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Every successful business requires sacrifice. This is not a macabre metaphor for hard work, but rather a well established fact in the entrepreneurial world. The red lines on company charts are propelled upward by the bloodied hands of the working class. The columns of the courthouse shake and rattle with the cacophony of bones. Take America, for instance. It was once a lush landscape, packed to the brim with native flora and fauna; not a foundry or oil drill to be found. Beautiful, yet somehow… lazy. Frivolous. Only when the rivers ran black with blood and the men became intoxicated by the fumes of their own blazes could the virgin country be attributed to a higher purpose. In the eyes of the perpetrators, their actions are never cruel or wanton. Everything happens for a reason, and the sacrifice? Well, that was just business as usual. Of course every great sacrifice begets voices of dissent; when great men attain power, it is the weak who most often try to wrestle it away. But it matters little in the grand scheme; a voice can only dissent for so long before the vocal cords start to melt away, and the flesh curls and blackens before finally giving in to the red.
   
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Raymond Bauer understood sacrifice more than most men. On his road to the top, he had forsaken friends, lovers, and even his own family. He watched them fall one by one as he continued to climb the steps of success. His friends grew busy, so he left them behind. His lovers grew demanding, so he left them behind. His parents grew frail, so he left them behind. There wasn’t any malice or ill intent in his multitude of abandonments. Like all sacrifices a businessman has to make, it was required of him, simple as that. Whenever he saw their faces in his fever dreams, he would convince himself that continuing on his own was the best thing he could’ve done. Their echoing pleas were drowned out by nightly reassurances that they were fine; that they were doing just as well for themselves as he was.
   
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Most of the time, he believed it.
   
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Raymond Bauer had a fondness for looking out his window, and with a massive skyline right outside his lofty penthouse office, it was an understandable fixation. He would run his hands through his jet black hair, or he would shake the last ashes out of his cigarette, or he would pace back and forth next to the massive window view. It seemed like no matter what he was doing, he couldn’t stay still. Every necktie demanded to be fidgeted with, every itch demanded to be scratched; when he wasn’t on the move, he wasn’t happy. At least, he didn’t feel happy.
   
<p dir="ltr">Every successful business requires sacrifice.  This is not a macabre metaphor for hard work, but rather a well established fact in the entrepreneurial world.  The red lines on company charts are propelled upward by the bloodied hands of the working class. The columns of the courthouse shake and rattle with the cacophony of bones.  Take America, for instance. It was once a lush landscape, packed to the brim with native flora and fauna; not a foundry or oil drill to be found. Beautiful, yet somehow… lazy.  Frivolous. Only when the rivers ran black with blood and the men became intoxicated by the fumes of their own blazes could the virgin country be attributed to a higher purpose. In the eyes of the perpetrators, their actions are never cruel or wanton.  Everything happens for a reason, and the sacrifice? Well, that was just business as usual. Of course every great sacrifice begets voices of dissent; when great men attain power, it is the weak who most often try to wrestle it away. But it matters little in the grand scheme; a voice can only dissent for so long before the vocal cords start to melt away, and the flesh curls and blackens before finally giving in to the red.</p>
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Raymond’s daily musings were interrupted by a quick tap on the mahogany door. Raymond had memorized the various knocks of his fellow corporate employees, and he had a hunch that this feeble tap belonged to his secretary, Maya.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond Bauer understood sacrifice more than most men.  On his road to the top, he had forsaken friends, lovers, and even his own family.  He watched them fall one by one as he continued to climb the steps of success. His friends grew busy, so he left them behind.  His lovers grew demanding, so he left them behind. His parents grew frail, so he left them behind. There wasn’t any malice or ill intent in his multitude of abandonments.  Like all sacrifices a businessman has to make, it was required of him, simple as that. Whenever he saw their faces in his fever dreams, he would convince himself that continuing on his own was the best thing he could’ve done.  Their echoing pleas were drowned out by nightly reassurances that they were fine; that they were doing just as well for themselves as he was.</p>
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“Come in. he spoke into the window, refusing to turn around. He could see the reflection of a dark skinned woman slowly pushing the door open. It was indeed Maya; Raymond allowed himself a quick smile of victory.
   
<p dir="ltr">Most of the time, he believed it.</p>
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“Maya,” he said cheerfully, turning around as he shoved his hands in his pockets, “what can I do for you?”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond Bauer had a fondness for looking out his window, and with a massive skyline right outside his lofty penthouse office, it was an understandable fixation.  He would run his hands through his jet black hair, or he would shake the last ashes out of his cigarette, or he would pace back and forth next to the massive window view.  It seemed like no matter what he was doing, he couldn’t stay still. Every necktie demanded to be fidgeted with, every itch demanded to be scratched; when he wasn’t on the move, he wasn’t happy.  At least, he didn’t feel happy.</p>
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“Just figured we should go over your schedule for today, Mr. Bauer. You’ve got a lot penciled in here, and I just thought-”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond’s daily musings were interrupted by a quick tap on the mahogany door.  Raymond had memorized the various knocks of his fellow corporate employees, and he had a hunch that this feeble tap belonged to his secretary, Maya.</p>
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“Yeah, you’re right,” Raymond agreed, “I can’t afford to be too busy on a day like today. What’ve we got?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Come in.he spoke into the window, refusing to turn around.  He could see the reflection of a dark skinned woman slowly pushing the door open.  It was indeed Maya; Raymond allowed himself a quick smile of victory.</p>
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“Well,Maya began, “It’s 11 now. At 11:45, the board of directors is holding a meeting to discuss sales projections, and they want you to attend.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Maya, he said cheerfully, turning around as he shoved his hands in his pockets, “what can I do for you?</p>
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“Hmm, I can make that. Sales are fine, so worst case scenario is that it’ll just be a bore.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Just figured we should go over your schedule for today, Mr. Bauer.  You’ve got a lot penciled in here, and I just thought-</p>
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“Alright, then at 2:30 you’re scheduled for lunch with Eddie Maguire.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Yeah, you’re right,” Raymond agreed, “I can’t afford to be too busy on a day like today.  What’ve we got?</p>
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“Oh jeez, cancel it. I can’t worry about that today.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Well,” Maya began, “It’s 11 now.  At 11:45, the board of directors is holding a meeting to discuss sales projections, and they want''' '''you to attend.”</p>
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“Ok, that’s canceled… at 4, a representative from Vice News would like to attempt an interview with you on the company’s success and its future.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Hmm, I can make that.  Sales are fine, so worst case scenario is that it’ll just be a bore.”</p>
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“Emphasis on ‘attempt.’ Whenever they show up, tell them I’m out to lunch.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Alright, then at 2:30 you’re scheduled for lunch with Eddie Maguire.</p>
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“Out to lunch at 4, Mr. Bauer?
   
<p dir="ltr">“Oh jeez, cancel it.  I can’t worry about that today.”</p>
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“You never know. Maybe I had a long work day, or maybe I don’t feel like dealing with them right now.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Ok, that’s canceled… at 4, a representative from Vice News would like to attempt an interview with you on the company’s success and its future.”</p>
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“Right you are, she said as she continued writing notes in her planner, “Then all that’s left is… the selection process. That, as I’m sure you know, begins at 5 PM sharp.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Emphasis on ‘attempt.  Whenever they show up, tell them I’m out to lunch.”</p>
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Raymond’s eyes glistened when she mentioned the selection process. It was the heralding of his favorite time of year, and he could hardly contain his excitement as he nodded his head.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Out to lunch at 4, Mr. Bauer?</p>
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“Believe me, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
   
<p dir="ltr">“You never know.  Maybe I had a long work day, or maybe I don’t feel like dealing with them right now.”</p>
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Maya nodded, stepping backward and slowly closing the door behind her. Once again, Raymond Bauer was all alone with his thoughts. He paced over to his mahogany desk; other men’s desks would’ve been littered with family photos, children’s drawings, and other sentimental knick knacks, but his was almost completely bare. Apart from his laptop, the only thing taking up space on his desk was his prized possession: an ornate jackal mask positioned neatly on a miniature pedestal. Raymond’s father was a frequent traveler, and he had purchased the mask from a street vendor in Cairo when Raymond was a young boy. Of course, his father forbade him from going anywhere near it; once his father’s eyesight and his hearing began to fail him around Raymond’s college years, he decided that the mask deserved to be in safer hands, and it was on his desk ever since.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Right you are, she said as she continued writing notes in her planner, “Then all that’s left is… the selection process.  That, as I’m sure you know,''' '''begins at 5 PM sharp.”</p>
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He picked the mask up, eyes pouring over every intricate detail: the miniscule cuts and slashes around the ears, the subtle lines and spirals cascading down the sides. His favorite detail was the red streaks that fell from the eye holes, imitating crimson tear stains dripping down the front of the mask. He thought it gave the whole piece a far more somber tone than was most likely intended. A long time ago, he had dubbed the mask “the Red Dog, because his adolescent brain couldn’t fully understand what a jackal was. He held onto that title, for even now, something about it chilled him to his very core.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond’s eyes glistened when she mentioned the selection process.  It was the heralding of his favorite time of year, and he could hardly contain his excitement as he nodded his head.</p>
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“Mr. Bauer?” Maya called out as she opened the door once again. Raymond placed the mask back on its pedestal and turned to face her.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Believe me, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”</p>
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“Don’t forget, you agreed to go to the board meeting at 11:45,” Maya helpfully reminded him, “it’ll be starting soon.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya nodded, stepping backward and slowly closing the door behind her.  Once again, Raymond Bauer was all alone with his thoughts. He paced over to his mahogany desk; other men’s desks would’ve been littered with family photos, children’s drawings, and other sentimental knick knacks, but his was almost completely bare.  Apart from his laptop, the only thing taking up space on his desk was his prized possession: an ornate jackal mask positioned neatly on a miniature pedestal. Raymond’s father was a frequent traveler, and he had purchased the mask from a street vendor in Cairo when Raymond was a young boy.  Of course, his father forbade him from going anywhere near it; once his father’s eyesight and his hearing began to fail him around Raymond’s college years, he decided that the mask deserved to be in safer hands, and it was on his desk ever since.</p>
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“Yes, you’re right. Thank you, Maya, I had nearly forgotten already. I suppose I should be on my way then. I can… count on seeing you tonight?”
   
<p dir="ltr">He picked the mask up, eyes pouring over every intricate detail: the miniscule cuts and slashes around the ears, the subtle lines and spirals cascading down the sides.  His favorite detail was the red streaks that fell from the eye holes, imitating crimson tear stains dripping down the front of the mask. He thought it gave the whole piece a far more somber tone than was most likely intended.  A long time ago, he had dubbed the mask “the Red Dog,” because his adolescent brain couldn’t fully understand what a jackal was. He held onto that title, for even now, something about it chilled him to his very core.</p>
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Maya lowered her head slightly, glancing at her feet.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Mr. Bauer?” Maya called out as she opened the door once again.  Raymond placed the mask back on its pedestal and turned to face her.</p>
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“Y-Yes, sir. I’ll be there.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Don’t forget, you agreed to go to the board meeting at 11:45,” Maya helpfully reminded him, “it’ll be starting soon.”</p>
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“Great!” Raymond clasped his hands together as he approached the door. “It’s always so much fun when the actual ceremony begins. I know you’ll have a great time.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Yes, you’re right.  Thank you, Maya, I had nearly forgotten already.  I suppose I should be on my way then. I can… count on seeing you tonight?”</p>
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He pulled on his end of the door, swinging it open. Maya obediently backed away, and Raymond closed the door to his office and began down the hall.
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya lowered her head slightly, glancing at her feet.</p>
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When he felt Maya’s gaze lifted off his back, he began to think to himself.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Y-Yes, sir.  I’ll be there.”</p>
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She hesitated when I mentioned the ceremony. She seemed nervous… afraid.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Great!” Raymond clasped his hands together as he approached the door.  “It’s always so much fun when the actual ceremony begins. I know you’ll have a great time.”</p>
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Raymond’s corporate grin sank into a frown.
   
<p dir="ltr">He pulled on his end of the door, swinging it open.  Maya obediently backed away, and Raymond closed the door to his office and began down the hall.</p>
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Failure cannot be tolerated. Hesitation cannot be tolerated. We get one shot at this, and it has to work! Relax, Raymond. It will. It will.
   
<p dir="ltr">When he felt Maya’s gaze lifted off his back, he began to think to himself.</p>
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Raymond forced the friendly smile to return to his face as he pushed open the door to the conference room, his mind already hours away, lost in the glory and the ecstasy of the night’s ceremony.
   
<p dir="ltr">''She hesitated when I mentioned the ceremony.  She seemed nervous… afraid.''</p>
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*****
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond’s corporate grin sank into a frown.</p>
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“Well, how did the meeting go?”
   
<p dir="ltr">''Failure cannot be tolerated.  Hesitation cannot be tolerated.  We get one shot at this, and it has to work!  Relax, Raymond. It will. It will.''</p>
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“How did you think it would go, Maya?”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond forced the friendly smile to return to his face as he pushed open the door to the conference room, his mind already hours away, lost in the glory and the ecstacy of the night’s ceremony.</p>
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“Uh… well, I suppose?”
   
<p dir="ltr">*****</p>
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“Correct!”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Well, how did the meeting go?”</p>
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Maya struggled to keep pace with Raymond as he strode down the bustling hallway, eyes locked on his familiar office door.
   
<p dir="ltr">“How did you think it would go, Maya?”</p>
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“Sales are through the roof, Maya,” Raymond explained as they hurried back towards the office, “another successful year, come and gone. Can you believe it’s been a full 365 days?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Uh… well, I suppose?</p>
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“No, Mr. Bauer,” she said, noticeably winded, “I can’t.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Correct!</p>
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“Well, we can’t get sloppy. We’ve gotta keep up the good work into next year. The company comes first, no matter what kinds of sacrifices we need to make to keep ‘er afloat. You know what I’m saying?
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya struggled to keep pace with Raymond as he strode down the bustling hallway, eyes locked on his familiar office door.</p>
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“I understand, sir. I have a good feeling about this upcoming year. I hope we can keep our good luck streak running.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Sales are through the roof, Maya,” Raymond explained as they hurried back towards the office, “another successful year, come and gone.  Can you believe it’s been a full 365 days?</p>
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“That’s the spirit!
   
<p dir="ltr">“No, Mr. Bauer,” she said, noticeably winded, “I can’t.”</p>
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Finally, the two arrived at the door of Raymond’s office; Raymond skidded to a halt, frantically checking his wristwatch.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Well, we can’t get sloppy.  We’ve gotta keep up the good work into next year.  The company comes first, no matter what kinds of sacrifices we need to make to keep ‘er afloat.  You know what I’m saying?</p>
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“4:55 PM, he said as he turned to face Maya, “we’d better get down there.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“I understand, sir.  I have a good feeling about this upcoming year.  I hope we can keep our good luck streak running.”</p>
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“Right. I’ll prep the room, you gather whatever you need. Be sure you’re on time, Mr. Bauer.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“That’s the spirit!</p>
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“I’ll be there, Maya. It’s like I said: I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
   
<p dir="ltr">Finally, the two arrived at the door of Raymond’s office; Raymond skidded to a halt, frantically checking his wristwatch.</p>
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She nodded, continuing onwards past his door. When she disappeared around the corner, he slipped back into his office. Quickly, he approached a filing cabinet tucked away in the corner of the room. He opened the uppermost drawer, and pulled out a small first aid kit. The palm of his hand began to itch, and he winced when he recalled the events of last year.
   
<p dir="ltr">“4:55 PM,” he said as he turned to face Maya, “we’d better get down there.”</p>
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Get over it. Everything we do is mandatory. Pain is pain. Blood is blood. You’ll live in the end.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Right.  I’ll prep the room, you gather whatever you need.  Be sure you’re on time, Mr. Bauer.”</p>
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Before he left, Raymond spun around to face his desk, staring intently into the empty eyes of the Red Dog.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I’ll be there, Maya.  It’s like I said: I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”</p>
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“Soon, old boy, he whispered to himself, “soon you’ll be happy.”
   
<p dir="ltr">She nodded, continuing onwards past his door.  When she disappeared around the corner, he slipped back into his office.  Quickly, he approached a filing cabinet tucked away in the corner of the room.  He opened the uppermost drawer, and pulled out a small first aid kit. The palm of his hand began to itch, and he winced when he recalled the events of last year.</p>
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The wind whistled faintly between the mask’s sockets; Raymond liked to imagine that the Red Dog was attempting to communicate with him. He imagined sitting there for hours, speaking ancient tongues while the Red Dog prattled on with the language of the sky, until eventually they would reach an understanding of one another. Mutualism in its purest, most basic form. A parasite and a host, joined in eldritch unity.
   
<p dir="ltr">''Get over it.  Everything we do is mandatory.  Pain is pain. Blood is blood. You’ll live in the end.''</p>
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In this fantastical daydream, Raymond never defined which among the two would be the parasite, and which would be the host.
   
<p dir="ltr">Before he left, Raymond spun around to face his desk, staring intently into the empty eyes of the Red Dog.</p>
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He reached for the Red Dog, but stopped his hands just short of the pedestal.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Soon, old boy, he whispered to himself, “soon you’ll be happy.”</p>
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There’ll be time for that later, Raymond. For now you have to get downstairs.
   
<p dir="ltr">The wind whistled faintly between the mask’s sockets; Raymond liked to imagine that the Red Dog was attempting to communicate with him.  He imagined sitting there for hours, speaking ancient tongues while the Red Dog prattled on with the language of the sky, until eventually they would reach an understanding of one another.  Mutualism in its purest, most basic form. A parasite and a host, joined in eldritch unity.</p>
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Raymond straightened his back, adjusted his tie, and walked out of his office, first aid kit tucked neatly under his arm. He rounded the same corner Maya had only moments before, and quickly found himself staring through an open doorway with a set of stairs leading downwards. He moved excitedly down the stairs, taking it two steps at a time. He reached the bottom, feet thudding awkwardly from almost tripping on the last step. Maya stifled a smirk as Raymond composed himself.
   
<p dir="ltr">In this fantastical daydream, Raymond never defined which among the two would be the parasite, and which would be the host.</p>
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“Maya, are we ready?” he asked, approaching her in the center of the room.
   
<p dir="ltr">He reached for the Red Dog, but stopped his hands just short of the pedestal.</p>
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“Yes sir, Mr. Bauer. We’re all prepped, but are you ready to begin the selection process?”
   
<p dir="ltr">''There’ll be time for that later, Raymond.  For now you have to get downstairs.''</p>
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“I am. Let’s see the map.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond straightened his back, adjusted his tie, and walked out of his office, first aid kit tucked neatly under his arm.  He rounded the same corner Maya had only moments before, and quickly found himself staring through an open doorway with a set of stairs leading downwards.  He moved excitedly down the stairs, taking it two steps at a time. He reached the bottom, feet thudding awkwardly from almost tripping on the last step. Maya stifled a smirk as Raymond composed himself.</p>
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Maya stepped away from the center, and Raymond did the same. Carved into the center of the floor was a large, intricate map of the United States of America, with deep rivets and grooves making up the many state borders and rivers. Raymond ensured that the designer got the map down to the most minute detail for maximum accuracy.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Maya, are we ready?” he asked, approaching her in the center of the room.</p>
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“Alright, Raymond said with a hint of hesitation, “everything looks good here. Let’s do this.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Yes sir, Mr. Bauer.  We’re all prepped, but are you ready to begin the selection process?”</p>
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Maya said nothing. She nodded, producing a knife from behind her back. She handed it to Raymond, who took it with his left hand and placed the blade in the palm of his right.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I am.  Let’s see the map.”</p>
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“Come on, baby,” he whispered, “please be Florida. Please be Florida.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya stepped away from the center, and Raymond did the same.  Carved into the center of the floor was a large, intricate map of the United States of America, with deep rivets and grooves making up the many state borders and rivers.  Raymond ensured that the designer got the map down to the most minute detail for maximum accuracy.</p>
+
In one swift motion, Raymond clenched his fist over top of the blade, pulling the knife down as he grimaced in pain. He raised his bloodied fist over top of the map, watching the first drop of blood dive through the air.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Alright,Raymond said with a hint of hesitation, “everything looks good here.  Let’s do this.”</p>
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“Shit!he exclaimed, “That never gets any easier.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya said nothing.  She nodded, producing a knife from behind her back.  She handed it to Raymond, who took it with his left hand and placed the blade in the palm of his right.</p>
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“Where did the blood land, Mr. Bauer?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Come on, baby,” he whispered, “please be Florida.  Please be Florida.”</p>
+
“Oh, uh… let’s see.”
   
<p dir="ltr">In one swift motion, Raymond clenched his fist over top of the blade, pulling the knife down as he grimaced in pain.  He raised his bloodied fist over top of the map, watching the first drop of blood dive through the air.</p>
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He stooped over the map, cradling his hand. He saw the crimson red droplet, its hue starkly contrasting the marble gray of the floor. It had landed directly in the center of Iowa.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Shit! he exclaimed, “That never gets any easier.”</p>
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“Goddammit! Well Maya, looks like we’re taking a trip to Iowa.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Where did the blood land, Mr. Bauer?”</p>
+
“I see. Are you ready to begin the second phase of the selection process?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Oh, uh… let’s see.”</p>
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Raymond’s eyes lit up once again. Now came the fun part.
   
<p dir="ltr">He stooped over the map, cradling his hand.  He saw the crimson red droplet, its hue starkly contrasting the marble gray of the floor.  It had landed directly in the center of Iowa.</p>
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“You bet I am.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Goddammit!  Well Maya, looks like we’re taking a trip to Iowa.”</p>
+
Maya nodded once more. She walked over to the far wall, sliding open a panel to reveal a hidden keypad. She typed in a code, and the wall swung open, revealing four display cases. The first one held two daggers, positioned apart from one another in a fashion that caused them to resemble two abstract fangs. The second case held an innocuous looking vial; the substance within was green and bubbling. The third case held two identical gauntlets, and the fourth case held a curled up whip.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I see.  Are you ready to begin the second phase of the selection process?”</p>
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“Take your pick, sir,” Maya said with the casual aura of a carnival game worker, “will it be the Dog’s Teeth, the Dog’s Breath, the Dog’s Paws, or the Dog’s Tongue?”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond’s eyes lit up once again.  Now came the fun part.</p>
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Raymond studied each case individually; each potential choice had its own pros and cons. The Teeth were a nice all around selection, but knives were so cliche. The Breath was amazing at crowd control, but so difficult to clean up when the fun finally ended. The Paws were a symbol of fear and intimidation, but their close range was a significant drawback. The Tongue had all the range to boot, but it took significantly longer to operate. He mulled over his choices, absent-mindedly clicking his tongue in contemplation.
   
<p dir="ltr">“You bet I am.”</p>
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“You know what?” he decided at last, “give me the Dog’s Paws. I’m feeling particularly confrontational this time around.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya nodded once more.  She walked over to the far wall, sliding open a panel to reveal a hidden keypad.  She typed in a code, and the wall swung open, revealing four display cases. The first one held two daggers, positioned apart from one another in a fashion that caused them to resemble two abstract fangs.  The second case held an innocuous looking vial; the substance within was green and bubbling. The third case held two identical gauntlets, and the fourth case held a curled up whip.</p>
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Maya nodded, removing a small key from her pocket. She unlocked the third case, gently lifting the gauntlets off their mount and handing them to Raymond. He studied them; they were elegantly crafted, with beauty and purpose masterfully intertwined. A rare unity between luxury and utilitarianism. The crowning feature of the Dog’s Paws were the ornate claws perched atop each finger. Raymond slid the left gauntlet onto his hand, delicately guiding his fingers through the open slots and into the embrace of the shiny silver claws. He flexed his hand, talons glowing in the relative darkness of the basement. Raymond felt powerful, animalistic, savage.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Take your pick, sir,” Maya said with the casual aura of a carnival game worker, “will it be the Dog’s Teeth, the Dog’s Breath, the Dog’s Paws, or the Dog’s Tongue?”</p>
+
Raymond felt alive.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond studied each case individually; each potential choice had its own pros and cons.  The Teeth were a nice all around selection, but knives were so cliche. The Breath was amazing at crowd control, but so difficult to clean up when the fun finally ended.  The Paws were a symbol of fear and intimidation, but their close range was a significant drawback. The Tongue had all the range to boot, but it took significantly longer to operate.  He mulled over his choices, absent-mindedly clicking his tongue in contemplation.</p>
+
“May I say, sir, Maya interrupted, “I think you’ve made an excellent choice this year.
   
<p dir="ltr">“You know what?” he decided at last, “give me the Dog’s Paws.  I’m feeling particularly confrontational this time around.”</p>
+
“Ha! I agree,” he exclaimed, slowly removing the gauntlet, “it’s been ages since the last time I wore these. Last year was…”
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya nodded, removing a small key from her pocket.  She unlocked the third case, gently lifting the gauntlets off their mount and handing them to Raymond.  He studied them; they were elegantly crafted, with beauty and purpose masterfully intertwined. A rare unity between luxury and utilitarianism.  The crowning feature of the Dog’s Paws were the ornate claws perched atop each finger. Raymond slid the left gauntlet onto his hand, delicately guiding his fingers through the open slots and into the embrace of the shiny silver claws.  He flexed his hand, talons glowing in the relative darkness of the basement. Raymond felt powerful, animalistic, savage.</p>
+
“The Breath, sir.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond felt alive.</p>
+
“Ah, the Breath! How could I have forgotten? So much fun, but so much work, y’know? I’m ready to just let loose this year.
   
<p dir="ltr">“May I say, sir,” Maya interrupted, “I think you’ve made an excellent choice this year.”</p>
+
Maya grinned. “You’ve earned it, boss.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Ha!  I agree,” he exclaimed, slowly removing the gauntlet, “it’s been ages since the last time I wore these.  Last year was…”</p>
+
Raymond allowed a grin of his own to sneak onto his face. “No Maya, we earned it. Not just you and me, but the whole company did their share to bring us to tonight. Now, how quickly can you prep the jet for a round trip to Iowa?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“The Breath, sir.”</p>
+
*****
   
<p dir="ltr">“Ah, the Breath!  How could I have forgotten?  So much fun, but so much work, y’know?  I’m ready to just let loose this year.”</p>
+
Raymond had always found it difficult to dream. Ever since he was a boy, his slumbers were never filled with wondrous landscapes or peculiar happenings rooted in the real world. It was always just… blackness. He knew he was asleep, he knew that the endless stretch of darkness meant he was supposed to be dreaming, but nothing would ever manifest.
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya grinned.  “You’ve earned it, boss.”</p>
+
That night, on the plane ride to Iowa, Raymond had a dream.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond allowed a grin of his own to sneak onto his face.  “No Maya, we earned it.  Not just you and me, but the whole company did their share to bring us to tonight.  Now, how quickly can you prep the jet for a round trip to Iowa?”</p>
+
It began as innocuously as all of his past “dreams” would: Raymond stood alone at the edge of an inescapable blackness. The horizon was engulfed in shadow, and it was only for the bent rules of the dreaming mind that he was able to see his own hands in front of him. Like most nights, he began to walk through the darkness, discontent in the unimaginative nature of his sleeping brain. This time, something felt… off. Nothing had revealed itself, but in this dream, Raymond couldn’t shake the feeling that something was in there with him. Something that used the void as a hiding place, lurking perhaps mere inches away from Raymond’s peripherals. He was all by himself in the dreamscape, but he had never felt less alone.
   
<p dir="ltr">*****</p>
+
A voice called out to him from the distance. A simple summon, echoing across boundless blackness: “Raymond…”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond had always found it difficult to dream.  Ever since he was a boy, his slumbers were never filled with wondrous landscapes or peculiar happenings rooted in the real world.  It was always just… blackness. He knew he was asleep, he knew that the endless stretch of darkness meant he was supposed to be dreaming, but nothing would ever manifest.</p>
+
Raymond, although taken aback, followed the voice, continuing his trek. The further he progressed, he seemed to sink into the darkness as though it were a marsh. When the voice called to him a second time, he was up to his knees in nothingness.
   
<p dir="ltr">That night, on the plane ride to Iowa, Raymond had a dream.</p>
+
This is new. My dreams are never this strange…
   
<p dir="ltr">It began as innocuously as all of his past “dreams” would: Raymond stood alone at the edge of an inescapable blackness.  The horizon was engulfed in shadow, and it was only for the bent rules of the dreaming mind that he was able to see his own hands in front of him.  Like most nights, he began to walk through the darkness, discontent in the unimaginative nature of his sleeping brain. This time, something felt… off.  Nothing had revealed itself, but in this dream, Raymond couldn’t shake the feeling that something was in there with him. Something that used the void as a hiding place, lurking perhaps mere inches away from Raymond’s peripherals.  He was all by himself in the dreamscape, but he had never felt less alone.</p>
+
He attempted to continue walking, but found that he couldn’t. His legs were firmly rooted in the void, as if they had been lopped off at the knees.
   
<p dir="ltr">A voice called out to him from the distance.  A simple summon, echoing across boundless blackness: “Raymond…”</p>
+
“Raymond Bauer,” the voice called out, booming far closer to him, “you have much to answer for.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond, although taken aback, followed the voice, continuing his trek.  The further he progressed, he seemed to sink into the darkness as though it were a marsh.  When the voice called to him a second time, he was up to his knees in nothingness.</p>
+
In an instant, the darkness was sliced open by a beam of light, so bright that Raymond could hardly see anything. The light faded, and he looked upon the body behind the voice.
   
<p dir="ltr">''This is new.  My dreams are never this strange…''</p>
+
He stood at easily seven or eight feet tall, with dark bronze skin. He was draped in shrouds that were made of gold, and he sported armored plating on his upper arms and legs. He carried a scepter in his right hand; there was something perched at the top of it, but he couldn’t tell what exactly. Instead, he was too busy focusing on the being’s face, which was concealed behind an obsidian jackal mask. Unlike the Red Dog, the mask was pure black, so much so that it almost melted into the dark backdrop. The eyes glowed white, and they seemed to pierce Raymond’s very soul with their gaze. He knew who he was looking upon: the lord of the dead, the judge of life itself.
   
<p dir="ltr">He attempted to continue walking, but found that he couldn’t.  His legs were firmly rooted in the void, as if they had been lopped off at the knees.</p>
+
Anubis.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Raymond Bauer,” the voice called out, booming far closer to him, “you have much to answer for.”</p>
+
“You are prepared to embark upon another ceremony, are you not, Raymond Bauer?” Anubis asked in a booming voice.
   
<p dir="ltr">In an instant, the darkness was sliced open by a beam of light, so bright that Raymond could hardly see anything.  The light faded, and he looked upon the body behind the voice.</p>
+
“Y-Yes, I am…”
   
<p dir="ltr">He stood at easily seven or eight feet tall, with dark bronze skin.  He was draped in shrouds that were made of gold, and he sported armored plating on his upper arms and legs.  He carried a scepter in his right hand; there was something perched at the top of it, but he couldn’t tell what exactly.  Instead, he was too busy focusing on the being’s face, which was concealed behind an obsidian jackal mask. Unlike the Red Dog, the mask was pure black, so much so that it almost melted into the dark backdrop.  The eyes glowed white, and they seemed to pierce Raymond’s very soul with their gaze. He knew who he was looking upon: the lord of the dead, the judge of life itself.</p>
+
“And tell me, whose face do you hide behind? Whose face do you steal out of hatred for your own?”
   
<p dir="ltr">Anubis.</p>
+
“I… I don’t unders-”
   
<p dir="ltr">“You are prepared to embark upon another ceremony, are you not, Raymond Bauer?” Anubis asked in a booming voice.</p>
+
“Mine!” Anubis screamed as another bolt of light cracked behind him. “You have torn my face from my sleeping body, and you wear it to mask the smell of your own perverse sin! You have escaped judgement for far too long, Raymond Bauer. Tell me, what is in your briefcase?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Y-Yes, I am…”</p>
+
Raymond stared down at his left hand, in which his gray briefcase had materialized. He lifted it closer to him, and slowly clicked the latches open. A dark crimson red began to drip from beneath the hatch. He reached into the open case, fishing through a damp pooling of blood until he found the true contents of the case: a heart. He pulled it from within the case as it twitched and convulsed in his bloody hands. Unwillingly, almost hypnotically, he handed it to Anubis. Anubis lowered the scepter to eye level, allowing Raymond to see that a scale was perched atop it. Silently, Anubis placed the still beating heart onto the scale, and watched intently as it pulled the scale down with its weight. He nodded slightly as Raymond looked on in confusion and panic.
   
<p dir="ltr">“And tell me, whose face do you hide behind?  Whose face do you steal out of hatred for your own?</p>
+
“It is as I knew all along, Anubis said quietly, “your heart is weighed down by sin- by blood and tears, none of which your own.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I… I don’t unders-”</p>
+
Slowly, the marsh-like ground began to release its grip; Raymond slowly pulled himself out of the ground, landing on his knees in an inadvertent praying pose.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Mine!” Anubis screamed as another bolt of light cracked behind him.  “You have torn my face from my sleeping body, and you wear it to mask the smell of your own perverse sin!  You have escaped judgement for far too long, Raymond Bauer. Tell me, what is in your briefcase?</p>
+
“Do take care,” Anubis continued, “because all life comes to me one way or another. For all your evil, you are but a man; the sands of time are just as cruel to you as they are to every other wretched soul. When next we meet again, your judgment will be final.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond stared down at his left hand, in which his gray briefcase had materialized.  He lifted it closer to him, and slowly clicked the latches open. A dark crimson red began to drip from beneath the hatch.  He reached into the open case, fishing through a damp pooling of blood until he found the true contents of the case: a heart.  He pulled it from within the case as it twitched and convulsed in his bloody hands. Unwillingly, almost hypnotically, he handed it to Anubis.  Anubis lowered the scepter to eye level, allowing Raymond to see that a scale was perched atop it. Silently, Anubis placed the still beating heart onto the scale, and watched intently as it pulled the scale down with its weight.  He nodded slightly as Raymond looked on in confusion and panic.</p>
+
Raymond stood at last, knees struggling not to buckle beneath him. Anubis began to laugh as lights thrashed and dotted across the black expanse.
   
<p dir="ltr">“It is as I knew all along,” Anubis said quietly, “your heart is weighed down by sin- by blood and tears, none of which your own.”</p>
+
“Next time, I will feed your heart to the beast, Mr. Bauer! Mr. Bauer…”
   
<p dir="ltr">Slowly, the marsh-like ground began to release its grip; Raymond slowly pulled himself out of the ground, landing on his knees in an inadvertent praying pose.</p>
+
“Mr. Bauer!”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Do take care, Anubis continued, “because all life comes to me one way or another.  For all your evil, you are but a man; the sands of time are just as cruel to you as they are to every other wretched soul.  When next we meet again, your judgment will be final.”</p>
+
Raymond snapped awake, his body awkwardly slumped across two of the seats on his private jet. Maya had called his name, jolting him back to the waking world.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond stood at last, knees struggling not to buckle beneath him.  Anubis began to laugh as lights thrashed and dotted across the black expanse.</p>
+
“Mr. Bauer, are you alright? You were screaming like a madman…”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Next time, I will feed your heart to the beast, Mr. Bauer!  Mr. Bauer…”</p>
+
“I’m… I’m alright, Maya. I had a nightmare, that’s all.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Mr. Bauer!</p>
+
“Oh. Well, you were talking a bit in your sleep. You kept saying, ‘Don’t take my heart’ over and over again. What was happening in your dream?
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond snapped awake, his body awkwardly slumped across two of the seats on his private jet.  Maya had called his name, jolting him back to the waking world.</p>
+
Raymond recalled the dream, being forced to remove his own heart from his briefcase, which was currently propped against an adjacent seat. He slowly heaved it onto his lap, clicking open the latches just as he had done mere moments ago. From the shadow of the case, he could make out one of the crimson tear stains of the Red Dog.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Mr. Bauer, are you alright?  You were screaming like a madman…”</p>
+
“Don’t worry about it, Maya,” he concluded, “we have work to do tonight.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“I’m… I’m alright, Maya.  I had a nightmare, that’s all.”</p>
+
The drive to the company warehouse was quick and uneventful. Maya had called for an Uber, and much to Raymond’s satisfaction, the driver was one of the quiet ones. He needed silence in order to reflect on his inner cacophony; nervousness and excitement and ecstasy all stirred into one massive knot in his stomach. He instinctively tapped his fingers against the side of his briefcase, as he normally would when one of his associates was running late. It was a sign of anxiousness, one of the unconscious ‘something-better-happen-right-fucking-now’ gestures that people often make when they’re waiting on an important phone call, waiting in traffic, or perhaps just waiting on life to start looking up. Raymond had very little to wait for in the grand scheme of things, but he tapped away regardless as the Uber pulled into the well lit parking lot of the company’s warehouse; there were many warehouses (dubbed ‘fulfillment centers’ by the marketing team) scattered across the country, but Raymond’s current stop was at the center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Uber pulled up to the front door, Maya hastily shoving crumpled up bills into the driver’s palm as Raymond excitedly stepped out into the cool night air. Maya followed suit, closing the door behind her; the two of them watched the car pull away, its headlights eventually being consumed by the dark of night.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Oh.  Well, you were talking a bit in your sleep.  You kept saying, ‘Don’t take my heart’ over and over again.  What was happening in your dream?”</p>
+
Raymond didn’t want to think about the darkness anymore. Not until the euphoria of the ceremony kicked his nightmare to the mental curb.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond recalled the dream, being forced to remove his own heart from his briefcase, which was currently propped against an adjacent seat.  He slowly heaved it onto his lap, clicking open the latches just as he had done mere moments ago. From the shadow of the case, he could make out one of the crimson tear stains of the Red Dog.</p>
+
“Are you ready, Mr. Bauer?” Maya asked as he stared off into the distance. She slightly gestured towards the double doors awaiting them.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Don’t worry about it, Maya,” he concluded, “we have work to do tonight.</p>
+
“I’m all set,” he said as he approached the doors, “this will be one to remember, eh, Maya?
   
<p dir="ltr">The drive to the company warehouse was quick and uneventful.  Maya had called for an Uber, and much to Raymond’s satisfaction, the driver was one of the quiet ones.  He needed silence in order to reflect on his inner cacophony; nervousness and excitement and ecstasy all stirred into one massive knot in his stomach.  He instinctively tapped his fingers against the side of his briefcase, as he normally would when one of his associates was running late. It was a sign of anxiousness, one of the unconscious ‘something-better-happen-right-fucking-now’ gestures that people often make when they’re waiting on an important phone call, waiting in traffic, or perhaps just waiting on life to start looking up.  Raymond had very little to wait for in the grand scheme of things, but he tapped away regardless as the Uber pulled into the well lit parking lot of the company’s warehouse; there were many warehouses (dubbed ‘fulfillment centers’ by the marketing team) scattered across the country, but Raymond’s current stop was at the center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Uber pulled up to the front door, Maya hastily shoving crumpled up bills into the driver’s palm as Raymond excitedly stepped out into the cool night air.  Maya followed suit, closing the door behind her; the two of them watched the car pull away, its headlights eventually being consumed by the dark of night.</p>
+
Maya grinned. “It always is, sir.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond didn’t want to think about the darkness anymore.  Not until the euphoria of the ceremony kicked his nightmare to the mental curb.  </p>
+
“Right answer.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Are you ready, Mr. Bauer?” Maya asked as he stared off into the distance.  She slightly gestured towards the double doors awaiting them.</p>
+
Raymond swung open the right door, stepping into the stuffy lobby of the warehouse; to his right was a door that led to a branching hallway, and in front of him was the door to the warehouse floor. As if on cue, the door to his right creaked open, and a man approached Raymond and Maya. He was a timid man in his early 40s, with a receding hairline and bushy mustache that almost made him resemble a balding Teddy Roosevelt. Unlike regular employees, who wore green safety vests when on the floor, the man wore a red vest, indicative of a managerial status.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I’m all set,” he said as he approached the doors, “this will be one to remember, eh, Maya?</p>
+
“Mr. Bauer,” he spoke respectfully, hands crossed behind his back, “it’s such a pleasure to have you here at our center.
   
<p dir="ltr">Maya grinned.  “It always is, sir.”</p>
+
“It’s a pleasure to be here, Mr…”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Right answer.”</p>
+
“Warren, sir. Miles Warren.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond swung open the right door, stepping into the stuffy lobby of the warehouse; to his right was a door that led to a branching hallway, and in front of him was the door to the warehouse floor.  As if on cue, the door to his right creaked open, and a man approached Raymond and Maya. He was a timid man in his early 40s, with a receding hairline and bushy mustache that almost made him resemble a balding Teddy Roosevelt.  Unlike regular employees, who wore green safety vests when on the floor, the man wore a red vest, indicative of a managerial status.</p>
+
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Miles. I trust our employees are hard at work?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Mr. Bauer, he spoke respectfully, hands crossed behind his back, “it’s such a pleasure to have you here at our center.”</p>
+
“Oh, very much so, sir. A lot of employees have already left for the night, but the closing crew is still going at it; they will be for some time.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“It’s a pleasure to be here, Mr…”</p>
+
Raymond’s corporate smile slowly faded into a more serious, stoic look. “Miles, you understand why I dropped in to visit you?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Warren, sir.  Miles Warren.”</p>
+
Miles looked down at the floor, rubbing the sole of his sneaker into the floor.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Well, it’s good to meet you, Miles.  I trust our employees are hard at work?</p>
+
“I do, sir. It’ll be a shame to see ‘em go; they’re hard workers, all of them. But it’s for the company, after all.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Oh, very much so, sir.  A lot of employees have already left for the night, but the closing crew is still going at it; they will be for some time.</p>
+
Raymond’s smile returned. “I’m glad you understand. It makes things so much easier. Tell me, is there any kind of office where I can survey the floor?
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond’s corporate smile slowly faded into a more serious, stoic look.  “Miles, you understand why I dropped in to visit you?</p>
+
“Yes sir, we have a great view of the warehouse floor right this way.
   
<p dir="ltr">Miles looked down at the floor, rubbing the sole of his sneaker into the floor.</p>
+
Raymond nodded, and he and Maya followed Miles back through the door in which he entered. They passed a door labeled ‘break room,’ then continued up a flight of stairs until they reached a lofty office. True to form, it had a massive window view of the floor; Raymond could see green vests blurring as employees scurried between tasks. Somewhere deep inside, a tiny shred of pride manifested itself as he watched them go about their tasks, counting down the hours until they too could go home.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I do, sir.  It’ll be a shame to see ‘em go; they’re hard workers, all of them.  But it’s for the company, after all.”</p>
+
They don’t even know.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond’s smile returned.  “I’m glad you understand. It makes things so much easier.  Tell me, is there any kind of office where I can survey the floor?”</p>
+
Raymond placed his briefcase down on the office desk. He calmly removed his dark blue suit jacket, setting it over the cushy desk chair. He straightened out his blood red tie, adjusted the tacky suspenders he was so fond of wearing, and opened the briefcase.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Yes sir, we have a great view of the warehouse floor right this way.</p>
+
“Miles,” he called out as he removed the Dog’s Paws from the case, “would you be so kind as to let me access your PA system?
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond nodded, and he and Maya followed Miles back through the door in which he entered.  They passed a door labeled ‘break room,’ then continued up a flight of stairs until they reached a lofty office.  True to form, it had a massive window view of the floor; Raymond could see green vests blurring as employees scurried between tasks.  Somewhere deep inside, a tiny shred of pride manifested itself as he watched them go about their tasks, counting down the hours until they too could go home.</p>
+
“Of course, sir. I’ll prep it while you get ready.
   
<p dir="ltr">''They don’t even know.''</p>
+
“Thank you, Miles. Now if all managers were like you, then our company would really be something.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond placed his briefcase down on the office desk.  He calmly removed his dark blue suit jacket, setting it over the cushy desk chair.  He straightened out his blood red tie, adjusted the tacky suspenders he was so fond of wearing, and opened the briefcase.</p>
+
Raymond slid the gauntlets over his hands, adjusting the straps on either side until they felt as if they were his true hands. Being careful not to let the talons cause any excess damage, he slowly pulled the Red Dog from the case. He held it delicately in his clawed hands, crossing the room to where Miles was fidgeting with the PA system.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Miles,” he called out as he removed the Dog’s Paws from the case, “would you be so kind as to let me access your PA system?</p>
+
“All set, Mr. Bauer,” he announced proudly, “just push the button and talk into the microphone. They’ll hear you all the way out on the floor.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Of course, sir.  I’ll prep it while you get ready.”</p>
+
Raymond nodded, approaching the PA system. He pressed a talon against the red button, let the feedback ring out for a moment, then began to speak, slowly and deliberately.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Thank you, Miles.  Now if all managers were like you, then our company would really be something.</p>
+
“Do you enjoy your job?
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond slid the gauntlets over his hands, adjusting the straps on either side until they felt as if they were his true hands.  Being careful not to let the talons cause any excess damage, he slowly pulled the Red Dog from the case. He held it delicately in his clawed hands, crossing the room to where Miles was fidgeting with the PA system.</p>
+
He paused. He could hear very faint mumbles from the floor below; they were confused, understandably so.
   
<p dir="ltr">“All set, Mr. Bauer, he announced proudly, “just push the button and talk into the microphone.  They’ll hear you all the way out on the floor.”</p>
+
“Miles, he said, taking his finger off the button, “wait for my signal, then it’s lights out.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond nodded, approaching the PA system.  He pressed a talon against the red button, let the feedback ring out for a moment, then began to speak, slowly and deliberately.</p>
+
Miles nodded, and hurried out of the office. Raymond placed his finger back on the button.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Do you enjoy your job?</p>
+
“Personally, I don’t like my job. Sure, it pays well, and the effects it has on my social life are unreal, but I find it so… boring. So unfulfilling. I’m sure some of you here tonight can relate, even if you won’t admit it. Every now and then, I need a night where I can just… cut loose. Where I can shed the suit and tie and live life as a free man; I know you can relate now. It’s a Saturday night, after all; you’re counting down until your shift is up, then you’ll rush home to whatever the rest of the night has in store for you.
   
<p dir="ltr">He paused.  He could hear very faint mumbles from the floor below; they were confused, understandably so.</p>
+
Their confused mumblings grew more audible with each passing word that filled the warehouse air. It brought a smile to Raymond’s face.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Miles,” he said, taking his finger off the button, “wait for my signal, then it’s lights out.”</p>
+
“For each of you, the night belongs to different things. Tonight might belong to your mother and father. It might belong to your best friends and their movie night. It might belong to the waiting arms of a lover, the simple rustle of bedsheets, or even the joy of returning home to be greeted by the smile of a child.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Miles nodded, and hurried out of the office.  Raymond placed his finger back on the button.</p>
+
He kept his finger on the button, deliberately pausing for several moments.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Personally, I don’t like my job.  Sure, it pays well, and the effects it has on my social life are unreal, but I find it so… boring.  So unfulfilling. I’m sure some of you here tonight can relate, even if you won’t admit it. Every now and then, I need a night where I can just… cut loose.  Where I can shed the suit and tie and live life as a free man; I know you can relate now. It’s a Saturday night, after all; you’re counting down until your shift is up, then you’ll rush home to whatever the rest of the night has in store for you.”</p>
+
“Unfortunately, there’s been a change in schedule. Lights out.”
   
<p dir="ltr">Their confused mumblings grew more audible with each passing word that filled the warehouse air.  It brought a smile to Raymond’s face.</p>
+
On cue, all the lights on the warehouse floor shut off. Raymond was delighted to find that the intercom was still working, meaning Miles hadn’t unknowingly cut the power entirely; he made a mental note to personally give Miles a bonus when the ordeal was over.
   
<p dir="ltr">“For each of you, the night belongs to different things.  Tonight might belong to your mother and father. It might belong to your best friends and their movie night.  It might belong to the waiting arms of a lover, the simple rustle of bedsheets, or even the joy of returning home to be greeted by the smile of a child.”</p>
+
Their mumbles of confusion turned to wails of panic and uncertainty. He could not contain his smile any more.
   
<p dir="ltr">He kept his finger on the button, deliberately pausing for several moments.</p>
+
“Tonight belongs to something else now. Something bigger than you, and bigger than me. His name is the Red Dog, and he’s waited exactly 365 days, 14 hours, 33 minutes, and 55 seconds to meet you all. His nails are pretty sharp, so try not to let him scratch you if you can help it. You might find him a bit… aggressive at times, but he means well. He just wants what’s best for all of us… and so do I.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Unfortunately, there’s been a change in schedule.  Lights out.”</p>
+
With his clawed finger still firmly on the button, he slid the Red Dog over his face using his free hand.
   
<p dir="ltr">On cue, all the lights on the warehouse floor shut off.  Raymond was delighted to find that the intercom was still working, meaning Miles hadn’t unknowingly cut the power entirely; he made a mental note to personally give Miles a bonus when the ordeal was over.</p>
+
“You’ll scream. You’ll cry. But in the end, it matters little…”
   
<p dir="ltr">Their mumbles of confusion turned to wails of panic and uncertainty.  He could not contain his smile any more.</p>
+
He paused for a final time, listening to their panic. Their rising panic, their confusion over what might have just been a sick joke, their worried assurances that everything was going to be ok- it was music to his ears.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Tonight belongs to something else now.  Something bigger than you, and bigger than me.  His name is the Red Dog, and he’s waited exactly 365 days, 14 hours, 33 minutes, and 55 seconds to meet you all.  His nails are pretty sharp, so try not to let him scratch you if you can help it. You might find him a bit… aggressive at times, but he means well.  He just wants what’s best for all of us… and so do I.”</p>
+
...All things return to the red, one way or another.”
   
<p dir="ltr">With his clawed finger still firmly on the button, he slid the Red Dog over his face using his free hand.</p>
+
He removed his finger from the button, slowly turning and descending down the stairs. He swung open the door to the warehouse, and took in the feeling of it all. In total darkness, a choir of screams lit the path ahead of him. In the cold of night, his body radiated adrenaline from the thrill of what was to follow.
   
<p dir="ltr">“You’ll scream.  You’ll cry. But in the end, it matters little…”</p>
+
That night, at approximately 10:32 PM, eastern standard time, Raymond Bauer died.
   
<p dir="ltr">He paused for a final time, listening to their panic.  Their rising panic, their confusion over what might have just been a sick joke, their worried assurances that everything was going to be ok- it was music to his ears.</p>
+
At 10:33 PM, he was born anew in the thrill of the hunt. The feast had finally been prepared, and the Red Dog was starving.
   
<p dir="ltr">“...All things return to the red, one way or another.”</p>
+
He let himself go. He lunged into the darkness of the warehouse, letting the shadows wrap around his body. He stopped in his tracks, lowering his ear to the ground; in the distance, muffled crying. A lamb had unknowingly revealed itself to the Red Dog.
   
<p dir="ltr">He removed his finger from the button, slowly turning and descending down the stairs.  He swung open the door to the warehouse, and took in the feeling of it all. In total darkness, a choir of screams lit the path ahead of him.  In the cold of night, his body radiated adrenaline from the thrill of what was to follow.</p>
+
He prowled low to the ground until he found the source; a young girl, no older than 20, curled in a ball in one of the rows. He could scarcely make out any distinguishing features in the dark, save for her short red hair. But her personality was not the priority; the butcher never got to know the cow, after all.
   
<p dir="ltr">That night, at approximately 10:32 PM, eastern standard time, Raymond Bauer died.</p>
+
“I-Is anyone there?” she called out. He remained silent, unmoving.
   
<p dir="ltr">At 10:33 PM, he was born anew in the thrill of the hunt.  The feast had finally been prepared, and the Red Dog was starving.</p>
+
“P-Please,” she continued, “I think I-I’m having a panic attack, I need help! I need help, I need to go ho-”
   
<p dir="ltr">He let himself go.  He lunged into the darkness of the warehouse, letting the shadows wrap around his body.  He stopped in his tracks, lowering his ear to the ground; in the distance, muffled crying.  A lamb had unknowingly revealed itself to the Red Dog.</p>
+
In an instant, he was upon her, claws gleaming as they tore viciously at her face. Her yelp of shock and terror was stifled by the sheer swiftness of the attack, and it dwindled to a fading gurgle as her eye began to seep out of its socket. He left her there, a crimson halo forming on the floor around what once might have been a beautiful face. There was more game on the range, after all.
   
<p dir="ltr">He prowled low to the ground until he found the source; a young girl, no older than 20, curled in a ball in one of the rows.  He could scarcely make out any distinguishing features in the dark, save for her short red hair. But her personality was not the priority; the butcher never got to know the cow, after all.</p>
+
As if on cue, a new voice presented itself: “what the fuck?!”
   
<p dir="ltr">“I-Is anyone there?” she called out.  He remained silent, umoving.</p>
+
The Red Dog winced as a flashlight pierced the darkness, landing on his most recent prey. The man holding the flashlight was far older than the girl, with graying hair and a white beard.
   
<p dir="ltr">“P-Please,” she continued, “I think I-I’m having a panic attack, I need help!  I need help, I need to go ho-</p>
+
“Oh god,” he went on, “oh fuck, oh shit, what’s going on?!”
   
<p dir="ltr">In an instant, he was upon her, claws gleaming as they tore viciously at her face.  Her yelp of shock and terror was stifled by the sheer swiftness of the attack, and it dwindled to a fading gurgle as her eye began to seep out of its socket.  He left her there, a crimson halo forming on the floor around what once might have been a beautiful face. There was more game on the range, after all.</p>
+
The Red Dog leapt from the shadows, pouncing towards his prey; he miscalculated, and his claws tenderly brushed against the man’s shirt, sending them both toppling to the ground. The Red Dog sprung to his feet, pinning the man to the ground by his throat. He sunk his talons into the tender flesh, harvesting the screams like a farmer of sorrow.
   
<p dir="ltr">As if on cue, a new voice presented itself: “what the fuck?!”</p>
+
Quickly, he pulled upwards, wrestling his claws, and an unsightly clump of skin, free from the man’s throat. He tossed it aside, watching the man flail about as he foolishly tried to cover his mortal wound with his hands. They both knew what had been accomplished in that moment; only one of them was willing to accept it.
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog winced as a flashlight pierced the darkness, landing on his most recent prey.  The man holding the flashlight was far older than the girl, with graying hair and a white beard.</p>
+
From across the warehouse, he heard footsteps, followed by a loud exclamation: “Shit! Someone locked the doors!”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Oh god,” he went on, “oh fuck, oh shit, what’s going on?!”</p>
+
He smiled beneath the mask. Miles had definitely earned that bonus now.
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog leapt from the shadows, pouncing towards his prey; he miscalculated, and his claws tenderly brushed against the man’s shirt, sending them both toppling to the ground.  The Red Dog sprung to his feet, pinning the man to the ground by his throat. He sunk his talons into the tender flesh, harvesting the screams like a farmer of sorrow.</p>
+
He rose from his squatting position next to the dying man, making his way across the warehouse to where he had heard the voice. He moved low to the ground, claws scraping and clattering against the floor. He didn’t care if they heard him coming a mile away; run or hide, fight or cower, they would all be his.
   
<p dir="ltr">Quickly, he pulled upwards, wrestling his claws, and an unsightly clump of skin, free from the man’s throat.  He tossed it aside, watching the man flail about as he foolishly tried to cover his mortal wound with his hands.  They both knew what had been accomplished in that moment; only one of them was willing to accept it. </p>
+
In the distance, he could see the bobbing glow of another flashlight. Another flashing giveaway, equivalent to a big neon sign reading ‘PLEASE COME KILL ME.’ They were becoming predictable, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.
   
<p dir="ltr">From across the warehouse, he heard footsteps, followed by a loud exclamation: “Shit!  Someone locked the doors!”</p>
+
He started towards the flashlight, then stopped as something caught his eye. A faint glint in the darkness: an unsheathed boxcutter, being held out defensively by a curled up employee. He looked to be in his mid 20s, though his facial features were concealed by his arm, blocking his face in what he probably thought was a smart tactic.
   
<p dir="ltr">He smiled beneath the mask.  Miles had definitely earned that bonus now.</p>
+
“Stay back,” the man mumbled as the Red Dog’s footsteps drew closer to him, “I’m… I’m warning you. I can… I can use this!”
   
<p dir="ltr">He rose from his squatting position next to the dying man, making his way across the warehouse to where he had heard the voice.  He moved low to the ground, claws scraping and clattering against the floor. He didn’t care if they heard him coming a mile away; run or hide, fight or cower, they would all be his.</p>
+
The Red Dog knelt to his level; upon closer inspection, the man looked to be younger than he had previously assumed. His eyes were red with tears, and he squeezed them shut as soon as he laid eyes on his predator.
   
<p dir="ltr">In the distance, he could see the bobbing glow of another flashlight.  Another flashing giveaway, equivalent to a big neon sign reading ‘PLEASE COME KILL ME.’  They were becoming predictable, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.</p>
+
“Leave me alone, he whimpered, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, just leave me alone! I want to go home.
   
<p dir="ltr">He started towards the flashlight, then stopped as something caught his eye.  A faint glint in the darkness: an unsheathed boxcutter, being held out defensively by a curled up employee.  He looked to be in his mid 20s, though his facial features were concealed by his arm, blocking his face in what he probably thought was a smart tactic.</p>
+
The Red Dog slowly brought his hand forward, resting it under the man’s eye. He wiped his tears away, then slowly placed his hand on the man’s hair. He leaned in, and whispered a simple response in his ear:
   
<p dir="ltr">“Stay back,” the man mumbled as the Red Dog’s footsteps drew closer to him, “I’m… I’m warning you.  I can… I can use this!</p>
+
“No.”
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog knelt to his level; upon closer inspection, the man looked to be younger than he had previously assumed.  His eyes were red with tears, and he squeezed them shut as soon as he laid eyes on his predator.</p>
+
His talons knotted in the man’s curly hair, the Red Dog applied a tiny amount of pressure, just enough to break the skin of his scalp. After that, all he had to do was pull. His cries were almost enough to drown out the satisfying velcro-like sound of a scalp being peeled away. Almost.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Leave me alone, he whimpered, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, just leave me alone!  I want to go home.”</p>
+
Just as he was finished with his third quarry, he felt it: his left shoulder was hit with a blazing sharp pain. He slowly turned his head to his left, laying eyes on the industrial boxcutter that had been plunged into his shoulder. He stood, facing the employee who had brazenly tried to defy him: a timid man in his early 40s, with a receding hairline and bushy mustache that the Red Dog recognized all too well.
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog slowly brought his hand forward, resting it under the man’s eye.  He wiped his tears away, then slowly placed his hand on the man’s hair. He leaned in, and whispered a simple response in his ear: </p>
+
Miles.
   
<p dir="ltr">“No.”</p>
+
“I’m sorry, sir,” he spoke quietly, “but I can’t let you do this. These people, they’re like family to me. And you’re hurting them, killing them, for what? Sacrifice? Good fortune? There’s other ways, Mr. Bauer. Please don’t hurt my family...”
   
<p dir="ltr">His talons knotted in the man’s curly hair, the Red Dog applied a tiny amount of pressure, just enough to break the skin of his scalp.  After that, all he had to do was pull. His cries were almost enough to drown out the satisfying velcro-like sound of a scalp being peeled away.  Almost.</p>
+
The Red Dog stared at him. The fire in his heart burned hotter than the searing pain in his shoulder; he ignored the crimson blood flowing from the wound. Maya would patch him up when this was all over.
   
<p dir="ltr">Just as he was finished with his third quarry, he felt it: his left shoulder was hit with a blazing sharp pain.  He slowly turned his head to his left, laying eyes on the industrial boxcutter that had been plunged into his shoulder.  He stood, facing the employee who had brazenly tried to defy him: a timid man in his early 40s, with a receding hairline and bushy mustache that the Red Dog recognized all too well.</p>
+
Finally, the Red Dog answered: “Very well. All blood flows the same. Yours for theirs. Take it or leave it.
   
<p dir="ltr">Miles.</p>
+
Miles sighed, lowering his shoulders. “Yes… I’m alright with that. Promise me that if I give myself to you, you won’t kill them.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I’m sorry, sir,” he spoke quietly, “but I can’t let you do this.  These people, they’re like family to me. And you’re hurting them, killing them, for what?  Sacrifice? Good fortune?  There’s other ways, Mr. Bauer.  Please don’t hurt my family...”</p>
+
The Red Dog nodded solemnly. “I swear it to Anubis. May he tear my soul to pieces should I lay a hand on any more of them.”
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog stared at him.  The fire in his heart burned hotter than the searing pain in his shoulder; he ignored the crimson blood flowing from the wound.  Maya would patch him up when this was all over.</p>
+
Miles nodded, slowly sinking to his knees. The Red Dog approached, brandishing his claws. He wasted no time collecting what he was owed; one ferocious swipe after another. His face was clawed mercilessly, his distinguishing features overtaken by the red. He slumped to the ground in shock, but the Red Dog was not finished. Slash after slash, cut after cut, until Miles Warren’s face was an indescribable, indistinguishable pulp of flesh, fat, and blood.
   
<p dir="ltr">Finally, the Red Dog answered: “Very well.  All blood flows the same. Yours for theirs.  Take it or leave it.”</p>
+
The Red Dog knelt beside him, slowly lifting the mask off his face.
   
<p dir="ltr">Miles sighed, lowering his shoulders.  “Yes… I’m alright with that. Promise me that if I give myself to you, you won’t kill them.”</p>
+
“O mighty Anubis, he whispered, “I offer you this sacrifice in exchange for fortune. Bless me with luck in this coming year, and give me the strength and vitality to meet any challenge. Keep my company in high success, and I shall honor you once more.”
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog nodded solemnly.  “I swear it to Anubis. May he tear my soul to pieces should I lay a hand on any more of them.”</p>
+
He placed the mask down on Miles’ face, pressing it in until blood began to seep out from beneath its edges.
   
<p dir="ltr">Miles nodded, slowly sinking to his knees.  The Red Dog approached, brandishing his claws.  He wasted no time collecting what he was owed; one ferocious swipe after another.  His face was clawed mercilessly, his distinguishing features overtaken by the red. He slumped to the ground in shock, but the Red Dog was not finished.  Slash after slash, cut after cut, until Miles Warren’s face was an indescribable, indistinguishable pulp of flesh, fat, and blood.</p>
+
“This I vow, he called out, “this I vow!”
   
<p dir="ltr">The Red Dog knelt beside him, slowly lifting the mask off his face.</p>
+
He swiftly raised the mask, watching the blood pour from it like raindrops from an awning. He held it in the air for several moments, until he heard a voice from behind him.
   
<p dir="ltr">“O mighty Anubis, he whispered, “I offer you this sacrifice in exchange for fortune.  Bless me with luck in this coming year, and give me the strength and vitality to meet any challenge.  Keep my company in high success, and I shall honor you once more.”</p>
+
“Sir… is it over?
   
<p dir="ltr">He placed the mask down on Miles’ face, pressing it in until blood began to seep out from beneath its edges.</p>
+
He turned to face Maya, lowering the mask. “Yes Maya… it’s over. The sacrifice has been made. I can only presume the remaining employees have gone into hiding throughout the warehouse.
   
<p dir="ltr">“This I vow,” he called out, “this I vow!</p>
+
“Are you going to pursue them?
   
<p dir="ltr">He swiftly raised the mask, watching the blood pour from it like raindrops from an awning.  He held it in the air for several moments, until he heard a voice from behind him.</p>
+
“I can’t. I promised Mi- Mr. Warren that I wouldn’t lay another finger on any of them.
   
<p dir="ltr">“Sir… is it over?”</p>
+
“But I thought the ritual couldn’t be fully completed unless everyone in the warehouse was killed?”
   
<p dir="ltr">He turned to face Maya, lowering the mask.  “Yes Maya… it’s over. The sacrifice has been made.  I can only presume the remaining employees have gone into hiding throughout the warehouse.</p>
+
Raymond smiled his corporate smile once more. “I won’t touch them, Maya. An unfortunate ‘accidental’ fire will. Care to help me?
   
<p dir="ltr">“Are you going to pursue them?</p>
+
In the darkness, Maya smiled back. “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Bauer.
   
<p dir="ltr">“I can’t.  I promised Mi- Mr. Warren that I wouldn’t lay another finger on any of them.”</p>
+
*****
   
<p dir="ltr">“But I thought the ritual couldn’t be fully completed unless everyone in the warehouse was killed?”</p>
+
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to talk yesterday, I had to take a late lunch. You know how those long business days are. And forgive me, but you are…?”
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond smiled his corporate smile once more.  “I won’t touch them, Maya. An unfortunate ‘accidental’ fire will.  Care to help me?</p>
+
“Katherine Hodgson, Vice News.”
   
<p dir="ltr">In the darkness, Maya smiled back.  “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Bauer.”</p>
+
“Raymond Bauer at your service, Ms. Hodgson, although I’m sure you already knew that.”
   
<p dir="ltr">*****</p>
+
“Just about everybody seems to know your name these days, Mr. Bauer. You’re at the top of one of the most successful corporations in America.”
   
<p dir="ltr">“I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to talk yesterday, I had to take a late lunch.  You know how those long business days are. And forgive me, but you are…?”</p>
+
Raymond chuckled as he reclined in his office chair, the familiar skyline view beaming behind him. “Well, it certainly wasn’t an easy journey. Shall we begin the interview now?”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Katherine Hodgson, Vice News.”</p>
+
Katherine Hodgson nodded, clicking on her tape recorder. “Mr. Bauer, your company is one of the most successful in America, quite possibly the world. But as your company history shows, you came startlingly close to bankruptcy in the early 2000s. What did you do to pull yourself out of such an impossible slump?
   
<p dir="ltr">“Raymond Bauer at your service, Ms. Hodgson, although I’m sure you already knew that.”</p>
+
“Well, it was no easy feat, I can assure you of that. Lots of blood sweat and tears, y’know? You see, Ms. Hodgson, every successful business requires sacrifice. This is not a macabre metaphor for hard work, but rather a well established fact in the entrepreneurial world…”
   
<p dir="ltr">“Just about everybody seems to know your name these days, Mr. Bauer.  You’re at the top of one of the most successful corporations in America.”</p>
+
Raymond Bauer spoke wisely. His interviewer listened intently. And the Red Dog prattled on in silence, speaking the ancient language of the sky as the wind whistled through hollow eyes.
   
<p dir="ltr">Raymond chuckled as he reclined in his office chair, the familiar skyline view beaming behind him.  “Well, it certainly wasn’t an easy journey. Shall we begin the interview now?”</p>
 
 
<p dir="ltr">Katherine Hodgson nodded, clicking on her tape recorder.  “Mr. Bauer, your company is one of the most successful in America, quite possibly the world.  But as your company history shows, you came startlingly close to bankruptcy in the early 2000s.  What did you do to pull yourself out of such an impossible slump?”</p>
 
 
<p dir="ltr">“Well, it was no easy feat, I can assure you of that.  Lots of blood sweat and tears, y’know? You see, Ms. Hodgson, every successful business requires sacrifice.  This is not a macabre metaphor for hard work, but rather a well established fact in the entrepreneurial world…”</p>
 
 
<p dir="ltr">Raymond Bauer spoke wisely.  His interviewer listened intently.  And the Red Dog prattled on in silence, speaking the ancient language of the sky as the wind whistled through hollow eyes.</p>
 
 
{{By-user|Parlour}}
 
{{By-user|Parlour}}
[[Category:Gods]]
+
[[Category:Gods]]
 
[[Category:Ritual]]
 
[[Category:Ritual]]

Revision as of 17:58, February 15, 2019

Every successful business requires sacrifice. This is not a macabre metaphor for hard work, but rather a well established fact in the entrepreneurial world. The red lines on company charts are propelled upward by the bloodied hands of the working class. The columns of the courthouse shake and rattle with the cacophony of bones. Take America, for instance. It was once a lush landscape, packed to the brim with native flora and fauna; not a foundry or oil drill to be found. Beautiful, yet somehow… lazy. Frivolous. Only when the rivers ran black with blood and the men became intoxicated by the fumes of their own blazes could the virgin country be attributed to a higher purpose. In the eyes of the perpetrators, their actions are never cruel or wanton. Everything happens for a reason, and the sacrifice? Well, that was just business as usual. Of course every great sacrifice begets voices of dissent; when great men attain power, it is the weak who most often try to wrestle it away. But it matters little in the grand scheme; a voice can only dissent for so long before the vocal cords start to melt away, and the flesh curls and blackens before finally giving in to the red.

Raymond Bauer understood sacrifice more than most men. On his road to the top, he had forsaken friends, lovers, and even his own family. He watched them fall one by one as he continued to climb the steps of success. His friends grew busy, so he left them behind. His lovers grew demanding, so he left them behind. His parents grew frail, so he left them behind. There wasn’t any malice or ill intent in his multitude of abandonments. Like all sacrifices a businessman has to make, it was required of him, simple as that. Whenever he saw their faces in his fever dreams, he would convince himself that continuing on his own was the best thing he could’ve done. Their echoing pleas were drowned out by nightly reassurances that they were fine; that they were doing just as well for themselves as he was.

Most of the time, he believed it.

Raymond Bauer had a fondness for looking out his window, and with a massive skyline right outside his lofty penthouse office, it was an understandable fixation. He would run his hands through his jet black hair, or he would shake the last ashes out of his cigarette, or he would pace back and forth next to the massive window view. It seemed like no matter what he was doing, he couldn’t stay still. Every necktie demanded to be fidgeted with, every itch demanded to be scratched; when he wasn’t on the move, he wasn’t happy. At least, he didn’t feel happy.

Raymond’s daily musings were interrupted by a quick tap on the mahogany door. Raymond had memorized the various knocks of his fellow corporate employees, and he had a hunch that this feeble tap belonged to his secretary, Maya.

“Come in.” he spoke into the window, refusing to turn around. He could see the reflection of a dark skinned woman slowly pushing the door open. It was indeed Maya; Raymond allowed himself a quick smile of victory.

“Maya,” he said cheerfully, turning around as he shoved his hands in his pockets, “what can I do for you?”

“Just figured we should go over your schedule for today, Mr. Bauer. You’ve got a lot penciled in here, and I just thought-”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Raymond agreed, “I can’t afford to be too busy on a day like today. What’ve we got?”

“Well,” Maya began, “It’s 11 now. At 11:45, the board of directors is holding a meeting to discuss sales projections, and they want you to attend.”

“Hmm, I can make that. Sales are fine, so worst case scenario is that it’ll just be a bore.”

“Alright, then at 2:30 you’re scheduled for lunch with Eddie Maguire.”

“Oh jeez, cancel it. I can’t worry about that today.”

“Ok, that’s canceled… at 4, a representative from Vice News would like to attempt an interview with you on the company’s success and its future.”

“Emphasis on ‘attempt.’ Whenever they show up, tell them I’m out to lunch.”

“Out to lunch at 4, Mr. Bauer?”

“You never know. Maybe I had a long work day, or maybe I don’t feel like dealing with them right now.”

“Right you are,” she said as she continued writing notes in her planner, “Then all that’s left is… the selection process. That, as I’m sure you know, begins at 5 PM sharp.”

Raymond’s eyes glistened when she mentioned the selection process. It was the heralding of his favorite time of year, and he could hardly contain his excitement as he nodded his head.

“Believe me, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Maya nodded, stepping backward and slowly closing the door behind her. Once again, Raymond Bauer was all alone with his thoughts. He paced over to his mahogany desk; other men’s desks would’ve been littered with family photos, children’s drawings, and other sentimental knick knacks, but his was almost completely bare. Apart from his laptop, the only thing taking up space on his desk was his prized possession: an ornate jackal mask positioned neatly on a miniature pedestal. Raymond’s father was a frequent traveler, and he had purchased the mask from a street vendor in Cairo when Raymond was a young boy. Of course, his father forbade him from going anywhere near it; once his father’s eyesight and his hearing began to fail him around Raymond’s college years, he decided that the mask deserved to be in safer hands, and it was on his desk ever since.

He picked the mask up, eyes pouring over every intricate detail: the miniscule cuts and slashes around the ears, the subtle lines and spirals cascading down the sides. His favorite detail was the red streaks that fell from the eye holes, imitating crimson tear stains dripping down the front of the mask. He thought it gave the whole piece a far more somber tone than was most likely intended. A long time ago, he had dubbed the mask “the Red Dog,” because his adolescent brain couldn’t fully understand what a jackal was. He held onto that title, for even now, something about it chilled him to his very core.

“Mr. Bauer?” Maya called out as she opened the door once again. Raymond placed the mask back on its pedestal and turned to face her.

“Don’t forget, you agreed to go to the board meeting at 11:45,” Maya helpfully reminded him, “it’ll be starting soon.”

“Yes, you’re right. Thank you, Maya, I had nearly forgotten already. I suppose I should be on my way then. I can… count on seeing you tonight?”

Maya lowered her head slightly, glancing at her feet.

“Y-Yes, sir. I’ll be there.”

“Great!” Raymond clasped his hands together as he approached the door. “It’s always so much fun when the actual ceremony begins. I know you’ll have a great time.”

He pulled on his end of the door, swinging it open. Maya obediently backed away, and Raymond closed the door to his office and began down the hall.

When he felt Maya’s gaze lifted off his back, he began to think to himself.

She hesitated when I mentioned the ceremony. She seemed nervous… afraid.

Raymond’s corporate grin sank into a frown.

Failure cannot be tolerated. Hesitation cannot be tolerated. We get one shot at this, and it has to work! Relax, Raymond. It will. It will.

Raymond forced the friendly smile to return to his face as he pushed open the door to the conference room, his mind already hours away, lost in the glory and the ecstasy of the night’s ceremony.

“Well, how did the meeting go?”

“How did you think it would go, Maya?”

“Uh… well, I suppose?”

“Correct!”

Maya struggled to keep pace with Raymond as he strode down the bustling hallway, eyes locked on his familiar office door.

“Sales are through the roof, Maya,” Raymond explained as they hurried back towards the office, “another successful year, come and gone. Can you believe it’s been a full 365 days?”

“No, Mr. Bauer,” she said, noticeably winded, “I can’t.”

“Well, we can’t get sloppy. We’ve gotta keep up the good work into next year. The company comes first, no matter what kinds of sacrifices we need to make to keep ‘er afloat. You know what I’m saying?”

“I understand, sir. I have a good feeling about this upcoming year. I hope we can keep our good luck streak running.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Finally, the two arrived at the door of Raymond’s office; Raymond skidded to a halt, frantically checking his wristwatch.

“4:55 PM,” he said as he turned to face Maya, “we’d better get down there.”

“Right. I’ll prep the room, you gather whatever you need. Be sure you’re on time, Mr. Bauer.”

“I’ll be there, Maya. It’s like I said: I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

She nodded, continuing onwards past his door. When she disappeared around the corner, he slipped back into his office. Quickly, he approached a filing cabinet tucked away in the corner of the room. He opened the uppermost drawer, and pulled out a small first aid kit. The palm of his hand began to itch, and he winced when he recalled the events of last year.

Get over it. Everything we do is mandatory. Pain is pain. Blood is blood. You’ll live in the end.

Before he left, Raymond spun around to face his desk, staring intently into the empty eyes of the Red Dog.

“Soon, old boy,” he whispered to himself, “soon you’ll be happy.”

The wind whistled faintly between the mask’s sockets; Raymond liked to imagine that the Red Dog was attempting to communicate with him. He imagined sitting there for hours, speaking ancient tongues while the Red Dog prattled on with the language of the sky, until eventually they would reach an understanding of one another. Mutualism in its purest, most basic form. A parasite and a host, joined in eldritch unity.

In this fantastical daydream, Raymond never defined which among the two would be the parasite, and which would be the host.

He reached for the Red Dog, but stopped his hands just short of the pedestal.

There’ll be time for that later, Raymond. For now you have to get downstairs.

Raymond straightened his back, adjusted his tie, and walked out of his office, first aid kit tucked neatly under his arm. He rounded the same corner Maya had only moments before, and quickly found himself staring through an open doorway with a set of stairs leading downwards. He moved excitedly down the stairs, taking it two steps at a time. He reached the bottom, feet thudding awkwardly from almost tripping on the last step. Maya stifled a smirk as Raymond composed himself.

“Maya, are we ready?” he asked, approaching her in the center of the room.

“Yes sir, Mr. Bauer. We’re all prepped, but are you ready to begin the selection process?”

“I am. Let’s see the map.”

Maya stepped away from the center, and Raymond did the same. Carved into the center of the floor was a large, intricate map of the United States of America, with deep rivets and grooves making up the many state borders and rivers. Raymond ensured that the designer got the map down to the most minute detail for maximum accuracy.

“Alright,” Raymond said with a hint of hesitation, “everything looks good here. Let’s do this.”

Maya said nothing. She nodded, producing a knife from behind her back. She handed it to Raymond, who took it with his left hand and placed the blade in the palm of his right.

“Come on, baby,” he whispered, “please be Florida. Please be Florida.”

In one swift motion, Raymond clenched his fist over top of the blade, pulling the knife down as he grimaced in pain. He raised his bloodied fist over top of the map, watching the first drop of blood dive through the air.

“Shit!” he exclaimed, “That never gets any easier.”

“Where did the blood land, Mr. Bauer?”

“Oh, uh… let’s see.”

He stooped over the map, cradling his hand. He saw the crimson red droplet, its hue starkly contrasting the marble gray of the floor. It had landed directly in the center of Iowa.

“Goddammit! Well Maya, looks like we’re taking a trip to Iowa.”

“I see. Are you ready to begin the second phase of the selection process?”

Raymond’s eyes lit up once again. Now came the fun part.

“You bet I am.”

Maya nodded once more. She walked over to the far wall, sliding open a panel to reveal a hidden keypad. She typed in a code, and the wall swung open, revealing four display cases. The first one held two daggers, positioned apart from one another in a fashion that caused them to resemble two abstract fangs. The second case held an innocuous looking vial; the substance within was green and bubbling. The third case held two identical gauntlets, and the fourth case held a curled up whip.

“Take your pick, sir,” Maya said with the casual aura of a carnival game worker, “will it be the Dog’s Teeth, the Dog’s Breath, the Dog’s Paws, or the Dog’s Tongue?”

Raymond studied each case individually; each potential choice had its own pros and cons. The Teeth were a nice all around selection, but knives were so cliche. The Breath was amazing at crowd control, but so difficult to clean up when the fun finally ended. The Paws were a symbol of fear and intimidation, but their close range was a significant drawback. The Tongue had all the range to boot, but it took significantly longer to operate. He mulled over his choices, absent-mindedly clicking his tongue in contemplation.

“You know what?” he decided at last, “give me the Dog’s Paws. I’m feeling particularly confrontational this time around.”

Maya nodded, removing a small key from her pocket. She unlocked the third case, gently lifting the gauntlets off their mount and handing them to Raymond. He studied them; they were elegantly crafted, with beauty and purpose masterfully intertwined. A rare unity between luxury and utilitarianism. The crowning feature of the Dog’s Paws were the ornate claws perched atop each finger. Raymond slid the left gauntlet onto his hand, delicately guiding his fingers through the open slots and into the embrace of the shiny silver claws. He flexed his hand, talons glowing in the relative darkness of the basement. Raymond felt powerful, animalistic, savage.

Raymond felt alive.

“May I say, sir,” Maya interrupted, “I think you’ve made an excellent choice this year.”

“Ha! I agree,” he exclaimed, slowly removing the gauntlet, “it’s been ages since the last time I wore these. Last year was…”

“The Breath, sir.”

“Ah, the Breath! How could I have forgotten? So much fun, but so much work, y’know? I’m ready to just let loose this year.”

Maya grinned. “You’ve earned it, boss.”

Raymond allowed a grin of his own to sneak onto his face. “No Maya, we earned it. Not just you and me, but the whole company did their share to bring us to tonight. Now, how quickly can you prep the jet for a round trip to Iowa?”

Raymond had always found it difficult to dream. Ever since he was a boy, his slumbers were never filled with wondrous landscapes or peculiar happenings rooted in the real world. It was always just… blackness. He knew he was asleep, he knew that the endless stretch of darkness meant he was supposed to be dreaming, but nothing would ever manifest.

That night, on the plane ride to Iowa, Raymond had a dream.

It began as innocuously as all of his past “dreams” would: Raymond stood alone at the edge of an inescapable blackness. The horizon was engulfed in shadow, and it was only for the bent rules of the dreaming mind that he was able to see his own hands in front of him. Like most nights, he began to walk through the darkness, discontent in the unimaginative nature of his sleeping brain. This time, something felt… off. Nothing had revealed itself, but in this dream, Raymond couldn’t shake the feeling that something was in there with him. Something that used the void as a hiding place, lurking perhaps mere inches away from Raymond’s peripherals. He was all by himself in the dreamscape, but he had never felt less alone.

A voice called out to him from the distance. A simple summon, echoing across boundless blackness: “Raymond…”

Raymond, although taken aback, followed the voice, continuing his trek. The further he progressed, he seemed to sink into the darkness as though it were a marsh. When the voice called to him a second time, he was up to his knees in nothingness.

This is new. My dreams are never this strange…

He attempted to continue walking, but found that he couldn’t. His legs were firmly rooted in the void, as if they had been lopped off at the knees.

“Raymond Bauer,” the voice called out, booming far closer to him, “you have much to answer for.”

In an instant, the darkness was sliced open by a beam of light, so bright that Raymond could hardly see anything. The light faded, and he looked upon the body behind the voice.

He stood at easily seven or eight feet tall, with dark bronze skin. He was draped in shrouds that were made of gold, and he sported armored plating on his upper arms and legs. He carried a scepter in his right hand; there was something perched at the top of it, but he couldn’t tell what exactly. Instead, he was too busy focusing on the being’s face, which was concealed behind an obsidian jackal mask. Unlike the Red Dog, the mask was pure black, so much so that it almost melted into the dark backdrop. The eyes glowed white, and they seemed to pierce Raymond’s very soul with their gaze. He knew who he was looking upon: the lord of the dead, the judge of life itself.

Anubis.

“You are prepared to embark upon another ceremony, are you not, Raymond Bauer?” Anubis asked in a booming voice.

“Y-Yes, I am…”

“And tell me, whose face do you hide behind? Whose face do you steal out of hatred for your own?”

“I… I don’t unders-”

“Mine!” Anubis screamed as another bolt of light cracked behind him. “You have torn my face from my sleeping body, and you wear it to mask the smell of your own perverse sin! You have escaped judgement for far too long, Raymond Bauer. Tell me, what is in your briefcase?”

Raymond stared down at his left hand, in which his gray briefcase had materialized. He lifted it closer to him, and slowly clicked the latches open. A dark crimson red began to drip from beneath the hatch. He reached into the open case, fishing through a damp pooling of blood until he found the true contents of the case: a heart. He pulled it from within the case as it twitched and convulsed in his bloody hands. Unwillingly, almost hypnotically, he handed it to Anubis. Anubis lowered the scepter to eye level, allowing Raymond to see that a scale was perched atop it. Silently, Anubis placed the still beating heart onto the scale, and watched intently as it pulled the scale down with its weight. He nodded slightly as Raymond looked on in confusion and panic.

“It is as I knew all along,” Anubis said quietly, “your heart is weighed down by sin- by blood and tears, none of which your own.”

Slowly, the marsh-like ground began to release its grip; Raymond slowly pulled himself out of the ground, landing on his knees in an inadvertent praying pose.

“Do take care,” Anubis continued, “because all life comes to me one way or another. For all your evil, you are but a man; the sands of time are just as cruel to you as they are to every other wretched soul. When next we meet again, your judgment will be final.”

Raymond stood at last, knees struggling not to buckle beneath him. Anubis began to laugh as lights thrashed and dotted across the black expanse.

“Next time, I will feed your heart to the beast, Mr. Bauer! Mr. Bauer…”

“Mr. Bauer!”

Raymond snapped awake, his body awkwardly slumped across two of the seats on his private jet. Maya had called his name, jolting him back to the waking world.

“Mr. Bauer, are you alright? You were screaming like a madman…”

“I’m… I’m alright, Maya. I had a nightmare, that’s all.”

“Oh. Well, you were talking a bit in your sleep. You kept saying, ‘Don’t take my heart’ over and over again. What was happening in your dream?”

Raymond recalled the dream, being forced to remove his own heart from his briefcase, which was currently propped against an adjacent seat. He slowly heaved it onto his lap, clicking open the latches just as he had done mere moments ago. From the shadow of the case, he could make out one of the crimson tear stains of the Red Dog.

“Don’t worry about it, Maya,” he concluded, “we have work to do tonight.”

The drive to the company warehouse was quick and uneventful. Maya had called for an Uber, and much to Raymond’s satisfaction, the driver was one of the quiet ones. He needed silence in order to reflect on his inner cacophony; nervousness and excitement and ecstasy all stirred into one massive knot in his stomach. He instinctively tapped his fingers against the side of his briefcase, as he normally would when one of his associates was running late. It was a sign of anxiousness, one of the unconscious ‘something-better-happen-right-fucking-now’ gestures that people often make when they’re waiting on an important phone call, waiting in traffic, or perhaps just waiting on life to start looking up. Raymond had very little to wait for in the grand scheme of things, but he tapped away regardless as the Uber pulled into the well lit parking lot of the company’s warehouse; there were many warehouses (dubbed ‘fulfillment centers’ by the marketing team) scattered across the country, but Raymond’s current stop was at the center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Uber pulled up to the front door, Maya hastily shoving crumpled up bills into the driver’s palm as Raymond excitedly stepped out into the cool night air. Maya followed suit, closing the door behind her; the two of them watched the car pull away, its headlights eventually being consumed by the dark of night.

Raymond didn’t want to think about the darkness anymore. Not until the euphoria of the ceremony kicked his nightmare to the mental curb.

“Are you ready, Mr. Bauer?” Maya asked as he stared off into the distance. She slightly gestured towards the double doors awaiting them.

“I’m all set,” he said as he approached the doors, “this will be one to remember, eh, Maya?”

Maya grinned. “It always is, sir.”

“Right answer.”

Raymond swung open the right door, stepping into the stuffy lobby of the warehouse; to his right was a door that led to a branching hallway, and in front of him was the door to the warehouse floor. As if on cue, the door to his right creaked open, and a man approached Raymond and Maya. He was a timid man in his early 40s, with a receding hairline and bushy mustache that almost made him resemble a balding Teddy Roosevelt. Unlike regular employees, who wore green safety vests when on the floor, the man wore a red vest, indicative of a managerial status.

“Mr. Bauer,” he spoke respectfully, hands crossed behind his back, “it’s such a pleasure to have you here at our center.”

“It’s a pleasure to be here, Mr…”

“Warren, sir. Miles Warren.”

“Well, it’s good to meet you, Miles. I trust our employees are hard at work?”

“Oh, very much so, sir. A lot of employees have already left for the night, but the closing crew is still going at it; they will be for some time.”

Raymond’s corporate smile slowly faded into a more serious, stoic look. “Miles, you understand why I dropped in to visit you?”

Miles looked down at the floor, rubbing the sole of his sneaker into the floor.

“I do, sir. It’ll be a shame to see ‘em go; they’re hard workers, all of them. But it’s for the company, after all.”

Raymond’s smile returned. “I’m glad you understand. It makes things so much easier. Tell me, is there any kind of office where I can survey the floor?”

“Yes sir, we have a great view of the warehouse floor right this way.”

Raymond nodded, and he and Maya followed Miles back through the door in which he entered. They passed a door labeled ‘break room,’ then continued up a flight of stairs until they reached a lofty office. True to form, it had a massive window view of the floor; Raymond could see green vests blurring as employees scurried between tasks. Somewhere deep inside, a tiny shred of pride manifested itself as he watched them go about their tasks, counting down the hours until they too could go home.

They don’t even know.

Raymond placed his briefcase down on the office desk. He calmly removed his dark blue suit jacket, setting it over the cushy desk chair. He straightened out his blood red tie, adjusted the tacky suspenders he was so fond of wearing, and opened the briefcase.

“Miles,” he called out as he removed the Dog’s Paws from the case, “would you be so kind as to let me access your PA system?”

“Of course, sir. I’ll prep it while you get ready.”

“Thank you, Miles. Now if all managers were like you, then our company would really be something.”

Raymond slid the gauntlets over his hands, adjusting the straps on either side until they felt as if they were his true hands. Being careful not to let the talons cause any excess damage, he slowly pulled the Red Dog from the case. He held it delicately in his clawed hands, crossing the room to where Miles was fidgeting with the PA system.

“All set, Mr. Bauer,” he announced proudly, “just push the button and talk into the microphone. They’ll hear you all the way out on the floor.”

Raymond nodded, approaching the PA system. He pressed a talon against the red button, let the feedback ring out for a moment, then began to speak, slowly and deliberately.

“Do you enjoy your job?”

He paused. He could hear very faint mumbles from the floor below; they were confused, understandably so.

“Miles,” he said, taking his finger off the button, “wait for my signal, then it’s lights out.”

Miles nodded, and hurried out of the office. Raymond placed his finger back on the button.

“Personally, I don’t like my job. Sure, it pays well, and the effects it has on my social life are unreal, but I find it so… boring. So unfulfilling. I’m sure some of you here tonight can relate, even if you won’t admit it. Every now and then, I need a night where I can just… cut loose. Where I can shed the suit and tie and live life as a free man; I know you can relate now. It’s a Saturday night, after all; you’re counting down until your shift is up, then you’ll rush home to whatever the rest of the night has in store for you.”

Their confused mumblings grew more audible with each passing word that filled the warehouse air. It brought a smile to Raymond’s face.

“For each of you, the night belongs to different things. Tonight might belong to your mother and father. It might belong to your best friends and their movie night. It might belong to the waiting arms of a lover, the simple rustle of bedsheets, or even the joy of returning home to be greeted by the smile of a child.”

He kept his finger on the button, deliberately pausing for several moments.

“Unfortunately, there’s been a change in schedule. Lights out.”

On cue, all the lights on the warehouse floor shut off. Raymond was delighted to find that the intercom was still working, meaning Miles hadn’t unknowingly cut the power entirely; he made a mental note to personally give Miles a bonus when the ordeal was over.

Their mumbles of confusion turned to wails of panic and uncertainty. He could not contain his smile any more.

“Tonight belongs to something else now. Something bigger than you, and bigger than me. His name is the Red Dog, and he’s waited exactly 365 days, 14 hours, 33 minutes, and 55 seconds to meet you all. His nails are pretty sharp, so try not to let him scratch you if you can help it. You might find him a bit… aggressive at times, but he means well. He just wants what’s best for all of us… and so do I.”

With his clawed finger still firmly on the button, he slid the Red Dog over his face using his free hand.

“You’ll scream. You’ll cry. But in the end, it matters little…”

He paused for a final time, listening to their panic. Their rising panic, their confusion over what might have just been a sick joke, their worried assurances that everything was going to be ok- it was music to his ears.

“...All things return to the red, one way or another.”

He removed his finger from the button, slowly turning and descending down the stairs. He swung open the door to the warehouse, and took in the feeling of it all. In total darkness, a choir of screams lit the path ahead of him. In the cold of night, his body radiated adrenaline from the thrill of what was to follow.

That night, at approximately 10:32 PM, eastern standard time, Raymond Bauer died.

At 10:33 PM, he was born anew in the thrill of the hunt. The feast had finally been prepared, and the Red Dog was starving.

He let himself go. He lunged into the darkness of the warehouse, letting the shadows wrap around his body. He stopped in his tracks, lowering his ear to the ground; in the distance, muffled crying. A lamb had unknowingly revealed itself to the Red Dog.

He prowled low to the ground until he found the source; a young girl, no older than 20, curled in a ball in one of the rows. He could scarcely make out any distinguishing features in the dark, save for her short red hair. But her personality was not the priority; the butcher never got to know the cow, after all.

“I-Is anyone there?” she called out. He remained silent, unmoving.

“P-Please,” she continued, “I think I-I’m having a panic attack, I need help! I need help, I need to go ho-”

In an instant, he was upon her, claws gleaming as they tore viciously at her face. Her yelp of shock and terror was stifled by the sheer swiftness of the attack, and it dwindled to a fading gurgle as her eye began to seep out of its socket. He left her there, a crimson halo forming on the floor around what once might have been a beautiful face. There was more game on the range, after all.

As if on cue, a new voice presented itself: “what the fuck?!”

The Red Dog winced as a flashlight pierced the darkness, landing on his most recent prey. The man holding the flashlight was far older than the girl, with graying hair and a white beard.

“Oh god,” he went on, “oh fuck, oh shit, what’s going on?!”

The Red Dog leapt from the shadows, pouncing towards his prey; he miscalculated, and his claws tenderly brushed against the man’s shirt, sending them both toppling to the ground. The Red Dog sprung to his feet, pinning the man to the ground by his throat. He sunk his talons into the tender flesh, harvesting the screams like a farmer of sorrow.

Quickly, he pulled upwards, wrestling his claws, and an unsightly clump of skin, free from the man’s throat. He tossed it aside, watching the man flail about as he foolishly tried to cover his mortal wound with his hands. They both knew what had been accomplished in that moment; only one of them was willing to accept it.

From across the warehouse, he heard footsteps, followed by a loud exclamation: “Shit! Someone locked the doors!”

He smiled beneath the mask. Miles had definitely earned that bonus now.

He rose from his squatting position next to the dying man, making his way across the warehouse to where he had heard the voice. He moved low to the ground, claws scraping and clattering against the floor. He didn’t care if they heard him coming a mile away; run or hide, fight or cower, they would all be his.

In the distance, he could see the bobbing glow of another flashlight. Another flashing giveaway, equivalent to a big neon sign reading ‘PLEASE COME KILL ME.’ They were becoming predictable, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.

He started towards the flashlight, then stopped as something caught his eye. A faint glint in the darkness: an unsheathed boxcutter, being held out defensively by a curled up employee. He looked to be in his mid 20s, though his facial features were concealed by his arm, blocking his face in what he probably thought was a smart tactic.

“Stay back,” the man mumbled as the Red Dog’s footsteps drew closer to him, “I’m… I’m warning you. I can… I can use this!”

The Red Dog knelt to his level; upon closer inspection, the man looked to be younger than he had previously assumed. His eyes were red with tears, and he squeezed them shut as soon as he laid eyes on his predator.

“Leave me alone,” he whimpered, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, just leave me alone! I want to go home.”

The Red Dog slowly brought his hand forward, resting it under the man’s eye. He wiped his tears away, then slowly placed his hand on the man’s hair. He leaned in, and whispered a simple response in his ear:

“No.”

His talons knotted in the man’s curly hair, the Red Dog applied a tiny amount of pressure, just enough to break the skin of his scalp. After that, all he had to do was pull. His cries were almost enough to drown out the satisfying velcro-like sound of a scalp being peeled away. Almost.

Just as he was finished with his third quarry, he felt it: his left shoulder was hit with a blazing sharp pain. He slowly turned his head to his left, laying eyes on the industrial boxcutter that had been plunged into his shoulder. He stood, facing the employee who had brazenly tried to defy him: a timid man in his early 40s, with a receding hairline and bushy mustache that the Red Dog recognized all too well.

Miles.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he spoke quietly, “but I can’t let you do this. These people, they’re like family to me. And you’re hurting them, killing them, for what? Sacrifice? Good fortune? There’s other ways, Mr. Bauer. Please don’t hurt my family...”

The Red Dog stared at him. The fire in his heart burned hotter than the searing pain in his shoulder; he ignored the crimson blood flowing from the wound. Maya would patch him up when this was all over.

Finally, the Red Dog answered: “Very well. All blood flows the same. Yours for theirs. Take it or leave it.”

Miles sighed, lowering his shoulders. “Yes… I’m alright with that. Promise me that if I give myself to you, you won’t kill them.”

The Red Dog nodded solemnly. “I swear it to Anubis. May he tear my soul to pieces should I lay a hand on any more of them.”

Miles nodded, slowly sinking to his knees. The Red Dog approached, brandishing his claws. He wasted no time collecting what he was owed; one ferocious swipe after another. His face was clawed mercilessly, his distinguishing features overtaken by the red. He slumped to the ground in shock, but the Red Dog was not finished. Slash after slash, cut after cut, until Miles Warren’s face was an indescribable, indistinguishable pulp of flesh, fat, and blood.

The Red Dog knelt beside him, slowly lifting the mask off his face.

“O mighty Anubis,” he whispered, “I offer you this sacrifice in exchange for fortune. Bless me with luck in this coming year, and give me the strength and vitality to meet any challenge. Keep my company in high success, and I shall honor you once more.”

He placed the mask down on Miles’ face, pressing it in until blood began to seep out from beneath its edges.

“This I vow,” he called out, “this I vow!”

He swiftly raised the mask, watching the blood pour from it like raindrops from an awning. He held it in the air for several moments, until he heard a voice from behind him.

“Sir… is it over?”

He turned to face Maya, lowering the mask. “Yes Maya… it’s over. The sacrifice has been made. I can only presume the remaining employees have gone into hiding throughout the warehouse.”

“Are you going to pursue them?”

“I can’t. I promised Mi- Mr. Warren that I wouldn’t lay another finger on any of them.”

“But I thought the ritual couldn’t be fully completed unless everyone in the warehouse was killed?”

Raymond smiled his corporate smile once more. “I won’t touch them, Maya. An unfortunate ‘accidental’ fire will. Care to help me?”

In the darkness, Maya smiled back. “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Bauer.”

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to talk yesterday, I had to take a late lunch. You know how those long business days are. And forgive me, but you are…?”

“Katherine Hodgson, Vice News.”

“Raymond Bauer at your service, Ms. Hodgson, although I’m sure you already knew that.”

“Just about everybody seems to know your name these days, Mr. Bauer. You’re at the top of one of the most successful corporations in America.”

Raymond chuckled as he reclined in his office chair, the familiar skyline view beaming behind him. “Well, it certainly wasn’t an easy journey. Shall we begin the interview now?”

Katherine Hodgson nodded, clicking on her tape recorder. “Mr. Bauer, your company is one of the most successful in America, quite possibly the world. But as your company history shows, you came startlingly close to bankruptcy in the early 2000s. What did you do to pull yourself out of such an impossible slump?”

“Well, it was no easy feat, I can assure you of that. Lots of blood sweat and tears, y’know? You see, Ms. Hodgson, every successful business requires sacrifice. This is not a macabre metaphor for hard work, but rather a well established fact in the entrepreneurial world…”

Raymond Bauer spoke wisely. His interviewer listened intently. And the Red Dog prattled on in silence, speaking the ancient language of the sky as the wind whistled through hollow eyes.



Written by Parlour
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