What if Penny, an abused pony at a 1946 West Virginia county fair, runs away to eleven-year-old Billie Rose Tackett. What if, through "think-speak," Penny tells Billie that she was stolen and did not belong to the carnival or the horrible, terrible pony ride keeper. How can Billie prove the theft when who in their right mind would believe that a horse speaks? In her quest to save Penny, Billie and Penny show great courage and tenacity to overcome seemingly impossible, life-threatening situations. In this fast-paced adventure story, Billie grows in confidence as she deals with prejudice, disability, bullying, family loss, compassion, and forgiveness.
Dead Witch Sink Hole . . .
“Penny? Where are you?” Fear climbs onto my shoulders and gets heavier with every ticking second. “Come back. Come back, Penny!” I scream.
“Well, hello little lady,” a deep voice calls down from the rim of the sink hole. “Now, how’d you git down there?”
The ugly face of the keeper gawks over the edge of the hole.
Me and my big mouth.
“Where’s that ornery pony? She dump you in this hole and run off, did she? No matter. I’ll find her. You stay put. I’ll git to you later. I’d have caught you both by now if my machine hadn’t conked out on me.”
Keeper moves away laughing, looking for Penny, I guess. I run over to where I last saw Penny and shove aside the thick undergrowth. I drop to my knees. Briars scratch my face and arms as I push further in.
Where is she?
“Penny.” I whisper. I creep a little further.
Schwoosh! The ground falls out from under me. Grass blades whip along my arms and face, and then I’m hurtling through pitch black, cold air like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
Kerrrr-splash! Icy, breath-taking, black water.
I’m sucked down into colder water until my feet hit bottom. I kick my way to the top bursting onto the surface, coughing and gasping for air. The echoes of me hacking bounce around a huge dark space.
I can’t see much of anything. Sulphur smell, like rotten eggs, tickles my nose. My clothes get heavier by the second, hard to keep my head above water.
I tread water as best I can, but my shoes and dungarees are pulling me down.
Should I take them off? I’ll never see them again. Ma would kill me, but I might drown if I don’t.
“Penny! Help! Are you down here?”
I’m coming, Billie. I’m coming.
I can hardly move my arms, my legs, my feet. It’s so cold and they’re so heavy.
“Hurry Penny,” I gasp.
I try to dog paddle, but only make splashes like I’m trying to climb on top of the water. I go under.
Am I going to die here?
My lungs scream for air. I thrash, but sink down and down—until my hand slaps against hard leather, then slides down to a stirrup.
Pull yourself up, Billie.
What has happened to my muscles?
I can barely hoist myself closer to her. I feel the saddle horn. I muster all my strength and pull myself up.
Air. Need air.
I yank myself higher and finally gulp air while holding on to the saddle. Penny’s swimming with her head just above the surface.
Hold on. It’s shallow over there.
I hang on to the saddle until my feet feel the rocky bottom. A small beam of light streams down through the hole we just fell through. I wade towards a ledge ahead of me. My legs are shaking, I’m so exhausted. Penny shakes and sprays water everywhere, like I’m not soaked enough already.
Are you okay, Billie?
“Yeah, I think so, but that’s the most scared I’ve ever been. If you hadn't been there for me . . . Gee, Penny, you saved my life!” I turn and hug her.
"Are you okay?"
Yes, just shaken up a bit.
She presses her head against me.
“Where are we?” Slowly my eyes adjust to the darkness. I look around. “I’ve never been in a cavern before, only read about them.”
It’s dripping with stalactites and the air’s thick with dampness.
“There’s no way we can climb out of here, Penny.”
We’re standing on a wide rock ledge that slowly disappears into the water like the sand at a beach. “We didn’t drown, but it sure looks like we could starve to death down here . . . and nobody would ever find us. Now I know what happened to that witch.”
When what you read makes your heart race with fast-paced action and the imminent danger of characters who capture your heart on the first page, you know you are reading a talented writer. Brenda Barnes-Clark builds tension effortlessly. Just as you think Billie with her pony, Penny, has come to a place of safety, you find they have tumbled into the worst trouble they’ve ever experienced. A must read!
Kate Dooley, author of Writing with the Wind
The Runaways is a story you’ll enjoy for the adventure, the excitement, and the pleasure of realizing animals find many ways to communicate with us humans. The glossary offers a way to learn unfamiliar terms, breeds of horses, and old-time sayings—don’t skip it. From beginning to end it’s a runaway pleasure to read.
Diane Dean, Author of Luna, The Dog Named After the Moon
Once I had time to read The Runaways, I couldn’t stop reading until I got to the end. What a delightful book! I really enjoyed reading it. A book about acceptance, about family, and how important communication is. A wonderful friendship book of understanding one another. Children will see themselves in the pages.
The Honorable Mayor Beverly White