Warden Anderson's prison holds the hardest criminals in the state--the dark horses of society. Anderson brings doomed horses into the prison and watches prisoners and horses alike find the true meaning of freedom.
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Long Tale Press
Long Tale Press
The prisons are packed to overflowing with people who can't be left in normal society. But what happens to the people who can't be left in the prisons? They get shipped to Dominion Penitentary, where Warden Anderson does his best to keep them from killing each other.
He decides to try some occupational therepy on the men. Put them on horse back all day to keep them busy and to tire them enough to make the sleep all night. The bold idea is sure to win him awards and acclaim from his fellow wardens.
What he never counted on was the need the horses share with the inmates for freedom.
James Finley knows that the old champion horse Souffle, has to get out. He enlists the help of the rest of the men and makes a bold escape with the stallion.
Now Warden Anderson must hunt him down and restore order to his prison.
"I thought we would try something a little different today." She said unaware of the feelings she had aroused. "Hector you and Antoine are the team captains. Choose sides." They ran through familiar playground ritual quickly, not sure what to make of this. "OK, Hector, take your team east and Antoine, west." As she began handing out brooms, she said, "This is your mallet. You see in the center of the arena is a ball. At the ends of the arena are goals. Your objective is to use your mallets to drive the ball into the goal. Any questions?" They had questions. How could they use the reins when they had a handful of broom? What if someone fell? What if the horse kicks the ball? Would Heidi join them for dinner tonight? The questions were all unasked. Prisoners learn not to ask questions, just accept the rules they are given and learn the rest along the way. The two teams moved off to their respective sides of the arena.
Antoine hefted the broom and took a few experimental swings to test the weight. The muscles of his forearm tightened to keep the awkward club balanced. He would never get the leverage he needed to accurately hit the ball hard. He determined that lighter, carefully aimed blows would be best. On the other side, Hector focused on the ball sitting in the center of the arena. He trotted back and forth ready to explode into action when the game started. The other players arranged themselves around the arena according to various strategies derived from more familiar sports. Michael took the basketball center's position intending to get a fast broom on the ball and pass it to Brandon who expected to push back the opposition like a football lineman. Abraham Goldman, who had played some soccer in college, held back to defend the goal.
"Go!" Heidi said as she ran to the side of the arena. The match that would go down in prison lore as the great broomball battle was on. In the ballads that would be written and the tales that would be told, nothing was said of those first awkward moments. In their eagerness to engage, the men forgot everything they had learned about riding. The horses processed the tense expectations of their riders, but did not know what to make of the flailing kicks and off balance seats. Their timid prey mentality told them to run, but they did not know where the danger was coming from. Until someone took charge, the best they could do was mill around nervously. A horse misnamed Buttercup could not take it anymore and tossed her rider, Eddie "Three Fingers" diCapo, to the ground. Eddie chased after his horse, while the other riders tried not to follow his example.
Antoine was the first to come to his senses. He sat tall in the saddle like a general taking in the situation. The first thing was to get his team under control. He exhorted them to sit straight, keep their heels down and stop acting like a bunch of idiots. As the men came under control, he started a slow trot towards the ball. He was ten feet away when he looked down the field to aim. All he could see was Hector, broom high, charging at full speed toward the unsuspecting ball. Antoine turned his horse aside to avoid the collision and Hector thundered past unable to lower his broom in time to strike the ball which sat smug and unmoved in the center of the arena.
Antoine executed a volute to get back to the ball and gently tapped it in the direction of one of his teammates. The ball rolled halfway to its intended destination before coming to a halt in the soft footing of the arena. At the far end, Hector pulled his horse to a quick stop raising a cloud of choking dust. He pirouetted back towards the ball and kicked his horse back into a full gallop. This time he kept the broom down intending to sweep it along as he passed. A painful shock zapped up his arm as the broom moving at over 20 miles an hour hit the stationary ball. His grip loosened and the broom fell to the ground. The ball sailed off at high speed startling the horses waiting at the far end.
Hector jumped down to recover his broom losing his horse in the process. In his frustration, he waved the broom and cursed in colorful Mexican metaphors. This only incited his horse into greater efforts to stay away from him. Heidi, fearing for the safety of the wild horse, managed to herd the animal into a corner and calm him down. She insisted that Hector get himself back under control before she would hand over the reins. By the time he was back in the saddle, the action had moved to the other end of the arena and Heidi shouted, "Goal!" Antoine was grinning and pumping his broom in the air. "Line up", called Heidi and the men moved back to their starting positions. Now more experienced, the men reviewed their personal strategies and made adjustments.
Hector stuck to his high speed approach but, he changed his target. When Heidi shouted "Go!" several of the riders headed for the ball, but Hector set a cantering course slightly to the left. He held his broom like a jousting lance and braced himself against the saddle and stirrups. From the other side, Antoine let one of his teammates take the first sweep at the ball while he positioned himself to receive the pass and move up field. His attention was focused on the ball when he heard hoof beats coming toward him. Hectors broom caught him full in the chest knocking the wind out of him and sending him flying to the ground. He came up with murder in his eyes looking around for Hector. Grabbing his broom and swinging it like a broadsword he stomped towards the center of the arena where Hector was maneuvering to steal the ball.
The guards perched along the rail watching helplessly as Antoine stalked the little troublemaker. Any thoughts they had of interfering faded in the face of the mob of running horses and chaos caused by the swinging brooms. Even if they could get to him, Antoine would not go down without a fight. It was as certain as gravity that someone was going to get hurt and none of the guards wanted to be that someone. They looked at each other and shrugged, compelled to wait for the battle to play itself out then pick up the pieces afterward.
Antoine set himself over the ball and waited for Hector to make his move. Michael had been about to take a shot, but veered off when he saw Antoine swing the broom over his shoulder like a major league hitter. Hector liked the odds. He had the advantage of height and speed against the unmounted opponent. He aimed his broom at Antoine's head and charged. Antoine stood steady waiting for the battle to come to him. His dark eyes took in every detail of the oncoming fury. Hector smiled wider as he closed the gap.
At the last minute Antoine moved like he was going to bunt. A gasp from the watching riders and guards sucked the dust charged air out of the arena. Hector's smile disappeared as his horse pulled up in the face of this new development. Now it was Antoine's turn to smile. He dodged to the right and swept his broom at the off balance rider. Hector took the blow across his chest where it compressed his lungs. Struggling to breath, he found himself tumbling through the air on his way to a hard landing on the ground.
Antoine moved in for the coup de grace, but stopped short when he heard his name. "Mr. Green! Tend to your horse!" Heidi pointed to the far corner of the arena where Antoine's horse was darting back and forth. The saddle was hanging off to the side and the reins where dragging on the ground. At any moment the horse could become tangled and injure himself. Antoine rushed to the frightened animal to try and calm him. He timed a lunge carefully and managed to get hold of the reins, but the horse continued to dance around sending hooves flying in every direction. Antoine made soothing sounds and dodged the hooves all the while clutching the reins. The horse calmed himself in stages first giving up the kicking for a quick prancing step left and right. The prancing gave way to a nervous halt but he would not let Antoine approach him. Finally, he submitted to Antoine who adjusted the tack and walked him around a bit before mounting.
In the meantime, Hector had recovered enough to get back on his horse and Abe had used the distraction to sneak the ball into the goal. Heidi nervously carried the ball back to the center. "It's one to one. Everyone reset." The men moved to their positions while Hector and Antoine stared each other down.
"You gonna have to try harder to stop this Mexican!" Hector taunted from across the center line. Antoine's powerful arm swung his broom in an arc sent little tornados of dust flying from the bristles. His expressionless face beaded with sweat and painted with streaks with mud looked like a Zulu warrior. Swirls of dust flickered around him like fire. Hector's chest hurt as he braced himself in the saddle and held his broom ready to parry the attack.
"Go!" Heidi and the guards did not dare blink for fear of missing a moment of the action as the two warriors faced off. Hector moved first, sending his horse in a straight line towards Antoine. Antoine yelled a fierce battle cry and kicked his horse into a charge. The sound of hoof beats and Antoine's yell rolled across the prison alerting all to the heroic deeds that were transpiring. Heidi, having reached her action limit, closed her eyes to block out the inevitable bloody crash. She did not see Antoine swing his broom or Hector block the blow. She heard the crack of the broomsticks colliding then the sound of hooves on the ground as they whirled their horses around for another pass. Her knuckles turned white from gripping the fence as Antoine charged with his broom straight out this time. Hector could not block the blow and was ripped from his saddle. Heidi opened her eyes in time to see him lying on the ground.
Once again the battle between the opposing captains left the ball unmoved. Michael was the first to notice and dug in his heals to chase his moment of glory. Two defenders turned their horses away from Hector and Antoine to try and head the tall rider off. All three were running at top speed side by side. Michael's horse dropped his head and gave the horse to his right a hard bite on the shoulder causing him to shy away losing his rider in the process. The second defender lost his nerve at seeing his teammate unseated and pulled up. This was Michael's big chance. He lowered his broom and locked his eyes on the ball. At the last minute the ball was hidden by his horse's legs and they swept past. Michael felt the familiar shame over his lack of sports ability begin to rise up when he heard a cheer from his team. He looked to the goal and the ball was sitting in the goal. "What happened?" he asked a teammate.
"Your horse kicked the ball in!" Michael looked helplessly at the other riders. Without argument they agreed that a goal was a goal and rode past Michael slapping their brooms against his. Years of playground humiliation sloughed away as Michael accepted the congratulations of his team. Heidi rewarded him with a smile before she recovered the ball and placed it back in the middle of the field. "Ready?" She asked when the teams were lined up. The game was out of her control anymore; all she could do was keep score and let it play out. The determined looks of the sweat streaked faces told her that if she tried to stop the game, the men would rebel and play anyway. Steam poured from the nostrils of the horses that were too keyed up from the action to hold still. Hector and Antoine moved among their teammates exhorting them to give it all they had. Every face showed grim determination to hold their piece of the arena at all costs.
Heidi placed the ball on the ground and was already running to the fence when she shouted, "Go!" Michael and Eddie charged, one eye on the ball and the other on the opposing horse. Eddie was a bit faster but his sweep was off and the ball flew straight at Hector. Hector protected the ball while he ordered his men into position. When everything was set he made a pass moving the ball towards the goal. Antoine rallied his men to dig in around the goal and let nothing through. Eventually he was able to get his broom on the ball and send it flying towards the opposite end. There was a great race to get back up the field where the roles of attacker and defender were reversed.
The action swept back and forth across the field with neither team scoring a clear advantage. Sweat flowed over the men and horses and muscles ached from bruises and over work. Without the energy to continue fighting the game transformed from a gladiatorial battle into something resembling a sporting event.
After an hour of full contact broomball, the men were happy to lay down their brooms when Heidi called, "That's time. Good game, guys." She was stunned by the scene in the arena. She was used playing broom ball with young riders who strolled back and forth missing the ball more than moving it. The idea was for the game to be a fun way to practice the basic skills of horsemanship. Typically, no score was kept and everyone was a winner afterwards. The men changed the pleasant pastime into a deadly contest where they ended up exhausted, dirty and bleeding. The men were deadly serious when they looked to her to get the final score. Frightened by the crowd of criminals before her, she reviewed the goals carefully in her mind before announcing that Antoine's team won by two goals. They pumped their fists while walking their horses around the arena in a victory lap.
The men gingerly dismounted to lead their horses back to the stable. They pulled off saddles and bridles and hitched the horses to the fence so they could wash the dust and sweat off before putting them in. Hector was running the hose over himself and rubbing his bruised shoulder when he noticed Antoine heading for him. Both men looked around to see that the guards were busy over by the stable door. Hector dropped the hose, but he was too tired and sore to oppose the inevitable attack.
"Hey, Belize you're a tough little guy ain't you?" There was a strange gleam in Antoine's eye. Hector took a step back. He had no strength left. If Antoine wanted to beat him he was just going to have to take it.
"Tough enough." Maybe the guards would step in before he was maimed or killed.
"Check this out." Antoine lifted his shirt.
Hector looked at the vicious looking welt that ran down Antoine's chest. The top end of the mark was smeared with blood. Hector smiled and said, "I got you good, man."
"No shit. I ain't never been hit that hard." Antoine chuckled as he put his hand up for a high five. Hector winced as slapped the big man's hand.
"Looks like you got a souvenir too." Hector looked down and saw that his shirt was torn from the left side up over his chest. At the end of the tear a red corsage bloomed where blood seeped into the tattered threads of the fabric.
"Yeah, looks nasty, man."
Hector handed Antoine the hose and began scraping water off his horse with a squeegee. Antoine took a long drink from the hose before rinsing his horse.
"That hose's been sitting in horse shit man. You gonna catch something."
"Ain't no germ tough enough to git me!" Antoine boasted running the water over his head. Mud and sweat washed down his body and into various wounds. He grunted like a warrior to hide the pain. Hector wanted to laugh, but his side hurt too much.
They finished cleaning the horses and put them away before heading to the showers. George noticed the gash on Hector's side and asked if he wanted to go to the infirmary and have the doctor look at his wound. Smiling at Antoine, he said, "For this scratch? Ain't nothing but a love tap."