She wore fur, but no smile.
I stood in Nancy’s doorway, admiring the white fur that hung around her neck. She didn’t admire me.
“You’re the elf,” she said.
“The elf that puked everywhere.”
The conversation had started with two lives and a half-truth. I could only imagine how it would go from here.
“What do you want to talk to me about?”
“The election,” I said.
“What if I don’t want to talk to you?”
“I can see the future,” I said. “I don’t really know if you want to talk to me or not, but you’ll be glad you did, a couple years down the road.”
She laughed, but hers wasn’t a laugh of joy. It was an aggressive thing, like each “Ha” was her punching me in the face.
“And if I don’t talk to you?” she asked. “You saying I’ll regret it? This some sort of veiled threat?”
“I don’t know what happens if you don’t talk to me,” I said. “It’s not a threat, because it doesn’t happen. No ultimatum. Just the truth.”
“Sounds like you’re flirting with insanity,” she said. “Disconnecting yourself from the timestream.”
“You know the elves that can tell the future without getting disconnected?”
“I’m one of those,” I said.
“You don’t look like one of those.”
“And how do they look?”
“More professional,” she said. “I’ve been down to Elftown. Their suits aren’t so dirty. And they smile. And they shake your hand when they meet you.”
“There are a lot of sorts in this world,” I said. “You can’t judge the individual based on the whole.”
“You just seem weird, is all.”
“Then why should I trust you?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You should trust yourself. You don’t have to judge my ideas based on how I look. You shouldn’t judge a picture of the future based on who’s painting it for you: you should look for yourself, judge it for yourself.”
She nodded her head. “I don’t trust you.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” she said, turning around and walking into the cabin. I followed. “Just keep in mind that I killed a man, once.”
“I hope that won’t be relevant to our discussion.”
“So,” she said.
“So?” I said.
“The future,” she said. “You wanna tell me the future, right?”
“Only if you want to hear it.” She shrugged her shoulders, but I continued: “You vote to make Coraline the dragon.”
Nancy let out a laugh, looking at me like I was mad. “That’s a little blunt, don’t you think.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“You come here, tell me I’m going to vote for Coraline to become the dragon. You say that because that’s what you want. You’re not even going to try and dance your way around it? I expected a build-up of some sort, an attempt at an illusion, an attempt to deceive me. But this? What is this? You’re not telling me the future. You’re just telling me what you want me to do.”
I sat there, looking at her. Damn. Hadn’t expected her to be quite so blunt.
“You didn’t ask me why you vote for her,” I said.
“Why do I vote for her?”
“Well, I suppose I can’t say for sure,” I said, lighting a cigarette and muttering ‘Fiat Lux’. “I’m no telepath, after all.”
“You’re toying with me, elf,” Nancy said. “I don’t like being toyed with.”
“I know you don’t,” I said, looking at her. I widened my eyes just a little bit, staring at her for longer than I felt comfortable with.
“Is that a threat?” Nancy asked. “Because it sounds like one.”
“Not a threat,” I said. “A suggestion.” Not breaking eye contact, I slipped my hand into my pocket.
“I think you should go,” she said.
“I think I should stay,” I said, taking the pistol and pointing it at her.
“You think you can win a vote this way?” she asked. “What, are you going to point the gun at me all the way to the voting booth?”
I sighed, slouching in the armchair, sure to keep my aim on her as good as I was able. “This is tough.”
“You think the position you’re sitting in is tough?” she asked.
“It’s tough because I don’t know how to make you believe me.”
“I don’t trust you,” she said. “Clearly, I trusted you even more than you should.”
“You’re right, of course. But now you know not to trust me because you know who I am.”
“And who are you?”
“A monster,” I said. The words came out as a whisper, though not on purpose. “I’m a fucking monster.”
“Yeah,” she said. “You are.”
“Which means you know that I’m willing to do things outside the norm,” I said, “like getting your vote under gunpoint. But you know, I wouldn’t do this under normal circumstances.”
She squirmed in her seat. I continued, “I’m on a mission, you know? A quest. Because the world’s dying and it’s all my fault and if I can just save it this one last time, maybe I’ll be worth something. Maybe that’ll mean something.”
She gulped. “This is you doing good?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. “This is me trying to,” I wanted to say what I meant, but I didn’t know how to finish the sentence, so I said, “It’s hard, you know? You see what your creator looks like, and you just,” you just what? What do you do? “You just don’t know what to do. Does that make you bad? Does all the bad in the world make you bad? I had a friend who was bad. But everyone thinks he did good and I guess that shouldn’t matter, because who knows anything in this goddamned world? I mean, really? Who knows anything in this goddamned world?”
“You think this is the answer?” she asked, voice sounding hollow.
I looked at the gun. “No, but it’s the best answer I’ve got.”
“Put the gun down,” she said. “Put the gun down, so we can talk about this like two individuals.”
“I,” I didn’t know what to say. All I knew was that I couldn’t put the gun down. “I can’t.”
“The Angel of Death follows me, I think.”
Nancy nodded her head, so I continued, “I know it sounds crazy, but ever since I’ve been a little boy,” shit, “girl, you know, ever since I’ve been a girl, there’s been this cloud of death hanging over me. And it stinks. Everywhere I go, I can smell the stench. And it’s so awful. And I wish I could escape it, but I don’t think I can. I don’t think I’m able.”
“Put the gun down,” Nancy told me.
Nancy repeated herself, speaking a bit more softly, “Put the gun down.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I– I should go. I’m going to go.”
She nodded but didn’t say anything. I kept the gun pointed at her, as I stood up and walked backwards towards the door.
“What I came here to say,” I said, “Well, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to explain it, but obviously I do. What I wanted to say was that this gun can shoot people, you see? Doesn’t matter where I point it. I will the gun to shoot at someone, and the bullets find that person. Have you heard about what happened at Demersi’s Sins?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“This was the gun,” I whispered, pointing at it. “This thing in my hand has already killed too many. But it was meant for good.” I looked at it, wondering how much good it’d done. Was this what I’d become? Threatening a Hyalu at gunpoint?
Hadn’t I seen so much worse?
No. That didn’t make it right. It didn’t matter how ugly the world got, or how ugly the world had already gotten. Maybe I’d been destined for terrible things. Maybe Hostem had created this world only to create conflict and pain. But I still had a choice. There was still something in me that was me.
I was more than my destiny. I was my actions.
I walked over to Nancy. She looked afraid, which was a fair response.
“I’ve got this destiny,” I said. “Save the world by killing a friend — or at least, a man I used to call a friend. And it makes me feel miserable day after day, like most of life has felt miserable. I believe in my destiny — I believe I’m needed. But I don’t know. Sometimes, after so many days of this — so many years and so many decades — you begin to lose perspective. I want you to give me perspective. Can you do that, Nancy?”
I got down on one knee. Flipped the gun around, so that she could grab it.
“Take it,” I said.
She shook her head.
“Please, take it,” I said. “You don’t have to, but I think it’ll be better for me if you do.”
She looked at me askance.
“Please,” I said.
She moved her hands to grab it, but stopped. Her open palms sat there for a couple seconds, shaking, circling the gun but unable to actually grab it. It was worship, of a sort: a respect for the divinity of the bullet.
One palm rested on the gun’s grip, its finger on the trigger. Her other hand met it, supported it.
“I told you I killed a man,” she said, voice quavering.
“Yeah?” I asked, cheeks wet, smiling.
“I lied,” she said.
“That’s alright,” I whispered. “We all lie sometimes, I think.”
“What do you want me to do?” she asked.
“What you think is right,” I said. “I’m confused. I’m lost. The world is telling me to do something, when all I really want to do is die. And I want you to tell me if I deserve to live.”
“I barely know you,” she said.
I gazed into her eyes, trying to find something there. The muzzle of the gun pressed against my forehead. It felt hard — cold.
“I’ve told you I believe I can save the world,” I said. “I believe my name is George Rador. I believe I’m the journalist who was with Val Rador when he killed Hostem. I believe I’m the one who has to stop him, but I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“You want to know if you’re crazy?” she asked.
“I want to know if I should believe in myself,” I said. “If I shouldn’t just kill me. If I’m causing more pain than good — if I’m nothing more than a coward who threatens people at gunpoint — please shoot me. Blow my fucking brains out. It’s what I deserve. Maybe it should’ve happened a long time ago.”
“I’m no killer,” she said.
“You might be doing the world a favor,” I said. “I convinced the man who wielded that gun last to kill himself, and I’m wondering if I can convince you to do likewise.”
“You can’t,” she said.
“If you want me dead,” I said. “If you think I should die, but you just don’t have it in your heart, just say ‘bang’. Just say ‘bang,’ and I’ll do it to myself.”
“I don’t think you should die,” she said. “I think you’re troubled, obviously. But you believe what you say and you’re trying to be good. That’s all you can do. You need help, but you don’t need to kill yourself. That’s as bad as killing someone else — it’s self-murder.”
The tension in my shoulders let go. Was this redemption? Forgiveness?
No. I could only really forgive myself, and I hadn’t really liked the things I’d done. I didn’t really like who I was. But I’d done my best. I’d made a lot of mistakes, but I’d been in a lot of bad situations and I’d done my best, damn it.
“Thank you,” I muttered, getting off my knees and standing up. I grabbed the muzzle of the gun. The grip of it slid off her hands. I put the gun back where it belonged — in my holster.
“Are you still threatening to kill me?” she asked. “If I don’t vote how you want me to, will you shoot me.”
I looked down at the gun. It had too much power, didn’t it? Ate away at my inside’s. Gave me power I shouldn’t have — the power to kill another. How do you engage with people in a normal, healthy way when you have that sort of power? Is it possible?
“No,” I said. “I won’t kill you if you don’t vote my way. You know how I feel — you know I think Lusu is part of a prophecy to stop Val. But I don’t know. Maybe this is supposed to be her last stop. Maybe this is the price we pay for doing what we’re supposed to do. But I don’t think it is. I think if she dies, the world’ll be in real trouble. Of course, I don’t really know. That’s my opinion, and you have to come up with your own.”
She didn’t say anything. I wondered if that was because she didn’t have anything to say, or if I’d scared her.
“I’m sorry,” I said, walking towards the door, not looking back at her.
“Thank you,” I muttered. I opened the door, leaving her cabin.
It was dark outside — no one else was really around. What time was it? I took about twenty steps towards my room, looking up at a moon. Seemed the other was covered by a cloud.
I took deep breaths, trying to calm myself down. That’d felt good, but bad. I didn’t really know how to feel.
I took my gun back out of its holster. Looked at it closely, examining the silver muzzle, the ivory gun grip. I opened the barrel, spun it around.
Two bullets left.
Did the magic come from the gun, or the bullets? Could I reload, or was this it?
I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter. I shouldn’t need to know, because I should only use this to kill Val Rador.
For some reason, that didn’t convince me, I wish it had.
I thought about tossing this goddamned gun into the ocean. Just let it sink to the bottom, rust to hell. If this world was meant to die, so be it.
But that was all emotional. In my head, I knew I was on the right path. I knew I had to do everything I could. It was my obligation — my need — my destiny.
I put the gun back in its holster, where it belonged.
Took another breath, letting the cold air hit my lungs. There was a sort of peace to be found there, in my thoughts:
Yes, this is where I’m supposed to be. Yes, this is who I’m supposed to be.
I walked back to my cabin and opened the door.
Lusu was there, lying on the bed, crying into her father’s lap. Her father sat there, rubbing her back, telling her it would all be okay.
I stood there, not knowing what to do. Would it really matter?
I quickly tried to figure out why she’d be crying. Was she afraid of getting turned into a dragon? Upset over that beating that had happened decades ago?
Maybe she missed her mother. Maybe the willingness to accept death so easily was all just a big ruse, making this society one of oppression instead of openness.
I decided it was a selfish question. I didn’t have to know why she cried, so I shouldn’t ask. I just stood there, wondering what to do.
Finally, I hit upon the answer: “I’m going to go for a walk.”
“You talked to Nancy,” Lusu’s father said.
“Yeah,” I said. “We talked.”
“What’d she say?” he asked. “Is she going to vote for Lusu to become a dragon? Or Coraline?”
I rubbed my temples, looking at the floor. I just couldn’t look him in the eyes right now.
“I don’t know,” I said. “We had a good talk — I mean, it was rough, but I think we had a good talk. But I just don’t know. I don’t think you can ever know what’s actually going through the mind of another living creature.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He didn’t have anything to say to that. Lusu hadn’t even looked at me since I’d entered the room.
I left. Stood right outside the door, watching the waves crash against the boat’s hull for the rest of the night.