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User:FelixSagittarius/At the Ranch Pt 1/9

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At the Ranch
Preceded by: The Talking Box
Succeeded by: At the Ranch Pt 2/9

At the Ranch Pt 1

Author: Felix Sagittarius
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Tales from the Blind Pig story universe
Separator r left.png At the Ranch Pt 1/9 "Farewells and Hellos" Separator r right.png

By Felix Sagittarius


I drifted into an uneasy sleep. The Department of Health and Human Services truck was supposed to come for me later today, and I was deeply afraid of what that meant. To be taken to one of their 'ranches', where they kept the heavily changed large animal SCABS. I had heard of the Colonies they kept the smaller Changed in, and if this was going to be like them...I was scared. But, it seemed that something was - encouraging - this nap.


I became aware of my surroundings - I had been here once before. But, this time, instead of standing on two feet, I now stood on four. The bright colors were greyed out, but the smells, ah! I drew a deep breath, and sighed; now I knew this was an equine paradise! I heard a nicker of amusement behind me, turned, and there She was - Epona, the ancient horse Goddess.


I dropped my head and spread my ears in respect - I couldn't easily go to my knees now. She laughed again, then said, gently, "Welcome, my adopted child. Will you exchange breath with me, as one horse with another?" I raised my head and did as She had asked. With each breath of Hers, I felt...enlarged...as if my spirit was growing.


"My child, I have a task I would set you, if you will accept it," She said. "I wish you to be one of my priests, to aid those around you where you are going. Will you do this for Me?"


"Lady of Horses, you know that, human, I was Priest to the Lady and the Lord. Now, in this form, of course I will serve You," I said, humbly.


"Thank you," She replied, then said, "What is coming will not be easy, but I will help as I can. The wheel of the world turns strangely these days, and Humans haven't begun to grasp the great changes they have set in motion. They still don't see, that while you wear a different form, your soul is still human, as are the souls of your brothers and sisters. Work with them, and give them such comfort as you can."


"I would do so anyway, Lady, but your aid will be a comfort," I said. Then, daring fate, I asked, "What of me, Lady?'


"You are my child now, and that will remain so," She said. I sighed, knowing this to be truth. "But," She continued, "I council this - look for the one of many shapes, but one soul. He will help you. Now, come, run with me!"


She turned and raced away. I followed, glorying in the power and speed of the form I now wore. We ran across Her land...


I woke, remembering.


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What woke me was Doctor Malcolm, the vet who had been caring for my during my emotional transition from Man to Horse. He was standing at the gate calling to me to come for a final conference before the transporters arrival time. I shook my head to clear the last of sleep from it, then whinnied at him. He had the gate open when I reached it. I trotted through, then he closed and latched it. I waited for him and, together, we walked back to his home.


My friend Martin was waiting there, along with Mr. Anson from the ACLU and Mr. Fennix, the fox morph from the local SCABS organization. I carefully pulled out the (by now, heavily battered) piece of oak board I used as a sounder, and set it on the ground. Then, I reached back and flipped the switch to turn on the Talking Box. I started the thump/tap of Morse code, and the box said, "A good day to you, gentlemen."


They all grinned at that, having heard me talking many times over the past week. A chorus of 'good days' came back. I turned my gaze to Mr. Anson and asked, "How are things going, sir. Have you been able to stop my deportation?"


"As I warned you, no, we haven't," he said. "HHS has a great deal of experience in these matters, and they always set a short pick up time to forestall anyone stopping them. But, we have been able to file in Federal Court to stop them from seizing your property without a court hearing, and we will fight them on your behalf as we have for many other SCABS. But, removing you from the area is one of their strategies to keep you from testifying in your own behalf. We know where you're going, though, and we can get a writ to allow you to appear in court, if someone can transport you."


Mr. Fennix said, "Our information is that you'll be going to the 'Ranch' out near Dodge City. Reports say it's not a bad place, but there are some sort of problems. The Humans are all right for the most part, the trouble is, somehow, with the herd. Some of the Humans are with us, most are just the kind of cowboy you'd expect to find out there. Our people will introduce themselves with "hello, my friend" - they see the people there, where the cowboys only see livestock."


I snorted at that, stung, then sighed and said, "Now, livestock is all I am. But, smart livestock!" The group laughed. I continued, "While I'm thinking on it, will I be allowed to have visitors?"


"Yes," said Mr. Fennix. "They can't prevent your friends from coming to see you. But that's at least part of the reason for the long move, to cut down on such."


"All right. Doc, can I have you call someone for me this evening? He should be home then," I said. "Or at least leave a message. He's a somewhat dreamy individual, a really creative person, so if he doesn't call back, please keep trying. Tell him I need him, and where I am."


A faint sound down the road caught my attention. I raised my head and swiveled my ears to listen - a truck, and a big one. "I hear them coming," I said, "They'll be here in a few minutes. Gentlemen, is there anything else we need to discuss?" They all shook their heads. "Very well then, please keep me informed as best you can. And thank you, one and all. Doc, Martin, lets get this gear off."


I lowered my head with great reluctance. According to the rules HHS had sent, I would only be allowed to have a halter and nothing more, when they picked me up. I deeply hated to loose my only recently gained speech, but the HHS people would destroy the Talking Box or throw it away. So, better to leave it here. An unrevealed secret is always best. Doc unfastened the band behind my forelegs that held the ID strap and the equipment from sliding forward, then he and Martin slid the whole assembly over my head and carried it inside. When they came back, I lifted my hoof and they removed the microphone.


I sighed, then slowly shook my head as Doc came out with the special halter he'd had made with my name on it, and the currying brushes to comb out the matted down fur where the band had been. I stood and enjoyed the grooming - another good point about equineness, how good a brushing felt! Then he held out the halter. I looked at it and grumbled - I'd never worn one before. I felt it demeaned me to being 'just an animal'. But, it was necessary. I placed my head into the loops of leather, and Doc fastened the buckles behind my ears, leaving it loose.


The truck had turned in and was coming up the drive. When it reached the yard, the driver swung it in a circle, then shut off the engine and climbed out of the cab.


"Hi, Doctor Malcolm! This him?" he said, pointing at me.


"Yes, this is James Maxwell, the SCABS patient," Doc replied.


"Good. Let's get the paperwork done, and I can get back on the road. Only one other this time, and him already picked up, so it'll be a reasonably quick trip." He reached back into the truck cab and got out a sheaf of forms, then he and the Doc headed for his office.


I smelled another horse in the truck, and walked over. The other passenger put his head out the window, and we looked at each other. He was obviously a big breed, taller and heaver than I. I reached my nose up, and we exchanged breath.


"Hello!" he said, "coming for a ride with me, are you?" in the subtle, quiet language we horses use among ourselves.


"Not of my own will," I replied. "Damn HHS wants my money, so they take me. Nothing I can do, beyond what I have done - get a lawyer and fight it! But, they can still transport me."


"I know, same here, except I'm too broke for the lawyer, with the penalties for damage to my rooms when I Changed, and for damages incurred getting me out of them and down to the ground. Oh, Lordy, was the landlord pissed!" he laughed.


"Sorry, I should introduce myself. I'm James Maxwell," I said.


"Just call me Wideload. I stopped being Human when I Changed, so I use that for a moniker among us," he replied.


"Hail and well met, my equine brother!" I nickered.


"And the same to you, horse bro'," he laughed back.


"James, will you please come here?" called Doc Malcolm.


"Later," I said to Wideload, then turned and walked back to the porch stairs where the driver and my friends were waiting.


"James, this is Jerry Moorcroft, the driver for your trip, and an old acquaintance of mine," Doc said. "He's picked up and delivered a number of the deeply Changed SCABS who have come through here during their recovery phase. He's a good and careful driver, and will get you to the Dodge City ranch in good health. Jerry, this is James Maxwell."


"Hello, James," he said, and held out his hand for me to sniff. Introductions over, he said, "At least you came out of this a nice looking horse. I will warn you, though, some of the cowboys like to play with the 'livestock', so be ready to be ridden. I've complained to the Director about this, but he's a cowboy type too, and sees no harm in 'exercising the patients'. He's really waiting for your new friend, though. Now he has two heavy horses, and has a big wagon for them to pull."


I lifted my hoof, to rattle back an answer, but let it hang, not knowing if I should reply and point out my ability to use code.


"Go ahead and talk," Doc said, noticing my hanging hoof. "I told Jerry about your use of code. He doesn't know Morse, and doesn't think anyone else down there does either."


<All right then,> I rattled off. <But the cowboy that puts a spur in me is gonna learn to fly!>


Martin translated, and Jerry gave a startled laugh. "He really said that?" he asked.


"Yes, he did," Martin replied. "I've known James for almost thirty years, until he Changed, and he is an expert Morse operator."


"Well, um, err.... I'm sorry, James," Jerry apologized. "I know you're a man who has SCABS, but I see a horse, and to have one talk to me is...strange! Hmm, an idea," he continued, "I wonder if I could find a Morse operator in Dodge City?"


I started tapping and Martin started talking at the same time. We both stopped, then I nodded to Martin to go on, as he could simply say it. "There are several ways to," he continued, "there should be a Ham Radio club down there, and you can contact them, or you can contact the American Radio Relay League and they can direct you, or as a last measure, drive through town and look for a large beam antenna!"


"Good!" Jerry said. "That will give a line of communication if it's needed. Well! James, come on and lets get you loaded. It's a six hour run from here, and I want to get there while it's still light out."


<A moment, please - why don't you get the ramp down while I make my farewells?> I tapped out.


Martin translated, and Jerry said, "Good idea, come over when your ready. Oh, yeah, this IS a six hour trip, you might want to take a dump now. I'll let Mike out so he can join you, you'll ride better that way, although I'll make another relief stop later."


I looked at him quizzically and tapped out <Who's Mike?> Martin translated, and Jerry said, "Mike Allen, the other SCABS horse. You met him while we got the paperwork done."


<Ah!> I sent, <He told me his name now is Wideload.>


Jerry gulped at that but said, "If that's what he wants to be called, so be it."


He went over to the trailer and said, "Wideload, I'm going to let you off for a bathroom break, OK?"


The horse's ears went straight up. He stared at me, shocked, then back at Jerry. After a moment, he slowly nodded, then gave him the horselaugh. Jerry dropped the ramp, and Wideload walked carefully back out. He was even bigger than I'd thought, a Clyde/Shire mix, and beautiful in his conformation.


I walked over and said, "Well, you did want to be called Wideload, didn't you? Come on, the area I use is over here."


"I didn't know you could talk to humans!" Wideload said.


"In a roundabout way, through Morse code. I've been using it for thirty years, and realized I could use it now, as well," I replied. "I can try to teach it to you, but I also know an easier code, that's quicker to learn."


We finished quickly, then Wideload headed for the trailer, and I for my friends.


<Thank you, one and all.> I tapped out. <Doc, for your kind help getting me through this. Martin, for helping with the Box and for translating. Mr. Anson, Mr. Fennix, for your help and the hope it brings for the future. From my heart, I thank you.>


With that, I turned and headed for the trailer, my new friend, and a long ride.


To Be Continued...

Preceded by:
The Talking Box
At the Ranch Succeeded by:
At the Ranch Pt 2/9