The Old Mans Horses .......

A Short Story.......

    I got the phone call from a friend of mine , telling me I'd better get up to the old mans place quick , something strange was happening , "Old John Behans work horses were in thier harness' and had walked slowly down over Lewis hill " , he told me the team of working Belgian draught horses had come right up to his driveway and stopped near the barn . Thier reigns dragging in the road behind them. I new something must be wrong , maybe the old man finally laid down out in one of the pastures.
    Johnny Behan , what're you doing today " , I heard myself say . But Inside I had the feeling something was wrong , it had to be , no way could they just show up in full dress . So I Jumped in to my truck and headed up over the hill towards his place from mine . Coming to the Strowbridge house I pulled into the drive and sure enough there they stood in full harness drinking from the stock tank that Smitty kept full for his beef cattle. Thier ears turned towards the sound of my feet on the gravel drive as I walk up , skirting around so that they can see me, as not to startle them , I speak ther names .
    " Hey Pete , hello Dan " , and as Petes head turns to me he lifts it from the stock tank , and Dan keeps drinking although I see his eyes shift to me and his neck muscles quiver a bit. I had worked with them learning the ropes of handiling a team from old John over the last few years and they were as tame and gentle a team of horses as I've ever seen.
Old john , I thought , this isn't like you to let these two run free over the mountain roads , and as this feeling of doom spreads inside , I take the reigns in hand and gently asked them to turn and go back up the road to Johns ......
    " Haw Pete, come on Dan " , and they respond in kind , It always amazes me to follow these two up a trail , they weigh a couple thousand pounds each and thier hooves plod along like giant stones hitting the ground in almost perfect unison , I often think of how much work they've done over thier lives , a couple of giants these two are and yet so tame as well. Ready to move mountains on command or two patiently stand waiting for hours it seems.
As We walk up the road and into the driveway at old Johns house , they're pace quickens just a little as they know that in the barn waiting is a bag of feed grain. The usual reward for a days work , John usues them pretty regularly haying the fields and dragging out the trees that he will cut up for firewood , I notice the barn doors are open as he would have left them untill the end of which ever chore he would be up to at the time. And as I tie off the horses at the stall hooks I call out .
   " Hello John , are you out here ?" , and nothing .........silence.
    I make my way towards the house eyeing out across the fields for any sign at all. Stepping up onto the porch I realize the door is open and as I open the screen door to step in , I notice the lamp sitting on the old dining table was on and a sheet or two of paper and a pen layed out on the paper .
     I thought it seemed strange in that John was usually pretty good about turning off the lights and picking up after himself. He was well into his eighties now and in the last couple of years his health had been fading a bit faster than I thought was normal , and he had mentioned just last week about hearing from the doctors visit I had taken him to . I called out again......
    "Johnny are you home , " and noticed then that the aroma of coffee was strong as
usual. Walking into the kitchen and turning off the light on the table . It was then that I looked down at the paper on the table top and saw that it was a letter to me!
     I picked it up and began reading the words and as they progressed , a feeling as cool as ice began to build inside of me ........

    My friend Robert - I hope it's you that came up here and no ones else, I heard back from the doctor and the news is bad. I got to thinking about dying of cancer and I though , there's no way I can take all this pain , so I decided to help things along . You'll find me up at the spring , you better come alone . I'd like to ask you to take care of my horses though , I was going to take them with me but I just didn't have the heart to use the rifle on them so I guess I'll make this last journey alone , I 'm sorry to have made this difficult for you , you have been a good friend to me.
                                          your friend ,John

    I am in shock and ....still not sure .......I look over at the wall and notice his old Winchester is gone from the rack and I know.....No , No didn't. I read the letter again and realize I should have seen this coming Johnny has talked about this very thing in a vague kind of way. He was worried about causing hardship for someone else in taking care of him.
    Laying the letter down on the table ,I brace myself for the outcome and slowly make my way out of the back door towards the old spring that Johnny has gotten his water from since before he was born , climbing up through the field I try to harden myself and I enter into a zone of numbness , walking towards the cusp of oak trees where I will find ........what will I find ........there's no telling ......"Johnny I 'm sure you meant no harm to anyone but what were you thinking" ....all I can do is keep walking and preparing for the eventual outcome .......maybe I should have called the local constable for this. Let someone else go through this..........
    Approaching the well , I slow down thinking , Im not ready for this.
     And as I emerge from the wall of oak trees I see Johnnys back and shoulder where he sat with his back to the well , his head leaning to one side , I slowly move around the edge of the well house to face the inevitable ............
     "Johnny , what have you done " I say to myself without thinkiing.
     Slowly Johnnys head turns and he looks right at me and tears fill his eye's .......
     " I couldn't do it " .......He spoke softly , " I guess I just can't do it Robert ".........
     I'm in shock as Johnny drops his head in shame and I see the winchester lying there beside him on the ground. A flow of adrenaline builds in me and a quick flash of anger almost makes me blurt out some angry remark but as I look at the old face , lined with feelings , creased with the years of living alone and the shakiing hands of a man dying slowly inside , I think .....what can I do ......
    " I couldn't shoot the 'hosses' and I couldn't shoot myself niether " He dropped his arms in self disgust , and as a feeling of relief goes instantly through me ......Now I've got to find the right words to help my friend come back to this life, and live it out fully. Back to this old place here on the hill .
     " Well , John , why don't we go down to the barn and take care of those two wild horses you have there , and when we're done I'll make us a new pot of coffee." I reach my hand down to him to lift him up and he looks slowly up at me as the life comes back into his face and says ......
    " I sure am glad it was you come up here for me " , He slowly reaches up and takes my hand in both of his and I pull him slowly upright.........I look into his eye's and I see a boy .......just a boy with a heart like everyone elses....... He puts his hand on my shoulder and speaks in a cracking voice .....
    " Thank you son ,.....Thank you........ And as we walk slowly down through the field and the
sky lightens instantly , the sun finding it's way trough the morning mists of september , old John lifts his head to the sky and shakes his head.....
    " Looks like it's going to burn off today and be a good one." and reaches up with his sleeve and forearm and quickly wipes his eyes and drops his arm.
    " Yup , Looks like it might be a good day..........after all......."
    I take his elbow as we step down through the old path .......and think to myself trying to find the next words  carefully .......
     "Umm , it sure is going to be a good one"  And I know  , I've got to stay up here long enough to  help my friend  step  back from that  edge .  That edge that we all  will stand close to at one time  or another.

Comments 12 comments

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

That was a very emotional read for a Monday morning. Loved the ending as I was certain that Johnny had taken his own life. Nice story!

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Very good!

Well done.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago Author

Susan , How are you! Thank you for being here to share with.!!! Stay well.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago Author

WillStarr , my friend , thank you sir, Mucho Appreciado!!!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Cancer is scary but sometimes we do survive it.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago Author

Hi Dahoglund , yes it is , why does it seem like so many have it in one form or another? Seems like every other person I know has something , I had my own scare a couple of years ago as well, Stay well Dahoglund!

CheyenneAutumn profile image

CheyenneAutumn 5 years ago

This is such a touching post. My eyes filled with tears are having a hard time seeing the screen to reply. I can see this all in my minds eye so clearly. I don't know whether to hug you or to applaud you. I do know it is an honor to read your hubs and to call you friend. Great post my friend!

daddysgirl 5 years ago

Powerful read dad. I admit I cried too. I am always speechless when it comes to the "c" word. I've lost so many people to this in my kine of work. I love the story being told from Robert's view. Hopefully there are a lot of people out there willing to extend a hand to another in a great need!! God sure does know we need a lot of love nowadays!! Many kisses and hugs your way!

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago Author

Laurie , hello , I know a man that makes me think of Johnny, his horses are so important to him , I often see him just sitting on his wagon or just driving them around the fields of his farm , he has always performed "Low impact logging" going where landowners don't want to allow major logging operations on thier land. He just seems to enjoy being with them. Thank you for Sharing and "feeling" my writing. Hugs to you.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago Author

Hey Sweety , Love you bunches dear one , I think of you each day! I was lucky in so many ways growing up your grandfather always gravitated towards knowing these kinds of old timers who worked the land and forests. I remember men who actually lived alone in little places and lived quiet lives of horses, farm work and forestry. Always living in the old ways , and old traditions. Often as kids we would ride along on the hay wagons or follow the giant horses in the woods. Anyway ,I love you my beautiful daughter !!!0x0x0x0x0x0

lindatymensky profile image

lindatymensky 5 years ago

Nice short story. Linda

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago Author

Lindamensky , Thank you so much , it would be not so much without you to share with.

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