I was loving every second of this walk.
The dull grey bark around me was far more attractive than the panelling of my humble house, and the bite of thorns was better than that of cold leather. I noticed I was leaving shoeprints in the mud, and collecting mud on my new shoes. Oh, how I love my new shoes!
He made them for me, I remember. I heard him labouring - every metallic bang that rung in my ears was like music to them, for it meant that hewas working on my new shoes! And how grateful I was! I showed my gratitude every day, wearing out my sparkling new shoes until I was wearing out the skin of my feet, and many more hours besides; when your master gives you a gift, you can wear it out until the moon rises, or you can expect the crack of leather on your back to make you enjoy it.
Oh, how I love my new shoes!
I cast my mind back to a time when my shoes were perfectly clean. I was on Parade and my master was tying a rope round my neck. He led me trotting around in dizzying circles, and tugged my head forward whenever I defiantly glanced towards the surrounding crowds.
There were so many people; it was extraordinary! They buzzed everywhere around me - the deep gloats of the fat ones, the inconsiderate cries of the tiny ones, and the shrill, cutting sounds from the ones with frilly coats all mingled into a single interminable, unassailable noise. I stopped, I shook my head, I resisted against the blunt pull of my master. The clatter of voices rose and rose, like the activity of a hive, and I couldn’t take it. My loud pleas for help drifted unnoticed through the crowded air. By the rope around my neck I was tugged into a stable, where my master stayed with me.
When I was calm he was handed a black mask, which he slipped onto my head.
“There,” he had said, “the blinkers oughta put ya straight!”
I still wore the mask now, as I sat below the protective canopies of the forest. I could see nothing but what was ahead of me, as if I had been placed in a narrow tunnel and had only the end to run to.
But I soon came to realise that there was nothing there.
Wherever I frantically glanced, I could find nothing other than the sable embrace of darkness. Was it that I had lost my ability to see? Was it that my mask had fallen carelessly over my eyes? Or was it that the sun had been extinguished at that very moment?
I closed my weary eyes and escaped this question for a while.
An image flashed at me. I knew it was just a dream, but I welcomed it nonetheless. How happy I was to see the vibrant greens of the racecourse and the florid uniforms of the jockeys atop their horses; and how surprised I was to see that I was seated on two legs, holding an apple in my hands. My hands!
In this dream, I was human!
As if by fate, my eyes were fixed upon only one horse.
It was a wonderful horse, and some gilded text was printed in its clothing. Its hide was brown, and its shoes shone vividly in the cold winter air. While it was dressed the part, I could see it was uneasy: the mask on its face was loosely set and wobbled as the horse moved; and the animal’s hide was patterned with scars.
It galloped with four well-practised beats, but there was almost a fifth beat in the mad cracking of the jockey’s whip.
The spectators around me hailed it – “Good ol’ Dave!” they said, “what a trainer! That Golden Gun’s brilliant!”
Golden Gun approached the first hurdle.
Crack, as she approached it. Crack, crack, as she raised her front legs to mount it.
No crack, as she whinnied, turned around on two legs, and cast off her jockey like a coat. The jockey could only watch as the leg of a disappointed fan crunched under the horse’s hoof like a twig and as it galloped toward a distant forest.
Then the dream-world faded; I never found out whether that fan survived.
I felt my eyes open once more. Around me again was a veil of blackness, and I could feel my four legs and lumbering head as they always were.
Questions still remained. Who were the characters of my vision: the bully who beat his horse into submission; and the victim who had so boldly left him squirming in the grass? Had the injured man lived?
“Where’ya hidin’ Golden Gun?” a voice said, “Ya really did it today, a real golden performance!”
I recognised that voice; those were the comforting tones of my master!
The footsteps were heading towards me and I cried to give away my whereabouts. Eventually he was close; I could feel his breath playing with my nose! His head was just under mine, and I visualised him there as a warm, gloved hand rested on my shoulder.
This was not my master’s hand.
I thought nothing of this noise – as I thought nothing of the cold, unforgiving barrel pushing against my temple: if it belonged to my master (or this foreign hand) there would be no harm in it; and if it didn’t, it would be nothing more than a fallen twig.
I didn’t have time to think about this noise before this world left me.
I had tried to thank the alien hand for alleviating me of my incessant pains, but gratitude had stuck in my mouth like an ulcer.
My eyes were firmly shut.