By: Esther Pardes

Joey and Ezra sat against the wall of the barn, watching attentively as the instructor demonstrated to the twins how to properly sit in the saddle. Rebecca was balancing easily upon her black pony. Morris, however, was as white as the horse he was sitting on.
“Morris, the horses walk very slowly!” Joey called out encouragingly. But Morris still looked miserable.
“Are you okay?” the instructor asked him.
Morris was ready to admit he was too chicken for this, but then he glanced at Rebecca and changed his mind. If she could do it, he thought, then certainly he could!
“I’m good,” he replied, teeth chattering in fear.
The instructor tightened the saddle straps, and then chirruped softly to the stallions, who both broke into an easy trot around the spacious barn. Ezra, watching, suddenly sniffed.
“Smells like smoke,” he muttered to Joey.
“Must be they’re preparing the bonfire for tonight,” Joey answered. “Mmm…toasted marshmallows!”
Suddenly, Ezra gasped and shot up. “The hay! It’s on fire!!” The dry hay yielded quickly to the leaping flames, and in seconds, the entire pile was blazing. The other horses, tied to their posts, whinnied in fright. The barn was soon filled with the sounds of the kids’ frightened cries as the flames began spreading to the walls of the barn. The instructor, however, was rooted to the spot. He was paralyzed with fear. Ezra glanced at him, and realized someone needed to take charge. He ran towards the tremendous doors and flung them open.
“Everyone, run!”
The shout seemed to shake the instructor out of his trance, and he immediately ran towards the twins, who were still mounted. However, before he could reach them, the twins’ horses, the only ones free to move, shot forward towards the open doors. Morris and Rebecca hung on for dear life, their eyes bulging with fright. Joey ran after them, trying to grab onto the trailing reins to slow the runaway steeds. The instructor joined in the chase. Ezra was about to follow, when he thought of the poor imprisoned horses, who’d be burned alive in the inferno. A quick glance around told him he’d be able to save them without running out of time for himself. He dashed towards the three horses, and quickly began unwrapping the rope that held them to the posts on the ground.
 
Outside, a crowd had gathered. Vacationers mingled with staff, everyone pointing towards the burning barn and talking all at once. Judy, Sharon and Charlie huddled fearfully next to Mommy. Suddenly, Dad gave a shout.
“My kids! They were taking riding lessons!”
Someone quickly called out, “They just came out of the barn a minute ago with the instructor.” He pointed, and Daddy could see them in the distance, sitting on the grass, catching their breath alongside the panting horses. Daddy sighed with relief.
“So it’s just the other horses, and the barn itself that we have to work on saving.” He motioned towards the front drive. “Here come the emergency responders!” Two fire trucks and the sheriff’s pickup came rumbling up to the site of the fire. The firemen jumped down.
“Any people in there?” one called out.
“No, they all escaped,” someone informed him.
But this wasn’t entirely true. Inside the barn, Ezra began coughing as the smoke filled his mouth and lungs. His head began to spin from the lack of oxygen. Eyes streaming, he stumbled towards the doors. The smoke was thick and black, and in his confusion, he couldn’t find his way. He stumbled and fell. Around him, the horses stampeded in their desperate run to safety. A burning beam fell forward while Ezra lay still on the barn floor, struggling to breathe through the heavy, smoldering air…