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Old Joe - Chapter 3
 By mosquito   •   5th Aug 2012   •   2,625 views   •   4 comments
Old Joe Horse Story
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Bess and I had been settled into a drafty, but otherwise comfortable stable for only a few days before Farmer Ben came out to find us. I was ready to get out and happy to see him bring the harness. The first couple of days I was quite content to stay inside, rest, and eat, but now I was aching to get outside and do some work. I figured it must be Sunday, and we’d be heading off to church, and a gentle walk would be just fine with me.

Ben got us all harnesses up, but I knew something was up when Luke came along and he wasn’t in his Sunday best. He got the Snowy all saddled up, and I looked at Bess. She was figurin’ just as I was; that we’d be on our way again real soon. That was fair I suppose, but even I knew that we’d have to make good time, and have good luck, if we’d make it over the mountains before winter. Still, staying here would cost money, and I knew that was something the family just didn’t have. I ‘spect that Mary was in a hurry to get Ben and the children out of St. Louis quick too; every night we could hear the trouble that stirs when saloons mix with guns. This was no place to raise a family, even for a short while.

Ben walked me and Bess out into the sunshine. It was a hot day, and before I was even hitched up to the wagon I was startin’ to get sweaty and itchy under the collar. The sun seemed just like back home; hiding behind a dull haze that meant no matter how much you sweat you never felt cool, and you never dried off. Anyway, no time to grouse. We were hitched up and leaning into the collars again and on our way.

We hadn’t gone far, maybe a half mile is all, when the city disappeared and we were out in the open. Well, kind of. The streets and noise of St. Louis were replaced by a whole new city of sorts, one made of dozens of wagons just like ours, all milling around on this big patch of prairie. Now, I’ve not seen much of the ocean, but this was a lot like how I’d pictured it when the shipping horses would come into the old village bringing cargo from the Chesapeake. The wagons were all milling around, moving slowly up and down over ruts in the track, their white tops swaying like I imagined the sails of the great ships to look. I couldn’t see their wheels because of the tall, blue green grass, almost ready for the first cut that rippled like the waves of the sea. It was an impressive sight, and Bess and I were proud to be part of it all.

Some wagons had teams of four or even six horses, some had dumb old oxen, some had mules. I wouldn’t mind travelling with a team of mules, but not oxen. They’re dumb, and slow, and they’d only hold us up. I was pleased to see Ben had the same idea. We were here to find a wagon train, since on any trip into the wilderness, there’s safety in numbers. Ben was clearly worried about the late start, and he didn’t want to be held up by a team of oxen either.

On the other hand, there were some wagons hitched to handsome but unsuitable types. Horses that clearly hadn’t had a month in a collar and clearly couldn’t be trusted. Horses that were used to prancing in front of a doctor’s cart or pacing a secret race on the way back from church on a Sunday afternoon. Some looked like this was well beneath ‘em too. Like putting their head in a collar wasn’t good enough. Funny how some horses just don’t understand the virtue of a good days’ work; how they never get to see that special look from their masters, the look that says just how much you mean to a family. That’s real importance for you, and I love it.

Anyway, there was a lot of arguing going on. Whether to take a north road, one which got into the mountains faster but where the road was rough, or to go south and take a flat road farther across the prairies, but risk some hostile locals. Either way we had to cross Missouri first, leave the forests behind and make it to Westport, near Kansas City. Ben opted to stay with the largest group for now, to keep to the flat roads and give me and Bess a chance to really get used to the wagon train. I heard him say we’d make our choice when we got to Westport, but for now we may as well stay with the others so he could best figure out who’d make the best companions when the going got tough later down the trail.

That was fine by me, and we found a spot in the train with more horses to the front and oxen to the back, and we set out, leaving the last of the trees behind us. The sun was hot, but there was a cool wind picking up, and although it blew hard in my face it cooled us all and made the trip seem more a pleasure than a burden. The grass looked sweet, and as we trudged along I let my mind wander to dinner time and filling up on the willowy stalks.

It wasn’t long before Luke rode up alongside us on Snowy. I couldn’t see him for my blinkers, but I could hear Snowy’s little quick hoofbeats and smell his carroty breath. Snowy reached over and gave me a nip on my muzzle; I turned my head to tell him off, when I saw what he was trying to tell me. As I tipped my head and peered off to the south through my blinkers, I could see that the sky was dark, almost pitch black. The air grew colder still, and the wind picked up so much that I felt Bess give a shiver in the traces next to me. I gave her a nudge, and she turned in my direction, looking off into the black abyss with as much astonishment, trepidation, and curiosity as I did. The sky was unbelievable. Black as night at the bottom, except for occasional flashes of bright, straight lightning that seemed to start high in the clouds but make a beeline for the ground. Above was a tower of white cloud, rising right to the heavens. Bess and I both stopped and stared, until I felt an anxious smack of the reins on my rump, and Ben’s voice firmly calling ‘Joe-bess, Hup!’

From his quiet apprehension, I knew he saw as I did, that this bank of black sky was headed straight for us, and here we were, out of the woods and into the open prairie with nothing ahead of us but grass and our way to the trees behind us blocked by oxen too stupid to turn around with any of the urgency we’d need. I was thankful for my blinkers, as I couldn’t see the trouble that was coming our way.
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OklahomaBlessing  
:)
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Wow this is really good :)
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This is so good! keep it going!
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Oh no! A gripping cliff hanger!
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