Once the feed room door was shut, the barn was washed with the same dimness I experienced before. George, Rick, lights, Shaun called. I had time to raise my arm to shield my eyes before the overhead lights clicked on. Rick made a faint gagging noise, and I heard him throwing up somewhere behind me. Not a real surprise. Everyone tosses their cookies at least once on this sort of tripI had, after all.
When enough time had passed to let my eyes adjust to the limits of their capacity, I lowered my arm. What I saw was sheer chaos. The foaling barn seemed bad at first, but it was really nothing, just a few odd stains and some dead cats. The dead cats were here, too, strewn around the floor like discarded rags. As for the rest
My first thought was that the entire barn had been drenched with blood. Not just sprayed; literally drenched, like someone took a bucket and started painting the walls. That impression passed as it became clear that the majority of the blood was in one of two locationseither smeared along the walls in a band roughly three feet off the floor, or soaking the floor itself, which had turned a dozen different shades of brown and black as the mixture of bleach, blood, and fecal matter dried into an uneven crust. I stared at it, unblinking, until I was over the urge to vomit. Once was fine. Twice was not, especially when round two happened in front of the others.
These are labeled with the names of the horses, Shaun called. He was on the far side of the barn, studying one of the stalls. This one was called Tuesday Blues. What kind of name is that for a horse?
They liked weather names. Look for Gold Rush Weather and Red Sky at Morning. If anything odd happened here, we might find signs of it around their stalls.
Under the six hundred gallons of gore, Rick muttered.
Hope you brought a shovel! Shaun called, sounding ungodly cheerful.
Rick stared at him. Your brother is an alien.
Yeah, but hes a cute one, I said. Start checking stalls.
I was halfway down my own row of stallsbetween Dorothys Gale and Hurricane Warningwhen Rick called, Over here. Shaun and I looked toward him. He was indicating a corner stall. I found Goldie.
Great, Shaun said, and we started toward him. Did you touch anything?
No, Rick replied. I was waiting for you.
The stall door hung askew. The hinges had been broken from the inside, and the wood was half-splintered in places, dented with the crescent shapes of a horses hooves. Shaun whistled low. Goldie wanted out pretty darn bad.
Cant say that I blame him, I said, leaning forward to study the broken wood. Shaun, youve got gloves on. Can you open that?
For you, the world. Or at least an open door on a really disgusting horse stall. Shaun swung the door open, latching it with a small hook to keep it that way. I bent forward, letting my camera record every inch, as Shaun stepped past us into the stall itself.
Something crunched under his feet.
Rick and I whipped around to face him. My shoulders were suddenly tight with tension. Crunching noises in the field are almost never good. At best, they mean a close call. At worst
Face pale, Shaun lifted first one foot, and then the other. A piece of sharp-edged plastic was wedged in the sole of his left boot. Just some junk, he said, expression broadcasting his relief. No big deal. He reached down to pull it loose.
Shaun froze. I turned to stare at Rick. Explain.
Its sharp. Rick looked between us, eyes wide. Its sharp-edged, in a horse stall, on a breeding ranch. Do you see any broken windows around here? Any broken equipment? Neither do I. What is something sharp doing in the stall? Horses have hard hooves, but theyre soft on the inside, and they get cut up really easily. Competent handlers dont allow anything with a sharp edge loose near the stalls.
Shaun lowered his foot, careful to keep his weight balanced on his toe, not pressing on the plastic. Son of a
Shaun, get out of there. Rick, find me a rake or something. We need to turn that straw.
Got it. Rick turned and headed for the rear corner of the barn where, I supposed, hed seen some cleaning equipment. Shaun was limping out of the stall, still pale-faced.
I hit him on the shoulder with the heel of my right hand as soon as he came into range. Asshole, I accused.
Probably, he agreed, calming. If I was calling him names, it couldnt be too bad. You think we found something?
It seems likely, but its not your concern right now. Get the pliers, get that goddamn thing out of your shoe, and get it bagged. If you touch it, Ill kill you.
Rick came trotting back, rake in hand. I took it from him and leaned over, starting to poke through the straw. Rick, keep an eye on my stupid brother.
Using the rake to turn over the straw where Shaun had stepped uncovered several more chunks of plastic, and a long, bent piece of snapped-off plastic in a familiar shape. Behind me, Shaun breathed in sharply. George
I see it. I continued stirring the straw.
Thats a needle.
If theres no reason for the plastic to be in there, why is there a needle in there?
For no good reason, said Rick. Georgia, try a little bit to the right.
I glanced toward him. Why?
Because thats where the hay is less crushed. If theres anything else to find, its more likely to be intact if its off to the right.
Good call. I turned my attention to the right-hand side of the stall. The first three passes found nothing. I had already decided the fourth pass would be the last in that area when the tines pulled an intact syringe into view. Not just intact: loaded. The plunger hadnt been pushed all the way home, and a small amount of milky liquid was visible through the mud-smeared glass. The three of us stared at it.