Well, as I suspected, my source of prompts has fallen apart. From now on I expect I’ll be getting my prompts from various friends or strangers on the internet that I’ll pester.
The prompt for today’s story comes from my pal Squeewockle, who gave me the words ‘Fatal, tranquil, swamp, potion, hoof, village’ to use as inspiration. What happened is way longer and stranger than I anticipated it would be. Enjoy! 🙂
The crowd leaped to its feet and roared as the horses thundered toward the finish line. Gareth stood in the front row clutching a ticket in his hand, his eyes glued to his favorite. Tranquility languished in the rear of the pack, but her place did not matter to him. He came just to watch.
His heart fluttered as Tranquility pounded past, her sleek thighs glistening with sweat. Her coat was a rich, chocolate color that contrasted beautifully with her white mane. The jockey’s presence on her back sent a surge of jealousy stabbing into Gareth’s stomach, and he tried to block the little man from his mind.
“Go Tranquility, you can do it!” he cheered. As if hearing his call, she pushed forward with a sudden burst of speed, flying from the back of the group all the way to the front, just in time to take first place. Gareth heaved a deep sigh and smiled. He couldn’t wait to congratulate her.
As the crowed milled about, waiting for the next race, Gareth ducked beneath the bleachers and scrambled over a chain-link fence. Ahead, lines of horse trailers sat in the grass. Gareth spotted Tranquility being led into hers by a stocky man in a trucker cap. Once the door was closed and the man was gone, Gareth strode confidently forward across the grass field. He found acting as if he belonged there to be much more effective than sneaking.
The dewy grass soaked his tennis shoes and the cuffs of his black jeans. He reached the back of the trailer and lifted up the latch. After a quick look around, he pulled open the door and ducked inside.
She snorted and stomped a foot as he entered, her tail swishing nervously. Her back was to him, and he placed a hand on her soft, muscular haunch.
“It’s so good to see you again Tranquility,” he said. “You did really great out there, really great. You’re a star.” She looked back at him and let out another snort.
He rubbed his hand back and forth slowly, holding his breath as she shifted uncomfortably in the small space. Her hair was so soft, he wanted to touch her all over. He slid his other hand under her, so that his arms wrapped around in a big hug, with his face against her side. He could hear her breathing.
“Oh Tranquility,” he whispered, “I know you have your racing career, and that’s important to me, really it is. But I just wish we could be together.”
She looked back, and he gazed into her deep eyes. “Don’t you want me?” he said, “You do, don’t-”
“Hey! What are you doing?”
Gareth snapped upright and saw the thick man in the trucker hat standing outside the trailer. He wore blue overalls, and his bushy, grey eyebrows were bunched together in a look of concern.
“Just, ah, checking up on her,” Gareth said. He rubbed his hands together and nodded his head. “Yep, everything looks good.”
The man looked Gareth up and down, his eyes lingering on Gareth’s North Face jacket. “You one of Jimbo’s boys?” he asked.
“Just making sure everything’s in order, uh, she looks great.” Gareth edged up to the door. Tranquility whinnied and stomped a foot, making him jump.
“What’s your name? Which company are you with?” the man said.
Gareth hopped past the man out of the trailer and started walking back toward the stands. “You’re all clear, no need to worry,” he called over his shoulder.
“Hey!” the man shouted.
Gareth hurried across the grass, pulled himself over the fence and ducked back under the bleachers. He sneaked a look back from the shadows. The man shut the door to the trailer, then walked away from view. Gareth let out a breath.
“Hello,” said a voice behind him.
Gareth let out a yelp and spun around. A thin man in a long black coat stood beneath the bleachers with him. He was very short, just over five feet. Gareth wondered if the man used to be a jockey, he looked too old to be one now.
“I was just having a look at the uh, trailers.” Gareth nodded at the fence.
“I know what you were doing,” the man said with a smirk. “I’ve seen you here before.”
“I… you have?”
The man stepped forward, staring up at Gareth with black eyes. “They just don’t understand how you feel, the horses,” he said, his voice soft. “Don’t you wish they could really know you? Really care for you the way you do them?”
“Who are you?” Gareth said.
The man ignored his question. “An animal can’t feel for a man, not the way we can feel for them,” he said, staring past Gareth. “But I have a way. I can make her see you differently.”
The small man stepped forward and pulled a glass vial from the inside of his coat. He held it forward. “Here, take this.”
The vial was full of a black liquid and stopped with a cork. “What is it?” Gareth said.
“A potion. A concoction I have devised that will make that little filly pay attention to you,” he held the vial up. “Take it, drink it. You’ll see.”
Gareth took the vial. “I don’t understand, what is it?”
“Pheromones and… other things,” he said. “It will make her want you, you’ll see.”
Gareth stared at him for a moment, the man’s gaze did not flinch or waver. Gareth pocketed the vial and nodded.
“Drink it,” said the man. “Then find her.” He wrapped his dark coat around himself, and stepped out from under the bleachers to lose himself in the crowd.
Gareth locked the door to his studio apartment and hung his coat in the closet. Posters and photos and paintings of horses covered the walls. Book shelves and dressers held rows of horse figurines, sculptures and toys of every size and color. A large stuffed horse and several smaller ones sat in a pile at the foot of his bed.
He sat at his desk and set the vial down next to the magazine clippings that cluttered the area. Most of them involved Tranquility.
With one shaking hand he slid open his desk drawer and took out first a bottle of glue, then a small horse figurine. He set the figurine down carefully; horse hairs covered half of its surface, glued in place with meticulous care.
He opened his left hand, clinched in a fist since he left the tracks. Tiny hairs spotted his hand, left there when he had pet Tranquility’s coat. He dabbed on a patch of glue, then plucked the hairs from his hand one by one, and fixed them to the figurine. After placing the last one, he leaned back and admired his work.
“Ah, Tranquility, if only you knew.”
His eyes found their way to the black vial laying on his desk. He picked it up and rolled it between his hands. Unidentifiable pieces floated in the cloudy liquid.
“Could be anything,” he said to himself. He could end up drinking poison, drugs, or just something gross put there for the sake of being mean to a stranger. He looked at the figurine and let out a sigh; she would never understand the effort he put into it.
“I don’t care if it’s poison,” he said, and before he could have second thoughts, he popped the cork out and downed the liquid. It tasted like bile, and chunks stuck in his throat, but he gagged them down. The flavor coated his tongue and he rushed to the kitchen sink, gulping down water from the tap. The substance burned in his belly, his stomach muscles writhed and cramped.
He bent over and howled in pain, squeezing his hands into fists and pounding them on the kitchen counter. A sickening fear overtook him, and he reached for his mouth to gag himself and hopefully puke up the poison, but he could not open his hands from a fist. He could only squeeze harder. His fingernails dug into the skin of his palms, and he felt his knuckles cracking.
A spasm of pain shook his back and neck. His spine made waves beneath his skin and shuddered with pops and snaps. Gareth fell to the floor with a cry, arching and twisting his back.
Every joint in his body screamed in agony. Two deep, crunching pops sounded in succession as his shoulders dislocated. He tried to scream but only let out a high squeal. His neck stretched upward and his jaw snapped outward–even his nose jerked back and forth on his face.
His vision went grey as his entire body was engulfed in pain. He heard his clothes tearing and felt the cold linoleum floor sliding against his skin. He lashed out with his fist in a rage and connected with a cupboard door, snapping it in two. He looked at his hand in shock. His fingers had fused together into a bony, flesh-less fist.
He tried to say ‘no’ but only a screeching snorting sound escaped his mouth. His arm was long and thick and covered in mottled brown and white hairs. His elbow now bent in the opposite direction. His chest was a massive barrel of flesh, covered with the same hair. He felt a tickling on his thigh and flexed reflexively, swishing a tail against the floor.
The pain subsided and he heaved himself up on his four, hoofed feet, and clopped out of the kitchen to the mirror hanging at his closet. A brown and white speckled horse with a black mane stared back at him.
I can make her see you differently.
The man’s words echoed in Gareth’s ears. Tranquility’s sweet eyes filled his mind, and he crashed through his living room, knocking dolls and framed pictures to the ground. He backed up to the front door and kicked backward with all his strength, shattering it from the hinges. His hooves pounded on the pavement as he raced for the tracks.
The sun hid behind the trees, throwing long shadows across the tracks. The stands held only losing tickets and pamphlets, rustled by the wind. Gareth pushed over a gate blocking the tracks and trotted toward the trailers, his massive heart pounding hard in anticipation. But as he got closer, it sank in despair. The grass held only a single trailer, and deep tire tracks where the others had been. It was not Tranquility’s trailer. He let out a long, squealing whinny and kicked his front hooves at the sky.
“Yes, she’s gone isn’t she,” said a familiar voice. The man in the long, black coat stood on the tracks beside him, looking even smaller than before.
Gareth flattened his ears back and snapped at the man, holding up one hoof.
“I never promised you anything,” said the man. “But I can still help you, if you want.”
Gareth blew a hot breath out his nose and nodded his head.
“Good.” The man rubbed a hand along Gareth’s mane. “Come with me now, come on. We’ve got to get you trained. “
“Oh yes, you’re going to be a race horse. You’re going to be the best race horse because I’ll train you. And if you win, you’ll get to see that filly of yours.” The man patted Gareth’s head. “You’ll see her, you just do as you’re told.”
Gareth followed the man across the grass toward the one remaining trailer, and toward his new life.