It is late but I am going to post this anyways...I will have to edit the mistakes in the morning!
At best guess, they had no more than half an hour before dusk settled over the forest. The sun was so low in the sky that what little beams penetrated the thick growth seemed to shine from the ground upward, as though the world had been turned upside down. To Sarah, this seemed to fit well with the way she was feeling. She sensed the penetrating glare of Jess behind her but refused to turn and meet her gaze. Their friendship had taken a sudden twist, much like the trail before them. What had been flat and meandering now narrowed and turned downward. The footing became loose and wet and the trail, increasingly steep as it threaded its was through the trees. The horse’s feet slipped a few inches with each step before finding purchase and their hocks bundled beneath them as they gingerly picked their way down the path.
In just a few minutes, Jess and Lilly had fallen behind. Sarah’s sure footed and well seasoned gelding easily maneuvered the rough terrain. Rather than stop and wait, Sarah pressed her gelding onward. Here the trail tapered to a cramped ledge, forcing Sarah to focus on the ground immediately before her. As she rounded the bend, suddenly, the dirt in front of her shifted! She glanced up. The earth was boiling! An upheaval of dirt spewed forth a teaming mass of snakes! They slithered upward and outward to lay across her path. A started gasp escaped her lips as she recoiled in horror. As if after a hard rain, the soil flooded and gave up its bounty, littering the path with pale flesh colored worms, their rubbery bodies crusted in dry soil. Hundreds of them lay underfoot. Strewn amongst their midst, the black skinned snakes withered. The mass of twisting bodies lay inches thick. Sarah’s stare was broken as Jess’s leg brushed against hers in passing. She could hear a gooey splat as Lilly’s hooves crushed the spineless bodies below. “What’s the hold up?” Jess asked, looking over her shoulder and into the awe stricken face of her friend.
“Can’t you see them?” Sarah demanded, staring at Jess in puzzlement and pointing at the slippery, sliding mound at their feet.
“See what?” Jess replied.
“That!” Sarah exclaimed. But when she looked down at the dirt path in front of her, nothing but Cedar roots and yellow needles crosshatched it surface. Not a thing stirred. Sarah’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. “But…but…there were…” the words stumbled out of her mouth. Jess simply stared at her. Sarah shook her head and swallowed hard. Something told her to keep her mouth shut, to not let Jess in on what she had just seen. “Nothing. I just thought I saw something.” Sarah said flatly. Jess turned back around to ride ahead. Riding behind her, there was no way for Sarah to see the sly smile on Jess’s face.
They travelled deeper and deeper into a narrow gorge. The air became increasingly damp, allowing the cold to slice through their jackets and bite at their fingers. Sarah slipped her hands into Jacksons black mane. Her skin tingled at the sudden warmth. She could not stop thinking about the vision she had and wondered if the snakes and birds where perhaps less of a threat, than a warning. Was the forest trying to tell them to turn back? As they worked their way downward, the gentle whisper of a river could be heard, its voice rising as they approached. A thick gray fog loomed heavily under the cedar boughs and crept along the edges of the trail. As they descended, it became thicker and thicker until it seemed to swallow the gray mare whole. Sarah could see nothing but the dark locks of her friend’s hair and the crescent shape of her saddle’s cantle. Still they continued downward. The whisper of the river turned into a throaty roar, drowning out all other sound or thought. At last they reached the bottom. Here the ground flattened out but Sarah could scarcely see Jackson’s ears through the mist. The river seemed a mighty thing. They could hear the water tumble as it rushed over its rocky ledges but they could see nothing of it. A few more steps and the fog parted to reveal and open sided bridge leading them off of solid ground and into gray nothingness. Lilly, unwilling to step on to the slippery wooden planks, refused to move forward at Jess’ urging. “Maybe Jackson and you should go first?” Jess suggested.
“How do we know that it can support a horse?” Sara asked, the worry in her voice evident. “We can’t even see if it reaches the other side!
“Well we cant go across any other way and it is too late to turn back so what else do you suggest” Jess said in a cutting voice. Every ounce of Sarah told her not to go across but she could see no other way. She swung her leg over Jackson and slipped to the ground. Jackson turned to look at her as she gathered the reins. His eyes were large, their depths, bottomless in the faint light. She could see her reflection in their sheen and found herself pausing to consider the pinched, swallow faced girl that stared back at her. Sarah hated herself for getting into this mess. Her lack of will had placed not only herself, but also Jackson in danger. Why didn’t she just say no? Sarah felt a cold wet drop touch her hand and was surprised to find her own tears as its source. She wanted nothing more than to press her face against Jacksons shoulder and give in to her despair, to cover her eyes with the long wisps of his mane and shut the world out. To hide her face she bent and picked up Jackson foot, pretending to pick it out with a twig. Her gelding’s hoof trembled with the shake of her hand. A sob nearly escaped her throat. Just then she felt the downy touch of Jackson’s muzzle on her cheek. She looked up into his eyes and was startled to find not her own tear stained face, but there in the blackness, a woman staring back at her. The gold of her hair glowed like a halo about her long face and set her warm eyes alight. Sarah started in astonishment, unable to grasp what she was seeing. This woman was beautiful! And, this woman, was Sarah!
The flesh of youth had melted away and revealed the beauty of the bones beneath. Her eyes shone with a quiet confidence. All of the tentativeness and fear was gone, replaced with certainty. Sarah looked at herself in wonder, admiring the long lines of her neck and the cool blue of her eyes. She felt a warmth settle over her and the quickness of her heart slowed to a steady, rhythmic beat. In a flash the image was gone and Sarah stared back at herself as she stood now, her hair touched with dew and face white. Freed of the anguish she had felt just moments before, Sarah knew that something had just happened, that some change had just become her but did not have time to consider it just now. Jess had dismounted and walked up to stand beside her. “What are you looking at now?” She asked.
Sarah turned and looked her friend in the eye. Jess stared back at her without blinking. Sarah held her friends gaze confidently. “What the hell has gotten into you?” Jess demanded. Sarah couldn’t help but sneer slightly at the tone. Why had she allowed herself to be talked to that way? Why had she allowed this girl rule her thoughts and actions? Sarah chose not to reply. She grabbed Jackson’s reins and walked with certainty towards the bridge.