July 2009 Story Contest

Endurance by HayashiOkami & Dark Steel age 14

Through the eyes of someone’s who’s lived through the horrors of the world…as well as the more of often forgotten, happier ones.

There isn’t much of my life that I can recall anymore, especially the beginning, where it all began.  Although I do not remember her name or her exact looks, I do remember my mother as being a kind, protective mare.  She was as hardy as our breed, the Hokkaido Pony, came, unafraid to defend the two of us if the need ever arose.  I stuck to her side like glue, I suppose, just as every other foal does to their mothers, but I can’t forget that safe feeling I got from staying at her side.  I must have had a father, but I know nothing of him, and I don’t think that I ever knew him at all.  If I think hard enough, I can also remember there being lots of other horses and ponies around.  We lived in a big, mixed up herd, and I know that I had friends once, but they’ve all been washed away by time.

I don’t know where we lived, only that there was an ever-present endless blue, but it was not the sky.  No, that blue was wilder than the sky, and it turned an angry black sometimes, and it scared me.  My mother’s presence calmed me though, made me feel safe.

When the humans came, everything changed.  The events are blurry, and I can only recall screaming for my mother as they took me away.  Those humans were unlike any creature I’ve ever seen, even now, after I’ve traveled everywhere.  There is no creature besides man that walks upon two legs in the manner that they do, there is no creature that contains such cruelty, I’m sure, and there is no creature that can love as man does either.

Upon awaking from the blackness that had fallen over me (although I do not recall ever blacking out), I was exposed to a horrible, brutal world, and it was not the last time I would see it.  I couldn’t move and it scared me, and it still scares me.  I remember always being able to move freely as I liked, and here I was trapped.  Hundreds of others, all screaming, were squished into one small pen.  I was screaming too. The ground was invisible and the sky seemed so far away.  We stayed like that for a long time, until the humans came.

One by one, the horses and pones were picked off by the overseeing humans.  I didn’t understand it.  When the ground cleared up, the minimal amount of us left began to prance in nervousness.  The humans had come and gone and only a few remained.  I was exhausted and so wished to lie down and rest, but instinct kept me on my feet.  I longed for the safety of my mother and I longed for this to all be just one horrid dream.  I would wake and cry for my mother and then she would comfort me and by the time afternoon came along, I would have completely forgotten all about it.  But I soon learned that hopes were futile and useless things here.

It was dark and all but a few of the humans had gone.  The horses and ponies left fled to the opposite end of the corral where some of them, so exhausted, collapsed upon their sides and refused to rise for whatever reason.  The gate that trapped us opened then, and a human came into the corral.  He carried a rope, which as I learned that day, was to tie upon our heads so that man can control and tame our wild souls.  As he came closer, we scattered.  It was a sort of test, to see which was the most unfortunate and would be taken by the humans.  Selfish thoughts were the only kind that filled out heads, for we all silently screamed:

Not me!  Take them instead!

My turn had come.  A few more humans joined the one to surround me, ropes in hand.  I screamed and fled and, not knowing my own strength at the time, turned heel and ran each time I sped up to a human.  Even being so small, I could have barreled them down if I tried.  Eventually I was caught because I was exhausted and they were too good at their jobs.  The ropes chafed my skin when I tried to pull away.  Tied about my head, I felt so trapped, like a deer in the jaws of a wolf.

There was a human waiting when we exited the corral.  The men holding me gave him the ropes on my head and he gave them a wad of paper and shiny coins.  The new man gave me a kind look and tugged at the ropes.  That meant, “follow me”, but now I would have none of that and reared upon my hind legs and kicked pulled and with all my might.  I ended up being half pushed and half dragged into a metal box.  It was dark and enclosed and I hated it, but could not break free.  I hung my head in defeat and slept.

The sun woke me the next day.  Before I knew it, I was being dragged out of the box and I all too willingly complied.  After I was out, though, I tried to make a break for it, and that got me nowhere.  There were other humans there now, and it was they who dragged me out into the grassy field fenced in by white.  For a moment, I recall that I thought about home.  This place reminded me of home, although I can no longer remember what I was recalling.

The next couple of days were surreal.  I stayed in that field for most of the day.  I soon learned that there were other horses here, in the adjoining field.  I was learning a lot.  Such as, those other horses gladly talked to me over the fence.  They were an interesting bunch.  However, when the humans led them away to another field, this one covered in sand, they completely ignored me.  When I inquired about this behavior, they responded that it would upset the masters if they were to become distracted while riding them.  That was another thing.  I could not comprehend why humans wished to ride upon the backs of horses and why those horses even allowed them to do so.  They did not answer that question.

In particular, there were two horses that talked to me the most.  They taught me what I needed to know and were very patient about it all.  One was an Arabian mare called Rising Sun, the other a Thoroughbred stallion called Midnight Star.  Upon my inquiry about their strange names, they asked for mine.  I said that I was called Shinobu.  They laughed at how silly it sounded, and I let out a huff and trotted off to the other side of my field for the day.

One day, one that I would not forget so easily, came.  A human came into my field, but it was not to clean it or feed me.  He held one of those contraptions that were to be tied about a horse’s head, much like the rope.  We played a game of tag for a while, but it the end he caught me.  He wrestled my head into the thing and I almost succeeded in biting him.  I was led out of the field kicking and screaming, and then we arrived at that sandy field.

I refuse!” I thought. “I refuse to let them upon my back!

Even though I cannot forget what happened, it is only the basic principal that I can recall.  I do remember the insecurities I felt, how I figured out that, this whole process wasn’t too bad at all, that it didn’t hurt much and that I was rewarded nicely when I let them put the bridle and saddle on me.  I just cannot remember the physical happenings.

This went on for a few days, until I’d learned to do all of the basic things the other horses did.  I began to stay with the other horses and ponies and I no longer had to stay outside when it rained heavily, although I did not truly mind the rain.  Somehow, it reminded me of home, but by then, the memories of that time were already fading.

Even though I’d been trained, no one had ridden me and I wondered why.  Rising Sun, whom I affectionately called Sun, told me that I was too small for the masters to ride.  I flicked my ears in annoyance and retaliated that I wasn’t that delicate.  Sun reminded me of our height difference and I let the subject drop until the next time.

Sun, will someone ride me?” I asked.

Oh, but I thought that you did not want anyone to ride you at all,” she said softly.  I stared up at her, glaring. “Oh, fine then.  I’ll tell you.  The master has a young daughter and she will be the one to ride you.

Oh…and when she grows up?” I said, realizing that I would no longer serve a purpose at that point.

Who knows?” said Rising Sun.

The rest of the day was uncharacteristically gloomy.

A few days from then Rising Sun’s prediction came true.  Sometime around noon, a little human came bounding to the fence.  She had a head of curly blonde hair and wore clothing similar to what the adult humans wore.  The girl stood on the bottom bar of the fence and peered out over the field.  The master came up behind her and smiled.  They talked and the girl was happy and bubbly and the master calm and fatherly.  I was sorely reminded of the mother I no longer had, the mother I had been torn away from.  The master came into the field with the head contraption (that was a halter, I now knew) and led me away.  Behind me, I heard Rising Sun and Midnight Star wish me luck.

I was led to the barn where we horses slept in the bad weather and where we were prepared to be ridden.  I was surprised when the young human started to groom and saddle me.  She didn’t do as great a job as the grooms did of course, but she was smiling proudly when she finished.  I tolerated the grooming but not the saddling.  The girl placed the blankets on my back and that was fine.  Then she hefted the saddle on me with the help of her father.  It felt uncomfortable, but I knew that it was only temporary; the grooms always adjusted it later.

The girth strap was next and I absolutely hated that, after all, what horse didn’t object to it?  Such a suffocating feeling it was.  Although I was scolded for it many times, I puffed out by belly and held my breath, and let it back out a moment later when the girth was drawn sharply up.  I neighed and tossed my head in protest, craning my neck to bite the offending hands that hurt me.  The master drew my head away though and corrected his daughter.  This time, he did it up and I was grateful.

The bridle was an enemy of mine and now was no different.  Refusing the bit to the point that the taller master had to put it in, I fought and fought the best I could.  The metal was nasty in my mouth and I hated it with a passion, but as always, I always lost.

The humans led me out of the barn and into the sandy field.  A block of wood that I had never seen was in the middle.  The girl brought me up to the side of it and climbed to the top.  I flicked my ears in confusion.  The master, holding my bridle, helped the girl into the saddle.  I shifted my weight to accommodate hers; I’d never had a human sit on my back before.  We walked around the field for a while, until the two of us had become familiar with each other.

Then we trotted.  I tossed my head in annoyance, since the reins kept me from going any faster than a lazing jog.  We spent some time just going around in a circle and I was content.

Once, while the girl was riding me, I spotted Midnight Star being ridden in another of the sandy fields next to us.  He was at a trot that gradually formed into a canter, and then a gallop.  I wondered what it would be like to do that with someone on your back.  For my thoughts, however, I was reprimanded, though I still stole the occasional glance at Midnight.

Sometime during that session, I heard a distressing cry coming from the other sandy field.  I recognized it as Midnight’s voice, and the sound brought a chill through my spine.  I’d never heard the brave stallion whinny like that, never.  He was always calm and composed, just like the master.  Speaking of whom, the master had run over to the fence dividing us and he was yelling at Midnight’s rider.  I twitched my ears nervously.  The girl on my back was nervous, too.

“You fool!” master shouted. “Stop this instant.” But Midnight, who had been whipped, would not stop for some reason.  It was then that I stopped walking and ignored the girl’s leg signals.  Midnight was more important.

Midnight,” I whinnied. “What’s wrong?

Midnight did not answer; he simply kept running and running until I thought that he would run himself to death.  I was not far off.

Midnight’s smooth black pelt was washed in sweat and foam ran out of his mouth.  He was no longer running at his usual, even pace, but at a rough, desperate one.  I knew that he was bound to have a misstep, running as he was, and so did master.

“Stop him, you!  Stop him!” he shouted, but it was useless.  Midnight and his unfaithful rider rounded a corner and then it happened.

Midnight slipped at the turn, tripped, and fell upon his rider.  With total disregard to the human on my back, I cantered over to the fence.  The girl shrieked and held onto my neck. When I had craned my neck between the fence posts, the master seized my reins and the girl before tying me up and rushing to Midnight.  I neighed and tugged at the reins as he left.

Take me with you!  Midnight’s my friend!” I neighed.  The master did not listen, probably because he cannot understand our speech even though we can understand theirs.

My head swung to Midnight.  His powerful muscles throbbed with fatigue, black hair glistening with sweat, matted and covered in sand.  His nostrils flared for air and foam seeped out of his mouth.  He tried to stand and collapsed with a distressed neigh.  The master came running over to him and tried to heft the one thousand pound Midnight off his rider.  Midnight was able to regain his footing and the master led him away.  I cried out to him again, but he did not answer.  He had a bad limp in his step and I feared for his health.

Later that night Rising Sun and I stared worriedly at the barn where Midnight was being held.  We waited all night to no avail.  A man in a white coat came out shaking his head at the master.

What’s going to happen to Midnight?” I asked Rising Sun.  She didn’t answer me either.  She only spared me a sad, sad, glance before trotting off down the field.  Later, I learned the horrible truth and my faith in humans slowly dwindled.  Midnight had died.

Months later, the pain did not heal, until I learned that Sun was pregnant.  She was looking a little rounder than normal and I wondered why and she told me.  Midnight had been her mate, and that was why she had brushed me off that night, because she was so distraught.

The foal came some weeks later, and I did not see Sun or her foal for a long time.  The weather had been good lately so we weren’t put inside.  When Sun and her foal were let out, I was allowed to greet them, as the master knew we were good friends.  I stared in awe at the tiny foal, although I knew that someday it would grow taller than I.  For now though, I did feel tall.

The foal was an inquisitive little creature, and did not speak much.  He opted to stick to his mother’s side like I once did, but grew a little braver as the days wore on.  He had his father’s black coat instead of his mother’s bay one.  I had a creamy coat, and he seemed entranced at the color of it.  The colt’s name was Midnight Cloud, and I called him Cloud.  Cloud and I became fast friends.  He was a little shy, but that didn’t matter.  We were happy, the three of us.

The seasons came and went.  Cloud grew up to be as graceful a stallion as his father.  Sun retired from her jumping career to live out the rest of her life on the farm in peace.  The master’s daughter grew up as well and even when she outgrew me, I stayed on the farm to be used in horseback riding lessons for children.  The master himself made extra precaution when hiring new employees after Midnight’s terrible accident.  I had become accustom to this life and I forgot my own, even when a new filly came onto the farm from the same predicament that I had come from.  All was well.

Shinobu,” Cloud whinnied, bounding over to me.  He was out of breath. “Come quick, come quick!

What is it?” I asked as we galloped across the field.

I don’t know!” Cloud cried, shaking his head in frustration. “Some scary man’s talking to master!” That alarmed me.  I sped up, keeping a steady pace behind the taller, faster Cloud.  We reached the gate and I craned my neck and strained my ears to listen.  Cloud pranced around, agitated.

“I’m telling you to sell that horse,” said the stranger.

“I have no reason to sell him.” That was master.

“Sell him.  You won’t regret it.  I’ll trade you, then.  A purebred Thoroughbred whose lines can be traced all the way back to Eclipse.  Surely, you’d want that after your main racer had that unfortunate accident.”

“The answer is still no.”

“If you don’t believe me, I have the papers.”


“I want that pony.  It’s very rare that you get to even see one of those Hokkaido ponies let alone own one. You never see a horse directly related to Eclipse either.  Let’s trade.”

“No.  If this horse is so great, then keep him.  He can make you a good sum of money.  I will not trade.  Good day,” master stated firmly.  The man left angrily, slamming the car door behind him.  Master watched him go, and then went off to the house.

What were they talking about, Shinobu?” Cloud whinnied, nudging my shoulder.  I was stunned silent.

The man wanted to trade me for a really good racehorse,” I said, a little upset.  That man hadn’t looked very nice.  I had learned, from accompanying various horses to shows to keep them calm, that many human masters were as cruel as and crueler than the humans that first captured me.  I could tell by now, that humans were mostly out for the money we won for them.  Except for those few like master and his family, who truly cared for us.

You’re not leaving?” Cloud gasped in horror.  He dramatically tossed his head in the air, black mane flying.  I chuckled; that was Cloud, in all of his childish, dramatic glory.

Of course not, our master wouldn’t do that,” I pointed out.  Cloud nodded his head, but kept an extra close eye on me in the next few days.

I suppose I was still naïve then, even after all I’d gone through.  At the very least, I thought that I’d come to understand humans’ motives.  I never saw it coming when master had to sell us.  The stable had hit hard times in the past, but none were as immense as this one.  Master could no longer keep us, nor the land for the farm.  Slowly, everyone disappeared.  I was distraught, and felt betrayed.  I’d come to trust these humans when I could trust no others.

Ominous grey clouds hung in the sky the day I was sold.  The air was heavy with humidity and smelled strongly of that distinct before-the-rain scent.  The land had gone quiet; animals anticipated the coming storm.  In the barn, I paced my stall.  I was not completely ignorant; I knew this would be the last time I would see any of this, the stables, my adopted family, my coworkers, and the master and his daughter, and even the cat that lurked around the stables in search of mice.

Staying true to my nature, I complied as the master led me to the man that would become my new master.  As I exited the barn and stepped into the trailer that was prepared, I heard Cloud screaming shrilly, his powerful hooves smashing against the stall door.  I could not bear to say good-bye today, and regretted it as the metal doors closed.

As a sort of parting gift, master made sure that I was to be in the care of an excellent new owner.  The stable I was brought to was impeccable and pristine, its horses in top condition, but happy.  I liked it there, but it was not the home I had grown to love and cherish.  The other horses and I got along well enough, but I stilled missed Cloud and Sun immensely.  For a fortnight, the memories gave me fitful dreams and anxieties, but I knew that nothing could or would change.

Then, miracles of miracles, one of my precious family entered my life once more.  The day was pleasant and it was mid-morning, I had been out to one of my lessons earlier in the day, and all horses were turned out to pasture.  There were perhaps about five others in the field with me, all of their heads lowered, grazing upon the lush grass of spring.

Hey, Shinobu,” I voice nickered behind me.  My head shot up, partially due to the suddenness of it, but mostly because that voice was so familiar.  Also, it knew my real name, which I never bothered to use anymore.  I turned as fast as I could, head shooting up to meet the gaze of the much taller horse with a familiar bay coat.

Sun!” I cried in delight, prancing in place like one of those dancing horses. “Sun!

Nice to know I was missed,” Sun nickered, tossing her head in the air.

Of course you were!” I whinnied, touching noses with her.  We danced around the field a little while longer, chasing each other until we became dizzy.  The blazing sun had no affect on us, so immersed in our reunion we were.  That is, until I remembered a very solemn topic I had hoped to forget with time.

Have you seen Cloud?” I asked quietly, almost afraid of the answer.  Sun didn’t respond.  She wandered off towards the water trough and I trailed behind her, lost, hurt, confused.

He is very far away now,” Sun finally commented after taking a long drink, as if to prepare herself to give me the news.  I think I knew what “far away” was, as I’d come from somewhere “far away”, too. 

From that day on, Sun ceased to talk of Cloud.  She never mentioned him again, for as long as she lived, but I have a feeling that she never stopped thinking of him, her first and only son.

Sun died two summers later, whether it be of old age or grief.  Despair shook me once more and I learned all over again, for the fourth time, what losing a piece of my world was like.  For a season I was plagued with horrible, lovely memories of the days past.

Eventually I grew old, as all beings do.  My sight was not what it once was and my limbs moved far slower than I remembered.  The cold winters and breezy spring nights suddenly shook me to the very core.  In that time my owners had moved, relocating the farm to a plot of land near the beach.  The young humans had grown up, left, and come back again before my very eyes.  One of them whom I was particularly fond of visited me every day.  Sometimes she took me out to the beach nearby for a calming walk.  Her name was Cindy.

It was a particularly nice day amidst the end of spring, the perfect temperature, no humidity, a clear blue sky, and a soft breeze to finish it off.  The sea sparkled that day, the sparkle of a gem, bluer than the sky.  Cindy came out as usual, but she was not alone.  It wasn’t that unusual, as she sometimes brought friends with her on our little outings, but this person I had never taken a walk with before.  She did not look like Cindy’s friend.  She seemed tentative to come closer.  There was something I recognized about her, but I could not place it.

She was petting my muzzle, looking quite emotional as Cindy spoke kindly from the side.  There was still something about her, maybe it was that curly blonde hair, that made me think that I was missing something very important.

“Do you remember Elizabeth?” Elizabeth?  I twitched my ears, a faint flicker of recognition flashing through my mind.

Then it hit me harder than a ton of bricks.  Elizabeth was the daughter of my first owner, the little girl that rode me so long ago and here she was now, all grown up, just like the other kids, just like Cindy.  I thrust my muzzle into her hand and whinnied.  Elizabeth laughed and I faintly remembered that little girl giggling so long ago.

“She’s going to take a walk with us today.  She came all the way from the other side of town to visit you,” Cindy was saying.  Elizabeth was so happy that she was crying.  Cindy just smiled at her and led me out of my stall.  Together, we took a walk down to the beach.

The sand was easy on my hooves and the waves felt fresh at my legs.  With Cindy and Elizabeth at my sides, I couldn’t help but remember something else, something that I had completely forgotten, resurfacing.  I could not place a name on it, and I could not remember where it came from, but it made me happy.

It struck me that time had passed so quickly and for most of my life, I was always anticipating for it to move on, for my life to move on so I didn’t have to feel miserable anymore.  I wanted to live life so quickly that I could not stop and enjoy what was happening at the moment, the present.  When I looked back, I felt that it had all passed to quick and I wondered just what did I live for.  I was happy now, though, and I wanted to relish in that feeling for as long as I could and appreciate it for all those times I missed in the past.

On that nice day, it started to rain.  The sky turned black and angry grey, clouds wrapped the sky in a tight embrace.  Cindy immediately turned as around, but we’d already gone so far along the beach.  She draped her jacket across my back.

Despite the weather, I was determined to enjoy the day.  That was before I saw the black sea that looked so much like a stone and the sky that loomed fiercely above.  Another memory flashed in my mind.  A memory of that horrible sea and the feeling that made that fear go away. 

I was no longer afraid.  I could see now, see the sky, the sea, the beach, and the two angels at my side for what they truly were.  I could smell a scent so familiar, as if it were also at my side.  It was a bit like Sun’s scent, yet completely different.  It smelled of the sea, the wind, the grass.  I could hear voices, voices from the past, from the present. 

Cloud’s voice was first, followed by many other young ones with the same young lilt, yet each one was unique.  Then was Elizabeth, her father, Cindy, and her family’s voices.  Then came Midnight, who was just a faint wisp of a memory usually, in all of his mighty glory, when he had been strong and healthy.  Sun was next, her kind, kind voice carrying on the wind.  Finally, finally was another voice I could not name.  It was a mare’s soft voice, a bit like Sun’s, but hers was harsher, and just as motherly.

I could not tell what any of those voices were saying, but that really didn’t matter.  What mattered was the strange thing that I could remember everything about my life at that very moment.  It was as if a movie were playing in my head, of the life I’d lived thus far.  Those memories filled me with happiness, pain, torment, pleasure, despair, and joy.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to laugh.  I wanted to be.

I wanted my mother.  I wanted her to comfort me during the storms, I wanted her to always stay by my side.  I wanted to hear her voice say the name she had given me.  I wanted to hear, to remember, to see, more than anything.

…Shinobu…” Her voice was soft, like an angel’s, harsh as the mountains.  I could smell those mountains once more, those scents and sights flooding me.  Crisp mornings filled with dew and sunlight.  Blaring afternoons and cooling springs.

And then it was gone.  Gone, gone on the wind that left a sweet smell of flowers in the air.  And all that was left was nothingness.  Except her.

Her coat was creamy, like mine, and perfectly groomed and shining, which was strange, since I could suddenly remember that she had never looked like that.  There were no humans to brush all those who lived on that island we called home.  Her eyes, although plain brown, shone with motherly kindness.  Her mane was free of burrs and knots for the first time in her life.

Hiroko.  Mother,” I called, walking towards her, on a nonexistent ground.  We met.  Our velvety noses touched.

Then, Sun was behind my mother, and Midnight, too.  Horses and ponies that looked similar to my mother and I, or smelled similar, stood all around.  I could suddenly remember my best friends, as if I’d never forgotten them.  There was only once face that I could not find.

Cloud is happy.  He does not belong here.” Sun spoke, and she spoke with a voice that was not tinted with the pain of loss.

In fact, there is no pain here.  None at all.  Just a dream that never ends and friends and memories that never leave.


Author's Notes: I purposely left the ending ambiguous, that is, unclear and vague.  In case you’re confused, Shinobu died at the end, from old age.  He’s just seeing things, a bit like how people say that you see your life when you die.  Cloud is actually alive, but you can just imagine what kind of home he has now.  “Shinobu” means “endurance” in Japanese, and the Hokkaido pony is a breed that is known for being turned out to fend for themselves, and only the ones who survive stay in the herds.

This was a very meaningful story for me to write, and, I hope, for you to read.