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The Lost Herd

The Lost Herd

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Published by darkdel
Story by Bram Stoker Award winning editor (of the Dark Delicacies anthologies)and author Del Howison. It was bought , title changed to "Sacrifice", and turned into the premiere episode of the horror television series "Fear Itself." Another story can be found in the anthology "Midnight Walk".
Story by Bram Stoker Award winning editor (of the Dark Delicacies anthologies)and author Del Howison. It was bought , title changed to "Sacrifice", and turned into the premiere episode of the horror television series "Fear Itself." Another story can be found in the anthology "Midnight Walk".

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Published by: darkdel on Sep 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/23/2012

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The Lost Herd
By Del HowisonThe rain moved like sheets across the open spaces of the landscape, flowing withthe wind, like waves across a beach. It allowed the men to look up between breakers tosee where they were riding, had they only known exactly where they were in the first place. The brims of their hats acted like gutters, funneling the rain to shoot off in mini-falls and splash against the bodies of the horses they rode. The beasts themselves plodded, heads down, sightless in the downpour, but not wanting to stop for fear of drowning while standing up. Shelter, any shelter, against the weather would be awelcome sight.They had picked up the herd of cows three days south of the normal trail, but hadnever made it back to familiar surroundings. Then the men had lost the herd when, stupidand panic-stricken from flashes of lightening, the cows had run into the darkness, mooingand screaming. The men had tried to keep them calm, lest they lose a season’s livelihood, but to no avail. The terrain was unfamiliar to them. Now they were lost, looking for somewhere to stop to save the rain from beating them into mush.On each side, the rocks jutted and rose in angular slabs, and the muddy trail theyrode seemed to be the only way between them. For all they knew, it could all end in a boxed canyon or a cliff’s edge in the darkness. The point rider moved carefully betweenthe jagged stones. As point man he was known for having cat’s eyes, but even thoseserved him little in the rain. Water gushed through the opening as they worked their wayup the incline, almost forcing them to turn and swim back down the river of mud and
 
tumbling stone they were maneuvering. Gray light told them they had been riding allnight and morning was arriving, with no relief in sight from the relentless downpour. Nobody spoke, despite the fact that the thunder had ceased some time ago. The downpour splashing against the rocks, combined with the rushing of the water through the cut, wastoo loud for conversation, and they were too sullen for talk. There was nothing to say thateach of them wasn’t thinking anyway.As the point man reached the top of the climb, the rocks seemed to open up on a plateau where all five of the riders could gather side by side. The point man turned to the big man riding just behind him and pointed into the distance. There, through the weak light of the new day, were the dark shadowy shapes of what appeared to be buildings. Theother three pulled up alongside of their leader.“Could just be some more rock sides. Hard to tell from here,” said the big manwho’d been riding second.“Hope not.” Point man turned and looked at one of the other riders. “Joplin isgetting pretty weak. We might have lost him if he hadn’t been tied to his horse.”“Only one way to find out,” returned the big man. “I just hope we’re not ridingout of Hell and into Hades.”He gave his mount a quick nudge with his heels and a cluck, riding ahead in thedirection of the shapes. The point man followed, and the other three, with nothing to loseat this juncture, followed suit. Joplin was slumped forward more than the others. Holdingtight onto his saddle horn he tried to make the awkward ride as pain free as possible. Asthey picked their way down the slope, the rain began to lighten up, along with their mood. Rounding a boulder, the trail dropped into some trees, and the buildings2
 
disappeared into the misty forest in the distance. Bushes and foliage indicated the steepdrop in elevation they were taking on the trail. Even the smells changed with the greenerysurrounding them on all sides, giving the feel of a living cave as the forest’s throatswallowed them.The rain, though it was lessening, seemed harder dripping from the leaves and branches. But it was uneven, sporadic in its fall, splashing off of the horses and men and,at times, seeming to move an almost horizontal direction. The darkness of the woodsseemed to close out sound as well as light, like the earth itself was swallowing them deepinto its bowels. The big man pulled up and waited for the others behind him to stop. Hewas peering straight ahead, as if somebody could squint for sound.Point broke the silence.“What is it, Ray?”“Nothing,” he said almost in awe. “Absolutely nothin’.”Point looked ahead and then glanced back at the others. Lemon shrugged hisshoulders. Justin spit and his horse pawed the ground impatiently. He looked back up atPoint.“I’ve stopped for a lot of things in my life, Ray,” said Point. “But I ain’t never stopped for nothin’. I’m telling you it’s gonna be somethin’ if we don’t get moving.”As if on cue, Joplin suddenly slid to one side of his saddle, his rope catching himfrom falling off his mount. He screamed out in pain, and Lemon moved up alongsidehim, helping to straighten him up. Justin grabbed Joplin from the other side, and pulledhim up. Lemon looked to Ray.3

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