A “War Horse” fan fiction
Dedicated to Michael Morpurgo
There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.
No Man’s Land
The sky was grey. A definite chill in the air. The smell of dead bodies and sweat from terrified soldiers only added more to this already bleak environment. The mud would seep into your shoe if you stepped in the wrong place….dead bodies of both humans and horses covered the land. Gun fire had died down, but people on both sides were still on alert. Misery and torment were a few words that crossed his mind, he felt the angel of death watching over him like some dark cloud hovering above his head.
The young man staggered as he walked, he had lost his rifle in the heat of battle. His heart, thudding in his chest. A German in uniform and wearing a black trench coat, pulled out his pistol and fired a shot into the young man’s shoulder. The pistol shot rang through Brian’s ears. He yelps in pain, his body spins-his back pointing towards the solider for a brief second, just enough time for the German to fire an extra shot into his upper left shoulder blade….the young man collapses and yelps louder.
Blood oozes onto his uniform, the young man knew he’d die if he didn’t get this guy first….on the ground, in the hand of a blood covered cadaver, a silver revolver.
Swiftly, young Brian yanks the gun out of the hand of the unknown body, rolls onto his stomach, grunts in agony and fires five shots into the German, red mist fills the air, a bit of blood splashes on the Brian’s face.
Slowly, dark red plasma then seeps into the dying soldier’s coat…he falls backwards with a thud. Time stops-Brian is frozen, his heart sinks into the pit of his stomach, his breathing slows. He killed his last human…..not his first however, but this kill was close up…he saw the life drain from the eyes of the soldier. Brian’s still lying on his back, both arms stretched out, his hand still clutching the silver gun like it’s the only thing keeping him alive. His face turns white….
I let the rising sun hit my body. I stand in the middle of the field. Looking off into the horizon, it is early in the morning, it’s chilly out, but I hardly mind. I rest my four legs by lying on my belly for a bit. Just reflecting, looking at all the other farm animals…getting a sense of what is going on. I feel age creeping up on me, ever so slowly. My movements are a bit stiff, it’s harder to get from place to place without feeling a bit of pain go through my upper legs, but getting old isn’t easy. I just hope my mind doesn’t start to go as well, I have so many memories, perfect ones, and horrible ones-all are important in the way I look at life-I often think, how would my life be different if the events that happened to me, didn’t happen? Would I be happier? Would I be bored? Should horses even think this deeply? I guess how can I help it? Not many animals have seen what I’ve seen….and that’s for the best….
The rain thuds hard on the streets. Brian wakes up in his little house, living alone.
He just had that dream again….the one of him in World War 1….he then tosses over and glances at the Purple Heart he received….though he did not think himself proud of receiving it…for reasons unknown as of right now. He is groggy as he gets up to meet the grey sky and the heavy rain. He puts on grey trousers and a white t-shirt. He goes to the bathroom and shaves. Brian is about 200 pounds, he exercises often. He has long dark blonde hair, not so long that it goes down his shoulders, he does slick it back so the bangs doesn’t irritate his eyes. He stares at himself in the mirror, seeing if he’s ready to face the day. Brian stands at about 6’1. He is clean shaven. He goes to his refrigerator and drinks some water. He thumbs through the books about the war he was in, normally-he didn’t do this, for the memories were too engraved in his mind. Their was this, mystery he wanted to learn about, he was in the war when he was nineteen years old, now twenty one years of age, he hadn’t found anything of that horse, the horse that was responsible for saving his life…..
Brian does have as said, vivid memories of World War 1 etched in his brain, how could he forget it? The terror, the bullets, not knowing if you were ever going to see your family again? He regrets being there, even though it’s all over and people have been giving him high praise for ‘serving his country’…he still regrets it. No amount of pats on the back from his friends or family can really help, Brian can’t even look at a fake gun with out getting shivers or feeling like he has to bolt out of the room to get away from these memories. He does more reading. Instead of thumbing through the books he already has of the war, he goes to his local library to find newspapers that may have been on sale during the war and after it, trying to discover the identity of this horse. He puts on a white dress shirt, he leaves the two top buttons undone. He throws on his dark brown winter coat and heads out.
His car is a black Ford, what car wasn’t these days?
The library in town is only about ten minutes up the road from his house, it’s a giant building. Once inside, the smell of old furniture and wood enter his nostrils. He smirks at the librarian and asks her about news clippings on WW1. He is given four big albums full of newspapers by the librarian, looking for anything and everything. He finds a table to sit at, he glances at only four other men, their noses in there books, he coughs quietly and thinks. Was this all a waste of time? Did he even know what he was looking for? A horse, but it just seems too ridiculous, what if this whole thing is just not worth it? What are the chances a HORSE would be in the newspaper? Sure, he found many things in the newspaper clippings, about the men who fought, the locations, old posters per swaying others to join the British army, but why in God’s name would he find something like:
“HORSE that saved Brian Ephron’s life- survives World War 1” What if this horse died? He or she very well could have! Ugh! He was getting nowhere! He closed the albums, put them away, and briskly walked out of the library after only about three or four minutes of skimming through articles, he continued his slightly obsessive thinking as he got into his car and drove through the town, getting some fresh air. Even IF by some miraculous chance, he did find this horse, what difference would it make? Well-actually it might. He never revealed his horrible memories to any humans, the memories themselves made him feel horrible as it is, but TELLING someone of them-wow, that’s a whole other level of uneasy and nerve wracking! Yeah, they say letting out your emotions is good, but-Brian was not going to open up to someone. He may open up to an animal, who knows? Especially one who suffered the amount he did! Actually, the horse probably went through more-remember, the horse saved him and brought him to safety, then the brown horse disappeared without a trace, almost as if the equine creature only existed in Private Ephron’s mind…..
Another beautiful day. Albert and I are taking a nice stroll in the fields, I still love taking walks, even if my arthritis acts up during it. He speaks to me, still in that happy tone that only he can provide. He leads me, making sure to stay on my left side and also making sure I don’t eat too much grass-I don’t though-but boy would I love to!
“Joey, as much as I hated that God forsaken war, I would love to know it from your perspective. Someone informed me that you helped out with the medical needs of wounded soldiers? I wonder what kind of people you met? Not only that, you had to pull that giant cart filled to the brim with wounded soldiers and bring them back to the hospital.” My ears perk forward….how I wish I could tell him. I’d love that, if I could talk I’d spend a whole night with Albert and maybe someone younger than he, talking about my experience, as much as I want to forget it I think it’s important for people to know the terror of violence and the damage it can cause…..a young child sitting on my lap-or back if you want to be more realistic- as I describe in detail what happened to me out there and talk to them about Topthorn…who Albert and I once visited, well-his grave anyway. Even though Albert doesn’t know who he is-I still think he got some sort of vibe that he was important, not important in a sense that ‘oh, he stopped the war!’ No, but very important in my well being and comfort during the hardest times….but that can impact more than a big deed can. You don’t need to save the world or stop some big, evil thing from happening, if you’re with the right living creature who needs comfort from you and you give it-the reward is often greater than that of someone who DOES do something massive in the world. I’d say a kind gesture can go very far. Albert taking me in changed my life, not that that was a small undertaking, but it just shows that-nonviolence goes much further than one may think.
The Town Square
His hands trembled as he signed his name.
The general looks Brian in the eye…Brian, with much effort looks into his eyes as well.
“Young man, bored the truck, we’re leaving in ten minutes.” He nodded, without a word he climbed aboard the truck. The truck was a dark green color. He entered, soldiers were talking and cussing and saying things that Ephrone found offensive, but didn’t speak up about it. He sat slowly on the leather chair, the truck lurched forward and Brian got a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach.
As the truck made it’s way to the training grounds, Brian was having racing thoughts of what would this all be like….he knew he wouldn’t like this…..
What was he doing here? He understood the British army was in need of soldiers, but why him? With his nervousness, he really regretted this. He wishes he could just leap out of the truck and run back home-but he had to face this. No choice, no going back…force himself to go through the training…then maybe he could quit. Why did he listen to people? He didn’t need to do this! He was nervous, jittery, on edge-nothing would take this feeling away, unless he leapt out of the truck…but deep down, beneath the nervousness, he almost felt it was the best to do it. He almost felt it was his duty to fight for his country. He took a few deep breaths and looked out the window…..
Ephrone slowly wakes up….that dream, or more specifically memory…seemed so vivid, like he could feel the clothes on his back, even feel the nervousness he felt when he signed his name. He took a deep breath, hoped he wouldn’t dream and put his face in the soft pillow and tried to sleep, but he couldn’t. It was still dark out, a light rain pattered on the roof. He got up and sat on his couch for a bit…just thinking. Of all the memories he had, of all the people he met-what was it about this horse that consumed him? It almost frustrated him! Why did he want to meet this ONE horse…their were billions of horses on the battle field? Wait, actually-he knew why he wanted to meet this particular horse…because this horse saved his life, but how? I guess that’s the first question that should be answered, HOW are he and this horse connected exactly? Is it the handsome look of the horse? Brian had to come to terms with the fact that this was something that most likely had no answer….
Brian then got up and went to the bathroom, he got a slight shiver, from not wearing a shirt to bed. He switched on the light and saw himself in the mirror….then saw it.
The gunshot wounds-the two gunshot wounds he had gotten from that German solider.
He lightly touched the scares, he never really liked to look at them, again-memories, even though they are just figments of our mind, can haunt us with a great power. Whether this had anything to do with anything or not, he decided to not stay awake like he planned to, he shut the light off, crawled into bed and fell asleep, looking at a photo of a white horse his mother painted a long time ago. He kept it after all these years, his mom painted it for him when he was little, this image seemed to bounce in his head even after he fell asleep….
No Man’s Land
Brian lies in the grey mud, facing the clouds. He tries to calm himself down, but he can’t. He slowly rolls over from his back, on to his stomach, he grunts in pain. He tries to come to terms with what has happened, it’s impossible. He crawls a few feet over to the body-could this German be alive? He ever so slowly reaches over to check his pulse….what if the soldier grabs his hand and knifes him?! His arm, almost in slow motion, inches closer to his neck. He presses his two fingers into his skin…nothing. He looks at the five fresh bullet wounds, some in his stomach, some in his chest-no wonder this man was dead. He reaches into the jacket pocket of the man he killed-he finds his wallet. He opens it up, he finds out the German’s name, Eichmann, Ronald Eichmann was his name. He finds other things in his pocket…Ephrone stares deeply into what he finds-he starts crying, curses at himself and swears to himself never to tell anyone what he found, what he found was so horrible, so ghastly, that-his mind and body didn’t know what to do. He throws the wallet and his helmet to the ground and cries hard. He looks at the muddy ground, he pounds his fist once into a mud puddle.
He then hears a nicker, he looks up-the brown horse looks down upon him…..behind the horse is a medical cart for wounded or dead soldiers, the bullet wounds start hurting, he bleeds more. He groans in pain, not really paying attention to the horse…..Brian falls to his back, he yelps in pain as he does so.
He looks up at the clouds for about a moment, trying to pretend his is somewhere else…somewhere calm and friendly. The pain interrupts his thinking however. Brian yelps a bit. The horse backs off a bit, but then inches his way towards the man in pain.
He puts his nose on Brian’s neck. The soldier is a bit uncomfortable, but realizes that if he doesn’t get medical attention, he would surly die-and this horse maybe the only living creature who would be willing to save him. Why was the horse so preoccupied with saving him? Did the horse think he had food or something?
No matter, the horse’s head is still low to the ground, Ephrone ever so slowly wraps his arms around the stallion’s neck and gently swings onto his back.
No soldier was in the cart, but the horse knew exactly where to go. Rather briskly, he trots off to the hospital…..the scenery fades to white as the sound of a ringing alarm clock grows louder….
Brian turns the clock off. He lies in bed, thinking deeply, trying not to forget this dream. Glancing at that same photo of the white horse, then he takes a deep breath.
This, this dream! IF it really happened, explains everything! WHO this mysterious brown horse is! HOW it saved his life!
What could have triggered the memory in the fist place?! So strange how distant memories come back….
Brian quickly got up, feeling quite dizzy from the sudden movement, but he didn’t care. He put on his tan suit, grabbed his backpack just in case he wanted to take out a book and jumped into his car, heading for the library. Now, the only big thing is-how hard would it be to find a record of all the horses that served in the war?
Brian walked in quickly, went to the section of all the WW1 paraphernalia and sat down. The new book he found was broken up into sections, the weaponry, the vehicles, the different spots in which the battles were fought on.
There was a section about the horses…which had real photos of the horses getting prepped for battle.
He frantically turns the pages, his heart pounding-he finds the section:
Horses in WW1-Preporation He found tons of photos of the horses, some in full gear, some already had soldiers on them. One horse caught his eye, he did a double take- COULD this be the horse? He brought the book over to a better light source, Brian then, rather quickly-making everyone else in the library a bit startled, grabbed a magnifying glass from the librarian’s desk and inspected. Flashes of that memory came before him the more he looked into the horse’s face. the white blaze going down his forehead, the four white socks, these little details were ones that didn’t escape his mind.
He couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, but he was almost positive this was the horse who saved him. It seemed like such a stupid long shot though, but-he was so sure of himself…that he had to find this horse and see him again…..he looked around the library, no one could see what he was about to do. Again, he went to the desk and grabbed a pair of scissors. He took a deep breath.
He very carefully cut out the photo of what he thought was ‘the horse.’ He took the photo and put it in his back pack and headed out.
On the drive home, Brian thought.
This could be it, this could be the answer to that burning question, he knew he needed to personally thank this horse.
Of course, animals can’t talk, but still- this would be the sort of book end to all of his troubles during the war, a cap off if you will….maybe even stop the horrible memoires once he had closure! The next thing Brian knew, his little car screeched, and with a loud crash-his head smacked the steering wheel, everything went to black.
Brian Ephrone opens his eyes slowly. He has not a clue where he is. The ticking of a clock in the corner fills the room. He hears footsteps, he turns over quickly. He sees an older man, maybe thirty years of age. Black hair, combed to the side. He is of average height.
Brian gets a bit nervous and sits up, but his head pounds the moment he gets up. The man goes running to Brian’s bedside. “Whoa there sir! You took quite a beating! Don’t get up to quickly….” Brian lies down, his voice is tired sounding. “Where am I?” The man smiles.
“My home, the nearest hospital isn’t for a few miles, I’m a doctor though-so I didn’t kidnap you for some creepy reason or anything, I just needed to make sure you were in good health! I’m Colin by the way.” He stands and goes to poke the logs in his fire place.
Brian gets a better look at this house.
It’s one floor, the bed he lies upon is in a dark corner. To the left, he sees the clock, it hangs just above a fire place.
Right in the middle of the room is a small wooden table and a stool. The wallpaper on the walls is dark green, with white flowers painted on it. There is a door just behind the bed, on the wall next to the door is a giant window, which lets in sun light. The wall next to the window, then continues on until you reach the fireplace mentioned earlier. A quite small place, but quaint. Ephrone slowly begins to sit up. He rubs his eyes. He looks around the home-something on the wall catches his eye.
A small coin tacked to the wall-the wall next to the door, the coin has a nice shine to it when the sun hits it just right. “Colin-I must ask, what is the coin doing there? It seems sort of-well, out of place.” The dark haired man walks over to it, looking at it as if he’s remembering something. “It isn’t out of place at all my friend. I look at it every morning when I get up and smile a bit. Funny thing with this coin, I was in World War 1-do you know a bit about that war?” Ephrone looked at Colin-listening closely. “Yes, I was there….” Colin looked at Brian, then back at the coin.
“I see, anyway it was after gunfire had died down. I saw this-horse. Oh God, I’ll never forget it. Poor creature, barely standing up-cut up horribly and bleeding. Stunning horse though…but anyway, this German gentleman and I, we cut him lose. We had a bit of a discrepancy over who should take this wonderful animal back. Instead of boxing for him, we did a coin toss. The horse is back with his owner thankfully.” Brian coughed. “How do you know that?” “The owner of the horse sent me a kind letter, somehow he knew I ‘saved’ his best friend.” Brian slowly stood up, the pain in his head was very small.
“What did this horse look like? I know that’s a strange question, but I have-this fascination with one particular horse….” Colin took a deep breath and smiled. “How could I forget…what a miraculous horse he was!” Brian looked at Colin with eager eyes. “I had a bag with me, I need to show you something!” Colin chuckled. “Ummmm, okay-I left your bag in the car-“ Brian briskly walked out the door, Colin followed and continued speaking. “Your car only has a missing headlight….”
Brian wasn’t listening, he opened the car door quickly and saw his bag and unzipped it swiftly, he shifted through some stuff, but found the cut out photograph he was looking for, like an excited child, he placed the photo in Colin’s hand. “Is this the horse you saved?!” Colin looked at the photo, extremely baffled as to why Brian was acting like this. “My goodness Brian…I believe it is! Where did you ever find this?!” Brian’s heart skipped a beat. “Wh-what?! That’s him? You-you can’t be serious!” Colin smiled.
“The white blaze, the four socks…yes, this is the extraordinary horse we saved! I must ask, what is your story?” Brian told him everything, well everything his memory served him. Brian sat on the edge of the bed, Colin sat at his little table, on a wooden stool. “I think this horse saved me from being shot. It’s this recurring memory….and I just feel like I need closure. If a human or animal saves my life, then I think that’s important. I-I also have a certain other memory-that I’ve never told anyone before…something that I found in Eichmann’s pocket….but I don’t feel comfortable telling it to anyone, point is, I was shot, bleeding and dying and this horse brought me to the hospital…then was ordered out just as soon as I was brought in! The gunfire had started up after that point, so I assume…the horse maybe died…but after what YOU said, about the barbed wire….I’m sure this horse is still alive. Tell me Colin….do you think I should visit this horse and his owner? Do you truly think, that these dark memories I have, could be somewhat healed by facing the thing I stress and think about?”
Colin was sort of just wrapping his head around this whole thing.
He sighs, he stands back up. “Well Brian, I say follow your heart. I think you should see this horse if he seems that much to you….tell the horse about your memories. You say you’ve bottled up a lot of your emotions, maybe telling them to a creature who can’t talk back or be prejudice will lift your spirits a bit? I’ve heard of a lot of humans who get comfort from speaking to animals…I still have the envelope that the owner-Albert sent to me. I’ll give you his address….you can take a train to Devonshire….please. tell me how it goes.”
Brian smiled as Colin handed him the address…
Brian Ephrone, now at home, looking at the address. He almost thought he was having one of his dreams again, this moment seemed like it would never come. THE HORSE! He’d finally meet this horse! He remembered though, not to give his hopes up, the owner may not let him be with the horse long enough to ‘chat’ with him, who knows though? You really don’t know unless you try. With this thought, Colin immediately booked a time and date to travel to Devonshire by train.
The two weeks couldn’t have gone by slower…..Ephrone would be counting down the days…..
Their wasn’t much more research he could do, I mean all he knew of the horse was that he was recruited, survived battle, somehow tripped up in some barbed wire and then was whisked back home….Albert wouldn’t know much more-to the best of Brian’s knowledge, the young man was separated from his best friend by the war, but Brian needed to connect to this horse….he knew the reasons why, and more importantly, he knew exactly what he’d say…..
The smoke rose from the tracks.
A loud whistle echoed throughout the clouds. Brian sat next to the window, watching the buildings go by. The train rocked back and fourth a bit. In about one day, he’d be out of the train and go to the address, probably by cab. He looked at the train a bit, looked at the people chatting, looked at the bright red, velvet seats, the light brown walls. Brian however, lives somewhat in his own head a lot of the time, which as far as memories go, the bad ones anyway-that isn’t good.He ends up obsessing over them sometimes, never comfortable enough to tell anyone the horror.
He glanced at the tea that was in front of him, which he didn’t finish due to feeling drowsy. He was surprised he slept, and didn’t have another dream-he kinda wish he had had one, extra things for him to speak to Joey about. As he looked out the window again, then looked at the photo of Joey once again.
Was he going crazy? Ugh, back to this question. No, he made his decision, he’s going to make his BEST attempt to let out his war memories to the horse, no turning back, we’re past the point of no return now…..
He sat on the train, reading the articles from the library, which he borrowed. He couldn’t stop thinking of this moment, he would try to remember everything.
Brian stood up and grabbed his bag, then sat back down.
He unzipped it, the photo of Joey was getting quite wrinkled. He put it in another part of his bag, he then found the snack he brought with him and his flask, actually filled with water and not an alcoholic beverage.
He also brought with him a very special something, an item that was irreplaceable. Brian gets into a cab, he tells the driver the general area, the farm is extremely out of the way and you’d have to go by foot to actually get there.
As the cab comes to a halt, he takes his bag and pays the driver, the cab drives off. Ephrone goes down a small dirt path, then comes across it.
A small farm, more like a little house actually-it’s sort of tucked away. He slowly makes his way to the house, it is quite a warm day. He then looked to the side of this farm and saw a stable….he felt a wave of excitement as he came closer to the house. He went up the steps and rang the door bell….
My stable door opens quite unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon.
Albert speaks to this man I’ve never even met-Albert walks up to me, smiling, I’m comforted. “Hey boy, this man, Brian Ephrone-he’s a very kind man. He, uhhhhh….he wants to talk to you.” I guess if he wants to, I’ll let him and be kind to him…..as long as he doesn’t make me nervous. “Joey, I’m going to let him groom you, he has…a lot of things to say, a lot to get off his chest….” He leans over to my ear. “You’re the most friendly horse in the world Joey, you can do this!”
Albert gives me a light pat on the cheek and leaves the stable. I look at Brian, not in a mean way, not glaring at him, but just acknowledging that he’s there. He wears a white dress shirt, tan slacks and a black button up vest.
He clears his throat and slowly makes his way towards me. I don’t back away, I sort of inch towards him.
He is soft-spoken, defiantly trying to hide the fact that he’s nervous. I try to calm him by letting him know that I won’t do anything. I sniff his neck, he smiles. “Wow…..so you’re Joey! The horse that saved my life.” I nicker at him, letting him know I’m quite interested in what he has to say. He starts getting the little container that holds my brushes and combs, he plops it by my feet, he grabs a Curry Comb and gently strokes me and begins to speak. “I guess I’ll begin at the beginning!”
He chuckles, then continues. “I signed up for the war, because I felt it was the right thing to do at the time. I went through training, rigorous training. I was only nineteen at the time. What a mistake it was, Joey. I could never get to sleep in the bunk bed, I would start to feel home sick. Part of me…part of me wanted to quit, but I pushed forward, even though inside, I really didn’t want to. I acted all strong and confident, on the inside, I longed for someone to just take me home. Instead of boring you, I’ll get to the point when you came in!”
He looks at me brightly, I let out a soft blow through my nostrils. He seems to find my mannerisms amusing! He puts the Curry away and grabs a soft brush, he starts patting my neck and lightly goes about getting the dust off of my neck, which is something I love! It’s almost as if he’s soothing me, which really-I should be the one comforting him.
He spoke to me as if he was revealing some big secret about himself.
His voice was low, he was quite close to me, watching my ear twitch back and fourth.
“Gunshots seemed to fly passed me, life seemed to move in slow motion. I had lost my rifle, my heart was pounding, I thought I may die of a heart attack. A German soldier, Ronald Eichmann shot me with a revolver twice. I went down, knowing that I would surly die if I didn’t somehow get this man off of my back. I grabbed a pistol from a cadaver and shot Ronald…five times.
I lie there, frozen. I managed to crawl over…and a few moments later, you appeared. You were muddy and dirty, you looked positively exhausted. I desperately wrapped my arms around you and….you took me to a hospital…well, a place where wounded soldiers went. Then, you walked off and I never saw you again….you probably had other things to attend to.”
Actually, I probably wanted to see Topthorn and by some miracle, find Albert, then I got roped into pulling that extremely heavy artillery….but like this young man never forgot me, I never quite forgot him either. I do remember the look of total despair in his eyes, he was bleeding quite profusely, I really had no other choice but to help him. If I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been reunited with his loved ones….I think that would have haunted me if I had just left him out there, like me this young man was put in quite a predicament.
After, Brian leads me out of the stable and we go for a nice walk along a dirt path.
The sun is shinning, the birds tweet in the air.
Albert and I go down here all the time.
Beside the dirt path, is a lake, ducks sometimes swim and splash about in the water, Brian gives me a bit of the snack he has, its quite salty and crunchy.
I get this feeling, every time Brian looks at me-that he’s just overwhelmed with happiness and seriousness at the same time. Like, he’s visiting a friend, but the friend isn’t the type of friend that you are routy with or anything, the kind of friend that has a certain serious quality to them. Someone you can confide in….I feel quite proud that I give off that kind of reaction to someone. “Joey, I mentioned after I killed the German, that you came and rescued me.” We stop walking, we turn around so that he faces the river, he sits down and sighs deeply. He still holds my lead, and is a bit startled as I lie down next to him. I can’t stand as long as I used to…getting to old. Brian’s voice is now monotone with hints of sadness, the more he speaks, the sadder the tone, his voice also sounds like it has a lump in it.
“I never told you, about the German though. I crawled over and reached into his wallet, that’s how I knew his name….but I found something in his wallet specifically…that has haunted me, and will continue to haunt me until the day I die. Inside the….”
“Inside the wallet, I found a photo….a photo of him, his wife and his two beautiful children.”
He looks away from me now and looks off into the distance. “Joey…at the time I shot him, I found it to be almost…joyful that I was alive….that I had beaten this evil force…but as soon as I found that wallet….everything took a turn. I realized I murdered, not a force, not some blind evil-but a man….a man who, like me was whisked into the war….maybe against his own judgment or will. I am a murderer, Joey!” It’s almost like he’s getting angry with himself…I’m not scared like I would be if someone else was angry….I’m concerned by his torment, which is now out in the open. “I murdered someone who had a wife looking forward to his return, I AM the reason why two children will grow up without a loving father….I don’t know if I can live with that…”
He pauses for a moment, then looks me in the eye.
I do nothing, I sit and listen….which is what he needs now.
“Joey, you’re the real hero. You went through the war, and didn’t hurt a SINGLE person…you touched the life of your wonderful friend, Albert and you SAVED my life! YOU are the reason why I still breath air and feel emotions.
You made a positive difference in a time when, bleakness and terror ruled.
People were praising me up and down when I got back from the war….I know now the reason why I didn’t feel that rush of excitement, it’s because I had this lingering emotion, like what I did was unjustified and terrible.
As people were talking to me about how I served my country, ALL I could see was the face of Eichmann and his family, they talked about how brave and dignified I was-if hurting others is dignity, then Goddammit I did NOTHING worth glorifying over, Joey. There is absolutely nothing to proud of by killing another man or serving in war where your goal is to HURT others for some, greater good, whatever the hell THAT means!”
He doesn’t shout, but raises his tone a few times-I did startle, but I realize that he will not hurt me or anyone else…so, I’m okay with it.
His tone goes down to almost a whisper.
“Life Joey, should not be taken away, for ANY reason. Life is precious, people only live once…we only experience things a few times in our lives and look back at our memories and smile, everyone does that, provided that you’ve lived a good life full of kindness and joy….why did I have the right to take this man’s life? Self defense? Maybe in this instance, but what about ALL the other men I shot? Those men I was ordered to kill?! They all had families, birthday parties to celebrate, graduations to go to, jobs to get, to achieve goals and aspirations.” He pauses, collecting himself.
“Joey, life is taken away too easily. Put a gun up to someone’s head and pull the trigger…everything is gone. Nothingness is all that person will experience. How can people build up life so much, have all of these dreams-then they go to war and DIE?
For what? WHAT is the good thing about killing others? Why when I came back from the war, me killing Eichmann was some…miracle to be inspired by! The people who died in battle, will never feel love, nor happiness, or be there for people when in need or see their children grow up to be amazing adults, or anything.
It’s scary to me, how easily it can all be taken away….”
He deeply sighs, for about a half hour, I let all that I understand of this sink in. Brian leads me around, he seems to just be quietly enjoying my company, which is nice of him. I feel bad for him, I know as well as he does what memoires can do to people, especially bad memories.
The war made me look at life in a completely different way. In some ways, I guess it strengthened me, although that can be said can’t it? Negative things in life can make us better, it can make us appreciate when life is great, not that you need to have a bad thing happen in life to appreciate it all, but maybe it does put it in some sort of perspective.
I wouldn’t have met Topthorn or Emilie. I did meet humans, both good ones and bad ones. I guess like Brian though, bad memories do creep in.
Being separated from my best friend in the world was the hardest thing to come to terms with, being away from home was difficult. Home is where the heart is, home is where you would run to, should any danger come about-but I couldn’t do that. I could run, but only to some form of safety that I didn’t feel…well, safe in.
I don’t understand what to make of a lot of the things that happened-like that big metal thing that tried to kill me, if humans created this, then I guess my question would be…shouldn’t we be putting our time and effort into making machines of peace, instead of ones of violence and destruction? I just don’t understand humans and their want or need for war. I won’t judge ALL humans, but wars exist for some reason or another. Strange thing is, I was in the war for a long time, animals who understand me probably expect me to explain everything away to them, to say ‘well, this is why the war happened’ or ‘this is why the men were shooting each other’ but in all honesty-it just all happened in the moment. I have no idea what led up to the war or why it happened.
All I know, is that humans were separated and had to fight each other…horses don’t think like that though. We don’t believe in separation, humans and animals must coexist and work together, I have a simple way of looking at things, you be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. That is all, if you’re mean, I’ll stay away from you and ignore you.
Humans I guess are a lot more complex, which I think makes them interesting, but harder to relate to. Humans are pretty darn complex, I wonder if they think the same of us? I love listening to them, but sometimes I find the concepts hard to wrap my head around, I maybe only got about half of what Brian said to me, but I like his voice. I sense he’s a nice man…I just feel horrible that the war sort of ruined him….I do not think the war made him a ‘stronger person’, I think it made him more nervous, certainly with him, I sensed an aura of nervousness, which made me a bit nervous around him, but it was the kind of nervous that was a sympathetic kind of nervousness, I knew he wouldn’t hurt me.
Brian talks to Albert for a bit, the sun is setting, the young man has to be leaving to catch his train.
I’m in my stable, eating hay as I hear the door open up once again, Brian is here to say his goodbyes, Albert is most likely asleep now. Brian’s voice is a whisper, he seems saddened he has to leave. My body aches horribly, I feel like my breathing is a bit labored…oh goodness. I don’t let it bother me now, he approaches me.
“Joey, thank you so much. I-I feel so much better, about everything. You’re probably sick of hearing from me, you’ve listened to me all day, you’re probably like
‘ohhhh God! Enough of your foolish blabbering!’
He lets out a soft chuckle, I look at him.
“I’ve never been a believer in the supernatural, but somehow….and I don’t know how this works, but-I often feel like…paths are meant to cross. We’re meant to meet certain people or animals, whether it’s by accident or if it’s on purpose. We’re meant to cross paths. Why does that happen do you suppose, Joey? Why in life, sometimes the perfect thing comes along and just makes everything worth living? It’s almost too good to be true, we met. How is it that, we’re on opposite ends of England and yet-through some working of fate, I found you? Is life really this planned? If I hadn’t gone to war, we would have never met. Would we have met some other way? Or, as I said-does fate decide what actions we do and things just sometimes fall into place?” He pauses and puts his hand on my muzzle.
“However, I can tell you something that was planned….”
He slowly walks over to the bag he brought with him, he unzips it quite methodically, I hear the jiggling of metal….I have no idea what to expect, but I’m not too scared.
He shows me the item, he slowly brings it up to my eye, I’m a bit startled, but look at this item curiously. I sniff the item, Brian smiles and cups the item in his hand away from me. Then grows dead serious.
“Joey, this is my purple heart. I-I can’t take this. Every morning, I look at it…I feel ashamed. This is some kind of reward, but I never felt I did anything heroic. You did….you saved my life and-I talked to your wonderful owner….you touched the lives of the people you met. You met people in the worst moments ever, and made them happy while a war was going on. That is a true hero….”
He then puts the metal on my saddle and walks over to me. He kisses me on the forehead. He whispers….
“Love you Joey…” With that, he is gone…..
I then let out a sigh, I lie on my stomach, suddenly having memories of not just World War 1, but of my days as a foal and when I first saw Albert….I’m quite happy even though my breathing gets heavier, I sigh as I fall into a deep sleep…..
Nearly just six or seven hours have passed since Brian saw Joey, but he and Albert wrote letters to each other.
That horse experienced more than most people do in their entire life time. As for Albert, well-he might have kids, a family to tell the tale of Joey to.
Perhaps his children will become inspired by his story and be courageous and brave like Joey is? Will Albert pass the story of Joey along, will the story become famous? Will all the history teachers in schools talk of Joey? Will there be a museum dedicated to the horse? Only time will tell really….
Brian Ephrone, well-he was able to get one of Joey’s horseshoes and nail it to his wall in his bedroom, he also drew a pencil sketch of the fine horse as well….Brian now more then ever thinks of the day he saw Joey, he has not one photograph of he and Joey together, but he remembers him like he knew him for years.
The sun is now setting, Brian goes outside with a cup of tea. He is wearing a dark black suit, his hair is slicked back.
He goes outside on his porch, looking off in the direction of Devonshire. Thinking of what Joey is doing right now at this very moment, thinking of what Brian said, or just eating hay and nothing else is entering his brain!
Ephrone began thinking to himself. Memories like these, people making connections and getting over horrible experiences is what makes life amazing….life has ups and downs, but in the end we learn something from everything. The horse taught Brian more than any school teacher ever did, the memory of war is still there-but not as prominent, he now uses it as a teaching tool for people. Brian’s last thought before heading to bed was, if there is an afterlife-which is possible, but not provable, will Brian see Joey? Will Joey be his young self, not plagued by war? Will it be just like it was when the horse and Albert met? Will Joey just be in complete, undying happiness and love, like any animal or human should be?
Thinking of Joey not being in the war, made Brian smile sweetly-only time will tell whether or not any of this will happen, but the thought of it made the retired soldier safe-thinking of Joey being out of harms way made him feel happy. He then went off to take a walk-reminiscing about the day, sort of a bitter sweet feeling. Knowing that, while he’d never forget meeting this perfect horse, he’d never see him again-he made sure to treasure his moments with Joey-for these memories, he would take care of, for he would not ever relive them.