The Soothsayer's War
Like the monsters that inhabited the imaginations children, you were most vulnerable to them while you were laying bed. That is when they came. Many went insane from sleepless nights spent listening for the heavy knock at the door.
Just like the monsters in the country’s traditional 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 were paranoia made flesh. They could detect enemies anywhere, and they hunted them down with ruthless efficiency.
These human hunters operated on the deeply cynical assumption that any threat real or imagine was best wiped out. They were like attack dogs, and their masters gave them free reign.
Spengler awoke to the knock. The knuckles banging against the heavy wooden door ripped him from his sleep, panic instantly set in. His heart thumped against his chest, and the air became too thick to breath. his ears strained in the darkness hoping the knock was the residual sound of a nightmare.
There 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 walls of the room. 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.
“Whose there?” Spangler 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 small man, with puffy red cheeks and large brown eyes. The two men standing in the door were tall, and broad-shouldered figures draped in black.
“Alex Spengler?” One of them said taking a step forward. Alex subconsciously scuttled back. The sharp features of the man’s hollow face were outlined by the weak glow of the porch light.
“Yes,” Alex replied weakly
“Please come with us Mr. Spengler we would like to ask you some questions.”
Despite the polite phrasing Alex knew it was not a request. Alex Spengler was a professional soothsayer. 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.
Alex’s estate was carved 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 it darkest end. One of the agents open the back door for him and Alex got in, and the door was closed shut 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 gotten in the car. The sporadic thunder and lighting 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 whippers 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.
“Excuse me, but where are we?” Alex asked.
“Shouldn’t you know soothsayer?” The driver replied his grin reflecting in the rear view 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 car and quickly jumped into the back seat next to Alex
“Drive,” he ordered.
“Yes general,” replied the driver
Thier 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 build against the confines of his suit.
“Its really something out there!” he said in a baritone but somewhat nasally voice. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his forehead.
“Mr. Alex Spengler,” he said offering his hand.
“Yes,” said Alex offering up his. The man’s giant paw closed around Alex's soft pale hand and shook it heartily.
“Its a pleasure to meet you,” he said
Alex didn’t answer
“Cigarette?” The large man said holding up an opened pack
Alex nodded and took one of the slender rolled cylinders from the pack.
“Oh, pardon me.” The large 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
“You do not know who I am. Do you Mr. Spengler?” The robust general asked.
Alex shook his head “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Well, that is ok,” He said a large grin spread across his pudgy face.
“I know plenty about you. You are quite the famous man!” He gave Alex a friendly slap on the back Alex jerked forward the burning cigaret nearly falling from his lips.
“My apologies, um General?,” said Alex nervously.
“General, yes fine call me general!” He interrupted.
“What else could I call you?” Alex asked.
“Well, aren’t you supposed to be the psychic?” The general snorted.
Alex ignored the remark.
“I have no idea why I am here. If there are any charges being brought against me I would like to know what they are.” Alex said as assertively as possible.
“No, no nothing like that. His deep voice took on a soothing tone.
“Then what do you want with me?” asked Alex cracking open his window to toss the smoldering cigarette butt into the rain.
“Alex my boy, you are about to give the reading of a lifetime.” The general said. He took a sip from a large glass of brandy that hadn't been there a moment ago.
“For you?” Alex asked.
The general laughed jovially. “No, no not for me! That’s funny Alex!” He took out his handkerchief again and patted away the beads of sweat that had formed on his brow.
“No I know what you do is bullshit, but President Malenkov he’s a true believer. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the man to tell him something he takes so seriously is just a bunch of smoke mirrors.”
“President Malenkov wants me to do a reading for him?” Alex said in disbelief.
“Yes, he 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 general exclaimed.
“What kind of matter?” asked Alex
“War.” The general said casually
“War?” Alex repeated.
“Yes, a 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. “and my dear Spengler I am having my own premonition that those forces are going to say yes.” he said grimly
“You want me to advise the president to go to war”? Alex confirmed.
“Alex my boy all I’m telling you is 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.”
Alex’s stomach churned, and his flesh turned cold. The car came to a stop.
“Don’t worry Alex. You’re in good hands.” The general said.
“Put the blindfold on him.” he ordered the two men up front as he got out of the car.
When the cloth wrapped around Alex’s eyes was lifted, 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 Malenkov's father the revered 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 didn’t dare stand 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.
“Your excellency.” Said Alex taking a bow.
“Mr. Spengler.” President Malenkov said warmly extending his hand.
Alex shook the president's hand, and 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 sorry for all the secrecy, but you just can’t be too careful.” The president said apologetically.
“Quite alright your excellency.” replied Alex.
“Did the rain hold up your car? it took you a bit longer than expected.”
Alex hesitated the president didn’t seem to know 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.
“had to drive slow in the rain your excellence.” Said Alex
Malenkov seemed satisfied with his answer
“Well, I suppose you already know why I brought you here.” Said Malenkov.
Alex nodded “Yes your excellency. Before we begin might, I get a more comfortable chair?”
Malenkov 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.
“You brought me here because you need guidance,” said Alex
“Yes yes, that’s right,” Malenkov said excitedly.
“You are going to make a decision the implications of which will affect thousands if not millions of lives,” said Alex
Malenovk was on the edge of his seat. “That’s right,” he said almost in a whisper.
“I see a battle,” said Alex as he shut his eyes and breathed deep. “I see a leader taking to the field field to the deliver victory to his people.”
“You do?” said Malenkov
Alex nodded. “It is 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.” Alex explained “but which one?”
Being a spiritual medium is quite a lot like being a detective. The illusion depended heavily on one’s ability to observe 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 Malenkov's sword it appeared to be the same sword his father was wearing in the portrait.
“Your father’s sword we need your father’s sword.” Said Alex suddenly
It was lucky for Alex Malenkov's paranoia was exceeded 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 it's what was best 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. “What could I have done?” He mumbled to himself before pushing the paper aside.