I stared out across the plains that ran for miles in front of me. Not a soul could be seen or sound could be heard. There was a time I wasn’t so alone. Not so long ago and not so far away I remember how it used to be…
On a warm summer afternoon my brother and I were up to our usual games. He’d tapped me so it was my turn to catch him. He was so much faster than I was. One day I would run faster but at present I was still getting used to my awkwardly long legs. Scout was very good at hiding. I’d completed a few paces the other direction before being allowed to give chase. When I spun it was like he had vanished. I tried to figure out where he had gone. I glimpsed a wisp of his black hair poking out from behind I tree. I took off at full speed. Running was one of my favourite things to do. The wind was in my hair and I felt like I was leaving the world behind. It didn’t take long for me to cover the ground between us. Just as I’d reached the tree Ma beckoned from the other side of the fence. It was dinner time. Scout’s stomach always took over his desire to win and he was out from behind the tree before Ma had even finished her call. I tapped him and raced off towards dinner.
Farmer Zeke and his eldest son Gabe had come down with the food for us.
“Pa I still don’t see why you won’t let me head into the saloon tonight?” Gabe whined.
“Because I says so and that’s all yer need to know,” Zeke growled at him. Zeke’s skin was brown and worn by many long days in the sun.
“Pa…” Gabe started.
“Sides yer got this ‘ere colt for breaking tomorrow,” Zeke interrupted. He gave Scout a swift hit on the rump. Scout kicked out but kept his head down eating. Ma watched them sceptically. There was something about the word breaking that she didn’t like. I had heard the word a few times before and every time one of the herd went they came back different, if at all.I looked from Ma to Scout and back again but the only response I got was a sigh from Ma as she started to eat again.
“Did yer hear Jessamine wants to be the one to break that filly?” Gabe laughed. Both sets of eyes turned to me. I twitched my ear forward at the sound of Jessamine’s name. Humans sure did speak a lot and there wasn’t an awful lot of words that I knew but Jessamine was one of them. She was the sweet little human filly that came to visit me every morning before she left for school. The two of them laughed and talked all the way back up to the homestead. I finished my meal and dozed off.
“Delilah!!” I heard my name being called out. Startled I lifted my head ready to run from danger. Relief took over when I realised that it was Jessamine coming down for her morning talk.
“Gabe was telling me that he is going to break Scout today.I want to stay home to see what they do. I really hope they give me the chance when it is your turn,” she told me. Even if I could understand humans I’m not entirely sure I would understand her excited ramblings.
“Jessamine, school,” Zeke barked from the veranda.
“Yes Pa,” she called out. She wrapped her arms around my neck, her golden hair was the same colour as my coat.Then trotted off down the path to school. Zeke and Gabe came down and threw a rope around Scout he snorted in displeasure. They dragged him away and it was days before I saw him again. Jessamine visited as usual but it wasn’t the same without my brother around. Finally they returned him to the field. When he was lead through the gate and released I ran over and nudged him and ran off. I was almost at the trees before I turned and realised that he wasn’t behind me. He was still standing by the fence with his head low to the ground. I raced back over thinking there was some food available but as I got closer I realised his head was just hanging there and he was in fact not eating.
Scout was often taken out by Gabe on rides. He often came back exhausted and wounded. Each time I tried to get him to play like old times he just sighed and turned his head into the corner. I turned to Ma for comfort and she kept pushing me away. It wasn’t until I awoke one morning to find a new addition to our paddock that I understood my mother’s mood.
“We got ourselves another buckskin colt,” Zeke yelled out when he came down. They let Jessamine name the new colt and she called him Trigger. As the time passed I worried less about Scout and started playing with Trigger a lot more. My new brother had a lot of energy and wore me out, now I understood why Scout had got so annoyed with me.
One morning they took Scout out and I never saw him again. When they returned without him Jessamine came running down to the paddock and threw her arms around my neck. I rested my chin on her back and felt my shoulder become wet. She was leaking and I couldn’t understand why.
“Jessamine please come inside,” her Ma, Esther, called out. I was ready to doze off when I felt a little muzzle tap my hip. The thunder of tiny hooves in the opposite direction told me that Trigger was keen for a game. I stood my ground. He came back and tapped me again. When he came back for a third tap I pinned my ears and barred my teeth at him. He knew then to leave me alone.
Each day as the sun set I watched the path hoping to see Scout. Although Trigger was always happy to play he could never quite fill the void. Jessamine spent more time with me. She would come down to the field after school as well. After a few weeks of this I started looking at the path for her to come home instead of Scout. I saw other yearlings in the herd get taken away for a few days to be “broken” and when they came back they were changed.
Jessamine started bringing things to the paddock with her. She started with a rope, then a blanket and then what she called a bridle. She started getting me used to them bit by bit.
“Tomorrow we will show Pa how well we are doing,” she told me as she kissed my muzzle and went inside for the night. As the sun rose the next morning I was waiting by the gate for her to return. She didn’t come down that morning nor the morning after.
“Gabe I know that Jessamine had her heart set on breaking this filly but we need her broken,” Zeke grumbled as he slapped me on the shoulder.
“Let’s give her a few more days,” Gabe protested.
“Look son, I know this is hard but she has the measles. We can’t put the farm on hold for her,” Zeke said gently but firmly. He handed his son the rope and Gabe threw it over my neck. The rope was pulled tighter than Jessamine had ever pulled it and it pinched my skin. I snorted as I tried to back away but Gabe pulled it tighter. It was very uncomfortable. He dragged me out the gate and around the other side of the house. There was a small fenced off yard that he put me in. He went away for a minute and came back with the thing that Jessamine had called the bridle. But it was very different when he put it on. The cold hard bit was jammed in my mouth and the straps pulled so tight that it was painful. I pulled away and was met by the sharp hit of a stick. Startled I tried to flee. I’d never been hit before. The bit in my mouth was attached to leather straps that Gabe was holding onto. He pulled at them and the bit put painful pressure on my mouth. He pulled at the bit and hit me and chased me for hours on end.
Eventually as the sun started to set he gave up, hobbled my legs tightly and left me in the yard. I hung my head as I had seen so many other horses do when they had returned from their breaking. I closed my eyes and sighed and then I felt a small hand between my ears.
“Oh Delilah what has he done to you?” she cried. Weeping, she untied the hobbles from my feet. She then took the bridle off the fence and placed it on my head. I pulled back but she whispered to me and I felt calmed.
“Now we are going to try something that you have never done before and I need you to be good,” she continued. She disappeared for a minute and returned with what she told me was a saddle. She put it gently on my back and tied it up underneath. She put it on the fence and led me over to it. She climbed the fence so that she could reach my back. I stayed still for her. I felt she was ailed by an illness and it was making the task more difficult for her than it should have been. She finally got the saddle on and climbed down from the fence. She struggled with the buckles and then stood back and smiled at me.
“Why Delilah you are broken,” she whispered. I didn’t feel broken. Jessamine was so happy. “Now one last step.”
She went round to my and she gently tried to pull herself up. She slipped and fell to the ground. I turned to look at her and noticed she was pale besides the spots that covered her. She looked like a frail human appaloosa.
“Oh Delilah if only I could show Pa so that Gabe doesn’t keep hurting you,” she wept. I knew that I had to help her up so I bent my knees so I was closer to her level. She struggled up onto my back and then she tugged gently on the leather straps that led out the gate and towards the front of the house.
“Papa. Papa,” she called out. It wasn’t long before Zeke and Esther were on the front porch.
“Oh Jessamine what are you doing?” Esther cried as she ran down the stairs she pulled Jessamine off my back and carried her inside. Zeke came and took the saddle off me. Then he let me free in my old field. I raced up to Trigger and gave him and nudge on the rump. He squealed with delight as he took off after me. As I quickened my speed I felt the cool night breeze in my mane and I kicked up my heels in delight. Trigger caught up to me and nudged back he raced across the field back to where our mother was. She looked proud of us and that made it the best night of my life.
It felt like a long time before I saw Jessamine again. I worried that she had gone wherever Scout was. One night I was resting and was awoken by Jessamine. She lowered herself to the ground and curled up between my feet. She was paler and thinner than when I had last seen her. I could feel the heat radiating from her but at the same time she was shaking like a leaf in the fall breeze. I looked to see that Ma was keeping her eyes out for danger and I knew that I was safe enough to lie down. I curled myself gently around her. She snuggled up into me and twined her fingers into my mane. Her breath was raspy. I nuzzled her as she started to get quieter and colder but there was no response. When the sun rose there was nothing to my favourite human but a lifeless shell. I could hear the other humans searching for her but had no way of telling them where she was. I whinnied to them so they could find her.
When Zeke came to the gate and saw her he ran over and picked her up. He made it only a few steps before his knees gave way beneath him and he screamed to the sky. Esther heard his cries and came to see what had caused them. Her screams were higher pitched and longer. It was the first time I wished I could scream and weep like the humans to let them know that I too was going to miss Jessamine. They took her away and didn’t look back.
That afternoon Zeke came back to the field smelling of a substance I didn’t reckognize and swinging a large plank of wood.
“It’s all your fault,” he screamed as the wood thwacked loudly on my side. I tried to run but he had a rope around my neck before I could get anywhere. He continued bringing the wood down roughly again and again. He repeated this process every day for some time. My sides and legs were gaping and bleeding. My head hung lower than it ever had in my life. Ma whuffled at me gently as she tried to lick me clean. She confirmed the smell was whisky and that Zeke had not touched it in years. She was disappointed that he had turned back to it to cope with the death of his daughter. I turned from her trying to get away. There was nothing left for me. Without Scout and Jessamine I didn’t want to go on.
Later that night I heard the gate creak open. A rope slipped over my neck and I winced ready for another beating but it didn’t come. The rope was tugged gently as Esther led me out the gate.
“Delilah I am so sorry. I know Jessamine would be so disappointed that I let this happen to you,” she told me. She had the same golden hair and kind blue eyes that her daughter had possessed. She mounted a horse I didn’t know and she led me as far away from the homestead as she could in a few hours. She took the rope off me and when I looked out there were no fences as far as the eyes could see. Before I had the chance to look back Esther was gone. I really was alone.
CHALLENGE- To write a western in 2500 words
ACTUAL WORD COUNT- 2498 words