Main Characters: Chris, Vin, Buck, JD
Notes: This is an early piece. As most of us know, the horse that Michael Biehn, as Chris Larabee, rode was called “Pony”, and many of us use that name for our stories. But Pony for a gunslinger just didn't seem to fit. So this was my way of reconciling that... at least to myself.
Dedicated to KET, who gave Pony a home in his final years. Thanks for sharing him with us!
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in July 2012.
It had begun as idle campfire talk. As usual, J.D. Dunne could tolerate only a few minutes of silence before he filled the air with meaningless chatter. Usually Buck was able to deflect much of the kid’s dialogue, keeping him from making the other men too angry. But sometimes the boy wandered onto a subject from such an odd angle that Wilmington missed the signs that the young man was approaching dangerous territory. So, when J.D. segued from the plot of the last penny dreadful he had read to why and how the men he rode with had chosen their horse’s name, Buck was far enough behind in the conversation that he didn’t have time to keep the kid from angering Chris Larabee.
“But Chris, come on, there’s got to be a reason you named your horse Pony.”
“J.D., this is one of the dumbest conversations you’ve ever started...and boy you’ve started some pretty dumb ones,” Buck said, trying to head the boy off when he realized where things were heading. Wilmington glanced across at his oldest friend. Larabee was wound as tight as a hangman’s noose, and just as deadly at the moment.
As usual, J.D. ran blindly past the warning signs, straight for the cliff. “Well, come on, I mean a name as simple as Pony can’t be that hard to explain.”
“J.D., drop it,” Chris said so softly that the words were nearly lost in the soft crackle of the fire.
“Look, Chris, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse...” He stopped to chuckle at what, to him, was a humorous comment. “It’s just like I was saying. There’s always a reason a person chooses a name. I mean, you’ve got to admit, a gunman with a horse named Pony? There’s got to be a story behind that. Sounds like a kid named it or something.”
Without warning, Chris Larabee stood, delivered a left hook that caught Dunne in the jaw, and stormed away from the camp.
“You okay kid?” Buck asked with a sigh as he picked the younger man up from the ground.
Rubbing his jaw, the young sheriff said, “yeah, I think so...what did I say.”
“J.D., you’re never gonna learn to shut your mouth when you ought to, are you?”
“But I just asked a simple question!”
“Which Chris didn’t want to answer,” Vin said quietly from beneath his hat.
“Vin, come on! I mean what’s the big deal. It’s just a name.”
“Maybe you should’a thought a that before you riled Chris,” Buck said. “Now, I’m gonna tell you how Chris come to name his horse Pony. Then, if you ever bring it up around him, I’ll kick your butt all the way back to the east coast. You got me?”
J.D. nodded, still rubbing his throbbing jaw.
“Reckon I’ll go see if Chris want’s some company,” Vin said quietly. With a tip of his hat, he strolled into the darkness.
“Walk easy,” Buck called after the retreating figure. “Most likely he’s still pretty mad.”
“Yep,” Vin agreed.
It didn’t take the hunter long to find the gunman. Chris had gone only as far as the wide creek they had camped near. Vin found a seat a few yards away and simply sat down. He said nothing, just kept his focus on the water. If Chris wanted to talk, he was available. If Chris wanted to sit in silence, he could sit just as comfortably without words. Either way, he was there for his friend.
After nearly a half hour of silence, Chris said, “J.D. okay?”
“Imagine he’s gonna be eatin’ kinda easy for a few days, but yeah, he’s okay.”
“Good. Have to apologize to him... as soon as I can say the words without wanting to hit him again.”
“Seems to me the kid’s the one oughta be apologizin’.”
“No... I shouldn’t have hit him. He didn’t deserve that.”
“Maybe, but he does have a way a gettin’ under folks’ skin.”
“He’s just young... looking for his place in the world.” It seemed funny to explain J.D.’s youth and exuberance to Vin, since the tracker was only a few short years older. But Vin had been on his own for a very long time, and seemed much older.
“Yeah, well Buck’s tryin’ t’ straighten him out. Don’t worry ‘bout J.D.”
Chris sighed. “Reckon he’ll be explaining things to him. Wish that man would stop telling my story to people.” He dropped his head.
Vin didn’t answer, and the two lapsed back into silence. If he heard the occasional muffled sob that came from his friend’s direction, he gave no indication. He knew how far to go with Chris and, unlike J.D., respected those boundaries.
When all grew quiet again, Chris spoke in the darkness. “Adam named him.”
“Thought it might’a been somethin’ like that.”
“Yeah...” his voice softened, the love he felt for his family taking him to that time when life had been worth living; when he had them with him, not just carrying their memories as a constant reminder of his loss. Then he sighed and told his story.
“Adam was just barely two when I brought the horse home. Wasn’t much more than a baby himself. All spindly legged and wild. But I could see that this was going to be one beautiful animal.
“When I came riding up to the ranch with him trailing along behind, I saw Adam playing in the front yard. I called to him, and Sarah. She was hanging out clothes on the line...I can still see her standing there...” he paused, the memories taking him away for a few minutes. Shaking himself back into reality, he continued. “Adam came running to meet me...those little legs of his could move, let me tell you. I got off my horse just as he ran right past me, right to Pony. I yelled for him to stop, but he didn’t hear me. I just knew that he was going to get bitten.
“But he just ran right up to the colt and stopped. He giggled and put out his hand, and that darn critter just nuzzled him. I couldn’t believe it... nether could Sarah. She was standing there with me by then, and all we could do was watch these two babies while they checked one another out. Then Adam started hollering ‘Pony, Papa, Pony!’ ” Chris’ voice broke, he covered his face with his hands as the memories overwhelmed him.
Vin felt his own throat tighten as the emotions his friend was feeling threatened to overwhelm him as well. The two men sat wrapped in the bittersweet pain of that long past day. Finally, Chris took a deep, shuddering breath and continued.
“Those two were one another’s shadow after that. Soon as he could get out the door in the morning, Adam would be at the corral fence, and there would be Pony. They’d play through the fence as long as Sarah would let them. Running up and down, chasing each other along the corral.
“Whenever I had time, I’d let Pony out on a lead, so they could be together. You should have heard Adam squeal when I’d put him on the colt’s back. He’d be so excited I could barely hold him up there. I’d walk them around the yard, trying to keep Sarah from fretting herself sick up there on the porch.
“I figured things would die down after a while...Adam would lose interest or something. But he never did. Til the day.... til the day he died... Adam and that horse were inseparable.
“After... afterward, I sold off the rest of the stock. Couldn’t do that with Pony, though. I couldn’t... it was all I had left...” He broke down again.
Unable to sit by this time, Vin went to Chris’ side. He put an arm around the other man’s shoulder, just tightly enough to let him know that he wasn’t alone. He sat there like that while the gunman cried himself out. Only when Chris took a deep breath and gathered that tough man exterior around him did Vin drop his arm.
Larabee went to the creek and simply ducked his head beneath it’s surface, letting the cold water wash away the salty tears. Shaking his head and sending the water flying, he returned to stand next to his friend. “Reckon we ought to get back over there. Got an apology to make.”
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