Amanda put away her keys as she walked away from the darkened shop front. Her neck hurt. Her head hurt. Her back hurt. Everything hurt. Since Tomas had called out that afternoon, she had been at the shop open to close without backup.
After thirteen hours on her feet, all she could think of was getting home. She wanted a warm bath and a soft bed.
Looking out over the empty parking lot, she groaned loudly. In the rush of the day, she had completely forgotten to call for a ride to get home. With her car in the shop for the next week, her boyfriend had dropped her off in the morning, but with him working the evening shift there was no way he could come grab her now.
Flipping through her phone, she curled up on the sidewalk for a moment and sent a barrage of text messages to the few friends she thought might be willing to pick her up.
She'd just have to wait and see if anyone got back to her.
Curled up on the curb outside of the shop, she watched as a fine mist slowly rolled over the parking lot. It started at the edge of the darkened forest and billowed out like a slow rolling wave that settled over the black asphalt. With it came a wet cold that left her teeth chattering in the dark of the moonless night.
Come on...somebody get back to me.
Ten minutes had passed when she decided to try to start calling over texting. First her sister. No answer. Then her friend Bethany. Straight to voicemail. Her roommate Joseph? No answer and a full voicemail box.
Desperate, she dialed her boyfriend. All the while, she watched as the mist ever slowly thickened into fog that drifted about her in the darkness.
"Sorry, hon." Cory said apologetically over the phone. "There's no way I can get there. One of the server's went down and we're doing everything we can to get it back up. I don't think I'm even going to take a lunch."
"It's ok, sweetie." Amanda said with a sigh. "At this point, I guess I'll just walk home."
"Be careful." he said.
"I will. It's only two miles away. I've done it before, it's just spooky at night."
"I know. Just please be safe, baby." said Cory with that soft croon in his voice.
"I will." she said again. "I love you."
"I love you too."
Amanda put away her phone and stood up, looking at the darkened road. It was also being slowly covered by that thick hanging fog that drifted off the forest's edge. Every now and again a car would drive by, but it was already getting so late that the roadways were quickly becoming abandoned.
Ignoring the many complaints of her throbbing feet, she stepped onto the side of the road and headed homeward bound.
As she walked, she pulled out her headphones and started to plug them in when she reconsidered. With the woods on one side and the roadway on the other; drifting, nightmarish thoughts of monsters coming out of the woods plagued her mind. The harder she watched the passing treeline, the more she imagined a giant werewolf or a horrible creature waiting in the fog to jump out at her. If she listened to music, she might not hear it coming.
Stop being a pussy. she thought to herself before popping in her earbuds.
The music helped ease the walk and drew her attention away from the pounding in her feet. It drew her attention away from the silent, darkened roadway and the eerie quiet that perpetuated the heavy fog.
Despite this, she continued to watch the treeline. Sure, the night might have been playing tricks on her mind, but there was no harm in keeping a lookout...
Had she seen something in there?
Was something moving back behind that bush there?
A flicker of movement caught her eye and she stopped cold on the side of the road. A shadow seemed to play across the underbrush and a branch flicked up and down.
What was that?
The bush rattled more and she saw a flash of something large and black that disappeared back behind a big tree.
Instinctively she backed away from the treeline. Her eyes searched for the answer. Hunted for whatever it was she had seen. Was it a monster? A beast of some kind? No. It was just a shadow from...lights?
Fully in the road, her back to it, the car swerved at the last second in a desperate attempt to avoid the young lady standing in the street. Amanda felt a sharp pain in her back as she flew forward towards the roadway.
When she awoke, the road was cold and hard under her hands and her head and back hurt more than ever.
Slowly pushing herself up, Amanda found that she was again alone in the road. No lights. No monsters in the bushes. Just skid marks in the street to indicate where the driver had tried to stop.
That son of a bitch hit me and ran...
Settling on the side of the road, she pulled out her phone to try and call the police. To her dismay, however, the phone was heavily cracked and refused to turn on.
It must have been damaged in the accident.
Tearing the back off her phone, she stared at the electronic components. The battery seemed in tact and nothing looked all that bad except for the screen. If she had known anything about electronics, maybe she could have done something more. For now, she simply sighed and closed it up again. She'd have to give it to Cory later.
Clip clop clip clop.
The sound echoed down the roadway.
Clip clop clip clop.
It got louder. Amanda could see nothing through the dense fog.
Clip clop clip clop.
Out of the fog, a thin, old man with jet black her and a heavy black overcoat appeared in the middle of the road. He rode atop the back of a tall, white horse.
Amanda stared in disbelief. The closest farm she knew about was on the outskirts of town, a good few miles away, AND it was the middle of the night.
"You alright, ma'am?" the man asked with a look of concern.
"Yea, I..." she stopped herself. Who the hell was this guy? "I'm fine."
"You don't look it. You're bleeding." he said with a point towards her forehead.
Amanda gingerly touched her head and her fingers came back red.
"What happened?" he asked with his brow furrowed.
"I...I was in an accident."
The old man nodded thoughtfully.
"You're alone." He said. It was a statement, not a question.
Amanda considered lying but simply agreed. Sitting on the side of the foggy street in the middle of the night, it was clear no one was with her.
"I was walking home from work." she said shakily. "I just live about a mile up the road."
"Alright. Come on." he said, patting the horse's read-end. "Hop on up and I'll get you where you're going."
"I...are you serious?"
"Would you rather walk?"
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I have no idea who you are."
"Fair enough." he said with another nod. "But it'd be wrong of me to leave you out here wandering the road."
As if on cue, a chill ran up her spine. Looking around, the darkened roadway with its heavy, cold fog and the woods on either side suddenly felt a lot more foreboding than before.
"At least let me walk with me until you get where you're going. It would be wrong for me to leave you out here." he said.
Why should I trust you? Where are you from? Why are you out here so late?
She had to wonder if she had a concussion. Maybe the car did more damage then she thought. Despite the hundreds of questions flooding her mind, all that could come out of her mouth was...
The old man smiled in return.
Amanda stood up, dusted herself off, and walked up to the man on the horse. Getting closer, she noticed now that the horse wasn't actually white, but appeared almost a pale green. A trick of the light?
"Would you like to pet him?" the man asked.
Despite her reservations, Amanda smiled and nodded. The horse nickered happily as she ran a hand down his soft neck and through his flowing mane.
"Let's get going." he said and, side by side, they headed down the road.
The next morning Cory cried harder than he could ever remember doing.
"She asked me to drive her home." he said between sobs. "B-b-but... I was so busy. I just...I didn't think...I couldn't..."
"It's ok." said the officer. "Please. If you need anything, don't hesitate to contact us."
"I'm so sorry." said the older man sitting across from Cory. "It was so foggy... I didn't see her. I couldn't see her. I have no idea why she was in the middle of the road."
"No one's blaming you, Bert." said the officer.
"N-no." was all Cory could muster.
"The ambulance did all they could." continued the officer. "Tried to resuscitate her for twenty minutes right there in the middle of the street. She was already gone when she arrived...I'm so sorry..."
Clutching the shattered remains of Amanda's cellphone, all Cory could do was cry harder.
"And lo, upon a hill I saw a pale horse, and a pale rider upon it.
The name of the horse was Pestilence. And the name of the rider was Death."
(Hello lovelies, I know that today was a break from my regular stream of Xenophobia, but I do hope you enjoyed. Today, I had the pleasure of visiting the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit at LACMA art museum in Los Angeles. As you might have guessed, something I saw got under my skin and the result was this simple little piece. I do hope you enjoyed it.)