Mirada de Caballo

Submitted by Warren Woods to Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt

The iron beams that span the land and jut beyond into infinity begin to quake. The tremble in the parallel rails intensifies and the engine is heard, faintly. The sound of heavy mechanical movement. There is no horn because no crossing exists. As the train approaches and passes, each set of wheels on the linked train cars make a slow and steady thump.

Hhhwhum...hhhwhum…hhhwhum.

The train moves beyond the pasture and the noise fades. On the edge of a field stands three horses in a semicircle, each a few yards from the next. The foremost horse has already forgotten the now distant train humming and moves his head back down; his body remains sturdy and still. He resumes grazing. He brushes the edge of his nose on the fodder as he chews and opens his rough mouth to bite more. He is mostly white, with a narrow area near his mane that resembles wet sand. Rear to him stands the mare, a chestnut beauty. She remains unflinching by the passing heap, already a faded memory. Eventually, another locomotive will pass, at which point the youngest of the three horses will hurriedly lift his head, unsure why the others continue eating casually. He, the youngest, stands across from the mare and nearest the tracks. Each of the three horses stand quietly. The deafening silence of nature. The daily passing of locomotives is a reminder of their own replacement as the pioneer of transportation. Their true creator’s intention for their noble and swift movement was not for accompanied transportation, but they have arrived at this purpose thousands of years later. Now, the trips are shorter and generally of some leisure.

They are here at dawn, on the vast land they have all come to learn, each at their own rate. Each prioritizing the land’s features, passes, ledges and narrows presented to them. The land rises and falls in elevation, but overall, the earth is a flat unnoticeable curve.

The horses faintly lift one leg at a time, slowly moving in a shared pattern across the land. Sometimes walking sideways and diagonally. The white horse looks up casually for navigation, an exercise the mare has no trouble doing with her head down. The youngest eats with his head lifted, not yet knowing the advantages of limiting one’s own movement. The shifts in feet and heads are subtle and occur periodically by each horse like the clicking second hand of a clock, continuous, with the collective movement of the small herd the hand that is the hour.

A short haired mutt races over from across the hill, on the trodden ravine. All three horses notice without lifting their heads. Through infinite encounters they have been dulled by the approach of the dog, even the youngest, now directly behind the mare. The dog slows to a scamper as it draws near and then eventually walks. It nears the shortest of the three and sniffs at the ground that the horses cover. It moves constantly, in a path first around the horses, but then eventually it threads their legs, carefully, gently brushing the legs of the horses. They move about, sometimes lifting their heads and the mare shakes a fly off her neck. The dog notices a fleeting field mouse and races for it. The horses acknowledge the ending cue of their morning ritual and make their way back on the trail toward the ranch. At the gate, two adolescent Mexican men stand at the fence with their arms hanging over the top brace. A third man comes out of the ranch house as the three horses approach in a hurry.

“Ponte las sillas de montar,” the man exiting the house says, pointing at the wall on the barn where the saddles hang. He is older than the other two men and his head is clean shaven aside from his manicured grey beard.

Now, they are moving, each man saddled atop the horses, toward the city. They take the road through the canyon and make a stop on the way so that one of the Mexican men can pee. Then, they are galloping; the two Mexican men aside one another and the oldest man with the beard leads on the white horse.

This is the horse, he thinks. This will be the one.

The white horse will serve to eradicate corruption in the city of Aguascalientes today. It will carry out the action of fleeting, both instinctively and by the authority of the Mexican man. All horses have learned the mutual benefit of the relationship with their riders. They are to do as told, unless it is of concern to their own safety, then they will do so with much hesitation if at all. In exchange, the riders provide food and shelter. This conditional exchange, shared by horses and men, is unlike the scrawny ranch dog who vows to please man unendingly.

One of the two younger Mexican men in the rear gathers the lariat hitched to the side of the saddle as they approach the Aguascalientes court house. He stays behind with the horses and does his best to appear relaxed. For, the townspeople have now stopped to watch the three men’s arrival and abrupt entry through the adobe entrance of the courthouse.

Moments pass. Then, the bearded man and the other exit with their arms grasped tight around a man’s arms. The person of which they have custody is wearing a tweed suit. He is the mayor of Aguascalientes.

“LAZO,” the older man with the beard shouts to the man who stayed with the horses. He tosses the bundle of rope to him and he catches it with his hand that is not tight around the mayor. He then ties it securely around the ankles of the mayor as the other man pulls the mayor down to the ground. The mayor begins weeping and shouting “Por favor! Por favor!” to the men. A woman screams from across the street.

The man who stayed behind is already on his horse now and the other two men follow. The older man with the beard steps up onto the white horse, to which the mayor is tied with rope, threaded between and around his ankles. The rope lays slack on the ground and leads up to the rear side of the horse and then underneath the bearded Mexican man and between his legs. The rope is dallied around the saddle horn tight and the end of it is held by the firm grip of the man who rides the horse.

The hearts of the horses beat hard in their large chests and their eyes appear wider than usual in the stunning chaos of the moment. The horses are unsure of both the purpose and possible outcome of this morning errand. The white horse knows that he possesses some inherent duty in this moment because on his saddle sits the man who is the leader of the three and the one who speaks when training and riding. The white horse feels the pandemonium like a distant thunder.

The older bearded man, like a flash of lightning overhead, kicks the side of the horse hard and shouts “VAMANOS,” and in the blink of the youngest horse’s eye they are moving across the dirt road in unison. One of the men turns around mid ride and sees the bottom of two chalky huaraches and ankles that disappear into a cloud of orange-ish dust that has now engulfed the mayor who is being dragged behind.

They ride until they are beyond the edge of town where the road follows the train tracks. The noise of the rhythmic gallop and dragging mass that mimics a hailstorm on a metal roof resounds loudly. Faintly, a train can be heard approaching from behind. It gets louder and the horses can feel the vibrations through the ground. The thumping of the train intensifies until the engine is aside the equestrian frenzy, appearing now like a circus act that blew through the canopy tent flaps and escaped to the outside world with the mayor in tow, like the consequence of a failed circus trick-rider’s reverse fender maneuver. The onward commotion appears to the train conductor as a fever dream that transcended reality.

By evening, the horses stand beneath the glow of the moon. The echo of another pounding train carries over the land and through the canyon. The tiny moon reflects from the mirrored void of the horses’ dark eyes.

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