I sat on a bench in the park. I could see Chance on the playground. He was climbing the slide to go down it again. The first few times I’d taken him here, I’d wandered around with him everywhere. I mentioned to Mina once that it was exhausting, and she just laughed. She said that she took him to the park and let him run off by himself. She sat down and relaxed. The thought of that hadn’t even occurred to me, but when I asked Chance if he minded if I just watched, he was excited to play with the other kids. Since then, I’d spent most of our park trips on the bench. Sometimes I looked stuff up on my phone, read articles on the internet and that kind of thing.
But not today. Today, I was just watching Chance and trying to collect my thoughts.
Things between Azazel and me were not good. They were worse than they’d been before. Before, it had only been awkward. Now, there was actual tension.
I couldn’t talk to her. She didn’t understand me, not really. Her relationship with violence was different than mine. She found it distasteful, but necessary. I found it… exciting. Whenever I tried to tell her that, she always seemed sort of disgusted and afraid. Usually, we made it through that, but right now, we were so messed up that I didn’t want to risk her reaction.
On the playground, Chance sped down the slide, his red hair fluttering in the air. He was laughing.
I was glad he was doing okay.
I was screwed up because of the way I’d been brought up. I hadn’t had the most normal of childhoods. As long as traumatizing things didn’t happen to Chance, then he would be okay. He wouldn’t be like me.
Mina assured me that little boys often got a kick out of the idea of shooting bad guys. She said that his excitement about it was nothing to worry about.
But I wasn’t so sure. The Sons had told me that the people they wanted me to shoot were bad guys. I had a brief flash of a room in a sorority house, dead girls everywhere. I shook myself. I didn’t want to think about that.
Anyway, as long as we kept Chance away from the stuff with the vampires, he’d forget about whatever Azazel had told him. He’d be safe.
I didn’t want to worry about this anymore. I looked around the playground, hoping something would catch my eye and distract me.
Instead, I just saw all the other parents sitting on the benches, standing in groups, leaning against strollers. There were a few other fathers around, but for the most part, they were all young women. They wore sweatpants and crumpled shirts, their faces scrubbed free of makeup. They weren’t here to impress anyone. They were completely focused on their children.
I liked that. I was one of those guys who didn’t much see the point of makeup. It made girls look like themselves—only painted. I kind of didn’t get the point. Plus, there were people who took it way too far, caking their face with all this product until they looked like circus clowns. I’d be happy enough if no one wore makeup at all.
I thought about what the world would be like if it were filled with fresh-faced women. It would be nice. During the solar flare, Azazel never wore makeup. But she did now, no matter how many times I told her I preferred the way she looked without it.
“No, you don’t,” she would say. “I look like ass without makeup.”
Admittedly, she didn’t wear that much makeup normally, so I let it slide. But I still thought she’d never looked more beautiful than back then. I remembered seeing her face for the first time in Jasontown, back when she didn’t know who she was. She was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen, and I was so glad to have her back.
Back in Jasontown, no one wore makeup, in fact.
These women would have all fit in there just fine. I’d kind of wanted Jasontown to last longer than it had, long enough for there to be lots of new babies, and a whole generation of people growing up there. I was crazy back then. I was controlling all those people’s minds, taking away their free will. It was wrong, and I know that. But the idea of a place where people worked together and lived in harmony was still a good one.
Maybe I could still do something like that, just through better means. If I didn’t force people to follow me but instead convinced them. I wondered if I could do that. Did I have the ability to lead people, or had all of that just been my powers?
I peered around at the women, imagining all of them looking up at me adoringly while I told them about my hopes for a community of peace and togetherness. I imagined them doing whatever I said, whatever I wanted.
And suddenly, it was all blood.
I was cutting them, hacking them, strangling them, hurting them. They were screaming, and I was laughing at them. And it felt good. God, it felt so good to let it all out—
I stood up from the bench.
So, I should know better. Jasontown was never about helping people, not really. It was about me. Always about my having people to manipulate. To hurt. To kill.
I stalked through the playground, looking for Chance. I couldn’t handle being here anymore. We were going to have to cut this trip short.
He wasn’t on the slide anymore. I turned in a circle in between the swings and the monkey bars, my gaze darting everywhere, hoping to catch sight of him.
A touch on my shoulder. “Did you lose yours?”
I turned to see one of the fresh-faced mothers. She had freckles on her nose, and she was just a little bit chubby. She was adorable. I imagined what it would be like to grab her by the neck and pushed her face down against the ground.
I backed away from her, shaking my head.
And then I saw Chance. He was in the sandbox, a group of little girls all sitting in front of him.
I walked over to him, and I heard what he was saying.
“…so, I’ll be the king, and you’ll all be my subjects, which means you have to do whatever I say.”
I grabbed him by the collar and yanked him upright. “What are you playing?”
He looked up at me in shock. “Daddy?”
I pulled him away from the others. “We’re leaving.”
“But we were just starting to pretend that the playground was a castle, and I was the king—”
“You’re not a king,” I snapped. “You don’t tell everyone what to do, okay? You can’t do that. That’s not how life works.”
He shrank from me.
And I realized that a few of the other people in the park were staring at me. I was making a spectacle of myself, and I was scaring my son for no reason. I dragged a hand over my face, feeling defeated.
“Hey,” I said in a soft voice. “We just gotta go, okay?”
He nodded. “Okay.” But he still looked confused and hurt.