The Wild Horses of the West

If you’re a writer, you might have several drafts of things sitting around. I do as well. I have two novels I am actively working on, both in a series. The first novel is just a slight revision. The second is a new book in the series, and over the weekend I just realized exactly what was happening and so now the flow will go better, I think. A third novel is on standby. A fourth novel from years ago is sitting around, which I’ll never finish (maybe). And there is yet this fifth novel: On Tuesday I went on a hike to admire all the autumn colors–the trail had more people on it than usual, probably because it was the first day of sunshine in a while and the trail was dry enough to hike on. While hiking, my brain was drifting into the wild avenues it usually does, and I began thinking about horses, how in my newest novel the character I am prepping to be the main character in the third series is a young girl who will be kidnapped. She will also be a horse woman. I have always loved horses, did some riding throughout the years, but was never what you would call a “horse woman.” But then I was reminded of this fifth novel I began writing when I first started trail-running. I figured I’d put the first three (draft) chapters here, with of course the understanding that this writing is copyright. The trail experiences were written from first-hand knowledge!

Untitled Novel (© Mary Woodbury, 2017)


The wild horse lifted its brown shiny head from its resting place in the meadow. The horse’s nictitating membrane gently cleansed a portion of its eye, allowing it to see better the dark clouds in the west past the blurry closer dark blue lupines swaying in the field. The horse arose, stretched, and appeared content. Around its black stout body lay meadows of wildflowers and deep green grasses and weeds above which mountains rose, covered with sub-alpine evergreens and then higher the baldness of rocks and chaparral.

The horse was a mustang, or a wild horse of the Great West. Its ancestors had lived here in the Eocene, but he was part of a large family of ferals who were brought over by Spaniards in the mid-15th century. Its memory of this event went deeper than crowded ships and northward migrations from Mexico. Its memory was blueprinted in the need to run, graze, mate, and be free from men.

Chapter 1

This morning I ran part of the Alma Valley trail, which ascends 700 feet along its path from the river valley to the Chico Mountain Plateau. From there, one can go onward, but I turned around and headed back to the river. It was 10 miles all around, not just running but climbing and crawling and sliding. The trail begins at the Alma River, an innocent looking waterway at that junction, which southwest of here turns into pockets of anger and froth. The flat trail along the river ambles nicely, then begins to climb, not completely all the way to the top, but slowly, deceivingly. I know what you’re thinking–this is nothing; you could have run further and higher. But I’m still a beginner trail runner and no longer a spring chicken. I’m still lapping people on the couch, I think. But, more than that, when on the trail I feel a certain sort of wildness. An untamed feeling. As if I’m not separate than the nature around me. It gives me a high, the way I move, sweat, go inside myself, and let my instincts take over. I have to watch for bears, cougars. I have to be careful of rocks and roots and slippery areas. It’s a whole new world.

I’m trying to cool off at my house in the valley, sitting on the airy back deck at my old redwood table, overlooking the coniferous woodlands, swatting at flies and mosquitos, rueing the way-above average spring temps, dreaming of an orange slice gently floating in the ambrosia of a Shocktop, when my new friend Beth calls me.

“Ingrid, you are not going to believe what happened to me.” Beth is good at talking about herself.

Still twisting in sweat, trying to find a cool comfort zone before showering, while endorphins rummage through my body, making me giddy, I feel somewhat deflated. I want to tell someone of my own “what happened to me”–that was like the greatest run I’ve had to date.

“What?” I ask Beth.

“I have a date tonight!”

Beth and I sort of work together. I own the Eagle’s Nest, one of the few old-school used bookstores left, well, anywhere. Our microscopic town, which sits on the banks of the dwindling-glacial-fed Lake Alma, is quirky in that it does not have a real grocery store or church or jail or school but does boast a farmer’s market, a museum, a liquor store, and my bookstore. The Eagle’s Nest helps to fill the emptiness that our fewer than 1,000 residents feel while growing old and enriches the more than 10,000 drifters who come by each summer in search of small-town gems. Our town, Calesh, a tiny road-stop in Colorado, offers healthy food for thought, intellectual books for thought, old art and history pieces for thought, and booze for when you get tired of thinking. Anyway, Beth moved to town three months ago. She works at the wine cafe next to my bookstore, and during the summer seasons the owner of the cafe erects a conjoined patio between our businesses where people can eat, drink, and read beneath the vast richness of Colorado’s summer sunshine. We’ve been planning the patio for weeks, and it’s almost time to open.

“That’s great, Beth. How did that come about?” I knew she was leaning forward, waiting on me to ask more.

“You know Luke Milton?”

The minute she says his name, I melt into the nebulous sunlight. I feel my soul break away and hover, wanting to fly off this orb. Somewhere her voice still rattles on. I hear her, but her signals come in and out like a radio station. Her voice sounds like a chicken squawking. Occasionally, her message gets through. They had coffee one night after she closed the store, you see. They got to talking about old-fashioned picnics, and the next thing you know, they had a date. Not a picnic date, ironically, but a date over in Anderson, which is half an hour away and more like a real city. It has a grocery market, schools, a library, several restaurants, and so much more. It’s an idyllic city nestled in the Rockies–just like our village, but with more cleavage. Beyond that, if heading south, are other small towns peppering the Routt National Forest. I wonder where Luke and Beth will eat and hope it’s not at Alfies, the mountaintop restaurant with cozy booths that each have a curtain between the table and the rest of the restaurant as well as a window overlooking the mountains or the banks of Lake Alma, a huge lake that extends parallel to both of our towns. On each oak table is a rustic candle, lighting the way into an evening filled with romance. Your view depends on where you sit, but there are no bad seats at Alfies.

I had my chance with Luke, I remind myself as I occasionally comment to Beth, rewarding her budding relationship with my “cool” and “awesome” notes. I am still hurt, though, but have no reason to be. Luke took my clues without picking up that it would’ve worked if I hadn’t been so afraid. I shouldn’t have expected him to read my mind, right? And it was like a year ago, come on. Still, on nascent days, when trees flow through sunlight, I do wonder. And now it’s like–well, I had my one love of life and he died before we had children. So I get to this point, where I’m thinking that I’m okay–no really, I am–to live a life without that mothering experience. I guess I’m pretty good at doing these things where I let go of impractical ideals. Yet, Luke. I still think he could be entirely practical, but fear is born from loss, and I am frozen when it comes to moving forward from fear. Luke is the only man I’ve had any feelings for, forever, since Charlie. I can’t expect him to wait around, especially after I said no I am not looking and we have since settled into an awkward friendship.

I figure Beth has no idea of my history with Luke, and meanwhile doesn’t seem to come up for air. Her monologue is never-ending, for after the quick date facts she begins telling me about her day–how she went bicycle riding and fell off but didn’t hurt herself too badly, how her Twitter followers reached into the thousands, how she has lost five more pounds (she is very thin already), and how awful her sister is for getting drunk last weekend. I think to myself, “And how are you, Ingrid? What’s up in your life?” But that doesn’t happen with Beth. Every conversation is one-sided.

I arise from the picnic table, turn the phone on speaker, and go put a mug into the freezer. I am already in the shower when I hear her stop talking to ask, “What’s that noise?”

“I am washing off. I ran the Alma Trail this morning and am still sweaty.”

“Oh!” Beth says. “I used to run five miles a day when I was in high school. Track and field. So much fun!”

I’m out of the shower and am sipping a cold beer before she says, “Welp, gotta go. Oh, say, can I leave puppy with you tonight?”

“Sure,” I answer, as calmly as possible. There was that one time Beth saved my ass by opening the bookstore when I had the flu. When I had to put my cat down, she brought over a bottle of red wine. I figured I owed her. But only on one condition. “Mind if he stays here while you’re out?” I didn’t want to hang out at her house all evening.

I get the call at midnight, with Beth whispering that she’ll spend the night at Luke’s, and can she pick puppy up first the in the morning. I sleepily agree, and wake up long enough to realize that Luke is probably not going to happen now.

Chapter 2

I spend the late spring days running off displeasure and preparing for the onslaught that tourist season will bring. I run in the morning, before it gets too hot. The Alma Plateau area is warmer than it used to be in the springs and summers, but the winters are still full of snow and storms–wetter than normal too. The seasons change harshly here, and for that reason, I, being a frigging nature-loving, storm-watching, John Denver grooving weirdo, really dig it, especially after months of running on a soulless treadmill when the snow was too deep.

The trail is like long tendrils of spider webbing, and each time I run I go a different direction. The weekend before the brunt of summer vacationers arrive, I am happy to have reached a flat point in an offshoot of the trail I’ve never gone before. It is already 90 degrees, and we haven’t had rain for weeks. I have already fallen once, scrambling up a root-covered hill with dry earth and pebbles, so loose I grapple with my footing and end up on my butt, with a bleeding elbow and hand. It made me laugh. But now I have once again paced upon the river trail, as cool and refreshing as it can get. I gain steam and hit a pleasant faster trot, knowing that up ahead is another climb full of roots and rocks. For now, though, there’s a sort of energy that makes me feel tall and urges me onward. It feels good. I feel like a goddamn animal with wings.

I think of my father, who died a decade ago of Parkinson’s. He used to run. He was a good father, a person I feel fortunate to have had as a mentor. He would always say stuff like “Do what you feel is right, not just what feel is good,” or “We’re going to all be okay unless the haters–the fundamentalists–take over,” or “All the things you own in your life will go away in the end.” He made us kids think, debate, laugh, become kind people, and remember him well.

As I’m summoning his memory I get distracted. On the trail above me, a parallel high-path, more treacherous than this one, there is a startling presence of another runner. Only, he, she, or it is moving so fast that I wonder if it’s human. I see brown legs blur by and the vague shape of a human. I hear the brush rustle. I hear the footfalls, and then the runner is gone. I decide to climb up there and see that it’s rockier than my dirt trail below. I climb and climb, seeing no further evidence of the runner. After an hour I see a high mesa and decide it looks like a good place to rest. As I’m climbing up, I feel a wave of dizziness surround me. Or, perhaps more correctly, it is a wave of surrealness. I see from a distance that the grassy meadow is full of purple and pink granny’s bonnets, a hardy flower that does well in dry soil, which we’ve had due to a spring drought. They wave in a gentle wind beneath the hot sun and nearly perfect cloudless sky.

It is later when I’m running back home on the low trail again when the runner passes me in a blur, high above, again. I cannot make out who it is. Swoosh. I feel slow and cumbersome.

By the end of my run, I’m so sweaty that salt forms in my eyes and on my lips. I see to the very far west that storm clouds are forming ominously, but the black coloration painting a portion of the sky is in the distance. We sure could use the rain and the cooling. When I get home, I’m still glowing, full of diamond-like sweat and rosy cheeks. I shower quickly, eat a peanut butter sandwich and began preparing for tonight. All day I think of that runner. Who was that?

It is Friday night on the last weekend before Memorial Day; it’s our annual Calesh Bonfire, which consists of townies, some who have closed their businesses over the winter and are back from other places or, if they live here year-round (rare), are making their first warm-weather social appearance. The event involves food, drink, a few guitars, and putting on one’s best face. I dress casually in jeans and a smock, bringing along a jacket, three key lime pies, and homemade baked potato chips with my equally homemade sour cream and chive dip. The party is always on the banks of Lake Alma, which–even through the summer–is an ice-cold lake fed by glaciers. A cooling breeze floats over the water like a ghost, and I put my jacket on. Everyone mills around, setting up. Old Jack, the mayor, is getting the bonfire started, and his wife Shelly, who runs the rowing club, is tossing red-checked tablecloths on nearby picnic tables. She calls for their son Adam to put some rocks on the cloths because they are “fucking blowing all over the place.”

Soon enough, wine, whiskey, and beer begin to warm people to the early evening, and we predictably move from small talk to the inspired chatter that non-inhibitive things like booze and darkness bring. I notice that Beth and Luke are a pair tonight. Must’ve gone well for them, I think. But I’m over it. Something about losing Charlie five years ago made me finally learn how to me to flip switches rather than brooding for weeks, months, and then years. I smile to them, give a thumbs-up to Beth, and wonder where my place is amongst the townies. I get along with everyone but have the disease of being too introspective. I feel awkward sometimes, silent, observant, even among people I have known forever. We moved here when I was going into junior high, so most of these folks watched me grow up. Mom and Dad retired early, opening the bookstore and starting a greenhouse. They wanted a slower life. Now here’s me. I did go out to see the world, some, but came back after college. I’d met Charlie at college, and he fell in love with Calesh, before ever seeing it. He said, “That sounds idyllic,” and he was right. We moved directly here after graduating, and he worked at a nearby training facility for wild horses.

Tonight I weave like a shadow throughout the crowd. My preferred drink is red wine, but I nurse one for hours. I drink it out of a wooden mug. Firelight caresses the lake when the sun sets, and above, one star at a time blinks open in the black cavern above. Soon enough, a billion stars open above us. This is one reason for living here, I think. Nights like this.

I finally settle into conversation with Alan Smithers, who is now edging into his 70s. We call him Al, and after college, it was he who took Charlie under his wing and taught him the ropes when it came to wild horses. I think of Al like a father, and I love him like one. Charlie had grown up on a cattle ranch, so he knew horses. But mustangs were different. They were wild, and a growing concern was that only so many of them could sustainably live in the wide open spaces of the West. While wild horse populations increased, the government was pressured by the cattle industry to limit how much grazing land they were allowed–and, at the time, Charlie disconnected with his own background because he’d studied land management in college and realized raising beef cattle was not only unsustainable but not really a required food group. Al was training mustangs that had been moved off the overly crowded allotment of land for wild horses and into captivity, where they would be held before being adopted. Charlie’s background in working with horses earned him a job. Charlie, such a gentle guy, I think. He was that way with women and horses. I being his last and longest woman.

On a second wine now, I have wrapped a Mexican blanket around me and sit cross-legged on top of a picnic table near enough to the fire to feel its warmth. Al is getting pretty buzzed, but he’s a funny guy. He has several of us engrossed in a tale about a stubborn donkey that didn’t want to join his trail ride. I picture Al tugging at the thing, while she looks at him in defiance. For hours. We are giggling. There is not just me but Al’s daughter Amy and her husband Ben. There’s Travis and Kat–who run the liquor store and the Calesh museum. There’s also their son Phil, who is getting ready to skedaddle out of here, as he’s just finishing up high school. There’s some of Charlie’s old friends, like Big Joe, who is really a thin, agile rider, and Tomas, a good-looking Shoshone who still lives in his culture, a true rarity. The crowd around the fire beneath the canopy of great stars is an outdoorsy crowd. We are thin, rosy-cheeked, and active. Western drawls float like whispers. Tomas sidles up to me after Al has finished his story and Big Joe begins plunking a guitar.

I’ve known Tomas for a good long time. He was one of Charlie’s best friends. He feels like a brother. He sits next to me on the top of the table, offering my head a place in the crook of his shoulder. We are quiet for moments. I tilt my head upward, noticing one wispy cloud trail below the stars. A gentle wind feels my face. The wine warms my insides.

“You’ve been running on the Alma Trail lately?” he asks.

“Yep,” I say.

“My friend Josh might have seen you this morning.”

I search my memory for a Josh I might know–someone who shares my history with Tomas. I know a few, but none would have been running that trail this morning. “Who?”

“New guy on the mustang team,” he says. His dark face is silhouetted by a sudden burst of moon on the rise.

I widen my eyes. It’s such a tight team that nobody is hired unless someone else is leaving. There is only one person who may be retiring, and that would be Al. Al hasn’t said so though. Then I realize that maybe “Josh” is the fast runner I saw on the high-path. I relate this to Tomas.

“He is pretty fast, yup. He just moved down from near Boise,” Tomas informs me. When he says “down,” he doesn’t mean Calesh, necessarily, but down to Anderson most likely, where the wild horses are.

Then Tomas says Josh is here. I pop up from Tomas’s shoulder and look around. I don’t see him right away, but shortly realize he has entered the circle surrounding the fire and is waving to Tomas, headed right toward us. Typical cowboy, I think. Lean, muscled, and tipping his hat.

Tomas says, “This is…was…Charlie’s old lady,” and I realize that my late husband is still a star in their world. They will never forget him. “Ingrid, Josh,” Tomas introduces us.

I reach my hand over to the tall cowboy. I guess he’s not really a cowboy, because none of the wild horse trainers and riders are cattle ranchers anymore, at least not at Al’s Ranch. Their pen is pro-wild all the way, set up by a non-profit to help horses get adopted out, not act as a compromise in the land war between wild horses and cattle ranchers.

Josh’s hand is warm. I crouch away, back to Tomas. I remind myself of a child hiding behind its mother.

“It’s nice to meet you,” he tells me, and I nod.

Josh is making his rounds though, and leaves us to go say hi to Al and some others. This gives Tomas time to tell me about him. “He was born in India, so he’s a real Indian.” We giggle. “But he was raised in Idaho. His daddy runs a sheep farm up there. Josh carries around a heavy burden these days,” Tomas says sadly. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you much, but I trust you like my own sister. His wife got killed in a freak accident a year ago. She was out hiking on her own and got killed by a grizzly. Why she went alone, Josh never could say, only she was like that. Solitude was her nature. She was too stubborn for her own good, I’ve heard him say. I think he came down here because he had to just get away. Ghosts crowd your mind, and you can suffocate if you stay where they are.”

I shiver at the thought. What horror. “Is Al retiring?”

“Not yet, babe. They felt so bad when hearing Josh’s story, they opened up a new position for him.”

I sink inside myself because I know how that feels, for your spouse to cease to exist. My heart immediately goes out to Josh, but now I feel that I must keep this secret. It seems unfair to know this about him when he knows nothing about me. But I figure that, other than these shindigs, we may never cross paths again. Except when we’re running off our pain, I think silently.

I leave the crowd before everyone’s drunk. I walk to my house on the outskirts of town, beneath the stars, feeling light. Despite the gentler winds of spring, I hear a howl over the lake, reminding me that in the mountains we still get snow up at elevations and fierce storms may arise at any time. I feel my long, dark hair blow about my face. It stings my eyes. Then I hear the footsteps behind me.

Chapter 3

Nothing bad ever happens in Calesh, really, unless it’s a bear or cougar attack, or a drowning in the lake. It’s a trustworthy town, so when I hear footsteps, I am not afraid. Yet, when I turn around to see who might be nearby, I see nobody. I say, “Hey?” and nobody answers. The wind is picking up, so I figure maybe I heard something else–a shutter knocking against a house, something blowing down the street. I am a runner, I remind myself, and canter home, just a few blocks away. By the time I get home, I rush inside. Having not heard anything else following me, I forget about it. What keeps me hurried is the rising wind. I recall the dark clouds when running earlier today. It would explain the wind growing stronger, the warm and moist southern air flowing up and meeting an incoming Arctic front as Kat had said. As soon as I get inside, I feel that sense of comfort I have felt forever in this house.

After Dad died, Mom left for Spain. It was a long vacation that her grief propelled. Leaving me, post-college, with the bookstore and house, I figured she’d come back someday and I’d find something else to do with Charlie. We loved Calesh, but who knew where we would end up? Mom returned from Spain a new woman and settled in her favorite place in the world: Big Sur, California. When she left her old life to me, I took it over furtively. Not everyone had silver spoons. Of course,  just when things got rockin’, Charlie died and my dream life plunged into darkness for shapeless days unended. Staying in the familiarity of this home, where both my father and husband had lived in during different times, became necessary. No storm can remove that cradle now.

The hardwood floors and warmly painted walls are punctuated by indoor plants, woven rugs, and maple bookshelves. The foyer is small and consists of a wrought iron bench and a hat stand. The hallway leads straight back, inching off to a sunken living room on the right, where I keep all my books. Above the wood-burning fireplace is a reproduction of Thomas Baker’s oil painting, “Parrot Woman,” which centralizes the room with a happy focus. She is an Anasazi, and her face reminds me of an orange cat’s. Above the sunken area are oak railings that parallel a short hall, the back of which opens to a Spanish-style pale yellow kitchen beyond a saloon door. The kitchen is bright and airy, with a rustic trestle dining table on one end.

A set of hardwood steps leads from the foyer up to the second story, which has two bedrooms and a study. My study overlooks the back yard and woods beyond, with a small balcony that will seat two. The larger deck outside the kitchen below is one of my favorite places. It is spacious enough for a redwood table and grill and is partially shaded by an oak tree, so gets plenty of leaves in the fall. Yet, during the spring and summer, the yard opens to lush flowers and trees beyond a wooden half fence with a gabled gate. This time of year plum and cherry trees are blooming, and other trees have opened; they share spaces with evergreens that cover the mountains above. The yard during the day is a cornucopia of red, yellow, white, and green. At this time of night, I notice as I walk by the deck door, it is shadowy, with tree branches blowing under a sky that looks to be clouding up from the earlier star show.

I don’t know why, but the oncoming storm brightens my spirit. I have a basement, just in case of a heavy winds, but I like storms. My only fleeting realization now, which has visited me often since Charlie’s death, is the fact that I’m alone and wish I could share this moment with someone. Doesn’t have to be a romantic partner, just a friend. I could call anyone, I think, and ask them over, but most are still down at the bonfire and drunk. If not drunk, they are sober and have gone home like me–perhaps they are already entertaining bedtime, though it is only around ten. Too early for me, the night owl. The approaching storm, along with the idea that I had thought I’d heard footsteps earlier–but found nobody–leaves me with more anxiety than I usually let get to me. I make my rounds through the house. First I bring in plants and tie down deck and balcony chairs and tables. Then I make sure the doors leading out are locked. There’s not much else I can do, I think, chiding myself for being frightened of nothing.

Like many adults in this world, however, I often crave what breaks daily rituals–a thunderstorm, a big piece of political news, a new running trail, a big snow that drops in the spring. I pour a Finca Malbec and settle in front of my computer just for a minute. I don’t like to be in front of screens. I know too many who do, but when I was growing up, it was before cell phones and social media. I often feel smug for not needing to validate myself that way.

So I sit at the screen just long enough to read about the weather. Sure enough, starting at midnight we are expecting a wave of storms, which have been upgraded to potentially hazardous. My anxiety renews and refreshes me. I don’t need more wine, I think. I need a coffee. The radar over our area shows that the West is bringing in its pulses and instability over to us. It also seems that a separate Arctic burst is coming down from Alaska, clashing with the heat. I call Tomas’s cell to see if wants to come by later. He says sure, but he needs to help at the party–he didn’t bring food so volunteered for cleanup duty–and I wonder if I should offer to go back and over and help him. But I don’t get a chance to offer because the power goes out, and our call gets cut off. Even though I have a solar-powered charger for my phone, I figure the nearest ISP company has lost power.

I decide to head back over to the party so I can warn everyone and help Tomas close up–though, as memory serves, these shindigs sometimes go all night. I dress in rain gear this time and head back out into the night. The town is usually dark, but now with no power it is unseeable. The night has turned Ballardian–black with only the gray light off clouds illuminating the harsh bending of tree limbs in graceful dances with distant lightning. I feel and hear the wind start  bearing down on our small village like a tempest. It waxes and wanes, from a roar to silent whistle, each decibel making me feel as though I am not in the modern world but in a primeval one where whys and whats are unknown. I feel this way now. This level of storm is not impossible in the Alma Plateau, but this is still shoulder season. Regardless, I wonder when the last decade, century, or millennium was that heralded what this night might become–according to the sudden weather news I just read. In the mountains, even an inch of rain could cause severe flooding, unlike the eastern part of the state, where the plains were more used to it and accommodating. But we need the water, I think, having reached drought stage this spring.

Mom had left her gumboots when she took off for Spain and never collected them later. My feet now sink into her rubber boots, and I hear the squishy padding as I cross the wet, forest-smelling, dark path from my house to the lake, just a four-block jaunt. Houses in Calesh do not edge up to each other like in cities. My house stands at the end of Alma South Street. A few hundred feet behind my backyard and forest a mountain rises. In front of the house is this lane that in the old days would have been more like an unpaved holler in Kentucky. I walk directly on this road-path, knowing that to the right is a trail leading to my running grounds and beyond that just two homes before the glacial lake. Before the lake is a paved cross street on which the Eagle’s Nest and wine cafe sit, and where a field, library, and museum join with the rest of the tourist area. The lake backdrops it all, a summer blue postcard depicting a modern Shangri-la. On the left of the old “holler” are three more homes that are old, like mine, and then a gravel road leading out of town toward the ranch areas bounding Anderson, not too far from the mustang stables where Tomas, Al, and Josh work.

Harsh wind is coming from the west, slanting the rain and undoing my hair. My hood won’t stay on. I pick up the pace, wanting to run but know it would be hard in gumboots. The boots are probably overkill, I realize. When I get to the lake area, I only know it from muscle memory of walking there. The bonfire is no longer lighting the area. Soon enough I see dark figures scurrying around, cleaning up. I recognize the voices of Tomas and his buddies. They are loading the last of the goods into pickups.

I find Tomas, and he says, above the whipping rain, “Party is moving to the school basement. Gotta go unload a keg and some food there, then need to go to the ranch to make sure the horses are okay. Just heard that this storm is going to be huuuge.”

I begin to help with the transport of food from picnic tables to trucks, and then tell Tomas I want to go with him. If there’s one thing I do not want to do suddenly, it is to go back home and be alone in this storm. Something tells me to experience it, to just get out there–similar to when I want to stay inside but have mysterious anxieties that need to be unfettered: just run, I always tell myself. And then I do, and afterward there is no better feeling. Just go, I tell myself now, despite Tomas trying to talk me out of it. He says, “Hon, I have no idea when we’ll be back. Might have to stay all night and comfort the horses and stuff.”

“That’s okay by me,” I say.

By the time we are in his pickup, I realize Josh is coming with us, and I scoot over to the middle. Josh says hello and when he slams the truck door closed, the thunderous howl of rain and wind is muffled to a tink, tink, tink of rain on the hood and the wind shaking the truck.

“Crazy!” Tomas says as he starts the ol’ faithful truck, which has been around as long as I recall, long before Charlie died. The thing starts up like a champ, we back out of the mud, nearly getting stuck, and hit the main road toward Anderson. On the way out of town we’ll drop off the after-party goods for those wanting to ride out the storm by staying awake, drinking, and being together.

If I could be looking down from the harsh night above, I would see our three faces peering like moons out of the truck’s front window, curious about the unknown, shaken by such a sudden and unprecedented onslaught. I feel Josh’s left leg brush my right leg. I am taken aback, and then further back, to a night in high school when Charlie and I first went out and he touched me. This is what I get for being single for way too long, I tell myself. But I don’t move away. The truck’s engine purrs into the rain.

The featured image is by the Bureau of Land Management, Office of Public Affairs – then you must Search Oregon for the file name (Horsescd1l-095.jpg), Public Domain

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