too bad. I guess having the proper gear really is important.”
Up until that moment Carole had not considered any of Chloe’s gear proper. Strange-looking, certainly; acceptable, maybe. But proper? Still, Chloe didn’t have blisters, or sweat pouring down her face because of an unventilated helmet, and she could take a drink of water whenever she wanted one, without taking her hands from her reins. And she was wearing sneakers.
“We’re battered but not broken,” Max said cheerfully. “We’ve got—what? About another seven miles?”
“Yes,” said Chloe, “and the last five are easy. The next two, though—”
“Oh, yuck,” Carole groaned. She stood at the foot of a steep, rocky ridge. It looked like the trail went sideways across a small mountain. On the right side, a thin line of trees grew along the trail, and the mountain rose above them. On the left, a clifflike slope descended into a far-off valley. The riding trail in between was about ten feet wide.
“Double yuck,” Chloe said. She slid off Whitey’s back,crossed her stirrups over her saddle, and gathered her reins in her right hand.
“What are you doing?” Lisa asked.
“Walking,” Chloe said. “I think it’ll be easier on him. It can’t be much more than half a mile.”
“Good thinking,” Max said, dismounting and giving Barq a pat. With various groans, The Saddle Club did the same.
Lisa never minded thinking of Prancer’s comfort first. That was expected of any rider. But as she climbed the slope, she reflected that tall riding boots were not made for walking. She hadn’t thought her feet could hurt worse, but they did. She was also not all that keen on walking so close to a cliff edge. Riders always walked their horses on the horse’s left side, and Lisa knew Prancer wouldn’t like being led on the right, because it wouldn’t be what she was used to. But Lisa was wary of heights, and seeing the ground fall away so quickly beside her made her feel dizzy. She tried to find something else to look at, and something besides her feet to think about.
Chloe tromped along unfazed. Carole, coming next, struggled to walk as fast as Chloe. At least, walking, her blisters didn’t bother her. Stevie was thinking that her sunburn actually was starting to hurt, and Lisa was staring atthe back of Stevie’s T-shirt and repeating the multiplication tables under her breath to take her mind off her feet and the cliff. So none of them saw what actually happened.
There was a sudden noise that made their horses jump, and then there was a thump and a yell from Max that echoed down the valley.
The girls whirled just in time to see Barq, shying sideways from something on the trail, take another sideways leap. Max was fighting to control him, but Barq’s shoulder slammed into Max’s chest. Both Barq and Max lost their footing and fell over the edge.
“Max!” Lisa screamed. She clutched Prancer’s reins helplessly and heard her friends’ screams echo in her ears. Barq slid down the slope on his side, crushing saplings and brush, his legs thrashing wildly. Max was airborne for a moment. He seemed to move in slow motion, elegantly, like a dancer. His head hit a rock. His body followed with a thump that raised dust from the ground, and he lay perfectly still.
C AROLE HAD NEVER seen a true disaster happen right in front of her eyes. Max wasn’t moving. Barq scrambled to get to his feet, fell again, crashed against a boulder, and slid farther down the valley. He quit sliding and staggered to his feet, nearly twenty yards downhill from Max, then hung his head and stood still. He was bleeding.
Carole couldn’t believe it. She was sure Max was going to get up in a moment, shake his head and laugh, and make some joke about looking foolish in front of his three top students. But he didn’t look foolish; he looked dead. For a moment Carole’s feet were frozen in place and her brainrefused to think past the fact that Max wasn’t moving, wasn’t