My grandma did favorites. She had her favorite car, color, and even child. Now, usually the favorite child is the “miracle child”, the one is destined to do great things. In my grandma’s case, it was the exact opposite. Her favorite child was aunt Betty, my mother’s younger sister. Aunt Betty was everything but a miracle child. Scratch that, she was nothing. There are many reasons why my grandma’s choice in favorites was wrong.
First, Aunt Betty lived in Nebraska as opposed to our home in North Carolina. It’s also important to mention that my grandma only lived three blocks or so away from my parents and myself. We visited my grandma whenever we could or whenever she needed us. Aunt Betty would only visit twice, and if it was a good year, then three times.
This is the icing on the cake: aunt Betty never came to my grandpa’s funeral. Yeah, her own father; my grandma passed it off as “she was too busy and couldn't show up”. Too busy doing what? Last time I checked, Aunt Betty was unemployed. Oh wait, she isn't. She runs a horse ranch with my uncle Ed. In short, she met Ed after she graduated from college. He was her reason for staying in Nebraska. He was as unemployed as her when they first met. He wasn't a very bright guy either; he dropped out of high school senior year. They were made for each other.
The horse ranch, that damned ranch, is nothing to be proud of considering the fact that my grandma personally bought it for her with the money grandpa left for us. She used it on everything; the construction, horses, supplies, everything. Nothing that woman does make sense. I remember the first and only time I went to that place.
I was eighteen at the time, taking a gap year before heading off to college. Summer had just ended and it was September. My parents had announced that they were going out of town for a business trip. Ever since my grandpa died, my mom made it her life's goal to continue running his small private business, despite my grandma’s suggestions to sell it completely. They didn't trust me with the house for a week, so they sent me to stay at Aunt Betty’s. The red flag had gone up by then. They could have sent me to grandma’s, but she was too sick at the time to look after me. I know, my family tends to baby me.
My parents and I parted ways at the airport; I went on the flight to Nebraska while they went on theirs. The plane ride, baggage claim, and getting a ride to Aunt Betty’s was all a breeze. However, the ride to the ranch couldn't have been longer.
The ranch is located in one of those parts in Nebraska where you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, nothing but the road in front of you. Eventually, the taxi took me down a dirt road after making a left off the main one. The dirt road went on for a mile or two before finally it ended at Aunt Betty’s ranch. The place itself had a very basic layout. The farmhouse was a few meters away from the barn. In front of them, was the fenced in pasture, where they let the horses run freely.
Aunt Betty and Uncle Ed were waiting on the porch of the farmhouse for me. They waved as the taxi pulled up and came to a stop. It was truly hard to believe that the last time I saw them was when I was only twelve. I got out of the taxi and walked over to them as the driver unloaded my bags. Aunt Betty embraced me and marveled at “how big I have gotten”.
They walked me into the house. It turned out I had arrived before their dinner. They seated me at the table and offered me salad, which I accepted. Before I could take a bite, a small child came running down the stairs and into the kitchen. She sat down in the chair next to me. “Oh, Nathan, this is Leah, your new cousin.” Aunt Betty answered the question I was about to ask.
I paused and looked at Leah; she just smiled and waved back at me. She definitely was not new, and had to be at least four years old. “How come I haven’t seen her before?” I asked.
“Didn't Andrea tell you? We had her five years ago.” Aunt Betty said. Andrea was my grandma’s name.
“No…she didn't.” I told her. Why did grandma keep me in the dark about my own cousin?
Leah then lightly hit my shoulder with one of her small hands. I flinched a little in response. “Leah!” Uncle Ed said loudly, “No hitting!”
Leah lowered her head and began eating quietly. “Honestly, where does she get that from,” Uncle Ed said, before trying to swat a fly that was flying around his food.
After dinner, Aunt Betty led me up to the guest bedroom or the attic. It was an open space with a makeshift bed with blankets and pillows. Crude nightstands were on each side of the bed. There was also a single window. “Thanks,” I said, trying to be positive and ignoring the sound and smell of the mice.
I played on my laptop until I fell asleep that night. The good part about sleeping in that attic was that there was no air conditioning; the cool air from outside crept inside through the small cracks on the roof above me. It wasn’t too cold or too hot up there.
I was woken up the next morning by honking coming from outside the farmhouse. I looked at my phone: 9:45 am. I got up and got dressed and went down the stairs and out the front door to the porch.
The honk that woke me up came from a large truck. Uncle Ed was standing near the trailer, which was the kind used for transporting cows and horses. My Uncle continued to stand there until the driver of the truck walked out from the trailer. Behind was a new black horse. I got better look at it. The horse had a lighter shaded mane and tail, but was black nonetheless. The most striking part about it was that each of its eyes was completely different. The left eye was green; dark navy green. The right eye was a bright gold color. Each eye had black pupils in the center.
The driver shook my Uncle’s hand and got back into the truck cab, and drove away. I approached my Uncle. He spoke first, “What do you think of the new horse, Nathan? We weren't expecting her to arrive until you left.”
“It’s interesting…” I said, I couldn't stop looking at the eyes, “Does it-”
“She,” My Uncle corrected.
“Does she have a name?” I asked.
“Andromeda.” he said. There was admiration in his voice.
“Interesting name for a horse,” I said, expecting to hear something juvenile or silly like Cowgirl or something. “Where did you get her?”
Uncle Ed thought for a moment. “Some other ranch in Texas. They seemed really happy to be getting rid of her. They even gave us a pretty good deal for her. We didn't have to spend all the money your grandma sent us. Say, why does she send us so much money anyway?”
Andromeda let out a loud whine, interrupting our conversation. My Uncle chuckled at her sound. “She must be hungry. Can you show her to her stable? It’s in the barn, farthest one from the doors. There’s a bag of oats when you first walk in to your left.”
He then slipped a bridle on Andromeda and handed me a reign. “Just walk her like a dog,” he said, getting the idea that I never handled a horse before.
I did as he said and walked Andromeda to the barn. I held the reigns and she followed me, her head facing down towards the ground the entire time. We went through the two big doors and entered the barn. I looked to my left and sure enough, there was a bag of oats next to the light switch. The barn itself was just one big rectangular room with the horses’ stables on the right and free space on the left.
I was unsure of how to feed Andromeda, so I just stuck my hands in the oat bag and grasped a handful. I held my hand full of oats out to Andromeda, like a goat at a petting zoo. She looked at my hand before licking some oats off and swirling them around in her mouth a couple of seconds before spitting it all out at my feet. I wasn’t prepared for what she did next, she snapped at my arm, like she were trying to take a bite out of me. No wonder they were happy to give her to my Aunt and Uncle, she bites. I recoiled, dropping all the other oats in my hand in the process. Maybe she just didn’t like oats, I thought.
Andromeda let out another hungry whine. She had to eat something. I looked around for something else that she would hopefully like. I did find a carrot inside another one of the horse’s stables. I took it and offered it to Andromeda. She accepted it this time without fuss.
Just then I heard my aunt call out, “Nathan! Bring her out! I want to see her!” I waited for Andromeda to swallow the carrot before taking her back outside.
As we exited the barn and walked back to the farmhouse, we passed by the pasture where the horses were roaming. The other horses all stared at Andromeda as we passed by. It wasn't the stare you would give to someone new; it was a stare of cautious anticipation, like you were expecting something bad to happen. Andromeda turned her head towards them, finally catching on that she was being watched. The other horses turned their heads away from her in an instant, some even jumped a little bit before hurrying away.
When we reached the farmhouse, I presented Andromeda to Aunt Betty. “She’s gorgeous,” Aunt Betty said, “She’s really something special.” For once, my Aunt and I agreed on something. I still kept a close eye on Andromeda though, just to see how “special” she was.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday consisted of the same routine of helping Aunt Betty and Uncle Ed out with the ranch and the mental disagreements with my Aunt. There were some days where she would tell to wake up at certain time, early usually, and do a specific task, say escort the horses one by one into the pasture, and she would later come down to help me. She never did; I would do the job and come back into the house only to find Aunt Betty sleeping soundly next to Uncle Ed in their room.
My Aunt and Uncle’s laziness wasn't the only thing that increased over the past three days. Andromeda’s activity increased too, but whether it was in a good way is debatable. Whenever she was near me, I was always on the edge. She was a biter; we had established that. Uncle Ed had a sleeve of his best shirt torn when Andromeda rejected his oats offering.
Andromeda wasn't a social butterfly with the other horses. They seem to have grown resentful or fearful of her. Aunt Betty passed this off as “it’s just them getting used to her.” I’m not a horse whisperer, but they seemed to be doing everything but trying to get used to her. If anything, they were trying to avoid her. Whenever they gathered together, they would all move away from her when she came near. The way a group of people would avoid an undesirable. Andromeda didn’t seem to care or be offended by it.
Friday, three days before I would leave, was when Andromeda began showing her true colors, and it only got worse from here. The day went by like the others: occasional nipping and spitting out oats, nothing out of the ordinary for Andromeda. I went to bed in the attic at 11:00. I slept peacefully until 2:30 in the morning. I was woken up by a loud clicking noise like wood colliding against wood. I went over to the single attic window to see what it was. The window was too high for me to look out, so I improvised using the nightstand as a stool. I got a good view of the ranch and looked out toward the pasture and barn. I saw nothing, but before I could get down, something caught my eye.
Illuminated by the porch lights, I saw Andromeda, her gold and green eye staring up at me. I could only stare back down at her and wait until she did something. The light made her eyes look like they were glowing, it made me too uneasy to go down there and bring her back into the barn. Five minutes turned into ten and still we were locked in a stare down. Eventually, my fear turned into annoyance and I went down the stairs, past the second floor and to the first.
I opened the front door, but I didn't see her standing where she had been. I circled around the house, trying to find her, but had no luck. Out of curiosity, to see how she got out of the barn, I went over to it. Maybe she went back inside. When I got to the barn, I found that the lock was still fastened to the two doors. I tugged on it a little bit to test it, it was still locked. I guessed that maybe Uncle Ed forgot to get Andromeda into the barn before we all went to bed. I would have to wake him up in the morning to go find her. She probably ran off the property. I went back into the house and up in the attic, I went back to sleep almost at once.
I was woken up the next morning by a gunshot. Quickly, I got out of bed and raced downstairs. I found out that it was just Uncle Ed shooting at tin cans. I didn't know he had a gun. Remembering what had happened last night, I asked him about Andromeda and if he had lead her into the barn. He took his eyes off his targets and looked and me. “Yeah, I did. I lead all the horses one by one into the barn and locked it behind me. Maybe you were just seeing things,” he said. He then handed me the keys to the barn.
“You can go look for yourself,” he said and went back to shooting. I headed to the barn and unlocked the door and slowly opened it. I looked toward the stables. Andromeda was in her designated stall, she was propped up against the wall and sleeping soundly. I know I saw her outside the locked barn and yet her she was inside. If that didn’t make me uneasy enough, I noticed that all the other stables were empty. When I looked to the left, the spacious area of the barn, all the other horses were there. They were all huddled together and trembling. Their eyes were locked on Andromeda, like she had done something wrong or offended them.
The Saturday consisted of the usual ranch work and lounging around; it was afternoon when I was asked to take Andromeda out of the barn and into the pasture. On my way to her, I saw Leah exit the barn. She approached me and I looked down at her. “Andromeda is funny,” she simply said and went off to go find her parents.
I shrugged at her comment and proceeded inside the barn. Andromeda was still in her stable. As I slipped a bridle on her, I noticed a hand print on the side of her face, like someone had smacked her, really hard. It was significantly smaller then my hand and looked to be a toddler sized print. “Leah…” I said out loud, knowing who the culprit was.
My eyes suddenly made contact with Andromeda’s. Her gold eye and green eye no longer displayed the same look that I saw the night before. Her eyes seemed to display sadness and hurt. Her gold eye had some water around it, like she had shed a single tear. A tear came out of her green eye. It wasn't the watery drop you would expect. It was scarlet red and much thicker.
After leading her out into the pasture, I went to find Leah. I found her playing on the porch. “Leah, why did you hit Andromeda?” I asked the six year old.
“I like the funny noise she makes when I do,” she answered, not making eye contact with me.
“Can you please not hit her? Your daddy says it isn't nice to hit.” I said, trying to level with her.
“No.” Leah said, “I like the funny noise.” She got up and went inside the house. I sighed in semi-defeat.
I went back up to the attic for the night after herding the horses in the barn. I fell asleep, eager to get through tomorrow, my last day there. At 3:15 in the morning I woke up. The attic was a scorching, so I got out of bed, grabbed the nightstand, and opened the window atop of it. As I opened it, I looked out the window. To my surprise, I didn’t see Andromeda, at least not right away. After looking down at the area near the house, I looked toward the pasture. I saw the shade of a horse running in the fenced perimeter. It was no mystery that it was Andromeda. When I looked closer, there appeared to be something much smaller than her running in front of her. The two shadows finally came into the range of the porch light and I saw them both, Andromeda was chasing a rabbit… They both ran really fast; Andromeda at a speed that would give a race horse a hard time.
They disappeared into the darkness again. I noticed that the rabbit was beginning to slow down. Andromeda wasn’t letting up; if anything she was going faster. It was hard to tell what happened next, but from what I saw, Andromeda lunged at the rabbit, which was then in her range. Her two front feet landed on the small mammal’s back, crushing it. The sound of the sickening cracking of bones carried through the attic’s open window and I heard it. I cringed at the sound. Blood and organs squeezed out of the rabbit’s mouth, like a toothpaste tube. Once it stopped moving, Andromeda raised her head and let out a whine. It wasn't high pitched like a normal horse’s; it was low and sounded like a demonic snarl. She then lowered her head toward the dead rabbit, like she was going to start grazing. I jumped off the nightstand and hurried back into my bed; I had seen enough.
I woke up at 11 that morning; Uncle Ed must've let me sleep in. The image of the rabbit’s slaughter was still fresh in my mind. I went downstairs and met Aunt Betty in the kitchen. “Are you ok?” she asked me as I sat down, “You look green.”
“…I’m fine.” I said. I couldn't tell her what I saw.
I went outside after I was done eating. Uncle Ed was herding the horses out of the barn. Andromeda was the last one out. She licked her lips as she walked, like she was savoring the rabbit’s flavor. “Can I clean the stables?” I asked Uncle Ed.
He was a bit taken back by my request. I have never volunteered to clean the stables before. “Sure…go ahead,” he said before heading out with the horses.
I nearly ran into the barn and to Andromeda’s stall. The entire floor of it was covered in hay. I began digging through the hay, knowing what game she was playing at. Eventually, I found the rabbit, or what was left of it. There was only a skull, a femur, and a half eaten rib cage left. All of them had small traces of blood and flesh on them. It became clear to me that Andromeda was not only eating the meat, but also the bones. I covered the bones back up and left the barn. From that point I didn't want anything to do with that horse or whatever Andromeda was. I just wanted to leave the ranch and go home.
I spent the rest of the day in silence. I only talked when Uncle Ed asked me why the stables weren't clean. I told him that the smell was too much for me. I asked him if he found anything in Andromeda’s stall when he cleaned them. He just gave me a puzzled look and said no. I personally checked back in Andromeda’s stall only to find nothing. The skull, femur, and rib cage were gone.
Aunt Betty didn't show too much concern over my not eating my dinner. Uncle Ed jokingly blamed her poor cooking, they both laughed but not me. I just sat in silence, staring at my food and not saying anything. Just then, Leah came running through the front door. Tears were streaming down her face and she was crying loudly. She was clinging to her right forearm. “Andromeda bit me!” she screamed.
On her arm was a massive bite mark. The teeth imprints were outlined in blood and the area inside them were purple. The lines of the prints were bleeding. It didn't look like any flesh was ripped away, but it did look infected. Aunt Betty held her crying daughter while my Uncle wrapped her arm with a cloth and ordered me to call an ambulance. By the time the ambulance reached us, Leah had cried herself to exhaustion and was unconscious. My Aunt and Uncle carried Leah out to the ambulance. The paramedics said that she would have to go to the hospital to treat the infected bite. They loaded Leah in while Uncle Ed climbed in with her. Aunt Betty reluctantly decided to stay at the house with me at least until the cab picked me up the next morning at 6:15. She kissed Leah’s forehead before getting out of the ambulance and leading me into the farm house as they pulled away.
Aunt Betty quietly helped me back before we both went to bed. I couldn't bring myself to go check on Andromeda. The carnivorous horse had tasted human flesh and I wasn't sure if she liked it or not. The thought of it sickened me. Aunt Betty’s silence finally got me to ask her what was wrong. She simply said “Andromeda” with a tone of malice. Surprisingly, I slept soundly that night. I wasn't woken up at all.
My phone alarm clock went off at 6:00 and I got up quickly. I gathered my bags and went downstairs. The taxi arrived at 6:15 just as scheduled. The driver helped me load my backs and the back and we were soon set to go. “Could you just give me minute?” I asked the driver, “I want to say good-bye to my Aunt.”
The driver nodded and got in the driver’s seat and turned on the cab to warm it up. I thanked him and went back into the house and up to Aunt Betty’s and Uncle Ed’s room. I expected her to be asleep as I hadn’t seen her since I woke up. “Aunt Betty…” I quietly called as I entered her room.
Her bed was empty. I also noticed that their closet door was open. Curiously, I peeked inside and saw there was an open steel safe in the corner. I noticed that the only things in the safe were empty boxes of what seemed to be hand gun ammunition. I knew full well what Aunt Betty was going to do.
I ran down the stairs and out the front door to the barn. The doors were shut, but the lock had been hastily unlocked. “Aunt Betty?” I quietly called out again, I was scared at this point.
No answer came from the barn. I realized I had no choice. I slowly opened the barn doors and stepped inside. I choked back vomit at what I saw…
Andromeda was sitting down on her bottom with her legs spread out, something physically impossible for a horse to do. In between her legs was Aunt Betty, seated up right and the gun still in her hand. Andromeda had one hoof on either side of Aunt Betty’s head, which effectively held it in place. The horse then lowered her head and took another bite out of my Aunt’s head. Betty’s cranium was completely exposed. Beads of blood tricked down past her dead face. Her partially eaten brain was exposed and her mouth was agape. Andromeda chewed the brain chunk, her eyes closed as if she was enjoying it. She swallowed once she was done and opened her eyes. The horse looked towards me at the entrance to the barn. Her mouth was caked in blood and her gold eye and green eye locked onto me. Slowly, her lips began to retract, revealing her bloody molars. Brain matter and rotting flesh were lodged in between her teeth. Andromeda…smiled at me, still not taking her eyes off me.
I don’t know if it was the horror of this scene or the overwhelming pain my mind went through trying to process this, but I smiled back at her. I kept my nervous smile on the entire time I slowly shut the barn doors. As I did, Andromeda kept grinning wider and wider and still not taking her gaze of me. I smiled back at her one more time before closing the two barn doors shut.
I walked back to the cab slowly; the thirty second walk felt like an hour. I got into the passenger seat next to the driver, shut the door, and put my seat belt on without a word. The driver was about to drive away when I patted him on the shoulder to get his attention. “Can we hurry?” I asked him, “I have a flight to catch.”
“Sure thing,” he replied and quickly pulled away from the house. I sighed to myself as he did. Grandma was going to have to find a new favorite child.