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Lily is frightened when her beloved horse Beware gets sick and exhibits peculiar behavior.
The school bus sounds as if it's dying by the time it winds up through the hills to Lily's stop. There are hardly any kids left.
Lily waves good-bye to Mandy and jumps down the steps. She runs up the long driveway, swinging her backpack, kicking the crisp, dry leaves. The leaves are like a bowlful of cornflakes before you put the milk in.
At the top of the drive Lily looks toward the horse pasture. She sees the pony grazing. Beware must be nearby. Lily hurries into the house. It gets dark very early now that fait is here. There is just barely time for a ride.
The kitchen smells like apple crisp. Gran turns from the stove. "Hello, Lily. Did you have a good-" But Lily is already past her, running up the stairs.
Quickly, quickly. She pulls off her jeans and her good sweater, pulls on her riding pants and a sweatshirt. Pushes her feet into her riding boots. Down the stairs again.
"It's more polite to say hello!" says Gran.
"Oh, hello, Gran." There is a plate of apple cores on the table. "Can I have these for Beware?"
Gran snorts. "May 1, please! Yes, you may. Heaven forbid we should deny anything to a horse Lily lets the door bang behind her.
"Sorry, Gran," she calls.
The sun has gone down behind the mountain. The air feels cold on Lily's hands. Two sweatshirts would be better than one, but Lily doesn't have time to go back upstairs. She gets a halter and walks down to the gate. "Beware!"
The pony lifts his head and looks at Lily.
"Beware!" Lily looks toward the trees along the edge of the pasture. In the summer Beware stands there in the shade. Now the trees are bare, and it's too coldto care about shade.
"Hey, Beware!" Lily yells. Has something happened? Lily puts the apple cores on the ground beside the gate and ducks under the fence. Then she reaches back and grabs one. "Beware?"
From the tree line Beware whinnies.
Now Lily can see her. Beware's dark red coat blends in with the tree trunks, until you know where to look. Lily stands still and whistles. "Apple core! Come and get it!"
Beware whinnies again. But she doesn't move.
All at once Lily knows. Something is wrong. Beware is caught in wire, or she's hurt herself. Otherwise she'd come down the hill. She wouldn't just stand there. . . . Lily is running. The buckle of the halter whips against her legs. The cold air bums in her chest.
Beware turns her head. She whinnies loudly. But she doesn't move. All four legs stay in exactly the same place, as still as the tree trunks. She must be caught in wire.
But when Lily reaches Beware, she can't see any wire anywhere. Only dead leaves and sticks and Beware's four feet, standing still.
Beware reaches her nose out to Lily. She brushes her upper lip across the apple core and knocks it into the leaves. She stretches for it. But the apple core has rolled past where Beware can reach. She won't go after it, not even one tiny step.
"Oh, Beware!" Lily buckles the halter onto Beware's head. Her fingers are shaking. "Okay now, walk."
Beware doesn't move.
Lily pulls on the halter. "Beware, walk!" She makes her voice loud and stem. If Beware takes even a few steps, maybe Lily can tell what's wrong.
Lily pulls hard on the halter. Beware's neck stretches out straight. When her neck won't stretch any longer, Beware takes a step. And another. Her front feet seem normal, but her back feet stumble and waver. Her back legs aren't working right. When Lily stops pulling, Beware stops walking. But she reaches down and finds the apple core and crunches it slowly.
Lily goes behind Beware and looks at her back legs. There are no cuts and no bumps. When she runs her hands down Beware's legs, Beware does not flinch. But when Lily pushes on Beware's rump and tells her to walk, Beware's back legs buckle, and she almost falls down.
For a moment Lily just stands there, hugging her sides. What can be the matter? Beware isn't rolling or kicking at her stomach, so it can't be colic. She doesn't seem to have a broken leg. But she can't move. Has she hurt her spine? Has she been poisoned?
Gramp would know. But Gramp isn't home yet, and Mom isn't home yet, and Gran doesn't like horses.
There's only one thing to do. "I'll be right back!" And Lily is flying down the hill. There is no time to wait, no time to guess what might be wrong. Lily has to get a vet here. Right away.