approx 1400 words, ~10 min read time
When the first horseman arrives, you see him through a microscope. Mini gallops amplify the buzzing of your phone, followed by a trumpet that you don’t remember having set as your ringtone. You step away from your tools to pick up your phone, brush the white horse with its crowned rider off the screen, and see a message from a close friend.
smth came up. sry
And while it sucks because you’d been looking forward to it for a while, you shoot back a quick response.
np, busy at work too, ping me next time you’re in town
You know you’ll see your friend on Instagram later, happily taking pictures somewhere else, but right now you focus on the microscope again. There are many things in this lab to analyse and discover, to approximate with distributions and models, but the probability of your friendship falling apart is not one of them. You’re just overreacting anyway, you tell yourself, chest loaded with words you’ll aim at that friend someday.
You see the horseman again on your feed that night, an emoji of a white horse in the background of your friend’s pictures, crown emojis on the heads of other people you know. Realistically, it’s a coincidence, but it’s still uncomfortable; you mute their accounts. You’re good at spotting patterns.
You’re in a fight when the second horseman bursts through your apartment wall. It doesn’t feel like a fight. There aren’t any strong emotions crashing through to the surface, but the red horse standing between the two of you suggests you might be missing something. Long distance isn’t something you’ve ever had a problem with, but for this relationship it feels wrong.
Yes, you’re sure it’s about this relationship. Why would it be about anything else? At least that’s what you say— it’s what you believe, too— but now there’s a horse in your apartment and a horse-sized hole in your wall, and your lover isn’t seeing any of it. Or are they? They ask if you’re talking about the pale horse you set as your profile picture, but you haven’t changed your profile picture since you got this phone.
But this isn’t the point, you both decide, and move back to the topic at hand. You don’t think they should take the overseas job offer, at least not while you’re still doing your thesis. They hang their head, but they agree. They don’t want you to feel pressured to move anywhere. You part amicably.
And then you break up via text. You do the honors, the bright red horse staring over your shoulder as you type. It huffs when you put your phone down, and you pet it only for it to bite you. You can’t see the horseman’s face during any of it, but their smugness is more of an aura, anyway.
They jump back out through the hole in the wall. You wake up in the morning with texts from most of your friends, and a block from your now-ex.
You promise yourself you’ll get a job now that you don’t have your ex’s financial support, but you forget the promise under a pile of reports at the lab.
The third horseman chats you up as she manoeuvres her black horse into the subway seat next to you. You look like shit, she says with a laugh and offers you a cigarette, which you decline only because you’re in a subway, and she says she’ll remember that for later—you will too, because you don’t smoke.
Where are you going, she asks, and, for a second, you slip-up and say home, even though you’re headed to the lab, though it’s not inappropriate at this point. As you consider correcting yourself, she says she lives right near the university labs, and you falter for a moment. Wouldn’t it be nicer to sleep in an actual bed tonight? With someone else?
Exiting the subway together, you decide to take her up on the offer. And the cigarette. It tastes like shit and you have to cough so hard you almost vomit, but you’ve been doing the same thing for so long that any kind of change would wring your gut, you figure. Knowing these things are bad for you, you decide you’ll just have one or two, and then not do it again. A learning experience of sorts.
You spend most of your nights in the next few months at her place, and one or two cigarettes become weekly packs. It’s good for the stress at least.
When I arrive on a pale, skeletal horse, your booze-drenched snoring is so loud I can barely think. A heavy chest-sized asteroid floats behind me, but passes through the walls without moving even a speck of dust. I wait by the side of your bed, watching the minutes tick by, until you wake up.
The first thing you do when you see me is shoo me away. Something about having to pay your bills first, though I don’t really care. Don’t you see the asteroid I brought you? Didn’t you hear the trumpets? This is the end of the world, and I need you to start acting like it.
You roll your eyes at the phrase then look at the asteroid. Single objects from your apartment have started to float in its direction, creating trash-moons for an asteroid planet. You raise your voice for a second and ask if this was all my plan—ask why it had to be you—and I laugh. This was never about you, you just decided it was, and like the asteroid, it all began to orbit you.
A pause. Finally, it seems like you’re listening, but before I can smile and stretch my hand out ominously, you start grabbing the objects flying around the asteroid, to put them back where they came from, but they simply float back. That’s when you realize what the objects have in common. Things your friends gave you, things your significant other gave you, packs of cigarettes. I know, I know, it’s on the nose, but you wouldn’t believe how long people take to notice if I don’t make it this obvious.
At some point you tell me to shut the fuck up—I wasn’t really aware I was talking, but I don’t make an effort to stop—and you grab a suitcase, pack all the floating objects, in the hope that maybe that would stop them. No. Of course it doesn’t.
I take this moment to hold out my hand, but you just look at me with distrust in your eyes. Lesson not yet learned, I guess. You’re not ready to give it all up and finally move on. Well, I can still wear you down some other time. I’ll keep returning, and eventually, eventually you’ll see this is the right thing to do. You’ve let your life fall apart. Nothing is keeping you here.
But as I make my way to the door, you clammer to the asteroid. Every time something gets near it, you grab it and you put it back down, and you even try to pull the asteroid away from me (the hubris!). It doesn’t budge. Still, you don’t stop trying to keep it here. Even as my horse leads me out of the wall, four stories above the ground, the asteroid threatening to pull you out the window, you don’t give up.
So I pause. I hop off the horse. And I approach you, hanging onto the asteroid just over the kitchen sink with panic in your eyes, to look deep inside.
There are flashes of images, of all the people you’ve fallen away from, all the passion you’ve lost, and a deep-seated regret, and for a second, I am so fascinated that I lose my hold on the asteroid—you anchor it to the sink.
This was not what I expected.
I float back up onto the horse, then turn back one last time. The asteroid continues to float over the sink, and as things float up near it, you take them in your hands, and you make a note. It’s intriguing to watch, but eventually I compose myself again. I did not expect your endurance.
And as I gallop away, a massive comet remains frozen in the sky; an extinction event turned into a new moon.
Léon Othenin-Girard (he/they) loves writing queer speculative fiction filled with hope, playing video games with confusing stories, and petting his cat. Currently, they’re studying Computer Science, and have figured out how to use the daily commute for writing, inspiration, and homework.
Author of “A Personal Apocalypse”
What inspired you to write this story? What I had first was the opening. Just that very first line: “When the first horseman arrives, you see him through a microscope.” And I think I had the title fairly soon after that – which was how I knew the theme, too. I’d been wanting to write a more directly metaphorical story than I usually do, to step out of my comfort zone, so when I had the idea and that image of a horseman under a microscope, I knew that this was a story I had to write. Though, believe it or not, the first ending to this story was a lot darker.
What do you hope readers take from this story?
It feels a bit cliché to say “I hope the readers take hope out of this story”, but I think that’s what this story really is about. It can be really hard to hang on to hope, especially when we indulge in self-destructive behavior whether we know it or not, and knowing that the people we love still love us and are sometimes just waiting for us to reach out so they can pull us out of the deep end can really help sometimes. So yeah, hope. Not an ignorant hope that ignores that bad things can and do happen, but hope in spite of tragedy and misfortune. It’s very queer, I think, to allow yourself hope when the world won’t make space for it otherwise.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?
Oh, good questions! There was definitely one big round of edits at the start where I completely changed the ending from a much bleaker ending into the current ending, but since that it’s been mostly single line-level edits. I think I got a bit of feedback from 4-5 friends total, not more, which is unusual for my stories because I usually shop them around in my writing group, but I was satisfied with this story very quickly. So I still did a few edit passes, but usually not much changed after the first one.
As for submissions, this story has been rejected a lucky 7 times before this acceptance (five were quick form rejections, twice under consideration then rejected), and I submitted it to Apparition Lit the same day I received that last rejection, because I had been doing a final polish with some new feedback while waiting on the response.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
Since this is the Omen issue, I’ll recommend something that gives me hope and something that fills me with dread:
Hope: The Surviving Sky by Kritika H Rao! I’ve been excited for this science-fantasy book (it’s about flying plant-cities inspired by Hindu mythology!) for the last two years, it’s truly fantastic, and it’s finally coming out this fall, so be sure to check it out!
Dread: Red X by David Demchuk. Do heed the CWs on this one, it’s a heavy read, but this horror book set in Toronto queer community in the AIDS pandemic is equal parts horrific, erotic, and grief-stricken, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since reading it.