The Horse, a new short story by Sam Blake

Jazz was almost 15 and wanted more from life than a mattress on the floor of his box room

The stallion flared its nostrils and tossed its head, showing the whites of its eyes, bright in the darkness. Its piebald coat was matted with mud, its white crinkled mane so long it had to knock its head back to clear it out of its eyes. Rain stinging his back through his thin hoodie, Jazz O’Connor took a step forward, the frayed nylon rope halter ready in his hand. He shivered, partly with excitement, partly from the wind that whipped across Keane’s Field catching plastic carrier bags and abandoned paper coffee cups, tossing them like confetti through the deep puddles, slick with oil. The cold bit deep into his skinny frame – he was always cold, he was used to that, but this was a different cold, even the horse felt it, his breath steaming in the night air.

In the distance, Jazz could hear sirens, the screech of wheels as joyriders criss-crossed the estate, dogs barking, snatches of music. The horse could hear it too, and towering over the boy, the stocky cob lifted its head from the grass it had been cropping and gave another snort, poised to turn and run. Jazz could smell him, the horsey scent catching in his throat. In the distance, half-finished office blocks rose like jagged teeth, blacker than the sky, arterial roads peppered with low-rise apartments, windows lit like eyes. Jazz wondered if anyone was looking out, watching him.

It had taken him five attempts to get this close, building the stallion’s trust each time, bringing sugar lumps nicked from the cafe, an apple from Tesco’s. The horse was half wild, he knew that, had been sure that none of the local hoods had a claim before he went near. He wasn’t stupid; lads had been glassed over less. He’d come up now because he reckoned they’d be on their own, and he’d been right – it was too cold for lads to be hanging about, racing their ponies. Now it was just him and the horse and the stars playing hide and seek with the clouds.

His focus entirely on the horse, Jazz made a clicking noise at the back of his throat, and took another step forward. One hand out, he offered the sugar. The stallion eyed him suspiciously, then took one hesitant step towards him. His breath was hot on Jazz’s hand, his lips soft and thick. Jazz leaned forward and patted his neck, rubbing his coat hard. The horse nuzzled his jeans looking for more sugar.


Jazz reached into his pocket for another cube, his grin broad.

“Here you go, Krypton.” That’s what he called the stallion. Krypton, like kryptonite, more powerful than Superman. The horse snorted again, this time with pleasure, and rubbed his head against Jazz’s chest, almost knocking him off balance. Jazz rubbed his nose, and in a moment flicked the fraying halter over Krypton’s ears. He let the rope hang loose, ready to let it go if he bolted. The stallion shook its head, eyeing him for a moment, unsure.

Another snort.

The horse took a step backwards like he was trying to decide whether to rear or not, but Jazz was ready, unafraid. Reached for more sugar with his free hand. Standing on the tips of his toes he massaged the animal’s neck, holding it out. As the horse lowered its head again, he ran his hand along the length of its ear just like the Horse Trust woman had shown him at Dunsink. She’d been nice to him. ‘The Teddington technique’ she’d called it. Jazz didn’t know who the f**k Teddington was, but it worked, calmed the horses – even the sick ones. They’d caught 70 horses, wormed and de-liced them, given them microchips and passports. Some of the lads over there really loved their horses, you could see it in them, the animals nuzzling at their necks as they waited their turn for the vet, and then after, galloping off across the dump, bareback, manes flying. It had been an amazing day. He’d got into shit at school and with his Nan, but he’d learned so much, watching them, his eyes pricking at the power, the unity of boy and horse, their bond unbreakable.

And he’d wanted it.

Wanted it more than anything.

Daniella had her friends with their fake tan and highlights, but Jazz was almost 15 now, he needed more than a mattress on the floor in the box room for his own. He needed a pal, someone who didn’t take the piss out of him; someone who didn’t think he was thick, who liked him for what he was – like the girl with the blonde hair who had come up asking questions about the horses. She’d been interested, hadn’t thought he was stupid. He tried to remember her name. She’d been pretty; posh but pretty.

“You’re a fecking skanger, O’Connor, he’s a mad one. Wait till I tell me ma.”

Loftie’s words came back to him on the breeze as the horse relaxed, shifting his stance with another snort. They’d been hanging out at the edge of the waste ground, watching the horses when the girl had appeared. Jazz had told her about the stallion, about how he was going to tame him. Loftie had got bored and wandered off, but they’d chatted for ages; about his Nan and her flower stall, about their Mam dying on them when they were little, about Daniella wanting to be a model all her life and being so desperate to get out of Ballymun. The regeneration project wasn’t moving nearly fast enough for her.

A slow smile of triumph crept across Jazz’s face as he thought about Loftie.

“Told ya I could do it. The horse whisperer, that’s me ...” he kept his voice low, steady. He’d come too far to spook Krypton now.

As a gust of wind lifted his mane, Jazz ran his hand along Krypton’s neck again, down his shoulder. His coat was rough, gritty. Jazz was going to get a curry brush, was going to give the horse the best brush down he’d ever had. He could nick one but he wanted to keep things straight with Krypton – he’d ask Daniella, she had loads of cash at the moment ... she’d only started as a waitress at The Rookery, said it was tips, but she’d bought their gran a coat, and not one from Moore Street – this one had arrived in a Brown Thomas bag. He’d been sure she’d nicked it, but how had she got it in the bag? Sometimes stuff Daniella did just didn’t make any sense. His Nan said she had a job, that she was happy, and that was all that mattered.

In Jazz’s book other things mattered, like horses and his Swiss army knife.

He’d been coming here for ages, watching the lads on the waste ground trying to see who owned which horse. Eventually they’d got used to him hanging about, and it hadn’t taken him long to work out that no one owned the stallion. Urban cowboys everyone called them – whatever urban meant; they were all a bit wary of the stallion. He’d thrown some lad last summer, cracked his skull, they said. Jazz had hidden his surprise, soon found out that the lad had had a whip, had thrashed the bejaysus out of Krypton before he’d been chucked, and how the stallion had gone back around to trample him, to finish the job.

But now Krypton was letting Jazz stroke him, seemed comfortable with the loose head collar. Jazz smoothed his tangled mane. This was the moment when he got to see if the vet woman at Dunsink had been right, if Krypton really trusted him. And if she was wrong? Well, he’d worry about that when it happened.

Jazz ran his hand along the horse’s shoulder, grasped the base of his mane and in one easy movement he was up on his back. The stallion danced for a moment, skittish, unsure. Jazz felt Krypton’s powerful muscles tighten, coiling like a spring, could feel the heat of the horse’s body through his jeans. Jazz gathered the halter, holding on tight to Krypton’s mane, gripping his flanks hard with his knees. The stallion whinnied and flicked its tail. Jazz let him have his head, focused on staying on. Jazz pressed the heels of his trainers into the horse’s flanks. It took a moment for him to respond, like he was thinking about it. And then they were off, hooves pounding the soft ground, wind and rain cutting into Jazz’s face like ice, but he couldn’t feel it now.

Jazz heard his own laugher trailing behind them like a streamer, felt the horse’s mood change, like he was having fun too. F**k Loftie ... f**k Daniella and her job, and ... well f**k the world ... right now it was about him and the horse. Him and Krypton. Just wait till he showed the girl. Just wait till she saw him.

Sam Blake’s latest thriller, The Mystery of Four, will be published by Corvus on January 5th