*This story will be available to read until December 28, 2020
FOUR HORSEMEN AT A DINER IN WISCONSIN
by Jeff Monday
“Honestly, I’m a bit overwhelmed at the moment.”
“How, exactly, can Death be overwhelmed??” Pestilence demanded, casually wiping off Its fork before stabbing a pancake.
“Well,” the Grim Reaper moved a piece of bacon from one side of Its plate to the other, “you know how it is.”
“No, actually, I don’t.”
“It’s just...I mean...with everything going on in the Middle East...” It looked pointedly at War.
“Oh no,” was the response, “don’t blame me for this. I’m just doing my job!” It looked around, hoping they weren’t disturbing anyone else. “And keep your voice down. No need to cause a scene.”
“You’ve been working that area for hundreds of years! I mean, c’mon! Give it a rest already!”
“Hey! Not my fault—”
“OK, look,” Famine cut in, cutting up a pancake with a dull knife, “we’re all doing good business, right? But I think what Pestilence is saying is that we could be better.” Half a pancake went into Its mouth almost before It finished speaking.
“I dunno,” Death said, shaking Its head and taking a drink of orange juice. “I have a pretty full schedule these days.”
“We all do.”
“Right. So why mess with success?” Death triumphantly swigged some coffee. “We are the top agents in the field! We deserve to take it easy. And any who dare suggest otherwise shall be smote!” The others rolled their eyes. Death was inconsistent like that—one moment despondent, the next smug. Its mood swung and suddenly there was a moment when It felt like the coffee was not hot enough, or maybe not strong enough. Regardless, It began to rise from its seat, ready to smite down every mortal in Its path. But then the waitress, Larraine, was there to refill Its cup and It sank back down, content and caffeinated.
“You could say thank you, you know,” Pestilence muttered under Its breath as Larraine walked away.
“What? Oh. Sorry!” Death called out to Larraine’s retreating frame. “Thank you!” Death turned back to the others. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“You never do.”
“Well,” Death sat back in the booth, “I’m not exactly an expert on the living living their lives, am I?”
War rolled its eyes. “Here we go.”
“I’m just saying,” Death leaned back to the table, pushing Its plate out of the way, “that feelings are not really something I deal well with, you know?”
“No reason not to be polite,” Famine said, stuffing another wad of pancakes into Its mouth.
“Can we focus?” Pestilence asked, dabbing at Its mouth. “We are overdue for an Apocalypse.”
“The upper office is asking questions,” War added thoughtfully. “Just the other day I heard there’s rumbling on the top floor. Something about too many missed deadlines.”
“Exactly!” Pestilence exclaimed. “We need a win. Something to remind everyone why we’re the top. A-one. Best of the best!” Its eyes widened. “Ugh. Would you look at that!”
They turned. A few booths down, a young couple and their toddler were eating breakfast.
“That...child. It’s throwing food everywhere!”
“Ugh. And now it’s drooling. So disgusting!” It shuddered a little and pulled a Sani-wipe out of Its pocket.
“Hrmm,” Famine responded around a bit of bacon.
“Getting back to the problem at hand, maybe we should submit a request. You know, go through the proper channels. I don’t want to cause any trouble,” War opined, sipping a bit of coffee.
“Well I for one am all for just going for it,” Death stated. “I mean, why not?”
“Well, for one,” War glared, “because we do all the work and you just swoop in and finish the job.”
“Yeah,” Famine jumped in, “you really don’t do that much. You’re basically clean-up.” It looked across the table to Pestilence’s plate. “You gonna eat that?”
Pestilence pulled Its plate closer.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing!”
“No offense,” War said, raising Its hands to calm everyone down. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“No, please. Tell me how I don’t do my fair share.” Death gestured to the others. “Please. Continue.”
They avoided Death’s glare. Just then there was a ruckus down the aisle. The father of the small child was choking on something.
“Help! My husband!” the wife cried out. Then the baby began to cry as well. The horsemen rolled their eyes.
“Here we go.”
“Well?” Famine looked at Death after a good thirty seconds of choking and crying. “Aren’t you going to do anything?”
“Me?” Death saw the others staring. “Why me?” “Seriously?”
Death tossed Its napkin onto the table and stood. The others watched as It purposefully strode down the aisle toward the choking man. By this time, the man was turning a wonderful shade of purple. Death grabbed the man and pulled him to his feet, shushing the hysterical wife. Then, with just a brief pause for dramatic effect, Death...
... reached around, grabbed the man and pulled him up and toward him several times, effectively dislodging the bit of ham that had been stuck in his throat.
The man, his normal color returning, thanked Death. As did the wife. The baby gurgled up something. After accepting their thanks, Death went back to Its companions, all of whom were sitting with mouths agape.
“What? Why are you all looking at me like that?” “You saved him.”
“Well sure. He was choking.” “But...but you saved him.”
“What did you expect me to do?” “You’re Death.”
“Yeah. So? Oh, I get it. You thought I was going to take him.” He tsked, waving a bony finger at them. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Well I’m off duty.”
“Off duty?” Famine nearly spat out the hunk of buttered toast It was chewing on. “You’re never off duty. In fact, right now, there’s tens of thousands of aspects of you scooping up souls all over the world!”
“Exactly!” Death stuck Its chin out. “No reason to add to the workload. Besides, I don’t like taking someone in front of their children. That kind of trauma never really leaves you, you know, seeing a parent die in front of you.”
“Doubt it can see anything through all those germs,” Pestilence muttered under Its breath. War shook Its head. “Whatever. Let’s get back—”
“Soo, anyone want a slice of pie for dessert?” Larraine asked, coming up to them. She smiled at each while refilling cups. “We got cherry and apple.”
“Which do you like better?” Famine asked.
“Ooh, I think I like the cherry. We get them from my cousin Virg from over in Door County, donchaknow.”
“I’ll take one of each.”
“Ooh. Got yurself a big appetite today, huh hon? Anyone else?”
“No thank you.”
“OK then. Two slices coming right up.” She sauntered away. War’s eyes followed her as she left.
“I wouldn’t mind smiting her.”
“Oh please. When’s the last time you smote anyone?”
“Just last week!”
“Yes! It was an obnoxious man with a hair bun drinking a Manhattan.”
“OK, that’s valid.”
“I don’t think you’re using that word the same way as the rest of us.”
“Hmm. But did you really smite him? Or just talk about it with your friends?”
“Well, I wanted to. But he left before I had a chance.”
“I hear there’s a new plan coming down from the top floor,” Pestilence said, changing the subject. “Apparently they’re setting a new date.”
“Every time they announce a date, it gets pushed back.”
“Remember 2000? That was a mess!”
“I knew that wasn’t going to work. Didn’t I say that was never going to work?”
“And what about 2012?”
“Now that was a good plan! Well thought out. Not rushed.”
“Yeah. Who screwed that one up?”
“Don’t look at me! I did what I was supposed to.”
“I’s not any of our faults! Michael was s’posed to kick it all off.”
“Now there’s someone I’d really like to smite.”
“I’m just saying.”
“I could use a good smiting.”
“Hah. You should be so lucky to get smote by me.”
“Pfft. After you got done, I’d probably have to go get another smiting anyway.”
Larraine brought the pies over, topping off their coffee as well. They waited politely until she left before resuming their conversation.
“So anyway, if the home office is setting a new date, I say we just wait until it’s our time,” War said. “No sense ruffling feathers for no reason.”
“When’s the new date?”
Pestilence shrugged, wiping the corner of Its mouth. “Not sure. But I heard 2030 being tossed around.”
“Well there we go then,” War smiled. “That’s just around the corner.”
“Hmph.” Death crossed Its arms. “I suppose we can hold off til then.”
“Oh crap!” Famine said between bites of pie. “I gotta go!”
“Go? Go where?”
“I have an appointment in Siberia.” It stuffed the rest of the pie in. “You guys will cover me this time?” Without waiting for an answer, Famine popped out of view, leaving nothing but empty plates.
“Dammit! Again! Always running out of the check.”
“Does seem to be a thing, doesn’t it?”
The others sighed and pulled out money.
Death began gathering the bills. “Hey! You need to put in more!” It said to War.
“This isn’t enough. Quit trying to cheat me.”
War grumbled but dug out another fistful of bills.
“We good?” Pestilence asked.
“OK then. I’ll see you around.” And Pestilence was gone.
“I’m out of here too.” Pop.
Death sat alone at the table.
“More coffee hon?” Larraine asked, wandering over.
Death smiled up at her. “You know, I think I’ll have a slice of pie after all.”
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