The wan looking woman, arms crossed, lips drawn into a thin line stood watching the stallion as the man whipped him on. The horse had wild eyes and resisted the urging of his rider as best he could. The woman gritted her teeth. She couldn’t bear to watch any longer and turned on her heel, running, running away from a sight that turned a knife in her heart. And yet a strange compulsion drove the woman to the track. Sometimes she watched him from afar, sometimes a little closer; but not too close to attract attention. He was as black as the inside of a chimney and his ribs stood out like signposts. Each time the watching brought tears to her eyes and she wondered why she came at all. He was not her horse. The RSPCA had responded to her report, but had not deemed the animal to be in bad enough condition to press any charges.
The man, incandescent with rage, slammed the stable door. Vector whinnied in fright, rearing up and pounding his front hooves into the wood of the door.
He hated ‘the man’. He had whipping scars on his flank and a sore mouth from an ill-fitting bit. He was tired and hunger gnawed at his thinning belly. He wouldn’t win. He just wouldn’t do it. At night he slept fitfully in the filthy straw in a draughty stable that was hardly ever mucked out. He had night terrors and would wake in a most terrible sweat. If he didn’t cooperate, then perhaps ‘the man’ would shoot him. It couldn’t be worse than this unendurable existence.
Vector shivered in the autumn breezes. Swirling, dying leaves fell at his feet. By the time winter had arrived, he had lost all hope of ever escaping. If it were not for the woman who visited him every week, he would have starved. Spring drew a few fresh green shoots up from an unforgiving ground to furnish the barren paddock but Vector needed more than these early grasses that had little or no nourishment. He feared another summer would finish him. Perhaps the man knew that. Perhaps the man had no intention of selling him. And soon summer did come, creeping at first, then bolting in with searing heat, vicious north winds that made his eyes water.
Panting from forcing her geriatric bicycle once more up the hill towards the stables, the woman arrived at the track. It was deserted. No Vector, no unpleasant man, no one in sight. Puzzled, she continued on towards the adjacent paddocks. Her heart pounded as she neared Vector’s paddock. He was standing very still, his head hanging a little, his tail drooping behind his thin flank. As he picked up the woman’s scent, his nostrils flared a little and as she drew closer, he began to nod his head up and down, whinnying softly as he sensed friend and not foe.
‘Hello, boy,’ the woman spoke softly.
Vector nickered and pawed the ground.
‘Oh, how I wish I could just take you away to somewhere safe,’ the woman sighed, stroking his neck gently. ‘Hang on in there, fellah. I’ll work something out. I promise.’ She pulled out a couple of carrots and the horse snuffled into her hand, searching and gobbling greedily. ‘I’ll be back.’ She drew away reluctantly. Vector trotted alongside the fence whinnying, as she cycled off. He knew just one thing: woman good, man bad.
‘Sell ’im? Are you crazy? He’s a bag of bones. Never won a race in ’is life. But ’e’s not for sale, anyway. I’m keepin’ ’im. He makes the other horses look good, he does. Now piss off.’
With a dismissive gesture, he turned his back on the woman.
‘Wait!’ she called after him. ‘So he’s a bag of bones. Can’t be much use to you, surely. I’ll take him off your hands. I’ll buy him.’ She held her breath, knowing this wily horse trainer would probably want an unreal amount, provided he agreed in the first place to sell him.
‘Are ya deaf, woman? He might be a bag of bones, but he’s my bag of bones and I’m tellin’ ya, ’e’s not for sale. Now get off me property before I set m’ dogs on ya!’
The woman stood with clenched fists, afraid and expecting vicious dogs to materialize any second. Now what? She couldn’t make him see reason and she couldn’t steal the horse, could she? Could she?
The woman drew in sharp, painful breaths as once more she tackled the hill. Nearing Vector’s paddock she lifted her head. A faint but sure smell of smoke was in the air. The smell grew stronger and by the time she arrived at the stables, she could see it in the distance. Vector was still in the paddock but was pacing up and down. He was very agitated. He knew something was wrong. The woman called out to him from the paddock fence.
‘It’s okay, fellah. It’s okay. Calm down.’ She instinctively climbed the fence and began to approach Vector, sensing his fear. His nostrils flared before he reared up then began bearing down on the slight figure before him. In fright he was much more formidable than she could ever have imagined. Words of warning issued by her father flashed through her brain: ‘You can never completely trust a stallion. There will always be that bit of wildness in him’.
And now this proud, black stallion had somehow found enough strength in his broken body to gallop towards her and she just stood there, riveted to the spot, her fear matching his as the smoke in the distance heralded worse to come.
Vector registered the woman in his path but at the last minute, his instinct drove him towards the fence instead. In a frenzy of escape, he crashed through the old farm barrier, taking off down the road and away from the hateful man and his barren paddock. Not far behind, a mob of terrified sheep were thundering along the road. Someone had released them and as the woman looked back, she saw the fire rising up like a tidal wave, beginning to bear down on everything in its path. As soon as the sheep had passed she leaped onto her bicycle and began peddling furiously down the hill. The dust had made vision almost impossible, but she had to keep going. She had to find Vector before it was too late.
The sheep disappearing over the ridge ahead of the raging fire was an awesome sight. They moved as one big grey cloud, hooves slamming into the dry dirt, kicking up clouds of blinding dust as they followed one another in panic. They couldn’t know that just beyond the ridge, was the edge, unfenced and dangerous to humans and animals alike. One by one, the sheep rocketed outwards and fell to a sure death, down to the boiling surf that surged over the rocks below.
The woman threw her bicycle down to the ground, arriving just in time to see the sheep leap to their death. Her lungs were burning from the inhalation of smoke, dust and the sheer effort from her ride. Vector was nowhere in sight. Dusty tears streaked her face as she faced the awful truth that he had suffered the same fate as the sheep. She could hear the roar of the fire as it gathered speed and force. A darkening sky bore down on her as she sank to her knees.
At first she didn’t notice the large drops plopping onto the ground. Not until the drops began to wet her head did she look up at the rain—the miraculous rain—rain that drowned out the sound of approaching hooves until she felt the warm breath on her neck as Vector bent down to nuzzle her in greeting.
Bio: Margo says this piece is about perseverance and love for the plight of an uncared for animal in which the heroine wouldn’t give up.