Horses: Everything You Never Wanted to Know
Author: Reb Hay

Chapter 2
They Have Bad Breath

My circles are getting smaller. I dump shit in the barrow and eyeball The Shitter. 

            This is so impossibly unfair. The other year tens will have finished their scones by now, drunk their reconstituted orange juice and be on the bus heading back to school. And then—they get to go home! I don’t get to go anywhere. I’m stuck here for the entire three days. In fact (and I don’t think this is legal) I have to sleep in the same dorm as the weirdo kids I’m supposed to be minding. Unbelievable! There’s no way Instructor Woman would sleep in the same room as the inmates. What am I—the sacrifice or something? Instructor Woman said she thought we’d all get along fine. 

‘Settle in and make friends,’ she had said, shoving me into the room and locking the door behind me. 

Let me tell you: I may not be scared of horses but I am terrified of little kids. And probably allergic to them as well. So when Instructor Woman locked me in there, I nearly freaked.

‘Um … hi,’ I offered.

The kid closest to me was sitting on a bed with her back pack on her lap. She looked up and gave me a tremulous smile. ‘Hi,’ she muttered. I couldn’t see her eyes under the flop of fringe but I strongly suspected she was actually looking just over my left shoulder in the general direction of the door rather than into my eyes. And I swear I saw her hands tighten on her bag. If she could she would run and I knew just how she felt.

‘So—’ I smiled in what I hoped was an encouraging manner but the kid had gone back to fossicking in her bag, probs looking for a device or some other deviant distraction. Unless she had a secret compartment, I knew the search would be fruitless.

‘My name’s Ava,’ I said. 

The kid said something that I didn’t catch. It sounded like ‘Oh really?’ but somehow that level of sarcasm didn’t match the image I was forming. ‘Pardon?’

She flicked aside her fringe and actually looked into my eyes. ‘My name’s Lily.’

‘Cool.’ I nodded as if this were profound wisdom to ponder on. I glanced back at the door. Maybe I could pick the lock?

‘It’s going to be okay,’ a voice said and I spun back to face this new threat.

In the dim light of the room, I eventually made out the shape of kid number two. This kid was skulking by her bed. Okay, to be fair, she was sitting in her wheelchair but, in the gloom, I didn’t realise that at first.

‘Hi Ava, my name is Charlotte,’ she said wheeling her chair towards me.

Not my proudest moment, but I took an involuntary step back. ‘Cool,’ I said again and nodded. The strap of my back pack was digging into my shoulder, its weight beginning to weigh me down. I felt like I had been standing in that small dim space forever, waiting for the air to breathe.

Charlotte put her chair into reverse and spun away. ‘That’s your bed.’ She pointed to the last remaining bunk. ‘They are all pretty comfy.’

I went and dumped my bag and perched on the edge of the bed. 

Charlotte smiled. ‘It really is going to be okay. You’ll have fun.’

‘Sure.’ But I 100% doubted that.

‘The horses are beautiful and so responsive. Once you get the hang of riding, there’s nothing better.’

‘Oh, I won’t be riding.’ That I felt quite definite about.

‘Sure you will. Riding is great exercise too. That’s the main reason I’m here. To build up my core strength.’

Despite the wheelchair and all, Charlotte was less scary than Lily. The stream of idle chatter was pretty soothing. She was in for physical therapy. ‘I have to come often,’ she said.

‘Sure.’ My eyes slid off her face down to her body. I could see where therapy would come in handy. 

‘What are you in for?’ Charlotte asked.

‘Huh? Me? Oh no, I—’

Just then Instructor Woman returned. Charlotte and Lily were whisked away for ‘equine therapy’ and me—that’s when I got drafted into hard labour. And here I am.

            I edge the barrow closer. The Shitter pretends he is ignoring me. I scoop up a fresh turd he has just produced for me. What’s he trying to do: Give me job satisfaction or what?

            There is just one more pile of shit. I arm myself with my shovel and stalk forward in a strategic advance. I hold the shovel high in readiness and keep my eyes always on the enemy. The Shitter is still grazing but I can tell he’s watching me. I reach the turd and nearly stand in it because I’m eyeballing The Shitter so intently. 

This turd is a real steamer—a gift straight from the arse of the sadist. I lower my shovel and bend to start scooping. And, in that one fateful move, I let down my defences, opening myself to vicious attack.

In the split second I take my eye off him, he launches at me. There’s a snuffle in my ear. I feel his breath against my neck. I turn towards him and cop a nose-full of totally un-mint fresh breath. This mongrel is a killer.

            ‘Yah,’ I yell and stab my sword/shovel at him. 

He removes his face from my personal space. He’s on the back foot. 

‘Yah,’ I yell again and The Shitter turns and retreats.

            Ha! Victory. I empty the last turd into the barrow. Job done. I wheel the barrow, head held high on my victory parade to the gate. The Shitter sulks in the corner. Horse versus human: Nil to one.

 

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