Beast was not sad. Over a metal matrix of perfect cylinders, he stood
gazing. He understood enough the configuration of such an unwelcoming passage.
Beneath the pipes, each about of human hand’s distance apart, the earth fell
sudden and intimidating. Sure, he could hop it, probably, but even so, where
could he go live and be not cold and not hungry?
His mane was not dirty, nor unkempt. His
back was not burdened by any man. His thoughts were not roving endlessly like
the horizontal landscape beyond the fenced-in pasture. Instead, he had but one
thought of one person, not present. He gently tested the cattle guard in front
of him with his hoof. The Masters had once found Clubber, an older and now
tamer horse, on the other side of the guard early one sun. Clubber had feasted
well throughout the night, but after the men scared him into jumping back over
into the pasture, they gave him a pop on the nose and Clubber learned but good.
sight was littered with flies. They could not detract from the vision, one magnificent
sun, which was now ending itself flat upon the land. From behind, Yodel the
residential dog trotted up beside Beast. Yodel had wanted to see whatever it
was Beast was staring at, but immediately forgot such antiquated intention upon
Beast! Whoa Beast! You sure got a lot of flies on your face there, buddy!”
Oh, yes. Sometimes,” he said. “Say, Yodel,”
you smell better than any horse. What is out there?”
where?" Yodel panted, and quickly surveyed some three hundred-sixty
"Beyond the cattle guard and the fences.
Out there were the sun sleeps."
wagged her tail then sat. She closed
her mouth and lifted her nose and smelled. She closed her eyes, “All the
flowers in the world."
squinted. “You smell him? Young Master?”
took in another whiff. “Naw, no, nope. Wish I did. But, a whole lot more.
Flowers, bugs, all crazy kinds of sorts of urines. I betcha even colors too,
new ones we’ve never seen. Out there, oh yeah. But hey buddy," Yodel said
and walked around Beast, panting, “we got plenty of flowers in here too oh boy
yes sir. Wildflowers. Dandies. Pollens. Weeds. Hey Beast. Beast, lemme ask you
something. How bout that now?"
bent down his head in response.
“Beast, dontcha really hate having all those
flies swarming your face?"
really don’t think about it."
That's nuts. I know they'd drive me crazy, all those little pests. Boy fleas
are one thing but flies, those are some mighty big monsters. I sure would hate
are many things worse, Yodel.”
the cold. At least we’re not on icebergs.”
"Hah!" Yodel barked. “’Not on
iceberg!' Classic!" Yodel sat happy a moment in her scraggly blonde coat. “Hey Beast, what’s an iceberg?”
Beast himself was only vaguely aware of the
concept. He learned it from Clubber who claimed that he saw one many years
before. Clubber had come to the farm in a cage after crossing the sea, what he
described as some sort of landless abyss. “I don’t know anything about their
upper halves, but Clubber told me that they’re big scary shapes stuck in cold, cold
“Huh. And you wouldn’t wanna be on the top?
we might fall off, into that painful bottom part,” said Beast.
Yodel had trouble imagining whatever he was
getting at, and trotted off back toward the barn in search of a drink. Beast
was left thinking about the simple awfulness of ice. He knew of cold winter
water on morning rides with Master when they galloped through the frost and the
trees and their breaths made fog. Splashing through puddles, he had wanted to
shriek and stop, throw Master to the ground and go home. Beast shivered just
thinking about the frigid pain that slapped and stuck to his legs.
Master had taken Beast far through the woods, over black roads and past slave-built
mansions, far from the pasture, and they stopped before an isolated rock. While
Master gazed triumphantly, Beast stared into the soil, tired, and wished to
return to their quaint and peaceful pasture, which he had long since assured
himself was not a cage.
some time like that, Master spoke, "How far we've come, Beast."
was inclined to lift his gaze and saw how it was much more than a boulder
before them. Carved into the stone was a grand, bronze ship. Weathering made
its planks bleed downward. Opening itself like a story for Beast and Master,
the ship beheld a magnificent tragedy. In between the bookends of the bow and
stern, highly detailed, incredibly etched human beings were sculpted in a
collage of human misery. Over one hundred and fifty skinny brown figures, each
with their ribs emerging and their eye sockets drooping, were cramped betwixt
and over each other in the shadowy confines beneath the boat’s surface. United
in more than terror, their boney wrists and ankles were chained together by
survival and diseases and unbeatable metal.
speculated that this unhappy boat was a memorial to the unfree. He grunted, and
shifted himself about with Master, working around a better view. He knew only
that whatever vain wish he had had to return home and the contents of this
historical etching were nothing like compatible. Comfortable, as he persuaded
himself, he was not beneath an iceberg. He was never in that boat. The stone
was powerful and precise and almost beautiful in its depiction of extinct life.
If only, thought Beast, he could understand what it meant.
Champions of windiness, masters of flight, messengers of bad news and
false rumors, the birds careened, swept about the pasture, dancing around the
fact that they were an arrogant, pissant bunch. Crows especially, thought
The clamor of church bells rang from beyond the farmhouse. Trees shook and
blackbirds carried themselves on the warm morning drafts. A posse of seven
landed on the wooden fence in front of the large oak just outside the farm’s
perimeter. They settled in the shade of the tree, and observing the hot, dry
pasture, called out to the biggest beast in their sight
“Hawt sun yew stannin in dere, aye Beest?" said the bird on the far left. He
turned to his fellowship and grinned.
said one on the left, "Eye'd say bowt, oh siventy five, siventy six digrees.
Feerenhite, dat is. Brakbrak! Know bout dat feeerenhite, aye horsey Brakbrakbrak!"
com awn, dat’s not fare. Pore horsesy doe noe sell-see-us needer!”
all the blackbirds laughed.
Beast was determined not to care what Fahrenheit
dink bout dat Enri?"
welp," Henry said, "Eye'd sey its da best dey da be inda sky."
He sat in the center of the gang. Taking some room for himself, he slowly
opened his right wing and cranked his head, showing admiration for his shining
black feathers. “Eye’d shurly haite da be stuck onda grownd.”
say bout dat, BEEST!" yelled a coarse female beside him. “AYRKE?!"
lifted his head from the ground, chewing.
da church bellz, Beest?" Henry said, calmer than the rest. "Yew know
bout pray-her, dontcha?"
stared sullenly. “Yes, I know about the sun."
rest of the birds giggled and cracked jokes about the horse’s funny accent, but
Henry just sneered, nudging the others aside and giving himself more space to
think. “Shyea, Beest, Eye'm shure yoo know 'uh bout da sun!' How meny suns,
Beest, how meny suns sence yoor yung maasture bin home?"
returned to the grass and thought about chewing.
horsey cant count Enri!" said a younger bird.
em try," said Henry.
em try! Let em try!" they all squawked.
thought hard about Young Master. His soft hands. How he carefully brushed
Beast's hair in the barn. Apples.
Beast said, more to himself.
Gud try," laughed Henry. "Gud try, gud try horsey. Meny suns yoo
looked up, and yung maasture wuz never dere."
a hundrid five," said the oldest bird. “Hundrid five suns, but who's
lookin up, horsey," said Henry. He lifted himself off the fence and landed
on the oak. The rest of the gang swooped and encircled Beast, yelling,
"Horsey can't count! Horsey can't count!" before they soon glided off
into the high noon horizon. Henry remained perched in the shadow, looking down toward Beast on the outstretching branch. The horse turned, looking for a place
to avoid the gaze of the birds, but no such place could exist.
said Henry, “Hear me now, horse? I know your tongue. I'll talk to you like the
back-assward horse that you are because I know something you should.”
faced the tree. Despite their cockiness, the birds often did have truth. “What
do you have to say, now that your friends are gone? "
“Friends? They are not my friends. Gods don't
need friends. Just wind and a strong mind. The people today, oh, I'm sorry, the
masters, as you like to identify them, they go to those churches every Sunday,
that’s every seventh sun to you, and they prey.”
knows what they do." grunted Beast.
do. We see. They turn their heads upward because they cannot understand the
sky. And you know what they find? They see us while they worship. They prey to
us. Because we are the sky, so, we’re all that they know."
you can see is the ground! What do you know about the clouds and
icebergs?" said Beast.
do I need to know about anything when everything's a day's flight away?! You
couldn't dream of what I've seen. You're not capable."
cares what you know.”
should. I told you where they took Clubber away to, didn’t I?”
They sold Clubber,” Beast said, but without confidence.
But did you know in some towns they call it horseshit? BAK!"
“Do you know where Young Master is?"
“I know something much more important than
that. You see, I don’t worry much about getting turned into dog food or Elmer’s,
so I got time to learn some things. Don’t you know what cages are, Beast? "
said Beast. "Never again. Never again in the cage."
“Ah but your cage is so small. In your hooves
and in your head. You can just barely see out from it, can't you?"
seen it. I watch creatures like you everyday. And your cage, well it ain't so
small but it ain't so big either."
Beast began to pace back and forth.
got names for cages like yours. They call em acres. This one, well it's
20 by 30 acres. That's 600 square acres."
had no idea what an acre was, but he couldn't stand that there was as many as six
hundred of them.
know that ache, don't you? You walk it every day."
hundred was definitely not a good number. Such was fact.
worse, you mule, is that you're stuck in over 242 hectares. You think
you can pace that distance forever?"
heard them talking. I know how they think. You're nothing but pennies to them,
horse. Dollars and cents. They'll make their money. Always have. Always will.
Always calculating and scheming and selling. You could never know."
gonna turn you into glue, you do know that? I hope to heavens you at least know
that. That's all your good for all their profits and losses. After their
numbers are crunched. And the numbers are always crunched, they're gonna TERN
YOO INTO GLEW, BEEST! BAWKBAWKBAWK!!"
whipped his hind around and kicked the fence, frightening old Henry and sending
him soaring into the sky, laughing and riding the wind.
Beast snorted. Let the birds fly and take their dark figures with them. He
swallowed and licked his lips. He tried turning his mind to anything else,
anything but numbers, but could only lower his heavy head to the well-walked
earth, and chew.
One sun, the last warm sun of fall, a sun that every creature of the
world knows, Young Master returned. He walked up from the back of the white
farmhouse, slowly, smiling, and then Beast was happy. His hairy ears stood
proud in exaltation of Young Master’s footsteps, now heavier and somehow wiser.
The same boots and blue jeans, but in a soft, white, long-sleeved collared
shirt that the pasture had never seen before. Beast craned his neck out over
the fence, inviting his hands to reach out and caress with ease.
missed you too,” said Young Master.
have you been?”
bet you’ve missed me too. I wish they’d allow stallions in dorms.”
ride together. Right now! What do you say?”
Master was silent for a long while. He petted Beast and didn’t look at his
eyes. A strange and noisy melody erupted from his pocket. He took his hands off
Beast and reached for the small black thing. “Obligations, obligations,” he
said, muttering, but not distracted. “Hmm, I guess that can wait thirty
minutes. Come on, buddy, how about a trip?”
smiled and watched him cross the fence.
they rode, Young Master spoke mostly of himself, how much he missed home, but
how he was exhilarated by school, pretty girls, his favorite classes, the
interest in engineering, dreams far away from the farm, the utter and beautiful
perfection of binary code, and suddenly they were back at the pasture and the
horse watched his rider dismount.
learning a lot. I’m just getting into this stuff but already I made a digital
clock just in binary. It’s sitting in the kitchen.”
had never sat in the kitchen. He’d seen through the window its walls, covered
with pasty white tiles, and a wooden table in the middle the color of night.
But he wouldn’t fit. Young Master led Beast to the fence.
wish I could explain it all to you, Beast.” said Young Master. “Anything you want,
all with computers, anything at all, it’s just zeroes and ones.”
thought about how he didn’t really know what computers or clocks were. He
didn’t understand why their ride was so short this time. He watched Young
Master work the gate and cross the fence line.
most complicated of any system just boils down to those two. Zeroes and ones.
You have it, and you have the complete opposite, and there you are with
everything. Everything we know, and then the wonder in everything we don’t. Maybe
tomorrow, if it’s warm, I’ll tell you about anti-matter.”
“but, don’t leave again. Please, I don’t understand.” What could zero be? One
sun. One rider and one horse. What was no horse without rider? What men knew
not horses? What was zero and infinite and just out of his grasp beyond the
I gotta do what I say I’m gonna do,” he said. He patted the dust off his jeans
and leaned for a moment on the border, facing his adored pet. “Wish I didn’t but I do.”
“Never again go! Why do you leave me? Why?”
“I sometimes envy you, big guy. I wish I could
live in nature, free from worry. No stupid burdens.” He touched the fence,
saddened. He looked again at the beast. Perhaps, a happy slave, he thought.
guess you really don’t have a choice. You’ll be here tomorrow no matter what. No
sense of guilt or duty keeps you here.”
am bound also! I am unfree! I have obligations!
I gotta go, old friend.”
BUT I AM OBLIGATED TO YOU!
left to never be seen again by Beast.
What about Christopher Gage, who went blind at
the age of nineteen? Don’t doubt he had trouble adjusting to his world suddenly
black and smelly. College didn’t help. One morning, about a week later after
Chris came back from the hospital, all the mirrors in the dormitory’s fifth
floor bathroom were broken. A belligerent trail of blood dribbled down the brown
carpet hall, into a bedroom and soaked on a mattress, then returned to its
source, Chris’s elbows. Things, as they strangely tend to do, got better, and
before the end of the semester Chris had a girlfriend and a Seeing Eye dog.
Eric only saw the girl once, and it was from behind, but her curly black hair
and skinny figure stuck in his memory. The curiosity never escaped Eric, and as
he slowly masticated over a bowl of cornflakes in the pale-lit farmhouse
kitchen, he still wondered if she was beautiful.
Your father’s calling for you. They need help up there.”
answered him. “Beast is stuck in the cattle guard.”
rushed to the noise of the pain, forgetting his shoes and thinking fuck it’s
chilly, and approached besides two farmhands and his father stared from the
other side of the gate. Beast in the middle with his milky white belly
splattered up with cold red and if you've never feared or seen terror in a
horse's bulbous eyes it's because you've never dreamed of something as large as
the abyss of a horse's tormented mind. And if you yourself had two legs caught
in that guard and you kicked and kicked and made things worse and stopped.
Seven minutes later. And you kicked and screamed and men stand around gawking
because only an idiot like you, only a dull fool who should have been shot or
turned into glue or dog food or hung or enslaved for all the suns you could
ever think of, and so they wonder why does he kick? Our dear sweet Beast, belly
of blood and mouth of snot and spit, outstretched and entrenched in that trap
kicked and kicked and his beautiful, beautiful body convulsed. His front hoof
clawed nearer and nearer over merciless cylinders, so symmetrical and right,
how they were once thought to work, ingeniously engineered, and scraped closer,
closer to the other side, the land far beyond the fences. The other so
different. His hoof came so close like he was trying to learn, just wanting to
touch it, to feel where he would never live. You could only stand there with
the men who say well shit the grass ain't greener on the other side because his
leg bone has ripped through the skin and through the rest of his existence,
revealing the tendon that you'd watch work so clean like a science textbook, so
miraculously that you may call it god-like, and when you see the cold, morning
daylight through the bone, how it shined through the bone, you try not to gag,
(you’d say yeah well I’ve seen that on tv but you probably haven’t) and instead
you know that that leg bone has torn more than his leg and his sanity but also
you know the kickback of the shotgun against your shoulder and through the
smoke or but a fog of deathly confusion in that fucked horse's head all the
world of cosmos and icebergs and math and no more suns like there never were
and that sun goes down and the sun always stays down for our friend Christopher
Gage, whose existence in this story, you may think, amounted to zilch.