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MEET THE CHARACTERS


CIRRA:  

In case you are wondering, her name is pronounced Seer-ah.  Her parents named her for the wispy Cirrus clouds that are the highest in the sky - up where the jet stream flows.  These high speed winds pull the cirrus clouds into long wispy strands.  Cirra's dad was half Chippewa and had grown up listening to his mother, Little Star, describe those as the prettiest of all the clouds.  They reminded her of a young girl's hair blowing in the breeze as she raced on the back of her horse . . . Or perhaps, her dragon.  

Cirra's name matched the way she saw the world.  As early as four, she would look up into the sky and daydream of flying among the clouds.  She would picture herself stretching her arms and soaring for hours.  By the time she was six, she saw herself being fired off the deck of an aircraft carrier, flying supersonic after the bad guys and leaving them in flames as they plunged to the ground.  Cirra never had a self-image problem.

So, where did she get her need for speed?  Maybe it came from her dad.  He raced stock cars in his senior year of high school and his love for it never left.  She grew up to the pounding throb of a high power engine coming from the barn.  She learned how to walk trying to get to the barn every time Dad cranked up the racer.  

By the time Cirra turned seven, Mom knew she needed to do something, or her little girl would grow up racing cars.  One racer in the family was enough.  Maybe it was time for something new.  Cirra loved horses and had been asking for one.  Their neighbors across the back forty  raised horses.  They had two colts and a filly for sale that were about six months old.  

Mother took Cirra and her brother, Jace, to visit.  Cirra soon had a favorite horse.  It was the filly that walked right up and nuzzled her cheek.  She checked the other horses, but this filly stayed right with her.  The filly even chased off the colts anytime they came near.  Cirra said later that it was actually the filly that chose her.  She named her horse Trill, and that day started a friendship that amazed everyone who saw them together.  

When Cirra worked her outside chores, Trill would move quickly along the fence, stop, whinny several times and finish with a loud neighing.  She would do anything to get Cirra to look her way. There was a day when Cirra was nine that Trill surprised her.  Cirra was walking toward Trill when the horse trotted away from the fence.  She stopped and looked back at Cirra.  "What are you up to?" asked Cirra.  She watched Trill turn and lunge into a quick gallop toward the fence.  Instantly, Cirra knew what Trill was going to do.

"No! No, no, no!" yelled Cirra.  "The fence is too tall. Don't do it." She ran to the fence and waved her arms, but Trill had her own mind and didn't listen to Cirra's shouts or her waving arms. Tall fence or no, she was going to jump, or at least try.

Cirra had never heard hooves pound the ground so hard, so close, so fast.  Then, there was silence.  The fence was a little taller than Cirra and she watched Trill sail over her head.  A hind hoof nicked the wooden fence, but she seemed to land as if the whole thing was nothing.  She looked back at Cirra, shook her head, neighed, and walked to her.  

Cirra's heart was pounding from the scare.  She knew what could have happened.  She was mad, but when Trill nuzzled her cheek, she just could not scold her.  She rubbed her hand over Trill's soft nose and said, "So, you are a jumper.  Well, don't tell mom.  She'll make us go to that fancy jumping school on the other side of town.  I have other plans for you."

Mom had pulled Cirra away from auto racing but not from the need for speed and excitement.  At ten she would finish her chores quickly just so she could take Trill for a ride.  Trill would not take her eyes from Cirra all during the chores and when Cirra was out of site, Trill would race around the corral neighing, calling out to Cirra to hurry.  She was ready to go and waiting was just not in her.  

 It was hard to tell which one looked forward to it the most.  But finally, Cirra would have her saddled and trotting out to the pasture.  Now, Trill didn't like to just trot, but Cirra never let her have her head until they were away from the house.  Mom didn't like seeing her little girl on Trill in a full gallop, but Cirra loved the wind in her face and her hair streaming like the high clouds she was named for.  A special bound formed quickly between the two and each were only complete when they were together. 

Cirra began training Trill for barrel racing and when she turned 12, both were ready.  They rode as one and with total trust in each other.  By the time Cirra was 13, they were  the stars of every race.  Trill loved barrel racing  and put her whole heart into it just for Cirra.  

There was nothing the two loved more than being together.  But, as someone once said, "All good things must come to an end."  No one ever said life would be fair.



JACE:

His twin sister Cirra always had her head in the clouds, but Jace was the logical one with his feet flat on the ground. He was the one that played it safe. Well, almost. Just ask Cirra about the time he put smashed worms on her toothbrush. Of course, if you know her, he didn’t get away with it. She pinned him down and brushed his teeth with it.

Being raised on a farm meant there were chores to do and animals to care for. Jace didn’t like the chores any more than Cirra, but taking care of the animals was his favorite. You would have thought that being a boy, he would have loved his dad’s race car. But he left that to his sister.  

By the time he was five, all the farm animals were his pets. Each one had its own name. He enjoyed every day with them except when mom fixed chicken for dinner. HIs brood of hens would be one less and Cirra would kid him for being such a baby about it. Mom always said that the way he cared for the animals, he would grow up to take care of them for a living.

The twins were seven when Cirra got her horse and it was an exciting day for him.Trill was only six months old and small.  But he knew how big she would grow in a few years.  He never looked at riding such a big animal as safe, but the idea of helping care for Trill as she grew up was just what he wanted. Cirra, however, didn’t see it that way and often chased him away. He would stand off to the side and watch her feed and brush her young horse. But he was not to be out done. Whenever his sister wasn’t around, he would sneak in and give Trill a good brushing.

Like most siblings, the twins always picked on each other. But, if one was in trouble, the other was right there to help. They were seven years old on one early spring day.  It had rained for three days and with the sky now clear and sunny, the twins decided to make a picnic lunch.  

Jace kidded Cirra for being sloppy in making her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  

“Well, Mr. Cleany Beany, yours has to be so perfect, it will be sundown before we get there,” said Cirra.

“And, it will take you so long to clean up your mess, it will be tomorrow.”

Finally the twins put the picnic sandwiches in their backpacks and picked up their fishing poles. They took time to dig up some worms behind the barn then run to the little creek not far from their house. The plan was to catch lots of fish then enjoy their picnic.

When they got there, the creek was swollen from the spring rains. The water tumbled and swirled as it flowed by. It was much too fast for fishing.

They sat and watched the water while making up adventure stories of where it might flow.  

“It might make it to the Mississippi River where you can catch really big fish,” said Cirra.

“Don’t be silly. That’s too far away. It would dry up first.”

“Well, I would like to take a boat -.”

“Shhh,” said Jace. “Listen.”

He heard a small meow.  It came from upstream in the water. He leaned over the edge of the bank and saw a small cat.  It was just a little bigger than a kitten and clinging with its front paws to a piece of board.  It was headed for Jace.  He pushed farther out so he could reach it when it came by.

Cirra screamed at her brother and grabbed his legs.

“Get back here! You can’t swim. Neither of us can! You get back here or I'm telling dad!”

The current suddenly pulled the cat away from the bank and past Jace. He jumped up and started running along the bank. 

“There’s a wide shallow area a little downstream,” he said.

“No, Jace! The water’s too fast and deep, even down there. Let it go.”

“I can’t. It needs my help.”

Jace ran hard to get to the shallows before the cat, but the fast water had dug out some of the dirt under the bank where he ran. It gave way and the fast water swallowed him up.  He was in trouble and he knew that Cirra could not see him under the muddy water.

The current tumbled him along the bottom and he searched with both hands for something grab. A sharp tree root slashed across his face and a fiery sting sent pain through his cheek.  He tried to catch it, but missed.  His feet touched the bottom for a second and he pushed straight up. His head bobbed to the surface. With a quick gasp of air he hollered out, “Get Dad!” Just as he gasped another breath, the current pulled him back under.

The bottom was gone and not knowing how to swim, the surface stayed out of reach. The fast moving water swirled him around and upside down. Even if he could swim, he no longer knew which way was up.  

His struggle against the current used up his oxygen and his lungs were burning for air. They tried to draw in air, but Jace knew he didn’t dare open his mouth. It was then that he felt the bottom. It felt rocky. It was the shallows. He pushed hard for the surface and tried to stand, but the water was up to his chest and it knocked him down. He tumbled along the rocky bottom until he got his footing again. Another push and his head was above water. He managed a quick gasp of air just as the current pulled him under once more. He was past the shallows and again the water was over his head.

He had just spent the last two minutes fighting the current and needed more than that one quick breath. His lungs were full of air, but it was stale. The oxygen was used up. Now, he needed to breathe more than ever. HIs lungs burned even meand again they struggled to draw in air. No! I can’t let that happen. I’ll drown.

He suddenly slammed into the end of a sunken tree limb. It hit his stomach with such force that it drove the air from his lungs. But, even worse, the tree limb jammed under his belt and he was now trapped under the water.

His lungs felt as if they were on fire and pulled for air. Jace was still trying to keep his mouth closed but it was harder now. His mind was fuzzy and he couldn’t think. His body began to jerk and twist in panic. His little seven year old mind couldn’t focus enough to let him push the limb out. If he had, maybe he could have used it to push his head above the water. But, that would not happen now.  

His arms and legs jerked back and forth, fighting the current, fighting to survive. After several more seconds, his mind dimmed and he relaxed. His mouth opened and his lungs pulled for air. When the first splash of water hit them, he coughed it out.  But, then his mind shut down and his thoughts ended.

A strong arm jerked him to the surface.

When he awoke, his dad’s worried face loomed over him. Cirra was crying harder than he had ever seen, and Mom was just running up. He turned over and coughed out some water. It was dirty and slimy.  His cough was ragged and it hurt his chest.

His dad picked him up, but just as they headed home, Jace tugged on his sleeve.  His voice was just a whisper, "Wait.  The cat."

"Later, Son."

"No, that old oak a little farther down.  It's on the bank behind it.  It won't live without some help."

"We have to get you to the doctor."

Jace twisted his head around and looked into Cirra's eyes.  She took off in a dead run to the old oak with Mother right behind and screaming for her to come back.  Dad rushed Jace back to the house.

​Jace spent a day in the hospital, but the doctor promised that if he took all his medcine, he would be fine.

Once home, he went straight to bed. HIs lungs hurt and he coughed a lot. Cirra stayed close by and he liked that. She even slept on a cot next to his bed. So did the cat.  After four days of taking medicine and resting, Jace went outside with her. It was another bright sunny day.

He turned his face to the sun and closed his eyes.  It felt warm.  After a monemt he sat down and cried for a bit.  "Cirra, I could not hold my breath long enough.  It was too hard.  I couldn't do it.  I died in that creek.  I felt it.  Then, I saw dad reach in and lift me out of the water."

"How could you see that?"

"I was in the air a little above him.  I saw my body and Dad working on me so I could breathe again.  I saw Mom running, but she fell twice and it took her longer to get to us.  Then, something moved me over to the tree and I saw the cat.  It had climbed onto a dead limb in the water.  That's how I knew where to find it.  Do you think I am crazy?"

"No.  I believe you, but don't tell Mom and Dad."

"I think about the creek every day.  I'm scared of the water now.  I don't want go near it again."

“I don’t blame you.”

"But, I am going to practice holding my breath as long as possible. You just never know.”

Cirra took his hand and walked him toward the barn. “Let’s go see Trill. I think she would like to be brushed. I’ll show you her favorite spots and you can brush her all you want.”

Jace stopped. “Cirra.” His tone was serious. “I will always be here for you, no matter what  Twins take care of each other.”

“I know.  I'll be there for you too, I promise.” 

As terrible as it was, this event forged a bond between the twins that would never be broken. It doesn’t mean they never tormented each other again. But, even at age seven, they both knew that they could trust the other to be there when needed.

Over the next few years, Jace's love of animals drew him to help the local vet care for the sick and injured pets people brought in.  In school he enjoyed history and the strategy of wars.  Then he discovered chess.  It was his kind of game.  But, little did he know that building his ability to think fast and plan ahead would later mean the difference between life and death - for them both.





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