.
“No, sir. It’s, well….”
“Out with it, boy!”
“We stumbled across your cabin. We’re not looking for trouble,” I was trying to calm my voice and heart rate.
“As I already asked, just how is this my problem?”
“We’re wondering, we’re hoping you could help us.”
“A couple of young bucks like y’all? Boy, I ought to just blast yer ass off this porch right here and now!” I could see him tighten his grip on the scattergun.
“Whoa! Please! We’ll just go! We got families out there!” I took another step back. The old man seemed to consider this for a moment.
“Yeah. Our wives and daughters are on the other side of the clearing. Please, we’ll just leave….”
“Tell ‘em to step out where I can see ‘em!” he ordered. I was frozen in fear, but Alex half-turned and waved everyone forward. After a few seconds, the man’s gaze broke from mine. He was squinting over the top of the shotgun to see them coming out of the trees and brush. He kept an eye on them as they slowly came across the clearing, and he watched them until they stood at the bottom of the stairs.
“We’re not looking for trouble, sir. We can just keep moving,” I offered again.
“Boy, you may not have been lookin' for trouble, but it looks like it found you and chewed half yer asses off. Where is y’all comin' from?”