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Gone in an Instant


Cary, along with the other horses in the barn, startled awake. The sky was dark. It was too early for Sonja, the farm owner, to be outside feeding. What could that have been? What they saw approaching their stalls was tongues of multihued fire, flames pouring down from the roof, dripping from the rafters. They had never experienced anything like this before. The horses looked around and neighed in confusion, their eyes widened so that the whites could be seen. What were they supposed to do now? There was no way of escape, so in their state of distress they had to wait for rescue, charging their gates, running in circles, pacing in fear.

Cary looked over at her stablemate, LouE. The flames touched his neck, shoulders and back. He looked as if he had tongues of fire reaching around him. Cary knew he was in pain and they had to get out soon. Cary, helpless, continued to screech hoping there would be response soon. She kicked the stall wall--a loud sound of hoof on wood that usually brought Sonja to the door of the house. Something finally brought Sonja to the door. She flew out of the house, running up the hill to the barn, screaming, and waving her arms with a look of terror on her face.

Cary was the first stall Sonja reached.  She opened the gate, pushed Cary through the opening and slammed the gate shut. There was no way for Cary to return to her stall, she had to decide where to go. Should she remain at the barn near her friends with the heat and crackle of the flames edging closer and closer or run away into the dark night. Cary knew she had to leave when she felt Sonja slap her hindquarters and turn her loose. The gate was closed. She knew this must be bad. Cary hesitated for a moment to wait for her friend LouE who did not want to leave his stall. At this point Cary saw that he had flames licking through his mane and down his back.  The walls and ceiling of his stall were engulfed with flames. He would be in great danger if he did not leave.

Cary whinnied and began to slowly trot away from the flames in hopes he would follow her. Why wouldn’t LouE come out of the barn. Sonja seemed to have tears in her voice as she tugged and pushed him.  With eight other horses in danger, Sonja threw open his gate as far as she could and ran to the next stall. More horses were let out and started running in different directions. LouE finally followed Cary as she took off down the road, looking for safety.

Cary began to speed up, easing into a gallop, trying to get away from the strange noises at the barn.  She could only trust that LouE would follow her lead. Loud sirens, flashing lights and emergency vehicles were racing down the road toward her home as she ran in the opposite direction.  The sounds and flashing lights in the dark sky were scary. Cary had to find a safe place to wait for LouE. All the commotion just encouraged her to run faster, to get further and further away. Cary heard tremendous squealing of tires and a loud thud. She looked back but could not tell what had happened in the darkness behind her. What she could see was that one of the big trucks had stopped but she didn’t know why. She kept running, looking for safety, hoping LouE was not far behind.

Cary whinnied in excitement when she saw horses grazing in the distance. They belonged to a neighboring farm. She ran to the fence, skidded to a stop and tried to communicate with the new horses. The strange horses were a little standoffish but allowed her to rest along the fence.  She had run for over a mile. It felt good to be in a quiet and safe place. If these horses felt safe enough to graze, she would try too. There was still no sign of LouE. Cary had begun to worry about where he ended up, she thought he would follow her wherever she went. He always wanted to be wherever she was. Maybe he had stayed back with Sonja or found other horses to wait for the morning light.

Once the sun finally began to come up, Cary heard familiar voices calling her name. Someone was here to rescue her and take her back home! She was wrong, she was thrown into a strange stall. She recognized the barn but did not recognize any of the horses. She was put in an isolated stall with no other horses nearby. Everything smelled different and she couldn't get her head very far out the stall, so it was hard for her to see anything going on around her. She started pacing and neighing for LouE or anyone else she knew. She didn’t stop neighing until a stranger gave her some hay and water.

“Cary, Cary!!” Sam called over and over as she ran down the long barn, looking in stall after staff for her horse. Cary was relieved to hear the voice of someone she trusted. Sam was just what she needed.  A loving voice and warm arms after a terrifying night. Sam and another person from the barn began to look over her, but Cary wasn't sure what they were looking for. She assumed it had something to do with what she had seen on LouE while he was in his stall.  She had felt the heat but never the sizzling flames. They continued to look over her, pet her and give her lots of treats. As they went out of her stall and walked away, the girls talked in hushed voices. In the midst of this conservation, Cary heard LouE’s name. Why did they talk about him so quietly? She wished they would just tell her what had happened, so she could stop worrying.

The day went on very stressfully, Cary was still alone, and she had no idea where LouE was. Suddenly into the barn walked several horses she recognized. She whinnied to each of them; Irene, Teddy, Marquis, TC, Heaven, Desi.  She kept looking in hopes that LouE was part of the group, but he never walked by. The other horses whinnied back but none of them were LouE. It helped to have familiar horses beside her but now she was even more worried about where LouE was. If he wasn't in this group, where could he be?

Cary was moved into a new stall beside a different horse. This stressed her out even more because she couldn't see much other than the horse beside her, and worse yet, it wasn’t LouE. As the people left the barn, they began talking quietly again and bringing up LouE’s name, and at this point she knew something had to be wrong.

The next few weeks were uneventful, she began to get used to her new surroundings but was still uneasy not knowing where LouE was. One hot morning Sam came to the strange barn and took her into an unfamiliar arena to lunge her. After a morning of exercise in the sun, Sam left her in her lonely stall.  What seem liked several hours later, Sam came back and walked Cary through the barn, and began heading down the driveway. This time Steve was with them. He had a small bucket of treats but didn’t give Cary any. They had never walked this way on their normal routine, and they had a car following closely behind. The small flashing lights from the car reminded Cary of the lights and sirens the night of the fire. Sam was calm, so Cary knew she had to be safe.

She didn't know where she was going until they stepped out onto the road. She was scared. She had never been out on the road except when she was running from the fire. The sound of cars whooshing by seemed to be scarier to her now that she was walking and had time to focus on everything. At one spot on the road, Sam seemed to cling tighter to Cary.  There seemed to be something that Sam wanted to say to Cary, but the words wouldn’t come.

When Cary walked back onto Sonja's property, she could tell that she was home, but something didn't feel quite the same. She just stood close to Sam the whole time in hopes that Sam could protect her from anything too overwhelming. At last she was taken into another strange and new stall. The differences were that this one had a lot more windows, so she could see, the water bowl seemed clean and shiny, and she was beside a horse that she recognized; LeeRoy. Cary had met LeeRoy a few times, but he was still somewhat of a stranger to her. He didn't seem too interested in being close to her like LouE had.  Why wouldn’t Sam just take her to LouE and to her favorite stall at the top of the hill. Cary still couldn't figure out where LouE was, but at least she had LeeRoy, and he would have to do for now.

After a day of settling in, Sam put Cary and LeeRoy out together. Going out in the pasture with him wasn't exciting. He didn’t want to race or even scratch each other’s backs. Cary and LouE used to race in the pastures and would always stay close to each other, but LeeRoy has no interest in being close to Cary. After Cary got used to her surroundings and remembered where she was, she ran up to the top barn where she lived to see if LouE might be there. What she saw when she arrived was like nothing she had seen before.

All of the barn was gone, it was just leveled ground. She screamed and screamed in search of LouE but got no response. She ran in circles, looking for her friend and looking for what had been her home. “Where did her stall go? Why is there no barn? Why is there no LouE?” None of these questions she could answer on her own. She remembered that Sam was waiting down at the gate. Cary sprinted back to where Sam was. She searched Sam’s face for answers. Sam wrapped her arms tightly around Cary’s neck and told her everything would be ok. Cary had to trust her, but she wanted answers.  

Sam paused, took a deep breath and with tears streaming down her face started the story.  LouE had been in the stall closest to the start of the fire. The flames reached him first.  Sonja tried and tried to get him out of his stall. He was too scared to move. When he finally left his stall, he was burned badly, flames trailing behind him as he ran.  He darted into the path of the emergency vehicles. His death was quick. He isn’t in pain anymore. Knowing the story doesn’t make it any easier.

You never know how much you really have until it is gone in an instant.

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