Novel (in progress) – Revision

CHAPTER ONE

You Can’t Ride a Dead Horse

The horse was dead. This was certain. Dr. Slaughter felt for a pulse again, moving stethoscope here and there, mostly for effect. He knew the obvious. Rigor mortis had set in already. His arrival was all theatrics.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do Phil,” he said, with just the right tinge of seriousness and resolve in his voice.

“Well, I guess I kind of figured,” Phil said. “But, how the heck do you think he got into the living room?”

Dr. Slaughter shook his head. “Beats me. Someone must’ve let him in through the garage, though you’d think there would be hoof-prints in the carpet and your hallways there, even there around the kitchen area – they aren’t but so big.”

Phil scratched at his beard a bit. “Yeah – that’s what I was thinking.”

The two men stood a second just staring at the animal that lay there on the wall-to-wall carpeting, just shy of touching the couch. The coffee table was nowhere to be found.

“Well, if there’s anything else I can do for you, you know where to find me,” the doctor said. The two men shook hands in a kind of perfunctory fashion. Then, Dr. Slaughter gingerly stepped around the horse’s carcass with just the right amount of authority and tact, and let himself out the back door.

How this thousand-pound beast could end up in his living room was more than Phil could get his head around. For one, it wasn’t even his horse. He didn’t even know anyone who owned a horse. In fact, he had never even been in the saddle. Phyllis had taken a ride on a miniature pony once at the State Fair, but that was it.

“How did the horse die, Daddy?” Phyllis, age six, had been watching the whole time. When Dr. Slaughter had come in and examined the horse, she was there right alongside, making sure everything went smoothly. She petted the horse’s coat and felt it’s soft, brown fur. She was there even when Phil had turned on the kitchen light and noticed something rather larger than should be lying in his living room.

“Well, honey, Daddy doesn’t know, but we’re going to need to get him out of here so we can watch our cartoons on the TV, so be a good girl and fetch me that yellow pages over by the phone in the kitchen.”

Phyllis happily obliged.

“Can I ride him?” Phyllis asked with yellow pages in hand, a book that was almost as big as she was.

“Well, honey, Daddy doesn’t think anyone can ride a dead horse. What about you?”

“No. Probably not.” Phyllis said.

“I think you’re right,” Phil said.

TIME MUST PASS A BIT BEFORE NEXT CHARACTER VISITS AND WHO IS EDDIE?

Phyllis scratched her head.

“Isn’t that Pastor George?” She pointed to the sliding glass door that led into the kitchen.

There was a slight tap on the glass.

Phil looked up from the phone book.

“Oh – well, yes it is,” Phil said and flipped the lock and pulled the door.

“Hi – come on in,” Phil told him.

“I heard from Eddie that you had some trouble. What’s going on?”

“Well, it’s the darndest thing – er, I’m sorry pastor. It’s – well, I had just been home for maybe a minute when there was this horse in the living room. I wasn’t sure if it was dead or what, so I called Doc Slaughter and – anyway, it is dead. But, just – there’s no way he could’ve gotten in to the house is the thing. I locked – well, even if it was unlocked, how the heck – pardon me padre – how does such a thing – anyway, it’s a little beyond me now. I’m just seeing about maybe getting somebody to come in and pick him up.”

“Do you want to see the dead horse?” Phyllis asked Pastor George in a little sing-songy voice. “It’s really dead,” she said.

Phyllis took Pastor George’s hand and led him into to the living room. Sure enough. He saw the dead horse lying there, big as anything.

“Well, I guess it’s well that you’ve been blessed with such a large living room,” Pastor George said, “otherwise you’d have no room for this mighty, well – once mighty beast.”

Phil looked up from the phone book. “Yeah – I guess I feel blessed. What do you think about the horse?”

The pastor knelt beside the animal but made sure not to touch it. He looked it over head to toe, carefully considering the mane, the closed eyes, the mouth. “This is a gift. I don’t know how or why, but this horse is a gift.”

“A gift?” Phil slowly walked towards where the pastor knelt, the phone book still open.

“Well, any time God gives us an extraordinary moment, we must see it as a gift.”

“Extraordinary – yes, that’s true. This is just about that, I would say,” Phil said, ”But, what do I do – how do I use it? I don’t really understand how this is going to help.”

“I think the first thing we should do is to say a prayer – with you if I may.”

”Yes,” Phil said, “Yes, sure, that’s good. That’s a good idea.”

“Let’s bow our heads.” Pastor George closed his eyes. Phil stood and thumbed through the phone book. Meanwhile, Phyllis had propped her hands up on the top of one of the barstools in the kitchen. She was barely tall enough for her hands to reach. Pastor George began his prayer.

“Lord, we come to you now in a strange situation that we cannot comprehend. Our minds are not able to grasp the passing of this horse and its placement here in this place is not for us to question. What we know is that your will is sufficient and your grace is justified. We are thankful for your eternal power and your peace. Give us your peace now, Lord, as we learn from your hope how to use this – this perplexing gift. In Your Son’s Holy name we pray, Amen.”

Pastor George and Phyllis opened their eyes.

“Here’s one,” Phil said. “This looks like a good place.”

“Daddy – you didn’t close your eyes,” Phyllis said.

“I’m sorry – honey, but I think I found someone to take the horse.”

The ad in the phone book stated, under the title TAXIDERMY, roughly, the following:

“Life-like family heirlooms. Superb details. Fur Rugs. Fish & game.”

When the phone rang, Jake was helping Paul lift a frozen deer carcass into the work area. They had just set it down.

“Jake’s.” It was Jake, the owner, answering.

“I’m wondering if you take horses.” It was Phil asking.

“You got a horse?”

“Yes – it’s a dead horse and I’m wondering if it’s something you’d need?”

“Well, I hope it’s dead. We don’t work with live animals – obviously. If it’s dead we can work on him for you.”

“Well, but do you need a horse because I don’t actually want him – actually, it may be a ‘her’. I’m not sure.”

“Uh – we don’t just take animals. I mean, I can work with you on the price – depending – I mean, we could just do the head maybe.”

“Well, no. That’s – I’m just trying to see what I can do with this dead horse. Is there a glue factory that you can recommend?”

“Glue factory?”

“Don’t they take care of this sort of thing?”

“Uh – I don’t know about that. I think we could maybe use some of the skin for other projects I suppose, but you’d have to transport the animal and it’d have to be frozen.”

“Frozen?”

“Yeah – that’ll preserve the animal better. Otherwise, the skin starts to decay and all.”

”Well, I don’t have a freezer that big; I’m not sure if that would work.”

“Not sure what to tell you then – unless you can get the horse to us by seven. We could maybe free it – we’re working on a deer now and there may be a little space left in our deep freeze.”

”OK, well, that’s – ten minutes from now. I don’t think that’ll work.”

“Yeah – that’s true – sorry. Not sure I can help you then.”

“OK – what do people normally do when their horse dies?”

”There’s a rendering plant over in the next County, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“Is that what’s usually done?”

“Well, there aren’t any pet cemeteries that I know of nearby. Or you can bury him yourself if you have a place – the land and all.”

“Bury? No, we live here – it’s in the suburbs.”

“A horse in the suburbs?”

“You wouldn’t happen to have the number for the – uh – that plant you were talking about, would you?”

“The rendering plant – probably in the phone book – I think its called Ulanta Protein – I think that’s the company.”

“OK – Ulanta – U-l-a-n-t-a?”

“Sounds right.”

”Thanks. Thanks, I appreciate the help.”

“No problem.”

Phil hung up. Pastor George had been praying silently over the dead animal.

“Pastor,” Phil said, “I’m just going to see about this plant thing if you think that’s – well, that’s the best thing I think, don’t you?”

“Well, Phil,” Pastor George said, rising to his feet. “You have to pray about this gift of yours. God has put this horse in your living room for a purpose. You have to be open to his voice. He’s calling you – he’s been calling you to – .”

“Yeah – pastor – actually, I’m kind of tired here. It’s been a long day and I need to get rid of this horse in my living room. It’s not really sanitary and all. I’m going to get on the phone and make some more calls.”

Pastor George, who was taller by about six inches than Phil and older by about twelve years, put his hand on Phil’s shoulders. “Phil, do what you think God wants. I’m just a servant of God. You obviously have your ways, but let me ask you this – “

“Yes?” Phil could feel Pastor George’s hand on his shoulder like a warm, heavy weight.

“Remember your community, remember your church community – OK?

“Yes.”

“See you Sunday?”

“Yes, George. OK, I’ll see you Sunday.”

“OK then – Phil.”

Pastor George let himself out and Phil, still holding the phone book, stood just outside the sliding glass door as Pastor George got into his car. The pastor slowly eased out of the driveway with just enough pomp and prestige and slowly accelerated out onto the subdivision street, the red tail lights glowing and then disappearing around the corner towards the main road.

Phil walked back into the house, shut the sliding glass door and flipped the lock. He put the phone book on the counter top. A tear started dropping down his cheek, and soon others followed. He propped himself up next to the counter, quietly sobbing.

“Daddy? Don’t cry. The horse disappeared.”

“Honey – Daddy’s just tired. We’ll get the horse out of here – don’t worry.”

“But it’s gone.”

”What?” Phil stood up and turned to look into the living room, wiping the wetness on his cheek with his shirt sleeve.

“Did angels take it?” Phyllis asked.

“Angels?”

The living room was empty. Where the horse had been lying were the broken remnants of a wooden coffee table.

“No honey – I don’t think – I don’t think so. Daddy’s not too sure.” He picked up Phyllis and started walking around to see if there was a horse walking anywhere in the house… “Strange,” he said to the emptiness.

“Can I have a horse in my room, Daddy?”

“No Phyllie – I think it’s time for you to go to bed.”

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