The prompt: write a story about an animal with "magical" abilities, either real or imagined.
Word limit : Totally forgot. Either way, I likely ran over it. :)
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She arrived on a Friday night. The Santa Ana winds had cleare d the smog earlier in the day, the unobstructed view casting a sheer white halo on the earth below. Colleen squinted her eyes to make out the three twinkling gems that made up Orion's belt and sighed. The girl looked terrified. She smelled as bad as she looked.
Colleen ushered the state worker - she called herself Miss Beth - into the farm house's kitchen and put the coffee on. Excusing herself, she tucked behind a wall, down the hall just a bit and into the washroom. Finding only men's products, she decided to run a simple hot water bath with Epsom salts. She laid out two freshly laundered towels on the edge of the sink, and tossed a washcloth into the steaming bathwater. It would have to do.
Back in the kitchen, the girl was still hovering next to Miss Beth. A skinny thing, her twig-like arms protectively wrapped around a bundle of fabric. Her almond shaped eyes were bright and looked like little bits of amber under the florescent lighting. Colleen noted that the girl's hair was in dire need of a scrubbing as well. It was unevenly cut, and what would normally be called "bangs" were nearly cloaking those petrified eyes.
Miss Beth took the helm for bathtime and tucking in. The girl cleaned up well, although it would take a few days for the bruising to fade. As the little one slept, Miss Beth and Colleen spoke in hushed tones over coffee. Colleen learned that the girls parents were nowhere to be found and her previous foster home was closed down on account of allegations of abuse.
"I know you're at your limit, Colleen - can I call you Colleen? - but I really need a place for her. There is nowhere else for me to take her. I've checked all over the county."
Miss Beth set her empty coffee mug on the barn wood table and reached for the carafe. She refilled her mug, took a long slurp of black coffee and closed her eyes.
"I'm not going to sugar-coat this, Colleen. She's a scrapper. Took me thirty minutes to get her strapped into the car. We don't know what went on at that house, so I can't make any promises on behavior." Colleen nodded slowly, letting Miss Beth's words tumble in her mind for a few minutes before responding.
"It'll all work out, Miss Beth. Don't you worry. We'll see you tomorrow".
The first three months with the little girl were tempestuous. She stared straight ahead when anyone spoke to her at meal time. She refused to drink her kool aid with the rest of the foster children, said it tasted funny. She didn't like green beans with dinner and she did not like ketchup on her eggs at breakfast. When it came to bath time, the girl would howl like a wild animal before collapsing into sobs.
Colleen didn't know what to make of it. The other fosters were more predictable. Each followed the house routine with quiet compliance. They wore anxiety around their shoulders, but they never complained about farm chores or strict scheduling. Colleen believed the steadiness of farm living reassured the children that things would be okay ... eventually.
When the little girl passed the probation period, Colleen took her out back to ride the horses. She explained that this was meant as a treat, and only the older children could ride regularly. They cleaned the stalls and horses, after all. She hoisted the girl up into the saddle and took the reins in her hand. Every so often, Colleen would look back at the girl and note her head bobbing in sync with the horse's.
Back at the stables, Colleen noticed the girl had leaned forward to hold onto the horse's neck. Her breath had slowed, though her eyes still held a world of emotion. Colleen put on her best toothy grin and cheered.
"Well, look at the two of you! Old friends, reunited at last".
The girl gave a whisper of smile but Colleen caught it.
When Miss Beth returned for her six month visit, the girl was nowhere to be found. Colleen explained that she had allowed the girl to go riding with another foster around 7:00 am, but hadn't seen them since. This was not particularly abnormal, but worry itched in her belly when the foster returned without her. Farm hands and neighbors were quickly dispatched to search the property.
"It'll all work out, Miss Beth. Don't you worry."
Days melted into weeks. Winter gave way to spring. The desert sands whispered the new life of each cracking snake egg and screeching hawk. A formal search party was assembled and dismantled. Miss Beth was soothing nightly migraines with amber fluid, attempting to drown the shadows in her nightmares. CPS was breathing down her bosses' neck, and the proverbial shit ran downhill right to her office door.
Once the CPS case against her had fizzled out, Colleen took up ushering fosters from her home to the next unfamiliar pit stop. She thought of the wildling, of her missing horse. Only the most terrible outcomes would play out in her mind, so she was thankful when a snap of the Santa Ana's brought her back to reality.
The girl's name was Martina. She returned during a sand storm, on the back of a dapple gray Andalusian. The bruises had healed, her hair had grown out; long and thick like a horse's mane. Her eyes had lost their wild spark . Colleen and Miss Beth were touring new fosters around the farm when they saw her. The dogs ran out first, then yipped and spun around in excited circles when they picked up on the Andalusian's scent. The two women remained frozen at the stables, each gripping the other's arm as if they were sinking into the dust and hay.
Martina made the front page of the newspaper for several weeks after. Stories of the miracle circulated from diner to pulpit. Reverend Smythe declared it an act of God, then switched his opinion on account of Martina's lack of faith. Soon the neighbors were afraid to have the child around. Their fear expanded into the schools and town hall, consuming all who had heard or read about the girl's return. Martina was relocated by social services under the cover of starlight, the Santa Ana winds whipping her long hair into the faces of her captors.
Miss Beth was nearly terminated after the amber liquid rotted her common sense. Her supervisor pleaded her case well, and had her sent to a rehabilitation center instead. During her stay, a striking young woman with almond shaped eyes had visited her. She didn't say word, but laid a strange braided ornament at the foot of her bed. Miss Beth waited until the woman had gone before snatching it into her lonely hands, absentmindedly stroking it as she fell asleep. It became a talisman of sorts. When she wasn't holding it, she was tucking it into the well worn pages of a favorite book, or hanging it by a piece of ribbon somewhere the light would bounce off its silvery threads.
Hardly a soul recognized Miss Beth on the day of her release, exactly two years and nine weeks from the date of her admittance. Her hair had grown long and thick. Her skin had tightened and lost its yellow tinge. The talisman that gave her comfort in through gray walls, silence and all the terrible cafeteria food was neatly tucked into her coat pocket. Once behind the tinted glass of a taxi, she lifted it from its hiding place and began stroking is absentmindedly, again. The cab rode on the hum of mariachi music, all the way to Colleen's farm.
The Andalusian was waiting for her in the field adjacent to the stables. Miss Beth approached slowly, waving away the dandelion seeds floating in the space between them. As her forehead met muzzle, she understood what had happened to the scrawny foster girl so many years before. She stroked the mane of white and noticed a section was missing, just behind the horse's ear. Colleen was approaching from somewhere behind her, two cups of coffee in hand.
"It'll all work out, Miss Beth" she called. "Don't you worry".