Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The New Horse
It is time to tell my story.
I am big and I am beautiful. When I run, I run like the wind, and when I jump, I jump like a deer. I am a winner.
Alone in the paddock, the sleek chestnut gelding grazed. He methodically trimmed the blades of grass close to the ground, left to right, right to left, as far as his neck could reach. He took a step and began again. Row after row. Step after step.
A woman and a girl leaned on the fence and observed him closely, an old yellow dog at their feet. A quiet breeze ruffled their hair and gently rippled their clothing. The woman, fortyish, lean and sinewy, smoothed her fair hair from her face and muttered, “What the deuce are we going to do with him, Bird?”
The girl said nothing. The hot August air blew her unkempt hair into her eyes, and she made no effort to remove it. Her arms were skinny and brown with the sun.
He’ll be my horse, she thought. No one else’s.
Tell me your story, handsome. She aimed the thought in the horse’s direction. No response.
The horse had been delivered earlier, while Bird and Hannah were out checking the fences. Bird wished she’d been there to see his arrival. Their vet, Paul Daniels, had practically begged Hannah to take him in. A favour, he’d said. An underdog in need. Bird could relate.
Lazily, the horse took another step and began a new line of grass. He casually swished his tail to rid himself of flies.
Bird studied the horse closely. He was extraordinarily handsome. Sixteen hands, two inches tall, she guessed. His legs were long, fine, strong, and straight, correct in every way. His neck was elegant, with a graceful curve along the top line of his body, connecting his delicate ears to his generous withers and across the gentle slope of his back to his perfectly rounded haunches. Every movement he made was graceful, and his coat gleamed a fiery copper.
And yet, something about this horse was not quite right. Underneath his calm exterior, as he mechanically grazed and pointedly ignored them, was a nervousness, a jumpiness, that Bird found disquieting. He didn’t trust them. He didn’t trust anyone.
“Poetry, eh, Bird?” said Hannah. “He’s like poetry in motion.”
Hannah sighed and turned back to the house. “Don’t be too long, hon. Supper’s almost ready.” She stopped for a moment, waiting for a reaction. There was none. Alberta, nicknamed Bird, continued to stare at the animal.
“Don’t get any ideas, young lady. Nobody can handle this horse. That’s why he ended up here. Saddle Creek: farm of last resort. I’ll add that to our sign, if I ever get around to fixing it.”
Hannah Bradley shot one last glance at the new horse and headed for the house. She left the girl, the dog, and the horse alone.
Now, finally, the gelding raised his eyes to meet the girl’s. They assessed each other, neither one making a move.
Talk to me, beautiful horse. Tell me your story. Bird willed the big horse to respond. I know you can hear me.
The horse simply stared.
Why are you so suspicious? You have nothing to fear with me.
The horse didn’t so much as blink. He dropped his head back to the grass and continued grazing. Bird crouched down on her heels and began to rock gently. Although she was growing fast, Bird was still small for her thirteen years. She used that to her advantage now, as she manoeuvred her body under the lowest rail of the fence. She inched her bottom over to the post and quietly leaned her back against it.
In spite of spindly legs and oversized ears, Bird was pretty in her own unique way. Deep sable eyes graced her elfin face. Often they were dull and expressionless, but at other times they were lit by flashes of intelligence and sensitivity. Right now, they were almost entirely covered by her dark brown bangs that were badly in need of a trim. Impatiently she pushed the hair off her face and continued to stare at the horse.
Now that Hannah had gone, it seemed quiet in the paddock. The yellow dog dozed in the grass at her feet. The horse grazed in the field. Bird watched and enjoyed the silence. All at once, the horse stopped and looked directly at her, as if waiting for her to say something.
Don’t look at me, Bird thought with a smile. Alberta Simms hadn’t spoken a word for seven years, and she wasn’t about to start now.
Bird was Hannah’s niece, the daughter of Hannah’s younger sister, Eva. Eva had dropped Bird off at Saddle Creek farm of last resort two years earlier, on her way to another new life, with another new man. As far as Bird could tell, this was Eva’s way. Bird’s father was a cowboy from Calgary who left when Eva told him she was pregnant. He rode off into the sunset, never to return, Eva was fond of saying, and had never even phoned to find out if the baby was a boy or a girl.
From the time Bird could remember, Eva seemed to change jobs often, which meant picking up and moving to a new place. She was always hoping for something better, more interesting, less boring. Eva had changed boyfriends often, too, always hoping for someone better, more interesting, less boring. The one constant in Bird’s life, until the day she moved in with her Aunt Hannah, was change.
Now, sitting at the edge of this field with this beautiful horse, Bird could feel Hannah watching her from the kitchen window.
What was she worrying about now? The traces of a fond smile formed at the corner of Bird’s mouth. She’s worrying that I don’t talk. She’s worrying that I don’t fit in. She’s worrying that I’ll never be normal. Most of all, she’s worrying about school. And with good reason.
On the last day of classes, Stuart Gilmore, the principal of the Forks of the Credit school, had told Hannah that Bird could not come back. The school was simply not equipped to handle her. He’d given Hannah a list of alternative schools, and for the last few weeks Bird had watched as Hannah tried to find her a place. She’d had no luck with any of the public schools, and she couldn’t afford the fees at the private ones. Now it was August, and at the top of Hannah’s to-do list posted conveniently on the refrigerator door was to call Stuart Gilmore. Bird figured that Hannah planned to ask one more time.
Bird hated school. The kids were mean. But if she had to go back, the Forks of the Credit would be better than unknown alternatives.
Hannah called from the kitchen window. “Bird! Supper’s ready!”
Bird was hungry, but she disliked the confinement of sitting properly at the table, and she detested being constantly coached on her manners. Reluctantly, she scrambled back under the fence.
Come for dinner, Hector. Bird stroked the dog on her way past. He raised his head and thumped his tail.
Yummy. I’ve been hungry all day.
So what else is new? Bird smiled. What do you think of the new horse, Hector?
I don’t trust him. You shouldn’t either.
Bird nodded slowly and patted Hector’s head. He won’t talk to me yet, so I don’t know what to make of him. Bird hadn’t faced this before. Most animals responded to her immediately, delighted that a human could not only talk to them, but also understand what they had to say.
She slowly raised her hand and stretched it out toward the horse. The haughty chestnut lifted his head. Bird tried again to reach into his mind. Talk to me. Tell me about yourself.
The horse gave Bird a bored look, then turned his back, providing a perfect view of his welts and cuts. They would heal nicely with proper care, but so far the horse had not allowed anyone to get close to him, let alone treat his wounds. Earlier, when she’d first spotted him, Bird had taken the water hose out to the field. She’d stood on the fence and created a fountain that he had eventually walked into to cool off, so at least the wounds were washed out. She’d tried to squirt Wonder Dust, an antiseptic powder, into the nastier gashes but had only been somewhat successful. Tomorrow she’d try again.
Not for the first time, Bird wondered what had happened to this horse. How did he get those cuts, and why had he ended up at Saddle Creek? What did they do to you, beautiful fellow? Bird waited a moment for an answer then ran to the farmhouse without a backward glance.