It was a desolate place. Overgrown with weeds, remnants of dirt blackened grass looking as tired and defeated as my dad after a ten hour shift at the mill. I gazed across the field, wondering who on earth could be bothered to travel out here to the back end of nowhere to dump a mattress and - could you believe it ? – a bath in a hideous shade of pink, complete with taps, shower attachment and a shower curtain with pictures of mermaids. Poor things! I bet they were pleased to end up in this dump!
“ Alison, what are you doing ? We’re ready to leave ; do you need the loo ? “
I didn’t reply. Mum knew what I felt about her insistence on stopping at these foul transport cafes because, according to her, they had a more “ sustainable “ approach than motorway services. Well, at least at the services the people serving the food had clean fingernails and the loos didn’t smell like they hadn’t been cleaned since dinosaurs were queuing up here for the world’s worst beans on toast. How can you ruin that ?
Maybe a pterodactyl will swoop down, carry her away and leave me in peace for a few minutes ………..
“ Alison ! “
“ Shut up “
My gaze strayed to the far corner of the field and a horrific sight made me forget all about family squabbles. Tethered with a filthy length of rope stood a grey horse so emaciated I could see the bones sticking out through its matted, unkempt coat. The look in its dark hazel eyes contained a sadness so profound I found myself vaulting over the barbed wire and running through the piles of litter (and far worse!) to cradle the horse’s head in my arms. He gave a soft whinny at the back of his throat and I felt the hot salt-wet stickiness of my tears as I wondered what kind of person, what evil pretence at a human being, could do this to such a wonderful creature.
“ Used to race, you know. Won a time or two. Even raced at York. “
I spun round in alarm and, for the first time, noticed the old man leaning up against a rotting wardrobe.
“ Is he yours ? How could you leave him to starve like this ? “
“ Hold on, there, young lady ……. He’s not mine. This is my home and I try to feed him a bit of anything I can find. He was dumped from a horse lorry back end of April, four months ago. Don’t know why they didn’t just shoot him. It would have been kinder. “
I had to do something quick. Surely Mum would think of something – she was always going on about animal species becoming extinct and ruining the eco-system, or some such stuff. Sorry about the Pterodactyl thought, mum, I whispered to myself.
“ I’ll be right back; don’t go anywhere “ I said to the old man, and heard his rueful laugh as I rushed back to the café.
“ What on earth have you been doing …….. “ I heard Mum say, and saw the incredulous look on her face at my torn jeans and dishevelled appearance.
“ Mum … quickly. Come quickly. There’s a horse. It’s half-starved …going to die …. We’ve got to do something. There’s an old man looking after it. Come on ! “
I tugged at the sleeve of mum’s jacket, but stopped dead. Where the horse had been was simply an empty space. No horse, no old man. Nothing except grass and rubbish.
“ Alison ? What on earth is the matter ? have you been fantasising again ? Too many of those silly vampire novels. Stop messing about. We have to go or your father will start worrying. “
I clutched at a newspaper drifting past in the surprisingly stiff July breeze. It was a copy of The Racing Post. The headline jumped out at me : “ Abandoned Racehorses – A Growing Scandal …….. “ I folded up the paper and put it in the pocket of my jeans. Checked again : no horse, no old man. Had I momentarily fallen asleep ? Was it a ghost ? Or just a vision of what might be if I didn’t act, like ,right now. This very second.
“ Mum, hurry up. We need to get home quick. There are lives to save every single day. “
As our car drove back fast towards the M1 I thought I could hear a distant sound of a horse’s whinny drifting high across the late afternoon sky ……..” don’t forget us “ it seemed to be saying.
No chance. Absolutely no chance.