In Lugano, Switzerland (censured), sirens sounded to alert the townsfolk of the warm August morning. Days were numbered, and every city was ordered to set a blare for ten a.m. in E major and at ten p.m. in E minor, since it was unknown whether the bloody sky would one day take over the sun or the moon, blacking out the world. Our missionaries were already awake and writhing, their feet drumming the footstools of their chairs in Luca’s, and a ring of foam lining their lips. The charlatan handed Wim a second Ueli Laggs Special, and then a second one for Claiborne five minutes later.
“Where would we go if we died, Claiborne?” said the other, fully fueled and reeling through thoughts of the world. “To Hell? Surely not there.”
“Maybe. And if we did, would we be surprised? We weren’t even deemed worthy enough for the Exaltation. Why would we be in a day or two? Or however long it takes us to end on this wretched earth…” Slurp, and an irritated drum of the fingers.
“Fair enough, I guess. I just…I can’t wrap my head around it. Can you? No, don’t answer, I already know what you’ll say.”
“What, then?” asked Claiborne.
“You’ll go, ‘well, of course I can’t, Wim, get out of your own head. Your voice is the crunching of broken glass.’ Then you’ll scratch your beard and glare knives at me.”
“‘Your voice is the crunching of broken glass’…I just might use that one later.”
The laugher of the weary men reverberated about the tavern, followed by the obnoxious slugging of beer, and the cry of their seats as they leaned back their heads, draining the glass to the very bottom. Their cups knocked the wood in unison as they burped. They sat in silence for a minute or more.
“Will we see morning again?” asked Claiborne. Wim watched him carefully, taken aback that he had spoken first, though he hadn’t initiated eye contact.
“We will see it,” Wim answered. He wished he’d said something else. He stammered, trying to piece together more words. “If not, then I’ll be content with the night. Both are Elyon’s creation, so they reflect him. We only have to look at the sky to see him, right? If not to fear him, then why are we here? We were meant to stay. We think he left us for dead, but really there’s more for us. Somehow, sometime, we will see him again. I believe it.”
Claiborne didn’t reply, only stared at the flickering Luca’s logo above the bar, the reflection of colors visible in his pupils. A jingle sounded on the television, one all too familiar to the New Roman Empire. Claiborne was the first to turn to the screen, Wim being more hesitant, as his loathing of the Chancellor was more apparent in public. The bartender turned up the broadcast, calling attention to the movie, so that the boozers who lay sleepy or jittery in the shop placed their eyes on the bright blue, the king’s color. Wim’s eyes were stuck to the floor.
“All who are blessed to hear, lend an ear, give a cheer, for your beloved Chancellor.”
A captivating female voice lured them closer to the TV, raising their level of attention, so that when he finally spoke they would already be eager. The blue cut to a man, blanketed in a royal coat of the king’s color, locks curled on his head, and beard neatly trimmed. He sat on a throne with his legs crossed, his chest puffed like a penguin and his hands folded in his lap. He smiled, gentle, a loving dictator.
“Good morning. If you’re seeing me now, it means that you’re awake. Not just alive, but blessed by god to live and breathe another day. Only a few days ago, those that had no faith in me, but in Elyon, were sucked away from us to another world. I know not of their condition. But, considering the state of our world at this moment, I can assume they are suffering as well, perhaps an even worse torment than us. I sent them away. I, not Elyon, had his evangelists stripped from our world. This action angered their precious god, resulting in what you see before you.”
Images of ruin, the dead, women cradling their young, and desolated fields while the Chancellor spoke.
“Blood…toil…tears of children, weeping for their mothers and fathers. The screams of demons as they flood our once beautiful planet. I show you this to protect you.” He appeared again, in the same position.
“You see, I’m offering shelter. Underground bunkers have been structured to harbor those who are suffering. There is food. Water. Comfort, television, smoke free oxygen, anything you could ever need in times such as these. The price is set at 8,967 euros for every month, one family only.” As if expecting an uproar, the Chancellor lifted his voice. “I understand if anyone is upset. Money is scarce, and those who don’t have it will never have a chance. But you must know that these were built for your safety. Of course, the price will be high. Thankfulness is appreciated.
“To register for the Terminal Program, please approach the town officer in any endorsed city. There you will pay, and be escorted by plane in groups of two hundred. You will arrive at the Isle of Skye in Scotland-” Images of stunning mountains and ranges, coupled with pearly water and cerulean sky. Images that were surely outdated. “-and be shown to your home. I hope to see many disciples there soon. Good morning again. And remember: Peace, Pleasure, and Population.”
The screen went black, the Chancellor’s famous motto displayed over it in white. Wim finally lifted his head, taping the bar with two fingers, the sound a signal that he needed another beer. Claiborne stretched his shoulders and smiled.
“Another day in the New Roman Empire,” he said. “Please, pay nine thousand euros if you’d like to live. Oh, and be thankful for my mercy, I spent a lot of time building this for you. Want to spend your final days in regrettable debt? Why not!”
“Enough,” Wim said. “I can’t stand that guy. How does anyone believe him?”
“You should be grateful for the Chancellor,” interrupted the bartender. He slid the drink down the counter, peering at the men. “He’s done a lot for us you know. He’s giving someone out there a chance, no matter who it is.”
“And I assume you’re buying a terminal,” grunted Claiborne.
“First chance I get. No way in hell am I staying in this crack town after hearing that.”
Before Wim could take a sip of his drink, a method used to clear his mind of any anger, a sound echoed through the town. It was boar-like and atrocious, like someone was choking and moaning simultaneously. No one moved; it was a drunk in the street again. But the second time it was a wail, and multiple voices sounded, five people screaming at once. Wim jumped from his chair, followed by Claiborne, both snatching their cloaks from the coat hanger by the door before rushing to face the noise.