Crisp wind blew along the autumn lakeshore. And sitting on a bench, looking out at the water, the Reverend Archer Kent heaved a heavy sigh—the exhale of a man who was dying.
Not really, of course. At least, not any more than he usually was, wrapped in a warm jean jacket and sipping from a travel mug of hot tea. It was just that the falling leaves and the cool weather had gotten to his melancholies. Standing, he shrugged it off. After all, he was a Reverend—Death had no power over him.
Especially not after those photos from the weekend. Death wearing a lampshade—now that was weighty leverage indeed, if there ever was any.
Speaking of photos…
Archer took out his phone to snap a picture of the scenery. Not every day comes with such clear shots of the lake, and autumn colors to boot. Holding up his phone, he took a wide angle shot.
Well, except for that small white blur in the middle of the lake. Darn. Archer raised his phone to try another shot.
Hm, Archer mused. The blur was still there. Lowering his phone, Archer peered out into the lake.
Well, not nothing, of course. Archer knew better than that. Again taking out his phone, Archer opened up the photo app, and zoomed in on the approximate location of the ghostly blur.
Sure enough, there was the blur again, just magnified. And a bit more clear, for that matter. Less like a blur and more like—
Archer zoomed in as much as his phone would allow.
Sure enough—a woman. A ghostly figure, halfway submerged in the water. Her arms were raised in the photo, slightly blurry from what appeared to be movement.
A sudden realization, and Archer switched his phone from camera to video. Zooming in, he lined up the shot and filmed for a short few seconds.
Quickly, he rewatched the footage—his fearful suspicions confirmed:
There, in the middle of the lake, the ghostly woman was drowning.
Which seemed odd—impossible, even—but Archer had learned long ago that ethereal physics didn’t always operate under what most would call ‘logical’ rules. Besides, there wasn’t time to think now. Stripping off his jean jacket, his shirt, his pants—everything but his briefs—Archer ran for the lake.
No. Stupid, realized Archer. Even if he did manage to swim that far, how would he rescue a drowning spirit? Besides, it was just above freezing outside—a long swim in the lake was just as likely to land him in the grave as it was to save someone who was already in it.
A better idea—sprinting back to his jacket, Archer rummaged through the pockets, taking out a pen, and a small, pre-stamped, pre-addressed postcard—two items he always carried on him, just in case.
He scribbled out a quick message:
To: Eidolon Estates
From: Reverend Archer Kent
URGENT. SEND SOMETHING THAT SWIMS.
Sprinting for the corner postbox, Archer tossed the card inside, and again ran for the lake.
The lake grew closer, closer. Archer could feel the icy lake spray as he neared the dock, and out of the corner of his hearing he could have sworn he heard galloping.
“Please work,” he said to himself as he leapt.
And splashed into the waves.
Honestly, the water wasn’t as cold as Archer expected it to be. That didn’t make it warm, of course. Just a touch shy of gelid.
The galloping grew stronger. Which was odd, Archer thought, as he began a steady front crawl toward the ghost, because horses don’t—
Archer felt the steed come up from under him, nestling its back into a position for Archer to ride. And then, it breeched—rising out of the water in splashing, triumphant silence—a soaking wet, shimmering white horse. Its mane the whitecaps of waves. Its hooves the currents of the tide. It sprinted along the surface of the water, making its way toward the drowning ghost—Archer kept his hold on through the splashes and the blinding speed.
Nearing the woman in the water, Archer reached out his hand and—somewhat to his surprise (though he was much to cold and wet to care)—the specter was able to grab hold. He pulled her onto the shimmering water horse.
They galloped for shore. Pulling up beside the dock, the horse waited as the girl climbed back onto land.
Archer, however, remained on the water horse. For, it seemed, the water had hold of him. And the more he tried to dismount the horse, the tighter the current pressed his legs.
He was stuck. He looked back at the ghost woman in fear.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
And the horse descended. And Archer found his head below the waves.
Tired as he was from his mad-dash rescue, Archer was out of breath well before he went under. But now, his lungs burning, pressure mounting as the horse swam deeper down the lake, Archer began to panic. He didn’t have time. Not to think, not to act, not to do anything except for, frankly, pray.
Which, all things considered, Archer was quite good at. He was a reverend, after all.
His voice bubbled below the water, expelling the last of his air:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4: 8-9. Seemed appropriate.
A whoompf of current pounded Archer’s chest, knocking him clear from the horse. Caught in the Jetstream, he rocketed toward the surface, where—violently expelled—he landed like a ragdoll on the dock.
Archer wasn’t a passer-outer. And he wasn’t about to change that today. That being said, though, it wasn’t exactly clear to Archer how he ended up in his apartment again. Only that he was there now, and that there were blankets and tea and whiskey and sunshine.
Beside him sat the lake specter. She, too, seemed dry now. She watched Archer worryingly.
“Um,” began Archer, “thanks. For helping me get back.”
The ghost looked somewhat startled. “No!” she whispered. “Thank you! Without you I’d still be lost in that lake.”
“Well,” said Archer, “it was the least I could do.”
“Impressive, though. Not many can loose themselves from the grip of a Bækhest. You must be quite the special someone.”
“Yeah,” Archer sighed, sipping his tea, “sometimes I wonder…”
“Well,” scoffed the specter, “I think you’re pretty special.”
Archer smiled, regretting his dismissiveness.
The pair sat in the living room sun—warm from the afternoon glow.
“Oh, by the way,” said the specter, taking reaching into her ghostly pocket, “this came for you.” She withdrew a small envelope, and handed it to Archer, who opened it carefully.
Our apologies for the Bækhest. It was all we had available on such short notice. You’re a Reverend—we figured you could handle it.
As an apology, please feel free to attend our Halloween Party this evening for drinks, hors d'oeuvres, games, and general merriment. Guests welcome. We suggest your new friend.
Party begins at 8:00pm. We’ll send a Hellgate.
And then the letter burst into flame. Typical.
“Well?” the ghost asked.
“Well,” said Archer…
…”How would you like to come to a Halloween Party?”
Had to publish a story on Halloween.
A Bækhest is a creature from many mythologies, though generally northern/Celtic/Norse mythology. It would appear often as a beautiful swimming horse that—if one was so bold as to ride it—would drag its rider down to the depths as they found themselves unable to let go. But, as Eidolon so astutely put it—Archer is a Reverend. He can handle it.
Fun Fact: as far as I’m aware this is the first time I’ve given Archer actual scripture to say.
Another fun fact that I just learned—this one about my Pen Name: The Romans distinguished three principal kinds of atramentum, one called librarium (or scriptorium), another called sutorium, the third tectorium. Atramentum librarium was the writing ink of Roman times, atramentum sutorium was used by shoemakers for dyeing leather, atramentum tectorium (or pidorium) was used by painters for some purposes, apparently as a sort of varnish.
So there you go. Trick or treat. Happy Halloween!