As soon as Blue bolted for the barn, dragging Colton along with him (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/10/06/heading-for-the-trail-ride/), Anna dropped Rosie’s reins and raced after her son. My characters started to follow.
“Hold it!” I quickly dismounted, turned to my characters, and put up my hands to stop the stampede. “Clara, Rocky, come with me. Everyone else stay here with the horses. And one of you grab Rosie so she doesn’t step on her reins and hurt herself.”
Anna had already reached Colton and Blue by the time my two characters and I entered the barn. I heard the panic in her voice when she spoke to her son. “Are you all right, Colton? What happened?”
Colton turned toward his mom’s voice. “I’m okay, mom, really. I just don’t know what happened out there. Blue had been doing so well with his training. He’s never run off like this before! Is he okay? He’s not hurt, is he?”
“Do not worry, Colton. Clara will examine him. She is very good with horses.” Rocky joined Colton and his mom and put a hand on Colton’s shoulder. The boy nodded and smiled at Rocky.
Clara walked over to the wide-eyed pony, who snorted and pinned his ears back. Slowly, as Clara murmured soothingly to him, Blue relaxed. He rubbed his head against Clara’s shoulder and nickered. “He appears to be uninjured, Colton. He just seems to be fearful of something.”
“Maybe you were right, Marge.” Anna looked up from where she was still fussing over her son, checking him for cuts and bruises. “Maybe Blue just got spooked by so many new horses all at once.”
Clara stroked the pony’s neck. She leaned against the sturdy animal, placing her forehead to his. After a few moments, she turned to face me. She gave me an almost imperceptible shake of her head and whispered so Anna and Colton could not hear. “I do not believe it was the horses that alarmed Blue.”
I furrowed my brow. I wanted to question my Cleric but knew I could not speak with her in front of Anna and Colton, who only knew her as my friend, Clara. It would be far too difficult to try to explain her real identity and origin. It could also be dangerous for all my characters should the wrong people ever learned of their existence.
I removed my hat, raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the hat back on my head. “Anna, why don’t you and Rocky take Colton back outside? It will be easier to check for injuries in the sunlight. Clara and I will stay here with Blue until he is completely calm.”
Anna nodded, and helped her son navigate the pathway to the door. “There’s a bale of hay there, Colton. We have to walk around it.”
“I know, mom.” Colton grinned, and turned back to where he had last heard our voices. “Gee, the way she treats me, you’d think I was blind or something.”
“Oh, Colton!” Anna did not sound amused.
Rocky laughed, though, and leaned over to whisper to the other boy. “You and I share the same sense of humor, Colton!”
Colton let his mom and Rocky lead him the rest of the way to the barn door. I waited until they were outside before turning to Clara. “Okay, what did Blue tell you?”
Clara, my Cleric with the innate ability to communicate with animals, continued to stroke Blue’s neck. “He planted a picture in my mind. From the image, I believe there is someone lurking around the farm, someone not very nice.”
I frowned. “Can Blue determine the person’s motives for lurking?”
Clara sighed. “If he can, he is unable to communicate them to me. That is too complex a concept to express in an image.”
I rubbed my jaw. “Can you describe for me this lurker Blue revealed to you?”
Clara nodded. “It is an older human male, with a bald head, but neatly trimmed facial hair . . . what I believe you term a mustache and a goatee. He wears small, rectangular spectacles with dark frames, a threadbare suit of indistinct color, and a funny little bow around the collar of his shirt.”
My jaw dropped. “What? That sounds like Arthur from the writers’ group Lost in the Words!” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/still-searching-for-answers/
I shook my head and scoffed. “But what would Arthur be doing here, lurking? If he has legitimate business here, why not just announce himself?”
Clara shrugged. “We should take Blue outside. Maybe he can show us where this Arthur person is and you can ask him that question.”
Clara placed her forehead on Blue’s again and communicated to him our intention. Once he understood, Blue seemed perfectly content following us out of the barn. Once outside, he tugged on his lead and led Clara over to where my other characters had gathered around Colton and his mom. The pony ignored my characters and the illusory horses. He nickered and rubbed his head against Colton’s shoulder.
“Aw, that’s okay, boy. I know you didn’t mean to do anything that could have gotten me hurt. You were just frightened of something.” Colton put his arms around Blue’s neck and gave the pony a hug.
“Whatever frightened him before does not seem to be bothering him now, so it could not have been our horses.” Rocky gestured toward the illusory horses milling around behind my other characters and looked at Clara. He raised an eyebrow at her questioningly, but she shook her head.
Anna sighed. “Well, I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think we should call off the trail ride.”
“Aw, mom!” Colton’s face crumpled. “I’ve been looking forward to this so much, and our friends came all the way over here . . .” The boy swiped at a tear that threatened to roll down his cheek.
Anna pursed her lips at her son’s inevitable protest. “I know, honey, but I just think it’s too dangerous for you to be riding Blue on the trail if there’s any chance he might bolt again.”
“Anna, I’d like to try something, if it’s okay with you and Colton.”
“What do you want to try, Marge?” It was Colton who answered.
“Well, Colton, I’d like to have Clara lead Blue around out here and see if we can discover what he’s afraid of.” I answered the question for Colton but looked at Anna for approval.
“I’m okay with that, if Colton is.”
Colton nodded. “It would be good to find out, so we can help him overcome his fear.”
I gestured to my other characters to take their horses and move back, giving Clara and Blue some room. Then Clara started to lead Blue over to where he and Colton had been standing when the pony had bolted. “We’ll start there and see what happens.”
The pair had not taken two steps when Blue planted his feet, pinned his ears back, and whinnied loudly.
I followed the pony’s gaze. “Well, let’s see what’s upsetting Blue.” I walked over to a nearby thicket and parted the thick vegetation. “Well, would you look at this! Care to explain what you’re doing hiding in a clump of bushes, Arthur?”
What is Arthur doing lurking around Anna’s farm? Be sure to come back next week and see how he explains his actions. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.