They weren’t kidding when they named this place Moody Bog. There were lots of them. When the bog or bogan revealed itself beyond the thick trees, I saw something white in the distance. My heart stuttered, and fumbling with the crossbow, I got it into a position where I could aim. It had armed itself. Now my heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest.
I snuck a peek at the thing through the brambles…and saw it was only a horse. And the poor thing was stuck in the mud.
I lowered the crossbow but kept it ready, just in case whatever it was attacked the small, stocky pony.
I escaped the foliage and cooed toward the creature. “Hey, boy. Are you okay? We’ll get you out of this. Hey, Erasmus!”
Now where was he? Summon him, my ass. He was never around when I called him, despite what he said. Yup, Seraphina was right. Demons lie.
I approached the horse cautiously. After all, I was no horse person. The closest I ever got was those pony rides when I was a kid. I reached my hand out as if offering him something. Did I have anything to give? I plunged my hand into my pocket and found a butterscotch hard candy. I unwrapped it, stuffed the leftover cellophane back into my pocket, and held the candy in the palm of my hand. I seemed to remember that you should keep your palm flat so that their big teeth couldn’t nip at the soft skin of your cupped hand. I shuffled forward, one hand stretched out and the other holding a crossbow and awkwardly aiming it into the surrounding woods.
The horse nickered, lowering its head. It shuffled and splashed in the water. He’d obviously gotten loose from a barn or fenced field. He had no bridle. I could grab his mane to lead him around. Would a horse let you do that? I couldn’t leave it here. It might fall in and drown.
“Hey, boy.” I got closer. His mane was already soaked. He had probably struggled a long time in that bog trying to get out. “Poor thing.” I was close enough to almost give him the treat when he raised his head, looking interested, wide nostrils flaring and sniffing.
“Kylie! Stop at once and carefully step away.”
I looked back. Erasmus stood at some distance at the edge of the wood, like a shadow.
“It’s only a pony. He needs help. Something out here might be hunting it. My crossbow is armed.”
“What? No! Are you crazy? This poor horse needs help. He’s stuck in the mud.”
“Kylie…listen very carefully. Listen to the sound of my voice. Step away from the beast.”
“Erasmus, he’s a poor dumb creature… Much like you,” I muttered the last. I lowered the crossbow and turned back toward the pony.
My jaw dropped. It was not a pony. Its mouth had opened to unnatural proportion. Instead of flat square teeth, there was a mouth full of jagged canines. Its gentle eyes had morphed to red, glowing lava, and it reared up and issued an unholy shriek. I startled back and fell.
I heard the words distantly, but I couldn’t move. Instead of drawing the crossbow up to my shoulder and firing, I couldn’t look away from the transformed pony or the water that churned under its feet.
I felt myself rise, felt my feet walk closer to that mesmerizing water—water was cool and tranquil and offered a quiet, quiet peace, didn’t it?
A sound, almost something in the back of my mind, was chanting something like shoot it! shoot it! but it was nothing like the water, the peaceful deep water. I dropped the heavy thing from my right hand and stretched out my arm. All I needed to do was touch that snowy hide, that wet mane. I just needed to touch it…
A dark shape swooped and knocked me down, and then rose up, crying out in a howl before the pony. The pony screamed again and dove into the bog. I didn’t think the bog was deep enough but it disappeared under the churning waves, until all was still again. There were no howls and shrieks. Only the sound of dripping water, popping bubbles, and the quiet plop of a frog jumping into the pond.
It was like a mist had risen off my eyesight and brain. I had felt a little foggy, a little out of it. And then my senses returned with full force. I gasped and covered my mouth at what I had almost done, what had almost happened to me.
Erasmus’s arms suddenly surrounded me and I fell against him, sobbing. He held me tightly, brushing my hair away from my face. Soft murmurings of reassurance rumbled deep in his chest, and I melted into him, wiping at my cheek. Finally, with great effort, I pushed away and used my coat sleeve to clean the rest of my tears. I picked up the discarded crossbow. It had disarmed itself.
“W-what was that?” I rasped, still unable to catch my breath.
“A kelpie. A water demon taking on the appearance of a horse to lure his victims to a watery death. Had you touched him, you would have been stuck fast and unable to escape. You would have drowned, and there would have been nothing I could have done.”
“Oh my God. Do you suppose that’s what happened to those women?”
“In all likelihood. Young women are particularly attracted to the charms of the kelpie. There is a…visceral connection between women and horses anyway and the kelpie’s powers accentuate that.”
“It was the water, too. I was attracted to the water.” I let my mind remember the sensations. I had wanted nothing more than to let that water enclose me, take me down. I shivered.
“Yes. The doom is complete and inescapable. You will have to fight its call with all of your strength.”
“I didn’t know before. Now I do. I thought it was just a lost pony.”
“Yes, now you know better, but it won’t make it any easier.”
“And you saved me.”
“Yes, the dreadful demon saved your life.”
“You’re not as dreadful as you’d like people to think.”
He stared at me for a full minute before he turned away in a swirl of dark leather. “Don’t make it into more than it is.”