The air was dead still and full of natural carnage. Papa shielded his eyes from the strange bright light with a worn hand. He moved his head against the horizon and surveyed the landscape — everything was wiped clean. He turned and yelled down the cellar.
“The barn is gone, and all my new fencing, too.”
“Can I come up?” Linnifrid called out from beyond a veil of invisibility.
The girl poked her head up into the light. “Oh my, such destruction. Do you think Bucky is all right?”
He answered her without looking at her, his eyes still glued to the land. “Oh yeah. He’s all right. Animals have a sense about these things. Though… I can’t say he’s anywhere near now. I’m afraid you’ll just have to let nature takes its course.”
Linnifrid stepped completely out of the cellar entrance and stood toe-to-toe with her Pa and looked up into his steel-colored eyes. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying? You expect me to just let him go like that?”
“Be realistic, girl. That horse is probably miles from here now. And look at this place. I’m afraid there’s too much work to be done around here and I need your help. He may find his way back.”
“Sometimes you can be a cruel man,” Linnifrid steamed.
“Watch that now, girl. You’re not too old for a whipping.”
“Go ahead and whip me then. But it will have to wait until I get back from looking for Bucky!”
Linnifrid stomped off in the direction of an unrecognizable horizon and Papa called after her. “Now what do you think you’re doing, young lady?”
She turned and pouted. “I’m going to look for my horse.”
The man who felt old sighed. “Hold on. I won’t let you go alone. But we’re not going to spend all day doing this.”
Linnifrid brightened. “Thank you, Papa. Where do you think we should look first?”
The man scratched at his head and looked off into the distance. “We may be right to try down at the pub by the lake first. You know how that horse likes to drink.”
“That’s a good idea, Papa, but which way?”
Papa scanned the horizon, looked back at the house, and then his eyes moved to the never ever lands again. He pointed a shaky finger out into the air. “That way,” he said.
Bucky saw that the pub inside was dim and quiet as he nudged the door open and stepped inside. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
There was nothing at first, but then a cat jumped up onto the bar with a screech, startling Bucky a bit. “Hello there, Mr. cat,” Bucky said as he drew closer. “What are you doing in here?”
The cat’s eyes glowed wide as it studied the looming animal before him. “What do you want?” the cat hissed.
“To tell you the truth, I could really use a drink. Do you think you could pour me a beer or two or sixteen?”
The cat grinned. “Well, I’m no bartender, but I suppose I could try.” The cat got up on its back two legs and pulled down a mug from a rack above him. “This big enough?” the cat asked.
Bucky shook his head in approval.
“What kind of ale do you want?” The cat asked him.
“What kind do you have?”
The cat scanned the bar. “I don’t know. I can’t read. But there’s a white one, a blue one, and a red one.
Bucky thought about it for a moment. “Red,” he squarely said. “I’ll have the red one.”
“Ok,” the cat grinned, and it strategically worked a paw to pull on the red handle. Out came the beer, missing the glass and running onto the floor. “Damn it,” the cat said. “I’m just not coordinated enough to get it in the glass.”
Bucky leaned his head over the bar and looked around. “I have an idea,” he said. “Yank the tap handles and let the beer spill all over the floor. I’ll just lap it up.”
“That’s pretty smart, horse,” the cat said, grinning some more, and then he pulled the handles and the beer began to flow like a river all over the back of the bar. Bucky smiled, came around the corner and started drinking at the growing pool of ale.
“I’m getting in on that action,” the cat purred, and then it jumped down into the beer pond and began to move its tongue furiously until its fur began to swell.
After the horse and the cat got nice and drunk, they went outside and rested in a field of grass. The yellow of the sky was somewhat fading and there were now growing patches of pale blue. The cat looked up, and then over at Bucky. “Hey, horse. Are you married?”
Bucky sighed. “Don’t be ridiculous. How can a horse get married? Are you married?”
“Well, no. I’m not married. I just thought that with you being such a fine looking horse you’d surely have a wife.”
“I don’t have a wife. But I have met up with a lot of female horses, and well, provided services, if you know what I mean.”
“Huh? You mean you have a lot of girlfriends?”
“Yes. Something like that,” Bucky boasted.
The cat scratched at its head with a wet paw. “Then you’re sort of like a polygamist.”
“A poly –ga-what?”
“What the hell does that mean?” Bucky wanted to know.
“You know, those guys who take on a handful of wives. They live in the desert, I think.”
Bucky scrunched his face and blinked in the emerging sunlight. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. It sounds illegal.”
“I’m just saying. Your life is sort of like that.”
“It isn’t anything like that. Maybe you should just stop talking for a while.” Then Bucky tried to change the subject. “Did you know that tree over there is stuffed full of money?”
The cat’s eyes widened. “Really? How do you know?”
“The tree told me. He can talk.”
The cat eyed the horse suspiciously. “You’re drunk and full of shit. Trees can’t talk, even I know that.”
“Well, he talked to me. Just before I went into the pub.”
“Oh yeah? Then prove it.”
“All right, foolish cat. It’s right over there.”
The two got up from their spots on the grass, crossed a wide gravel road to the other side, and went down along the very edge of the wooded wild lands until they reached the tree.
“Well,” Bucky beamed. “There it is.”
The cat went to the base of the tree and sniffed. It slowly circled the tree and looked it up and down. “It’s just a tree, you damn fool.”
“No, no. He can talk. He can really talk!”
Bucky moved closer and butted his nose against the spot on the trunk where the face used to be. “Hello?” he mumbled. “Mr. Tree. Are you in there?”
The cat shook his head at him as if he were a complete fool. “Have you ever had brain surgery?”
Bucky turned to him. “No. My brain is perfectly fine. Perhaps it’s the wrong tree.”
The horse carefully examined the tree all the way around. Then he saw all the carvings and was relieved to know that he wasn’t that crazy. “Ah hah,” Bucky said. “See these? These are the exact same carvings the tree had me take a look at. The exact same ones! See, I was right.”
“But the tree still isn’t talking,” the cat said with a shifty snark.
“Maybe he’s sleeping. He’s an old tree, he’s probably tired.”
“And where’s all this money?” the cat asked.
Bucky moved his eyes up through the wayward branches, but no matter how hard he looked he could not see the opening that used to be there, the opening where all that money was. “It was here. I swear it was here.”
The cat seemed disappointed and started to walk away. Bucky called after him. “Wait. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to suck up some more suds from the floor of that dirty pub. I have a great life. See you around, horse.”
Bucky watched as the cat wandered off and then it disappeared beyond the door of the bar. He felt sad and puzzled and somewhat tricked. He worked to try to make his mind make some sense of it, but no matter how hard he tried, his head was all fuzzy.
“I’m getting old,” Bucky said to himself and the empty space around him. “There’s no more use for a horse like me in this world anymore.” He looked straight into the wind and wiggled his ears. Then he walked off and went through the curtain leading to the wild woodlands and vanished.
TO BE CONTINUED