RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner
On Friday afternoon, Lacey and Troy and two other children came to the beach not far from the lighthouse, brought there by their mothers to swim and have a picnic. After swimming for a while, they all sat down to eat and then put up a badminton net where the children began a game. While they were playing, David and Trent came riding down the beach on Moondancer, and when they got close, Troy recognized them.
“Hey,” said Troy, “isn’t that those two scaredy-cats that quit the Library Club?”
Lacey and the other kids looked that direction, and Lacey answered “Yeah, that’s them. Wow! Is that their horse? He’s gorgeous!” She had stopped playing now and began to walk over to where the horse was slowing to a walk. David pulled Moondancer to a stop when he saw Lacey getting close, and then she spoke to them. “Is that your horse?”
“No, he belongs to Noah Bennett. He lives back that way,” David said pointing in the direction of Noah’s cottage. “He just lets us ride him.”
“I ride horses a lot when I go to my grandpa’s farm. Can I ride this one?” she asked, getting close enough that she reached out a hand to pet Moondancer’s neck. The horse instantly shied away from her, surprising David with the sudden move. Lacey stepped closer and started to touch the horses nose, saying, “I won’t hurt you, Boy,” but Moondancer snorted and backed away from her again, becoming more agitated. “What’s wrong with this stupid horse, anyway?” Lacey asked, looking at David.
“I don’t know. He’s never acted this way before. But Noah says he doesn’t usually let other people ride him.”
“Well, if you two babies can ride him, I know I can. Get down and let me get on him.”
“We can’t. You’ll have to ask Noah. And we have to go back now,” David said. Trent nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, we got to get Moondancer home,” he added. “Bye.” And David steered the stallion back toward Noah’s cottage.
“Stupid horse!” Lacey said as she rejoined her friends. Then she looked after the boys. “I think we’ll just go down there and see where he lives. I bet I can get a ride on him after those two little scaredy-cats leave.”
“Aw, finish the game first, Lacey. You’re holding up everything!” one of the other two children said. “Yeah,” her brother added. “When we see who wins this game, then we can go find the horse. They said he lives down that way.”
So they finished the game and then told their moms they were going for a walk. “All right,” Gloria Dillard said, “but keep an eye on your watch, kids. We need to leave in another hour.” Lacey and Troy both looked at their watches and nodded. “Okay,” they said, and all four kids took off. They weren’t expecting to have to walk quite so far, but they were all in good health and very active, so they didn’t really mind, and Lacey kept prodding them along because she definitely wanted to find that horse.
In the meantime, David had told Noah about the encounter, and Noah hadn’t found it too surprising that Moondancer shied away from a stranger, but the extent of his agitation . . . at least as David explained it . . . did surprise him a little. Well, thought Noah, maybe David had considered it worse than it really was, since he had never seen Moondancer do that before at all. And the fact was that this horse was particularly sensitive and intuitive. That was one of the things that endeared him to Noah so much.
Noah had invited the two boys in for some lemonade and popcorn, and while they were all enjoying that, Lacey and her friends walked by the cottage and spotted Moondancer in the corral. They went running up to the fence and climbed up on it. Noah had glanced out the window and seen them pass, but he didn’t think anything about it until he heard Moondancer. As soon as the kids had mounted the fence, Moondancer, who had been standing right beside it, began to neigh and snort loudly and back away. Noah thought he needed to check on the situation, so he told the boys to go ahead and eat, and he stepped out to check on his horse.
When he saw the kids on the fence and saw Moondancer’s agitation, he knew there had to be some connection, but, for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was. He approached the kids, who hadn’t paid any attention to him until he spoke. “Hello there. Are you kids from around here?”
“Hey mister,” Troy said, “is this your horse?”
“Yes, he’s mine. What can I do for you?”
“I want to ride him,” Lacey said, getting off the fence and walking right up to Noah. She seemed a little cocky in her attitude, Noah thought, but kids today sometimes were so undisciplined at home they couldn’t help turning out that way. Noah shook his head.
“I’m sorry, young lady, but Moondancer doesn’t let strangers ride him.”
“I saw those other two boys riding him, and they’re nothing but big babies. I know how to ride, because I go to my grandpa’s farm once a month, and we ride all the time.”
While she had been talking, Moondancer had still been rearing and snorting in agitation, and Noah knew the horse had to be reacting to these children. There was no way he could allow them to get on his back. He’d throw them off instantly. “I’m sorry,” he said again, “but Moondancer is agitated at your being close to him for some reason, and it wouldn’t be safe for you to ride him.”
“Well, I’ve ridden horses that stomp and rear up sometimes,” Lacey answered. “I know how to ride them. And if you let those other boys ride, you should let me ride too!” she added stomping her foot a little. But Noah shook his head again.
“Not today. If you’re here another time, and Moondancer seems quiet and peaceful around you, we’ll think about it then, if we get your parents’ permission, but there won’t be any riding today.”
“Come on, Lacey,” her brother said. “We’re going to be late getting back to Mom if we stay much longer anyway. You don’t have time to ride today.”
“Oh, Mom won’t care, and it’s not fair if they get to ride and not me.” She turned back to Noah. “It’s not fair!” she shouted at him, stomping her foot again. By that time, her brother was pulling on her arm. “Come on, Sis. Maybe next time.” But as he pulled her away slowly, the other kids turning to leave too, Lacey looked back at Noah again. There was something in her eyes that made Noah think he should know the girl, but he couldn’t place her. He didn’t think he had met her on the beach or at church before. But something . . . .
He turned to go back into the cottage now, and was just opening the front door to do so when Lacey ran back from her group of friends, heading straight for the fence again. Noah didn’t see that she had a big rock in her hand until she was right up to the fence. Suddenly she raised her arm, shouting, “You stupid horse!” and threw the rock right at Moondancer. The rock hit him on the shoulder, sending him into a frenzy of agitation, and Noah ran toward Lacey.
“Hey, you stop that right now and get out of here!” he said, his anger barely under control. “And don’t you ever come back here, do you understand me? I will not ever let you ride Moondancer now . . . not for any reason. Now go on!”
Lacey turned toward him, those eyes that he thought he should recognize burning at him. “You’ll be sorry!” she spat out at him. “You’ll see! You’ll be sorry!” And then she ran back to her little group farther down the beach. Noah stepped into the corral and settled Moondancer, checking his shoulder. It was a minor wound, and quickly taken care of, but something in Noah’s spirit was disturbed far more deeply than was understandable to him. He wasn’t sure what it was, and in the midst of trying to figure it out, he heard David’s voice right behind him.
“Did she hurt Moondancer, Noah?” he asked tentatively. “We saw her from the window when she threw the rock. Is he hurt bad?”
Noah turned to the two boys who had come up beside him by then, and he smiled at the tender concern for the horse in their faces. What a difference in children, Noah thought. No wonder Moondancer took to David immediately, and didn’t like that little spitfire of girl at all. He chuckled at the thought a little and answered David. “No, Dave, he’s not really hurt. I put a little salve on his shoulder, and he’ll be all right. Did you guys finish your snack?”
“Yeah, thanks,” they both answered at once. “I guess we need to go home,” David said then, “but will Moondancer be able to ride tomorrow?”
“I’m pretty sure he will,” Noah answered. “I’ll give you a call in the morning and tell you how his shoulder is, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, beaming. Then he reached up and rubbed the stallion’s nose. “Don’t worry, Boy. Trent and I love you, and we’d never hurt you.” The horse moved closer to David and nuzzled his neck, blowing gently the way he always did when the boy petted him.
“He knows that, Dave,” Noah said, tousling the blond head. Then he reached out and patted Trent’s shoulder. “You boys run on and enjoy the rest of your day together now.”
“Okay,” they chorused and turned to leave the corral. “See you tomorrow,” David called as they started down the beach toward the lighthouse.
“See you then,” Noah called in answer, patting Moondancer once more and turning toward his own cottage.
Gloria Dillard sat in a folding lawn chair with her friend, waiting for the children to return. She had been concerned the last couple of weeks about Lacey and Troy’s attitudes. They seemed to be more impatient and foul tempered than they used to be, and they didn’t mind well at all sometimes. Nick’s mother had said the same thing about her son when she had been talking to Gloria one day. Of course, they knew the children were going through those years when everything was changing, and that meant emotions could run pretty wild at times. Both mothers had decided that the age factor was probably the biggest cause. Still, when Lacey came back to their picnic site looking like a severe storm in the making and wouldn’t talk to her about it at all, her mother felt another twinge of concern all the same.
As Lacey read to her small group on Monday morning, she found herself absorbed by the story again, lost in the world of sorcery, feeling almost as if she were Sally Stone. She liked that feeling. It gave her a feeling of importance — and even better — a sense of power. But suddenly, she found herself reading about the time that Sally had put a spell on a neighbor’s dog because it had barked and growled at her and wouldn’t let her go into that person’s yard. She had called on the forces of darkness to drive the dog out of its mind momentarily and send it running into the street right in front of a truck, so that it was killed.
Lacey stopped reading. She looked up from the book, but her eyes did not focus on the students she had been reading to or on anything else in the room. She was looking away from all of that, envisioning her own revenge — on a horse — and his owner. She laughed gleefully now and whispered to herself, “You won’t dance for much longer, Moondancer. I’ll send you to a watery grave, and then you won’t be able to give anybody a ride.”
The younger students that had been listening to her read just looked at her curiously. They realized she had stopped reading, but thought she was getting ready to explain something to them about the witchcraft in the story, because she often did that. Lacey knew a lot about witches and their spells. A couple of their older brothers and sisters knew Lacey and Troy and knew that they got a big allowance, so they were able to order all kinds of witchcraft things from the Internet to practice with.
Some of the kids didn’t really believe the things she told them about the power of spells and curses, but most of them did. However, most of them, even though they loved hearing the Sally Stone stories, still didn’t want to get any closer to real witches and spells than the book itself. They hadn’t had enough experience to know that if they continued to involve themselves in the stories, they would come under the influence of the forces behind the stories and be drawn deeper into the occult world. So they sat with open mouths and bated breath whenever she told them some of the true things she knew about in the dark world of wizardry.
Later that afternoon, Lacey got out one of her spell books, and the book on incantations and secret potions that Miss Parker had found for her, and by the time the Middle School Order of the Magic Arts met the following night, she was ready to enlist their help to put a deadly spell on Moondancer. They were getting pretty effective at putting spells on animals by now. Most of the time they did it just for fun, because it gave them a feeling of power and control. But this time, Lacey intended for the spell to do some lasting damage.
As the group chanted and called on the powers of darkness, they didn’t really see anything particularly wrong with what they were doing. The six Sally Stone books they’d read had made all of this kind of activity seem normal, at least for anyone who had an interest in sorcery anyway. And although they couldn’t get quite enough information from the books alone to always know which potions and enchantments to use, they had been very successful, since money was no real hindrance to Lacey and Troy, in getting more detailed material via the occult sites on the Internet.
Of course, Lacey and Troy had had to sign up to become members of a secret organization in order to get some of the material from the Internet. And they had had to mail in a personal article of their own to that organization, so that they would be attached to it forever, but that didn’t matter. It opened up a much broader world of sorcery to them, and that’s what they wanted. And then, of course, Miss Parker was so thrilled about how far they had advanced in responding to their inner spirit guides, just as she had taught them, that she encouraged them to satisfy their curious minds by ordering even more books and materials for them through her library connections. Two of the books she’d ordered for Lacey had been written by real witches.
So now they called on the powers of the dark arts to work with them as they cast the spell on Noah Bennett’s beautiful stallion. They called for Moondancer to become totally confused in his mind and to be driven straight into the ocean, not stopping for any reason until he had drowned and was dead.
The next afternoon, David walked down to Noah’s cottage, as he was in the habit of doing now, and Noah helped him saddle Moondancer for their ride. Serenity had given her nephew perimeters for his rides, and David was always willing to obey those perimeters, because he knew that it meant he’d be allowed to ride Moondancer all summer. He wasn’t sure what he’d do when Noah left. He didn’t like to think about that because he’d not only come to love this horse; he’d come to love Noah too. But today, he was able to put all of those worries out of his mind as he prepared to mount the stallion.
For some reason Moondancer seemed a little skittish today. Noah noticed it, but he didn’t credit it as having any particular cause, and the horse nuzzled David’s hand and shoulder just like he always did, so David wasn’t the problem. He decided he’d walk along with them for a while, though, just to be sure. “Have you noticed that Moondancer is a little skittish today, Dave?”
“Yeah, he’s not sick though is he?” he asked with genuine concern in his eyes.
“No, he doesn’t show any signs of being sick, and he obviously still considers you a friend. But I think I’ll walk along with the two of you for a bit and make sure everything’s normal.”
“Okay,” David agreed readily. “Do you want to ride too?”
“No, I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s probably nothing more than the fact that he senses some unpleasant weather or something. We do have a bank of clouds a few miles out that could bring us a thunderstorm or two. But it doesn’t look like anything dangerous, and it’s a long way out yet. May not even get this far,” he answered as he lifted David to the saddle. They walked along together to the end of David’s territory on one end and then back as far as Noah’s cottage. Moondancer seemed to be himself, so Noah told David he could go ahead and have a good ride back the other way, and he would follow them, after talking a few minutes with the man who lived in the cottage next door.
David gave Moondancer his customary signal to go for a run, and the stallion took off. Not quite a quarter of a mile down the beach, though, Moondancer stopped suddenly, almost dislodging David, and Noah, seeing it, instinctively began to run that way. But in the next instant, Moondancer had reared back, almost like a wild horse, and David fell off into the sand. He seemed to have landed on his bottom, so Noah had hopes that he wasn’t seriously hurt, but he couldn’t believe what was going on with his horse.
The stallion kept rearing and making wild noises; then suddenly, he took off straight into the ocean. He ran as if he were being driven. By that time, David was back on his feet and calling for the horse, running after him straight into the ocean. The surf was making a good deal of noise periodically, but Noah was close enough now to hear David’s shouts for Moondancer to come back. Noah, in his turn, shouted at David. The boy was already swimming beyond the depth where he would be safe, and the sea was becoming choppy.
Suddenly, panic seized Noah. His midsection tightened with a fear that he hadn’t known since last year. He loved this little boy, and he was about to see him drown before his very eyes if he couldn’t get to him. His immediate response was to pray, of course, which he did fervently, but he also ran like the wind. He’d always stayed in good shape physically, and he’d had to literally run down a criminal or two in his time, but this run was even more critical to him. This run was life or death for David. “Please, Lord, keep him safe. Please, let me get to him in time.”
Noah didn’t even try to follow Moondancer. David was all that mattered to him. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Serenity was running toward him where he was just entering the water himself. He half turned back toward her and yelled above the surf. “Stay there! I’ll get him; I promise!”
His next words were in prayer. “Oh, dear Jesus, help me keep that promise!”
David was floundering now, unable to fight the strength of the waves that far out. It had been only a couple of minutes, but he had gone much farther than he could have realized, his eyes focused only on Moondancer. Noah saw David’s head go under, and he plowed through the rough waves with everything in him. Finally, after what seemed a horrible nightmare, he reached the boy. David’s head had gone under once more, but he was bobbing up again, barely. Noah reached him and grabbed him, holding him so tightly that it must have been a miracle, he thought later, that he hadn’t cut off the rest of David’s breath.
It was a struggle, but slowly, finally, Noah got them back into easier waves, closer to shore, and then at last, he was close enough he could stand in the surf and carry David normally. By that time, Serenity was that far out herself, soaked to her waist, tears streaming down her face. She met Noah and David, throwing her arms around both of them, panting for breath. Noah was panting too, so much so that he could hardly speak, but he managed to at least reassure her. “He’s alive, Serie. And he’s conscious.”
They made their way back to the beach, and Serenity grabbed the one towel she had had around her shoulders as she had been walking toward Noah’s cabin. They laid David on his stomach to help him get rid of as much water as possible, and then wrapped him in the towel. He was shivering, but Noah held him. Serenity looked at him, her eyes still filled with shock. “What happened?”
Noah just shook his head. “Moondancer . . .” he stopped. He had forgotten his horse in his desperate fight to save David. He looked back out to the stallion now. The beautiful white horse was beginning to flounder, being much farther out than David had been and in much more dangerous waves. “Dear God, please,” he said in anguish now, “please help him! . . . help us! What can I do, Lord?”
Serenity was praying too. “Please Father, Moondancer is one of Your creatures. And he belongs to your faithful servant. Please save him!”
Suddenly Noah sprang to his feet, and shouted, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I break this spell on Moondancer, and I break the power of these demonic spirits that have been assigned to kill my horse! I command every one of you spirits to stop this attack now! Moondancer belongs to me, and, in the name of Jesus, I command you to leave him right now and never return!” Serenity looked at him with her mouth open. Was that what had happened? There had been a spell placed on the horse? She knew witchcraft was real, but she had never had any firsthand experience with it. How did Noah know?
But she didn’t have time to voice any of her thoughts because, suddenly, Moondancer turned around. He was still floundering somewhat, but he was at least making an attempt to swim toward shore rather than farther out into the ocean. Serenity kept praying, and she could hear David’s shivering voice praying also, as she held him tightly in her arms. Gradually, the horse gained momentum. He must surely be exhausted, thought Serenity. Only the Lord could give him the strength to swim back all that way.
But by now Noah was wading out into the water again. He couldn’t just stand there and watch this horse that he had bonded so closely with struggle all the way back to shore — if he could get all the way back. He could hear Serenity shout at him, “Please be careful, Noah!” But he kept going. He was swimming now, moving steadily toward Moondancer, and finally, by the time the horse was far enough to shore to have his shoulders above the water, Noah reached him. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to physically help the horse make it in, but he could talk to him and pet him and give him the encouragement to keep trying, so that was what he did, as he swam beside the flagging horse.
At last . . . solid ground. Noah dragged himself as far as he could before he collapsed on the beach. Serenity and David were right there, helping him up onto his hands and knees, so that he could at least crawl all the way out of the water. Moondancer stood beside him now, panting and snorting, obviously exhausted, but seeming to be his normal self. Finally he sidled up close to Noah and nuzzled his shoulder. Noah reached up and patted the horse’s nose. “Good boy, Moondancer. Good boy,” was all he was able to get out, and that in a breathless voice.
When he had recovered more of his breath, he straightened the upper part of his body, although he was still kneeling in the sand. “Get David inside, and get him warm, Serenity. I’m all right. But David’s body has been through a shock. You need to get him dry and get him something warm to drink. Take him to my cottage. It’s closer than the lighthouse.” He could see the deep concern in her eyes, and the gratitude — and perhaps — he’d like to believe he saw love there — but he was too exhausted to be able to know for sure. “Go on,” he said to her now. “I’ll follow as soon as I get more breath back.”
She dropped to her knees and embraced him, kissing him on the cheek, her tears mingling with the salt water on his face. “Thank you, Noah,” she managed to say through the tears. “You saved David’s life! How can I ever thank you?” Suddenly she was kissing one cheek and then the other, and then his lips. It wasn’t a romantic embrace; it was all the overwhelming emotions inside of her needing an outlet, but it was like new life to Noah. “Thank you,” she breathed out one more time and then turned to David again. He was still shivering a little, so she wrapped the towel more tightly around him, holding him to her side as they began the walk back to Noah’s cottage.
When they got there, Serenity grabbed two more towels. She dried David thoroughly, rubbing him briskly, and then found one of Noah’s heavier shirts to put on him, just as Noah had done the night of the storm. Then she dried herself as well as she could and moved to the phone to call Gramps. She told him as briefly as possible what had happened, and he promised to be down in just a few minutes with dry clothes. Then Serenity put milk in the microwave for David and began a pot of coffee for her and Noah.
When it started to perk, she glanced out the window and saw Noah leading Moondancer across the yard toward the corral. She knew Noah wouldn’t come inside until he had made sure Moondancer was all right and had gotten him warmed up too, so she grabbed the two heaviest beach towels she could find and ran outside with them. Noah was just removing the saddle from Moondancer when he saw her coming toward him with the towels. “Serenity, go back inside. I’ll be in shortly.” But she ignored his words and reached up and threw one of the towels around him, pulling it tightly around his chest. Then she threw the other one across Moondancer’s back and turned and ran toward the cottage without saying a word.
Find Chapter Eleven here tomorrow.