05 May 2007

Horses Haunt My Books

Since today is Derby Day, let's talk a little bit about horses.

And since it IS Derby Day and I'm not focused on blogging, I'm tempted to just direct you to Gia Dawn's excellent entry on the Fantasy and Enchantment blog, about mystical horses like Each Uisges and Kelpies!

I am a total horse geek, and will spend an inordinate amount of time today watching the day's race card on ESPN2 while noodling around on pedigreequery.com, studying the family trees of all the Derby entrants. You may even find me drawing Tarot cards in an attempt to predict the winner.

Yep, just tattoo a horse on my butt and call me a geek.

When I was little, I dreamed of having a horse, like most little girls. I had an imaginary horse in my back yard, a big grey dun stallion named Ghost. My best friend had her own "horse", and we spent long summer days "riding" all over the neighborhood on magical quests to conquer evil.

As a grownup (and I use that term loosely) I started writing stories, and invariably horses show up in them. In my first unpublished manuscript, a horse helps the herione begin getting over her phobia of heights. In my first published book, BEAUDRY'S GHOST, horses are critical to the plot, from the ghost horse that perpetually runs the Outer Banks, to a big grey stallion that ends up carrying the hero to his destiny. (And yes, my favorite in the Derby to day is a big grey colt named Storm In May.)

For you enjoyment today, I'll leave you with an excerpt from BEAUDRY'S GHOST. It's currently out of print, but I still have a few copies left if you'd like to have one. Just contact me at carolaniveyATyahooDOTcom for details.

Enjoy the day!

Beaudry's Ghost, Copyright 2005 Carolan Ivey, All Rights Reserved.

Hunkered down against the relentless offshore wind, Taylor watched from the dubious cover of beach grass, hands tight around her Enfield musket.

The electricity had gone out again, a frequent occurrence on these sparsely populated barrier islands of North Carolina. Without the reassuring lights of the development a quarter mile to the south, Taylor had no problem staying awake at her post. Darkness was for bats. Taylor preferred light. The only reason she had fled the comforting light of the campfire was Leon Gulley’s ghost stories.

She hated them.

She hated them even more now that Troy was dead. Taylor tucked in her chin and fought to keep it from quivering. Troy. Had it been only a year since she had collapsed to the floor of her office, a crushing pain in her chest, knowing the worst even before she received official word two days later? Only a year of days since her last stinging words to him came back to slash her heart? Go ahead, big man. Go on and get yourself killed. Have a great time!
She had told him over and over again a man like him had no business joining the Navy SEALs. SEAL teams were for those with no ties, no one who waited for them at home. Troy hadn’t listened. Craving adventure outside their little hometown, he had set his sights on SEAL training even before graduating from Annapolis.
Taylor rested her Enfield across her lap and pressed her fingertips to her eyelids. She fought two’s worth of exhaustion for two days, having decided at the last minute to join the event wearing Troy’s Confederate uniform. Disagreements they’d certainly had, but she and Troy had shared a love of history and Civil War re-enacting. Taylor rested her chin on her arm, breathing in the damp-wool smell of the uniform. The others thought she wore it as a tribute to Troy, or as part of her grieving process, and said nothing when she had shown up early that morning. She chose to let them believe that, rather than try to explain the truth.
She knew better than to fall asleep while on guard duty, but the emotional day she had endured gradually took its final toll. Her rear end settled onto the sand. The butt of her musket joined it, but she was too tired to care.
Moments later, hoof beats drummed her awake. Taylor found herself standing on the dune, watching a horse and rider approach in full gallop.
Wherever that horse had come from, it had been running a long time. Steam trailed off the animal’s body, and the low-riding moon set it to silver fire. That horse was flying. Its rider leaned low and listed slightly to one side, as if favoring an injured limb.

The messenger? He was early. And if he didn't turn aside very soon, he would run his horse right into the giant oak ribs of a shipwreck beached on the shore.
Taylor absently fingered the back of a newly shorn haircut and frowned. The messenger was coming down the beach from the north.
"But... he's coming from the wrong direction...”
She realized she'd spoken aloud when the approaching rider's body jerked. With a low moan, he pulled the horse to a rearing stop directly opposite her on the beach. The horse, clearly not happy about being made to stand, pranced in the ankle-deep tidal pool.
Taylor strained to see if the rider wore a uniform. She observed the slumped posture of the rider and thought maybe he and the horse weren't part of this re-enactment of the Civil War’s Battle of Roanoke.
"Hey! Are you hurt? Do you need help?"
With a Herculean effort, the rider straightened, turned the trembling, sweaty horse in her direction and approached at a walk. As they closed in on her, she heard the horse's labored snorts and something else...
With each breath, the rider's emitted a gurgling, inarticulate grunt. The sound carried with it the weight of a weariness she could sense but not fathom.
The offshore wind grew louder in her ears, and Taylor reached up to grab her hat before it flew off. At that moment she realized the physical wind remained steady.

But a force pushed at the door to her soul.
Taylor's fingers alternately tightened and loosened on the musket she held, a faintly caressing gesture as if she rubbed a magic lamp. Conjuring up someone. Or something. Like courage.
The horse caught her scent. It reared and spun, and in the rising moonlight, Taylor finally caught a clear glimpse of the rider.
He wore a blue uniform. And he was...
"Dear God."
Her chest muscles spasmed, leaving no space for her to draw air. Sheer reflex brought her musket to her shoulder and she aimed... at what? A figure whose bound stump of a left arm oozed blood. He held it tightly to his side while he fought the horse with his right. Soaked rags acted as a tourniquet to what was left of his right leg, but his every effort to stay in the saddle forced out more and more blood.
And the man... she guessed it was a man... had no head.
She was aiming at a dead man, her musket loaded with a useless blank. Fired, it would make a grand noise, and that was about all.
And they say Beaudry's ghost roams the Outer Banks to this day, headless, legless, armless, looking for his lost body parts... and for revenge...
That gurgling noise she’d heard was the sound of a man whose throat had been cut. Clear through.
Taylor gritted her teeth. Those ghost stories were coming back to haunt her in a big way. Her rational mind objected and rejected as fast as her eyes fed it the irrational sight. Her soul’s door, the one she had fought all her life to hold closed, blew wide open and the wind screamed through. An answering scream clawed for space in her throat along with the hardtack and beans she'd eaten hours ago.
Trembling, she braced herself as if leaning against that invisible door. A dream. Of course. She was dreaming this whole thing. She'd expected to have a few nightmares — even visions — before this event was over, but nothing like this. She'd only fallen asleep at her post and...
Oh, God, it's moving toward me!
The man regained control of the horse and pointed it directly at her, moving at a prancing, tiptoe walk. Clouds of steam streaked from the horse's nostrils, and as it moved closer she saw the white rings around its black eyes. Taylor closed hers.
"You aren't real. You... aren't... real!" she muttered through clenched teeth. She went perfectly still when a cold breath of air whisked right through her body, in a distinctive front-to-back direction. Taylor gulped. Somebody tell me this thing just didn’t pass right through me! she thought, shaking.
"Aw, the hell with this!" Facing cannon and musket fire was one thing. Facing this ghastly evidence that a dark otherworld indeed existed on another plane, and that the two planes sometimes crossed, was quite another.
Taylor dropped her Tennessee pride in the sand behind her as she fled down the steep slope of the dune. Gasping, sliding, stumbling, she hit bottom and headed for camp and help.

Stupid! Stupid! I should have fired... Troy would have at least fired...
Risking a quick glance to the rear, she abruptly tripped over a heaving lump on the sand.
A face full of the gritty stuff muffled the scream she finally released. Flipping instantly to her back, she scrambled backwards, spitting, flinging sand in every direction as she went. She came to rest on her knees with her rifle upraised yet again.
Still spitting, she looked up at the top of the dune she'd just vacated, blinked and did a double take.
The apparition was gone.
More likely, she'd simply tumbled down the dune in her sleep and woke up. Still trembling, her breathing still shallow and uneven, she focused on the object she'd tripped on. In the shadows, it was hard to make out at first. But as it slowly uncurled from its fetal position, it became clear it was human.
She sighted down the barrel of the musket and watched as he rolled soundlessly to his knees, placed his palms flat on the ground and slowly pushed his head and shoulders up.
With a soft groan, he shoved backward and rolled to a sitting position. That simple act mystified him, until he held up his hands and stared at them. His blank expression gave way to a slow-spreading grin that shone so sweet and bright in the dim light it made Taylor's throat catch.
For several seconds he simply gazed his hands, then plunged them into the soft sand between his knees. Scooping great handfuls, he laughed softly as he watched it trickle between his fingers. Taylor's rifle sagged. The man looked exactly like her baby nephew on his first foray into his new sandbox.
And, like that infant, the man's attention was suddenly drawn to his feet. Dropping the sand, he clenched a fist and pounded once on his right calf. Twice. The smile, impossibly, widened even more into a painful emotional grimace as he lifted his trembling hands to his face. Touched. Again.
The act broke something loose inside him, and Taylor thought he sobbed once before throwing himself backward to writhe like some child in the throes of making snow angels.
Unwilling to lower her weapon completely, yet somehow unwilling to intrude, Taylor stilled her shaking jaw and cleared her throat. The man froze.
"Um... are you okay, mister?"
He propped himself onto his elbows and stared at her.
Calm, Taylor. Stay calm. Now think...

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