Red Rover
An Excerpt From
Red Rover

The boy had his shotgun in a scabbard on his saddle. He had his hat pulled low over his eyes. He followed a game trail through the creeping juniper and the kinnikinnick, across an expanse of yellow grass, through more brush. He got to a copse of quaking aspen—animal tracks here—and he had a drink of water and the last of the sandwich his mother had wrapped in waxed paper. He thought about birds. Pheasants and grouse. Where they were hiding. He'd have to picket Mancha and set off on foot, to sneak up on a pheasant. He thought of a low place with cattails, maybe a mile ahead. He remembered it now. He seemed to see the very tree where he'd tie his horse, and he seemed to see many bird wings fluttering in the late-afternoon light. The wizard green of the pheasant's neck.

He knew exactly where he was going. He urged Mancha into a trot, then a lope. He ducked when the trail took them through a thicket of chokecherries and was glad he wore his chaps. Mancha seemed to know where they were headed. He stepped up the pace. Neil gathered himself low on the big red back.

He heard a gunshot, somewhere off to his right. He stood a little and turned in his stirrups to see.

And then he fell out of time.

And when he returned, he was on his back and felt that he had perhaps been on his back for many hours, many days. His hand covered an eye and his head felt axed in two. A fly crawled along the top of his hand, and his hand didn't seem to listen to the signal he was sending it to move. Finally, the fingers curled. Finally, he could lift them off his face. He felt hated by some large force, some borderless fist that had knocked him to the Earth to be broke. He brought his fingers back to his head and felt the sticky blood and the shocking lump. His face felt bathed in blood.

There was a red horse standing in willowlight. Its head was lowered but it didn't eat. It seemed simply to think. One stirrup had flung itself over the saddle. Reins fell to the ground. Horse, he thought. Come here horse. Tell me your name if you have a name.

The red horse walked toward him out of the green. It had a long scratch on its wither. It walked with a slight limp. It huffed, disgusted at something that had happened; something the boy had missed.

Horse, he said. Come here. And he thought about the process of getting to his feet. He sat up. His head lolled to the side and he puked a little. Horse. Come here. To me. He couldn't recall his name. He knew that he had a name but he couldn't, at the moment, know what it might be.

He stood still until he felt his weight become evenly distributed between his wobbly legs and he gathered the reins of the red horse and led him under the big branch that must have knocked him off. What the horse had experienced, he couldn't know. Had the animal's head been pulled around so fast and hard that he'd fallen? Who could tell? What was the horse's name? What was the name of the person trying to retrieve the horse's name? It made him want to cry, the effort of it and the fact of the big hand that had thrown him onto the ground, so unfairly, so without warning.

He led the horse and watched its careful steps, then hauled himself into the saddle. He would go home. He looked at the sun and started to remember something about it, where it appeared and disappeared. He looked at the conical mountain, got his bearings, and turned in the opposite direction. This way is home and I will now go home. And so he rode, his horse's long shadow stretching to the east and the meadowlarks curling and piercing the air. As he left the mountain behind, a stiff little wind picked up. An owl, somewhere, began to hoot him onto the huge landmarkless night.

Red Rover

Red Rover