General Poetry posted December 1, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
City slicker meets his match in a small country town

Springfield Lightning

by Peter Rich

"So it's a promise that you've made, but the debt remains unpaid, I'll make you rue the day I strode this land and that horse will learn who's master, for there's no-one's hand that's harsher, I'll break her like dry windfalls in the stands!"

The cruelty in his laughter, echoed harshly even after, his crunching footfalls faded in the gloom, a stranger to all pity was this slicker from the city, his breed a girl like Liz had never known.

Amid the glow of dying embers, it was easy to remember, old Stan's words as he had his final say, he had mustered all his vigour but still looked a frail figure, as he held her close, his hands as cold as clay:

"Now Lightnen's all you've got girl, this land's not worth a 'cut-curl',
yer oath that Wickham nor none like him get that orse. She's the spirit of the Outback, no sulky haulen pet hack, promise me that you'll keep her from that course!"

It was Stan who'd taught her riding, that and love for Springfield Lightning, were all he'd left her after 50 years of toil. The shack upon 12 acres at the auction fetched no takers, red dust and dreams no substitute for soil.

As lot 13 was passed in, Liz saw Wickham's wicked grin, as he elbowed forward through the thinning crowd, doffed his Bowler in mock-greeting, expressed delight at their "chance-meeting", and flourishing a slip of paper, retreated with a bow.

'One hundred quid I.O.U.', with Stan's signature applied thereto, to Liz and Lightning surely spelt 'despair', for there was no sense seeking credit, as old Stan had often said it: "To friends of mine a 10-bob note is something rare."

And as evening stretched dark fingers, rousting light that chanced to linger,
an idea began to blossom then to grow, for a man like Cedric Wickham, might just look for easy 'pickens' and any chance to play the cock to strut and crow.

Though tired and gnawed by self-doubt, taking lantern, Liz went out and climbing weathered railings gave a whistle.
With a nicker as her answer, up came Lightning at a canter, her tail and mane bedecked by burr and thistle.

She was small, but she was cunning and she was strong and full of running and Liz the only one who'd 'sat her back'.
Though many men had tried her, just as many failed to ride her and wore 'campaign-ribbons' for their troubles, blue and black.

Now Wickham was a 'tempry' as the locals called the gentry, who came to Springfield looking for some 'lurk' and when they'd received an earful, their outrage it was fearful and Liz found many allies eager for her 'work'.

The Springfield Miner ran the story, as told to Albert Corey, of the horse that only one small girl could ride and they harped upon the fame to which Wickham might lay claim, if his boast to break the black mare could be tried.

Though Wickham was a 'city bloke' he'd cultivated English folk, spent many hours riding to 'Fox and Hounds', so the challenge didn't faze him, yet the thought of fame it dazed him, he cared less and less about his hundred pounds.

He was in a mood of confidence when he uttered to a confidant: "If I couldn't ride her, I'd give up me undred quid!"
He was astounded to discover, how his 'quote' had been recovered, drawing comments as the passers 'dipped their lids'.

And as the time began to hurry, he was given pause to worry, by headlines appearing in the local news: "Five hundred's now the offer from Wickham's private coffers, quote Wickham: 'There's no way that I can lose!'"

'Pride comes before a wreck', or prescient words to that effect, and next to Cedric Wickham, a courting peacock would seem sedate.
"Let the bumpkins carry on, but I'll show em how its done!" Like a hungry fish he'd swallowed Liz's bait.

So a date was fairly chosen by the magistrate reposen, in the larger valley town of Nurremdin and the whole damn population, turned their heads to speculation, on Cedric Wickham and his chances of a win.

The owner of the 'local' never knew a crowd so vocal, as Lightning's qualities were debated morn to noon, for every prognosticator, there were 'odds' and 'tote' collators, he'd seen nothing that could match it since the 'Boom'.

Smith's stable was the venue for its space afforded good views, for 500 folk who'd gathered for the 'show', even a 'pro-fight' commentator perched atop an elevator, was employed to give the crowd a 'blow by blow'.

Out strode Wickham in red jodhpurs, wearing riding boots with gold spurs, he really meant to catch the 'yokels' eyes.
Blue velvet fringed his top coat, white lace puckered at his white throat, it was clear that on this man 'there were no flies'.

Then Liz led out Springfield Lightning whose demeanour it was frightening
and the bookies dropped the odds by 15 points, she was coal black snorting vapour, muscles 'crackling' like dry paper, as she paraded snapping jaw and twitching joints.

She stood stock-still in the chute, Wickham sat haughty, resolute and the crowd sucked in breath through clenching teeth, only Lightning's short sharp snorting and the footfalls of young Norten, broke the silence that now hung there like a wreath.

Then Norten slid the railings back and watched the black mare's ears pin back, her eyes she turned to look in Wickham's face and there's many who would swear that that look laid Wickham 'bare' and he turned the colour of his fancy lace........................

To the collective consternation, not a sign of confrontation! Lightning trotted meekly and sedately round the field.
With one hand upon the reins, Wickham voiced his pure disdain, shouting to the crowd this bold appeal:

"So you bet on my disaster?! I said I'd prove her master! Now agree this 'hay bag' couldn't flick a fly or flea!"
Having taunted the querulous crowd, Wickham gave a flouncing bow, then goaded Lightning cruelly spurs and knees.

But to his surprise, Lightning lengthened not her stride, instead she stopped and slowly lowered her rear.
Following a drawn out inhalation, she produced a defecation, a steaming pile to cause the eye to tear.

Though this cannot be confirmed, one man swears that he discerned, a twitching smile that played on Lightning's lips, then a fire lit her eyes and a dipping sideward stride, left Wickham hanging by his finger tips.

Then she launched and double twisted, had you blinked you would've missed it and Cedric catapulted left then right, and as he moaned and sank, clutching feebly at her flank, Lightning turned and nipped him smartly on the thigh.

Quickly backing she returned, to the yellow pile she'd spurned and there appeared to kneel in fervent prayer and head down as he hung, she dragged Wickham through the dung, adding colour to his clothes and greying hair.

Next she turned towards the fence where the watchers stood intent, on witnessing the end of Wickham's ride.
Bereft of any bluster, more like a feather duster, "Rooster" Wickham headed swiftly t'wards demise.

Having shed her 'meek' pretence, Lightning loosed a new offence,
she shook from head to tail and tightly spun.
Feet loosened from the stirrups, all but drained of fighting spirit, Cedric should have known by now his 'race was run'.

She tossed him high above the saddle, turned to catch him in a straddle, that left him facing back the way they'd come.
Pirouetted t'ward the railings and limbs flailing sent him sailing, of a soft landing Cedric's chances now were 'none'.

It was over in a flash as Cedric landed with a crash, that splintered two fence rails and cracked a third and many were the versions of Cedric's air excursion, at least a dozen explanations could be heard.

Cedric's multiple contusions were considered 'fair retribution' and 500 pounds the price for being frail, as 'Damaged Goods' they consigned him, courtesy of Springfield Lightning and stuffed him on the weekly East-bound Mail.

Now his boots and spurs attest, to the folly of his quest, mounted high above the bar at Duffy's pub and a thousand now lay claim to have witnessed 'Wickham's shame', each one a boastful member of the 'club'.

Though the story's got well varnished, still the years have never tarnished,
the image of that fearsome little mare, 'Game as Kelly' might be said, but round Springfield way instead, it's 'Game as Lightning' when describing courage rare.

Poem of the Month contest entry


"quid" is a slang expression for a "pound" which was 20 shillings in the old English monetary system.
"ten bob note" slang for half a pound or 10 shillings (see above)
"Local" - slang for a tavern
"lurk" - unfair opportunity usually business related
The story is set in 1920's Australia
The concluding line refers to an Australian "Bush Ranger" named Ned Kelly (hung in 1880) - "game as Kelly" was/is a common expression
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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