An unexpected lunch invitation. Winner of SCREAMS!!!, 2/25/20.
|A Working Lunch
Bredon looked across Red Square to the enormous off-white building facing him. In the bleak light of a winter evening, the rows of shadowy windows seemed like empty eyes searching his soul for weaknesses. Maybe it was the natural paranoia induced by being in the Soviet Union, but Bredon could not shake the feeling that every dark and huddled passer-by knew that he didn’t belong there, that his visit was for secret and nefarious purposes. He felt like an insect pinned for inspection in some weird entomologist’s collection.
Ten years had passed since Bredon’s last visit to Moscow in the late fifties but still that cold unease, so well remembered from his heyday, filled his being. He swore silently that this would be his last foray behind the iron curtain, that, desperate or not for one last job to eke out his finances in old age, never would he set foot in Russia again.
But he had come out of retirement to accept this present contract and it had to be fulfilled if he was to be paid. He studied the building opposite again. Anything less like a department store could not be imagined. Its huge slabs of frontage, featureless apart from those dark windows, spoke more of some grim police headquarters than a place of commerce and business. Yet above the main entrance to the building were the letters that defined its purpose: GUM, the leading and most desirable place to shop in all Russia.
Bredon pulled his overcoat closer about himself, adjusted his woollen hat so that his eyes peered from an overhang of black fleece, and set off across the square. In moments he became indistinguishable from the other hurrying figures on their own various and random journeys to elsewhere. The cold searched for weak points in their drab and insulated clothing, forcing them to keep moving.
The windows on the ground floor of GUM now attempted to seduce him with their displays. To a Westerner like Bredon, these were sparsely furnished indeed and, in some, there was only one exhibit. But, to the locals, they must have seemed a promise of unimaginable delights within. Bredon hurried past them on his way to the entrance.
The great arch above dark, wooden doors announced the achievement of his goal and he stepped through into another world. Ahead, an apparently endless hall, classical in design and roofed in skylights, stretched into the blue distance. It was unexpectedly grand, a sudden contrast to the dreary exterior of the building, but a mere handful of shoppers sauntered down its length and entered the alcoved departments. Clearly, GUM remained the sanctum of the elite only.
Bredon set off down the hall, uncertain of his next move but wishing to blend in with the scene. He need not have worried about strategy for two burly attendants appeared at his sides, grasping his arms and guiding him towards their goal, wherever that was. He was not consulted on the matter and neither of them spoke. It seemed pointless for Bredon to argue with his captor’s sure direction.
After some distance, they reached a crossroads of halls where the magnificence of their surroundings increased until it was topped by a lofty dome of glass windows above the meeting of the halls. Bredon’s attendants marched him towards an insignificant door in a corner. Passing through this, they began to descend a long flight of stairs lit by dim, yellowing lightbulbs. At the bottom they found themselves in a corridor, the opposite of the great halls above for it was narrow, low and its length disguised by the gloom. The attendants and their captive began the long walk into the dark.
The door they arrived at eventually bore a sign that announced “nachal'nik okhrany.” Bredon’s Russian was good enough for him to understand that he was about to meet GUM’s head of security. One of his captors knocked and was answered by a grunt from the other side of the door. He turned the handle and the door opened.
The office that now presented itself to them was small, with unadorned walls and a desk in front of a man in uniform sitting before the opposite wall. Without a word, he indicated a chair on the other side of the desk and Bredon found himself firmly seated. The attendants tied his arms and legs to the chair, obviously practised and adept through long experience at the task. Then they left and Bredon heard the door close. The uniformed man leaned on the desk in front of him and stared at Bredon for a while.
Eventually, he spoke. “So, you have come to assassinate the manager of our store.” The words, in clear and unaccented English, were so assured and certain that Bredon knew he was not guessing. Somehow his mission had been betrayed and he wondered how and when this had been done. He must be slipping in his old age because, normally, his systems ensured such tight security that he was never suspected, even after the deed had been done.
The man was speaking again and Bredon turned from his speculations to listen carefully. “You are wondering how I know this,” the man drawled. “That is not important since it is obvious that you have failed. And now it only remains for me to decide what to do with you. I need hardly point out that my options are many and so interesting that it is hard to choose between them.”
He paused a little before continuing, “And I’m hungry.”
Bredon opted for a little humour. “I could nip out for a kebab for you,” he offered.
The man smiled. “Ah, my friend, you make a joke. But you do not understand. I mean that I am really hungry.”
He stood up and his face began to change. His nose and mouth started to grow forwards until they formed a muzzle. The eyes above receded into deep pits and the brows above became overhanging eaves that left the eyes in even darker shadow. The ears grew upwards into sharp points. His hat fell off as the hair on the back of his head and neck grew into a long mane of rough, dark fur and his hands twisted and turned into paws equipped with long talons. The shoulders expanded and the legs bent and contorted until they assumed the shape of an animal’s hind legs, the pants ripped and hanging in shreds from his belt.
Now the voice had become rough with the hint of a growl behind it and, when he spoke, Bredon could see sharp fangs in the creature’s mouth. His traumatised imagination produced the word he refused to say aloud: werewolf.
Now the creature moved around the desk to stand next to Bredon. He looked down and caressed Bredon’s cheek with a talon. “The question, you see, is not what will happen but how it will be. Hungry as I am, I would prefer it to be as slow as possible. I might, for instance, begin with a little snack, like a finger, maybe.”
He reached down for Bredon’s hand and casually, as though it was no more than a chicken’s wishbone, broke off a finger. Bredon screamed but the werewolf merely sucked the flesh off the bone with relish.
“Mm, tasty,” he declared. “And what should be next, I wonder.”
Word Count: 1,228