Spirit Riding Free--Lucky and the Mustangs of MiraderoSuzanne Selfors
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
DreamWorks Spirit Riding Free © 2017 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Cover design by Christina Quintero. Cover illustration by Artful Doodlers.
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First Edition: October 2017
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2017953614
ISBNs: 978-0-316-50623-6 (paper over board), 978-0-316-55790-0 (ebook)
A Sneak Peek of The Adventure Begins
For my mother, Marilyn, and my sister, Laurie, who have always lived their lives as free spirits.
The wild stallion stood at the edge of the canyon, ears alert, face pressed into the breeze. Above, the autumn sky glowed, a sheet of perfect blue, broken only by the swooping arc of a kestrel. Below, the river flowed, twisting and churning, making music as water met rock. The day was perfect for grazing. The stallion shook a fly off his nose, then dipped his head and tugged at a clump of grass.
His mustang herd grazed alongside. A few of the older, more experienced horses nibbled barrel cactus fruit, careful to avoid the barbs. A mare continued to graze, while patiently nursing her foal. This was how the herd spent its days, constantly feeding in order to build up fat storage for winter. Once the weather turned cold and the grasses died back, the members of the herd would be forced to walk farther and farther each day to find enough food to fill their bellies. But for now, all was well.
The foal stopped nursing, distracted by a butterfly. He was joined by another, a filly, who seemed equally fascinated by the winged creature. Butterflies were in abundance this time of year, thanks to flowering desert broom. Wide-eyed and mesmerized, the pair traipsed after the butterfly. At their age, each day brought something new to see, to smell, and to taste. Everything was an adventure. And a distraction.
The stallion snorted at the youngsters. Too much time playing and not enough time eating would not bode well. But he understood. He wanted to gallop through the canyon, kicking up clouds of red dirt in his wake. But he remembered last winter, when the grasses had all died. He remembered the emptiness in his stomach. He fought the urge to gallop and continued grazing.
For something felt different on this day. A cool, crisp note hung in the air. It was a note that all animals recognized.
Winter would come early.
Most of the time, days are ordinary, filled with familiar sights, sounds, and practiced routines. But for Lucky Esperanza Navarro Prescott, a twelve-year-old girl who’d recently moved from the cobbled streets and architectural wonders of the city to the wide open range of the West, most days were of the extraordinary variety.
And such was this day. She had absolutely no idea what to expect. Which made her bouncy with anticipation. “Are you ready? Come on, let’s go,” she urged as she stood in the open doorway—a threshold between home and adventure.
“I’ve never been to a harvest festival,” said Lucky’s father, Jim Prescott, as he set a leather hat on his head. Like his daughter, his voice brimmed with excited curiosity.
“Neither have I,” said Cora Prescott, Lucky’s aunt. She also set a hat on her head, only this one was adorned with a papier-mâché apple and a cluster of papier-mâché cherries, all painted bright red. She’d special-ordered the bonnet from a renowned haberdashery in New York City. It had arrived at the train station in a box marked SPECIAL DELIVERY. “What do you think?” Cora asked, pushing back her blond hair and striking a serious pose.
“You look very pretty,” Jim told her.
“You sure do,” Lucky said.
Cora smiled as she tied the ribbon beneath her chin. “Thank you.” Appearances were important to Cora, for she believed that proper grooming was a sign of taking pride in oneself. Cora had been raised among debutantes and socialites who cared about etiquette and manners. But since moving out West, Cora had changed. No longer were her days spent in Parisian-inspired cafés nibbling crustless sandwiches, or in ornate art museums discussing the latest trends in landscape painting. These days she cut wood, pumped water, and fed chickens—which explained the color in her cheeks and the flecks of dirt beneath her fingernails.
“I just hope a flock of crows doesn’t attack your head,” Lucky said, pointing to the cherries.
Cora’s hand flew to the top of her hat. “Oh dear. Do you think?”
Lucky immediately regretted her comment. If Cora went upstairs to choose a totally different, fruit-free bonnet, the whole morning could be stalled. They’d never get to the harvest festival. “I’m just kidding,” Lucky said with a wave. “Crows know the difference between real cherries and fake cherries. Can we go now?”
“Would you like me to carry those?” Jim asked, pointing to a basket that sat on the table. The basket contained three jars of Cora’s homemade raspberry jam.
“Oh yes, thank you. I’m going to enter them in the canning contest at the festival. Next year I might try pickles.”
“Who would have thought?” Jim teased as he grabbed the basket. “This time last year you were fund raising for the new wing at the art museum, and here you are, mashing berries and putting them into jars.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than just mashing berries,” Cora corrected with pursed lips. She ran her fingers over her ever-present strand of pearls. “You have to consider the p
articular qualities of the fruit. And you don’t just put them into jars, Jim. You have to abide by the strict rules of preservation. It’s always good to learn new skills. If there’s one thing I am, it’s adaptable.” This was a true statement. Ever so slowly, the layers of city expectations were peeling off Cora, revealing something more colorful beneath. She was definitely a work in progress.
But a few of Cora’s tendencies were taking longer to change. She put her hands on her hips and gave Lucky a look of disbelief. “Is that what you’re wearing to the harvest festival?”
Lucky frowned. “Yes.”
While her aunt wore a crisply ironed skirt, high-collared blouse, and heeled boots, Lucky wore her most comfortable pants and a flannel shirt. And she rarely went anywhere without her signature boots: brown leather with embossed red flames and shooting stars. The boots had belonged to her departed mother. They were one of Lucky’s most beloved possessions, and they’d conformed to her feet as naturally as a cocoon wraps around its occupant.
“Well, I know better than to try to change your mind, but at least let me tie back your hair,” Cora insisted. Lucky agreed, mostly to avoid a nose-to-nose argument with her equally stubborn aunt. She turned around and bowed her head. Cora gathered Lucky’s long brown hair and tied it with a ribbon. “That’s better.”
“Can we go now?”
“We could,” Jim said. “Unless you think I also need a ribbon in my hair?”
Jim chuckled. “Yes, by all means, let’s go.”
“Finally!” Lucky flew onto the front porch and scrambled down the steps, stomping so loudly she startled a chipmunk up a tree.
It was a short walk to town. The Prescott house had been built on a hill, which provided a sweeping view of the landscape. Autumn was a colorful time of year in Miradero. The trees were turning, with leaves of yellow, orange, and red. Desert broom seemed to be everywhere. According to Doc Wilkins, desert broom was a nuisance for many of the town’s residents, causing sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. But the seeds certainly looked pretty as they floated through the air in billowy tufts, like clouds. Patches of soapberry and hackberry trees added splashes of color against the background of flat-topped red mountains. While the view from their home back in the city had been rows of buildings, here the sky went on forever.
“This is the biggest festival in Miradero,” Jim told them. “Everyone has taken the day off from work. Even JP & Sons is closed.” JP stood for James Prescott Sr., Lucky’s grandfather. He was the owner of the railroad and, thus, well known throughout the region. Jim was the “sons” part of the equation, and he’d been sent to Miradero to oversee the railroad’s expansion.
Because the festival was such a popular event, Lucky’s teacher had even assigned her students homework. “Miss Flores is making us write a report about what we do today,” Lucky said as she walked between her father and aunt. Miss Flores was Lucky’s teacher, and she was quite fond of assigning reports. But in this instance, Lucky didn’t mind. Not really. Something exciting was bound to happen at the festival, for there was never a dull moment in these parts. And then she’d have the perfect story for her essay.
They walked toward Main Street. If people’s personalities could be revealed by the way they walked, it was certainly true of this trio. Lucky’s steps were lively and quick, her arms swaying, her head turning left and right, for she was curious about everything. Cora’s steps were determined and evenly paced, her hands clutching a small purse, her chin held high. Jim, with his long legs, strode in an easygoing manner, the basket tucked under his arm. No longer buttoned up in wool suits and vests, Jim had adopted the more casual style of the West. And while he used to smell like an office—a combination of coffee and dust, ink and paper—Lucky noticed new scents clinging to him: fresh air and dirt, from all the time he now spent outdoors.
Lucky adored her father, and likewise, he adored her. When he broke the news that he was moving to Miradero to oversee the work of JP & Sons, there’d been immense pressure from Lucky’s grandfather and from Aunt Cora to keep Lucky in the city, where she could continue her private education at one of the nation’s top schools for young ladies. But Lucky and Jim refused to be separated, and eventually, love won. Even Cora agreed to join them, which had surprised everyone!
“Lucky, look!” Jim pointed at a nearby hill.
Lucky’s gaze traveled across the road, past an old barn, past a cluster of soapberry trees, until it rested on a pair of warm brown eyes.
“Spirit!” Lucky called.
Neither Jim nor Cora tried to stop Lucky as she scampered away. Back in the city, she was never allowed to set out by herself. But here in Miradero, she’d been set free! Free from the confines of her starched school uniform. Free from the rules of her uppity finishing school. In Miradero, Lucky ran. She explored. And most especially—she rode!
Upon reaching the top of the hill, she threw her arms around the stallion’s neck. He was a buckskin mustang, with a black mane and black tail. His lower legs were also black.
“Hello,” she said. He dipped his head forward, then down, exhaling a deep, fluttering breath through his nostrils. The warm air tickled her face and neck. She brushed his forelock from his eyes. Never would she forget the first time she saw him. She was on the train when he’d raced by, trying to outrun a pair of mesteñeros and their ropes. But they’d caught him and brought him to a ramada owned by a man named Al Granger. Mr. Granger and his men had tried to break Spirit, but they’d failed. When Mr. Granger’s daughter, Pru, and her best friend, Abigail, rode into a dangerous canyon, Spirit and Lucky had saved their lives. In gratitude, Mr. Granger gave Spirit to Lucky. But Lucky knew she could never “keep” such a magnificent creature. So she gave him his freedom.
Which he’d reclaimed, but not entirely.
For Spirit was now a common sight in town, returning often to see Lucky and to ride with her. Spirit held a special status with the townsfolk, like a houseguest who comes and goes. No one in Miradero would try to capture or break him ever again.
“I bet you want to go for a ride,” Lucky said as she ran her hand down his muzzle. He raised his head, his ears pricked in her direction. Ride? Of course he wanted to ride. Riding was their favorite thing to do. But the timing was bad. She looked over her shoulder. Her father and aunt were waiting.
“Lucky!” Jim called.
“I’m sorry, Spirit, I can’t ride this morning,” Lucky told him. It nearly broke her heart to say those words. “I’m going to the harvest festival.” She pointed down Main Street, which was lined with tents and tables. The faint sound of a fiddle drifted in the breeze. “You want to come with me?” She tugged on his mane. His legs stiffened. Though he’d become used to Lucky’s family and friends, he was still wild at heart and didn’t like mingling with crowds of people. “I understand,” Lucky said. “Let’s ride later?”
He snorted at her, which she knew meant okay. She kissed his cheek. “I love you so much,” she whispered. He pushed her playfully with his head, then turned and galloped away.
“You and that horse,” Cora said as Lucky returned. “Why can’t you ride one of those miniature ponies that Pastor Perkins keeps? If you fall off one of those, you might bruise your tailbone. But if you fall off Spirit, well…” She frowned. “Why did you have to choose a wild horse?”
“He chose me,” Lucky said. Then she hugged her aunt. “You worry too much.”
“Of course I do. My most important job is to look after you.” Cora proudly adjusted her hat. She took all her jobs very seriously.
“Hey, I thought looking after Lucky was my job,” Jim said with a chuckle.
“I don’t need looking after,” Lucky insisted.
A crowd had gathered at the end of Main Street. A bright-yellow ribbon hung across the street, tied to posts on either side. Mayor Gutierrez, being short in stature, had climbed onto a stool so everyone could see him. He wore a gray waistcoat and a black bowler hat. “Welcome,
welcome!” he called, his arms waving. “Gather ’round, gather ’round. It’s time to open the festival!” Applause and cheers filled the air. Jim squeezed Lucky’s arm. They shared a smile. A shiver of anticipation darted up Lucky’s back. What was going to happen next?
The mayor scratched his enormous mustache, waiting for the cheering to subside. Then he puffed out his chest and continued. “We’ve gathered on this day to celebrate the autumn abundance of Miradero, which is growing every year, thanks to all the efforts I have made on your behalf.” He paused, a huge smile plastered on his face. “Efforts I have made as your mayor.” He paused again. Did he want applause? Lucky shuffled in place. A frog croaked.
“We should thank the railroad!” someone hollered.
The mayor cleared his throat. “Yes, yes, of course. JP & Sons Railroad has been a huge benefit to our little town.” People turned and looked at Jim. A round of applause arose. Jim’s cheeks turned red. Not one for attention, he waved his hands, trying to silence the applause. Mayor Gutierrez’s smile faded slightly. He adjusted his fancy waistcoat, then coughed loudly for attention. “As your mayor, I will continue to work with the railroad to make sure that Miradero grows and prospers. For your success is my success.” He beamed another smile, then pulled a piece of paper from his vest pocket. “There is certainly a lot to do today. Don’t miss the zucchini races, which will be held at two o’clock in front of Winthrop’s General Store. Be sure to check out Alice Crumb’s giant pumpkin, which is on exhibit next to Town Hall. It’s the largest pumpkin ever grown in Miradero, isn’t that right, Alice?”
“Biggest one yet!” Alice Crumb hollered from the center of the crowd. “I fertilized it with rabbit droppin’s. That’s the best stuff for growing gourds and such. If you don’t got rabbit droppin’s, then you can use goat droppin’s, but they don’t work so good.”
The mayor, who was not a farmer nor inclined to outdoor labor of any sort, smiled politely. “That’s very interesting. As you know, the mayor’s office fully supports the farmers of Miradero.” He continued reading from his notes. “Speaking of goats, there are three new babies in the petting area. Be sure to stop by Mary Pat and Bianca’s apple cider stand. The Miradero Ladies’ Aid Society is selling buttered corn on the cob. And this year, the cakewalk tickets are twenty-five cents and will raise money for the Miradero church, which is badly in need of some repair work due to an unfortunate incident.” He paused and looked directly at a little redheaded boy named Snips Stone. Lucky hadn’t witnessed the unfortunate incident but had heard all about it. Snips’s donkey, Señor Carrots, had a reputation for breaking out of his yard and getting into trouble. On this particular occasion, he’d wandered into the church, got stuck, then kicked his way free, damaging one of the pews.