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Beast was not sad. Over a metal matrix of perfect cylinders, he stood gazing. He understood enough the configuration of such an unwelcoming passage. Beneath the pipes, each about of human hand’s distance apart, the earth fell sudden and intimidating. Sure, he could hop it, probably, but even so, where could he go live and be not cold and not hungry?

His mane was not dirty, nor unkempt. His back was not burdened by any man. His thoughts were not roving endlessly like the horizontal landscape beyond the fenced-in pasture. Instead, he had but one thought of one person, not present. He gently tested the cattle guard in front of him with his hoof. The Masters had once found Clubber, an older and now tamer horse, on the other side of the guard early one sun. Clubber had feasted well throughout the night, but after the men scared him into jumping back over into the pasture, they gave him a pop on the nose and Clubber learned but good.

Beast’s sight was littered with flies. They could not detract from the vision, one magnificent sun, which was now ending itself flat upon the land. From behind, Yodel the residential dog trotted up beside Beast. Yodel had wanted to see whatever it was Beast was staring at, but immediately forgot such antiquated intention upon arrival.

“Hey Beast! Whoa Beast! You sure got a lot of flies on your face there, buddy!”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Sometimes,” he said. “Say, Yodel,”

“Yeah Beast?”

“Yodel, you smell better than any horse. What is out there?”

“Out where?" Yodel panted, and quickly surveyed some three hundred-sixty degrees.

"Beyond the cattle guard and the fences. Out there were the sun sleeps."

Yodel wagged her tail then sat.  She closed her mouth and lifted her nose and smelled. She closed her eyes, “All the flowers in the world."

Beast squinted. “You smell him? Young Master?”

Yodel took in another whiff. “Naw, no, nope. Wish I did. But, a whole lot more. Flowers, bugs, all crazy kinds of sorts of urines. I betcha even colors too, new ones we’ve never seen. Out there, oh yeah. But hey buddy," Yodel said and walked around Beast, panting, “we got plenty of flowers in here too oh boy yes sir. Wildflowers. Dandies. Pollens. Weeds. Hey Beast. Beast, lemme ask you something. How bout that now?"

Beast bent down his head in response.

“Beast, dontcha really hate having all those flies swarming your face?"

“I really don’t think about it."

“Wow! That's nuts. I know they'd drive me crazy, all those little pests. Boy fleas are one thing but flies, those are some mighty big monsters. I sure would hate that."

“There are many things worse, Yodel.”

“Like what?”

“Like the cold. At least we’re not on icebergs.”

"Hah!" Yodel barked. “’Not on iceberg!' Classic!" Yodel sat happy a moment in her scraggly blonde coat.  “Hey Beast, what’s an iceberg?

Beast himself was only vaguely aware of the concept. He learned it from Clubber who claimed that he saw one many years before. Clubber had come to the farm in a cage after crossing the sea, what he described as some sort of landless abyss. “I don’t know anything about their upper halves, but Clubber told me that they’re big scary shapes stuck in cold, cold water.”

“Huh. And you wouldn’t wanna be on the top? Why’s that?”

“Why we might fall off, into that painful bottom part,” said Beast.

Yodel had trouble imagining whatever he was getting at, and trotted off back toward the barn in search of a drink. Beast was left thinking about the simple awfulness of ice. He knew of cold winter water on morning rides with Master when they galloped through the frost and the trees and their breaths made fog. Splashing through puddles, he had wanted to shriek and stop, throw Master to the ground and go home. Beast shivered just thinking about the frigid pain that slapped and stuck to his legs.

Once Master had taken Beast far through the woods, over black roads and past slave-built mansions, far from the pasture, and they stopped before an isolated rock. While Master gazed triumphantly, Beast stared into the soil, tired, and wished to return to their quaint and peaceful pasture, which he had long since assured himself was not a cage. 

After some time like that, Master spoke, "How far we've come, Beast."

He was inclined to lift his gaze and saw how it was much more than a boulder before them. Carved into the stone was a grand, bronze ship. Weathering made its planks bleed downward. Opening itself like a story for Beast and Master, the ship beheld a magnificent tragedy. In between the bookends of the bow and stern, highly detailed, incredibly etched human beings were sculpted in a collage of human misery. Over one hundred and fifty skinny brown figures, each with their ribs emerging and their eye sockets drooping, were cramped betwixt and over each other in the shadowy confines beneath the boat’s surface. United in more than terror, their boney wrists and ankles were chained together by survival and diseases and unbeatable metal.

Beast speculated that this unhappy boat was a memorial to the unfree. He grunted, and shifted himself about with Master, working around a better view. He knew only that whatever vain wish he had had to return home and the contents of this historical etching were nothing like compatible. Comfortable, as he persuaded himself, he was not beneath an iceberg. He was never in that boat. The stone was powerful and precise and almost beautiful in its depiction of extinct life. If only, thought Beast, he could understand what it meant.

----------

Champions of windiness, masters of flight, messengers of bad news and false rumors, the birds careened, swept about the pasture, dancing around the fact that they were an arrogant, pissant bunch. Crows especially, thought Beast.

The clamor of church bells rang from beyond the farmhouse. Trees shook and blackbirds carried themselves on the warm morning drafts. A posse of seven landed on the wooden fence in front of the large oak just outside the farm’s perimeter. They settled in the shade of the tree, and observing the hot, dry pasture, called out to the biggest beast in their sight

Hawt sun yew stannin in dere, aye Beest?" said the bird on the far left. He turned to his fellowship and grinned.

Beast ignored.

“Yeea," said one on the left, "Eye'd say bowt, oh siventy five, siventy six digrees. Feerenhite, dat is. Brakbrak! Know bout dat feeerenhite, aye horsey Brakbrakbrak!"

“Aww, com awn, dat’s not fare. Pore horsesy doe noe sell-see-us needer!”

"BRAKBRAKBRAK!" all the blackbirds laughed.

Beast was determined not to care what Fahrenheit was.

“Waatduu dink bout dat Enri?"

“O welp," Henry said, "Eye'd sey its da best dey da be inda sky." He sat in the center of the gang. Taking some room for himself, he slowly opened his right wing and cranked his head, showing admiration for his shining black feathers. “Eye’d shurly haite da be stuck onda grownd.”

"Waatduu say bout dat, BEEST!" yelled a coarse female beside him. “AYRKE?!"

Beast lifted his head from the ground, chewing.

“Heer da church bellz, Beest?" Henry said, calmer than the rest. "Yew know bout pray-her, dontcha?"

Beast stared sullenly. “Yes, I know about the sun."

The rest of the birds giggled and cracked jokes about the horse’s funny accent, but Henry just sneered, nudging the others aside and giving himself more space to think. “Shyea, Beest, Eye'm shure yoo know 'uh bout da sun!' How meny suns, Beest, how meny suns sence yoor yung maasture bin home?"

Beast returned to the grass and thought about chewing.

“Dumm horsey cant count Enri!" said a younger bird.

“Let em try," said Henry.

“Let em try! Let em try!" they all squawked.

Beast thought hard about Young Master. His soft hands. How he carefully brushed Beast's hair in the barn. Apples.

“Many," Beast said, more to himself.

“Brakbrak! Gud try," laughed Henry. "Gud try, gud try horsey. Meny suns yoo looked up, and yung maasture wuz never dere."

“Try a hundrid five," said the oldest bird. “Hundrid five suns, but who's countin?"

“Keep lookin up, horsey," said Henry. He lifted himself off the fence and landed on the oak. The rest of the gang swooped and encircled Beast, yelling, "Horsey can't count! Horsey can't count!" before they soon glided off into the high noon horizon. Henry remained perched in the shadow, looking down toward Beast on the outstretching branch. The horse turned, looking for a place to avoid the gaze of the birds, but no such place could exist.

“Beast," said Henry, “Hear me now, horse? I know your tongue. I'll talk to you like the back-assward horse that you are because I know something you should.”

Beast faced the tree. Despite their cockiness, the birds often did have truth. “What do you have to say, now that your friends are gone? "

“Friends? They are not my friends. Gods don't need friends. Just wind and a strong mind. The people today, oh, I'm sorry, the masters, as you like to identify them, they go to those churches every Sunday, that’s every seventh sun to you, and they prey.”

“Who knows what they do." grunted Beast.

“I do. We see. They turn their heads upward because they cannot understand the sky. And you know what they find? They see us while they worship. They prey to us. Because we are the sky, so, we’re all that they know."

“All you can see is the ground! What do you know about the clouds and icebergs?" said Beast.

“What do I need to know about anything when everything's a day's flight away?! You couldn't dream of what I've seen. You're not capable."

“Who cares what you know.”

“You should. I told you where they took Clubber away to, didn’t I?”

“Bullshit. They sold Clubber,” Beast said, but without confidence.

“Brakbrak! But did you know in some towns they call it horseshit? BAK!"

“Do you know where Young Master is?"

“I know something much more important than that. You see, I don’t worry much about getting turned into dog food or Elmer’s, so I got time to learn some things. Don’t you know what cages are, Beast? "

“No." said Beast. "Never again. Never again in the cage."

“Ah but your cage is so small. In your hooves and in your head. You can just barely see out from it, can't you?"

“Quit it, bird."

“I've seen it. I watch creatures like you everyday. And your cage, well it ain't so small but it ain't so big either."

Beast began to pace back and forth.

"They got names for cages like yours. They call em acres. This one, well it's 20 by 30 acres. That's 600 square acres."

Beast had no idea what an acre was, but he couldn't stand that there was as many as six hundred of them.

“You know that ache, don't you? You walk it every day."

Six hundred was definitely not a good number. Such was fact.

“Even worse, you mule, is that you're stuck in over 242 hectares. You think you can pace that distance forever?"

"Stop it."

"I've heard them talking. I know how they think. You're nothing but pennies to them, horse. Dollars and cents. They'll make their money. Always have. Always will. Always calculating and scheming and selling. You could never know."

“STOP IT!"

“They're gonna turn you into glue, you do know that? I hope to heavens you at least know that. That's all your good for all their profits and losses. After their numbers are crunched. And the numbers are always crunched, they're gonna TERN YOO INTO GLEW, BEEST! BAWKBAWKBAWK!!"

Beast whipped his hind around and kicked the fence, frightening old Henry and sending him soaring into the sky, laughing and riding the wind.

Alone, Beast snorted. Let the birds fly and take their dark figures with them. He swallowed and licked his lips. He tried turning his mind to anything else, anything but numbers, but could only lower his heavy head to the well-walked earth, and chew.

----------

One sun, the last warm sun of fall, a sun that every creature of the world knows, Young Master returned. He walked up from the back of the white farmhouse, slowly, smiling, and then Beast was happy. His hairy ears stood proud in exaltation of Young Master’s footsteps, now heavier and somehow wiser. The same boots and blue jeans, but in a soft, white, long-sleeved collared shirt that the pasture had never seen before. Beast craned his neck out over the fence, inviting his hands to reach out and caress with ease.

“I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” said Young Master.

“Where have you been?”

“I bet you’ve missed me too. I wish they’d allow stallions in dorms.”

“Let’s ride together. Right now! What do you say?”

Young Master was silent for a long while. He petted Beast and didn’t look at his eyes. A strange and noisy melody erupted from his pocket. He took his hands off Beast and reached for the small black thing. “Obligations, obligations,” he said, muttering, but not distracted. “Hmm, I guess that can wait thirty minutes. Come on, buddy, how about a trip?”

Beast smiled and watched him cross the fence.

As they rode, Young Master spoke mostly of himself, how much he missed home, but how he was exhilarated by school, pretty girls, his favorite classes, the interest in engineering, dreams far away from the farm, the utter and beautiful perfection of binary code, and suddenly they were back at the pasture and the horse watched his rider dismount.

“I’m learning a lot. I’m just getting into this stuff but already I made a digital clock just in binary. It’s sitting in the kitchen.”

Beast had never sat in the kitchen. He’d seen through the window its walls, covered with pasty white tiles, and a wooden table in the middle the color of night. But he wouldn’t fit. Young Master led Beast to the fence.

“I wish I could explain it all to you, Beast.” said Young Master. “Anything you want, all with computers, anything at all, it’s just zeroes and ones.”

Beast thought about how he didn’t really know what computers or clocks were. He didn’t understand why their ride was so short this time. He watched Young Master work the gate and cross the fence line.

“The most complicated of any system just boils down to those two. Zeroes and ones. You have it, and you have the complete opposite, and there you are with everything. Everything we know, and then the wonder in everything we don’t. Maybe tomorrow, if it’s warm, I’ll tell you about anti-matter.”

But, “but, don’t leave again. Please, I don’t understand.” What could zero be? One sun. One rider and one horse. What was no horse without rider? What men knew not horses? What was zero and infinite and just out of his grasp beyond the pasture fences?

“But I gotta do what I say I’m gonna do,” he said. He patted the dust off his jeans and leaned for a moment on the border, facing his adored pet.  “Wish I didn’t but I do.”

Please! “Never again go! Why do you leave me? Why?”

“I sometimes envy you, big guy. I wish I could live in nature, free from worry. No stupid burdens.” He touched the fence, saddened. He looked again at the beast. Perhaps, a happy slave, he thought.

“I guess you really don’t have a choice. You’ll be here tomorrow no matter what. No sense of guilt or duty keeps you here.”

I am bound also! I am unfree! I have obligations!

“Well, I gotta go, old friend.”

BUT I AM OBLIGATED TO YOU!             

He left to never be seen again by Beast.

--------------

What about Christopher Gage, who went blind at the age of nineteen? Don’t doubt he had trouble adjusting to his world suddenly black and smelly. College didn’t help. One morning, about a week later after Chris came back from the hospital, all the mirrors in the dormitory’s fifth floor bathroom were broken. A belligerent trail of blood dribbled down the brown carpet hall, into a bedroom and soaked on a mattress, then returned to its source, Chris’s elbows. Things, as they strangely tend to do, got better, and before the end of the semester Chris had a girlfriend and a Seeing Eye dog. Eric only saw the girl once, and it was from behind, but her curly black hair and skinny figure stuck in his memory. The curiosity never escaped Eric, and as he slowly masticated over a bowl of cornflakes in the pale-lit farmhouse kitchen, he still wondered if she was beautiful.

"Eric! Your father’s calling for you. They need help up there.”

“What’s going on?”

She answered him. “Beast is stuck in the cattle guard.”

He rushed to the noise of the pain, forgetting his shoes and thinking fuck it’s chilly, and approached besides two farmhands and his father stared from the other side of the gate. Beast in the middle with his milky white belly splattered up with cold red and if you've never feared or seen terror in a horse's bulbous eyes it's because you've never dreamed of something as large as the abyss of a horse's tormented mind. And if you yourself had two legs caught in that guard and you kicked and kicked and made things worse and stopped. Seven minutes later. And you kicked and screamed and men stand around gawking because only an idiot like you, only a dull fool who should have been shot or turned into glue or dog food or hung or enslaved for all the suns you could ever think of, and so they wonder why does he kick? Our dear sweet Beast, belly of blood and mouth of snot and spit, outstretched and entrenched in that trap kicked and kicked and his beautiful, beautiful body convulsed. His front hoof clawed nearer and nearer over merciless cylinders, so symmetrical and right, how they were once thought to work, ingeniously engineered, and scraped closer, closer to the other side, the land far beyond the fences. The other so different. His hoof came so close like he was trying to learn, just wanting to touch it, to feel where he would never live. You could only stand there with the men who say well shit the grass ain't greener on the other side because his leg bone has ripped through the skin and through the rest of his existence, revealing the tendon that you'd watch work so clean like a science textbook, so miraculously that you may call it god-like, and when you see the cold, morning daylight through the bone, how it shined through the bone, you try not to gag, (you’d say yeah well I’ve seen that on tv but you probably haven’t) and instead you know that that leg bone has torn more than his leg and his sanity but also you know the kickback of the shotgun against your shoulder and through the smoke or but a fog of deathly confusion in that fucked horse's head all the world of cosmos and icebergs and math and no more suns like there never were and that sun goes down and the sun always stays down for our friend Christopher Gage, whose existence in this story, you may think, amounted to zilch.

 

 

 

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