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User:FelixSagittarius/At the Ranch Pt 7/9
|Tales from the Blind Pig story universe|
By Felix Sagittarius
The day had passed uneventfully, after Ted had saddled me and taken me out to the ring. We worked on basics, reminding us both how rider and ridden worked together to make a successful partnership. We broke for lunch, Ted heading for the human cafeteria, and I to the barn. I'd seen Mr. Jakes walking by with Bryce and Terri, so they were off in the little pasture Mr. Jakes had promised. Wideload and Tommy were off somewhere with the wagon, so I had the place to myself.
The barn seemed empty and quiet as I ate my sweet feed and oats. I knew I had time before Ted came back, and so I decided to take a short nap. I relaxed my body, letting my forelegs lock, and let my mind drift.
I thought back over the last month and a half, of all the, to the human me, weird things that had happened. The Change, getting out of the house safely, working with Dr. Malcolm, learning to be what I had become. Then my friend Martin, and the engineer, Mr. Shaynes, he'd found to design the Talking Box. The simple joy of speaking again! The news of being sent away. The ride down here, and of meeting Wideload and Stoney. Of arriving here, and the schooling.
I began to realize just how much I'd become equine. Here I was, standing in a stable, wearing a saddle and bridle, and finding nothing wrong with it. Even my dreams of being human, I realized, were in the washed out color and greys of equine vision. Yet, Epona Herself had said I was Hers for the rest of this life. I sighed, trying to reconcile myself with that reality.
"That reminds me," I thought. "I haven't heard from the ACLU people or the SCABs about my lawsuit. Wonder how I can check on that?" I wondered if they'd write?
It struck me with the force of a blow - I couldn't get mail here. Or phone calls. Or email. I was completely cut off from the world I'd lived in for fifty plus years. I hadn't even heard the news of the world since I Changed, and it was a political season!
The shock rolled over me, the sudden pain of loss pointing out, again, what I'd become. I was a horse, a dumb animal.
I moaned with the pain. To be so alone! For someone who chatted with friends every day, via radio, via the Internet, or just walking into a store and talking to the clerk as I bought something....the sudden sense of loss was overwhelming. I even missed spam and junk mail! Oh, how I wished I could cry.
Since I hadn't showed up at the ring, Ted walked into the barn looking for me. He heard my moaning, and ran to my box to find out what was wrong.
"James?" he asked. "James, what's the matter? Are you hurt? James? JAMES?"
I was so far gone in the distress of what I'd lost, I didn't even hear him. He grabbed an ear and twisted, hard, then leaped out the box door. The sudden pain penetrated my inner anguish - I jumped and twisted to bite what had hurt me. "James?" he asked again. I shook my head, then looked at him and nodded, back in reality again.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he said. I thought about it, then nodded.
"Lets go out to that scratch pad of yours. I need the help to understand what's happening with you." he said, and again I nodded.
We walked out of the barn and over to the tap code layout. I paused, facing it, and Ted asked, "Now, what's the matter?"
I sighed, deeply, then replied, tapping, *I was just realizing how much I missed being human. I can talk to the other SCABs, but - no mail, no friends on the Ham radio, no concerts, no email - all the things I loved as a human, just...gone. I was looking forward to voting in the election this year - that's gone. I can't even just walk into a store and buy a candy bar! I'm just beginning to find out how deeply limiting being a horse is.*
"Ah? I hadn't even realized that. It must be a terrible shock. You've seemed so happy learning, and went after dressage with such joy...well," he said. "Um. There some things you don't know, simply because they haven't happened yet and until you came up with this, there wasn't any way for you to ask. You can get messages and mail here, even packages; you just haven't been here long enough for any to have been sent. And you can have visitors. With this code you've given us, you can even have conversations with them now. As to buying things, I don't know what you might need, but I'll talk to the Director about a small stipend to be set aside for any SCAB who wants or needs something, now that you folks can tell us what it is."
I nodded and tapped, *That might be a help, especially to the non-working animals. Music is something I miss a lot, others must be the same. Maybe not a personal radio, but one for each herd? And I know the sweet feed and oats will pretty much stop when I go to the herd...maybe a selection of large granola bars for snacks? I liked them as a man - wonder what they'd be like now? Or a supply of apples and carrots? That would let us buy things and feel like we have some control again.*
"Good ideas! I'll mention them to the director as well. This code already opens up areas I didn't even realize you folks could want. Again, thanks, it will be an enormous help." he said. "Well! Feeling better now?"
I nodded - I really did feel better!
"Then, shall we finish the exercises? And get you ready for tomorrow's ride?" he asked.
I turned and stood while he mounted, then we headed for the corral.
In the morning, Mr. Jakes gave me a good brushing down, and set out a bucket of oats for me. While I was chewing my way through it, a cowboy showed up, carrying his saddle. He went over to Mr. Jakes, talked to him and then they both came over to me.
Mr. Jakes said, "James, this is Frank Jefferson. He's here to give you your Graduation ride. He's been here for a long time, from before this was a SCABs hospice, and is very experienced in working with you SCABs."
Jefferson held out his hand for me to sniff, then said, "Mornin', James. Mr. Jakes has been tellin' me about some of what you've been doin' here - Ah'm impressed! You've been doin' very well at the lessons, and ah'm lookin' fo'ward to our ride."
I nodded, and walked out into the aisle so he could get me saddled up and ready to go. I was looking forward to this, as both a chance to see the rest of the ranch and the end of my school time. When I was all tacked out, Jefferson swung up into the saddle, and we headed out of the barn. Wideload, Tommy, Bryce and Terri all called and wished me 'good luck and a good trip' as we passed, and I nodded to them.
Once out the doors, Jefferson directed me over to a bunkhouse where he picked up his saddlebags and blanket, then on to a storage building, where he picked up supplies we'd need for our trip. With each addition, I felt more laden down, but I knew they were necessary and didn't complain. Finished, Jefferson led me over to a gate, opened it, then closed it after I passed through.
"One thing I like 'bout you SCABs people, I don' have ta lead, tie and untie to get through gates an' such!" he laughed. "Well. heah we go!" He swung up into the saddle and pointed the way. I moved off at a walk, then moved up to a trot as Jefferson asked.
Late the next day, we returned. I was tired but happy; everything had gone so well! I'd found I enjoyed working with an experienced rider, he hadn't asked me to do anything beyond my capabilities, and we'd enjoyed each others company. As we'd worked our way down the wire, he'd tried my different gaits, and I'd showed him some of the dressage moves I'd learned, much to his amusement.
We'd found a number of breaks, and I found Jefferson had a way to get me to watch carefully as well - I spotted a break he'd missed, and he gave me a carrot! I watched like a hawk after that, and spotted two more. My eyes didn't see as sharply as his, but they noticed discrepancies better, so as a team we did very well.
We hadn't gone quickly, yet we'd gotten done with plenty of time left, so we didn't have to race home at a gallop. The night out was nice, too - Jefferson trusted me, and let me roam freely in search of the best grazing, knowing that I'd be nearby when he awoke. I napped near his fire, between browsing, giving at least some security. Not that anything bad roamed this area anymore, but I scared off one coyote with interests in Jefferson's food.
All in all, a trip to enjoy and remember, but now I was back. We passed through the last gate, and headed for the office to turn in our wire report - and my evaluation.
We pulled up out front, and Jefferson climbed down. He fished in his saddlebag for a moment, then came up and stroked my nose, saying, "James, thanks fo' yoah he'p on the trip. Ah'm turnin' in an 'excellent' on yoah eval, an' ya deserve it. Some SCABs people heve been a problem, some heve been sweet - you've been actively he'pful, and Ah appreciates thet. Heah's a last reward, enjoy it while Ah get the paperwork done, then Ah'll take yo' to the barn fo' the night." Then he gave me a last carrot!
I slowly crunched at it, savoring the taste, and thought about tomorrow. I'd probably be showing the other SCABs people how the tap code worked, and that I was looking forward to. But then, the herd - and Lucifer. I shuddered, remembering what he'd done to poor Bryce. But I'd have Wideload and Tommy with me. I'd just have to see.
We'd had the equivalent of a - for horses - party when I returned to the barn. Jefferson had left off his personal gear at the bunkhouse, so after he removed his saddle and petted my nose once more, he spoke with Mr. Jakes and went on his way. A wash and brush down followed, and a bucket of oats and sweet feed was waiting in my box. After a decent interval, Wideload, Tommy, Bryce and Terri all came over and I told them of my trip. Then we compared notes.
"Well, it sounds like you had a good ride," Bryce said. "My rider was good, but just treated me like an educated horse. Nothing I could do about it, though."
"Mine was kinder," Terri said. "He spent a good bit of time talking to me - asked a lot of yes/no questions, so we at least communicated in a way."
"Fred, the wagon driver, has been doing well by us," Wideload said. "And the loads are pretty light for what we can do. At least we're doing something - better than most of the poor people here. Been talking to them as we brought over supplies - the cattle, llama's and such. They're so bored, a lot of them are almost lost in the animal...not good."
"I hope that'll start to change tomorrow, " I said. "I made some suggestions to Ted, and I'll speak to the Director when I can. I really miss reading, and music, and the news, even if it doesn't apply any more." They all agreed with that. Then we spotted Mr. Jakes walking our way, and we turned to greet him.
"Another conference?" he chuckled. "Well! James, you're to meet the Director in the morning, and go around to demonstrate the Tap Code. When you're done with that, you'll be released to the herd, along with Wideload and Tommy. Bryce, we're going to hold you a few more days, to watch how your healing is going, and Terri, you can come or go as you wish. You all understand?"
We nodded almost in synch. He noticed and laughed.
"Now, for those going to the herd, and those who want to rehear this mini lecture, here are the rules," he said. "Morning call - everybody shows up for morning call, so we can count heads and make sure everyone's here. It also acts as a sick call. If you're hurt or ill, come forward to be checked over. We set this up after we had a couple of suicides, and no one noticed they were gone for days. This is important, people, be there!"
Again, the nod - we timed it carefully, and did a real good synch. He shook his head, with a small smile.
"It's not a joke, folks; miss more than one, we'll put you in the barn or exile you to the cattle for a while. Same goes for them, so if there's a stranger in your herd, be kind. Okay?" he said. We nodded again, and he continued. "Work assignments get passed out at this time, so listen up. With almost fifty of you here, the workload's light, and most people seem to think it's a treat to do something. SCABs are being asked to volunteer for light wagon and carriage pulling training and duties - the price of gas has gone through the roof again! That's about it. Got it?
We all nodded again, and he came over and said, "You people have been one of the best bunches I've had in this barn. I sure wish you luck, out with the herd. I know I'll miss you."
Mr. Jakes got me out early, and gave me another wash and careful brushing down. By the time I heard the whine of the Directors electric cart, I was buffed and ready for the day.
The Director walked in and came over to me. He asked me to please follow along behind his cart. I nodded, and we left the barn. The Morning roll call group was waiting with a light wagon, and we all started off for the furthest pastures.
I returned to the barn around Noon, knowing that I'd had a good day. I'd showed the Cattle, Llama's and the poor odds and sods types of which we only had a couple each how the Tap Code worked, how the signboards showed the letter combinations, spoke to them with it, and asked if they had any questions for the Director. The results had surpassed my wildest hopes - the SCABs people had crowded up to the wire to talk to Human people again! It was wonderful. I was told by a number of SCABs that people who had almost fallen to animal were back from the edge, just knowing that they could speak with their families again. The new ideas for radios, music, and possibly purchasing treats were a major excitement too. I was tired but floating with joy.
The Director said, "Thanks, James, I wouldn't have believed just how much of a difference this is making! I'm going to get lunch, then we'll do the Horse herd for the code release when I get back. We'll release you to the herd then, okay?" I nodded, and we parted.
I went to my box and started on the oats that'd been left in the trough for me. I heard the jingle and clatter of the wagon approaching. Shortly after, deharnessed, Wideload and Tommy came in for their lunch too. Bryce and Terri were off in the small pasture, so we were alone. They'd finished work early so they could join the herd too, even if they were going to have steady daily hauling.
"Well, guys, there's going to be trouble with Lucifer when we go in. Right?" I said.
Tommy replied, "Sure is, little fellah. You saw what he did to Bryce, and you're next."
"Anything we can do to help, James?" Wideload asked.
"I don't want him tearing into you two, but if you can get in his way enough to give me a head start, that would be what I need," I replied.
Tommy laughed and said, "We can do that much. He won't mess with us, we're just too big for him."
"Once I'm up to a full gallop, I can play with him. He'll be so mad he won't notice where he's going," I said.
Wideload gave his slow chuckle, then said, "Consider it done."
The Director himself opened the fence for us, and we walked in to the herd's area and stopped. He closed the gate, then the wagon crew blew the 'assembly' horn. I carefully got between Tommy and Wideload, then waited as the Herd assembled. The Director started speaking. I heard a loud snort, and knew Lucifer was here.
"You back, Tommy? Bring friend? Who, friend?" Lucifer rumbled. He spoke strangely, in Equine without the additions we SCABs made. Strange, because I knew he was a SCAB too.
Wideload took a couple of paces forward, then said, "I'm called Wideload."
"Not you, big one. Other. WHO?" Lucifer rumbled, loudly, and paced slowly towards us. The Director stopped speaking, sensing trouble. One of the wagon crew loaded a sedative dart gun, just in case.
I walked forward, from between my friends, and said, "Hello, Lucifer. I'm James."
The effect was startling. Lucifer started backward, as if driven by a sudden shock.
"You. Know you. See in dreams, with White Mare," he gasped. Suddenly he screamed, "KILL YOU!" and charged.
I wheeled and ran, ran as hard as I could. Lucifer tangled with Tommy and Wideload for a precious moment, then got around them and flew after me, leaving chaos behind. He was completely crazy, wild and dangerous, and he was after me with intent not to subdue, but to kill.
I was up to full speed now, stretched out and low to the ground, flying along at a hard gallop. I could see Lucifer out of the rear of my eye, and he was gaining slowly. I spotted a brushy patch, and swung to put it between us. As I'd hoped, he plowed into it, slowing, and I gained ground. Thick grass, a blackberry patch, more brush, anything to delay or slow him until he wore down. I was beginning to feel the strain of the speed myself, and he, being lighter and faster, would feel it quicker, I hoped. Far behind us, I could hear the rumble of hooves as the herd followed.
I ran as I never had in this form, mane and tail streaming away. I zigged and zagged, partly to slow Lucifer, partly to let the forerunners of the herd get closer.
"Lady Epona," I prayed, "what should I do now?"
"Let him touch you," She whispered.
I gave a strained laugh and said, "Lady, at least that will be no problem!"
I dodged around a copse of trees, then abruptly slowed as the ground fell away beneath my hooves. A quick look showed a small stream valley, perfect for what I wanted. There, a path down. I ran down it over to the water, then stopped, sides heaving, and got a drink.
Lucifer came around the copse and skidded to a stop, gasping, blown, barely missing the edge. Then he saw me, and screamed again. He flew down the trail and raced towards me with his last bit of strength. I waited, across his path, braced for the collision. Above, I saw horse heads appear over the edge. Faintly surprised, I recognized Wideload among them.
Lucifer struck...and bounced. He shrieked, reared past the vertical, and fell over. I felt myself falling, too...
I woke, as if from a dream. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on my side, with Lucifer lying unconscious a short distance away.
"Ah, you're awake!" Wideload said. "What happened? The two of you scared the hell out of us all! We came around those trees and barely stopped at the rim, and there you were, you standing still and him roaring down on you. We thought you were going to die! Then he bounced off you like a BB off armor plate, reared up, gave a shriek the likes of which I've never heard, then fell over backward. You collapsed too, although it was more like lying down. You've both been out cold for a long time. Bella and I have kept watch on you, but you owe us all an explanation!"
I slowly climbed to my hooves. I shook my head to get myself together again, then said, "Get Bella, will you please? It'll save some time if I tell you both."
Wideload trotted off at his usual ponderous gate. I shook myself all over, raising a cloud of dust, then looked around for the stream. I slowly went over and got a long drink, then came back to watch over Lucifer.
I heard Wideload coming back, with Bella and a number of others with him. They drew up into a half circle around us, then Bella said, "Well? What happened?"
"Wideload, do you remember what I told you of my life on the ride down here?" I asked. He nodded. "I left out a part, not so much that it was secret, but because it causes trouble sometimes. You never asked my faith. I'm Pagan, a Wiccan High Priest."
"So? he said. "And that applies how, now that we're horses?"
"The night I Changed, Epona appeared to me, and claimed me as one of Her own. Do you know who She is?" I asked.
I heard gasps among the group, but Wideload said, "No, I don't. Never was much of a scholar, you know, being a jock."
"She's the ancient Celtic Goddess of Horses," I said. "The morning I was picked up to come here, She brought me to Her in a dream, and asked me to be Her Priest. I accepted."
More gasps. Then Bella, tough as a lead mare has to be, said, "And this means what? And how does it apply to what happened here, to you and Lucifer? He may be a crazy jerk, but he's one of us, and has been a lot longer then you have."
"Epona told me She will help us as much as She can, that since we run on four hooves She considers us to be Her children now," I said. There a rising tide of protest and babel.
"But," I continued, "She also said that while we are horses on the outside, we are still Human Souls, and to remember that, too."
I took a deep breath, then let it out. "As to Lucifer," I continued, "Epona, and I, have been talking to him, showing him what he needs to know to live in this form. He'll wake shortly, cured of his madness, and in control of himself for the first time since he Changed."
I noticed a stirring at my feet, and saw an eye open.
"Wake, my brother, and join us," I said. "Good gentles, this is Pastor Steven Svenson, a Lutheran priest, who is Lucifer only if he wishes."
To be continued...
At the Ranch Pt 6/9
|At the Ranch||Succeeded by:|
At the Ranch Pt 8/9