“Sometimes, there are people in the sky here. Like birds.”
It was one of the earliest things my horse-buddy Original Coors ever said to me, back when I was newly arrived upon the County Island and first made his acquaintance at the boardin ranch where we lived. This was before I ever knew I’d be stuck with him as a herd-mate for life, so at the time, I humored him. I believe I may have glanced up from my hay and shot him a dirty look of disbelief, but it was a real mild dirty look. “Only they’re not really birds, they’re still people,” he continued, “but they fly in biiiig, round, shiny colorful things that breathe fire, and they float aaaall around the sky in wood baskets, and sometimes you can hear them chattering and talking on and on, and see the fire. Sometimes when they fly lower over the barns, you can even smell and FEEL the fire!” It was also one of the first dumbest things Coors ever said to me.
I ain’t a horse that looks up much, not like some of them horses that like to go around stickin’ their noses up in the air all the time. I like to keep an eye on the ground, where my own two feet and the snakes is. So I likely didn’t ever look up, not for a real long time, and not even or not especially when Coors and Coors Light might tell me to, to see the bird-people in the sky for myself. A horse doesn’t need to look at nothin to know there’s nothin there.
So the first time I ever spied what might’ve been the big, round, shiny colorful things that fly was right about one people-year ago. It was one of the times when horses get taken for big, pointless group pleasure trail rides where we don’t work any cattle, and when horses is made to dress up in silly headgear and sparkles and such. This is called holidays. When I came out of the rollin white horse-box, a lot of the people was in the middle of freakin out over a couple big rumbly people-vans in the parkin lot near all us horses, as well as a lot of people millin about more aimless than normal, and a big ol’ pile of a colorful drapey thing that kinda billowed in the breeze, but not enough to spook not even one horse that was there at the trailhead. People surely seemed spooked, though. Then the people near the rumbly-vans stopped millin, and set to sittin at nearby picnic tables, where they thusly began to feast on their own mornin feed. Meanwhile I overheard a lot of nonsense talk about “what were they thinking landing right here?” and “I’m surprised none of the horses have freaked out about the hot air balloon yet.”
What’s a balloon? I’d never heard that funny people-word before. All I saw was like a big heap of a colorful tarp pile, layin there, not movin hardly at all. Why would us horses spook at that? Most of us seen tarps before. And then we all set out on our pointless silly headgear and sparkles ride, and the commotion was all gone when we eventually got back to get untacked. And that was that.
Trot forward to this people-year, and a lot more recent-like durin the hot time, when even the air is hot and still. We was havin breakfast inside our own li’l horse-corral like we do every mornin. And the bucket gal was laborin away at pickin up poop piles like she always does even though she knows we always make more.
I’d likely never have noticed, but Coors raised his head from his hay and kinda nodded it up and down. His pricked ears said, “Oh, wow!”
And then Coors Light also looked up and said, “Oh, wow! That’s really close!”
And then our own bucket gal looked up and said a thing that a decent ranch horse can’t repeat.
So, I figured I’d look up, too. I looked up. And up. And up. And…
Down… And then down again…
Wasn’t such things supposed to fly UP, accordin to Original Coors?
And then, it stopped. It sat over our own people’s people-barn. And it was…
Well, damned if it wasn’t a big, round, shiny colorful thing in the sky, that breathed fire. And it had a wood basket filled with… That is to say, it seemed to carry chatterin… people. In the sky. Huh.
I sensed some early signs of fear from the bucket gal as she saw it sittin over her own people-barn. But it surely didn’t seem to be bothersome overall, just strange.
But at present, it moved over our own li’l horse-corral like maybe it meant to engage with us, like the drone-birds did. But while filled with fire. And people. People that exhibited no sign of common sense at all seein as how they sat in what appeared to be a wood basket up in the sky filled with fire. I thought about the potential need to become alarmed, myself.
And then they drifted back the other way, over the people-barn and toward the roads. Then back over our corral, where us three horses and one bucket gal all stood stock still. But us horses was managin to chew our hay in the meantime. If ya got to run from fire from the sky, it’s likely best to do it on a full stomach. Then it went back over to the road still driftin, barely clearin the people-barn roof. It occurred to me it thusly that maybe it did not intend to be quite where it was. I doubted it possessed much of a clear plan for flyin.
Then it breathed and spat out even more fire, and it rose up some, and the people chattered more. It changed course, fire and chatterin and all, floatin low but steady over the roads, and over the roofs of the other people-barns and ranches of the County Island. It left towards the general direction of the trailhead where I’d seen the big colorful tarp upon the ground with the strange early morning picnic people.
But the big colorful tarp upon the ground had been upon the ground, not up in the sky. It had been no balloon made out of hot air. Or had it? Maybe it was a dead and flattened one. It didn’t look burned up that I recall, but maybe the fire got to it. Maybe that’s why the sky people had to eat their breakfast picnic upon the ground. Maybe that’s why our riders through us horses might be upset about it. Maybe I was losin the last shred of ranch sense I was born with.
People can’t fly. And that’s a fact.
Things that do fly is proper birds, and bees. And improper drone-birds. And all the proper flyin things do not neither breathe nor shoot out flames.
Coors piped up. “I wonder if the people paid to come see us this morning, if that’s why they were here?”
I didn’t know what paid was, except as a nonsense-word used like “I got to pay the damned hay bill,” or “I got to pay another vet bill again,” but if people want to come see us, all they got to do is walk on up. Come on over to the fence. Wave a carrot. Act like normal County Island people. Stay out of the sky.
“Ain’t nobody who wants to pay to see you!” I blew back at Coors through my own nostrils. It was kinda uncalled for on my part. But then, he was the one who first told me tall tales about the sky people. And he was also the main one who made me look up and see ‘em, with my own horse-eyes, that day. So it was his fault I had to know about ‘em at all. Mostly it’s good for a good horse to be informed of things, but there’s a lot of things a horse is best left uninformed about, too, especially here on the County Island. Sky people is at the top of that list. And no good ever came from a horse raisin his neck up to the sky and lookin for what ain’t even supposed to be there.