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There is a range of purple mountains, building and tumbling up ahead; they rise up from the plain like unbreaking waves and the snowcaps push themselves inside the motherly clouds as they drift past like sailing ships.
[private]I ride towards it all on my horse; his name is Peto. Peto has a psychological issue that makes him unable to gallop when other horses are watching, I think. There are no other horses around now, but I choose to let Peto walk. The scene we are strolling into is so magnificent that to rush would seem like a waste of our eyes. I know that Peto likes what he sees because the big shiny planets set into either side of his head reflect back my smiles and he nods constantly when I exclaim, ‘Oh Peto, this is so beautiful!’ or: ‘Peto, I have never seen such wonderfully purple mountains!’
We are travelling, as we always do. Back in the last town that we stopped at, I stole a gun from behind the bar at a tavern. Now it sits on my hip with the deadly barrel touching against my thigh. Along with the gun, I obtained enough bullets to last until all my enemies are laid punctured in the airless heights of the mountain pass, should any of them appear.
The day is shuffling off into the past; taking with it the relevance of my newspaper and the light I read it by. The night trails the exiting day like a ragged veil being drawn across an ancient face; there are pale stars and, of course, the cracked old moon.
I look down at my gun in the evening light; its straightness and poise make me feel newer and more precious. I touch my pocket and feel the bullets in there; they click against one another. I tell myself they are waiting for the fight, like pent-up little soldiers in a cotton trench.
Peto is tired. I feel the bridge that spans his legs sagging beneath my weight. ‘Not much further, my dear,’ I tell him. He nods his soft hulk of a head and keeps me in motion.
I see a low building up ahead on the plain. I guide Peto towards it and soon we are in the gloom of its lengthening shadow. It is a house. I jump down from Peto and tie him to the branch of a tree that stands on the edge of the yard. The house has a long porch with white painted chairs and the whole place is made from dark timber. The front door is open. I am curious to see who lives here so I decide to walk inside.
I arrive at the front door. Before I enter the house I look back at Peto, standing beneath the tree with the night bubbling up behind him and the flat plain lying still, disappearing gradually as the world turns beneath our feet. He looks like the last thing on Earth that could possibly die.
My Peto, the one who has carried me so far. I love him. He looks back at me with those huge planet eyes; they appear to be spinning on their axes now and they have atmospheres of gas.
Peto flicks his tail to fend off the flies that night has sent ahead to suck his blood. He stamps his hoof and breathes out hard; it sounds like a lawnmower being turned off.
I take this as Peto’s signal for me to go inside the house. I step into the hallway, which is narrow and quite long; at its end is a door, slightly cracked. There is a light on behind it.
From the sounds that I can hear, there is a family in the room eating a meal. I can see the way that they look by the photographs hanging on the walls of the hallway. There are three children. I walk down the hallway, watching them grow up with every step.
Then I push open the door and stand before them. I must look like a man they have been warned about, with my beautiful gun, my soft hands and my horse tied up outside.
The mother screams and the father leaps to his feet, eyes like bonfires and his torso clenched with fear and guilt. The children look like they did in the pictures. The father yells much too loudly,
‘Who are you?! What are you doing in my house?!’
I say, ‘The front door was open. I decided to come in …’
The fact is, I don’t know why I have decided to come into this man’s house.
The father looks unconvinced; he lowers his head like an angry goat and rolls up his fingers inside his palms so that now he has mallets of woven bone at the ends of his arms.
‘What do you want?’ he says.
Now I lose all faith in myself and begin to panic. I reach down and touch my gun for strength but it is no help; I am not here to kill.
I cannot speak because there is a gallows in my throat. I feel the noose down there, gently swinging in the breeze of my airway; it touches either side of the tube and reminds me of a grandfather clock in a corridor. I just stand there, wide eyed, with my mouth silently opening and closing. I suppose it looks like I am testing the mechanism of my jaw.
The father sees me waver and now it is as if he has two hearts; he knows I am weak and is no longer afraid. Adrenaline is making him high, as it shoots about his insides; he takes a monstrous step towards me and I turn back into the hallway.
I consider leaving but I know that if I do that I cannot come back. Instead, I scurry a couple of steps back down the hallway and open a door on the left. I see that it is a bathroom and as the father yells,
‘Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing now?’ I quickly step inside and lock the door with the sliding latch beside the handle.
The bathroom is small and basic. The sink stands on four metal legs and has exposed pipes beneath. Above the sink is a mirror that has begun to fade at its corners. I don’t know why this happens to mirrors, or what process is occurring to cause the problem, but it seems that old mirrors begin to show more weary reflections. Beside the mirror on the left, there is a small window that looks out onto the yard. I can see Peto out there, waiting patiently beneath the tree. I wave to him but he doesn’t see.
On the right there is a bathtub with a blue shower curtain drawn across its length.
Now the father is screaming all kinds of insulting things and beating on the bathroom door; I sit with my back against it and don’t say anything back. The door keeps pushing against my spine; it feels nice.
After a while the father stops beating on the door. I hear him go back into the kitchen and start discussing the problem with his wife. Through the wall, it sounds as though they are speaking with pillows over their faces.
The mother says, ‘What the hell is going on here Bill? Do you know this guy? Do you owe him money?’
Bill replies, ‘No! No I don’t owe him money. Why do you assume I owe the guy money? I’ve never seen him before in my life.’
‘Well Bill, usually when men arrive at my house unannounced and with guns, it’s because you owe them something.’
The mother sounds angry now and I can’t blame her; I am still in her house and I don’t intend to leave.
One of the children tries to enter the conversation, I assume it is the youngest one because his voice is small and full of confidence,
‘Daddy, why is that man here? Why is he with a gun?’
Bill yells at the child, ‘Why does he have a gun … Not why is he with a gun …’
Bill is incorrect. I yell to him from the bathroom: ‘The child is correct Bill, I am with the gun!’
I hear Bill storming back toward the bathroom. As he does I hear him growl, ‘Is this guy serious?’ He begins to bang on the door again and scream more obscenities. I am worried that he is about to succeed in either breaking into the bathroom or actually hurting my feelings.
A black beetle crawls under the bathroom door and begins to make its way over the cream-coloured tiles. What a life, I think, to be a little black beetle. I watch it scuttle about on the tiles for a while
as Bill continues to trouble the door at my back. I decide to try speaking to Bill again.
‘Bill!’ I call out, ‘Stop banging on the door, let’s talk about this.’
Bill stops banging on the door. There is quiet at last, and then Bill says,
‘OK buddy, what is it that you want here?’
I pause and try to think of something to say.
‘I, er … I want answers Bill … I want answers.’
There is another pause; this one is authored by Bill.
‘Answers to what??!’ Who are you??’
I regret having asked for answers before thinking up questions. I only said that I wanted answers because it sounded like something that people say; a part of me expected Bill to know what the questions are.
‘Forget the answers Bill, and don’t worry about who I am. You don’t know me anyway.’
Bill says, ‘Of course I don’t know you, that’s why I’m asking, you nut!’ then to his wife. ‘Honey, this guy’s a nut, call the cops, he’s a nut.’
I hear the children babbling questions at their mother like baby birds in a nest. Then I hear her tell them to be quiet because she is about to be on the phone.
There is another long pause. I can tell that Bill is trying to think of something to say. There is a clicking noise which I assume is Bill attempting to pick open the latch. I untie my shoelaces and then tie them again.
Bill speaks again but this time he is not yelling. His voice is low and measured, much more threatening than before. He mutters darkly through the crack between the door and its frame, right into my ear,
‘Hey, nutball … That your horse out there tied to my tree?’
‘Peto,’ I say to myself. I reply, ‘Y-yes, that’s my horse sir. A fine horse he is too sir.’
I hear Bill chuckle murderously to himself.
‘So ah … I guess a flea-bitten old critter like that’s just about the only friend a crackpot like you can get, am I right?’
I don’t reply. I put my hand to my pocket and feel my little bullet soldiers.
‘I’ll take that as a yes’ says Bill.
Again, I say nothing. The door is beginning to feel uncomfortable against my spine, and my backside is falling asleep on the hard tile floor of the bathroom.
Bill goes on, ‘I got a proposition for you. Either you come out of my bathroom, right the hell now. Or I walk outside and put a bullet through that buddy of yours’ big stupid head.’
I panic and leap to my feet. I reach for the handle, slide the latch and attempt to fling open the door. It does not open. I begin to scream,
‘Bill! OK, OK! I’m coming out! The door’s not opening but I’m ready to come out! I’ve unlocked it but it won’t open!’
Now it’s me hammering on the bathroom door and Bill who is laughing at me.
‘I locked it with a key, crackpot! The cops are on the way … Now go to the window and watch me put my gun to that mangy thing’s head!’
I am beside myself with fear. I throw myself at the door, trying to break it down. I hear Bill opening the front door and stepping out onto the porch. I scream again,
‘Bill! No! Not my horse!’
I begin to sob as I hurl myself bodily against the bathroom door. Bill yells back at me,
‘Calm down crackpot, the cops’ll be here any minute! Now, I’m about to teach you a lesson about walking into a man’s house and frightening his wife and children!’
I hear Bill clump down the porch steps.
I remember my own gun. I pull it out and then reach for the bullets.
I quickly load them into the barrel. My fingers are shaking like a drunk in the morning. I step into the bath and hide behind the shower curtain, just my head and left arm poking round its edge as I shoot at the door lock.
One of my bullets hits the door right beside the lock and it swings open. I leap out of the bath and run out into the hallway and toward the front door which Bill has left open. It is nearly dark now outside. I jump off the porch and onto the ground, I see Bill in the murky light; he has almost reached Peto. He is carrying a big ugly shotgun.
‘BILL!’ I yell.
Bill swings round. I raise my gun and shoot at him once. Bill falls to the ground clutching his thigh.
‘Aaaaaaaaarrrrgh!!’ he says.
Behind me I hear his wife and children screaming in the hallway.
I run toward Peto. Bill is now wailing in agony and writhing in the dust beneath the tree, next to Peto’s feet. I reach my horse and throw my arms over his back in gratitude and relief. I put my cheek against his side and mutter to him,
‘Oh Peto, I’m so happy you’re OK, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’
I look down at Bill: while I have been talking to Peto he has managed to sit up and is now looking at me with a deranged grin. Half of his face is covered in dust. His shotgun is pointed at my head.
He growls, ‘Think you can come waltzing into my house, frighten my family, shoot me in the leg and expect to walk away?’
‘No’ I admit.
I see Bill’s finger curl around the trigger. Everything becomes slow. I see the night arching over us, the stars prickling away in the black. Peto’s big sad eye looks at me; a fly flits about on his thick lashes. I’m glad he doesn’t understand. He breathes out. Bill pulls the trigger. And I am gone.[/private]
Sam Mead is a writer and artist from Findon Village in West Sussex, now living and working in Peckham. A Horse Named Peto is his first story to see print. You can find him online at alcoholandbirth.tumblr.com.