Extra, Extra!


The following short story was originally published last year by Midnight Screaming, (Vol 3 #4). It is an original fictional work.  All names, places, events, and characters are mine and protected under US copyright law.

Hunted

H.C. Playa

            Marie clung to the reins as her stallion’s hooves pounded the ground. Lightning streaked across the sky in brilliant blue arcs, heralding thunder that shouted her failure.  Her beloved thought of only her and the baby. He refused to hold her about her waist, afraid of hurting the baby. His clasp on her hips grew weaker with each beat of her heart. She tried to pray for the courage William showed, but regret clouded her mind. She knew evil monsters existed. She could have warded their home, but she feared discovery. Now, because of her, William was dying.

Each jarring stride of her stallion firmed her resolution. If they survived this night, never again would fear of the Church’s Inquisition keep her from following her heart. Nothing they threatened compared to the soul searing pain in her heart at the thought of losing William.

Rain fell in cold fat droplets carried beneath her cloak by the wind, stealing her warmth. Her hands grew numb, forcing her to glance down every few moments to make sure she still held the reins. Foam glistened at the horse’s mouth, but she spurred him on nonetheless.

A light grew in the distance. Home. The monster that ripped into her beloved’s throat and feasted on his blood could not harm them within those walls. The castle stood on hallowed grounds, protected by wards layered and strengthened through generations. William might yet live.

Please, God, pray they not denieth mine entrance.

A second echo of hooves carried on the wind. The monster gained on her, unremarkable given his powers to call the elements and spur his horse to unnatural speeds. Marie leaned forward so the stallion could jump a fallen tree. Branches grabbed at her skirts and scratched her face, and when the horse cleared the tree his hooves hit the ground hard enough to rattle her clenched jaw. The landing wrenched William’s weak grip from around her. She jerked the reins and twisted her body, but she could do nothing to prevent his fall.

“William!” she shrieked.

Heedless of the danger to herself or the child she carried within her, Marie jumped from the horse and ran back to where her husband lay crumpled in the mud. She turned him over, certain he was dead, and then wept with relief when his hand clasped hers.

He tried to speak, but choked on blood that gurgled past his lips.

She touched her hand to his mouth. “No, my love, dost not speakest.” She whistled. The stallion, his sides heaving, walked over with reluctant steps.

“Mine parents’ castle is nigh, William.” She urged him to stand, but he squeezed her hand and gave the smallest shake of his head. She read his eyes as his hand slipped from hers. His breath rattled once more and then fell still. She buried her face in William’s surcoat as grief ripped sobs from her.

A shadow flew over her, casting her into momentary inky oblivion as it blocked out the moonlight which managed to shine through the storm. “Mordecai,” Marie thought. She never trusted the beauty of his sculpted face, the perfect long black hair, or his ostentatious clothing. Evil unmasked itself tonight.

She sucked in a deep breath, found her calm center, and placed a farewell kiss upon lips painted in black blood. She rose to face William’s murderer.

“How touching,” Mordecai sneered as he dismounted. He whispered a command and the rain ceased. “Now ye wilt obey and come to me.”

Marie did not let his gaze capture hers. Instead, she looked beyond him. The light of her ancestral home mocked her, but the gentle kick of the child in her womb gave her courage. The vampire was not the only one with power.

She closed her eyes and spread her arms, letting her spirit seek the magic in her soul. She felt Mordecai’s approach, but erected a sphere of pure white light.

“Mother goddess hearest mine prayer,

An woman wronged, an woman in despair…”

The vampire hissed and stepped back as if burned. “Ye darest defy me!” he growled.

She continued, ignoring his shrieked curses which rose in crescendo like a tortured cat.

“Bringest thine power;

Bringest thine care.

Rightest wrong, healest despair.

Justice riseth, justice reigneth.

With thine power, justice bringeth.”

She repeated the chant, as the creature’s power pressed in on hers, pounded, sought entrance past the light, and then stopped in the midst of the third repetition. The last word of her protection spell twisted into a scream as something grasped her ankle.  She looked down. William’s corpse stared at her with glassy vacant eyes. She wrenched her leg from its grasp, falling backward. The impact knocked the wind out of her, but she scrambled to put as much distance between herself and the abomination as she could.

The thing that had been her husband struggled to rise; its arms and legs not quite working in tandem. She suspected her spell, although not quite complete, held enough strength to diminish the vampire’s control.

As she scuttled backward her back hit the fallen log. A branch swayed above her head. Keeping her eye on the corpse as it gained enough balance to rise to one knee; she reached above her head and using all her weight snapped off the branch at its base. She stood and swung the heavy branch with all of her might, striking the corpse in the head, knocking it to the ground. With a wild cry she thrust the branch downward into the exposed chest, staking it through the heart.

Beyond the sphere of protection, Mordecai bellowed in outrage and what Marie prayed was pain.

Thunder rumbled in her ears, but after a moment she discerned the steady pounding of hooves approaching at a fast gallop.

“Ye shalt regret thine choice all thine life,” Mordecai hissed.

Marie stared at the face of her beloved and her mind fractured as Mordecai’s evil enfolded her.

“I suffer thee to live an reap thine reward.” His voice carried on the wind, stealing the light from her soul as it ensconced her in a prison of darkness.

She fell to her knees, her strength gone and her spirit shrinking with every word that whispered on the wind.

“Henceforth all daughters of thine bloodline shall suffer loss as thee hast. Ne shalt love abide without death.”

A banshee wail rent the night air, but the part of Marie that knew the cry came from her could not rise from the abyss of despair.

 

 

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