As Carrie pulled into the dirt driveway in front of the house, she glanced towards the horse barn. Off to the side she noticed a few fence posts down and cursed. She parked under the trees and quickly hauled her groceries inside. “Mum? Where are you?”
Unceremoniously tossing the bag and milk jug onto the kitchen counter, she swept off towards the bedrooms. “Mum?”
“Ah Care, could you give me a hand?” Her mother’s muffled voice drifted out from her bedroom.
The sight of her mother sitting on the floor confronted Carrie as she pushed open the door. She rushed over, “Are you all right, mum?”
“Afraid so,” her mother grinned at her cheerily, “My bones just went all to rattling like a snake.” Joyce was always a cheerful woman, even when she’d fallen ill two years before. Her blue eyes sparkled as little creases puckered the skin around them.
“Oh that wasn’t just you, mum. That was an earthquake.” Carrie helped her mother up onto her unsteady feet.
“Earthquake! What poppycock. We don’t get earthquakes here.”
“Well we have now.” Carrie thought perhaps she sounded a bit too stern. She’d certainly not inherited her mother’s cheer. “Let’s get you out to your rocker, mum, I’ve got groceries to tend and horses to chase.”
As her mother hobbled out, leaning heavily on Carrie, she cackled.
Carrie raised an eyebrow, glancing at her face.
“Let’s hope we get another quake then, I won’t have to rock myself!”
Carrie blew some strands of loose hair from her face, and smiled despite herself.
After making sure Joyce was settled comfortably, Carrie returned to the kitchen and put the groceries away. As she was finishing, a rusted red truck pulled in the driveway. She felt her skin tingle and her chest tighten, “Looks like the cavalry has arrived.”
“What’s that, Care?”
“Oh, Garrett is here to help with the horses Will you be all right for a bit, mum?”
“Of course, honey. You be nice to that boy now!”
Carrie smirked at her mother and headed out to the front porch, letting the door slam loudly behind her.
Garrett, who had just stepped out of the truck, nearly tripped at the sound. He looked up at her face and when their eyes met, Carrie’s heart fluttered. His shaggy dark hair hung out from underneath his cowboy hat. Brown eyes shone from his sun bronzed face. “Hey,” he started, stepping towards her, then hesitating, “Is Joyce all right? I wanted to check after the… earthquake.”
She ran a hand down the railing, stepping down slowly, “Yeah Garrett, she’s safe. We’re fine.”
“Good, that’s good…” He kicked at the dirt under his feet, clearly unsure what to do next.
They had been an item once.
It felt so long ago, though it was just a few years. High school sweethearts, and nothing kept them apart. That is, until she’d wanted to move away. She’d tried to convince him to come with her, she’d felt stifled by life in the small town. She wanted to get out in the world, explore, maybe go to college.
Garrett, however, was firmly rooted out here in the country. His family and farm were all he wanted in life, besides her. She couldn’t do it though, as nice as everyone was in the town she’d simply felt she was drowning. Garrett was her only solace. She’d broken things off with him three weeks after they graduated high school.
He’d been devastated.
Secretly, she was too. But she just could not stay there a moment longer. The day after that, she’d packed up her things and left.
It was cruel of fate to let her escape only to force her back no more than three years later when her mother’s illness got too severe. But Joyce had no one else. Carrie’s father was long dead, and her older brother had taken off at just 16 years old.
They had barely heard from him since.
Carrie had managed to phone him once about their ill mother. He’d promised to come back soon, but they hadn’t received a word since that day. She pushed aside the memories, regarding Garrett once more “Well, since you’re here, mind helping me find the horses?”
Garrett glanced at the barn, clearly spotting the same posts down, “Of course Carrie, anything…” he trailed off.
Carrie inhaled sharply, “Let’s get on it then.”
After retrieving a four wheeler and some gear, they set out across the fields. By now the sun was scorching hot and Carrie found herself wishing she’d grabbed a hat. The breeze from driving along up the hill didn’t do much to cool her down. When they finally reached the highest point on the farm, she stopped and took a look around.
“Over in the north corner,” Garrett pointed.
Sure enough, a dozen horses could be seen through the shimmering heat.
“Well that’s weird,” Carrie mumbled, unsure if Garrett even heard her. She revved the engine and headed down towards the herd.
All twelve horses stood motionless in the bright sunlight, facing the same way, seemingly oblivious to the shade just a short distance away.
Carrie stopped a few dozen yards away, hoping not to spook them, though not a single one even flicked an ear. Hopping off the four wheeler, she addressed Garrett, “I’m going to try to ride Chess back toward the barn. If he goes, the rest should follow. You take the quad.”
Garrett stared past her, shielding his eyes to see better, “What are they looking at?”
Carrie grabbed her tack from behind him, “No idea, but it’s too hot to be standing around here wondering.”
Garrett hopped up then, helping her carry the saddle. They walked straight for the horses, Carrie whistling to the herd as they went. Finally a few seemed to take notice of the approaching pair, but none moved.
“Come on Chess, let’s get back to the barn now…” She stopped suddenly, surprising Garrett.
“Carrie, what..” He paused beside her.
Out there, in the middle of the searing heat, they felt a chilly breeze as if they’d stepped into an air conditioned room.
“What the devil?” Garrett glanced around.
“Tell me you feel that too…”
“Of course I do, but where’s it coming from?”
They walked slowly around the herd, searching, but found nothing out of the ordinary.
Carrie gave up after a few minutes and walked up to Chess. “I don’t know what you’ve found critter, but we best get back home now.”
It took a lot to convince the horses to leave their small oasis of cool air, but once Chess turned, heading for home, the rest came out of their trance and followed. The smothering blanket of hot air returned within a few yards, but Carrie shivered anyway, failing to shake the creeping feeling of unease. Once the last horse left the strange bubble of coolness, Garrett started up the four wheeler once more to lead them back.