The snow fell harder as they galloped along the forested hillside. The flakes thickened, the snow on the ground deepened and often Rodriguez lost his footing in drifts that were deeper than they looked.
David began to wonder about this magnificent creature he was riding. He still had no idea of his name or what on earth a zebra had been doing in the middle of winter in his back garden. Didn’t zebras live in Africa? Or was it India? He could only assume that it had arrived on the same ship which had taken his sister. Or more likely, remembering the chains on his legs, he had escaped from the ship.
David glanced down at the red welts on the zebra’s back and saw that they crossed a network of older scars cutting through the striped fur.
He wondered if his weight on the zebra’s back was causing the creature pain and tried to position himself to avoid the freshest of the wounds, but there were too many.
He gripped tighter to the ebony mane and once more thought that this was perhaps the most beautiful animal he had ever seen. Despite the scars.
On and on.
Every so often a gap in the trees revealed the river, a ribbon of ice curling along far below and the black sails of the pirate ship racing the wind.
Every time this happened, David would clasp his legs tightly against the zebra’s sides in excitement and tap the side of the horse’s muscular neck until Rodriguez glanced in the direction of the black vessel and would squeeze out an extra spurt of speed.
Despite the speed of the ship, they kept up. Sometimes gaining a little ground, sometimes falling behind but always within sight. How the zebra managed this in such conditions, I cannot guess, and I am sure that deep down even Rodriguez himself did not know that he was capable of such a feat of endurance.
Up above, hidden by dark snow clouds, the moon passed its zenith. The snow fell heavier still, settling even upon the zebra’s fur. David found himself having to brush snow away from the horse’s mane and lean over to make sure that it didn’t go into the animal’s eyes. Even the mane that he grasped onto had begun to stiffen in the icy cold.
Then he began to feel it: a niggling itch at the back of his consciousness telling him that there was something he should know. He glanced behind him; he saw the snow clad trees rushing back, disappearing into the night. But beyond that, in the dark, nothing.
The thought inside his head grew more persistent but still he did not know what it was trying to tell him. He looked around again and this time, just for the briefest of seconds thought that he saw…Then it was gone and for the first time during that long flight through the snowy landscape, a long, thin needle of fear slid into his chest.
David finally understood: There is something out there following us!
His eyes widened at the realisation and that small needle point opened out into terror like a blot of ink soaking into thick paper.
There is something out there in the dark!
He freed one hand from the dark mane which it had been grasping, the hair so cold that the clump which had been so tightly held remained curled in a tight ball moulded to the shape of his clenched fist. He thumped the side of the zebra’s neck to catch its attention. But the horse ran on, his breath bursting out into the night air. Up until now, David had not noticed the froth around Rodriguez’s mouth or the frenzied look of concentration in his eyes.
He thumped again harder and this time did not stop until the spell that the horse was under broke. With an effort that felt harder than maintaining the pace that they had been keeping, the zebra struggled to slow down and stop.
His bony chest pumped in and out violently in an effort to fill his lungs with air and stop the burning sensation of oxygen deprivation. Rodriguez wearily turned his head round to look at the small human on his back. His brow creased: [what?].
David stabbed a finger at the dark behind them [there there!].
And then they saw it, both at the same time. Downhill from them, in the darkness where they could just about make out the shape of the trees, there was something…else .
Too shocked to move, they squinted into the shadows of the forest. Movement. Clearer this time, something shaking the thick bushes just out of sight in the darkness
And then Rodriguez heard it over his own hoarse breath. Crash! Smash! Something big! Something giant! Something ripping through the trees ferociously. Something heading right for them!