Alivia Wynn

     Eliza lived on the edge of Elisburg Alabama, but Mama insisted that she never go into town alone. The glint in her eye and the stern hook in her pointed finger usually kept Eliza from asking why. The few times she did question her mother, Eliza was met with fire. 

     “Mama. There won’t be any boys and Amanda’s parents are gonna be there.”

     “I don’t care if Jesus himself is gonna be there. You ain’t goin.” Mama continued scrubbing plates in the sink. 

     “Ma, you never let me go to sleepovers. It’s not fair.”

     “Don’t you sit up there and tell that lie,” She pointed at her daughter, slinging suds through the air. “You go sleep over at your Auntie Laretta’s house all the time.”

     “That doesn’t count Ma! I wanna hang out with my friends!”

     “I don’t know who you think you talkin to but I’m grown here. I’m the adult and ain’t nothin changed. You don’t go into town after sundown without me.”

     “But Mama–”

     “But nothin! Get out of my face little girl!”

     When Mama called her a little girl, there was no use in arguing. The matter wasn’t up for discussion anymore, so Eliza turned to her room, muttering silently. Instead of slamming the door, Eliza flung her arms, rubbed her temples, and threw pillows. Her tantrum was almost silent, but Mama could hear her grunts and huffs through the thin walls. After exhausting herself, Eliza laid in bed, a few cold tears still in the corner of her eyes. She’d come to the conclusion that mama was just jealous, and maybe a little racist. 

     ‘Grandma didn’t let her make friends with any of the white kids in town so now I can’t. She’s just jealous because white folks actually want to be around me.’ 

     The rattling in the kitchen stopped. When Mama retreated to her bedroom, Eliza decided that she was too old to be bossed around. She changed into pajamas and stuffed a gray duffle bag with teen magazines, playing cards, a scarf, bobby pins, and a small pillow. Before long, Mama was snoring. 

     Eliza krept down the hall with her shoes in hand so that the rotting wood floors wouldn’t creak as loud as usual. The lock on the front door always got stuck and made a loud thud when it was unlocked, so Eliza slid out of a window, landing in mama’s pitiful rose ‘bush’. There was a bite in the cool air. Eliza could climb back inside and grab a hoodie, but she figured that was too risky. The best she could do was put on her shoes, and pull the sleeves of her shirt down to cover her hands. 

     Amanda lived in a giant two story house on the other side of town. If she cut through town square she could get there in twenty minutes. The night played a melody of cicadas and frogs and Eliza’s hand-me-down Jordans scuffing against the pavement kept a steady beat.

     Her first sleepover with people she wasn’t related to. She wouldn’t have to change any diapers, or argue over who had to sleep on the floor, and if she was lucky, Amanda might let everyone watch videos on her new Iphone. According to Amanda, there weren’t any buttons. She could just touch the screen. That was much cooler than the ancient phone stuffed in the bottom of Eliza’s bag. Heat rose in her throat. Mama could only afford to buy her a handful of minutes for each week. Instead of calling family she didn’t see often, Eliza called her friends. She’d divide her minutes and have short conversations. When the minutes ran out, she’d blame it on spotty phone service. Eliza readjusted her bag on her shoulders and focused on the walk. 

     Town square lit up in front of her like an old postcard. Golden light from the street lamps stained the brick buildings. A breeze traveled through, lifting banners and flags just to drop them again. The town still looked the same as the day it was built. She passed by dark store fronts and looked herself over. Her hair was pulled into a long ponytail with naps forming at the roots. The pajamas she wore clung to her thick frame in awkward places but they were her favorite and only matching set of pajamas. The baby blue cotton was well taken care of and made her look like a little girl again.

     If Mama knew she had been disobedient, she’d dust off her belt. But, if Eliza left the party early and got home before mama woke up, she would never find out. Arriving late and leaving early from the slumber party was better than not going at all. 

     A giant pedestal in the center of town square called Eliza’s attention. On top of it, a horse rearing back onto its hind legs had been carved out of black granite. A man with a flat top hat was holding on to the horse’s reins. Street lanterns illuminated his thick mustache, his billowing jacket, and the disgusted look in his eyes. From where Eliza stood, it looked as if he was staring right at her. That look made her feel small. 

     P.G.T Beauregard was engraved into the pedestal. It said that he’d been a confederate general. That explained why his scrutinizing gaze burned holes into her brown skin, but it made her wonder why he had been sculpted in such a majestic light. Why was this man Elisburg’s centerpiece?

     A noise in the distance ripped Eliza out of her thoughts, and she became extremely aware of how quiet and empty town square was for a Saturday night. There hadn’t been a single person since she left home. The frogs and cicada chirps were replaced with the faint whipping and clinking of flags against their poles, but what Eliza heard was different and farther away. It sounded like clapping or tapping on an empty bowl, and it came from the direction she needed to go.

     Mama’s words repeated in her head. ‘You don’t go into town after sundown without me.’ The sound came again from the same area but it didn’t stop this time. 

     Tap tap, tap tap– no more like clop clop, clop clop.

     The noise was getting bigger, and echoing off the brick buildings. It became impossible to tell where the noise was coming from, or guess how many things were making said noise. 

     Amanda’s sleepover had been completely erased from Eliza’s mind. Her eyes darted from building to building scanning for any movement but the flags had stilled. Adrenaline pumped through her body, but she stood frozen, her muscles writhing under her skin.

     Clop-clop clop-clop

     She reached a shaky hand into her bag for her phone, but didn’t dare look down into the bag. If she could just hear Mama’s voice everything would be alright, even if she would be yelling. The hand inside the bag began to sweat as it ran over papers and pins. When she finally grabbed it Eliza let out the smallest sigh but didn’t relax. The house phone was on speed dial and she mashed the button as fast as she could.

     Hmmphh. Clop. Clop. Hhmmphh.  

     “I’m sorry, but your cellular device has run out of calling minutes. If you would like to buy mo–” 

     “No. No. No.”

     Eliza’s mind filled with all the times she had wasted her minutes on stupid conversations. If she had just cut off one minute from each call, she’d have enough to hear her mother’s butterscotch voice. But she was alone, and all she could do was get home.

     Too afraid to turn her back on the noises, Eliza walked backwards, careful not to trip over her feet. As she walked back, P.G.T Beauregard grew larger and larger in her field of vision. He took up most of town square, like an overgrown heart swelling and pumping blood throughout Elisburg. Still, Eliza could make out the hatred in his eyes. 

     She hadn’t seen where he came from, but a man on a white horse was riding closer to her. He rode confidently, his deep blue jeans stark against the horse’s bare back. His body bobbed with the horse, moving his face in and out of the light. Eliza squinted until she could stitch together a solid image of the man. Her shoulders dropped as the man before her became familiar. 

     “M-Mr. Montgomery? Is that you?” Of course it was him. She’d met Amanda’s father plenty of times and that was him. When he didn’t answer, hairs stood on the back of Eliza’s neck. The horse sighed and continued towards her. 

     “Where d-did you get that horse Mr. Montgomery?”

     Clop-clop hhmmph

     Mr. Montgomery stopped under a street lamp. He grabbed tight onto the horse’s reins and pulled back to replicate General Beauregard. Even his eyes were the same. 

     She wanted to walk away, but the men rounding the corner overwhelmed her with fear. At least fifty men on white horses rode out of the alleys between stores. Some wore robes as white as their horses. Their hooves clopping against the cement crescendoed as they got into position. They formed a line across the square, staring her down. She was a little girl staring into the face of the monster that hid in the corners of Elisburg. Warmth ran down Eliza’s legs and soaked into her socks. The breeze wafted the smell of urine into her nose, breaking her from her trance. 

     Walking backwards wasn’t fast enough, so she turned on her heels and broke into a sprint. Behind her, the men whipped their reins. The horses whinnied, grunted, and took off towards her. 

     The stampede’s rhythm propelled Eliza into the night, farther and farther from town square. Her muscles churned and strained harder than ever, but they couldn’t carry her away from the wild horses behind her. She dropped her bag to lighten her load, and the contents spilled onto the pavement. The horses tore apart her magazine and kicked up the pages behind them. Somehow, the sound of their hooves crushing her cheap little phone pierced through the clopping. 

     Eliza’s brain fell empty, amplifying the stampede behind her and her heaving breaths. She pumped her arms and tried to cut through the wind. Eliza pumped and sliced and heaved and ran deeper into the dark, but the white robes and horses on her heels shined bright. 

     She was only a block away from Mama’s warm bed, but she could see them coming up beside her. She would apologize a million times if it meant Mama would hold her close one more time. Eliza’s muscles burned and her form broke down, and Mama was her last hope. 

     “MA!” she cried, her voice breaking in between the two letters. Tears blurred her vision so that the world was just black and white smudges.

     “MAMA,” she screamed again and again. “MAMA PLEASE!”

     Then Eliza was overtaken by the stampede, and everything was white. 

Alivia Wynn is a first year from Atlanta Georgia who loves reading, writing, or watching anything horror related. In her free time she likes to roller skate, play video games, and listen to music.