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Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine. She had a love affair with food, and she’d never liked horses (never mind the time she asked for a pony when she was eight; that was just a girl thing). If she’d been asked which Horseman of the Apocalypse she would most likely be, she would have probably replied, "War." And if you’d heard her and her boyfriend, James, fighting, you would have agreed. Lisa wasn’t a Famine person, despite the eating disorder.
And yet there she was, Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and no longer thinking about killing herself, holding the Scales of office. Famine, apparently, had scales—an old-fashioned balancing device made of brass or bronze or some other metal. What she was supposed to do with the Scales, she had no idea. Then again, the whole "Thou art the Black Rider; go thee out unto the world" thing hadn’t really sunk in yet.
Alone in her bedroom, Lisa sat on her canopied bed with its overflowing pink and white ruffles, and she stared at the metal balance, wondering what, exactly, she’d promised the pale man in the messenger’s uniform. Or had it been a robe? Frowning, she tried to picture the delivery man who’d just left—but the more she grasped for it, the more slippery his image became until Lisa was left with the impression of a person painted in careless watercolors.
Maybe the Lexapro was messing with her. Yeah,
she thought, putting the Scales on her nightstand, next to a half-empty glass of water (which rested on a coaster) and a pile of white pills (which did not), I’m high as a freaking kite. And you’re fat,
lamented the negative voice, the Thin voice, Lisa’s best friend and worst critic, the one that whispered to her in her sleep and haunted her when she was awake. High and fat,
Lisa amended. But at least I’m not depressed.
Or dead; the delivery man had rung the doorbell before Lisa could swallow more than three of her mother’s antidepressants. Bundled in her white terry cloth bathrobe over her baggy flannel pajamas, Lisa had answered the door and accepted the parcel.
"For thee," the pale man had said. "Thou art Famine."
And once Lisa had opened the oddly shaped package, all thoughts of suicide had drifted away. Thanks to the pills, that was sort of the way she was feeling now, as if she were drifting— drifting slowly like a cloud in the summertime sky, a cloud shaped like a set of old-fashioned scales . . . The pills.
Pulling her gaze from the Scales, Lisa scooped the pills into her nightstand drawer. She wiped away the stray trails of powder, brushed off her hands, and gently closed the drawer. It wasn’t as if she had to worry whether her mom would notice that her stash of bliss had been depleted; Mrs. Simon Lewis was off at some charity event or another, accepting some award or another. Lisa just didn’t want to leave a mess. Even if she had
overdosed, as she had originally planned, she would have died neatly in her own bed. Lisa tried her best to be considerate.
She frowned at the Scales. Dappled in moonlight there on her nightstand, they gleamed enticingly. Lisa couldn’t decide if they looked ominous or merely cheesy. Cheddar cheese, one ounce,
the Thin voice announced. One hundred fourteen point three calories. Nine point four grams of fat. Forty minutes on the exercise bike.
And behind that, the pale man’s words burned in Lisa’s mind: "Thou art Famine."
Famine having a set of old-fashioned scales, Lisa decided, was stupid. The only scales that mattered were the digital sort, the ones that also displayed your body mass index.
Lisa yawned. Her head was fuzzy, and everything seemed pleasantly blurred, soft around the edges. It was peaceful. She thought about closing her window shade, but she decided she liked the moonlight shining on the Scales—sort of a celestial spotlight. You’re loopy,
she scolded herself. Hallucinating. Get some sleep, Lisa.
She settled down on her bed, pulling the princess pink covers around her to fend off the chill. Lately, she was always cold—and hungry. Although she enjoyed the feeling of hunger, she hated it when her body shivered. Whenever she forced her body to stop shivering, it made her teeth chatter. And when she forced her teeth to clamp shut, her body shivered. It was a physical conspiracy.
Lisa gripped the blankets tightly and started thinking about the homemade cookies she’d make for Tammy tomorrow. As she imagined the smell of chocolate chips, she calmed down. Baking was soothing. And Tammy was a fiend for Lisa’s baking. James was, too, but he always acted hurt when she wouldn’t taste any of the sweets she made for him.
Snuggled like a baby, Lisa stared at the object on her nightstand. Backlit by the moon, the Scales seemed to wink at her. "Thou art Famine."
She let out a bemused laugh. Famine. Really. She would have made a much better War.
Smiling, Lisa closed her eyes. ***The black horse was in the garden directly beneath Lisa’s window, invisible, waiting for its mistress to climb atop its back and go places she had never imagined—the smoke-filled dance clubs of Lagos, dripping with wealth and hedonism; the opulent world of Monte Carlo, oozing with indulgence; the streets of New Orleans, filled with its dizzying smells and succulent foods. In particular, the horse had a fondness for Nola’s sweet pralines.
Perhaps they would go to Louisiana first—perhaps even tonight.
The black horse snorted and pawed the grass, chiding itself in the way that horses do. So what that it wished to move, to fly, to soar across the world and feast? It was a good steed; it would wait forever, if needed, until its mistress was ready to ride.
It wasn’t the horse’s fault that it was impatient; the rhododendrons in the garden couldn’t mask the cloying odor of rot, which made the horse’s large nostrils flare. Death had come and gone, but its scent had left its impression on the land, in the air.
Death was scary. The horse much preferred the smell of sugar. Or pralines.
The black horse waited, and Lisabeth Lewis, the new incarnation of Famine, dreamed of fields of dust.