Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
The storm unexpectedly rolled in with a fury. I had listened to the weather report the evenin' before as usual. The weather reports are not always right. Last night and this morning proved to be one of the wrongs.
Winter mornin's catch a feller off guard sometimes, and this one damn sure caught this old cowboy with a bunch of heifers out in the hill pasture where there's no shelter but a couple of scrubby oak trees. After I got the coffee makin' at five o'clock I went out on the porch to stretch and test the temperature. I was surprised to see over a foot of snow already on the ground, and it was still a peltin' down like rain, not floatin' like reg'lar snow. Not likely to stop for a while. First thing that come to mind was the heifers. The next thing I thought about was how gawdawful cold it would be ridin' out to get 'em in to the barn.
I dug in the closet and found the sheep-wool lined, high topped shoes I'd bought from the mail-order house. I tugged on an extra pair of wool socks and then put the shoes on. They felt a tad tight with the extra socks so I took 'em off, tossed the socks into the closet, and put the shoes back on. A feller's feet'll get colder'n ice cubes when his shoes or boots are too tight. That's why I don't wear boots in the winter. They're too snug. I pulled my wool cap down over my ears and went out to feed the horses.
I went through two cups of coffee and a couple of bisquits this mornin' while I waited for the saddle horses to finish their oats. Good thing I did, cause those heifers was damn sure scattered all over. A feller'd think they'd bunch up around the oaks, but not those babies. I found one bunch of fifteen standin' in the fence corner up at the far end of the hills. The rest had taken to the gullies between the snow-covered hills.
I had decided the big bay horse would be the best for a ride in this kind of weather. He's a strong, but leggy devil, good in snow. As I was saddlin' him I bluffed the rascal by tellin' him if he went to cold back buckin' with me this mornin' I'd whop his ass. I reckon my bluff worked 'cause he just walked out right proud like it wasn't even snowin'. A course the wind was with us a goin' out. But now, after six hours of gatherin' yearlin' heifers in a whistlin' blizzard, it's plumb agin' us, and my toes are a tinglin' with the cold. I reckon my ears dropped off my head a while back 'cause I can't feel 'em. My fingers are too cold to hold a rope, so I reckon if that pair of wild ones cut back they'll have to stay out in the storm 'til tomorrow. I couldn't see to catch 'em anyway. My catch-rope's probably as stiff as a #9 wire anyhow.
The bay horse and me had a helluva time gettin' the heifers to start. Drivin' 'em agin the storm that had turned into graupel snow. A university feller told me about graupel snow one time. It's the snow what happens when water freezes around a snow flake up in a cloud, and when it comes down it's like it's a snowin' the split peas a feller makes soup outa. It'll sting hell outa your face when the wind's up.
I reckon the heifers didn't like gettin' their faces stung by the fast blowin' snow. I didn't either, but there ain't much to do about it except keep my head down so the brim of my hat catches most of the stingin'.
It's four mile, a one hour ride when there's no snow, to the hill pasture. Then there's three square mile a feller has to ride to gather the heifers. And, scattered in the gullies as they was, it took me into the afternoon before I got 'em drivin'. I tried countin' 'em, but the snow's been a comin' down so danged fast I'm doin' good just to keep 'em goin' toward the barn. A feller'd think these yearlin's would want to get to the barn as fast as they could, but they keep tryin' to cut back to where they was. I'm glad the bay horse can see 'em better'n I can.
I can't help rememberin' my years cowboyin' in the Arizona desert. Winters are damn sure different there than these here in Wyomin'. Down there a feller has to watch out for all kinds a cactus full of stickers and spines that'll go plumb through a jacket. Had a drought down there one time, and the boss had me burnin' the spines off'n cactus so his old cows could get somethin' to eat besides sand and rocks. Did that for near two years until the winter rains rolled in and the spring weeds come up like overnight. It wasn't so bad after all. I oughta go back and get myself outa this consarned snow and cold winters. But, the summers'r hotter than the hinges a hell. Which is why I drifted north, the hot summers. Cowboyin' anywhere puts a feller out in all kinds a weather cause cows don't live in houses.
Almost to the barn. Maybe when these gals get to chompin' on some hay under the shed roof they'll appreciate my efforts. I reckon that's a good enough reason to be cowboyin'. It damn sure ain't the money. At least they're not cuttin' back anymore now that we're close to home.
There's the boss a sittin' in his heated up car in the barnyard. Must be nice to have made enough money in Philadelphia to buy a Wyomin' ranch and a Cadillac to sit in when it's blizzardin' outside. I reckon with the cowboy wages he pays me, claimin' I'm expensive labor, he can afford most anythin' he wants. A feller'd think he could a forked out some hay for these heifers instead of just sittin' in his Cadillac.
The gate's closed and the heifers are all inside the corral. I reckon the bay'll be glad to get his nose back in some oats. I know I'm so hungry the sides of my stomach feel like they're stuck together.
"Say, Hank, I counted the heifers as they came in and there are two of them missing."
"If you can count 'em sittin' in that there Cadillac, you're a better hand than me."
"Hank, you should probably try and find them don't you think?"
I know damn well I had a full count of the heifers safe and sound in the corral. Damn fool Cadillac cowboy.
"I'll find 'em in the mornin'. That is, if'n I don't go back to Arizona tonight."