Occasionally I write short pieces, almost flash fiction in size. Not often though as ideas tend to flow and the story continues to grow. Here’s one of those smaller pieces, a small snapshot in time of a character with more than his fair share of responsibilities.
Dale hurried down the ladder from the loft he shared with his younger brother, drawn by the scent of freshly baked bread. The sound of rain was quieter in the kitchen as he helped himself to a slice of bread.
“You be careful out there.” His mother handed him a thick coat.
Dale shrugged into it, knowing it’d soon be soaked through. “I’ll bring the plough horse up to the house. We should have moved him yesterday, but I thought the rain was over.”
“We all did.”
Finishing the last of his food, Dale buttoned his coat before braving the pouring rain. Visibility was low and it was only that he’d been born and raised on this farm that he could find his way to the back paddock, head low as his eyes squinted through the rain. Stepping through the gate of the wooden fence he whistled, but the wind blew the sound back in his face along with the rain. When he called for the horse his words were also thrown back at him.
Walking forward, his boots sinking into mud, he scanned the paddock for the plough horse. He had to find him. Without him, they couldn’t plant their farm and have crops to sell at the market. Ever since his father had died he’d become the head of the house, trying to support the three of them. He had no idea what to do if he couldn’t find the horse.
A sound drew him onwards. He hurried towards the stream, each step a struggle. He heard it again, the frantic scream of a horse. Then he could see him, tangled in the branches of a tree caught in the swollen stream, which was now wide enough to be a river. The tree dragged at the horse and blood flowed from several gashes on the animal.
Dale plunged into the water. They needed the horse. Without him, they couldn’t survive. He tried to untangle the terrified creature. A log crashed into them, pushing them further into the stream. Dale grabbed at the mane, pulling the horse towards the bank, each step an effort.
Another log swept past, barely missing them and Dale stared at a man clinging to the log that turned and rolled in the churning water. The horse screamed and the man on the log went under.
Time seemed to stretch out, but it was only a few seconds. Dale’s cold fingers let go of the mane and he threw himself forward into the middle of the stream, swimming towards the man as he surfaced for a moment.
Dale reached the log, searching for the man, his fingers tangling in hair. He momentarily thought of the horse’s mane before he focused on rescuing the man. It seemed to take forever, but eventually they were stretched gasping on the bank, the rain still pouring.
“Thank you, how can I ever repay you?” The man held out his hand.
Dale took the offered hand. “Anyone would have done the same.” He paused to catch his breath. “Come back to the farmhouse. We’ll get warm and my mum can make us something hot to eat.”
They struggled to their feet and as they passed the part of the stream where the horse had once struggled, Dale felt his heart sink.
His heart was still sinking a month later as he hoed rows by hand, his brother following him with a basket of seeds. He stopped to run his arm across his forehead as his gaze travelled over the land still untouched. They’d be lucky to get a quarter of the paddock planted, and there’d be none for the market. Replacing the plough horse would be impossible.
Dale turned his head at his name being called. His mother frantically waved him over to the farmhouse. Beside her stood a stranger, a grey-haired man. Dale shared a look and a shrug with his brother before the two of them trudged to the farmhouse.
The man stepped forward, throwing his arms around Dale who froze, sending a questioning look to his beaming mother. “Ahh, sir?” He pulled away.
“Thank you. Thank you.” The man clapped him on the shoulder as his other hand drew out a bulging money pouch. “There’s no price I could put on my son’s life, but let me offer you a small token all the same.”
Dale took the pouch, the weight of it in his hand lightening the weight of his worries. He met the man’s gaze. “Thank you.”