Running Away on Hooves, Heart, and Hope
xJumperx is writing again!
Uh Oh! :p
Some of you may have read my previously written story, "Heartlines." If you haven't read it, give it a try! Link here:
Anyways, I've gotten back into yet another story!
This one is quite a bit different from Heartlines. This story, which is currently untitled, follows a teen and her gelding in a unique situation; Cassie ran away from home with her horse, Donner, a few weeks ago. Eager to get away from her overbearing parents, Cassie searches for a Haven to run to and finds one. The journey there is long and hard, but she is sure that the Haven, meant for foster children between homes, will welcome her and her horse with open arms. Getting there poses to be a large enough struggle in itself, and even if Cassie makes it to the Haven, can she be so certain that she can find herself in safe hands? Armed with nothing but love for her horse and hope for a happy life, Cassie undergoes what turns out to be possibly the biggest adventure any sixteen year old could go on.
Please note that this story is written entirely of fiction, and no characters or plotlines are based on real people nor true events.
I will update this story as quickly as possible, as I found out from Heartlines that you guys like to read ;)
Leave feedback AND constructive critisism!! I'm ALWAYS ALWAYS open to improving! Thank You, hope you guys LOVE it!! :)
Donner was gently plodding along, allowing my mind to wander a bit as we looked for a spot to set up camp for the night. We would be able to use a patch of woodland, which I was very happy about. I didn’t particularly like having to park out in someone’s field; even though there was confinement and more safety, there was also a much greater risk that someone could come by, find us, and cause us to leave in a rush. That had happened once to us already, and losing tons of supplies had taught me a lesson. While the woods provided more bugs and occasionally snakes, it also provided far more shelter and security from being caught. It was also much cooler in the woods, which was a huge concern for Donner and I.
Finally, we came to a very small clearing. “It’s not perfect, but it will do. What do you say, boy?” I stroked Donner’s neck. He was definitely a trooper. Hauling me and all our supplies couldn’t be easy, but he did so with little complaint. A bit of sweat darkened his sorrel neck, but it wasn’t enough to truly concern me. If it was, we would have stopped a lot sooner. I hopped down from my seventeen hand-high steed, which was quite a drop for my tired legs. Horses are measured by “hands,” which is approximately four inches. They are measured from ground to their withers, which is the top of their shoulder. This made my horse, Donner, almost 5’6” tall at the withers; a good size for most horses, but about normal for being an off-the-track Thoroughbred. He was a gentle giant though, with the mind of a lamb and the heart of an angel.
I unlatched the poles and ropes from the pack behind my saddle. With these tools I made up a small, temporary pasture around the clearing. Once I had it good and secure, I removed Donner’s bridle and saddle, placing them in the center of the camp where I would sleep. A bit farther from the center, I dug a small hole where I placed some twigs and leaves. Using some lint I also had in my pack, I had a fire going in just minutes. I had learned to make the fire quickly and effortlessly from the weeks of being out here on my own. I glanced over to find Donner happily munching on some grass near the center of our little camp. “You want your dinner, big guy? You want some grain?” At the magical “G” word, Donner’s head poked up and his ears leapt forward. A gentle vibration from his nose let me in that he’d let out a quiet nicker, and I was forced to chuckle. The horse loved his grain!
I pulled a Tupperware container I had stolen from home when I took off from my pack. Filled with grain, Donner was nosing it as soon as he could see it, trying to push it from my hand. “Yeah, you’d like to have the whole thing, wouldn’t you? Sorry buddy, you know the rations.” The black lines I had drawn on the side of the container told me exactly how much Donner could have per day. I smoothed out a spot on the grass and dumped just the right amount out for my boy. He happily began munching, and I took the opportunity to leave camp for a second to get some water from a nearby freshwater stream I had noticed before. It wasn’t far – in fact, I could see camp from the stream – though I was still nervous about leaving Donner alone. Leaving him busy with his meal was a bit more comforting. He wouldn’t leave his dinner!
Using a canteen, I collected about a gallon of water. Putting my horse before myself (as I always had), I pulled out the small bucket I stuffed inside my pack that held Donner and I’s grooming supplies. I took them out and filled the bucket with water, offering it to the great gelding. He gulped it down, as he always does. It took a couple more trips to the stream and back, but soon enough both Donner and my thirst was quenched. Before too long, the sun had started to set, and the light of the fire became more noticeable. “Alright buddy, time to give Xavier a call.” I pulled an old Nokia brick from my pocket. It was unlocked; no sim card. My parents also didn’t know I had it. I had left my iPhone back at home, knowing they could very easily track me with it. Using a piece of savings, I had managed to acquire this phone. It had two uses – the photo of the directions to the Haven, and calling Xavier. Using a number-hiding technique, I dialed my best friend. It rang twice before he picked up.
“Shh! What have I told you about using my name?”
“I’m sorry. You just called a little later than usual today … I was getting worried.” I could hear the concern in my friend’s voice. I rolled my eyes, chuckling. “I’m fine, Xav” (pronounced “zave”). A small laugh from the other side, “Yeah, because living out there on your own is so ‘fine.’” Xavier clearly didn’t approve of my plan, though I knew he understood why I had to do it. “I’m not alone! I have Donner!” The gelding didn’t raise his head to his name, too focused on the grass before him. “Yes, I guess that’s true. How is the big guy doing?” Xavier inquired. He had always been fond of my sorrel gelding. “Good, he’s good. How is everyone back home? You aren’t talking too much, right?” I was referring to my parents, brother, and other friends. Xavier was the only one I trusted enough to keep his mouth shut, so he was the only one I had contact with. He sighed, “still just as worried as ever. There are enough posters out here with your face on them to cover all of Colorado, you know. Of course, they are pictures of you complete with long, blonde, flowing hair,” we both laughed at this. Before I took off, I had buzzed my hair. It wasn’t the prettiest look, and I missed my locks, but I had to have the drastic change in appearance. Plus, it was hard enough to maintain Donner’s coat, much less having to deal with hair of my own. “Yeah, guess that’s to be expected.”
A moment of quiet silence made me realize how much I really missed Xavier. He was my best friend in the whole world, and being without him was hard. I had hoped we would be able to see each other once I reached the Haven, but I knew it would be a stretch. He was the one to break the silence. “Are you sure you’re okay, Cas?” He was the only one allowed to call me Cas, most had to at least call me Cassie. I found Cas very boyish, though it rolled off his tongue in a way that I didn’t mind it for some reason. I smiled into the phone, “I’m sure I’m okay, Xavi.” A pet name I had exclusive rights to as well (pronounced “zavey”). Another brief silence that he broke, “You know Cas, if you ever change …” “I’m not going to change my mind, Xavi. I’m sorry.” Another sigh. “Well, you know … you know that I …” With a smile, I stopped him, “Yeah Xav, I know. It’s okay. Goodnight buddy. I’ll call you tomorrow if I’m still alive,” I attempted to lift the tone, hearing a stifled chuckle, “Not funny!” before I hung up the phone. I stared at the “call ended” screen for just a moment, cherishing the memories Xavier and I had had, wishing he was here with me.
I turned to Donner then, who had gotten quite a bit closer. I laughed when he nosed my back, “That’s right buddy, I’ve got you!” I stroked his long, blaze-covered face before standing to prepare my sleeping arrangements. Donner was a good boy, and knew not to test the boundaries of the temporary fencing, so I was okay with sleeping for a bit. I did sleep in short intervals though, for several reasons. Therefore, I didn’t exactly sleep in luxury - I only had two thin blankets – one to lie on, and one to ball into a pillow. I hadn’t had room for anything else. I used Donner’s light saddle pad to cover my legs, and I didn’t need any more cover than that. I smothered the fire, set the alarm on my watch to get up in four hours, and let myself slip into slumber.
I dream of what I usually end up dreaming of, which happens to be home. I dream of my parents, and the fun times we have had. How happy I was when I was a kid, without a care in the world. I’m briefly homesick, before the ending comes that I anticipate. The reason I left, the reason I stay gone. They are suddenly lecturing me about my grades. The “B’s” on the report card won’t cut it anymore, and a form for boarding school is posted on the fridge. Donner’s sale ad flashes before my eyes, and I am traumatized yet again. It was the night before someone was going to come take my horse from me that Xavier took me from that evil house, brought me to the stable, and saw me off on my journey. It was a night I replayed many times during my sleep, but also during my consciousness; his face, one hand on his car and one hand in the air, waving to me as I disappear over the hills that surrounded the barn. He had stood there until I couldn’t see him anymore, and who knows how long he was there after I was gone.
I love it!!!!! As soon as I saw this under stories and poems I about freaked out! I loved your last one and I'm loving this one already!!
Three in the morning came quickly, as it always did. My sleep schedule went as follows -
11 PM -3 AM
2 PM – 6 PM
This way, I could avoid the hottest part of the day, and also give Donner and I ample amounts of rest. I’ve skipped the night sleep before on cooler days to make up some time, but Xavier always yells at me when I do, and I don’t like to push Donner harder than I have to. For now, I gather our things in the dim light and tack Donner up. Once I’ve got Donner’s bridle on, I collect the temporary fence, mount, and we are on our way. After traveling back to the marker I had used, I check my directions again to carry on our way towards the Haven. I sigh, noticing that I’ll have to pass a street I’m very, very familiar with during this travel time - my grandmother’s.
This particular pass was kind of hard to make. My grandmother’s is where I went when I needed some peace from my overbearing family. She understood me, gave me solace and warmth when I needed it. I wanted nothing more than to stop at her house, let Donner in her yard, and chow down on her famous cor-don-bleu chicken. She could provide me an actual shower over the streams, warm meals instead of canned ones, a bed made of more than a few sweaty blankets. I sighed heavily, patting Donner’s neck. “She’d call them immediately,” I realized bitterly. Though my grandmother could understand my running off, that doesn’t at all mean she’d allow it to continue. Alas, the stop was impossible, and Donner and I had to continue.
The quickest way through this part of town, while missing my grandmother’s neighborhood, was actually through this little trail that I had taken Donner on many times when I came up here to visit. My grandmother had just a few acres of land, but she had fenced it and built a small run-in shed attached to it so that I could bring Donner up with me when I visited. I would usually stay for a few weeks at a time, as she lived a few hours away from my parents’. So she would take me for trail rides and such, her on her mountain bike. (which she called Comanche [when I was younger, before I had Donner, I rode the bike everywhere. I called it my horse, and of course, the horse had to have a name! A super fan of the television series “The Saddle Club,” I stole the name from my favorite horse from the show. Until this day, grandmother continued the name just to please me.])
The issue was that the closer I got to town, the more posters I saw. I had figured grandmother would post some, but she apparently worked way harder than I thought she might. It was quite heart-breaking, to be honest. Also, what Xavier failed to mention, was that my horse was also plastered across the poster. While my appearance had changed drastically, Donner’s had not, and that posed a pretty serious issue. I never thought they would put my horse on the poster. Instantly, I had to dial Xavier. I didn’t usually call mid-day (it was noon by now), so I knew he might be a bit concerned, but I was a bit angry so I didn’t exactly mind bothering him.
It rang for a while, to the point where I wasn’t sure he would answer. He finally did, formally answering “Xavier Willis, how may I help you?” I held back a smirk, recognizing he probably didn’t think the unknown number was me at this hour. Any other time, I would have come back with a snide remark, but I really wanted to get to the point so that I could get off the phone. It was easier to find and track a call during busier hours of the day. “You can help me by mentioning that my horse is also on my wanted poster, next time, considering that’s kind of a big deal!” Xavier stuttered for a moment, perhaps figuring out it was me, or maybe biting back asking why I was calling so early. When he did get something out, I realized his stutter was out of confusion, “the posters your parents put up don’t have Donner on them, Cas.” I stopped for a moment, unsure what to say. Finally, Xavier breaks my train of thought, “Where are you?”
“I’m up by my grandmother’s.”
“Well, I guess she made her own, and included Donner. She’s a little more on your brainwave than your parents are, I guess. Just be extra careful up there. Stick to back-roads. Call me tonight when you set up camp, okay?” He asked. I shook my head, unsure that I would get the chance at camping out tonight, “I can’t do it Xavi, I’ve got to get as far away from this town as I can. I’ll just stop next shift.” Another sigh from the other end; he sighs a lot, “Cas, you can’t …” I cut him off, “I’ll be fine, Xav. Just keep things quiet up there.” He was quiet for a moment, then agreed. “Alright, Cas. Still call me.” I nodded, “will do,” before hanging up the phone. I shook my head, patting Donner’s neck once more, “time to keep on and carry on buddy.”
Of course, we did just that. I was quickly able to make my way to the trail that I knew well, and we were on our way. The only issue that I came across was that the trail was a bit more… populated than I remember. Thankfully, nobody seemed to recognize me or my horse. I even passed other riders on the trail, which comforted me. Being the only horse and rider team for miles attracted a lot of attention … and attention isn’t something I need. Just as I thought all was well, I hear an all too familiar voice behind me, and for the first time in my journey, I’m faced with one of the worst things runaways can deal with: recognition.
“Oh my gosh. It’s you. It’s Cassandra, It’s YOU!”
I knew the voice as soon as it came to my ear. I didn’t turn around, I couldn’t afford to. The sight of a girl that was close enough to a sister as I had ever had … it would have been unbearable. Sandra and I had been best friends since we were little. She was the daughter of my grandmother’s neighbors, and every time I came to grandmother’s I always paid her a visit. We frequently hung out together and did fun things, and I honestly loved the girl as if she were family. She always got along great with my parents as well, and she had spent weeks at my house on vacations, as we both enjoyed horses and … well, everything else. Before my eyes could cloud too much to see straight, I was forced to spur Donner on. It would confirm her suspicions, and likely deeply sadden her, but it’s not something I could risk. Now that she knew my whereabouts, she would have every family member on the line, all flocking to this place.
It was sickening, having to gallop away from her. On top of that, I had caused quite a disturbance. People jumped out of the way, yanking the pets they were walking on leashes. Other riders on the trail, probably suspecting my horse was bolting, were calling out “whoa” and “easy.” Thankfully, Donner paid them no mind. Fearful that someone could call the police (I take back what I said before; cops are definitely worse than recognition), I veered off the popular trail, into a large, open field. The field wasn’t mowed, and hadn’t been for years. I would suspect it to be used for hay, but it was too overgrown for even that. I figured it was a natural habitat for deer or something of the sort. When I was finally out of the sight of the trail, I had to pull Donner up, fearful of him overexerting himself. It was already hot enough as it was, and we still had a very long walk ahead of us. I sighed heavily, finally letting the tears that had been burning my eyes fall.
I slouched over in my Marcel Toulouse saddle, worn after years of wear … and weeks without a good cleaning. Just looking down to see the front of the seat made me homesick. I wanted so badly to turn around. Go back to cleaning my tack every Sunday, which I usually dreaded. Go back to cleaning Donner’s stall twice a day, watching him munch his hay contently as I worked around him. I wanted so badly to set up jumps in the arena for the lesson kids, just so that I would be allowed to use them once everyone had left. I wanted everything to be how it was, and it overwhelmed me now. I had to get off.
I slid from the saddle, planting my bum on a tree stump in front of Donner. He lowered his head to my level, ears and eyes at my attention, wanting to know what the matter was. I reached my arms around my big guy’s face, crying into his little forelock. He was a very sweet boy, and didn’t mind this overload of affection. He simply kept his head where it was for the moment, waiting for me to release his head. When I did, he still hung it low. I figure he wants the grass around us, so after a quick check for weeds or other toxins, I remove his bridle and allow him to graze. I always kept Donner’s halter on under his bridle, so I grabbed the lead that I loosely tied around his neck and let him graze. Even in these situations, I never let him eat with a bit in his mouth for fear that he could choke.
Watching my boy contently graze as he always had brought me back to peace. It was clear that Donner was perfectly alright with our situation. Maybe he was just a trooper, but I preferred to believe that he’d go anywhere I went. “What a horse you are, sweetheart,” I cooed to the steed. The only acknowledgement I gained was a quick flick of the ear, but I didn’t mind it. “You probably don’t even have the slightest clue as to what I’m saying, but you’re still a good listener, you know?” I glanced upwards, then back to my watch. It was, in fact, three. Typically, I would sleep through this part of the day, but we were far too close to the search parties that would come to do that. I patted Donner’s shoulder again, and grabbed his bridle. I pulled him from the grass with some difficulty, but soon he was bridled and we were ambling through the field again. I frequently glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone was there, but saw nothing each time. Finally I quit worrying about it so much, and aimed my focus on finding shade. The sun was beating the crap out of Donner and I, sweat brimming my helmet and his neck. I hated riding in the wide open anyway since there was no place to hide, so the addition of the sun was downright exhausting.
I was finally able to spot some tree-cover, but it didn’t come without price. Turns out, the field we had been passing through belonged to a farmer. Once I got over the hill that blocked my view previously, I noticed many fields full of things like corn, tomatoes, and more. “How are we going to get out of this?” I asked Donner, wishing he had an answer for me. As far as I could see to the left and right, the farmer owned and fenced land. Cows scattered much of the landscape where crops were nowhere to be found, meaning all of that space had to be enclosed. I looked behind me once more, contemplating turning around and finding another way. Figuring it was the only option, I started out that way. The sound of a motor stopped me in my tracks.
It was definitely an ATV, and it was definitely coming from where I was about to run straight towards. I turned again, planning to find an exit closer to the farm … when I noticed a cop car in the driveway. And I knew instantly why they were there. Crap.
Out of options, I choose to bolt to the right. I feel Donner swell with a large breath in, and though I feel bad for him, I know he has what it takes to run far … and fast.
More! More! You need to get your stories published! They're amazing!!
I'm on vacation, so you can look forward to quicker updates this week! :)
When we finally met a tree line, after tucking in and spindling around to lose the ATV, I realized I had no idea where we were. “Great, that’s just … great,” I muttered, walking Donner in a small circle while I checked out the directions. He stuck to this small circle, meandering slowly to slow his heart rate and settle his breathing. I glanced around me, looking for some sort of marker to tell me where I was. Alas, I had nothing. “Okay, so let’s backtrack,” I spoke aloud to Donner and to myself. “Let’s see … We went off the trail about a quarter mile into it. That farm is here on the edge … which means this could be the little forest we are in.” If we were in the forest I thought we were, that really sucked. We were at least five miles from the path I needed to take to get to the Haven. Ugh.
Complications seemed to arise more and more frequently as we travelled. We had been out here for two weeks, and if all goes according to plan, I should only have one week left to ride before we got there. Unfortunately, setbacks had slowed us down tremendously. “Don’t worry buddy, the Haven will take great care of us as soon as we get there.” The Haven in question is a place that I had volunteered at when I was younger, maybe 12 years old. It was a beautiful facility, featuring a pristine stable that they had recently built. The Haven was actually intended for foster children between homes. I believe there were five dorms, each with two kids of the same gender in it (unless you were brother and sister). The stables were built so that the kids would have something to do, that encouraged hard work while providing reward at the same time. I thought it was a fantastic idea. The stable had ten stalls, and filled eight of them. To my knowledge, they were searching for two more. I figured that, as long as they had at least one spot open, they could house me and Donner just until I figured out what to do next. Nobody knew I was coming, not even Xavier.
That said, it wasn’t exactly 100% assured that they would let me in. If they were full, that would suck, but I could sleep in Donner’s stall. The real issue that could be presented would be if they just wouldn’t let me in. I couldn’t see why they wouldn’t, though. I mean, their whole goal was to give kids a better life, right? I hadn’t really thought of a Plan B, and that did frighten me a bit, but I had faith that the Haven would be receptive.
After pondering the path I should take next, I set Donner out that way. Armed with a compass and my directions, we were ready to go. I reached down to grab some crackers from the saddlebag that hung over Donner’s withers, but stopped myself short when I was reminded that there were none left. Biting the inside of my lip, I realized that we were running lower on food than I had originally thought. I was out of crackers to snack on completely, definitely out of sandwiches (they only lasted a few days), and only had a few cans of chicken dumpling soup left. I had also packed various other small, portable snacks, but they were gone as well. The soup had been my best option for large meals, since it is pre-cooked, but I had to ration them very thinly since I didn’t pack too many because of their weight. My stomach growled fiercely, and it sucked having to bite it back, knowing I probably couldn’t eat until tomorrow night.
Thankfully, Donner had plenty of grain left. I knew I would always put Donner first, and his meals always came before mine. He was fat and happy, and he was going to stay that way. I could survive. I thought back to when I last had a meal, hoping it would comfort me. Unfortunately, it only made my hunger worse. I hadn’t eaten yesterday either. Hmm… “I’ll just dive into the soup tomorrow when we take a break, buddy.” I sighed, knowing we wouldn’t be able to stop tonight. We would have to make up for lost time. We still had just a few hours until nightfall, when I would at least feed Donner his dinner and offer him some water. Water is one thing we never went without, thankfully, since Colorado was full of either fast-running creeks, or spigots that I could … ahem, “borrow” from people.
Finally, we made our way along the trail we set out from. Unfortunately, cops were crawling it. Great. I did my best to stay parallel to the trail, while still keeping to its general course. We eventually made it past where the cops were scanning, and the path I needed to take veered away from the path they were searching on. I was surprised at their efforts to find me, really. I figured my family had sent out Amber Alerts, but the police forces rarely really minded them that much. Before I was on the list myself, I hated the cops for their laziness. Now I was almost wishing they’d get back to it. We walked along for an eternity, stomach still roaring. A couple times, Donner had actually acknowledged the loud sounds, twitching his ears back to me and raising his head. I had to snicker, wondering what the gelding thought the sound was.
Nightfall eventually came, and the temperatures dropped to a more comfortable spot. I hopped off Donner in order to feed him, tying him to a thin tree as I knew we wouldn’t be there long enough for me to set up the temporary pasture. I undid his bridle and slipped it over my shoulder, allowing him to eat his grain freely and easily without fear of choking. I walked a small distance to a spigot that I had found near an abandoned barn, armed with canteen and bucket. To my luck, it still worked, and the water was clear and fresh. Sneaking a peek inside the barn, it didn’t look quite so abandoned either. The fencing around the building was about as worn, but upon a second look I noticed that it actually held cattle. There was one large run-in inside the barn for the cows, with water troughs and feeding bins for them. There was also a hay wheel, which I would love to bring Donner to, as he hadn’t had any good hay in a while.
Unfortunately, upon further inspection, the hay was definitely meant for cattle only, as it was old and quite musty. I gave a wayward expression, and began to hop back over the fence to the main part of the barn. I was stopped short, though … “Well Bobby, the heifer’s doin’ well. She’s a great ma, and her calf’s gunna be somethin’ fancy.” I tucked back in behind the hay wheel, hoping the men would stay in the aisle of the barn. “That’s fine and dandy Frank, but you know if she births another girl, I get her.” Silence, though I assume ‘Bobby’ nods, “Yeah son, I owe ya that much.” Then, the sound of a gate latch … bad news. I walked slowly around the wheel, trying to always keep the men opposite of where I was. They appeared to be headed out to the field, probably to check out the heifer they were talking about. Of course, all I was concerned about was getting back to Donner. I worried that he could be finished with his grain by now, and getting anxious. “Hey, you hear that? Somethin’ rustlin’ in the hay?” My heart sunk to my feet. I held back the desire to punch into the hay, upset that it had given me away. Instead, I remained still. “Eh, it’s an old barn. Probably a mouse or somethin’.” Footsteps … quiet conversation … gone. I still held back a sigh of relief, and instead bolted out the door, hauling the buckets and canteen out with me.
Donner gave a small nicker when I returned, but seemed fine. He had finished his grain, but sat patiently and had waited for my return. I hugged his neck tightly, throwing my face into his thick mane, “you’re such a good boy, I’m so happy I’ve got you by my side.” After a moment of gratitude, I offered him his bucket, and he drank a pleasant amount. I sucked down a bit of my canteen, and then poured the rest of what he didn’t drink into it. Typically, I would go back to the water source and refill it, but I didn’t want to risk running into Bobby and Frank again. “What do you say, I think two or three close calls is enough for me in one day,” I asked Donner, to which I’m sure he agreed. “Let’s walk the night away buddy, every step is a step closer to Haven …”
You have no idea how excited I was to see that you're back at it!! I'm excited for more!
*UHEM* Trying to be patient here! Post more soon please!!! :wink:
Greatest apologies, my laptop isn't exactly functional at the moment... I'm on my ipad now. I will post the next chapter as soon as I have the darn thing up and running!
Rain sucks; especially when you’ve got pounds of supplies, a horse to ride, and no reliable shelter. Frankly, I hated the stuff before I took off, and didn’t like it any better now. Traveling through dense woodland helped alleviate some of the water, so I tried to stick there as much as possible even though it slowed us up a bit. Glancing down at Donner, I really felt bad for him. Carrying this stuff around when it is dry can’t be an easy task, I couldn’t imagine carrying everything soaking wet, while also being drenched. I patted his neck, sending bits of water flying away from the contact.
Of course, I had a poncho packed for this situation, but it was saturated now and not providing much. I figured we still had another weeks travel to the Haven, and I hoped it wouldn’t be raining the whole time. The one positive of the downpour was the abundance of water, which was becoming more and more necessary as my hunger grew. “We have to figure something out, buddy. I’m not sure what yet …” Suddenly, a crack of lightening lit the sky, striking too close for my comfort. The thunder roared like a caged lion, showing us just how close the bolt had been. I ducked down when it all struck, nearly ramming my face into Donner’s neck. My good boy didn’t move a muscle, but his ears and eyes told me that he was a bit spooked as well. I made a call to jump off of the gelding, leading him to an even denser cove of trees. I kept a plastic cover over my saddle at all times, so there was no need to worry about it now. I was concerned about getting Donner and I in as safe of a place as possible. I checked my watch for the time, wondering if Donner could have his grain. I knew food would pre-occupy him.
It was actually a bit later in the day than I thought. The rain and clouds had kept the sun from bearing down so harshly, so I hadn’t noticed that it was already almost 3:00 PM. I usually slept from 2:00 – 6:00 PM. Since I had missed my night rest, I was surprised I wasn’t exhausted enough to have noticed just from that. “Well buddy, it’s not quite time for you to be eating yet. Though I’m not sure I really want to be sleeping during this storm …” After pondering for a moment, I realized that there was probably nothing better to do in this situation. I unpacked Donner’s fencing and set it up in a smaller patch than I normally did, because of all the brush that surrounded us. I slipped Donner’s bridle off and allowed him to graze on what little grass remained, and found a high spot to sleep on, where it shouldn’t puddle. It didn’t take long for me to drift into sleep, the sound of the rain soothing me into slumber.
Knives in my stomach woke me up with a start, tearing at my guts from the inside out. My body convulsed nastily, bringing my knees up to my chest. The pain was gut-wrenching. I flipped over in the blankets time and time again, much like a horse when they colic. Anything to relieve the terrible pain, though I know it would do no good. There was only one thing that could cure the hunger that ripped me apart, and that was one thing that I didn’t have. Food.
Donner raised a head from his small patch of grass, telling me I must have shrieked or something. He wasn’t really easily distracted, though would react to noise. I bit the side of my mouth, trying to stay quiet. I knew standing would only cause me to pass out, so I tried to ride out the stomach issue as best I could.
Finally, I was numb enough to get to my feet and stammer over to my horse. Donner held me up well, patient as he could be. After catching some breath, I went about dismantling the pasture and tacking him back up. I climbed up upon his back slowly and carefully, as the big gelding stood calmly for me. He was picture perfect. “Okay buddy, walk on. We have to head towards town …” I had thought up a solution for the starvation, though it wasn’t ideal. Of course, a week without food hadn’t been ideal either and I knew I couldn’t make it to the Haven in my condition.
Being in town was always risky. Thankfully, I personally had never been here before, and I didn’t think my family had either. The issue was that no matter how well known you were in the town next to you, Amber Alerts stretched pretty far, and Xavier had told me that I was up in that list. With Donner set up in his pen just outside town in a small enclosed field, I walked calmly into the doors of a convenience store. Nodding to the store keeper under my worn baseball cap, I attempted to keep a low profile. I probably looked like a boy, but it was a good thing if I did. I reached around to fumble with my hair, only to remember that it was all gone. The nervous tic would be unresolved.
I found my way around the store easily, finding the protein bars near the fatty snacks. The protein was exactly what I needed, and I craved it harshly. It took a lot not to rip the whole snack isle open, consume everything in the row. With much self-control, I quietly added the bars to my pockets, filling them as full as I could without being obviously bulky. After filling up on the expensive protein bars, I moved to another piece of the isle to grab a much smaller and far less expensive bit of candy. The candy costs only a few cents, so I paid for it easily with the single bill I had remaining. Making the purchase made my presence far less suspicious. Though I hated myself for thinking like such a criminal, I tried to convince myself that it had to be done.
Luckily, I was able to make it out the door with no repercussions. The store owner knew nothing, and though I was upset for what I had done, I was finally able to eat. Thank God! I got back to Donner as quickly as possible, finding him grazing contently. I sat in the middle of the small pasture for a moment while I consumed enough bars to curb the worst of my hunger. Each bar tasted like liquid gold, though I stuffed my face too quickly to really absorb all of the pleasure of the taste. Keeping myself from downing all the bars was difficult, but I knew I didn’t want to become a thief yet again, so I forced myself to stop.
It was finally time for my nighttime rest, being sleep deprived for the past two shifts had been difficult on my body. I found the small field we were in safe enough, as it was lightly brushed with trees and coverage. After setting up and lying in my little bed-like structure, I grabbed my phone to give Xavier a call. Per usual, it only took a few short rings.
“Hey, buddy. How are things?”
His voice was great to hear, his tone sounding relieved to hear from me as well. “Good. I mean, still kind of up in the air since you’ve gone AWOL on us, but we are managing,” he informed me, similarly to how he does daily. I asked him further for how each person was coming along, and if anything specifically exciting was happening. He mentioned some of my older friends and what they were doing with personal relationships, or other aspects. Getting the low-down on my family and friends was nice, and I enjoyed chatting with Xavier in general. I tried to update him on what we were doing, without giving away too much information. Though I trusted him with my life, I tried not to give out exact locations or anything. And I definitely wouldn’t tell him about the issues I had had with hunger; there was no reason to cause him to worry more than the poor guy does already.
After a while, I knew it was time for me to hang up and get some rest. “Hey, Xavier? Thanks a lot, seriously. You’ve kept me going out here, with our daily talks. I miss you, buddy. I really hope I’ll get to see you, and soon.” I didn’t thank Xavier as much as I liked, and felt bad for it. “I miss you, Cas. I miss you a lot. You’re my best friend, and if you think for a second that I won’t visit you when you reach where you’re going, you are insane.”
I wanted so badly for all of that to be true. A smile jumped to my face, and I hoped secretly that I would be seeing Xavier sooner than later. Much sooner. “Goodnight Xavier. Sleep well.” “You too, Cas.” I pulled the phone from my face, grinning at the number on the screen before finally hanging up. Even when I wasn’t homesick, I was always wishing he could be there with me.
“What do you say, Donner? You ready to head to bed?” I asked the big red gelding, watching for his facial expression for the only reply I could receive. His ears flicked towards me, but he was otherwise preoccupied by the grass around him along with the grain I had given him a minute ago. Content that my horse was satisfied, I finally settled in for some good rest.
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