“And behold, a pale horse and its rider’s name was Death,” Margo quoted. She asked her horse to pause at the top of what had once been the main street of the city they were entering and waited as her companions caught up to her.
“Are you casting me as Hades then?” Helen asked, drawing up her own mount beside her wife’s. “Not sure that’s flattering.”
“But don’t you feel like that’s who we are?” Margo challenged. “Look at this city. The buildings are burned out husks. Nature is weaving itself back over the framework, and what are we doing? Picking over the carcasses of what’s left behind.”
“Child, you fret too much.” The warm words came from Mother Ruth, the leader of their community, and this… hunting party. “We did not cause this atrocity, we survived the actions of those who did.”
“But we’re still gaining from it, Mother,” Margo complained. “How does that make us any better?”
“Because we have accepted the challenge of rebuilding the world,” the older woman answered in a tone that brooked no argument.
Beyond her, the fourth member of their party released her left hand from the reins and pointed. She didn’t speak – hadn’t spoken since the Day of Destruction many decades before – but her meaning was clear. They were meant to move forward.
“I’ll lead this time,” Helen said.
“Just because you don’t want to be Hades,” Margo teased.
“Well, that… but also it’s my turn.” And she urged her horse forward, assuming correctly that the others would fall in line behind her.
At the center of the city, they found their destination. It was not, as Margo had expected, Mother Ruth’s home church, or even the great cathedral in the center of the broken metropolis. Rather, it was the public library.
“Books?” Margo asked. “We’re here for books.”
“Books, yes,” Mother Ruth confirmed. “But also, to see if the computer network here might still be working, to find out if there are other survivors somewhere.”
Technology had all but died after the last war, and the surviving engineers and computer and telecom experts were just beginning to bring it back. Electricity had only been reasonably reliable for about a year, and with it, refrigeration.
“And if there are? Do we reach out?” The question was Helen’s this time.
“We give them directions to neutral ground and invite a meeting. We don’t know what other survivors might be like. Some might be quite violent.”
But while the network was still up – shielded as it was in the basement of the old building – there was no sign of anyone using it. They left one machine logged in to a message board they’d set up. Then they’d filled their saddle bags with books – how-to manuals, cookboks, gardening guides, and a few novels – and made their way back outside.
The horses were waiting patiently.
Mother Ruth helped their silent companion to climb aboard her mount, then settled herself on her own saddle with surprising grace. Margo and Helen were not quite as graceful, simply because they hadn’t had the same years of practice, but they were competent, and the party soon began their journey back out of town.
The light was fading as they left the city, and somewhere behind them a wolf howled, causing Margo to shiver. Closing her eyes against the fear, she imagined the four of them as they must look to anyone still hiding within the crumbling stone and rusted steel, and the bible verse came back into her head.
Helen and Ruth and their voiceless friend might not like the comparison, but it was people like them who had destroyed the world, and it was they themselves who were picking over the bones.
“And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” ~Revelations, 6:8, RSV translation.