Expectations, Providence, and Enquiry
Our route to the bridge was a circuitous one. Lilith led the way, but not before resting for a few hours until her metamorphosis was complete. Her ungainly, awkward shape, she said, would get in the way and hinder our passage. So, we sat quietly together in a small, green glade bounded by wildflowers, overlooking a quiet mossy gully nestled between towering pillars of rock.
It was nice. And despite everything that had gone on before, I felt Lilith and I were becoming friends.
“I find your mind still on Lincoln,” I said. “But your anguish is not there as it was before.”
“Yes. It is true, but it will come again to me, so you must be prepared,” she replied. “It was in that shape the Magus trapped me. It was in this shape that I broke her spell and discovered Lincoln dead.”
We sat for a long time, saying nothing. I was thinking of Lincoln: as a puppy, and of bringing him home, and the kids going crazy over him, and he, phenomenally excited at all the attention and peeing on the living room rug. I smiled at the memory, but at the time remember being furious about it. And after all that had happened, I wondered why. That other me, before the rental, seemed to be as lost and as distant as my dreams of being player in the real-estate industry.
“Shapes trap things, exnzpat,” Lilith said suddenly. “The bulk of my grief for Lincoln remains inside that other me. I am compromised, to be sure, so be careful when that other me returns.”
It sounded like a warning and I took heed, knowing how her mind had compromised mine on our walk down the mountainside.
I sighed and said, “It will take time, Lilith. Grief is not easy, believe me, this last year has been the blackest of blackest nightmares. I would have gladly killed myself to rid myself of it.”
She looked at me. Her perfect human face shining in the light, and I saw why. Her face was wet with tears.
“Oh, exnzpat, you are a dear fool. Death changes nothing.”
I reached up to her and kissed her face.
* * *
The FBI man, Samantha S, and Matt E seemed to fill the room. Matt E, as prosecutor for the county, stood the moment Becky entered the tiny room. The FBI man and Samantha S remained seated; their respective notebooks and folders ready and open for whatever information she had to give them.
Matt E pulled out a chair. She thanked him and sat nervously. The chair was a hard thing. The room was an interrogation room. The chair was a seat normally occupied by a criminal.
* * *
Lilith and I sat for a few hours doing nothing. The sun, whichever sun it was, never became unbearably hotter nor did the day become uncomfortably cooler. It seemed today, Wormwood blessed us with perpetual, good weather. Enjoying each other’s company, we simply sat atop our mossy ridge and looked down upon the skeleton road that would take us to Becky.
Lilith lay against my shoulder and stroked my face and hair. It was quite pleasant and I did nothing to dissuade her from her occupation. No doubt, Lincoln would have, but then I had no control over that, and that, as they say, is that.
We chatted idly of nothing in particular as we watched her legs slowly buckle and shrink into the normal, gorgeous female kind. We even made a game of it, trying to guess how long it would take for particular boney, reptilian lumps to reduce and detrude into nothing upon her legs.
We would make our bets. The loser was required to kiss the other and yes, I know, it sounds childish, and it was, but I assure you, with Lilith, it was a game of tremendous fun.
I had thrown away executionerofthewill’s Rolex watch and so I had no way of counting time other than by my fingers.
Depending on our bets, one or the other of us would either press down on some lumpy yellow thing on her leg to egg it along faster, or shout discouragement at the object, to make it stay longer. And between our laughter, I kept time with the use of my fingers, and Lilith suddenly surprised me by asking how I was doing it.
“Yes,” she nodded, taking my left hand in hers and holding it warmly. The slow, dull pain that seemed a constant companion in it since my encounter with the tree, now faded at her touch.
I was puzzled by what she was asking and after a small interrogation in which I tickled her neck for torture; I determined she could not count. No, that is not strictly correct. It’s not that she couldn’t count, it’s more that she could not see its logic. She watched me use my fingers with evident fascination and I asked her how it could be that she could understand the mechanical structure universe, but could not do simple arithmetic.
She explained that if that is how I really saw Space and Time, as a measurable thing, then I could never really understand the universe. The universe is not a linear thing, she said, and so, such mechanical ‘ticking’ was pointless. Instead of simply accepting her pronouncement, I foolishly pressed her. To this, she simply sighed, leaned back on the warm moss, and said, “Exnzpat, your notation and your questioning do indeed show the folly of your mother.”
“My mother, what has she to do with counting?”
“Not your direct mother, but the original, the poorer facsimile of me. Eve. It is little wonder the Elementals avoid humans unless bidden to do otherwise.”
“You’re very judgmental,” I said, stroking the curve of her neck. “Why don’t you like Eve?”
“She is weak… in all things,” and she said it seriously, and sat up squeezing my hand tightly.
“You see the universe through her eyes and it angers me.”
“But why? You don’t seem to be an angry person.”
She turned my hand and touched at each of my fingers. “You are blind to the true nature of things about you. Your true nature is love and happiness and yet all of you are plodding, lead-covered, thumping, loud monsters. You strut about the earth smothering it with yourselves and dividing it into spendable bits and pieces, which only isolates you further from your true selves.”
She said this in a winsome sort of way, and after a short pause, she began again: “It’s my fault, yes, but I blame Eve more. Free choice was mine to take and I used it to deny Adam. I refuse to apologize for this; it is just my nature and that is all. As for the rest it, Eve and, then later, the New Mother, it was not my doing, nor, as I have been told, none of my business.”
She stopped speaking then, remaining in a sitting position, gently stroking at my damaged hand. She did not look at me, only saying in a whisper, “I have seen my folly, too. I have seen another world, exnzpat; it was quite extraordinary. The creatures there played and laughed. Their every waking moment given over to some kind of game or some adventure in humor; it was an extraordinary place to see. For it was their economy I watched them play at. Their king and queen, like Adam and I, a division of one, rule over them with the gentle but firm hand of love. Loved: they are loved and return it in kind. Not one admonishing reaction did I witness, or one single, disparaging word did I hear. They welcomed me there as one of their own, exnzpat. And for many happy hours I played with them. I tried to know them, too. But it was not easy, I… we, we are so foreign. Our ironclad world cloisters us so completely we know no other truth but our own. The cagy, wary, reproachful distances we keep from each other are so resolute in us we can barely fathom any other way.
“Our brandished swords and crushing fists are rarer than you might think, but not so our separate hearts… and we are foolish, I think, assuming we are blessed… for many do…”
“How did you see this other world,” I asked, entranced by her story.
“The Mirror-heart… it… it has… other properties. While it can show many things, it can also bend certain rules. These rules I thought to be as fixed as you believe in counting fingers, but I was wrong. Some providence or some happenstance occurred and I fell there, exnzpat. I fell onto that world, right through the Mirror-Heart, and stranger still, its people, well… they were expecting me. And it was very odd, because I am, I think you would agree, not a people person, but I felt at home among them–their welcome–my home–my heart.
“It was joyous.”
She stopped speaking then and stared reflectively into the mossy gully. The moss grew like a vine there, covering trees and stone alike. It gave this side of the mountain a soft, gentle appearance that I quite enjoyed.
“How did you return,” I asked, breaking her stare. “Come back, I mean.”
“The king and queen of that world… they returned me, having Mirror-Hearts of their own. They begged me to change my ways, but they did not understand that Eve had already come unto our world and it was already too late for us.” She turned to me and looked into my eyes. “It is a source of great sorrow in me,” she said, “in this, my human, shape. And now, with Lincoln’s death trapped in that other me, I am truly damned.”
“No,” I said, horrified. “God would never allow it!”
“God allows everything, exnzpat. Everything… just be glad you murdered only your family, for I have murdered an entire planet.”
I could say nothing to this. Only, I began to tear-up, realizing how right she was. Innately, and I think I’m an ordinary man and can speak for all of us; I’ve always understood that there was something wrong in me. Not with me personally, because I have many traits and many faults that makes me me, as do we all, but I’m speaking humanistically and even biblically here: as a human being… of the strange guilt we all seem to hide from. We all have it. We all know about it. But none admit it. And what’s worse, we hide it from each other.
And we seem alone in this, too. Our fellow earth creatures bare no shame. They apologize for nothing. They are just… just are… and we… we are just so different. For example, why do we wear clothes? For warmth, ceremony, art, fashion, amusement? An animal might dress for warmth but I wonder why he has not ever picked up a needle and thread and made an overcoat. Of those other things: ceremony, art, fashion, amusement, these concepts are as far beyond an animal, bird, or tree, just as the moon is, and yet we have been there and come back again.
Who are we? What are we? Why are we? Were we meant to be something else entirely and if so, what? Were we to be something akin to Lilith’s alien friends? And I wondered at the world she spoke of, an economy of fun and joy she said. What must that be like? Are jokes a form of exchange? How many Knock-Knock jokes does it take to buy a bus fare? Or, is the very concept of tit for tat so ingrained in me that my very imagination is cauterized because of it? Lilith also spoke of joy; it’s a concept quite different from fun: exuberant of spirit, supreme happiness, walking-on-the-moon fun, I think. But of real joy, what each of us has of it, is meager compared to that of a blade of grass, whose only expectation is to grow tall and straight. Why is it we must always expect more, and when each little snippet of joy comes to us, here and there, throughout our lifetimes, we latch onto those railway spikes, making them signposts within our lives. My God! What must a lifetime of joy be like?
And I might well wonder at the economy of animals for they seem to have none but life, but is that any better than an economy of guilt? Give me a minute of joy anytime, or better yet, make me an animal so I can live my life in the comparative comfort of lowered, but better expectations.
I sighed and kissed the back of Lilith’s hand. I decided I rather liked Lilith’s alien friends; and knowing of only tiny patches of joy in my life and also, great sorrow because of the destruction of all of it by my own hand, I felt somewhat at home and blessed to be in the company of such a strange and tragic creature as She, my friend, Lilith.
Feeling sad and not thinking straight, it just slipped into my head. I didn’t mean it to, but there it was: CRLF. If you’re wondering, it’s notational computer code from the BASIC computer language. It means “Carriage-Return Line-Feed.” It’s a throwback reference to the humble typewriter. Programmers use it primarily when either writing long blocks of code to make it easier to read, or when writing a lot of text–say if one was to copy certain documents into a certain computer program for safekeeping… where no one would think to look.
And despite Lilith’s inability to count, she knew all this the instant it dropped from out that secret part of my brain unto that that part which was readable by her. In sudden anger, she gripped at my hand, locking her fingers to mine as if they were a vice.
“Lilith, you’re hurting me!” I tried to pull away from her, but her grip was fierce and she was surprisingly strong. Her face too, flared-up in anger. It was vulgar and hate filled. And as the knowledge of those things discovered in the box spilled out of my head and into hers came also the knowledge that I had kept it from her for some time now, just seemed to make her angrier still.
“Lilith… Lilith…,” I screamed in pain, “please stop! You’ll break my hand!”
I arched my body to match the horribly wrong position she had bent my hand to. Unfolding my legs and lying prone gave me room, but no advantage. I was helpless and soon found my face buried into the furry, thick moss that covered our little spot above the gully. The moss had a pleasant wintery-pine smell, which would have otherwise been enjoyable, but for the fact, I was suffocating in it.
“I don’t know…” I blathered into the moss. “I don’t remember what any of it said. I copied it all into my computer program for safekeeping. I knew it was important–but at the time, I didn’t know to whom. That’s all…” Her grip loosened, and I said, “I swear to God, I don’t remember what any of it said… I’m sure I can get it back… the program is on the net. I can get it anytime. I’m sure of it!”
I felt her inside my head, searching it, but it was distant. It was like listening to an echo bouncing off a faraway canyon wall, and then I realized I was wearing the wrong head. This was no longer executionerofthewill’s head and brain–it was my own.
Lilith’s hand was gone from me and I lifted my hand to see, but what I saw shocked me. The hole in my hand had opened wide. Inside, I saw only the dark grin of an empty universe and I felt myself begin to slip inside. What I saw was reality.
Lilith’s person, back there in Wormwood, was breaking executionerofthewill’s hand, meanwhile, here, here inside the hole in my hand, I was back on earth with the vicious part of Lilith shuffling and riffling through my real brain as if it was nothing more than deck of playing cards. Everything tumbled about me and then suddenly crashed to a stop when she was done.
A giant flash of black and white light wrapped round me and somewhere in the distance, I imagined I heard Lincoln barking. I lay still, listening closely. The sound of barking came again, but it was not Lincoln I heard, but a chair shifting heavily on a wooden floor.
Images of the rental and the things I had done there flashed mercifully quickly across my mind and then disappeared leaving me helpless, broken, and still. Gone was Lilith’s thieving mind, and gone was all of Wormwood.
I knew was lying on my back, staring greyly, at the ceiling of my little prison in the asylum. I knew it by the smell of the room and the pressure of my body upon my bed. I knew it too, from the blurred, hazy sight through my barely, functioning eye. My other dead senses, black as they had been for a year now, came back down upon me like a sack of Powder Down feathers. I was home and smothered; Wormwood was gone.
I heard a voice. It sounded tense and nervous; it came from the direction of the chair. “Exnzpat, is… is that you?”
It was Ben. The man I was to murder.
* * *
The girl would do. Her spirit was weak. Her frame was weak. Life would leave her soon. She walked the precipice now and, best of all, the child had never really lived to begin with. And the Magus, selfish in her groping, rested her fingers gently upon the side of the child’s head and pushed aside the few stray hairs that had fallen there while she slept.
Mia felt the blood pulse in the girl’s temple and she immediately altered her own heartbeat to match it. Rhythmically steady, but oh so faint, her little arteries huffed and puffed with their meek, tired load. It was good; the child was perfect.
Mia went to the end of the bed and lifted the chart hanging there and, squinting in the dim light of the room, read the notations scrawled upon it.
Her name was Lester F and she was nine years old and in fact, today had been her birthday. And Mia looked behind her and saw the half-eaten birthday cake with nine little candles plucked from its top laying in a neat row on the edge of the plate. Mia returned to the chart. ALL: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and it appeared that the child was not responding well to the treatments given. Diagnosed three years before she’d been given a bone marrow transplant. The chart did not say how she had responded then, but obviously now, she had relapsed, because here she was again. The girl had pneumonia and, judging by the confusing coding at the bottom of the chart, she had no insurance coverage either. Lack of insurance, Mia knew, unites master to victim like no other glue. Poverty: the blessing of the strong, America’s dirty, little secret.
Mia went out, closing the door quietly behind her. She made her way over to Floor Nurse’s station to enquire to the whereabouts of child’s parents.
The floor nurse looked up from her magazine and said, “Oh, the poor thing needed a break… you know,” and Mia did, she’d seen it in thousands of relatives. Dying wears out the living like an ungreased wheel.
“She went to a late movie, I think. I told her to treat herself to a nice hotel, too. Poor thing, she’s been sleeping here.”
The nurse shook her head. The nurse was old. Her grey hair and kindly wrinkles wore the badge of death well.
The floor nurse shook her head. “Not sure. They’re from out of state, so who knows.”
Mia nodded slowly, thinking once again of providence and how there was no such thing as coincidence and, as if reading her mind, the old nurse asked her, “You’re from ICU aren’t you? I’ve seen you about. Who’d you piss-off to be sent up here? No one likes coming up here… the kids, you know…”
“Oh, I missed work today… promised to do the nightshift to make up for it. They sent me up here for punishment, I think.” And Mia smiled. Providence, she knew, did not come often, but when it did, one must grab it and let it take you where it will.
* * *
The FBI man began: “Thanks for coming in to talk with us, Becky. This is not really part of the investigation, but… should it become so, Matt will immediately advise you of your rights and then we can go from there, okay?”
“I know my rights,” Becky replied, immediately annoyed by his condescending tone.
Samantha S smoothed the waters by saying. “Sorry, Beck. Don’t mind him. The Federal Government has nothing better to do. It’s decided to let him tag along on this one. Not much I can do about it, I’m afraid.”
“Why is he here,” Becky demanded.
Admiring the girl’s spirit, Samantha S sat back in her chair and laughed, “Terrorists or monsters. I’m not sure which, but the attorney general called me this morning and asked me to let him in.”
The FBI man colored and said angrily, “Hey, I’m right here.”
“Yeah, you sure are, aren’t you,” Samantha S replied rudely, and a long uncomfortable silence fell upon the four of them.
Becky looked to the fifth chair, empty besides the FBI man. “Are we expecting company,” she asked, breaking the silence.
Matt E said, “Executionerofthewill,” and then looked impatiently at his watch. “He should be here any minute now.”
But he didn’t come and Matt E texted him. A few minutes later, his phone buzzed a reply. He looked down and read it, shaking his head in bewilderment as he did so.
“He’s not coming. He said to go ahead without him.”
“Will it affect anything, him not being here?” Samantha S asked.
“Unlikely. I saw him only an hour ago and he was all excited about the box of evidence we took from the home. This… this enquiry will likely take us nowhere and so… let’s just begin, shall we?”
The FBI man’s faced flushed hotly again, but he said nothing, allowing Samantha S to begin.
“Okay, Becky, you’ve sat in enough of these to know how it works. I’ll begin with the procedural questions first. I only have three. So, here goes.” She looked down at her script and began.
“Do you know, or have you, to the best of your knowledge, ever had any contact the man, exnzpat?”
“Do you know, or have you, to the best of your knowledge, ever had any contact with any member of exnzpat’s family?”
“Have you ever been to the exnzpat house on Erehwon Street before yesterday?”
“Okay. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. You’re free to leave.”
She closed her notebook, put down her pen, looked to the FBI man, and waited.
Nobody moved and Becky remained seated, waiting for the next line of questioning: as Samantha S had so aptly put, Becky ‘knew how it worked.’
The FBI man leaned forward. He punctuated his words by tapping his finger onto the table and said, “Okay then, tell us please; how the Hell did that guy know your name?”
Becky looked down. She brought her hands to the edge of the table and stared at her fingernails. They needed a manicure she decided, and as soon as work was over, before Matt picked her up for dinner, there was just enough time to get them taken care of.
“I… I don’t know. It was very strange.”
“But you reached for him. You tried to touch him.”
Becky looked back to her nails. “If you said I did then I may have. I remembered he reached for me first.”
There was silence.
“His hands were cuffed, Becky. He never reached for you. He called out your name and you reached out for him to touch.
“I was right there, Beck. I watched it happen,” said Samantha S.
“You acted like you knew him and he you,” she added. “Hell, he called your by your name.”
Matt E cleared his throat and interjected. “I received his medical report this morning. The man is blind. It seems he ripped out his own eyeballs. The doctors say they can save one eye, and he may have only partial sight in that eye because of it, but at the time, yesterday, there was no way he could have even seen Becky, let alone pick her out of the crowd.
“But he did,” said the FBI man, tapping the table again.
“My point exactly,” said Samantha S, “there was no way he could have recognized Becky to begin with, and yet, Becky… sorry, Hon,” she said kindly, “…but Becky, you did seem to recognize him.”
Everyone sat and looked at Becky, waiting for her to speak.
Finally, Becky looked up from her nails and said, “I can’t help you… I don’t understand it myself. I’ve never seen him before in my life and, like the rest of you, I’d never heard of him until yesterday.
“All I remember was the terrible smell coming from out of the house and of lying on the ground. And when I got to my feet, you were all there with him on the gurney.
Puzzled, Matt E said, “Lying on the ground? Why were you lying on the ground?”
“I don’t know… we all were. Ask him–he saw.”
All eyes turned on the FBI man. His face went red again, and he answered Becky’s accusation with the lie he had been telling himself all day, after watching camera footage of the crowd. He saw them on the ground all right, but apparently, he saw wrong, for none of it appeared on any of the camera footage. Though, incredibly, the camera had caught him opening the door and looking out into the rolling, writhing mass of people and shouting for help.
Making up his mind and denying her, he said firmly, “Becky, this enquiry is not about me. It’s about you, and how this man,” he consulted his notes, “exnzpat, knows you.”
Becky replied coolly, sitting back against the hard wooden upright of the chair, “Well, I don’t know him, and that’s all I can tell you.”
Matt E knew Becky well enough to know she was as done with this line of questioning. He knew she could be stubborn, especially when she knew she was right. And if she said she didn’t know him, then she didn’t. He said, “Yeah, I think we should just drop the whole thing. In no way will it affect our prosecution of him. We have his confession.
“None of this other stuff adds to any of it.”
Samantha S said, “You’re right. I just want tie up the loose ends, that’s all, this and the footprints.” She looked over at the FBI man who sat thinking furiously about seeing the multitude of police and onlookers crawling like ants upon the ground about the house and how he had decided his mind must have been playing tricks on him, but now, the girl had just confirmed what his mind really did know about yesterday’s events. But how? She knew more than she was letting on, he decided, that was for sure.
“Ah, yes,” he said looking at Samantha S, “The footprints.
“They don’t belong to the dog. We found his prints close by though. They look like giant bird footprints…”
Matt E grinned and interjected, “Yeah, I saw them too, maybe one of the troopers got bored back there and made them or, maybe Sasquatch paid us a visit.”
Everyone but the FBI man laughed, his face turned crimson and he grasped at his folder of documents and bit his lip to stop himself from shouting.
When the laughter died down, he said evenly to Samantha S, “Look, if you want to tie up loose ends then you need to find the dog.”
Samantha S sighed, knowing he was right.
“Okay, I’ll send some troopers over there this afternoon and have them canvas the neighborhood again.” She grinned and added, “And if they find Big Foot, I’ll call you immediately.”