Pestilence Page 2

On a whim, I head over to the fridge and grab a beer—the world might be ending but fuck it if there’s no beer.

Popping the cap off, I cross over to the living room and click on the T.V.


“Oh for fuck’s sake.” I’m going to die a horrible, shit-sucking death, and the T.V. decides that today is the day it stops working.

I slam a palm down on the top of it.

Still nothing.

Muttering oaths my grandfather would be proud of, I kick the good-for-nothing T.V., more out of spite than anything else.

The screen sputters to life, and a grainy image of a newscaster appears, her face warped by the bands of color and contortions the T.V. makes.

“… appears to be moving through British Columbia … heading towards the Pacific Ocean …” It’s hard to make out the reporter’s words under the static-y white noise. “… Reports of the Messianic Fever following in his wake … ” Pestilence has only to ride through a city for it to be infected.

Researchers—those that remain dedicated to their work even after technology has fallen—still don’t know much about this plague, only that it’s shockingly contagious and the primary vector of transmission is horseman. But a name has been given for it all the same—the Messianic Fever, or simply the Fever. The name was cooked up by spooks, but that’s what the world has come to—spooks and saints and sinners.

Turning off the T.V., I grab my bag and gun and head out, whistling the Indiana Jones theme song. Perhaps if I pretend this is an adventure, and I’m the hero, it will make me think less about what I’m going to have to do to save my town and the rest of the world.

I spend most of the day and a good part of the evening setting up camp off of Highway 99, the road he’s likeliest to take. And dear God do I hope that the horseman will pass through while it’s still light out. I have shit aim in broad daylight; at night I’m likelier to shoot myself than I am him.

Seeing how my luck’s going today, there’s a chance, a good chance, I’ll fuck this up. Maybe Pestilence makes a detour, or decides to be clever and approach from another direction. Maybe he’ll pass by without my ever noticing.

Maybe maybe maybe.

Or maybe even wild, frightening things have a pinch of logic to them.

I grab my gun and extra ammunition, creep close to the highway, and I settle in for the wait.

He comes with the first snow of the season.

The entire world is quiet the next morning as the powdery white flakes blanket the landscape and turn the road pearlescent. More snow flutters down, and it all looks so ridiculously beautiful.

Out of nowhere, the birds take flight from the trees. I startle as I see them all high above me, their bodies dark against the overcast sky.

Then, from a dozen different locations, wolves begin to howl, the sound sending a primordial shiver down my spine. It’s like a warning call, and in its wake, the rest of the forest comes alive. Predators and prey alike flee past me. Raccoons, squirrels, hares, coyotes—they all rush by. I even see a mountain lion loping amongst them.

And then they’re gone.

I exhale a shaky breath.

He’s coming.

I crouch in the dim forest, shotgun clutched in my hands. I check the gun’s chamber. Remove and reload the cartridges just to make sure that they’re properly in place. Adjust and readjust my grip.

It’s as I’m double checking the ammunition in my pocket that the hair on the back of my neck rises. Ever so slowly, I lift my head, my gaze fixed on the abandoned highway.

I hear him before I see him. The muffled clomp of his steed’s hooves echoes in the chill morning, at first so quiet that I almost imagine it. But then it gets louder and louder, until he comes into view.

I waste precious seconds gaping at this … thing.

He’s sheathed in golden armor and mounted on a white steed. At his back is a bow and quiver. His blond hair is pressed down by a crown of gold, and his face—his face is angelic, proud.

He’s almost too much to look at. Too breathtaking, too noble, too ominous. I hadn’t expected that. I hadn’t expected to forget myself or my deadly task. I hadn’t expected to feel … moved by him. Not with all this fear and hate churning in my stomach.

But I am utterly overwhelmed by him, the first horseman of the apocalypse.

Pestilence the Conqueror.



Chapter 3

No one knows why the horsemen arrived five years ago, or why they disappeared so soon afterwards, or why now Pestilence and only Pestilence has returned to wreak havoc on the living.

Of course, everyone and their Aunt Mary has their answer to these questions, most that are about as plausible as the tooth fairy, but no one has actually ever had a chance to corner one of these horsemen and pump them for answers.

So we can only guess.

What we do know is that one morning, seven months ago, the news bleated to life.

A horseman, spotted near the Florida Everglades. It took the better part of a week for the rest of the report to drift in. About how a strange sickness was taking the people of Miami by storm.

Then the first death was announced. They did a big spread on the woman, for the few hours she held the sole title of tragically deceased. But quickly the death count doubled, then doubled again. It grew exponentially, first wiping out Miami, then Fort Lauderdale, then Boca Raton. It moved up the East Coast of the United States, right along with the movements of this shadowy rider.

This time when the horseman passed through a city, it wasn’t technology he destroyed, but bodies. That’s when the world knew that Pestilence had returned.

I stare at Pestilence. This is no human any more than his mount is a horse.

The last footage I saw of him, he was storming through New York City, an arrow notched into his bow, firing into the retreating stampede of screaming people bent on fleeing him.

I had to watch the newsreel five times before I believed it. And then I could watch no more.

Now here he is. Pestilence, in the flesh.

Clop—clop—clop. The rider and his horse move slowly. Snow has gathered on his shoulders and in his hair. And somehow, on him, even the white flakes add to his strange, alien beauty.

I hold still, afraid the mist coming from my breath will tip the horseman off. But he seems utterly unconcerned about his surroundings. He wouldn’t need to be; no one except me would willingly choose to get this close to the literal embodiment of plague.

Never taking my eyes off of Pestilence, I raise my shotgun. It only takes a few seconds to line up the sights. I fix my aim at his chest, which is really the only thing I can hope to hit. My stomach begins to churn as I watch the horseman through my weapon.

I’ve seen men die. I’ve seen fire blister bodies beyond the point of recognition and I’ve smelled the sickening scent of cooking flesh.

And yet.

And yet my finger hesitates on the trigger.

I’ve never killed (pheasant aside). Forget that this creature isn’t human, that he’s been carving a path of carnage through North America; he looks alive, sentient, human. That’s reason enough for me to fight with myself.

I adjust my grip on the gun and close my eyes. If I do this, Mom will live, Dad will live, Briggs and Felix and Luke will live. My friends and teammates and their families will live. The entire world Pestilence has set his sights on will live.

Prev page Next page