By: RJ Newlyn
When the hurricane struck, there was little that could stand in its path. Fleeing from my collapsing house, I saw my father’s fishing boat hurled high over the boardwalk, smashing to matchwood a good hundred yards up Main Street. Many were lost that night.
The rider sat calmly, black-robed on his pale horse, unmoved by the tempest which ripped up the town around him. I knew who he was, and could see that he was pleased with his work.
“How dare you!” I screamed in fury. “What did we ever do to you? You COWARD!” I hurled a useless stone at him.
He looked at me, whatever face he wore hidden in the darkness beneath his hood. I thought my end had come although honestly did not care. Instead, he just turned and rode slowly away. The wind dropped soon afterwards but few had survived the onslaught.
I noted the path he took towards the rank swamps and thickets that clothe the delta. Retrieving only my shotgun and some provisions, I left the ruin of my home behind me and set off in pursuit.
He would have to watch his back now. Immortal or not, there would be a reckoning.
Taking the dirt tracks through the delta, I could tell he was nearby. I could smell him in the foetid marsh gases, hear his breath below the mosquitoes’ incessant whining, see his shadow behind the corpse-lights that danced in the twilight over stagnant wayside pools.
I stopped off at a cabin to ask directions one evening, just after sunset, and a pair of frightened, bloodshot eyes peered out at me over a shaking rifle.
I stayed with the old man there for the few hours he had left. The fever had swept through the neighbourhood leaving nothing alive except the rats and alligators. He had buried a daughter and three grandchildren before succumbing himself. As he breathed his last, I slipped into the shadows and waited.
The horse whinnied softly in the darkness and I could see its hooded rider silhouetted against the stars. I raised my shotgun and let him have both barrels, but he had vanished by the time I ran out of the house.
Standing over the old man’s grave, I felt satisfied with the previous night’s work. The rider knew I was after him, perhaps was even afraid. All I needed now was the right weapon.
Perhaps it was just some hallucination brought on by the fever …
I was sheltering in the ruin of an old plantation house, my stricken fellow-residents dropping like flies. That night, I remember a fearful thirst driving me down to the river bank where he was waiting.
He drew out a long knife, blue flames playing along its blade. The ground swayed beneath me and I saw unearthly shapes crawling out of the water, raising their heads to a sickly grinning moon. The drums of the underworld filled my ears.
“Go on,” I said, kneeling before him. “But you’re still a coward.”
He paused, his hand held high.
“How so?” he whispered in a voice like drifting sand.
“You refuse to face me.”
He moved the blade to rest against my neck; I could feel its sharp, burning chill. The stars began to slide down the sky.
“Give me a weapon to fight you,” I insisted, unflinching. “Or accept that you’re afraid.”
How long he stood and waited, I don’t know. When I woke the fever had departed from all of us.
If he imagined that this would appease me, he was wrong. If Hell followed him, then so could I.
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