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by J.B.Burro

Every sudden sound in the small, dingy barn spooked the mare in place. Her eyes were wide with terror. For her, uncertainty lingered everywhere in that moment. There was no telling what the human in the other room might do next.

Violently, the gruff, foul-smelling human threw the saddle somewhere in the other room. “Why the hell do I bother?” the human muttered in anger under his breath. He stormed out of the room carrying a long, thick object –

The mare braced herself as she saw the human’s body tense. He began aggressively beating her with the object. The mare squealed in pain, threw out a swift kick, and thrashed her head to get rid of the halter that bound her face.

“That’s for today!” the human shouted. “And probably tomorrow too!” He threw the object back into the room, grabbed a rope on the ground, and moved forcefully toward the mare’s head. She lifted it high in fear. The human seized one of the ropes that connected the halter on the mare’s head to the wall. “Down!” he fiercely shouted as he pulled the rope down. The mare tried to lift her head even higher, but the pressure from the halter only intensified. “Down!” he roared as he sunk his body weight downward onto the rope.

The mare swiftly put her head down and almost took the human down with her. He moved with muscles tensed and the mare raised her head a little as she tried to take a step away. The human aggressively unhooked the ropes that led to the wall and attached the one in his hand to the halter.

He turned, and the mare very reluctantly followed. He led her toward the same stall he always did... the one whose floor was covered with manure and urine. The mare stood her ground, not wanting to enter. “Let’s go!” the human shouted. The mare tried pulling back on the rope. “Go!” the human roared as he brutally yanked on the rope. The mare took an unwilling step forward, and then very hesitantly followed the human into the stall. He unhooked the rope from the halter and swiftly left the stall, aggressively shutting the door behind him and forcefully locking it into place.

“Stupid animal,” he angrily muttered. “Should’a sold you for meat.”

The human swiftly left the barn and took his aggression with him. The mare listened intently and heard a door slam shut not too far away. She dropped her head and very lightly snorted. She had come to learn that that sound meant the human wasn’t coming back for the night. That sound essentially meant no food.

The mare longingly looked out through the bars of the stall and out the barn door which was left open. She had figured out long ago that it was useless trying to break out of the enclosure. She sighed, realizing she was all alone. She had never gotten used to it, and was always on guard throughout the night.

A cool, gentle breeze came into the barn, refreshing the air with something other than the smell of manure and urine. The mare relaxed a little and, with eyes half-closed, wished with all her heart that the human would just listen to her....

Gradually, the man awoke, a little dazed. He had a slight headache, but he didn’t recall drinking that much alcohol last night. As he opened his eyes to take in his surroundings... something wasn’t right. His vision was different... he wasn’t in bed... he was standing on four –

The man nearly jumped out of his skin – a horse’s skin! There was a blind moment of panic as he gazed in sheer disbelief at legs that should have been arms and hooves that should have been hands. His neck was tremendous in length. He breathed heavily through nasal passages that felt incredibly long. His eyes could see in almost all directions at once. He could hear and smell practically everything with uncanny clarity. His new senses frantically searched the walls of the stall for relief... but the senses weren’t new... the body wasn’t new. He tightly closed his eyes. None of this was new because... those were her memories! This was her body! The man began trembling violently at what he had finally realized – he had become the mare, and her memories were now added to his.

A very long time passed before the initial shock wore off. The man very timidly took a few steps toward the stall door. His four legs felt like water, and he took several deep breaths through his giant nostrils to try and calm himself. He looked at the door with a new perspective. From this side, it was impossible to escape. The man had been fed up with other horses escaping from his barn, so he over-built some sections of it so that even an elephant could be locked up there without any trouble. He pressed his forehead against the bars of the stall. His initial shock had turned to frustration, and then to desperation. What had happened to his body? He dared not think of the most logical scenario.

There was nothing to do but wait. Wait with dreaded suspense of what might happen next. The lack of anything else happening allowed him to reluctantly realize why his body was in so much pain. His sides were sore from the spurs. His mouth was sore from the bit. His back and spine ached from a saddle that didn’t fit. His flank still lightly throbbed from the beating with the bat. His stomach felt hollow from a night without food. He felt a dull cramping toward his lower back –

The man shook his head violently. The mare’s memories had filled in the gaps for him, but he dared not admit it to himself.

The waiting had turned into an eternity. The man desperately hollered with a sound that wasn’t human, but not quite equine. His heart sank at the thought of not being able to talk. He tried in vain to convince himself that this was just a dream, but the pain alone was far too real.

Eventually, he heard a door open from outside. It was the house door! Footsteps approached the barn and along came a dirty scent which the mare’s memories told him... was his! The man was paralyzed with fear in seeing his own body – in his own slightly tattered clothes – stand still under the arch of the barn door. The body seemed very casual, yet somewhat tense.

“Things look a little better from this side,” the man’s body said. “What about you? Aren’t you happy you kept me this way?”

The man couldn’t move if he wanted to. His worst fear had come true. The man shut his eyes and took a frantic moment to collect himself. He then looked at the mare with anger, trying hard not to let her believe that he was afraid.

The mare smiled a harsh smile. “I know. I never liked being in that stall either, but you never listened.” She took a few forceful steps toward the stall. “You never listened! When I was trying to tell you something, you ignored it. You treated me like a puppet with no thoughts or feelings of my own!” The man could do nothing but listen to the mare’s sharp tongue. Hearing his own voice rebuke him was frighteningly eerie, but the man pretended to be fearless. “And now look at you. In the filth you left me in! In the pain you let me endure! I didn’t ask much from you – only to be treated fairly. You wanted me to bend to your will like a slave! You wanted to dominate me because you couldn’t dominate the people in your life!”

The man gasped. Did she have his memories too?

The mare fiercely kicked the stall door. The man swiftly raised his neck and jumped back, surprised at how quick his reaction time was. There was a moment of silence... an eternity of silence. The man could only helplessly wait for the mare’s next move.

“You’re hungry, aren’t you?” the mare said with anger. The man’s stomach growled, almost as if on cue, and he slightly winced from the pain of hunger he had been feeling since the morning. “How many times did you ‘forget’ to feed me?” she whispered in a mean tone. “How many times did I try my very best, only to be punished in ways that I couldn’t understand?” The man’s eyes reluctantly met hers. He still tried to keep his bluff that he wasn’t afraid. “To hell with you!” she snapped. “Starve for all I care! Even that punishment is too good for you!” She turned in a fury toward the barn door. The man roared after her, but she paid no attention and closed the barn door with rage.

The man roared ferociously again and again, kicking the walls of his confinement and slamming the door with his massive body. He tripped on a slick patch of manure and hit the ground hard on his side. The man grunted from the pain. He carefully, but quickly, got up, and the smell of manure and urine sticking to his coat invaded his nostrils.

Unable to hold it in any longer, the man winced in deep humiliation as he lifted his tail and began relieving himself like a horse would... like a mare would. He felt his masculinity drifting away as he finished urinating. The feeling of a horrible vulnerableness surged through his mind. He shuddered at his own memories of trying to force himself upon women. The thought of him fending someone off who might want to –

Tighter, he shut his eyes, trying hard to fight off the realization of what he had lost... and what he had unwillingly gained. He gradually opened his eyes, only to discover that the water bucket had been knocked over from all his thrashing. The man lowered his head, but was unable to evade the smell of filth that saturated the air. He lightly whimpered as he backed his rear end into a corner of the stall. How long would he be like this? Would the mare ever come back for him? Would she just leave him here to die? Given his situation, perhaps that was the best he could hope for.

Boredom had set in for the rest of the day. Having completely nothing to do in the stall agonized and frustrated the man moment after painful moment. The mare’s memories had informed him that standing completely still was the best thing to do on days that he neglected to feed her. The more he stayed still, the more he would conserve some of his energy.

His stomach burned. His throat was dry. The muscles in his legs slowly fatigued from standing on the metal shoes. Through the mare’s memories, the man understood that she had laid down on the manure covered floor to relieve the fatigue in her legs. The man, despite the pain, couldn’t bring himself to do that.

Time seemed to stand still in the stall. The man had no idea when the mare would come back... if she would ever come back. In his nervousness and dread of the situation, he barely slept. Tiny noises outside startled him. The mare could easily get his revolver and put him down. The man shuddered at the thought. His life was in the hands of a mare who hated him.

Long after the sun had risen the next day, the man heard the door of his house open. He instantly lifted his head and pointed his ears toward the sound. Footsteps came from that direction, and they were approaching the barn. The man took a deep breath and tried to rebuild his tough guy facade. The barn door slid open, and the man was blinded by the bright light that flooded the barn. He heard the mare’s footsteps toward him, but his eyes took several moments to adjust to the new light.

“Did you enjoy the night?” she asked, mockingly. “I know I did! I had no idea your life could be so liberating! There’s practically no limit on what you can do!” The man lightly grunted at the mare. “Oh, but there are definitely limits on what you can do,” she said in an angry tone. Her eyes forced his to meet hers. “Now, you’re going to give me a ride,” she spat.

The man lifted his head and breathed heavily. Despite trying to show the mare he was fearless, inside, he was trembling with fear.

The mare went into the tack room, pulled out a lead rope, and walked with heavy steps toward the stall door. “Now you listen here, mare. You’re going to do exactly what I say, exactly when I say it. Just try and show some disobedience – see what that does for you.” The man stood his ground. “Come here!” the mare shouted. The man remained motionless. “Come here! Or should I get the revolver?!” The man’s heart froze. “I don’t have to shoot you dead. I can shoot you in the knee and make you wish you were dead!” After a brief moment, the man took a very reluctant step forward. “Come.Here!” the mare barked under her breath. The man, very slowly, took a few steps toward the stall door. The shaking of his body was almost out of his control.

The mare unlocked and opened the door with fury. She lunged an arm toward his head and the man immediately raised his head as high as it would go. “Down!” she shouted. The man shut his eyes for an instant and took a shallow breath before lowering his head. There was no point in trying to hide his fear now. He quietly whimpered for her to stop.

The mare clipped the lead rope to his halter with swift anger. She pulled hard on the rope and the man followed her in terror. He knew it was useless to try to leave the barn. The man’s property was downright puny in size, and it was surrounded by a barbed wire fence that would be almost impossible to jump.

She led the man a few strides to the cross-ties, where she swiftly clipped them to his halter. Then she unfastened the lead rope and immediately threw it on the ground. She stormed into the tack room and, to the man’s horror, brought out the western saddle.

“How many horses have you used this pathetic thing on? As if all our backs are the same!” she spat as she cast the saddle with heavy force onto the man’s back. The man hollowed out his back and loudly whimpered as the saddle fell on very sensitive parts of his back. “Hurts more when you’re going into heat, doesn’t it, mare?” she mocked.

The man uncontrollably defecated in intense panic. His eyes went wide as the mare quickly went into the tack room. He knew what she was getting – the bat! Defecating in the cross-ties was forbidden. The man roared with fright as he pointlessly shuffled with his back legs to try and “clean” his mess. The mare had indeed returned with the bat, and the man braced himself for the blow. She hurled the bat at the ground instead, and the unexpectedness of it turned the man’s muscles to stone.

“To hell with your rules and your stupid bat!” she shouted at the top of her voice. She then shut her eyes tightly, clenched her fists, and took several very deep breaths. After a few moments, the breaths lessened in intensity and her hands gradually relaxed. For the man, the few moments were almost an eternity.

The mare opened her eyes, her body less visibly tense but still very angry. She quickly moved toward the man and then recklessly grabbed the cinch. “Oh look, no saddle pad! You never used one on me when you were in a hurry.” The man could barely move. He could barely think, but the mare’s memories gave him the knowledge to know that the ride was going to hurt a great deal.

She pulled the cinch up very tightly and the man tried filling his lungs against the constriction. The mare hit him hard with a close fist in a spot that was already bruised from the spurs. The man squealed in pain, sounding just like a mare. He winced his eyes tightly. The mare tightened the cinch for all it was worth and attached the breastplate almost as an afterthought. She then stormed into the tack room and came out with a bridle. The man weakly shook his head in mercy. The mare paid no attention and roughly freed the halter off his head.

“You think snaffle bits are for wusses, huh? You think you gotta use something more severe when your horse isn’t listening, huh?!” the mare shouted. The man trembled, terrified of what was going to come next. “Open your mouth!” the mare commanded. The man paused for a moment in pointless protest. The mare slapped his head hard. “Open your mouth!” she yelled. The man did so ever so slightly, and the mare shoved the bridle onto his head and the bit into his mouth. From the force, he instantly felt the sores on the bars of his mouth and the corners of his lips throbbed with pain.

“Saddled, bitted, and under control! And you can go to hell if you think I care about how you feel!” the mare scolded as she roughly fastened the bridle to the man’s head. “Do you like your life now, mare?” she mocked. “Won’t you do anything I say now, mare?

The man shut his eyes and sadly whimpered. He tried in despair to tell her that he was sorry, but his mouth and vocal chords couldn’t articulate the words.

The mare stepped close to the man’s ear. “How about we go on the steeple-chase trail? And you can gallop all the way up the mountain,” she forcefully whispered in fury. The man’s joints turned to putty at the thought. “And if... you... dare try to do anything stupid,” she silently instructed, “I swear I’ll lock you up in that stall with the meanest stallion I can find.” The mare paused to let her threat sink in. “Or better yet – go buck me off and run away! See how far you get when someone else catches you and forces you to do their bidding!”

The man felt faint. He doubted his four wobbly legs would be able to support her weight. He almost cried at the thought – it wouldn’t be in disobedience, he just wouldn’t have the strength to do it.

The mare forcefully walked toward the door and yanked on the reins. The man let out a long squeal of pain as the twisted bit dug into the left bar of his mouth. “Let’s go!” the mare commanded. The man followed, shaking uncontrollably and sweating in panic. The mare stopped a short distance outside of the barn, and the man stopped behind her, hanging his head low in defeat. He desperately tried to say something, anything, to beg her to stop. The mare took a few steps forward, and the man braced himself for another tug on the reins as he shut his eyes and quietly cried for mercy.

A few moments passed. The man, still braced for the pain, slowly opened his eyes and saw the mare standing a few feet in front of him, relaxed in her body posture.

She spoke to him in a gentle voice. “What’s wrong?” The man looked at her in fearful bewilderment. “What are you trying to tell me by not following me?” The man stood completely in panic, unsure if the mare wanted him to stay or move. She calmly walked up to him and gently whispered in his ear. “All I wanted you to do was to listen to me. To stop for a moment and see things from my perspective.”

She carefully took off the bridle and dropped it on the ground. Then she unfastened the cinch and breastplate and casually pushed the saddle off his back. The mare calmly walked back into the barn. The man observed that she was going up the ladder... and the only thing upstairs was hay.

“Watch out,” she casually called out as, a moment later, a bale of hay fell from the opening in the ceiling.

The man slowly turned around. The smell of hay took control of his body and he lunged for the bale, eating it almost without thought. The mare came down the ladder and the man instantly lifted his head, unsure if he had her permission to eat.

The mare smiled. “You shouldn’t just buy the cheapest stuff,” she kindly offered. “It’s a little dusty.”

The man intently watched the mare as she quietly walked out of the barn and gently closed the door. The man wasted no time in devouring the hay. Through the mindless action of chewing and the release of intense stress, his mind went blank. It was during this blankness that the rest of the mare’s memories surfaced themselves one by one....

The guilt and shame the man felt in realizing that he never bothered to take a step back and look at things from the mare’s perspective punished him without end. There were too many times when the man was being confusing or inconsistent. The mare tried her best to comply with his sloppy requests, only to be punished again and again because, to the man, her actions weren’t perfect. Memory by memory, the events played back in his head. Her memories flooded his head like water filling a dry sponge.

He closed his eyes in shame. Through the memories and experiences, he fully understood the mare’s frustration. The man relaxed a little and, with eyes half-closed, wished with all his heart for a second chance....

The man awoke to the usual sound of his alarm. He absentmindedly turned it off, then shot up in bed as he realized he was in bed! He threw his hands in front of his face in momentary disbelief that he actually had hands. He looked down on his human body under the covers and closed his eyes tightly. The pain... the fear... the memories that weren’t from his perspective... haunted him. The man desperately tried forcing himself to believe that it was just a dream. A nightmare... Night mare! His palms began sweating and he suddenly felt very cold. He took a few deep breaths to try and calm himself, but there was a sadness in his heart that he couldn’t calm. He shook his head rapidly and continued to logically remind himself that it could only have been a very bad dream....

Eventually, the man tried to go through his morning ritual of making coffee and breakfast in an attempt to clear his mind. He walked to the refrigerator and opened it up – but most of the food was missing! His stomach growled from the pain of over-eating. Perhaps he just had too much to drink last night.

As he began making coffee, he accidentally knocked over the coffee cup from the counter and it shattered loudly as it hit the floor. The man spooked in place and, after a quick moment of sudden fear, tightly shut his eyes. The memories were still there... she was fearful of his sudden, unpredictable actions. He stood still for a few moments, his mind blank with disbelief.

The man wasn’t in the mood to eat. Instead, he nervously dressed himself as he tried in vane to force the dream out of his mind. The man opened the front door of the house and froze in place. He noticed the saddle laying on its side next to the barn door. His face went white with shock. The vivid pain of the saddle roughly hitting sensitive parts of his back immediately came back to him. He winced at the thought of remembering it. He didn’t want to remember it. He cautiously walked over to the saddle and noticed that the bridle was laying on the ground too. The man shook his head rapidly, trying to remember to breathe.

He looked at the barn door and, with slight hesitation, carefully and slowly opened it. In the middle of the barn was the mare laying on her belly. Her eyes squinted from the light that penetrated the dark barn. The man was paralyzed with fear. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the manure near the cross-ties... and he finally, wholly accepted what had truly happened....

The mare slowly rose to her feet and stood in place. The two of them stared at each other – the mare with a look of uncertainty and the man with a deep, sudden sorrow. He walked over to the mare, lightly hugged her neck with his arms, and embraced her. He began sobbing, slowly at first, then uncontrollably. The mare lightly rested her chin on the man’s shoulder.

“I’m... so sorry,” he blurted through the tears. “I’m so, so very sorry.” The two of them shared that embrace for an unknown length of time. Eventually, the mare lifted her chin, and the man took back his arms. “I will never hurt you again,” the man quietly confirmed, trying to recompose himself from crying. The mare continued her gaze. “And I promise to listen to you,” he added.

The mare sighed and lowered her head as the man calmly took the time to observe her body language. He clearly noticed how relaxed she had become. A moment of silence passed, followed by a moment of understanding... of appreciation... of sympathy.

The... beginning?