With thanks to my beta writer, Annie, for helping me with my first story.
Word count: 745
Johnny Lancer woke with a start, gasping for air. Yet another nightmare from his past had disturbed his sleep and had awoken him far earlier than he’d have liked. Visions of the faces of some of the men that he had killed during his life as the gunfighter, Johnny Madrid, still haunted him. He shook his head, hoping to clear the awful nightmare out of his mind.
He rubbed his aching neck muscles – were they due to him being tense during the night or was it because of the hard work of the previous day? Something had spooked the steers grazing on the southern pastures, causing them to break through the fencing. Perhaps it had been a mountain cat; Johnny had seen one a few weeks earlier. Whatever it was, it had made the cattle more difficult to manoeuvre than usual. Barranca had worked well, performing his duties to his usual perfection, sensing his rider’s commands long before being given them. He too was tired, and Johnny had given him extra rations – a well-deserved treat.
He looked out of the window; the first glimmer of light was rising above the horizon. Now he was awake, he might as well check the herd and the fence before breakfast. Murdoch indeed would have his hide if his work was not up to standard if the steers dared to break through again.
Johnny approached the barn, his silver spurs jingled with every step he took. He stopped at the door. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something was unusually different this morning. His horse’s majestic head would normally appear over the stable door, greeting him with a welcome whinny as soon as he heard his footsteps approaching. This morning was different – a deathly silence came from Barranca’s stall.
Johnny froze as he looked at the door to the stall. Barranca must surely still be asleep, he thought, perhaps laid down on the newly bedded straw he had prepared the night before. What seemed like an eternity he finally peered over the door – his heart missed a beat – the stall was empty. This was the beginning of another dreadful nightmare.
He took a deep breath and backed away. Had someone stolen the horse? Johnny Madrid – gunfighter – good at his trade, had been a light sleeper out of necessity. He surely would have heard the horse’s objections, if not heard an actual intruder. Or perhaps ranch living had now gotten him too soft to be alert to such things?
He looked around, and found he had walked over some fresh hoof prints leaving from Barranca’s stall. The first few prints were imprinted firmly into the ground suggesting that his horse had jumped over the door. Johnny followed the tracks, his hopes increasing with every stride. They ended with more deep prints at the corral fence, suggesting the horse had jumped over. At the far end of the corral were some brood mares that Murdock had recently purchased. They would soon be mated with his father’s prized Quarter horse.
Johnny peered into the corral, hoping and praying that his stallion was not amongst Murdock’s newly acquired mares. Suddenly, he saw a familiar flash of gold in amongst the bay and chestnut mares – being the only palomino on the Lancer ranch, Barranca was a very easy horse to spot.
Johnny quickly grabbed a halter from the gatepost, and ran across the corral. Glancing briefly toward the hacienda, he hoped that no-one else was awake to see Barranca’s misdemeanours.
His stallion surrendered easily – Johnny had him well-trained and he responded to his master’s soothing voice almost instantly. His shiny coat that normally shone like a gold coin was now matted with sweat; he looked like he must have been out all night playing with his new found friends – friends that Barranca thought of as his herd. Johnny smiled at his horse’s antics and quickly attached the halter on his misbehaved horse and led him safely back to the old barn.
Johnny was saddling Barranca when a thought suddenly hit him causing him to laugh out loud. He might have got away with it for now, but what if any of the mares threw palomino foals next year? Barranca would be the prime suspect and Murdock would indeed have his hide yet again.
Oh well, that’ll be a nightmare to contend with in eleven months time – but for now, the open range was beckoning.
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