“Hey fella,” Mark said, sideling up beside the skeletal figure seated atop a pale horse. He gently ran his hand down the mane of his mule, whom he had tentatively named Jerry Springer. He wasn’t yet confident that was the ideal title for the brown, four-legged creature, however. “My name’s Mark.”
The skeletal being glanced over at Mark, or rather did as much glancing as was possible for a creature with no eyes. Whatever the case, Mark didn’t exactly feel the look was the most welcoming one he’d received in recent memory. Still, he’d had worse. As the accounting team manager at a major brokerage firm, he was more than accustomed to looks of utter displeasure. In fact, just a few weeks prior, Mark had come face-to-face with a look of “I’m going to murder you to keep this from the shareholders” while explaining to his COO how they were down 75% from Q3 and 137% from Q2. He’d survived that—barely—and thus knew he could survive this. Still, it was admittedly a slightly more unique scenario: he was not presenting an earnings report, but rather standing beside one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the others off somewhere setting fire to the world.
“You ending the world?” Mark said, adjusting his posture as he sat atop Jerry Springer. He’d never ridden a horse before, let alone a mule, and was struggling quite a bit to find a comfortable position. The way they did it in the movies, though, they always rode seated on a saddle. Mark did his best to imitate that, but Jerry had no saddle, nor reigns, nor anything to make the experience any more enjoyable. He was simply a stock mule, void of everything from power windows to air condition. Mark had simply stumbled upon the animal standing beside a burning farm, his owner presumably dead within, and had no choice in selecting a better model.
“You do not fear me, mortal?” the skeletal figure said, his voice deep and slow. His lower jaw tapped against the bone of his upper while he spoke, teeth a pearl white. He did not seem to have a tongue, nor anything that even resembled that of a living being. In fact, Mark wasn’t even sure how it was possible the creature spoke. He was pretty sure he didn’t have any vocal chords.
“Fear you? No,” Mark said, laughing. “There’s only one thing I fear in this world, and that’s the stockholders. You’re just a guy without any skin.”
“I have come to end you and everything you’ve known.”
“And that includes the stockholders,” Mark said, smiling. Jerry shifted beneath him, causing his legs to slip out slightly. “Whoa, Jerry, whoa.” The mule shifted again, clearly in rejection of the name Mark had bestowed upon him. He’d need to think of a new one.
“No mortal is safe from my wrath,” the man said, his pale horse unmoving in stark contrast to Sir Walter Scott, formerly known as Jerry Springer.
“Great,” Mark said, gently patting Sir Walter Scott’s mane. “Mind if Sir Walter Scott and I join you?” The mule did not struggle, apparently accepting his newly bestowed name.
“You wish to be the fifth horseman?” the skeleton said, still seeming to do his best attempt to glare at Mark. He was failing, however, due to his blatant lack of eyeballs.
“Sure!” Mark said, smiling. He wouldn’t dare pass up an opportunity to take out the stockholders, the people who made his life a living hell. Plus, he’d always found the whole idea of “humanity” to be a bit, well, over-zealous. A fresh start hardly seemed like a bad idea, especially if they could re-do the world without a stock market.
The skeletal being shifted its head slightly, the pale steed turning a bit more toward Mark. “What power do you possess, mortal? I see you fear not the end, but you may not simply ride beside us without extraordinary reason.”
“Well,” Mark began, “I’m great at Excel. I mean, really great. VLookups, forecasting, indexing, whatever. I’ve got it down like you wouldn’t believe. I’m also a CPA and have three degrees from UC Burkley. One is in fine art, but it still helps.” He’d lied about the helpfulness of the fine arts degree—he’d actually found it to be more of a burden than a benefit in recent years. Made him seem overqualified for some of the jobs he attempted to apply for, or so he was told. That left him stuck with the brokerage firm, forever tormented by the inhumanity of the stockmarket. Still, art remained his passion and he had no regrets about his triple major. “I’m also a real people-person.”
“People person?” the skeleton said, the air growing slightly colder as he spoke. “There will be no need for people after we finish our task.”
“Great,” Mark said, “because that’s the skill I dislike the most. I’m really more of an anti-people people person. A gift and a curse, if you will. So what do you say? Could you use an accountant?”
“No,” the skeletal man said, “we have no need for accounting. You will now be purged of life.” He reached his boney hand down, left hand vanishing behind the his horse’s pale, muscular torso.
“Wait,” Mark said, “I’m also great at giving people bad news. Like, demoting people or firing them, you know.” He shrugged his shoulders, staring at the skeleton. He’d had to fire a few people before, more than one simply due to budgeting issues he saw coming a mile away. Completely avoidable terminations had the CEO actually heeded his suggestions about spending limits. Unfortunately, he did not and the stocks plummeted. Layoffs followed and Mark was left cleaning up his once large team, saying goodbye to dear friends he was forced to let go.
“You can set people on fire?” the skeleton said, hand still buried behind the horse as he dug for something unseen.
“Well,” Mark said, shifting slightly. “Yes and no. I can fire them, which emotionally sets them on fire.”
“So you can set humans on fire?”
“Sure,” Mark shrugged, again patting Sir Walter Scott. That was one way to think of it.
“If it brings displeasure and pain, then you may join.”
Mark threw his hands into the air, a smile spreading across his face. “Yay!” He shouted, Sir Walter Scott shifting beneath him. Mark again lost his footing and slid further down the Mule’s back, ending up in a far less comfortable position than he’d began. It didn’t bother him, though, not after he’d just received such wonderful news. He was now the fifth horsemen of the apocalypse. No longer would he be answering to the stockholders, but rather they to him. He couldn’t wait to see their faces as he set them on fire, figuratively speaking.