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The Death Card: Chapter Five

Mac O'Roni

This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

     Death sat a high stool, patiently playing at foursquare solitaire. Three other oversized and exceedingly unattractive people lounged in various attitudes of repose in the dim but richly appointed chamber. War watched wrestling on television, Pestilence leered at the centerfold of a Playboy magazine, and Famine, ironically, was tearing into a turkey drumstick with considerable gluttony. Death ignored them all, as he had done since joining their company, his attitude bordering on the imperious. They considered him stuck up, and Apocalypse’s pet. They did not like him. He did not care.
     Pestilence, who in anther life had considered himself something of a wit, looked up from his skin mag’ and watched the progression of the card game for a moment, distaste on his now purrple-green features. “How many Cajuns does it take to replace a light bulb?” he said suddenly.
     Nobody answered, although two sets of ears at least perked.
     “One, if you screw him in real tight,” the Horseman finished. War and Famine laughed. Death made no response.
     “How do you know if a Cajun’s been in your yard?” Pestilence continued, sitting forward as he warmed to his routine.
     “Your garbage has been eaten and your dog’s knocked up.” A bigger, ruder laugh.
     “How do you tell the difference between a Cajun and a pile of shit? The pile of shit smells better. What do you call a Cajun with a G.E.D.? ‘Doc.’ What do you—”
     With a bright flare of red light, the magazine still clutched loosely in his hands exploded with force enough to send him toppling backward off his chair. “Sonofabitch!” he shouted, and leapt to his feet, eyes blazing with fury as he faced down the card-playing mutant.
     Death looked up, all blandness personified. “I’m sorry,” he said at last. “Did you say something?”
     “Why, you dirty—”
     Death stood, slowly unfolding from the cramped position on the barstool beneath the high counter. The top of his aggressively spiked red hair brushed the high ceiling, and he towered above the other Horseman. His eyes pulsed with cold red threat; a dark, calm promise to live up to his name. The pupils of those dark/bright eyes narrowed into thin vertical slits and a black, forked tongue licked thin, bloodless lips. “Sit down, you fool,” he said, his voice a throaty growl, “before you start thinking you can’t be replaced.”
     Pestilence, who once upon a dimly remembered time, before Sinister’s mind-control drugs, had been a mercenary who had fought both against and beside this hulking creature in its former incarnation, read his own death in those calmly blazing eyes and backed down. Uncomfortable, three of the four Horsemen of Apocalypse scurried for safer surroundings. Death watched them go with vague satisfaction on his much-altered face, and sat down slowly. He gazed upon his half-finished game for a moment and then, in a quick flash of irritation, dashed the cards away with the side of his hand. Chin resting on the palm of the other, he tapped long, sharply-tapered claw-like fingernails on the black marble countertop, thinking deeply.
     Long moments passed with no enlightenment. Frustrated by his apparent inability to close in on a solution to his current difficulties, Death decided to utilize a procedure he rarely used. After a brief rummage through various drawers, he came up with a pad of blank, unlined paper and an ultra fine line permanent marker, which he uncapped. He tapped the end against his front teeth for just a few moments, eyes closed, as he cleared extraneous thoughts from his mind. Then, eyes still firmly shut, he began to draw.
     He had not used this technique for many years, and not since he was fifteen had he endeavored to foretell the future with it. On that long-gone occasion, not yet taking his apparent “gifts” with complete seriousness, he had unthinkingly allowed his cousin Emil to dare him to predict who among those youngest members of his family then in attendance would be the first of them to die. The picture he had drawn had been of his thirteen year-old cousin, Etienne. A rather graphic depiction, to say the least. Only two weeks later, Etienne had been killed in just the manner described. Since then he had blocked off that portion of his brain that seemed to receive portents of things to come and had rarely even attempted to access answers to minor questions. This time he felt he needed more help than he was likely to receive through any safer, more conventional means.
     When the pen was finally stilled and he opened his eyes to look upon what he had drawn, he smiled—a bright, rare smile slightly spoiled by the new sharpness of his eyeteeth. The answer seemed obvious now that he had it, and he wondered why he had not thought of it before. The likeness his hand had drawn was unmistakable—would have been identifiable even to the most casual of acquaintances. Chances were good that his answer was no answer at all, but he felt this solution offered the best odds.
     Still smiling, Death wadded up the startlingly well-drawn picture of the mutant inventor and with a cheerful pop and a puff of red light, it disappeared. Almost giddy, he buried his smile in large, nervous fingers and giggled quietly to himself. Things might just work out all right after all.