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Western Short Story
Big in the Saddle
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Wilhelm “Hog” Lasky was the biggest, and fattest, man on the Ray Donner spread, The Cue Ball Two (CB2) and it was usually said, uttered or thought each day, “Whoa be the horse that bears Hog this day.”

Donner hired him the day he saw Hog jump into the river and rescue his young son, Carson, swept off his horse at a crossing, Hog just riding along after being dumped by another ranch boss for “Wearing down too many horses in one day.”

Donner often said, after that hiring, “His fat cheeks and great smile save enough days for me to make it go even-steven on its own.” Yet he still shivered each time Hog rode a horse uphill, a strain noticeable in his own gut, more like a belly ache than a muscle strain. The man was part mountain.

Whenever the topic of his weight came up, like around a trail campfire, and generally in jest, Hog would counter with, “Me and the horse make a pact: I won’t leave him in a lurch, and he won’t leave me.” That was a code they all understood, and often fortified by Carson Donner, now at 16 doing a regular trail job, subject to as many butts and jokes thrown Hog’s way, like, “He can’t swim a lick in a pool even if it was on fire.”

Donner, in his own way, measured each horse Hog rode, keeping track of the best of the lot, information a good boss kept at hand, in his mind, for his own survival, if a circumstance ever arose when he needed a good horse.

Forgetting his own promise, Donner rode afield on is own one day, the sun a welcome after a day of needed rain and a night of comfortable sleep, he was expectant of a soft day in the saddle.

At the top of a small rise, he looked down into the far side sunk into a small twist of trails he had traveled alone before, and with ranch hands with him. Four men, still in their saddles, sat talking and gesturing messages with their hands. He could not determine any sense or direction of their mid-prairie discussion, but did not believe it to be about a common subject. Therefore, he determined it to be up to no good advantage to him to interrupt them at this point, nor to let them know he had spotted them. ……

He’d best hang around in the vicinity to see if they gave him any leads; none of them had he seen before, not in any local town, at any local saloon, or at any cross of the normal trails.

“Damn it,” he said to himself somewhat amazed, “but they look like hires from a far stretch,” and knew it boded no good for him nor for his property, rolling or penned up. He thought of a near place where he could hide, behind a sudden rise of rocks, and could climb to the peak to observe them, here in the mesquite-shortgrass savannah where his ranch was located.

That’s when his horse bolted from a scrub oak twist by who knows what, and ran off, down a draw and was out of sight that quick. He hoped the animal would make its way back to the ranch, and not be seen by the “hired guns,” as he assumed them to be, probably from his very first sight of them.

Hog, as the story goes, from a distance, saw the boss’s horse grazing alone, determined the cause to be an accident, and set out to investigate, believing the horse had made a somewhat straight run back towards the ranch. His faith in horses came to him in an insurmountable manner: they were saviors in every estimation.

He headed back that way, a big man in a big hurry, rescue on his mind. The boss had hired him when he was adrift and even though he had a hand in hauling Carson from the river, a natural act for him, as he believed.

Now and again on his present ride, Hog came across trail marks of the boss’s horse, and these prompted him in a swifter pursuit, perhaps also somewhat prompted by the memory of Carson’s rescue.

And, as it was seen fit for the objectives of boss and hired hand, it was Donner who spotted Hog coming to the rescue, big Hog riding his horse of the day. With a sudden inspiration, Donner took off his wristwatch and started to shake its back side in direct sunlight to cause a reflection, hoping it would alert the big man on the gallop to proceed with caution, even as it signaled his whereabouts, at this peak of a rise, many such places in the mesquite-shortgrass savannah.

Catching sight of the reflections, Hog slowed his horse to a trot, coming himself to full alert that perhaps the signal was more than a location marker. It made him think about how long it had been since he had fired his pistol, and realized he had not fired it in a year, and hoped it was in working order, if indeed it would be needed.

There was something inside him trying to be heard.

But Hog was not the only one who caught sight of the reflection message, for a late comer to the unknown band arrived and excitedly pointed to the top of the rise where Donner had positioned himself. He was discovered, located so to speak, at his secreted position.

He, too, checked his pistol, as if in concert with his hired hand. At least, at his side of things, he was in cahoots with somebody, had an ally just in case of need. The comfort came upon him, even as he thought about Hog jumping into the river to save his son: the image was unforgettable. A good hand was invaluable, especially in a time of need.

A shot from the gathered band bounced off the face of the rise where Donner had laid down to try to stay invisible to the lot of them, but a keen eye had spotted him and sent the slug his way; it tore up a scaling of rock pieces like needles flung into the wind.

Hog heard the shot, saw the debris hit the air above the rise, drew his pistol from the bulky holster, and charged his mount towards the bunch right there now but 50 yards from him.

Donner, unable to take his eyes off Hog and the group of men, surely as ever up to no good, marveled at the speed of Hog’s mount, and heard the echo of Hog’s pact with his mount as it came back to him from that long-gone trail-side fire: “Me and the horse make a pact: I won’t leave him in a lurch, and he won’t leave me.”

The marvelous proof of that code was out there in front of him, as Hog, bigger than ever, and his horse even bigger, came charging at the group of men like a runaway train might, causing them to scatter like a tinder wood crate being smashed by the heel of an ax.

They were a gang no more, and Donner added his own firepower into Hog’s thunderous approach at their flight.

He wished Carson was here to see it. The surprise would not surprise him.