Authors: Pam Munoz Ryan
To my sister
for her determination
and courage to
walk, jog, lope, gallop â¦
one step at a time
In present-day English grammar, the pronouns
are not commonly used to describe nonhuman beings. I employed them in my story to recognize the animals as integral characters and to honor my own heartfelt sentiments and those of many people for our pets and wild friends.
Bobbie and Mike Wade of High Wild & Lonesome wilderness outfitters, for my seven-day ride in southwestern Wyoming. And to my fellow horsewomen: Dawn, Ellen, Ginny, Helen, Kate, and Sally â for their camaraderie.
Dana Rullo at Dana Rullo Stables, Olivenhain, California, my stellar and wise riding instructor and friend. And to Mary Leigh for reviewing the manuscript.
Dave Dohnel at Frontier Pack Train Packing Station, outfitter for my four-day ride in the eastern Sierras. And to Shelley for going with me.
Gilcrease Museum, The Museum of the Americas, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ginger Kathrens, author of
Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies
and executive director of the Cloud Foundation.
Hope Ryden, author and photographer of the prestigious works
America's Last Wild Horses
Wild Horses I Have Known
, for reviewing the manuscript with consummate attention.
Joyce Herbeck, Ed. D., Montana State University.
Kathy Johnsey and the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, Lovell, Wyoming.
Neda DeMayo, founder of Return to Freedom, the American Wild Horse Sanctuary, Lompoc, California.
Roland Smith, author, zoologist, friend.
Scott Sutherland, owner of Smokem, Jr. (“Smokey”), my training horse.
Tracy Mack, visionary editor. And Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla, pathfinders.
AM A HAWK
E TROTS THE AIR.
HE EARTH SINGS WHEN HE TOUCHES IT
HE BASEST HORN OF HIS HOOF IS MORE MUSICAL THAN THE PIPE OF
E IS PURE AIR AND FIRE â¦ THE PRINCE OF PALFREYS
IS NEIGH IS LIKE THE BIDDING OF A MONARCH, AND HIS COUNTENANCE ENFORCES HOMAGE
um vivimus vivamus
ET US LIVE WHILE WE LIVE
RTEMISIA KNEW IT WAS TIME TO DROP THE FOAL
All afternoon she had felt restless and had paced on the periphery of the band of wild horses. She paused only to graze, but without her usual interest. The sky grew dusky and she stopped chewing altogether, grass still dangling from her muzzle as if she'd forgotten there was food in her mouth. In recent weeks, her udder had swollen but she had grown accustomed to the tight soreness. Now, her nipples waxed with small beads of first-milk
With the promise of darkness, she wandered from the others, her brown-and-white tobiano markings swaying with the cumbersome passenger inside. Artemisia heard the gentle nickering of the horses she left behind: Mary, her daughter; Georgia, her “sister” mare; Wyeth, Georgia's two-year-old colt; and Sargent, the palomino stallion who had sired the offspring
Before she disappeared over a sage-covered hill, she glanced back and saw Sargent's protective stare and stance: head raised, ears twisting in her direction, front legs braced, as though he were questioning her exit. He whinnied. She answered with a low guttural nicker. She knew that he could not help her now, nor would he follow her. Artemisia had to face the birth alone, armed only with the instincts of her ancestors
She lumbered forward with a familiar apprehension. The birth of her first foal had been successful. Mary was a strong and healthy two-year-old. But the memory of last year's foal still burdened Artemisia. The baby had never risen and stayed lifeless on the ground. Artemisia had kept vigil for several days, often touching her muzzle to the small body and hoping for a miraculous change. She had finally returned to the band of horses, alone and despondent, her head dropped low. Would tonight's foal suffer the same fate?
Artemisia found a cluster of high sage and rabbitbrush and lay down within it. Unsatisfied, she soon stood to paw at the ground and walk in a circle. Her flanks perspired. Only after she felt the gush of water and knew the birth was imminent did she stay prone. With each contraction, her huge head and neck arched backward and her long legs stiffened. As she pushed the foal closer to birth, her breathing became deep and heavy. The amniotic sac appeared, and through the taut pearly film, a hoof could be seen, and then another and the promise of the muzzle, as if the foal were poised in a diving position. Artemisia moaned and grunted. The head and shoulders emerged and, as the upper body of the foal delivered, the filmy membrane separated
Artemisia raised her head, straining to glimpse her newborn
The foal lay limp, half in and half out of this world, still nothing more than a ghost of a possibility
AYA'S VIOLET EYES WIDENED, HER VOICE BREATHLESS
with conviction. “The only way to capture a ghost is to paint the tail of the wind.”
With one hand, she picked up the small brown-and-white plastic horse and moved it in swift arcs over the chenille bedspread. The June sun eased a notch lower in the southern California sky and flooded through the west windows of the two-story house where she lived with Grandmother. Maya made the figure prance through the shimmering air and whispered, “I am a mysterious phantom, belonging to the stars. Who will find me?”
With the other hand, she chose a black stallion and swept it upward after the ghost horse. She raced the black horse forward and said, “I am riding the wind,
faster than fast.
am coming for you.” The black horse overtook the ghost. “You're mine forever!” she said, pairing the figures in one hand and sweeping them above her head.
The toy Arabians, Paint horses, Appaloosas, and assorted breeds that spilled from a shoe box had once belonged to her mother. Back then, the colors had been true: sorrel, bay, buckskin, grulla, palomino, and dun. Years of handling with playful caresses had erased their vibrant hues, and now only a memory of paint remained.
Maya was only five when her parents died. Since the accident six years ago, she had lived with her grandmother on her father's side. She didn't remember much about her mother, except for the things Grandmother told her. That her mother was too outspoken for her own
good. That she'd never made any effort to blend with refined Pasadena society. And that her place should have been in the home and not traipsing all over kingdom-come on a horse. Maya suspected there were more important things to tell. Beautiful things like the tiny snippets of memory that sometimes flashed in her mind: Mother singing to her at bedtime, her face so close that her long hair tickled Maya's cheeks. Or the one vivid memory Maya cherished: she and her mother, sitting in a tiny windowed alcove in a room with a crooked ceiling, playing with these very figures. Her mother
told her about ghost horses and how they lived wild, running free and belonging only to the stars. Hadn't she?
Maya took a photo from the bottom of the shoe box and stared at the glossy image. Her mother sat on a
brown-and-white horse, reins in one hand, the other hand waving. And she was laughing, her smile broad and full, her eyes dancing with joy and affection.
The young woman in the photo could have been Maya in a few years. They had the same delicate and lean frame, russet-red hair, and unforgettable purplish eyes. The difference was Maya's skin, a shade darker in tone and suggesting her father's and grandmother's southern European roots.
Maya turned the photo over. Pasted on the back was a tiny section of a page that had been clipped from a book of baby names and their meanings. She reread the entry between May and Maybel.
Maya. A journey about to begin
She carried the photo of her mother and the brown-and-white horse to the front window of her bedroom.
As usual, she arranged the figure and the picture on the sill so that they faced the street. She stood behind them with her hands clasped, looking out too, as if they were all onlookers at a parade.
From this perch, she had a good vantage of Altadena Lane with its long sidewalks and procession of giant oaks. Manicured yards stretched between wide driveways. Fuchsia bougainvillea burdened most fences. Hydrangea bloomed with lavender flowers the size of dinner plates. But Maya looked beyond it all. She tried to imagine everything that the tiny horse knew about her mother that Maya did not: a life far, far away from Pasadena, filled with stallions and mares, leather reins, boots, saddles, and unrestrained joy. What had made her mother so happy? Maya wondered if her own laugh echoed her mother's. Her face clouded. She'd long forgotten the sound of her
mother's laughter and, besides that, she couldn't remember the last time she'd heard her own, either.
With a sudden
, the bedroom door opened.
Maya whirled around.
The new live-in housekeeper, Morgana, walked into the room. She had been employed for only a week, was conscientious to a fault when it came to pleasing Grandmother and, at least for now, was Grandmother's ardent ally. Even so, Maya knew it was just a matter of time until she joined all the others who had left in a determined huff or sobs of tearful relief. Once, Maya had tried to remember all the housekeepers she had known since she came to live with Grandmother, but she lost count at eighteen.
“Just checking on how your homework is progressing,” said Morgana. She was skinnier, older, and nosier
than most. Wearing the mandatory black dress and white apron, with her dark hair pulled back into the requisite snood at the nape of her neck, she looked like a wrinkled, malnourished penguin.
Morgana stared at the toy horses on the bed. “Maya, your grandmother was very specific about how your day is to be structured. I escort you to and from school. Afterward, you are to do homework until dinner at six. No playing.” She raised her eyebrows.
Maya gave her a sweet smile. “I already finished my homework. And I get straight A's. So you don't actually need to check on me. The other housekeepers didn't. We made an agreement: I come down to dinner on time, and they leave me alone in my room. As long as my grades are absolutely perfect, Grandmother doesn't mind.”
Morgana tensed. “I think you'll find I'm not like other housekeepers. I take my job seriously, and since your grandmother pays my wages, which are three times what I'm used to receiving, I'll be considering her wishes, not yours. To be quite honest, it's refreshing to find an employer who shares my vision about how children should be monitored.”
Maya sighed. She knew the type. Morgana might last a little longer than most, but not much.
Morgana nodded toward the horses. “I'm quite sure your grandmother would not approve of that kind of idleness.”
Maya looked up at her with doe-eyed innocence. “I'm really sorry. I like to play with these once in a while to remember my mother. She gave them to me â¦ you know â¦
Morgana's demeanor softened. “Oh. Yes, your grandmother mentioned that. How did they â¦?”
Maya's eyes widened. “It was six years ago and awfully tragic. We were on vacation in Costa Rica at a very fancy resort. You see, they took me to someplace exotic every year, just the three of us. Paris, Hawaii, you name it. We went snorkeling in this beautiful crystal-clear lagoon. We were all holding hands and happily swimming and looking at the gorgeous tropical fish and the coral reefs. Then, we began following a giant sea turtle. My mother had always dreamed of swimming with sea turtles. But before we knew it, we were out too far and a motorboat didn't see us in the water.” Maya swept her hand through the air. “And it came racing across the lagoon â¦
Morgana put one hand on her chest.
“It was frightening. At the very last second, my father picked me up and tossed me out of the path of the boat and saved my life. But sadly for my parents, the unimaginable happened.â¦”
Morgana moved a hand to her face.
Maya picked up the horse from the windowsill, blinked out a few tears, and sniffled. “The little horses are the only things I have left of my mother, but I keep them hidden from my grandmother, out of politeness. Grandmother has an uncontrollable fear of horses. It's extremely intense and brings back all sorts of ghastly memories from a long time ago when she was thrown from a dangerously wild stallion. She gets awfully angry at anyone who even brings up the subject. You won't mention them, will you?”
Morgana stared at Maya with pursed lips. “Put them away, Maya. And don't be late for dinner.”
After Morgana left, Maya scowled at the closed door. The horses and the photo
the only things Maya had left of her mother. That part was true. But could Morgana see through the rest of her lies? Would she betray her? Maya scolded herself for making such an egregious error. She should never have taken her toy horses from their hiding place around someone as untested as a new housekeeper.
Maya replaced all the horses and the photo and took the shoe box to the closet. She stuffed it inside a jacket, which had been zipped almost to the top and tied snug at the waist with a drawstring. Then she checked the closet for any signs of disarray. Everything seemed to
meet Grandmother's requirements: cotton skirts, prim dresses, and the most recent plaid school uniform all hung equidistant from one another. Every hanger and collar aligned in the same direction. The toes of her shoes pointed forward in regimented formation. Tomorrow's white blouse hung on the back of the door, washed and ironed by Morgana.
Maya glanced into the mirror opposite the bed. She smoothed her hair into slick compliance and tied it in a ponytail. She examined her pleated skirt and crisp blouse for lint and checked her thin white socks to make sure they were folded over exactly two inches. Maya thought them ridiculous and outdated. But what did it matter anyway? So few people saw her. Maya rubbed at a smudge on her left patent-leather shoe until her finger was hot and raw. Grandmother hated smudges.
The clock inched toward six o'clock. Slowly, Maya walked downstairs. On the wall opposite the banister, a dozen photos of her father, each the same size and with identical wood frames, descended in precise increments: first baby pictures, then elementary school, graduations from high school and college, and events where he wore business suits and tuxedos, all with Grandmother on his arm. The last photo had been taken in a studio: Father, Grandmother, and Maya when she was a toddler. Father held her in his lap, and her chubby baby hand reached up and touched his face. Grandmother stood behind him with both hands planted firmly on his shoulders. Maya had long stopped asking about her parents' wedding picture or any photo of her mother. The only evidence that her mother had existed was the snapshot hidden in the shoe box. And the ghostlike suggestions
of her presence in photos from which Grandmother had clipped away her image.
In the dining room, Maya tiptoed to her chair at the table, careful not to upset the mahogany sideboard with its display of milk-glass vases. The white damask seat cushions had been covered in clear plastic, as was all of the upholstered furniture in the house. Maya slipped into her chair, smoothed her skirt behind her legs, and sat on it squarely, hoping to avoid the stickiness of plastic on skin.
Morgana entered, positioned herself in front of the kitchen door, and surveyed the table.
Maya's eyes did the same. Everything appeared in order: white linen napkins one inch from the edge and folded with the creases to the left. Water pitcher sitting on a triangular folded tea towel with the handle
positioned to the right. Maya couldn't find one violation, not even a wrinkle on the white brocade tablecloth. She breathed a tiny sigh of disappointment. Morgana was good.
The hall clock chimed six.
Maya folded her hands in her lap and waited.