Sunday, July 4, 2010


Remember the Dead
By Caitlin Jackson

The wounded war horse staggered down the muddy path. Tendrils of vapor clung to its crusty hooves as it concentrated on its single task. Primarily from instinct, it continued one agonizing step at a time. This horse was bred for battle, just like its rider Anya. The warrior’s jade eyes darted frantically about as the cries of dying soldiers danced in her head. Rustling from dead branches sent shivers up her spine, and her weary nerves were slowly sending her to the brink of insanity. Anya placed an earth-covered hand to her injured head and thought back to her journey.

The Northerners; that’s who turned her rebellious. “If usurping the throne was not bad enough,” she distinctly remembered shouting at the town square, “they continue to wreak havoc in our kingdom. We cannot let them steal our possessions and burn our crops. We must fight for our land!” The soldier could still hear the villager’s roar of approval. How simple it had seemed. If they had fought for justice they would win, but to her dismay, she had led them to their doom.

Jerked back to the present, Anya’s stomach suddenly rose to her throat as she tumbled to the bemired path. Not only did she have another dizzy spell, but her horse’s injured leg gave out, yet again. This time, she knew neither one of them would be able to continue. She detested the idea of staying in the cursed forest, but she had no choice. As she summoned the last of her strength to shove her horse to the side of the road, a little voice nagged in the back of her mind. “You must warn the villages. You must tell the townsfolk reinforcements have abandoned the cause and defeat is upon them!”

“But I can’t,” she argued with herself, “I can barely collect firewood let alone travel to multiple villages…” A wisp of cold wind brushed against the soldier’s neck, causing her to whip around, sword drawn.

“This place will surely be the end of me,” she breathed heavily to herself once she established no one was there. Mist clung to the air making the would-be kindling damp and unusable. In hopes of viewing the sky, she studied the tangle of branches intertwined above her. It was hard to judge the time, but eventually she concluded dawn was far off and a fire must be lit. Taking out her blood encrusted dagger, she cut off her horse’s tail for kindling. She hoped the fire was big enough to for warmth, but small enough to keep her invisible to the enemy. Ignoring her hunger pains, she sat against her horse for extra warmth. Alas, it was not to be. The horse was dead. Trying not to think about it, she closed her eyes and dreamed. Or rather, remembered…

* * *

Metal sounded, arrows buzzed all around, and Anya was in the thick of it all. She did not care who she stabbed or decapitated, a merciless killer she was. Slicing people and having their intestines spill out came easily to her, and she never lost sleep over it. If the Gods did not want her to kill, they would not have made her so good at it.

Ruthlessly, Anya headed toward a higher vantage point, hacking without mercy at anything and everything standing in her way. Her once blond hair, now caked in dirt and blood, hung in her eyes as she surveyed the scene below. Silently, the leader cursed as she noticed her troops slowly retreating. Reinforcements should have arrived hours ago, but they were nowhere to be seen. Without the other troops defeat was inevitable. Suddenly, the full effect of what she had done struck her like a blazing arrow. She had promised these people a new beginning, but instead brought them to their burial ground.

“I must warn the villagers,” she thought to herself in a panic. “Once we are conquered, the enemy will continue to wreak havoc and destruction. I need to hurry so they have enough time to flee!” An unwanted tear escaped her eye and ran down her filthy face. “I owe them that much…”Winning the battle was no longer top priority; it had become a lost cause. Her new order of business was to inform the towns of their imminent downfall and save all she could.

To Anya’s dismay, in order to reach her horse she would have to cut through mobs of people. She was almost to her ride when an enemy soldier appeared from nowhere and slammed the hilt of his sword against her head. Without thinking, as she fell to the ground in agony, she grabbed a dagger from her attacker’s boot. Instinctively, she dodged her enemy’s blade and stabbed the dagger into his stomach. After pocketing the weapon, she proceeded to her ride.

Slightly light-headed from the blow, she mounted her horse, and galloped away. She needed to ride fast so the villagers could have as much time as possible to escape. The problem was, the more the horse galloped the dizzier Anya became. She began to see faces in the trees and the now moving rocks. Unable to comprehend what was happening, she released the reigns, and let her horse lead the way as she blacked out entirely.

After an undetermined amount of time, Anya was jolted conscious as her horse slipped into a ditch along the road. Pain erupted in her skull causing the injured rider to see white lights before her eyes. Unwillingly, she fell off her horse and into a pool of stagnant water.

Sitting up against a dirt mound, she gazed around her at the surroundings. The sky was blocked by a blanket of woven branches, and the woods were filled with an unnatural silence. If Anya did not know better, she would have thought the forest was completely abandoned. She vaguely remembered hearing from the other riders about a haunted shortcut. She wished with all her might this was not the path. Either way, she had never come across this place before, and hoped she never would again. It sent an eerie chill though her body, leaving her with a disconcerted feeling. Pushing away the claws of fear, she pulled herself together. Regaining what little composure she could, she began the task of getting her now injured horse out of the shallow ditch.

* * *

Unable to breathe, Anya slammed back into the present with bony fingers tightening around her throat. A cold whisper in her ear made her want to scream in terror, but her airway was too constricted. After avoiding the enemy for so long, she knew they had finally found her. Breaking away from her would-be assassin’s grasp, she spun around, daggers drawn, only to find no one was there. Gasping for air, her eyes frantically search the darkness.

A wolf cried in the distance as she heard a rush of many feet. Fear finally possessing her, she turned around, and bolted. Running blindly, she dashed away, her mind no longer thinking coherently. Believing the souls of the men she killed were chasing her, she continued to crash through the woods.

Finding her voice, she lets out a scream of anguish as she stumbled upon an unknown barrier. Now on the forest floor she strained to make out her obstacle. A ray of moonlight broke through the tangled tree boughs, revealing the corpse of a soldier. She gasped in horror as she viewed the painful mask of death it wore. It looked as if its life was sucked out of its unhinged jaw. The terror of this man’s death was nothing compared to the realization that she knew him. He was the messenger who was sent to summon reinforcements.

Hearing the approach of her pursuer, she jumped to her feet, brandishing her still drawn daggers. Finally, her follower burst into the clearing allowing her to see the wild look in its eyes. Stopping, it protectively paced in front of the dead body. It was the soldier’s horse.

Sighing with relief, Anya stored her weapons. Grabbing the horse’s reigns, she calmed the gelding down. Weakened by hunger, she opened a saddle bag in search of any shred of food. Before she could peer inside, a hand of ice unexpectedly seized her forearm. Instantly, she drew her sword and swept it in a wide ark upon the attacker. A rush of departing footsteps sounded as an echo of pain reverberated through the trees. Quickly, she turned around to confront her foe, but once again she found herself hacking at misty air. Her wide eyes desperately searched for any sign of the attacker, but found nothing. Even so, she could still feel the heavy breath of the unseen wind.

Thoroughly spooked, she mounted the gelding. Jabbing her heels into its sides she galloped away at an intense speed. Somehow re-energized, she proceeded to leave the forest and warn the villagers.

Little did she know her pack now contained a severed, ringed hand, rotting away in a pool of congealing blood.

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I am currently nineteen years old and attending the local community college.


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