Horse With Human Hands
Previous Entry: HWHH: Two – Daughters
Vein of Mind and Emerald Dew
Lemongrass to taste.
Stir with Hyoid, make a paste
Drink the Bergen Brew
See the Creature, Taste the Horn
Save yourself in haste.
Run from mem’ry, live with chaste.
Fear the Ergon Born
– Children’s Song, circa 1300 A.D.
“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”Franz Kafka
It always started with the headaches. The throbbing pain which threatened to bifurcate the sides of Herman’s head, and if it did? He would be all the more pleased.
The headaches themselves weren’t as bad as their side effects. Shooting pain through his eyes and neck were far less of a weight on him than the inevitable return of the Goat Man. It rarely mattered, the hour or location. The pain began, nearly each time, at the crown of his head where his scar hid, beneath a bowler’s hat. A hat which Herman never removed, not even at night.
It was a precious thing which once belonged to his father. A family heirloom, the Sillitoe tartan of the band decorated over years, colored and torn by the children of the house before him. The hat itself remained in a sorry state of disrepair, but it was intact.
Each member of the family who held it touched a vital piece of Chastaine family history. Garnered in the late 1800’s by his great grandfather, Albert, who passed it on to Cynthia, his daughter and Herman’s grandmother. Then, on to his father Marquis and eventually when he was on the cusp of boyhood, it was given to him. The hat itself was more than a hat, but was as well a bucket which stored the memories of the family. It gathered these memories as well as it developed stains around the checkered pattern on the band, which over time were covered by paints and markers.
His father loved to tell him stories about the family, with the hat atop his head he bragged of his uncle, a talented hunter and farmer who’d made his way out to the settling grounds of Utah. Each Christmas they would receive, inexplicably, a whole butchered hog to cook for the coming year from Marquis’ brother, who they only ever referred to as Uncle Vick.
Inside the hat, too, were memories of Cynthia. A woman ahead of her time, or perhaps outside of it, as she became a member of the British police force. A striking personality when she was alive, the stories of her told from within the folds of the hat made her out to be a hero to the family.
And then, Albert, who was the first to rest its velvet ridges upon his head, was a veteran, and a retired painter. The nature of the paintings made by great grandaddy’s hand were, unsuitable, for young boys like Herman. But it was a note about the man’s life which was never passed over. His joy for creation carried on through the family as if a blood borne desire to imagine was birthed into all of them.
Herman, too, carried this desire.
Though no one loved to pull wonder from the hat, quite like Marquis. He recounted family trials and victories, but all through Herman’s life he’d never told a story about himself. A peculiarity which hung above Herman’s head, right in the place where his scar would eventually be.
The more he learned about the family, the more he wanted to do right by them. He made sure to fetch good grades and graduate with honors so that he could make his way to a college and graduate, to be counted among the honored members of the family. He decided to become a doctor.
It was a cruel twist of fate when, at his own graduation party, Marquis fell to the floor, convulsing. The bowler hat, which he’d worn to the event, fell and rolled away to Herman’s feet. He took it and put it on. It was his first time really owning the hat, as his father carried it for some time.
They rushed Marquis to the hospital, Herman unable to assist him. A spare few moments later, and Marquis Chastaine was announced dead to the family.
What began as a day of celebration quickly became something far worse, and cemented itself in his memory for decades to come.
Herman Chastaine, however, was not one easily given to sorrow.
After laying Marquis to rest, he doubled down on his desire and found a job working a clinic in Joliet, not far from the family but far enough. He’d always made sure to come back and visit for the holidays, to get a belly full of Momma Angela’s home fried stuffing, and to see the old Bowler hat hung on the mantle.
One particular Christmas, in 1964, He was as usual, asleep on the couch after a long day of eating and laughing with the extended Chastaine Clan. That particular night, he’d made it a point to take the living room couch despite having a room assigned to him by Angela. His distant cousin Barney brought a young ma’am to the gathering and it would be rude to expect the two of them to sleep out in the open, in case they found themselves under the delights of one another’s personal company.
So, Herman did what Herman did best and stuck himself in the uncomfortable bed so that his cousin might have a little privacy. This meant, too, he got to sleep beneath the Chastaine Family Bowler hat, hanging limp and dirty on the mantle.
It was like he was a child again, all in one night. The worry of his university debts melted away as soon as he touched the brim of the old, worn out hat. Somewhere in there, he lost himself in the memory of his father, wishing for just a night or two of Marquis telling stories about himself for a change. Even if he’d never get that, it was still the closest thing Herman had to a father.
He tucked that hat under his arm and rolled to the side, exhausted from a hard day, which capped off a long few years.
It was then, in the middle of his peaceful, pre-Christmas snoring that he’d heard it. Herman never was all that interested in fairy tale, Angela had tried on more than one occasion to talk to him about Santa Claus, but he’d never been a believer.
That night, however, he heard a creaking in the chimney.
It came like all the old songs used to sing, the clop of hooves on the rooftops preceding the grunt of a man too big to fit down the old brick chimney he used to melt his army soldiers in.
With a start, Herman rolled onto his belly and allowed himself for the first time, perhaps in his entire life, to embrace that youthful ignorance. To return to the mind of the boy who could have believed in fairy tales, if he’d wanted to. To become once again, someone who could pull out the Bowler and make something come alive with only words.
Old Saint Nick made his way down the chimney in his own time, shuffling through the bricks. The sharp click and chatter of his teeth came down to the fireplace before the sound of hooves against the stone rooftops.
Herman clapped to himself, excited to see one of Marquis’ old stories come to life, and as the mean with the bag stretched his long, cloven foot from the interior of the chimney a sort of cold wrapped itself around Herman, a cold he couldn’t describe and didn’t really want to.
Like how it feels to get locked outside in the middle of winter, the only thing he could think about was the old hat, which sat crumpled up beneath his chest.
Saint Nick didn’t look quite like he’d been told, but he was excited nonetheless. One hoof came to a pop against the stone floor, then another and another, and then two more came, and Herman started to doubt the old stories about Father Christmas in their entirety when the too-long fingers of a sprawling hand wrapped around the top of the fireplace and the suddenly unwelcome visitor crouched into the room.
What parts of him were human didn’t end, or begin, and were some kind of twisted burnt up concoction of goat parts and man parts sewn together by someone who didn’t know what either of them were rightly supposed to look like, and if Herman’s history on the farm taught him anything, he knew the right course of action would be to put down this thing that was not a creature born by the hands of anything righteous.
So, he reached off to the side of the couch and took his pistol into his hands and fired a bullet at the thing that was mostly goat or mostly man and out of its two mouths came a bleating scream that was not all pain and mostly anger.
Herman Chastaine understood then, what a lump of coal really was. The mass of man and animal before him took his fist, which could have just as much been it’s head for all the gnarled horns it bore. Only to it swing that fist down onto Herman’s bare scalp.
He did not remember what came next.
It’s been a few years since then and Herman still hobbles his way downstairs on Thanksgiving to eat his fill of Momma Angela’s famous fried stuffing, and if he’s good he just might get an extra slice of pie. He likes to dress up like a doctor for halloween, even if he doesn’t get much candy. He doesn’t know quite why the other kids don’t like him, but he will figure it out. Herman Chastaine has never been one easily given to sorrow.
Even though he doesn’t remember why, he does know that Saint Nicholas isn’t real, and if he is, he isn’t much of a saint at all. When Christmas rolls around, if he’s lucky enough to be spared from the cycle of headaches he makes sure to finish dinner early and get back up to his room with the Bowler Cap atop his head, and when the old man from up north comes to visit he knows damn well…
“Don’t open your eyes.”
Thank you for reading the third entry in Horse With Human Hands.
The Next Entry: HWHH: Four – Sister
Horse With Human Hands is a fiction story I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time. This is only the beginning. These characters and the lives they’ve led are part of a much larger whole. Immediately after Lifeis+2023, I’ll be focusing time to expand this narrative into something I hope you are excited to be a part of.
Thank you for participating once more in the Lifeis+ celebration. I’ve got a lot to celebrate this time around so you’ll be hearing from me often. If you’d like to read more, you can check out me current fiction project Sisters of Westwinter & The Heart, Felt Series below!
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More from Me:
Breaking a Promise (My Favorite Flowers: 2)
In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there is a boy who has cried his eyes away.
Seeing Someone Learn (My Favorite Flowers: 1)
In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there’s a boy who is afraid of eyes.
SOW: Chapter Five, Part Five: A Single Spark
The Nail Ward, as they called it, was as miserable as it looked from the outside. The thousands of needles covering the floor and walls made it impossible to relax, and sleep was terribly out of the question. So Kerrick stood in the corner waiting, patiently, for the sunrise.
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