She makes me put my knife against her soft white throat. How I want to press it in. A million times I see the blade go in.
Oh Tess oh Tess I don’t know why you’re fighting. Can’t you see that it was you who came to me? You’re mine now.
My body over top of hers. She’s stopped moving. I have to take my knife away before I make a mistake.
“Why do you want me to hurt you?”
No. No. My head. Not again.
“You know I don’t want to hurt you, Tess. I couldn’t hurt you. I love you.”
Werewolves. Their psychic attacks are relentless.
My head is going to explode.
I have to scream.
I should have known the Werewolves would oppose this Union. How do they know I’m here. How am I going to get to Rorich Anderson when they’re in my head as strong as this and I can hardly move.
Why am I so weak? It’s hilarious that I’m here and it’s all happening and I’m too weak to see it through.
I’m laughing now. Is it my voice that says, “I think you’d better run away,” or is it the Werewolves. I was trying to say “I think you’d better get ready” and then the words “run away” came out instead.
And Tess did it. She’s running away now.
I can’t move.
I push the tip of my grandfather’s USMC KAR-BAR through the sleeve of my coat and into my arm.
Maybe it wasn’t me who did that.
But it helped.
Suddenly I know. Suddenly I see her. The Werewolf. It’s a girl. She’s somewhere nearby, lying on a bench in a beautiful garden. Look at her, she’s shaking like she’s having a seizure. There’s a man kneeling next to her, holding onto her.
I see you, skinny little girl. I know who you are. You’re not human.
Werewolf, you’re the first one I’m going to kill.
After I Claim Tess for Union.
Everyone here has to die tonight. Now I know. All these people have to be erased.
Tess is fighting me. I’m going to have to hurt her before I can Claim her for Union. I don’t want to but I’m going to have to.
It’s all up to me now. Rorich Anderson waits for me. Convergence has started.
Tess is hiding.
I know how to move in the trees without making a sound. I’ve been trained.
There. Tess is hiding right there.
She could have kept running. She could have got away. Instead she stopped. She chose to stay in the woods.
It means she consents.
It means she wants me to hurt her.
Oh I feel so happy for the first time in such a long time.
FBI Casefile 4815/1623-42
Server Access 1011011.11
Agent Priya Mehta ID 432PM31
Supervising Division XIII Liaison: name redacted
Fragment of Login Update g4dd87.
As we followed the black Mercedes, Madero was on the phone with his Division XIII contact. “Yes,” he said, “it’s positive identification. The Mayfair Bed & Breakfast on Mayfair Street and Beech Boulevard. We’re following him now. Yes. I’m giving you a green light to go. I repeat: green light to go.” To me he said, “You’re too close to that Mercedes.”
“I know how to execute a tail,” I snapped.
The black Mercedes transported Gabriel Majeaux to a mansion above the town of Park Heights where a very public event was underway, some kind of formal black-tie reception to which Majeaux himself arrived in full masquerade costume, including a partial mask, top hat, and ivory-handled cane. Madero was certain it was him, despite the mask and the costume. By all logic it had to be him.
I drove past the mansion and pulled over onto the side of the road. Madero, turned awkwardly right around in the seat, took more pictures with his extremely old camera—he mistrusted digital technology—as the black Mercedes was ushered through the gate and onto the grounds.
“What the hell is going on here?” I said to him.
“I’m not sure.”
“Why is he dressed like that? None of the other guests are in costume.”
“I don’t know.” Madero put the camera down. “Do you think there are other exits from this estate?”
“There might be a service road in the east, but essentially this property borders right up against Topanga State Park on all sides except this one.”
Madero glanced at me. “You seem surprisingly well-informed about the place.”
“I took a tour.”
“The day after we arrived.” Madero was staring at me. “It’s historical. I thought it was something I should see. Arcyn was built in 1914 by William Randolph Hearst, though he sold it in 1919 to Sangster Quence, the silent film producer. Hearst never even set foot inside it, and then he went on to build Hearst Castle in San Simeon.”
“Fascinating,” Madero said.
We waited outside the estate, in the car on the side of the road. The sky was darkening quickly after the sun had set.
“What do we do?” I said.
“I’m thinking,” Madero said.
“Do we go in there? We’re not dressed for it.”
“I think we have to.”
“You said we wouldn’t engage.”
“We can’t risk losing him. I think he might be using this event to cover his escape from us. In which case he might already be gone.”
“Where are the Triads then? I thought you gave Division XIII green light to move on Majeaux?”
“To sweep the Bed & Breakfast, yes, but nothing more than that.”
“Call them back. Get them here, now.”
Madero shook his head. “I can’t.”
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer my question. “It’s up to us, Priya. We have to go in.”
“I think you’re wrong. We’re crashing this formal party and we’ll stick right out. He’ll see us coming.”
“We don’t have a choice.”
“Of course we have a choice!”
“That’s enough, Agent Mehta. As the ranking officer here it’s my decision. We’re going in.”
Just one more and I’ll walk away
All the everything you win
Turns to nothing today.”
—The Cure, Homesick
It was starting to look like Tryst was a no-show for their gig at this swanky fundraiser affair. What was there left to do but drink? With beer and wine and Champagne in abundance all over, I just helped myself. You can’t blame me.
I had started at anxious, gone on to upset, moved over to angry, settled at last on not giving a shit. A certain amount of alcohol will do that to you. I was set up, ready to go. I’d done my part. If Tryst wanted to play tonight, all they had to do was show up.
As I walked around the mansion I saw there was something going on in the biggest of the tent pavilions on the grounds. I heard Nasrin’s voice on a PA system and then everyone was applauding. Most of the guests here tonight had pushed themselves in there to see the goings-on, so I was almost on my own out in the early dark. There was a crazy light-show being projected onto the front of the mansion. How long had that been going on. It was pretty amazing. This whole thing was pretty amazing. I guess that’s what happens when you get a billionaire to throw your fundraiser.
I had recognized a lot of people from the Wellness Centre. And admittedly it was weird to run into my therapist, Dr. Carey, all dolled-up and decked-out and looking actually quite hot, for an older lady. Was I supposed to pretend not to notice that? But now that I had thought about it, wasn’t it always going to be there? It’s not like I could take back being momentarily attracted to my therapist. No, it wasn’t exactly attraction, I’d just been admiring her elegance. Man, I thought, this better not be a problem going forward because I need these sessions with her if I’m going to function normally even a little bit.
Earlier I’d also bumped into Nasrin. I asked her if anyone from the Circle had shown up. “No,” she’d said, “no-one from the Circle RSVP’d, so I left them off the guest list.”
Yeah. Of course they didn’t come. They’re bad, bad people up to no good and they’re not taking nights off like the rest of us.
In the way that smokers jones for a cigarette, I wanted music. A cigarette wouldn’t have been so bad either.
The absence of music was painful to me. Honestly I thought long and hard about just going home. It’s the melomania, sometimes it’s unbearable. I imagined what I’d do at home, sitting cross-legged on the floor, headphones on, pressing Shuffle on the laptop MP3 player. What song would it be. Maybe one of White Mask’s doom-heavy apocalyptic epics.
Or better yet the turntable. What album would I carefully remove from its jacket, slip out of the sleeve, position on the platter. Then swing the tonearm across and drop the needle gently down onto the vinyl.
Last night, I had been listening to Disintegration by The Cure. And that’s when Frantz came over.
It was late. The sudden booming knock on the door made me jump right out of my body. I had been lying on the floor, listening to the music. I thought it was probably my mother, she pounded on the door in much the same way sometimes, so it was a surprise to throw the door open and see Frantz out there on the stairs. There was rain in the air and he was slouched against it, looking miserable.
“Hey, Frantz, um… what are you doing here?” I said as I let him in. I recognized the tendrils of anxiety curling around my thoughts, squeezing tight. Was I being awkward with Frantz? Was I welcoming? I was delighted to see him but maybe I wasn’t showing it. Would he leave?
“Oh wow,” he said, taking his shoes off, and his jacket. “The Cure. This is so good.”
“Is everything okay?” My own anxiety subsided. He was acting strangely. There was something in his voice.
“Can we just listen to this for a while?”
“Uh, yeah, of course, come in, come on in,” I stuttered. “There’s beer in the fridge. Want one?”
Frantz had stretched himself out on the floor in more or less than same spot I had been. For some reason I imagined a chalk outline of my body, and Frantz on top of it. “Sure,” he said distantly, “I always want a beer.”
I put the beer next to him on the floor and then I flopped down onto the couch. For a long time neither of us moved at all. Neither of us drank our beers. We just stayed like we were, listening to Disintegration.
I remembered being over at Tess’s house in high school, pretending to work together on a research project for Social Studies. We’d stayed up long after her mom had gone to bed. In Tess’s room, listening to this same album for the first time, all the way through, from the broken wind chime intro of Plainsong to the wheezing detuned accordion outro of Untitled. Not sadness, not loneliness, something else: knowing that, long before you had any idea about sadness or loneliness, someone else had already gone into that darkness and they’d come back better for it, they’d delivered this music for all of us to follow, unafraid.
We got a D on that assignment, I remember my mom losing her mind about that. And Charlie Mill had done this incredible 10-page retrospective of Civil War battles, with maps, and he’d done it on his own because no-one would ever be his partner except me and I had chosen Tess that time.
Frantz sat up. He reached for the beer and took a long drink from the bottle. “I think White Mask is over,” he said.
“I lost my shit on the guys tonight. It was pretty bad.”
“You’re always freaking out on them. They’re used to it. And frankly they deserve it most of the time.”
“Not like this though.” Frantz took in a deep breath. “I’m angry. I don’t know why I’m this angry.”
“Did something happen?” I asked uncertainly.
Frantz wiped tears out of his eyes with a sudden violent gesture, a wrenching of his hand across his face like a presentiment of self-harm. “You’re not listening to me. I’m telling you what’s wrong but you’re not listening.”
“Okay,” I said stupidly, only belatedly understanding that Frantz, in a bad state, had come to me for help. Me. Not that I knew what to do or say. “Yeah, no, I’m listening, I am. Go on.” Don’t say the wrong thing, I thought, please don’t say the wrong thing, he’s so volatile.
Frantz grinned at me suddenly. “You’re fucking hopeless, Kevin.”
I sighed a deep, protracted sigh. “Sorry.”
“But your uselessness makes me feel better.”
Frantz got up and went to the fridge for another beer. He stood there with the fridge door open and the cold air billowing around him. Then he snapped around and stalked back towards me. “It’s just that White Mask isn’t enough! I want to change people. I want people to leave the shows utterly destroyed. I want them to have to change their lives because of what they just experienced. That’s what I want! And instead of that, people just shrug it off like they’ve been watching the Disney Channel. I ask someone: what did you think of the show, and they nod politely, and they tell me, oh it was good, oh I liked it." Frantz shook his head. "That means I’ve failed. I liked it. That means White Mask has failed.”
“You’ve got all those fans though, Frantz,” I said. “More and more all the time. People are responding. They are.”
“It’s not enough.”
He was pacing back and forth across the room, delineating limitations. I said, “It has to be enough. You can’t expect everyone to instantly love what you’re doing. It takes time. Most people won’t admit they even know about or like something until they know it’s safe to do so, until there’s thousands of other people who’ve already done so.”
Frantz had started to cry again. “I feel like I’m at war with the world and everyone in it, all the time. It would be so much easier not to do this.”
“Feeling sorry for yourself won’t help,” I said.
“Is that what I’m doing?”
“I don’t know what you’re doing right now. Maybe. At least sit down, Frantz, for fuck’s sake.”
“Alright.” He deposited himself on the couch next to me. Close to me. “You’re giving me some straight talk here, aren’t you?”
“Your talent is...” I searched for the right words, “…it’s undeniable. But I think you have to be careful about your intensity.”
“What are you saying?”
“Burning brightly and burning out. I think it might be a problem for you.”
Suddenly Frantz was laughing again. “Kevin, you don’t understand anything at all. Not one little scrap of understanding about anything.”
I didn’t know what to say. I thought I’d been helping, telling him what he needed to hear. Now I wasn’t sure. And when I slowly considered the things he had been telling me, I found he was right: I didn’t understand what had made him so upset, or why.
Frantz shifted on the couch until he was more prone, lying with his head on the cushion, his feet in their gray socks sliding down until they pressed up against the side of my leg. “I’m actually quite tired,” he mumbled. And he yawned. And I yawned.
After a few minutes it seemed like both of us were about to fall asleep. Then Frantz stirred and checked to see if I was still awake over on my side of the couch. “I want to ask you something,” he said, prodding me with one foot.
“You and Tess, in high school, you had some kind of saying, like a safeword signal that you needed the other person.”
“Yeah. We called it Zero Hour.”
“Yes. I always liked that. Zero Hour. I was always jealous of that. And all the time you spent with Tess. I always wanted to be part of that.”
Holy cow, I thought. Where was this coming from? “I know I really kept the two of you apart,” I said carefully.
“I think I was protecting myself. Keeping these friendships separate, in case they fell apart. If you and Tess were friends too, I thought maybe you’d both figure out eventually I wasn’t worth much and I’d lose both of you.”
“Oh my god,” Frantz exclaimed. “Is that what it was? That’s so pathetic. I thought you were keeping me apart from Tess because she was so cool and I was so boring.”
“Well yeah there was that, too.”
“I knew it,” he said, laughing.
The Frantz Adeyemi I knew in high school was almost a completely different person. I had taken him under my wing as soon as he had appeared in class, just moved to California from Nigeria. He was quiet, watchful, intelligent, easy to be with, easy to please, willing to do just about anything at any time. In many ways he was my replacement for Charlie Mill, who had many of the same qualities. Charlie and I had become more and more estranged since Freshman year. If I talked to him, I think I’d begun to adopt everyone else’s creeped-out attitude about him. Charlie was just getting weirder and weirder. And he was not showing up at school for a day here and there, and then for a few days, for a week, for longer. And one day he disappeared entirely.
Then Frantz, after high school. I was in classes at LMU—this was obviously before I dropped out—and I got a text from Frantz. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so it was a mild surprise. I read his text a few times over. He said he was in a new band and he wanted me to check them out. Frantz, in a band? What? So I went to their rehearsal space in the Valley. Even before White Mask played some of their new songs for me, I was stunned into disbelief. Frantz had embraced me warmly the moment he saw me, as if no time had passed since we’d hung out. His smile and his laughter were the same but everything else had changed. He had lost all of his weight. It looked like someone who designed clothes for a living had picked out what he was wearing. When he got behind the mic, in front of White Mask, it was like a torrent of rage possessed him and used him and made him into something exalted.
That’s what I should have told him tonight, I thought: I should have told him that music made him exalted. But it was too late. Typical me to think of the right thing to say only much later on.
In the morning, Frantz and I were in my bed together. I didn’t remember having moved there from the couch, or Frantz having come with me. We were still in our clothes from the night before. I had curled up into him, my head against the side of his chest. Awake before he was, I listened to the rising and falling of his sleep’s slow breathing.
I could not have moved from where I was, even if I had wanted to.
And now I was across the rest of that day, standing in front of the great mansion, Arcyn—shapes of light and silhouettes of dark rose and fell across the house in a dizzying display, and I was the only one watching—and I missed him, I wanted him with me, and I felt terrified of what would happen when I saw him again.
“Hey Kevin,” someone said to me. “We found the place. Our cabbie had no idea.”
Tryst. They were here after all. “Guys,” I said. “You made it. I was getting worried. Come on, let me show you where the stage is. Or no, let’s get some beer first before we do anything else. You guys still planning on starting with that cover of OMD?”
I led them across the lawn. Now I was excited, after all.
After we’d set up our gear, after they’d played a quick soundcheck and I’d adjusted the board, as people were gathering in from the darkness beyond the lights of the stage, the band would begin their set.
And there would be more music in the world.
© 2017 by C.D. Miller