This chapter is based on a real life experience that I had riding one day as a teen! (note the "based on")
McKay forest, its large looming cedars draped in dense moss, stood forebodingly over the trail. The needled boughs were strung so tightly together as to create a canopied funnel, channeling the two girls further into its depths. Here and there sunlight split through its tangled mesh to fall and touch the ground, creating a patchwork of dazzling colors across their path. Jess, with her spirited thoroughbred, Lilly, had jigged and danced for the first mile or two into the trail, squirting the bright spots and lunging over the black puddles. Jackson jogged contently behind, until both horses settled into a vigorous walk.
Here the air here smelled of wet and green things, of earth and cold. The horses’ breath pulsed from their nostrils in a constant beat like sprouts of steam from a locomotive’s engine. Here and there the skeleton of an old maple stood, its life long lost to the Cedars darkness; It’s long, twisted limbs were draped in lacey green fungus, like moldy cobwebs dangling from its outstretch hands. The forest was alive. Lilly's gaze rarely focused forward as the small creatures they flushed from the brush startled her as they ran by. The whites of her eyes flashed in the darkness as she looked in every direction at once. Jackson walked steadily forward but his nerves were bundled beneath Sarah, tightly wrought and ready to spring.
"Do you know where you are going?" Sarah shouted up at Jess.
"Of course! Her friend replied, " This trails goes in a loop around the old McKay homestead and comes back out at the road."
Sarah glanced over her shoulder. The trail snaked its way behind her, disappearing in just a few dozen yards, into absolute blackness. "I don’t know if we will have enough light to get through, it is so dark in here now, even though it is still full light outside of the forest. How long did Jacob say it would take?"
"No more than an hour. Worry wart!" Jess replied, turning in her saddle to look behind her.
Sarah wished that the trail would widen out so that they could ride abreast, being forced to trail behind left her back feeling naked and stiff with anxiety. Sarah swore that something was walking along just a step behind her. She could almost hear the step of his feet and the stir of the breath on her neck but each time she turned around there was nothing there but the brush and swaying shadows of the woods. Jackson's ears darted backwards and forwards, he too seemed unsettled. Jess confidently rode a head but for once didn’t seem to have much to say. Her long curly brown hair fell loosely down her back and swayed gently back and forth with Lilly’s stride. She glanced to her left and forced herself to look at the forest for its all its ghoulish beauty, to see the birds and squirrels, the furred creatures that made this forest their home.
"Ah, Sarah!!" Jess's voice trembled as she called out. Sarah looked forward and gasped. Ahead the trail turned and broadened, the cedars gave way to lighter ground and Cottonwood trees grew thickly in what was clearly and old pasture. They had reached the beginning of the old homestead but they were not alone.
"What are they?" Jess whispered.
"Eagles! They are all eagles! My god there must be hundreds of them!" Sarah gasped in astonishment. And there were. In every direction the girls looked, there, camouflaged in the high branches, were countless juvenile bald eagles. Lacking the bright white heads of the adult birds, and bedraggled looking with their brown and black speckled plumage in disarray, they were no less intimidating for the intensity of their gaze. The girls rode forward into their midst. Not one of the eagles moved but their disjointed heads turned to follow the girls as they passed. The menacing glare of their beady eyes, intently locked on the riders.
"Oh my God, Jess!" Why are they just watching us! Why don’t they move?"
"I don’t know. But lets GO!" Jess replied.
Both horses lunged forward into a hurried lope. Sarah fixed her eyes on the path, too terrified to glace behind her. Suddenly, she felt a wind beat against her back as a whirlwind of flapping wings lashed at the air. The eagles had taken flight. Sarah pressed herself against her pony's neck and rushed him forward to a gallop. She felt the gentle touch of a feather against her cheek, but ducked and kicked Jackson to go faster. Ahead of them the clearing broke and the cedars began once again. The girls charged into the hole created by the trails head and onward into the dark until they could hear nothing but quiet behind them.
Breaking to walk, the friends said nothing for a moment or two, both gasping for breath. Sarah's face was white as a sheet and her hands trembled so that she had to lay the reins behind the horn to keep from dropping them. Sarah heard her friend utter an oath and then for just a second, thought that she may be crying before the adrenaline infused giggles turned in to an all out cackle. Jess turned to look at Sarah. Her head was thrown back, eyes as wide as saucers and a stream of tears trickled down her flushed cheeks. Jess’s laugh was high pitched and manic sounding, but her fried was not smiling.
"Did you see that? That was awesome!!!" Jess said.
Sarah stared at the girl in front of her and wondered for the first time if her friend was perhaps a bit mad. Since the met each other, on the first day of high school, she had followed Jess blindly. New to town, being tall, insecure and gangly, a group of girls had seen Sarah as an easy target until Jess stepped in. Since that time not one person had bothered Sarah and Jess had made sure of it. Sarah knew her friend was wild and hot headed, but she was fun and exciting! So much different than the other girls that she had grown up with. Jess was pretty and popular, load and abrasive. Over the past year Sarah had begun to see that beneath all of that bravado lay a very needy and possessive friend that looked to Sarah to her follow her without question. Till this moment, Sarah had willingly done so. But there was something in Jess's eye at that moment, something…deranged and frenzied that unnerved Sarah more than the darkest parts of this forest. Sarah stared at Jess blandly before pushing Jackson up to a trot and passing her without a comment.
"What’s gotten into you?" Jess called out, still choked with giggles."Nothing” Sarah spitted back, “Lets get going. The faster we go, the faster we can get out of here!"