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Horse of Daydreams, Part 4 of 4

This is the conclusion to Horse of Daydreams, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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.

A mystery.

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.

Horse of Daydreams, Part 3 of 4

This is Part 3 of 4, of Horse of Daydreams, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Horse Of Daydreams (Continued)

After that he began to take me up the mountain. It was the first time I’d ever been in any mountains—so this, too, took a lot of training. But this was training that I liked. I learned how to scramble up steep grades. Most important, I learned how to go back down a steep grade. That took some thinking and getting used to, for a flat-land plains horse like myself.

But up there on those ridges—on those peaks—amongst those pines—that was an experience like I’d never had before. I grew to love the mountains. To love the deep wild grass in the high mountain valleys. To admire the boulders, that offered so many different hiding spots. To appreciate the creeks, that always offered a cool drink of pure water. Nothing like the mossy barrel water back at the corral. I loved the mountains. I saw potential in the mountains. I saw potential for independence. Potential to no longer need that evening block of hay. The mountains offered more food than I could eat in a thousand lifetimes. There was a heaven-load of grass for the grazing just waiting for me up there.

And as I daydreamed about these mountains, I solved the big puzzle. I figured all I’d have to do to get to all that mountain grass, and end my dependence upon the hay, was—just escape from my master. So I took to my mountain training well, and learned the tricks fast. It was my hope that this way my master would take me up there often. And then one day maybe I could make a break and escape, and have all that green grass to myself.

I got good at picking my way along a hairline trail on the corniche of a cliff. Became an expert at maneuvering through stands of thick forest, careful not to scrape my master’s legs on the bark of trees. Developed a talent for turning around in tight spaces, where trails had a tendency to dead-end. In this way I became a mountain horse. A mountain horse well suited for mountain travel, and for my master’s intention.

Which was to hunt the bighorn sheep up there.

Thing was, my master didn’t know MY intention. Which was to escape. Escape, and spend the rest of my life living off the land in some high mountain valley. Where the grass was always green and plentiful. And where I could spend my time whiling away the hours, daydreaming and grazing. Grazing and daydreaming. No longer needing to earn a block of hay to live.

The thought of having all that time to just daydream, without ever being disturbed, set my heart to beating faster. I became more alert, more ready, more plotting and cunning. I became like any horse or other creature would become when it saw the opportunity to step into paradise. I became alive and deadly inside, like a wild animal.

Three seasons passed, and thrice my master had taken me bighorn sheep hunting. And each time I had gone with a plan to escape. And each time I had given up that plan when we got up on the mountain and into the thick of the wilderness. I would see an opportunity to escape, but then my heart would sink. A flood of doubts would overwhelm me. Doubts like, what would I do if I were to be attacked by wolves? How could I eat grass in the winter, when it was covered by ten feet of snow? What if my master recaptured me? What would he do to me? The dog dish, maybe.

Then I’d think of the corral, and life would seem so easy there. All I had to do was just stand around all day, and every evening I’d get thrown a block of hay. So easy. No questions asked. No doubts to my survival. Sure it was a pain-in-the-ass sometimes, when my master interrupted my daydreams and wanted to do something with me. But at least I was mostly happy.

And then thoughts of escape seemed silly. Why endure the hardships of wilderness life for the sake of a few extra daydreams, when I could have the easy corral life back at home, and still daydream almost any time I wanted? With these thoughts, I’d give up my escape plan, help my master get his sheep, and we’d both head home. With me tugging at the bit for that nice, cushy corral.

It was early spring when he took me bighorn sheep hunting for the fourth time. This was the time of year when the snow was melting. When the grass was crisp and fresh. When there was a fertile smell to the air that stirred up daydreaming thoughts that were deep and ancient. And when other thoughts, of escape, were moving strongly through my mind, as powerful as the winds of March. This time, on this hunt, I vowed, I would do it. I would escape, and to hell with my doubts. I would find a way to survive in the wilderness.

We hit the trail ponying a packhorse behind us. This packhorse was a new horse my master had acquired. He was trail-breaking it, getting it accustomed to the mountains, as I had become accustomed. But it still had a lot of bad habits, including the annoying habit of grabbing and munching chunks of grass off the edges of the trail. Lucky bastard. I felt jealous.

We took a ridge route, where the snow had all drifted off and travel was easier. This time of year the bighorns were heading back up the mountain, where the grass would be new, fresh, and just waiting for them to gobble. And my master knew a spot where the sheep always passed. And so there he planned to be waiting, too.

It was a very steep, rugged area. Full of rocky pinnacles and sheer cliffs. What few pines could grow in that area grew straight out sideways first, then up. The kind of country bighorn sheep loved, and where they least expected to find an enemy agile enough to follow them.

But my master knew a trail, and it was on that trail he took me. It partly followed the side of a cliff where a giant leaf of granite had once flaked away and fallen a thousand feet to smash on the talus below. The ledge that it left was only three feet wide, and it made the hair of both of us stand at attention when I picked my way across it. In one spot, it notched down to less than a foot, where a giant chip had dislodged from erosion, and I had to kind of jump-skip across. But my feet were sure and my legs were steady. Indeed I was a well-trained mountain horse.

The untrained packhorse was a lot less steady than me. I thought for sure it would plummet over the side. But somehow he managed to keep up.

During the easier parts of the trail I didn’t have to concentrate on where to put my feet, so I had time to let my thoughts wander. And mostly they wandered onto my plans for escape. Again a flood of doubts overwhelmed me. Again I wondered what I would do if wolves attacked me. Or how I could survive a blizzard. Or what I would do if I had to cross a cliff trail. Like the one we had just crossed.

My master always knew if such a cliff trail was crossable by a horse. He would get down and scout ahead, then come back and get me. But what if I should try such a trail alone, and find it impassable at a point where I couldn’t turn around? No doubt I’d have to jump off the cliff or starve to death on the spot. Could I really survive alone in the wilderness, or did I truly need the help of my master?

These worries crowded my thoughts and compressed my dreaminess. I turned to thinking about the corral. How safe and secure it was. How I always got that faithful evening block of hay. You know, the corral never really seemed like such a bad place once I was out and away from it, walking through the wilderness. So once again, I must humbly admit, I chickened out on my escape plans. I decided again that I wasn’t quite ready for wilderness survival. I decided that maybe I’d give it a shot next time, but this time it was definitely back to the corral again for me. Once we got our sheep.

We came onto a small bench overlooking a jumbled up mess of boulders hanging haphazardly off the side of the mountain. Looked like a war between the mountain and the moon had taken place here. It was a high, broken, weird sort of place. A spot where thin clouds would boil through, and freeze to pillars of rock. Where cirrus clouds would charge down cliffs and attack aiguilles sticking up from below. Where the wind swept through narrow gaps in bare rock, whistling a wicked, piercing song. A place where you’d expect to find ghosts and eagles. And, of course, bighorn sheep.

The small bench was the only sane piece of land for miles. It was about twenty feet wide and a hundred feet long. It was sloped at a slight angle away from the mountain, but was easy enough to walk on. On it grew the luscious green grass that the bighorn came for, and where my master would be waiting with his rifle. He prodded me forward a little ways so he could have a clearer look.

There was a small patch of dirty snow at the far end of the bench. Then the patch moved, and we both realized that it wasn’t snow after all. It was the fleece of a ram. About a 250-pounder. Light brown fleece and large curly horns. Nice and big, and ready for the shooting, just like that. It was straight dead-ahead, just standing there, gazing curiously at us while chewing on a mouthful of grass.

I froze in place and my head came up, ears perked like a jackrabbit. My master aimed his rifle. I took a deep breath and steadied myself. The ram stared. I slowly let my breath out. I remember seeing a red spot erupt on the ram’s chest just before it fell and disappeared from sight. Then I heard a wicked thunder and felt lightning strike my ear, jag down into my skull, and scramble my brains.

I leapt and spun. Bucked and ran a few steps. Something had hit me, and hit me hard. I shook my head mightily, and snorted.

My right ear was stinging like a hornet’s nest. The very tip of my ear. In fact, the highest spot at the very tip-top of my ear was where the jagging pain kept striking. It took me a few moments to figure out what had happened.

I shook my head again and a tiny wet droplet hit my nose. It smelled like blood. That’s when I knew. I felt sick. My master, while taking aim at the ram, had not realized in his excitement that the very tip of my ear was in his sights. He had shot off the tip of my ear!

And now he was cursing me! Because I had done like any normal horse would have done, and jumped when I felt a sudden pain, I was being cursed! My master grabbed my long reins and whipped the side of my neck. He called me a stupid horse. He didn’t seem to realize he had just shot off the tip of my ear. He didn’t seem to realize the stinging pain I was now enduring. He didn’t seem to understand just how stupid he was for shooting the tip of my ear off in the first place!

I began to calm and stopped dancing around. I stood there sullen, listening to the barrage of insults my master was inflicting upon me. The stinging had gone away, and was now replaced by a heavy, throbbing ache, that started at the tip of my ear, rolled down like an avalanche, and smashed into my skull, over and over again.

I stood there knock-kneed, with nostrils flared, and eyes white and glaring. Something deep down began to burn inside me. Like a spark that ignites a forest fire, that bullet had touched off a blaze in my heart. My blood was boiling. My mouth was frothing.

Suddenly I wanted to kill my master. I wanted to kill him, then carry out my former escape plans. To hell with his corral. To hell with his block of hay. What were things like that to me? To him they were only a license to take me up into the mountains, shoot off the tip of my ear, then curse me for jumping at the pain. To him I was just a no-good-for-nothing horse, with no purpose in life a’tall, to be used in any tortuous way he wanted. Well I’d show him I was a better horse than that. I would kill the son-of-a-bitch, that’s what I’d do. I’d kill him!

My teeth clinched around the bit as he drew rein on me. I snorted softly, then took a deep breath. A signal to him that I had calmed down. But just a ruse to hide the forest fire smoking away inside me. I planned to kill him when he least expected it. But right then he expected it, so I tried to act as calm and cool as possible.

My ear was still throbbing when he turned my head and nudged me forward. From the tip down to the skull, it burned. But the pain was nothing compared to what I planned to do to him. Heh-heh, it simply was nothing.

End of Part 3. Come on back tomorrow for Part 4, and the conclusion to this tall tale.

Horse of Daydreams, Part 2 of 4

This is Part 2 of 4, and the beginning of the story entitled Horse of Daydreams, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For Part 1, and the backstory, click on the link below:

Part 1

Horse Of Daydreams (Beginning)


Call me lazy and you’d be hitting square on the horseshoe nail. Oh yes, I’m a lazy horse. A son-of-a-bitch, that’s what my master used to call me. A lazy, no-good-for-nothing, son-of-a-bitch, jughead horse, to be more exact.

I ain’t ashamed. I can’t help being lazy. It’s not my fault. I guess I was born that way. For as long as I can remember I’ve had lazy tendencies. Even the brand on my ass is lazy. The “Lazy-J.”

I grew up on the Lazy-J ranch. Raised to be a cuttin’ horse, so I could go out and help round up cattle. Boy that was miserable work. But lazy as I was, I’d still put energy into it. In my younger days, that is. But as I grew older these lazy bones solidified into a kind of stubbornness, and purposely I became worse and worse at cuttin’ cattle.

So more and more the cowboys would leave me with the remuda and use the younger, more go-gettin’ type horses. They’d use me as only a last resort, when all the other equines were tuckered out. Which suited me just fine.

I liked nothing more than just to stay in my corral, chew hay, and think. Daydream is more like it. What a daydreaming horse I was, too. I daydreamed about most everything. My mind would take me across deep grassy meadows, through water-bubbling creeks, into craggy canyons—anywhere. Anywhere, as long as it was far away from the Lazy-J and those stinking cows.

To me, that was the meaning of life. To enjoy it. And daydreaming brought me the greatest enjoyment there seemed to be in life. It’s like my brain was the greatest organ of pleasure I had. Well I was a gelding, so I wasn’t aware of any other organs of pleasure.

But to daydream . . . that required hardly no effort at all. And it made me smart. Got me out of cuttin’ cattle, didn’t it? To become smart without hardly any effort at all—what a deal.

I found that when I turned my brain loose to thinking on a subject, it would wander all over the countryside of my memory. It would gather a little bit of information I’d once learned here, a little bit there, then without my even trying it would put all the pieces together for me. From this I would have the solution to a problem. Or an inspiration for a new concept.

And I would have the joy of learning.

My daydreaming brain was my greatest teacher. And learning from daydreaming brought me the best enjoyment I’d ever known. I don’t know what there is about learning that brings me such joy, but maybe it’s because variety is the spice of life. Perhaps it is that comprehending a new concept brings variety to my mental frame of mind, and this variety makes life seem fresh and new.

Whatever the case, this learning was done without hardly any effort at all on my part. My brain would just work all by itself. It would daydream. And automatically teach me wonderful things, that would bring me joy.

When I discovered this phenomenon about daydreaming, I was about five years old. That’s when the stubbornness started to come out in me. The lazy stubbornness that the cowboys began to curse me for. I’d miss a cut on a cow, and it would get away. I’d pull up short too quickly when a loop soared over some horns, and a lassoing cowboy would topple off my back. When he’d try to get back on, I’d take off at a dead run just at the point when his leg was swinging over my back. And off he’d go again.

All this got me exactly what I wanted. He’d lead me back to the corral cursing and take a different horse. And I’d be left alone to daydream to my heart’s content. It was a perfect system. Soon after I started this I was almost never picked to cut cows. It always seemed to be another horse. And I’d get to stay behind. With my wandering mind. My teacher. My great source of pleasure.

One day when I was daydreaming I began to wonder why none of the other horses were like me. Why didn’t they resist like me? Why, in fact, did they hardly ever seem to want to daydream? They were suckers, in my view. They’d try hard at their jobs, spending an entire day in the hot sun faithfully cuttin’ cattle to the best of their ability, and all they’d get for it was a friendly pat on the neck from an appreciative cowboy. At the end of the day they’d be led back to the corral, heads hangin’ down, dirty dried up rivers of sweat matting up their backs, and ribs showing hunger.

They’d eat like horses all evening long, sleep like dead clods of dirt, then go wearily back to work come sunup next morning.

I observed this with horror, because I knew it was the kind of life I had only recently been living. A nothing existence. No time to daydream, hardly. No time to hardly even think. Just work, work, work. I concluded that their problem was the same one that had once made me like them. They were just ignorant. Plain old ignorant. Ignorant of the enjoyment daydreaming could bring them. Ignorant of learning. Ignorant of life.

So I tried to teach them. In the evenings before they’d nod off to sleep, I’d talk with them. I’d tell them of the great joy I’d found now that I had time to just stand around and think all day. I’d nicker that they too, could find the same kind of happiness. It was to be found in their minds. And all they had to do was to resist the cowboys, just like I had. And soon the cowboys would have no horses to cut cattle with. We’d all be left in the corral to just daydream our lives away. And to enjoy ourselves to our heart’s content.

But the horses never listened to me. Incredible, it may seem. Here I was offering the answer to all their problems, yet they refused to learn. They continued to be good at cuttin’ cattle and lousy at enjoying their own lives. I couldn’t believe their stupidity.

One evening I was trying to teach my ideas to a chestnut gelding. He was one of the hardest working, most skilled cuttin’ horses on the Lazy-J, so I figured he needed help the most. What does he do, he turns on me and whinnies, “Get out of here with that horseshit! You may want to be lazy and worthless, but not me! If we all did what you wanted us to do, you think they’d keep feeding us hay and oats? Heck no, they’d sell us all for dog food. Which is exactly what they’re going to do to you if you don’t shape up and start working hard again. You’re going to become food for our master’s dog!”

So that was it. They were afraid to daydream because they were too scared of the consequences. They wanted that daily ration of hay, and they were too afraid it would stop if they stopped working.

And when I thought about it—when I daydreamed about it—I knew that chestnut was right. I was treading on thin ice acting the way I was. Daydreaming sure was fun, but it was also dangerous. I shook with terror when I thought about being inside a dog food dish, being devoured by those German Shepherds my master kept. And I began to worry that perhaps I’d taken a wrong turn in life when I’d turned to the joys of my mind.

But I was mistaken. It wasn’t a wrong turn after all.

A few days later, while I was standing alone in the corral trying to figure out how to get out of my mess, my master came sauntering up with a stranger. They both came inside the corral and looked me over real thorough-like. Then they talked a lot. The stranger kept looking at me, all the while talking with my master. Then he threw a saddle on me and rode me around the ranch for a little while.

Remembering the dog food dish, I was careful to be a very obedient horse. I stood still when he wanted me to stand still, walked when he wanted me to walk, and trotted when he wanted a trot. I was every bit a tame horse as I could be. I’m not saying I liked it any, but it sure beat going to the dog dish. Then the stranger pulled a few green dollars out of his wallet and gave them to my master. He rode me out of the ranch that day, and I never saw the Lazy-J again.

My new home was some miles away, at a small ranch tucked away up against the mountains. And my new way of life—well it sure beat things at the Lazy-J. The ranch was just a small spread, where my new master raised a few chickens, some pigs, and even a few vegetables. But it was nothing that really required the help of a horse. The only reason why he had bought me was so he could go hunting on horseback whenever he was of a mind to, up in the mountains.

But usually he wasn’t of a mind to go hunting, so I got the chance to just stand around in my corral all day and daydream to my heart’s content. It was truly a good life, the days I passed away at that ranch. I’d stand around, daydream, swish my tail at flies, daydream, blink my eyes at flies, and daydream some more. In the evening, my master would throw me a block of hay, and it almost felt like stealing. But I never let myself feel guilty about it. After all, isn’t the meaning of life to enjoy it? And doesn’t daydreaming bring the greatest enjoyment? So I was just fulfilling my meaning of life. The whole reason why I’d been put on planet Earth.

But there was something about that block of hay every evening that bothered me. And I found myself daydreaming about it more and more all the time. It was a problem I had to resolve, and not an easy problem. The problem was, that block of hay meant life to me. I had to have that block of hay every day, or I would die of starvation. I was dependent on that block of hay. Which meant I was dependent on my master, who provided the block of hay. It meant I had to do anything my master wanted me to do if I wanted him to keep giving me hay.

And that bothered me.

I was always a reluctant horse to do anything. I always preferred to stay in the corral and daydream. But nonetheless, I needed that block of hay to continue daydreaming. To continue living to daydream. And now and then I’d have to work to earn that block of hay and go on living. Work meant no more daydreaming. Work instead meant concentration on the job at hand. Work meant no fun.

So the problem for me was, to figure out how to provide my own block of hay every evening, without the help of my master, so I wouldn’t have to work for him anymore. Then I could be an independent horse. Free to do whatever I pleased. And free to daydream as much as I wanted. It was truly a puzzle for my mind to figure out. A big puzzle. But that’s what daydreaming was for—to figure out such puzzles. While at the same time to provide the best enjoyment life had to offer.

About twice a week my master would take me out and train me to be his hunting horse. This was always a real pain-in-the-ass because it always seemed to interrupt a real good daydream. I’d have to turn my attention to him and do whatever he wanted. It was either that or no more hay. I’d go to the dog dish. So I was careful to pay close attention and be very obedient.

The first time he fired a gun off my back, it scared green liquid manure out of me. I jumped, farted, bucked, shied, and bolted. Not on purpose, as part of a plot, but just because I was scared to death. I wasn’t used to guns being fired off my back. I’d heard them from a distance before, but never as close as the top of my back.

But after awhile, and a lot of patience on my master’s part, he got me used to it. Finally I got to the point where he could discharge a gun off my back at any time, without any kind of warning, and I wouldn’t even flinch. Sure, my heart would skip a beat, but on the outside I’d show not a sign of fear. I’d act like I didn’t even notice it. That’s how my master seemed to like it, so that’s how I gave it to him.

End of Part 2. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 3.

Horse of Daydreams, Part 1 of 4

We’re now at Story #3, entitled Horse of Daydreams, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 4.


I have mixed feelings about horses. On the one hand, I have many fond memories of riding them. But on the other hand, these giant, four-hooved fuckers are dangerous.

My grandpa used to say that there are only two things you have to know about a horse: one end bites and the other end kicks. Wrong, Gramps. There’s a lot more to know than that.

A horse will stomp you, bolt, buck, and rear up. It will shy at the silliest provocation, sending you tumbling to the ground. It will rub your legs against brambly bushes. It will knock your head off, while passing beneath low limbs. It will jerk your shoulders out of socket, fighting the bit. And it will always test you to see if you’re really the boss.

If you go too rough on your horse, it will secretly plot to kill you. If you go too soft, it will overtly plot to kill you. You must earn your horse’s respect, while at the same time becoming one with your horse. Simpatico. But even then, it may kill you.

Horses are fucking quick. One moment you’re enjoying a nice, pleasant ride in the soothing afternoon sun, while your old palfrey is just plodding along. The next moment you’re sitting on your ass in a cloud of dust, while your nag is galloping off over the horizon.

I myself have been stomped. But that ain’t too bad. I knew a lady who was enjoying a fine ride one day, when suddenly her horse shied sideways. Off she toppled, headfirst onto a paved road. It knocked her doolally, and that’s how she remained from that point on.

Even pros aren’t immune. My sister is a renowned horse trainer, with a lifetime of experience at equitation. One day she was sitting in a sulky when bam! The pony that was pulling her kicked like a flash of lightning, connecting with her right hand. She’s had mangled fingers ever since.

I had a stepfather who was a jockey. His name was Britt Layton. You probably never heard of him, but he was a rising athletic star on the track, back in the 1950’s and 60’s. And off the track he gained minor fame, playing a bit part as a jockey in the movie, Riding High, starring Bing Crosby.

Sometime in the 1960’s, Britt was busting his ass on the back of a galloping thoroughbred, when his mount went down. As did other mounts around him. It was a pileup, a jockey’s worst nightmare. And he was left with serious injuries that he never fully recovered from. They should have shot him, the way they did with the horses.

Instead he was forced to retire. He could never race again. And that really got to him.

He reached for the bottle and held on tight, riding it as high as he ever rode a two-year-old. He became a washed up, pathetic alcoholic, eventually sliding down from the bottle and into a rehab facility for dipsomaniac former jockeys.

He recovered briefly from his alcoholism, long enough to marry my mother. But a few months later he returned to the bottle. My mom divorced him and he ended up back in rehab, where he died a few years later.

So not only will horses hurt you, but they’ll also ruin your livelihood, drive you to drinking, break up your family, and eventually send you to your grave.

And yet, I have some very fond memories of horses. My sister taught me how to ride, after she learned from Britt. And at eleven years old, I was helping out at a riding stable Britt owned. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was a dreamy idealist. And I had a lazy bone in my body as big as a Clydsedale. But I had to eat, and my sister was kind enough to employ me from time-to-time as a ranchhand. I mucked many a corral for her, and became an expert with the manure fork and wheelbarrow.

I also rode her horses, to keep them exercised and trail broke. And sometimes I rode with a young lady I was courting. We had a blast exploring the desert, and the rugged foothills below Mount San Gorgonio. Those are some of my favorite riding memories of all.

But I was lazy, and she sensed it. Smart lady. She didn’t want a deadbeat, unemployed husband, so our relationship never blossomed beyond horseback riding.

Some of the horses I rode for my sister were lazy also. They’d get barn sour, and I’d have to goad them to keep them from turning back and heading for their corrals. It left me wondering what the big deal was. Corrals are prison. Why would a horse be so determined to return to its prison?

And I wondered what horses did all day, while standing in their prisons. How could they enjoy such an existence? Seemed to me like the only thing they could do was daydream.


It occurred to me that perhaps that was the answer. The big deal about corrals was that they afforded lazy horses the time to daydream. I myself enjoyed daydreaming. And I was lazy. So why wouldn’t daydreaming have the same appeal to lazy horses?

This inspired the short story you’re about to read. But it wasn’t the only inspiration. My imagination was also prodded by a famous artist named Charles Russell. In 1915, Russell limned an oil entitled, “Meat’s Not Meat ‘Til It’s In The Pan.”

Meat’s Not Meat ‘Til It’s In The Pan. Charles Russell, 1915.

This painting depicts a hapless hunter, who rode his horse high up into the mountains, and shot a bighorn sheep. And that damned ungrateful sheep fell off a cliff and landed on a precarious ledge, just out of reach from the hunter.

My uncle had a replica of this masterpiece hanging on a wall of his livingroom. One day while I pondered over it, a lazy, daydreaming horse wandered onto the scene, and divulged the story behind the artwork. In stentorian voice, he described what happened before and after.

Here is the tale that horse told me.

(This has been a rather long backstory, so I’ll get to the main story, tomorrow.)

End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow for Part 2, and the beginning of this tall tale.

The Ghost of Pinacate Ranch, Part 2 of 2

This is the conclusion to The Ghost of Pinacate Ranch, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Click this link for Part 1.

The Ghost of Pinacate Ranch (Conclusion)


Next thing you know a loud crash of thunder makes me sit up like a telegraph pole. It was the middle of the night, and thundering and lightning all around. Man did that ever scare me. Here I was, sitting on this stagecoach on a trail I didn’t even know, on a pitch black, stormy night.

And I was completely lost.

And then the clouds burst into pieces. And it rained, and it poured, and it deluged, coming down in sheets that actually seemed more like blankets.

The horses seemed to be doing good though, trotting along with their ears all perked up, like there was something up ahead they were trying to get to. I figgered a horse is smarter than a man in a situation like this, so I just let them have their heads and take me to wherever they wanted to go. Meanwhile, I hunched my slicker over my head and peered out at all that falling water.

After about an hour or so the coach slowed to a halt, so I popped my head out from under the slicker to see where I might be. To my surprise, I was looking straight at a big old two story ranch house. So I jumped down, thinking about a nice warm bed and place to stay the night out of the rain. There was candlelight showing through a window, so I rapped on the door as pellets of rain shot all around my feet.

That’s when I remembered the ghost of Pinacate Ranch. Something seemed to grab my body and shake me to my heels. Naw, I thought, it was just the cold wind, not superstition that was making me feel this way. I hoped. Besides, who said I was at the Pinacate Ranch anyway? Why I could be anywhere. I rapped again, only this time not quite so enthusiastically.

And then the door slowly creaked open. And standing there was a beautiful young woman, olive-skinned, and shapely as a prime pear. She may be a Mexican, I thought, but still I could be anywhere. Besides, that Pinacate woman hanged herself, didn’t she? Then I thought, well maybe this is her murdering ghost. I laughed it off to myself, then said, “Evening ma’am, mind if I step in out of the rain?”

She smiled the most warm, inviting smile I’ve ever received from a woman that beautiful. That alone raised my suspicions.

She nodded and stepped aside.

Well, once inside I felt better, but was still a bit wary of this strange woman. I told her of my predicament about getting lost, omitting the part of my falling asleep at the reins, and asked her if I could stay the night for a fresh start in the morning.

Well it was like she was just waiting for me to ask, ’cause she assented a bit too eagerly, saying she’d go upstairs right then and prepare a bedroom for me. My suspicions were growing.

But I went back outside and stripped the leather off the horses and put them away in the stable. Come back inside and there she was, all smiles and cheer, a’waitin for me.

I wondered how she could be so trusting of a stranger, so I asked her if she was there all alone. I was surprised when she said she was, and told me she was the only person who lived at the ranch since her husband and children had died. Visions of Hector Gonzales’ worried face kept coming back.

The woman asked if I wanted to visit, but I was too edgy and nervous to be in the mood for it. So instead I yawned, drooped my head, and asked her to show me my bedroom.

Upstairs there was a tightly made bed by the window, with a nightstand next to it. There was a chest of drawers on the far side of the room, and a grandfather’s clock on the side near the door. I told her a bedroom seemed an unusual spot for a grandfather’s clock, and think I made her mad for saying so. The cheer flushed out of her face, and she became tense as a coach spring.

She said I was not to move a one stick of furniture while in there, and not even to touch anything except the bed. No matter what. When she said that part about no matter what, a hard gleam flashed in her eyes, like the red glint off a bloody butcher knife.

I slept like pancakes at a cookout that night. Tossing and turning every few minutes. Kept thinking about the Pinacate Ranch, and how no one ever woke up alive there. I wondered if I would be next.

But that woman seemed like real flesh and blood to me. I had stared hard at her with all my eye muscles, but couldn’t see through one bit of her. To think of her as a ghost was ridiculous. Gradually, sleep crept up to me like it had done earlier on the stagecoach.

Suddenly I woke up, goosebumps freezing on my naked skin. The window was wide open, with a gale of wind and rain blowing straight through. I got up quickly and closed it, then dove back to the warm bed.

My eyes were adjusted to the dark, so I spent a few minutes examining the bedroom walls. Something just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t put my finger on it until it occurred to me that the grandfather’s clock was on the wrong side of the room. Now it was where the chest of drawers was, and the chest of drawers was near the door.

Instantly, my heart thumped up my throat and sucked my mouth dry. Now that was weird. Mighty weird. I sat up in bed and looked all around. I thought I could be mistaken about where things originally were, so I laid back cautiously. Before I knew it, my immense fatigue put me to sleep again.

The grandfather’s clock banged loudly, four distinct times, and I jumped awake again. I squinted through the darkness to find it, because I couldn’t figure out why it was so loud. It had sounded like it was coming from right next to me.

I hugged my ribs and sucked the dead air of the room. It was right next to me. It was where my nightstand had been, and my nightstand was where the clock last was!

That was it. I knew then and there that I was in a haunted house. Either that or someone was playing a downright cruel joke on me. I backhanded the sheets away and sprang out of bed. I danced into my clothes, jerked on my gunbelt, then crouched low behind the mattress with my pistol drawn. I pointed it at the clock.

This time there was no more falling asleep, I told myself. I was waiting it out until sunrise, which was only about an hour or so away, then shy-tailing it on out of that joint like a deer for open country.

I plucked lashes from my drooping eyelids, held burning matches to my skin, ground my boot heels on my toes, and anything else to stay awake. Along about six a.m. by the mysterious grandfather’s clock, a knock came on the door. It was the woman. Or ghost, maybe.

She opened the door and stood there with a sunny warm smile on her face, wishing me a “buenos dias.” When she stepped into the room I could tell she knew that the furniture was different, by the way she glanced her eyes about. But she didn’t say a thing. Just stayed her same cheerful self and, in fact, insisted I eat breakfast with her.

I quickly declined the invite, saying I had to get on the trail fast, as I was behind my schedule. Being behind schedule had never bothered me before, but I needed any excuse to get out of that house.

She didn’t seem to notice how hard I was looking at her, but I was giving her body a thorough scan to see if she really was transparent or not. As we descended the stairs I kept studying her, and finally she returned the gaze with a somewhat annoyed look.

I pardoned myself, then told her I really had to go, and bade her adios. But then I just stood there and kept staring, trying to find anything wispy or otherwise weird about her physique.

She asked me if anything was wrong, and I vehemently denied it. Then I just couldn’t help myself. I said, “Pardon me ma’am, you’ve been very kind to me, and I hate to intrude. But there’s something that’s been bothering me about you ever since I got here. I heard rumors that this here house was occupied by a very beautiful Mexican woman, just like you. Only I was told that she was a ghost. I know it sounds funny, but there were some strange things that happened in my bedroom last night that almost scared the skin off me. Can I just ask you point-blank, ma’am? Are you, or are you not a ghost?”

Well, she cocked her head back and cackled long and loud, then reassured me that, no, she was not a ghost.

She said, “Just to prove to you that I am not a ghost, señor, why don’t you touch me. Here,” she opened her eyelids up wide and pointed at an eyeball, “touch me right here. Touch me right on my eye.”

It seemed like a strange place, but she wasn’t inviting me to touch her anywhere else. And in spite of all my other faults I do like to behave like a gentleman when I’m with a woman.

So I did it. I reached up and—with my forefinger—placed it softly upon her eyeball.

Only it went right through. It went straight through her eyeball and into her head. There it stopped, pushing against something soft and squishy.

And that’s when I woke up.

Now look at my finger.

That’s how far it was stuck up my asshole.

The “End”

The Ghost Of Pinacate Ranch, Part 1 of 2

We’re now at Story #2, entitled The Ghost of Pinacate Ranch, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 2.


I had a great-uncle who was loved and hated at the same time. He had a lot of charm, and that’s why he was loved. But he suffered from mythomania. And that’s why he was hated.

According to all the psychology I studied in college, mythomania is a disease where you make up shit and tell exaggerated lies, to the point where you start believing the bullshit, yourself. That’s the official description, anyway.

Uncle Bob made up a lot of shit. He loved to regale anyone who’d listen, with tales of all his fantastic, heroic exploits, and what a wonderful guy he always was. His rodomontades and fanfaronades tended to leave eyes rolling and stomachs wambling.

But there was one particular tale he liked to tell, about the time he was a stagecoach driver. Now, he was born during the days of the horseless carriage, when stagecoaches had long gone out of use. So it was obvious to everyone, except maybe him, that this was a tall tale of astronomical altitude.

But it was an interesting tale, so he held a captive audience, as they sat mesmerized and a little frightened over his recounting of a brush with the paranormal.

One evening my drunken grandmother was listening to this bullshit story, for the umpteenth time. She’d had enough, and stood up and called Uncle Bob a fucking liar. Well, nobody calls Uncle Bob a liar. He ordered her out of his house. She refused to leave. So he twisted her arm behind her back and frogmarched her out the door.

And after that humiliation, many years would pass before she ever shared a beer with Uncle Bob again.

It’s true that she had an altercation with my uncle. And after this she wouldn’t speak to him for a long, long time. And Grandma did drink a lot. But the rest of this tale of family schism is hyperbole and embellishment. Because, you see, I suffer from mythomania also.

And I’m also a thief. Hell, if my Uncle Bob could lie so much, I figured I could take it further, and do a little stealing, myself. And so I stole my uncle’s stagecoach story and made it my own.

Yep, I gave myself credit as the author. But I put it into my own words, and changed a few details, and embellished even more than my uncle, to hopefully make it a little better. So not only am I a thief, but I’m also a fucking liar.

And now I present to you the story, handed down through generations of family braggarts, of that time when I worked as a stagecoach driver.

The Ghost Of Pinacate Ranch (Beginning)


I had just taken on a job as stage driver for a new line, that had a route I was unfamiliar with. Actually the line wasn’t new, I was just new to it, having been fired from Komfort Koaches Stageline a month back. They told me I was lazy and irresponsible and unreliable. Which I didn’t deny until applying for this new job I got.

The new job, over at Speedy Springlines, didn’t pay as well, but that’s the direction things went when you were a bum like myself. But things were done a little more casually at Speedy Springlines, and I liked the easier atmosphere.

Like I said though, they had a route that I was unfamiliar with. My boss, Hector Gonzales, did his best to describe it to me, but the description was like a map of uncharted territory—sketchy at best. He put it to me like this:

“Pendejo, see here. You go down thee main trail teel eet looks like eet peters out amongst some boulders, keeping thee western mountains by yer right eye. You’ll find thee trail again. Never leave thee trail. That’s eemportant, because once you geet through thees canyon, called Hell’s Bell Canyon, you’ll come to some trees where’s there’s a fork een thee road. Steek to thee right, don’t turn left. Whatever you do, and no matter how hard your horses pull to thee left, don’t turn left.” Gonzales was emphatic. He stressed, “That trail on thee left leads to thee old Pinacate Rancho. Thee Pinacate Ranch ees one place you want to avoid. Eet’s haunted.”

He looked me smack in the eye when he said that, like he was expecting me to be scared and shaking the brown stuff out of my boots or something. I just laughed at him and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of no haunted houses or nothing. Why you say it’s haunted anyways?” I asked out of curiosity, not superstition.

A dark shadow crossed over Gonzales’ face like a hawk over a chicken coop. His thick accent got heavy and dramatic, “A long time ago thee Pinacate was a happy rancho, weeth laughing and singing cheeldren, a reech and generous owner, and a beautiful, smiling señora. Theen one day, great tragedy. A bandido named Pedro Pescadilla rode eento thee rancho weeth a gang of nine desperados.

“They asked thee owner, Señor Pinacate, for half of all hees cattle. Naturally he refused, and put up a fight. But there were much too many of theem, and they shot down Señor Pinacate, theen slaughtered all hees eenocent cheeldren. All that was left was hees poor, beautiful wife, who they raped eleven times, once for each man, but twice for Pedro. They might as well have keeled her, too.

“But they left her, and afterwards she was too ashamed to be seen een town, so she stayed at thee rancho all alone, to look after thee graves of her poor dead husband and cheeldren. Theen one day her grief and shame were so tereeble that she hanged herself.

“Ever seence, thee house has bean haunted by her ghost. And to thees day, eeny man who spends thee night een that house weel never wake up alive. He ees murdered in hees sleep by her ghost. But your horses weel try to go to that ranch, because thee grass ees green and theeck, and water ees plenteeful. But I warn you thees day, stay away!”

I laughed and scoffed. Haunted house, my hangnail. Sounded like another story invented at a campfire to scare the bejabbers out of a greenhorn. But I reassured Hector that I wouldn’t take the Pinacate road, so he didn’t have to worry about me being murdered in my sleep by some female ghost.

I hit the trail next morning on a rickety old Speedy Springline stagecoach, driving a team of four resistant horses. I had whooped it up the night before with a whiskey bottle and whore, so I was feeling the strong elements of fatigue by the time the trail dust was rising through my nostrils. Man was I ever tired!

It was a good thing I had no passengers—since it was just a cargo run—‘cause I was bouncing carelessly over rocks and ruts and things, that I was just too tired to see in time. It was a good thing I didn’t split an axle, too.

I was trying to recall Gonzales’ directions, but there was a bit too much haze on the horizon of my clouded brain. But I was proud of myself. Because, sleepy-eyed and everything, I did make it through that maze of boulders and refound the trail.

The afternoon sun was burning warm over my head though, and that was just contributing to my tiredness. Finally I just started nodding off, and before you know it I must have just fallen asleep, because things just got all dreamy and peaceful-like of a sudden.

End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow for Part 2, and the conclusion to this tall tale.

The Golden Outhouse, Part 4 of 4

This is the conclusion of The Golden Outhouse, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


The Golden Outhouse (Conclusion)


The old man hadn’t budged a single muscle. He was still where he lay on the table the night before. And he was hard fast asleep, snoring louder than a hurricane.

Philander Crook stood up and got dressed. He rolled up his bedroll, then sat on the miner’s bed (which he had used, since his host had already decided on the table) and pondered.

An idea had come to him in the middle of the night. He had spent the rest of the night kind of half-awake, half-asleep, mulling over this idea.

In the freshness of the morning the idea still made sense, so he decided he’d give it a try. He knew that the old man wouldn’t want to give up his gold, but he also knew that he couldn’t murder him. There were probably too many miner friends of his living in the area, and they wouldn’t take kindly to one of their friends coming up missing under suspicious circumstances.

And it wasn’t a matter of just shooting Hargrove surreptitiously, then fleeing with the loot. He would first have to spend considerable time extracting and separating the loot from the excrement in the outhouse hole. This would give the miner’s friends plenty of time to organize a necktie party, with Philander as the guest of honor. So murder was succinctly out of the question.

But Philander did have an inspiration he thought would work. He picked up his saddlebags—that he had been keeping next to him in bed—and opened them up. He then dumped all of his 4,716 dollars in remaining dowry money on top of the bed. Then he waited.

It was late in the morning when the somnistreporous old man finally stopped snoring and woke up. He was a bit slow crawling off the table, and looked a bit confused about his choice of a bed. He put the palm of a hand to his forehead and rubbed hard. Trying to relieve the pressure. And speaking of relief, he walked outside without even noticing Philander on his bed, and sought out a prospective bush.

But when he came back inside he saw Philander. And he saw the packets of banded cash piled next to him. He put his hands on his hips.

“Good morning,” he said, but he had a perplexed look on his face.

Philander looked up and smiled. “Good morning, Grover,” he said. There was expectation in his eyes.

The old man looked around the cabin, then back at the cash. He pointed his finger at it, then said, “What’s this about, young man?”

Philander stood up and crossed his arms, tobacco-store Indian style. And his expression was just as woody. “This is an offer,” he said, cocking his solemn head toward the money. “It’s an offer for gold. All that gold you’ve got rotting in the bottom of your outhouse.”

The old miner appeared startled. His eyes opened wide as a frightened frog’s. He croaked, “How’d you- – – -,” then he saw the empty whiskey bottle lying on the floor next to the table. He looked back into Philander’s gloating face. “Damned!” he yelled.

Then he proceeded to cuss himself up one side and down the other. He cussed his stupidity for getting drunk. He cussed whiskey. He cussed the sellers of whiskey. He calumniated the makers of whiskey. He cussed the idea of whiskey. Then he turned on Philander and yelled, “No! I’m not sellin’ out all my gold to some young whippersnapper! Now you jist pack all that money back where it came from and get the hell out of here! You’re not welcome here. You’ve got five minutes to leave, mister stranger—whoever you are.”

Philander just smiled and brazenly said, “No, I’m not leaving. You don’t want me to leave.” Hargrove looked confounded. “You don’t want me to leave, Grover, because if I do I’m going to tell every living, breathing human soul on this river about your outhouse full of gold. And they’re going to descend upon your claim like grasshoppers in a garden. And if you don’t have the stomach to take that gold out, they will. Believe me, Grover, they will. I might even tell the Donkling Gang.”

The old man’s face turned a dark, carnelian red at the mention of the Donkling Gang. He began to stutter. He began to stammer. He was over a barrel, and Philander knew it.

“I’ll give you an hour, Grover. I’ll give you an hour to think about it. But you better think hard. Long and hard. I’ve got 4,716 dollars in cash here, so you better consider that that’s worth it. You’ve got an hour.”

The old man bent his head down and slowly trudged out of the cabin. He had an hour to think, but already he knew he was defeated. He disappeared into the woods, his head bent down, his hands in his pockets, and his spirit somewhere in the snow-covered ground below.

An hour later he relented and a deal was struck. He wrote a bill of sale for his claim, making it out to the stranger who called himself “John Smith.” He reluctantly accepted the 4,716 dollars and stuffed it into his own saddlebags. Then he packed up a few of his personal belongings—some tools, some clothes, some food, and some odds and ends—and threw them onto a packhorse.

By mid-afternoon he was off. Abandoning his claim that he had worked so hard. Abandoning his cabin, that he had built himself. And abandoning his golden outhouse, that contained his life-dream’s fortune. His shoulders were sagging. His head was bent low. And his horse and packhorse were taking slow, doleful steps—away. Farther and farther away, down the pine-shadowed trail.

But about five miles down the mountain his sad shoulders began to take on new spirit. His low-bent head began to rise and look alertly about. And a bit of suppressed laughter began to filter out from between his once-melancholy lips. And the laughter began to catch hold of him like sparks taking to punk. It started to come out in punctuated drumrolls. His whole body began to rock back and forth and shake like a Quaker with the Spirit.

He fell off his horse and lay helpless in the snow, laughing like a delirious maniac. For about ten minutes he was paralyzed with this seizure of hilarity. But finally he regained control of himself and climbed back onto the dismayed horse. He nudged it forward and continued down the trail, packhorse in tow, still twitching now and then from minor eruptions of the powerful mirth.

A few more miles down the trail he came by an abandoned old buckboard wagon. It was lying, collapsed from age and weather, off the edge of the path, abandoned long ago by some luckless pioneer. But its iron-rimmed wheels were still in place, and they were covered with a thick coating of orange rust.

The old man recognized a habit of his, that had made him plenty of good money in the past. He jumped off his horse and fetched an old tin can from the saddlebags of his packhorse. He pulled out a carving knife, then trudged through the snow, over to the broken buckboard. And for the next half hour he spent his time patiently scraping the thick coat of rust off the iron-rimmed wheels and into his tin can.

He only filled the tin can up halfway, but it was a start. In a few more months he would probably have about a dozen or so cans, full of rust, in his new rust collection. For there were plenty of other old, abandoned metal things by the sides of trails that he could scrape lots of corroding rust from in the future.

He looked down inside his half-full can of rust. When the sun hit it, he gave a sinister snicker. He noticed how it gleamed and glistened and glittered in the sun’s rays. And he noticed how it gave off a golden aura.

That’s a funny thing about rust. When it’s way down inside something, and light hits it, it gleams. It gleams and glistens and glitters just like—well—just like gold dust would gleam and glisten and glitter. And with the same golden color, too. Yes, the miner reminded himself. The rust certainly did gleam and glisten and glitter just like gold dust would. He cackled diabolically. Just like gold dust would.

Yes, just like gold dust would.


Perhaps now you can guess what I saw that night, when I shined my flashlight down the hole of my outhouse. Of course one thing I saw was a tall pillar of dried up excrement. That wasn’t the glorious part. The glorious part was all the rust that had flaked off the bottom of the water tank and into the hole.

The light from the flashlight made the rust gleam and glisten and glitter. It was a beautiful sight to behold, as it coruscated and sparkled and twinkled back at me. And it reminded me of gold dust. So much so, that I felt tempted to jump right down there with my pickax and start mining. Until I realized that it was just rust, and had a laugh at my own expense.

And that’s when I was hit with the inspiration to write this story.

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