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The Fifth Horseman
His mind twists and turns as he tries to remember what has happened, who he is. And he clenches his eyes shut. Think. Think. Think....
Gasping. Hands held out in defense.
“Don't shoot! Oh, god, don't shoot! I—I have some information!”
The man trudges toward him, his finger on the trigger.
Bald. Strong. And mean, this man isn't who I should be talking to. Not after all that I've learned. I need to talk to the president. To the head of security, to anybody that will get everyone away from this place.
His eyes snapped open. His heart is thumping against his chest. Images flood his mind. Alien thoughts jump-starting his memory he'd lost since waking up. And he closes his eyes again. What happened?
Fear. Extreme fear as the unmistakable sounds of gunshots surround him from behind. Men surround the stage, enveloping the president in bodyguards before he is able to relay the information to him.
He looks up. They're all going to die. No, we're all going to die. Unless I get to the president. He bites his lip, sizing up the men around him. There is no way he's going to survive this, he knows, but there are two ways this is going to end, and he chooses the one he has control over.
He sprints directly for the president as he spots an opening.
Gulp, leap, gulp.
The piercing pain erupted through his chest and back as he jolted up and still the memory eludes him, haunts him until he can finally search his scattered mind for the memory. His last moments, because he knows....he knows that they killed him and it's almost too painful. He closed his eyes.
Bright flashes surround him in the open skies as he watches in pain. And then his body is thrown from the ground, just two feet from the president as the first bomb touches down. His body lay in devastation, watching helplessly as everyone around him dies. Tears stream down his face. He tried to warn them. He tried to warn them, but no one listened.
He chuckles at his irony. He swore to himself that he would never think about anyone but himself again because it caused him so much pain last time, but here he was again...the heartbreak nearly tore him apart. But it wasn't the heartbreak this time. It was the saving. He grimaces as a cough erupts from his chest. But that wasn't ironic. What the ironic part was that even if he knew that he would die trying to warn everybody about the bombing, he would do it over again.
Breathing finally became hard, as his heart pumps vigorously to keep up with his lungs, to keep his body working, but in the end, it couldn't be saved.
His breathing became faint, the vision first leaving him, before he thought he caught a glimpse of a figure standing before him. A black cloak blown to the side as the next bomb touches...and then it was all over. At least, he thought it was.
He sat up. If he was dead, then how was he here? Now?
“I can answer that.”
He jumped. The culprit, a man, stepped out from the shadows of the room, to greet him. Frail and beaten up, the old man looked a hundred years old, but by the look on the man's face, he knew that it was far from the truth. The man had much to tell him.
“But I think it's more important that you know who you are, don't you?” The man continued.
He nodded slightly, as he started to take in his surroundings. Something he hadn't done before because he was so preoccupied with the fact that he couldn't remember anything.
“Your name is Alex William Stone, and you died eighteen days ago.” The man explained.
Alex frowned, “So what I saw was true. They—they killed me?”
The man nodded, “I'm afraid so, and you're not the first to have come through because of it. As I recall, I'd taken 472,000 people through the veil that day.”
Alex's brain locked, as though he couldn't comprehend what the man had just said, “I'm dead.”
He locked eyes with the man, “And what about the president? Did he survive?”
The man gazed down at his wrist, then back to Alex, “I'm sorry, but I'll have to answer your questions later. For now, all you have to know is that you're stuck in between life and death, awaiting God's judgment in twenty four hours.”
He gazed at his watch again and sighed, “You'll find that there are new clothes for you in the closet. Follow the yellow line down the halls in about...oh, twenty minutes, and you'll be just fine.”
He started for the door, “Oh, and if you need anything, my card's on the desk.”
And with that, the old man disappeared from the room, leaving Alex alone in the desolate room.
He picked up the card on the desk, and his jaw dropped. He blinked once, twice, three times. No way. He read the card again. Horseman of the Apocalypse, Death.
They're staring at me. Why are they staring at me? We're all dead!
“Hey, watch it!”
Alex jumped back, his heart pounding.
“Sorry! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...” He started.
His eyes dropped to a man about a foot shorter than him, and felt a little bit better.
The man sized him up, “What're you? The new boy scout?”
Alex held out his hand, “I'm Alex...uh, newly arrived, I guess.”
The man raised a brow, and scratched a scab on the side of his face, “Alex Stone?”
Alex nodded, “Yeah, how do ya know?”
The man folded his arms, “Just a buddy of mine mentioned you is all.”
Alex moved along the line and grabbed a plate covered with mashed potatoes, green beans, and a steak. Alex took an experimental whiff before he was satisfied and turned to the man still behind him, staring at him like he'd discovered the holy grail.
“So...do I have to pay for this or anything? Or can I just walk off?” Alex asked.
The man shook his head, “No paying here. There's no need for currency here. After all, this is just a temporary place until you get to where you're going.”
Alex shrugged and started for the closest open table before he heard a plop beside him.
“So what'd you get?” The man asked.
Alex sighed. What was with this man?
“Don't you have the same thing?” He asked.
The man shook his head, “Ever heard of last meal? Everyone gets whatever meal they desire.”
Alex smirked. He did have a craving for steak right about now.
“Oh. Well, I have steak and mashed potatoes.” He replied.
The man nodded, “That's a good choice. So...”
“Okay, what gives? You didn't even have an interest in me until I told you my name!” He snapped.
The man snickered, “Isn't that how it always works, though?”
Alex grumbled before taking a bite of his steak. What did he do to deserve this?
“The name's Pestilence.” The man blurted.
Alex coughed, spewing out his steak and dropped his fork. The man's face never wavered as his green eyes stared a hole into him.
He studied the man more closely. Like Death, Pestilence looked completely normal. Couldn't have been any older than forty or so. Just another man with a receding hairline.
“The Pestilence? As in, the first horseman, Pestilence?” He questioned.
The man bowed, “The very same.”
Alex shook his head. He should've realized if the man had said that he was friends with Death, that he'd be a horseman!
Alex felt as the table shook and two more bodies appeared alongside Pestilence.
“Hey, Pest, how's it going?”
Pestilence waved at the dark haired man beside him, and Alex couldn't help but stare and wonder.
Long scar down his cheekbone. Unkempt black hair. Pale. Strong, muscular body.
“Let me guess, War?” He asked the man.
The man raised a brow at Pestilence, “You've already told him?”
Alex crossed his arms.
Pestilence sighed, “Just answer the boy.”
The dark haired man nodded slightly, “Yes, I'm War and that's Famine.”
Alex turned to the other man, so frail, so skinny, that he almost couldn't tell that there was skin on his bones. He blinked.
Was he really having dinner with the horseman of the apocalypse? He blinked again. He couldn't have. This all had to be a dream. It had to. Or he was high. Or maybe he was just in a coma. Stuck inside his mind.
Pestilence watched Alex with a mask of worry.
“Are you okay?” War asked.
“Uh, yeah. I'm fine. Just still trying to get used to being dead.” He responded.
War gave him a pained expression, “Well, it gets better after awhile. Especially after a few dozen decades.”
Famine turned to Pestilence, “So Death is still out in the field?”
Alex frowned, “Out in the field?”
War snorted, “He's retrieving the souls of the dead, Alex.”
The three horseman cracked up, their roaring laughter almost startling him. It was unlike anything he'd heard before. Startlingly similar to what he'd imagine a cat would sound like if a cat could laugh.
“What're you hyenas laughing at?”
The four of them peered up simultaneously.
“Ah, Death, we were just talking about you.” War replied.
“Oh, yeah? And what about?” Death questioned.
“Well...that's a long story, isn't it boys?” Pestilence replied quickly.
Famine and War nodded in unison. Alex furrowed his brow. They were definitely trying to hide something. But what?
He had the feeling that Death had the same thought as he sat across from Alex, his eyes drawn on his chest.
“Well, it looks like your wound has healed up quickly. I'd say very well for just over two weeks.” Death said, pointing to the bullet wound.
Alex fixated on the wound, his eyes going round the jagged entry into his chest, and down the flesh about three centimeters.
It did look good. Great even. But the question was, why? Did everyone heal faster after death? He shook his head. That didn't make sense if Death, himself, was questioning it.
“So the boys have been taking care of ya? They've all introduced themselves?” Death questioned.
War huffed, “Yes, Death. You don't have to worry about the young hatchling. We'll take good care of him.”
Death shot a glare at War, “He hasn't had judgment yet.”
Alex scratched the back of his neck. What did that have to do with anything?
War growled, a piercing cry shattering the silence of the room.
Pestilence stood up and stood in between the two, “Calm down you two, you don't wanna start the apocalypse yet!”
Both War and Death shook the room with laughter, sound resonating deep within their stomachs.
Pestilence stared at them with perplexity.
“What's so funny?” Alex whispered to Famine.
“They can't start the apocalypse with just the two of them. Pestilence needs to go first, and then Death and War. And even if they wanted to, they couldn't. We still need to find the fifth horseman.” Famine explained.
Alex furrowed his brow, “The fifth horseman?”
Death's face shot up in panic and he shook his head quickly.
Famine sighed, “Sorry, Alex.”
Alex glared at Death, “Let him tell me!”
Death shook his head, “It's against the rules.”
Alex bit his lip, “Fine.”
The five of them sat in silence until Alex gazed at each of them with curiosity.
“So how do you become a horseman? How did you guys die?” He asked.
Death contorted his mouth, as if silently debating whether or not he was going to say anything, “It was a painful death, mine was. Died in the Garden of Eden after having been greedy with the fruit. A great fire spread across the garden, and when I tried to get away, I was thrown back by other humans scouring the land. Let's just say that when you stumbled across something special in those days, you'd better be willing to die for it..”
His eyes became distant, as though he were traveling back in time, the first ever time traveler, but he continued on, “After my death, I met with the Lord like all beings do, and he told me all the things I did wrong. Said that I hadn't committed anything too precarious, but that I could redeem myself and live for as long as it took to fulfill my duty. He offered me the job, and I took it.”
Pestilence snorted, “I wish it'd been that easy with me. Having also died from my greediness, I died of the Black Plague. Those damn rats. And then the Lord had basically said that for all my evil thoughts and deeds, I was going to Hell, but told me that I could go to Heaven if I did one thing for him. Become the horseman.”
War snorted, “I practically begged Him to make me a horseman after he offered.”
The three horseman gawked at him.
“What, I can't be emotional once in a while?” War complained.
Death shook his head, “No, it's just that in all the time we've known you, I don't think that you've mentioned something like that.”
War sighed, “I had a wife and daughter. I wanted to see them one last time, even if it was watching them from afar. And there were some perks. For one, I wasn't getting shot at by those d**n Yankees, and two, I got to be immortal until it was time for the apocalypse to start.”
“Little did we all know what price we would pay.” Famine huffed.
Each of them nodded in agreement. Silence washed over the table for a while until Death returned his attention to Alex.
“I think it's time to get you back to your room.” He said.
Alex frowned. He didn't want to leave. He was enjoying the company, and it definitely helped keep his mind off his judgment in less than twenty four hours.
“Okay, let's go.” He replied.
“...and there'll be a staircase that leads up. That's where you'll be meeting Him so make sure you're ready before you go.” Death explained.
Alex plopped down on the bed before his mind returned to the task at hand. Death sat down next to him and rested a cool hand on his shoulder.
“Don't worry about judgment. I have a feeling you'll do just fine.” He assured.
Alex shook his head, “Do you know what the last thing I said to my mom was? That the world would be much better off after she died of cancer.”
He wiped the tears away, “Cancer. The woman was sick with a fatal disease and I'd told her that I was glad she was going to die. How do you think she felt when she found out that I'd died?”
Death sat there silently. Alex had a feeling he knew exactly how she felt.
“That may be the case with your mother, Alex, but you died an honorable death. Trying to warn the capital about something you'd heard in the dark alleys of the streets. That's a lot more than I can say about my death, and I did just fine.” Death soothed.
Alex nodded, “Okay. If I don't see you again, have a great afterlife.”
Death grinned, “You as well.”
It was a small light in the dawn lighting at first. A small glimmer of light peering underneath the door. And then the room burst with light. Quickly, Alex shielded his eyes. But he knew. He knew it was time for the final judgment, and he couldn't stay in the room forever.
He released a shaky breath before opening the door and stepping out into the light. He hoped this was the right stairwell.