The Cowboy and the Fishermen


Vignette 1

The cowboy rode the buckskin and ponied the paint through the forest. Timber Wolf Forest. His hands stiffened on the reins when he thought of the dreadful animal that went along with the name. His worst fear was losing his beloved mares.

He got them as fillies, trained them, and then used them for traveling. He learned that the buckskin was the best for riding and the paint was the best for being a pack horse. A feeling swelled in his chest when he thought of them. It wasn’t pride. It wasn’t anger or want. It was his love for the two animals. The two he’d cared for and fostered for sixteen years.

Slowly, the smell of campfire smoke filled the air. Though campfire smoke shouldn’t have filled the air, it should have been in one spot that changed with the wind. The cowboy knew this very well, so when the day began to get warmer instead of colder, and a hushed crackle echoed through the trees, he pushed his horses to go faster. The buckskin reacted quickly. She sprang into a rolling canter. The paint got stretched out behind them, too lazy to lope.

Unfortunately, the horses weren’t quick enough. Panic was thick in the air, along with burning lungs. The harsh light of the fire and a wall of rippling heat bit at their hocks. The cowboy was kicking them. He desperately asked them to go faster. Faster. Faster. FASTER! The fire was too close. The paint was motivated to gallop now. Her packs bounced at her sides uncomfortably. In a whirl of panic and heat, the trees ended. They gave way to the thrashing waves of the ocean. The horses crashed into the water and a scorching wall of fire was the only remnant of the forest.


Vignette 2

Very quickly, the cowboy realized he was not anywhere he’d ever seen before. Where was he? He thought he had the entire map memorized. He’d been everywhere after all. When he followed the sandbar all the way to the isle, it didn’t look like hardly a piece of land. It must just be too small to be seen on a map, he thought.

The forest here was lush and green, nothing like the forest back home. Bushes, trees, and leaves exploded everywhere with vivid life. Many ferns covered the ground, making travel through the foliage nearly impossible. Mist whispered over the packed land, concealing things more than ten feet ahead. Birds sat with soggy feathers beneath the canopy. They sang sweet melodies to each other. Bugs cast an electric hum over the island. The cowboy observed them on the bark and leaves of all the greenery. The most impressive feature of this world were the redwood trees. Their trunks disappeared into the heavens, so immense they made everything around them look microscopic.

The mares began to munch, overwhelmed with food. They didn’t even have to lower their heads to find something to put in their mouths. The cowboy had his mouth slightly ajar, gazing all around. Rainwater caught in the canopy above and dripped down onto the cowboy’s hat, peppering the fabric with dark spots.


Vignette 3

The horses trampled through the leaves, stumbling as the forest gave way to uncovered ground. Every head was turned at the cowboy and his mares. It was silent, there weren’t even crickets. The cowboy stared–there was no way he couldn’t. All the fishermen returned the stare in full. They were dirty, like himself, but these men were wet and covered in slimes only the sea could produce.

“Howdy,” the cowboy finally grunted.

It took still another moment for the fishermen to close their mouths, swallow, and grunt back, “Hey.” 

The three sailors put their heads together and began to mutter. The cowboy clenched his fist over his reins and stared into space–an old habit when he didn’t know how to communicate. The quick glances from the fishermen didn’t help the cowboy’s nerves. After an eternity of staring, they reached a verdict.

“I’ll bet the fire took ya right over here, aye,” one spoke up.


“You’ll need a spot to stay an’ you ain’t gon’ be stayin’ anywhere ‘round here without some cash.”

The cowboy’s face turned a little red. “I’ll work for ya. How ‘bout that? I fish. You give me a place to stay.”

“You know how tuh fish?”

The cowboy gulped. “I learn fast.”

“Aight fine.”


Vignette 4

“My name’s Marlin,” the fisherman had said when he got assigned the task of teaching the cowboy to fish. Marlin held his calloused hand out to the cowboy, which he took hesitantly.

“Now you ain’t gon’ do no dumb things, you hear?” Marlin’s voice turned taught and mean. “Listen to me, keep your nose down and work hard. You ain’t stayin’ anywhere if ya don’t do yer work well and good. I dunno what’s done in your world buh here you work. Now git yerself up on that boat,” Marlin spit.

Even in his looks, Marlin was serious. He wore a dark face, beaten by the weather. He was also the palest person the cowboy had ever seen. Had he ever been in the sun?

Marlin’s words weren’t any harsher than the work. The cowboy’s muscles ached with every wind of the anchor and he fully understood why Marlin’s face was so unforgiving. Rain and seawater lashed at every bit of bare skin and seeped into his cotton clothes, draining any lasting heat. Wind whipped around the cold, making it worse–if that was possible. Frigid spray stung his bare skin as if it were needles and not water. The cowboy hugged himself and blew warm breath on his hands, which couldn’t function at all. They were stiff and unfeeling. 

The fishermen and cowboy worked until the sun went down. The cowboy noticed how their hands were rubbed raw from what could only be the various ropes used in the boats. The bags under their eyes were so profound,  they could even be seen in the fading light. Worst of all, as the fishermen’s clothes shifted and rippled as they worked, the cowboy could see how unfed most of them were.


Vignette 5

The cowboy lay awake for hours. He stared at the dank ceiling. The thick scent of mold and brine filled his senses. All the fishermen were starving, that was a sure fact now. The cowboy’s stomach growled. He, along with everyone else, had boiling water for dinner. No fish were caught that day.

Halfway through the night, rain began to pelt the roof. Fear for his mares crept up. They’re fine. They are horses and this is weather they can handle. He tried to comfort himself. At some point, the cowboy finally drifted into sleep. 

He was standing by the ocean. His two horses had driving harnesses and fishing nets hooked up to them. They stood calm and quiet, waiting for instructions. He took the long reins and kissed. The two mares sauntered into the ocean waves, sunlight smiling down from above. Immediately the net was weighed down with fish, mussels, and clams.

The cowboy awoke to Marlin shaking him awake. It was 4:00 A.M. Time for another fruitless day of work, but the cowboy had a different plan.

Vignette 6

The cowboy’s idea worked. He did it. He gave everyone food. But it took his mares to do so. The fishermen patted him on the back, thankful. Marlin rested a hand on his stomach, full from the meal. The cowboy smiled and took a bite of another fish. The idea of having the horses drag the fishing net through the water, catching the challenging fish had worked.

After the feast, with a warm and satisfied belly, the cowboy wandered to the edge of Starboard Island. Timber Wolf Forest was nothing more than a charred black memory. It was safe for him to go back now. Even the cinders had died out. And he had to go back. Fishing was never for him and never would be. But what about the fishermen? They needed his mares to survive. The cowboy’s heart pounded in his ears. He had to give them up. A lump formed in his throat. It was the first time in years that crying was even fathomable. The cowboy tramped back through the heavy forest to the fishermen.

“In the morning,” he said to Marlin, “I’ll give ya my mares and I will leave. Give ‘em grain and make sure the hay doesn’t get wet. It’ll mold. Don’t work ‘em too hard, but they still can work fer hours a day. Also build ‘em a real stable. Put tons o’ shavings on the floor and make sure they’re dried off when they’re done workin’.”

Marlin nodded and said, “We’ll take good care of ‘em. Don’t worry yerself a bit.”


Vignette 7

The cowboy put a hand in his pocket, turning the coins around in his fingers. They were Marlin’s gift for the mares. The cowboy stood at the port. The one that left for Turnway Haven: a bigger island than the one Marlin lived on. Hooves clattered on the cobblestones. People shouted at each other. Suitcases were thrown around carelessly. The spirits of the port were high, along with the horses’ heads. The cowboy thought of buying a handsome young gelding standing patiently in a sales booth. He was bulky and strong. Young, too. He could have carried both the cowboy and his things.

The cowboy turned to the ticket booth.

“Last call for the ship to Turnway Haven!” the salesman called.

The cowboy turned away from the gelding, away from familiarity. “A one-way ticket to Turnway Haven,” the cowboy ordered and pulled out the coins.

The salesman shoved the ticket into his hand. The cowboy stepped onto the ramp leading to the top of the immense ship. He took a seat on the portside–a term he learned from Marlin.

Someone shouted, “Weigh anchor!”

The ship glided away from the land the cowboy had forever known.