Backyard H T #2 Frosty and the Nightstalker

    The black and white preview cover by illustrator Sandy Shipley sets of the sneak preview at the end of the “Sox” book. Sandy painted a beautiful full color cover for Frosty’s tale.     

      Strange shadows cropped up, unexpectedly, as the sun played tricks shining through the thick foliage that formed a canopy above our heads. An occasional rabbit hopped out from the underbrush, or a deer would dart across the trail in front of us.  More please, I wanted more. My first ride went by too quickly, but as the summer progressed our trail rides increased in length. A lesson learned was that you have to be careful what you wished for.

            Not much bothered me, I was level headed and brave in most situations, but my first river crossing undid me some. Swift water flowed before me, and I watched with apprehension as my two companions stepped into the current. It was difficult for me to judge the depth of what was before me, and I paid close attention while the two mares casually proceeded to cross.  Water swirled around their legs, and though its depth only reached their knees, I held my breath and expected them to be swept away. Reluctantly, I stepped into the river at Marcie’s urging.  Quickly, I discovered why this body of water was named Rocky River. Just a few steps from the gradual embankment my shod hooves encountered slippery rocks and large slabs of slimy shale.  Each step caused me to slip on the tricky footing hidden beneath the, bubbling, foaming surface, and I froze. The two mares were safely on the opposite side. So, I tried again, when Marcie urged me on.  After all, if two little mares could cross so could I.

            More crossings were added on subsequent rides, and we usually returned to the horse trailers the way that we had started. On these rides each river crossing was traversed from both directions.  On my first few trail rides the crossings descended on a gradual slope, and the rise on the opposite bank was just as gradual.  As my experience grew and, I became more accomplished at navigating the river crossings, Marcie took me on more challenging trails.  That is when the river crossings became more difficult. Steep banks, and deeper water challenged me. I did not like the river there was something dark and foreboding about it. Unbidden images of deep, fast flowing, water stirred at the back of my mind, and I imagined myself drowning. My trust in Marcie and the urge to please her was my motivation, but given a choice I would not go near any river.

            Early fall Marcie and a few of her friends from the barn had a picnic along with a trail ride. A short morning ride, then back to the trailer we went to munch on hay.  We waited patiently for our humans to return their attention to us. Finally, we were on the trail again! If I had known what was coming, I may not have been so impatient with the picnic delay.  At the first river crossing, I noticed that the water was unusually calm and the level was lower than usual.  Climbing down a very steep bank I focused on my footing, It had escaped my attention that there was not an exit on the other side. Instead of a sloping bank, the other side rose up making a steep cliff. Walking in the middle of the river made me extremely nervous, I felt trapped. Uneasy, I scanned the landscape for a way out, and that is when I first saw them.  High on the top of the cliff and silhouetted by the bright afternoon sun stood a big familiar horse. Only a dark shadow, but he was familiar to me as was his rider. From his rider’s silhouette I knew that he was a young Indian brave.  Heart racing, I blinked to clear my vision from looking into the sun, and upon opening my eyes again the shadow figures were gone. Refocusing, I tried to concentrate on the rock strewn river bottom as I picked my way along behind the others. Finally, we came to a crossing, on the opposite bank, and climbed out of that spooky place.

            An alternate return route kept us from having to traverse that section of the river again. I should have been relieved, but the shadow figures back lit by the sun hunted me. Had I really seen them, or only imagined the whole experience? Down we went into the river again. It was a nice easy slope to navigate and the water was dead calm, but it was deceptive the water was deep.  Quickly the water rose past my knees, I lowered my head to check it out and saw my own reflection. Something was different about the horse looking back at me. Gone was my bridle and western saddle, along with Marcie. My reflection wore feathers in his forelock, and his rider was dressed in a long fringed buckskin shirt belted at the waist, a pair of leggings, a breechcloth, and plain unadorned moccasins.

            That mirrored image disturbed me. I had seen my reflection in the water many times, but I had known that I was looking at myself because Marcie was reflected there too. Now, I was not sure what I had just seen. For the first time, I could not wait to get out of the park and return home.

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