by Jeff Brown
part 1 of 2
I was barely five years old the first time I saw them. It was the first real memory that I actually remembered. Not one that was told to me. It was the wild horses, and it was here, in this field where I now stand, that they all died.
From a tall tree branch in a hundred-year-old oak tree I watched them every morning. My father had built a ladder up the side of the tree so he could keep watch for deer or bear or even wolves come fall and winter time. The wolves were notorious for trying to get to our hen house in the back come winter when all the other food for them was either hibernating or gone south for the winter.
I discovered the wild horses by accident. My dog, an old mutt named Hailey, had run off into the cornfield. I chased after him, calling him constantly. I had begun to feel as if I would never find him among the tall corn stalks. I followed his barking until I came to where he was on the other side of the cornfield and in a clearing that looked like it went on forever.
Hailey was barking madly and bouncing back and forth on all fours. But he had stopped running into the field. He was staying in an area that was about ten or fifteen feet wide where he ran around in circles and bounced back and forth in an almost hopping manner. His eyes were focused slightly upward and at a distance away from him.
I came to a quick stop when I saw Hailey and what he was barking at.
There were horses and they were running. They were side by side, two by two, in a long row, and galloping their long, graceful strides. They were gray; they were spotted; they were brown; they were white. Their manes were long and flowing, as were their tails. Their muscles rippled and danced as they ran. Their eyes were bright muddies that were vibrant with life. They were God’s greatest creation, as far as I was concerned.
I was breathless and in complete awe.
The horses ran along that field on that early fall morning as if the world wasn’t even there. There was no fear in any of their actions. Why should there have been? They had no idea of what was to come.
Then they suddenly stopped running. It was almost shocking. It was understandable, though. From seemingly out of nowhere came a single horse. This one was larger than the others were by far. It was the blackest, largest, most statuesque horse I have ever seen. Its tail was longer than any of the other horses’ tails and its mane was longer and fuller. Both his mane and tail were purple. At least they looked purple to me. Not a bright purple, but a deep midnight color. The horse was truly beautiful.
As he walked by the other horses they all began to bow before him. Their heads dipped as they lowered themselves onto their front legs. It was as if he was a king and they were his subjects.
Then he stopped... right in front of me.
I think Hailey stopped barking. I’m sure it was quiet at that time, or maybe everything was washed away by the events that were unfolding.
The horse knelt down on its front legs and bowed its head in the same manner the other horses had done when the black stallion had walked through them. Even at five years old I knew that what was happening was very special and I felt a sense of what I am guessing was honor.
Carefully I stepped forward. Slowly, I reached out and touched the stallion’s nose. I ran my hand up between his eyes and into his purple mane. After several seconds of softly petting the horse I leaned in close to his ear.
“Prince,” I whispered into his ear. That’s what he seemed like — a prince.
The stallion seemed to nod and then stood. Letting out a loud whinny he rose onto his hind legs. He dropped his front legs back to the ground and nodded at me again. I think he had accepted the name I had given him. I smiled.
Prince turned away. He walked his slow, elegant walk back the way he had come. As he passed the other horses they began to stand. Soon Prince was gone. The horses began to gallop again, kicking up dirt and clops of grass.
On the ground at my feet I saw something. Bending down I picked it up. It was a long strand of purple hair. It had apparently fallen from Prince’s mane as I petted him. My eyes lit up and I turned away and ran home. I took the hair and placed it in the most trusted and sacred place I knew of: My Bible.
Every morning there after I would go to my father’s seat in the hundred-year-old oak tree and watch the wild horses. I don’t know if Father ever knew I ran up to the old oak that was only thirty or forty feet from the cornfield and then scurry up the ladder to my favorite seat in the tree. If he did know he never let on to me. I would look over the cornstalks that led to the open field across the way. There the wild horses would be, just on the other side of the corn field that my father planted and harvested every year until his death.
I would watch them run just after the sun had risen, when the dew was still a wet blanket over the grass and the new day’s temperature was still low enough to be bearable. That was the key to seeing the wild horses. If it were too hot they would not come out to the field to frolic and play. Instead, they would stay by the water down at the river.
I found that out a little later when Mother took me to the river to wash clothes and they were there. It was a hot August day and the horses were every where. Mother was taken in by their beauty also. She smiled as we watched them move about us while we washed our clothes.
I was always saddened when summer would come. The trips to the river were few and far between for me so I would not see my beloved wild horses. But when the first touches of fall had risen into the air and Mother Nature had taken her palette of paint and began to change the way the world looked I would become elated. The bright greens of the trees and grass and bushes would slowly become orange and yellow and red and brown. It was a beautiful thing to behold. And I knew the horses would be coming.
Winters were even more beautiful as Mother Nature again began to paint. The oranges and reds would be covered by layers and layers of white cotton that had fallen from the cold sky. Oh, how the horses would run and kick up brilliant tufts of snow that would fall back to the ground in a haze of white dust.
Sometimes I wanted to go out to the field and watch them and possibly pet Prince again, but I knew my parents would not have it. So, I kept my vigils in the old tree, and I watched the wild horses run, and I watched Prince strut about as the king of his subjects. He would always look up toward where I was sitting. It might have been my imagination but it always looked like Prince was nodding at me before he would turn and walk off.
For six years I watched these horses. The first time my mother saw me in the tree she raised a fuss. Until I showed her what I was watching. She smiled at me that day and gave me her consent to continue climbing and watching in the mornings. On occasion she would go out there with me, and even though it wasn’t very lady like, especially with a dress on, she would climb up that tree with me. I believe Mother got the same enjoyment from watching the horses as I did though she never saw the black stallion.
When I was eleven years old it happened. As I think about it now, my eleventh year of life on this planet was a bad year. Father died three months earlier of a heart attack while plowing the fields. It had taken its toll on Mother. She took ill for a few weeks after Father’s death. During that time I went to Aunt May’s house in the city.
On the first morning after returning home I ran out to the tree. It was a winter morning just after the New Year. There was snow on the ground and more snow was falling. At that time seeing the horses galloping seemed to be the only thing that brought me any happiness since my father’s passing.
I carefully climbed up to my little perch in the old oak. With it being icy and snowy out I couldn’t be too careful climbing up that tree. One slip and I would tumble down, surely busting my noggin good. My mother walked out with me and stood at the base of the tree, just in case I did fall. Mother was good about taking care of me, especially after Father’s death. I think she was afraid of something happening to me, and losing me as well as Father would have driven her crazy.
The sun had already begun to rise when I saw the first of the wild horses appear over the hill in the field. My heart skipped a beat and my body began to tingle with excitement. After the first horse appeared the others followed, their legs pistonning as they ran, kicking snow up all around them. As the sun rose higher more of the wild horses appeared. I was laughing as I watched them, happy for the first time in a while.
It was when the first full ray of sun ripped through the clouds overhead that it began. The snow ceased its falling and the clouds began to disintegrate. From the sky came fire. The flames were like large balls that tore through the clouds as if they weren’t there. They were falling unbelievably fast. The first of the fireballs hit the ground in loud explosions that rocked the earth and threatened to shake me from the tree branch. Steam appeared in large craters where the balls had crashed down, melting the snow and sending chunks of earth into the air.
Copyright © 2006 by Jeff Brown