Horses, horses, horses. There were so many horses! Valery wondered which one would be hers as she gazed over the crowd of them. She had waited so long for this day.
Today was her tenth birthday, and her parents had finally given in to Valery’s pleas to let her adopt a horse. There was a local horse carnival in town, so Valery and her mom had gone.
“Do you want to go see the Pony Parade? It’s starting in five minutes,” Lucia, Valery’s mom asked.
“I want to keep on looking for a horse, Mom.” Valery shook her head. “Can I look for a horse alone while you watch the show?” Valery offered.
“I suppose so,” Lucia replied. “But stay safe! And meet me here after the parade.”
“Thanks, Mom!” Valery called as she walked towards a large bay horse. The sun was starting to go down into the trees, and darkness was falling. “How much is he?” Valery asked the horse’s owner as she patted the horse kindly. He was a bit old but looked friendly.
“Four hundred dollars,” the woman answered.
“OK, thanks,” Valery nodded. Her parents’ budget for a horse was two hundred and fifty dollars.
Valery walked around for a while, going from horse to horse. She examined great horses and small horses. Full horses and thin horses. The moon was rising as she went closer and closer to the woods that marked the end of the carnival. Valery was starting to think there were not any more horses to see when a flash of white caught her eye and the shrill cry of a horse echoed throughout the woods. Glancing around, Valery noticed that there was no one else in sight. Since the Pony Parade was probably ending, or perhaps already finished, Valery decided just to take a look at this horse, then go.
Moving towards the horse, she saw it was tethered to a tree not far into the woods, unlike most of the horses who were in shiny trailers. The horse reared again and whinnied louder this time.
“It’s OK,” Valery said calmly, inching slowly towards the horse. The horse snorted and backed away from her, tossing his head. He was a handsome piebald stallion who did not look older than four years. His eyes were big and dark, reflecting a sense of sadness from within. His head swept back and forth as if he could see something she could not.Then, deciding that all was well, the horse walked towards her and sniffed her face. Valery laughed as she rummaged through her pockets for treats. “Sorry, I spent them all on other horses,” she said apologetically, noticing how thin and bony the horse was. A bale of hay and some oats would help take care of that, Valery thought to herself.
“Hello?” she called into the darkness. Someone had to own this horse, Valery knew, but all she could spot was a table. The carnival lights did not reach this far, and Valery called again, louder this time. “Hello?”
“What?” a raspy voice snapped, making Valery jump.
Quickly, she brushed a strand of dark red hair that had fallen out of her braid away from her face. There was no one in sight! Who could be speaking? Valery wondered. She looked at the horse half accusingly. No, it wasn’t the horse. But as long as someone was speaking, she may as well ask.“How much is this horse?” Valery called cautiously.
“Three hundred dollars,” said the voice. Valery looked around but could not distinguish who was speaking.
“One hundred.” Valery frowned. She wasn’t very good at bargaining, but she knew to start low.
“Two hundred and seventy-five,” the voice replied irritably. Valery knew the Pony Parade must have ended a long time ago, but something told her that this horse was the one.
“Two hundred and fifty.” Valery bit her lip. Two hundred and fifty dollars was the maximum, and she knew she couldn’t lose this horse. If she had to pay more she had to pay more. Valery just hoped her mother would understand.
“All right, sold. Put the money in the bowl on the table.”
Valery gasped in surprise. The horse was hers! Valery turned towards the table. There was now a dark pink and gray bowl sitting on the table where there was nothing before. Fear began to creep up her neck as she placed the two hundred and fifty dollars on the table quickly. The trees cast long shadows over the ground like the silhouettes of ghosts, and she felt invisible spiders crawling up her back. Valery began to untie the lead rope, which was tied tightly to the tree.
“What’s his name?” Valery asked, desperately trying to start up a conversation as she picked at the knot with her nails. Cold chills were creeping up her back. Was it raining? Or were those footsteps she heard? Turning around, she saw that the money and the bowl were gone.
Valery prepared to run, but darkness seemed to swallow her from both sides. Running could either lead her out to safety or deeper into the woods. Her nails throbbed with pain as they scrabbled with the rope.
“Seamus.” His name seemed to be carried by the wind, only appearing for a moment before vanishing. Valery nodded meekly as she finally succeeded in untying the knot. Now remembering which way she came from, Valery prepared to escape with her life and the horse. Cold fingers grasped her shoulders, and Valery ran out of the dark and shadowy woods with the horse following beside her.
“Valery, where were you?” Lucia cried, hugging Valery. “It’s been nearly an hour since the Pony Parade ended! I was about to call the police!”
“Sorry, Mom,” Valery apologized. “I got a horse, though. His name is Seamus.” She stepped aside to let the piebald horse through. The horse had a white blaze running down his face and four white stockings that glowed in the light of the moon. But the most interesting thing about the horse was that he had a white spot on his side that looked like a horse head with its mane blowing in the wind.
“Valery, you didn’t ask me for permission. You should have waited for me.” Lucia frowned at her daughter.
“Yes, Mom,” Valery answered, knowing that there was no way she could have waited as she watched Seamus stride proudly beside her. It was late at night, and on the long car ride home with Seamus in a trailer behind them, Valery fell asleep.
When she opened her eyes, it was morning, and sunlight was flooding through her bedroom window. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, Valery rushed into her parents’ bedroom. “Mom! Dad!” she cried. “Where’s Seamus?”
“Uh, you mean the horse?” Valery’s father Jeff muttered sleepily. “He’s outside in Blaze’s old place.” Blaze was Lucia’s horse who had died seven years before when Valery was three. Rushing to the window, Valery saw the piebald horse outside, grazing lazily near Blaze’s old shed.
“I’m going for a ride!” Valery called as she raced down the steps and strapped on her tall black boots. Then she flung open the door and ran outside, letting the sun warm her back.
Seamus lifted his head and neighed excitedly. Valery went over to him and scratched his neck where his long mane tickled him. The horse snorted in response. Valery saddled and bridled Seamus as he stomped and paced irritably, not liking the pinch of leather or the metal buckles. As graceful as a bird, Valery vaulted onto the horse’s back and pressed him into a walk. Seamus had the smoothest and most coordinated gait of a horse that Valery had ever ridden. She opened the corral door and let Seamus choose his path as the sun began to rise. With his legs gracefully flying over the ground and his tail waving like the ocean, the pony was a four-legged masterpiece. Suddenly the piebald horse threw up his head and increased his strides as they approached a lake.
“Whoa,” Valery called, slowing Seamus to a walk. Valery’s stomach flipped as she thought Seamus was going to roll in the sand by the lake, crushing her beneath him. Seamus let out a long, shrill, painful cry before turning around and heading back the other way at a canter. As they ran, Valery once again saw sadness in the horse’s eyes.
After a while, Valery slowed Seamus to a walk. The horse’s sides were heaving, but his ears remained perked, and he shuffled his long legs anxiously as if he wanted to continue running.
“Let’s stop here,” Valery told Seamus as she slowed him to a walk and leaped off. Just as Valery finished untying the braid in her hair, a meow sounded from above her, and Valery glanced up to see a fat gray cat, sitting way up in a tree, looking like a gray marble from where she stood down below. “Are you stuck?” Valery cooed to the cat as she climbed the tree, nimbly pulling herself up higher, and higher. The dark black wood was peeling and falling under her feet, but Valery clung on tight. She carefully edged her way out onto the flimsy branch, towards the meowing cat. Seamus let out a whinny.
“Seamus, I’ll untack you in a second. Be patient,” Valery responded, just as she heard the sound of splintering wood. The branch broke beneath Valery’s feet, and she screamed as she plunged to the ground.
Valery opened her eyes sometime later to see the sun was already high up in the sky. The cat was in a patch of sunlight a little ways away, grooming itself. As she tried to stand up, she felt a sharp pain in her ankle. Seamus, who had not moved since she fell, pushed against Valery so that she could lean on him and get up easier. Once she was on his back, Seamus turned back the way they had come and headed home.
A few months had passed since the night Valery had adopted Seamus, and the two had entered lots of competitions and events.Valery had painted the old shed a bright blue and written the word Seamus on the wall in yellow. Ribbons decorated the inside of the shed, and with good food and care, Seamus had filled out very nicely. Valery and Seamus had won a competition the day before, and Valery was now sitting at the breakfast table with her parents.
“Valery, there’s something we need to talk about.” Jeff was holding the daily paper and had a grim expression.
“What?” Valery asked through a mouthful of toast.
“Well, I’m just going to give it to you plain. Sweetheart, I think Seamus was a stolen horse,” Lucia said ruefully.
Valery almost choked on her food she was so surprised. “But I paid for Seamus! I didn’t steal him!” she cried.
“No, but Seamus had an owner before you, who didn’t legally buy him.” Jeff shook his head. “Seamus is a Chincoteague pony. He’s from an island off of Virginia. Every July they swim the wild ponies across the Assateague Channel, and Seamus got injured on the swim over, so they kept him in a separate pen, away from most people so that he could recover. The day before the auction he went missing. Seamus was also a buy-back, which means he will still be in the auction like the rest of the foals, but the highest bidder won’t get to keep him, only name him. Luckily for you, Seamus was taken before the auction, so he will still keep his name.”
“What? You’ve already decided that they can take him? But it’s not true! There’s a mistake!” Valery wiped her dark blue eyes, not wanting to believe her parents, though deep inside she knew they were right.
“Chincoteague’s Fire Department has been looking for him for four years now, and someone at one of your shows saw him and told them they saw a horse like that. In the newspaper, it shows his white spot that is shaped like a horse head. The missing horse is Seamus. I’m sorry, Valery.” Jeff shook his head. Valery pressed her face into her hands, not wanting to believe her dad.
“Valery, you love us, don’t you?” Lucia asked, and Valery nodded. “You would miss us if we were separated, wouldn’t you?” Valery nodded again. She couldn’t imagine separating from her parents. “You see, Valery, Seamus has his family, and he misses them. If you were Seamus, and Seamus were you, wouldn’t you want to go home? Wouldn’t you want Seamus to allow you to return to your family?”
Valery knew her honest answer would be yes, but she didn’t want Seamus to leave. Slamming the front door, she ran down to the little blue barn. She loved Seamus! But did he love her? Valery looked at Seamus and spotted the sadness that often appeared in his dark brown eyes. Throwing on a bridle, Valery rode Seamus bareback through the rolling hills, and Seamus stopped, as usual, at the lake. All this time Seamus didn’t want ribbons or fame, he just wanted to go home, Valery realized with a pang of guilt. Seamus just wanted to return to his family. He wanted to go back to Chincoteague.
Valery gave Seamus a huge hug, trying her best not to cry as she looked at him for the last time. Seamus nuzzled her face, knowing this was it. Valery turned away as Seamus got loaded onto the truck, for she couldn’t hold in her tears. Seamus let out a shrill whinny and Valery remembered the night she had adopted him. It seemed like so long ago. “We’ll take good care of him!” the man called as he hopped into the truck and drove off down the road. Valery watched as the trailer grew smaller, and smaller, until it disappeared around the corner, knowing that they indeed would.
Two years after Seamus had gotten returned to Chincoteague, Valery received a letter in the mail. It was about Seamus. He had started a herd, and it was the biggest one yet with twenty-four mares! Seamus was doing well and was happy to be home at last. Valery was starting to put the letter away in a safe place in her room when a small photo fell out of the envelope. It was a picture of Seamus in front of a group of other horses. Valery had been unsure for the past couple of years if she had done the right thing, but now she knew for sure. The sadness in his eyes was gone. Seamus was happy.