Weekly Writing Challenge: Cliffhanger!
This is an excerpt from a novel I started writing many years ago. It’s been parked in a file folder on my computer for a while and when this challenge came up I thought I’d take another look at this scene and give it a re-write … without the ending, of course. it’s virtually a new piece. It could still use some work, but if I don’t post it now I’ll miss the challenge deadline … and perhaps never post it.
It’s the late afternoon of a mid-August day. A storm has broken inside of me I cannot quell. I am as a demon possessed, galloping my poor horse, Pandora, at breakneck speed up the country lane to our doom. Riding her too hard and too fast for the extraordinarily hot and humid conditions. Yet, I am unaware; irrational; lost to some evil spell.
When we reach Iron Will Hill I yank Pandora to a stop. The mare steps nervously as I raise a shaking hand and brush the sweat from my brow. It’s only then I am reminded of the throbbing ache in my sprained left ankle, an injury sustained much earlier in the day.
I shouldn’t be riding. Shouldn’t be out in this heat. Shouldn’t be pressing my mare beyond her endurance. But I can’t help myself. I’m at wit’s end.
Ignoring my ankle, I shelter my eyes from the sun disappearing in a blaze of glory behind thickening summer storm clouds. I survey the field. It takes an iron will to negotiate most of these jumps, but today I’m not even thinking about that. All I feel is this overwhelming impulse to over-correct.
I’ve had enough. Enough of coach’s lack of confidence in me; enough of the constant berating and verbal abuse; enough of the punishing hours of training in the mid-summer heat for a championship for which, frankly, I simply no longer give a damn. The joy of competition has been beaten out of me ~ mind, body and spirit.
The trouble is I can’t seem to let it go. My coach, Joanne, is the only person who doesn’t get me. Even though we’ve worked together for several years she still insists on treating me as a commodity in her perpetual narcissistic drama. There’s no warmth. No humanity.
This is something I’ve only recently realized, and with this the realization that I have to leave. And, I am going to get out of here. I am. Now that I understand what’s going on here, I have to. Still, I feel so betrayed.
I’ve given so much of my own time to her cause. The accolades were never about me, only about building her training profile and business. And I’m tired of it. I’m done. I can feel myself toppling over the edge of a precarious emotional cliff. A cliff upon which I’ve been teetering for some time.
I’m in free-fall.
And as I fall I am, for some inexplicable reason, even more determined to prove myself to that evil woman.
“I’ll bloody show you, Joanne Milthorpe, even if it kills me …” I yell to the winds as I see, in the distance, Joanne’s pick-up truck roaring toward us up the dusty lane. “Too little, too late, you bitch!!”
I force Pandora into a trot, on the look out for our first fence. There’s a thunderstorm rolling in from the southwest. It’ll be here soon, but we’ll be done before then. I’m no fool.
This cross-country course is a favourite spot to ride in the summer months. We do a lot of hill work up here. It’s so beautiful with its long views over rolling countryside.
The course was designed by an Olympic event rider Joanne spared no expense to employ. Each meticulously landscaped natural jump offers two degrees of difficulty, and every week, during the eventing season, landscapers come to mow grass, trim shrubs and plant flowers. It’s another one of Joanne’s expensive obsessions. Another reason she depends on me to drum up business by winning in the show ring.
Against the backdrop of a darkening sky, the field takes on an ethereal quality. My heart thumps loudly in my chest. A tympanic crash of distant thunder underscores the adrenalin pulsing wildly through my veins. Pandora prances restlessly beneath me. I can feel the swell of her body rise and fall in rhythm with her laboured breath; feel the heat from her sweaty steel grey body.
And then she screams. A piercing, penetrating scream that slices through the thick, pre-storm silence. A plea for the safety of the herd. And even though we are a good distance from the stable yard Jezebel, Pandora’s anxious paddock mate, trumpets a frantic response. Pandora rears.
“Stop it, you cow!” I wail, and dig my spurs into her quivering sides.
As we canter down the hill, I hear the storm rumbling ominously, getting closer. A crack of lightning flashes across the sickly green sky, punctuated by the desperate siren call of the approaching pick-up’s horn. But I’m in the zone. Nothing can change my mind or distract me from our run to the Log Jam.
“Three-two-one ~ jump!”
I always count the last three strides. Force of habit, I suppose. As I give Pandora a dig with my heels she thrusts herself into the air, tucking those well-practiced front legs under her chin in a leap that might have cleared a fence twice the size.
“Wh … hoo!”
Oh, god, that feels good.
We round a turn to the left and head toward a big, boxy, jump Joanne calls the Chicken Coop. Pandora stumbles. I set her right; we rebalance and keep going.
I’m already beginning to feel better. There’s nothing like a natural high to chase the blues away.
As we approach the Coop I yell in Pandora’s ear. She twitches it, confused.
“C’mon, girl, let’s get this thing. … Three-two-one ~ jump!”
Again, Pandora’s powerful hind legs push the ground away, easily clearing the coop. The warm breath of the breeze against my face is such a thrill. Finally, I can breathe again.
We could stop now, but the momentum has grabbed me and I want just one more jump.
As we canter further down the slope to Basil’s Brush, Pandora stumbles hard enough to give me a bit of whip lash. It’s a wake-up call. I realize we must stop, but no matter how hard I pull on the reins there’s no response. She has the bit between her teeth and now all I can do is go with it.
So I do.
“C’mon, mare, we’re almost there. … Three-two-one …!”
I feel push, but no propulsion. Pandora has given it all she’s got but it’s not enough. I can feel her stagger in the air, her front feet dropping. I hear the gut wrenching sound of a front hoof knocking the solid rail hidden just below the top of the brush. It’s not a hard knock, but it proves unbalancing for my already exhausted horse.
Instinctively I grab for Pandora’s mane to rebalance. But, it’s no use. My normally sure-footed, beautiful mare, with barely enough strength to right herself let alone compensate for my shifting load on her back, wavers and mis-steps as she touches down.
To be continued …
Thanks for visiting …
©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014
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