Western Fiction posted November 20, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
'Did You Hear That' starts this cowboy story

A Cowboy's Life

by Sharon Meda

"Did you hear that?"

I grinned at the foolishness of my question since the only one here was my four-legged friend. And he had just skittished out from under me, leaving me straddling air with my spurs jangling. Of course he'd heard it.

I'd been lulled into a state of half-sleep by the warm spring sun on my Stetson, and my horse's hooves beating the dust out of the trail in a steady cadence. The scream both woke me and chilled me to my cowboy bones in the same second, then I was planted, ass first, in the dirt.

Rising, I rubbed the sand from my backside and chaps. Since we were ten miles from nowhere and nobody, that scream could only have come from a cougar. It didn't worry me as he was just looking for a mate, but he did put a dance in my pony's step and it took me a minute to calm him enough to let me back in the saddle.

With ears twitching and feet prancing, Smokey reluctantly continued up the trail. That cat had likely spooked the cattle as well and maybe he'd driven them out of the sagebrush and into the open. Cows weren't known to be big in the brain department and this might have played out in my favor. While I'd been expecting to spend the day poking through the rocks and brush on this hillside looking for cows with their new calves, if they were on the move they'd be a lot easier to find.

Of course, there was also the chance that the big cat we'd just heard might take a break from his romancing and make a snack out of one of those babies I was looking for. I squeezed my legs to encourage Smokey to step it up a little. Just then he went sideways; this time I stayed with him, cussing.

His ears and nose were better than mine, and I knew there was something ahead that he didn't want to step into. Urging him on, we got close enough for me to hear the cow bawling and the snarling of a large cat, just what I didn't want to hear.

Sharing a range with these wild critters was hard on the pocketbook. I hated to lose calves, but these animals were only doing what they needed for survival. I just wished they'd stick to the White Tails instead of my beef.

I tied Smokey to a tree branch and prayed he wouldn't break the reins. It was a long walk home if he took off on me. I pulled my rifle out of the scabbard and started forward slowly and as quietly as I could. The scene of the commotion was exactly what I expected. The cow was charging big bluffs at the huge cat that was sprawled over the carcass of the calf, about 2 days old I'd reckon. The cat growled and swiped every time Momma got near, he wasn't giving up his lunch despite her horns.

I cocked my rifle. I really hated the killing.

I wrapped the body of the little calf in my jacket and strode back to a still nervous Smokey. He sniffed the jacket and then settled as I laid the baby across his rump. This wasn't the first calf he had carried, not even the first dead one.

Momma followed us, still bawling. Once the scent of the calf was gone, she'd forget about it and go back to grazing. Cows really aren't very smart.

My day was wasted now, I'd have to ride back to the ranch and deal with this little one. Paperwork to be done, records to fill out. Sometimes I wished ranching was just riding, but it's not so.

As we reached the bottom of the hill and started over the plateau we heard another scream. This time I kept my feet in the stirrups.

"It's okay, Smokey." I rubbed his neck soothingly. "He's just looking for love. He sure wasn't pleased none to give up that meal and I had to fire a shot over his head to convince him, but he's moved on."

And here I am, talking to my horse again. Such is a cowboy's life.

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© Copyright 2018. Sharon Meda All rights reserved.
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