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The sight of Hell suddenly appearing through the wall of Chad’s apartment was enough to silence him temporarily. The horseman’s firm grip held him by his collar, as Chad dangled above a lake of lava. Far below, a man impaled on a pitchfork screamed repentance and then gurgled his last as a muscular demon dipped him into the liquid fire. Red rocks, molten pools, and flame extended beyond the edges of Chad’s vision. Overwhelming was the wrong word to use; it didn’t even begin to describe the level of confusion in Chad’s booze-soaked brain. He tried to voice this confusion to the horseman, but the hot sulfur caught in his throat, preventing him from doing anything that wasn’t gasping.
“Do you believe me now?” asked a smug, booming voice from above.
Chad still could not speak, and instead, nodded vigorously.
“Alright then.” In one, smooth motion, Chad was yanked back through the portal, and into the bedroom. The horseman ran his finger back across the wall, drawing the portal closed like a zipper. A few wisps of flame escaped, but not enough to do any serious damage. They were once again left in the dim bedroom, lit by nothing except for the faint red glow in the horseman’s eyes.
The evening heat almost seemed cool in the wake of hellfire. Chad stumbled his way back to the bed, and then put his head between his hands. “Horseman of the apocalypse you said?” he stuttered. “Which one are you then?” Chad couldn’t have named the four even if he was given multiple choice, but the question seemed polite.
“Can’t you tell?” asked the horseman gesturing to his flowing robes.
Chad looked him up and down, but did not understand. “Sorry…” he said, awkwardly.
The horseman sighed heavily. “I’m famine bro!” Briefly he parted the black robe he was wearing to reveal a torso covered with more lean muscle than Chad knew a body was capable of possessing.
“Oh,” he stammered, “I see now…” Truth be told Chad felt nothing other than tinge of sexual harassment, but thought there was not much to be done about it. Don’t suppose demons are afraid of mace? It didn’t make a difference as Chad had nothing on him but a few spare dollars and a couple of quarters in his pocket.
The horseman shook his head. “I cut weight, work out, and they still put me in the same robes as everyone else. I mean, really. Suppose it doesn’t matter to you, but how are people supposed to know I’m famine if there’s no form-fitting uniform?”
The horseman made an exasperated sigh and his horse gave a sympathetic whinny.
“Yes, I know you’re hungry, but you’re cutting weight too,” the horseman replied. “We have an image to maintain.”
“It sounds difficult,” remarked Chad, trying not to focus on the mounting hangover that was creeping across his forehead. I should be drinking this off by now.
“Ugh, you have no idea,” complained the horseman, sounding more like a whiny teenager than a demonic entity. “Anyway, workplace politics aside, I’ve come to give you some very important information.”
“Alright, I’m listening.” Chad tried to hold himself in a sitting position, but found it difficult. It felt as though the world was still spinning on its axis, but he had been left behind.
“A good attitude,” sneered the horseman with a wide grin. “I like that. You’re going to need it.”
Chad gave a bland smile, and resumed trying to both listen and hold on to the earth at the same time.
“Well, Chad, I’ve come with a warning.”
“Let me guess, about the apocalypse.” Chad still believed that there was a good chance he was dreaming, and didn’t put much stock in the warnings of famished equestrians.
“Yes, about the apocalypse.” The horseman sounded annoyed, as if Chad had stolen his thunder.
“Is it coming soon?” asked Chad. “Because, I’ve got tickets to a show next week, and I paid most of my rent money for them…”
“When is your show?” the horseman asked, casually.
“Bout a month away,” said Chad, counting his fingers as he did so.
“You’ll make it to the show.”
“Happy day!” exclaimed Chad, immediately regretting shouting. A lance of pain shot through the middle of his head, reminding him that tequila was no friend of his.
“The apocalypse will come in one year’s time.”
“Very specific, I like it.” Chad yawned, suddenly remembering that it was still the middle of the night, and he wanted to go back to bed. Even if it wasn’t his apartment, the bed had still been comfortable. “So why warn me about it? Surely it’d be better as a surprise.”
“Well, Hell has rules about fair play.” The horseman laughed half-heartedly. “They were enacted a while back, and don’t really go much with our new image, but it keeps things interesting for the big boss.”
“That would be The Devil,” added Chad. “Right?”
“Yes, The Devil.” The horseman paused. “You’re taking all of this quite well. Do you understand what I’m saying? The world will end in a year.”
“Oh sure, I understand, but there’s not a lot to be done about it, is there?”
“Sure, anyway, the apocalypse is coming, and fair play dictates that we have to tell one mortal. That would be you.” The horseman motioned to him with a sarcastic twirl of his fingers. “The idea is to give humanity a fighting chance.”
“Ah, so I’m expected to stop the apocalypse.” Chad didn’t like the sound of it. Stopping the apocalypse sounded like more responsibility than he wanted in his lifetime.
The horse gave a whinny that sounded oddly judgmental to Chad.
“Oh, shut up horse,” said Chad. “I’m not taking that tone from something that wears permanent shoes.”
The insult seemed to confuse the horseman, and Chad for that matter, but it shut the horse up.
Chad smiled proudly, and blundered on. “So why me?”
“Can we hurry this up? If I’ve got an apocalypse to stop, I need to get some sleep so I don’t miss brunch.”
The horseman’s red eyes grew brighter, and his mouth became a wide smile. “Because no one will believe you.”
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