The morning sun gleamed on his dark chestnut coat. He turned one more circle before bending his knees and hocks for a roll in the dirt. His flowing flaxen mane flopped onto the ground as he rolled over onto his back for a good scratch. Back and forth he rolled stirring up the dust, grinding it into his coat. Ah, that felt so good. Back up on his belly, the mature stallion stretched out his fore limbs, rocked his body forward and upward in a sitting position then pushed his powerful hind limbs beneath him to stand. A full body shake vibrated most of the dirt off his now dusty coat to float softly back to earth. The healthy coat still shone through the dust with his abundant mane draped down both sides of his neck. He shook his magnificent head to adjust his lengthy forelock. Snorting loudly he proclaimed his âharrumphâ that he was king here.
The sound of a closing door drew the stallionâs attention. He could hear her footfalls coming his way. With ears perked forward he stood at the gate and watched her round the corner. He nickered his familiar greeting which was then followed by a chorus of whinnies erupting in unison from behind the barn.
With a smile in her voice she greeted him in return, âHello Rim-Fyre, Iâm happy to see you too, you gorgeous boy.â She looked him in the eye and approached the fence to pet him. He turned his head to snap at her as her hand came up to touch his velvety soft muzzle. Just as quickly she moved her hand out of range, âNone of that now. Be nice!â Her tone was firm and lowered. âNice. I want to pet the pretty horse.â Again she brought her hand up to pet him and this time he stood and let her stroke his nose. âGood boy.â She then turned to walk into the barn to get a halter and lead shank.
To keep his mouth busy, Serena offered Rim-Fyre a treat at the gate which he lipped up with great enthusiasm. His antics this morning were a sure sign that he was bored and needed to get out for some exercise. As he thoughtfully chewed on the preferred treat, she opened the gate and looped the halter over his nose. He flipped his muzzle to the side to make a grab at her which was expertly blocked by her bony elbow. She had to straighten out his thick tangle of mane and forelock to secure the rope halter on his massive head.
Another open mouthed advance was made before she could open the gate. Again, the advance was blocked with rhythmic pressure of her hands directed at his eyes, waving her hand until he backed six or seven steps away from her. âSorry pal, not today you donât!â Not any other day either, she thought to herself. Serena took up the end of her lead shank and swung it in a circular motion toward his hind quarters to get him to yield to the pressure. Rim-Fyre was not about to let the shank hit him. His master was asking for something in a calm manner and he would respond as his natural instinct and training had taught him. She asked him for a few small circles in his paddock before leading him back to the gate and safely into the barn.
Shadows began to recede as the sun peaked over the tops of the trees in front of the barn. It was going to be a lovely autumn day, perfect for that ride that both Rim-Fyre and Serena needed.
Gently nickering âher-her-herâ, Rim-Fyre stood proudly waiting as he heard her rustling grain in the feed room. Serena smiled as she walked towards him with the feeder and some grain. âI love it when you call me her-her-her. Iâm sure thatâs my name in horse language because all the horses call me that.â
Rim-Fyre backed up so that she could place the feeder and dump the oats into it. When she stepped back he plunged his masculine head into the feeder but took his time gently lipping up every oat and thoughtfully chewing them.
Serena soon returned with brushes to curry him, followed by fast action flicking of the dandy brush to remove the dirt he ground into his coat during that glorious roll earlier. Within minutes, Rim-Fyre was brushed and gleaming once again while he leisurely enjoyed the last of his rolled oats. Five minutes had not passed before Rim-Fyre was saddled and ready for that much needed ride. Serena stood with his bridle, calmly stroking his neck while he finished the last mouthful of oats. Another cookie was offered and his bridle was positioned with gentle expert hands.
Garbed entirely in shades of brown other than her blue jeans and lined jean jacket, Serena was layered up for the day. The air was still cool this morning and layers could be shed later as the day warmed. When riding Rim she never knew which bush he might decide to walk through, so she put on her chinks and grabbed her stock whip on her way out the door.
Rim-Fyre pranced as she led him north of the barn to an open area to mount. Serena checked the girth for tightness and placed the braided leather reins over his neck. She wiggled the saddle horn and set her left foot in the stirrup to mount. Rim-Fyre swung his head around to nip her in the backside, grazing the conch on her chinks as she swung up into the saddle. âHere now!â she growled at him.
Without daily riding and interaction, Serena would have to start at square one with Rim-Fyre to prove to him that she was a good leader and would not be dominated by his behaviour.
She asked Rim-Fyre to back up a half dozen steps before turning him to ride out of the yard. He walked with purpose and felt a mile high. His ears were perked forward as he strutted ahead with all the pride he could muster. He was collected and gorgeous, his thick neck bulging from her viewpoint. She relaxed the reins in her hands a few inches and he broke into a smooth jog which quickly became a posting trot. The pace increased, they were now at the lane out of the yard and headed toward the main road. Rim-Fyre broke into a lope which became a hand gallop and then the rocking motion of his crow-hopping began and took them all the way to the end of the lane. Serena easily sat his crow-hopping and revelled in all that robust energy. The gallop continued left onto the main road when Rim-Fyre kicked out his hind quarters in a hard buck. She pulled him to a stop, backed him up and made him stand for a few seconds before they continued. He stepped out at a walk but was so full of energy, wanting to quickly increase speed. Serena wanted to let him run some of the fire out of his system, too, so that they could get onto the best part of the ride. Once again, jog, lope and run as hard as he could, buck, stop, back up and continue. They made their way down the road for more than a mile in exactly that fashion. Serena was glad there werenât any vehicles on the road that morning to watch this spectacle. They rode south and west with the road then another turn south onto a main grid road to cross the black steel frame bridge that went over the Swift Current Creek.
Her plan was to follow the creek from the other side of the bridge along the hills of native prairie grass so that she could see the farm from the other side. She loved riding in the hills there near the water. It was like stepping back in time when the land was free and unbroken. If she was lucky, she would see geese and ducks which would begin flocking for migration soon.
Often a few white-tailed deer could be seen while riding along the creek. If startled, they would jump high out of the bushes with white tails flagging in the air as they ran off in search of another safer place.
Rim-Fyre had exerted some of that pent-up energy and now walked calmly across the bridge. The water was shallow beneath the black steel frame and spanned more than fifty feet at this point. Reining him to the left, they walked onto the dry prairie grass along the creek bank. Sage poked its head through the tall grasses interspersed here and there to wave its blue-ish tint and scent on the breeze. The smell of sage as they passed was faint but when brushed against, its pungent aroma would envelop them. The sky was as blue as a robinâs egg in spring, dotted only with a few white clouds that resembled sheep. Serena basked in the sunâs warming rays and enjoyed the scenery spread out vastly before her. The fields all reddish brown with the dryness of harvest over and green grass poked up from the dry prairie wool where there was more moisture. Small bushes near the waterâs edge took on shades of orange and yellow, where leaves still clung stubbornly to their place on the branches. Fall was evident all around them. An occasional crisp, dry branch of sage brush crunched under Rim-Fyreâs large oval hooves. Various sized bleached grey rocks scattered hither and yon displayed multicolored lichen in varying shades of green and reddish brown. It was truly a picture perfect setting in which to enjoy a ride.
As they neared the creek, the sun glinted brightly off the rippling water running over rocks peaking from the surface. In other places, it barely rippled in the minimal breeze. Serena could not focus on the reflective water for too long, it was bright and burned her eyes.
The ground was firm as they made their way eastward the way the creek curved. It would turn northward on a winding course that would take it more than thirty miles to empty into the South Saskatchewan River. A smooth jog took them a quarter mile along the creek before she signaled him to walk. He picked his way with purpose through the deep grass and down through the ravine that broke from the hill top and made its cutting way down to the waterâs edge. Now on the hill tops high above the creek, they could see the farm in the distance. Rim-Fyre neighed a greeting in recognition of home, hoping for a whinny in reply. The scenery enveloped them and they became a part of the prairie landscape. Although Serena was sure that Rim-Fyreâs dark chestnut coat stuck out even though his flaxen mane and tail blended with the prairie grass and harvest hues. Even more rocks stuck out from the grass on this part of the hills. She turned Rim-Fyre off the crest of the hill and closer to the water once again. They made their way down the hill, skirting the now grass-filled depression of what once was a buffalo wallow more than a century past. Often, when Serena would ride in the hills that wend their way along the creek, she would see the deep depressions scattered along or near the hill tops not far from the water. She was sure that at one time this must have been home to many buffalo. Briefly she mourned the loss of the buffalo, recalling that several years ago conservationists released a herd of prairie bison in The Grasslands National Park, which was eighty miles south of Swift Current. Apparently the herd was doing well and had increased in numbers. Serena hoped to go down there someday with her family to catch a glimpse of them roaming peaceably in their natural habitat.
A flat area in the bottom of the shelter of hills warranted a lope. Rim-Fyre obliged her leg cues and gave a smooth flowing gait that felt like a favorite rocking chair to Serena. The level area took them right to the opposite bank from the farm which looked so peaceful, surrounded by trees that sheltered the house and shop from the westerly winds. The mares and fillies ran down to the fence line in their pasture south of the house and whinnied a greeting to them. Rim-Fyre bugled back. They stood quietly for a few moments and drank in the scene of the farm. Rim-Fyre took in a sharp breath through his flared nostrils and let it out slowly, relaxing as he did so. He, too, was taking in the scene and scents around them.
With leg and rein pressure Serena asked him to turn on his haunches and go back the way they came. Her plan was to take Rim-Fyre farther south along the railroad tracks that were east of the creek and on another tour farther west to cross a different bridge before riding home. It would be an eleven mile round trip, of which they had only come four. The creek was on their right with the hills looming loftily to their left. Serena gave Rim-Fyre his head and turned him toward the hills. Off he bounded with instant power, sinking his hard hooves into the grass beneath them. She sat on him effortlessly as he reached longer strides galloping up the base of the hill and to the top. With his mane now whipping in her face, she laughed with sheer exhilaration. Serena got a funny feeling in her stomach as he leaped over the hill at its rise, then slowed to a trot and a walk. She exhaled a lungful of air as if she had been holding her breath. Damn that felt good!
They went south, Rim-Fyre choosing each step around stones now strewn helter-skelter in the grass. Serena suspected that the lichen covered stones had been there for a long time.
Rim-Fyre was responding to her aids. Gently, she asked for another lope which he obliged willingly. They were in their element as they loped down the hill slope and up the next with the momentum increasing slightly as his hoof falls beat out a staccato rhythm down the next slope. The grass was deep this year and rocks were everywhere. Unprepared, Serena found herself surrounded by a brilliant flash of white light as Rim-Fyre jumped an invisible barrier that she was unable to see. Then Rim halted and stood as still as a statue.
Temporarily disoriented and feeling somewhat nauseous after the blinding light Serena dismounted. When the feeling passed, she checked Rim-Fyre over and he seemed fine too.
What had happened there? Here? Serena looked down at the grass and it appeared shorter somehow. They were standing in what appeared to be a circle of stones placed strategically and with purpose. She looked up and scanned the horizon from their position, it was familiar but different now and she couldnât readily put her finger on what it was. Rim-Fyre nuzzled Serenaâs hand gently, his eye extraordinarily kind, then he raised his muzzle to the breeze and let out a grievous whinny, the likes of which she had never heard.
What happened when Rim-Fyre jumped? What was that flash? Were they dead? A sudden cold fear gripped Serenaâs chest, feeling as though she might suffocate. Rim-Fyre stepped on Serenaâs foot, instinctively she pushed him away. It hurt. That was a good sign, wasnât it? Pain meant she wasnât dead, unless she was in hell, that is.
Now what? Serena made a mental note of the rock circle in which they now stood, maybe this was important. She had always been known for her photographic memory and hoped that it wouldnât fail her now. From the rocks, to the creek which now seemed lower, more of a trickle than it had been before âthe incidentâ, to the open grassland that surrounded them completely. No more were the harvested fields of lentils on the east side of the hills where they stood. The eastern horizon seemed different too, she knew there was a railroad track just over there but the landscape signified otherwise. To her right and west she looked and it, too, was all native prairie, no more hay land across the creek and no irrigation pipes scattered in that field. Most shocking of all when she looked back from the path they just came, her farm and home were nowhere to be seen. No barn, no horses, no house, no trees, only shrubbery along the banks of the creek with open prairie to the west and no visible roads. Serenaâs chest constricted tighter and threatened to cut off her air, adrenaline coursed from her lower back down the back of her legs.
âRim-Fyre, where the hell are we?â
He nipped her pocket with purpose, not malice. It was to tell her to get on him and together they would go look. With Serena back in the saddle, Rim-Fyre wanted to show her what he knew. Now it was gloomy and overcast. They neared the place where they skirted the buffalo wallow earlier, Rim-Fyre stopped and waited for Serena to notice. She squeezed her legs against his sides to continue but he stood stubbornly in place. She had been too wrapped up in her own thoughts until she looked closely at the ground around them, there was obviously something there she was supposed to see. It took a few moments for her brain to register what her eyes were seeing. There wasnât any grass growing in the buffalo wallow, it was a dry dust bowl and now she could see that several wallows dotted the hills around them. This was an important clue and Rim-Fyre was trying to communicate with her.
Serenaâs throat constricted in that familiar way right before she would cry, leaning down onto Rim-Fyreâs neck she hugged him as tears threatened. âOh Rim-Fyre, where are we and why are we here?â A deep breath escaped her trying to still the tears that had not fallen, âHow are we going to get home?â She was pretty sure he didnât know the answer but he was all she had at the moment. He turned his stately head and nuzzled her knee in what she could only assume was consolation. That small gesture brought her to her senses and she sat up straight once again. âAll right then, lead the way, show me what you know.â She had a feeling she was going to be talking more to Rim-Fyre than she ever had in her life. That is, if she wasnât dead. Serena still wasnât sure whether this was what death was or not, an alternate hell maybe?
Rim-Fyre walked on through the sea of prairie grass. Serena had never seen her home surroundings look like this and yet the hill lines and the creek were still all there. No fences though, old or new. The neighborâs house no longer overlooked the creek bank on the opposite side of the water and when they rounded the bend, there was no Black Bridge or sign of a road there at all. It was as if they had stepped back in time.
Wait a minute! Stepped back in time! Thatâs it, but how? And how far back in time did they come? Again the question rang like church bells in her brain, how are we going to get home? Were they dead? If not, why were they here? Too many questions flooded her brain, it was on overload now.
Rim-Fyre continued walking but veered southwest towards what looked like a wooden grain shed near the spot where the old Skyline Ranch had been. A few shrubs were nearby the shed and what looked like a small number of livestock in the distance. As they approached the shed, the creek below the area came into view and Serena could see two people there. I guess this will be the test to see if we are dead or not.
Rim-Fyre kept his pace to a generous walk which covered the ground quickly but was not hurried or proud. By all appearances the two men she came upon were fairly young. They were filling buckets of water and fastening them onto what looked like a neck yoke or something for oxen, so that they could carry them over their shoulders. Rim-Fyre ignored the horses that she could see now with their heads raised in the distance. The horses called out and the men looked up from their duties.
One of the men ambled toward her. He hollered out, âGood day to you.â
They walked closer until Rim-Fyre stopped at what he felt was a safe distance. âGood day.â Serena replied with all the assurance of an ant. She wasnât sure if her voice sounded right or not.
âIâm Ed and thatâs my brother Al,â he said pointing to the other man that cameÂ to stand beside him. âThatâs some fine lookinâ hoss you got yerself there, young lad.â
âGood day to you.â Young lad? Wow, he thought she was young and a man at that! Serena laughed inwardly but did not manifest it externally at all. She supposed from the way she was dressed, with her short hair under her hat, no makeup and her gravelly voice from being an ex-smoker, she could be mistaken for a young lad. Maybe she could make this work for her somehow.
She overheard Al say to his brother Ed, âEducated feller by the looks of it.â
âThank you, nameâs Derek. I had a wreck here a day or so ago and knocked myself clean out of my head, lost track of time. You wouldnât happen to know what day it is, would you?â she asked hopefully.
Al answered her question, âItâs the first day of fall, year of our Lord 1887.â
Serena choked on, âExcuse me?!â
âYa deaf, boy? I said itâs September 21st, year of our Lord 1887!â Al shouted at her.
Rim-Fyre shifted beneath her and backed up a step as she regained her composure. âIt appears I have lost more than a day or two from banging my head. Thank you gentlemen, I should be on my way.â She tipped her hat in farewell.
As Ed walked toward them, Rim-Fyre eyed him warily and backed up step for advancing step. The man stopped, realizing he was making no advance on her horse. âSorry, didnât mean to spook yer horse,â he apologized. âIfân yer fixinâ on goinâ ta town, itâs that way,â he said pointing towards what Serena knew to be the location of the city.
She glanced the way he pointed. âThank you for your time gentlemen, I think thatâs exactly where Iâll be heading next.â
âOh weâre not gentlemen,â Ed offered, âweâre just regâlar folk.â The âfolkâ ended abruptly as his brother Al elbowed him in the ribs.
âOne thing before you leave,â Al interjected, âwhereâd you get that horse and what is he?â
Serena felt she better be careful what information she offered these men if she really was in 1887, the first Canadian Stud Book was just written in 1886. âThis here is one of those Quebecer horses, brought him all the way from out east. Tough as nails, is what I heard, so I took a chance. He hasnât let me down yet,â she said turning Rim-Fyre towards town. âThanks again boys.â She waved as Rim-Fyre walked off across the field. The brothers waved their farewells.
Rim-Fyre loped until they reached the creek. The water was shallow so Rim-Fyre stepped right in leaning his head down for a big drink. Serena slid her hand forward with the reins on his neck and allowed him his fill. When he proceeded, he seemed to take great merriment in splashing as he walked through the knee deep, cold water. Rim-Fyre went up the other bank with ease as they continued on what appeared to be a deer trail. Serena turned him east towards their farm location. They crested the hill and scanned the valley below them. There was no farm nestled in the bottom along the creek bank. The vastness of the native prairie spread before them like a sea of grass, sage interspersed here and there. Home was now a foreign wilderness.
They galloped across the arid prairie towards what was once their home, Rim-Fyre again called out his grievous whinny. His cry broke her heart, as a tear escaped and rolled gently down her cheek, leaving her longing for home.
Suddenly Serena remembered her cell phone in her jacket pocket. Grabbing it out of her pocket she flipped it open. It gave a time and date, the time was now 1:30 in the afternoon and the date said September 21st, 2012. She quickly did the math. They had travelled back in time 125 years, but why? She closed her phone and shut it off. She had no idea how long it would last and knew there wouldnât be any cell service for at least 100 and some years.
Rim-Fyre ambled now in remorse to the creek bank where the farm had been. Maybe if they sat there for a while they could figure out a way to get home in the next day or so. She dismounted and walked the length of the creek where their farm should be, in their time. It was wild prairie with a few bushes scattered here and there near the waterâs edge. Serena sat on the bank across from the hill where they had been nearly two hours ago, looking at their farm. Now she gazed at the hill across the creek and how it appeared 125 years ago - same but different. Rim-Fyre stood nearby, she still held his reins but he didnât try to pull nor step on her in any way. His whole demeanor had changed since the incident.
She was glad she was sitting when the realization of the whole scenario hit her like a brick to the head. No home, no house, no barn, it was going to freeze tonight, no bed to sleep in, no family to greet. In only a few short hours the kids would be home from school and mom wasnât going to be there to greet them or hug and kiss them. The constricting panic gripped her like a vise and threatened to strangle her. She dropped her head to her hands and cried with grief over the loss of everything she held dear. More than her own grief she mourned for Jess and Cole, how broken her children would be over their momâs disappearance. And Derek, her beloved Derek, what would he do? She continued crying as the tears ran freely. She didnât know how long she wept, was it minutes or hours?
Rim-Fyre nudged her shoulder, took a bite of grass near where she sat and nudged her again. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and used the sleeve of her jacket to wipe her runny nose. âAlright horse, where are we going now?â She asked standing up. Rim-Fyre nosed the stirrup. She looked at him, really looked at him and took his muzzle in her hands while looking into his eyes. They just looked at each other but he made no move to try to grab her or her clothing with his teeth. âAlright, letâs go.â She gently let go of his muzzle, placed the reins over his neck and stepped into the saddle. Once she had her foot in the other stirrup he began walking towards where she knew Swift Current should be. There were only deer trails to follow up and over a small hill then across the bottom of a large open area and up the big hill south of the city.
It was only a few miles to town but the landscape they rode over made it seem longer, Serena had never been so aware of her surroundings until that moment. She glanced to the east and saw there was no longer a railroad track on the other side of the creek, the hills she had ridden in as a kid were now unmarked by the passage of the tracks. It was breathtakingly beautiful with a few deer scattered here and there. There was no city water dam and treatment plant flooding the low spots. The cut banks where the creek cut into the hill long ago were not the eroded soft dirt she knew but were instead clear, ragged cuts in the dirt that resembled a small canyon. It was breathtaking.
They were not really rushing but Serenaâs stomach was growling. How long was it since she had eaten? They topped the hill and stood at the top of the cut banks. Perhaps Serena was expecting something else but only more open prairie greeted them and the hill that was once filled with residential homes was native grass. One lone house occupied the top of what was known as Oman Hill. A windmill stood beside the house and a few straggly trees were there. A lean-to shed and a small corral were behind and to the east of the house. A wagon wheel rutted trail led from the house down the northeast side of the hill to where she knew her sonâs school to be. There was no school, only more open grass dotted with sage and the odd bush. This was a time long before all that she knew.
Rim-Fyre veered toward the house. Serena figured she better stick to her story of having hit her head and lost her provisions. Maybe she could secure enough employment to get a meal. She was not opposed to hard work, she was farm raised.
Rim-Fyre walked to the hitching rail and fence in front of the house on the hill. Serena dismounted and a woman came out of the door to stand there obviously to speak to her from a distance. Serena presumed it was because she was a stranger and back then, er now, back now? Well either way, she was a stranger. She wrapped the reins of Rim-Fyreâs bridle around the rail and walked part way to the house. Appearing like a man from the womanâs perspective of things, she kept some distance so this woman wouldnât feel threatened by her presence.
She removed her hat to reveal her short brown hair. âHowdy maâam,â she offered. âMy nameâs Derek.â
âHowdy Mister Derek, what can I do fer ya?â she wrung her hands in the dishtowel she held.
âI had a wreck and hurt my head, lost some time and my provisions when I stumbled into the area here. I was wondering if you might tell me where I could get some work and a meal.â
âSorry Mister Derek, my nameâs Agnes Knight, Mister Knight is in town down the road a piece,â she said pointing to the rail yard buildings downtown.
âWould you mind going down to the creek and getting me a little firewood from the dead trees down around the corner there,â she pointed eastward. âI would fix you a sandwich and some coffee, ifân youâd do that for me.â
âI most certainly would Mrs. Knight, thank you.â When Serena sat in the saddle, Rim-Fyre sensed the urgency in her need for food and loped all the way to the creek where Mrs. Knight directed.
Sure enough, there was deadfall lying around on the ground, dry and ready to burn. Serena couldnât carry the wood and lead Rim-Fyre so she tied his reins to the saddle horn with enough slack to graze. He followed her back and then dipped his nose to the short dry grass in the yard while she carried the wood to the house. There were two steps up to the front porch which boasted two willow chairs, a small table and a wooden box for the wood where Serena set the armful of fire wood.
Mrs. Knight came out of the wooden screen door with her hands full, she had a plate heaped with food in one hand and a tin mug of steaming coffee in the other. She set down Serenaâs earnings on a small wooden table set between the chairs. She motioned her to have a seat in the far willow chair. Mrs. Knight was an average size woman, shorter than Serena but a little rounder in the bottom. It was hard to tell with her full skirts. Her dark brown hair was tied in a bun at the nape of her neck, wisps escaping around the contours of her oval face.
âThank you for bringing me that wood, Mister Derek,â she said settling herself in the other willow chair. âPlease go ahead and eat, you look like you could use some meat on your bones, young feller.â
Removing her hat, Serena bowed her head to give thanks in silence, picked up the plate and had a bite of the sandwich. It was one of the most delicious things she had eaten, homemade bread and butter, meat that had been cooked to perfection and a homemade sliced pickle added to the mix. Mrs. Knight had been very generous with the bread slices and the meat. It was perfect.
Serena set the empty plate back down on the small table and reached for the coffee cup. Up until now Mrs. Knight had been curiously watching Rim-Fyre graze in her yard, free and able to leave at any time he wanted to.
âBeautiful animal you have there,â Mrs. Knight nodded toward Rim-Fyre. âI canât get over how well behaved your stallion is. Any other stallion would have run over to greet our horse behind the shed out back by now.â
âMaybe itâs because heâs unsure of himself here,â Serena offered as explanation.
Mrs. Knight shrugged in answer. âThey might need some help in town. I know they have rooms down at the C.P.R. Dining Room. You could check there for some work.â