Maybe it’s not your place,” Haylee shouted as we sped down the dirt road away from the Ackerman’s. The pickup skidded into the dirt, tires kicking up dust. “Watch out!”
I was so intent on getting home that I almost sideswiped a white pickup that swerved past us. Where the hell did that guy come from? Clouds of dust flew up and I glimpsed a blurred image of the driver’s head. Pebbles pinged against the side of my dusty red pickup. Home, get home fast.
As I veered into the driveway, the thick scent of burning wood and smoke seared my heart. I flew out the door and scrambled past the house toward the barn. Flames shot out the windows, and billows of smoke rose over the roof and rolled out the door. Smoke everywhere. All I could think about was Blue, where was Blue? A wall of heat struck me.
“Blue!” I shrieked.
A high-pitched whinny, a cry of fear and panic, issued from the barn, piercing my heart. I darted into the smoke, but Haylee jerked me back. “You can’t go in there. You can’t!”
“My Blue’s in there!” I screamed. Shrugging off Haylee’s grasp, I dropped to my knees and tried to crawl to the barn door. No way would I stand by and watch as the flames engulfed my pony. But Haylee grabbed my ankle, pulling me back, and suddenly we were both coughing and gagging. My eyes watered, my vision blurred, my eyes burned.
“It’s too late, Merlina!”
Haylee held onto me, both of us sobbing, powerless to do anything. A blare of sirens rose in the distance, grew louder with each gasping breath I took. Then I heard another pathetic whinny, then another and another. I broke free of from Haylee’s grasp, scrambled to my feet, and dashed for the open barn door.
I plunged inside, dropped to my hands and knees, and scrambled forward. Even though there wasn’t much smoke near the floor, I could hardly breathe, the heat all but overwhelmed me. The whinnies turned to screams and they were coming from two stalls. I crawled forward toward the first, which held Simeon, the boarder. His hoofs thudded against the walls. I kept going. Blue, dear God, Blue. I had to get to Blue.
I shot to my feet, choked on the smoke, my eyes tearing. I dropped back to the floor to grab a breath. The heat and smoke raked at my lungs. My eyebrows and the hair on my arms were singed. I slapped at a spark that fell into the ear hole of my helmet I was still wearing. I shot upward again in front of Blue’s stall, my eyes stinging, tearing, hands covering my mouth and nose. I spotted him, pressed up against the back wall, paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t shout, could barely see.
I threw open the stall gate. “Blue!” I rasped, then coughed, my lungs burning. “Out, come out this way!”
I took two steps, lurched for his halter. But Blue reared up, whinnied and snorted, and his hooves flashed through the haze, just missing my head. I ducked down, screamed at him to come out, now, please, please. He still backed away.
Maybe if I let Simeon out, Blue would follow. I crouched low, rushing through the haze and heat. Flames shot from bales of hay just yards away and climbed the outside walls. I jerked open Simeon’s gate and the metal latch was so hot it burned my fingers. I spun around to look for Blue, praying he’d followed me. I gagged, choking on the smoke. Blue remained in his stall. He and Simeon screeched with terror.
No time. Hurry! But Blue wouldn’t come out. He was terrified. The heat seared me, and suddenly Simeon whinnied and kicked his gate. It slammed hard against me and I toppled over, the wind knocked out of me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get up, couldn’t move.
The shrieks of the horses turned into the screams of sirens. So loud, so close. Turn them off. They’re frightening Blue. The heat and the smoke overwhelmed me, sucking away my breath, my life, and everything started to fade.
Hands lifted me, pulling me away from the heat. I was dragged out of the barn, still in the smoke. I coughed and sputtered, but found my voice. “My pony! Get my pony!”
I coughed again and again and felt as if I was going to pass out. Suddenly, the barn exploded, the roof caved in. Flames shot skyward. A blast of heat struck me and I folded to the ground, withering, crying.
“Blue! Oh, no! Oh, no!”
Two men in protective suits clamped gloved hands over my arms and dragged me farther away. No more whinnies, only the crackling of wood. I wept and coughed. Too late…too late. No one could save him.