By Maryum Khan ’23
It looked half dead, just swaying in place. With a layer of fine sand from hoof to knee, it failed to blend in with the landscape surrounding it. The endless horizon beyond him was just the background of his ominous presence.
The sudden arrival of the creature froze Calvin in his tracks. His roan horse seemed unfazed, but she let her hooves sink into the sand beside him.
The green horse was to the right of Ruth and the party. Her heart would’ve stopped beating if she hadn’t felt his presence beforehand. She could sense him in the boundaries of her soul and felt one with his body.
Ruth knew everything he was thinking. Ruth knew more about him then she ever knew about herself. She could see he wasn’t any kind of land horse – he was a kelpie.
She knew about kelpies. She had never seen one, but as a child, her love of knowledge of the Magic World was unquenchable. Kelpies were lovers of water; down to the very drop, it was sacred to their kind.
A painting she’d seen in her youth of a kelpie swelled up to the surface of her mind.
Every stroke of paint decorating the magnificent creature was there for a reason. From brushing in every hair on its mane, to layering the paint onto each muscle, the masterpiece breathed with life. It illustrated the kelpie posing on the beach, its ankles caressed in saltwater.
The very prospect of a kelpie being more than a foot from water and not shifting into its human form was unheard of. Why on Earth was this kelpie following Ruth through the desert?
With his neck arched down and his muzzle towards Ruth, the horse was able to see Maggie with the two other travelers. Magnetically, he angled his head to rest his eyes back on Ruth, but it’s like he didn’t need to. Ruth could recognize the aura of him inside her head, just as much as she could feel herself inside his mind.
“Don’t move – I’ll tell the others,” Calvin whispers. The small group ahead didn’t have a clue about the kelpie. When Calvin spoke, his voice shook. Ruth honestly didn’t know whether it was confusion or fear leading the undertones of his voice. Either way, she didn’t feel sympathetic. She felt safe with the kelpie around, she felt a history of knowing the horse just by a few seconds of his presence under the boiling sun.
Besides, why should she feel any pity for these travelers? They attacked her! She has no idea where she is, or how long it’s been. She wasn’t angry (she didn’t get angry), she was just… disgruntled. Of course she shouldn’t feel concern for these people! Of course she shouldn’t.
Slowly, Calvin reached behind his neck to pull out a Sender’s Ink capsule. Ruth knew its power, but it couldn’t stop her escape. Nobody knew she was connected to the horse’s soul; nobody knew he wouldn’t hurt her.
So, when Calvin turned the magical Capsule, letting the bright blue Ink reach the tip of the pen-like container, it didn’t phase Ruth. Not even an ounce of fear was wasted when he wrote along his wrist and looked up. The boy in the group ahead suddenly looked up as Calvin’s hand gripped his arm. Finally, he flung up his sleeve and to see the cerulean ink Calvin had dripped onto him. The blue ink was so fresh it still fell on the gold sand. If the boy hadn’t had the panic attack he got from the Sender’s Ink, Ruth wouldn’t have noticed him. It seemed Maggie had the same difficulty acknowledging his presence; she didn’t notice him even while he stopped walking to read the message. After the brown-haired boy stopped, he didn’t continue walking, instead he rotated and just stood there, paralyzed.
After a second of gawking, the boy turned to Maggie. She jumped clean out of her skin when he touched her shoulder. From such a distance, the emotion on her face when she spoke was foggy. The entire group, however, turned around in unison and saw the green horse.
Frozen. They were all frozen in the heat of the desert. That’s when the kelpie started.
Like water bursting through a dam, he ripped through the sand towards Ruth and the horse she sat on.
“Poda, go!” Ruth’s lungs momentarily shut down as the roan horse obeyed and turned.
Bam! The kelpie rammed into Poda’s quarters and the horse screamed. Ruth slid from Poda’s back, but her hands were still attached to the pommel of the saddle. Poda was swerving and they were still connected. Her heart hadn’t stopped pounding and her head hurt when it dawned on her that she could die.
Ruth could die, crushed by a horse.
The kelpie found her fear the very second it appeared. In response, after connecting with Poda’s hindquarters, he turned fluidly around Ruth and pressed his chest against the horse’s shoulder. With a forceful exhale, he pushed Poda upright again.
Of course, Poda was in absolute shock. She brought her front legs forward into the air and Ruth, bent to accommodate the rope she and Poda shared, screamed as she was lifted from the ground.
It wasn’t by much, but she could see from the other side of Poda’s back that Calvin was struggling to pick himself up. It looked like the sun burned all the moisture he had in him; knocking him down just sent the ball rolling. Even Ruth was seeing double after the jump the horse made. Even the kelpie was on the floor, dizzy from the collision and the movement. Ruth’s scream, however, brought him to his feet. The moment the kelpie got up to Poda’s height, she shrieked.
“Calm, girl.” One command from Calvin brought Poda to her knees. With a pause, Ruth kneels down to untie herself from the saddle.
She removed the rope from the head of the saddle. Her wrists were still attached to each other, but taking it off became much easier. Ruth’s hands were shaky – the other division of the group was running back, towards the commotion. But, there was nothing to worry about; the kelpie was watching them intently. They didn’t dare come too close.
With Poda being rational, Ruth trusted that if she sat down she wouldn’t be in danger. So, she squatted next to the raisin horse and continued untying her hands until the rope fell onto the sand.
The sand floated from the floor and made the only noise sound audible for miles.
It was too quiet.
The kelpie screamed and Ruth made eye contact with him. His nostrils flared and then she felt Calvin’s arm close around her, gently pressing a blade to her neck.
“Don’t come ANY closer, beast.” Calvin leaned down, his breath moving Ruth’s hair. “You’re connected to a kelpie?”
“What – what’s that supposed to mean?” Ruth tried to turn her head but the edge of the blade pressed painfully on her neck. It took her a second to realize he wasn’t going to respond.
Rude. Sure, Ruth knew there was an unspoken formality of speech between her and the boy with the knife on her neck, but he knew about the connection. The kelpie and her.
What about him? Was he connected to somebody?
Leaving Poda sitting serenely, Calvin slowly pulled Ruth off the ground. The kelpie shifted at the movement.
“I said, don’t move.” Calvin’s heart mimicked Ruth’s elevated pulse. The feeling of his chest pressed against hers was much different from the feeling of the knife pressed against her.
Calvin’s command mocked the kelpie and the very next thing the kelpie did was disappear. He completely just vanished.
Well, maybe not entirely disappeared. He was still here, no more than 10 feet from Ruth. The tension amongst the group reached a new high, Ruth being the only one who knew where the kelpie was. She could laugh at their panic-stricken faces, but Calvin was right where she wanted him. He loosened his grip unconsciously and the knife was held slack.
“Come out, or Ruth dies.”
How’d he know Ruth’s name?
She didn’t bother asking; they’d be giving her whatever she wanted to know in just a few moments. The kelpie stopped shifting in her headspace and came to an understanding. He made up his mind and had a plan. The kelpie was ready and finally, so was Ruth.
Calvin’s grip held, but it held in vain. The ground came up towards Ruth and she jammed her elbow into Calvin’s stomach.
The knife fell, and Ruth snuck under Calvin’s arms and grabbed for it. Her hand went past the knife and struck sand. “Ugh!”
The gray-green waterhorse reappeared and ran straight for Ruth. She panicked for a second, thinking (again) the worst, but her hands tentatively reached out. Seeing the oncoming animal, Calvin evaded with a roll.
Ruth squeezed her eyes shut as the sound of disturbed sand came closer. Finally, the palms of her hands touched the kelpie. The cold, sticky fur repulsed her, but Ruth’s hands were already locked around his neck.
She knew nothing about horses. Nothing! She’s never been this close to a horse, and she had no idea what to do with herself. Her arms were the only thing keeping her from being squished under the massive hooves of the kelpie. Her legs curled and grazed the sand as they galloped.
The boy, the old man, and Maggie all tensed when Ruth and the kelpie come barreling towards them. They didn’t move, though. The kelpie veered to the left just before the expected crash. The group relaxed. From the corner of her eye, Ruth could see Calvin, kneeling… and smiling.
When the green horse slowed and turned towards Poda and the group, Ruth got a hold and climbed onto the kelpie’s back.
Breaker. My name is Breaker, named after foaming oceans.
Ruth sat up straight and let the waves of Breaker’s mind wash over her. His mind was beautiful. Not an ocean; it was even deeper. She could hear the waves roll towards the shore, filling the gaps between her thoughts. She could feel the water running over her grief, her pain. How had she lived 16 years without feeling this?
A moment later, Poda got up. Breaker’s mental waves retreated from Ruth’s head and she called them back desperately. They cautiously returned with their euphoric mist and roamed her shores once again.
Ruth turns to Poda. She was staring into the setting sun; she’d been dead silent through all of this. Ruth got goosebumps.
From this distance, Ruth could see each one of them in their own light. Calvin, kneeling like an injured animal. Maggie, holding the fallen knife; her soft eyes made it hard for Ruth to see her use the weapon. The other boy was also prominent in the soft pink of the sky, despite his bland, brown hair like Ruth’s. Finally, the old man. The wrinkles covering his skin was the only thing that made him look old. Even his posture was lively. Whatever brought them together must’ve been powerful; they were too different to know each other without some other force.
Finally, Ruth spoke and lets her voice ring out, “Who are you and why am I here?”
Nobody, to Ruth’s annoyance, said anything.
You-” she pointed at Calvin- “Answer me.”
His ears pulled back and his smile widened.
Sand sunk back down to the floor as Calvin got up and brushed himself off. “Ruth, darling, we were sent to get you. Your parents sent us.”
Ruth’s breath caught in her throat.
Breaker’s waves went dry.