Authors: Jane Yolen
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For the twinsâAmelia and Caroline Stempleâwho simply love books.
With thanks to Nora Bartlett, who told me some wonderful stories about a horse barn at night, and Ann Morrison, who took me out for a morning amongst the Fife Disabled young riders. With special hand waves to my extraordinary beta reader Debby Harris, my equally extraordinary editor, Christy Ottaviano, and my two cheerleadersâmy amazing agent Elizabeth Harding and my daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple, who sometimes takes extraordinary measures to either keep up with me or keep me in line.
There is something about the outside of a horse that's good for the insides of all kids, whatever their ableness.
âMotto of the Kai's Kids Riding Academy
A Shower of Stars
N THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
, Mom and I got out of bed, picked up Robbie from his room, put sweaters on over our pajamas, and grabbed a horse blanket from the barn. As soon as we were ready, we went out into the paddock to watch the Perseid meteor showers and count the shooting stars.
I spread out the blanket on the grass under a copse of maples so we blocked out any excess light but had a full view of the rest of the sky. Then the three of us lay down on our backs to watch.
There were occasional white sparks as stars shot across the sky. I clapped at the first one, and the second. Robbie did, too, in his own way. When the real fireworks began, we were all too awed to clap anymore. I just kept grinning, having an absolute gas.
Beside me, Robbie giggled and said, “See, Ari, like giant fireflies sailing across a bowl of milk.” He talks like that a lot, when he isn't making up songs.
I've always been drawn to magic. Fairy tales, fantasy stories, worlds like Narnia and Middle Earth. Even before I could read on my own, Dad read them to me. He had this low, whispery, confiding voice that could suddenly boom out when the beast or troll or dragon appeared. No one else read me stories that way, like we were right there in the middle of the action.
I still had a musical jewelry box he'd given me after returning from one of his long tours with the band. It had a porcelain princess on top that turned around and around as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played. Mom made the princess wings out of pipe cleaners and lace so that she looked like a fairy. I called her Fairy Gwendoline. The song was tinkly and off-key, but it became my definition of magic. Or at least storybook magic, looking good and creaking along with a clockwork heart. As for real magic, I didn't know any.
Maybe it all left with Dad.
Lying on the blanket, I thought about wishing on a star or on the Perseids. But they were just gigantic balls of light. High magic is not about science and star showers. I tore this quote out of a magazine and posted it above my mirror so I could read it every day: “Magic is about the unpredictable, the stunningly original, the not-containable or attainable. It can't be guessed at or imitated or asked for. It happens and then it's gone.”
And no, I wasn't thinking about my dad.
At that point, our old pony Agora came over, looking at us as if puzzled that her humans were lying on the grass in the middle of the night. Easing to the ground on her arthritic knees, she snuggled up to us, whickering softly. Horses have a common magic, and they never let you down.
“She's more puppy than pony,” Mom said, which made me laugh. It was good to laugh with her. That didn't happen often anymore. I suddenly realized how much I missed it.
We were having a difficult time in our lives. That's what Martha, our barn manager, called it. She was like a second mom to me. Six years before, when I was seven, and two weeks after Robbie had been born, Dad had left without an explanation. He'd never called or sent a letter afterwards. The bank mailed my mom a check from him every month that barely covered the farm's mortgage. A really small check, considering what a famous rock star he is. Not Elvis famous. Not Bill Haley famous. Not Bobby Darin famous. But famous enough. We didn't even know where he was most times, except when his band's name appeared in the paper playing somewhere very far away, like San Diego or England.
I was still upset over his leaving, but Mom didn't seem to be. Right after he left, she'd said, “He wasn't actually here when he
here, you know,” which I hadn't understood at the time.
After that, Mom and I never talked about much of anything except horses, my chores, and school. Since I could read on my own and got good grades, did my barn chores on time and without complaint, our conversations became fewer and fewer.
I didn't have many friends. I first began to understand my lack of friends when earlier in the year some nutty guy on the news preached that the world was going to end before fall. Mom had laughed when she heard it, a sound as creaky and off-key as my old fairy princess box had been. “I thought six years of endings was enough,” she said, which was the closest she'd ever come to having the Dad Conversation with me. Besides, we didn't believe in world's end stuff. We were Quakers, which meant we believed that doing good, and peace work, in this life was important. We believed that each of us had God inside of us, and we had to listen to that still, small voice of love and reason, not some bearded guy in Heaven who was going to make the world end.
The kids in school talked about the prophecy, and some of them were scared. I thought it was silly to be scared of something like that and said out loud that only idiots believed such things. Jake Galla called me a Communist for saying that, which made no sense at all, and I told him so in front of our history class. A couple of the kids laughed, and Brain Brian even applauded.
I ignored Jake, having been called worse: Horse, Nitwit, and Ari-Fairy being the most common. It's not exactly true that words can never harm you, but as long as you can learn to shrug them off, you can get along okay. I'd learned from the bestâMartha.
Instead, I sometimes talked in front of the lockers with a few of the kids about our principal's latest hair color, or what “Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On” really meant. You'd never guess what Brain Brian thought it means! But talking to a few kids a few times in school didn't translate into friendships. And besides, I had a lot of chores to do at the farm.
However, that August night, lying on the blanket with Robbie and Mom, looking at the star-streaked sky, it seemed the world was more like a light show than lights-out, more mechanics than magic, and even if I never got to share the Perseids with a best friend, I had Mom and Robbie and Agora, and I was okay with that.
Suddenly a huge star flashed right over the Suss farm next door, where the Morgan mares had been turned out into their field. I sat up, leaning on my left elbow as the mares startled, snorted wildly, and kicked up their heels.
Half awake, Robbie murmured, “Far out! And far away, too!”
At that exact moment, Agora got up a bit shakily, shook her headâwhich made her long mane dance aboutâand trotted over to the fence as if wanting to get closer to the show.
“Time for bed,” Mom said, standing. She grabbed up Robbie, balanced him on her hip, and headed for the house.
I didn't complain. Chores start early on a farm, and I'm grumpy without at least a full eight hours of sleep. Even if it's broken up. So, I just folded the blanket and started after them.
As we went through the paddock gate, I heard a strange whinny, like a waterfall of sound. Looking back, I saw something white and glowing sail over the fence between the Suss farm and ours, that high double fence that no horseânot even a champion jumperâcan get across.
At first I thought it was a shooting star. Then I thought it was more likely ball lightning. And for a moment, I wondered if it might be the actual end of the world, in case we Quakers were wrong. Even as I had that thought and suspected I was dreaming, I took off after Mom and Robbie at a run, vowing to write about it in my journal in the morning.
MARE IS PREGNANT
between 320 and 370 days, about a full year. Ponies give birth a bit earlier, more like eleven months. Mom taught me about that when we first came to the farm as renters, long before we bought out the old owner with the money she got from the divorce. When we moved here to Massachusetts, I was three, Mom and Dad were married, and Robbie wasn't even a blip on the horizon, as Mom likes to say.
Mom grew up in Connecticut with horses and knows
about them, even though her old farm, Long Riders, is long gone. As are my grandparents. A cul-de-sac of new houses sits on the old mÃ©nage and pasture, and the old farmhouse has become a gas station and general store. We drove past it once. It made Mom sad. Still, she knows horses inside and out, and what she doesn't know, Martha does.
If Mom's the owner of our farm, Martha McKean is its heart. Our riders call her “a regular horse whisperer,” and sometimes “the Queen”âexcept Mrs. Angotti, who once called Martha “Ivan the Terrible,” and the name stuck. Mom explained to me that Ivan was some Russian king nobody liked and who was really awful to everybody. Now everyone says it as a joke, and even Martha smiles at it.
Martha's not awful at all, she just doesn't like people much. Except she tolerates Mom and bosses Robbie and me around something fierce. Martha prefers horses, and it's easy to guess why. The horses listen to her, and they do what she tells them to, almost as if she's their lead mare. The rest of us listen when we want to, which isn't often enough to please Martha.
So, near Thanksgiving last year, when Martha came into our house at dinnertime, a green rubber band in her hair, and said to Mom, “Old Aggie's got something in her belly,” we listened, horrified.
Martha's the only one to call Agora “Old Aggie.” I once asked her why, and she shrugged, saying, “Aggie told me to,” like it was no big deal that horses talked to her.