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Do To Ride The River

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The trail's a lane, the trail's a lane,
Dead is the branding fire.
The prairies wild are tame and mild,
All close-corralled with wire.
The sunburnt demigods who ranged
And laughed and lived so free
Have topped the last divide, or changed
To men like you and me.


The Passing of the Trail, by Badger Clark







It was better if he didn't interrupt them, he figured. Give them time to settle in, get used to being there, get used to being Daycare toys and not Andy's toys. Perhaps after a while the names would rub off them, and they wouldn't necessarily be owned, even though they were played with.

Freedom, Woody supposed, was something that will take a lot of getting used to. It wasn’t something that he wanted yet either, he realised in some of the long, quiet nights when he could hear Bonnie breathing in the darkness and he patted her hand gently. He wanted to have an owner still, to belong to a child, to be an owned toy for a while longer. So he let it be, and time passed, and soon Bonnie doesn’t go to the Daycare any more because she’s just that little bit older. She went to kindergarten again, and he got taken in for Show And Tell, and because Bonnie’s mother had done some reading online (and Woody got Trixie to look up Woody’s Round Up on the internet and ‘accidentally’ leave it for Bonnie’s mother to see), he was everyone’s favourite. And it’s just a pity that he’s missing his hat.

Then suddenly it was the first day of preschool, and the toys crept up to look out of the window to watch the car leave, and everyone sighed and looked happy. “And so the ages of the world do so swiftly pass us by,” said Mr. Pricklepants, and it was generally presumed that this must mean the same as what all the rest of them were thinking.

They waited through the day with bated breath, certain that Bonnie would tell them everything when she got home that evening, and Dolly laughed softly at Woody’s flustered behaviour and concern for the girl, and stroked his shiny hair, and waited until he was calm again. Then the front door opened, and they scrambled back to their places, and Bonnie came running excitedly up the stairs.

“Look, Mr. Pig!” she declared, throwing open the door and sending her backpack bouncing on the bed. From where he lay, Woody could not see the new toy in her hands, but he could easily guess that it was one from the way that he could hear her spinning to show it the whole room. “This is going to be your new home now! You sit here, and I’ll get Mommy to get you some glue so we can fix your ear and foot!”

Then she was gone, running down the stairs, and Woody rolled himself over so fast he almost got tangled in his pullstring, and jumped down from the bed to run to the desk. It had only been a glimpse of pink ceramic, nothing more special than that, but if he’d had a heart it would have been pounding in his chest as he jumped up onto the chair, then the desk, and slowly knelt down in front of the one that Bonnie had simply called ‘Mr. Pig’.

“Hamm,” he said softly. “Is that you?”

The piggybank turned weary, dark eyes onto the cowboy. One of his ears had been fractured at the base, and one leg had faced a similar fate; he was pockmarked with dents and chips. Blue paint streaked like some sick emblem across one of his rounded sides, and his cork had blackened with misuse in his belly.

“Woody?” His voice had gone slightly hushed, nowhere near the confident pig that Woody remembered. “Well, I never expected this.” A soft chuckle, but it sounded hollow, chinking on his insides.

“What happened?” Woody cupped Hamm’s face, fingers feeling the little chips but trying not to linger on them, then stroked the ear that remained. He could feel his hands trembling, the sensation like his stuffing was being torn out of him. “Hamm... what happened to you?”

Hamm sighed. The light in his eyes dimmed. “So much... they need you, Sheriff. They need you back.”


Then he fell silent. Panic flared in Woody’s chest as he patted Hamm’s cheek, shook him so hard that he rattled against the table and almost fell over, repeated his name over and over again. “Hamm. Hamm! Come back to me!”

But the light in the pig’s eyes had gone, and even the next day when Bonnie presented the fixed and cleaned piggy-bank to the room, some of his worst dents covered with silver and gold stars (“Because they’re special band-aids that can make him fly too!”), it did not come back. He just sat there, unresponsive, unmoving, like one of the books or the nightlight or the craft pieces that he was surrounded with. That night, Woody crept out of bed again and went to sit next to the pig, his cheek against Hamm’s cool flank, remembering all the years that they had sat and talked and bickered in Andy’s room, and had he had tear ducts he was sure that he would have cried.

“What’s the story, cowboy?” came a voice from behind him.

Woody started, turned round, then saw Dolly and sighed, leaning back against Hamm again. “He was... he was Andy’s toy. We were all Andy’s toys.”

“He came from your old owner?”

All that he could do this time was nod, sitting still as if listening for some toy heartbeat, a couple of the stickers already having fallen off and fluttered to the table. Dolly knelt down opposite, watching him intently with those sewn-on eyes.

“I thought you said that they were at Sunnyside,” she added.

“They were.”

It came out little more than a whisper. He remembered the cheers as the box opened and they were seen, remembered shaking of hands and hugging and laughter. Bright colours and brighter smiles. And now Hamm... sleeps. Let the word be sleeps. Woody ran one hand over the cool ceramic, yearning for a voice to tell him off for being so sentimental, to shake him off and ask what did Bonnie think she was doing with these stickers. But nothing came.

For a while the two of them sat in silence, the room given a slightly green cast by the nightlight that nestled next to Bonnie’s bed. Then Woody’s expression hardened and he rose to his feet, hands flexing at his sides as if he was ready for the draw. Dolly watched him rise, seeing what she had seen before only in rare moments in their games and stories, or when Woody talked.

The Sheriff was back.

“And I’m going back there to find them.”