This is the conclusion to Horse of Daydreams, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:
Horse Of Daydreams (Conclusion)
We came to the spot where the ram had been shot. There was no sign of it. But we were at the very edge of the bench, where a cliff fell sharply away. No doubt the ram had fallen down the cliff.
My master leaned out of the saddle and peered down over the edge, to the depths below. My heart convulsed and my muscles flexed, but I stopped myself. No, now was not the right time. I needed something more sure. He could grab the saddlehorn real quick and stop his fall. If I failed now he might never give me another chance. So I stood peacefully still and let him peer all he wanted.
It was a good thing, because there was a ledge only ten feet below that would have probably caught him and saved his life. So my attempt to throw him off the cliff would have been futile. That ledge was about four feet wide, and it was where my master expected to find his bighorn ram, all laid out and dead, nice and pretty-like.
But there was no ram.
The only explanation was that it had fallen over that ledge, and was somewhere farther below. And the only way to find out where it really had fallen was to get onto that ledge and look down over it.
There seemed to be a way down onto it, but it looked tricky. We had to double back to the other end of the bench and follow a whisper of a trail over some loose rocks and, finally, out onto the ledge.
My hooves slid a little bit going over those loose rocks, but it was only on purpose. I wanted to put a little fear of death into my master’s blood before I actually killed him. A small landslide of pebbles rolled and tumbled from under my feet, and disappeared over the edge of the cliff. We did not hear them strike ground below. My master grabbed the saddlehorn.
Now we were on the ledge, cliff on one side, outer space on the other. With barely enough walking room if I took it slow and easy. Only I walked just a little bit faster than I should have, and sometimes stumbled and stopped suddenly, tottering uneasily on my hooves—as if I were about to lose my balance. Then I’d continue on, just a little bit too fast for good safety.
My master clung to the saddlehorn like a two-year-old boy’s first ride on a pony. Now he talked to me softly, soothingly, trying to slow me down without making a big issue of it. You see, you don’t make a big issue of anything when you’re on horseback with a cliff on one side of you and outer space on the other. You just hope your horse listens to good sense and does what you want him to do.
Only I was listening more to a throbbing in my ear that beat the drums for revenge. The soft talk didn’t fool me none, and I continued on like a daredevil acrobat, making my master wish he’d never climbed aboard the back of any horse ever in his life.
We got to the spot where the ram had apparently fallen and bounced off, and he whoaed me. And I whoaed. That time. I stood peacefully still again, while he leaned out of the saddle and peered over the edge of the cliff. Only this time he was hanging onto the saddlehorn real tight with his right hand.
I didn’t start anything.
I heard my master swear, and he straightened up in the saddle. I peered over the edge, into the empty space, to find what he was swearing at. And there was the ram. Its body was lying on the tip of an outcropping of rock eight feet below. And below that was nothing for at least two thousand feet. Just air for the birds to flap their wings in. Or for my master to flap his arms in.
Above the ram was nothing also. The ledge I was standing on sort of jutted out over the rocky outcropping where the ram lay. So there was not much of a cliff to climb down, to get to it. Mostly just air.
Here was a predicament. That was a 250-pound ram, a nice trophy for my master, and lots of good meat for the eating. And there it lay, only eight feet away. Eight feet that may as well have been eight hundred miles.
But my master was not one easily daunted. When he wanted something, he usually figured out some way to get it. So he sat in the saddle musing and muttering for a long time. Me, I just stood there musing also, and feeling the pain throb in my ear. I decided I would just bide my time. I knew I’d get a chance sooner or later, so I figured I’d wait for my master to try something stupid. Then I would make sure it was the last stupid thing he ever tried. I would kill him right then and there.
After a minute he began to stir. He legged me to the right, forcing me to step sideways up a small, steep slope at the base of the cliff. Then he slowly swung a leg over my back and carefully dismounted. He was just a step away from the precipice. I could have, and perhaps should have, shied sideways and pushed him over, right then and there. But I didn’t. I guess my daydreaming brain just doesn’t think quickly enough.
He pulled his dastardly rifle out of its scabbard and stepped (just one small step) to the cliff’s edge. He peered down at the ram again. Eternity peered back. He took off his hat and scratched his head, as if trying to figure out a plan. I think he was also trying to determine that the ram was actually dead, or if maybe it needed to be shot again. After all, how could it have made its way down to that outcropping, unless it still had some life in it?
But I guess he finally satisfied himself that the beast was in the afterlife. He returned to my side and slid the gun back into the scabbard.
And he apparently had concocted a plan. He pulled a coil of rope from the saddlehorn. He tied one end of the rope to the horn and with the other he made a loop. A lasso of sorts. Then slowly, carefully, he lowered the lasso over the lip of the ledge and guided it toward the ram’s horns.
A fairly brisk breeze was stirring, up on that high mountain declivity, so this was no easy thing for my master. It blew the loop here and there, twisted it, and kept it away from the ram’s head. Painstakingly, my master tried and tried again, but never with any success. Finally, he cursed and hauled the rope back up.
He sat still again for awhile, before coming up with another plan. And the next plan he hatched proved to be far more daring.
He rummaged through the bags of the packhorse behind me and found a picket pin. What he used, to sink into the earth of a pasture and tie me to, so I could graze without wandering too far. Only here there was no earth to sink a picket pin into. It was all just rock. Bare rock.
He cleared away some snow near my feet, and searched for cracks in the rock. When he found one, he jammed the picket pin into it. He checked it for tightness, then tied a rope to the pin and my bridle. Whatever his plan was, it sure didn’t involve me going anywhere. I was now tied to the cliff.
Next, he tightened the cinch of my saddle as tense as he could get it. I was almost breathless from the pressure. Then he took his lasso and undid the loop, so he had just a straight rope. He made sure one end of the rope was tied very tightly and securely around the saddlehorn. The other end he let fall over the ledge.
After this, I could scarcely believe it. My master grabbed hold of the rope, crouched over the ledge, and dropped his feet over the side. He steadied himself with one hand on the rocky ledge and the other on the rope. Then he gradually lowered himself into the wind.
Leather was creaking and whining. My saddle twisted around just a little bit, but it was cinched so tightly around my body that there wasn’t much room for any give. And a few seconds later my master landed safely, just like a horsefly, on that rocky outcropping with the ram.
I now saw his plan. He made a new lasso, at the end of the rope. Then he started contorting his body in such a way that made it possible for him to inch the lasso closer and closer to the ram’s head. But the head was perched at the edge of the outcropping, with the nose sticking out into space. My master had to figure out how to get that noose over the nose and under the head, without losing his balance and toppling ass over teakettle into the great abyss below.
But once he had that loop around the ram’s neck, his plan was to climb up that rope, back to the ledge where I stood. Then he would use my horsepower to haul the ram up to my level. My cattle roping experience helped me understand this. And so I could see his plan clearly.
And he was making progress with the loop.
I realized that if I was to gain my revenge I had to act immediately.
Without making any noise, I eased myself forward a few feet, drawing the picket rope tight. Then, I bobbed my head up and down, trying to work the picket pin free. It was jammed in there pretty good, but I did feel some give. So I kept at it, working somewhat frantically, yet careful to be noiseless.
Finally I heard a slight chinking sound. It was coming free. I worked harder, and the pin got looser. I took another step forward and gave one big lunge with my head. With a loud clang, the picket pin shot out of the crack and hit my flank.
My master looked up quickly at the sound, and saw I was free. However, this slight looking up movement caused him to lose balance, due to the awkward position of his body. So he instinctively let go of the lasso and grabbed the rocky side of the cliff, to steady himself.
That was the break I needed.
In a split-second, he realized how much his life depended on possessing that lasso. So he grabbed for it. But I was too fast. The picket pin hitting my flank had startled me. It had made me jump reflexively forward on that ledge, and this had caused the loop to pull a few inches clear of his grasp.
After that I went a few feet further, then stopped when I heard him curse.
The rope dangled freely down the side of the cliff, about three or four feet from my master’s fingertips. I just stood there for a few minutes, watching him trying to reach it. It was no use, and I knew it. But I enjoyed watching him try. He’d wait for a breeze, and the rope would swing close to his outstretched fingers. But never close enough.
Finally he stopped trying, and began talking to me easily, trying to coax me back to him. I felt a throbbing pain hit my ear. Then I remembered the way he had shot off the tip, then cursed at me. A curse or a daydream—I had my choice right then of what I wanted. So I just shook my head, snorted, and started walking.
That’s when I heard a volley of cursing start up behind me. But in front of me I heard a call. Like a wild call. Unvoiced, but there. The call of freedom. The call of independence. The call of joy. Joy that comes from uninterrupted daydreaming and uninterrupted learning. Paradise was calling me. And I kept moving forward toward it.
About a half mile on I could still faintly hear the cursing. But then a cold gust of wind hit me and carried the noise away for good. The sun was going down, and an icy breeze was picking up. I wondered how my master would fare the night.
But he was not my concern anymore. Now it was wilderness survival I had to think of. I continued on down that ledge until it widened out onto another bench. From there I found an old game trail that took me up over a mountainside.
The moon was rising when I topped the mountain ridge, and I looked below to see a ghostly valley in the dim pines. A slashing meadow of frosty grass reflected blue diamonds of moonlight. It was to that meadow I trotted.
Or actually, we trotted. For the packhorse had followed me. It had nothing against my master, but it wasn’t well-trained yet. So it just did what comes natural to horses, and stuck with the herd. A herd of two escapees.
We ate a good meal that night, but getting used to the wilds still took a few pounds off over the next few weeks. But that worked out well, because the skinnier we got the easier it was to get rid of our saddles and packs.
Our cinches had loosened and our saddles and packs were sliding easily over our backs. Finally we managed to break the cinches by rubbing against the bark of an old pine. And our burdens fell free. The bridle I’d lost long before. My packhorse buddy didn’t have a bridle, so he had no problem at all in that area.
Within a few months we were totally free of anything man had put on us, except the old, faded “Lazy-J” brand on my ass. We’d even lost our shoes, scraping over the rough rocks in those mountains.
We were totally wild and free horses.
And no wolves ever attacked us.
In the winter we went to lower elevations, where the grass was easier to get to through the snow.
We never took chances on cliff trails we didn’t know, so we never got stuck and had to jump off.
And no one ever shot off my ear-tip again.
We lived safely and happily. We daydreamed and grazed. Grazed and daydreamed.
We let our lazy bones lounge in the wilds of paradise.
And we daydreamed.
And we grazed.
And it was in those mountains that I found, as an independent, wild, daydreaming horse, the unending happiness I had always hoped for.
Click to the next story, to read Where’s Uncle Buckshot?
Categories: Series (Stories): Go West Or Go Weird