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Rated: E · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2075491
Two young teens ride into Wild Horse Valley and make a startling discovery...
The Mystery of Wild Horse Valley

The gnarled path twisted its way down the hill, leading the two riders out of the woods and onto the valley floor. The valley, surrounded by trees and hills, seemed to mark the entrance into a new and wild world, apart from the farm community only a few kilometres away. A boy on a large appaloosa gelding swept back the lock of black hair which persisted in falling over his eyes.

"We made it, Truffy!" The boy called to his younger sister, "Here we are in Wild Horse Valley at last!"

"Let's just hope we don't lose the horses, Brandy," Truffy replied to her brother, "or Uncle Roy will go bananas."

Brandigan "Brandy" Barklin chuckled in a jovial manner at what he considered to be Truffy's unnecessary fretting. The short and stocky fourteen-year-old boy preferred not to worry about a situation until such time as it became dire.

"Why would we lose them? We'll hobble them outside the tent. I tell you, Truff, this was the best idea you've ever had. A camping trip on horseback is just what we needed, so that we could get out of Uncle Roy's hair for a while. He's been in a terrible mood lately."

"Uncle Roy gets pretty mad over nothing," Truffy agreed, "I'm surprised he even allowed us to go on this trip. Maybe he wanted to keep us out of the way while he was dealing with all those financial problems of his. But still, if the horses get lost out here, he'll storm a lot worse than he did when we put the manure in the wrong pile."

"Oh, don't worry," Brandy told her, "Sheriff and Kelsey are the calmest horses Uncle Roy has...we couldn't lose them if we chased them around the valley with a riding crop!"

"Okay," Truffy replied as she lay back on the white mare, Kelsey, with her head resting on the horse's rump, "No more worries. I'm going to take advantage of my mount's serene nature and have a snooze! Tell me when we've arrived at a choice campsite."

"Such enthusiasm!" Brandy exclaimed with a laugh, reaching over to pull a strand of his sister's blonde hair.

"Get lost, twit," Truffy told him affably, closing her eyes as the horse plodded along.

The distant sky was turning a fiery red.

Dusk will soon be upon us, Brandy thought as he ran his fingers across the smooth leather reins, holding them with one hand and letting them go slack.

Darkness is a strange thing, his mind continued to babble, Lots of people think it's scary, but I've always loved the shadowy mystery of it.

As she lay back on her horse with supreme nonchalance, Brandy regarded his sister fondly. She had no real fear of the darkness either, except for that one time, three years ago...

No, he lectures himself, don't go there. They're gone now.

Brandy tried to escape the unwelcome memory which sat like an ugly spider in the web of his mind. He hated to think about the time when Uncle Roy had awakened he and Truffy in the dead of the night to tell them the horrible news that their parents were no longer alive. Brandy could still clearly remember himself and his sister staring out the window into the darkness, frozen with shock.

It had taken a few years, but the siblings were now more or less adapted to living with Uncle Roy on his horse farm in the Drumdingle Hills. For both Brandy and Truffy, working with Uncle Roy's horses had given each of them a much-needed purpose. Even so, there was something that Brandy had been yearning for: he wanted his very own horse to raise and train.

And one of these days, Brandy thought, I'm going to convince Uncle Roy that I'm ready for that responsibility...somehow I've got to come up with a way to prove it to him.

"Why do you need your own horse?" Truffy had asked him when he had confided in her about his plan, "Uncle Roy lets us ride his horses. What's the difference if you own a horse or you don't? If you're working with the horse, and you're around the horse all the time, it's the same thing."

"No, it's not," Brandy had disagreed with his sister, "Not to me it's not. I want to have a horse that's mine and nobody else's. I want to feel that I've got control over him. I'm tired of having something and then losing it...like Sheriff, for example. I take care of him and ride him as if he were mine; but it's Uncle Roy who has control over him. If he decides to sell Sheriff in order to help his financial situation, then I lose again."

Brandy had felt helpless contemplating the possible loss of "his" horse.

Truffy had been sympathetic, but she remained dubious as to the ownership aspect of his dream.

"No horse can really be owned," she had said simply.

His musings were interrupted by a faint tip of white which shimmered from amongst the trees. He was about to call Truffy's attention to it, but Sheriff's body suddenly tensed and the horse danced about nervously.

"Hey, Sheriff! Whoa, steady. What's the matter with you?" he said to the horse sternly.

He looked up in alarm at Truffy's horse, who was galloping away rider-less towards the woods. He hopped off Sheriff and ran over to Truffy, towing his mount along behind him. She had tumbled off Kelsey when the mare had bolted, and was picking herself off the ground gingerly.

"You okay, Truff?" he asked.

Truffy wiped the dirt from her jeans and lifted the helmet from her head.

"Good thing I had this on," she muttered, "What happened, Bran?"

"You fell off," he replied.

"I know that, you idiot, but did you see what spooked her? We've got a nice horse chase in front of us now."

"And if you'd been sitting up in the saddle instead of fooling around having a "snooze" on the horse, you wouldn't have bitten the dust, you idiot," Brandy lectured her, going into his full "big brother" mode.

He forgot his lecture in the next instant when his attention was captured again by the faint flicker of light.

"What's that?" he asked, raising his hand to halt Truffy's heated reply to his previous comment.

"What's what?" Truffy replied somewhat frostily, "All I see..."

She stopped in mid-sentence as a herd of horses galloped out of the woods. They were all a bright golden color, except for the leader, who was pure white. Their long manes and tails swept in the wind as they galloped silently in the distance, towards another wooded area. The siblings stared in astonishment as the herd ran swiftly to the edge of the woods and disappeared once more into the trees.

"Did you see that? Did you see that?" Brandy gasped.

"Wow!" Truffy exclaimed, "A herd of wild horses! I never knew there were actual wild horses around these parts--even if it is called 'Wild Horse Valley'. I always thought that was just a name."

"They must be wild," Brandy agreed excitedly, "This land isn't owned by anyone that I know of. Well, at any rate, it's not a farm or anything. I'd sure like to have that big white horse...I bet I could tame him."

"Just a minute! Before you go dreaming about taming him, Mr. Rodeo Clown of the Century, we'd both better figure out a way to get my Kelsey back. I bet it was that herd that made her go berserk."

Brandy frowned. "Y'know, Kelsey's a very calm horse. She might whinny at the boys, but she wouldn't balk at a bunch of horses like that. It must have been something else. After all, it is getting kind of dark."

"We'd better stop talking and start searching," Truffy said worriedly, as Brandy gave her a leg up so that she could sit behind him on Sheriff's back, "before it gets really dark."

"It's funny," noted Brandy, re-mounting Sheriff and squeezing himself into the saddle in front of his sister, "Kelsey took off on us completely. Even if she did balk, it'd be more in character for her to stop and graze a few metres from where you'd fallen."

"Well, Freud, she's deeper than you thought," replied Truffy wryly.

They rode together until they reached the wooded area into which Kelsey had disappeared. As they entered the woods, Brandy rode his horse slowly through the tangled bush. It was now too dark to see, especially among the shadow of the trees. Brandy took out his pocket flashlight and turned it on, shifting his hand and causing the beam of light to dart back and forth across the undergrowth like a search-light. The woods were thicker than he had thought; it was doubtful that they would have an easy time convincing Sheriff to continue through this mess. They were both forced to dismount again.

"Why are we going this far into the bush? Sheriff won't get through this, and I can't imagine Kelsey putting up with it for too long," Truffy echoed her brother's thoughts.

"I saw her go into the woods, Truffy. And the wild horses were in there, too. Now, if a whole herd can fit in here, so can Sheriff and Kelsey."

"I don't like this," Truffy complained, but she resumed plowing her way through the snare of vegetation behind Brandy and his horse, this time on foot.

Twigs snapped in their faces. Sheriff halted frequently, tossing his head in protest at the barrage of branches. Each time his horse did this, Brandy spoke softly to him in an attempt to persuade him to continue.

"Lucky thing we have a way with horses--ugh!" Truffy commented, pulling a leaf out of her mouth in disgust.

Brandy had considered hobbling Sheriff outside the woods, but he did not like the idea of leaving him alone in the dark. If the herd came back, he would no doubt become nervous and might do himself an injury. The thought of the herd caused Brandy to think back to the incident of Truffy's fall. Both Sheriff and Kelsey were accustomed to having other horses present, but their nervous behavior had been different from the eager, dancing energy which usually accompanies the meeting of new horses on the trail.

Brandy's foot caught a root, causing him to fall with a thud, along with his thoughts. The light of the flashlight swirled about him, and he could feel Sheriff's warm breath on his ankles as the horse nuzzled him.

"Oh, come on, Brandy!" Truffy cried in exasperation, picking up Sheriff's reins, "Were you daydreaming again?"

Brandy reached for the flashlight. As he picked it up, he noticed, in the beam of light, a narrow strip where the vegetation had been worn away. He picked himself up and followed the beam.

"Hey, Truff, you can thank my dreaming!" he retorted, training the beam of light ahead of him, "I think I've just stumbled onto a path."

Brandy bent down to inspect the ground.

"Hoof prints!" he exclaimed, "and footprints as well. Let's go!"

Following the prints meticulously, Brandy led the way. The path curved through the woods until it came to a small clearing. The two halted in surprise. In the middle of the clearing there was a small white cottage, and, not far from the cottage, a white mare was tethered to a cedar tree.

"Kelsey!" cried Truffy, handing Sheriff's reins to Brandy once more and walking carefully towards her.

Brandy was about to follow, but he caught sight of a form in the shadows. The shadowy form startled both humans and horses by letting loose a crescendo of barking. It bolted out of the darkness and straight toward Truffy. Brandy grabbed the nearest stick and went towards the dog, but stopped in his tracks when a loud "shut up!" sounded from the cottage. When the dog did not comply, an elderly bearded man came outside and strode over to the spot where Brandy and his sister stood staring at the howling menace.

"All right, Mud, take it easy. Who's that there?" he boomed.

When Brandy found his voice, he answered shyly, "I'm Brandy, that's Truffy. We were looking for our horse, who ran away from us."

"Oh, she's yours, eh? Okay, Muddy boy, lay off."

"May I take her then, please?" Truffy asked.

"Sure," responded the man, gesturing to the saddle and bridle that he had taken off the horse and hung on a branch, "I just figured she'd do better here with me than running about wild in the valley. The name's Jergens, by the way, Jeffrey Jergens. You don't have to pay me for finding the mare for you...unless you really want to, that is."

"No dough," Brandy said with a smile, "Thanks a lot, though, Mr. Jergens. We probably would never have caught her, what with that wild herd of horses that got her running."

Jergens looked startled. He frowned at Brandy, while Truffy busied herself with re-saddling Kelsey.

"Herd?" he echoed, "Don't tell me you've seen the herd?"

When Brandy nodded, he cried, "Well, by Whitley Whingo! They've returned!"

"Returned?" Brandy prodded him, curious.

"Many years ago," Jergens replied slowly, lighting a pipe, "there were some would-be cowboys from the farms, and their city slicker friends, who came out here onto my Grandpa's land and tried to catch themselves a free horse. Some of them wild ones were caught, some of 'em were chased to the ground, some just died trying to escape--broke their legs and had to be shot. After a while, I never saw any more, so I figured all of them wild mustangs were gone."

"But a few clever ones obviously survived!" Brandy said excitedly, "I've seen them. They're beautiful horses! I'd sure like to try catching one."

An image of himself galloping across the land on the big silver leader settled itself in his mind.

"You'd like to play cow-boy too, would ya, my boy?" Jergens asked, looking at Brandy dubiously.

"Brandy!" Truffy gave her brother a disapproving look.

"Those guys just went about it the wrong way," Brandy hastened to explain, "You gotta get the horses' trust before you can catch 'em."

"Yeah?" Jergens muttered doubtfully, "Sure don't know how ya'd do that."

"I have a way with horses," Brandy told him, "I could do it."

Jergens was silent. His hand rested on the big, furry dog, Mud, as he tapped his finger every so often on the animal's head.

"Well," Brandy said awkwardly, "I guess we'd better go. We have to choose a campsite."

"Getting dark," Jergens remarked, "You be careful with horses in the dark."

"Right," replied Brandy, hurrying away with Sheriff in tow, "Well, thanks for everything, Mr. Jergens!"

"Right. Drop in again, and don't forget your dough next time!"

Brandy could hear Truffy and Kelsey trotting down the path in order to keep up with him.

"Slow down, Brandy!" Truffy called, "Didn't you hear Mr. Jergens? You know, about being careful with horses in the dark?"

"That guy was kind of weird," said Brandy, turning around to wait for her.

"He was a nice old guy," Truffy countered, "I don't see why we had to rush off so quickly."

They proceeded down the dark pathway in silence. Brandy thought again of the wild white horse he had seen leading the herd of mustangs. He felt within himself a very strong desire to tame that horse, to have him as his own. He formed the plan in his mind. He'd come up here every day and follow the herd about. He'd quietly gain their trust, and eventually, he'd put a halter on the leader and bring him home to train him. And the rest of the herd, no doubt, would follow. He'd be the owner of not just one horse, but many. The silver one, however, would be his special horse--no one else would be able to ride him. And Uncle Roy--he'd be impressed. He'd hire Brandy to train all the horses, and Brandy would sell some of them, bringing in a solution to his uncle's financial problems. But he wouldn't sell his big silver stallion. "Silver Chance" would be his forever, and no one would take him away.

"Brandy!" Truffy cried, interrupting his dream, "Didn't you hear what I just said? I don't like this! Maybe we should go back the way we came and ask Mr. Jergens whether we can camp on his lawn. I'd feel safer."

"What? I don't want to camp on the guy's lawn, for Pete's sake! What in the..."

Brandy stopped in mid-sentence.

They had come to the edge of the woods and were suddenly face-to-face with the herd of horses, each of whom stood just a few metres from them, staring back. He gaped at the leader for a few moments, admiring his noble air. His black shining eyes invited Brandy to a challenge of some kind. Sheriff was becoming very stiff and tense. He snorted heavily through his nostrils. Behind him, Kelsey began to dance about.

"Ho, girl. Ho. Take it easy!" Truffy soothed her mare.

Brandy turned around and whispered to Truffy, "Hey, Truff, why don't you take her back to Jergens' place and ask him about camping there?"

"And just what are you going to do?" Truffy asked suspiciously.

"Never mind, I'll be along. Go on, before you scare them."

"You're going after them! They don't belong to you, Bran. Leave them alone to be free."

The leader, as if to prove Truffy's point, took off at a canter into the woods, followed by his golden mares.

"Great!" Brandy exclaimed, mounting Sheriff, "Truffy, I don't need all this sentimental garbage about freedom and the wild. These horses need an owner."

"I mean it, Brandy," Truffy persisted, "I just have a real funny feeling about that crew. I just feel we should leave them alone."

"Look, Truff," Brandy told her, "This is just like that time when you set my prize budgie "free". The thing probably died!"

"No, Bran, this is different, I'm telling you!"

"I'll be back in a minute, don't worry!" Brandy called to her as he trotted Sheriff into the woods after the herd.

The twigs that snapped in his face reminded him once again of how difficult the woods were to ride through when he was off-path, and he slowed Sheriff down to a walk. They had not progressed far before Brandy halted Sheriff, who was attempting to stumble through a jungle of young trees.

"This is ridiculous," he murmured to Sheriff, "How did a whole herd of horses get through this so quickly? They're nowhere in sight."

Sheriff, as if in answer, gave a whinny of anxiety. He danced about nervously, obviously eager to return to the mare, Kelsey. He jumped about uncomfortably among the branches.

Brandy sighed in disappointment. "Oh, all right. Maybe we'll look for them in the morning."

Turning his horse around in this snare, however, would be quite a feat.

"Don't tell me we're trapped," he thought as he shone the flashlight behind him. Sheriff, who had taken advantage of their situation to munch on leaves, suddenly brought his head up. Brandy trained the flashlight ahead, but its beam caught nothing.

"Sheriff. Whoa, boy. What's the matter with you?" Brandy asked as Sheriff thrashed about, struggling to turn around.

Unexpectedly, the appaloosa lunged forward, knocking Brandy's right hand against a branch. He swore angrily, pocketing the flashlight so that he could pull the reins tighter. Sheriff came abruptly to a standstill, long enough for Brandy to see several horses staring quizzically at them, most a light golden color, but one a shimmering white. Sheriff gave a nervous squeal and dashed to the right. Brandy, out of the corner of his eye, caught the herd moving to follow, and decided to let Sheriff have his head. In front of him, he could see nothing but blackness and vague shapes. He felt the wispy web of a deposed spider brush across his face, and he wiped it away furiously. Closing his eyes, he crouched low over his mount's neck to protect himself from the barrage of branches and leaves. Blindly, they plunged on through the bush, Brandy silently cursing his horse every time he flung his hind legs out at some menacing terror from behind.

When he no longer felt a constant flogging against the side of his body, but instead the splash of water, Brandy sat up. Sheriff was now stumbling his way across a marsh, which slowed his pace considerably. Brandy halted his horse and dismounted quickly. He felt the cold chill of water on his legs and the tangle of weeds and mud at the bottom of the marsh.

The water came up to his waist, but he tried to ignore it as he patted his horse's lathered side and whispered, "Now, what are you making such a fuss about, eh?"

Sheriff did not listen to him, but stared straight ahead, shaking slightly. Brandy followed his gaze. Standing in a semi-circle was the herd, some of them standing in the water, some of them peeping out from the trees. Even in the darkness, they could be seen clearly, each one of them shining boldly against the night shadows. The leader stood in front of them, staring at the boy and his horse with wide shimmering eyes. Brandy held out his hand.

"Hey," he said quietly, "we won't hurt you."

To his delight, the silver leader was advancing towards them. It's just like in my dream, he thought excitedly, "Silver Chance" will be mine tonight.

Sheriff tried to sidestep, sinking in the mud and splashing about in panic.

"It's just a horse, Sheriff, calm down!" Brandy soothed him.

He looked towards the mustang, expecting to find him frightened off by their movements...but still, he was advancing. Brandy continued to speak softly, both to Sheriff and to the approaching leader, who was being watched intensely by the surrounding herd.

The leader's hooves, Brandy noted somewhat aghast, moved through the swamp water soundlessly while Sheriff, terrified, continued to splash noisily. The leader was now close enough to reach out and touch. He halted, regarding them with his proud, challenging gaze.

Sheriff stood stock still, his movement temporarily frozen. With his free arm, Brandy continued to hold out his hand to the mustang.

"We won't hurt you," he reiterated, "Don't worry, boy."

Slowly, carefully, Brandy brought his hand down on the horse, as if one touch would claim him as Brandy Barklin's horse. As he did so, he went cold with shock, his one hand turning completely numb. His hand had passed right through the horse's neck!

At his touch, the phantom gave an otherworldly snort and drifted back to his herd of waiting mares. Brandy stood, his hand outstretched for a full minute, until finally there was enough feeling in it to withdraw it. His heart was still pounding wildly, while he shivered and shook in the cold, stagnant marsh. As if seeing the herd for the first time, he stared at them in frightened fascination. It struck him then why he was able to see the horses so clearly in the dark: they were aglow with a supernatural aura.

"Sheriff," he finally whispered, "You and Truffy win. Let's get out of here and leave these wild guys alone."          

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