The horse stood alone.
I came upon the barn close to midday and found a horse standing alone. As I approached it, dragging my sleigh behind me, the horse looked from me to the barn and then back again. It shook its head and freed itself of the snow slowly building upon its brow, though a few clumps clung to its mane.
I tethered the sled to one of the posts, and the horse came to me. It was a mare, and she pushed her nose against my hand.
“Hey, girl,” I murmured. “You need to eat.”
I glanced over to the barn and saw a slim door was open. “If there’s no food in there for you, I’ll set you loose and let you forage a bit before I put you to bed for the night. Weather’s looking like it’ll turn for the worse.”
The horse snorted, and I walked to the barn. I climbed over the fence and pushed the door open the rest of the way. In the dim light of the interior, I saw saddle brass and tackle, hay and oats, and something suspended from the middle of the ceiling.
A man hung from the rafters, neck broken and hands dangling at his sides. It seemed as though he’d jumped from the loft and killed himself.
The sight of it saddened me.
I had no idea who the man was or if he was deserving of my pity, but it didn’t matter. He couldn’t hang there.
I found where he’d tied the rope off and cut him down. In a few minutes, I had him outside on the other side of the barn and did my best to cover him. The scavengers would find his body soon enough, but at least they’d have to work for it.
When I returned to the barn, I found the horse inside, eating some hay.
“You’re welcome to stay the night,” the horse said, and her voice took me aback for a moment. It wasn’t often I conversed with animals who could speak.
I cleared my throat and nodded my thanks. “I appreciate that.”
“Thank you for cutting him down,” she responded. “He was a good man, though terribly sad. I couldn’t bring myself to come in. Not with him there.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t suppose you could.”
Sitting down across from her, I took out my pipe, filled it and asked, “Will you tell me about him?”
She began to speak, and I listened.
It was all I could do.