Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Skykicker Conclusion - Award-winning Short Story by P.A. Bechko
Instead of my usual Writers and Readers Websites this week I bring you THE CONCLUSION of my award-winning short story SKYKICKER ~enjoy!
CONTINUED FROM PART 1, POST OF APRIL 7
She shifted the reins to her left hand alone, her right going to the six-gun riding at her hip. She always kept it with her for varmints of all descriptions, but she had never dreamed she would be forced to use it on the stud she viewed as her prize.
Nora's heart filled her throat. Her stomach churned and she knew she couldn't sacrifice the faithful, valiant Buck.
The faded buckskin twisted away from Skykicker's attack, managed to spin, and planted a solid kick with both rear feet, in the stallion's girth. Snow was falling heavier. The stud was bloodied now, but the injury was plainly superficial.
She prayed Buck's were the same as she pulled the gun from her holster, frantically firing first into the air. Three shots in a row cracked across the snowfall’s woolen silence.
The golden stud reared to his full height, forefeet pawing the air while Buck danced just out of reach at the end of his picket rope. The powerful Skykicker came down hard at the sound of gunshots, hoofs gouging the earth when he lunged forward, slamming a shoulder into the already off-balance buckskin.
Buck went down hard, thrown onto his side and rolling onto his back, legs flailing helplessly in the air as the stud took flight in a deer-like leap, tossing his rear quarters into the air in his trademark gesture of defiance.
Nora pulled Windy up short, leaping from his back and running to Buck as the horse climbed unsteadily to his feet. A glance told her his injuries were not serious, though he was bleeding some. Hands trembling, she pulled his picket pin herself.
"Go! Go home!"
She slapped the gelding’s rump and threw her arms in the air, yelling, startling Buck into a trot. He headed in the general direction of the ranch house.
She was astride Windy in the next moment. Nora couldn't give up now. She was too close -- and too damned mad.
Windy pivoted, nearly unseating her, then took off like he knew he was Nora’s only salvation. He snorted, shook, crow-hopped, then threw off fatigue, running with a second wind, neck stretched into the thickening snowfall.
Skykicker was just up ahead. The run, then the brief skirmish with Buck, had taken a toll. He was moving slower and his mares were slacking off in passive rebellion. It took more effort from him just to keep them bunched and moving.
Then there was the mare about to foal. She lagged further and further behind. Nora, even on Windy who'd already given his best, was gaining rapidly on that mare who brought up the rear of the herd. The stud moved to intercept Nora, placing himself between Nora, astride Windy, and the tiring mare. He nipped and pushed, running alongside her, urging greater speed, but the little mare's strides continued to shorten. She hung her head in exhaustion, plumes of vapor streaming from dilated nostrils.
The mustang band was drawing further ahead. The snow, falling heavily, drew a pale curtain between them.
Nora sat very still upon Windy, silently urging him on, trying to be as small a burden as possible, knowing he was very nearly spent. But Shadow, her last mount, was picketed just ahead. Windy had given much more than she had ever counted on. The stallion's tactic had gained him no relief. Nora spoke softly to Windy.
"You'll be able to rest soon. Not much further. Shadow's waiting for us over the next rise."
She edged Windy over to thwart any attempt the stallion might make to try again with Shadow what he had with Buck.
There was unbridled fury in the toss of the stallion's head. Through the blowing snow he appeared the demon riding the storm crest.
Despite the cold, Nora sweated into the folds of her sheepskin jacket. She couldn't afford to be caught flat-footed by the stallion a second time.
The pace punishing, they came off a low hill, stride for stride, running a hard race parallel to the golden stud, clouds of the dry snow pluming up in their wake. Up ahead of them, right where she had left her picketed, Nora saw Shadow.
The gray filly was dancing lightly at the end of her picket rope, ears up, face turned toward their approach, barely more than a dark form, a silhouette against the rippling curtain of white falling from the sky. She was more high-strung than the rest, but she had incredible speed and endurance. And, she wasn't afraid of anything. She was attentive and eager to race the wind. Agile and fleet, the towering stallion would be just another challenge to her. What a match the pair would make when the time was right. What offspring they'd produce.
Nora gauged Skykicker, paced him, aware of the heaving of Windy's sides, his great gulps of air, and the weightiness she sensed in his legs.
The stallion turned his eyes toward her, his gaze intense, but he was looking past her, eyes fixed on Shadow.
"Oh no you don't! You're not getting to her!"
Nora was barely aware of having shouted the words at the running horse. Just as she hadn't been aware of the snow accumulating upon the ground in wind-blown drifts and shallow blanketings.
The golden mustang nipped his companion, turning her from their original course which would have taken them right past Shadow. He couldn't attack Shadow so he was sheering off, veering away from the real threat. But the heavily burdened mare continued to slow, blowing with her efforts. He had to take a stand or leave her.
Nora drew Windy back to an easy lope, congratulating herself on her unexpected luck when she saw the mare slip, lose her balance, and step down hard into a dip hidden beneath the snow. And she was close enough to hear the awful sound, like that of a green branch snapping, before she heard the animal's scream of pain and terror. A piercing, heart-rending sound that quelled self-congratulation and wiped the smile from Nora’s face.
Instinctively the woman hauled back on the reins, dragging Windy to a quivering halt as the mare tumbled to the ground. There was no thought involved, no time for consideration or apprehension as to what the stallion would do. Nora just leapt from Windy's sweaty back, running to the fallen horse who thrashed in the light, dry snow, trying to get back up. She threw herself across the mare's neck, trying to hold her down, wishing she could quiet her fears while Windy stood lock-legged nearby and the stallion broke stride, whipping back to where his charge lay.
The pregnancy-swollen mare ceased her struggles and lay still beneath Nora, breath rasping in her throat, small sounds of pain escaping her lips. Her leg was badly broken. There was no hope for the little mustang mare. There was only the merciful end Nora could provide. And the terrible loss of both mare and the foal she was carrying. The weight of the tragedy slammed into Nora like a mule kick. Her stomach curled into a cold knot.
"Oh, God!" I didn't mean for this to happen! I'm sorry!"
With a gulp that wrenched her throat with pain that threatened to shut off her breath, Nora's hand went to the gun she had settled back in its holster. The mare's eyes, soft and solemn, were fixed on her in a strangely trusting gaze and in that instant Nora knew hope wasn't lost for the foal. It was trying to be born.
Skykicker pranced closer, tossing his magnificent head, black eyes glinting his fury, while his body telegraphed his uncertainty and even dismay. He nickered softly to the fallen mare and for a wild instant, Nora was convinced that she was his favorite. Windy backed up a couple of strides, snow swirling in wind-borne plumes as the stud circled the woman and the mare.
Nora was on the ground, at the mercy of the stallion she had been relentlessly pursuing. She gave him one hard look, then turned her full attention back to the suffering animal sprawled in the snow. She couldn't save the mare, but maybe she could save the foal. If the king of that little mustang band didn't decide to pound her into the ground.
She began stroking the mare, murmuring soft encouragement.
"We can save your baby. I'll help you. Shhhh, it'll be all right."
Whether from the fall or because she had already been in labor for some time, or just because was no pampered, domesticated lady's mount, the foal was coming fast. Nora saw it begin to emerge.
The stallion continued his circuit, prancing, feinting toward Windy who shifted back a few more strides, and half reared every time the stud neared Nora. In the distance, above the rising wind, Shadow gave shrill testimony to her anxiety.
Skykicker turned toward the sound, pivoting in the snow, creating a softly mounded crater. He turned back toward Nora, circling her again while the mare struggled and the woman guided the foal into the cold, wind-swept world.
The stud chuffed the wind, catching the scent of fresh blood, then charged, pulling up short mere inches from Nora, sharp forefeet plunging down beside her and cascading snow across her. Just as quickly, while the adrenaline flooded her system, he backed up, head lowered, eyes fastened on her with malevolence.
"Damn you!" Nora ground the words out. "Damn you!" This time louder.
Then, arms full of helpless new-born colt, she subsided.
"Damn me." Softly spoken. "This wasn't supposed to happen."
"It was supposed to have been an adventure; we were going to be friends one day."
Skykicker bolted, snow geysering in his wake. He raced after his band of mares, then pulled up, prancing toward Shadow, head elevated, tail arched. Beyond him his mares, slowed, fading into the snowy curtain like wraiths, hovering just at the edge of his influence, awaiting the patriarch's command.
Nora grabbed handfuls of snow, giving the small, newly arrived little horse a brisk rub down. She examined the small orphan mite closely as she did. He was a fine, sturdy colt with the promise of a broad chest, large nostrils, long legs and dark, intelligent eyes. Every inch of him proclaimed his parentage. He stared at Nora as if comprehending all that had so recently transpired.
She helped him struggle to his feet on the snow-covered ground and he promptly plunged down into the fluffy white stuff. Then he immediately tried to get back up.
Gaining her feet, Nora took a deep breath, glancing from exhausted, mortally injured mustang mare at her feet to Skykicker, where he sidled up to Shadow. Her stomach twisted. It was cold, snowing more heavily. She had to get the colt home. Her plans and dreams shattered, she would have to begin again.
Calm now that the golden stallion had retreated, Windy stood a few yards away. He was blowing, but still game.
She hadn't noticed it before, but she was breathing deep and fast as well, sucking the frigid air deep into her lungs in a cathartic wash. And suddenly it dawned full force on her that the stud was intent on having Shadow.
Nora left the colt and raced through the snow toward the big stud, slipping and sliding, gasping and yelling.
"Hiup thar! Get on with you!"
Skykicker's head jerked up, the fury returning to his stance at Nora's stumbling approach. He screamed his piercing challenge, forefoot pawing a gouge in the accumulating snow. Shadow shied at his display, but she pranced, neck bowed, signaling interest.
Nora kept coming, not about to give up her prize filly so easily. For now she would settle for driving the stallion off and getting home with the colt and her animals. She would test the stallion's mettle another day.
Skykicker had other ideas.
He ran toward Nora, attempting to force her to give way. Playing his own version of chicken.
She stood straight and tall, immobile, eyes meeting those of the stallion as he bore down upon her, pulled up short and reared to his full height towering over her as impressive as an enraged grizzly.
When she didn't budge the golden stud wheeled, a phantom in the white-gray filigree of the falling snow, racing back toward where the colt stood uncertainly near his fallen mother. The little thing tottered a few steps away from the mare, then closer, head raised, legs unsteady, his posture nonetheless a miniature of his sire.
Nora nearly screamed her frustration, a sob rising into the back of her throat attempting to strangle her. The mustang was running her just as she'd run him and she was helpless to anything other than run the direction he dictated, terrified he was going to trample the tiny foal.
Windy snorted and danced, reins dragging in the snow, head elevated unnaturally high, ears turned forward while he kept the distance between himself and the crazy stallion respectable.
Skykicker, in a juxtapositioning of rage and tenderness, nuzzled the mare where she lay, blowing hot air against her cheek and muzzle, urging her to get up.
Nora felt the tears burn their way down her cheeks then, her heart breaking when the valiant mustang mare rolled up, trying to regain her feet. The injured horse squealed her agony and the stallion was right beside her, nosing her gently, turning his magnificent head toward his new son, then back to her.
The mare tried, oh how she tried, but she couldn't put enough weight on the injured limb to lever herself up. She fell back exhausted as Nora blundered through the deepening snow back toward where she lay.
Skykicker feinted in Nora's direction, returned to the injured mare and hung his head a few moments.
"She can't run with you any more," Nora said quietly to the stallion, choking on the last words, then dragging in a deep breath to continue. "I'm sorry,” the words were strangled out of her, “I didn't mean for it to end this way."
The stallion lifted his head, looking at her through intelligent, liquid black eyes while the snow fell, clinging to lustrous mane and forelock, melting on his broad back raising a faint yet distinctive steam. He nudged his offspring, Nora could have sworn, in her direction, then wheeled and loped off a few strides.
Nora, tears freezing on her cheeks, her insides twisted into knots she didn't know existed, didn't hesitate again. She drew her gun from her holster and one well-placed shot ended the mare's suffering, the crack of the pistol oddly muted in the eerie, silence of the snow-swathed valley.
She shrugged out of her heavy coat and stripped out of her thick flannel shirt and woolen undershirt. Then she swiftly drew the coat back on, buttoning it against the rising wind before wrapping the struggling foal in her garments and hurrying to where Windy stood, ground-tied and uncertain. She put the colt across Windy's withers, gathered the reins and vaulted up behind, pressing close to the orphan to share her warmth.
Nora turned Windy toward Shadow, glancing toward Skykicker with something akin to gratitude for a few moments before the stallion jerked away and began to run.
And he was running straight for Shadow.
Burdened as she was, there was nothing Nora could do. The stud made a bee-line for the filly. Sharp teeth went right for the picket line, severing it as swiftly as would a Bowie knife and then he sank his teeth into her flank. Shadow whinnied sharply and bolted.
The benevolent feelings of but moments past fled and Nora threw a curse after the golden stud as he bolted for his band of mares, herding Shadow before him, head high, tail streaming burnished gold on the wind. Helplessly she watched the wild stallion take off with her best filly.
"We're not finished, you and me!" Nora yelled past a raw and dry throat. "Not by a long shot! You look for me, because I'll be coming after you!"
She took a deep breath, turning Windy toward the home corral as the stallion withdrew into the distance, snowfall dimming his silhouette. He was nearly lost to her sight when he gave his distinctive bound, throwing both hind legs into the air and let loose with the challenging whistle of the victorious stallion.
Read more of my work:
Hawke's Indians at http://amzn.to/1FBFwlp
book trailer at http://bit.ly/12gp4He
Warrior Flight at http://amzn.to/1a5Aan0
Blown To Hell at http://amzn.to/1Flsgi8
To Hell And Back at http://amzn.to/1IJQWnv
Cloud Dancer (historic romance) at http://amzn.to/1DJyTjt
For SciFi/Fantasy Fans:
Stormrider at http://amzn.to/1CUXw9f
For the Kids:
The Guardian at http://amzn.to/1CoiPMZ (a digital comic)