Authors: Becky Citra
After dinner, Cathy phoned all their neighbors, asking if anyone had seen Lucky. No one had, but everyone promised to call back if they had any news.
Tory asked Cathy for paper and felt pens. “I'm going to make a sign about Lucky to put up at the store.”
“Great idea. Make a few. Oliver's going back to the Mathesons' place tomorrow to get the horses, and he could put some up in town.”
Tory sat at the kitchen table and thought hard about what to write. Her first attempt was terrible, her printing crooked and the letters growing smaller and smaller as they advanced across the paper. Fiercely she crumpled it into a ball.
Cathy, who was unloading the dishwasher, looked as if she was going to say something, then changed her mind. Tory scrunched up her second attempt too. She smashed the felt pen on the table and flung her head down on her arms. Everything she did was messed up. Tears burned behind her eyelids.
Cathy leaned over her. For a second, Tory thought she was going to hug her, and she tensed. But Cathy never hugged. Instead, she took a fresh piece of paper and drew some faint pencil lines. “That'll keep your letters straight.”
The lines helped. Tory ended up making five signs, each with the word REWARD in bold red capital letters at the top. Cathy showed her how to make a row of telephone numbers at the bottom, and to cut little slits so that someone could tear off a number.
Oliver came in. He raised his eyebrows when he saw the word REWARD but he promised to take the signs with him in the morning.
That evening, Tory couldn't keep her eyes open, and Cathy sent her to bed early. She was just drifting off to sleep when her bedroom door opened.
Julia stood in the crack of light from the hall. “Hey, Tory. I justâ¦um, wanted to say I'm sorry Lucky's missing.”
Tory pretended to be asleep. Confusing thoughts swirled in her head. Oliver and Cathy had been nice to her today. And now Julia.
She waited until Julia left, then rolled over on her stomach and pressed her face into her pillow. Things were easier when she could hate everybody.
The night sky was clear and the air was washed clean after the rain. The smoke was gone. Lucky had a new rule to guide him now â get as far away as possible from the man with the rough voice and the sour smell.
He had left the valley bottom late that afternoon and started to climb the mountain. Every step had hurt. The dried blood had caked on his front legs, and the skin around the wounds was puffy and burning.
The sound of rushing water had spurred him on. Above him a stream, swollen by the heavy rains, tumbled down between boulders. He lowered his head and took a long, soothing drink. He rested for a while, water dripping from his muzzle, then he took another drink and continued to climb up the mountain.
Now he was resting. All around him, the air was full of animal sounds â tiny feet scurrying, leaves rustling, twigs cracking. Around midnight a cougar passed close by, curious about the horse but not a threat. Lucky dozed, too tired and sore to care.
In the morning, Lucky's legs felt as if they were on fire. He ate some grass and found a small spring for water. Then he continued climbing, until he was on top of the mountain.
Below him stretched a new valley, long and narrow, with golden meadows and groves of trees. A silver river, glimmering in the sun, wound like a ribbon down the middle.
Lucky ventured down the slope, his hooves skidding on the rough ground. He was hobbling badly now, and he kept his head low to the ground to avoid stumbling. When he finally reached the floor of the valley, his nostrils quivered. He could smell the cool, clean scent of the river.
He limped across a meadow, snatching a mouthful of grass now and then, until he reached the low, gravelly bank of the river. He waded out to his knees.
A sudden movement caught his eye. It was a boy, a little way down from him. He was sitting on a boulder, hurling rocks into the water. A small dog nosed around the rocks beside him. The boy stood up and walked along the bank until he was opposite the strange pony that had appeared out of nowhere.
He was a thin boy with brown hair that flopped over his forehead. He was wearing baggy shorts and was barefoot. He pushed his hair back and stared at Lucky.
Lucky stared back. He thought about running away, but the icy water felt wonderful on his burning legs. So he stayed where he was.
The dog ran up and down the shore, barking, as the boy plunged into the river and waded toward Lucky.
Early the next morning, Oliver took Tory's signs with him. The phone rang four times before eleven o'clock and Tory jumped every time. She hung by Cathy's shoulder until she knew the call wasn't about Lucky. The last time it was Linda, the social worker, and Cathy shut the kitchen door so Tory couldn't hear.
“It's too soon for someone to phone,” said Julia scornfully. “What do you expect â someone's going to see your sign as soon as Dad puts it up?”
She seemed to have forgotten that she had felt sorry for Tory the night before. Tory wondered if she had
imagined Julia coming to her room. And Cathy was cranky, shooing Tory outside with the promise that she would call her right away if there was any news.
When Tory came back inside at lunchtime, Julia had propped a book up against the sugar bowl and was reading. Tory ate her tuna fish sandwich in silence. She swung her legs and by accident kicked Julia.
“Hey!” said Julia. “What was that for?” She kicked Tory back, hard.
“Ow!” yelped Tory. She leaned forward and knocked over Julia's milk so that it poured onto her lap.
“You idiot! These are my best shorts!” shrieked Julia. “Now they're ruined.”
Cathy sent both of them to their rooms. Julia slammed her door but Tory's anger had drained away. She lay on her bed, listening for the phone. She told herself that if she hoped hard enough, someone would phone to say they had found Lucky.
But no one did.
The boy waded deeper into the river, approaching Lucky slowly. When he was close enough to touch the pony, he reached out his hand and stroked his neck.
The panic that Lucky had felt since he had met the man with the sour smell melted away. The boy held onto a piece of Lucky's mane and clucked with his tongue. Up until then he had made no sound, and Lucky sensed that there was something different about this silent boy. Something different, but not something to fear.
The boy led the pony out of the river, holding onto his mane but never tugging or pulling. When they were back on the shore, the dog danced around Lucky, barking. The boy pushed the dog away gently. Then he crouched down and examined the slashes on Lucky's legs.
The edges of the cuts gaped open, swollen and red. Lucky bunched his muscles, ready to jerk back in pain, but the boy just looked and didn't touch. Lucky blew out his breath through his nostrils.
The boy stood up and brushed the hair off his forehead while he thought about what to do. Then he made a clucking sound again and started to walk along the bank, the dog scampering beside him. He looked back and smiled when he saw that Lucky was following them. He led the pony around a bend in the river, walking slowly and matching his steps to Lucky's painful ones. He stopped several times so Lucky could rest.
They walked past four small brown cabins tucked back in the trees. At the end of the row of cabins, beside a meadow, nestled a bigger house, painted moss green with yellow trim. It had a wide front porch that faced the river.
A golden retriever and a black and white spaniel, tails wagging, ran out to meet the boy.
A goat tethered on a line looked up, grass hanging from his mouth. A stripey orange cat watched from the porch railing, his ears twitching.
A man and a woman were sitting on the porch. The man had gray hair tied back in a ponytail and was wearing bib overalls. He was reading a book. The woman, dressed in faded jeans and a blue shirt, was shelling peas into a wooden bowl. They both stood up as the boy approached.
The boy led Lucky right up to the porch.
The pony planted his feet, his head hanging, refusing to take another burning step.
“We have to help him,” said the boy.
In the four months that the boy had been living with the man and woman, these were the first words he had ever spoken.