Towns took me in, but never for more than a few days. The townspeople were generous, but they did not wish to harbor a fugitive from the horseman. I did not blame them. I would have done the same, in their position.
I saw slim girls swimming in a shallow pond. Their bright eyes, their angling backs, the archery of their bodies: the scene drew my interest. Their throats emitted shrieks: I thought, Pain! But no, this was not pain. The water grew red. I thought, Save them! Help them! But they refused my assistance even before I offered it, refused without even knowing of my presence in the hedges. I stalked off, and they never saw me. The horseman was quick on my trail. I heard their screams behind me, and I thought, Joy! I did not turn to confirm this; in retrospect I regret the lapse.
I thought, Apocalypse has come! For some of the cities were in ruins. But then there were the thriving metropoli to thwart my theory. Yet——I knew Armageddon was biding,—in the despairless throngs, in the grim mouths of the streets through which throbbed the tired traffic tongues, in the rust squeals of the mayors’ bones, in the satisfaction of the winos, in the writhing rainbow skies of twilight. The cities slept by day, and at night arose in hideous bodies, syphilitic, asthmatic, languid and shuddering weak, but strong enough to stroke their organs, to climax in the dawn, to fade (gratefully) into that fitful sunlit slumber. The cities did not take me in, nor expel me. But they answered the horseman’s queries as to my whereabouts, to the best of their knowledge: they saw no profit in protecting me, and possibly feared the horseman’s reprisal should they be less than honest. I did not blame them. I would have done the same, in their position.
I heard the hunt crashing through the brambles of the wood. I hid. Near me was a bleeding boy. He gasped and shook, and the galloping blasts of firearms in the distance shocked and swept him swooning. I took the boy up in my arms, and noted he was light. I carried him all night through the gaps between the trees, from gap to gap, traversing the gaps. The boy slept peacefully in my arms, and his blood stained my shirt, but it was old blood, for the bleeding had stopped. I licked his wound, confident he would not wake to my tongue. I found I enjoyed the taste of his blood, so I probed at the wound with the tip of my tongue until its seam burst and new blood seeped out. This invigorated me, and I traversed the gaps at a far greater pace. But the horseman was quick on my trail, and I dropped the boy. The boy still slept on the ground where he landed. I found a way out of the wood, and behind me I heard the horseman and the boy. I should not have dropped him. He may have had a sister, as I have a sister.
I stumbled into a vast network of caverns in which dwelt men with slight bodies, attenuated limbs, milky flesh. They fed me, and medicated and clothed me. Their bodies were so soft. I slept on them; they gladly played my mattress: it was their pleasure. As I slept, the softness of their bodies softened; a cool, liquescent soma flowed into my breath. My body filled with inhalations that weighed me to the rock and would not let me rise. When I awoke, perspiring and thirsty, I fell asleep again. When I awoke a second time, merely thirsty, I dipped my tongue in the puddle that had formed around me. I slept again, and rose refreshed. But I did not pause to enjoy my state; for I could hear the horseman in the tunnels now, and already my good health pursued the wane.
A mountain loomed in my way, and I began to climb. I did not stop to rest, not once, but plummeted inversely with the very gravity of the horseman, which sought to drag me back down that mountainside. When I reached the top, I discovered a cabin nestled in the rocks. A blind hermit lived there. He took me in. He did not demand I leave. I told him of the horseman, for I am honest, although fugitive. He laughed. He told me, I know of this horseman. I too have been in his clutches. I too have escaped. Suddenly, I felt uneasy. I told the hermit I could not stay. He told me, You will be safe here. The horseman will never reach here. I told the hermit I must leave. He grabbed at my arm, but I shook him off. He lunged at me, but since he was blind it was easy to evade him. I heard his howls for hours as I stumbled down the other side of the mountain. I did not blame him. I would have done the same, in his position.
I thought, Apocalypse has come! For before me, on a plain, armies were assembling for war. Flames serrated the horizon, and the sky was a spectrum from crimson to black. I walked through the encampments, and no one noticed me. A tearful woman performed a tracheatomy on a convulsing toddler. A naked boy beat a drum with his erect member before an audience of haggard men. An amputated soldier practiced swordplay. A priest tore his vestments on a protruding nail and cursed. Some of the tents were squirming. A dead whore lay in the street, and a crouching girl attempted to wrench some rings from the swollen fingers. The armies could be seen out on the field, beginning the engagement. I heard the metal sounds, and the ground sounds, and the throat sounds: they floated in on a gentle breeze of stench. Some hags were sweeping, some children brawling, some women popping bouillon cubes. Armageddon bided here. But I knew the horseman would come anyway.
I came into a valley where the dead lived. My mother approached me with welcoming arms. She did not speak, but implored me with her eyes. I spat in her face, and knew she was no one’s mother. You would have done the same, in my position.
I will not always run. Sometime, the horse will tire.
Yarrow Paisley lives in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. His work has appeared in various and sundry places, online and in print. Honors of which he’s proud include having been nominated for prizes, having been translated into Portuguese, and serving as a Guest Editor for the online literary journal Gone Lawn. His website is http://yarrowpaisley.com.
(This piece originally ran in 3rd Bed.)