By Kris Green
Illustration by Mark Scicluna
The robed and hooded figures didn’t look out of place in the bar. It was a small place, cozy. The kind of place with nicknacks crowding the spaces between the ranks of bottles, where the memorabilia on the walls didn’t speak so much of theme, as it did of the people that drank there.
There were twelve tables, marble-topped with unmovable wooden bases, in two rows of six to either side of the door, there was a narrow corridor alongside the bar with doors leading to the toilets and the small store room, and if you kept going, there were three steps leading down into the small back room where the thirteenth table was.
In an alcove of its own.
And nobody drank there.
Except on Halloween.
At Halloween they’d come in. Thirteen figures robed in black, like moving patches of shadow. No one remarked upon them when they filed in, one after the other, into the back room and took up positions around the table.
“Let us call this meeting to order,” said one, when they were all present and seated.
“Yes,” the rest of them replied in voices that ranged in pitch and tone. They were men’s and women’s voices both, but outwardly they were identically dressed. Thirteen figures, draped in black cloth, no skin visible.
“Call out your numbers,” said their leader, in voice that managed to be both hushed and self-important at the same time.
“I am number one,” he said.
“I am number two,” said number two.
“I am number three,” said number three.
“I am number four,” said number four.
And so on, until the last to speak called out his number, number thirteen. Then they waited for a moment, as was customary, in complete silence while casting glances towards the corridor. Then number thirteen got up and went to the bar.
It was Halloween, there was a party, it was busy.
“What can I get you?” said the barman, a dour squarish man with glinting eyes and large forearms.
“Table service?” said the cowled man.
The barman pointed wordlessly to a sign hanging alongside the optics.
The sign said;
NO TABLE SERVICE
“Oh,” said number thirteen, and filed back into the alcove. “No table service,” he said when he got there. The group let loose a collective sigh.
“Does anyone have a piece of paper?” said number thirteen. “I’ll write down our orders.”
It turned out that no one did, so thirteen tromped back to the barman to beg for paper and a pen, then with some more tooing and froing, and some business with trays, everyone had a glass of something in front of them.
“Is this vodka and orange? I asked for Campari,” said four.
“Oh, that’s mine. Campari? Is that what this red stuff is? Tastes like grapefruit.”
“Settle down,” said number one, in a manner suggestive of no arguments brooked.
“Now. I call the annual meeting of the End of the World Club to order. Raise your glasses, ladies and gentlemen.”
The group raised their glasses as one.
“To the End of the World,” said number one.
“To the End of the World.”
“Last year we spoke of many things,” said number one, placing his now empty glass back on the tray with a loud clack. “We spoke of many things both dark and dire. We planned long into the night, a devious plot hatched by candlelight, and yet none of our plans came to fruition that night. We mean nothing less than the destruction of the world, a plan to be agreed and acted on before the last stroke of midnight when our powers wane once more. We aim to sow the seeds of destruction, and reap the harvest of ruin, and we will not stray from our course, and we will not be deterred!” His voice rose to a rumbling crescendo so that he was almost shouting when he reached the last five words.
In the bar, the strains of Bobby Picket and the Crypt Kickers singing their Monster Mash went up by one notch.
The other figures echoed number one’s sentiment with cries of ‘aye!’ and ‘never!’ as they drained their glasses and slammed them one by one on the table.
Number thirteen got to his feet for another visit to the bar.
“Can I have Campari instead of a vodka this time?” said number three.
Thirteen nodded and collected the glasses and braved the corridor with the tray. He waited while the barman served some other customers.
“What?” said the barman, wincing over the volume of the music. Without turning around, he reached out with one hand and turned it down a notch.
“Another round,” said thirteen.
“Same again?” said the barman.
“One less vodka,” said thirteen. “And an extra Campari this time. Actually, you’d better make them doubles.”
“Righto,” said the barman.
The others were in full flow when thirteen got back with the drinks. He slid the tray onto the table and began handing out the drinks.
“A Many Angled One,” said number eleven. “A chant when the moon rises, and the baying spawn of Niverlarg will haunt the dreams of men once more.”
“What’s one of them?” said thirteen. Two motioned him to be silent.
“It’s the best idea we’ve had since the Possibility Mine failed to work.”
“Did it though?” said four.
“Admittedly that is the one glaring problem with Possibility Mines in general,” said one. “Are we unanimous? No separate plans this year, we shall put all of our eggs into eleven’s glorious basket? A basket of chaos and despair!”
The cowled heads nodded in unison, all save thirteen, who eyed his glass forlornly.
Thirteen looked up sharply. The other twelve had their hands poised by their glasses. They were all looking at him, or near as he could tell beneath the cowls, anyway.
“I said,” said one, softly and slowly, “A toast, to the end of the world.”
“Oh yeah,” said thirteen, raising his glass. “To the end of the world.”
“To the end of the world!”
“Same again?” said the barman.
“Yeah,” said thirteen.
“Doubles still is it?”
“Yeah, and eight packets of prawn cocktail crisps if you’ve got them, and three packets of nuts.”
“What were we talkin’ about again?” said one. It was quite some time later, and thirteen had made many more trips to the bar, and at least one to the toilets. He hoped no one noticed the damp corner of his robe. The toilets were very dark.
“‘S a fuckin’, a fuckin’ Many Anglered One, innit,” said eleven. “S’a fuckin’ thing, more angles than sense. Yeah? Sorta represents atomic chaos, or something. Left over scrap of thingy from afore the big bang, innit. Forces itself onna, onna, onna plane of. Of,” he burped, and poked a finger under his cowl, presumably to remove a piece of crisp gunk from between his teeth and then eat it.
“What was I sayin’?” he said.
“But what’s it doooo?” said three.
“Too many urp, angles, for human minds to comprehend, yeah. Sorta squiggles around behind the eyes, the brain just slides off it, then gibber gibber, everyone goes mad, chaos, death, etcetera.” “Boom,” he added, for good measure.
“Ijustdon’tgetit,” said one. “S’not dramatic. Where’s the fire, the brimstone?”
“Oh there’ll be fucking fire and fucking brimstone my old son,” said eleven, stabbing a finger into one’s chest. There’ll be so much fucking brimstone.”
“All I said was,” said someone who might have been five, because frankly, even he’d lost track by now. “All I said was, how long have we been coming here? I mean, I mean, you’d think he’d give us table service by now.”
“I thought the sign said notable service,” said four. “But it’s not notable. It’s quite ordinary.”
“Thirteen’s a fucking saint the way he keeps coming and going like that. Three, hic,”
“What?” said three.
“Nonono, three cheers for thirteen. Hiphip. Urk.”
When Possibly-five said ‘Urk’, what he meant was “OhgodIthinkI’mgoingtobesick.”
He doubled over clutching his hands to his hood, and rushed into the corridor.
“Still reckon we should hold out for the Possibility Mine,” said seven, half to himself.
“What time is it anyway?” said one. “I said, what time is it?”
“You’d best get your last round in,” said the barman. “I just called last orders.”
“It’s all right,” said thirteen. “We were just leaving anyway.”
Every year the thirteen robed and hooded figures left just after the midnight, though not quite as neatly, and lacking the sense of purpose and destiny they’d had when they had arrived. They made their separate ways home, where servants or minions or familiars put them to bed. They would wake up the next morning with the vaguest sense of an opportunity missed, a terrible terrible headache, and the urge to eat fried food.
And every year, thirteen stayed to the very end, to pay their tab, to finish off his last glass of water, to go to the toilet one last time before running to catching his bus.
Kris Green was born, got a bit older and continued living. He hasn’t died yet. Sometimes he writes stories. He has written three novels you will never read. One day he hopes to get a bit older, and then die.
Inspired by local culture, music and other art forms, Mark Scicluna works mainly in illustration and concept art, varying his distinctive style from sketchy character designs to highly detailed graphics both in traditional and digital media. Responsible for several book illustrations, Mark won two Illustrator of the Year Awards at the Malta National Book Awards. Mark works as a lecturer at MCAST Institute of Art & Design in Malta and is also responsible for designing weekly cartoons for MaltaToday. His current projects involve drawing ‘A Space Boy Dream‘.