When I finally felt steady enough to rejoin Alfie, he'd moved on to replacing a broken fence board in one of the paddocks. He didn't say a word about my breakdown, and I’m thankful for it. I helped him in silence, holding the plank steady as he secured it to the fence post with a hammer and several nails. Alfie was getting on in years, he shouldn’t be doing this work on his own.
He took a breather after the next board was up, and stared off towards the few horses still living here.
“Tell me about the horses, Alf. It’s nice to see you, but they’re why I’m here.”
Alfie swiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand then gave a short nod. “I hated to bring you back, y’know, but with Rowan out of the picture, I didn’t know who to ask. Besides, you always were better with the horses than him. He’s got a wicked temper, that one.”
“That he does.” I agreed.
We walked down the fence row until we stood in front of one of the few occupied enclosures. “We’ve got six horses still here, but no one with any horse sense at all wants to help with them, especially the one mare in particular.” I turned my head in the direction he's looking, toward the rear of the paddock to our right. When she noticed us watching, the dark horse inside snapped her body into alert, her head high, eyes wide, and ears pricked. Minus her sun-bleached coat from living outdoors, she was a nice-looking horse and would make someone a fine jumper. The bone structure was all there, I could see it, but so was the fear. The longer we stared, the more her terror echoed back. Without taking her eyes or ears from us, she shrank back against the fence.
I scrunched up my face. “Tarantula? Like the spider?”
“No, no. Tarantella. It’s a dance--Spanish, you know?” Alfie hummed a tune and snapped his fingers as he crossed and uncrossed his arms a couple of times and shuffled his feet. It looked like no dance I’d ever seen or probably would ever see again, thank heavens.
With a shake of my head, I said, "You'd better stick to horses, Alf."
He chuckled and stopped dancing, "Anyway, Tarantella... she was going by the name ‘Taran’, but some of the kids started on with calling her ‘Spider’, so you’re not so far off.”
Spider wasn't a friendly kind of nickname. I wasn't sure what to think about that.
I unlatched the gate to her paddock and walked inside. Taran pinned herself up against the boards of the fence in response, but otherwise regarded me with curiosity. “She looks all right,” I said, fastening the gate closed behind me. “So, then, what’s the problem?”
It happened then, quite literally, with the blink of an eye. The dark horse studied me for all of three seconds before blinking her eye and charging after me. There was no time to fumble with the gate--she’d be on me before I could have made it that far, anyway. My only option was to climb the fence, and with any luck I would be faster than her. With thundering hooves at my back, I launched myself at the fence and scrambled over. Taran clamped her teeth around the heel of my boot before I could swing it over. The old man was doubled over laughing at me dangling in a rather unpleasant position, with one leg in safety, the other in a wild horse’s mouth, and my crotch somewhere in the middle.
“That,” He sighed, wiping the tears from his eyes, “is our problem.”