by Gordon Houghton
Copyright 2010 Gordon Houghton
for the first nineteen, who didn’t make it to the party
It could be you
Hades was dead – no doubt about it – and he wasn’t coming back this side of the Last Judgement. They found his body one bright Sunday morning in July, lying face-down in a thicket by the river. His Agency badge was missing. His face was unrecognisable. He had been eviscerated.
No one could agree how it happened. Death blamed War, of course; and War openly accused Pestilence. Pestilence, for his part, secretly suspected Famine – and Famine believed the other three were engaged in a conspiracy against him. An early-morning jogger, who witnessed the crime from behind a mulberry tree, and barely escaped with his life, swore that he saw three wild dogs crashing through the bushes and bounding back along the track towards town. Only one person knew the whole story, and he wasn’t telling.
Whatever the truth, the fact remained – Hades was dead, and the Agency needed a replacement. An emergency meeting was held, a resolution was passed, and the traditional method for selecting a new recruit was agreed. In the converted attic of a two-storey town house overlooking the meadow, the Unholy Tombola began: Pestilence emptied a bag of coloured balls into a revolving wooden drum, Famine turned the handle, and Death removed the balls and read out the numbers.