Horsemen

Wood-grafted on the side of the porch was an old handprint, full now of termites eating away at its edges until it was scarcely recognizable. They hadn’t made their way to the house itself, full of delicious wooden support beams and hard crunchy floors – and that was the very use of the handprint, after all. That is, it was, as far at Pestilence thought it. In the morningtime she would sit on the porch and eye the far corner, every so often seeing a lone termite crawl up over the edge before veering back down in hungry curiosity toward the hand-print. Pestilence’s own hand itched at the thought of it. She only had one to speak of, and spoke of it often when she got the chance – to anyone and everyone. About how it ached, how sore her tendons were. She would sooner have no hands than both, she would sometimes say, if this was what it meant to be whole. Her white ringlets fell around her face like a frozen waterfall, crystalline blue eyes shining brightly through tempest-tossed bangs.

There was a weathervane on the brown-tile slated roof of the house: the blackened image of an iron bird, bent slightly where it had once been struck by lightning. It survived anything and everything, and it still lit up sometimes during thunderstorms. It was once a rooster, probably, but over the years the melted, blackened thing had come to resemble a hunched old crow or raven, with empty, cut-out eyes. Death sat on the very point of the roof, hanging tightly on with one cold fist to the base of the weathervane. He watched it turn between his fingers, powerfully, as if not by wind but by some other force, until the beak pointed West. He tried to turn it himself every so often, but the stubborn thing wouldn’t budge under his thumb. He spent bored hours pressing his hand to the iron till his skin turned from brown to red with lightning-heat. His yellow eyes darted from one end of the horizon to the other, surveying everything.

A raggedy scarecrow stood legless on a post in the field where nothing grew, out back of the house. The straw poking through from his stitched wrists, drawn-on eyes stared out to the horizon, mostly unmoving. Every so often a maggot would make its way out of a hole in his checkered shirt and fall to the ground, leaving a thin bloody stain in its wake, and a gaping peephole through which all the dead crops could see his pink insides. Famine’s straw fingers would curl into a fist when his painted eyes saw a crow land in the field, but they did not pay him heed – or else, he was welcoming them.

To the West of the house stood a tall and weathered barn, with rusted nails in the walls and a heavy padlock hung over the door. War sat in the dirt under it, her legs stretched out before her and a shotgun in her arm. Inside, she could hear quiet beastly breathing – four pairs of lungs stretching and shrinking in unison. Every so often a drop of water would fall from the edge of the slanted roof onto her bare head into her tack-short hedgehog fuzz hair. Each time, she would wipe it off with the sleeve of her green jacket in the same way. Sometimes the breathing inside grew louder, and she would hear the shuffling of hooves against dry dirt, or a fierce whinny. Then she would lift the shotgun over her knees and, one eye closed, aim it slantways toward the sky. A blast, thunderlike, shaking the dust. Then silence. They’d shut up in there.

“Not till you’re needed,” she’d say quietly over the sound of four breaths, in line and unison again.

Young Wind

He was a young wind when he first encountered her. He had only just been born, blown down from old white mountains by the hot rolling air, whistling through the birth canal of a humid valley and flying over the rocky cliffs out to sea. The sheer force of him was a constant, pulsating life in those first instants, as it always is when a new wind is born. He was infected by the salt of the ocean, invigorated as he glided across the surface of the water, clean and untarnished except for a small white vessel.

It was a boat, the first he’d ever seen, a shining white one with two decks, and on the stern, looking out into the open water away from him, stood she. She was quite young then, and full of some unimaginable life. She too was like a young wind, wild and ethereal, with her auburn hair tossed about over her shoulders. He saw she wore a wide-brimmed red and white hat.

Something about the sight of her, the life of her, enchanted him. In a brisk moment of flight, he enveloped her in his warm arms, full of the sea-salt. And in the next instant he was gone, for winds move far faster than most boats. But he smiled, because he had taken the wide-brimmed red and white hat to remember her by.

Fox

They called her the White Fox in all the stories. They said she dressed in clean, snow-colored furs, that her neck was heavy with all the jewels and rhinestones she had stolen, and that her skin was deathly pale. The stories that had been told over the most times said that she had a tail – that her mother’s mother’s father had been a real fox from the north, and that she still bore his colors.

There were tales that said she was more animal than woman. Mothers told their naughty children sometimes that the White Fox would come and steal them away if they didn’t behave. Traveling merchants would leave small offerings of meat on the road they traveled to make sure the Fox would grant them safe passage.

These days she rarely bothered with the long and winding merchant footpaths. On the few occasions that she traveled, she preferred the thick and well-paved stone roads in the country. She preferred to have a cold drink on a hot day, or a hot drink on a cold day. She preferred to wear the string of pearls her mother gave her, sit at the end of the bar, and toss her blonde hair over her shoulder as she listened sideways to a story being told by the fire.

 

Things Unseen

Dregann tapped his cold fingers back and forth on the wooden bench, his eyes fixed on the opposite side of the hall in a casual sort of way. The bench opposite from his was nearly identical – long, wooden, polished – but occupied by someone he regarded as far more beautiful. Mayth was an autumn wind, aesthetically. Her cool brown eyes drifted back and forth over her pale, faintly freckled cheeks, before finally settling down at her torn, open-toed black sandals. There were faded dark circles under her eyes – not bags, but just thin echoes of shade cast on the underside of her face. People continued to pass through the hall between the two benches, but they might as well have been made of glass, for all that Dregann saw of them. She wholly encompassed his vision.

She looked up at him, suddenly, with an expression of bemused intrigue. Her eyes met his, and for a moment he was deaf to any noise around him except the autumn breeze – as if the wind had swallowed the two of them whole. He smiled.

She smiled. For a second, she remained there, perfectly still, and then she blinked and shook her head, literally shaking the thought out of her head. She thought she had seen something faintly, when she squinted, in the corner of her eye, but she had to have been mistaken. She looked down from the empty bench across the hall and tapped her cold fingers musingly against the smooth wood of her seat.

Fire and Brimstone

Brimstone, they said, would be sturdy. Brimstone, they said, would hold his fortress well and would endure the fire. Fire, they said, was what his soul craved. His soul, they told him, was what was inside. He laughed at them, because he had looked inside and seen nothing but black air.

Fire, he told them, was what he craved – by himself – and the soul was not their business. He didn’t want to argue with them – their pure, glowing faces completely featureless. He didn’t want to ruffle their feathers. He just wanted the hiss of flame and to breathe in smoke and to forget. He wanted not to think of the soul, or whatever it was that his father had torn away with his foolish, straight-fingered hand.

Fire, he thought, was beautiful. He could watch it dance for hours – effortless and powerful, weaving its tongues through the air like snakes. Spry, hot, and delicate; serpentine. He stared up at the edge from inside the brimstone fortress sometimes. He did not miss it. He hated it. Fire was better for breath and life. Up there was frigid and weak.

They told him his soul wanted peace, wanted love. He laughed at them – a hoarse, wicked, mocking laugh. He wasn’t like them, not anymore, and he didn’t want the soul – nor did he care what it wanted. He could have souls seeping out of the walls if he wanted. He could have hundreds, billions of souls. If he decided he wanted. He didn’t want.

Brimstone, they told him, had turned him how he was. Hot and wicked, they said, like fire. They told him, even if he had a hundred souls around him, none of them could be his. They said it would only taunt him. Brimstone, they said, was all he had now.

Holes in the Night

When Marjorie looked into the sky as a small child, she used to imagine that the stars she could see were little holes in the darkness, and that behind them – shining through – was the light of day. She grew up in the country with her mother, and in the country, where the sky was clear, she could see so many stars at night that she could not count them all. It seemed as though the dark night sky was almost ready to tear apart in certain places, and if she hooked her fingers in the holes and pulled quickly, she would open up the day again before its time.

That was when she lived in the country, and when she had all the jobs of fixing and closing the old gate, and keeping the chickens in during the rain, and turning out the lights on the porch before nine. That was when her mother taught her to crochet. She’d go out at night and look at the stars. That was before she had to bring her mother her medicine, and before she had to call the doctor when her mother fell. She didn’t have much time to go out at night after that.

The sky wasn’t so clear in the city where Aunt Clara lived. Years of smoke from the tall factories and smoking men with newspapers had fogged up the dark blue sky, and blotched it grey and black. Marjorie still went outside every night, though she usually stayed on Aunt Clara’s front steps – to be safe. There were much fewer holes in the city sky. It was stronger, colder, not torn as easily. When she squinted, on a night when there had been no rain, she could make out two or three, peppering the darkness – holes somebody had poked just for her, so she could look right through.