Daria crouched low in the stables, hiding from Chip and his gestapo as they searched for her, cheerfully calling her out to join in on the death march they called a hike. She wrinkled her nose as some of the odors of the stables were less than pleasant, but they were infinitely preferable to some of the company that was forced upon her.

Finally, hearing the voices grow distant and sure she was alone, she allowed her walls down, the tears beginning to streak down her dusty cheeks. A small sob escaped her.

"Who's that crying?" A low voice called out from the next stall over.

Daria immediately went into condition red. She put her emotions into lockdown and mentally spurred into action to counter this threat to her privacy. "I'm not crying!" she insisted. "Babies cry, like my sister!"

"Oh, excuse me, miss. I didn't mean to mistake you for a baby." The sarcasm was heavy in the tone of his voice.

"What do you think you're doing anyway, spying on people?" Daria demanded.

"Oh, I'm not spying. I was just sitting here, minding my own business, swatting at flies, when you came barging in here, hiding from your friends."

"Friends?" Daria snorted. "Most of the kids ignore me -- except for Chip, a jackboot-wannabe, and Amelia, a sheep who thinks I'm her shepherd. I don't like this place," she finished, unable to let her sadness creep back in at the end of the sentence.

"Well, darlin', if you don't like this place, then why did you come?"

Daria was quiet for a moment. "Black Beauty."

"That horse book?"

"Yeah." Daria sniffled; she was getting a bit snotty. "It's one of the first books I've ever read which really reaches out to me. When I first heard that Quinn was going to Camp Grizzly --"


"My sister. When I first heard she was coming here, I thought it'd be a great vacation, since I wouldn't have to see her for a whole month. But then I found out that they had horses here, and I begged to come, and I NEVER beg, and when I got here they wouldn't let me near the horses and I hate it here and I want to go home!" Daria began sobbing in earnest now, despondent at her lost dream.

"Darlin'? Please don't cry. It breaks my heart," the voice said earnestly. "If you want, I can let you ride a horse right now, if you like."

Daria's breath caught in her throat. Could it be? "I-I'd like that a lot, mister."

She heard the gate of the next stall over squeak open, then a moment later a horse walked into view.

Daria was entralled. Though the horse wasn't black -- it was palomino, actually -- the beast was simply stunning. Daria's heart began beating faster in her chest as she took a tentative step forward. "It sure is a beautiful horse, mister!" she called out to her mysterious benefactor.

"Why thank you, darlin'."

Daria froze.

The voice came from the horse.

The horse's lips had moved.

The horse had just spoken to her.

She had been talking to the horse.

"What -- why -- how -- what --" Daria spluttered ineffectually.

"Call me Ed," the horse interrupted her.

"But...but animals can't talk!"

"Oh is that so?" Ed asked. "Well, do you think parrots are just a figment of your imagination?"

"I guess not," Daria conceded. "But I've never heard of a smart horse before."

Ed grinned -- if that contortion of his lips could be interpreted as such. "After what you told me about Chip and the others, you really think an old horse like me isn't smarter than them?"

Daria let out a small laugh -- she liked this horse more by the minute.

After a moment, Ed spoke again. "Well, what are you waiting for? Did you want to stand here all day and swat flies, or did you want to ride?"

"Ride!" Daria called out enthusiastically -- for the first time in her life, to be precise. She pulled herself up onto Ed's back (he lacked a saddle, and she didn't know how to put one onto him) and urged him to go.

They started out at a gentle trot, but Daria soon spurred him on to great gallops, cheering and laughing, all thoughts of the guarded, morose girl she styled herself as gone.

"Come on, campers! Just three more miles to go!" Chip enthused. He was met with groans which he either didn't notice or ignored altogether.

The youths prepared to follow Chip, but then they stopped as one. Was the ground...shaking?

"Guys, no lollygagging! Last one back to the cabins is a rotten...huh?" Chip turned, feeling the shaking too.

Suddenly, a most improbable sight rounded the corner. That miserable little troublemaker, whooping it up, riding on one of Camp Grizzly's horses. Chip was about to reprimand her when he realized he was directly in the horse's path, and dived out of the way just in time.

He stood from the mud puddle, cursing at being covered in filth. Meanwhile, one of the girl campers nudged her companion. "Hey Quinn, wasn't that, like, your cousin or whatever?"

Quinn was only half-paying attention to Tracy, as she stared astonished at the place where Daria and the horse had turned off out of sight. "That couldn't have been. Not a chance in h-e-double hockeysticks."