I am a complete and total failure of a human being.
Standing in the dark, I bent down to grab a beer from the fridge.
Only two left, I thought, picking it up.
“Damn it,” I grunted, slamming the fridge shut.
If I wasn’t, everyone around me wouldn’t die or be hurt.
Crashing back down on the couch, I popped the bottle open, chugging it back.
Just like the old days, it was only me and my sisters here. Unlike the old days, I wasn’t killing anyone. I hadn’t left the apartment in five days. And so long as I didn’t leave, no one else could die because of me.
Erica, Lillian, Brianna, Joey…Shay; all dead or good as dead because of me.
“Pah!” I spat, slamming my beer down on the table, an image of a young woman appearing in my head for an instant.
Carter is broken. The kid’s whole world was devastated. No idea about the others, but they’re probably doing better than they would with me around.
The only things surrounding me were darkness, my sisters hanging on the wall, a few dozen empty beer bottles scattered around the room, and the glow of bad television.
I only had a day’s worth of food left. Not like it mattered. Abraham was going to kill Carter, and then everyone else. Me included. Besides, my death would only be a good thing for the world.
Broooooooooooooo, Dot whined. I want to exact righteous justice.
Yeah, Chewie added in. I wanna shoot some pedo’s nuts off.
I ignored them. Everyone had been asking me to take them out for days. But this was for their own good.
Please Bro, Jazmin said. We know you feel bad and we’re here for you, but we can’t just stop.
It was bad enough when we stopped killing, but not doing anything is even worse, Zelda chided.
They were my sisters. My little sisters. I couldn’t let anything happen to them. Never again.
Nobody say goodbye, Carter had said. We’re all coming back here.
We were so stupid.
Listen to us!
“Raah!” I screamed, throwing my bottle against the wall, shattering it.
That voice didn’t sound right. Not like one of my sisters. Must have just been hearing wrong.
“No! You listen to me! We’ve been over this. All I do is hurt the ones I love. And sooner or later, I’m gonna die. And so will the rest of humanity. You’re gonna outlive us all.”
They didn’t respond. None of them.
They still didn’t respond. Not one.
“Alright, I’m sorry,” I said, turning around. “I shouldn’t have shou…”
Kill yourself, Kayla interrupted.
“Wha…what did you say?” I asked with pause.
She’s right, Miranda added. If you’re so useless and you’re gonna die anyway…
…then you should just pick one of us up and blow your brains out, Sparky finished.
“No, not this can’t be right,” I shook, standing up. “What you’re saying isn’t right. Someone must be messing with my head.”
No, but we’d definitely love to mess with your head, Zelda mocked. For your own good of course.
“No! No!” I roared. “Adam! Abraham! I don’t know what you’re pulling but it’s not gonna work. My sisters and I love each other!”
Love to help you die is more like it, Dot said.
“Dot,” my face fell flat.
Face it Bro, you being around is selfish, Kayla said. If you love us, do what’s right!
“No, no, no!” I repeated, covering my ears and dropping to my knees. “None of this is real! Abraham, Adam, Vincent! Whoever is behind this….come out and fight me!”
DO IT! Chewie cheered.
“Chewie,” I cried, collapsing down onto leftover bottles, any strength I had leaving my body.
You should have done this a long time ago. You know what you did! Kayla screamed.
“I don’t!” I replied, crawling toward my sisters “I mean I do. But not…” The face popped into my head again. “Gaah!”
Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die, they chanted.
“Please! I…I love you! I’m sorry!”
Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die, they continued as I reached the wall they hung on.
“Just tell me what to do. Anything,” I whimpered, continuing to shake as I stood up.
The chanting stopped.
Even if I was still missing something, I felt as if I understood.
“Okay,” I whispered, reaching out and picking up Sierra, removing the safety and putting her against my head. “Okay.”
Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die. Die, they resumed.
Thank you, I heard.
“You’re welcome, I mumbled hands trembling.
Now. Now. Now. Now! Now! NOW! NOW!!!
“Oh god,” I said, barely audible, sweat running down my face. “Oh shit.”
Thank you, I heard again.
Eyes, teeth and fists clenched, my trigger finger went numb.
Don’t stop, Kayla said.
They all repeated it.
Sweat was pouring down. More and more parts of my body were going numb.
But I couldn’t stop. I had to do this…for them.
“G…Goodbye,” I moaned, forcing weight onto the trigger.
“Malcolm!” someone screamed with fear from behind.
“Ha!” I quickly shouted with terror, tossing Sierra aside and dropping to the floor, hyperventilating.
I’d…I’d almost just killed myself. What what was I…what the fuck was I thinking?
Looking up was one of the few people whose lives I hadn’t ruined. The one who’d just saved me.
“Hey,” she said, bending down in her heels, still wearing a worried look. “What did I just see?”
“I…I,” I stuttered, unable to say it outloud. “What are you doing here?”
I’d been surprised by Eve and Olivia still being in Bluejay, but I hadn’t exactly given it much thought. Too much else on my mind.
“I came by to talk about soemthing and knocked a bunch of times, but when I heard you screaming I rushed in with my key. What was just happening?”
She still didn’t look like herself. That is to say, she didn’t look the way she did for most of the time I’d known her. Her hair was still long and curled, her face was still covered in layers of makeup, her jewelry flashy, her handbag held daintily on her wrist and each part of her outfit likely more expensive than my rent.
“Nothing,” I breathed. “Was just…”
“About to do something really stupid,” she finished, putting an arm around my shoulders.
“Grr,” I growled softly, pulling away from her. After everything that had happened, did she really think like she could act as if nothing had changed?
“Tell me what happened,” she demanded. “Please.”
Looking into her eyes, she really did seem to care.
“It’s nothing,” I mumbled. “Abraham or Adam, one of them, messed with my mind, and me think my sisters were telling me to kill myself, somehow making me almost do it in the process. Not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal!” Eve shouted, standing up. “And I’m sorry Malcolm, but that is not what happened.”
“How would you know?” I asked, legs shaking as I stood back up. “Still chat with Adam? Playing both sides?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then what’s your explanation?!” I shouted back. “That my sisters suddenly hate me and want me to die?!”
“No, my explanation is that you’re sick!”
We stood in silence for a moment, Eve still looking at me with concern as I stared back with rage.
“What did you say?” I asked, every time I’d ever killed someone for insulting my sisters flashing through my mind.
Her posture perfect, she took a breath.
“I think we should sit down.”
“I’d rather stand,” I quickly snapped back.
Eve bobbed her head up and down, looking more and more frustrated.
“Malcolm, what are your sisters saying right now?” she asked.
Not what I was expecting.
“Nothing,” I answered, sneering. “But you should know that.”
Not taking her eyes off me, Eve strut over to Sierra, picking her up and putting the safety back on.
“Why?” she asked. “Why would they be silent if they were just trying to kill you? If Abraham or Adam were doing something to you or your sisters, why would that stop when I walked in? And why wouldn’t they be saying anything now to comfort you or show worry?” She then mumbled something I probably wasn’t supposed to hear. “Damn it, you should be smarter than this. You’re a genius.”
I was still shaking. Still breathing. Still completely on edge. Not idea what she was going on about. And she was just making it all worse.
“What are you trying to say?”
She massaged Sierra with her hand before putting her down on top of the TV.
“Please sit down,” she requested again.
This time, I obliged. Partially just because I wanted to get off my feet, the bottoms numb and the skin underneath my toenails burning.
“So what?” I asked. “You got some big revelation to lay on me again?” She lowered her head at an angle. “Oh shit.”
Recomposing herself, she asked, “Do you remember the night we met?”
“‘Course. I was digging through trash, you spotted my bike and wanted to know if it was mine. We got drinks, went for a ride and even though I was hiding who I really was, we still had a good time.”
I didn’t really need to say all that. She knew it all. But focusing on better times was what I needed right now.
“Right, well…us meeting wasn’t a coincidence.”
“What?” I said, unsure of what I was feeling. Pain, fear and anger were all overwhelming and mixing together.
She sat down, joining me on the couch.
“I was with Adam when you arrived in the city. He could feel your presence and wanted an eye kept on you. And I volunteered.”
Even my good memories aren’t real! I cried inside my head, eyes bulging.
“Why? Why any of that?!” I shouted, desperate for answers. “Why did he feel me specifically? Why would he want me watched? And why did you volunteer?!”
“Please don’t hate me,” were the next words out of her mouth.
“We’re already getting there,” I said, finally taking the time to wipe some sweat off my face.
Eve crossed her legs and folded her arms.
“Adam felt you…because he’s the reason you’re you.” I didn’t have anything to say to that, instead making a look of disbelief, waiting for her to go on. “What I told you and the others a couple weeks ago was true, Adam killed The Guardianship.” I ignored the sharp pain which I suddenly felt in my head. “But he didn’t kill all of you.”
“All of us?” I responded.
Uncontrollably, I started cackling. Even as the one doing it, I could tell it sounded creepy.
But it was just…of course! Of course I was somehow connected to The Guardianship! All this other crazy crap in my life? Why not this too?!
Eve just kept a steely expression as I laughed, until finally, I took a breath and said, “Go on.”
“Before you were Decker. Before Malcolm. Before Bang. The whole world loved you. And I was lucky enough to know you personally.” This isn’t funny anymore. “15 years ago, you were Donald Ashmore.” She swallowed.”Panda.”
Max, Max, Max.
Donald, Donald, Donald, Donald!
Eve continued talking, my brain burning and my face still.
“I know this is a lot to take in.”
“You think?” I snapped back. “Is there anything you don’t know?! Any other secrets you’ve got? Anything at all that we know about you that isn’t a lie?!”
She’d known who I was. She’d known who I was all along. And she’d never even mentioned anything.
“This isn’t about me, Malcolm.”
“Malcolm? I thought I was Donald!”
This was all about her. I decided not to care about my past a long time ago. So I was some big shot hero a decade and a half ago? I didn’t give a crap. What mattered was the lies.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, you’re not Donald.”
“You just said I was!”
She wasn’t smiling like he had the last time she’d pulled this crap. But she was keeping her cool, just raising her hands between us.
“I said you were him,” she elaborated. “I didn’t just mean you lived a different life or had a different name. You are a completely different man. When I was Donald’s assistant, I got to know him pretty well. And over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know you very well. And there’s almost no similarities to be found.”
Biting my lip, I said, “And I’m guessing you know what happened too. What changed Donald to Bang.”
She shook around in her seat, rolling her shoulders. Her cool head was slipping.
“I don’t know everything. If I did, I could have backstabbed Adam a long time ago. And one of the things I don’t know is why, out of everyone, Adam didn’t kill you. And just as confusingly, why he’s allowed you to stay active here all this time. All I know is what he did to you all those years ago. He…he scrambled your brains, Malcolm. Wiped any memory of Donald clean and created a whole new personality. Took one of the smartest, kindest men I’d ever met and…”
“And what? Left you with me?!” I responded, offended by how sad she sounded about this. “So sorry I disappoint.”
“That’s not what I was going to say. You’re my friend, Malcolm, but Malcolm isn’t who you were most of this time. You were Bang.”
“Just a name change,” I growled.
“Like Hell it was. Being around me? Mentoring Carter and Raina? Getting into a relationship? Just being around people again has made you a great man once more, different or not.”
Rage fueling me, I shot back up to my feet.
“And what was so wrong with who I was before all this? Cause I’ll tell ya, I never felt as miserable back then as I have so many times now.”
“What’s wrong is that he made you a goddamn stereotype!” she screamed, standing back up to meet me face to face. “Did you never get that? The overly independent, over-the-top “badass” who solved every problem with his guns with no regard for rules or society? The afro? He made you a fucking blaxploitation character.” She started tearing up, smearing her makeup. “He made you his own personal joke.”
“No,” I said softly, shaking my head. “No, I’ve always been a person, not a joke. I’m me…I’m not…”
“Yes, you are!” she shouted. “Now. Like I said, despite how different you may be, you are a person again, and one I care about. I may have sided with Adam for all that time for Olivia’s sake, but I have always hated him for what he did to you. He just wanted a report that night; it was my decision to stick with you and become your friend.”
None of this made sense. On top of all the nonsense she was saying, those things she didn’t know the answers to were pretty big holes. If Adam killed the rest of The Guardianship, why not me? Why would he let me continue to stay here, let alone become friends with his daughter? Last I checked, only Carter and Olivia were involved in his plans for her. And if he really did just keep me around for entertainment, if all my life that I could remember was just some bad TV for him, then why let me grow out of it?
But something had dawned on me that made all of that irrelevant: Why she’d brought this up. Something had started this conversation, and I’d realized how it connected.
“Bitch,” I sneered. She appeared shocked that I’d called her that. “You better not be trying to say that the only reason I hear my sisters is because I was given driven crazy while my brain was being magic-ed up.”
“It’s the tru…”
Knowing what her answer would be, before she could finish, I decked her in the face with a right hook, not holding back at all. She was knocked away a few feet and send to the floor, moaning in pain.
For all her talk, all her knowledge and all that she knew about magic, she was still just a tiny 110lb woman.
“YOU’RE WRONG!” I screamed down at her. “They’re real! I can accept that my brain got toyed around with, but my sisters are as alive as you and me. If it’s just me being crazy, then how has everyone else heard them?!”
She rolled over to face me, hand on her jaw.
“It was a spell,” she said. “One by me. I was worried that if everyone found out about this, you’d go nuts when they inevitably got worried about you, and so I cast a perception spell. One that made everyone hear what you did when they were around you. Your guns weren’t telling you to kill yourself become of Adam or anyone else. It was because you’ve been through a ton of trauma, impacting your illness.”
“No! You’re lying! You’re lying like you always do!”
“Know what?” she asked, pushing herself up. “Yeah, I lie. I lie, I lie and I lie. It’s what I’ve always done and I’m damn good at it. But I swear to you, right now, I am telling the truth, and I only want what’s best for you. I only want to help.”
“Shut up!” I screamed, throwing another punch.
“Huh,” I said as she caught my fist mid-swing.
“I let you get one in,” she said, shoving me back down onto the couch.
Oh great, unexplained strength. Yet another thing she was hiding.
“I think you should go,” I threatened. If she didn’t leave, it wasn’t going to matter how strong she may have been, I would kill her.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “I think so too.” Rather than walk away immediately, she reached into her handbag, pulling out two peaches. “Here,” she said, placing them down on the arm of the couch. “Donald loved them too.”
She turned and walked away, heading for the door.
But even though all my emotions, all my fury was turned toward her, there was an itch in the back of my brain that I needed to scratch.
“Eve,” I spoke as she put her hand on the doorknob. “Who’s Brianna?”
She didn’t even turn around.
“I don’t know,” she answered, opening the door and leaving.
“Lies,” I said to myself, laying back on the couch. “Just more lies.”
She said she came here to talk about something, I thought. That probably wasn’t it. Maybe I should look into it.
Don’t worry about it, Bro, Dot said.
You don’t need her, Chewie added.
All you need is us, Sparky joined in.
We love you, Zelda continued.
And we always will, Kayla finished.
“Yeah, I said. “You’re right. I don’t need anyone else.”