I know I've been quiet lately. Nothing exciting has been happening in real life, and I've been working, off and on, on my latest little pet project. Yes, this means the beginning to yet another story without finishing others. I am still trying to work on Men In Black Suits, I swear. It's just not... ready for human consumption yet.
Really, neither is this, but it's what I've been working on, and I'd like to get an opinion from folks on it. Please remember, this is a rough draft. Of the first chapter. Of what promises to be an actual book if I can keep my duckies in a huddle long enough to get it down on paper in a satisfactory manner.
Considering the fact that Jane and her friends keep sneaking into my dreams, and bludgeoning me with the fact that they want to tell their story, I may actually be able to keep my admittedly short attention span on it long enough to actually do something with it.
I promise you, I am still trying to find the rest of the Men in Black Suits story, but those guys are apparently still mad at me for the whole catheter thing, and refuse even to negotiate, so far. As soon as some kind of compromise is reached with them, I'll give you the rest of their story, because I know you all want to see it, and because I really don't want to have this follow me around like the infamous Pink Gorilla Suit of legend.
So, without further ado, I give you my latest project, Jane. (Give me a break, it's a working title.) ((This is fictional. Any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely because the people I stole characteristics from are so incredibly inspiring. And because I suck at creating characters with any depth without a whole truckload of help.))
“Look at her go!” Jane heard the shouts and catcalls of the students and instructors with only part of her attention. Mostly she was focused on the thousand pounds of horseflesh she was seated upon, which was currently doing its best impression of a rodeo bronc.
Dangit, Speckles, knock it off, you’re embarrassing me! Jane thought as she attempted to settle herself further into the saddle, to prevent Speckles from popping her out of it like a champagne cork.
The arena she was working in was deep sand, which she figured she would wind up being grateful for shortly. It was surrounded by white-painted pipe, outside of which were Jane’s classmates and two of the instructors. All of whom were laughing uproariously.
Suddenly Speckles stopped- hard- throwing his weight forward, and caught Jane by surprise, sending her flying over his shoulder. She let go of the reins, tucked into a ball so that she wouldn’t land flat on her face, and let it happen. The world tilted around her, and she caught the barest glimpse of the ground rushing up to meet her as she flipped over and tried not to tense. Unfortunately, her body had different ideas, and she managed to get the air knocked out of her as she landed on her back.
When all the pretty colors stopped swirling in front of her eyes, she opened them, staring up a moment at the blue sky and getting her breath back. A sudden hot breeze on the top of her head told her where Speckles was, which was shortly confirmed by Speckles himself whuffling his way to her face and lipping at her nose.
“Stop it, you. No kisses, you’re in trouble.” Jane shoved the horse nose out of her way and levered herself up with a groan.
::People make funny noise::
“Shut up, horse. It wasn’t funny.” Speck’s mental voice was dripping with amusement.
::People make funny noise, after people jump::
“I didn’t jump, you dumped me. Be quiet, I can’t talk to you now.” Meredith and BJ were approaching, ostensibly to check on Jane, really to chuckle and gloat.
“That was beautiful, you made a very graceful arc, you know.” Meredith was a short woman, who felt no need to make up for her lack in height with a big ego. Her brown eyes twinkled with mirth.
“It was a pretty nice ride, I think you made the full eight seconds. But you didn’t spur out of the chute, so I’ll have to count you off for that.” BJ looked down at Jane with a grin.
“Very funny. I could be seriously injured here, and you guys are laughing at me,” Jane grumbled, dusting her jeans off as she slowly stood up. A sudden pain in her back told her where she was going to be sore and stiff for the next few days, and she twisted and stretched to relieve the muscle spasm before it left her bent over like an old lady.
“If you were seriously hurt, you wouldn’t have gotten up. You know better than that.” Merideth’s eyes still held their twinkle as she snuck up on Speckles, grabbing his reins before he could wander off and initiate a game of chase-me, chase-me.
“You mean like she knew not to ride for three hours the day after she got kicked in the… er… business?” BJ grinned even bigger than Merideth, recalling the very painful reminder that Jane had received, not to get too close to the south end of a wound up horse.
“Well, that should have taught her a lesson. After all, the only one she hurt then was herself, the rest of us had a great time laughing at her hobbling around.”
“She did learn a lesson, she learned that people like to talk about her in the third person when she’s standing right in front of them.” Jane mock-glared at her instructors, setting her fists on her hips and narrowing her eyes.
Really, she was glad that she had instructors with a sense of humor. She would have put up with just about anything for two years to get her degree, but with Merideth and BJ around, it was downright fun.
“Ok then, smarty pants. What do you think you did to set Speckles off?” Merideth stood with one hand on the horse in question, and he, the attention hound, was nosing her hip, begging for stroking. That is, until he heard his name, and then he turned to Jane with an expectant look as near to those that Merideth and BJ were wearing as a horse could get.
“I existed.” Jane muttered, knowing exactly why Speckles had suddenly gone from mild mannered pleasure horse to crazy rodeo bronc. She’d taken her attention off of him for a split second to worry about her own form, and he’d known it.
That’s the problem with talking to animals with your mind, Jane thought. They tend to learn to listen in, and know when you’re not really all there.
“Well you spurred him pretty good coming around in that roll back, and that might have done it if he was feeling froggy.” Merideth had fallen into her teaching mode, and her eyes were faintly distant as she reviewed the moments before the impromptu show.
“I think he was just feeling frisky, and I wasn’t paying as much attention to him as I should have. I was trying to remember what you told me about pushing through my seat, instead of focusing on my horse.” Jane owned up to the mistake right away, but didn’t admit how she knew it. Merideth and BJ were amazing trainers, but what they accomplished came from years of experience and an unusual knowledge of equine social structures and body language, not talking to them.
“You could be right. He’s been fighting that right roll back for a few days now, but I haven’t seen anything that would suggest a physical problem as a cause.” BJ eyed Speckles’s legs, and Jane smothered a giggle when Speckles dropped his head to look at BJ’s jean clad legs in return.
“He hasn’t got a fat leg, there’s no heat or tenderness, he’s not even getting stocked up in the stall.” Jane knew for a fact that there was nothing wrong with Speckles, but she had to list the common ailments of the leg as if she’d checked for them. She had, but asking the horse if his legs hurt wasn’t a typical method of evaluating those things.
“Well, get back on him and try it again. Finish the pattern this time.” Merideth grinned and handed over Jane’s reins before walking back to the arena fence, followed by BJ.
Jane, meanwhile, took a deep breath and mounted up, settling herself in the saddle as she opened the mental “door” that let her talk to critters without having to talk out loud. Not that too many would comment on it if she did, she’d established a reputation for talking to her horses as if they could understand early on, and it was considered a minor eccentricity by now.
::That was not nice.:: Jane’s mental voice was stern as she kneed Speckles into a slow lope, and guided him in a couple of circles, ostensibly to make sure he wasn’t going to buck again, but really to buy time to talk to him.
::People wouldn’t talk to
::I’ve explained that to you a dozen times! How are you going to go on to another rider if you don’t know how to feel the cues? Your next rider won’t be able to talk to you.:: Jane sighed to herself and started the pattern over, keeping half of her attention on the conversation that no one else knew about.
::Don’t want other rider. Want People to talk to
::I can’t always talk to you, you know that. And you’re old enough to start using pronouns and names. I’m not going to answer to People anymore.:: Jane sighed as she asked Speckles to give her a little more bend in his circles- with her hands and her knees, not with her mind- and thought about how long it would take her to teach him to use names. She really would answer to “People” for a while yet, until he got his mind wrapped around the concept of names and remembered to use them.
::People’s name is People. Legs said so:: Speckles delivered the last with the true belief of a herd member. Legs was lead mare, so whatever she told the others was truth, anything else was conjecture until she ruled on it.
::Legs said so, to you, because you couldn’t understand individual names when you came to the herd. You call us all People, but you know we’re different, just like you and Legs are different. You’re both hoof-kin, but you’re not the same hoof-kin. Understand?:: Horses needed that absolute faith in the lead mare, or the lead mare and the stallion together, in the wild. Otherwise the subordinate members of the herd might question at the wrong moment, and get killed.
::Yes, understand. But peo… you… call me Specks. Name isn’t Specks, it’s Speckles. Cause of my coat. Is pretty enough to give me name at birth.:: Speckles’s voice was full of pride, and well it should be. He was an American Quarter Horse, and some accident of genetics had given him a sorrel red coat with a dusting of dark speckles, which condensed on his legs to give him black socks. His mane and tail were a blend of the same red as his coat and dark brown. It was a very unusual coloration, unusual enough that his dam had named him at birth, rather than following the tradition of waiting until a foal was old enough to show personality.
::Specks is a shortened version of Speckles. It’s your name, still, just shortened so that it’s not such a mouthful. A nickname.:: Jane explained patiently. Speckles was only three years old, and he’d been born on a ranch neighboring her family’s. Most horses that lived on their place understood human names early on, because their dams knew it, and taught them. They also had a lot more to occupy their minds than a horse that didn’t have people really talking to it every day. The whole nature versus nurture debate was a non issue in her parents’ house. They knew for certain that a mind that’s challenged and introduced to new concepts built its mental muscles and functioned better than a mind that wasn’t, and settled into complacency. Jane sometimes caught herself thinking of animals that hadn’t been exposed to her and her parents as stupid, although it wasn’t true. They just weren’t as smart in a human sense.
Jane sighed to herself and guided Speckles out of the last circle and into the rest of the pattern they were supposed to be riding. After a second’s thought she transferred both her reins to one hand and neck reined, thinking that the work she’d put in on that part of Speckles’s training might just get her some brownie points from the instructors after the earlier debacle.
::People… Jane?:: The horse’s mental tone was hesitant, even timid. Usually he was boisterous and cheerful, a match to his young age and extravagant coloring.
::Yes, Speckles?:: Jane concentrated on giving the proper cues with her body, instead of giving her mount the mental images of what she wanted.
::….Are you mad?::
Jane sighed again. ::No, I’m not mad. But that doesn’t mean you can get away with dumping people on their behinds if you get bored.:: Jane made her voice stern on the last part. Speckles understood that Jane was above him in the herd hierarchy, although she wasn’t as strict about protocol as she could be. If it weren’t for her two legged status, Jane’s mother would be lead mare. It was a complicated social situation with humans in the herd, but one that had been worked out long ago, when humans first began to domesticate horses.
::I know. I am sorry.:: They reached the end of the pattern, and Jane gave Speckles the cues for a stop. Speckles, true to his contrition, performed flawlessly, bending his back and stopping on his haunches.
::I know, big boy. Apology accepted.:: She patted his neck and told him out loud what a good boy he was, before kneeing him forward to applause from her classmates. Speckles pranced out of the arena, smoothing out his stride like a pro, which made the applause even louder.
“Looks like he just needed to get it out of his system.” Merideth stood at the horse’s shoulder and patted his neck, looking up at Jane.
“He’s a brat, but when he decides to work, he does it right.” Jane smiled at her teacher and moved to the side of the arena gate, so that the next student could get in.
“Well, he’s definitely a brat. If you ever get him past that stubborn streak I think he’ll make a good horse, though.”
“Speaking of that stubborn streak, I think I’ll go see if I can wear some of that excess energy off. Maybe then he’ll listen and we can work on that right side roll back.”
Merideth chuckled. “Good idea. Take him out on the trails for a while and run some of that wild off.”
Jane turned Speckles and maneuvered him through the other horses, laughing at the cat calls of her fellow students. She was heading for the trail head. The facilities at the college had forty acres, and enough trails to provide “open” ground for exercise. It wasn’t her family’s ranch by a long shot, but it was better than nothing. The main attraction of the trails just then was a smidgen of privacy.
She kept speckles at a slow trot until they’d reached the trail she wanted, and passed the first curve. Then she dropped her reins and grabbed a fistful of his mane, and he jumped into a high lope that was just short of a gallop. Technically faster than they were supposed to go, but she had the perfect excuse in his misbehavior earlier.
Jane grinned. She was running the wild out of him, just like she’d been told.
“Hey, Edmund.” Jane sat atop her mount at the side of the second arena, which was set up for the rodeo team. A classmate, Edmund was a steer wrestler, and just then he was practicing his exit from the box.
“Hey Jane, what’s up?” Edmund walked his horse, Rebel, calmly out of the box and over to the railing where she was watching. Edmund was a long tall drink of water, with a real rapport with horses, and an excellent talent for filling out a pair of Wranglers. His brown eyes twinkled with perpetual good humor, and his coffee-colored skin shone a little with perspiration.
“Just got done working goober here out on the trails, thought I’d stop by and see how things are going on my way back to the barn.” Jane liked to watch the rodeo team practice. The fact that she busted out laughing at odd moments was mostly overlooked. Not many knew that she heard the roping and wrestling steers talking smack about the cowboys.
“Looks like you worked him pretty hard,” Edmund said with a smile as he eyed the sweat on Speckles.
“Oh, I’m sure you caught his performance during the pattern. He needed to burn off some energy, so we ran some of it out of him.” Jane grinned at Edmund, knowing that he would understand her enthusiasm. It wasn’t often that they got to go faster than a nice relaxed lope in class, and the steer wrestler understood the rush of letting a little bit of go-fast out of your horse.
“Yeah, I saw. Nice riding, but you didn’t spur him out.” Edmund grinned right back.
“That’s what BJ said, I’ll have to work on that.” Jane rolled her eyes and shifted Speckles over a couple of steps, just to make sure he was paying attention.
“He really is coming along. He’s gonna make a nice little horse when you’re done.” Edmund eyed Speckles with the assessing look he wore when he was calculating what a mount might be worth.
“Thinking of taking him off my hands? He’s been wanting to try chasing hisself down some of them steers.” Jane kicked herself mentally as soon as the cheerfully hick accented words were out of her mouth. With his skill and empathy with horses she sometimes forgot that Edmund didn’t talk to them, and didn’t know that she could.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Edmund laughed. “Every time you bring him down here when we’re practicing he gets antsy and looks for the gate in. I’ve seen him eyeing the steers in the chute, too.”
Jane sighed with relief. “Well maybe I’ll stick around some time after class and help ya’ll push steers during practice. See if he’s half as excited about it after it turns into work.”
“I’m sure that’d be fine, we might be able to make a few more runs if we weren’t having to push the steers ourselves.” Edmund was eyeing the box, which had been occupied by another team member. This one’s horse was trying to break out as soon as her butt hit the back, and her rider was doing some exercises to try and get her mind back on what he wanted her to do.
“Working on your break from the box?” Jane liked Edmund, and she liked his horse, who had been quiet while she talked to his rider. More herd politics. Maybe there was something she could help the cowboy with.
“Yeah, he’s hesitating in the corner. I haven’t figured out why yet. At least he’s not going box sour like Stephen’s mare.”
Jane thought for a moment. “Why don’t you make a couple of runs and I’ll see if I can spot anything? An outside perspective couldn’t hurt.”
“Sure, maybe you can see it.” Edmund turned Rebel back towards the end of the arena, and Jane rode Speckles over to his favorite spot, right by the box, where he could see the action.
::Rebel?:: Jane acknowledged the horse with her contact, which gave him permission to speak to her. The dominant herd member always initiated conversations.
::Hello, Jane.:: Rebel was older than Speckles, and although he hadn’t been around her nearly as much, had gotten the concept of names right off. He still referred to Edmund as “Friend,” but Jane thought that was a sign of their relationship rather than Rebel’s intelligence.
::What’s the problem, bud? What’s making you hesitate when they turn the steer loose?:: Rebel loved what he did, so the hesitation had to have a cause.
::The last time we were at a… rodeo… I hit the rope fence before it opened. Friend was upset. If I wait, I never hit the rope fence, but Friend is still upset.:: Rebel’s voice was anxious, and he danced a little coming into the box.
::Oh, Rebel, that happens sometimes.:: Jane caught Edmund’s eye. “Give it a shot.”
::I don’t want Friend to be upset.:: Rebel stopped prancing as he backed into the corner of the box and waited for Edmund to cue him forward and out.
::He wasn’t upset with you…:: That was all Jane got out before Edmund dropped his reins and kicked Rebel’s sides. She saw the hesitation before the sorrel horse shot forward out of the box, tearing down the arena.
::He was upset.:: Rebel knew only that his rider- his friend, and herd mate- was upset after something that he’d done. They were coming back now, and Jane tried to figure out how to explain it to Rebel in a way that he would understand.
“Give me a second to think.” Edmund was looking at her expectantly. She’d gained a reputation here of being able to “read” horses, figure out what was causing their actions and how it could be fixed.
“Has he broken the barrier recently?” She knew the answer, but Edmund didn’t know that.
“Yeah, at the last rodeo. That’s when this started. He’s not hesitating at the end of the box, though.”
“Well, he’s a smart horse. He’s broken the barrier before, he knows it’s there and it goes away when the steer gets out there. Maybe he got popped by the end of it on a shoulder.” Edmund looked at Jane, thoughtful.
“Maybe, I can see that, but how do I fix it if that’s the case?”
“I’m working on that, give me a minute.” Jane stared at Rebel, as if in thought.
::Friend was upset because when you break the barrier, it adds time to the score, and you can’t win if you have that added time.:: Jane had explained to Rebel about scores and times in rodeo competitions, when she explained to him why his rider kept asking him to chase down the steers and then didn’t do anything to them.
::But I want friend to win! Friend is happy when we are faster than all of the others.::
::Me too, but you can’t win if you’re hesitating in the box, either. That adds time too. Breaking the barrier happens, Rebel. It’s a chance that you take.::
::Friend doesn’t want me to wait?:: Rebel looked at Jane as she sat there chewing her thumbnail.
::No, Friend doesn’t want you to wait. Friend wants you to help each other so that you can get the steer fast without breaking the barrier.:: Jane was trying to think of something that she could tell Edmund to do to explain the sudden change in his horse.
“Walk him in and out a few times.”
::I won’t wait anymore.:: Rebel said in her head, as Edmund said “Ok then.”
::That’s great, Rebel, Friend will be happy.::
“Ok,” Jane said to Edmund as he settled Rebel back into the corner of the box. “I want you to try something. You don’t have to hold him in the corner, he doesn’t try to break out early, so I want you to drop your rein hand just as you nod for the steer. Use your legs just like you would normally.”
“I’ll try it, but I don’t know if it’ll work.” Edmund was skeptical, since this didn’t seem to address the problem that Jane had invented at all.
“Well, at the very least you won’t be holding him back by accident when you want him to go, right?” Jane kept her voice light, kept the smugness out of it. She’d have enough time to be smug when Rebel didn’t hesitate.
“I wasn’t holding him back, but if you think it’ll work…”
Jane smirked a bit, “If you don’t try, you’ll never know, will you?”
Edmund sighed and settled himself in the saddle, looking at the empty chute as if he were competing. He took a deep breath, nodded and dropped his reins at the same time, and then kicked. Rebel shot out of the corner instantly, neck stretched out, running hell bent for leather to the other end of the arena, where he peeled off to the left and slowed. Just as he’d been trained.
Jane gloated a bit as Edmund leaned forward and praised his mount, stroking his neck and telling him he’d done the right thing. He rode back to Jane with a big grin.
“My work here is done,” Jane proclaimed in a solemn tone. “Now I’d better go put his royal brattiness back in his stall.”
“Thanks for the help! I don’t know why it worked, but it did.”
“Sometimes just the smallest change in routine can break them out of a rut that you don’t want them in.” Jane smiled back at Edmund and turned Speckles towards the barn.
::Thank you, Jane. I will not wait.:: Rebel’s tone was happy now that he’d figured out what would please his rider.
::No problem, Rebel, always happy to help. You can ask me for help next time you have a problem.:: Jane made sure to add the last part, so that Rebel would be able to approach her on the subject instead of waiting for her to talk to him.
Jane rode toward the hitching rails at the barn, a warm glow of satisfaction matching the spring sunshine on her skin. She was always glad to help a horse out, but in this case, she was glad to help the rider as well. Edmund was good with his horses, and she approved of his methods a lot more than some she’d seen. He was also what her father would call a “good ol’ boy,” in the strictest sense of the words.
Just then, her cell phone vibrated in its holster on her hip. Jane turned the ringer off during class, and anyone who knew her class schedule knew better than to call unless it was important. She checked the caller ID but didn’t recognize the number.
“Jane, it’s Joseph, Joseph Jones.” The alpha of the local werewolf pack. Jane hadn’t had many dealings with the local wolves, since they kept a really low profile. Wolves were definitely not native to this area, but the scarcity and high prices of unpopulated land in their native environs had driven them to the wide open plains.
“What is it, Joseph?” Jane kept her voice firm and chose her words carefully. She knew enough about wolves to know that if she didn’t treat him like an absolute equal, she would automatically become either his subordinate, or a challenger. Both would be bad.
“I need your help. I assume you’re at class now, but I need you to meet me today.” Joseph’s voice held a hint of a growl. Not good. Jane mulled over the pros and cons of leaving a stressed werewolf waiting, and settled on a compromise. A little time might help him calm down some before she showed up with all her soft vulnerable flesh. Too much time might have him pacing the floor and winding himself up further.
“I’ve got another thirty minutes of work to do here, but I can meet you after I’m done, say ?” Joseph agreed and she named a restaurant that she knew wasn’t a frequent hang out of any of the pack members. She hung up and stared at the phone for a moment.
“Now what in the world could an alpha werewolf need my help for?”