Audit

Papak looked up from the plate filled with dolma—little balls of rice and lamb enveloped in green leaves—to the tall,young man standing in front of his table. The clean shaved newcomer was pale and wore an expensive black suit. His brown hair was cut short following the fashion that was so predominant among both the old and the new money of Baku. A light scarf around his throat was the only thing that distinguished him from the many other people that enjoyed the warm summer night.

The man pointed at the free chair and said, “May I sit?”

Papak picked a ball with two fingers and said, “Depends, do I know you?”

The man smiled and Papak shivered. “You may be the one that knows me most.”

He popped the dolma in his mouth and began to chew. He gestured the man to go on, then took the glass of wine and drank. He never took his eyes away from the man as he sat down and gestured to the waiter.

The night was filled with the sound of traffic and tourists. A steady breeze blew from the Caspian Sea over the walls of the old City, while in the distance the images of fire projected on the curved steel and glass surfaces of the Flame Towers danced over the Azeri capital. Papak took his napkin and cleaned his fingers. “You are late.”

The man looked briefly up to the waiter that had just arrived. “Ayran please.” After the waiter left he turned to Papak and said, “I’m never late. But I admit it took me longer than usual to find a way here. By the way, why here?”

Papak shrugged then looked over the plaza. Dozens of tourists were still milling around, taking photos and enjoying the evening air after a hot day. The Maiden Tower, thick and solid like a fortification ought to be, stood tall and illuminated by carefully placed spotlights. At a first look it seemed almost unchanged in its long years of vigilance, yet he could see all the little traces of time and the efforts made to mask them. “Maybe I’m a bit nostalgic. Sometimes it feels good to relive some past memories. And I also think it may be apt, seeing as we are repeating this farce again today as we did all those years ago.”

“I don’t know about how it feels reliving memories, but yes, I can see how this place may be the right one.” The man chuckled. “And you are being unusually verbose. And a bit bitter. You know that we don’t have to do this, right?”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” Papak sneered at the man. “I don’t give up, Angra Mainyu, I never have and won’t now.”

“Oh, I didn’t hear that name in a long time. You are really feeling nostalgic.” The waiter returned and put a glass full of yogurt in front of Angra Mainyu. As the waiter left the man took the glass and drank. “Ah, that hit the spot. Where was I?”

Papak took another ball and pointed with it at Angra Mainyu. “You were rambling about me being nostalgic.” He bit down on it and chewed slowly.

“Right. Well, the point is I would probably be a bit sad if you gave up. I find this little game delightful. I even keep far away from you between our meetings so that you can surprise me. I always played it straight with you, can you believe that?”

“No, but that’s not important.” Papak sipped from his wine. “Why the scarf and why the ayran? You don’t need either of them.”

Angra Mainyu put two finger at his neck and pulled the scarf aside. A thick bruise ran around his throat. “It took me a while to climb down, and you can’t really pretend for me to parade around with this and a black suit. There’s a reason I prefer when people go for poison. As for the ayran”—he grinned as he pulled at the scarf tightening it again—”I like to confuse the coroners.”

His glass emptied, Papak took the bottle of wine and filled it up again. “If there’s something they learned to do over time, then that is better alcohol.” He raised his glass. “This is one of the reasons I never regretted our deal.”

“That may be one reason, the other is that you are a wonderful specimen of amorality. Lesser individuals would have balked under the price ages ago.”

Papak took a sip from his glass and looked over the people milling around the plaza. “Because they are weak. That didn’t change and never will.”

Angra Mainyu finished his drink and said, “Well, back to business. What do you have for me this time? Let me guess.” He leaned a bit back and looked at Papak, at his tailored brown suit, at the polished shoes, the golden watch. “Seems you went for the respectable path this time, at least for your appearance. We are in an open, public place so you are not a notorious criminal. I don’t see any bodyguards, which seems to exclude nowadays being a politician.” He brought a hand to his chin and looked up.

Drumming with his fingers on the table, Papak shifted on his chair. “How long do you want to continue with this charade?”

“You are no fun, and now I thought that after all this time we had built some kind of relationship. Sometimes I like a bit of showmanship too.” Angra Mainyu sighed. “Well then, go on, what do you, Papak of Istakhr, offer me for another twelve hundred moons on this earth?”

Papak leaned back and mumbled, “Took you long enough.” He cleared his throat as an unnatural silence fell upon the plaza. People froze mid step and the temperature dropped. “I offer you ten thousand lives. Each died only for this sacrifice. I offer you this for twelve hundred more moons on this earth.”

Angra Mainyu raised an eyebrow. “Let me see this offer, then I shall decide if I will accept them. Where shall we go so that you can show them to me?”

“Oh, I will show them all here.” Papak moved the plate with the food aside and leaned down. He pulled up a leather briefcase, opened it and took out a tablet. He passed it to Angra Mainyu. “Here, each dead documented in detail. You will find that it’s quite exhaustive.”

The silence was lifted and people began to move again. A warm wind blew the cold away.

Angra Mainyu took the tablet. “This I’ll have to see.”

Time passed, the plaza emptied.

“This are all deaths during industrial accidents or because some kind of poisoning through pollution.” Angra Mainyu put down the tablet. All traces of levity had disappeared from his expression. “Did you decide to end your existence and thought this would somehow be amusing?”

“Nothing of the kind. As I said, each dead was only for this sacrifice.”

Angra Mainyu bowed forward. “Explain.”

Papak picked up his glass and drank, then leaned against the back of his chair. “Times changed. The first time I offered my reign, the second the memory of my glory, the third time my love. Well, you remember them.”

“Indeed I do. Your third offering was one of the sweetest.” Angra Mainyu grinned. “I still don’t understand.”

“This things I can’t offer anymore. I cannot create a new legend worth of an offering, memories became too long for that. I can’t offer a reign, as those can’t be conquered simply with blood and bronze today. I can’t offer you love, as I have not loved anything for centuries.”

“The cult you created for your eighteenth offering was a nice idea.”

“And would you accept another one?”

Angra Mainyu drummed with his fingers on the table. “Probably not. It would really depend but I don’t think you could outdo yourself.” He hit with his hand on the table. “I see your point. Very well, color me intrigued about what you have done this time.”

“I became rich. There was a considerable amount of gold left over from the last time, so I created a company. In time I had interests all over the world. Mines, factories, I think even some kind of newspapers.” Papak grinned as he leaned forward and tapped with his finger on the tablet. “Each and every death her was caused by something I expressively ordered. Each cause was something that cost me money and could have been done in a safer and cheaper way. None of the deaths would have happened if not for the sacrifice. The blood of nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine people drip from the company. All of them for you.”

“You said you offered me ten thousand. Where is the last one?”

“Well, I thought you wouldn’t simply accept a mountain of dead.” Papak opened the briefcase again and pulled out another tablet. He put it on the table in front of him and pointed at it. “Right here. I wanted to offer it directly in front of you.”

“Another accident waiting to happen? A last poor soul whose life will be snuffed out for this world to suffer more under you?” Angra Mainyu smiled. “Even considering you haven’t offered me fresh blood in quite a while it still isn’t all that interesting. I can accept it for the sake of tradition, but—”

“Oh no, this is something akin to me. One of the few beings strong enough to maybe do what I do. And I created it.” Papak chuckled. “You see, I hadn’t anything to do with the company for fifteen years. It runs alone, has his own desires and his own personality. It is as alive as anybody else.” He glanced over the plaza, then snorted. “It’s probably more alive than anyone else here except for myself.”

“You claim to have created life?” Angra Mainyu stared at Papak unblinking. “Prove it.”

“It’s all on the tablet. Look at the last fifteen years. I swear upon my name and my life that I have not done anything for the whole time.”

“Your name already belongs to me, as for your life we shall see.” Angra Mainyu picked up the tablet and began to read.

The plaza emptied. Tourist disappeared, other patrons left. The waiter came but a glare from Papak sent him scurrying back without a word.

The clock hit three in the morning.

Angra Mainyu put the tablet down, leaned against the back of his chair and began to laugh. His laughter bounced from the windows covering them in ice. It resonated between the walls and the alleys, blackening stone and corroding metal. Nightmares haunted the city and raced from dream to dream leaving a trail of fear and desperation.

Papak smiled satisfied as the laughter pandered out. The waiter laid in fetal position near the entrance of the restaurant, foaming from the mouth.

“I admit you surprised me. I never would have taught that this day would come, but here it is.” He slapped his hand on his thigh. “Today I accept the sacrifice of something even more abstract than myself. I have only a question, how do you kill it? Because from what I have seen it is more vast than many nations.”

“It is.” Papak tapped on the tablet in front of him. “And for that reason I poisoned my child many decades ago. I grew and educated it and I did the same with its enemies. Here is a bundle of documents that will bring it all down. The moment I send them those who want the downfall will stab it and let it bleed to death. It will be my last sacrifice, something created to die, something that would never have existed if not for me to live another twelve hundred moons. So, do you want to wield the dagger?”

Angra Mainyu looked at the tablet, then shook his head. “As tempting as that is, it’s your sacrifice, it’s your role to kill it.” He looked up at the sky. “And you will have to do it before dawn. You are not trying to leave the responsibility to me, are you?”

With a swipe Papak activated the tablet, tapped a couple of times on the screen, then passed it to Angra Mainyu. “Done, you can follow its slow agony here if you want.”

“I will. This promises to be interesting. Will you not stay here with me?”

“No, the pact is sealed, it’s time for me to have a new life.” Papak looked at the waiter laying motionless at the door of the restaurant, while the flickering of flames could be seen from the kitchen inside. “There is a war in the south. There is always a war, and that’s always a good way to emerge in the world again as someone new.”

Without looking up from the tablet Angra Mainyu said, “Then go and have fun. See you in a century, friend. Oh, and prepare another surprise like this one please. I’ve rarely been this delighted in the last three hundred years.”

Papak stood up, opened the knot of his tie and pulled it off. He threw it down and stretched. “See you in a century.” He walked to the Maiden Tower and put a hand on the walls. Then he turned around and disappeared in the night, flames rising from the restaurant while Angra Mainyu sat at a table, quietly chuckling to himself.

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Audit

Five Sentence Story

The cleaver fell; skin, muscle and bone offered a rather meager resistance. With a final tack the blade stuck in the chopping board. Lauren cleaned her hands on the apron, then wiped the sweat from her forehead. She stared at the leg on her working bench, a good piece, it would go for a hell of a price. She turned around and looked at the next tube, the version of herself thin and stringy, the expression empty like the hundreds before and the hundreds that would follow.

 

 

 

So, my entry for the Flash Fiction Challenge hosted weekly on Chuck Wendig’s marvelous blog about writing and stuff. Go there, It’s a quite interesting reading.

Five Sentence Story

Epitaph in a Bottle

Albine poured the white wine in two glasses and put the bottle down on the stone table. She looked out from the shady terrace to the vineyard and to the trucks and tractors in the distance with workers swarming like ants around them.

Mark observed his host, the tan, the wrinkles on her face and the short gray hair bleached by the sun telling the story of a life lived mostly outdoors. He took his glass and swirled the wine inside. He glanced to the vineyard and said, “La liberté est ce que vous faites avec ce…”

Albine closed her eyes and sighed. “Please don’t quote Sartre to me. It’s beside the point, your pronunciation is horrible and it doesn’t help at all.”

Mark blushed and looked away.

She looked at him. “I know you are trying to help me with philosophy, but this really is neither the place nor the time.” She looked back at the vineyard. “What I need now is a friend with whom to drink this last bottle, nothing else.”

Mark drank a bit. He never had really appreciated that specific wine, but then he never had had a sophisticated taste. He looked to the workers who seemed ready to begin. Chainsaws sputtered to life. He put his glass back on the table, and glanced to Albine who was again staring at the vineyard, her own glass untouched.

Mark saw the first grapevine getting cut down. “You had to do it. I know it is hard, but it will save the rest of your work, and you have done so many other great things.”

“Do you know how long I have worked to bring the Gouais blanc back here?” Albine drummed with her fingers on the table.

Mark shook his head. “I only know you were already doing it when we met the first time.”

“It has been sixteen years.” She turned to Mark, then took her glass and delicately sipped from it. “I put sixteen years of my life into this. I think I deserve a bit of misery without all that silly American Optimism.”

Mark rose an eyebrow. “Now, that seems a bit…”

She waved her hand. “Ah, let an old lady be bitter and let her use some sweeping generalizations.”

They sat in silence as the workers began to cut down the plants. While some proceeded with the chainsaws others pulled the cut down plants to the trucks parked on the road at the side of the hill.

Mark drank another bit of the wine. He tried to taste all the subtle variations others told him about, but he was somehow missing them. He looked dejected at the glass, then to Albine who was observing him with what could be a thin smile. He looked at the bottle, then said, “You know, I love you dearly, and I appreciate you wanted me at your side, but maybe I’m not the best person with which to celebrate this last bottle.”

Albine’s smile grew slightly. “I don’t need someone incensing my wine, I need a friend. And, besides that, this wine isn’t very good.” She drank a bit. “I worked long and hard trying to improve it while strictly adhering to our traditions, but I still never seem to get it right. I sold all the other bottles, but that is because of their intrinsic rarity, not their quality.” She scoffed. “Had to give it to a bunch of self-important windbags who couldn’t taste the difference between a Pinot gris and varnish. But I had to recoup the losses somehow.”

Mark chuckled, then let out a loud laugh.

Albine turned again to the vineyard. “Maybe it was a vanity project, maybe it was a lost cause, but I really wanted to bring those grapes back. And now history repeats itself and the Wine Blight destroys it all again.” She sighed.

Mark reached over the table, putting his hand on Albine’s. “Was there really nothing else to do?”

Albine shook her head, then put her other hand on Mark’s. “No, I tried to use the original variety, with its weaknesses and all.” The sound of the chainsaws buzzed in the background. “You restore old cars, you, among my friends, are the one that understands. That’s why I asked for you to be here with me.”

Mark pulled his hand, and leaned against the back of the chair. He looked at the vineyard, he looked at his glass. He took another sip, and he smiled. Now he could taste it. “Yes, I think I get it.”

Epitaph in a Bottle

Apocalypse, Inc.

“The seas will turn red and boil. Blood will rain down from the heavens and the four horsemen will sweep the land, destruction and despair following their trail!”

“Meh, kind of boring and, well, it misses the point by a wide margin.”

Larry looked at me with his hands still raised above his head in a grand gesture. I kind of liked it when Larry got stumped, he always got that kind of lost expression on his face that I found hilarious. He slowly lowered his arms and glared at me. “What’s your problem?”

I sipped my coffee, a disgusting brew coming directly from the coffee-maker from hell we had in the office. It was black as the night, bitter as regret and no amount of cream or sugar could mask the taste of tar. It was also strong enough to give a narcoleptic sloth heart racing, which was the reason we persisted in drinking the stuff.

I looked at the wall full of concept art behind Larry and shook my head. “First, that’s all old stuff. I mean, boiling seas? The four horsemen? It’s like every other apocalypse we have seen. Second, I find your reliance on Christian symbols a bit of disrespectful of some of our customers. We are planning the end of the world for a widely varied audience with different beliefs and cultural backgrounds. And third, we have children in our audience.”

Larry’s eyes bulged, it was quite funny. “You can’t be serious. Are you telling me that we have to make the End of the World PG rated? The Apocalypse is not a dinner party!”

I put my mug on the desk, shuffling a bit of paper aside to avoid to stain some important document. “Quoting Mao is not helping your case, and it also kind of brings me back on my second objection. We have a strong Chinese audience. They have different sensibilities, we have to cater to them too.”

Larry became agitated, he waved his arms before stomping to the wall and pointing to different pictures showing an admittedly evocative if pedestrian end of the world. “I understand the christian origin, but this are archetypes that have permeated the world culture. Most people may not know the source material, but everyone knows the four horsemen!”

“And that is the first problem. Everyone knows them, probably nobody will be surprised when they appear.”

“Obviously nobody will be surprised, we announced the end of the world!”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put a bit more effort in it. It’s not the first world we end, we can’t repeat ourselves.”

Larry deflated, I felt almost sorry for him. I knew he had worked hard for it, but it was better to sink any doomed projects now than in a later development phase. As fun as it was poking at him, he was a great worker and seeing his efforts wasted was a tad sad.

He sulked a bit. “Why do we care so much? It’s the end, there won’t be anything after it.”

I stood up and put my hand on his shoulder. “The Boss cares, so we care too. And you know there will be something new after this, the guys on the upper stages have already begun the development. We also have a certain fame we have to keep up.”

Larry sighed, but the gears in his precious little head had begun to turn again. “Can we have a few different apocalypses? You know, something that leverages the different cultures?”

I shook my head. “Sorry, no budget for it. We have a lot of money for a single spectacular ending, but if we begin to differentiate then it will stretch thin fast. Come on, you know the dance, it’s not the first time we do this. OK, it’s a bit different from your usual stuff, but you are not a newbie in the business.”

He turned around and picked a picture from the wall, it depicted a cloaked figure over the burning ruins of a city. “And the rating?”

“PG is the upper limit. We all thought your Ragnarok was awesome, but this time we have to use less gore and sex.”

He sighed, sat down and stared at the wall. “Man, I never thought that closing Barbie’s World Online would be so freaking hard.”

Apocalypse, Inc.

Why I’m sitting here typing stuff instead of doing more productive things.

I can already hear it: the groaning and gnashing of teeth as another guy on the internet without any semblance of competence or restrain begins to spit out his uninformed opinions about stuff.

Let me reassure you that you have nothing to fear. Trust the unknown man sitting (probably in his briefs) behind a keyboard telling you not to worry.

This will be just a place for me to publish the rare stories I’ll write and that I foolishly will expose to the wide and cruel world. As I’m still learning the craft of storytelling and on the side wrestle with the English language I don’t expect fame or fortune, but maybe, if the stars align and no elder god emerges from the sea to devour us, I’ll put out something worth the time of my (at the moment) hypothetical readers.

Why I’m sitting here typing stuff instead of doing more productive things.