Ponyhenge

In a group I belong to someone posted this wonderful news piece. I instantly had this story in my head and I pass it on to you. Ponyhenge link

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Troy shifted in the long grass, shading his eyes against the crystal bright glare of the summer sky. The sun poured liquid gold over the field where he lay, his nose wriggling and twitching from the drifting hay dust. This was his favourite week of the year. The workers had been out, the field scythed, the hay bundled and stacked into towering mounds to the accompaniment of baling songs, laughing children and the scent of the first barrel of apple cider. Now the world lay still, only the shifting, whirling eddies of seeds and dust occasionally causing ripples of animation.

Yes, this was the best time. No school, no having to watch Cassie – his mother had taken his sister to stay with Aunt Gracey for the duration of harvest – and a mountain range of cut stalks in pillowy, prickly landscapes for him to burrow into, scale and simply sleep against under blazing blue skies laced with the occasional departing V of geese. He scratched his neck, dislodging stray stalks from his nape, caught in the ever so slightly longer than school allowed hair; hair burnished golden by hours of sun, glowing against the deep tan of his skin. His elbows dug around, seeking new resting places, his feet tunnelled into the stalks laying bent over, missed by the scythes but to be gleaned on the morrow. Tomorrow, when his peace would be shattered, the fields cleared, the haystacks tossed onto carts and trundled into barns to serve as winter banquets for cosseted cattle.

Troy had let sleep take him. Waking, he had rolled onto his stomach, sneezed and almost missed the slight shuffle. He sat up, expecting Davy or Alfie, the other members of his summer gang, to appear around the stack, always ready to rough and tumble, wrestle and run on their last day of freedom before school cut back in with its heavy load of sitting, listening, rules and restrictions. Nothing stirred. A late swift shrieked far overhead and he could hear a small creature in the stack, a mouse or shrew, scuffling about, but no-one dived on him, called him out. He got to his feet, cautiously circling the stack, wary of an ambush, but the field was empty.

He guessed it was about an hour til dinner, the first fading up of dusky pinks and purples feathering the clouds. He started toward the hedgerow, heading for the five-bar gate which gave onto the rutted track he could follow to the farmhouse yard. He stooped to pluck a stray cornstalk for chewing thoughtfully on his way. It made him think of Huck Finn, last year’s required reading, the book cover depicting a kid with bare feet dangling in a stream, rod in hand, hat tipped over his eyes and a long straw jauntily poking from the corner of his lazily smiling lips.

The thought of water caused a powerful pull on his being. Tomorrow there would be no running to the brook to bathe tired feet, only thick, sweaty school socks and uncomfortable new term shoes. He knew he would be in deep when he turned up late for dinner, maybe even supper, but he ignored the gate and began to run. His bare feet kicked up dust and husks, an occasional surprised bird flaring into the air with indignant cries, and he had to swerve and hurdle once as a sinuous adder protested the disturbance with a sharp strike, but he could already smell the brook, that damp, delicious warmth rising from cold water on summer-heated riverbank.

He skidded to a halt, toes buried deep in the loamy mud of the bank and simply stared. Across the brook – which babbled on obliviously, stones and tiny fish glittering and glimmering as the sleepy sun dripped deepening shades of gold and magenta into the flow – the long grass rippled, stilled and rippled again. Troy’s heart thudded fast, his breath coming hard from his run, but now quickened with a trickle of fear. Whatever was shifting the grass was too big to be a rabbit or even a fox. His dad’s warnings about wild hogs crossed his mind but skittered off the slick fear his deeper mind radiated – stories of assorted big cats, loosed by accident or design; occasional escapees who made their homes in the wild woods.

He stepped back, easing round the bole of a huge oak and into the shadows there. He knew the thing could probably smell him but putting a tree between him and produced the courage to peer out. He breathed out in tiny wisps, not wanting to make a sound as the grass parted… and then he clapped a hand over his mouth in a hurried attempt to stop his exhalation, something between a laugh and a gasp of shock.

Across the brook a horse worked its way forward, maneuvered its head and neck down and took a long drink from the brook. Nothing unusual there, Troy’s brain tried to affirm, frantically over-riding the other voice which silently yelled ‘ But it’s bright blue with pink spots and walks on skis! Tell me that’s not a wooden rocking horse!’ It was. There was no way Troy could look at the creature gently rocking back and forth, securing a drink with each forward rock, stringy wool mane, still retaining a few sparkles, flipping back and forth in unison with the rocking.

Troy looked closer, noting the broken ear, the scratched and battered paint-work, the tail – which swished idly as evening midges closed in – threadbare and the splinters revealing raw patches on the rockers. This was a horse which had seen action, a legion of kids having sat that worn saddle, feet in stirrups now thin enough to break at the slightest pressure. A workhorse; the phrase his grandpa had used to describe the plough animals, or an elderly but still productive milker. Could be, but whatever its age and history, Troy finally faced the facts, it was a child’s toy and had no right moving around on its own or drinking with wooden throat from a babbling brook.

He hovered uncertainly. What to do? The horse decided for him. Apparently careless of, or blind to, the boy’s presence, it steadily rocked itself to face back into the woods and began to move away. Troy paused, gave a glance back across the fields to the lights beginning to flicker into being at home, caught that decrepit tail vanishing between thickly growing ferns and answered the call of his curiosity. He dug his shoes out of his rucksack – now containing only the remnants of a cheese sandwich and a few carrot sticks his mother insisted he eat but he usually left for the field creatures, stuffed his feet into them and hurried over the brook, slipping through the ferns with that noiseless ease given only to the young adventurer.

He followed the trail of bent foliage. The horse’s passage occasionally diverted onto a rabbit track or fox path, but kept to an unbeaten track most of the time. The light was fading from the sky and Troy was beginning to worry he would lose the way to shadows before the mystery was solved, speeding up until he was only a couple of paces behind the steadily progressing horse but he needn’t have fretted. The horse rocked out into a clearing and took to a path which led through thinning trees. The shrubs and ground cover lessened and more light, now the dimming of twilight, crept through to show the way.

The horse ambled out into a huge open space. Stepping from beneath the canopy, Troy saw he was in Mr Browning’s back acre, a pasture which the elderly man was too old to tend any more and had let run wild. He couldn’t move, simply gazing transfixed as the horse rocked on… going to join all the others.

The pasture – when had anyone, any human, last been out here – was rimmed with tall grass, almost high enough to conceal Troy’s ten year old frame but he discovered, as he pushed forward, the centre was close-cropped, probably literally and filled with horses. They were a motley herd seeming of every shape, size and description. Battered rocking horses nuzzled beside elegant carousel horses. Tiny ponies on rollers stood happily beside two plaster horses he vaguely remembered had once fronted the town park gates. Every hue, every material, from china to wood and beyond was represented and the herd was gathered around the circle.

It’s like that stone place, Troy thought to himself, Stonehenge, that was it. This was Ponyhenge, complete with inner and outer circles and what might even be described as a processional way.

He hadn’t been aware of moving, slowly joining the myriad equine life in the pasture. A snow-white carousel horse, its pole a swirl of pink and red, edged aside, allowing the boy to stand between it and the rocking horse he had followed. Troy made no sound, only watched in wonder as the horses turned in a single movement and gazed down the processional way. A tatty pony on two worn runners slipped up the way. As the herd – and one entranced child – followed its progress into the centre of the henge a pale glow began to coalesce at its side. The glow intensified, a form emerging; the most beautiful, graceful white horse Troy had ever seen stood beside the worn pony and nuzzled it gently.

The pony raised a head with balding mane and one blinded eye, but oh it was proud. It had earned every patch and scar, each wound a testament to a child’s joy. It whinnied, a long, mournful sound which was echoed by every horse in the pasture. The white apparition raised it’s beautiful head and sounded a long call which was taken up in turn. The sound was soft, low, but filled with a soulful joy and Troy felt lifted, tears brightening his eyes.

The chorus rose and fell for a few moments but was cut off suddenly, all heads turning to the sky, now dark enough to show the first twinkle of stars. A second glow began at the feet of the old horse, rising in a lazy spiral high into the sky above the pasture. With a gentle, but firm nudge from the white beauty, the little horse rolled onto what was now a filmy white slope. Troy watched its slow progress up and up, around and around and suddenly understood.

The slope ended and Troy knew that constellation, The Plough, and he watched as a brilliant flash of light drew a portal, a door opening between the arms of the Plough. The pony reached the door, paused, whinnied once, and in that moment Troy was certain he saw it repaired, as perfect as the day it had been given to its first child, then it vanished inside the light which winked out. The herd gave voice as one, a call of joy and farewell and then all was still.

Troy was at once aware of the white horse. It skimmed the ground, stopped before him and gazed at him for a long moment. Troy was instantly nervous, blurting out the only sound he had made all evening;

‘Thank you. Thank you for letting me stay, letting me see.’

Somehow, in his innocence, he chose the right words, he felt it in the softening of that golden gaze, saw it in the slight nod of a perfectly formed head… and knew no more.

They found him the next morning, his parents frantic, scolding and hugging him by turns. They assumed he had fallen asleep whilst out making the most of his last day of freedom, but Troy knew better. He couldn’t tell, never would, but he kept that joy through his life, especially on star-filled nights when the Plough blazed in the skies above him.

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