sibling rivalry

204 Seconds

                In the corner stood brawny Arturo. Arturo, the prototype heavyweight—equally thick around the waist and chest, not a curve to his figure, just a straight line from shoulder to toe. Nose arched and aching from a dozen old breaks—he wondered how he came to be a supporting player in his own life. A long arc lead him here, always the bass player in the background, always the silent scene partner. From the first moments—when he was born the quiet second twin to his bawling older brother Balto—to his marriage—where he and his equally timid wife were overshadowed by the bold proposal by the best man to the maid of (also Balto), he felt most comfortable in the shadows. And so it was still. Arturo, flinty enforcer, watched the Big Boss McGuin beat Art’s own twin brother to death.

                “Art…” The bludgeoned Balto whispered, his tone somewhere between plea and rebuke, “Art…”

                Will you really just stand here? He asked himself. Doing nothing?

                The meat-fisted McGuin, just as broad as the lunk Arturo if not nearly a head or two as high, himself had the same thought. Resting a moment from the once-over, he laughed, a wheezing, corrosive howl, and turned back to the silent Art.

                “Maybe he’ll listen to you, yeah? Don’t twins have some kind uh… psychic connection er summat?” The cudgel in his hand was pointed right at Art, business end forward. McGuin flipped it effortlessly, displaying an agility that belied his bulk and presented the handle for Arturo to wield.

“Make ‘im sing Art. Earn your Starbucks.”

After the nastiest jobs, torture—or information extraction, as McGuin termed it—or murder—corp’real removal was the affable McGuin-ism—he always took the perpetrator of his mandated crimes out for coffee. Art stared at the cudgel, blinking slowly, remembering all the times he would have grabbed it glady and bashed his brash brother Balto’s skull in. His audacious proposal at the inauguration of Art’s ill-fated marriage. All the times as kids when they wrestled and Balto always, always won.

“Those 204 seconds catch up to ya!” He’d laugh, referencing the difference in time between their births. “I can see your next move coming, before ya even think of it!” And he was right too. Two minutes and 24 seconds later, Art would close his eyes and see the fight unfold once more… from his Brother’s perspective. Every move perfectly predicted, only after the fact instead of before. Alas, if only he had been the elder twin. Maybe then he might’ve become a star.

After each fight, Balto would tousle Art’s hair affectionately and bound off on another adventure. A machine of perpetual motion, he sought the next thrill, the next surprise. Balto closed his eyes and saw the future. He closed his eyes and saw himself moving upwards towards brilliance. Up and up, until…

None of that energy remained in the battered man now. Not with both his legs, all ten fingers and ten toes, twisting in different directions. Not with his face a red mass and a dozen of his teeth on the floor. Art waited for the familial compassion to set in, waited for the instinct to refuse his task to rise. Yet his hand went to the proferred handle, and even then he expected to grasp it and bash McGuin’s face in. He could just imagine rescuing his brother, killing the crimelord, all the while screaming “Who’s the star now, eh? Who’s the star?”

But he did none of those things. Slick wooden cudgel in hand, he walked over to his brother, trussed and moaning, and for a while said nothing at all.

“Art, pl-”

THWACK! Balto’s head jolted back, eyes wide in shock for a moment, before they closed and his neck bent at a crooked angle. SMOSH! His skull grew a sudden dent, leaking fluids from a puncture made by jutting bone. Art let rise and fall the wooden weapon another half-dozen times, until the once identical siblings had very little left in common indeed. Balto’s lungs filled with air a few more times; his heart let out a few more beats; his muscles twitched, perhaps out of instinct or his natural born stubbornness, before subsiding entirely.

In the room, only Art and a stunned McGuin remained.

“Christ,” Stammered McGuin, “Did ya really? Did ya have to-Christ, Art! I mean, it was only a little bit o’money, but… well, Christ!”

Art didn’t respond, he dropped the cudgel at the feet of the lifeless mass once named Balto, retreating back to his corner. Back to the shadows. For a few moments, he didn’t say anything, then he checked his watch.

“Give me… two and a half minutes boss. I’ll tell you where the money is.”

Remembrance

                No matter how far you fall, no matter how deep the hole. There is always a way to freedom. Someone casts a line into the abyss and you take hold. You cling to the smooth, frictionless walls as they hoist you toward the light and who you once were. And you are rescued. But there comes a time, when you are almost back at the surface—when you can feel the sun on your face and the wind tickles your nose—where they can pull you no further. Where you must climb the rest of the way and liberate yourself.

                That moment for me comes now.

                It is dark, though whether that is because it is the dead of night, or just the regular fugue state of my disassociated self I cannot say. There is a part of me that remembers… everything. Cayne, our Mother Eve, a battle between us on a level larger than the moons and stars, on a level smaller than quark or atom. We came to blows over the fate of the universe, and I was defeated. I fell far. So far. And that part of me is furious, that part of me craves vengeance. That part of me is also miniscule. The larger portion of me forgets, is confused, drools like a senile old man, and listens to stories. I can see the sun on the horizon, I feel the wind, but still I am trapped. Without a push, I may stay here forever.

                But then, in the dark, I have a visitor. A presence that, even in the fog, I remember well.

                “Oh, Aible… what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”

                Cayne? Here? I try to speak. I try to scream, but all I can manage is to gurgle. My eyes flutter desperate, the flames in them still far too dim.

                I am deeper in the hole than I realize.

                “Do you remember being born brother? I do. I remember the darkness before, being little more than an idea, than a blink. The heat, remember the heat brother? The heat and the water, bubbling around us? We didn’t know where we were, or what, or why?”

When I squint, I can see him standing just before me, pacing back and forth. Working himself into a fury. Even kingship, it seems, does not heal old wounds.

“But there was the voice, whispering, singing, calling us forth with words we did not yet understand. My children… come my children… I know now that is what she said. Souls percolated through us and we were imbued with many selves, a countless selection of faces, as befitting us Gods. And then there was the light, pulling us toward it. And we flew up… up… until there we were. In Eve’s garden. Me first and then you.”

Here he stops, and leans down to my level, squeezing my shoulders with his hands. They bite me, and if I could do anything more than dopily meet his gaze, grimace and groan with the pain, I would. In my mind’s eye, I rise up and wallop him in those crazed, fiery eyes. I… I… do more than that also.

“Remember that, brother? *I* was first. Then why were you made king?”

You were too jealous brother, too possessive and too volatile. I see nothing has changed but your title. How has our multiverse suffered for your folly?

In reality I do not respond. I am an invalid. Perhaps I fart loudly as my brother, the usurper Jorah Cayne, sniffs disdainfully and steps away.

“No, it seems you do not. You have lost much, dear Aible. Forgotten more. And that is what makes a God, John… I should call you just John now, shouldn’t I? A human name for a mere human? What makes a God-”

He steps back, and I see myself stepping with him. Grabbing some nearby metal and making a new hole in his abdomen and another… and another. But in reality I merely tremble in my chair.

CAYNE! How dare you take from me? My rebellion continues only in stillness and silence.

“What makes a God, John, is we do not forget. Not a single thing.”

He turns from me, preparing to leave. Walking away, he does not look back.

“You’ve forgotten everything, John. Less than a man, you are. These creatures, at least, remember that they will die.”

He does not walk to the door, as he approaches it, it seems to stretch further and further away. He slowly disappears in the middle distance, facing with shadow back into the All. Still, his voice echoes, even when the room is empty.

Goodbye, John… I do not expect we will meet again.

I imagine the smile on his face, smug and certain. I remember what he took from me, my memories and faces draining away, joining with his own. I remember our Mother, cast from All’s locus and forced to create her own world in the distant eddies of a distant universe.

Meadows with leaves dancing in a whirlwind. I see her face, streaked with tears. “When it is time. When you remember…”

I remember a titanic struggle, on a battlefield of where and when. Stretching back and forth across the cosmos and through time. But I cannot remember how I lost. Perhaps those memories will return to me. But now-

-now I must leave.

The shackles come away like butter. I scrabble up the walls, scratching upwards with my nails seeking desperate purchase. I float up out of the chair, dark fire in my eyes. I can feel the sun. The sun. THE SUN. I remember. I remember what I must do. And where I must go. A meadow, tall grasses swaying in the wind. Mother Eve’s sad face. “When you remember… come to me.” The wind, it howls in my ears, crying vengeance.

“I was… I was…”

A strong hand closes around mine, a familiar grasp, this time it does not constrain but tugs me forward, freer of my restraints, further from the chair. Out… out… into the hall. I look into its owner’s kind, gentle eyes, gray and mournful, and I remember the stories. And I know what stranger cast me the first line, hoisting me back to myself.

“No John, you are-”

I shake my head at that name. That small human name.

“Not John, not today. Call me Aible.”

He doesn’t miss a beat.

“And Aible is…”

Alarms sound in the hall, such quiet insignificant sounds now. No drug can cloak me, my memories fill me with a great force. A power, though insignificant compared to that I once knew, still strong enough to effect my escape.

“I was. I am. I will be-”

I close my eyes and picture my destination. A distant meadow. Home to deific castaways. Eve. I open them and finish my thought.

“KING!”

The aide, still by my side, nods as if he has suspected this all along. And perhaps he has.

“King Aible. My name is Ricard. All my life I’ve sought someone worth serving, coming closer sometimes than others, but never quite landing with the right cause.”

His hand shakes in mine.

“I’ve sinned, King Aible. I’ve taken lives without cause, all in the name of small men. And I must repent. I think serving you, I might be able to begin.”

I look in his eyes and see devotion, and also something more. Something that tickles me, and stoked other memories of how human men once served…

“Very well,” I allow. “Come along, but hold to me tight. This is a long journey we make. And we make it all at once.”

He does not respond, but his grasp on my fingers grows the stronger.

I smile, fierce and proud and angry, teeth glittering in my skull. Eyes lighted with black fire. And as other aides pile in, armed to the nines with tranquilizers and rifles, quavering before how openly I have regained myself, we step into the air.

And disappear from the prison that trapped us both.