It was right at a year ago that a story of mine was published in Splickety. I believe this was the second story I had published with them. The rights to the story reverted back to me after the contract time, so I thought I would publish it here. I hope to take up blogging again more regularly when life slows down. Which might not take place soon, but in the meantime enjoy this story. If you have never read Splickety, you might look them up. Some of the best flash fiction you will ever read.
“Grass Head, get back to work, useless one.”
Janie’s Cheyenne mistress called her Grass Head because her hair was the color of dried grass. She’d been the woman’s slave for two years. Long enough to learn the language, but not long enough to forget her name was Janie—not long enough to accept her circumstances.
She turned her attention back to scraping a buffalo hide and prayed God would let her die, or at least show her His plan. The hide’s smell made her gag. A sharp slap bloodied her lip, and put her back to work.
A war party returned to the small circle of tents in the grassy valley. A warrior showed his prize, a stallion still saddled with cavalry tack. But the frightened horse reared back, stomping up a cloud of dust.
Villagers gathered to stare at the animal. The brave reached out to steady the horse but received a bite. The stallion slipped free and turned tight circles. Its kick splintered a pole supporting a teepee. The spectators backed off, but not Janie.
She stepped inside the circle of onlookers. The stallion’s brown eyes locked onto her. Janie could feel him pleading with her, begging without words, to the only kindred heart in the camp.
The horse stilled. Janie reached out and gently touched his muzzle. The stallion didn’t bite or pull away. Instead, he sniffed her arm, then backed up, drawing Janie toward the center of the clearing.
“Grass Head, stupid girl.”
The familiar scolding broke Janie’s trance, and she shrunk back. The stallion positioned himself between Janie and her owner, hiding the cruel woman from Janie’s view. His gentle nuzzle reassured her. Janie understood; the stallion loved her. They shared the bonds of loss and bitter treatment.
He swung the reins into her hand, and she obeyed. She hadn’t ridden in a long time, but with his help, she mounted.
“Grass Head, get down, you ugly child.”
Janie looked longingly to the grasslands outside the camp. The horse responded to her feelings, and effortlessly cleared a path through the crowd.
As they rode away, Janie leaned down and hugged his neck. She was certain he understood her pain, and she began to understand and share his. His army training had been harrowing. Learning to endure gunfire and the bloody sights of the battlefield had been difficult.
They galloped over the golden foothills of early fall, speeding and turning and exploring at Janie’s whim. She dismounted by an old oak tree, knowing what would happen next. The braves would come looking. They would return her to her mistress and the stallion to its captor. But her parents had died in the raid. No one would welcome her back to civilization.
She searched the hills for a solution. Her eyes fell on a rock face dropping hundreds of feet. She formed a plan to end their shared misery. He understood and encouraged her to mount. They worked their way up the hills, to the top of the cliff, and stared down. Each longed for relief. She decided and the horse pulled around, got a running start toward the cliff, and then for the first time, disobeyed her.
He was willing to die; he wasn’t willing to carry her with him. She pleaded. He refused. He loved her too much to do this. She realized her selfishness. She had only thought of herself and not of the horse that loved her, the horse she loved. Then the stallion begged her to dismount so he could go over alone. She refused. And slowly they negotiated a compromise.
He would live for her sake, and she would live for his. It was a sacrifice each one would make for the other. Living would take courage, but they would each choose it. Returning to the village, she would take her punishment from her mistress, and the stallion would serve its new owner.
“What will you name him?” she asked the brave as she returned his pacified horse.
“Suicide’s Ride,” he said. “Or do you have better?”
The brave answered with an admiring glance, and the stallion nodded and whinnied his approval.