“Is this something that people do?” Jet asked. “Go on trail rides at night?”
Jet wasn’t the first boy I’d kissed, but he was the first boy I wanted to kiss again. His breath smelled like the beer he’d drank earlier at the party. He’d told me his real name was James Edward Thomas, he was a Scorpio sun, and he wore all black because he believed it helped his blood flow better. Now, he held Belle’s reins like they were freshly cooked spaghetti noodles. I checked Belle’s girth, then walked back to Carl, rubbing his muzzle before I mounted.
“Horses have excellent night vision,” I said, angling my feet in the stirrups. “They have more rods in their eyes than humans. A higher proportion of rods to cones.”
“Why are you telling me this?” He had a natural seat, but his spine was stiff.
“To give you some reassurance.”
Carl and I led the way to the entrance of the wooded trail. We rode in silence through the forest. The trees blocked most of the remaining daylight, so I loosened the reins and let Carl take over. His muscles rippled under me like ocean waves. After a few miles, the trees began to thin out as the trail opened into a clear flat meadow. Carl quick-stepped and pushed against the bit. I looked back at Jet and Belle.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Just hold on.”
I nudged Carl with my heels. He was on off-the-track Thoroughbred and all I had to do was let him know he could run, and he would. He knew, like I did, the relief found in action.
I felt the trees rushing past me. I smelled pine and dirt and the sweet bloom of spring flowers. The meadow glowed ethereal in front of me and the full moon shone high in the sky as Carl and I shot across the field.
Carl’s speed was a rough, ragged thing. I loosened my arms in front of me, like elastic bands. I rooted my seat down into the saddle, envisioning my tailbone reaching and wrapping itself in a coil around Carl’s intestines. I imagined weights in my heels. I stretched my chest open, ready to release a rabble of butterflies from between my breasts.
And then I took a big breath and I let it all go—all the specific muscle actions, all the trained techniques and positions. I became one with the horse, not by making movement happen, but by letting movement happen. It’s what I imagined happens in the best sex, when two people are consenting not just to the bodily act, but to the joining of souls. To the universe being integrated into the fibers of their being.
At the other side of the meadow was the forest again with wild overgrowth and swarms of green. Carl stopped, fluttering his nostrils in delight. I turned to check on Jet and Belle. Her middle was coated with sweat like marshmallow cream, and his face crinkled on the verge of tears or laughter. His blonde hair, before swept neatly back, now swayed in spikes across his forehead.
“Are you okay?”
Jet laughed. “Am I okay?”
“Do you do this often?” Jet asked.
“Depends on what ‘this’ is.”
“Take boys out for joy rides and instill terror in their hearts?”
I tangled my fingers in Carl’s mane to try and steady myself. The strands of hair were damp with sweat and evening dew.
“No, I don’t do this often. You just said—at the party—you said you wanted to reconnect with your soul, so, this was my answer to that.”
“I was kind of joking. About the soul stuff, or whatever.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
“How would you know? You just met me.”
“Then how would I know if you were joking?”
Jet said nothing in response. He directed Belle to position herself right next to Carl and then leaned sideways towards me. He kissed me, differently from how he had in the car earlier. Not so sloppy and fast. Slow motion. Our lips connected, like static cling, vibrating against each other. He dropped the reins and his fingers, long and delicate, slid up and down my torso like river stones. My fingers stretched forward to curl around his smooth lanky arms. I heard the wind in the trees, the hoots of the owls, the grass as it crunched in the horses’ mouths. My head was hot and buzzing and felt close to exploding when Jet finally pulled away, a satisfied look on his face.
“Do you want to get off the horses?” I asked. “Hang out here for a while?”
“No. That would be a bad idea.”
He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. I wanted to be the hand raking through his hair. I wanted his oils and smells clinging to my skin like dirt and horsehair already did. But at the same time, I knew it would change something, irrevocably, and I couldn’t say for sure whether I was ready for the change.
“Let’s just go again,” he said, grabbing up the reins again and nudging Belle out in front of Carl and me.
As the horses once again picked up speed underneath us, I turned to look at him. He was already looking at me. At first it felt strange to not look in front of me. But we weren’t the ones who could see in the dark. It was the horses. So we looked at each other, and in the moonlight I determined Jet’s outline: his shoulders spanning across the horizon like albatross wings and his torso narrowing on the way to his waist, like a well-written capital V. When a cloud passed through the inky night sky, covering up the moon, I closed my eyes and imagined Jet’s soul, being tugged back into his body, deeper and deeper, with every indentation the horses’ hoofs made on the ground.
Erin Schallmoser’s work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine and Litro and is forthcoming in The Hunger. She lives in Bellingham, WA, and when she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably listening to a podcast or delighting in moss, slugs, stones, wildflowers, or small birds. She is still figuring out Twitter @dialogofadream.
Erin’s short stories are concentrated energy. Bursting with images and precise language, these stories transport.