Albus Cake sat in his brown leather-bound office chair; the plump, familiar armrests of which were beginning to deteriorate from innumerable years of use, nylon stitching splitting apart at the seams. Creamy cottony batting imprisoned within the upholstery sent wispy white feelers shooting up through the cracks, attempting to escape back out into the wild.
Mr. Cake absently flexed and flicked his fingers through the fleeing fibers, his eyes closed. Dimpled at regular intervals into the aged leather of his chair were a number of tarnished brass tacks, serving some purpose that escaped him, decoration perhaps; most had fallen out over time.
Albus could easily afford a new chair; he just happened to really like this one. It could rock back and forth, its springs squeaking and creaking at just the right frequencies when he got anxious or needed to think deeply about something. Can a new office chair do that? he mused, No, definitely not.
There he sat in welcome solitude on the highest floor of his one-thousand story tall obsidian monolith; the back of his chair pivoted towards the entryway to his chambers. He turned to face the plate-glass windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, windows that came together at a right angle, orthogonally forming the corner of his office. Albus was overseeing the operations below; his eyes remained closed.
It really didn’t matter to Albus if it was the thousandth floor or the millionth floor; to him—it was all the same. Thousandth just had a particularly commanding ring to it. If he were to tell an associate at a cocktail party that he worked in an office on the one-millionth floor of a monolith he had designed and built himself, they might accuse him of fibbing or hyperbole. But, if he said the thousandth floor, while that still seemed highly unbelievable—one could imagine it.
He rocked and he rocked, occasionally stopping to twist from side to side, then back to rocking. The squeak squeak squeak of his chair provided a rhythmic and repetitive droning to his otherwise gravely silent chamber. Albus Cake was thinking.
“Sire, your appointment…” chimed Victoria, his personal assistant, interrupting his reverie in her thick accent that was from somewhere other than here. Victoria was tall, very tall, as tall as she wanted to be. It was part of her contract. She had black skin, not dark brown skin. Pitch-black skin, skin so dark not even light could escape its gravitational pull if it made the mistake of getting too close to her. The striking darkness of her skin was incongruous with her perfectly blue eyes, no whites, no pupils, just blue, but strangely pleasant.
Albus turned slowly round in his chair to face her; each tip of his fingers pressed in tension against its opposing digit, like the cables of a suspension bridge. “Everything okay, sire…I mean, Mr. Cake?” Victoria asked in her unplaceable accent.
Long ago, Albus had abandoned his attempts to enlighten Victoria that she needn’t refer to him as sire. He could only assume that she must just enjoy saying the word at this point. Albus leaned forward resting his elbows on his desk. His desk, like his chair, was ancient.
“Yes, Victoria. Just thinking,” replied Albus. Victoria had known Mr. Cake for eons, just long enough to know when her boss was itching to pontificate on some obscure notion, but was waiting for the invitation. In some sense, it was the purpose of her existence.
“What about?” she asked.
“Just wondering if I made the right choices.”
“Right? Choices?” The words were totally foreign to her. She laughed, “You crack me up, sire…err—Mr. Cake. Did you ever think about becoming a comedian?”
Victoria laughed even harder, “See!” She composed herself, shuffling the papers needlessly on her clipboard. “Your appointment, sire?”
“Send them in.”
Albus leaned back in his chair clasping his hands together behind his head; he greatly admired the transcendent job his wife had done in decorating his office shortly after he had completed construction of the monolithic edifice. An interior decorator by trade, his wife spared no expense embellishing the quarters.
Dark granite walls formed the boundaries of the chamber; walls which grew upwards beyond visible recognition, fading away into a starry sky-field. Swirling celestial players drifted endlessly in the vaults. Flocks of cherub-like beings flitted about the upper echelons, occasionally breaking into song. They weren’t very good at singing, because they were babies. Mr. Cake appreciated their efforts anyway.
Hung from the many stone cross beams, held aloft by massive iron chains, were enormous bowl-shaped censers smelted from precious metals like rhodium, iridium, and osmium. The hanging censers slowly burned coils of roasting frankincense and other unusual compounds, wafting electrically charged tufts of blue and pink smoke that would pirouette out of their metallic bowls like cotton candy. Occasionally, the crackling billows of galvanized, bubblegum-scented haze would converge into rainclouds dawdling about the upper reaches of the office chamber, puncturing open with little showers that would lightly sprinkle on Albus, dampening whatever he happened to be working on, though usually nothing of major importance.
Cut into the dark granite wall furthest from his desk, a huge fireplace with an eternally roaring inferno cast its runs of yellow, orange, and red tongues, expertly bouncing the rays at right angles off the highly reflective surface of the office’s black marble floor. Unfortunately, to maintain its elegant sheen, the marble floor had to be polished nightly to remove the smoldering embers expelled by the never-ending blaze, that would drift through the air helplessly turning to splats of dust on impact with the cold black marble.
Albus’ desk was positioned too far away from the sputtering fireplace to garner any of its warmth-giving energy; he often found himself quite cold. His wife insisted he wear the wool sweater his mother-in-law had knitted him to combat the problem, though it never seemed to do him any good.
Mr. Cake glanced over at the ever-ticking clock hanging from one of the dark walls; his appointment was taking their sweet time. He could hear a loud voice flirting with Victoria right outside the door. Looking back towards the entryway, Albus thought, This can’t be good, as a large man, with an even larger belly, and the head of an elephant sauntered into his office, in no particular rush at all. Golgotha hadn’t paid Mr. Cake a visit—in the flesh—in centuries.
The mammoth man with the head of an elephant half-heartedly picked up the various baubles, curios, and idols from the shelves around Albus’ office. He examined the objects, poorly feigning that they held some interest to him, setting them back down in slightly different orientations and positions from which he found them, leaving the tchotchke’s dusty footprint naked and exposed.
As Golgotha turned, one of his long ivory tusks snagged on a porcelain figurine of a grieving woman holding a dying man in her arms, lopping the delicate head of the porcelain woman clean off, offering no apology. Albus cringed, but knew better than to call attention to the now decapitated figurine; he’d get Victoria to sweep up the shattered pieces later. It wasn’t that the ham-fisted man ignored the incident, Golgotha was completely unaware that he had done it, as if it never happened.
Cake rose from his leather chair situated behind his desk to greet his guest. “Don’t get up! Don’t get up!” proclaimed Golgotha. Mr. Cake halted his upward motion in a half-standing half-crouching position, leaned over his desk, and extended his arm to shake his visitor’s meaty palm. The large man enveloped the smaller man’s hand tightly with both palms and squeezed; his pointed nails slathered in bright-yellow polish dug into Cake’s wrist, though not intentionally, nor maliciously.
Golgotha’s neon-pink skin radiated in stark contrast to the dark tones of the surrounding office. Like some jellyfish discovered on a deep-sea dive, beads of electricity and multi-hued light shot about his veins. A terrifyingly complex crystal, said to possess a truly infinite number of facets, sat between the eyes of his elephant head. Steadying himself, he wedged his portly frame into a wicker chair in front of Cake’s desk that buckled some under the immense load. The two sat opposite each other. Golgotha reclined, folding his hands together on his exposed belly and extended his trunk, resting it lazily on Mr. Cake’s desk with a dull thud.
“Peanut?” offered Albus.
Golgotha roared with laughter, flapping his ears, pounding his trunk against the inlaid ebony and ash finish of the desktop, with a little too much enthusiasm. Albus’ ‘World’s Best Dad’ coffee mug trembled and bounced, splashing droplets of cold coffee across the desk’s checkered surface, becoming agitated to the point of diving off the edge towards the ground. In a bolt of lightning, a cherub-like being swooped down and rescued the mug moments before being dashed to pieces against the polished marble, setting it gently back in its rightful place.
“How the hell are you, Albus!?” trumpeted Golgotha.
“Oh, I’m sure you know, Golgotha, just sublime.”
The portly elephant slowly wrapped his trunk against the ancient desktop studying the man’s expression for any sign of sarcasm. Nuance and delicacy were not his greatest strengths. Over the eons he had come to realize he often missed a small inflection or evasive enunciation, failing to recognize when Albus was mocking him, which infuriated Golgotha beyond belief. However, he was experimenting at getting better. “You weren’t at the Ascension Festival this year,” said Golgotha with a shade of purple disappointment tinging his voice.
“Was feeling a bit under the weather for this one,” replied Albus, adding a perfunctory, “your Grace.”
Golgotha laughed again. “Oh Albus, you are a riot!” The elephant-headed man continued to yammer on about how utterly rapturous the Ascension Festival had been—a raucous, raging, and completely mandatory festival that he had commissioned in his own honor. Golgotha lauded the otherworldly, orgasmic lights, the supremely serene sounds, the floats, the pageantry, the endless celebrating. He divulged to Albus he had almost canceled the event one year, but people’s heads would have literally exploded. He went on to claim that they enjoyed the celebration even more than he did, clamored for it, demanded it. “It’s their absolute favorite,” said Golgotha, pronouncing the word favorite with learned affect.
“My apologies,” Albus genuflected. “It won’t happen again.”
Golgotha clicked his tongue. “No need to apologize, Albus, shit happens.”
“Indeed, it does,” said Cake.
The gaze of Golgotha’s deeply set elephant-eyes focused out the window directly behind Albus. The gentle flapping of his ears eased then halted, hanging limply at the sides of his massive head. Absentmindedly, he picked at a fleck of gray lint from his gaping pink belly button and flicked it onto Albus’ coffee-stained desk; he didn’t enjoy his dependence on Albus.
Golgotha knew a great many things; for instance, he knew that he was quantifiably more omnipotent than Albus, and let’s not forget more omniscient and exceedingly more omnipresent to boot. Still, there were things that Albus Cake could do that he could not; this apparent paradox irritated the elephant to no end.
Of course, Golgotha would never reveal his frustrations to the man sitting across from him at the mundane desk in the crummy, brown leather chair. Although, he suspected Albus was aware of his ire, based on the man’s less than deferential attitudes towards him, and Golgotha’s ability to know everything, which only frustrated the elephant further. A pregnant pause gestated in the air. Albus decided to induce.
“Is that it then? Have you come all this way to chastise me about my truancy?”
Golgotha returned his attention away from the window to Albus, staring the man directly in the eye. Slowly, he unfolded his fat, pink fingers from his rotund, naked belly and placed his hands flat out, fingers spread wide, onto Albus’ desk.
Every digit was adorned with a treasure trove of precious gemstones. Facets of quixotically cut lapis lazulis, rubies, emeralds, and ambers all glinted in the light radiating from the windows behind Albus. Straining to maintain their structural integrity against bloated fingers, the rings’ platinum bands ballooned to their near breaking point. A preponderance of gold chains hung heavy around the elephant’s neck, dangling with every sign, sigil, and symbol imaginable. The chains shuffled and clanged together as Golgotha leaned in, his pink belly jutting over the desk’s edge. “Unfortunately…no,” he said, his voice hushed to a low growl, “it seems we have a small problem.”
Albus leaned away. The news of a problem was alarming, perhaps even morbidly exciting. Problems rarely, if ever, occurred. Golgotha ran a tight ship; there just weren’t room for them anymore. Albus couldn’t recall an actual problem occurring in ages, which only made this news that much more problematic. Golgotha continued, “We have discovered a child in the Low Place—”
“The Low Place?” spasmed Albus, interrupting. “A child!?” Doubly alarming. Albus had been under the impression that the Low Place had been vanquished; subdued for all intents and purposes. In fact, he was almost sure of it; he had been instrumental in its subjugation. The Low Place was something that they rarely spoke of these days, choosing instead to ignore the fact that it had ever existed to begin with.
Golgotha, not used to being spoken over, cleared his throat, shifted his trunk slightly to his right and continued, “—A child that will lead to the destruction of our world. Our eternal utopia that we have labored so heroically to birth.”
Albus scoffed. He took no credit for their world’s existence; moreover, he was no longer so certain it was the paradise he was promised. Golgotha, already running late for his afternoon tee time, had grown weary of the man and ignored the slight. “Anyway…you will descend to the Low Place and kill the little punk before it becomes a big problem,” demanded the tyrant with the flippant sympathy of a mosh pit.
Albus’ mind raced. Two toy cars, one red and one green, with friction engines went round and round on a slotted piezo-electric track, sometimes flying off at the hairpin turns. Albus knew, rather intimately, what the Low Place was like and despised it. There has to be some way out of this, he thought as he wracked his brain, Why not ask one of the others, Dr. Blue? Or even that dirty rat Mr. Molehill? They were far more qualified for this type of thing.
“Because I said so.”
It was hard to argue with that. Once the stubborn bull elephant had made up his mind on a matter, there was little use trying to dissuade him. Mr. Cake stalled for more time.
“And how do you know of this? This child? The destruction of our world?”
Here it comes, thought Albus. He restrained himself from rolling his eyes; his efforts were of little use. The thought had already percolated up to Golgotha’s all-knowing awareness. “It is coming,” riposted the elephant. “My magi have foretold it,” adding with assurance, “and they are never wrong.”
Golgotha employed a vast legion of seers, soothsayers, and fortune tellers to advise him; their abilities had been critical in his rise to power and the elephant trusted them without question. It wasn’t that Albus doubted the providence of the magi’s eerily predictive algorithms. No, he had witnessed them work first hand; it was just that after the Ascension, the future was already known. It was just this—for the rest of eternity. Albus eyed the fortunes and prognostications of the magi with a great deal of skepticism, wondering if they might not invent quandaries just to keep themselves gainfully employed.
Albus continued to contemplate the elephant’s unsavory wishes. The request was absolutely ludicrous in a sense. There was no way (that he knew of) back to the Low Place. And even if there were some way back, it would most surely be a suicide mission. Besides, the murderous demand was far outside his purview; nowhere in his contract did it state that he had to be Golgotha’s axeman, his executioner. I’m not some heartless, cold-blooded killer. This wasn’t what he signed up for—callously murdering a hitherto innocent child. No way.
“I won’t do it.”
“So be it.” Golgotha extended his pink, chunky arms for emphasis, the fat jiggling and swaying, bronze bangles jangling together. The beads of electricity pulsating just beneath his skin quickened. As he turned his head away, the horrifically complex, prismatic jewel in the middle of Golgotha’s forehead grabbed hold of the singular white light-beam emanating from the window behind Albus; the crystal sprayed the beam back out in a mutilated rainbow splayed across the reflective marble floor.
The self-styled deva placed his hands on his knees and slowly rose from his seat, his lumbering frame playing catch-up. As he pivoted towards the door, he cocked his preposterous elephant head and said, “Look what I have become.” With that, he turned his back on Albus and left.
Squeak squeak squeak. Mr. Cake rocked in his chair. Shit.
Victoria popped her head back into the office. “Everything okay, sire?” The cherub-like beings began softly cooing a song that sounded something like a funeral dirge.
“No Victoria, nothing is okay.”