I thought I was really in it. In it, you know? Like, in tune with the movement, with She. I was working towards Her return, doing what was asked of me. Had been since I was sixteen-damn-years old. Bought in. Completely.
See? See what I mean? You have to come back. You have to tear me apart. Come back, little raven and bite my face. You owe it to the world. Rid it of me.
I got the message this morning. It came blinking through the static and sent the television into the radiating blue signifying transmission. My stomach used to just dance when I saw that screen. It was like stepping into the cart of the rollercoaster and pulling the handlebar down. You know you’re getting ready for one hell of a ride.
It Is Time. She Returns. Plan 9 Is Now In Effect.
The screen disintegrated back into statical snow.
You couldn’t have wiped the stupid smile off my face with a nine-pound hammer. It was fucking ingrained. Plan 9 was what we’d all been working towards. The End Result.
I left immediately, grabbed only my duffel bag; the television still blaring noise, all of the lights shining their sixty-watt resplendence, toast left to burn or pop up for nothing and nobody in the toaster. I mean I didn’t even put shoes on. I was that ready.
One SeaGate stood like a glass shrouded phallus penetrating the low slung, pre-winter Toledo haze. That was my target. My tiny part of Plan 9. And why would a building in bumfuck Toledo, Ohio have any significance? Sure, it was the tallest building in T-Town but who fucking cares, right? What’s that matter? How’s that having any real pull in bringing on the destruction of the world?
Good fucking question.
I guess that’s the thing about cults: they can make you believe just about anything. I fully understood that by bringing down that building in downtown Toledo, I had a definite hand in bringing on the End of the World.
It was supposed to be a coordinated attack, as I’m sure you’re already well aware of. Across the United States, big, ugly buildings were gonna be reduced to rubble. All at the stroke of 1:38pm the day Plan 9 was in effect. Midday chaos. Postnoon mayhem. She sweeping down in torrents of broken glass and rising flames. We, the chosen, waiting and ready.
Things didn’t go as planned.
Come back, little raven. Please. I’ve been waiting. Endless waiting. Just tear these eyes out. That’s the least you could do. I don’t ask for much. Just rip them out so I don’t have to see it. Still standing, still fucking the slate gray sky. Please.
I knew what to do. We all did. We went over it every night and then again first thing every morning. It could happen any day. We were close. That was the rationale.
I left the car running, door wide open, in front of the building. Just pulled right up, grabbed the duffel and got out. I’m not sure I even put it in park. Wouldn’t really matter in a matter of--I checked my watch--fifteen minutes anyway. She would descend and all would end.
As I pushed open the door to the lobby, I unzipped the duffel and slid the safety off my Vigil Candle. The door hadn’t fully shut behind me when I lit the place up. Just snapping back heads and dropping bodies already working towards room temperature. I really let the Light Shine.
I don’t remember the screams. I guess that’s just something you get used to hearing after so many. Just more static, workplace ambiance.
I made my way to the elevator and rode to the top. I do remember the muzak in there though. Awful. Truly awful. I think it was Celine Dion or Whitney Houston or something but all in simple, somehow pixelated sounding synth.
The elevator stopped at thirty-two and I got out. Guess somebody had called ahead because when the door opened people were already screaming. They didn’t for long though. I took care of that.
Aside from my Vigil Candle, I also had the Harbinger of Light: several Votives strapped together and wired to S-H-I-N-E. After Lighting the room, I got back on the elevator and switched it to STOP then popped up the panels on the ceiling. I climbed up, duffel strapped across my shoulder, and looked over the edge. Thirty-two stories might not seem like much to the likes of the metropolitan cretin but to a little Midwestern punk like me it looked like forever. Couldn’t even really make out the bottom. Just a darkness that wasn’t quite black.
I made sure everything was in place on the Harbinger and let it fall. I watched it for a moment, seeming to dance some flitting dance on its way down. Moving first to the left then back towards center in some unseen draft to some unheard melody. I didn’t watch long. I didn’t want to ride it out in the elevator shaft.
I left the duffel on top of the elevator, taking the Vigil Candle in hand--safety still off--and climbed back down. I hadn’t made it four steps into the lobby of the thirty-second floor when I heard her.
“Please, please,” her frantic whispers carried well in the post-massacre quiet. “I don’t know where he went. He shot everyone. He just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. I’m scared.”
She was behind the reception desk. I reached around and grabbed her by her blonde ponytail. I heard that scream.
You gotta come back. Raven. You gotta come back. I think you realize what I’ve done. Please come bite my face. Tear out my eyes.
She begged. They all do. It’s, like, engrained in the human condition or something. Nobody wants to die, especially the uninitiated. Neophytes think life is all there is.
I didn’t kill her though. The image of the two of us riding out Oblivion on the roof together was just too beautiful to pass up. I could almost make out the reflection of She descending in the blonde's glassy, amazed eyes. I took the cellphone from her hands and let it drop to the carpet.
It was much colder on the roof than it had been down on the street. It stung my eyes and blurred my vision, brought snot trickling out of my nose. I redoubled my grip on the blonde’s ponytail and stepped outside.
I checked my watch. Four minutes to Babylon.
She was crying. I guess she knew nobody would hear her screams from this high up.
“Relax,” I said. “It’s almost over.”
Her panic did nothing to me. After you’ve killed as many as I’ve killed, it’s like you’re vaccinated against it. I kicked the back of her legs with my bare foot and let go of her hair after she’d dropped to her knees.
She didn’t try to run. That’s something else most of them do: they get all passive and, like, resigned to your control of the situation.
I thought about my Brothers and Sisters in Los Angeles, waiting on top of the US Bank Tower. My Brethren atop the Sears in Chicago, the 400 West Market in Louisville, One World Trade Center in New York. All waiting. Eyes turned towards the midday sky. Harbingers of Light tick-tock-ticking hundreds of feet below them.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
I looked down and saw that she’d stopped crying. Her cheeks shone in the gray, cloud-filtered light. She looked defiant now. The question was more demand than askance.
“Because I must,” I said.
That’s when it started. As soon as the words left my mouth it sounded like they clanged down onto the roof of One SeaGate like a hollow tube.
“That’s not an answer,” she said.
She was right. That realization dropped the bottom out of my stomach but not in the fun rollercoaster way. I felt naked up there. The wind, as if on cue, whipped into my face and brought tears stinging to my eyes.
She was shivering all over, outside in November in just her maroon office dress. Loose strands of her blonde hair, undone by my hand, moved around like medusan snakes with the flow of chilly, rooftop air.
I looked away. I found I couldn’t hold her gaze. I felt my cheeks redden but not from the cold.
“Is it because you think nobody loves you?” she asked.
“Are you doing this because you’re lonely? Because you don’t think anybody understands you? Because you think that you’re unlovable?”
I laughed, or tried to. It was a poor imitation of snide barking.
But I didn’t believe she would. I couldn’t see anymore. I was crying.
I’m not alive for anyone. I think you realize what I’ve done.
Come back, little raven, here by my face.
I watched the second hand near the apex of its circle. I turned my eyes to the sky. I can admit now that I didn’t expect to see anything. I hoped if She came that She wouldn’t hold that against me. I scanned the gray but nothing happened. I closed my eyes but kept my chin jutted upwards.
Seconds passed. Then minutes.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked me.
I opened my eyes to the underside of the stratus clouds, hung low and oppressive. They were moving, languidly, the wind calmly blowing in off Lake Erie.
“Nobody’s here but you and me,” she said. “Who are you waiting for?”
I let the Vigil Candle drop from my hand. It clattered at my feet. She didn’t move to pick it up. She watched it fall then looked back up to me, still on her knees.
I pictured the Harbinger of Light plopping onto the basement floor of the elevator shaft and the wiring coming undone, despite my best efforts at ensuring it was sound. It just sat there, the timer showing all zeros, useless.
I walked over to the edge and leaned against the railing. The updraft lifted the hair off my neck and brought fresh goosebumps rippling across my body.
She’s not coming, I thought. I’ve failed.
My thoughts sounded as hollow to me as my words did. As my forced laugh did.
Without materializing into words, everything flooded into images and colors and feelings. All the hoping for an end, The End. All the planning and all the carrying out of the plans, Plan 9. All the people I’ve killed. All the people I’ve watched killed.
All for nothing.
I found my legs, suddenly, couldn’t support my weight. I dropped onto the seat of my Goodwill chinos, back against the railing.
“What were you expecting?” she asked.
She still made no move for the gun. I guess she too realized I was no longer a threat.
“Are you fucking serious?” she spat. “You shot up the place. Killed everyone and for what? You thought Jesus was coming down to lift you up?”
I made to shake my head but found the effort too strenuous. I think it might have creaked a hair to the left then settled back still but it’s doubtful. Doesn’t matter now anyway.
“No, I think Jesus would’ve been too high-minded for a fuck up like you,” she was still on her knees but she seemed twenty-feet tall. “No, you were probably waiting on a fucking flying saucer to swoop down and take you to Mars or some shit. You fucking asshole.”
She, formerly such a concrete part of my existence, was becoming an abstraction. The face I imagined all these years, high cheek bones, defiant eyes, full lips upturned to sneer at the world, dissolved like sand in water.
Fuck, I thought.
I’m not alive for anyone.
I think you realize what I’ve done.
Despite the cliché, it all came crashing down. Everything I’d done for the past seven years. It felt like one long shift at a meaningless job. A near decade of menial activity. I wasn’t sorry for all the people I killed or the things I’d done, per se. I was sorry for wasting all that time. For being deceived. For allowing myself to be deceived. For committing myself to something as paper thin and see through as off brand broth.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” she said.
I let my chin touch my chest then lifted it up again.
Yes. I’m a fucking idiot.
I reached up and behind and grasped the railing. I pulled myself up. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she shouted.
I heard her scrambling to her feet. I heard the metal of the Vigil Candle scrape as it was lifted. I didn’t have to see. I didn’t care to see.
Once on my feet, the crushing weight of my idiocy was overbearing. I tottered, nearly fell but turned and balanced myself on the SeaGate’s railing.
“You’re not getting away with this,” she shouted. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done, fucker.”