She kept digging as she shouted commands. She reached deep into the muck to make sure there were no heavy rocks pinning him. Her girls worked silently beside her, following her orders. Sophie felt a surge of pride in them so great, she knew it to be almost sinful.

“Ready, Ma.” Mandy turned her attention from fastening the rope under the man’s arms and went back to digging.

“Hector’s ready anytime, Ma,” Beth shouted over the raging wind. A bolt of lightning flashed brightly enough for Sophie to see the man. His legs were still well buried, but there were no rocks on him.

He was so coated in mud that Sophie couldn’t have told anyone what he looked like. She remembered the desperate speed at which he’d ridden and thought again the word: pursuit. Yet no one had come along behind him.

The thunder sounded again. The water roared ever nearer. Sophie shouted to be heard over the sound, “Once you start pulling, just take him all the way up! The floodwater is coming!”

Sophie knew Elizabeth, her second born, would handle the stubborn, rawboned old mule better than she could. Hector was a cantankerous beast on the best of days, but he had a soft spot for Beth, as did most animals.

Beth’s gentle cajoling urged Hector forward to take up the slack in the rope. Mandy knelt at the man’s head, and in the few remaining seconds, pushed more dirt off his arms and chest. Sophie braced herself to support his head and neck as he began to inch free. A bolt of lightning lit up their strange little group, this time with blinding brightness. The thunder sounded almost at the same instant. Sophie prayed for the man and asked God if the floodwater could just hold off another few minutes.

In answer, God sent the first icy drip of rain down the back of her neck. Sophie took it as a heavenly warning to hurry.

The man emerged slowly from the slide. As soon as he was free, with another lightning bolt to assist the lantern, Sophie yelled, “Keep going. All the way to the top of the bank. Mandy, you run ahead with the lantern.” Anything to get her girls to safety, even if she didn’t make it herself.

She looked at the man, now being battered even further by his ride up the hill. His body was coated in mud. The slime helped him slide along the rough ground. One particularly nasty jolt over the rutted path almost woke him. He took a deep breath and turned his head sideways. He vomited up filthy, muddy water and gasped deeply for breath as he was dragged along. It was the first sign he was alive. Sophie kept to his side to make sure his head didn’t encounter a rock.

The rugged upward trail twisted and turned. Just as it faced the north along one of its steeper sections, a bolt of lightning split the sky. Sophie saw a wall of water raging toward her like the wrath of God. “Faster, Beth! The floodwater’s coming! Get to the top!”

Elizabeth kicked Hector and yelled. Sophie knew her mule well, and whatever unfortunate qualities Hector had, stupidity wasn’t one of them. She knew he headed for the top of that creek to save his own mangy mule hide, and if he saved the lot of them along with himself, well, that had nothing to do with him.

The path snaked back to the south. A few more feet. Twenty at the most. Sophie knew the water would come along right to the top of the bank. It had been cut to its current depth by these raging torrents over thousands of years. Sophie glanced over her shoulder and saw it coming. They weren’t going to make it. Lightning lit up the sky just as Hector crested the top of the path. The roaring water changed to a scream. The thunder had become a constant jarring drumroll that only added to the fierce growl of the approaching flood. The rope dragged against the ground, and knowing she was out of time, Sophie reached down and twisted her arms through the rope that bound the man to the only anchor there was for them in the world.