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Equus malus

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The ranch is in Nebraska, on a plain so flat that the horizon carries the curve of the earth. Tumbleweeds roll across historic Route 66, a cinematic hazard to drivers, blown in from neighboring southerly states by fickle wind. It is the sort of place where mustangs run, feral as Hell’s Angels, or perhaps Hell’s Angels are as feral as they.

Not that No New Taxes has ever seen a mustang. Or a tumbleweed. But Hell’s Angels will make their introduction later, of course.

Of course.

“Just look at him,” the breeder says, gives No New Taxes’s flank a cheerful pat. The breeder is not the owner: No New Taxes knows that, and his place. It’s been bred into him, so to speak. Bred, with the care of generations. No New Taxes is a good horse, a smart horse. A well-bred horse. The breeder says as much. It’s to his credit. “The rate he’s growing, we can have him on the tracks in a year.”

The owner, who has a look that reminds No New Taxes of pigs rather than horses (excepting his smile). gives No New Taxes a thorough assessment, or as thorough as can be given without his really knowing anything. “Looks like.”

This is the man who gave No New Taxes his name. This is the man who pays for the food in No New Taxes’s trough, the shelter over No New Taxes’s stall, the shoes on his hooves and the blanket on his back.

No New Taxes has an uncannily specific desire to kick this man’s face in.

*

No New Taxes knows that there is something wrong with him. He should be proud of his breeding. His mane and tail are elegantly kept. He is fed only the best food. He runs, if not precisely free, as fast and hard as he wants to. He lives the life of a king, including the part about mating publicly with any number of fine mares.

Oh, forget it. Humans are bastards.

*

He can’t even watch longingly through the window as the mustangs run free. They’re in Utah this time of year. And there are no windows in the stables. Fuck.

*

He tries to tell his breeder that he doesn’t want to be called No New Taxes anymore. His breeder does not understand. No one understands. No New Taxes is a perfectly thoroughbred name! He shares its style and rhythm with such luminous names as Editor’s Note, Septangle, Tiny Dancer, The Old Black Rum, Cindy Lou Who. It is a name that echoes the men who made his breeding possible, the source of his affluence and with his affluence, his strength. He should be grateful. It is a strong name. It is a worthy name. It is a world better than something as pedestrian as Mr. Ed.

Also, the breeder does not speak horse.

*

So he tells the breeder read my lips before he bites his nose off.

Cartilage is nearly as tasty as carrots.

*

The open wilds of Nebraska spread out before him, the curve of the horizon an indication of the vastness of this world, the peach tones of sunset a signal that the land is ripe for the conquering. He runs free, gallops the steppe for hours and hours. Even running free does not give him the pleasure he craves.

He tramples someone’s azaleas.

Wholesale slaughter and suffering will do, he decides. That will make him happy.

*

He runs in with a tribe of Hell’s Angels. They are faster than he is. That is unacceptable. He coerces a passing eighteen-wheeler to topple onto its side and block traffic, and by coerces he means he shoves a turd of manure up the exhaust pipe while it’s parked at a truck stop outside North Platte, in an act of villainy so heinous that people who later tell the story will claim the shit was radioactive.

The explosion is fabulous. It takes a nearby tourist trap crop circle with it. Those bikers don’t know what hit them, or perhaps they do, in their last moments as they conflagrate among popping corn and melting sequined dresses. (The eighteen-wheeler was on its way to Hollywood. Perhaps there will also be disappointed showgirls, or circus performers. He finds this acceptable. It makes his inner stallion whinny with pride.)

(Whinny, with pride? No. Whinny with death. A death-whinny. Yes. Yes.)

*

The carnage makes the nightly news, of course (of course), in multiple states. The newscasters are horrified. So are the people they interview on the street, many of whom have no connection to the crime at all. All should be well. That terrible death whinny should be laughing into a charred and clouded night, perhaps with thunderclaps and unseasonable brimstone.

But no. No, the newscasters wonder what sort of man would perpetrate a crime of such magnitude. What man. Not what horse.

They’re next.

He wonders if there is a way to simultaneously murder and discredit them.

The Internet would know.

A pity that he has no IP address.

*

It turns out three of the survivors of the Hell’s Angels crash enjoy singing in harmony and are slightly evil themselves, the latter of which (though not the former) is extremely uncharacteristic of bikers. They also have an alarming yet amusing tendency to hide the lower portions of their bodies behind outcroppings and doorways.

He appreciates his henchmen. They are of human stock, of course, but of good breeding in their own way. They are rough and tumble and rather dim. They are easily directed to task. They might as well have reins instead of bandannas and bowler hats they mugged from a passing rodeo show. (He hates rodeo shows the way some humans hate strip clubs. He will destroy them, and their culture of exploitation and oppression. After he watches this one, of course.)

And if he were capable of fondness, he would be fond of them for this: they call him what he is.

Bad Horse. A horse, who is bad. Two syllables of truth, inspiring fear in all of humankind.

It is somewhat refreshing.

Then again, so is sniffing a line of cilantro off a mare’s fine hindquarters.

There is something to be said for a life of crime.

***