Chadpocalypse 2:16 - Back in Black
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2:16 Back in Black
Milan was a wonderous mix of new and old, with skyscrapers reaching toward the heavens and elderly brick buildings below reflecting where the city had come from. When Chad opened his eyes, he felt stunned, unable to take in the conflicting images before him.
“Glad to see you’re awake.”
Chad turned away from the window and found the woman from The Order inches from his face. She now sported a pair of thick glasses and was leaned over the passenger seat like a frog observing a fly. “Jesus, can you back up just a hair.” He swatted at her with both hands, trying to create space.
She moved, but not enough to make him feel comfortable. “We’re almost there, and you’re both going to need to blend in. I am sorry about the invasion of personal space, but it’s necessary to get your measurements.” She looked him up and down, pausing in places that made Chad feel inadequate. “Sit up straight and stop squirming, I want this to fit well.”
Chad turned to James who held up his hands. “She did the same thing to me fifteen minutes ago.”
The car’s onboard speakers clicked on and the chipper voice of the navigator returned. “We’re coming up to 133 North—”
“Shut it, you’ll give away the address,” hissed the woman. She turned to Chad and James with little hint of apology. “After what happened at the American Order, we can’t be taking any risks. When we arrive, the car will drive you around while I pop in and get your attire.”
As if on cue, the car slowed to a stop. The woman took her glasses off and stepped out. The distinct smell of city air wafted through the car door, reminding Chad of Midway. Before he had a chance to even dip a toe in nostalgia, the door slammed shut and the car was speeding off again. “Enjoy your tour of Milan, friends. Miss—“ static came over the onboard speakers, cutting the name off, “won’t be long.”
Chad sighed and pressed his face to the window again.
“Hey,” James started, but faltered, unsure of what else to say. “How are you doing?”
Chad turned away from the window with a mocking glare. “How am I doing?” He threw his hands up. “This has been the weirdest, most dangerous week, months to you, of my life. I’d say I’m pretty fucking frazzled.”
“I know, man, it’s alright, but we have to dig deep here. There’s going to be two horsemen at this event if the intel is right.”
“Dig deep? Are we in the locker room of a high school football game?”
“I’m sorry, I’m just—” James struggled to find the words. “I’m just not very good at this stuff, alright? The fact of the matter is, we get rid of War and Famine and we’re almost done.”
“Assuming Death isn’t already there.” Running felt like the safest option, and Chad wanted nothing more than to hole up somewhere safe and underground. He thought of the incident at The Order in Midway and shuddered. There was nowhere safe. Tension pulled at his temples, creating a dull, thudding pain. “I’m sorry, I know what you’re trying to do.” Tears of exhaustion welled at the corners of Chad’s eyes. “I just…” Just what? The words were on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t get them out.
“Look, this is high weirdness even on my scale.” James put a hand on Chad’s shoulder. “We’re going to do this together, and that’s the best I can offer you.”
At that moment, the car slowed to a stop and the woman hopped back in carrying two suit bags. “Your attire for the evening.” She handed the bags back. “There are tickets to the fashion event in the coat pockets.”
Chad took the bag, unsure of what to do with it.
“In case you need a refresher, here’s a copy of the dossier Madeline made for you.” She passed back an envelope. “She also told me to send her regards. It seems some were able to escape the collapse and have landed in a new chapter of The Order. Location is being kept secret for safety purposes, but she wanted me to let you know.”
“Wow, we’re really the hot stove these days, aren’t we?” James took his suit bag and put the dossier down between them.
“Tends to happen when entire chapters of a secret organization sink into the earth.” There was anger on her face briefly, but she smoothed it over. “Sorry, that was uncalled for.”
“No problem, I think we’re all feeling a bit raw.”
“Raw would be an understatement.” The woman sighed. “Take us to the museum please.”
“Right away, mam,” piped up the cheery voice from the center console.
Chad picked up the dossier and thumbed through the pages. Remember the push broom, nimrod. The cherub’s sing-song voice echoed through his head. He looked down at the images of War and Famine, trying to rid himself of it, but the image of the broom was stuck. Unless there’s a janitorial job back in--. Then, like a lightning bolt, an idea struck him. It can’t be that simple, right? He looked down at War and thought Peace, and to Famine and thought Feast. Chad pushed the thought aside and set the dossier down. He turned back to the window and watched as the town sped by in a continuous blur.
Before long, they were pulling up to a building that looked more like a monastery than a museum. Had it not been for the flashing lights and swarm of well-dressed attendees, Chad would have thought they were in the wrong place. While the men were almost all dressed in conservative suits, the women wore lavish gowns, dresses, and other items that he assumed were fashion statements. Even looking at it was overwhelming and hurt his eyes.
“Time to get dressed for the ball, Cinderella.” The woman pushed a button and the passenger doors opened. A small, black canvas roof extended over the door and black curtains fell from it, creating a changing room.
Chad scoffed. “Alright, that’s just ridiculous. How many times have you had to use that button?”
She shrugged. “The Order likes to throw a lot of parties, and sometimes there’s just not enough time between missions to get ready. I had it custom made.”
“Our tax dollars at work.” Chad slid into the changing room, dragging the suit bag along with him.
“Why would The Order be funded—”
“It’s a figure of speech!”
“It’s really not, get dressed.”
Chad grumbled to himself but obeyed. It had been years since he had worn so much as a collared shirt, and even that was only for a very brief internship that ended in ruin. He struggled with just about every piece of the attire. At one point, he stuck his hands through the changing room door, holding the cufflinks in them and said: “Help.”
Eventually, after what was nearly a battle, he emerged from the changing booth, looking sharper than he could have ever imagined. The smooth, black surface of the SUV served as an adequate mirror and he could hardly recognize himself. For a man who had been in a plane crash not twenty-four hours earlier, he was looking damned good.
“Not bad,” remarked the woman, leaning out of the passenger window. “I wish you both luck.” She extended a hand.
Chad reached out and shook it, reluctantly. “This has been a weird few hours.”
A smile spread across her lips. “Then I’ve done my job right.”
James came around the front of the car. “Don’t think we ever caught your name.”
“No, you didn’t. More safety protocols. Be well, both of you.” With a mischievous grin, she rolled up the window and the car pulled away.
Chad turned toward the growing group of people outside the museum. “What if getting rid of the horsemen is simpler than we thought?” The words spilled out of him and he wished he could take them back immediately.
“I’m listening.” James turned to Chad with a slight look of concern.
“I was able to kill Pestilence with a push broom, right?”
“From my perspective, yes. From yours it was a holy sword if I’m remembering correctly.”
“Yes, but LSD aside, what if the power of the weapon was the oppositeness?” The oppositeness? You fucking idiot.
James’s eyebrows raised. “I know that Heaven and Hell do love a good dose of cheesiness. I guess it wouldn’t be all that surprising.” He mulled the idea over. “It’s worth a shot.”
“So, what’s the equivalent of War’s push broom?” Chad thought he had an answer but wanted to hear it from someone else to stop him from feeling insane.
“Peace?” asked James.
“Right, well, let’s go make some peace then…”