After the accident, the doctor said there might be some effects from the medication: headache, sleepiness, dry mouth and some nausea. The doctor rolled off a litany of maladies, none of which I focused on as he checked them off on a clipboard. My only thought was to get out of the hospital, away from the sterile, white environment where I’d been hooked up to alien-looking machines that did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. I didn’t recall the doctor saying anything about disorientation or unusual dreams, so when it first happened I just chalked it up to one of the side effects I hadn’t listened to, but when it happened again, I knew I had to do something, so I’ll tell you.
The first dream came to me when I was still in the hospital. I was reliving the accident and my body reacted viscerally, my muscles twitched involuntarily as I watched my car skid into the semi, avoiding the rider-less horse, the side mirror attaching itself to its reins. I woke in sweat, remembered the horse’s terrorized eyes and the steel hooves as he reared in an attempt to free himself. I called out and I vaguely remember the nurse giving me something. I fell back to sleep, this time into a much deeper sleep; a sleep that took me far beyond this world and into the next.
I was riding a blue horse–flying really–through the star fields. Below us was a lake, a waterfront surrounded by green hills. We landed in pasture land and I watched as a herd of horses grazed peacefully until a white mare lifted her head and whinnied, announcing the arrival of their leader. I looked up at the hill and saw nothing, but around me, fierce winds began to howl and then a funnel cloud appeared. It lifted the lake up into the heavens taking with it horses of every shape, color, and size. Swirling madly like a carousel in a cloud, their bodies evaporating before my eyes until there was nothing left.
I looked back at the top of the hill, hoping to find some explanation, but found none. Instead, what emerged through the vapor was a huge, dark warhorse with his rider and they were galloping towards me. Only I was wrong, and the closer he came to me the more I could see the rider I had mistaken to be on his back, was merged with the horse’s body. This wasn’t a horse and rider at all, but a centaur. The man’s head with the chiseled features of a warrior and his torso, bare-chested, lean and muscular, were merged with the body of the horse. I panicked and wanted to run, but could not. My feet sunk in the mud. And the closer he came to me, I could see his glassy eyes pinned to mine. In his hand, he held a spear high above his head, the arrow aimed directly at my heart.
Then coming to a stop, he said, “My name is Chiron, I am the leader of the centaurs and I have called you here for a reason.”
I was numb. My heart beating so fast I feared I couldn’t breathe. The creature I thought to be only mythical, certainly not anything possibly related to the modern world, was speaking to me and as he did, he lowered his spear.
“Yours was not an accident,” the Centaur said. “I needed to get your attention. To test you. And I am pleased. I sent the horse onto the freeway and you did precisely as I would have wanted you to do. Saving the horse at great peril to yourself.”
Again I tried to move, but my feet refused me, frozen in mud while my heart raced. I was paralyzed with fear, the type of fear that blurs fact and fiction, and transcends the subconscious. So powerful, that when I awoke the only words I could remember were, “Cynthia, we need your help.”
In college, I studied Greek Mythology. I found it a basis for all story telling and played with it casually, writing short stories here and there while pursuing a career in journalism. I didn’t give it much credence, good cocktail conversation, that type of thing, nothing more. I’d entertain friends with stories about Greek Gods and their desires. Most like Zeus, whose lust for mortals and his ability to transcend himself both for seduction and revenge, were always popular. Topics for late night parties and what not, but I never took them seriously. I certainly thought my casual interest in their history might be because I was possessed, or even targeted. It wasn’t until after the dreams began that I realized just how powerful that connection was and how wrong I’d been.
Ironic, isn’t it? That’s how people in the modern world like to refer to it. We use terms like serendipitous and coincidence, but I’m here to tell you, it’s more than that. Allow me to explain.
A month after the accident, I was assigned by a magazine to do some freelance work for a story concerning horse slaughter and the reopening of some slaughterhouses for the first time in this country in nearly four years. On the site of a proposed plant, standing atop the kill shoot, stood a Texas state Congresswomen, a Ms. Barbara Bloodworthy, also known by those of us in the press as BB, or ‘Bad Babs,’ for her ability to twist a phrase and manipulate facts in her favor. Ms. Bloodworthy was leading the charge to reopen a slaughterhouse, riding a bill she believed would provide jobs and rally voters to her cause, ensuring her fledgling career. I stood there, with a group of journalist as she waxed on, an obviously canned speech, about the beauty of America’s horses and the unfortunate times which had befallen them and the need for us as concerned citizens to step forward, and ‘do the right thing.’
Only thing was, in Ms. Bloodworthy’s estimation, the ‘right thing,’ amounted to murder. That’s when the first flashback happened. I started to feel lightheaded and the blurred vision of Chiron, came to me, his voice was clear as a bell.
“You need to stop this, for every horse that is killed a part of man dies with it. You have to make them understand. I’ll do my part, you do yours.”
I watched as Ms. Bloodworthy continued to speak, reporters gathered around her, cameras running, microphones extended into her face as she pointed to a pen of desolate looking horses, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, their heads hung low, their coats matted, their manes and tails mangy-looking. With her hair neatly piled upon her small, pointed head, and dressed in an ill-fitting pantsuit that did little to hide her pare-shaped behind – despite her three-inch red high heels – she continued to define their sorry state.
“They’re ill and left to die on the range for lack of food and water, and many,” she said smiling into the cameras, “because of the tough economic times, continue to be turned out by their owners who can no longer afford to stable and feed them. On the open range, they breed, doubling their herd size every four years.” I wondered from where she pulled those numbers. If that were so, our lands would have been overrun years ago. Then she added, wiping a tear from her eye for effect’s sake, “They’re starving, thirsty and it’s up to us, to humanely find a solution…”
She turned on her stiletto heels and gestured to the plant behind her. As she did, a crow flew from out of nowhere above our heads. Dive-bombed us all. Ms. Bloodworthy began to bob and weave as the bird appeared to target in on her. As she did, she lost her balance, falling perilously to the bloodstained cement floor below.
Thud! There was an eerie silence. We all looked at one another, shocked, then peered over the edge of the shoot at her motionless body, lying twisted and broken on the floor beneath us. The following day, news of Ms. Bloodworthy’s accident trumped the slaughter story, the papers giving more attention to ‘the unfortunate incident,’ and little attention to the proposed reopening of the slaughter house.
Paralyzed, that’s what the doctors said, but not one could account for the even stranger phenomena that Ms. Bloodworthy had lost her ability to speak. Instead, all that remained of Ms. Bloodworthy’s voice was a meek bray, like that of a donkey, braying for its herd.
As I’ve said before, the Greek Gods imposed their will upon mortals and so did their centaurs, of which there were two groups. Both were followers of the wine god Dionysus, and subject to the dangers of drink. The larger and more wild herd were flesh-eating creatures, known for carrying off young maidens. I often think that is why so many young girls love horses; unbeknownst to them, their hearts are being stolen by the centaur. But the smaller group, those led by Chiron, they were scholars, physicians, and prophets, who understood the future and warned their brethren of its dangers.
The dark horse came to me in another dream after Ms. Bloodworthy was paralyzed. He flew me through the star fields and back to the lake where he left me to wait for Chiron, alone, next to the lake in the silence of the lapping waters. Then he appeared, out of the mist, his skin hot and sweaty, his breathing hard, as though he had been running.
“Now that you’ve seen what did to Ms. Bloodworthy, you understand what it is I can do.” His eyes were like deep pools penetrating mine, searching for my understanding. I could smell alcohol on his breath.
“You’ve been drinking,” I said.
“And it is only the beginning. There is so much more.”
I knew he was right and I watched as he morphed before me from horse to man. His powerful horse body shrinking from that an equine creature into that of a barefoot man with but a loin cloth. I couldn’t help but feel stirred by the change. I was captivated.
isH Now if you think this strange, you must remember, Greek mythology is full of stories of vengeance and transformation. Zeus had not only transformed himself into a bull to attract Europa, a Phoenician princess but again into a swan to attract Leda, the wife of the king of Sparta. Poseidon transformed himself into a stallion and impregnated the Gorgon Medusa with Pegasus, the flying horse, and again with Euryale, the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, to father Orion. Why wouldn’t the centaur do the same to save his earthly herd?
“We need more stories in the press,” he whispered in my ear. I was aroused, uncontrollably, completely under his power. Then putting his hand behind my neck, and pulled my head close to his and stared into my eyes. “More people need to understand what is about take place.”
With my forehead pressed close to his, I could see the vision. The horses, thousands of them, wild horses, race horses, workhorses, those that had grown too old, or simply no longer useful to their owners prodded with cattle prods. Up through the shoot. Mercilessly. The sound of their screams – yes, horses do scream. Their cries still wake me at night. But it’s smell, the smell of blood and death in the air that excites them. Aware something is not right, they kick at the sides of the shoot until a steel door drops before them and they are shot. A deadbolt through the brain or knifed, their throats slit. If they are lucky, they die then. But some, still semi-conscious feel a cold chain slipped beneath their hooves before a gaffer’s hook suspends them above the kill floor. It is there they are left to bleed out.
“I don’t control the press,” I said, “I can only cover the stories…”
“Then I will give you better stories,” he said.
Again, I smelled the alcohol on his breath. “Better?” My voice shook, as I pulled away, freeing my head from his grasp.
“Do you really think Ms. Bloodworthy is human?” A slow smile crossed his face, his thin lips pulling wide across his large white teeth. I thought I caught a look of satisfaction in his eye. “Because if you do, you underestimate me, and what I’m prepared to do to stop the slaughter.”
That’s when I understood, just like all the stories I had read in college when the Greek Gods wanted revenge there was no accounting for how they might go about it.
“You’ve transferred her body into that of a horse,” I said.
“Not just any horse, but the small burro, the first in line for slaughter. Sad isn’t it? How she won’t be able to appreciate her win when the plant opens. But then again,” he said, pausing with a sinister smile, “perhaps she will, first hand.”
I gasped, then realized the centaur was surprised by my reaction.
“You think we don’t feel? You think because we are animals, beasts of burden, as people like to say, we don’t feel? Just like you? Don’t mourn the loss of a member of our herd, don’t bond with those whom we let climb upon our backs, those whom we’ve carried into battle, over fences, into races, competitions, stood soulfully with and watched as the sun set, or cherished the wind against our bodies? We feel all this, and more. Yet still we are treated like we are a disposable commodity. You need to stop that.”
“Stop that? Just how do you propose I do that? I’ve tried to write the stories, I’ve tried to tell those who would listen.”
“It’s not enough. But I promise you, for every horse, for every member of my herd that is slaughtered, another member of your herd will take their place. Write that! That’s what you need to write. Tell them when the plant opens that for every horse’s death there will be the death of another human spirit. Then tell me your people cannot close the plants.”
With that he stepped away, morphed back into the body of a centaur, then turned and galloped into the darkness. The white horse came to me, and we flew back through the star fields and when I woke, I knew I had a new story to tell.
A week later, there was a press conference. Ms. Bloodworthy’s people gathered outside the proposed site for the re-opening of the slaughter plant, while a group of protestors, with signs displaying the bloody execution of horses, stood a hundred yards away, chanting their discontent. A spokesman for Ms. Bloodworthy’s team stood up and greeted us as a white van pulled slowly to the front of the building. We all watched as the driver jumped out, then lowered a ramp and out came Ms. Bloodworthy, seated in a wheelchair, her head strapped to a headboard, her hands and legs immobile. The look in her eye was dull as they wheeled her to the top of the stage. Beneath her was a corral of horses, a sampling for the press of the proposed first offering; specially selected for their weakened condition. My eyes went to the small burro pressed against the fence, as far away from the ramp as possible, his dark eyes pleading. I wondered if anyone noticed as Ms. Bloodworthy was presented with a scroll honoring her work, or that her eyes, all that she could move, rolled to the corral and focused on the small burro. As the audience applauded, Ms. Bloodworthy brayed.
So this is my story. I’ve told it to you, like the ancients told their stories, handed down generation by generation. And I’ll repeat what the centaur told me, ‘for every horse we kill, we kill a part of ourselves.’ I like to think the storytelling will make a difference, after all, the Greeks taught us we are mere mortals, and they are always watching.
About the Author
Nancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in news and talk radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. But it wasn’t until after she retired that she was able to write fiction full-time. Much of what Silverman writes about is pulled from events that were reported on from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms where she spent the bulk of her career. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Bruce, and two standard poodles.