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Doug W Hiser

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Ride in the Moonlight
By Doug W Hiser
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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Riding an ostrich?

Ride in the Moonlight

We were in college, but that’s not an excuse for trying to ride an ostrich. It all started when Amanda Josephine, we just called her, ManJo, told everyone at the keg party that she knew where we could have more fun than a pocket full of salamanders. ManJo was a tall girl that used to play basketball until she found out that volleyball was easier. She said, “Why should I run up and down the court when I can stand in pretty much the same place and play ball.”

She was crazy and spirited and sometimes just way over the top. ManJo could be a daredevil. I was more on the cautious side. Drake was about as crazy as she was and he was in love with her, even though she barely tolerated his puppy dog eyes and his crumpled up letters of poetry. He was almost as tall as she was and I was about a foot shorter than them both. I told him a month ago to forget about being in love with ManJo. I told him it was hopeless and that you could tell she wasn’t interested. He just looked at me like I had asked him to stop breathing or something and said, “I love her, Henry. I can’t live my life without her.”

I just patted him on the shoulder and said, “Okay, Drake, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Drake was a cowboy. He was at a rodeo almost every weekend. He was a bareback bronc rider and a calf roper. He almost always won money. I thought maybe Drake was good enough to keep dreaming of someday being at the National Finals in Las Vegas. He had been studying Agriculture and had decided to continue with rodeo after graduation. He used to take ManJo and myself out to his father’s ranch and we would ride horses all day and have a picnic by the river. Those were fun summer days. The three of us had been friends for three years. This May we would all graduate and go our separate ways.

The keg party was the last blast of the spring. After we had endured many hours of loud music and too many drunken people stumbling around, ManJo had decided to take our fun someplace else. She climbed in Drake’s truck and Drake and I, who never drank alcohol, piled in. ManJo hollered at Drake, “Let’s get out of here! Don’t let those fools follow us either, loose them!”

Drake tipped his cowboy hat back and swung the truck out onto the dirt road. After a series of dusty dark night turns we lost all of the other vehicles that had tried to tag along. ManJo gave him directions as we roared down the bumpy curving dirt roads of east Texas. We came out onto the highway for a few miles and then turned back down another rutted dirt road. We drove over a cattle guard of rusty iron rods fitted across the road and then skidded to a stop before a long black ornamental iron gate. ManJo, shouted, “We’re here!”

I scratched my head and pushed my glasses back up on my nose, saying, “Where’s here?”

ManJo laughed and said, “Ricky Lou’s Exotic Wildlife Safari Ranch.”

Drake mumbled, getting out of the truck, “I heard of it. They have deer and rhinos and camels and stuff out here.”

I watched as ManJo jumped out the driver’s side behind Drake and ran towards the gate in the dark. There was a tall light pole with a dim light shining on the gate and the sign, which had lettering so faded I could barely make out the words. I got out and closed the door, following the crazy girl and Drake shuffling slowly behind her in his dusty cowboy boots. He asked her, “Why are we here, ManJo?”

She turned, with her hands already on the gate, and smiled, saying, “We came out here to ride, cowboy.”

I can still remember that smile she flashed that night under the dim light at the gate. She was full of youth and excitement and her beauty was more than just flawless skin and smooth limbs. She had magic in her heart. Seeing her smile like that made me want to fall in love with her like Drake did. I heard Drake say, “We’re going to break into the ranch? We can go ride my horses if you want ManJo. I don’t think it’s such a good idea to break into here. How do you know they have horses anyway?”

She was already climbing over the gate and we both watched her tight butt in her jeans, as she climbed. She yelled back to us as she jumped over and landed on the other side, “We ain’t riding horses!”

We could hear her running off in the darkness of the ranch. Drake, looked at me, his eyebrows scrunching down when he was perturbed, and said, “We better hurry up and catch her before she gets into trouble.”

He trotted to the gate and with an effortless jump hauled himself over in one second flat. I followed but it took me considerably more than one second. I got my jeans caught on a piece of wire and ripped a hole by my right knee. Once I got the wire loose my glasses nearly fell off and I had to catch them while hanging onto the rails of the gate. Halfway over the top I put my glasses into my shirt pocket and then struggled like a snail to get over the top of the gate. When I got to the top I could barely see Drake trotting up ahead into the darkness. I thanked God that there was almost a full moon tonight or I would have already lost them both. I dropped liked a nearsighted ballerina off a broken diving board. I quickly got up from the hard ground, put my glasses back on, and took off after Drake.
I could hear ManJo hollering up ahead. I wondered if we would be arrested for trespassing within the next few minutes. I heard some strange animal sounds, grunts and coughs, and then something that sounded like a roar. I didn’t think camels or deer roared. My stomach seemed like a hive of bees buzzed around inside. I heard ManJo calling, “Hurry up! Over here! You got to see this!”
I ran towards another light on a high pole. I could see barns and tin buildings and I could see Drake walking towards an open doorway of one of the barns. I was breathing fast and I stopped when I got to the doorway, bending down, putting my hands on my knees, catching my breath. I heard ManJo inside the barn, saying, “Just look at this guy.”

I heard Drake reply, “Uh, maybe we should get out of here before we get caught.”

ManJo laughed, saying, “Drake, don’t be such a scaredy cat. Just look at him. Isn’t he beautiful?”

I went inside the barn, lit from the outside light; I could see ManJo and Drake standing in front of a cage. That’s when I heard a low growl. It was a rumbling sound coming from the cage and it sounded like a volcano about to erupt. As I neared the cage the rumbling increased and I thought that a monster was imprisoned in this dark dungeon. I stood next to Amanda Josephine and Drake and held my breath. I saw twinkling eyes that shone in the dim light like fiery holes in a monster mask. ManJo bent down and whispered, “Here kitty, kitty.”

The tiger growled and then sniffed the air. She extended her hand and whispered and cooed towards the great giant cat. The massive tiger ceased growling and a steady sound that seemed to vibrate the cage came from the beast. The tiger was purring and ManJo reached forward and the big cat licked her fingers through the bars. ManJo stood up finally and exclaimed, “I wanted ya’ll to meet Trident. He isn’t so bad once you get to know him. I use to sneak out here all the time. Now let’s go riding.”

She turned and ran out of the barn. We followed, slowly trotting to keep up with her. As I followed I felt new feelings about her surfacing. Watching the tiger lick her fingers and seeing how her face had changed in those moments. Maybe I had never even known Amanda Josephine. Maybe I had only seen the side of her that was our ManJo. Maybe Drake had seen what I was now seeing a long time ago. We rounded a corner of a fence, running past shadowed animals in the corrals. Shapes of strange animals that I knew weren’t cows or horses. Maybe they were camels, maybe llamas, or maybe two headed dragons but their silhouettes in the dark were mysterious and we ran past them quickly. ManJo stopped abruptly at a high fence and said, calmly, “Here we are, boys. Are you ready to take the ride of your life?”

Drake said, “I ain’t getting on a rhino, and neither are you.”

She laughed and the sound that came from her was pure joy. It was infectious and we both laughed with her. I heard animals moving around and snorts and grunts came from the barns and corrals. ManJo smiled like a mischievous Imp and said, “If I wanted you two to ride a rhino, you’d do it if I asked nice? You know ya’ll would. Trust me this ride isn’t on a rhino. It would be easier to ride a rhino, though.”

She laughed and climbed over the fence. Drake and I followed. Once on the other side I heard shuffling feet in the dirt and then I saw them. They were taller than we were and they were moving slowly towards us. I thought that they resembled two legged dinosaurs. I took a step behind Drake who grabbed ManJo by the arm, saying, “Whoa, we need to get out of here!”

She jerked her arm away and said, “Quit being such a sissy, I‘ve done this before. Now just walk slowly and stay calm.”

The first big Ostrich that strolled up to us probed us with his large beak and his neck reminded me of a long snake weaving about us, searching for food. I had never seen such a large bird up close. They stood over eight feet tall and weighed almost three hundred pounds. They were six of the huge birds standing around us. I felt trapped but ManJo, whispered, “Follow me.”

She reached back and held my hand and then grabbed Drake’s hand in her other, pulling us out of the circle of tall curious birds. She tiptoed towards the rear of the corral. I saw many other Ostriches sitting on the ground. ManJo, still holding our hands, whispered, “Okay, this is it, the ride of your lives.”

I loved the feel of Amanda Josephine’s hand in mine, and now I already felt as lost in love as Drake. I kept thinking, “how did this happen?”

I knew I would’ve gotten on a rhino or even an elephant if she had asked me to. She pointed to the many Ostriches sitting on the ground in the dirt. The Ostriches who had surrounded us were now following us around the corral. I could feel a beak brush my neck and shoulders from time to time. ManJo whispered, “Now boys, we each pick a bird on the ground. Sneak up quietly from the rear, and when I count to three we all jump on the back of our bird and we get the ride of our lives! You hang onto their neck and dig your knees in under their wings.”

We circled the Ostriches and when we were each behind a bird ManJo began counting. At three I jumped and stumbled and fell headfirst onto the back of my Ostrich. The next few seconds were a blur as I bounced on the back of the giant bird as it stood up and bounded around the corral. The next thing I knew I was flying through the air and smashing into a mud hole in the corner. I was soaked and covered in slime. I wiped the slime from my eyes and watched as Drake held onto the neck of his Ostrich as ManJo laughed like money was falling from the sky. Drake bounced around on the back of that Ostrich like he was riding in a rodeo. His hat fell off and ManJo had picked it up and then bent down laughing so hard that she was loosing her breath.

Finally the Ostrich stopped running and stood still. Drake hopped off and retrieved his cowboy hat from ManJo. She slapped him in the shoulder, still laughing, and said, “You two guys were hilarious! Look at Henry over there. He went for a swim in the mud!”

Drake had to laugh with her. He adjusted his hat and said, “Nice job, girl. You never had any intention of getting on an Ostrich, did you?”

ManJo just kept laughing and then giggled as I walked over, covered in wet mud. She stepped back away from me and said, between laughs, “Henry, you need a bath. You smell like Ostrich spit and poop!”

I had to ride in the back of the truck because of the mud. ManJo told me as I was climbing in, “We’ll get you cleaned off soon. This party isn’t over yet.”

As Drake drove fast down the dirt roads the dust kicked up covering the wet mud on me like a second skin of granular scales and I felt like a human armadillo. Fifteen minutes later Drake parked the truck under a big tree and we all got out. ManJo told us, “Follow me and don’t be shy, boys.”

We plodded along behind her through a thicket, following a path. About a hundred yards in the woods we came to a rock about the size of an elephant. The rock overlooked a creek fed pond. ManJo pointed towards the pond, saying, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Without another word she began undressing right in front of us. The moonlight shone on her skin, making it look like she was a painting of a woodland nymph in my imagination. She tossed her shirt and bra in a pile and then her pants and panties on top. She turned without speaking and Drake and I just stared at her beautiful long lean body. She stood there poised to dive in. Amanda Josephine languidly waited on that rock as she let us drink her bare body in. Her eyes were like special stars and then she turned slowly and dove into the water, holding her arms out like a flying swan.
Drake was shucking clothes as fast as he could to follow her in the water. I didn’t even take my clothes off. They needed washing so I dove in fully clothed. We were all laughing and splashing in the dark. I undressed in the water and washed the mud from my clothes, tossing them on the bank. We swam and splashed around and then ManJo climbed out and reclined on the big rock as if she was sunbathing by moonlight. We climbed out of the water and sat next to her. I lay on my stomach and Drake tucked his knees to his chin while she lay back on her elbows, her long legs extending all the way to the edge of the rock.
Drake’s wet hair dripped in his face and ManJo let hers hang down. Her hair was so long that it draped across the rock behind her back. We sat there for a long time in silence. Drake’s eyes were filled with love for her as he pretended to stare out at the dark water. I loved her and couldn’t stop looking at her like she was a swinging watch hypnotizing me. She had her eyes closed and I thought that maybe she had fallen asleep in that awkward position.

I remember that night and it was the last time all three of us were together. We spent the rest of the night at the pond and we watched the sunrise. Amanda Josephine moved to Florida. Drake moved every weekend to the next rodeo. He owned a ranch in Montana and I visit him every couple of years. I saw him ride in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last year. He won money. He still thinks he loves Amanda Josephine. I think I did once, a long time ago. She became a conservation ecologist in the Everglades. She is out there trying to save alligators and snapping turtles. I remember how Trident, the ferocious tiger, licked her hand and her face had changed.
I write stories and now wear contact lenses. I can close my eyes anytime and be right back there on that rock in the moonlight with my two best friends. I rode an Ostrich that night and fell in love for the first time.

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