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humor — classics


3 min read

From the archives. Originally published Nov 9, 2022.

"My God," said Agent Four. "What ..."

The grand door had protested with a low keen when his guide opened it. It swept a thousand pebbles of broken glass into a jagged, glistening arc, like half a snow angel, almost—but beyond it, red. Dark red, and getting darker. Agent Four knew this color, for he had seen it before.

But not like this.

His guide, a stiff and balding man dressed in the sharp livery of the professionally meek, gave a slight nod, then turned from him. His hands gestured Four on, into the room.

Four had seen things, in his years. It was his job to see. Things that should be seen, and things that shouldn't. Things protected by tall, thick walls of money; things protected by men who held the morning papers in their claw-like hands and shook out only, to those that read, the words that were Safe to see. Things said on thick carpets, expensive and imported, by men who came there to say them.

Red, everywhere. Red, and broken glass.

The morning sun was already too bright, outshining shards of glass and crystal—and sharper. It threatened to cut Four with wounds deeper than the glass, if he would let it. He wouldn't. The alcohol was gone now, and what came into the void it left, he was used to. On the job, now. Time to see what the growing light was trying to hide.

On the walls, streaks of red already half-turned to something more blue. On all the walls. On the glass. On the plaster, and the thick baseboards imported to prove something. Pools of the same color—pools, already turning dull and stiff!—on the floor.

Chairs, toppled. Tables, overturned. Not as many as he thought, for the size of the room. And no people.

Not anymore.

They had been there in the glittering night, before the glass broke. The proof was everywhere. Smears. A bit of oil, dulling the surface of a half-unmade flute. A woman's coat, now unattended, smeared in red? A thing he would return to, later, but these were not people who wrote their names on what they might lose, like schoolchildren do. They had no parents, these. They did once, but not in a place like this.

For now, he walked forward, following his guide along a rippling path that weaved, as best the guide could manage, between the pools of sickening red. It was a path that led through an invisible jungle, a burned-down garden of dreams and intention and thoughts of power, with nothing but red and crystal to mark where each tree once stood.

The smell was getting stronger now that the sun had risen.

His guide led forward, still sure of his steps through the light and the dark. The room was both bigger than Four had thought, and far smaller. He was being guided toward a shadow on the far wall. A shadow, perched on a table like one of those Christmas elves Four had heard of, the kind a certain class of people would bring into their home so they could mistrust it from a closer distance.

A man. The eyes were gray, and cloudy, and as dull as the crystal beneath their feet was sharp. It was cloudy like the stiffening red pools on the floor.

Dead? No—a twitch, just there. Not dead.

Four let his eyes work down, methodically. The man was dressed too finely for the sharp morning light, just like the servant-guide had been. Rumpled, now. Four's eyes moved down the sleeves, both of them at once, taking in the scene like he was in the cinema, watching only, seeing only what an unseen director wanted him to see.

In both of the man's hands, bottles. Plastic, not glass. Plastic and red and crumpled, now, with nearly a throne of the things behind his shadow.

Heinz. He knew it would be.

His guide kept stiff, and looked at the man with both precision and the smallest aroma of fear.

"He had," the guide said softly. Cautiously. "A bad night."


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