The Rider in Black
The Rider in Black

It was a dark and soon to be stormy night. The church bell was ringing to announce curfew. The last minute stragglers trudged home, dragging their unsold wares on carts from the market. The sharp wind threatened to rip the last leaves from the skeletal branches of the trees, the smell of triumph now in russet mounds at the base of the trunk. There was a sweet bitterness to the air, almost as if someone had attempted to bake a masterpiece and had failed miserably. An alderman stood at the end of the path, ensuring everyone returned home before something came out of the shadows.

He stood there, bell in hand. His purpose was to chivvy along anyone who seemed as if they were about to disobey orders. So far, none of the villagers had bolted into the path of danger. However, this had not been enough to soothe his peace of mind. In recent times, a creature from the afterlife had been resurrected and come for only one thing. Something he had lost. No one had managed to pinpoint the identity of the object. Did this so called treasure of the rider in black bear any value? Or did it even exist? No one knew the answer. The appearance of this spectre had come as a surprise, much debated about when he had shown up in the small hamlet of Corinth. Everyone had believed him to be a mere figment of a folk tale, told to children and adults alike to educate about the legalities of worth at the hands of sacrifice. When the story had come to life, the villagers had been petrified in their tracks. Nothing good had come of this being in the story and they feared for their lives. When he had appeared on their shores, his ruthless nature was immediately apparent. He was searching for something and would kill anyone who stood in his way.

The alderman pulled his cloak tighter in response to the growing chill. He tried to mentally prepare himself for the tirade to come, especially as this spectre would be active within the hour. The wind became more ferocious, half snatching at the bare branches of the tree in the distance. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled and he was sure the sound of ghostly hooves clattered a little way off. His shoulders clenched as he heard the soft moans of some tortured soul wandering about at the entrance to the nearby cemetery, hoping to be laid to rest at last. The smell of rain began to soak the ground, announcing the eye of a storm was on the near horizon. Pulling the hem of his robe off the quickly muddying ground, he scanned the distance for anything out of place.

He was seriously regretting his offer to watch the postern gate, especially as he did not know if he would die tonight. However, the risk was in accordance to the previous week. He could hear his teeth chattering in the updraft of the mid-autumn evening, his fear clinging like knife pointed at his throat. The taste of sourness was not welcome on his tongue, especially as it added to his apprehensive stance.

A sudden whinny cut through the now driving rain. He stiffened, immediately glancing to the lamp that stood to attention in a small doorway. He stole over the sea of mud, trying to avoid the growing puddles. He grasped the cold metal ring at the top of the dancing light and returned to his post, keeping an ear out for the approaching spirit.

He almost jumped out of his skin when a last straggler returning past curfew made their way into his path. He gave them a reproachful stare, so they would know they were meant to be at home. His reactions were slowed with cold from the storm and he could not wait to return home. He was considering telling the guardians of Corinth he was no longer going to watch the villagers as they trekked home. As he reflected on this treatise, the snap of a black horse’s battle cry pierced his eardrums. There was no mistake. He was here.

He didn’t need to be told twice. He started running, skirting the fence and not even bothering to avoid the quagmires now dotting and miring the ground. The path was lost. His bell rang with frenzied jangling but no one came to his aid. So much for demanding them to follow orders. He crashed through the bushes but the rider still gave pursuit. He scanned desperately, looking for some little knothole where he could hide. There was nothing remotely suitable in sight. He was forced to come to a stop in front of a large oak, surrounded with the offerings decorating the village for the Hallow’s sermon. He couldn’t see the rider’s face. It leered in close. He closed his eyes so he would not have to see.

In the morning, the villagers went about their day, making the usual journey to the market or running important errands. No one noticed the scuffle that had been suffered in the night at first. When they did see it they suspected an animal or vagrant had gone on a rampage of extreme hunger. It was strange. The bell of the parish did not ring. They began to look for the alderman. Eventually, everyone clustered around the old oak tree. All they found was a smashed pumpkin and a smear of blood.