seeking the ruin of souls: chapter 2

chapter two: styx

Styx

Then. 

Styx considers knocking over the marble sculpture in The Grandfather’s entryway. The snow white wings and cold empty eyes are supposed to be reminiscent of an angel, she muses. But the teeth—bared in what may have been a smile, if the sculptor was blind or missing lips—appeared demonic and hellish.

Styx contemplates knocking the sculpture over for a full three minutes while The Grandfather keeps her waiting. Not because she’s particularly destructive—she isn’t. She just wonders what kind of sound it will make. 

She can count on one hand the number of times she has stood in The Grandfather’s foyer—or stood in his presence at all, really.

Five.

The first on her fifth birthday, the day before kindergarten. He visited Mom and Pops’ “home,” and Styx was forced to wear a dress meant for church (according to Blue) which was weird because Mom and Pops told her Santa and Jesus were friends and she stopped believing in Santa the year before. But Styx stood in the living room in her shiny shoes and scratchy dress while The Grandfather looked down his nose at her and even at five she knew that he was someone she should be afraid of.

 She couldn’t tear her eyes away from his. Staring into them was like staring into fire and she couldn’t tear her eyes away. He returned her unblinking stare for some time before stating, memorably,

“I am sad to remark her resemblance to The Dead Mother.”

Styx didn’t know Mom wasn’t hers, until that moment. 

The second time she saw him was through a window. Styx and her best friend Blue were on a field trip with the rest of the sixth grade. Styx stared into the tiger cage remembering eyes that looked similar to the tigers and then he was there, standing on the other side of the exhibit, directly across from her as if summoned. He didn’t speak a word, he simply stared. He gave her a brief nod through the prism’s of glass before turning and walking away.

The third time was when she started high school. Mom and Pops tried to create false excitement—well, Mom did, Pops just frowned and grunted—both monotonously reciting to her that this was “a great opportunity” and that she should “thank The Grandfather for his generosity.” As she sat across from him in the limo staring into those glittering eyes once more she could only think of one question to ask: 

“How many people have you killed.” He seemed surprised by her question and she wondered if he considered kicking her out.

“What makes you believe that I have killed people? Did Mom or Pops tell you this?”

“They didn’t have to. You just look like you’ve killed someone.” He chuckled, and she felt as if she were doused in ice and flame simultaneously.

“Dear Styx. Never do yourself what you can pay another man to do for you. After a while. . .the man will do it for you for free.” Styx doubted this. She contemplates pointing out to him that no one would accept killing enough to do it for free, but she nodded anyway, satisfied by his relative honesty.

The fourth time was six months ago. The Grandfather invited Styx to his home for dinner—just him and Styx. The awkward tension was made more awkward with Styx’s question:

“Where is my father.” The Grandfather stared at Styx coldly before responding.

“Deceased, I suppose.”

“And my mother?”

“Deceased, assuredly.”

“How do you know?”

“I could not say.”

“Did you kill my father? And my mother?”

“Hardly.” Brief pause. Styx assesses him cooly before continuing.

“Are we related?”

“Fundamentally. I suppose.”

“Is that why you have me over? Because we’re related? Or because you love me.”

“Styx. As your only living relative, let me give you a piece of advice. Love is irrelevant. And useless. If you must love, love animals. Plants. Never people. Animals die, you bury them. Plants wilt, you throw them away. But people. People die and you die with them. I have you over because we share, at our core, that which is essential. I am interested in you. A passing interest, I must confess. But it is an interest. I hope that is enough.”

Styx stalled briefly. 

“If I cared, it might be. But I don’t.” The Grandfather laughed then, laughed so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks.

“Indeed? I do believe we are relatives, dear Styx.”

This is the fifth. The Grandfather invited her—sent her a real invitation—to a black tie dinner. She isn’t sure why but she stands in the foyer listening to muted music beyond the french doors with a large man in black staring suspiciously at her. She can’t bring herself to care about him—Mom’s doing, not The Grandfather’s. Styx feels the tug at her heart, the strange homesickness she feels when she’s in a place for too long. The feeling of missing Mom and Pops, the want to be missed.

She turns away from the sculpture at the exact moment that the man beckons her to the doors. Styx takes a huge breath into her lungs, pauses for a second, and walks inside, head held high. 

She is not, however, entering the party. Behind the french doors she is ushered into The Grandfather’s office. Large, plush, with muted red carpet and rugs and large paintings hung from the walls, the office is rivaled in intimidating intensity only by The Grandfather, who sits comfortably behind the large oak desk, his feet propped lazily on the top.

“Dear Styx. Welcome. Have a seat. Cigar?” He beckons to a guard, as large and as forgettable as all the others, who offers Styx the case. She holds up her hand in protest casually, her eyes never leaving The Grandfather.

“No, thank you. I appreciate your inviting me over. Can I go home now?” The Grandfather offers her another laugh, the smile not quite meeting his eyes. 

Styx wonders if this smile belongs to her father as well. Belonged to her father.

“In a bit, Styx. I will not keep you long, I promise. I have a business opportunity that I would like to offer you.” Styx raises a suspicious eyebrow. Mom and Pops have only ever been honest. She knows what type of business The Grandfather conducts. Her interest is more than passing, but the prospect of working for or with The Grandfather turns her stomach.

“I’m not interested,” Styx lies bluntly, rising from her seat.

“Sit down, Styx,” The Grandfather commands. Styx flinches, but regains her seat, perching apprehensively on the edge.

“Please,” The Grandfather corrects himself. Styx sighs but relents, relaxing back into the cushions. 

“Now, I want to explain my—” His phone rings before he continues. He answers, responding in three words: Yes. No. Now. “I apologize dear Styx. I will be a few moments, please make yourself at home.” He excuses himself hurriedly before leaving the room, closing the door sharply behind him.

Styx waits silently, absently gazing around the office, her eyes skipping over the photo twice before she realizes the familiarity. 

This must be her father. The nose. The eyes. They are hers. He stands next to The Grandfather, the space between them indicating the chasm of their relationship. Styx estimates he must be about 18 or 19 in the photograph. She wonders if he knew her mother then. She wonders if he loved her. If she loved him. She places the photo down awkwardly, feeling ashamed for caring.

Mom would be ashamed if she knew.

As she turns from the shelf an envelope catches her eye. She isn’t sure why. She will never be certain. Perhaps it is the awkward placement, jutting out crisply from volumes of judicial lore. The color is striking against the darkened leather that characterizes the rest of the room. The envelope is thick in her hands and she glances at the door, listening intently. She hears music from the room beyond, but no tell-tale footsteps indicating The Grandfather’s return. Sitting down at his desk she pours the contents from inside.

Two things are immediately apparent.

Styx needs to run. And she needs to run now. 

Pops’ voice is in her head. Down. It doesn’t matter how you get there, just get there. Remember balance and awareness. Jump.

Styx tucks the envelope beneath her dress before standing on the window sill, prying it open. A large burst of wind pours through, and the distance to the street at the bottom appears surprisingly short. Still she does not hear the turning of the knob, nor does she hear The Grandfather’s shouts from the door. She simply climbs up to the window, looks down at the street below, and she leaps without demurring. 

 

 

“Townie”

Now.

Well shit. If I ever run across that sonofabitch I’ll yank out his intestines. Me and the kid should be out there flying by night, staying under the radar. We only have days to catch the Ferry. I can see the bike out of the grime from the window. Dead. Not “needs a break” dead, but “we’d be better off riding a mule” dead. I paid $1,000 dollars for scrap metal dead.

I’m going to repay the favor to that sonofabitch dead.

“So,” I begin talking to her in large part to keep my mind off of our hopeless predicament. “What kind of name is Styx?” She doesn’t answer for so long that I begin to wonder if she heard me. As I contemplate asking her again just to have something to do she turns to me, a small smile in her eyes.

“The kind I was born with. What kind of name is Townie?”

“The kind of name that I was given. You weren’t born with Styx.” 

“I guess I may as well have been. It’s the only thing my mom gave me. She died right after I was born.”

“I’m sorry,” I offer, feeling artificial, my platitude empty. It’s empty because I don’t feel sorry. The kid is smart, though, and she frowns at me.

“Don’t be. You didn’t know her. Neither did I.” We sit in silence for a few moments and I watch her carefully. She keeps peering into the bag, which I know isn’t filled with dolls, but she ain’t my kid so I’m not responsible for what she carries. She’s still doing the leg jerking thing, but now I don’t think it’s because she’s afraid. She don’t express fear in her eyes the way The Girl might. In fact, she seems impatient. Like she’s ready to move and she don’t care too much where she goes. I definitely think she’s a runner. Which is good, because we’re going to have a hell of a time getting out of here.

The bar is about 100 miles west of where I first picked her up. We’re both covered in dust and dirt but we’re the cleanest things in this place. We’re huddled in a corner at the back of the bar, her face obscured by shadow. From here I can see everyone who comes and goes without them seeing me until they get close. I don’t think he’ll find us here because he can’t be sure which way she ran, but then again, The Grandfather seems to have eyes everywhere. I think the kid knows this. That’s why she keeps looking around, like she’s waiting for something. Someone. 

Okay. What would a parent do?

Well, Mama would have thrown back a few and Daddy would have thrown a few punches in response.

What would a real parent do? Ask about hobbies? Favorite food? 

Fuck it, I’m not parenting material. 

“So Mom and Pops raised you?” I prod. In part because I’m still fuming about the dead bike, but also because I want to know what kind of risk I’m taking carrying her to the Ferryman. 

I would like to think that I’m the type of person that will help out someone in need. A little girl like Styx, I’d like to think I’ll see her on the side of the road looking for a ride and I’d help her. That I would know that she’s a kid just caught up in the wrong-place-wrong-time scenario and I’d say “I’ll help you with no thought to what it might cost me.”

But I’m not and she’s not. No, Styx ain’t in need. Well she is, but she ain’t innocent. Can’t be.

Before I worked for The Grandfather I did odd jobs here or there. Fixed what needed fixing. Broke what needed to break.

Buried the bodies that needed to buried.

But The Grandfather is a different breed. I didn’t have to search for him—he found me. He sent me out for a year to watch someone. Some “friend” that his nephew or son knew.

An entire year spent watching.

The Grandfather doesn’t like His Family to get our hands dirty. Says he wants us to know as little as possible. 

I don’t even know the “friend’s” name. Never found out.

I just knew her comings and goings, the. . .intimate details. . .of her relationship with the son. Or nephew.

The Grandfather never even told me it was time. He didn’t come out and say it. He just gave me a letter that had a date, time, and code. 

The man was late. Extremely late. I started to wonder if The Grandfather hadn’t set me up when the man finally showed up, small package in hand. I tore it open without even bothering to read it. Walked into her room without question. She was sleeping with the baby in her arms. I looked at the baby and then I couldn’t stop looking. By the time I could tear my eyes away it was almost too late. I hadn’t hit my growth spurt yet so I could barely reach the bag. But I did. I injected it and left the room. I imagined that I heard “code blue in l&d,” but it could’ve just been my imagination. I was only, what, thirteen. Still a kid, really. I tried to pretend that whatever he gave me to give her was just to put her to sleep. Not permanently. I don’t know why I cared. I didn’t care before. I haven’t cared since. But I pretended all the same. 

I never saw the “friend” again, though. In a way I’m glad I didn’t catch her name. 

No one questioned me being at the hospital, now that I think about it. No one even blinked. In fact, they all looked through me. As if looking at me would get them killed. 

The Grandfather has a reach and it is far.

So why am I helping Styx? The Grandfather is after her, that much I know.

Mom doesn’t say much, and Pops says even less. The conversation went like this:

Mom: Townie. I’m calling in a favor

Townie: I don’t do favors

Mom: Fine, I need you to get someone to the Ferryman

Townie: He’s hard to catch these days. It’s gonna cost you.

Mom: It always does. She needs. . .she needs to be protected.

Townie: From?

Mom: The Grandfather

Townie: Are you insane? Mom, have you lost your goddamned mind? Why would go against my bread and butter

Mom: Townie, please. I can pay you. 

Townie: . . .How much?

Mom: How much does it cost to find the Ferryman these days?

Townie: One.

Mom: One hundred?

Townie: One million

Mom: Half

Townie: Sold. But if we get caught up I’m ditching the kid.

Mom: I would expect nothing less

After I started thinking. One, I definitely got the short end of the stick. Mom and Pops ain’t together together, but I know they can at least pool their resources. I’m over here eating eggs and grits and shit and they’re living in that mansion on the coast. Plain sight. We all live in plain sight, to be truthful. That was one of The Grandfather’s requirements. We know of each other. He knows us.

But anyway, I started wondering if it’s worth it. To take the girl underground. The Grandfather will know. But I need the money. This isn’t some vigilante mission. I don’t know why he wants her and I don’t want to know. I know I need the money. And I can talk Mom up to a million. 

I’m still on the market, besides. Mom knows I’m a businessman before anything else. If The Grandfather finds us before we get to the Ferryman and he’s in a gambling mood, I’ll play. I ain’t got morals to sell, and my soul is long gone besides.

Yeah. I’ll definitely play.

Even if she does remind me of The Girl. 

 

 

“Popeye”

Now. 

I bet Townie’s laid up somewhere fuming. I wouldn’t have sold it to him but the boy doesn’t have the sense God gave a billy goat.

Lucky for me I don’t have good sense either, but I can make a quick buck.

And shit. Townie knows good and damned well he won’t find a decent ride for a thousand dollars! Easiest thousand I’ve made in a while. If I had any kind of heart I’d feel bad. But no kind of honor amongst thieves and all.

I make good money from The Grandfather. I should—I’ve worked for him for damn near 25 years. And I don’t have a pension plan. 

The Family isn’t loyal, so that’s not why we stay. Not me and Olive, anyway. We stay because the money’s good, the rent’s cheap, and yes, I admit there’s a thrill to the kill.

Townie’s problem is he thinks too damned much. Always trying to find that fucking girl. That—his being loose minded—makes him soft. Weak. The Grandfather has to know that, so I don’t know why he keeps him around.

Maybe the pretty-boy attitude and the lack of brain cells makes him harder to follow. He’s not as good as I am but he’s still alive, so that must mean something. 

Mom and Pops are the same as Townie. Too liberal with their affection. I don’t know what the fuck is going on with that girl they’re raising, but that side of the family is fucked up. No one in The Family speaks of it, but we’re pretty sure Styx is related to The Grandfather—really related, not this family of killers shit we have going.

Olive was pretty torn up about Styx going to Mom and Pops and not us. They aren’t even fucking let alone nuptualed, so I don’t know what kind of shit’s going on over there. 

Now Pops. . .Pops is crazy. I’ve worked with him one time, and I’ll never do it again.  A few years back Hyde sent Pops and myself down into Columbia. Never been before, never want to go again.

Incognito. Hyde clearly said be incognito.

I remember yelling that at Pops, too, the coppery taste of blood still in my mouth. I could barely see through the heavy smoke. I turned to Pops, or the direction that I thought he was in, and and shouted, “The fuck?! You could’ve killed me, too!” That crazy motherfucker didn’t even have the decency to look sad when he stepped through the smoke to stand in front of me. He just turned his eyes at me, stared into my soul, and looked away.

We were there for one man, some diplomat that was loose with his constituents change. We had one mark.

The final count was 16. I work for the money and the money alone and I’m the first to admit I don’t care about their families, where they’ve come from, where they’re going. But Pops—he really doesn’t care. He doesn’t care who gets caught in the crossfire as long as he hits his mark. I don’t even know if the blood I tasted was mine. 

Yeah. Never again.

I think about him when The Grandfather calls. Usually he has Hyde contact me and Olive, so when I hear his voice I perk up. I stand by the window in the dining room, listening to his instructions while watching movement across the street.

In the 25 years that I’ve worked for him The Grandfather has never surprised me with a mark. So when he gives me the name—the names—I ask him to repeat them. Not because I didn’t hear—I can hear better than most.

I just need to hear them again. I guess I need to make sure he’s sure.

Guess I’ll be seeing Pops again after all. 

 

 

“Mom”

Then.

I had a house collapse on me once. Before I entered my tenure with The Grandfather I worked with a different type of family in London. We were tracking a small group of anarchists—amateurs, really, but without a core ideal between the lot of them. At any rate Prick (his name was Pritchard, but Prick was far more suitable) wanted to embed with the group.

He sent me in first, of course, saying I was sweet. Trusting. The rebels, they would trust me. 

One week, and we’ll pull you out, he promised. Two, tops.

It took me six hours. It wasn’t difficult to become acquainted with the young members of the group—a few shots all around and they invited me in. 

They were based outside of London, in an older, Edwardian home tucked away safely in Marlow. I remember walking briskly up the long cobbled drive wishing I had been given more protection than my wits.  

By the time I entered they were in the middle of a card game—spades, I think. My heart beat so hard and fast I was certain it would give me away. I didn’t ask about their mission or their goals—I didn’t have to. The youngest there was no more than 14. He could have been my kid brother. They were all children, really. 

He didn’t talk. I never heard him speak. He hummed—dodo l’enfant do. His humming was sweet and innocent; they played cards through it, but not impervious to the sound his humming made. It was calming. Peaceful. He met my eyes curiously throughout the games, but his humming was soothing and I couldn’t interrupt.

I would have perhaps asked about their families later, but I heard the noise first. A small buzzing sound—not at all like the beeping from the films. No the buzzing was loud and the smell was hot and I looked up for just a moment, making eye contact with Prick, staring down into a window. His eyes were like death, and he nodded just once at me before turning away. The explosion came instantaneously.

The feeling of being engulfed in flame is so intense as to be overwhelming—my mind could not comprehend. The smoke from the bomb—homemade, I later discovered, supposedly detonated by the rebels by mistake—was black and billowing, stretching up into the sky far beyond what my eyes could see. The roof was gone. I tried to move, but my left leg was warm and sticky with blood, a heavy body resting on it. The body was still warm but the eyes—which peered into me—had gone cold. The one who looked like my brother. 

With shaking hands I reached down to close his eyes before straining to roll him off of me. His body in death was heavy. I couldn’t stop the shame from bubbling in my stomach, shame that overflowed in the form of angry, hot tears. As I groaned with effort the house groaned with me. Through the smoke and coughing I ascertained that the entire roof was not, in fact, destroyed, and the three stories that I could see above seemed to be sagging.

My own breath was my undoing.

I inhaled sharply, taking in the heavy floors about to give way. I exhaled and the roof caved in, the building around me crumbling loudly. 

The boy’s body saved me. Hours later, when I was dragged from the rubble, I still held him close to me. Oddly bruised and mangled, his eyes were once again open. I did not bother to close them again.

My own eyes locked on the face above me, the arms that gripped me cruelly tight. It was not, as I had imagined, the face of a rescuer.

No, it was Pritchard. His eyes—I had longed for those eyes—had become dark. Pure hatred seemed to glow in them. . .a hatred reserved for me.

His mouth was moving and I’m certain words were coming out, but the bedlam of the explosion had rendered my ears useless.

My eyes were still trained on him as he lifted the gun, held it directly above me before lowering it to my knees. 

Pritchard never was a good shot, but the bullet lodged below my knee and I imagined my scream pierced through the night. The pain shattered my senses.

“Why?” I knew I wailed, but of course I could discern no answer.

Instead he pointed the gun at my eye, backing away carefully. Perhaps he changed his mind.

No.

He didn’t want my blood on the uniform. He smiled—no, sneered—down at me, and I watched his mouth move.

Beg, he mouthed. Beg me to spare you. 

I couldn’t believe I loved him. How did I love him? I wanted to beg for my life. Beg for something from him. Something like, “Fine. Don’t love me. But don’t leave me here. Please don’t kill me.” But I couldn’t. My mouth didn’t move. My refusal made him angry, and the pools of black grew ever larger. 

As the bullet exploded from the barrel I was aware only of the burning pain in my throat, the albatross of Pritchard slowing and stopping my heart. 

The smoke that surrounds me now is a different type, and I have learned to see through it. On my sooty, gray-gloved hands and sore knees I crawl around the floor, peering through the lifting smoke. In the distance I hear sirens.

Only seven minutes separate us from the complete, timed destruction of the house.

I am not a cook, which The Grandfather should well know. He must have known, because he is nowhere and I am almost certain the blast did not take him. It may have rendered him partially deaf, but the brunt of the blast came from the kitchen. The Grandfather likely walked away with smoke inhalation, slight bruising, and a killer’s thirst. But Pops. . .

My knees throb painfully but I keep crawling, determined (or perhaps desparate) to find him in the rubble. At last I do, and my heart catches in my throat.

His eyes are closed tightly and his nostrils are flared in unmasked pain. Blood trickles steadily from his nose, complemented by an angry gash on his forehead. Peeling off my gloves I press my finger to his neck.

His pulse is light and faint, but his heart still beats.

I breathe a heavy sigh of relief, breath I didn’t know I was holding. Lightly I trace his brow, calculating the distance of the ambulance. Three minutes. Pressing a chaste kiss to Pops mouth I rise steadily, heading for the kitchen. A small fire still simmers in the corner, and the stove emits a loud crack every few seconds. Ignoring both I reach underneath the smoldering sink, pulling the lever. The top of the kitchen island—still standing—rises gently. The top drifts away to reveal several drawers. From the first I pull a small case, heavy with the clothing I’ll need for travel. From the second I grab another case, larger and heavier than the first. I hesitate for a moment before pulling open the third drawer. The only drawer that I shouldn’t have.

The photo of Styx is my favorite. I shouldn’t have a favorite. It is normal and a part of our story to have photos of us pretending happiness with our “daughter” in the event we had guests or visitors. 

Our happiness was never pretend, though.

I wonder if The Grandfather knows that. Has always known.

This photo—I was caught off guard. The photographer—I have never known who exactly took the photo—snapped the picture just as I was looking down at Styx and she was looking away. The love for her that I didn’t know I carried until this photo was delivered is written plainly on my face. It is undeniable. It is in the pride of my eyes, the genuine light in my smile. Styx’s eyes are closed in an eternal giggle, her dimples deep and her curly hair hanging over her forehead. My hand is suspended just above her head in the photo, my futile attempts to brush it from her eyes captured forever. 

I contemplate leaving the photo behind. Whomever sent me the photo all those years ago must have known that this day would come. Must have felt that I would stand at this crossroads—do I find Styx and cede her to The Grandfather? Or do I find Styx and deliver her to safety? Or (perhaps more like what I should be) should I just run? Run away and keep running?

Gripping the photo tightly I press the lock code, backing away as the island readjusts. Rushing back into the living room I can see the lights of the firetrucks down the block. Kneeling next to Pops I lean close to his ear whispering,

“I’m sorry.” 

As I leap over the fence separating our yard from the neighbors I do feel guilt. I hope he survives. I want him to. When I place enough distance between myself and the house I stop, panting for breath.

Pain. Pain in my leg. Looking down I realize that a shard of glass juts out painfully from my calf. Gritting my teeth together I pull it out, gasping with the shock of removal. 

My chest aches and briefly I contemplate the glass shot into there, too. Looking down at my dress, ruined by smoke and ash, I espy no glass. My pain is internal. As unnatural as it was before, but ever deeper. 

The house. Our home. Our makeshift family. The photo. A brilliant wave of turmoil threatens to overtake me. I breathe steadily, walking stealthily to the car hidden in the shadows of the abandoned house four blocks from ours. In the distance I can see the smoke billowing into the sky. 

Squaring my shoulders I make my decision. Starting the engine the car purrs down the street and into the night, the black within and without taking me again. 

 

 

“Townie”

Now.

The others think I killed my family. My real family, I mean. They don’t agree on the details, but there’s always a kid sister. The story surrounding them varies depending on who’s telling it. 

“He murdered them. Every one. The Grandfather sent in van Cleef but Townie’d already done the job. van Cleef felt so bad he kept him. Thought The Grandfather could use him.”

“The sister was orphaned by their parents when he was twelve and she was just a baby. He ran off with her and raised her himself. After she died—fiery crash, I’m told—he went crazy. I don’t know how he met The Grandfather. But The Grandfather took pity on him and brought him in.”

“The parents were burnt up in a fire. So bad the dental work couldn’t even identify them. Somehow Townie and the girl—a twin sister, I think—survived. They were both adopted by The Grandfather. Don’t know where the girl is now.”

“Stop it. Townie was a nice boy. He got into a bit of trouble—got a girl pregnant, I think. He sends money.”

In the darkened corner of the booth Styx stares at me, waiting for a response. Shrugging I pause as I squint at the door.

“There’s a girl,” I begin, my eyes still focused on the door. “My sister. I call her Georgia. Called her Georgia, I mean.” The kid’s eyes widen for a moment, fleeting sympathy on her face. There but then it’s gone. Damn. Mom and Pops have conditioned her but good, because now she stares into me, emotionless and impassive as stone.

“She was murdered. Our parents were killed first. We were told it was a crash. It wasn’t until after—after Georgia was murdered—that I found out. Somebody—I don’t know who—someone killed them. And her. That’s why I’m in The Family.” This time the sympathy in the kid’s face is unmistakable. 

The kid was raised by a pair of assassins. Good ones, too. If you ain’t dead after this long you got to be. At her heart I’m sure she has it in her. But right now, listening to my story, she’s just a kid. 

I wish I could offer her some advice. Run, kid. Run away as fast as you can. Run away from me, Mom, Pops. 

Especially The Grandfather. 

I wish I could give her the advice that I should’ve given Georgia. Go out and live. Don’t cry for them. Fuck them. They would never cry for you.

It’s just us, Georgia. We need to take care of each other.

I need to take care of you.

I wish I could offer that to the kid, but like I said, I ain’t parenting material. And she’s a job. If I don’t deliver her like Mom said. . .I won’t get what’s mine.

And I won’t see my 31st birthday.

Like I said. Mom and Pops are good at what they do. 

My thoughts are turned to Georgia so I don’t notice the man until he’s upon us, already at the table. Her back is to him, but his eyes are trained on her.

As if he knows her.

As if he’s looking for her.

He is unfamiliar. The Grandfather must be getting desperate. It an’t not like him to hire shady bastards that have no hope of escape.

“Couldn’t help notice you’re in need of a ride,” he drawls out, still staring down at Styx. Over his shoulder I’m aware of the hush—every eye in the bar is trained on us.

Shit. They’re here for a show.

Styx’s eyes meet mine, and I expect her to be afraid. I expect to need to reassure her, to offer her a wink, let her know I’ll protect her.

I’m wholly unprepared for the glint in Styx’s eye. Her eyes are bright, brighter than I’ve seen them. She looks happy. Does she know this guy?

“Whatever you’re selling, we’re not buying,” Styx throws over her shoulder, that smirk back onto her face. The man snarls down at her, reaching out his hand lightly grasping her hair.

Styx stiffens under his touch, her eyes narrowing, the glistening light simmering into a fire. “Please don’t touch me again, mister. I need to ask you to leave me and my friend alone.” Her voice betrays nothing. Cool confidence. It renders me speechless. 

The man chuckles, letting his hand fall.

“C’mon, Ms. Styx. I’m your friend. Just let me take you on home.” Styx’s nostrils flare, and for the first time I am afraid. 

Don’t do anything stupid, I want to whisper. The man is standing behind the kid; if I pull the trigger now I may hit her in the abdomen. Somehow I’m sure this would be frowned upon by Mom and Pops. 

“You’re a stranger. Mom said never talk to strangers.” Strangers leaves the kid’s mouth in a small whisper, and the man chuckles again, reaching out before tugging a curl. 

She is her parents’ child. She spins around with shocking speed, catching the man’s hand and bending his finger back. The snap is sickening, and his face is drained of blood. Before he can react Styx punches him in the throat, pressing the back of his head until his forehead collides with the table. 

All of this happens before I’ve cocked my pistol. 

At least fifteen guns and rifles are pointed at us when I raise my hands above my head. Styx, however, is not prepared to give in.

“I’ve got your man,” she yells unnecessarily. I peer around her back, surprised to see the dagger that she has at his throat. His face is covered in blood, but I can’t tell if the shock is from the blade or the fact that his ass was kicked by a 120 pound teenager.

“Let ‘em go, little girl. Let ‘em go and we’ll let you take your friend here and get out.” 

“I have a better idea. You get out in thirty seconds, and I won’t blow the place up.” Various pairs of eyes meet. Styx presses the blade harder into the man’s neck, reaching into the bag beside her.

“Hey,” the man yells at her, but she ignores him.

She pulls out. . .

A fucking grenade.

“What the fuck!” I exclaim loudly. “Styx!”

“Shut up, Townie,” Styx yells, throwing a smirk over her shoulder. Her and those fucking smirks. 

This isn’t how I imagined I’d die. Killed by some obnoxious teen. 

“You’re playing with fire, little girl.”

“I’d listen to her if I were you,” I yell, deciding to join the discussion. 

“You have fifteen seconds,” Styx offers calmly. 

Shit. I don’t know Styx well, but she’s a teen, and they’re nothing if not impulsive. 

There is no way we’ll get out of here alive. No one is moving. They don’t think she has it in her. They’re trying to decide whose going to shoot first. Which one of us they’re going to shoot first. Do I let them shoot her and run, or do we shoot first?

My decision is made before I pull the trigger. The man who yelled collapses, the bullet lodged above his left eye. The next hits the man in Styx’s hand; blood splatters over her face and she drops the knife, shocked. I press the gun to the back of her head.

“Sorry, Styx,” I begin, but the sentence hangs in the air, unfinished. The blinding pain of a dislocated shoulder causes me to drop the gun.

As I fade to black, chaos surrounding us, I hear a cold, “Sorry Townie,” and then I am nothing.

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baptism

I was told to have faith. . .

But I find I have none.

While they, in their childlike splendor,

Went like lambs to the pool

The virgin waters piercing those 

Mortal coils

Insurance for their resurrection,

I went, too, yearning for

An innocent stupor,

The bliss of not-thinking.

But I tainted the water

Which to me was only that,

Hoping that someone

—One of them—

Someone I could touch

Would save me

Should I begin to flail

And drown.

seeking the ruin of souls: chapter 1 (draft two)

chapter one: styx

Styx

Now.

 

There’s a reckless in there somewhere, she thinks languidly. Twirling the cord of the phone around her fingers she glances around, assessing the landscape.

The pay phone is old enough to be nostalgic, posted alone in its vantage point overlooking the narrow two-lane road. Bloating desert heat swells from the ground, and she squints into the direction that she came, long enough ago so that her footprints are long since covered in unfamiliar dust. 

Currently grime and dirt billow from the earth in the wake of a fast approaching motorcycle. 

“Styx,” she hears her name from afar. She pauses before responding, still staring at the bike, its driver looming ever closer.

“Yes,”she breathes at last. A loud puff of air is expelled on the other end of the line.

“Why? Why are you being so…reckless?” There it is

“Look. Do you have it or not?” Another puff of air, this one resigned to indefinite disappointment. 

Styx holds her breath tightly in her lungs, waiting. 

“Yes. I’ve taken care of it.” 

It is Styx’s turn to expel a heavy sigh. Relief…and dread.  

“How do I find him?” A small snort. Equal parts relief and dread. 

“You know how this works. He’ll find you. Pay the toll.” The pause between them is infinite. 

“Styx–” she begins, and the phone tightens in Styx’s grip. 

“I love you, Mom.” The response, an “I know Styx” is lost to the dial tone. 

  

 “Townie”

Now. 

She’s a goddamned kid. Jesus I need another job. 

“Hey, kid.” I test her. Maybe she ain’t the right one. 

Eat shit screams from her eyes before she says anything. “Fuck you,” she spits simply. 

Kids. Yep, she’s the one. She scowls at me hard…I think it’s a scowl. She wants to seem like she’s not interested, but she has a tell. She’s nervous; her left leg keeps jerking and she’s fidgeting with the nails on her right hand. A nervous tic. 

“Mom sent me,” I offer after watching her fidget for a moment. She eyes me suspiciously, nodding into the smokey dirt obscuring the road. 

“I just talked to Mom. How’d you get here so fast?” I shrug, keeping my eyes on her. She looks like a runner. Can’t let her run home. She’s still staring, so I guess she really expects an answer. I pull the object from my pocket, running my fingers around the rough edges before holding it out to her. She hesitates before grabbing it. She doesn’t look at it, just places it carefully into her backpack. She straightens up and stares at me, no less suspicious than she was before.

Shit. I ain’t got time to earn trust or some shit.

“Mom knows you better than you know yourself.” I say it in a hurry, to let her know we don’t have time for niceties and trust-building. “Knew what you’d need. Knew when you’d call. Knows where you’d hide. And believe me, you really weren’t that hard to find. So what can I do you for?” 

She can’t be more than eighteen. She looks sixteen, but eighteen is my guess. She’s worn and tattered. I bet she misses Mom. She don’t have that on her face or anything, it’s just the way her voice changed when she said “Mom” and when I said “Mom.” Her pupils dilated a bit, like she’s holding something back. I hope it ain’t tears, because I ain’t the tear-wiping kind.

Kind of hard to believe we’re talking about the same “Mom,” to be honest.

Still, the kid’s young in the face. Young all around, really. Small, too. No taller than 5 even, I don’t think.

I guess her and The Girl are about the same age. She don’t look exactly like her, but they might be friends. Something about her puts The Girl in mind.

No, that’s not right. She’s the same age that The Girl was when I saw her last.

The Girl’d be older now. 

Trouble lines the kid’s face. I should probably say something that makes her comfortable. Anything to get her moving. We’ve already lingered too long. 

I open my mouth to speak but she interrupts me.

“I need to pay for my coffee.” What coffee? She turns abruptly and in two swift steps she’s pulling open the dingy door of the convenience store. 

Fucking kids. Groaning I place the helmet on the seat before following her in.

My eyes don’t need to adjust to the dim light, but the smell may just kill me. Smells like. . .mildew. Shit. Shitty mildew.

The kid smirks at me before turning to the counter. I shouldn’t stare. Mama would’ve said it’s impolite. But. . .

He’s at least 6’7. 6’7 is the low estimate. If he is a pound under 350 I’ll sell my kidney. It’s the only one I’ve got, so I’m good for it.

Based on his shirt he moonlights somewhere as a butcher. 

At least I hope that’s where the blood came from. He runs his hands—huge and filthy, grime under the nails—over his ample belly, staring over the counter and down at the kid. She looks—no leers—up at him.

“Keep the change,” she smirks (we need to have a talk about the smirking), tossing a few bills on the counter. He sweeps it off without bothering to look. We all watch strangely as it floats to the floor. The man stares down at her in disgust.

“What change? You owe me $500!”

My mouth hangs open. “For what?” I interject. The kid turns to stare daggers at me.

“Coffee,” she mutters before turning away. 

“Beefcake,” she begins, and his eyes narrow. I glance around, eyeing the figure of Gabriel two feet to my left. Horrifically tacky and out of place among mugs and t-shirts. But it’ll do in a pinch. I ain’t trying to kill nobody.

“I have to. . .I have to leave for awhile. But I’ll be back and I swear I’ll give you what I owe.” His eye twitches; she probably can’t even see it—but it twitches briefly before everything goes black.

For him, I mean. It goes black for him not us. Gabriel makes its mark with a loud smack, thrown without a lot of force but from a relatively close point. Right above the left eye, the figure splits him open. The kid screams as a kid will when the gun discharges, clattering to the ground from Beefcake’s limp hand. 

Her mouth is formed into an O and now she really looks like a kid. I feel sorry for her.

“What the fuck did you do that for?” Well I almost feel sorry for her.

“I just saved your life,” I spit at her, but she shakes her head.

“I had that! He’s not going to hurt me.” I think she’s still speaking, but my ears perk up. The rumble of an unfamiliar engine about one kilometer to the south. A jet from the sound, too expensive for this area. 

I don’t think The Grandfather is that desperate yet, but it don’t make sense to stay where we ain’t wanted. 

My agility and street smarts got me this job. My good sense lets me live to keep it.

“We gotta go kid.” Something in my voice must sway her because she doesn’t hesitate. . .until we get to the bike.

“Where’s my helmet,” she demands. I stare blankly at her.

“You were about to get shot by Beefcake with no thought at all, but now you’re worried about safety?” She pouts until I relent. She adjusts her backpack on her back, tightening the straps and clipping it together over her midsection.

“What’s in the bag,” I demand. I feel her roll her eyes through the dark visor.

“Dolls,” she snaps. I shrug at her before climbing onto the bike. Without hesitating she clambers on behind me, and we drive off, smoke and a very unconscious Beefcake small specks in the side mirror. 

Her voice is so small over the engine that I almost miss her question. Maybe I have missed it, but I answer anyway.

“Townie. Call me Townie.”

She nods against my shoulder, and suddenly she reminds me of The Girl again. She seems to be considering. Finally she answers, offering her trust between us.

“Styx.” 

Styx

Then.

Mom searches Styx’s eyes for something—anything—that will indicate her feelings. Hatred. Despair. Fear. Something that proves she feels. Something to indicate that she isn’t sadly resigned to an unknown fate.  Styx averts her gaze, staring past Mom into the photo on the wall. Mom doesn’t turn around to view it; she has committed it to memory.

Styx is four years old exactly, sitting on Santa’s lap. The photo itself is unremarkable, save for the way Styx stares into the camera and past it. Four year old Styx, even then, could see through the glass and into the soul. 

Mom reaches for Styx’s brow, smoothing down invisible hairs. She offers Styx a small smile. Styx does not return it.

“Mom! I’m okay! I’m ready!” Mom purses her lips, biting back her own worry. She never worries. This worries her.

Her heart pounds faster and louder than a heart should. Her ears perk up as she listens, her muscles tensing at the sound of silence. 

Silence is frightening. It carries with it a sense of foreboding, a harbinger for wicked things to come.

The handle of the door twitches and Mom turns, ready to spring. Wordlessly she moves to stand before it, ready to protect Styx from whatever may come through. Mom eyes Styx, who stares into her, unblinking. Mom doesn’t worry about Styx being able to take care of herself, not really. She and Pops have seen to that.

The door opens swiftly, and Mom moves faster than Styx’s eyes can see, her hand poised over his neck. Pops doesn’t blink; his own eyes betray mischief, his lashes seeming to flutter in the swift air following Mom’s almost-strike.

“Pops!” Mom exclaims, exasperated. “You scared me!” Pops raises his eyebrow at this revelation.

Mom relents, a lopsided smile forming on her face. “Not scared, per se. Just surprised.” 

Pops hesitates before answering Mom’s unasked question. “Business went well. Ended early.” Mom nods before turning to Styx. Styx peers between them without speaking, her raised eyebrow matching Pops’. Pops reaches out to tug Styx’s hair, and she rolls her eyes but does not pull away.

“Hey Pops,” Styx greets him. His non response is his response. Mom and Pops stare at Styx, waiting.

Heat crawls up Styx’s back, settling into her ears. Yes I’m nervous, she thinks harshly. I don’t want to go. Please don’t make me go.

“I’m fine,” she lies to them again. On shaky legs she turns, the gown skirting around her ankles as she glides past. Gripping the rail she takes the stairs slowly, one at a time, and wordlessly Mom and Pops follow. Styx wonders if they are as scared as she is. 

The massive, barrel chested men looming in the living room are intimidating, but Styx doesn’t blink. She thinks about what Mom taught her, surveying the pressure points that will bring both men to their knees. Styx wonders if she should do that now, but then she thinks of The Grandfather. He would be angry. She hasn’t seen his anger, but she has heard of it. She has sensed it.

Styx raises her chin haughtily to the man holding open the door of the limo, stooping to climb in before turning back to Mom and Pops. They are standing shoulder to shoulder in the door, matching frowns on their faces. They are worried. This worries Styx. They never worry. She never worries.

She rushes back to them before the men can stop her, and Mom and Pops pull her into a deep hug.

“You’ll be fine, Styx. It’s just for the evening. Just. . .be yourself.” Mom leans away, biting her lip. Uncharacteristic tears well up in her eyes, but she blinks them away. 

Pops clenches his jaw, eyeing the men before pulling Styx back to him.

“Be vigilant. Be smart. Don’t let your guard down,” He whispers the commands into Styx’s hair, breathing heavily. He turns away to reenter the house before Mom, who holds onto Styx’s hand until the last.

Styx slides into the limo, tears stinging her eyes, and she turns back to tell Mom that she loves her. The door slams before she can move, however, and her words are lost to the night. 

 

“Mom”

Then.

I never should have gotten attached. I didn’t want kids. I have never wanted kids. I never wanted to be married, either. In spite of this being Mom—being a mother to Styx—it feels natural. This hallow in my chest—the space left in her absence—doesn’t feel natural.

The doorbell chimes, and I swallow my fear. Where did this fear come from? I was never afraid before. Pops’ familiar walk, a self-assured, even gait, is silent but somehow I can feel it echoing through the empty halls.

The voice that greets him stills my heart.

The Grandfather? 

I rise from the couch, needlessly smoothing down my dress. Pops thinks it’s foolish to wear these things. The beautiful hoop skirts and the stiletto heels (pastels and brights, every pair lethally, meticulously polished) and the pearls. He thinks they are an act. They are. 

But we are all acting. 

I’ve worn these clothes for so long—I’ve been Mom for so long I don’t know another part to play.

I greet The Grandfather wordlessly at the door, pasting a false smile to my lips. My eyes dart quickly to Pops, and I see it there, just for a moment. Anger

I don’t have the right to, but I reach out to touch Pops. To The Grandfather it probably appears the touch of lovers. This must be surprising to him, nevertheless, but no more than the touch is to Pops. It is gentle, a light caress on his cheek. I can feel his stubble beneath the lace of my white glove. Pops leans into my hand briefly before pulling away. The Grandfather stands before the couch, a large floral claw-footed thing reminiscent of the 1950s, staring at me expectantly. 

The perfect hostess I sweep my hands out, offering the seat to him. He nods once, curtly, pulling gently at his pants before taking his seat. He makes a small motion, unbuttoning his jacket and repositioning himself on the seat. His man leans forward offering him a gold case. The Grandfather gingerly plucks out a cigarette, and the man strikes a match.

My smile does not waver as my eyes narrow at him. 

“I apologize, Grandfather. We do not smoke in the house. Styx has allergies.” The Grandfather grants me an amused smile, the cigarette dangling on his bottom lip, unlit. After long, silent minutes he nods once, replacing the cigarette.

“Right you are,” He concedes. His smile is light and villainous, not quite bright enough to remove the shadows from his face.

“If you will excuse me for a moment, I have a roast in the oven.” Confidently I walk into the kitchen, turning on the oven with the alacrity of a 50s housewife. Returning to the living room I discover Pops and The Grandfather eyeing each other, the Man lightly touching the stained glass lamp resting beside the couch. The Grandfather smiles warmly at me as I enter. 

“Let’s get down to business, shall we?” He smacks his lips together, and if I didn’t see the gleam in his eye I would think he was talking about the weather. It is The Grandfather’s turn to sweep an arm out, and he does, offering me a seat in my own living room. I do not hesitate to take it, averting my eyes so that I do not meet Pops’ gaze.

I am seated close enough to Pops to smell his cologne. Spicy and warm. . .but there is something underneath. Like hot desert dust. The dry scent of sun-parched cactus. 

Styx.

I cross my legs nervously, immediately regretting my decision to do so.

The cool steel of my revolver aches between my thighs, my garter pressed uncomfortably against my legs. 

“The girl,” The Grandfather begins without pretense. I stare into his coal-like eyes, my breath still.

“She must be found. Immediately.” I swallow, counting backwards from ten. At two Pops responds.

“Dead or alive?” A chill sweeps down my spine, but I do not waver. The Grandfather observes us silently, toying his options in his mind.

“Preferably alive. But I will be forgiving if force is necessary.” I nod once. To The Grandfather and Pops it must appear as acceptance. But the nod is the only movement I can make without horror escaping me.

What’s happening to me? 

Pops’ hand covers mine unexpectedly, and it is then that I realize my lethal grip on the couch. The Grandfather eyes us with mild interest, and I turn to meet Pops’ gaze. We have lived together long enough for him to read me, and I him.

Don’t worry, his eyes whisper. We’ll find her first. Keep her safe.

How? There’s nowhere that we can go that he can’t follow.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’m scared for her.

I know.

The man’s hand grabs my hair so abruptly that at first I think I have imagined it. The Grandfather is still staring at Pops and I, but now a handful of my hair is held in the man’s hand as he grips me to him.

The Grandfather’s voice is a light, airy whisper when it reaches me. 

“How was the girl lost,” he murmurs lazily. My eyes dart around before settling on Pops. While the man has a handful of my hair tightly in his grip Pops stares evenly down the barrel of a gun. Where did this new man come from?

I swallow hard before responding, eyeing the man with the gun trained on Pops. He will be simple. He is my height with a slight build. Left handed. His lean suggests a previous knee injury. I will strike him there, first. 

“Grandfather, the girl was with you. I thought she would be safe there—” 

As if he can read The Grandfather’s mind the man tightens his grip on my hair as The Grandfather scoffs,“You blame me? You were entrusted with her. Where is her obedience?” I resist the urge to roll my eyes, settling on stifling a sigh.

“Grandfather, I do not understand your question.” The Grandfather chuckles, adjusting himself on the couch.

“Were you not to keep my granddaughter safe?”

“Yes, Grandfather.”

“Were you not to protect her?”

“We were, Grandfather.”

“She is proficient in the arts,” The Grandfather observes suddenly. I jerk my head to stare questioningly at him. How does he know? 

“Do you know how many stories Styx fell?” The Grandfather queries, his voice a mere whisper. My heart stops again. Styx fell?

“Four. Styx fell four stories. She landed on the awning, lucky girl. And yet. . . Oh, I apologize.” The Grandfather’s lips curl over his teeth in another dark grin. “Did I say fell? I mean jumped. Styx jumped four stories. Not so much as a scream passed her lips. It would be fascinating, truly. Beautiful, even.  If she had not stolen from me prior to her escape.” The word “stolen” seems to hang between us, echoing silently in the air.

I should not ask, yet he wants me to, and so I must. “What did Styx steal, Grandfather? I am certain we can get it back.” The Man slaps me hard enough across the face to bring immediate welts upon my cheek. My eyes water involuntarily, but I do not cry out. I will not need to apply a great deal of pressure to his friend’s leg. He has shifted fifteen times in five minutes. With a bit of provocation his leg will fail him assuredly. 

“She has stolen! That which she has stolen is valuable. More valuable than anything you could ever imagine. I must have her back. I must have it back.” I stifle the intense desire to roll my eyes—an irritating habit learned from Styx. 

“Grandfather, how can we help if we don’t know what we’re looking for? How can you be sure—” The man strikes me across the face again before I can complete my thought, this time drawing blood from my lip. I spit it out, frowning hard at him.

“If you touch me again, sir, I will break your knees,” I warn him. He sneers at me, huge off-white teeth glittering in the light of a lamp. 

“How long can Styx remain undetected?” The Grandfather presses. My eyes meet Pops over the barrel of the gun. The answer present in my mind is reflected in his eyes. 

Indefinitely. 

“I do not know, Grandfather.” I lie. Pops clenches his jaw tightly. The Grandfather again glances between Pops and me before nodding once to the man with the gun held on Pops. He cocks the hammer and a primal part of me moves before my rational mind can comprehend. 

My stiletto clips him on the side of the head first, and he drops to the ground, shocked as blood pours from the gash. I can’t believe I missed.

 The man with the gun to my head grunts and I kick him in his thigh, my heel sinking into his skin. He yelps loudly, releasing my hair. I sweep my foot around and it meets its mark directly, colliding with the man’s head with a satisfying smack. He staggers and falls, froth beginning to form at the corners of his mouth, the poison reaching his bloodstream. As I draw my foot down I reach between my legs to grab the revolver, but steel against my neck stills me. The Grandfather’s face is hidden from me now that he has a gun pointed to my neck, but I imagine his amused smirk. 

“Let’s play a game,” He begins, and I attempt to meet Pops’ eyes. He stares down the length of a pistol in his own hand, pointed over my shoulder into The Grandfather’s face. The Grandfather speaks carelessly, clearly confident that Pops won’t pull the trigger. 

“Okay,” I begin slowly, my eyes never leaving Pops’ face. 

“I will count down, and by the time I get to one I will know where Styx is.” 

“Grandfather—”

“Ten…” His voice is cold in the large room, and I hear a tell-tale beep in the distance. My roast. 

“Grandfather we don’t know—” 

“Nine…” My mind races as my throat constricts.

“Eight…” I am still trying vainly to meet Pops’ eyes, but his unblinking stare is focused on The Grandfather, his pistol aimed mere centimeters from my right ear.

“Seven…”

“Styx hasn’t been here! We don’t know where she is!”

“Six—this will be bloody, I’m afraid,”

“Just tell us what you’re looking for—”

“Five…”

“Four…”

“Three…”

“Two…” Before he reaches one Pops blinks, and in that moment I take my chance. Swinging my left elbow around I lunge at Pops. Behind my ear I hear a stage whispered, “one,” and a deafening explosion swallows us in the deepest black. 

 

“The Grandfather”

Now.

 

When my son was a young man, around 9 or 10, I took him out onto the cape in the yacht. As we stared out shoulder to shoulder into the rising sun, the swell of the waking city far behind us, I promised him that he would be my greatest accomplishment. My only heir, the next in line for my throne. My son showed an insurmountable thirst for knowledge and appeared to desire acquisition of that which I had earned. He, like me, is exceptional.

Brilliant.

Handsome.

Privileged.

An exceptional marksman. When he so desires acquisition of a target he does not miss. He does not ascertain the meaning of the word “no.” I doubt he has ever heard the word. I do not apologize for this. He is indeed the perfect specimen. When I turned to him and promised him a future I believed my own words.

He has made a liar out of me.

When the pitiful young woman lured him I was certain that he was experiencing a phase. As a child was given everything with very little work. It was only natural for him to desire carnal pleasures that his mother and I would likely not approve of. I sowed my oats. . .it was acceptable for him to sow his. In the dark. But ever the rabble rouser, my son brought her to our home. The young woman was ignoble and embarrassingly simple; her wide doe-eyed stare around the summer home was laughable. 

But he said he loved her. Death for hire is my lifestyle and our livelihood, but in that moment I considered hiring out for elimination of a personal stain. My son never need know. 

Admittedly the pregnancy stayed my hand. I am old-fashioned, admittedly. I enjoy scotch after dinner, a nice cigar every Friday evening. When my son’s mother purposes to lift her nose from the glass I enjoy flying her to exotic locations where she will spend every moment on her stomach with dry hands on her back. The pregnancy—in spite of her low birth—would result in an heir to my heir. I could not bear to part with it, bastard or no.

It is rather tragic, really. That the young woman died so soon after. Forty-five minutes after the birth, to be exact. van Cleef was clearly weakening even then. 

Her death was forty minutes behind schedule.

paradisio

Ripped 

Into a dream

Of you,

A life in pieces,

And we

Divided:

 

Haunted by memory of

Unkiss

Untouch,

And my love

Unrequited.

 

Tear stains

Scar the wasteland, and

Hell stops

Me at the gate;

Hands blistered

Cracked by fire,

 

Still I reach, 

Descending deeper 

Into madness

Your soul

I must

Acquire.

  

Flames lick

My heels

Ether portends

To unmake

Me and

Tighter I cling to you

And from this dream

I dare not wake.

 

Now into

The mirror,

See the bloodstains

On my cheek;

 

Nothings unwhispered and

Unpromises

Broken

Notlove

Your mirror I seek.

Wrenched

From a dream

Of us

My life in pieces,

I forsaken, and

Unguided.

 

Desperately

Into the dream

I reach,

But heart

And mind

Stand divided.

 

Again and again

I return to

The dream

Bearing my love—

Requite it.