Once again one of our local authors has decided to grace our website with a superb example of how a short story should be written.  I enjoyed reading this one before I posted it, and am quite sure that you will derive equal pleasure from this optimistic and gripping story.


Julie Martin

She levered herself from the chair in front of the computer.

Bloody phone. Always rings its head off when I’m paying bills. Why doesn’t it understand you have to concentrate when you’re accounting?

A hot butcher’s knife of pain hit her spine. She stopped, arched, breathed, waited until it passed. The phone just about danced off the wall with impatience.

“What? Who is it? You’ll have to speak up. The line’s crackly. Storm coming fast,” she shouted The roiling clouds were steel-wool warning beacons flashing the lightning’s ire. The valley spaces and the road were no more. She was cut off from life below. The tempest was a monster with jagged flashing teeth, ripping her world apart. She hoped the persistent rain would drench the browned pastures before the lightning caused a fire.

“It’s me, idiot-woman. I’m stuck in Cooma for a bit.” She touched a blue-black bruise on her cheekbone. “Should be home in a couple of hours.”

“Wasn’t expecting you until tea.” She struggled to keep her voice calm. “Why’d ya call?”

Just a little twinge this time. She gripped the doorjamb to lessen the shock.

“Bit worried about Sally. She’s moving around a lot, very restless.”

“So would you be if you were bloody pregnant and locked in a stable for weeks on end. She’d have been much better outside in the yard until this hit. Helps if you exercise.”

“She’d run given a chance. You know it.” Sal wasn’t the only one. “Try to jump the gate or something. She’s better off safe.”

“I would have stabled her when I saw it coming.”

“That horse needs a firm hand, like any woman.”

“Control freak…” she whispered, one hand pressed to her back, one hand killing the door knob, phone balanced between her jaw and shoulder, eye throbbing.

“What did you say?”

“Make the foal weak…if Sal tried the gate.”

“Yeah. Now get out and see how’s she going.”

“You’ve got the bloody foal alarm set up. Is it going off? Is it telling you to worry? There’s a bloody storm out there.”

“No, Kristin, it’s not. Just do as I tell you. This foal is my lifesaver. Can’t just leave it to techno stuff. I’ve already got a few interested in buying it. I need the money.” She imagined him leaning against the Alpine bar, doing a deal, being a good bloke. She longed to vomit. She was as penned in this mountain hideaway as Saucy Sal, but not as comfortable, never as loved.

“I know, I know,” she breathed, relaxing as the stab passed. “With its breeding, it’s worth a fortune. A Cup winner…yeah, yeah…I’ve got back trouble again.”

“Cut your whinging, Kris. The doc said you weren’t due for a couple of weeks. Last time you rushed me to the hospital it was a false alarm. Quit moaning. It’s only fifty metres to the stable.”

“It’s pouring, a real deluge now. What if I slip?”

“Get over it. You’re as sure footed as a mountain goat.”

“Yeah, right. And the bloody foal alarm will show if I go or not, won’t it. On my way.” She slammed the phone onto its wall socket, walked to the boot room to pull on her Dryzabone and hat. On the verandah, another searing pain hit, she felt her body change. Her hands told her her baby had dropped, ready for delivery—only she wasn’t. Doc Bannon said babies often dropped weeks before they decided it was time to enter the world. She decided not to panic. She had sixteen days to go. He’d know if she didn’t go.

At the house-yard gate, she gasped in wonder at how the barbarian lightning slashed the sky almost at the same time as the sword-sharp pain racked her body. The rain was a silver sheet, making her old stone house a little palace of sparkling gems, and the mountains ebon teeth of a ravenous dragon. Beauty in savagery.

Getting to the stable door was a struggle. Gale force wind. Lifting the heavy wooden latch was agony. Shutting the door was worse. Her heavy coat fell to the ground as she stumbled to the horsebox where her gentle mare snickered.

“Hello, babe.” She reached for the warm comfort of the graceful neck, smelled the sweet dizziness of warm hay. “We’re in this together, you and I. Who’ll be first?”

The mare nuzzled her, pushed her to the corner where the straw was thickest, walked in a circle and lay down.

Kristin looked at the foal alarm—best on the market, Apple 8, Telstra Blue Tick, best in the bush—this would test it. Sal was ready to foal. He’ll be flipping his lid right now. Serves him right, going out to get beer. Lucky for Sal, but. Lucky for me. He’ll never get up Stony Creek Road in this, let alone up the home track. Got news for him when he gets home…where did that come from? I never stand up to Brian.

She leaned down to comfort her horse, assess the situation. That’s when pain blinded her. She clenched her teeth so hard she felt a filling crack.

Shit. We’re for it.

Sal lifted her head and whinnied gently.

“It’s all right, girl, it’s all right.” Kristen gently lifted the foal alarm from the pouch on Sal’s halter. “Better ring Jenny, see if she can come up the ridge. Lucky I cleared the fire-trail along the fence line last week.”

She fiddled with the phone but the foal alarm app was blocking the ability to call anyone, it was one way streaming to Brian, locked, it seemed. She was tempted to throw the little black traitor against the wall. She knew she couldn’t, wouldn’t get to the house phone in time. Her thumbs kept fiddling and Settings popped up. The Apps list was there with only one on it. She hit Delete, answered the questions. The foal alarm disappeared into the ether. Now Brian would fly into a right royal rage. She’d blame the storm. The stable door rattled in sympathy.

In a brief let up between contractions, Kristin dialed Jenny’s number. All she could hear was screamimg engine and teeming rain.

“Jen, it’s me,” she yelled.

“We’re on our way. We’re trying to get up the fire trail. It’s pretty dire.”

“What do you mean you’re on your way? I haven’t told… Oooooh, gee!”

“You’re in labour. So’s Sal.”

“How’d you know?”

“Brian tuned the foal alarm to our phone, too. We saw what was going on before you disabled it. We’re coming in Al’s new baby—an eight-wheeled ATV that goes over water and snow. This’ll be a test, but. Sal OK? How far apart are your contractions. “

“Yeah, my Sal’s good. She seems more concerned about me.”

“She would. How regular are your contractions?”

“About two minutes, regular.”

“ We’re coming Kris, love. We’re coming.”

“First responders won’t make it, will they?”

“No, love, don’t think so. Just you and us. We’ll do.”

It took a lot of effort to spread a clean tarp to lie on and then Kris felt more comfortable squatting. She spread a towel where she thought the child would come out and followed the things the midwife had told her about lone home birth. Not once did she wish Brian was there.

“We’re on our own, Sal. Hope you know what we are doing.”

Child and foal were born simultaneously—both female. Jenny and Al arrived shortly after. Sal had an easy delivery. Kris’s was hard but quick. It was the first time veterinarian Jenny had stitched a human. Kris was a flood of tears and smiles.

“She’s beautiful, so beautiful, my Bonnie. Brian wanted a boy. He didn’t get his way this time. And Bonnie’s not going to dance to his tune.” She touched her baby girl then reached toward her horse as it leaned forward to nuzzle her hand. “My Sal did a wonderful job. Look at her. She’ll be a great mum.” Kris gripped Jenny’s hand. “Brian’s arranged a deal to sell…but I won’t let him. I won’t sign the papers. Sal’s mine. So’s Bonny Sal. She’s such a bright little foal. This place is mine, too. Mine and Bonnie’s. Dad gave it to me. I can tell Brian to get stuffed, can’t I?”

“Way he treats you, I thought you would’ve done it ages ago. Can you manage on your own up here?” Jenny sat on her haunches between her patients as Al cleaned up round them.

“I’m high country bred. I do the managing anyway.”

“He can’t get back in by the road,” said Al. “Three big trees and a landslide, Nev says. The SES is out but I told them to hold on your stretch.”

“We need to get Kris to hospital.”

“On the ATV through our place to Eucumbene. Already notified the SES for a copter to Canberra. You stay here with Sally. I’ll tell the so and so to piss off when I see him. Town’ll back me. He’s none too popular with his high dealing and gambling. In debt up to his earhole. Lucky you never married the cur, Kris. There’s better out there than him.”

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