the short story project


Haley Burns

A Step Into the Unknown

Every day was perfect. Just like a dream. Life on the farm was everything that me, Papa, and Mother could ask for. Every morning we would wake up and be fed by the gentle, old farmer. His voice cracked when he talked, but all of us animals knew that it meant food and friendship. For he spent time with each and every one of the farm’s members. The man would give slop to the pigs, hay to the horses and goats, seeds to the chickens, and barley straw to us donkeys.

After breakfast, everyone would be let out into the pastures to graze and exercise, or so the human would call it. A leather piece of material would be placed on the horses’ backs one by one. The human would climb on the equines and make them trot and lope around the pasture. Some horses didn’t mind being ridden, but others tried every possible way to avoid it.

“Don’t put that on me, old man!” The youngest of the group would neigh at the elderly man every day. And every day, that seat-like object got placed on his back as the farmer talked calmly to the horse that resisted his exercise.

All the while that the larger hooved animals got their exercise, I often raced the pony up and down the pasture. On days that she didn’t feel like racing, I would run alongside the farmer’s horse as he made them lope. It was quite a fun game to see if I could keep up with my larger relatives.

Later in the afternoon, I often played with the goats, jumping and kicking around and braying while they made their chuckling sounds. We would then all gather around the fence to watch the Australian Shepherd dog round up all the sheep for the evening. Soon after, it would be our turn to return to the barn. Mother, Papa, and I all shared a pen. Once Papa lay down on the hay covered ground, I would jump over his back again and again. That is, until Mother told me to settle down. I would watch as she folded her legs up underneath her and lowered her brown body to the ground. My body then followed as I always curled up right next to Mother. She would lick my ears and black mane as I fell asleep.

“Time to get up, Penelope.” She would say softly to me each and every morning. Sometimes I stayed curled up on the ground for a few extra minutes. Papa would nibble on my tail if he felt that I was taking too long to get up. My family and I trotted out into the yard like normal that day, completely unaware of what was to come that very afternoon.

During my race with the pony, I heard some commotion coming from the cow pasture. My legs slowed to a stop as my long ears shifted in their direction.

“What’s going on?” The pony asked as she trotted back to me.

“Let’s go find out!” I replied with a curious flick of my tail. Our two brown bodies loped up to the left side of our pasture. I poked my white muzzle through the crack between the wooden boards as I listened to the bovines gossip.

“Is it really coming this way?” A black and white cow asked.

“Yeah, the rooster said so himself.” Another answered.

“Perhaps they will just pass by.” The first said, sounding optimistic.

“Recruiters never pass up a farm!” A brown cow interjected. “No matter how small the plantation may be.”

“So, who will be staying and who will be going?” The second questioned. “I sure hope it won’t be me!”

“No worries, dear. I heard the rooster say that long-horn bulls were following the wagons.” Black ears twitched as the first one explained further. “If anyone leaves, it will be Bruiser.”

Bruiser was the big bull that lived on the farm. He was big, black, and so very muscular! His eyes followed anything that moved. Sometimes he chased people or things, pointing his horns at them. I had learned quickly not to mess with the big guy. The one and only time I approached him, he snorted in my direction and pawed the ground with one of his hooves. From then on, I knew not to go near Bruiser.

But why would Bruiser leave the farm? Was he not happy here? Where would these wagons take him? And what were long-horn bulls? These were all questions that spiraled in my head. I removed my snout from between the boards and looked to the pony.

“Do you know what they’re talking about?” I questioned her.

“I think maybe your Papa would be able to explain these things better than I could.” She snorted friendly.

I immediately trotted my way up to Papa with my many questions.

“Papa, what are wagons, recruiters, and long-horn bulls?” My tail flicked back and forth, eager for the answers.

“Whoa! Slow down there, Penny!” He brayed. “Where did you hear all of those words?”

“The cows were saying that wagons were coming this way.” I pointed my ears toward the cow pasture as I explained.

“The cows, eh?” He asked, shifting his ears backward.

“Yes, Papa.”

“Well, “ My Papa started with a chuckle. “Recruiters ride in wagons, traveling from farm to farm looking for animals to fit their working needs.”

“Working needs?”

“Yes. If they are looking for animals with pure strength, then bulls are their best bet. They often recruit donkeys for their stamina and intelligence. And horses for speed, as you can imagine.” His gray fur twitched in delight as he explained just a few of the many things that existed in the outside world.

“Oh. I think I get it!” My tail whipped back and forth from this new knowledge.

“The cows say that these wagons have long-horn bulls attached to them, right?”
I nodded.

“So, if they recruited anyone from here, it would most likely be Bruiser. These folks probably wouldn’t be interested in donkeys. Don’t you worry about a thing, sweetie. You just go have some fun!” Papa whinnied.

I then resumed my race with the pony, forgetting anything to do with the approaching wagons.

A little while later, while I was practicing sprints with my best pony friend, I heard the farmer’s voice. It was talking to two other human voices that I didn’t recognize. Their footsteps approached our fence.

“That donkey’s sure fast! It has great potential!” A gruff voiced echoed across the field.

“Yes, that Penelope’s sure playful!” The farmer replied. “The little girl runs every day. Makes me tired just watching her.”

“And those are the parents?” Another unknown voice asked.

“Yes, sir.” Our old man casually replied.

“How much would you take for all the donkeys?” The gruff voiced man said shortly.

“Oh, Penelope and her folks are not for sale.”

I stopped short when I heard the farmer say my name twice in the same minute. My ears twitched in a curious fashion as I stared at the humans. I trotted over to the fence to get a better look at these strange men. The farmer cupped my head in his hands as he stared me in the eyes. His fingers were gentle as they brushed through my fur. Once he stopped petting me, I looked to the man standing next to him. A flat hat covered his hair and a bushy black mustache rested above his lips. He seemed to be chewing on something.

“Here, girl.” The man held out a hand toward my head. I quickly stepped back as a bunch of smells flooded my nostrils. He reeked of smoke, grease, and a lot of other odors I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t impressed by this man’s smell and turned my head to the left to avoid his touch. The third man chuckled as his friend missed me.

“Animals don’t like your smell. Perhaps you should wash more often.” The man said. Unlike the mustached man, this one had a hat like the farmer’s and ropes attached to his belt, as well as a black one. I wasn’t sure why this one looked different.

“Ha ha, you’re very funny.” The gruff voiced human said. But it didn’t sound like he actually meant it. “I think she could make me a pretty penny. Are you sure you won’t sell them?”

“Even if I wanted to sell them, I don’t think you would ever get a rope around them.” The farmer explained.

“I can get a rope around any animal!” The third human boasted.

“Very well. If you can get a rope around all three of them, I’ll sell ‘em.”

I looked from the farmer to the cowboy man. An uncomfortable feeling started to settle into my chest. Something was not right here. I started to back away as my ears drooped. The human climbed over the fence and into our pasture. He unhooked one of the ropes from his belt. The human started to twirl it above his head as he strode toward me. I watched as the rope was tossed toward my head. Flattening my ears and ducking my head down, I scampered away from the cowboy man. He missed. The man uttered a couple words under his breath that I couldn’t understand. Just as the human bent down to pick up the rope, Papa ran towards the man faster than I had ever seen him move.

“Whoa!” The cowboy squealed as he dove back over the fence, collapsing onto the ground. Even his hat fell off. Papa hung his head over the fence and yelled at the scared human.

“Stay away from my daughter!” He brayed loudly. I felt Mother approach me from behind as she nuzzled my neck. Mother tried to push me away from the fence and that human that wanted to rope me. Papa snorted at the man before joining us back in the pasture.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” I heard the farmer say. “Buck’s very protective of his girls.”

“I’m just warming up.” The other man retorted as I heard him stand up and brush off his clothes, returning the hat to his head. Papa whipped his attention back around when the man’s boots landed in our territory once more. His eyes narrowed and ears slanted back as the human challenged him once more.

“Come now, Buck. Don’t make this hard on me.” The human called to my Papa. Mother left my side for a second and dashed toward the human from behind. I watched as her teeth closed around the man’s bottom as she raced by.

“Yee-ow!” The cowboy screamed as he seized that body part with his hands. “I’m starting to see why these things are called asses.” Farmer and the gruff voice human roared with laughter at this. I found this funny, too. My body swayed forwards and back as I let out honks of laughter. My laughter faded when I realized the human charged toward Papa, twirling the rope over his head again. We all watched as Papa’s gray body turned around and easily ran out of the man’s reach. The rope fell to the ground a second time. I saw Mother eyeing the rope as if she wanted to snatch it away from the cowboy.

“I wanna have some fun, too!” I brayed and loped my way over to the rope. Scooping it up in my teeth, I kept running.

“Yikes!” The man yelped as his body pitched to the ground. I could feel the chunky object dragging along the ground as I ran. Mother and Papa joined in with the humans’ laughter. The cowboy kept making noises of panic as I slowed down and sped up. I dropped the rope once I got bored of pulling my new toy around. My body trotted back towards my parents with a big smile on my face. Papa went toward the human. I knew he meant to get rid of the meddlesome rope. His teeth almost grabbed the rope when the cowboy forced the loop around my Papa’s neck. He brayed in surprise and reared up on his hind legs. The human quickly tied the rope to the fence.

“That’s one!” He boasted, wiping sweat off his forehead. Mother snorted in anger and raced toward the man. The two-legged creature jumped back when her teeth closed right in front of his chest. She then proceeded to try to chew through the rope on Papa’s neck.

“No, Aria! Run away!” He said, trying to push her away with his muzzle. I watched as a second rope was slipped around Mother’s neck. She brayed and tried to pull the binding device out of the human’s hands. The man promptly tied her to the fence, too.

I had been standing there in complete shock at what was happening. But then I realized that I needed to do something. I had to save my parents somehow!
My body raced up to the human. I then closed my teeth around the cowboy’s arm.

“Ouch!” It yelled. “Well, aren’t you the spunky little one? But I think we can break that…” The man’s hand, covered with thick brown cloth, aggressively grabbed my ears.

“Ow!” I squealed. “Stop! Those are sensitive!” I let go and backed away from the human as its grip released as well.

“Run, Penelope!” Papa hollered to me. I didn’t hesitate to turn tail and get away from the human.

I’ll jump the fence and go get help! I thought.

A lash of pain seared across my back. I brayed in pain as my body fell to the ground. With my eyes squeezed shut, I felt a rope get slipped around my neck. A muffled noise of my parents braying to me reached my ears. I slowly lifted my head up and saw the black rope in the cowboy’s other hand. Whatever that thing did to me stung like fire on my fur.

“Well, I suppose a deal’s a deal.” The farmer said and got handed something. “Just please don’t use the whip on poor Penelope again, okay?”

And just like that, we were ushered to the wagons, never to see our beloved farm ever again. I heard the pony neigh in my direction as I was herded away. Where we were going, none of us knew. I asked some of the long-horn bulls, but they didn’t seem to know either. The horns on these bulls were probably five times the size of Bruiser’s.

Our peaceful life on the farm had come to an end. We were to start anew somewhere else. For it was going to be a long walk, and I would experience the many wonderful and awful things that were present in the world. My ears drooped as I watched the farm disappear from my sight. There went my perfect life and all my friends…

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