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James England's picture

The Horse With No Head

By James England in Teleport Us

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A lowly pack of survivors, dogs and men, cautiously make their way through miles and patches of the long-abandoned highways.  Making a living off of the refashioning of scavenged metal and precious baubles, Moses, a female Rottweiler, and her companion, Amanda, face a wide host of adversities diverse and savage.  Confronted with a dark ghost of technologies once thought dead and their tribe surrounded by highway marauders - Moses and Amanda must learn to trust each other's instincts if they expect to survive in this post-civilization world.

James England is an independently published author.  His previous published works include a contribution to Cape Fear Chronicles: Volume 1 - Pabst Blue River, "Pauly Hill", and a book of novellas about Afghanistan called "The Gritty Times".


James England's picture
James England from Wilmington, North Carolina is reading Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins February 28, 2013 - 9:12pm

I attached the updated version with the correct title.  While probably not admissible for the purposes of this contest, at least it accurately portrays what I was trying to go for.

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries March 1, 2013 - 1:11pm

Having read the story, I kind of like A Bitch named Moses for a title, it suits the tone of it I think. But browsing submissions, I clicked in on yours because The Horse with no Head is amazingly intriguing. I was kind of hoping there would be a headless horse too, but I'll settle for a robot.

Either way, I like this story, it's funny and sad and full of action, and I can definitely sympathize with the fierce and noble MC.

Your use of language is very accomplished, but – although you clearly know how to string them together – I believe you could trim quite a few words here and there. Occasionally, I had to reread a few sentences before I was on top of events. Might also help if you punctuated more.

One last thing, please please please set the line spacing at 2 (double).

Thumbs up, thank you for sharing!

James England's picture
James England from Wilmington, North Carolina is reading Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins March 1, 2013 - 2:01pm

For future submissions, I will gladly set my line spacing to double.  Thanks for the kind words and I agree with most of your criticism.  I think it could use another long and strenous editing but I liked the dog and wanted to give her a chance to gain some notoriety.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder March 2, 2013 - 1:54pm

James, great story! You had me from first sentence to last. I'm a dog person, so this resonated for me even more on a personal level. But objectively speaking, I enjoyed it very much.

Moses's perceptions of the humans around her are priceless! Wow, did you really get that right. I found myself empathizing with Moses and admiring her courage. Her perceptions provided the story with an extra layer of meaning, and by the end I felt that the humans were just a pack of dogs as well, or perhaps worse than a pack of dogs, right? 

I was so relieved the organs weren't Moses's. I felt very bad for her owner. 

There were a couple tough parts. I found the battle hard to follow. I'd like to see more precise descriptions of what's going on. Also, I'd like to see more description of the horse with no head. I couldn't figure out if it was a car or a robot on 2 or 4 legs. Had a hard time with the Blackbird description, and I wasn't following who/what was actually in the horse.

But overall, I really enjoyed this one, so I gave it a thumbs up!

Oh, and I'm with Linda on the title!

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder March 2, 2013 - 2:01pm

Oh, and I'm not sure about Moses for the dog's name. How about Magda? It's more female sounding. Just a thought.

One Tunguska Story

James England's picture
James England from Wilmington, North Carolina is reading Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins March 2, 2013 - 5:14pm

Thank you for reading it and leaving your thoughts on it.  I have the hardest times with titling my pieces and I really liked "A Bitch Named Moses" but went with a softer sounding one in case audiences were taken too off-guard by the title.  I think I'll stop questioning that part of my writing eventually.

And as for the horse with no head, it's an actual piece of technology.  They created these robotic pack mules that can carry supplies through harsh terrain.  The U.S. Army paid to develop it and I thought "how cool/weird/fucked up would it be for an old prototype to fall into the hands of a mean pack of highwaymen and be used against unsuspecting wanderers?"  

Because that piece of technology does not exist in popular parlance, it is hell for me to try to describe it and you're right: I sort of dropped the ball on it.  The battle sequence, as a result, sort of suffered because of it.  I like the concept and when I rework this piece for something else down the road, I'll be sure to hone in more on descriptions that can help an unfamiliar reader understand what is being viewed by this post-apocalyptic nomadic tribe.

Again, thanks for reviewing and I really enjoyed your work.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland March 7, 2013 - 9:20pm

Despite all my notes to follow, I really like this story. I'll just point out things I've been working on in my own writing and hope that you find some of it helpful. These are just oppinions so ignore what doesn't apply in reguards to your style.

I avoid adverbs when I can because they often tell without showing and they also sometimes over describe something. Sometimes they work great but here are a few examples where they just seem to bog down the prose for me:

...the dog absently thought to herself.

I’d eliminate absently, also elimante “to herslf” who else would she be thinking too? "The dog thought" works fine. The dog absently thinking doesn’t work for me because she's either thinking or she isn't. Does that make sense? Maybe you could say she was distracted by her thoughts or something.

...before obligingly following her mistress

obligingly and following are too close to the same. If she is following it usually implies that she does it obligingly. I think.

Her tail absently waged

You use absently again here. And I think you meant wagged instead of waged. But I’d go with "Her tail wagged." The context implies the emotion. A wagging tail tells us so much about the dog so let the wagging be the action that drives it without tainting it with an adverb that doesn’t add any flavor to the prose.

Panic, hunger, and anger wafted from his armpits, crotch, and asshole. 

I really like this line. It confused me at first, but I realized it's the dog "smelling" or "Sensing" the emotions and the senses are excreted from those areas. But I first thought of a hungry asshole or an angry crotch, and it makes me laugh. But I get it, the senses of panic, hunger and anger, excrete from him. It’s a nice way to get in the dog’s p.o.v. I like it.


And now, Moses glumly regarded, they were too young to be properly frightened.  When one primate gets scared in a pack, all the primates naturally gain that same smell.  Except for the young – too foolish to know to feel the fear.  Smelling their presence from the group, she felt their fear but knew that they didn’t understand what was going on.  Their fear was a fear out of ignorance whereas the rest of the pack, even the slightly older cubs, all smelled of the fear of experience. 

A lot of redundancy and confusion in this passage for me. The first sentence and third sentence say practically the same thing. (That the young aren't afraid.) Then in the fifth sentence you say they have fear after telling us twice before that they were too young to have fear. I understand what you are trying to say but I think this passage could be cleaned up a bit. (I think you need to make it clear that they have fear but it's a different kind to begin with, thus making this paragraph alot shorter, less expository and redundant and get us right back into the action.) 

The silence was quickly broken with a rapid succession of shots that tore into Gerard, silencing his pleas for help. 

This passage confused me too. The silence was broken up, but it silenced his pleas for help. I don’t get it. If it was silent before he would not had been pleading for help because that implies sound. I think you are trying to say that you couldn’t hear him pleading because of the loud rapid shots. You use the word silence twice but nothing about the scene seems quite. So maybe just say. "A rapid succession of shots tore into Gerard and the rat-tat-tat of the gun overpowered his pleas for help.” Or something like that.

Overall I like the story. If you work a little bit more on showing the scenes by giving us more action verbs and descriptions of what happens during the battle, it could be really good. As is, it’s an endearing story and you built up a great bond between Moses and Amanda.

While I typically like happy endings, and yours was sweet and thoughtful, I have a little bit of a hard time believing it. I think you did so good with the bond that I felt like Moses and Amanda would rather die together fighting, than to live but be separated. You’re ending is good but maybe I need some last moment between them, a look, or a lick, or something where they tell each other that everything is going to be alright instead of just having Moses reflect on it.

One last thing. Mose’s dream was sweet but I have a hard time figuring out what it has to do with the rest of the story. I think it may work better without it because it didn’t add a lot of emotion for me.  You had plenty of that already. Was it intended to introduce the idea that Moses is pregnant? I felt like I already knew that but maybe I had just assumed it up until that point.  If you are attached to the dream, maybe you can find a way to make it more significant, for now it just distracted me from the action and took me out of the story.

Thanks for sharing this James, if you have any questions or complaints about my review feel free to querry(yell) at me.


James England's picture
James England from Wilmington, North Carolina is reading Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins March 8, 2013 - 3:45pm

That was a really thoughtful review.   Thank you!

klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon March 18, 2013 - 1:26am

Love me a bit of post-apocalypse. 

You hooked me immediately with the POV of the dog. So clever to dive directly into the crux of the matter and identify the parts that would repulse and fascinate (the intimate knowledge that comes with a dogs sense of smell through feces, blood, sweat) 

As with so many other stories, this feels like the first chapter of a book. And as with quite a few I've read, I'll let it pass since its just so fingerlickin' good. But sure, if you had built a complete story in this world it would have been even better. 

The horse with no head feels a mite glued on as an afterthought to add a sci fi element. It might have been a Toyota with a M-60 just as well and the story would have worked just as well. But you totally get away with it. 

As it stands, one of the better stories I've read so far and by far the best poxiclypse. I salute you. 

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) March 26, 2013 - 9:14am

I got very confused at first because of the names, which should probably teach me to read the description before I read the story. I liked the dog POV, and you had a nice flow to this. My only real niggles are that I got lost at times. The horse with no head was beyond my ability to picture. I actually started out thinking it was a helicopter for some reason. The battle sequence lost me at times too, I had to keep re-reading that. Those parts aside though, it's well written and an enjoyable read.

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. March 30, 2013 - 9:14am

Wow! That is a dark little world you've got there. While I did have trouble keeping track of Moses's and Amanda's actions at the beginning (keep track of who was who) the story still flowed amazingly well.

Excellent work!

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