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The Prairie Dogs Have
Coal Miners’ Helmets with Lights

by Jimmie A. Kepler


The day’s excitement had almost come to an end. We made our way back home where I could do my evening chores of feeding and milking the cow. The few chickens I had liked being fed and watered on a regular schedule as well. When I finished I came back to the house and went to the refrigerator for a cold Dr. Pepper. I like to drink them from a bottle, not a can.

I hollered for Nancy Jo to see if she wanted a cold one or wanted any of the leftovers I was about warm up for supper.

There was no answer.

I walked down to her room. Her door was open. Her iPhone was sitting on her bed. She wasn’t there. It wasn’t like her to leave without a note or telling me. It was even stranger that she didn’t take her iPhone.

I picked up her cell phone and found C.W. in her contact list. I pushed a couple of different buttons and finally the phone dialed. When the phone was answered, it wasn’t C.W., but the S.O.C. Stop. They said to try his house. It took me another five minutes to figure out how to dial the number they gave me.

This time C.W. answered the telephone. No, Nancy Jo wasn’t there. He tried assuring me all was okay. I wasn’t so sure.

I called the former roommate. She said she had seen Nancy Jo walking along the highway towards the prairie dog town. I thanked her and hurried to my truck. It was about fifteen minutes until sunset.

As I pulled up at the prairie dogs, the crowd had thinned. I guess all the people who had driven in from Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Oklahoma City had headed back home. The deputy sheriff and even Hudson were gone. There were only two cars parked along the roadside.

One person was pointing as I got out of my truck.

“There’s a woman out in the field. She just crawled between the strands of barbed-wire, walked right out there and sat down in the midst of those varmints. The prairie dogs have formed a circle around her, but they’re keeping their distance,” he said.

I was fascinated and a little concerned for my daughter. Since the prairie dogs with coal miners’ helmets showed up last October, I wasn’t aware of anyone going out in the field with them or them bothering anyone. Everyone had been content to stand at the fence, gawking.

Nancy Jo was the first to enter their domain. I was the second. I walked out to where she sat. The prairie dogs didn’t run away or back down into their burrow as I neared. They simply moved aside and let me in their circle, then closed the gap. As the sun finished setting, the lights on their helmets provided enough illumination to keep us out of the ever-increasing darkness.

“Aren’t they cute!” said Nancy Jo as she looked at our hosts.

“Is that why you’re here? You forgot to leave me a note.”

In the distance, I saw C.W.’s pickup truck pulling onto the shoulder of U.S. Highway 83 and slowing to a stop.

“I needed to do some thinking. Everything is changing. You know Jerry Don Weeks was in Smokey Joe’s Pit Barbeque and Tavern today when we stopped by. He whispered everyone would miss me, I would miss Shamrock, and he asked who would look after you.”

“The same boy that wrecked the tanker last fall?” I asked.

“One and the same; he said the city of Marfa has nothing over us with their Marfa Lights. He has a cousin who lives down that way so that’s how he knows about them. He said wherever he goes people talk about the Shamrock prairie dogs and their coal miners’ helmets with lights. He wondered if the prairie dogs were mining for coal to keep themselves warm during the winter. No one ever thought of that before,” she said.

I nodded.

C.W. walked from where he parked his truck to up near the prairie dogs. The critters turned looking at him. They held their ground, not letting him pass. I was amazed as the intensity of the light from the helmets increased as if to push him back. It was as if they had him in a spotlight. After a few seconds, the lights dimmed to their former level as he backed away.

He looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders, not understanding the rodents’ decision or actions.

* * *

C.W. and Nancy Jo’s wedding was a nice family affair. Her momma and Robert Redford Sundance Kid-looking big-rig driving friend even attended. He had to park his rig out on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 83; the cattle guard into the Martin’s place was too narrow for an eighteen-wheeler.

The newlyweds stayed in Nancy Jo’s room most of July, honeymooning. I spent lots of time eating Smokey Joes’ pulled-pork sandwiches and drinking Dr. Pepper to give the kids some privacy and get to know each other real good like just-married couples should.

Finally, the day came when they packed up and left for the University of New Mexico. I was proud of her acceptance to complete her bachelor’s degree. We found out C.W.’s book of poetry would be published by University of North Texas Press in time for Christmas. Both Smokey Joe’s Pit Barbecue and Tavern and all nine Shamrock Oil Company Stops agreed to sell the books of poetry. They would even put a sign in the window and agreed to host a book signing.

I gave Nancy Jo one-thousand nine-hundred and fifty dollars. It was the money I had collected as rent. She was glad to have it saying it would help get them off to a good start helping pay the utility and apartment deposits and all.

As they drove off for Albuquerque, I sat on the steps of the front porch watching as the taillights got smaller while sipping on my morning Dr. Pepper. It was about that time I realized a Prairie Dog wearing a coal miner’s helmet with a light on it had popped through the ground not five feet from me. I wondered if he was lost. I lived a good three miles north of the prairie dog town. I looked at him. He grinned, showing his front teeth. I stared and then was speechless.

“It’s hard letting our children leave home, isn’t it?” said the prairie dog in perfect American English.

I nodded.

“Mr. Cash, we want to relocate our town to your place. We need to get away from all those people. Please let us move here. You must keep it a secret. You won’t tell anyone, will you?” pleaded the prairie dog wearing his coal miner’s helmet.

“The devil you say,” I replied. “You critters can talk.”

Copyright © 2013 by Jimmie A. Kepler

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