It was then that Julien saw her.
On the far side of the river, a woman stood watching him. She was young, perhaps in her late twenties, with pitch, waist length hair. Her eyes, a deep ivy green, seemed hollow, pupils wide and searching, rubescent sockets glowering. Her skin was pale and she was soaking wet. As she stepped out from the treeline, Julien saw that she was limping, saw the series of dark stains dappled across her white shirt. She stumbled down the bank, lost her footing, and fell, coming to a halt at the bottom of the slope where she lay still.
Julien stared. For a moment, he simply stood, unmoving.
He glanced at the fallen tree.
Getting swiftly to his feet, he hoisted himself onto the trunk, mindful of the delicate frost which layered the upside. He called out to the woman, but she offered no response.
He hastened his step.
As Julien reached the midpoint of the tree, the woman stirred. As she tried to stand, she let out a pained yell, clutching her abdomen.
The stallion screamed.
Startled, Julien lost his balance, cursing as his legs slipped out from beneath his body, his lower half colliding with the trunk and slinging him backwards, headfirst into the water. Within a second, he was completely submerged. The icy water seemed to strip him of his flesh and all he could feel were his bones, joints creaking as they seized up and refused to move, leaving him paralysed, staring up at the surface, searing wide eyes glazing over, helpless.
A small leaf drifted over his body and under the tree.
It blissfully meandered towards the edge of the cliff.
Julien was at peace.
Panic restored his senses. He was about to drown.
He blinked, felt the adrenaline shoot through his arteries. His limbs began flailing, trying to find the floor. But the floor wasn’t there. He thrashed around in the water to look for the bottom. His eyes met with an abyssopelagic darkness. His pupils swallowed his irises in the search for a light source. Writhing and rolling, heart sinking, he looked for the surface. But the surface wasn’t there.
Julien screamed. He couldn’t help it.
Not even to save the dwindling November air in his lungs.
This was the end.
He was going to drown.
I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.