Excerpt for Shelly's Flight - A White Sands Murder Mystery by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Shelly’s Flight

Copyrighted and Written by Jay Brenner

Published by AZkatz Publishing

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Smashwords 2019 Edition

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, most places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, is entirely coincidental.

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2017947222

ISBN 978-0-9976375-5-7

Cover, Interior Artwork Design by Brenda Cockrum


Chapter 1 – Rocking W Ranch

Chapter 2 - Forbidden

Chapter 3 – Day Dreamin’

Chapter 4 – Next Day

Chapter 5 – Girlfriends and Brothers

Chapter 6 - Growing Resentment

Chapter 7 – Life Laid Bare

Chapter 8 – So Much to Figure Out

Chapter 9 – Picnic Fun

Chapter 10 – Forgiveness Withheld

Chapter 11 – Facing Fears

Chapter 12 – Moving Forward

Chapter 13 – The Race is On

Chapter 14 – Time Goes by Quickly

Chapter 15 – A Happy and Sad Day

Chapter 16 – The Asking

Chapter 17– Coming Home

Chapter 18 – The Search

Chapter 19 – Dead End

Chapter 20 - Time for Higher Learning

Chapter 21 – The Will

Chapter 22 – Another Christmas and New Year

Chapter 23 - Graduation, Jobs and Flying

Chapter 24 - Summer and Flying

Chapter 25 - Up, Up and Away

Chapter 26 – The Big Day is Coming

Chapter 27 - Solo

Chapter 28 – These Old Bones

Chapter 29 - Inconclusive

Chapter 30 – The Memorial

Chapter 31 – Nice Thoughts

Chapter 32 - Revealed

Chapter 33 – Road to Mercy

Chapter 34 - Matter Laid to Rest

Chapter 35 – Life Moves On


References for Curious Minds

Just for fun / Interesting Reading

About Jay

Other Books Published by this Author


Midnight Blue

Clues and Such

And... There Was No Justice


Southeastern Arizona Ghost Towns



To those of you, my brave readers who plunge into my manuscripts, I am very grateful for your encouragement. You inspire me in my endeavors and this helps keep me going. I owe much gratitude to SFC (Ret) Stacey Love, Carolyn Kittle, and Sherry Crosson. Once again, I can’t say thank you enough for the patience each of you had to muddle your way through this latest effort. You took time out of your already busy lives to send me your thoughts and comments. As always, and I know I’ve said this many times before, your input has been as invaluable to me as you are.

My many thanks go to Patrice Shaw for taking the time and having the patience to lend me her ‘horse sense’.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Airborne Heat Ballooning School Instructor/Pilot Elizabeth Wright-Smith. Although I took many liberties in my story, your suggestions to make the story more realistic were muchly appreciated. Thanks for letting me use your name and your school and for ‘steering’ me in the ‘Wright’ direction.

“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be? — it is the same the angels breathe.” Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter XXII, 1886.

“Man must rise above the Earth - to the top of the atmosphere and beyond - for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” Socrates

“You haven't seen a tree until you've seen its shadow from the sky.” Amelia Earhart

“Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see...” Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

Chapter 1

Rocking W Ranch

Gerald Watson sat on his front porch gently rocking his chair as he watched the clouds push across the desert sky. For the last several minutes, he’d listened to his young granddaughter Shelly, as she grumbled about the teasing she’d received at school that day. Her classmates were once again making fun of her overalls.

Shelly leaned down, picked up a smooth pebble and rolled it around between her hands. She tossed the pebble aside, and looked up at her grandfather. “Grandpa, why do they keep making fun of me? I hate dresses, and I ain’t gonna wear one.”

Gerald was tall, lanky and his ranch work had left him lean and strong. For his age, he was still a handsome man with greying hair and a leathery face, which was testimony to the harshness of the high desert sun. Taking his granddaughter’s question seriously, he stopped rocking and took his time answering her.

Running his hand over the top of his thick grey hair, he answered, “Shelly, first of all, ‘ain’t’ isn’t a proper word. Second, you don’t have to wear a dress if you don’t want to, sweetie, but you might consider a dress every once and awhile. You won’t be in middle school forever. Besides, what have I told you about words?”

“I know grandpa, but it hurts anyhow. I like my baggy overalls.”

Gerald chuckled at his granddaughter’s complaint. “Come on. Let’s go see how your dad is coming along with that new stallion.”

Towering over her, the lanky, mustached man Shelly called grandpa, stood and reached down for her hand. Often, he wore a smile on his sun-weathered face, and his deep blue eyes exuded a knowing of worldly experience. Shelly always liked it when he helped stand her up because she felt like she’d taken a jump on a trampoline, although over the years, the jumps seemed to be smaller.

These days, Gerald no longer spent time training horses. He left the job to the younger members of the family. For over a century, the Watson’s had raised not only their families on the Rocking W Ranch, but had also raised and trained some of the best quarter horses in the world.

Nestled in the New Mexican Tularosa Basin, the ranch had stood strong against the test of desert living. It was spread squarely over part of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest aquifers in the world. Although water had never been an issue for the ranch, even in the years when drought wasn’t a problem, the Watson family always had a ‘waste not, want not’ attitude toward many things. Knowing how precious water is in the desert, this adage especially applied to their fresh water supply.

It pained Gerald knowing he would be the last generation to carry the Watson family name. None of his sons had lived long enough to marry. His only daughter, Penelope, had married Sean Brown, who had given up his engineering career to come and help with the ranch. The plan was for Sean and Penelope to take over the ranch. It would be up to them to carry on with the Rocking W Ranch and the Watson quarter horse legacy. Shelly’s older twin brother’s Troy and Rory helped with the quarter horse training, although both boys had made it clear they had no intention of staying on to help with the ranch after graduating from high school.

Walking toward the line of enclosures, Shelly saw her father in the corral she’d nicknamed ‘Rodeo Time’. As she approached, she heard him speaking softly to the stallion as he gently urged the horse around the edges of the enclosure. Sean glanced at his daughter, gave a brief wave, and then continued giving his attention to the horse.

Shelly climbed the corral fence, and sat on the top rail by the gate. Remembering her recent English lesson, she tamped down the urge to say ain’t. Instead she said, “He’s a beauty, isn’t he grandpa?”

“No doubt, Shelly,” replied Gerald.

Over the last several days, Sean had patiently worked with the stallion. Margie Calloway had brought the horse to the Rocking W, claiming no one else had been able to break him. She’d made it clear she couldn’t pay him right away. Instead, a promise was made that the Rocking W would share in any winnings gained if she could ever race him. Sean knew Margie had a nose for winners, so he agreed to take on the stallion, and a handshake sealed the deal.

The premature grey mixed in with Sean Brown’s sandy blonde hair aged him beyond his thirty-something, approaching forty years. Sean’s demeanor was one of confidence as he expertly worked the stallion. In truth, he had a little less than three years training horses on his own. For almost five years, he’d been under Gerald’s wing. No longer the fledgling trainer, he’d developed his own methods, honing them with every horse that had been under his purview.

This stallion definitely didn’t have the disposition of a quarter horse, and it made any forward progress painfully slow. However, the horse was starting to respond to Sean’s method of training, and he was encouraged by the progress he was seeing today. After working with the horse only a few days, Sean knew the scars on the horse’s body were proof that his previous trainers had used a brutal hand. In his mind, this obvious cruel treatment may have ruined the stallion’s disposition.

Shelly and Gerald watched as the horse complied with the lead. Although only introduced today, the horse responded well to the clicker. Pleased with how well the stallion performed, Sean decided it was time to end the morning session. He slowed the stallion and started the cool down. Without warning, the stallion pulled away from the lead and left the north side of the corral. The horse charged toward Sean, almost knocking him down. He wasn’t sure why the sudden change, so he dropped his end of the lead allowing the horse free reign.

Reaching the far south end of the corral fencing, the stallion paced frantically, then stomped up and down as if trying to climb the fence. With his energy spent, the horse turned and started back toward Sean.

Without concern for her safety, Shelly started to climb down off the fence. Her grandfather’s attempt to stop her failed. Wrestling away from his grasp, she managed to land soundly on both feet and started running toward the center of the corral. She positioned herself squarely in front of the horse. Calmly and slowly, and in a non-threatening motion with her arms, she spoke. Her voice was barely above a whisper, “Easy, boy, that’s it. Easy.”

The horse stopped and briefly sized up the small, dark haired girl. Shelly’s deep blue soulful eyes seemed to hold the stallion in place. For a brief moment, a connection was made between the pair. Then, the horse charged past her, once again to the opposite side of the enclosure.

As if he was deliberately trying to garner some kind of attention to what had provoked him, the stallion resumed his stomping dance, along with a whinnying head shaking behavior. Abruptly, he stopped his erratic behavior as quickly as he’d started it.

Slowly walking back to Sean, the horse nudged him as if to say sorry. Although puzzled by another rapid change in attitude, he allowed the horse to nuzzle him. He tenderly spoke to the stallion and stroked his tangled mane. This was the first sign of trust the horse had displayed to him. After stroking the horse for several seconds, Sean turned and walked away.

Shelly was near the center of the paddock. As her father approached, she could see he was angry. He roughly picked her up, bringing her face to face with him, “What in the name of Hades did you think you were doing?”

Startled by her father’s rough action, Shelly’s eyes began to well, and she began crying. Looking through her tears, and into the angry green eyes of her father, she replied, “I don’t know Daddy, please don’t fuss at me. I thought he was after you.”

“I’ve already told you Shelly, you can’t be around this horse. He’s too dangerous.”

“But Daddy, he didn’t hurt us. I think something frightened him.”

Before Sean could say anything else to his daughter, Gerald interrupted, “Hey you two, look at this.” On the edge of a long stick, Gerald held up a large, badly mangled dead rattlesnake. “I’d say Margie’s got a pretty smart horse, and I think he was trying to shield you.”

With the situation defused, Sean sheepishly put his daughter down. As calm returned, he realized this was the first time the stallion had approached him, and he had to agree with Gerald, it seemed the stallion was defending him. He replied, “I suppose you’re right, it certainly looks that way. I’m not seeing any of the past bad behaviors I was told he had, and he’s been very responsive today.

“The Herpesvirus took Margie’s top two winners, and she hasn’t taken a horse back to the track since. She hasn’t had any winnings for some time and it’s hurt her ranch. So this one may indeed be the moneymaker she needs to pull her ranch out of the hole.”

Gerald asked, “You think you can get him ready in time for some of the smaller purse races coming up this spring? Anything he could bring in for her would help.”

Sean replied, “Psychologically, he’s been a bit tougher than the quarter horses we usually train. I’ve had to change my tactics with him and I’m encouraged he seems to want to come around. There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ hanging out there. If I can break him soon, if I can get him to trust Troy and Rory, and if I can get their help putting him through some training paces, I believe we might be able to pull it off.”

Shelly piped in, “I can help too Daddy. I’m smaller and lighter than either of them, and ...”

“No way, young lady! This stallion has too much spirit for you.”

“Dad, I know I can handle him. Besides I’m a better rider than either of my brothers.”

“That may be true young lady. However, you can’t ride him. Period. Understood?”

Shelly looked at her father with a knitted brow. A long sigh preceded her disgruntled answer, “Yes, Daddy.”

Sean walked his daughter over to the corral gate, opened it enough to let her pass through, and then quickly closed the latch. “Why don’t you and your grandpa go see what your mom is rustling up for lunch? I’ll be along shortly.”

Lovingly, Gerald put his hand on Shelly’s shoulder, and turned them toward the house. As they were leaving, he raised his arm for a backward wave toward Sean and replied, “We’ll see you at the dinner table.”

Halfway back to the house, Shelly said to her grandfather, “Lately Dad’s always been grumpy. Why won’t he let me do anything?”

“Be patient Shelly, he has a lot on his mind these days. Besides, dads always have a hard time letting go of their little girls. We never want them to grow up.”

“I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not a little girl.”

Gerald chuckled, “You’ll understand someday sweetie.”

Shelly let go of her grandfather’s hand.

Gerald stopped and stared as the joy of his life ran toward the ranch house. He watched her open the kitchen door and for a brief moment, as she disappeared into the house, memories of his own childhood came roaring back.

Reminiscences of the days he’d spent as a young child playing hide and seek in secret places in the floor below the six-bedrooms, or memories of the family exchanging stories about the kind of day they’d had. Sinking deeper into these long ago thoughts, he could almost smell some of the meals and treats, which had first been prepared by his mother, then his wife. Now his daughter laid out wonderful meals on the same dining room table.

Who will carry on for this family after I’m gone? Will anyone really want to stay here? This thought saddened Gerald.

Chapter 2


The following week found Alamogordo’s citizens all abuzz readying the town for the annual White Sands Balloon Invitational. Pilots from all over the country would be bringing their colorful hot air balloons to fly and display in the evenings for what is known as ‘the glow’.

Gerald was thinking this might be one of the last events he’d be able to participate in, and he wanted Shelly to experience the excitement he’d felt every time he flew. For the past forty years, he’d been instructing other pilots and loved participating in ballooning events. In his mind, the thrill of the ride had never diminished over the years and he was convinced his enjoyment grew every time he flew.

It had been a few years since Shelly had gone up for a simple flight test lift. They’d been tethered to the ground, and a brief lift was all she’d been able to experience. At the time, she’d just turned seven so her description of what she remembered the most about the event was what she described as “being up there with the birds.” Gerald wanted to be the one to take her for a real fly so he could leave her with a forever memory of their experience together.

Over the years, he’d taken his balloon all over the country. The annual balloon event in Alamogordo once again gave him the opportunity to try to persuade Shelly’s father to allow her to fly with him. Sean seemed to have warmed to Gerald’s flying stories. He was hopeful this would be the year Shelly’s father might allow her to join him.

Apparently, this was not to be the case. Being overly zealous about the upcoming event, Gerald briefly made a passing comment to his son-in-law about Shelly making the flight with him this year. Sean went ballistic and Gerald regretted mentioning it, and felt guilty about causing a disagreement between his granddaughter and her father.


A few days later Shelly stood in the middle of the living room, once again pleading with her father to let her ride with her Grandfather Gerald in the big balloon event.

“For the final time Shelly, I’m telling you no. If you open your mouth one more time, you’ll be grounded for the next six months.”

“But, Dad!”

“That’s it. I told you not to open your mouth. To your room... Now! I don’t want to see your face again until dinner.”

Shelly’s disappointment was almost more than she could bear. She started to her room, but stopped when she thought she heard her parents start to argue. The walls in the old ranch house allowed sound to travel easily, but the words were muffled. She backtracked to stand outside the living room entry.

“No, Penelope, we aren’t having this conversation again. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked your father to keep that balloon nonsense away from Shelly.” Sean’s irritation with his wife showed when he called her by her birth name.

Penny hated her first name, and in addition to the heated subject of the argument, her husband was making the point of how displeased he was with her. She’d grown up flying with her father and didn’t see the harm in letting Shelly fly with him now.

The light filtered in from the kitchen window picking up the highlights of Penny’s dark chestnut hair. Her flawless porcelain skin only made her eyes seem to be an unusual beautiful shade of blue. Depending on her mood, they changed from a deeper hue to a very light tone, a dead giveaway to her emotions. She narrowed her eyes as she tried to gain composure and keep a calm manner.

This same argument was happening with frequency, and she was tired of having it. “I don’t want to fight over this Sean, stop being so stubborn. Dad’s very careful, and if you’d only let her fly once, she may never want to go up again. She’s certainly old enough to start making her own decisions.”

“Her own decisions! Good grief woman, she’s only thirteen. She has five more years to go before she’s old enough to make her own decisions.”

“Take your blinders off Sean. I’m not going to wrap her in cellophane and stick her in a closet. By the time I was thirteen, I was helping run this household. And, as I recall, it was my maturity that attracted you to me. If I was old enough to run a household at thirteen, she’s old enough to make one simple decision. Besides, she’ll be fourteen next week. Another four years, and she’ll be off to college. Are you going with her to make decisions for her then?”

“Don’t veer off the subject. She’s not you, she’s my daughter, and she’s not going up with him in that contraption and that’s final!”

Shelly hated it when her parents argued, and hated it even more because the quarrel was over her. She listened to her mother try to take her side, but it didn’t matter now. The argument was over. Her father would never relent.

Even though her grandfather wanted to take her up with him, he’d made it clear he would only do so with her father’s permission. Heartbroken, she quietly went to her room. Someday Grandpa, one way or another, I’ll fly with you. She sobbed into her pillow until exhaustion took over and sleep prevailed.

Chapter 3

Day Dreamin’

The next morning was Saturday, and Shelly sat at the kitchen table waiting for her breakfast. She didn’t have to wait long, and happily took the plate of pancakes her mother handed her. She smiled and asked, “Mom, what are you doing today? Are you going to the farmer’s market?”

“Probably, why?”

“Can I go? I think Trever is going to be there with his mom and I’d like to talk to him.”

“Don’t you have chores?”

“Well, yes, but I’m more than half done and I can do the rest when I get home.”

Penny knew Shelly would keep her word, “Okay, finish up those pancakes. I’ll be leaving in thirty minutes or so.”

During the night, Shelly had figured out a way to fly with her grandfather. She couldn’t do it alone and would need Trever’s help for her plan to work. This wouldn’t be the first time the pair had colluded to bypass parental rules. For her, this would be another adventure to write about in her diary. For him, it was merely a challenge to see what they could get away with.


Every weekend the biggest farmer’s market in Otero County was held at the fairgrounds just off White Sands Boulevard in Alamogordo. Between nine to noon, venders displayed and sold their goods. In addition to the freshly picked fruit and vegetables, other homemade wares could be found. Homemade crafts joined the produce on many tables. Fragrant dried lilac and heather laced the air amongst other scents concealed in soaps and candles. The two only requirements to sell at the market, outside of a small space fee, was all items must be homegrown or homemade, and the vendor must be in possession of a state tax license to sell items which were not produce.

Penny spotted and pulled into a parking space only two rows down from the activity. Reaching into the back seat, she retrieved six eco sacks and handed two of them to Shelly. “Here, since you came along, you can help carry.”

Strolling down the aisles Penny knew where her favorite vendors were. One of them happened to be Margie Calloway. Although her equestrian business was suffering, she managed to scrape by with what she was able to grow.

Shelly saw Trever standing by his mother. “Hey, Trev, whatcha doing after this?”

“Not much, why?”

“Oh, thought you might like to come over and watch my dad work your mom’s stallion.”

“He has a name you know.”

“No, I didn’t know. What do you call him?”


“That’s a strange name.”

Trever’s mother answered Shelly. “In Latin it means ‘desired things’. I desire to be able to provide for my family, and I sense Desiderata will do this for me.”

“He’s a smart horse ma’am.” Saying more than she should, “Dad said he thought he might be a winner for you.” Without waiting for a reply, Shelly blurted, “Can Trever come over for lunch and dinner? He can help Dad with Desperado.”

Eye contact with Penny and her wink led Margie to believe it was okay. Looking back to Shelly, “It’s not Desperado dear, it’s Desiderata.”

“Oh, sorry, can Trever come?” Shelly volunteered her mother’s driving services, “Mom can take him home after dinner.”

Looking at her son, Margie commented, “Tell you what, I need your help packing back up. I’ll drop you off after the market closes, and when we get there, I’ll see if Sean is far enough along with Desiderata to let you ride him.”

“Okay Mom, I’ll give it a try, but I think he hates me.”

“Sean doesn’t hate you.”

“No, Mom, Desiderata hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you Trever; we don’t know what had happened to him before we rescued him, but I suspect it wasn’t anything good. He’s young, and he just needs time to learn to trust humans again.”

“Suppose you’re right Mom.”

“Penny, I need to have Trever stay and help me. I find lifting some of this stuff bothersome. How about I drop Trev off after lunch, you know he’ll eat anything hot or cold.”

When Trever looked at Shelly, he recognized her mischievous glint. Oh Shelly, I bet this is going to be fun.


The ride back from the market left Shelly smiling all the way home. Her mother, always perceptive to Shelly’s moods, wondered what had changed her daughter’s attitude so quickly. What Penny sensed about her today was no different from other times she’d detected sudden attitude changes. “I see you’ve recovered rather quickly from your disappointment. I figured you’d be pouting for a least a week or two. What gives?”

“Nothing gives. I decided to do as you’ve always told me. Crying over spilled milk won’t change what I can’t do. Maybe Dad will let me fly with grandpa another time.”

“Don’t get your hopes up over that one, Shelly. I don’t think your father will ever change his mind, and don’t pretend you don’t know why.”

Almost whining, “But Mom...

Penny replied, “Don’t but mom me.”

“Grandpa only had that one hard landing, and he was fine, he was barely hurt. If that unexpected puff of wind hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have gotten that bump on the head when he landed.”

“That’s not the point Shelly. The point is you aren’t recognizing how dangerous flying a balloon is.”

Shelly thought it sounded as though her mother had now taken her father’s side, so she decided to drop the subject.

As they approached the ranch house, Penny stopped and backed up her car just outside the kitchen door. Shelly gingerly exited the car, and helped her mother carry in the fruits and vegetables purchased at the farmer’s market. After unloading, she helped her mother clean and put the produce away. Once this chore was out of the way, she went upstairs to finish cleaning her room. While busy finishing her chore, in her mind she ran over her plan to fly with her grandfather one more time. Timing would be everything, and her plan had to be perfect.


Grant Hazen, Gerald’s longtime friend and all around ranch hand, helped him wheel his new balloon out of the forty-foot Conex onto the freshly cleaned barn floor. Grant had been on the ranch for several decades, and although he was almost as old as Gerald, he’d somehow retained his smooth baby face skin and dark good looks, and his mostly jet-black hair displayed only a few scattered grey hairs. He took Gerald’s frequent teasing about being the town’s most popular, devoutly single, ladies’ man in stride.

Preparing to unroll the envelope, Grant commented, “Looks like the weather prediction is gonna be perfect for the event.”

“That may be,” Gerald replied, “However, the winds could shift and become a terrible flight day.”

“So true.”

Several minutes after helping her mother, Shelly bounced down the back porch steps, and out to the barn. She found her grandfather and Grant stretching the balloon’s envelope out for one last pre-flight inspection.

“Hey Grandpa, Grant,” said Shelly as she entered the barn.

Gerald lovingly smiled at his granddaughter who happened to be a miniature spitting image of her mother.

Lying on the barn floor were the neatly folded gores of the balloon’s envelope. The nylon fabric colors alternated between red, blue, grey and pale yellow. Each of the twenty-four gores alternated the colors creating a step pattern. Centered on one of the yellow steps was the family crest.

Pointing to the crest, Gerald asks his granddaughter, “How do you like this balloon Shelly? Like it better than the rocking W one?”

Shelly studied the emblem for a few seconds. “Well enough, I guess. Um... No, I think I like the rocking W better, the logo was much bigger. When you had the ranch brand on the balloon everybody knew who you were, even from a faraway distance. Quickly changing the subject she asked, “Grandpa, can I help?”

Holding the edge on one of the balloon’s gores, Gerald replied, “Sure, honey.” He pointed to a spot on the floor, and handed her the edge of the gore. “Stand here and hold this right here. Try to keep a steady grip and don’t move until I tell you to pull.”

Shelly was elated to be helping, and this made her grin widely. Patiently she waited for her next instruction.

“Okay sweetie, gently pull back, and when you get to the edge of the stack, lightly lay it down, seam to seam.” It was the last fold needing inspection before it would be rolled up and placed on the trailer.

“Grant,” said Gerald, “Let’s make sure the Nomex mouth is still intact. I want to be certain it’s still in good shape. I meant to take a closer look after my last test flight.”

After the gores, the mouth and the material at the top of the balloon were thoroughly inspected, and there was no evidence of singes, rips or tears, mold or fungi. Deemed sound, the men took their time carefully rolling the folded material onto the skid that would eventually be crank-pulled onto the utility trailer.

Thrilled to have been able to help inspect the envelope, Shelly waited to see if she could do something else to help her grandfather. Before long, he asked her to hand him a package of bungee cords. They were used to help secure the envelope to the skid.

Coming alongside the topside of the utility trailer, Grant waited for Gerald’s signal to start cranking the skid pulley. Gerald made a three-sixty pass around the skid making sure the envelope was free of any catch points. Once satisfied with his inspection, Gerald gave the order, “Okay, start crankin’,” as he gave the skid a starting push. The crank gears protested, but performed well. When Grant heard the lock system on the skid loudly click into place, he stopped cranking.

Once everything had been deemed secured on the trailer bed one last time, side-kit panels were added, and the top tarped.

It was time to bring in the ranch truck and connect the cargo trailer. Grant used hand signals to guide Gerald close to the trailer hitch. Just as the hitch hovered over the ball, Grant signaled stop, then cranked the hitch down until it sat securely over the ball. Gerald turned off the truck and joined Grant, helping him with the light and trailer brake connections.

Connections made, it was time to clean up any loose items on the barn floor. Gerald picked up the extra bungees not used and asked Shelly to, “How about putting these extra bungees in the truck tool box.”

Shelly finished placing the cords in the toolbox, and just as she closed the lid, she saw her father enter the barn. Quickly she climbed out of the bed of the truck, coming to a stop in front of her father.

When Sean saw his daughter near the object he hated, his anger boiled over. Before Shelly knew what was happening, he was pinching her by the neck and leading her out of the barn, “I told you to not get any ideas about flying in that thing. Get that thought out of your head!”

Not able to contain her words, Shelly replied, “Dad, I was only helping with the inspecting, I wasn’t flying.”

Gerald watched as his son-in-law came to a halt. Sean let go of his daughter and shoved her toward the ranch house, “Go to your room, I’ll deal with you later.” He turned and marched back into the barn.

A red-faced Sean spat out angry words, “And you, old man, quit putting ideas into her head. Anymore of this nonsense and I’ll pack the family up, leave here, and you’ll never see them again.”

Gerald started to answer, “Now Sean...” Before he could finish what he was going to say, his son-in-law huffily left the barn.

Grant asked, “What’s his problem lately? Does he have a twig stuck up where the sun don’t shine?”

“Something’s changed, and I think it’s more than me wanting to take Shelly for a flight. He’s been like this all year.”

“Think the ranch is getting to him?”

Gerald shrugged, “Maybe. Come on, let’s get finished.”

Sean was heading toward the corrals when Margie Calloway’s SUV came roaring up the long drive. Pulling up beside Sean, she powered down her window. “Hey Sean, wanted to check with you before imposing Trever on you. Do you think Desiderata is far enough along to let Trever ride him?”

Sean replied, “I don’t think so Margie. What I believe he can do though, is to become reacquainted with him. He’s not nearly as skittish as when he first came here, and he’s started to trust me. I think it might be good if Trever starts to build some trust with him too. After all, when I’m finished with him here, he’ll go home to the two of you.”

Peering past Margie, Sean addressed Trever, “Come on, we can start with you walking him to the ‘Rodeo Time’ corral.”

Then to Margie, “Glad you brought him over. I think this may be good for both of them.”

Margie nodded and waved. She then put the SUV in gear and continued to the ranch house.

Shelly, not quite to the ranch house back door, watched Trever and her father disappear into the corral just outside the barn. Rats, now I’ll have to find another time to talk to Trev. Maybe I’ll tell him in a note what I need to have him do to help me.

Light conversation came and went around the evening dinner table. Trever and Shelly helped her mom clean up the kitchen while the men in the family retired to the front porch. With dusk approaching, Penny told the kids they’d helped enough. “Come on, I’d like to take Trever home before it gets dark. Shelly, be sure to get your wrap, it’s starting to get chilly in the evenings. I’ll meet you and Trever in the car.”

Grabbing her jacket, Shelly reaches deep into her jean pocket to retrieve the note she’d written to Trever. She only hoped he’d be able to do what she’d be asking of him. Walking with him to the car, she whispered to him, “Here, don’t look now. Read this when you get home, I’m counting on you.”

Only time would tell if Trever could help her. Shelly silently prayed for her plan to work.


The next morning Shelly woke just before daylight. She was the first one up this morning and she quickly dressed and headed out to the barn. This wasn’t the first morning she’d risen early to watch the sunrise. It was her favorite time of the day.

One end of the barn loft faced almost due east, making it a nearly perfect spot to watch the sun come up. Instead of stopping and enjoying the view from the loft, she continued her climb up to the copula to what she called her ‘eagles nest’. Her grandfather had built a special seat for her so she could sit comfortably while watching the sunrise.

The view from the copula allowed her to see the vast expanse that was her family’s portion of the basin. Fog seldom happened in the desert, but this fall morning there was a thick layer partially hiding the grazing horses, making them appear ghostly. She had to strain to see them in the haze.

The misty morning was quiet and serine, giving an eerie feeling. It was almost time for the dawn to turn to daybreak. She turned away from the horses and faced the hazy Sacramento Mountains. She never tired of watching the sun paint this mountain. Turning back around, she faced the San Andres as the sun peaked over the mountain. Every morning the sun rose at a different angle and sent dancing light over the White Sands, painting a different scene every morning. Most clear mornings she would watch, following the brightening light until the angle of the sun caused the gypsum to glisten on the mountain range just beyond the sands.

Today, instead of painting a crisp image, the sun appeared more as a halo over a blurred Sacramento Mountain. Silently watching the start of a new day, she once again turned around to face the San Andres. As the sun continued to rise and start to burn away the fog, the mist shrouding the horses faded.

Although clearly visible for many miles, the San Andres mountain range didn’t reside in Otero County. Instead, it stretched through Socorro, Sierra, and Doña Ana Counties and was home to the legendary desert bighorn sheep. Someday she hoped to see one of these creatures. On a recent trip across the mountain to Las Cruces, she’d seen one of the Oryx. She thought it was a magnificent animal. Her mother told her the beast had been brought in from Africa to help save the species. They had become so prolific the herd had expanded into the bighorn sheep’s territory.

In Shelly’s mind, no two sunrises were the same. As the day lightened, the sun had not completely burned off the mist leaving White Sands and most of the San Andres appearing as a spectral vision. Regardless of what she couldn’t clearly see this morning, in her mind, she thought where she lived must be the most beautiful place in the world. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath of fresh air. This morning the air was heavily scented with the sweet aroma of the creosote bush.

As the sun continued its rise, the cool morning air pushed its way across the surface of the land making it a perfect day to fly. A slight breeze flowing northeast toward the White Sands would do the job of carrying the hot air balloons clear of any obstacles.

After her sunrise ritual, she climbed down from the copula and peered through the cracks between the floorboards of the loft. She could clearly see her grandfather’s trailer hitched to his truck. A special made stand on the trailer skid cradled the balloon in the front. The large woven basket was secured in the middle, and the fuel tanks stood near the rear, ready to fuel the one thing she knew her grandfather loved.

Although it was only a fleeting memory, she remembered the one short-lived lift she’d done with her grandfather. She’d never forgotten how she felt when she was so high up and how much she could see of the basin she called home. For a long time now, she wanted so much more than a simple rise.

If she closed her eyes and concentrated, she could still imagine the mild breeze blowing around her face, then pushing through her dark hair. Smelling the air high off the ground brought on a completely new memorable experience for her. To this day, the freshness of the air, and how it felt gently touching her skin was forever embedded into her memory. She couldn’t say the air was cleaner up high, it only felt that way to her.

She treasured the memory of her first brief lift and promised herself that someday she would do more than ride with her grandfather. Sooner or later, she would fly her grandfather’s balloon.

Today was the first day of the White Sands Balloon Invitational, and melancholy enveloped her, knowing her father forbade her even to entertain the thought of her ever getting into ‘that contraption’. Now she had hope, and with Trever’s help, she was confident she would have her first real ride.


Shelly met Trever at his mother’s vendor stand. The crowds these types of events drew gave area farmers a way to supplement their income for the year. Some of New Mexico’s best food and local crafts would be sold at this event.

Trever and Shelly decided the first day of the event would not be the day she would fly. The pair would enjoy the morning as they visited the various vendor stands and quietly discuss how the next day would play out.

Gerald had hinted he would be retiring from flying soon, so she knew there might be limited chances to fly with her grandfather. Tomorrow would come soon enough, and it would give her one more day to build up the courage to do the one thing that meant so much to her.

Chapter 4

Next Day

Once again, Shelly was up well before daylight, although this time she didn’t climb up to her special spot in the copula to watch the sunrise. Instead, she was in the kitchen with her mother helping prepare breakfast and lunch boxes for her grandfather and his ground crew.

Sliding a cardboard carton toward Shelly, her mother asked, “Can you start loading these into the SUV?”

“Sure, Mom.”

“Hurry, but be careful the containers lay flat in the cooler. I don’t want squashed meals. I’ll have another box ready by the time you get back in.”

Smiling all the way to the vehicle, Shelly almost broke into a run. Not wanting to upset her mom, she made sure she loaded the containers properly and returned with the empty carton. By the time she returned, her mother had the last carton ready to load. She picked up the container and repeated the trip.

Fortunately, Penny had convinced Sean to let Shelly attend the weekend event. After she helped with the breakfast boxes, she would spend the rest of the day with Trever. Yesterday had gone well, and Shelly had not once mentioned taking a balloon ride. Today was the last day of the event and she didn’t want to risk getting into trouble. This would not be a good day to be grounded.

“I’ll get my jacket and keys and meet you in the car, said Penny.”

“Sounds good Mom.”

One more time, Shelly made sure the containers were securely placed in the coolers before closing the lids. The empty cardboard cartons were placed on the back seat. They would be used to carry back any utensils needing to be returned to the ranch house. By the time her mother opened the car door and settled into the driver’s seat, Shelly was all smiles.

The SUV easily started, and they were on their way to the event site. Showing her pass at the entry point, Penny found a parking spot not too far away from her father’s balloon. Gerald and his crew were in the process of inflating the envelope.

Approaching her father, Penny asked, “Hey Dad, can you or Grant give us a hand?”

“Sure thing,” replied Gerald.

Shelly gave a slight tug on her mother’s jacket sleeve, “Mom, can I go over to Mrs. Callaway’s stand?”

“After you help gather up what needs to go home with me. Why don’t you take the empty carton around and gather up everything used from yesterday that needs to go back.”

Before Shelly answered, her grandfather said, “I’ve already gathered everything. Look on the left-hand upper corner of the utility trailer. What needs to go back should be sitting in front of the extra tanks.”

“Thanks Grandpa,” was all Shelly said before running to the SUV to retrieve the carton and then back to the trailer. By the time her mother and grandfather returned with the boxed breakfast and lunches, she’d put all the used items into the cartons.

Shelly waited until her mom finished handing out the breakfast boxes to her grandfather’s ground crew. When Gerald finished with his breakfast, he hugged his daughter. “Thank you honey, you’ve always been such a big help to me.”

Before Penny could answer her father, Shelly asked, “Can I go now? I told Trever I would be there before the event fully opened.”

“Okay, but you best be ready to come home by noon. That’s when your father wants to pick you up. Tell Margie hello for me.”

“I will,” was all Shelly said before running off toward the vendors section.


As Shelly worked her way down the row of vendors, the sun was coming up over the Sacramento Mountains chasing dawn away. Trever spotted Shelly before she reached his mother’s space. “There’s Shelly, I promised her I’d walk around to watch some of the balloons being filled. I’ll be back before you get busy.”

“Don’t be gone more than an hour Trever, as soon as those balloons lift, people will start working their way over to do their shopping.”

“I won’t, Mom”

Trever met Shelly before she reached his mother’s spot. “It’s about time you showed up.”

“Sorry ‘bout that Trev, had to help my mom with the breakfast boxes. We have to hurry; Grandpa’s balloon will soon be filled and ready to lift before long.”

“Are you sure you can fit into the compartment?”

“You just worry about getting everyone’s attention. I only need a couple of minutes and I’ll be safely stowed away.”

“Okay, but you owe me big time for this one.”

Impulsively Shelly kissed Trever’s cheek. They both blushed.

“Thank you so much for this Trever. If I’m caught, don’t worry, I’ll never tell anyone you helped me.”

“You better not rat on me, or I’ll have to reconsider our friendship,” Trever jokingly replied.

By the time the pair approached her grandfather’s balloon, the envelope was almost completely inflated. A few years prior, her grandfather had purchased a custom-built envelope and basket from Cameron®. All of their builds were considered the Cadillac of balloon baskets. They were easy to move on the ground due to their extra lightweight. His model was not only capable of handling up to seven passengers plus the pilot, but also accommodated a specially made nylon flap lidded compartment, which Shelly planned to use to hide in. She found the compartment would easily accommodate her small frame. With only two passengers riding with her grandfather, her added weight wouldn’t be a problem for the balloon.

Having easy access to the barn where her grandfather’s trailer had been parked made it a stress-free place for her to practice climbing into the basket. She thought she would be able to enter the gondola unseen while Trever distracted everyone around the balloon.

Shelly remained out of sight, while Trever moved into position. When her grandfather’s passengers arrived, it would be up to him to create the planned distraction. It had to happen before the passengers boarded.

Trever was standing only a few feet away from her grandfather’s basket. He could see part of Shelly’s arm as she moved back behind another balloon gondola.

Trever hoped Shelly could see him as he raised both his arms over his head, clasp his hands together, yawned and slowly stretched. This was to be the signal to Shelly that he was about to begin his ruse. He knew he had to hold everyone’s attention long enough for her to pop over the edge of the basket and then hide in one of the compartments.

It was time. Hidden in his hand was a long nail with a slightly sharpened edge. As he finished stretching, he dropped to the ground, grabbed his foot, and quickly inserted the nail into the hole he’d made in the bottom of an old pair of shoes. He pushed the nail in hard enough for the tip to nick the skin on his foot. His practiced yelling quickly turned into a moan as he started rocking and rolling back and forth on the ground.

Grant pointed to two crewmembers, “Hold the stays stable.” They held on tight although their attention was drawn toward the boy on the ground.

Reaching Trever first, Grant asked, “What’s wrong with you young man?”

The deception worked perfectly, as Gerald, his passengers, and some of the crew rushed to form a semi-circle around the boy they thought to be in distress.

Still rocking, Trever exclaimed loudly, “My foot, my foot!” Oh, I’m good.

Grant picked up Trever’s foot to see the nail sticking out of the sole of his shoe.

Shelly wasted no time in leaving her hiding spot, and in a flash, she was in her grandfather’s gondola. In her haste, she’d forgotten which side held the compartment with the blankets for passengers who might find the flight chilly. Keeping low, and hoping the two ground crew members didn’t see her, she approached the compartment. She scampered past the first aid kit attached to the side and wiggled in under the blankets. She hoped no one would look inside before the balloon was well on its way.

Everyone’s attention was still on Trever. Grant said to him, “I’ve got to pull the nail out before I can take off your shoe and sock.”

Trever’s eyes widened and to buy more time for Shelly, he let out another wail.

“Okay Trever, here we go... One, two, three!” Grant easily pulled out the nail and held it up. Taking Trever’s shoe and sock off Grant examined the foot. “You have to be kidding! There’s only a prick there.”

Trever grabbed his sock and shoe, “It still hurts!”

Shaking his head Gerald commented, “Trever, I’d sure hate to hear your wail if you had a real injury. You need to toughen up a bit boy. You best go tell your mom you need a Tetanus shot.”

Pretending a pout, Trever shot back, “It’s a real injury, and it hurt plenty!” He was proud of his performance, and prouder still the hoax worked.

Sock and shoe back on, he stood up, walked over to the balloon trailer and leaned on the rail. He intended to stay until he was sure Shelly wasn’t discovered before liftoff.

Emergency over, Gerald knew it was time to make any final adjustments before the lift. “Show’s over folks. Grant, help me do the flight check. We’ll need to load the passengers soon.”

Shelly was almost holding her breath as she heard and felt her grandfather and Grant board. The men quickly went through the short flight checklist. Grant left the gondola and moved the two passengers toward the steps sitting beside the basket.

Gerald finished making the preflight notations in his log, and sat it on top of the compartment where Shelly was hiding. Leaning over the edge of the gondola, he took the hand of the first passenger and helped her over the side, then helped the second passenger over.

Wasting no time, Gerald pointed toward the blast valve and instructed his passengers, “To be on the safe side, when I say clear, make sure you stand back from this. You shouldn’t be anywhere near the flame.” He handed both passengers earplugs. “I’d advise using these. At times it’s going to be loud.”

It was time to heat the air again. Gerald said, “Clear,” then released the flame to heat the air for the balloon.

A loud ‘whoosh’ sound announced the tall flame as it made its appearance. The expelled heat once again added to the warmed air of the balloon’s envelope. Satisfied with the release, Gerald handed his logbook to his passengers. “Sign in please.”

Both women did as he asked, and Gerald stowed the log. Grant was standing on the second step of the stairs. Looking around he saw several balloons had already started their ascent.

Grant asked his friend, “Ready?”

Gerald’s reply was brief, “Yes.” He then watched patiently as Grant removed the steps a few feet away from the basket. When he saw the last tie being unsecured, he said to his passengers, “Ladies, stand clear and steady yourself.”

As he unleashed another long steady flame, the passengers tightly held onto the edge of the basket. His ground crew was holding onto the untied tethers. When Gerald signaled, they let go of the tethers holding the balloon near the ground.

Shelly wanted more than anything to witness the lift, but was afraid if she revealed her presence too early, the ground crew could pull the basket back down to the ground. Instead, she patiently waited.

There was nearly zero wind this morning. It was a balloonist dream day. The prediction was temperatures would stay on the low end all morning and not start to climb until almost noon. Without a strong wind to push them along, today’s flight would be a slow long drift. It was about as perfect a day to fly as Gerald had ever experienced.

One of the passengers shivered and asked, “I’m a little chilly. Can I have one of those blankets you said you kept for passengers?”

Uh oh, thought Shelly, especially when her grandfather said, “Not that one, that one.”

Shelly tried to get under both blankets hoping the passenger would grab only the top one. The compartment lid opened and as the woman was about to take hold of a blanket, she thought it strange the blanket moved before she could extract it. Picking up, and lifting the corner of the blanket above Shelly, revealed her hiding place.

The passenger turned to Gerald, “I think you have a problem.”

Raising a brow, Gerald asked, “What problem?”

Before her grandfather came over to look, Shelly decided to stand and reveal her presence.

Surprised, her grandfather exclaimed, “Shelly!”

She wasn’t sure whether she’d heard anger or disappointment in his voice. “I’m sorry Grandpa. Daddy was never going to let me fly with you. I just knew I had to come this time.”

“Get over here right now, young lady! You know your father is going to blame this entire episode on me.”

Shelly had given much thought to her actions and counted on her plan working out. “Not if we can get back to base by noon. I can be back to Margie’s stand by then.”

“That’s not going to happen. Today is going to be a slow ride, and you know how long it’s going to take the chase team to get to the landing spot, not to mention we have to pack up and tote everything back.”

Deep down Shelly knew her grandfather was right, and started to feel bad she wouldn’t be the only one in trouble. The reality of what she’d done hit home, and now she was afraid her father would carry out what he’d promised he would do. He would punish her Grandpa Gerald by leaving the ranch. Her father had been so angry lately, especially about the balloon and Shelly wanting a real ride. This time, she’d pushed what she wanted to do too far.

A resigned Gerald sighed and put a gentle hand on his granddaughter’s shoulder. “May as well enjoy the ride, nothin’ I can do about it now.”

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