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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Emotional · #1945878
Goliath and Emily had a special bond. A "Short Shots" Entry.
Trail’s End

A cool morning breeze whispered across the pasture carrying the scent of wildflowers, pines, and grasses. A sign proclaiming the area as “The Hanson Horse Farm” protested the intrusion, its worn hinges adding to the cacophony of birds in the surrounding trees.

Josh paused over a bale of hay, lifting his hat to wipe at his brow. This is the best time of day. He smiled as the horses began snorting and knocking on their stalls. “Okay, I haven’t forgotten you. Breakfast is served,” he acknowledged, separating several flakes from the bale. Walking down the stalls, he placed one in each feeder and then repeated the journey adding oats and feed.

He stopped in front of a stall with “Goliath” stenciled on it. His finger traced a faint heart that dotted the “i” in the name. The big Belgian moved out of the shadows, greeting him with a gentle snort. His size never failed to impress Josh. “Have you grown some more, GoGo?” he asked. Goliath measured eighteen and a half hands and even Josh, who stood over six-feet tall, had to stretch to pat his withers.

The horse nudged him, pushing his hat askew. “Not now, boy. You’ll see her later.” Goliath pawed at the stall door, leaning his weight into the latch. “What’s gotten into you? I’ll let you out in a bit. Now, go eat.” Goliath wasn’t convinced and whinnied his objection.

Goliath was an oddity. The Hanson’s were known for their American Quarter Horse line and he had come to the ranch as a boarder. Josh’s daughter, Emily, was only six at the time but had formed an immediate bond with him, naming him “GoGo.” When the owners decided to sell him, Josh couldn't say no. The sound of the stable doors sliding open broke into his thoughts.

“Buenos dias, Jeffe Josh.”

Josh saw the sturdy figure of his foreman striding down the run. “Good morning, Julio.”

“Buenos días, mis bellos amigos.” The horses all whinnied at the greeting. “You are here early today, Jeffe. Did you leave me any work?” he chided.

Julio was more than Josh’s foreman. He was his friend and confidant. When Emily had been diagnosed with cancer, Julio had quietly insisted that Josh spend more time with his daughter, often working fourteen hour days and always insisting that Josh “take a break.” “El tiempo es más valioso que el dinero. – Time is more precious than money,“ he would say.

“Don’t you worry, Julio. There’s plenty left to do. I couldn't sleep and this is my way of relaxing.”

“Entiendo. I understand.” He glanced at his watch and, with great exaggeration, sniffed at the air. “Breakfast time, no?”

Josh laughed. “I’m sure that’s not all you smell.”

Julio shrugged and then joined in the laughter. “I’ll see you later,” he said pointedly.

Spending time with the horses and Julio, he mentally added, always lifted his spirits. “By the way, GoGo was acting up this morning; let’s put him in the small pasture today.”

Julio waved him off, making “go on” motions with his hands.

Josh tipped his hat and headed for the house grinning.

Josh approached the one level rambler, squinting as the sun bounced off the white clapboard sides. He could trace his family’s history in its structure. The main house had been built by his grandfather, the addition to the left had been added by his father, and - he stopped, looking at the newest addition to the right. It seemed to have a special glow in the morning light even though the entire house had been painted the year before.

He remembered the excitement when Kate had told him she was expecting. “Not a problem,” he had grinned. “I’ve foaled a lot of you mares.”

“If you think I’m getting in a stinky old stall,” she had started to say when he grabbed her up. They fell laughing onto the bed.

“No, sweetie. No stalls for you or our baby.”

Over the next few months, they designed and built the addition. Kate insisted that it have a big bay window overlooking the small pasture with its single oak. “I want our child to grow strong and stand tall,” she said. “This will be a reminder.”

He wasn't surprised that remembering her words brought tears to his eyes. She got her wish. Emily is as strong as they get. Wiping his eyes, he hurried to the side door.

The top of the Dutch door was open and the smell of hot biscuits and frying bacon greeted him.

“Breakfast in five minutes, wash up, and don’t you dare come in here with those boots on!” Kate threw over her shoulder as she flipped several pieces of bacon.

“How do you do that? How did you know I was even here?” he laughed. “I swear, woman, you’re some kind of witch.”

Kate turned from the stove, grinning. “There are some things a wife just knows.”

She yelped as he jumped across the room, sweeping her up in a hug. “Bet you didn’t see that coming,” he challenged.

“Of course I did,” she laughed breathlessly, “but I just didn’t want to disappoint you.” She kissed him. “Now, put me down and go wash up. Check on Em while you’re there. I woke her but she said she was tired so I left her in bed. See if she’s up to eating.”

Josh massaged the bar of soap into a frothy lather and scrubbed his hands. He cupped his fingers and quickly threw water over his face. Looking up, sharp blue eyes peered back at him. He ran his hand over the thick stubble that shadowed his face. “Glad this look is in,” he said to the man in the mirror. The reflection grinned back in agreement.

Josh knocked lightly on the door. “M&M – you awake?” He had given her the name one Halloween, saying she was sweeter than any candy. He smiled, remembering how she’d groan whenever he used it.

“Sure Daddy. Come in,” came the soft response.

He entered, taking in all things Emily; the white furniture - sturdy and yet feminine, the books – she loved to read, the computer on the desk - a herd of horses galloping across, saving the screen. “GoGo sends his love,” he quipped and was rewarded with a weak smile.

“I know he does,” she sighed, her voice barely audible. “Would you open the curtains … and the windows, please?”

“You bet,” he said, crossing the room and pulling back the draperies. The room flooded with light. “That will brighten you up.” He turned the cranks and the windows popped, letting in fresh air to sweep away the cloying smell of sickness. “It’s a beautiful day,” he said turning back.

Emily Irene Hanson lay propped in her bed on several pillows. Oh God. She looks so frail and small lying there. Her head, now devoid of hair, had a light sheen of sweat that sparkled as the sunlight played tag with the curtains. He was struck by how beautiful she was, even as her own body fought itself, stripping her childhood away layer by layer.

“Mom wants to know if you can eat. You need your strength.”

“No, I don’t …” she started to say, then, “No, I’m not hungry right now. I’d love a glass of ice water though.”

There was an odd wistfulness in her voice and Josh felt a chill run down his spine. “Coming right up.” He walked to the door, suppressing an urge to run. “Kate!” He could hear the clatter of pans in the kitchen down the hall. “Kate!” he practically shouted.

“Josh? What is it?”

“Can I get of glass of ice water?”

Something in his voice made Kate grab a glass and run down the hall.

“Here you go, baby,” she said, tilting the glass to Emily’s parched lips.

Emily took a long drink, the liquid pulsing in her throat with each gulp. Finally, she nodded her head and Kate withdrew the glass.

Kate felt her head. “Honey, you’re burning up. I need to call the doctor.”

“It’s not necessary, Mom.” She struggled to sit up. “Dad, can you help me to the chair by the window?”

Josh could barely see through his tears. “Of course, honey.” He lifted her up from the bed, cradling her like he did as a small child. He sat with her in his lap, Kate under his arm, and they watched as Julio led the Belgian through the pasture gate.

Goliath stopped and stared at them. Then, with a whinny, he charged up the hill, stopping under the oak.

“Do you remember how I used to lay on him?” Emily murmured. “I was so small back then. You’d walk me up the hill and GoGo would kneel down so I could get on him. I’d lie for hours on him, under that tree, and I’d tell him all about my future. How we were going to live here, him and me, forever.”

“I remember,” he said his voice breaking. Josh could feel Kate shaking next to him.

Emily sighed and closed her eyes.

They huddled together in the ensuing silence and, as they watched, Goliath knelt under the oak.

Josh let his sadness roll down his cheeks, joining Kate’s. Through his tears, it almost seemed he could see a small girl lying on Goliath’s back. He somehow found a smile from within his pain and hugged his wife tightly. “Home. Forever.”

An entry for the August round of "Short Shots: Official WDC Contest [ASR]
Prompt: Image

Word Limit: 2000
Word Count: 1571

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