This story is from Week #7 of my 52-Week Flash Fiction Challenge. It follows the form of the genre: 500 words, and at its heart, a snappy, sensory exposé of the human condition – a sense of shared humanity. Its finale, like all good Flash Fiction holds a twist, a delightful ah-ha moment that surprises both protagonist and reader.
CHINESE WHISPER by Sheryl Gwyther
The racehorse lived in a paddock at the edge of town. Every day, when Elia McCarthy stopped by on her way to school the horse gazed out across the rolling green hills, one leg more crooked than the others, her black mane long and tangled. She wore a purple blanket with her name in spiky print. CHINESE WHISPER
Elia climbed the gate, calling and waving a handful of grass. ‘Whisper, here’s some sweet grass to eat.’
Every day, the horse limped to the gate, gently snuffling and nibbling the offering from her hand, even though the same grass grew all around the paddock. To Elia’s ten-year-old instinct, the animal’s soft, brown eyes looked sad.
‘That old nag’s not a racehorse.’ At the kitchen table, Connor McCarthy stuffed his face with afternoon tea. ‘Mrs O’Dooley from Finnegan’s Pub told me so, and she heard it off Mr O’Shanagan whose second-cousin’s wife works for Ballantyne’s racing stable.’ There was nothing worse than a big brother who thought he knew everything.
‘Whisper is a racehorse!’ Elia said. ‘The fastest ever.’
Connor snorted. ‘I heard that mare’s headed for the knackers.’
Horror chilled Elia’s heart. Everyone knew horses that went into the knacker’s yard never came out alive. ‘You’re just saying that, Connor.’
‘Go see for yourself. Mr Ballantyne’s horse float’s parked in front of the pub. I bet he’s taking that old horse to the knacker’s this afternoon.’
Up the street raced Elia. No sign of the horse-float in town. Mr Ballantyne must be at the paddock already.
With her dread pounding in every step, Elia sprinted through town. The gate was open and a man stood beside Whisper patting her neck.
Elia tore across the paddock, her hair flying, and her feet sure on the clods.
‘Don’t take her away!’ She stumbled to a stop, puffing. The man stared at her, his mouth agape. Whisper nudged Elia’s hair, as if she wanted to whisper a secret in her ear.
‘I’m Elia. Please don’t take Whisper to the knacker’s yard. I’ll pay you everything from my money box for her.’ Not time to reveal her ceramic pig was small. Nor that she’d all her savings on a new book.
A grin spread across Mr Ballantyne’s face. ‘Send the old girl to the knackers? Who told you that?’
‘My brother, Connor heard it from Mrs O’Dooley at Finnegan’s Pub who heard it from Mr O’Shanagan’s second-cousin’s wife who works for you.’
Mr Ballantyne laughed until his face grew red. ‘A prime example of Chinese Whispers! I said I’d never send my best ever mare to the knackers. She won the Irish Derby one year, and lots of other races. Whisper deserves a great retirement.’
Elia grinned like a loon. Then she frowned. ‘But why bring the horse-float here?’
Elia followed Mr Ballantyne. He opened the horse-float door and led a pretty piebald down the ramp. ‘Meet Curragh, she’s retiring too.’ The horse-trainer smiled at Elia. ‘Another friend for Whisper. And perhaps yourself?’
© Sheryl Gwyther 2014 500 words (Image: SC Gwyther – Tasmanian highlands)