Bucky the Horse and the Gods of Radiation (3)

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?”

“A polygamist.”

“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.


Bucky the Horse and the Gods of Radiation (1)

At the end of gravity, only the heartless still eat and smile and roll around in the dirty motel cities of the West…

The dystopian nature of her guts made Linnifrid’s mouth taste like the moon. She looked up at it now as she sat on a grassy knob in some wayward rolling meadow of what used to be western Missouri. She was alone but smart, and the world was wired and dumb. She figured there just had to be a way back to her own time — maybe somewhere sweet and sunny and tame where she could really live the life she had always wanted — somewhere where she didn’t feel as if she had to erase her own birth.

She drank from a small milk pitcher and watched the stars hurl themselves against the great ghostly apron light of the moon. Linnifrid heard her horse dig in the grass behind her and then he breathed out hard with a great rush and she knew he was somewhat scared. She was scared too — for in the distance the great metallic glows from the bombs dropping across the land lurched upward like grain silos on fire and the ribbons of sparkles casually fell back down to Earth to burn the walking and send them to wake.

The horse’s name was Bucky and he was a big milky brown horse without a saddle. Linnifrid stood and went over to him. She ran a backward hand across the long face and she thought the horse’s chocolate eyes looked sad beneath the blazing sky. “What’s the matter, boy? Those damn bombs scaring you again?”

Bucky nodded his head in agreement. “They sure are,” he said in perfect English speak.

Linnifrid stumbled backward, startled by the oh so human voice emanating from Bucky’s horse mouth. “Did you just talk?” she asked in a crystalline dazed wonder.

Bucky shook his head no and looked away as if he were trying to hide some deep embarrassing secret.

“Look at me when I talk to you,” Linnifrid demanded, and she touched his head and pulled his eyes to face her. “Is this some kind of nasty trick?” she wanted to know.

Shyly, the horse looked at her. “No. I’ve always been able to talk. I just didn’t want you to know about it.”

“Why not? It’s an amazing talent.”

“I was afraid you would sell me out for your own selfish gain.”

“Bucky. I would never ever do that. We’re best friends for life.”

“But …” Bucky struggled to find the right words. “What if you were riding me and you fell off and hit your head against a rock and died?”

“Bucky! That’s a terrible thing to say. Why would you say something like that?”

“I suppose because I’m just a paranoid realist,” the horse answered, his head down and his horse heart feeling a tad melancholy.

Linnifrid softly smiled and then wrapped her arms around the horse’s strong neck. “Don’t be silly, Bucky. You’re just a deep thinker. That’s all. I always knew you were a very smart horse.”

Bucky looked up and smiled at her as any animal would if they could. “Thank you. I always thought you were a very smart girl.”

There was a sudden deep shattering blast in the near distance and Bucky reared and hollered. Linnifrid tried to calm him but the horse was too frightened and he bolted away into the deepening darkness.

“Bucky!” Linnifrid cried out. “Bucky, don’t leave me here all alone!”

Linnifrid started walking toward the small farm village where she lived when she could. When the raids came they had to leave and hide in the forests beyond. Tonight it was safe. They were all busy with the bombing. The air Linnifrid walked through was still warm even though it was January, and the ground was soft from the snow that so quickly melts. She walked tenderly through the crushed meadows, one after another, a patchwork quilt of starving green. She would stop once in a while and listen to see if she could hear Bucky chomping in the fields. Then she would walk again – toward the small huddle of dim twinkles cradled nicely where the land sloped down and spread out a bit. When she reached the last crest, she scanned the moonlit moors of America for any shadowy signs of her beloved Bucky. There was nothing.

The house was meager and Linnifrid went straight to her room of red ambiance and opened up the window. It made the room cool but Linnifrid didn’t mind the chill. She was a thick-skinned girl of healthy farm girth, nearly 17, and her hair was long and straight and the color of writing ink. She sat on the sill of the window and gently scratched at her pale face. “Where are you, Bucky? Please come home,” she whispered to the night air. A spooky rush of wind lapped at the house. She shivered, closed the window, and crawled into her bed. The door slowly creaked open and in stepped Linnifrid’s father. He went to the edge of the bed and looked down at her, his face worn much too weak for a man of 51. He shook her leg. “Linnifrid,” he whispered. “Are you asleep?”

She widened her eyes and looked at him. “No Papa, I’m finding it difficult to rest.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Bucky ran away. There was a blast in the far meadow and he spooked.”

The man ran his fingers through the roughed up head of hair the color of bleeding rust. “I’m sorry to hear that, darling. There’s nothing we can do about it tonight, though. It’s late and the patrols are out. You’ll have to wait till morning.”

“Will you help me look?” Linnifrid urged her papa.

He scratched at his head and thought about it, but in a way that she could tell he was actually thinking about something far deeper. “I tell you what. We’ll help each other out with our chores and then we can go look for Bucky. Will that be all right?”

“Yes, Papa. Thank you.”

He struggled to smile and turned toward the door. “I’ll meet you downstairs promptly at six for breakfast,” he said on his way out of the room. “Goodnight. I love you.”

“Goodnight, Papa. I love you too… Wait, Papa?”

He turned back to her. “Yes?”

“Why is the world such a messed up place?”

He paused and thought. “Because love isn’t the most important thing anymore.”

Linnifrid stood at the stove and fried him eggs and bacon while he sat at the table sipping coffee. “I sure do hope Bucky is okay,” Linnifrid said over her shoulder. “Just look at that frightful weather out there.”

“He’ll be fine… It’s just supposed to rain some.”

She put out his food on a white plate and brought it to him at the table.

“Thank you, dear. You’ve always been able to make a wonderful eggs and bacon breakfast… But aren’t you having any?”

“No, Papa. I’m too upset to eat anything… I could make you some griddle cakes if you think you’ll still be hungry.”

“No. That’s all right.” Papa grunted and looked around the room, annoyed by something that was maybe or maybe not really there. “I miss the damn newspaper,” he said. “Nothing is the same anymore.”

“Do you miss mother?”

Papa wiped a napkin across his scratchy face and looked right into her eyes. “Of course I do. My heart hasn’t been the same since…”

“I know, Papa. I miss her too.”

“Did you hear the owls last night?” he randomly asked her.

“I love the sound of owls.”

“Owls are peaceful creatures,” Papa said. “The world needs more peaceful creatures.”

“Yes Papa,” she slowly replied, for now her head was twisting toward the window and the through the glass she saw one of the manufactured tornadoes ripping across the landscape on a direct path to the village. “Papa!” she screamed. “It’s a twister!”

Papa leapt from his place at the table and dashed to the window. “God damn! It’s a big one! We need to get to the cellar right now.”

“But Papa” the girl pleaded. “What about Bucky!? He’ll die out there.”

“Girl, this isn’t the time to be chasing down a wayward horse. We got to get to the cellar… Now!” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her outside. The tornado was spewing dust and debris all around them as they made their way to the safe haven below ground. Papa pulled the doors open and ordered Linnifrid down the stone steps. He followed behind her and latched the doors tight from the inside but they still furiously rattled as the storm bore down. The girl had found the lamp and turned it on — the light casting a pale blue hue against the gray of the cellar. Papa squatted down on the stairs and listened to the havoc now stirring right above. “They’re trying to kill us again… Those bastards!” he cried out in fear and panic.

Linnifrid looked at the riled man and was sad about that. He hadn’t always been so frustrated, she thought. He was once a very calm man; a man content with his pastoral life. “Come down from there, Papa,” the girl said. “It’s not safe so close to the doors.” He turned to her without a smile or a frown. “I think I may have some serious psychological problems,” he said, and he looked at her with troubled eyes. Linnifrid stepped forward and held the blue lamp in front of her so that she could see his long face. “Are you still taking your medication like the man at the medication store said to?” she wondered.

Shakily he swallowed and said “Yes.”

“Then maybe you need more.”

“More pills? But I already take so many.”

“The pills help cure all your problems. Don’t you listen to all the advertisements? Your druggist is your best friend.”

Something fell across the cellar doors and the noise startled them both.

“It’s coming good now,” Papa said, trembling and sweating in the dank of the insane moment.

“Don’t try to change the subject, Papa. I think we need to take another trip to the medicine store.”

“No! I don’t want any more medicine. It’s making things worse.”

“Nonsense, Papa. They wouldn’t purposely give you something to make your condition worse. It’s a very proper industry. You just need to give it a chance to work.”

“What is it girl? Why are you turning on me like this?”

Another loud thump outside pricked at their nerves.

“I’m not turning on you, Papa. I’m trying to help you but you’re being awful odd and stubborn about it.”

He turned away from her and said nothing. He stood up and placed an ear close to the cellar doors to listen for the storm. “It’s quieted down out there. I’m going to go take a look. You stay here until I come get you.”

Linnifrid stepped back and watched as her father pushed the doors open. A sudden burst of yellowish-brown light flooded the cellar. Softly she said, “Be careful, Papa.”