The Age of Humans

Hard hooves beat the earth with a heavy, pounding rhythm. My heart thumps wildly in time with those beats, and I glide across the prairie, straining toward the sky, and the hawk I'm chasing. The dry grasses rustle and bend as I streak through them, whipping my legs as dust rises around me. I want to leap into the sky after the hawk, after its dark silhouette against the sun-swept blue sky. But I must be content to stay on Earth, to race with the wind and skim the sweet prairie grasses.

My mother calls to me, beckoning with her voice, frantic because she has lost sight of me. The lead stallion calls also, trumpeting a loud fanfare for all the prairie to hear. It echoes under the lake blue arching sky, shooting straight to something deep inside of me. The herd is moving.

Almost as if their calls are pulling me, my gawky legs turn me toward them, and I speed past a small grazing rabbit and into the midst of my lively herd, my family.

The other mares make way, nudging their colts and fillies with them. The babies duck beneath their mothers, searching for warm milk, or watch me, ears pricked up, eyes asking to play. But my mother's call is too strong. I draw up next to my big warm dam, my shelter from the blinding rain and flying teeth and hooves of the herd. I can tell from her body language and the look in her dark eyes that I have been bad. I pin my ears back, and her face hardens and her ears go back, telling me that she is dominant. Her head streaks out and her mouth opens, teeth wide and flashing. I shoot back and fix one ear on her, lowering my mouth and chewing the air, saying You are dominant. Don't hurt me.

Her ears come forward and she steps toward me, nuzzling my neck and mane. I look eagerly toward her teats, wanting to suckle and let the warm milk fill me, and make my heart content.

A loud roaring noise blasts the quiet away. A hard vibration fills me, shakes the ground underneath my feet, quaking deep down. The whole herd jumps into motion, moving in one direction, crying out in terror. My mother nudges me with her head, eyes wide in fear, nostrils blowing, as I glance up at the sky. A huge flying thing, the shiny surface snatching up the sunlight and throwing it back into my eyes, dips and darts above us like a huge predatory dragonfly. But dragonflies don't have long blades on their backs that spun around as they cut through the air. My eyes and nostrils widen, and my heart races as the thing charges toward us. Mom shoves herself between it and me as the herd mills around us, frightened and confused. I barely glimpse the lead stallion screaming a challenge to it, beating the air with his forelegs, as my feet frantically beat the ground, desperate to get away as Mom nudges me on. I'm caught up in the rolling swell of the herd.

Horses dip and plunge all around me, neighing and calling as the roaring of the shiny dragonfly fills our ears. An old gray mare, blood streaming from her nostrils, shoves past me, between Mom and I, and I lose sight of her. All around me are huge, pressing bodies, heavy breath, wild eyes, voices screaming in terror as the huge thing darts at us from one direction, then the other. I have never seen any animal move the way it does. The sun bounces off its shiny surface and into my eyes, blinding me as the ground flashes by underneath my feet and the coppery smell of blood and fear and sweat rises in the heavy air. The herd rolls like a multi-colored ocean, as we are driven along faster and faster. The ground grows steeper, and I scramble for footing, going to my knees. A mare leaps over me, whinnying in panic. She goes down under the pounding hooves, but I struggle back to my feet, skin stinging, and race on. Safe place, must find safety! Mom, where are you? I call. But no place is safe from the loud, whirling thing. It pursues us for what seems like an eternity, always there, like flies that bite and bite until you swish them away, only to have them come back and bite again. Only this thing was much bigger, much louder, and much more deadly.

Suddenly, the thing veers off, away, and as the air looses its roaring and screaming, I relax for a moment. I scan my surrounding with eyes draining of fear, and I catch sight of my mother. Bleeding from many scrapes and favoring her back right leg, she raises her head and fearfully sniffs the air. As the herd roughly settles down around me, I go to her, limping and trembling. She nickers as she catches sight of me and begins to gently snuffle all over me, making sure I'm all right. I sniff the air as I saw her doing a moment ago, and a strange new scent floods my nose. I finally glance around. A strange barrier, the same kind that we sometimes see the mooing animals behind, surrounds us. I pull away from Mom and duck through the herd, drawing up to the fence. Ignoring her frantic calls for me, I trot along its length, sniffing. There is a faint scent of mooing animals hear, though the strange new smell overpowers it.

A flicker of motion catches my eye, and I turn my head. An odd creature is walking by on the other side of the barrier, dust rising as its feet hit the dry earth. It has no hair at all, and strange, faded, flapping things cover its body. It walks strangely, on two legs. I stare, wide-eyed, at this creature as Mom draws up behind me. The only animal I have ever seen walk on two legs is a bird, and this is no more a bird than the loud roaring thing was. As I watch it amble by, I have a dreaded feeling that nothing will ever be the same again. A dark thought rises out of my young heart, and when it reaches the surface, I tremble as Mom whickers in concern. I will never run free again.