The Red Filly-Chapter 4

            “When do I get to ride, Strider? I’ve been mucking stalls for a whole week now,”

            Strider laughed, “Oh yeah, a whole week. You crack me up, Bethany. You have to earn the chance to ride. A week is not a long time.”

            “It seems like a long time to me,” said Bethany as she dumped the pile of manure from the stable fork into the wheelbarrow.

            Strider dumped a load from the stall he was cleaning and then turned to Bethany. “Bethany, riding a horse is a privilege. Especially, Antonia’s beautiful Arabians. You’re looking at this all wrong. Not many people get the chance at all. Your time will come.”

            “Well, I hope I’m not a grey-haired old lady, before it does.”

            Strider laughed again. “You go see your girl. There’s only one stall left. I’ll clean it.”

            “Really?! Thank you, Strider!” Bethany dropped her fork and ran down the barn aisle.

            “Bethany, you forgot something,” Strider called out.

Bethany didn’t hear Strider as she ran toward the far north pasture. She slowed to a walk about halfway there. Even as excited as she was, she couldn’t run that far at top speed. The trek was worth it though. The fiery, red filly lifted her head and locked eyes with Bethany from a safe distance at the top of a hill. Bethany had made the long journey on foot to the north pasture several times now to try to make friends with Fyrestorm. She had brought a halter with her on the first trip, thinking she would catch her, because Antonia said they had haltered her before to give her shots and a vet checkup, but other than that the two-year-old filly had not received any training.

            The first walk to the pasture had not gone well. As soon as Fyrestorm saw the halter, she turned on her heel and took off out of sight over the far hill in what seemed an instant. Bethany didn’t bring the halter the next time, and the filly still ran, but just far enough away to keep an eye on the strange, auburn-haired girl. Bethany considered that a success, so she continued her halter-less visits, hoping the filly would begin to trust her.

            On this occasion, Fyrestorm only ran a few steps, but still out of reach, and watched Bethany. Her heart felt as if it would burst from her chest as she watched the filly standing on a small hill; head held high, neck bowed, nostrils flared as her red mane flowed and her arched tail plumed out behind her. The beauty of the filly was breathtaking. Bethany wanted her for her own with all her heart, but she knew her mother couldn’t afford to buy her. Bethany was saving all her money from her new job, hoping it would be enough to one day make Fyrestorm her very own.

            “Fyrestorm, please let me near you. I just want to pet you. No riding yet. That will come later,” called out Bethany.

            As if in answer, Fyrestorm neighed, a shrill, wild sound, like music to Bethany’s ears and then she was out of sight in a flash.

            Bethany watched in dismay at the spot where the red filly had been standing just a moment before. The fall grass on the hill was a peaked mix of green and gray, but all Bethany could see was the gray, because her heart ached for the filly. She had never felt such love and yearning for anything before in her life. Not that existed in reality anyway. Bethany spent most of her time up in her own head with make believe horses, some of them even had wings and she fantasized about riding a winged horse across the skies. She dreamed of freedom from the persecution and ridicule she suffered in real life. There was no sadness in her fantasies, just bravery, glory, and love.

            Bethany was startled out of her reverie, by something pressing into her back. She let out a little yelp and jumped and then she heard hooves pounding the hard ground. She turned heart about to burst, because surely Fyrestorm had snuck up behind her. The horse that had darted just a few feet from her was a beautiful chestnut, but not Fyrestorm; it was her dam, Fyrelite. A beautiful red mare, but with just a star instead of a star and stripe, like her daughter.

            Bethany was disappointed, but when the mare tentatively walked back up to her and nuzzled her, it warmed the girl’s heart. The broodmare was carrying a foal, due to be born in the spring, sired by Antonia’s black stallion, Spirit. Strider said only the best broodmares were bred to Spirit. Bethany began to pet the lovely mare. “Oh, Fyrelite, I wish you could explain to your daughter, that I love her and would never hurt her,” said Bethany while scratching the mare’s neck just under the base of her mane. Fyrelite loved the attention and curled her neck around, almost falling over she was in such ecstasy.

            As Bethany, continued to scratch and rub on her neck, she saw Fyrestorm standing on the hill again out of the corner of her eye. The filly was watching their spectacle. Bethany smiled and realized she had been going about approaching the filly all wrong. She remembered reading somewhere online that horses are very curious and if you ignore them, they become even more intrigued. Her hands were getting tired and starting to cramp up a bit, but she was determined to get the chance to at least touch Fyrestorm.

            It was working, her patience was paying off. The filly had ventured closer. ‘Maybe if she realized her mom likes me, she’ll start to trust me,’ Bethany thought. Fyrestorm walked a few steps closer and snorted. She was close now; Bethany could almost feel the breath of her snort. Her hands and arms were aching now, but if she could just draw the filly in a little closer.

            And then it happened, she felt the filly’s muzzle in the center of her back. She stayed very still and held her breath a bit. She trembled with excitement, smiling from ear to ear. Just as she was about to risk turning to pet her beloved filly, Tyler came galloping up to the broodmares riding Flame, the younger resident stallion at Kuhaylah Arabians. The beautiful, sorrel, Arabian stallion arched his long neck and whinnied in delight at the site of the mares, but Tyler was an excellent equestrian, and he kept the great stallion under his control. Fyrestorm wheeled about and galloped off into the distance. Bethany had lost her chance.

The Red Filly-Chapter 3





“Well, look who it is, … ,” said Chet Dickson as he passed the table where Bethany sat alone in the Samuel James Middle School cafeteria. He finished the sentence with slurs said at a whisper so no one else but Bethany could hear.

“Shut up Chet!” shouted Bethany. “I hate you!”

Every eye in the cafeteria turned toward her as Chet walked on snickering under his breath.

Tears flowed down Bethany’s face. Everyone else had already gone back to talking to their friends though. Nobody cares about the weirdo, thought Bethany. She picked up the floppy slice of pizza from her tray and slowly began to chew, tears still flowing. Nobody cares…

…………………………………………………

Bethany stepped off the bus in front of the little peach colored, single-wide trailer she lived in with her mom. Their little grade horse, Starbuck, trotted up to the fence to the left of their home and nickered, when he saw her. She set her backpack on the porch and then went over to greet him. He nuzzled her with his reddish-brown nose, and she rubbed the big star on his forehead.

Bethany, now inside the fence, shaking with sobs as she hugged Starbuck, heard her mom pull up in the driveway behind her. Their old truck chugged a couple of times, not ready to give up after her mom had already stepped out and shut the door. She called out to Bethany, “Hey baby, I’ve got groceries, could you come help me put them up?”

Bethany didn’t move, she continued to hug Starbuck as she heard her mom open the passenger door of the truck and retrieve the groceries. Bethany heard her mom sigh loudly as she carried the bags in through the front door of the little house, allowing the screen door to slam loudly behind her. Bethany sighed herself, and headed into the house behind her mother. Bethany paused as she passed the kitchen. Her mom had placed the bags on the little, round, wooden kitchen table and had begun putting them up. Their grey, tabby cat, Trixie had jumped on the table to ‘help’ and was purring so loudly, Bethany could hear her from outside the kitchen. Helene stopped what she was doing, rubbed the aging cat’s head and said, “I love you Trixie, but I have things to do right now.”

Bethany stood there and watched as her mom start to boil the water for hot dogs, and open a can of chili for the chili dogs she was making for dinner. It was one of Bethany’s favorite meals, but she had no appetite. Helene grabbed a drinking glass from the cabinet and then filled it with burgundy colored wine from the box she kept on the counter in the kitchen and said to herself, “Well, like Granny used to say, It’s five o’ clock somewhere.”

 She placed hot dogs in the boiling water and then stood there watching them with glass of wine in hand, when she suddenly turned toward Bethany. “I thought I heard breathing. Are you okay?”

Bethany opened her mouth to speak, but then began sobbing uncontrollably again. She couldn’t bear talking to anyone, so she fled to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She was face down on her bed; body wracked with sobs when she heard her mom knocking on her door.

“Bethany, what’s wrong? Please let me in.”

“Go away!”

“Bethany please.”

“Go away, Mom!”

“Bethany, please open the door. I love you. I just want to help you. Do you need a hug?”

Silence. Bethany opened the door. Helene stepped into the room and held her arms open. Bethany sunk into her mother’s body and began sobbing even louder. Helene just held her daughter and didn’t say anything.

Bethany hadn’t wanted her mom in her room because she knew her mom would not be happy with the mess. There were books, comic books and clothes piled on top of the dresser; some of which had fallen off and others about to give up their precarious positions as well. Her nightstand was in the same state, bed unmade, empty Dr. Pepper bottles littered the floor. Her floor had not been vacuumed in weeks. But her mom, didn’t mention any of it.

Bethany’s sobs were slowing so Helene took a chance and asked, “What happened? Why are you so upset?”

“Chet Dickson…” Bethany began and started sobbing again.

Bethany felt her mom tense up.

“What happened?” Helene prodded.

“He called me retarded,” said Bethany, now just crying lightly.

Helene clenched her fists and then relaxed them. “I’m so sorry Bethany. But Chet is a loser, that’s why he’s so mean. He…”

“Mom, please. I don’t want to talk. I’m a weirdo and I know it.”

“How can you say that, Bethany?! You’re just different! Why don’t you believe me?” Helene pleaded.

“Mom, you have to say that. You’re my mom,” Bethany whimpered through her tears.

“Well, if you’re such a weirdo, why would Antonia let you take care of her horses?”

Bethany stepped back and looked up at her mom. “Maybe you’re right,” she said between sniffles.

“Of course I’m right. And you really need to learn to embrace your differences, or you’ll spend your whole life wallowing in self-pity and end up a bitter old lady.”

“I don’t want to be different! I am a weirdo!” Bethany shouted while rapidly flapping her hands.

“You’re not a weirdo. And different is not a bad thing. Do most people really achieve anything special? Think about it. It’s the weirdos and people who dare to be different who go on to greatness. They don’t accept the status quo.”

“Mom! Just leave me alone! You’re just making me feel worse!” Bethany shouted as she shoved her mom through her bedroom door and then slammed it shut, locking it as she did so.

Bethany could hear her mom sigh as she stood outside her door. As Bethany flung herself back on her bed to continue sobbing, she listened as her mother’s footsteps faded down the hallway.

The Red Filly-Chapter 2

            “So how was it? Did you have fun?” asked Helene as she pulled their old pickup onto the two-lane country road that bordered the front of Kuhaylah Arabians.

            “Yes, I had fun,” Bethany grinned.

            “How about some details?” Helene again prodded.

            “Mom, I had fun. I wish you wouldn’t interrogate me.”

            Helene sighed, “My new boss, Mr. Singh, invited us for dinner tonight.”

            “Mom, I just want to go home. I don’t want to go anywhere,” Bethany whined.

            “Bethany please, this is important to me. I really love my new job. You’ll like him. I promise.”

            “Okay. I don’t have a choice, do I?” said Bethany.

            Helene laughed, “Not really. Especially considering that he’s the one that arranged for you to get the job at Kuhaylah Arabians.”

            “He did?!”

            “I told you on the way to the ranch. I guess you didn’t hear me?”

            Bethany smiled at her mom but didn’t respond. She turned and just stared out the window as they drove down the country road into town. Her view consisted of field after field of mostly cows, occasional horses, and wood-frame houses. Many of the homes needed repairs and a new coat of paint. There wasn’t a lot of money in Dale City. Most people lived off the land or paycheck to paycheck, except for the lucky ones that worked at James Corp, the best employer in the small town, Bethany always heard the adults saying. But she didn’t care about any of that because her head was filled with dreams of galloping Fyrestorm across green pastures.

            As they reached the city limits, Bethany peered at the brick, ranch style houses, which were popular among the rural, middle class. She dreamed of living in a house like that, instead of the old trailer she lived in with her mom. Bethany’s stomach rumbled as they drove past McDonalds, Burger King and Dairy Queen; the three fast food chains that made up “restaurant row” in Dale City. Helene slowed the rambling truck to 35 mph as she pulled into the old downtown. She eased into one of the angled parking spots in front of a shop which bore the sign, Singh’s Antiques and Curiosities.

            Amir stepped out onto the walkway in front of his shop to greet Bethany and her mom as they exited the truck, the heavy metal doors screeching as they slammed them both shut. Amir Singh was Helene’s age, but unlike her, he was fit. His black hair was cropped short, but was full and a bit wavy, complementing his olive skin.

            “Helene, so happy you and your daughter could make it for dinner,” he greeted them with a smile.

            “Hello Amir, this is Bethany,” Helene said, waving an arm toward her daughter as Bethany stepped onto the sidewalk next to her mom.

            “You call your boss by his first name?” Bethany blurted out.

            “We’re informal around here,” said Amir with a smile as he extended his right hand toward her.

            Bethany looked at his hand for a moment, then reached out and took it. She shook it firmly as her dad had taught her before he left them. It was the only thing she ever learned from him. “Thank you for getting me the job at Kuhaylah Arabians,” she said.

            “Good handshake, Bethany! I’m happy to finally make your acquaintance. You’re welcome, but you got the job yourself. You must have made a good impression on Antonia. Let’s head inside. I hope you girls like the dinner I’ve prepared,” said Amir as he turned and walked toward his shop with Bethany and her mom following behind him.

            They walked through the shop, which was full of the standard antiques found in any small, Texas town. There were old wooden dressers with chips and scratches, ancient looking garden gnomes, decorative plates on little metal stands depicting women with big, old-fashioned dresses, and ceramic figurines in the shapes of cats and roosters and the like.

            “Everything is so old in here!” said Bethany.

            “Bethany!” Helene admonished.

            “It’s ok Helene. She’s right. Everything is old,” said Amir.

            “Well why would people want to buy old things? Asked Bethany.

            “That’s an excellent question, Bethany. I think sometimes old things comfort people. They remind them of a simpler time, I assume.”

            “That makes sense,” said Bethany as they reached a door in the back that Amir opened and led them through.

            “It smells funny in here,” said Bethany.

            “That’s because you’ve never smelled Indian spices before I’d wager. I’ve made us some butter chicken and some naan,” said Amir.

            “Just chicken with butter? And what’s naan?” asked Bethany.

            “Come, I’ll show you,” said Amir. They followed him through the back of the apartment to the kitchen. Amir lifted the lid of a large, silver pot on the stove. “Come look,” he invited.

            Bethany and Helene peered into the pot and saw chicken covered in a brownish sauce. “Oh, I like chicken and gravy,” said Bethany.

            “And here is the naan,” said Amir as he lifted a thin, white cloth from a plate on the counter.

            “Oh, it’s just flatbread. I love bread!” said Bethany.

            Amir placed the cloth back over the bread, and as he did that Bethany was distracted by a photograph on the wall just past the stove and near the kitchen table. It was a picture of Amir, although younger, smiling and standing next to a beautiful golden colored horse, with a blaze running down the length of its face. Bethany walked closer to the photo and said, “What’s wrong with that horse’s ears?”

            “There’s nothing wrong with Apollo’s ears. He’s a Marwari horse, their ears are supposed to curve inward.”

            “Mahr-wahr-ee? How do you spell that?” asked Bethany.

            “M-a-r-w-a-r-i,” Amir answered.

            “Marwari,” Bethany repeated, under her breath. “Apollo was beautiful. He was your horse?” asked Bethany.

            “It’s a long story. Let’s discuss it while we eat supper,” said Amir as he began to scoop the butter chicken onto three plates. He handed one of the plates to Bethany and he carried the other two to the table. “Helene, could you get the water pitcher from the fridge and fill three glasses for us?”

            Helene retrieved the Brita water pitcher and poured water into the three glasses that Amir had already placed on the table. Amir placed the plate of naan on the table after having microwaved it for a few seconds to warm it.

            The three of them sat down at the table, which had already been set with forks and napkins. Amir reached for the plate of naan and removed one of the flat breads before passing the plate onto Helene. He then ripped off a small piece of naan and used it to pick up some of the chicken and then began eating.

            Bethany asked, “You’re not going to use a fork?”

            “I’m eating in the traditional Indian way, but sometimes I use a fork too. I set the table with forks because I know that’s what you’re used to.”

            Bethany copied his technique and used a piece of bread to eat the butter chicken. “I like eating this way,” she said.

            “Well, I hope you two won’t be offended if I use a fork.” Helene smiled.

            “Suit yourself, Mom,” said Bethany.

            Amir smiled at Helene and then turned his attention to Bethany. “I’m very happy that my good friend Antonia gave you the job at the ranch. I used to work on a horse ranch in India,” said Amir.

            “You did? Is that where you met Apollo?” asked Bethany.

            “Yes, he was a prized Marwari stallion in those days. I miss him very much.”

            “What happened to him?”

            “He left this world some time ago. That picture was from another time, many years before you were born. Tell me about your job,” finished Amir.

            “Oh, I’m going get paid to work at the stable, plus get free riding lessons! But I’m most excited about the beautiful Arabian filly my mom and I saw running in the pasture today! No one has ridden her because she came from a ranch in Wyoming where she ran wild all her life.”

            “I see. Apollo was wild when I first saw him too,” said Amir.

            “Really?! So, you gained his trust?! I mean, you must have since you have the picture!” exclaimed Bethany.

            “Yes, and that’s the story I mentioned earlier. Apollo was found running wild in the hills on the outskirts of the ranch where I worked. It took four men to capture him, and no one could control him. He was practically dragged onto the ranch double lassoed by a rider on each side and two riders driving him from behind. When I first laid eyes on him, I was about your age and in awe, just like you and the filly. I watched from one of the paddocks where I had been re-filling water troughs as Apollo screamed and reared in the air, fighting the riders with all his might. They managed to drive him into a large round pen, with 10-foot-high wooden sides and shut the gate behind him. I could hear him still screaming and galloping around the pen, looking for a means of escape. The men left, laughing, and talking because they felt immense pride at capturing such a magnificent stallion. After they were gone, I went to the gate to look at the horse. He was glorious even lathered in sweat and with the two lariats still hanging from his powerful neck. His golden coat gleamed in the evening sun and his cream-colored mane and tail flowed like banners. He was the most beautiful Marwari horse I had ever seen. He was standing still by that time, but his sides heaved from exhaustion. The great horse watched me with alert eyes which contained no trust for humans. I ran and filled a bucket with water, returning as quickly as I could. The great stallion watched as I gently placed the bucket down just inside the gate. I stepped back and the horse sniffed the air with flared nostrils. His thirst was great, so he stepped toward the bucket, never taking his eyes off me. He reached the bucket, snorted a warning at me and then plunged his muzzle into the cool water, gulping madly in his thirst. He drained the bucket, so I moved forward to reach in and grab it. He wheeled around and screamed again as he bolted to the farthest end of the pen. I retrieved more water and also brought hay. Thus began the lengthy process of my befriending the greatest Marwari stallion that ever lived.”

“So, I can do it! I can gain Fyrestorm’s trust!”

“Yes, but it took several months. You must be patient. The filly is Arabian and like the Marwari, somewhat hot-blooded. You will have to earn her trust. In fact, the two breeds are related. Marwari horses were infused with Arabian blood early in their history. According to legend, an Arabian ship containing seven Arabian stallions wrecked off the coast of India and were taken to the Marwar region to be used as bloodstock for the Marwari breed. The Marwari and Arabian horses are the most ancient breeds in the world, and both carried warriors into battle,” said Amir.

            “Warriors? That’s so cool!” said Bethany.

            “Very cool, indeed. My ancestors were Rajput warriors, so I believe I was born with a love for the Marwari horse,” said Amir.

            “So, what is the filly’s name, and why did they bring a wild horse from Wyoming in the first place?” asked Helene.

            “Her name is Fyrestorm, with a y, and I don’t know, I’ll ask Strider next time I see him,”

            “So, it was fate that she is here and that you came into her life. I believe remarkable things are on the horizon for you and Fyrestorm,” said Amir.

The Red Filly-Chapter 1

            This must be what love at first sight feels like, Bethany Resmon thought to herself as she watched the flashy red filly galloping with tail held high. The young red horse looked like a mythical creature as she floated across the green pasture, flipping her head as she ran. Bethany felt as if her heart would burst from her chest. She memorized every inch of the filly as her mom drove their 1978 Ford F150 up the long, winding gravel road that led to the house and the main barn.  All the horses were beautiful at Kuhaylah Arabians, but this filly stood out from the rest, red gold in color accentuated with flaxen mane and tail. Her delicate, dished face adorned with a white star and strip, sat atop a long sloping neck and her exquisite, curved ears danced above her head as she ran.

            “Mom, stop the truck!” Bethany shouted.

            Another pickup moved toward them as it exited the ranch, so Helene pulled into the grass on the side of the gravel driveway before pulling their old truck to a stop.

            “Mom!  Look!” Bethany was still shouting.

            Helene stuck her hand in Bethany’s face flat and palm side down.  The signal that Bethany was being too loud.  Bethany’s eyebrows scrunched down for a second, she really hated when her mother did that.  But instead of getting in an argument, Bethany placed her left hand on her mother’s chin and turned her head toward the filly. 

            Helene immediately dropped her hand and watched the filly too, mouth agape. Bethany knew that when her mom was young, she had read the Black Stallion series and had dreamed of one day owning her own Arabian. In fact, Bethany had followed in her mom’s footsteps when she started reading the worn paperback copies of the books her mom had kept all her life. They were the only things Helene had kept from her childhood.   

            “You see her, Mom?” asked Bethany.

            “Yes…she’s beautiful…,” Helene’s voice quivered.

            Bethany saw tears in her mother’s eyes.  Her mother never cried.

            “Are you okay, Mom?” Bethany asked.

            “I’m fine.” Helene laughed. “I’ve just never seen anything like her before in my life.”

            A sleek, black, Ram pickup pulled up alongside them.  The young man driving it lowered the passenger side window as his tires ground to a stop in the gravel, and dust floated out behind his truck. Their windows were already down because…no A/C and late spring in Texas.

            “Hi!” said the young man.

            “Hi,” responded Bethany and Helene in unison.

            “I’m Tyler.  I’m the trainer here. Are you my new student?” he asked while looking at Bethany.

            “Yes,” said Bethany.

            “Are you excited?” he smiled through perfect teeth.

            “Yes,” Bethany said again.

            “She’s just nervous,” said Helene, “I’m Helene and this is my daughter, Bethany.”

            “Well, it’s nice to meet you both,” said Tyler.

            “I’m looking forward to riding with you, Bethany,” Tyler said directly to the young girl.  

            Helene poked Bethany and she responded, “Me too.” And smiled.

            “It was nice to meet you both,” said Tyler again.

            “It was nice to meet you too,” Bethany and Helene said in unison again.

            Tyler raised the passenger window and pulled away.  Helene pulled their old truck back onto the gravel drive, the air was full of the sound of the tires from two trucks grinding over gravel as dust misted about them both.

            “Mom, you don’t need to make excuses for me. I didn’t say anything wrong,” said Bethany.

            “It’s just that you don’t seem friendly when you just give one-word answers,” said Helene.

            “Mom, you worry too much about me.  My answers were just fine,”

            “But Bethany…”

            “Mom, please just drop it. Please.  You always do this.  This is a good day. You just saw a beautiful red filly. Just enjoy it. Please,” said Bethany.

            “Okay, you’re right.  I just can’t help but worry.  You’re my only child and I love you.”

            “Mom, I love you too. Just relax,” Bethany said with a smile.

            When they pulled up to the house, a tall, attractive woman with long, rich brown hair flowing down her back was standing in the driveway talking to a young man. The woman, who appeared to be around the same age as Helene turned toward them and waved as Helene pulled their truck to a stop.  Bethany waved back.

            “Mom, that must be Antonia Silva!”

            Helene and Bethany both stepped out of the truck.  Bethany ran straight to the woman and gave her a hug, while Helene was left standing by their old pickup, tugging at her baggy, full length skirt and equally baggy top. Her stuck-in-the-seventies look was complete with big gaudy earrings and necklace and un-pedicured toes in sandals.

            “Hello, Bethany’s Mom. I’m Antonia Silva,” said the exotically gorgeous woman, complete with lovely accent.

            “Helene, and…and, hello, nice to meet you,” Helene stuttered, meeting her eyes as she reached out her hand. “I’m sorry my daughter ran up and hugged you like that, she’s not normally that affectionate with strangers.”

            “Mom! Stop apologizing for me!”

            “It’s okay, Bethany, your mother is just looking out for you, as mothers do,” said Antonia. She then turned toward Helene, took her hand in both of hers, “Helene, what a lovely name.” Antonia then turned back toward Bethany and said, “Bethany this is Strider, he’s my right-hand man.  He’ll show you around the place.  He graduated last year from Dale City High, so maybe he could give you a few pointers for when you start there in a couple of years. He’s taking classes at community college right now,” said Antonia with a smile.  “I’m going to take the lovely, Helene inside to sign some paperwork. Bethany, Strider, you two enjoy yourselves.”

            Bethany watched as the two women walked toward the house, then turned back toward Strider and asked, “Your name is Strider, like in The Lord of the Rings?”

            “Yes, my dad loves those books,” said Strider.

            “So, he went with Strider instead of Aragorn?”

            “He thought Aragorn would be too weird.”

            Bethany laughed. “Well because Strider is so normal, right?”

            “Yeah, he didn’t think it through.” Strider laughed too.

Bethany opened her mouth to respond, but Strider interrupted. “Hey, I know you. I thought you looked familiar.  You go to Samuel James Middle School, right?”

            “Yes, how do you know that?”

            Strider laughed, “I’ve seen you when I pick up my twelve-year-old sister from school, plus you’re in the same grade as her right?”

            “Oh, your sister is Loreth Castillo. Wow, your dad really likes Lord of the Rings!”

            “Yes, he does.” Strider laughed again.

            Strider put his arm on Bethany’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s take the jeep to the stallion barn. I’ll show you Antonia’s prized black, Arabian stallion.”

            “Like the black stallion in the books and movies?!”  

            “Of course,” said Strider. When they got to the jeep, Strider removed his arm from Bethany’s shoulder and beckoned toward the passenger door. “Get in.”

            Bethany obeyed and could hardly sit still in the passenger side she was so excited.  She hoped Strider didn’t notice that she flapped her hands a couple of times outside the vehicle before getting in. She managed to force herself to stay calm once seated inside.  She was very aware that most people did not do such things, but she was so excited that she couldn’t help herself.

            Strider backed the jeep out of the garage and headed out the same gravel road Helene and Bethany had driven toward the house, but instead of turning right to exit the ranch, he veered off to the left where the road split.  They rode in silence and arrived at the stallion barn in five minutes, but it had seemed like much longer to Bethany.

            Strider pulled up near the barn and stopped the jeep.  They both stepped out and Bethany froze in place when she spotted the magnificent, black stallion peering at them over the white, pipe fence just past the barn. His nostrils flared as he whinnied shrilly at them.

            Bethany was awestruck by the beauty of the stallion.  He’s perfection. Solid black, just like the one from the book series, save a small white star planted in the center of his wide forehead.  She was mesmerized by his glistening black coat and four perfect black legs which ended in four black hooves. His thick black mane and tail rounded out his perfection. Atop it all, was a chiseled Arabian head complete with delicate, curved ears and ending in front with the sculpted, flared nostrils. He looked just like the picture of the stallion on the cover of her mother’s copy of The Black Stallion. So many beautiful horses at Kuhaylah Arabians, but the red filly is the most beautiful of all!

            “He is beautiful, isn’t he?” said Strider.

            “Yes! Will I get to ride him?” asked Bethany.

            Strider laughed, “Maybe one day,” he said. “You want to pet him?”

            “Yes!”

            Bethany snapped out of her reverie and followed Strider to the fence. A small gasp of glee escaped her mouth and she reached up to rub the black stallion’s soft nose. 

            “His name is AV Olympic Spirit, but we just call him Spirit. His sire is Affirmativ, another beautiful black stallion,” said Strider.

            “Spirit,” Bethany repeated as she continued to rub the stallion’s nose.

            “So, if I can’t ride Spirit, can I ride the red filly out front?” asked Bethany as she continued to pet the stallion.

            “What filly out front?” asked Strider.

            “The one with the flaxen mane and tail,” said Bethany.

            Spirit grew impatient and stomped his foot.  The stallion still let Bethany rub his nose though. Animals were always drawn to her.

            “He knows it’s feeding time,” laughed Strider. “And I think you’re talking about Fyrestorm,” said Strider, laughing again.

            “Why are you laughing?” asked Bethany.

            “Nobody has ridden her yet.  She arrived here with her dam, Fyrelite, from a ranch in Wyoming,” said Strider.

            “Why hasn’t she been ridden? Is Firestorm, one word or two?” asked Bethany.

            “She was never touched in Wyoming apparently, so she’s completely wild, and Fyrestorm is one word and it’s spelled with a y,” said Strider.

            “But she can be trained right?”  When she had seen the red filly, it had immediately become Bethany’s dream to ride her. She felt determined to do so.

            “Well, theoretically, yes. But Antonia has just let her run free in the mare’s pasture so far. I’m not sure she’s planning on training her. Fyrestorm has excellent bloodlines, so she might just be planning to use her as a broodmare,” said Strider.

            Bethany dropped her hand from Spirit’s nose and her eyes filled with tears. The stallion snorted and stretched his muzzle toward her demanding her attention. Bethany smiled through her tears as she reached out and rubbed his nose again.

            “Don’t cry, Bethany.  See, Spirit doesn’t even want you to cry. Maybe the filly can be trained eventually. You will have to gain her trust first, though.  She doesn’t come near anyone,” said Strider.

            “I can do it! I can gain her trust!”