Standing on the Precipice – A Short Fiction Story

To read the blog post related to this story you may go here: Why I Write Series – The Last E in I.M.M.E.R.S.E. M.E.

This is a fictional story of one rider, one horse, and one lonely canyon trail.  A hankie at hand is recommended.  Thank you for visiting.

Standing on the Precipice Bonnie McKeegan September 2017 (891 words)

Riding that summer day had started out joyful, with that exhilarating sense of adventure I’d become addicted to as a child. My mare, Bella, was bright white with dramatic leopard splotches giving away her Appaloosa heritage at first sight.  The “spirit of the Appy” within her was never in question as she tirelessly carried me on our long sojourns traversing miles of mountain trails near home.

I used to imagine myself a Native American princess traveling by horseback, across lonely mountain ranges, to visit my lover’s tribe miles away.  Always arriving at dusk, welcomed by the wise elder women who were stirring hanging pots of stew, and baking acorn bread on a slab of rock in the fire.  I guess my imagination hadn’t figured out how stew could be cooked in a basket, so I substituted “pots” in my young mind.  

On the day our lives changed, I had started out, as usual, seated comfortably balanced on Bella’s broad back, hugging my legs tighter when we picked up our pace. Her bare back was sweaty beneath my jeans, and I could feel her muscular strength and agility as she navigated rocks and twists in the trail.  She communicated confidence and power through her movements. When I squeezed, she understood my meaning, and we traveled effortlessly across the meadow, my hair blowing back, my own spirit free from earthly worries.  

We were headed for the canyon trail that would take us up-river to our favorite beach.  The river was deep, slow-moving with a sandy bottom up there and I could walk Bella right into the dark emerald green water to cool us both off before plopping down in the sand to soak up the sun. She loved the water and would stop to splash with her hooves and beg to roll before I slid off her back.  Of course, I’d make her wait but only long enough for her to understand who the boss was in our relationship.  Lose the understanding of that hierarchy with your spirited steed? Things are guaranteed to get dicey.

Thinking of her now, as I stand on the precipice, the tears are silently spilling down my face. 

My life lost its meaning that day. Without her as my guide, I’ve been stumbling over rocks, falling, scraping my knees, desperate to get my footing. I’ve been lost, wandering the darkness during daylight and blinded by insomnia at nightfall. I cannot sleep.  I remember restful slumber, but the nightmares haven’t allowed me the peace.

It’s been three years since they hoisted her bloodied and broken body out of the steep river canyon.

Standing on the trail above the ghostly scene below, I remember the wind from the helicopter’s rotating blades whipping my hair around my face so that I was forced to pull it into a ponytail.  The roar of the copter’s engine drowned out the river’s loud rush over huge granite boulders along that narrow stretch of the river. The boulders Bella had tumbled towards the day I forgot who the boss was.  I can still hear her scream.

She spooked. I panicked. All I could do was hang on. We fell. That’s all I know.  I have gone over it in my head a million times.  Spook. Panic. Fall.

Why I panicked, I’ll never understand.  When Bella spooked, I forgot I was supposed to be the boss and control the situation. How could I control it? 1200 pounds of pure equine power and muscle bent on survival. Did you know a horse has two basic defenses? Their fast sprint and deadly hooves.  Sometimes all you can do is hang on for dear life. 

I hung on with my legs, but in my panic, I jerked back on the reins, and it threw Bella off her natural balance.  A horse’s balance is critical to its survival.

If I had just trusted her, she would have made it.  Even in a blind panic, a horse’s instincts for survival are strong, and Bella was damn sure-footed.  My riding friends tell me there’s no way to “know” she would have made it.  They’ve been up there; they know the terrain.  But I know my Bella. She would have carried us to safety.

It is my fault that my mare is dead.  I cannot change what I did in that span of 3 seconds any more than I can stop the sun from setting.

My life ended up here on the side of this mountain. It took three years to summon the courage to return.  “Face your demons,” they said.  Well, here I am, facing mine.  Now what? How do I reconcile my guilt?  My freedom and innocence are lost in this canyon. 

I want to ride across the mountains to arrive at the campfire where my ancestors will welcome me.  I stand on the precipice unsure of my footing. Trust is all I need yet I’ve lost faith in all that I believed.

The echo of her scream haunts me as I slowly turn away from the edge. It is a long walk back, and the sun is hanging low in the sky. By my estimate, I’ll arrive back at the meadow at dusk. I imagine the ancient women there, gathered around the fire with Bella standing quietly nearby, awaiting my return.

It is a lonely trail without my Bella.


6 Replies to “Standing on the Precipice – A Short Fiction Story”

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Jessicarose! I must clarify that this is a fictional story. Of course, there are elements of truth but the story is fiction. This is story is what nearly did happen on a South Yuba River trail called the Buttermilk Trail years ago. In processing my PTSD related to another equine incident this story came through and onto the page. This is an example of creative writing doing it’s work healing old wounds!


  1. I am looking forward to reading your raw stories 😉 That is what got my attention when I saw and read on your blog. Trauma —> Healing. Right up my alley. Love Ann Lamott’s wisdom! Perhaps, I’ll venture into the memoir zone eventually… if my muse insists. LOL!


  2. Beautifully written, and so very sad Bonnie. When we lose someone we love, pet or human, we always grill ourselves on what we could have done differently, especially if it’s an accident. Blame and guilt are something inherent within us, something that is painful and difficult to let go of, an eternal work in progress. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I can see that! Many writers use fiction to portray their real stories, for various reasons. Me. well, I’m out there writing raw with my truths. Like Ann Lamott says – “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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