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Letter From America: Four Pairs Of Boots

"I watched incredulously as he sidled through the door, as spiders do, then he sat down on his haunches and pulled on the four pairs of boots...'' Fancy seeing such a thing, just as you are settling down to sleep. Ronnie Bray calls this piece "imaginative fiction''. Be it fact or be it fiction, Ronnie is invariably vastly entertaining.

I heard the thud, and ignored it at first. I had many strange noises since I had arrived at Broken Tree Ranch in Big Sky country. This would be just one more, I thought, turning over to return to sleep. Silence. I dozed; almost reaching that pleasing state where the aches of the day don’t hurt any more, and you can fly if you want to.

Ken and Kathe Campbell couldn’t have been nicer to us when we arrived an hour late at their place. The weather had been unusually good even for Montana in July, and as we rounded the mountain trail, we saw the smoke from their log cabin right across the river. By the time we got there, the fire had just about finished the place off and it was just embers. Not that I minded swimming across the river, but I don’t believe I would have gotten there as fast if the bear hadn’t been on my tail.

"We were fixin’ the barbecue," started Ken.

"I thought you meant one of them brick things when you said you’d have a barbecue for us," I said, "Not go to the trouble of burning the whole place down.

"That was a mistake," said Kathe, laying her hand on Ken’s arm.

"Enthusiasm did it." Said Ken, shifting the spatula to his left hand to shake his ‘Hello.’ "I don’t usually use firelighters, but we were plumb out of gas and Jim Bob at the gas station in town called ahead and said that he’d seen two strange looking folk in a rental, so we knew you was coming."

"Sure burned well, though," said Kathe shifting a huge piece of charcoal with her foot.

"Well," said Ken, "Won’t you come in?"

At this, Kathe took the spatula from him and hit him squarely between the eyes. "Come in where?" she demanded. "You jes burned the whole place down!"

There was an uneasy silence. "Have we come at an inconvenient time?" I offered.

"No" said Ken and, "Yes" said Kathe, in chorus – somewhat together.

I thought about suggesting that we called in another time, but I had just seen the bear drive off in the rental. There was a new tape in the cassette player as well. A Jim Reeves compilation that we hadn’t heard all the way through.

"Apart from that," chimed in Gay, "How’s your day been?"

"We could gather round the fire," said Ken, pointing to the glowing ashes with the spatula he had wrested from Kathe after a short but intense scuffle to prevent a repeat of the earlier bashing, "and sing campfire songs."

"Good job you’ve got the spatula!" said Kathe, with meaning on her face that couldn’t be discounted or mistaken for anything pleasant.

A couple of donkeys ambled up to the fence and dropped their heads over it, resting their necks on the wire. One of them was smiling, and the other let out a long, low chuckle that he cleverly disguised as a sneeze.

Kathe took the spatula from Ken. He was distracted and didn’t put up a fight. Walking over to the donkeys, she shooed them with the spatula. I didn’t think the shoes would stay on for long. You can’t get much force with a spatula, although Ken might not agree.

"Looks like the stable for us tonight," said Ken, with what I thought was a note of despondency in his voice. "We’ll move some of the critters out."

"What about the …" said Kathe, mouthing the last word so’s we wouldn’t hear.

"They won’t bother us tonight," said Ken, "There’s too much smoke. They don’t like smoke."

Kathe just looked as if she knew different, and the subject was dropped. I looked at Gay and she looked at me and we both wondered what the … were and how hard they bit. Kathe had dropped a small hint in one of her e-mails.

"If there was any danger they’d have told us," I muttered into Gay’s ear, so the Campbells couldn’t hear our concerns.

We all walked towards the stable, went in, and sat down. Ken disappeared and came back five minutes later with a huge rabbit pie. The crust was golden brown and it smelled delicious.

"How do you get the crust to stay up?" asked Gay.

"I breed hunch backed rabbits," said Ken. Gay nodded as if she understood but didn’t believe him.

"These were in the brick oven by the side of the fireplace," volunteered Ken. "It was the coolest place in the house when it set fire." They were perfectly cooked. We ate in silence. There had been a tragedy and the donkey had laughed.

After dinner, Ken and Kathe seemed more composed and the fire was quickly forgotten. Some exotic and beautiful creatures were turned out into the paddock for the night and clean straw was laid for beds.

The barn was a big red thing; the sort that used to be on the front of the Saturday Post when they were not showing grim farmers looking for someone to bite.

We talked about England, the Euro, mad cow disease, and Tony Blair’s drunken son. We discussed the NRA, the MOM, and whether the right to bare arms led to sunburn. Then, we decided to turn in. We had a cabin to build in the morning!

As I entered the barn, I had noticed four pairs of tiny boots standing in serried ranks by the door. I imagined that these belonged either to their grandchildren, or to some of the local elves. They really looked quite too small to be work by children. Still, some American children are very petite, due to eating multiple Hershey Bars. I had heard so much about them, but when I tried one I thought it was one of them jokes that you get from the novelty store to trick your friends. Children that eat them in any quantity wouldn’t grow very big. Perhaps the boots were theirs.

By now, Gay was sleeping; her steady breathing filling the barn with her sonorous hum that was pitched just right to keep mosquitoes away. That’s when I heard the thud. As I said, I ignored it at first. The night was full of noises and I didn’t know enough of my surroundings to discriminate between all the possibilities – including some very scary ones – that teemed in my head.

I nestled down. What was that? Was that some sort of scuffling? If it was, what was it that was scuffling? I listened. Listening hard will wake you up, and this woke me up. I saw the barn door move slightly, heard a sort of grunt, and through the partially opened door a shaft of moonlight came that illuminated the whole scene.

Gay, Ken, and Kathe slept on, unaware of what was happening. The thud was made by the biggest spider I had ever seen, dropping down from the hayloft just above my head. In the morning, I found eight indentations in the ground about a foot away from my pillow. This was a big fellow and it was he who had pulled open the door about six inches.

I watched incredulously as he sidled through the door, as spiders do, then he sat down on his haunches and pulled on the four pairs of boots.

"That makes sense," I told myself.

Just then, he turned and looked me dead in the eyes. A glint in the moon’s reflected light told me that he was salivating. Then, I remembered Kathe’s warning about being bitten by a spider.

Septimus, started walking towards me, his boot heels clicking on the hard ground. I didn’t know what to do. I had never been in this situation before.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I pulled the blanket over my head and waited. Surely, I thought, no spider could bite through a horse blanket!

Then it happened. I felt eight strong kicks at the back of my head – well, to tell the truth, I only felt five. That’s when I blacked out, but I figured that having given me five, Septimus would probably have given me the other three for good measure. In the morning, my head felt like it had had eight of the best from the bad-tempered creature.

I said nothing to Kathe about the incident. She must have known that things like that go on at her ranch, and she must have seen the four pairs of boots, but she had only said that



She didn’t say anything about only being nearly kicked to death by a giant one!

Ronnie Bray © 2005

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