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Authors: Terri Farley

Golden Ghost

BOOK: Golden Ghost
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Phantom Stallion

Golden Ghost
Terri Farley


Chapter One

Manes lashing, forelegs reaching, two horses galloped side by side…

Chapter Two

Just ahead, after the turnoff to Lost Canyon but before…

Chapter Three

No wonder Jen had abandoned her usual good sense.

Chapter Four

Witch, Jake's black Quarter horse, liked to bully other horses.

Chapter Five

The door opened behind Dad.

Chapter Six

When Sam's lungs began to burn and her legs turned…

Chapter Seven

“Take found a dead mare on the range,” Sam explained…

Chapter Eight

“I've heard of the fatal white factor,” Sam said. She…

Chapter Nine

“Okay,” Sam told Ace as she dismounted and ground-tied him.

Chapter Ten

Sam spent about ten minutes searching the makeshift stall for…

Chapter Eleven

Ryan Slocum rode tall in his English saddle. He swayed…

Chapter Twelve

Once Jen turned off toward Gold Dust Ranch, Sam's mind…

Chapter Thirteen

Sam hung up the phone and turned to face Gram…

Chapter Fourteen

Sam and Strawberry left the Gold Dust Ranch at a…

Chapter Fifteen

Strawberry was a cow pony, used to backing against the…

Chapter Sixteen

Sam got to school in plenty of time for class.

Chapter Seventeen

Sam walked through the schoolhouse garden, stepping carefully until she…

Chapter Eighteen

When Sam reached River Bend Ranch, she expected to see…

anes lashing, forelegs reaching, two horses galloped side by side across the high desert of Nevada. The palomino and the bay drank in crisp January air as they strained against their reins. They rejoiced in the dazzling blue and white day just as much as their riders.

Samantha Forster leaned low on Ace's neck. Her eyes squinted almost shut as the bay ran into the wind. If she hadn't pulled her hair into a tight clip under her old brown Stetson, it would be blizzarding around her face. On days like this, when he'd left the warm confinement of the barn behind, Ace's surging eagerness reminded her he was a mustang.

The bay gelding longed to run with a herd, even
if it was only a herd of two. A sudden tug at the bit telegraphed along the reins into Sam's hands. Her fingers closed tighter and her deerskin gloves kept the reins from sliding away.

Ace wanted to race. Although Jen's big palomino mare, Silk Stockings, was sixteen hands to his fourteen, Ace always thought he could win. Once in a while he could, when the palomino turned skittish and proved Jen's insight in nicknaming her mare Silly.

Sam turned her head just enough to see Jen.

Jen leaned slightly forward in her saddle. Her white-blond braids streamed behind her, flat on the wind, and morning sunlight glazed the lenses of her glasses. Jen didn't notice Sam's glance. She rode like a female Paul Revere, as if she had a mission and only her palomino mare could take her there.

Jennifer Kenworthy was Sam's best friend and she'd been gone for most of winter vacation. But Jen and her mom had driven in from Utah late the night before.

Even though it had been nearly eleven, long past Sam's nine o'clock limit on phone calls, Jen had braved Dad's anger and called Sam to beg for an early-morning ride. Jen's desperation meant her parents hadn't reached a truce.

Maybe because Dad had just returned from his honeymoon, or because Brynna, his new wife, reminded him it was, after all, vacation, Dad allowed
Sam to talk with Jen, and make plans to meet between River Bend and Gold Dust ranches, for a ride.

This morning, Sam had dressed in the dark. She'd pulled on the jeans, red pullover sweater, and boots she'd laid out the night before, then tiptoed downstairs without squeaking a single board.

She even made it out to the barn without Blaze, River Bend Ranch's watchdog, raising a ruckus.

Sam couldn't think of anything better than celebrating Jen's first day back with a run across War Drum Flats.

Sure, they watched for cracks and bare roots, anything that meant disaster if a horse tripped at a full run, but they knew this patch of alkali desert well. It spread before them in all directions, smooth and level as a white tablecloth.

For a few steps, Ace veered east. Sam corrected him, keeping him in step with Silly, but her heart pulled toward the Calico Mountains just as Ace's did.

From the corner of her eye, Sam could just see the mountain range. Glowing in the morning sun, the peaks looked smooth and soft, as if they'd been molded from orange sherbet. But things weren't always what they seemed. The peaks were inaccessible to cars or trucks and only the most determined rider could follow the faint paths etched by deer, antelope, and wild horses.

The Calico Mountains were steep and dangerous and Sam was glad.

She'd seen the Phantom scale that rocky mountain face just a few days ago. He and his new lead mare had been guiding his herd back into their secret valley. They were there now, Sam thought with a sigh, safe for the winter. She had no reason to worry over the great silver stallion.

Everything in her own life was fine, too. Even though she had a brand-new stepmother, Sam trusted Brynna Olson—now Forster—to fit into the family.

Tranquility for the mustangs and her family meant Sam could single-mindedly attack her goal for the three days until school recommenced: she'd help Jen.

With a squeal of frustration, Ace surged forward. He wanted to run faster than his short legs would carry him.

Beyond the thunder of running hooves and the wind singing through Ace's mane, Sam heard the slapping of her saddlebags. Each time Ace's hind legs shot behind him, leather creaked. The pouches, buckled to her saddle, hung heavy with schoolwork and a flashlight.

Jen had arrived home just in time. There were three days until the end of vacation. Three days until they had to turn in the first stage of their homework on the ghost town of Nugget.

“No problem,” Sam muttered to Ace, “except we haven't seen it yet.”

Since she was a little kid, Sam had heard stories
about the old mining town of Nugget. At night, little white lights appeared in the old general store, said one tale, and the saloon had a trapdoor that dropped into black nothingness. The ground which the town sat on was supposed to be unstable, because it sat above miles of earth honeycombed with mine shafts. Those were supposed to be filled with poisonous gases and, of course, the entire town of Nugget was rumored to be haunted.

Why hadn't she ever been there? Until ten years ago, the town hadn't even been locked up. Now, while it awaited status as a historic landmark, a padlocked gate blocked the entrance. According to Mrs. Ely, only one team of students would receive a key to that padlock.

Sam felt her own satisfied smile. That key was in her pocket.

When Mrs. Ely had posted a list of term project ideas on the bulletin board, she'd mentioned they could partner with a student from another one of her classes. Sam had sprinted from her seat to the bulletin board and been first in line to sign up for that key to Nugget.

She knew Jen would jump at the chance to explore the nearby ghost town, on horseback, so she wrote down Jen's name as her partner.

“Hey!” Jen sat back in her saddle, pulling Sam's thoughts back to the present.

Silly's head swung from side to side, looking for
danger. Finding none, she slowed, in response to her rider's request.

When Ace pretended he hadn't noticed, Sam shortened her reins. Ace's neck bowed at the crest as Sam pulled in even more, but his gallop stayed smooth and fast.

“Oh quit it,” she scolded her horse. Then, she added, “You're tired, boy. You just don't know it yet.”

For a few seconds, Ace seemed to run in place beneath her. Finally, with a snort and a toss of his head, he slowed to a hammering trot.

“Ow, ow, ow,” Sam complained.

She couldn't quite match her seat to his gait. Every inch of her spine felt Ace's hooves hammering on the playa. Ace usually slowed to a lope, a gentle jog, and then a walk. He could do it with fluid smoothness, but he'd decided to make her teeth crack together.

“Is this your way of getting even?” she asked him as they finally came even with Silly and Jen.

“Me?” Jen asked. She blinked owlishly behind her glasses and held her reins in her left hand as she flattened her right palm to her chest.

“Of course, not you.” Sam laughed, relieved Ace had finally slowed to a walk.

“What was I thinking?” Jen rolled her eyes. “Interrupting your conversation with your horse.”

Sam stuck out her tongue, knowing Jen wasn't
the least bit offended. Jen planned to become a veterinarian, and she was always trying to psych out her own horse.

“Really, though,” Jen said, sighing as Silly and Ace matched steps in a flat-footed walk. “I'm sorry I delayed us.”

“Like I would have started my homework last week, anyway,” Sam said, dismissing Jen's apology. “With Dad, Brynna, and Gram gone, and Aunt Sue here instead, it was a weeklong party. We stayed up late, ate junk food, and watched movies. I didn't even think about homework.”

“I always think about homework,” Jen said.

“That's why you get all A's and I'm happy with B's.”

“Not on this project,” Jen cautioned her. “This counts for a grade in science, English, and history, so there's no way we can settle for a B.”

Sam grimaced. Jen was right. They needed to do extra great work on this project.

“You could get all A's if you wanted to. You know that, don't you?”

“You sound like Dad and Gram,” Sam muttered.

“You mean Brynna hasn't started in on you yet?” Jen asked slyly. “She will.”

“Don't make me put my hands over my ears,” Sam begged. “My horse will run away with me and then we'll be another day behind on this project.”

They rode in silence for a few minutes. Sam looked around, wishing there were shrubs or trees to
tell her if there was a faint breeze blowing. Currents of warmth seemed to flow through the cold air. Sam didn't think she was imagining it, but it didn't make much sense.

“This first part of the project will be a piece of cake,” Jen said. “All we have to do is look for artifacts. How hard can that be?”

Sam shrugged.

Artifacts, Mrs. Ely had explained, could be all kinds of stuff. Frying pans, buttons, horseshoe nails, hatpins, toys, and even tin cans counted, if they were old enough. But since Sam didn't know how or why Nugget had become a ghost town, she couldn't imagine people leaving lots of stuff behind.

“Did they have to leave in a hurry?” Sam asked.

Still feeling feisty, Ace pretended to nip at Silly's neck. The palomino shied, but Jen kept her under control.

“What?” Jen asked. “Did who leave in a hurry?”

“The people who lived in Nugget, of course. Why did it turn into a ghost town instead of hanging in there like Darton, or even Alkali?”

“Got me,” Jen said. She rubbed Silly‘s neck, comforting her, though the mare knew she had nothing to fear from Ace. “Really, considering how close it is, I can't believe we haven't gone exploring there before.”

“Why haven't we?” Sam asked.

“Other than the fact that it's closed to the public?” Jen shrugged.

Sam couldn't believe Jen didn't offer a theory, even if she wasn't sure it was true. Jennifer Kenworthy had an opinion about everything.

“Probably the gold ran out, don't you think?” Sam asked.

“That'd be the logical explanation,” Jen said. “But what if it was something else?”

“Like what?” Sam asked, but she didn't want to know. Not if it was something creepy.

“Outlaws nearby?” Jen suggested. “Or a plague?”

“Right,” Sam agreed. “Or they could've been chased down the main street by a pack of rabid wolves.”

“My ideas aren't
far-fetched,” Jen insisted.

Cold wind picked up a lock of Ace's mane and waved it. The sudden cold chilled Sam and she didn't know if she was eager or reluctant to get into the canyon that held Nugget. It should be warmer, sheltered from the wind, but she felt kind of safe out here on the playa, where she could see everything. Once they turned left into the canyon, they'd be out of sight of the road and any other riders who happened by.

“Plague isn't illogical?” Sam asked. She pretended to hold a telephone receiver to her ear. “Hello, frontier doctor? Sorry to bother you, but we have a case of the Black Death over here—”

“There are a few historical problems with what you just said,” Jen told her. “You realize that, right? But there was bubonic plague down in the mines. The
miners took along lunch pails, and left behind crumbs, and then the rats—”

“Remind me not to go into the mines while we're in Nugget,” Sam interrupted.

“Mine shafts aren't exactly my favorite places to begin with,” Jen said. “Besides, my dad says Nugget is haunted.”

“I was really hoping you wouldn't say that.” Sam moaned.

“Why? Neither of us believes it's true.”

Sam felt a hum of tension along her nerves. Of course it wasn't true, but why had Jen even brought it up?

“I can promise you that's not the reason I've never been here,” Sam said. “My dad doesn't believe in anything he can't see, touch, smell, or taste.”

“You left something out,” Jen said. “How about hearing? Doesn't he trust what he hears?”

“Nope,” Sam said. “Too easy to get fooled.”

Just then, a high-pitched sound made both horses stop.

Silly froze, ears pricked straight and trembling.

“What was that?” Sam said quietly.

“A bird?” Jen offered.

“But it sounded like—” Sam began. She closed her lips. It sounded like a flute. A bone flute of the sort used in Native American ceremonies. But that was impossible.

Suddenly, Jen pointed and Sam looked ahead.

At first, Sam saw a wavering pool of light. She couldn't have said whether it was silver or gold, water or molten metal. She only knew the flash hurt her eyes with its brilliance. A village was turned upside down in the midst of it.

Talk about impossible! She blinked and squinted. That splash of radiance was pretty far off. She focused hard. No, it wasn't that far away. Perhaps a mile.

For a second, Sam told herself she should have eaten breakfast before she rode out this morning. Gram always said Sam's brain would work better if she ate.

But hunger and distance couldn't explain what she saw next.

Fairy light and golden, a palomino horse flickered across the playa, danced through a row of upside-down houses—and vanished.

BOOK: Golden Ghost
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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