I saw the sign a mile off. The dusty wood seemed to glisten as I made my way closer along the dusty trail, my steed scattering the dark crystals like the seeds from a dandelion with every step. The thud of the hooves rattling the floor echoed intensely, keeping in beat with my heart. The closer I got, the more it seemed odd. I began to spot buildings, including the old inn, once a hive of activity, now nothing more than a derelict shack of rustic wood and cracked paint. The trail met the gate, which screamed and tensed up as I swung it open. The sandy arm of the path split down into fingers.
The lonely signpost whispered me the direction of the town’s features. The wind was coming in, meeting the darkness of the sky head on. I took an uneasy step off of my horse, brought my feel to the ground and threw my body off with it. The ground was hard, it hadn’t rained here for a long time it seemed. I wondered if the old wood of the inn would stay up through a storm, but tried to ignore the thoughts as I took the reigns of the horse. His lush brown hair now reflecting the darkness of the night, his strong figure now a mere silhouette against the dark moon. I tied him up in a simple knot and took a look at his expression.
I decided to play it safe, and returned to put a double knot connecting the rope to the post. As I walked slowly off towards the old inn, he stamped his feet against the floor. I slowly turned round and stared into the whites of his eyes. Neither of us blinked. He took a shake of his head in silent defiance; he didn’t want to be alone. No one would on a night like this, in a town like this. I span my body round and continued towards the ageing tavern. I don’t know why; nobody was in. They all fled like cowards when I turned my back from the town I was there to protect.
I wonder if I hadn’t have left, people may have stayed and the town would be a lively place again, the heart of the west. But I didn’t have the choice to leave, something was coming. I didn’t want to stay around to face it. The taverns door was open, inviting me in to sit and have a drink, just like the old days. This was perhaps the only thing that was like those days, everything had changed round here now. I had the feeling this wasn’t even my town, it had changed too much since they came. I stepped onto the wooden floor of the tavern and stopped. I stared.
Just as I had left it, the old picture of the dancers hanging triumphantly above the bar; the two crossed rifles sitting just below it. The rancid smell of the stale tobacco I have expected wasn’t here; it had been replaced by the eerie odour of something else. Whatever it was, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. There were still half full glasses of ale on the solid wooden tables, stools up against the bar as if everyone had just gone to the toilet. I hoped they were just in the toilet, all of them; because I didn’t feel alone. I wanted to get back outside, but the feeling of fear built up inside of me, causing cramp in my legs.
Freezing me. My feet were stuck to the floor, like metal on a magnet. I pulled at them with everything I had, sadly it wasn’t enough. The open door attracted the wind, with a mind of its own it headed straight for me. Nothing was blown in the room. The posters didn’t even shake. But I felt the chill; it hit me like a bullet. I grabbed the rugged, splintered bar for dear life and pulled myself away from the spot I had been frozen in only moments ago. With another brave step I made my way towards the door, battling the wind in desperate unarmed combat. I was winning and made it outside.
The darkness had evicted the light, the area was pitch black. I needed to locate my steed; I needed to escape this place. A shrill neigh erupted only metres away from me, I turned round. My horse had come free from his rope, I heard him galloping away. Unusual. He was usually disciplined, like a royal guard I expected him to stay still and quiet. Something had frightened him. My suspicions deepened. I wasn’t alone. I wanted to cry, a dark hole to appear in the ground, inviting me inside where I’d be safer. The sound of a thousand hooves began to fill my head with a thousand nightmares. I could hear them.
I could feel them. But I couldn’t see them. My instinct was to run, but they were all around me. Encircling me, a pack of hyenas with me as their prey. About to strike. Which I wouldn’t have minded. Death seemed a gift right now. I gave up, collapsed to a heap in the floor; ready to accept what was next. The sand, once rich and gold was now black. I felt it in my hand, it was clammy and wet. It hadn’t rained, or so I thought. The hooves got more intense. The speed increased. They were getting closer, coming towards their prize. I imagined the attack to be relentless, but I wouldn’t feel it – I was already dead.