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September 2017, vol 13 no 3

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Lisa Timpf

The Horsemen Wait

Famine checks the clock before dealing the next hand.

23:57:00

It moved awhile ago, he thinks. Surely, with all the recent sabre-rattling—

In the nearest stall, the horse with the fire-red coat kicks the stall. The sound reverberates through the room with a gunshot's intensity. War grins at his steed. "Soon," he says.

A click, and the clock rolls over under the scrutiny of four sets of stone-hard eyes.

23:57:30

A hollow sigh arises, a sound such as a dry wind might make, hissing through a parched cornfield. War puts his cards facedown and strides to the wall. Lifting the bridle from its place he lets the smooth leather of the reins slip through his long and longing fingers. He looks up hopefully, to see if the clock's moved again, but it hasn't, so he slides back into his seat, pulls his hood tighter.

Shuffle, shuffle. When it's Conquest's turn to deal, he fingers the extra ace up his sleeve, glances across the table, and sighs. You can't cheat Death, he tells himself, and decides to play it straight.

The endless card game continues, interrupted periodically by the urgent, hard-booted approach of a lieutenant come to seek guidance on matters of routine business. Meanwhile, the Four Horsemen remain on standby, waiting for the numbers on the Doomsday Clock to zero out.

War leans back and imagines it, the way the barn door will swing open and the four of them, laughing in a way that fails to illuminate their grim features, will whip their steeds to a lather while the earth shakes and trembles under the percussive clatter of hooves striking sparks that leave the world flaming in their wake.

deep in the mine the last canary's song


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