Writing Challenge: The Woman and Her Horse

This is an idea I have had creeping around in my mind for some time. I have several different takes on it on my computer but no completed version. I still don’t consider this one to be complete and hope to revisit it sometime. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything with zombies which is a little surprising for me. 

She could feel herself starting to fall off her horse, but the exhaustion had seeped so deeply into her that she couldn’t fight it. Her horse slowed to a stop and began to make soft noises. His rider was going to fall, and he didn’t want that to happen. The small part of her mind that was still focused was screaming at her, pleading with her to wake up and realize what was happening. They couldn’t stop here; it hadn’t been long enough since they saw that last horde they were forced to ride through. Still, in spite of her brain and her horse’s protests, she slumped forward and passed out.

She wasn’t sure how long it had been or when exactly she had completely fallen off her horse, but his panicked noises finally broke through her exhaustion and woke her. It wasn’t a fast process. Her mind was hazy, and it almost hurt to open her eyes. But she could feel her horse pushing on her, and in the distance, there was a distinct groaning and growling. Her brows pulled in as she struggled to get her mind together and working, then suddenly it snapped. That sound was not good, and it was much closer than it should be.

“This is not good,” she said to herself as she got up and pulled herself back in the saddle. She prayed that her horse had managed to rest as well. However, she wasn’t sure she could believe in God anymore, not after what she had seen.

She kicked softly and got her horse going. She didn’t want to kick off at full sprint, not yet. She had no way of knowing if they had actually been spotted, and she didn’t want to draw undue attention to them. They still had a long ride before they would be even close to the next town. The horse could move faster than the monsters, but they would never stop pursuing once they got on the trail. It might be too late; she had to admit. It had been days, and she had yet to get a break from the horde for longer than a few hours. In truth, it might not be the same horde, but it sure felt like the pursuit was constant.

Once they made their way through the trees and bushes and were out in the open, she clicked once again. It didn’t matter how loud they were now, the monsters could easily spot them, and they needed the distance. She knew they needed a real break soon. Passing out had been dangerous, and if it happened to her horse, it was over.

Fortis seemed to understand that and did not hesitate to increase to full speed. He had always been a good horse, but she knew that something in his instincts was also driving him. He could tell they were not safe from whatever it was those monsters were. She thought it might be the smell of blood, disease, and death that traveled with them, but she would never be certain.

Both were focused on their goal now. Distance and speed. It was their only focus as they pushed forward into the night.

Hours later, when the sun had risen, Fortis finally seemed to be suffering from the journey. She had pulled him into a slow trot, and now he had on his own moved to a walk. She scanned their location, there was a lake close by. The trouble was, she noticed, that the water sources were more crowded. All the animals were fleeing the monsters, and normal stops didn’t seem safe. While she began to search her memory of the area, Fortis started to change course.

“No buddy, we can’t go to that lake. We are just as likely to end up hunted there than if we stay here.”

The horse protested, but his need to trust his rider took over. She thought and finally remembered a small creek. It would be more difficult for them to get water from, but had more coverage and probably less competition. She began to guide her weakened companion towards it, hoping that her memory wouldn’t fail her.

It took them longer than she had thought, but they reached the creek. The horse didn’t wait for instructions from his rider, but moved to the deepest spot and began to drink deeply. She wouldn’t fault him. Had this been normal times he would have waited for her to guide him, but if this were normal times, she wouldn’t have ridden him to this state.

She dismounted and looked around. They weren’t alone, but it seemed only smaller animals had come here seeking rest and water. The smaller creek was probably something the little animals had already used when evading predators; she doubted that they had ever had to run from something like this before. She didn’t want to interrupt Fortis so left her canteens where they were for now. Instead, she looked for bushes and made sure to clear them for snakes. Other bodily needs were her top priority.

The need for privacy seemed silly even to her. There was unlikely another human for miles. At least humans other than the ones that seemed to crave flesh. Yet her need for decorum was strong enough that she still sought a bit of cover. When she had relieved herself, Fortis finally seemed to slow his drinking. She removed the empty canteens and filled them. The one that was half full she drained and refilled before adding them back to the pack. Fortis began to eat grass while she found some jerky from the pack.

In truth, she needed more food, but supplies had been low when she was forced to escape, and hunting seemed too dangerous. Anything that required a gun would be foolish for the sound. Anything else would still give off the scent of blood, something that seemed to drive the creatures. She wouldn’t starve to death, not if the town they were headed to had life and supplies. She was getting uncomfortable, however. She dug through the pack more deeply and smiled a bit as she found a biscuit. It was hard and had a few dark patches that she picked out. However, it was more food and something other than the jerky she had survived on for the last few days. She prayed once again to stumble on a fruit bearing tree or bush, but then considered her luck as far as prayers to be a sign that jerky would be all she ate for the foreseeable future.

When Fortis had his fill of the grass, he returned to the water. She didn’t want him to get sick, but also did not know when they would have another chance to stop. Also, she trusted the horse, he had proven himself a smart beast even before they had to flee. His usefulness over the last days could not be overstated. She finished her food then drank some more water, once again filling up the canteen.

“I don’t know if we will be able to sleep. We’ve spent a long time resting already,” she said to her companion. She knew they both desperately needed sleep, but fear crept in at the thought of earlier and waking up again with the horde already surrounding them.

She looked at her horse and noticed his exhaustion, and that decided it for her. She found the place with the thickest amount of foliage and moved them into it. Fortis seemed to understand her purpose and lay down. She knew now how truly tired the beast was. She leaned up on him and closed her own eyes. She thought it might be less restful for her without her horse to listen for danger with her, but she would try to get some rest.

In the end, it was neither her ears nor Fortis that warned her that they had allowed the horde closer than expected. Instead, she found herself surrounded by many small animals moving past them. A few rabbits were so afraid they even moved over her legs. The horde was close.

Fortis did not resist when she woke him, and he quickly got up and waited for her. She mounted, and they began to move again. She looked back and could see the outline of them in the distance. They weren’t as close as they had gotten last time, but closer than what brought her comfort. She could vaguely see the outline of the mass of bodies; the horde was growing. Until a few weeks ago she hadn’t even realized there were so many people in this area of the territory, but it seemed her assumptions were wrong.

They once again moved slowly through as much coverage as they could before taking off at full speed in the open. By her estimate, they had at least another full night of this journey before they would reach the town. How she wished she had a better map, one not from her own family. Perhaps someone knew a shortcut that her family had never discovered for themselves, something that could help them arrive sooner. It was too late now; they had to just push through the best way she knew.

Fortis in all his instinct had seemed to understand how desperate their situation was. He had never fought her, and unless completely exhausted never slowed without being asked. Their journey had been cut down significantly by his own drive to escape.

Now all that remained was seeing if the town they were approaching was safe.

Once she could no longer see the horde behind them, she kept her horse at full speed for a few more moments before slowing down. They could not afford to stop again, so she wouldn’t risk needing to by driving him too hard. When the sun set, she allowed him to speed up a little, no longer being punished by the sun. They found one more small water source, one without much competition, and she gave him another moment’s pause. She didn’t dismount this time, nor let him drink his fill. Enough to hopefully negate the risk of him collapsing from thirst, and then she pushed him forward.

Shortly before dawn, she drove him to speed up, she recognized a marker and knew they were close. It was sunrise when she saw the outline of the town in the distance. The two stopped, and she studied the town as long as she could. It was a small place, one that served as little more than a passing point between larger locations. It was why she had chosen it. The bigger places had too many people, too many noises. Somewhere small seemed safer. There were no sounds of groaning or struggle. She knew that couldn’t completely be trusted though. More than once they had found a small camp or home that seemed safe, only to find the beasts were quiet when they had nothing to attack or pursue.

“Well I reckon we have to look,” she said softly.

Fortis let out a few grunts but moved forward when she directed him.

“Maybe this prayer will be the one answered,” she thought as they approached the town.

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