Deadhorse by Vacen Taylor
by Vacen Taylor
His nostrils flare and his eyes glow fiercely, hit by the moonlight. Unnaturally these eyes entertain no sense of sight. They portray only a disquieting sense of evil, like blood-red pools fortuitously unearthed in this bizarre light. This familiar shape towers over my scrunching, quivering body. But I am not afraid. I am simply too cold to care and too close to death.
The frozen tundra has swallowed me. White. Everything for as far as I can see is white, except for him. He is, no doubt, a blurred distortion of my crippled mind, an apparition, with nothing more to offer me than colour in this colourless space.
I can’t remember how I came to be frozen in this blanket of white. Lost. Broken. Forgotten. Though my fingers are hidden in thick gloves I can no longer feel them, nor my toes. The wind whistles across my body, stinging my cheeks, and somehow finds a way to chill my ears that are covered by my hood. The freeze has entered my bones. My body shivers violently ― a physiological response to preserve the last of the heat I have left, an indication I am on the path towards clinical death. Yesterday I hurried along this path by eating the snow, due to my desperate thirst. It simply lowered my body temperature even more.
A small mirror has the privilege of displaying the truth to this gazing fool. My lips are puffy and split, and my nose is almost the colour of wild blueberries. So ghastly are my cheeks in colour and size I toss the mirror into the snow. Who wants to take the image of a dead man to the grave with them? But what is done cannot be undone.
My mental confusion fluctuates, spiralling into crazy irrational thoughts, counteracted by a lull of mindful sanity. Those fleeting times of sound judgement pressured me to keep moving, but I had given up walking yesterday. My stupor had me appearing more like a drunken fool than an educated man with a free spirited soul, a soul that yearned for adventure. I had told her this would be my last journey. It was my final chance to challenge my mind and body whilst discovering my true potential. I had spoken the truth to her.
He snorts again, breaking my lull of sanity. Contrary to my moment of deathly thoughts, I find myself watching him, admiring him. This beast of magnificence shines like a black beacon in the brightest moonlight, his muscular physique exuding the features of an equine athlete. He finally comes closer, pawing at the snow with his hoof. I knew horses well enough to know what this meant, a want or a need for something. But for a wild one like this pawing has practical purpose. Perhaps to uncover grass under the snow, dig up roots, or soften the earth before rolling, but none of these seem to be fitting for this situation. There is another purpose that comes to mind. Dubiously, I scoff at the thought, but I decide to look anyway. Is this magnificent beast inspecting an unfamiliar object in the snow? Yes, there in the snow is the mirror I had tossed away. Pick it up he says in his equine manner, nudging the mirror with his nose towards me. So I pick up the mirror and awkwardly return it to my pocket.
A snort of exhaling air escapes his magnificent body as he comes to rest next to me. I want to hold his muscular form, covered by black velvet fur, so I wrap my arms around his strong neck. He drops his head to the snow and rests it next to mine. Amazing warmth touches my bare cheek. There, I lose all notion of time. In this moment, he gives me something I cannot generate myself, and perhaps, the warmth charges my mind. I try hard not to entice a certain memory. Instead I allow the instinctive spontaneity of memory to simply appear, for my own sanity needs to be tested. My last fleeting hour of thought must be without question, free spirited. My face softens for the first time in many days.
I was home. Rolling green pastures dotted with patches of brown and black made me sigh. I could hear their calls, whinnies and neighs travelling up to the house on the hill. I felt the warmth of a summer breeze, and with it came the delicious smell of freshly baked apple pie.
A moment in time came back to me. I had never seen her make an apple pie from beginning to end, my first regret. My mother had the eyes of an angel and the patience of a saint. With five boys under her wing she made all the sacrifices, and we made none. The vision that held my attention was of her, passing me a piece of warm apple pie. Smiling. I could have done more to help her. Regret. And that was exactly how I felt. I allowed the feeling to flow effortlessly through me, like blood running through my veins.
The next memory was not silent like the last. At the table sat a selection of my family, and at the head, my father. I was standing, shouting at the man I missed as a small child, feared as a teenager, and hated as an adult. A military man. He was always clean-shaven, with large brown eyes and a frown that never left. Then one day, after he had returned home from battle, his brown eyes turned hostile and dead cold. Foreign. After many years his hostility soured his personality too. Why my mother stayed I will never know, but she did. This was the last day I had seen him. Twelve years ago. Our words were cold and unforgiving. I remembered them quite clearly ― for a dying man ravaged by the cold it seemed almost unfair, over the sound of his pounding fists as they hit the table. ‘Get out of my house!’ I could even recall the bitter tone in his voice. I had never been able to summon any sympathy for him, until today. Regret flowed freely once again. As a man of distance he had done his best to fight the ravages of war. Things of memory, weapons waved, armed amateurs, fear, explosions, and the visions of death had taken my father from me. These things I could never understand. But perhaps I should have tried. This was my third regret.
As she walked towards me in this memory I extended my hand towards her, and she reached out to take it. Her living touch was all consuming from the day I had met her. I had never known the power of love until that day when I looked into her eyes. Without knowing it our hearts had melted into one, over and over again. ‘I do.’ I never heard those words again for she was always going to be the only one for me. She was just like my mother; with eyes like an angel and the patience of a saint. I had to be the luckiest man on the planet. A man who until now had not realised his greatest fortune was not held in wealth, but in the wisdom of knowing the truth.
For a brief moment, or perhaps it was longer, my eyes open. The violent shaking is almost too much to bear. The terrible truth remains evident. I am yet to become a corpse. It is easy to close my eyes again, easier than breathing.
He arrived into this crazy, mixed-up world in the usual way. The cry of life squawked out as I held him. Two tears rolled down my cheeks as I marvelled at his beauty. His head was still stained by the liquid of birth. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. In the midst of this marvellous moment I had unknowingly committed his birth to memory. Only now while in the agony of dying do I remember the birth of my son.
After some time, I realised I had turned out just like my father. Missing from the dinner table week after week, travelling. I always had planes to catch, silver spoons to find for someone important, while taking photos of little boy blue and the man on the moon. It paid the bills, but now I understood the cost. When I wasn’t working I was on an adventure, somewhere unknown, hostile and untouched. I cannot remember ever kissing away my son’s childhood tears. Is there no such thing as a second chance? Can I undo what has been done? This fact suddenly seemed to matter. ‘Let’s play, dad.’ I heard him say. His eyes were older, about ten. ‘Not today, son. I have things to do.’ His disappointment was profound, because I had never seen it disclosed to me before this day as I lay freezing in the tundra. Or perhaps, it had not penetrated deeply enough to acknowledge the insight and understanding of a child’s discontent, and a father’s failure. Now he would only remember me as a distant, complicated and distracted man, an absent father. I knew this feeling all too well. This was my last regret. But I was not finished, not quite.
One more thing, I love them. My dearest ones, those who have completed my life, astonished me, and provided me with a greater understanding of the depths of love. To my family and my horses, I say goodbye. I open my eyes one last time to check. He is still here, next to me, this strange apparition with a coat blacker than the night sky. What I do next feels right; though I am sure it will cost me my hand. Needless to say, a dead man needs no hand to pull him up to Heaven. Gently, I pull at the fingers of my glove, easing it off. Happy in my thoughts, if I am to die in the next fleeting moments then allow me the right to touch such an animal again. The stroke, downward, over his mane, catching a few strands of coarse hair through my fingers, along the line of his muscular neck, over the blanket of smooth fur that keeps his body warm. For as sure as I am dying this fine creature is with me. Whether he is alive or the spiritual energy of the ancient animal Deadhorse ― said to roam these very mountains, I am thankful for his gift of warmth and memory. Satisfied that I am not alone I close my eyes. At last I am ready to die.
I open my eyes when the sun hits my face. It is something I don’t expect, to still be alive. Sadly, my magnificent friend has left me alone in the bitter cold once again. With what little strength I have left I lift the mirror to the sun. I hold it there for as long as I can, hoping a refection will be caught by the sun’s rays. In the end it drops away and I close my eyes.
‘Hey, buddy. Can you hear me?’
I half-open my eyes expecting to see an angel or God himself. But it’s neither. A husky dog sniffs at my face. When the dog is yanked away I see two shapes, both are men. I try to smile but my cheeks feel solid and stiff.
‘Let’s get this glove on, hey,’ says one man.
‘Helicopter’s on its way,’ says the other.
I grab the closest man’s arm. ‘Did you see it?’ I rasp.
I look into his eyes. They are the comforting eyes of rescue, a way home. I want to cry, release the torrid emotion that accompanies undeniable relief, but I have no liquid left for tears.
‘Nothing,’ I whisper back. Why I don’t divulge my sighting I cannot say, other than this. My time spent with such a magnificent beast, or divine energy, carried a gift I can never squander. It is a connection to the threshold of my subconscious, an understanding of what’s important to me. This is mine to hold in solace, for as long as I shall live.