Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity
“A Ride With Fate” is an emotionally powerful story about a boy who makes a couple of wrong decisions. The mistakes he makes lead to an accident in which he and someone he cares about are physically hurt, and an elderly man, a friend of Billy’s, is made very sad.
Project 1: Write a Sequel
I care about Billy, and I care about Mr. Reed. One reason I care about Billy is that he is not a “bad” boy. The mistakes he makes are errors of judgment and I think he will learn from his mistakes. And I like Mr. Reed because he is a kind man who understands that growing is a long, hard process. I think he is a wise, patient man, and a very good friend for Billy to have.
I have spent some time wondering what Billy, his father, and Mr. Reed did and talked about in the days following the accident. You might also think about this and even write a sequel to the story.
Project 2: Contrast the Beginning With the Ending
One reason the concluding scene in “A Ride With Fate” is so effective is that the beginning of the story contrasts with the ending. Beginning with the second paragraph, notice that the world is like paradise—the land is beautiful, Mr. Reed is strong and healthy, Billy is happy, and the horse is handsome and powerful.
After this initial paradise is established, most major scenes in the story hint (like Billy’s bad grade in school) that the good, perfect times are coming to an end. Slowly but surely the tone of the story changes. The perfection of the beginning gives way to the dramatic conclusion.
Use this technique of contrast between beginning and ending in something you write. You will have to think of the ending to your story before you start writing. If your story will have a happy ending, make the beginning unhappy and troubled. Slowly ease the tension until you get to the happy ending. And if your story will end with strong, difficult emotions and consequences, make your beginning a time of calm happiness and carefully move your story toward the dramatic conclusion.
A Ride with Fate
By Robert Katzman, 12, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Illustrated by Heidi Hanson, 11, Florida, New York
From the May/June 1985 issue of Stone Soup
Billy woke up in a cold sweat. His pillow was wet. He got out of bed and hobbled to the window. His leg was still hurting him from the accident. Billy looked out the window and remembered. He remembered it well.
Twelve-year-old Billy McCall lives down the road from Mr. David Reed. Mr. Reed is seventy-one; old, but healthy and strong. The ninety-nine acres that Mr. Reed owns was once a dairy farm but is now where he boards horses for their owners. Mr. Reed takes care of thirteen horses. His horse, Buck, is the strongest, and is the leader of them all. No wonder; Buck is a Tennessee Walker thoroughbred. Mr. Reed enjoys riding Buck. In the summer Mr. Reed would ride Buck almost every day. In winter when the grass is usually covered with a couple feet of snow, Mr. Reed would give the horses hay, but Buck would get hay and oats. Every week Buck was groomed, and once a month his hooves were cleaned.
Billy was walking up to Mr. Reed’s farm to ask him if he could ride Buck. If he could, this would be the twelfth time. Billy could only go on weekends, so he had to finish all his homework before he went. Billy didn’t like to walk on the road. He didn’t like the paved roads, the cars, the electric fences or the TV antennas on every roof. Billy didn’t like any of these things. You could do without them, he thought. So instead, Billy walked through the field that joined Mr. Reed’s property with his.
It was two o’clock Saturday afternoon, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Billy saw Mr. Reed as he was finishing painting the fence that led from the barnyard to the pasture.
“Hi, Mr. Reed. Are you enjoying this summer weather we’re having?”
“Yeah, I am, Billy. By six o’clock tonight this paint will be as dry as a horse’s throat without water. I guess you want to take Buck out, right, Billy?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s a nice day, and I’ve got all my homework done, too.”
“O.K. He’s in the first stable. I’m going to wash this brush and go inside. When you come back give Buck some corn. You know where it is.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Reed, I will.”
Billy got Buck out of the first stable and tied him to the part of the fence that was already dry. Before Billy went to the saddle shed which was next to the first stable outside the barnyard, he stopped and looked at Buck. He saw his brown hair gleaming in the summer sun. He saw Buck’s broad chest, his strong muscular thighs, and his mane blowing free with the wind. Billy got the saddle and put it on him. The other horses in the barnyard talked to each other, probably about what they will do, and where they will go when Buck is ridden away, Billy thought. Billy fastened the girth under Buck’s stomach, adjusted the stirrups, and got on. He rode Buck down the lane and onto the road. Billy was always careful with Buck while riding along the narrow country highway, because he knew Buck was one of a kind.
Billy rode Buck along the road for about a half hour and then decided to turn off of it. He rode through a field that was once a thriving dairy farm in the late eighteen hundreds. The land was rich and fertile. No one owned it now, but somebody was supposed to buy it in October.
Billy led Buck down to the creek and let him drink. He saw the sun setting and knew he had to get home, but fast! Billy leaped on Buck, kicked his ribs and yanked the reins. Buck took off like a shot. He galloped all the way to the road and then slowed down to a trot. Billy remembered when Buck started to gallop, his powerful legs pushing off the ground, heaving his body forward and then thrusting himself forward again.
When Billy got back to Mr. Reed’s farm, he unsaddled Buck, put the saddle away, led Buck into the barnyard, and gave him some corn.
After he gave Buck his corn, Buck walked down to the creek in Mr. Reed’s field, and all of the other horses followed. They wanted to be with their leader; they wanted someone to follow.
That Thursday in school Billy got a social studies test back. The teacher put it on his desk face down. Billy could see all of the red marks through the back. He turned the test over and looked at the grade. His eyes bulged, his heart started beating faster, and sweat started pouring down his face. Billy’s first urge was to rip it up, but he knew he couldn’t. He slipped the test in his folder and looked around the classroom like nothing was bothering him, but he still had a dazed look in his eyes the whole day.
That weekend Billy finished his homework and walked over to Mr. Reed’s farm. It was a beautiful Saturday. Just the right weather to ride a horse: bright, sunny and a small breeze.
When Billy got to the farm, Mr. Reed’s blue Chevy pickup was gone. Billy thought he went to get horse feed or hay. He knew Mr. Reed wouldn’t mind if he rode Buck. So Billy got Buck out of the stable and saddled him up. He got on Buck and rode down the gravel lane.
At the end of the lane Billy looked down the road to see if any cars were coming. When Billy turned his head to the left, he caught a glimpse of his house. He remembered what his father said to him when he showed him his test. He couldn’t understand why his dad told him that this would be his last time riding Buck. Billy’s riding Buck didn’t even affect his grade on the test, and Billy knew it.
As horse and rider rode along the black-topped road, Billy decided to go to the Stone Edge Quarry, because this was the last time he could ride Buck. The quarry trail was a nice, long, quiet and peaceful ride. Billy’s father worked at the quarry, and Billy was thinking about him, so that probably helped him make up his mind.
Finally Billy got to the quarry’s gate. Well, it wasn’t really a gate, it was just a chain that was stretched across the entrance, about three feet above the ground.
As Billy pulled back on the reins to stop Buck, he saw the signs near the entrance. KEEP OUT; NO TRESPASSING; OFF LIMITS ON WEEKENDS; CLOSED TODAY.
Billy got off Buck and unsnapped the chain from the big white post, took ahold of Buck’s reins, and walked over the chain. He fastened the chain and got on Buck.
As Billy rode the horse through the quarry, he thought of his father again. It got him so mad that he couldn’t ride Buck anymore. Why, he thought to himself, why. He studied hard for the test, but he just froze up when it was given to him.
Billy was startled when he thought he heard a dog’s bark in the distance ahead. He heard it again. It seemed to be getting closer!
Suddenly, a big black German shepherd came flying around the bend.
“Oh, no!” Billy yelled. Buck, seeing the big dark hairy animal and hearing Billy’s terrifying cry, was alarmed so much that he pushed off the ground with his hooves and started to gallop toward the chain.
Buck was out of control, and Billy couldn’t do anything to slow him down.
Where did the dog come from? It might have been a stray, or it could have been the quarry’s guard dog, but there was no time to guess where some dog came from. Buck was getting closer to the chain! Billy knew Buck could jump it. The dog was still behind them, barking, howling and running faster than ever. There were stones laid on top of the quarry road, so pot holes wouldn’t come up so soon. The chain was getting closer. Billy knew Buck could jump it, he had to.
“Come on, Buck, old boy. You can do it,” Billy said as Buck was still running full speed, and as they were about ten yards away from the chain. Five yards . . . four yards . . . five feet.
“Jump!” Billy screamed as Buck pushed off the loose stones with all fours.
“Neigh,” grunted Buck as his two hind hooves scraped the chain. Then another painful grunt as his legs hit the ground. Buck kept on running as long as he could, which was only about fifteen yards away from the quarry’s entrance. By then Billy had gotten him under control. The dog had disappeared somewhere on the quarry road, but Billy didn’t know where he had gone.
Billy hopped off Buck and looked at his legs. The front ones were fine, but when he looked at the hind ones, his eyes bulged, his heart started beating faster, and sweat started pouring down his face just like when he got his test in school. Billy grabbed the reins and started to walk with Buck. He didn’t get on Buck, because his hind legs were already very swollen, and getting on his back would only make them worse.
The worried boy and the horse walked up the lane to the barn. If Mr. Reed was there, what would he tell him?
As Billy came to the back of the barn, he saw Mr. Reed’s Chevy. A desperate kind of fear swept through him as he was frantically searching for words to tell Mr. Reed. He wanted to let Buck loose in the field as fast as he could, so he unsaddled him, put some cream on his hind legs, even though there was no cut, and then led him into the barnyard. As Billy shut the gate to the barnyard, he heard footsteps behind him.
“How was the ride, Billy?” asked a cheery voice behind him. “Where did you go?” Billy turned around with an expression that Mr. Reed recognized immediately. Holding back the tears, Billy tried to explain.
“Well, Mr. Reed, I. . . uh . . . well, I went to the quarry, and we were riding along when all of a sudden I heard a dog’s bark and that’s . . . ”
“Don’t finish. Where’s Buck?” Mr. Reed asked Billy in a quick and concerned tone.
“I put him in his stable,” the shaken boy answered as Mr. Reed opened the red painted stable door and went in. Billy stayed outside and waited for Mr. Reed to come out. In about five minutes he came out and looked at Billy.
“I can understand why you didn’t obey the signs. Nobody does, because there’s only rocks to steal, but there’s a lot more in that quarry than what they dig up.”
“Yeah,” Billy said with a grin that lasted about three seconds.
“As for that dog,” Mr. Reed said as he paced in front of the guilty-looking boy. “I don’t know where it came from, but in all my years of riding horses, I never went to that quarry. Why, there are already sinkholes and snakes, and now on top of that, stray dogs.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Reed. It won’t happen again,” Billy said, trying to hold back the tears.
“I know it won’t happen again, and it’s not. That’s why I don’t want you to ride . . . ” Billy’s head dropped.
“Just don’t tell my parents what happened. This is supposed to be my last time riding.”
“All right, I won’t,” Mr. Reed said as Billy started to walk home through the field.
One week had passed, and Billy didn’t go near Mr. Reed’s farm or Buck.
In school he was getting grades like A and A-minus, especially in social studies. One day after school Billy had a talk with his father.
“Son, you’ve been getting A’s in school, and your social studies teacher tells me that you are doing great, so I’ve decided to let you ride Buck any time on weekends you want.” Billy smiled. He had to, or his parents would think something was up.
“Wow! That’s great, Dad,” Billy said as he tried to look as happy as he possibly could.
That Saturday after dinner, Billy went to his room to get a baseball and glove. While he was in his room he looked out of the window and saw something going down Mr. Reed’s lane. It looked like a car. It was a car. It was Mr. Reed’s Chevy. Why throw a baseball around when you can ride a horse. It’s been five weeks, and Mr. Reed was sure to have cooled down by now, Billy thought to himself. So he told his dad he was going to ride Buck and that he’ll be back in about half an hour. As Billy walked through the field he asked himself why he couldn’t ride Buck. It was just an accident that that dog scared Buck. It wasn’t his fault.
When he got to Mr. Reed’s farm, the Chevy wasn’t there, so he got Buck out of the barnyard and saddled him up.
“How ya been, Buck? I’m just going to ride you down to the road today,” said Billy in his happiest voice.
“Say, Buck, do you remember when I took you to that field that was once a dairy farm. Boy, when you started to gallop. Wow! You really took off.”
When he stopped thinking about Buck, he realized that he was about five yards away from the lane and in the middle of the road.
“Where are you trying to take me, boy?” Billy turned Buck around on the road but stopped to look at the sun. It was almost setting, too. What a picture! Billy turned around to see if any cars were coming.
“No!” S C R E E C H! Car brakes slammed.
“Neigh!” Buck fell down with a thud, and Billy with him. Mr. Reed got out of his blue Chevy.
“Oh my God, Billy!”
The gleaming sunset lit up the evening sky, and in the distance you could hear a faint gunshot coming from Mr. Reed’s barn.