Summer Spirit By Annette Hansen
Friday, March 04, 2005
Rated "G" by the Author.
Miranda needs time away, time to rest and take some photos of the summer sunsets, but when she develops the film, she is stunned at what she finds...
I wrote this story for a local short story competition in 2001. I don't usually write these types of stories, but the theme for the competition was 'summer' ... so, here it is!
Miranda was awakened by the wondrous mix of bird song that filled her garden each morning by . It seemed there were more birds than usual, keeping her company while she went about her morning business. She filled a bag with hay and made her way out to the stables to visit her horses who were waiting eagerly with their heads poking out over the stable door. On colder mornings, white plumes puffed out from their nostrils and rose into the air like billows of smoke, but not this morning. It was the beginning of summer and even this early, there was a hint of the heat to come.
She stood there watching as her babies enjoyed their morning meal. That’s what she called them; her babies. It seemed silly, but she had no children of her own and the horses had become her family since her husband John had died almost a year ago.
It was the horses that had brought them together in the first place. He liked to compete in showjumping and she liked to trail ride. Every summer weekend, they would meet at the local riding school where he taught the kids how to jump. She kept her horse stabled there and would often use that as an excuse to come and watch him.
One day, he asked her if she would join him on the horse trails for a lazy afternoon ride. She knew when she accepted his invitation that they would never be apart again. Even after they married, every weekend summer evening would find them riding those same horse trails together. For them, it was a ritual; brushing the horses and preparing the saddlery while he told bad jokes and she giggled like a schoolgirl. It was their ‘together’ time. Fond summer memories.
She never thought he would be killed in such a public and horrifying way. It was sheer bad luck that the horse stumbled. It was sheer bad luck that his head hit the side of the jump. It was good luck that he died instantly.
As she approached her back door, Miranda felt the tears welling in her eyes. After almost a year, she still missed him so. It was hard to go on alone when you thought that there would always be the two of you.
‘I really need to get away from here for a while,’ Miranda said out loud. She picked up the phone and dialled her parent’s number.
‘Hi, Dad?’ she asked.
‘Yes, honey. It’s me. How are you doing?’ he answered, the concern showing in his voice.
‘I’m not doing as well as I should. I really need a holiday.’ Before her father could say anything in reply, she continued, ‘Are you and Mum using the beachhouse this summer? I was thinking that maybe I could have it for at least a week or so, just to get away and have some time to think.’
‘Well, we were going to use it later in the summer, so if you want it until the end of next month, that’s fine by us.’
‘Thanks, Dad. I really appreciate it. I might stay longer if I need to. Uhm ... the horses ...’
‘We’ll take care of them.’
‘You’re wonderful, both of you,’ said Miranda.
‘We know,’ her Dad replied with a quiet laugh. ‘We just hope that you’re okay.’
‘I will be, Dad, I will be. Can I come pick up the keys tomorrow? I’ll leave you mine and some cheques to pay some bills that will come in while I’m gone, just in case I’m away a little longer than expected.’
‘No problems, Miranda honey,’ said Dad. ‘I’ll let Mum know.’
She hung up the receiver and went to her room to pack.
Miranda rounded the last curve in the road that led to the family beachhouse. It was situated in a tiny seaside village named Seahorse Flats; an odd name because the area was surrounded by acres and acres of undulating hills. The town itself lay nestled in a pretty cove where the hills came down to meet the sea. It was the only place in the district where trees were plentiful, providing cool summer shade, making it a pleasant stopover for holiday makers on their way to the more popular spots further along the coast. Almost all the people here would return to their jobs and homes when the last of the February heat had evaporated.
Miranda arrived mid-morning. After unpacking her clothes, some holiday reading, toiletries and some groceries, Miranda decided to waste no time in making her first trip to the beach. She looked forward to a nice, quiet walk on her own, but part of her was very apprehensive. She had no doubt that revisiting a place that was special to both her and to John would evoke some memories that would be painful to relive. It was strange, but it always seemed as though everything in her life was tinged with sadness now that John was no longer here. She hoped this time away would help her to settle into her new life alone.
It was still early in the day and Miranda didn’t expect to see many people on the beach. There was an elderly gentleman walking his cocker spaniel, two teenage boys messing around with some driftwood and a rather large woman sunbaking under an umbrella that was hardly sufficient to shield her ample body. As Miranda walked past her, the lady lifted her head and smiled at her. She smiled back.
She decided to take a walk to the cave; a main feature of the beach and a regular meeting place for summer lovers. No matter how many years of fierce storms and crashing waves had shaped and reshaped the shoreline, this cave always remained. It was something you could count on, summer after summer. It was eternal. But Miranda wasn’t sure what forever was anymore.
The sun hadn’t had time to heat the sand and it felt cool and soothing between her toes. She walked with her head down, thinking about John, swinging her raffia hat by her side and listening to the repetitive pounding of the waves. Deep in thought, she didn’t see the man approaching; he was just there. She couldn’t avoid bumping into him, but she still felt rather embarassed.
‘Oh my gosh, I’m really sorry. I didn’t see you there. I guess I should watch where I’m going,’ Miranda said.
She looked up and drew a breath. Standing before her was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. It wasn’t so much his body or his hair; it was his eyes. They were a pristine sapphire blue, clear and soft, almost ethereal. The man touched her arm with his hand and, without breaking his gaze, said to her in a soothing, yet masculine voice, ‘It’s all right. Next time you’ll see me.’
The man removed his hand and stepped around her to continue on his way. Miranda stood there, stunned, feeling an odd buzzing sensation running through her arm. ‘How odd,’ she said out loud. She took a few steps and turned to look behind her to see where the blue-eyed stranger had gone. She didn’t see him, yet there was no chance he could have walked that far in less than a minute.
Miranda continued on her way, but she just couldn’t shake this feeling that something was amiss. She decided not to walk all the way to the cave today. Instead, she would pick up some of her favorite foods at the local store and have a nice, lazy lunch back at the house. After all, the cave wasn’t going anywhere.
Miranda woke from her afternoon nap feeling woozy and disoriented. She thought maybe it was something she ate, but she doubted that a salmon and spring onion bagel would make her dream of unicorns and angels and winged horses. It just seemed so strange. Normally she was lucky to even dream at all, let alone about such fanciful things.
She decided today to skip dinner and take an evening walk on the beach. Perhaps a visit to the cave tonight would clear her head? She hoped to catch some beautiful shots of the sunsets - they were so colourful here. She found her camera and put it in her beachbag for later.
It was especially warm out tonight and, being a Saturday, Miranda knew the beach would be crowded and so decided to take a different route this time. She cautiously picked her way between the tussocks of grass dotting the eastern side of the shoreline, cutting across a small sand dune which gave way beneath her, leaving her to slide ungraciously down the slope on her backside. She picked herself up and looked around sheepishly to make sure that no one saw. Suddenly, a voice behind her said, ‘Can I help?’ Well, this was just what she needed; to have someone see her most undignified moment in all it’s awful glory.
She turned around and was astonished to find the blue-eyed stranger standing before her.
‘Can I help?’ he repeated.
‘Uh, yes, I mean ... no, thank you. I’m fine. It’s the sand ... it’s ... uh ... loose,’ she replied, stumbling over her words. She never expected to meet this man again and yet, here he was, his eyes staring right through her, piercing and pure.
‘There’s a nice spot down by the cave where you can get a good shot of the sunset,’ the man said. He slowly but deliberately lifted his arm and pointed towards the cave.
‘Oh, yes, thank you,’ answered Miranda, ‘I want to get a nice, clear shot of the sunset tonight. It should be quite beautiful and I have this new lens ...’ she said as she unzipped her beach bag and fumbled for her camera.
‘Well, I hope you find what you need,’ the blue-eyed man said. Then he was gone, disappearing between the tussocks, gliding effortlessly across the sand as though he was weightless.
Miranda didn’t know what to think. How did he know that she was here to take photos? Her camera had been in her bag and she hadn’t mentioned anything about why she was here. It was all very odd, disturbing almost. She shrugged it off, picked up her bag and proceeded down to the beach on her way to the cave.
Sunset was slow tonight, so she didn’t have to hurry. She would find her vantage point and settle in for the nightly display of oranges, purples and pinks, streaking across the western sky like a child’s finger painting. The tide was on its way out, but there were still plenty of beachgoers around, mostly kids and their parents playing in the sand, building castles.
As she walked, the gentle ripples of water tickled her toes. Miranda looked up to see how far she had walked when she noticed something large and white in the distance. It seemed to be moving away from her. It seemed to be running. She quickly raised her camera in front of her eyes and peered through the lens, hoping she would have enough magnification to see what it was. Before her eyes had focussed on the image, she instinctively snapped a photo. She wasn’t sure, but it looked like a horse. She lowered the camera again to check if the image was still there. All she could see was a flash of white leaving the far side of the cave.
It was rather strange and perplexing to her that a riderless horse might be there and that no one seemed to notice. Wel l.. it didn’t matter; she had the snapshot. She couldn’t wait to see what turned up on the film and decided to head off to the store straight away to drop it in for development. She headed off with a spring in her step, forgetting all about the sunset.
Miranda could hardly sleep that night, but this time it wasn’t because of her dreams and it wasn’t the stifling heat; she just couldn’t wait to see her photos.
She gulped down some cereal and half a slice of toast. She wanted to get to the store as soon as it opened. Her film had made it in the last pickup last night and would be there around 9.30 am. If she got there early, she thought she would spend some time chatting with the lady there as she hadn’t seen her for quite some time. She might even be able to get some information from her.
‘Miranda! Hi! I haven’t seen you in so long, years I guess. I heard about your loss from Mum last summer. I’m so sorry. How are things going? How long are you here for?’
‘So many questions!’ Miranda exclaimed.
‘Well, you know how nosy I am. I guess you get that way when you run the general store in a small town like this,’ the lady said.
‘Now it’s me who’s sorry,’ Miranda explained, ‘I can’t recall your name.’
‘It’s Pat,’ she replied.
‘Well, Pat. Firstly, thank you for your condolences. Secondly, things are going okay for the most part and thirdly, I am here for a couple of weeks. I just needed to get away for a while.’
‘I can understand that,’ said Pat.
‘Pat, can I ask you something?’
‘Sure you can, sweetie.’
‘They don’t allow horses on the beach this time of year, do they? I thought I saw one yesterday, but there was no one riding it. I just thought that was odd.’
‘You’re right. No horses allowed during the tourist season. The fines are pretty steep if you get caught.’
For some reason, this news sent a tingle down Miranda’s spine, much like the feeling she got when the blue-eyed stranger touched her arm.
At that moment, the doorbell chimed and a tall, gangly man entered, carrying a large cardboard box. He placed it on the bench and, without saying a word, turned and left, giving a brief wave goodbye on the way out.
‘Ah, here are your photos, somewhere in here ...’ Pat said.
‘Great. Oh, I found them. They were right on top. I’ve been looking forward to these.’
Miranda handed Pat some cash and headed toward the door. ‘I’ll see ya later, Pat,’ she called out.
‘Okay,’ said Pat, a little puzzled at her hasty departure.
Miranda jogged all the way back to the beachhouse. The photos were burning a hole in her pocket and when she reached the house and raced inside, she wasted no time. She was all thumbs as she opened her packet of snapshots. She flipped through them all and then came to the one she was looking for. Yes! She could see something in the photo. She looked more closely and, sure enough, right inside the hollow of the cave was the faint outline of a horse. She squealed in delight as she punched the air with her fist. Tonight she was going to the beach again to see if the horse was there.
The beach was eerily deserted. No kids playing, no dogs chasing balls and not a blue-eyed man in sight. She thought she would just sit awhile and wait to see what happened. The evening was cool and her skin felt clammy. Maybe that explained the absence of people? She sat down on her towel in the sand and waited.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white and the most stunning sight of a white horse galloping along the beach towards her. Then the horse slowed to a gentle trot, raised its nostrils into the air and blew out a huge stream of vapour. The magnificent animal turned around and headed back the way it had come, trotting towards the cave where she had seen it the last time.
Miranda sprang to her feet and ran after it, running so fast that her cheeks flushed red and her hair streamed out behind her. Slowly but surely, she gained on it, closer and closer.
The horse reached the cave before her, entered it at a walk and disappeared from view. Cautiously, Miranda rounded the entranceway to the cave, tiptoeing quietly even though her steps made no sound in the sand, hoping to finally see the horse close up. To her surprise, the horse was standing there as if waiting for her, its head up and its eyes displaying an interested expression.
Miranda wasn’t afraid. She walked towards the horse, hand outstretched, inviting it to make contact. Surely enough, it accepted her touch and she gently stroked its muscular neck.
‘Hi there, handsome,’ she whispered into its ear.
‘Hi there,’ came a voice.
Miranda stopped in her tracks. She didn’t know anyone else was here. She turned to see who it was and found that it was him. The blue-eyed stranger.
‘Wha-what do you want?’ she asked him.
He replied, ‘You, Miranda. Only you.’
She steadied herself against the side of the horse, and when she raised her eyes again to look at him, she got the fright of her life. The man standing before her was no stranger; it was John.
She couldn’t believe her eyes, even though part of her wanted to believe that he was here with her again.
‘John?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘I’m here for you.’
Tears filled her eyes and trickled down her still-red cheeks. ‘I miss you,’ she said to him between her sobs.
‘Yes,’ he said, looking at her with his kind eyes. She remembered that he always had kind eyes, those clear, kind, blue eyes. ‘But you don’t have to be alone. It’s okay.’
Miranda ran towards him and threw her arms around his neck. She closed her eyes and hugged him as tight as she could. And she felt his arms around her too, and it was something she thought she would never feel again. She would never forget how good he felt.
Miranda looked up into John’s face and asked him why the horse was here.
‘Love comes in all forms,’ was his only reply.
She buried her face in his chest and hugged him a few seconds more. All of a sudden, she felt cold again and when she lifted her head, she found herself standing there with her arms around the horse’s neck. Puzzled, she looked around but found that John was gone. She didn’t get to say goodbye to him, but somehow it didn’t matter. She stroked the horse’s neck one last time and backed away from it, watching as the horse trotted out of the cave, turned around one last time to look her right in the eye and then broke into a gallop, kicking up sand with every strike of its hooves. She didn’t look to see where it went; she knew she would never see it again.
Miranda slept late the next morning. It was dreamless, restful sleep, and she felt just wonderful when she finally awoke. Before she even got out of bed, she felt an incredible urge to call her parents.
She went to the phone and dialled the number.
‘Hi, Mum. Change of plans. I’m coming home today.’
‘Oh, that’s wonderful, honey,’ said her mother.
‘Yes, it is. I really miss my horses.’
‘Well, they’re doing great. They’re waiting for you. How are you doing, darling?’
‘I’ll be okay, Mum. I’ll be okay … finally.’
She hung up the phone and began to pack her things. It felt good to be going home.
This is a most beautiful write. Very descriptive and believable! I will add this to my library. And may I say, you are this type of writer. This is a calming, touching magical story. I truly loved reading it. Thank you, CarolHawks