Coal-black mare. Solitary in the darkened field, its crooked, broad teeth grasping green strands. Gray clouds heaped upon one another, a thunder inside, one strike, two strikes, the mare on its front knees, slow-motioning as it tilted on its side, thick muscles shaking as the large body smacked the wet earth, mouth open, singed, a thin drift of smoke rising from the trembling haunches, tongue out, eyes wide.
A lone farmer ran through the field toward it, yelling its name. His green hat flew off in the rushing wind that embraced him with arms of rain.
The farmer dropped knees-down, wrapping his long arms around the mare’s head, its eyes all white. Spittle dribbled out of its agonized mouth.
“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t die.”
The horse rested in his arms, breaths like unanswered questions. The eyes returned to their normal state, the eyes of the mare meeting the eyes of the farmer, firmer breaths as the farmer’s hands stroked the dark horse head, until the mare asked, “What the hell just happened?”
The farmer, astonished, stuttering, “You, you, you were struck by lightning.”
The horse, whose name was Mare, leaned back its large head, the nostrils flaring, “Did you just talk to me?’
The farmer, more astonished, “You talked to me first.”
“Holy fuck,” replied Mare. “I guess I did.”
Once the miraculous had been accepted by the farmer, his immediate thought was, naturally, commerce. With this in mind, the farmer approached the mare who declined his offer of public performance.
“I wouldn’t like that at all,” she said.
“It’s no different than the conversation we’re having now,” the farmer protested. “You just have it with other people.”
The mare neighed in response, saying, “Other people may not be as kind as the farmer.” The farmer laughed.
“Nonsense,” he said, “I’ll be with you the whole time.”
Using his phone, the farmer recorded a short video of he and the mare discussing the weather while standing in the farmer’s north pasture. The video lasted less than 30 seconds and the mare completed three complete sentences and expounded on what she believed tomorrow’s weather was going to be like – crappy again. The uploaded video went viral, making the major social media sites, with ongoing arguments from the viewing community as to whether it was really a talking horse or not.
To confirm, the farmer and the mare were invited to one of the national televised morning shows, followed the same day by visits to two late-night shows. One of the late-night shows had on what they were calling a “Talking Horse Expert,” some guy dressed like a country rube with a straw hat and a pitchfork, a joke until Mare unmasked the man as someone knowing nothing about contemporary farming. The actor dropped his pitchfork realizing that the horse was actually talking.
Mare’s fame exploded. Her likeness was put on coffee mugs, t-shirts, plates, and hundreds of other trinkets. Even her own calendar. Crowds greeted her at the events she attended whether it be the opening of the local county fair to television shows. She was even asked to do the play-by-play for the national horse-racing derby, which she turned down, citing that she believed that humans racing horses for money was wrong. The derby representative, a stern, pasty old man who was a local politician, complained to the farmer, who apologized but felt the same way.
She didn’t understand why she had to do a dog-food commercial. “I don’t even eat dog food,” she said. “Do you?”
The farmer shook his head and said that it was just for the money. Mare complained that too many humans only cared about money. The guy holding the boom said she didn’t know any better because she was only a stupid horse. Mare cantered over to the boom operator, backing him up against the wall and said that if it wasn’t for humans and their slaughter of innocent animals to feed their overweight, smelly bodies, that this world would be a much better place.
You could hear the hum of the background lights.
They finished the shoot but the atmosphere was tense. As the farmer led out the mare, she said to him, “I’m only telling the truth.”
The farmer nodded his head. “I know.”
Later, that night, someone leaked a shaky video of Mare’s comments from the commercial. The comments were excoriating, and the farmer didn’t see the need to tell the mare about it. This was bad press and perhaps, the farmer considered, that they had made enough money to live happily for a number of years.
In the living room of the farm house, where Mare was now living, he told her it’s time to retire.
“Thank god,” she replied and nuzzled his neck as she once did when she was much smaller.
They still had one more talk show to do and decided together that it would a great way to say goodbye. The farmer would say that the mare woke up silent again, and she would merely stand there while the camera pushed in on her face.
Minutes before she was to go on live television, the farmer couldn’t find her in her assigned dressing room. He asked a couple of the people backstage if they’d seen a horse but nothing. He heard a shot – he knew it was a shot – he was a hunter, he knew. He ran toward the direction and out an emergency exit. A white car pulled away. She was on the ground behind the building, crumpled across two parking spaces, her body broken on the cement dividers, her mouth bound with white rope, her blood, from a gunshot, pooled around her mane. He held her still head in his arms and even as the grief broke across him, he refused it, so it would feed him for a long time, never letting him forget.
Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, New World Writing, PANK, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.
Photo: Erin Dolson