"Four Horse Island"

Chapter 1

By w.j.debi

Claustrophobia has advantages, doesn’t it? Intensified perceptions? Heightened emotions? Yeah, right. Oh, how I wish I could sit up. I wish it weren’t so dark. Okay. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Concentrate.
“NO!” I clenched my fists and pounded on the debris trapping me, screaming so loudly it hurt my ears. Yeah, I panicked.

“Help! Someone, please help!”

I held my breath. Please let me hear an answer, or a noise of some kind, any kind.

Tick, tick, tick… Ah, my wind-up watch. Too bad it was too dark to see the hands. Strange, I bought this watch as a gag when I heard the internet and cell phone reception was sporadic on board, and that was only if you bought a specific connection. Going retro? Might as well go all the way. What a stupid thought. I half-laughed, half-sobbed, then started pounding again.

Perspiration soaked my skin, saturating my clothes and making them cling in uncomfortable ways. I raised my hand to rub away small flecks of something I felt on my face. To relieve some of the aching in my left side, I wiggled and strained to shift from lying half-way on my side to lying on my back. The effort left me gulping huge breathes of stale air between sobs. Sobbing? Really? A waste of energy, but I couldn’t help it. Trapped in a dark, cramped space. Alone. Never to be found? Lost at sea? The longer I was here, the louder and quicker my racing pulse pounded in my ears. 

Hopefully, my adrenaline level was climbing along with my distress. Doesn’t adrenaline give a person extra strength in life-threatening situations? And being claustrophobic should drive up my distress and therefore my adrenaline, right?

Ugh. This type of reasoning wasn’t helping. Calm down. Count to ten, or a hundred, or something. Think this through.
Was the storm over? I couldn’t hear it anymore. Truth was, I couldn’t hear anything except my own breathing and the ticking watch. Someone must be looking for me. Or…has everyone abandoned ship? If so, why? Am I buried too deeply under this debris for anyone to hear me? No white knights around when I needed one. No handsome, brawny sailor saving me from the deep, dark ocean. Come on Popeye, where are you? And if I did happen to free myself…am I underwater or above it?

Drowning? Noooooo…

Panic surged into a tantrum of frustration and fury:  pushing, pounding, kicking, and cursing at the material that pinned me down. Something broke loose near my feet. A rush of cool air and a sliver of light flooded into my tiny space. It was barely a crevice, but it was an opening to the outside world.
More tears, but this time of relief.

Breathe. Focus. Kick at the opening. Something gave slightly, didn’t it? 


I kicked again and again.

Inch-by-inch the light and air in my small enclosure increased. Alternating spurts of kicking and resting gave me hope the opening would become large enough for me to squeeze through. With each minor triumph, my excitement grew. Only a few inches of debris were between me and the outside. 

How much time did it take to chip away at my barrier—minutes, hours? It didn’t matter. Each kick brought me closer to the outside.
My final kick broke free another piece of debris and sent it tumbling to the side. The opening was finally large enough for me to wiggle and squirm my way toward it. My mind said, “rest a moment,” but my claustrophobia shouted, “OUT NOW!” 

So, I shoved against the metal, willing my body to move in the wave-like motion of a caterpillar, inch by aggravating, tortuous inch. The nicks and scratches I incurred? Freedom was so close; I’d take whatever damage it cost. 

One last effort. That’s all I needed to finally free my head and shoulders. I took a deep gulp of air and pushed. In my excitement to emerge, I hit my head trying to sit-up an inch too soon. I didn’t feel any pain, but put my hand to my forehead. It was wet. Blood or perspiration? Both. Who cared?
I untangled myself from the debris and stood. My aching muscles rejoiced. Fresh ocean air immediately eased the stress on my throat and lungs. A light breeze embraced and cooled my frazzled body. Fluffy white clouds floated in a blue sky. I squinted against the bright sunshine. Mid-morning, perhaps? Oh, that’s right, I have a watch. I raised my arm to look at my wrist. Ten o’clock. I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the sun.

A wave of dizziness and nausea made my stomach lurch. Spots appeared and disappeared in my vision. Maybe I stood up too quickly. I put a hand on the wall to steady myself. Trembling, I slid into a sitting position and put my head between my knees. 

I was going to be sick. Good. That meant I was alive. Exhausted? Yes. But relieved and grateful. So grateful. Thank you, Lord. 

Free and alive. I couldn’t ask for more.

Author Notes Chapter 1 of a little novella I wrote during the Covid lock down.

Chapter 2
Searching the Ship

By w.j.debi

My morning had been fruitless. Well, perhaps not. Didn’t Thomas Edison say something about each time an experiment didn’t work he eliminated a wrong option and learned something?

So, what had I learned? After crawling out from the debris that trapped me this morning, I had an unquenchable thirst. I stopped at every ice and water station I came across.

A deck-by-deck search revealed that the common areas of the ship were abandoned. The swimming pool was empty. That must have taken some jostling of the ship. Books in the library were scattered all over the floor. The gift shop looked like someone had vandalized it.

All 103 passenger cabins were unoccupied. Luckily, this was a hybrid cargo and cruise ship. I can’t imagine how many cabins I would have had to check on one of those big luxury liners.
A handful of cabin doors were locked or jammed shut, most stood ajar, and the rest opened easily with a slight nudge. Luggage and possessions were scattered everywhere inside the cabins. A few items had spilled out the doors and into the walkways. People must have been more concerned for their lives than for their things when they abandoned ship. Still, I called, “Hello. Anyone there?” each time I opened a door.

A quick trip around the balcony on the bridge deck gave me an overview of the lower decks and the surrounding land. The ship was surrounded by land? I shook my head in disbelief. I had assumed it was still on the water since the decks seemed level.

Cliffs rose on one side; the ocean was a few hundred feet away on the opposite side. How did the ship end up here? The last I remember we were nowhere near land. We’d been told to stay in our cabins because of the storm. But, no, I was feeling so seasick that I felt a need to visit the infirmary. Dumb idea. I should have toughed it out. Then maybe I’d be with the others. Wherever they were. 
Did Cozette make it off alive? Did she look for me? Why did I let her talk me into this cruise? I frowned. I know why. After her recent divorce, she wanted to get away. None of her married friends would come and I was the only single friend she had.
Well, at least being surrounded by land accounted for the lack of rocking, which I hadn’t noticed until now.
No one was on the bridge. One window was broken and several others were cracked. As far as the radio, either it was too damaged or I didn’t know how to work it. My “Mayday, S.O.S. this is Ava Revel asking for help,” pleas went unanswered. 
What else could I do? This was the French Caribbean where they spoke French or Maori. On board German and English were options, but did that hold true for the whole area? Maybe no one understood what I was saying. Or maybe the mike I was using was directed to the engine room or some other section of the ship.
I slumped in a chair. After searching eight decks, my feet and legs were starting to ache from stair climbing and walking. There were two elevators, but I ignored them. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped in a confined space if the power went down. No, I’d take the pain. Stairs were safer.
A glance at my watch confirmed it had been over three hours since I emerged from the debris on the main deck. No doubt I was running on adrenaline, fear, or hope. Maybe all three contributed to my overwhelming sense of urgency.
Logically, I knew I needed to rest and recharge. I’d been drinking a lot of water, but it would be a good idea to eat something. Panini and snacks were available in the bars on several decks so I wandered down to the next level to see what I could find.
Air-conditioning welcomed me as I entered the bar area. Heading straight behind the bar, I turned on the panini press and slapped together a sandwich. While I waited for the press to finish warming, I reached for a bottle of juice from the refrigerator and placed it against my forehead. I rolled it on my cheeks and neck. Ah, it felt good. Funny how we take electricity for granted.
After a quick lunch, a search of the crew quarters and the area set aside for local travelers yielded the same results as the passenger cabins had. No one. 
Yet, something compelled me to keep looking. I climbed down the stairs to the cargo levels. Call it intuition or inspiration or whatever you want, but I believed in following ‘a feeling.’ Okay, at this point, maybe that feeling was desperation.
“Hello. Can anyone hear me?”
A sound to the right seemed to be a response. Did I really hear it? I held my breath and strained to listen. Nothing. Was it wishful thinking? Was I hearing noises I wanted to hear?
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
This time the reply was louder. It didn’t sound human, more…equine. A horse?
The responding neigh was louder. Another neigh echoed over the top of it. My heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t alone and more than one horse was answering my call. 
Again, the sweet sound of neighing answered.
Tears welled in my eyes and a huge grin enveloped my face. I couldn’t help it; I started laughing.
“I’m coming!” I yelled. Then I hurried in the direction of their excited responses.

Author Notes I have not failed 10,000 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work. - Thomas Edison

Not necessary to the story, but if you are interested:
Although the cruise ship in the story is fictitious, it is based on the Aranui 5 which is a combination cargo ship and cruise ship. Flying supplies in to the French Caribbean was attempted for a time but was not cost effective so the islands depend on cargo ships to deliver goods monthly.
The Aranui 5 is first, a cargo ship. All activities are scheduled around the ports it visits to make deliveries. Tourists are encouraged to visit the islands, but be aware of the shipping schedule so you don't get left on an island. Some ports take only a few hours to deliver goods. Others may take a full day or two.
There are 103 cabins for tourists. There is also an area for locals that are traveling from one island to another.

I will post other details about the ship as they are relevant. If you are interested in learning more about the Aranui 5 on your own, here is a link:

Chapter 3
My Five Companions

By w.j.debi

When I stepped through the compartment door, four young stallions greeted me with enthusiastic neighing. They pranced in their stalls like I was the most exciting thing they had ever seen. There was also a billy goat voicing his greeting. The neighing and bleating sounded so beautiful I got teary-eyed. I grew up with horses around so they were welcome companions. I petted them each in turn through their stall doors, using my best horse-soothing tone as I spoke to them.

“Good to see you boys. You’re going to be okay. I’ll get you out of here. You’re such beauties.”

The goat? I rubbed the top of his head and frowned. Goats were known to be all sorts of trouble, but they were also sometimes used as stable companions for nervous horses. Since the goat was tethered outside the stalls, I wondered which horse was his stablemate. Maybe none of them. It could be a coincidence.

My voice seemed to reassure the horses so I continued talking to them as I investigated the compartment.
“Good thing the air conditioning is on to circulate the air for you. It’s stuffy enough down here with it blowing. You must have had quite a ride. I bet you got tossed around a bit. I only saw a few scrapes, but I’ll check for wounds later. First things first. How long have you been without water? I remember how thirsty I was this morning. Hey, we’re in luck. I see a faucet near the door. And here’s a hose. Looks like this compartment is set up to care for animals.”

Continuing a constant chatter, I filled each water bucket a quarter full. I had two reasons for partially filling the buckets. I didn’t want the horses or the goat drinking too much all at once; it could make them sick. It also allowed me to get water to each one more quickly.
They drained their buckets before I finished the first pass. On the second and third passes I filled the buckets halfway then gave them a bit of a break while I explored some more. I found a halter on the floor. Good. I would need it, hopefully, soon. The animals were still thirsty so I filled their buckets on the next pass and was happy to see they backed off from drinking after just a few gulps.

Next to the faucet there were three and a half bales of hay. If that was all the hay set aside for these animals, they were only meant to be going from one island to the next, and with only a day or two in between. As thirsty as they were, they had to be hungry too. Maybe I could use that hunger to entice them out of the compartment. I had promised to get them out of here, but I didn’t have any idea how I was going to do that yet.
I stepped out of the door and was immediately followed by, “Don’t leave me here,” pleas in the horses’ nervous whinnies.

I stuck my head back through the door. “It’s alright, boys. I just want to check out an escape route. I’ll be right back.”

An inspection of the stairs I had used previously confirmed what I already believed. The goat might be able to climb the narrow twisting steps, but the horses would never make it.
When I located the freight elevator and opened the doors, I was happy to see it was large enough to accommodate one, maybe even two of the horses at a time. A knot formed in my stomach. So much for my vow to not use the elevators. But this was life and death for the animals and I couldn’t see any other way to get them to another deck. My immediate plan was to get them to the main deck so they were out in the open. After that? I’d have to take it one step at a time.

The horses greeted me with excited neighs a few minutes later when I returned with a wheelbarrow.

I smiled. “You know, boys, I could get used to all this attention.”

When I rolled the wheelbarrow out of the compartment, they again gave me distressed whinnies. I’m sure they were confused as to why I was removing two bales of hay and leaving them behind.

“Just getting things ready. You’ll be out soon,” I reassured them as I left.

When I pushed the wheelbarrow out of the elevator and onto the main deck, I noted the position of the sun. It was mid-afternoon. I needed to work quickly to get the horses out of the compartment or they’d be spending another night there. I left the wheelbarrow next to the elevator and jogged to the back of the ship. What I saw made my heart skip a beat.

The ramp used by passengers to disembark from the ship for what was called “wet landings” was down. It was wide enough for a small car to drive aboard if needed and I’d seen some cargo wheeled up it when we left our first port. Even better, the end of it rested on dry ground. Though the ramp looked a bit crooked, the descent wasn’t too steep. I nearly burst into tears. I had a way to get the horses off the ship.

Author Notes Characters:
Ava Revel--young woman stranded on a ship with 4 horses and a goat

Chapter 4
Horse Number One

By w.j.debi

I looked at my watch and groaned. Preparations to get the animals out of the cargo hold were taking longer than I anticipated. At least I was nearly ready. Hay was distributed in half a dozen piles on the beach at the bottom of the ramp. One bale of hay sat next to the elevator on the main deck. The path between the animals’ compartment and the elevator was as clear as I could make it. Blankets were strategically placed to cover areas where the horses might see an opening for escape. I didn’t want them bolting and getting lost among the cargo if they saw or heard something that spooked them. Barriers didn’t need to be solid, they just needed to appear solid to the horses. As a final precaution, I propped the elevator doors open with a block of wood that I could easily kick out of the way.
I said a little prayer as I headed for the horses and the goat. Hopefully, they were used to being transported so the movement and hollow sound of their hooves in the elevator wouldn’t be a problem.
Again, I was greeted by a chorus of neighing and bleating when I entered their compartment.
“Thank you, boys. You certainly know how to make a girl feel welcome."
The horses’ stalls were situated with two on each side so the horses could look across the aisle and see each other. I petted each of them again and used my best soothing voice. Horses took their lead from their handler. If I was calm and confident, they would be too.
I grabbed a halter and stepped into the stall with the largest and oldest of the horses. I estimated he was five years old.
“Easy, boy,” I said as I reached up to stroke his neck. I looped the lead rope over his neck and pulled his head toward me so I could put the halter on him. My touch seemed to comfort him, so I kept petting and speaking to him. “We’ll get you out of here. It won’t be long now. A beauty like you is certainly worth saving.”
I slid the stall door to the side and stepped into the aisle. The horses all nickered at each other as the first horse stepped out beside me. It was tempting to pause and let them reassure each other, but it was best to keep moving.
“Okay, boys, behave yourselves. I’ll be back for you in a few minutes.”
With that, I led the first horse into the corridor with him prancing beside me, his eyes wide and nostrils flaring. I kept up a steady chatter for the horse’s sake, heading for the elevator with the first smile I’d felt all day.
We moved forward at a brisk walk, almost a trot, and what a strut he put into his gait. Power lurked beneath those rippling muscles next to me, but the horse kept to my side on a light lead. I grinned.
“Someone has trained you well. I wish I knew your name. Horses, like people, respond better if you use their names. Good boy. We’re almost there. You’ll see the sky soon.”
With one eye busy admiring my companion and the other watching for potential obstacles, we arrived at the elevator sooner than I had anticipated. The horse hesitated to cross the threshold so I gave him his head to allow him to investigate his surroundings. He satisfied his curiosity, looked me in the eye as if to say, “Okay, I trust you,” and we stepped in. The sound of his hooves echoed in the small enclosure.
I immediately kicked the block of wood I’d used to prop the door open out of the way and the doors closed.
He snorted.
“Steady, boy.” I drew nearer to pat his neck as the elevator rose. One of my fears was being trapped in an elevator. Being trapped in an elevator with a panicked horse would be a nightmare.
When the elevator doors opened, we stepped out in unison.
The horse took in the view, tilted his head back, and trumpeted a loud sustained neigh. Was he celebrating his readmittance into the world, or letting the others know there was hope? Could he hear an answer from his companions below? Horses have much better hearing than humans so it was possible.
He took a couple of nervous bites from the bale of hay I’d left next to the elevator, but he was anxious to move and so was I. We headed down the deck at a brisk pace. Without hesitating, we proceeded down the ramp. Once we reached the ground below, I looped the lead rope over his neck, pulled his head toward me, and removed the halter.
“You’re free, boy.”
He pranced up and down the beach for a minute or so, tossing his head and neighing. Finally, he settled down and began munching hay. I turned and started up the ramp; he followed me a few steps.
“No, boy. Stay here. You must be hungry; eat some hay. I’ll be back with your friends as quickly as I can.”
He seemed to understand, grabbed another mouthful of hay, and trotted around a bit.
When I reached the top of the ramp, I paused to check how he was doing. His white coat glistened in the sun, giving him a surreal glow. He was so majestic. For some reason, I thought of the god Apollo. That worked. I called down, “Apollo, be good. I’ll hurry.”
He looked up as if I had called his actual name and let out a loud neigh. Goosebumps rose on my arms. Unless I could find some record with his name on it, Apollo it would be.
With that thought, I turned and ran for the elevator. Horse number two, please be as well-behaved.

Author Notes Ava Revel--young woman stranded on a ship with 4 horses and a goat.

To give a horse its head is to loosen your grip on the rope or reins so the horse has a bit of freedom to investigate its surroundings.

Chapter 5
Horse Number Two

By w.j.debi

Apollo had been a joy to lead. Even at fifteen hands and an estimated 950 pounds, he had been so light on the lead rope that I had hardly noticed. 
Younger than Apollo, the second horse stood about thirteen hands high and weighed roughly 750 pounds. I felt every bit of his well-muscled physique straining at the end of the taut rope, especially when an unexpected sight or sound distracted him. If it weren’t for my firm grip, he would likely be tossing his head. Twice during our short trek, he let out loud, sustained neighs which echoed in the cargo bay.
Though he was well-trained enough to stay by my side, the smell of his sweat-soaked hair, the arch of his neck, the nervous twitching of his eyes, his flared nostrils, and the fact he kept one ear focused in my direction but the other constantly flickering as he searched for unusual sounds let me know he was on alert and ready to react to anything suspicious. 
Using my best horse-calming tone, I soothed, “Easy, boy. Easy. You’ll be with Apollo soon. Where are you from? Do you understand English? Is, ‘whoa,’ a universal command all over the world? I’m hoping so. How about I call you Titan?”
When we arrived at the elevator, the threshold had him all aquiver and snorting. He pranced in place, trying to decide whether to cross that silver band on the floor or not. I stepped in and out several times to reassure him. 
“See, it’s safe, Titan. Come on. We don’t have a lot of time to waste. The others need to get out, too.”
A sudden noise startled him. It may have been something falling or a vent turning on, but Titan jumped the threshold, landing with a thud and a bit of a skid inside the elevator. The floor dropped two inches. My stomach did the same. 
I kicked the block of wood out of the way, hoping the doors would close before the horse could change his mind. Titan attempted to rear, but his back feet slid on the wood floor. His front hooves only rose a foot before they bounced back to the floor. The elevator shuddered.
“Oh, please don’t let this elevator stop now,” I said as calmly as I could for the horse’s sake.
An ear-piercing neigh reverberated in the small space.
I stroked the horse’s neck. “Take it easy, Titan. Shush, boy. We’re getting close.” I counted aloud to keep his attention and my focus.
The bell dinged. Titan flinched.
“Whoa, boy.”
When the door opened, he lunged out. I braced my feet and pulled on the lead. He spun to face me, his back legs scrambling to find purchase on the smooth deck. This gave me just enough time to step to his left side.
“Take it easy, boy. We’re almost there.”
Apollo neighed in the distance; Titan answered with another ear-splitting roar. Several times, I tugged up and down on the lead rope to remind him I was there.
“No sense waiting. Come on.”
We headed down the deck with me leaning back on the lead rope to keep Titan in check. When we reached the top of the ramp the two horses saw each other and began neighing excitedly. Thankfully, Titan hesitated to consider the two-inch gap between the deck and the ramp. I half expected Apollo to start up the ramp, but he waited.
“Okay, Titan, I’m not going down the ramp with you like I did with Apollo. It’s too slick, and you’re ready to explode at any moment. If I were injured, I couldn’t help the other horses. Be careful.”
I reached up to unlatch the halter. As soon as he felt the slack, Titan reared, catching me by surprise. I tumbled backward. 
As I lay on my back, I heard Titan skidding down the ramp. A couple of thumps midway down made me wonder if he fell or was just hitting the ramp hard with his hooves. In any case, the cyclone was released.
I took a couple of deep breaths. Was I hurt? No, just had the wind knocked out of me. I sat up. After a couple of minutes, I got to my feet to look down at the horses.
Titan was bucking, kicking, and pawing the air. 
I shook my head and smiled. “Go for it, Titan. Let out all that frustration and fear. I have no idea what you went through. I was unconscious when the ship crashed and missed all the excitement.”
Apollo joined Titan and they raced back and forth along the shore. I leaned against the railing to catch my breath and enjoy the spectacle, admiring their energy, beauty, and strength. 
I rubbed my right shoulder. The struggle with Titan was going to leave me sore tomorrow. A slight trembling in my muscles reminded me I needed to take care of myself if I was going to help the others. Grabbing some water or juice and maybe an energy bar or chips would be wise.
A glance at the sky told me there was maybe an hour and a half of daylight left. With any luck, I wouldn’t need that much time. I turned toward the gift shop. They had juice and snacks in stock. On my way back to the cargo bay, I could grab something to eat. 
“Please, horse number three, be a gentleman.”

Author Notes Thank you to ValKul for the use of the artwork "Horse Play"

As prey animals, a horse's natural instinct is flight when encountering strange or new situations.
Hand=A horse's height is measured in hands. A hand is 4 inches. A 15-hand horse would be 60 inches tall at its withers (top of its shoulder).
'Whoa' is used to tell a horse to stop. I was taught it was the most important word a horse can know. It's saved me a few times.

Chapter 6
Horse Number Three

By w.j.debi

As I entered the compartment with the remaining two horses and the goat, they again greeted me with neighing and bleating. They seemed calmer than before. Maybe it was the fact there were fewer animals. Maybe it was because they were less frantic without high-strung Titan exciting them.
“Hi, boys. Let’s check your water. You’ve been down here a while. How are you holding up?” I continued to speak my thoughts aloud for the sake of the animals. “Water looks okay.”
The youngest horse, a yearling colt, nickered at me. I reached through the bars on the stall door to pet his nose. “I’d like to take you next, but this halter doesn’t adjust down to fit your head. It could be trouble if it slips off. I’ll have to find something to tighten it up. To keep things moving, I’ll take the older horse. You alright with that? You appear relaxed at the moment. Age doesn’t necessarily determine temperament. Can I count on you to keep your wits about you, boy?”
I walked over to the hay in the corner. "How about I give you something to concentrate on while you wait? You hungry? How about a flake of hay to munch on?”
The goat bleated. “Looks like you are munching on your rope. You need a distraction, too.” I threw a flake to the goat, then another flake into the feed bin of the colt. The colt immediately grabbed a mouthful. 
“Good stuff, right, boy?”
I crossed the aisle to the other horse. “Hello, boy. Sorry, no hay for you. Instead, it’s onward we go.” I slid the door open enough to step in. 
He nickered at me as if carrying on a conversation.
“A talker. I like that. In fact, if I knew you better, I'd give you a hug. But that's probably too familiar given our short acquaintance.” I undid the halter and, before I could loop the lead rope over his neck so I could pull his head towards me, he had his nose in the noseband. “Anxious to go. Good boy.” I did up the halter, then stroked his neck. Hopefully, the action was as calming for him as it was for me. 
Well, we better go.” I slid the door open enough for us both to step out. This put us directly next to the colt’s stall. We paused so he could nicker to the colt for a minute. 
“Let him know I’ll be right back, okay?"
That seemed to reassure the colt. I patted my companion on the neck. "Good boy. Let’s go.”
As soon as we walked out the door and were out of sight, the colt let out a loud neigh. I immediately wondered if I’d made a mistake leaving him for last. Hopefully, his hunger would distract him and he would concentrate on eating that flake of hay. Nothing to do now but keep going.
Horse number three was about the same age and size as Titan, but slenderer in build. He gave off a composed and dignified demeanor as we walked toward the elevator. Even as his nostrils flared, it appeared he was analyzing the scents he was experiencing rather than showing his uneasiness at being in such a strange place. Large inquisitive eyes surveyed his surroundings, calculating the dangers, and assessing what was going on. 
As I did with the other horses, I kept up a constant chatter. He responded with occasional answering nickers. Unlike the first two horses, the threshold of the elevator didn’t seem to spook him. He just gave a snort and stepped in with me. He had this. Proceed. 
Once the doors closed, he lifted his right hoof and pawed the air a couple of times. Otherwise, he was calm.
Wow, I liked his attitude.
When the elevator doors opened at the main deck, we stepped out in unison. Horse number three lifted his head high, answering the calls of Apollo and Titan in the distance with a loud neigh of his own.
“Good boy. Let’s go meet them.” 
We trotted down the deck towards the ramp. For some reason, it felt comfortable to trot next to this horse. Perhaps, I’d been too nervous to exceed a walk with Apollo because he was first. With Titan, a controlled walk had been a matter of keeping him in check so he wouldn’t run away with me. 
When we reached the top of the ramp, he called to Apollo and Titan who were waiting at the bottom. I reached up to unlatch the halter and he lowered his head, tipping it in my direction so I could reach it more easily. 
“You are well trained. Thank you, boy.” After the halter was off, he paused to nod his head once and gave me a pleased look. I gave him a pat on the rump as he started down.
After a swift but well-controlled descent, he greeted the others with a joyful kicking and bucking.
A name for this horse? I’d have to give it some thought. He deserved something special.
I paused to watch the three horses romping and playing in the sand. “What a beautiful sight. Too bad I can’t stay.”
Slinging the halter over my shoulder, I trotted down the deck, feeling a bit of a rush. Three horses were free. Just one more to go. The youngest. 
“I hope you are doing okay with only the goat for company, my young friend.”
At the elevator, I looked up at the sky. Maybe an hour of daylight was left. I hoped it was enough. I hit the button to descend to the cargo bay. 
As the doors closed, confining me in the moving box again, I laughed. “Considering my claustrophobia, I must really like horses.”

Author Notes Thank you to Charlotte Morse from FanArt for lending the artwork.

Colt-a young male horse

A bale of hay normally breaks apart into 10-14 pieces called flakes. Two flakes of hay are fed to a horse each morning and evening. Other supplements are often added. Adjustments are made depending on the horse's activity level, size, and metabolism.

Chapter 7

By w.j.debi

When the elevator doors opened, I heard loud banging and the desperate neighing of the last horse echoing in the cargo bay. The goat’s bleating sounded frantic. I threw the wooden block in the elevator door to wedge it open and ran toward the panicking animals.
The goat was straining against his rope when I reached their doorway. Since he was likely reacting to the nervous horse, I gave him a, "Hang on, boy," and kept moving. Slowing to a brisk walk to avoid alarming the animals further, I headed to the back of the compartment where the colt was kicking at his stall door.
“Whoa, boy. Looks like you don’t like being left alone. Whoa. I’m here. No one is going to leave you behind. Calm down.”
I reached through the bars of the stall door to pat the colt's neck, but he was jumping around too much so I pulled back. The smell of damp horsehair permeated the air. The colt’s coat glistened with sweat. His nostrils flared. His ears flicked back and forth. 
“Hey, pay attention here.” I spoke slowly, putting as much reassurance in my tone as possible. “It’s going to be alright. Lucky for you, I like the smell of horse. No one is going to leave you behind. The other horses are waiting for you. Calm down and I can get you out of here more quickly so you can join them.”
“I should have taken you out earlier, shouldn’t I? You appeared so calm when I left; I’d assumed you would remain that way. Whoa, boy. That’s it. Calm down. Nice stall you’ve got here. You’re a pretty boy. Nice bloodlines, I am assuming. What are you doing on this ship? Where were you going? Have you traveled far?”
After several minutes, he moved closer and settled down to sporadically pawing at the stall door. I put my hand through the bars to stoke his neck. “That’s a good boy. Trust me. I will get you out of here.” I glanced at the goat. As I had predicted, he settled down as the horse did.
“I see your water bucket is empty. As much as you are sweating, you probably need a drink.”
When I took a couple of steps toward the water hose, the colt struck the stall door with his hoof. The bang reverberated loudly. 
“It’s okay, boy. I’m just getting you some water.” After I filled his water bucket, he drank about half of it. Good, that meant he was calming down. I checked on the goat on my way to replace the hose. He still had water and was munching hay, so I returned to the colt.
A small nob in the wall next to the colt’s stall caught my attention. I pulled on it to find a small closet full of horse tack including, a western saddle, an English saddle, a couple of bridles, and several halters, for a yearling. I sighed with relief. 
“Beautiful. I’ll have to return for most of the tack later, but I just won the grand prize.” I grabbed the yearling halter and turned back to the colt.
“Shall we be on our way?” I grabbed the handle on the stall door and attempted to pull it to the side. It didn’t move. I put my shoulder into it. It still didn’t budge. 
The horse reacted immediately to my outburst by striking the door. 
“Soothing tone,” I reminded myself, “Soothing tone. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Repeat.” I completed the actions as I spoke them. After one more deep breath, I put my focus back on the horse.
“Sorry about that. Everything’s going to be fine, boy. I was just being silly. Like you, I want out of here ASAP.” 
The colt took a mouthful of hay from what I had given him earlier and started chewing. “Good boy. I’m glad to see you are relaxing. You eat while I examine the stall door.” 
I got down on my hands and knees to try to find what was preventing the door from moving.
“Looks like we’ve got a nail wedged in the door’s track.” I tried pulling it out with my fingers, but it was lodged firmly in place. “Got a screwdriver handy? I needed something with an edge so I can pry the nail out. There’s a maintenance closet near the elevator. There might be something in there.” 
I got up and headed for the door.
Realizing I was leaving, the colt kicked the stall door--hard. My guess was he used both back feet. A loud thump followed. 
“No,” I moaned as low-key as possible. I turned back to check on the damage. If he had made things worse…
The results of the horse’s temper were obvious. The door was knocked off its track at the bottom but still connected at the top. I winced.
“I've seen this before. There are two possibilities. Either it won’t budge, or it will be tough to move. You may be staying down here tonight. Let’s hope I’m wrong. I don’t fancy sleeping in one of the stalls to keep you company so you don’t panic.”
I pushed on the stall door. It took some effort, but it moved.
“Well, boy, it looks like you just saved yourself.”
When the opening was large enough for the horse to get through, I stepped into the stall and fastened the halter on him.
“Carpe Diem. Let’s go.” 
We headed out the door with the goat bleating loudly behind us.

Author Notes "Whoa" means stop. It is also used to soothe a horse to get it to calm or slow down when it is upset.

Colt - a young male horse. The horse in this chapter is a yearling.

Chapter 8
Horse Number Four

By w.j.debi

As we headed down the corridor to the freight elevator, the colt shied at every noise he heard: the echoing of his hooves in the cargo bay, a creak in the floorboards, the fluttering of one of the blankets that I'd put up as temporary walls, or some unidentified sound in the dimness around us. He bumped me into the wall a few times as he reacted to his surroundings. Twice, he stepped on my foot making me wish I was wearing my riding boots instead of tennis shoes. At least I wasn’t wearing sandals.
At last, we reached the elevator. I took a deep breath. How was he going to react? A vent kicked on, which was lucky for me. The colt looked up to locate the noise. In three steps I had him in the elevator before he realized it. I booted the wooden block holding the door open out of the way.
As the doors closed, his eyes grew wide. He snorted. Bang, bang, bang. He kicked the elevator wall several times with his left, hind hoof. The elevator shuddered. I could swear it suddenly developed a new squeak.
“Whoa, boy.” I held the lead rope firmly in my left hand and stroked his neck with my right. “We’re okay. We’ll be in the sunshine and out of this box in a few moments.”
The colt settled down enough to prance in place as we journeyed upwards. Some horses walk the entire time they are being transported in a trailer so I chalked it up to that habit seasoned with a healthy dose of his nervous energy. He whinnied which echoed loudly in the enclosed space. Could he hear the other horses or was he hoping they would answer his calls?
As soon as the doors opened, he backed quickly out of the elevator and skidded onto the deck, pulling me with him. Facing him, I braced my feet and held onto the rope with both hands.
“Whoa, boy. I can see you’ve traveled in a few trailers. You backed out of those doors as soon as they opened. Just like a real pro.”
We started toward the back of the ship at a brisk walk. Though the colt wanted to bolt, he stayed with me all the way down the main deck, tugging lightly on the lead as he walked sideways. It would have been a great dressage performance had he been doing it on command. Of course, such an advanced move would be years in the future if he were to do it in a show ring. But he had a natural knack for it. I envied the trainer who was fortunate enough to school him on it.
About ten feet from the top of the ramp, I released him. The other horses were calling to him and he was close enough to figure out where they were. I immediately wondered if I'd made a mistake. He took off at a run, skidding and sliding as he went.
He hesitated at the top of the ramp, prancing in place as he called excitedly to the others. Was it the slope of the ramp or the gap between the ramp and the deck that spooked him? Whatever it was, it gave me time to catch up to him. Just as I reached him, he bounced forward on all four feet. First bounce—he landed several feet down the ramp. Second bounce—several more feet. On the third bounce, he leaped into the air.
My heart caught in my throat as I watched him arc upward and then start plunging downward. Where did he get the energy to gain that height? He was going to get hurt. I should have walked him down the ramp.
Down, down he came. I clutched the railing as I watched.
To my amazement, he landed on all fours just beyond the bottom of the ramp. His knees buckled when he hit the sand, but he recovered instantly, tossing his head. He immediately began bucking and kicking.
Apollo came to greet him, quickly followed by Titan.
I let out a deep breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. How did the colt survive that? It was like…like watching the god Hermes launch into the air with wings on his feet. I started laughing with relief. The youngest horse had revealed his name.
“Hermes, I’m glad you’re okay." Then I called out to the first horse, "Apollo, take care of him.”
The horses raced back and forth to celebrate their freedom.
I lingered on the ship’s railing to watch their revels. There was a sense of satisfaction in freeing these creatures. It had been hard work, but worth it. Apollo, Titan, and Hermes settled down and started munching on separate piles of hay. I scanned the area. Where was the other horse? 
Apollo neighed. An answer came from the surf near the beach. The missing horse was out in the water up to his belly. He seemed intent as he pawed and stomped at the undulating waves. I smiled. It looked like he was trying to subdue the ocean. Well, Poseidon was the god of the ocean. He was also said to have created the horse. I smiled. It seemed a fitting name. 
“Poseidon, my boy, please, tell the ocean to bring someone to rescue us soon.”
I looked up at the sun and sighed. There wasn’t much time left before sunset. I’d better go get the goat.

Author Notes Dressage is considered either the ballet or the gymnastics of the horse world, depending on who you ask. Precision movements and communication between horse and rider grow more complex over time as the horse is taken through various levels. It takes years to master.
Here's a definition from the Internet:
The Olympic sport of dressage is derived from the French term meaning "training." Its purpose is to strengthen and supple the horse while maintaining a calm and attentive demeanor. The Pyramid of Training offers riders a progressive and interrelated system through which to develop the horse over time.

Chapter 9
The Goat

By w.j.debi

Bleating greeted me as I stepped out of the elevator. I positioned the wooden block to prop the door open and pushed the button for the main deck so the elevator would be ready to go. Due to his smaller size, I expected the goat would be the easiest animal to handle. I envisioned untying his tether and trotting with him to the elevator. When the doors opened, he’d go bounding off to join the horses. 
Instead, the goat was straining at his tether when I entered the compartment. Worse still, he had chewed halfway through the rope that held him in place, leaving only a few strands of cording along a four-inch section near his mouth. It wouldn’t take much for the rope to snap.
“Whoa, boy.” I walked over and started stroking him on the head. “Calm down. You’ll be joining the others soon.” I examined the halter and sighed. “Goat, tell me why they didn’t put a snap on the lead rope. This knot looks impossible to undo. Oh, well. I doubt you’d hold still long enough for me to untie it anyway.”
I examined the end tied to the railing and huffed. “Goat, I’m blaming you for this. Straining has tightened the knots—a lot! It’s going to take several minutes to loosen this mess. Wish I had a pocket knife. Or too bad you didn’t chew this end of the rope instead of that one.” I paused to scratch the top of the goat's head then knelt to better address the knot. 
The goat bleated.
“I am hurrying.” 
Several minutes later, the rope was untied. Standing, I gave the goat a relieved smile. “Come on boy. Freedom awaits.” 
Instead of following me, he balked and refused to move forward. I tugged. I pushed. I tried tempting him with hay. I finally grabbed his horns and started dragging him out the door. His ninety pounds felt like so much more as he struggled against everything I tried. A couple of times he changed tactics by relaxing and then trying to charge at me. I was huffing and puffing when we finally reached the elevator. 
“Time to take off your halter, shove you in the elevator and let you find your way out when the doors open at the top. I’ll take the stairs.”
As I reached for the buckle on his halter, the goat backed up. Then he charged forward into the elevator, catching me off-guard so that I stumbled backward, knocking the block out of the doorway. The door closed. 
I gave him a disgusted look as the elevator started up. “Not what I had planned.”
When the doors opened, he dashed out, surprising me and snapping the last strands of his rope. I tumbled to the elevator floor.
The lights flickered. The doors closed. Then it went dark.
“No, no, no, no! If I die in this elevator, I’m coming back specifically to haunt you, goat!”
Thankfully, the lights flickered on. I struggled to my feet, hitting the open button immediately. 
When the doors opened, I saw the goat running down the deck in the wrong direction. I watched him go. I’d deal with him tomorrow. I was too tired to chase him now.
But I did want to confirm the horses were okay, so I headed toward the back of the ship. Halfway to my destination, I heard the goat running behind me. I turned just as he clipped me, causing me to lose my balance and tumble to the deck.
With a thud, I found myself on my back, looking up at the darkening sky. One star twinkled.
I fumed. “Really, you stupid goat? You have the entire deck to use and you have to run over me?” The name Grendel came to mind, the ancient monster from the old epic Beowulf.
“Grendel the goat. A perfect name for a perfect monster. You’d better hope there is plenty to eat on this island or I might have to make goat stew.” 
With an effort, I got to my feet, limping toward the railing at the back of the ship. I was starting to stiffen up as all the pains from the day combined. The bruises that stupid goat had just given me hurt the most, but every muscle in my body was complaining as I trudged forward. 
Leaning against the railing offered some relief as I gazed down at the animals. All four horses were munching hay at the various piles I’d distributed. Grendel was sharing with Hermes. So, the goat was the yearling’s stablemate. That made sense. The skittish colt could use a companion to calm him down. I wondered why the two had been stabled so far apart in the compartment. It would have caused fewer problems if they had been closer together.
I sighed contentedly at the pastoral scene below. It was worthy of a greeting card or a calendar: four horses and a goat eating peacefully, tails swishing, the ocean sparkling behind them.
Eating? All I’d had today was a panini, a few bottles of water, and a snack bar. No wonder I was so exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. Time to care for myself or I wouldn’t be much use to any of us going forward.
“Apollo!” He looked up. His real name must sound similar for him to respond so readily. I wondered what it was. “Take care of them, boy!”
He neighed at me then returned to eating.
I shuffled past the elevators and headed to the nearest stairway. No sense taking any chances. There would be no one to rescue me if I got trapped. Besides, I wanted nothing to do with a small box suspended on a cable on a ship run aground on a tropical island.

It had been an unusual day:  frightening, productive, and eventful. Somehow, I had survived and saved five other lives as well. Sadly, there was no one to help me celebrate.

Author Notes Characters:
Young woman on her first cruise: Ava Revel
Horses: Apollo, Titan, Poseidon, Hermes
Goat: Grendel

Chapter 10
A New Morning

By w.j.debi

Sunlight caressed my aches and pains with its cozy warmth. I snuggled into my pillow. Wait. Sunlight? I opened my eyes and looked over at the stateroom's sliding glass doors, then at the clock. "No. I've slept halfway through the morning," I moaned.

Sitting up too quickly, hazy blotches filled my vision. Dehydration and exhaustion from yesterday no doubt contributed to my queasiness. I'd be fine once I was up and moving.

I drifted over to the mini fridge and took out a cold bottle of water, rolling it over my cheeks and forehead. Oh, that felt good. I returned to sit cross-legged on the bed, then uncapped the bottle and filled my mouth. Count to ten before swallowing. Take it slowly so you don't make yourself sick.

As I meticulously consumed my water, my gaze fell on the empty bed across from mine. Where was Cozette? Was she safe? What about everyone else who had been on board? The lack of lifeboats indicated they had abandoned ship. Why?

At least I had the horses and the goat for companionship. How were they doing? They probably needed water and food.

A wry smile crossed my lips as I envisioned my instructor for the mountain rescue team lecturing us, "The correct order is: first, take care of yourself; second, take care of your partner; then you take care of the patient. If you don't go in that order you are no good to anyone."

Okay. First, see to my own needs. Next, check on the horses.
Yesterday's clothes hit the floor, and I luxuriated in a long shower. It was probably foolish but, hey, there was no competition for the hot water this morning, and I wasn't sure how long the power would last. I might as well indulge. Besides, the steam cleared my head and it felt so good.
Fresh clothes and the bright sunshine enhanced my mood--until I stepped onto the deck. No crew members waved and smiled back at me. No passengers scurried to the dining room to get in line for breakfast.
I strolled to the dining room doorway and felt my enthusiasm drain completely. Silence.
Until today, breakfast had been served buffet style with so many people milling about that we had to jockey for a position. Lunch and dinner were divided into two shifts to accommodate everyone. If you arrived late, it was hard to find a seat. Today the room was empty. The tables were bare; the seats unoccupied; no food enticed from the buffet tables.
I was alone.
Why had I let Cozette talk me into this trip? Oh, yes. The fun, the adventure of exploring, the possibility of meeting men who liked adventure and nature. Yes, that was it. But I'd never been on a cruise, so why choose one so far away from the mountains, deserts, and safety of the land I loved?
Cozette, did you look for me? Did some handsome man have to drag you to safety? I hope so. At least one of us should live the dream.
To keep from sinking into despair, I marched through the dining room, eyes forward to avoid the lonely furniture. When I entered the kitchen. I paused for a moment. Passengers weren't allowed back here. So much for that rule.
Rummaging through the cupboards and refrigerators, I made a meal of scrambled eggs, ham, oatmeal, a banana, and some yogurt. I'd eaten so little yesterday that I didn't feel a bit guilty filling the hollow pit in my stomach. I wasn't sure what the day might hold. Would I be hauling buckets of water for the horses, and a bale of hay down the ramp for them to eat? Maybe I'd figure out how to get a hose across the deck and down to them? Or did they wander off somewhere and find fresh water and grass?
Wait! What was on this island? There might be predators. Did I save the horses from certain death in the cargo hold only to expose them to death in another way?
Calm down. At least they stood a chance of surviving if they were free. They would band together for protection. Who knows? Maybe the horses were safely enjoying a good rub down and plenty of feed and water from friendly islanders. I didn't know, but it was time to find out.
I cleared away and washed the dishes. Might as well keep things tidy. Next, I looked around for some kind of treat that I could use to entice the animals so they would come to me. I found some carrots and filled a bag with a couple dozen. Then I headed for the ramp at the back of the ship so I could look down at the beach.
Traces of hay remained on the ground, but the horses and goat had cleaned up nearly all of it. Hoofprints on both sides of the ramp indicated they had rejoiced in their freedom and investigated their surroundings before going up the beach. Their tracks indicated they had climbed a nearby hill. That's all I could determine from here.
Hopefully, the horses had gone in search of fresh water. Some of the horse wranglers at home said horses could smell water. If you were lost in the backcountry, give your horse its head and it would find water for you.
Clutching the carrots, I headed to my stateroom to retrieve my backpack. Aloud, I started listing things I might need: a flashlight, a sandwich, water of course... It's approaching midday. I can give myself three, maybe four hours to find the horses. Then I will need to head back to the protection of the ship for the night.
A lump formed in my throat. "Please be nearby, my four-legged friends. You're all I have right now."

Author Notes Sorry for the delay in posting. I was taking care of my mother.

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