Cover by Laura Shinn
The great white stallion grazed on a patch of sun-warmed prairie grass, long white tail swishing an errant fly. The Apache called him a spirit horse; the Cheyenne called him a ghost horse because of his pale color. But Relámpago was both, and neither. For hundreds of years, he had wandered the shadowy path between the past and the present, saving countless lives, bringing lost souls together.
Ears pricked forward, the stallion watched the old man and the boy stroll toward him.
“Is that him?” the boy asked, pointing. “Is that the spirit horse?”
“Ai, that is Relámpago.”
“Tell me the story, grandfather.”
“You have heard it many times before.”
“Yes, but I’ve never seen the ghost horse,” the boy said, excitement evident in his tone and in the way he hopped from one foot to the other. “Tell me again.”
Smiling indulgently, the old man began. “It started in a time long ago when one of our brave warriors went out to face his enemies. Surrounded by the bodies of his slain comrades, he lifted his war lance high overhead, his death cry riding on the wings of the wind as he waited for death to find him.
“His enemies laughed and made rude gestures at him. They were certain the warrior would die that day. That when night came, they would sing of the Apache’s death while they danced, his scalp and that of the other slain Apaches dangling from their scalp poles.
“The Apache warrior watched his enemies impassively as he chanted softly, his prayer for deliverance wending its way up to the Great Spirit even as the warrior set his face toward death. ‘Hear me, Usen, grant me courage that I may die well.’
“As he prayed, a sudden stillness fell over the land. The wind moaned through the tall prairie grass. Curling fingers of thick gray mist rose up from the ground.
“The Apache warrior fell silent. Glancing over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed as he saw a stallion emerge from the gathering mist.”
“Relámpago!” the boy exclaimed, clapping his hands.
The old man nodded. “The very same. The stallion’s hooves echoed like thunder, striking lightning from the earth as it galloped toward the warrior. Sunlight danced over the stallion’s dazzling white coat, glinting like liquid silver in its flowing mane and tail. A thin black scar, shaped like a bolt of lightning, adorned its right flank.
“The warrior’s enemies fell back in superstitious awe as the ghost horse approached, but the Apache warrior stood his ground. The eagle feathers tied in his hair fluttered in the rising wind.
“The stallion slowed as it drew near the warrior, then stopped to paw the ground. Grasping the stallion’s mane, the warrior swung onto its back, and with a wild cry, he and Relámpago rode through the midst of their enemies toward freedom and into myth and legend.”
“But Relámpago’s not a myth,” the boy said. “He stands here before us.”
The old warrior smiled. “He is here today. Tomorrow, he may be gone.”
It was 11 a.m. on a rainy Saturday morning in January when Macie Jenkins decided her life was no longer worth living. Her parents and younger sister had died in an automobile accident six months ago. Her best friend in the whole world had married a computer programmer and moved to Japan. Her boyfriend had left her for his secretary. Last month, the Collie she’d had ever since she was a little girl had gotten lost in a thunder storm and never returned. Last week, she had lost her job due to the ongoing economic slump. And this morning, she had found her two-year old goldfish belly-up in the tank. It had been the last straw.
With a shake of her head, Macie turned away from the living room window. Now that the decision was made, she felt a curious sense of peace. How to do it, that was the question? A knife was too messy. She didn’t own a gun. Sitting in the garage with the engine running seemed too creepy…Sleeping pills, of course, that was the best way. A handful of pills and she would just fall asleep, leaving no messy corpse behind. And how fortuitous that she’d had her prescription refilled just yesterday.
Tomorrow, she thought, she would do it tomorrow. But today, ah, today she would indulge in all the things she had been avoiding. She would have a big bowl of warm chocolate pudding topped with a banana for breakfast. A Big Mac, fries, and a chocolate malt would make a perfect lunch, and for dinner, pasta and garlic bread, with a pint of decadent chocolate fudge brownie ice cream for dessert.
While stirring the pudding, Macie contemplated leaving a suicide note, and decided against it. No one she knew would really care why she had done it; most wouldn’t even realize she was gone.
When the pudding was cool, she poured all of it into a large bowl, sliced a banana on top, then sat at the kitchen table and savored every deep rich bite. Good thing she was dying tomorrow, she thought with a wry grin, since she had just shot her diet all to hell.
She spent the next hour finishing the book she was reading, then she cleaned her house from top to bottom. After all, she didn’t want whoever found her body to think she lived like a slob.
Lunch was pure heaven. The cheeseburger was perfection itself, smothered in cheese and onions. She lingered over every French fry, even the little crusty ones at the bottom of the bag. The chocolate shake was a creamy delight.
While fixing dinner, she listened to her favorite Fifties oldies. When dinner was ready, she lit a fire in the fireplace and ate in the living room while watching MASH reruns. She grinned ruefully as she savored every bite of spaghetti. Six months of hard work at the gym, wiped out in a single day.
By seven, the rain had turned into a thunder storm. Lightning slashed the skies, thunder rocked the heavens, a ferocious wind rattled the doors and windows. She had always loved a storm. What better way to spend her last night than out walking in the rain? One thing for certain, she wouldn’t have to worry about catching a cold.
After pulling on her favorite Grumpy sweatshirt and an old pair of cowboy boots, she went outside. For a moment, she just stood there, her face lifted to the lowering skies. Was anyone up there? Was there life after death? Were her parents waiting to greet her on the other side, or was death the end of everything?
Tomorrow, she thought. She would know the answer tomorrow. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans and then, with no particular destination in mind, she started walking. It was kind of spooky, strolling along in the dark with the storm raging overhead. She glanced over her shoulder from time to time, making sure the lights from the house were still in sight.
A flash of lightning split the iron-gray skies, disclosing a…What was that? Macie stared at the shape that seemed to be emerging from the clouds. Was that a horse, she thought, startled, and then laughed out loud.
“You’re losing it, Macie,” she muttered, and let out a yelp when her feet suddenly went out from under her and she found herself falling head over heels down a muddy slope.
A shrill cry rose in her throat, ending in a groan as she slammed into a boulder at the foot of the hill.
And then everything went black.