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Eli, the Wheezing, Licorice-Breathed Mule
by Leah Sellers
2014-01-22 12:26:08
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“Grandpa, can Mules get sick eating Licorice?”
“Now, why would you ask me that, Cheyenne ?  You been feedin’ that ‘ole Eli Licorice Sticks ?”
“No sir.  But there’s somethin’ wrong with Eli, and his breath smells like Licorice Candy.”
“That ‘ole Mule is the orneriest creature I have ever had the displeasure to try and work with or train.  He’s smart though.  He probably doesn’t want you ridin’ him today, Cheyenne, and just wants you to leave him be.”
“Grandpa, he’s layin’ down in the middle of the field, and I can’t get him up.  He’s breathin’ funny.  He sounds all wheezy.”
Grandpa folded his newspaper, and laid it down on the kitchen table beside his unfinished cup of black coffee.  “Let’s go on out and check on ’ole Eli, Cheyenne.  You take me out to where you left him.”
“What part of the pastureland did you find him at originally, Chey ?”
“Well, I walked way back into the woods where the little wild strawberries and the mountain orchids grow in the springtime, Grandpa.  I found Eli drinkin’ down by the creek where the big ferns grow out of the rocks.”
“Then I bridled Eli up without too much fuss, which was unusual.  I normally have to chase him all the way back down to the barn, and trick him into runnin’ into one of the pens.”
“When we got to the middle of the clearin’ Eli started brayin’ up a storm.  Hee-haw, hee-haw, and yawning, and licking his lips, and droolin’, and breathin’ funny.  I’ve never heard a Mule wheeze before, Grandpa.  It scared me.  And then he just laid down and wouldn’t get up.”
“Grandpa, once I get the bridle on him, Eli usually minds me, but I couldn’t get him to budge.  So, I ran to the house to get you, ’cause I knew you’d know what to do.”
Grandpa stooped down to get a closer look at Eli.  “Cheyenne, you run on back to the house, and tell your Grandma to put in a call to the Vet, Doc Chester.”
“Yes sir, I’ll run like the wind, Grandpa.”
“Yes, Herman, the tests on the Water show that your creek Water is full of the same hazardous chemical spilled in Elk River a few days ago.  Your creek must be a tributary of Elk River.  That gol-durned chemical spill has poisoned the Water in nine counties all around Charleston, West Virginia, and left hundreds of thousands of folks without tap water to drink, take a bath in or wash their clothes in,”  Veterinarian, Doc Chester explained.
“Good thing you’ve got that artesian well, pump and tank at the back of your property.  I had the Health Department fellas test the Water back there, and it’s okay.  You’re lucky to have it.  Everyone else I know is having to buy bottled Water or buy large tanks filled with Water for their Homes and their Animals.”
“I don’t feel lucky.  Aside from Eli gettin’ licorice breath drinkin’ that creek Water filled with that poison, everyone at the House has been usin’ the tap Water at the House all of this time,“  Grandpa Herman said irritably.
“It’s sort of ironical that the poison smells like Licorice Candy,”  Grandpa added.
“What other symptoms, aside from a wheezin’ Mule decidin’ to lay out in the middle of a field should I be keepin’ an eye out on, Doc Chester ?”
“Keep a look out for skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, and of course, wheezing, Herman,”  Doc Chester grinned.
“What do they call that chemical that spilled into the River, anyways ?”  Grandpa asked.
“It’s a mouthful, Herman.  It’s a chemical used to clean coal bearin’ the moniker of methylcyclohexane methanol.  It leaked out of a one inch hole in one of the stainless steel storage tanks at the Riverside chemical processing facility.  It’s an old chemical processin’ site that hadn’t been inspected in a number of years.  So, somebody’s goin’ to pay the Piper,” Doc Chester replied.
“Also, I suggest that you not slaughter any of your farm animals to eat.  Don’t drink your cows’ milk for awhile.  And don’t eat your chickens’ eggs for awhile.  In fact, you should empty out the Water cisterns and troughs throughout your barnyard, and find a way to transport your artesian Water down here to replace the tainted Water, as quickly as possible.”
“Will that chemical kill my Animals, including’ my Dogs and Cats or will it just make them sick like,  Eli ?” Grandpa asked.
“Eli was lucky.  I got him treated in time, Herman.  No Human Beings have died from ingestin’ any of the poisoned Water as of yet, but I wouldn’t tempt Fate.  Probably depends upon how much of that poison a Person or an Animal gets into their systems.”
“My Grandson was all for the Frackin’ Enterprise that the Oil Company’s been pushin’ to get through these parts.  He’s sick of coughin’ up coal dust and workin’ underground.  He was lookin’ forward to changin’ jobs and makin’ better pay.”
“All of that is over with now.  Not a Soul in these nine counties of West Virginia will want that poison filled pipeline runnin’ through this part of the Appalachians now,”  Grandpa declared.
“Grandpa, I’m dirty.  Can I go in and get a bath now ?”  Cheyenne chirped.
“Cheyenne, you were so unusually quiet, I almost forgot that you were still here.  No Baby, We can’t drink or bathe or wash dishes or our clothing in the Water from the House, right now,”  Grandpa answered.
“We’ll have to drive the ‘ole truck down to the artesian well, and fill up some barrels with Water to drink and use around the House, and to give to all of the Animals until the County tells us that we can do differently.”
“Grandpa, Eli has stopped wheezin’ and droolin’.  Does that mean that he’s goin’ to be alright ?”
“Yes, Cheyenne, Doc Chester got to ‘ole Eli in time.”
“Thank you, Doc Chester.  Thank you for savin’ our precious, Eli.”
“Don’t mention it, Little Lady.”
“Grandpa, will you please bend down close to my face ?”
“Why, I don’t see why not.  What do you need to whisper in my ear ?”  Grandpa asked, while leaning down toward his Granddaughter.
 Cheyenne blew a surprising puff of her breath directly into her Grandfather’s face.  “Does my breath smell like Licorice Sticks ?”
“No, Baby.  It does not,”  Grandpa answered with a big smile.
“Grandpa,  I’m sad.  Why would anybody want to poison the Water that everybody depends on ?  Why would anybody want to poison all of the Human Beings, Animals and Plants that depend on Water to Live ?  Why would anybody want to poison Us and everything else in the whole, wide beautiful World of the whole, wide beautiful State of West Virginia ?  What kind of people would Do that, Grandpa ?”
“What kind of people, indeed ?”  Grandpa sadly echoed.

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