Richard Harter’s World
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May 2008

Gray horses in the mist

It had been a long and dusty trip and I had been on the road for hours. Thirst was gathering in me and the thought of food was nibbling at me. I could have gone on, but I stopped in Stableford.

Stableford is one of those little towns in horse country that have good bluegrass, magnificent scenery, a lot of horses and people with a lot of money. In Stableford the place to eat is the Stableford Country Club. The steaks are the best this side of Kansas City and the chef has some dishes that are the envy of five star restaurants. Jack Barron is the manager there and a good friend of mine, so I always make a point of eating there.

Justin, the doorman, gave me a big smile as he greeted me. “The boss will be glad to see you,” he said. “He was asking just the other day where you might be and when you might show up again. Go on in. He’s up there on his little platform.”

Jack’s little platform is a raised area overlooking the main dining area. He has his own private table on the platform where he can entertain guests and keep an eye on what’s going on in the main floor.

Jack saw me as I entered and waved me on up. I went up the stairs and sat down in one of the leather padded captain’s chairs. George put a whisky and soda down in front of me. George is Jack’s private waiter. George is a wonder; he always knows what people want and how they want it.

Jack asked me what I was up to and I replied, much of the same – rambling around the country side looking for stories that needed writing about. He laughed and then said that he had one for me.

“See that chap in the work clothes sitting by himself at the far table. That’s Rufus Kingsbury. Go talk to him. He has a story for you that needs writing about.”

“… needs writing about indeed,” I thought to myself. Well, if Jack was going to play with me, I would play right back. “I don’t know,” I said, “he looks like a private sort of man who probably wouldn’t want to be bothered”.

Jack laughed and said, “No, really, he’s got a story for you and he likes to tell it.”

I could see that Jack was serious so I gave in. I got up from my comfortable chair, went down the stiars, and made my way across the crowded dining room to Rufus Kingsbury’s table.

Rufus Kingsbury was a work hardened man with a thatch of brown hair and a drink reddened face. His clothes were clean and serviceable. You could tell that he saved his best work clothes for going out. He looked up and grunted at me, “Yes?”

I began, “Excuse me. My name is Phil Baker. I’m a writer and I was told that you have a story I should hear.”

Rufus interrupted me, “Jack Barron sent you, didn’t he? Don’t deny it, I saw you up at his table. Well, sit down if you want to hear the story. I can’t abide talking to someone standing up while I’m sitting down.”

I sat down and George appeared with my drink. Rufus looked at me and started his story between bites.

“I wasn’t born here, you know. My folks had a stone cottage in the hills with a stone wall around the garden. There was a mountain stream down slope with a waterfall that ended in a pool. The waterfall was a good sized one. Its spray raised a lot of mist. You need to understand about that mist. It’s important.”

“The garden wall had a gate that my ma would open when she wanted to go down to the stream to get water. We didn’t have running water there. Didn’t have it, didn’t know what it was, never missed it.”

“Aat the time they kept that gate locked because I was only three and they didn’t want me to get out and wander around and get lost. They really didn’t want me to go down the path to the stream because it was steep and dangerous.”

“Well, you know what happened. I was a three year old. Naturally I figured out how to open the gate one day, and headed down the path to see what I could see. I got part way down when all of a sudden there was a gray horse in the mist in front of me. It neighed at me and put its head down to block my way. I got scared and ran back up the slope screaming for my mama.”

“I made it through the gate and she gathered me in her arms and comforted me. Between my tears I told about the gray horse. It was then she told me about gray horses in the mist.”

“She said that there were gray horses that run in the mist. They aren’t your everyday kind of horse. Instead they are some kind of special horse, spirit horses, or something like that. She was never too clear about that and I never quite understood it myself.”

“She said that mostly nobody ever saw them, though sometimes people heard them running through the mist. However, she said, sometimes when people are headed the wrong way, when they are on a path where something bad will happen if they go on, a gray horse will come out of the mist and stop them. That’s what happened, she said. If I had kept going on that path I likely would have fallen in the pool and drowned.”

“That was the first time I heard about gray horses in the mist.”

“I suppose you’re thinking you never heard of such a thing as a gray horse in the mist. You wouldn’t here. Folks here don’t know about such things. Never heard of them, wouldn’t listen if they did. Back where I came from, though, everybody knew about gray horses.”

“I was a teenager when I saw my second gray horse. There was another pool further down stream, a big one, and sometimes some of the girls would go skinny dipping there. Well, I was a teenager and I was curious and one day I figured I sneak down there and hide in the bushes and look. Naturally the girls wouldn’t let anybody know when they went skinny dipping. It was a secret. But it wasn’t hard to figure out; when girls are keeping secrets they make a big deal about it.”

“So there I was creeping through the underbrush making my way down to that pool when all of a sudden a mist came up and there was a gray horse in front of me. Well I knew what that meant and you can believe that I got out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t even look back.”

“I don’t know what would have happened if I had kept going. I suppose I would have got caught and there would have been some kind of dust up and I would have been in big trouble. I’ll never know, but at least I was smart enough to go back when a gray horse stopped me. That time, anyway.”

“The next time happened when I was maybe twenty two or twenty three. I was still living with the folks and helping with the farm. Ma wanted some stuff from the general store in the village. Dad was out plowing so he had the horse. Well, the village wasn’t but three miles down the road so I set out walking to go fetch for her. I was about half way there when a cold mist came up and it wasn’t much further when there was a gray horse in front of me.”

“Now you’ve got to understand that I was headstrong in those days. I didn’t want to turn around and go back and I didn’t see any reason why I should. The mist was thick and I couldn’t see very far, but I didn’t think that mattered. There wasn’t but one road, and there was no way I could get lost. There weren’t any wolves around here; besides I had a stout walking stick with me and I knew how to use it. I just didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t go on.”

“The problem was that there was that horse was blocking my way. I kept trying to go around it and it kept moving to block me. Like I say, I was stubborn and headstrong in those days so I kept trying. Finally that horse just shook its head and sort of just faded away in the mist. Me, I kept going.”

“It wasn’t hard going. The mist was thick and you couldn’t see but a few feet ahead of you. I didn’t care because there wasn’t but one road and I was on it. Still, I walked quite a while and it seemed like I should have passed the village a long time ago. It occurred to me that maybe what with the mist being so thick and all, I might have walked right by the village and never seen it. I thought about that a bit and decided, no, that couldn’t be. You see, the road ran through the village. There was no way you walk through the village and miss it. I decided that not seeing anything must have made my sense of time go wrong, and that it hadn’t been nearly as long as it felt like, so I just kept walking.”

“It seemed like forever, but after a while the mist broke. That’s when I found out I was here. There was nothing around me anything like what I had known. There were hills here but nothing like the hills where I lived and grown up. There were some houses in the distance, but they didn’t look anything like the houses we had where I came from. This just wasn’t my world.”

“Do you understand me? I grew up in a different world. I don’t know much about such things but I know enough to know it was a different world. Somehow, when I was walking in the mist, I moved from my world to this world.”

“To be honest, I didn’t like this world. As a matter of fact, I still don’t. My world was cleaner – it didn’t stink of automobiles and it didn’t have all that electronic noise that people drown themselves in. Hell, the food was better – it wasn’t all this packaged and processed trash.”

“It was hard at first. People here spoke funny and I had to learn their ways. I didn’t have any records or papers – in my world people didn’t have to have papers. But I made do. It took a while, but I made do.”

“There was only one thing I wanted, only one thing I’ve ever wanted, and that was to go back. So I’m here in horse country where you get good mists now and then. And when the mist comes up I go walking, hoping to find my way back, hoping to see a gray horse. I don’t think you have gray horses here. People here don’t seem to have ever heard about them. Still, I don’t give up. There’s a lot that people here don’t know about. People here don’t seem to know about things unless they can put them in a book or make up a TV program about them.”

“Well, that’s my story, for all of the good it will do you. Now go back and bug Jack Barron. I’ve got my dinner to finish.”

I thanked him, got up, and made my way back to Jack’s table above the crowd. He had a big smile on his face when I got back. “Well,” he said, “what do you think of Rufus’s story?”

I sat down and replied, “Interesting. I don’t suppose you believe a word of it, but it sounds as though he believes every word of it. I guess you have your truth and he has his.” And I thought to myself – and I have mine.

Jack laughed, and said that I was right about him not believing a word of it. “The thing is,” he said, “I know Rufus. I knew his ma. He didn’t pop up out of nowhere. He’s always been here. He’s been telling that story now for ten, maybe fifteen years. At first it was just a story he told, something he made up. And then he kept telling it, and after a while he got to believing it, and now you can’t budge him from it.”

I thought on that a bit and said, “You know, I don’t think he made it up. He doesn’t seem like the kind of man to make up a story like that. He doesn’t even seem like the kind of man who could make up a story like. He must have read it somewhere or heard it somewhere from somebody.”

Jack thought for a moment and said, “Maybe you’re right. He must have heard it from someone. Rufus was never much for reading. I can’t imagine who, though. It’s not the kind of story that people around here would tell. Enough. I promised you a story and you’ve got one. I promised you dinner and here it is. Let’s eat.”

George set some Stableford steaks in front of us. They were every bit as good as those Kansas City Steakhouse steaks and maybe just a bit better. We ate in silence and then sat back with brandy snifters and watched the crowd thin out. Rufus Kingsbury waved as he left.

Jack asked me if I was staying at the inn and I said, no, I was heading on to a country place in the hills. We shook hands and promised to see each other again soon and then I headed out.

After about an hour’s drive I arrived at a house deep in the hills. It’s where I stay when I get tired of the world. It sits above a green valley and has a wide veranda where I can sit in the evening and take in the view.

I arrived just in time. The mist was starting to pour down the hills into the valley. I just sat there on the veranda gazing into the mist and listening to the sound of gray horses running through the mist.

This page was last updated May 1, 2008.
Copyright © 2008 by Richard Harter

Richard Harter’s World
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May 2008