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Authors: Alyssa Brugman

For Sale Or Swap (14 page)

BOOK: For Sale Or Swap
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With her legs, she pushed Echo forward and he
lurched away to the side underneath her. Shelby felt a
prickle of sweat across her lip.

'He's got a bit of go in him, so be gentle,' advised
Hayley.

Shelby's heart was hammering in her chest as she
followed the other girls towards the ring. Mrs Crook
walked beside her, holding Echo's rein steady. The
stirrup was slippery and slid out from under Shelby's
boot. She thrust her foot in it, and accidentally kicked
Echo in the belly. He danced away to the side and
Shelby felt her seat slipping on the smooth saddle.
'Steady,' she said, jerking the reins.

Mrs Crook and Hayley exchanged a glance.

'Maybe you should ride him in the practice arena
first?' Hayley suggested.

Mrs Crook shook her head. 'There's no time.'

They were at the fence now. Hayley and Erin
turned their horses away towards the Galloway ring.
Shelby pushed Echo in the direction of the other
ponies. Mrs Crook waited at the gate, frowning and
rubbing her hands together.

'It's just you and me now, matey,' Shelby said.

The first part wasn't so hard. There were about
twenty ponies in the ring and it was just a matter of
following what they were doing. Her stirrup slipped
again, but it was the one on the outside and she
managed to slide her foot back into it before they
changed to the other side. The canter was a bit hairy.
Echo surged forward around the outside, much faster
than the other horses, but Shelby leaned back in the
saddle and eventually he slowed down and she relaxed
into it. After a few laps she was called into the ring
behind two other ponies. They stood and waited for
the judge to make another selection before the rest of
the ponies were dismissed.

Shelby watched the first two complete their
workout. The first one struck off on the wrong leg in
the canter. The second one wouldn't rein back, and
tossed its head.

Then it was Shelby's turn. She tried to concentrate
on what the judge was saying, but her mind was all in
a whirl. She could feel her heartbeat in the side of
her neck. Echo was champing at his bit and stamping
his feet.

'Got it?' the judge asked. Shelby didn't, but she
nodded anyway.

She started off in a trot. That was easy enough.
She quickly looked down to check she was rising on
the right beat. Then she sat back, squeezed her legs
and Echo started to canter. She kept a tight hold on
the reins and managed to keep him from running off
like he did before. Echo was doing well. She came
around the last turn and stopped. She had no idea
what Hayley's aid for back might be.

'Do you know back?' she whispered to him.

Echo took one step backwards. 'Back,' said Shelby
again, experimenting. Echo took another step backwards.

'Back, back, back,' she said. Echo took the corresponding
steps.

'Very good,' she said, smiling. She loosened her
grip on the reins and let him walk around the other
ponies and into her place in the line.

It was over. She'd done her best. While she waited
for the other pony to complete its workout she thought
over her own and tried to remember if she had done
anything wrong. She looked over at the fence line
to where Mrs Crook was waiting. Mrs Crook held
two thumbs in the air, and then kissed her fingers –
bellissimo
.

The other pony had finished now and the judge
rearranged them in the line. She put Shelby on the right,
then the last pony and then the other two. She asked
Shelby to step forward. She watched in delight as the
judge wrapped a blue ribbon around Echo's neck.

'Congratulations,' she said, shaking Shelby's hand.

'Thank you so much,' Shelby gushed. She turned to
watch as the judge put the red and yellow ribbons on
the other girls' horses and then congratulated them too.

So this is what it feels like to be a winner
, she
thought, patting Echo on the neck.

'Woo hoo, look at you,' said Mrs Crook as she
headed over toward the fence. 'Fantastic.'

'Thanks,' said Shelby, grinning.

'We should bring you along more often.'

Shelby laughed.

'No, I'm serious,' said Mrs Crook. 'The programs
are only going to get worse for us when Scamp comes
back. It would be handy to have an understudy – if
you're interested.'

'That would be unreal!' said Shelby.

'Now, hurry up and give me that ribbon. Your age
class is up next.'

'Really?' Shelby could understand why they wanted
her to ride the horse in the pony class, where it was
Echo being judged, but there was no need for her to
enter the rider class.

'Why not? Off you go,' Mrs Crook said.

Hayley and Erin rushed over to hand Mrs Crook
their blue and red ribbons and then they all rode off
together back into the ring. This time Shelby was
called in again, last after Hayley, Erin and another girl
that she didn't know. In this ring they were much
closer to the sideshow and Shelby could hear the
excited screaming from the rides.

Hayley completed a perfect workout. Erin's was
correct, although she did flop around a bit in the
saddle. The other girl was good as well, but Shelby
thought she leaned too far forward and her hands
were low, as if she was holding the horse's head in.
Next it was Shelby's turn. She was more relaxed now
and able to listen to what the judge asked her to do.

She walked up the centre line and then trotted off
in a circle to the right, then back to the middle again
and off to the left. Things were going well until it was
time to canter to the left. Shelby looked up and a sight
from the sideshow caught her eye.

At Pete's Pony Rides there was a girl on a paint
horse. Shelby could only see the back half as it strode
away behind the clown caravan. Just as it disappeared
from view the little paint horse swished a particularly
long, thick tail – a tail so long that it dragged on the
ground.

27 A Mental Blank

Shelby had used the expression 'mental blank' many
times, but she had never really known what it felt like.
There she was cantering around in a circle on a horse.
Which horse exactly, she didn't know – nor why. The
important thing seemed to be to get it over with as
soon as possible so that she could see if what she saw
really was what she thought she saw.

She looked back at the others lined up in a row in
the middle of the showground. The judge had one arm
across her chest, resting her chin on her hand, and
frowning.

What on earth was she supposed to do next? She
tried to think back to what the judge had said. Halt
and back. No, that was the last time. She was coming
around to the middle again. She slowed for two steps
of trotting and struck off again on the other leg. She
had to decide what she was going to do quickly,
because she couldn't just keep riding around in circles.
What was the workout? Shelby had no idea at all.
She gave up. She slowed Echo down and then walked
back on a loose rein. Who knows? Maybe she'd
guessed right.

'What happened?' mouthed Erin.

So I got it wrong then.

She shook her head at Erin. She looked towards
Pete's Pony Rides, but she couldn't see the paint pony
whose back half looked so much like Blue's.

The judge awarded the prizes – first to Hayley,
second to Erin and third to the other girl. Nothing for
Shelby. They all congratulated each other and began
to walk out of the ring. Shelby was in a hurry, but the
judge stopped her.

'I wanted to let you know that I called you in
because of the horse.'

'I beg your pardon?' asked Shelby.

'This is a rider's class, but I called you in because
of this little gelding.' The judge indicated towards
Echo.

'Oh,' said Shelby. She turned to go, but the judge
stopped her again.

'It wasn't that you got the workout wrong either.
You can handle a horse, but your technique is actually
quite sloppy. I'm telling you because you'd do better if
you had instruction.'

Under normal circumstances Shelby would have
been devastated by a remark like that, but she just
wanted to get away and find Blue.

'Thanks,' said Shelby as she urged Echo out of
the ring.

Halfway across the showground, Hayley and Erin
were waiting for her.

'What happened, Shel? What did she say?' asked
Hayley.

'God, look at your face!' said Erin. 'Are you OK?'

'I've have to go,' said Shelby. She slipped off
Echo's back and handed the reins to Hayley.

Mrs Crook was scooting around the edge of the
showground towards the girls, her arms pumping up
and down. 'What's going on?' she called out. 'What
did the judge say?'

Shelby turned and ran to the edge of the grounds,
back towards the sideshow. Towards the long tail.
Towards Blue.

'Shelby!' Erin called from behind her.

'Has she gone bananas?' Mrs Crook said, finally
reaching the girls.

Shelby kept running. There would be time to
explain later.

28 Pete's Pony Rides

The boundary of the showground was ringed by
a metal fence, waist high, and covered with boards
of advertising. Shelby vaulted over it. Her boots
landed with a thump on the small wooden bench
on the far side. She ran up the shallow grassy
incline.

A few of the show-goers were sitting on the grass
eating hot chips from yellow cardboard cups and
battered hot dogs on sticks. They watched Shelby
curiously as she ran past them, as though she were
part of the entertainment.

On the corner of the aisle a line of people waited
for their turn on the dodgem cars. Shelby pushed
through them. She accidentally knocked a woman's
handbag off her shoulder and heard the woman
protest. Only a few steps now.

When she reached the clowns she slowed down. A
group of small children and their mothers were
queued for Pete's Pony Rides. Shelby pressed her way
to the front.

'That girl is pushing in!' complained a young girl,
tugging on her mother's leg.

'I don't think she's going to ride,' replied the
mother, eyeing Shelby's fancy show apparel. Shelby
craned her neck, trying to see past the mothers'
heads.

All of Pete's ponies were being ridden now. He had
them tied nose to tail, like a cargo train. Pete was at
the front with his fist tucked inside the cheek strap of
the lead pony. They were coming around the far
corner and Shelby, panting hard, flicked her eyes from
one to the other.

She heard running footsteps behind her and the
pressure of a hand on her arm.

'Shel?'

It was Erin. Shelby turned to her. 'I saw Blue –
I swear it. I saw him.'

Erin looked at the row of ponies. They were shuffling
along the far end of the marked-out area now.
Erin shook her head. 'Where? I don't see him.'

'I only saw the back half. It was his tail. I'm sure
of it.'

'Show me,' said Erin.

Shelby looked back again – her eyes examining one
pony after another.

There.

She pointed. 'There! Fourth from the end.'

It was the back half of Blue – the big rump and the
long, thick tail. It was just the front half that was
wrong. This horse had a big, black head and brown
eyes.

Erin shook her head. 'It's not him, Shel.'

'I was so sure it was Blue,' Shelby whispered. Her
legs felt wobbly and they collapsed underneath her.
She landed in a heap on the grass. Her face screwed
up and she couldn't breathe.

Erin squatted down in front of her. 'Oh Shel. I'm
so sorry. Come here.' She threw her arms around
Shelby's neck, and Shelby hugged her.

'I was sure, Erin.'

'I know. You can't stay here, though. You'll get
grass stains on your good joddies.'

29 Tilt-a-Whirl

Shelby sat on the tailgate with Mrs Crook on one side
and Erin on the other. Hayley had taken Ditto for the
Turnout class.

Shelby had had a good long cry and her face was
red and puffy. Mrs Crook didn't have any tissues, so
Shelby wiped her nose with a rough serviette that
made her skin tender and raw.

'You all right now?' asked Mrs Crook, rubbing
circles on her back.

Shelby nodded, but she wasn't really all right. If only
she knew where Blue was then she might stop seeing
him in nightmares and daydreams. While she didn't
know, there was hope, and it was driving her crazy.

She looked up and saw Monica and Kim running
along the road towards them. Kim had a pair of blue
overalls, like the ones mechanics wear, over her riding
clothes. Monica had a snow cone, and even as she was
running, she tipped the cup up towards her face,
catching the melted juice in her mouth. They slowed
down as they reached the float. Kim leaned over, out of
breath, resting her hands on her knees.

'What's happened?' she asked, seeing Shelby's
puffy face.

'Shelby thought she saw Blue, but it wasn't him,'
replied Erin.

'Really? That's what we came to tell you. We saw
him too.'

Monica nodded. 'It looked so much like him. Are
you sure it wasn't him?'

Shelby nodded, but she also frowned. That horse
hadn't looked so much like Blue after all – only the
back half. In fact, when she'd seen him up close he
looked completely different.

'How did you go today?' asked Mrs Crook, shading
her eyes with her hand. Monica had won the Open
Hack, and was now waiting for the Champion class.

'We went in the pairs, too. That was fun. We only
came third, but we reckon we could win it if we practise.'

Mrs Crook nodded. 'Well done! Why don't you
take Shelby over to the rides?'

Shelby didn't want to go on any rides. She just
wanted to curl up in a little ball in the back of the four-wheel
drive and stay there until it was time to go home,
but her parents had always taught her to be polite, and
so she let Monica, Kim and Erin lead her to the other
side of the showground.

While they waited in the line, Shelby could see the
people in the crowd looking the girls up and down in
their snazzy show gear, and for a moment she did feel
special – as though the riding gear was some kind of
VIP tag.

When it was their turn, the four girls squeezed into
the carriage together. Kim sang along loudly to the
popular tune that was blaring through the speakers
and Monica dug into her ribs with her elbow. 'Kimmy!
Shut up! You are so embarrassing.'

Shelby didn't think Kim was embarrassing. She
wished she had the confidence to yell out the way that
Kim did. The next moment, Erin, who was on the far
side of the carriage, joined in – jiggling her head and
waving her arms in the air in time with the music.
Monica covered her face with her hands.

Kim grabbed hold of Shelby's elbow and waved
Shelby's arm in the air, like she was a rag doll. 'Come
on, Shel,' she shouted over the music.

Shelby grinned and mouthed some of the words.
She felt like a bit of goose but at the same time she
was grateful.

The carriage shunted to the right and Erin let out
a scream.

'Here we go!' yelled Kim.

The motor of the Tilt-a-Whirl hummed and
growled into action. The carriage swung around in a
loop and all four girls let out delighted screams.

'Put your hands in the air!' called out Kim and
they all raised their hands above their heads.

They spun around and around – up in the air and
down again. Shelby felt dizzy and excited at the same
time. The crowd on the outside and the lights from
the nearby rides were just a blur, but she could quite
clearly see Erin's laughing face, and before long Shelby
was giggling too. It was exhilarating, but over all
too soon.

At the end they clambered out, one after the other.
Kim staggered across the grass to the fenced area,
trying to keep her balance, and the other girls laughed
at her. Shelby's head was still spinning and she walked
carefully, knowing that the sensation would pass
before long.

'Let's go on the Cha-Cha!' said Erin, grinning.

'Yeah!' cheered Kim.

Erin and Kim skipped along the centre of the
aisle, arm in arm. Monica and Shelby ran to catch up
with them.

The four girls rode the Cha-Cha, and then the
Rock-and-Roll, and afterwards Erin bought a big bag
of fairy floss to share. Hayley met up with them after
her class and they all scrambled into one of the Ferris
wheel carriages. It didn't have any belts or safety bars,
but instead a barred roof over the top like a cage. It
shifted slowly upwards as the attendant let each group
climb into the separate carriages. The girls each
reached into the bag and tore off tufts of pink spun
sugar. Shelby put a piece on her tongue and waited for
it to dissolve.

'Did you win?' asked Monica.

Hayley nodded. 'We're going to have to go back
after this. The Champion classes will be on soon.' The
two girls' eyes met for a moment and then they both
looked out at the showground below them. It occurred
to Shelby that Monica and Hayley would be competing
for Champion.

'So what did that girl say?' asked Monica, changing
the subject.

'What girl?' asked Shelby.

'The one on the horse that looked like Blue.'

'I didn't talk to any girl,' said Shelby, confused.

'Then how do you know it wasn't him? Didn't
you ask her where she got him or something?' asked
Kim.

'I didn't see a girl. It was a man – Pete, I suppose,'
she said.

'You must mean the father. How did you know
his name was Pete if you didn't talk to him?' asked
Monica.

'It was written on the side of the truck.' Shelby
tilted her head towards the metal cage of the Ferris
wheel carriage and pointed. 'There – Pete's Pony Rides.'

Kim and Monica looked down where she was
pointing and then they looked at each other.

'That's not where we thought we saw Blue. We
saw him over the back, tied to a float. There was a
little girl brushing him.' Kim pointed. 'See that big
blue gooseneck float? He was behind that.'

They saw a different horse.

Kim stared at Shelby. 'I only saw you with him a
few times, but I'd swear it was him, Shel. He had the
same blue eyes and everything.'

It was him. It was Blue and he was here.

Shelby stood up suddenly and the carriage swung.
Hayley screamed. 'Sit down! Are you crazy?'

'I've got to get off!' said Shelby. She grabbed hold
of the bars on the gate and shook them. The gate
clanged and rattled against its lock. 'Hey! Let me off!'
she shouted.

Hayley screamed again and shimmied around as
far from the gate as she could.

Shelby pushed against the gate with all her weight
and the carriage tilted to the side. The other four girls
scrambled back, but gravity pushed them down
towards the gate and they pressed against it in a tangle
of limbs. They shrieked. All of a sudden Shelby could
see through the bars to the ground below. It was a
long, long way down.

Hayley pushed back, bracing her foot against the
bars, and the gate shifted slightly to the side, with a
metallic scrape. Shelby's hand slipped through the bars
and she fell onto the gate hard with her shoulder, her
arm dangling out in the air. She looked down through
the maze of metal to the grass beneath her. She could
see the small round faces of the crowd staring up at
them. Further along the aisle, groups of people
stopped and looked up, pointing.

It's going to give
, she thought.
The gate is going to
give and we're all going to fall.

The gate made another terrifying creak and the
girls screamed. Erin grabbed Shelby by the arm and
pulled as hard as she could. Shelby's knuckles grazed
on the rough edge of the gate, but the carriage tilted
upright again and all the girls let out a sigh.

'You're a complete nutcase – you know that?'
shouted Hayley, still bracing herself against the bars.

'I'm sorry,' whispered Shelby.

'It doesn't matter,' said Erin. 'It will be over soon.'
Even as she spoke the carriage swung down to the
bottom. The attendant rushed over, unfastened the
lock and yanked the gate open.

'What the hell were you doing!' he shouted.

'Just mucking around,' replied Erin, before the
others had a chance to say anything.

'Get out!' he roared at them. 'You're banned – all
of you. Get out and don't come back!'

'Yeah, yeah. Keep your knickers on,' replied Kim,
shifting along the seat towards the gate.

Hayley climbed out first, marching away from
them with her arms folded.

Shelby tumbled out next and dragged at Monica's
arm. 'Show me. Show me where you saw him. Come
on! Hurry!' The two of them set off at a jog, through
the crowd.

Erin and Kim climbed out last. Erin poked her
tongue out at the Ferris wheel attendant and then ran
to catch up with the others. Kim ran alongside Hayley
and grabbed at her elbow, but Hayley shrugged it off.
'She almost killed us!' she said.

'Oh, she did not, Hales,' replied Erin. 'Don't be
such a stick-in-the-mud. We're all safe now.'

Hayley folded her arms and kept on marching. Erin
and Kim left her and ran after Shelby and Monica.

They raced around the side of the showground,
away from the crowd, and along the gravel driveway.
As they got to the floats and horse trucks they slowed
down, so as not to frighten the horses.

Shelby could see the blue gooseneck float in the
distance. 'Is that it?'

Monica nodded.

Shelby tried hard not to break into a run.

The four girls rounded the side of the blue gooseneck
and stopped still. Monica pointed. 'There. That
was the float, wasn't it, Kimmy?'

Kim nodded.

There was a small, white, two-horse float coupled
to an old station wagon. The tailgate was closed and
locked tight. There was no Blue, just a lead rope
and, at the bottom of it, a black halter, unbuckled and
splayed open, hanging against the float's side.

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