Oscar and Laura’s text offered a distraction. It was a last-minute invite to a party held in an old warehouse on the edge of Southeast D.C. With a small flurry of stars, I popped outside the sandwich shop that doubled as a neighborhood bar at night. Walking in, I quickly exchanged pleasantries with Oscar, Laura, and the others tagging along in their entourage. There were two guys and one girl with them. The group seemed to be in various states of dress, their clothes loose and bright as they ate some mini sandwiches and downed shots of something algae green.
Oscar, the oldest of the crew—not counting me, obviously—was the most excited. “Tonight will be amazing! We need this. Once the semester starts, our lives are over.”
Laura looked amused as she shrugged while swiping one of the guys’ leftover sandwiches. They talked in excited tones, with bright smiles, as they finished their snacks and the accompanying green pick-me-up. Then we were on our way, across the street, and down a side alley to the party. The route was dark and ominous, barely lit, but humming with the sound of other party-goers. The throb of the beat against the pavement increased the closer we got. The swell of benign humanity, mixed with the rising levels of anticipation, was enough to cloud my head.
Once inside, the vibrations were even more incredible. It was like the walls were bleeding music, and the chords wrapped around me, pulling me in several directions at once. The baseline wanted to split me in two and put me back together as I searched for the melody.
There wasn’t one.
But…that’s why I was there. That’s why I had answered the text in the first place.
Melody was akin to truth. My balance depended on it, but it was gone. Heart-shattering, yes, but real. I had finally accepted that. It made it easier to escape to this human place of no melody, no truth.
Just music. Just the moment.
I danced, letting the energy of the mortals swirl around and meld with me. I could feel dew collecting on my flesh, the chill where it collided with the air creeping over my skin. My hair bounced, my arms swung, my hips flexed, and I knew a peace unlike any I’d known since I’d returned to the gravity of existence in this place, earth.
Gravity is the boundary trying to hold the boundless. You are playing by rules the world has set up for you to navigate. But you are Justice. What rules bind you?
The voice was softer. It neither gave into nor blended with the music. It was part of every instrument, a note in every beat, inspiring every lyric.
What balance do you seek to restore for the unbalanced?
I did not know. I could not answer. All I could do was dance. When the beautiful women found me with their sensual smiles and the sweet movements of their hips, I followed.
What can you give those who do not know the true meaning of your name, Justice?
I did not know. I could not answer. All I could do was sway as I ingested the humans’ watered-down drinks that probably would’ve angered Dionysos with their inferiority. All I could do was try to embrace and get lost in the expensive mental stimulants placed in front of me by Oscar, Laura, and our new friends.
Millennia old am I, yet the breadth of humanity still allowed me new friends.
What can you offer those succumbing to dark imbalances attempting to tip scales beyond your reach?
I did not know. I could not answer. All I could do was partake of sweet kisses, soft skin, and scents that reminded me of Carla. Moans that were not hers, but were maybe my own, as more bodies crashed down on me, against warm wetness. I drowned in need, was filled with desire, and lay cradled within a bed of exploration. I swam drunkenly, searching within each groan and moan, but I found no answer.
Time ticked by, hours dancing atop minutes that teased unending seconds. The world was loud, uncoordinated, and filled with heartbeats unsynchronized to any melody other than life.
Then, suddenly, it was silent. The silence was cold and chilling, but also comforting. It was everything sound was not.
Except when it was broken…by her screams.
The world spun and shook, keeping tempo with the piercing screams of a mortal woman. “Let me go!” she demanded. “This isn’t what I want!” She hurled insults and words meant to inspire shame, yet the scream persisted.
For a moment, I was back with the stars, observing from afar. I was with Carla, watching her comfort another. Then, once again, I was present in that moment.
Her screams calmed me, even as they fueled me. I liked those screams. The vibration of sound left her body, hitting air, bouncing, and somersaulting to crash within my being. Staying there, taking up space, it resided in me. It echoed her truth and fear over and over.
Even when her mouth closed, her throat relaxed, and her sounds fell away, her fear-wrapped shouts danced lifetimes in my mind. When the only sound she emitted was that of her heartbeat, it mixed with the texture of her great distress. I knew her, the real her. And I knew then he would die.
I turned, grabbing and holding him up toward the sky, lit by the glory of Selene. My head tilted slightly, trying to avoid the glow of the fake halo atop his crown. My fingers squeezed. The warmth of his neck, where his pulse beat dramatically against his flesh, allowed me to sync to the escalating beat of his heart.
Her screams echoed in my mind, but his truth-laced fear slid across my senses.
He lived to cause pain.
He was not among those who did dark deeds in an effort to survive or even to serve others. He ravaged for the sake of ravaging. He conquered for the sake of conquering. He wasn’t pure evil, just shy of it, but he reveled in pain, especially hers.
I could see he loved her, had always loved her. For that alone, he had vowed he’d make her pay. For daring to be what he desired, she would suffer. For daring to be a daily mirror, reflecting what he did not deserve, he swore to take her apart bit-by-bit.
The cool hilt of Balance was in my hand again. Then her screams were back.
This time, they existed outside my skull, polluting the air and crashing against the walls of the warehouse. They were pointless. No one would hear her over the music, yet she wailed. The sound vibrated through her core until her body’s tremors of fear were clearly visible. Her eyes filled with fear as she looked between him, me, and the glinting steel of Balance.
What justice can you show them when they do not know their true imbalance? You need those, like him, to keep the scales level. Which means you need those, like her, who will never understand.
My arm extended, the force of my inherent strength and power rumbling through me as I tossed him away from me like the trash he was. He sailed through the night, crashing against the fencing almost 30 feet away before sliding into a heap on the ground.
She wanted to run to him. I could feel it, without words, thought, or even pulling her truth. She glanced at me instead of taking a step. I shook my head, and she shrunk in on herself. Dressed in a thin black cami and loose cotton pants, she was short, round, and not classically beautiful. The fear increased her look of innocence, giving her an air of adorable puri—
Those pants…they reminded me…reminded me of the pajamas April had worn at Carla’s. I stared hard at them, at her. April. I’d missed that before. She and Carla had been wearing pajamas.
My teeth ground together as I stepped toward her, this April-not-April, the skull screamer.
“Leave.” My voice, etched in darkness edged by barely restrained control, sounded like hail drumming against a stone.
She defied me, vigorously shaking her head.
I advanced closer, the rich brown of my eyes slipping into the vibrant silver of my true essence. “Ruuuunnnnn.” I let power drip and tangle within my words. I wanted her to hear every second of danger that lived in her future if she stayed. She needed to run, even if part of me hoped she’d be bold enough, stupid enough, to defy me again.
She gasped, startled from the change in my eyes and the sound of my voice, before repeatedly blinking then finally dashing off. Only then did I consciously realize we’d been standing in the alley I’d walked through some hours before. She turned left at the corner before disappearing out of sight.
I breathed deeply, momentarily trying to maintain control, but the coolness of Balance’s hilt burned against my palm, and Truth ached to be freed.
Justice needed to be claimed.
Images of her flashed through my memory. Her shoulders had been covered in fresh wounds, obviously from the most recent altercation. The purple marks of old bruises had trailed along her arms and the portion of her back I could see. His savagery was such that he wasn’t even compelled to hide the brutality. It was obvious in the split of her lip and the darkening under her left eye.
I growled internally, momentarily regretting the fear I’d induced to send her away.
She deserved more.
She deserved real Justice.
Is that you? Are you real, Justice? Are you what she deserves? I mean, ‘cus, you’re here lamenting instead of doing what needs to be done. Maybe just let him off easy, then go back and take her for a shag. Show her that only you know and can give her what she deserves. Teach him…by taking his girl. Don’t worry about being real. Just be civil and nice about it…Justice is a good girl, after all.
I spun, popping across the distance between us. My eyes were like ice-tipped silver as I gazed down at him. He hadn’t gotten up. He just lolled around pathetically amidst the trash, working hard to swallow, as he groaned like a lost cat in heat.
I bent, inspecting him for bruises other than where I’d almost crushed his windpipe. There was a small trickle of blood at the side of his mouth. His leg and left arm looked twisted in non-normal ways. A smirk curved my lips as words finally slipped from his. “Wh-who are you?” he moaned.
I ignored him, holding Balance as I glanced up at its tip. “We shall right it, friend,” I whispered to the kopis before bringing it down to slice along his arm. Again and again, Balance cut for each bruise I’d counted along her arm.
He yelled, shock and pain colliding to exit his pathetic form in a crescendo of sound. I did not allow the sound within me. It did not walk the inside halls of my skull. That space was still filled with the repetition of her screams. And so, I sliced his other arm for each bruise I’d seen on the matching arm of her body.
The cuts weren’t overly deep, though blood ran freely from each. They would not kill him, as that had not been my intent with their making. Eventually, his screams stopped. He just looked blank and exhausted. He maintained enough energy, through spittle and blood, to mumble, “Wh-who are you?”
Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Daddy’s girl? Gentle giant? Balanced blade? Truth’s Huntress? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?
When they say your name and call for you in the darkness, who are you?
Carla flashed through my mind. Our first meeting had been pivotal. The promise she’d wrung from me was one I’d navigated the previous year trying to uphold.
I was about to fail her.
The crushing weight of that truth rushed to my core but was quickly overshadowed with tremors of…glee. Stark and sharp, it framed me as I sunk into it, a smile curving my lips as I looked down at the embodiment of one of the harshest injustices. Love, reciprocated through violence and assault.
I raised Balance high, bringing the kopis down firm and sharp. A thick sloping sound reverberated as the blade entered and drove through his body, permanently ending his ability to hurt anyone.
Who am I?
Good girl. Bad girl. Balanced. Not.
I am Justice.