Mr. Smith
I can't claim to have experienced this set of events firsthand, as the story comes from my girlfriend, but I will relate the details to you just as she related them to me.  For the sake of ease, I will be writing the story from her point of view, so bear with me and just imagine this is coming from Ms. Carmichael instead of Mr. Smith.

Have you ever had a seemingly normal encounter that didn't set off any alarm bells until much later?  Maybe a stranger stopped and asked you for directions to someone's house, or maybe you were behind somebody in line at the hardware store with a suspicious combination of items, and you just didn't realize how strange it was until later that evening.  I think I had one such encounter recently.

I own and operate a bakery in a small, rural town, and I often cater for venues around the county.  In June of this year, I was providing desserts and snacks for a fancy horseback-riding event and reception at a local ranch and winery.  The people that own the ranch/winery are nice enough; they're old money from this area and are generally pretty nice people.  However, their clientele is made up of very wealthy doctors and lawyers who insist on sending their little princesses there to learn how to ride horseback, so they can sometimes be pretty pretentious.  Anyway, you get the point.  Lots of white tablecloths and fine suits and dresses.

The reception started around 2:00 on a blazing summer day when it had gotten too hot to continue out on the track, but by 6:00 I was getting tired from being on my feet all afternoon and having to run back and forth to my van.  Things finally wound down around 8:00, and I was packing up the last of the food and serving dishes and getting ready to cart everything outside to pack up and leave.  Just then, however, a young girl of about fifteen or sixteen with long and flowing blonde hair approached the table where I was rounding things up. 

She stood out to me because she was wearing grey sweatpants and a Virginia Tech hoodie, instead of an expensive dress or sport coat.  She also kept her hoodie wrapped close around her despite the sweltering heat of the North Carolina summer.  Of course, plenty of people had been wearing wool suits that day, so stranger things have happened I guess.  

She smiled at me and asked if there were any oatmeal cookies left, and I rummaged in a few of my travel boxes for some.  While I searched, she and I made small talk, and I asked her if she planned on attending Virginia Tech, pointing to her hoodie.  She nodded enthusiastically, and she happily told me about how much she hoped to get in at VT and join their equestrian team.  

Finally, I found a box of oatmeal cookies and asked her how many she wanted.  She asked for two, saying one was for her and one was a special treat for her horse.  I know absolutely nothing about horses, so I just nodded and said "well, enjoy!"  She thanked me with a smile and quietly walked back towards the doors of the reception hall.  As she walked away, I looked back down and continued taking inventory, so I never saw her leave, and I also never heard the huge double-doors of the reception hall creak open as she exited the building.  Nevertheless, next time I looked around I was alone in the room.  Like I said earlier, it seemed completely normal at the time, but looking back she really stood out since she wasn't there with any adults/parents, and her clothing was drastically different from all of the other guests.  

Anyway, less than ten minutes later I was loading the last of my supplies and dishes into my van, which was parked on the large lawn just next to the fenced-in area of soft dirt where the students rode their horses.  Nobody else was there by that time except for a few other staff members and one or two stragglers. 

The evening air was pleasantly warm and calm, with a refreshing breeze blowing lightly through the manicured trees around the reception hall.  I was just about to get into the driver's seat when suddenly the twilight stillness was pierced by the frantic sounds of a distressed horse, along with the sounds of hooves stamping against the soft ground.  Just moments later, the shrill sound of a woman screaming echoed across the fields, followed by a heavy *thud* and the sickening and unmistakeable crunch of breaking bones.

As quickly as my now-shaking hands would let me, I fumbled to get my keys into the ignition slot of my van, cranking the engine and turning the headlights on bright to illuminate the corral in front of the van.  However, as the glow of the headlights washed over the dirt, I saw nothing.  No horses stood in the corral, and the ground was totally bare, with no trace of a wounded rider. 

It was just then that I realized that the night was again quiet, with none of the pained moaning one might expect after hearing bones snapping.  As I sat there scanning the field confusedly, I felt a tap on my shoulder that made me practically jump out of my skin.  When I turned around, I saw that it was only one of the ranch owners, wearing an understandably concerned expression.  She apologized for having frightened me, and told me that she had just wanted to thank me for being so patient and helpful with all of the guests that day.

I fumbled my words as I tried to tell her it was no big deal, and she asked what had gotten me so flustered.  It was then that I realized she must not have heard the scream and the impact, so I suddenly became hesitant to say anything to her about it since she would probably just think I was crazy.  Although, something about the genuine concern on her face put me more at ease, so I told her what I had heard.  She simply nodded calmly and asked if I had seen a young, pretty blonde dressed in full riding gear at the reception.

Surprised by her candor, I shook my head and told her I hadn't, but then I remembered the girl in the hoodie.  I must have seen a hundred pretty young blondes that day, but only one stood out in my memory.  I described the blonde's height and features to the ranch-owner, and she smiled softly, like she was recalling a pleasant memory.  I must have had quite the perplexed look on my face, because the woman quickly began to explain.

The owner informed me that about fifteen years ago, a girl named Molly had been the star pupil of the ranch.  Unlike some of the rich kids that viewed their riding lessons with indifference, Molly had a genuine dedication to horses and a passion for horseback riding, and she hoped to go on to pursue riding professionally after getting a degree in business.  One evening in late November, however, Molly had stayed late to practice, and she had continued to ride until almost sundown, despite there being a strict "no riding past dark" rule at the ranch.   As she was cantering her horse back towards the stables, something had spooked it, possibly a coyote in the nearby tree line, and the horse had risen to its hind legs in a panic.  

Since Molly had been on her way back to the stables, she had unstrapped her riding helmet already, and when she had fallen from the back of her horse, she had landed with all of her weight on her neck, killing her instantly.  Several people witnessed the event from up the hill, and they all rushed to her aid, but she was already dead.  However, to hear several of the ranch staff tell it, she may have died but she didn't move on.  Occasionally, especially at crowded events or late at night, people would report seeing a passionate young blonde cantering along in the corral or feeding the horses in the stables, and apparently I wasn't the first to hear the phantom scream at sundown.  

It was a lot to take in, and I still had plenty to do that evening, so I simply thanked the woman for giving me the job and headed on my way.  However, as I drove towards the front gate of the ranch, I could have sworn I saw the same blonde teenager from earlier in the evening sitting on the fence.  She was dressed in riding gear, but she wore no helmet, and she waved at me as I rounded the final curve in the long, winding driveway.  I quickly backed up and swept my headlights along the same section of fence again, but this time there was nothing there.  

I have't been back there since, but I've been asked to cater another event at the ranch in September, and every time I drive past there around sundown I can't help but slow down and look for a glimpse of the blonde rider.

I hope you all enjoyed hearing a shorter story this time around.  As always, thanks for reading and let me know what you think down below.
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Mr Smith, I wanted to let you know that your stories do not go unnoticed. You are a very talented writer, and the perfectionism involved in your editing is much appreciated (:
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unkown."
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@Mr Smith  Please teach me how you write so well!   Seriously though I think this is my favourite of your stories so far.  
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