The Day The Horses Couldn’t Fly by David Henson

Old Pete pulls out his pocket knife, picks up a stick, and sits on an upside down bucket. Johnny tells me that means it’s time for a yarn. I thought yarn was something for Mama, but it must mean something else too. Johnny’s ten so he knows lottsa things. Anyways Johnny quits wrastling me and cross-legs hisself on the ground in fronta Pete so I do too.

“Did I ever tell you boys,” Pete says, startin’ to whittle, “about the time horses could fly?”

Johnny winks at me. I’m not old enough to wink. My eyes are still connected so’s when I close the one the other does some, too. But I’m gettin’ better.

“Yesiree,” Pete says, “Zekiel McCabe, my great-great grandpappy many times back, made the horses fly.”

“I never heard tella sucha thing,” Johnny says. “How long back was that, Pete?”

Pete whittles the stick a few times, then looks up at Johnny. “Let’s just say it was lottsa ways back.” I wonder if that’s even before Mama and Papa.

“Sure, Pete,” Johnny says and grins at me. I grin right back. I grin good. Have since I was little. “How did Zekiel get’em to fly?” I say.

Pete whittles a bit more. “Well, Billy,” he says. “He’d just press his big ole palm to their nose and in a whipstitch they’d be glidin’ up toward the clouds. Musta been a sight sure.”

“Wow,” I say, and Johnny eyerolls me. I can do that, but I don’t cause it hurts my head.

“Where was it ‘zactly he made horses could fly?” Johnny says.

Pete stands and takes a couple steps way from us. Then he pushes his finger to one side of his nose and does that thing Papa does sometimes and Mama says she’d better never catch us doing. I tried once and made a mess on my shirt. Pete comes back and sits on the bucket. “The whole wide world ‘course,” he says.

Johnny makes a little hooty sound so I do too. Almost as good as Johnny if you ask me. Papa says that alotta times. It’s fixing to rain if you ask me. Corn looks best ever if you ask me. “The world’s right big,” Johnny says. “How’d Zekiel get to all of’em?”

“Cause Zekiel had his own flyin’ horse so he could cover lottsa ground,” I say while Pete’s eyein’ the point of his stick. I’m not ten yet, but sometimes I know more than Johnny.

“But how’d he get across the ocean?” Johnny says straight away. I don’t know if he’s talkin’ to me or Pete, but I’m not quick sure how to answer that one so I leave it on Pete.

Pete scrapes the stick real careful then blows on it. “You got a lot of questions, boy,” is all he says. I guess he thinks the answer’s too right there to bother with. Sometimes I ask Mamma somethin’ and she won’t answer ‘cept to tell me ask Papa then he won’t answer either. I figure the answer’s right there I just don’t see it.

“Besides, Pete,” Johnny says nudging me with his elbow. “If Zekiel got all the horses flyin’ back then, why ain’t any of ’em can fly now?”

Pete touches his thumb to the sharpened point. I want that stick. “Could poke right through a body” he says and aims the stick at Johnny. “You’re old before your time, boy.” I wish I could be old before my time. “Just wore out in the bloodlines over the years, I suppose,” Pete says. “Besides, how you know they ain’t?” He puts the whittled end of the stick under his boot and breaks it off. Shoot! “Don’t want this gol dang thing to hurt nobody.” Gol dang. I’m not ‘sposed to say that. Johnny neither but he does sometime anyway. Maybe I should too. Gol dang, gol dang, gol dang.

Pete stands up. “OK, boys. Time to get you home. Thanks for helpin’ move the hay, Johnny. You too, Big Bill.” I like it when he calls me that. I like it a whole lot. Next time someone says what’s your name I’m gonna say I’m Big Bill and the next time somebody calls me Billy I’m gonna look the other way. Pete goes into the barn and comes back leadin’ Paint and Molly. He touches his palm to their noses one at a time, then looks at me with a wink.

Pete picks up Johnny, then me — Big Bill — and puts us on Molly, then swings himself onto Paint. “Giddy on, boy,” Pete says and off we go.

I lean forward and yell into my brother’s ear “We’re gonna fly!”

Johnny twists round, shakes his head and eyerolls me both at once “Billy, you’re such a little kid,” he says.

“I’m Big Bill,” I shoot right back and turn away. Then I close my eyes and try to imagine us glidin’ toward the clouds, but it’s all hooves cloppity on the gol dang trail.

# # #

David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years. They now reside in Peoria, Illinois with their dog, who loves to walk them in the woods. His work has appeared in two chapbooks, Dime Show Review, Literally Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Eunoia Review, among others.

Photo: Terri Malone

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