Horse's Tale

Jessica Macbeth

I was wondering why I have been blocking on finishing the book that is closest to finished and why I wasn't doing something about finding a good publisher for it, so I used the three-image story technique (imagic) described at the end of Sun Over Mountain to try to get some insight (a link to a description of this is at the end on this story). The three images (obtained, in this case, by drawing three tarot cards) were a horse, a lion, and a bird. This is the story that came burbling out of my unconscious.

Once upon a time there was an elderly lion who lived on the savannah. He was very old and spent most of his time sleeping, only roaring on Saturday nights. One day, as he lay semi-dozing in the sun, he saw a flock of birds fly across the sky. He looked at it thoughtfully. Later that day he saw a flock of birds flying across the sky in the other direction. He mulled this over. As the days passed he noticed that every morning the birds flew this way and every afternoon they flew that way. He had never noticed this before, but obviously it had been going on for a while.
'Why are they doing that?' he rumbled to himself. 'First they fly this way, then they fly that way? What for? What is the purpose of this? What's really going on here?'
He thought about it for days, being, like all cats, curious about things. Then one day Horse came trotting blithely across the savannah. He didn't see Lion lying there because lions are specifically made to blend in with the yellowy-browny grass of the savannah, but Lion saw Horse. He roared out, 'Horse!' just to get his attention, you know.
Horse was so frightened that he shrieked and began to run.
'Stop!' Lion roared, and Horse was so startled that he did, which only shows that he wasn't very bright.
'Please, please, Noble Lion Sir, please, don't eat me,' Horse begged pathetically.
'I won't,' said Lion. 'I'm not hungry. I just want you to tell me something. See those birds? Every morning they fly this way, and every afternoon they fly that way. Why do they do that?'
'I dunno,' Horse answered.
'Well, I want you to find out,' snapped Lion testily, 'or I'll eat you up. Now, go and find out and come back and tell me.'
So Horse went off to find out why the birds flew this way and then that way, which only shows again that he wasn't very bright. A more sensible person, having once got away from Lion, would have just kept on going.
First, Horse tried to follow the birds. In the morning, when they went this way, he ran after them until he was so hot and bothered that he couldn't run any more. In the afternoon, he ran after them that way until his sides were heaving, sweat was pouring off of him, and he could only stand there spraddle-legged, gasping for breath. Every day he did the same thing (I told you he wasn't very bright). Between the running and the sweating and the worrying that Lion would get impatient and come and eat him, poor Horse got thinner and thinner until all his ribs stuck out and even his tail was scrawny. This is not a recommended way to lose weight, even if you need to, which Horse didn't.
At last Horse realized that all of this running about wasn't getting him anywhere, so he went down to the river. The first person he met was Crocodile, and keeping a careful distance away from her big jaws (he did have a few smarts), Horse asked her, 'Why do the birds fly this way in the morning and that way in the afternoon every day?'
'I dunno', she answered. 'Can't say I care—not much eating on a bird. If you want to know, why don't you ask them?'
'Good idea,' said Horse, 'brilliant, in fact.' And he trotted off. Every afternoon he followed the birds further that way until he finally found them settling down on their nests one evening.
'Birds,' he said, 'I need to know why you fly this way every morning and that way every night?'
''Cause that's what birds do,' shrugged the senior bird.
'But why?' asked Horse.
'We just do. Our mommies did it. Our daddies did it. Our grandmas and grandpas did it. It's what birds do.'
So Horse trotted back to Lion, and woke him up from his nap. (We have already established that Horse was not very bright, have we not?)
'I asked the birds why they fly this way every morning and that way every afternoon,' Horse explained earnestly, 'and they said that it's what birds do.'
'It's what birds do? That's it? It's just what birds do?'
'Right,' said Lion grimly, and he ate Horse up in three bites, growling, 'And this is what lions do.'
Then he lay back down and finished his nap.

I have come to the conclusion that I am both the lion and the horse and the birds are publishers - they do what they do, and I'll only frustrate myself by trying to understand it. I just have to accept this, and get on with things rather than waiting until they make sense. I've come to some other insights and conclusions from this story that seem helpful to me as well. However, it has occurred to me that this story has its own meaning and moral, and you might like to think about what it means for you. Or you might prefer just to print it out, pass it across your teacup three times, and absorb whatever magic or insight it contains for you that way.

This fable originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.