Her mum tells her it's just possums on the roof, but Riley knows better.

Sitting on a roof in the middle of winter was very cold when you were in your pyjamas.

Riley looked down into her backyard, which looked like a neat postage stamp divided into lawn and garden edges. The lights on the fire truck bounced off the fence as her mum shouted at her. Her dad was shouting at her, too. Even the firefighter was shouting at her. Everyone wanted her to get down from the roof, but she was going to catch the Pegasus that had been thundering across it every morning for a week.

Her mum said it was possums, but Riley knew better. Whenever she heard it land, with a loud ker-thump and a rattle of roof tiles, she’d leap out of bed and race to her window, pushing it open and sticking her head out just in time to catch a glimpse of large wings against the early morning sky as a rush of downward air flattened her curls. And once she had thrown some apples up onto the roof when no-one was looking, and the next morning she’d woken to find a jar sitting on her desk, on top of her homework. The jar had a rainbow in it. When Riley opened the jar, the rainbow wrapped itself around her wrist, like a bracelet, and her mum had asked, ‘Where did you get that pretty bracelet from, Riley?’ as they ate breakfast.

‘The Pegasus gave it to me,’ she replied, and her mum had shared a look with her dad that had a smile in it, so at school that day when her friends wanted to know where her bracelet had come from, she lied and said it was a present from a relative in Nepal, because it sounded clever.

Now she had a whole bucket of apples, fresh from the crisper. The bucket handle was cold in her hands, but she held it tight as the firefighter began to manoeuvre a big ladder against the side of the house, near her dad’s potted tomatoes.

Her mum stopped shouting at her for a bit to apologise to her neighbour, who was standing on his veranda in a dressing gown, his tufts of grey hair sticking up at strange angles. Their neighbour was doctor, but he didn’t look like a doctor when he was in his dressing gown. He just looked like a sleepy old man that wanted to go to bed and pull his pillow over his head.

Now her dad was saying something about being grounded, which wasn’t fair because she was already grounded for trying to vacuum bindii weeds out of the lawn as a surprise for her mum, who always got a sore back from pulling them out by hand. She pretended she couldn’t hear him as the firefighter began to climb the ladder. 

He’d just reached the gutter when he stopped, open-mouthed and staring up at the sky as Riley heard the familiar beat of air. Her dad stopped talking about grounding her. Her mum stopped saying, ‘I’m sure it’s just a phase,’ to her neighbour and instead made a strange squeaking sound as the Pegasus dropped onto the roof with a loud clatter of hooves.

Riley took an apple out of the bucket and held out her hand. The Pegasus was smaller than the ones in the movies. And it wasn’t white, like those in her books. It had a chestnut coat, fluffy ears and very kind eyes. It took the apple out of Riley’s hand and crunched it thoughtfully as it regarded her.

Down in the backyard everyone started talking at once, and the firefighter said in loud voice that she should ‘Stay away from it and come down right now!’ as Riley tucked her cold hands under the Pegasus’s mane, where it was warm, and watched it eat the other apples in the bucket. By the time it was eating the last apple everyone had their phones out and her mum had pushed the firefighter off the ladder, climbing her way up and saying, ‘Riley Anne Howard you get down here this instant!’ But the Pegasus nudged Riley and twitched its ears towards its broad back.

Riley understood immediately. She grasped a handful of mane, and her mum shouted, ‘Riley Anne Howard don’t you dare get on that unicorn!’

‘It’s a Pegasus, mum,’ said Riley patiently. She had to make a couple of practise jumps before she could get onto the Pegasus’s back properly, and she could feel its impatience as she bounced and scrambled. By the time she eventually made it the Pegasus’s hooves had begun to dance on the rooftop tiles, and as soon as Riley tucked her knees under the spreading wings it raced towards the edge of the roof.

Riley didn’t look down as they took off in a big jump. She made sure her knees were firmly tucked and that she had two good handfuls of mane so she wouldn’t fall off as the wings spread and swept through a morning sky that still had a few stars in it.

‘I have to be back in time for school,’ she said, and the Pegasus tossed its head, letting her know it understood.