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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.