STAMPEDE • by Deborah Winter-Blood

It was an old-fashioned rocking horse, the molded plastic, spring-mounted type.  The kind Misty had played on as a child.  The kind some government agency had decided was too dangerous for children late in the last century.  The kind Misty had never imagined could be wrenched from its metal frame so easily. Lying in the ER, she wryly, silently, admitted that for once the government watchdogs were right — the molded plastic rocking horse was dangerous.

“Look straight up,” the doctor said. He carefully pulled back her swollen eyelid and shone a light in her eye.

With a concert of nurses around him, the doctor examined the welts that formed burning islands of pain down Misty’s chest and ribs, wrapping around her left hip before trailing down her thigh. She stared at the light above her, moving when asked, responding to the pain-scale question again and again. Her eye was a six, chest a three-maybe-four, ribs another six. On the delicate inside of her thigh where the bruises were so numerous and deep that they merged into one massive contusion, the pain meter was pretty much pegged. She rated it an eight. She would have rated it higher, but her husband was standing behind the circle of nurses.

There were no broken bones. The doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and pain killers, and bed rest for a week. He wanted to take pictures of the welts, some of them already forming into perfect little hoof-print bruises, but the look his patient’s face made him retract the question immediately.

“This could have been a lot worse,” the doctor said as he handed the prescriptions to Misty’s husband. “I’ve seen a lot of critical horse-related injuries, some fatal. Your wife is lucky you were there to pull her out of the paddock.”

“Ponies can be so mean,” one of the nurses remarked wisely.

Especially the plastic kind.

On the jolting, painful truck ride home, her husband patted his breast pocket where the prescription orders were stored. “I’ll get these filled as soon as the pharmacy opens.”

Of course you will. They’re narcotics. You’ll get them filled and refilled as many times as possible, then you’ll make me call to get even more refills approved, and of course I won’t be taking any of them. Misty shut her eyes, but immediately opened them again. With her eyes closed, all she could see was the garishly red mouth of the rocking horse and its too-realistic eyes staring at her in panic (Panic? Whose? Mine?) as its hooves came down again and again and again.

“That was smart, telling them it was the horses,” her husband said when they pulled into the driveway. He shut off the engine and they sat there together in the pre-dawn haze, listening to the tick of the cooling engine. “I feel just awful about what happened, Misty.” His voice cracked. He almost sounded sincere. She almost believed him. “I swear, I’ll never lift my hand to you again. I know I’ve said that before, but this time I mean it. No matter how mad you make me, I’ll never hurt you again, sweetheart.”

Like randomly blinking Christmas lights, flashes of pain lit up one after another, sometimes together, sometimes not, all over Misty’s body as she reached for the door handle. “You were lucky no one at the hospital knows.”

“Knows what?”

“That we don’t have a pony.”


“What a damned mess.” The Sheriff discretely turned away to light his cigar. “Brains and blood all over that damned stall.”

The County Coroner shrugged. “It’s a big horse.”

“Doesn’t look like it was quick, either.”

“No, I’d say not. We’ll know more after the autopsy, of course.”

A puff of smoke hovered around the Sheriff’s face before the wind caught it, toyed with it, and swept it away. “I’d said that’s just a formality in this case. These folks have had horse problems before. The wife was down at General just last month, damned near trampled half to death.”

The Coroner considered this for a moment. “Will Animal Control put the horse down?”

“Oh, hell, no,” the Sheriff answered. “A big horse, a small space, something spooks it and — boom! Brains and blood. I’ve seen it before, just never this damned messy.  I feel awful bad for the woman. So young. Damned pretty, too.”

The two men turned and looked toward the barn where their murder suspect stood. It shuffled side-to-side, obviously distressed by the unaccustomed multitude of men and vehicles. Misty held the horse’s lead and stroked its long face, murmuring endearments to the powerful animal. In her cut-off jeans and tank top, the bruised imprints of tiny hooves were vivid along her lean frame.

The Sheriff threw down his cigar and stomped on it. “Some people just have bad luck with animals.”

Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years. She’s recently completed her second novel.

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