Midnight. Open Prairie. American Territory, South Dakota.
“Yer crazier n’ a drunk raccoon what’s been kicked in the head. Me followin’ yew ‘round this prairie makes as much sense, ~brrrp~, s’cuse, as a fish building a bird nest up an apple tree.”
“What’s the matter, old man, ain’t you gonna say nothing? Pfft, if yer some great buffalo hunter, I’m a Inter-Continental, Zeppelin Navigational Officer for the Empire of the United States.”
“Come on, Cambridge, talk to me. Where are the endless herds of buffalo, and my ticket to easy money, hunh?”
The old cowboy looks up.
Firelight sharpens weather-worn creases on the sun-burned face, and ignites cobalt flames through squinted eyes. Vernon Cambridge was born and raised on the plains of the American Western Territories. The difficulties of a life on the plains has carved a living monument of tremendous character.
“You’re right, boy. I reckon I told you a story. It looks like those days have already passed. With all the advances in weaponry, the great, woolly headed beasts have, unfortunately, met their match.”
“Not until I’ve had my share! I want some of that easy buffalo hide money!”
“We didn’t realize the damage we were doing,” Cambridge continues, more to the open air than to his grumpy partner. “We thought the buffalo were forever. It is future generations that will miss and be deprived of the spectacle of the wide, Western expanses, teeming with mighty buffalo.”
The brooding prairie man takes a deep breath, and releases it with a bemused snort.
“I would say that we did good, finding the signs of this small herd we have been after, but there is nothing good about hunting this impressive beast into extinction.”
“Yet, more than just that, these buffalo are not acting like any I have ever seen. I could have sworn that I saw ‘scout’ bulls, like the picket post around an army. There were indications that they were aware that I was tracking them, and in turn they were tracking me. That ain’t natural.”
“Smarty pants buffalo wanting to spoil our hunting party? You been on the prairie too long, old man.”
“Today, we tracked the whole herd into a river and it did not come out the other side. What is going on? How can dumb beasts hide their own tracks? If I did not know better, I would think that they were trying to outsmart us, in an effort to save themselves. Maybe even circle back around on us.”
“Yer crazy, old man.”
“I don’t hear nuffin.”
A tin rattling from the lid of the coffee pot suspended over the fire accompanies the vibration rising from the Earth.
“Oh. I do feel somethin’… Are we having a land tremor?”
“The horses! Goose O’Malley, don’t just sit there, catch the horses, they’re breaking free!”
“Hey you crazy horses, settle down! Augh, they have gotten away! What’s going on, Mr. Cambridge?”
~sniff, sniff~ “They’re even attacking from up-wind.”
“Who’s attacking, Mr. Cambridge? Please sir, do something! Oh Golly Mr. Cambridge, sir, there is a frightening rumble rising up out of the Earth, like a stampeding herd of heavy hooves. What is going on?”