Deborah Fleming gave me a look of utter contempt. She was the previous puppet owner of Nouvelles Règles, and I could tell in her eyes that all reason had left this young woman. As if my existence alone was bothersome to her. This was a person that did not hear the word no often, and she steam-rolled the few people in her life that have told her no. Antonio must have felt it, too, because he raised his hand to get everyone’s attention.
“If this is about the vineyard, you can have it back. I was happy with what I had, and I need no more. Maybe that way, you can start over and find that happiness as well. If you want, I can visit and help with the vines. Show you some techniques. I am sure that Mr. D…Mr. Winemaker here will be willing to help you as well, should you choose to change your ways. You are still young, and it is not too late for you to do just that and be happy.”
Deborah folded her skinny arms in front of her and snorted at the sincere words that came out of Antonio’s mouth. “What do you know about happiness, old man? I looked you up when I was researching the buyout of my vineyard, and your name came up. You’ve been poor pretty much all your life. Your own country didn’t want you. Hell, you couldn’t even keep your own wife alive.”
Antonio’s eyes darkened, and his hands went white, gripping at the arms of the chair. “Money does not make someone happy. You are proof of that. You are nothing but venom, child. My Milla died young and in pain, but she was happy. She was happier on her dying day than you’ll ever be in your whole life.”
“Enough of this!” I called out, putting just enough of my god voice into the statement to regain everyone’s attention. “Like I told you earlier, Miss Fleming, you were already fired from the company that used to own this property. It now belongs to another. That means you and your goons are trespassing. Take your crew and crawl back to whatever hole you came out of. This is my final warning.”
“Oh, don’t worry, there will be crawling, and lots of it. First off, your family, as you call them, will be crawling back home when my team breaks a whole lot of legs and ankles.” With that, she waved a hand in the air, and her team howled and spread out, smashing and turning tables all around us. “After we are done with that, you will have to crawl back to my daddy, begging him to take the vineyard back.”
There was screaming and cursing and shoving and smashing all around me. I could feel it all escalate to the point where soon control and then life would be lost. Fleming’s goons were outnumbered, but they held weapons against peaceful people. There was no more avoiding this.
I roared in my seat and stood up, looking at the fights starting all around me. I let out a guttural cry, stretched my arms out wide, my thyrsos appearing in my hand. Then I let go. I let it all go. Instead of keeping the madness inward like I do with every breath I take, I let it loose. I released the voices, and they reached out with a massive appetite. A hunger that had not been sated in years.
The screams and the curses subsided in a snap of time, and were replaced with confusion and fear. The voices were out in full force, and they were spreading outward like a ripple in water. There was a momentary stillness, as if everyone was holding their breath, and maybe they were. Then the voices became silent, too, as if waiting for something. I inhaled deeply and silently gave them the command they were waiting for.
“I SAID YOU WERE FIRED!!!” I roared in full force. My words were picked up by an unnatural breeze, as if the voices were a physical thing, an unseen army charging toward the enemy. Seconds later, the night was assaulted again by yelling and screaming, but this time it was coming from the mercenaries that Deborah Fleming brought with her.
The attack came from within, and there was no defense for it. The voices were inside, and there was no getting them out. One by one, they screamed and cried and put their hands to their ears as if they were trying to keep their brain from melting and leaking from their heads. Some of them knelt and fell to the ground, rolling around. A few started running around in circles, waving their hands around them as if they were attacked by a swarm of bees.
Deborah Fleming just stood there for a moment, mouth open, staring at me. She was completely dumbfounded. Then she slowly turned her back to me, taking in the full sight of her failure. “No….no….this can’t be. You’re just a rich old man. Nothing but an old man. My daddy will…”
With a final scream, the goon closest to the bonfire jumped into the flames. To everyone’s dismay, he was followed a few seconds later by another. And then another. And another. Slowly, one by one, the team that Miss Fleming brought, looking to bully everyone else, threw themselves into the ever-rising flames of the bonfire.
Still standing but on wobbly knees, I planted my thyrsos down, still holding on to it with both hands, like a staff. My shoulders slumped with the voices temporarily gone, and my eyes changed color to that of pale gold. I had not slept in days, and I was near exhaustion. I knew I needed to rest soon, and not just the usual nap, but full sleep.
“Leave here!” I said to Miss Fleming as her head hung low. “Walk away and never come back. Go back to your daddy and let him hold your hand and give you another toy to play with. Or better yet, go learn a trait. Go learn how to be a good person. You are still young, and you can still choose a different path. A better path.”
“Yes, I’ll go,” Deborah said in a small voice, her back still toward me. “I’ll go away, and you’ll never see me again. I won’t even tell daddy about you. Just don’t hurt me. I’ll be better. I’ll do better. I promise you. I will. I will go quietly.”
“I am not the type that likes hurting others, but I will defend myself and my own. You brought this fight to my doorstep with your holier-than-thou attitude and your foolish pride. I really do hope you learned something here today.”
“Oh, I have. Definitely.”
Before the last word had left her mouth, Deborah whirled around to face me, arm outstretched, with a gun in her hand. Those around me that saw and understood gasped and cried out in warning. A few people yelled out, “No!”
Instinctively, I closed my eyes and braced myself for the impact. I heard the click of the trigger and the blast of the gun three times, but I felt nothing at all. I was not worried about the damage done to me. I was a god, after all. I was expecting some pain, though.
When I heard more screaming, I finally opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was that Deborah had dropped the gun she was holding and was running off. The second thing I saw was Antonio, face down on the table in front of me.
I bent down and reached for the old man, turning him in my arms as Fran screamed at the top of her lungs. There was blood everywhere. One shot had found him in the shoulder and two in the chest. The old fool must have stood between me and the gun. There was no pain. Thanatos had already claimed him.
I wrapped my arms around the lifeless body. So tiny, yet so full of love and my tears mixed with his blood. Poor Antonio had suffered many pains in his life, but it was not about him. It was never about him. I was hoping to give him a handful more years of joy and happiness. A few years as part of my family. And those few years were snatched away by blind anger.
In the distance, the murderer had not made it very far. Everyone that could, jumped up at once and surrounded her, refusing to let her pass. And slowly, the circle circled back toward me. Every shove, every step, every curse from the angry crowd brought Deborah back to me.
I was deaf to the noise, even though I could hear everything. Like my soul was trapped in a bubble. I was numb, but my body was shaking with anger and sadness. I felt more than saw Fran’s and Steve’s hands on me, and I stepped back, letting them hold on to their fallen family member.
With newfound energy stemming from Antonio’s blood, its metallic scent wafting in the night air, I stood straight and vaulted the table in front of me as my thyrsos disappeared. The crowd surrounding Deborah had slowly pushed her back to the scene of her crime. She was yelling and screaming for people to let her go, but the threats she was making were scared and empty. Luis appeared next to me, gently pulling people aside, and the circle opened for me to pass.
Once in the center, I swung Deborah Fleming around to face me. I gripped her arms with my hands, holding her steady no matter how hard she tried to wiggle away. “How dare you take a life in my presence? A sacred, sweet life that did nothing but good. How dare you pull the trigger on me and those around me?”
She looked up at me with a snarl and spat in my face. “Me? How dare you touch me! You don’t know me and where I come from. My daddy will kill you for this! You are nothing but an old man!”
Her snarls and her words popped the bubble my soul was in. Her spittle felt cool on my skin, and I knew I had my clarity. It was clear what I had to do. I bore my gaze into hers and concentrated as more venom and spittle flew out of her mouth in the form of words.
“You are nothing! Nothing! You are just an old man! Old, and rotten, and stupid, and weak, and pathetic and…and….and…ant…ant…anton-nio. Antonio. Antonio!” Her eyes widened in fear and understanding. “Antonio! Anton-nio!”
A nod from me confirmed her fears. “Yesssss. Antonio. The person you just killed. You want to call yourself human? You want to call yourself a person? Then you will. You will call out his name and nothing but his name. He was the only human you deserve to speak of. That will be The Calling for you from here on out. Antonio.”
With that, I let her go, and the circle opened once again behind her. Tears were streaming from her eyes, and her jaw was trembling, but no matter how hard she tried, the only thing she could and would utter from now on was Antonio. She ran off as fast as her legs could take her and even faster still, as she fell a handful of times.
Slowly the circle closed again around me, getting smaller and smaller as I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself. I felt concerned touches from all around me as my extended family closed in. Slowly, gently, they touched and caressed, trying to extend their love toward me. A few people started humming an old song of love, and the song was picked up by everyone around me. Before I knew it, I was lifted up by dozens of arms, and in those arms, I felt the love. Even more so, I felt safe. There was no anger. There was no judgment. Only love. And in those loving arms, I fell into the deep slumber I was expecting.
When I awoke, it was still night, but I did not know which night. I was on the ground in the same spot I fell asleep. I had a blanket covering me against the cool air, and there was a fire lit next to me. Sitting on a chair, leaning forward with his hands clasped together, was Luis, watching me intently. Standing around in the distance, I saw a handful of men, probably placed by Luis, to guard me as I slept. I sat up and shook my head, letting out a small groan and then a giggle. As usual, the voices had returned.
“Was I gone the usual amount, Luis?”
“Yes, master. The full twenty-four, as usual. But there is also something not as usual.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Stand up and see for yourself, master. You know better than any.”
I stuck my tongue out at Luis and stood up. “Why must you always speak in riddles? Do you want me to turn you into a sphinx?” I looked down at myself and realized that I was no longer the person I have been for decades, but a younger version of me. One I have not been in a very long time.
“What the actual fuck?!?”
Luis let the threat go with a soft sigh and nodded. “Yes, master. You are looking young again.”
“Well, damn! This, I was not expecting.”
“No, sir. Nobody was. So….what is next, sir?”
I stood and dusted myself off. I had felt a change coming, but I was not prepared for this. There was no time to sit and contemplate right now, though. I was needed elsewhere by another that I truly cared for.
“Keep an open line of communication with Fran and Steve. Whatever they need. You understand? Anything. Call ahead to the jet and bring a car around. Guam awaits, and so does Amphitrite. And we’re already late.”