Julie Weathers

            They say bad news rides a fast horse.
            No one said anything about it riding a dead one, and the black destrier my uncle now rode toward me had died two years ago.
            Even though the copse of trees shielded me, he crossed the pasture as if he knew exactly where I stood. My mind ticked down a list of things I had eaten that might cause hallucinations. There wasn’t a mushroom in the bunch.
            Beside me, a ewe stared at the approaching apparition, nervously flicking her ears. Then she bunted my leg, reminding me of the lamb still tangled in the witchberry vines. I knelt back down and finished cutting him loose. The lamb latched onto his mother’s swollen udder, but she remained fixed on the rider. As did I.
            As he neared, she stamped in apprehension and then bounded away with her youngster. I wanted to follow. My mind screamed at me to run, but my feet were as firmly rooted as the tangle of vines. He reined to a stop in front of me and dismounted, plunging the area into a deep, winter chill. Just below his pallid face, his throat had been sliced clean as a butcher’s cut.
            My face felt as bloodless as his and it was all I could do to keep upright. He held out his hand to steady me.
            I forced my gaze from his gaping throat with its raw, red, flesh. The dried blood made the embroidered golden lion leaping across his tabard look as if it were mortally wounded also. I tried to focus on the tabard, which seemed the safest place to dwell, but my gaze wandered, leaving me sickened at the extent of his injuries. His right shoulder was sheared nearly off so his arm dangled unnaturally. He had been stabbed in the ribs. There were other wounds showing through the ragged mail and cloth. He had not been taken easily.
            “You’re dead.” I expected the nonsense whisper to form a fog.
            “There are different levels of existence, Kaelyn.” My full name was reserved for when I was in trouble or for very serious talks. His icy hand stroked my hair as he had done many times before. “I’m in another room. You mustn’t worry about me. You have your own path, as I had mine.”
            “You can’t leave me.” I wasn’t above pleading.
            He tilted my chin up and wiped my tears with frozen fingers, but tears welled in his own eyes. “I died, but I’m still here. I’m between the veils.”

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