Velveteen black of nightfall,
cloaking darkness that surrounds,
will slowly make your skin crawl
with muffled and hollow sounds.
The Night Mare comes at a trot,
clattering on cobblestones.
Snorted breath is dry and hot,
to parch and wither your bones.
Caress the sleek ebon hide
that fades and melds with the night;
but decline if offered a ride
or never more see the light.
The unmistakable pulse of life under my hand, the movement of breathing, and the rush of air as those wings took a downbeat: there was no doubt about it. Either I was standing touching a real winged horse, or I was having the most vivid dream ever.
“I’m glad you approve.” There was a hint of sarcasm in that…thought?
“Yes, thought. It’s easier than human speech for me.”
“I guess that makes sense. I assume it’s okay if I talk.”
“Yes, I know speaking is easier for humans than thinking.” That sarcasm again.
“I’ve never met a Night Mare before, so…”
“I’m a Night Stallion, Junior. Your eyesight THAT bad?”
“I wasn’t looking there.”
“Point taken.” Amusement in that thought. He looked around at me, making eye contact for the first time.
A torrent of thoughts tore through my mind, but over all rode a series of memories, of hundreds of moments during my childhood years when I saw a black shape at the edge of my vision, taking it for a butterfly, but no butterfly was ever there, no matter how quickly I turned until finally, one day in college, there was.
“You?” I managed at last.
“Me. When you saw that real butterfly, you had moved beyond the tiny visions of me, but you weren’t quite ready for more.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“I can’t argue that.”
“I’m no horseman! And you have no saddle, so…” Yes, he did have a saddle. “Don’t try telling me that was there before.”
“Perception and reality are tricky, Junior, especially when it’s your perception and my reality. Let’s let it go at that, shall we?”
“Happy to.” I looked at the saddle. It wasn’t the conventional riding saddle I would have imagined, having handholds in place of reins, and places to securely tuck my feet in place of stirrups. Sensible alterations for a winged horse, I supposed. Grasping a handhold, and getting a foothold, I swung myself up and over without being too clumsy about it – I hoped.
I’d barely gotten settled and my feet tucked before the Night Stallion launched with a spring and a mighty downstroke of wings. I ducked, more from instinct than seeing, and even so felt the pluck as I lost a few hairs to the bark on the overhanging branch under which we passed.
“Hey! That could have been my head!”
“I’d have gone back for it. This is your ride, Junior. Where do you want to go?”
The thought had barely entered my mind before we were flying in daylight over streets that, although strange to me, had a certain familiarity. The Night Stallion swooped low over what appeared to be a marketplace. No one looked up…except, that is, for one boy.
I smiled and raised my hand in greeting as we approached. After a moment, a glorious smile broke out on his face, and he raised his own hand as we swept past him.
“By the time he finishes telling it, you’ll be an Arab prince, and we will be an omen of a bright future.” The thought practically danced its amusement in my head.
I was less than certain, given what city it was fading behind us.
“You’ve never seen yourself as the embodiment of anyone’s hopes.” A statement, not a question.
“No. Why should I?”
“If you give off any light in the world at all, Junior, you have to know that it will be seen. Sooner or later, someone will follow it.”
“So says the embodiment of all my worries and fears.”
“I’m more than that, Junior, and you know it. I’m much more than that verse you’d just finished writing. That’s such a stereotype – and you a writer!”
“So how did I know?”
“You’ve always known. Why did you step out your door? Off your porch? Why did you walk up to me if I was such a specter of fear?”
“I didn’t think about it.”
“You didn’t need to think, you knew. You’ve always known. You can’t change what I am, Junior, and you can’t control how you see me. What you can control is how you react to me. What you can change is where I take you.”
“Such as to marketplaces and impressionable children.”
“NOW who’s being sarcastic? Much better, by the way. You forgot yourself for a moment.” He glanced over his wing at me, then down, as if taking stock. “Hang on!”
The Night Stallion went into a power dive, and then pulled up into a loop worthy of a stunt plane at an airshow. Hands clenched on the grips, gasping for breath, I was nearly in shock.
“Why’d you do that?” I demanded.
“What do you feel? Or, more to the point, what DON’T you feel?”
“I’m not dizzy!” Realization hit me like thunder. Ever since a bicycle accident just before my twelfth birthday, anything that would make someone else just a little lightheaded would put me flat on my back. Yet, I felt none of that.
In answer, the Night Stallion dove into another loop, and a half more, rolling out of it at the top. I was still breathless, but now with joy. Although I knew this was probably my only chance, I’d finally ridden a roller coaster – a living, breathing, flying roller coaster.
Seconds later, or so it seemed, we landed in my front yard. Reluctantly, I slid from the saddle to the ground. For a moment, it felt strange beneath my feet.
“So long, Junior, it was a pleasure to have you finally see me.” I smiled at the mixture of humor and sarcasm. He turned, and I stepped back as his wings swept up, down, and he was away.
Dawn’s first light was just breaking the horizon. I watched it a few minutes before finally returning inside. As I sat down, I flipped my desk calendar to November first.
The Night Stallion
Velvet in the darkness,
deepest ebony hue;
when your soul is ready,
the Night Horse comes to you.
All the older legends
are chilling tales of fright;
don’t listen to the fear
whispering in the night.
Summon up your courage,
whatever may betide;
When he makes the offer,
dare to accept the ride.