Synopsis of Stormwind of the North Country:
Kat lives with her widowed father, Luke, and younger brother, Dave, in their remote country farmhouse. She loves exploring the forest surrounding her house, and taking horseback riding lessons at the stable down the road. Her free-spirited father had taught her to love the natural world, and she considers herself a true outdoor girl.
After making a shocking discovery one morning, Kat struggles to rescue Stormwind, her favorite horse at the stable, from its abusive owner. Then her father brings home an unwelcome visitor with a secret that could destroy the way of life that the family loves. This upsetting change sends Kat and her dog, Hesperus, running away on a month-long camping trip in the wilderness with Stormwind. There, she finds a true friend in Randy, a teenage drifter with a mysterious past. After an accident forces them to return to Kat’s house, she must deal with the family problem she’d left behind, and help Randy overcome the memories of his troubled childhood.
"Stormwind of the North Country" is a story about horses and nature, freedom and self-reliance. It is about going after your dreams, being yourself, and standing up for your beliefs. In her adventures at home and in the Adirondack wilderness, Kat learns that friendship and love will solve her problems.
Cast of Characters:
Katherine "Kat" Normith: the main character, an independent 9th-grader who finds adventure and true friendship the summer she rescues an abused horse, and runs away from home.
Randy: her best friend, a fifteen-year-old runaway she meets in the wilderness. Tough but sensitive, and protective of Kat.
Luke: her father, an auto mechanic who dreams that his local rock band will become famous.
Dave: her ten-year-old brother - a pest, but her only ally against Lavina.
Lavina: a beautiful but deceitful woman posing as Luke's girlfriend, who plots to sell his property to her family's land-development company.
Lorraine Stillwater: Stormwind's former owner and Randy's grandmother, a vicious madwoman with a vengeance against Randy.
Vito: a small-town bully who terrorizes Kat and Randy at their camp in the wilderness.
Aunt Betsy: Kat's overbearing aunt who is determined to turn her into a "lady."
Jake: Randy's best friend, a good-hearted modern-day hobo who saves his life.
Stormwind: Kat's horse, abused by Lorraine Stillwater and rescued by Kat. A spirited gray Arabian mare, loyal only to Kat.
Hawk: Stormwind's blaze-faced palomino colt, an Arabian/Quarter horse cross.
Hesperus: Kat's dog, a loyal and protective black German Shepherd.
I didn’t know how my dad would react, but now I needed his help. “Luke!” I shouted as Stormwind raced up the driveway, kicking up gravel behind her. “Luke!”
The garage door was closed, the radio silent.
I tied Stormwind to the porch railing and burst into the house. “Dad! Daddy!” I was getting hysterical. “Dad!”
I found him at work redecorating the guestroom, his clothes splattered with fresh paint. “Katherine! What in the -”
“Daddy! It’s Stormwind...and Lorraine, and...she’s got a gun, and...and Commodore’s dead!” I collapsed into a nearby chair and covered my face, shaking, squeezing my eyes shut against the tears that threatened to fall.
He put his gentle hands on my shoulders. “Shhh, Kat...try to calm down, and tell me what happened.”
I took a deep breath and stood up. “Follow me.”
He gasped at the sight of Stormwind, who stood there puffing and trembling with exhaustion, bleeding from the whip wounds across her body. “Oh, my...” He gently touched Stormwind’s sweaty neck as she snorted and danced away.
Luke sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Oh, honey. You were telling me the truth. I should’ve believed you...and now, that poor animal...” He sighed again. “If only I had-”
“It’s not your fault, Luke...”
Suddenly he straightened up, his voice firm. “And it’s not yours, either. It’s that woman’s. You’re not going back there, Katherine...and neither is the horse. Now, we have to get her out of sight. Let’s take her in the barn. We’ve got to get her cleaned up, if she’s gonna be yours.”
“Mine? But I thought you couldn’t afford a horse -”
“I’ll find a way. Now, I’m going to get her some medicine, and I’ll bring the portable phone out in the barn. We’ve gotta make some calls.”
Far down the road, I heard a car being driven at an insane speed by the madwoman we’d just escaped from. “Stillwater!” I screamed. I led Stormwind at a trot toward the barn, but we didn’t make it. The car was here, after almost overturning when it careened into the driveway. Stillwater flew out and would have reached us if Luke had not turned back and stood before Stormwind and me.
“Leave my property, you!” he shouted. “You’re not welcome here!”
“Your daughter stole my horse! I’m simply here to regain my horse!” Stillwater reached over Luke’s shoulder and slapped Stormwind’s muzzle. “She is mine, and you and that little criminal are not to tell me otherwise!”
Stormwind lunged at Stillwater, almost knocking Luke down, and bit Stillwater’s arm. It started bleeding. “Why you...”
Luke pushed her back to her car. “Looks like the horse doesn’t want to be with you,” he said. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough around here? Stormwind means the world to my daughter. She belongs to her.”
“Get out of here, before I call the police!”
“The police! You bet I’ll call the police! I won’t stop there! I will take you to court!”
Luke laughed. “That’s just what I was planning on doing. That junkyard of yours will be condemned, and you’ll never lay your hands on another animal, again.”
Stillwater gunned her engine, pulled onto the road, and tore away for home.
The rain started not long after I fell asleep. I awoke to cold droplets splattering my face, the wind cutting through my wool blanket. Groaning, I pulled open my backpack and took out the plastic sheet I’d brought.
There was nothing I could do but crawl under the plastic and hope it wouldn’t blow away. I hadn't brought a tent for times like this, since I had pictured myself sleeping in caves like the one I'd found above the river, or making neat little shelters every night, or sleeping in the open looking at the stars until I fell asleep. Luke had taught Dave and me all about the woods, and told us to always be prepared for rain. I didn’t know why I thought everything would be as easy as I’d imagined, and I knew Luke would be disappointed in me.
Luke. I tightened my arms around my knees as I saw him in my mind. Apart from his fascination with Lavina, he wasn’t a bad guy at all. He and my mom had me when they were seventeen, and I’d always liked having a young father. He was only twenty-one when mom died, and he had to raise me and Dave, a kindergartener and a baby, all on his own. But what I remembered most of all, that night in the rain, were all the camping trips he took Dave and me on.
Sometimes we went to state-owned campgrounds. My favorite had a big lake surrounded by hiking trails, and a big shady picnic ground. Other times when he had no money to rent a site for a week, we’d go hiking out in the backwoods somewhere, staying out until we ran out of food or Luke had to go back to work, whichever came first. But no matter what, we’d always go on vacation every summer.
That was when I realized it. It wasn’t much fun to go camping alone. I remembered all those chilly nights at the campground, sitting at the damp picnic table drawing pictures by the light of the propane lantern, watching moths flutter around the light while Luke played his guitar softly by the fire. Other times, he had the radio on. But before we all went to bed, we’d sit by the fireplace and roast marshmallows. My mouth watered as I thought of them toasted just the way I liked them: burnt black on the outside after setting them on fire. Luke would tell the greatest ghost stories of phantom mountain men and Indians and lost hikers, and trees that came to life to grab people and kill them. I smiled through my misery. Those stories kept Dave and me awake and jittery for hours.
I couldn’t believe I was lonely. This was supposed to be the adventure of my life, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my father, or even bratty Dave. But it was turning into a disaster. First we were almost bit by a rattlesnake, drowned, discovered by a search plane, lost the way, and now this.
I refused to go slinking home in defeat, but couldn’t help wishing for some company - human company, I told myself, as Hesperus pushed her cold wet nose into my hand. At least if I was traveling with somebody, this rainstorm wouldn’t seem so bad. We’d suffer through it together, then laugh about it years later. Well, maybe not laugh. But we’d remember.
“You ain’t goin’ anywhere!” We turned and almost bumped into Vito, who towered over us with his tattooed arms folded. He grinned.
“That looks like a nice piece of horseflesh! Must be worth a lot of money. I’d say a horse like that could pay off the damages to my property! Might even have enough left over to move outa this dump.” He bent down and stuck his greasy nose in my face. “Give it to me.”
“Never!” I shouted.
“Give it to me and I won’t call the cops. You punks trespassed on private land, that horse trampled my garden, it’s tearin’ up my turf. Horses are just toys for little rich girls - why don’tcha keep it where it belongs?”
Vinnie shot again and this time it wasn’t in the air. Randy and I screamed and ducked behind a car. “Vinnie, you idiot!”
“But Pa, you told me to shoot...”
As Vito turned and roared curses at his son, I leaped on Stormwind’s back. I barely clung on by her mane as she reared high, sending me sliding back toward her rump. I tightened my grip. The ground under me was covered with broken glass. I heard it crunch under Stormwind’s hooves. I couldn’t fall off, now.
Stormwind came down in a buck that threw me onto her neck. I spun her in a circle with the leadrope, felt her body shuddering under my legs as I reached down for Randy. “Get on!”
“Uh...I don’t think so...”
“Come on!” Vito had stopped shouting at Vinnie and charged toward us. Randy took one look at him, grabbed my hand, and swung up behind me. Stormwind seemed surprised by the extra weight and bucked again. With luck, we stayed on.
She leaped into a gallop as Vito howled at us in fury, jumped on a motorcycle and chased us out of his yard. Stormwind tore down the road out of control, no way to stop or guide her. I knew that if Randy fell off it would pull me off too, and at this speed we’d be killed.
It was chaos. Stormwind carried us through town as panicked drivers veered out of our way. Buildings passed by in a blur, people running out staring and pointing, horns honking all around. Someone yelled at us to get out of the road, but we paid no attention. I still heard Vito’s motorcycle not far behind us.
We soon left town, now calmly cantering down the mountain road that passed the lake. Stormwind’s sweat soaked our jeans. Randy bounced clumsily with every stride and I had to hold on tight to keep us both on. But worst of all was Vito and his motorcycle, which kept pace with us even as cars passed. He shouted things over the revving engine, making menacing faces and swerving at us. Stormwind was tiring now, and this time it was me in a panic. What would he do if Stormwind stopped and we got off, or even worse, if she fell or went into labor? What if he followed us clear back to the lean-to?
“Hey, look!” Randy pointed out at the lake where the loons had been calling all night. A bizarre, multi-colored glow flickered over the black water. It was really eerie, but fascinating. Supernatural, almost. “The Northern lights.” He spoke in a hushed voice as he stared at the sight. “I’ve never seen ‘em before, but Jake told me about ‘em once...”
“Randy, who is Jake? You keep mentioning him.”
He didn’t answer. He just studied the flickering lights, arms around his legs with his chin on his knees. We were silent as we watched the lights. I forgot all about drawing and knew that I would remember this moment forever. The small flickering fire behind us, the huge flickering fire-like light in the sky, sitting with a boy I realized that I’d met for some reason unknown to both of us. I didn’t protest when Randy hesitated, then put his arm around me.
He looked from the sky out over the dark water. “Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one day, you realize that your whole life was just a dream? You wake up as a baby in a crib, and it’s beginning all over again...”
I shivered. “That’s creepy.”
He got to his feet. “Wait here.” He went behind me into the lean-to and returned with two cans of soda. He handed me a root beer and looked back at the Northern lights, opened his can and raised it toward me. “To us. To this summer. To this place.”
“May the summer last forever.”
“So, you just stand there staring.” Randy sneered. “I shoulda known.” He spun around and pushed past me, stalking back to the lean-to. I trotted after him.
“Randy, I had no idea...”
“Yeah, that’s your whole problem. You have no idea. Nobody does.” He stopped short so we were face-to-face, clenched his fists and glared at me from under his bangs, as if daring me to make fun of him. I noticed the tears in his eyes as he smirked, trying to look tough. “Go ahead, tell me I look gross. Tell me I look like a monster. I know you want to.” Turning away, he wadded up his ruined shirt and dropped it on the ground.
“Oh, Randy...” I put my arm around his shoulders but he ducked away.
“Don’t touch me!” he snarled. “You think you can make me feel better?” He continued to glare at me as we stalked through the woods. “Katherine, you are a spoiled brat. You think that you have real problems with your dad’s girlfriend, but you don’t! You don’t know what real problems are!” He narrowed his eyes. “You don’t know how good you have it!”
Suddenly his shoulders slumped and his voice was gentle again. “Kat, look at you. You have a 15,000 dollar horse that you didn’t have to pay a cent for, you live in a huge house, you even know how to drive a car...and...you have a...family who loves you. You would never understand.”
“I could imagine...”
“No.” Randy shook his head and stared at the ground as we returned to the lean-to. He found the two pictures and slid them in his back pocket, put on a flannel shirt, and looked out over the pond. “I gotta take a walk,” he said softly. “Excuse me.”
What was Lavina planning on doing by late fall? I wondered as I hung her fancy clothes back in her closet. I took the papers and hid them in the secret room just as I heard a car pulling into the driveway. Assuming Lavina had returned from the mall, I ran into the main house and upstairs before she came inside.
I awoke very early the next day. But I doubted Lavina had gotten any sleep, since I had woken up that night to hear her muttering softly, moving furniture in her room and talking on the phone in a hushed voice.
It was a gorgeous morning, the sun streaming through the windows as I got dressed and thought about the hidden papers. They were safe, I knew, but I decided not to tell Randy or Dave about them. This was my project.
I went outside to feed Stormwind. As I walked in the chilly air, I noticed a shadow step around the barn, and I forgot all about the papers. What if Vito had discovered where I lived? Could he be trying to steal Stormwind and Hawk - or burn down the barn like he did in that nightmare? Nonsense, I told myself. He’s in the hospital, or jail! But I was nervous as I jogged to a window and peered inside. Could it be Stillwater? No! Lavina was searching the rows of empty stalls!
As she neared Stormwind and Hawk’s stall, I noticed the bags under her eyes, and that she wore no makeup for once. I silently slipped into an empty stall to see what she was up to.
Lavina’s high heels slowly clacked across the dusty floorboards as Stormwind began pacing and circling in her stall. There the woman stopped, looking at Stormwind’s halter, hanging from its hook. She unclipped the leadrope and slowly opened the door. I saw the tip of Hawk’s nose curiously touching her extended hand...
THUNK! THUNK! Lavina yelped and scuttled away from the horses when Stormwind pinned her ears and kicked the barn walls.
“What are you doing in here?” I asked as I strode down the barn aisle.
Lavina gasped and spun around to face me.