Outside the Door Excerpt

I had been visiting friends for a few days in Westchester and had to return to the city. My host warned me of the dangers lone travelers on horseback faced on an isolated stretch of the road and suggested I wait to travel with the other guests. I assured him I would be careful and that by leaving the next morning, I would reach the ferry in plenty of time to be in Manhattan before dark.

I slept very little that night but what sleep I achieved was interrupted by a restlessness accompanied by the distant sound of bells. As soon as the first light of dawn crept into my room, I rose and dressed quickly. I grabbed my bag that I had packed the night before and hurried quietly past the closed bedroom doors of the other guests. My host was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. He walked outside with me, handed me some food wrapped in cloth and repeated his warning about traveling alone.

I mounted my horse and was on my way. For an hour or two, I rode leisurely past the carefully tended estates and smaller cottages. After awhile, I stopped next to a stream to eat and let the horse rest. The crisp autumn day had grown warmer and I lay back, shielding my eyes from the bright sun. I must have fallen asleep because I sat up with a jolt and scrambled to continue my journey.

The road narrowed. There were no longer any signs of houses. A thick overgrowth of trees and brush blocked much of the sunlight and any extending view of scenery. I heard bells in the distance and thought the road was running parallel to the Hudson. The sound must be coming from ships on the river or a ferry.

The bells rang louder as if no longer a distant acknowledgment, but an intense warning sounding an alarm. My horse took several sidesteps, skittish of the unseen clanging. A chill brushed across my shoulders and I turned to look behind me. I saw nothing but heard a low rumble. I soon felt the ground shake and tried to steady my horse. A cloud of dust barreled down the road, revealing a stagecoach pulled by four horses traveling at breakneck speed. The driver held the reins firmly, urging the team to go even faster.

“Look out!” he shouted as the coach sped past me.

I caught a glimpse of the passengers’ profiles silhouetted against the flickering sun’s rays streaming through the trees. My horse bolted, giving chase as the bells continued their warning. I hung on, fighting the dust stinging my eyes, aware of the rising urgency to get to the ferry. Invisible, pounding hooves drew next to me and a cold hand of an unseen rider touched the back of my neck.

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© 2016 Cynthia Collins. All rights reserved.