Branches raked her arms and shins and hair flew around her face in disheveled strands, a far contrast to the neatly pulled back ponytail she’d started with. Hayley gasped for breath, pausing a moment to get a sense of where she was. She’d run much deeper into the woods than she’d ever gone before and around her skeleton trees pierced the dark, cloudy sky. The soft crunch of leaves reminded her that her pursuer was not far behind. She searched frantically but there were no obvious hiding places. How much more could she run before ultimately she succumbed to fate?
The horse snorted. An owl screeched, searching for prey. Hayley fought to get her breathing under control as she watched the full moon appear from behind its shield of thick clouds to momentarily illuminate the path before it was again swallowed into darkness. Fearing she’d already hesitated too long, she began running again.
She tripped and stumbled but managed to put out her hands to catch herself just before she hit the ground. The earth shook with the gallop of the horse which, no doubt, knew exactly where to find her. No matter how far or how fast she fled, she couldn’t escape it. The rain began to fall in thick sheets, soaking through her clothes almost immediately.
There was nowhere left to turn. Hayley covered her head with her arms as she braced for the impact as her body shook and her teeth chattered. When she dared to look up from the ground to gauge the horseman’s distance, he had vanished.
Trembling, she managed to stand on legs exhausted by running. She wrapped her arms around herself as much for comfort as warmth as she began walking as she sobbed with the rain. How could she have been so stupid?
As a child, she’d heard about the Legend of Sleepy Hollow but she’d never thought of it as much more than a children’s story meant to entertain or scare. Nathan had warned her not to go out that night but he’d also pulled her hair and hid behind drapes to jump out and scare her, too. Even though she’d looked in his eyes and saw fear, she’d brushed it off as little more than foolish play. It was simply another trick to scare her which had only made her want to prove even more that she couldn’t be scared.
Eventually someone would notice she had been gone too long and they would come looking for her but would it be too late? She glanced nervously over her shoulder, thinking she had heard the breaking of a branch over the deafening sound of the pouring rain. The horseman had vanished for now but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t return. Thunder punctuated her fear.
Hayley picked up her pace as panic filled her. In a flash of lightning, over her shoulder she’d glimpsed the horse in the distance as it rose up on hind legs while its rider held a sword pointed toward the sky.
She started running again but the path had turned to mud which slowed her steps even more. She didn’t have to look behind her again to know she’d been spotted. The sound of horse hooves hitting the ground filled her ears as her legs threatened to give out.
It isn’t possible.
A headless horseman is just a story.
She kept repeating the words in her head but believing them didn’t make the larger than life image fade away. He was on her in an instant. She screamed in defeat.
The voice cut through the rain and the pounding of the blood in her ears and at first she thought it only her imagination. Then she cleared the water from her eyes, unable to comprehend what she was seeing.
“Nathan?” she said sinking down to her knees and gasping for air.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts. Each day I am posting a ‘snippet’ based on a paranormal creature that begins with the corresponding letter of the alphabet. I am using this as a fun writing exercise which I am hoping will also be enjoyable to read, but keep in mind that due to the fact that I must post a new snippet each day in April except Sundays, the posts may be a bit rough. I’ll do my best, however, in the limited time I have available to me. 🙂 Let me know your favorites or the posts you find most intriguing because I plan to develop those into a full story later in the year!
Check out the other participants in the A to Z Challenge.