Sage Muttel (1st place. Creative Nonfiction. Fall 2012 Writing Contest)
“Mom, don’t panic. Everything is okay, but something bad happened.”
This is something no mother wants to hear as she enjoys much needed time with her husband in Rockport, TX. But that is all I had to say as I clutched the phone driving furiously to the hospital with a dog in the backseat and a twelve-year-old brother listlessly slumped over in the passenger side of my car. Yes, I know I am the big sister and should be trusted to always protect and guide my siblings, but I can explain.
That day was just like any other day. I was at home with my brothers as my parents enjoyed a welcome vacation away from us. They would be gone for the weekend and it was my responsibility to watch my siblings. The weather was sunny and the breeze was cool and I had an idea to take my brother Sawyer to the barn and hang out with him as I rode my horse Jasmine. He was giddy and excited; he always loved it when I took him with me. My other brother Cooper, who embodies the lazy thirteen-year-old mentality, sat apathetically on the couch and watched as we readied ourselves for the heat that would eventually overwhelm us with its presence. We filled ice cold water in a giant red jug that I referred to as THE RED GORILLA: it would be our oasis for the duration of our stay at the barn. I helped Sawyer apply sunscreen to his nose.
“Cooper, do you want to come?” I asked as I jingled my keys back and forth.
“No,” his gaze never strayed from the video game plastered across the flat screen TV.
“Ok, your loss.” With that, I called my grandma who conveniently lived next door and asked if she would watch Cooper while Sawyer and I went and played at the barn. As we climbed into my car, I called my dog, Grendel, and she jumped into the backseat. She was my constant companion whenever I ventured to the barn. Wherever I was, she had to be. When I had her ready to go, we drove off down the road and let the wind whip through the car as Grendel craned her head over the cracked window to feel her ears flap in the wind. The barn was a mere five minutes away and the car ride was always a treat for Grendel.
As we neared the heavy black gate to the entrance of the barn, I could smell the sweet aroma of dirt and horse. The sun was out and shining and I saw that the horses were already inside their stalls to escape its hot rays. I waved to Steve as we drove up and his dogs Josh and Deogee greeted us with wagging tails. Sawyer was bombarded by the dogs and as soon as we let Grendel out of the back the dogs broke out into a wild game of tag. Steve was the man who watched the barn and all the horses. He lived in a small mobile home at the barn, had few teeth, and was always doing something. Today he was fixing his chicken coop. As we arrived and he saw Sawyer, he saw an opportunity to score free labor.
“C’mere, little boy,” he motioned to Sawyer as I got Jasmine out of her stall.
“Yeah?” Sawyer innocently went over and saw that the job Steve had in mind was catching the chickens. The chickens weren’t hard to catch alone. It was the rooster named Foghorn who proved to be a challenge. Every time someone went into the chicken coop, Foghorn would attack and you’d end up having claws marks on you if you weren’t careful.
“Oh, I’m just messin’ with ya,” Steve broke out into a hearty laugh that made his large belly bounce up and down when he saw the look on Sawyer’s face. Sawyer was terrified of Foghorn and I don’t blame him. That rooster was evil.
As Sawyer came to where I was, he passed underneath a ladder that led to the roof. He looked up when I gasped.
“Sawyer!” I put my hand over my mouth, “You know not to walk under ladders! That’s bad luck!” I began laughing when I saw his face filled with fear as he immediately turned around and saw what he had done.
“I didn’t know!” his voice was almost panicked and I felt bad that I had said that.
“It’s okay,” Steve seemed to sense my guilt, “all you gotta do to break the bad luck is to eat a habanero pepper fresh from my garden.”
“What?” Sawyer looked surprised, then shook his head. “No way. Wait, is that true?” he looked at me for an answer.
“I don’t know, man, you shouldn’t have walked under that ladder,” I trailed off as I tacked up Jasmine and decided it was best to just let him worry.
After letting Sawyer fret about bad luck for a while, I finished tacking up Jasmine and headed out to the arena. I warmed her up a bit before Sawyer wanted to play Lord of the Rings. He wanted to be the Orcs and I was going to be a soldier from Rohan. The object of the game was simple. I would chase him. He would run. When I got to him I would take my riding crop and use it as a sword and slice him. The game is fun until Sawyer gets tired.
But today was different. As I rode Jasmine toward Sawyer, I noticed her speed increasing. She was usually more relaxed, but today I could feel her body ready to gallop at a moment’s notice. Days like these are always way more fun because the horse is twice as fast as usual and her turns are sharper and she has a tendency to rear. It makes you feel like a genuine badass. As we ended our game in the arena, we went to the pasture where Jasmine can run even faster.
“Okay, Sawyer,” I pulled Jasmine to a halt at the end of the long driveway heading to the barn, “Let’s race.”
“What?” Sawyer looked up at me, “You’re gonna win.”
“I’ll give you a ten-second head start, Mississippi seconds,” I smirked and Sawyer accepted.
Looking at this in hindsight, I realize I’m a moron. I also realize that I’m a stupid moron who hates losing more than anything. Needless to say, at the time the race was a brilliant, foolproof idea that would just be fun competition. Yeah. A race between a twelve-year-old boy and a four-year-old horse. Like I said, moron. Anyway, as I began counting very slowly I noticed that Sawyer was making very good headway down the road. That realization was almost too much for my competitive ego which was screaming in my brain, DON’T LET HIM WIN! Instead of keeping true to my Mississippi seconds, I shouted out ten when I was really at eight. Without a cohesive flow of thoughts I spurred my already high strung mare into a hard gallop.
Her hooves sounded like rocks crashing down a mountain, her body was fluid and strong. Her legs stretched out with each stride and the gap between me and Sawyer was diminishing quickly. My pride nudged Jasmine yet again and my need to win pushed her further and further past the point of control. “Sawyer, move!” I pulled Jasmine to the right to avoid Sawyer, and just when I was about to pass him at a full-fledged gallop, he turned his head to look back at me, which made him inadvertently move into Jasmine’s path.
Jasmine’s chest brought Sawyer down and my heart sank when I saw his head disappear in front of me. Instinct told me to squeeze Jasmine’s flanks as if I was going over a jump, and I pulled her head up so she wouldn’t fall on top of him. Her hooves scrambled for stabilization and her head pulled hard against my arms. Almost immediately after she regained herself I pulled her to a screeching halt and turned to see Sawyer face down in the gravel driveway.
“Sawyer!” My heart flew into my throat and I jumped off Jasmine and ran to my brother. Before I could get to him his head was up and his eyes were wide. “Sawyer, are you okay?” I pulled him to his feet and looked him up and down. Blood was dripping down his knees and his elbows. His eyes welled with tears and his face lost color. His lips grew pale and his eyes fluttered as if he was trying to stay awake, “Sawyer! Just stay with me!” I shook him and he seemed dazed but he could walk. I pulled him into a slow jog and completely disregarded Jasmine as she followed us.
“It burns, everything burns,” Sawyer sobbed in a whisper as I looked around for options.
“Here, put your arms in here,” I shoved Sawyer’s arms into the water trough, not thinking logically. It seemed like a good idea until I realized the amount of bacteria and other disgusting things that were swirling around in that water, and then I pulled his arms out of the trough. I shook my head stupidly and frantically called to Steve. He came over and asked what happened, but I couldn’t even form a sentence when suddenly Sawyer fell to the ground beside me. There was no color in his face and I immediately thought, concussion. I’ve had them before since I had fallen off a few horses back in the day, and I knew they weren’t terribly bad until I remembered that news story about that girl who went skiing and hit her head and before anyone knew it, she was dead.
“Oh, shit!” I panicked and pulled Sawyer to the wash rack and shook him awake. He was standing again and the blood now covered his legs and arms. I turned on the hose and began spraying him to get rid of all the blood when I heard Steve telling me to take him to the hospital. “Please don’t die, Sawyer,” I repeated over and over as I put him in my car. Just when I was about to leave I remembered Grendel at the same time I hit MOM on my phone.
“Hello, darling, how are you?”
“Mom?” I was winded and I was busy screaming at Grendel to get in the back seat.
“Honey, are you okay?”
“Mom, don’t panic. Everything is okay, but something bad happened.”
“What happened, honey?” She waited patiently for me to reveal my wrongdoing.
“It’s okay. I’m taking him to the hospital.” By now she could hear the wind whipping by the phone as I drove like a bat out of hell. “Wait, where is there a hospital?”
“Sage, tell me what happened,” I admired her ability to remain calm, but she would no doubt panic when I revealed the truth.
“He doesn’t look good, Mom, he’s pale and he keeps passing out,” I looked over at Sawyer; his head bobbed like rag doll as he slumped forward against the seatbelt, “I ran over Sawyer with the horse!”
“What?” her voice was stern yet calm.
“It was an accident, I promise! He moved in front of her and I couldn’t stop her,” I began crying, fearing that I was going to get kicked out or severely punished, “Please don’t be mad! Please, I promise it wasn’t on purpose!”
“Sage, take Sawyer to the St. Luke’s Emergency Clinic off Kirby,” she paused. “What were you doing?”
“We were racing.”
“Was he on a horse?”
“No, I was.”
“Oh my god, Sage. Okay, just remain calm and call me when you get to the emergency room. I’m going to call Grammy and she’ll meet you there. Just calm down, Sage!”
“I have Grendel with me!” I sobbed as I exited 288.
“Sage, you just ran over your little brother. Get him to the hospital. Grendel can wait.” Her voice was stern and I heard my dad in the background asking furiously about what had happened. “Call us when you get there.”
With that my mother hung up on me and I proceeded to the hospital. When I arrived Grammy was waiting with Cooper and the doctor asked me what happened. I told her I ran over Sawyer with a horse. They did CAT scans to see if he had been hit in the head. Mom and Dad waited patiently on the other end of the phone every time the doctor came in. We found out that Sawyer had no other injuries besides the ones caused from the fall. The road rash from his landing was the only thing he had to worry about, and the doctor was impressed to find no marks on Sawyer’s back. The horse had completely jumped Sawyer and missed him with everything she had. I sighed as I relayed the message to my parents and they applauded Jasmine and my ability to not cause more injury to Sawyer than road rash.
A few days later as I was retelling the story to my friends at the house, someone jokingly asked, “Now what is the moral of this story?” I started to say something profound when Sawyer blurted out, “Don’t walk under ladders!”