All memories are my own, but it's sort of a future piece. Written for 2006-2007 PTA Reflections contest, "My Favorite Place".
The day was hot and humid and she started to sweat as soon as she climbed out of her car. The sand with its odd patches of grass crackled beneath her feet, and she rose a hand up to her forehead the shield her eyes from the blaring late afternoon sun.
The woman had arrived at a sad old place, with the fences rotted and falling and the large rusty barn made of mint-green metal radiating old loneliness and abandonment. Grass and weeds grew without any sort of tame, and the large house behind her looked ready to collapse at the foundation (it had been breaking twelve years ago, she could barely think of the condition it was in today).
Thumbs hooked into her pockets, she strode purposefully to the barn door and wrapped her rough fingers around the hot metal and heaved. She did so with the air of one that had done that a million times before; like riding a horse, the muscles just easily turned into their old familiarity.
The inside was just as decrepit as she expected it to be. Termites had ravaged the wood; there was dust that was as thick as her hand and the place had an odd, sort of musty smell. The holes in the roof and in the wall let in tiny streams of sunlight, peppering the floor with bright golden specks.
It was beautiful, and the woman inhaled deeply.
A teenager stomped around in her mother's old riding boots, smelling strongly of manure and straw and sweat, covered in horse hair and spittle. She strode instantly to one of the stalls, pulling her wild blonde hair back into an unattractive ponytail, and grabbed a chestnut horse by the halter before it was given time to react.
Shelly snorted in surprise, jerking her head back and then trying to bite her rider in annoyance; she wasn't quite finished with lunch. This forced the young girl to give an angry jerk onto the halter, and her horse subsided sulkily and allowed herself to be led out of the stall and hooked onto the cross-ties.
"C'mon, miss B," said the teen with affectionate annoyance in her voice, tightening the girth of the saddle as her old quarter horse pressed her ears back in irritation.
It was the third stall on the left and the twenty-five year old was standing right in the middle of it. Looking around with an amused, nostalgic smile on her face, she noted a few key places: left hand back corner, when Shelly had gotten annoyed and trapped her back there, kicking her hard in the thigh twice until the girl had taken the end of the lead rope and smacked her hard on the butt with it. It was horrifying, and Shelly had instantly shot forward and bucked high but it had given anough time for the terrified adolescent to run out at a limp and slam the stall door behind her.
The woman winced at the memory, and stepped forward to the grate where she used to line up carrots for her horse to pick off one-by-one.
The stall was dark and tiny and was so damp that if a horse were in there today he would have trouble breathing, and sweat was dripping off her forehead by the overbearing heat of a Maryland summer, but she couldn't think of a place that she'd rather be.
"Hold this for me, hun?"
She squeezed her horse's sides with the lightest touch of her heels, and the beautiful yet old mare started forward obediently. She made sure to keep her far away enough from Debbie's horse, Sundance (because Shelly was very alpha and tended to be mean to just about anything on two to four legs), and reached out to grab Debbie's cigarrettes from her as the older woman situated herself with her saddlebags and crop.
Before she knew it, Shelly's rear had swung around and had landed a solid hoof onto Sundance's shoulder. Sundance stumbled and bucked as the teen let out a yell, dropped the cigarettes, and managed to force Shelly into a sidepass that she's never been able to fully accomplish in order to get away from the other horse. Debbie was just managing to calm her steed down when a buzzing was heard; the teen screamed, 'Bees!', and without hesitation Debbie spurred her horse and started to get away as Shelly went into a bucking rampage.
She held onto the horn and reins with one hand, thrusting her heels down to try to stay on as she twisted around to slap some of the bees off of her horse's hindquarters. There was a sudden burning in her hand, and she gasped, and without warning Shelly shot forward at a gallop, still bucking for the life of her.
It was fruitless, but the girl tried to regain control as Debbie watched from a safe distance (like they had arranged); her mare plunged forward and she was dragged against the ends of some branches, which flung her backward fifteen feet in the air and she landed with one knee on a fallen log.
She awoke a few minutes later on her back, Debbie looking anxious as she led both horses on foot back to her. Shelly was still antsy, tossing her head. There were large bumps all over her back legs and rear, but she stood still as Debbie helped the teen to her feet (dragging her left leg because her knee was on fire); later she recalled warm nostrils on the base of her neck before she hoisted herself up onto Sundance.
She pulled the hair away from her neck, walking out toward the back rings and pastures. All the sand had turned into wild grass and sharp weeds about as heigh as her waist, and the fences were in a marvelous state of disrepair. The bugs all around her were buzzing loudly, but she hardly noticed it.
She walked slowly into one of the obscure pastures.
There was a mound somewhere in the middle of it, and she happened upon it and even though it could have just been a simple rise in the terrain she knew it wasn't. She knelt slowly, tangling her fingers into the dirt and withdrawing; her fingernails had mud under them, and left streaks of dirt on her cheek.
She was sixteen when Shelly had died; the old mare had broken her leg and it had gotten badly infected, and needed to be put down.
And—oh, god, what a day that was. She had been in tears, cradling her horse's head on her lap as Shelly's ragged breathing finally slowed and stopped.
She had been buried in her favorite pasture, and the mound had grown grass but not weeds.
"Hey, come check this out."
The girl's mother exited the mint-green barn, and watched her as she approached her horse in the pasture. (Usually, when someone attempted this, Shelly turned around and chased them out.)
The chestnut lifted her proud head and permitted the teen to take a firm hold of her halter. Her human limped slightly on her left leg as she led her back to the gate.
Right before they exited, the blonde excitedly took off the halter and opened the gate and walked out. The horse followed her; jogged with her; stopped alongside her. She was independent, but respect shined clearly in her eyes even as she stretched her head to the back of her rider's jeans to take a carrot out of the pocket.
"Been three years and this horse finally likes me," she said proudly, hugging the horse's head. Shelly jerked away, and everyone laughed.
The young woman lifted her head, watching the realtor bustle towards her through the weeds.
"Miss, everythin' satisfactory?"
"Yes, sir. I'm fine."
He cast a reluctant look around the property, which was, in truth, just collapsing in on itself.
"A'right then—well, sign here..."
Making herself more comfortable on the grass, she picked up the pen and put her initials on the final paper.
"Well," he said, once again casting a glance around at the pasture, taking in the rotten fences and ugly rusty barn. "I guess this is all yers, then." He stared at her for a moment; the contract was signed—he was able to say anything he wanted now. "So why'd yeh buy this wreck?"
"Why wouldn't I?" she asked, with a serene smile on her face as she grabbed a fence which broke as she hoisted herself up. She chuckled slightly. "Would you buy Hawaii if you had the chance?"
"Think of it like that, then," she concluded, and said no more. He shot her a confused glance before shrugging and picking his way back across the pasture. She watched him leave, then turned back to her view of the sky.
She remained where she was for a time afterwards, watching the grass stir in the breeze and the blazing sun just kiss the tops of the trees at the horizon as the day began to end.
Please review. :) CC appreciated.