I’m thrilled to share this logo with you, designed by my friend Priti J. She’s an incredibly talented designer and writer and I plan to have her design my author’s page on Amazon when my collection of short stories “Resilience” is released this fall.
My first ever logo!! Kind of reminds me of the sixties 🙂
“It’s a damn coyote,” the man exclaimed, looking out the window of his mansion. He yelled to his wife, “Ellen, call animal control. Hurry!”
Oblivious, the sleek animal trotted on. He knew he’d ranged too far from his den and into the Neighborhoods, but he was hunting for his mate and their pups. The rabbit he’d killed was his reward and he hurried to get home. The smell of humans frightened him. He trotted faster planning to never return.
Ellen ignored her shouting husband. Instead she watched the coyote lope away, envying it’s freedom, wished she could join him .
I never expected this to happen. I was a C+ student in school, barely hanging on and certainly never the winner of any awards of an academic nature. I love to write purely for the enjoyment of creating (hopefully) entertaining stories for people to read and enjoy. So imagine my surprise when I received this email from The Zodiac Review. I am overjoyed!!
Glad to report that we have chosen Aliens for one of our two nominations for a Pushcart Prize.
We didn’t hesitate one bit to select it. In addition to your perfect pace and dialogue, the theme of non-mask wearers as idiots is the theme of the year, isn’t it!
I wonder if you can find other venues to get your story out there. It deserves to be seen. It needs to be seen far and wide.
Keep your fingers and all your other parts (!) crossed for the election.
And send us another gem in the coming months.
Amazing, isn’t it?
Here’s the link to the site. Scroll down and click on “Aliens” by James Bates.
Here’s the story if you don’t want to use the link:
Abr and Bnr were two aliens sent to earth on a fact-finding mission from the planet Zerros by the supreme commander, Knx.
“Find out if the planet is ripe for take over,” Knx told them. Collecting planets was a hobby of his, and he was in the mood to add to his collection.
“Will do,” Abr said.
“You can count on us,” added Bnr.
They left the next day.
The Universal Portal System deposited the two of them onto a subway platform in New York City. After they each instantaneously shape-shifted to resemble humans (Abr wearing kakis and a pink polo shirt and Bnr dressed in skinny jeans and black tee-shirt), they followed the crowd up a long escalator to street level, right in the heart of Manhattan. Immediately they noticed something odd; some people were wearing face mask coverings and others weren’t.
Abr whispered to Bnr, “What’s going on?”
Bnr sniffed, “Maybe it’s because the air smells so bad.”
Abr held his nose and nodded, “Probably, but I’m going to find out for sure.” He put out his arm and stopped a young man sauntering by carrying a skateboard. “Excuse me. Could you please tell us why some people are wearing those things on their face?”
The young man had dreadlocks and wore a red tee-shirt and baggy pants. He gave them a perplexed look. “You mean, masks? Haven’t you heard about the pandemic?”
Neither of them had a clue but Bnr was quick to play along. “A little, but tell us what you know.”
“Okay,” he said, agreeably. “It began in China in 2019 and spread around the world from there. It got bad here in the states in March of 2020 and has stayed bad ever since.”
“Wow!” Bnr exclaimed. “That’s about…”
“Yeah, it’s been over two years, now. Wearing a mask has helped slow the spread of the virus.”
Abr asked, “Why doesn’t everyone wear one?”
The young man shrugged, flipped his dreadlocks back onto his shoulder and said, “Because they’re idiots.” He put down his skateboard, stepped on and skated off down the sidewalk.
Abr and Bnr watched him weave in and out of the crowd.
“We should get masks,” Abr said. “To be on the safe side.”
“Yes, we should,” Bnr agreed. “And to fit in. Say, I have an idea. Let’s try an experiment.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Why don’t you wear a mask and I won’t. We’ll see if it makes a difference.”
“Sounds good,” Abr said. “I’d like a black one like the guy we talked to had.”
“Great,” Bnr said. “Let’s go get you one.”
One year later, Bnr, the non-mask wearing alien, returned alone to Zerros. After he completed his initial de-briefing, the supreme commander summoned him. “What happened? Why’d you come back alone? Did Abr die even though he was wearing one of those ridiculous masks?” He laughed, “Abr was always kind of a gullible sort.”
“No,” Bnr was quick to respond. “The mask helped him a lot. He never got sick.” Then he grinned sheepishly, “On the other hand, I got the virus and almost died. It was touch and go for a while, but,” he pointed to himself, “as you can see, I made it back just fine.”
Knx was unimpressed. “Whatever…Getting back to Abr, if he’s not dead, why didn’t he come back with you?”
“You’ll never believe it, sir.”
Bnr grinned. “He met a lady.”
“Impossible. You scientists aren’t supposed fall for that kind of nonsense. You’re all about the science. Research. Facts. Testing and more testing. You don’t have time for romance.”
Bnr grinned even more. “Never-the-less, sir, that’s what happened. ‘Hook, line and sinker’ is the expression they use on earth. ‘The whole kit-and-caboodle.’ The…’’
“All right! I get your drift.”
“He’s in love, sir.”
“What! What kind of stupid thing is that to say? Love. It’s a bunch of…,” Knx was beside himself, not one inclined toward anything to do with amorous intentions. “It’s a bunch of crap, that’s what it is.”
“He’s really smitten, sir. It’s pretty emotional for him, too, and he’s not used to dealing with feelings.”
“I should say not.”
“And it’s complicated.”
“How so?” The supreme commander was on shaky ground when it came to talking about love.
“Well, she’s brilliant. She stands in the harbor of New York City and is kind of a beacon for liberty. She’s got a lot of responsibility.”
“I can imagine.”
“Yes. She’s made of metal and Abr adores her. He’s with her all the time taking care of her, cleaning her and watching out for her. She doesn’t move much. Plus, she’s kind of quiet, but he enjoys talking to her even if she doesn’t talk back. Like I said, he’s very smitten.”
“Even with this pandemic going on he’s not worried about getting sick?”
“No, sir. He wears his mask. He’s being safe. He’s very happy.”
Knx was quiet for a moment. Then he sighed, giving Abr up as a lost cause, and focused on Bnr. “Okay, then. What about the mission to take over the planet? You were there for a year. Should we attack now?”
“No, sir. I’d wait. The pandemic will kill many more people, especially if they persist in not following the guidelines. It’s inevitable. After that happens it’ll make dealing with them that much easier. Less people to worry about.”
“That makes sense.”
“Thank you, sir.” Bnr was quiet for a moment and then added. “Sir, if you don’t mind. I have an idea.”
“About what?” “Speeding along the takeover.”
Knx was not a patient man. “Get to the point, Bnr.”
“Well, sir, I looked into getting a job at one of the pharmaceutical companies that’s working on making a vaccine.”
Knx was intrigued. “Yes?”
“You know with my credentials I’m a very good scientist, right?”
“The point, Bnr.”
“Well, I’ve done a bit of research. I can make the vaccine look like it will work, but, in reality, it won’t work. People will be excited to take the vaccine, but it won’t help them. More people will die and it’ll throw the world into chaos.”
“You sure you can do that?”
“Piece-of-cake, sir,” to use an expression on earth.
Knx grimaced. “They sound like an odd bunch.” “They are, sir. Extremely.”
“So, you get a job with a pharmaceutical company and mess up the vaccine. Right?
“The pandemic goes on and people keep dying because the vaccine doesn’t work. “Yes, sir. And chaos ensures.”
“And the takeover is easier. It’s brilliant, Bnr.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Knx was silent, grinning, thinking about adding another planet to his collect. Life was good.
‘Write what’s in your heart.’ So says my writer friend Jim Bates, and I’m sure he won’t mind if I quote him on this important matter. It makes the point that writing is about so much more than identifying a gap in the bookselling market and manufacturing something to take advantage of it. It also makes the point that writing is not about making lots of money or becoming world famous. For most of us, most of the time, it’s about self-expression, pure and simple. As a writer you might never reach the fame-and-riches that non-writers usually think you want. If all your writing comes from the heart, as Jim advises, you might never find much commercial success – but you will always have something to be proud of, that represents the essential you. This is why I’d never recommend writing as a means of earning a good living. Having…
Yesterday Steve Carr editor of Sweetycat Press posted a callout for an essay on writing. I chose the topic “What advice would I give to a beginning writer.” Since I am a former teacher, I saw this as a ‘teaching moment.’ The content came into my head right away. I wrote it out. Read it and edited it a couple of times until I was satisfied with it and then submitted it. Steve got back to me right away. “Accepted,” he said. “Your are the first one.”
What a thrill for me to be included with 99 other writers in this anthology coming out this February.
Thank you Steve!
Here’s the call out:
Not following the guidelines will result in immediate rejection without notification.
Your essay must address in first person POV any one of the following, but limit your essay to addressing only one of the following:
1. What did you think being a writer would be like when you began and how has it actually turned out to be like so far?
2. What are your personal tales of joys, triumphs or successes, or pitfalls, upsets or failures, as a writer?
3. Who/what/where were your writing muses or influences. If they have changed over time, how so?
4. Do you have a literary role model, who is it, and why them?
5. What advice do you have for any beginning writer? Did you learn this yourself first-hand or from another source?
Your submission must be no more than 1000 words.
Publication is scheduled for February, 2021.
Here’s a preview the essay I sent in:
Advice to a Beginning Writer
I’ve thought about this question a lot, mainly because I was once one myself. What advice would I give to a beginning writer? The answer ultimately boils down to one word and it is simply this: Write. Sound weird? Factious? Hear me out.
I waited most of my life to begin to put words on a blank page. Why? It all came down to me being afraid to take that first step; to actually sit down and start writing. We adults don’t like to be anything other than an expert at what we do, so why put ourselves out there and risk being ridiculed? For me it was because I was afraid of failure, and I’m sure many beginning writers feel the same way.
Well, if you want to be a writer, you have to start somewhere and that somewhere is with a blank piece of paper and you and your mind and your imagination. So just do it. I once read some great advice from Ray Bradbury on becoming a writer. He said that you should write a five-hundred-word story a week for a year. He said that at the end of that year he’d guarantee that you’d have at least one good story. To that I’d add, you’d probably have more.
So, what’s a good story, you ask? What if I write is junk? That brings me to my second bit of advice. Write what’s in you heart, what you believe in and what makes you happy. When I write a story, I don’t consider it completed until I read it and like it. Really like it. If I like what I’ve written that’s the most important thing. I’m a reader in my free time; reading is a huge hobby of mine. I know a good book or a good story when I see one and that’s what I try and end up with when my stories are completed, something I am proud of.
When I’ve completed a story and am proud of it, only then will I send it out for submission. But I didn’t always send them out. I gave myself time to learn my craft, to find my “voice” if you will. I wrote my stories to the best of my ability and then posted them on a blog I set up just for what I wrote.
Early on, when I was first writing, I met a person who became my mentor who said something I will never forget. She said, “Jim, write the best stories you can and when you are happy with them, post them on a blog. That way if others want to see them, they are there to be seen.” Best advice ever! I started my blog three years before I submitted my first story. Amazingly, it was accepted and provided a much-appreciated shot of confidence. In a short while, I was submitting on a regular basis and in the last two and a half years I’ve had over two-hundred stories featured in on-line and print publications. But I wouldn’t have any of that success if I hadn’t starting writing in the first place.
The final bit of advice I’d give is this: write every day. Work on editing a story you already have completed, or work on story in progress, or start a new one, but get in the habit of writing every day, even if it’s for just fifteen minutes. It’s the discipline of doing it on a daily basis that’s important. Because, after all, once you start writing, you’re a writer and that’s what writers do; they write.
Shouldn’t I take writing classes or read books on writing or attend lectures on writing and do all of those other things that are available for people who want to learn to write? Sure. But first and foremost, write. If you want to be a writer, you already are. You just need to prove to yourself you can do it. And to do that you need to begin at the beginning. You need sit down and write. So, do it!
I hope you all enjoy my story “Split Personality” published by The Writers and Readers Magazine. It’s one of my favorites!
The story is on page 70-72 but the link is hard to use so I’ve posted the story underneath:
I should have known something was up, but I really wasn’t paying attention. I’d just dropped Jackie off after a weekend camping trip up on the North Shore and was still reliving two nights of bliss, sleeping together without worrying about being interrupted by either her roommate or my dad, not that the old man would care all that much, but the point was having some privacy, which we did
Anyway, I had come in through the back door and found Dad sitting at the kitchen table with a writing tablet and a pen. Which was good. He also had a bottle of whiskey and a glass next to him. Which wasn’t so good.
“Hi, Dad. How was your weekend?” I looked sceptically at the bottle and set my pack on the floor.
“Fine,” he held up a sheet of paper for me to see. “I wrote this. Thought you might like to read it.”
Dad was a journalist and had been suffering from depression his entire adult life. It had become much worse since Mom had died five years ago. He was taking meds to help ease his mood and sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. I wondered which it would be this time.
“Great,” I said, going to the refrigerator and popping a beer. “Let’s take a look.”
I raised the bottle to my lips and something exploded in my brain. The next thing I knew I was waking up on my back tucked in tight in a bed in a small room in what I guessed was a hospital, based on the bright lights, the smell and noises out in the hall. I had no clue what had happened or why I was there. I closed my eyes hoping it was all a dream. But it wasn’t. I heard a sudden noise and opened them to the sound of a visitor bustling into the room. I recognized him. He was the psychiatrist assigned to my dad.
“Here,” he thrust a sheet of paper at me.”Your dad wanted me to give this to you.”
I did as he commanded and looked, “What is it?”
“He wrote it while you and your girlfriend were camping. He said he told you about it.” My memory was starting to come back. Oh, yeah, my camping trip. Dad at the kitchen table. He’d written something. “Okay, sure, I’ll take a look.”
At first glance it looked like some kind of poem. It read:
Me Looking At You
Me looking at you looking at me. That’s what he was thinking, watching those eyes watching him. Devoid of all feeling, they were driving him crazy. Hey there, you with the eyes. Why are you doing this? It’s beyond creepy. Just go away. Now! He grabbed the nearest object, a hammer, and swung it. The face shattered, the mirror breaking into a thousand fractured images. All those eyes still looking at him. Still not going away.
He asked, “What do you make of this?”
“Sounds like my dad was cracking up.” I laughed, thinking I was pretty funny with the reference to the broken mirror.
The psychiatrist was having none of it. “It’s not funny,” he said. Then he turned and left without even a good-bye.
Well, that was weird, I thought to myself, then put it out of my mind. I was tired, so I closed my eyes and fell asleep feeling strangely at peace. Maybe I was on some kind of medication, but whatever it was I was experiencing a drifty, kind of mellow feeling I’d get when I was smoking weed. I have to admit it was pretty nice.
I spent the next few hours drifting in and out of consciousness with only the occasional visit from a nurse to check my vital signs. I was feeling okay even though I still didn’t know what was wrong with me or why I was there. I guess those meds were working, doing what they were supposed to do.
The next doctor to visit was a large, jovial man who wore a close-cropped beard and wire rimmed glasses. He had trust dripping from his white doctor’s smock with the stethoscope tucked neatly in it’s breast pocket. I liked him immediately. He gave me an encouraging smile, “Hi Cole. I’m your doctor, Doctor Shama. How are you feeling?”
“I’m good. Dad’s doctor came by to visit a little earlier. He gave me this.” I handed him the piece of paper.
He took it and read it. “Hm. This is interesting. Could I keep it for a while? I’d like to show some of my colleagues.”
“Sure. Absolutely, ” I said. I’d always been an agreeable sort of guy.
He pointed to a tablet and pencil on the table next to me. “And while we’re at it, I’ll have to take those. You aren’t supposed to have them.”
I hadn’t even realized they were there. “Sure,” I said. “Go for it.”
He picked them up and then said, looking at my chart, “Your vital signs look good. You keep resting and I’ll be back to check on you tomorrow.”
“Okay, that’s great,” I told him. He was out the door before I remembered to ask what was wrong with me and why I was in the hospital. Oh, well. Next time, I guess.
I went back to dozing off and on and the time slipped by. There was no clock in the tiny room, not even a television set, just a side table next to the bed and one straight backed chair. Nothing else. Kind of stark, if you asked me, but I was tired and didn’t mind.
I woke up and was looking out the one little window in my room wondering why there were bars on it, when a friendly voice called from the doorway. “Hi Cole, sweetheart, how’re you doing?”
I turned and my smile must have lit up the room. “Jackie! Hi. Boy is it great to see you. Come in and sit down.”
She glanced over her shoulder. It was then I noticed a guy in the blue uniform of a hospital security guard. I wondered for a moment what was up, but actually didn’t care all that much. It was just good to see my girlfriend.
The security guard nodded. “Just don’t get too close.”
“I won’t,” Jackie smiled at him, then turned to me, “But it’ll be hard to keep my hands off this good-looking guy.”
I smiled at her. She always made me feel good.
Jackie sat in the straight-backed chair and we talked for maybe twenty minutes. When I started getting tired, she noticed and said, “I should probably get going.”
“Yeah, that’s probably best. Will I see you tomorrow?”
“That’s up to the doctors, I guess. They want to see how you’re progressing.”
“I understand, but I’m feeling pretty good. I should be ready to go any day.”
She gave me a questioning look. “Really?
“Yeah, I don’t even have a headache.”
“Headache? Why would you have a headache? She pointed to my left wrist. It was then I noticed the bandage. “What’s this?” I asked, starting to get panicky. “What happened to my wrist?”
“Cole, don’t you remember?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw the security guard move a step closer. “You slashed your wrist.”
“Yeah. You’d gone camping by yourself over the weekend. I was worried when you got home and didn’t call so I came over and found you.”
What was going on? Wait a minute. “What about Dad?!” I yelled, and tried to get out of bed. The security guard sprung into action and held me back. “Where’s Dad, Jackie? Is he alright? Where’s my dad?” Then he called for a nurse.
Things became hectic after that. Someone gave me a sedative that knocked me out cold. I didn’t come around until the next day. Later in the afternoon Doctor Shama came by to check on me.
“All your vitals are fine, Cole,” he told me, setting the chart down. “You just keep resting. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He was turning to leave when I stopped him. “What a minute, Doctor. I’m confused. Can you please tell me what is going on?”
He stopped and seemed to be thinking about how to answer. Finally, he said, “Sure, I guess you’re ready.” He pulled up the chair, sat down next to me and turned serious, “Cole, your mother was killed in a car accident five years ago. It greatly affected your father. He tried to cope with her loss but two years ago lost the battle and took an overdose of antidepressants mixed with alcohol. You came home from work and found him on the kitchen floor. For the last two years you’ve been coping quite well, but you had a setback yourself over this last weekend. Yesterday it had been two years to the day since your dad’s suicide.”
I lay back and closed my eyes. To say it was a lot to take in was putting mildly. Finally, I opened them and pointed to my wrist. “So, what happens now?”
“We’ll keep you here for observation. Get you some counselling. Adjust your meds. It appears this episode of yours was triggered in part when you decided to quit taking them.”
I was quiet, thinking. He was right. I had a lot of work to do. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Doctor Shama gave me an encouraging smile. “Your father died two years ago and you’ve done really well under the circumstances. You’ve got a good job. You’ve just overcompensated by living in an imaginary world. Like a dream world.” He patted my shoulder. The closeness felt nice. “We’ll get you back on your feet again. Trust me.”
“Will I get to see Jackie, at least? That would be good.”
Doctor Shama looked at me, perplexed. “Who’s Jackie?”
He looked through my file for a minute. “I’m sorry, Cole, there’s no record of girlfriend named Jackie in your life. “Then he looked again. “Wait a minute. It says here you had a German Shepard once. She was riding in the car with your mom at the time of the accident.” He checked his notes. “It says that her name was Jackie.”
It was then I started crying. I’d never felt so alone.
I’ve been in the psych ward for a month now. I’m getting my meds adjusted and learning to distinguish between what’s in my head and what’s real, which is hard, believe me, but I’m doing my best. Doctor Shama says that he’s happy with me and the progress I’m making and I’m happy he’s happy. I’m going to counselling sessions, too, both group and individual. They’re helping. I’ve even made a friend. Her name is April and she’s real. Really, she is.
I’m doing some writing, too, which Doctor Shama says is a good thing. Here’s what I wrote last night:
He set the two mirrors so one reflected the other and the other and the other…all the way to infinity. Then he positioned his face in the mirror so it did the same thing. Whoa! Too many faces. He put the mirrors away and checked the time. His session began in five minutes and they’d be coming for him. “Let’s focus on getting you better,” his psychiatrist kept telling him. “Yes, lets,” he agreed. Hopefully, soon.
I think this proves that I’m getting better. I’m going to show it to Doctor Shama and see what he thinks. I hope he likes it, because the sooner I get better, the sooner I can get out of here. I can’t wait.
Here’s the story if you don’t want to use the link:
When I was young Uncle Sid fired my imagination by regaling me with stories about riding the sagebrush range, herding longhorn cattle and sleeping under a star studded Montana sky. He worked as a wrangler at the Big Sky Ranch on the east slope of the Rockies near Sandy Creek, Montana. When I turned sixteen he wrote me letter, “Hey Bud, there’s a summer job waiting here for you if you want it.”
I ran into the kitchen where my mother was making bread. “Mom, Sid wants me to work with him? Can I?”
She wiped a sweaty strand of hair from her forehead. Having one less mouth to feed would be helpful, especially since my dad had lost his job working at the Ford plant. “Yes you can,” she told me, then stopped her kneading and looked me straight in the eye.”On one condition, though. I need you to send some of your paycheck home”
“Sure,” I told her. “No problem.” I’d do anything to get out of Minneapolis, especially if it involved heading west on an adventure.
I wrote Sid and told him I was coming. He wrote back with a list of things to bring, including a sleeping bag, canteen and a rifle. A rifle? It was the first time and certainly not the last time I wondered what was I getting myself into. Turned out it was the best job I ever had.
Sid met me in a beat up pickup at the train station in Billings and we drove three hours west to the ranch. He was a leathery, lean man with a face bronzed by the sun. He wore a faded blue work shirt with pearl snap buttons, tight blue jeans a silver and a battered straw cowboy hat. His boots were no frills and functional, two tone brown and black.
On the way to the ranch he filled me in what was expected of me, “Your main job is cleaning out the stables. We’ve got a dozen horses and Mr. Littlefoot wants them cleaned every day. You’ll be hauling hay bales, pumping water fixing, anything that’s broken, going to town for supplies and that’s just for starters.” He grinned at me with surprising white teeth. “Think you can handle it?” It was nineteen sixty-two. My hormone driven friends and I were full of energy. We lifted weights, played sports, worked on junked cars; we were active all the time. “Sure,” I said confidently, “No problem.”
Sid pulled the brim of his cowboy hat down to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. “We’ll see,” is all he said.
I will say, that first week was hard. Cleaning out the stalls was physically demanding, not to mention hot. But I liked the work. I enjoyed being around the horses and Mr. Littlefoot, the owner of the ranch, was fair minded.
“Just do your job and keep your nose clean and we’ll get along just fine,” he told me that first day when Sid introduced us. Then he turned to my uncle and said, “Make sure he stays in line.” I found out later that he was referring to staying away from his sixteen going on twenty year old daughter, Josie. He didn’t have to worry, I was so wrung out at the end of the work day that I could barely eat dinner before falling asleep in the bunkhouse, let alone think about girls. Mr. Littlefoot’s daughter was safe from me.
If hard work was the only thing I did that summer it would have been enough to make it memorable, but there was one thing that made it stand out; the one thing I’ll never forget. It was the time that I almost died.
In August Sid had to round up a herd of a dozen horses that had been spending the summer the other side of the mountains, up at a place they called The Ballpark.
“We’ll take a couple of pack horses with us,” Sid said when he first told me.
My heart began pounding, my excitement through the roof. This would be my first trip away from the ranch on horseback. Not only would I get to ride, but I had a change to prove I was just more than a glorified stable boy; that I was, in fact, a real, honest to goodness cowboy. My face broke into a huge grin. “That’s great. When do we leave?”
Sid glanced at me. “Day after tomorrow. You got that rifle of yours?”
“Yeah, it’s not much than a gloried pea shooter, but it’ll do.” “Why do I need it?”
He looked up toward the top of the mountain looming nearby called Grizzly Peak, the tallest mountain in Montana and said, “Rattlers.” Then he rolled a cigarette of bull durham, lit it and added, “There’s a lot of them this year.”
I took my cowboy hat off and wiped the sweat from my brow, thinking, Great, just great. I hated snakes, had a fear of them that almost made me catatonic. Even the little garter snakes back home gave me the willies. A rattle snake? God, help me. I crossed my fingers and prayed we wouldn’t run into one.
After we left the ranch, it took us one day of hard riding to get up near the top of Grizzly Peak and the next day to get over it. By then I’d almost forgotten about rattlesnakes because the view was so spectacular; mountains all around us, most with snow on them, and meadows full wildflowers, a place far from the encroachment of man, wild and free.
“Let’s make camp here,” Sid directed us to a spot next to a grove of pine trees, “Then go looking for those horses.”
Making camp amounted to unloading the two pack horses and tying them with long lead ropes to a couple of stakes in the ground. We ate a quick meal of cold beans and corn bread from the night before and then began our search.
Even though it was the end of summer, at this elevation the air was chilly and we both work jeans our jackets buttoned all the way up. “The horses will be out of the wind, somewhere sunny,” Sid told me. He was right. We hunted on the far side of a nearby hill about two miles away. Fresh droppings gave the horses away, making them easy to find, and by the end of the afternoon we had them all rounded up. All except for a feisty filly that had broken from the herd with her colt and run down into a narrow canyon.
Sid pointed, “You go get her. If you’re not back in an hour, fire your rifle once, and I’ll come looking for you.” Then he took off at a trot back to camp with the other horses.
My little bay was called Patsy and she was as surefooted as they came. We worked our way down the side of a steep ravine, sliding on loose shale while trying to avoid the sharp dead branches of pine trees. We made it to the bottom without incident and had started up the canyon when suddenly Patsy jumped to the side. Just as I was wondering what had spooked her, I heard it, the unmistakable buzzing rattle of a rattlesnake. She’d seen the snake before she heard it and had tried to avoid it. When it shook its rattles she spooked and jumped again and bucked in fear, kicking her hind legs out behind her. I lost my grip on my saddle horn and fell hard, cracking my skull on a rock. I lost consciousness momentarily but came to only to find myself face to face with the snake. It was coiled tightly about two feet away and its tongue forked out toward me. I thought for sure it was going to strike when a sudden snorting sound caught it’s attention. I kept my head still but moved my eyes. It was Patsy and she was still with me.
Then she did an amazing thing, something Sid told me later that horses will do. She reared up and stomped hard on the ground to scare the snake. It worked. I watched in awe and relief as the thing tensed its body as if to strike, but then slithered away. I got to my feet, feeling a little woozy, but I hugged Patsy before managing to grab my rifle and fire a shot.
Sid showed up later and got me back to camp. The next day he went back for the filly and her colt and we headed down the mountain. That was the end of the summer. I was sent home so mom could have a doctor check me. It turned out I had a mild concussion and I’ve been prone to headaches and the occasional blackout ever since. I don’t mind. It was worth it.
That next spring Sid was killed by a kick in the head by a bronco named Bushwhacker. Mom and I went back to Montana and we scattered his ashes off Granite Peak high above the Rattlesnake Canyon. I like to think he’s still out there somewhere, out were the wind blows free across those wild mountain meadows and that summer we shared, never ends.
Here’s the poem if you don’t want to use the link:
I really do see them, The souls of my dear loved ones, In the form of fluttering butterflies, Dancing across a sunny summer sky, Or in the colorful flowers blooming, Along the paths we walk, The roads less traveled. I see them dipping and diving, Like gulls and terns, Flying free and unencumbered, A ballet on the wing. They are in the majestic soaring of eagles, Wild on the wind, And the chorus of songbirds, Singing of joy and rebirth. They are the gentle falling of a springtime rain shower, Or the quiet murmuring of a hidden woodland stream. They awaken in spring and rest in the winter, While I eagerly await their presence, Those, who, though long departed, Are still held dear in my heart and soul, Throughout these ever-changing seasons, And this passionate passage of time.