Translation of Dutch shortstories by Yara Dhont.


1. Bitter Cold

The snow crunched underneath my riding boots. At some places there sure was more than 10 centimeters of that stuff. So I had been forced to leave my bicycle behind in the garage and go by foot to the horse stables.
I was a loyal horse rider and never skipped one lesson.
The stables came in sight and I had never felt so happy to see the bad-smelling pile of muck appearing in the meadow.
At a fast pace I walked on the driveway to the cafeteria of the riding school. The owners lived further on the heritage, away from that muck.
The door cracked and shoved over the floor when I opened it and Marie was standing behind the bar; there were not many customers.
I stumbled towards Marie, who was starting to get dimples and grey hairs, with my wet riding boots. She looked up from the dishes.
“Oh Natalie! There are no riding lessons today! The sand in the arena is too hard because of the freezing cold!”
“What?” I said incredulous. So there I stood with my cap, whip and bag full of stuff in my hands, all for nothing.
“Oh… well, then I’ll just go free riding with Caspian in the woods,” I decided and I walked back outside.
“Okay, but be careful, hon!” Marie shouted and furthermore she placed some glasses in the closet.
It had been cozy and warm in the cafeteria, but I had to go back and face the cold and go to the stables to take care of Caspian, my horse, and saddle him for a ride. In the stables it was also unbearable cold and even leather gloves and three pairs of socks couldn’t avoid my limbs from nearly freezing of.
As soon as I walked on the hallway between the boxes the horses and ponies stick their head out. The breaths of the horses formed white clouds in the air.
I walked to one of the boxes in which my horse was standing. The pitch-black stallion breezed me a good morning –I assumed he saluted me- and I caressed him caring over the head.
A quarter of an hour later I had brushed, combed and saddled Caspian completely. For security I putted on his leg protectors, with this weather you couldn’t always see the path as good as normal.
Full of confidence I leaded the horse out of the stable, I completely dressed for the cold. It took me quite a lot of trouble to lead my horse over the snowy heritage to the little path behind the riding school that went to the woods and the equestrian trails. But I managed to do so through all the fresh snow. I rose on my horse, took the rains well and let Caspian walk to the woods.
Soon I walked between trees. It gave me a familiar feeling to feel the leather saddle under my buttocks. The movements of the horse and the smell of nature made me calm down; exactly what I needed after a rough day on school.
I didn’t need to direct much, because Caspian knew his way on the equestrian trail and we always took the same course, on which we had to cross a motorway twice.
Wild birds whistled pealing melodies. In the distance I could hear a car drive by, the street we had to cross came closer, so I took the reins more firm and sat more confident in the saddle. Crossing the road was always a little bit of stress.
Caspian still stepped on the same pace on the equestrian path and stayed perfectly calm while crossing the road, even when a truck rushed just behind us on the badly maintained road way too fast.
A lot of accidents happened here, because a lot of car drivers didn’t know there was an equestrian path here and they didn’t adjust their speed. Combine this with bad weather, like snow, and crossing the road was as dangerous as could be.
My toes and fingers still hurt, my teeth chattered without stopping, I had to warm a bit up.
By making a clacking noise I had Caspian continue in a little trot. In the meantime I looked out for slippery spots, but the path was passable and sometimes covered under a light coat of snow.
I increased the pace when I saw the perfectly right piece of road looming up. Caspian was galloping now and I enjoyed it, except for the cold wind blowing my face.
I knew it was too dangerous to ride this fast, but this piece of the road was made for it and it was too attempting.
I bowed a little forward like a jockey and reined the horse some more. I laughed elated and felt Caspian’s hooves drum up my stomach. An outside ride in the snow was indescribably awesome. I let myself completely go in the enthusiasm.
The turn came closer, how sad, I had to slow down.
Suddenly Caspian started to slither and I screamed in surprise. I tried to keep my balance in the saddle and swung the reins in panic. Thereby Caspian nickered scared and swerved to left and hit a tree.
He ran wild and shot forward while I tried to hold on, but then came the turn. I was sling out and thrown on to something solid, and then I rolled down the hill, snow creeped under my clothes scratching my skin. Until I lay motionless with my cheek pressed to the cold ground.
Black spots made my sight flurry and when I tried the sit up straight my head pounded painfully and I collapsed again in the wet snow.
The lungs in my body creaked and I could hear myself gasp for air. In response I rolled myself up in a ball fighting the cold and everything went black.
The cold, it hurt me. Let it stop.
My guts told me I had to stand up, look for Caspian and go back to the stables. I had to walk, jump around and dance to get my body warm again, but it didn’t work; I couldn’t do it, because my brains were as good as frozen. They were disabled; my body locked down and now there was this voice. That voice you need to read, think and learn for tests. Well, that voice now told me: “It is cold, ice-cold, don’t give up and stay alive.”
But how? I couldn’t move.
With my eyes shut and my body rolled up in a vain attempt to get warm. So this was how it felt to die. Pain, death, this is what I had always been afraid of.
That voice, no other noises, there had been before, but then I was still conscious.
Come on Natalie, don’t be such a fool.
Then I moaned myself back to consciousness and looked up with my stiff neck. I was completely drenched and it was dark already. How long have I been lying here? I didn’t know, but I knew damn well I was cold and freezing to death, because my skin was a little blue.
I had lost a glove and had some rifts in my clothes. There was a throbbing ache in my right foot. I dazzled, must have hit my head, luckily I was wearing a helmet.
Then I looked around, rolled to my back, had problems breathing. I turned my head to my left, the side where I had been tumbling down from; afterwards I looked to my right. And guess who was standing there? Caspian, my horse.
I felt something I had never felt before. That feeling, how could I describe it?
Sweet, trusting, brown horse eyes, they were staring at me. And I, defenseless on the ground, paralyzed and shocked of what had just happened to me. And then he stood there before me, as if he had been waiting for me, after the major fall downwards.
When he saw I was looking at him he focused his ears and took some careful steps towards me. He felt guilty, but it was my own stupid fault.
I hoisted myself up, uttered a muffled cry because of a burning pain in my right foot, subsequently I ignored it.
I wavered towards him, petted his radiant black coat. He breezed and pushed his head in my arms. For a while we just stood there; the cold penetrated my wet clothes, I started to shiver. My teeth shattered and it was like my fingers were caught by frostbite, same thing for my nose and ears. Everything hurt, my breath scoured of a swollen throat and I quivered.
After a while I lisped shaking in the horse’s black coat: “Come Caspian, we’re going home.”

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