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Flicka: The Movie Novel
By Kathleen Zoehfeld
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Kathleen Zoehfeld
All right reserved.
It was a bright June morning in Wyoming, and the students in Mr. Masterson's history class settled down at their desks to begin their final exam. Katy McLaughlin read the essay question, but she already knew what the topic would be--America's settlement of the west. And she knew what her teacher was expecting everyone to write: it had been America's destiny to expand westward, bringing its ordered homes and ranches, fences and schools--sturdy brick schools like this one, the Laramie Academy--to tame the wild and unruly land.
Katy closed her eyes for a moment and thought of her favorite painting, the one that hung above the stairwell at home on her family's ranch where she spent her summers. In the sage green and dusty hues of the prairie, it showed a herd of exuberant wild horses charging across an open range under a glittering blue sky.
She picked up her pencil. "What does it mean to follow your destiny?" she wanted to write. But certain thoughts crowded her mind--angry, rebellious thoughts; thoughts she knew Mr. Masterson would not appreciate.
Her pencil motionless, she stared out the window, daydreaming. People say it was America's destiny to go west. Pioneers fled crowded eastern cities to find freedom and self-reliance in thewilderness. I say it was all a big con, a hoax! I wish they all stayed home, Katy thought.
Dragging herself out of the daydream, Katy tried to rein in her ideas, tried to say something acceptable, something Mr. Masterson would think sounded studious and sensible. But her thoughts galloped away across the wide prairie, like the wild horses she imagined bursting out of their picture frame and running free.
"They called themselves settlers," her imaginary essay continued, "but there was nothing 'settled' about them. They couldn't fence the land fast enough. It happened almost overnight. The truth is, wherever a 'settler' left his footprint, there was a hoofprint beside it. A dog may be man's best friend, but the history of the west was written by the horse.
"You'd think people would've been thankful to them. But no! They couldn't rest until there was no open range left for the herds--nothing wild left in the great American wilderness. They say the American west was a paradise and it was our destiny to claim it. I say, call someplace paradise and kiss it good-bye!"
Katy was startled out of her reverie by the end-of-period bell. Most of her classmates had already finished their essays and were filing out the door. The blank pages of her exam booklet glared up at her accusingly. She twirled one of her long, dark braids until wild wispy strands began to unravel. "I've got to write something! Anything!" she thought, but there was no time.
Mr. Masterson, with his neatly trimmed beard and impeccably pressed trousers, loomed over her. "Time's up, Katy."
She stared at him, speechless, as he collected her booklet. It was a disaster! Just like the whole semester before it had been!
The next day, the Laramie Academy students, in their regulation blue blazers and green-and-blue striped school ties, gathered in the auditorium to receive their end-of-year grades. Katy rushed in late as usual. She stood apart from her classmates who were laughing and flirting and making plans to visit each other over the summer.
As the prefect entered, the students grew quiet and waited for their names to be called. "Edwards, Hansen, Bradley, Wilson, Koop . . ." the prefect called out.
Miranda Koop, a couple of years older than Katy, grabbed her report card and rushed over to Katy. "Thank God I caught you before you left," she said breathlessly. The dark-haired girl untied a bright bandana from her wrist and tied it around Katy's. "Could you give this to Howard?" she asked.
Katy's older brother, Howard, was home on the ranch helping her dad with the horses. She would be seeing him tomorrow. "Not a problem," she replied.
Katy thought about how glad she would be to see Howard again, but a knot formed in her stomach as she imagined how her father would react to her report card.
"Thanks, Katy," said Miranda. "I think I'll be seeing a lot of you this summer."
Miranda's friend Gracie sailed past them. "See you next year!" she cried.
"See you in September, Gracie!" sang Miranda cheerfully.
As Miranda breezed away with her friends, Katy found herself face-to-face with the prefect.
"McLaughlin," he said, holding out an official white envelope emblazoned with the academy crest. "You need to see the headmaster."
Katy took the envelope. She did not even have to open it to know what the headmaster was going to say. After this year's troubles, there was no way she would be promoted to the next grade.
She climbed aboard the school van and crawled into the backseat, hoping no one would notice her. It felt good to be on the road, watching the flat, ugly sprawl of the city receding behind her. Soon she was looking out the window at the beautiful green short-grass hills of Wyoming.
Near dusk, they pulled up at a service station. Six kids tumbled out and rushed into their parents' waiting arms. Katy could see the Neversummer Mountains in the distance. Her family home was a couple of hours farther on--a majestic horse ranch high in the foothills. She imagined her father meeting her in their maroon Chevy truck. She clutched the official white envelope, damp and crumpled in her fist like an empty tube of toothpaste.
The sun had set and the crickets were singing by the time Katy spotted her dad's tall, slim silhouette leaning against the side of the truck. The van pulled up beside him. Katy hesitated, staying rooted to her seat so long that her dad had to crane his neck and peer in to see if she was there. She slid out of the van, and the driver honked a friendly farewell.
Excerpted from Flicka: The Movie Novel by Kathleen Zoehfeld Copyright © 2006 by Kathleen Zoehfeld. Excerpted by permission.
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