It was still hot but a pleasant breeze had blown away the dead heat of yesterday. Rhianna sat on the porch rail, staring at the barren landscape she had been left in. The long gravel driveway cut through the dusty yellow farmland, out to the road. A barn with peeling red paint squatted to the left of the house, and a small line of stubby trees eked out a little shade for the patchy range between the house and the road. A small flock of sheep with buzz-cuts huddled in that shade, along with a pair of goats. The chickens lay on their sides in the sun, stretching out a wing to catch more heat; the rooster stood guard over them. Rhianna had never seen anything like it before and asked Pippa if they were dead at first. But apparently chickens like to sunbathe.
Rhianna had peered around the side of the house this morning, wondering if she should visit Kasubia's pasture. It would be good to find a silent, normal horse, proving yesterday's antics to be all in her head. But what if Kasubia started talking again? Maybe it was better not to know—to just forget about it and stay away. Kasubia had raised her head immediately, as if sensing Rhianna was looking at her, so Rhianna had retreated to the porch.
As long as she stayed away, she couldn't hear Kasubia talk and she wouldn't be crazy. But logically, if she only heard the voice when she was close to Kasubia, she wasn't crazy, right? If she were crazy she would hear voices all the time, everywhere. They would tell her to do stupid things—other than go for a ride.
But if she stayed away because she thought Kasubia would talk to her—didn't that make her equally as crazy?
The sound of determined hoof beats thrummed in her ears. Kasubia was running. Over and over; galloping and then stopping. Rhianna imagined her coming up short at the fence, then trotting around to make another run for it. Why didn't she just jump over it and go for a run, without involving Rhianna.
"You are a bit of a gloomy girl aren't you?" Pippa said from her porch rocker, patterned with tropical flowers.
Talk about crazy.The flowers were driving Rhianna nuts. She couldn't stay inside because there were millions of them, tiny and marching across just about every wall or fabric.
Rhianna shrugged and shifted so she couldn't see the flowers. "It's just hot."
"How about a popsicle? I put some in the freezer last night; root beer flavored. Should be ready by now."
Rhianna didn't answer, but the rocker creaked and the screen door clacked. A special Popsicle treat—what was she, ten? She slid off the rail and wandered away. A twinge of guilt almost made her turn back, but she was too mad, she told herself. Mad at mom for leaving. Mad at Pippa for telling her to stay away from things. Mad at Kasubia for talking to her. What did she care if some stupid old lady came back out with two popsicles and found an empty porch?
There had to be something better to do than sit on the porch all day.
She went around the side of the house, ignoring Kasubia's stare. The woods stretched along the entire back of the farm, the pasture fence only covered part of that area. Rhianna headed for the tree line, away from the pasture.
When she got to the edge of the woods, Rhianna hovered. What was wrong with them anyway? They were a bit gloomy, but they were just woods. She poked at the shrubbery with a stick, as if it would clear away the ticks. She'd heard a few gunshots yesterday. Maybe there were hunters. But she was pretty sure the gunshots had come from other directions. She had the feeling the woods were part of Pippa's property. Not that it meant there weren't poachers.
Before she could decide to enter or not, she heard a ruckus.
Walking toward the mad screeching of birds, Rhianna expected some kind of avian massacre—feathers everywhere, maybe a bird down with a broken wing. But when she got there the birds still had their feathers intact.
Two crows hopped up and down between tree branches, trying to get closer to a nest of twigs and straw. A single blue jay was responsible for all the noise, flapping between branches as the crows hopped from perch to perch, beating its wings in their faces. Rhianna could hear the peeps of terrified baby birds coming from the nest.
"Shoo, crows!" She picked up a stone and took aim, intent on saving the babies.
"Crow babies need to eat too, you know."
Rhianna gasped, her heart in her throat. The voice seemed to come from nowhere. Again? She really was going crazy. But after a few moments she spied him, among the dark leaves of the underbrush. A grinning face and a slash of black hair across his forehead. He blinked at her in amusement and sat back. His face faded into the shadows and Rhianna had to squint to see him.
A hundred questions ran through her head and she finally settled on the most obvious one, "What do you mean?"
He sniggered. "What do you think mama crows feed their babies?"
Rhianna turned to the rabble of crow versus blue jay again; the peepers in the nest had two futures. One, to grow up to be strong blue jays protecting their own babies from crows. Or two, to be fed to a nest full of crow babies. She shook her head. Well, that was a downer. How could she decide between saving baby blue jays and starving baby crows? The rock sat uselessly in her hand.
Rhianna hunched her shoulders at Pippa's voice, as if she was a turtle who could disappear into her shell.
Pippa stormed up to her. "Rhianna, what did I say about going into the woods?"
"I was just...looking," she said, straightening up. She wanted to say: what's the big deal? But by the look in Pippa's fuming eyes, Rhianna was about to be tugged home by the ear, so she clamped her mouth shut.
"Well, find something else to look at." Pippa shoved a hand out, and Rhianna froze. But her fist held crumpled up bills—money. "Why don't you go into town? There's a soda shop. A place you might find kids your age."
Rhianna was about to say she thought she could find kids her age right here, but when she glanced over her shoulder the boy's face had disappeared.
Pippa swept behind her, blocking her view of the woods, and herded her back to the house. "Come on, I have a bike you can use."
The money was warm and damp from Pippa's sweaty palms. Rhianna wrinkled her nose a little, but took it. Money was freedom, even sweaty money. Getting off the farm was just what she needed.
YOU ARE READING
Rhianna and the Magic HorseFantasy
**Updates every Sunday** Rhianna was a free spirit on the road with her mother, until something changed. Something that left her abandoned on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with a stranger she is supposed to call Grandmother. Grounded. Now Rhianna...