THE VILLAGE STORY BOOK
"HORSE DRAWN PRISONER", A short story by Francesca Spencer.
No. 2 watches the screen in the control
room with attention filled eyes. She stands with her arms folded and legs crossed,
when No. 91 comes up behind her.
‘No.6, 91, what do you think?’ She uncrosses her arms and takes off her black-rimmed glasses. ‘He fascinates me.’
‘Uncooperative, No.2,’ answered No.91 staring at the screen which shows No.6 busy exercising deep in the woods surrounding the Village. He spins round the bars and gives the punch back a series of hard hitting whacks, with brow creased and fists thoroughly clenched.
‘Yes,’ murmured No.2, ‘but that’s his appeal.’ No.2 returns her glasses to their proper place and begins pacing round the control room. ‘He’s notoriously uncooperative and rebelliousness, yes?’
‘Yes,’ echoes No.91.’
‘What we need to do is utilise that spirit rather than suppressing it, let his aggression out in a controlled environment. See how aggressive he is?’ No.2 and No.91 observe No.6 upon the screen as he gives another severe beating to the punch bag. ‘He would have fitted in well in the medieval times, No.91, where he could have been a knight, righting wrongs and fighting moral battles. Ha! I can see it now.’ As if in answer, No.6 lifts his hand to his eye and smirks a ‘Be seeing you,’ before returning to his house. ‘Indeed No.6, I think a personal visit is in order.’
No.6 sits down in his kitchen with a freshly made pot of tea in front of him and a cup waiting to be filled. He hears the door open but does not move from his spot.
‘Ah, you must be the new No.2,’ he smirks as No.2 enters and takes a seat opposite No.6 at the kitchen table.
‘Just in time for tea it seems,’ returns No.2 smiling, ‘milk, no sugar.’
‘Is that in your file?’ Says No.6 lazily, in his dulcet toned voice as he pours the tea.
‘I saw your workout today.’
‘Really? Did it motivate you?’ Says No.6 with a wry smile.
‘To do something other than taking orders.’
‘Ha, I have been warned of your infectious sense of humour, No.6.’ She lightly touches his arm as she says this and No.6 slides his arm out of reach immediately, the corners of his mouth twitch.
‘Infectious, eh? I do not recall seeing anyone laughing in the Village, unless of course, they have been drugged heavily.’
‘No.6, you do fascinate me greatly.’ No.2 stands up and downs the last drops of tea. ‘I think you will be very interested in tomorrow’s announcement, do listen out.’
‘Do I have a choice but to listen?’ No.6 remains sitting and fills his cup again with more tea.
‘You would not want to miss out on our Village announcements, you really should take part more in the community.’
‘The only part of the community I wish to take part in is in its destruction,’ declares No.6, his brow creasing and his mouth curling into another mocking smile.
‘Good Morning, Good Morning! Rise and Shine!
We have an exciting announcement, next week we will be holding a medieval festival
in the Village, and everyone is encouraged to take part!’ As the announcer’s
voice blasts forth from the stereo close to No.6’s bed, he flings off
his sheets and walks into the kitchen, wrapping his dressing gown over his pyjamas.
Dropping two eggs into a pan, he lights the hob. The maid enters, dressed in
a black and white uniform, and waving a feather duster.
‘Good morning, No.6,’ she chirrups happily, ‘did you hear the announcement? How exciting! Will you be taking part? I bet you will join in the jousting tournament, a strong man like you!’ She begins cleaning energetically as No.6 attends to his eggs. ‘You should take part you know,’ she whines into his ears as she cleans near him.
‘I should,’ he replies, his eyes glinting, ‘everyone keeps telling me so.’
Back in the control room, No. 2 watches No.6 intently. ‘He does not seem as enthusiastic as I had hoped,’ she murmurs, half to herself, half to No.91 who stood nearby. ‘Well, he will have changed his mind by next week. I do love a challenge.’
While No.6 takes his morning stroll round the Village, No.2 walks up to him and joins him. He looks at her inquisitively as he hands over his units for today’s newspaper. On the front page, the article informs the reader how to sign up for the various events at the medieval festival. No.6 scans the article as he continues on his walk.
‘I hope you will be attending, No.6,’ says No.2, ‘in fact, it was you who gave me the idea.’ She laughs loudly and takes hold of his arm. He looks at her hand which holds him and shakes his head.
‘I gave you the idea?’ He smirks, ‘Remarkable.’
‘I saw you in your exercise routine and thought what a good idea if you could use your aggression positively for the community.’
‘And so I took the liberty of signing you up for the jousting tournament bright and early this morning.’ She lets go of his arm and waves a cheery goodbye, disappearing into the crowd.
‘Will there be horses?’ shouts No.6.
‘You bet,’ returns No.2.
No.6 rolls up the newspaper and holds it under his arm, and considers the conversation he has just had.
One evening a week later, No.2 visits No.6’s
house, entering unannounced.
‘This is becoming a habit,’ says No.6, a touch of irritation coming across in his voice, ‘to what do I owe the pleasure?’
No.2 strolls up to him and from the inside of her jacket, she pulls out a ticket. No.6 examines the paper, raising his eyebrow.
‘It’s the number of your horse, No.6, bring it with you tomorrow.’ No.6 pockets the ticket.
‘How’s the practising been going?’
‘You should know, you have been watching its progress.’ He waves an arm in the direction of a spare seat and they both sit down.
‘Still uncooperative, I did hope this festival would bring out the best in you, No.6, using your aggression-’
‘Positively, yes I know, you have mentioned that before. Where are these horses coming from? Abroad? From across the border? When I wake up tomorrow, will the Village be full to the brim with horses, seemingly appearing out of nowhere?’
No.2 stands up and pulls off her glasses angrily. ‘I have been nothing but considerate and understanding to you, and this is how you to talk to me. I have given you special time, visiting often so that we would become close acquaintances, and still you show no cooperation.’
‘You expect me to be grateful?’ No. 6 remains sitting, his voice rising in pitch, glowering at No.2. She sits back down and returns her glasses to her face. She taps her foot on the floor.
‘Yes,’ she finally says, in a low whisper. No.6 bends close to her and whispers back, ‘No.’
‘Why do you cling to solitude and loneliness?’ No.2 mutters, her eyes brimming with tears.
‘Why do you cling onto this false sense of society and comradeship?’ No.6 speaks loudly, ignoring No.2’s show of emotion, his eyes flashing in anger.
‘I have experienced true loneliness, No.6, and its not a pleasant thing. You should join in with the community. This festival is your chance.’
‘Your concern touches me,’ No.6 replies coldly. He stands up, a signal No.2 understands.
‘I shall see you at the tournament tomorrow,’ No.2 says, injecting her voice with a forced cheeriness. ‘Be seeing you.’
‘Be seeing you.’
In the empty control room, No.2 paces haphazardly, drumming her glasses against her arm. The screen portrays a long shot of the Village. She stops in front of it, waits a few seconds, and then begins pacing again. ‘Find No.6,’ she finally shouts into the receiver, and instantly No.6’s house flashes upon the screen. He lies asleep, the duvet covering his face, only the end of his hair showing above the covers. She walks up close to the picture, and reaches out a hand towards the screen.
‘He sleeps so soundly. A peaceful mind. Fear of nothing.’
Festival day has arrived, and the weather proves
sunny and bright, with only a light wind. No.6 changes into his trousers, black
top and black jacket with a white border, and then finally slips on his shoes.
He leaves his house and heads into the square, looking at the array of brightly
coloured people and stripped banners adorning the Village. Fast paced music
blears out from the speakers all around, and people dash up and down on all
sides. No.6 watches the scene intently, investigating all areas with a keen
eye and wide-awake brain. He spots No.2, dressed in a medieval cut dress, and
moves out of view quickly. He hovers near the penny-farthing, taking in the
view. No.2 creeps up on him.
‘I knew you’d make it!’ she exclaims, her face bright, and waving a red umbrella.
‘You know everything, it seems,’ he nods his head at her, then moves away, following the sign proclaiming Stables. Producing his ticket, he hands it over and is led by No.114 to the appropriate horse.
‘Fine specimen, fine,’ declares No.114, leading the chestnut coloured horse out of its stable and handing the rein over to No.6.
‘Yes,’ agrees No.6 as he heads for the beach where the jousting takes place. A large, loud crowd has already gathered, all dressed in period costume, still with their numbered badges overtly in view. Banners pronounce the event proudly and strips of colour highlight the jousting area. No.10 overtakes No.6.
‘Where’s your costume?’ No.10 shouts over, letting out a loud guffaw, and pointing to his own elaborate attire, silver armour covering his upper body and part of his legs. Under his arm sits a helmet, decorated with a red feather.
‘Just sorting it out,’ shouts back No.6, and he looks around to find out where to obtain the costume.
‘This way,’ No.2 wraps her arm around his and leads him to a far off tent, the horse still following on quietly behind.
‘Such obedient creatures, and so loyal,’ remarks No.2.
‘Only when successfully tamed.’
‘You won’t go riding off, try and escape, will you?’ asks No.2 in a serious tone.
‘Who, me?’ No.2 squeezes No.6 arm lightly as he goes for his fitting.
No.6 settles on his horse, directing the creature
into the starting area. On the other side of the beach, No.10 also rides into
place, and the crowd cheer excitedly. The red speakers introduces the participants
in a clear and chirpy voice, and more applause follows. The faces of the participants
are no longer visible as the helmets are pulled down. No.10 and No.6 are handed
their jousts, one stripped white and yellow and one stripped white and blue.
They begin charging at one another, the horses galloping across the soft sand.
No.6 prepares his weapon for impact and braces his whole body. As the horses
draw closer and closer, the crowd cheer louder and louder. No.6 thrusts his
joust firmly into No.10’s body, sending him flying off his horse and falling
onto the sand. No.6 keeps galloping forward, and sees No.2 waving to him and
yelling, ‘bravo!’ Her face drops as she watches him ride on by,
heading for the empty land ahead.
He spurs on the horse, and it gallops faster and faster, sending a spray of sand out from underneath its hooves. No.6 pulls off the helmet and throws it away behind him, leaning his body down low in harmony with the horse’s spine.
‘What should we do?’ Exclaims No.91 to No.2, ‘this was your idea!’
No.2 swings round to face No.91 and crosses her arms. ‘It certainly was my idea.’
‘Shall I alert Rover?’ No.91 urgently asks.
No.6 continues onwards, heading further along the beach, and then turning into a path leading up to the woodland. Upwards the horse climbs, brushing past thorny bushes and stepping over thick branches. No.6 swivels his head round but sees no one.
‘Only a matter of time,’ he mutters to himself.
Once the hill leading from the beach has been ascended, No.6 spurs the horse on forward, continuing through the thicket, trying to keep a good pace. He sees a set of rusty iron gates in front of him. Halting the horse, he jumps off and desperately yanks at the gates, pulling and shaking them hard. He lets out a fierce kick to the railings.
‘There’s your aggression again.’ No.2 steps out from the undergrowth, seemingly alone. No.6 looks round to see if anyone else appears. No.6 kicks out at the gate again, and it rattles loudly but resolutely. No.2 reaches out and opens her clenched fist, on her palm rests a key. No.6 makes a move forward, yet No.2 clenches her fist once more and stands firm.
‘I can give you this key, and you will be free.’
‘Then give it to me,’ bellows No.2 in an animal ferocity.
‘I want to, but I see you do not want to cooperate with us, ever.’
‘Then give it me,’ repeats No.6, this time in a low, reassuring tone. He reaches out slowly.
‘But then you will be free and I will not be, you see, we are all prisoners here. I like you No.6, I like your aggressive spirit, that’s why I put on this festival, just for you, so you could be a knight, fighting noble battles.’
‘And rescuing damsels in distress?’ No. 6 sneers.
‘Perhaps.’ No.2 sniffs. ‘But you did not act noble. You see, it was a test.’
‘Test?’ spits No.6.
‘You did not show courage or valour, running off like that, trying to escape in this simplistic fashion. If you had carried out your promise to me, you remember, I asked you not to try and escape? If you had carried out this promise, I would have given you this key and you would now be free. Instead, you remain here, for your own sake, for you own…rehabilitation.’
The gates clamp down upon No.6 once more.
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