Pestilence

By: Laura Thalassa

Prologue


They came with the storm.

The sky surged, great plumes of clouds tumbling and roiling together. The desert air thickened, feeling damp and smelling unusually ripe.

Lightning flashed.

BOOM!

The world lit up like it was on fire, and there they were—four great beasts of men astride their terrible steeds.

The monstrous mounts reared back, pawing the air as their masters stared out at the world with foreign, fearsome eyes.

Pestilence, his crown perched upon his brow.

War, with his steel blade held high.

Famine, a scythe and scales at hand.

And Death, blighted Death, his dark wings folded at his back, a torch of bilious smoke tight in his grip.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, come to claim the earth and lay waste to the mortals that dwelled within it.

The sky darkened and the steeds charged, their hooves kicking up dust as they galloped.

North—

East—

South—

West—

The horsemen rode to the four corners of the world, and in their wake machines broke, fuses blew. The Internet crashed and computers died. Engines failed and planes fell from the sky.

Bit by bit, all the world’s great innovations ceased to be, and the globe slid into darkness.

And so it was, and so it shall be, for the Age of Man is over, and the Age of the Horseman has begun.

They came to earth, and they came to end us all.





Chapter 1


Year 5 of the Horsemen


“We draw matches.”

I level my hazel eyes on the tiny wooden sticks in Luke’s fist. He strikes one against our roughhewn table, the flame flaring bright for a second before he blows it out.

Around us, the fire station’s overhead lights hum in that distressing way most electronics do nowadays, like at any moment they might sputter out.

Luke holds up the matchstick with the blackened tip. “Loser stays behind to see our plan through.”

This was the painstaking decision we made. One person doomed to die, three more to live.

All so we could kill that ungodly sonuvabitch.

Luke folds the tip of the burnt match into his palm with the three unburnt ones, then dips his hands beneath the table to mix them up.

Outside, beyond one of our decommissioned firetrucks, all our necessary belongings are packed, ready for a quick escape.

If, of course, we’re one of the fortunate three.

Luke finally lifts his hand, the matchstick stems jutting from his closed fist.

Felix and Briggs, the other two firefighters, go first.

Felix draws a matchstick …

Red-tipped.

He lets out a breath. I can tell he wants to fall back in his seat; his relief is obvious. But he’s both too macho and too aware of the rest of us to do so.

Briggs reaches for his …

Red-tipped.

Luke and I share a look.

One of us is going to die.

I can see Luke preparing himself to stay behind. I’ve only ever seen that expression on his face once before, when we were putting out a wildfire that had all but encircled us. The fire moved like the devil drove it, and Luke wore the expression of a walking dead man.

Both of us survived that experience. Perhaps we’d survive this devil too.

He holds his fist up to me. Two wooden sticks jut out. Fifty-fifty odds.

I don’t overthink it. I grab one of the matchsticks.

It takes a second for the color to register.

Black.

Black means … black means death.

The air escapes my lungs.

I glance up at my teammates, who are all wearing various looks of pity and horror.

“We all have to die sometime, right?” I say.

“Sara …” This comes from Briggs, who I’m halfway positive likes me more than a colleague and friend ought to.

“I’ll go instead,” he says. Like his bravery counts for anything. You can’t date a girl if you’re dead.

I close my fist around the match in my hand. “No,” I say, resolve settling in my bones. “We decided this already.”

Staying behind. I’m staying behind.

Deep breath.

“When all of this is over,” I say, “someone please tell my parents what happened.”

I try not to think about my family, who evacuated with the rest of the town earlier this week. My mom, who used to cut the crusts off my sandwiches when I was little, and my father, who was so upset when I told him I volunteered to stay behind for the last shift. He looked at me then like I was a dead woman.

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