A Phantom Horse’s Revenge
In honor of Halloween, Horse Nation held a spooky short story contest, calling for readers’ best horsey tales of horror (and humor!). We’re sharing our favorites over the next three days — here’s one of our picks! We’ll be reading some of these tales on Horses in the Morning on Halloween day.
By Leah Horn
My hands were cramping as they gripped the steering wheel. It had only been a three hour drive but I think my nerves were getting to me. It was a gorgeous fall day, the air was crisp and clear, a perfect day for a trail ride. My stomach did flips as I thought about the fact that we were finally moving the horses to our own farm.
After years of boarding and dealing with stalls with too few shavings and empty water buckets, I was finally in charge of my own horses. My husband and I had waited a long time for this. The kids were a bit less than thrilled about changing schools, but we knew that this was the right decision. The old house had no backyard and the schools were terrible.
I looked in my mirrors to check the trailer. I wondered if Bandit had eaten all his hay already and if Bella had even touched hers. She wasn’t a good traveler, she tended to be nervous, which was why Bandit was a perfect match for her as a travel mate. He was a laid back 15-hand Welsh Cob mix and had the personality of a couch potato. Unless of course you were on his back and had him pointed at a jump, then he woke up. We mainly competed him in hunters, but I always thought that if I was brave enough he would make a great jumper pony.
As we pulled into the driveway of our new farm, the kids sat up and looked up from their iPads to look out the window. “We are here guys! Get your shoes on, we need to unload the horses and get them settled in. Daddy should be only a few minutes behind us in the box truck.”
We unloaded the horses and turned them out in their new paddock so they could stretch their legs and eat some grass while we set up their stalls. Bandit’s stall was my favorite stall in the barn. His window faced the house, so that when he looked out the window I could see him from my bedroom. The barn had four stalls, a tack room and a wash stall. It was a horse woman’s dream — hot water, electricity and 12×12 matted box stalls.
“Riley, let’s go grab the horses and put them in their stalls.”
As I was putting Bandit’s halter on, Riley said, “Hey Mom, look at this weird mound of dirt under this tree. There isn’t any grass growing on it. Isn’t that strange? It’s like there is something wrong with the dirt.” Something about the mound of dirt gave me an uneasy feeling, I have seen my share of horse graves and it gave me the creeps to think that someone’s horse might be buried under there.
Riley grabbed Bella and I grabbed Bandit and we walked them into the barn. Bandit walked in the barn liked he owned the place while Bella acted like every nook and cranny had a horse-eating monster in it. I walked Bandit to his stall and was about to lead him in when he hit the breaks. He started blowing and flaring his nostrils and nearly pulled me off my feet.
“What the heck, Bandit? What is the matter?” I paused and let him sniff around. He started to blow some more and set his head high in the air and glued his feet to the ground.
“Bandit, come on let’s go. Knock it off; it’s getting dark and we need to start dinner. Riley can you turn the barn lights on, maybe he sees shadows?.”
After giving him plenty of time to check things out I started to lose patience. I slapped him on the rump a bit sternly and yelled at him to get in that stall. He would not budge, all 15 hands of him were locked in place. I walked him out of the barn and walked him back in, but when I got to the entrance of the stall he locked up his feet and started flaring his nostrils again.
“Tanner can you do me a favor and fill a small bucket of grain?” Bandit has never been one to turn down food. As I am coaxing Bandit into his stall inch by inch, my husband walks into the barn. “What’s going on? Riley said Bandit won’t go into his stall. What’s wrong with him?” he asks as he watches Bandit stretch his neck as much as possible without moving his feet.
“I have no idea what’s gotten into him, I have never seen him act like this. There must be something about this stall that he doesn’t like.” After much coaxing, pulling and Gabe pushing him from behind, we finally convinced Bandit to get into his new stall. But he did not seem happy. I walked into his stall to give him one last hug,
“Look Bandit, you have the best view, you can even see the house from your window. Maybe tomorrow, once the sun comes up, you will feel better.” After tucking Bella in too and making sure both horses have enough hay and water, we turn out the lights and head up to the house.
That night after the kids were tucked into bed, I took one last look out the window at the barn. The moon was gorgeous, so bright the trees were casting shadows along the ground. I could see Bandit’s white coat faintly under the moonlight and saw that he wasn’t eating hay, just standing there. As he slowly turned around to face me, I saw two piercing red eyes. I froze — I couldn’t scream or move. I could only keep looking at those red eyes where Bandit’s eyes should have been.
A hand touched my shoulder from behind and then I did scream. I turned around to see Gabe staring at me. “Whoa, are you ok? Why are you so jumpy.”
I couldn’t even find the words or the air in my lungs to tell him what I saw. I just turned back around to find the red eyes gone and the moon clouded over making it pitch black. I must have imagined it. I think I had too much coffee on the drive here. Gabe rubbed my arms and hugged me tight from behind.
“Jeez, Leah you are as cold as ice. Everything ok?”
“Yeah, I just thought I saw something — too many Stephen King books, I guess.”
As I drifted off to sleep that night, those red eyes seemed to be tattooed on the backs of my eyelids. I did my best to think happy thoughts, like setting up my tack room, and drifted off to a restless sleep.
By the time the morning had come I had convinced myself that the eyes were a figment of my imagination. At first light I went down to the barn to greet the horses and feed them breakfast. Bella greeted me with a nicker, but I heard nothing from Bandit. I threw Bella a flake of hay and then grabbed Bandit’s flake. He didn’t even turn around to look at me, he was facing away from the door staring into the corner.
“Hey, Bandit. Good morning. Hello, do you want some hay?” No response. So strange. I went into the stall and before I could even blink he double barrel kicked out at me. I literally saw the bottom of his hooves inches in front of my eyes. My delayed reaction kicked in and I jumped backwards out of the stall. I just stood there dumbfounded.
I have owned Bandit since he was three years old and he has never, ever done anything to put his humans in danger. I was so shocked. At that moment Gabe walked into the barn with two cups of coffee. He took one look at my face and said, “What happened?”
I couldn’t even speak; my heart was breaking. My horse, the horse I have spent years with and hours in the saddle, had tried to kick me. Not just kick me a little, like really kick me and probably would have killed me if he had connected with my head.
I found my voice and said, “Bandit just tried to kick me when I walked into his stall. He missed me by only a few inches.” By the look on Gabe’s face I could tell he was as dumbfounded as I was. On shaky legs, I closed his stall door and threw him his hay, walked over and fed Bella her grain and then reached through the bars to feed Bandit his.
He seemed normal now, he was munching on his hay and immediately started eating his grain. Gabe handed me my cup of coffee and then asked, “What do you think has gotten into him? Do you think it’s being at a new barn or the long trailer ride yesterday?”
As I took a sip of my coffee, I thought for a minute, “That can’t possibly be it. He has traveled further for horse shows and stayed at plenty of strange places. You know him, he usually settles in quickly and goes with the flow. As long as he has hay, grain and treats he is happy as a clam.”
Gabe looked at Bandit and said, “Well I don’t like it. He could have really hurt you.”
The rest of the day passed without any issues. The horses were turned out in their new paddocks and the kids spent the day on their bikes exploring the woods. After dinner I went down to the barn for night check. This time when I went into Bandit’s stall I made sure he was facing me, he nickered and searched my pockets for mints, making me giggle as usual. I swear he is part elephant; he uses his lips like an elephant’s trunk. He should get a job with the TSA checking people for contraband at the airport.
A couple of hours later I was startled awake by the sound of pounding hooves and the upset neighing of a horse. I punched Gabe in the arm. “Gabe, wake up! The horses are out!” The moment I stepped out the front door, a streak of white went thundering by me. I ran down to the barn to grab halters, only to find Bella cowering in her stall, her door wide open.
I closed her door quickly and ran out to get Bandit, bumping into Gabe in the process. “Gabe, grab a bucket of grain,” I can hear Bandit screaming and running in the dark. “He’s behind the house headed to the woods,” I say as I run after him with a halter. By the time I reach the edge of the woods my lungs are burning and I have to stop and catch my breath. As I pull air into my lungs, I realize that I can’t hear Bandit anymore.
I take a few steps towards the dark woods, wishing Gabe would hurry up with the grain. All of a sudden, I see two red eyes in the woods and before I can even register what’s happening I realize they are coming towards me. I hear the thunder of hooves and the scream of a horse and see two red eyes my mind can hardly process.
“Leah, RUN!” I hear Gabe yell from behind me.
My legs are like jello. I can’t get them to move; it’s like they are stuck in cement. The last thing I see is the white of Bandit’s bared teeth and then the lights go out.
I wake up to the unmistakable smell of a hospital. I can’t move yet or open my eyes, but I can hear Gabe and my parents talking a few feet away. “I think we are going to have to put him down, we can’t possibly allow him to hurt someone else. The vet thinks it might be EPM or rabies. We are waiting for the blood work to come back….I know she is going to fight me on this….”
A concussion, two bruised ribs and a broken wrist. The doctor said I was lucky it wasn’t worse. I spent two days in the hospital while Gabe held down the fort at home.
The kids were not allowed in the barn until we had things sorted out with Bandit and the vet recommended we just keep Bandit in the one stall that had a paddock attached to it so that Gabe didn’t have to handle him at all. I was shaken to the core. The thought that we might have to put down Bandit due to some debilitating neurological disease just broke my heart. I tried to explain the red eyes that I saw to Gabe but felt like an idiot as soon as the words left my mouth.
“You were probably just really scared, made your mind play tricks on you,” he said. I left it at that. It was not worth arguing — I felt crazy enough as it was.
A few days later I was sitting on the porch, enjoying the cool September afternoon, when the mailman pulled up the driveway. Out of the back of the truck he pulled out a beautiful arrangement of flowers. “I hear you had a spill a few days ago?” he said, as he placed the flowers on the porch and handed me the little white card that came with them.
“Yeah, I guess you could call it a spill,” I said as I read the card. From my best friend, it said, “Hope you feel better soon”.
“Ya know, you are one lucky lady. The last woman who had a horse on this property wasn’t so lucky.”
“What do you mean?” I stammer.
“Well the missus that lived here before you had the nicest horse you ever done met, but one day she said he just turned mean and started acting crazy. It’s a shame what happened to her.”
The blood started to drain from my face and I could feel the ice in my veins. I was afraid to ask, but I had to.
“What happened to her?” I ask.
“Well it depends on who you ask. Some folks think her husband killed her, others think her horse killed her. It sounds silly when you say it out loud like that. But the weird thing is, this here property wasn’t always a farm house. About 50 years ago it was used as a slaughterhouse. However it wasn’t your run of the mill slaughterhouse. This one was especially terrible because the owners were illegally slaughtering horses and shipping the meat up to Canada.”
I could feel the goosebumps form on my skin as he continued. “Folks say this farm is haunted and many have reported seeing strange things at night.”
My heart was beating out of my chest. My mind didn’t want to accept it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how Bandit’s eyes had turned red. The gentleman stood there looking down at the barn, chewing a toothpick.
“Look, ma’am, I am not one to believe in ghosts or demons, but if you speak to old Joe Smith, he will tell you that he swears that his wife’s horse was possessed by some sort of demon. Before they moved here he was a family horse, taught all their kids to ride, gentle as a kitten. They said the day they moved him in they couldn’t even get him to walk into his stall. They said it was like he felt something evil. Within a week he turned into a mean ornery horse, that would bite and kick any human that came near him. The night Mrs. Smith died he had escaped out of his stall and even let the other horses out. When the missus tried to catch him, her husband said the horse trampled her to death.”
With my shaky hands I tucked a wisp of hair behind my ear. “So, after she died, what did they do with the horse?”
The old man paused for a moment and then said, “ Well, Joe said he sold the horse, but most of us local folks couldn’t help but notice the new mound of fresh dirt under that apple tree out there.”