The Devil’s Horse

Last part…

Now, Percepção had become accustomed to the Devil’s Horse, and, in spite of the darkness that it had brought into her heart, she was quite shocked to see that it was perishing. To see anything die is a painful experience, and though she very much hated the beast, she felt a sorrow in watching it weaken and die. Many nights during the preceding years, Percepção had lay and imagined killing the horse herself. She envisioned herself throwing the creature into a great fire, or abandoning it in the middle of a sea, or smashing a great boulder into its head, yet not once did she truly consider committing such an act. So it was very odd to see the animal slowly dying, not by her violent hand, but through its own masochistic actions.  The Devil’s Horse was murdering itself.

It was at this point that Percepção decided to make a trip. She no longer wanted to live up in the mountains, and she knew that soon there would be nothing at all to keep her there. So one night in the month of April, Percepção packed up a few of her belongings, namely her most precious stones, one for each year that she had survived caring for the horse, her favourite book, which was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and a few provisions for the journey. She wrapped these items in her thin silky scarf, which was the colour of lapis lazuli, and tied them to a sturdy stick, which she balanced over her left shoulder, as she heaved the still very heavy sleeping black beast over her right shoulder.

Provisions

The horse was hot once more against her body, just as it had been upon their first encounter, tired and groaning, but without the demon in its eyes. No, now its eyes were shut, the lids heavy and sweaty. With her heavy burden Percepção made her way down through the mountains where she had been hiding for so long. The path was difficult: strangled by twisting trees and suffocating under a thick, spongy bed of moss. Yet, in spite of the less than ideal pathway that unwound before her, Percepção could make her way fairly easily down the rocky mountainside.

Carry

The moss provided a kind of soft verdant cushioning for her bare feet, and prevented her from being cut and scraped by the great gashes of rock and slate sticking out at angles from the surface over which she climbed. As she descended, Percepção began to feel the changes in the air around her. Breathing was slowly becoming warmer and far easier than it was in the high altitudes of the mountain caves, and she also came to notice far less moisture and sweat in the atmosphere. The grasses beneath her feet were becoming drier, less dangerous, and soon Percepção was hit by the smells and sounds of Cautela, the town that she had neglected for so many, many years.

She could taste the sweet salty breeze that was blowing in from the harbour and she thought she could just about hear the feint lumbering of crates of sea creatures being unloaded from recently arrived ships. She could certainly smell the fragrant stench of canned fish and brine wafting through the town. Such was the smell that Percepção found she had tears collecting in her eyes. She stood for just a little while upon the warm dirt and sand that led towards Cautela, observing the very spot where she had first seen the Devil’s Horse lying, and watched the hot sun rise up over the old crumbly town. Just for a short while she stood and watched.

Then, before the town people of Cautela had awoken, she turned just to the left of the town and began her trip. She walked out of the town, away from the screeching morning birds and slow clattering of tin cans, and walked up the hot dirt track that led out of Cautela. She walked and walked, her shoulders aching under the weight of the Devil’s Horse, and her neck burning from the stick that held her scarf of belongings and grated the skin beneath, cutting grooves into her flesh. She walked and walked for such a very long time. She walked and the sun rose up, and then fell slowly back down, in the sky above her, indicating the passage of time. All the time she walked. She did not stop, though the pain was very hard to withhold. But the pain felt good, and Percepção continued, though she was afraid that her behaviour was abnormal and perverse. She walked on and on, far down the dirt road and away from the town. Her feet were sore and bloody, and the dusk was creeping upon her when she understood that she had arrived at her sought after destination.

Cut

So, once there, Percepção stopped and walked just to the side of the road: to the flanking infertile desert sidewalk. The landscape was soft and silent, save for a whirring sound, a very quiet humming. All around was open and hot, and full of dirt and sand, bound together by dehydrated clumps of delightful vegetation. Wheezing grasses and scrubs of scratching, crackling leaves lay lovely, barely alive in the expansive landscape, so laid back they might be high. They greeted Percepção as they blew just ever so slightly and whispered in the evening breeze. Percepção greeted them back and carefully laid down the creature that had lived for such a very long time on her back. Adjacent, she placed down her belongings too, and began to dig in the dirt. At first she used her hands, but after just a little time sand and grit started to eat under her nails and make her feel queasy, so she undid her silky scarf and took out her collection of rocks, with which she proceeded to dig a deep hole.

Spit

As she dug further and further under the ground, she could feel the dirt become cooler, easier to handle and remove. Then Percepção stopped digging. She had dug deep enough. She rubbed her muddied hands over her shorts in order to clean them, and then she knelt down next to the horse. With her soft hands she stroked the beast’s coat and wiped the sweat and hate from its closed eyelids. She sat and stroked it just for a little while. And soon, Percepção could feel no longer the very slow and weak pulse that had been gently and sporadically emanating from the horse’s stomach. She patted the swollen belly of the creature and carefully picked him up in her arms. She cradled him and curled his body into the hole that she had burrowed. The horse lay there, dead. And all that Percepção could feel was the thudding of her heart in her ears and the soft and constant whirring hurly burly that was all around. She placed the stones with which she had dug the hole, upon the horse’s inert body, and then filled the cavity with the dirt and sand that she had previously removed. She packed the hole to the very top and then stood upon the soil with her bare feet to compress it. For a short moment she stood next to the grave, listening to the light droning that accompanied her.

As she stood, she came to realise that the noise was being generated by a swarm of bees. She apprehended this only because she could make out, just a little further in the distance, a flash of purple; an ultraviolet glint under the disappearing sun. Upon further inspection, this livid lavender twinkle revealed itself to be a single jar of Santa Vitoria Apiary’s finest violet honey. Percepção picked up the honey that she had found, bashed the lid several times with the edge of The Grapes of Wrath, and unscrewed the jar, letting out the deepest, most intoxicating saccharine scent that you might have ever experienced.

Honey

The honey was golden inside and at once bleeding purple ink. Percepção held it up to her nose, closed her eyes and listened to the peaceful drones far off in the distance. She could feel all parts of her body. Her nostrils tingled, her cheeks burned, her feet stung with pain, her neck smarted, tender and sore, and her skin felt like it was a fire. Percepção stood awhile, and then she turned around, took her scarf, her book and her jar of honey, and walked home to Cautela. As she walked in the dark blue night she cried so many tears that her face was washed clean. She cried and walked and walked and cried, on and on until at dawn she reached Cautela and smelled the sweet, wonderful reek of tinned fish and briny aluminium.

The End

The Devil’s Horse

Second part…

Many dark years passed by up in the mountains and Percepção became accustomed to the ways of the Devil’s Horse. Thus, Percepção, though at first she tried to continue with her own life, learned to forego her own wishes in order that she might attend to those of the Devil’s Horse, which were fairly extensive and time-consuming. So she no longer walked along the hot white beach to and from school, she no longer studied, and she no longer saw her friends. It was too dark and tiring for any of that you see. Instead, she spent the days obeying the Devil’s Horse, which was extremely exhausting it must be said, and took up nearly all of the space in her mind. So much space in fact, that even if she had desired to go to school or study or see her friends, she would never have been able to.

Tired

After around one year had passed far up in the mountains, Percepção experienced something a little out of the ordinary. She had a strange dream, not quite a nightmare, but still, a dream that set her thinking. The dream, as Percepção can remember it ensued as follows: she was laying down in the forest, which was very noisy: raucous and boisterous. Animals were screeching and screaming, chanting and chattering, and the sounds of flames could also be heard. Percepção could see bright orange all around her, burning into her eyelids. The forest was on fire, giving a warm, encouraging and terrifying glow. In the dream, Percepção remained calm and uninhibited by the lively, forbidding noise and fire all around her. She was not distracted.

Fire

She then took in her hands a large pair of silvery scissors, the blades of which glinted beautifully in the light of the dancing flames. With these wonderfully sharp scissors, Percepção cut out of her chest her heart. She sliced the skin and then ripped out the grim and offensive organ that was inside. With her chest cavity open, she took the ugly heart in her warm bloody hands, stamped down upon it in the dirt, and waited for the fire to reach it. She then carefully sewed up her chest with a needle and thread, and wiped the blood off her hands on the forest foliage nearby.

Heart

When she awoke from this strange dream, Percepção came across a few thoughts in her mind, a few memories so to speak. These memories had quite an effect upon her for they made her realise just how very unhappy she had become. All the time she was serving the Devil’s Horse, though she did want to serve him, she was slowly allowing herself to die. She lost her body.

Body

Her skin that had once been so soft and brown like a berry became transluscent and dry. Scabs and cuts became much more frequent upon the surface of her figure and her cheeks remained white due to the lack of sunlight, nutrition and sleep.  Her curly hair became like twigs and her eyes gathered dark circles of sadness, fear and fatigue beneath them. Her eyes were dead save for the occasional glint of the demons inside and her organs became weak and ugly. Her liver shriveled like a raisin whilst her heart lost its grace and her eyes were blinded so she was unable to see clearly. Her tear ducts dried up like the hot sands of the desert so that no emotion might penetrate through. She was dragging the beast around wherever she went, which was most often where the horse himself wanted to go, and it was such a heavy burden. She could no longer dance with that old thing deadening her shoulders, and yet neither could she mourn the fact that she could not dance. There really was nothing she could do except obey. That old Devil’s Horse really was a nasty piece of work. Like a parasite it was clinging onto her and refusing to let go, and it needed her so much that she was resigned to her duty as its bearer.

Organ

Yes, though Percepção had now succeeded in identifying the source of her unhappiness as the Devil’s Horse, she simply could not shed its great weight. The only resolution she could harvest from her brain was to fight. She would continue to look after this dreadful creature, but she would become a fighter, for she feared that otherwise, if she carried on submissively beneath the beast, she would only destroy herself. Thus was how Percepção came to spend the next several years. She was always close to breaking but by learning to fight, she very fortunately did not. Rather, she gave in to the demands of the Devil’s Horse, but she would not give up fighting. For the horse it seemed a fine and sustainable relationship, but what he was unaware of was, that because for Percepção the relationship was entirely miserable, she was gradually but steadily gaining strength.

Fight

Every morning before the horse awoke, Percepção disciplined herself to wake early and practice fighting. She made a small clearing in front of the cave where the horse could not see her and every morning she saluted Mars, the powerful god who was to help her to fight. She would then proceed to train her body and mind to attain stamina, strength, calm and resilience: to learn to fight. Though waking even earlier than the beast that held her meant that she slept even less than she might, she found that the skills and practice of fighting sustained her perhaps even more so than sleep could have. For sleeping only led to nightmares after all, whereas fighting very slowly led to strength. And so for hundreds and hundreds of days Percepção practiced and practiced, at first grasping only the most basic of defense traditions, but progressively learning to master the most deadly of them all. Arts from all over the world that could serve her well in any a fight she might face. She became an expert at the Russian Sambo, used in the past to eliminate attacks from the Mongols, the Huns, the French and the Germans. She became a skilled authority in Muay Thai, the ancient art of eight limbs, and she became a wizard in the lightening quick Malaysian practice of Silat. Not to mention her proficiency in Filipino Eskrima technique and Israeli Krav Maga. Learning to fight provided her with just a small interlude between long times of hell of caring for the Devil’s Horse, and soon she began to feel that she really was becoming stronger, a fighter. Oh but that old horse still weighed her down, he never gave up. Rather, the stronger he saw Percepção become, the closer he held her, crushing down on her bones and damaging her internal organs. Her liver shrank and crumpled, her kidneys started to bleed and her stomach came to disintegrate bit by bit. Fortunately, Percepção continued to fight and the beast could tighten the grip on her, but not entirely destroy her.

This went on and it seemed that fighting was the only remedy that might defeat the poison that radiated from the Devil’s Horse. A cure of sorts, a neutralizing force that caused somewhat of an impasse between parties.  A stalemate situation. But stalemate is better than being in the losing position, wouldn’t you agree? So Percepção continued on and on, in spite of the seeming futility of her actions and efforts. Several years passed and she came to be used to the situation. She was more familiar with the pain, although it did not cease to hurt her just as it had at the very start, like a stiletto stabbing down on her weakening heart. Just like that. Spring arrived every year and Percepção had to suppress the resentment she felt as she saw the new flowers and buds so cheerfully peeping through the forest floor.

Spring

This was followed closely by summer, when it was hot and humid, and the strength to care for the horse was so hard to find, and Percepção could feel her veins throbbing on her hot body.  Then came autumn, when she had to suppress once more her emotions, this time sorrow, as those very same plants she had observed growing withered and died. Yet winter was the worst time of year, and winter always came around. During this time of year it was most difficult to care for the horse as Percepção was sapped of energy and left freezing and malnourished, like a husk. Nevertheless, she continued and after many spring times, summers, autumns and winter seasons had passed by, something a little peculiar and unexpected began to happen.

Winter

Around the month of February, Percepção found that she had noticed a change in the physical appearance of the Devils Horse. This change must have been occurring for quite some weeks, very gradually, but it was at this point that Percepção noticed the difference. It was strange; the beast seemed to have shrunk in size, or maybe just in stature. Anyhow, Percepção could look at the beast in the eye when she stood, rather than having to look up to see his face. His black coat became more matted and sticky in places, and in areas hair had just fallen, leaving small but worrying bald patches, and revealing pale milk skin. The Devil’s Horse looked less like a stallion and more like a mule. Though his muscles bulged, he did not embody a bestial specimen of strength and power, rather more, a sinewy creature filled with spite and longing. The changes continued into March and soon Percepção saw that the grinning demon that had always lived within the horse’s burning eyes, grinned just a little less, and grimaced just a little more. During this time of uncertainty and change, Percepção continued to care for the horse, and still she carried on fighting as well. But as she fought, she realised that she experienced a new feeling along with the hatred and resentment towards the horse that she had learned to live with. It was quite an odd feeling, as it seemed to contradict entirely the disgust she felt, and yet, this new sentiment would simply not extinguish that disgust. She understood this feeling to be pity. And though she had always pitied such a deplorable beast, now the pity was becoming increasingly prevalent. Percepção came to realise that she was watching the creature die.

Dying

And the last part soon!

The Devil’s Horse

First part…

The Devil’s Horse

One time, in a country quite far from here, there was a particular town called Cautela. It is in fact still a town today, and has a reasonable number of inhabitants. You have heard of it perhaps. Nowadays it sits upon the shore of the south coast of the country, curving a little around a cove that is nestled behind a peninsula. It rests there, just like a furled up leaf with the softest, hottest, whitest sand deposited in the crescent of the bay. It is a very lovely beach it must be said. To the other side of the spit is a port of sorts. A kind of harbour that is home to many a vessel emerging from the oily green blue water. At the time in question, the nature of the harbour was such that all of the resident boats sat adorned with various maritime decorations and littoral accouterments; bells and buoys and sun-bleached sails. The rust coloured red, and royal blue bodies of the boats were faded to hot peaches and cool azures where thick layers of salt had built up upon the surface. And in the sunlight the saline crystals sparkled and flaked like the crispy crust upon a barbequed trout. Accompanying whitish stripes of collected sediment were numerous other crustaceans, from whelks, winkles, cockles and clams, to the occasional horseshoe crab. This was the harbour, as it existed just a little while ago. At the time of this particular story in fact.

Beach

The people of the town were mainly seafaring folk, and those who weren’t certainly had acquaintances that were. For you see, this town was a primary contributor to the country’s quite well established fish canning industry. Wherever you went you could be sure to see some indicator of the prolific manufacture, shipment and sale of tinned fish and the like. However it must be said that though they prove very interesting, the nature of Cautela harbour and its bountiful fish canning industry remain nonetheless entirely background information. All that one might require in order to understand this particular story is that Cautela sat snuggly on the shore and was inhabited by people whose lives were oriented largely around angling, trading, gutting, filleting and squishing fish into cans. And you can be sure that the sweet odour of marine entrails and smoky salted fish pervaded the town completely.

Well in this town a little while ago, one particular resident chose to make a trip. She was a young girl, well almost a woman you might say, and she had lived as a child in Cautela. She was named Percepção. She had gone to school, made many a friend, and grown up in the fish engrossed community much the same as her peers. It was a little dreary perhaps; not the most exciting place to grow up, yet the town had provided her with two entirely indispensible things during her childhood. Firstly, a white, hot and glowing beach on which to lay and wonder, sleep or soak up the sun: perfectly essential. And secondly, the unquestionably helpful skill of marine biological identification. Percepção was somewhat of an expert at recognizing a slippery fishy friend, a scaly ocean dweller. She knew not only a salmon from a stingray, stickleback or sturgeon by sight, but also a turbot, from a trout, from a tuna. And she could easily distinguish between an Australian herring, a Banjo catfish, a Canary Rockfish, and a Zebra Turkeyfish, not to mention her unbeatable skills in identifying a catfish from a dogfish, a horsefish from a ponyfish, a cowfish from a pigfish, and the ever-elusive noodlefish from the far more parochial nibblefish.

Zebra

The unfortunate thing for Percepção was that, in spite of her extensive fish-based knowledge and all of the great opportunities that this had opened up for her, she was not entirely content. In fact she was a little unhappy. Not as unhappy as she had been, and yet still not entirely content, for she did not wish to work in the fish canning industry, and while she loved her town and many of the people were very good, she had other things on her mind. Other preoccupations buzzing around her brain. She did have a small idea of what she wanted. She had aspirations you understand, and yet for rather a long time Percepção had been unable to think of canning fish, even less her true ideas and desires. Other things on her mind. And other things to attend to. The greatest and most all consuming of which was surely the Devil’s Horse.

The Devil’s Horse was a terribly dreadful thing. A kind of curse, you might say. Percepção had encountered it some years ago when she was still a child really. Yet, though it was several years prior, she remembered very well this noteworthy encounter.

She had been walking home from school one day along the promenade, the stench of the sea dwellers in her nostrils and the cacophony of clattering cans in her ears. She walked home everyday from school, first along the hot pavement and then along the coast, upon the sandy white beach, which was usually not too burning hot due to the tide having recently washed over the surface. Once she had traversed the length of the beach and made her way from the north to the south side of the cove, Percepção walked along a dirty track to her home, which was just a little way inland.  This was usually quite a shady segment of the journey. On the particular day in question Percepção had very nearly reached her home and was ready to get to work on the mathematics that she had been set at school. It was multivariable calculus, which she found quite difficult, and she had really been working to get her head around. Her mind was whirring, tick, tick, tocking away. Just as she was to turn towards her home, she thought she saw something a little distance away, just beyond the stretch of shaded dirt track over which a winding and well-established canopy of trees hung. Just beyond the dark, cool, calm shade into the burning blinding sunlit track. Curious in nature, Percepção paused very briefly, and then made the decision to approach what it was that she saw. This was when she first became acquainted with the Devil’s Horse.

Horse

A hot heap of flesh under a dark skin; a skin whose pores were glistening with sweat and grime, the creature was breathing heavily. Stink and heat were emanating from the prone body as Percepção walked closer and knelt down beside it. The beast was looking out with almost black eyes as it lay under the sun’s beating drum. They glinted as they stared and Percepção could not distinguish between the pain and the pleasure that they were speaking. The horse’s eyes spoke so much, with the character of a grinning demon who was torturing and being tortured all at once. Percepção had never before seen this creature but here, under the hot, hot sun she was seeing very clearly the Devil’s Horse. It looked as though it was dying. There, on the ground. And this was why Percepção knew that she had to take the horse and look after it. She was not feeling resentful at this time; more very, terribly sad, but the resentment soon came. Just as soon as the horse knew that he had her heart the resentment came. But by that point, Percepção could do nothing to cease her resentment or to escape the grips of the animal that held her.

Horse

It began at this point, and before she knew, her life was given to the animal. Quite quickly after her life had changed course, Percepção realised that it would be far easier to obey the horse if she had not the distractions of tinned fish production and the other residents of the town. For the Devil’s Horse was a full time job. Thus, on the suggestion of the horse, she decided to relocate to the south west of the country, a little further inland, up in the mountains and the caves. Here it was much quieter, less distracting, and therefore much less tempting than in the town; much easier to obey and look after the Devil’s Horse.

Mountains

For it was a very demanding creature, and once it had seen the kindness in Percepção it would not let go. She learned to attend to it very well and became adept at crushing her own desires or wishes, for this was easiest. Soon, the Devil’s Horse gained much strength. If you were to see it you might very well be afraid. It had very dark skin, which was warm to touch, nearly hot. But the coat was so black. It was matted and without shine or gloss so that neither the light of the moon nor that of the sun could ever be seen in the beast. Such a large beast, it blocked out the light too, and it was quite difficult to remember that light existed when it was around, which in Percepção’s case, was always. And with the darkness came a certain dreadful tiredness that seemed never to cease; a terrible mountain fatigue that no victim could possibly evade. This was the life of Percepção and the Devil’s Horse for quite some time.

Second part to follow soon…