“Can I just take a few details,” Jane asked as the unremarkably short, unremarkably thin and unremarkably… average man sat in the visitors’ chair in front of her desk.
Hair; brown. Jacket; brown. Corduroys; brown. Shoes; brown. Jane detected a pattern.
“Qetar. Q, E, T, A, R.”
Voice; beige. Not even brown. Exceedingly polite, if hesitant. Socially awkward. More than a little unsure of himself.
“Unusual. Is that European?”
Jane began typing his details into the system.
“Aramaic. I can use another name if you’d like?”
“Qetar is your given name? On your birth certificate?”
“Don’t have one. Call me Dave.”
“Dave. Short for David?”
“Or Daud, Dawood, Dawud, Davit, Davud, Dabid, Dauid, Davud, Daveth, Dovid-”
Jane stopped him before he reeled off every variant in every language.
“Yes, okay, Dave is fine. Are you a linguist?” she inquired, looking for something to latch onto, career-wise.
“No. Not really. Just travelled a lot. When I was younger.”
Dave appeared to be in his thirties. The weariness in his gray eyes told a different story.
“And what sort of work are you looking for? Dave?”
“Anything really. Something to pay the rent.”
Jane tried her best to engage, the way she had been taught on her ‘Serves You Right’ customer-liaiason course.
“Keeping body and soul together, eh?”
“You believe in the soul, then?”
For a moment his spirits lifted. She thought he might be flirting with her. Some of the applicants did; out of desperation, or simply to suck up to her in the hope of a shot at the better vacancies. This one seemed more interested in the philosophical question.
“Professional training, then?”
“Working with horses?”
‘Dave’ didn’t strike her as the horsey type.
“Didn’t have them back then,” Dave answered vaguely.
“It’s quite long,” he stuttered, even more vaguely.
Jane looked up from the screen.
“I don’t feel you’re being completely honest with me, Mr Qetar… Dave. What was your first job?”
“You want me to be completely honest?”
“You won’t believe it,” he said evasively.
“Dave, I’ve worked in this job centre for three years. I’ve already seen and heard everything.”
“I don’t think you have.”
Jane poised over her keyboard. She’d had a long morning dealing with shirkers, slackers and the chronically work-shy.
“Just tell me what was your first job?!”
“The Fifth Horseman.”
“The Fifth Horseman.”
“Yes, I heard that bit. Horseman? What? Where was the job? What did you do?”
“Apocalypse,” Dave said quietly.
“Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse,” he said leaning forward, expecting her to type that into the system.
Jane sighed. ‘Care in the Community’ was clearly failing another patient. Frustration got the better of her.
“For a start, there’s only four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
“Only four now. I was the fifth.”
Jane gave him the hard stare reserved for the time-wasters and drunks.
“There’s War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Four.”
“No Pestilence,” Dave corrected her. “It’s Conquest. Colleen was always really annoyed nobody got it right.”
“Conquest. Should be first but nobody remembers. I won a pub quiz with that once. Felt like cheating, but I needed the fifty quid.”
“The first horseman was a woman?” Jane heard herself ask.
“Things were more… equitable back in the day.”
Dave continued to look at the checklist on her desk, waiting on the next question.
“Yeah, right. So if those are the four horsemen-horsepersons-what were you?”
“Doubt,” he said simply.
“Doubt? That’s hardly the stuff of the apocalypse.”
Dave sat upright, suddenly very earnest.
“The punishments of God. Conquest, War, Famine, Death and Doubt. Except I was meant to come first. There’s nothing drags humanity down like doubt.”
“Are you sure?” Jane heard herself say.
Jane sat up as if snapped out of a trance.
“If you’re going to waste my time, Mr Qetar-”
“You asked me to be honest,” he interrupted, without taking offense.
Jane’s reserve of patience drained away.
“Tramps, whinos, mental patients. I get ’em all in here. Lot’s of ’em claim to be supernatural beings. I’ve had ET; the reincarnation of Napoleon, twice; Thor, God of Thunder; John the Baptist-”
Dave perked up at John the Baptist.
“No he wasn’t, he was a dental assistant from Redcar,” she snapped. “No one’s ever claimed to be one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Not even one they’ve made up.”
Dave seemed genuinely hurt.
“I am not making this up. Why would I? Anyone I tell thinks I’m insane.”
“Aren’t you?” she said unkindly, instantly regretting it.
Dave was downcast as he fixed wearily on her
“Sometimes I think I’m the only sane person left on Earth.”
Jane didn’t want to get into a discussion of sanity either.
“Alright, if you’re the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, why are you in a job centre in Wolverhampton?”
“The other four chucked me out,” he said, stating the obvious.
“And why would they do that?”
“They said I weakened their resolve to bring down the Apocalypse on mankind. I said that was my job. But after so many thousands of years waiting for Judgement Day they said they’d had enough. Any more doubt and they wouldn’t be able to carry out their God-given mission. I said God wasn’t like that, she only meant it as a threat. Like, withholding pocket money.”
Dave was so utterly convincing, Jane struggled to hold onto her disbelief. Her rational mind decided cross-examination to be the best strategy.
“What colour were their horses?”
“White, red, black and pale,” Dave said without hesitation.
“What colour was yours?”
“Brown. Well, more sort of, beige.”
Brown was Jane’s least-favourite colour. Beige didn’t even qualify as a proper colour.
“I beheld a pale rider, upon a beige horse? I don’t think so.”
Dave was apologetic
“It got left out of the Bible. You know, the Lion of Judah opens the first four of the seven seals? Summons forth four beings that ride out on white, red, black, and pale horses?”
“No mention of beige,” she accused. Dave was so earnest, she felt like she was kicking a puppy. A brown one.
“I got left out. Like the original drummer in the Beatles.”
Jane sighed. All her friends told her the Job Centre was worse than a dead end. She thought of it as a chance to help people. Days like this one made her d-
“Oh no,” Dave said in alarm, staring over her shoulder to the entrance.
A tall woman in an expensive leather jacket and boots with killer heels strutted into the Job Centre. She made an entrance like a fashion model owning the catwalk. She didn’t even take a numbered ticket from the dispenser at the door.
“Oh no,” Dave breathed again.
“Who is it?” Jane whispered.
“Yes. That Colleen…”
© Robin Catling, 2022
More short fiction by the author is on this site.