The Secret of El Arenque Rojo, Chapter 4: The Fifth World Rises

by Scott Lydon

If you bought our Woot 2012 Calendar, you may have noticed that each month sports a different QR code. And if you've scanned that code, you've gotten a message telling you to wait until the first of the given month to read a new installment in The Secret of El Arenque Rojo. And then you probably wondered what we were talking about. Chapter 1 appeared in January on the Woot blog. Chapter 2 took Roy Odom and his prophetic slapstick quest to Home.Woot. In Chapter 3, Roy met tween cinema prodigy Evelyn Sayre at Kids.Woot. And now, here at Wine.Woot, we present Chapter 4..

Doctor Chamberlin Duke tugged absentmindedly at his goatee as General Duodenum snapped to attention before his men. At the back of the platoon, a private with a non-regulation haircut was hiding a grin. His uniform was a mess and his shirt was untucked. The General did not notice him, nor did he notice the pedal-truck full of pies arriving near the soldier’s mess. Soon, clearly, the mess would be on the officers.

“Do you see, Chamberlin?” young Evelyn Sayre asked from the smartly-professional black-and-wood couch. “Do you see the name of the pie company? Narcissus! Narcissus Bakery.”

“Yes, I do see, indeed. One moment...”

The great Doctor Duke stepped out of the room, and walked to the telephone, considering what to do next. Evelyn had contacted him out of the blue, informing him bluntly she’d be arriving at his Oxford flat with a guest. Doctor Duke hadn’t know what to expect. But even still, when she explained it to him… a box of mysterious videotapes? Found by an American? What should that nonsense have mattered to a man who once touched the only remaining copy of Metropolis II: The Rise Of Rotwang? And yet, for some reason, he’d agreed to watch one at Evelyn’s urging. One movie, just to humor his old young friend. And that was on Wednesday.

And now, here he was, about to telephone his aide to cancel his Friday class, Moldovan Cinema: The Golden Age (May 14, 1990 – June 6, 1990). His class was the largest yet (Piper and Bronwyn, both juniors) and they would surely be distraught, but there was something about the style of this El Arenque Rojo… something that compelled a man to find the truth.

“Narcissus, Doctor Duke!” Roy called through the door. “The flower of December! And remember the driver’s name?”

“Holly Topaz,” Doctor Duke mumbled. Then, to the voice on the phone: “Oh, no! Not you, Bronwyn! I’m sorry, I’ve called to let you know that something’s come up. We won’t be having class on Friday.”

Bronwyn’s heartbroken screams carried into the hall, and Evelyn smiled. She’d been Doctor Duke’s prize pupil once, and she knew how Bronwyn was feeling. But by the television, Roy Odom payed them no mind. He was close to something, he could feel it. He leaned in close to the screen, his nose almost touching the General’s chest.

With a finger wet from his own saliva, Roy marked the television screen each time a pie was thrown. One, two, three, ten, twenty, thirty, forty. General Duodenum fell to his knees soaked in cream. Fifty, sixty, seventy, one hundred. The fear in the actor’s eyes was real. Two hundred, three hundred. The pies flew even still, there was true hate on the faces of those extras. What had been done to them? Did ever Stanislavski dream of such a primal state? Five hundred, six hundred, a thousand. The General lay prostrate and almost forgotten. His chest barely moved from the weight of meringue pressed down on his back. Two thousand, three thousand.

Doctor Duke entered the room and cleared his throat, but Roy silenced him with a hiss. “I’m COUNTING!” Evelyn dropped her teacup with a gasp. Doctor Duke, though, he had faced the madness before. He said nothing and waited understandingly for Roy to finish.

After four thousand pies the soldiers began to slip in the mire. Five thousand and they hung to each other just trying to stand. In the back, a small boy stood in Potemkin-like terror, pointing at what might be the General’s corpse. His mouth was open, of course there was no sound, but Roy could feel that scream, the scream of a child betrayed by the only thing a child could always believe in: his dessert.

Roy’s mouth had gone dry from wetting his finger, and the television screen was nothing but moist streaks. Roy sat down hard as Doctor Duke brought the paper towels forward. “Five thousand… one hundred… and twenty-four pies.”

Doctor Duke clucked his tongue. “Could you have miscounted?”

Roy lowered his face into his hands. “I didn’t. I know I didn’t. Five thousand, one hundred, and twenty-four pies.”

“I don’t understand,” said Evelyn.

Doctor Duke ignored her, resting a hand on Roy’s shoulder. “My boy… my boy. It was a fine theory, my boy. You did all you could.”

Roy looked up at the television with tears in his eyes… and saw it. “Doctor!” he whispered hoarsely, struggling to stand and point. Doctor Duke turned as though frightened. His jaw went slack.

“Would someone please explain-” began Evelyn, but then she was silent. She could see it as well.

The slovenly private, clean as a whistle. The General, rising, wiping his eyes, arms lifted in triumph. And then, the impact. The final pie, hand-carried by an agent of utter chaos. The General was defeated. Five thousand, one hundred, twenty-five pies.

“The thirteenth b’ak’tun,” whispered Doctor Duke.

“The Mayan long count,” said Roy. “The cycle is complete.”

And without a word, the title card. La Producción Secreto Mortal.

Evelyn was already searching Doctor Duke’s card catalog. “It’s here, Chamberlin!” she cried. “Secreto Mortal Studios! A small, independent company once at the heart of the film industry in-”

Doctor Duke took the paper from Evelyn’s hand.

“Roy,” he said with the authority of tenure. “Buy us three tickets online.”

“Where to?” asked Roy through his parched lips.

Doctor Duke only smiled. And Roy felt a shudder through his heart as he understood what that would mean.