The sun was setting on the vast expanse of prairie to the west, and the dim light illuminated an old ranch stead. The place was the only sign of civilization for miles in the lifeless land. From a distance it could have been mistaken as an abandoned homestead, but if one looked closer there were signs of life. It was here at the bunkhouse that an old cowboy stood, leaning against one of the pillars on the front porch. He had an air about him that commanded respect from the other ranch hands. While the other ranch hands were young and unseasoned at their work, this fellow was well seasoned at everyday farm work. It was seen in his grizzled face that had been tanned by sun for many years and in his dusty shirt, pants and well-worn chaps and boots. He looked to the horizon for any signs of the return of some of the hands who were sent with a herd of cattle to sell. They had been gone for over a month and he knew that they would be returning soon. Another cowboy joined the old timer on the bunkhouse porch.
"Mitch." the newcomer said and Mitch gave a tilt of his head in acknowledgement, and the newcomer continued "Any sign of them?"
"No, not yet." Mitch answered, keeping his eyes on the horizon. The two stood there for a moment in silence when the newcomer broke the silence.
"Is there anything you want me to do boss?" the newcomer asked.
"No, all of the work has been done," Mitch answered and he finally turned to look at the newcomer "and for the last time don't call me boss." Mitch added.
"Well if you say so Mitch." the newcomer said, "That won't stop me from saying it boss." he added with a smirk.
"Oh get out of here!" Mitch said giving the other man a shove towards the steps. The other man left and Mitch was left alone, staring out at the horizon, waiting.
The following evening found Mitch waiting again on the porch of the bunkhouse. There was still no sign of the group of ranch hands. It was this particular evening that the old cowboy noticed a spec on the horizon. He squinted his eyes and he saw the group of ranch hands making their way to the stead.
"Boys!" Mitch yelled, "Saddle your horses, the group is back!"
From the bunkhouse came a group of ranch hands and soon the party set out to meet their fellow companions. As the welcoming party got closer to the returning group of ranch hands they noticed that a struggle was taking place. Amidst the whoops and hollering, there was a distinct sound that was above all the others, the high pierced neigh of a horse. As the party drew in closer they could see that their returning companions had captured a fiery chestnut mustang. The horse was rearing, batting its hooves in the air at its captors and trying with all its might to escape the tight ropes bound to is neck. One of the ranch hands who was not dealing with the horse rode up to the newcomers in greeting.
"What do you have here Joel?" Mitch asked, gesturing toward the wild horse.
"We caught this here mustang a week ago Mitch. We would have been back sooner if he hadn't been fighting us. I caught him myself." Joel boasted.
"For a week you say?" Mitch said eyeing the horse still fighting the other ranch hands who held him captive.
"Yes sir." Joel answered proudly. There was a profound silence for a few minutes until Mitch regained his composure.
"Well, you take this horse to the corral, and then you can take the night off to rest." Mitch said and the two groups made their way slowly back to the ranch. Once they returned to the ranch, the horse was placed with some difficulty in a small round corral next to the old barn. Then all of the cowboys had a small celebration. That evening while everyone was asleep, Mitch quietly made his way out to the corral to see the horse staring out at the horizon. The horse turned his attention toward Mitch.
The stallion seemed to give the old cowboy an accusatory look, a look that seemed to say "Why am I here? Let me go! I did nothing to you!" Mitch noticed something else in the stallion's eyes. He noticed a fire in them, a fire as red as the stallion's coat and it was the fire in the stallion's soul. There was also sadness and a longing for freedom in the stallion's eyes. The two stood there facing each other, each coming to a silent understanding of each other. Mitch slowly drew an apple from his pocket and held it out to the stallion as a sort of peace offering. The stallion sniffed the apple and took it. The two stood there for a while, and it soon became clear to the old cowboy at what he needed to do. Mitch opened the gate to the corral, and the stallion bolted out of the corral and into the night. Mitch watched the stallion go and said a silent goodbye, then made his way back to the bunk house.
That morning there was a commotion outside the corral. Mitch walked out to see Joel shouting at some of the ranch hands in anger.
"HOW DID YOU NUMBSKULLS LET THAT HORSE GET AWAY!" Joel whacked one of the cowering ranch hands with his hat.
"That's enough Joel." Mitch said with a deadly calm tone.
"But sir, they let that horse loose!" Joel protested.
"If you want to know who let that horse loose, it was me, not them." Mitch took a few steps foward. "If you want to yell at me then by all means do so, or you can be wise and get to work." All eyes were on the two cowboys as they stood facing each other, Joel was squirming while Mitch stood calmly, then Joel gave in to his fear and walked away. Everything went back to business as usual. As Mitch saddled his horse, his friend the newcomer walked up to him.
"So how come you let the mustang go?" the newcomer asked.
"I had my reasons." Mitch said, tightening the cinch strap, "Are you going to check the cattle with me?"
"Yes I am, but you didn't answer my question." the newcomer said.
"So you really want to know do you?" Mitch said.
"Alright, I'll tell you." Mitched sighed, "You see when I saw that stallion fighting I knew his spirit would not break. He would keep on fighting until it killed him, he had somewhere to go and he needed to be there and not here. Sure we would have tried to tame him, but it would have been useless. And when I looked him in the eye I saw myself in him." There was a moment of silence, then Mitch got on his horse and galloped away leaving a stunned newcomer. Somewhere on the prarie the fiery red stallion was running, he was with the wind which was carrying him home.