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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

In the dry savannah country of Australia's Northern Territory a mysterious shape sits high on top of a hill. A chain of events is put in motion with dire consequences ...

The sun was setting in the evening sky.

Above the hill the first stars were appearing.

A figure picked its way through the scrub and scraggly trees lining the slope leading to the top. It skirted around rust-red boulders, ducked under low hanging branches, and stepped over fallen logs.

At the top of the hill a small fire was burning, innocuously in the evening heat. The air above it wobbled. Another figure was sitting by the fire, back turned to the setting sun, facing towards the slope where the first figure was now approaching, moaning and grunting.

'Uuuurgh!' panted the first figure. It was a bloke, appearing to be of some uncertain middle age. He was dressed in football shorts and a faded checkered shirt. No hat, despite the day's heat, and no shoes either. His feet were covered in a coat of grey and red dust.

The second bloke stared at the first bloke quizzically, and raised a metaphoric eyebrow. Metaphoric, because his face could not be seen. Only two dark brown eyes peered out from inside what appeared to be a mask made of a horse's head. It covered his entire head and reached down to his shoulders. The eyes lined up perfectly with the eyeholes. Below that he was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts.

'?' The question was broadcast silently.

'Ngggghh!' the second bloke said in response. He stopped at the top of the hill, grabbing a branch for support. He wiped the sweat of his forehead with a bit more theatricality than was strictly called for. 'Pffffffhhurgh,' he added. He was known far and wide for his eloquence. The Bard, they called him, but only behind his back. To anyone not in on the joke they would grin and spell it out: b-a-r-r-e-d. As in "go away and don't come back". He was a popular fella.

'Bloody hell,' he said. He pulled himself up on the branch, which snapped and let go. He fell over backwards and rolled three metres back down the way he had come.

Two minutes later his head appeared again over the crest of the hill. He opened his mouth to vent his frustration, looked at the bloke with the horse mask sitting by the fire, thought better of it and shut his mouth. The two dark eyes in the horse mask stared at him.

'Right,' he said instead. 'Huhumm ....' He shuffled his feet in an embarrassed way, and nodded politely to the bloke by the fire. 'Goodday, how are you?'

The horse's head nodded acquiescingly, indicating that it was not entirely out of the question that he was, in point of fact, not bad at all.

The first bloke didn't quite seem to know how to follow on from this conversation starter. He looked around uncertainly. 'Huhum,' he said again, for good measure. Then, strengthening his resolve, he ventured 'Uh ... can I sit down?'

The dark eyes in the horse mask stared at him for a few long seconds. Then the bloke lifted up his right hand and made a half-pointing, half-sweeping gesture to the fire in front of him. Taking that as as much of an invitation as he was likely to be getting, the first bloke lowered himself to the ground on the other side of the fire. The smoke slowly drifted into his eyes. He blinked, opened his mouth, looked at the horse's head in front of him, and shut it again. He coughed and rubbed his eyes.

The bloke with the horse mask opened up his mouth and spoke. Due to a trick of the light, with the sun setting behind him, and casting shadows all around, or maybe because of some clever internal moving-parts trick, it looked like the horse's mouth opened.

'How can I help you?' His voice was low, dark, deep and raspy. It had the overtones of someone for who English was not their first language. Here, in this country, it was likely that it didn't even make it into the Top 5 of his languages.

'Uh ..., the first bloke started, then cleared his throat. 'Huhum ... some bloke down there,' he pointed his thumb vaguely over his shoulder in the general direction of a collection of houses in the distance, down the bottom of the hill and a fair way further out, sitting at the foot of a long, low range of red cliffs. 'He said ... he said you can do special ... uh, services?' He ended the sentence on a rising note, tentative and a bit brittle.

The horse's head stared at him. The first bloke squirmed on his spot, and suppressed the urge to piss himself.

The horse mask nodded.

'I do. What do you want?'

'Uh ...' First Bloke swallowed. 'Uh ... it's my mother-in-law, you see.' He looked at the bloke across the fire anxiously.

The horse head nodded understandingly.

'Give you the shits, does she?'

'Yes!' First Bloke's relief was obvious. 'Yes! She's a pain in the arse!'

The bloke with the horse mask nodded again, with the shared solidarity of all blokes everywhere who have the misfortune of being exposed to mothers-in-law.

'Right. So, what she doing, trying to talk to you?'

'Yes!' The feeling of righteous outrage was clear in First Bloke's voice.

'I see.' Horse Head Man reached up with one hand and scratched his horse chin. It made a bristly noise. 'So, you want me to take care of her?'

'Yes!' First Bloke became enthusiastic now. 'Uh, ... that is, yes please, I mean,' he added quickly. "If you can?'

Horse Head Man nodded thoughtfully. 'Yeah mate, I can do that.' He looked at First Bloke across the fire from him. 'But it'll cost ya.'

'Hah! No worries! Easy!' A grin spread across First Bloke's face. It did nothing to approve his appearance. 'What do you want? I'll do whatever!'

Horse Head Man rubbed his chin again, and looked at his customer. 'I don't need any whatever, it's no good for anything.'

'Uh ... right?'

'Just get me ...'


'A back leg of meat ...'

'Easy, no worries.'

'Every day ...'

'Uh .... yes?'

'For the next six months.'

'Uh ...' First Bloke swallowed, 'yes, sure.'

'And ...'

'Uh ... yes?' First Bloke sounded hesitant.

'Your sister.'

'Ah. Right. Yes.' First Bloke went pale. 'I see.'

'That good looking one ...'

'Ah yeah.'

'Not that ugly one.'

'Right, right,' said First Bloke. He looked a bit concerned

'That a problem?' The question hung in the air between them, loaded.

'Uh .... no, no, well, that is to say ... uh ... maybe?' First Bloke cringed. 'What if she ... uh ... what if she doesn't want to?' he said.

'Stiff shit. You make it happen.' The dark eyes from behind the horse mask bored into First Bloke's head. First Bloke felt a headache coming on.

'Uh ... yeah, sure, no worries,' he said hurriedly. 'All right, you got it. It's a deal.' He spat on his hand and held it out across the fire.

Horse Head Man looked at it expressionlessly.

Flames crept up and licked the outstretched hand. First Bloke pulled it back with a yelp. 'Ow!' He shook it and jammed four fingers into his mouth. 'Nnnngggghhhmmm ...' He pulled them back out again with a sucking noise. 'Uh ... all right. No worries. All good. So ... uh ... please? Do it?' he pleaded.

The horse mask slowly inclined forwards and back up again, in a formal nod of acceptance. Then he reached over to his side, picked up something that First Bloke could not make out, and threw it on the fire. The fire started to smoke, thick white smoke that curled up to the sky. The air filled with a thick, musky scent. Horse Head Man began chanting, slowly and quietly, a song with words and a melody that were born when the landscape was written on the featureless void at the beginning of time.

'Anyaaah magarra garra nyaa ...'

The sound drifted through the air, quiet now as the sun almost finished setting.

A shape appeared in the sky above them. Dark. It passed over them with a rustling of feathers, a beating of wings. First Bloke looked up, startled. He saw two pointy wings, spread out, and a distinctive forked tail.

'Anga anga anga' Horse Head Man's chant changed tone and mood now. 'Anga anga anga gaman ya gaman ...'

The shape in the air tipped its wings down and swirled around. It passed overhead again.

'Anyaaah gagga maah ...' Horse Head Man bent forwards and reached into the fire. First Bloke blinked as the fella picked up a burning coal half the size of his hand. It didn't seem to hurt him.

'Gaggaman gaggaman gaggaman!' With a sudden lift of the speed and volume of his chanting Horse Head Man threw the burning coal up into the air, high, just as the winged shape was making its third pass overhead. 'GaggamanNA!' He finished with a shout. At the exact same moment the bird with the forked tail swooped down, snatched the burning coal up in mid-air, beat his wings hard once, twice, three times, and disappeared over the tree tops in the direction of the setting sun.


The firehawk planed on his outstretched wings, burning coal clutched in his claws beneath him. His eyes scanned the bushland below him, a mix of twisting shapes and shadows in the twilight now. His eyes scanned the ground, looking for that one shape that had been fixed in his head.

He soared high. He drifted over the red cliffs, picked up a thermal, climbed higher. Stretched his wings out further, curled their tips. The coal was smouldering below him, smoke wafting up to his beak. His head twisted this way and that, looking for his prey.


Long way down below him, on the ground. Walking through the bush at the foot of the cliffs. Movement. The hawk's eyes blinked. He pushed one wingtip down and swung around, beat his wings hard into the wind, pushing now to make way against the evening breeze. Flew high over the shape moving through the tall grass below him now. It appeared to be a person. A female. Carrying a basket of some sort. The grass reached up to her shoulders. The hawk pushed into the wind one more time, then allowed it to pick him up, lift up his wings in a whirl and a twist, and spin him around mid-air. With a flick of his forked tail he straightened himself up, and now he was heading downwind again, but with one important difference. The woman walking through the tall, dry grass was in front of him now, and downwind.

The mad black eyes on either side of the firehawk's beak blinked one more time.

He opened his claws.

The burning coal dropped.

It spun around in the air once, as in slow motion, then fell almost soundlessly in the middle of the grass. The tall grass. The yellow grass, dried out by the hot sun of this season of no more rain. The grass upwind of the walking woman.

The evening breeze blew, unconcerned with matters of humans.

It caressed the burning coal, and blew its small flame into bigger life. The flame flickered and touched the grass on either side of it. The grass responded to the call to play, and started smouldering. Smouldering turned to flame. Flame rose higher. Now the tops of the long grass were on fire, and smoke came off them in black clouds. They bent their heads with the weight of the wind, and touched the unburned heads in front of them. Fire jumped across. And again. And again.

The firehawk beat his wings again, much easier now. Happy to be released from his burden, he scooted ahead of the fire front, to scour the ground for any miscellaneous creatures, running away from the fire and small and vulnerable enough to be snatched up by his claws. Dinner was served. This was his part of the deal.

He flew over the head of the woman with the basket without paying her any mind. She was too big for him to eat. He'd tried one of them in the past, and had come off second best.

The woman stopped, sniffed the air. Turned around and looked behind her. Saw the flames coming towards her. Spun around like lightning, dropped her basket, bolted.

She ran as fast as she could.

The fire ran faster.


On top of the hill First Bloke got to his feet when he saw the smoke appear. He watched the progress of the fire through the blanket of trees. He couldn't see or hear anything else. His heart was hammering in his chest, and his breathing was rapid and shallow.

He turned back to the fire, where Horse Head Man was sitting as placidly as ever. The cloud of smoke had disappeared from the small fire now, and the evening breeze was showing signs of retiring for the night.

He looked at Horse Head Man.

'Uh, ... I'll be going now, I think. Thanks,' he said uncertainly.

'No worries, my pleasure.' The horse head inclined to its left. 'I'd go down the mountain that way, if I were you. More betterer, ey.'

First Bloke nodded, and made as if to leave. He stopped in mid-stride, and turned back to Horse Head Man.

'Uh ...' He swallowed again and gathered up his courage. 'Uh ... look, I just have to ask you this ...'

The dark eyes in the horse's head looked back at him.


'Yeah, uh, ... look, please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm just curious, you know ...' His voice trailed off, shakily.


'So ...' First Bloke took a deep breath, then blurted out, '... why do you wear that mask?'

The dark eyes in the horse's head stared at him, and blinked. Then the horse lips pulled back, revealing two rows of long, yellow horse teeth. The lips curled into a horsey grin.

'What mask?' it said.


Submitted: June 13, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Steve Hansen. All rights reserved.

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