Thursday, December 17, 2015
It's Filler Time
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He mounted up and rode out of town, careful to keep to the speed limit. Once he hit the town line he opened up, and made it to the crossroads in record time.
Sure enough, the horse was waiting.
Roy grinned and gunned his engine. The horse pawed the ground. Roy swung onto the road, and they were off.
The horse kept pace all the way up the road to the narrow gravel drive that led to Roy’s place. Roy slowed, both for the turn and to wait for the pickup coming from the other direction. As Roy’s speed diminished the horse pulled ahead. It even found wind for a whinny.
All at once the truck swung toward him, right over the center line. Roy, with his eyes on the horse, almost didn’t see it. He frantically swerved to the berm. The truck sideswiped him, close enough its side brushed the denim on his leg. The driver’s face snarled at him, a twisted blur. One of O’Casey’s buddies. “Watch where you’re driving, you goddamn faggot!”
The Harley skidded, bucked and slid. Roy’s brain did the same. He heard loud noises but couldn’t attach them to anything. Except for one shrill scream he was pretty sure wasn’t him. It must have been the horse. Awareness left him on his own for a while
Next thing he knew, something warm and stubbly was nudging at his face. He opened his eyes to four long legs and scuffed black hooves. He licked his lips and tasted dirt. The horse nosed his face again and murmured its concern.
His first coherent thought was, Where’s my bike?
Carefully, Roy elbowed himself up. His heart crashed against his ribs, nearly through his jacket. That proved he was still alive. He could still feel his legs, and they moved when he thought at them. Another good sign. He reached up and found blood in his hair, but no bumps. His helmet lay a few feet away. That, his gloves and jacket, and the fact he must have rolled when he landed had probably saved him from serious injury.
Had he lost consciousness? He was pretty sure he hadn’t, but couldn’t be certain. The truck and its murderous driver, of course, were long gone.
Then he spotted the Harley, lying on its side on the grassy edge of the berm. Even at a distance he saw the kink in the handlebar, the tailpipe hanging loose. There was probably more, maybe worse, waiting for a hands-on search.
A groan ripped out of him. He tried to scramble upright. Sharp jabs of pain in his left ankle and knee put a stop to that. “Son of a bitch,” he cursed the truck.
He made a second attempt. This time the horse helped out. When his left leg crumpled under him the horse caught his jacket sleeve in its teeth and kept him semi-standing. Roy grabbed at its mane and dragged himself onto his still-functioning right leg. He hooked an arm across the horse’s neck and leaned hard on the solid support of its shoulder. The horse did not move or complain. It whickered at him, perhaps in sympathy.
Roy patted its neck. “Good Noche. Good boy. Good—” He stopped, both words and patting.
The horse had blue eyes.
Now that was flat-out weird. Back in Oklahoma he’d seen blue-eyed horses, even one with one blue eye and the other regular brown. But those had all been pintos. He’d been told that was normal for them. Any horse that wasn’t a pinto tended to have brown eyes. Except for his racing buddy here.
And damned if those eyes, even the way the horse cocked its head, didn’t look familiar.
Then he put too much weight on his left foot and the pain shot up his leg again. Roy cried out. Now he was getting alarms from his lower chest and his elbow. He had to get off the road, get home, maybe call somebody.
He and the horse must have been on the same page, because Noche folded his forelegs and got down on his knees and presented his back to Roy. Somebody’s pet for sure, and excellently trained. He hauled himself onto the horse’s back and gripped its mane as hard as his aching hands would let him. One hard fall was bad enough. He didn’t need another.
The horse set off at a slow, careful walk, toward the road and the gravel drive. Roy didn’t even have to steer him. It was like he knew right where to go.
He couldn’t resist a squint at his bike as they shuffled past it. That looked like a dent in the fuel tank. Was the engine okay? Roy groaned with a pain divorced from his physical injuries. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered again.
Even with the horse’s easy pace, Roy still jounced enough to spark snaps of pain in various parts of his body. Motorcycles he could straddle. Men too, in the right circumstances. Horses, not so much. He gritted his teeth and hung on while Noche made his tedious, torturous way up the drive to Roy’s cozy rancher. The barn, where the Harley should be sitting safe and secure and undamaged right now, seemed to mock him with its placidity.
The horse knelt again, positioned so Roy could slide off onto the porch and not have to climb the front steps. He tried to land to protect his ankle and barked his knee on the porch rail instead. Tears started to his eyes. I won’t faint, he told himself. It’s just a twisted ankle. An Army vet doesn’t faint over a twisted ankle.
Noche nuzzled his hair. Roy patted his nose. “Not that I’m ungrateful,” he said, “but as an ambulance, you’re not the smoothest.”
The horse backed a step. His body blurred. Thinking his eyes had got knocked askew too, Roy blinked hard. It wasn’t his eyes after all. It was the horse. The horse had somehow reshaped itself into a human being.
“That makes us even,” Dale Evanista said. “’Cause you can’t ride for shit.”