by Jeff Brown
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
I screamed and slid off of my seat. Though Mother tried to catch me I slipped through her hands and fell to the ground, landing in the snow awkwardly. My right leg buckled and popped when I landed. Even with the pain racing from ankle to hip I began to run through the shin deep snow. Mother called after me as she followed. Her voice sounded scared. Hailey ran in front of us, barking loudly.
I ran through the cornfield that at that time was just dead stalks. I stopped at the edge of the field and watched as the flames — some which were the size of small cars — came crashing down onto the field; onto the wild horses.
The horses ran about, frantically. There was terror in their whinnies and neighs. I could see the fear in their large brown eyes. I could feel their fear as it cut through my heart like lightening through the sky.
Standing there in horror I watched as the flames crashed down onto the horses, engulfing them in red, yellow, and orange, burning them as they ran, fleeing, trying to escape the inferno they were in. I watched as some of the horses exploded. Others seemed to melt where they were running. Still, others disintegrated into ashes. I watched as their long flowing manes and tails singed from the flames, catching afire, making the horses look as if their manes and tails were made of whipping flames. Their skin began to melt away and they began to bleed. And, as they bled, a red mist seemed to fill the air. I watched as dying horse after dying horse after dying horse collapsed to the ground, their bodies engulfed in flames. The smell of burning flesh filled the air. It was the worse stench I have ever smelled. It was in my nose for days after that and in my soul forever.
I screamed and wailed, crying with streaming tears and a snotty nose. I felt as if I was on fire along with the wild horses. As it turned out I very well could have been. The flames had begun to grow dangerously close to where we were. The heat had burned my skin a light pink color that I would be feeling for almost two weeks after.
My mother grabbed me up and yelled for Hailey to come along. She started back the way we came with me screaming and bucking in her arms.
Somehow I got myself turned around as she pulled me. I peered through the dead corn stalks back at the burning field of wild horses. Through the tears that had blurred my vision I saw him. I saw Prince. He was walking in that noble manner he always walked in. He seemed oblivious to the flames that roared all around him; oblivious to all the chaos; oblivious to the other horses’ deaths. Prince stopped walking in the center of the field. He looked around, turning his head from side to side as if he were surveying the site and counting the dead.
Flames began to catch the tips of his purple mane on fire. His tail erupted into a dancing tail of flames. The soft black hair on his body began to burn away, exposing the flesh underneath it. Even as Mother dragged me away I could see his firm muscles begin to cook and melt off of him.
I screamed louder. Louder. Louder.
Prince knelt down like he did on that first day when he let me pet his silky mane. He turned his eyes to my screaming voice. He seemed to nod at me just as he always did. Then, Prince lowered his head and the flames engulfed him.
I screamed until I couldn’t scream anymore and then I screamed some more. Eventually, Mother got me home where I passed out from exhaustion and what I would later come to know as a broken heart.
It was over a month before I went back outside. It was almost six months before I climbed back into the tree and looked out passed the cornfield to the open expanse beyond it where the wild horses played. The field was a charred black color. I cried again.
It was almost a year later when I asked my mother to take me out to the field. At first she said “no.” I persisted in my request and she finally took me back out to the field. This time I walked onto the field with Hailey next to me. I halfway expected to see more than what I thought I would, but I am glad I didn’t see what I had expected. There were no skeletal remains of any of the wild horses; no rotted flesh; no clumps of hair. For the most part there was only charred grass and ground.
But, there was something else.
In the spot where I was certain Prince had perished were several dozen flowers. The flowers had prickly looking stems and yellow colored berries on them. The flowers were star shaped and were white and purple colored. For the first time in over a year I smiled.
I didn’t know what the flowers were at the time but I’ve since learned they were plants called Horse Nettles.
It was here, in this field where I stand, almost eighty-five years ago, that a freakish hailstorm (as the newspaper of the time called it) struck down the wild horses. I sometimes think of the Bible and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. That city had been struck down by flames from the sky, struck down because of their wicked ways. Unlike Sodom and Gomorrah I don’t think the wild horses were struck down by the wrath of the Lord. I think the newspaper at the time had it right. It was a hailstorm, they just misspelled it. It was a Hell storm, because that is where it came from: Hell.
I still have nightmares about the day flames crashed down from the sky on that early January morning. When those nightmares befall my dreams I come back here, to this field. I come back home. The ground is no longer charred and there is no grass in the field. There is also no wildlife that roams through it. Not even the bees gathering nectar go into the field.
I, however, stand in the middle of the field whenever I visit. I close my eyes tightly to hold back my tears and I think back. Not to the day when I was eleven and all my horrors were fulfilled. I think back to the day when I was five years old and I first saw the wild horses running.
I know this sounds weird but when I close my eyes I can almost hear the sounds of hooves clopping on the hard ground. I sense them — all the dead horses — all around me as the ghosts gallop through the field in death just as they did in life. I never saw Prince. Not once.
This morning, just before dawn I arrived in the field. I had had a rough night of sleep — none, to say the least — and depression was beginning to set in. To be completely honest, I think this is the most depressed I have been since that day so long ago. I would have climbed into the old oak tree but there were a few problems with doing so.
First of all, the tree has grown some in the past eight and a half decades. Secondly, I am ninety-six years old now. My bones are a bit more brittle than they used to be. And, thirdly, the old ladder Father had attached to the tree has rotted away leaving only the spike-like nails that held each step in place. Instead of climbing the tree I walked out to the field, stopping where I always stopped. It was in the place where I last saw Prince alive.
Closing my eyes I listened. I felt cold tears forming in my eyes, trying to escape from between clinched shut eyelids. In my right hand I held the long, purple hair that had come from Prince’s mane. It was the first time I had held the hair since his death. I raised my hand in the air, palm up. The hair sat on my hand unmoving. Then I heard the sound I was hoping to hear. It was the sound of hundreds of hooves pounding on the ground. My heart began to speed up. I swallowed hard and waited.
It was a cool wind that raced through the field, blew through my long, white hair and picked up the strand of hair out of my hand, carrying it off. The sound of the hooves ceased almost immediately after the hair was swept from my hand.
Goosebumps danced along my skin when I heard the new sound of hooves walking softly across the ground. After several moments the sound of the walking hooves ceased also. I waited a moment longer, listening and hearing nothing. Then I opened my eyes. There stood Prince in all of his majestic glory. He was just as large as I remembered. His mane and tail were that same midnight Purple. His muddy brown eyes glistened as the sun began to rise.
Prince knelt before me and it was as if I was a child again. Reaching up I stroked his face and mane. After a few strokes Prince stood just as he had when I was a child of five years of age. He turned, walked away, leaving me standing there watching him. The tears flowed from my eyes as I watched Prince walk away, and fade out, disappearing.
I stood there for a long time in silence. The sun had completely risen by then; its brilliant rays shining down on me. I looked around myself at the field I stood in. As far as my elderly eyes could see I saw the white and purple star shaped flowers with their yellow colored berries and prickly stems. I saw the horse nettles — thousands of them.
As I turned and walked out of the field I remembered that when I was eleven I took my mother’s hands and looked up at her. It was shortly after the death of the wild horses. I looked up at her and through sobs and tears I asked her one question:
“Mommy, where are the wild horses?”
I knew what death was — after all, my father had died not too long before. But, I didn’t quite comprehend it. I needed to hear it from my mother. It was the only question I ever asked my mother that she didn’t answer. Well, I have the answer now.
Mother, the wild horses are still in the field, galloping happily. They have been waiting for me. You see, the wild horses were always alive... in my heart, in my soul. They just needed me to need them; they needed me to believe they were still alive. That is why Prince left me one of his hairs on that first day — so he could always be with me. Now, the wild horses gallop in the field where the horse nettles grew in the wake of their death.
I feel that soon I will be joining them. Even now, as I recall the events of that day, I feel my life slipping away. It’s not such a bad thing. Maybe now I will get to see the wild horses galloping and playing every morning. In the distance I can see the sun beginning to set, and in the field I can see Prince. He is standing as statuesque as ever and he is waiting for me.
Copyright © 2006 by Jeff Brown