Ranch Yarns

This collection of flash fiction was written for the Ranch Hands at Carrot Ranch. They might only make sense over at Carrot Ranch, but have been corralled here. 

###

Oasis            

The sky, sun-blistered blue, was punctuated by patient buzzards. Heat soaked, every rock and bit of sage shimmered, illusory to their uncertain eyes. So when they spotted it they stared, blinking and unsteady, wondering if it were real. They stumbled on.

Sounds of laughter and conversation drew them on. Finally they reeled through the gates. “Please”, they croaked. “We’re parched. Please, give us some words.”

In a flash the ranch hands refreshed them with words, cool and crisp. They gulped thirstily.

“Whoa, now. There’s plenty. Just take 99 at a time.”

“Wha- ?”

“I’m Shorty. Welcome to Carrot Ranch.”

 ###

 Wrangling                        

“Whoa there, Kid.”

“Guess I’m anxious to git ‘em to the Ranch.”

“You’ll git ‘em all there in good shape. Just watch for strays.”

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, Shorty was busy at her chuckwagon. Shorty, who was of great stature, preferred the wagon to the cookhouse, liked to have her wheels ready to roll.

Shorty congratulated and cajoled the hands as they rode in from near and distant ranges. She noted the herd amassing in the corral, some branded, some a bit wild and unpredictable.

Hungry for Shorty’s nourishing comfort food, the hands milled around the chuckwagon.

“Carrots!”

###

 Where’s the Beef?                  

“Fifty musta’ made her cantankerous.”

Shorty just smiled. Even as they whined and complained they were checking cinches, adjusting stirrups. Getting ready.

“We’re not all country western singin’ cowgirls!”

“A short piece on longhorns! I’d rather a tall-tale than a longhorn.”

“Are there even any left?”

Shorty finally spoke. “There’re longhorns out there for you to wrangle and round up. Bring one back to the ranch on the hoof; raw, if you will.”

More grumbling but they were already mounted and ranging out. Shorty never used a stick, and knew that the carrot was simply a job raw done.

 ###

Shorty’s Close Shave

“Tell it agin, Shorty.”

“Yeah, tell it agin. Were they rustlers?”

“No, way I heard it, it weren’t rustlers, it was a dude, thinkin’ this was a dude ranch. But Shorty, she ain’t no greenhorn, she saw through, ran ‘em off the ranch.”

“Yeah, Shorty she recognized mechanical bull. Pulled the plug on it.”

“Yee ha! ‘Cause what’s next, astro-turf on the range? That ain’t welcoming.”

“Well, now if ya’ll would pipe down, maybe Shorty could tell it again.

“Yeah. Shorty?”

“I told enough already. Be authentic. Be yourselves. And when you wrangle, don’t get tangled in your rope.”

 ###

Branding Time        

“Shorty’s boss? I thought Shorty was in charge of the chuckwagon.”

“Shorty’s trail boss too. She knows roundup like no other. She’s the ridin’est, ropin’est wrangler out here on the range.”

“I hear she wants to grow the ranch, expand the brand.”

“Yup.”

“In a setting like this, we characters oughtta rob a bank, hold up a train. Git money for the Ranch.“

“Now Kid, Shorty don’t need that kinda trouble. Snap outta character and just hit the paypal button.”

“Yeah, I will. ‘Cause I like the content at this here ranch.”

“Don’t you mean contentment?”

“Yeah, that too.”

 ###

Up and At ‘Em!                                      

 “Come on Kid, up and at ‘em.”

“Uhhnn. Where’s Shorty at anyway? I heard she mighta went into town.”

“You heard, you heard. Ever heard of herdin’ cattle?”

“Shorty’s in town, probly playin’ cards, havin’ fun.”

“Hush. Shorty’s busy. And she might be gambling, but it’s a serious game she’s playin’.”

“Anyway, I heard Shorty’s at the rodeo.”

“Well you heard right. She is, and it ain’t her first time neither. This one’s big.”

“With Shorty away, what can we do?”

“We’ll do what we do.”

“Yee haw! Time to play with words.”

“That’s it Kid. Round ‘em up.”

 ###

One Fine Dawn at The Ranch            

“I miss Shorty’s cookin’.”

“Well, Shorty’s busy. You’ll just have to make do.”

“I guess. And I ‘spose things are goin’ along pretty good. That was a first rate round up last week.”

“Yeah, it was Kid. There’re some mighty fine wranglers around here.”

“Shorty’s talkin’ to the bank?”

“Somethin’ like that. She’s gonna make the ranch even better, better for all of us.”

“Will we have our own brand?”

“Somethin’ like that Kid. It’s gonna be quite a spread.”

“But who’s gonna pay, Pal?”

“Was that a hint?”

“Somethin’ like that.”

“Drink yer milk.”

“I miss Shorty’s cookin’.”

####

Transmission to Transition              

“Kid, you gotta grin a mile long on that face a yours.”

“ ‘Less I’m dreamin’, Shorty’s back!”

“Yep, I saw. She brought us flowers from the prairie, by gosh.”

“She’s been on walkabout.”

“Walkabout? You been talkin’ with Aussie?”

“Well, it has been kind of a vision quest for Shorty, ain’t it?”

“I reckon so. She’s been runnin’ down a dream alright.”

“Well now what?”

“There’s work involved in a dream coming true, Kid.”

“I know. What can we do to help?”

“Shorty will keep us posted. In the mean time, dream along.”

“Dreamin’ big as a prairie sky!”

###

De Fence

“Sorry Shorty, I thought it was apple juice. I didn’t get into the fray, just steerin’ the Kid here to the bunkhouse.”

“That’s quite a shiner. What happened, Kid?”

“I showed ‘em, that’s what happened. I said, ‘Shorty ain’t ‘fraid of nothin’ ‘ and I mighta punctuated my meanin’ with a left hook.”

“Your left hook was more of a question mark, Kid, but that was quite the exclamation point you took to the eye. Shorty, I thought the Kid knew they said frayed, not ‘fraid.”

“Oh, it’ll be alright. Kid, sometimes we’re all afraid and frayed.”

“Yeah?”

“ ’Fraid so.”

###

What the Blazes?

“Hey Shorty. That’s a fine fire you got there. Cookin’ somethin’ up? Bacon sure would be nice.”

“No, ain’t cookin’.”

“Oh… Cold?”

“No, I ain’t cold.”

“Oh… Scarin’ away coyotes?”

“No, ain’t seen any sign of coyotes.”

“Shorty, why’n heck you got this here fire blazin’ away if you ain’t cookin’, ain’t cold, and ain’t worried about coyotes?”

“Let’s just say this fire is for anyone who is hungry, or cold, or worried about coyotes. A welcome to set a spell. Share stories.”

“A beckoning beacon.”

“Exactly.”

“Still, some bacon would be nice.”

“Here, have a carrot.”

“Raw?”

“Raw.”

###

Red Handed

“Kid, what are you doin in there?”

“Nothin’ “

“Well if yer doin’ nothin’, git out. I gotta go.”

“I’m busy.”

“What are you doin?”

“Nothin’.”

“Yer doin somethin’.”

“It ain’t nothin’. Now go away, I’d like some privacy.”

“Oh… You know, Kid, it’s ok, everyone does it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Even you?”

“Yup, since I was knee high to a grasshopper.”

“Did ya worry about someone catchin ya at it?”

“Used to, but now I jist do it when ever and where ever I like. Ta heck with ‘em if they don’t like it.”

“So… you write too.”

“Yep.”

###

“So yer sayin’ everyone does this?”

“Yep.”

“Shorty?”

“Gosh, yes. Can’t help herself. Even likes to do it with friends. Does it real heartfelt.”

“What about CJ?”

“CJ will do it when no one is lookin’ and even when they are.”

“Does Aussie do it?”

“Oh, yeah. You can learn a lot from Aussie. Really gets down under. Does it real meaningful like.”

“Is there a wrong way to do it?”

“No, Kid, that’s the beauty of it. It’s all good. Just do what feels right for you.”

“What will people think, I mean…”

“Ah, Kid, just write already.”

###

Chicken Scratch

“Aw, fricassee! I ain’t never seen chickens ‘round the ranch before. We gonna have to herd them too?”

“If Shorty says.”

“Chicken’d go nice with carrots.”

“I doubt the chickens end up in the pot. She already thinks they’s ladies in petticoats for gosh sakes.”

“Hmmph.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me none if Shorty got ‘em to scratch out 99 words in the dirt for her. They’d scratch out some egg-citing tales, alright.”

“Bah, what stories do chickens have?”

“Some speak of the coop, some the road.”

“Shorty says she’s done crisscrossin’ roads for awhile.”

“Yep. That chicken has landed.”

“Unexpectedly.”

###

Carrot Pie

“Shorty in the cookhouse?”

“Nope, at her chuck wagon.”

“Oh-oh.”

“No, she ain’t goin’ anywhere, just cookin’ at the ol’ wagon. She does love the great outdoors.”

“Well I’ve got the flour she asked for. And butter. What the heck she up to now?”

“Wants to make pies. Specifically, piecrust.”

“Oh-oh. That can be tricky.”

“Yep.”

“Why is she so het up on piecrust?”

“Well, we always wrangle words to fill Shorty’s safe, sturdy corral. This week she just wants us to bring some tasty pie filling to the chuck wagon.”

“Sounds homey. Raw filling ok?”

“Yep. Raw’s ok.”

###

Mother Lode

“Shorty’s got rocks in her head.”

“Yep, it’s become purty obvious. Goin’ on an on ‘bout rocks all the time. Rocks in her head, alright, and in her pockets, in her saddlebags. She’s always gatherin’, seems like.”

“Our tumbleweed’s become a rock tumbler.”

“That phrase weren’t too smooth, Kid.”

“Well, I’m in a hurry, itchin’ to do some minin’ of my own. There’s 24 carrot gold in these here hills.”

“Jest remember, Kid, glitter ain’t always gold. Me, I’m jest gonna ride under the crystalline sky, enjoy a gem of a day.”

“That’s minin’ too.”

“Yep, Kid, it is.”

###

Ganderin’ on the Veranda

“What ya been up to Kid, ain’t seen ya ‘round.”

“Been readin’. But I ain’t left the ranch. This is a bigger spread than I knew, lots to see.”

“Find anything innerestin’?”

“Yep, plenty. Ya know, Shorty is one bold buckaroo and an honest hombre.”

“Kid, Shorty cain’t be an hombre. Hombre means man.”

“Well, I ain’t so affluent as you in my Portageez.”

“That’s Spanish, Kid.”

“Oh. Huh. Hey, what’s for dinner anyway?”

“Shorty’s cookin’ up sumpin’ special for ya. Enchiladas.”

“Oh yay. I love Portageez food.”

“That’s Spanish, Kid.”

“Oh. Well maybe the Portageez enchilada has bacon.”

###

Sound Track

“I love it here.”

“What do love about it, Kid?”

“Well, until you showed up jest now, flappin’ yer pie-hole, I was jest lovin’ the sounds. Listen… Hear that? Far off ya can already hear the clopping footsteps of some rider bringin’ one in. Soon ya’ll be hearin’ the easy lowing of the new herd in the corral. And from up by the bunkhouse friendly laughin’ and talkin’. And, ya hear that? Best sound of all. Bangin’ pots and pans, ringin’ out with the promise of vittles. Shorty’s fixin’ to cook. Cookin’ up somethin’ special.”

“I hear that!”

###

Free Range

“What’sa matter Kid?”

“Look at Shorty’s new sign over the gate. Use’ta jest say Carrot Ranch. Now it also says ‘literary community’.”

“Yeah?”

“Well? Is it a ranch or a literary community?”

“Cain’t it be both Kid?”

“I jest wanna ride the range, wrangle some words now an’ agin.”

“But ya generally begin an’ end here at the ranch. Where they’s other wranglers; an’ readers… you know, a community.”

“I ain’t the communal type. I’m free range.”

“Ah, Kid, come on in outta the cold. There’s bacon cookin’.”

“This community has bacon?!”

“And raw carrots.”

“For me?”

“For all.”

###

Plum Crazy

“Is Shorty plum crazy? What’s she want us gathering buffalo chips for? That what she uses fer charcoal?”

“No, Kid, she wants berries. So let’s go git some buffalo berries.”

“Hmph, buffalo berries. Shorty makin’ pies agin? I reckon with buffalo berries it’ll be like a cow pie.”

“They’re not chips.”

“Hey, while we’re at it, let’s git some horse muffins too.”

“Kid, will you ever stop fiddlin’ around?”

“Heck no. Shorty wants music too, so I’ll jest keep on fiddlin’, thank you berry much.”

“I hope Shorty is plannin’ on fermentin’ some of these berries.”

“Yep, wine not?”

###

Trouble Down Under

“Hey Kid, what’s up?”

“Hey. Yunno, I been havin’ a lot of trouble with this berry thing. Cain’t find much of anything nowheres.”

“Didja ask around at all?”

“Naw, but I did bump into Aussie.”

“Yeah?”

“Is a dingo berry somethin’ that dingoes eat? You know those coyote like dogs down there where she’s from?”

“That what Aussie said?”

“She mentioned dingo berries. I was afraid to ask.”

“Afraid of Aussie?”

“Well, she’s so smart an’ all.”

“Oh, she’s smart all right. Sassy too, I’m thinkin’, talkin’ dingo berries in mixed company.”

“Jeez, it’s just a berry.”

“Where’s Aussie?!”

###

Purrfecting

“Where you headed?”

“Goin’ to round ‘em all up. Get ‘em corralled. Maybe herd ‘em right off the ranch.”

“Oh, Jeez, what are you on about?”

“Cats! Cats are over runnin’ the ranch. I swear there’s more of them than us.”

“Yep, they’s lots, real diverse, all colors and stripes. I like havin’ ‘em around.”

“Well Shorty says to round ‘em up. Let’s go.”

“No, Shorty says we should pick ‘em up. Not round ‘em up. Just pick one up.”

“Which one?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Which color?”

“Just pick one up.”

“Ok.”

“Well?”

“Shh. Listen to this beautiful cat purring.”

###

Still Water

“Lose somethin’ Kid?”
“Jest reflectin’ at this reflectin’ pool.”
“Kid, I swear, you are greener than frog spit. This ain’t no reflectin’ pool. It’s just a stock pond.”
“I can see myself, so it’s a reflectin’ pool. Look, you’ll see yerself too.”
“Oh yeah… hey Kid, it’s deep.”
“Yep. Shorty oughta call her place Reflection Ranch. People can come here an’, you know…”
“Reflect?”
“Yeah.”
“I reckon they already do. Been some mighty deep conversations goin’ on.”
“Yep, they ain’t been shallow. I’ve had some a my thoughts provoked ‘round here.”
“In a good way?”
“In the best way.”

###

Ranch Hideout

“Thought you’d disappeared, Kid.”

“Did disappear.”

“But here ya are.”

“So I ain’t somewheres else… gone! Far as folks back east are concerned, I done disappeared. If here, not there.”

“There ya go agin.”

“No, here I go. I’m here, so cain’t be there.”

“Well, it’s neither here nor there to me. Ya ready to ride?”

“Yawl go on without me.”

“Yer not tryin’ to escape yer wranglin’ are ya?”

“Wranglin’ is my escape. But they’s lookin’ fer me back east. Jist know if I ain’t aroun’ here, I’m there.”

“You’ll ride.”

“Maybe. But they’s ridin’ me.”

“So escape.”

###

Opine Range

“Whatcha thinkin’, Kid?”

“Nothin’. It’s a pretty open ranch, though, ain’t it?”

“Yep. Fairly free range. Why ya askin’?”

“Shorty left a note. She’s gone to town agin, says here she’s gone to pick up some broads.”

“Huh. You uncomfortable with that, Kid?”

“Well, yeah, no, but… What?”

“Kid, put it in context. Shorty ain’t the greatest speller, ya know. She ain’t likely pickin’ up broads, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Most likely she’s  gittin’ boards at the lumberyard.”

“Shain’t a ferry?”

“Jist same ol’ Shorty. Gatherin’ materials to build up the ranch.”

“Nothin’ wrong with that.”

###

Yeehaw!

“Kid, thought you was s’posed ta be off makin’ bacon or some such thing. “

“Cain’t I set a spell?”

“Course. Anyone’s welcome ta set a spell at Carrot Ranch. Well, Kid, if ya ain’t wanderin’, ya must be wonderin’.”

“Yep. Kinda excited ‘bout Shorty’s rodeo. Gonna be fun, Pal.”

“Sure is. I can see it too, Kid. Riders bringin’ their wild, buckin’ prompts to a lathered walkin’ gait.”

“Ropin’ competitions, gittin’ words all wrapped up into a story in record time.”

“Maybe barrel races…steer wrestlin’. Might be rodeo clowns.”

“For the bull ridin’!”

“Hang onta yer hats folks.”

###

Back East

“Shorty, is it true?”

“Yep. Gonna be quieter ‘round here. The Kid headed back East after all.”

“What? The Kid seemed happy here.”

“The Kid was happy here. Believe you me, the Kid didn’t wanna go. Even mentioned not wantin’ to leave you.”

“Aw, shucks. So why’n tarnation? Saddle sore? Too much wranglin’?”

“Naw, the Kid was willin’ ta ride the range all day, you know that.”

“Was it the food, Shorty?”

“Heck no. The Kid thrives on what’s dished out here. Did say somethin’ ‘bout bein’ busy, havin’ ta bring home the bacon.”

“Oh. That takes time.”

“Yep.”

###

Dang Busy

“Shorty?”

“Huh? Oh, hey. Wasn’t expecting to see you. What with the Kid gone.”

“That’s nuthin’ ta me. I jist narrate.”

“Yeah, right.”

“So, whatcha up to, Shorty? Looks like you ain’t doin’ nothin’. ”

“Correct. I am not doing nothing, I’m doing something.”

“Oh. Watcha doin’? ‘Cause it looks like daydreamin’.”

“Yep.”

“Shorty, ain’t that nothin’?”

“Nope. I’m writin’. And I’m plannin’ for the rodeo that’s comin’ through the ranch.”

“A rodeo? At Carrot Ranch?”

“Yep. Eight events. Eight prizes.”

“Yeehaw, Shorty! For real?!”

“Yep. You can’t make this stuff up.”

“Well you sure dreamed it up.”

“Yep.”

###

Right Proud

 “Dang, the Kid is missing out on all the excitement.”

“Who ya talkin’ to?”

“Oh, hey Aussie. Talkin’ ta myself. Been doin’ that since the Kid went back east. Did ya see all a Shorty’s doin’s?”

“I sure did! I am so pleased for Shorty.”

“Yep, Shorty’s done herself right proud.”

“I expect there’ll be a crowd ridin’ through, checkin’ out the ranch, gettin’ ready for the rodeo.”

“Reckon so, Aussie. It’s gonna be somethin’. I’m jest worried ‘bout there bein’ enough carrots to go around.”

“Sometimes you’re as green as the Kid. There’s always carrots, carrots for all.”

###

 Missing Kid

“Hey Aussie.”

“G’day. Yer writin’ me in again… Kid still away?”

“Yep. Kid got pulled away and I’m adrift. Used ta mulling things over with the Kid.”

“Well I’m currently busy. Maybe you should talk with Still Waters.”

“Still Waters? That some sorta Tonto-type sidekick character?”

“She’s no sidekick. Still Waters, the other wonder from down under, she drives her own buckboard, if ya know what I mean. She runs deep.”

“Sure does. I remember her from times past.”

“Or you could go see Anecdotist.”

“The analytical undertow scares me.”

“Chicken. Get out from underneath your malaise. Go write!”

###

“Shorty!”

“Got a letter from the Kid.”

“Read it.”

“Says:

Dear Ranch Hands, I’ve missed yawl and the ranch. Wanna be wranglin’; ridin’, ropin’ an’ corrallin’ words with ever’ one. See, I thought I needed to make time fer makin’ bacon, but I’m figgerin’ somethin’ out. The only way to beat a tide is to not try an’ swim against it. There’s always gonna be strays an’ loose ends in all our lives. Where better than the ranch to learn how to lasso that? Besides, there’s a rodeo! I’ll be catchin’ a train back west soon’s I can. Kid’”

###

Bullshift Kid

“Kid!”

“Dang straight.”

“Shorty heard you were back.”

“Shorty herds words. Course I’m back. Wouldn’t miss the rodeo for nuthin’.”

Well, come on. Let’s saddle up, Kid, do some ropin’ an’ wranglin’.”

“Cain’t. Busy.”

“But-“

“But I got too much to do now I’m back. I gotta corral the bulls and check the chute for the Buckin’ Bull Go-Roun’.”

“Aw, come on, Kid, that’s a ways away.”

“An’ I gotta help harvest carrots, make sure theys harvested for the rodeo crowd. You go on without me.”

“Nah. Reckon I’ll have ta look after you.”

“Write on, Pal, write on.”

###

 Well Maybe

 “You enterin’ any a the contests, Kid?”

“Nope, gonna jest enjoy the spectacle.”

“But ain’tcha jest itchin’ to git in the saddle?”

“Well, yeah. But I done told you, I’m busy. Jest gonna watch.”

“You know Kid, seems like yer pretty good about doin’ what ya say you’ll do. But it also seems like ya ain’t very good about not doin’ what ya say ya ain’t gonna do.”

“Ain’t ridin’ this one.”

“Uh huh. Then let’s go harvest us a drink.”

“Ain’t drinkin’.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, maybe jest one.”

“Jest one, Kid, while we check out the rodeo events.”

###

Grub Stake

“Hey, Pal. Aussie was wonderin’ how to git the stakes up for the ranch.”

“That’s right, Kid.”

“Hey, Pal, what if we had like a contest, where you pay to play. But no judging. Anyone that wrangles is a winner.”

“And if you just come by to read you can pay too?”

“Yeah, I reckon’ anyone could pay. Unless they can’t. Or already did.”

“They probably already did.”

“Did you ante up?”

“I gave some.”

“Some is good, Pal.”

“Kid, my name ain’t Pal.”

“I know.”

“So stop calling me Pal. Or else.”

“What? You’ll make me pay, Pal?”

###