The sun was setting as Hollis traversed his way through the Arizona desert with a pistol at his side, a rifle strapped to his saddle, and enough ammunition to take down the whole Union army. Since as far back as he could remember his father taught him everything he knew about being a hunter and rule one was to be prepared for any and every situation.
Off in the distance, the desert seemed to vanish as it was swallowed by a tidal wave of dust and sand. As he pulled the threadbare bandanna from around his neck up to his face, he spotted a cave nearby in which they could take shelter. Hollis kicked his horse Ghost as they sped closer towards the cave before they were swallowed by the oncoming storm.
The cave grew larger but so had the storm, now it was only a matter of time before Hollis and his steed became lost like so many before them. “C’mon girl, almost there.” He said as he kicked his ebony mount one more time, the dust cloud was right on their tails when they darted in the opening, finding shelter just in the nick of time.
“That was a close one, eh.” He panted “Go ahead and get some rest girl. You’ve earned it” Hollis said as he petted his Ghost’s snout and tied her reins to a large stone that protruded from the cave wall and proceeded to pull his saddle off and tossed it to the ground and his hat on top of it. “We’ll stay here for the night as wait out the storm.” He laid down on the ground next to his gear and propped his head up on the saddle. They both deserved a rest after the day they’ve had and with that he unholstered his pistol and closed his eyes as he drifted off.
The winds continued to scream out in the darkness and the cave was completely sealed off by a wall of dust and sand. Nothing was coming in and nothing was getting out. Towards the back of the cave, some rocks crumbled, startling Ghost, causing her to whinny. Hollis shot up and aimed his pistol at the darkness that lay in front of him. He relaxed his horse as he reached towards his saddlebag withdrawing a match without taking his eyes or his gun off the shadows.
Hollis struck his match on a nearby stone, just barely causing the shadows to retreat as he advanced further into the depths. A loud click echoed throughout the cave as he pulled the hammer back, ready to fire at any sign of danger. He inched further into the darkness, the shadows enclosing around him as the match light dimmed and flickered. The only thing Hollis could hear was the wind outside and the uneasy clopping of Ghost’s hooves against the stone ground. He cursed as the flame made its way down to his fingers and singed their tips. As he dropped the charred matchstick the darkness enveloped him and a gust of wind blew past him, he thought he felt something brush past his arm but almost immediately his horse let out another whinny but this time out of pain rather than fear. At once he fired a shot in the direction of the entrance and rushed his way in that direction as silence filled the cave once more.
When he returned to his makeshift camp, he was met with a quiet sloshing sound. He knelt down into his bag to retrieve another match, already knowing what he was going to find. He struck it on the ground and saw the walls painted with blood. He fell back in shock as he was met with Ghost. She laid motionless on the ground and her breathing was rapid as blood continued to pour from the gashes that covered her legs and body. The crimson pool that surrounded them both grew larger until her breathing stopped and her fearful eyes grew cold as her body went limp.
“I’m sorry girl.” he said quietly as he removed a knife from his boot and stripped his horse of what little meat was salvageable from the attack. He was not entirely certain what could do this, but he did have a few ideas.
Hollis examined Ghost’s wounds and judging by the way her flesh was torn and mauled, whatever had killed her was hungry and would more than likely come for him next and when it does he’ll be ready for it. He loaded his rifle and stared into the flickering coals that were all that remained from his fire. The night grew longer as he waited for the beast that may or may not even be lurking anymore. For all he knew it slipped away into the dust storm outside and went to hunt somewhere else. Maybe it doesn’t particularly care for the taste of human and prefers that of a horse. Truth be told Hollis had no idea what he was dealing with this time and that scared him more than anything.
His eyelids grew heavy as he realized he had gone all day wandering through the hot desert only to stay up all night waiting for his end to come, plus mourning the loss of his companion had proven to be quite draining as well. He had just started to doze off when a bright light pierced his eyelids and the dark cave was suddenly illuminated. The blanket that he kept under Ghost’s saddle had erupted into flames and shadows danced along the cave walls as he attempted to extinguish the inferno before smoke filled his lungs. Was this really how he was going to go out? Decades of hunting only to be done in by a simple burning blanket.
Hollis reached for his canteen when his shadow on the wall had reached back. It grabbed a hold of his wrist, refusing to let go. It’s claws digging into flesh causing blood to run down his hand. He pulled and tugged at his own arm causing the shadow’s grip to grow tighter, deepening its claws. He reached for his knife and sliced at the ebony hand that held his. No good, the blade phased straight through causing a cut to appear on his own wrist. A thunderous laugh echoed throughout the cave as his blood began to pool around him.
Think Hollis, think. It’s a shadow. What is a shadow? A projection of oneself. A hole in space where light should be. What happens if you fill in that hole?
Hollis reached out with his boot trying not to extinguish the burning blanket but to bring it closer to him. It was just barely out of his reach. The air was getting harder and harder to breathe as smoke filled the cave. He had to hurry or this cave would be just as much his tomb as it was for Ghost. He reached again for the blanket, his leg going as far as he could reach. His toes just barely reaching the charred edges. He withdrew his leg, pulling the blanket closer and closer when until the darkness started to dissipate. Its grip tightened as the flame grew closer. He reached down and picked up the blanket being very careful not to engulf himself in the process and pressed it up against the wall, covering the shadow.
“Cover up you son of a bitch,” he grunted as the skin on his hand was torn away by the struggling darkness. The wind outside was howling louder than ever and then silence.
The wind had stopped, and the dust and sand had withdrawn to its natural self as the sun began to rise up over the valley. Hollis tore off a piece of his coat and used it to wrap up his bloodied hand. I’ll be lucky if I don’t lose the damned thing, he thought to himself. He gathered whatever gear he could carry on his back and abandoned the rest. He started for the exit of the cave when he turned back and paid his final respects to Ghost. He was unsure what had attacked him but whatever it was he knew it was only the beginning. This was different from any other hunt he had ever been on. This time it was personal. here…
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