SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.
by Karen R. Sanderson
My old bones ache and feel as if they are frozen into the depths of their marrow. Adjusting my rump on the bale of hay, I try to settle. I pull the moth-bitten horse blanket tighter around me, my shoulder blades sticking out like two tiny wings. The breeze picks up again and disturbs the gray hair around my ears, and I shiver. Adjusting my cap, I wait.
I observe the night sky, as I have done every evening for decades. The darkness is quite complete – there are no stars in this part of the world. No twinkly gases or planets. No vaporous clouds. There is no moon.
Long ago, in another world, I gazed upon twinkling galaxies spread with glistening paints across a blue-black canopy, listening to hooting owls and the lonely yowls of night creatures. Then…the voice of my mother…calling me home.
I hear a clattering of hooves and that scraping, dragging sound – the souls he pulls behind him. I stand up and stretch, joints snapping. I do not know the how of it – how much longer I can endure the physical strain of this employment. But it is certainly preferred over the alternative of death.
I see the horse’s snorting breath first – glowing red and stinking. Then the rider and his mount appear in my field of vision. The Friesian horse is sleek ebony, and the leather he wears is all black, gleaming with a high gloss and squeaking from liberal saddle soap. A most beautiful animal in an occupation most distasteful.
The rider’s smirking countenance comes into view – a productive night, I imagine. He throws his leg jauntily over the neck of the horse, his black boot glistening with spit and polish. He floats to the ground with his cape spread like bat wings. A blanketing wave of the velvety fabric, and he is gone. The chains that are attached to the catch of the day fall clattering to the dirt.
I drag the chained souls into an immense barn, large enough to produce an echo if there were such a thing as an echo in this vacuous blackness. The granite floor flaunts an occasional scorch mark from previous burnings. Coffin-shaped boxes are lined up, waiting for their cargo.
I consign each of the souls to a private wood-slat container. And then the burning. Their pleading voices, the crying, the screeching. Oh, if I were able to get that jangle and clank out of my head! Their cries and begging and wheeling-dealing make no difference. They are extinguished with efficient dispatch.