Death and all his friends

The obligatory obscure reference: the bible says that the end of the world will be brought about by the arrival of The four horsemen; Pesitilence, Famine, War and Death. What if they've been here all along?

He balanced his spoon on its neck on the rim of his coffee cup. The bowl on the inside and the handle outside, the bottom of the spoon distorting the reflection of his face looking down at it. It stood there, precariously balanced, oscillating; threatening to fall over, first into the cup and then outside it. He stared at it for a few minutes following the oscillation of the bowl, blinking only ever so often, waiting for it to settle. He picked up the container of sugar and started to pour on the now stable see saw. The steady stream of sugar bounced off the bowl of the spoon into his coffee cup, like stars being sucked into a black hole. He tilted the container further and watched as the crystals of sugar were corrupted from their snowy white to a dark brown before they sank into oblivion.
"Contemplating the end of days?" said a soft voice behind him.
He looked up, his eyes reflecting the lights in the ceiling, small points resisting the darkness of his irises. His pupils, distinct points in the black of space, set in a white as pure as the first snow of winter, were wider than they should be.
"As I am prone to do every time we meet," he said, scratching his beard with dirty fingernails. The lice irritated his skin all too often. "How be you, Pestilence?"
Pestilence unbuttoned his jacket and sat down next to him. "Death," he said, "you look terrible. You really should take better care of yourself. And stop with the heroin, I can give you something that's actually legal."
"You might say that I look like death", Death replied, a hint of a smile on his face.
They sat at the table in silence, Death staring into his coffee cup and Pestilence glancing at Death every few seconds.
"It weighs on you, doesn't it? Knowing that everything will end with you, that you will be last of us to go", Pestilence was staring openly at his friend's pale face.
"The weight on my soul does not come from the knowledge that I will be alone, it comes from not knowing when we will be called into service. The weight seems heaviest when the four us meet", said Death in an even monotone, not looking up from his cup.
"I can prescribe anti-depressants that will help! And why do you insist on us meeting every century?! It isn't like being reminded of what we are is easy on any of us!", Pestilence whispered hoarsely.
As if summoned, the door to the restaurant opened to admit two men. The first, a short, portly monk dressed in coarse robes, a wooden cross hanging around his neck and a rosary wrapped around his right wrist, entered with a smile on his lips, the lines on his face making it seem like his flesh was used to smiling. The other, a thin wiry man dressed in flannel shirt and jeans had his hand, heavily callused from hard labour, on the monks shoulder. He was laughing as he entered. Seeing their friends, War and Famine made their way to the table that Death and Pestilence had occupied.
They sat down at the table. Pestilence smiled at them in return. Death barely looked up from his coffee cup.
"Pleasantries can come later. Important things first, what are we eating? I've been up since the crack of dawn and I'm famished. Chores on the farm don't get crossed off the list without some help," said Famine jovially.
"Aye, in the name of the lord, food and mead must be had! Sustenance!" War exclaimed, scratching the bald spot on the back of his head.
"Indulgence is not becoming of your faith, War", said Death somberly.
"Tut tut, Death. You should know by now ……", War began.
"'A soldier eats and drinks when he can'", said Pestilence and Famine in chorus, with grins on their face.
War harrumphed and rattled off dishes in his loud baritone voice to the server across the hall who hustled to bring them food.
"How are you, Pestilence?", Famine asked his friend, "It's been a busy century, hasn't it? I've come across some of your handiwork. The eradication of smallpox. That was you, wasn't it?"
Pestilence nodded. "It took some doing, finding the right things to whisper and the right ears to whisper in. The Americans and Russians were easy, the Czechs took a little longer. It wouldn't have been possible without the groundwork that War laid down. If it wasn't for his work setting up the UN, the WHO would never have come about."
War looked up from his plate speaking around a mouthful of meat. "It hasn't been fun. I don't know why they're so bent on fighting. First that German kook with his megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur and then the other megalomaniacal kooks on both sides of that war", he stopped speaking. His voice dropping down to a whisper. "I had to make it stop. I had no other choice! It could have gone on for years! I had to give them a way to end that war. I didn't think they'd use it though. I thought the threat of it would be enough. I've been trying to make up for it ever since."
His fork fell to the plate, his rosary taking its place in his hand. Famine reached out to comfort his friend but stopped just short when Death spoke, staring into nothing.
"Try as we might, we cannot escape our purpose. We are the harbingers of Armageddon. It will end with us. Humanity has it's champions, some of whom we've helped. Like you did, Pestilence, helping Rontgen with X-Rays. Or you, Famine, with Borlaug and his discovery of short stalk wheat. What was it that they called him, 'The Man who saved a Billion lives'? Or you, War, seeking to inspire peace by whispering in the ears of men against violence, towards peaceful methods of resistance. Gandhi, King, who else was there? I'm sure there were more. You've been fighting what you are longer than any of us have. Each of us have given up and perhaps taken up the struggle again but you've been steadfast in yours. Even the ones that you favoured with you wisdom were killed by their own kind, were they not? It is in the nature of humanity of consume itself. It struggles against its nature, as we do against our own."
Death looked at each of them in turn. "Pestilence asked me why I insist on meeting every century. We know that we will be the end. We know that we will lock the door of the universe behind us and disappear into oblivion. I know that I will be the last of us to be called upon. I don't know which one of us it will start with. But I do know that it will be my responsibility to carry each of you beyond the veil when your task is done. It will pain me immensely to commit you to the unknown, my brothers, but that is my task, my destiny. I only hope that there is time yet. Which is why we need to meet every century as we have done for millennia, I need to know if it's time for us to ride into oblivion."


Norman Borlag:
Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. need no references

Paranoid Eyes

He sat across the table from the doctor, the restraints digging into his wrists, his twitching fingers going pale, sensation leeching away from them. His eyes darted from the pen on the table to the glasses on the doctor's face, the door behind to the crack in the ceiling, the joint in the padding on the wall to the lamp hanging from the ceiling casting it's lurid light through the room. It was swinging slightly, it's back and forth motion hypnotically engaging. He licked his lips, all his attention focused on the lamp, watching the slight motion, watching the fuzzy shadows that the light cast onto the pale surface behind the bulb. His breathing slowed, his hands stilled. Every muscle in his body tensed to the point of breaking. Still, poised at the brink of sudden motion. He existed in those shadows, his center, or lack of it, in that haze behind the lamp.
The sound of the hand slapping down on the metal surface of the table startled him. Every muscle in his body suddenly finding that they had the capability to contract and extend, tensing against the bonds that held them. The sound of his teeth grinding echoed in the confines of his skull, searching for a way out. He stared at the hand on the on the table. The wrinkles folding over the knuckles on the fingers, the hair between knuckles standing on end. He followed the hand and watched it stroke the slight beard on the face of the person sitting across from him at the table. His eyes not staying still for more than a split second. His attention flitting from one thing to another like a hummingbird.
The doctors rasping voice tried to get his attention, tried to grab at it, but it wasn't his to give. His mind was fragmented, not willing to acknowledge itself, not willing to assign an identity to him. A single flame, flickered fitfully in the little room, grabbing his attention. His vision blurred, pupils dilating to drink it in. The flame moved from one end of the table to the other end. The raspy voice said something. Even if he'd been able to understand the words, he wouldn't waver from his perusal of the flame. From the rhythm that it provided. From the structure that his fractured mind derived from it.
The creak of the hinges fell on deaf ears. He glimpsed movement from the corner of his eye but wasn't able to tear himself away from the randomness of the flame, from the waves of its motion. His skin felt the tightness settle around his neck but his mind refused to waver. Something pulled at his forehead, again his mind refused to acknowledge. His muscles taut, held his head in place.
The flame, still flickering edged to one side more than it had in it's pendulum motion, retreating into the shadows, dispelling some of them and creating others. It stood out like a star in the night sky, flickering fitfully, fighting for its position there. His eyes focused on the flame, pupils dilating further, gulping it with an unparalleled thirst. He pushed back against the chair as it moved closer, his head hitting the leather cushion behind it. He felt a tightness on his forehead.
The flame pulled back moving higher, to a little above his eye level. It kindled something else, something that changed colors in a slow rhythm. It started as white, seeming hot enough to make the sun seem like an ice cube. Turning to a fiery red. Finally to a dull amber. And then the sequence in reverse but much more quickly, as though the rise were more important than the fall.
The flame was gone! He tried to move his head but couldn't, the pressure against his forehead and neck holding it. He trashed back and forth trying to get free. His eyes darting around the room searching for the flickering illumination.
He heard a sigh and a sharp click behind him. The lamp in the room dimmed. A hum began behind him culminating in a sharp crackle. His muscles contracted of their own accord, straining against the straps that held him. He focused on the dull amber light, following the tiny white cylinder to the wrinkled fingers that held it. It grew to white hot before everything went black.


This is my perception of insanity. Or perhaps this is my version of it.

The Man In The Mirror

Please note that the following was/is supposed to be a speech. I apologize if it sounds too preachy ... actually, I don't apologize if it sounds preachy. I believe it and I hope after reading it, even if you don't believe it, you'll think about it.

Background: More than a few people have asked me for the background on this post. Well, it's curiosity primarily. What does it feel like to hold a man's life in one's hands? We give that power to the people wearing the black coats. What do they go through when they have to make a decision and how do they make it? What moral code do they follow and what makes them adhere to it?
It's a concept that I've been fascinated with for a long time and one that I tried to pin down once before when I wrote "Knight of Yore". I don't think I've come up with a satisfactory answer yet.
The second part of it was a situation and that came easily enough ... what did I hate the most. Communal politics. I was reminded of 'The Best Bakery case' and Jagdish Tytler. I know that the two are completely unrelated but I decided to combine the two for the purposes of this piece.

Further reading - Best Bakery case and Jagdish Tytler
The rap of the gavel on the oak table resounded in the packed courtroom. The man in the black robe sitting under the blind gaze of Madame Justice ran his hand through his thinning white hair. He lifted his glasses to his forehead and rubbed the corners of his eyes. Stalling, trying to squeeze every possible moment he could before he announced his decision.
"This country was found on the basis of freedom. The freedom to choose what you say. The freedom to choose what religion you follow. The freedom to choose! This country is an idea. An idea that embodies freedom. An idea that embodies choice. An idea that gives us the right to choose what interpretation of it applies to us. An idea that allows for other ideas. An idea that is founded on the principle that it might be incomplete, that it might need to grow to embrace those other ideas.
"Unbridled freedom, however, comes at the cost of order. The glorification of freedom through self expression and the protection of order through through self restraint. A conundrum this presents, the very construct that provides us with freedom is the one that would impose boundaries upon it. This country tries to embrace this conundrum, and expects no less of its citizens.
"The laws that were formulated to defend that ideal were ascribed a simple goal, that men who do no wrong should suffer none. We are obligated to respect the boundaries set by these laws. The conundrum isn't the boundaries and the freedoms, it is the definition of being free. To be free is to be ruled by reason.
"The defendant was not ruled by reason, he was ruled by religious fervour and by biased passion, as were the people he had gathered around him. By all accounts, the defendant did not set fire to that building himself. He did incite the mob that set that fire. The defendant did not kill those people. He did not trap them in that building. I cannot hold him responsible for the actions of that mob."
The words hung in the air for a split second, and the instinct of every reporter and photographer in the room kicked in. Pens furiously scribbled in little notepads. The whirring of cameras merging into an incessant buzzing. The astonished expressions of the law makers and seekers were captured for generations to come among blinding flashes of light. Everyone in the room knew what was about to come next. A landmark judgment was about to be delivered. The most controversial case of the decade was about to end in even more controversy.
The judge slammed his gavel on his desk repeatedly to calm what had become both audience and witness to history.
"I know that I've been painted as a liberal who has openly criticized the religious right, with special mention against the organization to which the defendant bears allegiance. I've been told that the publicity of my opinions has more than once been thorn in their side and I was quoted as being proud of it. All of which are true."
He took a deep breath and reached for the glass of water at the far end of his desk. His hands quivered as he raised it to his lips.
"His party and its affiliates politicize communalism, they have preyed on the uninitiated, on the innocent and made them foot soldiers in a war that does not exist. An entire generation of misguided youth blindly taking orders from equally, perhaps more misguided bigots. An entire generation shedding blood, their own and that of other innocents. An entire generation of youth both inside and outside of those parties, indifferent to what they've lost. And another generation, mine, shedding tears for what they've lost, for what could have been theirs.
"One would hope that in a country like ours, one which has paid the price for freedom in blood and in tears, we would preserve it. Those people were murdered because they made different choices. Because they embraced their freedom.
"When I first sat on this chair, I swore an oath to dispense justice, to never wrong an innocent, to judge by the letter of the law, not in the spirit of it, so that my prejudices did not taint my judgment. Today, I wish I wasn't limited by that oath, just so that I could wake up and look at the man in the mirror. I pronounce the defendant not guilty."

Pictures (Tagged)

I've been tagged by ~R~. This actually took me down memory lane. The idea is pretty simple, pick the sixth photograph from the sixth photograph folder that you have.
Honestly, I cheated a little bit, the sixth photograph in my sixth folder is censored [:-D] for reasons that I'd rather not say, so I picked the seventh photograph.
This is a photograph from my trip to Moscow last year.
The rather intimidating building is the historical museum at the Red Square. The tree lined wall on the left is the wall of the Kremlin.
The tower with the green spire on the right of the museum is the Resurrection Tower.
The location that I was standing was bang in the middle of the square. Lenin's tomb to my left with all the graves of past president's behind that, the provincial board to my right and St. Basil's cathedral (the building with the multi-coloured onion domes) and the Moscow clock tower behind me.
It was drizzling that day, hence all the people with the umbrellas (I just can't resist stating the obvious). What the photograph can't tell you though is that the entire place smelt fresh, like when rain falls on mud. The surface of the cobbles had been smoothed over the centuries, I suppose, the rain had made the surface we were walking on slick. I slipped at least twice while walking around over there. Of course, it didn't help that I was more interested in looking up at the buildings rather than where I was going.
There was a sense of respect, I suppose is the best word for it, among the people there. The Russians know where they come from and they're proud of it. They may not know who they are now, but they know who they were and who they want to be and they're getting there, they know that too.
This entire place was honestly a little intimidating, just in terms of the history of the place. Executions and coronations, revolutions and parades, blood and flowers, this place had been silent witness to all of it.
Moscow was an awe inspiring experience. The Kremlin, the Church of Christ our Saviour, the chocolate factory, even the Metro stations had a sense of history to them. A wonderful place that's definitely worth a visit.
I'm passing the tag to 'Smee, Sketcher, Rize, Furi and Pixie.

The Barricades of Heaven

1146 AD (The period between the First and the Second Crusades), The Principality of Antioch (Northern Syria)

She knelt at the altar in the chapel, staring straight ahead at the golden cross placed on the massive stone altar. It occupied the length and breadth of her attention. She did not even notice the cold from the rough stone against her knees, or the heat from the desert seeping through the two arrow slits in the semi circular room. The highest level of the citadel, this was the safest and most peaceful place in the castle.
She did not need the security of the castle though, her faith would keep her safe. Her conviction would shelter her. Her belief would preserve her. Her muttered prayers would reach the ears of God and he would send down his angels to protect her as they were protecting her beloved husband, the Lord of Saone, and the men he had taken with him to defend his charge. She bowed her head and closed her eyes.
She did not hear the grunts and screams of the few soldiers left to guard the castle as they fell to the arrows that arced over the walls. She did not hear the rattle of the chains as the gates were opened to let in the invaders. She did not hear the doors and windows of the houses in the little town slam shut. She did not hear the children whimper in the arms of their mothers. The sound of the hooves on the cobblestones below did not reach her ears. She was listening so hard for the word of God that she could hear nothing else.
Blood flowed down the curved grey steps of the citadel. Blood of the defenders and the attackers, both the same shade of red. Broadsword and scimitar fell on tempered steel and cured hide, tore through mail and flesh, clattered on the stone stairs.
The large oak doors, polished almost to the colour of night, opened behind her. Soft, measured footfalls and fervent muttered prayers echoed in the room. His baggy clothes hissing as he walked around the altar.
"Look at me", he said. His voice was barely over a whisper, sounded like a snake.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him, standing behind the cross on the other side of the altar. The desert had made his skin like leather, stiff and dry. A great black beard covered most of his face. The whites of his eyes gave the impression of two moons in the night sky of his face. He placed a helmet on the altar with both hands.
"You know this helm", he said. It wasn't a question.
She nodded, the gossamer trail of her headdress swaying behind her.
"He fought bravely", there was no sarcasm in his voice.
He bent his head slightly and placed a finger on top of the cross, tilting it slightly, dropped it to the ground. The corners of her eyes twitched as it fell to the floor. She fought the impulse to get to her feet and place the cross in its position of privilege.
He rounded the altar and placed the edge of his sword at her throat. The steel felt cold against her skin. She heard the screams of the women and children from the courtyard below. She smoke from the burning houses assaulted her. Her eyes glazed over with the tears she was fighting.
She asked, her voice quivering, "Why are you doing this?"
"For Allah," he replied, his voice barely over a whisper. "For heaven".
"And what will you do when they won't let you in? Will you storm the barricades of heaven?"
He twisted his wrist.