Today’s spookily apt Writing Collaboration Challenge comes courtesy of Mint Miller.
I woke with the first cold Autumn breeze. Every year, the wind stirs not only the leaves, but also the humans’ fear that sleeps in the drowsy heat of summer. The fear of coming darkness, of shifting shadows cast by the quickly setting sun, of nights when children roam the streets freely, of mischievous spirits that might just be wisps of fog or puffs of smoke from distant fires—that fear rushed through my veins.
The scratchy pine needles, crunching leaves, and rough twigs beneath me felt like familiar New England forests. I blindly scrounged around with my hands for any living animal. I soon grasped a raccoon and wrung its neck. Not very suitable, but forest creatures never were. I took its head and placed it on my shoulders. I could see the harvest moon high in the sky. My faithful black steed waited a few feet away, anxiously pawing the ground, waiting for our midnight ride.
We rode until the forest gave way to sparkling homes. Artificial lights in lanterns and doorways shone like jewels, making the close-packed homes look like a treasure chest—a treasure chest of potential heads. Owing to an old Irish folktale about a drunk and the devil, there are always a myriad of makeshift heads carved out of gourds available at this time of year. They are squishy, cold, and unpleasant substitutes for a head, that rot and mold quickly, but they look far more fearsome on my shoulders than any squirrel’s or frog’s head. Unfortunately, as the years have drawn on, fewer pumpkins have fearsome countenances, while more and more depict silly little animals, stupid smiles, puking maws, and strange caricatures of all sorts. After passing many houses, I finally caught sight of a stoop with a suitable option. It was round, fat, free of scars and blemishes, with a jagged toothy grin and two wicked eyes. The best I could do short of a real, living head.
Pumpkin on my shoulders, I continued down the lane. Not long did it take me to reach a cluster of shops. The hour was late, so only one shop was lit: the tavern. A few figures stood nearby and chatted. Two young boys—faces pale and pimply but wholly usable—spoke a women with a far nicer head. She refused the ride they offered, and they got in a mechanical carriage and left. My lovely future victim started walking beside the street into the night as I followed.
No more shops, the lane passed on through the hilly, sienna-clad forest. Her feet and my steed’s hooves crunched through the deep puddles of orange foliage. She clutched her purse tightly, almost like she sensed there was danger afoot, although it wasn’t what she feared.
I followed her, not so close I could be heard, but close enough to observe. It was a lovely head, with clear brown skin, big brown eyes, and halo of curls reflecting moonlight like an angel’s. I tensed my grip on the reins, gleeful at the thought of completing my purpose and placing a real head upon my shoulders.
A large branch cracked underneath my horse. She spun around immediately, and terror seized her fine face. She screamed, bolted, and leapt out of her heels as she ran. However, my horse was the finest steed dead or alive, and he could not be outrun.
She scrambled up the next hill and across the street, but my mount brought me close enough to touch her. Suddenly, she threw her purse at us, striking my mount. He reared back from the shock of her projectile. Right then, two magnificent beams of light crested the hill, blinding me. She fell to the side of the road and I heard her scream for all of three seconds before a mighty force slammed my body. A horn bellowed, and a behemoth of a mechanical carriage rumbled past.
We were ripped to dust, I and my horse, and slowly drawn away by the breeze. Neither I nor this wind last long into November, when the fear is dulled by the passage of time and the cheer of impending festivities. But for the moment, the harvest moon was still shining. Soon, we would reform. Soon, we would continue the hunt for my perfect head.
Mint Miller is a freelance and fiction writer who loves crafting playful short stories and punchy blog posts. She hails from the coast of Virginia, where she majors in English by day and types endlessly by night. With sea-salt in her hair, chocolate milk in her mug, and her faithful mutt by her side, she sets out to create crazy, speculative, funny, thoughtful new worlds. You can visit her website at mintmillerwrites.com.
I, nightmares sad knight am no beast. I am not terror for you to scream yourself to sleep after seeing. So why then do people lose their heads in panic at the sight of me? What treacherous lies and defamatory spreads thinly through the musty air ahead of my coming? Tales of Gawain or Ewan of Mull, or even whispers on the wind of Sleepy Hollow. But I am not to be feared. Do not dread me when you see me staggering to town. Don’t pull down your shutters or load up your barrels. I have visited for centuries and your bullets will do me no harm. My war is not with your glass-coated castles or your steel horses. I care little for your fires that do not dim or the strange sights and sounds of your world. A world that does not progress for me as it does for you. The world is lost to me and I to it. I do not roam your nighttime dream-filled streets looking to cause you pain. If I steal your eyes it is only to see the world as you see it. If I pull your tongue from your mouth it is only to speak the truths as you speak them. Don’t cower when I come near. You do not know fear like a cannonball to the head or a sword to your throat. I will not hurt you like the wars of the millennia hurt me. I, the eternal soldier died in your fields. I bled decapitated for your sins. I gave my last heartbeat for your lost causes. But you will never be lost in this life like I am. You will never be forgotten and left for dead. And as long as there is a world where futility causes me to break, I will be here. For every year that you fight amongst yourselves and take lives over the peace that cannot be brokered, I will haunt you. But it is not I that means you harm. The harm is all your own.