The esteemed charlatan.

Tension lashed across the courtyard, whipping and cracking against the walls. Nervous onlookers peered through the trembling glass at the mass of protestors below. In turn, the jostling crowd spat frenzied ire at the building, slurring vague demands into their disgusted tirade.

Gazing at the assembly from afar, one man beamed outwardly. Alfie Darkson. He watched the scene unfolding on a large, central TV screen, conveniently reported by his favourite news station. It was certainly fortunate they alone had received inside information regarding this event before it materialised, prompting a visit before anyone else noticed. They received exclusivity and priority, he received early footage with a generous narrative. Together, the first stages of the plan had been conjured to perfection. He knew they would reclaim this world.

               “How many d’ya reckon we got?”

Darkson pondered the question without turning to his magnificent lieutenant.

               “Enough.”

               “But, you said, maybe a hundred. That’s gotta be, like a thousand. Easy. We probably got more.”

               “I’m glad the warriors have revealed themselves. This day shall echo momentous through the annuls of history. Be proud, for you have served well. We have achieved something good.”

A series of nervous chuckles rippled through the room. They were stood in a tight formation, stretching wall-to-wall. Darkson, positioned in the direct middle, was flanked on both sides by lines. He delighted in this feat of hierarchical dominance. Each man knew his place, yet some always fought, clawing at the intimate ranks. Too long on the outskirts and the cold could be lethal. This system fostered solidarity, conformity, compliance. Most importantly, it fostered hunger, desperation, and greedy, sycophantic reverence for him. He was the centre of the universe.

               “Oh yeah, we certainly have, sir.” There was a distinct lightness in tone. An informality. A lack of respect for the sacred tapestry unfurling before them. A dissenter.

Now Darkson turned. The traitor was identified as the figure penultimate from the wall on his left, a wry smile strewn carelessly across his face. The man glanced sideways as the temperature grew icy. Facing the full weight of Darkson’s thunderous glower, the man shrunk into himself and tried to politely excuse himself from existence. Without objection, he was manhandled to the extreme outside, gripped by a fatal chill as the next man lapped up the remains of his fleeting warmth.

A sudden crash stunned the spectators, emanating from the TV. Something was brewing. The faintest whisps of a smile tickled Darkson’s face.

Packed into an uncomfortable huddle by the constraints of physical space, the protestors had grown further agitated, bored, and brave. Now the restless mob burst their courtyard restraints, shattering windows on the ground floor, and penetrating the building’s flimsy security.

Darkson knew it was deserved. For too long, their elitist status had precluded them from substantial opposition. Looming above a population in fear, they were left unaccountable, polluting the world with disinformation designed only to perpetuate their own cause. An enlightened few would hold them to their word and expose, for all to see, their fraudulence and corruption. Once, he had been frustrated. Each day brought fresh anguish, as he watched his people suffer oppression and heartache. It had been assumed there was simply no measure to rid politics of its inherent flaws. No longer. For this building, the days of squatting innocuously in this courtyard had been banished. The inhabitants, once shielded from true speculation, were vulnerable.

The ruptured shards of glass had scattered a red mist over the crowd and their anger boiled over. Like one contorted organism, they seethed together, writhing against the building’s exterior and pouring in through the windows.

The tingling had started in Darkson’s stomach as a faint lightness. That had been as he woke up. Watching his vision realised, jolts of electricity had hummed against his chest, dancing up his spine and exploding with a cacophony of endorphins in his brain. At the first indications of violence, something more visceral had been awakened. Like a delicious elation he could scarcely bear yet could never imagine fading for even a second, orgasmic pleasure pulsated throughout his body. It was more than he could have dreamt of.

               “What d’ya reckon they’re doing in there?”

His lieutenant’s question stumbled into a silent room. Darkson made no reply, for nothing he could envisage would compete with reality. The cameras followed the protestors inside. They peered into the mind of the enemy.

The walls were adorned as expected, coated by posters displaying their sickly literature. They overlayed a painted mural depicting a soft meadow. Intricately detailed, luscious grass reached approximately chest height, before melting into a clear blue sky. Abstract sketches of indistinct animals roamed the field, accompanied by vibrant trees gleaming under a warm sun. As the camera panned, emboldened words leapt from the posters, uttering ridiculous phrases, like, ‘Global Warming is Real’, or ‘Working Together, we can make a Difference’, or ‘Reduce your impact Today, for a Better World Tomorrow’.

Though Darkson pitied the easily-fooled, he scorned their susceptibility to such plainly false advertising. The protest was a brutal, but unfortunately essential measure. The newly-invaded charity had to be destroyed for the hatred it sowed, threatening his quality of life.

Still, he sensed the necessity of reassuring his personal disciples. The combination of the earlier outburst, coupled with the unexpected violence, had manifested unease. Left unchecked, it would fester into cowardice and spread like rot. His philosophy was clear. Apathy inflicted a torturously slow death upon an unknowing victim, whilst fear administered near-instant neutering. At times, fear was natural, even understandable. But their resolves had to remain unblighted.

It was, however, at the precise moment he opened his mouth that something interesting happened. The pure green meadow was tainted by flecks of red.

               “Oh no.”

Murmurs wafted from the ground like a sticky dust. It was impossible to know who had spoken. To his abject horror, the camera pointed towards the ground, before the feed returned to a reporter outside. The transition was hasty enough to catch a make-up artist dashing out of frame, whilst the events were curtly explained in a monotone.

               “Get something else,” Darkson demanded.

               “What?” His lieutenant was squinting gormlessly.

               “Get me something else! A feed! One of those idiots inside must be filming or streaming. Find it!”

His voice broke into a shriek, at which his spell-bound minions were forced from their stupor into ant-like madness, scurrying to phones or laptops in search of precious footage. It was an agonising few seconds.

               “Sir,” one barked, by way of explanation. The man opened a video to full screen, and stood at Darkson’s heel to watch over a shoulder.

With unfiltered fascination, he marvelled at the protestors. Curiosity mingled with delight. They were a force unleashed. But they were his, bound to his commands. Marching forwards, a chant of ‘We Know The Truth’ was ringing against the narrow corridor. They did know the truth. And they wielded it valiantly. In a brief moment, they had breached the main office space.

It appeared completely ordinary. Desks were organised into clusters, allowing for adequate space in between. On an average day, each employee would be equipped with the traditional armoury of chair, computer, pens, paper, stained coffee mugs – the same despicable though seemingly unavoidable drudgery common in all places of employment. It was hardly befitting of the devil’s nest. Amusingly, he did admit, those employees were now huddled under the desks in a ceremony of futility. They would not be spared.

The main TV screen still displayed the same reporter attempting to portray disinterest at the ensuing carnage. Other news outlets were arriving, hurling their own crew into the fray in a flurry of microphones and cameras.

Darkson’s focus remained on the laptop. The protestors had singled out the charity’s leader and the lead campaigner for inequality. Her breed was not a novel antagonist. His entire life had been in defence of the values she sought to erode. It was only with grim satisfaction that he witnessed her tossed between different hands. Finally, she was firmly seized around the shoulders.

He felt the air sucked from the room. He held his breath.

She was dragged towards the closest window, flailing and hopelessly kicking against her captors. A few of her employees broke ranks, attempting to stop the protestors, but were viciously reminded of their place. The remainder continued to shelter. Their time would come. The chanting, imbued with frenetic energy, had grown in strength and volume.

Blood filled the vacuum in his ears. The silence was drowned by a throbbing soundtrack. He felt like cackling, the rush to his brain driving him hard. He savoured each, maniacal pump, forcing an impassive, straight face to keep from shameless giggling.

               “Oh no.”

The silence was spoilt. This time, the voice was clear. Lashing his body to the side, Darkson stared down the exile.

               “You have to do something, sir.”

               “What.”

               “You have to do something!”

One of the protestors unveiled a length of rope. A thick cord, ugly and callous, with a cruel loop formed at the end. The traitor’s face had drained of all colour.

               “You have to stop this right now! They’re only doing it because they listen to you.”

Darkson stood to his full height and performed a casual assessment of the men around him, probing for any weakness. This traitor was desperate. He knew all-too-well his lack of conviction had been uncovered.

               “Does anyone else object to these proceedings? Should I order that our warriors surrender on the verge of victory?”

His lieutenant inadvertently imitated a fish, soundlessly flapping his mouth open and shut before strengthening himself. He shrugged. The traitor gasped in vain search of some hopeless argument he might proffer.

The main TV screen had been transformed into utter chaos. Though muted, the reporters conveyed plenty of information through panicked gestures and wild eyes, teetering on the brink of dreaded unprofessionalism. The complete trifecta of police, ambulance, and fire services had arrived and made their presence felt, in flashing lights and self-important instructions. A gaggle of loyal protestors had remained outside to guard the building’s exterior and were availing themselves admirably. Only the laptop displayed the truth. The woman had been pinned to the ground as the rope was attached to her person, before she was ushered closer to the window.

               “Look on my works, ye might, and despair,” Darkson whispered to no one in particular. If there were ever a time to be poetic, it was now. The ashen-faced traitor made his final gambit.

               “You’re mad. You’re truly, truly mad. It’s the only explanation. Here, we all believed you were just playing a character. That you were lying to gain a following, to get attention. We all knew you were lying. Only those idiots were too stupid to not see through it. But now, you’re mad. You’re pretending to be some noble crusader. You’re just deranged. Please, you have to stop this!”

The traitor’s final pleas were lost to the howling Arctic winds. A physical, insurmountable gulf had already widened between them.

Darkson was fixated upon the screen. There was no return. The woman was flung from the window.

Darkson smiled.


Thanks for reading! If you’re eager for more, plenty of short stories are available, including the Harmless Escapism series. I also post blogs and travel tales. Feature image courtesy of Unsplash.

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