The figure in the middle of the road, in front of the wagon, floats above the ground. The tips of its black smoky skirt are skimming the tall grass. As the wagon approaches, it waits, it waits and when the wagon reaches it, it lunges up and swoops down onto the girl. It opens its hideous mouth and screeches sharply.
The boy driving the wagon crashes the whip down onto the apparition. The other boy, whom she should have chosen, holds the girl tightly.
The ghoul reaches the girl and then with an ominous cackle it sweeps through the girl and takes her soul with it.
Jayden feels the moment she dies. She slumps against his chest and he feels his heart break. How long has he loved her? How long has it really been?
Kieran interrupts his moment of self-pity, by asking—his voice desperate, “Is she okay?”
Jayden shakes his head in denial, as he says, “No. She is dead.” His voice in his own ears sounds callous and uncaring.
“NO!” Kieran yells up into the sky. He pulls at the reins to slow the horse down.
“Keep going, Kieran. We need to get her home quickly before the moon reaches its apex.” Jayden urges impatiently.
Kieran asks sadly, “Do you really want to do this again? Get her body indoors before the moon reaches its highest point in the sky, so we can re-play all of this again?”
Jayden’s eyes tighten briefly while he looks across her dead body at his brother. “To be loved by her, even briefly because she keeps choosing you, I will do it again and again, forever.”
Kieran sighs deeply as they turn a corner in the road sharply and barely miss the trunk of a giant oak tree. Ahead they see the thatch-roofed cottage just off the edge of the road. The white smoke from the fireplace drifts lazily up into the sky. The yellow candlelight glares through the perfectly square windows.
If only they had reached it earlier. If they could have reached the safe haven of her home, the shadows would not have been able to take her once she stepped over the threshold.
If Kieran knew she would be revealing her decision on this moonlit night, he would not have suggested they go so far away from her cottage.
Earlier that afternoon, Kieran and Heather took the horse and cart, then drove out toward the cliffs. They stopped the cart where the road ends and then they climbed up to the top slowly, following the goat trails. They reached the top of the cliff, moments before the sun started to melt into the horizon. This was one of her favourite places. They could spend hours here, sitting quietly next to each other, because she loved to watch the sunset and afterwards she could be very lyrical about the many wonderful colours painted across the sky in broad pastel brush strokes.
Kieran did not expect to find Jayden there, staring out toward the horizon. Jayden looked sad and lonely, and Kieran felt brief sorrow for him.
When Jayden heard them, he turned and smiled up at her. His eyes always focused on her first. His dark, brooding eyes were always imploring her silently to realize how much he loved her.
She dropped down next to him innocently and laughed exuberantly, causing the corners of Jayden’s mouth to lift. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them as her eyes fixed on the setting sun. Jayden followed her gaze.
Kieran sat down next to her. Without looking, she reached for his hand and twined her fingers through his.
Later, after the sunset, Kieran was leaning against a tree trunk and she was standing flirtatiously close to him. He was filled with immediate joy and dread when she proclaimed her choice. The first thought that rushed through his mind though was the distance back to her home. He should have let his morals and principles fly away on the wind. He should have taken her into his arms there and then, and he should have kissed her without the restraints of proper conduct. He should have told her how much he loved her. He should have known they could never outrun the shadows.