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.