Phantom Stallion E-Newsletter December 2011
My holiday gift to you is the beginning of a wild horse story that's both like and unlike THE PHANTOM STALLION.
INTO THE WIND is the first book in the MUSTANG trilogy. These books are different from my earlier series because the world is seen through the eyes of three young mustangs who must band together to learn everything the hard way. In the Phantom Stallion and Wild Horse Island, you rode alongside Samantha and Darby. In MUSTANG, you gallop on four fictional legs!
Your holiday gift to me is letting me know how you feel after you read Chapter One of INTO THE WIND. There is a link to click on and a survey follows.
I am eager to hear what you think of this new adventure.
Enjoy the rest of December and spread peace and joy to those you love!
Book 1: INTO THE WIND
The Death Bird came at dawn.
Dancer recognized the silver glint in the sky even though he only knew Death Birds from nightmares. It rose above the ridge, a metal monster filling his eyes and his mind.
Wind tugged each hair in Dancer's tail, sending a racket of nerves down his legs. He shifted from hoof to hoof watching as the Death Bird sank behind the snowy peak.
A coming storm felt this way, but he didn't smell rain or lightning dust.
Dancer yearned to neigh a warning, but he saw so many things that weren't real. He hesitated. The Death Bird could be hiding, or it might never have been there. Either way, no one would believe he'd seen it.
Sire stood silhouetted on the mesa with his back turned to the threat. If Sire didn't feel the Death Bird's wing beats, if he didn't fear it was gathering power to swoop down on the tribe, it was not there.
Blowing through his lips, Dancer turned back to breakfast.
Snow crunched, then spun up from his digging hoof.
Dancer inhaled a whiff of green. Grass sprouts. The chance of tasting early spring greens kept Dancer digging. He knew the sprouts hid just under the next snow clump.
There. Black mud held a tuft of tendrils. Untouched by the sun, they were yellowish and numbered no more than his whiskers, but Dancer champed his jaws in anticipation. Five full moons had passed since he'd tasted fresh grass.
A vibration, a pounding like his heart, made Dancer glance skyward. Clouds brightened with morning, but no Death Birds, showed against them. There weren't even eagles or scrub jays.
The pounding was closer than the sky. Feather, a dun with a flare of black feather lines on his forehead, shouldered Dancer away from the grass.
Dancer squealed, giving Feather the submission he wanted. He felt sorry for the dun and that's why Feather hated him.
Overcome by a sad vision of Feather standing alone, with no mate, no milkies, no herd, Dancer had rested his head on the dun's withers and nibbled Feather's mane, to comfort him.
Feather tolerated Dancer's nearness until the pinto revealed what he had seen.
"You don't feel sorry for me!" Feather had neighed. His loudness and his lashing kicks had drawn watchers and until Seed, his mother, came to investigate.
Now, the muscled dun kicked at Dancer's still lowered head, grazing his lip.
Dancer circled the dun at a trot, wincing at the pain, fighting the desire to run away.
"I thought I saw a bee. Did it sting you on the lip while you were you listening to the grass grow, Pinto Loco?"
The dun's false pity made Dancer stay out of reach, and still Dancer wished he could run away from fear as quickly as he could from Feather's taunts.
I don't care about Feather. I'm used to it, he thought, raising his head in a stallion's swagger. He just wished mares didn't swish their tails, warning milkies to stay back as he circled back to the place that smelled like a meadow.
He found it easily, and rejoined the wild horses of Swale Tribe, wandering the hillside, sniff-searching for new grass.
The tribe came here every Snowmelt. Elders knew they'd find pure runoff to drink, knew sunshine's warmth felt even better when they stood fetlock deep in snow.
They knew what they were doing. No one called them scared, superstitious or pinto loco.
Lead Mare scanned the terrain, guarding mares heavy with unborn foals. When Lead Mare's ears pricked toward Dancer, he wondered if she'd noticed his twitchiness or the dun's taunt.
"Wind drinker," she snorted, calling him by age rather than by his name.
At least she'd acknowledged his experience. Wind drinkers were old enough to eat grass and run alone into the wind. Dancer bowed his head, to Lead Mare, letting his autumn-red and white forelock hide his eyes.
"Hey," Dancer replied, past his swollen lip. He felt the tangles in his forelock. Perhaps she'd only noticed that.
To show her that he wasn't unsettled, just alert, Dancer jerked his chin toward the Gang of Five.
Two bays and three blacks, they shone like stones in a river bottom. Clustered together, they bumped shoulders and checked out the mares.
"Sire's kickin' them out today, right? The Gang?" Dancer said, but Lead Mare's attention had shifted. She glared at the Gang, warning them not to even think of challenging her authority.
Dancer's words hung in puffs on the cold air. He looked around to see who'd heard his unanswered question.
Only his mother, Seed, had been listening.
"Sire's chasing them off just in time," she said. Seed swung her head toward the torn flesh of Dancer's flank, and then touched his tender lip with her own. "They're a menace."
"I'm fine," Dancer said, rolling his eyes.
The Gang practiced battle skills on younger horses, especially those like him, excluded from rowdy groups that might fight back. It was how they trained for the day Sire drove them out of the tribe. He understood their sparring better than Feather's unprovoked kicks.
"Not that I can't take 'em." Dancer muttered. He attacked the snow. "My rock-hard hooves will cleave them from shoulder to stifle!" He stabbed his forelegs at invisible challengers, then whirled and lashed his hind legs into a snow-covered sagebrush. He knocked it flat, but the bush rebounded, spraying him with wet. "Say you're beaten, coward, or I will savage you beyond healing!"
Baring his teeth, Dancer wheeled to confront the sagebrush. Before he'd decided how to demolish the plant, his ears tickled. No flies climbed the hairs inside. It was something else.
That sound, again. Brightness flashed as the Death Bird bobbed above the ridge and moved closer.
"Look!" He gave the nearest horse -- a one-season colt, mud-colored and dumb -- a hard nudge.
The youngster shivered his skin and moved off a few respectful steps before Dancer rammed his shoulder and asked, "Didn't you see that?"
"Cool it, colt," he snapped, then lowered his drab head.
That's right, Dancer pawed slush, thrust out his chest and lifted his chin, I'm older.
Looking a little scared, the mud-colored yearling shifted his weight between his front hooves and pretended to get ready for a game.
"Bet you can't catch me."
He bolted off and Dancer was gathering himself to follow when the earth shook.
"No!" Lead Mare gasped.
Dancer raised his head and saw black, bay, roan and gray ears prick toward Lead Mare. Hundreds of quick breaths and snorts sounded as mustangs straightened, opening their senses to the beat of the Death Bird's wings.
It circled like a carrion eater.
Dancer recited the laws along with every other horse.
Safety is with the tribe.
Lead mare shows the way.
Some said the laws aloud. Some, like Dancer, thought them. However they were remembered, the laws soothed even the wobbliest foal.
Lead Mare stared up the ridge, at Sire.
Silently, the two leaders sought each others' counsel and the tribe waited.
Lead Mare's ears pointed in alarm a heartbeat before Sire's neigh rang out.
"Death Bird!" The vapor plume from Sire's neigh made the warning real.
Dancer felt truth like a kick to his chest. This time, the shaking and the shining hadn't been part of his torment, his waking dreams. He'd had a chance to change everything, to save his tribe, and he'd failed.
But Death Birds didn't exist. Every Wind Drinker knew Death Birds were only meant to scare young horses. They flew through tales to keep milkies from straying into danger.
Dancer blinked, trying to see past sun dazzle to watch Sire square himself for battle.
Even as Death Bird hovered over him, Sire held his ground. Victor in a thousand battles, Sire screamed defiance as Death Bird's eye stared down on Swale Tribe.
Dancer's veins filled, swelled, pounded in his throat, but not with fear. His neck arched and his hooves churned, eager to strike, stamp and kill the bird.
As Sire reared, Dancer reared, too.
Dancer locked the joints of his back legs and stretched the sinews in his forelegs.
So what if Death Bird was real? The biggest bird on the range could be bluffed back by the smallest mustang.
Even Sire couldn't hold the rearing stance for long. As soon as his front hooves touched down, Lead Mare whinnied a retreat.
"Run!" her command soared louder than Death Bird's roar, but Dancer heard the Gang of Five thunder crossed the mesa and couldn't look away.
Twenty hooves galloped, leapt and landed. Each of them dared Death Bird to land. The Gang was scary and magnificent. Dancer didn't think he could ever be so brave.
Had they saved up courage for this moment? Once they reached the ridge, they crowded behind Sire, and when he reared, they reared.
A wave of wild stallions faced Death Bird.
Snorts of admiration sounded. Swale Tribe delayed their escape, waiting for Death Bird to spin away in fright.
Instead, Death Bird answered the stallions' challenge. With a sudden slant that almost touched Sire's ears, Death Bird set upon the tribe.
I won't run, Dancer thought, as Sire worked to confuse Death Bird.
With a toss of his head, Sire ordered the Gang of Five to split up.
Two bays followed Sire as he stampeded after the rest of the tribe. The three blacks ran under the Death Bird's belly, luring it in the opposite direction.
But Death Bird's eye stayed steady on the tribe, even when the three blacks launched themselves into the air, trying to bite Death Bird's spinning tail.
Standing alone, Dancer heard his own jerky breaths.
He was winded though he hadn't galloped a step. Someone should tell him what to do, because he couldn't see past the white slush and black soil. Everything blurred together under an agitation of bees' wings.
The others were leaving him behind, running into danger, but he didn't know how to stop them.
Dancer trembled with indecision as the three black stallions from the Gang of Five pounded his way.
Not to attack, Dancer realized. They were full of themselves, and so close he smelled their sweating pride.
"We'll take the Death Bird down, next time, Dancer," vowed one. As he passed, his tail drifted behind like black smoke.
He knows my name, Dancer realized.
Dizzy with bliss, Dancer jumped off the mesa, pounded downhill and galloped after them.
Dancer passed the stragglers. He couldn't catch the three blacks, but he joined a mass of horses pelted by damp sand and stones kicked up by the wind drinkers. For once, he was no outcast.
Dancer plunged into their midst, squeezing past shoulders and raising his nose above their winter coats. Dancer smelled the huff of a wind drinker's breath, still fragrant from the pinion bark her teeth had raked that morning.
Dancer matched her stride for stride. This was his tribe. Together, they could outrun any stupid bird.
A squeal made Dancer look back over this shoulder. Mother?
His view was blocked by Lead Mare as she pulled to the edge of the herd, then apart, letting the Tribe pass her by.
Lead Mare slowed, but didn't stop.
In quick glances over his shoulder, Dancer saw Lead Mare's dark legs reach out as she charged those running at the rear of the tribe, The slowest horses were falling behind, letting the gap between them and the others widen.
Trying not to slacken his own run, Dancer looked back to see Lead Mare, head level with her neck, warn the stragglers to move faster.
Dancer shied at the nearby voice. It was the mud-colored colt. With such short legs, how had he caught up?
"They're not all old," Dancer said, but the pace of the wind drinkers meant he didn't have the breath to explain some mares were full of foals.
He looked back, and worried that formerly fleet mares were made clumsy by their belly weight. Instead of running straight on, each hoof gaining ground, they floundered in snow, scrambling for balance, hopping over rocks, tripping when they looked back at Death Bird.
Dancer's own steps faltered as the tribe's eldest mare, a buckskin, veered toward him. She wore a stench of fear.
Dancer flicked his ears in all directions. He couldn't pick up his mother's voice, but he caught sounds that he didn't want to hear.
He flattened his ears, blocking out the cry of an early milky. She whimpered at the pain in her soft new hooves.
Dancer finally saw Seed. She didn't rush to him. Her nostrils flared pink with exertion as she bumped and pressed against the old buckskin, forcing her to move at a stumbling lope.
Lead Mare turned the tribe toward a blue-shadowed snow trench. It smelled of them, because they'd worn this safe path to their swale. They'd all traveled it, back and forth to the mesa, but it had never held the whole tribe at once, hurtling downhill at a gallop.
Melted and refrozen, the gloss of ice was slick under Dancer's hooves. The tribe ran close together, nose to tail, surrounded by the brittle hammering of hooves.
Death Bird's shadow chilled Dancer. His mane jerked upright from the wing-swirled wind and he felt the approach of more trouble.
"Stay with the herd!"
Morn, a sun-colored mare who'd never called him Pinto Loco, was making a mistake. Even heavy with foal, she'd outrun him, but suddenly she changed her mind.
"I'm going back!" she neighed.
She planted her hooves, but she still slid down the steepest part of the trench.
"They can't have my baby!" Morn shrilled, and she tried to escape the Death Bird's pursuit by jumping out of the ice gully.
It was too late to stop her, so Lead Mare neighed "Higher!"
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This just in . . .
International Candlelight Vigils Are Planned to Mark the 40th Anniversary of the Wild Horses Act on December 15
"Keep Their Light Shining" is an international candlelight vigil to honor Wild Horse Annie that will be held on December 15, 2011, the 40 anniversary of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. On that day in 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the landmark legislation into law, stating that:
"Wild horses and burros merit man's protection historically for they are a living link with the days of the conquistadors, through the heroic times of the western Indians and pioneers, to our own day when the tonic of wilderness seems all too scarce. More than that, they merit it as a matter of ecological right – as anyone knows who has ever stood awed at the indomitable spirit and sheer energy of a mustang running free."
Candlelight vigils are scheduled in cities across the U.S. Events will also take place in Canada, Sweden and England, highlighting the importance of America's mustangs to citizens worldwide.
Citizens who cannot attend a vigil are requested to put a candle in their window in honor of the wild horses of the American West and in recognition of their plight on our public lands.
To organize a vigil, or send us a photo of a candle in your window, click here.
To see a list of cities with candlelight vigils scheduled, click here.
Wild Horse Preservation Campaign
COMING NEXT MONTH
Who: You !
What: Enter for a chance to win a free visit and 40 free books from Terri Farley for your favorite school or library!
When: January 1 - February 14 1012
How: Create the winning book trailer for any of Terri Farley's books
Voice For the Horse is sponsoring a contest for young writers.
Deadline: January. 31
Where is Terri Farley?
Keep Their Light Shining, worldwide candlelight vigil for wild horses
Date change! January 14
Wild Horse presentation
2325 Robb Drive
Reno, NV 89523
April 21 - 22
Los Angeles SCBWI novel workshop
Did you know?
Terri Farley helped an orphan sea lion take its first bottle while she was researching her book SEVEN TEARS INTO THE SEA , a modern seaside retelling of the Celtic story of the selkie.
Click here to explore the magical, mythological world of Jesse and Gwen.
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