I HEREBY CALL THIS MEETING TO ORDER, Death announced in a bored tone, taking a seat at the head of the table.1 WHAT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED?
"I've managed to stretch the expected length of the war in Iraq out another four years," War said, crossing her legs and smiling smugly over the rim of her Bloody Mary. "It wasn't easy, you know. All those people campaigning for peace." She said the last word in the same manner that one might proclaim there was a hair in their soup.
"35 million people in Africa faced starvation this year in crises which could have been prevented if the government had responded earlier," Famine added, leaning back in his chair with his fingers steepled in front of him. He gave a conspiratorial smile. "Whose fault do you suppose that was?"
YOU HEARD OF THE AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION PERSONALITY, Death put in, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the aforementioned country. Famine gave a thoughtful nod of acknowledgement, sipping his tea, and War made a noncommittal noise. She had rather liked him, to tell the truth. "Crocodile Hunter" would've made a good backup plan if her current field of work hadn't panned out quite so nicely.
The sound of a throat clearing alerted everyone's attention to the remaining horseperson, who sat quietly at his place with his hands folded on the tabletop, waiting his turn. When the others looked at him, he smiled, held up a finger for pause, and ducked under the table. War and Famine took this opportunity to look at each other quizzically. Death sighed impatiently, a sound akin to the dying breath of some giant beast of old.2
Pollution surfaced, tossing his head briefly to shake the errant tendrils of pale hair out of his face, and placed a bowl, a box, and a jug on the table. The bowl was empty. The jug was half-filled with 2 milk. The box, according to the cheerful, gaudy lettering on the front, contained Sugar Rainbow Breakfast Cereal.
"This," Pollution said, placing one hand fondly atop the box, "Is my accomplishment."
War looked at the young man and his cereal with wide eyes and quietly sipped her drink. Famine raised a thin eyebrow and tilted his head in a questioning manner. Death seemed to consider sighing again, but remained silent.
As no one seemed to have anything to say, Pollution began his presentation. He opened the box with a flourish,3 decanted a sizeable portion of its contents into the bowl, and closed the box again with a strange sort of near-reverence. He then removed the cap of the milk jug with a single twist and poured it over the cereal before taking the jug and box and putting them both back under the table where he had gotten them. He sat up, smiled blithely, and gently pushed the bowl to the center of the table.
The three other horsepersons looked at each other with various degrees of confusion and, in the case of Death, passive disinterest, and leaned over to peer into the bowl. Swimming in a small, white ocean was a peculiar concoction of brightly-colored spongy bits in a myriad of shapes, interspersed with crumbles of what appeared to be either compressed cardboard or gerbil food. None of it looked remotely edible.
"White…" War finally said, sitting up, but keeping her eyes on the bowl as though its contents might jump up and attack. She turned to look at the placidly grinning young man she had addressed. "What is it?"
"It's a kind of food." He gave the bowl a loving gaze, and at length, looked back up at War. "Try some."
It didn't occur to War that laughing loudly and raucously at the absurdity of the very suggestion was not the best idea until she stopped, a long moment later, and caught the crushed look on the newest horseperson's face as she wiped a tear of mirth from her eye. She cleared her throat and sat up straight, clutching her drink for moral support. "I had lunch before I came," she said, forcing a smile.
Pollution brightened slightly at the excuse and turned a hopeful gaze on Death, who made no move to take the shorter man up on his offer. Not to be deterred, he looked to Famine, who waved a hand to politely dismiss the proposal. But the apparent refusal had not been strong enough; Pollution knew he could win this one.
When Famine looked up again after a sip of tea, he jumped slightly to find a pair of large, watery, pleading gray eyes aimed right at him. He was being subjected to one of the most forceful and irresistible puppy-dog looks ever cultivated. There would be no backing down.
Famine knew when he was beaten. He sighed in defeat, and Pollution beamed and pushed the bowl toward the bearded horseman. He produced a spoon from somewhere on his person and handed it to Famine, who accepted it reluctantly and gazed down into the bowl to meet his fate. The milk was already beginning to turn green.
Several excruciating seconds later, after some of the quickly gelatinizing substance was scooped onto the spoon and completed the arduous journey to Famine's mouth, the dark-haired horseman found himself wishing that he had never rescheduled his afternoon appointment with his publicist to make this yearly meeting. The sheer volume of sugar packed into such a small amount of material caused his teeth to vibrate. Finally, with tremendous effort, he managed to swallow, whereupon he looked up to find everyone looking at him expectantly.4
"It…" Famine began, rather thickly, and spent a second rediscovering how to use his tongue for speech after the numbness brought on by potentially dangerous amounts of sucrose. "It tastes like gum disease." He looked at Pollution in horror.
"And it never biodegrades," Pollution exclaimed dreamily. "Pestilence helped me with it. Isn't it wonderful?"
What Famine wanted to say was something along the lines of "You must be joking. This is the most horrid, unpleasant thing I have ever had the displeasure of putting into my mouth."
What Famine did say, because he was being leveled with the beseeching, hopeful puppy eyes again, was "Er…of course. It's perfectly marvelous."
Pollution's eyes glowed like Christmas lights and his smile was radiant as he took the bowl Famine slid back toward him in something like a miniature hug. Famine was somewhat embarrassed to realize, as he sipped his tea to clear the overwhelming taste of sugar from his mouth, that he was smiling slightly as well. He looked up sharply when he heard War cough into her drink,5 but she put on a highly unfitting innocent face and shrugged.
When Famine lowered his stern, questioning eyebrow and returned his attention to Pollution, who was now explaining the benefits of his invention in blissful, excited tones, War shot Death a knowing look. There was no way to be sure, but she was willing to bet that if Death had possessed the features necessary for returning said knowing look, he would have done so.
Also between War and Death was an implicit agreement made that Pollution would be added to the list of horsepersons no longer allowed to cater the yearly meetings.
1The table was round, but it was naturally assumed that the place at which Death was sitting was the head of the table.
2Or it would have if the giant beasts of old had not simply been Someone's idea of a joke.
3It was beyond the others to know how he managed to open a box of cereal with a flourish, but Pollution had been practicing. One can do nearly anything with a flourish if one practices enough.
4Pollution was expecting an opinion; War and Death were expecting him to vomit.
5The cough was designed to disguise the utterance of the word "whipped".