- Hi All!
Sending out my best to all those affected by the Texas hurricane, and other disasters. We’re thinking about you all over the world.
I thought I’d share the first draft of Chaper 1 of the novella I’ll be including in our Christmas anthology, (You’ll have to read the boxed set for the final version, all 12 stories will only be 99c on Amazon!)
Once Upon a Vet School #7
Lena takes a Foal.
It’s actually part of a series…and it’s in the middle. The others will be written out from there!
In case you don’t know, I’m an equine vet and have until now written awarded historical fiction and technical veterinary non-fiction. My writing buddies have been after me for ages to write these stories, so thank you to Authors of Main Street for offering me the opportunity to stretch my literary wings!
I hope you enjoy my first dip into contemporary fiction–my stab at becoming the next, albeit female, James Herriot!
Let me know what you think!
1986 Northern California
Mickey’s roan ears, silhouetted against the pale green light filtering into the tiny glade, rose higher and higher before me and my heart froze—he’d never reared this high before. The light disappeared as the horse’s massive body blocked out the sun. A blinding flash of pain, and then only blessed darkness.
Someone was there in the darkness before us. Biting my lip, I reined Mickey to a halt at the sight of a strange white pickup glowing in the light of the dim bulb above the stable yard. The barn door creaked as it swung open, then closed behind the tall figure of a man in the distance. No men boarded horses here.
Who was it?
I swallowed hard, glancing from side to side to see if anyone else was around, my fingers tightening on the reins. Mickey backed up a step, his bit clanking as he threw his head, and the figure turned to face us.
“Hello, who’s there?” he called out.
Kit Allen, a resident from the veterinary school. I let out my breath and shivered as the butterflies dancing in my stomach overtook even the throbbing in my leg.
“It’s me, Lena Scott,” I said.
He walked toward me and I squeezed my legs to move my horse forward before I thought. I yelped, but bit it off.
“What the heck are you doing out riding at this hour?” His brows narrowed as I rode up to him. “And what have you done to your face?”
“Ahhh…we had a…disagreement about going home.”
“Looks like the roan won. Bit late for a ride, isn’t it?” He set down a bucket of bandaging materials and held one of Mickey’s reins.
“I left mid-afternoon.” I said, wincing. “I only got as far as the glade, a few miles across the fields.”
“Are you OK?” He frowned as his eyes scanned the perfectly cool horse, then his gaze snapped to mine.
“I’ve hurt my leg.” My attempt at nonchalance came out as a whine. My left foot hung free of the stirrup—the leg hurt too much to do anything else.
“What have you done with Lena?” Kit muttered to the horse, as he moved to his near side and froze. He stared at the swelling bulging above the top of my boot, all the way to mid-thigh, then at my eyes, as comprehension dawned. “Is this horse called Mickey? What happened?”
I took a deep breath. I didn’t want anyone to know, especially someone from the vet school.
“Yes, it’s Mickey. He fell on me.”
“He fell? It’s flat out there.” His voice was terse and the furrows on his brow deepened further.
“He went over backwards,” I whispered, my heart in my throat.
“That riding school he came from should—” He stopped and gritted his teeth. “Anyway, you’re hurt.” His voice softened. “Can you get down?”
I shook my head.
“I was wondering how I’d get off,” I said, surveying the rickety old corral fences.
“Let me help.” He was tall enough to hold me around the waist and pull me carefully from the saddle. I whimpered at the pain when I bumped the leg and clamped my jaws together, then told the butterflies to go to play somewhere else while he lowered me to the ground.
I gasped when my bad limb hit the dirt.
“I’ll put him away and give you a ride.” Kit released me as soon as I was bearing weight on it.
“I can drive mys—”
“—good thing you were wearing that thing. There’s a great dent in it.” He raised a brow at me, eyeing the back of my helmet. “You were knocked out, weren’t you?”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“I don’t know.”
“Right. I don’t know what you’d planned, but you won’t manage the heavy clutch in your old truck with that leg, will you? I’ll take you to the hospital.”
“I hadn’t actually thought past getting back to the barn in one piece,” I mumbled, mostly to myself, as he led the horse away. I wrung my hands. “His feed’s made up,” I called after him.
“I’ll find it.” Kit slipped the girth as he walked and pulled the saddle off.
I limped to get my backpack, then closed my eyes, wishing my hot cheeks would cool down as I leaned against Kit’s truck—I recognized it now, it was a vet school ambulatory vehicle. Its metal panel cooled the burning abrasions on the backs of my arms. Maybe I should press my face against it, and the rest of my aching body.
I started when Kit spoke.
“Hop in,” he said, and led the roan into his stall. He growled something low at the horse, then exited the barn with my saddle over his arm.
“Can’t you get in?” he said, as he walked up.
I shook my head and glanced down at my swollen leg.
His eyes following mine, he grimaced, then picked me up with care and set me on the passenger seat.
“We need to get that boot off and get you to the hospital.”
“I’ll be fine at home, thanks.”
“You need the hospital.” His brows narrowed until they nearly touched.
“No. Thank you.”
He gritted his teeth in silence for a moment.
“How about student health?”
“I’ll be fine. They’ll tell me to elevate it, take anti-inflammatories, and rest.”
“Correct, but you should get checked out.”
“Can you please just check me?”
He sighed and pulled a penlight from his pocket, flicked it at my eyes, first one, then the other, then back and forth between them.
“Your light reflexes are normal, but that leg…”
“It’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.”
He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.
“Home it is, then, but get it checked out as soon as possible, OK?”
Every tiny bump in the road on the way home jarred my leg. By the time we got near home, I was nearly vomiting from the pain, but riding beside Dr. Kit Allen made up for a lot. For the past few years, he’d had my utter admiration—bordering on hero worship, though he didn’t know me from a bar of soap. Dr. Allen was a magician with horses. He really seemed to care about them—not just their diagnosis and treatment—but them. I glanced across the cab to his profile outlined by a streetlamp. Pretty drop-dead gorgeous, too, if you happen to like your classical tall, dark and handsome. And his way with horses—that really got to me.
I shook my head.
Just remember how tall, dark, and handsome turned out last time.
“Is there someone at your place that can help you with your boot? Getting it on—off, I mean?” He flushed in the glow from the dashboard lights and clamped his lips together.
I clamped my own to keep from grinning at his blush. Made me feel better about mine, but it wasn’t helping me keep my mind where it belonged, really. Residents weren’t meant to consort with students. I’d never spent time with him, other than reporting on his cases in ICU, and perving when he wasn’t looking. Though he had a sharp wit, he didn’t say much. He’d seemed stuck up and hailed from the snobbiest horsey town in our home county, so I’d kept my distance, despite his regular appearances in my dreams for the past several months. He’d been pretty nice tonight—maybe he was just shy. The butterflies started kicking again, and I told them to quit.
“My housemate Tamarah might be home.”
He let out a long breath and a hint of a smile touched his lips.
“You might get that field boot off before some idiot wants to cut it off…the only reason not go to the hospital, I guess,” he said, with the hint of a grin.
“Call me vain, but I’d almost rather cut off my leg than this Dehner boot—I’ve waited two decades to own a pair,” I said, and reached down to loosen its lace. “You’d understand about good boots.”
“Some comment I overheard in ICU, sorry,” my cheeks heated further, “about you showing hunter-jumpers—to the degree of resetting shoes between judges to change your horses’ movement.”
“We were kinda serious.” He grinned. “Good thing I worked my way through college as a farrier. Kept the bills down.”
No lights showed as we stopped before my house. This time he didn’t even ask if I could manage. He came around to my side, picked me up and carried me to the door as if weighed nothing. Desired or not, his face that up-close and personal was disconcerting, so I turned my heated cheeks away and fumbled with the house keys as we stood exposed in the light of the bare porch bulb.
Ten minutes later, after displaying more swearing and tears than I’d have preferred, we got the boot off, intact.
“There’s a bandage in the bathroom, top drawer, and naproxen in the cabinet,” I said, surveying the leg, already blue from my toes to the top of my thigh. The pain was pretty unbearable by now.
“Are these yours?” He shot me a look and held up my running shorts. My face smoked now. They’d been on the bathroom floor beneath some lacy panties.
I nodded, and he tossed the shorts to me and disappeared.
“Put them on, please,” he called from the bathroom. “I’d like to check that leg.”
Sounded like he was talking about a horse. I grinned, despite myself, and managed to peel my breeches down and off, then tugged the nylon shorts up as he returned with a compression bandage, pills and a glass of water.
Dr. Allen blinked at the leg, then checked the femur, tibia and fibula for stability. Taking the heel in one hand, he flexed, extended, and rotated the joints in all directions, but nothing crunched, while I bit my cheek. It’d be the hospital for sure, if I let myself scream.
“No crepitus, and the joints work fine. I’ll bandage it up, but you must get it looked at.”
I compressed my lips together. I had two weeks to recover before school and work started again.
Piece of cake.
For all my bravado, Tamarah, my fourth-year vet student housemate, still had to go with a friend to the barn the next day to pick up my truck and feed the horse—I wasn’t going anywhere.
“How did you get back?” Tamarah said, after she returned. “It’s a long way to the barn from where he dumped you.”
“Rode back,” I mumbled through a full mouth.
“Didn’t Mickey leave?”
“I had his reins in a death-grip when I woke up in the dark,” I said. “I learned young to keep hold of my reins when I fell off—riding boots aren’t exactly made for hiking home in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”
“How’d you get back on him? That’s your mounting leg.” She frowned at my swollen appendage.
“Hopped to a fallen log, clinging to his mane, then clambered onto his back all anyhow, swearing and sweating like a demented thing. I still ache all over.”
“And you haven’t seen a doctor?” Tamarah said, glancing up from her granola.
“It’s OK, Dr. Allen checked it out.”
“Dr. Allen? The resident? Where did you see him?”
“He was at the barn when I rode in on Mickey.”
“That’s all very well,” she set down her spoon down carefully, “but he’s a vet. You need a human doctor.”
“Are you serious, Tam?” I stared at her. “They’ll put me in the hospital.”
“Where you belong,” she stated flatly.
“I can’t make my rent if I don’t finish typing Sarah’s doctoral dissertation before school starts again.”
“You can do that in hospital.”
“Yeah, I can’t even lift the electric typewriter, I’m sure that’s going to work. No, I’ll just have to take care of it at home. I can keep it elevated and massage the heck out of it.”
She shook her head as she rinsed her bowl in the sink.
“Besides, if I’m in hospital and miss classes, I’ll never catch up.”
“Of course you will.” Her brows narrowed at me. “Why didn’t Dr. Allen take you to the hospital?”
“He tried,” I said, wincing.
“Sometimes you have rocks in your head, girl.” Tamarah shook her head as she slapped my bowl down on the counter and stalked off.
Some people just seem to be born brilliant. Like Tamarah. Somehow I’d ended up with 150 of them in my vet school class. The rest of us work our buns off just to survive.
I’m not bitter, it’s just the way it is.
The jingle of the ice cream truck pulled me out of whatever internal medicine doctorate-dissertation trance I was in, typing myself stupid. I’d been stuck in bed with Sarah’s Previously Unknown E. coli in a Dog for nearly a week and I had a desperate urge to catch that truck—and snag me a chocolate gelato.
Never mind I could barely make it to the toilet.
With a frown at Tamarah’s makeshift desk sitting over my lap, topped by 35 pounds of IBM Selectric correcting electric typewriter, I bit my lip, held my breath and heaved. The typewriter budged…but not enough. I tried again and managed to get it off my legs, then I swung my legs over and dived for the door…but my leg was trapped in the sheet, wasn’t it?
I hit the floor with a grunt and a scream, then dragged myself to the doorframe and climbed up its slippery surface.
That ice cream had better be good.
I staggered down the hallway, leaning against the wall as I went. If I’d gone to the doctor, I’d no doubt have a crutch, but I had to decline, didn’t I? I nearly fell over Tamarah’s golden Labrador, who ran up to me with her leash in her mouth and a hopeful look in her big brown eyes.
“Watch out, Susie, not now,” I mumbled, then stumbled down the porch steps. I was limping across the lawn at a great rate of knots, when the brightly painted van, playing its merry tune, drove away in a cloud of diesel smoke.
I growled beneath my breath at the universe for denying me the chance to add inches to my waistline, then took a deep breath and looked up to see the mailbox. I might as well check it, now I was out here.
“Susie, what have you got?” I called out to the dog, as I reached into the mailbox. She looked at me, all big, innocent Labrador eyes, with a half-grown bunny draped through her mouth.
“Gently, gently,” I whispered, as I followed her into the bushes, dragging my screaming leg and picked up the leash she’d dropped. Any domestic type rabbit, like this Belgian Lop, running around in the middle of town must be someone’s pet. It was currently still alive, hyperventilating, its little chest heaving in triple time, but that could change in a heartbeat.
“Come on, Susie, give it here,” I cajoled, and waved her leash at her.
With a joyous look, she spat the rabbit at me and lunged for the leash. I dove for the bunny like a wide receiver making the final play in the end zone, quite forgetting for one brief moment that I only had one functional leg.
This time, I’m sure the whole neighborhood heard me swear.
I figured it must be time to exercise my leg, so Susie got her walk, after all. We returned to the house and I put the bunny in a box with some water and lettuce to calm down while I fashioned a rough—operative word, rough—crutch. After loading the bunny into a backpack, while trying to prevent Labrador from helping, it snuggled down quiet, then we set off to tour the neighborhood. Susie’s enthusiasm helped me—I think—to hobble from house to house, while muttering imprecations under my breath, for the next hour until we found the little old lady whose granddaughter had brought it over to show it off last week—and forgot about it while it was grazing on granny’s back lawn.
They’d thought they’d never see it again.
Made my day.
A few days later, despite the hydrotherapy, massage, and loving care by Tamarah, the leg actually looked worse. Not content to stay a nice blue color, it had morphed to a camouflage pattern of purple, black and yellow. Understanding the medical significance of the color changes was all very nice, but it didn’t make the bruises resolve any faster.
“Do you want to see that blasted horse of yours?” Tamarah said,
“Really, you’ll take me?”
She scowled at my enthusiasm.
“I go there every day to take care of him, anyway,” she grumbled. “You might as well come along…on one condition.”
“What is it?” I was rather ungracious, under the circumstances. She’d been caring for Mickey and me since my fall. I peered sideways at her.
“We go by student health on the way back. I don’t want to come home from walking the dog to find you seizuring from a blood clot in your brain.”
Susie jumped to her feet at the W-word and spat her slimy tennis ball at me. I sidestepped and gave her a twisted grin, thankful, after the bunny incident, that the dog was good at hurling things with her mouth.
“My father would shoot me,” Tamarah continued smoothly, “if he knew I’d let you stay away from the doctor.”
That got me.
Tamarah’s daddy, a lovely man, was also a professor…at our veterinary school. I bit my cheek. He wouldn’t be impressed by my irresponsible behavior. Now was not the time to annoy his daughter. It’d also occurred to me that a more comfortable crutch could be useful when school started—in too few days.
“Thanks,” I managed, past gritted teeth. “I’d like that…the first part, but…I’ll go to the doctor.”
“Get a sock on that foot and we’ll go,” she said.
I hopped away as fast as I could, before she changed her mind.
While Tamarah cleaned his stall, I mooned over the fence at Mickey. The creature at least had the decency to look guilty when I limped toward him with his feed.
“Don’t even think about taking him for a walk, much less riding.” Tamarah stood between me and the tack room, with a look on her face that made me cringe.
I quashed the desire to ask for his halter and kissed his soft nose, instead.
“I’ll wait out here,” Tamarah said fifteen minutes later, with a triumphant smile, as she opened the car door for me outside student health.
“You should have come in right away,” the doctor said, with a frown. “You could have had a blood clot! How long has it been?”
“A week and a half,” I mumbled into my shirt.
“I see you rushed right in.” She scowled and shook her head. “What have you been doing for it?”
Her demeanor softened a little when I told her.
“I guess you’re out of the danger zone, anyway. I’d have hospitalized you.”
“So you start school next week? What are you studying?”
“Vet?” She blinked. “You should know bett—oh well,” she sighed, and scribbled in her notes. “Never mind. Small animals, I hope? Try to stay off it. Sit down while you’re treating your patients.”
I mumbled something incoherent, lacking have the heart to tell her I was Equine Track and worked as a Large Animal ICU Technician—galloping on foot between three barns, running IV fluids to twelve horses at a time, and tubing colicky horses all night. She’d have the vapors.
Oblivious to her patient’s dastardly plans, the doctor smiled and left me with a packet of anti-inflammatories and admonitions to rest, elevate it, and keep up the massage.
At least I could hold my head up in front of Tamarah again, but I was still rather glad school was about to start. While I appreciated her loving, if tight-lipped, care, I really didn’t need the pillow under my leg fluffed every fifteen minutes and if I kept drinking so many hot chocolates, I’d never fit my jeans again when the swelling in my leg eventually went down. I still hopped, but getting to class on time could be tricky—not travelling at my regular speed.
My friend Jess returned from a trip away with her family the night before classes were to resume.
“Did you see what our first lecture is tomorrow?” Her voice over the phone line leapt with expectancy.
I pulled the schedule from my bag, where it had lain, forgotten, since the final day of last quarter. One glance, and my grin at her excitement vanished. Spots swam before my eyes as I read the title on the first lecture:
Dystocia: Difficult Birth in the Mare and Determining the Need for Surgical Intervention
I nearly dropped the phone.
Not dystocia. Not foaling difficulties.
Anything but that.