Lost Storm Rider by Jennifer Macaire
Carl is a herder, one of the elites who follow their horses through the galaxy in search of new planets. During a passage, Carl’s worst nightmare comes true when he falls off his horse. He ends up on Planet Earth, lost for nine centuries and now nearly empty because of a deadly virus.
He’s rescued by Ruby and her father, who nurse him back to health, because Carl isn’t immune and nearly dies when he catches the virus. He tries to adapt to “Mother Earth”, a planet run by robots, where everyone is either a breeder or a sterile worker. As time passes, he becomes more attached to Ruby. He doesn’t know if he can leave Ruby to her fate, or if she’d consider leaving her family and everything she knows to follow him.
Carl blinked as rain fell into his eyes. “Ghost is starting to nip the youngsters into line. We’d better hurry and unstring the corral.”
“You get that end, and I’ll take this end. But first wait until I catch Blue and get him saddled.”
“Boo will come when I whistle,” said Carl with a smirk.
Meagan waded into the herd of horses, carefully avoiding being trodden on or kicked by the excited yearlings. Blue stood still while she slipped the bridle over his ears and adjusted the bit. Meagan smoothed her blanket over the stallion’s withers and put her saddle on his back, double-checking the girth to make sure it was tight. “All right!” she called, looping the reins over her arm and untying the end of the rope that surrounded the herd. She and Carl soon had the rope down and coiled neatly. Meagan then hung it on her saddle and made sure it was secure.
“I see a sparkle,” she called over the sound of rumbling thunder.
Carl whistled shrilly, and Boo bounded over, nearly knocking him down in his enthusiasm. “Hey! Watch where you put your feet!” cried Carl, dodging the gray colt’s heavy hooves. Boo stood quietly while Carl put his bridle on, but he tossed his head and fussed when Carl tried to fasten the chinstrap. “Cut it out!” said Carl crossly. “Hold on a second!” When he managed to get the bridle buckled, Carl sighed and leaned against the colt’s shoulder. The stress of going to the city and not getting much sleep had exhausted him. “I’m not up to wrestling with you,” he told Boo.
The colt stopped fidgeting while Carl made sure the blanket had no creases in it. But while he was putting the saddle on there came a sound like tearing cloth. The sky seemed to split in two. A bolt of lightning sizzled through the trees, showering sparks upon the tightly bunched herd. The air turned white and lit up a huge, shimmering curtain of misty stars, seemingly hanging from the sky. Ghost bolted, and leaped through the misty curtain, her white tail streaming behind her. Another clap of thunder shook the ground and Boo shied. The saddle slipped from Carl’s grasp and fell on his foot.
Instantly, the whole herd swung around and surged toward the mist. In a tightly bunched pack, the mares and foals galloped into the fog and disappeared. The yearlings followed, galloping wildly, their eyes showing white all around. Meagan, holding Blue back, hung on while the mighty stallion swung back and forth, waiting until all the horses were through.
“Carl!” she screamed.
“I’m coming!” he cried, picking the saddle up out of the mud, tossing it across Boo’s back, and grabbing at the girth. The thunder roared, sending Boo crashing against his chest. Carl fell backwards, then grabbed his colt’s tail and hauled himself to his feet. There was no time to lose. He pulled the girth as tight as he could and leapt on Boo’s back, hanging on to the mane with both hands as Boo sprang toward the curtain.
The mist surrounded him, stinging his cheeks and hands like hundreds of tiny sparks. They were now through the first part, and thrust into a whirling, windy maelstrom.
Carl shut his eyes and hung on. There was nothing to see. They were in the storm passage. The ground seemed to fall out from beneath Boo’s hooves, and there came a sickening sensation of floating and dropping. It seemed to last for hours, though it was more likely just minutes. A jerk, a bump, and Boo’s feet scrabbled for purchase. They were nearly through. It was almost over. Carl cracked his eyes open, but all he could see was swirling blackness. Just as he thought he saw a light, his saddle slipped and he found himself falling off Boo’s back.
Carl uttered a frightened shriek. His heart hammered madly as he fought to stay on. Wind pushed against him and tore Boo’s mane from his grasp. Suddenly he was plummeting through nothing. He hit something hard and lay stunned for a second.
All around him was darkness, whirling wind, and dust flying so thick and hard it was impossible to stand up or see. Blindly, Carl got to his knees and crawled, trying to find some sort of opening, some way of escaping the nightmare he’d entered.