Apparition in the Barn

Shadow nickers from his stall as I lead Achilles back into the stables. I scratch his nose and give him a gentle smile as I go by.

Shadow watches with his usual patience as I lead Achilles to his stall. As I begin our usual grooming ritual, my mind jumps from one random thought to another. It’s distracting and irritating, but I know that grooming is the sort of repetitive, concentrated labor that will sooth my overactive imagination. My hand grips the brush, my arm swings back and forth, the bristles slide through the smooth coat. Touch, slide, release. Touch, slide, release. I relax into the rhythm.

As I work, the barn door squeaks and I can hear footsteps approaching. I know it’s mom coming to give me a detailed critique of my riding performance. Shadow whinnies a greeting, and I turn to face her judgement. No one is there. I look at Shadow for confirmation. He’s watching me. I exhale in frustration and go back to grooming Achilles.

“Amber,” the voice is soft and distant and unrecognizable. I freeze.

“Amber,” This time Achilles raises his head, ears rotating. He hears it. He can’t find it, but he hears it. I’m not crazy. I hug his muscular neck. Despite his obnoxious behavior, today, Achilles is a good horse. Although Shadow is my joy and freedom, Achilles is my strength and discipline. I need his strength right now.

I stand there for a moment listening until I feel Achilles relax. As I begin to groom his withers, something hits the side of the barn with a bang. The tack swings on the hooks, and I jump. Achilles rears, slamming his hooves against the wall, snorting in protest. A disembodied growl bellows through the barn, sending both horses into a frenzy. I want to run, but my instinct to protect the horses keeps me frozen in place, looking and listening. I feel anger swelling inside of me.

“Not this time,” I whisper.

I leave the stall and stand in the middle of the barn. I call to Shadow, soothing him. Achilles has regained his composure, but he is tense and alert, just as I am.

“Amber,” the gentle voice calls again. This time, I do see something. A soft white fog begins to gather at the back of the barn. It condenses into a whispy form, a cloaked figure with no distinguishable features. It slowly moves forward.

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