The old mule stands in the pre-dawn light,
under the trees where she spent the night.
Looking up at the cabin that sits on the hill,
waiting for the cold winter sun, to drive away the chill.
The door of the cabin finally swings back,
and the old man hobbles out to put some hay in her rack.
She walks slowly up and stands by his side.
He reaches out and scratches her old graying hide.
They stand in the silence as the frost turns to dew.
He reaches in his vest for his first morning chew.
As they stood there together the mule chewed her hay.
They were both dreaming of a long ago day.
At the edge of the pasture stood an old lean-to shed,
where three saddles hung, their leather all lifeless and dead.
The old man moved toward them, moving real slow.
Flinching at pains gotten at a forgotten rodeo.
He picked up an old McClellen and the rest of the tack.
Then slowly adjusted it to the old mule's back.
As he swung aboard she set herself for the load.
Then in no hurry they went down the road.
Though both were nearly blind, you couldn't really tell.
For they traveled in country they both knew so well.
They stopped on a hill now desolate and bare,
where not long ago timber stood thicker than hair.
Once Upon a Time In The West
The old man stepped out the cabin door, pulled his suspendors over his shirt, and put on his coat, hat, and gloves. He looked down the hill to where the mule and the Apache were standing under the trees where they spent the night.
The wild wind was comin' from the north country whippin' everything on the plains, prairies, and hills.
Nevada. November, 1888.
The Codger said to the boy, "Nouis, you and the Apache take care of them hogs whilst I be gone. I'll be back in a couple days.
"Yes Sir," the young man said and Nouis and the Apache ran to feed the hogs.
It didn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blowed here. He saddled up the old mule and they mosied slowly down the hill. He looked up at the blue, clear sky. The wind is gonna’ blow, thought the old man. It gives one life. When it’s gone, no life remains. He turned his collar over to the wind.
She needed water. "Come on Amanda. Same old race that we've alway run and won," he said. They stopped down by the river and looked back up the hills from whence they'd come. He thought to himself, I'll be here on that last fateful day. The Good Lord will deal both me and Amanda the last card here. When she was rested, he climbed back on board her, got another chew, and they headed down that road that goes on forever
He got off the mule at the edge of town and rambled slowly with her leading him down the main street. He was blind in one eye and partially deaf. She carried more than just the load on her back.
He stopped and tied her up to the post in front of the Bucket of Blood Saloon next to a handsome Silver Stallion. He sung to his mule, “Amanda, The party never ends. I loves this bar. I’ll be right back.”
He thought to himself, Self, I’m gonna’ git me that Silver Stallion But ya’ know, ya’ cain’t always gits whats you wants. You gits whats you needs.
“Codger. Nice to see ya’. Welcome back to Virginia City. You been hidin’ up in them hills?"
“Hi, Bigun,” the Codger said. “Nope. Just never had reason to come visit till now."
Bigun was a monstrous piece of humanity, about 6 foot 7 and 280 lbs. Not too smart but a good boy. Mormon. He earned money, mainly from tips, by keeping guns and deviate outlaws out of the bar. He lived off the tips when the big gamblers won and he liked breaking drunken cowboys’ jaws. He slept at the stable down the street.
The old man unloaded the saddlebag and took the shotgun from the rifle holster. He took off the old McClellen saddle and the rest of the tack. It stunk like a dead rat. He sat them down beside Amanda, looked around, checked his shotgun, two shells in the chambers, and laid it down.
He opened the saddlebag and took a pouch the size of a possum out, put it inside his vest, picked up the shotgun, and walked toward the Saloon.
Mule sweat can attract flies for miles. Amanda lowered her head and brayed. The Silver Stallion swashed the flies that the mule attracted away from him with his tail and
snorted. Amanda belched and farted.
“Codger, you know the rules. No guns. Period. Leave it with me. Only cost you a dime unless you win. Then just a dollar. Wanna’ find Sam? Check with the bartenders inside.”
Codger gave his shotgun to Bigun, gave him a dollar and said, “I ‘tends to win. I like payin’ up front.” The sky got dark and cloudy and the wind blew the dust down the street like the fog rolls into San Francisco.
Four cowboys rode up out of the dust and stopped their horses next to the Silver Stallion. They looked like desperados waitin’ for a train. The first was obviously a highwayman. An old Indian with hair down his back, a sword on his saddle, and a pistol in his belt. The next looked like a gambler who had already lost all he had and had no reason for livin’. The third was a tall, thin, tanned sailor who looked like he had been borned upon the tide. The last was dressed totally in black and looked like the Angel of Death.
Codger stared at the Desperados. He had seen them all before. Some in life. Some in dreams. He had seen the Indian hung by Lefty in Mexico right after he shot the Sheriff and the Deputy. He had seen the gambler fall into a wet pit of concrete, buried alive, in Boulder, Colorado. He had seen the sailor in a whore house in ‘Frisco. He had seen the Angel of Death in Cripple Creek at a poker game and on that fateful day in the gold mine. One other time too. On the hillside the day they hung his son.
My God, they killed Him, went through the Codger’s mind. My God, they killed Him
Damn, I got to get off that peyote and quit eatin’ them escamoles, the Codger thought.
He shook his head. Amanda follow suit, shook her head, brayed, belched, and farted.
A single drop of rain fell on the Codger’s head. The Angel of Death dismounted and stared at Codger and turned his nose up at Amanda.
The Codger looked up at the sky. A thunderstorm was brewin’. A Hard Rain’s Gonna’ Fall , thought the Codger.
He patted his old grey mule and whispered to her, “Amanda, you stay warm. I’ll have you tended to shortly.” He walked inside the Bucket of Blood Saloon.