The chill February air whistled outside the windows of the home. The shades were set against the night, sealed with tape to block out any sight of the outside. Within, two people sat vigil, silent in a room illuminated by a single sputtering candle. One, a young man, whose dark skin absorbed the light of the candle and left him a silhouette in the space, stared fixedly at the candle with keen green eyes, watching as it burned down the wick. The other, a slender teenaged girl, was idly paging through a book. The light played across her hair, which darkened from blue to black as the shadows passed over it. She had the comfortable set of someone who had been here for a while, and was ready to remain there for some time.
The young man at last straightened, glaring at the girl. “You said you’d fix this,” he growled. “And we’ve been here for hours.” He was broad-shouldered, and, if standing would have towered over her, but he had his arms tucked in, and gave the corner nervous glances once his eyes were away from the candle.
“Not the witching hour yet,” the girl said softly. She kicked her foot in the air. “It’s not going to show up until the witching hour. She lifted her head from her book and smiled at the young man. “Don’t worry. Do you have your bracelet?”
The boy lifted his left wrist, which bore a thick gold bracelet, one that was sturdy, and seemed crude at first glance, unless you were to look closer and see the faded marks cut into its surface.
“I don’t know what good this will do.”
“It can’t hurt,” the girl replied.
A crack in the blinds let in a glimmer of light; it suddenly changed in tone to a searing blue, and a pounding could be heard outside.
“Witching hour,” the girl said, drawing a fireplace poker from next to her and standing in one smooth motion.
An unearthly noise, like that of a horse tormented by the fires of hell, rose through the night, echoing in the room. The boy winced, gold-encircled hand grabbing at his chest.
“Hold strong,” the girl muttered.
The pounding came again, a rapid beat that drew closer and louder until the blinds rolled up with a snap and the windows slammed open. At the same time, the door slammed open, a sound echoed by what sounded like every other door in the building opening as well.
“All doors and hindrances unbar themselves before it. Stay here.”
The open windows revealed a hideous form outside, a headless man riding on the back of a black horse with a blood-flecked mouth. It held a rotted, moldy head in one hand, gripped by the hair. The other hand held a long pale whip, yellowed and, thankfully at this distance not obvious that it was made from the spine of what was probably an NBA center.
The girl hopped out the window, poker still clenched in one hand. With the other, she fished out a roll of duct tape.
The head clutched in the creature’s hand turned toward the girl, yellowed eyes narrowing. The girl was already sprinting toward it, poker swinging. A careful strike hit the creature’s arm, causing it to let go of its head, which fell to the ground. The girl dropped as the headless creature swung its whip at the air she’d been previously occupying. She grabbed the head, which, as she’d read, did feel like moldy cheese, and began wrapping it up with duct tape. It took only a few moments before it was entirely encased in tape, all but blind and mute.
The the girl stood up and chucked the head as hard as she could into the night, where it bounced into a manhole she’d levered open six hours earlier.
She turned back to the horseman, grinning. “So what are you going to do now?”
She returned home an hour later, Dave Mwangi safe from the dullahan that had been slated to take his soul tonight.
She fell into bed almost immediately, to have troubled dreams.
She awoke to find a blue-eyed black cat sitting on her chest, staring at her unblinking. She sat up, dislodging the creature, who stalked back into her lap and stared at her. She grabbed the cat’s sides and peered down at him.
“And what are you up to?” she asked.
Coraline Jones stared at the cat for a long moment. “Oh, crud.”