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The Boatman

She had been running for at least a week, maybe two. Running, fleeing those who pursued her. Her horse was tired, as was she. Pausing for a moment to get her bearings, she heard the baying of the hounds behind her. They'd been on her trail almost constantly. Did they never tire, never falter, as she did now?

There was nothing in the dark hills and hummocks around her that she recognised, nowhere to hide. There had been nothing for days, not even a small farmstead. Surely there must be something in this wilderness? Kicking her mare forwards, she galloped onwards.

What was that? Yes, just over that rise! She wasn't sure, but it looked like a river, a river with a small pier upon the bank. A ferry stage, it looked like! A way of escape from the hounds that tormented her, harried her past all places of safety and rest.

Pushing the exhausted mare onwards, she rushed down the valleys and gullies toward the small landing stage that was her only chance. A small bell hung by the side of the road, and hardly pausing, she rang it. It tolled, a dull funereal sound, one that echoed out across the valley and over the water. Behind her she noticed the hounds' baying had ceased. Good. Perhaps she had evaded them.

The mare reached the edge of the water, and, in the distance, the rider could see a small boat paddled by a gaunt figure clad in a hooded cloak coming towards the landing stage. She sighed with relief. This, then, was her escape. Soon the boat touched the rotting piers of the small dock, and the rider gratefully scrambled aboard.

Again she let out a sigh of relief as she sank gratefully to the bottom of the boat. She stayed there, panting, for many minutes as it plowed steadily onward through the dark water. There was no sign of the far shore, although this did not bother her - the only thing that mattered was that she had escaped.

Eventually she turned to the boatman."I presume you'll want a certain amount as a fare?"

The boatman slowly turned toward her and chuckled.

"The boats of the dead demand only two coins as fare", he replied in a leaden voice, throwing back his hood. For the first time she saw his skeletal fingers and skull face...

Cowering on the bank, the hounds of death heard her scream.

Copyright Meg Thornton 1986 - 2005, all rights reserved.

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