Death Comes For Us All
Updated: Mar 2, 2019
Mya strode along the rows of corn, kicking a worn out apple ahead of her. It was shriveled and verging on brown and jumped every time it skimmed over a pebble. Mya was eight, with mousy brown hair that tumbled into her eyes. She had a pug nose and a few of her teeth were askew; others rattled in around in their sockets. She was short and dirty and wore an overly large pair of overalls. In another few years, when she’d grow breasts, they wouldn’t hang so limp; for now, they did. The day was hot, and the sun was at its zenith. It beat down on her, covering her with a thick layer of sweat to accompany the dirt.
All her chores were done for the day; weeding the garden, feeding the pig, gathering the few chicken eggs, rubbing down the horses and mucking out their stalls. Her father was very insistent about the chores involving the horses. He was sure they would sell for a lot of money someday. That someday was coming soon, he always assured Mya.
After her lunch was finished, her father urged her to go outside and play, maybe make a friend or two. And so, while kicking that apple and singing nonsense to herself, she happened across a most peculiar friend.
Watching the apple, she saw it squirt out after a particularly hard kick and heard it strike something a few feet away. A warbled sound floated over to her and she jumped back, looking up in the process, ready to fight the newcomer; at the end of two bony arms, her two bony hands were braced into two bony fists. The newcomer, a horse, regarded her quietly then dropped its head and inhaled the apple. She dropped her fists and giggled to herself. Both the animal and the girl took looked at each other with the same pale grey eyes.
It was a midnight black Mustang, which was all it had going for it. Mya could count every bone within its body. A few of the ribs were even poking against its hide. Its mane, as black as the horse itself, was matted and dreadlocked.
She walked closer, whispering more nonsense in soothing tones. It did not rear back when she reached out and caressed the side of its face, in fact, it leaned closer for a better scratching. She petted it and felt the immense energy it exuded. One hand stole into the belly pocket of her overalls and produced two more crab apples. She held them up to the horse, who promptly devoured them.
“Hungry tummy,” she said to the horse and herself. “I guess we should get you home. Belly’s a rumblin’, let’s get stumblin’.” She said all this in a high, sing-song voice. She reached up and noticed for the first time that the horse was without saddle and reins. She shrugged, contemplated riding the horse bareback, but balked at the idea. She thought it would collapse under her.
Settling for a side-mouthed cluck, she began to walk back the way she came. The horse uttered a massive snort, its nostrils expanding enormously, and trotted along behind her. It nipped at her butt a few times during their trek.
“What in the ‘ell are ye doing, bringing that dilapidated looking donkey back ‘ere?” her father roared at her across their yellowed yard. He walked toward her with a slow gait. He was tall, with coarse black hair sprouting from every inch of him. His hands were a deep tan, etched with wrinkles from the decades he’d passed toiling. His beard was closely cropped, and wide grey eyes shone out at his daughter. His thumbs were hooked into his faded leather belt.
Mya knew that stance. Mya knew that tone. She would be on the receiving end of that belt before long. Still, she beamed at him and said gleefully, “I found him out in the corn, Daddy. He’s hungry and needs a home.”
“‘es more than ‘ungry. Starving’s more like it.” He sidled up to the horse as he spoke and ran a hand through its mangy mane, fingers getting caught in a knot. “Needs a bath too.”
She hadn’t noticed before. She did now. The horse stank of rot. It was deep and permeated her nostrils with every breath.
“You wanna keep ‘em I suspect.”
“You gotta take care of ‘em. I don’t wanna ‘ear you crying my name a week from now, asking me for ‘elp. Ye ain’t getting any.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She tried to keep her face solemn, serious, but lost and broke into a smile.
“‘e’ll probably die in a week.”
“No, he won’t. I’ll take good care of him. You’ll see.”
Her father eyed her shrewdly, turned his head, and spat into the dusty grass. “Wouldn’t name ‘em for a week-at-least-anyhow. Just in case.”
“Yes, Daddy,” however, she already had a name for the horse. She was going to call him ‘Hungry.’
Her father spared one final glance at the horse, and then tramped off toward their house, muttering to himself.
“Damn animal’s gonna eat all my hay and be the death of us,” were the words that floated back to Mya.
The horse didn’t die the following week, nor the weeks that followed. Hungry ate like his namesake. He gained an astonishing amount of weight in a short period of time. His once skin-and-bone veneer was transformed into robust muscle. Mya, true to her word, cared for the horse like it was her own child. She re-set his leg, combed out his dreadlocks and rubbed him down. As the weeks turned to months, she was eventually able to ride him. He was never able to make it above a trot and it never bothered her. They grew as close as human and animal could. They developed a sixth sense about each other’s moods. Mya knew Hungry’s favorite treat was crab apples.
It took two years before the rightful owner tracked Hungry down.
A soft rap punctured the still afternoon air while Mya was sprawled across the couch, watching fuzzy cartoons. She sat up, feeling a mild dread pulse through her system; curiosity quickly pushed it aside. Her father, wearing the same worried look as his daughter, walked across the kitchen, to the front door. He was a few weeks late on his latest payment to the bank, and it wasn’t the first time he’d been forced to let the payment lapse. He paused when he was in the cramped entrance way, his hand already reaching out to grasp the knob, when a tremor quaked its way across him. He swallowed hot saliva and opened the door.
A figure stood on the stained wooden porch. It wore a black hooded robe with Its face obscured behind morphing shadows. Graham thought that the figure was looking down at Its feet. He followed Its gaze, happy to be looking anywhere but where Its face should be. He could only see the nub of one toe; it was the pale white of exposed bone. The rest of Its toes were hidden by the robe. He noticed a walking stick beside the foot. He followed it up to the bleached bones protruding from the billowy sleeve. The thin bones stretched out to form a hand. The long, slender phalanges curved around the hefty cane head.
Graham, who never entirely lost his curiosity in the superstitious and mythical, knew exactly who, and what, he was looking at.
He sucked in a deep, last breath and thought his final thought, while looking at the hand and cane.
I knew that horse would be the death of us.
Death stepped over the corpse and limped its way into the house.
Mya heard the thud of her father hitting the floor and the thump, draaaaaaag of Death approaching. She stood up, facing the archway, and waited. She had her hands on her hips in a defiant gesture.
The two figures looked at each other across the room for some time. Eventually, Death took a step forward. Mya stayed, unflinching. Death spoke.
“You have what I seek.”
Mya felt Hungry flare up inside her, felt him bucking against the worn-out barn door. She used the voice she reserved for grown-ups. Grown-up tone, grown-up words.
“He’s in the barn. I’ll take you.”
They exited the house, Mya feeling the immediate blast of the sun. The heat had her covered in sweat. So did the fear. She led It out into the backyard. She only looked back once. A nicker floated over to her, and when she turned around, a sinewy pale mare had taken up beside Death.
They reached the barn and Mya lifted the bar. The door popped open, the jagged ends of the planks brushing by her. Hungry strode out. He nudged Mya, who rubbed his mane several times. She moved down, patted him on the rump and he bounded over to the mare to give her a jovial greeting.
“Why do you want him?”
Death turned and grabbed the reins of Its mare.
“You can’t have him.”
Death mounted Its horse, tugged the reins and started riding away. Neither Mya nor Hungry moved. After a few paces Death stopped and turned back.
“You can’t have him,” Mya repeated, staring into the abyss beyond the hood. “He loves me, and I love him. He won’t go. I wouldn’t let him anyway.”
Hungry walked back to Mya and nudged her again. She began stroking him. Death came over, Its shadow encompassing them long before it did. It was muttering to itself.
“A little girl? No. It can’t be. She knows nothing of our ways.” Death stopped in front of Mya. Its robe shifted as It surveyed the farm. It saw a house in disrepair with a roof that leaked in any rain. It saw a barn getting ready to cave in on itself. It saw a scant vegetable garden, the few edibles quickly giving over to rot. There were no animals, outside of the two horses, that It could see. Still, without looking at her, sitting atop Its horse, It continued its mutterings.
“She’s young, sure. Maybe she can be taught? War keeps bugging me to find a replacement. I know. I know! But, Famine was like a brother to me. It’s not easy to replace that.” Death sighed and looked down at Mya. It was her who broke the silence.
“What happened to your friend?”
“Famine? He caught the flu and died.”
“I’m sorry.” Mya looked down at her feet, a tear evaporating before it fell off her cheek. “My brother Tommy died of the flu when he was one and I was five.” She reached out and began scratching behind the mare’s ear. “The doctor said it killed him because he was so mal-nour-ished.” She struggled with the last word.
Death stood there, pensive for a time. Finally, It sighed and looked down at Mya and spoke.
“Listen. Kid. You wanna join us?”
Mya brightened at the proposal. “You mean like cowboys and indians?”
“Yeah. Sure. Kind of.”
“What do we do then?”
“The usual, you know. Cause destruction and mayhem throughout the human race.” Death paused, looked at Mya then added, “it’ll be really fun.”
“I don’t know.”
“You get to ride Hungry for all eternity.”
“Listen, kid. You coming with me or not? Either way, I gotta take the horse.”
Mya surveyed the farm. It didn’t take her long to make a decision.
Death gigged his horse and headed for the road. Mya mounted Hungry and followed It.