Read The Way Home Online

Authors: Becky Citra

The Way Home (2 page)

BOOK: The Way Home

Chapter Three

That night, Lucky circled around and around in his stall. He knew something was wrong.

For days now, an acrid smell of smoke had stung his nostrils. It was especially bad when the wind blew over the ridge and down onto the farm. It frightened Lucky, though he didn't understand why.

The other horses were restless too. Barnabas paced in the stall beside Lucky. Destiny whinnied, calling out to the missing horses that Oliver had taken away that morning. Orpheus took long, slurping gulps of water and blew through his nostrils.

Lucky stopped circling and snatched a mouthful of hay from the hay net hanging in the corner of his stall. He chewed slowly, his ears pricked. Listening.

Wild animals were moving down from the ridge, fleeing the fire and crossing the valley where the farm lay. A cow moose and her baby, a black bear, a family of coyotes. They brought new scents and sounds to Lucky, as they passed through the fields and kept going.

Lucky peered through the metal bars at the top of his stall door. He could see the whites of Destiny's eyes in the stall across from him.

He investigated the steel bar that held his stall door shut. Lucky was a master at opening stall doors, and sometimes Tory forgot to slide the bar all the way across until it latched, the way Oliver had shown her. This was one of those times. He nuzzled the bar and pushed hard.
The stall door swung open.

Lucky stepped out into the shadowy aisle. Destiny nickered and he nickered back. Barnabas stopped pacing. Orpheus raised his head from his water, muzzle dripping. They waited to see what Lucky was going to do.

Lucky walked between the stalls, stopping to investigate an empty feed sack and nibbling a few scattered oats. Then he knocked over a metal bucket with a clatter. He skittered in fright on the smooth concrete floor.

At the end of the barn, the big wooden door was propped open to let in a breeze. Lucky stared out at the night. A pale moon made shadows on the ground. For a while, everything was still.

Then Lucky saw two dark shapes step out of a grove of trees. Two deer with long ears and tawny coats. They froze for a moment, watching him with liquid eyes full of curiosity. Then they sprang gracefully over a fence and bounded away into the tall grass.

An uneasy feeling stirred inside Lucky. It told him that something bad was coming. That he should go too. That they should all go. He pawed at the ground, not knowing what to do. He felt torn between the safety of his stall and the urge to run away from the smoke.

Then Destiny whickered softly and Lucky turned back into the barn.

Tory woke up early in the morning. A hard lump pressed against her elbow. It was the book that Cathy had given her. She had said Tory should finish a chapter every night to help her become a better reader. But the book was boring and full of hard words that Tory couldn't sound out. She had fallen asleep after struggling through two pages.

She shoved the book and it fell on the floor with a thud. She looked around her room gloomily. The bed was crammed into one corner and there was a small dresser with sticky drawers for her clothes. The rest of the room was taken up by a table with a sewing machine on it, and boxes and bags of cloth, sewing patterns, and quilting magazines. A painting of a gray sailboat on a gray sea hung on the wall by the window.

When Cathy had shown Tory her bedroom on Tory's first day, she had apologized. “It's my sewing room,” she'd said. “I'll get everything moved out soon. We'll even paint it if you like.” Then she'd forgotten all about it.

Suddenly Tory sat up and sniffed. She smelled smoke.

She leapt out of bed and went to the window and peered out. Instead of blue, the sky was pale gray today. A haze hung between the house and the barn.

The forest fire!

She got dressed in record time and hurried downstairs. Oliver and Cathy were huddled in front of the radio. “
” snapped Oliver, although Tory hadn't opened her mouth.

Julia joined them, yawning. She was wearing a pale purple dressing gown and fluffy purple slippers. “What's wrong?”

Oliver turned down the volume on the radio. “We're on the list for Evacuation Alert.”

Cathy looked stunned. “We better start packing. Julia, there are boxes in the basement. Get three for yourself.”

Julia's face turned scarlet. “Three boxes! There's no way I can put everything in three boxes!”

“That's all we'll have room for,” said Cathy firmly. “Tory can help you pack.”

“Forget it!” said Julia. “I'll do it myself!”

It took no time at all for Tory to pack her duffel bag. She left it beside her bed and went downstairs to see if there was anything else she could do.

Cathy was wrapping fancy china dishes in newspaper. “These were my grandmother's.
I can't leave them behind.”

Tory tried to imagine owning something that had belonged to her grandmother. She didn't even know who her grandmother was. “Can I help?”

Cathy frowned. “Why don't you see if Oliver needs you?” Tory guessed that she was thinking about the big blue china platter that Tory had smashed to smithereens the first night she had come. It had been an accident, but Cathy had never let her forget it.

Tory went outside and scanned the sky.
The smell of smoke was much stronger than in the house. She looked to see what had happened to the great cloud of smoke on the hillside, but it had disappeared in the haze.

Oliver didn't want her help either. He had just finished hooking the horse trailer to the truck. He told Tory that they would have to leave all the saddles and bridles behind, but that he was going to pack up the trophies and ribbons.

“Maybe Cathy can use you,” he said.

Tory sighed. She went into the barn to visit Lucky. All the horses were restless, shifting back and forth in their stalls and nervously snatching mouthfuls of hay. She thought Lucky's dark eyes looked especially worried.

“It's okay,” she said. “Oliver's going to take you to a new home. Just for a little while. Then you'll come back here.”

After all, Oliver said the fire was still miles away. The Evacuation Alert was just in case.

Nobody stopped for lunch. Boxes piled up on the front porch. Tory and Julia helped carry the lighter ones out to the truck and car.

In the early afternoon, a man in a red pickup truck with writing on the side roared down the gravel driveway. He jumped out, holding a clipboard in his hand.

“The fire is near the top of the ridge,” he shouted. “You've got to get out of here! One hour max!”

Julia burst into tears. Tory knew she should feel sorry for her but she didn't. She felt oddly excited, as if something big was about to change in her life.

“Bring out the last few things,” said Oliver. “Then we'll load the horses.”

Chapter Four

Barnabas went first, clattering up the ramp into the back of the horse trailer. He whinnied loudly and tossed his head. Destiny didn't want to follow him. She braced her feet on the ground. Oliver tapped her with a whip and she lunged inside. Orpheus pranced all the way from his stall to the trailer
Oliver kept saying, “Whoa, boy. Easy boy.”

Tory was afraid of the big show horses and she stayed well back. “Lucky, don't forget Lucky,” she whispered to herself.

Lucky swung his head around in fright when he came out of the barn. Tory could see the whites of his eyes. “Cathy, give me a hand here,” said Oliver.

“Lucky hates going into the trailer,” said Julia to Tory.

Cathy held Lucky's lead rope and Oliver walked behind with the whip. Tory held her breath.

At the last minute, the pony planted his feet. Oliver tapped him with the whip. Again, harder. Lucky reared up.

“Bad horse!” said Oliver.

Cathy led Lucky in a tight circle and back to the ramp. Oliver hit him hard with the whip. Lucky skittered sideways and whinnied, and his hooves clattered on the hard ground.

Cathy circled him again and again. Each time, Lucky refused to go into the trailer. Tory's heart pounded.

“This is the last time,” grunted Oliver.

Lucky backed up, and Oliver slashed the whip across his rear legs. It made a horrible smacking sound. Tory closed her eyes. She wished she could close her ears too.

“It's no use,” said Oliver finally. His forehead was wet with sweat.

“We can't leave him here,” said Cathy.

“Oh yes we can. I'll open the gate in the corral and the gate in the bottom field so he won't be trapped. There's nothing else we can do. We've run out of time.”

Tory thought she was going to be sick. The gate in the bottom field was set in the middle of a wire fence, where the farm ended. On the other side were acres and acres of wilderness. Wild animals lived out there, wolves and bears and cougars.

Oliver let Lucky loose in the corral. The pony raced up and down along the fence, churning up clouds of dust.

“Why don't you get going?” said Oliver to Cathy. “I'll bring the girls in the truck. I'll open those gates and then we'll be right behind you.”

Cathy drove off in the car. Julia climbed into the front seat of the truck and Tory squished into the back, beside a big box. She turned her head to look out the window. Tears blurred her eyes.

Too soon, Oliver was back. The last thing Tory heard as they drove away was Lucky's frantic whinny.

Chapter Five

Lucky watched Oliver climb into the truck and slam the door. He galloped up and down the corral fence, whinnying. He didn't want to be left alone.

As the back of the horse trailer disappeared around a bend in the driveway, Lucky heard one of the horses calling to him. Then everything was silent.

Lucky had seen the horse trailer take horses away before. But three or four horses had always stayed home with him. He had never been left all by himself.

After a long time, he stopped running.
His sides heaved in and out. His neck was slick with sweat. He stood very still, his ears pricked forward, and watched the bend in the driveway, waiting for someone to come back.

But no one did.

With a grunt, the pony flopped down on his side and rolled and rolled in the dirt. He wanted to get the sweat out of his coat and the smell of smoke out of his nostrils. Then he stood up and gave a great shake, making a huge cloud of dust. He could still smell the smoke. It burned his eyes and made it hard to breathe.

Lucky took a long drink from the old bathtub that Oliver had left full of water. For a second he thought he heard the sound of the truck. He stood still, water dripping from his muzzle. Then he sighed and took another drink. He pushed some hay around with his nose, but he didn't feel hungry.

For a long time, he stood by the corral fence and watched the driveway. The smoke became thicker. In the distance, on top of the hillside, red and orange flames glowed against the sky.

Lucky waited and waited.

No one came.

In the truck, Julia peppered her father with questions. “Are we going to Springton? Can we stay overnight in a hotel? What if the fire gets that far?”

“The fire is nowhere near Springton,” Oliver said confidently. “And we're going to stay with the Mathesons. The other horses are already there.”

Tory had never been to the Mathesons' house but she knew they lived a little ways past the other side of Springton. The daughter, Deanna, was one of Julia's friends. Julia talked about her all the time.

Springton was an hour's drive away. Tory sometimes went there with Cathy to get groceries.
Usually they stopped to see Linda, the social worker, who had an office in the town. One time, Cathy drove Tory past the brown house where Tory had lived with her last foster family. Tory stared out the window at the slide and swing set in the front yard, remembering all the times she had played there.

Oliver turned off the rough farm road onto a smooth highway. After a few minutes, he stopped at the small general store, where he and Cathy got their mail and odds and ends like milk and bread. Pickup trucks and vans packed with belongings were lined up at the gas pump. People stood around in small groups, talking.

Oliver waited his turn for gas and then went inside the store to pay. When he came back out he said, “They're closing up in a couple of hours. They're leaving too. Just to be on the safe side.”

He flipped on the radio and they listened to reports about the fire for the rest of the way.
It was hot, but the windows in the truck were shut to keep the smoke out. A trickle of sweat crawled down Tory's back.

The radio announcer interviewed some of the families fleeing the fire. Then a man from the forestry department said, “Fifty more firefighters and three water bombers are expected in the next few hours.”

“Thank goodness,” sighed Oliver.

Oliver made one more stop when they got to Springton, at the community center. Cathy pulled up beside him in the car. Oliver checked on the horses in the trailer while Cathy and the girls went inside. The room was packed with people and there was a buzz of voices, some worried, some excited. Tables were set up with coffee and boxes of donuts. Volunteers at other tables were writing down the names of all the people who had been evacuated. It was like a party.

For a few seconds, Tory forgot about Lucky. While Cathy registered their names, Tory helped herself to a donut covered with chocolate icing and red and yellow sprinkles. But as soon as she took one bite, she felt her tummy tighten. She couldn't swallow. She wrapped the donut in a napkin and left it on the edge of a table.

Tory followed Cathy and Julia back out to the truck. She slumped against the window and blinked back sudden tears. What was going to happen to Lucky? Would she ever see him again?

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