I’m alive! I’m running! A peculiar sensation, being alive. Is the sun alive? Yes, it gives light. It is alive when it is giving light, but it isn’t alive when it is not giving light. Is a stone alive? Yes, it moves, it does so by rolling. Am I alive because I run? Because I’m a resource? Am I alive because others see me? Can they even see me? Ah, fuck it, the ontological questioning can wait. I’m hungry for some apples.
It’s as if I’ve never been gone, yet everything appears so new. Born running, born a stranger, yet born a native. A sound! A sonorous whistle, like the call of a siren. I sniff out the sound waves, plod along toward the invisible phantasm, more nourishing than any carrot. Why am I drawn to this whistle? Does the whistler have apples?
I find the source — a man, haggard, unshaven, bespeckled with viscera and aged mire. He harbors stench, and parasites, and violence, and human disease. He smells of the grave. I can’t imagine any animal would tread near his swath of odious, blood-decorated stench. Why am I?
It’s a foreign-feeling ritual, but at once familiar. He mounts me as if this were the hundredth time he’s taken my reins. He wastes no time digging his dulled spurs into my calloused haunches. Every twist and jerk of the rein dictates my path. It’s as if I’m doing nothing at all. Moving without moving. The bit tugs and digs and issues directions.
I overhear some other vague, melting specters of the wastes call out his name: Marston.
A GOOD HORSE IN A BAD TIME
A light in the distance. A campfire burning like a caustic night light. We approach and find the steward of the fire, a man who rivals Marston in neglect for appearance and hygiene. Marston dismounts and warily approaches him. The man is made wild by the fire, much like an animal. He seems undomesticated like some wayward primate separated from his tribe, exiled to the wastes and to himself. He’s nibbling on some meat obscured by the shadows and flickers of the fire. They exchange words, but the animal man does more of the talking.
Marston takes a knee. The man offers him a sliver of his mystery meat. Marston reluctantly obliges and takes a slow, strained bite. The animal man keeps talking. Marston almost immediately withdraws the contents of his stomach onto the ground, sickened by what he was given. The animal man is eating a human arm! I can see it now!
Marston mounts up again. He pulls out a lasso. Why? I see no game around? He ensnares the animal man. His spurs dig into me with certain malice. I leap forward as the man stays on the line, dragging behind us on the moving ground. Marston keeps me on a straight heading. Where is he taking me, or the man for that matter? Is he going to keep on him, whittling him away to bone till morning?
Marston finally pulls back on the reins and we stop. There are strange figures in the dark. They look like people, but they sound like tortured and deranged animals. The figures waver and wander and soon there seems to be an excitement and commotion among them. The figures draw near while Marston holds the position, giving no command to move. Marston lights a torch and the incandescent glow reveals the ghastly souls moving in. They’re walking corpses, undead! Hideous! Especially this portly one, each waddle forward causing parts to fall off. The man is still on the line, screaming and writhing in pain. Marston drops the line and kicks me into motion. I gallop forward, relieved to abandon those abominations.
I can hear the poor bastard dying in the fading distance. I know that sound. They’re eating him alive. I’m an accessory to his murder, and the murderer sits atop me, driving me onto the farthest reaches of the void, onward toward that blood meridian clotting along the horizon, the singularity of the sun that rises to drive men mad, create oases and illusions, and rob salt from us poor living creatures. Lord, give me a new conductor.
A FEW FOR THE MANY
I trot toward a woman in a shadowy copse. She’s lying on the ground, sobbing next to a dead man. Marston jerks the reins and commands me to remain still. He watches this woman’s most painful moment and she continues to grieve without the slightest acknowledgement of our presence.
The dead man lunges forward. Without a murmur or warning his heart wrenches into motion and he is born into a new unholy life. The woman rolls backward, grabs a revolver lying by her side and blows the man’s head machinery clear off. Marston just watches. She’s taking a breath and now she’s turning the muzzle toward her temple. The gun goes off and an eruption flows from her head, leaving her still and obsolete.
Marston just calmly watched the whole thing and did nothing to intervene! Marston descends from my haunches and nears the woman’s body. Life hasn’t even finished the exodus from her and he’s reaching into her pockets, picking her clean. He scavenges from the dead man and returns with a few paltry shells. Marston mounts up, and then, without a second look or pause for reflection, he digs into me and animates my legs to move farther into the wastes.
Is this what a hero is supposed to look like today? Is this what a hero does? Living things are worth more to Marston dead than alive. He saps whatever he can of some material worth, he sucks out salts from the earth, grinds bone into gunpowder, converts an organ into a canteen, makes skin into a wearable trophy, uses fat stores from some poor departed creature to give him light, to insulate his walls. This man is no hero, he’s a parasite with a bottomless stomach. Always gobbling, moving onto the next meal. It isn’t for subsistence, I know the distinction, it’s binge eating. Gobble gobble.
FINALLY, SOME YUMMY YUMMY APPLES
We move under the failing light, toward new expanses and sensations of isolation and misgivings. Marston drives me hard down a beaten trail, a place shaped and settled by the footfall of my kin, of horses past and present, given routes and trajectories along these imaginary lines by the crazed, degenerate slave drivers that sit atop us.
I think for a minute, we are the legs of the new frontier, we are the ones carrying the burden of the West – the bullets, bodies, bounties, and blood that men need to facilitate expansion and claim territories. Us horses are the lifeblood of the West, we are the sinews of this whole sordid industry. Why then aren’t we the ones immortalized in paint and sculpture? Why aren’t we the iconic heroes? Does there always need to be a rider atop every depiction of us? Should I be proud of my involvement, of my importance in sustaining the frontier spirit, even when recognition is in short supply? Oh goodie! Apples!
With these round, red, delicious drugs, I am granted new stamina. The sweet caloric burn of my internal furnace quickens my legs, and even though I do not decide where they go, I’m happy to get there faster. Any opportunity to fast-forward this unpleasant working relationship is a blessing.
I am speed! I am a thundercloud on the plain! I am furious locomotion, an organic engine! Trees, brush, and rocks move rapidly behind me, as if they’re running away from a distant storm, or a fire, and I am charging headlong into the terrible menace that they are fleeing from, unafraid. It is at high speed that I find my purpose, even though I can’t articulate what it is. I find comfort in the distorted and disappearing world that speed creates. It’s a place where visual information recedes so quickly that you need to seek some interior essence or invisible spiritual gatherings to fill the absence.
A new image is fleeing toward me. In this gabble of shadows and dim objects I can’t make out what it is. Oh fuck . . . It’s a precipice. Oh fuck! Oh shit! I can’t stop! It’s getting closer! Marston jumps off my back. Here it comes! I’m skidding toward the end!
I give in to gravity. Flooding images of apples, Marston, bloodshed, landscapes.
Now I see the menace — geometry. Rocks and spires racing right toward me, lunging forward like a tidal wave of oppression, eager and indifferent to swallow me. I give in to gravity.
I’m alive! I’m running! I race toward a magnetic whistle.
It’s been nothing but rain and wind on the plain today, and the usual forecast of gunfire trickles. We must have gone through 5 suns and 4 moons without taking a single rest. I’m doing fairly well for only having eaten a couple apples in all of this time. I don’t know how Marston can go on for so long without any rest or meals. I’m beginning to think he isn’t human. He derives strength from killing, the blood keeps him going. What a malevolent spirit. I feel sorry for any poor creature that has the misfortune of crossing paths with him.
Marston takes aim at walking things in passing. His firearm coughs out thunder, a disinfecting spray of metal that cleanses the undead of undue life, or an unsuspecting stranger, or animal, or inanimate object that exists purely for target practice in his mobile, cowardly recreation.
We move through a marsh in the bloody furrows of the setting sun. We near a staggering and stupid rabid human. He is gaunt and hungry. I can’t believe Marston isn’t readying his weapon. He orders me to stop. He’s static and looking at the bumbling creature, undoubtedly contemplating what means of dispatching the wayward pathogen will be the most amusing to him. Marston dismounts and approaches the wandering corpse.
He walks toward the undead. This may be the first time I’ve seen Marston walk. The undead turns around and sees Marston. A frenzied hunger comes over him and he charges toward Marston. He still hasn’t unholstered his weapon. I don’t understand. Marston raises his bare fists and takes a swing at the blundering bag of bones. They’re fist fighting each other! Now I see, Marston finds it funny to have a gentlemanly brawl with an undead idiot, like putting boxing gloves on a gorilla, a grotesque and arrogant curiosity. Or, perhaps he’s testing his mettle in some vain attempt to extricate himself from this hazard by will and body alone. Whatever the reason, I hope this slobbering moron teethes on Marston’s miserable hide.
A couple jabs connect with the undead’s already devastated face. Now a haymaker. Come on, you dead fucking degenerate, butter his bread! Corpsey throws a wild punch, it lands! Marston staggers back. Corpsey lurches forward and throws a haymaker, but it misses and dislocates his shoulder. Marston sees the opening and lassoes Corpsey. Corpsey struggles with the rope and topples over. Marston kicks him while he’s down. Corpsey stands back up and goes to work on Marston’s body. Marston breaks free and throws a hook, it misses, and now a jab that finds its target.
Corpsey quickly answers back with a flurry of windmill punches. Marston looks dazed! Corpsey takes the lead! Corpsey moves in for the killing blow, but Marston levels his revolver and snuffs out Corpsey. It’s Marston by a nose, and his goddamn performance-enhancing machine. Goddamn fucking Marston. He fires some victory rounds into the body. A fermented stink spills out of the dry wounds. The stink is the real winner, clouding out the smell of Marston and the bog. The grave always wins.
Marston was such a saint to me last night. He gave me an apple, then hitched me to a post for several hours, drunkenly threw bottles at me, and then tried a dozen times to jump off of a roof and onto my back. When he stuck the last one, R&R was over.
Now, we’re entering a ghost town, littered with the shambling, stinking armatures of the undead. Marston jabs me with his spurs and uses me as a battering ram to part the ocean of undead. What a jerk-off, a true human piece of shit, a filthperson by all accounts. I want to put an apple in his mouth and a feedbag on his head. Damn these hooves!
What the fuck is this? He’s taking me inside a building. Up the stairs? Sure, no problem! I can't get a decent footing. I keep sliding off. Ow! Don't angrily kick me because you don't know how to use a horse! Finally, we've reached the summit. I'm on a balcony now. Several men are perched up here, firing at the hungry mob below. Marston nudges the survivors off of the balcony with my nose, condemning them to the mouths below. He jumps me off of the roof and into the street, firing his gun wildly into the air.
We take off on a blitzkrieg through the town. Marston doesn’t stop kicking my haunches! If he kicks me one more ti— That’s it! I eject the sorry prick into the air and onto the ground. Haha, he’s surrounded! Try growing some hooves, you drunken swine. He’s running right past them. He weaves in between them. Shit. He’s gaining on me. I feel a warm pain in my ass. It tickles, like a tick’s delicate entry. Fuck, my ass really hurts! It can’t be a horsefly. Marston jumps on top of me, clutching a smoking revolver. He digs in and throttles me forward.
So this is my punishment for his mistake, a slug in the ass. I hope he gets raped by a cougar. All machinery has its limits! At least a car doesn’t feel. I actually feel the punishment! He clearly doesn’t consider that, or even scarier, he does and likes it.
My ass still hurts. How long does this plain go on for? Where does it end?
A strange horse in the distance. It carries a cloud of stink and insects. Marston urges me to give it chase. He jumps off and throws a lasso around it. What does he want with this nauseating thing? Am I being replaced? He breaks the horse and mounts it, and gallops off toward the plunging sun.
I should feel happy. I’m liberated. But I can’t move. I need someone to take up my reins, give me some direction. Marston’s just an angry, shrinking little dot now. I’ve been domesticated and discarded by the devil.
Maybe he’ll come back…
I hear wolves in the distance…
It’s getting dark…
I can’t move…