The Buckaroos

15:01 minutes

—Chapter 2—


WHERE Jelly Belly lives, dawn’s warming pink dimness brings a woodsy scent. Fresh dew in the pungent pine softens the hard crystallized sap to a wonderful aroma. The heavenly scent then drifts over the meadow, up the ridge, and into Jelly Belly’s Tree House. Early morning activity begins. Squirrels chatter. Leaping limb to limb over Jelly Belly’s gray willow-stick roof. Chipmunks scurry under the treehouse singing a soft note of chirps and squeaks. A raven’s harsh caw rasps as an exotic gong. Off he swoops in a curving arch to the bluing sky. Jelly Belly always loves the sounds of a new day. Another day to play. Another day of fantastic adventure.

Jelly Belly, pushing back the bed covers, hopped out and threw open the worn shutters. The shutter’s flaking disrepair didn’t squelch his enthusiasm to greet another day. In front of the window, a squirrel dangled heavy on a thin bending twig. He was collecting pine nuts from a cone and stuffing them in his bulging cheeks. Jelly Belly’s explosive entrance sent the squirrel scurrying.

“Run, Mister Squirrel. Tell your good friends, Jelly Belly is wide awake,” said Jelly Belly with a wide grin. Hoping for excitement and diversion, Jelly Belly scanned the horizon.

There on the left, up by the Bouncing Tree, was an obscure motion. Jelly Belly’s eyes went wide. He dashed out the door in his bedclothes to his telescopic spyglass.

“It appears to be a camp signal, but I can’t decode it. Could be Hostiles or Pioneers or Rustlers but one thing is for sure this is a job for Jelly Belly.”

Jelly Belly darted to his costume closet. There was his new red bandana. He tied it in a waggish droop under his chin.

“Magnificent,” whispered Jelly Belly to himself How he admired true heroic dress.

“Now, where is my Cowboy Hat?” said Jelly Belly digging through piles of hats. All he could find was a civil war cap. It seemed okay. He squashed it on top of his round head.

“That’s it. I’m a renegade warrior gone west. I have become a self-appointed vigilante. I save maidens from bandits. I return treasures to the robbed. I issue justice in the wild, wild west.”

Jelly Belly perused these deep thoughts. They were almost beyond his meager comprehension. Yet so dear to his adventurous heart.

“That’s it. I’m Wild Jelly Belly and his Ragtag Band of Cowboy Heroes.”

Wild Jelly Belly put on his leather-fringed chaps to protect him from the brush. His star-shaped silver spurs. His two six-shooters with the silver rattlesnakes inlaid in the ivory handles. Jelly Belly always wore the ivory gun butts forward. This for the infamous and accurate Wild Jelly Belly Cross Draw. Impressive Pistolero showmanship for the ladies. He turned admiring himself in the mirror.

“One tough Hombre,” said Wild Jelly Belly with a sneaky grin. He ran to the window. And called to his imaginary men laying around an imaginary smoldering campfire.

“Willy, Sam, Curly, mount up. We’re heading out to make the world a better and safer place.”

“Okay, boss!” they replied. They affectionately referred to Wild Jelly Belly as “Boss”. This solemn formality reminded Wild Jelly Belly. Any flub-ups during the adventure were his responsibility.

The invisible horses were neighing. They sensed the excitement as cowboys saddled up for the long ride up the North Bank. Wild Jelly Belly examined his magnificent steed, Paint. Black, tall, strong, and high-spirited. Unfortunately, Wild Jelly Belly was stubby and tubby. Qualities prime horseflesh like Paint did not appreciate much.

“Paint, today we may avert horrible calamities about to pour down on our friendly valley. I’ll need your cooperation. No bucking. No bolting. And, no whinnying in Hostile Territory.”

Paint snorted in contempt.

“Are you deliberate in trying to get me shot. Well, Boy, you look close at these two hummingbirds strapped at my sides. I am a ‘Pistolero gordisimo’ and don’t you forget it.”

Paint rolled his big, black eyes. “Are you ready men?” shouted Wild Jelly Belly.

“Yeah, Boss, let’s get them scurvy maggots.”

“Excuse me,” said Jelly Belly, scowling and in a commanding tone, “we do not refer to Bad Guys as “scurvy maggots”. That is definitely against Bear Etiquette. Wouldn’t it be more gentleman like to say, “them unhealthy pasty-faces”? What do you say?”

“Sorry, Boss. Let’s get them unhealthy pimple-faces!”

“Yeah, let’s get’em,” the others roared.

And off they went making clippity-clop hoof noises with their mouths and tongues. They shuffled their feet in a galloping motion. They were heroes-in-the-making. After all, their soon-to-be-dusty horses were only imaginary. And it does take extraordinary mouth control producing horse gallops while still breathing.

Could Wild Jelly Belly keep his buckaroos from reckless and rowdy behavior? They hadn’t slept for several long nights. Banjo and harmonica playing all night long around a campfire saps even the best man’s strength. The outbreak about “scurvy maggots” had been a close one. But his men were faithful to the Bear Code of Etiquette. Even if they did say pimple. That at least was reassuring.

A tremendous imaginary explosion rocked the earth. In all directions, dirt and pieces of rock went flying among the galloping men. The hoofbeats stopped. The war-trained horses immediately rolled to their sides. They protected their riders from any flying objects. This, of course, was proper Horse Etiquette for Battle Situations. No wounded, of course. Even so, the situation was precarious. An enemy cannon, high on the hill had fired upon Wild Jelly Belly and his Courageous Men.

“Willy, Sam, Curly are you guys alright?” hollered Wild Jelly Belly, a good leader, always concerned for his men first.

“I’m okay,” replied Willy.

“I lost my bubble gum,” said Sam.

“Can we go home now?” asked Curly.

The explosion frightened the brave cowboys more than Wild Jelly Belly figured.

‘Hang on, Buckaroos. We’ve got to locate that dangerous cannon and put it out of commission.”

“Boss seems like the discharge came from that rocky ledge.”

“Right you are, Willy,” said Wild Jelly Belly. He secretly wished they wouldn’t remind him he was Boss. Especially in situations when pinned down by explosive cannon fire.

Curly turned, mounted his horse, and bolted for the safety of the woods.

“Yellow! Chicken liver!” yelled Willy, “Ain’t that right, Boss?”

“I guess we all have our limits,” said Wild Jelly Belly with a sigh. Wild Jelly Belly was in a pickle, his manpower was dwindling fast.

Wild Jelly Belly lay sweating in the shimmering of the hot sun. His two remaining heroes, Willy and Sam, dust parching their dry throats. Wasn’t playing pretend supposed to be fun? Suddenly, a familiar cry came from high above on the ridge:

“Hey! Boss, I surprised’em. The Bad Guys all ran away. Come on up.”

It was Curly’s voice. Had he gone turncoat; making some lucrative deal with those poxy bad guys? Or was he telling the truth?

“Okay. We’re comin’ up,” hollered Wild Jelly Belly.

“Boss?” said Sam, “Ya sure?”

“What other choice do we have? I’m tired of laying here sweating. It’s time to get on with this wild adventure. We’ll have to trust our pal, Curly. So mount up, boys.”

They charged up the ridge finding Curly standing alone by the wheeled cannon. Curly’s horse, Billy-boy, ambled aimless eating grass. Wild Jelly Belly, Willy and Sam jumped off their horses in three thuds. They all drew their six-shooters and aimed them at Curly. Three clicks clicked. The frowning men thumb-cocked the firing hammers on their big pistols.

“Okay, Curly how come you abandoned us out in the hot, sweaty sun?” asked Jelly Belly, “Are you traitor or a coward – or what?”

Curly started to look real scared.

“Boss, Don’t shoot me. I went home to get hot dogs, marshmallows, and root beer, ‘cuz I knew we’d all be hungry and thirsty after the wild adventure.”

They all squinted their eyes at whining Curly like a tough man does when he’s starin’ into the noonday sun.

Wild Jelly Belly spit on the ground in a western crude fashion and holstered his heavy pistol. He ran his thumbs over the inlaid solid- ivory rattlesnakes. He enjoyed the solid feel of steel at his hips.

“Horse nettles, I’ll be first to admit I had you pegged wrong, Curly,” said Wild Jelly Belly, “Forgive my mistake. Break out the grub. It’s time to celebrate our victory over these bean brains … er, I mean vegetable minds.”

All the men grinned. They liked Wild Jelly Belly. He had spunk. He imagined them into his wild adventure. They were all men of spirit. And they had captured a big cannon.

They sat around the low embers of the evening campfire. They roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. The boys broke out the old banjo and harmonica. Jelly Belly fondly took his fiddle out of the worn gunny sack tied to Paint’s huge saddle.

“Paint, I’m so pleased you didn’t crack up my fiddle today,” said Jelly Belly smiling.

Paint looked stern at the fiddle and began thumping his right front hoof as if dancing for the music to begin. Jelly Belly accepted that as the best compliment Paint could give.

“Okay, boys, stoke up the fire and let’er rip. We’ll be playin’ ‘til dawn,” shouted Jelly Belly. The mellow tones of the harmonica started the slip-slide melody of “Three-shoe Sally.” A personal favorite of The Boss. All the men looked up at the musical sparks popping into the clear night sky. And they looked into each other’s bright eyes as the harmonious music came faster. Now they knew, even though they were imaginary, they were real cowboys, real buckaroos. And they broke out dancing a bobbing, jerky jig and all hollered as one:

“Hurray for Wild Jelly Belly, the best Boss in the wild west!”

And in salute, they fired the captured cannon in a thunderous blazing roar.

It was a moment Jelly Belly always would remember – never to forget.