The Horsemen

I had this in a high school literary magazine about two years ago. The original file was lost, so I rewrote it from memory. This is my interpretation of the Four Horsemen concept and what's really going on behind the curtain. Note, this doesn't necessarily reflect my personal opinions, as I am not overly religious in the Christian sense.

Vast fields of golden wheat shimmered in the blazing African sun. He could see the farmers hiding in the shadow of trees and their huts, safe from the blazing heat. Yet, in spite of it all, he stood among the hills with his tattered black cloak fluttering in the breeze. From under the hood protruded a hungry jackal snout, whiskers and everything, black as night. He stalked among the rows of grain, reaching out with his right arm. From under the folds came a pale, clawed hand. As it brushed over the stalks, the wheat immediately turned black and rotted. The famine spread rapidly, once contracted, with just his supervision and gentle nudge to get it passed the harsh spots.

Without warning, a bullet careened through the air, pounding through his cloak and body without even slowing down. He felt a slight pain as it went by, but it subsided quickly. He slowly turned, taking two more shots without flinching.

Three farmers were running toward him, as he stood among the wilting, sick crop. He reached out with his left hand, exposing what first looked like a gauntlet until the skinny mechanical wrist became obvious. He grasped the weathered wood handle of the massive warhammer at his back, bringing it about as the farmers ran toward him, cursing in their native tongue.

The one with a gun shot him once more and, finally, he lost his patience. The hammer blasted deep into his gut, and immediately his form began to shrivel as incapacitating hunger raged through him.

"I have survived four thousand years in this wretched corpse," the cloaked killer hissed. "I will not be put down by your childish toys." With another sweep of the hammer, the other two felt the hammering ache of starvation.

In a weak voice, one asked what manner of demon he was. He merely smiled, gold eyes blazing within the hood.

"I am Famine."

The dark streets of the London slum were vacant at this time of early morning. He lurched down the cobbles, taking sick, bubbly breaths within the World War II rubber gas mask. He reached into the moth-chewed cloak and removed possibly the largest tome in the existence of humanity, leather-bound, with faded gold lettering barely making out the words "ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DISEASE." He turned open the torn pages and began to search. After a moment, he glanced upward at one of the windows. Seconds later came the wretched sound of coughing.

"Do you enjoy your line of work?" The growl could only belong to one creature.

"It is a deed needing doing."

"But do you enjoy it?" the amber eyes, toothed snout, and glinting warhammer were obvious in the dim streetlights as Famine emerged from the teleporting shadows.

"You need to ask?" his flat, exhausted voice echoed behind the plastic, two unseeing glass lenses staring at him, one spider webbed with cracks. He looked at the window. "Pneumonia. A particularly vicious strain. The whole family should at least have bronchitis by week's end."

Famine fell into step with his cousin, running his metallic hand across the nearby wall. The sharp talons left four crooked groves where they passed.

"Have you looked at your watch lately?" he took a mucous-flooded breath.

Famine snorted. "My dear Pestilence, I have been trying to end the world. It's unfortunate the viral human race has an uncanny knack at surviving the terrible. Drought, blight, plagues. This should have ended with Bubonic."

"This should have ended with the second world war," Pestilence mused. "Considering the terrors we witnessed there, War most definitely did not let down his end of the deal. The humans are clever."

"To think I was one once." After a few more steps, Famine began to rummage in the cloak. "Why do you ask?"

"The hands started moving again."

He withdrew a tarnished brass pocketwatch and flipped it open. Inside, there were four hands, not three, and the numbers were replaced by a dazzling amount of runes. Years. Months. Days. Hours. He read two days and eighteen hours from zero. "But it hasn't moved since…"

"Since the Cuban Missile Crisis," Pestilence stopped and leafed again through the tome. "I know that."

"Does this mean she has orders again?"

"There is only one way to find out."

The meeting place was a small village pub along the east coast of Ireland. It had, surprisingly, survived the test of time since nearly the middle ages, with a little cosmic tweaking. After all, it would be a wretched effort trying to let her companions know about a change in location. Especially when several of them were not precisely the brightest bulbs in the box. That came of millennia of the same old rotting. She was perhaps the only one with a sharp mind at this point, and that was because, well, the Lords couldn't have a thick Reaper.

She noticed right as she stepped from the shadow that there was a massive, spiked motorcycle resting near the door. Way to be subtle, War.

She passed through, catching eyes almost immediately. Powder white skin, hair so blonde it was nearly snow white as well, her eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. Contrasting with it was a lengthy black leather trench coat which hid an attractive, lithe body that lurked beneath. That was Lucifer's little gift to her. God provided her with hands that could reclaim a soul at the faintest touch, while Lucifer had yanked her out of that archaic skeletal corpse with a scythe and given her beauty in perfection.

In one of the corners sat the horsemen. She strode toward them, hardly noticing that not one of the patrons noticed a rotting cadaver, a starving Jackal, and a juggernaut seated in full plate armor. Wisely, she dodged around War's urchin-like armor, realizing all too well the ease of getting caught on his many points.


Famine gave her the same hungry look he had for precisely 4,388 years, minus four days.

"The Lords have been discussing."

"That's always promising," Famine growled.

"And they have decided," she continued without acknowledging him, "that it is time that another cleansing begin."

"Judgment Day?" hissed Pestilence.

She nodded, removing her glasses to reveal iridescent eyes that shifted from blue to green to gold to red, and then back in any order they wished as she shifted them. "I trust you've been following the news."

They each, in turn, delivered reports of their news, the news they controlled. Iraq was on the fringe of civil war, Iran had successfully tested a nuclear device underground, America was in a barfight with the rest of Europe, a terrific AIDS epidemic had almost halved the African population, and there was massive starvation in China. Excellent. The boys had been working well.

"It is time…" she stopped, sensing a shift in the ether. "One moment."

She stood and walked through the bar. As she approached a man, who had been happily popping nuts into the air and catching them in his mouth, he caught one wrong and his hands flew to his throat. The other men, drunk, just laughed as he fell to the floor, unable to make a sound as he struggled with the obstructing nut. She reached into her coat, drawing a midnight black stiletto from its home. She looked at them, wondering if any would have the idea to help him.

Then again, perhaps not. She knelt on the ground and slowly pressed the stiletto into his chest. It ripped no cloth and drew no blood, yet as it rested there, she could feel the ethereal energy attached to this dying man slowly flowing into it, through her hand, and into the pendant that dangled from her neck. In only a few seconds, she withdrew the knife and he lay cooling. The men stopped laughing and suddenly looked concerned, realizing only now what had happened.

She returned to her seat, unfazed. "It is time to accelerate our plans. The Lords told us that the time would be right when the humans had the very instruments to destroy themselves. We merely have to set the first spark, and sit back to watch the fire blaze. War?"

"Nuclear weapons," a voice echoed from the massive helm. "Automatic assault rifles. Nerve gas. We should expect at least fifty percent casualties in the first wave."

"The attack will leave many people stressed and wounded," gurgled Pestilence. "Prime for infection." He drew out the tome. "What do you think? Smallpox? Gangrene?"

"No," she held up her slender hand, silver rings glinting in the light. "Something new. Something vicious."

He fumbled in his coat until he found a fountain pen. "I can concoct something."

Famine chuckled. "While the war effort runs, I can take a quick look at the farms. Most of these industrial giants use monocrop cultures." He shook his head. "Very shortsighted. A single blight will wipe out a full cash crop. I have disease, locusts, grubs, I'll think of something. It'll be easy."

"And in the aftermath?" War thundered even in his respectful question to a superior.

"The humans left over are the ones who have always been worthy of God's favor," she told him. "We're merely culling the herd."

"What if we experience one-hundred percent casualties?" Pestilence asked.

"You know the answer."

They all did. Humans were adaptable. They could be assured that at least a few thousand would survive.

"Do you believe this?" Famine said.

She planted her hands on the table, exposing the backs. Branded into her left hand was a mark of a cross, and into the right was a pentagram. "Boys, I merely follow orders. It's up to the Lords to decide what happens when and where. We merely say how."

"My lady," Pestilence began. "Why is it that... well, now? We've had chances before."

"Humanity has always had a spark of hope before," she answered with grim lips. "In an age where you can get sued for hot coffee, where homosexuals are forced underground, where kids use assault rifles... let's say that God is starting to loose his optimism." She stood. "Get to work."

They got up and filed out, all except Famine. Passing a table, he stole a pretzel stick when no one was looking. Death watched with pity as he lifted it to his lips. The stick, protected by his mechanical digits, met his true flesh and immediately sprouted a host of fungus and turned soggy. He dropped it.

"Are you hungry, Famine?"

"Like you wouldn't believe."

She grinned, placing her sunglasses back on her sharp nose. "I expect four thousand years of starvation would do that."

"Just lucky to be a demon."

She stepped out into the cold air, hearing the thunder of War's chopper fading away as he crusaded into the shadows. "In my experience, the Lords are pretty good at rewarding the dedicated. One of them will pick up the bill. Someday."

He snorted, his breath steaming. "Cold, isn't it?"

"It is."

"Especially for August."

She felt that pull again. Only this time it was almost intolerably more massive. "Have you ever looked into the core of a nuclear explosion?"

"Never had the chance to."

"Like to?"