Sending out my best to all those affected by the Texas hurricane, and other disasters. We’re thinking about you all over the world.
I thought I’d share the first draft of Chapter 1 of the novella I’ll be including in our Christmas anthology, (You’ll have to see the final version in the boxed set, sorry!),
Once Upon a Vet School #7
Lena takes a Foal.
It’s actually part of a series…and it’s in the middle. The others will be written out from there!
In case you don’t know, I’m an equine vet and have until now written awarded historical fiction and technical veterinary non-fiction. My writing buddies have been after me for ages to write these stories, so thank you to Authors of Main Street for offering me the opportunity to stretch my literary wings!
I hope you enjoy my first dip into contemporary fiction–my stab at becoming the next, albeit female, James Herriot!
Let me know what you think! If you want to stay posted on when the Christmas Boxed Set will be available, come on over to Authors of Main Street, here!!!!
1986 Northern California
Mickey’s roan ears, silhouetted against the pale green light filtering into the tiny glade, rose higher and higher before me and my heart froze–he’d never reared this high before. The light disappeared as the horse’s massive body blocked out the sun. A blinding flash of pain, and then only blessed darkness.
* * *
I rocked my head from side to side and stilled at the pain— it was everywhere. I opened my eyes. It made no difference. Full dark already, then.
Something hit my leg and I froze, then a wuffling nose pushed at my face, and I jumped. That hurt too.
Where was I?
It all came flooding back, then, with the throbbing in my leg. Odd…the blasted horse was still here. I lifted a hand to Mickey’s nose and found his rein still in my death-grip.
Thank god for small favors. At least I wouldn’t have to walk home—it was a good 3 miles from this little glade, hidden among the fields in Northern California. I’d learned early on in my life in the Santa Cruz Mountains that one never lets go of the reins when falling off. Riding boots were never designed for hiking.
It was all very well to have a horse to hand, but not much use if I couldn’t get up and mounted. My leg felt like hell, and who knew what other injuries I had? I needed to be on my way before the pain got worse. It was my favorite ride—a little gully filled with tall trees in the middle of nowhere, but that being said, no one would find me here for ages.
I managed to climb up the near foreleg of the now-repentant horse until I could grab a stirrup iron. I couldn’t feel any blood on me, other than from the smarting grazes on my face and arms, so clearly I’d live, but man, did my leg hurt. Puffy swelling already bulged above the top of my tall boot…I’d need to get it off soon, before I couldn’t. Call me vain, but I’d almost rather cut off my leg than the long leather laced field boots I’d waited nearly two decades to own.
Mickey walked like a lamb while I hopped beside him to a fallen log, my right hand twisted in his mane. Swearing, cold sweat pouring from every pore, I managed to clamber up and slid onto his back all anyhow, then we walked on in the pitch blackness, heading for the barn.
Someone was there in the darkness before us. I pulled Mickey to a halt as I took in a strange white double cab pickup truck glowing the light of the dim bulb high above the stable yard. A creak, and the barn door swung open, then closed behind the tall figure of a man, unrecognizable in the distance. My stomach clenched as he spun toward us. There weren’t any men boarding horses here.
“Hello, who’s there?” a male voice rang out.
I sighed with relief. It was Dr. Allen, one of the Equine Surgery residents from the veterinary school.
“It’s me, Lena, from ICU.”
He walked toward me and I squeezed my legs to move my horse forward before I thought and yelped, but bit it off.
“What the heck are you doing out riding at this hour?” he said, His brows narrowed as I rode up to him. “And what have you done to your face?”
“Ahhh…we had a…disagreement about going home.”
“I take it the horse won? When did you leave?” He set down a bucket of bandaging materials and pulled his stethoscope from around his neck and dropped it into the bucket, then took hold of Mickey’s reins.
“Mid-afternoon.” I said, with a wince.
“That’s a long ride.”
“I only went to the glade, a few miles across the fields.”
He frowned as his eyes scanned the perfectly cool horse, then his eyes snapped to mine.
“What happened? Are you OK?”
I bit my lip. I didn’t want anyone to know about it, especially someone from the vet school, but it seems I had little choice. The corral fences at this old barn were too rickety to be climbing around on, and I needed help getting off.
“I’ve hurt my leg.” I tried for nonchalance, but all that came out was a whine. Gritting my teeth, I gripped my breeches above the knee to pull my left leg up and move it back, so my toe could slide out of the stirrup.
“Do you need some help?” The furrows in his brow deepened, and he scowled at the roan. “What have you done with her?” he muttered to the horse, as he moved around his rump to his near side and froze, staring at my knee, then at my eyes, as comprehension dawned. “Is this horse named Mickey? Just what sort of a disagreement was this?”
I took a deep breath.
“Yes, it’s Mickey. He sort of fell on me.”
“Sort of? How’d he fall? It’s flat out there.”
“He fell over backwards…and I was in the way,” I whispered, my heart in my throat.
“That riding school should…” he started, then seemed to reconsider. “Anyway, you’re hurt,” he said, his voice softening. “Can you get down?”
I shook my head.
“Let me help.” He slipped the stirrup from beneath my boot, and held me still while I kicked the other leg over Mickey’s rump, then he lowered me to the ground.
I couldn’t help gasping when the bad leg hit the ground, but at least I could bear weight.
“I’ll put him away and give you a ride home.”
“I can driv—”
“You were knocked out, weren’t you?” He raised a brow at me.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“I don’t know.”
“Right. How about I give you a ride home? That old truck of yours’ll have a heavy clutch, won’t it?”
“You’ll never manage it like this, will you?”
“Thank you,” I murmured.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t have managed. I hadn’t thought past getting back to the barn in one piece.
“His feed’s in his stall, and I take my saddle and bridle home,” I said, hopping to my truck to gather what I’d need tonight from the front seat. Locking it, I made my way to his truck and leaned against it, the metal of the panel cool on the burning patches on the backs of my arms.
“Hop in,” he said, as he led the roan into his stall and slipped the halter from his head. He growled something low at the beast and closed the stall door. With my saddle over his arm, he exited the barn and put my saddle in the back seat of the white university ambulatory service vehicle.
“Can’t you get in?” he said, as he walked up to me.
I shook my head and glanced down.
His eyes followed mine to the swollen leg. He shook his head and then picked me up and placed me gently in the passenger seat.
“We need to get that boot off and get you to the hospital.”
“Home is fine, thanks.”
“Hospital.” He frowned.
He gritted his teeth and was silent for a moment.
“How about student health?”
“No, I’ll be fine. It’s just a little swelling. They’ll tell me to elevate it, take anti-inflammatories, and rest.”
“Correct, but we should get it checked out.”
“Can you please just check it?”
He sighed and pulled a penlight from his pocket, then flicked it at my eyes, first one, then the other, then back and forth between them.
“Your light reflexes are normal, but that leg…”
“It’ll be fine. I’m sure. I’ve had worse.”
He shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Home it is, then, but get it checked out as soon as you can, eh?”
The tiniest bump in the road on the way to my house jarred my leg, but it was interesting, riding beside Dr. Allen. I glanced across at him. For a guy who grew up in the snobbiest town in my home county, I had to give it to him—he was remarkably nice. Pretty drop-dead gorgeous, too, if you happen to like your classical tall, dark and handsome…
I shook my head at myself.
Just remember how tall, dark, and handsome had turned out last time.
“Is there someone at your place that can help you with your boot? Getting it on—off, I mean?” He flushed in the glow from the dashboard lights and clamped his lips together.
I had to clamp my own to keep from grinning at his blush. He wasn’t helping me keep my mind where it belonged, really. Residents were sort of off-limits to the students, but…now I knew he was actually nice, well, that changed things a little. I always thought he’d be stuck up…and I’d kept my distance, despite his appearances in my dreams…for quite some time now.
“My housemates might be home,” I blurted out.
He let out a long breath and seemed to relax.
“You might get that field boot off before some idiot wants to cut it off…one reason not go to the hospital, I guess,” he said, with the hint of a grin.
“My thinking, exactly.” I smiled. I knew a little about him. He’d spent years as a farrier and then as a vet, while showing hunter-jumpers to an exacting level—to the degree of changing shoes between judges to change the horse’s movement.
He’d understand about good boots.
No lights showed as we drove up before my house, and this time he didn’t ask. He came around to my side of the truck, picked me up and carried me to the door as if weighed nothing, which of course, wasn’t true. It was a bit disconcerting having his face that close, so I turned my heated cheeks away and fumbled with the house keys.
With a lot of swearing and more tears than I’d like to have shown him, we got the boot off, intact.
“There’s an ace bandage in the drawer in the bathroom,” I said, staring at my leg, already a faint blue all the way from my toes to most of the way up my thigh.
“Are these yours?” He shot me a look and held up my running shorts. My face burned even hotter now. The shorts had been on the bathroom floor with some lacy panties.
I nodded, and he tossed the shorts to me and disappeared again into the bathroom.
“Put them on, please. I’d like to check that leg.”
I grinned, despite myself. Sounded like I was a horse. I managed to peel the breeches down and off, then tugged the nylon shorts up just as he reentered the room with an elastic compression bandage.
Dr. Allen blinked at the leg, then checked the femur, tibia, and metatarsals for stability. He took the heel in one hand and flexed, extended and rotated the joints in all directions, while I bit my cheek to keep from making more noise than I should.
“No crepitus, and the joints still work. I’ll bandage it up, but you need to get it looked at.”
I said nothing. There were two weeks before the start of term to get better, and thankfully, I didn’t have to work until then. Piece of cake.
* * *
For all my bravery, my housemates went to the barn the next day to pick up my car and feed the horse—I wasn’t going anywhere. The next day, either…or the next.
Tamara, my fourth-year vet student housemate, frowned at me over her breakfast.
“I’ve been trying to keep my opinion to myself, but you really should see a doctor,” she said.
“Dr. Allen checked it out.”
“Dr. Allen? Where did you see him?”
“He was at the barn when I rode in on Mickey, re-bandaging a horse.”
“That’s all very well, but he’s a vet. You need to see a doctor.”
“Are you serious?” I stared at her. “I can’t. I’ll miss classes if they put me in the hospital.”
“That’s where you belong,” she grumbled.
“I’ll keep it elevated and massage the heck out of it,” I said.
She shook her head as she walked to the sink to rinse her bowl.
“If you get a blood clot, you’ll be in trouble. Didn’t Dr. Allen take you to the doctor?”
“He tried,” I said, wincing.
“Sometimes you have rocks in your head, girl.” Tamara shook her head as she plunked down a bowl of cereal before me and stalked off to her room.
They all thought I was too stupid to live, but what the hell? I couldn’t miss classes, or I’d never catch up. I had to try twice as hard as most of the other students just to stay with the class. Some people were born brilliant. Somehow I’d ended up with 150-odd of them in my vet school class. The rest of the 164 of us had to work our buns off to keep up with the rest of the group. I’m not bitter, it’s just the way it is.
* * *
A week of hobbling, glares from housemates, and hydrotherapy later, things didn’t look better. In fact, they looked worse. The leg was swollen from toes to mid-thigh. Not merely content to stay a nice blue color, it had morphed to an irregular, patchy camouflage pattern of purple, black and yellow. I kept my promise, massaging it four times a day, but all it did was change colors. I understand the details of the color alterations, but it didn’t make the bruises resolve any faster.
“Do you want to go see that rotten horse of yours?” Tamarah said, one fine morning.
“Really, you’ll take me?”
“On one condition.”
“What?” I said, rather ungraciously, under the circumstances, looking at her sideways.
“We go by student health on the way back. I don’t want to come home from walking the dog to find you seizing from a blood clot in your brain.” Tamarah’s golden lab lifted her head at the W-word and jumped to her feet while she spat her tennis ball at me. “My father would shoot me,” she continued smoothly, “if he knew I’d let you stay away from the doctor.”
That got me. Her daddy, a very nice man, was also a venerable vet school professor…at our school. If he heard about this, I might be out. I gulped. Now was not the time to get annoyed with his daughter.
“Thanks,” I managed, “I’d like that…the first part, but okay, I agree to going to the doctor.” I’m sure the comment somehow made it past my gritted teeth.
“See if you can get a shoe on that foot and we’ll leave now,” she said.
I bolted as fast as I could hop, before she changed her mind.
When she’d driven me to the barn, I mooned over the fence at the horrid creature. Mickey at least had the decency to look guilty when I limped toward him with his feed, or so I thought.
“Don’t even think about taking him for a walk, much less riding,” Tamarah said. She glared at the horse as she stood between me and the tack room, with a look that made me cringe.
I squashed down the desire to ask for his halter, kissed his soft and lonely nose, and fifteen minutes later Tamarah delivered me to student health with a triumphant smile.
“I’ll wait in the car,” she said, and opened my door for me.
As expected, the doctor was not impressed.
“You should have come in right away. You could have had a blood clot! How long has it been?” she said, after she picked her jaw up off the floor.
“A week and a half,” I mumbled into my shirt.
“Well, what have you been doing for it?” She scowled and shook her head.
I told her, and her demeanor softened a little.
“Well, I guess you’re out of the danger zone now, anyway. I’d have hospitalized you.”
“So I imagine you start school next week? What are you studying?”
“Vet? You should have known…well, never mind. Small animals, I hope? You can stay off it and sit down while you’re treating the dogs and cats.”
I mumbled something incoherent. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was Equine Track, and worked as a Large Animal ICU Technician, galloping between three barns running IV fluids to twelve horses at a time, and tubing pre- and post-op colics all night. She’d have vapors.
Oblivious to her new patient’s dastardly plans, she smiled and left me with a packet of anti-inflammatories and admonitions to rest, elevate it and keep up the massage.
I was now able to hold my head up in front of my housemates again, and rather glad school was about to start. I was still hobbling, but I could get around. I’d have to leave early to make it to class on time—I wasn’t travelling at my regular speed.
* * *
The night before classes were to start, my friend Jess returned from a trip away with her family.
“Did you see what our first lecture is tomorrow?” Her voice over the phone line jumped with expectancy.
I pulled the schedule from my bag, where it had lain, forgotten, since I’d received it on the last day of school. One glance, and my grin at her excitement vanished. Spots swam before my eyes as I read the title on the first lecture:
Dystocia in the Mare and the Need for Surgical Intervention
I shook my head and nearly dropped the phone.
Not dystocia. Not foaling mares, and certainly not foaling difficulties.
Anything but that.
I hope you enjoyed reading the rough draft of Chapter One of Once Upon a Vet School, volume 7! To read the final version, and the rest of it, you’ll have to see our Christmas Boxed Set, out SOON!!!!!
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Lizzi and Authors of Main Street!