Fourth Horseman Intro. & Index

fourth horsemanIf the Dustbowl can’t erase the regrets that haunt the Fourth Horseman, it’s unlikely the tequila will. Besides, what’s Armageddon without Death?

First, an introduction.

Hidely-ho, reader. I’m the writer best known as David Mark Brown and the infamous RedneckGranola. You may know me from such websites as www.thegreenporch.com or www.onetruepants. But currently you have stumbled upon my greatest achievement.

Reeferpunk is my self-created genre description (a sort of weird-Western, alternate history, 1920′s, humorous adventure thriller thing). Go here for more on that. These short stories take place in the same alternative history as the novels and sometimes involve major and/or minor characters. They are supplementary (but not necessary) to reading the novels and vice versa.

Join the Revolution!

No longer do good stories have to comply to the button-down world of publishing! You won’t find these bad boys behaving themselves under YA Paranormal or Mystery/Thrillers. Reeferpunk stories are written to blast apart retrictive confines of convention while still adhering to the classic elements of story-telling, the tried and true practices that carry us to the edge of of our seats, make us laugh and make us cry. I’m particularly fond of the characters that you will get to know and love over the next decade’s worth* of Reeferpunk.

*The first book will be cataclysmically good. The next three will be somehow even better. I’ll grow fat on my wealth of penny rolls (I like my money in shiny form) leading to a blase fifth book, then rebound for the sixth, seventh and eighth. The ninth will be a terrible attempt to take the characters into space on a diesel-powered locomotive (only read it if intoxicated). And blah, blah, blah.

Reading the Fourth Horseman

By reading this page you are preparing to embark on a bizarre tale of death’s mid-life crisis. Hey, it happens to all of us, even when working out of the Valley of Megiddo, and riding an immortal horse. But oh, the prose! You’ll want to cross-stitch the first few paragraphs and hang ‘em above the toilet. And the irony in this bad-boy of a story is as ripe as a a July melon. Mmmm, melon.

The Fourth Horseman is divided into ten haunting scenes depicting the stark reality of the Dustbowl (the alternate reality one of Reeferpunk) and the twisted mental state of a soul employed as the harbinger of death for a bit too long. A little artsy-fartsy, The Fourth Horseman is all about finding purpose in life, even when it’s death. And who among us don’t need a bit more of that?

Follow these links for more on ReeferPunk or Fistful of Reefer, the first book in the series. And enjoy the show!

4th Horseman: part 10

Fantastic lights, an aurora of color, fanned around the fringes of his peripheral vision. Everything jarred up and down as if he were running. He breathed heavily and laughed in between each gulp of breath. The laughter startled him. It was not his own. He tried to move his arms but could not. This was his dream, but not his body. And he was not in control of it.

Tree branches rushed by one after another whipping him. He felt every sting as a secondary response, as if he had to recognize that it had happened first and then experience the reality of it. Steps came unevenly with unexpected landings– some short, some overdue. By accident, he bit his tongue and tasted the blood of it. Then more laughter.

He stumbled and summersaulted into brush, before scrambling back to his feet. His hands were covered with blood. His whole front was covered with blood that was not his own. Hounds bayed in the distance followed by a gunshot. More laughter. What mysterious mirth. Finally he reached a covered porch and burst through the front door.

An oil lamp hung above a table creating a sunburst of rainbow color rimming his vision. Odors of putrefaction, bleach, sawdust and kerosene filled his nose. On the table sat several wooden crates overflowing with sawdust. Bright red stains in process of being scoured away with bleach spotted the table’s surface. He skidded on his knees into a corner of the room where a hatch leading under the floor had been left open.

“Goodnight, my pets” he said in a voice not his own, slow movements visible in the shadows below. He closed the trap door and drug a bookshelf over the top of it. He paused to run his fingers over a journal titled, “My Encounter with Death, and Why He Spared Me.” He straightened, took a deep breath, and admired himself in a cracked mirror hanging above the bookshelf.

Death knew the face looking back at him wasn’t his own, but it was familiar. He ran his fingers through his hair, tidying it. Then it struck him. Death, conscious that he was dreaming, realized he was looking at the face of the boy from the Model T, twenty years older.

The boy, a man now, strode toward the table, picked up the lid leaning against the first crate and secured it in place with a wooden mallet. Son of a… He shifted to the second crate and did the same. That little devil. Then the third crate, the fourth, fifth and eventually the sixth. Each crate contained a severed right arm.

Death woke up slowly, feeling nearly paralyzed. He opened his eyes, then closed them, rubbed away the sleep with his hand. He sat up and tried to focus across the room. The dream was still crystal clear in his mind. He picked up the smashed black box returning it to his belt, Opening the door into the predawn air, he kicked the crate of left over tequila down the steps.

Blue trotted around the trailer and approached the door so Death could step from stoop to stirrup. He grinned and slapped the beast on the shoulder.  Blue leapt into a gallop. The pair stopped at the call box. The Model T remained crumpled where they had left it, the driver’s door still open. He spun the rotary dial until he heard a rough voice on the other side, “Valley of Armageddon.”

“Yeah, tell ‘em I’m coming in for work. I just gotta’ stop off at the hospital first.”

He dropped the receiver and pulled back on the reins. Blue rose on his hind legs pawing at the air and snorting sulfur snot onto the pavement. Death whipped out his right arm suddenly grasping an eight-foot long, double-edged scythe which flashed in the rising sun. He spun it in a wide loop before stabbing it into the air in front of them. A rift opened up, through which he saw a hospital hallway.

“Hyaw!” and the pale horse with Death as its rider were gone. Above where they had been a buzzard flapped its wings and rose up into the air.

END

4th Horseman: part 9

The buzz of newness wore off more quickly than he’d hoped. The urge he’d felt earlier to break out of his rut had melted along with the setting sun, and the confidence that had compelled his unconventional actions lagged. Sheesh. I’m Death, for God’s sake. What the hell was I thinking?

He finished half a bottle of tequila as he sat in front of the Airstream in his lawn chair. A scorpion tried to scuttle from the hot dirt up into the black, rubber pool. The water level had lowered to a puddle, but the moisture, like a siren’s song, brought him blindly forward. The scorpion’s feet must have started to crumble even before he reached the pool, but he was halfway up the side of the first tube before his insides cooked. He shivered slightly and ended with a pop. Instinct wasn’t something that could be fooled now was it?

But couldn’t it just as well be habit? And habits needed to be broken sometimes. He hadn’t always been Death. What had he been before? He was too drunk or too far removed from his past to remember. Or perhaps it was simply impossible to figure who you had been when you had no idea of what you were.

Habit. He wasn’t sure which idea was more depressing. Had he adjusted to his new life as Death so easily? Was he that impressionable? He tried to stand without using quite enough force to straighten his legs completely. He hovered momentarily above the seat of the chair before falling backwards. He skewed the chair while trying to catch the arm and it folded under his weight. He landed flat catching the wooden arm in the small of his back.

“Dammit!”  Luckily he hadn’t sloshed any of the precious liquor out. He rolled over and managed to stand, careful to keep the bottle righted the entire time. He kicked the chair with a grunt, mounted the two steps into the trailer and stood in the doorway looking back over the flat plains of the Texas panhandle.

“Could I have brought down the sickle all those millions of times just cause of habit? A dadgum habit?” He looked at the bottle in his hand. Maybe instinct would be better. There were worst things to be, after all, than Death. He stepped inside the trailer and slammed the door.

He finished what was left of the bottle without opening his eyes. His brain hurt. He wanted nothing more than to forget. Startling him, his hip began to buzz. He yanked the black box from his belt. It took him two times through the message to focus his eyes.

“Enough is enough. Straighten yourself out, or we will. ~ Conquest”

He threw the box against the far wall and fell back on his mattress. The tiny device came to a rest against the bottom of the door. Its pallid green glow faded. He closed his eyes to sleep — even this evening’s stuporous funckur insufficient to stop his dreaming. But this evening, rather than dreaming of his past, he dreamt of someone else’s future.

Part 10 

4th Horseman: part 8

He walked Blue slowly toward the Model T. Behind the wheel a youngster of no more than 16 sat bleeding from the head with what appeared a broken arm and most likely collarbone. Death listened intently to the boy’s ragged, short breaths accentuated by a gurgling. Crushed behind the steering wheel he had broken some ribs, probably causing internal bleeding. Too bad.

The passenger had already bled out a third of his total supply. Death had tingled with the familiar sensation before he’d gotten within thirty yards. Then he was struck with an odd idea. What if I help this boy? Wasn’t that what he had been thinking all along? He knew what it was like to take life, but what was it like to save it? This could be what he’d been looking for, but it was a big decision. He tilted his head back and focused on nothing in particular, took a deep breath.

The buzzard beat his wings against the air as he slowed himself to land on top of the pole above the accident. He squawked. Blue snorted. “Well those are your opinions.” Death looked back down at the boy slumped in his seat. He was a doer, not a thinker, just like this boy. Sometimes that got you pinched. Sometimes it got you dead. Other times. Well other times God rewarded the bold, didn’t he? Maybe this was one of those times. “Your lucky day, boy.” But then again, how could it be luck?

He jumped out of the saddle, feeling the customary disorientation of a cowboy regaining his legs. “Maybe this is my day too.  We’ll just have to see, won’t we?” And he went about what he knew he had to do.

“Get me the Sheriff.” Death spoke calmly to the operator as she patched him through. “Yes, there’s been an auto accident on FM 1061 just north of mile marker 162. One passenger is dead, but I think the other might make it. Hurry.” He hung up the receiver while the Sheriff was asking a question on the other end.

He’d stopped the internal bleeding. It was an odd sensation, using his abilities for such a cause. But it hadn’t been that difficult once he wrapped his mind around it. The boy lay on the ground beside the car moaning and moving slightly. He would make it. Death looked up at the buzzard still perched atop the pole.

“You can have that one there. He’s all yours. Just leave this one for another day.”

Death shook the reigns and Blue, still cross with him for intervening in such a manner, snorted before slowly turning back down the dirt road. No sooner had they turned when the buzzard fluttered down from his perch to land on the buckled hood of the car. Death flicked his wrist in a circular motion, and a dust devil kicked up behind them. It meandered back and forth across the road, following the pair all the way back to the trailer, just in case the Sheriff decided to look for tracks.

Part 9

4th Horseman: part 7

Death wasn’t thinking clearly — God, if there had ever been a time for prayer. He slammed his fist into the Airstream. Maybe it was the tequila, of which he had only half a case left. The best damn tequila ever distilled, not that anyone would ever know, seeing how he had stolen almost the entire batch. But that didn’t explain the lack of thrill he’d felt out in the field, the showing up late for assignments, the half-hearted beheadings. Hell, he couldn’t even remember the last time he gave his scythe a proper cleaning. He rested his forehead on the hot tin siding. Why couldn’t he enjoy his labor?

There was always Blue. Blue had been with him for hundreds of mortal years, longer than he had ridden any other horse. They’d had some good times together, hadn’t they? He wasn’t overly fond of his coworkers, but they weren’t horrible. From there his mind wandered back to his mentor, the best Famine ever to judge the wanting. Shaking due to anger and confusion, he decided to go for a ride to clear his head.

As he tugged at Blue’s reigns and raised his left boot, a greasy, leather saddle materialized on the beast’s back beginning with the stirrups and cresting with the horn. It was a Western style circa 1860’s, one of Death’s favorites. Gripping the horn and shifting his weight evenly into the stirrups brought back good Indian war memories, lots of senseless death. After months of shlepping about on two feet, it felt good to be in the saddle.

He brought Blue to a trot and then a lope. For a wraith beast, Blue was the smoothest ride this side of Megiddo. They continued on like that for the length of the dirt road until it connected with Farm to Market 1061. Fresh power lines had been installed along the east side of the road all the way into Amarillo, and they scarred the countryside like stitches on a wound. He hadn’t known what he was looking for until he rode toward it.

A call box was mounted on a nearby pole. He moved without thought or hesitation, picked up the phone and dialed 2-1-1 on the rotary before the operator connected. He’d just started to spin the dial for the third 6 when Blue reeled away from the phone causing Death to drop the receiver and look up.

An errant Model T struck the pole two down from theirs with force sufficient enough to collapse the hood and bury the pole into the bumper. The windshield shattered from the impact and a passenger flailed halfway through the opening before snagging on the jagged edges. Death was intrigued.

After the dust settled the only sounds were a hissing from the front tires and a gentle moan from the driver’s seat. A first-hand witness and stalwart believer in acts of God, Death could not dismiss this curious event as coincidence or even fate. Six years of atrophy intensified the moment and his desperation drenched it with meaning. A tinny voice coming from the receiver he had dropped interrupted him.

“Operator. Can I assist you? Hello?”

He picked it up. “Sorry. I’ve changed my mind.”

Part 8

4th Horseman: part 6

He awoke from his nap to the sound of rasping metal, and rubbed his bleary eyes with the palms of his hands until the buzzard raking his talons on the Airstream came into focus. He’d grown rather fond of the bird, and was glad to see him back after a week long absence. Plus, three made a party.  Blue snorted in agreement and pawed at the ground.

Death reflected on the dream he’d just had. It puzzled him. Before, he had never been able to remember his specific prayers. Famine had mentioned their answering, so Death took his word for it. But now he recalled the moment, preparing to cook in prison for lifting cigarettes, when he confessed anything would be better than this. In hindsight, he believed to die would have been better. How could he have known a life as Death to be an option?

A dust devil formed beside him and kicked grit into his face, causing him to stand. Shaking the dirt off and stretching his legs, he felt he should do something special. His lethargy finally started to rub him, and he knew it couldn’t last much longer.

He retreated into the trailer and clanged around before returning to the midday sun with a pencil and a spiral notebook. Blue and the buzzard watched curiously as Death pushed his chair back from the pool and sat with the notebook in his lap. He dabbed the pencil on the end of his tongue and started to write.

The Day Death Died

He wondered if the alliteration was too much, but decided to continue.

Like the taste of blood and metal

Warm and cold together, I once embraced

The life of Death –

Scythe in humming hand

Vibrating the invisible pitch of the Universe,

I, the only force able to silence it.

As he started warming to his subject, he felt the tension in his soul unravel.

But folding through time and space,

Trembling through sulfur rifts like a newborn

Sloughing from the womb,

Soon becomes the hollow life of a wraith:

(Did he like that hard rhyme with “space”?)

Tedious errands, repetition,

And failure. How could death make a mistake?

Born up by all eternity,

Each stroke of the scythe spoke Finality

Certainty, Truth. Not for me.

A lying slip, a false stroke

And Famine falls prematurely

He couldn’t stop the errant rhyming as the words poured from his pencil onto the paper.

And no mortal years of service can erase

The fecund yet foul mistake.

Now a piss-poor form of Death I am,

Floundering in the dust of Adam

Yearning for the day to come

When death could finally die.

Dropping his pencil into the dirt beside his chair, he stared at the words he had written. He read them out loud to Blue, his voice croaking with the use. Was this how he really felt? He tore the page from the notebook, crumpling it in his fist, and bit down hard on his knuckle. Kicking his chair over he swore loudly and chucked the paper into the pool. The buzzard startled from his roost and flapped away.

Part 7

4th Horseman: part 5

The cages did nothing to block either the flames or smoke, but the smoke concerned him the most. He tore a strip of fabric from his mattress and tied it over his mouth and nose. Fear and instinct commanded he open his burning eyes to grasp the situation, but the noxious smoke hung like a curtain. He fashioned a blindfold and crouched in the middle of his wire mesh cell.

The screams and grunts of the inmates stuck in the exercise yard when the fire broke out echoed between intermittent bursts of gunfire emanating from guard towers and prison walls. Take your pick, either the smoldering volcano’s belly or target practice for Johnny Law. Next he heard the grating of metal on metal echo throughout the block as a section of cage doors opened. Inmates, loose on the inside now, did not celebrate their escape. Primitive, guttural noises and expletives burned his ears like the smoke burned his eyes.

A scuffle followed by a gargling noise and the thump of a limp body occurred just outside his own cage, the door of which he guessed was still shut.  Oddly he could not decide whether he wished it open. Would he be meat cooked in a smoker, or given the option would he choose an unknown death outside the confinement of his cage? A coughing fit overwhelmed him, and he hugged his knees tight in an effort to arrest his seizing body. Another minute inside and he knew he would be dead. God, anything would be better than this.

A fresh wind blew across his face, and he sucked in a ragged breath. He tore the blindfold from his eyes squinting through the swollen sockets. Slashes of white light cut through the smoke, a glint revealing his cage door to be open. He scuttled forward and discovered it sliced clean from its moorings rather than released mechanically. Razor sharp edges flashed in another burst of light.

The smoke crowded him again, leaving him no time to ponder the predicament, as he lurched into the hall between the cages and tripped over a body. To his horror, the head was absent. Half in shock, half in awe, he froze there. Holding himself up with his hands planted in a growing pool of blood, he spotted the detached head only inches away. That’s a hell of a thing, he thought.

A mammoth grip yanked him up by the back of his neck cracking his spine. “Hello, pretty. Admiring my work?”

“Not him.”  Another voice rose over the tumult, somewhere before him.

“Like hell not him. When’s it become your business who’s to die and who’s to live? I’ve not hit my quota.”

“But not him,”the second voice spoke firmly as its owner stepped into view through the smoke.

“You dull twit. One last time, why the hell not?”

“Because he’s your replacement.”

It was then he noticed a set of scales in the left hand of the skeletal figure before him. They tipped from balanced to wanting and a blinding, white light shot out from them. Immediately the grip released him to the floor.  A long gasping wheeze preceded a falling powder, and his captor was gone.

The man with the scales reached down and pulled him up. “Your prayers have been answered,” he said flatly.

Part 6