So it’s Sunday, which means it’s the day where I share a new story with you, mainly to keep me writing different things, but also to share my craft with you. Writing like all art is something that you get better at, and even then there are all sorts of fiddly techniques that separate writers. I love Sundays because it gives me an excuse to show what’s going on inside my head, week by week, giving you a taste of my work.
This weeks story is about a less than trustworthy person, trying to sell an animal without giving all of the details. The name of the story “Sold as Seen” is a phrase I came to loathe in the horse industry, usually because it would be uttered when someone brought their horse back, demanding to know why its insides were made of ticky tack.
I also wanted to write a story about the people who give their time to training magical mounts found in folklore and fantasy literature, because I can tell you now, they don’t just start that way. The idea that something with the already dangerous mentality of a horse could then fly off in the sky would be a terrifying prospect for the first person on the animal, or it could be a lot of fun, people are very weird after all.
Tonight i’m going to watch Wednesday 13, which if you don’t know is a strange band that prefer to stay as far away from seriousness as possible. My partner, Holly asked if I wanted to go, and as it provided both music and horror themes, I was happy to say yes. We’re also going to Bat out of Hell, the Meatloaf musical, and I don’t really know what to expect their, but i’m sure it will be very Meatloafy.
Sold as Seen
By Bradley Heywood
So my little girl wanted a pony, which was another way of saying that we were getting a pony. I don’t know very much about ponies, vaguely aware that they are sort of like horses, or in some cases they are horses, but suited for little girls. I got a number from a friend, who told me that there was a place you could get all sorts of deals, but i should be aware that shifty stuff does go on. So there’s me, and my daughter, Rebecca, looking at what I can only assume is a very respectable establishment. They had a sign with a horse on it, which to me signified the overall quality of the place. We were greeted by a rather short woman, blonde hair back in a pony tail, and a perpetual smile that never quite left her face.
‘Erm, hello,’ I said as the little blonde woman came over. ‘is this New Gate stables?’
‘Home of the finest steeds known to mankind,’ said the woman. ‘the first step on a long road of fulfilling every little girls fantasies.’
‘Yeah,’ I answered, and ‘right,’ I said with a shrug. I wonder how many times a year she had to say that, it was certainly laid on thick, but my daughter Maddie didn’t seem to mind. I could tell by the way her eyes had begun to shine that I was going to leave here with something I knew far too little about, and a much lighter nap account.
She led us a long plank of mud, which rested in thick mud, sprinkled with old straw. She waved her arm over at the fields in the distance, where blotches of colour contrasted with the green grass.
‘All of these fields belong to us, and we take great pride in acquiring the most allusive and respectable of bloodlines from the breeds of the world.’
‘That’s nice,’ I said as politely as possible, watching the smile flicker at the corner of the blonde woman’s mouths. I could tell by the way she said it that she wanted me to clap or something, but I didn’t get it, i’m not sure Maddie did either, but she was happy enough seeing horses.
‘So what is it exactly that you’re looking for?’ asked the woman smiling. Her eyes made a quick assessment of me as I struggled to convincingly think before having to admit that I didn’t actually know anything about horses, when Maddie pipped in her usual straight shooting manner.
‘I want a pony.’
‘And what sort of pony are you after, my dear?’ asked the blonde woman.
‘The bestest pony you’ve got,’ said Maddie with a nod. ‘i’m sure i’ll know it when I see it.’
the blonde woman nodded, and then took us through a door, which led into a shed full of sand, and coloured plastic poles.
‘As you can see we do not only provide exquisite animals, but we also train them,’ said the blonde woman. ‘ah, here’s Becky, and Charlie with Spirit.’
Now I don’t know much about horses, but I was fairly sure that they didn’t have wings, but being dragged by two girls was a white horse with large feathery wings.
‘What sort of horse is that white one then?’ I asked, to which I knew was the wrong question, as the blonde woman’s eyes almost rolled out of her head.
‘It’s a grey horse,’ she said, believing that the matter was suddenly resolved.
‘That’s great,’ I said. ‘do lots of horses have wings?’
‘Only pegasi have horses,’ said the blonde woman, who had decided that the winged horse was much more interesting than I was.
One girl held the reins of the horse, while the other began to play around with the saddles, flapping the stirrups, and leaning on the horses back, which even I could tell wasn’t what the horse wanted. It’s face stretched into snarl, and it’s nostrils flared, and suddenly I was shocked that something so girly could look so demonic. I was a little worried, but the girls seemed to know what they were doing, and before long there was one of them on the horses back.
‘As you see, we take the time to train each of our horses properly, understanding that there isn’t a single method to apply to all horses.’
I nodded, certainly it looked like they knew what they were doing, but I couldn’t help notice the way the riders face would shift every now and then, usually when the horse would snort.
‘Go and set up the jumps for us will you, Becki,’ said the blonde woman. Becki nodded, and as she set up the jumps. It was all very professional.
‘These horses come all the way from Greece,’ said the blonde woman looking at me unblinking. ‘do you know where that is?’
I nodded, and she continued onward, telling me about the temperament, and involvement in the equestrian sport, and then I zoned out as I watched the girl riding start to struggle as she attempted to control a bad-tempered horse who was slowly taking to the air.
‘Look, Daddy’ said Maddie. ‘she’s flying.’
The blonde woman turned over to the flying horse, which was now spiralling through the air, knocking apart each of the poles, much to the dismay of its crying rider.’
‘Get your horse under control, Charlie,’ said the blonde woman with an absent air of a respectably trained equestrian.
The girl called Charlie pulled on the reins, and sat remarkably well for a girl flying through the air upside down, but the horse wasn’t at all interested, and after several loops in the air, reminiscent of an air show, the rider fell to the ground with a hard thud in the shallow sand, and the horse contained upwards where it finally rested in the rafters of the roof.
‘Can I have that one, Daddy?’ asked Maddie.
‘No!’ I cried loudly, then remembered that fighting with children could be dangerous, and I didn’t want Maddie growing up and joining some pegasus biker gang just to spite me. ‘I think that horsey is a little too big for you, so why don’t we find you something a little more you.’
‘Well, this is a place of learning and patience,’ said the blonde woman slightly more flustered than I think she enjoyed people seeing. ‘it happens all the time, so it’s nothing to worry about.’
‘It happens all the time?’ I asked curiously.
‘No, not all the time,’ she said. ‘but we deal with horses of varying degrees of competence, and we only pair animal with equally skilled rider.’
I nodded, not really believing her, mainly because a history of people who try and explain what they definitely don’t do, which translated into as long as they weren’t caught doing it.
She led us out of the area, and down a narrow corridor between two grey buildings crafted from rusting sheet metal, where we were greeted by the smell of smoke, a blackened face man, and a horse with eight legs.
‘How is it going, Adam?’ called the blonde woman.
The man waved back, but was focused on the task at hand, which currently involved carving bits of the many legged horse’s hooves.
‘So what’s going on here then?’ I asked.
‘Adam is our farrier,’ said the blonde woman. ‘that means farrier. He’s currently putting shoes on Sleipnir, one of our special ponios.’
‘That looks like hard work,’ I said pointing at the horses hooves, which varied from clean and even hooves, to odd-shaped, and cracked.
The farrier looked up at me with a pained look. ‘It’s bloody murder on ye back is what it is,’ he said with a sniff.
‘But it has to be done,’ said the blonde woman with an unpleasing chuckle.
‘Do you have to do this a lot?’ I asked the farrier, who looked at the horse with a shrug.
‘Bout every six t’ seven weeks.’
‘And how much does that cost?’ I asked.
‘Depends on’t farrier,’ he said, carving shavings of hoof onto the floor, which a tiny little dog then chased after to consume. ‘but if ya riding a lot, then ya gonna need a good farrier, and with as many feet as ‘e’s got you’re gonna be set back some.’
‘Do they need shoes?’ I asked. The farrier had finished smoothing out a hoof in the short time I had spoke to him, and was half-way through another. He was a master of his craft, which involved not only getting things the right shape, but also dealing with an animal that could at any moment kick you with one of its eight legs.
‘Depends really,’ said the farrier. ‘if you’re out on the roads then i’d advise it. No hoof no horse as they say, but your biggest problem without having a farrier is checking for hoof problems.’
‘And that’s bad is it?’
‘Course. Take, Sleepy here,’ he said wagging a heavy, hairy leg at me. ‘he might ‘ave all these legs, but each one can ‘ave something go wrong with it. White ones can be prone to being softer. Then there’s over-reaching, navicular, that’s kinda like arthritis, all sorts really. Luckily Sleepy’s breed are Scandinavian.’
‘Does being Swedish help?’ I asked.
‘They’re an ‘ardy breed,’ said the farrier. ‘not always the best for work, but they’re pretty enough, not that i’d get one.’
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘They cost an arm and a leg, and i’m taking as many as he’s got. That’s the trouble with ‘em, gotta wait for some other bloke to try and put up a wall with his stallion, before you can get another.’
‘Well come on,’ said the blonde woman, pushing us on. ‘that’s, Adam. When you’re finished i’ll send Charlie over to take him back to is stable once she’s regained consciousness.’
We were taken into the stables, where the air was thick with sweat and hey. We were led to a stable, where a young girl, covered with bruises, was brushing a horse with a single great horn from the centre of its head.
‘This is Uni,’ said the blonde woman. ‘he’s a unicorn, and being brushed by one of our lovely grooms.’
The young girl smiled weakly, then continued with brushing the horse. The animal was magnificent, all white, with a mane that shimmered like an abalone shell. It’s eyes were a powder blue, and as I watched the animal munch on its hey I felt a sense of peace wash over me.
‘He’s a remarkable horse,’ said the blonde woman.
‘I want that one, Daddy,’ said Maddie, and I have to say that the idea wasn’t completely without promise. I went to open my mouth, to ask about the horn on its head, when the animal decided rather abruptly to try and rub its head on the little girl brushing it.
She let out a cry of shock, and almost vanished into the bedding, while the animal ran its spilling horn up against the wall, sending tiny golden sparks all around it.
‘Are you alright?’ I called at the little girl, who appeared moments later, much closer to the door.
‘It happens a lot,’ she said, looking down at the scrapes and bruised on her arms.
‘Horses will be horses,’ said the blonde woman with a chuckle. ‘even the magical ones like a good head scratch every now and then.’
‘Yeah but at least with a normal horse it’s less likely to come away with your eyeball on the end of its horn,’ I pointed out.
‘It’s called an alicorn,’ said the blonde woman.
‘Well i’m sure i’ll need that just incase I witness a unicorn related fatality. It will help save time when describing the murder weapon to the police.’
‘I don’t think that’s the right attitude to have,’ said the blonde woman. ‘the unicorn has a lot to offer a young girl.’
‘I agree. We could use it to demonstrate the proper way to make kebabs.’
The blonde woman didn’t laugh, and Maddie was still staring at the horse, and all I could think was this was the perfect way to take an already dangerous animal and make it into a deadly weapon.
‘So what benefits do you get from unicorns then?’ I asked.
‘Well for a start they can only be ridden by virgins.’
‘I’ll take it,’ I said, then leant down to Maddie. ‘Look what Daddies bought you love, but you have to promise me that you won’t be interested in boys, otherwise you won’t be allowed to ride it anymore, ok?’
Maddie nodded, her mouth in a great grin.
‘How long do they live?’ I asked.
‘They do not die,’ said the blonde woman. ‘they leave once their master has passed over, so they can find someone else who is worthy.’
‘That’s great,’ I said half-listening. ‘Do you take a check?’
It turns out that she didn’t, so I had to nip off to find a cash machine, while Maddie stayed and learnt all about unicorn care. By the time I had returned Maddie was covered in dirt, while she brushed the powdery white hairs on the horses hooves. I sorted out the rest of the money, and they said they would send us the horse over the next few days, and Adam the farrier even offered to do the horses hooves for us.
What happened next wasn’t what I would call a particular sound investment. Adam had given me some rather startling news concerning the unicorn and the type of shoes it would need.
‘What do you mean it needs silver shoes?’ I asked calmly. Adam just shrugged.
‘Well that’s the things with unicorns,’ he said chewing his lip, his face the same grubby black. ‘i’m surprised she didn’t tell you that when you bought it. To be honest you’d have been better off with a Sleipneir. Cheaper anyways, and they don’t bugger off on you.’
‘What do you mean, bugger off?’ I asked coldly, my eyes narrowed to a slit.
‘Well,’ he said gesturing to the open space where the unicorn had been five minutes before I went off to make me and Adam some tea. ‘as you can see the horse isn’t here.’
‘Where is it!’ I cried, looking up and down the yard. ‘Maddie’s going to kill me when she finds out.’
‘Don’t worry about it, mate,’ said Adam, taking a slup of his dark tea. ‘ probably just up on the Bifrost.’
‘The what?’ I asked.
‘God you don’t know your Norse mythology, do ya mate,’ he said shaking his head. ‘The rainbow road to Asgard? Ring any bells?’
‘Not really no.’
‘Well I wouldn’t worry too much,’ he said taking another swig. ‘it’ll come back.’
‘But how can you be so sure?’ I asked nervously.
‘How do you think we got the Sleppy in the first place, eh?’ he said waving his tea at me. ‘The thing you have to learn about unicorns is they’re kind of like cats. Like to do their own thing.’
‘Cat’s don’t cost me a years wages in shoes,’ I said bitterly.
‘You’re right there, mate,’ Adam said grinning. ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll come back tomorrow, hopefully he’s had enough of it up there, and you don’t know, might bring you a friend.’
The idea made my blood curdle and then freeze, but luckily by the time Maddie had come home from school, the unicorn had come back. Then we had our second set of problems, which was no matter how hard Maddie tried, she couldn’t sit on the back of the horse.
I called up the stables where we had bought the horse, trying to keep the anger from my voice, as I asked why were we having such issues.
‘Is she a virgin?’ asked the blonde woman’s voice down the line.
‘Oh course she’s a virgin,’ I said. ‘she’s only eight.’
There was a pause, and then the voice asked me if Maddie was pure of heart.
‘What does that mean?’ I demanded.
‘Does she put others before herself? Does she tend to the wicked, even though they have killed her family? Is she benevolent above all else?’
‘She’s eight,’ I told her. ‘it’s a good day if she will do her homework. You didn’t tell me that she needed to be good to ride the bloody thing.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said the voice down the line. ‘but we have a strict sold as seen policy.’
‘and what does that mean?’ I asked.
‘It means that all sales are final, and if you want your daughter to ride the horse, i’d suggest you tell her to focus on being more humble.’
I hung up, and walked over to Maddie, who was now brushing the unicorn. I could see a strange look on her face, as she was realising something, and I didn’t know how to tell her that the horse she loved, the one that was costing me a very sunny holiday, wouldn’t be able to be ridden.
‘Daddy,’ she said. ‘I think there’s something wrong with Uni.’
‘Look, Love,’ I began. ‘you have to realise that both the unicorn and i love you very much, but I don’t think you’re going to be able to ride him, not yet anyway.’
‘Ok,’ said Maddie. ‘can I still pet him and feed him?’
I wanted to cry, but instead I took her up in my arms, and buried my head into her eight year old face, which smelt of strawberry shoe-laces, mud, and unicorn spit. I put her down, and helped her groom the horse, tying close attention to Maddie’s instructions, out of fear of her reaction when i’d use the wrong brush on the horses mane, leg, or face.
Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad, the price of the thing was extortionate to run, and the farmer had told me that i’d need to put a cork on the end of the things pointer, just so it didn’t kill anyone else’s horse, but Maddie was happy. She had her horse, and even if it was a dangerous, rainbow jumping idiot, at least he was hers.