It was a dark and stormy mornin around the County Island, the kinda mornin that don’t loom too often in these parts, where the clouds turn black as night and rumbly, and the sky rains rain like a giant horse is pissin down rain from the sky, if there was such a thing, which there ain’t, and the rain lasts longer than most monsoons do. On days such as this, an old ranch horse has perhaps too much time on his hooves to stand under a tree with the rain pourin down around him, and think darker thoughts. Oh, it don’t actually get me spooked. Hardly nothin ever spooks me, to tell the truth. But it sets me to ponderin some of the stranger words I sometimes hear the people talk about. Like the legend of the Red Ghost.
The bucket gal and her friends were talkin about it. I don’t know why, or why they say most of the words they ever do, to tell the truth. But I paid attention, ‘cause I never heard of the Red Ghost among all the things a horse has heard of by the time he gets as old and wise as me. From what I understood, it was a critter like no other, and a bonafide legend large enough to strike fear into the hearts of hardened ranch hands. And likely their horses, too. It was huge, and it was hairy and it was red, and it was stronger than the strongest bull, and it stank to high heaven, and it also had a piercin scream that could darned near split the ear drums of any human or horse who heard it. I set to wonderin how bad of a critter it could possibly be.
And so, standin in the rain as I was, with nothin better to do, my curiosity got the better of me, and I thought I’d ask a question. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was askin the question of Original Coors.
“Hey Coors,” I said. “You been livin on the County Island for longer than me. You ever heard of the Red Ghost?”
“Oh, I haven’t just heard of it. I’ve seen the Red Ghost,” Original Coors said, with wide brown eyes.
“You have not,” I said.
“Yes. I have,” he said.
So then my third mistake was askin another question. “Alright then, so where’d you see the Red Ghost?”
“It lives in the desert we used to ride in, you know, where the bare-naked jogger was?”
And unfortunately, I did know where the barenekkid jogger was. So I said, “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” said Coors. “So, one time we were riding there?” — He does that sometimes, talkin like a question. It’s on account of he’s from California. — “And way, far in the distance, behind the big cactus, the one by the wash and the rocks?” — So I acted like I knew the spot, even though pretty much every spot out there’s got a big cactus by a wash and some rocks. — “There was a noise. And me and Spirit who I was riding with, we raised our heads and pricked our ears to listen. It was high-pitched and like nothing we’d ever heard before. And we were riding closer to it.”
“So was it a cow?” I had to ask.
“Was it a javelina?”
“Was it a … rabbit, maybe gettin eaten by a coyote?”
“Was it a goat?” A goat sounded silly, even to me.
“Was it a person, shriekin on account of they laid eyes upon the barenekkid jogger?”
“No! It was the Red Ghost!”
Coors snorted through both big nostrils. “And then we got ridden down the powerline road, and there it was, through the big trees that line the big horse corral that’s there, the one past the big cactus, but between the wash with the rocks? And there, through the trees, where we could kind of see it, but kind of not see it, we saw a flash of something red and furry. And tall, taller than the biggest tall horse you can imagine. And we smelled it on the wind. And whatever it was was so bad that our bucket gal gathered my reins, and turned my head away from it. Like she didn’t even want me to see it! That’s how bad it was! She wouldn’t even let me look at it! And then—” He stopped to blow out a big breath.
“It didn’t just shriek. It bellowed. And then Spirit nickered to me kind of nervously and said it was the Red Ghost. And I’ve never seen our bucket gal or her friend be so happy to get us horses out of a place so fast.”
“But why,” I asked, regrettin it as I asked, “would the Red Ghost live inside a horse corral out in our desert on the County Island?” It also occurred to me I know nothin about Red Ghosts in general nor their ways. But it made less sense to me than things generally do.
“I don’t know,” said Coors, now visibly twitchy, like the Red Ghost was likely to jump out behind him and yell boo. Which did give me an idea for later, sometime, for a joke to play on him, maybe. “But Spirit told me legend also has it there’s more than one Red Ghost around. He says there’ve been sightings at another stable at some far, far end of the County Island. Word travels, you know, between horses.” And that I did know.
I still don’t know if I believe Original Coors entirely. Unlike me, he’s been known to embellish a story. I might like to see the Red Ghost for myself sometime to form my own opinion of it. It ain’t like I’m gonna go out of my way to introduce myself to it and say howdy if I see it, but it does give an old horse somethin to chew on, so to speak, on a grey, stormy day when it seems the whole sky’s bellowin and rumblin like what I can imagine a whole herd of Red Ghosts would likely sound like if they was comin after a horse. I think maybe I’ll go share that thought with Coors, after I push him away from what’s left of the breakfast hay pile.