One moonlit night, Mattie leaves the safety of her grandmother's home and ventures deep into the surrounding forest where she meets a wild horse who bears an uncanny resemblance to the one in her painting. Mattie and her mystery horse form a bond that she instinctively knows she cannot reveal to anyone. The mysterious spirit who inhabits the painting seems to gain strength as Mattie's bond with the wild horse deepens. But Mattie is uneasy as she wonders-and fears-if the two are somehow connected.
Mattie soon realizes she should have heeded her grandmother's warnings to be careful what she wishes for in life-for it is one thing to hope her painted horse is real and quite another to discover he might be.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.55(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 11 Years|
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Midnight MagicBe Careful What You Wish For!
By NANCY DI FABBIO
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Nancy Di Fabbio
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMattie's Nightmare
An occasional hazy glimmer of moonlight struggled through the darkness, illuminating the spot where she stood. Icy fingers crept up her spine. She couldn't remember why she'd left the safety of her bed in the middle of the night to come to this dark and lonely place. Suddenly, she sensed the approach of someone—or something. Her stomach twisted sickeningly. Snap! She spun around. The sound of breaking twigs was unnaturally loud in the surrounding stillness. Even worse, it was steadily closing in on her. Her heart was thumping so hard, she nearly choked as she peered into the darkness.
A shadowy figure emerged from the dense woodland and halted at the edge of the clearing, silently watching her. A throaty gust of air exploded from a set of powerful lungs. Stifling a cry, she covered her eyes, too frightened to look.
"Uuuhhhhh." The soft nicker washed away her fear like a summer rain cleansing the dust from a drought-stricken garden. The creature approached her, his head lowered.
It was a horse. He was gorgeous, as black as the surrounding night. She reached out to touch his silken neck. As if sensing evil, the clouds ran away, releasing the bright light of a full moon. Fear struck her with the force of a tidal wave as she gazed into his eyes. This was no normal horse—this was a creature from some nightmarish world.
"Mattie! Mattie! Come on! This is the third time I'm calling you. You've got five minutes to be dressed and ready to go if you want a ride to work." The sound of her mother's voice dragged her away from that terrifying scene and back to the safety of her bedroom.
"All right, all right! I'm coming," Mattie muttered, throwing back the covers and swinging her legs out of bed. The sweet, buttery aroma of hot muffins washed away the last memories of her nightmare.
Padding over to the window, she leaned out to take in the sights and sounds of the start of another perfect summer day. She lifted her face to the early morning sun, breathing deeply. The air smelled heavenly—almost as good as her mom's fresh muffins. It carried a hint of seaweed and shellfish mixed with the sweet fragrance of the flowers that tumbled from countless flower boxes and gardens.
Mattie had grown up in the tiny New England town of Gull's Nest, the only child of her widowed mother, Lucy. It was the only home she'd ever known, and as much as she loved living near the sea and being part of a tight-knit community, life could get pretty boring. All that had changed about seven years ago, when a group of developers discovered its natural beauty—and priceless location.
Gull's Nest had been settled in the late 1600s by a small group of pioneers seeking a new home. They had surveyed the area from the crest of the hills overlooking the ocean. With its natural harbor, acres of fertile farmland, and a deep, freshwater pond, Gull's Nest offered everything a budding community needed to survive. Hundreds of years later, many of its inhabitants still earned their living harvesting the fruits of the land and the sea.
The developers who came to Gull's Nest were in search of a different kind of riches. They purchased four hundred acres of land on that same crest of the hills, ruthlessly ripping out acres of raspberry and blackberry bushes and tearing down the antique homes that had graced the harbor for over three hundred years. In the place of those homes, the developers built oversized McMansions for the wealthy tourists who flocked to Gull's Nest every summer. The fishing boats that used to dot the harbor were pushed aside to make room for a fleet of privately owned sailboats and luxurious yachts.
Mattie liked most of the changes that summer brought to Gull's Nest. The shops were full of trendy clothes, beautiful jewelry, and high-fashion accessories. The century-old carousel filled the air with music, and the streets bustled with happy, chattering tourists. Gull's Nest looked like a ghost town in the winter; shops were boarded up, the carousel ponies were carefully stored away, and the music was silenced.
Unfortunately there was a definite downside to these improvements. Most of the tourists were friendly, happy to enjoy boating, swimming and sunning far from the hot city streets. However—and this was a big however—Mattie couldn't stand the snobby rich kids who spent their summers in Gull's Nest. With their sleek, pampered bodies, perfect teeth, and a seemingly endless supply of to-die-for clothes, they never failed to make her feel short, fat, and unattractive.
"Mattie! Do I have to come up there and yank you out of bed?"
Ducking quickly back into her room, Mattie exclaimed, "I'm up! Ya don't have to yell!"
Pulling on her best jeans and a pink tee shirt with a pony galloping across the front, she rooted through her closet looking for her favorite sandals. She pulled her mass of thick, curly hair into a ponytail and, with a quick glance in the mirror, hurried downstairs.
One peek at her reflection was enough for her. She looked nothing like the models in her favorite magazines. Their hair always fell in one gleaming silken wave, while hers was thick and wiry, defying every effort to be tamed. Her mother often laughingly said it looked like a real pony's tail. Mattie hated the comparison, even though she loved horses. "I may be dying to own one," she sighed, "but that doesn't mean I want to look like one."
As if being cursed with a wild mane wasn't punishment enough, dozens of freckles danced across her nose and cheeks. Those same models never had freckles, moles, pimples, or spots of any kind on their faces. "They must get vaccinated at birth against pimples and freckles," she muttered to herself.
Entering the kitchen, Mattie eyed the bowl of freshly picked apples, hesitating before choosing one of the hot muffins cooling on the stove. An apple might help me squeeze into a size five, but these muffins are soooo good, she thought, savoring the combination of salty butter, sugary cake, and tangy blueberries.
Beep! Beep! Wiping away the melted butter trickling down her chin, she stuffed the remainder of the muffin in her mouth, washed it down with a gulp of cold milk, and ran out to the waiting car.
"What's up with you this morning, Mattie? If you want a ride to work, you better start going to bed earlier so you can get up on time," scolded Lucy as she pulled out of their driveway and headed down the hill to the town center.
"What's the big deal? I'm up, I'm in the car, and we're both on time," Mattie retorted, frowning with annoyance.
The car made its way slowly down Harbor Drive, the main shopping district of Gull's Nest. The developers had also revamped the town center, knocking down the old fishing warehouses that had blocked the view of the bay and replacing the centuries-old stores with new ones built to look like antiques.
This baffled many of the town's residents—especially the older ones. "If they want a town that looks like a nineteenth-century village, why didn't they just leave it the way it was?" they pondered. But the developers knew exactly what they were doing. The wealthy New Yorkers who spent their summers there appreciated "quaint" and "antique" as long as it didn't affect their comfort. The new shops had rustic exteriors, but they were air- conditioned and luxurious inside.
Lucy stopped in front of The Mermaid's Purse, the stylish teenage boutique where Mattie worked every summer.
"Have a good day, honey. I'll be home about six. I've got to drop the muffins and cookies off at The Tea Room and Ballard's Hotel, and then I've got three houses to clean," she said, giving her daughter a kiss on the cheek.
"Okay. Bye, Mom. See ya later," said Mattie, scrambling quickly out of the car, hoping no one would notice the battered old VW. The residents of Gull's Nest wouldn't have given it a second glance, but the wealthy tourists would have viewed it with disdain—as if it might contaminate their Ferraris and BMWs just by sharing the same street.
"Hi Mrs. Porter," said Mattie as she entered the little shop and slid her purse on the shelf under the register.
"Good morning, Mattie. Why don't you straighten up the jewelry case and then move those purses to the front of the store. And pick out something to match that pretty shirt of yours," said Mrs. Porter, a warm smile on her face. She enjoyed seeing Mattie's pleasure at wearing the stylish jewelry—of course, it didn't hurt that it also boosted sales. Many customers added a piece after noticing how pretty it looked on the salesgirl.
Mattie opened the case and rearranged the gleaming display. She loved working at The Mermaid's Purse, even though she didn't like many of the customers.
At least it's better than working at McDonalds, she thought. Her best friend, Katie, worked there, and her beautiful red hair was always covered with a fine mist of grease by the time her shift was over. Ugh! Or poor Jenna. Mattie grimaced. Jenna worked as a maid at the local hotel, The Seaman's Inn. Mattie thought it would be really creepy touching sheets and towels that had been used by strangers.
The door swung open and a group of girls about Mattie's age exploded into the shop, laughing and talking, oblivious to the other shoppers quietly browsing through the racks of colorful clothes. They acted as if they owned the world, while Mattie was still trying to figure out where she belonged. Somehow, she always felt like the last piece of a puzzle; a piece that didn't fit anywhere.
Mattie cringed. I guess no job is perfect. She knew this group of girls all too well. Beautiful and rich, they spent every summer in Gull's Nest shopping, swimming, boating, and hanging out with their friends. Doing nothing but having fun should have made them happy, but apparently it didn't. They were stuck up and catty, never missing a chance to bully Mattie and her friends.
"Oh look, Pony Girl's working today," snickered Chelsea, nudging Lindsay with her elbow.
Mattie flushed, regretting her choice of clothing. Lindsay and Raven laughed along with her, but the third girl, Aurora, looked embarrassed and glanced apologetically at Mattie. The group poked through the merchandise, messing up the carefully folded piles and leaving a dress swinging from the hangar by one strap.
Chelsea and her crew knew Mattie was horse-obsessed—with no chance of owning one. They all had their own horses and even brought them with on their summer vacation, boarding them at the new equestrian facility built specifically for the privileged newcomers. Mattie was eternally grateful they had no idea she watched Black Beauty over and over again, tears streaming down her cheeks like Niagara Falls every single time. It would have given them even more ammunition for their taunts.
Trying to ignore the trio, Mattie rested her chin on her hand, gazing out the window at the blue water so temptingly out of reach. Images of her dream horse flitted through her mind. He'd be gorgeous, black as the night, with a long flowing mane and tail and sparkling dark eyes brimming with mischief and love. He wouldn't care how uncool her clothes were or what she looked like, not even if her hair was sticking up around her head like a dandelion puff. Her ultimate fantasy was to compete—and win, of course—against Chelsea on her snooty thoroughbred, Beau.
He'd look a lot like the horse in my dream, she thought. Of course, he wouldn't scare the wits out of me. Shaking her head, she wondered what ever made her conjure up such a terrifying creature.
"Helloooooo! I said I'd like to buy this." A snippy voice disturbed Mattie's equestrian fantasies. Chelsea stood in front of her, annoyance souring her pretty face. A tiny hand-painted halter top dangled from her fingertips.
Wordlessly, Mattie bent down, selecting several sheets of pale-pink tissue paper from under the counter. She carefully wrapped the delicate garment, secured the tissue with a gold mermaid sticker, and slipped it into a gift bag. She loved handling the merchandise, imagining how it would look on her.
Ringing up the sale, she said, "That'll be $125."
Chelsea carelessly dropped a handful of twenty-dollar bills on the counter. Raising an eyebrow to her friends, she turned back to Mattie and asked, "So, how's the riding coming along?"
Lindsay and Raven burst into laughter.
Mattie didn't answer as she felt the heat racing through her body. Her ears tingled, and her vision wavered sickeningly. She knew she looked as red as the apple she should have chosen for breakfast.
"Come on guys, let's go get some frozen yogurt," said Aurora, tapping Chelsea on the shoulder. Mattie could tell she was embarrassed by her friends' cruelty.
Grabbing the bag, Chelsea and her friends swished out the door, letting it slam behind them. The sound of their careless laughter trickled off in the distance.
Mattie struggled to fight back the tears stinging her eyes and swallow the lump threatening to choke her. If I start bawling in front of all these customers, I'll die of embarrassment, she thought.
Just then a toddler tripped over a clothing rack and started screaming, providing a welcome diversion as the mother rushed over to comfort her.
Mattie felt a new flush of heat racing to her face as she slipped into the dressing room to collect the discarded clothing. She wished she could forget the incident that had resulted in the humiliating nickname Pony Girl.
Mattie and Katie often biked out to the stable to watch the horses and their riders. Katie found it mildly interesting—only agreeing to the long bike ride to humor her friend—but Mattie was sick with envy. She would have given anything to be able to join them—on her own horse, of course.
Katie McCurry had been Mattie's best friend for as long as they both could remember. Mattie appreciated her perpetually bubbly personality, sense of humor, and steadfast loyalty. Bright copper hair topped a pretty face brightened by sky-blue eyes and lips that turned up at the corners, always ready to smile. Her skin was as pale as fresh milk, which was a constant source of frustration for Katie. After a day at the beach, her friends were golden-brown like perfectly toasted marshmallows while she resembled a lobster freshly plucked from a pot of boiling water.
The two girls told each other everything; nothing was too tragic or too embarrassing. Like the time Katie saw Charlie, her secret crush, kiss Janet at the school picnic, or when Mattie got sick during the Christmas concert and barfed all over the cutest guy in school, who had the misfortune to be standing in front of her.
Katie knew that Mattie worshipped horses and, being her BFF, Katie tried to support Mattie's passion. She never confessed that she would have died of fright if she were ever forced to sit on one. Mattie picked on her enough as it was, always ridiculing her about being a wimp.
Mattie flushed, remembering the day she and Katie were pedaling along the trails on their way home from one of their visits to the stable. They were pretending to jump a fallen log as if they were riding elegant thoroughbreds rather than second-hand bikes sadly in need of paint. Chelsea and her friends came trotting up the trail and overheard their conversation.
"I hope those two don't plan to compete at the next show. I'd never stand a chance of winning a ribbon against talent like that," gasped Raven in mock despair. "And look at their horses! They must have cost a fortune!"
Chelsea and Lindsay pretended to be equally horrified at the thought, while another girl bent over laughing. The group spurred their horses into a gallop, and one by one they sailed over the log, spraying clumps of dirt on Mattie and Katie as they scrambled to get out of the way. Their laughter rose above the sound of drumming hooves as the group disappeared down the trail.
Picking up their bikes, Mattie and Katie self-consciously brushed the dirt from their clothes. They were embarrassed by being caught acting like first-graders.
"I better head back home," said Katie, the pleasure gone from their outing.
"Yeah, me too."
As Mattie pushed her bike up the hill to her house, she realized that her dreams of owning a horse were pointless. She'd finally given up begging for one, instead keeping her longings to herself. Her arguments with her mother over this much-desired horse played over in her mind.
Excerpted from Midnight Magic by NANCY DI FABBIO Copyright © 2011 by Nancy Di Fabbio. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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