I'm not running late like I usually am. Maybe that's why I look in the river, maybe that's why I stop when I see it. A dark-coloured raincoat, the arms spread wide, floating, hood-first down the river. And then it starts to rain.
Fifteen-year-old Annie needs to get to her basketball match, but the police have cordoned off her road. Is her neighbour, who she grew up with, still alive? What has he done to have the police after him? A murder investigation brings new people to Annie's wild West Coast town, including a dark-haired boy riding the most amazing horse she has ever seen.
Reproduced with permission from Rain Fall by Ella West (Allen & Unwin Children's Books) Released 2 January 2018
Blue whinnies and I turn around. Another horse is on the beach. It’s jet black, and it’s galloping full tilt at an old tree that’s been washed up on the beach from a flood. The tree is standing almost upright, its huge root ball sitting on the sand, a broken trunk above it. The branches are long gone. Blue stops and watches, and I let him. The rider has the reins loose, using his body to urge the horse on. When they get to the tree the horse skirts around it like it’s done it a million times before, almost turning on the spot before galloping back to where it started, sand flying under its hooves. There they stop, the rider rubbing the horse’s neck and collecting the reins, his horse’s sides heaving under the western saddle.
The rider has the reins loose, using his body to urge the horse on. When they get to the tree the horse skirts around it like it’s done it a million times before, almost turning on the spot before galloping back to where it started . . .
Blue whinnies again (thanks for that, Blue) and they both look our way. Blue starts walking towards them and I push him into a trot, rising perfectly as pony club taught me. I’m still following the footprints in the sand, scuffing them out, but I can see they stop where the black horse has been working. Pete must have walked past the driftwood tree this morning.
‘An old racehorse,’ the rider says when we get close enough.
I stop Blue and push his wet mane over to hide his racing brand, white against his chestnut-brown neck, before I think about what I’m doing.
‘He’s not old,’ I reply.
‘He looks nice. Is he fast?’
‘He can be.’
‘Want to race?’
I look at him. Blue shifts under me, his ears forward, as if he knows exactly what the rider has suggested. The boy is older than me, maybe by a year, two. His riding jacket is done up tightly around him; he has black riding pants and boots. He’s not wearing a helmet, but nor am I. I usually do but I forgot it today. The rain has darkened his hair. His face is tanned, so he’s not from here. No one gets a suntan in this weather. And he’s smiling at me, or it’s really more of a grin. White teeth. And then he turns his horse, facing it away down the Fairdown Beach, and suddenly they’re off.
The rain has darkened his hair. His face is tanned, so he’s not from here. No one gets a suntan in this weather. And he’s smiling at me, or it’s really more of a grin.
Blue moves beneath me, a cautious step, then another, waiting for my decision. I sigh, shake my head and give him the smallest nudge with my feet, and he lurches forward with both front legs into a full gallop. I stand up, out of the saddle, shortening the reins, my hands hard up either side of his neck, my face not far above them, raincoat flying. I should have done the zip up.
Although Blue was a pacer, I’ve always thought he should have been a galloper. He’s a thoroughbred in disguise. With his longer stride we soon catch the black horse, which is probably already exhausted from racing around the tree, and the boy looks at me sideways, curious, then urges his black horse on. We’re neck and neck, side by side, maybe a metre apart, galloping down the beach on the hard sand just in front of the waves.
If anyone describes galloping to you as the same as flying, don’t let them fool you. Okay, I’ve never flown, of course, not like a bird, but I imagine it’s not like this. For starters you’re connected to this animal that seems like nothing but fluid, moving muscle beneath you. And you’re connected by only a small section of the soles of your riding boots balancing on the stirrups, the insides of your legs clamped against the moving sides of the horse and your hands gripping the reins. Nothing else. Yet you move as one – horse and rider. Forward. Fast. So fast you can hardly breathe in the air as it rushes past you, so fast the sand beneath you is a blur. And I’m crouching, but it feels as if I’m balancing on a tightrope. One move from me could send us both crashing down. The same with Blue – a sidestep, a stumble on some soft sand, and I’d be off, cartwheeling down the beach. Galloping is trust and honesty between horse and rider and pure, amazing energy.
If anyone describes galloping to you as the same as flying, don’t let them fool you . . . Galloping is trust and honesty between horse and rider and pure, amazing energy.
I could stand up, let go of the reins, put my arms out like wings, my raincoat already flapping behind me, and then maybe it would be like flying. I’ve seen people do that, on YouTube, stand on their horses bareback, do handstands, tricks. But I’ve never tried it. Not yet.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see the boy watching me, but I keep looking between Blue’s ears, looking for anything on the sand that might trip us up, that Blue or the other horse might startle at. But there’s nothing and we keep going, just endless beach in front of us, waves to our left, grey late-afternoon sky somewhere above and the horizon muddled in the misty rain. It’s a day made for galloping.
I can feel Blue ease into his stride. He’s content now to match the other horse. His competitiveness, the desire to win bred into him, is being dampened by his curiosity. And he’s probably getting tired. He’s not used to this. He hasn’t been out of his paddock for days, plus we don’t regularly gallop down the beach. I’m not a thrillseeker and neither is Blue. If anything, he’s a bit of a wimp.
I let my grip on the reins loosen, relax my shoulders. Enjoy it. Blue is managing to keep pace with the black horse, even though it is fitter- looking. It’s not a race anymore, just two horses and their riders going for a gallop in the misty rain. Up ahead, somewhere, is the mouth of the Whareatea River, going out to sea. It’s too deep for the horses to gallop through, even to swim across, when it’s been raining like this. We will have to stop there, but until then it’s just beach and the rhythm of the horses’ hooves on the sand.
But the other horse is suddenly on a collision course with us, the boy’s legs banging hard into mine, his hand reaching out and grabbing at Blue’s reins. Blue almost rears up but I react quickly enough to push him down, my weight forward and down into the saddle. My head snaps back, whiplashed by the abrupt stop.
But the other horse is suddenly on a collision course with us, the boy’s legs banging hard into mine, his hand reaching out and grabbing at Blue’s reins.
‘What did you do that for?’ I yell at the boy, trying to calm Blue, trying to calm myself, trying to stay on and not fall off, the two horses still jostling each other in the drizzle.
‘Look,’ he says, and I do what he says and hear it for the first time over the surf: a helicopter, low, heading straight towards us down the beach.
by Ella West
Published by Allen & Unwin