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The Soothsayer's War


Like the monsters that inhabited children's imaginations, you were most vulnerable to them while lying in bed. That is when they came. Many went insane from sleepless nights spent listening to the heavy knock at the door.
Like the monsters in the country'sitional folklore, these black-clad demons also dragged people away into the thick darkness of night, never to be seen or heard from again.
These shadow men were appointed guardians of the state against enemies unseen. They could detect enemies anywhere, and they hunted them down with ruthless efficiency. They were paranoia-made flesh.
These human hunters operated on the deeply cynical assumption that any threat, real or imagined, was best wiped out. They were like attack dogs, and their masters gave them free rein.
Spengler awoke to the knock. His ears strained in the darkness, hoping the knock was the residual sound of a nightmare. The knuckles banging against the heavy wooden door ripped him from sleep, and panic instantly set in. His heart thumped against his chest, and the air became too thick to breathe.
“"ban""bang.”"The""  it was again.
He curled up in the dark and panted like a scared puppy. The wind whipped up into a ghostly howl; the long twisted branches tapped on his window and their leaves rustled. A streak of lightning silently reached across the sky. Its flash cast long, deformed shadows on the room'room'ss. Several seconds later, a burst of thunder rattled the windows, and his body convulsed. The wind slowed to a groan, and the heavy knocking came again.
Spengler slowly descended the staircase, carefully putting one trembling floor before the other. They knocked again.
“"hos""there?”"Spa"" ler whimpered.
His question was answered by a slower knock that was so hard it echoed through the foyer with the same resonance as the thunder.
Spengler was a tiny man with puffy red cheeks and large brown eyes. The two men standing at the door were tall broad-shouldered figures draped in black.
“"lex""pengler?”"One"" f them said, taking a step forward. Alex subconsciously scuttled back. The weak glow of the porch light outlined the sharp features of the mman'mman'shollow.
“"es,""Ale" "replied weakly.
“"lea"" come with us, Mr. Spengler. We would like to ask you some questions.”"Des"" te the polite phrasing, Alex knew it was not a request. Alex Spengler was a professional soothsayer. He is the most famous psychic entertainer in his country. His showmanship, combined with his oratory skills, was enough to convince some there was something supernatural about his abilities.
 He had mastered the illusion to such an extent many people became obsessed with his supposed link to another plain of existence, a realm where the dead spoke of the past and the future. The act had made Alex fabulously wealthy, but even he did not realize what some were gambling based on his dialogues with the deceased.
AAlexAAlex'sestatecarved out of the wilderness. The isolated compound remained connected to the rest of the world only by an unlit dirt road shrouded by the dense woods.
The agents flanked him on both sides and quietly walked him to their car. Alex looked down the road to its darkest end. One of the agents edopened the back door for him, and Alex got in, and the door was closed behind him.
They drove in silence. Alex regretted not trying to run, although he suspected he would never have gotten far. Still he would have had more hope had he not reached in the car. The sporadic thunder and lightning turned into a storm.
The torrential rains quickly turned the road into a shallow river. The car slowed to a crawl. The tip-tapping of the heavy rain drops, accompanied by the rhythmic squeaking of the windshield shippers, was enough to cover the sound of Alex grinding his teeth.
He tried not to look panicked. They had been cordial enough so far, and he hoped that was a sign this would be nothing more than a chat, and they would return him to his home by morning.
The car slowed to a stop.
“"exc""e me, but where are we?”"Ale"" asked.
“"Sho""Shouldn'tyou soothsayer?”"The"" river replied, his grin reflecting in the rearview mirror.
Alex began to panic again. A pair of headlights appeared in the windshield, and another car pulled up beside theirs. A burly man leaped from the vehicle and quickly jumped into the back seat next to Alex.
“"riv""”"he " "dered.
“"es ""neral,”"rep" "ed the driver.
Their new passenger was a large man in every sense of the word. He had to hunch over to keep his head from hitting the ceiling, his broad frame took up more than half the seat, and his gut built against the confines of his suit.
“"is ""ally something out there!”" he""aid in a baritone but somewhat nasally voice. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his forehead.
“"r. ""ex Spengler,”"he " "id, offering his hand.
“"es,"" sa"" Alex offering up his. The mman'mman'sgiantclosed around AAlexAAlex'ssoft hand and shook it heartily.
“"ts ""pleasure to meet you,”"he " "id
Alex ddidnddidn'tanswera""tte?”"The"" arge man said holding up an opened pack
Alex nodded and took one of the slender rolled cylinders from the pack.
“"h, ""rdon me.”"The"" arge man said as he pulled a large silver lighter from his jacket pocket.
He held the flickering flame to the end; the paper burned evenly as Alex drew in the smoke
“"ou "" not know who I am. Do you Mr. Spengler?”"The"" obust general asked.
Alex shook his head “"o, ""'maII'mafraidon'ddon't"" ""that is ok,”"He " "id a large grin spread across his pudgy face.
“" kn""plenty about you. You are quite the famous man!”"He "" ve Alex a friendly slap on the back Alex jerked forward the burning cigaret nearly falling from his lips.
“"y a""logies, um General?,”"sai"" Alex nervously.
“"ene""l, yes fine call me general!”"He "" terrupted.
“"hat""lse could I call you?”"Ale"" asked.
“"ell""aarenaaren'tyouosed to be the psychic?”"The"" eneral snorted.
Alex ignored the remark.
“" ha""no idea why I am here. If there are any charges being brought against me I would like to know what they are.”"Ale"" said as assertively as possible.
“"o, "" nothing like that. His deep voice took on a soothing tone.
“"hen""hat do you want with me?”"ask" " Alex cracking open his window to toss the smoldering cigarette butt into the rain.
“"lex""y boy, you are about to give the reading of a lifetime.”"The"" eneral said. He took a sip from a large glass of brandy that hhadnhhadn'tbeene a moment ago.
“"or ""u?”"Ale"" asked.
The general laughed jovially. “"o, "" not for me! TThatTThat'sfunny!”"He "" ok out his handkerchief again and patted away the beads of sweat that had formed on his brow.
“"o I""now what you do is bullshit, but President Malenkov hhe'shhe'sa believer. I certainly wwoulwwouldn'twante the man to tell him something he takes so seriously is just a bunch of smoke mirrors.”"“"r"" ""ent Malenkov wants me to do a reading for him?”"Ale"" said in disbelief.
“"es,""e has a decision to make on a matter of foreign policy of grave importance. I suppose for tonight you are to be his chief advisor. Congratulations Spengler, you made it to the big ties!”"The"" eneral exclaimed.
“"hat""ind of matter?”"ask" " Alex
“"ar.""The"" eneral said casually
“"ar?""Ale" "repeated.
“"es,"" war he wants to ask the cosmic forces you apparently have contact with whether or not it would be advisable to launch a war.
The general leaned in close enough for Spengler to smell the brandy on his breath. “"nd "" dear Spengler I am having my own premonition that those forces are going to say yes.”" e ""id grimly
“"ou ""nt me to advise the president to go to war”" Al"" confirmed.
“"lex""y boy all II'mtII'mtellingis that either the ghosts will say all signs point to yes, or you will be the one communicating from beyond through some other spiritual medium.”"AAl"" AAlex'sstomachned, and his flesh turned cold. The car came to a stop.
“"Don""Don'tworry. YYou'YYou'rein hands.”"The"" eneral said.
“"ut ""e blindfold on him.”"he "" dered the two men up front as he got out of the car.
When the cloth wrapped around AAlexAAlex'seyeslifted, he found himself in a windowless study. There was a large oak desk immediately in front of him. Behind the desk, there was a chair with a straight back that resembled a cushioned throne.
 Bookshelves lined the walls and were brimming with thick volumes on history and war. On the far right wall was a painting of Julius Ceasar standing before the Rubicon. On the opposite wall was a portrait of MMaleMMalenkov'sfatherrevered Calvary officer.
The chair in front of the desk was considerably smaller than the seat behind the desk. The seat was hard, and Alex kept having to shift his posture to ease the pain in his lower back, but he ddidnddidn'tdared up. The last thing he wanted was to be seen rooting around the study when someone walked in so he waited.
Alex scooted his chair forward so he could put his elbows on the desk. He tapped his fingers rhythmically on the solid wood surface while he nervously tapped his foot. When the door swung open behind him, he jumped out of his chair. A military guard in formal dress held the door, and the president entered.
“"our""xcellency.”"Sai"" Alex taking a bow.
“"r. ""engler.”" re""dent Malenkov said warmly extending his hand.
Alex shook the ppresppresident'shand they exchanged proper greetings.
The president was a tall man in his mid-fifties. His simple olive green military tunic hung loosely from his rail thin body. His large head wavered on his thin neck. His sunken features almost looked like they had been carved out of his flesh, especially his dark marble eyes that gleamed in the soft light of the room. He had carefully cultivated the image of an officer. His uniform was pristine and creaseless, and a cavalry sword hung at his side.
“"I'm""I'msorryall the secrecy, but you just ccan'ccan'tbecareful.”"The"" resident said apologetically.
“"uit""alright your excellency.”"rep"" ed Alex.
“"id ""e rain hold up your car? it took you a bit longer than expected.”"Ale"" hesitated the president ddidnddidn'tseemnow about his talk with the general, but it could just have well had been a test the president was a notoriously suspicious man. Kidnapping Alex in the middle of the night just for a meeting seemed to confirm that. Alex decided to take his chances.
“"ad "" drive slow in the rain your excellence.”"Sai"" Alex
Malenkov seemed satisfied with his answer
“"ell""I suppose you already know why I brought you here.”"Sai"" Malenkov.
Alex nodded “"es ""ur excellency. Before we begin might, I get a more comfortable chair?”"Mal"" kov ordered his guards to bring Alex a large cushy chair complete with an ottoman. The both sat on their respective sides of the desk, and the seance began.
“"ou ""ought me here because you need guidance,”"sai"" Alex
“"es ""s, tthattthat'srightl" "kov said excitedly.
“"ou ""e going to make a decision the implications of which will affect thousands if not millions of lives,”"sai"" Alex
Malenovk was on the edge of his seat. “"Tha""That'sright " "id almost in a whisper.
“" se"" battle,”"sai"" Alex as he shut his eyes and breathed deep. “" se"" leader taking to the field field to the deliver victory to his people.”"“"o"" ""?”"sai"" Malenkov
Alex nodded. “"t i""a vision, but it is dim. I must tap into the wisdom of your ancestors if I am to get a clear view of things to come.”"Ale"" explained “"ut ""ich one?”"Bei""  a spiritual medium is quite a lot like being a detective. The illusion depended heavily on oone'oone'sabilitybserve and draw conclusions based on those observations. Luckily for Alex since Malenkov was such a public figure he already knew plenty about him and one of the most important things he knew about him was his deceased father had been a life long Calvary officer. He remembered the MMaleMMalenkov'sswordppeared to be the same sword his father was wearing in the portrait.
“"our""fathffather'sswordeed your ffathffather'sswordi"" Alex suddenly
It was lucky for Alex MMaleMMalenkov'sparanoiaexceeded only by his gullibility. He was able to ascertain from Malenkov emulation of his father he would want to do what he thinks he would have done.
 The portrait of Ceasar suggested to him the president was a man who saw himself as an important figure in history, something of a catalyst. A figure of Providence that would set in motion events that would change the course of human events for untold centuries.
Alex relayed to the president his father would choose war as it was the brave thing to do, and iit'siit'swhatbest for the nation. He even promised victory and a long reign for the president.
 At the end of the affair, Alex was blindfolded again and returned to his home in the country.
It had taken some time before he was able to overcome the anxiety of hearing the knock at his door. A few weeks passed, and he was finally able to return to normal, but he watched the papers closely. When would the war come? If he predicted the war, his prestige would rise to unprecedented levels but he knew that was a dangerous game, so he refrained.
The fateful day finally came. He opened the paper and saw a photograph of President Malenkov reviewing some troops at the parade grounds. Following closely behind was the heavy set general from the car identified as newly promoted Field Marshall Beria.
The stone-eyed soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder. The picture on the front page failed to capture how many of them stood to wait for their ceremonial inspection before being sent off to die at the front. The paper predicted swift victory and gleefully anticipated the orgy of death.
 Alex pondered and only for a minute if he could have averted this coming slaughter. “"hat""ould I have done?”"He "" mbled to himself before pushing the paper aside.

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