by Jay O'Toole
This homage to C.S. Lewis imagines life for Shasta & Bree on the Oregon Trail.
|"Mudflap and his youthful ward rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The End." Shasta recounted the ending of his tall tale of the American Wild West with widening smile that stretched across his beaming face.
"Who's this Mudflap in your story?" Bree probed bemused in an slightly offended manner with a wry smile. "Is he anyone I know?"
"Behave, Bree, this road we're traveling to Oregon is long, boring and dusty," Shasta poked him back. "My more-than-adequate imagination has to do something to fill these lonely hours to stay awake. I need to keep this wagon on the trail."
"Who needs to keep this wagon on the trail?" Bree brayed. "I don't see you offering to help me pull this heavy load!"
"That's insane, Bree! I'm just a boy! I can't pull half the weight that you can pull!" Shasta had made his point, but Bree still snorted up a huge cloud of dust from the trail under his hooves.
"Well, at least your rations are less glamorous than they were back in Archenland," Bree chewed the words under his breath.
"I eat what I must. Just as you do, Bree," spat Prince Cor, (known on the trail only as "Shasta.") "Human food does not serve you well. Horse food does not serve me at all."
Bree reared and back peddled.
"What is it, Friend?" Shasta asked.
"The ground, it moves my dear prince!" trembled Bree.
"Take three more steps backward and stop, Bree," Shasta ordered. "I'll check it out."
"BLAM!" roared the shotgun.
"'Tis a good thing that my dear father, King Lune, urged us to take a double-barrel shotgun on this little adventure of ours!" smiled the excited Shasta. "That, Dear Bree, was fifteen-foot-long American rattlesnake. He will give us no more trouble, but mind your steps, since he no doubt has quite a large extended family."
"BREEEEEEEE!" cried the horse. "I should not like to meet another of his equal, Dear Boy! Are you sure this is the only way to that mysterious country of Oregon?"
"Good cheer, my Mane Man!" quipped Shasta. "In the American Wild West something is always afoot. Tread lightly and we'll be alright! I swear it!"
"I'll take your word for it for now," said Bree, "but walking past that once-living rope with deadly teeth does not fill my heart with peace."
"Look on the bright side!" Shasta said. "We left on this journey from the land of Missouri in the middle of May. It's just now the middle of July, and we've got to be over half way to Oregon. You remember. We stopped to enjoy the Shoshone Falls a few days ago. Yesterday, we crossed the Snake River at the Three Island Crossing because the water table was low."
"Yes, but that rattlesnake was on the high side of the road!" Bree moaned. "Now, I don't feel safe!"
"Let it go! Let it go! Don't look at that snake any more! Let it go! Let it go! Just look West and go through that open Door!" sang Shasta, while Bree gave him a cold stare that left him almost Frozen.
"Oh, for crying out loud!" brayed Bree. "I hate that song! Besides, it hasn't even been written yet! I get your point, but would you please change the Play List?"
"Sure I can! But it worked, didn't it?"
"Yes, you funny little man! Now, where to, Navigator?"
"Let's see. Teapot Dome Hot Springs is the first point on the North Trail to Fort Boise," Shasta assured him. "It's only midmorning. We should be able to stop for water at the hot springs and push towards Fort Boise by nightfall. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure, but the sooner the better," Bree said. "My hooves are starting to feel sore. Do you think we could rest at the fort all day tomorrow? I should be better by the next day."
"Of course, Bree!" Shasta agreed. "If it wasn't for you, I would still be a slave in the home of Arsheesh, instead living as the prince that I rightfully am. You are my friend, not my property. Thank you for pulling this wagon so willingly!"
"You are most welcome, my Young Friend," said Bree. "I have come to love you almost as much as the colt I have never foaled."
"Thank you, Bree. You would be a good father," Shasta assured him. "The road seems to be so long! It doesn't feel like we'll ever get there."
"Chin up, Young One! Have courage!" Bree joyed. "I have no doubt that we will make it to Oregon before the first leaf changes its color! Now, how did that last line go, again?"
"What last line?" Shasta asked.
"The last line of your story, Young One, is the line I wish to hear, again," Bree said. "If you will read it to me, then I will ever be so pleased."
"Yes! Yes, of course! That is the thing to do!" shouted Shasta. "Maybe we can rewrite it together. The time will pass more quickly, and we will not be focusing on the difficulties of the way. Good show, Dear Bree!"
"Uh,...the line,...could you read it?"
"Of course! I was forgetting," Shasta confessed. "Here it is! 'Mudflap and his youthful ward rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The End.'"
"What do you mean by the phrase, '...to live happily ever after'?" Bree asked.
"Well, you know, everything seemed to work out well for them for the rest of their lives," said Shasta.
"Do we know anybody like this, Dear One?" Bree was confused. "You just shot a rattlesnake. Last week it was the man with the reddish skin, who was only wearing a loincloth, for shame. Do you remember what he did to us?"
"Yes, he stopped us to ask if we had any Grey Poupon, right before slashing your right front leg with a knife, shooting an arrow into your side, and winging me with another arrow," Shasta remembered. "We'd have been in a bad fix, if Aslan hadn't shown up to scare him off and to heal our wounds with his tongue."
"Exactly! If life is this hard on the trail," Bree asked, "can there possibly be any place on Earth that is totally trouble free?"
"I hadn't thought about that, Bree! Where do we go with the story now?" asked Shasta.
"How about this?" offered Bree. "'Mudflap and his youthful ward rode off into the sunset to live through whatever they might face, enjoying the company of each other for as long as they would live. This is the Beginning of so many wonderful adventures to come.'"
"I like that, Bree," said Shasta. "I always wondered why so many writers stuck the words, 'The End' on the last page of their stories. It didn't seem quite right, but I'm not one to buck trends, even if the status quo isn't working. Remember? You saved me!"
"I do, indeed! That's why I'm saving you, again!" declared Bree. "This time I'm saving your story writing!"
"Thank you so much, but is there anything else?"
"Yes! As a matter of fact, I do have one rather large bone to pick!" frowned Bree. "Where did you dig up the name, 'Mudflap' for a horse? I can't imagine any self-respecting equestrian breed, who would suffer the bearing of such a name!"
At this Bree stumbled through a rather wide muddy ditch that lay across the trail, coming to a halt on the other side. This meant that Shasta sat bemused in his wagon on one side of the ditch, trying not to laugh, while four legs and the underside of Bree looked like chocolate horse on the other side. "Oh. I don't know. Maybe I just have a good imagination."
"Very funny, Young One," Bree glared. "Would you like me to pull you slowly through this ditch? Or would you like me to plop a chocolate 'crown' on your head,...Hmmmmm?"
"I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Buddy," Shasta said. "Please, go slowly. I'll work at getting you all clean, when we pull the wagon through."
After much "elbow grease" and an hour's worth of time, the two were ready to look for the town of Teapot Dome Hot Springs.
"Alright, you've convinced me as to why the horse was named, 'Mudflaps,'" Bree groused, "but don't ever write an illustration like that into your story ever, again. Okay? You write and I experience. I don't like that combination."
"We're losing light fast!" Bree nosed the horizon. "Do you think we could look for a safe place to stay in Hot Springs? Maybe, if I rest for what's left of this day, then I can start fresh tomorrow."
"That'll work!" agreed Shasta.
A couple of hours later the wagon of Bree and Shasta lumbered into the little town of Teapot Dome Hot Springs.
"Before too long all the buildings in town will start to silhouette against the sunset sky," Shasta thought, out loud.
"Then finding a safe place to shelter for the night is our first order of business," Bree reminded him.
Almost in unison they saw the large sign, "SALOON" above a pair of winged half-doors. As thy crept toward the wooden crossbar for tying up Bree's lead rope, a man flew through the wings landing his nearly flawless swan-dive into the watering trough without so much as one drop landing on the ground. "I'll give that man a '10!' How about you, Shasta?" Bree laughed.
"Very funny, my good Sir," Shasta misted his response. "Watch your back, while I try to get directions to the nearest safe place to homestead for the night."
About ten minutes later Shasta ran out to Bree beaming from ear to ear with apparently good news. "The bartender said that we could park in the clearing next to the hot springs. He charged me only a silver dollar."
"That's a might steep, Young One, isn't it?" asked Bree.
"On a normal day, it would be!" Shasta assured him, "but today with safety and rest at a premium, it's totally worth that!"
Sunset wrapped the town in hues of red, orange and yellow. The night engulfed the weary travelers, tucking them into a warm and cozy blanket. The boy and his equestrian friend shared some salt pork, a few mouthfuls of bread each and some wet, sticky honeycomb that Shasta had found on the trail earlier in the day. "What's a few bee stings between friends?" Shasta whispered into Bree's ear.
Supper started to make their eyes heavy. Shasta knew he had to work before sleep overtook him. Therefore, he made a bed of fresh hay for Bree with enough straw left over for him to stretch out his bedroll beside his dear friend. The night sky twinkled from horizon to horizon with shooting stars giving them a big thrill every few minutes as the Whippoorwill's created a pleasant soundtrack. Soon the rhythmic white streaks and birdcalls acted together as a cordial, which lulled them into deep, peaceful dreams.
Bree's last thought before he dropped off to dream land was simply this. "Maybe, 'living happily ever' after isn't so hard to imagine after all."
Word Count: 1904
by Jay O'Toole
on February 27th, 2018