Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Horse of a Different Color

Becky Hartley was shaking her head in disgust. "I ain't seen that in a long time," she said, pointing to the matching marks near the top of all four of the horse's legs. The HOOFS volunteer had already told them over the phone that she was working with a rescued horse, but she wasn't familiar with the Texas horse-breaking technique that had been used on the bay. Hartley showed Sebastian L'Arche and the HOOFS volunteer a photo of how the same type of hobbling was done on another horse, and then explained how the scars were left on the bay.

"But that's now what's bothering him," said L'Arche, who had stopped looking at Silverado's legs and was now looking into the horse's eyes."

"That's why I called you, sir," said the volunteer. "We've worked with plenty of rescued horses, and they never even show up at Edgewater until they're highly trained, but this one just gets spooked at all the wrong times."

L'Arche's reputation as an animal whisperer had taken him to a lot of strange places, but he had never expected to find himself at a National Park Service stable looking at a police horse. In some ways, Hartley knew all along that L'Arche hadn't really needed her to come with him today, and he would have flipped out had he known that she passed up her daddy's invitation to join him at the Super Bowl tonight, but L'Arche had almost not answered this call, and it was her that had talked him into it.

L'Arche moved in closer, and then the bay began to whisper in L'Arche's ear. "It's the starlings," L'Arche said. "They worry him."

"Are you talking about birds? Since when are horses afraid of birds?"

L'Arche shook his head. "He's not afraid of them--he's afraid of what they know. And they know he knows." The HOOFS volunteer stared blankly at L'Arche, and Hartley raised her eyebrows at him. L'Arche drew back from the horse, took the horse's head in both his hands, stared deeply into the horse's eyes, and silently told Silverado that the demons of Washington could not hurt him. The horse neighed impatiently, for he already knew that--he was worried about what was happening to the people. "You have a special job to do, and the people need you to do that job," whispered L'Arche. "I'll come once a month, and you can tell me all about the demons--you don't need to tell anybody else." The horse nuzzled L'Arche for a long minute, then turned to nuzzle the HOOFS volunteer.

"He should be OK now," said L'Arche.

"But what--"

"Don't worry--I'll come back to check on him in a few weeks. You can call me before that if you need to, but I'm sure he'll be fine."

"But what--"

"He's not afraid of birds--don't worry about what I said." L'Arche was really regretting saying anything out loud--not so much because of this volunteer but because he had never talked to Hartley about animals who saw demons and ghosts. He gave the horse one more pat on the head, then turned to go, leaving Hartley to scramble after him.

"What was that about the starlings?" asked Hartley when she caught up to him.

"Nothing."

"Bullshit!" She stopped outside her pickup truck, her arms folded across her chest. He stared her down silently for a minute until she relented and unlocked the doors. They drove slowly out of Rock Creek Park for several minutes until she asked him again: "What was that about the starlings?"

"You really wanna know?"

The tone in his voice sent a shiver down her spine, but she didn't hesitate: "yes".

"I barely understand it myself," he began, not sure how to tell her that in the past three years he had learned how a legion of real estate demons had caused the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, the Federal Reserve Board was under siege by possessed millipedes, secret societies all over town were being held in haunted houses, Satan was the controlling partner of a law firm one block from the White House, the White House itself was full of vengeful slave ghosts, and a gargantuan demon of epic proportions was living in the Potomac River. "Animals exist in a less complicated consciousness than we do," he started, "so they are less easily distracted. That's why they can sense things that most people never notice, things most people would never want to notice...."

A mile away, Fen Do Ping was in a Cleveland Park bar, trying to get excited about the Super Bowl party his friend from graduate school had dragged him to. He could usually plead "too busy at work" to avoid these things, but his friend knew that Ping was on furlough from the Federal Reserve Board. ("The Board thinks we have a surplus of economists right now," his boss had said. "Don't worry about it--you'll be back soon! It's not like the Republicans controlling the House are gonna be happy about the Fed's shifting budgetary funds to more regulators!") Ping continued pulling off tiny pieces from the nachos tray so that it was not too obvious he was drinking his beer very, very slowly. (Ping had never been laid off from any job in his entire life, except when he was eight years old and that Communist Party official had gotten him removed from the Lotus neighborhood paper route the day after Ping had accidentally broken the pot of lucky bamboo sitting outside the official's front door; so Ping had decided to get drunk with Luciano Talaverdi at the Froggy Bottom Pub, and Ping really regretted that because the night had ended with the two narrowly escaping arrest after climbing on top of the Washington Circle statue and calling for George's bronze horse to take them "to Wall Street so they could lasso some bull".) His buddy made another joke about the team he was rooting against, and everybody at the table laughed, so Ping also laughed. (Why me? How could they furlough ME? I never should have said those stupid things about liquidity! I'll lose my Visa! I'll never get citizenship! They're going to take my salary and use it to hire more lawyers!) Ping involuntarily let out a cross between a groan and a gasp, and his grad school buddy patted him on the back and assured him one more time that everything would turn out fine.

Another mile away, Congressman Herrmark was holding his annual Super Bowl fundraising party at his six-bedroom house. The party was actually below his house--in the 5,000 square-foot "Man Cave" excavated, built and furnished below ground at a cost of $2.5 million (plus $300,000 in bribes to city officials, his adjoining neighbors, and anybody else aware of the project's gross violations of land-use zoning ordinances and other municipal regulations). Attendance was way down this year--a fact he loudly attributed to the desire of many of his friends to escape the relentlessly frigid winter with a long weekend in the Caribbean, even as he secretly feared that his opposition to hydrofracking was getting around. His twin bodyguards (Nick and Costas) flanked him everywhere he walked, and he was undecided as to whether this made him feel important or wussy--after all, these people were all his friends, weren't they? In the far corner, behind the six-foot-high, alabaster Pegasus statue imported from Greece, a lobbyist recently hired by Halliburton was whispering with the millionaire who had recently leased gas rights in a series of farms covering 2,000 acres of southern Pennsylvania: they were whispering about the Halliburton loophole....

Not far away, Charles Wu was back in his apartment after escorting his father and deceased brother to England. He was sitting at his dining room table, staring at the package his mother had sent him from Hong Kong. It would be bad luck to open a Chinese New Year's gift so late, but worse luck to refuse a gift from his mother. He frowned at himself for even allowing such thoughts to enter his mind, and tore open the package. It was a small framed silkscreen of a hunter riding a black horse; on his back he carried a quiver of arrows, and from his saddle hung a bag with a bloody rabbit head sticking out. "It is the Year of the Rabbit--" his mother had written on the enclosed note card. "--time for smart rabbits to hide in holes."

Outside his window, a quiet catbird flew off to tell Ardua of the Potomac that Wu was back...but she already knew.

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