As John turned, his thumb went for the hammer of the gun as his finger went for the trigger. In his mind he knew if he were in any real danger, a bullet would have already left the gun. Instead, he held a ready-to-fire weapon at a horse. A horse with a saddle. A ready-to-ride horse.
A horse? he thought.
But that’s what it was. It was a horse. It was just standing there with two big eyes staring at John. The horse bowed its head a few times, perhaps a gesture of peace.
John didn’t put his weapon down. Instead he drew the second gun and prepared it for fire. He turned around a few times hoping to catch the tail of whatver left the horse for him. He needed some answers and he figured that the only way in this world was by bullet and fist. Only there wasn’t anyone around. There weren’t footprints in sand other than his own. The weirdest part of it was that there weren’t even footprints from the horse. It was as if it just appeared out of nowhere.
John sighed and put is guns away. He walked up to the horse and pet its nose.
“You look like you could tell me what I’m afraid to learn,” he said with a laugh.
The horse nodded.
“Too bad you can’t talk.”
The horse nodded and then showed its teeth. John put his hands up and stepped back. The horse kept bouncing its head up and down and making noises. John wanted to think that the horse was crazy but he knew there was something it was trying to tell him. The horse then started throwing its head to the right. It kept trying to bite itself.
“Calm down,” John said reaching out to the horse. “Calm down. You’re trying to tell me something?”
The horse nodded and then threw its head to the right. John was worried the horse was going to break its own neck. John began to rub the horses side trying to get it calm down. That’s when he noticed something sticking out of the saddle. The horses eyes were stuck on John and John pointed to the object in the saddle.
“Is this it?” he asked.
The horse nodded.
As soon as John touched it, he knew what it was. Just to be sure he took the card from the horses saddle and turned it around. It was same card he had just burned. The card that he saw going up into flames with his own two eyes.
“How?” he asked staring at the card.
The horse was silent.
John felt a small ping of anger start to brew inside himself. How could it be that the card came back? And with a horse? Did the card bring the horse? Or were there copies of the card and the demons were messing with John?
“Demons,” John whispered.
The horse sneezed.
That’s what it was all about. Demons. They had done everything – they had brought the nothing that John was in. John now had a stronger feeling that the idea of him sleeping on a park bench in a city was a recent reality turning memory. But it was real.
A laugh then began to move in and echo. It was a high pitched laugh, something that first made John think of a leprechaun. He knew better however, he knew it was demon laughing. John didn’t even draw his guns this time because he knew the demon wouldn’t show itself. They rarely did. Their work was done by something like evil magic. But that seemed too nice considering the demons had ended the world. . .
John looked back to the horse. The horses nodded again and the look in its eyes were chilling. John could tell the horse wanted to move. He agreed.
As he mounted the horse, the laughter began again. This time it swept in with wind. The sand started to dance in small funnels across the desert and the laugh increased in volume and intensity. John tightened his legs against the horse’s body telling the animal to stay calm. (Even though in the back of his mind he wondered if being thrown from the horse would give him a good enough jolt so that he’d wake back up on the park bench when the world existed. Or it would just kill him.)
The sand began to pelt John’s face. He closed his eyes. He felt the horse tighten its muscles and then it began to shake its head. John reached forward and placed his hands over the horses eyes and whispered in its ear.
“Stay calm boy, it will pass.”
John pinched his eyes shut so hard his head and the back of his neck were getting sore. The laughter seemed to almost climbing into John’s body. The demon was simply trying to scare him, that’s all. Or at least that’s what John told himself. And the horse.
The laughter seemed to coming in waves, some bigger and stronger than others. It wasn’t like the thing with the sand that had happened earlier – this wasn’t letting up. And the power of the laughter was so great that John couldn’t think straight. He wasn’t sure if he should draw and shoot. (At what?) Or maybe just start riding – fast. (But where?)
Just as John was about to scream, the horse beat him to it. The horse threw its head back and started to neigh. It jumped up and kicked its legs, throwing John off its back and to the sand. John just sat in the sand and watch as the horse batted its head and neighed and kicked.
Could it see something I can’t? John thought.
Then the laughing stopped. It didn’t echo away – the last wave did fade into the tan horizon – it just stopped.
The horse turned its head at John. The horses nodded and John took it as a sorry for throwing him.
“It’s okay boy,” John said, “I’ll take some sand to the ass to get rid of that sound.”
John rubbed the horses nose and smiled.
“Boy, you’re a mystery, you know that? Hey, that’s a good name for you. Mystery.”
The horse nodded.
“Well Mystery, my name is John. But I have an idea you probably already know that.”
John climbed back on the horse. As Mystery started to trot, John could feel the card in his breast pocket rubbing on his chest.
A few minutes into their journey, John saw something. It was something in the sand. The first object he’d seen. Mystery saw it too and slowed down. John was hoping for good news but instead there was a hand sticking out of the ground.