Pale Horse Riders: Chapter 2
Vidcund became a man possessed once again. He had wanted to grow old with Charity... see their grandchildren together... celebrate a golden anniversary! Damn it, he just wasn’t ready to let her go so soon!
If Death had felt his wife’s life was so trivial as to offer it up for the price of a parlor trick, surely he would be open to further negotiations, wouldn’t he? Vidcund knew it wasn’t too late; somehow he knew that Charity’s spirit was still out there, and could still reanimate her body and come back to him. He knew he could get her back if he could only have a chance to bargain with the Reaper once more!
But how? How was he supposed to engineer another deal with Death? He had absolutely no idea how to go about contacting the Reaper in order to make any sort of offer whatsoever, and therein lay his dilemma.
The white brick house was empty and quiet. Due to the grief in the household, the brothers’ sister Jenny, who was wonderful with the children, had taken them to her house to stay as she had done during troubled times before.
Since her own children had grown and she did not have any grandchildren yet, she was more than happy to take her nieces and nephew whenever she could, and she felt, rightly so, that they needed to be away from the house for a while. Vidcund couldn’t argue that fact. He was in no condition to give them the attention they needed, and his brothers weren’t much better off. Charity had been so important to all of them...
How? How can I do it? There must be a way...
Vidcund stood up and began to pace through the house, automatically picking up toys and books to put them away without really noticing what he was doing. As he mindlessly worked, however, it penetrated his conscious that one of the books he lifted was much heavier than what he was used to, and he looked down at it, bemused, before he set it away in the shelf.
Embossed in gold lettering on the blue leather cover were the words, The True Mythology: Scientific Study of Legends.
One of the children must have been looking at it... Vidcund thought absently to himself.
Then, with a sudden shock of memory, Vidcund realized this was the same volume that Lazlo had discovered at the laboratory’s resource center years before when Strangetown had been invaded by the vampire and Charity had been taken. This was the very book that had described that exact situation and clued the brothers in as to what was really happening so that they had known what they needed to do!
Vidcund thoughtfully rifled the gold-leafed pages with his thumb, wondering...could there be something in this enormous tome about dealing with Death? Possibly, could there be information buried within that would help him and his brothers locate the Grim Reaper in order to try and restore Charity’s life?
There was only one way to find out.
Excitedly, Vidcund sat down on the couch and began to read.
“I know what it is we need to do!” Vidcund told his brothers some time later. “I’ve been reading in this book,” he held up The True Mythology, “and it’s very plain... Listen...” Vidcund cleared his throat and opened the book to a marked page while his brothers waited expectantly.
“Many learned men once thought it impossible for a living being to cross into the Underworld. However, it is now believed that is no longer the case. One would only need to locate the pale horse of Death, and ride it into Death’s domain. Once mounted, it is thought, the horse will bear any rider willingly to the banks of the River Styx. From that point, however...”
“Oh, is that all?” Pascal interrupted sarcastically, folding his arms and sighing.
“Vidcund, how are we supposed to find the horse that belongs to the Grim Reaper, of all things, let alone get it to let us ride it? That just seems so far-fetched and impossible...”
“The book tells us how.” Vidcund replied, unperturbed, and he continued reading. “It is believed the steed of Death is readily domesticated by the scent of brimstone... that it places the horse into a sort of trance, very like hypnosis, rendering it quite tame. In fact, the scent of brimstone seems to be so attractive to the animal that it will not rest until it has located the source, and will follow the aroma for miles...” Vidcund closed the book and sighed. “The only difficulty would be in knowing where to start searching, in order to get close enough for the scent of brimstone to work on the horse.”
“Which puts us back to what I just said,” Pascal remarked. “How can you get close...even within a few miles... to something when you don’t even know where the something is, or where to start looking for it?”
Lazlo was thinking hard, his head in his hands. He had great faith in the contents of The True Mythology. It had never steered them wrong before, even if they did have to fill in the gaps on their own sometimes. “Wait,” he said thoughtfully. “When the Grim Reaper shows up, he always comes from the north, doesn’t he?”
“I think so,” answered Pascal. “Although I can’t say I’ve seen him too many times.”
“When he took Charity, he left to the north,” Vidcund said quietly, briefly closing his eyes in sorrow. “What are you thinking, Laz?”
“Just this,” Lazlo said. “I say we go to the lab and brew up the nastiest fucking brimstone mixture we can possibly make, then we start heading due north. If what this book says is true, Death’s horse won’t be able to resist the scent, and will come to us... whenever we get close enough...”
“Start heading north from where, though, Laz?” Pascal asked in an exasperated voice. “Anywhere? I don’t think that would work; we could look for years...with who knows how many false starts...?”
“Pascal’s right,” Vidcund agreed. “We have to make sure we’re at least in the approximate vicinity of where the horse would be, and the only way to do that is to start from where a death is occurring. Death’s steed should not be far from wherever he is, and from the point of where the death occurs, we could travel northward.” Vidcund sighed. “We would just need to locate a death in progress.”
“That’s not too difficult, really...” Pascal said. “Deaths happen every day at places such as hospitals, or homes for the elderly. It’s sad, but it’s true.”
“You’re right, Pas.” Lazlo said, standing. “Well, let’s go, you two, the lab awaits! I mean, who wouldn’t want to smell like rotten eggs?" He grinned. “I know I’m up for it!”
“You would be,” Vidcund said to Lazlo with the first hint of a smile he’d shown since Charity’s death.
Lazlo chuckled in reply, and slung an arm around his older brother’s shoulder as they walked out to their car and headed to the laboratory.
It was going to be a long day, but they were, at least, on their way.
The Curious brothers didn’t waste any time putting their plan into motion.
As soon as they had concocted the strongest and foulest mixture of brimstone they possibly could, they sealed it in a toxic waste container and headed to Strangetown Memorial Hospital’s Critical Care area to keep a wary eye out for Death. Generally, the Reaper was not visible to anyone except the family and loved ones of the dying, but the brothers had discovered that many things could be seen if one would only look.
Sure enough, Death arrived for an accident victim within minutes of the brothers’ arrival, and, with unspoken agreement, the three of them stood up, left the hospital, oriented north, and began to travel across the barren Desert wasteland.
The smell of brimstone wafted even from within the sealed container, making their eyes burn and tear, but they kept squinting, staring ahead... searching for the pale horse of Death.
They had food, water, and other supplies with them as well. Not knowing how long they would be needing to search, they thought it best to be prepared. However, they had been wandering for only an hour or so before Vidcund thought he heard a soft nicker.
“Stop,” he said in a harsh whisper, throwing his arm out to halt his brothers. “Did you hear that? It sounded almost like...”
They all stood quietly for a few moments, listening.
At first, the only sound they heard was the dry wind blowing the particles of Desert sand across the dunes. Pascal looked at Vidcund, shrugged and shook his head, indicating they should move on. Then... there it was. Another soft nicker, followed by an unmistakable snort and thudding hoofsteps of a large horse walking in sand. The sounds were coming from a small collection of dunes in front of them and slightly to the left.
“Set the brimstone out, Lazlo,” Vidcund whispered. “Set it out now, and we’ll wait.”
Lazlo brought out the toxic waste container which held the brimstone, moved toward the cluster of dunes, and sat it on the sand, slowly lifting the lid and then quickly stepping away.
If the odor had been strong before, it was nearly overpowering now. All three brothers gagged and smothered coughs, with tears streaming from their burning eyes.
Yet it was working; the enormous dun-colored horse came, as though it was mesmerized, its head held out and its nostrils flaring widely.
“That’s it...” Vidcund whispered. “Just a little closer...”
None of the brothers had ever ridden a horse before. Strangetown’s desert climate was hardly the best environment for livestock, due to the constant care they needed for both water and forage. Yet lack of experience with such an animal did not stop Lazlo from seizing the opportunity when the horse came near enough. He rushed forward heedlessly, and tightly clutched two handfuls of the huge pale steed’s rough mane.
“Gotcha!” he cried, although his haste had not been necessary. The pale horse stood quietly, still befuddled by the powerful scent of the brimstone. It blew loudly through its flared nostrils, snorted once, and that was all. Lazlo turned in triumph and grinned at his brothers.
“Guys,” he called, “I think I’ve hitched our ride... Let’s go!” Grasping handfuls of the animal’s mane and pulling, Lazlo hoisted himself up onto the big horse’s back somewhat awkwardly, but the pale steed took absolutely no notice of him. Encouraged, sitting astride the huge animal’s withers, Lazlo indicated his brothers should join him.
“Hard to believe this is the horse of Death,” Lazlo cried jovially, patting the horse’s wide dun-colored neck. “He’s as tame as if he’s been in a petting zoo his entire life.” Yet the horse was enormous, over twenty hands high at least; larger and broader than any mortal horse could ever be. It wasn’t difficult whatsoever, really, to know this was not an ordinary mount.
With some trepidation, Pascal and Vidcund approached the animal. Pascal gave his middle brother a boost, and in a heartbeat, Vidcund was sitting on the horse’s back behind Lazlo. The horse sidestepped nervously; it was obviously not accustomed to more than one rider, but Vidcund did not let that stop him. Quickly, he reached down a hand to Pascal, grasped his older brother by the forearm, and pulled him up onto the pale stallion behind him, none too soon.
The moment Pascal was in place, the gigantic horse reared and began to gallop through the dunes with lightening speed!
“Oh Gods, this is great!” Lazlo cheered, laughing into the desert wind, his long black hair whipping behind him while he hung onto the horse’s mane for dear life. “We really need to look into raising these things...!”
“Lazlo, make it stop!” Vidcund gasped. He was clutching Lazlo around the middle and trying to hold onto the horse’s sides tightly with the muscles of his legs, but it didn’t feel as though it was working. With every galloping step the animal took, Vidcund felt as though he was about to slide off, and Pascal, sitting behind him with a death grip on his waist, was not helping matters in the least. “Lazlo!”
“What can I do?” Lazlo yelled, the wind tearing the words from his lips. “I’ve never ridden a goddamn horse before!” Calm down, Laz, he told himself, trying to think over the thunder of the stallion’s enormous hooves. This isn’t an ordinary horse, is it? This is the fucking pale horse of Death... surely it’s controlled by somewhat less than usual means...
“Take us to the Underworld!” Lazlo commanded in the loudest voice he could muster over the rushing wind, wishing he knew if the steed had a name. “The Underworld! The River Styx! Do you understand... Stallion?”
The horse stopped suddenly, sand and dust billowing up around them, and it shook its head, snorted, and reared again, nearly throwing the three brothers to the ground. Immediately, all of them felt the gathering of the huge horse’s powerful muscles under their thighs, as though the animal was bracing for some kind of impact.
“Oh, shit.” Lazlo said worriedly, glancing behind him at Vidcund’s terrified expression. “We better fucking hang on!”
To Be Continued...