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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1947643
Music has charms to soothe . .
Gracious Lady and Katydid

         ‘Katydid’, Kyle’s little six year old treasure, was autistic but absolutely gifted in music. Her beautiful voice could be heard throughout the ranch most any time during the day as she made her way through the stables to the handling areas of the horses.

         She always had a connection with the horses, and they with her. But, she had established a particularly strong bond with ‘Gracious Lady’, a seven year old Hanoverian mare who had been rescued from destruction when she’d been injured in a competition accident about two years ago. Light chestnut, with a blonde mane and tail, she’d been problematic since her rescue until Katy took her under her wing.

         Gracious Lady had broken a foreleg during the exhibition because of a small explosion off the area when she was in a jump over an obstacle. That loud distraction had caused her to break form in mid-jump and catch her right front leg in the barricade. The officials offered to put her down, but Kyle decided to save her life, opting to save her for breeding purposes if she healed successfully.

         It was a gamble to be sure, but Kyle wouldn’t needlessly put any animal down unless their future was very dire. Besides, Gracious Lady brought out the very best in Katy, inspiring her to create music that entranced everyone. Most of all, her music captivated Gracious Lady, and Katy could call her from nearly anywhere with her high, soprano melodies. They were each other’s therapy, and inseparable.

         As a result of the accident Gracious Lady was very skittish whenever around anything producing a loud noise, but Katy was always able to subdue her with her singing voice. Keeping the horse was one of his better decisions, Kyle admitted; it killed two birds with one stone, figuratively speaking of course.

         There was always a small element of concern whenever Katy was around the huge horse, as the possibility of an accident between them would undoubtedly fall in favor of the horse, Katy being such a small girl. The horse, to her favor always treated the little girl with extreme caution, and never failed to respond to her voice, waiting anxiously each morning for her feeding from the young child.

         Kyle’s wife had died in childbirth, and Katy was all he had to remind him of the family he’d dreamed of since his marriage to his childhood sweetheart. It was a bittersweet memory, but now his life was their daughter, Katy. Torn between being overprotective of Katy and accepting her emotional bond with Gracious Lady, he reluctantly sought balance with his own emotions, giving her whatever freedom she desired with the massive animal, but painfully embracing the fear that it wrapped around his heart. Typical father, he supposed, but he suspected his worry would send him to an early grave one day. But for now, he kept his guard up and hoped for the best.

         Katy was diagnosed early on with a mild form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome, although recent revisions have purged the expression ‘Asperger’s’ from the medical lexicon. She did demonstrate one of the key characteristics of the disorder, difficulty meeting eye contact, and she did seem to be a bit skittish as far as focusing on specific activities, but she showed a remarkable affinity for musical scales and rhythms. This was no better demonstrated by her clear soprano voice during each day as she roamed the ranch, usually with Gracious Lady.

         Katy’s affinity for the great mare broke down barriers of communication like nothing else had, and she came out of her shell to embrace her world whenever they were together. She followed a fairly set routine each morning; following breakfast she’d make a break towards the barn to help feed and water the horses, ending up with Gracious Lady, who she’d take to the yard to exercise. Kyle could follow her progress by the wonderful sound of her singing.

         If ever there was a validation of the often quoted phrase of Poet William Congreve, ‘Music has Charms to soothe a savage Breast’, it was Katy and her daily routine with the horses. Her nickname among the trainers on the farm was ‘Katydid’, a reference both for her accomplishments with the ranch animals, and her wonderful singing voice.

         Now, Florida is known for many things, beaches, sunshine, old folks, gators and flamingos, but most of all it is known for being in the path of countless hurricanes and thunderstorms, always evident but not advertized. These storms can be quite violent, and reach the news desks of national TV stations quite often during the ‘seasons’ for such outbursts.

         Weather reports over the previous week had predicted a tropical storm headed towards the area, and all of the ranch staff followed its progress virtually minute by minute. If it appeared to be bearing down on the ranch, they all had a ‘disaster-plan’ to put into effect to ensure the relative safety of both the staff and animals during the fall-out. They’d survived some pretty bad storms over the years, only suffering some minor property damage, and Kyle wanted to ensure that record continued.

         As the storm approached the ranch, the winds picked up and the rain began falling more often and with more force. Each morning Katy would bolt from the breakfast table to ensure that the horses were safe and taken care of. It was becoming a bit problematical to catch her before she rushed into the stable area before checking the increasingly volatile weather conditions.

         Kyle managed to check her rush into the stable each day to explain to her the dangers of the storm, but she just as patiently explained to him that they, the caretakers of the animals, were responsible for the safety of the ranch inhabitants, all of them. That was not disputable, but convincing her that they were taking all the precautions necessary was a bit daunting. Katy was not totally convinced, and as a result Kyle had to remain on guard to protect his only daughter from taking too many chances.

         The news followed the storm carefully, warning all areas affected as to the direction and severity of the elements to those in the path. The only good news for the ranch seemed to be that the storm was passing a bit south of them, exposing them to the standard hazards of heavy rain and occasional heavy gusts of wind. Kyle changed his storm planning to accommodate those lesser dangers, and decided not to move his herd of horses to a neighbors ranch a few score miles further north. It seemed they might have escaped the more destructive side effects of the storm, and he heaved a sigh of relative relief for their good fortune.

         A problem with tropical storms is that they possess a perverse and twisted mind of their own, as if Mother Nature had made a statement to her terrestrial inhabitants that she was in charge, not them; simply an assurance that nothing should be taken for granted, even in the ‘modern’ age of man. So it was this time, for long after the staff had gone to sleep, the storm took a sudden turn northward, the eye passing ‘just’ under the perimeters of the ranch.

         Instead of exposing them to the ‘eye’ of the storm, they were presented with a continuous barrage of rain, wind and debris tearing up the ranch buildings, knocking out electricity, water and in many cases, cover. Kyle had spent the night in the basement game room with Katy, staying awake during the night trying to comfort her during the fierceness of the storm, not finding sleep until the light of dawn began to creep through the basement highlight.

         Katy was gone, and Kyle felt a stone-cold feeling pass through his body just then. The storm had obviously passed over the ranch, but there was no way to evaluate the amount of damage that had been done to the area without venturing out into the ranch itself. Gusts of wind continued to press through the area, but the rain had ceased, so Kyle set out to find out how the rest of the ranch had weathered the storm; his mind however, was where his daughter was right now.

         Like hibernating animals greeting the spring, Kyle saw various ranch hands making their way up from the wreckage that remained of various buildings around the ranch, checking them off his mental list as they emerged. Most all of the animals that had been in the stables were accounted for, despite the fact that the stables had been completely destroyed. They’d broken loose and scattered a bit during the storm, but they were now finding their way back to the stable compound. He was able to account for most of the resident staff, at least to the point that he felt comfortable that they could return the complex back to normal within a reasonable length of time.

         He split the crew into two groups; one to gather up the animals that’d made their way back to the ranch and secure them, and the other to spread out and find those that remained unaccounted for. He’d been more concerned about the small footprints of Katy that began at their porch, ran to the wreckage of the stables, and then extended out into the forest. There were no return footprints.

         The rain had ceased sometime during the early morning hours, so any footprints, man or animal were undisturbed in the damp soil around the ranch house. The small footprints leading into the forest were lost just inside the wood line, and Kyle feared that Katy, having awoken before he did, headed to the stables to see to the safety of Gracious Lady, and seeing she wasn’t there, entered the forest to find her.

         A temporary corral had been constructed, and nearly all of the horses had returned to the area where the stable had been, and had been contained. Kyle gathered his men into a search party, and headed towards the woods to find Katy.

         Just as they were about to enter the forest, they were all surprised by a scream coming from the corral. Gracious Lady, who had returned to the stable had suddenly reared up, nostrils flaring, and was frantically looking to escape her confinement. Racing back and forth, she finally made the first jump since her injury a couple of years previously and cleared the makeshift fence in a single magnificent leap. Once free of the corral, she thundered into the forest, scattering the search party in all directions.

         Now Kyle was faced with two recovery operations, the most important issue was finding Katy, then recovering Gracious Lady and returning her to the corral where she can find safety. It would take a while now to reform the search party, and he selected the hands most familiar with the forest to seek out his daughter, and the rest to recover the mare. It wouldn’t be an easy task for either group since the storm had reformed the thick underbrush into unfamiliar terrain.

         Just as the groups began their advance into the forest, Kyle noticed that the leading hands began to slowly back away, splitting to form a passage between them. Tears began running down the faces of the men as Gracious Lady slowly stepped back into the clearing, regal and high-spirited, and clinging to her back was Katy, still quietly singing one of her songs into the mare’s ear.

         The sun broke out as the huge mare marched proudly through the crowd of search party members. Briefly, Kyle recalled that Katy had never had the courage to ride any of the horses on the ranch before, and Gracious Lady had never taken another jump after her injury until now.

         He would never doubt the safety of his Katy again whenever she was in the company of her closest friend, Gracious Lady.

H – *Anchor*   #1994

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