Slapout: Chapter 09

Wednesday Briefs

Small time town with big time drama.


Chapter 09

Eli stopped what he was doing and leaned against the pitchfork to watch when he spotted Cullen topping the ridge. A second later an agitated ewe came into view, and he knew what had happened. They still had a few nursery jugs unoccupied in the barn. But if Cullen kept bringing back every newborn lamb from the pastures, they would need smaller pens, or more of them.

Once Cullen had rode close enough to hear him, Eli gave him a welcoming wave. “Find more babies who need your special touch?”

Cullen’s expression never changed and Eli braced himself for bad news. “What’s wrong?”

“Coyotes. A pair. They were after her lambs.”

Eli took a deep breath then let it out slowly. He considered how to deal with this, then met Cullen’s gaze. “Good job. They’d would have got both babies. You did the right thing bringing her to the house.”

Cullen relaxed. “I didn’t know what to else to do. I figured it would be safest to just bring ‘em out of the pasture.”

Eli lifted the lambs from the saddle and held them out to their mother. She had been running back and forth a few feet away. But when she spotted her offspring, the ewe came to a sudden stop, stepped closer and sniffed each lamb. Eli grinned when she bleated.

“That’s it girl. You follow along, and we’ll get you and your babies in somewhere safe. We’ll protect you from those nasty old coyotes.”

Cullen draped his leg around the saddle horn and laughed at Eli. “You know, baby talking to the sheep it’ll kill your whole macho man routine.”

“Oh shut up. It isn’t like you haven’t talked the same way to the animals. You’d think that horse and you have a thing going,” Eli said.

“Fuck you. Get the mother in the lambing pen before something else happens.”

Cullen snorted when Eli flipped him off before working the very excited ewe into one of the empty enclosures. She fell into the category of ewes who needed more help than he’d normally give. He stood on the edge of darkness marking the entrance to the cavernous barn. He held on to the lambs as the ewe made her displeasure known before plunging into the dark shadow.

Eli laid the twins on the bedding he’d strewn in a deep layer across a lambing crate after it’s last occupant returned to the flock. The ewe plunged past him and checked her offspring to figure out what Eli did to them.

Eli and Cullen waited to see how the reunion went. One of the lamb bounced back in seconds and looked for its food supply. They watched the other, hoping for a comparable response. But it lay sprawled across the bedding while it’s mother nudged it again and again while making sounds of concern. All of which had no effect. Eli motioned toward the tack room in a corner of the barn.

“Grab one of the plastic cups and a bottle. Let’s see if we can get milk into her.”

Cullen nodded and trotted for the equipment Eli’d asked for. A quick minute later, he returned with everything. He climbed over the fence then glanced over to see what instructions Eli had for him.

“Grab her and I’ll try to get a meal for the baby.”

Cullen cornered the ewe and held her tight. Eli knelt beside her and worked out the thick first milk into the cup. It wasn’t a fast done chore either, the ewes Eli ran were not built for hand-milking. But Eli persevered and milked what he thought would be a good amount to get down her.

As Eli moved to ready the bottle, he motioned toward Cullen. “Grab the lamb and lets try to get something into her.”

Cullen lifted the limp form while Eli tried to get the nipple in it’s mouth. They struggled with the lamb for several long minutes and Eli feared they were running out of options. He’d reached the point to consider tubing the newborn, when it swallowed.

“Damn,” Cullen said. “I thought this was going bad.”

As the lamb took a second drink, Eli couldn’t help but smiled. “I was right there with you. But she’s nursing.”

They broke into a soft chuckle as the sounds of furious sucking filled the air around them.


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Slapout: Chapter 08

Wednesday Briefs

Small time town with big time drama.


Chapter 08

Cullen led his horse from its stall as he prepared to check the flocks. Eli had found the remains of a lamb yesterday so today he was not only checking for birthing issues, but something was getting past the dogs. He slid his rifle into the saddle holster and swung into the horse. The sun would break above the horizon in a few minutes and the day would begin its climb to the staggering heat typical for this time of the year. He enjoyed the early morning silence of the ranch. It seemed quieter here on the high plains than at his family’s farm in Georgia. It might not be as hot back home, but the humidity in the southeast made the air so thick it felt like you could slice it with a knife.

The horse eased to a stop at the gate and Cullen worked past the obstacle. He made his way to the south, and the first water tank in the pasture. Cullen released the windmill, and water began filling the trough. He liked to fill it each day even though it would have lasted for several days. He followed the adage his grandfather always gave about planning for the future.

Once the windmill functioned without a problem, he continued over a ridge marking a change in the terrain. The terrain became broken with grazing becoming much more scattered than closer to the headquarters. He eased the horse onto one trail, worn into the ground by generations of animals moving across the landscape.

After several minutes of searching, he heard the faint sound of the ewes and their guardian dogs. But he could tell by the sounds there was a problem. Cullen hoped he’d showed up early enough to prevent more losses. He urged the horse to a lope toward the flock. He topped the hill to find the sheep packed tight together with the dogs circling them.

Cullen studied the scene and spotted a ewe separated from the flock, and it looked like she was lambing. A few seconds more and he saw the cause of distress for the sheep and the dogs. He caught motion slinking under the camouflage of a clump of sagebrush.

A coyote. No, damn it. A pair.

He grabbed his rifle, snapped it to his shoulder and aimed.  The crack of gunfire echoed across the barren landscape.

“Shit!” Cullen yelled as the pair of predators disappeared. He knew this wouldn’t be the last time they used Eli’s flock as a moving buffet. To make matters worse, they probably had pups. But there was nothing he could do about the coyote right now.

He pulled the mare toward the ewe. She was circling a small area, refusing to go further than a few yards.

She’s got a lamb. Where is it?

Cullen swung his leg over the saddle and dropped to the ground. He let the reins trail from his hands as he searched the surroundings that didn’t seem to contain enough cover for a mouse. After a few steps, he realized the ewe could lead him to her baby.

He stood still and watched the wooly mama. A few minutes passed with them at an impasse before Cullen took a step toward one of the tiny clumps, and the ewe about lost her shit. He squatted and reached inside the grass and his hand landed on a damp textured something.

It didn’t take long to realize he had two newborns on his hands still wet from amniotic fluid, and one upset ewe.

“Take it easy, mama. We’ll get you and your little ones back to the barns. You just be patient.”

He carried two tiny lambs to his horse and after a few seconds realized this would be more of a challenge than he thought. But he got the lambs between him and the saddle horn. The calls of the two little ones and the protests from the mother would make this a long trip.


The links listed below go directly to the individual stories.