Silence consumed the world around me as I trekked through the forest. Lost in thought, I didn’t realize how close I was to the river until I heard the crunch of a bone beneath my boot. I gripped the hilt of my sword, telling myself I could handle whatever trials I had to endure.
The snap of a twig caught my attention.
A stag stood tall and proud on the other side of the river. He looked at me with curious eyes before dipping his head slowly toward the water to drink.
I watched in horror as his flesh fell away, vanishing without a trace, leaving nothing but bones.
The skeletal stag cocked his head, studying me with his empty eye socket. I scrambled backward as he bounded off into the trees.
“Beautiful, is it not?” came a voice to my left. I straightened as a cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows. “In the end, we are all bones in the earth.”
I drew my sword. “Stand back, witch.”
The figure removed its cloak and let it fall to the ground. Before me, there stood a woman dressed all in black. Her deep green eyes met mine, and she grinned, baring teeth like pearls.
My grip on my sword loosened, and I felt myself relax.
“Witch?” she asked, her voice smooth and inviting. “Is that any way to speak to a lady?”
I struggled to breathe as she stepped closer to me. “You are no lady.”
The woman laughed, and the harsh sound echoed around us, causing birds both whole and skeletal to take to the sky. “Demon, dear. Not witch. There’s a difference, you know.”
“Witch. Demon. Whatever you are.” I shook my head, trying to ease the ache in my skull. “You stole something from me, and you will pay for it.”
“I am no thief.” The woman put her hands on her hips. “What did I steal?”
I sneered. “My wife.”
“Right.” The woman tapped her chin. “Did she happen to cross my river recently?”
“She came this way months ago and never returned. I know you had something to do with it.” My shoulders grew heavy, and I slouched forward. “And I will avenge her.”
The woman sauntered in front of me and placed a hand on my cheek. “How about I do one better for you, dear?”
“What…do you mean?” My eyes closed.
The woman’s lips pressed to my ear. “I can help you join her.” She gripped my wrist, and I dropped my sword. “Would you like that?”
The air became thick and damp with mist. I nodded. “Someday, yes.”
“Why not today?”
“Because,” I said, and I opened my eyes. I could just make out dozens of skulls hidden in the grass, victims of the monster before me. “She isn’t completely gone just yet.” I gazed into the woman’s eyes as tears ran down my cheeks. “Forgive me.”
The woman’s eyes turned black as I fell to my knees and snatched up my sword. I let out a cry and buried the blade into her gut.
The woman toppled to the earth. “H-how? I had you under m-my control.”
“No.” I tore my sword from her. “You only thought you did.”
“That’s just a sword.” Blood dripped from the corner of the woman’s mouth.
“A sword soaked in holy water.” I pulled a cross from my pocket. “And this kept my mind clear.”
The woman coughed. Red droplets splattered on the green grass. “I thought you loved her.”
I couldn’t hold back my pain anymore. My lip quivered, and the tears in my eyes blurred my vision. “I do love her. That’s why I couldn’t let her stay in your power.”
Black smoke billowed from the woman’s mouth and disappeared.
The woman clutched her stomach. “Henry?”
“Abigail?” I knelt beside her, wrapping my arms around her. “Is it really you?”
“It’s me, Henry.” Abigail clung to my arm. “It’s me.”
“Oh, Abigail.” I buried my face in her soft hair and sobbed. “My Abigail. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Abigail kissed my hand. “No, Henry. No.” She coughed and sucked in one final breath. “I love you.”
“Abigail?” I pulled away in time to see the life leave her eyes. “Abigail, no! Abigail!” I rocked back and forth, shaking her to wake her up, but she was gone.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, but I eventually gained enough of my senses to know I couldn’t stay.
I carried Abigail home and burned her body, scattering the ashes beneath our favorite tree.
“Rest in peace now, Abigail. I love you.”
A skeletal bird landed on a branch. Anger and sorrow welled up inside me at the sight of it. My work wasn’t done.
My work was never done.