Chapter 62 - Nightmare
The Drums that Ezekiel had led Brandon to were seven giant cylindrical towers that climbed at least six feet into the air, covered in clean white plastic, with pipes the color of aluminum sprouting out the back of each one that then branched off past grass and soil into the earth.
Brandon quickly guessed that the pipes led either to a river or a well deep beneath the surface.
Ezekiel walked over to the first and closet Drum and tapped it with the palm of his hand.
“These are the Drums...” He explained. “They are normally filled by those pipes in the back which are fed from a giant river situated to the north behind my house.
“That’s nearly seven miles away from here.” Brandon exclaimed after thinking about what Ezekiel had told him for a quick moment.
“Yup, just about.” Ezekiel agreed. “My family and a few of the Clans men dug the pipe trails a couple years back. But in the winter the river behind the mountain freezes and we have to hall all the water out here manually, it’s grueling work. But.....not as grueling as the old pumping mechanism we installed. Hold on, I’ll be right back.” Ezekiel grunted as he, turned, grabbed at bars in the side of the tank, raised his foot and started climbing the side of the drum, gracefully, much like he did everything else that Brandon had watched him do.
Once Ezekiel reached the top of the drums built in ladder, he fiddled with something Brandon couldn’t see because of the difference in height, but Brandon distinctly heard something clanking and rattling, before Ezekiel pulled back and climbed down the ladder holding a chain in his hand, connected to a thick lock.
Ezekiel unceremoniously tossed the chain into the grass bedside the tank then looked at Brandon saying. “Okay, so this is how these drums work.” He began to explain. “At the top of each one of them is a thick green handle, you have to turn that handle to open the water passages, down at the bottom of the tank. And once I’ve filled one trough I’ll signal you to cut the water. Ill carry it back and bring a new trough....and well just do that about thirteen times.”
“Simple enough... “Brandon began, walking past Ezekiel and standing next to the built in ladder. He looked up then back at Ezekiel. “Why did you say that it was grueling work?”
“Well see, it’s simple enough......for two people right?” Ezekiel began to answer him. “But when there’s just me, I have to climb up and then back down the drum after I fill each trough with water.” Ezekiel sighed.
“See, when we built them, we forgot to add stoppers at the bottom of the tanks....” Ezekiel said half smiling, half grimacing at the mistakes of the past. “Oh well, nothing to do for it, but to stop and start the water each time I get ready to fill up troughs it can be a painfully long process.” Ezekiel stopped, shrugged and steeped back. “Okay....Brandon, you climb up and we’ll get started.”
“Alright.” Brandon replied and without hesitation he turned to the ladder; a simple eight inch tall pole, installed into the outer wall of the drum and started to pull himself up. Instantly the tear in his side tried to protest, but Brandon pushed through the resistance and slowly started to climb the rungs.
“Hey, you know that might be easier if you took those slippery gloves off of your hands.
“Thanks....but no thanks.” Brandon breathed as he clambered up the fourth rung.
“You’re serious about those gloves...I don’t get it. “Ezekiel commented, before he turned and started to walk away. “All right, take it slow, and I’ll be back with the first two troughs by time you make it to the top
Brandon nodded his head, and focused on the ladder. He stumbled a few times at first as his stiches protested if he twisted the wrong way, but he was soon at the top of the Drum. The “pump” turned out to be a circular, thick metal handle, painted a dark green that contrasted heavily with the white Drum and metal parts that it was attached to.
The metal that the handle diapered into was unpainted and chalky with red rust, so when Brandon went to turn the handle he fully expected to meet resistance, but the handle slid like a well-oiled hinge beneath the force that he exerted.
Brandon quickly spun the handle counter-clockwise to stop the water from flowing, then he turned his gaze out towards the fields, just in time to see Ezekiel lugging two heavy wooden troughs back towards the drum. Both troughs propped up on his shoulders.
Brandon couldn’t understand what came over him in that moment, but it was something about the way that Ezekiel moved effortlessly under their weight, the way that the mid-day sun hit him or his overall dutifulness to his horses.....but Brandon had to fight the urge to smile at him or just sigh about him.
A reaction Brandon swiftly squelched, before Ezekiel noticed.
But for the most part Ezekiel seemed clueless as had lowered the troughs down to the grass, then looked up and silently signaled for Brandon to turn the handle on the pump.
Brandon complied just as Ezekiel finished setting one of the troughs beneath the Drum and in what seemed to be seconds, Ezekiel was signaling for Brandon to turn the handle and stop the pump, which he swiftly did. Once more ignoring the twinge in his side as he worked.
Ezekiel nodded up at him, then easily slid the trough back out from beneath the trough, got down on his hunches and without a single grunt, he lifted the entire trough up into the air.
Jezz....that thing must weigh like fifty pounds...
Brandon thought to himself, thinking that anyone would need help transporting something so solid.
“Ezekiel, do you want me to help you?” Brandon found himself offering and even starting to turn from the handle, but Ezekiel sent him an easy smirk and a head shake from below.
“No, stay there. I’ve got it, trust me.....you’re helping plenty already. “Ezekiel responded, seemingly ignoring the water soaking through the chest and belly of his shirt as it over flowed from his mostly fluid movements, then he walked a good distance away and swiftly settled the fresh trough of water back into its place. He returned a little wetter, grabbed the second trough, and slide it beneath the drum. “Number two.... “He said as he signaled for Brandon to turn the handle.
Brandon followed this process for thirteen more troughs, working in companionable silence for the most part and each time Ezekiel lifted yet another water laden trough, without so much as a gasp or panting for air.....Brandon was undeniably impressed with his stamina.
“Hey....do you hear that.....” Ezekiel put a hand over his eyes and stared out into the north.
“Hear what?” Brandon asked him...slowing to a complete stop beside the Shifter.
But Ezekiel just closed his eyes and tiled his head. Listening to only something he could hear for a long few seconds, before him finally open them again and answered Brandon’s question with a giddy fist pump that made Brandon take a slight step back. “Here they come!” Ezekiel exclaimed.
“What...” Brandon tried to ask him, but Ezekiel put up his hand in a motion of silence and pointed to his ear.
“Listen...you’ll hear them.” He instructed. “Lazlo the bands Stallion and Crystal the bands mare.” Ezekiel told him told him.
“I’m not a shifter....but I’ll try.” Curious, Brandon tilted his head and concentrated and then he heard it easily.
One....two sets of hooves.....and even more behind that...
Brandon thought to himself, and just as he opened his eyes, a group of large horses galloped across the rise of the hill a mile to the north. Brandon counted eight in all, but leading the charge was only two.
They were huge....it didn’t take Brandon long to realize that, even from the distance that separated him that the horses that were approaching were breathtakingly beautiful...and obviously dwarfed all of the other horses with them. One of the horses was as white as an egg, with light yellow hair, while the other house was pitch black with hair to match.
The pair was at odds in color and in size where the egg white horse was a tall white graceful looking muscle, the black horse was a mountain of power and girth, with curtains of hair that danced around his heavy hoofs, neck and tail.
It took another three minutes for the small group of horses to reach them and when they did the group of horses still standing about in the clearing and the new horses melted seamlessly into on large group, and instantly the two large horses that had lead the charge made their progress out of the group and strait to Ezekiel’s side.
With a motion for Brandon to follow Ezekiel made his way over to the pair and without any hesitation he threw his arms around the black’s ones neck and laughed all while saying. “Brandon say hello to Lazlo!” Ezekiel introduced, before giving the mighty horses mane a viperous scrubbing that it seemed to enjoy, despite the roughness of the act. “Lazlo is the only male, the Stallion of our Clans Ranch and the protector of all of these fine mares you see.” Ezekiel explained.
Then Ezekiel pulled back and went to the white one and unlike the black horse Lazlo he went to the side of the white horse and gently laid his head on her side, his blue eyes closed for a second then opened and with a smile he looked at Brandon and said. “And this the other half of my heart....Crystal. She’s my baby....I’ve been raising her for the last few years, and aside from Lazlo she’s sort of like boss around here.”
Brandon saw the dopey joy on Ezekiel’s face as he caressed the mare Crystal and instantly felt warm for him. Brandon had never had a pet, or any possessions of his own, nothing to put his emotions or care into but it was obvious that, with various things, Ezekiel was dedicated and put his heart into what he cared about.
From his family, to his job...and now to his pet. Crystal reciprocated, snuffling and sniffing at him. She was graceful, a mountain of white and beyond that she had a belly engorged so heavily that Brandon actually felt uncomfortable looking at it.
“She’s...so big and is she pregnant? ” Was the first thing he managed to blurt out, even though his thoughts had been to say something nice?”
Like a proud papa, Ezekiel put his head on Crystal’s wide side again, but this time he kept his eyes on Brandon as he said. “Yeah she’s big...She’s actually the biggest and strongest mare in this whole band. She’s got old Lazlo’s nose wide open too. They are sort of like the alphas, and he tends to breed with her more too. This will be Crystals third rearing.” Ezekiel reported answering Brandon’s question at the same time.
“So those will be Lazlo’s babies too?” Brandon asked and when Ezekiel nodded he said. “I’ve never been around a horse, so do all the mares’ expand like that when they are pregnant?” Brandon himself inquiring. The gait of the mare and the weight on her stomach seemed uncomfortable to Brandon, but the female bore it without missing one graceful step. She easily made a beeline for Ezekiel.
“Nope, this is a special case right here....were thinking twins. She’s also real close to it too. Ready to pop any day now.” He said and Brandon found himself surprised, and once more looking at the white horses belly he proposed a new question.
“Well, is that....normal for a horse?” Brandon asked him as he looked over the beautiful mare and the girth of her belly. “Having twins I mean...”
“No....” Ezekiel answered him readily even as he gave the horse his attentions. “In fact most horses only carry one fawn at a time, but I’ve been keeping a close eye on her and so has Lazlo....haven’t you boy?” The large coal colored stallion seemed to bask in Ezekiels praise. Pressing his head against Ezekiels shoulder.
Ezekiel rubbed a hand down Lazlo’s dark muzzle affectionately, before turning back to Crystal and scratching his fingers through her heavy vanilla colored mane. He said “Lazlo follows her everywhere, more so then he followed any of the other mares in the band when they got pregnant.” Ezekiel reported, looking slightly serious as he said so. Catching his tone Brandon commented.
“Well, You don’t sound very happy about that.” Brandon said, watching Ezekiel slowly and efficiently, run his hands down all for of Crystal’s majestic legs, before raising her hooves and shortly inspecting the metal shoes on the bottom of each hoof.
Ezekiel studied her feet in silence before straitening up, and steeping away from her towards Brandon. “It just sort of worries me....like maybe Lazlo senses something that I can’t....but Crystal is a strong girl...I sure she’ll get those fawns to term without a hitch.”
He said with a stich of pride. “I actually brought Crystal from a mortal....and when I got her she was nothing but skin and bones, by all rights she should have died....” Ezekiel recounted, and with a critical eyes Brandon looked at the round, rip, beautiful female before him. He couldn’t believe that she had once been abused in such a way.
“So you saved her....is that why your so protective?” Brandon asked.
“I guess.” Ezekiel shrugged. “But It took a lot of work to keep her alive and even more work to keep her healthy. We worked together and eventually I got her weight up and she’s been on this farm for the last three years, with Lazlo.” Ezekiel lowered his voice as if to whisper a secret. “Dont tell Lazlo, but she’s kind of the love of my life.” Ezekiel chuckled. Brandon grimaced, but also smiled.
And almost as though she sensed what Ezekiel was talking about Crystal walked up behind him and started to nip at Ezekiels hair.
With a light chuckle he turned and gave her his attention, and Brandon decided to let him concentrate on his work for the moment.
Brandon watched Ezekiel and the area for a moment, listening to the steady rip and snip of grass being torn up by the horses all around. He held himself still, keeping constant check on the flame that burn inside, constantly denying its hunger then suddenly it was like Lazlo noticed Brandon’s presence.
The large mountain of a house bobbed its heavy head up and down, up and down, then pawed the earth. Then, and to Brandon’s internal shock the large Stallion began to approach him. With baited breath Brandon put out his hand and steeped forward....and just for one seconds. One split second Brandon glanced up, past the large stallions black shoulder and what he saw, what he thought he saw made everything inside of him unravel.
For a split second the flame roared, the lock was smashed, the hunger was free, the power was pouring out.....until Brandon blinked in the next second and with what little control he still held he pulled the flame back in. He slapped down the voracious hunger and beat back the lock into place.....but all in those split seconds the damage had been done. “Brandon!” Ezekiel screamed and had been screaming. “Move!”
Brandon asked himself confused, until he blinked again and realized that there was a black mountain of legs and hoof coming right at him.
Brandon fell back with a shout of surprise, moving just fast enough to doge a heavy black hove to the cheek, but still getting a bump over his eye that stung and slammed him on to his rear end.
And just as Brandon fell to the ground Lazlo reared up and stomped the earth inches from his left leg, with enough force and anger to have broken Brandon leg apart, but luckily Lazlo seemed to have had enough of Brandon’s presence, enough of the energy only a pure animal would know instinctively to despise.
And with a heavy raspberry of air Lazlo turned and galloped off, starting a grand stampede of equine bodies that kicked up clumps of grass and earth in their haste to follow the angry stallion out into the open fields and away from Brandon and Ezekiel.
Ezekiel called his name and tried to rush over, but he was held up by the stampede, and Brandon wasn’t too aware of him. His eyes remained glued on the far forest line....on what had almost killed him. On what had nearly gotten every living thing in that field killed.
Eyes...claws....brown skin moving among the brown bark. Blending in. So much so that Brandon believed he was going mad for a moment. He saw the tree....breathing....shifting. He saw it. Did he see it?
Brandon stumbled back. He physically felt all of the blood drain from his face. He didn’t want to see it!
Then Brandon felt eyes on him. Suddenly something squeezed his arm from behind. Brandon screamed and jumped and tried to pull away until he realized that he was running away from Ezekiel. Not taking the time to explain himself Brandon glanced out into the distance again searching desperately for a shift in the grass, a flash of teeth.
A hint that the nightmare was about to begin....but just that fast everything was gone. Leaving Brandon to fear that he was jumping at shadows....and leaving him with an angry and anxious Guardian that swiftly packed Brandon up and marched him back to the mansion to get the large bump developing over Brandon’s temple left checked. But before Brandon retired that night he spent hours double and triple checking the lock on his inner flame.
Making sure that it was hidden deep inside where it couldn’t feed, or call out, that nothing could find him. Brandon spent hours reassuring himself that he still had time to get back on the road.