I’m Trapped Within A Never-Ending Dream,
Running, Fleeing, Seeking Escape Only To Mindlessly Fail,
In This Place, Nothing Is As It Seems,
Swirling Madly, We Continue Spinning Inside This Veil.
There should have been silence.
Instead, the massive chamber was brimming with sound and song. Hundreds of people had gathered together, forming small groups consisting of two-through-fifteen. At the back of the room, tucked into a corner, was a lonely soul. She held a red, plastic cup in her hand that she sipped from periodically. She lazily surveyed the room, her gaze shifting to the clock hanging over the center of the stage to her left every few minutes.
The girl looked up from her cup, her shoulders hunching instinctively as one of the football jocks she went to school with came sauntering over. She couldn’t hear him over the music, yet she knew he was coming her way. She could feel his gaze focused on her, see the gleam in his eyes as he weaved his way through the crowd. Her hands were numb and cold, then.
Her heart skipped a beat.
“Stirling,” he paused in front of her, his hands tucked in his pockets. He offered what was supposed to be a charming smile. Katarina Stirling saw not the adored football player beloved by all. She saw the dark intent of a monster, its smile twisting a once-perfect specimen. How long had this man’s body concealed a monster’s true self behind a manikin’s unmoving mask? When she didn’t utter a word, he let out a soft sigh. He leaned in so they were eye-to-eye, his breath misting over her face even as she tried to shy away from the overwhelming pressure attempting to suffocate her. His voice was low, a gentle whisper, as he said, “Why must you forget your lines? This is the part when you say ‘good evening, Manson. It’s nice to see you.'”
But it wasn’t nice to see him. It never was.
Those were words Kat didn’t dare utter, never to his face. Her palms were sweaty. She kept readjusting her grip on her drink, frightened the plastic cup would slip from her grasp. When Manson’s gaze dropped to her hands, when his own cupped hers between frigid palms, she was certain her heart would stop.
‘I don’t want to be here,’ she couldn’t look him in the face, not even as he lightly grabbed her chin and lifted her face. Kat stared at his chin instead, at the faint shadow of a beard ready to break the skin. ‘Why won’t he leave me alone? Why pick on me? Why?’
At the other end of the room, the announcement came out loud and strong. “Ladies and gentlemen, students and friends and family, welcome to Sleepy Hollow’s yearly celebration. The sun has set and we can step out into the darkness. But be warned! The Horseman lurks in the mist and shadows…”
A hush fell over the mass number of bodies crammed into such a tight space. Kat was far tenser than ever, back ramrod straight as Manson pressed closer to her as the crowd shifted and knocked into his back. His hand had slipped from her chin, resting lightly on her shoulder where his thumb traced circles against her collarbone.
Back to the wall, chest against his, Kat stared at the pendant hanging around his neck. It seemed to glow against the dark green material of his silken shirt. Her gaze shifted, moving to the pronounced Adam’s Apple within his throat. It bobbed as he swallowed, his hand trailing lazily over the back of her shoulders as shouts filled the air.
“The doors are getting ready to open,” Manson’s steady speech drew her gaze to his face and she stilled, unnerved to see his gaze was focused on her face. His head tilted to the side as he murmured, “You really do have an unfortunate name, Miss Stirling. Let’s hope the Horseman doesn’t take an interest in you. That would be most…unfortunate.”
Manson released her then, stepping away as the crowd flowed out of the open chamber.
Kat watched him leave, not quite sure what to think of the egotistical man. What was so special about her name, anyway? Her gaze dropped to her drink, the dark liquid seeming to mock her. She took another sip, nose scrunching at the muddy taste. Gods, how she hated soda. She took another sip, swishing it around in her mouth before swallowing.
She carried the empty cup outside, disposing of it in a recycling bin. Her gaze shifted to the dark streets, pumpkin lanterns casting an eerie glow of the mist-laden streets and sidewalks. She wrapped her arms around herself, immune to the tinkling laughter of the adults and the blissful happiness of the playing children.
“Miss Stirling!” Kat turned, pausing to see her teacher coming down the stairs of the Church. Behind her was a priest whose name she did not know. Kat turned her attention back to the woman approaching her, her muscles tensing when her teacher’s hands landed on her shoulders. “Kat, I was just talking about you with Father Knapp. I had a picture of that ring you had drawn, he saw it and, well, he demanded to know where I got it from. Father Knapp, this is Katarina Stirling. Kat, this is Father Knapp.”
Kat knew what picture her teacher referred to. Ever since moving to Sleepy Hollow, she had seen it within a dream. Relentlessly its image chased her, demanding in its silent order until she placed that image upon paper. This picture Kat saw in Father Knapp’s grasp. Her gaze kept darting to it, the image hauntingly real despite knowing it was only, and would only ever be, from a dream.
The multi-banded ring seemed to shimmer with starlight as the ring itself, the black gem tucked in the middle within a ring of moon-kissed diamonds. The dark gem radiated a potentially sinister power she knew would never transfer onto paper in its full glory. She eyed that very picture, almost frightened that malicious energy would ooze off the page.
A ridiculous thought, really. It was only a picture.
“So you drew this,” Father Knapp stepped forward, offering his hand with a calm smile. Kat’s gaze darted between the offered limb and his eyes, silent for a moment. She looked towards her teacher, who nodded, and Kat stepped forward and grabbed his hand as she answered, “I did, yes. I’ve always been a bit creative. I take it you like the picture?”
He smiled. “I do, yes. I was a bit startled. I’ve seen a ring like the one you sketched, back when I was a boy.”
“Really?” Kat’s head tilted to the side, a spark of curiosity rise. “Where?”
“In a book,” Father Knapp paused, hands folding into his billowing sleeves. “I was very young and I don’t remember much, at this age, but I would never forget that picture.”
She waited for him to continue and, for a moment, it seemed he might. In the end, his lips pursed into a tight line as he turned to eye a few children cursing near the steps of the church. “Forgive me, child, but I must be off. God’s children cannot be left to tend to themselves. I fear for this town if the youth is all that we have to offer.”
Kat watched as he left before her gaze shifted to her teacher. “Mrs. Tulley?”
“Father Knapp is an odd man,” her teacher smiled, kind eyes alive with light. “He is odd, a bit withdrawn in many things, but he is a good man. I’m sure he’ll get back with you about that book he mentioned. The picture was very pretty.”
‘Pretty,’ Kat turned away, gaze sweeping out over the foggy grounds. Behind her, Mrs. Tulley stepped closer and rested a hand on her shoulder. Kat glanced over her shoulder at her teacher, not quite sure what to think. ‘Pretty would not be my first choice.’
Kat wandered away, content to get lost in the mist and coiling smoke. The distant echo of children followed her through the darkness, a damp veil of midnight dew slowly beginning its laborious job of dampening her body and clothing.
As she followed the pathway, her mind shifted back to the dream.
She could recall the long corridors, stone walls rising up on all sides of her. She could hear the beckoning call of a church bell, song in the air. She could feel a hand ghosting over the small of her back, a gloved hand cradling hers as she was swept into a dance.
The whisper of sleep called to her.
And, as Kat made her way into the woods and cemetery, words from long ago formed on her lips. The rounded her lips, a ghost awakening from inside her soul. Her hands trailed over the old stones, her mind sinking into a state of peace and safety and calm as the words came to her in a hushed moment of clarification.
Treat Me As A Goddess-Born Queen,
A Ruler Forseen Through A Divine Destiny,
Find Me A Black-Diamond, Multibanded Ring,
And Break Me From My Trance, I’m Dancing Recklessly.
The scream of a horse caught her unawares. An impossibility dark shadow reared over her, hooves kicking as the reins were yanked back. Kat’s arms came up, a shocked cry leaving her as she stumbled back and fell to the ground. The horse’s front hooves planted on either side of her body as flaming, red eyes stared down at her.
Kat heard someone dismount, felt the echo within the soil. She could see the outline of a man walking around the dark steed, black-clad legs surrounded by what looked to be the tails of a tattered, whirling cloak. Her gaze rose, up and up and up, until her gaze locked with crimson orbs searing the darkness from within the confines of a midnight hood.
Whatever words were on the tips of her tongue died.
Whatever need to scream vanished as a black-gloved hand reached for her.
“The sooner you accept your fate,” the cloaked man’s voice was a whisper, something that drifted upon the wind. Yet it echoed within the halls of her mind, something that rang with a note of familiarity. Kat found her way to her feet, staggering away with wide eyes. She turned on her heels, fleeing the way she had come as his words curled darkly around her senses, “…the sooner your life can begin anew.”
The Halls Of Old Are Nothing More Than A Blind Machine,
Fleeing, Gone, Cursed By The Blood Of Vassallo,
Cast Into Darkness, My Fate Something Dark And Unforeseen,
Again I Find Myself Called Back To Sleepy Hollow.