Highly Commended Story - Sub-junior Category
“Fire Horse” by Amelia Foxcroft, Netschool, UK, is the Highly Commended story in the sub-junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2019.
Ah! Another day in the life of a noble life-saver. I am Galleon, a heavy built fire horse (I will explain what that means later). It all started the day my mother Nella fell ill and died. I was devastated; that is, until my master came along. He nursed me and helped me regain my good health. Soon after, he signed me up to the town’s fire service. That was the day my life changed completely.
Now, I consider myself one of the luckiest horses around. A nice stable to sleep in, oats, hay and alfalfa to eat, and the best friends the world could give. Also, I have the pride and honour to be in the fire service, working as a fire horse to pull carts containing materials such as hoses and ladders, and transporting the fire fighters that care for me and feed me to whatever building is on fire. It is a fabulous life. One wouldn’t think my life could get any better. But it has. For the past three weeks, Beatrice has been sneaking out at night to ride me. Beatrice is the loveliest girl I have ever met. She lives just down the street. The reason why she has to sneak out at midnight to see me is because her mother is one of those Mothers that are far too overprotective. I am quite sure that she might have a heart-attack if she knew that her daughter was going out at night to gallop bare back on the tallest horse at the fire station. Anyway, that doesn’t matter right now, my breakfast is coming! Gerald, the fire stables groom (the person that brushes us, feeds us and puts my harness on) dumps my feed bucket on the straw-bedded floor of my stable.
Mm, that was delicious. But on to more important things, Gerald is leading me to my paddock where my best equine friends, tiny Tabitha and Minstrel are waiting for me. We have hours of fun, playing and talking (or rather, whinnying) about what our jobs have been so far this week: Minstrel’s has been hauling ladders to houses on fire, to cats stuck up trees or simply to people who needed them and didn’t have one. Tabitha’s had been helping carry the lightest equipment to wherever it was needed (Tabitha being only 14.2 hands high is the baby of the group and is only used when absolutely necessary). My job however was (as it always is) taking the fantastic fire-fighters in the main cart to where there was fire and trouble. So, we continue chatting all through the day, until the assistant groom Lucinda comes to take us in for the night. This is usually the saddest part of a no-work day, but not tonight! Beatrice is coming!
Four hours later, I hear the familiar thump, thump, thump of human footsteps. Then I see the small, neatly plaited ginger- haired head of Bea (Bea is Beatrice’s nickname) poke over my stable door. “Hello Galleon.” She murmurs, “Where are we to go tonight?” I poke my head and prick my ears towards the darkening yellow of the buttercup fields. “Buttercup fields it is, then.” she whispered in her soft, sweet words. So, she climbs on top of my stable door (a rather precarious business, my stable door being so high!) and I position myself with my back to the door and let her climb on top unharmed. She then leans over my long, arched neck and quietly unfastens the bolt on the door. I move freely out and start to trot in the direction of the fields. “Where you going tonight pal?” asked Minstrel, being quite aware of the fact that Beatrice and Galleon went out on a midnight ride together once a week. I reply, “Off to the old buttercup fields, mate.” “Have fun!” squeaks tiny Tabitha’s little voice. “Aye, we shall, we shall.” I neigh. So I carry on trotting and soon we have reached the seemingly endless fields of the deepest yellow. Ah, finally! I could enjoy the feeling of galloping across these fields with the person I loved the most sitting on my back, her body moving, swaying with the rhythm of the poplar trees around me, dancing with the summer breeze.
By the end of it, my feet look like lemon drops due to all the buttercups I have crushed under my sizeable weight. We are nearing the stable blocks now, time to say goodbye.
So with me tucked up nicely in my stable, my feet scrubbed so the groom would not be suspicious, and with a kiss on the nose Beatrice finally leaves, her feet skip-skipping back down the road towards her neat, prim little cottage, the surrounding apple trees glistening in the spring time moonlight. Goodness, I am so tired. I feel as if I might drop down dead. So I lay down and rest my head against the soft but prickly straw and fall into a deep, deep sleep. Next morn I wake up to the ear-piercing screech of the fire bell. I leap up from my comfy sleeping position and stand, as I had been taught to, straight and still, outside my stable. Waiting for Gerald to pull the lever that makes my harness come out of a trapdoor above me and fall on to my back. Gerald does this in a flash, and the fire-fighters strap me up to the main cart with their strong arms. I find myself next door to Minstrel and say a quick hello. The cart is ready to go in the time of 1 minute. We hear the leaving bell go and instantly canter out of the big barn doors. I guess it was around 6 in the morning, but still Bea is watching me from her small bedroom window and smiles as we cantered away in the direction of the apothecary. An apothecary is a place where people go if in need of medicine or treatment. This particular apothecary has been owned by the same family for generations. The Mac-Kenedys had been making quality medicines for as long as I can remember. Anyway, I had heard news that Mr Mac-Kenedy had left a pine nut and honey cough medicine on the boil. A flame had sneaked its way a few centimetres across the floor and had caught on a solid oak chest. The whole place is in flames.
The firemen leap out of the cart, hitch up their hoses and smoke protectors, and enter the flaming building. I, as instructed, stay put. It is not until the raging flames start to near my grey body that I start to have other thoughts. Perhaps I should bite and wriggle my way out of the harness and escape the horrid world that is fire. Or maybe I should stay put and stay loyal to my people. I choose the second option. The flames are licking the left side of my body now, causing me intense pain. When the fire-fighters return, half of the house is burnt to cinders. My side feels like fire itself. Every step back to the stables is agony. I see Beatrice standing outside her cottage wrapped in half a dozen shawls. She runs to me when she sees the big, shiny burn on my side and helps me into my stable. After her leaving, I pass out due to the sheer pain.
When I regain consciousness, I am lying in a bed of the finest shavings, in the guest stable. A big, airy place used for the guest horses that came to visit. My side is covered in some kind of cooling, soothing cream. Just then I realise that, standing outside my stable door, are Beatrice and Mary the vet. Seeing that I had woken, Bea mumbles something to the vet and entered my stable. “How’s it going?” she says. I manage a pathetic whinny in response. “Mary has done wonders, Galleon.” She says. “she has stitched up your cuts and soothed your burn.” “And you have done wonders Galleon. You have saved Mr and Mrs Mac-Kenedy, and you have saved the apothecary, and without the apothecary, we would surely all die. So you have saved us all, Galleon.” Those words are the best I had ever heard. So fantastic that, the very next year, at the village fete, draped with a banner bearing the words “Noble Life-saver Galleon” and covered in colourful rosettes, with Beatrice seated on my back, I remember those exact words and, once again, feel like the luckiest horse on the planet.