The pony shied as another gust shook the trees around us, the scent of cedar whipping through our hair.
“This is stupid.” I imagined the cart flipped, the road littered with hundreds of cracked eggs.
“You want to skip it?” my brother snapped. Nerves, not the chill January air, set his voice on edge.
I dug gravel and manure out of Zig Zag’s hooves, avoiding the question. The strange sounds of the Yarkin’s farm were setting the pony on edge and my nerves were quick to follow. The Yarkins almost single-handedly keep Maury in eggs, so when their little mare took lame last week, my brother and I got sent over to help with the deliveries.
“That’s what I thought.” he reached for the girth, cinching the harness with ease. “It’ll be far worse tomorrow,” he added, eyeing the encroaching storm warily, “with the temperature dropping this fast, we’re likely to get snow, and you know it’s always worse this end of the island.”
I imagined our Mom and Dad having to manage our deliveries with a wheelbarrow and hoped they’d not crack many.
“Snow’s better than rain.” I checked the cart and gave the thick padding around the cartons a final tug before untying Zig Zag’s halter lead. “You gonna get the gate?”
My brother’s scarf snapped wildly behind him as he ran ahead. He’d be warm today. I felt jealous. He’d spend the next two hours running eggs while I’d be stuck out on the road, navigating pony and cart through a year and a half of tree litter and abandoned vehicles.
The sharp rapport of a tree limb cracking rang out like a gunshot as I checked that the lead wasn’t wrapped around my hand, tightened my grip, and swung the loose end behind me, slapping the pony’s butt. “Walk on!”
Driveway after driveway, my brother ran up and down, shuttling eggs to the far flung houses along the open and flat region of Maury Island, now called Cliff Ville, and then to the more densely packed homes of Upper Gold Beach. No one lived in Lower Gold Beach anymore.
The Fisher Loop Collaborative, where we lived, had only twenty-eight houses with two to three families per. That put demand (or hope) at nearly one hundred and fifty dozen eggs a week. The Yarkins fed about the same number, but we had to cover three times or more the distance. If it weren’t for the solar panels we and the Yarkins had installed Before, and the lights it powered in the chicken coops, we’d have no eggs in the dark of winter. Damn if that wouldn’t be enough to drive some over the edge.
Zig Zag’s head jerked hard as my brother bounded toward us, a stack of empty cartons tucked under one arm. “Pressure’s dropping!” he called, forgetting that ponies spook easily.
Clamoring into the cart, he slid the empties into a now-vacant corner. “The wind stopped.” he said, white clouds puffing out of him like an old-fashioned choo-choo train.
“Snow for sure, then?” I asked. He nodded and that’s when we heard it.
A grinding then growling then screeching so loud I couldn’t place it except to know it was near…so near…and then the world above us churned and convulsed as a writhing green monster slammed down on us.
We survived because of the pony.
As a huge Madrone succumbed to gravity, Zig Zag’s prey instincts sent him, the cart, my brother and me hurtling forward, down the wind-brushed road. Only, while my brother gripped the cart’s edge, his face white with fear, I was dragged along the ground, my hand having gotten wrapped up in the lead rope after all.