The Setting Sun

I sit here watching the sun drift lower in the sky, sometimes hidden behind the trees. It is now mid Winter: there are no leaves on the branches and the ground looks damp.  I’m glad there’s a thick pane of glass between me and the scene beyond.  I’ve spent many a late afternoon sitting here over the past few years, my chair turned to catch the last of the rays as a blanket lays over my legs to keep them warm.

“Are you still ok sitting there Robert?” the afternoon nurse asks kindly.

“Yes, I’m fine thanks love”.

“That’s good, supper won’t be too much longer, I think you’ll enjoy it tonight – it’s a lamb roast”.

They do their best to make the meals interesting, but to be honest, I only eat them because I have to, not because I enjoy them.  I know cooking for a lot of people can be difficult, and if the truth be told, not many of the other residents really know what they’re eating anyway, so I don’t complain.  There are others a lot worse off than I am.

Meadow Vale has been my home for the past six years, since my beloved Millie left me for a world without pain.  I know she’ll be waiting for me when my time comes and we’ll be re-united, young and healthy again.   Until then, I’ll make the most of the time I have left, enjoy the changing of the seasons from my window – my window to the past and my view to the future.

Twenty five years ago, there was an accident at work that left me in a wheelchair. I received a small payout from the company, and did many months of rehabilitation, eventually coming to terms with my situation.

I would never walk again, and Millie would be my guardian angel, my saviour.   She cared for me, bathed me, changed my dressings, pushed my wheel chair.   We hadn’t had children, so we were each other’s lives.  I was so grateful for what she did for me and she never complained.   I felt I had let her down as a husband and a provider, but she always said as long as we were together, nothing else mattered.  It had always been like that with Mil and me.

We’d grown up in a rough suburban area on the East coast of the North Island of New Zealand.  We went to the same school but didn’t know each other until that special Summer.

Although my mum and dad were dirt poor, they owned an old shack on the beach with a bit of scrubby land around it. It had been passed down through the family and from the age of about fourteen I spent my school holidays there; usually on my own, fending for myself and getting by on my wits.

The sun is now fading through my window and I can feel the chill of the evening approaching.  But thinking back to that Summer warms my heart; the blue skies, the warmth of the sea, Mr B and Millie.  I can remember it as though it was yesterday.




I’d not long dragged my tinny up the beach after my morning’s fishing trip when a scruffy looking horse ambled by.   Well, well, I said out loud.  You don’t often see that around here – a horse walking along the beach on its own!  I knew there were some riding stables a few miles further South but the trail rides didn’t make it this far as there was a treacherous rocky bluff they’d have to traverse, so they usually took the other direction.

I watched this horse for a while – he wandered aimlessly, picking at bits of stringy grass growing at the edge of the sand.  He clearly wasn’t from around here but he didn’t seem to be afraid either.   He moseyed down towards the water and didn’t shy away when the waves came closer, washing  over his unshodden hooves.   To my amazement, he actually buckled down in the sand and had a roll, this way and that, staggered to his feet and gave himself a nose to tail body shake.   I laughed out loud, and for the first time, he noticed me.  He didn’t startle – he just looked at me with big brown eyes and for a moment I saw in him what he may have seen in me  – a chap who could look after himself.

horse on beach

I walked up the short track from the beach to my shack and found a couple of pieces of stale bread in the larder.   On returning to the beach, I expected the horse to be gone, but he was there, just relaxing, one hind leg slightly bent, resting his hind quarters.    I approached him slowly with my palm held flat in front of me with the bread torn into bite-size pieces.  To my amazement, he stood up straight and took some steps towards me.  It was me who stopped, suddenly wondering whether this was a good idea or not.  After all, I didn’t really know much about horses and I certainly knew nothing about this one.

He continued to come forward, and holding my breath in case I frightened him, I reached out my hand and he gently took the bread from me.  Wow, I slowly let out the air I was holding in, and felt a strange sense of wonder.  Why would this horse want to come to me?  I was a bit of a loner really, didn’t need many friends, but this scruffy brown horse seemed to be comfortable in my presence.  I told myself he’d go now he’d had the bread, so I wouldn’t be disappointed.  But when I turned to go back to the shack, he followed me.  If I stopped, he stopped. When I walked, he followed.  I went inside and wondered what he’d do.  He followed me with his gaze, then took refuge under the only large tree on the beach front, a fir tree. I watched for a while longer until he fell asleep on his feet.



I can hear the clatter of pots and pans coming from the kitchen, signalling dinner is not far off, but they’ll come and get me when they’re ready.  They like to feed the ones who need help first, so I know I’ve still got a little time left to reminisce about that Summer.


The next morning I awoke early, eager to see if my new companion had left for more salubrious surroundings.   Nope, there he was, still resting under the tree.  Well I’ll be!  I forewent my breakfast that morning so I could use the last of the bread to feed the horse under the tree.  I quietly approached him, speaking gently to let him know I was not going to hurt him.  He snickered under his breath and came forward, again taking the bread from my palm.   I felt a little bolder and I reached out to stroke his velvet muzzle.  He didn’t shy away, so I moved a bit closer and stroked his neck.  I could see his coat was thick and dirty and he had scars and scabs on his legs.  His mane was knotted but his eyes were kind.  “Hello boy” I said gently.  “Where have you come from?” I asked wonderingly.  I spent another twenty minutes or so with the horse and then looked out to sea and realised if I didn’t get out there in my tinny soon, the tide would have turned and with it all the fish I hoped to catch for my lunch.   “Bye fella, I’ve gotta go” I said reluctantly and returned to my shack.

My fishing trip was relatively successful, enough for a couple of meals, anyway.  As I didn’t have a refrigerator, I had to catch my food fresh each day.  On my return up the beach, I saw a sight that unexpectedly warmed my heart.  The scruffy brown horse was waiting for me at my shack, his nose practically in the front door!

The next couple of days passed in the same way – fishing, cooking, talking to the horse.   When it became obvious that this fella wasn’t going anywhere, I got a bit bold.  I fashioned a headstall from some old fishing ropes that were lying about the shack.  I’d been on a horse a couple of times when I was younger, but figured the saying “it’s like falling off a bicycle” would probably apply to horses too.  How hard could it be?  So with little effort, I popped the headstall on and swung myself onto his bare back.   So far so good – he didn’t bolt, he didn’t do anything!  So with a gentle kick to the sides, I encouraged him towards the beach.  To my relief, he did exactly as I asked him, carefully and quietly.  We strolled along the flat beach for a while and being sixteen, I was a bit full of confidence so I gamely kicked him into a trot.  Off he went again, trotting at a steady pace and not seeming to mind me bouncing around wildly on top! I hadn’t realised riding bareback would be so difficult, but I eventually got the rhythm and we enjoyed a nice jog along the sand.  He seemed happy; his ears were pricked forward and he picked his feet up, almost daintily, so as not to trip over any branches washed up by the tide.

We did this each day, with me getting a little bolder each time, until before long, we were cantering through the waves! This was the best Summer holiday I’d ever had.


“Ok Robert, time for your dinner now, sorry about the wait” the nurse says as she wheels me towards the dining room.

“That’s fine love, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, and it’s given me time to think about when I was a boy and these old legs took me on all sorts of adventures!”  I say with a gleam in my eye.

“Oh, ey, I bet you were a one in your day” she says affectionately as she places the plate of vegetables and lamb smothered in gravy on the table in front of me.

I eat the dinner without fuss or fanfare and excuse myself when I’ve finished.  The nurses are understaffed so I try to do as much for myself as I can so they can  help the poor dears who don’t  know what day it is, and often, who they are.  I put my glass of red wine onto the tray fixed to my wheelchair and wheel myself back to my window.  We always eat dinner early at Meadow Vale so it is still only just after 5pm and the sun is just setting behind the trees.   I sip my wine and before long, am  sixteen again and back on the beach with my horse.


“Hey, Boy, want to go for a ride?”

I hadn’t named the horse but didn’t feel a need to.  He responded to me whatever I called him, and I thought “Hey Boy” would do fine.  He seemed to like his outings as much as I did, and I was getting better at staying on.  I had a couple of falls, but the soft sand didn’t hurt and he just waited patiently until I swung myself onto his bare back.  We didn’t often see anyone else on the beach and that suited us plenty.

One Saturday, more than a week since we’d become friends, we rode a little further up the beach than usual.  As it was the weekend, there were a few more people around  but we took no notice.

A couple of girls were splashing about in the waves when we passed, and one of them called out  “Hey there, what’s your horse’s name?”

“He doesn’t have one” I said sheepishly and continued on.

“Everyone needs a name” I heard the pretty blonde girl say, her words barely audible as they were whisked away on the breeze.

I rode home and gave the horse some fresh water.  He nibbled on the grasses around the shack but didn’t venture far.  As I sat by my campfire that night, I kept seeing the pretty blonde girl’s face, her curls clinging to her cheeks, stuck there by the salt water.  And I could hear her words “Everyone needs a name”.

After my fishing trip the next morning,  the horse and I rode up the beach and before I knew it we’d ridden to where we’d seen the girls the day before.  And to my delight and slight embarrassment, they were there again.   “Hi again” said the other girl cheekily.  “Hiya” I replied, never one to waste words.

“Have you thought of a name yet?” asked the pretty blonde girl.  I could see that she was not just pretty, but petite and a little shy.

“No, I’m not good with that sort of thing”

“Maybe if we get to know him better, we can help you come up with a name” said the other girl.  Was she flirting with me, I wondered?

“Ok, do you want to walk along with us for a while?”  I ventured, being sure they’d so no.

“We’d love to, wouldn’t we Millie?”

“Ok, but only for a short way” said the pretty girl.  Her name is Millie. I like that.

We walked along in silence, the scruffy brown horse keeping step with the girls and me feeling goofy sitting on top, looking down at them, not quite knowing where to avert my eyes.

“We’d better go back now” said Millie after a short while “I think your parents will have lunch almost ready” she said as she turned to her friend.   Then she looked up at me and I saw that her eyes were brown and kind and something strange stirred within me.

“Ok, see you tomorrow then?” questioned the other girl.  I still didn’t know her name, but wasn’t overly concerned.  I knew Millie’s name and I realised that was important to me.

“Ok, why not!” and I kicked the horse into a canter and rode home.  Was I showing off to the girls?  Or was I just happy that I knew Millie’s name?

The next few days passed in the same way – me riding along the beach on the scruffy brown horse and feigning surprise when I saw the girls on the beach.  We walked along, mainly in silence, with the occasional observation about something or someone we’d seen along the way.

Eventually, Millie’s friend, Charlotte lost interest in our walks along the beach.  There were some older boys playing touch rugby and she chose to sit and watch them while Millie and I and the brown horse walked along, getting to know each other.

couple and horse on beach

“How long have you owned him?” she asked

“Well, it’s kind of strange… I don’t own him!”

“What do you mean?  You seem like you’ve been together forever! You two are so in tune with each other” Millie questioned.

By now I was walking alongside her on the sand, leading the horse with his old rope headstall.

“Are we? I’ve never had a horse before.  He just arrived at my shack one day a few weeks ago and hasn’t left since!”

“Wow, he’s such a nice old fellow.  He must belong to someone so we must find out where he’s from.  Someone might be missing him”.

“You’re right” I said, but dreading having to give him up.  “You seem to know a lot about horses – can you ride?”

“I’ve had some lessons and done some trail rides, but I’m no expert” said Millie

“Would you like to have a ride?” I said excitedly, wondering why I hadn’t asked her before.

“Oh, yes please, thought you’d never ask!” she teased.

“I’ll give you a bunk”, and then nervously realised it meant I’d have to touch her.

“Sure” she said confidently and bent her left leg for me to hoist her up.  She sat confidently atop the old brown horse and his ears pricked forward and he drew himself up. Perhaps he was aware of how special his passenger was.

Millie competently kicked him into a trot then a canter and I saw her flying down the beach, her blonde curls flying out behind her.  They splashed through the waves and jumped over driftwood.  Wow, she’s amazing, I thought; simultaneously frightened she’d come to some harm, and exhilarated by how well she could ride.   How far would they go?  But to my amazement, the old brown horse slowed to a trot, then a gentle walk and took Millie right up to the verandah of the old shack.

Some time later I caught up with them,  puffed from having to run on my own legs.  Millie was flushed with the rush of her ride, and the old brown horse was flecked with foam.

“Are you alright?” I enquired as I caught my breath.

“Yes, that was amazing!  I felt totally safe with this old fella” she said stroking his neck and gently blowing warm air into his nostrils.

After we’d rested for a while and had a cool drink, I said “we’d better get you home, or Charlotte will be wondering where you are”.

“Ok, but she’s probably not even noticed I’m gone – she’s more interested in parading in front of the rugby players” Millie said with an air of resignation.

“We’ll let the old fella rest here under the tree, and I’ll walk you back” I offered.

“Thank you, that would be nice.”

We walked along the sand, close but not touching, but I could feel electricity in the space between us.  We talked easily and the more we talked, the more beautiful Millie became.

“I’ll ask around and see if anyone knows where the horse came from” suggested Millie.

The next day, we met again at the usual place.  The scruffy brown horse greeted her with a snicker and my heart surged.  He could feel what a good person she was too.

“Hiya!  I’ve asked around and I think I know where this lovely old chap came from” Millie said as we met.

“Oh, what did you find?” I said, not knowing if I really wanted to know.  I couldn’t bear the thought of having to give him up already.

“It seems the stables a few miles from here were sending their old horses off to the knackery.  There was an accident and most of the horses escaped from the truck.  All but one were recaptured and sent on their way.  Seems as though your fella was the lucky one and found you instead!”

My heart skipped a beat. No-one wanted him – I could keep him!  “So, looks like he’s yours!  But I really think he needs a name!” said Millie, sensing my relief.

I reached down and patted the old fellow on his neck “Thank goodness” I breathed into his matted mane.  “What do you think we should call him?”.  And at that moment, I realised that “I” had become “we” and Millie had become as much a part of my life as the old brown horse had.

“I think we should call him Mr Bertram” she exclaimed triumphantly.

“Mr Bertram? That’s an odd name for a horse” I queried.

“Haven’t you read Shakespeare?”

“Um, no.  I’m not a great scholar; prefer to build things with my hands!”

“Oh, well, he’s a character in All’s Well That Ends Well and I thought it was apt” Millie said a little deflated.

“That’s perfect!  I love it!  Mr Bertram, or Mr B for short it is!!”.

The rest of the Summer was spent together – Mr B, Millie and I. We talked, we rode, we jumped logs, we splashed in the waves and we fell in love.

As the weather cooled, and school beckoned, we wondered what we’d do with Mr B.  He was old but he was content.  We erected some basic fences around the shack, made sure he had plenty of water and visited him as often as we could.

Millie finished school and I started an apprenticeship, but at every chance we had, we visited Mr B and made sure he was happy.  He was too old to ride by now, but we took him for a gentle stroll to the waves and he pawed at the sand and we knew he was at ease.

Millie and I were an item and we were never apart for long.  One Friday after work we headed to the shack to check on Mr B.  As soon as we arrived I knew something was wrong.   He didn’t greet us at the gate.  I walked around the shack and to my great sadness I found him lying under his favourite tree, still but peaceful.   Millie joined me and we shed some tears – he’d brought us together and now he was gone.  We dug a very large grave that took us all night, said our goodbyes and left the shack.  He was always going to be with us, but it was time for us to move on.


Sixty two years later, I lost my Millie to cancer.  My two great loves are now gone, but I have my memories and am grateful for the wonderful times we had.

“I think it’s bedtime now Robert” says the night shift nurse.

The remnants of red wine in my glass are well and truly dried, and the sun has long since set.

“Ok love, I’m ready now”.


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Saturday Afternoon

Katie and Jane grabbed a headstall each from the tack room and made their way to the bottom paddock.  They’d been friends since primary school, and although they were now in their mid-teens and their interest in boys had increased of late, they still loved to take their horses out for a ride each Saturday afternoon.

Today was just an ordinary Saturday, or so they thought.  It was late Autumn and the deciduous trees had already turned beautiful reds and oranges.  Some had already started to lose their leaves so the ground underfoot was crunchy in places .   There was a hint of Winter in the air, though not yet cold enough for the Driza-Bones they had to wear for a few months of the year to protect them from the biting cold.

The girls laughed and chatted about who they hoped to see at the pictures that night, as they walked the five minutes to the far corner of the paddock.  Midnight, Jane’s shiny black gelding, and Poppet, Kate’s petite bay mare, were waiting for them, and knowing the Saturday afternoon routine gave soft snickers as the girls approached.

Midnight and Poppet  walked calmly alongside the girls on the way back to the tack room and waited patiently at the stables while their rugs were removed; they were given a brush to remove the mud from their legs, their shoes were checked, their saddles were put on, girths tightened and bridles fitted.

As she always did on Saturday afternoon before leaving the stables, Katie took out her mobile phone and called her mum.  “Hi Mum, the horses are saddled and we’re ready to go.  We should be out for an hour, hour and half tops….. yeah, we’ll probably go the same way we usually do…. see ya, loves ya!”

With a final check of the girths, the girls mounted their horses and headed them East, towards town.   There was a well-defined bridle path and the horses knew the way.  They knew the spots where they’d get to canter up the hills, and where they had to walk carefully where the path was narrow and a slip could see them falling into the creek below.

Katie and Jane chatted easily; they’d been best friends for over ten years and knew each other’s secrets and dreams.  Jane was more reserved than Katie and most people who didn’t know her well thought she was too quiet and was only interested in her horse.  But Katie, the one who other girls wanted to be friends with, knew that there was more to Jane than met the eye.  She had strength of character that others didn’t often see. She wanted to go to university, become a successful author and travel the world.  She was close to her family and she’d never want to be separated from Midnight for long so she’d not stay away for extended periods of time.  She was a very loyal friend too, and Katie appreciated her for that.

Katie was more popular at school, and had plenty of attention from the boys.  She had other friends aside from Jane, but her favourite part of the week was their Saturday afternoon ride where they could just be themselves without caring what the other kids thought of them.  Katie had plans too; she didn’t want to go to university as it would mean leaving home, but she wanted to be a nurse and specialise in mental health.   The girls knew they’d be friends forever, even if they weren’t always in their home town.

Midnight and Poppet were friends, in the way that horses are, and walked or jogged placidly beside each other.  Midnight was a little younger and taller than Poppet and he looked to her for confirmation if something startled him in the bushes beside the bridle path.

“How far should we go today?” Jane asked

“Just the usual, I think” replied Katie “I told Mum that we wouldn’t be more than an hour and a half.”

“Ok, fine with me.  How about you Midnight?”  The horse flicked his ears backwards in agreement; he was always listening out for what Jane might ask him.

They continued on for another half an hour, sometimes chatting about things that had happened in school that week, who was going out with whom, and who they had a crush on; and sometimes just riding quietly, enjoying the rhythm of their horses beneath them and the smell of their warm bodies.

Before long, a gusty breeze started to pick up and the trees overhead creaked as the quartet passed beneath them.   Midnight was getting nervous and Jane could sense his tension.

“Perhaps it’s time to turn back before the wind gets too strong?” Jane said.

“Ok, sure” said Katie as she slowed Poppet and then gently pulled her to a halt.

In the quiet that followed the stopping of the horses and the cessation of the girls’ chatter, a strange whirring sound could be heard, somewhere to the West of where Katie and Jane, Midnight and Poppet had stopped.

“What on earth is that?” exclaimed Katie

“I don’t know, but it sounds as though it’s coming from up that hill somewhere” said Jane, tilting her head to one side to see if she could pinpoint the location.

They turned the horses around and headed for home.  The whirring sound could still be heard over the clatter of hooves.  Midnight was now walking with purpose, his head held high, his ears pricked forward and an occasional snort escaped his nostrils.  Even Poppet, normally calm and even- tempered, seemed a little jumpy and unsure.

“I think the sound is coming from up there” said Jane and pointed to a road off to the left of them.  They’d never ridden up there as there was nothing to see, or so they’d been told.  Without consultation with Katie, Jane steered Midnight to the left and headed towards the deserted road.

“Where are you going?” called Katie worriedly, who by now was getting left behind.

“I’m just going to see what it is” called Jane over her shoulder.

Katie was very surprised by her friend’s sudden interest in an adventure, but was not going to miss out!  She gently squeezed Poppet into a trot and caught up with Jane and Midnight.

They rode side by side, legs touching as though to give each other some Dutch courage.

“I don’t think we should be coming up here” said Katie, “and besides, I told Mum we’d be home soon”.

“Don’t worry, it won’t take long” urged Jane, surprised at her own confidence.

The road was quite narrow – it was a bitumen road but didn’t look as though it got used very often. The surrounding bush was encroaching over the sides, and Midnight and Poppet had to walk in the middle of the road.  The clip clop of their metal shoes echoed through the trees.  There were no houses up here, and the road was steep in places.

“I think we should turn back now, there’s nothing here” pleaded Katie.  She was usually the one full of confidence and sense of fun, but she was getting a strange feeling about this place.

“No, just a bit further, I can still hear the whirring” said Jane in a tone that Katie had not heard her use before.  It frightened her, but she wasn’t going to leave Jane and Midnight up here on their own.  She loved Jane too much for that.

The wind was still gusty and Midnight was not at all happy.  He was blowing hard through his flared nostrils and shying at everything, or nothing.  Jane sat comfortably on top and moved with him as he baulked.

Katie was feeling nervous – there was something eerie about this place.  No one knew they were here – what if one of them fell, what if one of the horses bolted?  Katie realised her imagination was running wild so to calm herself she got her mobile phone from her shirt pocket to ring her mum to let her know where they were.  Her heart missed a beat when she saw that she had no reception.  How can that be?  They weren’t far from home.  Katie felt totally isolated and for once in her life, didn’t know how to deal with this situation.   Poppet was picking up on Midnight’s anxiety and she too started to dance at shadows.  Katie put the phone back in her pocket and concentrated on staying on.

The girls continued in silence – Katie was too frightened to speak, and Jane was too determined to find out where the whirring was coming from. The road narrowed even further, the undergrowth grew denser and the trees loomed larger.  The whirring got louder but still undefinable.

“We’ve come this far, it’s too late to go back” said Jane with fierce resolve.

Midnight and Poppet were by now blowing hard as they traversed yet another steep hill.  Jane urged Midnight on and he reluctantly continued forward.  Poppet was now the one needing re-assurance and she stuck close by the black gelding’s gleaming side.

As Jane and Midnight rounded the bend, the road came to an abrupt end. Nothing.  No warning, no signs. Katie and Poppet pulled up alongside.  The girls looked at each other in confusion.

They looked up and right ahead of them the bush gave way to a big open space.  A small shed was on the right hand side of the clearing. To the left of the clearing the girls could vaguely make out a plantation of some sort. The whirring was much louder now but they couldn’t see what was causing it.

Individually but together, the reality of what they were looking at hit them.  The horses pranced beneath them, terrified at the noise.  A flock of cockatoos suddenly took off from a nearby tree and screeched their departure.

“Oh no, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” yelled  Katie nervously.  The whirring was now drowning out their speech.

“Uh ha, I think we’ve stumbled on a marijuana plot, a very large marijuana plot” Jane yelled back.

“Let’s get out of here now!!” implored Katie

“I’m with you on that!” screamed Jane, finally coming to her senses, but struggling to keep hold of Midnight.

Before the girls had chance to turn the horses around, five men in dark clothing ran from the shed, went round behind it and within seconds, a helicopter was airborne.

“Oh my god!!” shrieked the girls in unison as Midnight and Poppet reared at the sight and sound of the strange, noisy bird taking flight.

The helicopter circled threateningly low over the on-lookers;  so low they were sure they’d be picked up and whisked away in the rotors.  Midnight and Poppet momentarily froze, and then took flight with Katie and Jane clinging on for dear life.

The horses bolted in the only direction they knew – home.  But they didn’t go back they way they’d come – they took the direct route.  Midnight took the lead and galloped down the slope, dodging the trees and jumping over fallen logs.  Jane was an accomplished rider but his pace and determination tested her skills to stay with him.  Jane knew that she had to trust Midnight’s instincts and let him have his head – if she interfered with his direction they would both be in trouble.  And she knew that Poppet, with Katie on board, was following their lead.  She would never put her friend at risk.

After a couple of minutes, which felt like a lifetime, Midnight slowed to a jog to catch his breath and assess his surroundings.  Jane relaxed momentarily and waited for Poppet and Katie to come alongside.

“Oh my god!  I thought we were goners.” cried Katie.  Her mascara had run down her cheeks and she looked like a frightened little girl.  Last time Jane had seen her like this was years ago when they camped out overnight and Katie was scared of the bush as darkness fell.

“I know.  I think we’re safe now though” Jane said, more confidently than she felt. But before they could work out which way to head next, the helicopter appeared above them and swept over them so low they could see the menacing faces of the men on board.

Midnight’s instincts took over and he and took flight again.  The girls shrieked, barely keeping their balance.  The helicopter followed them, just above the tree tops.  Whichever way Midnight turned, with Poppet following faithfully behind, the helicopter was above them.  He dodged left, took a fallen log in his stride and galloped on in the direction of the stables.  Poppet was not confident in the bush, as she was used to trotting around the arena at pony club, but she wasn’t going to let Midnight out of her sight.  The plucky little mare battled on, terrified of the noise above her, but was determined to get her friend Katie home safely.

Midnight slowed a little to get his bearings.  The helicopter was still above the terrified quartet and there seemed to be no escape.  But he continued forward, pushing through bracken, tripping on the fallen undergrowth, staying under the canopy of the gum trees.  Jane was soaked in sweat and the muscles in her thighs burned.  But she trusted her black gelding, and was proud of his effort in trying to get them home.

They hadn’t lost the helicopter – it was still chasing them and the men were calling out from the side.  The words were lost in the whir of the chopper and the crashing of the horses through the undergrowth.  It was unmistakable what they were threatening, though.  The girls only had one thought – we have to get out of here NOW.

Midnight dodged and weaved, his sides heaving and his coat glistening with sweat. Jane’s thighs were now screaming in pain.  Poppet and Katie were still with them, but the little mare was visibly distressed and Katie was also distraught but she knew if she came off now, she may never make it home.  She had to trust Midnight and Jane.

The helicopter swept low in front of them and the horses careered off to the left.  “Fuck, we’re dead!” screamed Jane.  And just as suddenly the helicopter veered to the right and headed into the distance.

“What was that??” exclaimed Katie.  “Do you think they’ve gone?”  They pulled the horses up and sat for a moment.

“I think they know they’ve scared us enough and we won’t come back” said Jane, still gasping for breath.

“Yeah, they’re right.  I’m not going near that place again!” said Katie, tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.

Saturday afternoon returned to a semblance of normal and the girls rode the rest of the way home in silence. They knew each other well enough to know neither would tell anyone else what they had seen.  It would be their secret.

They saw the familiar sight of the stables and the four of them heaved a huge sigh of relief.

“Where have you girls been?  I’ve been worried sick about you. You said you’d be home an hour ago!!” exclaimed Katie’s mum as they sauntered into the mounting yard.

“Sorry Mum, we lost track of time” Katie managed “it’s all good”.

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The Sentinel

The evening begins to settle and the campers retire for the night. As darkness rolls in, the moon rises above the mountain’s horizon and throws its beams of light through the branches of a huge, gnarled gum tree.  Small native animals scurry for shelter, under cover of the tree’s boughs.  The tree has witnessed many moon rises like this, and bravely faces the darkness, a lone sentinel in an otherwise stark landscape.   He cannot share his knowledge and experiences with the animals;  he can only extend his  branches in friendship;  to give protection, warmth and security.

A little brown field mouse skips from one bush to the next and then stops and listens. A flying fox casts a shadow overhead as its wings flap with barely a sound as it moves onto a new place to settle. A camper stirs and gives a faint snort before returning to his slumber.  The mouse stops in its tracks; the noises are swallowed by the silence and deepening darkness and the mouse continues on its journey.

The distant howl of a dingo echoes through the valley, announcing to the creatures of the night that danger is not far away. The camp fire slowly burns itself out and now only the embers are glowing, providing the last glimmer of heat and light.  The nearby stream continues its relentless journey south, bubbling over rocks and shimmering in the moonlight.  Under the cover of near –darkness, unseen little creatures scurry from the relative safety under the old gum tree to the stream to replenish their little bodies before finding a safe place to sleep.

A thick mist rolls up, enveloping everything in the valley, including the campers, safe but unaware in their cocoon of canvas.   The hours of darkness eventually fade to grey and the creatures begin to stir and furtively  look for food.  The campers wake and re-kindle the long since dead campfire.  The early morning quiet is shattered as pots and pans clang and announce that breakfast will be simple but cooked.  The campers have no cognisance of the intrusion their presence has on the delicate balance of nature.

The old gum tree has witnessed another night as the fading moon slips away.  He knows everything that happens under the shield of darkness but is not forthcoming.  The sun slowly takes the moon’s place and the morning comes to consciousness.

The brilliant morning sun darts out dancing rays, instantly warming everything they touch.  Cockatoos awaken and wander aimlessly, squawking their way from tree to tree.   The campers, satisfied and nourished, pack away their gear and move on.  They leave little evidence of their presence, except for a patch of flattened grass and a pile of cold, black ashes.  The little creatures are curious but dare not tread on the earth where the intruders rested.  The old gum tree looks down at their naivety but gives nothing away.

old gum tree

As the brutality of the hot day once again begins to waver, only the highest mountain peaks remain golden.  The little creatures return to safety under the old tree.  As the sun slides away, the full moon shows its face; huge, happy and magnificent.

Tonight no-one will be shrouded in darkness;  instead they are bathed in moonlight and although they feel a little exposed, they know the wise old gum tree will once again stand guard.

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It was already late when I climbed into bed.  My head was buzzing with thoughts, ideas, plans.  I tried to drift off, listening to the rise and fall of my husband’s breathing, but sleep wouldn’t come.

I realised I was cold; chilled to the bone, though it wasn’t a particularly cold night.  The more I tried to snuggle into the doona and then added another doona, the colder I felt.  Even the warmth of his body next to mine didn’t warm me as it usually does.

At some stage in the early hours of the morning I must have fallen into a fitful sleep, interrupted occasionally by cold shudders.  No more than an hour later, the dog, who normally sleeps peacefully was wandering around the room, up and down, her nails click-clacking on the wooden boards.  Perhaps she couldn’t sleep either?

I took her outside, standing naked on the deck while she poddled out to the garden to do her business.  A heat bag was warming in the microwave.  Ding, it was ready.  I took it, and the dog, back to bed and slid in beside my husband, who by now was sleeping fitfully.  Perhaps he also had thoughts and worries on his mind.

The warmth of the heat bag slowly thawed by body and I slept.  But not for long.  Within the hour, the dog was pacing again.  What was wrong with her, she never goes out twice.  Perhaps she was picking up on our anxiety.  So, with a dressing gown wrapped tightly around me this time, out I went again.  She’s quick to do her business and ran back into the relative warmth of the house.  This time, thank goodness, she settled and slept.

Finally, I was warm and thought I’d rest peacefully for the rest of the morning.  But, no more than two hours later my husband cried out in pain, startling me with concern. He swore for a while and then after determining he was not having a heart attack and it was in fact a strong cramp in his calf (very painful) we went back to sleep for an hour before the alarm blared into life, announcing that it was already time to start the new day.

No matter how stressful and bleak things appeared in the quiet, cold of the night, the dawn arrived and together we will face whatever life throws at us.


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Mirror Reflections

The blinds on the windows don’t quite meet the edges. The first soft rays of sunshine peep through and splash their brilliance across the plump pillows, resting like sentinels on the slatted bed head.  The wrought iron lamps stand guard at each side and silently keep watch over the sleeping bodies.

The square mirror winks back at the guards and reflects their stately beauty.  The gaudy baubles slung over the mirror’s edge catch the growing daylight and throw their sparkle across the room.  The framed photos on the wall are caught in the sunshine and journeys of the past are once more brought to life.

A dog in the corner sleeps peacefully, with a slow expression of breath and an occasional dream-like whimper.







The blinds on the window don’t quite meet the edges. The first harsh rays of sunshine scream through the cracks and dazzle the sleepers through their closed lids.  The pillows, now hard and cold, provide no comfort and the burning eyes can rest no longer.

The bed side lamps stand watch, silently collecting dust, causing sneezing and wheezing in the night.  The mirror reflects the horror of the growing daylight, while the gaudy baubles on the mirror’s edge rattle and clank and have no value.

The photos on the wall, now come alive, and are a stark reminder of the good times long past.

A dog in the corner snuffles and grumbles and circles and circles, trying to find the right place to settle.  She sleeps fitfully for a while longer, and then wakes as though from a bad dream, crying pathetic little whimpers.

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The Rally

Once off the freeway, the old girl found her pace and hugged the bends like she’d been doing for the past fifty years.  This is what she was made for!

“We’ve been on these roads before,” said the wife, and navigator.

“It’s been a long time though, can’t remember when,” he said, barely taking his eyes off the winding road ahead of him.

“It’s not that long ago, I remember seeing that house.  We commented about it at the time.  It seems out of place out here; all the other houses are old, but this is new and modern and large, surrounded by dry, barren land.  We made the same comment last time.”

“You’d be surprised about how long ago it was – two years at least,” the husband and driver said as he coaxed the long bonnet around the curves.  ‘Watch for twisty roads’ warned the rally notes.

“No, it was definitely more recent than that.”

The road branched left and the navigator gave the next set of rally instructions.  “At the T-junction, turn left onto Kongaderra Rd. Watch for bumps on the road. “

The driver barely slowed the old girl, who took the corner with only a slight squeal of the tyres, and revved back up to top gear.


The car glided gracefully over the bumps and the navigator watched as the scenery slipped by, with landmarks presenting themselves in her consciousness.  “We have been on this road recently.  We planned a rally and we did the checking of the route.  I knew it wasn’t long since we’ve been on these roads.”

“Yeah, maybe we did, but that was at least a year ago, maybe the same time of year as now.”

“We stopped at the haunted pub, but it was too close for a coffee stop.”


“So where did we stop for a coffee stop then if it wasn’t the pub?”

“Not sure”

“Oh, I know, was it the tram museum?”

“You could be right, maybe that was it.”

“I knew it was more recent than two years ago.”

The rally wound its way through small country towns, with the navigator and driver exchanging not much more than basic rally instructions.  They were complete within their own thoughts, whilst enjoying each other’s presence.  The rumble of the engine and the air whistling through the side window precluded much conversation anyway.

“Beware, you will bottom out after the bridge – reduce speed!”

The old girl forged ahead over the bridge and didn’t even look like bottoming out. “Well, that was a non-event, not a chance of hitting anything there… she goes well, the old girl,” said the driver with a wry smile and an understated hint of pride.

“It’s definitely more recently than a year ago that we came along this road,” she said as more landmarks passed quickly by and pricked her memory.

“I don’t think so, I can’t think when it would have been,” he said. As he said it there was something that sat uneasily in the back of his mind.

The landscape was surprisingly dry for this time of year, but the driver and navigator didn’t comment.  They were used to driving in different parts of the Victorian countryside and had come to expect all manner of scenery.  One day perhaps they would own a slice of the country, and remained quietly introspective, though they knew that their thoughts of what the future might bring were shared.

“I know when it was!!’ exclaimed the wife, startling them both from their reverie.

“I don’t think we’ve been here recently,” the husband persisted.

“Yes we have, I know we have.”

“So, when was it?” he queried, a shadow passing over his brow.

“We went to Robin’s place.  Was it the Christmas Rally?”

“No, we didn’t go to Robin’s at Christmas”.

“Well, when was it, we’ve been here recently!’

“I don’t know when it was,” his frustration beginning to show.

“It wasn’t long ago, come on, you must know when it was.  We have been here haven’t we?”

Before he could reply, the answer struck her like a rod of lightening and sent shock waves  through her heart.   Oh my god, shut up now or you’ll make it worse.   She fixed her gaze firmly out the window for a full minute, then looked at the rally notes and said “we’ve only got thirteen more kilometres to go.  I’m looking forward to lunch, feeling a bit hungry now, what about you?”

The driver took his eyes off the road for a few seconds and stared at his wife, in a way he’d never had to look at her before.

“I’m not sure, maybe it wasn’t long since we’ve been here. Was it Robin’s 50th birthday party?” he asked carefully, hiding the horror of his realisation.

“Yes, yes, that was it!!” she exclaimed a little too eagerly.  “So, are you going to have the lamb or the beef when we get to the restaurant?” she babbled on. “I hear they do a really nice lamb casserole with Paris mash, but then again beef with red wine might be a nice change on a day like today, what do you think?”

The road wound through the busy main street of Daylesford, packed with weekenders, and the old girl purred her way into Hepburn Springs, through the gully and roared over the bridge.  “I’m not hungry any more!,” the husband and driver said vehemently.  He stared at his wife in disbelief for just a little too long and missed the sign that read ‘sharp bend ahead’.

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The Fall

She had stopped briefly on her way home from work so was now later than she’d intended to be.  She had almost reached the laneway which led from the main road into her own street when she slipped on the tram tracks.  She could feel herself falling but there was nothing she could do to stop herself.   As these moments tend to do, the whole process seemed to happen in slow motion, though it reality it was over in a moment.  Down she went, knees hitting the unforgiving concrete, her hands splayed in front of her, breaking the fall, protecting her head.

The contents of the shopping bag she had over her shoulder spewed across the road.  The computer system backup tapes from work, a hairbrush, hairspray and most importantly, a bottle of white wine she’d bought earlier.

Bloody tram tracks, she thought.  She should have been more careful as she knew how slippery they could be.  She scrambled up, knowing how much danger she was in, lying spread-eagled in the middle of a busy road. She could see the lights from the nearby men’s hairdressing salon flashing its ‘Open’ sign at the side of the road, and a flush of embarrassment rose in her cheeks.  She hoped nobody had seen her fall.  Her knees hurt, her palms stung and she was sure she had ripped her new black pants.  Her ankle boots gripped her legs, either helping or hindering her plight – she would not be sure which until she got home and removed them to see the outcome.

“Oh, Mrs, are you OK?’ asked the man who had been waiting to cross the road.  He rushed over to her and began to pick up the items which had escaped from her bag and were now strewn across the road.  He held his hands up to stop the traffic that was now banking up in both directions.

“Yes, thank you, I’m fine” she said, the shock of the fall and the embarrassment still raw.  “At least the bottle didn’t break!!” she quipped as the man gently placed it back in the bag and handed it to her.

“Are you sure you’re ok?  Would you like to sit down for a moment?” he asked, still concerned for the woman.

“No, no, I’m fine thank you.  I just live around the corner,” she said as she hurriedly composed herself and hobbled over to the footpath.   The commuters re-commenced their journey, having been briefly interrupted, the woman soon forgotten as they made their way homeward.

“Thanks for your help, it was nice of you” she managed to say, as the man continued his journey across the road to wherever it was he had been heading.

Without her knowing it, the three men in the salon had seen her fall.  “Ha, look at her, rushing to cross the busy road without waiting for the lights to change”, the man with the scissors in his hand joked.  “Silly woman, rushing home, bet she couldn’t  wait to open that bottle of wine and sit out on the deck with her husband, probably discussing where their next holiday will be”, scoffed the man in the chair, his hair only partly finished.  “She’ll think twice next time about crossing the road against the lights” said the third man.  What he was doing in the salon nobody was quite sure; he just seemed always to be around.

She hobbled up the laneway, her knees and palms stinging now.  The shock of a middle aged body, a few kilos more than she’d like it to be, hitting the hard surface was starting to set in and her legs began to shake.  Maybe she should have sat down for a minute she realised but the embarrassment was too acute and she just wanted to drift from sight.  Thankfully it’s only a short walk she thought as she struggled up the front steps.

As she put her key in the door, she remembered that her husband was away on a business trip.  Bugger, no sympathy for me tonight, she thought.  Oh well, had just better deal with it and get on with the evening.  She called the dog walker to walk the dogs in the morning;  her knees were already getting stiff and  by the morning she wouldn’t be walking anywhere much.

At least the bottle of wine didn’t break, she thought gleefully as she poured herself a glass.

A few minutes later the phone rang and her husband said “Hi Darl, how’s your day been?”.  “Oh, not too bad thanks” she replied, silently topping up her glass, and wished they hadn’t removed the spa bath when they did their recent home renovations.

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