It’s said they came to the County Island in the dead of night. To hear the spookiest horses tell it, they came in the middle of a blindin beam of light, a deep rumble of doom, and a rattle they felt deep within their own bones, but I suppose it coulda been the high beams and diesel of a proper ranch-truck and `the rattle of a proper stock trailer, though there ain’t one proper thing about ‘em. And callin ‘em stock might be a stretch.
It’s the time of year again when a crisp, cool wind whistles between a whole lotta horses’ ears and up their tails, trottin what they got for brains around in tight circles in a tizzy of terrifyin thoughts inside their own heads. Even a good horse like me’s got to be careful not to let his imagination stray too far from the herd. Keep your head and your hooves collected.
But there’s no denyin they’re here, whatever they are.
I smelled ‘em once, from the proper side of the wall behind which they’re penned, but I didn’t see ‘em on account of they got a tall wall and I ain’t got tall legs. From the smell, they were hay-burners like us horses, only more dank and more cowwy. But they didn’t smell entirely like a cow. They sounded like they was millin too, on hooves. I didn’t hear no mooin nor bawlin, though. The only thing they could possibly be, I reckoned, was dank, more foul-smellin cattle. And that ain’t nothin to fear. Just hold yer breath around ‘em if ya got to work ‘em. So I didn’t give ‘em another thought. And I didn’t even bother tellin Coors and Coors Light about ‘em, ‘cause why get ‘em riled up over smelly cows?
One day, a real good horse came back from a pointless pleasure ride with his eyes bugged clean out of his head. He was tall, too, taller than me, which ain’t hard to be. So he saw ‘em over the wall, so he said, as he disregarded his rider and stopped at our corral-gate. And his reputation was solid enough I even believed him, a little.
They was “pack cattle,” he claimed, on account of their person told his person somethin like “all-pack-a” lot of … somethin with ‘em. He understood they was meant to pack wool, but we ain’t got sheep on the County Island. Then he supposed maybe they could pack hides as easy as wool, and most of the hides around here reside upon us horses. Thus, it seemed real clear to him we was all set to be skinned soon, and packed away by the new, dank and foul pack cattle. You can see how that got him worked up.
What’d they look like? I inquired. Was they cows?
Jiggin in place, and with the froth beginning to drop from the bit in his mouth from frettin, he said he didn’t get a real clear look, but they was spindly and underfed. With real tall necks and no proper cow tails to speak of, and they was all standin on the alert on their tall stick legs, and starin back at him like he was the devil, not them. Or maybe they’d seen the devil behind him. That’s when he turned to bolt, he said, only his rider caught wind of it by way of her spurs and reins before he could run home to beat the devil.
Those was not no cows, he snorted, not even them fancy-breed cows. I pretended to know what fancy-breed cows is. I only know the normal kind.
How many are they? I asked.
Too many to count, he champed on his bit some more.
I had more questions, but his rider was set on beatin the dark back home, never mind the devil, so off they went. Plus people get nervous when us horses spend too much time conversin, like they know no good comes of it much.
Well now, cows ain’t devils.
People don’t wear horse hide, nor pack it anywhere.
If they do, surely it ain’t enough horse hide to warrant particular pack cattle for that sole purpose? And at least they’re polite enough not to wear it around actual horses that still got their hides attached. Unlike how they wear cow around cow. But that’s cow, not horse.
It was all crazy horse-talk. The cool wind whistled around my own ears. I shook my head to clear it out.
But the horse that said it wasn’t crazy, was he? He’d never been crazy before. Did the pack cattle drive him loco? If he went loco, could I?
I still ain’t never seen an all-pack-a cow, and I never hope to see one, but I’ll be the bravest ol’ ranch horse I can be if I ever do. They can’t be worse than javelinas.
And his description made no sense at all. Sounds like he was mixin up a sheep, with a cow, with a deer, all in one critter. I hope this is one of those many times when another horse told me somethin pointless that I thusly retold, which ends up bein entirely pointless and not worth repeatin again.
But, this here’s the County Island, so a horse never knows.