Troy Knightly

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9

The walk from the house was not far from the neighbors. Troy followed the dirt path that led to the cattle gate and walked past trees and dried out hedges. Birds chirped to each other above him.

As the wind picked up from the approaching storm, Troy could hear waves crashing.

Grandpa George had said the beach was right near the house.

Troy spun in a circle to determine which way to go. He didn’t have long to wait. Cries from seagulls floated to him from the direction of the woods.

Troy turned his ball cap backwards and ran towards the trees that bordered the side of the house. Dry leaves crunched loudly under his feet. He grabbed a stick and whacked at thick branches and undergrowth.

Soon, Troy came upon a narrow dirt path that others before him had paved. Following the path, the trees began to clear.

A part of him was sad Vince wasn’t with him. Vince loved to explore new places.

Troy parted the remaining branches and glimpsed the sandy, white beach.

“Wow, I didn’t realize how close this was to the house!” he murmured, feeling the wind blow him back in strong gusts.

The waves slapped repeatedly together in a thunderous roar. Seagulls glided lazily in the wind, squawking loudly to the ones standing in clusters on the ground.

Troy took a few cautious steps down the sandy walkway when he felt his foot catch on a root. With a startled cry, he tumbled over the edge.

“Ahh!” Troy screamed.

Seconds later, he landed with a heavy thud against a jagged rock.

“Ow,” he moaned. He grabbed hold of the rock’s rough sides and pulled himself up. If he wasn’t more careful, he’d wind up with a broken leg.

He groaned and felt for the sore spot where he’d landed on his back. Satisfied he could still walk, Troy made his way slowly down to the desolate beach.

As he approached a group of seagulls, the birds gave a loud cry and flew off, landing farther down the beach to resume poking their beaks in debris.

Troy scanned the beach. It appeared to stretch for miles in both directions.

He slid his hands into his pockets and trudged along the sand. He had only walked for several minutes when he heard the sound of laughter. Troy stilled.

A group of three girls squatted together around a small campfire. Curious how Camberland girls compared to New York girls, Troy watched them shyly from afar. One girl had dark, chestnut colored hair. She was preoccupied with opening a bag of marshmallows. The girl to her right was making a show of stomping on a marshmallow she had apparently dropped into the sand.

That’s when Troy spotted the third girl. Her long, strawberry blonde hair caught his eye. She laughed hysterically at her friend and held out another marshmallow.

Troy sighed. The girl’s laughter tugged at his heart. She was cute like Barbara Haler, but in a classier sort of way.

Go talk to them! he thought. Troy felt self-conscious and combed his fingers through his hair. He sucked in a mouthful of salty air. As he took a step in the girls’ direction, a violent crack of thunder made him pause. Dark clouds piled high in the sky.

“Quick! Put out the fire. Let’s bolt!” the girl with chestnut colored hair yelled.

Troy held his breath and waited for one of the girls to notice him. But they didn’t.

Instead, the girls poured sand onto the fire and then collected their belongings.

Several cold drops of rain hit Troy’s forehead.

“Hurry!” the girl with strawberry colored hair called to her friends.

The girls turned and ran awkwardly up the sand and disappeared into the woods.

Nice going, Troy thought. You let them get away. Since he didn’t want to get poured on, Troy decided to head home.

More raindrops fell. Troy hastened his pace. As he jogged, something flashed by on his right.

Troy spun around. “What the--?” he stammered.

Aside from the seagulls, the beach was empty. But Troy could’ve sworn he saw something. “Anyone there?” he called into the darkness. Maybe it was one of those girls?

No one answered.

Troy waited. Whatever he had seen, had vanished. As he climbed back up the steep, sandy hill, an object darted by out of the corner of his eye.

Troy snapped to attention – and saw it.

The head of a white horse popped up out of the water. Its dark eyes glittered as it shook out its mane and stepped onto the sand.

“Holy cow...I mean, horse!” Troy said.

The horse watched Troy intently as it made its way up the beach to stand near the edge of the woods. Troy stared at it, too stunned to move.

The horse had been in the water. But not just partially in the water, either. That horse had been in really deep. Troy had never known a horse to swim with its head submerged.

Had the horse fallen in? Did someone dump it off the side of a boat?

Troy did a quick scan of the water. He didn’t see or hear any boats.

As he stared at the horse, Troy noticed something about it seemed odd. The horse’s long mane and white coat looked too bright...almost as if the horse wasn’t real.

Troy stood motionless. He clenched and unclenched his fists. He decided it was the most wonderful horse he had ever seen.

But a horse like that had to belong to someone. Maybe it had gotten loose, like the bull? Troy wondered if the owner was out frantically looking for the horse.

Maybe it was some kind of a show horse? But its back was too solid and round to have ever held a saddle. Compared to Grandpa George’s two brown horses, this horse was a unicorn.

The horse suddenly reared and leaped into the woods.

“Hey--!” Troy yelled, finding his voice.

He jumped down from the path and scrambled after it. But when Troy reached the edge of the woods, to his dismay, the horse was gone.

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