#AtoZChallenge Visitors from Beyond – Headless Horseman

 

Illustration of a headless horseman with moon in background

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.

“Hayley!”

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.

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The Bridge

Bridge in moonlightI rubbed the scratchy stubble on my chin as I leaned my elbows on the wooden railing of the old bridge. I couldn’t remember what prompted me to stop here. I vaguely remembered playing in these woods as a child but that felt like a lifetime ago. Below me the expanse of river reflected the engorged moon as the water moved almost soundlessly over the rocks. It wasn’t the first time I contemplated jumping.

Exhausted, I bent my head and massaged my aching temple. I tried to think about all the clues that might have added up to this night, all the ways I’d gone wrong that had led to my broken heart. In my pocket still rested the ring box. I’d been planning to propose to Amber but I didn’t get up the nerve and then before I had the chance, it was all over.

On the soft breeze, I heard a whisper that sounded like my name. I looked up but of course, I was alone. After two in the morning in a rural town like mine, I’d be lucky to see a car pass even if I spent the next several hours standing on the bridge.

Maybe it was the fact that she’d never liked my job. I wasn’t ambitious enough, she’d told me once. I liked my job though. It didn’t make me rich. What I could afford was humble in contrast to what she was accustomed to receiving but I thought we could find a way to make it work. I thought she loved me for the person I was on the inside. Isn’t that the way that love is supposed to work?

Amber had accused me of messing around with some girl I didn’t even know. She told me she had proof of it, that others had admitted to seeing us together but I shook my head sadly to the night, acknowledging the conspiracy that had been set up against me. None of her friends had ever liked me. Was I destined to be alone forever, I wondered?

The breeze wrapped around me and I shivered. The seasons were changing so quickly now. At this rate, winter would settle over us before we knew it. I pulled my leather jacket tighter around me to try to keep the chill from settling into my bones but it was no use.

A scratching sound distracted my ruminations and I quickly looked behind me, not sure what I was expecting to find, but the bridge was still void of any sign of life, except for my own. My heart sank and I looked down at my cell phone at the last text message I’d received from Amber asking me to never contact her again. I contemplated responding, asking her what happened, asking for some sense of closure. She owed me that much at least, didn’t she? It wasn’t fair to leave me like this. No matter how many times I went over the past six months in my memory, I couldn’t put the pieces together to come to a conclusion for why she might have turned so cold. I deserved to know the truth.

My fingers hesitated over the keys as I remembered the look in her eyes. Ordinarily her eyes were a bright blue but the sadness had dimmed them to a murky gray as the tears threatened to spill. She hadn’t wanted to say goodbye. I was convinced of it, but yet she had insisted, and after all the arguments, there was nothing left to say to try to change her mind.

For better or for worse, my relationship with Amber was over.

I reached into my pocket and fished out the ring. It wasn’t anything special but it had taken me several paychecks to finally be able to afford it. I’d picked the beautiful blue Sapphire to match her eyes. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wearing the ring other than Amber so although it may have seemed crazy, I pulled back my arm and pitched the ring as far down the river as I could manage. It fell with a plop that almost seemed to echo through the quiet night.

I dug my hands into my pockets and stepped back from the edge, giving one last look over the river before turning my back and moving toward my beat up old car waiting for me at the side of the road. As I shuffled along, I could have sworn I heard the sound of a woman crying in the distance. I stopped and double backed, listening intently for the sound again. At first it didn’t come. Even the lonely crickets had given up and returned to wherever it is that crickets go when summer has ended and fall begins. Around me was only silence.

That’s it, I told myself, turning back toward the car. But something didn’t want to let me go, some strange nagging tugged at me, urging me to look closer.

Under the bridge, the wind whispered in my ear. I shuddered involuntarily. It would be a dangerous climb down the steep hillside in thick underbrush to reach the overgrown woods under the bridge. It was unlikely I would find anyone there. But then I heard it again, this time more distinct and without reservation I knew, it was the sound of a woman crying.

…. to be continued

Six Sentence Sunday – In Honor of August’s Blue Moon

Happy September! So this is it, then. Summer is over and the kids are back to school. The days are getting shorter. (Have you noticed?) It won’t be much longer before we’re packing away the shorts and t-shirts in favor of jeans and long shirts and grabbing a jacket before we head out the door. Sure, I feel a little sad about this. And believe me, even though I swore I’d be a big girl at the bus stop when my little guy started kindergarten, I still got teary walking back to the house. After this wonderful holiday weekend, I’ll be sending #3 to preschool. Man, time sure flies! But it’s not all sad, of course, because if you’ve been around my blog before, you might already know that I love the fall. I love the color in the trees and can’t wait to visit the farm to pick pumpkins. And of course, I’m relieved to enjoy some cooler temps because those hazy, hot, and humid days start to get to me after a while.

But anyway, I digress. We’re not here to talk about the weather, no matter how exciting that may be. (?) We’re not even here to mark the passage of time, even though it keeps marching steadily onward. It’s Sunday. We’re here to share six sentences! Oh yeah…

New to Six Sentence Sunday? Then you need to click HERE immediately and aquaint yourself with the other fabulous participants. There are so many greats to pick from and it’s always fun to find out what they come up with next. The official Six Sentence Sunday website makes it easy to hop from one to the next. What better way to spend a Sunday than discovering a new author offering a sneak peek of your next favorite book?

(Pick me! Pick me!)

As for my six, well, we all know I’ve posted plenty from Ghosts Don’t Wear Silk Stockings! Wooo weee… We’re getting bored with that one, aren’t we? Wait! Wait! Don’t say yes! You haven’t even read the book yet. You really have to stick with me long enough to read that book. (Planning to pimp it out during September’s ‘Gearing Up to Get An Agent’ event so keep your fingers crossed for me, K?)

But yeah, I finished the final edits on that one and after all that work, I think I need a rest. Don’t you? Dan may be drop-dead gorgeous but he’s starting to make my head hurt thinking about him too long. It’s time to move on to something new. A few weeks back, I shared six from the next novel (still untitled) that I’m writing. I introduced a very tense relationship between my two main characters Nathanial and Sarah. Remember it? No? Well, if you’re interested, you can click HERE and refresh your memory. As I embark on my newest writing adventure, I wanted to share another six from Nathanial and Sarah’s story so here goes…

***

It was a feeling that was difficult to ignore, almost as difficult as not being able to remember anything before moving in with Grandmamma.

The moon’s full glow cast an icy shimmer on the world outside her window making her feel like an alien in her own home. She shivered and pulled her knees into her chest resting her head. Her eyelids were drooping. She contemplated the last time she had a full night’s sleep and couldn’t remember. A moan in the upstairs bedroom reminded her of the only reason she stayed.

***

Like it? It’s got potential, I think. Guess I better quit my rambling and get back to writing. After all, you’ll want me back next week with a brand new six, right? Right?

Thought so.