We walked home in silence. Not a word was spoken. Whether or not she knew what had happened, what I had done…I didn’t know. I was cold and tired; I could feel the shakes deep beneath the layers of my skin. It was deep, held in my bones. I didn’t have to ask if she knew. She was my mother. She had to know. Mothers have a way of figuring things out without trying. She was just that good. My mother knew everything. I had heard the stories; I knew the truth. Her upbringing made her how she was. She had every reason to be like…this. She had her arm around my shoulder, holding me close to her. Her fingers dug into my shoulder almost in a desperate manner, as if she could lose me by not holding on tight enough.
We walked home in silence. Then again, I might have only imagined it. I was having problems discerning what was and wasn’t real. The Dragon had burned. I had seen the frame, still smoldering. I had smelt the ashes. The evidence was all over my clothes, in my hair. My eyes seemed to be covered with a thin sheet of ash that made everything seem…unclear. I couldn’t tell you the date or the time. I couldn’t tell you why I did what I did. Why I followed Angyl. Why I trusted her. I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Believe me.
Rev trusted her. But he’s a guy, of course he would. Why did I trust him? All guys are liars. I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes, why I make such foolish decisions. Why I never seem to trust my better judgment. If I even have “better” judgment. I don’t think I make many judgments at all these days. I should have known better. Should. Key word. Then again…no, there is no excuse. This happened. It’s real. And as hard as I try, as much as I shake my head or blink my eyes, it won’t go away. It won’t just…disappear. This is here. This is the now and the always and I have to deal with the consequences of it now. There’s no other choice. I tried to clear my head, make the thoughts and the ranting stop, but it just wouldn’t go.
We got home. My mother went her own separate way, walking to her room and closing the door quietly behind her. It wasn’t a slam or anything; it was just a very quiet, very careful, click. And that was that. I went off to my own room, minding my own business. I knew better than to get on her nerves right now. I knew better than to push her buttons. That would be asking for trouble. I was a wreck and there was no point putting her through it too. I’d be a wreck all on my own. No point in getting others involved. Especially my own mother. You could say that I loved her too much for all that. But I’m not entirely sure if it’d be true. Like I said, I’m not quite sure about anything anymore. How can anybody really be sure?
I sat and thought about the family. Not this. My real family. The Merricks. I thought about them all – Cicero and Vincent, I thought about my great-uncle Magus. I thought about Elysium, my grandmother. Long since dead. She was insane. Most of them were insane. Doyle was dead now too, my father. All of them, gone, lost. All of them mad – save Magus. He was the only sane one of the entire bunch. My great-grandparents were a joke. The entire line, all of it. There was no fighting the truth. As much I loved them, hearing about them, pretending I knew them once upon a time…the truth was there, shining in blood red. They were dead. All of them. And I’d join them someday. And the family would be ended. There would be no more Merricks. Save my mother. And she refused the name anyway for the most part. She was her father’s daughter. She was Pandora Riddle, now and forever.
I went to my room and sat on the bed. Sitting turned into lying down. I put my hands behind my head and tried to relax. I should shower. I should have tried to clean the mess. But I couldn’t. It was too deep now. It was below the skin, burning within the bone, in my heart and soul. There was no getting rid of it now. I closed my eyes and opened them again; nothing could make the fact that I was here go away. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t clear my mind. I just couldn’t make the raging ideas…stop. I rolled over, tossed, turned, and quit. I looked around the room, trying to come up with something to waste my time on. There was nothing to be done. The past was gone. There was no present. And because of this, the future was screwed. And I had to accept this.
I got up and paced around my room for a while. Nothing to be done. My mother had no words for me. She knew though. She knew I took her past. She knew I burned it. I didn’t know how to make amends with her; I didn’t know how to make amends with anything or anyone. I would have to start over. I didn’t want anything to do with Angyl anymore. And Rev was on her team. I’d make my own way.
That’s right. I’d start over. I’d get by on my own steam somehow. Rev was on Angyl’s side; he would side with her over me any day. It didn’t make sense, and above all, it wasn’t really fair. I couldn’t talk to him about my uncertainty. I didn’t trust Angyl. Something was wrong. Something was very…wrong. But he went with it. And for a while, so did I. And to this day, I still don’t know why. I have no idea. No clue. But here I am. And here we all are. And this is what needs to be done.
I paced around some more and sat down again. I sat and thought. I thought until it hurt and I cried without feeling. The tears just seemed to slip out of my eyes without my knowledge. I had my face in my hands and the only way I knew I was crying was when I pulled my hands away and saw the tears. Nothing made sense. Nothing seemed real. But this is here. This is now. And this is dealing. This is my trying to cope. This is adaptation.
It was at that moment that the phone rang and I reached over to pick it up. It was Rev.
And naturally, there was trouble.
I picked up and I was told not to talk. I was told to listen. I was told to run. I was told to trust him. I was told that Angyl was the enemy. I was told that he was sorry. I was told that he loved me and no matter what, he’d be there for me. I was told that we were in this together. I was told that he was sorry until the words seemed to get lost in his voice. He kept telling me the same things, over and over.
The last thing he said to me was –
“Break the cycle. To the last, kid.”
And I heard Angyl’s voice, a tone that could never be mistaken or forgotten.
“Smile,” she said.
And with that, I knew that Rev was dead.
And I didn’t know what to feel. Or if I even honestly cared all that much. He was like a brother to me – we were raised together. We were kids from families that never should have been able to breed. But we were here. He was gone. He was dead. I was left.
And she was left.
He told me to run. He told me to go to the sewers. And I picked up my coat and bolted out the door. My mother didn’t even know I’d left, then again, if she did, I doubted she’d stop me. She seemed so indifferent sometimes. Now wasn’t the time to be concerned about that. I got outside, down to the street, looked up and down slowly, then made my way to the bar. From there, I could get down into the sewers. I’d be safe. She’d never get to me there. And I’d be home. Always. It was my domain. My safe haven.
I got to the bar to find Harley still there. She looked up slightly when she saw me. I felt terrible, and she looked just as bad. I went over to the bar, not too quickly, but quick enough so she could feel the urgency.
“Harley, I need a favor.”
She looked up at me. She was sitting behind the bar, trying to zone out. Her eyes took a moment to wander back in my direction. She nodded indifferently.
“I need a gun.”
She raised a brow curiously, standing up as she did. She stretched out, looked around. She looked me up and down, put both her hands on the bar, and bent down low to my level.
“For me, who else?”
She smiled a silly little smile. “No, I mean, who’s on the receiving end?”
I shook my head. “I don’t have time for this. Rev’s dead. Please?”
Harley must have known from the sound of my voice, or the look on my face. She walked a few steps, looked around idly, and produced a gorgeous weapon. It was a gun of beauty I’d never seen, then again, very few had ever let me hold one. She came back and placed it in my hands carefully, as if the impact might shatter it. I looked up at her.
“Be careful kid, I’ll be expecting it back.”
“Is it loaded?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“And if I don’t come back?”
She looked around, shrugging. “Then I guess I’ll just have to collect it myself.”
And with that, we shook hands. We locked eyes for a moment, as I turned to walk away, I looked back at her. She had such a lost expression, as if she didn’t belong, as if she were beyond all this, by years and centuries. But here she was. In the loop. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to apologize. But I couldn’t stop. I made my way down into the sewers. I started to run. And I was almost at the door – I was nearly gone, when I stopped.
I stopped because if I ran now, I’d always be running. I’d never get away from her. If she were determined to find me, she’d follow to the ends of the Earth to make good on her word. She would find me; she would track me down. And the longer she had to wait, the harder she had to try, the more I’d have to hurt for it. It was just that simple. I turned around, gun in hand. And I waited. I stood there, body locked, square. And I waited until I heard the steps echo in the empty hallway. The quiet, even but definite steps. My damnation crept my way in the wavering light.
She called my name in a haunting tone, multiple times as she crept closer. I tried to make it stop. I fought to hold my ground. I wouldn’t back down now. I was here. I was armed. We would end this. There wouldn’t be a fight or a struggle. I had the motive. I had the means. This would end, here and now. I would avenge Rev. I would end the madness. And she’d pay for her crimes. I would do this alone because I had to. Because she put me to this option. Because she had killed the most important person in my life. I would stop her. She would hurt like I did. I wouldn’t suffer anymore for her madness. No. She would pay, as we all did.
“In case you haven’t heard – Rev’s dead. Aw, poor dear,” she said.
“I thought we were the new Trio? You drop out of nowhere and you expect us to trust you? It’s not all that surprising that Rev’s dead.”
I knew that she’d killed him. I had heard the final shot. The sound had blown through my mind at the same instant the bullet had gone through his head. I wanted to shoot her, right now. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to hear her. I didn’t want to fight or try. This was it. This was the standoff. But I had to face her – I had to take it. If I didn’t let her have her say, I’d never live it down, I’d always wonder. I had to let it all run its course. I couldn’t fuck it up.
“Well it’s no surprise to me, I was there, I killed him myself. I planned this.”
I was prepared for this. I had my comeback ready, to try and damage her front, to try and break through – “Rev and I are the last of the great families. You’re just the fuck up, the kid nobody wanted. Isn’t it tragic that you have to destroy better names to make yours survive? “
“Maven, darling, I don’t really have time for this. I’m just here to end it.”
I put my arms out, the gun in plain sight. I wanted to appear vulnerable but not too weak. I wanted to be confident, I wanted her to back down. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold on. I didn’t know if I could push her. “So come on, end it, kill me – get it over with.”
“I’ve pulled the trigger before…I don’t believe you have. Wouldn’t you want the privilege?”
I laughed out loud, my body fighting back the shakes. Was she even remotely serious? What was she on? “You’re going to let me shoot you?”
“As suicidal as this whole plan may seem, that wasn’t exactly my point.”
“So what is the point?” I yelled. I was losing patience fast.
“The point is…Maven, darling, I don’t really feel like killing you. I’ve been running around killing people all night, and I really think you should save me the effort.”
I quirked a brow almost offended by the audacity of her request. She was being foolish. I had no reason to kill myself. Right? I could hack it. I could do this alone. I would have to. She left me no choice. I tried to think about what to do. I wanted to shoot her. It ran through my head, the actions, the effort involved. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t just do it, pull the trigger and get it over with.
“Now why would I want to do that?” I questioned, too softly.
“Because you just burned down the Dragon. You’re a criminal. You conspired to murder, and Rev’s gone. Which is really kind of tragic…considering he was the stronger one. What are you going to do with yourself?”
She was hitting on my heart and for a minute I faltered. I let her in – I let her get the best of me. I opened up just enough that the shakes got worse and I could feel myself falling. I could feel the games slip away and I could feel myself losing, inch by inch. She was taking over and the longer I stood there the more I was certain that she would beat me.
“You burnt down the Dragon! You planned everything. You’ve got no proof!”
“You’re just as guilty as I am. If you’d told Rev that I was evil, he wouldn’t be dead now, would he? I might’ve pulled the trigger, but you were the bullet in the gun, kid.”
Something in me snapped, I felt the tears slowly sneak from my eyes. I couldn’t hide them. I tried to turn away, wiping my eyes immediately when I realized, angry with myself for breaking. But I couldn’t stop the fall now. There was nothing to make it end. I screamed at her at the top of my lungs. She was the object of my hate:
“Rev’s gone, what are you going to do without him?”
“I’ll make it,” I whispered.
“No, actually, you’re going to kill yourself. See, I don’t have much longer to stand around and talk.”
I tried to straighten out, to stand tall. To be brave. I tried to show her that this wasn’t hurting as much as it was. I was still crying. I was shaking almost uncontrollably. I couldn’t get a grip. I’d have to shoot her and walk away. But I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. In an effort to be strong, I laughed at her in a hollow tone.
“Why would I take orders from you?” I demanded.
“You did everything else I asked. You had a hand in everything – without you none of this would have been possible. Why should now be any different? And besides, you’d get to be with Rev. You really can’t hack it alone, and you know it.”
Having nothing left, no better defense, nothing more than tears to lose myself to, I heard myself whisper simply – “What were his last words?”
“He was a fighter to the last. He said he’d “save you a seat”. I don’t think he wants to be alone either.”
At this point, I couldn’t stop crying. I stopped standing, finding myself curled up on the ground, shaking – curled up in a ball like a child. I couldn’t fight anymore – I couldn’t run. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere was safe. The game was over and I had lost. She had won. She had taken all the pieces and owned everything. She had my life in the palm of her hand – it was just that simple. There was no fighting her now. I tried to, but I couldn’t even get my voice to come to a convincing level.
“I can’t,” I whispered.
“Kid, everything will be okay. You’ll be with Rev, and he’ll take care of you, just like always. It’s not that hard.”
“How can you just walk away?” I said, between tears and coughs and all else, from my place on the ground, below her. I was beaten and I knew it. I had nothing left. My family didn’t care – Rev was gone. We were in this together. His mistake was mine. I was responsible. I would take the blame. I would take the fall. How could she be so cold? How could she just turn away and let it be? I couldn’t understand. I wanted the truth – I wanted answers. I wanted…compassion.
“Just like this.”
And she walked away.
And she left me there. Curled up, crying. Arguing with myself, pleading for release. I sat there for a few seconds, considering my alternatives. There were none. She was right. I was beaten. And she’d known it the moment she pulled the trigger on Rev. I had known it too, but I was too stubborn to admit it. The one time in my life I try to stand up, and I’m only fighting time. This was inevitable. I can’t hack it alone. I know it. She knew it ages ago. She was always better. I just refused to admit it. I didn’t want to see because I always knew it too.
I was beaten by the Queen of Lies. She truly was every bad thing I could come up with.
And then some.
But as the line goes, we really never did see her coming.
Maybe, in some sick, twisted little way, we deserve this. Maybe.
I’ll be seeing you.
Smile. For me?