Thursday, September 15, 2016

Writing Prompt: Retiring Horseman

Writing prompt for 9/14/16

One of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse is retiring, and you're on the specially appointed Committee of Damnation, charged with finding a replacement. Tell me about your favorite candidates.

“I expected something more . . . foreboding.”

The giant with the skull necklace set his spiked mace down, gouging grooves in the wooden floor of the inn. I motioned him to a chair. He squeezed into it, the chair creaking and groaning as he settled.
“This inn serves our needs,” I said. “It lies at the intersection of several ley lines; two of fire, one of water, three of stone and is convenient to the temple city of Perseopolis.”

“And they do things with potatoes and onions in the kitchen that no one else can,” my colleague, drumming his stack of papers, added.

“There are drawings of lambs on the wall,” the giant said.

“Just think of it as mutton,” I said.

“Mutton,” it said. It smiled slightly. With giants, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a he or she, and one does not ask straightforward. That’s considered rude.

The giant shifted in its chair. Then farted prodigiously. Its face reddened. “Pray excuse me. I’m so nervous.”

“So. We know why we’re all here. Let’s get started.”

My colleague spread his files out, dipped a feather pen in ink, and poised to write.

“You brought your curriculum vitae?”

The giant looked nervous.

“Sorry. Your, uh, credentials. List of accomplishments. References. ‘Bthnk k’yarnak phlegeth?1

“Ah. Yes.” The giant leaped from its chair, seized its mace and with skirts swirling, uttered an oath. With lightning and thunder the giant blasted words onto the inn wall, obliterating the twee pictures of the lambs.

A shriek from the kitchen startled us all. The giant dropped its mace.

“Strewth! Didn’t I tell you NO fiery LETTERS! NO fiery EYES! NO crystals!” The innkeeper flew at the giant, smacking at it with a cast iron frying pan hot from the stove, spewing potatoes and onions all over. “And now you’ve gone and set the thatch on fire! Hamlet!”

The woman seethed as Hamlet, the inn’s dull errand-boy, loped into the room, saw the fire, shook his head and loped out again. A few moments later we heard him scrabbling on the roof, shouting “Ow! Ow! Ow!” as he grabbed faggots of burning thatch and threw them into the courtyard. “I’ll have it out in half a tick,” he said, his voice muffled through the thatch. “Just let’s not start another one while I’m up here, all right?”

“You!” the innkeeper said, prodding me in the chest with her frying pan. “I cain’t expect your clients to know the rules – “ she nodded at the giant, who held the handle of it’s – his – mace (the vision of what was under the swirling skirts when he bellowed his oaths was still fresh) in his hands, shifting it from one to the other nervously as a spike gouged a hole into the floorboard – “but you! You’ve been here how many times, and how many times have I said No FIERY ANYTHING?”

“Every time,” I said. “But you have to understand – “

“Nothing!” she shouted. “I have to understand NO-THING! Ley lines and Perseopolis be damned – yes, I said the Temple City be damned. NO ONE sets my thatch on fire, unless it’s ten years old and time to get rid of the rats. Now,” she said, smoothing her dress. “I go back to the kitchen. Your potato-and-onion fry will be LATE, as I’m sure you know.”

She stomped out of the room. My colleague picked up a fried potato from the table and popped it into his mouth. “Shame,” he said, chewing. “It was almost done.”

“Should I . . . do you think,” the giant muttered.

“No,” I said. “Sit down. I’ll smooth it over. This won’t be the first time we’ve had a little, ah, incident with the rules. She’s gruff on the outside – “

“Inside, too,” my colleague said.

“But we pay her well. Shall we continue?” I read the still-glowing words on the wall.

“You know, of course, Pestilence is retiring,” I said idly, filling in the silence as I read.

There was an enormous hiss and a belch, followed by a bellowing outside. From the kitchen we heard the innkeeper dart out of the inn and yell “Strewth! He rode a DRAGON here? How many sheep has it eaten? Oh, they KNOW the rules! They KNOW them!”

“Pestilence,” the giant said, still nervously fingering his mace.

“A good old gal. Terribly reliable,” I said. “Skin so scabbed with smallpox you could strike a match on it. Still, times do move on. Oh, she had a few bright moments lately, what with the anti-vaccine movement, but generally, she could see the writing on the wall.”

From outside: “Strewth! It’s et SIX horses?”

“Promising list, promising,” I said, still reading. My colleague nodded.

“Mister – “

“Tharanak r’luh Shogg,2” the giant said.

“Yes. We might have to simplify that just a little bit. Says here you laid waste to the” I squinted as the writing was dimming, wisps of smoke wafting from the inn’s walls “Billion in the City of Hosh-Glugab.”

The giant nodded.

“Impressive. And in only three months?”

The giant nodded again.

“Left no survivors?” my colleague asked. One of his cardboard files lay open on the table in front of him.

“Well, one,” the giant said.

We stared at him blankly.

“One,” the giant said again. “Or the story doesn’t get out, see. I have to leave one. Or two. Or nobody knows. Any idiot comes in, takes credit, you know. Seen it a thousand times. I go to all the work to lay waste to an entire city, stamp out every last one of them, and some yob comes in with his own fiery writing or stone tablets or pillars of salt and claims credit and you know these humans – “he sneered at the surviving lamb drawings “ – they only believe what they see.”

“Thirteen thousand,” my colleague said, removing the small set of spectacles he’d placed on the end of his nose to read from his file. “Thirteen thousand, eight hundred and seventy-two, to be exact.”
The giant stared at the floor.

“That’s more than one survivor. Or two,” I said. “I’m sorry, but we’re looking for someone who can get the job done. Pestilence, now, despite her faults, she never let one live. Not one. And she didn’t give a fig for recognition or glory. That comes with experience. Not by the job.”

“The COWS! It got into the pasture?”

“We’ll consider you,” I said. “But we do have other interviews. You’d better find your dragon and wing it home, before it’s eaten so much it can’t fly any more. We’ll let you know.”

The giant left, dragging its mace across the floor.

“So much resume-padding these days,” my colleague said.

“Who’s next?”

He slid a file across the table to me, and I read.

“Ah, yes.” We both put on thick glasses and rubberized coats, waiting for the next candidate to arrive.

1loosely translated, “essence exchange realm of information”
2”Promise Secret Realm of Darkness”

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