The Painting of The White Horse, story by Patrick McAteer at Spillwords.com

The Painting of The White Horse

The Painting of The White Horse

written by: Patrick McAteer

 

The night crept up on the evening like the stealth of a lion closing in on its prey. It had no chance of escape. The man also felt that as if he was in a similar predicament as he walked through the receding light. Children with costumes passed him by. He, however, did not really notice them. The leaves were wet and clung to the pavement. Similarly dark thoughts clung to the repositories of his mind. Pumpkins saluted him with their sinister smiles as he walked past houses. A group of children stopped in front of him. ‘Trick or treat!’, they cried. He barely acknowledged them and gave them a wide berth. The children were angry but the youngest of them who bore a witches mask told them that she thought the man looked very sad and that it was not right to be rude to such folk. The group skipped their way onwards.
It was not long before the man had reached the outskirts of the town. Now there was just darkness, only broken by the passing of vehicles. He continued to pierce into the night, even though his long trench coat was dark and offered him little chance of being seen. His hands were buried deep in his pockets and he pressed a small cross tightly in the palm of his right hand. He now felt relief to be out of the town but the car headlights were blinding and he needed to stop walking upon their approach. In many cases, cars would suddenly have to slow down when their lights had finally illuminated the dark figure. Others just continued at normal speed, often narrowly missing him.
There was a stormy sky above and the moon struggled to make her appearance with so many clouds vying for stage time. The wind seemed to be increasing in strength and he needed to bend forward whilst holding onto his peaky cap.
Then a large lorry appeared in the distance. It had several headlights all of which were beaming brightly in his direction. The sheer size of this vehicle made him stand in to one side. The vehicle was travelling at speed and was quickly getting nearer. It failed to slow down and as it passed, the tailwind upended him and left him unceremoniously lying in the ditch. There was a loud drone of a horn as the driver realised what had happened. For an instant the man was somehow knocked out of his state of despair. He collected his thoughts and lifted himself up. He felt with his hand that his coat was soiled and he was missing his cap. After tapping around, he managed to retrieve it from the muddy ground. He brushed it off and placed it back on his head. At that point he thought he should turn back but then the sentry with the big sword arose in his mind, blocking his way and so he continued onward.
He managed to escape being hit again at a dangerous bend in the road. The place was already known as a hazardous spot but now it was not far to where he was heading. This place was in fact a desolate house with broken windows and roof. It had one day in its prime, been a manor. He had seen it so many times in passing from the comfort of a car but had never thought he would end up here. He made his way up the garden path which was overgrown and uneven. The old wooden door did not budge and so with a great deal of strain he began to kick it. It opened with a start. It seemed to have been wrenched out of its hundred year old sleep, creaking loudly in the process. The hall inside was small but for the missing roof it was like entering a tomb.
He stood for a moment in the hall. Then he unbuttoned his coat and unravelled the rope which he had wrapped around his waist. He made his way gingerly up the broken stairs, leaning against the wall as he went as the banisters were missing. It groaned pitifully under his weight. He knew to continue upwards he ran the risk of the entire stairs collapsing and so he stopped at the fifth step, looked up, studied the rafters and threw the rope up. It fell back having missed its target. He grabbed it and tried again. This time he was successful. The rope then hung from one of the beams. He brought the two ends together and made a knot. He then pulled the rope downwards until the knot had worked its way up to the beam. Now he had too much slack and so he took out his Swiss army knife and cut it in two, so that the rope was just above the height of the third step. He quickly made a slipknot and placed it around his neck.
His mind was buried in deep thought before he could step off the step precipice. He already felt numb to the world around him but a primeval instinct for self preservation had risen from deep within. Suddenly there was a flash of lightening. The whole interior was filled with blue light and for an instant he could see a painting on the wall facing him. It was old and faded but contained an image of a young man on a white horse. A moment of silence followed and then a deafening crashing sound which rattled the building to its core. He quickly removed the noose. Rain was at this point pelting down from above. He turned and made his way to the bottom of the stairs, feeling his way as he went. He stood in the hallway facing the wall with the painting. Then there was another flash and this time he recognised the figure in the painting. It looked so similar to himself. Yes, it must be him! The heavens roared as if to confirm and he became aware that the sound of the rain beating on the wooden stairs was like a horse galloping swiftly down a path in his direction. A big drop hit his cheek. The past had finally caught up with him.
Streams of water were now running down the wooden stairs and tears made their way down his face. He made his way out the open door. Now he was in the only dry area and he stood facing the night in the entrance. He felt relieved to be out of the house but he was now aware of fatigue. He sank down to the ground of the porch. His face was pale as he grappled to deal with what he had just seen. There he sat mesmerized, staring straight ahead, his hands in his pockets and the cross held tightly.
Then as suddenly as the storm started, it finished. The moon lit up the earth and everything seemed to be in a state of suspension.
An occasional car passed but after a while, it seemed, there were a lot of cars on the road. As a result there was a backlog with cars having slowed down in order to navigate the bend ahead. One young man in a white van was sitting in this jam. He turned his head to view the ruin and his eyes fell on the man seated in the doorway. For a moment he was spellbound. Their eyes met on this Halloween night and it seemed as if lightening once more had struck. His pillion passenger advised him to continue as the road ahead was clear. With cars waiting behind, the van moved on. The man lifted himself to his feet. He looked at his watch. It was flashing the number 00:00. The noose continued to hang in the ruin like the point of a rather large question mark. He began to make his way back to the town but now there was a spring in his stride as the new moon illuminated his way. Somewhere a van driver grappled to understand what he had just witnessed, while a church bell rang in the midnight hour and at the same time the image on the painting looked out at the receding figure.

Patrick McAteer

Patrick McAteer

Single parent from Birr, Co. Offaly living in Germany for the past ten years. My son is thirteen years old. I was married for seven years in Turkey before this unceremoniously ended in 2009. I studied German and Geography in Ireland and later did an MSc in England. I have a CV which is so long that it is like the sleeves of that jumper I once put on a hot wash setting in a washing machine in a shelter for Irish youth in London. Thankfully it was not my jumper but someone got shouted at! Suffice to say I have been teaching English for most of the last ten years but one of my former jobs was clearing leaves from drainpipes for schools in South West London.
Patrick McAteer

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