Clippety clop, clippety clop, clippety clop went Blurtso on his happy little hoofs as he started up the hill. The stones in the road were rough and uneven, but Blurtso hardly noticed as he skipped along his way. Clippety clop, clippety clop, clippety… clop… clippety… clop… clippety… clippety… clop… clop… clop… clop… clop… as the hill grew steeper Blurtso could feel the pull in his haunches and the pull in his shoulders and the setting sun made an orange glow on the inside of his ears. Clop clop clop clop clop… whew! thought Blurtso as he looked at the darkening road in front of him. The uneven stones cast little shadows on the other uneven stones, and Blurtso cast a big shadow that made his legs look long and slender. When the sun was gone he saw a light up the hill.
As he made his way up the ever-steepening road he could no longer see the stones that clopped beneath him, and his hoofs became less audible with the pounding in his temples and chest, and the puffing that came from his lungs. When he reached the light he discovered it was the light of a store. He paused for a moment to catch his breath and let the breeze cool the sweat on his back and his sides, then he peeked in the door and saw a man drinking a drink, and another man sitting on a stool. Just then a mule clippety clopped to where Blurtso was standing and stopped to let its riders dismount. Burtso was astonished that the animal was not breathing hard and gave off no scent of sweat. The man and woman who were riding the mule went into the shop for a moment and could not be seen. Then Blurtso saw them at the counter with a bag of potatoes and the man on the stool rose to attend them. Blurtso heard their voices and there appeared to be a problem. The coins the couple had put on the counter were not sufficient to pay for the potatoes. There was a pause as the man and the woman and the shopkeeper stared at the coins on the table, then stared at the potatoes, then stared at the coins. They stood a long time until the man who had been drinking reached out and put more coins on the table. The figures that had been frozen broke into life and began to smile and chatter and nod to the stranger. Then the man and the woman took their potatoes and said good night to the shopkeeper, nodded to the stranger, and left the store. Blurtso felt the excitement of the couple as they stood next to him, tying their potatoes to the back of their mule, but instead of mounting the animal as Blurtso had expected, the couple stood and waited. When the man who had supplied the coins emerged from the shop the man and the woman who were waiting nodded to him and said, “Gracias.” The man smiled and nodded back, then started up the hill. The couple mounted their mule and started down the hill.
Blurtso waited until he could neither hear nor see the people nor the mule, and while he waited he looked at the lights of the town in the valley below.
What are you doing with so many pumpkins? said Blurtso. We’re swapping them, said Pablo, for food and supplies… the cellar is already full. Is Harlan coming tonight? Yes, said Blurtso, he and Alexandra are taking the train. Good, said Pablo. I hope they like pumpkin pie.
What a lovely cabin, said Alex. Yes, said Harlan, it’s very sturdy. I’m glad you like it, said Pablo, Bonny and I are happy you could come. How long have you lived here? said Alex. Seven months, said Bonny. Do you miss the city? said Alex. Boston? said Bonny. No, not really. Concord has all we need. Like what? said Alex. Like paints and canvass, said Bonny. We produce everything else. What do you do for entertainment? said Alex. We sing, said Bonny, or read, or tell stories around the fire. That sounds great, said Harlan. Can we hear a story tonight? Of course, said Bonny, Pablo knows some really scary ones. Scary? said Harlan. Yes, said Bonny, but not too scary… Ditto gets nightmares.
Once upon a time, not long ago, there was a donkey, a giraffe, an elephant, and an insane woodsman.
That’s far enough, said Blurtso, drawing a line on the ground with the edge of his hoof. The sand was dry and sun-baked and he had to scrape the surface several times before the mark was visible. That’s far enough, he repeated, and the others remained on their side of the line. Blurtso remained on his side as well, looking up at the others then looking down at the ground. The sun that had baked the ground was hot and began to bake Blurtso and continued to bake the ground. One by one the others walked away. Then there was only Blurtso, the sun, and the ground…
Ooops, said Blurtso, as he let his hoof slip across the line he had drawn in the sand. Ooops, he said, as another hoof crossed, followed by his haunches, his rump, and his stumpy little tail. Ooops, he said, turning and sweeping the line with his boxing-glove nose, then stamping and stomping and tromping until there was no mark left at all. Very good, thought Blurtso, as he surveyed his work and considered his new-found freedom. Freedom? he thought, looking in the direction where the others had gone. Wait for me! he cried, scampering off to join them.