“Can you keep a secret?”
The question came from Greed. Greed was an odd-looking creature, with a bulbous, green body and two very white eyes. The pupils were mere slits, and almost invisible at first glance.
The creature next to it, Sloth, was a similarly bulbous creature but with slightly larger pupils. It nodded “What is it?”
Greed looked around furtively. It leaned close to Sloth and whispered, “I sabotaged Envy’s books before the test. Half the answers it marked are probably wrong.” It ended off with a snicker. Sloth only nodded.
“Who do you think is going to win?” Envy asked, from across the room.
Poverty shrugged. It was sitting on the floor of the room; a dank, smelly white room. The plaster was peeling off the walls, revealing a rotting wooden layer. There were only two long benches in the room and they were both occupied by the four other odd-looking creatures in the room. “I hope it’s me, though,” it said.
“Yeah, you do, don’t you?” said Envy crossly. “Well, too bad for you, but I’m one of the Sins, so if anyone has the right to win, it’s me.”
“Hey, I am, too,” said Greed. “Why should only you have the right?”
“I’ve been here longer than any of you!”
“Guys,” said Unreasonability, “come on. Why’re we treating this like it’s some sort of competition. It’s just a stupid selection.” Unreasonability was a small creature, much smaller than the other three. Its eyes were wide and innocent-looking, and none of them really knew how it got to the final selection.
“Oh, shut up, just –ing shut up!” said Sloth. “You barely qualified for this anyway. Just be happy that they took pity on you and got you here, you sorry excuse for a-”
“Why, you,” said Unreasonability angrily and launched itself at Sloth. Sloth couldn’t dodge in time. They rolled around on the floor, making grunting noises and trying to gouge each other’s eyes out.
Poverty watched them go at it for a bit, then calmly took one of the empty seats on the bench, next to Envy.
“I never asked,” said Greed, after a few moments, “but why did War decide to retire?”
“I don’t know,” replied Envy, lazily shrugging its plump shoulders. “Something about not being able to generate enough work or some such.”
“I reckon it was just too lazy to do anything properly,” said Poverty. “Damn fool was getting old.”
“Hey, watch it,” said Greed warningly. “War was a great guy and deserving of our respect.”
“Yeah,” agreed Envy. Poverty frowned. “Blind fans.”
Unreasonability finally stood up, panting. “I won,” it shouted. “You guys hear me? I won!” A victorious bellow followed.
“No.” Sloth got up slowly. “No, you didn’t win sh-”
With another guttural roar, Unreasonability hurled itself on Sloth again, who couldn’t dodge in time, again.
“They won’t win,” said Greed firmly, tilting its green head towards the two creatures struggling on the floor. “You can be sure of that.”
Poverty stood up and stretched its pale and thin legs. “Sitting on the floor for so long really got to me, eh?” It glanced down admiringly at the sticks protruding from its equally thin and pale body.
Almost instinctively, Envy glanced at its own legs. They were vastly different from Poverty’s; thicker, shorter and stronger. They exuded a sense of disquiet that Envy was proud of.
Unreasonability stood up for the second time. “I won!” it shouted again. “This time, I really-”
“Oh, shut up you tiny mongrel,” said Greed airily. "Or we'll pierce your liver with a paintbrush.”
Unreasonability glared at the three creatures sitting on the benches in turn. All of them had the same confident, arrogant smile plastered to their faces. It annoyed Unreasonability. “You guys think you’re too good, eh? Eh? I’ll show you. I’ll win and show you guys.”
“You were the one, if I’m not wrong, who said that this is not a competition,” Envy said, leaning back. It was obviously enjoying itself very much.
“And yet, here you are,” chimed in Poverty, also leaning back.
“You are nothing compared to us,” continued Greed. “So just pack up your bags, and go home. You’ll never be able to get the job.”
“You’re just- just doing this because- because…” spluttered Unreasonability, tears springing to its eyes.
“Because what?” said Envy. “Go on.”
“Because you think I’m too mellow!”
“Yes. Yes we do,” said Poverty evenly. “So run along, now, Softy. Go fight with Sloth. You guys are never going to beat us big ones anyway.”
Unreasonability turned and ran to the corner of the room, crying freely. The corner was not far from where Envy and Poverty were seated, and they had to resist the temptation to go over and have a little fun with the emotional creature.
Sloth finally got up. “Damn fool,” it said, when it saw Unreasonability in the corner. “All of you are damn fools.” It glared at the three creatures on the benches.
Envy raised a hairy eyebrow. “Excuse us if we aren’t up to your standards, Your Highness.”
Sloth limped slowly over to the empty spot next to Greed. It sat down with a groan, pressing a cut on its arm.
“Damn fool,” it said again.
“How much longer, I wonder,” said Greed, getting up and stretching. It walked to the door and pressed its ear to it, listening intently. “Guys, I think it’s getting over. Come on.” It gestured for the others to come. Only Envy and Poverty did.
From outside, a faint voice was saying, “… And with this segment, we bring our program to a close. You can see War’s famous achievements on the screen.”
“You want me to read it out? Okay. The Great Season, 1914 to 1919. The European Conquests by Khan, in the 1200s. The Second Great Season, 1939 to 1945. And these are just some in the illustrious career of War, ladies and gentlemen.”
“Now, I’d like my partner to take over. I have another urgent matter to attend to.” Applause followed this announcement.
A moment passed. Then footsteps approached the room, and the three eavesdroppers stumbled back to their benches, looking innocent.
The handle turned and the door creaked open. A creature, a shapeless mass with eyes and a small mouth, entered.
It surveyed the scene in the room and clucked its long tongue in disapproval. “What is this world coming to? Up! All of you! The one in the corner. Up! Sit!”
The voice was the same one that was anchoring the program outside.
Once the four creatures were settled, the visitor produced a long, yellow paper and cleared its throat. “All right, candidates. Let’s cut right to the chase. No dill-dallying.”
“Let’s talk about the first candidate. This one was, very frankly, dismal. Scored a poor twelve on hundred in the interview, eight in the written test and had, overall, zero potential.” The creatures lips curled into a mocking smile. “Any guesses?”
“Unreasonability,” chorused Envy, Greed and Poverty together.
“No,” said the visitor. “It’s Greed.”
“Me?” said Greed. It sounded aghast.
“Yes. You came last. Next, twenty-eight on hundred in the interview, fifty in the written test, but, overall, zero potential again. Any guesses?”
This time no one answered.
“No? Unreasonability. You failed.”
The creature in question sniffled, but said nothing.
“Next, fifty-three on hundred in the interview, eighty in the written test, and had some potential. But wasn’t the winner. The winner scored a brilliant eighty-nine in the interview, which, I must add, is only three lesser than War. It also scored seventy-seven on the written test. Undoubtedly the candidate with the most potential. Exactly what we were looking for in this century.”
Envy held its breath. Sloth held its breath.
The visitor paused for a second more to lend drama to the scene. Then, “Sloth, you are the winner. Come on up here.”
Sloth burst into applause. It rose and slowly walked up to the visitor, grinning widely.
“The official ceremony will be in a week’s time. But, for now, congratulations, Sloth.” The visitor smiled thinly and shook Sloth’s fat hand. “You are the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse.”