Beckett took a toke of her spliff, withered thumb and pointer finger holding it close to her lips. She blew smoke at the ceiling.
“That’s fucked up,” she said. “God you can’t know, gun that can kill the Godkiller, Death Cult dragon? That’s real fucked up.”
“Yeah,” I said, laying on her sofa. “This whole world’s fucked up, Beckett, and I just don’t know what to do about it.”
“That’s your depression talking,” she said. “An apocalypse doesn’t have to be so bad.”
“You’re the one who told me not to kill myself.”
“Didn’t stop you from trying.”
“But I didn’t, in the end. I didn’t succeed in killing myself.”
Somehow, the silence in this room was a comfort. It blanketed me.
“I’m real proud of you for that, kid.”
A shiver down my spine.
“What’s the difference?” I asked. “Don’t I have to keep fighting? What’s the difference between suicide and an apocalypse?”
She passed the spliff to me, craning her neck towards the ceiling. “It’s different.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “It is, George. It’s different because things end when it’s time to end. A suicide is something you do to yourself — an apocalypse is the world dying of old age. Every generation’s had ideas about apocalypse this and fire of death that. You know why?”
I thought about it. Took a deep toke. Let the smoke sit in my lungs, then exhaled.
Why do we all think about this world dying so much? Why are we all so obsessed with the flames?
Seeing the look on my face, Beckett answered her own question, “Because everyone wants to know how it ends, George. We all missed the beginning, so the ending’s the thing that matters. The middle? Fuck the middle. Reviewers never even mentioned the middles of my books. And why would they? The beginning’s the question, the end’s the answer. What the fuck is a middle? Some goddamned mush. No, I wouldn’t expect anyone to care much at all about a middle.”
I passed the spliff back to her. She grabbed it out of my hand and took a puff.
“I guess I’m just not ready for it to end.”
“Why?” she asked me. “What’s so good about this world?”
I sighed. What was so good about this world? I lay there on the sofa, feeling warm. When I stopped thinking about everything, this all didn’t seem so bad. In fact, it felt kind of nice, being here. Beckett was like an anchor to this world, someone I’d known long enough to remind me who I was. And this place — somehow, this place felt more comfortable than my own home.
“You, weed, the stars in the sky,” I said.
She laughed at that. Coughed a little, hacking up smoke.
“Crazy bastard,” she said.
My breath felt slower, more relaxed.
Hadn’t I been here before? Hadn’t I had those moments where I felt better about everything, only to go back into the grime of self-hate. What did I need to stay here? How could I keep my life sane, at least for a little while?
“Maybe the world isn’t so great,” I said. “Maybe it’s just fleeting moments that we fight for, surrounded by dull terror.”
She shook her head, passing the spliff back to me. “The world is what it is. Maybe if you stopped trying to label it, you’d be happier. Good, bad. Who gives a shit? They’re just words — words the world wasn’t born with. Words won’t kill the world. Nah, if I’ve learned one thing in all my years, it’s that words don’t mean shit.”
“Kinda ruins the purpose of words, if they don’t mean anything” I said. “You really only learned one thing in all your years?”
She laughed. “You bastard. If I wasn’t in this wheelchair I’d whoop your ass six ways to Sunday.”
I believed her, too.
“Bet it’s an alien,” she said.
“That thing that you met,” she said. “‘The god that you cannot know.’”
“You think it’s an alien?”
“You think everything’s an alien.”
“You can’t prove I’m wrong.”
“God can’t be an alien.”
“You don’t think that wouldn’t make some sort of sense?” she asked
I lay there on her sofa, rubbing my forehead. “Shit, I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“You should probably go,” Beckett said, looking at the clock.
I sighed. “Alright. Any reason?”
“Vicky’s going to be home soon.”
“I’d like to see her again,” I said.
“I’m sure she’d like to see you too,” Beckett said, the two of us moving towards her front door. “But it might take you some time to convince her, and you don’t need that shit right now.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess I don’t.”
“Gimme another hug, you stupid bitch,” Beckett said.
I did. Then I walked out the door.
— — —
“Death’s Cove,” the sign read, hanging above the pub’s door. I sighed, entering.
Beckett had told me that Evan was alive. He’d explained Val’s blood sword away, saying something about his father preparing food in the back with it — chopping up a pig drunkenly, but not illegally.
It was all too strange. I entered.
The typical smell hit me the second I came in: booze, sweat, and metal, all mixing together to create a scent that was manly to the point of disgusting cliche. But there was another smell, too. The whole place smelled vaguely anti-septic.
The bar was packed. There wasn’t any room for me to sit.
“You’re not an alcoholic,” Evan yelled at me, while he poured someone else’s drink, “are you?”
I stood there, like a deer in headlights. “No.”
“Sorry,” he said setting down a man’s drink while keeping eye contact with me. There was something odd about him. All the anger had drained from his face — drained from his body. He was so much less troubled than I remembered. “We don’t see many elves in here, but the ones we do tend to have a bad drinking problem. Just know that I’ve got my eye on you.”
“Alright,” I said.
“What’ll you have?” he asked.
“Brandy. Two shots.” I slapped a ten dollar bill onto the table.
“Right,” he said, “coming right up.”
Some big-bellied man growled at me: “This your first time here?”
“Sure,” I said, somewhat meekly.
“I can tell,” he said, foul breath bothering me. “You look uncomfortable.”
“That’s my thing,” I said. “I’m always uncomfortable.”
I grabbed one of the shots Evan had set down on the counter. Swung it back.
“You like drinking,” the man said.
“That’s why I like drinking,” I told the man. “Makes me less comfortable. Things sure have picked up around here, huh?”
“Thought you’d never been here,” the man pointed out.
“I haven’t,” I said, worried my cheeks might be turning red. Think fast, and don’t let him see you sweat. “I have a friend who told me about this place. Told me it was a real dump, last time he visited.”
“Maybe your friend isn’t so reliable,” the man said.
“Maybe,” I said. A shiver rolled down my spine, since the man wasn’t looking me in the eyes at all. Instead, his eyes were focused on my chest. “How long you been coming here?”
“Not too long,” he said.
“So you really don’t know what it’s like, do you?” I asked.
“Sure I do!”
“A friend of mine used to come in here all the time. He told me all about this place. Said it was real successful.”
“And you trust that friend,” I said.
“Maybe the friend isn’t so trustworthy.”
The man snickered, shaking his head. “You’ve got a real mouth on you.”
“I do,” I said, standing up and beginning to walk away.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“Away from you,” I said. I made my way to the bathroom, heart pounding.
No one else was in there, which was one good thing. I closed a bathroom stall and leaned my head against the door.
That man was hitting on me, because I’m female. I’m a female elf, and that’s never going to change.
I thought back to my old body, my old home. I decided I wanted to go back.
— — —
My heart pounded, as I walked up to my old house. It was a small, one-story place, located outside the city. Fake grass as far as the eye could see — just the way I liked it.
I made my way down the path and up to the front door.
Thinking about it, it wasn’t really my door anymore. Surely it’d been sold — to the bank, or some nostalgic jack-ass who remembered and worshipped Godkiller.
I knocked on the door. Waited a couple seconds, but didn’t get an answer.
Knocked again. This time I heard the footsteps walking towards the door. There was a pause, as the person looked through the peephole. I remember doing that a lot, too. Never experienced it on this side, though. More often than not, I hadn’t answered the knocker.
I opened the door.
Of course, that was the thing — I didn’t actually open the door. I was still standing there, watching the owner of the house open the door.
But the guy who opened the door? George Royce? I’d been him, once.
He stared back at me, blinking.
For the love of a dead god.
I should’ve expected this. I knew I’d switched bodies with the elf, which of course meant that she’d gotten my body. And I knew people were claiming Val had survived, just like I thought he had. Which would mean I couldn’t have been executed for murder, since no one remembered the murder happening.
But still, I hadn’t expected this. In all the mess my life had become, I just hadn’t stopped and thought about it.
“Long time, no see,” my body said, looking at me. I ran my fingers through my elven hair, looking at the human body I’d left behind.
The elf wasn’t acting like she remembered me. It was a smart play — every once in a while I caught some sad fuck snooping around, wondering what’d become of the author who blew all his money on booze and misery. Wouldn’t want to hear one of them talking about the stuff we needed to talk about.
“Long time, no see,” I repeated. I couldn’t think of what else to say.
“Care to come in?” George asked me.
“It’d be my,” I searched for the right word, but couldn’t really find it, “pleasure.”
George gave me a forced smile, moving out of the doorway. I walked inside, keeping my eyes planted on the floor.
“It’s a strange world,” George said.
“It’s a strange world,” I replied.
I looked back at my old body — I mean, I really looked at it. Didn’t look quite so bad, now that I wasn’t living in it. The eyes were less tired — the whole body seemed less exhausted.
“I don’t even know where to start,” she told me, the two of us standing in the hallway. I would’ve felt more comfortable sitting down somewhere, anywhere. But we had so much to talk about. I felt like we couldn’t delay the conversation for a second longer.
“The truth,” I said. “Tell me what you’re thinking. Then I’ll tell you what I’m thinking, and we can maybe come to some sort of,” I reached for words, but couldn’t find them. “I don’t know. But maybe we can figure something out.”
“I can’t see things anymore,” George said. “I can see the present, I guess. But the future — the future’s gone.”
“I’m starting to think the same thing.”
“Do you have any idea what happened?”
“You mean, who the blue creature was? I’m not sure. He said he was a god that I couldn’t know — that I couldn’t kill.”
George sighed. “That’s more than I found out in centuries.”
I rubbed my temples. “I’m sorry.”
“Your head hurts?” she asked me.
“Readjusting to the timestream,” she explained. “Do you see the future yet?”
“No,” I said. But then I stopped to think about it — Lusu’s father with his voice like a trumpet horn. “Well, yes. Once. But for the most part I’ve been stuck in the past. The dreams of it get longer.”
“You’re adjusting,” she said, “like some goddamned adolescent.”
“I feel pretty goddamned, to tell you the truth.”
“I’m sure you are, George,” she said to me.
I didn’t know what to make of that — her calling me George, I mean. She was George, wasn’t she? Wasn’t I Sam?
“They know you’re disconnected from the timeline,” I said. “They figured it out within a minute of seeing me.”
“That’s not a surprise,” she said. “Doesn’t matter much, anyway. I think I’m stuck in this body for forever.”
“Probably,” I said.
I thought I saw something dash across the window.
“What?” George asked me.
I rubbed my eyes. Could I believe my eyes? Could I believe my very own eyes, which had been wrong in the past? What did it even matter what I saw, if all of reality–
George’s door — my door — got ripped off its hinges. I turned around and saw Evan there, looking mad as hell. Strong as hell, too. Was that even physically possible?
“Evan,” I said.
I didn’t bother saying another word. I saw the look in his eyes. He was angry — crazed.
I darted towards the window that I’d seen him run across only moments before.
He raced towards my old body.
I heard a scream.
Turned around and saw myself turned inside-out. My own blood was on the floor. My own blood was on my own floor and in a weird way I was lucky because the whole damn thing was an out-of-body experience.
“You,” Evan’s voice growled, sounding nothing like him at all, really, “have disturbed,” it continued, and I knew something was wrong, so very very wrong, “the timeline.
I jumped through the window, making my way onto my own lawn.
Dear god, dear god.
Of course, I didn’t really have anyone to pray to, did I? No god left alive to answer my prayers, no one except the unknowable unkillable god.
I tripped on my own foot.
Hit the grass, hard. Turned around, got my hand on my gun. It felt cold — good. Made me feel safe.
Evan was nearly on top of me, just a couple feet away, panting, his eyes as mad as his heart, as mad as this world, as mad as all the goddamned killing destiny had found necessary.
“What’s the timeline?” I yelled, staring at Evan’s cold eyes.
Evan didn’t seem to have any emotion on his face, as he said, “Where we all live.”
“Are you really Evan?”
Evan smiled, then shrugged.
“You’re afraid of the gun,” I said.
Evan didn’t move. There wasn’t any emotion on his lips, but I thought I might’ve seen a glimmer in his eyes. He knew the gun well enough to respect it.
“You should be,” I said. “Are you a part of the end of the world?”
He didn’t say anything. He just stood there, silent, which was the creepiest thing he could do.
“You’re not killing me,” I said. My chest felt heavy. I was out of breath. It wasn’t even the running or the jumping or even the fright. It was the unbelievable gut punch: That’s not Evan. Maybe it never was. But if Evan was never the Evan I thought I knew, did that make him anything other than Evan? Or did that just make me ignorant?
“Are you heading to the Celestial Wall still?”
For the first time, I saw true emotion spread across Evan’s face. It looked unnatural — the corners of his lips rising upwards, moving towards his ears, fighting gravity to express satisfaction at something so grisly and awful.
He didn’t say anything. But that expression of his was more than enough of an answer.
He turned around, running off into the night.
I had a purpose again. More than anything else, I needed to stop Evan from destroying the world.
— — —
I banged on Lusu’s door, looking at the dead dragon knocker I’d shot a bullet through who knows how long ago.
It took her a minute, but I kept banging, unable to let up, unwilling to let up.
She opened the door. “You look like a mess.”
“Evan,” I said, panting, looking around, feeling manic. “He… he killed me. He killed me.”
“What are you–”
“I went over to my old house and saw the elf that I’d switched bodies with. But she’s dead and I’m here and that crazy machine you were telling me about… I think it’s turned into Evan. I don’t know how… maybe Evan really did die. Maybe he never was alive. I don’t know. I don’t know!”
Lusu grabbed onto my shoulders. “Calm down. You have to calm–”
“Calm down!” I roared, practically laughing. “This world is insane. It’s fucking insane, and I have to live here!”
“Not for much longer, by the looks of it.”
“You’re joking!” I yelled, resting my head on her shoulder. “You’re joking, and this whole damn world–”
“What’s she raving about?” The Hero asked, from inside the house. “Still not able to handle getting disconnected from the timeline?”
“She’s saying that someone we know killed a man,” Lusu said.
“You believe her?”
“I don’t know,” Lusu said. “I think so.”
“Why wouldn’t you believe me?” I asked. “Why wouldn’t you–”
“Shh,” she said, “Let’s come inside.”
I took my head off her shoulder. She closed the door, and the three of us walked into her living room. I noted the Godkiller book, laying on the sofa, mocking me.
“You’ve been through a lot,” Lusu said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you’ve been through a lot,” Lusu said. “That can do things to people.”
“You know I haven’t lied so far. You know I switched bodies with that elf, and you know that somehow they replaced Val with a machine. You know I’m not–”
“I know,” she said, looking me in the eyes. Her steely gaze calmed me down a little bit. There was a strength there. I wasn’t sure if it was trust in me — but I knew I could trust it. The Hero, on the other hand, looked a little concerned.
“I know you’ve told the truth up to now,” she said, “but I also know that a lot of strange things have happened in your life — not just now, but in general. So I want to make sure they haven’t broken you like I would expect them to. I want to make sure you’re okay.”
I kept my eyes glued on the floor. “How can I prove a thing like that?”
“Are you okay?” she asked me.
I took in a deep breath. “Yeah. There’s a lot going on right now, but I am.”
“Then tell me what happened.”
I did. The best thing of all was that she listened to me explain the insanity of it all.
“I believe you,” she said. “I believe you when you say that we have to go to the Celestial Wall. Do you?” she asked, looking at The Hero.
He grabbed the bridge of his nose, rubbing it, looking tired and torn. “I don’t know if I believe you. But I sure as hell ain’t going to miss a chance to save the world. And if you are crazy, well, I guess I don’t have anything better to do.”
I nodded my head, breathing a sigh of relief. “Guess we’ve gotta go then.”
The only thing that made me sad was that I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to Beckett, or Vicky. Maybe in the next life, if not in this one.