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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…