December 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
by Ken Rodgers
We hid in the horse pen. The moon was absent and a coal fire haze from the power plants up north hid the Milky Way. The west wind bluffed at us off the side of Dick Nixon Hill and forced me to button my Carhartt. Across the alley cattle lowed and stirred.
Somewhere a hooty owl asked his nightly questions. “Hoot who, Hoot who?” I turned and searched for the cottonwood trees invading the old canal. Nothing but the vague outline of thirst. From somewhere else the voice of another great horned owl answered, “Hoot who, Hoot who?”
Over where the Mexicanos lived, a dog started barking and then two more and then it was a music fest of dog songs not one of them syncopated to anything we could recognize but I damned sure knew what it meant.
I rubbed the metal on the cold barrel of my .30-.30. I heard Pinche twirl the cylinder on his six gun. The boss man, who was sitting in the cab of his big Ford pickup, hissed, “Knock off the fucking racket.”
The clop clop of horse hooves. I heard it over the whispers of the wind. I got on my knees in warm, wet horse shit and a shiver went up my spine when one of the horses behind me whinnied like it understood what was coming. I laid the cold barrel of my rifle over the sucker rod fence and leaned into the stock to see if I could find the sights in the dark.
Three mounted figures appeared out of the black. Two of them dangled lariats in their right hands. They halted as the third rode along the cattle pens.
Their horses kept sidling as if they knew something wasn’t right. Their riders whispered to them. Over in the Mexicano shacks the dogs went on like they understood the lingo. The horses behind me took up the conversation with snorts and nickers and the pawing of hoofs. The great horned hooty owls had gone silent.
The third rider decided on a pen of smokey gray humpbacked cattle. Lucky for us, it was in front of where we hid. He reached down from his perch and eased the latch. The steers inside stirred and backed into the corner. I didn’t see that, but I know what cattle will do. They will elect one or two to be leaders and then let them negotiate.
The rider opened the gate and the other two eased their horses in. The leader hissed some words I could not understand The Mexicano dogs and the horses behind us suddenly settled down. I imagined Pinche looking down the barrel of his piece and I knew the boss had his shotgun loaded with heavy shot and me, I was shaking, and silently cussed the wind that veered frigid.
It was hard to see but I heard the rustle of cattle and the soft suck of hooves in hot shit and the muted talk of the cattle thieves.
I swear, when the boss man turned his pickup lights on and lit up that pen, I swear it was like the spirit of hell had invaded our space. When we began this enterprise, we were just trying to capture some rustlers. What happened? It was right after the boss yelled, “Don’t any of you fuckers move,” and then in Spanish, “Termina,” that the whoosh of those wings reverberated into the night, and the “Hoot who, Hoot who’s?” of what sounded like a thousand great horned hooty owls thundered into my ears.
Ken Rodgers is a writer and filmmaker from Boise, Idaho, whose poems, short stories and essays have appeared in a number of fine venues. Along with his wife Betty, Ken wrote, produced and directed a feature length documentary film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, about Ken’s company of Marines during the seventy-seven day siege of Khe Sanh in Vietnam. Ken recently finished a book of short stories titled The Gods of Angkor Wat.