Chance was crying.
I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. I needed to get up and figure out why Chance was crying. He’d been doing a good job sleeping through the night lately, but he didn’t always. Hearing him crying at night always reminded me of the first few months that Zaza and I had him, when he’d wake up every few hours squalling. Back then, I’d had her next to me, someone to take turns with. Someone to help. Now, it was just me.
I slung my feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. Yawning, I headed for the door to my room. Chance was only one door down. I hadn’t been sure if I wanted him to sleep in another room. I’d been used to the two of us close. But when Zaza and I had our apartment in D. C., we’d given him his own space, and I figured he had to get used to it at some point, so when Eve had suggested it, I’d gone for it.
I was surprised to see that the door to Chance’s room was open already. I hurried inside, worried for a moment.
But when I got in there, I saw Eve lifting Chance out of his crib, holding him close. He screamed louder for a second, then nuzzled into Eve’s chest and quieted. She looked at me over his head, smiling. “Hey.”
“Hey,” I said. I wasn’t wearing anything except boxer shorts again. It was hot at night in July, and there wasn’t air conditioning these days. Still, I felt self-conscious. “Thanks, um, for getting up with him. I was coming in to get him.”
“I heard him crying,” she said.
“I’m sorry he woke you up.”
We both looked at Chance, who seemed pretty content in Eve’s arms. He was looking up at her with wide eyes. “Duh-duh-duh-duh!” he exclaimed.
We both laughed.
Eve grinned down at Chance. “No, I’m not Da-da.” She pointed at me. “That’s Da-da.”
I shook my head. “Uh, no. I’m not, you know, telling him that I’m his dad. Because I’m not really.”
Eve bounced Chance gently, still smiling at him. “Say, ‘Sure you are, Da-da.'” She looked up at me. “You’re all he’s got, Kieran.”
She was right. I was all he had. “He looks pretty happy with you. Maybe he misses being held by a woman.”
At that moment, Eve and I both fixated on the fact that Chance had placed one of his chubby baby hands directly on Eve’s breast. Sort of possessively, too.
She blushed, moving his hand gently. “Babies do that sometimes. It’s no big deal.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “He’s already trying to cop a feel, and he’s not even a year old.”
“No,” she said. “It’s natural for babies, because of…you know?”
I nodded. This conversation was becoming really, really awkward. “I can take him if you want.”
“No, I like holding him. If it’s okay?”
I was glad, for some reason. There was something very nice about Eve and Chance together like that. Something that made me feel good inside. Whole. “It’s fine.”
She went over to a rocking chair in the room and sat down with Chance. She began to rock and rub his back. “So, you don’t want Chance to call you Daddy?”
I sat down on the floor next to the chair. “I never really thought about it, I guess. But I’m not his father. I never wanted to lie to him about that. I’ve been so busy trying to make it from one day to the next that I haven’t given a lot of thought about the future.”
“Would you give him back to Jason?”
“Of course not!” I was a little surprised at the force of my reply. “No, I wouldn’t give him up to anyone. Ever. He’s my Chance.”
She shrugged a little. “Then it sounds to me like you are his dad.”
Maybe she was right. It was only that I’d never really thought of myself that way. Sure, there was that weird period of time when I thought Zaza was pregnant. And maybe we’d taken Chance as a surrogate for that, something to fill in for what it felt like we’d lost. Call me crazy, but in some ways, it felt like when Zaza found out she wasn’t pregnant, we lost more than some baby fantasy. It felt like we lost whatever it was that had been holding us together. She was different after that. That was when she started using her magic again. Before that, she’d fought her darkness. After we found out we weren’t having a baby, she gave up and gave in. “I never thought I’d be a dad at my age.”
“I never thought I’d have lived through the apocalypse at my age,” said Eve.
I noticed that Chance’s eyes had closed. He was sleeping in Eve’s arms. “Is that what happened? The apocalypse?” I laughed. “What about you? You ever think about having kids?”
“Not really, no.” She gazed down at Chance. “But it’s nice. I mean, there’s something about holding a baby.” She looked at me. “I like it.”
I liked her liking it. Jesus, what was happening to me? Looking at her sitting above me, rocking that baby in her pajamas, her blonde hair all crazy and curly, I was kind of…well, she just looked good. And she looked even better because she was holding a baby. My baby. Was I just craving companionship? Or was it just that it was late at night, and it was easy to feel lonely in the darkness? I couldn’t help it, though. I whispered, “It suits you.”
She smiled at me. The smile lit up her whole face.
I stood up and leaned over her. I meant to take Chance away from her, because he was asleep, and I wanted to put him back into his crib. But for some reason, instead, I reached out and tucked one of her blonde locks behind her ear. And then my hand lingered there, fingers barely grazing her cheek. She gazed up at me with wide eyes.
I gulped. “Uh, he’s asleep. I should put him back in his crib.”
She pulled away from me, holding the baby up. “Sure.”
I picked up Chance, walked him back to his crib, and tucked him in under his sheet. When I left his room and quietly closed the door behind me, Eve was standing in the hallway.
We stared at each other for a few seconds. I felt confused and guilty, but also like I was lit up inside, like being close to her was exciting somehow. “I shouldn’t have done that,” I said.
She touched her face in the place where my hand had been. “It wasn’t anything.”
“You miss your girlfriend,” she said. “That’s all it is.”
Was it? “It’s not like I can break up with her or something.” Whoa, hold on. Where had that come from? I didn’t want to break up with Azazel. I loved her. And she loved me. I… I gauged Zaza’s memories, her personality, which I held inside my own head. How would she feel if I broke up with her?
I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t think she’d be as upset as I’d want her to be.
“I’m not asking you to break up with your girlfriend,” said Eve. “I’m not asking for anything, really.” She took a step closer to me. “The apocalypse can get kind of lonely.”
She was so close, and so small and delicate. Her hair fell around her shoulders like a chaotic curtain. Her blue eyes peered up at me. I took in all of her, her tiny waist, her full breasts, her pink lips. Then I looked into her eyes. “What about Cameron?” I said.
She shrugged. “What about him?” She took another step closer.
We were practically touching. I put my hand on her cheek, my fingers tangling in her hair. “When we get him back, will you feel that way?”
Her eyes flitted away from mine. “What about Azazel? When you get her back…?”
I let my hand drop. I looked at the ceiling, the floor, the walls. Anywhere but at her. “Maybe we should just go back to sleep.”
“Maybe,” she said.
The maddening thing was that, even while I was crawling into bed alone, I still felt lit up like I had before. And part of me really wished I’d gone ahead and fucking kissed her.
I finally got Jason out of his room at the mention of the name Edgar Weem. The whole thing was kind of blowing my mind. I’d never really considered the idea that Jason would have a father or parents or anything like that. I thought maybe this Edgar guy was a nutcase, just someone who wanted to be close to Jason and had a delusion or something. However, judging from Jason’s reaction, Edgar Weem was a name he recognized.
Jason stormed out, muttering that Edgar Weem was dead, that I had killed him myself. If I had killed Edgar Weem, I certainly didn’t remember it. And the guy outside seemed very much alive. I trailed Jason as he tore out of the house and into the darkness where the man was waiting.
Once up close, Jason stopped short.
The Edgar Weem guy sucked in a deep breath. He slowly set down the bag he was carrying. “I suppose this is a shock.”
Jason was seething. “You’re dead.”
Edgar Weem shrugged. “I’m alive, I assure you.”
Jason pointed at me. “She killed every member of the Sons on the planet. You’re dead.”
“I wasn’t a member of the Sons when that happened,” said Edgar Weem. “I’d been pretty forcibly removed from the organization.”
I really had no idea what the two of them were talking about.
“Guard!” Jason screamed. Within minutes, he was swarmed by several of his personal guards, the men all clad in dark clothes. Jason grabbed the nearest one and yanked the man’s gun out from his shoulder holster. Jason leveled the gun at Edgar Weem, clicking off the safety. “You’re dead.”
He was going to shoot him? Okay, clearly, Jason and this Weem guy didn’t get along very well.
Edgar Weem eased his hands into the air. “Jason, I realize we have never exactly been on good terms.”
Jason chuckled harshly. “Oh, that’s one way of putting it, you fucking asshole.” His hand was shaking. “You deserve to die. For everything you’ve done to me, you deserve it.”
Maybe not getting along was putting it lightly.
“That’s undoubtedly true. But there are things I have to tell you. I’m here to help you. Please, let me help you.”
Jason’s finger tensed on the trigger of the gun, but he hesitated. His arm began to shake even harder. He stood like that for several minutes, and then he put the safety back on the gun, withdrew his arm, and handed the gun back to his guard. “Put him in the basement with the others.”
Jason turned on his heel and headed back into the house. I went after him, but he didn’t seem to notice me trailing him. When he tried to shut himself into the bedroom again, I stopped him.
“Oh, no,” I said. “You’re not locking yourself in there again. I want to know what’s going on.”
“I should have shot him.” Jason threw himself onto the bed and buried his face in a pillow.
I sat down gingerly next to him. Should I touch him? Comfort him? Ask him questions?
Jason pushed himself up on his elbows and faced me. “He spawned me so that I would fulfill a prophecy. He surrounded me with violence and trained me to kill so that I would destroy an evil secret society bent on world domination. He made it so that no one was close to me, so that I was always alone. He deserves to die. I should have killed him.” He pulled himself into a sitting position and inspected his fingernails. “But everything’s confusing right now. My power is gone. I don’t feel sure of myself or my people. And when I looked at him, standing right there, the person who’s responsible for everything screwed up in my life, I thought that if I shot him, it would only prove that I was what he made me. And maybe I don’t want to be the Rising Sun anymore. Maybe I don’t want to be the messiah.”
I didn’t completely understand all of the things that Jason was talking about. But I understood that Jason’s past had a lot to do with the person he was today. And I also understood that Jason was struggling with his choices. He wanted to make better ones. I put my hand over one of his. “He’s your father. Of course you didn’t want to kill him.”
“Why not? I killed my mother.”
He had? I tried not to recoil, but Jason noticed when my fingers twitched.
“She was trying to kill you,” he told me. “And she wasn’t much of a mother, anyway.”
I did pull my hand away then. “How many times have you killed people to protect me, Jason?”
He didn’t answer.
“I’m not sure if I like being your excuse.” In a way, if Jason was always committing atrocities to save my life, I was responsible for all those horrible things too.
Jason rubbed his face with one hand. “No. You’re right. No more excuses. I kill because it’s easy, and because I know how to do it. It solves problems. I’m good at it. There might be other ways, but I always go for the simple way out. And Edgar Weem might be the reason that I’m good at it, but he didn’t make those decisions for me. I made those decisions.” He paused. “But you know what? I wouldn’t change them. I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad I saved you.”
There was that. I was glad to be alive too, if it came to that.
Jason massaged the bridge of his nose. “But if that’s the kind of person I am, maybe it’s a good thing he’s not around.”
“Who? Your father?”
“No,” said Jason. “My son.”
The words sounded weird coming out of his mouth. Son? Jason with children? I could hardly fathom it.
He must have seen the confusion in my eyes. “Yes. I have a son.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I thought we were together before. Is it… Did I?” If I’d forgotten giving birth, and Jason had never told me about it, I might go insane.
He shook his head slightly. “No. He’s not yours.” He began to trace patterns on the bedspread. “We were apart for a while. I was with someone else. Her name was Polly. She died.”
“I’m sorry.” But I felt something else too. A kind of burning jealousy. Over a dead girl. I was ashamed.
“Me too. She loved me, and I didn’t love her. Not really.” Jason still seemed more interested in the bedspread than me. “Afterwards, you took the baby. I heard that you named him Chance, after your brother.”
“I have a brother?” I felt a surge of joy at the thought. Siblings? A family? I hadn’t known—
But Jason shook his head again. “Not anymore. And it’s my fault. There’s so much that I…” He stole a glance at me. His expression was anguished. “I hurt you. I was… I was selfish. So much of the time, I was nothing but selfish. And when I knew you had my son, I wanted him back so badly, but I don’t think it was because I actually wanted him. I think I just wanted to take him away from you. I was trying to hurt you. I was trying to use him to help me achieve whatever it was I wanted to achieve.” He took a shuddering breath. “I’m just like him. I’m just like Edgar Weem.”
This was too much. I wanted to comfort Jason and tell him that he wasn’t like his father, but he’d told me too much to process. He had a son. I’d been taking care of his son. Jason had been trying to take his child back. So then… “Where is your son now?”
Jason looked at me, wide-eyed and horrified. “I don’t know. I don’t know, and I haven’t even cared. What am I? What kind of man doesn’t even care about his own child?” He vaulted off the bed and began pacing. “I am a monster.”
“No,” he said. “You don’t remember any of this, so you can’t forgive me. You can’t say it’s not true.”
“We have to find your son,” I said.
“No,” said Jason. “Wherever he is, he’s better off away from me.”
“If I lost my memory, I abandoned him,” I said.
“I’m sure Kieran has him,” Jason said.
That name again. “Who’s Kieran, Jason?”
Jason took another breath. He crossed to the far wall and rested his forehead against it. “No. Not yet. I can’t explain all of this yet. I can’t talk about him yet.”
There was a knock on Jason’s door.
“Go away,” Jason said.
“It’s me,” said a voice on the other side of the door. “It’s Edgar.”
Jason flung the door open. “Where are my guards? I swear my powers are useless these days.”
Edgar was alone. No guards were with him. He looked like a kind, fatherly type. He smiled at Jason, and it was hard to picture him as the kind of man Jason said he was. “Your guards are very loyal to you, Jason, whether your powers are being blocked or not. But I didn’t get to be head of Sons of the Rising Sun without learning a few tricks about mind control. And I certainly didn’t have the ability to create something like you without knowing my way around magic. We need to talk. I’m here to help you.”
“Help me.” Jason barked out a laugh. “You’ve never done anything except hurt me since the moment you had the idea to conceive me.”
Edgar held up a finger. “Technically, that was your mother’s idea.”
“Oh whatever.” Jason started to walk around Edgar. “What did you do to my guards?”
Edgar stepped into his path. “Your guards are fine. I assure you, I didn’t hurt them. You must listen to me, please. As much as you don’t like me, I am your father—”
“You contributed half my DNA,” Jason said. “That’s it. And I hate you. So we’re clear.”
Edgar nodded, but wasn’t able to disguise the pain that flickered across his face. He took a deep breath. “Perhaps we could sit down. All of us. If you’d give me the chance to explain why I’m here, I think you’d find I could be of some assistance.”
Jason folded his arms over his chest. “Why are you here?”
“You have a destiny. You may have tried to run from it, but it’s following you. You’re meant for greatness, and I can help you find your way there.”
Jason ran his hands through his hair. “Oh, now I have a destiny for greatness, huh? Gee, that’s funny. Because it seems to me that you keep changing your story. First you tell Hallam that you think I’m a monster, and then you tell Azazel that you created me to destroy the Sons and that all that monstrousness you were worried about was specifically engineered by you in order to make me violent enough to take down the organization.”
Edgar’s jaw twitched.
“Well,” said Jason, “the Sons are destroyed. You got your wish. That’s what you made me for, isn’t it? So what further destiny could I possibly have?”
Edgar pressed his lips together in a firm line. “I’ve made mistakes, Jason. I won’t deny that. I said what I said to Hallam because I feared he was steering you off course. I thought that if I convinced him to let me have a continued influence over your life, I could make sure—”
“Make sure that I was still ‘on course’ to being a psycho killer?” Jason leered at his father. “Well, you shouldn’t have worried, Dad. You did a good job. I’m as twisted as you wanted me to be.” He sidestepped Edgar and stalked out of the bedroom.
I was still sitting on the bed. I wasn’t sure if I should go after Jason or not.
Edgar heaved a huge sigh and started walking in the direction Jason had gone.
I wasn’t going to be stuck in the bedroom alone, so I followed Edgar.
Jason was outside of the house, talking to his guards, who were gathered in a clump around the house. As I got closer, I realized he wasn’t really talking. He was screaming at them, demanding to know why they hadn’t stopped Edgar. The guards looked pretty pissed at themselves.
“It’s not their fault,” Edgar called. “I used magic. I confused them.”
Jason ignored him. The girls from the A-frame were starting to wander out of the house in their nightgowns, murmuring amongst themselves. One of the concubines came up to me. “What’s going on?” she whispered.
“Jason’s dad came to visit,” I said. “Apparently, that’s a bad thing.”
“Jason has a dad?” she said.
My thoughts exactly.
“Jason,” Edgar was saying, “whatever my motives might have been when I created you, however misguided I was, you were imbued with power that is ancient and powerful. The Sons didn’t create the notion of the Rising Sun, you know. Independent cultures all over the world did. They all predicted the coming of a powerful person to right the wrongs of the world. You are that man. You always have been. Maybe I did set you on the wrong path. But if I wronged you, please give me the chance to make it right.”
Jason turned away from the guards to Edgar, still furious. “I don’t want to be the savior of the world, all right? I never asked for that. I just want—” And then he foundered, as if he realized that he had no idea what he wanted.
Edgar took the opportunity to move closer to Jason. “The world needs you.” He put a hand on Jason’s shoulder.
Jason shook him off. “I don’t have anything to give.”
“That’s not true,” said Edgar. “I may have placed you in situations that required you to be violent, but I made sure you had solid values. I made sure you knew it was right to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. And I know that you are a good man.”
Jason pointed at the row of heads that lined the path to his house. “I don’t care about the innocent,” he said. “I don’t care about anything.”
“What’s he mean by that?” asked the concubine next to me. She sounded nervous.
I didn’t know what he meant by anything anymore.
Edgar seemed to notice the heads for the first time. He walked over to them so that he could inspect them more closely. He looked back at Jason, an expression of horror on his face. “Dear God,” he whispered.
Agnes’s head was on a stick in the middle of the river. The water flowing past it was blood red, and it was glutted with flies. Great clouds of them alighted on the river, buzzing a drone that made me feel cold inside. I stared, mesmerized by their iridescent wings and bodies. They were green and shiny against the deep crimson of the flow of the river. There were so many of them. Agnes presided over them like a queen over her subjects. Her eyes were open and flitting back and forth with the movement of the flies. And then she saw me.
“You aren’t anything more than a little boy,” she gurgled, blood rushing up like a fountain through her lips. “A stupid boy.”
I cocked my head at her. I didn’t speak.
“Aren’t you just a stupid boy?” Her voice had taken on a lilting, teasing quality.
I still didn’t respond.
“Thinking she loved you,” said the Agnes head. “Thinking she could ever care about something like you. You’re nothing to her. Nothing more than a fly. Just like these.” The Agnes head’s voice dropped to a whisper. “When she told you that she loved you, you know she was always thinking about him, don’t you?”
She meant Azazel, of course. The woman I loved. The woman I was devoted to. Wasn’t I?
“You should feel bad, little boy, about wanting the other one.” The Agnes head sneered. “The blonde one. I know what you think about her. What you want to do with her. That one, the blonde one, she’d be grateful. She’d writhe and buck against you and scream out your name, and she’d make you feel like a man.”
I swallowed, images of Eve without clothing flitting through my head. I bet her skin was soft.
“But we know the truth, don’t we? You’re not a man. You’re just a stupid little boy, playing around with powers you don’t understand.”
The flies on the river were buzzing around my head now, but I could still hear the Agnes head’s voice clearly, slicing through the air to my ears.
The Agnes head laughed suddenly, her laughter echoing through the flies. They vibrated with the force of it. “You think she’d do it only because she’s lonely. Like you. Two lonely children playing at being grownups. Naked games. You think she’s a little girl like you’re a little boy.” The Agnes head grinned. Her teeth were red. “She’s not.”
I didn’t like this, I realized. I decided to get up.
“Little boy,” said the Agnes head.
I stared into her eyes. I couldn’t stop myself.
“She wants you, all right. She wants to chew you up. She has uses for you. She wants you to be her dying god. And you will die, little boy. Maybe you won’t notice, but once you let her in, little pieces of you will die. One at a time, crumbling into the abyss.”
I struggled to speak. “Eve is a nice girl,” I managed.
The Agnes head broke into gales of laughter. The flies twittered with her. The laughter rippled through the river and the sky, thundering through my head. “Imagine thinking you could control it, little boy. Imagine thinking you were bigger than the power. Imagine thinking you still had a say.” She stopped laughing. “No. It’s done now. You can’t get away if you want. You don’t have a say. Now go to her.”
There was a pause.
“Do you think you can defy me? I’m inside you, little boy. There’s no escape from this. I’m all around you. The Lovers. The Devil Card. The Hanged Man.” The Agnes head closed her eyes briefly and then opened them again. “World peace. You’re the key. Find her. Go to her. Touch her. Make her squeal. You’re mine.”
I struggled to my feet, but the air was heavy. It pushed me down.
“Go to her. Find the blonde one. Take her. Take her or else—”
The flies were everywhere. They were crawling into my ears. They were clustering on my eyelashes.
“—Or else, I will take you. Do you see? I will take you. Me and the flies. And I’ll use you to stuff them down the first one’s throat. I’ll take you. Take you. Take you. Take—”
I sat up in bed. The room was bathed in sunlight, and I was drenched in sweat. Fucking dreams.
This book is being posted on Mondays and Thursdays between 7/4/2011 and 9/5/2011. To access other chapters, check out the Between Posts Archive, here.