Flash Fiction Challenge – Green
They called themselves the Four Horsemen, even though there were only three of them. Whether they were the real ones or weren’t was up for debate.
The one who called himself War showed up in our city on an overcast night, the full moon bright, although the strange fireball that announced his appearance made it seem dim by comparison.
He appeared to be just a man, almost skeletally thin and gangly, his skin like toughened leather stretched over a skeleton. He wore a long coat that flapped like broken wings and a wide brimmed hat that hid his face in shadows, although his eyes had a sickly yellow glow. His hands weren’t always glowing, but when they did, it always started gradually. They’d start a pale orange and grow to a translucent reddish-orange fire that would cover his hands from fingertips to wrist, and whatever – or whoever – he touched would burn. Supposedly he and the other two – Pestilence and Famine – were unkillable and unstoppable.
The city was hastily evacuated before buildings started to burn, but there was no time, and no point. The crowds guaranteed that people were going to die.
We headed towards the water, because if we couldn’t get out of the city via roads, the water seemed to be the safest place to weather the flames. But we weren’t the only ones with the idea, and the crowd there was almost as bad. A ferry was being loaded, but War could throw fireballs when he’d built up enough energy, so all they’d all be was a floating target.
I had been sick the last couple of days, and I was dragging, feeling drugged up and dumb. I got separated from my friends, and the panicked crowd seemed to be pushing me up towards the main thoroughfare.
It was funny because I had always been riddled with anxiety, and I had worked hard to overcome them, but I was still deathly afraid of two things: drowning and burning. Fire and water. And now I was caught between them. It would have been funny, or maybe terrifying, but an odd numbness came over me, and I started walking towards the burning city with purpose.
Pillars of black smoke now blotted out the moon. The city had gone up too fast to make sense, and the main street was now a canyon of fire, no building left untouched by the flames that rose higher than any skyscraper, tendrils of fire weaving together like a web across the buildings. There was one thing within this wind tunnel of flame not currently ablaze, and that was the gaunt figure of War himself.
I could feel the heat, a solid wall of it, blistering paint on cars and boiling the tar, and yet I drew closer, not afraid as I should have been. I felt a little better and didn’t know why. It felt like terror had swallowed me whole, and I had come out the other side, too numb too truly feel anything. The obvious danger I was in didn’t dissuade me either.
Finally he saw me, the only untouched thing in the hurricane of flame; his eyes dim lights in the radiant glow of fire. “Are you a witch, girlie?” He had a voice like a metal rake being scraped on pavement. “You wanna burn?”
Maybe I was numb, but I still wasn’t stupid enough to say anything.
He snickered, a carpet of fire at his feet like the most obedient animals. “Are you here to plead for your city? To beg for your lives?” His mouth was a dark slash on his face, and no matter what expression he was going for, it all looked like a grimace. “I am War. I am implacable, and all you can do is feed the fire.” He held out his glowing hands, and suddenly released a fireball straight towards me.
I should have moved, I should have done something, but it was coming too fast. I closed my eyes to my own fiery death.
I felt a hot wind blow past me, moving my hair, but nothing else. Burning was not painless, so I opened my eyes. Had he missed? Was that a warning shot?
War’s mouth was agape, and he was staring at me like I was an alien. “What the hell are you?”
I looked at my hands, my arms, and realized I felt something inside myself. A spike of fear, turned oily smooth down my nerves, filled my head. I stepped towards him, hands raised, and I pushed the air between us.
The flames between us died, and shadows grew around me, a palpable wall of blackness, dousing the flames, unwinding the net of fire. My lips felt like they were turning to ice, and suddenly I knew what I was as I came up to War and put my hand on his face.
He let out a shuddering gasp, his warm skin turning cold beneath mine, and he understood. “You. You’re-” The fire in his eyes died, and he collapsed to the street, a dessicated husk, as his flames died.
The Horsemen had never found Death, because I didn’t realize that’s who I was. Until this very movement. And I can kill them, because how do you fight me? I am not an action; I am a result.
I am Death. And I am coming for you.
N.B.: The title is from the Pablo Neruda poem Nothing But Death : “ … because the face of death is green …”