Brandi Wells

Poison does not make my horse weaker. It makes him stronger. Dangerous. A few drops of his saliva may be enough to melt the face of a child. And I have seen some children. They peek in my windows, trying to get a look at my poison horse. They watch us sleep. My horse has long slept across the foot of my bed and has grown accustomed to it, but these children are obsessed with it. These children are not regular children. They are nasty things. They don’t wear clothes and they shit where they stand and where they sleep. Sometimes, I find a handprint on the front door. Sometimes, a smudge on the doorknob. Once there were tracks down the hallway.

We set traps around the house. Bear traps for the older children and fox traps for ones that might be small and dull enough to crawl inside. Some mornings we find a severed foot in one of the bear traps, but no dead child nearby. Children run and hobble on stumps and parts of feet. They grapple with parts of arms and pieces of hand.

We catch a small one inside a fox trap, but he’s dead. Probably frozen, his cold body is curled into a ball and his fingers cling to the inside of the cage. I pry him free, drag his body away from the house and lay him at the edge of the woods as an offering. A warning.

* * *

I find my poison horse outside, a few feet away from the children. They stumble and crawl toward him, hands reaching, trying to grasp at him. And he’s kneeling as though to meet them. My poison horse, kneeling to meet these children.

I don’t shout or run toward them. The children are too close to my horse and I worry I will not be fast enough to part the group. In order to save him, I shoot my horse. The bullet only grazes him, just slices through a bit of his right flank. It scares him and he falls back, hooves scraping the ground, neck straining, twisting. Blood excites the children. They run at him faster, hands stretched out, mouths open, drool dangling from their lips and making sounds that mean something primal. Something lustful. I shoot three of the children dead before the others scatter. Even the ones that run away stand a long time at the edge of the woods staring at us.

* * *

We go into the woods less now. It isn’t the children that keep us out of the woods. They mostly stay away. It’s the trees. The children have begun to decorate the plain ones with weird ornamental things made of sticks and leaves and trash they probably collected from outside my home and other homes. There are paintings on the sides of big trees, depicting a horse being carried away by a group of stick people. Blood drips from their bodies and pools around them. In the drawings, the horse on his back looking up at the sky is smiling and his face is blood stained.

* * *

My poison horse still dreams of the woman in the cistern though I have stopped whispering dreams to him. She has become a part of the cistern’s d├ęcor. She is a chair, a rug, or a lamp with light shining through her teeth and radiating from her gums. He awakes screaming, not neighing. It frightens me. Such human screams.

At first I appreciated this new companion. This brother, this child, this lover, my lover. But I worry he doesn’t understand his place in our household. I research and attempt to teach him appropriate horse behavior. I tell him I have domesticated him. If it wasn’t me, then some other group of people domesticated him. If it wasn’t him, then some other group of horses was domesticated. But he is domesticated because of me. He is able to eat soup and lounge by the fire and read short novels BECAUSE of me. He ought to know that.

I want him to be a horse, but a proper sort of horse. I show him diagrams of horse muscles, bones, the nervous system, the circulatory system, the reproductive system and more. We watch videos on proper etiquette and which fork to use and who ought to walk on the outside when a man and woman are strolling down the street.

He doesn’t look at me while I talk. I tell him he is insolent, like a child. I tell him I hate the way he rubs his nose and face against things in order to smell them. I hate the way I find him eating old socks. The way I have to scrub shit off the toilet seat.

* * *

The next day there are handprints across the fridge door and smeared inside on the shelves, milk jug, and condiment racks. My horse refuses to sit in the room with me or help me prepare breakfast. I remind him of the ways I have helped him. I offer to take him again into the woods to climb trees. He agrees, but balks when I try to rub arsenic on him. I worry about the contents of his blood. I worry his saliva and semen have become harmless.

In the woods he does not stop and stare at the drawings on the trees like he normally does. He trots along and I have to lengthen my stride to keep up.

He stops several miles into the woods and children gather around us. They slither and slide toward us, humming and gasping for air until I run away, leaving my poison horse behind. Come on, I yell to him. Come on. As I get farther away I see him rise up on his hind legs. The children gather around him and hoist him into a tree. With such a large group it appears effortless. He stands on one of the high branches and for a moment we make eye contact.