Deep Breaths

By CC 

It was a stupid thought. That he was going to have oats in his hair, maybe stuck to the sweat on his face. He inhaled, savoring the sweet essence of grain mixed with the wet hay aroma of burlap. He loved that smell, like a clean barn at feeding time. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to just close his eyes and breathe deep again, let his mind take him away, to lose himself in the rhythm of running his brush over Barranca’s flanks, smelling the scent of saddle leather lingering on his back.

It wasn’t that easy to stay there, though. He sucked in again, fighting to pull the air through the cloying weave of the sack. It had rained earlier, when it was still dark. He’d heard it tapping on the ground outside, tentatively at first, then pounding like a stampede rushing around him. Maybe that was why the air felt like it had already been breathed, all warm and wet. Or maybe he really had already breathed it, sucked the life right out of it. He pulled the air in harder, fighting the impulse to struggle.

A haze had hovered over the ground, like steam from a horse’s back on a cold morning, as he’d climbed the steps just minutes ago. He’d squinted against the emerging sun then, but now all he could see of it were sprinkles of light that pushed their way through the dark mesh, like stars in a reddened sky. He darted his eyes, searching for a tear in the fabric, something he could actually see through. Remembered Murdoch, standing straight, jostled by the jubilant crowd, like an oak before the felling blow. Teresa, hiding her face in Scott’s chest. And Scott, holding her up, looking at him. He squeezed his eyes closed, fearing he just might find that hole after all. 

The wooden platform shook beneath him, another person, heavier than the rest, climbing the stairs, thumping toward him. Hands on his shoulders nudged him to his right, forcing him to take a stumbling step. He sucked in again, but the sack made it hard to breathe. He tried to concentrate, think of riding Barranca, the power and rhythm of his stride, the wind rushing at his face, how easy it was to breathe then. Something rough snugged along his neck, something hard rubbed against one ear. He breathed hard and fast, tried not to let it show, not to sway. Thought of galloping to the crest overlooking Lancer, to that place where he’d first seen the place he’d call home. He’d be home soon. The voices quieted. A single bird chirped somewhere.   

A thunk.

Beneath his boots he could feel only air.   



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