Story Contest 2018 #1 Results » Highly Commended - Junior Category
“A Desire for Freedom…” by Lena Mona Rotzer, Switzerland, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
A Desire for Freedom…
I galloped through the snowy woodland, my breath coming out in misty puffs as the cold air hit my face. Free! I thought. This is how it should always be! excitedly I stretched out my legs going faster than ever. Until I felt a stinging jolt of pain shoot through me, as something rope like hit my rump. “Get up you lazy useless good for nothing!”
A gruff and dreadfully familiar voice snapped. He lashed out at me with the whip again, and startled, I woke. I quickly stood up as he raised his hand, threatening to slap me. He vaulted over the fence and roughly snapped a lead collar onto my head. My first instinct was to defend myself, but I had given up putting any heart into it. I slowly trudged after him as he led me out the gate, pulling unnecessarily on the rope making the bit in my mouth rub painfully against my gums. I groaned but he ignored me, dragging me into a corner.
He pulled a harness over me and attached it to a heavy cart full of coal. I strained to get it moving as he urged me on using his whip yet again. I pulled the cart down a bustling street coughing and wheezing from all the smoke. I stopped as we came to a small rundown building, and my master expertly unloaded the coal, carrying it into the building. Suddenly, I saw another human walking towards me. She gently stroked my face and whispered kind words into my ear. Just then my master came back.
She asked him “How much is he for?” Her voice was different from the other humans. It was soft and gentle. I looked at her curiously, she didn’t seem to pose any threat to me. Then I shook my head, how could I think that? I had learned a long time ago that humans were evil creatures, I wasn’t about to be fooled now. She repeated her question when the master didn’t answer “How much is he for?”. “He’s not for sale!” He chuckled in his usual rough voice, “You’re too small to ride him anyway.” Angrily, she started to object but he held up his hand “I must insist ma’am this ‘un needs a firm hand!”. She interrupted, this time her voice low and dripping with disgust “I’ve seen how you treat that horse, and I don’t even need any proof! Look at his condition!He looks like he hasn’t eaten in a month” Her cheeks flushed and she continued: “I could report you, you know!” She flashed a badge in front of his face.
My master spoke back although this time not with the same friendliness he had greeted her with earlier “Oh, you wouldn’t dare!” He rasped. He spat on the ground and pulled a pocket knife out of his bag, he pinned her against the wall holding the knife to her throat. Her reflexes were too quick for him though, and she grabbed the knife out of his hand, spun around and slashed the harness holding me then she brought down the knife once more cutting the reigns. “GO!” she cried out desperately, and as soon as I realised I was free, I fled. I ran and ran and ran, away from the horrible life I had come to know.
I threw in a playful buck as I reached the edge of the forest, the trees clumping together and the ivy growing wildly everywhere. This was how I wanted to live: wild and free. I thought back to the human girl who had let me run. Somehow, I trusted her, even though I didn’t want to. There was something mesmerizing about her. That was my last thought before exhaustion took over and I collapsed into a deep sleep. There was a monster… it’s presence creating fear in the air. There were other ponies, and I could smell their panic and confusion. I reared and struck out with my hooves, challenging the monster. But my foot connected with steel, and it was coming ever closer…ever closer…ever closer… I woke up, sweat bathed. I looked around, there was nobody there: no steel monster, no other ponies.
What would I do without protection? Without food? Without water? Panic washed over me as I realised I had no way to survive. Screaming my shrill whinny into the air, I galloped around and around searching for something edible. It was still winter though and the grass was still frozen. I pawed the ground trying to loosen some of the ice. The only thing I succeeded in though, was scraping off a bit of my hoof. Eventually I found some moss hanging from a tree, so I tried nibbling on it but it tasted so bitter, I spat it out.
I caught a scent on the air: water! I excitedly raced to where I had smelled it. That too was frozen though, and as I looked into the lake I saw my reflection. I stared at myself, my ribs stuck out and my body was covered in mud. I remembered were I was born. That was a happy place. The master I had there was very kind, and he always promised me that I would go to a good home and that the whole world would see what a beautiful pony I was. Well I guess not all promises can be kept. I sighed, those were blissful days. Then I felt my hooves sliding. As I scrambled to get up again, I fell right into a snow drift. Well at least mud wasn’t sticking to me anymore. It felt good to have it out, I rubbed my body against the bark of a tree scratching the places I couldn’t reach.
Suddenly I smelled human. I hid in the trees, my now glistening white coat camouflaging with the knee deep snow. As I watched her carefully I realised it was the same human who had let me free. All she did was put down a load of hay and a bucket of water. Then she walked away. I approached cautiously and sniffed the water before draining it in one gulp. She did this every day, and on the seventh day, I showed myself and let out a quiet nicker of gratitude. I let her pat me and stroke me down, rubbing all he sore spots. She looked me in the eyes, and for a second I was pulled into her gaze…but the moment was broken when a gunfire shot off in the distance. I bolted. After two days I finally trusted myself to come back to that spot. There she was, waiting for me like she had done everyday.
Greedily I snuffled up the oats she held in her hand, and nudged her asking her for more. But she just laughed. Not the cruel laugh my master had had, but a soft tinkering sound, almost like the call of small bird. She put her hands on my back and I flinched, but didn’t move away. Then she vaulted carefully and gracefully onto my back. I hunched up, ready to buck. Though then I saw no reason why I should. She didn’t have a whip, or reigns that she could pull on. I relaxed as she sat loosely on my back.
She gently squeezed with her legs, and I obediently walked forwards. She patted me and we walked on, enjoying the quiet winter atmosphere. Suddenly she squeezed harder, urging me into a gallop. I happily responded by lengthening my stride and going so fast, I felt I couldn’t have gone faster if I tried. She lifted her hands out to her sides, leaving me with no pressure at all, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My mane flew out like streamers and her cry of joy, mirrored my own. Then I thought: no, this is how it should be, a desire for freedom is nothing compared to a friendship. If a horse could smile, I would have, for I felt happy. An emotion that I had not felt in a long time.