I sit in the seldom-used corner of my office, the little chair and end table setup that most offices had out of sheer tradition but never really used. The lights are all off, and the windows shaded. I haven’t gone home since it happened.
I don’t want to see it, the place where they hurt him, the place where he died. The irony is it is all I can picture, anyway.
They say he overdosed. That he relapsed after his history went public, and he couldn’t handle it. Some say he did it on purpose, that he wanted it to end. Employees from his own company, my own supporters, are talking about how it had only been a matter of time when they didn’t even know about his history until two days ago! Manufactured grief and faux sympathy trickle from their messages like venom.
None of this is real, not them, not his death, not why it happened, not me. None of this makes sense. This isn’t the way the world works. Even as I scream all this internally and occasionally externally, my own brain is turning against me. Desperately trying to get me back on the track of: Humanity is good, we can win together, all this can be overcome, chaos is change.
A few hours of this ranting and raving, and the morning had finally come. The dreadful sun illuminates my safe and mothering night, replacing it with none other than Audrey, my chief of staff. She had come into the office at some point, but was already mid-sentence by the time I noticed her.
“Funeral arrangements had been made, but they haven’t been updated since… Mal?” she says, seemingly finally realizing that I am not paying attention.
“I’m trying to remember how we met…” I sputter, vaguely gesturing to the mess of photos laid out like newspapers at the bottom of a birdcage on the floor in front of me. Images of blackbirds once more fill my mind, and as they do, I even see a few flying past the window.
That’d been happening a lot of late. In place of memories warm and comforting were images that made no sense within my life, images which then became real. Like when Dash gave me that apple, and for a second, it changed. Then there was Audrey saying I had a meeting with that man Gerard and then forgetting it a second later. The thing is, these flashes almost feel more real than this so-called real life.
“You told me that story a million times.” Audrey cuts through my haze, reality falling down around me again whether I want it to or not. “You always end it in that funny way…” she laughs weakly.
“Yeah,” I sigh, it coming back to me, “I followed him into a bar and ruined his life.”
The hashtag appears in my mind, fully formed both as a memory and as advice. It’s just what I need to hear.
“You’ll remember the rest. It’s the big stuff that matters, not all the little details.”
Almost out of spite, I try to think of something more specific from our first meeting, our first year together. Anything and nothing, really. My mind is filled with stranger images, ancient worlds, and a starless void. That woman, the one I had once thought was merely my stand-in for my inner instigator, my ruin, I see her taking down the patriarchy, etc. Only now she is real.
Real, unlike all this.
“Why did you vote for me?” I ask suddenly, my head jolting upright to face her. “What were my running points? My campaign promises?” I ask in rapid-fire as I stand. She looks taken aback and doesn’t answer right away, almost as if she’s searching for an answer.
“What are you talking about?”
“You can’t remember,” I say aloud, but mostly to myself at this point. I don’t even listen to her stammering response.
“Audrey, I want you to find Gerard.”
“A man who works for Haymitch.”
“Mal…you need to let this go. He overdosed,” she implores. I turn toward her but say nothing. It’s taking all that is in me not to backhand her as she goes on. “Let’s say for argument’s sake that Dash was murdered by some conspiracy. Are you really gonna continue poking it with a stick?”
“Listen to me, you little…” I take a breath and calm myself. “Listen, this is all that matters now. You really think I’m just gonna go back to making TikToks and memes to try to move the needle? There are no causes. It’s all white noise. Humanity vomiting up any excuse not to think about how life is meaningless.”
“I asked you to do something,” I say definitively.
“Okay, let’s say we do that. How would I even begin to find him?”
I think back to the other day when I first met Geiss.
“You…you said I had a meeting with him… I asked you to push it. Didn’t I?” Memories were foggy. Even as I try to remember that interaction, I also find myself seeing a pastoral glen littered with mutilated bodies in Greco-Roman dress. I shake the vision from my mind and stare Audrey down.
“I have…no record of that,” she says hesitantly, fear in her face but not her eyes.
I look at her, really look at her, and remember all the times she would come in here to remind me of this or that. She was determined to keep me on target, as she always said. There is something else in her words and actions, and it is only becoming halfway clear, still eluding me.
I look at her, and I try to do it as if I am looking at her for the first time. Suddenly she too folds into my visions, and I can easily picture her in a dark grey tunic with a wicked smile on her face and an odd hazy aura about her.
“I think you heard me. If you will not help me, then you need to go. Get the fuck out before I kill you.” Why does that feel so good to say? She retreats, and everything dark in me sings even as the social media savvy, family-friendly queer, but not too queer, politician the world wants me to be fights to get the spotlight back.
I spend hours pouring through Audrey’s laptop, and I can find no trace of anyone named Gerard and no meeting, but I’m sure that’s what she had said. I’m running over my own memory from when he led me to my car, and even now, I’m having trouble holding on to the image in my mind. I keep having to first fight past the false memory of a portly ginger man where I know it was that sinister smile and those dark eyes. The ones I’d seen somewhere before.
He did not exist, and it seems neither do I.
Well, there is one thing I know. If I don’t exist and the world doesn’t make sense there is nothing to lose. I grab a pair of keys that’ve been collecting dust since the campaign, if there ever even was a campaign, and head out the door.
I pull up to Haymitch’s off-the-books restaurant in my tour bus. A gigantic black bus with bright red, white, and blue slash marks across it. Gigantic pictures of my face adorn the front, back, and both sides. Oh, and I am speeding.
So naturally, as I walk toward the unnamed restaurant, it isn’t just a supernatural flock of blackbirds that follow me but a mob of passers-by with their phones whipped out. A cop or two appear as well. Pretty much everyone except my security team is here. I left them at the office. Half the people in the crowd seem to have Gerard’s face in my peripheral vision.
“You can’t just come in here!” A woman shouts fruitlessly as I kick through the door with a strength I didn’t know I had. My security may have been an afterthought, but Haymitch’s was right on target as they swing into view. This is where my big, scary crowd of witnesses come in. Don’t tackle the senator, boys.
“Sorry,” I toss over my shoulder, “I don’t usually wait for an invitation.”
“She’s right.” The hiss is from the man himself. “You aren’t welcome,” Haymitch growls as he appears from around a corner. Satisfyingly, he looks completely off guard.
“Why not? This place doesn’t officially exist, right? Just like you.” And unofficially, just like me. I think to myself.
“You’ve lost your mind,” he sneers before facing the crowd, some now snapping pics and undoubtedly recording in his most private lair. “Understandable though after your recent loss.”
I feel an officer come up to my side and grasp my arm, only to pull back as more of Haymitch’s fellow diners file out to see what the ruckus is. Why would a police officer back off at that? Because said patrons are among the highest-ranking officials in Washington D.C., including my good friend Senator Glenmann.
As the chaos swirls around me, I get the strange feeling that I almost expect someone else to show up instead. Dikê, Clio, Eros, Atë… Who are they? No, I hear myself think unconsciously, They won’t come for you, not after what you’ve done… What had I done?
“They’ll never let it get better, you know,” I mutter under my breath, but loud enough for the rather aggressive vlogger to my right to hear. Not to mention the one or two figures of the press that had appeared from the throng. “It’s all just a game. They debate and put on dramatic shows for the camera, but that’s all it is.”
As I speak, the faces flicker, Gerard showing himself more and more.
“They are all bought and paid for, left, right, and middle…red, blue, and green. It’s a game of hey look over there. Anarchy kids, anarchy is all that will save you.” I take off my gold senatorial pin and hurl it at Haymitch’s feet.
“To the unfairest in the land.” I sneer as everyone behind him becomes Gerard.
“Stop!” the mysterious phantom screeches from every mouth at once, and soon the crowd is all Gerard as well. Haymitch is the last to turn, but even he eventually slithers and shakes into the same devilishly handsome form of the true enemy.
The blackbirds flock into the building, each attacking a different Gerard, dive-bombing and pecking at their eyes like a hungry eagle with a taste for Titan liver. I leap forward at the former Haymitch, the seeming lead Gerard, and allow my great black wings to unfurl as I do so. We grapple, and the storm of commotion happens all around us. I feel myself growing larger, as I did in centuries past, raising my head up to heaven as Homer had said. As I grow, I hear glass cracking.
“Damn you!” Gerard wails.
“I damned myself a long time ago.” I sigh sadly, surging forth for a killing blow.
The sound of glass breaking fills my ears as I fall forward. My hands once wrapped around his throat are now empty. I’m back in that warehouse. The others appear to be experiencing a similar sensation, all on the ground, coughing and disoriented.
I hear them all talk around me as they come back to themselves, but it’s gibberish, the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, as that same process of remembering seems to be taking a tad longer with me.
“Is everyone okay?” I finally hear a sweet voice shout out. Clio. I remember her. The memories begin to flood back. Team Mischief, messing with the Muses, Hermes, Troy, my Kallis finding me on the mountaintop and then…
I’m in a field, just watching him. The young buck, fresh from his patricide. The would-be lord of the universe right here, and all he could do was rush back home and tell his gigantic goat all about it? I’m into it.
“Very impressive,” I purr as I appear behind the taut young man. He turns, no fear in his eyes. I guess once you evade being eaten alive by your own father, are then raised by a primordial goat-creature, and then are thrown at said father like a living hand grenade, you really don’t have a lot left to fear.
“Who goes there?” His eyes narrow. I look him over, taking in his dark hair, his bright blue eyes, like a flash of light during a storm, blood still covering his washboard abs. Wrap him up. I’ll take him.
“Just an admirer, young lord.” I shift between genders like I’m made of liquid, dancing around him like a shadow on the wall. “Maybe I’m your reward.”
“You’ve slaughtered the keeper of the sacred law. Until you truly claim the reins, the universe is mired in entropy. You have my endless thanks for this. Ask anything of me you desire, and it is yours.”
“I want everything,” Zeus answers hungrily.
“Take it,” I whisper as he claims my mouth.
In the present, my eyes alight with burning gold…as I look up to see Atë, daughter of Zeus and Eris, reaching down to help me stand.
What the fuck?