The sound of racing hooves is a seductive, dangerous drum beat that accompanies the rustle of feathers and wind. I fall through the darkness, images of my life flying by. I see myself at five, Mother sitting comfortably behind me, teaching me how to ride. Another image shows the desperate faces of Kallen and I as we race through a field of corn, running from the neighborhood kids. The memory of rocks pelting our backs doesn’t hurt as it once did, but the sting of loneliness still haunts me.
I wake to the growl of thunder. As I struggle with the remnants of sleep, I look about my tiny room, guaging how long it would be before I have to dust. I’d give it two days, maybe three. Reaching up, I slide my fingers along the wall, searching for the one tiny string. It bumps against my fingertips, and with a pull, a beam of watery light is let into the room. It immediately looks better, which gives the room another day to gather dust.
I sit up and dangle my legs over the edge of my bed, toeing my sock covered feet into a pair of worn boots. Yesterday’s jeans, which had the privilege of coming to bed with me, are clean, for the most part. They only posess one stain, and it’s not from manure or mud this time. Instead, it is just coffee… I hope. I snag a random shirt from the floor, begging it to be somewhat decent. A quick sniff reveals the lingering scent of grain and leather, which means that it is good for one more wear before it is thrown in the wash. I slip my arms through the long sleeves, not opting for an undershirt. I never wear them, or need them. I’m not exactly gifted in the “curves” department.
“Hey, horse whisperer, you awake yet?” The sheet that serves as my door ripples as it is pushed to the side. The scent of bacon wafts through as Kallen’s brunette mop appears. His midnight eyes search the room, the weak sunlight showing the hints of blue that hides in their depths. Unlike me, who is plain as day, Kallen is rather handsome, and it is shocking that he hasn’t found a wife yet. Everyone says that it is because he is raising two twins and a “witch”. I think it’s because our lovely brother just hasn’t found the right woman, or Gods forbid, man.
“Good thing I was decent,” I mumble through a yawn, realizing I hadn’t heard him knock. “I’m up. Are the kids awake yet?”
“Nope,” he laughs. “Let ‘em sleep in today, Ama. They’ve had it rough the last couple of days.”
Rough? They’ve been bored to death, stuck inside by all the rain. As a result, they’ve been made to clean. At least they got to stay in, where it was dry. I had to work out in the mud and rain. Horses don’t feed or clean up after themselves.
“Breakfast’s done, if you wanna come on down and get it.” Kallen shuts the door behind him. I can hear his morning whistle, the tune bright and all too cheerful for this time of day. A morning person, I am not.
I tug at the messy strands of hair that my father blessed me with, thankful every day it isn’t curly like the twins’. The straight tangle gets brushed through with my fingers before being tamed into a sloppy ponytail. A few stray strands tickle my temples, but it will have to do. I’m not planning on impressing anyone today.
I clop my way through the house, not bothering to be quiet. Silias and Silvia will be up soon anyways, hanging on Kallen’s legs while begging to go outside. He says he enjoys watching them, but I say to hell with it. Babysitting is not for me, unless you count four-legged equines as babies.
The kitchen is awake with the scents of breakfast, the table an army of the day’s favorite meal, and usually the best and only one in the house. Bacon is a temptress to my nose, but Kallen won’t let me eat on the go. I grab a paper plate from the cupboard, piling it high with bacon, cheese grits, and two over-easy eggs. A biscuit is thrown on top, haphazardly resting in a nest of eggs and grits. I’m hungry.
As I sit at the bar, I begin to dig in, hearing the first signs of life out of the twins. Their heated words are being tossed back and forth like a ball, their argument the first of many that will gather throughout the day. They’re mad because it’s about to rain and they can’t go play down at the pond. I’m glad I don’t have to watch the little brats.
My luck is pulling through so far. I am sopping up the last bit of my egg yolks with my biscuit when the two come barreling through the hall, Silias chasing his sister with a pair of scissors. As his curly topped body races by, shears raised to the ceiling, I snatch the “dagger” from his grasp.
“You don’t run with scissors.” I spy Kallen’s amused grin, and get a wicked idea. “This is much better.”
I snag the wooden spoon from the grits, licking the food off before handing it to Silias’s trembling hands. His brimming eyes instantly clear up and a fresh round of delighted squeals erupts. He leaves to chase Silvia, who grabs a ruler from the desk and brandishes it like a pirate. I’ve done my good deed for the day, so I slip out of the side door, avoiding Kallen’s annoyed gaze. He’ll live.
Outside, the overcast sky threatens rain, but it is the snarls of thunder and distant teases of lightening that seals the promise. In the distance, the sky turns from soft gray to churning black, dangerous and heading right in our direction. A strong headwind is whipping through our sorry little farm, taking anything that is light and untied for its hostage. I make a mental reminder to walk around the house and barn, looking for loose objects that we can’t afford to lose. Next to the back porch, Midget waits patiently, munching of some clovers. With his head only reaching my chest, the little pony is a darling pet. Dark brown and white, he usually pulls our little vegetable cart into town. He’s a hard worker, and does everything we ask of him… Most of the time. He has a bad habit of biting nosy neighbors and chasing away social workers. We like to think of him as more of a guard dog than a pony. He shadows my movements as I walk across the wet grass, his head bobbing up and down as he trots along. His legs work to keep up with me, but I’m in a hurry to beat the rain to the barn.
A soft nicker greets me as I trudge up the worn path that leads to our pitiful stable. A golden head pokes out, pushing the worn cable of her stall entrance to its limits. Warm, brown eyes are the friendliest I’ve seen all morning. Solstice tosses her snowy mane in a playful gesture, stretching her nose to meet my hand. As Boomer isn’t in his stall this morning, she is the first to get her share of breakfast. As the grain is poured and she gets to munching, I turn my attention to her stable mate.
Our massive gelding stomps his feathered feet in impatience that will get him nowhere. His dappled gray hide is muddy, flaking off in dried patches while his mane is heavy with evidence of a more recent roll in the muck. “You big goofball,” I tease, running the pads of my fingers over the velvet softness of his nose.
I dip the scoop into the barrel, noticing how low it is getting, and dish out his normal amount before turning to Midget. I look for his feed bucket, but it is nowhere to be spotted. I replace the lid and take the scoop with me, the pony following as I walk around the barn. There’s only so many places a small bucket can hide, and we don’t have that big of a barn. Roly-poly, our overly fat barn cat, snoozes on a bale of hay, her green eyes hidden from view. Her gray ears flick back and forth, listening to our quest. Where is that dang bucket?
I look down at Midget, who stands patiently, wanting his breakfast. Poor thing, he probably thinks he’s done something wrong… Wait a minute. “What’d you do with your bucket this time?”
I poke my head out of the door, searching the yard, but like the barn, it’s only so big. I glance at the front gate where Midget likes to wait for the mail; it’s not there. It’s not by the roses either, or next to the pony cart. That leaves only one place.
Letting a chuckle slip through my lips, I follow a trail around the corner of the house. The pinto pony escapes ahead of me, his tail streaming in a sudden gale. My feet stop short, and only the feed scoop keeps my hands off my hips. Resting beneath the twins’ bedroom window is a small, flexible blue pail, with apple cores resting in it. Another laugh escapes me as I come closer, the small horse tossing his head up and down.
“They’ve been in Kallen’s apple bin again,” I say to Midget as I dump his feed over the cores. He’ll eat them eventually. I pick it up and cart it back to the barn, chatting with the pony as if he was my best friend. I talk to him about a lot of things; how I hate that the twins’ have to go to school instead of help around the house; how the spring crop is doing this year; I even talk about Kallen and his obsession with household cleaning. As weird as he is, I love my older brother.
Kallen and I are only a year apart, and we grew up closer than most siblings, but personality wise, we couldn’t be more different. He is a neat freak, who loves to cook and clean. He’s the male version of a perfect mother. He knows how to say the right thing, at the right time. He can diffuse a brewing fight, mend a worn sock, and even cook a mean apple pie, all within one afternoon. I, on the other hand, am none of those things. I usually say the wrong thing, which adds more fuel to the fire when it comes to fights. I couldn’t care less if my clothes had holes in them, so long as they weren’t anywhere indecent. And I can’t bake a pie, even if it was to save my life. I’m pretty sure I could burn water, not that Kallen ever lets me around the stove.
Lost in my train of thought, I don’t notice the gust of wind that is barreling towards our home. It is a monster of a gale, bending trees to its will and taking along leaves and sand. As the particles blast against my face, I am grateful for my long sleeved shirt, though my eyes don’t feel the same way. They burn where the sand works their way in, my eyes flooding instantly with the effort to get the invading trash out. I wipe at them, but my sandy sleeves make it worse. I stumble my way around, my leg kicking something solid. I feel around with my hands, and then stick my head in the water trough. It’s not my finest hour, but it works its purpose. I open and close my eyes underwater, the noises above muffled. The wind still batters my body from my back down, but I am no longer getting sand in my eyes. When I feel my lungs beginning to burn, I sling my head out of the trough, my hair whipping free of its holder. The long strands are dripping down my shirt, my horses looking at me as if I’ve lost all my marbles. Solstice neighs at me in a laughing sort of way, Boomer and Midget following suit.
Taking care not to dirty my eyes again, I dry my face with an old towel, shutting the barn door to the outside world. It isn’t exactly stable, but it shields most of the wind and its dangerous tag-alongs from entering any more eyes. We can’t afford for any of the three horses to go blind. Actually, we’d be ruined. We use all our horses, and they are, in a way, our source of income. Boomer helps to plow the fields, while Midget carts the eggs, vegetables, and fruits to town. Solstice is a pleasure horse, and our only reliable means of transportation, aside from the gelding, but he’s usually strapped to the plow. The twins will sometimes ride along in the cart, but they are the only two who can fit in it. Kallen and I long since grew out of it.
As the storm quickly approaches outside, I take in the damage I caused while I was fumbling about blind. I’ve knocked over the feed bucket and a separate water trough. Fantastic. We have no feed for any of the horses, and though they’ve been fed this morning, they’ll need to eat again this afternoon. I’ve seen storms like this one rolling in. They can last for days, or for a few hours. Spring time in Mesa is as unpredictable as it comes. I’m going to have to go to town.
I brave the wind once more, pushing against it as I struggle to reach the side entrance. It’s another battle to open the door, and as it bangs shut behind me, I take stock of the kitchen. Silias is helping Kallen slide a large ten gallon drum under one of our major leaks, while Silvia is hopping around in ballet slippers and fairy wings, plopping pots and pans under a few of the smaller holes. Kallen turns to me, worry darkening his gaze. This is going to be a horrible storm, and if anyone would know, it’s Kallen. He has a gift for predicting the weather.
“I’ve got to ride into town,” I whisper when I approach my brother. His jaw tightens, but before he can protest, I continue. “The feed bucket spilled into some water. You know as well as I do that this storm could last for days on end. The horses need feed.”
I see him gaging the weather, that inner sense telling him what I already suspected. His eyes show the depth of his worry for me, but he knows we can’t afford for one of the horses to get sick. “Be careful, take a raincoat, and if it gets too bad, find some shelter.”
I jump up and kiss him on the cheek, feeling how still he gets. “I’ll get some more things while I am in town. Need anything specific?”
He follows me to the front closet, where our shabby array of coats hangs on bent hangers. Inside is an ankle length coat, the treated leather water proof while the inside is coated in a thin layer of warm cloth. It is the most expensive piece of clothing I own, a gift from Father before he and Mother died.
“Get some canned goods, candles, and matches.” He taps his fingers as I shrug into the coat before pulling my hair back in a bun. The leather sighs as it moved, but the cotton will ward off the chill of the wind against my wet back. “Small things that can fit in a saddle bag. I don’t want you carting heavy stuff in this weather.”
“Yes sir,” I joke, trying to lighten the mood. It doesn’t help.
Silias peeks out from behind Kallen’s leg, his big blue eyes confused. “Where are you going, sissy?”
“I’ve got to go to town, kiddo.” I fluff up his curls, forcing a smile on my face. When Silvia peeps from the other side, I laugh. “Make sure y’all help out brother, okay? Don’t be fighting, and mind you good manners. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“You’re going out in that storm, ain’t you?” Silvia’s voice is so quiet, so old for an eight year old, that I have to stop and turn around. Her young face is pinched with worry, tears glistening in her sky blue eyes. Her bottom lip quivers, but I know she is trying hard no to cry. “Just like mommy and daddy did.”
“Yes.” There is a twinge in my heart at the mention of our parents. Their deaths were hard on Kallen and me, but we were old enough to understand. Silias and Silvia were only five when mom and dad died. “But I’ll be back. I promise.”
“Mommy and Daddy promised too.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I left them with Kallen. I walked back through the house, using the side door once more, and entered into the storm.
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