M. Linda Graham
How a Pale Horse Found Her Rider
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
This is the story of a horse who was ghosted and a woman who was a ghost before she died, and how they found each other in their respective limbos. Like all good ghost stories, it begins with a tragedy and a curse.
The Tragedy: Moon
She was a beautiful pearl-gray Morgan- a rare shade that shimmers in the sunlight and disappears in the thick white darkness of a heavy fog. Not much is known of Moon’s first owner, save that she doted on her beautiful, well-tempered young mare, reading to her between training sessions, and spending hours grooming her remarkable coat and thick mane and tail. Warm summer days were spent happily immersed in the kind of horse to human companionship that forms the foundation of legends. They moved as one, thoughts entwined, steps synchronized with intent, well collected. Then, like little Jackie Paper in “Puff the Magic Dragon,” the girl lost interest in her pony as she discovered she was interesting to boys. One day she didn’t come, and she was never seen at the barn again. She said, “I just can’t bear to see her again- it will hurt too much to say goodbye,” so she didn’t. Barn gossips claimed she ran off with the circus, then someone thought they saw her at a store in a neighboring town, buying baby diapers, but no one really knew. Dumped, forsaken, deserted, Moon found herself abruptly abandoned, ghosted in a cruel, contemptible, and cowardly way.
Is there a word for “abandoned but no one knows you are abandoned because no one cares?” With food, water and shelter provided, Moon simply horsed on, even as her beautiful pearl-silver coat dulled with rain and mud, and her training diminished into a distant memory. Her paddock mates, Victoria the Haflinger and Jules the Thoroughbred, were kind, cheerful companions, snuffling Moon’s withers and gently grooming her, but Moon missed her girl. With no payment coming in for room and board, one foggy day a new groom just left Moon in the paddock, and a new arrangement came into practice. Afraid and lonely at first, her coat soon thickened, and she became friends with the night creatures and her namesake. Yet she always looked forward to seeing her horse buddies when they were turned out each morning, meeting them at the paddock gate and joining them for breakfast hay. The old owner of the barn, sliding down the dementia hill, tried to locate and bring to terms the absent girl, but she, reshaped with the craft of a vagabond rogue, evaded his muddled inquiries. A forced retirement and a money shuffle later, the barn was sold. The fates conspired unfavorably; on the sale date, a thick fog rolled in on an easterly wind, and sweet Moon, alone in the back of the paddock, remained unseen, camouflaged by the white darkness. Her stall was leased and occupied by another, leaving no one the wiser save a confused Victoria and Jules. The grooms learned that on foggy days another presence lingered near the Haflinger and the Thoroughbred in the back paddock. But with no horse acknowledged, no horse was seen, and oblivious to her own oblivion, Moon faded into being a creature of barn mythology.
The Curse: Emily Tartle
She had just turned 57. Her husband, her Dougie, her rock, best friend and lover, died unexpectedly, knocked off his bicycle by an aneurism. The doctor declared him “dead before he hit the ground.” Their only offspring, a boy, found his happiness on another continent. His rare but reliable phone calls came at the holidays – usually. He was never close to his father and did not return for the funeral. She quietly grieved her absent son even as she openly grieved her beloved husband, but she was also deeply pragmatic. After the funeral, the flowers in the compost, thank you notes sent, clothes taken to Goodwill, and his smell faded from the pillow next to her head, the accounts settled her fixed income into petrified submission. She woke up early one morning and decided to go for a run.
Just before his death, Emily and Doug had moved to a new subdivision on the edge of town, adjacent to country roads and charming horse farms. On this particular April morning, she was moved to run a 2mile route that would take her by several of these idyllic farms. And so it was that, on that first early morning jog, she met a beautiful pearl-colored horse at the back of a paddock near the road. The other horses weren’t out for the day yet- this mare stood alone, gazing into a sunrise Emily couldn’t yet comprehend. As Emily trotted by, the horse suddenly turned its regal head and looked straight through her with its huge, dark, liquid eyes. There was something lost and mysterious in these great eyes. With a shock, Emily recognized her own grief. She paused. The horse dissolved into the morning mist, enveloped in the thickening vapor. Emily rubbed her eyes, looked again, and vaguely discerned the horse’s blurred outline shimmering like a mirage.
She took a breath, turned, and jogged on, thinking “I have to come this way again.” A half hour later she arrived home, her cheeks unaccountably stained with tears.
Widowhood and middle age simultaneously ambushed her. Never an extravert, there had been a brief period in Emily’s early twenties when men looked at her. It was in this period of her life that she met Dougie. She wasn’t particularly good looking but wasn’t bad looking either. A little overweight, she was comfortable in her body, but never a fashionista. Her one indulgence of vanity was to wash her curly hair with a shampoo that smelled of hibiscus and coconut. Dougie loved to snuffle his nose in her hair – a gesture of gentle, abiding endearment that twisted her viscera with glee. They raised their son, they joined a church; with little cause for contact with distant relations, they enjoyed a quiet, undramatic life.
Invisible Middle-Aged Woman Syndrome
Alone now, Emily deeply grieved Dougie’s passing, but each day brought a little more time to look out and a little less time sobbing on her knees in the kitchen. She soon realized that no matter how much she looked out, no one looked back, even when she spoke. Men didn’t look at her like they used to. Men didn’t look at her at all. Women didn’t either. Occasionally a child would catch her eye, then quickly glance away. “Youth is wasted on the young” she thought to herself. She and Dougie had been viewed as such a pair that old friends didn’t call anymore, self-conscious as they were of her singleness. She was too old to be a MLF, not old enough to be a Grandma. No longer able to have children, she was, in society’s subliminal estimation, of no use, therefore she was no longer relevant. No one expected anything of her because no one expected her to be capable of anything. The unexpected pain of unsought anonymity devastated her morale in the midst of her grief, but she soldiered on tenaciously, paying her few bills on time- not too early, never late, just as a law-abiding citizen should. She drove an older model gray sedan – never too fast - never too slow. Her credit rating was bullet-proof. Mundane moderation came naturally to her as she disappeared into her own mediocrity, becoming an invisible woman – the walking dead, a ghost before her time.
She didn’t mean to do it ---- the first time. She wandered out of the store grieving Dougie, when she realized with a jolt that she was loading groceries into her car- and had no receipt. She thought about going back in to pay for them, but when she caught sight of herself in her rear-view mirror - face red, eyes swollen from tears - embarrassment over-ruled propriety. She carefully drove home. $27.88 in groceries – the only thing that surprised her was how little guilt she felt.
Invisibility was a super-power tailor-made for a fixed income. She boarded a commercial flight once, just to see if she could. She came on near the end (but not last), spotted an unoccupied seat in the rear, and took a random trip to Phoenix, AZ. She pondered if this might be an affordable way to pay a surprise visit to her son, but decided against it, as he might actually see her, and at this point she wasn’t sure she was ready for that. She stepped onto a flight home with a different airline but using the same strategy. Success! Just follow the distinguished man with the big blue bag through TSA! She started attending concerts, theatrical events, movies, going to museums– anything requiring a ticket for entry. She’d spot a Spectacular Presence, bring herself into their sphere, then simply walk thru while the Spectacular Presence occupied the ticket taker. She had fun and saved a great deal of money thanks to her super-power.
But every superpower has a down-side. She briefly considered a re-booted career as a spy, but no one ever returned her calls. Restaurants were a non-starter- she couldn’t get seated, and even though she rode the bus for free, no one offered a seat there, either. In public restrooms, she’d wave and wave her hands in front of the soap dispenser, the water spigot, the dryer, or the paper towel dispenser- all to no effect. She cooled her hot flashes in the nude on her deck. Not a flicker from the neighbors. If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one to hear, is it still outrageous?
But there was One who saw her.
Emily continued her daily jogs, always pausing at the fence to ponder those beautiful liquid eyes. Chatting lightly, telling the eyes and the warm muzzle with the green-sweet breath about Dougie, she shared her grief even as she bragged (modestly) about her super-power of invisibility. One day she rolled under the electric fence and joined Moon in the paddock, touched her, scratched her withers, stroked her strong neck. She had no prior experience with horses, save her own dreams of having a horse when she was a young girl. She deeply enjoyed this new relationship. With Moon she never felt lonely.
One day in late October, as she turned away from the horse to return to her jog, she suddenly found herself flying through the air. If it hadn’t been real, it would have felt like a dream. The driver of the Ford F150 never saw her, and just like that she was a crumpled, anonymous heap, her head smeared with blood where it hit the culvert. It was her last free flight. The driver stopped, thinking they had perhaps hit an animal? but finding nothing, and with only minimal damage to the bumper, put it down to the odd branch and drove on.
Moon floated along the fence until she paused just above the culvert.
Emily slowly sat up. Dusting off her confusion, she re-oriented herself, “what the hell was that all about?” After a long moment, she shifted, stood, and moved upwards towards the pale horse at the top of the ditch. The gray mare welcomed her, and together they turned to watch the brilliant red orange sun rise, burning through the morning mist.
The grooms noticed a new, sweet aroma of hibiscus and coconut lingering in the back paddock. Blooming things could not account for it; they smelled it even in the deepest chill of winter nights. They liked it. The scent accompanied a kindly temperament that calmed the horses. But weird stuff happened, too. One early morning, a groom found one of the horses in a different stall. Jasper, had a reputation as an escape artist, regularly getting himself out of his own stall. But who put him back, in a different, empty stall, with gate closed and locked behind? Lost horseshoes mysteriously reappeared, carefully placed by the respective horse’s stall. One morning, the brooms, which had been in their usual disarray the night before, were discovered in a closet, carefully organized. But the legend was solidified when old Luce, a beloved Appaloosa gelding, suffered a hopeless bout of colic at the age of 30. After the vet packed up and left, the rendering company called, the barn manager gone home, Luce’s owner was left alone, sitting in stunned grief by the body of her beloved horse. Later, she said she literally heard the four-beat walk of a horse nearby, felt an arm wrap around her shoulder, and smelled hibiscus and coconut. She looked up, expecting to see a barn friend and a horse, but saw only incoming fog, swirling with the night chill. After that, they say that at least at that barn, a life in pain finds peace when the scent of hibiscus and coconut wafts into the space, accompanied by invisible hooves.
About a year later, the grooms noticed a smartly dressed, handsome young man with a slight foreign accent, walking the road adjacent to the back paddock. He found what he was looking for, hidden in the snarled congestion of cattails and weeds by the culvert.