Recently I started cranking out flash fiction, just for fun. This kind of thing is how writers sometimes relax; pulling together a short piece, usually around 1,400-1,500 words. Mine are all going up on Reddit, because Reddit’s a major thing for me when it comes to the internet. Also, there’s a fairly vibrant sub for Writing Prompts that is a pretty steady flow of ideas to run with. Find something that sparks my fingers to start typing, and about half an hour later, poof; finished flash fiction piece. I call them flash fiction because, to me, even a “short story” is going to be at least three or four thousand words. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, enjoy.
This one’s called He Knows His Own. The prompt was “If you die and don’t go to heaven, you can try again. One person has been trying for a long time, and this time is determined to get in.”
There’re a lot of prompts involving great evil figures in history. Most of them I skip, but this one … this one sparked an idea. Plus, I didn’t actually pick any specific “great evil historical figure”, which made it more interesting to me. We’ve all seen stories about the so-called usual evil suspects. You can imagine him to be whomever you like.
I actually rather like, quite a lot, where this one went.
I turned from the eastern windows. Beneath me today’s capital morning prayers stretched out in every direction. Hundreds of thousands of people, all on their knees, foreheads pressed to the ground, filling the assembly grounds that surrounded my palace. Even through the triple paned security glass, I could hear the chants, the ritualistic rhythmic chanting that raised my virtue toward Heavens. “Yes?”
“Sir, news just arrived from the North American front. They have secured the Colorado holdout,” my chief administrative aide said, his face carefully expressionless.
“Finally,” I hissed, clenching a fist. “Tell them I want the surviving populace on their knees as soon as possible. Praying.”
“Yes Supreme Leader.”
Flicking my hand at him briefly, I dismissed him. He was always too scared, as he should be, to think for himself; but he was a good member of my support staff. A thought occurred to me, and I smiled briefly. Waiting. Timing it for maximum effect. “Stop.”
He flinched. For a moment, just a moment, I thought he might actually be about to run. Which would be amusing; the Palace Guard were all absolutely loyal. To me. But he stopped, and turned. There was a nearly subliminal quiver in his shoulders, a sheen of sweat appearing on his face. “Yes, Supreme Leader?”
“Have the fallen pedagogues sent in. Immediately.”
“Yes Supreme Leader.”
“And join the prayer assembly outside for the remainder of the morning ceremony.”
“More voices are always welcome,” he stammered, saluting. “It will be done Supreme Leader.”
He left, nearly tripping twice as he descended the stairs out of my office, and I returned to my survey of the prayer assembly. It would take a few minutes for my order to be delivered, and the jailers to retrieve those summoned from their cells. I took a turn around my office, circling the windows to see the full breadth of the formation. Even from my raised vantage point, at the heart of my empire, the kneeling figures went past my ability to see. And kept going, I knew.
Billions of subjects, across the entire planet, all devoted to lauding me.
Finally I heard the firm unified steps of a guard detachment approaching, and moved to stand behind my deck. The office was circular, with the desk at the center; but it faced toward the stairwell that was set in the floor near the northern edge. Folding my hands behind me, I waited as the leading trio of guards appeared. Behind them came a number of men, tattered and bedraggled, beaten and worn. More guards flanked them on either side, and a second trio brought up the rear.
I waited as the guards chivvied them into position, and fell into a surrounding half circle. When they were all lined up, facing me, and the guards came to attention, I smiled thinly. “The last pocket of organized resistance has been crushed. Excepting scattered handfuls of rebels, who will soon be dead or captured, the world now kneels in submission. Lifting their hearts and minds to my benefit. Tell me, what do your Gods say now?”
Silence greeted my proclamation. I sighed, very slightly, and looked at the leader of the security detachment. He nodded immediately, unslinging his rifle. That was the signal the other guards were awaiting. Over the next few seconds, every prisoner had been beaten down to his knees with brutal efficiency. Two of the older ones fell over, and had to be hauled back up so I could look upon them.
“Speak,” I ordered. “You, Pope. What does your God say now?”
“One, one hundred, one million, one billion,” the former religious leader said with remarkable calm, “it does not matter. God knows his own, and you are not one.”
“If God does not grant my request, I will destroy His creations.”
I couldn’t help it, and raised an eyebrow at him. “Really? The entire world kneels before me.”
“They may kneel, and they might mouth the words you force them to, but it is not prayer that you hear from the assemblies.”
“When I take a family, and torture some of them before the rest … you believe they will not put their hearts into my message? When if they do not, one of their remaining loved ones might be next?”
One of the other pedagogues spoke. “God knows his own. He decides, not you.”
“God knows his own,” another said.
“God knows his own,” still another echoed the others. In moments they were all looking at me, some in fear, some in defiance, but all in unison, chanting the same thing at me. Blasphemy, heresy, disloyalty.
I clenched a fist behind me, and it was an effort to keep my face under control. After a moment, I looked at the detachment commander again. “Kill them.”
He didn’t even hesitate. Not for a single instant. Not even to inquire if I meant here, or elsewhere. Certainly not to ask if I wanted to rethink it. That worthy, will as well as body, was mine. He lifted his rifle, and barked an order. The other rifles came up, and shots ended the heretical chanting. Blood and bone and cerebral matter splashed across the carpet. I watched as the bodies fell, and sighed.
“Reissue the Supreme Proclamation, to all assemblies,” I said as the guards slung their weapons and came to attention again. They would lift me up, or I would bring the world down with me. “And kill one percent as surety. Immediately. Inform the rest additional percentages will be culled if their prayers do not continue with all confidence.”
“Yes Supreme Leader,” the detachment commander said. The guards turned, and went down the stairs. I sighed and glanced at the bodies. Heads of their churches, or widely respected senior voices for those that had no formal order leaders.
No longer in my way.
A gentle pop made me look away from the bodies, turning to see what was behind me. A dark haired man was standing there. Narrow features, neatly trimmed beard, wearing a black suit with a dusky red shirt. I blinked at him for a moment, then frowned.
“Entry to this room without instructions is death.”
“Please,” he said dismissively. “Save your bluster for those it might impress.”
“Guards,” I said, raising my voice. Booted footsteps came rushing up the stairs as the permanent detail at the base of the stairs responded to my order. I studied the interloper, who didn’t move. In fact, he just smiled at me. And not pleasantly.
It reminded me of my smile.
“Supreme Leader,” one of the Palace Guard said behind me.
“Kill him,” I said without turning.
I heard the guns being readied as the guards spread out to either side of the room, taking up firing angles. Still the stranger did not move. Not even when bullets began hitting him. I saw the gunfire’s effects, but as rapidly as holes appeared in the immaculate black suit, they sealed themselves up.
And there was no blood.
“Finished?” he asked idly as the guards’ magazines ran dry. Before I could answer, or any of them could reload, the stranger raised one hand and snapped his fingers. I flinched as columns of fire erupted around me. Every guard was consumed in a wash of heat that made me blink, then they were gone. Not even ash. Just gone.
“Who are you?” I asked, feeling true fear for the first time in a long, long, long time.
“They weren’t wrong, you know,” he said, starting to walk forward. Very slowly. Calmly. Like he was enjoying the moment. “God does know his own.”
He stopped before me, and smiled. Extending a hand to me, the same hand that had just incinerated some of my most loyal guards. Unable to think of anything else, I lifted mine and took his. His grip was firm, dry, and hot. So hot it burned my skin, but there was no sizzle of melting, scorching flesh. No smell of cooking tissue, no rendering of the fat beneath my flesh.
Only searing, intense pain.
When I gasped and tried to pull free, his fingers stayed closed around mine. I couldn’t remove my hand from his. Not even when I pulled with both, using my free hand to tug on my wrist. When I raised it threateningly, closing it into a fist, he raised his own free hand and ticked his forefinger back and forth at me. Like I was being naughty.
And his eyes glowed red.
His voice now echoed with bass notes so infinitely low every syllable hurt. “So do I,” he said.