Many had heard the legend of the Dullahan. Sleepy Hollow had their Headless Horseman, but it was the Dullahan, An Fear Gan Ceann, that was the true rider that held his head under his arm.
The legend of the Dullahan is soaked in violent and bloody tales. None escape him forever.
It had been a long day. Too long for Mark anyway. He worked at a chipper in the middle of goddamned nowhere, and nothing had happened all day, leaving him to stare absent-mindly through the shop window at the tiny street of his hometown. His reflection had stared back at him, through the faintness of the shop window. A raven-haired young man, not handsome, but not ugly. He held the gaze of that young man for the entire day.
When the chipper had closed, the first thing he'd done was close up, take his coat, and walk as fast as possible. He wanted to get home before the daylight disappeared.
Walking out of the town, he pulled up his jacket to his face, covering his nose. It was deep into the winter, and the ground was littered with frost and ice. He shivered. Nothing like a good Irish Winter to kill you.
The roads got narrower and narrower as he switched from one to another, taking the quickest route home. He lived at least a mile away, and the thought of walking through the dark unnerved him for some reason.
Taking out his ancient, battered little Nokia, he read the time. It was only 4 o'clock. And it was already dark. He cursed softly under his breath, stuffing the phone back into the big jacket he wore.
He continued walking for a while, as the air grew steadily and steadily colder, and the night became quieter, as the woodland residents retreated to the warmth and safety of their dens. He envied them.
The trees loomed over him, dark and imposing. Like they were watching him. Judging him. He hated that.
His father, in his late 40's, had a strange addiction to chopping wood with the axe. Mark had never understood it, and had stayed in his room whenever his father went out, wincing at each snap and clunk of broken wood hitting the ground.
Yet, because of this addiction, Mark, his sister Fia and his parents had never been cold, as their massive fireplace needed a constant supply of lumber, which Mark's father was always happy to provide. They probably had the fire going up now. His mother would be making the dinner, Fia would be curled up on the couch with her book and his father would be sitting in his armchair, watching the match. Ireland were on a rise for once, and his father wasn't missing it one bit.
Mark realised that there was literally no sound left around him. No grasshoppers making music, Owls hooting to each other or even the distant barks of the sheep-dogs. Eerily quiet. Something wasn't right. His eyes, accustomed to the dark, darted left and right. He could hear his heart beating, and his breath came out as fog. It's nothing, he thought to himself.
He continued walking, unnerved and getting even more so by the minute. It wasn't right. How long had he been walking for? Ten minutes? An hour? He couldn't tell. He had never wanted to be at home as much as he did now.
Shaking the cold from his legs, he started to jog. Then, a whinny sounded out and his blood froze. He knew it was behind him, yet he couldn't bring himself to turn to face it. The clip-clop increased in volume as it got nearer.
It's only a horse, he thought desperately to himself. Reassuring himself with this knowledge, he turned slowly around, and that was when all the breath left his body.
It was indeed a horse. A stallion, to be more exact. Except, it wasn't alive. Yet there it stood. It's muscled body had multiple wounds everywhere, and bone and muscle was visible in most of them. The blood that dripped from it's body sizzled and hissed as they hit the cold ground. A skull hung from it's saddle, with candles in both eyes, grinning malevolently at him. Looking closer at the saddle, one would notice that it was made of human skin. Mark, however, did not have eyes for just the horse.
The rider. The rider without a head.
The horse grunted to itself, uninterested in Mark, yet the figure seemed to stare into Mark's soul, even though it had no eyes. The rider was wrapped in a large cloak. Something bulged near where his arm was.
Something laughed. A throaty, rasping laugh. Mark, mesmerised by the horrific sight before him, didn't even notice, until the rider reached for his cloak, and with a fluid movement, threw it back over his shoulders. He was dressed in ancient looking leather clothes, and splatters of blood covered them. Yet that wasn't even the bad part. What lay in the crook of his arm, was much, much worse.
A head. And it was alive. Small, shining little black eyes stared evilly at him, and a mouth that went from ear to ear grinned at him. It's head was so badly scarred and cut, bleeding in god-knows how many places. It's nose was missing. Blood slowly leaked from it's mouth, staining it's teeth and the saddle of it's mount. The skin was so pale, and looked akin to that of a mouldy cheese. Ragged, and aged. The head opened it's maw, wide, and laughed. The same laugh as he had heard before.
It was a ghastly sound, rasping and choked. When it stopped, it spoke. "Tar liom a páiste,", it said, malice lacing it's voice. Mark recognized the ancient tongue his grandparents had always spoken. The head grinned again, and the rider advanced. Clip-clop went the horse's hooves. Getting closer. And closer.
Mark, shaken out of his trance by the head, turned around ran. His heart thudded in his chest as he sprinted down the road. He heard the deep neighing of the horse and the thundering sounds of it's hooves against the ground.
Mark ran, gasping in despair. The back of his neck was hot, like something was blowing on it. He didn't have to look to know it was the horse. As he rounded a bend, he saw the lights of his house. And the sound of the river. What was it that the ancient legend of the Headless Horseman had said? That he couldn't cross running water? It was this thought that sent him running towards the river. There was a bloodcurdling scream from behind him, and the thundering increased tenfold.
He was so close. He could smell the river-weeds that grew all the way upriver, and it spurned him on. He was going to make it-until a massive blow hit him in the back, and he tripped forward and landed heavily, driving the wind from him.
Looking up, he crawled towards the river, trying against all hope, to reach the safety that was so close. A massive clump came from behind him, and footsteps, loud and brisk, could be heard, as the rider walked his way towards him. Mark glanced back once. The rider's cape, blood red, billowed behind him. Mark felt his face go wet, and realised he was crying. He turned around, and froze.
The rider, deadly quiet, stood above him. A large whip was in his hand, and with horror, Mark realised it was a human spine with a head attached to it. The head lay hooked to the saddle, grinning still, the blood now covering the lower part of his face, and dripping down the horse's flank. The horse itself was staring after it's master, whinnying softly to itself. It's eyes glowed a bright yellow.
The rider put out his hand, and reached for Mark, who sobbed and tried to back away. Putting his foot up, he tried to kick the rider, who stopped it like an adult would stop a baby's kick. For Mark, it was like kicking a brick wall. The rider's grip was like iron, as it held Mark's leg in his hands. Mark shook his head slowly, trying to convince himself it was a dream.
That hope came crashing down when the rider snapped his leg like a twig.
Mark lay there stunned, until the pain hit and he howled in agony. He was going to die. He knew it. He would never see his family again. All was lost.
He was so focused on his despair, that he didn't hear the screech of tyres, didn't see the flash of light, and the sudden emptiness as the rider disappeared from in front of him in a flash of light, colour and burning rubber. He didn't remember how long he lay there for, yet he remembered the grasp of two pairs of hands, pulling him and lifting him. The sudden feeling of cold and wetness as he was pulled through water. A soft female voice talked to him. Not Fia, nor his mother.
"Hush, childeen, yer safe now," it said soothingly. Childeen. That word. His grandmother's pet name for him. With that thought, he groaned, and his vision blacked out.
You will not escape me yet, young one.
Ní déitigh me dul ina chodladh.
Ní curfidh mé stad le mó cuid iarriachtaí.
Tógfaidh mé do Ceann, nó tógfaidh mé do croí.
Light. Light blared in his vision. Mark sat up, and screamed. Hands quickly went to his chest, and pushed him down. He fought against them, but another pair of hands grabbed him holding down. He tried to bite them, but then, he felt a presence in front of him, and a pair of lips on his own. They were soft, and he stopped, confused, until they left him, and he lay there.
The hands let go of him, and he shook his head, clearing his vision.
He was in his room. His small, shitty little room. And his shitty bed. Yet he had never felt safer. Looking around, he saw his grandmother, Fia, and another girl. He didn't know her until she leaned towards him. She had long blond hair, and green eyes. Green eyes he never thought he'd see again.
Riona. His girlfriend. He felt so guilty for not recognizing her, but she lay an arm on his, and smiled at him. He clutched her hand, and she sat back down beside him.
"What...,' he managed at last, before his grandmother, tiny but powerful looking for her age, shushed him. "Yev been through a lot, a stór, ye'd best just rest,' she said, putting her hand on his forehead.
"Nan...what...what was that,' Mark stuttered weakly. Riona's hand squeezed his.
A dark look crossed his grandmother's wizened face, and she spoke softly.
"That, childeen, was somethin' ancient, somethin' evil,' she said, before taking out some knitting needles and some yarn.
"But...why? Why did it come after me....?", Mark asked, before coughing in pain, as the feeling of his twisted leg came back. He gasped and lay back as waves of pain went through him. Riona was the only relief he got from the pain. He squeezed her hand, and she stroked his hair, muttering softly into his ear. Again, he saw the headless rider grasping him, and the unbelievable pain as it broke his leg, like it was nothing. That thought sent fresh waves of pain down his leg and he groaned, and Riona's grip tightened on his.
When the pain lessened somewhat, he coughed again, before looking around. His grandmother was sitting down in an ancient, battered armchair, which had obviously been brought up from downstairs. Riona sat beside him on the bed, and Fia sat on a wooden chair, rocking back and forth, with her knees underneath her chin. She had the same hair as he did, but had her mother's city looks. She was staring at the ground, frozen in what could only be described as disbelief.
"How did you get me away?",' Mark asked in a stronger voice. Even the slightest movement caused him pain, yet he did his best to ignore it.
His grandmother chuckled at that, before motioning for Fia to join her. Fia got up and walked over, sitting on the armrest, and Nan gave her a small hug. Fia had a small smile on her face, yet it still showed that she was confused at what had happened.
"Yer clever little deirfíur hit tha' cursted síscéal with her car,' she said, laughing small bit. She motioned her palm, then hit it with a fist, as if to emphasize the point.
"Put 'im two miles into the caoilse with his idiot hearse runnin' after 'im,' she continued, and laughed again. Mark smiled, until another arc of pain made him wince.
She continued knitting, and Riona continued stroking his hands. Fia sniffled quietly to herself, before getting off the chair, giving Mark a quick kiss on the cheek and running downstairs.
Mark stared after her. She had saved him. His little baby sister had saved him. He had never been a great brother to her, yet she had been more than great to him. He swallowed and lay back against the pillow.
His grandmother kept knitting, the fastest he had ever seen someone knit. When she finally finished, she hand knitted a small teddy bear. She put him up to her ear, and then nodded.
"Aye, this little lad will do ye,' she said, before laying it down beside her grandson. "You sleep now, a stór, ye'll need it,' she whispered to him, before getting up and walking towards the door. Turning around, she glanced mischeviously at Riona, winked at Mark, and closed the door.
Mark didn't catch the full meaning until he saw Riona starting to undress in. He turned to look at her. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he shrugged his shoulders. She finished and then lifted up the covers before sliding in beside him. She gave a small sigh, before he wrapped his arms around her. She in turn wrapped her arms around him. A warm feeling spread into his stomach, building up into his chest. He had no idea how any of this had happened, yet he didn't see anything wrong with it. She kissed him again, and all worrying was forgotten. He was with her, and that was all that mattered.
Dullahan- Literally means, gan ceann, or without a head.
Tar liom a páiste- Come with me, child.
Ní déitigh me dul ina chodladh- I dare not go to sleep.
Ní curfidh mé stad le mó cuid iarriachtaí- I will not put a stop to my efforts
Tógfaidh mé do Ceann, nó tógfaidh mé do croí- I will take your head, or I will take your heart.
A stór- My dear, or my beloved.
Visual for the Rider- http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-jGI8aepSWcU/T4VeQgi4TPI/AAAAAAAAAh4/zV0HGCOh3nc/s1600/dullahan2.jpg
Visualizing the head is up to you. I haven't found one I'm happy with yet, so....yeah. If you find one you think looks like it, please tell me.
So I've been gone for a while. Big deal right? Yeah well, life is kinda weird that way. You can be so interested in something, until you get sidetracked and you just...forget about it. Well, I'm back, and ready. I hope.