Pestilence’s Retirement

“Are you sure that we can’t convince you to reconsider?”

On the other side of the cracked laminate table, Pestilence shook his head. “Afraid not,” he repeated. “Look, you’ve all seen the writing on the wall for a while. I’m just not useful any longer.”

Pestilence’s three companions all shuffled their feet, or lower appendages, rather uncomfortably. That silence was enough to confirm Pestilence’s suspicions, although he held his tongue out of respect for their shared history.

“It just won’t be the same without you, buddy,” grunted the very large man wedged into the booth on the other side, shaking his massive head sadly. “We’ve had a hell of a run together.”

“Where is the waitress?” hissed the skinny, emaciated man beside Pestilence in the booth. “I’m ready to place my order!”

“You’ve already placed four orders,” the big man grunted. “Can’t you reel it in a bit?”

“Starving children in Africa, and all that,” Famine replied with a shrug of his bony, shrunken shoulders. He lifted up one hand, arm bones standing out beneath his skin, snapping his fingers in an attempt to attract the waitress.

Pestilence, meanwhile, shifted his gaze to the last of the four, the one who hadn’t yet spoken. “You haven’t said anything about this.”

WE WILL NEED A REPLACEMENT.

Of course, they’d all been thinking it. No one else had yet said it out loud, but they knew it was true. After all, the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse? It just didn’t have the same ring, plus there’d be an empty spot when they lined up to ride out and spread their plagues across the Earth.

“How about Annoyance?” War shifted a little, struggling to fit his bulk into the booth. Thankfully, his companion alongside him was especially thin, almost skeletal, or else the booth would have given way. “He’s getting a lot of attention these days, especially with all those electronic doodads. Annoyances, the whole lot of them.”

NO. HE DOES NOT HAVE THE NECESSARY POWER. The thinnest of the four looked down, his black robe falling over his forehead. AND BESIDES, HE IS NOT A GOOD HORSEMAN.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. The waitress, finally reappearing, came over to check on them.

“Another two hamburgers, please. And a steak. And two orders of pie. No, three orders. No, just bring the pie.”

“Another steak for me, but keep it rare. Bloody, almost.”

“And for you two?” she asked Pestilence and the skinniest member of the group.

“Nothing for me,” Pestilence said, grimacing as he listened to the roaches skittering inside the walls and crawling into the sacks of flour on the floor of the pantry.

I BELIEVE THAT I WILL TAKE A CUP OF COFFEE.

“Cream and sugar?” the waitress asked automatically, even as her eyes momentarily unfocused at the sound of that rasping, inhuman voice.

I TAKE IT BLACK.

“Of course you do,” Pestilence muttered under his breath.

“You know, I have to reveal something,” Famine piped up after the waitress went off to put in the new order. “I may have kept in touch with our old member, from back in the day-“

War groaned, scratching at his Viking beard. “Ugh, not him! I can’t stand how uppity he got. Insisting that he was the strongest, since he’d been around first.”

HE WAS HERE FIRST. HE WILL NOT BE LAST.

“Yeah, yeah, we know that will be you, but still. Chaos can go chew on the sharp end of my axe.”

Pestilence cleared his throat, a scratchy sound that made the rest of the diner’s patrons reach for tissues in eye-watering sympathy. “I do have another option. He is newer, but could be a good replacement.”

“Yeah? Who? Bet he’s not better than Chaos.”

“Pollution,” Pestilence put out, and then sat back. In the past, he might have feared the response of his fellow members at this suggestion, but he didn’t fear it any longer.

After all, he was retiring.

“Pollution? That uppity upstart in the white coat?”

“Seems a bit sissy,” War grunted, but that wasn’t a no. He sounded considering.

Famine and War waffled, but they all waited for the fourth member of the group to speak. None of them would ever admit it, but he was always the decider.

He did, after all, get the final word.

He considered for several minutes, those little blue flecks of light in his eye sockets impossible to read. PERHAPS, he finally said. A TEST RUN, IF YOU WILL.

“Yeah, okay. Like a tryout.” War sat back, looking relieved that the decision had been made. He much preferred physical activities, bashing in skulls, than having to deal with all this thinking.

WE WILL MISS YOU, STILL.

“Oh, I’ll be around, I’m sure,” Pestilence said, because it was the right thing to say at the time. “You’ll find me here and there, lending a hand. Guest spot, you might say.”

The waitress returned with the plates of food, and Pestilence slipped away. He wasn’t one for long goodbyes.

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