Who was the strange man who roamed the County Island, and what did he want with us?
By us, I mean us horses, naturally. But the strange man was a li’l over-concerned with the people of the County Island, too — not that people problems mean much to a horse, generally.
At first I ignored the strange man. Then I set to observin him, from a safe and respectable distance of course. I think maybe he was observin me, too, in a real sorta erratic way, like a bumblin flyin beetle bug that’s flyin without a lick of direction. Or a steer that’s gone loco and lost all direction except circlin. There ain’t been nothin like him on the County Island neither before nor since, not as far as anybody, or any horse or other intelligent critter, seems to know. I suppose I ought to try to corral my own thoughts about him, thusly.
The first time I spied him, I was nappin in my own li’l horse-corral with Coors and Coors Light in the bright light of midday. He was walkin down the main road not real purposeful, more like meanderin, but dressed in fresh people-work clothes that ain’t real practical for roamin among the rocks and cactuses of the County Island. A horse really don’t care what a person puts on his body parts, but it was an unusual sight, especially seein as how most of my own experience with people wearin people-work clothes is the bucket gal freakin out about such natural things as horse snot or slobber getting stuck to her precious people-work clothes. People is funny about their clothes. They’d likely be better off not wearin any at all, except they all seem to be sheered as sheep-shorn as a show horse beneath ‘em. And like the legendary County Island Barenekkid Jogger of days done by, ain’t nobody needs to see more of that.
A bit later, the bucket gal took me out for a ride. On our way out, the strange man in his people-work clothes was sittin cross-legged on the ground beneath a tall and skinny tree. That’s a real smart way to ruin people-clothes, right there. But he didn’t act like he cared, or noticed.
The bucket gal kinda reined me up like maybe she meant to say somethin to him, but then she told me walk on. Out of the corner of one eye, I saw him get up, and walk across the road to my own people’s people-barn. My sharp ears heard him ring what’s called the doorbell. But not like people lookin to do honest work such as tree-trimmin and people-pond cleanin. Also he didn’t leave any fly-away papers that I could see that fly off the doors to litter the roads. And he didn’t appear to want to ask no one if they’d heard the word of the man the people say lives up in the big blue sky above us. He surely didn’t ask us.
I set to wonderin why he’d go ring our own people-barn doorbell that when he just done saw the bucket gal and me leave that same people-barn, and if he wanted to say somethin to her, why didn’t he do it directly? Then I let go of my foolish thoughts. As we continued down the road, I caught him again with my side-eye goin to the next people-barn, and ringin their people-doorbell. And then down the road he wandered, to yet the next people-barn, and also rang their doorbell. And then we turned the corner and I lost track of him, and thusly stopped wonderin and carin at all.
We came back around a li’l while later at the end of our trail. He was standin back where he sat before. Somewhere, he’d acquired a shiny li’l knife and a apple, and he was thusly peelin it and also starin at us. I hate apples. He peeled his real slow and deliberate. Skinnin it, more like.
We ambled on. The bucket gal set her heels into my sides a bit unnecessarily to speed me up some.
I was back under the barn roof, bein unsaddled, when a voice said from nowhere, “Can I pet him?”
I opened both my eyes. He was standin at the fence rail, not 12 people-feet between him and us, especially me, so stealthy I didn’t hear him walk up. He still had his knife, and his apple.
“No. He bites,” said the bucket gal, in a tone I don’t hear often but Coors Light does when he’s bein told to quit it. But I surely do not bite. In the meantime, sensin an apple and an eager apple-feeder, Original Coors and Coors Light appeared at the fence rail. “They bite, too, sorry,” said the bucket gal, and tossed rocks at the Ayrab brothers to shoo ‘em off the fenceline. “Back, back! Don’t bite!” she commanded them. It was real peculiar.
“OK, then have a nice day,” the man said, and walked off still whittlin away at his apple. He stopped a ways further off, by our main corral gate, and stood there instead. Then he wandered off out of sight in the fadin evenin light. By then he’d been hangin around the County Island for near five people-hours, which is a real unusual, long time for a person to be focused on any one activity. I supposed maybe he finally headed off to whatever his people-job was.
The bucket gal wrapped up the untackin and set about what’s surely the most important part of her day – feedin us. She wandered back to the hay shed and us three horses went to the opposite fenceline as is our custom to stand before each of our own buckets and wait for sweet feed. I listened with rumblin insides and happy anticipation to the feed bein slung in the scoop and the hay flakes bein separated from their bales and tossed into the feed cart.
I heard an odd cluck, cluck sound, like maybe we’d got a chicken. Then, again. Coors and Coors Light turned their heads toward the clucks, which was comin from the strange man, standin back at our own gate, cluckin and wavin his arms through the rails, palms up, like he’d brought somethin else for horses other than a disgustin apple, which seemed to be gone. But I’d seen enough signs of trouble not to get involved, plus bucket time was plumb upon us. And hadn’t the strange man been warned of how dangerous and bitey we was?
Off marched Coors Light to the gate, tailed closely by Coors. I was gonna pin my ears to warn ‘em, but, well, it was bucket time. I saw ‘em sniff his hands, one on each side of him, and then Coors appeared to try a mouthful and then spit it out.
“Aaa, aaaa, aaa!” the bucket gal yelled, havin appeared with our full feed cart. ”Come on, boys! Dinner! Please don’t feed them! They’re on special diets and they’ll bite your hand!”
Coors and Coors Light, disappointed by the strange man’s stranger offerin, was headed back, anyhow.
“They’re just peanut M&Ms,” the strange man called out, gave a half-wave, and walked off, again.
We then got our buckets and hay, but in a real distracted and entirely slow fashion. The bucket gal was preoccupied with watchin the strange man walk away down the road. I doubt people have got hackles, but I think hers was raised.
As we was chowin down, I saw her take out her tiny telephone that lives in her pocket, and tell the telephone to tell the people-sheriff somethin about the strange man and his clothes and his knife and his apple and his doorbell ringin and such. “I don’t know what he needs,” she told the tiny telephone, “but he needs something.”
Later on a sheriff car came by, and stopped to tell the bucket gal they couldn’t find no trace of the strange man we’d seen.
But I saw him again, a whole lot later, in the dark, sittin down cross-legged on the corner of the road in the dirt again. Sittin. Waitin. Starin into the night. Not movin hardly at all except to breathe.
The next time I bothered to look, he was gone. And he stayed gone, far as a horse could tell. Maybe he did need somethin after all, and maybe he found it that night. I hope he did find it, but I’m also kinda glad he didn’t find it with us.