The stranger on the horse searches for death, but cannot find it; he longs to die, but death eludes him.
For six long years this man has wandered through the remains, watching ash swirl gently from the scorched land and naked trees, each day has grown colder, more grey and faded away into murk; the longer he stays in one place, the less light it has.
The stars had plummeted to the ground, like the very first fallen angel, and set the world on fire. Australia had burned well, the flames crept up the trees and the falling branches rained fire, the Arctic…less so.
Our stranger had watched as people had screamed, their own burning bodies reflected brightly in the whites of their eyes. No one wanted his help, though he had offered it, it seemed they would have rather suffered Promethean punishments or felt the flames of a thousand sins on their preciously soft skin, than take hold of his hands.
The horse marches on through the dead air, now the flames have extinguished themselves the familiar pain of cold surrounds them but neither rider nor companion shiver.
Despite their great tribulations they move on and the horse is deft at clambering over the dead who watch with vacant eyes as the rider moves on through the battlefield. They say dead men tell no tales but the rider can feel one thousand stares digging into his back, and they blame him. Though these men did not die from disease, or from famine, they died because they disagreed with each other and manmade machine guns make great mediators; though the rider can see in the rag doll bodies, in the inky red stains leaking from their mouths, they blame him.
And, of course, he is to blame.
There should be foxes, there should be crows, there should be scavengers to pick at the carrion left behind, one animal feeding another. Instead, except for the constant hum of flies, there is nothing, there is nothing left alive in these killing fields.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
The stranger’s bones ache, his jaw has been held in the same position for years, frozen by the hands of God. But he has a job to do and so he cracks a smile at the woman.
The woman prays into her hands, kneeling at the side of a river bed and avoiding eye contact with the body floating belly up in the water.
The blood red water.
“O my God, I am heartily sorry forhaving offended you, and I detest all my sins.” She prays and rocks back and forth meticulously.
It makes the stranger’s horse buck and something rattles loud and hollow.
The woman is thin, gaunt, her cheekbones cut through her sallow skin like razors pushing through her face. So he offers her an apple, extending his arm and rolling the shining ball into his palm, though he knew it would stick in her throat.
The woman cries still but doesn’t look up, because she doesn’t see him, because she’s pure, because she threw herself down before a throne and bled contrition; he realises that there aren’t many left for him to claim.
It’s time for the man to come around.
He is the harbinger.
He is the destroyer.
When the sun burns out and drives everything into ashes, he remains, he collects.
The Pale Rider approaches the top of the hill, acknowledging the other three silhouettes standing still as ice. All are mounted on a horse, ready to descend into the crater below and finish what they had to do.
The stranger extends his arm so that the point of his scythe glimmers brightly like thirty silver coins, and then the other three are moving forward, descending the hill with rapid speed.
The rider on the horse, the horse that looks the colour of whey with its sunken eyes, and absence of a heart beat, incomplete and eldritch; well that rider hangs behind.
He moves his neck and his skeletal frame cracks like a thousand broken backs, these short fractures of preparation that make his eyes roll into the back of his head.
But there is no time for waiting, time has reached its end and so the horse moves on, taking the rider down the hill, towards the flames as quietly and effortlessly as a scream cut short.
As the rain burned like acid and flies swarmed ravenously for the dead, the surviving sinners looked and beheld the approach of the pale horse, and the rider who sat upon it whose name was Death, and Hell followed with him.