DEATH IS A MIDNIGHT STALLION by Benjamin Blake
It was a little after midnight.
Nicholas Strasburg held a slightly-trembling match to his briarwood pipe. He puffed until it was sufficiently lit, shook the matchstick out, and dropped it into the Torquay ashtray upon his heavy oak desk. He scratched his thick white beard with his right hand, and sighed, deep and exhausted.
He was in his upstairs study, a reasonable-size room for what it was, and rather cluttered. Crammed bookshelves lined nearly every inch of wall, breaking only to spare room for mounted animal heads, creatures hunted many years before when Nicholas was a young man in Africa. At times, he found himself missing the warmth of the veldt, more so than ever as he crept further into old age. The New England winters seemed to grow colder every year. Or that was the explanation he half-heartedly told himself. In fact, he was dying. And on a deeper level, he knew that. Accepting it was another matter entirely. After all he had seen and done, commanded and conquered, he always thought that when the time did come, he would laugh in death’s face and turn away, go back to whatever it was that he was doing at that particular moment. But now, he found himself unpleasantly surprised, even mortified—pardon the pun. Of course, this was all theoretical, Death, the old bastard, wouldn’t get him, oh no! Not the great Nicholas Strasburg!
He scratched his thick beard once more, and continued to write by the light of the banker’s lamp, pausing occasionally to take a sip from his whiskey glass. Only the finest Scotch for Nicholas Strasburg! This particular blend, a 20-year-old single malt from the Highlands. Of course, he wouldn’t shake his head at a 20-year-old of another variety… He had bedded many women in his time. Caressed maiden-flesh in every continent. He was proud of that. He could show these modern-age Casanovas a thing or two. Maybe he wasn’t terribly pleasing on the eye these days, but how many men could say that they had done the Himalayan Mountain Hop with a Kashmiri virgin? Several, in fact. Simultaneously. He smiled in remembrance, and took another sip of whiskey. He puffed on his pipe, and immediately was thrown into a fit of coughing. He retrieved a silk handkerchief from the inner pocket of his dark red robe, and covered his mouth until the wet hacking subsided. When he lowered his hand, there was a blood spot the size of a silver dollar. He refolded the handkerchief, and placed it back inside his robe pocket. He continued to write.
Sometime later, the telephone rang. He reached across the desk and lifted the cradle.
“Hello, Nicholas Strasburg speaking. Whom may I ask is calling at this ungodly hour?”
The person on the other end didn’t reply. Though, ever-so-faint, so faint that at first, he didn’t realize he was hearing it, there were voices on the other end. It sounded like an old radio play.
“Hello?! Is anybody there! This is Nicholas Strasburg speaking!’
The background sounds seemed to grow louder. Now he could make out distinct voices and even a stray name or place. Mary Kippering. Wales. Didn’t he once know a certain young lady by that name? His brow furrowed, and he reached for his whiskey glass. The stones rattled as he picked it up.
‘Who is this? I am beginning to lose patience.’
Somewhere, sometime, a woman laughed, short and merry staccato bursts.
Nicholas Strasburg slammed the receiver down.
This was very strange. Very strange indeed. He wasn’t one to believe in hoodoo charms and the evil eye. Such superstition was the by-product of native ignorance. The need of less-civilized people and races to explain what they could not with science, because they did not know that such a thing even existed. Though, something about the telephone call had left him on edge. He poured another scotch, and sighed.
“And somewhere Darwin turns in his grave.”
The clock struck 3 a.m.
It’s tolling a lonely sound in the thick of night.
Nicholas Strasburg reached blindly through the pall of pipe-smoke to where he thought his whiskey glass sat. He was rather intoxicated.
“In certain folklore 3 a.m.—ante meridian, is known as the witching hour.” He laughed to himself, rocking back in his chair. His laughter was cut short by a sound outside. He cocked his head, squinted. “That sounds like…”
The sound grew louder.
“Yes! It is! I’m certain! The thundering of hooves!”
He came near to falling out of his chair when he went to rise.
The sound grew closer. It seemed like it was right outside of his house now.
He stumbled over to his curtained window, and wrenched the drapes open.
The whiskey glass fell from his hand. It broke on impact. The stones rattled and rolled across the hardwood floor and settled on the Egyptian rug.
A black stallion stood in his front yard. It stood afore the old crumbling birdbath, in the shadow of a moon which glowed behind the branches of a gnarled elm. It was an extremely large horse, its muscles rippled beneath its skin as it walked out from beneath the tree. Its eyes were burning coals.
The breath caught in Nicholas Strasburg’s throat. A wind swept into the yard from a previously still night. Dead leaves swirled around the creature’s hooves as it neared.
He gripped onto the curtain to try and keep his balance.
His eyes widened as no breath came.
The creature’s eyes burned brighter.
Choked strangulated sounds came from his mouth. Blood flecked the window pane.
The midnight stallion reared up on hind legs, throwing its head to the sky and neighing.
Nicholas Strasburg clutched the curtain tighter, his fingernails digging right in to the fabric. His eyes bulged further out, his face swiftly turning the purple of an overripe plum. His lung burned as if the creature’s eyes were inside of them. Blood dribbled from his chin, and his legs gave out. He collapsed to the floor, with hand still clutching the curtain.
Slowly, his hand unfurled itself. Nicholas Strasburg slumped on the hardwood floor in a pile.
The sound of hooves faded into the distance.
The telephone upon the desk began to ring.