Miscellany

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15
The Black Rider

A dash of flash fiction: Many a man has been taken. Most have died – if they were lucky.


The Black RiderI’ve never minded storms, not the snow or the rain…but the fog, the fog is an occurrence I dread. Because the Black Rider comes in the fog and only in the fog, and woe to any who are caught out-of-doors when his red-eyed mount’s hoofbeats sound on the roads. He can smell blood, they say – in fact, some day he is Death, and that he stalks the living through the fog, like a shepherd culling the sheep he finds unworthy of their flock.

They’re wrong, of course. So very, very wrong. The Rider is not what I fear, other than fearing his fate, for he is as mortal as any man and his only sin is desperation. He is desperate to dismount, you see, even though it be the death of him…but he may only accomplish this by steering the daemon steed which has trapped him, one of the foul remnants of Nightmare, to run down some other poor soul who will then be forced to take his place.

Many a man has been taken. Most have died, those who have not are left quivering with madness…and we are but a small village which cannot afford their loss. And so when the days were sunny and I was young I built a hut where the road forks, and each evening I leave my family to retire there alone, hanging a lamp in the window that travelers might stop and ask me which road is best to take.

And if it is a night when the mist is rising, I send them into the woods to take their chances with the Rider. Some will be taken, yes – judge me if you will, but better a stranger’s loss than one we know and need as a father, a brother, or a son. Perhaps some night one will come who is familiar with daemons, a man who knows the ways of Nightmare and knows how to end the cursed lives of its former denizens…but that night has not come yet, although I have grown old waiting for it.

Or perhaps some night, when the pile of years has smothered my dread and death seems but a long-awaited rest, I shall take the horse from the traveler that comes and ride into the woods myself. For I would die knowing I had saved one last man…and I would, just once, like to see with my own eyes the fog as it rises in the moonlight.

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