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Authors: Alyx Shaw

The Thunder-Horse

BOOK: The Thunder-Horse
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The Thunder-Horse

By Alyx J. Shaw

For Melissa M, my bug-bug. She knows why.

He was Nathan's horse. He was from the moment they saw each other. He was a huge, black Friesian stallion, with an arched neck and massive hairy hooves, fighting his lead and snorting as he was taken out of the trailer and onto the set where they were shooting the video. The first thing the brute did was rear up and bellow his intense dislike of the mortals he was forced to suffer, iron-shod hooves scraping the air. Andrew was not impressed, and he turned to face one of the handlers, brown eyes large from behind his fine-rimmed glasses.

"We requested a horse for a shoot, you bring us a nightmare?"

"He'll settle down," said the handler.

Andrew watched the aggressive, unhappy animal and made a mental note to not use these animal-handlers again. Granted as the personal assistant of one of the biggest, both literally and figuratively, rock stars on the planet it was
not
his job to do things like acquire animals for video shoots, so technically this wasn't his fault. But Nathan Maynard trusted few people and liked even fewer, so rather than go to a stranger and risk getting someone who might actually know what he was doing, he went to Andrew. So it fell to Andrew to get the horse for the video shoot, and what they had ended up with was not a horse but a nightmare. Terrific. Well, there went his Christmas bonus.

Andrew couldn't help but notice the other three members of the band were standing well away from glorious and highly pissed-off animal, thus shooting down his long-held opinion that Bill, Daryl, and Adalwolf had a combined IQ of tuna noodle casserole. They were at least smart enough to stay away from big angry things that kicked and bit. Andrew watched as Nathan approached the unhappy horse, beer in hand, wincing as he pictured one of the massive hooves smashing Nathan's skull like an egg. Nathan walked up to the huge, hairy beast, its long black mane hanging over its face, froth dripping from its jaws as though it was rabid. Man and beast regarded each other.

"Let's just get this shit over with," Nathan said.

The horse stole his can of beer and downed it, then spat the empty at the handler. It was love at first sight.

The song was one of those old-style power ballads, well-suited to a video full of cowboy and Wild West imagery, despite the fact that their lead guitar player, Adalwolf, was German and barely spoke a word of English. But he was tall and spectacular and looked absolutely fantastic dressed up like a cowboy, his long, reddish-blonde hair blowing in the dry dusty wind. At least he did until he had a bizarrely phobic reaction to a passing tumbleweed and went tearing off the set as if he were being chased by three dragons and a flaming troll. The drummer and bass player were no help; Daryl and Bill just laughed.

Still, Adalwolf's newly-discovered terror of free-roaming bushes was hardly the main difficulty of the video shoot. They had to teach Nathan to ride, and the horse he had to ride was extremely large and had already let it be known he didn't like people. But that was fine with Nathan; he didn't like people either. It was Andrew's job to deal with people, and to let Nathan get on with the business of making music.

Andrew actually did far more than tend to the pointless necessities that went with his boss being a major rock star. It was his job to protect Nathan, and keep a buffer between Nathan and other human beings. Being talented and charismatic didn't make Nathan good with other people. Nathan didn't like people, and had no reason to like them. He wasn't smart, although he wasn't too stupid to know he was frequently mocked for being a little slow. As a small child, his parents had been in the habit of forcing him to sleep in the car in the closed garage so they couldn't hear his screams for food and comfort in the middle of the night, and there was speculation this had affected such things as Nathan's ability to speak. There had been other forms of abuse as well, and the pain and terror inflicted on little Nathan had not been forgotten when one day little Nathan became big Nathan -- big as in six-foot-nine, three hundred and twenty pounds, and toned and powerful from years of working his rage out in the boxing ring. Nathan's father, Phil, had shown up exactly once to try to mooch off his famous son. He'd spent three months in the hospital as a result.

Nathan rarely smiled, and despite being rich and famous and talented as both a fighter and a singer; he didn't enjoy life so much as endure it. The only people he seemed to actually like were his bandmates, and even they were kept at a certain distance. But he liked the horse, and the horse liked him.

It made Andrew genuinely happy, right down to his Gucci dress shoes, to see Nathan respond to something living, and to have that thing return his affection. From what Andrew was able to gather from speaking to the horse wranglers, the beautiful Friesian stallion had not had a happy childhood either, and had suffered being ill and neglected, first at a breeding farm more interested in profit than care, and then again at the hands of a rescuer who turned out to be little more than an emotionally disturbed animal hoarder. Eventually, the horse had ended up in the hands of the company that currently owned him, where he remained disgruntled and embittered with the human race. Small wonder Nathan and the horse were bonding. Still, it was obvious that the two brought out the best in each other, and it wasn't long before Nathan and the great beast were tearing around the Texas scrub like the Lone Ranger and Silver.

"Gonna break his heart when we have to give that horse back," said Daryl, watching Nathan ride by.

Andrew had been thinking the same thing, and while he was all in favor of anything that made Nathan happy, the animal simply did not belong to them. Nathan seemed to have overlooked that detail. So had the horse, apparently, because the day they came to take him away, the animal fought his handlers every inch of the way, bracing his hooves in the dirt and refusing to move. Andrew did not believe the animal was mistreated, but he doubted it got much in the way of attention that was not related to work. Still, it made him ill to watch the two men try to fight the mighty equine into his trailer. At one point, the horse reared, trying to pull free, but succeeded only in slipping and falling heavily. Nathan, unable to stand it anymore, walked over to the handlers to take the lead, growling at the smaller men as the horse slowly got to his feet, shaking and a little dazed.

"Fuck off," said Nathan to the handler.

"What do you mean, fuck off?" asked the handler.

"I mean leave my horse alone."

"I think you mean
my
horse!"

"No, I mean I'll mail you a check for what he's worth, and you can cash it or shove up your ass or whatever the fuck makes you happy."

The handler stared at Nathan as he turned to the black horse and took off the lead rope and halter, dropping them onto the ground. He reached up and took hold of the pointed ears, bending them gently, pressing his face to the animal's.

"Stupid horse," he said. He then released it, gave it a slap on the shoulder and walked away, the great Friesian following amicably at his side.

"I need a beer," muttered Nathan.

The horse snorted in what sounded like agreement. The handlers simply packed up their gear and left, clearly in no mood to face off with Nathan Maynard.

Nathan, it seemed, had just bought a horse.

The creature's name was Lord Willoughby's Shades of Evening, but no one called him that. He was Horse. Andrew had, at first, worried Nathan would get bored, and the animal would be left to rot in a paddock somewhere, but that didn't happen. Even when Nathan had no time for him,
someone
was with Horse. He was never left to wallow in loneliness, neglected and forgotten. Daryl would go talk to him, and braid his shaggy mane, though he never expressed any interest in trying to get on him. Adalwolf would ride Horse occasionally, but normally he would go out and brush Horse when he was pissed off with life, bitching the whole time in German while Horse munched hay.

Even Bill would go talk to him, occasionally sitting on him backwards. Horse didn't seem to care. He didn't even appear to mind that Bill seemed to have no understanding of the differences between a horse and a dog, and endured him with good humor as Bill taught him to speak, shake, and fetch. Bill actually only rode Horse once, and it was a short-lived experience. He had never been on a horse, and he didn't know what he was doing. He accidentally pulled too hard on the right rein, and Horse, who had lived most of his life being taught behaviors for movies, assumed that was his cue to fall over, which he did. Bill was flattened under Horse like a bug, and he never got on Horse's back again.

Adalwolf was the one who rode Horse the most. He was red cowboy death on a horse. He had apparently done some riding in his youth with a hunt club, as well as some roping, and he quickly became the terror of every employee within lasso range on the grounds of the large estate the band collectively owned and inhabited. He would come tearing along, reins in one hand, lariat in the other, and, with deftness rare to find in even experienced cattle ropers, snare a gardener or groundskeeper and have him hog-tied in record time. Soon the most fearsome sound on the manor grounds was that German accent screaming, "Yeeeeeaaaaaaa-HOOOO!" accompanied by thundering hooves.

Most employees bore this without complaint, until the day Adalwolf branded one on the ass. Andrew still recalled that. He had been sitting in his office when the head gardener, Taylor, came storming in, dirty, dusty, and limping. He yanked off his hat, brown hair at all angles, face red, and yelled; "I
quit!
I am
out
of here! I was willing to put up with living in a house with a bunch of thirty year old juvenile delinquents, but
nobody
said
anything
about having to put up with getting hog tied and having my
ass
branded!"

"I'm sorry," said Andrew, "you were...?"

"
Branded
!" Taylor turned so Andrew could see his hip. Sure enough, he had been branded. And not a little brand, either. This was a good old fashioned cowboy brand, meant to be seen and recognized from a distance.

Andrew stared at the brand, and was horrified to realize he was starting to laugh. All the same, he managed to page the full-time first aid attendant who lived on the grounds to come see to Taylor's new body-art.

"Well," Andrew said, clearing his throat, fighting back his hilarity. "I really had thought there was nothing left they could do to surprise me, but
that
surprises me." He fought back an urge to laugh his head off, though whether it was from humor or hysteria he wasn't quite sure. "Well, if you insist on quitting, I'm sure we can come up with adequate compensation for the damages you suffered."

Taylor, now that he had calmed down a little, was starting to grin himself. "No, that's fine, I don't want to quit. But can I
please
be transferred somewhere out of roping range?"

Andrew found the urge to laugh becoming harder to fight. He brought his hand over his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut. Taylor was starting to giggle himself as he continued speaking.

"I mean I'm standing there, minding my own business, and Wild Bill Adalwolf comes hurtling around a corner, the next thing I know I'm on my face, tied up with my ass in the air, and a man in chaps is coming at me with a big glowing piece of iron. Now that is
not
a comfortable feeling!"

Andrew desperately fought the urge to burst out laughing. He almost had it under control until Taylor added, "All I could think was thank God he didn't have a set of bull castrators..."

Andrew rode Horse a few times himself, though he couldn't help but think the animal had a definite sense of sarcasm. The first time Horse got a look at Andrew in his riding gear, Andrew would have sworn the animal raised an eyebrow and muttered, "Oh puh-
leeze
!" Horse stood patiently as Andrew got the English-style saddle on him, then when Andrew got onto his back, Horse turned his head to look at him, as if asking "Are you done yet?"

"Come along," Andrew said.

Horse tilted an ear, then, without any further urging from Andrew, pranced out of the paddock with high, exaggerated steps. Andrew was sure he could hear the horse mentally singing, "
Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May
..." Andrew was willing to let him get away with it, but when Horse turned toward a tree and began picking up speed, Andrew curbed him so sharply that Horse was almost forced onto his ass. Man and animal regarded each other.

"Please don't fuck with me," said Andrew. "I don't like it."

Horse never tried to scrape Andrew off against a tree again.

In many ways Horse belonged to all of them, but clearly in Horse's mind he belonged to Nathan. The two would go for long walks together, Horse following along at Nathan's side, no halter, no lead, just walking of his own accord. Occasionally Nathan would go to the stall and the two would lounge together, Horse lying in the hay, Nathan leaning against his powerful back. They would share a six pack, Horse spitting the empties across the room. Sometimes Nathan rode him, but when he did, he never used a bridle or saddle. He would climb onto the broad back, tangle his hands into the long black mane, and off they would go, often for hours. These were the times Andrew resented the most, chastising himself for being jealous of an animal.

Andrew had been with Nathan a few times, and while Nathan was happy to share his body, he was far more hesitant about sharing his emotions. It was a problem he didn't seem to have with Horse, and Andrew couldn't help but resent it. Andrew had considered withdrawing from the relationship, telling himself that occasional sex with a man who did not want to have him spend the night in his bed wasn't worth his time. But Andrew couldn't seem to make himself turn Nathan away the times when Nathan did come to him. It was not a satisfying arrangement, but Andrew endured it, hoping some day it would turn into more. However, as the months went by, Nathan gave no indication of wanting to further the relationship. So Andrew stewed in silence, and took the bits he was offered, resenting the meager offerings as well as the animal that seemed to hold far more of Nathan's heart than Andrew ever would.

BOOK: The Thunder-Horse
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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