Update 4

Begin, this time, with a highway. And a motor home, barreling along with the skyscrapers and mountains of Vancouver sinking into the ground behind. The last big-city newspaper had replaced pen behind ear and run his story to the editor’s desk, the final television camera had been turned off and its lens-cap clipped into place. We piled on board and rode for the hills into a beautiful sunset.

In the front passenger seat, Chris, with his feet stretched across the dash, his eyes closed. He’d spent the morning as a gorilla, charging across the city. Playing chess, spinning pirouettes, piggy-backing large men, running from dogs. And now…. The tank was empty, bare as a bone. Recharging, he was, the batteries.

A few feet back, Erik was muttering quietly to himself. “The chicken suit,” he whispered, shaking his head sadly from side to side. “I always get stuck with the chicken suit.”

Fast forward, then, a few short hours. Until, in the valley just ahead, a cluster of lights was drawing near. A little ranch-town squeezed between a set of scrubby hills. Merritt, B.C. Cowboy town.

“What do you think,” says Brad from the driver’s seat, looking down the hill at the lights of the little town. “Here for the night? Take it easy, get some rest?” Or… The bus charged down the hill, pulling to a stop at the closest pub.

Cowboys, everywhere. Ten-gallon hats, chewing tobacco, pointed boots. Wall-eyed crooners, with fiddle and banjo. Two-steppers, heel-slappers, yee-haws. And, jumping about the place on his wooden horse, smacking at his thigh, whooping and screaming… Chris. Perked and rested and raring to go.

Erik was sitting in the corner swapping jokes with a pair of rugged cow-pokes. On the dance floor, Brad was taking their wives for a spin. And Val…? In the bus. Sleeping. Until, that is, this terrible trio went racing outside to fetch him.

“C’mon, pardner!” Chris yelled, jumping up and down on his stomach. “You ain’t givin’ up on me now!”

“Okay, okay,” he answers wearily, stifling a yawn. “I’ll come, but just for a bit…” Ah, famous last words.

The next morning, Willy clambered up the steps of the motor home. “Crack those lids, boys. I’m up, so you gotta be, too.” He sat down heavily on the closest chair. “Lenny’s waiting with the posts. Ha! Hope you guys weren’t kidding about wanting to work today.” But those posts, I’ll let alone. Putting it simply, they were pounded into the ground with a handful of blisters… Onto the second act.
“So you really think you can break a horse for us?” Lenny asked with a laugh.

“Sure,” Erik replied. “Why not?”

Paint, his name was, the name Willy had given him when he’d lassoed and dragged him kickin’ and rearin’ down from the hills. He’d never tasted a saddle, never felt a blanket, never seen a man before, let alone have one sit on his back. Yet here they stood, knock-kneed and quivering.

“Who’s first?” Willy yelled, having wrestled the saddle onto Paint’s back, forced the bit into place. “I ain’t got all day!” Brad raised a tentative hand, and Lenny, leaning on the corral fence, began to laugh. Brad stepped forward, took a deep breath, and swung onto the horse’s back.

In a puff of dust, it was gone. Spun like a paint-mixer. Leaped like a derailed train. Whipped in maddened circles, first one way, then the other; twisting turning all the while. But he hung there, stuck fast like a barnacle, white-knuckled and pale-faced, but refusing to be thrown. The horse stopped, to catch his breath, and like a desperate squirrel, he leaped to safety. Raised his arms in triumph.

“Okay,” called Lenny. “Next victim! And don’t be thinking it’s gonna be easy. This horse, he’s just getting warmed up! Now he’s really gonna go for it. Whooo-eeee!”

Round two. This time, an extra few tricks hidden up the hoof. With Erik on board, the horse spun a few circles to pick up speed, then went straight for the fence, rearing up, scrabbling with his hooves, trying to climb. But, once again, failing. Erik stuck like glue. Bottom jammed to saddle, not a cheek out of place. The final score, then. Boys… two. Horses… zero.

That evening, as the sun dropped behind wind-swept hills and pulled the light from the sky, Willy, Lenny, and their extended family assembled in the prayer circle. Buffalo-hide drums and chanting filled the air and sped us on our way. Over the darkened hills and gone.

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