Coming at you with 1.21 jigawatts of power, all across the known universe and dimensions you’ve never even heard of, this is Lisa Burton Radio. The only show out there that interviews the characters you love to read about.
I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and we’re broadcasting remotely today from the field just outside my studio. This is because, my special guest today can’t fit inside the little Airstream that houses the studio. “Welcome to the show, Jake.”
“Lisa, Hi! Nice field, by the way.”
“Thanks. Now for our listeners out there, you’re actually a mule. Can you tell me a little about your parents?”
“The first thing I remember is my mother–she was a beautiful red mare–red roan they called her. She was so beautiful and gentle. She taught me manners–and to be careful around humans. My father? I only saw my father once; he was a big black jack–blacker than me, but I’m even bigger than he was.”
“So how did such a noble creature as yourself, wind up on a wagon train during the westward expansion?”
“I have to tell you about Tommy first. I belonged to Tommy; he raised me and trained me and taught me tricks. ‘Course I trained him too, and he talked to me, even when the other kids made fun of him. We went to school and to the store and everywhere together.
“But then Tommy’s father heard that a woman was in town buying livestock and supplies for her wagons. I knew Tommy’s folks needed money, and Tommy’s mother wanted to go back home–that was way back east. Tommy explained it all to me and showed me pictures of houses back east–not like the tiny dark cabins out here–and no trees. His mother looked happier in those pictures. I could see that–maybe more than Tommy. He loved it here. We’re settling the frontier, he said. But they needed money, and his mother made him understand that a mule wouldn’t be happy because there’d be no room for him there. Not enough grass either, I think.
“So Tommy led me to town; it took longer that way, and I nudged him a few times to tell him he should ride, but he shook his head and kept patting my neck as we walked along together. At first the woman told us that she didn’t need any more animals; I could see the other animals and chickens, and it didn’t look like she needed us. Me. Tommy turned away and wiped his eyes; we both thought she’d be better than a mule skinner or farmer. But Lorrie’s friend Star talked to her, and Tommy told them how smart and well-trained I was. Then he said that they needed me more than he did. The two ladies looked at each other; I could see that Lorrie was still undecided so I lipped her jacket and snuffled Star’s hair. I could tell they liked their horses and were good to their livestock. (Well, Sunny told me so.)
“They discussed my price after that; I didn’t understand the numbers, but Tommy seemed pleased until he turned and looked at me. He took me aside and explained what was going on, though I knew that already. Then he said good-by, and we all watched him walk away, but soon he began running, and I could hear him sobbing as he headed for the woods. I knew he wasn’t going home yet.
“Star knew more than Lorrie about loading me so she kept adding packs until I told them that was enough. You can say a lot by stamping your feet and shaking your head. Tommy could read me real well, and I knew I could teach them. When I remember Tommy, I remember how he took care of me and taught me things that I still use…”
“Lorrie sounds nice, but it almost sounds like she has her own problems getting out west.”
“Yes. I learned more about her from the horses, Sunny and Shadow. She was traveling with her uncle on a big wagon train, but he was killed by a thief who was after his money belt. Well, after that, the wagon master told her she couldn’t go with them, of course, because she was all alone. She needed to go back east and find a husband to take care of her. That made her mad, they told me. She even stamped her feet later, but she was polite to him. Naturally Lorrie didn’t agree, so she waited for another train. It was getting late for taking the Oregon Trail, but while she was waiting, she learned about a black couple–runaway slaves maybe–other humans guessed. And then she rescued a brother and sister from bullies. Together they joined another train–with her niece and nephew and her people, she always explained. And she had her uncle’s money belt and bought a couple more wagons–they did break down–and livestock. That included me, you understand. And she added a human family later on.”
“It sounds like the makings of a pretty good story. Two characters with tragic backgrounds come together to accomplish something great. I’ve read your bio, and there is much more to you than pulling a wagon. You’re almost a watchdog for the group. What can you tell me about that?”
“Lorrie did need me–as Tommy told her–and sometimes when there was danger, she didn’t load me up at all. She talked to me the way Tommy did and explained her–our–plan, and I ran loose or skulked alongside the trail and listened. And when we visited that old hotel far off the trail, I could smell the blood and death, and I pushed her out of the barn and stamped on the wooden floor. It was covered with dirt and straw, but I could smell the blood and bodies beneath it. She looked down and walked away and put me in a stall that she made sure was unlocked.
“The danger didn’t always come from men. Blizzards could trap us too. She took chances when running low on supplies for her people, and she and the oxen were buried once. They kept her warm, but the tent was buried under the snow, and I dug her out. I wrecked the tent, but when we made it to the nearest ranch, the people there looked at the tent and me and nodded. I think they gave us both the credit…
“The men along the trail warned us about the chances of a blizzard because winter was a lot closer now, but you never could tell, they said, how the weather would behave. Safest not to take chances, but Lorrie had to keep her people safe and supplied. And the livestock needed hay too, so she took a chance with the possibility of a blizzard and the cold. When she was trapped under the tent, I could hear her coughing, and I knew I had to dig her out, but carefully, so I tugged on the tent and dug when I could feel my way. She hugged my neck as I backed away and pulled her out.”
“What else is there to watch out for? Are we talking Indians here?”
“Oh yeah… That’s when we met Grey Cloud. His companion, Brock, was ambushed by Indians–a different tribe from our own Indians. Grey Cloud was a big gray wolf, and when he came to our cabin, naturally I lit out after him. I chased him around our cabin a few times until he vanished into the woods and up the mountain. He came back with a bloody rag; I let him show it to Lorrie while I watched; and I stood guard at the cabin later after Gray Cloud led us to Brock; he was badly wounded, but Many Stars took out the arrows and nursed him. Life became even more interesting after that.
“Later, because Lorrie’s companions did worry about her, she sometimes took a human with her. Like when she heard about the people disappearing at an old hotel far back in the woods off the busy trails. She just had to find out what was happening and laid a trap for them. I was outside in the barn, waiting and listening too. A man came out and went after the horses with a knife, so I went after him…”
“It sounds to me like everything is dangerous. There’s the weather, the environment, the Natives. I’ll bet there isn’t a decent shoe store for weeks in either direction.”
“Funny you should mention that. There isn’t a store of any kind, and supplies are hard to come by…. Lorrie traveled back and forth along the trail; sometimes she’d hire a mule train. I went along as a guard, of course. And we got supplies further west from a fort and ranches.”
“Jake, it sounds to me like Lorrie, Sunny, and the others really need you. It’s so important to be doing meaningful work.”
“Thank you, Lisa. I knew you would understand. Speaking of that… now I have to go home; they need me. It was great talking to you, Lisa. It’s harder with humans, as you may know.”
“I understand, Jake, and thank you for taking time to tell your story to our listeners today. Any last thoughts for your fans?”
“Be kind and be careful–and don’t overload anyone’s pack!”
“Jake appears in Detour Trail, by Joy V. Smith. I’ll include all the deets on the website. Do Joy and Jake a solid, and use those sharing buttons today.
“I’m always looking for guests, so if you know of a character that would like to appear on a future Lisa Burton Radio, drop me a line. Stay awesome.”
Westward bound on the Oregon Trail, Lorena Emerson is alone after her uncle is killed by a thief trying to steal his money belt. Ignoring the wagon master’s advice to go home, she rounds up others needing help, and they join a later wagon train and are soon slogging through dust and mud and steep mountain passes. It’s a long way to Oregon, and because another woman needs her help, Lorrie again goes her own way, leaving the wagon train and the Oregon Trail to travel onward—off the beaten path—with her small group of wagons. She’s helped by members of her wagon train, people she meets along the way, and the mule, Jake, an integral part of the story. You’ll meet them as they join in her travels and encounters with enemies and as she searches for a new home and supplies as winter reaches out its icy hands…. Settling the frontier isn’t easy!
Detour Trail, is available from Melange Books, the publisher, and elsewhere online : http://www.melange-books.com/authors/joyvsmith/detourtrail.html
Joy V. Smith has been writing since she was a little kid; she loved to read, and she wanted to create her own books, so she did, complete with covers. Now she writes fiction–her favorite genre is science fiction–and non-fiction. (She loves settling planets and the frontier, which is why she wrote Detour Trail.) Her short stories have been published in print magazines, webzines, anthologies, and two audiobooks, including Sugar Time. Her books include Detour Trail, Strike Three, and Sugar Time (revised print edition) She lives in Florida with Blizzard the Snow Princess and Pemberley the tortoiseshell kitten.