Friday, September 9, 2011

"The Boy and The Horse" - a short story by Steven B. Eggleston


The Boy and The Horse”
a short story by Steve Eggleston

A magnificent body of rippling muscles snorted in the trees at the edge of a grassy clearing. It twisted and turned in place, spinning and twirling, a thousand pound ballerina, long black mane and tail whipping in the blustery wind. A shriek and a whistle filled the crisp, early-morning air, belted out between snorts and stomps. The turf churned under his feet, torn in clumps by sheer power of will.
A little boy stood frozen at the opposite side of the clearing. Moments ago, cubes of hard sugar had rested on the dry palm of his right hand, a hand extended stiffly, like a roof shingle. Now his moist fist clasped the dissolving sugar, his legs braced to flee. His eyes were big, focused intensely on the fantastic creature. His heart thundered within his small chest, as if he were a caveman facing a Mastodon, the great Wooly Mammoth, for the first time.
The creature reared back on its haunches, its hooves pawing the heavens, threatening to attack. The little boy dropped the sugar and ran for his life, his legs scissoring, his feet flying across the deep grass in his PF Flyer tennis shoes. When he reached the dilapidated, wooden fence, he dove beneath its lowest slate, then rolled and scrambled to his feet, not looking back until he awoke in her ample bosoms. He had only been dreaming, and now he was safe.
She pulled the white, cotton bedspread snuggly under his chin to comfort him, the bedspread years in the making while alone at night. Religiously, she had smoked and knitted, ashes and butts piled in a beaded, crystal ashtray resting on the King James Bible. Throughout, the television in the background, first black-and-white, then color, delivered death and joy -- John Kennedy shot, the first man to walk the moon. Her home, a two-story cottage below the steep Dysard Hill woods of Ashland, Kentucky. She, Lucille, my grandmother; he, me, Davy, her grandson.
Always exuding warmth from her ample body, she had been telling me the horse story as long as memories existed in my ten-year old mind -- the same story she had told her own son, my father, John, when he was a boy.
Does he get the sugar, Gramma?” I asked.
Well,” she said, “let’s begin where you fell asleep last night… The next morning, the little boy returned to the clearing, this time only venturing as far as the fence, but Black was not there. With his left hand, he cleared the splinters from the top railing; with his right, he placed the sugar cubes, one by one, several inches apart, on its now smooth surface – making it easier for his hopeful friend to see. Crouching down and hiding, he waited and waited for Black until he heard the porch bell ringing for him to come home.
The boy started to remove the cubes, but on second thought decided to leave them there in hopes that Black would return. Kicking the turf in frustration, stubbing his toe, a small pain, he drooped his shoulders and moped back home, saddened by the realization that he might never see his hoped-for new friend again.
The next morning, with great anticipation, he raced through the kitchen, grabbed more sugar from the bowl – he crunched one in his mouth for energy – then sprinted in his Flyers across the barnyard and through the field to the fence. He looked up and down its length and on the ground, but the lumps were gone. He, the Black Stallion, had been there.”
Wow,” I exclaimed, my eyes bursting with excitement as I leaned up on my elbow, Gramma soaking in my wondrous joy as her story unfolded.
Stepping dangerously onto the top railing, the little boy leaned forward and peered into the distant woods. And there, behold, he was, the Black Stallion, standing at the edge of the clearing. For he, too, had seen the boy. Black shook his mighty head up and down, pawing and snorting and then, suddenly, broke across the field, tail lifted, mane flowing, trotting then galloping full speed.
Scared for his life, the little boy released the fence and, losing balance, toppled over the top railing and into the deep grass below. When he looked up, Black stood two feet away, his nostrils flaring from the end of his long, stretched neck, his ears flat then pointed then flat – angry, inquisitive, angry.”
What happened? What happened!” I enjoined.
She, Gramma, in her pleasant but stern voice, a voice he never questioned, continued: “The little boy had decided earlier, as he ran to the fence, that today he would be brave. If the horse came over, he would not run. So with all the braveness he could muster, he reached into his pocket and pulled out three sugar cubes, extending his little hand, stiffly, like a shingle, just inches from the horse’s pink, snorting nose and glaring teeth.
The horse shook his head and whinnied, his large, chocolate eyes with jet-black dots looking piercingly at the boy, studying him, deciding his fate. Then he turned his head ever so slightly, stretched it out, and nudged his nose affectionately into the little boy’s hand. He wiggled his muzzle, his lips gumming the sugar, his long sticky tongue lapping up the sweetness from the boy’s hand. Then his yellow-white teeth crunched the cubes, like he, the little boy, had crunched one only a few minutes earlier.
From that day forward, the little boy and the horse became best of friends. He would bring sugar cubes every day and Black would eat them and play in the field… and one day, one day! the little boy grabbed Black’s long mane and swung onto his back, his hands gripping for dear life, and he rode him, bareback.”
I burst out clapping and yelling, a huge smile on my face, my favorite story of all time, always sounding like I’d never heard it before, despite it beginning and ending the same every time.