The horses are restless today. Even old Bronwen, who has never been barnshy in her life, nearly drags Marie off her feet as she tries to lead her in for the night. The other horses, already in their stalls, snort and prance. She tries to play it off as hot blood, an approaching storm, but she knows that almost every horse in that barn is nearly bomb proof. It puts her on edge, but she tries to ignore it as she finishes her chores.
But Marie can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched, and the horses are prancy and hot as she tries to groom them. Each time she steps out of a stall into the isle, her attention is drawn to the gaping mouth of the barn doors. Twilight darkens to dusk, and the barn’s motion lights never go off, so she can’t be sure why she keeps expecting to see something there.
Her concern, almost suddenly, turns into something like actual fear. She continues to feel that nagging feeling that something is watching her from the door way, and tries to keep her hold on the brush as she grooms her own horse, Broggan. Her hands are trembling, and the horses all around her whicker and snort, not even touching their hay nets.
Broggan stamps his back hoof repeatedly, the sound of metal on cement ringing back in a hollow echo. She ducks under the cross ties to move around him.
Marie drops her bucket with a clatter and nearly screams, Broggan whinnies above her and tries to back up with a clatter of hooves. There is a general stamping and prancing in the barn as Marie’s heart rate drops back below the speed of light.
Why didn’t the motion lights turn on? Is her first question as she turns to the mouth of the barn. There’s a boy standing there, just on the edges of the semi-circle of light spilling outside, somewhere in those years where age is hard to pick out. If she had to hazard a guess, it would be twelve or fourteen.
Marie would say that there was nothing remarkable about him, but there is. There is something painfully wrong about him, and she doesn’t know what it is, but an awful feeling of terror washes over her. She has never been this afraid, no trip from saddle to ground, no wild cat scream in the dark or yowling pack of coyotes has instilled in her this sort of mind numbing terror.
She felt as she imagined and animal felt facing down a predator that spelled certain death. Even as she shook in her boots, she tried to think logically. She was older than this boy by at least five years, she had height and size on him and Broggan at her back. Why was she so afraid of this thin, lanky preteen boy.
“Would you let me in?”
Something about this seems off to Marie. He doesn’t talk like most kids his age do, and the door is wide open. She doesn’t know why he didn’t just walk in and walk right up to her. Just thinking about that makes her hair stand on end, though, and she’s glad that he didn’t. And besides that, he doesn’t seem like a kid talking to an adult stranger. He stands very still and looks right at her, his voice straight forward and measured.
Apparently, she stays quiet for too long.
“Come on, lady, it’s cold out. I said can I come in?”
Broggan snorts and throws up his head and walks sideways as he tries to get away from the cross-ties Marie has him in. The rest of the horses are at the very back of their stalls, stamping and snorting. One mare, Marie thinks it’s Bronwen, whinnies in fear.
“No! No,” Marie says, jumping on the first excuse she sees, “Better not, The horses are restless and I don’t want anyone to get hurt. You… You stay out there.”
Oh God, she thinks, trying wildly to remember if there is anyone left out on this part of the farm but her. Please, Please don’t let me be alone out here. She looks back at Broggan for just a second, and when she looks back, he’s moved forward.
He isn’t in the barn, but he’s closer to the door, in the middle of the semi-circle ring of light the isle lamps cast out onto the gravel.
“It’ll be fine, Lady, just let me in. You have to let me in!”
Something about that makes Marie’s heart race, it’s hard to breath she’s so frightened. She makes the mistake of looking at his face, and she almost screams again before fear swallows it. His eyes are completely black, there is no white sclera to speak of.
She reminds herself that black out contacts exist, but last Halloween Jett got himself a pair and they made his eyes look awkward and wide. This kids, other than being the color of pitch, look entirely normal.
And besides, that doesn’t explain the crushing fear he causes her, The predatory, stalking air. But the longer she keeps eye contact with him, the longer she is tempted to beckon him in. She feels her hand lift, perhaps to wave him in, but behind her, Broggan rears in the nick of time and the clatter of his shod hooves on the cement jerk her out of it.
She steps back until she bumps into Broggan’s broad chest. It’s heaving rapidly, and she takes an odd sense of comfort in the fact that the half-ton animal is as afraid as she is of a boy.
But the boy is even more irritated now, and his pleas get more intense.
“Let me in!” Something about the way he speaks is off, Marie thinks again, “You have to LET ME IN!” She realizes that she starts hearing the words an eye-blink before his mouth moves and her terror increases.
Her mouth trembles and her eyes well up with tears. She can’t leave the barn, but she doesn’t want to stay here with him there either. She doesn’t know what to do, and the crushing sense of fear drives her to tears.
“I’M TELLING YOU, LADY, LET ME IN. YOU HAVE TO LET ME IN.”
His mouth is too wide, almost like it’s stretching in his anger, and it’s very, very black inside. Why aren’t the motion lights on? Why didn’t they move when he did, why don’t they move now as he stomps his feet?
The horses are whinnying and going mad in the stalls, and Broggan actually screams like a stallion and kicks out his back feet. Despite his fear, he manages not to trample his rider so near to his front hooves.
“LET ME IN YOU HAVE TO LET ME-“
The motion lights at the back of the barn thump on, casting clear white light over the paddock at the back, and filling the supply room as the door to it opens. Marie really does scream this time, and burst into tears. She is sure another one of whatever this boy is has gotten in the back way.
The boy has ceased his yelling, and Marie whirls on her heels. But it’s only Jett, her fellow stable hand, and she makes a half-terrified half-relieved yelping noise as she ducks Broggan’s cross-ties and runs recklessly past his back legs to get to him.
Jett catches her and keeps asking her what’s wrong, and why she’s crying, but all Marie can do is stammer and point uselessly at the barn door, but Jett keeps telling her there’s no one there. When she finally gets the courage to look, Jett is right. The motion lights are off, and the ring of light is empty.
“I… thought when I first came in I might have seen some kid in a hoodie, but I guess I imagined it.”
“NO! No he was there! Didn’t you hear him screaming at me!? screaming to let him in!?”
“Marie, whoa. No I didn’t hear anything, what are you talking about?”
But Marie can’t take it anymore and breaks down into inconsolable tears. She practically clings to Jett as he fights Broggan into his stall and checks the barn for anyone. There’s no one around, and though the horses seem uneasy, they begin to whicker to each other in a way that Marie and Jett find comforting. Some great danger has passed.
Even Jett is on edge, as whatever Marie saw obviously shook her up. She can’t be faking this. She refuses to drive home alone, and so he loads her up in his truck and takes her himself. As his headlights fall on the barn door and Marie is sniffling and stammering that she doesn’t want to be at the barn alone at night anymore, he thinks that maybe he sees the print of sneakers there, when he and Marie and all the riders wear boots, but he can’t be sure.