Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chase Scene

by Laura Crum

Those of you who read my mysteries already know that I use my real horses as characters in the stories. I change them some, and I give them different backgrounds or problems, or whatever I need to further my plot line, but their appearance and behavior is much as they really are. This helps me to create believable equine personalities, rather than generic made-up horses. In my latest book, “Going, Gone”, Sunny, my somewhat cross-grained but abosutely reliable little palomino trail horse, has a starring role. At a certain point in the story, my protagonist is chased through the hills by the villain—your classic horseback chase scene. Gail, our heroine, is riding Sunny, with only a halter on his head. Our villain, who shall remain nameless (so I don’t spoil the book for you) is chasing her with pistol in hand, riding a horse he has leaped on bareback with a halter. OK, OK, I know, its not a terribly believable concept, but the book has got to be at least somewhat exciting. Oh, and lets not forget, this all takes place in the middle of a blowing storm.

Now I have never been chased through the hills by a villain on horseback. I have, however, ridden the terrain that this chase scene traverses many times—though the fastest I ever went was a high lope (on a sunny day with no one in pursuit). So here’s my idea for today. I’m going to give you a brief excerpt from my chase scene and I want your feedback on how believable it sounds. As fellow horse people, feel free to tell me what I got right and what I got wrong. Don’t hold back. Some of you have done a lot more exciting things on horseback than I have. Here we go:

"Staying on was the problem. Plunging downhill at the gallop, I was slung from one side of the horse to the other like a rag doll despite my grip on the horn. I made an effort to check Sunny with the leadrope, desperate to stay aboard, and felt him slow a bit. I pulled myself upright and risked a glance backward up the drive.

Nothing but trees tossing in the wind. I blinked. Still nothing. If he’d run after me, he would be in sight by now.

I slowed Sunny to a long trot, fast enough to keep moving down the hill briskly, but a lot easier to stay with. I did not want to fall off. He had to be coming after me. He’d incriminated himself too thoroughly. But I still didn’t see him.

I was almost at the bottom of the drive. I could see Tucker Pond ahead, brown and ruffled, its reeds waving wildly. Sunny pulled hard against the leadrope, wanting to go home. Rain and wind spit at us. We were on level ground. Dropping my hand, I gave the horse slack and let him go.

In one stride we were galloping. I could hear the echoing thuds of Sunny’s hoofbeats as he thundered along the trail by the pond. His ponderous, rolling gait smoothed out as he drove harder and we started up the hill.

Sunny grunted with effort, the wind whipped my face, the ground pounded beneath me, the trees tossed and moaned above and the storm howled. Everything seemed to be whirling around in a noisy inferno, punctuated with cold and wet. I couldn’t see much. All I could hear was cacophony.

A sudden eerie white light flared; a moment later the sky boomed. Part of my mind noted that this was thunder and not gunfire. I hung on and let the horse go.

He galloped on up the hill, his breath coming harder now. A few more driving strides and we were nearing the top of the climb. I could feel Sunny easing up and used the leadrope to slow him as we dove into the tangled shrubbery, still following the trail.

Branches slapped me; I ducked low over the horse’s neck. Sunny stumbled suddenly, throwing me forward. I grabbed the horn in time to avoid being flung off his back. Pulling on the lead rope, I slowed him to a trot.

“Easy,” I said. “Let’s get home in one piece.”

Sunny was tired. He checked down easily and trotted through the brush, breathing out long rolling snorts as he went. We passed the ruins of the Richardson house, half blotted out by vines and mist. I pulled Sunny up at the black skeleton of the swingset and could feel his flanks heaving.

“Easy,” I said again. “Grab some air. We’ve got a ways to go.”

I looked back at the trail behind us. Sunny stared, too. The oak trees tossed above the green leaved vinca. Strange wraiths of mist twisted between the redwoods across the valley. Raindrops swirled around me in gusts. Sunny’s ears went sharply forward and his head came up. And then he neighed.

For a second I didn’t understand. And then I saw. Charging through the brush, coming toward us, a horse and rider. Galloping. A dark horse with a dark clad rider.

Oh shit. He’d mounted one of the horses in the corral. He was coming after me.

I tugged on the leadrope and thumped Sunny’s ribs with my legs. But the horse danced in place, his eyes on the oncoming horseman. Using the leadrope, I whipped his sides, and he leapt forward in a sudden lunge. I ducked forward over his neck and heard the sharp crack of the pistol above the storm.

Come on, come on. He was right behind me.

I didn’t look back, just rode for all I was worth. We were charging up the hill between the oak trees, headed for the ridgeline. Sunny was running as hard as he could, excited by the shots and the galloping horse behind him, but he wasn’t a particularly fast horse. I hoped the dark horse wasn’t either.

Trees swept by, raindrops beat against my face. I could feel Sunny digging hard, grunting as he drove forward up the slope. I wasn’t hearing any more shots. Nor could I hear following hoofbeats on my trail.

I risked a glance backward as we topped the ridge. He was still coming, but we’d pulled away. He was bareback with a halter; I had the advantage. I spun Sunny and headed down the hill at the long trot.

I absolutely had to stay on. If he caught me, he’d shoot me. He was chasing me against the odds because if I got away I’d ruin him. I just had to stay out front, not fall off, and make it home. I knew exactly how hard it would be for him to hit me with a pistol from the back of a moving horse. Especially with him riding bareback, especially if I were moving, too. The odds were in my favor. Unless I fell off.

As if on cue, Sunny stumbled again, and I lurched forward over his shoulder, saving myself at the last second with a grab for the horn. My heart seemed to bounce up my throat into my mouth, and I gasped for air, checking the horse with the leadrope as I pulled myself upright. My God.

I could hear crashing on the slope above me and kicked Sunny forward. I couldn’t stop. He’d catch me. But I couldn’t fall off either."

OK—I can’t really give you more than that without giving the villain and the plot away. But I’d welcome any input you have to offer on writing horseback chase scenes. I’ve included such a scene in most of my books, and I always try to keep them believable. So, how did I do?


Mrs. Mom said...

Well, the first time I read that scene, I was on the edge of the couch. (Literally. Jo the Wonder Nanny Dog took up most of the couch...) It reminded me of not an actual *chase* moment, but for SURE of the run away I was mounted on in the woods, with a wild grape vine in the tail of my mount, headed for a cliff that was way WAY up in the air over a lake....(I wrote that out for a post- if you want a laugh, zap me and I'll email it to you. You'll appreciate it!)

The scene for me was more believable than other not as horsey authors have written in the past. The emotion came through, and maybe because I have a vivid imagination, Sunny's strides and breathing patterns came through for me as well.

I loved it. ;)

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--Please, please email your runaway story to me. And I'm glad you liked my chase scene.

wilsonc said...

I am in the middle of reading your books right now. I started at the beginning and intend to read them in the order you wrote them. I, too, was on the edge of my seat reading this. I could feel the fear, and the descriptions painted a picture for me. I especially liked when you said Sunny danced around rather than taking right off when the other horse and rider were approaching. So something my Boo would do. I would never have survived this ride. The villain wouldn't have to shoot me. I'd fall off and break my own neck.

Laura Crum said...

wilsonc--I have to admit, I'm not sure if I wouldn't have fallen off, too. Most of my books feature such a chase, and even though I try very hard to keep it believable, I always wonder if I could have gotten through it. I'm glad you're reading my books--I hope you enjoy them. I'd love to get your feedback.

Meadow said...

Laura, I've loved your books, too, and have read all but this latest one.

I'll second what Mrs.Mom and wilsonc said.

The two things that popped into my head were that I'd be hanging onto the mane with all my might, and also that I don't think I'd have the balance (in the dark, in the storm, with the stress) to turn around to look for the bad guy.

OneDandyHorse said...

I think it is believable. I have galopped down a hill before... but I used to ride much more back then, I don't know if I could still do it! My horses would also be of the kind to prance in place instead of taking off running. I like that you said that Sunny had a hard time and was heaving, etc. Most horse stories or old western movies portray horses as everlasting running machines.

For the part of looking back, I think I could do it, given that I check my horse and slow him down a bit.

For the whole getting shot on part... it is believable, but I would've had a heart attack and would've never survived that! LOL!

You really brought the emotions for me, I felt anxious and nervous the whole time I read through... plus I couild picture every scene in my head... good descriptions! Creepy feeling!

Laura Crum said...

Marge--Yes, I find turning around to look back a challenge, now that I am old and stiff. Like One dandy Horse said, I think I could do it if I checked the horse.

One Dandy Horse--I'm pretty sure I'd have a heck of a time galloping downhill any more.

I'm glad you guys liked the passage. It was fun to write.

Enjay said...

I liked it but I do have to say a stranger in the dark, in the rain, bareback with just a halter and lead rope, not knowing where he's going, charging through bush and firing a gun? The horse he's riding is a saint! My brtty pony would have planted him so far in the dirt he'd have sprouted roots and my good mare would have scrubbed him off asap after the first shot.

Laura Crum said...

Enjay--You're right. The firing a gun part is really a stretch. The guy in question is a very experienced rider, but yeah--no way is it likely he could manage this feat unless the horse had had guns fired off him before. OK, OK--its fiction.