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A Night at the Black Horse


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A Night at the Black Horse


The night outside was dark, the sky littered with stars. Out in the countryside, flanked by fields of green on all sides, a lonely inn sat perched atop a small hill, four long, winding roads leading to this one place of warmth and comfort. The Black Horse tavern.


Inside four lonely souls sat around a hearth, a drink resting on the table in front of three of them. The ornate, golden clock above the fire struck ten, breaking the deathly silence of the place. The landlord sat alone behind the bar, a newspaper open wide in his old, frail hands.


The man closest to the hearth spoke first. Short, bespectacled and somewhat balding, his voice crackled like the flames as he began to speak.

"My wife," he said, choking back something inside, "she left me this morning. Twenty-two years of marriage and she just walks out the door as if it all meant nothing." The other three looked up and met his eyes. There was nothing there anymore, the man was completely broken. "Where do I go from here? Ten more years and I can retire but to what? To who? She'll probably take the house." He slammed back the remainder of his ale and slumped back into his chair, his eyes closing.


"Ah yes, marriage," the woman closest to him spoke at last. This particular woman stood out somewhat, given that she was dressed from heat to foot in white. A bride, her legs resting on a low table in front of her, the glass of wine in her hand her fifth of the evening.

"I left my fiance at the alter ten hours ago," she said in a somewhat shocking, matter of fact manner. "Why? I couldn't tell you. When I reached the stairway leading down to the hall where we were to be wed, I panicked. I jumped into a taxi waiting outside and told him to drive until he ran out of petrol. I ended up here, wherever here is." She pulled a small, silver tiara from her fiery, red hair and placed it on the table in front of her. The make up around her eyes was smudged and dripping. She too closed her eyes and wished away all the regret.


"If it helps," a young man said at last, "we're in Yorkshire." The bride shook her head in bemusement. "And in comparison, my tale of woe is somewhat pathetic. I graduated from university last summer and yet I'm stuck in a dead-end job stacking shelves. It makes a mockery of the last three years of my life. I'd like to think everything will work out down the line but how can I know?" He drained the glass of cider in front of him and stared intently into the flames.


The final soul did not stir. The other three stared at her as if expecting her to join in with the laments. Yet her eyes did not move from a photograph on the table in front of her, no drink sat beside her. In sober thought the woman's tears were fresh and plenty, her eyes red and sore. A wry smile crossed her face as she felt six eyes upon her. The first smile in many a week.

"I buried my only child last month," she said at last. The three others winced. Their problems were all self-inflicted and trivial, their companion's deep and clearly very much unresolved.

"She was only five. Playing on the ice with the other children. What kind of mother lets that happen?" she asked rhetorically. The bride stood up and crossed the room, placing comforting arms around the bereaved mother. The elder man puffed out his cheeks and shook his head. The graduate very much felt like a fool.


A small cough erupted from the corner of the room. Within the shadows, a man dressed in black smoking a large, wooden pipe made his presence known. He leant forward out of the darkness, his eyes as pale as snow, his short, thinning hair of the same colour.

"Allow me to tell you a story about a husband and wife," he said at last, not moving from his seat.


"The woman, a yes. What a beautiful thing. Short but sweet, full of mystery and suprises. She went by many names and many people would embrace her. Let me call her Life. You see, Life was a most wonderful little thing. When you met her company it was somewhat fleeting but if you were no fool you enjoyed every small minute of it. You wanted to be with her forever, and as befitting such a wonderful, delightful woman, she took on many lovers of her own. Yet these lovers would grown complacent and weary, they would take Life for granted and make many mistakes. Yet did they try to resolve these issues? No. They cowered and complained. Life grew tired of these pathetic, irksome lovers to the point that one day, somewhat inexplicably, she wed. Oh her husband was a mean bastard. Cruel and unforgiving, his features were long and sharp. He would take all those that had wasted the time of his poor Life and put an end to them. Death, they called him, the bastard in black."


The four souls sat transfixed upon the man in the corner. He stood and crossed the room to where the four sat around the hearth. He rested his gentle frame upon a table in front of the balding man so that each of them could mark his words ever more clearly.


"Yet this marriage did not last. Life felt that all her great work was being undone by her callous husband. She resented him for that. A great fight broke out between the two that spilled out from their home in the Heavens down here onto our lands, into our very souls. Life each day takes new lovers of her own, she gives them all chances and challenges that she urges them to embrace and learn from while they can. Her husband stalks the night cruelly taking those who slip away from her loving touches and, sooner or later, he will be the one who embraces us."


Suddenly, as if to break his four charges from their emotioal slumber, the man hurled an empty pint glass into the fire. Sparks, shards and ember flickered throughout the room, more so than any mere glass could produce.


"LIVE, YOU FOOLS!" he roared, his voice as loud and deep as thunder. "Embrace each your Life and accept her challenges. Each moment is sweet and it must be savoured. Her husband roams ready to take each one of us given the slightest of chances. He takes everyone, from sweet, poor girls in his icy cold embrace to elderley men as they sleep at night. There is no stopping him."


He turned at last, making his way towards the door. He pulled on a large, leather cloak and topped his silver hair with the smallest of black hats. A crooked cane he picked up and pointed it at the four across the room.

"So while we have the chance, why not enjoy the many fruits and loving embrace that his most delicious, charming little wife has to offer, eh? When that bastard comes, let it be with a smile on our face and love in our hearts."


And with that, the man left.


The four sat in silence for several minutes, smalls pieces of ember still floating around the room. The four dared not share one glance until the final, orange spark landed on the table infront of the mother. Snow began to fall outside, flickering down just like the ember, some fluttering through the open doorway.


The young man, with new fire and motivation inside him, suddenly stood up. His problems were nothing compared to those around him. It was time to make something of himself. Raising a hand at his companions in farewell, he walked out into the cool night air with the ambition to live out his dreams.


The bride followed next; she would have to go home and face the music sooner or later, it was a situation she had created and it wasn't going to fix itself. Removing two white shoes (with heels long and painful) and placing them on the table, she left the tavern barefoot, her long train hoisted up in her hands. She must have looked a real sight as she stood there in the car park, waiting for a taxi, but for the first time in a while she felt at ease with her life. She smiled. Perhaps for the last time in many a week.


The elder man gave one long, comforting glance at the mother before too standing to his feet. "A mistress," he said somewhat confusingly, "that's just what I needed, right?" It was a poor joke. The mother chuckled anyway, appreciating his company. If Life was to be his mistress while his wife prepared to take him for all he had, so be it. After placing a comforting hand on the shoulder mother, the man dissappeared upstairs to his room for the night.


Alone the mother sat, a picture of young Rebecca held softly between her fingers.

"Nothing will bring you back, my love," she thought to herself, tears now streaming down her face, "so I guess I will have to do enough living for the both of us."


As the final light went out, The Black Horse disappeared into the darkness.

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This felt a lot like an old bar tale - but that's a good thing and I'm sure it's what you were going for. The introduction pulled me away, I almost didn't read further. There's no good excuse for that though, and I'm glad I read on because I actually enjoyed the story quite a bit, man. Keep on writing and I'll keep on reading.


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I haven't heard my share of "old bar tales," but I'm glad I read this one first. Every bit of it felt genuinely emotional with authentic characterization, and it drew me in just by sympathy for the characters. The ending was especially touching, with the mother's resolve in particular.


Keep up the good work!


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I too agree that there is a strong 'bar tale' influence; however, it did feel much more than that. Very poetic and well described. Easily my favorite piece of this month's SSotM.
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Thanks for the kind words and the votes icon14.gif Yes, it was my intention to make this story seem a bit over the top. If I tried making it seem more realistic, I don't think it would have worked. Drew my inspiration from the area my girlfriend lives where there is long, dark country roads and sleepy inns, Brontë Country. Probably why my story ended up being a wee bit Gothic. When you are struggling to find an idea, it's sometimes best just to think of your own everyday life.

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  • 3 months later...

I'm not going to even constructively describe just how great read this was and why, I'll just tell you it was awesome. Beyond that, it was beautiful, incandescent. Par excellence.


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Thank you biggrin.gif


I see it's been unstickied, does this mean we have a new contest coming soon? Hope so! I think I'm partially to blame for the contest stalling, picking a crap theme last time as winner turn.gif

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