The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse appear in New York. Death breaks away and unleashes havoc on the city. The 3 remaining Horsemen pay a not-so-friendly late night visit to a writer and order him to return Death to their company. One small problem for the writer. If he returns Death, the writer may have to die...AGAIN
COPYRIGHT © 2011 Joel Goulet
COPYRIGHT © 2001--2013 Author Joel Goulet
The weather service had predicted a severe thunderstorm, yet few people could have imagined the ferocity of the lightning buffeting the city. The night skies were aglow with nature’s electrifying show. But there seemed to be nothing natural about the lightning, its intensity, savageness, or frequency. It was as if God had lost control of his own making. Oblivious to the thunderstorm, twenty-two-year-old Brad Olmsted sat in a dark corner of his bedroom. An African American, he had long hair, usually tied back into a ponytail that went well beyond his shoulders. But this night his hair was sweat-matted and free falling, covering his face, a face telegraphing the terror he was caught up in. The hair in front of his eyes went unnoticed as he starred unflinchingly at a wall. He went minutes without blinking. Such was his gaze, his eyes pained him. The walls of the bedroom were painted white, and served as a base color over which Olmsted had drawn earlier in the evening. He was an art student, taking a course by mail, and had aspirations of someday painting a masterpiece that would grace a wall in the New York Museum of Art. A graffiti artist since he was first able to push down the spray nozzle of an aerosol can, art seemed to be a part of his very being. During his late teenage years, his graffiti had been well known. His style had a distinct signature, which caused him to be a suspect, leading to criminal charges, and a forced withdrawal from the illicit self-expression. Dozens of tabloid newspapers were strewn about the bedroom, inundating the room with the trashy journalism. Hardly any of a blue-green floor carpet could be seen. The papers shared a common front-page theme, bearing captions and images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. On all the walls and ceiling, Olmsted had drawn portrayals of the Horsemen in chilling detail. As he sat in the corner, he shook uncontrollably. Teeth neglected for a year chattered. His young, strong heart beat so rapidly his chest ached. Sweat streamed down his face, at times blurring his vision. “No. No,” he repeated with a weak, trembling voice--a tenor voice that had so often been heard over fellow choir members during Sunday services. He shook his head, and slapped his temples with the palms of his broad hands, trying to inflict pain upon himself, or perhaps even to knock himself unconscious, which to him would have been an escape from the hell he was experiencing. Images of the Horsemen raced through his troubled mind, in as striking detail as the drawings on the walls. He buried his head between the raised knees of his thick, powerful legs, squeezing the knees tightly against his head with all his might. So often those legs had carried him on long-distance runs. But now, with honesty, he could not even say he felt them pressing against his head. “Get away from me,” he cried. Slowly he raised his head, cognizant in the moment of the hardwood floor that had begun vibrating beneath him. The vibrating intensified twofold. A dresser began to shake, banging against a wall. Books on a shelf above the dresser fell, landing within inches of him. He sprang to his feet, staggered slightly from a head rush, and leaned back against a wall. A framed picture vibrated from the same wall and fell, bouncing off his shoulder and shattering against the floor. His clouded mind didn’t register the stinging contact of the picture frame striking the shoulder. “Stop it,” he screamed, pressing his hands tightly against his ears. Olmsted ran from the bedroom into the apartment’s only bathroom. Unconcerned as to any noise he slammed the bathroom door shut, and rested his wide back against the unpainted oak surface. For a period he stood silent and still in the dark, trembling and breathing raggedly. His deep breaths were the only sound. A loud thumping sound coming from no recognizable source became audible, reverberating through the small room, amplifying quickly in volume. The sound was of horse hoofs striking against something solid. Hooves moving rapidly. He pressed his hands against his ears with as much force as he could muster. Still, the sounds were clear, ever louder. “Stop this,” he screamed in agony. He dropped to his knees and bent forward so his forehead was touching the floor. “Go away. Stop it.” He believed there was someone to hear his cries. Suddenly, the sounds ceased. Silence gripped the room, broken only by Olmsted’s irregular gasping. After a few minutes, a semblance of composure rejoined him. For the first moment that evening, he noticed the crackling of thunder outside, and the lightning flashes against the bathroom window curtains. He stood and switched on the room lights, hoping the light would present some form of respite to the torment he was enduring. With a breath of fresh energy he sprang from where he stood and rammed his mid-section against the bathroom sink cabinet. The corner of the cabinet’s marble top jabbed him in his groin. Olmsted ignored excruciating pain coursing through his mid-section, a pain, had it been any other time, would surely have buckled him over in agony. His thoughts were focused on other matters, matters meaning the difference between life and death. He had no time for acknowledging pain. He had no time to stray from doing what needed to be done to deliver him from the hell that had befallen him. He flung open the door of a medicine cabinet, nearly pulling the cabinet from the wall. In a panicked state of mind, he shoved aside items that fell from the cabinet onto the floor, until at last he found a small vile. He clutched the vile with a shaking hand and slammed the cabinet door shut with such force a mirror on the door cracked. There was a thick sheet of tempered glass lying across the sink. Barely able to hold the vile, Olmsted opened it and dumped cocaine onto the glass, forming two straight rows. He bent down and snorted the white powder into his nose through a straw that had been lying on the glass. He stepped back on legs more like rubber than flesh and bone. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, then leaned against the sink cabinet as he looked into the cracked mirror. For a minute he caught his reflection. It was a reflection of a man who, up until two days before, had preached the evils of, and had never touched any illegal drugs, had never been so out of touch with reality, had never been so terrified. Unrecognized by his own eyes was the image of a man who looked more dead than alive. He brushed aside his hair. His face was drawn and unshaven. His eyes were those of a man who had gone thirty-two hours without sleep. There was no usual curl at the corners of his narrow mouth that usually signaled to others his cheerful self. Suddenly, his reflection vanished, instantly replaced by the frightful images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Immediately terrified, Olmsted fell back against a brass towel rack which struck between his shoulder blades with such force as to momentarily knock the wind from his lungs. “No. No. Leave me alone,” he choked as he fought to draw in deep breaths. “Go away.” With his mind tormented by terror, and with the ability to reason draining from him, he hurried from the bathroom into his spacious living room. In unbroken flight he snatched a leather carryall from an armchair, tumbled over an ottoman, bounced to his feet and scurried out of the apartment, without bothering to close the entrance door behind him. Outdoors, torrential rain soaked Olmsted as he stumbled down the building’s cement entrance steps. The day had been hot and humid, and even the rain felt warm as heavy drops pelted his face. He slipped from a curb, walked through an ankle deep puddle of water, and stood in the street. His left arm felt as though it weighed a ton as he raised it weakly toward the lightning-blotched sky and waived it limply back and forth. Almost at once, a yellow cab screeched to a stop near him, but not before splashing water from a puddle onto the would-be fare. Carlos Bender had driven the same cab night after night for three years. It was his ‘Kate’ as he had affectionately named the car. He knew every rattle and squeak the car made, and was quick to investigate any new ones, should they impede upon his source of income. The aging vehicle was more of a home to him than was the meek apartment he rented in Queens. Indeed, many times he’d slept in the cab, parking it in an attended parking lot for a restful stretch, when money to pay bills was at issue and overtime pay the answer. Bender was a large man, tall and solidly built. Caucasian, he had bleached blonde hair, diamond earrings in both ears, a diamond pin in his nose, and enough gold hanging around his neck to make most people think he was crazy driving strangers around who might have a fancy for the precious metal. Unknown to most, though, was the fact he carried a loaded handgun under his seat. A flagrant infraction of company rules that could not only get him fired, but put behind bars as well. But he liked to flaunt the gold chains, believing it helped him latch onto available women. Bender liked, even preferred, driving during the night shift. The pace was less hectic, the streets less congested, and the fares weren’t as consumed by hurry-up business attitudes. Bender could actually converse with his fares at night, mostly because they weren’t in any great hurry to get anywhere, or they weren’t so irritated by traffic delays. Not to mention the night fares tipped more, since most of them were two sheets to the wind after partying into the early morning hours. “Where to?” Bender inquired, as Olmsted entered the cab. He wished he had a dime for every time he asked that question. But more so than not, hurried people would snap directions at him and sit back in silence, never striking up a conversation. “Just drive up Broadway,” Olmsted said waspishly. “I’ll let you know when to pull over.” The interior of the cab smelt of cigar smoke. Bender puffed on stogies whenever on break. There were air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror, but they were old and ineffective. The only reason they were there at all was because they were shaped like football helmets bearing the logos of New York football teams. Bender was a football fanatic. Everything he wore had some type of football team logo on it. There were even three autographed photos of professional players taped to the dash of the car. Conversation pieces Bender called them. And if asked during football season, he could tell any rider when there was a professional football game in town. “You’re the boss,” Bender said. He started a fare meter and fed the newly rebuilt car engine a fresh dose of premium fuel. He liked the way the engine looked with its fresh bright red paint job and chrome valve covers which he had paid for on his own, along with four chrome wheel covers. “So what do you think of this crazy lightning?” He asked, eyeing Olmsted in the rear-view mirror. “Not much.” “Yeah, I hear you. I’ve never seen lightning like this. It’s nuts. So what brings you out on a night like this?” “Shut up and drive,” Olmsted snapped. He was still shaking and even his voice sounded shaky. “Had a bad day, huh?” Bender continued, defiantly. He had no use for quiet fares, and certainly not rude ones. And he prided himself on being able to strike up a conversation with anyone, even deaf people since he knew sign language. “I don’t want to talk. They might hear me,” Olmsted said, almost in a whisper. Bender looked intently at Olmsted in the rear-view mirror. “Who?” he questioned. “The Horsemen,” Olmsted said softly. He looked from side to side, frantically looking out the cab windows for the Horsemen. “You mean the mounted cops?” Bender asked. They were the only horsemen in New York he knew of. “I know what you mean about those assholes. They jump down my throat damn near every night for piddling-ass shit. But they aren’t out on a night like this. They must be afraid the poor horses might get wet. The horses eat better than you and I. You know what I mean?” “I meant the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Olmsted said, sounding every bit annoyed. “The what?” “The Apocalypse.” Bender shook his head slowly. “You don’t believe in all that end-of-the-world crap, do you?” “Shut up. Don’t talk like that,” Olmsted said rapidly. His pulse had quickened significantly. He fidgeted on the seat. “I read about all that Revelation stuff,” Bender continued. “The tabloids are full of shit. Things aren’t going to happen the way the tabloids say. I mean, when the end comes, there’s going to be a big bang, a mushroom cloud, and everything is going to be vaporized. Nuked. That’s how the world is going to end. Makes a lot more sense than four weirdoes riding around on horses. Some nut in one of those crazy countries on the other side of the world is going to press a button and missiles will start flying. Bang. It’s over.” “Shut up,” Olmsted hissed. He kicked the back of Bender’s seat. “Pull over and stop the car by the dumpster ahead.” Bender swung the cab to the opposite side of the street, and parked the cab along the curb in front of an ageing tenement building. The cab was facing oncoming traffic, little as there was. There was a large red garbage dumpster blocking the sidewalk. Orange painted scaffolding rose along the brick exterior of the building for three of five floors. Yellow, CAUTION, tape was strung around the dumpster and scaffolding. “This is where you wanted to go?” Bender asked. He looked at the building, taking note of its dilapidated appearance. The glow of lights was visible in a few apartments on the first two floors, but there was no sign of life higher than that. “Looks like a lot of wasted work is being done in there. By the looks of the outside, they should demolish it and call it good.” Olmsted took a wobbly step from the cab. He took three more short steps through a puddle of water and collapsed onto a sidewalk. “Hey,” Bender said, sticking his head out his car window. He sprang from the cab, a man ready to render assistance, or a cabby ready to beat payment out of a fare trying to stiff him. He could be assertive as hell if need be. He knelt down beside Olmsted and shook the seemingly lifeless man. In one unbroken motion, Olmsted tore open his carryall and removed a .357 caliber pistol from it. He brought the weapon’s cold steel barrel to the side of Bender’s head. “You have to come inside with me,” Olmsted directed, speaking directly into Bender’s ear. “You’re the man,” Bender said nervously. He knew better than to say no, especially to a man as out of touch with reality as Olmsted was. “Anything you want. Just be careful with that piece.” He stood, noticing Olmsted had pulled back the weapon. A thought came to him, but was quickly dismissed. Only a fool would try to outrun a bullet, although he believed Olmsted couldn’t hit a wall while standing inside a barn, in his present state of mind. Olmsted directed the way into the building, walking behind Bender, with the gun in one hand and the carryall in the other. Olmsted knew exactly where he was leading Bender. Somehow. But even Olmsted didn’t know why he was driven to come to that building.
They walked up two flights of creaking steps, where the sounds of televisions and radios in apartments no longer were heard, and there weren’t any signs of residential life evident. The third floor landing was part of a long hallway cluttered with stepladders, painting equipment, piles of wood, and unfolded tarps. There was a strong odor of paint and thinners.
They walked across the hallway to an apartment a few steps from the landing. Olmsted somehow knew the door to the apartment was unlocked. Again he didn’t know what force drove him to go to that apartment. It was as if some spiritual entity was guiding him. They entered. There was the smell of fresh plaster. The apartment was dark. Using what little hallway lighting to see his way within the apartment, Olmsted removed a small lamp from the carryall, plugged it into an outlet, and turned it on. He slammed shut the apartment door, unconcerned about any possible attention the sharp crack of a door slamming made. There was a dull brass key in the door lock, which he turned to lock the door, then removed the key and stuffed it down the front of his jeans. “If you have visions of me going for the key in your pants, forget it,” Bender said. Had he been in the same situation with a woman, he’d likely consider it. He was a womanizer. He loved women. All women. Loved their bodies. Loved the way they smelt. Loved the way they felt next to him in bed. He would be the last to admit though, he had never been involved in a lasting relationship with a female, that is to say a relationship of more than three weeks. Relationships meant commitment, something he never learned. He was promiscuous at best. “Shut up,” Olmsted growled, aiming the gun at Bender with a shaky hand. “Sit on the floor.” “Look, I’ve gotta get back to my cab,” Bender said, sitting reluctantly. “You don’t have to go anywhere.” “Shit will happen if I don’t call in.” Bender knew the “shit” would not be pleasant for him. A driver who failed to call in could be disciplined in various ways, up to and including termination. He couldn’t afford to lose his job. Even if he explained what happened, it wasn’t a sure bet anyone would believe him. Of all the dumb luck, he’d have to pick up a study case for Bellevue. “Shit will happen if you try leaving,” Olmsted crossed. There was an almost insane look to his face. A distant look. The look of a man whose thoughts were not in line with reality. The look of a frightened man. “You’re not going to leave me alone.” “You’re strung out right now,” Bender said softly, hoping not to trigger a negative reaction. He rose to his knees. “Maybe I can get you some help.” The only thing he truthfully wanted to do was get the hell out of there. Forget the damn fare. He’d pay the tab himself if it meant getting away from the nut case holding the gun. “Nothing can help me,” Olmsted said, raising his voice. The veins in his neck looked like cords of rope. Perhaps a bullet between the eyes would help you, Bender thought. “Look, I don’t know what kind of drugs you’re on, but I think someone needs to help you,” he dared to press. “Shut up before they hear you,” Olmsted said. He glanced quickly at every part of the room. So fast, in fact, his eyes didn’t have time to focus on any one thing. “Who?” “The Horsemen.” “Horsemen?” “They might not find me here,” Olmsted said, lowering his voice. “I have to draw them.” He reached into the carryall and removed a half dozen different colored permanent markers. Resembling a man on fast-forward-film, he set to work, drawing on a bare, six-foot-square section of a mint-green painted wall. Within minutes a vivid depiction of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse took form. His artistic talent became obvious, even raising approving interest within Bender. Hampered by a constant need to sweep back his long hair, Olmsted paused often, then resumed his drawing in even more of a hastened pace each time. “Maybe if I leave you’ll be able to concentrate on your drawing,” Bender suggested. Any other time or place he’d consider watching such an artist to completion of a work.
Olmsted stopped drawing and dropped with a thud to his knees in front of Bender. The sting of his knees meeting the floor didn’t even cause him to flinch. “You can’t leave me alone,” he said, almost pleadingly. He shook his head rapidly, flopping his long hair from side to side. “I don’t want to be alone.” There was a wide, glazed-over look to his eyes that did more pleading than his words.
Bender hesitated, then dared to place a firm hand upon Olmsted’s shoulder. He could feel the troubled man trembling. “I’m not the right person to be with you. You need a doctor.” Olmsted swiftly brushed off Bender’s hand and stood. He towered ominously over Bender, shaking his pistol at the cabby, who was becoming increasingly fearful. “Yes you are,” Olmsted said sternly, nodding rapidly with a scowled look. “You’ll see. I’m not crazy. They’re real. You’ll see.” He returned to his drawing, thinking nothing of turning his back to Bender, feeling unconcerned about any possible attack delivered by the nervous cab driver. “Who’s real?” Bender asked. He considered an attack, but dismissed the idea after thinking about the gun Olmsted held in a shaking hand. Guns go off accidentally, and Bender didn’t have the greatest track record when it came to luck. He was a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, and didn’t entertain a desire to have anything go wrong for him involving someone with a gun. “The Horsemen.” “Must be some good shit you’re on.” “They’re real.” Bender wasn’t about to argue with him. “How long are you going to hold me here?” “Until it’s time,” Olmsted said without looking at Bender. “Time for what?” Bender asked. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer. For all he knew, the time was when the psychotic artist would blow him away. “Time for them to set me free,” Olmsted answered. He stepped back and looked at his drawing, tilting his head every angle possible. He hoped the Horsemen would be pleased with the drawing. It was to be his sacrificial offering to them. “Not a bad drawing,” Bender admitted. He dared to stand next to Olmsted. “The Horsemen.” “You’re really obsessed with this.” Olmsted spun around, doing a complete circle without moving from the spot. “Quiet,” he said. “They’re coming.” He tore a piece of paper from a notepad that had been hurriedly stuffed in his shirt pocket. Quickly he wrote upon it, holding both pen and gun with the same hand. He finished writing and tossed the pen to the floor, holding the paper with his free hand. His thumb cocked the firing hammer of the pistol. His eyes twitched back and forth nervously. A loud pounding sound began to come from the walls. The noise drove Bender to cover his ears. There was a creaking nose, reminding him of wood being stressed to its limit without breaking. The ceiling began to stretch inward, stretching into the shape of horse legs. It resembled a horse walking across a stretched piece of rubber. Sword and ax blades began to jut from the walls in numerous places. From many of them blood dripped and ran down the walls. Green lightning-like charges of electrical energy jumped from wall to wall, seemingly passing through the two panicked men in the room without any effect on them, other than adding greatly to their fear. Bender dove to the floor, attempting to keep from being struck by the bolts of energy. He lay still in a fetal position. Olmsted remained standing, defiantly, so it seemed. A savage wind began to howl around the room, making a sound similar to a jet engine, and causing the men to cover their ears with their hands. The swirling air instantly turned ice cold. Frost formed on the men’s hair. Neither man had ever felt such intense cold. Their flesh numbed. Bender fought to stand. He struggled against the unforgiving hurricane-force wind until he reached the locked door. “Give me the key,” he shouted at the top of his lungs, as he virtually tried to pull the door knob from the door. “It’s too late,” Olmsted replied. Bender leaned back against the door. He found himself held there by the wind’s force. “What the hell is happening?” he cried. “The Horsemen are here,” Olmsted said, almost sounding calm. “Screw you,” Bender cussed. Even with what he was witnessing he wasn’t going to believe in something he felt was tabloid-created. A sword blade poked through the door, mere inches from Bender’s neck. The blade screeched through the wood. He turned his head to look at the bloodstained blade. His muscles tensed as he tried again with all his might to move away from the door. Before he could budge, a skeletal arm and hand came through the door on the other side of Bender’s head. The wood of the door seemed to part fluidly. The hand slapped against Bender’s forehead and pulled his head against the door with a stunning jolt that dazed him for a moment. The blade flowed through the wood. Through the flesh and bones of Bender’s neck the blade sliced unimpeded. The hapless man’s torso fell to the floor, as his head remained held in place by the skeletal hand. Blood spurted from severed arteries, as Bender’s heart still had not caught up with its own impending death. Suddenly, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their horses materialized. The four spectral forms consumed nearly every foot of space within the room. The horses were each a different color: red, white, black, and a pale color. Their riders were War, Civil Strife, Famine, and Death. By far the most ominous appearing, Death wielded a sword, the blade of which was wet with Bender’s blood. Olmsted found himself hemmed in by the spiritual entities. Death’s pale horse knocked over the lamp, breaking the bulb and putting the room into total darkness. Insane with fear, Olmsted began firing the pistol, randomly shooting at different angles on all sides of him. His heart was beating its way through his chest. His terror was now so intense, he placed the cold steel of the gun barrel against his temple and pulled the trigger, ending his existence, and denying the Horsemen the pleasure of doing so.
Cover art by Richard Stroud
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