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Behold, a Pale Horse

by Salvatore Buttaci

The white rider lulled the world into a false security. The black rider dashed economies like so many crystalline stars tumbling blindly from the skies. The red rider precipitated the final war. It made sense that the last would ride a pale horse.

All color was now gone. From a deep fallout shelter in Manhattan, I envisioned a gray nightmare of toppled skyscrapers, cavernous streets and sidewalks, dead bodies lying sprawled — a massacre in black and white. I’d been hiding for at least a month, and I suspected nothing was moving at ground level except perhaps the gases rising and falling upon the blurred, dead city.

All around me the other renters lay dead. If contamination had filtered down this deeply, why hadn’t I been killed too? Some had been in better shape than I, flabby at forty, whose only plan in life was to live.

In the 2050’s, who would have imagined it would eventually come to this! The Color Wars between Reds and Whites, vampires and mortals fighting to the death.

Out of the ashes of the ineffectual White Aryan Army, the Puritan Nation had flapped its lily-white wings. It would grow to become the world’s greatest threat to the growing number of vampires flooding Europe and Asia. Finally, no one argued against the inevitable, that a multiplying vampire population would become America’s most ubiquitous subculture.

Vampires drank mortals’ blood by night, slept by day, and with their accumulated wealth conducted businesses such as banks and securities trading at times in between. Exponentially, their numbers grew so much that by 2155 it was almost a given that the Reds would win, enslave the Whites, and conquer the world. Rampant human cloning helped exacerbate the crisis; blood supply far outdistanced the demand.

It was about that time, however, that the Whites, specifically the scientists working feverishly in their labs, discovered Humanus, the anti-vampire serum! Hastily they made their move. Mortals could protect themselves with sharp, Humanus-filled canine fangs implanted in their mouths. They could fight fang with fang, and if the mortal won, the Humanus serum injected into the vampires’ veins would either kill them instantly or genetically devampirize them and make them mortal.

Of course, if the mortals did not win, they would join the Red brigades prowling the streets by night for blood donors.

In the end, fang against fang divided the world. Desperate for a quick victory, the mortals released nuclear bombs in heavily populated vampire cities while the vampires slept. Those who survived retaliated by counterattacking the mortals with nuclear warheads of their own. In the end, all that remained was desolation: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding in and out on different-colored horses.

But this is a love story, after all. Even in chaos and apparent despair, love rears its head against the sting of ill fortune.

Twenty of us had paid more hoarded euros and ameros than we could afford, but the will to live is strong, even to live in a dead world. Nineteen of us did not make it. And I could not yet climb the wall ladder from this bomb shelter to the ground floor of the Iaccoca Building; radioactivity would kill whatever life remained in me.

All I had read in my university survival courses convinced me that a month’s wait would be sufficient, and then I would venture out into the blasted streets of New York City. I expected I would find other survivors; maybe together we could find a way, limited perhaps, to start rebuilding some semblance of our lives.

I counted and climbed the one hundred and six rungs of that ladder until, at last, my feet touched the lobby floor of the Iaccoca. And that was all I found there! The lobby floor littered with the body parts of concrete statues that had crashed down in submission to the bombs outside; steel beams crisscrossing at random like a giant spill of toothpicks.

Oddly enough, the building itself — all those many floors — had bent backwards and completely cleared the lobby as it crashed across midtown and timbered down into a gargantuan heap of glass and stone with the other skyscrapers.

Once out of the lobby and onto the street, I shielded my nose with a handkerchief mask from possible fumes, from the ubiquitous stench of death. I walked. I saw no one. I heard no voices. Nothing.

For hours I walked cautiously over the mounds of what only a month ago had been a tall, living city. No one was alive. Bodies lay decomposing at my feet. Even in those final moments, bodies lay in that old position: venom fangs or vampire fangs against victims’ necks.

A dark labyrinth of turns and dead-ends showed that the search for the living was hopeless. No one. No voices. I searched for days and days.

On my last legs, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, in a city that once offered whatever the heart desired, eyes shut, I lay down on the rubble and waited to die.

When I opened my eyes, I knew I wasn’t dreaming. She offered her hand to me. I touched its softness; it matched the softness of her blue eyes.

“I am Yolanda.”

“Richard,” I replied and wondered: Red or White? Enough of that! I told myself. Who cares anymore?

“Are we the only ones?” she asked, then brushed her lips against my bearded face. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the serum fang sparkling under the curl of her red lips. When it pierced my neck, I did not pull away. Instead I delighted in the warmth of the Humanus serum snaking down my veins.

“Welcome to mortality,” she said.

Alone in Manhattan we kissed in earnest.

Copyright © 2010 by Salvatore Buttaci

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