The train tracks seemed to stretch on endlessly ahead as Tim led the pack string onward. The Redwoods towered high above them, keeping them from direct sun exposure. The cool, woodsy breeze felt more like October than the usual August, dry heat they were accustomed to in Bakersfield. Like a traveling safari, the caravan stayed true to the old, rundown train tracks. The clear path ahead of them provided a longer stretch of smoother travel than the unsteady terrain that surrounded them on both sides.

The crew rounded the bend and came to the third train trestle in four hours. It was only the second day of their horseback journey, but Tim’s patience was wearing thin with all the detours around these trestles.

He sighed out his annoyance. Approaching the entrance to the trestle, he pulled slightly on the reins, bringing his horse, Cher, to a slowing stop. The metal frame of the bridge stretched nearly one hundred yards to the end, towering over enlarged rocks and bushy trees nearly thirty feet below. Tim scanned the railroad ties, examining their condition. Each tie lay close together and appeared sturdy and fairly new.

“Okay,” he said aloud. “Let’s go. We’re crossing this one.”

Signaling Cher, the horse’s hooves made contact with the first railroad tie, followed by two pack horses. Leif and Lynn lagged several dozen feet behind, watching the back legs of the final pack horse leave the dusty earth and fully commit to this suspended path of wooden boards. The horses bowed their heads a little lower, each step cautious and tentative with extra intention.

As Leif approached the trestle’s entrance, Tim neared the halfway mark of the bridge’s crossing and began noticing the gradual spreading of the railroad ties beneath Cher’s hooves. He looked down past his right leg to witness the growing two-foot gap between the current ties.

Before he could react, Cher’s gait shifted from cautious to toddling. Tim stiffened, squeezing onto the reins more tightly.

She stumbled, legs buckling, halting. Taking one more step, a single hoof barely missed the now three-foot gap, sending both back legs sliding between the ties. The young horse panicked, flailing the remaining two limbs before each of them fell through. Tim suddenly found himself atop a horse with all four legs wedged in railroad ties dangling thirty feet above rocky ground.

In utter shock, Tim immediately jumped off and unstrapped her saddle, letting it fall over to the opposite side. His hands shook.

She thrashed helplessly, all four legs securely trapped. Tim circled her, searching for the best way to begin aiding her attempts to wriggle free.

At the bridge’s edge, Lynn dismounted her horse. Having two pack horses in front of her with pack gear over three feet wide, she had merely lost sight of him as Cher fell through the trestle.

“Tim! What is happening?” she hollered.

No answer.

Leif joined her on the ground and the two stood by listening closely to a series of thrashing, beating, and grunting. Lynn’s eyes grew wide with horror.

Thinking Tim was underneath the horse, she hit Leif in the arm, “Get up there and help him!”

Leif handed her the reins and pack strings of his horses and made his way across the train trestle towards Tim. As he walked briskly, the first of Tim’s pack horses turned around on the bridge and began walking back the way it had come as though responding to an order. The second one immediately followed suit.

With pack gear extending over three feet on a railroad trestle only seven feet wide, the two horses brushed past each other with hooves at both edges, barely fitting side by side on the trestle.

About the time Leif reached Tim, Cher had maneuvered her front legs out of their wedged position. Tim reached his hand through the railroad ties and picked up her back right leg, pushing it underneath her to bring three legs in the upright positions in the middle of the railroad track.

Tim circled back around and knelt down by the final trapped leg to find it wedged between a piece of wood and metal underneath the first layer of wood of the trestle. He began to reach in to attempt to free her, but stopped.

A thought of hesitation flashed across his mind. This horse may kick or thrash once he got her loose. Should he take the risk at reaching his entire arm down inside this tight hole? Should he wait it out and let her do it herself? A flood of thoughts simultaneously bombarded him as he reached his arm down through those railroad ties.

Without a single stir, he managed to pull her leg free and picked up her foot. Bringing it upward, he set it on top of the railroad tie. Immediately, Cher laid over on her side, exhausted. Leif promptly went to her and got ahold of her head to provide security.

Tim exhaled and his hands dropped to the wood, his head hanging. He stared down at his pitch-covered hands and took a few heaving breaths. Cher lay still, her head in Leif’s arms. Tim rose to his feet and briefly looked her over.

He noticed her foot was somewhat twisted on the final leg he had freed.

Whistling, he signaled Cher to stand. “Up,” he motioned with his hand, staring into her tired eyes.

Cher lay still without a flinch.

After a couple of minutes of unsuccessful coaxing, Tim grabbed ahold of her leg and began pressing his fingers into the joint, all around the bones. Suddenly he felt his fingers sink deeply in between a clean break of the leg’s main bone. The horse winced.

Immediate devastation washed over him as he realized the gravity of this truth.

“Oh, God! Oh, God!” he wailed. Leif stared up at him, piecing together the moments’ occurrences.

“I gotta shoot her and throw her off the railroad trestle,” Tim said dejectedly, tears filling his eyes. He walked a few feet away from the scene, distraught and slightly anxious at the unknown potential of an oncoming train at any moment. The consequences of his impatience sat like an elephant on his chest and his stomach grew queasy.

Having no visibility from the end of the trestle, Lynn heard the wailing of her husband and received the weightiness of the current state of affairs. She squeezed her eyes shut and balled her fists beneath her chin. “We need a miracle, we need a miracle, we need a miracle,” she muttered in a fervent prayer. “There is nothing else we can do. You have got to do a miracle.”

She channeled the powerless resignation she was feeling into an urgent petition for omnipotent power.

Tim fell to his knees a few feet from Cher, pitch black tar smeared across his white t-shirt from the railroad tie. He hung his head in his hands.

“God, please forgive me.” His voice cracked, spilling tears down his cheeks.

No sooner than the words left his lips did Tim hear struggling behind him. He turned his head to see Cher stand to her feet, Leif rising to stand beside her. The young mare turned and gingerly ambled back to the start of the trestle, tentatively choosing each step and leaving the two men with mouths agape, baffled.

Lynn looked up to see the horse walking toward her. She fell silent at the sight, stunned.

Cher’s legs moved smoothly and gracefully as she came straight towards Lynn and seemed to leap off the right-hand side of the trestle into a patch of tall grass. The young horse began grazing for a snack, seemingly unfazed by the traumatic stream of events.

“He did! He did it!” Lynn exclaimed, pumping her fists in the air. Her praises shattered the stunned silence and flooded the anxious atmosphere with wonder and astonishment.

A few moments later Tim stepped off the end of the trestle, speechless.

“You’ve aged ten years,” Lynn stated at the sight of him. “You look awful.”

Cher ripped another bunch of grass out of the earth, chewing twice before swallowing. She took two steps forward, bending low for another. The trio gaped at the sight.

Tim approached her and reached for her back leg, inserting his fingers into the joint and applying pressure to the surrounding areas. His eyes welled up with tears, blurring his vision.

“It’s gone. The break isn’t there.” His voice broke and he swallowed the forming lump, stifling a sob.

Leif walked over to examine for himself. His burly hand enveloped the joint, his brow furrowing. He caught Tim’s glance before staring down at the leg.

“I don’t get it,” he admitted. “The break was obvious. Now look at it.” His face contorted, the perplexity deepening. “How can it all of a sudden be normal?” Lynn appeared next to him.

“He healed the horse.”

It was so simply stated. So matter-of-fact.

“I prayed for a miracle. There was no other option but a miracle.”

Her words were so steady. So sure.

Frazzled and weary from the exhausting ordeal, the crew set up camp fifty yards back on a flat, grassy surface. Tim’s eyes scarcely left the mare’s hind leg, watching for any sign of a limp. Every hour he rose from his perch by the fire to feel the perfectly whole joint in his hands once again. The tears never stopped, awe and wonder spilling over continuously with each examination.

As he nestled into the bedroll hours later, the events of the day nestled into his spirit.

Lynn asked for a miracle, he thought. But I didn’t.

He clenched his jaw tight, holding his breath to stifle the onslaught of sobs at the realization.

The unmistakable stir of a Voice higher than his thoughts broke through.

You asked for forgiveness.

Tim awoke the next morning to a drop of moisture on his cheek. Cracking open his eyes, he felt the warmth of breath on his face. Coming into full consciousness he realized he was staring into the nose of a horse.

Cher blinked down at him, three inches from his face. She sniffed his hair before raising her head to walk away.

Tim climbed out of the bedroll, made some coffee, and walked down to the entrance of the trestle. He walked down the grassy slope to the underneath side of the bridge to explore an alternative when he came upon a cluster of wood at the bottom where a creek ran through. Flipping some pieces out of the way, he cleared a path for the horses to pass before continuing forward the hundred yards to the other side of the trestle. He climbed up the hill to the other end, struck with the realization of the ease and timeliness of the alternative.

Tim stood peering down the track and strolled out into the middle of the trestle, coming to a halt where Cher had fallen.

Her enlarged hoof prints were clearly visible in the wood and he scanned the scene leading up to the fall. Nearly six feet behind, he recognized where the pack horses turned and walked back. The old wood remarkably displayed each horseshoe print as if it were in sand.

After another minute, he realized something was missing from this scene. He searched the prints, perplexed at what his eyes could not seem to find.

Amidst the clarity of each horse’s trek, there seemed to be no hoof prints from that horse after her miraculous healing. As though she had been carried.

Chills covered Tim from head to toe. He hurried off the trestle and virtually skipped back to the campsite. Amazement covered his face and they looked up at him in confusion.

“Hey,” he almost whispered. “You gotta see something.”






Previous–Episode 8: The Conditioning
Beginning–Episode 1: The Funeral