p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The horses always know when a storm is coming. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Nan told me this as a child. Again and again she would say, /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""The horses know, love. They know when it will rain and when it will thunder. You only need to em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"listen,/em darling, and they will tell you."/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I would nod my head. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""Teach me how to listen Nan. Teach me what the horses say."/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"So she did. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The two of us spent hours in the paddocks. Watching the twitches of ears, the swishes of tails at the tossing of those great big heads. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"And I learnt./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"So when I saw the horses throwing their head backs and cantering jittery lengths up and down the fields I said,/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""Storm's coming, Nan."/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""Is it, Bree? Best tell Jack then."/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I ran through the fields and jumped the closed fences, finally standing up on the gate of the last pasture. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Jack sat atop a horse, dogs snapping at heels of the sheep around him. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"He raised an arm and nudged the mare beneath him in my direction. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""There's a storm coming, Jacko. Nan wants the horses under-roof by the time the clouds roll in," I called. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Jack nodded under the broad brim of his hat. He was the farm hand, in a way. He'd sort of outgrown the title, seeing as he had been since I before I could remember./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It was just the way it was. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Me and Nan, up in the big house. Jack and the dogs in the old shearer's quarters, and all the other acres filled with sheep and horses and great stretches of bush. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It was lonely, sometimes. Twice a year the shearers came. They'd stay for the week, eat us out of house and home before finally leaving, trucks full of wool./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Most of the time though, we liked it the way it was. Working and riding and trooping up the hill when the school year came around, to be stuffed into that tiny classroom filled with other people. /span/p


p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanIt was hard work, haltering and leading the troop of horses into the big red barn for the night. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The oncoming storm made them antsy, none of them keen to do as Jack or I told them, prancing away from bridles and kicking up their legs. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"We got them though. Soon the barn was filled with the soft nickering of horses, and the warm, slightly stale smell of hay and horse. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Such a strange thing to associate with home and comfort and the warm felling in one's heart. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Yet for me, it was like that. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The musty smell of animals was a comfort only second to the dusty wooden smell of the big house, and the old, musty perfume Nan wore. /span/p


p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The gate was open. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It was not meant to be. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"That was another lesson Nan drilled into me. span style="mso-tab-count: 1;" /span/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""You leave gates as you find them, Bree." /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I nodded solemnly, back then. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Open gates stay open, closed gates stay closed /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"That's how it works. That's how it always, em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"always/em works. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"But the gate was still open. Achingly, gapingly open, like the mouth of a great shark, waiting just under the surface of the water. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The sheep were gone. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"They'd fled through as the thunder started rumbling. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Always following the herd, as sheep do. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I could see them, if I squinted. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The small cloud at the edge of a far paddock, braying with fear and huddled together for that sense of comfort and group em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"self/em./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The dark clouds stain the sky like ink spilled on paper, spreading across the horizon and bringing with them a darkness that wasn't due till well after sunset. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Let Jack deal with them tomorrow/span/emspan style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;", I thought. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"So I turned back to the house, to the barn full of horses and decided not to worry./span/p


p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It was a horrible decision, in the end. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Three seconds was all it took. All it took for the world to fall apart around me. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"One. A blinding flash, mere metres from me, straight through the roof of the barn. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Two. The heat and energy of the lightning bolt catching immediately on the dry hay and cut wood on the barn floor. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Three. The screaming began. The horses, I could hear whinnying from their stalls, I could imagine their nervous prancing upon the realisation that the flame and the heat were a em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"danger, danger, danger./em/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanMy own screaming ringing in my ears after the em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"crash/em of the thunder. I couldn't stop it. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It was a cacophony, mad and wild and em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"dangerous/em./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"More sounds come. em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"Too many sounds./em/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The barking of the dogs, snapping at Jack's heels as he runs, swearing like a sailor out of the shearer's shed./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I knew he was talking to me. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Shouting, em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"screaming/em at me to help with the water or the horses, frightened and smoke hidden inside what had been once em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"such a pretty barn. /em/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I knew he shook me. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I could fell his broad hands on my shoulders, the far away calls of,/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""Bree! Bree! em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"Bree!"/em/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It was no use. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Jack was not loud enough over the fire crackling and dogs barking, thunder still echoing in my ears, in my skull, in my em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"heart/em. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The rain poured on, but it was not enough. The hole in the roof was too small to let the rain em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"really/em do any help against the raging, looming fire growing inside. /span/p


p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Three of the horses died./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Burns or smoke inhalation, we didn't know./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"They were strong, good horses. Dead horses./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"That's what we do. What we did. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Nan and I, getting steep pile of money and being told to em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"look after them./em/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Old work horses, retired race horses, beloved pets. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"We groomed and mucked and loved them./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"When we weren't grazing sheep we'd take on another horse to look after. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;""Equestrian retirement home," Nan would say, cackling softly from her armchair. "Who'd a thought."/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Of course, not em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"all /emthe horses were our retirees. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Jack kept two horses, and would alternate between the two each work day./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"My horse, naturally./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Sometimes we had foals. Gangly little things, all knees and shoulders. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"We'd sell those off too, each season. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It wasn't so bad, horse rearing. Sheep shearing. Trekking up the big hill at the front of the farm for school, when Nan made span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanme./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"But school stopped./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Nan passed. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Jack moved away./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"And I was left alone. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"So I span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanrebuilt the barn./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I only kept one flock of sheep, after that. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Easy enough for me to shepherd on my own, day in, day out. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The old horses still keep this grass short in front of the big house. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"My house now. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Too big./span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"It's not so bad. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"Bit lonely, sometimes. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"But I have the horses, and the sheep and acres upon acres of land that are em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"mine/em and em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"no one else's./em/span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"I keep open gates open and closed gates closed, and watch the horses for signs of wild eyes and prancing feet. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;"The horses always know when a storm is coming. /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;" /span/p