Short Fiction: The Last Horse Race in Barnesville

The Barnesville Racing Carnival was a beloved annual event and had been for the last twenty-three years. It began when young Billy Ferguson rode into town to deliver the news that the war had ended. Sure, it was old news, but who could blame the kid for wanting to celebrate? When Billy died soon after from an infected horse bite, the townsfolk decided to have a horse race in his memory. The one-off race turned into a four-day festival of drunkenness and gambling—fights broke out in increasing size and frequency, the mayor lost his life savings, and nineteen people were hospitalised. The motion to make it a yearly event was carried unanimously.

Poor Billy would have loved what the carnival had become—not the drinking, obviously—he suffered from alcoholism. The gambling too would have bothered him: mob enforcers killed his father for failing to pay up on a lost bet. The general spirit of fun though would have gladdened Billy’s heart. For that reason the carnival went ahead this year as well, even though drought had killed all but two of the horses in the area.

The race was the enthralling. Both horses were malnourished, and had to support “jockeys” more physically suited to rugby, or pie-eating contests. Right from the gate it was neck and neck, with neither horse progressing beyond a depressed limp. Sixteen minutes later the competition reached an adrenalin-charged climax when one of the riders attempted to inject his steed with adrenalin. He succeeded only in stabbing himself in the thigh with the syringe, which actually contained an anti-flu vaccine. A placebo effect set in, and the hefty fellow leapt from his horse, sprinted through the crowd and plunged into the nearby river, where he expended his energy swimming six kilometres downstream. He also caught the flu.

It was to be the last Barnesville Racing Carnival—some animal rights hippie from the big smoke had attended the event and took offence at how the horses were treated. There was nothing malicious, it must be understood. The fine people of Barnesville just didn’t know much about horseracing, and for some reason conducted the contest in a Roman gladiator style, with the losing horses being either stabbed to death or fed to lions.

With no more horseracing to honour Billy Ferguson, Barnesville renamed its Baptist church for him. Again, this was probably not in accordance with what Billy would have wished—he was a militant atheist—but he would have appreciated the sentiment.

 

© 2018 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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