Everything you worried might happen did, not to mention a few things you hadn't even considered.  The walls feel like they are caving in on you.  The waves crash high above your head, tossing you about like a rag doll.  You close your eyes and resign yourself to your fate, the end has come.

Then the morning sun rises.  You are battered and bruised, worse for wear, but for some reason you are still alive.  Visions of the end of the world vary, but our own personal Armageddon can seem like it impacts the whole world.

Guest Judge: Steve Voelker

Steve Voelker is a writer that specializes in the horrible and fantastic. His work has been included in numerous anthologies and collections, including the Bram Stoker Award Nominated Slices of Flesh. He lives in Pennsylvania with his ridiculously supportive wife, three energetic children and one completely insane dog. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @Voelker58, where he will keep you informed in the very likely event of a zombie apocalypse.

You can follow his blog at SteveVoelkerFiction.com

Steve's Story "Live Better" contrasts the most significant event in history with the most mundane of circumstances.  Find his story and more in Song Stories: Volume 1.

The Prompt

I saw four men on horseback

The Rules

  1. The story must start from the prompt.  This means the prompt must be the
    first words in the story.
  2. No more than 500 words (not including the prompt).  No less than 100 words.
  3. Any genre (in fact an unexpected genre will get you more brownie points.)
  4. Entries must be submitted by Tuesday Noon EST0
  5. If your story would be rated R or NC-17 in a movie, please post a note to that effect at the beginning of your entry.
  6. The winner of each week's competition will win a kindle copy of "Song Stories: Volume I"
  7. The winner and runner-ups will be entered into a drawing to win a beautiful paperback edition of song stories
  8. Have fun!

4/22/2013 01:34:57 pm

“I saw four men on horseback.” I stammered as I passed through the gate, panting.

The guard on duty – Jerod – looked at me as though I’d taken a leak on his foot.

“Seriously. They were coming over the hill from the west…” I pointed back the way I’d come.

“Son, ya’ don’ even know what a’horse looks like. I’m sure it was jus’-”

“No! They were horses! I’ve seen pictures!” I had, too. One of the books in the nursery had a picture of a horse in it.

“I’m sure ya’ have.” He looked back the way I’d come. “West ya’ say? Well, sun’s settin’, in’it? Sometimes those shadows look a bit odd…”

“There’s nothing on that hill to cast a shadow! Nothing! They were there.” I could feel the heat in my eyes and I blinked furiously. It wouldn’t do no good to waste water. I bit my lip. Now this was a pickle! “I know sometimes I make out like I seen things when I didn’t. But this time, I really did!”

“That’s what ya’ say every time, Marcum. Now, it’s not as though I don’ believe ya’, exactly. Perhaps you did see something, but it weren’t no men on horseback. There ain’t nothin’ out there. Not no more.” Jarod scuffed his foot in the dirt and took a deep breath, but let it out without saying what was on his mind. He jerked his head toward home, “Get yourself home. Your Momma’s probably worried sick over ya’.”

I hung my head and tramped off down the path, kicking rocks as I went. Stupid. This whole place was stupid. We were just waiting to die. Food and water were scarce, everybody sick with something – any moment we were gonna be toast.

That’s why Papa left. He was gonna find some others – bring back help. Something must’a happened. He’d been gone two years now. I kept scouting to see if I could find some trace of him. I felt like I could hear him call my name sometimes.

I froze.

I did hear him.

I turned back the way I’d come. Four men on horseback. Papa!

I ran. Papa practically jumped off that great big creature – bigger than I could’ve imagined – and held his arm out to me.

He was home.

We were gonna make it.

387 words

4/22/2013 10:27:16 pm


I saw four men on horseback race by on their way out. Two were standing on their heads, and the other two were doing backflips, all to great applause. I envied them—showers and plates heaped with food waited outside the tent.

My own long, foodless, exasperating night was just beginning.


A knife plunged into the wood somewhere near my left shoulder. From the sound, it was one of (creepy) Marcello the Clown’s legendary cold steel knives, which meant I should have felt grateful it was The Grenouille’s bad-aimed turn to throw. But I was too annoyed for gratitude.


Right shoulder now, half an inch closer. I growled and looked across the center ring to where he stood grinning in tacky, amphibian-looking harem pants and matching cloak, as ugly and awkward as the day we’d met.

“You’re going down,” he mouthed, flourishing his next knife. I pictured the knife hovering over a steaming plate of frog legs in garlic butter.


I felt a sharp pull as the knife stabbed into the coil of golden hair just above my tiara. The hair wasn’t real (at least not after the first two feet, as Ivan the Strong, aka Prince Percy, had learned the hard way; it was such a tall tower and he was so heavy) but the tiara was, and if The Grenouille’s incompetence tonight cost me so much as a single diamond, the Ringmaster would get an earful (not that he’d listen this time either).


The Grenouille had flung the knife too wildly: it sailed clean past me and landed in a pyramid of horse manure. The audience booed loudly, and my lips twitched as The Grenouille slunk off. Now there was a happy ending!

I turned my eyes toward the velvet curtains. Two knife throwers tonight, the Ringmaster had promised the crowd. Twice the knives; twice the danger! Philippe was in his quarters nursing a slipped disc, which meant the second thrower had to be dear, furry, rose-obsessed Jean-Marc, who was still in love with me despite everything; or Charmant, curse him, who might defy the agreement and try to nick me on purpose. (Charmant’s ire was patently undeserved; if he’d disliked how things were going, he ought to have complained long before the whole glass slipper debacle. Not. My. Fault.)

The curtains jerked open.

Marcello the Clown stepped out, red-nosed and pale, his eyes bright and fixed on me. Somewhere to my right a child started crying.

“My turn at last, girl,” he said, drawing three long knives out of a black-and-white checkered box, “unless, of course, you can guess my new name. WITHOUT CHEATING THIS TIME.”

I groaned in sudden recognition and frustration. Who could’ve guessed that one tiny misspoken word in my one teeny tiny wish—to be the fairytale princess instead of a fairytale princess—would make so many princes so very angry?

“I don’t suppose you kept ‘Rumpelstiltskin,’ eh?” I said as the first knife shot through the air.

499 words

4/22/2013 11:56:39 pm

“I saw four men on horseback. The clouds darkened as they passed. I had only been a little girl at the time.”

“Granny, are you telling one of your stories again?” Bright blue eyes looked up at her from a cherubic face.

Granny gave a small smile, running a hand through the golden curls. Her hand was ancient compared to the youth that sat at her feel. Covered in liver spots, the skin paper thin with age. “Yes, a story. A story that became a nightmare.”

“What happened?” A hushed whisper.

“They brought pain with them. Pain and suffering. They lead the way as the army came marching. The skies were blackened from the smoke of the cannons and the ground was red with the blood of the slain.” Watery blue eyes opened wide as she stared into the flames in the fireplace. “There was a thunder that rolled along the ground, louder than any storm could be. The hoof beats broke up the ground, spilling the fires of hell into the land of the living. They work masks of death. They wanted to consume and eradic-“

“Grandmother!” The voice snapped like a whip.

The old woman flinched and glanced up at the man standing in the doorway in full armor, the helm tucked under his arm. He was scowling at the old woman.

“I’m sorry, I was just telling…”

“I know what you were telling. And you can stop now.” Dark eyes stared down at them. “That is an old story and it should stay in the past where it is.”

The little boy looked back and forth before giving a cheery smile. “But I like Granny’s stories.” He leaned his head against the old woman’s knee. “I’m not scared of them.”

The man gave a scowl. “They are something you don’t need to hear yet.” A gloved hand raised and pointed a finger at the quivering old woman. “I don’t want to hear it until he’s ready.” The man slammed the helm onto his head, the skull painted on it blazing back at the two by the fire before he turned to join the other three riders waiting outside.

361 words

4/23/2013 02:02:59 am

Do Not Disturb

I saw four men on horseback coming over the low rise to the east and, just that quickly, a typical day on perimeter lookout became anything but typical. Now there was a time when that would have been a commonplace enough sight as to elicit little, if any, reaction. That time had been more than five years gone now. That time was before ballistic death had rained down from the skies and made it expedient to express the planetary population using not a ten-digit number but, instead, only six digits...and that was an overly-optimistic estimate.

I probably should’ve bugged out back to the settlement and gotten help but if I did, the riders would be way too far inside the perimeter for us to deal with them without the possibility of taking casualties. If they were on horseback and coming from the east, they weren’t anybody we wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to anyway.

Deacon had been telling us all along the only reason we hadn’t sickened and died like most of mankind was the caves shielded us from the fallout carried on the howling winds. To the east was where the major population centers had been and those had, sure as Hell, been bombed back to the Stone Age. While it wasn’t entirely inconceivable folks to the east of us had survived this long, it was damned unlikely they’d managed to do it and have had the resources to sustain livestock too.

I’d set my helmet down in the shade since it was so damnably hot today. Deacon would have been pissed had he known I wasn’t wearing it regardless of the temperature. I didn’t quite understand what UV radiation was but the helmet was supposed to keep it from frying my head. Snatching it up, I toggled the optic enhancers online and took a closer look at the strangers.

Their clothes were dusty…sweat-soaked but better quality than anything we’d seen in a long while. The saddlebags on their mounts bulged, indicating they had enough of…something…to make it worth packing around. All four carried MIL-SPEC rifles that gave every appearance of being well-maintained and fully-functional. The heat shimmer made it impossible to see their faces but that didn’t really matter. Whoever they were, it was time to deal with them.

They were just entering the narrow pass that would lead them right into our back yard when I depressed the activator switch on the perimeter mines. The confines of the rock walls focused the blast and they vanished in a shower of dust and rocky shrapnel. When things settled down and I got a clear look again, I confirmed they were all down and nobody was moving.

It was a new age of Man when trust was gone and self-preservation was the order of the day. Whoever they’d been, whatever they wanted was now moot. They’d come too close to knocking on our door for comfort and the days of welcome mats were long gone too.

500 words @klingorengi

4/29/2013 06:33:06 am

Title: Hunger
Author: J.M. Mendur

I saw four men on horseback. I put down the shovel and watched them for a minute as they crested the hill two miles away.

My first thought was, “Four prime horses like them could’ve fed my family for close to half a year.”

My second thought was, “I wonder what those rich yahoos are doing all the way out here in the borderlands.”

Then I recognized the lead rider.

I walked back to the tiny house I used to share with my wife and little girl, before illness finally claimed them after the long, slow starvation … a starvation caused by the revenue man and his gang of robber henchmen.

From under the floorboards, carefully wrapped in protective oilskins, I took up my long rifle, the one I’d put aside when I’d married my dear Eleanor. One way or another, I knew I wouldn’t starve.

145 words, not counting title and author lines.

2/10/2014 05:28:24 am

Welcomed Guest

I saw four men on horseback. Horseback is the name of the third planet of the solar system I was assigned to study. It was not unusual to find human habitation, but four was a strange number. Four million or four billion maybe, but I checked the readings several times and it wasn’t a mistake. One, two, three, four enjoying a planet to themselves.

Talk about elbow room!

The rest of the stats made the planet look like the perfect place to live. Gravity was a pleasant .98 Gs. Temperature was about 40 C at the equator and about -10 at the poles. It had plenty of water, all fresh. It had game and vegetation both of ample variety.

So why are there only four people?

Maybe it’s one family marooned there? Maybe it’s a private mining interest? Why does it have to be four men; maybe its four lonely women, waiting to be rescued?

I knew the thought was fanciful. It was highly unlikely. Wishful thinking. But nevertheless I opened a channel for communication. Regulations said to send a report back to the Federation Government, and let them handle it according to their long list of established protocols.

But those girls might be in danger. They might need my help. And I might be twitchy from the loneliness of my isolated assignment.

At first I got no response. But when I did the face that come onto my com screen was the face of an angel. Bright eyed, cheerful, happy. Friendly. I introduced myself and then she spoke, failing to introduce herself as is standard protocol. Maybe she also felt an instant connection between us.

Turns out it was a family—the girl I was talking to, her mother, her sister and her sister’s baby. They had crash landed, and now would welcome a ride home. They invited me to dinner. See how kind they were, even in their distress.

I accepted their offer, then carefully plotted a slow trajectory onto the planet where their signal had originated. My subconscious mind was thinking of my appetites, but it wasn’t dinner I was interested in most.

As I began to approach landing I began scanning the ground with the close range sensor. It must have malfunctioned. I thought I saw an entire population below me. But that must have been a shadow from a previous landing. Almost immediately it switched to show the women and their downed craft.

I stepped out expecting gratitude. Before I could respond, I felt a net grab me. The inhabitants of the planet were remarkably advanced. They saw ships coming from a long way off, they fooled their sensors, they read their thoughts and they knew how to get unwary craft to land on the surface. Succumbing to my own foolish temptations, I had fallen for every one of their deceptions.

There was one thing they had been truthful about—they would be very happy to have me for dinner.

496 words


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