The view of the video switched, careening around the basement until it faced the owner of the voice. Sutherland.
“What the hell?!” I said.
Sutherland was smiling. “We’ve had some mutually satisfying transactions in the past, and I thought that you and Azazel might want to do business with me again.”
I’d dreamed about Sutherland, and now he’d appeared in my life. Did this mean it was going to start raining honey?
On the video, Sutherland kept talking. “I know your people have been doing surveillance on me. I’ve noticed your spies. I’ve left them alone thus far, because I wasn’t ready. This side of the United States has been a little bit unruly. Too many loners out west, you know. If the power had gone down on this side, I would have had the east coast in half the time. But, at any rate, I’ve got everyone under control now. And now I find out about you and your little girlfriend playing games with magic in Kentucky. So, let me put this as succinctly as I can, okay? Here’s the deal. You don’t cause problems for me and my men, and I don’t hurt your friends. Deal?”
Jason snatched the camera back from me.
“What the hell is Sutherland doing with Hallam and Marlena?” I said.
“This is why I didn’t want you to go west,” said Jason. “Sutherland’s in the west. He’s freaking taken over the whole other side of the country, and he’s calling himself the emperor of America or something.”
“The dictator?” I said in understanding. “The fascist government? That was true?”
I was quiet for a few moments, trying to put this together. There actually was a dictator in the west. That was why no one had come to help us. And this dictator was Sutherland? That made no sense. I shook my head. “How did Sutherland become the emperor of America?”
“I don’t know exactly,” said Jason. “I didn’t find out until after I was actively trying to stop the OF from getting west.”
“So, it really isn’t all just about trying to keep us away from Sutherland, is it?” I said. “You don’t want the OF to bring back any kind of order.”
Jason glowered at me. “I haven’t lied to you about that, Azazel. I want to save everyone from the tyranny of government. Using my powers, I can bring everyone together. You see what I’ve done here, what this encampment is like. I’ve got them all around a campfire singing together. Instead of destroying everything, I can—”
“You’re forcing people to come here,” I said. “Twisting their minds. And maybe you’re even building an army.”
“For Sutherland!” said Jason. “Well, for the OF too, unfortunately, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’d join me, we wouldn’t need armies. The two of us together, with our power, we could do amazing things.”
I wasn’t in the mood to hear Jason’s psychotic ramblings. “How did you find out about Sutherland?”
“I was curious,” he said, “as to why no one had sent help from the west, so I decided to do some checking. It turned out to be harder than I imagined. All the bridges across the Mississippi had been blown up, from the looks of it, on the western side. But I was able to get a scouting party together, and we got a boat, and we made it over there. It didn’t take long to figure it out. Sutherland’s face was plastered all over banners and billboards. He was on the TVs inside store windows. ‘Emperor of America,’ was written underneath his face. The few people we talked to made it clear that Sutherland was ruling the country and that he had no intention of coming east.”
“Until now,” I said.
Jason nodded. “I guess the western half of the country wasn’t good enough for him. Now he wants the whole thing.”
“But I don’t get it,” I said. “How did he do this? Sutherland never struck me as the kind of person with political leanings. And he was always more subtle, working to manipulate people, not to outright control them.”
“I don’t know,” said Jason. “Maybe this is what he always wanted, though. This much control.”
Maybe. Sutherland had always been one step ahead of everyone. Maybe it should have been obvious he was capable of this. “Why didn’t you tell me about Sutherland?” If Jason had explained all of this better, maybe I wouldn’t have thought he was just being a total dick head.
“You didn’t need to know,” said Jason. “I liked things the way they were. I thought maybe Sutherland would stay on that side of the river. I thought I could stay here. I liked it like that. If it weren’t for the pesky Order of the Fly, then it would have been perfect here.”
“If you’d explained yourself, certain people might not be dead,” I said.
“Right,” said Jason. “Because the OF would have just believed me. They wouldn’t have kept trying to send their little groups across the river to ask for help.”
He was right, I guess. “You captured people and cut off their fingers.”
“Yeah. Well, if they’d gotten across the river, Sutherland would have killed them. He’s killed every other group that has.”
The group to the north that we’d lost contact with. Sutherland had killed them. But… “You cut off their fingers to save their lives?”
“To save Hallam and Marlena,” said Jason. “When I knew it was them, I couldn’t let them get across the river. I had to stop them. I wish I’d known they’d gone off on their own, but recently, I’ve been a little busy with all the people who’ve been showing up here.”
“Right,” I said. “Your army.”
“I’ve got to stop Sutherland,” said Jason. “Even if he brings back electricity, he’s not really going to make things better. He’s going to take over and rule everything like… well, you know what kind of guy Sutherland is.”
I did. This kind of made sense. Kind of. I rubbed my face. “So this army is to fight Sutherland, not to obliterate the OF?”
Jason smiled grimly. “I can’t obliterate much with you countering my powers, can I? Let’s stick to Sutherland for a minute, shall we? Sutherland knows what I can do. How I can focus large groups of people and make them all work together like one being. He knows what you can do too. That you can create destruction and confusion. Sutherland assumes we’re working together. He knows that together, we stand a chance of annihilating his army, even though he outnumbers us. He’s trying to make us back down by capturing Marlena and Hallam.”
I let out a disgusted sigh. “Sutherland likes his trades, doesn’t he?”
“The video goes on to outline his deal. He’ll give us back Marlena and Hallam when we let him across the river.”
“Well, we’re not making a deal with Sutherland,” I said. “There’s got to be another way.”
“We go in together,” said Jason. “Just you and me, like old times. I think we can find where Sutherland is hiding Hallam and Marlena. We get them out and we kill Sutherland. Case closed.”
I considered. It might work. If Jason and I combined our powers, there was very little anyone could do to stop us. We would absolutely destroy any obstacle. But then what? “What happens to the other side of the U.S. then?” I asked. “Will you stand aside and let the OF go in to restore order and reestablish the government?”
Jason sighed. “You know I can’t do that.”
“So we stop Sutherland and then it’s you against the OF again? You won’t let us west, will you?”
“Jesus, Azazel, is that important right now?”
“I think it is.”
Jason stood up. “I thought you cared about Hallam and Marlena.”
I stood up too. “I do.”
“Well, then, how can you let Sutherland kill them? We have to rescue them.”
I crossed my arms. “Look, it’s news to me that you care about them so much.”
“I’m not a monster, Azazel.”
I laughed. “Sure. You’re a fluffy bunny who can make people care about things they didn’t care about before. Who’s indestructible, I might add.”
“And you? You make people kill themselves or each other.”
“Maybe we’re both monsters,” I said. “But unless I can count on the fact that you’ll stop with this crazy power trip you’re on, I can’t work with you.”
Jason sat down heavily. “I might not be able to get Hallam and Marlena out without you. I won’t risk that. I’ll have to use my army. I’ll have to wait for Sutherland to attack. He may kill them both before I get to them.”
He was right. I might very well be throwing their lives away. I felt a lump grow in my throat for the only people who had been anything like parents to me since my own parents died. “If rescuing Hallam and Marlena means unleashing you on the world, then I can’t risk that.”
Jason covered his face with his hands. “What do you think I’m going to do, exactly? Why am I so horrible?”
I gaped at him. “You torture people, Jason. You cut off pieces of their bodies. You manipulate people to coming to you so you can force them to fight against Sutherland. And this is only your behavior in the past couple of weeks. This isn’t saying anything about everything you’ve done your entire life. Even without magical powers you were dangerous.”
“You aren’t any better than me.”
“That doesn’t change who you are.”
Jason picked up a pillow off the couch and hurled it across the room. “Dammit, Azazel.”
I went for the door of the RV. “I’m sorry. But I can’t work with you, Jason. I spent too many years of my life lying to myself that there was some wonderful piece of good inside you. Eventually, though, I just had to wake up and smell the psycho.”
“I’m not a psycho,” he said.
“Psychos never think they’re psycho,” I replied, opening the door.
He came after me and wedged himself between me and the door. “I’m not,” he said. “In England, you said that I wasn’t evil. You told me you believed in me.”
“I was wrong,” I said.
“Fuck you,” he said. “Don’t say that.” He looked desperate. His eyes were wide, and I remembered that I used to feel like I could get lost in them. I remembered how much, how goddamned much, I’d loved this boy.
“Jason, I can’t do this for you anymore,” I said. “We dated in high school. We lost our virginity to each other. Big deal. That’s it. I can’t be whatever it is you want me to be for you anymore. I just can’t. So if you don’t want to feel like an evil psychotic fuckhead, then stop acting like one.”
He sagged against the door, and it swung open. Jason tumbled backwards out the door, swearing.
I stepped over him. Looking down at him, I said, “You might want to start with Polly. She loves you, you know. Stop being an asshole to her.”
Jason’s guards didn’t bother me on my walk back to the church, which was a good thing, because I didn’t feel like dealing with anyone right now. I was angry. At Hallam and Marlena for getting themselves captured. At Jason for not telling me about Sutherland until now. At Sutherland for even existing. At myself for not being sure what to do, and for not being able to save everyone. People were going to get hurt no matter what I did. Either Sutherland would hurt them or Jason would hurt them or I would hurt them. Possibly, all three of us were going to hurt people. Sometimes, I really wished that this was not my life.
I was almost back to the church when a dark figure stepped into my path. I called out, but the person didn’t answer. It looked like a woman, and she didn’t appear armed, so I got closer. As I did, the light of the moon lit up her face. It was Nancy, but she didn’t look quite like herself.
She was staring out at me with unblinking eyes. Her body was stiff. She was expressionless.
“Nancy?” I said.
“Not Nancy,” said Nancy in a voice that wasn’t hers. She had an accent. It was European. “I’m using Nancy as a conduit to talk to you. It’s important.”
“Who are you?” I said.
Agnes was a woman who I’d met in a dream in Italy. She was powerful, with the ability to see the future, and wise, with the ability to calm me down about everything. For months after I’d met her the first time, I’d called her long distance in Italy, looking for advice on how to use my magic. After Jenna had died, I hadn’t wanted to talk to her anymore. Now Agnes had taken over Nancy’s body to give me a message. I guess I had to listen to her.
“Agnes,” I said. “It’s been a while. I’m sorry I haven’t called or anything, but you know, the phones have been down—”
“There’s no time,” said Agnes, and her voice was severe, not the sweet old lady voice I remembered. “I read my cards today. The reading was about you, Azazel. Terrible portents are afoot. Things are not looking good for you.”
When did things ever look good for me, anyway? “I thought the future was what I made it,” I said. Hadn’t she given me some Yoda spiel in Italy? Always in motion is the future. This isn’t Oedipus Rex.
“Darkness,” said Agnes/Nancy. “Death. Flies feeding on carrion. Needless slaughter. You are on a path to destruction.”
Okay. “Is this because I wouldn’t partner up with Jason just now, because—”
“It doesn’t matter whether you are with him or against him,” said Agnes. “Either way, you descend to the depths.”
“I thought I had choices,” I said. “I thought my choices were all I had against the forces I couldn’t control.”
“You have a choice,” said Agnes. “You remember the reading I showed you before. The Hanged Man. The sacrifice. It is the only choice you have left.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You are going to do things, Azazel. You have already begun. The power will overtake you. The power will consume you. The power will eat you alive. Vinegar. Honey. It’s all the same. The flies all drown.”
“Agnes, you aren’t making sense,” I said. But she was talking about flies. And I kept dreaming about flies. What did it all mean?
“You will lie dead while he feasts on your guts,” Agnes/Nancy growled.
I recoiled. Michaela Weems’ words.
“Or maybe,” said Agnes/Nancy, “you will feast on the guts of your enemies together. Or perhaps, the world explodes while the two of you are trying to work out your differences. It doesn’t matter. It all comes to the same thing. The two of you are the problem, not the solution. There is only one thing you can do, Azazel. Make the sacrifice. Kill him. Kill yourself. Both of you must die. Both of you must die. Both of you must die !”
Nancy’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she convulsed. Her shoulders hunched up and her head fell backwards, listless. She gurgled, her tongue falling out of her mouth, drool dripping onto her chin. She swayed unsteadily on her feet and then shrieked at the top of her lungs.
“Nancy?” I murmured.
Nancy’s head flopped forward and her eyes rolled forward, fixating on me. Stiffly, her arms came forward. She reached for me. “Kill you myself. I will.” She took a shambling step forward. “I will kill you myself.”
I backed away. “Nancy,” I said, fear shooting through me.
Nancy flopped forward, landing face down on the ground. She didn’t move.
I started shaking. “Nancy,” I said again, but I was afraid to touch her. “ Nancy !” I yelled.
The door to the church opened, and Kieran stepped outside. “I heard screaming,” he said.
Nancy sat up, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hand. “What happened?” she asked. “How did I get here?”
Kieran helped her to her feet and put his arm around me, drawing me close. “Are you okay?” he asked me.
“That wasn’t Agnes,” I said into his shirt. “That wasn’t Agnes.” The Agnes I knew would never tell me to kill myself. The Agnes I knew would never try to kill me. Would she?
I explained the situation as best I could to Kieran as soon as I calmed down, but I didn’t go into much details about what Nancy had said to me. Nancy had no memory of any of it. I was going to keep it to myself. I had bigger things to worry about.
Kieran and I got to the radio room as soon as we could and started trying to get in touch with Headquarters.
“Wakefield team to HQ, do you read?” I said. “Over.”
Nothing. I repeated myself. Nothing. Crackles. Hiss. Static.
This could take a while. I sent Kieran to round up the team and fill them in on what was going on. Then I returned to the radio. I said it again and again and again, until finally, someone responded.
“This is HQ, Wakefield team. What can we do for you? Over.”
I began explaining again, spilling everything I could, from the captured Hallam and Marlena, to Jason’s army, to Sutherland, to the deal Jason had offered me and the fact I’d refused. When I finished talking, the person at the other end went to rouse Phillips, and I had to tell the story one more time. Phillips interrupted me with occasional questions, wanting to know if Sutherland was capable of what he threatened and how powerful Jason was exactly. When I was finished, Phillips was quiet.
“Phillips, do you read me? Over,” I said. A pause. “Phillips?”
“Loud and clear, Wakefield team,” said Phillips finally. “I’m going to authorize every unit I can to get out to you ASAP. I’ll alert the President. We’ll get you every man we’ve got. Within forty-eight hours, you should have every member of the U.S. army we can get you. Over.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said. “Over.”
I held a brief conference with the rest of the team at the church, discussing what we were going to do. We’d have to engage Sutherland. We’d have to stop him. And then we’d have to be ready to engage Jason immediately afterward. Things were going to be pretty hairy for quite some time. No one was pleased. Everyone was frightened. I wanted to calm them down, but I was scared too.
Eventually, I was left with Kieran, which was all I wanted. I threw myself into his arms, and he stroked my hair. We sat in the radio room on two metal folding chairs, clinging to each other.
“Did I do the right thing, not saying I’d work with Jason?” I asked. I was terrified that I was screwing everything up.
“You were perfect,” Kieran assured me. “You know we can’t trust him. You can’t ally yourself with him.”
“He’s crazy,” I said.
“He’s absolutely crazy,” said Kieran. “You did the right thing.”
But when we went to bed, even with Kieran’s arms wrapped tight around me, the dreams still found me. And Agnes was in the dreams. She was wrapped in a long, black robe, the hood hanging low over her face. She floated in a pool of red light. She cackled like a wicked witch.
I ran from her, but she followed, arms outstretched. “Kill you myself, I will,” she said in a Yoda voice.
“No,” I screamed, running away from her down a crooked hallway lit with red lights. I threw open a doorway at the end, and I was sucked outside into the river, which was filled with honey.
Agnes flew out of the door and hovered over me. “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” she said, “but vinegar does the trick just fine.”
I realized I was surrounded by dead flies, stuck in the river. More were flying through the air. Storm clouds gathered overhead, and the air smelled of vinegar. It began to pour from the sky. When it touched the flies, they sizzled and dropped to the ground dead. The river was filled with dead flies, glutted, just like the bodies in Tennessee after I’d used my power to try to help them.
Agnes was by my side. “The Devil Card,” she hissed. “It will come into play.”
I put my hand on her head and shoved her down into the river of honey, holding her face under as she struggled. And struggled.
Finally, she was still.
And I was standing inside the lookout house with Jason. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. He came for me, his hands wrapping around my waist, pulling me tight against his body. “You feel so good,” he whispered into my shoulder. My bare shoulder.
Suddenly, neither of us was wearing clothes.
“It’s never going to be like it was with me with him,” Jason whispered in my ear. “Why don’t you give up? After all, we’re only flies. It doesn’t matter what we do.”
I struggled, trying to push Jason away from me. “I’m with Kieran now,” I told him.
“You’re mine,” he countered.
“No,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, and he was inside me, and it was suddenly so, so good, like flowers opening up or a sweet crescendo of thunder across the sky, like the first time he made me come, and I clung to him and moaned into his skin.
Beneath us, I could see armies of flies, marching towards each other, marching towards their doom, but we couldn’t let them stop, because it felt so good. It always felt so good with Jason.
I pointed to the flies. “They’ll die,” I said.
“They’re only flies,” said Jason. “You and me, Azazel? We’re gods.”
He made me come again. I couldn’t think for the pleasure.
Agnes hovered behind my head, and she handed me a gun. I gave it to Jason and reached back for another gun, which Agnes supplied for me. I guided my gun to Jason’s temple lovingly. He placed his against my temple, a soft caress.
“No more killing,” he said.
“No more,” I agreed.
He put his lips on mine, sweet like honey, and I fingered the trigger of my gun. His tongue pushed into my mouth. I squeezed my trigger. I heard the thunder of a gunshot, and an echo, louder, closer to my own ear. And then…
I sat up straight, pushing the tangle of Kieran’s limbs off me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out of this room.
I stumbled into the hallway and tore into the sanctuary. The sun was just coming up and the light was streaming in through the busted windows, making jagged patterns on the pews. What had the dream meant? It had meant something, hadn’t it? The honey imagery made sense now, I guessed. Jason was drawing people to him to make an army. The flies. People seemed to be flies a lot in my dreams these days.
There was a saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Literally, it meant that flies were drawn to sweet things more than destructive things. Figuratively, it referred to people. It was easier to persuade people if you used flattery and compliments than it was if you were confrontational and mean. I’d known for some time that the flies in my dreams represented people. The honey in my dreams represented Jason’s power. He drew people with his sweet power, the kind that made people sing campfire songs. My power was like vinegar. I didn’t attract people. But the truth was that both of us, no matter the nature of our powers, were killing people.
You could attract more flies with honey than vinegar. But both of them killed flies.
And Agnes had said that we both had to die. She’d referred to a tarot card reading she’d done years ago, before Jason’s birth. She’d drawn The Hanged Man—sacrifice.
But she couldn’t really mean that she thought I should kill both Jason and myself, could she? Agnes would never tell me to kill myself. I couldn’t believe it.
I brushed through the pews, gazing at members of the team who were sleeping. The morning light illuminated their faces. They looked so peaceful.
Maybe I could kill Jason. Maybe. But to put an end to my own life…That was madness.
I spotted Chance’s wheelchair just ahead of me. I could never leave Chance.
Chance. I didn’t see him. He should be sleeping on one of the pews, shouldn’t he? Where was he?
I ran to the wheelchair. “Chance?” I yelled.
Wait. No. What was that on the wheelchair?
It couldn’t be.
I picked up the digital camera. No. No. NO!