The smell of baking bread filled my nostrils as I walked into the house, carrying my basket of eggs.
“Carrie! Did you bring in the eggs?” Mama called from the kitchen.
“Yes, Mama.” I set the basket on the table, where Mama was kneading bread dough. It was strange seeing her alone in the kitchen; usually Colleen was helping her. But since Papa died, Colleen had been spending more time with her friends to avoid the emptiness of the house. Jack took care of the cattle and the horses, and it was my job to look after the sheep and chickens.
“Give me that salt, please, dear,” Mama said, nodding toward the can on the table. I scooted the can her way.
“Can I help?” I asked.
“Please. You can chop those onions and potatoes for the soup.”
I quietly went about my work, then asked, “Where’s Colleen?”
Mama sighed, folding the dough over once again. “She’s off with Katie and Nancy again.”
“Why don’t you make her stay here?” I asked.
“She’s seventeen years old, Carrie. I can’t just make her stay in the house.”
“But you’re her mother! She should do whatever you tell her to.”
“It doesn’t work that way.” I could see the sadness in her eyes as she rinsed flour from her hands. Her body was here, but her mind was far away. With Papa.
“Thank you for helping, dear, now why don’t you go outside?” Mama said. I could tell she needed some time alone.
I went to the room I shared with my brother, Jack, and grabbed my sketching pen and paper. Once I was outside, I did not waste any time climbing my special tree and beginning to draw.
First I sketched the brook running alongside the barn; it was unusually pretty today. Then I began slowly shaping the outline of a pony’s head. Pointed ears, alert eyes, flaring nostrils, streaming mane—when I was finished adding details and wisps of stray hair, I was surprised at how good it had turned out.
Some say I should be angry with horses. After all, it was because of one that my papa had been killed. But my love for horses was as strong as ever.
Three months ago, my papa had gone with a group of cowboys to round up mustangs. It was the cowboys’ job to round up horses when the herds got a little crowded; the mustangs were then sold.
On that particular day, the lead stallion had not been happy with his mares being taken. So he charged around, neighing and bucking, and finally Papa’s horse was spooked. The horse reared, and Papa fell under the flailing hooves of the lead stallion.
I sat in my tree, thinking about Papa and how much I missed him. My mind was so occupied that I almost did not notice the beautiful horse on the horizon. But when I did notice it, I was amazed and hypnotized. He was gorgeous. The sun enhanced his golden coat, making it shine like a diamond. His mane and tail were white, pure white. Other than that, he was completely golden, all over his body. I could not resist climbing down the tree to get a better look.
He was not any less beautiful on the ground. He stampeded across the earth as if he owned it. I ran inside.
“Mama! Mama, you have to come see him, he’s beautiful, it’s…”
“Calm down, Carrie. What do you want?” Mama asked.
“Just… come outside!” I grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door. “Look!”
Suddenly, Mama froze. She became pale, and her eyes glazed over with bitterness.
“Carrie.” She spoke sharply. “I don’t want you near that horse.”
I stared at her in confusion. “What? Why?”
“It’s… it’s that devil horse. Just stay away from it.” She gulped and went back inside.
As I watched the beautiful horse galloping around, I tried to understand what Mama meant.
Suddenly, I realized. That horse was the lead stallion who had killed Papa.
* * *
When I walked into the barn the next day, I did not expect to see the palomino stallion munching hay that had fallen from the loft. I had figured by the open the door that Jack was inside caring for the horses, but I was met instead with the surprised eyes of the palomino stallion. When he saw me, he flicked his ears back and took a tiny step backward. Not thinking about the fact that he could easily bolt and mow me over, I slowly held my hand out. With a fair amount of hesitation, he sniffed it.
Overjoyed as I was to be petting the mustang, I knew Jack would be coming out soon, and Mama would surely order the horse shot.
“You need to go,” I said. I backed against the wall and raised my voice.
“Go! Go, or you’ll be killed!”
His muscles tensed and, laying his ears back, the stallion galloped past me and out of the barn.
As I watched him become smaller, approaching the sun, the perfect name struck me. Diablo. It meant devil in Spanish, and devil horse was how Mama had described him.
* * *
Diablo did not come so near the house after that; I just watched him on the place where earth and sky met to make a beautiful picture. Each day that I watched him, I developed a stronger bond with him, and I felt I had an obligation to him. It was strange. But I felt we were great friends.
Over time, I began to wonder if Diablo had come back to apologize. It sounded crazy, but I thought it was possible. No; I knew it was possible.
Something else, too; it seemed that every day, Diablo galloped closer and closer to the house. It was like he was gradually trying to get closer to me.
One day, Mama noticed me watching the stallion. Her voice was icy when she spoke to me.
“Carrie, why are you watching that demon?” she demanded.
“Devil,” I corrected her under my breath.
“What was that?” Mama said sharply.
“Nothing.” I stood up. “Mama, just look at him! He’s beautiful! How could you…”
“No, Carrie, how could you?” Mama said. Her voice sounded incredibly sad and lonely. “That animal destroyed our family.”
“But, Mama,” I argued, “he’s come every day! Don’t you think he may have come to apologize?”
“Apologize? That’s ridiculous!” Mama went inside, nearly slamming the door behind her.
I sighed and turned back to Diablo. Without our noticing it, he had wandered over closer, and now he was just yards away from me. He stood there calmly, looking at me. As he stood, I was struck yet again by his intense beauty.
Slowly, I stood up and walked toward him. I stroked his golden nose gently.
“Oh, Diablo,” I whispered, “I forgive you, at least.”
Then he galloped away.
* * *
The next day was dark, dreary, and cold. I stepped outside to do my chores with my shawl wrapped tightly around my head and shoulders. Icy fingers called raindrops reached at my face cruelly. I was very glad to step into the barn—the wonderful barn, warm with the heat of the cows and horses.
I began reaching under the hens’ soft bodies to gather the eggs. The barn was quiet, tranquil. It was a pleasant feeling.
Suddenly, the peace was disturbed when a loud crack made all the animals stir. In seconds, the faint smell of smoke wafted through the air.
Lightning had struck the barn.
It did not take long for the fire to spread. Dry bales of hay made the blazes even stronger, and soon I was in danger.
As flames licked at my heels, I set to work freeing the animals. Frantically unlocking stalls and whipping horses and cows out the door, I did not realize just how much danger I was in until I was surrounded completely by fire. By then I could hear Mama, Colleen, and Jack calling for me from outside the barn.
“Mama!” I yelled in return. I did not hear her reply, for a loud, shrill whinny pierced the air like the bolt of lightning that had placed me in this very situation. Then I heard a beating sound from outside. The wall in front of me, brittle and charred, crumbled. Diablo had kicked it down.
I gasped as the majestic stallion stepped without hesitance into the flames and knelt. He wanted me to get on, and I did so immediately. The golden horse carried me out of the flames selflessly.
Outside the barn, there was a sort of assembly. Cows and horses stood randomly about, and a few chickens flapped around frantically. Lastly, my family stood there with open arms.
“Carrie!” Mama cried, embracing me as soon as I slid off Diablo’s back. “You’re OK!” Jack and Colleen hugged me too. Mama framed my hot cheeks with her hands, and I gulped.
“He saved me, Mama,” I said timidly, pointing at Diablo.
Mama released me from her grasp and looked at the horse. Diablo’s tail was singed, and his legs were burned. Slowly, Mama walked toward him.
“Thank you,” she whispered. There seemed to be more words waiting to break through, but Mama seemed incapable of saying them at the moment.
I stepped forward and nudged Mama’s shoulder. She seemed to understand.
“I forgive you,” Mama whispered.
Thankfully, the barn did not burn completely. The rain quenched the flames not long after my rescue. Our only other loss was almost all our hay and a few hens.
Diablo became a part of our family. We treated his legs, and he stayed with us just until he was completely healed. Now he roams free once again, and he comes back quite frequently. On those times, I get on his back, and he gallops around the plains joyfully.
Colleen stays at home more now, too. I guess the incident with the barn softened her and made her thankful for the family she does have.
And it is all thanks to Diablo, the golden devil horse who changed just one family, twice—and forever.