Listening to Vera Lynn while sipping some 1937 Glenfiddich and looking naughty in a red, silk robe: Today was a fine day to watch the world burn. What could I say? I was feeling—no, not nostalgic, and forlorn was a given—maybe Saudade would do but with more of a bite.
Going back to the world burning, the Universe had given me every clue that things were going sky high. At first, little things fell through the cracks, like Dorothy asking for bottled sunshine when she hates beer.
After she got it in her head to put a gold handcuff on Phoebe, Dorothy told me, “Seth, I’m telling you, she’s my O.A.O.”
Later that night, a sozzled Dorothy sobbed and shouted about not seeing another beach with me.
“Just for a while, dear.
We must part.
Don’t let this parting upset you.
I’ll not forget you, sweetheart” played in the background.
Oh boy, the Universe might as well have banged my head with a goddamn frying pan.
Like a boomerang, all those memories were zipping back. It was only a matter of time before she would remember Alvah. Once she knew the whole truth…I downed the rest of my mug and tossed it at the wall. Alvah always punished me for my transgressions with Theodore, and his Mistress of Chaos, the Night, and Melodrama never forgave me. My wrists ached, and there was a buzz nipping the nape of the neck after thinking of her.
The cuckoo-clock sounded off.
Turning down the music, I checked my security cams. Dorothy would arrive soon. Minutes flew by. A mop of black hair and a ratty pair of red sneakers came into the front camera view.
“Right on cue.”
Those red sneakers trampled my Persian Mashad rug as soon as I opened the door. “Seth! I don’t know what’s going on. I think I’m going crazy, and when I tried talking to Phoebe, she packed a suitcase and took the dog.”
Handing her a mug of cheaper scotch, I gestured for her to take a seat. “Ever since I saw her phoenix tattoo, I told you she was bad news.”
“What does that have to do with…?” Her eyes widened. “The Phoenix King.”
Bingo. I gave up the pretense of my humanity and sighed a puff of black smoke. Dorothy’s nose wrinkled at the rotten egg smell, but that didn’t stop me from sending a cloud her way.
“Take a drink and let it settle in while I take a long drag.”
I blew out some of my ennui as I thought about how I should have made a picture to explain things every time Alvah was about to rise. Yeah, it could have been called The Rise of Alvah and had one of those prologues explaining how the Phoenix King and his God trapped Alvah in a human body and how he was reincarnated for centuries. If the End wasn’t near, I might have pitched it to a studio.
“I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Sure, you do. You’re having weird dreams of plagues, floods, wildfires—things that have been and will be. You sometimes catch yourself wishing nasty things on people and finding out they played out like you wanted. You might be remembering things, like I don’t know, making your first katana, hearing the pitch for Notre Dame, shooting down Nazis. We go through this every time.”
Dorothy sunk deeper into the chair until it threatened to suffocate her.
“Look, Kid.” I laughed because Alvah was almost as old as the Earth. “You got two options. Option one: You let your wife kill you to put a pause to the Apocalypse. Option two: You become Alvah, destroy Dorothy Diaz, destroy the world. Either way, the house is going to crash down on you.”
I turned up the music and sang, “Let’s say goodbye with a smile, dear.”
“No. No! I’m not going to end the world.” Dorothy shrieked, “I’m not evil!”
The mug in her hand shattered as did the nearby bottles of Glenfiddich and Crown. I sighed another puff of smoke, but this time there were a few embers. I mourned the loss of such a good burning taste and more than £68,000. Eh, money didn’t matter anyway.
I wrapped her shaking hands with a handkerchief, and without warning, poured some vodka over her cuts. “Kid, the Phoenix Clan can only slow it down for so long.” Rubbing her knuckles, I whispered, “It may be time to let go.”
Dorothy jolted when my alarm went off.
“That must be your loving wife.”
There was no stopping what had to come. Yet, I grabbed Dorothy’s small hand and pushed her inside the coat closet.
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
To drown the alarm’s shrill beeps, I blasted “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” A watery laugh escaped me. Teddy loved this song.
Rummaging through my bar, I picked a bottle of red wine and two glasses. I debated whether my little, silk number was appropriate for a possible murder or kidnapping attempt. Eh, Phoebe had seen me in worse things. Besides, who was she to judge me when she was going to break into my house?
I threw myself on the nearest chaise lounge chair before Phoebe made Swiss cheese out of my front door.
“Where is Dory?” Phoebe pointed a shotgun in my direction.
“That’s rude, and to think I was going to offer you a drink.”
Phoebe racked the shotgun. “I’m not playing around, Seth.”
“Funny,” I revealed a smile befitting a shark, “I usually don’t play with prey.”
“I knew you were one of them!”
“Let me level with you, Moonshine. I hate Alvah. He’s a monster, and that’s coming from a literal demon. But…” My neck cracked as it spun like an owl’s. “I can’t let you hurt Dorothy.”
“I don’t want to hurt her,” she whispered.
Raising an eyebrow, I pointed at her shotgun.
“That was for you.”
“I’m flattered you thought of me.”
Phoebe went behind the bar and then turned towards the dining room entrance. “Seth, you have a nice, little setup here. Surely, you don’t want the world to end.”
“Oh, Moonshine, my schemes are like all my dreams.” I gulped from the bottle and wiped my mouth with my sleeve. “They blow up in the sky.”
Her eyes softened. “We—the three of us—can have more time if—”
I barked a laugh. “Look, I know you’re no dumb Dora. You know the ending can’t be happy.”
“I don’t want to hurt her,” Phoebe repeated.
“So, you’re going to do what? Send Dorothy to the Clan, so they can keep your hands clean?”
“You going to let her drag the world down the Yellow Brick Road to Doomsday?”
Phoebe held her shotgun tighter.
I sighed. “Why did you come here?”
“I thought I would have it figured out once I got here.”
“I got you.” I handed her the wine bottle. “A part of you hoped you’d see a monster, and it would make things easier.”
She eyed the bottle before taking a swig.
“Did that make things easier?”
She fiddled with her wedding ring. “Nope.”
Thankfully, I always carried more than one handkerchief. “Here.” I blew out another puff. “Phoebe, go home.” While you can, I silently added.
“I can’t let Dorothy end the world.”
“Oh, no. Dorothy’s going to die soon. It’ll be Alvah who brings about the Apocalypse.”
“Won’t there be a piece of her inside—?”
“I’ve seen Alvah almost rise many times before. Once Dorothy gains all of his powers, she’ll be as good as gone. And you can’t trust her. She’ll use your feelings to save herself—”
“Whose side are you on!” Dorothy shouted as she banged open the closet door.
“Dory!” Phoebe took a few steps back.
“Phoebe, you know me.” Dorothy reached for her wife’s hands. “I could never kill someone—let alone billions of people. I’m not evil. I volunteer with disabled puppies for Christ’s sake!”
“See what I mean?” I asked.
“I would never use Phoebe like that!”
You used me.
I pictured the avatar that came after Theodore. Her voice deepened until it matched his. Her arms wrapped around me as his voice lulled me and whispered about a future we could share after I had set-up the ritual. After the Clan set fire to the building, I carried her out and grasped her blackened hand. She tore her hand away from me.
“I shouldn’t be surprised. You failed to save your precious Teddy at Normandy, so why should this time be any different?”
Dorothy was going to die: There was no stopping it.
“Please,” Dorothy begged, “Believe me.”
The shotgun in Phoebe’s hands shook. “I want to.”
The cuckoo-clock sounded off.
“We don’t have time for this,” I said.
I felt a sting in my wrists as I blew red smoke at my friends. They coughed until the sulfur smell became sweeter and almost perfume-like. The smoke swirled around us like we were in some mad washing machine. My head spun from the smoke and the pounding at the base of my skull.
“What’s happening!” shouted Dorothy.
“My Mistress is coming.”
“Are you kidding me!” Phoebe pointed the shotgun at me again. “You made me feel guilty about letting Dory live, and here you are dooming us!”
“You don’t have to do this!”
I turned away from Dorothy. “I don’t have a choice.”
“There’s always a choice—”
“Before you finish some cliché spiel about the power of freewill and good and evil, I literally don’t have a choice.” I raised my sleeves to reveal glowing red tattoos that bound me to my Mistress.
Dorothy’s eyes widened. “Shit.”
Perfume overpowered my senses. My vision blurred. I swayed. Darkness.
My vision tunneled to Phoebe surrounded by black walls. Pink, fuzzy handcuffs chained her to a massage table at the center of glowing red symbols. Black lights made her eyes pop out like a Moor Goldfish. I failed to turn my head to find Dorothy as my index finger ran down Phoebe’s cheek. I didn’t know why I laughed when she squirmed.
“Leave her alone!”
Dorothy! She had to be here somewhere.
“How cute.” I didn’t mean to say that!
Turning to the side of the basement, I gave Dorothy a feral grin. Neon yellow scarfs tied her wrists and ankles to a swing that hung from the ceiling. I spun her around.
No. It wasn’t me.
“Dorothy, is it? What a sweet name.” My hand cupped her face. “And what a sweet face. I have to say, Dear, this is one of your better vessels.”
“Who are you?”
“I have many names, but there was one you always loved the most.”
“Lilith?” Dorothy whispered.
“Good, you’re starting to remember.”
“Get out of Seth.”
Lilith made me pout. “But then how can I talk to you? Your vessel would be destroyed if you tried to go home now.”
“Who says I’m not already home?”
My finger wagged. “Now, now, Dear. Dorothy is a simple, southern girl with a simple, sappy life. You are not Dorothy. You are the Master of Death and Decay, a Pandora who will gift the world with a plague of evils. You are the Bringer of the End.” My hand patted her cheek. “You’ll come around. You always do.”
“Don’t listen to her!” shouted Phoebe.
Lilith spun my head towards the massage table. “I almost forgot about you.”
“Dory, all my life I was taught the End would come. But we still fought Alvah for another day. If you’re a Pandora, then there must be some hope.” Phoebe’s voice softened. “Please, Dory, let’s go home.”
“Now, that’s precious! I see why you keep her around.” Lilith’s voice deepened. “But the show has to end.”
I begged my legs to stay in place, but those traitors moved to the massage table. A knife was in my hand.
“I’m not going to do it.”
The symbols looked familiar.
Her arms wrapped around me as his voice lulled me. “Find me a sacrifice, and we can finally stop chasing rainbows.”
“With one little cut, we can bring Alvah out sooner. We can finally be together.”
“No, I won’t kill my wife!”
A trail of red smoke slithered and wrapped around Dorothy’s limbs, freeing her from the scarfs but chaining her still.
Red sneakers squeaked as they were dragged across the room.
“Dory!” Phoebe thrashed against the cuffs.
I focused on the hand holding the knife. Drop it!
The smoke struggled to pull out one of Dorothy’s arms.
The hand spasmed. Drop it!
My hand held on tighter. “This is interesting. I didn’t think you would put up a fight, Seth.”
The squeaking stopped.
“You can’t stop the End.”
I know that. But…
One of Dorothy’s arms reached for the knife. “No, please, stop it!”
Even if it was stopped today, Alvah would still rise. And he or Lilith will fry me.
The knife inched closer to Phoebe. She screamed.
Dorothy’s hand shook. “I.”
On the other hand…
Her hand hovered over Phoebe. “Won’t!”
If Alvah comes now, I’ll be fried anyway.
“Do this!” Dorothy’s arm jerked back.
Lilith gasped, and I took my chance.
“Kid, you know what you have to do!” I looked at the knife.
Dorothy shook her head, and my head spun. Lilith’s smoky nails ran lines of fire into every crevice of my brain.
The entire back of my head burned like when I was baptized by the Great Fires. Pain shot all the way down my spinal cord. Red smoke and black blood oozed from my nose and mouth.
But I held onto the pictures of a mop of black hair and those ratty, red sneakers and his voice singing off-key in the jeep.
Dorothy’s eyes watered as she plunged the knife into my chest. With shaky hands, I pushed it deeper. Red smoke burst from my wound and mouth as if I was some popped balloon. I sagged to the floor.
A puff of red smoke hovered over me before it vanished.
My nose was inches too close to red sneakers. Dorothy pulled me close as she applied pressure to my chest.
I waved her off. “I’m a demon. It’ll take more than that to finish me off.”
After she helped me into a sitting position, Dorothy ran to free her wife. My chest ached as they embraced and kissed like V-J Day in Times Square. My eyes focused on the black spreading across my favorite robe.
“Wait.” Phoebe caught my attention. “How did you know stabbing Seth would work?”
Dorothy faced me. “I just trusted Seth.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell Dorothy that I never had a plan. I hoped she would figure something out with the knife.
The three of us hovered in limbo, not knowing whether to really celebrate or not. Lilith would return. Alvah would rise. The End would come.
My toes dug into white sand as I pulled out Dorothy’s latest postcard.
“So, the kids went to Big Bend. Eh, good for them.”
Listening to the Royal Terns sing while breaking out a bottle of 1926 Macallan and looking fine in red swim briefs: Today was a swell day to wait for the world to burn. Black little wisps escaped when I sighed into my glass of scotch. The wisps trailed off and fizzled when they met crystal blue waves. I fought any thoughts of rain and let the gentle heat soothe most of the aches and sharp edges. Hey, there were centuries of aches.
I placed some bottled sunshine on the beach chair next to mine. I played some tunes, closed my eyes, and held the postcard close to my chest.
Still, Vera Lynn’s words haunted me.
“We'll meet again.
Don't know where.
Don't know when.
But I know we'll meet again…”