PAINTED PONY
CHAPTER ONE

Jamie Lynn watched as a pale cloud of dust signaled the early morning
arrival of a visitor who showed up at 6 a.m. every morning for the past
week. The thunder of her hooves shook the ground Jamie felt it in the
souls of her bare feet. Her breath caught in her throat as the painted
pony glided over the top of the hill. She stopped abruptly and stared at
Jamie.

The two of them stood frozen like two moments in time. Jamie didn't dare
blink for fear Ember would disappear again. Jamie could feel the heat of
Ember's aliveness, she was real, what did she want?  Where did she
come from? Why here, why now?

Jamie Lynn's grief was so profound she came to Nimberbrook to regain
her equilibrium. She came to figure out if she could go on, which
direction she should take. What was the significance of this delightful
creature who wouldn't be approached?

As if on cue, Ember reared up, marked the atmosphere with her
signature, three pawing motions in the air, before she spun and
disappeared the way she had come. Today, Jamie was prepared. She
hurriedly mounted Daisy and coaxed the horse forward, toward the hill
where the painted pony had stood. Ember seemed such an appropriate
name. It had appeared in Jamie's mind just as the horse appeared. Ember
glowed like a ghostly apparition, but Jamie was sure she was real; at
least, until she found no footprints where Ember had stood, she
believed she was real. Her image was too distinct not to be real, wasn't
it?

The ground shaking thunder of her approach was real. Jamie felt it; it
was enough to make her think a herd stampeded toward her, not just
one magnificent creature.

Jamie slid down from Daisy's saddle to examine the ground more closely
where Ember made her showing. She ran her hand over the undisturbed
ground. The feeling of heat warmed the palm of Jamie's hand. She
paused and went back over the area—heat, but no tracks. Was she
losing her mind? Her gaze followed the dust that puffed like clouds
toward the horizon. No sign of the horse except for those fading puffs of
dust raised by her hooves. Distance is hard to judge in open country
fenced in by the LaPlata Mountain range, a very familiar sight to Jamie.
But, always mysterious, always offering new visions, inner as well as
outer. Distance was one she hadn't managed to conquer just yet.

Who did the painted pony belong to? Why did she get the distinct feeling
she should follow her?  Daisy seemed totally disinterested in the other
horse as she grazed on the tufts of sedge grass poking up centaur-like
from the dry earth. No rain in over a month gave the once lush mountain
valley a desert tawny hue.

Pursuing the elusive creature who seemed to be luring Jamie out of her
comfort zone into untraveled territory seemed her only option. A very
strong pull made her move toward the painted pony's path. It wasn't the
old west where savage Indians roamed and lurked for unsuspecting
travelers. The term "savage Indian", shuddered the nerves of her spine.
What a legacy she had inherited. Do people still think savage when they
see her? Sometimes she thought they did even with her rise up from
nothing to owner of the chain of holistic health and beauty stores across
the Iron Range back home in Michigan.  

Colorado always held her heart though, her father's land called her back
here regularly. She always followed that call. This time Ember stood at
the end of that call, or so it seemed she was part of that call.

Slowly, Jamie urged Daisy forward. The horse seemed reluctant to travel
in a straight line toward what Jamie saw as her goal—the distant,
shrinking dust ruffles Ember kicked up as her bread crumbs in the
forest. The Hansel and Gretel fairy tale spirited across her mind as did
the word 'lost'. She could never get lost. Daisy would always know her
way home, wouldn't she?

Jamie reined the horse in, twisted in the saddle to gaze behind her for a
landmark, something to call her home if Daisy should somehow forget.
Daisy's fur twitched. Jamie saw why. Coyotes streaked across the path
behind her. During the day? Unusual but it was very early. She hoped
they weren't after the painted pony, though the pony seemed healthy
enough, alone, it could be the target for that marauding pack. She
nudged Daisy forward. "Come on girl, we need to find Ember."

Daisy snorted and immediately obeyed, albeit, reluctantly. Jamie could
tell she was in no hurry to obey her master's orders. Urgency fueled
Jamie's insistence that the horse follow her command. Normally, she
wouldn't force the issue. Daisy was a seasoned horse and seemed to
sense the presence of danger, the avalanche, the rattle snake, the bear,
Daisy had balked, and Jamie had listened. And luckily so, yet, this time,
not this time, something pulled her toward the distant mountain range
and Ember. The coyotes she had spotted earlier crossed her mind, but
they were headed due north not west as Jamie and Daisy were. Of
course the animals could circle west, nothing except Daisy's nervous
twitching told her anything was amiss.

Jamie watched the ground for signs, signs of Ember's flight, signs of the
coyotes, signs of the mountain lion that had been spotted in the valley
lately harassing cattle—she didn't see anything. So why were the hairs at
the nap of her neck bristling like a bug crawled among the roots.

Daisy's ears moved independently of one another like a cats, or a rabbits
listening for sound a human ear could never pick up. Jamie knew
enough to watch the horses' body language for subtle hints hidden from
her human self about her environment. Clearly, Daisy sensed or heard
something, but Jamie's insides told her to press on. Whatever Ember's
message was she needed to follow her, now. Daisy wasn't stubbornly
refusing like she did before the avalanche. Jamie took this as a sign she
should be cautious but not to abort her mission of following Ember.

She nearly lost her balance and fell off Daisy's back as she was leaning
way over to try to 'read' the signs the ground might give up. The sound
of a child crying caught Jamie off guard. A child, here, deep in these
woods in the foothills of the LaPlata's? From the sounds of it, a very
young child and the hurried mission of the coyotes suddenly spurred her
own mission. Daisy snorted in protest, but moved toward the sound as
Jamie guided her.

"Always carry a rifle when you ride these hills." Her father's words
echoed in her mind now. Jamie was of a mentality that there was nothing
to fear in the settled west anymore. It was silly to borrow trouble. When
James Two-Cloud saddled Daisy for Jamie the rifle scabbard was always
present and loaded.

"If you ever get thrown from your horse, or run into trouble, you can
summon help. You don't have to shoot any creature or human, just shoot
the air."

Sage advice Jamie thought now as she urged Daisy forward toward the
child's distress call. But, what possible dan—g—er—Jamie swallowed the
lump in her throat that felt like her heart had leapt there.
See an in depth analysis of this
chapter on my blog at
http://printedwords.blogspot.com.