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Fire Pony

Fire Pony

Chapter 1: Catch a sight of heaven

“We’ll just keep moving,” Joe Dilly says to me. “Pick up a job here and there. Anybody looks at us cross-eyed, we hit the road. You with me on this, little brother?”

I go, “Sure, Joe, I’m with you,” even though inside I’m still pretty worried about all the bad stuff catching up.
We’re coming down from the high mountains in that old Ford pickup truck with the camper back, and Joe’s whistling and tapping his hands on the wheel, like he don’t care if the cops want to talk to him about that fire back in Montana.
“Look around,” he says, pointing out the window. “It’ll help put your mind at ease.”

He’s right. It’s hard to stay worried when every turn in the road there’s something brand-new to look at. Trees so high you can’t see the tops, and sometimes these open pastures that roll right on down to the edge of the world.

All of a sudden – bang! – that old right front tyre blows out like a gunshot and I’m hanging on for dear life with the truck bucking and heaving like an unbroken horse. And Joe Dilly, well, you never heard nobody can curse like Joe Dilly when he’s in the mood.
He finally manages to wrestle the truck over to the side of the road, near this thick stand of tall trees, and you can tell how the mountain drops away real steep right under those trees.

“Just step aside,” Joe Dilly says, rubbing his hands together. Like he’s almost happy that tyre blew, like it was an adventure he’d planned on having, for the fun of it. He’s going, “Make way for Mr. Fix-It,” and “Okay, partner, just you watch while I make this little old truck levitate,” the way he always talks to himself when he’s working.

Pretty soon he’s got the truck jacked up and the bad tyre is lying there like a chunk of roadkill, and I’m kind of wandering along by the edge of the road, looking to catch a peek at whatever critters are hiding in the dark shadowy places under those tall trees.
“Hey, Joe!” I go. “Are there mountain lions round here?”

He looks up from where he’s spinning the tyre wrench. “Mountain lions?” he says. “You bet your bottom dollar, sports fans! This here is mountain lion country.”

“You ever shoot a lion, Joe?”

He gives me that flinty, squinty look of his, and then he winks and goes, “Nah. Saw one once, coming over the ridge.”
“What’d you do?”

“Ran like a man on fire,” he says, and then he’s back whistling and working.
I keep following along the side of the road and suddenly there’s this gap in the trees and you can see all the way down the mountain into this big, golden valley.

Something about that valley, the way it seems all glowy and filled with light, it makes my heart thump hard against my ribs. It’s almost as if I’m afraid to take another breath or blink my eyes or it’ll be like something you see in a dream, something really special that fades away as soon as you wake up, and then you can’t remember why it was so important.
I sing out, “Joe! Come here and look at this!”

“Whatcha got, a big old lion? Probably a tree stump looks like a lion.”
“I catched a sight of heaven, Joe!”

Which gets his attention. Before I know it, Joe Dilly is standing right behind me, looking over the top of my head, and his voice changes and gets real quiet.

“I’ll be darned,” he says. “And look there, off to the south. I spy a ranch.”
“I can’t see it,” I say.
He points far off, and now I can see the glinting where the sunlight hits off the metal roofs. There’s a lot of barns and outbuildings, and a bigger, sprawling place must be the main ranch house. And you can see the dark little speckles moving over the floor of the valley, if you look hard enough.
“Horses, Joe. I see horses.”
“Yep,” says Joe. “Horses.”
The way he says it, you know that horses are his favourite kind of critters, and that includes most people.
“Can we go there, Joe?” I say. “You think we’re far enough from Montana?”

I’m hoping maybe this time things will work out. That’s when I feel both his hands on my shoulders, and Joe gives me a little squeeze. He says, “Tell you what, Roy. We’ll give her a look. We can do that much.”

“It sure is pretty,” I say.
He’s quiet for a minute and then he goes, “Lots of things look pretty from this far off.”

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Roy and his big brother, Joe, are on the run from their past. When they fetch up at the Bar None ranch their shared passion for horses soon wins them great respect, and Roy is offered the chance of a lifetime – to break in a wild pony that runs like the desert wind. He is even promised that if he can ride Lady Luck, he can keep her – a dream come true.

But Roy knows that Joe has a dangerous secret... a dark obsession that could explode at any time and send Roy’s dream, and their whole world, up in smoke.

An emotionally charged thriller from the award-winning author of "Freak the Mighty".

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Book information

Key Stage
KS2/3 E
Lexile Measure
Accelerated Reader level
4.9 MY
Paperback (New cover)
ISBN: 9780746090831
Extent: 192 pages
Dimensions: 198 x 130mm

Author information

Rodman Philbrick

Rodman Philbrick has been writing since the age of sixteen. He had published more than a dozen novels for adults before the publication of his first book for younger readers, Freak the Mighty. Since then, he has won numerous awards and honours, including the prestigious California Young Reader Medal, the Arizona Young Readers' Award and the New York State "Charlotte" Award. Freak the Mighty has been translated into many languages and was made into the feature film, The Mighty, starring Sharon Stone, with theme music by Sting. Rod divides his time between Maine and the Florida Keys, USA.

Read more about Rodman Philbrick

Press reviews

“A must-read for anyone 10 or over...Philbrick is one of the most brilliant and compelling living American children's writers. Enjoy! ”
“Full of warmth, humanity and interesting detail. ”
“As a result of an awful childhood with drunken parents, Roy (aged under 15) was put in a disagreeable "home" and his older brother Jo disappeared. When the story starts, Jo has returned, carried him off in an old pick-up truck, has caused a serious fire as a result of an instability in his character, and they are on the run. Against a background of Jo's wariness and potential for rage there is delight and excitement. A cougar attacks Roy's horse but he saves it from death; he races the horse at the local rodeo and wins. However, there is a minor villain in the story, who attempts to prevent the boy from winning. The older brother cannot resist attacking him, which will lead to his connection with the earlier fire being discovered. Fire, tragedy and heroism follow. Written with finely controlled skill in the present tense and in the vernacular - giving it a very moderate reading level - full of warmth, humanity and interesting detail, this is a good book. Teenagers should love it and find it memorable. ”