Silence and darkness were as one with the grave.

More chapters from Night Side of Dark

A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark

Episode 18

The General strode slowly and purposefully across the floor of the cultural arena, his hat clamped tightly on his head. His gray woolen coat was buttoned to his throat, and he looked neither right nor left as the laughter rained down on all sides of him. His eyes narrowed. His jaws were clenched. He was one with the shadows, but nobody saw him in the darkness. No one knew he had entered the arena.

The General never came to the celebration of laughter.

The General never laughed.

His job was to rule.

A man who laughs, he often told his aides, is a man who is weak, who believes he can be saved in a world devoid of salvation, a crippled lamb among the wolves, a man who can be controlled.

And that was the reason behind his celebration of laughter.

He wanted to separate the weak from the strong.

The strong would perish before they fought back.

He held the weak in the palm of his hand, his grip tightened around their throat until he heard the unmistakable rattle of a man’s last breath.

The weak did what he told them to do.

They even laughed when they had no reason to laugh.

The General drew his British Enfield No. 2 pistol from the holster beneath his jacket and cradled it in his hand as he continued walking.

He snapped his fingers over his head.

It sounded like a distant pistol shot.

Sharp.

And deadly.

The Minister of Laughter clicked his heels and snapped his fingers as well.

The lights were on in an instant.

The clowns hurried from the arena. Their frightened eyes did not match the smile painted on their faces.  The juggler dropped his clubs. They bounced at his feet and he let them roll away. The ringmaster had turned white.

The lady on the flying trapeze sat swinging slowly back and forth.  A faint and mysterious smile played about her lips. She knew what no one else even suspected. Her hair draped loosely around her shoulders and was as dark as the night. Her face was oval, her complexion olive, and her eyes shaped like those of a cat, enigmatic, furtive, and a mystical shade of green.

Only she appeared to be unconcerned about the odd little human comedy unfolding below her. The General was mad. She didn’t doubt it for a moment, and when he was mad, someone would die. Someone always did.

But not her.

Never her.

He would shoot someone and take her to his bedroom. He begged her to absolve him of his sins. She would leave him whimpering when she left.

The General looked down at the soldier who lay crumpled on the floor, his head lying in a pool of blood that in some macabre and muted way resembled the abstract painting of an artist gone mad.

“Who did this?” the General asked.

“Number Eight, sir.” The Minister of Laugher drew himself to attention.

He saluted.

The General ignored his gesture.

“Did you stop him?” he asked.

“We will find him,” the Minister of Laughter said.

He had to shout.

The laughter was drowning out his words.

“So Number Eight is not in your custody,” the General said.

“He will not get far.” The Minister of Laughter could feel the sweat gathering on his face.

It was not a warm day. It was the season of freezing rain. Why should he be so hot?

“There is no place for him to hide,” the Minister of Laughter said. His words were a nervous staccato like rain striking a tin roof.

The General grinned.

The Minister of Laughter liked it better when he didn’t.

He had seen the General grin before.

Men had a way of vanishing when the General grinned.

“I don’t tolerate failure,” the General said.

The Minister of Laughter felt his shoulders trembling.

He tried to answer.

His words failed him.

“How long have we been together, Sergei?” the General asked.

“Since the end of the second millennium, sir.”

“Am I a man of my word, Sergei?”

“You are, sir.”

“And what did I say would happen if we lost Number Eight.”

“You said someone would be relieved of his existence, sir.” The Minister of Laughter paused, and his gaze shifted to the soldiers around him. “I will carry out the execution myself, sir,” he said.

“That won’t be necessary,” the General said.

The Minister of Defense relaxed.

He tried to smile.

The bullet struck him right above the nose, and his skull exploded in ragged splinters matted the color red.

The Minister of Laughter had not known he was dying until he was dead.

He never saw the shot fired.

He did not feel the impact.

His darkness simply grew darker.

The laughter stopped.

It did not fade slowly away.

The shot had ended it as quickly as a period could end a sentence.

The General turned to the lieutenant in charge. He was a young man, tall, blond, and broad-shouldered. He had not flinched when the pistol was fired.

No fear etched in his eyes.

His face showed no regrets.

“I want Number Eight,” the General told him, his voice as low as the distant rumble of thunder in a dry sky. “Bring him to me.”

“Dead?” asked the young man.

“No.”

“He may not come peacefully.”

“He will come because he has no choice,” the General said. “You will give him no choice.”

“There are many hiding place,” the lieutenant said.

“How many?”

“A thousand maybe.”

The General nodded.

“Then take a thousand men,” he said. “Each man can search a single hiding place. One of them will find him.”

“Number Eight will not be easy to apprehend,” the lieutenant said.

“What makes him different?”

“I saw his eyes.”

“What about them?”

“He is not afraid to die.”

“Then we will show him the second death,” the General said.

“I thought your orders were not to kill him,” the lieutenant said.

“They are,” the General said softly. “We will only show him a glimpse of the second death. We will not send him there. Not yet anyway.”

He turned away, straightened his coat, and pulled his hat low over his eyes.  He raised his hand above his head and snapped his fingers again.

The lights went dark.

The only sound anyone heard was the hollow echo of his boot steps moving across the empty arena floor.

Someone began to count each step out loud.

He reached seventy-four before the door slammed shut.

The laughter had died.

Only silence remained.

Silence and the darkness.

They were as one and one with the grave.

Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on  Saturday and Sunday.

Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.

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