The 13th Horseman - By Barry Hutchison

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THE VAST, LONELY wastelands of oblivion stretch out in all directions, infinite in their scale and in their emptiness. Darkness lies heavy over this most desolate of plains, like a burial shroud on a long-forgotten corpse.

This place – if, indeed, it can be called a place – has been this way since before the dawn of time itself. Uninhabited. Undisturbed. It will soon change. Everything will soon change.

Since the first fragments of reality came to exist, there has been nothing but silence here. Yet the silence in the air now hangs ominous and foreboding, as if the very cosmos itself is holding its breath, and waiting.

But waiting for what?

Like the leathery wings of a startled bat, the darkness rustles. In time – though it is impossible to say how much – the sound swells in volume, until it crashes and thunders like a storm called down by the devil himself. In all the endless reaches of this place, there is nothing and no one to bear witness to this terrible sound. At least, not yet.

But soon a fragment of the darkness warps and buckles, contorting as if pulled by some violent, invisible hand. The shadows stretch like treacle, screeching and howling in protest as they are forcibly rearranged into a new form. A form that could almost pass for that of a man.


Angry tendrils of inky black hiss and slither across his frame. A fabric woven from the dead of night crawls across bare, bleached bone: a living cape concealing his full horror from all the worlds.

Though freshly born, he is already aware of his purpose. He knows beyond question the reason for his creation. And he knows what he must do.

His empty eye sockets turn and fix on some unseen horizon. He has an epic journey ahead of him. He has unimaginable distances to cross.

It will not take him long.

DRAKE KNEW IT wasn’t the frogs’ fault. It couldn’t be. They were, after all, only frogs.

And yet, if it hadn’t been for them, he wouldn’t be here now, standing before a jungle of tall grass and weeds, holding the smooth wooden handle of an ancient lawn mower. Then again, if it hadn’t been for him, the frogs would never have exploded, his science teacher, Miss Pimkin, would still have her hair, and the top two floors of his school would still be where they were supposed to be. All things considered, he’d probably come off best.

He’d been marched to the headmaster’s office before the dust had settled. By the time the fire brigade had finished beating Miss Pimkin’s flames out, he’d been expelled. And all because he’d tried to help those frogs. So much for good deeds.

Moving school had been bad enough, but the only school he could move to was twenty-five kilometres away, and that meant moving house too. His mum hadn’t been happy about that, and he’d been trying to make it up to her ever since.

The grass was the latest attempt. He’d promised he’d cut it the day they moved in. That was four days ago, and it was still standing as tall as ever. After a night spent lying awake, worrying about his first day at the new school, Drake had got out of bed at six-thirty, and decided the grass’s time had come.

The back garden was fairly small – about the length of an average-sized bus. That was the good news.

The bad news was that the previous occupants didn’t seem to have ever set foot in it, much less made any attempt to keep the grass in check. A tangled wilderness swayed gently in the summer breeze. Two-metre-high weeds waved slowly forward and back as if beckoning him in.

“OK,” he said below his breath. “Here goes.”

By the fifth push, Drake realised that the lawn mower was not doing what lawn mowers were meant to do. He knew that the purpose of a lawn mower – the entire reason for the existence of lawn mowers – was to cut grass. No one, it seemed, had bothered to tell that to this lawn mower.

It was an ancient, weather-beaten contraption, with five blades set into a barrel shape, so they spun as the mower was rolled forward. Or, at least, that was the theory. But the entire mechanism had rusted solid, meaning the blades remained completely motionless as Drake shoved the thing further into the jungle of grass. The effect was that he wasn’t cutting the grass so much as temporarily flattening it down, only for it