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The Black Stallion raced along the beach at the water’s edge, spray flying from his hooves. Alec Ramsay pressed himself flat against his horse’s neck. Riding bareback, he was crouching high and tight and perfectly balanced, guiding the stallion with soft pressure from his hands and legs. Slowly he eased the Black out of his gallop, to a trot, and then a walk.
Tossing his head, Alec sat up and flicked his red hair out of his eyes. Gray predawn light shone over the sand dunes on one side of him and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Out to sea a distant line of fog blurred the horizon where the ocean met the sky.
This was nice, Alec thought. He took in another deep breath of sea air and blinked his tired eyes. He’d been up late last night and barely slept an hour before he and the Black left New York’s Belmont Park at four o’clock this morning. After an hour’s drive, he arrived at his friend Pete Murray’s riding academy, located next to this wildlife refuge on the coast of Long Island. The reason for coming here was to pick up a yearling colt Pete wanted moved up to Hopeful Farm. Alec was vanning the Black back to the farm today, so he’d offered to bring the chestnut-colored colt along with them. But when Pete realized he had misplaced some of the yearling’s medical records, he suggested Alec take the Black for a ride on the beach. It would give them something to do while he searched through his files for the missing papers.
Alec looked out to sea, letting his sleepy gaze drift away into the distance. The fog on the horizon was moving closer now. The wind was still. Just offshore a fishing boat motored west toward New York Harbor, trailed by a flock of seagulls.
The weather was cool for early summer, cool enough to send a chill up Alec’s back. His shirt was damp with sweat. Seawater dripped from his bare feet and calves. His blue jeans were rolled up to his calves, his shoes back at Pete’s stable with the Black’s saddle and bridle. Alec slid his hands gently over his horse’s neck, warming his chilled fingers in the pocket of warmth under the stallion’s mane.
How long had it been since he’d gone for a ride with the Black on the beach like this? Alec asked himself. More than a year at least. Yet somehow it seemed like only yesterday, comfortable and familiar. Alec wondered about that and decided the reason must be because riding on the beach always brought back memories of his first days with the Black, when they were shipwrecked together on a deserted island off the coast of Spain. How could he ever forget that time, his first wary encounters with the Black and their struggle for survival there?
Much had changed since those magical days on the island and his first wild rides on the Black. He had changed. The Black had changed. They were both older now. The Black was a mature stallion, well into his teens, a legend at the racetrack and a proven sire of stakes-winning colts and fillies. Alec was a breeder of horses and a professional jockey with hundreds of rides under his belt. Yet the bond between them remained. It was something unique and difficult to describe, a sense of “oneness” that Alec felt with no other horse. Long ago he’d given up trying to explain it to people, especially those caught up in the hard-boiled, twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week world of professional horse racing.
Putting his attention back on his horse, Alec gave the Black a pat on the neck and urged the stallion forward. Ahead of them was a bend in the shoreline. The Black tossed his head, eager to run another mile or so. “Easy, fella,” Alec said, holding the Black to a walk. “We’re going to have to turn back pretty soon. Let’s just see what’s around this bend.”
The stallion skipped into motion. Alec gave the Black his head and moved with him, burying his face in the streaming mane. The world sped by in a blur, everything fluid around them, everything in motion. Alec bent himself against his horse and the Black carried him faster and faster, carrying him far away, carrying him all the way back to those first days on the island once again. . . .
When Alec pulled the stallion up finally and turned to look out to sea, the sky seemed darker suddenly, despite the early-dawn light. At first he thought perhaps a storm was blowing in from somewhere. Then he realized the fog he’d seen offshore earlier was much closer now, already sweeping over the rocky point and swallowing up the beach around him. The birds, the fishing boat and everything else out to sea were gone. Ocean and sky blended together into one great field of smoky gray. In seconds the low-hanging mist was so thick that Alec could hear but not see the waves as they washed up on the sand only a few yards away.
“We should head back before we get totally lost in this soup,” Alec said, angry with himself for not paying more attention to the changing weather. The Black gave a snort as Alec turned him around and started back toward the point.
As they rode along, Alec noticed that the blanket of fog brought with it a strange quiet. It softened the rumbling surf and the squeaky-wheel crying of the sea?gulls hovering overhead. Even the blowing of the Black’s breath, the swish of his tail, sounded far away now. The misty cushion of fog surrounding them was making Alec feel sleepier than ever.
The Black seemed fascinated by the fog as he moved cautiously along, his ears pricked, his head held high. Alec had sense enough to know that the smart thing to do now was to take it easy and trust the Black to lead the way back. “Okay, big guy,” Alec said. “It’s up to you now. You get us back to Pete’s and I’ll do my best not to fall asleep along the way.”
They walked another minute through the fog when suddenly Alec could feel the Black tensing up. Instinctively he snapped to attention just as the stallion bounced to a stop. Alec took up a double helping of mane in his fists. The Black threw his head, then rocked back on his hind legs.