The iron taste of old blood muddied the air, mingling with the almost-homely smell of honey-soaked tobacco and the sharp-acid bite of cleanliness, of bleach, of hospital sanitation standards. Charnel houses. You get used to the smell. The heavy metal door framed a golden window behind me as I walked deeper into the vast, surgical-white expanse, ignoring thick, yellowing plastic curtains, ignoring the hanging corpses, ignoring the heavy resemblance. Hacked at, slashed at; red-purple-black wounds marked the torsos as they still trembled, hung on cruel iron hooks.
Stay calm, stay focused.
They’re trying to intimidate you.
The door hissed closed on its pneumatic railing, my golden window sliding shut, leaving only the gas-lamps above the brilliant white floors. Vicious and saw-toothed, the tools of their trade hung on the walls, the stone-edges sharpened into a savage bite. They remove the limbs for curing, the internal organs sold as sweet-meats and dog food. I pictured the smoking house by the river, the billowing storm clouds pouring up, into the sky. Tradition is important to their people. The meat is dispatched of painlessly; the blood-letting doesn’t begin until after death. I pictured the bright flame-red banners of Krislan’s Traditional Meats above the cobblestones, the gilt-edged road sign. Anguin Street, the centre of the city. I saw the skulls of exotic beasts polished and set, overlooking the tumble-down walls of the city’s former gaol: the Island. The Island is surrounded by the crawling blue of the river – the prison is imprisoned by the river, and the river itself is caged by the stone-wall embankments climbing from deep below the floating refuse of the city squatted above it.
I saw the hanging meat.
“Each death is a consecration,” he explained to me, “each death a poem, carved into the fabric of the universe. Each death is a prayer, offered up to the Sky-Gods, each death a promise. Every day in this abattoir sees a thousand new masterpieces, a thousand new sunrises. We are doing this for everyone.” He loomed above me, the patterns on his horns shifting, dancing in time with his words.
It doesn’t pay to argue the finer points of religion with ogres.
It doesn’t pay to argue with ogres at all.
It was in our best interests to make a deal, at the time.
“The Island is now empty, Mr Krislan,” I replied, ignoring his theological explanation. I plunged on, seeing his horns flush with anger, “and, yes, crime levels are at an all-time low – and for that we thank you and your business associates, but we at Treasury do not feel that your organisation should qualify for a religious exemption. Tax avoidance is a serious crime, Mr Krislan…”
He struck a match, and his hands shook as he raised them to the yellowing bone bowl of the pipe, savoured his last taste of tobacco. It illuminated the unopened envelopes piled high on his desk, each and every one bearing the wax seal of the Treasury Department. “That smell reminds me of my grandfather,” I said, mainly to hide the sound of his choking, spluttering voice as I pulled the garrotte strings tighter around his throat.
“Now, this company is too big to fail – and we don’t want to damage the business, after all, that’s why the death penalty was extended to what used to be considered minor crimes. Like tax avoidance. Although we will argue that in this case tax avoidance is akin to treason. And your son,” I waved the younger Krislan out of the shadows, “has agreed to take the reins of Krislan’s Traditional Meats.”
His son looked nervous. Still afraid of the old man, now slowly dying, his face against the cold floors a mask, a leather mask of suffering.
“And he’s promised to pay his taxes.”
For this story I used one of this week’s Sunday Sketches (Sunday Sketch 38) by Terry Whidborne. As well as one of this week’s InMon prompts Masterpieces. Was wondering how I was going to squeeze that in…
And I used this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge from Terrible Minds, the four objects I used were An Unopened Envelope, A Road Sign, A Leather Mask and An Animal Skull.