Dead Horses


I was only twelve years old when I came across this most lugubrious, festering

Black Sand Beach by Hawaiian Sea

Black Sand Beach by Hawaiian Sea

corpse of a dead horse in Kalapana on Black Sand Beach. It was lodged within the rough, onyx-colored sands made of lava rock, and having arrived on these very shores not thousands, but mere hundreds of years earlier they were still sharp and rocky, not smoothed by erosion. My toes poked from rubber-heeled plastic thong sandals called zoris. There were many hard rocks protruding from the sands, and I smashed my heel painfully against one, causing me to shrink back away from it in pain, blood oozing out against hot skin.

I stepped away from the rock and almost directly on to this dead horse,

Hard pebble sands of Black Sand Beach

Hard pebble sands of Black Sand Beach

partially hidden beneath a palm tree – the kind that grew out of the tidal pools, and were bent sharply inland through some natural force although I knew not if it were the water or the wind, or both. The crook of the low, bent palm hid the corpse until the last moment, and then I saw it. The water had very likely come up over this dead horse several times, and receded, and what the low tide revealed now was mostly skeletal, with a few places where the hide covered partially protruding bone. It didn’t smell. I had the sense that sea creatures tore away at most of the flesh, leaving bone with flaps of leathery skin waving over it.

Although life was forever absent this corpse, the bones were nonetheless

"Dead Horse in Riverbed" by Ianaré Sévi

“Dead Horse in Riverbed” by Ianaré Sévi

reanimated with teeming life of the tidal pool, green slimy mold-like seaweeds, plumper brownish ones, happy little hermit craps in stolen shells with their ambitions of making a new home here in the reclaimed corpse of this horse. They were cranking away at the creation of this whole new aquatic ecosystem, and they were going at it full throttle when I came on the scene.


Kalapana Black Sand Beach in 1978 by Hawaiian Sea

Kalapana Black Sand Beach 1978 by Hawaiian Sea

But I was only twelve years old, and unconcerned with the joys of the under denizens of this dead horse suburbia. My pre-teen mind would not absorb the entire ecological gestalt of this thing, rather electing to defenestrate – for in my twelve year old eyes, it was just gross, disgusting, nastier than accidentally stepping into a pile of dookie. I was just a kid, not some teenager in the throes of an experimental philosophical phase where I was interested in examining the brevity of a jaunt with a livid life condescending into a sleepy death in a fantastic realm of either amazing or horrific possibility where even a horse might sleep with the fishes. I chose to throw the entire notion of death out the window, and instead turned and ran – screaming! Screaming, running, far, far away from the death of horses into the life of a safe public restroom with its comforting public showers.

Sumiko at 6

Sumiko Saulson, 6 years old

I left behind pomegranate waving colors of sea stalks taking root in wet spots on yellowing bones in the red rocks covered in rusty blood into the cold concrete square encasings of cubicles, stalls, with closing casket doors but water… hot and cold water, descending in rainy rivulets from the faucet. Warm water and lily-scented shampoo poured over me, enveloping me, caressing me like love. They washed away hard little black pebbles stuck to my heel by hot gushes of blood, and terrible memories of dead horses, all down the shower drain and back out to sea.

But later I would wonder if there was something dirty about that beach – some kind of curse of dead horses left to rot in the sun. Five years later, when the angry volcano came to wash it all away, burying the dead horse beach under 30 feet of lava.

Lava Flowing at Kalapana by Caleb Slemmons

Lava Flowing at Kalapana by Caleb Slemmons

About This Short Story

This is an autobiographical story taking place in 1980. Kalapana is a real place, and this really happened. This story is Copyright: Sumiko Saulson California, all rights reserved. You are likely to find it incorporated into a work of fiction later, because some of the most frightening things I can think of are ones that I actually experienced.

If you do want to use this story, please ask me for permission.

About The Photos

All of the photos except the one of me as a kid are used under a Creative Commons license,  which means that they are available for non-commercial creative use if properly attributed. I’ve attributed the photos to their creators where available, and all are linked back to the source. Click on any photo to get back to the source for that photo. In some cases, more information on the photo is provided.

~ by Sumiko Saulson on July 7, 2012.

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