It’s Too Late

by Epiphany Ferrell

It starts with the horses. I arrive at the stable, no one is there. Just me and the horses. I prop open the tack-room door so it won’t swing shut and close me in. I ignore the rustling in the hay bales stacked against the far wall. The way the barn cat glares at me from his perch near the top.

The horses are in the front pasture. Dusty walks to meet me. The other horses get in front of him, between us, screening him from me. They move in a circle, drifting, more like starlings than horses, studying me sidelong, constantly just out of my reach. Dusty evades me, turns his head, joining the milling others, all of them, moving like a slow wave, pulling me into their tide. They are between me and the barn now, circling me, the whites of their eyes showing as they roll them in their heads, displaying tension in their upflung tails.

An eerie lack of sound. Coiled lightning in the air, the slow rumble of fast-moving clouds. It’s a storm, I tell myself. My doctor wants me to look to the most natural explanation first, so I tell myself it’s not the horses plotting, it’s a pending storm. The wind hisses into their funnel ears. In their slow-moving circle, they push me back to the gate, snorting quietly to each other, tossing their heads and flicking their ears.

I slip under the fence, return to the safety of my car. My fingers tingle where I’d not quite brushed Dusty’s silky neck. I drive. The trees meet above the road, hissing. The cattle in the field, the blank-faced Herefords, regard me with suspicion, their chewing motions hiding what they say to each other as I pause at the stop sign. A trio of them draw together, watching me with more than bovine interest.

The sky is green. The wind picks up, drops, picks up again. I want to go back to the barn, to the smell of horses and hay, my safe place. I turn around in the road, the cows that were lying down heaving to their feet, approaching the fence, staring me down.

I make it all the way back into the barn on the first try, without driving away and back half a dozen times as I’ve been known to do. I stand under the run-in roof, watching the horses out there in the paddock. They swirl when they see me, and I don’t recognize any of them. When they begin to trot my way, I flee.

A bird wings past me, flying fast and too close. Another one. They are spying. Emissaries for God-only-knows. The barn is no longer safe. I must get home.

Back in my car, I go a different way so I don’t have to pass the cows again. I roll up my windows, the shrieking of the meadow insects is too much. They know it is, the insects do. They know what they sound like, that I can guess their hidden meaning. The crows on the telephone line laugh at my predicament. “Call, call, call,” they say. They know my doctor is gone, that I can’t call for help. Or even to warn her. I pray she makes it back soon, that her cruise ship won’t sink, that the fish won’t eat her eyes.

Epiphany Ferrell lives perilously close to the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in southern Illinois. She’s currently suffering knee pain after dancing barefoot at various wineries on said wine trail.
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