Lights flashed in the darkness behind Aldo's eyes as he slowly regained consciousness. Pain rocketed through his body and he gasped.
"Open your eyes."
Aldo couldn't fight the command in the voice. He pried his eyes open and stared up into a visage as cold as marble. Dark eyes studied him like a scientist would study a bug. Aldo's throat burned every time he swallowed. Confused, he lifted his hand to touch his neck.
"You should not touch that. It is raw."
"What happened?" he croaked out, not recognising where he was or who the person was staring at him. How had he ended up on the ground?
"It seems you had grown tired of your world and decided to end your life." The pale haired man shrugged. "Maybe it was for the best since your wife and son are gone. Yet the Black Death has killed so many others, I would not be surprised if more people take their lives as well."
As the words were spoken, all of Aldo's grief came flooding back. Tears welled in his eyes and he rolled over onto his side, sobbing harshly as the memory of what had happened returned. It had only been two days since he'd buried his family in a pit with other victims of the plague. His village had been decimated by the mysterious illness.
"Why am I not dead?" He pressed his face in the ground under him. "Did the rope break?"
"Oh, you were dead, but we have something more important for you to do than to die."
The chill in the man's words sent shudders down Aldo's spine. What was going on? None of his words made any sense. How could Aldo have been dead when he was talking to this man?
"I am not dead. If I was, I would not be talking to you," he pointed out as he rolled onto his back and glared up at the stranger.
His companion nudged him with his foot and held out his hand. "You need to stand. We have things to do and you have much to learn."
"What are you talking about? Learn? I did not know there were classes on how to be dead," Aldo quipped, but he let the man pull him off the ground. "Who are you?"
"You may call me Death."
Aldo rolled his eyes at the odd announcement. "I'm not going to call you anything. Are you going to keep telling me what's going to happen?"
Death pinched the bridge of his nose and ground his teeth together. Aldo could tell he frustrated the other man, but there wasn't any way he would just calmly wander off with him. He glanced around them and the blank landscape puzzled him. It didn't look like the outskirts of the village he lived in. It didn't look like anything actually. No trees or buildings. Nothing except a white stallion and a pale one standing a few feet away.
"Where are we? What are they doing here?"
The other man shot him a glare. "We are in the middle place where those who are chosen for a different life come. It is here you meet your true destiny. As to the creatures, they are our mounts. You are a Horseman now."
"A Horseman? What is that?"
"Come with me and I will explain." Death stalked off towards the horses.
"So I do not have a choice?" Aldo followed slowly behind him.
Death swung aboard the pale stallion and stared down at him. "You took your choice away when you tied the noose around your neck. You are now Pestilence, and you will help keep the balance between Heaven and Hell."