‘But I am intelligent too!!!’ he screamed, and the empty hall echoed it eerily.
‘I hate your thumb, and all the things you can do with it, while I’m stuck here with this keratin mass!’ he said while raising his hooves. ‘Grab this, scratch that, point, pick and poke! I asked Hesp time and time again to use his millions and get me an implant, two fingers at least. I told him I would give an arm and a leg for it, but he never acceded. Then yesterday he had the nerve to attempt to teach me how to play chess. Chess! You people always say that chess is a mind sport, but it’s not. It’s a thinly veiled glorification of the thumb and all the other freaking fingers. Oh look, I can pick this fragile piece up and put it anywhere! Queen to E6. Bishop to B5. Check mate!’ He was clearly freaking out the more he thought about it, so I tried stopping him somehow.
‘But you could play on a computer’
‘And how do you think I would click the mouse?’
‘You can interact with computers with voice commands as well.’
‘And if I were to win, how would I give a nice fat thumbs up? Huh? No, no, this is all against me, all your tools and gadgets and instruments and gizmos and, and, and that mindless Hesp stood there, holding out a chess piece, and I just lost it, I had been fed up anyway for a long time, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I crushed his paper skull, I didn’t need fingers for that.' He seemed to get frantic again, and that made us feel even more frightened.
'Listen, Six Ways to Sunday,' Esther said, 'I think that you were in touch with a narrow minded man. I think you should start over. You could hide here for a while, we would feed you and keep you company, I can assure you that we would both focus on the intelligent part, and the three of us could think of a way out of this.' I knew that Esther was dead serious, and I think that the horse considered her proposal for a while, but then he just shook his head, and I saw that his angry side had won again.
'There is no way out of this. Now, that everyone knows about me, if I get caught they either put me to death - which would be for the best -, or they lock me somewhere and run all kinds of tests and write all kinds of fancy essays about how I swear when they stick a probe in my bum instead of just neighing. Would you like to be a guinea pig?'
While I remembered being one earlier today Esther just blurted out a big honest “No”
'I thought so,' frowned the horse and started to walk faster up and down, alarmingly close, as we were stuck now with our backs to an old machine. I couldn't stop thinking where the hell all the clever journalist and freelancers and unemployed adventurers are when you need them, and I knew that I have to stall for time somehow.
'No foot, no horse, that's what they say,' he continued, 'is that all I am? You guys can live with no limbs and attempt to have a full life but me, without a hoof, I am nothing?' and he fumed as he kept frantically circling. ’You know what? I think you should sit down, there, next to that thing, machine or whatever it might be, you don’t want to hurt your toes.’
We sat down, not that we had any other options, and I thought I’d try something to make the situation more comfortable.
'I've been watching you for a while now, Six Ways to Sunday, and I feel like I know you a bit, and since you are magnificent I was wondering, would it be possible for me to draw you?'
He stopped, looked at me, then he started laughing which was even stranger than his talking. 'Oh sure, that would be really original! Let's draw a horse, bring out all his muscles, draw him in motion while you show off with your famous thumb and its four brothers handling the pencil. Or better yet, let's make a statue. For the fast and the victorious. Mount a man on the horse’s back and play with his legs to say something about . . . . About what? The horse? Nooo! About the horseman, ‘cause the horse is just a tool anyway. Say something about the rider’s faith. All four legs on the ground, died naturally; lift one, wounded in battle; lift two, erm, I don’t know that one but if you lift three the knight died in battle.' And he was demonstrating us what he was saying, lifting his legs, jumping up and down. 'What do you call a prancing horse on the front of a car? A roadkill? No! A Ferrari!'
'I didn't mean it like that, I just...'
'No, no, you're beating a dead horse. I won't stand here to be drawn like a freaking... anything,' he panted. Then in the distance we heard the faint whirring of a police car.
'They are coming for me!' he shouted.
'They are not,' said Esther. 'Police cars go around Rotham: all the time.'
'How do you know that this time they are not coming for me? They always go after someone.'
'I'm sure if they knew you were here, they would come in silence.' I said.
'You're sure, you're sure. I guess you called them. I'm sure you called them. I'm sure. I'm sure!'
'No, no, how could have I?'
'Just because I don't know how you did it, doesn't mean it wasn't you! I'll crush you this instance!' He ran towards us, pranced again and struck his front leg towards me. I pulled Esther away, we barely avoided his hoof but he was striking again.
'Wait! Wait!' I shouted as we scampered on the floor.
'You'll both die!' he yelled and struck again. I felt that everything was lost, just like me.
'Last wish! Last wish!' I cried.
'What?' He snorted but stopped nonetheless.
'How about a last wish? That is a fair request, isn't it?'
'I'm not letting the girl free.'
'I wouldn't go!!!' shouted Esther defiantly.
'No, no, no, it's not that.'
'You are trying to trick me again!' He said, but, for the moment at least, he seemed calmer.
'Listen,' I started trying to choose my words carefully not to make him angry, 'you were misunderstood, I get that now, I also see your pain.'
'You don't see anything, you only,' but this time I cut him off.
'Will you listen to me?!' I shouted and the hall echoed. So much about being careful. 'I interviewed a scientist today, and he had invented a machine that enables . . . living beings to feel each others’ feelings. It’s called an empathy machine.'
'What are you talking about? This is your worst trick yet.' he said, but I saw that his intellect was very much interested.
'It's not a trick, I was there today, I saw his invention, I spoke with him, and I want to call him here and ask him to connect me with you.'
'That is impossible.'
'It is not! It works just like a neuron, and if we call him here you could see for yourself.'
'Don't you think that I will let you go!'
'No, I don't want that. I just want to try a new thing out if I have to die.'
'All right, call him,' he said. 'But don't try to be clever with me, put the phone on speaker and down on the floor, I'll keep my hoof over it, and if something seems wrong I'll crush it and your skull too.'
I did as he demanded; lying on the floor next to my phone his hoof seemed even bigger. Being as scared as I was I couldn't help overdoing my gestures on the phone, switching between my fingers and overdoing every swipe; if I have to go I might as well be cheeky a bit. The phone rang, and luckily Bernie answered.
'Hello Bernie! This is Azeu, I'm the journalist who interviewed you today.'
'Oh yeah, how are you, man?'
'I'm good and I have great news!'
'No, not quite.'
'But it's good nevertheless. Listen, I was wondering, would you be interested in testing your machine on animals?'
'I haven't thought of that, but I think it’s a great idea. I’m sure it's possible to connect it to animals as well. Yeah man, that's a good idea.'
'The thing is that I can’t bring the animal to you. Is your instrument portable? Can you move it?’
‘Of course, man.’
‘Then you should take it to the abandoned factory in Green Springhill, you know it?'
'No, but I'm sure I can found it.'
'Are you able to go there right now?'
'Yeah, sure man, I'll look it up and be there as soon as possible.'
'Thank you, Bernie. I'll be there as well.'
I hung up and went back next to Esther while the horse remained there, seemingly even calmer. 'I don't think that anything good will come out of this. I should just kill you now and jump off the roof.'
'No, no, it will work. You’ll see. Though you shouldn't harm Bernie, he’s got nothing to do with this, he is just doing us a favour.'
'I'm not interested in scientists,' he said. Seeing that he settled down a bit, I said. 'Two kills will be more than enough, you should let Esther go.'
'Oh, the hero! The lover! How noble of you!' and he laughed again. 'I told you, I'm not letting her go.'
'You shouldn't criticise what you don't understand.'
'I had all the mares I wanted, millionaire, remember?'
'You are talking about sex, not love mate.'
'Ehh, what do you know.'
'If you gentleman are through arguing,' said Esther who was listening quietly until now, 'I would like to say that I won't leave without Azeu.' and she tightened her grip on my hand.
'No one ever called me a gentleman before,' chuckled the horse. 'And you two keep on acting like two lovers should, but the thing is that her life is not yours and it’s not even hers, it's mine and I will decide about that.'
Seeing that he's getting angry again, I resolved to keep quiet, and Esther must have felt the same way so we just stood there while the horse kept on walking round and round. After a while he showed signs of agitation again, he must have thought of Hesp or fingers, so I thought I'd try talking to him to keep his mind off anything else.
'So what do you think we should do when the scientist arrives? Should I go out and take the machine from him?'
'And run away? Think again!'
'You know that I would never leave Esther here.'
'You can never be sure, I think calling that man here was a mistake.'
'No, no, you will see soon that it wasn’t. The machine really exists.'
'I think you are misleading me.'
'How, do you reckon? That I have thought up a secret code for the instance I'm trapped by an intelligent horse, and I can escape his vigilance? I’ll call a friend and tell him to bring an instrument, and he’ll know that I’m threatened by a horse?'
He didn't answer straight away, instead kept on walking. I wasn’t forcing the issue, and after a while he said, 'You will tell him to bring it half way from the door, then when he leaves you'll bring it here. Can you handle that instrument?'
'Yes, I think I got a hang of it today.'
After another ten minutes of silence my phone rang. He tapped his hoof on the floor, showing me that we'd do the same drill as before. I put the phone down, answered, it was Bernie asking me for directions from the main entrance. I told him how to get to the fire door. Soon enough I heard his voice, 'Man, you live in a cool place.'
'It's not my place, mate. Anyway, could you bring that machine a bit closer? Then put in on the floor and leave.'
'Leave? Why should I leave? Is that animal dangerous?'
’No, I don’t think so, but it’s safer this way, I think.’
’I won’t leave it here! I’m coming in.’
’No Bernie, you should,’ but the horse interrupted.
’Come on, Bernie, don’t be afraid, there is still room for one where we’re going.’
’Whoa man, a talking horse!’
’I’m an intelligent horse!!’ shouted Six Ways to Sunday.
’Is impressed,’ said Bernie.
’What?’ asked the horse but no one answered him.
Bernie came to us and turned his machine on, ’We should hurry, it only works for half an hour when it’s unplugged.’
’That should be enough. Can you hook it up on the horse and me?’
’Sure, I think it works on animals as well.’
’I’m not your average animal,’ said the horse in an annoyed tone.
’Anatomically you are an animal.’ said Bernie.
’Anatomically you’re an animal as well,’ he replied.
’Yeah man, that’s why it’s going to work. Could you please come to this side?’ he called the horse, ’I will need to make a small incision, it will hurt a bit.’
’Don’t worry, I can take the pain.’
He connected the horse, then me; I already had my incision though I asked him to make a fresh one. ’Ready?’ he asked and we both nodded. Then he turned the knob. I cried out.
’Are you alright?’ shouted Esther.
’Yes, I am, don’t worry, it’s just . . . .’
’What happened?’ asked the horse, ’I didn’t feel a thing.’
’That’s because you are not on the receptive side, but this journalist bloke felt your pain, though he can’t take it, I noticed that earlier today. Can I switch places with him?’
’What is this charade?’ he shouted. ’Nothing is happening, you guys are just making things up to stall for time, this will end now, and I will start with smashing this device.’
’No, no!’ the scientist shouted, ’this is a finely tuned machine which works perfectly, come on, man, why don’t you switch sides with him and you will see that it works.’
’Feeling a human’s feelings? That would be the day! All right, let’s switch places. Calling me a man,’ he fumed as we swapped sides. When Bernie connected us both I turned to the horse.
'Humour me, Six Ways to Sunday. Could you tell me, if work was noise, then what would rest be?'
He looked at me as if on a high horse. 'You call this a riddle? Hah. If work is noise then the rest is silence.'
'Hit it!' I shouted at the scientist, he turned the knob, and the horse fell.
'Oh man!' shouted the scientist. 'You've got some issues man!'
'Not as many as your machine. Come on,' I turned to Esther, 'he might recover. I suggest you come as well, Bernie.' And I took her hand and started running towards the fire door. A reluctant Bernie followed. Once outside, we tried to block the door with some metal rods that were scattered there, as me and Esther were aware that this is the only way out. I called the police and kept peeking inside through a hole. The horse was still lying there. After I hung up, Esther asked me, 'What happened in there?'
'Bernie's machine is faulty, it shocks on the receiver side, and horses and electricity don't mix, seemingly even the intelligent ones are affected.'
'My machine works perfectly,' said Bernie, 'it's you who needs some fixing, man.'
She looked at me and I shook my head. 'It's faulty,' I mouthed.
'Is he dead?' she asked me while she cast a brief look inside.
'I don't know, he may be just out. But luckily I can hear the police coming, they can check.'
They did check, once there were enough of them to go in, and all they could do was pronounce him dead, though I don't know if that is the official term used on horses. Esther looked quite upset and I wasn't too well either. 'At least he got what he wanted.' I tried to console her.
'Yeah I know, there was no way out for him, at least we managed to come out of there, but it's still sad.'
'I understand, I feel the same way. I kind of hoped that he just might get knocked out for a while, but I guess it's better for him this way.'
I got interrupted by the buzzing of my phone, it was my editor.
'You think you are able to tell a Noble prize winner off?' he shouted without any initial niceties.
'Are you talking about Bernie? He's not a winner yet.'
'It's Mr Sicmore for you, Azeu. How dare you write that his machine doesn't work?'
'Come to think of it, it does work, just killed the horse.'
'What? When? Where? What horse?'
'The horse of the day of course, Six Ways to Sunday.'
I saw that it was time I got more specific, so I filled him in with most of the details, omitting some parts of our talk though.
'You really surpassed yourself now!' he said. I wasn't sure if this was good or bad, but I decided to attack it anyway.
'That's a really dumb thing to say and it's virtually impossible as well. The only thing I might have surpassed is your low expectations.'
'Take it easy Azeu, I'm only kidding, you did a great job, make sure to write it well.' I could almost hear him rubbing his hands together. 'Could you make the morning issue?'
'Yeah, yeah, I'll try.'
'That's good, that's good. So, you say he kicked his owner accidentally when he slipped while sitting down to play chess?’
’Yes, I heard it from the horse’s mouth.’
’He played chess then. I guess that's intelligent . . . for a horse. Anyway, see you tomorrow, have some rest now, you earned it.'
As I hung up I looked at Esther, 'The horse would have never been happy, I'm sure of it.'
'I know, but,' she didn't finish, instead she said, 'my stuff is still in there.'
'Don't worry, I don't think anyone will notice, they'll think it's part of the rubble.'
'Hey!' she slapped me over the head.
'Come on old lady, time to go home.'
'It's young lady for you!'
'Would you make up your mind already?!'It was almost dark now, and as we were walking through a small park I had a feeling the grass was never greener before. So appetizing.