The cattle were lowing in the fields.
As the sun went down they paced at the fences, agitated by some silent swarm.
Ruth shivered, despite the warm evening air.
She knew something was wrong as surely as the beasts. Living in an isolated farmstead sharpened your wits and, more importantly, hardened your nerves.
Sundown was never so quiet, with the cattle lowing and the birds- the birds!
Where were they?
Where were the dark murders flocking to their sheltered roosts?
The evening cacophony was lacking, a dearth of wings in the sky.
Giving heed to her screaming instincts, Ruth pulled at her horse’s reigns, sending them back towards home.
As she rode on, shadows lengthening around her, the sense of unease grew heavy.
The only sound in the cooling air was the thundering of hooves. The wind held its breath and all else was hiding, or had already fled.
A note of fear touched Ruth as everything around her creamed wrongness. She’d have to warn her family and the rest of the community that something was coming. What it was, she didn’t know, but that scared her even more.
Bandits, monsters and soldiers had struck their lonely homestead, all repelled by the deep ditch and high walls encircling the enclave, but none had ever been heralded by such an ominous atmosphere.
Ruth glanced behind, but the view as far as her eyes could see was clear of danger. Perhaps she was running away from nothing…
… or maybe she was running towards something.
Looking down the hill towards the walls, nothing seemed amiss, and yet everything was wrong, nothing was moving.
The last rays of the dying sun finally showed her the threat. A faint mist swirled around the valley floor, flowing through the town.
With a sinking feeling, Ruth looked backwards again, this time seeking that faint shimmer of vapour.
The ground, as far as she could perceive, in all directions, was carpeted by the subtle fog.
The horizon eclipsed the sun, leaving her in a silent, lethal night.
But in the soundless dark she could hear something. A hissing, gurgling sound like a mudflow sluggishly churning downhill.
Spurring her horse into motion, Ruth set off toward the homestead, towards those strange noises, into the deadly fog.
For there was no doubt in her mind that the mist was poison, scaring off everything with an instinct for survival.
She gulped a deep breath as she raced down the slope to her home, entering the mist a moment later.
She could feel it, a cold prickle that brushed her skin like a breath of cold air, then reaching in and grasping her muscles, freezing her blood.
The world swam as lead replaced ichor. The ground rose up and slammed hard into her ribs, knocking free her held breath. Her horse went a few steps further before toppling also.
Forcing herself to stand, then crawling at the pain in her leg, Ruth doggedly kept moving towards home. No matter the pain, the paralysis, she had to see her family safe.
Globs of liquid slithered towards her like slugs the size of her head.
But before ever the reached her, the sound of hooves echoed through the mist.
Ruth lifted her head and gazed tiredly at the dark figure on horseback, at his glowing crown, his burning blade and a cloak that fluttered in the still air, a patch of shadow in the darkness.
Dark, empty eyes gazed down at her, a cruel smile stretched across that face.
See more from this author at Nevermore Writing