Charging Flame

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
"Shite." Seamus sighed, as he watched the sun fall over the horizon.

He hadn't meant to spend so much time in town. Now he was paying for it. He sighed, he couldn't wait to get back to Maeve and the children.  

He even smelt rain on the breeze. 

Conan kicked up dust as he neighed at his rider. "I know, lad." Seamus said, they'd have to return quickly. Before the rain came, before twilight passed, before the more violent Fae passed through the veil. Conan's ear twitched. This farmer did not want to run into a pooka, or a hea- 

Hoofbeats sounded out from behind him and Seamus stiffened. Just another traveler, even though they came out of nowhere. They probably just left their camp, a camp that he didn't notice on the way past.

Conan's ear twitched again. 

It started to drizzle. 

Seamus kept riding at the same pace as before, even as his old horse's ears started twitching more and more frequently. The rider behind him sped up a bit and Conan did the same a second later.

Minutes trickled by and took his worries with them, albeit slowly. 

The rain came down harder. 

The farmer sighed his relief and pushed back his soaked hair. He then turned his head around, to tell the traveler the scare they gave him.  

His friendly smile froze as he saw it, a dead horse carrying a headless man. Flies buzzing around them. They were both very clearly dead, this was no children's prank, half the horse's head wasn't even there and its entrails dragged in the mud. The man's head bound to the saddle horn.

Seamus turned back around, so long as he didn't bother and it and it didn't call his name. He'd be fine. 

Lightning flashed. 

"Seamus Morrigan." Fuck. 

Thunder boomed. 

Seamus snapped Conan's reins and kicked him into a gallop. The old horse raced down the path, his rider's face stinging from the rain. He looked and saw the horseman easily keeping up with them, but not gaining any ground either. 

"SEAMUS MORRIGEN!" the head boomed, its voice much like the thunder around them. 

Lightning arced just under the inky clouds, showing Seamus the path ahead. That the ford was near. 

The farmer drove his horse harder, and Conan galloped even faster down the dirt road. And soon, Seamus heard hooves splashing through water. 

'Seems I'll be back in time for a late dinner.' He chuckled. After this, Meave and I won't be sleeping well for at least a week.  

Seamus' dirty thoughts were interrupted when Conan reached dry land and slowed to a trot. The farmer let him relax and he turned to look back at the Dullahan. 

The sight of the headless fae halt before the ford made the farmer's smile grow into a grin, but he only looked away once he saw the Dullahan turn around and ride away. 

Maeve would hardly believe this tale, as would the boys. His little Alana would though, her Papa was her hero and she'd trust in anything he'd say. 

Conan's ear twitched again, and Seamus felt the urge to look back at the ford. Just as he did, lightning lit up the sky and illuminated the Dullahan in all its horrific glory. Seamus' eyes widened at the sight of the rotting steed flying through the air. The headless horseman couldn't pass through the running water, so it simply went over. 

The Dullahan landed as thunder boomed and Seamus did nothing... nothing but watch. He saw his death, a mere snap of the spine whip would cleave his head from his shoulders. He was frozen, waiting for the end. 

Then Conan reared back onto his hind legs, snapping Seamus out of the doom spell, and started a gallop. 

But it was too late, the old horse's rider failed him, his fate was sealed the moment the spell took hold.  

The horseman was on them in an instant. The whip came in even less than that.  

Lightning flashed and Conan's throat was open, he ran a few more feet, willpower alone keeping him up. Then he fell and Seamus fell with him, out of the saddle and into the mud below. 

Conan thrashed in the muck, desperate to rise, to show no weakness, but the fae cared not for the horse anymore. Only he who's name it called. 

It dismounted and simply walked around the struggling beast, then went straight for the farmer. Seamus floundered in the mud, trying to stand, yet for what he did not know.  

As the Dullahan neared, he managed to reach his knees and when it was upon him, he thrust out his hand. Showing his gold wedding band, hoping that the legends and tales held any more truths. 

The fae halted suddenly and hope blossomed in the man's heart. It merely stood there, frozen. Then the Dullahan started to shake, it's bandaged hand shook and took hold of it's tunic. A sound started coming from the head, a choking noise that became louder and louder. 

'It's laughing' he realised, and he dropped his hand. 'It's been toying with me from the start.' With that thought, Seamus joined the head's laughter with his own and he laughed until his stomach hurt. 

The bellows of the man's laughter died down to giggles, then silenced itself.  

On his knees, Seamus hung limply. Then the Dullahan placed a finger under the man's chin and made him look up at the headless body. 

They stilled for a moment, then it's hands wrapped around his throat and slowly squeezed. As each breath came harder and harder than the last, Seamus' hands shot to the fae's wrists and his legs whipped around. His fading hearing found that the Dullahan was... shushing him? 

'Maeve... Alana... I'm sorry I took too long.'

His final thoughts passed by and his vision began to fade, he knew no man could hope to stand against a fae, but still he struggled. He thrashed and writhed until his strength started to fade. When it left him, his hands fell limp and his legs stopped churning. 

Then lightning flashed... and Seamus burned.