After reading too many westerns, God went to the old west to try his hand as a cowpuncher. It was expensive as he had to spend $200 on a saddle horse, $60 on a saddle, $20 on a sidearm, an another $20 on a saddle roll and other accoutrements—a good $300 before he even got to get a little doggie along. He had a whiskey at a saloon and agreed to terms with the trail boss for an outfit headed for Ogallala. He turned down a roll in the sheets with a soiled dove named Maggie before saddling up at the livery stable and heading out of town to meet up with the other cowpokes.
The going was tough at times, but it was a real adventure. A sandstorm rolled through early on in Texas and they got stuck in a hailstorm shortly after crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. The herd stampeded twice during thunderstorms and one cow was even struck by lightning. One evening, just after crossing into Kansas, as God sat around the fire with the other hands, eating a plate of beans and beefsteak, he heard an eerie singing from beyond the circle of firelight. It sounded like a poor imitation of Slim’s night song for the herd, but Slim was lounging on his bedroll with his own plate of grub and a full mouth.
“You fellers hear that?” asked Buster, sitting next to God.
For a moment, God was relieved that he was not the only one hearing the eerie, mournful singing. He nodded, eyes wide.
“You don’t suppose…” started Bill.
Buster nodded solemnly and only a second later they heard a falsetto voice call “Git along little doggies!”
“Who’s that?” asked God.
“Not who,” replied Slim from across the fire. “What. A jackalope, I reckon.”
“What’s a jackalope?” asked God.
Bill looked at Buster, who looked at Slim in turn. “It’s a fearsome critter,” said Slim. “Like a the biggest meanest jackrabbit you have ever seen, but with horns like an antelope. Can talk like a man, and it’ll stick you with its horns quick as it look at you.”
God was confused. He didn’t remember creating such an animal, but he’d made so many, maybe he forgot. He forgot about coelacanths for sixty millions years.
“’Spose it’ll need appeasing?” asked Buster.
“’Spose it will,” said Slim. “God, you’re the junior man here, so you seem to be the one for the job. It’ll be wanting whiskey.”
“But I don’t have any whiskey,” said God.
“Grab the jug from the chuck wagon,” said Bill.
“Cookie’s in there with it. Boss gives out the whiskey,” replied God, unsure what to do.
“Boss knows how serious a jackalope is. Especially a thirsty one. Just ease it out of there. You’ll need to pour some in a cup and put it out there for that varmint to drink.”
God looked around at the fire-lit faces for an indication that they were jesting, but they all seemed dead serious.
Cookie was splayed out in the corner of the chuck wagon, snoring loudly. In the flickering light, God spotted the jug of redeye. He quietly pulled it from the wagon, along with a tin cup. He brought it back to the circle, pulled the cork with his teeth, and poured a good bit of whiskey in the cup. He looked around at the other cowpunchers.
“Go put it out on the ground over toward the signing,” instructed Slim. “Maybe fifty yards out—far enough that it’s dark. But be careful!”
“Better leave the jug here,” added Buster, “you know, in case you gotta run.”
God set the jug down and stepped into the night. He crept quietly and carefully, expecting the sharp stab of horns at any moment. When he turned to see how far he’d gone, Bill, Slim, and Buster were passing the jug around, laughing. God’s heart sank as he realized he’d been tricked. He stood there for a minute, listening to them laugh at him. His face hardened and he threw back the full cup of whiskey in one swig. He walked steadily through the dark to the remuda, where he mounted his own horse and tied on three others. Quietly, he separated off a few dozen cattle and headed away from the light of the fire.
“They can keep their dern herd,” God thought to himself. “I guess I’m a horse thief and cattle rustler now. That’s where the real adventure is out west.”
He nickered to his pony and pointed his herd northwest.
Colin Punt does most of his writing as a practicing city planner, envisioning the future of cities. When he’s not planning the future urban form, he enjoys reading books, riding bikes, and sailing boats. His work has appeared in Steam Ticket, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, and in an upcoming edition of Midwest Review.