The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Call the Rider
by Naching T. Kassa
They called me witch.
As I stare down the highway into the azure eye of eternity, my mind on my past, present, and future, I remember that word and their mistake. I remember how they brought Death into their village and their midst.
Once, I was a Woman of the Wood and a Bride of Death. My bridegroom honored me and I him. If the town had left me to my own devices, nothing would’ve happened.
But they could not leave me be. The world was not ready for me.
They were not ready for the comfort I gave girls who birthed their babies, not ready for the remedies I gave the sick. They caught me, brought me before those who could not judge me, and dressed me in red to match the flames. When they led me out into the square, tied me to the stake, and lit the pyre, I told them Death would come.
He sent the Riders for me.
The dragon and his rider arrived first, shrouded in invisibility to all but me. They flew on silent wings over the street, filling the air with contagion. People collapsed, cut down like wheat in their wake.
My father cut my bonds and lead me from the fire. I grasped hold of his hand and that of my sister’s. I pulled them down the thoroughfare as the shadow passed over. It blotted out the sky but remained unseen to my family.
I glanced up into the dragon’s eye, which shone like a black sun. The absence of light pulled at my very soul. I ran.
My father fell first, leaning against the door of the house, choking and clawing at the air. My sister, Sarah, dropped to the cobblestone.
I ran on. The shadow flew behind me, and when I glanced back, I realized the dragon had turned down the corner. I halted to catch my breath.
An hour passed before I returned to where my sister and father. He stared at the sky as I passed, his gaze on the eye of eternity.
Sarah coughed She stared at me with red-rimmed eyes.
Laughter sounded from a nearby alley and I glimpsed a tall man, clad in shining armor. The scent of blood and smoke surrounded him. A slim man wearing a tattered robe walked at his side. His skin, parchment-thin, stretched over his bones. Neither saw me as they vanished into the night.
My sister tugged at my skirt and I knelt beside her.
“Why?” she whispered.
“They burned and drowned the innocent,” I replied. “They murdered the rat-catchers and the women who birthed the babes. The Riders knocked on the door for years. They finally allowed them in.”
Shadows crept along the cobbled stone as night robbed sunlight from an unforgiving sky. Those left alive whimpered and moaned. Each cry pierced my heart.
A figure stood silhouetted at the end of the avenue. His sickly stench of decay wafted over me and the air grew frigid as he drew near.
I hadn’t asked for the others. I had only asked for him. I didn’t want War, Plague, or Famine. The sick fell silent as the Rider passed and his bones rattled. He turned a face devoid of all emotion upon me and like a juggernaut, strode forward. The dead littered the street behind him.
I covered Sarah’s body with my own. This had never been part of the bargain. He should’ve taken the wicked, not the innocent.
“Not my sister!” I cried. “Take me instead.”
My bridegroom paused when he reached me, and his hollow, inhuman voice grated upon my ear.
“I cannot, my love.”
“Why? There’s nothing special about me.”
“Dearest…You are the host.”
He reached down. I tried to block his skeletal hand but failed.
Sarah’s breath became a ragged gasp, a rattle in her throat. Seconds passed, and she was gone.
He vanished with her.
I stood alone as the sun rose, staring into the eye of eternity.
There are many things worse than death.
Bringing him to those you love is one of them.
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.