The hazy, illuminated images run through me violently. It is not altogether unpleasant actually, just a woman at first, beautiful, with dark hair and fire striding in her wake. Were I a Christian or a death metal rocker, I would describe those flames as the fires of hell. The rest of the images splinter off of her like lightning, zig-zagging around in rough fractals. They scar as they rip through me: violence, torture, chaos, worry over missing loved ones, chaos, assault, manipulation, involuntary transformation, confrontation…CHAOS. It is all so delicious, sating a hunger within me I wasn’t even fully aware of, and that’s saying something, for as sure as the street I sleep on, I bloody well know I am pretty damn hungry…it is pretty much all I know about myself.
Not that it ever really bothers me that I know very little about my past, or even who I am as a person, up to and including my name, but these last few years, it seems like information is trickling in, whether I want it or not.
This “dream” (for lack of a better word) felt like more of that. More pieces of me that I had lost along the way, finding their way home.
I wanted to enjoy the dream for the sensations it brought me, but even now I can feel the outside world threatening to break in. A rough hand at my shoulder being the most insistent harbinger of the waking world.
“Hey, kid. You can’t sleep here,” a gruff male voice says. Kindly in its way, but also firm and unaccommodating.
Even as I wake, a few images still linger, in particular an older man, handsome despite his age, bearded, seemingly dead…thunder sounds…and then his eyes flutter open in time with my own as the image of the cop standing over me fully comes into focus.
“Get up, kid,” he says, more insistent this time, and I notice his eyes fixate on my bloodied knuckles, his furry lip curling, and his beady eyes narrowing.
I must be taking too long as I feel his hand going under my arm, digging in and starting to lift. “You’re not welcome ‘round here.” Well, that sounds familiar…
“Alright,” I spit the words at him, “I’m getting up.” I move out of his grasp, careful not to shove him off, I don’t want to give them an excuse. I brace myself against the store window behind me as I stand.
“No loitering,” the guy has the brass cojones to say, as if him nearly lifting me off the street and telling me twice now to move, didn’t already get his point across.
“Listen kid…” He takes a long hard look at me and I know exactly what’s coming, I’ve heard this question a thousand times before, hell I’ve even asked it of myself. “I don’t mean…” he almost seems embarrassed, “what are you? Boy? Girl?”
“Yes,” I find myself answering with a defiant smirk and I…feel something, I see him start to go all “bad cop” on me, but something in my eyes meets his and he freezes; just for a moment, but it puts him off his game. For one second, even though he is like twice my height and carrying a loaded gun, I feel like I am towering over him, and when I look into his eyes, I see a golden fire reflect back at me.
“Just move along,” he stammers, breaking the moment and I know my luck may not be as good if I try my hand at whatever that was again, so I make a noncommittal shrug and turn on my heel, hands in my pockets as I shamble off on my way. On a way, I should say. I, as usual, have no idea where I’m going.
Where am I anyway? Is this San Fran again? Tokyo? Marrakesh? Who can keep track? I’m fairly sure that guy was speaking English, so that narrows it down somewhat.
You’re not welcome here, he had said…a store window…that means…well, if I’m getting the boot, might as well see who’s wearing the galoshes and what else they have to offer other than a cold shoulder. Waiting until I was out of the good officer’s eye line, I make a hard left at my first opportunity, and upon making another I find myself at the back end of the same shop that my presence was so abhorrent to, a nice, freshly filled dumpster my reward. One hunger satisfies another.
“Need help, sweetie?” a voice takes me by surprise. I turn and see a woman, middle-aged with black hair, passing out fliers. I’ve seen her, or at least her type, a million times before, in every shade: condescension, orthodoxy and even rarely compassion. Yes, despite people being people, sometimes they’re genuine, many times not. It IS easier to believe from a woman, than if it was a man. Men are usually interested in something else altogether.
The Wellness Group was the name on the paper, offering free counseling, career outreach and mentorship for the homeless and disenfranchised. Boring.
“My name’s Audrey,” she says before I even realize I had moved close enough for her to think we were interacting. “What’s yours?”
And wasn’t that a hell of a question? Usually, I have an alias at the ready, but for some reason right now, I can’t be bothered.
* * * * * * *
Society is broken.
This dumpster is full of perfectly fine food, only deemed refuse by those who have no need of it and only done so to make room for the next round of excess that will only be discarded in turn. Countries are starving and they are letting all of this just rot, for no good reason. After rummaging through some choice prospects – barely stale bagels, a can of peaches whose only crime is being dented to hell – I find the best of it all. I rip through a bag of produce and look down to find an apple in my hand, slightly bruised but completely fine. I exhale on it, shining it on my jacket.
“Hey, I told you to beat it,” came a voice. That damn copper again, his twitchy eyes find their way into my mind before I even turn to look at him. Why must this be the spiral of my life? Good followed by bad, never good on its own, bad almost always simmering there just beneath the surface.
“Didn’t you hear well enough before? You’re not welcome here.” Such force. Even before I had managed to pull my mind trick or, whatever it was, he hadn’t been this aggressive. That fire behind my eyes didn’t feel like it was going to make a second appearance any time soon; hadn’t I already scared this guy off enough?
“You scared everyone off…”
What the hell? Did he hear me? Hear my thoughts? I shook myself from my reverie to finally look into his eyes and I was taken aback by his vulpine grin.
What is going on?
* * * * * *
“Sounds intense,” Audrey hums as she jots it all down on her pad, chewing absentmindedly on her pen in between notes.
“It was. His smile reminded me of something, but it was like a reverse memory. Like…I should have been the one smiling at him like that. Like…I mean, that doesn’t make sense. None of this do–”
“Do you remember in the past, where you were the aggressor in a similar situation?” Audrey cut me off just when I felt I might be connecting a dot.
There was an image in my head. A husband and wife in raving madness, so much blood, and I could still feel the soreness in my jaw from smiling too hard.
“I don’t remember…quite a lot.”
“So you said.” She hums again, purring like a cat. “Can you elaborate on that? Has there been an official diagnosis?” Surprisingly, she laughs after that. “No, I suppose not. If you didn’t want to do counseling, I doubt you’d see any specialists. How has your relationship been with your memory?”
“A few years back, these shards of memory just started hitting me…”
“How long ago would you say? Do you remember if there was a specific event that changed your perception of yourself?” she asks but she almost seems…amused? Like she is holding back a giggle.
“What is time anyway? Never been my area,” I scoff, trying to regain whatever upper hand I have left, in my own mind at least. “It was some educational program I caught in a shelter. It went on and on about some new planet they’d discovered, a dwarf planet I should say, not even a ‘real’ one. It lies just beyond Pluto, which had apparently been demoted as well, they couldn’t decide what to call it. Some scientist really had a yen to name it after that old show Xena, but you know suits, they’d never let anything be that fun. No, they ended up naming it after some old god, just like the rest of the planets, they were calling it: Eris. I’d never heard of that one. She wasn’t famous like the others, but something about it…really stuck with me.”
* * * * *
“That was that corny show with Lucy Lawless, right?” the officer asks as he extends a hand to help me out of the dumpster, still clinging to my find with the other hand, I regard him suspiciously. Nothing about this is going the way it should. Cops don’t act like this.
His whole manner has changed; he seems more energetic, even youthful. There are other signs: I could have sworn he had a mustache a minute ago. Now he appeared clean shaven, his skin pale.
“Yeah, the guy was real bummed they didn’t let him call it that. But he won in the end. Eris had this daughter, you see, Dysnomia. So he named the new planet’s moon after her. Bet you can’t guess what she was the god of? Lawlessness.”
“Huh,” the unorthodox cop laughed, “ain’t that a kick in the nuts.”
“Just goes to show, even when you lose, you can still win,” I smirk, intrigued by this copper, if that’s even what he is. I am beginning to suspect something else is going on.
“What would you know about that?” he snaps, his tone shifting from light to dark mid-sentence. The transition is jarring, which admittedly makes me feel a spark of excitement. “You let them beat you a long time ago.”
“What?” I ask, more buying time for me to think of a good answer than anything else.
* * * *
“I said, why exile yourself?” Audrey reiterated, clearly annoyed that my mind had wandered. A little too annoyed to be honest, she was supposed to be a professional after all.
“Have you ever gone too big, too far?” I say, and the honesty of it even takes me by surprise. “I wanted to hurt them for hurting me and I did too good a job. I couldn’t take it back even if I wanted to.”
* * *
“So you do want to?” the copper asks and that’s another good question.
“I think so…I mean…what am I even saying? Take what back? I’m lost…” This was madness but more importantly, I knew it was madness. For the first time in a long time, I can recognize that.
“You’ve been lost. You’ve let your domain swallow you whole.”
“You’re the god of chaos, sweet cheeks,” he laughed, “it’s not the god of you.”
“The god of chaos,” saying it aloud felt right, “chaos…”
“You never answered my question, so do you want to go back to them?”
“Why would I…?”
“You don’t want them to have all the fun without you, do yah?”
“Is it fun?” Audrey asks, “would you enjoy it? Tell me it wouldn’t just be for empty vengeance. Tell me…you’d get something out of it. Think of your gods damned self for once.”
“Yes. Yes, it would be for me too.” I see, and in my heart I know I feel it. “I feel them fighting through me like the best cheeseburger I ever had.”
“So you describe it as a fight, tearing through you, etc. but to you this is positive?” Audrey isn’t being judgmental, she seems to be genuinely interested. Even perversely interested?
This doesn’t make sense, who am I even talking about? Who are “they”? Why am I even here? I wouldn’t go to one of these damn counseling things.
“And why not?” Audrey asks, smirking.
“I didn’t say that out loud,” I insist through gritted teeth.
She shrugs with a smile. Was she always this young? I would swear when I saw her on the sidewalk earlier, she was at least forty, fifty, older maybe. Now? I’d say 20, 25 tops. Hair like night and pale skin.
“Go on,” she urges, no, more like goads, and for a moment, I see her offering me an apple like a witch from a fairytale. An apple…like the one in my hand. I am back in the alley. Am I?
I am in both places and neither place, a Grecian beach on a wedding day.
“Go on,” the copper laughs, making a shooing gesture with his hands, “run on home.”
“Are we ready for that?” Audrey asks, her chair partially obscured by the dumpster.
“What’s ready?” the officer laughs wickedly. “No one’s ever ready for anything.”
“And when they turn us away again?” Audrey scoffs. Who am I kidding? I know who she is.
“Never stopped us before,” the male part of me, masquerading as a cop, answers.
“Yes. In fact, it did. Were you not listening to that whole therapy session? A couple centuries of this!” His female counterpart, formerly known as “Audrey”, rolls her eyes waving her hand towards the dumpster dismissively.
“Bah, all the better. We’re rested up now, ready to wake up. You said we were hungry, you don’t want to miss out! Atë’s little family cookout for the Titans smells good, don’t it?” He barks giddily like a hyena.
“But…they don’t want me, what I am…” I whisper unsteadily, the memories like a riptide.
“He’s got a point, puddin,” the feminine side smirks. “Since when did we wait around for an invite?” She laughs. No, I laugh. A laugh that seems to go on and on. It feels like a great beast, a big black carrion bird is flying out of my mouth, dragging every dead and broken piece of trash I have been carrying around for years, with it.
The fog I have lived in for so long swarms and swirls around me before falling away, a fragile clarity taking its place. The visions of my other selves vanish and I find myself staring down at my apple, now shimmering gold, a crow cawing in the distance and that same golden heat crawling back behind my eyes, stronger now, like the fires of Hell.
“Oh yes…that’s right.” I smile that same feral smile. “I remember now…”