Saddle Up: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 30, 2023
Wayne dropped the bag of stirrups next to Wanda. Then he started pulling his other friends up near her, laying them one practically on top of another. If he could get them talking, he might hear clues to their nightmares; and if he used the Mathematics of Influence upon them, he might insinuate himself into their visions and lead them out.
Finally he raised them to sitting positions, all in a circle, each learning forward. He placed their hands loosely within each other’s around the circle. Then he said, “Wanda…” She groaned a little, so he leaned closer. “Wanda, where are you?”
Her lips barely parting, Wanda said, “I’m in Hell…”
Kevin surprised Wayne by replying without prompting. “We’re all in Hell…”
Carol actually lifted her head and looked around; but her blank gaze told Wayne she wasn’t seeing reality yet. “I left Hell behind. This is worse. My family are all dead.”
Sitting next to her, Sean squeezed her hand. “I’m not dead, Wubs. I’m right here. In your office. Where are you?”
Carol’s eyes sprang open as she looked at Sean. “Hubs!” She let of go Paula’s hand as she wrapped her arms around Sean. “You’re alive!”
Sean instinctively squeezed her, burying his face in her hair. “Carol, love, I found you.”
Beside Carol, Paula started reaching around for the hand that had been there. “Carol? How did you get to Lanning’s World?”
Wayne was getting the picture. Wanda and Kevin were in some form of Hell – overseen by the red devil puck, no doubt. Carol had been at her family’s graves, and Sean had been trapped while looking for her. Finding each other had broken them out of their nightmares. He couldn’t yet figure Paula’s nightmare.
“Paula,” he said, “where are you?”
“Cemetery…” She answered. “Cemetery World…”
Paula shook her head. “Lanning’s World. But the Tomb Builders… They got here first.”
Cemetery World. From Emil’s stories. Somehow in Paula’s nightmare, the Tomb Builders were spreading… like the pucks…
Once more Wayne focused on Paula. “Where in Lanning’s World, Paula? I need to find you.”
“Deep…” Paula shook her head. “No… Stay away! You’ll be trapped like us!”
“Us?” Wayne asked. “Who’s with you, Paula?”
Sean cleared his throat. “That would be me. I was buried in the Tombs with her. But now I’m not.”
“Sean?” Paula said.
“Hi, Paula. I got out. You can, too. Follow my voice, Paula.”
Wayne stared into Paula’s face. “Follow Sean’s voice, Paula. And look for me. I’ll be showing you the way, helping you to see all of us.”
“Sean…” Paula said.
“Come to me, darlin’. We’re at the Galaxy.”
Carol added, “Find the Galaxy, Paula. You know where that is. We’re all waiting for you.”
“At the Galaxy?” Paula’s eyes fluttered open. “We’re… here?”
Carol leaned forward and gave her a hug. “We are!”
Wayne shook his head. “Most of us are. But… Wanda, you need to join us.”
Kevin added, “Don’t you understand? We’re in Hell! Paying for our sins for eternity! There’s no way out.”
Carol leaned forward into Kevin’s face, and then into Wanda’s, back and forth. “I was there. I saw you marching on the coals. Kevin, I could make out your face just fine. And Wanda… Your hair was long and red for some reason, but I’m sure of it now. That was your face I saw straining against the chain around your neck. I got away, you can get away. Join us.”
“Join us,” Sean said.
Then Paula added her voice to the chorus. “Join us,” they said. “Join us… Join us…”
While the others chanted, Wayne gestured, trying to draw Paula’s and Kevin’s attention through their closed but fluttering eyelids. “Notice me,” he said. “The coals… The chains… Ignore them. Notice me.”
“Wayne!” Wanda’s eyes popped open and she stared into her husband’s face. “Wayne, it –” She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and kissed his cheek, interrupting her own remark. “Wayne, it was horrible! Almost as bad… as losing you in your accident felt. But I got you back! And I…” She turned to Kevin. “Join us, Kevin. All those damn pucks. You’re stronger than them, I know it. Join us.”
Kevin’s eyes opened, and he looked at Wanda. “I liked you better with the red hair.”
Wanda’s eyes bulged, but then she started laughing. The others joined in, buoying each other up with their laughter and their renewed spirits. Whatever they had been a day ago, two days ago, now they were a family, ready to put a stop to the pucks once and for all.
Together they marched through the back hallway and into Myra’s. The party was still going on, but it had turned ugly. The hot dog was fighting with a zombie. A werewolf was crouched behind the jukebox while a Raggedy Ann repeatedly kicked him. The Pushmi-Pulyu had been ripped apart at the middle, and both halves now lay in a pool of blood upon the floor, as if a real animal had been torn asunder. A vampire bit the neck of a woman dressed up as a dancing cigarette box. His fangs didn’t work, being only plastic, but his plain old ordinary teeth were making a hash of her flesh.
Myra stood in the middle of the confusion in full witch regalia, smacking and jabbing with her broom to try to get people out of the building. Some seemed to ignore her, but the silver android and the Pierson’s Puppeteer grabbed her and dragged her toward the restrooms. She screamed as Wayne heard the sound of the faucets coming on.
“Enough!” Wayne shouted, using Mathematics of Influence to draw everyone’s attention.
The room fell still, save for the three pucks laughing at the table near the door front door. Wayne turned to them. “It’s over! You’ve already lost. Go back to Ireland. Or give up and head to the stars. You’re not welcome here anymore!”
That only made the pucks laughed louder as they rose to their feet. “It’s not over,” the red devil said.
The black king added, “Hallowmas approaches, and our power is peaking. You cannot stop us.”
The golden puck added, “Leave now, and we shan’t destroy you.”
The red Devil added, “Tonight…” Again they laughed.
Wayne turned to Sean. “You’re sure about this?”
“If Grandda got the tale right. If you can stay on ‘em, you can ride ‘em to exhaustion, an’ they have to acknowledge their defeat.”
Wayne looked down at his companions’ feet. Carol, Paula, and Kevin – the only ones who knew how to ride horses – wore Emil’s cold iron spurs.
“All right, let’s go.” Wayne raised his hands, looked into his friends’ eyes, and started making distracting gestures as he spoke. “That’s not a devil. It’s not a jack-o’-lantern man, nor a black shade with a black king hidden within. Those are horses.”
“Horses…” His friends answered; but he heard doubt in their voices.
“Horses. That’s their true self according to Grandda Carter.”
Sean said, “They give a man a ride, hours of terror through the night, until he goes mad. Or until his heart stops from the fright.”
“Horses…” the others said.
Carol added, “I can see them!”
Wayne nodded. “Everyone can see them now, can’t you?” All five nodded. “Horses, ready to ride, ride you to your death.” He looked down at their feet. “But you have spurs. Cold iron spurs. You can control them with those. You can ride them to exhaustion. You can see the truth now, you can control them. Believe me. Believe Grandda Carter.” Wayne swallowed. “Believe Emil.”
“Go!” Sean said. “Ride!”
Carol, Paula, and Kevin rushed toward the pucks. Wayne smiled. This had to work.
But at the sound of the clanking spurs, the pucks’ eyes grew wide in panic. They tumbled over the table and chairs in their haste to get to the door.
“Damn!” Wanda shouted. “Ride ‘em! Get ‘em!
“Ride ‘em!” Sean added. He and Wanda and Wayne followed behind as the others squeezed through the doors right behind the pucks. Once Wayne stood on the sidewalk out front, he saw that their plan still had hope. All three of his friends rode upon big, bucking horses, red and gold and black; and as one they dug their spurs in, and the horses galloped off down 28th Street on Halloween night.
Paula was back on the seafloor, riding the golden horse through the water. He tried to steer her towards the terrifying Kraken; but she jabbed the spurs so hard they drew blood, and she yanked the reins away. Any other horse would have tumbled in a turn like that, but the gold wasn’t so lucky. A tumble might’ve thrown her off, but it’s own sure footing betrayed it. It made an impossibly tight U-turn and then headed away, farther into the ocean depths.
Carol was in the dead city, which she now recognized from Emil’s stories. He had never finished the Lanning’s World episode, but he had discussed it with her. This was more what he had envisioned: not the dead world of her nightmare, but a thriving futuristic Metropolis, teeming with foot traffic and air taxis and robots on gyroscopic unicycles. Vendors hawked exotic foods from a thousand other worlds, and children played on the sidewalks while their mothers watched.
Into the excited multitude charged the black horse, veering side to side to try to crush the innocents beneath its hooves. Carol tried to turn it, but the black steed gripped the bit in its teeth and had its own head.
“Oh, you think so, do you?” Carol jabbed the spurs into the horse’s side, then rolled them up and down, slicing the black coat into buddy ribbons. The horse was forced to slow from the pain, and Carol regained control of the bit when it did.
Wanda, Wayne, and Sean stood on the sidewalk, watching the writers and their steed race up and down one of the busiest roads in Grand Rapids. Cars honked and swerved around them. Horns honked and voices shouted. “Get out of the road!”
“Will this work?” Wanda asked, looking at Wayne.
Wayne shrugged and looked at Sean. “Will it?”
“How should I know?”
“You’re the closest thing to a subject matter expert we have. Your Grandda’s tales have been at least as accurate as my Cognitive Logic. Your people have been living with pucas and pucks for a hundred generations. You know things that my logic and mathematics would need another fifty years, maybe a hundred to unveil. So yes, I’m asking you.”
“If the tales are right, then yes, this should work. But it’s risky. I’ve never heard of a case of three pookas bein’ ridden in a single night. I wish my Grandda was here to ask, but all I got is a feelin’ in my gut, some echo of all the tales.”
“And what does that tell you?” Wanda asked.
“They all have to succeed,” Sean answered. If even one of ‘em let’s a puck escape, the critter will be back for us someday, burnin’ for vengeance. I hope they’re all good riders, everythin’ depends on them.”
Kevin rode the red horse as it splashed through a shallow pond, something formed by a beaver dam. It seemed like the horse was trying to drown him, but that was a futile effort. The horse’s head was lower than his own, after all. If the horse tried to stretch his neck up above the water for air, that gave Kevin the chance to tighten the reins and to dig in the spurs. He was confident that he could control the beast.
Then, suddenly, the horse swung back onto land before Kevin knew what was coming. It dashed up a hill and in among the trees.
Before Kevin realized what was happening, the horse ran directly under two stout branches. They knocked Kevin from his seat.
Then as Kevin leaned upon a tree trunk and tried to bring himself back to his feet, the horse made an impossibly tight loop, swinging around in a circle and back through the trees. It trampled Kevin beneath its mighty hooves. With another loop, it crushed the body to a pulp.
“Oh!” When Wanda saw the horse run under a light post and knock Kevin to the ground, she immediately ran towards him, EMT and nurse training aligned take care of the fallen patient.
But when the horse circled back and trampled Kevin… She ran up and saw the condition of Kevin’s corpse. Wanda couldn’t help herself. She fell to her knees, vomiting.
The good folks at Fyrecon have declared this to be Fyretober: a month ofcreative prompts, encouraging writers, poets, and artists to share theirexplorations. Today’s prompt (which I won’t even pretend to have followed): Precognizant cats.