Pooka- a creature that goes by many names in many cultures. One description says that it appears as a black colt wearing chains. It can be a horse, rabbit, goat, goblin, or dog. It is thought to be a shape shifter. Some myths say it is malevolent, some that it is harmless or even helpful. My favorite one is that it likes to take humans on a wild ride at night, but generally doesn't really harm them, just terrifies them. (Unlike it's cousin, the Kelpie, which is known to take it's riders straight into the nearest body of water to drown and then devour them.)
Evvie hugged her coat tighter around herself as the howling wind threatened to blow her off her feet. Dark storm clouds were rolling in, bathing the farm in premature darkness. She had left her chores too long, but she hadn’t expected it to get dark so soon.
She brushed past the large, warm bodies of the old horse and a couple of goats, all huddled in front of the barn, impatiently awaiting their savior. Evvie grasped the big sliding door and hauled it open to let them inside. Following after them, she flipped the switch that operated the single bare bulb overhead. She paused in the warm barn to take in the comforting sounds and smells of livestock.
Evvie pushed back her hood and went to let the horse into his stall. One of the goats bumped against her hip, begging for food and she shooed it away. She closed the gate after the horse and tossed a few squares of hay into his feeder, then turned back to the door to count the sheep as they darted into the barn. The expression on her heart-shaped face grew pained as she realized there was one missing.
She put out hay for the goats and the sheep, as she mentally cursed the wooly morons. Sighing, she went to look out the door into the gloomy evening. Dusk was falling, and she didn’t see the missing sheep anywhere in the barnyard. Grumbling, she pulled her hood up and stepped out into the gusty evening. Sheep had a general propensity for idiocy. One of them had died a while back because it stuck its head through a hole in the fence, and couldn’t figure out how to get it back out (by simply turning its head). Hopefully she could find the thing before survival of the fittest won out.
There was a small pond at the far end of the property, just within the outer reaches of the forest. If they could manage to trample the fence there, the animals were fond of congregating near the water. Evvie made her way across the open pasture as the first fat drops of rain started to fall. When she reached the far edge of the pasture- soggy, tired, and ready to murder the sheep- she saw that the fence had indeed been squashed down. She hopped over it and headed into the woods.
Lightning flashed in the distance, illuminating the dark trees in an eerie way. Her father was always telling her stories about the fairy folk- even going so far as to leave out milk and bread for them- and on nights like this she could almost believe they stories were true. Evvie reached the edge of the small pond and cast about under the nearby trees. She kept an ear out for the sounds of a sheep in distress, but it was hard to hear over the storm.
She had searched for some time. Her hair and clothing were plastered to her, and each gust of wind made her shiver. She would just give it up, but she knew they couldn’t afford to lose the animal, and besides, she truly didn’t want to see it suffer.
A particularly sharp gust of wind hit her, carrying with it the metallic sound of rattling chains. She looked toward the sound, freezing in surprise as her eyes landed on the form emerging from the woods. The black colt’s coat was long and shiny. It’s body was wrapped with dully gleaming lengths of heavy chain that clinked and clanked as it walked. She took a step backward as it approached.
The animal slowly closed the distance between them, stopping within arm’s reach, it’s silky ears pricked forward and it’s posture relaxed and curious. Then it turned and took a few steps to her right. The horse swiveled its head to look at her over its shoulder, then took a few more steps and paused again. Slowly, she began to follow it.
The night grew darker as she followed the creature into to forest, her heart hammering away inside her chest. Afraid she would lose her way, she stretched out her hand and tangled her fingers in the colt’s long mane. The animal accepted her touch and continued walking.
Soon a new sound came to her over the wind and the gently clinking of the chains, a soft, plaintive meh that she immediately identified as idiot in distress. Lighting flashed and she saw the sheep, it’s thick wool so tangled in the branches of the big bramble bush that it couldn’t get free. As she watched, it knelt down and cried again, having exhausted itself trying to get free.
She let go of the colt and went to the pathetic sheep. She began trying to un-stick the brambles, pricking her fingers and scratching the backs of her cold-numbed hands as the sheep tried to escape. Her hands and arms quickly tired, and she dropped her head, letting out a frustrated sound. She jerked her head back up when the colt nudged at her. She had forgotten it was there.
It pushed her aside and she reached out a hand to stroke it’s soft coat. Her reaching hand touched the cold chains, and she began pulling them free. She knew it was dangerous- clearly this horse wasn’t your garden variety livestock- but the urge to free it was suddenly overwhelming.
When the last chain slipped away, the horse shook its head. Evvie stared in shock at the tall, dark-haired man that took its place, his stark, handsome face revealed in the flashing lightening. He stooped without a word and began to help her untangle the sheep.
When it was free, the wooly cretin took off toward the barn, bleating with joy. Evvie stared into the glowing blue eyes of her new companion, mesmerized. He stretched out a big hand in the darkness and- with only a moment’s hesitation- she took it.