Sometimes, long after the very last pleasure horse has done finished his supper, and long after the last coyote has done sung his song under the hazy glow of the desert moon, and most assuredly long, long after the very last human has done their very last night-check in the barn to make sure all’s well – sometimes, deep in the dead of night, corral-gate chains rattle, and loose horses walk the County Island.
Why they roam, and where they come from, I don’t rightly know, and I ain’t never cared before to ask ‘em, unlike Coors and Coors Light, who’re always askin questions and lookin for reasons for things, and then imaginin the worst. Sometimes, in the ordinary life of a ranch horse, things disappear, and sometimes those things are other horses, or other animals like cows or dogs that we normally see or maybe even got to be friends with, and sometimes they come back after a time, and sometimes they don’t. That’s the way it works, and I’ve always accepted it. Like Lisa the Bad Beagle, for instance.
Original Coors asked me the other day where I think Lisa the Bad Beagle is, and he sounded kinda alarmed, since he said she ain’t been seen at all around our corral, nor in the road, nor chasin rabbits, and it took me a long while to reckon what Coors even meant by his question, and to realize that maybe it’s true we ain’t seen our favorite meddlesome Snoopy-beagle for a long while. But, why would a horse care where a dog’s got to? It’s got nothin to do with us. So I told him that either she’ll be back, or she won’t, and I went back to what I was doin, which was likely tryin to take a nap.
But some horses spook easy. A mere wisp of an idea can make ‘em skittish, even in plain daylight.
And on a moonless night, when the air suddenly turns crisp after the end of the long, long hot time, the sound of somethin unknown in the dark, when there’s no good reason for a horse or a human or a coyote or anythin to be out on the Island at all, well, that sound can strike a deep sense of forebodin even in an old ranch horse’s heart and set his nostrils to quiverin and snortin against his better judgment. I like to blame my reaction on the season, rather than gettin soft in my retirement. And when I set to snortin, you can believe Coors and Coors Light set to snortin even louder, ‘cause if I think somethin ain’t entirely right, they know it really ain’t right.
“This ain’t right,” I said to the darkness, and to no horse in particular, as I stood watchin the black nothin where the road was. On that night, sounds that are normally sharp to our ears were muffled, like. And my words came out more like a shrill, questionin whinny than a statement of fact.
And in fact, I myself couldn’t entirely ascertain what I was sensin with my sensitive ears. Somethin rumblin across the ground, like thunder, maybe. Somewhere beyond our corral fence, in the black, I could feel it a-comin.
If I nodded my head up and down to try to focus my eyesight, I could almost make it out in the night…could almost… see… its outline, loomin there, and movin at us right fast…
Coors and Coors Light quivered, and I braced myself to run if I had to, ‘cause I can surely outrun both of them if it comes down to that, and I surely ain’t gonna be the one that gets ate first by some kinda dark night monster, maybe like the legend of the chupacabra I’d heard tell of back at the ranch, that varmint of western lore that preys on the humans and livestock in the night. Maybe next it was gonna start preyin on horses. I tensed all my muscles and got myself set to turn and bolt on the count of one… two… three…
Oh, well now, hang on a minute. Here comes our gal. It’s bucket time! See ya later.