This story is by Charlotte Malycon and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kizzie had the potential of long limbs, yet, stood short. Years of neglect meant they bowed and bent awkwardly towards one another at the knees.
At the sound of Bruce’s voice, her lower lip quivered. Her left flank too.
The long grass cowered before Bruce’s giant boots. “Third time lucky, eh son?” he bellowed.
Trailing meekly, Ben crossed his fingers. If this one makes it, I’ll call him Strike.
Wanting results without effort, Bruce had taken Kizzie as part of a job-lot, in hope that she’d bear him a good sire and fast-track his breeding line.
At first, things went well. She’d fallen pregnant easy enough; a few days in the paddock with Bear Farm’s stallion and eleven months later, out popped a fillie.
Ben had thought her the most exquisite thing he’d ever seen. All spindly ballerina limbs and dewy eyes, framed in inches of soft lashes.
But she wasn’t part of the plan. Bruce needed a sire and had no room in his heart for alternatives.
Ben didn’t bother to argue. No point trying to turn his affection – he’d long since learnt, that bucket was empty.
Instead, he determined to raise the fillie himself. But when he looked for her the next day, she was gone. His gut plummeted; she hadn’t even finished suckling yet.
Kizzie was put back with the stallion straight away. She fell pregnant, but again delivered a girl. Bruce’s plan was unravelling.
Only one thing kept him firm; he was owed a final visit from the sire. “Best of three,” its owner had promised.
This time Bruce got smart. Though he hated to, he forked out for an ultra-sound to determine its gender.
Had it been female, he would have killed the pregnant mare on the spot. Luckily, it displayed promising form.
Bruce bided his time.
The foal was born in the night. Cold winter, under the stars. There were no stables for either, despite Bruce’s declarations of their importance.
Arriving prematurely, it had taken both Bruce and Ben to wrench it from its mother. Tired of wasting good fodder, Bruce insisted on giving it a Spartan trial.
The foal lasted two days.
With its mother hemorrhaging and unable to tend it; with nowhere warm to hide; it passed.
They found it lying still the next morning; its lashes white with frost. Bruce kicked its meagre body; his steel-capped boots forcing a final gasp of air from barely developed lungs.
“Should’ve known I’d get nothing but runts from that nag.
“Bring the back-hoe down. I want it outta my sight.”
Within the hour, all that remained was a red mound of dirt. Ben placed a small thistle flower on the bare earth. Not so lucky, eh Strike.
Beside it, Kizzie snickered mournfully.
Ben patted her gently between the eyes. She blew her hot breath into his hand. He stroked her until she shut her eyes, then collected a bucket of warm antiseptic water. He began to wipe her down.
He started with the salty tear streaks that whitened her nose, then gently moved down her neck, to her shoulder, working his way to her blood-encrusted rear. He dabbed at her legs, and her body trembled.
The after-birth was stuck hard, concreted with mud and icicles. Though skin and bones, her hair grew long and wispy; protection against the chill.
Reaching a particularly matted section, Ben gave a sharp tug.
Kizzie’s eyes shot open; whites ringing terrified pupils. Her star’s grey shadow-line pulsed in sympathy.
She kicked sharply, knocking the bucket. Warm water spilled over Ben’s lap. Struggling to stand, Kizzie flung her feet wildly. On teetering legs, she bolted.
Finding her stride, she galloped like a wildling, across the field. In moments, she was upon the fence. She either hadn’t seen it, or was making a deliberate beeline for it.
Ben held his breath against hope. In that split moment, he wondered if it might be for the best. There was no life for her here.
At the last second, Kizzie thrust her legs forward, stiff as planks. Skidding across frozen mud, she stopped inches from the barbed wire. Her chest heaved. Thick gusts of steam shot from her nostrils.
On the other side of the paddock, Ben sucked in huge gulps of frozen air. His lungs burnt; his heart hammered in his throat. He shook his head in quiet desperation. She deserved a better ending than this.
“Time to put us all out of our misery!”
Bruce raised the gun to his shoulder. Through the long grass, Kizzie trembled.
“Stop,” Ben squeaked, putting his hand on Bruce’s shoulder. Bruce shrugged it off.
“Stop!” he said again. Firmer.
Bruce turned impatiently.
“I could… I could drive her to the knackers,” Ben stammered. “Get a few quid?”
“Ha!” roared Bruce. “You’d have to pay them to take her off your hands. Aint enough there, even for dog meat.”
“OK … well…” Ben waited for his brain to catch up. “Maybe – but I don’t have time to bury another today. We gotta sort the cattle for sale yards Thursday, right? We’re cutting it close as it is.”
Bruce glared coldly. Setting its sights squarely on the horse, he tightened his finger on the trigger.
“Let me finish sorting the cattle today. I’ll take her straight to the knackery with them.”
All Ben could hear, was the sound of blood swooshing in ears. The birds had stopped singing, and the sky seemed suddenly brighter, as if someone had flicked a giant switch and floodlit the sky. The ground stayed ghostly dark.
In that moment, he made a desperate promise to himself.
She’s my last.
No more caring. No more names. Just markings or colours. Better still – plain numbers. Tagged. No distinguishing features. No attachment…
Just like he’s always wanted.
Ben squared his shoulders.
Bruce squeezed the trigger.
A deathly sound roared through Ben’s head.
Smoke erupted from the nozzle and a small shower of dirt flew up past Kizzie’s head. Bruce cackled.
She kicked her hind legs sky high, bucking madly and flinging her wild mane about. Frothing at the mouth and between her legs, she became a whirling dervish around the paddock.
Ben’s heart stuck in his mouth.
Turning on his heel Bruce barked, “If she’s not gone tonight, she’ll be lying here cold for you to clean up tomorrow.”
The shadows grew long in the grass and the holding pen reached full to bursting. There was no room for the cattle to move and no grip on the metal floor grates. The only thing keeping them upright, was being squeezed together.
Bruce peered into the truck for a final inspection.
An ancient steer let loose a stream of diarrhoea. Moss-green splattered Bruce’s face. Spitting in disgust he bellowed, “Just GO!”
Ben sidled over to Kizzie. The whites of her eyes glistened and her coat was crusted in dried foam. He clipped the lead onto her tattered halter and started towards the ramp.
All the way Kizzie’s legs trembled, yet she followed Ben unresistingly. The cattle scrambled on wet steel grids slimed with their stressed-out insides. Kizzie slipped as Ben pushed her up the ramp.
He strapped her to the steel bars, so tight that she couldn’t move. Better than slipping and breaking her neck, he reasoned. Or maybe not, considering where he was about to drive her. Either way, it would be quick.
Ben took a deep breath and shook his head. No names, he repeated to himself. Just numbers.
Ben walked to the driver’s seat. With a roar, the engine sprang to life. A trail of dust followed in its wake.
Bumbling for miles along country roads, its headlights finally picked out a sign, “Pendham Meat Yards.”
Ben nodded at the familiar face coming to greet him.
Together, they unlocked the truck’s gate, lowered the ramp and untied Kizzie’s rope.
Taking her lead, the boy stopped. Ben buried his face in her mane.
“Thanks for everything,” he whispered.
Ben waited as the boy led her through gates he couldn’t see. She snickered in the distant night.
When the boy returned, they checked that the locks on the cattle truck held firm. With the knackers closed, the cattle would stay bound ’til morning.
They brayed in fear and desperation but no point feeding them. With any luck, some might even pass in the night. Save a bullet or two.
Ben closed his ears and strode toward the car.
The boys drove in silence.
“Where’ll you take her?” Ben finally asked.
The boy handed him $100. “Give that to Bruce, should keep him satisfied that she arrived,” he said quietly. “Better you don’t know any more.”
Ben stared ahead, committing to his quiet promise. He set his jaw and squared his shoulders. No names.
Tomorrow he’d leave this town and make a fresh start.
No Names. No attachments.