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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hump day with Dreamspinners Press' Kate Pavelle

Hi, my name's Kate Pavelle and it's my pleasure to spend time with you today. Some of you are familiar with my "Steel City Stories" and it's world of boys and horses and rock climbers. Others know me through "Breakfall," and some don't know me at all. 
     I was born in Czechoslovakia and have been writing for about ten years. My years behind the Iron Curtain are described in "Cancelled Czech Files" (coming out January 31, 2015). I've always wanted to ride but the circumstances didn't allow it. Riding is my big indulgence right now, and I barter my work at the stables to make my lessons more affordable. Horse work is fun unless your fingers are freezing off, as my character Kai is about discover in a short story I wrote for "Guys Like Romance Too." Some of you'll notice names of new horses. They were real once, but have passed into the Forever Pastures after having been ridden and loved and spoiled with apples and carrots. I'd like to make them live in my fiction forevermore.
Enjoy the story!

The barn loomed up the hill like some ancient living thing, shuddering against the gusts of icy wind and shedding the thin sheets of snow off the roof. The outside had been painted gray with blue highlights just two months ago.  Bushes and flowers brightened the scene back then, and leaves turning orange.
Now there was nothing. The wind drove biting bits of snow on a steep angle, bleaching the color out of the barn, the trim, the cheer in life. The hiss of ice particles against the door was a sick harmony to the gusts of wind that whistled past Kai’s ears. There were no crashes, no snap of breaking branches. What was going to break or tear loose had already done so overnight.
Kai leaned into the wind, grabbed the small door of the barn, and braced himself as he opened it. A gust almost tore it out of his hands. He slipped in and slammed it shut, happy to escape the white Christmas outside.
The barn was silent and dark, and even though it should have been warmer, Kai wasn’t feeling it. He felt his way to the light switches on the door. He flipped them on, ten circuits in all. The lamps buzzed and flickered to life. They shed light, and with it they provided the illusion of warmth. Only an image, though – the pricey LED lightbulbs were cool to touch.
Soft whickers of waking horses turned into urgent neighs. They were up now, all twenty-four of them, and they knew a human was near.
A human meant breakfast.
Kai strode down the clean aisle of the barn. Nary a blade of hay marred the smooth concrete and there wasn’t a single speck of sawdust bedding. Kai took the sight in, enjoying it while it lasted. A single horse moving in and out of his stall would track the bedding out. The need to sweep was endless.
He neared a stall as he turned into the cross-aisle. The whickers reached frantic proportions.
“Yeah, yeah… I hear you, guys! Good morning, breakfast is served!”
He didn’t mind doing feeding duty on Christmas morning. Letting Attila sleep in was a gift in itself. Kai had no need to linger and be merry. Christmas had been a dismal, stressful event since Kai was fourteen. It had taken  two years for his dad to die, and less than a year for his mother to remarry. Kai had been on his own since his eighteenth birthday – from the day his step-father had asked him to leave.
Family was unreliable and holidays were lonely.
Until now.
Attila welcomed Kai to Blue Heron Acres only half a year ago and Kai already felt his old defenses waver. Hadn’t Attila’s family thrown him his first birthday party since he’d been in elementary school? Hadn’t they welcomed him, embraced him, trusted him?
Like a hand-shy horse, Kai shied away from too much attention. On one hand it would have killed him if he got left out of the family festivities. On the other, he didn’t dare assume he’d be welcome. He had, after all, never been to Tibor and Rita’s house before except to pick up Brent, Attila’s nephew. Hiding out in the barn gave him a sense of calm before the storm despite the freezing weather, and the horses were the best company since they hadn’t said a critial thing to him yet.
Kai opened the door to the feed room. The small space had bins of various pellets and grains and shelves with nutritional supplements and medicines. The small space in the middle was thoroughly blocked by a butler’s cart, whose top and bottom shelves were loaded with cans of horse food. He pulled it out. The cart creaked, and a horse kicked the door of his stall in the left aisle.
Probably Cayenne.
Kai grinned. His stallion was bossy and his stomach was a bottomless pit. Yet Kai knew better than to indulge Cayenne’s impatience. Kicking the door was bad manners, and Attila had told Kai  many times he was already spoiling Cayenne silly. Spoiling time was over, and training time has begun.
He pulled the cart into the first aisle, grabbed two can, and double-checked the names on them.
Frosty, Darlin’.
Kai strode to Frosty’s stall. The old horse was stepping from side to side, ears pricked forward and nostrils flared. His whickers were focused on Kai and the can of food. No sooner did Kai reached through the space between the bars and upturned Frosty’s measure of senior pellets with a dose of rice bran than Dusty’s nose was in the waterfall of horse food still pouring, already snorting and chewing. One horse had ceased his anxious whickerings. Twenty-three more to go.
Time slipped past him as he worked away.
Pour the grain.
Refill the measures with grain and supplements for tonight.
Toss hay into each basket.
Break the ice on the outside-wall water buckets.
Blanket the horses and put ‘em in the paddock.
He paused at that. Attila had been experimenting with shearing the horses’ hair and covering them in blankets, since it made grooming infinitely faster. Yet they were colder now, and getting them ready to go outside was like dressing up so many overgrown toddles.
The wind howled past the roof overhead.
No, there would be no paddock for them today. They had to get out, though – how else would he clean their stalls? He couldn’t let all of them inside the arena, because not all of them got along. Cayenne tended to chase the smaller ponies, and Effie was with foal and mean to the other mares. Stix had detected weakness in Sen from his last Lyme disease flare-up and continued to challenge him for leadership.

“Shit.” Two hours later and the water wouldn’t flow through the hose, even though they had disconnected it and drained it yesterday. A small dribble must have frozen in the coil, and that was enough ice to bring the water flow to a halt.
Kai loosened the coupling between the hose and the pump. A geyser of ice water sprayed him right in the face. He cursed and screwed the hose on again, soaking his gloves in the meanwhile. It wasn’t the pump and it wasn’t the nozzle. He’d have to carry buckets today.
A dull plop of falling horse shit and a sharp scent of fresh, hot manure told him he was running late. The cold made him move slower even though he tried to hurry up. His fingers were icy and the frost bit the thighs under his jeans. He should’ve been picking the stalls by now had it not been for the stupid water hose and his fuzzy mind, and Christmas.
The small door creaked open and a blast of icy wind heralded Attila’s presence.
“Thank you for sneaking out, Kai,” Attila said as he shrugged out of his long coat and hung it on a blanket hook on Darlin’s stall. He looked at the evidence of Kai’s struggle. “What, did the hose freeze?”
“Yeah, and some of the buckets.” Kai bit the fingers of his left glove and pulled it off, then the other one. Pinpricks of pain stung like hot needles in his fingertips.
“Here.” Attila pulled off Kai’s sodden gloves and hanged them out of reach of curious horses. Then he stuck Kai’s freezing hands in his own armpits. “I’ll warm you up, and you tell me where we stand.”
“…and I can’t turn ‘em out,” Kai finished his status report. “The windchill’s gotta be brutal.”
Attila nodded. “I see.” He thought a bit. “We could turn some of them out, let them run a bit. The tender ones can go in the arena for now. Double blankets and neck scarves. I’ll put a face mask on Effie, but she needs to get out of her stall. She’ll go nuts if she’s cooped up in the barn all the time.”
He gave Kai a gentle, knowing smile and Kai had a feeling those words had been for him as well as for Effie. He’d been hiding, and he was being called on it.
“I brought you extra gloves,” Attila said once Kai’s fingers were thawed and displayed normal color. “I just… honey. Don’t hide. It’s a holiday. It’s a new one, and the family wants to see you.”
“Ah…” Kai cleared his throat. “They see me all the time!”
“When you’re here, working. They see you ride and tack up and move wheelbarrows of manure. They don’t have much of a chance to say hi or talk to you, and they want to.”
Kai shrugged in feigned nonchalance. “It’s just Christmas, after all.”
“Just Christmas,” Attila nodded. “Nothing to worry about. We have gifts for everyone, and they might have a gift or two for us. There’ll be food,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Hot food. Lots of it.”
“’Tila,” Kai’s voice carried a tinge of exasperation. “Usually it’s me that has to drag you to social functions.”
“This isn’t a horse show, and it’s not a busy mall. It’s just family.” His rare smile warmed Kai more than his armpits ever could. He extricated himself.
“Okay. Let’s get’em out of here and pick the stalls in stages.”
Attila nodded. “You go get started. I’ll get a new hose – I think there’s an old one in the hay loft.”

Less than an hour later, the horses were out of the barn and Attila was trying to beat Kai’s punishing pace. “I’ve been doing this since I was six,” he gritted through his teeth in determination. “You’ll never match my technique.”
“I’m younger and stronger!” Kai punctuated his words by letting shit fly through the air, landing it in the wheelbarrow with precision. Time passed. Few stalls later, as they wheeled their loads out to the manure pile, Attila bumped Kai’s shoulder with his.
“Old age and treachery shall vanquish youth and enthusiasm every single time.”
“I’m gonna kick yer ass in this shit-cleanin’ business.” Kai let his Appalachian twang sneak in and was pleased to see Attila’s lips curl up in a smile.

They were down in the house by noon. “Ready?” Attila asked Kai as he shrugged his long wool coat on. Kai stirred in his good slacks and shirt uncomfortably. The cashmere sweater he wore over it was the one Attila got him before the horse show in October.
No, he wasn’t ready. He’d probably never get rid of his insecurity.
“Sure, let’s go,” Kai said. “With you by my side, I’ll be ready for anything.”
His statement started out as a lie, but… it was true. He shrugged on his leather jacket, kissed Attila square on the lips, and led the way into the cold.


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   If you enjoyed Kate Pavelle's short story, look up her books at the following buy links:
   She can be reached at FaceBook, Twitter @katepavelle, and blogs every Thursday on http://katepavelle.wordpress.com

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2 comments:

  1. Ooo - horsies!

    Never really lost my childhood love of them, and it's great to see it combined with some lurve :)

    Pet your horse from me!

    neeneiv(a)gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really enjoyed the excerpt!

    Trix, vitajex(at)Aol(Dot)com

    ReplyDelete