Pandemonium broke out at Arthur’s proclamation.
Colton continued to wail uncontrollably. “Nooooooo! You can’t destroy Blue! I won’t let you!”
Anna held her son tight, trying to calm him, but the boy continued to sob.
Dray, Clara, and I loudly confronted Arthur, each of us vowing the man would never harm Colton’s pony, Blue. Arthur swore, just as loudly, that he would see to it the beast was destroyed, so it could never harm another person.
Didi moved around, trying to capture the chaotic exchange on her tape recorder. Finally, she put the recorder down. Placing two fingers to her mouth, she whistled shrilly. The rest of us fell silent, staring at her.
“That’s better.” She picked up the recorder again. “Now, Arthur, you stated the police and medical examiner determined your nephew had died of head injuries as the result of having been trampled by Blue. But are you certain of the police and forensic report?”
The man scoffed. “Of course!”
Didi frowned. “Well, then, it seems to me, Arthur, that your story has a major flaw in it.”
“Oh?” The man sneered at Didi.
She nodded. “I covered an incident last year when a child was savaged by a vicious dog. The animal was deemed dangerous and the police destroyed the animal right there, at the scene of the attack.”
“So?” Arthur looked down his nose at Didi.
“So, if Blue killed your nephew, why didn’t the police destroy the pony as a dangerous animal?”
“Good question.” I nodded.
Arthur rolled his eyes and snorted. “When my nephew was trampled, there were no witnesses. The police said there was no proof the animal was dangerous. They claimed it could have been an accident. They refused to destroy the beast.” Arthur’s face contorted with hatred. “It was no accident. The animal struck out at me when I entered the stall. It was obvious to me what had happened. That pony is dangerous and must be destroyed!”
I shook my head and held up my hand to silence Arthur as Colton started wailing again.
Before I could speak, Didi turned to Clara, the alter ego of my character, Cleric. “Clara, didn’t you say you are absolutely certain Arthur is mistaken, and Blue did not kill his nephew, Andrew?”
“And didn’t you say you knew exactly what had happened?”
Again, Clara nodded.
Arthur pushed Didi aside and confronted Clara, standing practically nose to nose with her. “How can you know anything? You weren’t there! No one witnessed my nephew’s death!”
“I cannot explain how I know . . .”
Arthur stopped her mid-sentence. “You can’t explain, because there is no way you could know!”
Clara sighed. “I assure you I know what happened as certainly as if I had been there. I cannot explain how I have this knowledge. You must trust me.”
“Whether or not we trust you, I’d like to hear what you have to say.” Didi checked her tape recorder once more before gesturing for Clara to begin.
Clara looked at me, cocking one eyebrow in an unspoken question. I nodded. She paced around for a bit, her expression one of deep concentration. I knew she was choosing her words carefully.
Finally, Clara stopped pacing and faced everyone. “I will tell you what I know of the events of that day.”
Arthur scoffed, but the rest of us nodded.
“Arthur, do you remember a young stable hand, a painfully thin teenaged boy adorned with several piercings, whose long, stringy hair appeared to have had only a nodding acquaintance with a comb? On the day in question, he was dressed all in black – jeans, shirt, windbreaker, baseball hat, sneakers – and he had what I believe are called earbuds in his ears, as he was listening to music from one of his electronic devices.”
Arthur nodded. “I forget the miscreant’s name, but I recognize the description.” He narrowed his eyes and stared at Clara. “How do you know what he was wearing that day?”
Ignoring his question, Clara nodded. “And was this boy a skillful handler of the horses in his care?”
Arthur snorted. “Him? Skillful? Hardly! He was always looking for shortcuts, trying to get away with the least amount of work possible.”
“Exactly.” Clara nodded. “Now on the day your nephew was killed, that stable hand was supposed to bring the horses into the barn, one or two at a time, and place them in their stalls, where feed and hay were awaiting them. Instead, he just opened the pasture gate and yelled at the horses, whooping and hollering. Since the horses were accustomed to being fed at that time, they all charged into the barn. They milled around in the aisle before entering the open stalls. Many of them entered the wrong stalls, and several horses engaged in kicking matches as they sought to protect their own territory and feed. One of the larger horses, a rangy seal brown thoroughbred, entered Blue’s stall, nudging open the door which your nephew had left ajar. The horse charged into the stall and knocked Andrew over. Blue tried to protect the boy, but the pony was no match for the larger horse. That animal is the one that trampled the boy.”
Arthur scoffed. “Then why was Andrew’s blood all over the pony’s hooves and coat? And why hadn’t the stable hand tried to help Andrew when he entered the barn and found him in the pony’s stall?”
Clara shook her head and answered in a gentle voice. “The blood you saw on Blue was not Andrew’s. It was Blue’s. He was savagely kicked several times by the larger horse as he tried to protect Andrew. And the stable hand never saw Andrew because he never looked into any of the stalls. By the time that boy walked into the barn, the thoroughbred had eaten all the feed in Blue’s bucket and had gone into his own stall. Once the stable hand chased the rest of the horses into their stalls, all he did was close all the stall doors without checking.”
We all stood gaping at Clara, trying to wrap our brains around her tale.
Arthur was the first to speak. “You’re a liar!” His face was red, and his hands clenched into fists that he looked dangerously close to using. Dray stepped between him and Clara.
Narrowing her eyes as she stared at Arthur, Dray spoke calmly, but with steel in her voice. “My friend does not lie. For all the years I have known her, she has never uttered a falsehood. I am not certain she even knows how.”
“Then explain this fairy tale she has woven. There is no way she could have such detailed knowledge of that day unless she was there and witnessed the events she described.” Then Arthur’s eyes widened, and he pushed Dray aside to confront Clara once more. “Or are you saying you were there? That you did see what happened and made no attempt to save my nephew’s life?”
“I was not there,” Clara assured him.
“Then how do you know what happened?” This time it was Didi who asked the question. “Do you have proof of your allegations?”
Clara shook her head. “I cannot explain how I know these things, and I can offer no proof.”
“Because you are a liar!” Arthur folded his arms over his chest and glared at Clara.
“Without proof, it does seem a bit farfetched.” Didi frowned.
Clara chewed on her lower lip for several seconds. She gave me an apologetic look, then began. “I would like you to consider the . . . possibility . . . of what I am about to tell you, no matter how outlandish or improbable it sounds.”
Dray and I exchanged wary glances, as we both knew what Clara was about to reveal.
“I have an ability that is difficult for me to explain, and even more difficult for others to accept.” She paused, searching for the right words. “I can communicate, after a fashion, with most animals.”
“Are you trying to tell us you can talk with animals, and that’s how you know what happened to my nephew . . . because the pony told you?” Arthur looked at Clara incredulously, then doubled over with laughter. Once he stopped laughing and caught his breath, he placed his hand on Clara’s shoulder. “I was wrong! You’re not a liar, you’re delusional!”
“I assure you, sir, I am neither. I do talk to animals, but they do not talk to me. They . . . respond to me. I have a sensitivity to animal’s emotions, and an empathetic ability to see images they place in my mind. I know what happened to your nephew because I saw it all happen through Blue’s thoughts as I stood with him in Anna’s barn earlier, calming him. He let me know through the images he placed in my mind, that your presence here upsets him because he knows you blame him for what happened to Andrew. He knows he is in danger from you, that your blind hatred drives you to destroy him.”
“That’s enough! You will never convince me that you can communicate with dumb animals; nor will I believe that pony did not kill my nephew. He must be destroyed!” Arthur tried to push past everyone and head for the door, but Anna and Colton stopped him.
“No!” Colton was no longer crying. His voice was firm and commanding. “I believe Clara. I have worked with Blue. I can’t communicate with animals the way Clara does, but I have bonded strongly with Blue, and I know he is incapable of intentionally harming anyone, let alone a person he has been trained to help. You must believe Clara!”
“Clara, is there any proof you can offer of your ability?” Didi was still recording the conversation.
Clara lifted her hands, palms up, and shrugged her shoulders. “I do not know what evidence I can offer as proof. As none of you can know what goes on in an animal’s mind, how can I prove that I can?”
“You can’t.” Arthur sneered again. “And I refuse to believe some fairytale you have concocted.”
Colton persisted. “I believe you, Clara. You’ve told us of events that day that Arthur did not witness, so he does not believe you. Can you tell us anything about that day that Arthur would have seen?”
Clara wrinkled her brow and rubbed her jaw. Suddenly, she brightened. “Yes, I believe there is! I know what Andrew was wearing.”
Arthur scoffed, but Clara turned to him with a look of confidence. “Your nephew was wearing a red, short-sleeved pull-over shirt, crisp, dark blue jeans, and a pair of badly scuffed brown Western boots. His short, black hair barely peeked out from under a tan cowboy hat adorned with a brown, braided hatband.”
Arthur’s jaw dropped. He stared at Clara for what seemed like an eternity before collapsing in a heap on the couch. “There is no way you could know that, unless you were there.”
“Mom?” Colton reached for Anna, who understood. She led her son to the couch and helped him take a seat next to Arthur.
The boy reached out, grasping for Arthur’s hand. “There’s no way Clara could know that, unless she was there . . . or unless she saw it through Blue’s mind, as she said she did. I believe her. I hope you can, too.” Receiving no response from Arthur, Colton pressed on. “I know Blue is innocent. He is gentle, and he is dedicated to helping me, as he was dedicated to helping his last owner, Casey, before me, and your nephew, Andrew, before her.”
Arthur looked at the boy, then at each of us. He heaved a shuddering sigh and closed his eyes against the tears that gathered in the corners of his eyes. Finally, he rose. “I guess I have no choice but to believe. I’m sorry, Colton, that my grief turned to hatred and rage. Your pony is safe from me now. I hope you have many years of happiness with him.”
He turned and left, and a few moments later, we heard his car heading down the driveway to the road.
“Well, I guess I can take those pictures of you and Blue now, Colton.” Didi smiled. “I have quite an article to write now!”
We hope you have enjoyed the multi-week mystery tale surrounding our friend, Colton, and his therapy pony, Blue. Be sure to return each week to see what my band of displaced characters and our friends are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!