There it was, as plain as the nose on your face—or as day, some prefer to say. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was as beautiful as he was doomed, a magnificent white stallion tossing his head, his mane blowing in the wind, and trapped on a huge piece of ice. His frantic whinnies could be heard across the water. I wished I had some way to help him, but there was nowhere to go, even if I could reach him.
We both were alone, each on our own berg. How had we arrived here? Truly, that’s a story that needs telling. The world is just not what it was.
My wife had been killed and eaten by a group of savages almost a year ago. A few years back I called those same people friends and neighbors; now they were like rabid dogs. It was the massive changes in the weather and the resulting living conditions that changed people and not for the better.
For years the newspapers had been foretelling the end of days. Global warming had stopped decades ago, and a big freeze cooled down the land and water. Constant earthquakes reduced all the continents by almost half overnight, and pieces continue to drop into the oceans. Fresh water was rare; people starved; there were no longer governments or laws. Citizens became unruly packs of looters and hunters. They stole, killed and raped. Now there was so little land, and so many people, that many of us took to the bergs in hope that we could float to a safer place to live, if such a place even existed.
There was no future here, nothing to hold me, and I decided that I’d rather take a chance on a berg than starve or be slaughtered on an overcrowded piece of dirt.
On the day my chunk-of-choice finally floated into the bay, I was ready to go. I’d spotted this berg with my binoculars, as the sun set in the smoky colored sky, the night before. Since it was fairly flat and had the surface area about the size of two mid-sized cars, I decided it would be my ride out of here. As I watched it float on the currents, I was amazed how white the ice looked in the greenish-gray water.
My meager supplies and clothes were as waterproof as I could get them. Early in the morning, I arrived at the beach. The dirty black fog was thick. It afforded me some cover from the prying eyes of others as I prepared to swim the cold waters to claim my ride. Problem was, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Another fellow obviously liked my berg and wanted it for his own. He’d arrived before me and had begun to swim out toting his supplies behind him. I let him.
After he climbed aboard, I followed, swimming as quietly as possible so he wouldn’t be alerted. Upon reaching it I secured my bundle to an ice pick I had plunged into the ice. Then I scrabbled up. Once on my feet, I pulled the knife that had been strapped to my thigh, and my rival charged me. The knife found its way to his heart and he looked down at the hilt in his chest and then up to me in surprise. I shook my head and caught him as he fell. I held him as he died, hoping vaguely that he was comforted by my presence.
Leaving him to cool down, I pulled up my supplies from the ocean. I used the knife and ice pick to chip out ice so I could bury the body. Don’t think I was being nice, I wasn’t, I was just freezing my meat. Once the earthquakes had started and land fell away into the oceans, everywhere got very overcrowded. Food became scarce, and well, people were plentiful. It made sense to eat them. Women were the tastiest and men were gamy, but food was food in the end.
As the sun went down, and I was wrapped up against the cold, I watched the white horse. He was quiet now, his fight all gone. Where did he come from? Most animals had already been killed and eaten. We stopped raising them because they took up too much room. But look at him; he was perfect.
Yes, he was perfect, but he was also likely very cold and hungry. I realized then I was crying. I reached up to my face and wiped away real tears. His plight touched my stone-cold heart. I felt sorry for the animal; he was alone and was going to die that way.
Aching and stiff, I awoke when the sun rose. I looked across the waters at my companion. He was still alive, though he looked weak. He wouldn’t last much longer without food or water. I don’t know why his impending death bothered me so much. Sobs shook me and I dropped to my knees praying that God save the beautiful innocent animal. Logically I knew what would happen, but emotionally I couldn’t bear it.
Making my choice—was there even a choice for me—I packed my things, including my meat. I swam over to the horse's iceberg and pulled myself up. I could hear his labored breathing. He stood with his head lowered and he watched me as I set up my camp. I laid out my rival’s sleeping bag for the horse. I approached him, and he let me stroke his head, and then he let me lead him to the bed.
I sat down and watched him with a great aching sadness.
Several hours later, he went down and fell to his side. I knew it was close now – death came creeping across the water like a hunting snake. I’d moved to my companion’s head and I comforted him as he took his last breath. I spoke to him and looked into his deep brown eyes as the light of his life slipped from him. And I wept for the first time since my wife had been killed; really let myself weep for him, and for me, and for our world.
I’d fallen asleep holding him. When I woke, he was cold. I couldn’t use him for food; his trust and death had given me back my humanity. I said some words over him and pushed him into the water. I stood and watched as the currents took us both onward. Finally he slipped below the surface.
As the sun began to set, I remembered the horse as I’d first seen him, strong, beautiful and free. If things had been different, he’d have gone on living. To honor his spirit and the humanity he had re-awoken in me, I chose to go on.
Several weeks later I was taken aboard a large sailboat. The people aboard had fled their country to find a better place for the same reasons I floated away from the Kentucky coast. Right now things are working and we’ve decided on some rules that work for all of us. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s good to be with decent people again. Being here helped me to finally mourn my wife properly, and well, I met Mary on the boat. She’s been good and patient, and we love to hold hands and talk. As well, I decided after being rescued, to keep a journal of life as it is now. Writing each day has been good therapy.
I dream of my horse almost every night. In my dreams he’s wild and free and he runs with joy through flowering meadows. The hope that such a place could once again exist lives in my heart and I thank him for that each and every day.
This was written after I got off the street at 22 years old, so about 12 years ago.
Thanks to AC Benus for his brilliance, excellent editing skills and to a former GA member, Lyssa for giving me a push to post this piece.