Four Horsemen, at Their Leisure

Four Horsemen, at Their Leisure

illustration by jon foster

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Whatever else one might have said about the Apocalypse, it was thorough. I, with the aid of my three companions, had killed every single living thing on earth, right down to the bacteria, and we had done it with neither remorse nor hesitation. When you’re created for a single purpose, there’s not a lot of room for exploring your options, but what now that our purpose was no more? The earth was dead, and I know dead. What was left? Just me and my companions, now apart from the Consensus.

I wondered for a while if we were meant to destroy ourselves and thus complete the annihilation, but killing Death made about as much sense as throwing a lit match on a forest fire. As for the others . . . well, in truth they were just aspects of me, as I was an aspect of the Consensus. I knew that and I think the other Horsemen did too, but it wouldn’t be tactful to mention it.

After the Apocalypse the Horsemen rode off in separate directions. We met up now and then over the centuries, stayed together for awhile as the mood took us, broke apart again. The last time we were together we had a grand old time. War turned his back for a moment, and Pestilence tried to give him a cold. War chopped Pestilence’s head off and kicked it like a soccer ball. It was a good kick. Three hundred yards across the blighted landscape, easily. By the time Pestilence’s headless body managed, scrabbling across the dust and debris, to feel its way to where the head had rolled, we were pretty sure he wouldn’t try that again. A pity, really. I hadn’t laughed so hard since the Apocalypse.

After that we separated again, which was why I happened to be alone, riding along on a manifestation of a horse that I’d named Patience, brooding as is my habit, and almost didn’t notice when I came across the impossible.

A pine seedling.

When I said thorough, I meant thorough. There was nothing left living on earth, and that included the seeds, spores, sperm, eggs, what have you, of every living thing. Dead as dead can be, and no mistake. Yet here was this clearly impossible thing growing in the lee of a boulder in a cold northern latitude. The seedling was spindly, green, and definitely alive.

And as God at the moment wasn’t my witness, I had no idea what I should do.

1. Wereviking
Um ... what?


Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose
2. Jenny Blackford
Cool. Very, very cool. Thanks!
Barry T
7. blindillusion
Hmm. I got flagged as spam? For simply typing "Agreed."

Meh. Odd days.


Good story.
8. Freelancer
I want those eight minutes back. That was incredibly ridiculous.
Nina Lourie
10. supertailz
That was lovely. Thank you so much! It was simple and elegant and all kinds of fun. Why are incarnations of Death nearly invariably awesome?
Lucas Vollmer
11. aspeo
That was a fun story,and an interesting read. It might have slipped a little at the end, but pretty good overall.
13. Nentuaby
Hmm, now that was a really interesting take on its themes!
Noneo Yourbusiness
14. Longtimefan
I found this to be an interesting wander along some philosophical ground. my only disagreement is with the concept that "Pain teaches." But that is a philosophical difference.

I understand the idea that the consensus would cast out the elements of itself that were in "conflict" as that harms a consensus but I cannot agree that it would feel "pain" to motivate the removal.

Does not really matter. It was an interesting character study.
M Linden
15. mlinden
That sub-dimension the Horesmen have been banished to? The one where the unwanted castoffs of the consensus have decided to take up gardening?

I'd love to see what THAT place looks like in a few million years...
16. Rachel Green
What a splendid tale that was. Thnk you.
17. lynlin1957
That was fun! I'd love to see it expanded!
18. celticfrog
Cool story. I liked the philosophical bent. You did bend the idea of consensus to mean that all were in agreement rather than the notion that all are heard and valued. It is still a good read.
19. DK Green
Brilliant, lovely writing and a superb tale.

Brady Allen
20. akabrady
Where's the beef?

If I get a hamburger with just an empty bun, I don't mistake it for something profound.
22. ark4str
Nice tale really enjoyed it will be on the look out for more by Richard!
23. lasantine
Brilliant. I love that the forces of destruction take up creation.
Adam Brodie
24. Voidgazer
Liked it. Perhaps not the most profound message ever but one that I reckon can't be stated enough (and rang a bit with me, what with me having had a few musings on Zoroastrianism). Plus, loving the name "Consensus". May have to appropriate it for myself. By your leave ofc :)
25. logankstewart
Hmmmmmmm. Fascinating.
That was a great story and an amazing mixture of philosophical concepts. My only problem was when war mentioned the books molding. If they had destroyed all life, then the bacterial molding would never have occured. lol. Just a thought. All in all this was an amazing story.
27. Stormfield
Threefold reaction to this story:

A.It's nothing terribly new. This is the kind of argument with the Almighty that Twain's characters used to have, and Cabell's characters after him, and Heinlein's characters and after them many, many sci-fi writers' characters who were influenced by the aforementioned. This is not meant to be condemnatory--all that matters is that an author take a new spin on an old concept, which I believe this author did.

2. One interpretation I have for it is that it seems very, rather irritatingly to me personally, Eastern. The whole concept of God as one, all things as one, good and evil necessary parts of the same system, and especially heaven and hell carried around within us--all ring with very Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist concepts. It reminds me of the Hindus I've been reading recently who try to take the Bible and spin it as a Hindu text. The interesting thing about this story, and the author may or may not have intended it, is that it exposes the hypocrisy of such a synthesis--if Hell and the "Adversary" are purposely created by God as part of some sort of closed system, then God is a hypocrite if not a liar, and there's no way around it. On this level I found the story rather unsatisfying, and did not like it much.

III. On the other hand, the idea that the Consensus anthropomorphized certain entities in order to cast them from itself, because of the pain involved in internalizing them, lends itself to an interpretation based on the idea that this is not actually a story of metaphysics, but of psychology--maybe it's actually about how we, as humans, tend to externalize things that hurt in order not to have to deal with them. We create, in, say, people we actually know, entities of great evil so that when we have whatever pain is associated with those entities we can, rather than look within and find that pain's source, externalize them and blame them on the person (or the thing, the situation, the institution etc.) that we have decided is the actual cause. On this level I rather loved the story.

Just some thoughts; my personal interpretation. I'm not claiming to have any idea what the author was actually thinking. ;)
28. David Sklar
This is partly in response to Stormfield's comments, and partly in response to the story itself, but there's a branch of theology that asserts that the reason the Divinity becomes manifest in flesh is in order to feel pain. The reasoning goes that an incorporeal God, while all-knowing, cannot directly understand human suffering and therefore cannot truly understand the motivation behind human disobedience (i.e., "sin"). Therefore, the Divine needs to become flesh in order to understand and therefore forgive humanity.

This would be very difficult to address in this particular story, because it consciously avoids being tied down to a particular religion. This particular philosophy originates (as far as I know) in Christianity but is also compatible with the avatars seen in Hinduism (and various polytheistic belief systems), but in Judaism or Islam (especially Islam) it could be blasphemous.

Personally, I find it more acceptable than the idea that God would torture his only son just because "someone's gotta pay." Regardless, it may provide an interesting lens for reading this particular story.
Sinéad Malloy
29. dikaiosis
Put the 'fun' back into the Apocalypse! Waitaminute..

I enjoyed this-- the delivery kept me interested, and the character of Death in particular was a likable one. It's no fun if the Horsemen are cut-outs of RAWR and DESTRUCTION, and this was a lovely turn from the usual.
31. D. N.
Pretty okay. The end definitely slipped, but I think it had to to make the story do what the author wanted (or maybe found inevitably coming about).
32. TaarnaGirl
Tee hee....I likey. Very cool :)
33. TaarnaGirl
P.S Love the illustration! Good work.
34. J L Mulvihill
I thought that story was bloody brilliant. I am not going to explain for those who did not like it or did not get it. My brain wrapped around it and the ideas and symbolisms just fine. Well at least to my own understanding. How creative, how insightful. It is so hard to master such an idea without bringing in religion and those various ideals but this story pulls it off. I love it and plan on reading more of Richard Parks material.
Lance Mackinnon
35. LanceMackinnon
FANTASTIC!! Are these stories available in print??? i'd love to add this to my library of dark fiction!
36. neeks
How very original. Bravo
37. Dale Botha
I loved this story. Short, punchy... beauty is in the eye of the story will satisfy all. But it does satisfy some and it did me! Nice philosophical meander...

Why would those who are not satisfied leave a comment if not to compliment the author with knowledge that might guide him to a place where they ARE pleased with the author's writing? I guess there are many other reasons but, in my opinion, they fall in the category "TO BE IGNORED"

Thanks for your creative work which made me smile!

38. D. N.
Um, you don't necessarily have to explain it to those who don't like it. Someone can get it, and not like it.

I get it, I largely like it, and I think the ending is strained, in part because it's trying to be a bit too clever, in part because it's being a bit too expository, and too pat. Still, kudos to the author.
39. spacegirl
I didn't like it.

As I read it, I kept asking why. Why is there an apocalypse? Why are 4 horsemen who bring it on? Why do we need to start all over again and if it is supposed to be like that and assuming that this was the first apocalypse ever, how is life ever going to end the next time? If apocalypse is the job of the four horsemen why do they want to plant a tree?

I think this whole story could have been told much better and without so many loose threads. It's not good if the reader starts analyzing it the way I do.
40. Arish Rajan
This is a beautiful story. Why it can even become famous as one of the great stories like the "Last Question".

Many of the people writing their comments did not seem to get it.

Consensus = God
Here Death realizes that God is just "using" him and his 3 companions. And then everything becomes clear to these 4.

God is just a sniveling little hypocrite who wants the credit of all the Good. The evil he passes to the conscience of these 4 and Satan.
Richard Parks
43. ogresan
Thanks for the comments. I've enjoyed reading them.

-- Richard
44. Freelancer
After reading quite a number of the preceding positive comments, I submitted to reading the piece again, sadly finding it no less pedestrian and hollow than upon the first encounter.

Of course Consensus = God. But an author who has no wish to name the Trinity, or who feels that a readership steeped in vampires and elves doesn't prefer to hear about the Trinity, would employ a pseudonym, and almost veil the truth. To those who have no wish to consider facing their Creator, perhaps this serves as a brief teatime of the soul away from conscience or accountability.

I once again wish I'd spent those minutes otherwise.
45. drexthehex
I agree with Mulvihill. Throw away the religious bent towards reading this story and contemplate on the basic nature of the words themselves.
Dawn Scantlebury
47. decarolific
I don't understand how one can 'throw away religious bent' when the story speaks of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse.
I agree with freelancer. If you enjoyed this, look to your soul- Judgement Day (look at that: we are talking about the apocalypse again) is sooner than you think.
48. drexthehex
I don't know, you could use your imagination?

Run for your lives! Our Reptilian overlords are finally demasking - the Ultimate Battle for Our Souls will soon begin!
49. Tymon the Black
The End? No, not if I have anything to say about it.
50. Asraella
Fantastic story.
Kristin MacDonough
51. krispymac
I loved it! these days we get so many stories of the oncoming apocalypse- everyone giving their own version of how it will all play out. I like how the author didn't waste time explaining the event.

It happened and here's what happened after. Not a totally original idea but different,i believe, in we get a pov from one of the horsemen, not a random survivor. Plus I found the character as one easy to relate to. thanks for writing this!
Andrea Johnson
52. andrea.johnson1989
This was the first story I have read since introduced to this website. It's what got me hooked and reading more. I loved the story from beginning to end.
53. AspiringGenius
I Loved it!!! I wasn't sure about what some of the things meant but it fulfilled what any peace of literature should. It took me away from this world into a world of fantasy where i didn't have to understand but to just move with it, float away to a world were we are care free! It amused and entertained me greatly. I wish it was a book. Great job!!!
54. Rock Darkwater
Assuming the story is attempting a Biblical basis, I feel the need to point out a theological flaw.

The author assumes that the "spark of divinity" in everything created by the "Consensus," makes it a contributing member of the consensus itself. This isn't a biblical view of God at all. God is three parts, and those three all agree intrisically, but they are free to create beings that would find fault with themselves.

For example, if I and two of my friends were to come to a consensus that a certain room should be a tasteful hue of white. In order to dispell any belief to the contrary, we cause the room to be painted a horrendous green, which consequently makes everyone sick. Once the lesson is learned, we paint everything the white we intended in the first place, and all doubt in our rightness has been dispelled.
55. Slade24c
This story was a fun read. Exactly the kind of thing I read fantasy for.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment