Title: Shadow Dreams
Description: A young woman has a series of encounters with the headless horseman as another side of him emerges.
Violence: Yes -- one decapitation; mild mutilation
Sex: Near sexual assault
Few people ventured into the woods during the day, much less at night.
But for her, it was a refuge of solitary, nocturnal pleasures and quiet solace. Many a night had found the young woman venturing into that part of the woods where demons were said to abound and spirits dwelled. It was a dark place, but it touched that part of her soul like nothing else could.
Branches and dead leaves cracked underneath her feet as she made her way past the ancient trees and along the path that she alone knew. A lone owl greeted her with his tragic call and then vanished by becoming one with the night. The air was fresh and cold; the smells of burning firewood from the nearby village mixed with the fragrance of dying foliage and autumnal flowers. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, becoming intoxicated by the sounds, smells and sights around her.
Winter was arriving early this year, the young woman thought as she wrapped her cloak around her. She then opened her eyes and gazed up at the moon, its voluptuous light bringing an eerie essence to the landscape.
Her senses were as alive as they had ever been, but it was the silence that caught her attention.
The wind calmed; the insects hushed their chorus. It seemed as though nature itself had caught its breath. The silence that she had grown used to these many evenings had returned. It heralded the arrival of another.
The evening mists had descended and encircled her and the fallen, rotting trunks of trees. She turned and braced herself for the mists to reveal themselves to her.
In the distance, she heard labored breathing, along with the muffled sounds of racing hooves. The girl took a deep breath and backed herself up against a large tree, her heart racing as the noises grew closer and closer.
Out of the mists a man emerged, his clothes ragged, dirty and soaked with sweat. He turned to face the pale young woman, and his panic-stricken eyes met her own. He ran up to her and grasped her roughly around her arms.
"Help me. . . . Oh dear God! Help me, help me!" he screamed hysterically as he shook her, his face a contortion of pain and terror. Gently she reached up and brought her hand to his face and stroked his tears away with the tips of her fingers.
"Its all right; there's nothing out there, " she said, her voicecalm and gentle. She turned once again in the direction that he had came from; there were no other sounds coming from the clearing. "Listen," she said. "The galloping has stopped." "No!," he exclaimed. "He's coming after.... "
His words were cut off in mid-sentence as a silver flash swept in front of her, which was followed by a loud thud on the ground. Slowly, the girl raised her hands to find herself holding the severed head of the man she had just been comforting, his face fixed in the same twisted contortion of fear.
Her mouth opened but her scream emerged in a muted, frozen vapor. Her dress was soaked in blood, but her eyes remained transfixed on her gruesome trophy.
A neigh greeted her, along with the stomping of a hoof. She turned.
The huge black stead reared in defiance at the young woman, but it was not theanimal who captivated her but the one who rode the stallion.
Atop the stead sat a man, his attire that of rich, elaborate brocade touched off with the patterns of fearsome dragons. His hands were gloved, and his black and red cape -- the colors of war, death and seduction -- flowed behind him in the evening breeze. His persona exuded strength, power, and sexuality -- and he would have captivated the heart of any young woman had he not been without a head.
The young woman's breath came out in short, frozen gasps and her hands, stillgrasping the severed head, began to violently tremble. All it would take would be a flick of his blade and she would loose her head as well. However, as terrified as she was, the girl began to feel the emergence of a curious emotion in her. It was a feeling that was not compatible with this situation. Was it love? Lust? Admiration? Surely not, not for this monster! But her heart was telling her that she had never seen the likes of such a man before and she knew she never would again.
They stood silently for what seemed like an eternity, each one studying the other. Why does he not strike, she thought. The Andalusian snorted and back away from her slightly. Suddenly, the young woman was struck with the realization that the horseman was reading her. He knew her thoughts, her emotions. And to her horror, he was fully aware of her conflicting feelings.
"Oh, God, no...," she thought, as she closed her eyes, praying tobe delivered from this situation and from the emotions that were threatening to tear her soul apart. She felt the horse and its rider approach her and prepared to meet her fate.
Before she knew what had happened, she felt the head quickly jerked away fromher. She looked down to find her blood-covered hands cradling air. As she looked up, she saw the stallion rear again, the rider grasping the unfortunate soul's head by the hair. The stead then galloped off into the midst, the horseman's tattered black cape trailing behind him.
The girl sank to her knees and doubled over, wailing with the tragic emotion of a broken heart.
The following evening, the forest beckoned her again. Once more, the girl dared to make the pilgrimage to her beloved, mysterious realm. The moon was full and illuminated, as it had been the previous evening. Gray clouds highlighted by the glow of the celestial orb hugged the midnight sky; a gentle dusting of snow covered the ground.
Tonight's sojourn should have been no different than any other, but there wassomething in the atmosphere that was curiously unpleasant. The woman followed her familiar trail; her feet were bare but the frozen ground did not seem to affect her.
A rabbit suddenly scurried past, then another. A sense of foreboding seized her as she looked in the direction that the little creatures came from. She then heard the familiar galloping.
But there were no footsteps, no cries of a person being pursued. Yet he was after someone nonetheless.
Panic began to set in as it become horrifically apparent to her what was happening. Quickly, she turned and ran, desperately trying to gather up the folds of her long dress to keep from tripping. After these many evenings, she was no longer the passive observer, but a participant in this gruesome ordeal. The watcher now became the hunted.
Her heart felt as though it would explode as she ran, her lungs filling with phlegm; rocks and fallen branches cut her feet as she tried to increase her pace. Behind her, the wicked cry of the horse was accompanied by the sound of metal slicing through the air; the headless horseman was preparing to strike.
The girl half-gasped, half-screamed, knowing she wasn't going to make it.
The blade sliced through the air, just above the crown of her head. The young woman screamed and dropped to the ground. He had missed, deliberately. She looked up in time to see him pull the horse around to return. Her mind was a blur -- there was no way she could fight him or run from him. It was over.
The girl didn't notice the horseman leap off his stead. As she struggled to crawl away, she felt her shoulder jerked back, almost ripping her arm out of its socket. She yelled in both terror and in pain as the phantom jerked her into an upright position and then forcefully pushed her to her knees.
Her arms at her sides, she gasped as she realized she was paralyzed; she couldn't move at all, and desperately needed to cough up the accumulated fluid in her throat. Her heart pounded in her chest as she prepared for the headless warrior to deliver his blow, and she prayed under her breath that her end would come quickly. Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears, tears for the life that she would not have.
She felt him hovering over her, and then saw him lower the flawless blade; he held it close to her neck, the tip of it just barely touching her breast. The young victim held her breath, afraid that is she inhaled, the sword would pierce her.
The phantom Hessian's next move came as not only a surprise but also terrified her more than the aspect of her impending death.
With the precision and care of a surgeon, he slowly pulled the sword up, allowing the razor-sharp edge to slice the side of her face. An agonizing scream cut through the frigid night air, startling a lone owl from his branches. The cry was followed by another, then trailed off into moaning.
The excruciating pain of the searing cut forced the girl to fall back against her tormentor, her head resting against his torso. Her nostrils were filled with the stench of burning flesh. The girl's weakened body was racked with sobs, and her mind raced as she contemplated the prospect of a prolonged torture at the hands of this demon.
"Please...," she begged, although she didn't expect him to listento her. She turned her head and pressed the side of her face against his belly as she continued to cry uncontrollably. She then felt a hand gently stroke her head. His touch was surprisingly soothing as her sobs began to subside and the pain lessened. She swallowed and then it hit her; he was touching her like a lover would. The carnal emotions she struggled to control earlier had returned, with a vengeance. And it did not go unnoticed.
"No, no, no, " she said as she tried to pull herself away.
Lowering himself on one knee, he used his free hand to roughly pull her against his chest, psychically pinning her against him. She gasped in horror as he grabbed the top of her dress and ripped it. Once he had made the initial tear, he effortlessly tore the dress down the middle and jerked it off her shoulders, leaving her exposed in the frost-laden air.
Her mind screamed with fear and shock, but she could utter nothing but muted cries as she felt his hand grope her breast and her ribs and then slide down to her midsection. And with these sensations, her body reacted in turn. Her worst fear, and her greatest fantasy, was becoming realized....
Her eyes snapped open as the alarm buzzer went off. Four a.m. Another morning and another day of work had returned once again. The alarm was ordinarily a sound she didn't welcome, but for this morning, it heralded the end of another nightmare. What she had been through had all been dreams, just horrible dreams.
She moaned as he lifted herself up on her elbows, and found her legs tight and sore, as if she had been on a treadmill. Trembling, she reached for her robe which hung over her bed rail; she was freezing, yet was drenched with sweat. She then noticed a peculiar burning sensation on the side of her face. The girl ran her fingertips along her check -- it felt like a scar.
Slowly, painfully, she crawled out of bed and made her way to her dresser mirror. Pulling her hair back, she was horrified, and perplexed, to see that her face had been scarred. Hmmm, I must have done this in my sleep, she thought. She looked at herfingernails; they were caked with mud.
Damn, how will I explain this at work, she complained to herself. Something in the mirror then caught her attention. She cut her eyes back up at the mirror; a shock of white stood out against her light brown hair. The girl shook her head in confusion. What on earth happened last night?
Her thoughts were then interrupted by the sound of a drip.
Slowly she turned to find droplets of blood falling on her carpet. She looked up to find blood oozing out of her bedroom wall. The fluid was forming a message: HOW MUCH DO YOU VALUE YOUR HEAD?
The slow, deliberate sound of footsteps were heard on her wooden hallway and then there was silence. She ran to her phone and grabbed the receiver; the line was dead. Suddenly, the bedroom door slammed shut. A wave of nausea rushed over her as she then turned in the direction of her window.
The moon was full and luminous as its light glowed through her window, highlighting the figure of the headless horseman who stood in front of it. In one hand he carried an ax, in the other, a length of rope.
The young woman dropped the receiver, and came to the realization that her problems were only just beginning.
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