The Order

by Saul Jennings

I enter the restaurant and count 18 seconds for a waiter to speak to me. Eighteen is the number of vital action, of tasks needing urgent completion. The waiter indicates a table with unusual provenance. A pillar on the left, signifying an act of divine will, the kitchens to the right; fire, heat, power. Something of importance needs doing and needs doing now. Is this the moment I've been waiting for?

Another waiter, taller, closer to God then, hands me a menu. He asks what I want to drink. This is a test. I must demonstrate my purity of purpose. I ask for water. He asks if it should be sparkling. A second test. I say no, pushing my hand down in the sign of rejection of the infernal. He registers a small surprise on his face. I have passed, I think, with flying colours.

I look down then at the menu. It falls open straight to the section labelled "Mains". The power is strong and there can be no doubting now that tonight is a night of true purpose. I glance down at the arrangement on the table. Fork perfectly straight, spoon correctly at right angles. But the knife, the knife is not in arrangement. It is 15 degrees to the perpendicular pointing, naturally, left to the column. The knife is the symbol of violence. I fear now for the first time, wondering what I am being asked to do here. A third waiter appears, symbolic of spirit-made-matter and unfolds the napkin for me. The napkin represents fate, the eternal design. In its folded state it is meaningless, but in its active state it will give me a clue. He drapes the napkin over me, further demonstrating the importance of fate in the evening's works. I am amazed by the boldness of this action, its meaning so clear to anyone watching. One corner is folded over, making a little arrow. I follow it across and it points to a small, fat, bald man. He has some role to play tonight. Then in a move that shocks me the waiter moves the knife back into position. Surely...surely not.

Nervous now I study the man carefully. He is eating a steak and is reading a newspaper. I surmise he is quite alone. The waiter arrives then with my water. He spills a little as he pours, an offering. He asks me what I would like to eat. I have forgotten to look at the menu with all the shock of this evening's events. I am momentarily confused by what to do. Then I remember the spilled water, the offering made to the table and realise the significance. He will choose for me. I ask him what he would recommend. What he says next chills me. He suggests a steak.  I agree, numbly. He says it is well done and I recoil in shock. He looks confused and I feel ashamed of my weakness in the face of this great honour. I resolve to strengthen myself and take some of the water as he turns away. He must feel my humiliation as he leaves.

I wonder how the act may be accomplished. The answer arrives straight away. My knife is changed for a sharp one. I notice the menu is left as well, and I see there is a cord to bind it. I think I understand now. I secrete the menu under the table on my lap and use the sharp knife to cut the cord free. I pocket the cord and return them both to the table. The third waiter passes by and picks up the discarded menu. The fat man has finished eating and the waiter goes over to his table. Despite my resolve I tremble. The signs are clear, there is no confusion on what must be done. Only the when must be decided. The fat man says something to the waiter indicating some cigarettes and the waiter points outside. Then he glances at the menu which he holds where the cord would be and glances back towards my table, quizzically. Could he be more blatant? I am scared now I will be discovered but no-one else seems to notice or care. The fat man, who seems a little drunk, is now heading to the door where the waiter indicated. I wait until he is outside and take the cord and follow.

It is cool outside and my instinct was correct. The man, puffing on a cigarette, is indeed drunk. To warrant this punishment he must be foul indeed. I try to imagine the acts he must have carried out for such a fate, imagine not the portly man but a cursed demon of some kind. My breath is held as I raise the cord over his head, pull back on the cord and...the act is unpalatable. I cannot dwell on it. Later he stops moving and I return to my table. I have not been seen.

I wonder what happens next. The restaurant is calm and I sit down. The waiter sees me and dashes to the kitchen. It is a confirmation of the action. He returns with the steak but my hunger is abated. I try to eat but cannot.

Another waiter takes some kind of dessert over to the fat man's table, and looks around when he isn't there. Too obvious, I thought, stay subtle. He places the dessert down and leaves. I carve my steak and eat what little I can. Some I drop onto the floor to make it look as though I have eaten more. Eventually I stop, I can eat no more. The flesh is exhausted. I push my plate forward to indicate this and the waiter returns. He asks if I have had enough and I confess I have. The night's events have taken their toll but I wait patiently for the signs to leave. He suggests I look at the dessert menu and I wonder what this new twist is. I demur and he passes me the menu.

There is some noise and commotion from near the door where the fat man went and where I...committed my appointed act. There is some shouting and a mention of police. Part of me starts to panic but I know I must hold fast and play my role. People are standing now and looking in that direction. There are flashing lights and a police car arrives. Lots of people wish to pay now and leave. I am left alone with the menu. I notice that the dessert left alone on the fat man's table is called Death by Chocolate. I do not know if this is grim humour on the part of the divine and I wonder now a little. But the dessert is taken away as confirmation. This was clearly just a coincidence. Most people have left now some are thrusting money into the hands of the waiters and leaving in the middle of their meals. I cannot make sense of this.

A policeman, the lawgiver, enters the restaurant. The third waiter indicates my table and I am confused a little. Why has he done this? The policeman comes over. I tell him that I do not wish to order a dessert. He blinks rapidly and presses a button in his jacket. He sits down opposite, acting as the psychic mirror and asks me if I know about the man outside. He says the waiter saw that I went out with him. He says that he is dead now. I nod. I have achieved my goal then and this angel of law is informing me. I tell him that I have done my righteous duty and when he asks how, I produce the cord, still in my pocket. More officers arrive then and ask me to go with them. I mention that I have not paid for the meal and one says that I will. I do not understand this as it sounds threatening. I am nervous again. I go with the police angels to the car and sit in the back as requested. To travel with angels is an acceptable exit for one honoured such as I but I am still apprehensive. Their manner is not suggestive of divine presence. One of the policemen tells me that everything will be alright and that they are taking me to an appropriate place. At that I relax. As always everything has been planned out. As we drive away I am filled with awe at the wonder of the plan we mortals follow.

BIO: My name is mostly Saul Jennings. I live in Greece and earn money throughout Europe working "with computers." I write Weird/Absurd Fiction for fun and profit. So far I have encountered plenty of the former and little of the latter. I have previously been published in Linguistic Erosion.