And for our final Photo Flare story, please enjoy Extreme Maneuvers by Deb Kapke:
Wilbur stomped his feet at nobody in particular, his hooves clacking, as he let out a sharp snort. He had heard rumors and was worried. Preparation was important, but he tended to envision the tasks before him with untold horrors.
Billy was Wilbur’s most loyal friend. He nickered as he walked to his anxious, chestnut buddy. Sometimes Billy liked Wilbur because of his flaws, but mostly he liked when they played.
Wilbur and Billy knew they’d soon have to cross the “water of no returns.” In Wilbur’s mind this was whitewater spilling into rapids over rocky boulders and cliffs. He was certain that the ensuing doom was the reason so many of their friends never returned from their journey the previous year. He thought they were washed away. Crushed on rocks. It was always the young. The small. Not acknowledging to himself that he was older and taller now, Wilbur was sure he would meet the same fate. It could probably happen to anybody. One slip and they’d be done for.
Billy kept a watchful eye on Wilbur. That colt would get them into trouble if he wasn’t careful. He ate in silence, periodically glancing at Wilbur, then at the sky and back to his meal.
Wilbur was getting more and more agitated. Normally one flick of his tail was all it took to evict a fly, but today Wilbur continued twitching long after the flies had departed their shaky perch.
Billy leaned in, nudging Wilbur. The reassuring touch calmed his friend for a moment. They continued to graze. Billy wished they could just run and play.
Billy liked to be prepared as much as Wilbur. Earlier in the day he’d spotted some especially delectable grasses with tasseled tops. They were sweet and chewy and some of the very best he’d ever had. When Wilbur had reached what Billy considered to be the peak of agitation — not even a nudge from his nose could soothe his buddy — he used his whole body to push Wilbur to the spot where the grass with the tassels grew.
“Wilbur, I know what you’re thinking – rocks and rapids. But it will be fine. I promise.”
Wilbur said, “I know no such thing. I know bad things happen. Many never return. They’re very likely crushed on jagged boulders or drowned after being knocked unconscious. My hoof hit a stone one time, and there was splashy water. I almost went down. I’m sure that’s what happened to the ones we never saw again. It’s dangerous. I’ve decided that we should stay.” He flicked his tail at a nonexistent fly.
Billy shook his head. Wilbur was in a bad place. This would take drastic measures.
“Wilbur, I’ll tell you a secret. I wasn’t going to share, but you’re my friend. I don’t want to see you like this.
Wilbur eyed Billy with skepticism. Wilbur thought that Billy worried about him too much, but he indulged him.
Billy gestured and said, “right over here on this little mound—this grass is magic. See how it waves and sparkles. The other grasses don’t do that. This stuff is special.”
Wilbur gave Billy a questioning eye and thought, “here we go.”
Billy went on. “If we eat some of this grass and then hold a piece of it in our teeth above the water as we cross, it will keep us safe.”
Wilbur thought Billy must have very little horse sense to have such convoluted ideas about magical grasses. But the grass smelled appealing, so he nibbled. The flavor was indeed magical. Fresh and moist with nutty nuances as if it had been lightly roasted in the warm summer sun. He relaxed his ears and took a larger bite.
Wilber and Billy chewed in unison. They’d almost forgotten their impending departure when they heard clicking and, “hyah!” It was time.
Billy grabbed a piece of tasseled grass to hold in his mouth and urged Wilbur to do the same. Wilbur flattened his ears in defiance as the Saltwater Cowboys came to guide all the ponies across the waters of the Assateague Channel—what the ponies called the “water of no returns.”
With the tassel of grass sticking half out of Billy’s mouth, Wilbur thought he looked ridiculous. He nickered. Billy hammed it up to make Wilbur laugh even more—raising the tassel high and prancing around him.
“Give it a try,” Billy urged through clenched teeth.
The cowboys were getting impatient with stragglers. Wilbur wouldn’t get another chance. He relented, grabbing a tassel in his teeth. Together Wilbur and Billy trotted to blend into the herd that was now ahead.
When they got to the water, Wilbur’s nostrils flared. He stopped short, forcing a filly named Buttercup Alice to bump into him.
Billy, two pinto legs in the water and two out, looked back at Wilbur and said, “I promise. You will not get hurt. The foals that we never see again just moved to new homes. You know that. You’ll be fine. I don’t want us to get separated.”
Wilbur looked out at the water. It was slack tide so it barely moved. He shifted his grip on the grass and closed his eyes before moving forward.
The water was cool and refreshing. They were neck deep when Wilbur’s hoof snagged something deep in the water. He flailed but remembered the tassel. He lifted his head. That’s when it worked its magic.
Holding the grass high above the water, Wilbur felt a tingling other than water on his back. Small growths started near his shoulders. He gripped the grass tighter. Wings sprouted from both sides. It gave Billy a bit of a fright. Then he stretched his own wings wide and flapped, splashing the water around them. Wilbur lifted away first, and they flew out together. Looking back at the water, Wilbur said, “It doesn’t look so bad from here.” When he realized they were 30 feet high, he let out a squeal.
Deb Kapke writes speculative fiction and blogs on a variety of topics including writing and juggling a busy schedule. She lives near the nation’s capital in a temporarily windowless home with her super guy, amazing daughter, and two hungry cats.