Security officers escorted the media from the property, and then informed the prime minister he was no longer on camera. Gary stood up and brushed himself off. “Yes, that went quite well, I think.”
“The main thing is that people are safe from Covid,” said Stan.
Gary chuckled. “Yeah, okay.”
The two leaders shook hands and kissed on the lips, then Gary invited Stan inside the house. The little moustachioed man was waiting for them inside the front door. Gary took off his clothes and handed them to the little man, who accepted them with a bow. Gary, standing there in nothing but his socks, nodded to Stan. “You can’t wear that to the meeting.”
Stan looked at Gary, and then at the little man. The little man bowed again and held out his hands. Stan stripped naked and handed over his clothes. The little man scurried off to another room. Stan shifted his feet, and fidgeted with his hands, trying to cover his nakedness.
“Don’t worry,” said Gary. “The first time to the Lodge is always the toughest. Try not to talk too much. And try not to cry. He hates that. Just get through the meeting, and then you’ll enjoy yourself.”
Stan nodded. The little moustachioed man zoomed back into the room pushing a golden serving trolley bearing a silver platter with a smooth dome lid, and two sets of long green robes. The little man wriggled his wiry fingers into a pair of latex gloves, then removed the platter lid. Stan started at the sight of a fresh pig’s head gaping at him from upon the platter. Bright red blood oozed from its neck. Its left eye was half-open. Stan looked at the floor and took a steadying breath. The little man inserted his gloved hands deep into the animal’s skull, then removed them, glistening red and dappled with pink fragments of brain. Gary stood with his arms outstretched, and the little man smeared the bloody goo all over his bare torso and thighs. Stan put his hand to his nose and looked away. “Is this, uh… Is this absolutely necessary?” he asked.
Gary laughed. “I know it seems weird at first, cleansing ourselves with swine’s blood, but you must remember, you aren’t running for local council here, Stan. This is the big leagues—federal politics.”
Stan watched the little man’s little hands slide over Gary’s soft belly, smearing a red trail of dead pig across his skin. “That’s true.”
The little man thrust his hands again into the pig’s head, then drew them out dripping red. Stan took a deep breath then extended his arms and submitted to the messy ritual. The blood was warm; it dried quickly and clung to his skin. The little man anointed him thoroughly, front and back, before returning to the trolley and removing his gloves.
“Not so bad, huh?” said Gary
Stan forced a smile and nodded. The little man brought Stan and Gary a set of robes each, and they put them on. The robes were thick and coarse, and had a pointed hood attached. Stan fumbled with his hood.
“It’s more of a ceremonial thing,” said Gary. “Once we’re in the meeting, you can take the hood off.”
Once Gary and Stan were dressed, the little moustachioed man led the way to the next room, where an entire wall was made of stone. The little man took out his false teeth, stuck his fingers up into the roof of his mouth, and retrieved a small brass key. He slid the key into a crack between two stones in the wall. The was a thud and a rumble, then a thin arch of soft light appeared among the stones. The little man heaved what weight he had against the wall below the arch, and the wall receded then angled inward. He bowed and stepped aside, and Gary and Stan squeezed through the narrow gap into the hidden space beyond.
The stones creaked and thudded shut behind them. Stan found himself at the top of a spiral staircase, carved into the rock. He followed Gary. Torches on the walls lit the way, as the two leaders descended far below ground. The air was hot, and it trembled with distant chanting. The stench of blood filled Stan’s nostrils. His robes grated against his bare skin.
“Sometimes,” said Gary, “I like to imagine I’m Batman, going down to the Batcave.” Gentle flames swayed as he passed a torch. “Who do you imagine yourself as?”
Stan paused. He looked at his shadow on the wall, and the heavenly halo surrounding it, cast by the torchlight behind him. His shadow flickered, and for a split-second he saw a crown of thorns upon his head. “I haven’t really thought about it,” he said.
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