Tuesday, April 21, 2015

WP - 007 - Four Aces

Every day, I go to "new" page of reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts (I apologize in advance if you were previously unaware of Reddit) where I select the latest prompt - whatever it is - and write it out.  I've decided to post those here.  Hope you enjoy it.  Today's Story is:

[WP] The Four Horsemen have arrived on Earth. Mankind tries to bribe its way out of the Apocalypse.

This one kind of got away from me before I could get to the deal making. Ah well:

Four Aces was a hole in the world - the Armpit of the desert Craig called it; but Jonas had been coming to this dingy, stupid diner for nearly sixty years now. He wasn't about to stop because the tourists thought it was a dive.
Craig wasn't actually a tourist. For the last four years, Craig and the bad coffee were the only stable elements of Jonas's morning routine. He and Jonas had been friends and enemies for nearly 20 - ever since Craig moved down the road a bit and started coming to pester Jonas (and whoever was doing the cooking) with his hippy-liberal bullshit. Charlie - who used to own Four Aces - died pretty suddenly, and his wife Marlene had let her boys run it right into the ground.
Not that it had that far down to go. Four Aces was a lonely place, out on the desert highway. A gas station and convenience store with a small, greasy diner on one side and a dinky, six-room motel on the other. Jonas stayed in the hotel for a couple weeks after Harriet died. It smelled like the 1970's.
Since the youngest boy, Nathan took over, the place had settled down; but when his older brothers were in charge, turnover at Four Aces was terrible. There was one spot, back in 2012 when there was a new waitress behind the counter every morning for a week.
Through it all, though, there was Craig. The two men were arguing now about Obama-bin-laden - so called President of these United States of America. Craig, as usual, was spouting some horse crap about fact-checking and racism; but Jonas wasn't having any of it. The man was a Muslim - a foreigner - and a damn communist to boot! The two men were going back and forth, while Mercedes - the nineteen-year-old brunette behind the counter, sat on her little stool chuckling.
The argument was broken by the sound of motorcycles. Loud motorcycles.
They drove up and parked in front of the diner. Four of them. Serious looking men, too. Thick with leather, and visibly armed. Jonas muttered a prayer under his breath.
The bikers sidled up to the counter and sat down. There were just enough of the red seats that there was one between Jonas and the feller sitting closest to him. A goddamn Muslim. He was wearing a blood-red hoodie, with a black tactical harness over it. He wore a machete at his waste like he was a knight with a sword. There were pistols and a rifle strapped all over him. Jonas - wide eyed, and shaking in fear - counted three grenades.
Bald-headed, with a thick, wiry black beard, the Muslim made a kissing face and turned to his comrades. They spoke some language, Jonas didn't understand. Craig either, once he was asked.
Beside the bald Muslim, there was a man in a bird mask. Big goggles, red leather and brass. He looked like one of those bird man doctors from the dark ages. Jonas could see there was a faint mist slowly emanating from the vents on either side of his mask. The black eye plates in his goggles hid any expression. His muffled voice spoke the same middle east language as the other.
The third man wore a dirt-black suit underneath his black leather duster. He looked slick, with dark hair, and a neatly trimmed Van Dyke Beard. He was pale though, sickly. And his eyes almost seemed to glow red, they were so shot-through with blood. At the end of the bar though...
Jonas had a grandchild, Toby. He liked this really stupid movie about a skellington biker with his head on fire. Jonas never understood it. The actor from the Rock was in it (the one with Sean Connery); but it wasn't anything like a Sean Connery movie.
This biker looked like that, though. His skin was so thin and tight, he looked like a skellington. His hair was thin and fading; but bright orange red, so that when it caught the sunlight, it looked almost like fire. His eyes were sunken in too far, and his grin looked downright evil.
Jonas said another prayer. The whole time he'd been watching the men, Mercedes was taking their order, they spoke in that weird Arab-Talk, but she just went right on writing it down. Mitch came out of the back and took the ticket, he made a face.
"What is this?" he said, angrily.
"Just fucking make it," Mercedes said. When Mitch looked back at the ticket again - I swear I could see it in his face. He had no idea what she'd written down, and then understanding dawned on him and he just turned around and started cooking.
The bikers were talking and joking. Craig tapped Jonas on his arm.
"Hey," he whispered. "You all right, old timer?" Jonas turned to his friend, took another look at the bikers, then turned back.
"I don't know," Jonas said, gravely. "Something doesn't feel right."
"Well," Craig said quietly, "don't go antagonizing the crazy biker gang by staring at them."
Mercedes came over to where the men huddled together - Jonas snatching quick glances at the hard men over his shoulder.
"What language was that, you were speaking, Mercedes?"
She chuckled, "what are you talking about, Joe?"
She was sweating, though. And the Mitch by the grill was shaking as he cooked steak and eggs, hash-browns and bacon.
Jonas looked at the bikers again, and the Muslim caught his eye.
"You have a problem, child?" The Muslim spoke English with Western Nevada accent. His head cocked to the side.
"I-I ain't no child." Jonas replied.
The four men stood up at once. Before he even realized what was happening, the Muslim was sitting in the seat beside him, and the other three were hovering over him, like the evil bikers in an old 1960's road trip movie.
"Are you a man," the Muslim said.
"What are-" Jonas began and couldn't finish. "I don't even... of course I'm a man."
"What makes you a man?" The other bikers were staring at him intently.
"What do you want to hear? Please. I don't want no trouble."
"I am afraid to tell you that we are trouble," the Muslim said. "Trouble and pain and the harbingers of the end." He studied Jonas's face. "But you say you are a man. And I don't really understand what it is that you mean by that."
The bone-faced man with the fiery hair leaned in on Jonas's other side and spoke in his ear, "what is a man?"
"Hey," Craig tried to muster up his courage. "W-Why don't you guys go sit back down. Leave the old timer alone."
Bird-man stepped away from Jonas and stood in front of Craig instead. He didn't speak, but he stared at the younger man through those black, round eye holes. His head moving around like a bird's as he looked the man over.
"I am not bothering you, am I, human?" The Muslim said, then. He placed a hand on Jonas's shoulder. "I am not come to scare you. I - we," he indicated his posse, "we have tasks to perform. We have always known we would perform these tasks. We have always known the hour would come; but this is the first time we have been this close to humanity."
Bird-man reached up and brushed the stubble on Craig's cheek. Craig squirmed away, but Bird-man grabbed his chin and held it fast, leaning in close to inspect the man's skin, his mouth, his nose.
"L-Leave us alone," Craig protested.
"No." Skull-Face said.
"Answer his question," the slick businessman behind Jonas said. By now, both Mitch and Mercedes were backed into a corner on the other side of the grill. He pointed at them. "Our food is going to burn. You will do your job, or suffer the consequences."
He looked back at Jonas again. His red eyes following every twitch and tick on his face.
"I-I don't know how to answer," Jonas said. "I don't really know what you want to know."
"What is your name," the Muslim said.
"Jonas," he seemed to mull it over, to consider it. "Jonas," he said again, "Ee-Oh-nass. The dove. A sign to the people. Are you a destroyer, Jonas, an oppressor of men? Or are you a gift from ████."
The tears ran down the old man's face. It was the Name of God. Craig also was crying. Mitch and Mercedes turned to stare at the man who had uttered the WORD. The Muslim smiled.
"Are you a man, IONAS?" Everything that Jonas was, or would be in the coming days was tied up in that question. Like the name of God, the Muslim spoke Jonas's true name - more than a word. More than a label. It spoke of failures, successes, loves lost and regained. Dreams and plans now long forgotten, abandoned in the face of time.
Jonas wept openly now. "You say that, and you ask me to explain it to you? You know all that I am." He collapsed forward, and the biker allowed him to cry into his chest, like a mother holding her child. "Yes, I am a man. I am a male child of God. I have faith. I -" Vaguely, he was aware of another motorcycle approaching.
"Calm yourself, man." The Muslim patted Jonas on his shoulder. "I think I understand more of you now." He pushed Jonas away, so that he sat upright again, "dry your tears."
"What of you," Bird-man's words were muffled through his heavy mask. "Are you also a man, CRAEG?"
"Yes," Craig fought back his tears. There was shame in his true name, just as there had been shame in the name of his friend, but it was easier to bear after hearing it in the other. "I am."
The four men laughed and returned to their seats. Mercedes and Mitch scrambled to get their plates in front of them.
The door opened. The man who walked in was short, another Arab, with a friendly face. He wore loose clothes, and a one-handed sword strapped to his waist.
"Hello," he said. His English was also Western Nevadan, but Jonas now realized he wasn't speaking English at all. He walked over to the two men, and placed a hand on their shoulder. "IONAS, CRAEG. I've been wanting to meet you two for a long time. He looked passed them, behind the counter. MRY, who calls herself Mercy, and MIKHA'EL... MIKHA'EL, you and I are going to have to have a chat before we leave this diner."
"Ar-Are you," Jonas started.
"I am," He said. "MRY, I would very much like to have something to eat while I discuss things with MIKHA'EL. Would you please tend to the grill for me?"

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