Saturday, July 25, 2015
My offering for Master Class Monday on Eat Sleep Write
I chose the prompt forlorn phantasms
Ott felt the muscles twitching under the saddle. He unconsciously squeezed the mare's rib cage, willing her to stay still. The steady north wind hid the blow of breath she uttered to let him know she was not content with the current situation.
"I swear, animal, you're half puma, half ass." He rubbed the velvety hide of her neck as he slid the long rifle from its scabbard. He'd glimpsed furtive movement just outside the light of the fire he'd left burning low.
His pack horse tied near the camp and a carefully placed bedroll gave the appearance of a sleeping cowboy. Ott had walked the black mare up a wooded ridge before sunset to watch for what had been raiding his rations for the past few nights.
As he watched, the pack horse began to dance nervously against its tether. His mare tensed in response to the other animal's discomfort.
"Steady girl," Ott whispered. Moments later three shadows emerged from the brush. Bodies hugging the ground, they moved cautiously toward the camp.
They scuttled soundlessly on four limbs, spider like in their progress. An occasional lift of heads as they checked for scent.
Ott squinted into the dark, trying to identify the creatures. They'd avoided the pack animal and the bedroll, going directly to the food he'd placed on the opposite side of the fire. The trio converged on the meager pile, pushing each other in their silent rush to be first to claim the prize.
Ott sighted down the rifle, finger ready on the trigger. As he steadied to fire, one raised its head. The glow of the coals illuminated the pale face of a child.
Startled, he lowered the gun. When the mare snorted in response to his abrupt movement, all three heads turned his way. They crouched, motionless around the pile of food. Ott felt their eyes fix on him. Tamping down the uneasiness in his gut, Ott prodded his mount forward. She stepped hesitantly down the incline, sensing either his own trepidation or the gazes of the eyes below.
They never stirred as he wove the mare through trees, but Ott sensed them following him. The horse stopped several yards from camp, refusing to move any further. Dismounting with the rifle, he approached slowly, aware of the continued scrutiny. As he came closer he could see the glow of the coals reflected in black eyes. Spindly limbs bent at elbows and knees, they perched on hands and feet, bellies close to the earth. Forgotten children left to fend for themselves.
As he crossed the camp's perimeter, one of them emitted an eerie howl. A return howl combined with renewed rustling in the surrounding brush brought Ott to a halt. The pack horse now panicked, slipped its tether and galloped into the surrounding dark as at least a dozen more forlorn phantasms moved into view.
Ott eased back toward the unnerved whinny of the mare. Any concern he may have felt was swiftly replaced by a knot of fear as the pack moved after him. He turned and sprinted the final distance to his horse, the animal stomping and wild eyed as he vaulted into the saddle. He didn't waste time calming the animal as the brush expelled even more bodies.
He hung on as the mare reared in terror as the horde surrounded them. He kicked her into motion, intending to charge through the mass of bodies. Ott glimpsed, too late the leap that propelled one of them into his chest, knocking him from his seat.
He lay winded within the tightening circle as hoof beats disappeared into the night.