Armageddon Starts with Four Horsemen
By Annabelle Oberst
We break up in March. It’s the Tuesday after your birthday, where we sat in your bedroom and passed secrets between our lips for hours. I didn’t notice anything was wrong that night, maybe because the shift from in love to disinterest was so abrupt. Or maybe I couldn’t see it because I didn’t want to. You were a traffic light, like the one at the intersection near your house I always sped through, even as the light turned from yellow to red long before I crossed the threshold. You ask me to meet you in a nature preserve fifteen minutes from my house. I agree because that’s all I can seem to do with you. I speed to your house and say yes when you ask me to. From the moment you step out of your car with shuffling feet and uneasy eyes, I know it’s coming. The end. The sky seems to know as well, with how it opens and starts leaking tears onto the pavement. I can see it in your face too, in the way your eyes dance across my features before settling guiltily on the floor. But still, I do what I always do with you; I wait. And now, I wait for you to rip me open.
Your hand doesn’t ache for mine the way it used to. My hand still does, all of me aches for you really. It’s an ache in my chest that never stops. I never stopped loving you even as your love got too thin to keep me warm. I’m not sure when it stopped, when the cold crept in and you stopped hungering for me the way I always have for you. I swear you did, that you used to hungered for me too, back when we danced barefoot in the Garden of Eden before the snake snuck in and slithered his sins into your soul. Now, you look at me and all you see is shame. It covers us up and leaves us both cloaked in shadow and secrecy. Where does that leave us? We all know Armageddon starts with Four Horsemen. Is this the Black Rider leaving famine in his wake? He’s the first rider to come and so, like with you, I wait for the others. I hunger for you but there’s no love left in your eyes, so I starve as your hand never reaches for mine. The space between us is a dead harvest. I’m a garden you stopped tending to months ago, and the absence of care leaves me wilted. I starve without sustenance.
I don’t fight it when it happens. The end. I’ve never been much of a fighter, anyway. My fight or flight response is freeze and fawn. My body aches to move but it can’t, so I just watch as your cruelties form the dagger that plunges into my chest. I don’t beg you to stop. No, I beg you to stay. I appease your abuse and promise to mold myself into something that suits you better. I beg you to love me. I beg you for scraps. It’s a one-sided war that ends with my bloody body on the ground and you walking away from my lifeless frame. Is there guilt in your eyes? Shame? Sadness? I can’t tell. I’d suffer all of it to make you stay. Is it a war when I don’t fight back? When I love you too much to be able to? I freeze, and I love you when you kill me. I love you after. I cry when the dagger twists and a breath of air escapes my lungs. Yet the Red Rider sheds no tears, he leaves my war-ravaged body on the concrete and never looks back.
Disease spreads quickly in a war-struck town. It moves from each bloody, broken man to the next until hundreds are piled up in a crematorium and spilling out. Then, it reaches the young and healthy. Eighteen is too young to die from a war-spread epidemic. Too many soldiers don’t return home, their flags folded and left in a mausoleum, where their bodies should be laid to rest but aren’t. And if they do return, nothing is the same. The soldiers are not the same and neither is the town or people they left behind. They cough up blood and die from the disease they brought home. I’m a stab-wound soldier who never fully recovers. The knife leaves an infection, and from it, I contract a disease they don’t have a name for yet. The rot travels out of my chest and down my arms until my fingertips turn black and dirty. The pain of the plunge numbs out, but I can still feel everything else. Dirt caking my fingertips. Blonde hair matted with blood. None of you is left; it’s just my bloody body on the deathbed you made for me. I’m going to die with the White Rider standing over me as the pestilence you spread finally catches. The White Rider doesn’t grant last rites, he doesn’t let me utter the beautiful last words I’ve always imagined saying. No, he smiles and then he leaves. Blood bubbles to the top of my throat, so I turn the side and let it spill out of my mouth in a mournful understanding: I’m going to die alone.
Death takes longer than I thought it would. How long has it been since you left? Since the war ended, not with a surrender or ceasefire but with a bloodbath? It doesn’t hurt anymore; I’m still numb but I can hear my heart slowing in my ears. Everything is loud. The trill of the wind, the songs passed between birds on different branches, the hum of a distant current, the whisper of leaves falling from the trees above me. They shouldn’t be falling yet; it’s only March. But I guess the end of the world rarely cares for seasonal weather patterns, and instead, sends absurdities as omens for the end of everything. It’s March and the leaves are falling, and it might have started snowing, and I’m dying. Everything is dying. Yet, the end of the world is more peaceful than I thought it would be. There’s relief in your absence, somewhere far underneath and pain and hurt and numbness of heartbreak. There is a soft hand in mine when I’m lulled into the endless abyss after your three horsemen ruined me. Succumbing to the Pale Rider feels more like sleep than death, so I relish in soft comfort and find peace in the dark.
Sometime later—after the eulogy and the mourning and the funeral—I pull myself from a grave of concrete and stumble to a stand. I slip my bloody heart back into my chest, and attend to it with sutures, sewing my heart back together so that it beats properly. My heart is not the same as it was, I’m not sure it ever will be. It’s a revelation, to understand that my heart was equally changed by both the existence and absence of you. And that in your absence, I don’t cease to exist. No. Eventually, I stand and walk away. I stumble to my car and head home, stopping at the intersection; I no longer have to speed through red lights to keep your attention. It has stopped pouring too, the rain retreating to a light drizzle which allows me to see the silver streaks forming on the bottom of storm clouds through the windshield. As I drive, the nature preserve grows smaller in the rearview mirror as I leave this place in the past where it should be. And when I go, I leave the bloody knife on the concrete. I leave it where you left me.
Annabelle Oberst (she/they) is a musician and writer. She is a sophomore at UNC and spends their time writing, reading, and listening to music.