It was either a thick mist or a dense fog, he couldn't be sure which, but it kept him from looking at the watch he wasn't wearing. Someone crept up behind him and placed a white ten gallon hat on his head and whispered "yee haw" in his left ear. Startled, he jumped forward and then convinced himself to settle down. This was just some kind of a weird dream.
"We're not really hiring, but you can have your choice of two jobs. Horse thief or mysterious guitar strumming folk singer."
These didn't sound like very good choices. After mulling it over a bit, he figured being a horse thief might be more exciting but he wasn't sure he felt like walking into a hanging. The folk singer bit was more disturbing. He doubted he could deliver without delving into the deeply sarcastic. What kind of songs would he sing?
"There is a room in the back of the Blackjack Saloon where men sit and listen to Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands and think about it."
There was no answer to his question, just a quiet laugh from the unseen stranger. "What is your name?"
"They call me Danny."
"Here you will be known as Breckinridge the Horse Thief."
A gnarled, weather beaten hand appeared out of the mist and handed Breckinridge the Horse Thief a plastic tube. The voice told him to look through one end of it and to tap the tube periodically. As Breckinridge did so, images appeared, and with each tap of the cylinder the images changed. They were captured moments from his life, ones he knew had never been photographed, and yet existed powerfully in his memory. The images fascinated him and he could not look away. How could these pictures exist, in three dimensional, very lifelike visuals through this simple tube. The gnarled hand patted him on the back.
"Welcome to Rancho Nuevo."
By the time Breckinridge the Horse Thief was done peering through the looking glass, the fog had lifted. He stood in front of a dilapidated saloon over which was a sign reading Blackjack Saloon. Curious, he strolled across the wooden beams that made up the front deck of the wooden building, his spurs jangling with each step, and approached the door. He adjusted his cowboy hat, pushed open the swinging door and walked into the tavern. The bartender, with one lazy eye wandering and the other watching Breckinridge's every move, immediately offered him a drink. Breckinridge accepted the shot of tequila that was offered and reached eagerly for some of the bar's famous jerky, which was kept in a jar on the bar and offered free of charge. Then Breckinridge walked over to the table in the back where four men were playing blackjack, smoking cigars, cursing loudly and fondling the Mexican waitress at every available opportunity. Breckinridge stood and watched for several minutes before they acknowledged his presence.
"What do you want, fuck monkey?"
"I don't think there is any call for that kind of language. Why don't you leave the young lady alone? I don't think she appreciates you putting your greasy hands on her."
"Actually, I do,"
reported the waitress.
"That is a bad point of view. I am here to help you. I am here to listen, understand and sometimes make sarcastic remarks that you may or may not take in the spirit in which they were intended. Notice my white hat. You don't have to be afraid."
One of the card players stood up, guffawed and pushed Breckinridge down. Shaking his head, he went back to the table and dealt the next hand. The dazed Breckinridge picked up his hat, got back on his feet and grabbed the hand of the beautiful Mexican barmaid. "We are going, senorita," he told her with a voice of authority.
"No one ever escapes Rancho Nuevo,"
warned the bartender.
"There is always a first time for everything. If you try to stop me I will return here and raze the bar."
Breckinridge was surprised that no one followed him out of the bar. Looking back, he saw the card players fully engrossed in their game. A blonde topless waitress had appeared to take the place of the Mexican woman now under Breckinridge's care. He had accomplished nothing, aside from taking responsibility for one of Rancho Nuevo's lost souls.
"You are responsible for my fate now,"
the Mexican girl warned him.
"It is the way of things here."
Breckinridge was starting to realize his foolishness. By coming into a new place and not thinking that they might have their own rules, he had put himself in an unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous position. He knew he should have hung around for a while and studied the people of this place, their manner and their behavior. Unfortunately, he had fallen victim to jumping first and asking why later. Now he was staring into the chest of a headless sheriff and his diminutive deputy while both pointed six shooters at him.
"Moved up from stealing horses to stealing whores, eh, Breckinridge?"
There was a river of blood flowing down the dirt road that cut through the center of Rancho Nuevo. Fires were burning everywhere and the heat was becoming unbearable. Breckinridge's Mexican barmaid was casually getting undressed and throwing her clothes into a fifty-five gallon barrel of oil. She stepped out into the street and knelt in the flowing blood. She raised her hands to the sky and begged forgiveness while screaming out "Hallelujah!"
Rancho Nuevo is unfriendly to newcomers.
Breckinridge closed his eyes and prepared for the worst, but it was not yet over. The sound of horse hooves battering the dirt roadway was fast approaching. A man who was no more than a pile of bones in a greasy black cloak was whipping his horse and riding ever closer. The spectre of death was making its entrance and using its long bony fingers, it arranged its mouth into a smile.
"Future come to me
Baby, come to me
Can't you see?
Our love was meant to be
Just you and me
Don't you want to be?"
Breckinridge's eyes darted back and forth between the headless sheriff, the woman in the street and the love song crooning, horse riding skeleton. None of these options seemed very desirable, especially with the way the cloaked rider sounded all too much like a perfect impersonation of Joni Mitchell singing second rate piano lounge tripe. The streets were coming to life. Tiny little gnomes were crawling out from under buildings with pick axes. They were yelling incoherently and overwhelming Breckinridge's eardrums with the racket of their madness.
"I have to find a new travel agent."
Finally, having had enough, he screamed out in frustration and took the hand of the skeleton and told him to ride out of this place as fast as possible.
"Got some ruby slippers for you if you really want to go home."
Breckinridge sighed deeply and reached for his magical tube. Looking through at moments from his life he wished he could return to them and start again. This Rancho Nuevo place was not his cup of clam chowder. The horse picked up speed and outraced the wind. Everything began to lose consistency and Breckinridge the Horse Thief felt himself being pulled into the view tube and returning to the places he was familiar with. Places where he knew and understood the rules.
He wondered if he would get to keep the white hat.
The Rancho Nuevo Series: