Tuesday, November 1, 2011
A Halloween Story, Part Seven
The moon was supposed to be full that night, but it was still rising as she crossed the thin wooded strip and stood on the dirt road.
"Reagan! Here kitty!" she called in a voice she hated. She could hear her own fear in it.
C'mon girl! she chided herself. Look around. These are the same trees that you've walked past a thousand times! You've sat at the base of these trees and read books.
Still, the woods seemed spooky.
Ria called for Reagan, pointing the flashlight at piles of leaves or among nests of roots as she walked along. She walked along for about thirty minutes before she saw a black cat rubbing itself on the rough bark of a leafless tree. From where Ria stood, she couldn't be sure if the cat was Reagan.
"Reagan?" she called softly. The cat didn't come to her, but it did meow in response. "You've come a long way boy. Why so far tonight of all nights?"
The cat stiffened. Its ears were so tuned into the sound, it seemed to Ria that they vibrated. Ria listened and at first she heard nothing. Then it seemed as though the ground was starting to vibrate. The vibration grew in intensity until it sounded like the thundering of the hooves of many horses.
People occasionally rode horses down the dirt road, although not at night. When that happened, the usual practice was to step slightly off the road for the rider to pass. But this time Ria felt a rising of terror, apparently shared by the cat, because it bolted off the road and into the woods. Ria could hear it's passage as it tore through brambles, making crackling sounds, only slightly ahead of her own frantic flight.
The sound of the oncoming hooves was unbearably loud now, and impulsively, Ria dropped to the ground and wiggled under a pile of leaves and bramble. She was so frightened that her lungs felt like they were burning, and her breath came in loud heaves that she prayed could not be heard over the sound of the horses thundering hooves.
It was only minutes later that the horsemen came in sight. There were six of them. The horses were huge, bigger than any that Ria had ever seen in her life. They seemed more likely to have come out of a nightmare than to be real. The eyes were rimmed with bright red, the eyes themselves were bottomless black pools. Great clouds of steam came out of the snorting nostrils.
The riders had stopped because the lead rider had held up a huge gloved hand signalling them to stop. In the distance, Ria could still hear the thunder of more horses approaching.
"I smell humans." the first rider growled removing his helmet. It was skull shaped with embossing around the brim.
"There are humans living just on the other side of those woods." The rider lifted up in the saddle as if to stretch his legs from a long ride.
"It be a shame if some of them were in the woods now." The first rider replied with a nasty chuckle.
"They won't be. They are busy gathering candy at this time of night. The children are anyway." It was the third rider who spoke. His saddle supported a long pole, from which hung a macabre lantern, a cat skull with a candle inside of it.
"And the mothers are home alone, just on the other side of those woods?" asked the first rider. "Mayhaps we have time for just a little bit of mischief, eh boys?"
They all laughed.
The fourth rider was silent. Ria studied him. He too carried a lantern attached to his saddle, it was a cat's skull, bigger than the first lantern. All the riders were dressed in black leather, but the fourth rider looked darker than the others. Ria imagined it was as dark as a black hole in space would be.
The rider that had removed his helmet slid to the ground from his horse. He was doing some stretches when he suddenly stopped. "I do smell human!" he said ominously.
"I told you, humans...."
"I mean I smell them here!" he interrupted. "Here!" he gestured around the general area. "Not in some neighborhood. Here!"
They all stood still, even the horses stopped their movements.
Ria wondered if they were sniffing the air too, catching her scent. She almost screamed with fright.
The sound of the other horses was getting louder. They were getting closer. Would they all dismount their horses when they arrived, to scour the woods looking for her? They would surely find her if they did.
The rider mounted his horse again, surprisingly quickly for all the armour and the long cloak he wore. He snatched a lantern pole from one of the riders and urged his horse into the woods.
"What are you doing?" one of them called.
"I said I smelled a human!" The horse walked heavily into the woods. Even fallen logs snapped under his mighty step. Ria froze with terror and began to pray that somehow, those mighty hooves would miss her.
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