The Bidding War

This excerpt is from a novel that died on me about a year ago and is a snippet of dialogue from a character that ran a horse sanctuary.*

“Today I’m here to tell you something that might shock you. You’re also in an auction ring, up for sale. Your hope is in the hands of the people bidding; your future, your happiness, your very life. But there’s a huge bidding war going on. There are only two people bidding, and they both want you badly. One is a killer buyer, the other is a rescue. Their bids have reached thousands of pounds. Their bids have reached millions. Eventually, they start bidding whole cities. ‘Moscow!’ bids the killer. ‘London,’ bids the rescuer. ‘Beijing!’ bids the killer. ‘New York,’ bids the rescuer. Then they start bidding countries, then continents. Then stars and planets. And still the war goes on.

“The killer buyer eventually laughs and lays down his trump card. ‘I bid the universe on that person,’ he says.

“But the rescuer doesn’t back down. He just smiles and holds up His hands. Blood drips slowly from the deep wounds in His palms; it looks like some sharp object has been driven right through. ‘I bid Myself,’ He says.

“The killer buyer howls and gnashes his teeth, threatens the auctioneer and yells at the person being sold, but he can’t get near the Rescuer, he can’t touch His blood. And there is nothing greater, worthier, or more powerful than that Rescuer’s blood, that Rescuer’s love. The killer buyer has lost the war. The hammer goes down, the person is sold to the Rescuer, for the highest price of all.

“He paid for you with His life. He suffered and died for you, and He won the bidding war. All you have to do is believe in Him and love Him, and you’ll be saved forever from that killer buyer. Satan wants to ship you to slaughter, guys. He wants you to burn forever in fire and brimstone. But you don’t need to, because Jesus paid for you with everything He had, and He rose again for you, and He is building Heaven for you. He’s going to pull you out of your old life and clean you up and make you well again, and then He’s going to use you for mighty things. And not even death will hurt you; for He’ll catch you up and bring you into Heaven to live for ever. And that’s when your adventure will really start.”

*For the non-horsemen among my readers, this snippet is based on the idea of horse slaughter. Old, unsound or unwanted horses are often sold at small auctions for low prices, and wherever there’s horses being sold for below meat price, there’s a killer buyer ready to bid on it. Killer buyers purchase horses for less than meat price and then ship them to slaughter; in countries where slaughter is illegal, the shipping usually kills almost as many horses as the abbatoir does, as they travel with no food or water.

To save these horses, horse rescuers go to these auctions and bid on low-priced horses to get their price above meat value. If the price won’t go that high, they generally buy these horses, rehabilitate them and adopt them out.

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A New Look for CWT

Dear readers,

You might have noticed a new set of links along the top of CWT: “Joyful Jerseys” and “Riding on Water: Horses”. I mentioned in my older post “Requesting your Thoughts”* that CWT’s old format of a random mishmash of subjects wasn’t really working for me. You guys responded saying that splitting the post subjects probably would work better for you, hence, I bow to thy wisdom.

So, this is how the blog will work from now on. Clothed With Thunder remains the main blog, the home page, if you will. I’ll be publishing my deep thoughts, devotional material, and responses to prompts and photo challenges on this blog. In short, this will be my “God blog”, focused on Spreading the Word and writing about His Kingdom.

But never fear: I couldn’t stop writing about Skye and her Horde, so I hereby introduce Riding on Water, my horse blog. For my equestrian readers, pop on over there and hit the follow button – otherwise you won’t get my horse posts anymore. (I do apologise for this inconvenience; I meant to have one follow button for both blogs, but alas, my technical expertise didn’t stretch that far, despite my best efforts).

Joyful Jerseys is the link to the official website of my Jersey stud. There I will post news about the cows and also information on the Jersey breed.

My hope is that this will enhance your experience of Clothed With Thunder, my dear readers. The horse blog, especially, will be expanded, with more articles on riding and horses, and maybe even a guest blogger or two.

So there you have it. Hop on over to Riding on Water for the equine escapades – I’ll see you there.

*The second one, not the epic failure one, although that one did spark a few interesting comments.

Charging into the new year

Charging into the new year

In Which Ponies Run

The horses had a ball the other day when I moved them into different paddocks, facilitating better use of grazing for Skye (who needs to eat grass instead of hay because of one of her innumerable allergies). A change of paddocks is always guaranteed to make them have some fun, and without further ado, here are some random happy pony pictures. Glory be to the God Who made them and put the joy of His creation in them; they might not know Who made them, but when I see them leap effortlessly into the air, lightly as a sunbeam despite their sweating half-ton bulk, and dance across the turf, I have to believe that they know they were made.

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In Which I Play Catch-up (again)

No tragedies have befallen the ponies, dear readers; no need to fear! They are still here, still by turns annoying and amazing, and still get an inordinate amount of my attention.

Progress has been made with all of my awesome foursome. Even Skye has, for a change, been learning something new that is not how to run faster/jump over rabbit holes/swim in dams. Back in September 2012 I fell in love with Western riding, and while showjumping will always be my passion, English just isn’t a patch on Western when it comes to chilled, awesome outrides. And since Skye hates anything to do with an arena, except the occasional barrel race or game of speedball (more on that later), it made sense to school her to Western.

Exploring the newly-filled dam

Exploring the newly-filled dam

Mounted games are the only things she enjoys in the arena, and being very inflexible she isn’t exactly the queen of pole bending, but she does have a lot of go and adores playing mounted games. I am equally not much good at mounted games but I love them; they’re buckets of fun and a way of just relaxing from the everyday grind of schooling. Speedball, a simple pattern in which you gallop at a traffic cone, run around it, drop a golf ball into it, and then gallop home became war when B. C. and Skye played versus Thunder and me. This was not a brilliant idea, as Thunder is fine at running in straight lines but not at turning, and B. C. has some kind of bluetooth connection with a ball enabling him to make it go wherever he wants it to, whereas the same ball in my hands turns into a cold missile that might end up anywhere.

At any rate, Skye took to Western, after a false start, like a duck to water. She goes on a gorgeous loose rein without any trouble and has even learnt to neck-rein in a few months, which, after ten years’ English training, isn’t to be sniffed at. Her strong point is her natural jog, which after some work is consistent, comfortable, and nice and slow, if not much to look at. She remains the awesomest outride horse the world has ever known and does anything from swimming in dams to jumping over logs with her trademark gusto.

Rocking the fluffy look

Rocking the fluffy look

Her handsome little son Thunder (who’s taller than her, but anyway) has been his usual awesome self. His role in life is to be Skye # 2, in other words, another nice outride horse, this time hopefully with a bit more schooling. As such, I decided to train him Western, too. So far I have learnt three things: a) Thunder can learn anything if you teach it right, b) Friesians and loping aren’t friends, c) Western in an English saddle is very, very awkward.

Luckily point (a) cancels out point (b), and Thunder will learn to lope whether he is part Friesian or not. He already reins back well, jogs tolerably well and is perfectly happy on a loose rein as long as nothing frightens him; neck-reining is still a little beyond him, but he’s only three, so to be fair direct reining was also a little beyond him. He has a lot to learn, but it should be easier to school him to Western than it was to school Skye, because he didn’t really have time to be fully English.

As for point (c), I’m busy trying to lay my hands on a cheapish Western saddle. I’ve been longing for one forever, and now with Western horses I can finally justify buying one… not that I needed much excuse 😉

B. C. and I have also been taking him on outrides alongside his mommy, and he’s been good. He had a few moments of “Aaaaah the terrifying tiny steenbuck is going to eat me” and bolted accordingly, but luckily he has such a soft mouth that I can stop him easily. He also settles down well once he sees that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Provided he’s not being spooked by something – and he almost always spooks at something that’s actually there, not thin air like some youngsters – he is content to even lope along happily on a loose rein, leading or following, it doesn’t matter.

We also taught the little dude to swim in the dam (for a given value of swim; we more wade and get muddy), with just one hitch: He won’t be ridden in. He must be led. Someday we’ll address this, but for now I’m just happy that he actually goes into the water.

Oh yes, I may have donkey ears, but I can jump 1.15m

Oh yes, I may have donkey ears, but I can jump 1.15m

Outrides and mounted games aside, I actually have been doing some schooling with the glamorous greys. Arwen has been solid awesome. She has been to her first two outings, the first a mounted games clinic and the second a jumping training show, both of which went well. She had to travel alone since she enjoys kicking other horses to shreds, and when we unloaded her at the WMG clinic, the sweat was pouring off her – the floor of the box was wet from sweat. She was also quite an idiot for the first hour, pulling me around on the ground, spooking dramatically, and bucking a bit, but by the second event she had settled down nicely and in the end she was working as well as she ever does.

She travelled a bit better for the show with less shivering and a little less sweat, and was noticeably calmer when she unloaded; in fact, she didn’t put a toe wrong for the entire show apart from a half-hearted buck or two. I was immeasurably proud of her. We did three classes (ground poles, 40cm and 60cm) and she jumped everything I put in front of her with hardly any hesitation. She had one rail in the 40cm class and that was all. In the 60cm, we put in a gorgeous, careful, rhythmic clear round that got us into the jump-off. Once in the jump-off, bolstered by the beautiful clear round we had, I decided to pull out all the stops, take all the risks, and if we failed at least we’d fail epically.

So I kicked Arwen into a gallop and we charged through that course at a hair-raising speed. We cut every corner, took every risk, and jumped some of the jumps from the most peculiar angles. I thanked my lucky stars for the fact that Arwen’s mounted games training made her both agile and controllable at high speeds. She put up her ears, threw up her tail and had the time of her life. We didn’t even touch a single rail, despite some very big leaps from very long distances, and she responded to every touch of the reins and legs. I had spurs and a whip, but I didn’t have to use either very much. There were some quite challenging lines – the line from jump 1 to 2 was very tight if you cut the corner off the way we did, and she had one straight stride before jumping – as well as a one-stride double, but she didn’t let anything phase her. We blasted through the finish with me grinning all over my face and Arwen looking quite pleased with herself.

Our time was about a second behind the winner and just not good enough for a ribbon, but we came fourth in a class of about fourteen, which was very respectable for a first show.

I would blame my complete lack of photos on B. C., but the poor thing was much too busy tagging after me reminding me to drink water, holding my horse between classes, keeping my mom up to date with innumerable SMSes and generally keeping me alive to even think about photos. Handy things, boyfriends. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who has to go to shows without one. Thankfully, he knows he has to be a horse groom before he can be a bridegroom, and took his duties in his stride.

Back at home, Arwen is becoming quite the dressage diva. Her basic paces are quite good now, although she does have days when her canter just doesn’t seem to come together, so we have been working on some more advanced stuff. She has nailed the turn on the forehand and pirouette at the walk, as well as tricky transitions like trot-halt and walk-canter. Her dubious leg-yields-trying-to-grow-up-to-be-half-passes have turned into true half-passes in walk with correct bend and forward movement as well as sideways, and she has given me a few leg-yields in trot, although she seems to find them very difficult. She will also shoulder-in and haunches-in at a walk, sometimes shoulder-in at a trot, but I have to work for it.

Her extended trot is utterly deplorable and so are her flying changes, but this is an improvement because up to this Wednesday her flying changes were simply nonexistent. We spent a gruelling half hour just on cantering in figures of eight, and whilst it became a fight at one point, she finally clicked and started to change leads. Again, her mounted games training definitely helped, because she didn’t become disunited anywhere near as easily as Sookie, Joepie and Cointreau used to. She still gets very flustered, flops onto her forehand and starts to gallop, but at least she knows what she has to do now.

Muscle man

Muscle man

That leaves Magic, who has acquired a new show name: Magical Flight. Gadsfly was just too awful. He progressed magnificently since coming home and even started to build muscles, losing his hay belly and getting some nice muscle tone in his shoulders, belly, and back. Even his neck has started to come out a little bit. Currently laid off for a minor injury that made the princess OTTB lame, he has been doing some very nice work.

He is now nicely ambidextrous and happily leads on whichever leg I want in a canter, has shed his habit of overjumping hideously, and pops happily over anything up to about 90cm. 1.10m is a bit more of a challenge, but we’ve jumped it a few times. The one sad part is that he became impossibly hard on my hands – not bolting, but poking his face in the air and resisting my hands with his neck and jaw. This doesn’t seem to be the fault of my hands but more of his racing background. We tried everything – standing martingale, lungeing in side reins, elastics, and draw reins, but none of them worked and eventually the Mutterer decided to try him in a Pelham, as the snaffle just wasn’t working. In the Pelham he was miles and miles better and goes happily in a running martingale, which is only necessary for emergencies when he goes all drama queen and throws his head around. He goes in a nice frame in walk and trot now and a tolerable one in a canter, and is still happy to jump without fear of the bigger bit hurting his mouth, so it seems to be a win-win. I also don’t cling to the reins as tightly as I did with the snaffle, since I don’t have to pull so much to slow him down after the jump.

This has been quite a novel of a blog post, but there you have it. The ponies are still alive and doing awesomely, exciting things are on the horizon, and life is good. Glory to the God Who made them!

Spoilt brats

Spoilt happy brats

Of Horses and Their People – Part V

The message flickers once and disappears, leaving us all in a stunned silence. My heart is in my horseshoes. I look sideways at B. C. and see sweat break out on his neck with stress. Skye is stiff and motionless on my back. What now?

Behind me, Rain’s ear-splitting neigh of indignation breaks the silence. What?! How dare they kidnap our parents?! THEY SHALL DIE!!

“Rain! Stay calm for twenty seconds and listen to me!” Skye snaps. “We have to stay calm. We have to think. I appreciate this may be a new skill for you,” she adds acidly.

My horse is being mean, so she must be worried. Skye’s never worried. About anything. I shiver.

Okay, okay, let’s think about this. B. C. closes his eyes and sighs. We need to get out of here, but we can’t just leave Firn’s ‘rents here. There’s no knowing… He shudders. Well, I know what they will do. And it’s not pretty.

What… what will they do, B. C.? I ask.

B. C. turns to me, but his eyes are clouded with pain. They want to turn us into centaurs.

Centaurs? Immediately, an image of Glenstorm the Centaur from Narnia flashes across my mind. Well, that doesn’t sound too bad… being a creature with a human’s torso and a horse’s body and legs. Except…

What happens to the horse’s head? I whisper.

Exactly. B. C. tosses his head, fear lending urgency to his gestures. To become a centaur or any beast of man’s alteration, not God’s creation, would be to be half an animal. Living on the loss of another’s death. He adds, quietly, We horses would be the first to die. But I doubt mankind would last much longer.

“It’s like a nightmare,” says Skye.

It’s like a horror movie, says B. C., and we both shudder.

And that’s what they’re going to do to my ‘rents, I whisper.

“Not on my watch.” I hear the click as Skye cocks her pistol.

But Skye, they’re hostages. How can we stop them from being killed?

“Simple,” says my horse. “We turn ourselves in.”

We gawk.

Skye leans down and speaks under her breath, far too quietly for security cameras to pick up, but easily audible for a horse’s ears. “I’d speak in horse language, but we don’t have a word for deceit. We pretend to turn ourselves in. If we work together, we can overcome all these guards, machine guns and all, with the element of surprise. I’m guessing none of them understand horse?”

B. C. snorts. No, or by now they’d know every swearword in the equine language.

There are swearwords in the equine language? I ask.

Firn, you know that look Siobhan used to give you every time you rode out one of her bucking fits instead of falling?

Yeah?

Well… there are swearwords in the equine language.

“Guys!” hisses Skye. “Listen to me! We have to speak to the herd. But that’s our only option if we’re going to save the lead mare and stallion of Firn’s herd. We have to turn ourselves in and, when they least expect it, all strike at once. Unity. We have to work as a herd.”

Will the herd accept it? asks B. C.

Skye shrugs. “I don’t know. But we have to try. You tell them, chestnut pony.”

Pony? Speak for yourself! I’m all of sixteen-three hands, thank you! B. C. turns towards the other herd members and neighs loudly to get their attention. Then he speaks in horse language, simply. We have everything to lose. Freedom, dignity, life, each other. But we can’t just walk out here and leave two of our kind to suffer. We have a plan, but it’s risky, and will only succeed if we work together. And none of us can pretend to be able to force you to go through with it.

The silence is deathly, and my heart stops. Then Rain steps forward, swishing her long blonde tail with way too much attitude.

You know the laws of the horses, she says. Only fight when you must; this looks like a must to me. And always stay with the herd. That means when your herd’s in trouble, you fight for it. She raises her head and neighs deafeningly. Who’s with me?

The resultant chorus of neighs and shouts coming from every horse and person standing beside us almost repeats the Jericho sequence, but not quite. It’s still enough to send tremors of sound and hope into the deepest fabric of my soul.

I AM!

Skye turns to the nearest security camera and speaks calmly into it. “We surrender,” she says, drawing her 9mm and the machine gun at her hip and dropping them both on the ground. Arwen and Magic copy her. Thunder, who was busy chewing on the end of his machine gun to see if it was edible, looks puzzled. “Why are you dropping those, mommy? They’re shiny,” he points out. “And interesting to chew.”

“Put that down, sweetheart,” says Skye. “It’s not wise to put guns in your mouth.”

“Yes, mom.” Thunder drops the gun, to my intense relief.

Almost immediately, a swarm of guards in unitards, heavily armed, appears and surrounds us. One of them lays a hand flat on my shoulder and gives me a shove back down the corridor. “Move along, pony.”

B. C. flattens his ears until his skull and bares his teeth. Don’t hurt her! He jostles between the guard and me and we trot nervously back down the corridor, a cacophony of hoofbeats, some humans riding, some running between us.

Skye runs. It helps her think.

The guards drive us back through creepy door 13 and into the freaky lab, where they have managed to get the electricity going. We trot across the mangled bridge and down a long staircase, stumbling – it wasn’t designed for hooves – until we get to the main floor of the lab. Lit with the eerie blue electric lights, tiled in white, it’s a typical lab. Rats in cages, some with grossly disfigured faces, missing tails and hands like humans, squeak piteously. Machines beep, whir and spin. Things go gloop in long glass tubes and I’m sure there’s a pickled eyeball floating around in a jar on one table.

Then I spot them. My parents. Confined in a strange glass cage, they stand close together, sheltering each other. They couldn’t be more different; Dad is a massive bay draft horse with a neck that looks like it was carved from bronze and hooves the size of cake tins, while Mom is a pretty dappled pony, little taller – but much more delicate – than me.

Mom! Dad! Rain’s neigh shatters the silence. She lunges forward, but B. C. slams his weight into her, restraining her. Shhh! Remember the plan! he snorts.

I wanna kill some guards! Rain whines.

Later, Rain, I say.

Awwww, okay, Rain sighs.

Standing in front of the glass cage is a tall man in a lab coat. He wears half-moon glasses and has the typical slanted eyebrows, thin white hands and weird pointy beard of The Arch Villain. I wonder if he had plastic surgery to look like that. He looks like Voldemort. He probably did.

“Ah, so you have joined us,” he purrs as we clatter to a halt. “Kind of you.”

“Don’t patronise me, human,” spits Skye, folding her arms. “Set them free. You have us now.”

“Oh, I never said I’d let them go, mare,” says The Arch Villain, his smile curving like a scimitar. “I only said I’d let them live.” He chuckles. “As legs and body for a new generation of species.”

I go cold. What if this doesn’t work? I quaver.

It’ll work, Firn. It has to work, says B. C., not taking his eyes off Skye. She will give the signal.

Rain nudges me. Hey, Firn. See that? she gestures at a tall urn full of green fluid. It’s marked “Antidote.”

Maybe we can get hold of that somehow, I say.

Skye snorts at the Arch Villain. “I should have expected it from a slimy double-crossing man like you. Men! They never were trustworthy.”

Hey! squawks B. C.

“You’re not a man, B. C., you’re a colt so you don’t count,” says Skye smoothly.

Hey!!!! squawks B. C., even more indignant.

She doesn’t mean it, I say soothingly.

“Maybe, maybe not,” says the Arch Villain, twiddling with the knobs on one of his machines. “I know I’m not trustworthy.” He laughs. “What a wonderful creature a horse is… Trusting. Gentle. Patient. They can’t lie, they cannot deceive… Perfectly splendid, don’t you think? And that is what sets them so far below humans.” He smiles at her. “You signed your own death warrant by trusting me, little pony. They say there is no secret so close as that between a horse and rider. Maybe we’ll see just how close that secret can get.” He snaps his fingers. “The audacious lady and the little bay pony, immediately,” he orders.

A horde of guards step forward, surrounding me, rough hands grabbing at my mane and tail. I squeal briefly in shock and kick out, but they effortlessly grab my hindlegs and lift me off the ground. I hear B. C. roar like a stallion and a guard screams in pain; but Skye yells, “B. C.! Stop!” and Rain neighs, The plan! and it’s without further opposition that the guards manhandle me up onto a platform just like my parents’ glass cage. The Arch Villain pressed a button and a glass dome slides down over me, trapping me. I’m too scared to move, quaking where I stand.

“And this one?” the guards ask, holding Skye by her arms. She doesn’t resist, but quivers with rage.

“Put her in there,” says the Arch Villain, pushing another button that lifts the glass dome over my parents. They jump aside as the guards wave machine guns at them and throw Skye onto the platform. At that moment, she waves a hand in a sweeping, slicing gesture and the herd goes mad. As one, they turn on their guards, taking them down with kicks and bites too fast for machine guns to counter; the Arch Villain yells, alarms blare and I throw myself against the glass, fighting to break out, terrified, lost. Then a familiar voice neighs, Stand back! and I stagger backwards as B. C. rears and brings both forefeet smashing onto the glass. It shatters, raining splinters everywhere, and we both gallop into the fray, but we have everything to fight for and the guards have nothing. It’s over in minutes. They flee – all but the Arch Villain, who snags a machine gun and aims it at my head.

“Not so fast, pony,” he sneers.

My mom and dad kick simultaneously. He probably never even knew what hit him, but I did: The devastating power of parental love. Skye steps over to the body and nudges it aside. “I’m sorry that had to happen to you,” she says. “But that’s what you get for it when you mess with God’s creation.”

Mom! Dad! I whinny, running up to my parents, who immediately start to nibble-groom me with their teeth. It’s like a horsy hug, and it’s the best hug I’ve had in a looong, long time.

Are you okay, Firn? Mom asks.

I’m fine, Mom, now that you guys are safe, I say.

Thanks for your help, squirt, says Dad, whose 18hh bulk justifies my nickname.

Help? We saved you all by ourselves, says Rain cockily.

Think so? Dad smiles at her, his dark forelock hiding his eyes. Why do you think the alarms failed, the electricity clashed as catastrophically as it did and the guards were so slow to respond? Computer programmers can be hackers too, you know.

You broke into their systems? squawks B. C.

Yes, says Dad, with pardonable pride. And your mom here only prevented certain people with attitudes from being killed, oh, fifty or sixty times?

I can be convincing when I need to be, says Mom meekly.

What attitudes? chorus B. C. and Rain.

I rest my case, says Dad. Now, let me help that fat brown horse of yours to figure out that antidote.

With Dad doing the thinking and Skye doing the stubbornness, it’s not long before they’ve worked out the dosage for the antidote. Thunder and Magic help to carry the huge urn of green liquid and we all head outside, Dad’s brains and brawn being of invaluable assistance in opening and enlarging the exit hole. At last we’re all back out into the star-studded night with the full moon surfing on silver mares’ tails and the smells of grass and hay bales rising all around us.

B. C., Rain, Skye and I join the ranks of horses and people all standing in readiness as Mom readies the antidote, giving Arwen instructions on drawing up tiny dosages in syringes they pinched from the lab.

“Who’s first?” asks Arwen, holding up the syringe. B. C. groans beside me and buries his face in my mane.

Me, says Mom, calmly.

“What if it doesn’t work?” asks Arwen.

I trust Jon, says Mom. It will work.

Arwen gulps and gently pushes the needle under Mom’s skin. My mother stands still, unflinching, as the quivering Arwen injects the antidote. My heart thumps in my chest. I should have volunteered, I should never have let –

There is a sound like a gumboot being removed from a particularly wet dung heap, and where the pretty grey pony stood, my mom is there; short and kind-faced, but with a wiry strength. (Thankfully, also fully clothed).

MOM! Rain and I squeal.

Is it over? enquires B. C. from the depths of my mane.

Yes! Look! She’s human again! We’ll all be human again!

After that, Mom was in her element, helping everybody as laughing, neighing they transformed back into themselves, injection after injection. The horses ran in laps around the grassy paddock, stuffed their faces with hay or threw themselves down and rolled. Arwen, once again a dish-faced grey mare with a perfect white diamond on her forehead, tore snorting around in circles before attempting to kick anyone in sight. Siobhan, a bay pony, trampled three humans and broke two fences, heading for home. Magic leapt and curvetted, a graceful grey gelding. Thunder, stolid and bay, gave one giant bunny hop into the air before coming to the ground and amiably beginning to lick the nearest person.

Rain, a tall blonde girl, danced in graceful ballet moves that cut swathes through the wavy grass. Dad, once again a bearded man, used a piece of wire, some spit and half of someone’s hanky to fashion a multiple-dose syringe that speeded up the process.

B. C., Skye and I were last. Skye gritted her teeth as Mom injected her shoulder, gasped once and transformed. She was beautiful as a human, but as a horse, she’s dazzling; a collection of sleek chestnut curves that bend and flow like a symphony. She steps over to me and with paralyzing joy, for the first time I experience her as a horse experiences another; her smell, her beauty, her language. We breathe into each other’s nostrils, blowing thoughts at each other, smells, emotions until I would have cried, if I was human.

But I’m not, and then it’s over, and B. C. is standing squished close against me as Mom gently injects me in the neck. The needle pinches slightly, I screw my eyes tight shut and the world spins. My senses blur and fade; smell and hearing all but vanish, touch virtually disappears and the next thing I know I’m lying on the ground, cheek pressed against the grass. Cheek. Wait. I’m lying facedown. I sit up, and realise that I’m human; short and thin and undeniably human.

“That’s it,” says Mom’s voice above me. “It’s all right again.” She hugs me close, then walks away to help Dad doctor the handful of injuries from the fight.

“Being human suits you,” says B. C., and I get up and see that he’s human too – the way he was made to be. I almost break his ribs with one of my epic hugs and sigh deeply.

“I’m glad that’s over!” I say.

“Yeah, it was tough, but it was a pretty cool adventure,” says B. C.

“Yeah…” I watch the horses run laps through the grass, led by their queen, the indomitable Skye who never gave up. “I think I’m going to miss being a horse, though. I know God made me to be human, but it’s weird not to be able to smell and touch and understand the way a horse does. And run. And be strong. I miss that. Humans can’t be powerful and graceful at the same time the way horses can.”

B. C.’s big warm hand engulfs mine, fingers intertwining.

“Horses can’t do this,” he says.

Of Horses and Their People, Part IV

There are a few moments of stunned silence. Skye and B. C. both pick themselves up and dust themselves off, looking highly disgruntled at having their moment of save-the-day so dramatically usurped.

As usual, Rain is the one to break this silence. Flipping her blonde forelock out of her eyes, she says, Of course it’s me. D’you know anybody else this awesome?

“Or annoying,” mutters Skye under her breath. Her relationship with my sister has never been shall we say one of mutual delight.

Rain looks at her with flat ears. Muttering under your breath won’t work. I’m a horse, remember?

Rainy! I bounce towards her in glee and blow into her nose, having to reach up quite a long way to do so. You’re safe!

Of course I’m safe, says Rain. I’m awesome that way.

Skye just glares at her. Holstering her pistol, she turns towards the (completely ruined) gates and says, “Okay, chestnut pony, speak to me. Where are we going now?”

Well, the cells are all down this way, says B. C. I’m hoping one of you two has an awe-inspiring plan to get us all out of here.

I was kinda hoping you’d have an awe-inspiring plan to get us all out of here, I say.

Well, if I had a plan, it would be awe-inspiring, says B. C.

Of course it would, I say loyally.

Hellooo-ooo? Rain snorts loudly. Is anyone going to consult the real genius here?

“No,” says Skye.

Have you got a plan? I ask.

Yes! says Rain.

Let’s hear it, says B. C.

Without missing a beat, Rain responds, Let’s wing it! and charges back through the ruined doors, vanishing in a veil of smoke.

“Your sister annoys me,” says Skye flatly.

Got any better ideas? I ask.

“Uh, no. Let’s go this way.” Skye jumps over the double doors with ninja grace and B. C. and I follow her into yet another creepy, white-walled, blue-lit corridor. The doors at regular intervals down both sides have barred windows and clipboards underneath the numbers painted in white across them. The corridor is empty. Well, mostly empty. There are a few guards lying around in various states of disrepair and Rain is tap-dancing her way down the middle of the corridor. It should not be possible for a four-legged, half-ton animal to tap-dance; nevertheless nobody seems to have explained the concept of possibility to Rain.

I take a deep breath. Underneath the reek of technology, humans and sanitation, I can smell the strange mixture of horse and human. Lots of it. There are a lot of people-horses here…

Ugh. B. C. shudders. I hate this place.

“Are the people-horses all here?” asks Skye. “And where are the horse-people?”

Same corridor but further down, says B. C. How are we going to break them out? Rain can’t crush the cell doors. I’ve tried.

“Solitary confinement.” Skye shakes her head. “If we were all together in a herd, we could do something. Alone, we’re useless.”

You’re thinking like a horse now. B. C.’s blue eyes turn serious; he turns his head sideways, thinking, forelock falling irresistibly over one eye. We don’t need to see each other to work together… Not when we’re human. He looks at me with his eyes glittering in an equine smile. Jericho.

Jericho? I stare at him, uncomprehending.

“Jericho!” yells Skye. “B. C., you are a crazy genius!”

That’s my line! I snort. And what on earth are you people on about?

It takes Skye, B. C., and Rain – who seems to get it instantly – almost ten minutes to explain themselves to me.

Okay, okay, I say eventually. So you’re going to get all the horses to jump against their doors and all the humans to shout their loudest all at the same moment? And keep doing it until the walls fall down?

“Exactly!” says Skye, relieved. “Okay, Firn’s got it, let’s go.”

But why would that how? I say, utterly nonplussed.

It’s simple, says B. C. The sound causes vibration…

Yeah, I know, I say, but how will we make enough sound?

Echoes, the chestnut colt explains. Sheer numbers. Oh, and a very large amount of luck.

I’d pray, says Rain. Faith works better than luck, in a pinch.

That’s exactly what I’m doing as Skye starts to rally the troops. Skye was born to be a leader. Her voice rings clearly down the entire corridor as she walks, tapping her stolen machine gun against her hip.

“All of you! Listen up! This is Skye’s The Limit. I’m a person who was once a horse, just like most of you. I’m here to help you break yourselves out, and if you want to get out of here, you’ll have to listen to me.”

There’s a moment of silence. Then, voices explode. Neighs, kicks, shouts echo through the corridor. Skye shouts ineffectually for a few moments; then Rain neighs SHUT UP!!! and instant silence falls.

“How do we know we can trust you?” a voice yells from the horse-people end.

“You don’t have a choice,” says Skye calmly.

“Of course we can trust her!” The next voice is bright, sunny, and deep as a sea. “She’s my mommy! She’ll get us out of here, and then we’ll all find out it was a tremendous misunderstanding and nobody meant any harm in the first place.”

Thunder! I squeal, recognising my youngest horse’s general attitude towards life.

Skye’s face darkens, and I read war in her dark brown eyes. “They have my baby? That’s it. They die,” she mutters under her breath. “Now listen to me!” she yells out. “If you want to get out of here, listen for the beat. You’ll know it when you hear it. Wait until you have the rhythm. Then, all together, I want all you people-horses to slam yourselves against the doors of your cells and kick with all your might. And all you horse-people, shout – a good deep loud one. Got that?”

There is a general mutter of agreement, and then it’s over to Rain. Her job is to make noise. Lots of noise. She is, naturally, in seventh heaven. Having dragged a tin feed bin out of her cell – the lock of which she had chewed off, after several weeks of dogged gnawing – she turns the bin upside down, lifts a front hoof and brings it smashing down on the tin. It rings like a gong.

Awesome! Rain tosses her head like a rock star and counts in little snorts (once again the impossibility of a horse counting does not seem to have occurred to her). And a one-two-three-four go! Slamming her hoof against the bin, she stamps out a loud rhythm that anyone with a bucket and at least half an ear could carry.

“When you’re ready,” Skye coaches, yelling above the din.

The first combined thump and shout make me jump a mile and hide under B. C. From then on, it just gets louder. And louder. The floor begins to shake, plaster crumbling from the ceiling as cell doors bend. I bury my head in B. C.’s shoulder and pray, the silence of a horse’s language filling the prayer with far more urgency than mere human words, and the floor shakes and the crash and rumble and shout grows louder and louder still. Dust rises from the floor; my head begins to ache. Neighs of effort and screams of frustration join the general chaos, but the noise starts to take on a rhythm. It rises and falls, swelling like a sea, breaking like a wave, receding, only to swell and break again. Six times the great wave of noise washes over me, and just as I doubt I can stand it anymore, the roar of shattering masonry joins the rest of the sound. I look up. Cracks are spreading all over the walls and floor, dust pouring out from everywhere.

It’s working! B. C. gapes.

Skye pulls out her gun and fires into the floor, and the gunshot does it. The walls collapse, all in one huge dusty crumbling heap. Silence reigns. Stunned horses and people are staring at us from everywhere.

That should not have worked in a million years, says B. C.

What’d I tell you? snorts Rain cockily. Luck’s no good; faith works every time.

A loud yell breaks the shocked silence. “Mommyyyyyyyy!”

We all leap aside as a very large, thickset young man lopes down the corridor. Long arms outstretched, long legs reaching and flying, he bounds towards us, black hair blowing.

“My baby!” Skye holds out her arms and her son almost crushes her in a massive embrace, lifting her almost off the floor.

Awwwh! I sigh wistfully. I think that my big dumb colt, Thunder, might just be the cutest human I have ever seen. With one notable exception.

Let me guess. Thunder? says B. C.

That’s him, I say. I wonder where my parents are.

Scanning the crowd of horses, who are now milling around looking for their leader – who is still trying to get out of Thunder’s hug – I search for my parents. It’s not easy, since I have no idea what they look like, or even what they smell like through equine senses.

Some horses/people are easy to recognise. An extraordinarily tall liver chestnut stallion standing and watching the goings-on in perfect silence has got to be the Horse Mutterer; the tall girl with brown hair, one strip of it dyed white, and odd eyes – one blue, one brown – can only be Sookie Lynn.

Hey Firn! Rain’s whinny pipes up behind me. Look what I found!

I turn around and see my sister with her pony on her back. Well, I’m guessing it’s her pony. Siobhan is now humanoid, has cut her long black hair in layers, and has a tattoo across her cheek and a piercing in her nose, but she’s still short and sassy with way too much attitude showing in her rather plain face. She has a handful of Rain’s mane and looks perfectly at ease on her owner’s back.

“Oh, hello, human,” she says distastefully. “I hate you.”

Hi snotface. I hate you too, I say.

Skye has finally detached herself from Thunder and shooes him off with instructions that I can’t hear. Then she turns to the aimless bunch of horses/people milling about and raises her voice. “Alright! We only have so much time to wander about before those guards get reinforcements and kill us all! And before that happens, we have to bust out of here. They’re on high alert, but we know the way.” She crosses over to me and vaults on. “All of you people, find a horse and get on. If it bucks you off, find another one. Now is not the time for interspecies bonding.” I feel her weight shift as she glances around. “Where is Thunder?”

“I’m here, Mom!” Thunder shouts, pushing through the crowd with two other people in his wake. “I found them!”

It’s not hard to recognise the people. One is short and dainty, with a very pretty snub nose and something vaguely elfin in her slightly pointed ears; her hair is cut in a bob and jet black with white highlights. That’s definitely Arwen. The other is very tall and lanky with endless legs, a kind expression and white-blond shoulder-length hair – undeniably Magic.

I whinny to them and submit happily as Magic strokes my shoulder and Thunder almost strangles me in a massive hug. By now, most of the horses are mounted, except for one or two, and there are a few people clutching bruised knees and bleeding noses.

“We’re going to have to lead these guys out,” Skye tells the rest of her herd. “Thunder, go help the injured people onto horses. Magic, you’re charismatic, organise them into groups of two horses and two people. Arwen… Where are the alpha pair from the human herd?”

“I don’t know,” says Arwen. “Thunder, Magic and I looked everywhere for them.”

A cold hand grips my heart. You can’t find my parents?

Skye shakes her head. “They’re probably in the herd somewhere,” she says, unconvincingly. “But I’ll have Thunder keep searching. If we haven’t found them by the time we reach the exit, I’m coming back for them.”

Thunder appears. “Everyone’s ready, Mommy,” he says.

“Good,” says Skye.

Hop on, says B. C. to Thunder. I owe you a ride. He lowers himself to his knees and Thunder jumps on, taking a fistful of mane.

Skye pulls on my left rein, turning me to face the rest of the herd. They’ve been arranged in double file with B. C. and I in the front and Rain and Siobhan bringing up the rear. Arwen gets onto me behind Skye, Magic joining Thunder on B. C., both armed with machine guns.

Skye addresses the herd in her clear, ringing voice. “Okay, everyone, the rules are simple and they’re programmed into your equine DNA. Never leave the herd. Only fight if you must. And do what your leader tells you to. That’s me, and if you want to get out alive, follow my orders to the letter.” She turns me back around. “Herd, move out!”

Her boots tap against my flanks and I break into a slow canter, toiling under my double burden. B. C. lopes effortlessly beside me with his usual infuriating ease, and we canter out of the cells and into the long dark passage we used to get here. The doors are still jamming the way; B. C. kicks them aside to reveal a heap of guards who aren’t going anywhere very much for the next few weeks, and two by two we jump over them and gallop on. The alarms are still wailing and at one point we come around a corner and almost crush a pair of guards, but Skye clouts one over the head with a fist and B. C. tramples the other one, and after that any guards we happen to meet flee in terror faced with several hundred determined horses and riders.

We come to a halt just in front of the closed doors to the lab, in a sea of sirens, darkness and swirling red lights. I’m too tired to be properly afraid, trembling as Skye and Arwen get off to give me a rest. B. C. worriedly pushes his nose against my neck. Are you okay?

I’m fine, I say. It’s just been a long night for short legs.

It’s almost over, he reassures me, blowing softly in my ear. We’ll be fine.

What about my parents? I shiver.

We’ve come this far. We can go the rest of the distance.

Skye runs her hands over the doors, searching for a way out. “It’s no good,” she says. “Rain will have to bust us out again.”

B. C. gives an explosive snort. She’s not stealing my show again! he says indignantly. Shaking Thunder and Magic off in a grumpy heap, he trots over to the door, gives it a wicked glare with flattened ears, then rears and hammers both front feet into the door in one mighty blow. Already damaged, the door bends, cracking open. B. C. turns and gives it a good kick and the door breaks, opening wide enough to admit a horse and rider.

Ta-da, he says smugly.

Nice!  I say.

“Let’s get out of here.” Skye jumps back on, Arwen joins her and we gallop across the creepily silent lab floor. On the other end, the doors are open.

“This is wrong,” says Skye. “It’s too easy…”

Last time you said that we ended up in hectic trouble, snorts B. C.

“That’s just because I was right.”

Finally we’ve out of the lab and into the corridor and I can see the moonlight at the end of the creepy little corridor. Behind us, there are curses and snorts as people hit their heads on the ceiling and scramble to dismount, squashing once more into single file in the narrow tunnel. It takes some shouting to organise everyone, but at last we’re ready to leave.

Then, without warning, all the blue lights go on in one dazzling moment. I screw my eyes shut, gasping at the light. B. C. snorts behind me. Firn, look!

I don’t want to see. But I open my eyes anyway and read the terrifying message projected into the air in front of me.

IF YOU DARE TO LEAVE THIS LABORATORY

YOU WILL NEVER SEE YOUR PARENTS ALIVE AGAIN

The projection vanishes, only to return a split second later:

MWA HA HA HA HA HA HA

To be continued…

Of Horses and Their People, Part III

Fillies first. B. C. lowers his head politely.

I step carefully over a dead guard and follow Skye through the doors. Below us, chaos has broken out; I can hear human voices and feet running, breaking glass. A loud voice rises above the others, but I can’t make out the words; pausing, I tip my ear in its direction.

Firn! Go! snorts B. C., giving me a prod with his nose. The alarms will go off any –

A siren screams. I never liked sirens, but with my equine hearing magnifying the sound to many times its usual volume, the loud wailing is sheer torture. Forward is Skye, backward is B. C., walls all round me – the only way left is up and I rear in terror as red lights flash all around me.

“The doors!” yells Skye. She ducks under my flailing forefeet, grabs me by the mane and yanks me down. “Run!” she yells, and B. C., Skye and I all leap forward at the same moment as the doors start to slide shut. I trip over my own feet trying to avoid trampling Skye, B. C. trips over me, and we end up in a heap on the floor with one very disgruntled squashed Shetland pony at the bottom.

That was close, snuffles B. C., trying to disentangle his endless legs from the heap.

“No kidding,” says Skye. She gracefully extricates herself from the untidy mess of legs and shines her spy watch torch on the doors. The thin crack where the double doors meet is marred ever so slightly by a clump of chestnut tail hairs.

B. C. and I get up and stare.

“No more last-minute stuff, okay?” says Skye, shooting us a venomous look. “Now listen when I talk to you.”

We shuffle our hooves. Yes, Skye.

“That’s better.” Skye smooths back a lock of blonde hair. “Now, B. C., how did you get here?”

I was kidnapped, says B. C., swishing his recently shortened tail uneasily. Just like hundreds of others. One moment I was in Heidelberg on my way to visit you guys, next minute I was a horse. A big horse, he adds smugly.

I flatten my ears at him.

“Okay, okay, cut it out!” says Skye. “And then what happened?”

Then some of those dudes in the stupid skin-tight suits appeared out of nowhere and shot me with a tranquilliser dart as if I was a buffalo,  says B. C. indignantly.

Well, you’re about the right size, I say.

B. C. stares. Wow, Firn! You actually insulted me in a witty manner! For you, anyway.

“Guys!” yells Skye. “Seriously!”

And when I woke up I was in what they call the holding area and what I call the dungeon, says B. C., his ears flicking back. Down the passage, over there. I was with a whole group of other people-horses, and the horse-people were kept separately. But I gave the guards too much trouble, so when they were done studying us, I was the first to be chosen for use in an experiment. He shudders.

What experiment? I ask, going cold.

“Never mind that for now,” says Skye. “You know the way to the place where our family is kept?”

Yep, says B. C.

Are they okay? I ask.

Yep! They just need some rescuing, says B. C.

“Let’s do it!” Skye shoves past us and down the tunnel to where it forks, turning left.

B. C. neighs.

“What?” Skye says, turning around.

The dungeons are that way, says B. C., pointing his nose at the other tunnel.

“Oh,” says Skye. “Right.” She gives herself a little shake, then tosses her head, a gesture so familiar it makes me smile, and storms down the other tunnel. “Let’s do it!” she yells.

I love my horse, I say.

I can’t wait to meet Arwen, says B. C.

I droop my ears sideways, the horse version of rolling eyes. Come on, let’s follow her.

We trot after Skye, our hooves deafening, but the tunnel is much larger and wider here; a comfortable size for the two horses – well, horse and pony – to move side by side. Skye leads the way at a tireless jog, her light roving across the featureless walls and floor. The floor is concrete now, better on the hooves than tiles, but still hard enough to jar my legs.

Skye seems uneasy, though. I spot it in the set of her shoulders, the way she moves as clearly as if she was speaking, and marvel again at how easy it is for a horse to read a person.

“This isn’t right.” Skye stops.

Yes, it is, says B. C. Only about a hundred metres to go and we’ll be at the big gates to the dungeons.

“Exactly,” Skye points out. “Where are the guards? They should be onto us by now.”

They should? I take a deep breath, but the smell of technology, chemical and human permeates everything.

What are they gonna do, drop out of the sky? says B. C., drooping his ears sideways.

Skye looks up.

“Good guess,” she says, whips out her 9mm and fires a shot into the ceiling. The deafening bang makes me leap a mile into the air, and when I come down, I have a human on my back, its arms locked around my throat, heels digging into my sides. I squeal, rear and fall over backwards with a thud that rattles my teeth, but the grip around my neck loosens; I roll over and leap to my feet, jumping aside as the guard curls up with a groan, hugging his injured ribs.

Firn! Look up! B. C. squeals; I take one glance upwards and leap out of the way as a guard drops through the open trapdoor and raises his machine gun. Skye throws her arms around his neck and brings her knee up into his back with a sickening thud. He crumples, groaning.

“Come on!” yells Skye over the screaming of more sirens as we hear hurrying feet in the secret tunnel above us. “Run! B. C., show us the way!”

Follow me! B. C. arches his neck and plunges down the tunnel, hooves ringing. I gallop after him, pausing to let Skye swing onto my back, and amidst the craziness of red and white lights flashing everywhere, I break into my best gallop. This is not a very good one, but I keep B. C.’s flashing horseshoes in sight through the twists of the tunnel. I hear gunfire behind me; Skye, one hand clutching my mane, urges me on as my little legs fly along as fast as they can go.

Then ahead of us blue light flashes and B. C. skids to a halt, sparks raining from his hooves. We’ve come to a pair of huge doors, their round windows glowing with that creepy blue light, the centaur insignia stamped proudly in the centre.

This is it, he says.

Skye leaps off my back and runs to the door, fumbling with her spy watch for the recording of Luther Hansen’s voice. It’s barely audible above the shouts and gunshots behind us, and it doesn’t work. The door remains firmly closed.

“Why won’t it open?” Skye yells.

I don’t know, do I look like an evil scientist to you? says B. C. He spins around. Stand back, Skye!

Wisely, she jumps out of the way and B. C. squeals loudly and unleashes a mighty two-hoofed kick at the doors. His shoes ring on the steel, leaving a dent, but they remain closed. I rear up and batter at the doors with my forefeet, gouging scratches in the paintwork, as he gives another huge kick. Suddenly the guards’ voices sound a lot closer.

“Keep trying!” yells Skye as the door slides open just a crack. She reloads her 9mm and drops to one knee, a balanced shooting position. “I’ll hold them off!”

Then, from inside the dungeon, I hear ringing hoofbeats and a trumpeting neigh. I pause, dropping back to all fours, listening, and the voice is oddly familiar.

Chaaaaaaaaaaaarge! For Narniaaaaa!

B. C., stand back! I squeal, running into him and knocking both of us out of the way. Something hits the doors with a mighty clang and bursts straight through in an explosion of gold and white, carrying the doors on its neck. Skye dives out of the way just as the first guards come around the corner and the golden creature, doors and all, meets them head-on and ploughs them to the ground. It keeps going until the doors jam into a narrow part of the tunnel, where it grinds to a halt in a shower of sparks, groans, mangled metal and squashed guards.

The creature steps back, a movement as graceful as water flowing, and shakes its flowing blonde mane. Almost as tall as B. C., the filly’s coat is a rich shade of deep gold, her mane and tail slightly wavy and flaxen blonde. The palomino is made all the more striking by her four white stockings and perfect, diamond-shaped star.

Yet there’s something familiar about her, about the way she balances on her long slim legs as if she’s just about to leap into the air, weightless as a dream; something about the perfect air of sophistication tinged with a hint of mischief. She pauses, poses gracefully, and whinnies her victory to the world, in a voice as clear as a church bell, but the words don’t quite fit: Squid launcher! Oh yeah!

In the astonished silence, my little sister (for a given value of “little”) turns her tail towards the groaning heap of guards and swings her hips, singing. We like to move it move it! We like to move it move it! I sure moved you! Oh yeah!

Oh my word, says B. C., laughing. It’s Rain.