Man on the High Horse
by Gary Moshimer
My ex had only worked at Allmart for a month when she decided she’d been impregnated by the Man on the High Horse.
I came to her little apartment. It was a mess, stacked with books on the occult and dolls with pins in them. Standing right on the kitchen table was a doll of me with a hat pin in its neck, explaining my scratchy throat of late. Still, I was impressed: she was a good little witch, too good to be under the spell of that son of a bitch.
“Trudy,” I whispered, “if you want me to help you...”
“Fine.” Her red hair and black eyes flashed fire, but she removed the pin, and right away I could take a deep breath and sing an aria.
“The way you sang was why I loved you,” she explained, dripping with apologetic tears and sighs. She fell at my feet. “Sing like you did at our wedding!”
I had to prod her with my slipper. “Let’s just stick to our mission, woman! I love another!” I sang that last part, so as not to totally crush her, and she was grateful, taking out her little kit and polishing my left slipper until she could focus herself by combing her hair and applying strawberry lip gloss.
I spread the papers and maps across the floor, and immediately her many mysterious cats came to stretch. I had to divert them with my pouch of sardines. We lay on the papers and studied the ceiling. “Before we plot, we should at least do a test. It is the Man on the High Horse, after all.”
“I can feel it... like the other girls.”
We took her horse, which was one of the lowest around. His belly actually scraped the street on certain bumps. She let me drive, only so she could put her arms around me and press her face into my neck. We found a nifty parking space, right next to a handicapped spot, and Trudy took out her sack of sugar cubes and fed one to the poor mare on her motorized cart and nuzzled her twitching nose.
The Man on the High Horse was just inside the front doors, ordering some random kid to get him a Coke and toss it up. The High Horse filled the space with his highness and horse breath, and we dared to walk right under him, wary of the shuffling hooves the size of beer kegs. We prayed he wouldn’t crap on us as he’d crapped on so many with impunity.
The Man did not notice us, he was busy yelling at the kid, who was telling him there was no Coke, it was sold out of every machine, and one machine had kept the money. The Man on the High Horse threw his giant staff at the front plate-glass, cracking it. “IAAAAMMMMM!” he cried, and we snickered joyfully and scampered for the pregnancy-test aisle, remarking, “Dipwad.”
* * *
It was said of the Man that he could make certain female employees pregnant just by thinking it, and thus had a firm grip on worker discipline. Occasionally you’d hear about the unsatisfactory men bleeding from their ears and going deaf.
Trudy was worried because the Man had caught her reading one of her books during break, and while the Horse had pinned it beneath his massive hoof, destroying the beautiful binding, Trudy had tried to defend herself by saying that it was a free country, something that wasn’t entirely true anymore. She was most indignant because it was the book her mother had written, supposedly very powerful and special, now destroyed and stained by a piece of horse poop.
The book wasn’t all that bad; it was still readable, but she followed the strict instructions inside, which stated clearly that if the book were to be damaged in any way it must be buried under a foot of earth and retrieved only during the full moon. Then it must be burned, and the ashes sealed in a container, never to be used without further, specific instructions, which unfortunately were not included in the book. I personally believed it was all a crock, because her mother was a kook and I never saw her exhibit any special powers.
* * *
“You should just quit,” I told her, as she ticked her nails across boxes on the shelf.
“If you haven’t noticed, it’s not like there are jobs out there anymore. The world’s going to pieces, unless of course you can sing.” She turned suddenly and pressed my face between her cold hands and kissed my lips.
I feared I might fall back in love with her. She could use those ashes on me and I’d never know.
She pleaded to my eyes and whispered, “This bastard...” and she paused as we listened to the clomping of the hooves past the aisle. “He runs practically everything in town now. He must be stopped. You must help me.”
“You really think we can make a difference?”
She slid out one of the boxes and read the directions. “No matter what this test says, we have to.”
* * *
While she was in the bathroom I straightened up the kitchen a little and swept the floor. It wasn’t a bad place, but looking out the window at the rows of identical apartment buildings I remembered her saying, “Sure, there are five hundred just like it.” I knew the feeling, but I still lived in a big single home, safe for now because I was an artist. The Man probably owned all these apartment buildings, where his employees lived. It was just a matter of time before he began secret inspections and would find Trudy’s voodoo and witchcraft stuff.
She came out holding the plastic stick with relief on her face. Her eyes went from black to molasses. Her cheeks flushed like spilled wine. “Negatory,” she announced, shooting the stick across the room and doing a little spinning dance.
“Sweet,” I said. But it was bittersweet, because I thought of all the times we tried and couldn’t.
“Now what?” I asked.
She grabbed my hand and I thought she would make me do some wild celebratory dance, but she pulled me to the window and swept back the curtain to show me the fat orange moon.
* * *
We moved the soft dirt with our hands, stopping once to judge hoof-beats on the street. “It seems a shame,” I said, squirting the lighter fluid. “The funny part is,” she said, leaning to the fire-ring with her little torch, “he would approve of this.”
We held hands in front of the bursting glow, flames of reds, blues and greens. Certain wisps of smoke looked like spirits to me, escaping into the night. Once Trudy squeezed my hand tightly and said, “Look, my mother’s face.”
I sang to her softly.
“Does your wife know where you are?”
“She thinks I have a gig.”
We sat on the patio and kissed. She started it, snaking her tongue which felt hot and gritty, and I suspected she’d tasted some of the powerful ash, to put me under, but already I could not protest.
* * *
Later we were in her kitchen, putting the finishing touches on our papier-mâché likeness of the Man. We had stirred the ashes into the mixture, and were a mess, like kids in a kindergarten class, but he really was a masterpiece — with the same threatening expression.
“Do we have to make the horse, too?” I wondered.
“We’d better. They kind of go together. I’ve never seen him off the horse.”
“But we won’t hurt the horse, right?
“Of course not. We will set him free.”
“That’s one huge animal. He might destroy the place.”
I’d never seen her so sure of herself, so committed, and suddenly I wanted her again. She was so earthy, dressed in one of her mother’s old worn dresses.
But she gently pushed me away. “There will be time for that later. Now take some wire and get to work.”
She held the knitting needle, caressing its smooth coolness.
* * *
I thought she could just do it from home, but she insisted we be there to see it. It was three in the morning, past the point of no return for me, when Trudy called for a cab.
“Will he be there?”
“He’s always there,” she said, “stalking.”
She ordered the enclosed carriage, for secrecy, and two horses, for speed and danger. She wanted it to feel like the French Revolution. The driver, too, had a conspiratorial look about him, as we climbed in with our masterwork hidden in its black trash bag. He cracked his whips and we were off, jarring breathlessly through deserted streets. There was an orange glow to the night from the moon and the fires in the city.
In the parking lot Trudy pressed a fistful of bills on him and told him to wait, and we stood looking through the automatic doors. “The people in here at this time are dazed,” Trudy explained. “It’s perfect for us. If someone notices us they won’t even remember. They’re like zombies, and he clomps around telling them it’s good to shop at night, tells them what to buy.”
Soon we heard the hoofsteps, or rather felt them through the sidewalk. Then the Man came over his megaphone, shouting, “Red-light special aisle four, kitty litter! Kitty litter! You need kitty litter! Even if you have no cats, you need it!” And we could see some of the poor fool zombies scurrying, either to get out of his way or to get to the kitty litter.
Trudy wasted no time. She slid her hand into the bag, grasping the knitting needle and running it through the papier-mâché head. Just as quickly she closed the bag, looking like just another innocent and lost bag lady drawn to the all-night call of Allmart.
We waited. We saw Man and Horse clomp past the doors, his baby-blue company chaps hanging down.
“It might take a while,” I said, a shiver running through me.
“I suppose. I really hoped the ashes would do it quickly. I just know they were meant for some special, higher purpose.”
We sat on the curb, trying not to look anxious and suspicious, and shortly a tremendous shockwave tickled our asses. Moments later the exit flooded with shoppers bumping into each other. “There’s a river of blood!” one woman screamed, just a big set of teeth going by me. In passing she helped herself to some potted plants.
Then a man in a baby-blue shirt with a name tag, ‘Joey’, snatched the front of my shirt and shook me. “It’s the Man! He’s gone down! Streams of blood coming from, guess where? His ears, man. His ears!” He was terribly happy.
We braved our way inside, dodging some confused stumblers and bouncing cantaloupes. The blood river was flowing from aisle four to the front door, a perfectly behaved and contained stream which seemed to know where it was going. “Don’t get near it!” warned Trudy, but one of the girl workers was sucked in and washed away.
There was looting. I took the chance to get one of those new razors with the batteries and some throat lozenges, while Trudy grabbed another pregnancy test and some frozen pizzas. A few loyal workers were swinging mops and throwing horse dung, but we escaped down aisle two so we could loop around for a closer look.
He was most certainly dead. For now, anyway. Only his fancy pale-blue silk western duds and hand-tooled leather chaps remained, draped over a pile of kitty litter from the broken bags. What was left of his head looked like a shriveled old apple. “Where are his insides?” I whispered, standing behind Trudy.
“I guess that’s what all that blood was.”
I shook. The blood river was totally gone now, leaving no trace of itself on the floor. “I was wrong about your mother.”
“Never underestimate us.” She held her chin high.
Again I wanted her.
“Wait,” I said. “Where’s the horse?”
We found him all the way in the back, nibbling at a plastic potted tree. He seemed frightened, trying to hide behind the tree, but for him there was no hiding. We approached cautiously, Trudy saying, “It’s okay, boy.” He backed away and toppled shelves. He whinnied and reared and pulled down a light fixture with his goofy yellow teeth and shook his great head.
“Easy now.” Trudy moved towards him despite my warnings. He could kill her in an instant, but she seemed to have a power now. She was holding up the sugar cubes in her palm. “You will be free,” she said, her voice hypnotic.
He tapped a hoof on the floor three times — a small earthquake for us — then dipped his head gracefully to Trudy’s tiny but steady hand, taking the sugar delicately with his lips. He kept his nose there, for her to stroke. The shiver of a million muscles ran under his skin. He was an all white stallion, majestic and unearthly.
“Bring that over here,” she said to me, motioning to the ladder on wheels used to stock high shelves.
“What are you...” but then I stopped, tired of sounding like a wimp, ashamed when I remembered saying to her yesterday, “Let’s just stick to our mission, woman!” I was the woman now, and she, as I watched her climb the ladder and mount the High Horse, was Joan of Arc.
She took the reins and they started to move slowly, proudly, while I rolled the ladder frantically away like a little guy on a runway. They marched towards the front of the store, crunching over scattered products, Trudy waving to cheering female employees, the ragged but pretty queen. I sang a little ditty, marching next to them, the jester, still guarding our trash bag.
Outside she slid off into my arms to scattered applause. The horse reared once more and, with a whinny that echoed across the great expanse of asphalt, thundered into the trees, free at last.
* * *
As we careened away in the taxi I asked her why another pregnancy test, and she smiled and placed my hand on her belly. “I have a feeling,” she said. “About us.”
“Where are we going now?”
“We’re going to make progress.”
We passed a bonfire of celebration and the flames burned in her eyes. I had a feeling I’d never go home again.
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Moshimer