by A. M. Larrivee
That shuddering flash in the sky – Artemis.
But it can’t be. It’s six – wait, seven – hours early. But at midnight tonight I’m free at last, for her.
Anyway, seeing as how I’ll be leaving forever, I deserve a few last apples. Of the twelve trees down by that spiky fence – a lurching horror, built with the artistic sense of a drunken horse – the third has the best fruits. Blush-pink…on the inside, with pulp like crystal honey. My crippled knees resent my commands, but I stagger a few paces, seizing momentum to take the air. I lean on my right wing, hovering in the pine-spiced breeze, then climb the air to the treetop. There I cradle the highest apple in my jaws, and sharply kick down four or five more. For later, of course.
Prize in mouth, I ease my bulk to the ground. Barely three slow crunches and the fruit – crisp, honey-sweet, warm – is gone.
Six hours and three-quarters to freedom.
I remember that day like it was – well, fifteen years ago. Days and nights have melted into one. I don’t remember what I ate, or how I slept, if I even slept at all. But there are moments clear as ice…
Crashing through the snow, not dashing through it, though the supply truck’s repeated jingle wants me to believe otherwise. Probably a broken radio, broken like my knees in those snowy mountain crags. Before that day I was the golden boy with the coal-black coat. But the “managers,” as we know them – my bosses at Pegasus Transportation, LLC – had neither loyalty nor mercy. Once the eagles flew at my eyes with talons like scimitars and I fell and fell again in the icy curves of the Bernese Alps with the parcel worth worlds tumbling, tumbling…
I remember the managers – hollow-faced pale women, knitting-bags clutched to meatless sides, eyes blacker than the dead asphalt on the farm they’d brought me to. They pried my knees, where little more than weeping shreds of flesh covered patches of bone. Nine grim-lipped women. No smiles. No tears.
Their leader Moira, in red, whether cloth or blood or what else I don’t know, was first to speak. Her whisper: “Foolish. Worthless.” Three more approached me with those words, and grabbed my left wing in hands stronger than human.
I thrashed like a beached shark with my torso and struck them in vain with my hind hooves. A breaking wing sounds, not surprisingly, like the cracking of a branch in a storm. That sound says nothing of the burning that ran through nerves and blood and bone, jolting my body and forcing my broken legs to flail.
Six hours to freedom.
The following morning, to Lovin’ Hoofs Farm, trapped in a horse trailer. It was no way for one of the pegasi to travel: cramped in a metal cave, rattling along roads and bridges with screeching cars, growling trucks, and every other modern monstrosity. So it was a right beginning for these years. Years – the managers sentenced me to a fifth of a century, imprisoned with the silent ones. After that, freedom.
Only five and three-quarter hours.
“The silent ones” weren’t so silent, really – they munched the hay and whinnied and plopped their leavings on the dry grass, much like I did. But there were no minds to touch my mind, just instinct and passion and vacant skulls. Our weekly supplier was in the managers’ keep, too, forbidden to speak to me. Not much love at “Lovin’ Hoofs Farm.” I was a prisoner in pasture with rich troves of fruit trees and wild berries, their summery scents wafting over the field; with butterflies in shimmering gold, purple, pink, silver and every imaginable and unimaginable shade; with plump birds in plumage that would shame emperors. I was alone.
A fit of sleep tugs at my limbs, as if something pumps in my veins, swells into my throat and forces out a yawn. I let my head drop.
At a sharp burst of thunder that sets my ears quivering, I lift my head. I look up; the sky is clear. And I have five and a quarter hours to freedom.
The earlier light in the sky wasn’t Artemis, but the one in the field now is. My mate, my pearl-white lady, coming to watch the hours and greet me with joy!
The boy on her back slips down beside the gate, a black-handled axe in his hand. Rude brown overalls highlight his skeletal shape, so gaunt, so ugly and angular – and I love him. With a crash of the axe he’ll break the mighty lock.
Although a key would have done just as well.
I whinny to Artemis.
She trots to the gate and leans her head over it. “Well?”
My limbs quiver at the voice of another pegasus, music like flutes and waterfalls, and I limp forward to touch my nose to hers. “We can talk now?”
She doesn’t let me touch her nose. She turns her velvet face from me. “Talk? I’m saying goodbye.”
“Goodbye? You’ve just come! And think of everything we can do once that gate opens! We can – ”
“As ever, naive. You’ll not leave by that gate; quite another, actually.” She flicks a fly from her rump, and twisting her neck, watches the boy, who sits on a rotting stump running thin fingers on the axe’s blade. Then she turns, and flees, and mounts the skies.
I rush toward the gate, but I stumble, crushing one of my apples into the earth. It cracks to its core, spilling its seeds on the ground.
He’s waiting. I think he looked at me, once, from that stump, but I’m not sure.