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The little, nondescript, horse....

I heard a bell ringing. It’s a mournful sound. I have heard it many times before. It is the doom bell, and I deal in doom. I understand its tone, its meaning. Many hear only its final thunderous clap, but I know all of its nuances. At first, it is indistinct, muffled, barely discernable. Then, it develops clarity; the note sharpens, penetrates, and demands attention. The air is treacle thick, laden with danger.

The little, nondescript, horse is exhausted, way beyond weariness, tiredness, or fatigue. It has been ridden hard for too far, for too long.  The rider doesn’t care. Over one hilltop lies Shangri La, and if the rider can drive the horse to the top of enough hills, the elusive field of gold will be revealed in a valley below. The rider won’t need this little horse in the field of gold. Within there, will be elephants, and be-jeweled camels, and thoroughbreds, all rested, and fed and watered, standing to attention, hoping to catch the rider’s interest. The rider will be feted, lauded, and will drink deep of the adulation, and wealth.

The little abandoned horse sleeps, for three days, at the summit of the final hill. He had been worked so hard. For the first 24 hours he sleeps out of pure unconsciousness, no dreams, no movements, only shallow breathing indicates that he is still alive. Then he grazes, drinks from a clear shallow pool, and sleeps again. This time, he dreams of the hills that he and the rider had conquered. The rider always so timid, and tremulous in the valleys, yet so exhaltant at the approach to each new summit. Before the despair set in, when upon inspection, Shangri La was clearly not in the valley beneath, and yet another valley, always full of dark corners, would need to be negotiated, and another distant hill carefully climbed, step by difficult step.

The little abandoned horse recalled every hill. He didn’t know their names, but he remembered the big hill, and the difficult hill, and the ordinary hill - but for it had no obvious path to the summit. The little horse had climbed them all, pausing only upon instruction, to allow the rider to feed on the fruits, and berries that grew, so succulent, in this distant land of sunshine, and the promise of rich honeycomb.

On the third day, before sleeping again, the little abandoned horse drank further from the pool, before chewing and chewing to break through the long leather halter rein, by which the rider had tethered him to a windswept scrub tree. He was still tired, but now he was both tired, and free, and he slept a normal sleep, a sleep that any other little horse would have slept. And he dreamt of a warm barn, and hay, and the company of other little horses, and the innocent mischief that used to endlessly beguile and amuse them.

I know all of this, because I had lived, and eaten, and slept, very close to the little nondescript horse, for the full three days of his exhaustion.  He was my bait and I had watched over him carefully. Sometimes, I was so close that I felt that he must detect my presence. But my instincts are strong, and I understand the debilitating nature of fatigue. I had suffered similar weariness over the last, difficult, week. But food was plentiful in that mild spring, and my life was easy, and I wanted for only one thing. I knew these hills, and these valleys, and I also knew that the rider had not discovered Shangri La, merely a richly painted bordello, decorated to attract the greedy and the naive.

On the fourth morning, they came for the little nondescript horse. His rider, as I had expected, had gambled and drunk beyond his means, and the little horse represented collateral. The rider came up the mountain, as the prisoner of a posse.

I have some considerable experience of creatures, including horses, both large and small. And I know that horses, of any size, rarely hear the first soft peals of the doom bell. Stupid, trusting, animals are horses.

So the rider called the little nondescript horse’s name. And the little horse, danced backwards and forwards, across the hilltop, torn both by loyalty and a desire to go back across the hills to his barn, and the other little horses The posse was surprised to see him untethered, and fearing he would get away, they uncoiled lariats, to hobble him. At last, and far too late, the little horse heard the doom bell, and galloped away down the hill.

Too fast, and too recklessly, the little horse bolted down the hill. Within half a minute, a foreleg had been trapped by a rabbit hole, and he had somersaulted, breaking the leg, and dislocating his back. The doom bell rang again, just once, it was nearly the end for the nondescript little horse, and for him, the bell would need to ring again only one more final time.

Similarly, the little horse’s rider heard the clash of the doom bell only once. I am nothing if not efficient, and he died within two seconds of my attack. I wish I could have prolonged his final flash of pain, but I am instinctive, and I only know one way to get the job done – fast, and lethal, with a single decisive clash of the bell.

Some time later, after the hullabaloo had died down, and the posse had retreated back to their whisky, and their gambling, I crept out of hiding and went to the little nondescript horse. As I approached, I realised that there had been a final toll of the doom bell for the little horse, and he was dead. I know death, for I deal in it. This had been a kind death. It had taken away the agony of his broken back and leg, from which he would never have recovered. It had released him from his servitude, and his blind loyalty, and his unquestioning faith. Stupid, trusting, animals are horses.

Nothing, in nature, ever stands still. Already, the vultures had spotted the remains of the little nondescript horse and were circling overhead. I knew that the vultures would have been seen by the coyotes and they would, already, be nearby. Perhaps, also, a bear. I hoped not a bear, bears are difficult animals to manage.

I don’t know what happened to me. It had never happened before, and it never happened again, but I felt a wave of emotion for the little horse. I might have still been weak from my injury. I don’t know, and I don’t understand why. But I stood guard over the remains of the little nondescript horse, not letting the scavengers near. Occasionally, an emboldened coyote would break cover and approach, but I would display my anger, and my rage, and the coyote would flee back into cover. Not many can withstand my anger, and my rage.

After four hours of defending the remains of the little horse, my normal instincts returned and I moved away from the remains. What, on earth, had possessed me? Had madness touched me? Had anyone, other than the circling scavengers, seen my aberrant behaviour?

But somebody always sees. I am a cougar. You might know me as a mountain lion, but I prefer to be called a cougar. I am deadly, and silent, but the Indians miss nothing. They have eyes, and ears, everywhere. Earlier they would  have seen, and heard, the little nondescript horse’s rider take a pot-shot at me with his musket. He got lucky, or unlucky, depending on your perspective, and he wounded me. Only wounded, there was no peal of the doom bell for me. I tracked the rider, and the little nondescript horse, for a week. Initially, the wound hurt, but I wasn’t going to lose him, and I kept following as I regained my strength. The outcome was never in doubt. I knew that, and so did the Indians.

What surprised both them, and me, was my feeling of emotion towards the little nondescript horse. It is unusual for cougars to have feelings for anything, beyond their immediate needs The Indians had councils about it, drawing pictures in the dirt, and asking questions of their medicine men. I didn’t mind. Indians and cougars get on ok, we watch each other, but with mutual respect. Eventually they carved the story onto a long wooden pole, together with the other tales, and it became part of the folklore of their tribe.

Eventually, some winters later, the doom bell rang for me. I didn’t mind, for I was old, and ready for its warmth. For me, the bell rang gently, and I closed my eyes and went to meet my unexpected friend, the little, nondescript, horse.

The Indians will have recorded my passing, for them I had achieved some small fame. But they would soon have greater matters to concern them. The tone of the doom bell changed as it rang, and rang, and rang. It rang as the sharp crack of the Winchester repeating rifle, and later, the Gatling gun. It rang for the Indians, massacring, and scattering those it indiscriminately spared. It rang for the buffalo, and it even rang for the majority of my descendants, for they were dangerous beasts.

So someone must have found the long wooden pole. They were intelligent, for they did not build with it, or make a fire. They appreciated that the carvings had significance, and meanings. And they sought to understand it. And eventually, they did, and they translated the carvings, and the folklore, from the long wooden pole into their language. And then somebody else translated it from their language, into your language, and that is my connection to you.

There is no doom bell where I am now. I lie, perpetually satiated, in my eternal lair. For pleasure, I watch my friend gallop, and gallop across his endless sunlit plain. The little, no longer nondescript, horse.