The inspiration for this short story was an 80’s Country song by Dan Seals and a story by Thinking Horndog, the creator of The Swarm Cycle. If you have not read his story, ‘Buying Wholesale‘, go ahead and do that and you will see where this story fits. It’s just a vignette inside a larger canvas. This was never intended as a stand-alone story.
Thanks go out to Frostfyre, DC.Michael .1981 and Omachuck for their help with the wording and finding most of the bugs, and to the rest of the Swarm Cycle authors for chipping in with advice when I needed it.
Everything that glitters...
I sat and watched my Daddy work ol’ Red. That old horse was still twice as good a cutting horse as most of the nags in the ring today. When the stock handlers released the steer, Daddy and Red were right there, so close that his stirrup was brushing its dusty hide.
His lariat flashed out and settled, neat as you please, around the horns of that steer and it hadn’t hardly tightened a bit before Daddy had it snubbed around the saddle horn and Red was putting on the brakes!
Ol’ Red squatted down as pretty as you please, all his weight on his rear hooves and damn, oops, darn near stopped on a dime! That young bull didn’t know what hit him and he went head over tail in confusion, landing pretty hard on his side. He must have been winded ‘cause he didn’t fight a lick before Daddy had him trussed up like a thanksgiving turkey and threw his hands up in the air.
Oh, the crowd loves Daddy. Heck, the only thing these idiots love more are a pair of big ol store-bought titties like Momma got or when someone gets hurt. They sure do like to see cowboys bleed.
Daddy limped back over to Red, giving him a good rub along his jaw like he preferred. Together, the two limped towards the pens and I was off like a shot. I was supposed to be working on my homework but I never, ever missed seeing Daddy ride if there was a way around it. Even when we fought, he was still my Dad, my hero.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that we ran in to Momma again. Sure, she had been at some of the same rodeos, this was the highest paying circuit after all, but she was usually on the arm of one high roller or another, sitting up in the fancy boxes away from the dust and smells. And her daughter.
She had been sitting with a fat old guy and swilling down gin at a fancy restaurant in Houston. Daddy had put some aside to take me out for my birthday. It was all I wanted, a nice meal and a decent place with my favorite guy.
We had just ordered and were having fun, laughing and joking about some of the characters we ran into at the fairgrounds, when I heard a voice that sent chills down my spine. Daddy heard it too and his mood went from light and fun to cold and angry in a heartbeat.
Oh sure, he tried to hide it, but he was as hurt today as he had been when she walked out. I had only been about five back then and I know I cried for weeks. I don’t know if Daddy cried, he would never show that to me, but I bet he did.
Daddy met my eyes and he knew that I knew.
“Darlin, you want to go somewhere else?” he asked softly, knowing I would understand.
“If she’s gonna spoil it for you, then yes. I do like it here though, maybe we can change tables and sit way over yonder.” I suggested. I hated to see him upset but I hated more the thought of that bitch driving us out of here on my birthday. My birthday!
“Let me see what I can do, Pumpkin, okay?” he said, his smile a bit more relaxed.
He got up and lay his napkin on the table, then looked around for a waiter or the greeter guy who sat us at this table. Seeing something, he headed right on out, dodging folks and tables.
He didn’t know it, but I was following him. I just had a feeling.
“Dan! Dan, come here, damn you! How are you?”
Oh lord! He had been caught. She saw him! Please, don’t let him get angry. If he hits her, he could go to jail and then what? He would hate himself. Especially when the busy bodies came for me, I was only thirteen!
Daddy froze, his body rigid except for his head. It turned slowly, like a bull scenting a stranger in his pasture. I swear I could see his nostrils flaring.
Momma was sitting alone, I don’t know where her fellah went, but he wasn’t at the table.
“How are you, Dan? Been a while.”
Momma was still awfully pretty. She was tall and thin, though those store-bought breasts made her look top-heavy. She had the prettiest golden colored hair that sparkled in the light. Her high cheek bones, full lips, her slender waist and womanly hips were all people talked about when her name came up. She was the belle of the ball wherever she went.
And she sure knew it.
“Saw your picture. It was on a poster, in some café out in Phoenix.” Daddy said softly, not moving any closer. “Guess you are still the sweetheart of the rodeo.”
“How about you and little Casey? You still make the circuit?” Momma asked in an offhanded way, as if the answer didn’t really matter, that she was just making conversation.
Daddy nodded. “Got me one of those one-horse trailers, half mobile home. You know, she still asks about you all of the time.” He paused and shook his head. “I’d guess we never even cross your mind though.” His voice was getting harder, and softer.
Daddy never yelled and screamed. He got quieter and his voice got colder. When other men are waving their arms and hollering something fierce, Daddy has already laid you out for your buddies or kin folks to come collect you.
“Sometimes I think about you.” He said softly. I could hear sadness, not anger, in his voice. “The way you used to ride out, all rhinestones and sequins and the way the sunlight would look in your hair. The crowd always loved you.”
Momma rolled her eyes. “They still do, Dan. You never understood and you never will. You are the same small-time bumpkin you were back then and you always will be. Grow up, Dan. You have to get what you can in this world. Grab it by the throat and never let go. Not you though. No, not Daniel Beckworth Peters. You had to piss off your father and get disowned. Think about how good our lives could have been! Who cares about your damned score, with enough money, anything is possible.” She paused, lost in thought and spending the millions that Daddy would never see.
“Sorry I even tried, Dan. My date had some business thing come up and you used to be pretty good in the sack. I thought I would take you for a ride for old times’ sake, but you are as sad today as you ever were. Go back to your horses and your cows, Dan, you deserve each other.”
Momma stalked off and Daddy stood there for a bit. I turned and ran back to the table, trying to hide my tears.
It took Daddy a few minutes to come back, and he had that fake smile on his face, the one that he thinks fools me. He uses it when he hurts himself and tries to hide it and once when I walked in on him with some lady from the 4H. They were both naked and though I am not sure how that hurt him, the way she screamed and he squawked, I didn’t wait to ask either!
I had already dried my eyes and we both pretended through the meal that everything was okay. That night, in my bed while Daddy sat outside and had a beer, I cried into the pillow, keeping my mouth covered so he wouldn’t see me. Daddy gets sad when I cry, so I try to be a good girl.
In the two weeks since my birthday, Daddy has been a little quieter. I think it is partly cause Momma’s up on a big billboard advertising for the rodeo here in Little Rock. Every now and then I see him looking up at it.
Red is limping. He stumbled last Saturday and Daddy is worried. He has been riding Red since he was almost my age, and the poor old horse just isn’t as fast as he used to be. He don’t heal up as fast either. Daddy loves that horse as much as he loves me, though he swears he loves me more.
It’s okay, I love Red too. I leaned to ride on him and a girl never forgets her first.
I started my monthlies. Ms. Ferguson, the lady who runs the barrel races, I talked to her a couple of months ago about stuff. You know, girl stuff. I had tried to ask Daddy, but he got all red faced and embarrassed and it was all I could do not to laugh. It would have hurt his feelings, so I just asked Ms. Ferguson.
I knew, kinda, about periods and stuff. You are supposed to learn in school but Daddy home-schools me so he can follow the rodeo circuit. I heard stuff from other girls around the rodeo though, and I found some stuff on the internet. When I woke up with red spots in my panties and feeling kinda crampy and yucky, I snuck over to Ms. Ferguson’s trailer.
She was so nice, like a grandma or something. She marched me over to our trailer and woke Daddy up. She told him in no uncertain terms that she was taking me shopping and no, he had no say in the matter, that this was womens’ business.
Daddy kinda turned pale at that and his head snapped down, staring at me. Then he nodded, kinda slow-like, and went and grabbed his wallet. He handed Ms. Ferguson some money and off we went.
Gladys, that’s Ms. Ferguson, said to call her by her name now that I was a woman. It felt kinda nice, being treated all grown up and all, but it still felt weird calling her by her first name. She was really old, like forty or something.
We spent half an hour in the aisle that held all the woman’s products. Pads, pads with wings, panty liners, tampons, heavy, medium and light ... so many options! And the questions she asked me! I thought I would burst into flames, I was so embarrassed. Still, once she explained why she wanted to know, I guess it made sense, but someone should warn a kid first.
After we picked up some liners plus some tampons, I’d lost my thingy riding horseback a long time ago, we went out to celebrate. Gladys said that it was tradition for a young lady to celebrate her transition to womanhood. That was her term, not mine, in case you couldn’t guess. Still, ice cream is ice cream and I had me a banana split!
The months flew by and my fourteenth birthday passed. Didn’t run into Momma again, thank the Lord. No card or call either, but I hadn’t had those since my sixth birthday, so it wasn’t like it was a surprise.
Daddy got him a new horse and Ol’ Red, he don’t like it much. We had to trade in our trailer on a bigger one too, though it ain’t much bigger. Red and I spend a lot of time together now, with Daddy training up Daisy, the young mare. It seems to make Red happy that someone is paying attention, even if it isn’t Daddy.
We had to load up this evening. It was a long drive to Clark County. There was a big county fair and rodeo there, and I sure did love those. There would be livestock competitions and the midway and rides and fair food and clowns and townies to laugh at. I dearly loved all the excitement even if I been to them all over the south.
Daddy told me that he had made a special appointment for me there but wouldn’t say what it was all about. He was being all mysterious and said I would find out soon enough. I was betting on a lady parts doctor. If any topic could make Daddy clam up, it was talking about stuff like that. It was hilarious to see him turn red and stomp away.
I slept most of the way, waking up when we pulled to a stop to get gas. I would get out and check on the horses. At one of the stops, I thought Daddy was going to stomp a mud hole in some trucker’s chest when he tried to touch me. Things had gotten weird in spots with this whole alien deal. Still wasn’t so sure what to think about that.
I asked Daddy one time, but he told me not to worry about it too much. Kinda like the sun coming up in the morning, he said, there are some things you can’t change. All you gotta do is make sure they don’t change you. Still, I had to wonder.
Girls were dressing much more, um, showy. Like they was showing parts they oughn’ta show! They sure was openly flirting with Daddy a lot. He’s funny sometimes, the way he gets all red in the face.
He tries to protect me, to keep me his baby, I guess. You can’t grow up around the rodeo without know the basics of life. I knew about sex, and about some of the games people played. I seen more than one buckle bunny giving some cowpoke a hummer. It sure ain’t something I am looking forward to, but it isn’t like I get all traumatized.
The Clark County fair is something to see, let me tell you. The women seem to be out-doing themselves and competing to see who can show the most. It wasn’t even eight in the morning when we arrived and I saw three girls, not much older than me, walking around with just paint on their boobies!
There was older women too, though they tended to have at least a little bit of something on. The men, oh my lord. Some of the men had these ... things. These bulging things over their wieners like a sports cup but even bigger, like they was trying to advertise! I about bust a gut laughing at some kid about my age, swaggering around and thrusting his hips at every girl he saw.
Daddy looked distinctly uncomfortable, but there was supposed to be a surprisingly large purse for this roping event, and he said we could use the money.
We got the trailer set up and the horses out and penned. I made sure they were fed and had plenty of straw. A quick brush, mostly to calm them down and not because they needed much.
We both crawled into the trailer for a little more sleep. I had slept most of the way while Daddy drove, but sleeping in a truck seat is not good sleep, so a couple of hours in bed felt mighty nice.
When I woke up, Daddy was still asleep so I snuck out. Not snuck, snuck, like I wasn’t allowed, but so I wouldn’t wake him. Roping wasn’t until this evening under the lights in the big arena, so we had all day to catch up with rest and look around. I had some cash in my pocket and the midway was calling my name.
I took the long way round, checking out the 4-H displays and petting the little lambs and bunnies. I don’t think I would ever get too old to enjoy that. I got the eye from a couple of the boys, one with a young calf even offered to show me his breeding book back in his trailer.
What a moron! Cute calf though.
I didn’t actually play the games, I knew they were all rigged, but I loved watching people play them. I would stay back and watch, try to figure out how, exactly, the carnies cheated folks. Once or twice, I even sweet talked a carnie into showing me how win.
I had me a waffle all curled up into a cone and it had whipped cream and strawberry jam inside, then dusted with powdered sugar. Daddy would have grumped at me if he saw it, but I was a growing girl! Besides, he was asleep and what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me.
I saw things that I didn’t think were even legal. One girl dropped to her knees right there on the midway and started sucking on her guy. Right there in front of everyone! I saw another lady, kinda heavy-set and wearing too much makeup, pull a guy between the booths and, when I snuck close enough, I could see that she had rucked up her mini skirt and he was going to town like a prize bull. Huffing and puffing like one too!
I just covered my mouth and ran off before they caught me watching and laughing. I was too busy giggling and wasn’t watching where I was going when I ran smack into one of the biggest guys I ever seen! He was a good head or more taller than Daddy, and Daddy said he is six feet tall!
The big man seemed nice enough, he grinned down at me and helped me up off my butt. That man had been solid, like running into a lamp post or something!
“Careful now! You are small enough to get stepped on if you don’t watch out. You are way too cute to get hurt like that.” The man said, patting me on the head.
Now, normally, someone patting me on the head is likely to pull back a bleeding stump, but somehow, when he did it, it felt kinda nice. Still, I had my dignity.
“Hey, I am not a puppy!” I complained, pushing at his arm. I might as well have tried to push Ol’ Red when he was balky.
“I know, sweetheart. You remind me of one of my girls, I guess I kind of miss them. Sorry if I offended you.” Well I’ll be.
“It’s okay. You didn’t mean nothing.”
I saw the big man go all rigid, his head snapping up and looking around. He went from being just a huge, cuddly guy to being a huge, scary guy in a heartbeat.
“You should find your family, young lady. Things are about to get really busy.”
He had no more than said that than the sky went all funny-like. It turned gray and, as I turned in place, the whole ... it dawned on me what I was seeing. It was a ... what did they, oh yeah, a pickup!
This was a confederacy pickup, just like they talked about on TV! I had to find Daddy!
Some people were yelling and screaming, running around in circles and making fools of themselves. Others looked determined and were moving with purpose, several of them just as big and just as focused as that man back there...
Duh! He had been a Marine, he had to be! I can’t believe a Marine patted me on the head like a puppy, how embarrassing!
As I ran, I could hear an announcement over the huge speakers on the buildings and in the stands.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please! You are about to participate in a historic experiment -- in an effort to speed things, we plan to attempt to fill a transport today from this site! Please remain calm and cooperate with my troops -- they can be identified by their armbands. We have a lot of work to do and can’t really put up with anything serious in the way of a disturbance, so I’m asking you now to follow our instructions and try not to start any trouble -- and I think you’ll be pleased with the results!”