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User:FelixSagittarius/At the Ranch Pt 4/9
|Tales from the Blind Pig story universe|
By Felix Sagittarius
We passed through Dodge City, and Wideload and I both looked eagerly at the famous cattle town from the Old West. But we were disappointed in finding a regular small town, typical of the southern plains, with old but solid brick buildings. Off in the distance down one street, we saw a Wild West area, almost a theme park, but that was it for the fame. We looked at each other, disappointed, then we both laughed - no gunfights in the streets here!
Jerry continued down the road out of town. Finally, miles later, he turned off onto a gravel secondary road. The ride roughened, but we rode with the swaying and bumps, amid the clatter of thrown gravel. Off in the distance, I spotted a large sign over a break in the fence beside the road. Fair Pastures Large Animal SCABS Hostel, it read, then as we approached, I could make out a further sign: U. S. Government Property, Div. Of H&HS, No trespassing, All Visitors must check in with Director of Patient Care. This was to be our new home.
The truck turned in and drove down the road leading to the cluster of low buildings and barns. We passed them then swung into a large open area behind the main building. Jerry braked to a halt, then cut the engine. He climbed out of the cab and came back to us.
"Well, this is it," he said. " I need to turn the papers in to the Director, and he'll be out to see you unloaded. I wish you all the luck in the world, and hope you don't need it."
With that, he returned to the cab and got the paperwork, then walked into the offices. A number of people were gathering to see what they'd gotten this time. Wideload and I both stuck our heads out the windows and looked back at them. Typical people for the farms and ranches of the area, deeply tanned, wearing Stetson type hats and the occasional John Deere ballcap, a mixture of shirts and tees, and jeans. They talked among themselves, then quieted as the Director came out.
"Get them unloaded," he said. "They've had a long trip and probably need to relieve themselves and stretch their muscles." Jerry and one of the others came around to the back and let down the ramp.
"Mike Allen, please step out and come over here, " the Director called.
Wideload carefully backed out, stretched, and walked over to the Director. "My oh my, you are a big one aren't you?" the Director grinned.
Jerry said, "The people where he spent his recovery time called him Wideload, because he's so big." He winked at Wideload, who snickered.
"That certainly seems appropriate, I believe we'll keep that as a working name. Is that all right with you, Mike?" the Director said.
Wideload nodded, obviously endorsing the moniker.
"Then Wideload you shall be," The Director laughed. "I have some ideas for work for you, if you don't mind? We need the patients to help in many ways here, and you are a powerful type."
Wideload nodded again, and the Director turned and looked at me.
"James Maxwell, please come here," he said.
I had backed out while he was talking with Wideload, and had stretched and shaken myself to loosen up. Now, I walked over and stood before him.
He walked around me, looking me over. "You certainly came out of the Change a nice looking horse," he said. "I'm not really sure what we'll do with you. You haven't been ridden?"
I shook my head.
"Well, I'll assign you to one of the experienced riders here, and he can teach you what we want. You're an intelligent person, from your papers, and should get the hang of it quickly. As I told Wideload, we expect the patients to help in the maintenance and upkeep here, and taking a rider around to check fences will be part of your duties. All right?"
I slowly nodded. I didn't like the idea of someone on my back, telling me where to go, but I didn't have much of a choice.
"Good," he said. "Tom, why don't you lead our two new patients over to the manure pile, and when they're done, get them something to eat and drink. We'll keep them in the barn for a week of training, then send them out to the herd."
A tall, deeply tanned man separated himself from the crowd and came over. "Gentlebein's, if you'll folla' me?" he said. He walked off toward the larger of the barns, and we followed. First he lead us to the manure area, and we took care of that need, then he lead us over to the barn. He asked us to wait at the door while he consulted the barn hostler. We halted and stood, waiting.
"Well, what do you think so far, Wideload?" I asked.
"I thought I was going to die laughing when Jerry got the moniker approved! He's slick, I'll give him that!" Wideload chuckled. "What about you? Ever ride a horse before?"
"As far as I can recall about three times, which means I'm no expert rider. Being on the lower half of the experience ought to be interesting too," I replied. "Ah, here they come! Rooms for the night, please, with a soft bed, shower and room service!"
We both snickered at that, as Tom and the hostler walked over.
"Wonda' what thet was all about?" Tom said. "Almost like they're laughin' at us!"
"Probably are," said the other man. "Remember, they were men like us until they Changed, and their sense of humor is probably still the same. Is that right gentlemen?"
We both nodded.
"See? I keep telling you, these are people, not animals, no matter what they look like. Treat them like dumb animals, and they'll eventually find a way to get back at you," the hostler said. "Now, friends, we're going to give you a wash and brushing down, to get rid of the road dirt, then we've got a pair of large boxes for you to spend the night in, with a bucket of sweet feed and hay available. If you'll step this way?"
As we followed the hostler to the wash area, I said, "What did I tell you?" and we both snickered again.
As we had passed through the barn, a pretty mare and another stallion had called greetings to us. Now, clean and fed, we made our introductions to them. They said they'd arrived the day before, from out west. The stallion, Bryce Wendle, came from near Denver where he'd been an advertising executive, and the mare, Terri Benson, from Utah, where she'd been a Grade School teacher. Apparently the ranch had a much wider draw than I'd thought, although fully Changed people were fairly rare and large ones even more so.
A pair of cattle spoke up, startling Wideload and I. We realized that horses weren't the only large animal SCABS here. The bovine 'accent' made them somewhat difficult to understand, but the ideas got through clearly. There had been a llama there when they arrived, but he'd gone on to his group this morning. A wider group indeed! It seemed most kinds of large herbivores were sent here.
The cows returned to talking with each other, and we continued our chat with Bryce and Terri. Bryce's Change had been unusual: he'd been in a board meeting and video conference when it happened, and had thoroughly disrupted it. Terri's had happened in the garden at home, with her husband near by to help as he could. We explained ours, and talked about out trip, and they about theirs. Terri had been in the trailer for several days, Bryce a day less - their driver wasn't anything like Jerry! We realized how lucky we'd been. We told everyone about what Stoney had told us, and generated some hope, if nothing else.
A little while later, Mr. Jakes came in, followed by a huge Percheron stallion. He took him over to Wideload and said, "Here's your partner. He'll be in training with you in learning to pull various things. His name's Tommy Jardeen, he's been out with the herd while we've been waiting for you. I've got the box next to you ready for him. You'll start training tomorrow, as will James."
We all waited until he'd gotten settled and eaten. then we started asking questions about Tommy and about the herd.
Tommy, it turned out, had had a hard life. He'd been in the Army, and seen heavy combat. He'd survived, even gotten some important medals, but, when he got out, his life just slowly fell apart. He had serious psychiatric problems, and took to drugs and alcohol to relieve them, as so many had. He drifted from job to job, across the country, being put in jail, dried out, given help - it worked for a while, but he always fell back, and finally became homeless, living in a tent under a bridge and begging for money to buy more booze with.
Then one night, while sitting around a trash fire with some other homeless, he Changed. The other people must have really liked him, because they called a cop to help him, and he was sent to a good vet to help him figure his new self out. If anything, he was happy for the first time in ages. Nobody expected him to do anything complicated anymore, he didn't have to beg for a meal, and he'd lost the need for alcohol. He was content, and looking forward to learning to pull a wagon.
We eagerly asked what living in the herd was like.
"Well, it's different than a human community, and yet, like one," he said. "We're all horses, and the instincts form the base of the herd behavior. Theres a lead mare, Bella Henson. She used to own a company, so she knows how to manage a lot of people. The mares all defer to her, and live together. Theres a bachelor herd too, that's where I was. And a herd stallion. Now, that guy's nuts. The horse rules him in this case, and he attacks every new stallion anywhere near his size, to force them to submit to him. He didn't mess with me, though, I'm too big. People call him Lucifer - he was a preacher, and the man spends all his time praying, and the stallion rides him. He's never reconciled himself with his change, and he's nuts because of it. Watch out for him, he's a nasty being."
I felt a tug on my priest link to Epona - She wanted me to make a special note of what Tommy had just said. Now I began to see why She wanted my help here. This 'Lucifer' was disrupting things, and hurting people. I acknowledged the tug, and thought on the info, as I continued to listen.
"What's Lucifer look like?" I asked.
"He's pure white, of all things, from head to tail, but his muzzle's black. Looks like an Arabian type, and he's very fast," Tommy replied. "Like I said, be careful around him. He won't bother you, Wideload, but Bryce and James are in for a rough ride. He talks like a horse, little words, strung together in the strange way they have. And he's been getting really weird over the past month, something about, "he's coming." and saying he'll kill him on sight. Whoever it is, I wish him well!"
I shuddered. I thought I knew who 'he' was.
To be continued...
At the Ranch Pt 3/9
|At the Ranch||Succeeded by:|
At the Ranch Pt 5/9