Author's Note: The title comes from the song by the same name. When I heard it, I knew that it was destined to be an LB story. Thanks, Jade, for the music! This is a prequel to the Little Britches (ATF) originating stories, Dreaming of Angels and If Wishes Were Horses. If you don't recognize Granny Winn, you might want to read my story What Makes a Home.
All the Pretty Little Horses is a traditional American folksong
Baby Mine is from the soundtrack of the movie Dumbo
Lay me down gently, lay me down low,|
I fear I am broken and won't mend, I know.
One thing I ask when the stars light the skies,
Who now will sing me lullabies,
Oh who now will sing me lullabies.
Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?|
- Kate Rusby
He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. He was running away from the house where he had been living for the last five months. The Autersons'. Mr. and Mrs. Auterson and their three kids; Rodney, Roger and Reggie. And they were all mean. Well, they were all mean when it was just them, and him. When they were around other people, like when they went to church or the grocery story, they were all nice to him. And he wasn't supposed to say nothing different. He almost did once, when he had to go to the doctor and the nurse asked him about the bruises on his back. He almost told her that Mr. Auterson told Roger and Reggie to make him tough and they hit him. A lot. With their fists, even. But before he could tell the nurse what happened, Mrs. Auterson said that he was climbing' the big tree in their backyard and fell. She said that Roger was supposed to be watching him, but he started playing' on his Nintendo and wasn't paying' attention. She said that it was a “boys will be boys” thing and that Roger got into big trouble. Then when the nurse left the room, she told him in a real quiet voice that he'd better not say nothing' different, because they needed the money the government gave them to keep him. So he didn't say nothing', even though he knew it was all a lie.
But today things got really scary. Mr. Auterson came home from work already mad and smelling' like beers and cigarettes. He started yelling' at Mrs. Auterson 'cause she didn't make nothing' for dinner, then he started saying swears and threw the bottle he was holding' across the room so it broke into a million pieces when it hit the wall. Then Mr. Auterson looked at him and called him lots of not nice names and told him to clean up the mess. He was more scared than ever, so he went and got the dust pan and the little broom that he could use better than the big one and started sweeping' up the glass. He didn't even say nothing' when one of the pieces of glass poked him in the thumb and it started bleeding. He just swept up the glass into the dust pan and threw it in the trash can by the back door.
When he came back in, Mr. Auterson was still saying swears, so he sneaked an apple out of the bowl on the table and hurried up the back stairs. His room was all the way at the top of the house, where all the Christmas decorations and old clothes was kept. By the time he got there his back hurt and his tummy was growling. He back hurt a lot because it got hurt when he was little. His tummy was growling because it wasn't a school day and he hadn't been allowed to eat all day, and not even yesterday after his school lunch. Usually he could sneak an apple or banana before he went upstairs at night, and nobody paid any attention to see that it was took, but that was about all he got on weekends and other days when there wasn't school. It even made him like going to school, even if he was a dummy and couldn't figure out words in the books he was supposed to read.
He got to his room, and pulled the attic ladder back up real quiet. It made his back hurt more, and he had to stand real still for a long time before he moved, and then he walked funny like he did sometimes when his back hurt a lot. But he got to his bed, which was just a mat covered with some old blankets, and laid down so it stopped hurting so bad. While he laid there, he could hear Mr. Auterson yelling even though he was still way downstairs. Sometimes Mrs. Auterson would say somethin' back, but mostly it was just Mr. Auterson. Then he heard more things getting broke, and Mrs. Auterson started hollering real loud and she sounded scared. Then the boys started yelling too, and there was so much noise that he had to put his hands over his ears to make it not so loud.
Then he heard the policeman sirens and there were more voices. Then more things got broke and he wondered if he was gonna have to clean up all the mess and if he would get more ouches like his thumb that was still bleeding a little bit. Then things got real quiet. It was quiet for a real long time and he was almost asleep when the hollering started again. And his tummy felt funny when he heard “That Stupid Brat”. Mr. Auterson said it in that ream mean voice that meant he was gonna get a licking. It was a whole another day until he could go back to school and sometimes after a licking' they would make him stay home from school 'til he didn't hurt so much.
Vin laid real still for a long time, all the way 'til he counted to a hundred five times. But his door didn't bang open and Mr. Auterson didn't say no more swears. So maybe he forgot he was gonna give him a licking. Vin didn't know why he was in trouble this time, but most times he didn't. They told him he didn't understand because he was a dummy. People said mean things to him all the time like that, and had since Mama went away. And sometimes people told him that Mama went away 'cause he was so stupid she got 'shamed. He didn't think that was true, 'cause Mama said she loved him every day. Sometimes she said it so many times that he felt like he was all blowed up like a balloon that could float all the way up to the clouds.
Every night Mama read him a story; sometimes she would just make it up in her head. Mama told good stories that were all about him. Only in Mama's stories, he was Super Vin, who had special powers. Sometimes he could fly all the way to the moon so bad guys couldn't find him and hurt him. He pretended sometimes that Mama was Super Mama and she could be invisible. That way he could pretend she was still with him, but he couldn't see or touch her.
Every night, after she told him a story, Mama would sing him a song. She had a special box that made music when you winded it up. When she was little, there was a teeny tiny ballerina that danced in circles to the music. But somebody broke the doll off so only her tiny little feet were still there, dancing in circles to the music. They broke the mirror that she danced in front of, too, so Mama took it out a long time ago.
He asked her who broke it, but Mama said it wasn't important. He thought it really was, because Mama always looked sad when she talked about it and sometimes she even cried a little bit.
He could still hear Mama singing to him, even though she had gone away a long time ago. When he missed Mama a whole lot, he would sing the song real soft, to himself.
Baby mine, don't you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart
Never to part, baby of mine.
Little one when you play
Don't you mind what you say
Let those eyes sparkle and shine
Never a tear, baby of mine.
The song just made him sad tonight though, so he stopped singing.
Nobody was making noise down below, so Vin figured the were all asleep. He closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep, too. Then, he started to think about what would happen when Mr. and Mrs. Auterson waked up and he got so scared that he threw up in the coffee can that he used for a potty when he had to stay in his room.
And, all of a sudden, he could only think one thing. R.U.N. A.W.A.Y!
He folded up the blanket he slept on; he felt a little dizzy and still sick, but he kept moving. He got his backpack that had all of his special stuff in it. Opening it up to check for sure, he felt the things that he kept hidden. He felt the teddy bear that he got from the Wexlers. They were old but they were real nice, and he got to call them Gram and Pop-pop when he lived with them. But then Gram got sick and had to go live in a home with nurses while she got better. The people that decided where he got to live came and said he had to go live with somewhere else. Pop-pop promised to come get him again when Gram got better. But that was a long time ago, so he figured that Gram was still sick.
He felt the rock he had found when he was on a visit to some people he didn't remember the name of. It was pretty and shiny and one day he would sell it for lots of money. He felt the piece of construction paper that a lady wrote his name on for him. He couldn't remember her name, but she told him she was a “bolly-tear” at the kids fair. He wasn't sure what any of that meant, though. He remembered that there was a lot of people there and some of them came to talk to him. He had to sit nice and quiet at a little table where there was a lot of pictures of him doing things like swinging and digging in the sandbox at one of the places he had to live.
The last thing he touched was the little plastic feet of the ballerina doll. When he was living in a groups home, a big boy caught him playing Mama's music box and took it away from him. He got mad and tried to take it back, but the big boy made fun of him. Then another big boy came over and the two boys started playing keep away with Mama's music box. Then one of the grown ups yelled at them and they dropped the music box on the concrete. It was all busted up and he started screaming and started hitting the big boy and one of the grown ups grabbed him and told him to stop. He was crying so hard that he couldn't talk when he tried to tell what the big boys did and he ended up getting' a time out for fighting.
While he was on the time out somebody threw away all the pieces that was Mama's music box. When he found out about it he cried and cried 'cause he felt like he let down Mama by letting her music box get broke. But then the next day, when he was outside he saw something in the grass and it was the ballerina's teeny tiny feet. He stuck them in his pocket real fast and nobody ever knew that he had them. It only made him feel a little bit better, but it was something. And it helped him to feel like Mama was nearby.
He kept all of his treasures in the bottom of his backpack, so that nobody knew they were there. He had a pair of dirty looking underpants over the top of them so that, if anyone did look through his backpack, they wouldn't want to touch the underpants. He knew they weren't really dirty, and it was a good joke on the people who were mean to him.
Quickly he added other things to his backpack: a package of crackers, some cheese that was only green on the outside, and the apple he had taken earlier. He also added the two pairs of socks and tee shirts he had when he came to the Auterson's house. On top of everything he put the blanket that he wrapped up in every night. It was old, and had a hole in one end, but it was soft and kept him warm at night.
Satisfied that he had everything he needed, Vin pulled the backpack's straps over his tiny shoulders. Carrying his shoes, so nobody would hear him walking, he crept to the window at one end of the room. It was small and there was a crack in the glass, but he often opened it at night and climbed out on the roof to look at the stars. He and Mama used to look at them when there weren't any clouds to hide them. Mama said that it was God's television and much better than what most people watched. He had seen some of the shows that people watched in the places he had lived, and he agreed with her. He loved to watch the stars at night and liked to pretend that Mama was dancing among them.
Opening the window, Vin climbed out into the cool night air and onto the roof on the other side. It was the roof that covered the front porch, so he didn't have to worry as much that anyone would hear him now. Walking carefully down the slant, he came to the end of the porch. This was the scary part. He had to climb over the edge of the porch and down the post that held the roof up. It was a metal post with all sorts of curly cues and things to hang onto, but it was also old and rusty. He didn't care, though. He just wanted to get away from the Autersons. Nobody cared that they were mean to him. Nobody even saw the bruises most of the time and, when they did, Mrs. Auterson lied about why they were there. Ever since Mama went away, the adults around him acted like he wasn't worth anything. He wanted to find a place where he could feel like he used to, when Mama was where he could see her and touch her. He wanted to feel like Super Vin.
In this big world I'm lonely, for I am but small
Oh angels in heaven, don't you care for me at all?
You heard my heart breaking
For it rang through the skies
So why don't you sing me lullabies?
Why don't you sing me lullabies?
Vin yawned and peeked out from under his blanket. He was curled up in a heavy box that someone had thrown out behind a dumpster. He had left lots of the little white things inside; they crunched when you laid on them, but they made it warmer. Looking outside he saw that the sun was just starting to make things lighter, so he would have to move soon. Then he heard a big noise and realized that the garbage truck was coming, so he would have to move quick if he didn't want to get throwed inside the big truck. Hurrying, he pulled on his shoes, shoved his blanket into his backpack, and put his backpack on. Crawling out of the box, he peeked around the dumpster to see if anyone was around. Happy when nobody saw him, he hurried down the alley, toward the sidewalk. Sometimes he could find parts of peoples breakfasts in the trash cans that were set up along the street. He hadn't found anything yesterday, so his tummy was hurting because it needed to have food.
Vin couldn't help but smile when he saw an almost whole McMuffin laying right on top of the wastebasket; the wrapper still around most of it. Quick as he could, he grabbed it out and hurried back into the shadows at the end of the alley. Using his backpack as a cushion, he sat down and ate the almost cold breakfast sandwich, forcing himself to eat it slowly. As he was finishing the last bit, a shadow blocked the sun. Looking up, he saw a girl that seemed to be a little older than him. She was carrying two grocery bags that looked really full. Without a word she sat the bags down and dug into them, pulling out a little container of orange juice and a package of little doughnuts. Setting them within reach, she hurried back to her bags, gathered them up, and hurried away.
Shocked at her kindness, Vin smiled once more, giggling as he grabbed up the food and settled back on his backpack. Carefully he ate every morsel of the doughnuts and drank every drop of the juice. By the time he finished his breakfast, the sidewalk had lots of people walking by, so he moved back a little farther into the alley as he tried to figure out what to do.
He had been on the streets for five days and nights now. Each day he wandered the streets, trying to appear that he belonged to someone nearby. He even sneeked into a movie theater two days ago, falling asleep curled up in a chair way in a corner. He woke up later when the people were leaving and managed to stick a half eaten bag of popcorn and a few pieces of candy into his backpack before he left the theater.
Most of the time though, he just tried to stay away from anybody who might ask him too many questions. Then he would be taken back to a groups home and have to live there until they made him go live at another house with people he didn't know. Either they would be mean, like the Autersons, or they would try to get him to call them mommy and daddy whether he liked them or not. No, he wasn't going to go back to another group home or somebody else's house. He would just live on the streets until he figured where the Old West was, then he would go there and learn to be a cowboy. He knew that he would be good with horses, so he would make money by teaching horses to do tricks.
“Child, what are you doing around here?”
Vin jumped, startled, when someone spoke to him so close. He turned around and there, just a few feet away, at the edge of the shadows inside the building, was a witch. His heart started pounding really, really hard, like he'd been running all day, and he looked around, terrified, trying to find a safe way out. She was between him and the door, so he was trapped. “I... I... um... please don't hurt me!”
The witch looked almost as scared as he felt. “Honey, I would never hurt you! I'm sorry I scared you, okay? I've just never seen you 'round here, 'fore. You lost?”
“No!” He tried to sound big and mean, but he just sounded scared. “I... I'm just walkin' home, is all.”
“Baby, ain't no homes around here. It's just ol' empty buildin's honey. Now, where you belong?”
“I ain't no baby! Just leave me alone!” He ran away from her, toward the back of the building. She called after him a couple times, then stopped. He kept running, all the way through until he was at the back wall. There he found some boxes in one of the corners and crept toward them. He had already learned that, sometimes, a pile of boxes might just be somebody's house.
This time it was just a pile of boxes, so he set about moving them around, sort of like he was building a fort. Soon he had a nice space made for himself. He was tired of looking for a place to sleep. He had seen lots of people hanging around empty buildings and they all went inside when it got dark. He sneaked up to one of the open doorways and looked inside. It was like a whole other town inside! People were all around in the big building, some of them sitting by little fires, like they were camping. He didn't remember ever going camping, but he'd seen pictures. There wasn't any trees or grass, though, so it wasn't really camping, but that didn't matter. He figured that the people living there were like him; they didn't have a home, so they made a home here.
After he made the walls, he crunched down some other boxes so he could make a floor. After that was done, he crunched down more boxes and made a top to his little construction. When he was finished, he crawled inside, where he had already hidden his backpack. It was dark inside, so he had to wait until he could see a little more before he opened it up and started pulling things out. He had found half a hamburger earlier and had eaten it right away. But he had saved the apple and half of the cookie someone had dropped on the sidewalk. He had found a plastic bottle that had some water in it a few days ago. He had kept it ever since, sneaking into public bathrooms whenever he could and filling it up so he at least had good tasting water to drink.
Before he started eating his dinner, he took his blanket out and made a place to sit. Then he laid the apple, the cookie and the bottle of water in front of himself. Before he began to eat, he bowed his head and folded his hands in his lap. “God is Great, God is Good. Let us thank Him for our food.” It was a prayer that he and Mama used to say before they ate. He had forgotten it for a long time, just remembering it today when he found the hamburger. Since he had found so much good food in one day, he knew he had to say thank you for it.
After he ate, he wrapped himself up in his blanket and fell quickly asleep. From time to time he was startled awake by a noise outside, but nobody came into his house, so he fell back to sleep quickly. When he finally waked all the way up, he could see daylight coming in through the places in the cardboard. He yawned and stretched, getting up slowly. Crawling out of his new house, he was shocked to see the same old lady who had talked to him the night before. With a gasp, he started to crawl back into the boxes, but then she called out to him.
“Wait, honey, please. I ain't gonna hurt you or nothin'. See here? I've got you somethin' for breakfast.”
He almost didn't stop, but then he smelled something he hadn't smelled for a long time. Bacon. His tummy grumbled and growled, so he couldn't help climb to his feet and shuffle hesitantly toward the old woman. “Where'd you get it?”
Smiling, the woman said, “There's a nice lady that cooks at the restaurant a couple blocks over who gives me stuff that gets sent back from the fussy folks that eat there. Come on, sweetheart, I'll share with you.”
He couldn't help but smile back at her, and quickly settled next to her. She handed him a biscuit and a little plastic tub that had jelly in it. Giggling, he broke the biscuit open and then opened the jelly tub. Spreading it across the biscuit, he began nibbling at the bread. As he finished the biscuit, the woman handed him two pieces of bacon. While he ate that, she ate scrambled eggs from a little white box. She explained that her teeth weren't very good, so she usually ate the softer stuff. Vin nodded but, truthfully, he was so excited about so much good food that he wasn't paying very much attention.
“My name's Berta Winn, but folks mostly call my Granny,” His visitor said.
Making sure that he had finished all the food in his mouth, Vin wiped his right hand across his jeans before holding it out like he had been taught. “Pleased to meet you, Miz. Winn. My name's Vin Tanner.”
Smiling at the tiny child's manners, Berta took his hand and shook it gently. “Very pleased to meet you, Mister Tanner. Please, call me Granny.”
“Okay, but would you call me Vin, ma'am... Granny?”
“I would love too.”
They smiled at one another, and Vin felt something that he hadn't felt for a very long time. He felt safe.Epilog: The Next Year
He looked up as his name was called, smiling at the tall man who stood nearby. He had come to live with Chris Larabee almost a year ago and had thought of him as his dad almost from the beginning. “Yeah?”
Making his way around the display case, Chris pointed at the ornate music box he had found. They were shopping for a birthday gift for Nettie Wells. “What do you think about this one?”
Giving the highly polished, metal inlaid box a cursory glance, Vin nodded. “It's pretty.”
Frowning, Chris asked, “But...?”
Mirroring his father's expression, Vin asked, “But what?”
Squatting down beside the little boy, Chris clarified, “But what have you spotted that you like better?”
“Oh. It ain't... isn't...” he corrected himself before his father could, “that I like it better I guess...”
When the seven year old trailed off, Larabee followed his gaze to a rather plain, wooden music box. This one was open so that you could see a rather cheap looking, plastic ballerina figurine in the middle, on a dull, metal disc. She was poised before a mirror that had several chips in it. You never knew what you might find in the store, which sold almost anything on commission. “Do you think Miss Nettie would like a music box like that better?”
Sighing, the little boy shook his head. “No, sir. It's just...”
Seeing how torn his son was, Chris tried to decipher what he was so reluctant to share. When he couldn't think of anything, he simply asked, “Why is that music box so important to you, Cowboy?”
“Mama had one like it,” the child replied, shrugging thin little shoulders as he was finally able to put his thoughts into words.
“Oh.” Suddenly it was all clear to his father, who looked briefly at the pricetag that had been stuck to the corner of the mirror. He knew immediately what he would be leaving the store with; two music boxes. “Would you like to have this music box? Would it remind you of your mama?”
Vin nodded but, as tears filled large, blue eyes, he said, “But it's so 'spensive!”
Chris started to argue that it wasn't expensive at all but, to his son, “$20.95” must seem like a fortune. He was well known for his ability to sort through information and make an informed decision quickly and this was obvious when he suggested, “Tell you what. If you keep your side of the room clean, make sure that Ringo and Elvis have water every morning before you leave for school, and eat all of your vegetables for the next two weeks, without being asked, we'll call it even.” None of his suggestions were out of the ordinary, Vin did all of them anyway, usually without being asked.
Tiny face screwing up as he considered the deal, Vin asked, hesitantly, “Even broccoli?”
Nodding solemnly while struggling to hide a smile, Chris replied, “Even broccoli.”
Letting out a long, drawn out sigh, Vin finally nodded. “Okay.”
His repeat of “Okay” sealed the deal and, a few minutes later father and son were walking out of the store, each carrying a bag. Chris was carrying the more ornate music box, which played “Greensleves”, which they would wrap to give to the boys' social worker at her birthday party next week. Beside him, humming softly, Vin carried the second bag, which contained the music box that reminded him of one his mother had once owned. The store owner wasn't certain what it played, Chris hoped it was something he liked, because he had a feeling that he would be hearing a lot of it soon.
Chris looked up from his evening paper at the sound of soft footsteps; Vin stood in the doorway to the den, his little hands clasped around something held against his chest. With a smile he nodded and motioned the child of his heart into the room. Vin was quick to respond, padding across the room in a quick stride. As he drew near the recliner, Chris held out his hands, and scooped him up as soon as he was close enough.
Shaking his head, Vin explained, “I been thinkin'.”
“About the music box?” When the child nodded, he asked, “What have you been thinking about?”
“'Bout how me and Mama played it at night sometimes, after she read me a story.”
Nodding, Vin sat the music box on his lap. “I don't 'member how to make it make music.”
Tipping the box slightly, Chris located the key and wound it up. When he sat it back down, he lifted the lid, the little dancer rising slowly and beginning to dance along to the music. He was slightly surprised at the choice of music that she danced to, smiling when he remembered listening to Sarah singing it to Adam sometimes. He couldn't help himself and, honestly, he didn't want to. He wanted to begin a new tradition with his son, Vin:
Hush-a-bye don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
The little boy sighed as he listened to his father singing to him. Making certain not to drop the music box, he snuggled against Chris' broad chest, feeling the vibration against his face as the song continued.
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapple grays,
Coach and six white horses.
Chris smiled as he sang, tears stinging his eyes as he felt Vin go limp in sleep against him. He had thought this would be denied him forever. The last two lines were softer, lulling the child in his arms deeper into sleep.
Hush-a-bye don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
July 8, 2011