The Broken Horse Cookhouse and Dancehall

This was all Lily’s idea. The last place I want to spend my Saturday night is an abandoned country bar. But Lily’s sixteen, a whole eight months and four days older than me, and that means she calls the shots. Not that it was any different when we were fifteen and fourteen. Or fourteen and thirteen. When we’re ninety, I suspect she’ll still be eight months and four days older than me.

“Did you remember the candles?” Lily asks as we follow the sidewalk uphill. She’s huffing, as am I. Her face shines with sweat and the glitz of oncoming headlights. The night sky simmers orange over our heads.

“I’m not stupid,” I say.

We pass a vape store, a Holiday Inn, another vape store. I suppress a yawn. Eight hours until I have to be up helping Dad in the shop. Disc brakes won’t bleed themselves.

Lily flops her hair over her head, and it splashes down in blonde whorls on the other side. She’s always playing with her hair, moving the part left and right. “You need to clean up your energy.”

I would ask what this even means, but then we’d fight. Lily gets protective of her witchy shit. Mantras, salt crystals, incense sticks. She lives for it. Our friends live for it, too. I think it’s how they deal.

Magda and Eleanor trail twenty feet back, two wisps in jean skirts and cowboy boots. Embracing the Western spirit, they said.

“Do you ever feel like we got the scraps of, like, the earth?” I ask.

Lily rolls her eyes, which makes me roll my eyes.

Every day, it’s something else. Another war in the South China Sea, another famine in Texas, another year of historic floods and cyclones and forest fires, another coastal community swallowed into the tides somewhere. Lily doesn’t like when I talk about it. She says I’m too negative.

“I brought my speakers,” she says.

“I thought this was a tarot reading.”

“Yeah. Tarot reading slash dance party.”

Our destination comes into view as we reach the hill’s crest: THE BROKEN HORSE COOKHOUSE & DANCEHALL.

The bar went bust back in COVID times, a victim of the First Wave. Forty years later, the sign out front still advertises half-priced highballs. All the decorations — saddles and spurs and a real moose head, or so I’ve heard — still hang from the rafters. I crept inside once on a dare a couple summers ago but only made it as far as the coat check counter before I chickened out and ran back. They say there are rats in the floor and ghosts in the walls, but I only heard the rats.

“I feel like we should go somewhere else,” I say. It’s an August night, near thirty degrees, but cold crackles up my spine.

Lily has already turned on her flashlight. Magda and Eleanor catch up, and the three of them push inward through the heavy wooden door.

With a groan, I follow. I am always following.

My flashlight beam cuts through a muck of shadow and dust. We pass the bar and the empty liquor bottles glittering yellow and blue behind it. We pass the tables, some of which are still set with napkins and cutlery. We pass framed photographs of grinning cowboys, their white Stetsons, their tidy button-up shirts. 

Magda swings a leg over the mechanical bull. “Guys. Guys, get a picture.”

Lily leads us down the creaking steps to the dance floor, which is scattered with beer bottles and stray flaps of cardboard. She kicks the crap aside and folds into a pious sitting position, hands draped palms-up on her knees. “Sit in a circle.”

“I don’t want to sit down,” Eleanor says. “The floor is gross.”

Magda joins us. “Yeah. Ew.”

“This is how it works,” Lily says. She learned to read tarot from her older sister, who learned it from a library book. The way Lily talks about it, you’d think it was ancestral knowledge. “Sit. Open yourself up to the divine.”

I can’t help but snort.

Even in darkness, I can see Lily is annoyed. “You’re no fun,” she says to me. “You’re never any fun.”

“Nothing is fun,” I say. “Everything sucks.”

“Oh my God, stop,” Eleanor says.

“Tomorrow I have to help my dad fix cars, just like I do every Sunday of my entire life.” Anger scorches my throat, my cheeks. “Cars. How are we still driving cars?”

“I don’t have a car,” Magda says.

“Not us us,” I say. “Us, like, humanity. Cars are what screwed us.”

“But we didn’t do that,” Eleanor says. “We’re only fifteen.”

Sixteen.” Lily snatches my hand and yanks me down into the dust. “Just shut up and let me tell your fortune.”

She pulls the candles and lighter from my backpack while I pout. Each wick smoulders and catches. Soon there are one, two, three, four little flames dancing in the dark.

After Eleanor and Magda take their places, Lily finds the tarot deck. Her mouth curls into a tight-lipped smile. “You first, Magda. Ask a question.”

Magda supplies one immediately: “Should I try out for the senior team this year?”

Lily shakes the deck into her palm, shuffles it and lays three cards face-down on the floor. The back of each card is decorated with a slightly different configuration of suns and moons. I remember how stupid this all is.

“Wheel of Fortune,” Lily says, turning the first card. A sphinx sits atop a sphere. “Change is coming.”

“That’s good,” Magda says hopefully.

Lily flips the next card. A figure lies face-down in the surf, a zillion daggers in his back. “Ten of Swords. You may soon hit rock bottom.”

Magda frowns. “That’s bad.”

The next card shows a skeleton atop a white horse.

“Death,” Lily says simply.

Magda’s eyebrows have flown into her hairline. “That’s really bad.”

An idea comes to me. “Your turn now?” I ask, snatching the deck away. “I’ll do it.”

“But you don’t know how.” Lily leans away from me slightly.

“Sure, I do. What’s your question?”

A long moment crawls by, and she says nothing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her hesitate like this. Lily isn’t afraid of skipping math class or kissing strangers or taking the bus late at night. When we go to the silty man-made lake by her house, she’s always the first to jump in.

“Should I go away for university?” she finally asks.

I deal three cards and try to act serious. “Ready?”

Lily nods.

I reach out and freeze with my fingers on the first card. “Oh,” I say.

“What?” Lily says sharply.

“There’s something weird,” I say. “Do you feel that? Close your eyes.”

She closes them.

I take the card and whip it at her face like a frisbee.

Lily recoils as if she’s been shot. Magda and Eleanor crack up.

“Fuck you,” Lily says, dabbing her cheek gingerly. “Seriously. Fuck y—”

Eleanor snags another card from the deck and flings it at Lily’s nose.

Lily scrambles to her feet and runs. We chase. Tarot cards fly. We catch her near the stage and pin her down and wind up in a dogpile, girls lumping on top of girls, dust in our mouths.

Laughter bleeds out of us, all of us, even Lily. Even me. My lungs ache from effort and joy.

Later, Magda plays some music on her phone, a pop hit from last year, and we dance, arms flailing, hips twisting, our only care in the world to not trip over the candles.

Morgan Dick (she/her) is a neurodivergent writer from Calgary. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Geist, Grain, The Prairie Journal, CBC News and The Globe and Mail. She is currently revising a novel. More: or on Twitter @jmdwrites