522 words. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a story in its own right, more a piece of a story. The vision of the boy and the rider has been with me for at least two years now, and I finally had the impetus to put it in words. I didn’t have a name for the boy until two days ago: Rembrandt “Remi” Howard. Yes, he’s a social pariah. Yes, his parents are oblivious. No, I wasn’t trying to make his name odd. It just came to me that way. Regardless of how it reads, the flow of this piece came to me so naturally, and I’m rather proud of it. Hope you enjoy!
The Fairlane cruises down the one-oh-one, top down, engine purring, tires gliding over the asphalt with each bend and dip. Alternating blurs of fir groves and grassy hills to his right; to his left, the endless blue tapestry of the Pacific. The air is saltysweet; it smells like ocean and Christmas trees. Remi lolls his head back on the headrest, brown hair whipped into a frenzy and stinging his face, but he simply closes his eyes and basks in the light of the setting sun.
“Maybe I was wrong about you?” the driver shouts over the wind. Remi cracks open one eye and looks over at the silhouette sitting next to him, its shadowy hands clutching the steering wheel. “Don’t look at me like that,” it says. “I expected more from you, but I think we’re out of time.”
“I’m late for my test? Already?”
“See for yourself!” The shadow jerks the wheel hard sending the car into a spin. Rubber burns and squeals against the blacktop. The world eddies and Remi white-knuckles the dashboard. In a cloud of grit and gravel the car comes to rest on the shoulder of the highway. Remi opens the passenger door and stumbles out of the car feeling like he’s going to puke. They’ve turned one-hundred and eighty degrees—several times over, most likely–and the headlights are facing back the way they had come. There is a black dot on the horizon, a speck moving up the highway toward them, and though Remi can’t make out details, he knows what is coming.
The dark rider’s steed thunders toward them, evershifiting—one moment a black horse with milky eyes, a wispy mane, and fiery hooves, another moment, a chopper, all twisted black steel with coal smoke billowing from the exhaust. Smog follows the rider like a frothy cloak. The cloud is alive with a multitude of sharp talons and twisted claws, gnashing fangs and teeth. The sky darkens in the rider’s wake, becomes the black of a moonless night, even as the dying lights glitters in his slick, black hair.
Fixated on the rider, Remi doesn’t realize the Fairlane is in motion before it’s too late. The shadow leans over the driver’s side door. “You suppose it hurts worse to spring forward or fall back?”
“Hey, you can’t leave me here! I’ll be late for my test!” Remi cries.
“Let’s hope not!” The Fairlane roars, tires whining, spitting dirt and gravel, and the car tears off, leaving him in the dust.
“Well shit,” Remi mutters.
An unearthly shriek pierces the air. He dares to look over his shoulder and the dark rider is eating up the distance between them like a ravenous maw.
Horse, chopper, horse, chopper.
Sallow-skinned, dark haired, the rider smiles displaying a mouthful of pointed teeth. Remi turns to run, stumbles in the loose dirt and falls on his face. The smog cloud surges forward. Pulse smashing through his skull, heart slamming, he squeezes his eyes shut, trying to block out the wailing mob of smoke demons.
“Anywhere but here,” he mutters.
And then he feels the crushing weight of the rider’s steed.