by Rahul Shirke
The Attacker-in-Chief tapped his foot on the metal floor of the gallery-lift. His tapping could barely be heard against the shouting and crying of the attackers, who, perched atop wooden platforms, stabbed an unconscious giant with nine-foot spears. Like them, he seemed unaffected by the overpowering scent of blood.
I followed the Attacker-in-Chief’s frown to a young and hunched server, who approached us with a tray bearing tea, waffles and biscuits. The way the boy’s face was furrowed, I expected a rebuke from the Attacker-in-Chief. Instead, all he got a hand gesture telling him to be off.
The gallery-lift shuddered, and teacups clattered in their saucers. A rattling engine puffed steam up in the air. We had begun our descent into the Giant’s Sarcophagus, where the besieged giant stood silent and unmoving.
Before arriving at the Sarcophagus, I had imagined myself shielding my notebook from the spilling blood. I would have stood just off the edge of one of the attackers’ platforms, telling myself not to look down. The workers would have laughed at me as I tried to hold their spears, as I nearly fell off the platform in a poor attempt at stabbing the Giant.
Instead, I was eating a honey butter waffle between sips of chamomile tea.
“Do try this one, it’s a blueberry cream cheese waffle,” the Attacker-in-Chief said. He placed the mentioned waffle into my plate. “It’s one of my favourites. The blueberries used are imported—I specifically asked the chef to use the more expensive, imported ones. The local ones are just tasteless, don’t you think?”
Meanwhile, one of the attackers climbed up a ladder and onto his designated platform. He grabbed hold of one of the thick chains that held the platform in place. Then, dangling off of the platform with only his left hand for support, he repeated stabbed one of the Giant’s closed eyelids.
“How long before the giant is actually dead?” I asked. The Attacker-in-Chief’s face told me that he had not given the question much thought.
“Well,” he said, “We have already drained enough blood to fill an ocean, and we haven’t even made it past the first layer of skin.” He examined a biscuit in the light of the candelabra.
“But he will die at some point, won’t he?” I asked.
The Attacker-in-Chief took a moment to finish his biscuit. “Perhaps, but it’s all very sustainable, for now.”
The gallery-lift stopped at a floor overlooking the giant’s belly. Two attackers got on. They wouldn’t stop staring at the white-clothed table and its arrangement of desserts. A pair of servers forced through them, bringing in trays full of crepes, cupcakes and colourful macarons. As the desserts were served, the Attacker-in-Chief followed them with his eyes. So did the two attackers sharing our lift. A few seconds after the servers left, the gallery-lift resumed its descent.
“Have you ever had these before?” the Attacker-in-Chief asked me, “Macarons, they’re called. Foreign delicacy, very beautiful to look at. Tasty, too.”
I chose a pink one, then a green one, and then another green one. I’d heard of macarons before, but never tasted one. The Attacker-in-Chief was right, they had a sweet, delicate flavour.
Back at the giant, one of the attackers struggled to balance himself on his platform. He tried stabbing the giant with a twisting motion, but the spear slipped from his hand and hurtled down.
I turned to the Attacker-in-Chief. “What happens if an attacker loses his spear?” I asked.
“He has to go retrieve it himself,” said the Attacker-in-Chief. “Furthermore, he is demoted to the bottom level. If the boy is lucky, he’ll earn his way back to an upper level.”
“And if he’s not lucky?”
“Then… you’ll see.”
The Attacker-in-Chief sank his fork into a red velvet crepe. It was drizzled with toffee sauce, and inside, it had a strawberry filling.
“It looks like a dangerous job—” I began asking, but the Attacker-in-Chief held up his hand at me.
“What job isn’t?” he asked, and then continued without waiting for an answer. “Let me tell you that when my father was the Attacker-in-Chief, eleven men died every single day in the sarcophagus. Eleven!”
“And how many men die now?” I asked, preparing to make a note of it.
“Eight.” The Attacker-in-Chief raised his chin.
The gallery-lift stopped at a floor overlooking the giant’s naked groin. The attackers on our lift stepped off, and two men carrying battered metal buckets stepped on. The water inside the buckets had a viscous film on the surface.
This floor was home to the mess hall, where attackers could be seen seated along tables, eating scant portions of bread and meat.
Underneath the tables, curving grooves snaked across the floor. Each floor had grooves like these—they collected the giant’s blood and sent it gurgling down grates and pipes. From there, it went to the vats for processing.
I turned to the Attacker-in-Chief for another question. “Have you nominated a successor yet?”
“No, not yet, it is too early for that,” he laughed. “But I do think my son would make a fine Attacker-in-Chief. A job like this requires experience, you understand—and he is learning from his father, just like I did before him. Please, won’t you try the cupcakes?”
The air was suffocating at the bottom floor, where the grooves overflowed and the attackers, stained red up to their waists, crowded around the giant’s feet. Here, they used axes, maces, and pickaxes, in addition to the usual spears.
I was picking a cupcake when I heard several attackers cry out at once.
A boy, aged perhaps twenty or so, had a spear lodged upright in his neck. The other attackers stepped away and looked up to see where the spear came from.
The boy fell to the ground bleeding and unconscious, even as a team of stretcher-carriers made their way through the crowd. One of the nearby attackers tore the spear out and checked its edge. Satisfied, he returned to stabbing the giant.
Rahul Shirke is a writer from the suburbs of Mumbai. He enjoys learning languages and then breaking them. Rahul’s fiction has previously appeared in Constellate Literary Journal and Déraciné. His work can also be found on his daily writing blog, Sulfurous Dreamscapes.