by R.T. Allenson

Carter ran. Ran as fast his spindly legs could. His breath was harsh and devoid of humidity and the sound of hooves thundered, so loud he swore that the cobbled road would break at each furious stomp.

He had been running for almost an hour already; maybe two given the circumstances, he had lost all sense of time and placement ever since he first heard the trampling hooves in the distance. He knew what it was and what it heralded and before he knew it he was running for his life.

He was running for his health at first. He had gained a considerable amount of weight in the few weeks he first moved to his new house at Fort Cabalos and sought to loose as much before he could get back to work. From afar though, he looked to be somewhat skinny almost famished and he elected to stay that way till he died but this wasn’t at all the case, as he soon found out. He lost the will to go out during the weeks; he cared little for the sights and sounds of the Fort and was utterly disappointed to say the least, the neighbors having been an unsatisfactory bunch of imbeciles, as he would utter to himself as they pass.  His renewed taste for the red meat helped little in his newly-foul disposition and it was hard for him now in his advanced age to starve himself as he did years earlier.

It was his fault, after all, why he was being pursued. He dealt with many people immoral of heart and of even fouler disposition, delved in forbidden knowledges a simple accountant of the modern world would have little use for. But for all his failures of judgment, he failed to realize that certain individuals in the past had a way of getting back at him, even if they’ve been disposed of this plane of existence.

He still remembers the wail, the curses of the dying crone as he plunged the knife into her heart. It was a job he had no escape in doing and was himself held at gunpoint, but such things were far from the thoughts of the old woman. Of course, this could be a thing he’d remembered for a sense of reason for his plight. He knew, after all, that there are things far malevolent in this world and beyond than some red-skinned tormentor living ‘neath the ground.

Reason, if there was any doubt of his reason, was entirely either a flawed guess or a truth forged by lies; either by his own or otherwise. It is so easy to paint the world black, white or grey.

Carter’s eyes blinked furiously, sweat trailing down the length of his face from his brow to his chin. He was soaked in sweat and the humidity of the air but his breath lacked neither the coolness of the night nor the strength he had thought was there.  The sound of hooves grew stronger every minute and it was as if his heart pounded with the same beat.  His eyes were fixated towards the gates of his suburban village, so close when loftily perched from above yet miles away when treading the cobblestone road. His shoes grasped awkwardly at each infuriated step; he calculated each step carefully as he had raced towards the sanctity of his home. The sound of the hooves, it seemed, were tireless.

The darkness played at his senses, only the moon was bright enough to grant him the sanity to keep running yet the same light only riled his fear of doom that was barreling towards him. He had cut past the buildings and the squares into an abandoned alleyway in hopes of losing the thing that trampled through the cobblestone road behind him. The walls towered high above him making the passage narrow and claustrophobic, he presumed that whatever creature pursued him wouldn’t fit in such a small space but the hooves continued relentlessly and he found himself afraid of the walls that seemed to press closer to him and caused shadows to play at his fears. The things that he saw from the corner of his eye, or as much as his wide-brimmed glasses could offer, were terrifying beyond measure and dragged him to slow insanity.

At last he found the spare strength to call out feebly for help. His voice was dry and barely audible even to his own ear but still he called, the walls after all were perfect for echoes. Perhaps a passing guard, drunk or junkie would hear him; any company would suffice so long as he could get away. At the least, provide a distraction for his unearthly pursuer.

The hooves thundered on mercilessly. Carter was now sure that the cobblestone road was breaking from the force of each of his predator’s tread. Such fury, he thought, formidable and growing in strength. His own strength was failing as he grabbed his chest, his heart clamoring as loud as the hooves. The end of the alleyway, it seemed, only a few strides away and already he could hear the gates of his village closing – the metal doors creaking from the pull of the night guard.  Carter wailed frantically and bayed at the moon, half-pleading and half-demanding sanctity as if beseeching some long-gone god. But the insatiable pursuer galloped on, heavy hooves trampling over stone, concrete and viscera. The last thing Carter saw sundered his mind from his body, and as he stared with failing eyes towards the glaring moon, he felt himself slip from consciousness slowly.

From afar, the sound of hooves carried on until it too, vanished into the night.

The bustling metropolis of Fort Cabalos was filled with a different kind of activity the following day. Richard Carter’s body or what could be identified from the grisly remains was found and taken away. Many onlookers, who had the misfortune of seeing his body, were stricken with unnatural fear with some fainting right there and then. It was the night guard who found the corpse late in the evening; he had heard the sound of a struggle in the alleyway and came to investigate when he beheld the mangled remains of the man. The investigators dogged the guard with question upon question and though he answered each with clarity and conciseness, his heart raced with each passing moment. He didn’t tell them that he had seen silver hooves, bright as the moon, race into the darkness as he came upon the jogger’s remains.

Each question followed another and though he was a respectful and patient man, the guard felt a boiling urgency to get away from the place and soon found himself running for his life. For amidst the shrieking and confused babble of the frightened bystanders, he had heard the unmistakable sound of hooves coming his way.