Night Hawk's Burden

“Pay attention to the horses and the herd, kid. They got better sense than ya. They bristle o'ermuch, we got trouble.” Okie threw out his bedroll, sagging wearily to his knees. “Shout the alarm iffn ya hear anything strange, but I warn it better not be whistle berries dancing ‘round in Dutch’s stomach. They don’t agree with 'im much, so I reckon ya better hunker upwind.”

Donald could see Okie raise a threatening eyebrow at him in the firelight. Donald wasn’t a kid, but everyone called him that because he was new to cattle running. They hadn’t even bothered drawing cuts for the night shift. The crew was too beat after a long hard day, so they pulled rank. Donald, the greenie, the former rodeo clown, was stuck straddling the night against rustlers, on a night pitcher than most.

He nodded even though Okie had already removed his boots and closed his eyes.

It wasn’t long before he could hear the whiskey snores of his companions. Donald paced the camp. He wasn’t all that sure how the horses would hear anything worrisome on the other side of the herd, but those were Cotton and Fritz’s posts anyway.

Dutch’s snores grew louder than a jackass in a tin barn. Donald grinned, picked up a small rock and pitched it at Dutch’s bedroll. It musta hit pay dirt, because Dutch snorted, turned on his side, and quieted. Okie had taught him that trick his third night running with ‘em.

The night was quiet. Well, quiet of anything but soft moos and whinnies, restless hooves, snoring, and farting. Donald didn’t struggle to keep awake as he mighta. His skin was too prickly. If his wife had seen him, she’d have called him a Nervous Nellie. He missed her something fierce. When he worked rodeo, he went home every night, but she worried about him getting gored by a bull like Ebenezer. So he went cattle running instead. The trade: he was hardly ever home.

Dutch woke before anyone else, the sun not yet crawling upwards as the man saddled his horse. He nodded at Donald, then tore at some jerky as he rode through the herd to Fritz. The man couldn’t count past thirty, but he always knew if cattle were missing. Had some kinda sense about it.

A short bit later, Fritz cut dirt to the camp. The others in various stages of waking stood quickly, gathering near him.

“They was here last night. Twenty or so missing. Didn’t hear a mouse peep.” Fritz narrowed his eyes at Donald who shook his head. Everyone stared at him for several beats longer wondering if they could trust him.

Donald’s heart raced. If they didn’t find those cattle, his job, maybe his life, was shit.

Okie handed him an Old 50, expecting him along to track and confront the rustlers. No help for it. He said a silent prayer for his wife, downed a shot of whiskey for an iron belly, and followed Okie.

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Wordage: clown, straddle
Genre: Western
Wordcount: 500

Image: via


  1. Hah! Right on the 500! I think mine came in on the dot too :)

  2. Yup! I suspect I will max out often. ;)

  3. This was fun to read :) I liked when he threw the rock at his snoring companion, haha. Wish I could do that sometimes :)


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