As I mentioned Monday night, this is a crazy week for me. I did not get the spreadsheet of taxes done that I needed to get done tonight last night. And, well, a lot of stuff still needs to be got done.
How about some fiction? You've heard me talk about Kelpie, how about a taste? It's a rough draft, so it will change, so I'm not particularly worried about having published this tidbit on the Internet because it will be different from the end product.
It's near the beginning, but the opening is weak. What you need to know (and what I need to rewrite) is that the narrator, 11-year-old Heather, is riding the family Shire stud, Opulent Majesty, with her best friend (and a prince of England) 12-year-old Joseph. They snuck away from his bodyguards and are set on investigating the disappearance of some children at the loch abutting the family property. Having watched enough TV (telly) and read enough books, they are quite sure they'll find some grand clue that the trained professionals missed. They're right - but in the worst way possible!
Beneath us, Oppie, full name Opulent Majesty, gave a little hop and a shake. I gripped his mane, and Joe gripped me, breathing word I knew was a curse in Arabic. It was a long fall from a 20-hand horse.
"We're almost to the loch," he said. "Let's walk."
I let him slide down first, then followed.
Oppie pranced nervously, something I'd never seen him do, and curled his lips back, scenting the air. It should have been a hint, but I didn't listen. Instead, I wrapped his lead rope around a lower hanging bough so he wouldn't leave us. We weren't planning to be long, but I made sure to clip it under his chin rather than to the training rings in case we were a few minutes and he kept up with his freaky behavior. I didn't want to hurt the poor horse.
We'd ridden to the loch via the route that actually had some trees, and we could see the glimmering water up ahead. It was only a few steps to the edge of the treeline.
"What's the plan?" Joe asked, heading towards the loch.
"Look for clues to find the kids who went missing that the fuzz missed, figure out where they are, and be heroes."
Joe put a hand on my shoulder and stopped walking. "You hear that?"
"What?" I asked, smirking at the cliché.
"Yuh… exactly," he frowned, clearly not intending any cliché. I listened, and it was dead quiet. No birds, nothing. Except for Oppie's nervous stomping behind us.
Then a soft slosh of water, as if someone were just getting out from a swim. I looked at Joe, then jogged around the hillock that blocked part of my view. Then froze.
It smelled of low tide and sea beds and dead things, which was far too strong for this partial-salt loch. Rings rippled out from a bunch of seaweed moving towards the shore. It slipped from the water, stepping up, revealing the weed-covered body of a horse.
Not quite a horse. The nightmare of a horse. It curled its lips back, flushing as stallions do. Beneath the greenish black lips were sharp, wolfish teeth. Not the teeth of the gentle herbivores.
Its eyes reflected – or glowed – red in the sun.
"Heather…?" Joe's voice trembled, and he took my arm, pulling me back towards the trees.
Behind us, Oppie screamed. There was a crack like thunder, and the ground quaked from hoofbeats. As he galloped towards us, his head was pulled down from the bough that dragged behind him, tangled in the lead rope.
His baritone scream echoed again, and he stopped just behind us. He lowered his head, arching his back almost like a stalking cat. Nostril's flared, he wove towards us, neck extended like a snake crawling through grass. His posture sent shivers up my spine. Where was that sweet horse I knew? Despite being the only stallion, no horse on our property was more gentle! And now I was terrified of him.
A grunt and growl behind us yanked our attention to the other… creature. A kelpie. It matched Oppie's posture and was twice as terrifying with its hellish appearance.
The two circled around us.
The water horse charged first.
Joe yanked me out of the way, and we both fell to the ground.
The ground quaked with 2500 kilos of furious stallion hoofbeats. Oppie's black dinner plate hoof planted only a breath from our faces. We both choked gasps. Lily, my sister, had received a Reserve rank in dressage with our beast-sized stallion. Knowing how well he could do precision footwork didn't matter.
Not when he faced off against the seaweed black monstrosity that emerged from the loch.
Where my parents and Joseph's parents – the crowned prince and princess of England, making it a royal decree - told us not to go.
The kelpie reared. Opulent Majesty, my family's shire stallion, towered over us like a guardian monster. Protecting the stupid human youths of his herd. The limb – not a branch - I'd thrown his lead around because he'd danced nervously around the tree line kept him from reaching the apex of his rear, but didn't lessen the terrifying effect.
Oppie, himself, hadn't even wanted to come.
Prince Joseph and I just wanted to explore, maybe embody those twelve-year-old sleuths in Mum's books that were old books when Mum was my age.
It was my idea.
God, I was stupid, and it'd be my fault if we died right here.
The kelpie lunged. Defying physics, Oppie twisted and hammered his back legs into the charging kelpie that was about the size of Mom's Percheron cross. The kick pounded the kelpie to the ground where it threw up dirt, flailing its own massive hooves feathered with water weed fetlocks. Momentum flew the broken limb. It landed on the ground, digging in, wedging beneath a rock. The shire lunged at the fallen water horse, but the pinned limb anchored him. His baritone scream rang sick in my stomach.
I crawled towards the limb and rock.
"Heather! What are you doing?" Joseph hissed at me, following.
"He's stuck," I said. I was the idiot who'd wrapped the lead line that ended up tangled. I yanked the knife from my work boot and sawed at the lead rope. Oppie bounced a few times, posturing as the kelpie got back to its feet. It circled, tail up, snorting. It wasn't going to back off.
Oppie's dark eye flicked towards me, even as his attention never left the water horse. He snorted, arching his neck, puffing his chest and flicking his tail. He stomped closer to the kelpie as the my knife cut through the lead. The stallion jumped forward the moment I severed the last threads.
I tumbled back as Oppie went on the offensive. The kelpie reared, turning, but not losing ground, still blocking our way from the woods we'd come from. Oppie didn't charge; he stayed near Joseph and me, blocking the water horse from us. Both equines, mortal and fae, paced and sized each other up.
Oppie's push left us room to get to our feet without eight oversized hooves dancing around us. Though Joseph was on his feet first, I followed too soon for him to even offer a hand.
"Now what?" he asked, eyes glued on Oppie and the kelpie.
"I… don't know."
The kelpie charged again. I could see it favoring the hip that Oppie had kicked, and it was furious. Its eyes glowed orange red, flickering like flames and the afternoon sun gave the slick black coat a slimy green sheen. Nostrils flared steam, and its long muzzle pointed more than any horse breed I knew.
Freed from the limb, Oppie hopped to the side of the oncoming charge and pulled himself up to his full height at a rear, beating towards the kelpie's skull. His white fetlocks fluttered like avenging angel wings so high Joseph and I had to strain to see, even as we backed further away. The kelpie veered away and tried to circle around.
It shifted its fiery gaze from Oppie to us and sneered, revealing carnivorous, blood-rust teeth stained green at the gums. The shire landed, turned tightly and pushed back at the faerie.
"Trees!" I pointed. Joseph nodded. We darted that direction. The kelpie was faster. In a rollback so fluid it'd make any of my riding team – even my sister - green with envy, the water horse changed direction, striking its front hooves at Oppie. As athletic as we'd trained the shire, he couldn't move the mass of his body out of the way fast enough. Blood dripped across his silver chest. The kelpie charged us.
I don't know which of us changed direction first, but Joseph and I turned towards the water.
Oppie's deep scream and the thunder of his gallop stopped us. Without looking, I could feel the pressure of his approach and shoved Prince Joe to the side – and back on the ground. The shire jumped over us, fetlocks fluttering war feathers flying above our prone bodies. His landing resonated deep into our guts as he grunted several times. The kelpie screeched back. It must've moved faster than either of us saw because now it faced off with Oppie, hind legs in the brackish water it called home. As if drawing strength from its source, the kelpie reared again, shaking blood and salt water from itself, then leaping with unnatural grace and strength to the other side of us before Oppie, huffing and limping, could intercept it.
We were between the horses again.
The kelpie came at us in a direction that pushed us towards the water again.
"Don't touch the water," Prince Joe said.
"No, really?" I growled. He glared at me. Both of us searched for the opening as the stallions attacked again. "Maybe the bank?" I gestured with my chin to where a grassy hill crested into an embankment above the a thin line of beach where the water lapped hungrily.
Joseph nodded. "We can cut towards the woods in two different directions there."
The path took us dangerously close to the fighting horses, but I could see Oppie's dark eyes flashing every so often. He knew where we were.
We were his herd; he'd protect us.
We edged toward the bank, then darted as Oppie rushed the kelpie again. I winced seeing how much of his blue-grey chest and shoulder was red with blood. The water sparkled, so pretty in the afternoon sun, below us. Joseph took my hand and ran towards the trees along the embankment. They were still close to the water, some with roots hanging like skeletal fingers or worms reaching for the sometimes fresher water that depended on the tide.
They offered cover, though, and we could stay within them towards home. And any other path would require us to dodge fighting horses.
At the very least, we were still smaller than the kelpie, and once we were clear, Oppie could retreat. He'd find us.
The kelpie was having none of it. Was the fae more sentient than our draft? Psychic? It galloped back from the shire, then turned to cut us off.
Oppie pounded to our rescue.
When the shire was only a meter or so from us, the kelpie changed direction. Oppie turned. We could feel the heat from his body radiating. The ground crumbled beneath his back hooves. Beneath us.
We all fell beneath the shifting earth. Somehow neither me nor Joe were hit with flailing hoof. For a brief moment, I felt every molecule of breath squeezed out of my body by sticky horse. I don't know what part of Oppie it was or how I wasn't killed or crushed, but I lay frozen as water pasted sand around me. I couldn't even gasp.
"Heather!" Joe was beside me, his normally dark face like a ghost. "Heather? God, Heather!"
A wave broke over us, drenching, but Joseph stayed close, kneeling in shifting sand even as he lifted an arm to protect his face. I heard the splashes and horse screams as if they were down a tunnel or through static spewing headphones.
Joe had a hand under my neck and side and the world tipped over. I sucked in air that burned my throat like razors and salt. Then I coughed out red blood and sickly green water.
Loch weed tangled around my wrists and knees.
"Come on, Heather!" I felt Joseph pulling me up. I broke away from the weeds, snapping them as more seemed to find whatever part of me touched the water. My now soaked and muddied braids flogged my back. We staggered backwards towards where the collapsed hill offered dry land. I saw even more weeds climbing and tangling around Joe's legs. He fell.
"Ow, shite!" he cursed, trying to pull himself up. "Damned rocks!" I gave him my hand and tried to yank him to his feet, but water surged and more weeds grappled at him. Blood stained down the leg of his jeans and he grimaced in pain.
"Priiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnzzz." The kelpie stopped and looked right at us, mouth agape and nostrils flared. It's fiery eyes seemed to glow even brighter. Oppie was fighting the weeds tangling his legs. The kelpie took a step towards us, head lowered, smiling wickedly, predator teeth bared. "Yourr bllood. Ssmells. Ssoooooo Goo-"
One thrash. One splash. Oppie's rear legs connected with the kelpie's jaw. Another tearing splash and the shire was mostly free, jumping and battering the downed kelpie further into the now cloudy red and black water.
"Come on! Move it! Move!" Joe and I commanded each other, pulling each from the now retreating weeds onto dry ground.
We managed one breath in and one out before Oppie galloped towards us. He stopped, hooves right beside our feet, and snorted angrily, brown eyes bugging and staring at the churning water. I gave Joe a leg up onto the shire's ginormous back and let him heft me up. His face strained in pain as he tried to grip the broad back with his injured leg while balancing my weight as I used his boot and Oppie's mane to pull myself up – as if I were scaling a mountainside.
I heard the kelpie scream from the water. I heard more splashing.
I was barely seated when Oppie took off. I was gripping his mane and the remainder of the lead rope while Joseph gripped my middle. We clung for dear life, and it was only the strength of our utter terror that let us hold on as we flew into the trees and away from the monster.
Hope you enjoyed it! :) Comments welcome.