The Horsemen (part 4)

The next morning, Famine and the rest of the group prepared to leave. War and Death gathered the people they trusted the most and explained to them that they would be gone for a while. The people were of course nervous, but after a lengthy talk, they agreed to run the city. Famine watched in amazement as the two brothers addressed the city. The people there truly loved them. He could not imagine such a civilized place existed in this day and age.

Pestilence was back to her stony silence. She sat back and observed. Due to the brothers’ rule of the city, there was little sickness and no one crying for death. It was a place she would love to come back to. Her heart sank as she remembered that they would be leaving. She knew that their mission to bring balance was important, but she was not looking forward to helping end so many lives. Her eyes met with Death and she knew he would miss this city as well.

War, on the other hand, was anxious to get moving. The night that his brother had found him in that alley, he had sought out the thugs. He had no desire to join them, they were scum. He wanted to make them pay for destroying the city he loved. He wanted to bring the thugs to justice. He did not understand how people could just toss aside their morals overnight.

Once they rule of the city was set up, they began the long walk back to the park where Famine had encountered the Indians. They wanted to make good progress before they were forced to stop for the night.

“It would not be wise to camp to close to our city. There are usually bandits hanging around and looking for ways to sneak into the city. I can sometimes sense when they are close, but not if they are hiding their intentions,” Death explained as they marched.

They agreed to walk as far as they could before stopping. Famine needed to talk to the Indians anyways. Questions buzzed through his mind like bees swarming flowers. He needed answers before he started trying to restore balance.

Despite the added company, most of the day passed in silence. Famine tried to get conversations started with the twins, but War was not much of a talker and Death did not feel much like talking either. Eventually, Famine gave up all pretense of small talk and focused on maintaining their neck breaking pace. He worried about how Pestilence would hold up, but she seemed stronger than ever.

They walked until the light faded to the point that they were stumbling over rocks. The twins gathered wood and built a small fire. Pestilence once again fell asleep as soon as she laid down. The twins cooked some meat, the spices burning Famine’s nose. He expected his stomach to growl in protest, but every since his change, he had yet to be hungry.

“The Indians live in the central park. The local gang is a band of cannibals who have turned to hunting humans for food. They use dogs and they are very organized for being thugs. We will have to move through the city without being detected,” Famine explained.

“Why do we need to be careful. Between the four of us, those thugs will not stand a chance,” War grunted.

“I do not want to kill people unless we have to. Just because we are supposed to restore balance, that does not mean we are supposed to kill everyone we do not agree with,” Famine answered, shocked at his willingness to kill.

War grunted, but whether in agreement or not was unclear. Famine opened his mouth to raise some of his concerns when Death laid a hand on his arm. The look in the huge man’s eyes silenced him. War sprang to his feet and walked towards the sleeping girl. Before Famine could ask what was going on, he heard it. The sound of gravel crunching under foot. He unsheathed his dagger and rose to his feet.

An arrow whistled into their camp and buried itself in the dirt where War had been sitting seconds earlier. Famine turned and snatched a second arrow out of the air. The thugs had found their camp. It was too dark to see how many were out there, but Famine felt like it was safe to assume they were outnumbered. He turned as he heard a sharp intake of breath to his left. A crooked arrow was lodged deep in Death’s shoulder.

Death hissed at the inconvenience and yanked the arrow out. He looked at Famine with a lopsided smile as the wound closed.

“Did I forget to mention that,” he laughed at the confused look on Famine’s face.

Famine did not have time to question his companion as a thug hurtled into the fire light. They grappled around the fire for a few seconds, Famine trying not to use his blade. He meant it when he said he did not want to kill. The thug however, was not holding back. If it were not for his enhanced reflexes, the thug would have easily overpowered him. Famine tried to reason with the man before nicking him on the forearm. He watched with sadness as the man withered and died. He felt his muscles felt rejuvenated as he received the dead man’s strength.

War was no longer by the fire. He had moved further into the darkness, baited by the thugs calls. His fists flew, connecting with anything that got too close. The muscles on his arms bulged, growing stronger the longer he fought. He did not even need to see, he just relied on his sense of hearing. Soon enough, he knew they were all down. Some of them were gone, the rest would wake up and slink away during the night. He panted slightly as he walked back to the fire.

“They won’t be back,” he grunted before settling in for sleep.

“My brother relishes the fight. It makes him stronger, but once it passes, he must sleep,” Death sat down next to his brother’s sleeping form.

“Do you always heal that fast,” Famine asked.

“Yes,” Death hesitated. “I do not think I can be hurt at all. That is my curse.”

“Your curse,” Famine screwed up his face incredulously.

“I think since I cannot be hurt, I will not die. What could kill me? That means that someday, my brother will be gone and I will have to go on alone. I will be around long after balance is restored and everyone I know has moved on.”

Death stared at his brother, the secret he had kept for so long finally out in the open.

“Maybe the Indians will have answers for you too. I just hope we can make it to them without anymore fighting.”

Death stayed awake through the night, every crunch of gravel ringing in his ears. When the sun started to peek over the horizon, he woke the others and they started their grueling march again. Famine was grateful when the city he had left a few short days ago came into view. Soon enough, his hopes of making it to the park without a fight were dashed. The deep barking of dogs and the screams of their victims echoed off the crumbling buildings.

Pestilence looked around in horror as the realization hit her. She was going to have to use her powers on people who were not sick. She had never used it to kill, just to help. Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks as a pack of thugs turned their attention to the crowd of four.

War cracked his knuckles and rolled his shoulders. As soon as the thugs were within reach, he started swinging. He fought with no regard for what his companions were doing. Famine jumped to his aid, dispatching the rabid dogs with his dagger. The small girl stood back, hesitant to join the fray. She shrieked as a woman grabbed her from behind. Her hands found the woman’s face and immediately began draining her of her life. Death walked through the battle, only killing when necessary. The battle was over before the thugs even had a chance to retreat. Dogs and humans littered the sidewalk.

Word of the battle spread quickly. They could feel eyes watching them, but no one else approached them. The park came into view around lunch. Famine could hardly contain his excitement as the walked into the park.

(Do not forget to go back and read the other parts if you have missed them)




The Horsemen (part 2)

        Famine stepped out of the park and despite hearing the howling of dogs, he felt calm. He knew his reflexes were faster, he just was not sure what else had changed. He walked down the streets, silently hoping for a gang member to show up and test him. He did not have to wait long. A huge thug walked straight at him. His face was covered in poorly drawn tattoos and he had the same sharpened teeth as the woman from the park. He cracked his knuckles loudly as he got closer. As soon as he was within arms reach, he lunged.

        Famine dodged the huge man easily, slashing his arm with the wise woman’s dagger. He watched with a morbid fascination as the man stumbled. His skin grew taut and his body seemed to wither as he fell. He was dead before his body hit the ground. Nobody who saw the body would have believed that he was a burly thug just seconds ago. His skeletal frame bore no resemblance of his former self.

Famine gasped suddenly as he felt warmth flood through his body. He looked the same, but he felt so much stronger. The realization dawned on him. He had gained his victim’s strength. He could inflict famine like symptoms on whoever he deemed deserving and he would benefit from it. The wise woman was right, he would restore balance to the end. He knew the tugging sensation was guiding him to one of the others.

He turned away from the body and walked towards the tugging. The longer he walked, the stronger the sensation got. At one point he could feel the tugging coming from two different directions, but he continued on the first path. After his second encounter with a gang member, this time a woman, word started to spread about the stranger with the deadly dagger. Soon enough, the streets were deserted.

* * *

        Famine walked for days before he reached the next city over. He never realized how much he took modern conveniences like cars for granted. The extra strength he had gained from killing the thugs was spent. He searched for a secure spot to spend the night, every inch of this city seemed to be covered in filth. He eventually had to settle for a dilapidated building, knowing his options were limited. He kicked as much of the trash away from his corner as he could before laying down.

        Unlike before, his dreams were empty. He no longer dreamed of the disease or the destruction the end had brought. For the first time in a long time, he woke up feeling well rested and ready to face the day. The tugging feeling had grown steadily stronger as he entered the city. He was sure that he would find one of the four today.

       As he walked, Famine realized it had been days since his last meal and he was still going strong. He scrunched up his face in confusion, considering this new ability. He wished he had asked the Indians more questions before they left him, but he was not positive he could even put his thoughts into words right now. He never expected to be anything more than a normal survivor, barely scrapping by.

        He wandered through the city aimlessly, the tugging was fairly strong now but it just showed him the general direction. He had no clue who he was looking for. They told him he would know the others when he found them, but he had yet to see anyone out of the ordinary. As the sun crept higher into the sky and the humidity increased, he grew steadily more discouraged and angry. The Indians had to know more than they let on. Why were they not more willing to help him?

        He was so consumed with anger that he stumbled over the legs of an elderly man. The man looked like he could have been one of Famine’s victims. His skin hung in loose folds over his knobbly joints. His clothing hung in tattered rags, barely covering his body. Famine pulled back as the old man started to cough, spraying blood and spittle on the sidewalk. Fear shot through him as memories of the end resurfaced. He had no clue if his new found talents would protect him from disease.

        Famine turned to run away from the man, only to bump into a small child. The girl had her pale blonde hair tied back with a string. Her eyes were a piercing blue, the kind that could see straight into your soul. Famine knew immediately that she was the reason he was here. He watched in wary silence as the child knelt next to the diseased man. She completely ignored his raspy coughing as she checked his temperature. It took every fiber of Famine’s being not to jerk the girl away from the dying man.

        The girl did a hasty check of the old man’s vitals. She could always tell who was going to die and who was going to get better. A few months ago, her mother had fallen ill. She was forced to watch her mother deteriorate before her eyes, helpless and alone. One morning she could tell her mother’s time was near. She held her mother’s hand and could feel life leave her. Her mother’s breath came in ragged gasps. The girl prayed for a way to help her mother.

        The girl closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, just like she had for her mother. She breathed in the man’s disease, taking the pain from his body. Tears streamed down her face as his pain entered her body. Relief flooded the old man’s face as he drew his last breath. She winced as his life ended. She knew she was helping the sick, but being the one to help people along was a lonely road.

        Famine stepped forward and caught the girl as she fell backwards. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she shook slightly as the pain rain through her body. He watched in horror as roaches and flies appeared all around them. As soon as the bugs disappeared in the street, the girl rose shakily to her feet. She stared at him apprehensively, sensing that something was off about him.

        “My name was Ben, I am now known as Famine. I was sent to find three others and I believe that you are one of them. I think you are Pestilence. We are supposed to bring an end to this way of life. I’m a little bit foggy on the details,” Famine stated awkwardly.

        The girl watched him for a second before nodding. She had nowhere else to go and no one that would miss her. She motioned for him to follow her back to her hideout. They would need supplies for their journey.


(Just in case you missed part one here it is: )

The Horsemen


         ​The world did not end with a bang or a whisper, but rather one scream at a time. Ben raced through the streets, pushing his way through the frantic crowd. He knew he could not outrun the disease, but he could outrun the gangs. He hurtled over the rusted frame of a motorcycle and veered towards the park. The gang lines were constantly changing, but the park always seemed to be neutral ground. The screams echoed off the crumbling skyscrapers as people fell victim to the gang. Ben knew what the gangs were hunting for and he refused to be their next meal. He had too much work to do. 

His panic subsided a bit, but he did not slow down as he crossed into the park. He ran past the warning signs barely registering the skeletons. Death was everywhere now and the skeletons were the least of his worries. He could feel the eyes watching him, waiting to see if he would respect the neutral space or if they would need to take action. Ben was not sure who had set up their camp in the park, but they did not hunt other humans. His hideout was just on the other side of the park, he listened to the screams as he ran. He did not want to hang out in the park while they hunted near his hideout. Thankfully, the screams were still behind him.

                              * * *

Ben silently crept along the street, careful to not give away his position. The screams were gone, which meant the gangs were done hunting for now. That did not mean they would not use him for sport if they found him. His hideout was not far from the border of the park, usually only a ten minute walk. Hugging the shadows and taking extra care to not make a sound caused it to take much longer than normal though. When he finally reached the entrance to his hideout, sweat soaked through his shirt.

The doorway was well hidden behind a dumpster. Ben had to slip in sideways and then slide through the tiny hole in the bricks. The small room was empty with a small hole in the ceiling leading to a room above. Ben used a stick to pull down a ladder and quickly climbed into the room, pulling the ladder up behind him. After a hasty search confirmed that he had not had any uninvited company, he finally settled in for the night. While laying in bed, he made a mental list of everything he needed to find tomorrow. Ever since the end had come, food and necessities where hard to come by.

He had some caches built around the city for emergencies. They contained the bare minimum and he did not like using them unless it was an actual emergency. They were not as secured as his hideout. Ben had been in his current hideout for almost six months, the longest period of time he had spent in one place since the end. The key to survival was to keep moving, but something about this hideout made him linger. It felt like he was meant to be there.

When sleep finally took him, it was filled with the usual restless nightmares. They had come every night since the end. The nightmares were filled with the decaying bodies of the diseased and dying. As soon as the plague reached his hometown, Ben knew he needed to leave. He left as soon as he gathered what he needed. In the dreams, he tried to outrun the disease, but no matter how quickly he ran the plague victims overtook him. The monsters started to pull on him and throw him to the ground. Right before one monster ended his life with a clawed hand, he jerked awake.

Ben held his breath as the sound of footsteps on the street outside reached his ears. An odd sniffing sound echoed in the silence. The gangs sometimes used dogs in their  hunts. His heart was beating so loudly that he was sure the dog would hear it. The dog scratched at the dumpster before moving away. The footsteps faded, but Ben knew it was time to move again. That was too close and they would only get closer. He waited for what seemed like hours before throwing everything he could carry into his backpack. Traveling at night was risky, but that dog would come back. 

He inched his way down the street, keeping a wary eye out for other gang members. His fall back shelter was in a small cave in the park. He just needed to make it there tonight and figure out his next move in the morning. His heart plummeted as soon as he stepped on the park grounds. The dog had picked up his scent and was howling for the others. Terror raced through him as howls answered all around him. He knew he would never make it to the cave. 

He ran deeper into the park, hoping that the watchful eyes would protect him. His hope died suddenly as a huge dog appeared snarling in front of him. The woman holding the dogs leash sneered, revealing teeth that had been sharpened to points. She let out a shrill whistle to alert the others to their position. Ben turned to run away, already knowing that it was pointless. A second dog was blocking his path. Panic was clear on his face as a third dog showed up. He knew his nightmares were about to become a reality.

He screamed for help, but he knew no one would come. It was every man for himself in the world now, unless you were in a gang. Even gang members had to watch their backs though. No one was safe and no one would help him. As soon as the leashes were dropped, the dogs lunged. Ben tried to run again, even though he knew it was hopeless. He cried out as the dogs tore into his skin. His cries were punctuated with snarls and laughs as the gang members watched. 

As quickly as the mauling had started it ended. Ben tried to look around, but he could not move. He was forced to lay in the dirt and listen to the whimpers and retreating footsteps. He tried to assess his injuries, but his mind seemed to be in a fog. The only thing he could register was the pain. He did not even have the strength to fight as he was lifted into the air. He could hear the crunch of footsteps on the dead leaves, but the sound seemed miles away.

The man who carried Ben moved quickly despite the added weight. He had been watching from the shadows and intervened when the peace had been broken. He walked towards the heart of the park. When he reached the center, the brambles parted and he entered. An elderly woman turned away from a table and walked over to him. She shoved her dark wrinkled face close to Ben’s.

“He is almost gone. Get him on the table,” she whispered after she checked Ben’s wounds.

The man laid him down on the table and stepped away. The man left the clearing to look for the other elders. The wise woman would need help, the strangers wounds were severe. The wise woman moved along Ben’s wounds, cleaning them and chanting under her breath. Ben strained to understand what she was saying, but nothing made sense. His vision clouded over and he welcomed the darkness.

The wise woman chanted more fervently as the stranger’s eyes closed. She was not sure if he was the one they were waiting for, she needed to save him to find out. She turned slightly as the brambles parted again. Three more wrinkled men entered. Their skin looked like tanned leather and their hair hung in long gray braids. They immediately got to work cleaning and stitching up the wounds. They added their voices to the woman’s chanting. Ben’s rescuer watched the elders work, daring to hope that this man would be the one to fix everything. They worked on Ben until the sun started to filter through the trees. When they had done everything they could for him, they sat and waited.

                              * * *

Ben gasped and tried to sit up. He winced as some of his wounds reopened. His mind raced as he tried to remember what had happened. His eyes found the strange people sitting around him.

“Who are you? What did you do to me,” he groaned.

“We live in the park and maintain the peace. Adahy brought you to us and we healed you,” the oldest man answered.

“I thought I heard chanting. What was that,” Ben asked as some of the night’s events returned.

“It is an old thing, if you are the one we have been waiting for, you will be different, if not, nothing.”

“Who have you been waiting for,” Ben looked at them in confusion.

“We have been waiting for the one who would lead. One of the four who will bring back balance.”

Adahy stood and handed Ben a folded bundle of clothes. Every scrap of clothing in the bundle was as black as night. Ben stared at it, his mind racing to make sense. He looked up as a weird whirring sound reached him. Without realizing what he was doing, Ben caught the dagger that the wise woman had thrown at his chest. 

“You are the one,” the wise woman uttered in a hushed voice. “You must gather the other three and restore balance.”

“The other three,” Ben did not even realize he was talking again, he was so fixated on the blade.

“Pestilence, War, and Death. You will know them when you find them and you will know what needs to be done,” Adahy answered.

Before Ben could ask anymore questions, the elderly Indians left the clearing. Adahy followed behind them without looking back. Ben changed into the black clothes and tucked the dagger into his belt. He could feel a tugging sensation in his stomach. He knew he needed to follow it as surely as he knew that he was no longer Ben. He had entered the clearing as Ben, but he left as Famine.

(The picture is “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Viktor Vasnetov)