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art by Tim Stewart

H is for Horse

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.

The old mare trots out into the valley an hour before dusk every night. The other retired horses are all show horses, or they used to be, when their backs were strong and their coats shiny. They still practice their prancing routines in the yard in front of the big red barn, picking up their feet in prim unison, tossing their once-glossy manes, their balance slightly off without the tall white feathers strapped to their heads. But the old mare was never in show business. No, she was a racehorse in her younger days, a brood mare once she was past her prime. She'd been fast in her youth, but her offspring fared better, more than a few racing in the Kentucky Derby. Her daughter won, once. But even at her peak the mare never took racing seriously. Her deep brown eyes were always scanning the horizon, as if she were looking for something that would come from the air, far away.
The valley she exercises in every evening isn't the same one where she grew up, but it reminds her of the place. The light goes soft this time of day, a sort of golden shimmer that makes the mare feel warm in her belly. She tries hard not to look around, not to hope. She is old when he finally shows up, a fierce creature, hardly aged for the decades since she'd seen him last. His legs are muscular, yet seem short to her, a cat's crouch that makes her weak, prey in front of predator. His fierce yellow eyes regard her above his noble beak. He clacks at her, and she whinnies back. She nuzzles the iridescent feathers along his neck, nips at him gently...
When her last child is born, she seems much younger than her twenty-two years. Her back is unbowed, her coat glossy. Her keepers are amazed at her pregnancy, bewildered by her newfound vibrancy, but they are floored by the tiny, fierce hippogriff--with his father's eagle head, wings and talons and his mother's sleek racing body--that she foals in the spring of the year.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
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