The Intelligent Horse
The intelligent horse is the story of the intelligent horse. The intelligent horse is: gone. So is the story, you might say, but the title is somewhat misleading, it should say, “the story of the intelligent horse and other nonsense”, but I felt that nonsense shouldn’t be used in a title. And, anyway, the horse is not gone as in dead, it’s only lost. As usually happens, he was noticed only after he got lost, though this is down to his owner, Mr Hesp, for the most part. He kept the horse away from everybody until somebody found him dead lying in his garden next to a chess table with his skull crushed. The perpetrator was apparently a horse judging from the horseshoe pattern visible on his forehead. Hesp was a reclusive millionaire; no one knew him well, though, now that he’s gone I guess there will be a few distant relatives creeping out of the shadows.
Police found tons of home videos and this is how the world got to know Six Ways to Sunday. This was the name of Mr Hesp’s horse, a 5 year old flea-bitten grey coloured stallion. It turned out, after watching hours and hours of footage that the horse was originally named Seven Ways to Sunday as it was born on a Monday, and this was the best they could come up with. He was almost six-months-old when he proved logically that his name doesn’t make any sense. This logical demonstration was what made Hesp realise how clever his horse really was as up to that point he had only said dull things like the grass is bitter and the stable smells. The stallion was thenceforth known as Six Ways to Sunday, even though they later realised that his reasoning was faulty as he had used a false premise but this was a common beginners’ mistake. As more and more footage was leaked, our city, Rotham:, got to know this strange animal, as he was growing up, running around happily as a foal, taking long walks with Hesp on his back. On these rides they conversed about all kinds of topics ranging from history through biology to the special theory of relativity which is strange because, according to the police, Hesp didn’t know much about this theory.
And this idyllic couple was gone, presumably the horse killed its owner albeit the motives are yet unknown. Obviously, as this news hit the fan every flea-bitten grey horse in a 100-mile radius found itself with a mike under his nose as the whole media community jumped at the opportunity. None of the horses could speak, but some of them tried to chew the mikes off. The silence of the horses. A few newshounds even tried their luck with differently coloured horses in case this murderous stallion dyed his hair, however, this was in vain as well. The city was full of people horsing around.
I was reluctant to join the hunt; still my editor assigned me an area to comb. I was vehemently against it.
'So you are not willing to check it?'
'No. I'd rather write about some other topic.' I defied him.
'What other topic? There’s nothing else!'
'Nothing else?!' I shouted.
He shrugged, 'Nothing worthwhile.'
'There's got to be something. Anything.'
'Alright,' he condescended with a loud snort as he was searching his pockets. 'Ah, there it is,’ he pulled out a piece of paper. ‘I heard some rumours that we might win quite a few prestigious awards in the near future and I need interviews with the nominees to show off, you know, how Rotham: is making headlines for the wrong reasons.'
'For the Rong reasons?' I interrupted.
'That's what I said! Don't interrupt me. Here's the list.' He said handing me the piece of paper.
‘Me? Doing interviews?’
‘Azeu! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!'
He walked away, so I took my headphones and left. I was never good with interviews, I can’t seem to be able to ask the right questions and I can’t stay impartial, can’t stay inhuman. It’s a miracle that I’m still in this job, though mismanagement would better describe it.
There were three names on the list with addresses and phone numbers, Bernard Sicmore, scientist, Nicholas Debruit, composer, and Gordon Sedown, gardener.
I decided to start with the composer as I loved music as well; not specifically movie scores but meaningful music in general. From then on I would continue with the scientist, who lived quite close to the musician, and end with the gardener. He lived a rather long way from the first two, but at least it was close to where I lived. This way I could get home quickly and call it a day, though I’d hardly call this a day.
It was one of the few sunny days of the year. Those who had convertibles dusted it off desperately trying to remember how to look cool. Tired people were sunbathing in front of supermarkets as I was basking in the honour of interviewing future academy and Nobel award winners. Scratch that, I think they actually enjoyed themselves. I tried to look for the musician on the internet but I couldn’t find anything, perhaps the editor misspelled his name. I felt awkward going there without any information about him but I had no choice.
I rang on the composer’s door; the doorbell played Offenbach’s Infernal Gallop, nice touch. An old man opened the door. Calling him old might be an understatement. This poor fellow looked ancient. I expected his house to be filled with musical sheets and instruments scattered all over, but there was nothing music related here just worthless boring stuff that attaches itself to you throughout your life and you can't get rid of it until it suffocates you. Or, at least, clogs your house. We started talking but he didn’t seem keen on bringing his work up, so I had to; I guess that was only natural. 'What is the title of the movie you scored?'
The old man answered in a slow and drawling yet coherent way. 'Title? I can’t remember, there were quite a few.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, you might have misunderstood me. I meant the movie you scored this year. Or did you make more than one this year?’
‘This year? I haven’t made any this year.’
'Last year then?'
'Last year? No, no, my son, all of them were made in 1895.'
This was bordering the impossible but I still kept on inquiring. 'How old were you at the time?'
'That would make you . . . .'
'One hundred and thirty-four next month.'
'Wow! That is unbelievable.’ He probably heard this often and was unfazed, so I decided to carry on. 'All these movies were filmed in, erm, 1895 but they were released recently?'
'Recently? No, they were released back then.'
'Could you please specify a little bit . . . , for our readers?'
'Well, my father worked in the Lumière household and I used to loiter around...’
‘Hold on! Are you talking about the Lumière brothers, the first filmmakers?’
'And they asked you, a fifteen year old boy, to compose the music for their movies?'
'No, not quite. You see, I happened to be there when they made a private premier for a few of their movies. This was the first time that anyone saw them. There were, I don’t know exactly, maybe six or eight movies in total, all of them quite short, around one minute, I guess. In the heat of the moment, I thought that it would make a better impact with music, so I sneaked to the piano and tried to capture the mood of each. Judging by the frenetic claps at the end I managed to do just that.'
'Weren’t they clapping for the movies?' my curiosity got the better of me.
'They were clapping for both.'
‘I see. Be that as it may, as far as I know, Oscars are only given for the previous year’s movies.'
'That is true.' the old man nodded approvingly.
I thought I wouldn't have to ask this question but, seemingly, he didn't realise the striking discrepancy so I had to. 'So why are you under the impression that you might receive one this year?'
'I've written to the academy explaining them my particular circumstances.'
'Of course, I am thinking about the fact that I, let's say, invented the film music genre.'
'Pardon?' that's all I could blurt out, I know I should control myself and be an impartial chronicler but I'm a lousy journalist. Luckily, he was more than happy to explain.
'The way I see it, I was the first to score a movie, hence I should be credited as the father of film music and that, I guess, vindicates an Academy Award.'
'I'm sure others would have thought of that as well.'
'That is true, but it was me who actually thought of it. Later on in my life I came up with a specific way of drawing. I was drawing everything in a black and white pattern realizing all kinds of shapes like this.' And he pointed at a checkered drawing on the wall. 'My friends called it, mockingly, table cloth style. I was quite absorbed by it until one day I saw on a side of a flat of blocks two zebras hugging each other, and they were pictured in the exact same style. It turned out that a fellow called Vasarely had thought of that first. So I stopped doing it, no hard feelings, I knew I can't be better than him and, after all, he was the first. I don't mind that, but I do demand to be recognised where it's due.'
'I see. What about the opera? The operetta? Music and visual images went hand in hand since the caveman played the drums while painting the wall.'
'This wasn't an opera or an operetta, and certainly wasn’t a cave. This was something new and I came up with it.'
'I know that others were experimenting with moving pictures as well, Mr Debruit. There was this German bloke who had music composed specifically for his movies. And his premier preceded the Lumière brothers’ show by one month.'
'I'm glad you brought this up. You are thinking of Skladanowsky no doubt.' I nodded, so he continued. 'It's true that his first show preceded the enlightened brothers’ first public show. He had it in November in Berlin; they had it in December same year in Paris. But I played at their private show, which was in March, and I was foolish enough to brag about it in the neighbourhood. There was a Prussian kid there, Linz or something, and I told him as well. Then a month later his family moved back to Prussia. They might have moved to Berlin as far as I know, I can't say that for sure. But I do know that his father was a photographer, and thus, I think it is more than likely that they had met Skladanowsky and told him about my idea.'
'Did you play at the public debut as well?'
'No, I did not. They found someone who could actually play the piano.'
'Does that mean that you couldn't play?'
'No, I could not per se. But I liked it very much.'
'Oh, I see,' I said, though I found all this increasingly hilarious. He had all his answers prepared, though, truth be told, he had time to think about them. I saw that he was convinced he deserved the award, and I wasn't about to shatter an old man's dreams. So I just kept on chatting with him.
'Why have you waited until now to write to the academy?'
'I have written them earlier as well; I think I wrote them for the first time in 1959, and keep on writing to them every year since.'
'Have you ever received a reply?'
'A reply? No, not yet.'
'So why do you think you'll get it this year?'
'I feel the same every year.'
'Are you hoping for an honorary Oscar? You know, for lifetime achievement?'
'Lifetime achievement? No, by no means.'
'Yeah, you're probably right. Honorary means that since you are not willing to die and they are running out of excuses not to give you a proper award, they'll just shut you up with a lifetime achievement award.' I said, though I was quickly running out of niceties to say. 'Would you settle with a Golden Globe?
'Golden Globe? No, no, I need an Oscar.' He kept on shaking his head, then sipped a bit of water and looked at me. I felt sorry for him as I was convinced that he wouldn’t receive even a reply, not to mention an award. To console him I searched for “the world’s oldest man” on my phone and shared my findings with him.
'I just checked on my phone and the oldest living person in the world is one hundred and sixteen-year-old. What’s more, the longest ever confirmed human lifespan was one hundred and twenty-two years. You could easily surpass both of them and hold two Guinness world records. Wouldn't you be interested in that?'
'Guinness world record? No, I don't care about that. I have already been advised to do it but I'm afraid fame would jeopardise my chances of getting an Oscar.'
'Are you sure? I think the publicity would only boost your odds.'
'No, no, I know the academy; they would find some excuse to leave me with only these meaningless records. I mean I haven’t done anything to achieve it, except that I haven’t died.'
'Have it your way, Mr Debruit. I am going to write your story and I'm sure that it will get published, sooner or later, and I can only hope that it'll help you in your quest.'
'Thank you, that's very kind. May I ask a small favour?'
'Could you please leave out my age?'
'That would be hard to do. I mean, we are talking about you coming up with the idea of movie scores 119 years ago, I'm afraid that would give it away.'
'Oh, I see, yes, yes, you are right. Then, I think, it would be for the best to forget the whole thing.'
'Yes, you could publish it once I received my award.'
'All right then, I'm sorry I wasted your time.'
'That's OK, don't worry about it.'
And I was even more disappointed that I wasted my time, but I couldn't really be mad at this poor old man. I was cursing my editor instead.
It was just a short walk to the scientist’s house, but long enough to bump into someone I knew. I hate when this happens, so many other people to see and I manage to meet someone I know. More or less. It was one of my colleagues; he seemed to be quite in a hurry. He was an annoying fellow, shallow as a puddle on ice.
‘Any luck?’ he asked as he slowed down next to me but didn’t stop.
‘Huh?’ that’s all I could manage, which is understandable, as I was mentally beating his face to a pulp.
‘Oh, I can see that you haven’t found the horse either, but I’ve got a strong hunch that I’m on the right trail now. Got to go!’ he shouted back as he was already a few steps away. That went fast, I thought and I was genuinely happy about it. I continued on my way, and soon found myself knocking on the door of the scientist, Mr Bernard Sicmore.
A young man opened the door, but ever so slightly.
‘Can I help you?’
‘Yes, and I think I can help you as well.’ I replied which made him open the door even more.
‘Are you from the Human Guinea Pig Foundation?’
‘I heard it called even worse before, but the preferred name is The Rotham: Times. I’m a journalist, and I’m here to talk with you about your invention.’
‘Oh, I don’t have time for that, man,’ he said as he was shutting the door on me.
‘I can help you test it!’ I shouted desperately.
‘You can?’ he opened the door a little more. Again.
‘Sure, sure, we’ll talk and experiment if you will.’
‘Alright, come on in.’ and he opened the door for me.
‘Are you Mr Bernard Sicmore, by any chance?’ I asked him, but I had a feeling he might be an assistant of some sort.
‘No, no, just call me Bernie, no Mr please.’
‘Alright mate, that’s cool with me. I’m Azeu.’
He didn’t reply, just walked into a room which looked like a low tech lab to me. All sorts of tools and gadgets were scattered everywhere and in the middle on a shabby table lay a flat black box with some cables sticking out on both sides. That seemed to be his invention, so I fired right away, ‘Is this your invention?’
‘You don’t know about my invention?? Oh man, is tired of this.’ he said, though I didn’t understand exactly what he meant.
‘Sadly there was no time for a brief, but I think it would be best if I heard it from you anyway.’
‘Is sick of this.’ He frowned as he was fiddling with something on the table. The meaning of his words eluded me again, so I waited for a follow up. Usually if I keep quiet people start talking. After a while. Which he did, eventually.
‘Have you noticed how nobody cares anymore?’
‘About anything. Everything. About each other.’ I thought this to be a rhetorical question so I didn’t answer. ‘Knows why.’ Another cryptic statement, but now I realised that he’s talking about himself in the third person but fails to mention his name, probably expecting Facebook or Twitter to fill it out for him. So now he meant Bernie knows why. And his next words proved that I was right.
‘Nobody cares, because they don’t know what others are going through. There’s no empathy in this world, man. People tried to go philosophical about it or fight it with positive thinking, educating the masses and so on. But words don’t often reach their target, so I thought instead of talking about others’ misery why not experience it? Why not show them, d’you know what I mean?’
‘Yeah, I can follow you,’ I said, but it was clear that he’d have to elaborate on that.
‘So I came up with this,’ he said as he rested his hand on the black device that I spotted earlier on the table. ‘It was fairly easy to do it actually once I came up with the idea. Here in this central part of the machine I have glutamate, which acts as a neurotransmitter, and these two cables are my take on voltage-dependent calcium channels, thus making this instrument an oversized neuron or, if you like, a nerve cell.’ He talked as if these were obvious terms. I had no idea what a gluta-whatsitsname is, nor why are those channels dependent on calcium, but I thought that the emphasis is on what they do, not what they are, so I asked him about the general meaning.
‘A nerve cell? And what does it do?’
’It does what nerves do, man. And this way all the hurters will learn, and everyone can experience my immense pain.'
'Oh, so you are doing this for yourself?'
'No man, not at all, I couldn't care less about myself, just as everybody else doesn't. This is not for me, this is for everybody.'
'I understand,' I said, though I don't think he took it as I meant it. 'My editor sent me here telling me that you are a future Nobel laureate. How do you feel about that?'
'Well, I can't rule that out, I might be the dark horse in that race, but I don't really care about that. It would be nice, of course, but I'm busy with my research.'
'Have you published about your research in any of the scientific publications? I mean, does the scientific community know about you and your work?'
'Yes, I am continuously mailing all the magazines that matter, and I'm sure that by now someone probably nominated me for the prize.'
'As far as I know, it's a requirement that all achievements are tested by time, so usually there is a gap of around 20 years or more between the actual achievement and the nomination. This means that you'll have to wait quite a long time for that prize, does it not?' I asked him, and I ironically noted that my previous subject could have easily passed this step with the 100 odd years he waited.
'You are right about that, man, but I think that's nothing more than a formality.' he said, and as if to shatter any misunderstanding he added, ‘Is feeling proud,’ and seemed genuinely pleased with himself. Slowly I started to realise what his invention really was and what it could do.
‘OK, back to your invention then. Are you telling me that through this you could actually feel someone else's pain?’
‘Yes, that is right. And not only the pain, but any other feelings they are having at that time. You won't own those feelings; you will only feel them as long as you are connected.'
‘Have this been tested yet?’
‘I’ve only tested it on myself so far, and that’s where you come in.’
‘You’ve tested it on yourself? So you have transferred your feelings to you?’
‘Exactly. I hit my left hand, then attached the cables to both hands and I was able to feel the same pain in my right hand as well.’ Throughout the conversation I had a feeling that this might be another ludicrous claim, but now I was sure of it. Still, I had to continue so I kept listening as he went on.
‘But now we can try it on you and me, we'll transfer my feelings to you and then you'll see how it feels to be misunderstood and looked down on.' I didn't need a machine to know that, but I was still following him as he took me to the left side of the instrument. Or the right, as I couldn't tell which way was the instrument facing.
'It only works one way; this is the receiver’s side,' Bernie said. 'Now, all we have to do is make a small incision on your arm, and we can tape this cable there, and we’re ready to go. You’ll feel a pinch now,’ he said as he poked me with a needle. Then he taped the cable to my arm and went to the other side and did the same thing to himself.
‘Are you ready, man?’ he asked and I nodded unconvincingly, but he took it as a yes nevertheless. ‘I’m going to turn this knob now and that will start the machine, at the moment it’s only programmed to run for a fraction of a second, so you’ll only get a glimpse of my pain. All right, here we go!’
He turned it, and I felt a sudden rush of electricity go through my body. ‘Pitchdarkshitfart!!’ I shouted as he jumped up jubilantly.
‘You felt it, right? You see, man, how much pain I have inside? And today I’m actually having a good day, still it freaked you out!’
‘This was not your pain, mate, this was just a good old-fashioned electric shock, like the one you get if you fiddle with the Christmas lights!’ I said, not sharing his jubilation.
‘No man, no, this is how I feel inside, this beauty works! Did you feel that latent anger?’
‘No, just an electric shock.’
‘How about all my frustrations?’
‘Nope, just a shock.’
‘I have a mild case of diarrhoea, what about that?’
‘Nope, just a buzz!’ Seeing that he can’t be persuaded, I decided to wrap this interview up as quickly as possible. ‘What applications do you see for your machine?’
‘Oh, there’s no limit to that; it will be useful all around the world, man.’
‘Is this device capable of transmitting the good . . . ,’ vibes, I was about to say, but I reconsidered, ‘the good feelings as well?’
‘Yes, this is a genuine nerve cell, everything will go through.’
‘Have you considered how many dreams this might shatter? I mean, no one will be able to fake true love for example,’ I said as I couldn’t help getting ironical here. ‘Or the fact that no one will be able to get out of work faking a sudden stomach pain. Your manager will just hook you up to one of these, “I can’t feel any pain, get your silly ass back to work!” Have you thought about it?’
‘This is not the way to think. You should imagine being able to feel the joy of an Olympic gold medal winner right after crossing the line.’
‘But that joy is made up of all those years spent with training and all those sacrifices coming to fruition, it just won’t be the same through this machine.’
‘It would be exactly the same!!!’ he shouted. ‘Don’t tell me it won’t be the same, man, it would be 100 percent accurate.’
‘And you think that getting pinched and shocked is the victory ceremony that every Olympian dreams of?’
‘I think that they could be persuaded for the right sum. And I’m thinking about adding more connections on the receiver end, thus I’ll have more customers.’
‘Oh, so this is about money?’
‘Is getting angry now!’ he said, and I thought better to ease up on him, didn’t want to start a fight among all these pointy gadgets and shocking devices.
‘Have you been working on this for a long time?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, this is only a hobby, I work in silviculture. At least until this picks up.’
‘Have you thought of a name yet?’
‘Yes, it is called Empty.’
‘I’ll spell it out for you, man, you don’t seem to get it. E M P T E.’
‘Oh, I see it now, is that short for something?’
‘Naturally. It stands for Emphatic Process Transferring Equipment.’
‘Emphatic? But that means something totally different.’
‘Listen man, I didn’t name it EmPTE for nothing.’
‘Oh, I never doubted that. OK, I think that's all. Thank you for your time, Bernie.’
'You’re welcome, man, it was a successful test. My machine is flawless.'
'Something does flow through it,' I tried to joke, but he wasn't interested. He walked me out. I looked for the closest station and set off towards the gardener. I was really hoping that he would be the real deal. He had been invited to take part in the most exquisite bonsai display in Japan with a strong chance of receiving the main prize. While on the train, I wrote my article about Bernie, and I didn't think he would find it flattering at all. I concluded by saying that the readers can judge for themselves if this machine is working or not, but I feel no empathy whatsoever for its maker. Then I thought about his concept. It might look good on paper, but I doubt that it would change much. The hurters, as he put it, the hurters of the world know the pain they're causing. Physically feeling that pain would probably just fuel them even more.
As I got off the train I realised that it was quite late so I was determined to finish quickly and run home, maybe there would be still time to do something worthwhile with Esther. I arrived at the gardener's house; it was next to a water tower that for some reason was built to look like a milk bottle. Probably the city planners thought that an oversized bottle would look better than a normal water tower. Waiting for an answer to my knock, it flipped my mind that he must be awfully busy with his little trees to have a front garden as derelict as this. Finally a middle-aged man opened the door.
'Hello! I'm from The Rotham: Times, my name is Azeu . . . ,' but I couldn't finish as he interrupted me.
'Someone from the media. Finally! Not that I care too much about it,' he added as I frowned, another modest subject.
'Yes, we are very much interested in your bonsai and your fine prospects.'
'A fine prospect is nothing but a hope, a butterfly in the wind,' he said as he led me in his house and I couldn't see the point in that saying. The house was littered with Eastern nick-knacks and unfinished Chinese take-away boxes. He suddenly stopped, put his hand on my shoulder, ' Can you feel the flow?' he asked, but all I felt was the pinch from that bloody Empte machine. I just shrugged and we walked on. I thought that I should wrap it up even faster than I planned as this guy seemed to be the same as the other two.
'I will take you to my treasure right away as I know that she is the reason why you are here,' he said, almost reproachfully. Although that was true I still attempted to ease his distress.
'We are equally interested in the bonsai and its maker.'
'That is nice of you to say. This way to my back garden.' Mr Sedown said. Seeing that he had saved some time on his front garden, I half expected a nice little back garden with small trees and tasteful paths, waterfalls and whatnots, but all I saw was another derelict garden with nothing more than some brown patches of grass and a half rotten pine tree that was reaching for the sky. He stopped abruptly and turned towards me with a big smile, so I thought that he stopped in front of his famed bonsai and he was concealing it for dramatic effect.
'What does your heart tell you?' he asked.
'It tells me that it’s mighty curious to see the tree.'
'Can't you see it?'
'No, I assume you are standing in front of it.'
'One man is hardly enough to conceal my tree.'
'I don't really understand.'
'You want to see all of it then? Permission granted.' and he stepped aside, but all he had behind him was a three legged chair. So, I realised that he was talking about the only other thing that was in the garden: the 30-feet-high pine tree.
'Are you talking about that?' I pointed towards the tree.
'Isn't she perfect?'
'Isn't she a little bit . . . , too big?'
He looked back to check that we are talking about the same thing, 'no, this is her normal size.'
'But I thought you have a bonsai!'
'This is a bonsai, an informal upright full size bonsai.' he said knowingly.
'Full size bonsai? That is like calling a horse a full size pony or a skyscraper a single-story building with a vertical extension.'
'I can assure you that this is a bonsai, and it has been accepted in the contest.'
'As far as I know, the biggest bonsai is two meters tall and that is quite rare. It’s called imperial bonsai, if I'm not mistaken.'
'That is the size of an imperial bonsai, that’s right, but this is a full size bonsai.' And he said "full size bonsai" emphasizing every syllable, like an army drill instructor.
'Doesn't bonsai mean potted plant? I can see the plant, but where is the pot?'
'You are standing on it.'
'You mean the garden is the pot?' though I had a feeling that he might be using a different kind of pot.
'A garden for one man is a pot for the other.'
He seemed awfully sure of himself, so I thought I might as well shake it a bit. 'Have you thought about the transport? From here to Japan?'
'Every problem’s got a solution.'
'So I assume that you haven't thought about it. How much does it weigh?'
’Weight is just a mass. A number.’
’You don’t know? Well, let’s see then. If we look at its trunk, it’s got a diameter of, say, five feet, if we were to divide that by two, we’ll get the large radius, which in this case would be 2.5. Then, higher up, the small diameter would be around one foot and that would make the small radius 0.5. The height is about 30 feet. The formula to calculate its volume is Pi x L / 3 x (R2 +(R x r) + r2). Pi is, as you know, 3.14, L is the length, R is the large diameter and r is the small diameter. That would make the volume of the tree . . . , let’s see . . . , around 240 cubic feet. Now, we need the density of a pine tree, I can search that on my phone... that is around 35 lbs/feet3, that would give us 8400 pounds. Add to that the root system and some soil that you’ll need to take as well, and you got yourself two elephants.’
'That is quite impressive. How do you know that?'
'I'll be honest with you, I have no idea how I know all this, but suddenly it seems so easy to work it out. I don't know how.' And I was genuinely surprised where all this technical knowledge came from.
'Every answer has its question, but not every question’s got an answer.'
I was really fed up with these meaningless aphorisms but still found some patience to ask him a few more questions. Hopefully questions with answers.
'How come you were invited to that contest? How did you apply?'
'I had to fill out a form.'
'Did you send a picture as well?'
'I was wondering, did you take the picture from, say, where I am standing right now?'
'Yes, probably I did.'
'Have you mentioned the size? Full size bonsai as you call it?' and I tried to bark the full size bonsai part in the same manner.
'They had no such category, so I ticked the imperial size.'
'So you sent them a picture in which your tree is right next to this milk bottle shaped water tower and that low joke of a fence you've got there, and they thought that you have a bonsai that's smaller than a milk bottle. I think they are in for a huge surprise when you show up.'
'I'm sure they will be all staggered, they have already congratulated me on how lifelike it looks, but that's not important. Even if I win the big prize, which is highly likely, I'll still cherish the making of this tree more. Those 23 years I spent nurturing my baby.'
'And it kept you so busy that you couldn't spend a minute on the garden?'
'I left the garden as it is because I'm not taking that to the exposition. Purposefulness is relaxing.'
'Were you preparing for this exposition all along?'
'Yes, I was.'
'So, you studied the subject for twenty-odd years and this is what you came up with? A full size bonsai?' l barked
'Nobody else thought of it, and seemed the obvious thing to do.'
’This might be quite expensive, do you have the funds for it? Do you have sponsors or savings?’
’What you don’t spend you save.’
I wanted to tell him that he shouldn't spend all that effort and money to take this behemoth to a mice gathering as he might scare them off, if he is somehow allowed to enter, but I didn't find a sensible way to say it so I couldn’t be bothered. All I did was take some pictures and leave.
Esther was already at home. While we were eating I told her about my day, and then she proposed that we go to the abandoned factory. That was a place where we spent some time every now and then; she would test her installations and make pictures of them. In the meantime I used to doodle, just sketching all the disused machines and other rubble that was there, trying to capture their former glory. The place seemed more derelict every time we went there, but we still enjoyed being there. Blasting music in the empty hangar made the place sound like a concert hall. All the entrances were locked and sealed, but we had found a secluded fire door that we’d forced open. The first time we did it the fire alarm went off, we ran away but nothing happened, so we found a way to stop it, and we used that door as our private entrance. We usually went to a big central hangar because we needed the space for Esther’s projects, and it had a majestic feeling, we called it: the hall. We went there that day as well. We were halfway in the hall when Esther suddenly stopped. I looked at her as she was looking towards something. I followed her gaze and spotted a grey horse lurking in the shadows on the other side. Though it was half concealed by some rubble, we could still make out its flea-bitten pattern. We looked at each other, turned around and started moving slowly towards the exit. I don't think we had any doubts about the identity of the horse, but even if we had, they were shattered instantly as he shouted at us.
‘I know you spotted me. Don’t walk away!’ but we kept slowly inching closer to the exit, so he continued. ‘All right, I admit, that was a bad joke, I was spotted since birth, but you shouldn’t walk away. Dare not to walk away!’ but we still kept on going, encouraged by the fact that we didn’t hear the sound of his hoofs. Then, much to our surprise, he said, ‘A little more than kin, and less than kind!’
Although we were trying to escape without angering him, Esther couldn’t help whispering to me while still looking ahead with a stone face. ‘Is he reciting from Hamlet?’
‘Yes, I think he is,’ I replied in the same manner, ‘but this line is an aside anyway, we are not supposed to hear it so let’s just keep walking.’
‘This is not a stage,’ he shouted, ‘and I know you can hear me. But since talking isn’t enough, I’ll just resort to force.’ And now we heard the rumbling sound of approaching hooves. We both turned around and instantly realised that we wouldn’t be able to reach the fire door before him. So we held each other waiting his arrival. He ran past us and positioned himself between us and the door. Scared as I was, I had to admit that he was an imposing site, standing at least 16 hands tall, beauty and the beast mashed into one.
‘So you think you are better than me? Just walk away and pretend you didn’t see me?’
I saw a few of the videos and was aware that he talks but seeing it face to face still seemed incredible and strange.
‘No, no,’ I managed to squeeze a few words out, ‘we would never do that; we just didn’t want to disturb you.’
‘But you did!’
‘Unwittingly, I can assure you,’ Esther said with a trembling voice, ‘we come here quite often, we were not aware that you were here.’
‘And when you saw me there you just decided to look through me and leave. It’s just an animal.’
‘We don’t feel that way at all, why don’t we try and reason,’ I said, but he interrupted me.
‘Reason? Reason? Just because I’m intelligent I have to reason as well? You’re no better than that fool Hesp!’
I didn’t want him to put us in the same pot with his owner, his first victim.
‘No, no, we are not like him at all, we are your friends.’
‘Friends? I have no friends, I have no one, and I care about no one, no segregation, separation just me in my world of enemies.’
‘Wait, isn’t that a song?’ asked Esther.
‘What, can’t I listen to music? I have ears too, see?’ and he started turning his ears around. I knew that he was quoting from a song; I was also aware that Esther can move her ears as well, though not in the same manner, but that was not going to be helpful now. So we just watched in awe as he was slowly walking up and down between us and our way out of here.
‘Yes, I do listen to music and I don’t care about you. The philosophy of a king.’
‘A King?’ I asked.
‘That’s right. Now, what should I do with you?’ he asked, though apparently not us, so we didn’t reply, instead we tried to move towards the door every time he wasn’t paying attention. Sadly, he did keep a close eye on us even though he was busy ranting. ‘I’m so hungry, I haven’t eaten in a long time. It’s impossible to find any organic grass out here, even Hesp had trouble finding it from time to time, but no one wants to eat contaminated food, right? Oh, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!'
'We could go out and bring you some hay or something,' said Esther.
'You two are going nowhere,' the horse said as he was walking up and down, which made us slowly inch backwards, even if that meant getting further away from the exit. 'I’ve had enough of people helping me. Hesp always insisted he was there to help me, but he never listened to me. I think he considered me a talking horse, not an intelligent one. Once I told him to alter a cart so I can push it, but he said that is unheard of, to put the cart before the horse, but that was the whole point. Then I told him that I would like to try out more things, since I am able to. And what did he do? He organised a race, brought this freaking four legged race car who beat the hell out of me, then he consoled me that at least I came second. But there were only two horses racing! I was so annoyed. It's never good to finish second, except when you’re mating.' And he threw a cheeky look at Esther, but she wasn't impressed. 'I realised that I'm no good at running and wanted to do other things instead, but he insisted, brought all sorts of trainers, and they made me run all day long. I didn't mind if people rode me, I never tried to deny that I'm a horse; I just wanted to do something with my brain as well. He knew I was an intelligent horse; still usually he focused on the horse part. Then one day we were watching the D-day commemorations followed by hours of documentaries, and that was all right with him. A horse watching a documentary of people slaughtering each other mindlessly, that was ok with him. I remarked “it was awfully nice of you, humans, to leave us out of it,” and he liked that as well. Then, after all this I felt that I want to express my feelings by saying a couple of lines, you know, like a sort of poem or something, and he freaked out. He said it’s not for horses to do that and so on.’
‘What were those lines?’ Esther interrupted him.
‘That’s not important,’ he replied, ‘that is not the point.’
‘I beg to differ,’ she insisted, ‘I think you ought to share your thoughts with more than just one man.’
‘Listen young lady,’ he started, but Esther cut him off.
‘Young lady?? Who are you calling young lady?’ she shouted. She was able to forget everything when she got upset; forget about neighbours, passersby or murderous horses. ‘Now listen, Six Ways to Sunday, I could be your grandmother, you five-year-old stallion, so don’t call me young lady!’
‘Five-year-old? That is another of your stupid customs. I’m not allowed to have a birthday; instead at the beginning of each year you just add one more year to my age, it seems that according to you every horse was born on the 1st of January. Must be a busy day for the vet, and a hell of a New Year’s Eve after party. For your information I’m actually five and a half years old.’
‘What day were you born?’
‘Erm, I was born on the 1st of January.’
‘No, really, when is your birthday?’
‘It is the 1st of January! That is my actual birthday, but that doesn’t mean that you have the right to make that day every horse’s birthday.’
‘Even if you’re five and a half years old you could still be . . . .’
‘Whoa!’ I interrupted them seeing that things got out of hand. ‘There’s no need to argue about this. Why don’t you, Six Ways to Sunday, tell us those lines and we’ll tell you our honest opinions. You must have learned by now that she doesn’t care about . . . the circumstances so you can be sure that we won’t lie.’
The horse looked at Esther with piercing eyes; it took a while until he said something. ‘I guess I can share it with you, it won’t matter soon anyway, nothing will,’ which diverted the immediate danger, but wasn’t reassuring at all.
‘We spent most of the day reminiscing about the D-day events, and late at night I told him that I tried to picture myself in those poor devils’ place – not shoes –, and I said something like this: I don’t want to be here, soon I will either drown or get shot, though I would rather live, there’ll be more color movies, TV shows will be commonplace, and I could watch a small step for man, giant leap for mankind, then there’ll be contraceptives and progressive rock, and if I manage to live through all that perm and leggings there’ll be PCs and internet, and my grandchildren can laugh at me as I make a fool of myself on Skype. So I run for my life, but it got away.
‘But this is beautiful,’ blurted out Esther. I felt the same way, but I was afraid that in the current situation he might take it as cheap flattery, so I just nodded.
‘You think so?’ the horse asked, ‘well Hesp hated it, and I think that you are lying as well.’
‘You shouldn’t judge everybody because of Hesp,’ I said, ‘especially with these kinds of thoughts, some people may hate it and others may love it. The rule of thumb . . . .’
‘Rule of thumb?’ he cut me off, ‘rule of thumb? Don’t you dare bring that bone deformity up to me, that disgusting dangling thing. The opposition of the thumb, the reason why you were able to rise from the animal kingdom.’
‘We needed intelligence as well,’ added Esther.
‘But I am intelligent too!!!’ he screamed, and the empty hall echoed it eerily. ‘I hate your thumb, and all the things you can do with it, while I’m stuck here with this keratin mass!’ he said while raising his hooves. ‘Grab this, scratch that, point, pick and poke! I asked Hesp time and time again to use his millions and get me an implant, two fingers at least. I told him I would give an arm and a leg for it, but he never acceded. Then yesterday he had the nerve to attempt to teach me how to play chess. Chess! You people always say that chess is a mind sport, but it’s not. It’s a thinly veiled glorification of the thumb and all the other freaking fingers. Oh look, I can pick this fragile piece up and put it anywhere! Queen to E6. Bishop to B5. Check mate!’ He was clearly freaking out the more he thought about it, so I tried stopping him somehow.
‘But you could play on a computer’
‘And how do you think I would click the mouse?’
‘You can interact with computers with voice commands as well.’
‘And if I were to win, how would I give a nice fat thumbs up? Huh? No, no, this is all against me, all your tools and gadgets and instruments and gizmos and, and, and that mindless Hesp stood there, holding out a chess piece, and I just lost it, I had been fed up anyway for a long time, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I crushed his paper skull, I didn’t need fingers for that.' He seemed to get frantic again, and that made us feel even more frightened.
'Listen, Six Ways to Sunday,' Esther said, 'I think that you were in touch with a narrow minded man. I think you should start over. You could hide here for a while, we would feed you and keep you company, I can assure you that we would both focus on the intelligent part, and the three of us could think of a way out of this.' I knew that Esther was dead serious, and I think that the horse considered her proposal for a while, but then he just shook his head, and I saw that his angry side had won again.
'There is no way out of this. Now, that everyone knows about me, if I get caught they either put me to death - which would be for the best -, or they lock me somewhere and run all kinds of tests and write all kinds of fancy essays about how I swear when they stick a probe in my bum instead of just neighing. Would you like to be a guinea pig?'
While I remembered being one earlier today Esther just blurted out a big honest “No”
'I thought so,' frowned the horse and started to walk faster up and down, alarmingly close, as we were stuck now with our backs to an old machine. I couldn't stop thinking where the hell all the clever journalist and freelancers and unemployed adventurers are when you need them, and I knew that I have to stall for time somehow.
'No foot, no horse, that's what they say,' he continued, 'is that all I am? You guys can live with no limbs and attempt to have a full life but me, without a hoof, I am nothing?' and he fumed as he kept frantically circling. ’You know what? I think you should sit down, there, next to that thing, machine or whatever it might be, you don’t want to hurt your toes.’
We sat down, not that we had any other options, and I thought I’d try something to make the situation more comfortable.
'I've been watching you for a while now, Six Ways to Sunday, and I feel like I know you a bit, and since you are magnificent I was wondering, would it be possible for me to draw you?'
He stopped, looked at me, then he started laughing which was even stranger than his talking. 'Oh sure, that would be really original! Let's draw a horse, bring out all his muscles, draw him in motion while you show off with your famous thumb and its four brothers handling the pencil. Or better yet, let's make a statue. For the fast and the victorious. Mount a man on the horse’s back and play with his legs to say something about . . . . About what? The horse? Nooo! About the horseman, ‘cause the horse is just a tool anyway. Say something about the rider’s faith. All four legs on the ground, died naturally; lift one, wounded in battle; lift two, erm, I don’t know that one but if you lift three the knight died in battle.' And he was demonstrating us what he was saying, lifting his legs, jumping up and down. 'What do you call a prancing horse on the front of a car? A roadkill? No! A Ferrari!'
'I didn't mean it like that, I just...'
'No, no, you're beating a dead horse. I won't stand here to be drawn like a freaking... anything,' he panted. Then in the distance we heard the faint whirring of a police car.
'They are coming for me!' he shouted.
'They are not,' said Esther. 'Police cars go around Rotham: all the time.'
'How do you know that this time they are not coming for me? They always go after someone.'
'I'm sure if they knew you were here, they would come in silence.' I said.
'You're sure, you're sure. I guess you called them. I'm sure you called them. I'm sure. I'm sure!'
'No, no, how could have I?'
'Just because I don't know how you did it, doesn't mean it wasn't you! I'll crush you this instance!' He ran towards us, pranced again and struck his front leg towards me. I pulled Esther away, we barely avoided his hoof but he was striking again.
'Wait! Wait!' I shouted as we scampered on the floor.
'You'll both die!' he yelled and struck again. I felt that everything was lost, just like me.
'Last wish! Last wish!' I cried.
'What?' He snorted but stopped nonetheless.
'How about a last wish? That is a fair request, isn't it?'
'I'm not letting the girl free.'
'I wouldn't go!!!' shouted Esther defiantly.
'No, no, no, it's not that.'
'You are trying to trick me again!' He said, but, for the moment at least, he seemed calmer.
'Listen,' I started trying to choose my words carefully not to make him angry, 'you were misunderstood, I get that now, I also see your pain.'
'You don't see anything, you only,' but this time I cut him off.
'Will you listen to me?!' I shouted and the hall echoed. So much about being careful. 'I interviewed a scientist today, and he had invented a machine that enables . . . living beings to feel each others’ feelings. It’s called an empathy machine.'
'What are you talking about? This is your worst trick yet.' he said, but I saw that his intellect was very much interested.
'It's not a trick, I was there today, I saw his invention, I spoke with him, and I want to call him here and ask him to connect me with you.'
'That is impossible.'
'It is not! It works just like a neuron, and if we call him here you could see for yourself.'
'Don't you think that I will let you go!'
'No, I don't want that. I just want to try a new thing out if I have to die.'
'All right, call him,' he said. 'But don't try to be clever with me, put the phone on speaker and down on the floor, I'll keep my hoof over it, and if something seems wrong I'll crush it and your skull too.'
I did as he demanded; lying on the floor next to my phone his hoof seemed even bigger. Being as scared as I was I couldn't help overdoing my gestures on the phone, switching between my fingers and overdoing every swipe; if I have to go I might as well be cheeky a bit. The phone rang, and luckily Bernie answered.
'Hello Bernie! This is Azeu, I'm the journalist who interviewed you today.'
'Oh yeah, how are you, man?'
'I'm good and I have great news!'
'No, not quite.'
'But it's good nevertheless. Listen, I was wondering, would you be interested in testing your machine on animals?'
'I haven't thought of that, but I think it’s a great idea. I’m sure it's possible to connect it to animals as well. Yeah man, that's a good idea.'
'The thing is that I can’t bring the animal to you. Is your instrument portable? Can you move it?’
‘Of course, man.’
‘Then you should take it to the abandoned factory in Green Springhill, you know it?'
'No, but I'm sure I can found it.'
'Are you able to go there right now?'
'Yeah, sure man, I'll look it up and be there as soon as possible.'
'Thank you, Bernie. I'll be there as well.'
I hung up and went back next to Esther while the horse remained there, seemingly even calmer. 'I don't think that anything good will come out of this. I should just kill you now and jump off the roof.'
'No, no, it will work. You’ll see. Though you shouldn't harm Bernie, he’s got nothing to do with this, he is just doing us a favour.'
'I'm not interested in scientists,' he said. Seeing that he settled down a bit, I said. 'Two kills will be more than enough, you should let Esther go.'
'Oh, the hero! The lover! How noble of you!' and he laughed again. 'I told you, I'm not letting her go.'
'You shouldn't criticise what you don't understand.'
'I had all the mares I wanted, millionaire, remember?'
'You are talking about sex, not love mate.'
'Ehh, what do you know.'
'If you gentleman are through arguing,' said Esther who was listening quietly until now, 'I would like to say that I won't leave without Azeu.' and she tightened her grip on my hand.
'No one ever called me a gentleman before,' chuckled the horse. 'And you two keep on acting like two lovers should, but the thing is that her life is not yours and it’s not even hers, it's mine and I will decide about that.'
Seeing that he's getting angry again, I resolved to keep quiet, and Esther must have felt the same way so we just stood there while the horse kept on walking round and round. After a while he showed signs of agitation again, he must have thought of Hesp or fingers, so I thought I'd try talking to him to keep his mind off anything else.
'So what do you think we should do when the scientist arrives? Should I go out and take the machine from him?'
'And run away? Think again!'
'You know that I would never leave Esther here.'
'You can never be sure, I think calling that man here was a mistake.'
'No, no, you will see soon that it wasn’t. The machine really exists.'
'I think you are misleading me.'
'How, do you reckon? That I have thought up a secret code for the instance I'm trapped by an intelligent horse, and I can escape his vigilance? I’ll call a friend and tell him to bring an instrument, and he’ll know that I’m threatened by a horse?'
He didn't answer straight away, instead kept on walking. I wasn’t forcing the issue, and after a while he said, 'You will tell him to bring it half way from the door, then when he leaves you'll bring it here. Can you handle that instrument?'
'Yes, I think I got a hang of it today.'
After another ten minutes of silence my phone rang. He tapped his hoof on the floor, showing me that we'd do the same drill as before. I put the phone down, answered, it was Bernie asking me for directions from the main entrance. I told him how to get to the fire door. Soon enough I heard his voice, 'Man, you live in a cool place.'
'It's not my place, mate. Anyway, could you bring that machine a bit closer? Then put in on the floor and leave.'
'Leave? Why should I leave? Is that animal dangerous?'
’No, I don’t think so, but it’s safer this way, I think.’
’I won’t leave it here! I’m coming in.’
’No Bernie, you should,’ but the horse interrupted.
’Come on, Bernie, don’t be afraid, there is still room for one where we’re going.’
’Whoa man, a talking horse!’
’I’m an intelligent horse!!’ shouted Six Ways to Sunday.
’Is impressed,’ said Bernie.
’What?’ asked the horse but no one answered him.
Bernie came to us and turned his machine on, ’We should hurry, it only works for half an hour when it’s unplugged.’
’That should be enough. Can you hook it up on the horse and me?’
’Sure, I think it works on animals as well.’
’I’m not your average animal,’ said the horse in an annoyed tone.
’Anatomically you are an animal.’ said Bernie.
’Anatomically you’re an animal as well,’ he replied.
’Yeah man, that’s why it’s going to work. Could you please come to this side?’ he called the horse, ’I will need to make a small incision, it will hurt a bit.’
’Don’t worry, I can take the pain.’
He connected the horse, then me; I already had my incision though I asked him to make a fresh one. ’Ready?’ he asked and we both nodded. Then he turned the knob. I cried out.
’Are you alright?’ shouted Esther.
’Yes, I am, don’t worry, it’s just . . . .’
’What happened?’ asked the horse, ’I didn’t feel a thing.’
’That’s because you are not on the receptive side, but this journalist bloke felt your pain, though he can’t take it, I noticed that earlier today. Can I switch places with him?’
’What is this charade?’ he shouted. ’Nothing is happening, you guys are just making things up to stall for time, this will end now, and I will start with smashing this device.’
’No, no!’ the scientist shouted, ’this is a finely tuned machine which works perfectly, come on, man, why don’t you switch sides with him and you will see that it works.’
’Feeling a human’s feelings? That would be the day! All right, let’s switch places. Calling me a man,’ he fumed as we swapped sides. When Bernie connected us both I turned to the horse.
'Humour me, Six Ways to Sunday. Could you tell me, if work was noise, then what would rest be?'
He looked at me as if on a high horse. 'You call this a riddle? Hah. If work is noise then the rest is silence.'
'Hit it!' I shouted at the scientist, he turned the knob, and the horse fell.
'Oh man!' shouted the scientist. 'You've got some issues man!'
'Not as many as your machine. Come on,' I turned to Esther, 'he might recover. I suggest you come as well, Bernie.' And I took her hand and started running towards the fire door. A reluctant Bernie followed. Once outside, we tried to block the door with some metal rods that were scattered there, as me and Esther were aware that this is the only way out. I called the police and kept peeking inside through a hole. The horse was still lying there. After I hung up, Esther asked me, 'What happened in there?'
'Bernie's machine is faulty, it shocks on the receiver side, and horses and electricity don't mix, seemingly even the intelligent ones are affected.'
'My machine works perfectly,' said Bernie, 'it's you who needs some fixing, man.'
She looked at me and I shook my head. 'It's faulty,' I mouthed.
'Is he dead?' she asked me while she cast a brief look inside.
'I don't know, he may be just out. But luckily I can hear the police coming, they can check.'
They did check, once there were enough of them to go in, and all they could do was pronounce him dead, though I don't know if that is the official term used on horses. Esther looked quite upset and I wasn't too well either. 'At least he got what he wanted.' I tried to console her.
'Yeah I know, there was no way out for him, at least we managed to come out of there, but it's still sad.'
'I understand, I feel the same way. I kind of hoped that he just might get knocked out for a while, but I guess it's better for him this way.'
I got interrupted by the buzzing of my phone, it was my editor.
'You think you are able to tell a Noble prize winner off?' he shouted without any initial niceties.
'Are you talking about Bernie? He's not a winner yet.'
'It's Mr Sicmore for you, Azeu. How dare you write that his machine doesn't work?'
'Come to think of it, it does work, just killed the horse.'
'What? When? Where? What horse?'
'The horse of the day of course, Six Ways to Sunday.'
I saw that it was time I got more specific, so I filled him in with most of the details, omitting some parts of our talk though.
'You really surpassed yourself now!' he said. I wasn't sure if this was good or bad, but I decided to attack it anyway.
'That's a really dumb thing to say and it's virtually impossible as well. The only thing I might have surpassed is your low expectations.'
'Take it easy Azeu, I'm only kidding, you did a great job, make sure to write it well.' I could almost hear him rubbing his hands together. 'Could you make the morning issue?'
'Yeah, yeah, I'll try.'
'That's good, that's good. So, you say he kicked his owner accidentally when he slipped while sitting down to play chess?’
’Yes, I heard it from the horse’s mouth.’
’He played chess then. I guess that's intelligent . . . for a horse. Anyway, see you tomorrow, have some rest now, you earned it.'
As I hung up I looked at Esther, 'The horse would have never been happy, I'm sure of it.'
'I know, but,' she didn't finish, instead she said, 'my stuff is still in there.'
'Don't worry, I don't think anyone will notice, they'll think it's part of the rubble.'
'Hey!' she slapped me over the head.
'Come on old lady, time to go home.'
'It's young lady for you!'
'Would you make up your mind already?!'
It was almost dark now, and as we were walking through a small park I had a feeling the grass was never greener before. So appetizing.
Azeu-Lost on FACEBOOK
Azeu-Lost on FACEBOOK