The Extraterrestrial Plot: Prologue
“You were brilliant, Maureen,” I praised my friend as she and Coffee, her chestnut Morgan gelding, left the show ring after performing their pattern for the English trail class.
“Thanks, Ashley,” she grinned, her blue eyes flashing gratitude. “I panicked a bit when Coffee wasn’t responding at first, but he woke up pretty quickly.” She leaned down and rubbed Coffee’s neck. Coffee was a venerable thirteen years old and dozed most of the time, but I could tell from the way he flicked his ears that he was happy. “You and Zorro were amazing,” Maureen continued. “Really, you were. I can’t remember when I’ve seen him so in form. It was almost like he was in a happy, awesome zone.”
I laughed and stroked the neck of my six-year-old black Arabian stallion, reflecting on how much we both had changed in three years’ time. When I first adopted him, he was three years old and full of fire and spirit; I was fifteen and determined to train him. We were both stubborn, and progress was slow. Now I was eighteen and preparing to enter college in the fall, and Zorro had matured into a powerful yet controlled stallion; he no longer spooked at every little shadow or noise. We had both grown up considerably.
Both Maureen and I were called back for awards, and we stood patiently by our mounts as the judges conferred over the results. I darted a quick glance in Maureen’s direction and grinned; she shrugged in excitement. We had entered shows together ever since Zorro was well-behaved enough to enter, and no matter how many times we trotted out in the ring or waited for ribbons or even ate cholesterol-raising hotdogs, it never got old. Granted, there was a bittersweet feel about this show–come fall, Maureen would be leaving for college in another state, the first time we had ever been separated like that in fifteen years. This was the last show we’d be attending together for quite some time. However, with the electric feeling of excitement pulsating in the air around us, it was easy to pretend that fall would never come. The judges finished their deliberations and announced the winners–Zorro and I took First Place; Maureen and Coffee were Second.
“So Coffee must have been more awake than you realized,” I remarked as we rode out of the ring. “Nah, I think he’s done this so many times that he’s gotten to the point where he can do it in his sleep. He sleeps so often now…” she trailed off, no doubt feeling guilty for having to leave Coffee behind when she went to college. But I had promised her I’d take good care of him, and that relieved her worries somewhat. I could hardly blame her for being so upset, though–I knew how badly I’d feel about leaving Zorro if I were in her position.
As we headed back to the stalls, I noticed a plethora of reporters and photographers from the local newspapers off on one side. Although this particular show took place a few miles out of town, the area in general placed heavy emphasis on agricultural doings; the sight of reporters was nothing new. What I did notice was one reporter that looked younger than the rest–the only reason I noticed her at all was that she had red hair like me, albeit a darker shade of red. I smiled at her, and she noticed and smiled back, causing me to suspect Maureen and I would see her by our stalls.
As usual, I called it correctly–shortly before Maureen and I were about to untack Coffee and Zorro, the red-haired reporter hurried up to us, and I saw she was accompanied by a girl who was acting as photographer. They appeared to be around sixteen years old. “Hello,” the reporter greeted, sticking out her hand. “I’m Karla Bennett, reporter for the Zenith High Chronicle. This is my photographer, Megan Spencer.”
“How do you do?” I responded, shaking her hand. She had a firm grip; I liked that in a reporter. “I’m Ashley Mackee.” “And I’m Maureen Turf,” Maureen spoke up. “Hi, Megan.”
“Hi,” Megan replied. She had a brilliant smile and clear hazel eyes that were partially hidden by thick glasses, but her hair, unable to decide if it wanted to be light brown or dark blonde, was an unflattering combination of both.
“Would you mind if I asked you some questions?” Karla continued. “I’m doing a story for the last issue of the school year, and the editor wants to see some local color.”
“Yes, apparently rumors of alien activity in the quarry weren’t local enough,” Megan shrugged. “Megan!” Karla exclaimed, looking flustered.
Maureen and I shared a look that said, Oh, boy, a flying-saucer freak. The initial awkward moment passed, and Karla interviewed us about our horses, the shows we’ve attended, the awards we’ve won, etc. Truth be told, Maureen and I had been asked those same questions for the last three years, but Karla’s precise, professional method impressed me. She would make a prime journalist someday.
When Megan finished snapping pictures, Karla offered us two cards. “Please feel free to call me if you see any opportunity for a good story. I’m always looking for good article ideas.” “We’ll be sure to keep you in mind,” I replied. “It was nice meeting you both.”
“Thanks. You, too,” Karla nodded. “Come on, Megan; we’ve got deadlines.”
“Karla, the deadline is a week from next Tuesday,” Megan reminded her friend as they receded down the hall.
“Who cares? I just wanted to say it.” Karla’s defense was slightly obscured by the hustling, bustling noises around us, but I managed to catch it anyway.
I glanced down at the card I held in my hand. It read, “Karla Bennett, Reporter,” followed by her phone number and e-mail address.
“That was certainly exciting,” Maureen commented as began to untack Coffee.
“Indeed it was,” I agreed, shoving the card into my pocket and turning to Zorro. “Wait, are you talking about the show or Karla and Megan?”
This was a seemingly unremarkable encounter, but it later proved to be immensely important.
(Read more of Emerald’s works at My Turn to Talk)