Horse hit car and everyone died, WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM. Burnt wheels and broken glass, horse guts cut through and through. It gave a small whinny, big whinny, blood bubbles popped out nostrils and it croaked right out. Sky was drooling all over scene, slobber doggin on car as marshes sat a worry round it. It was hard to tell where people ended and horse began, its body wedged cork in bottle through windscreen, mud sucking sad on car exhaust.
Ruby could hear tunes from the wood step, throat getting hot from zoot. Figured it was some song warbling from car radio. She’d watched them idiots trying to navigate marsh at night, probably some swimmers late back from beach. Saw their wheels sawing silly over track, headlights doin fuck all against dark. No-one knew the horses were mental, running round in packs after sun switched out. In the day horses were still, chewing on grass, flicking tails lazy, wandering calm for miles, but come night they’d thunder past hut, eyes full of fury, shadows in their veins.
She hadn’t showered for days, hair was crawling off scalp. Her heart was slow as shit as she climbed stairs inside to get water. Holt was still up, standing butt naked at window. He put down binoculars when he saw her, reached for camera instead.
‘You wanna go out there?’ he said, pulling shorts on, moving to door. ‘Are Kit and Mills still sleeping?’ Ruby said.
Holt nodded and she picked up his hoody, felt its threads fit ever so soft over skin.
‘What about the horses?’ She breathed and Holt shrugged, pulled her outside.
The mudflats worked them good. They sucker danced over them, could make out wreck under vague moon. Rain found its way down Ruby’s neck, it banged down heavy on hood, SLAP, SLAP, SLAP. Black was swallowing shapes of crash, but deep in gorse bush, she could see a hoof stick up out of mess, trying to canter shoes on sky. Holt approached car cautious, stuck head in window, tried to open door. He got super still. Just kept staring and staring, car radio blaring like it had no respect. Ruby watched him lean in and smack radio hard.
‘No need to look Rubes, he’s dead,’ Holt said, ‘some old guy by the looks of it.’
He stood up, wiping something dark on leg. He stepped round car, started taking photos, finger pressing clicker, up down, up down, blazing up night with flash. Ruby didn’t look much, didn’t wanna know, Holt had always been a weird one. She made her way round other side where horse was lying wonky on bonnet. Its neck was bent back like some big joke, eye filling up with rain. Ruby’s stomach turned. Tail felt like shredded leather, spread sticky, fringing bumper. She wrapped it into fist, and lay face on cooling flank, could smell autumn colour in its hair.
‘Having fun?’ Kit sudden said, his face eating itself under cap. Ruby stood up quick.
‘Not gonna be long,’ Holt said, moving round car.
‘The buzzkills are comin’,’ Kit said, ‘get back inside.’
‘You called them?’ Holt said.
‘Seemed right,’ Kit said, ‘stop taking photos you sicko, we don’t need any trouble.’
Holt took a couple more and walked back to cabin in his strange limping way.
‘Ruby?’ Kit sighed, taking her arm.
‘I’m going,’ Ruby said, following Holt.
She reached the wood steps quick, and looked back for Kit, but he’d stayed back at car, cap pulled low over face, shoulders ridged in leather jacket.
The buzzkill did come. They made a proper fuss and bluster, breaking up night into pieces of noise. Blue lights, tractors and floodlights, moved around till dawn, tucking death away with the body, laying it gentle in ambulance. All that was left was tape and cones and big STOP signs grinning loony on track. Kit had stayed chewing cud with the law, Yes-Sir-No-Sir, while Holt and Ruby watched from window. When tractor tugged horse out, it made Ruby feel funny as it hung, limp hair and bones, from forks. It looked how willow trees touched river when she was kid, made her see childhood home. She took off jeans and sought out Mills in bedroom to hold on tight, watched moon bounce round room.
Mills’s body was hot rock in arms, Ruby’s muddy feet hummed. They lay two commas waiting for the stop, waiting for Kit to come. He finally rolled in dawn o’clock, shuffled quick and quiet in kitchen, footsteps slowing as he pulled curtain aside, dropped kegs and slipped eel between them.
‘They’ve gone,’ he said, running arm under Ruby’s head.
She gripped tight on his hand, relaxed a little. ‘Did they bury horse?’
‘No,’ he mumbled, eyes sewn shut by sleep.
‘I wanna cook up,’ Ruby whispered.
‘Not now,’ Kit said and pulled her on top.
Mills sighed and rolled on side, yellow hair spreading oil on pillow. Kit was looking at Ruby and she stroked him hard, till his lips parted. She pulled her pants to side, snagging his dick as she eased down. A curlew blared in that wetness, as she began rocking horse away through hips. She thought of its eyes glazing over, felt herself open close between its ribs, saw her nails getting hemmed in by hooves. Kit’s fingers cleaved into her cheeks and dropped away, she climbed off him, cum snaking down leg, and lay against the soft bruising of his heart.
Later that day, sun welded high, baking house and marshland around it. Air was rude with bird sound. Oyster catchers lined the estuaries firing red beaks into mud. Knots took off in single pulse, flashing white brown, circling, landing, circling again.
Ruby hadn’t slept. She sat with Holt on wood steps, bare feet catching splinters. They shared a blunt, watching ash parachute away by wind, saw bog’s loose lip chew on bottom step. Back door opened and Kit came out, shaved head and stubble. He stomped slow on each step, thud thudding down to them and sat behind, lighting fag..
‘Mills’s cooking up,’ he said, blowing smoke rings on Holt’s neck. Ruby raised shoulder slight in reply.
Kit ran his hand through curls in Holt’s hair. ‘What pretty shots d’you get last night?’
‘Pictures were blurry, couldn’t even see the old man,’ Holt said, gritting jaw, ‘just outlines in dark.’
‘Outlines in dark,’ Kit repeated, moving hand to Holt’s throat, ‘sometimes you’re a liability mate, maybe too much brown in your veins.’
‘You know he doesn’t do it anymore,’ Ruby cut in.
‘Exactly,’ Kit said, fingers clamping, ‘makes me wonder if he belongs with us.’
Holt sat unmoving, eyes checked out to sea.
Ruby pulled on Kit’s hand, could smell smoke ghosts on knuckles. ‘Leave him, let’s go in.’
Kit looked down at her and dropped hand. ‘I’m only teasin’ you big lug,’ he said, slapping Holt hard on back.
A whole kind of fury passed over Holt’s face as Ruby moved past him, followed Kit inside.
Couple hours passed and Ruby was watching water drip. Mills and Kit were spent out on sofa, skin spreading outwards, moving across floor, climbing up walls. Kit picked up tinfoil, lit a little, smoked a little, dropped into cavern between sofa cushions. Ruby sat by window, running fingers over condensation, pressed forehead onto glass. She could see Holt walking naked on marsh, camera mimicking dick swing as he leapt awkward over ditches. He was a one man show, barely getting dressed, but she liked his quiet vibes, liked his bad tattoo of dancing bears on chest. He’d gone after birds again, staring down hours looking for silhouettes of them in sky. Sometimes Ruby went with him, to wander across big land. Always so flat and vivid. Holt sat with her when horizon got too much, when it pressed in under skin. He’d sit humming till she felt better, twisting spike rush into knots or shovelling hands in shells.
Ruby rested eyes on police cones, spitting orange over ground, and sadness welled inside. She could see horse, running royal in its herd, mane streaming fire over back, legs shooting path at car, pelting muscle against windscreen. She felt her spine get hot and stood up quick.
‘I need the sea,’ she said, shaking Kit. He was slug state, white creaming in edges of mouth.
‘I NEED TO SEE THE SEA,’ Ruby whined, pulling Mills’s limp arm.
Kit opened eye. ‘Gimme time,’ he said, eyelids closing shop front shutter.
‘Come on guys, I really need to go in water,’ she said, breaking coffee into cups, opening window.
Mills looked at her. ‘Ruby you dick, this is good stuff.’
‘It’ll be even better in the sea,’ Ruby said, handing Mills a mug, who waved it off.
Kit grunted and pulled Mills up, who stumbled to kitchen sink, drank from tap hard. Ruby tapped foot out on floor, watching them move slow for garb, to piss, weaving patterns over floor, air dented with yawns.
‘I’ve got pills,’ Ruby said.
‘Beer?’ Mills purred, pulling out of bedroom in lime green onesie. Ruby nodded, eyes checking her wondrous arse. ‘Let’s go.’
Kit grabbed Ruby by waist, packed her shrieking under arm, Mills rolling eyes in tow.
They came across Holt lying in gorse, skin scratched red, twisting yellow buds between fingers. He blinked to drink them in, sea barking over dunes.
‘We’re going in,’ Kit said, ‘and so are you, you animal.’
Holt sat, shook out hair. ‘Animals bite,’ he spat.
Mills wagged a baggy at him.
Holt grinned and stood, skin peeling on arms. ‘Gimme a bump and I’m yours.’
Mills smiled and sprinted towards beach, her sandals flashing gold in sand. Holt chased her shrieking into water, Kit and Ruby charging after. They dunked and splashed and swam and bobbed, water was slick cool. Ruby left waves first, taking lick of seaweed with her. She stood watching the others lark about, then sat on stones rolling skins. Summer days were long now, sun was still hanging tough above ocean. She could smell warm sand, her skin dynamite brown. She smiled as Holt wrestled Kit in water. He was skinnier than Kit, but jam packed with muscle punch, could break Kit in half if he wanted. Holt dunked him to get out of sea. Mills and Kit soon followed, broken down by water weight. They lay close, goosebumps cracking skin till they slept light away. Salt settled powder white on them.
Black collapsed and Ruby woke with a start, everything aching. The others were layered together, arms and legs over under. She tried to wake them, but they could’ve been dead, their faces housing dreams and spinning nebulas. Night was bone cold. Started tying laces in a daze, hands feeling a thousand times bigger than boots, and set off back to house. She picked carefully through bog, land rotating between sand, stone, sludge. The wind was SSHING over her, coughing up in hair. A slate soaked fog suckled ground. She began to regret not waking the others, as mire got thicker and her feet began to stick. She folded arms and kept eye on prize, house finally sticking out, grey tusk in marsh. She reached wood step heavy, watched water pooling underneath. Stroked the timber, saw splinter hackles rise, listened to it crack and give out good.
A ship horn rolled off sea, a wild thing moaning. Ruby’s skin shivered. In the still that followed, in the silent silent deep, heavy hooves pressed slow in mud, come coming round house. Shredded leather tail lashed like gunshot. Heart in ears, Ruby stepped towards sound, but nothing was there. Fog was packed against her, padding out lungs. She stumbled blind, hands two lighthouses seeking, till feet kicked against orange cones fanging out ground. Police tape hung limp between them, tyre tracks hacked in land. She stood bone tired at grave, could see the old man twisting metal with mane. Shapes strobed around her, mist rilling off backs. Ears lay flat, skin slick with night. The pack closed in. Horse stepped forward magnificent, empty eye sockets full of rain water, guts cut through and through. Ruby could feel marsh rising over knee as she lifted hand to touch velvet nose, touch the void, hot breath snorting over fingertips reaching, reaching, reaching.