Mariano was sifting through the piles of records for a Beethoven sonata to which he hadn't listened this summer when Zulma heard the first sound. He stood there, his hand in the air, and looked at Zulma. A sound that seemed to come from the stone staircase of the garden, but no one came to the cabin at this hour; no one ever came at night. From the kitchen she switched on the lamp shining onto the most immediate part of the garden, saw nothing, and switched it off. A dog looking for something to eat, said Zulma. It sounded odd, almost like a snort, said Mariano. A enormous white spot whipped against the window, Zulma cried out as if drowning, Mariano turned back too late, with the glass reflecting only the furniture and pictures of the living room. He had no time to ask, the snort resonated near the wall facing north, a suffocated neigh like the cry of Zulma who had her hands on her mouth as she clung to the back wall looking fixedly at the window. It's a horse, said Mariano without believing it, it sounds like a horse, I heard its hoofs, it's galloping through the garden. Its mane, its blood-red lips, its enormous white head grazed against the window; the horse hardly looked at them, the white spot disappeared towards the right, and anew they heard the hoofs, a brusque silence beside the stone staircase, the neigh, the gallop.
But there are no horses around here, said Mario, who had seized the liquor bottle by the neck before he realized what he had done and placed it on the banquette. It wants to come inside, said Zulma glued to the back wall. But no, don't be silly, it might have escaped from some smallholding in the valley and come towards the light. It wants to come inside, I tell you, it's rabid and it wants to come in. Horses don't get rabid as far I as I know, said Mariano, I think it's gone, I'll go take a look from the window upstairs. No, no, stay here, I still hear it, it's on the terrace stairs, it's trampling the plants, it will come back, and this time it will break the window and come in. Don't be silly, what's it going to break, said Mariano faintly, perhaps it'll scare it away if we switch on the lights. I don't know, I don't know, said Zulma slipping down the wall until she was seated on the banquette, I heard something like a neigh, it's up here. They heard the hoofs going down the stairs, the irritated panting against the door, Mariano thought there was some pressure against the door, a repeated scratching, and Zulma ran towards him screaming hysterically. He pushed her away gently, and held his hand to the switch; in the darkness (light remained in the kitchen where the girl was sleeping) the whinnying and the hoofs became louder; but the horse was not right in front of the door: one could hear it coming and going in the garden.
Without even looking at the corner they had laid out for the girl, Mariano ran to switch off the kitchen light. He came back to hug Zulma who was sobbing; he stroked her hair and her face, begging her to be quiet so that he could hear better. In the window the horse's head was rubbing up against the largest pane without tremendous force; the white spot looked transparent in the darkness; they felt that the horse was peering inside the house as if looking for something; it could no longer see them, yet it was still here, whinnying and panting, with sharp jerks from one side to the other. Zulma's body was slipping from Mario's arms, and he was helping her sit back down on the banquette, leaning her against the wall. Don't move, don't say anything, now it's going to leave, you'll see. It wants to come in, said Zulma faintly, I know that it wants to come in and if it breaks the window, what's going to happen if it kicks the window until it breaks? Hush, said Mario, please be quiet. It's going to come in, mumbled Zulma. I don't even have a shotgun, said Mariano, I'd put five bullets in its head, that son of a bitch. It's no longer here, said Zulma, getting up all of a sudden. I hear it up there; if it sees the terrace door, it could come in. It's properly closed, don't be afraid, consider that in the dark it's not going to enter a house where it can't even move around, don't be such a fool. Oh yes, said Zulma, it wants to come in, and it will smash us against the walls, I know that it wants to come in. Hush, Mariano said again. He was thinking the same thing, but could do nothing but wait, his back soaked in cold sweat. Once more the hoofs resounded upon the slabs of the stairs, and suddenly there was silence, the distant crickets, and a bird in the walnut tree above.
Without turning on the lights now that the window let in the night's vague clarity, Mariano poured a glass of liquor and held it to Zulma's lips, forcing her to drink even though her teeth rattled against the cup and the alcohol spilled onto her blouse. After that he took a long drink straight from the bottle and went to the kitchen to look at the girl. With her hands beneath the pillow as if holding her precious magazine, the girl was, incredibly enough, asleep: she hadn't heard a thing. He had hardly been there a moment while, in the living room, Zulma's crying was turning slowly into a drowning hiccough, almost into a scream. It's over, it's over, said Mariano now sitting down next to her and shaking her softly, it was nothing more than a scare. It's going to come back, said Zulma, her eyes fixed on the window. No, it's probably already far away, I'm sure it escaped from some herd down there. No horse does that, said Zulma, no horse want to come into a house like that. I have to admit it's odd, said Mariano, we'd better take a look outside. I have the flashlight here. But Zulma had pressed herself against the wall; the idea of opening the door, of going out towards the white shadow that could be close by, waiting below the trees, ready to charge. Look now, if we don't make sure that it's gone, no one is going to get any sleep tonight, said Mariano. Let's give it a little longer; in the meantime, go to bed and I'll give you your sedative; an extra dose, you poor thing, you've really earned it.