Short Story Fiction
The Strange Disappearance of Grady O’Doul
Scott A. Gese

He had never taken the trail before. What he encountered along the way insured the fact that he would never take it again.

The Strange Disappearance of Grady O’DoulFree-Photos/Pixabay

Grady O’Doul couldn’t believe he had taken the advice of a so-called friend and turned onto the trail called “The Narrow”. He had never been on this trail before. If it hadn’t been recommended by someone he trusted, he would have never tried it.

He found it to be appropriately named as it seemed more like a deer trail and not meant for an animal as large as a horse. Why anyone would venture to take this route on the back of any animal was beyond him. Even a strong and sure-footed horse like his was finding the going difficult.

Grady planned to have strong words for his friend the next time he spoke with him.

The trail wound its way through old growth fir trees, a tangled mass of vines that hung low across the trail and a thick carpet of fiddlehead ferns that hid exposed tree roots. Grady had been following the trail for close to five miles. He was concerned, but had gone too far to turn back. Besides, even at this slow pace, the short cut was expected to save him two hours riding time, so he pushed forward.

The unseen snags tore at his horses legs. Low hanging branches reached out from nowhere and slapped him square in the face. The last one almost knocked him from his horse.

Grady could have taken the well-traveled main road called the ‘Baker Split’, In hindsight, he wished he had, but he was running late and that trail would have cost him the two hours he was saving by taking the shortcut.

By then the men waiting for him at the ‘Dark Horse’ saloon would be well into their monthly poker game. He always looked forward to this game and if at all possible, he didn’t want to miss a minute of it. So he opted for the shortcut by way of The Narrow.

At its end, the trail spilled out along the outskirts of a small mill town called Shed and to the Dark Horse Saloon where the game was to be held.

It was mid-afternoon when Grady started out on the Narrow. Plenty of time to reach the other end before dark,

The trail was well known for the mysterious and dreadful tales told by men who had dared to traverse it by day. It was never traveled upon at night for it was said that if one was adventurous or naive enough to try, they would never emerged to brag about it. He had heard some of the frightful stories told by others, but dismissed them as nothing more than gossip and rumor.

Grady was not a believer in these tall tales told by men who only claimed to have been on the trail themselves. He was sure his journey would be uneventful and once he arrived in Shed, he would be the talk of the town. All he needed was a good horse and if he happened to still be on the trail by nightfall, a good lantern. He had both… or so he thought.

Due to the unexpected tangles and brambles, Grady’s progress was slower than expected. He began to lose daylight after he had gone only a few miles. He could have turned around then, but made the decision to light his lantern and push on.

Try as he might, for some unknown reason whenever he lit the wick, the flame would suddenly go out. There was no breeze, but no matter what he did, he couldn’t get it to hold fire. It was at this point he seriously considered turning back, wondering if he had made a serious mistake when he decided to go this way in the first place. Turning back would cost him precious time. Time he couldn’t afford to waste.

His mind started to chatter at him. “What if the tales he had heard about the trail were true?”

Grady, being a stubborn man, quickly put the thought out of his mind and with great caution and dogged determination continued forward. He worked his way along the trail with little more than the light from a full moon to guide him. His progress was slow, but he wanted to reach his destination still in his saddle, not leading a lame horse.

The trail wound through trees that were so dense, what little light did manage to filter its way down to the ground reflected off a light fog that was beginning to settle along the ground.

It was mid summer and the evenings had been warm and humid. The trail was actually a welcome relief from the heat of the day. Grady hadn’t really thought about it until the air suddenly became unusually cold and a slight breeze began to blow.

He began to tense up as a shiver from an unnatural chill ran through his entire body from his head right down to his toes. It had become so dark at this point, all he could do was let his horse move forward and hope it stayed true to the trail.

Grady was becoming quite aware of his horses growing unease. The sudden hoot from an unseen owl or the snapping of a twig from a nocturnal mammal on the prowl would instinctively cause the horse to shy. Grady would perk his ears to the alert. The mysterious sounds would cause the hair on the back of his neck to tingle as it stood on end.

After the last owl hoot, the horse had stopped. Grady coaxed it to begin moving forward again. After several cautious minutes it once again stopped dead in its tracks. Grady sat as still as could be. He listened intently as he wondering what had caused his horse to stop so suddenly. There had to be a reason for it, but what? Was there something on the trail ahead? A mountain cat possibly? He hadn’t heard one. A bear? Not likely. Then what?

Grady strained to see beyond his own nose, but the blackness was too thick. He tried to spur his horse forward, but it stood firm. Then came the sound, the unmistakable sound of another horse, snorting. He heard it twice. Grady’s first thought was that it was his horse as the sound was so close. But he knew his horse, and quickly realized the sound was not from it.

He recalled some of the stories he had heard of long lost mounts roaming the woods in this area. Lost by the men who dared to travel the Narrow at night, never to be seen again.

Dismissing the thought, he reasoned that perhaps there was another rider approaching from the opposite direction holding still just as himself. He was about to call out when, without warning, his horse suddenly reared back almost dumping him out of his saddle. It swiftly spun about and landed facing the opposite direction. Its eyes were as wide as silver dollars and its nostrils were in full flare as it bolted back up the trail in nothing less than sheer terror.

Grady tried to bring the horse to a halt, but his strength was no match for the steed. All he could do was hang on for dear life as it blindly left the trail and tore through the brush at break-neck speed. Then, without warning, the horse pulled up as abruptly as it had bolted, sending Grady out of the saddle and astride the horses’ neck.

There, standing in front of the horse, within arms reach, was the figure of a man, but this was no ordinary man. The figure was well defined, even in the darkness of the woods. It was as white as a ghost except for the blackness of its eyes.

The figure suddenly reached out toward Grady as if to grab him, but the horse, terrified, veered to the right and bolted again, throwing Grady back into the saddle. The low tree branches whipped at Grady’s face and arms and the tangle of underbrush ripped at his legs until he was finally torn from his saddle. He hit the ground with a resounding thud as his horse continued on without him.

Grady picked himself up and tried to get his bearings. It was too dark and he had no idea which way to go. He decided that the prudent thing to do was to follow after his horse. He was off the trail and the vines ripped at his clothes with each labored step. He had no idea where his horse had ended up and he began to wonder if he would ever find his way out.


Later that same evening Grady, now horseless, stumbled out of the woods. He found his way down the road toward the town of Shed where he entered the Dark Horse saloon. 

The bartender noticed him come in. “Gad man! What happened to you?” He exclaimed. “You’re two hours late, your arms and face are cut, your clothes are ripped to shreds and you look as white as a ghost." 

Several of the saloons patrons agreed with the bartender as they stared at Grady. Not knowing what to make of his condition they kept their distance.

“I took the Narrow trail and almost didn't make it."

The saloon fell silent as all the men now turned their attention to Grady.

“That’s impossible,” commented one of the patrons, with an air of disbelief.

“Nobody takes the Narrow trail at night and lives to tell the tale,” offered up another.

Grady O’Doul raised his voice for all to hear, “I swear upon my mothers grave that I, Grady O’Doul, took the Narrow trail this very night. I lost my horse and was chased by a multitude of demons that surrounded me deep in the woods, but I managed to escape their grasp by the narrowest of margins. You may believe me or you may not, that is up to you, but I know in my own mind, I survived the ordeal.”

And with that, to the wide-eyed astonishment and jaw-dropping disbelief of those in the Dark Horse saloon, Grady O’Doul was suddenly thrown to the floor by some unseen force. It grabbed him by the arms and began to drag him from the saloon. Some of the patrons made the sign of the cross. Others hid themselves the best they could. No one dared lift a hand to help Grady O’Doul. His screams for help could be heard in the distance. No one dared to leave the saloon that night.

In the morning a few brave souls went outside to investigate. They found the only thing that remained of Grady O’Doul. Dug deep into the dirt were two long lines. The heels of his boots were not enough to hold back the dark forces that had dragged him back into the woods.

© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.

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