Louie

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man wakes up to find himself lost in land and mind. Also, he can't find his horse.

Submitted: August 20, 2013

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Submitted: August 20, 2013

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An epic adventure is likely to start on the basis of delusion. Many a great adventure has, and this one

is no different. The writer tries to lure his readers into an alternate reality, where things are not as

they seem...

See the delusional man in a surrealistic landscape, convinced of the illusion that he has a horse, or

that he had a horse and has misplaced it since he fell. You will see that he is neither short nor tall,

neither skinny nor fat, and in the diminishing light, you might call him handsome, if you were a few

feet away, squinting and had a few too many ales while exposed to the sun which scorches down

onto this semi-arid land. The sun had done enough scorching for the day though, and settled behind

the horizon, taking along its heat from the earth.

In the fading light he can see the shrubs which have flowered into little islands of yellow and white

over this otherwise barren, desert landscape.

In the distance he can see a mountain range, a silhouette in the red and orange afterglow of the

setting sun.

He can see the dusty track he is ambling away from, turning about anxiously to see if he could spot

his horse.

What he couldn’t see was the ditch caused by eons of erosion, and after he fell into it landing hard

on his back, he could see the first few stars blink at him from the clear evening sky.

That’s enough of looking for the horse he thought, and would’ve called out in a last attempt if he

remembered its name.

Instead he decided to lie there and take stock of his situation.

It felt as if a wild pony was unhappy about being inside his head and trying desperately to kick its

way out. He must’ve fallen from his trusty steed straight onto his hat, which was now squashed

between his back and the stony, dry earth.

The shirt he was wearing felt rather new, and he couldn’t find the logic in the smooth leather pants.

He had a scarf around his neck and a belt with a big buckle which did nothing to keep the pants stuck

to his frame. He undid the belt and let out a sigh.

His hands were sunburnt, and his mouth felt like he had been sleeping with a mouth full of the

desert sand.

A man such as this didn’t often ponder his luck but for a moment this man considered himself

unlucky. He felt unlucky to be awake, and considered diving headfirst back into the ditch so he may

only wake up the next morning.

The land felt alien to him when soon after the last of the light fell away behind the mountains, he

started to feel a chill in the air. Everything hurt as he sat up to lean his back against the side of the

ditch.

He needed water, wood for a fire, food and a damn horse, things a cowboy shouldn’t be found dead

without, he thought.

Survive till the morning was the first objective and then to find that stupid steed.

The name Lucky sprang to mind. Yes that’s it, his horse’s name was Lucky. Or is Lucky, unless it was

unlucky and eaten by a bunch of wolves or whatever wildlife hunted these strange lands.

As he thought of what might be out there, something rat sized scurried into the ditch, under his legs

and out again as he screamed at the top of his lungs and jumped into the air.

Settle down, he thought. That was a very girly scream he thought. I need fire! And where is my damn

horse!?

It was lucky not to be here now, because he would probably eat it.

It wouldn’t be as good as a roast chicken and fluffy white mashed potatoes, sweet pumpkin pie with

a thin crispy crust… Best not to think about food.

No doubt he had survived through countless nights by himself with less than what he had now. If

only he could remember how.

He spent a cold night in the ditch, lying down, tossing, turning, jumping and yelling once more when

he thought something crawled into his sleeve. Curse this bug ridden land.

As soon as there is enough light he would look for smoke, perhaps the natives were hunting nearby.

Hopefully they are friendly, and maybe they can point him towards a river. They better not eat

Lucky!

He woke up from a bead of sweat running across his brow. The sun was out and all living creatures

would soon be looking for shade. He sat up in the ditch and looked at the most treeless desert he

ever saw.

He didn’t know what day it was, but cowboys never worried about days. On Saturdays all the kids

would run through the towns, and on Sundays the ladies would go to church.

Ladies were often the reason he would look for new places where people didn’t know him,

especially the husbands of such ladies.

He must have done something really bad to be all the way out here, wherever this was. He would

follow the path to a new town, and find a ranch with cattle he could attend to, fences to mend, and

young women to court.

The last thought made him think about his gun. His six-shooter was gone, hopefully tied to his

saddle.

He walked along, looking for signs of water when he saw a horse-like figure in the distance. The lack

of water didn’t do much for his whistle, so he called out to the greyish beast. When it looked up, he

realized his mistake. This was a donkey.

This would be an important time to note that we humans and animals have had cooperative and

strange relationships over time. We have domesticated them, enslaved, humiliated, tricked and used

to them for our gain since we deemed ourselves smarter than the animals.

He had only seen them in pictures, and being this close he saw how this animal was not built for

speed. It seemed very relaxed with his presence, turning its head to keep an eye on the human,

waiting for it to reach out a hand, then promptly bit him and didn’t let go.

The cowboy screamed, and tried to pull his hand free, not wanting to hit the animal and really

wanting to hit the damn animal. With his free hand he pulled at the donkey’s snout and in

desperation stuck two fingers in the poor creature’s nostrils. It made a sound like rusty wagon wheel

as it let go of his hand, spun around and launched a double hoofed kick. The cowboy saw it coming

and backed away quick enough to fall backwards over his own feet.

The animal trudged off then stood with his eyes on the man, who now sincerely disliked donkeys.

The cowboy looked at the red and blue tooth shaped indentations in his hand before making up his

mind. He would eat the donkey. No! He would approach it from the side, out of range of its mouth

and hind legs.

When he got closer the donkey, for want of a better word, galloped a few metres then stopped.

Not the kind of person to give up easily, he decided that he would walk to the next town.

The headache hadn’t subsided, and as he walked along he scanned the landscape for any signs of

water. The road was, flat, straight and dusty, and it felt as if the mountains would not come any

closer. Every time he looked around the donkey was there, following him in case something

interesting happened.

He was ready to give up, lie down and let the sun and the vultures find him, when he heard a man

calling out. He turned around to see a wooden cart pulled by what appeared to be another donkey.

He quickly got out the road and stood at the side waving at the stranger sitting on top of the cart.

Many questions about taming donkeys, nearby towns and his missing horse filled his head, but his

mouth took over to satisfy the most pressing need. “Water, “he croaked.

The man on the cart reached back and handed him a big plastic bottle. With his head tilted back he

poured the lukewarm water down his throat and onto his face.

The cart man looked at him with big eyes saying, “Yoh yoh yoh.” He was old with a face like a

wrinkled potato, creases in his skin mapping out his round friendly face.

When the bottle was empty, he handed it back to the man on top of the cart who looked back with

questions knitting his brow.

“Buy-a- donkey“, the old man said and put the bottle behind his back.

“No, thank you“, came the reply from the young man. He had no intention of ever owning one of

those strange beasts.

“Are you Eeenglish? “, asked the old man, and added the obvious. “I can’t talk it very good.”

“Me neither. Can you take me to the nearest town, please?”

The town was in the middle of nowhere and on the way to nowhere specific. A tar road which ran

through the middle of it was slowly giving way to car sized potholes and the sandy edges of the road

had eroded away the tar, taking it with the wind that spins up and down the main road.

On the mountains’ side was the Town hall, outside of which sat the librarian who had nothing better

to do but watch the slow erosion. The man with the donkey cart waved a hello and so did the

cowboy on the back. The librarian lifted his hand in half a wave and looked on as they rode past. He

shrugged and went back to watching the sand dancing with the wind.

Next to the town hall was the church which saw some people on occasion, once a week to be

precise, unless there was an unexpected occasion such as a funeral, or a wedding. The local folk

knew that they would die, but everyone always claimed that it was unexpected.

Young girls unexpectedly went driving to the ‘lookout point’ with young men after which they might

unexpectedly get craving for things they saw on television, such as cream cheese popcorn or peanut

butter ice cream.

They then unexpectedly went to see the young man who unexpectedly disappeared for a good few

hours to build up the courage to speak to her dad.

The town had been here for quite some time, built around the need for things to farm with. Since

then it had acquired a church, a pub, the town hall, a grocer and even a tourist office among other

small businesses which came and went.

All the buildings looked in need of a lick or two of paint. They had flat, slanted roofs, except for the

church which had a rooster on top of the tower which spun in the wind. Against all odds, little

patches of yellowing lawn survived in front of the house of god.

By now, you, the reader will have realised that our hero is not currently, or ever has been in a time

where men would ride into the sunset after shooting the bad guy and kissing the fair young maiden.

None of this matters because our hero is suffering from aforementioned delusion.

He thanked the old man for the cart ride and looked around for the first place any well respected

cowboy would walk into, when first arriving in a town, the pub, which was across the road next to a

hardware store. It didn’t say pub or saloon anywhere on the building, but his keen cowboy instincts

pointed his boots in the right direction. To him, everything was panel wood, dull light brown or

painted dull dirty white. A few wooden barrels stood around as they do, and a wooden hitching post

stood empty as there was a general lack of horses in this town.

Outside of the saloon sat two ‘old timers’, our hero greeted them as such and boldly tried to push

open a door which worked with a lever. The part of his brain which could figure out modern

mechanics, and wanted to avoid embarrassment, pushed down the lever and swung the door.

The brain is a wonderful instrument; producing chemicals which relieve pain, increase joy and

pleasure and can also hang on to the memory of pain caused by separation. None of this applies to

our hero. He took a bad knock to the head and while he couldn’t remember the important things like

his name address or current occupation, his brain had enough courtesy to automatically do things so

he wouldn’t look like he was from another planet.

Our hero stood inside the door for a moment while his eyes adjusted to the gloom.

It was old and it was wooden. An iron wood burner stood in the corner, ready to warm up the cold

nights a desert has to offer. Four men sat at a round table, they were playing a card game and didn’t

look up as he entered. Bottles of various shapes and containing a number of colours of hard liquor

stood on racks behind the counter, and a lonely brown beer keg stood at the corner. A few men

who were seated at the bar turned to see which local had stepped inside, and were surprised to see

the newcomer, dressed like someone going to a fancy dress party, a questionable cowboy with dry

crusted blood on his face.

The newcomer nodded at the men and walked to the bar in hope of getting some more water. His

hand automatically reached into his back pocket and produced a wallet he put down on the bar..

Usually the counters were tended by men who knew how to handle a shotgun when things got out

of hand or when bandits were around. This was not the case, she looked pretty and sweet. Very

pretty.

Even women can agree that an attractive person is always good for sending blood to the cheeks, and

various other parts of the body, even if that body is bruised, battered and baked in the sun.

He realised he didn’t make an impression when she looked at him as if he has a rat perched on top

of his head. He didn’t care, his body was making the decisions now.

‘Water please, ‘he croaked. Then he said something stupid. ‘And make it quick, little lady.’

The men at the bar turned to look at him. He glanced sideways as the largest of them stood up and

said, ‘we don’t speak to women like that in this town.’

The man was a head taller than our hero and hands like a bunch of large bananas. The cowboy

looked at the local and noticed that he weren’t carrying a gun. What was even odder was that he

wore very short pants which left his trunk like legs exposed.

Instead of apologising, he managed to make things worse. ‘What kind of a cowboy are you? Sit down

partner’, he said. ‘before you hurt yourself.’

Suddenly all the men were on their feet and has he turned to face them his brain said, ‘run’.

The altercation with the donkey was enough; he was not in the mood to lose again. He threw the

first punch, at a bulky young man with a quizzical look on his face. After the punch landed, the look

remained.

Next thing he knew, he was on the floor. His left cheek was on fire. As the biggest of the men

grabbed him by the shirt to haul him up, the bar lady shouted, ‘Hey, wait! Stop!’ and then she said

something in the native tongue.

The big man looked at her the let him go to drop on the floor. ‘The voice of an angel’, Louie thought.

He rubbed at his cheek as he watched them huddle around her at the bar. They spoke in a language

he thought of as ‘guttural’, they all turned to look at him, one smiled before returning to the

conversation. He started to get up and the big man came over to help him to his feet. His legs took

over to back away, but the man held out his hand in a friendly way, with a smile on his face. ‘Sorry

about that my friend. We got you some water and I would like to buy you a beer. What’s your

name?’

The people in this town had given up on the idea of being small minded. They embraced knowledge,

and when available, tried to learn new things from the technology available to them. And because

of a few influential individuals, most people here took life with a pinch of salt.

When moving to a place such as this, it takes a while for the mind to adjust to the rhythms of

desolation, silence and a general lack of activity. And then, the mind gets beat into submission, it

adapts, and one morning it wakes up and no longer wants to leave.

The cowboy looked at the clear liquid in the tall glass. His first gulp had tasted like heaven. ‘What do

you put in the water?’’

They learned that his name was Louie, and while they fed him lots of beer and the wonderful water,

they learned that he was a cowboy, that he had lost his horse and that he didn’t like donkeys.

‘We don’t have cows around here,’ said the bar lady, ‘but I’m sure you can help one of these kind

gentleman to look after his sheep.’

They all seemed to be on board with this and it took a few minutes of conversation in their other

worldly language to decide that he would go stay with Pete. Their English was a bit broken, but

Louie gathered that Pete was a nice man, with lots of sheep. It felt as if they had multiple

conversations all at the same time.

All the men were very friendly and asked him about his adventures. Louie couldn’t quite remember

but as he spoke, the fella’s were hanging on his words staring at him intently and laughing aloud as

he finished a story. These were kindly fella’s he thought, and even the bar lady was being more than

kind.

After they had helped him get a seat at the bar, she came round with some luke-warm water and a

cloth to clean the dried blood off his face. A little while later she was back with cotton wool and

antiseptic to clean his cuts and scratches he had suffered in the desert. His cheek still hurt but it was

a lot better with the cream which came from her leather pouch, and all the beer gushing around his

stomach.

He tried to learn all their names while slurring away incoherently. The bar lady’s name was Natasha,

and he was pretty damn sure she was sweet on him. Even when she stung him with the antiseptic

she was smiling and looking into his eyes. For a few moments she looked deeply, as if searching for

his very soul. He drifted back to the conversation..

..Then there was John, and of course Pete, and Jake who was a brother to Walt. The rest he had

forgotten. They said they were all farmers and not donkey salesmen as he previously thought, yet

they still kept saying ‘donkey’ and buy-a-donkey' when they spoke the natives tongue, and by the

sound of things they spoke that better than English. The language made them sound as if they were

dislodging phlegm from the back of their throats. Natasha later explained that their word for ‘thank

you’ sounded like ‘donkey’.

The darker coloured natives seemed to be on equal footing to the fair skin folk. What a strange place

indeed. He was used to the slaves who were hardly ever seen just standing around.

Very soon he couldn’t think any more straight thoughts and when they brought him a plate of food,

sausages with mash and gravy, tears stung his eyes as he ate. What lovely people.

When he was done, the men helped him up to get outside by carrying/walking him out of the pub.

They helped him get onto the back of Pete’s vehicle after a short argument between the men.

They gave him an old blanket, which might have been a dog’s, and he used it as a pillow.

He passed out as he lay down his head, and woke up a few kilometres later when he bounced in the

air when the bakkie was racing down some gravel road.

He looked back at the red dust which spiralled up behind the vehicle and hung in the air behind

them. His head was spinning and after trying to lie down again, he crawled to the back and left his

lunch and some beer behind as they raced towards Pete’s home. How on earth is this wagon going

this fast, he thought.

After he hosed down the back, Pete helped the cowboy down and into the house. Louie heard the

native tongue exchanged between Pete and his wife and shortly after he knew nothing but the

softness of a single bed. He woke up once through the night when a telephone rang, and then woke

up with the rooster in the morning.

Pete’s wife walked into the room with a cup of coffee and a tall glass of water, she introduced

herself as Debbie.

‘Louie, is it?’ she asked.

‘Yes ma’am’, he replied. ‘Thank you for the coffee.

‘My pleasure. I didn’t know if you take milk or sugar so I put in both.’

‘I’m sure it will be fine, thank you ma’am.’

She looked at him in an odd way, smiled then turned and closed the door. The single light hanging

from the ceiling was very bright and in no way happy or sunny. The water needed to go down first; it

was cold, slightly familiar and tasted like bliss. Behind the thin white curtain, it was early morning;

the rooster was aware of this and was announcing it to the world. Most of the small room was

furnished with wood. The coffee stood on an old dresser, it was hot and sweet, just the way he liked

it. Before he finished, Debbie returned with some clothes.

‘These should fit’, she said as she put them on the dresser.

‘Thank you ma’am’

‘You may call me Debbie.’

‘Of course, Debbie…Did your husband mention if they saw my horse?’

She smiled then said, ‘No, but they’re keeping a lookout.’ She took his cup and stopped before she

closed the door. ‘There’s a bathroom on the right, we’ll get you a toothbrush today. Get dressed and

come down for breakfast.’

When he thought it couldn’t get better than the shower, he started to smell the food from the

kitchen while getting into clothes which were slightly too big and much worn. A cotton shirt with a

collar and buttons hung over denim pants which were once blue.

The man who looked back from the mirror was one determined not to mess with Pete’s wife, no

matter how drunk he got. He was a man who wanted to do right by Natasha and he was a man who

could no longer resist the smell from the kitchen.

He walked down the steep timber staircase to be greeted over the top of Pete’s news paper and sat

down to fried eggs, two thick slices of toasted white bread, a few rashers of crispy, oily bacon and an

odd looking sausage, all of which tasted like food from the gods, although a little hard to eat with his

face still sensitive from the slap he received in the pub.

He made appreciative sounds as he ate, using the knife and fork to quickly cut through the food

before shovelling it into his mouth . When she offered, Louie accepted a second helping of sausage

from Debbie. It was meaty, a little bit fatty and very saucy. It had hints of black pepper and

coriander.

After eating Pete got up and said, ‘Right, so we have some fences that need to get fixed. Louie, you

look like you have the hands of a worker. Grab a hat and let’s go.’

Louie got up from the table and thanked Debbie for the breakfast.

By the door hung a series of hats, none of which appealed to him. ‘Just one second, Pete,’ and he

turned to run upstairs. He found his hat at the end of the bed, went back through the kitchen and

out the back door to find Pete loading some creosote poles and a length of wire onto the back of the

truck.

The sky was red and yellow to the east and wisps of cloud were riding the horizon on the west.

There was a chill in the air, but even Louie knew this would be temporary, judging from his previous

day’s adventures. His lips were still chapped and he could still feel the scratches he got from his time

in the desert.

They spent the day mending the fence, and chasing sheep. Pete’s dog Blackie did most of the

chasing, even chasing after the bakkie when they drove around.

Pete noticed that Louie was running on some kind of automatic, and prayed that it would last.

In the pub the conversation was worried and excited.

‘He thinks he’s a cowboy, ‘said Natasha. She had said it a few times since the young man got floored

by an open hand, but she said it this time to enlighten the local minister. He was an old man who

nodded at her words, then looked at one of the men and said, ‘What?’

‘We think he fell on his head, woke up and assumed he must be a cowboy.’

Everyone nodded at this. Natasha said, ‘All we’re hoping is that he doesn’t recall who he is, I don’t

know why you gave him so much beer yesterday.’

‘Because you kept selling it to us, ‘said one of the young men accusingly.

‘OK, I was excited, but we still need to find a proper plan. He will be helping Pete on the farm, and

some days he could come help at the bar.’

‘And at the church, ‘the old preacher added.

‘What would he do at the church?’ asked Natasha. ‘Come on, be sensible. Oh, and he needs a horse.’

‘You’ve said that, ‘said a young man who had changed his name to Jake for the benefit of Louie.

‘Not to the minister, ‘said the bar lady.

‘I don’t know why we need to have this meeting in the pub, ‘said the man of God.

‘Because you can’t go outside with your whiskey, ‘said Jones, the local policeman. ‘And what will

happen when they start searching for this man?’

‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.’

‘Right.’

‘Right.’

‘He needs a ho..’

‘Yes! We know!’ shouted Jake. ‘Horses don’t just fall from the sky, you know.’

‘Right.’

‘Where will we find one?’

Just then a local woman walked into the bar. ‘There’s a horse outside, looks like he lost his rider.’

Everyone turned to look at each other. ‘I guess we better go see,’ said Natasha.

The horse was outside, doing the most peculiar thing. It sat in the road like a dog would sit, looking

about as if looking for someone. He regarded the new crowd for a while before blowing air past its

lips, making them vibrate. It almost sounded like a sigh. The horse was a beautiful animal, grey with

big brown spots. It didn’t carry a saddle, but it had reins made of deep dark leather.

Natasha walked over and grabbed the reins to pull the horse up. ‘It needs water, ‘she said as the

horse got to its feet.

It seemed relaxed, Natasha thought, for a horse.

The woman who informed them came back from the store with a bunch of carrots and Jake pulled a

garden hose from next to the pub.

‘It won’t drink from a hosepipe, ‘said a young man who had said nothing before. He was there on

principal, since he was around when the cowboy walked into the bar.

‘Let’s see,’ said Jake. He had had enough arguing for quite some time. He let the water run over his

hand, waiting for the cool water from the borehole to reach the hose, then held it next to the

horse’s head. The horse turned its head and grabbed the end of the hose to suck on it like a calf

would suck on an udder.

‘Looks like the horse doesn’t agree with you, ‘said Jake.

When it finished, it burped loudly and walked to the woman holding the carrots. It gave her an

expectant look.

She took one from the bunch and held it up. The horse crunched through the carrot in a few

seconds, burped again and fixed the woman with a stare.

‘I guess we found a horse,’ said Natasha.

The argument which followed went from ownership, to species, to sex of the animal, to how it

survived falling from the sky and finished with the policeman telling everyone that it could be Louie’s

until otherwise claimed.

‘Anyone ride horses?’

No one thought it was a good idea when the minister volunteered.

‘Jones won’t let you drive when drunk, ‘said Walt.

On Sundays he was clear as a bell, dressed as neat as a military general but on most other days the

minister was slumming around town dressed like a beach bum, and probably a little more than

sufficiently drunk. The town people accepted this. He came to town many years back, a young

ambitious man, well liked and revered. With him was his beautiful wife whom everyone could see he

loved perhaps even more than he loved the church. Together they reached out to the community

and helped the people help themselves. When they arrived at a house they had food and drink to

share. The subject of money never passed their lips, and never had to. The town gave back

generously.

Then one day the minister arrived at church by himself. His wife had a tumour which made her ill,

then took her life in a few long weeks. They saw how her road to death was nothing but a tragedy,

and she accepted their kind, sometimes unthinking words, with her usual grace and kindness. The

community still felt the loss.

The town helped the minister stay on track enough that he showed up on Sundays with an inspiring

message. How they wished that she was still around, she would’ve been in the front lines of this war

against the greed of the west.

The horse was as tame as Labrador puppy as he walked her to Pete’s farm. She wondered about her

choice in putting the reverend in charge of the bar, but the man from the grocery store said he

would make sure the old man doesn’t finish all the whiskey while she was away.

She thought about Louie, the horse, and how all this was happening now. She wouldn’t say that this

was what she had prayed for. God works in mysterious ways, everyone always told her. Her

relationship with the Almighty was through the colours in the sky, the sunset and the stars,

moments of beauty.

She had a love hate relationship with her life, the town and its people.

After university and spending some time in London, this was the absolute last place she wanted to

be. She worked in the pub for a little extra money and to keep her from losing her mind at home.

Her parents were retired, with enough money to make it through the month. They loved the Karoo.

She loved some aspects of it, like millions of stars you could see at night. The insects, plants and

lizards she learned about in university. And the easy going attitude of the people, who all loved the

water.

Debbie was outside as she rode up to the house. It was a double story farm house, with servant

quarters and an old bart, built with stone and mortar, and had an old sandstone wall which was

crumbling away on the perimeter. Debbie had a garden on the side of the house, kept alive by the

water they pumped from a borehole out back. She put down her gloves and walked to the edge of

the garden.

‘That’s a horse,’ said Debbie as Natasha approached, leading it to where Debbie was hanging up

some washing.

‘I’ve had this conversation at the pub. Yes, it’s a horse. No we don’t think it’s Louie’s. No, we have no

idea where it came from but we’re pretty sure it didn’t fall from the sky, even if the old minister tries

to tell you otherwise.’

‘Okay,’ said Debbie. ‘I hope he can ride. Would you like some coffee?’

‘Just some water, please, and can you take me back to the pub? ’

Out in the field, Louie was admiring Pete’s flock. ‘We can cook one up on the weekend,’ said Pete.

‘We’ll invite some people over for a party.’

‘Sounds good,’ said Louie. He couldn’t believe how his luck had changed since the day before.

Some things didn’t make sense to him. They would get to the edge of his consciousness, have a peak

out of his subconscious mind then slip away before he could get a grasp on them.

He decided that he wouldn’t think about it too much, although he was hoping that there would be

more work than mending fences and looking at sheep.

When Natasha got back to the pub, the minister stood watching the conversation at the other side

of the bar, led by no-one in particular. He had the look of a man who was fighting to stand up

straight, opening and closing his eyes as he tried to keep track of what was being said. This would

have been hard for anyone.

The general consensus was that they needed to make him feel like a hero. Not everyone was happy

with their new English name. There was even some talk of making him sheriff. Everyone agreed that

the town needed to keep him hidden when strangers arrived, so the idea that he works in town

would not do on the weekends.

Natasha decided that she would assert herself. She got back in behind the bar and rang the bell.

‘Last round!? It’s only 3 pm,’ a man protested.

‘Shuttup Walt! Listen. Everybody listen.

‘We’re going to be polite to this man. We’re going to make him feel at home. He thinks he’s a

cowboy so no one will make him think otherwise. What she didn’t say was:

This is what we hoped for. Something we could use to fight these bastards. And now we have it.

‘We have to create a chance for him to act like a cowboy.’

‘That’s easy,’ said Walt. ‘He has a crush on you, Natasha. So Mark will pretend to get rough with you,

and then pretend to go down when Louie punches him.’

Mark nodded at this till he realised everyone was looking at him and said, ‘What?’

‘Don’t start acting like the minister, ‘said Walt. ‘You grab Natasha by the arm over some money,

Louie punches you, and Jones arrests you for disturbing the peace.’

Natasha said, ‘He doesn’t have a crush on me.’

Everyone ignored her and talk about fake blood and stitches sprang up.

There was a bit of talk about the plan, but nothing specific.

The next morning Pete dropped Louie at the bar before returning to work. He promised to go to the

next town to get some feed for the horse. It got into Debbie’s vegetable garden the night before and

she wasn’t well pleased.

Pete had been as amazed as Louie when they saw the horse. Louie greeted it like an old friend. He

jumped on its back and took it for a dash down the road.

Walt went over for a visit to Pete’s in the night and they asked him to share some adventures. Louie

obliged and told them amazing stories about the time he had spent on enormous ranches with

hundreds of big cows and bulls, how he was almost married to a red Indian chief’s daughter, the

time he rode a horse till it died to get a message to the commander in the army and about several

bar fights where he was the only man standing at the end.

They listened intently, nodding and laughing along the way and asked questions which led to more

stories. It seemed like Louie would never run out of tales.

They drank sweet, dark coffee with a bit of whiskey as they talked till past midnight.

Breakfast had been a little different than the day before. An African worker served a white porridge

with sugar and milk, followed by salty lamb sausage, and scrambled egg.

Natasha set him to work in the store room, moving everything out, cleaning, and then moving

everything back inside in a neat and orderly fashion. He found spiders, ants and wasps along the

way, which reminded him of his first night in the desert.

It was hot and sweaty work so he was grateful when she brought him some ice cold water from the

bar. ‘You can come inside in 5 minutes, I’ve got some lovely hot food for you .’

‘Thank you, ma’am,’ he replied.

Before he got into the bar he a heard the argument. One of the young men he had seen in the pub

before was arguing with Natasha over money.

‘We paid you for that, and we’re not buying from you again.’

‘No you didn’t.’

‘Yes you did.’

‘What?’

Natasha spoke out the side of her mouth. ‘Grab my arm.’

He looked at her with one eyebrow raised. She decided to speed up proceedings and slapped him.

When she tried again, he grabbed her arm. Louie stepped in to calm them down.

‘Listen. I’m not sure what this is about,’ he said, ‘but we can do this without someone getting hurt.

You let go of her.’

‘Sure thing,’ said Mark. He had been slapped and didn’t feel like getting punched too.

‘He hit me’, Natasha said and pointed at Mark.

‘Did you?’ asked Louie, turning around.

‘No!’ said Mark, and got a look from Natasha.

Louie turned around to face Natasha. She went for broke and tried to slap him too. He caught her

hand. It felt as if her forearm got slammed into a wooden fencepost, and then gripped by a steel

clamp. She looked at him with big eyes. ‘Ouch, you’re hurting me.’

‘Hey!’ said Mark and grabbed Louie by the shoulder. Louie spun around and hit him square in the

face.

He woke up in the doctor’s office.

‘Good. You’re awake. Hold still. We’re just putting some stitches in your lip.’

With doctor talk it is never ‘I’. The doctor will be alone in the room with you, but he’ll always have

some invisible helpers when ‘we’re’ putting some stitches in your lip, mending your broken arm or

checking your prostate gland.( Which is a job no-one should have to face on their own.)

Nevertheless, ‘we’ll’ be checking for any swelling after we put on some gloves.

‘What happened? Did I get arrested?’ asked Mark. He spoke out the left side of his mouth then felt

at the stitches with his tongue.

‘No, you got knocked out. Don’t play with the stitches.’

‘The other day he hit like a girl.’

‘Maybe he was weak and dehydrated from being in the veld.’

‘Aaaah.’

‘Yes, it’ll hut for a while.’

The doctor was very much respected in this town. He would come out to your house to see what is

wrong in the few hours after midnight and before the sun rose, and wouldn’t charge the world to do

it. He was a large quiet man with a friendly face. He had very big hands which could make very small

stitches and he had an enormous heart for the local people.

His wife was the one who first found out about the new company who set up other side the ridge.

She too organised a protest in the next town. People used to describe her as quiet, now they

thought of her as fiery. She looked tiny compared to her husband, and even with some lines in her

face she was still very pretty.

The doctor’s wife spread pamphlets around about the possible harm that the fracking could do.

Some claimed the chemicals they used got into the drinking water, and were flammable coming out

of the tap. They claimed that these compounds could cause cancer when ingested.

An area of beauty could face air and water pollution. She had to make the towns’ people aware.

In the pub Louie was apologising to the people who tried to tell him that Mark was always a bully.

Overacting was a generous statement.

Natasha looked on at the embarrassing scene, giving everyone a look and receiving looks of her own.

That went pear shaped, she thought.

Jones the policeman had to act appropriately and gave Louie a stern warning.

As a policeman, he knew he would be in a world of trouble when this deck of cards came tumbling

down. As a local man, he didn’t care. Jones was close to retirement and intended to stay in this

beautiful place.

Eventually Louie got to sit down to his meal of pork sausages, sweet corn, beans in tomato sauce

and thick slices of fresh buttered bread. It was delicious, or would have been if he didn’t feel bad for

punching Mark. A good old fashioned punch is part of every cowboy’s day, but his stomach turned

when he thought of it now.

‘I’m sorry’, Natasha said when Louie got up from his meal. He nodded at her and thanked her for the

meal. ‘Call me when you see him, I’d like to apologise, and buy him a beer.’

‘I’ll get him the beer’, Natasha replied. ‘I owe you for my silly behaviour.’

He nodded again and went to finish up in the store room.

A little while later she knocked on the door. ‘He’s here, I gave him some ice for his lip and I told him

you’d like to apologise.’

Louie walked in, put his hand on Mark’s shoulder and said, ‘I’m sorry partner, I shouldn’t have

punched you.’

Mark spat the ice into the glass and replied, ‘No worries. I should’ve been more polite to the lady.

That’s one hell of a punch you got there. No one ever managed to knock me down before.’

‘I’m really sorry Mark, ‘said Louie. Natasha will give you some brandy for the pain.’

Natasha tried to give him a look, since brandy was not in the deal, but all the people waiting around

to see what might happen moved closer at the sound of the possibility of free drinks.

Soon it became very festive and not so soon after that, Louie was standing on his chair, and with

sweeping hand gestures which almost threw him off balance, he was telling the ‘folk’ about the day

he single-handedly brought the 4 Samuelson brothers to justice after they had robbed a bank and

knocked an old lady unconscious.

When Natasha drove him back to Pete’s, he passed out in the driver seat. She thought about her

plan to take him to the lookout point, and show him how beautiful the area, and life could be.

Her plan was to make him fall in love with the Karoo, and if she could manage, to fall in love with her

too. It would be easier to use him then.

The night before she had a romantic dream about him and put it down to how much she had been

thinking about twisting him around her finger to play the game he needed to.

She wasn’t one for things like fate and destiny, but this looked like one of those things that were

meant to happen.

Being a sensible girl, she didn’t deny that what they were doing was wrong, and admitted that he

seemed like a kind, caring human being.

But that was neither here nor there. They had to save the beauty of this area.

She would have to sneak him away from the braai, if he doesn’t start with his tall tales again.

He had a way with telling stories. The people had said how believable they sound. After listening to

him, you had to remind yourself that you were not in the Wild West. You had to suppress to urge to

want to live there. All his adventures sounded way better than any event in Verreweg.

Pete helped her get Louie into his room. She took off his shoes and tucked him into bed. Without

thinking, she kissed his forehead, and then looked up at Pete who had been standing in the door.

He was wearing half a smile, and she blushed pink as a desert flower.

Pete had been puzzling over the whole thing too. The horse perhaps was the biggest puzzle of all.

Louie called it Lucky, and he could ride it like, well, a cowboy.

Pete had moved here from the neighbouring country to the north, where lamb was on most menus,

dinner, lunch and breakfast plates too. His father bought him the land and the sheep, and all he

really did was look after it. Like most farmers, he was humble about what he did, and worked every

day. He brought his wife with him too. Both were happy here, living much the same life as they had

in their early years.

If there was one thing they missed, they would both agree, it would be a little set of feet. They had

Blackie, but it was so fixated on the sheep that it would lie by the door at night waiting to go herd

them. A goldfish would’ve been better company.

The doctor had sent away ‘samples’ and told them that it’s a case of hit and miss. Just keep trying.

Still, they were in love. With each other and with the countryside. Which brought his thoughts back

to the cowboy. He didn’t know how this young man knocked his head or got into the desert, but he

thought that Louie was here for a reason. Perhaps no one had thought to really help him. True, they

had given him a roof over his head and food and work. True, yes, but he they should’ve been looking

for his home. Except that they knew where that was too.

The next day arrived with a greeting from the rooster. It sounded particularly cheerful. Louie felt like

he had been driven over by a wagon, and considered the same treatment for the chicken.

Outside it was still night time. He grabbed a shower, dressed in more of Pete’s old clothes and went

downstairs to sit at the little wooden table in the kitchen for porridge with honey and milk, followed

by a bacon and mushroom omelette.

‘Hangover food’, Pete said and laughed.

‘Right you are, thank you ‘Louie replied. ‘What have you got planned for us today?’

‘You can help us get some sheep on the truck, they have to go to market, and then I’ll drop you in

town. John from the grocer will pick you up at the pub. He has a store room needs cleaning too.

Natasha will give you lunch.’

She was a bit of a mystery, but that’s typical of all women. She seemed to be the only unattached

female in town. Most of the young farmers and men around town either had girls or claimed they

weren’t looking. Some told they had girls in the next town.

Natasha was beautiful. She had medium length, dark brown hair, her fringe brushed aside from big,

friendly, green eyes. Her skin was naturally tanned and smooth as cream, she had full, pale pink lips

that rounded a sincere smile.

He knew all the men looked at her, but it seemed none have ever got further than buying her a

drink.

Louie spent two days at the grocer, doing half the store room at a time. It, was dark, damp and

smelly, and was host to all sorts of insects. Lunchtimes he strode to the pub and was greeted by

everyone who passed him. Some kids had taken to dressing like cowboys. They rode up to him on

wooden brooms, saying things like ‘giddy up’ and ‘Howdy partner.’

The food at the pub was delicious. The beer was plentiful, the minister was glossy-eyed and the

laughter was contagious.

Natasha seems friendly but distant. Louie still felt bad about the punch, but it seemed forgotten by

the rest of the town. After lunch, he returned to his battle with the spiders. He was determined to

move them out. They were determined to stay. His mind went to his dreams, all of them scenes

which seemed familiar. One of them were of concern. He stood at the edge of a deep hole and

watched as the town and all the people got sucked down and away into the darkness of the earth.

He shook his head and picked up the broom.

Pete arrived early to the pub, making sure that the new celebrity doesn’t get inside after cleaning.

Else they would not get back home in a sober state. On the way to the farm, Pete told him of the

plans for the afternoon. A Sheep was to be caught, and Louie was the man to do it.

Louie didn’t feel particularly happy about this. ‘Do they have teeth’, he asked as he thought about

the donkey.

They stood at the edge of one of the camps looking at the unsuspecting sheep. ‘We need a big one,

‘said Pete. ‘Do you see the one to the front?’

Louie nodded, and then startled Pete as he started to run. Pete wanted to explain the subtleties of

catching these beasts, but Louie seemed to have it covered.

The sheep dispersed as they saw the crazy human sprinting at them. The one he was after half

jumped then ran forward, but the cowboy dived and grabbed its back leg. The animal bleated,

jumped and kicked but to no avail. Louie got up, pulling the ewe towards him then lunged forward

and grabbed her around the neck with both arms. In one swift moment he turned her over and held

her like you would when shearing. Pete rushed over with some soft rope and bound the ewe’s feet.

‘Not what I expected,’ he said with a grin.

On Friday night Pete had some friends over for poker. Louie sat behind Pete for a few hands then

moved to the table to be dealt in. Soon he had most of the chips at the astonishment of the other,

while the women sat in the lounge to enjoy some deep red wine with cheeses, wafer biscuits and

preserves. They listened to an old classic music channel while the men drank beer, smoked cigars

and lied to each other in a friendly game of cards.

Midnight was about to arrive when the women came to fetch their boys.

That night Louie dreamed again. He was playing poker out in the desert as the sun was hovering over

the horizion. He sat opposite a man he knew, but couldn’t place him. The little round wooden table

between them was littered with paper and cards. Louie was ahead and the fat balding man was

constantly talking, insulting him, trying to put him off his game. The cards came down and Louie was

one card away from a full house, he had a queen in hand with two queens on the table. Louie

checked, knocking on the edge of the wooden table. His opponent looked at him with a smirk and

said, ‘all in.’ Louie took a moment to consider and knew the guy was bluffing. ‘I call.’ The other man’s

smile dropped away. His bluff didn’t work this time. Louie put down his Queen, and a 10 of spades.

The man suddenly stood up yelling swearing, he brought down his hand in the middle of the table. A

hole opened up in the middle, and Louie was sucked in falling and tumbling into it, he looked up to

see the town dragged in after and the fat man standing on the edge laughing..

Saturday morning was announced a little later than usual. The rooster had the good courtesy and

great foresight not to wake up the house early on the weekends.

Only the dog got a name on this farm. The chickens were anonymous until they received a label such

as, ‘that nice fat one’, after which they might receive praise such as ‘mmm, that was delicious.’

When Pete and Debbie got down to the kitchen, Louie had their coffee ready.

‘Pardon me for saying this, Pete, but you’re wife looks like she’s glowing this morning.’

The couple shared a smile and then a hug.

After breakfast, Pete went into the study and came back out carrying two rifles. He saw Louie’s eyes

light up.

They had to make sure that the cowboy could shoot, and an hour later it was clear he could not.

Pete had driven them out into the veld and set up 5 tin cans in front of a big rock.

The .22 calibre took one bullet at a time, an old single shot bolt action rifle Pete had brought from

his parents farm. He loaded the rifle and handed it to the cowboy.

Louie held it like a kid who had seen people shoot in the movies but never done it on their own.

He looked afraid of the gun as he held it out in front of him and tried to line up the sights.

Pete knew the probable outcome and stopped him before pulling the trigger and dropping the gun

in the dirt. He took the rifle, pulled it into his shoulder. ‘Like this. And keep your face away from it

when you look through the sites.

You want the white dot in the front flush on top with the two in the back.’ Pete took aim and pulled

off a shot. The can in the middle jumped then fell over.

It took Louie 7 shots before a bullet scraped the side of a can. Pete tried to give advice, but Louie

would have none of it. 11 bullets later he scraped another can.

Pete took the last bullet, loaded the gun and fired. The can spun through the air and hit the rock

behind it, which was now full of the marks the cowboy left.

Driving back, both men were quiet. Pete was contemplating the problem of a cowboy who couldn’t

shoot. It would have to become a daily routine for the next week. He would ask the others for some

spare ammunition.

Back home, the men got to making two fires, each in a metal cage on legs. Then Pete took him to

where the sheep was. It had been prepared for the spit and didn’t resemble the animal Louie

snagged the day before. For instance, it had no head, and no skin.

They tied it to metal frame which would later turn in the rotisserie. Pete noted that Louie didn’t

seem at home with a big raw carcass.

After, the men went to help Debbie with the side foods. Potatoes were washed and peeled,

tomatoes and onions were sliced, peppers were diced and the rooster was hiding in some bushes on

the other side of the house, just in case.

They carried the spit braai out to where the fires were and then brought the sheep and secured it.

They watched it for a while as it turned between the fires. Blackie turned up and lay down with his

head on his paws to watch, the smell of cooking meat outranked his obsession with herding sheep.

‘Right’, said Pete. ‘All done. Let’s get some beer.’

They sat in the back garden, and soon Lucky arrived to see if they were holding any carrots.

Some of the town’s folk arrived and the peace on the farm was replaced with what felt like a hive of

activity. Everyone’s eyes turned when Natasha stepped out from the kitchen. She was in a little blue

dress, her dark hair pinned back and her eyes shining as she smiled at the men.

‘Good afternoon boys. Hi, Louie.’

She walked over to stand next to him where everyone was looking at the sheep, slowly roasting

between the hot coals. Pete had turned away one of the fire cages so he could brush the meat with

a dark brown marinade.

Natasha spoke softly so that only Louie could hear. ‘It won’t be ready for a while. Would you like to

go for a ride?’

‘Where to?’ he replied.

‘You’ll see.’ Then she spoke a little louder.’ Come help me with something in the kitchen.’

All the men turned to look as she walked away. Louie looked around as if confused then decided to

follow her.

Natasha saw what Pete talked about. While driving, Louie looked as if he had just woken up. His eyes

moved about but it appeared as if he didn’t see anything. She tried to speak to him but he sounded

dazed.

She drove out to the peak which overlooked the ‘other side of the mountain.’

She got out, walked to the front of the car and sat down on the hood. Louie got out and joined her.

‘Wow’, he said. Big patches of light fell through the clouds to brighten up the floor of the neverending

landscape of hills and plateaux covered in areas with blotches of red and yellow as the desert

flowers opened to the sun.

On the right day it felt as if the silence pressed against your ears so that it felt completely

inappropriate to talk. They sat and watched it for a long time, and then Natasha turned to him. ‘Do

you like what you see?’

He turned to face her, looked down to her feet and back to look in her eyes, then smiled. ‘Yes, I do.’

Natasha had heard a lot of stupid pick-up lines, even given the situation, his reply was one of the

worst, and still something clicked inside her. She grabbed him and kissed him.

From there it would be unsuitable to describe what happened if this was a children’s book, but it

happened on the back seat of her car. After which it happened on the front seat and then on the

hood.

They watched the last bits of light draw away from this beautiful landscape while sitting in the front

seats of the vehicle

Natasha felt as if she had woken up from a slumber. She didn’t intend for it to happen like this, or

maybe she did. It was those hands of his, as good an excuse as any.

She would have to visit the pharmacy the next day, the one in the next town where fewer people

knew her.

She started the car to leave. It spluttered into life then died. She tried again. Same result.

‘Open the hood, ‘said Louie. She looked over to see him look at the area beneath the steering wheel.

His eyes looked as if he was staring into another world. ‘Sounds like the distributor, ‘he said. ‘Do you

have any cloth?’

She hesitated for a moment, fixated by his eyes, and then pulled the lever that opened the hood. He

got out, felt for the latch. When she returned to the front of the car with an old piece of cloth she

had found in the trunk, Louie was holding the distributor cap in his hands.

‘The points are dirty,’ he said as he took the cloth from her. He cleaned it with the cloth as best he

could, replaced the cap then went to start the car. It spluttered once more then roared into life. She

watched as he closed the hood, got back in the passenger side and closed the door. When she got in,

his eyes were almost back to normal. She leaned over to kiss him then pulled away to drive back to

the party.

At the party, Pete told them of the dilemma of a cowboy who could tackle sheep but couldn’t shoot.

Some of the men reminded him that thus far they did not have a plan in which the cowboy needed

to shoot, but all agreed that it would be best if he could at least aim a bit better.

Ammo was volunteered as no one had a use for the stuff anyway.

When she stopped the car, she turned to Louie and said, ‘No kissing, no hugging, no touching. Not in

front of the others.’ Then she leaned over and kissed him. ‘Till later.’

He raised an eyebrow at her and said, ‘Sure.’

These men were like her brothers, she thought, the red neck kind who would jump into her pants if

they got the slightest chance, but nonetheless, her brothers, who would help her in any situation.

She felt ashamed that she was intimate with the cowboy, knowing it would happen again.

She got ‘we know what you did’ looks from the women.

She stayed in the kitchen while Louie went out to where the sheep was almost done. The men had

too many beers to notice anything.

Louie was welcomed with a bottle of lager. It was ice cold and tasted like a bit more of heaven.

The smell from the roasting meat filled the air. Blackie was still on the edge of the circle of chairs,

willing the sheep to jump off the spit so he could chase and eat it.

Pete called Louie over. He sliced off a piece of the meat and held out the fork to Louie.

It tasted better than anything he could remember eating, ever. It was juicy, and fell apart in his

mouth as it filled up his taste the sweetness of the marinade and the salt of the meat.

A beautiful woman, beer and good food. This was a great day.

The rest of the night, the men taught Louie how to curse in the native tongue. The women hung

around the kitchen and tried to get Natasha to share what happened on the drive while feeding her

wine.

The night ended with most people catching a ride with the lesser of the drunks, and a few hanging

about to help clean up. Blackie was in the back of the garden digging a hole for the massive lamb

bone he got.

Natasha gave Louie a hug goodbye before she left, and promised to see him the next day.

That night the fat man was in his dreams again. Louie had walked into the bar to find the local men

lying face down


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