FIND THE LIGHTNING
The white stallion stood atop a mesa, mane and tail blown by the wind. Below, a herd of wild horses grazed along a narrow, winding river. Apache wickiups rose in the distance, spirals of smoke rising from a number of cook fires.
For years, he had wandered from the Great Plains to the Llano to the Dragoon Mountains. He was known to all the People. Among the Apache, he was known as the ghost horse because of his pale color. The Cheyenne and the Lakota called him a spirit horse because he could traverse the shadowy road between the past and the present, but he preferred to make his home in the past, where the air was still clean and the rivers ran clear.
He was Relámpago and he belonged to no one.
A gentle breeze stirred the leaves of the trees, carrying with it a voice from the present. A voice only the stallion could hear.That of a young woman who felt she'd been born in the wrong century. Perhaps he could help.
With a toss of his head, the stallion began to run, mane and tail flying in the wind as he raced swiftly over the rolling hills. It was not an Apache warrior that needed saving this time. Or a young woman contemplating suicide. Or a woman looking for love in all the wrong places.
But a woman living in the future who yearned for a life in the past.
Rusty Ryan was certain she had been born, not only in the wrong century, but in the wrong ethnic group. As far back as she could remember, she had wanted to be an Indian. A tom boy to her core, when she was younger, she had loved playing cowboys and Indians with her brother and his friends - as long as she could be the Indian.
In high school, while her girlfriends watched chick flicks and drooled over Chris Pratt, she lost herself in old westerns starring John Wayne.
In college, while her best friend, Donna, dreamed of being a star on a reality show, Rusty dreamed of living on a ranch in Montana and raising horses. Sadly, there wasn’t much need for an interior decorator in the wilds of the Big Sky country. And, as much as she fantasized about ranch life, all she really knew about it was what she had seen in movies. She was woefully ignorant about cattle, although she thought their big brown eyes were pretty. She had no experience with horses, or branding, or cooking on a wood stove.
Now, sprawled on the sofa watching John Wayne in “Hondo” she imagined living on a small ranch in the heart of Apache country, waiting for her worthless husband to come home while she fell in love with a tall, handsome man of the West.
Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow was Saturday and she was going to drive up to Fenton’s Stable and learn to ride.
Rusty stared at the horse that had been chosen for her. It was a non-descript brown with a short mane and Xx tail. “Don’t you have something…prettier?”
“He’s our best beginner horse,” her instructor said. “Calm, reliable. Got a nice easy gait. Pretty much bomb proof.”
“Bomb proof?” Rusty exclaimed.
“It means nothing bothers him. Come on, I’ll give you a leg up and we’ll see how you do.”
Taking her lower lip between her teeth, Rusty put her foot in the stirrup and pulled herself into the saddle. The horse wasn’t very tall, but it suddenly looked like a long way down. Her instructor, Todd, showed her how to hold the reins, then led her into a corral.
For the next half hour, she learned how to guide the horse, how to make him stop, go, and backup. During the second half-hour, she discovered how uncomfortable trotting was if you didn’t sit the right way, how to change leads, and how to unsaddle and saddle the horse.
“Not bad,” Todd remarked as they walked back to the barn. “I think you’ve got promise. Next week we’ll put up on Sugar.”
Driving home, Rusty felt pretty good about the lesson. She had expected to have a sore bum after an hour in the saddle, but it was her thighs and shoulders that ached.
After half-a-dozen lessons, she graduated to a pretty white mare with a little more get up and go and Todd decided she was ready to go trail riding. Rusty could hardly wait. Wearing a new Western shirt, jeans, boots, and hat, she looked and felt like a real cowgirl.
Filled with excitement, she followed Todd along a narrow, tree-lined trail. The day was warm but not hot. Fluffy marshmallow clouds drifted across an azure sky. When a bird darted from a tree, spooking her horse, Rusty laughed, then let out a squeal as her mount lined out in a dead run.
She heard Todd scream at her, but she couldn’t make out his words. Merciful heavens, she was going to die!
The mare ran and ran, leaving the trail, cutting through a stand of timber. A fence loomed ahead. Rusty felt Sugar bunch beneath her, let out a startled cry as she tumbled over the horse’s rump.
Closed her eyes as the ground rose up to meet her.
Rusty opened her eyes. Blinked. And blinked again, surprised that she was still alive. She ran her hands over her legs, her arms, her head. Nothing seemed to be broken.
Pushing into a sitting position, she looked around for her horse, felt her eyes grow wide when one trotted toward her. It was white, only it wasn’t Sugar. And definitely not a mare, but a magnificent white stallion with a flowing mane and tail, and what looked like a black lightning bolt on one flank.
Hardly seeming to touch the ground, the stallion trotted toward her. Lowered its head. Went to its knees.
Rusty rose cautiously to her feet. There was no mistaking the horse’s invitation to climb aboard. But did she have the nerve to accept?
She looked around for her hat, which had gone flying when she did, but it was nowhere to be seen. Muttering, “Oh, well,” she took a deep breath and climbed onto the stallion’s back.
As soon as she was settled, the horse regained its feet, shook its head, and trotted off.
Rusty clung to the horse’s mane. She frowned as the world was swallowed up in a mist that grew darker, thicker, until she couldn’t see anything. Fear spread its tentacles through her. Had she hit her head harder than she thought? Was she going blind? She shook the thought away. Maybe she was unconscious and dreaming.
She lost track of time as she traveled through the mist, holding tight with all her might to the stallion’s mane for fear of falling into nothingness.
Just when she thought the horse was going to go on forever, it slowed and came to a stop.
The mist evaporated. She sighed with relief as her vision cleared. Now, all she had to do was find her way back to Fenton’s.