& While we’ve all been off wrapping and wassailing and having a good old holiday time, there are some people who’ve been very busy the past few days trying to save a few horses from the slaughter houses. A friend writes that there has been “a huge surge of people dropping off horses, donkeys, and mules like hot rocks,” and most of them — unless someone can come up with the going price per pound of horsemeat-on-the-hoof — are headed for the slaughterhouse.
Across the country it seems, there are efforts to save at least some of the horses by raising the money to ransom them from the people known as killbuyers. In Texas, some rescuers have managed to raise $40,000 in the past few days to buy a herd of 60 already-starved horses that were jammed into a massive trailer and headed for Mexico. In Oklahoma, Cie Sadeghy continues her constant campaign to save equines, as do others in Colorado, and a group that works coast-to-coast saving draft horses. The list goes on. On top of everything else, they’ve got to find places to keep the horses that are saved, and then try to find people to adopt them. It’s never ending.
Yr’s Truly was reading about the draft horses. It inspired me to write a story for one of those 500-word flash fiction contests. (You try to write a story in 500 words. I dare you.) Well, I did it, entered it, and it didn’t win a damn thing. So it goes. Even though those judges didn’t think much of it, I kinda liked it. Maybe you will, too. It’s short, anyway.
By Robert E. Cox
The little girl with a golden braid stood waiting outside the auction barn, looking down at the pant legs puddled around the man’s scuffed boots. Her eyes rose slowly to the dirty rope resting loosely in the man’s weathered hand. The lead hooked to a makeshift halter of orange twine and cracked leather, slack-fitted on a Belgian’s massive head.
The horse’s muzzle was lifted — eyes alert and hopeful, ears raked forward, attentive to rumbling diesel engines and rattling gates of stock trailers moving forward through the dust kicked up in the dimly lighted loading lot. At the chute, two men with cattle prods swore as they forced five horses into a stock trailer.
The little girl’s eyes passed from the Belgian’s matted mane, down its muscled neck and along its swayed back. At its jutting hipbone her eyes stopped. She looked down and moved some sawdust with her toe.
“That your horse, mister?” She looked up.
His eyes were shadowed by a battered hat brim. Under a gray mustache, he smiled. “Nope. Bought him and four more for another fella.”
“What’s he gonna do with them?”
“I expect he’ll send them to slaughter. Down in Mexico.”
“So people can eat them.” He feigned surprise. “Just like cows.”
She crossed her arms on her chest, like her Mama would, and tilted forward on her toes. “Horses aren’t cows.”
“They’re meat,” he offered. “People in other countries eat horse meat, just like you eat cow meat.”
“I don’t eat meat, Mister.”
He pulled a pinch from a flat round can and put the tobacco in his mouth. The can clicked shut.
“How old are you, Missy?”
“Where’s your daddy?”
“We don’t know.”
“Where’s your momma?”
She looked back toward the sale barn. “My little brother had to pee.”
She stared at him, her mouth a hard, straight line. “How old is that horse?”
“Pretty old.” He reached up and lifted its lip. “Teeth pretty much gone. Scars. Collar burns.” The gelding stood proudly for inspection. “He did his time. Probably pulled an Amish plow.”
“Did you look at his eyes?”
The man tugged the halter. The horse lowered its head. “Nice eyes,” he said. Like he’s asking us for something, maybe.”
“What’s his name?”
“Don’t know. He’s ribby, though. Let’s call him Slim.” The man looked at the line of slowly advancing pickups. “Truck’s almost here, Missy. Gonna have to load old Slim.”
“How much for Slim, Mister?”
“I paid five seventy-five.”
“I don’t have 575 dollars.”
“Now what would you do with him, Missy?”
“I would look in his eyes, Mister. Every day.”
His fingers gathered his moustache, then spread it again.
“Hold him.” He handed her the lead. Limping a little, he walked along the line to a pickup and leaned in. There were words she couldn’t hear until the man backed away and yelled into the window. “I’m not taking that horse, God dammit!” He turned and strode back though the dust.
“Come with me,” he said, and led Slim toward a table. The sign on it said:
Help Us Save Horses from Slaughter
Adopt & Donate!
The man handed a piece of paper to a woman at the table. “This horse is named Slim. He’s yours. You should find a way to get him into the care of this little girl.
“She likes his eyes. I do too.” He handed the lead to the little girl and winked. He walked back to the pickup, climbed in and slammed the door. The truck moved off, trailering four horses into the blackness.
©2014-2015 – Robert E. Cox
& Happy that at least some of those horses will see the new year, I’m outta here.
Well, it’s a little longer than the original. After the judges so cruelly rejected me I was no longer limited to 500 words, so I added a few. What are they gonna do, sue me?
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