Those Whom the Gods Love
“Tisiphone’s here.” Mariah flew through the window and crumpled onto the dirt floor. “She’s here. She threatened Michael, and he thought she was me. She knows she is forbidden to harm him, but he’s scared, he doesn’t know that. I thought we’d escaped her, that we could do this on our terms. We were sent to take care of things in this house, but no one told me we couldn’t take as long as we wanted.”
“Whatever gave you that idea, Alecto, or should I say Mariah?” the voice of Tisiphone came out of the darkness, “We were sent to bring a murderer to justice. Instead, you fell in love with that poor boy and wanted a taste of what a mortal life might be like. Only we aren’t mortal, and that means you are going to lose that boy you love so much. Now the one you came for is sitting in this house waiting for his next victim. You weren’t supposed to fall in love, pretend to be the ghost of the departed. You’re here to do your job and leave.” The apparition that had threatened Michael now stood before her.
Mariah stood up to face the figure clad in black. “I’m not scared of you, Tisiphone, not anymore. What can you do to me? I haven’t abandoned the task that was assigned me.”
“But you have, little sister. How many victims lie in the earth because you wanted to play in the mortal world? Tell me that!”
“We can’t take the monster until he’s dead, or on the verge of death. And he’s very much alive. We’ve made him afraid in his own home, where he thought he was safest. Those girls died, but not because of me. So I’ve played at being Mariah—I wanted to know what it was like to be human, for once, even a dead human. And now I know what it’s like to love, which I’ll never know again.” Bloody tears appeared in Mariah’s eyes.
Tisiphone’s expression softened for a moment, then stern. “All right little sister, I will forgive you this once. But the murderer must face justice. Do not forget that you cannot stay here, and do not stay here too long, or I will come and fetch you myself. We are here to do the bidding…”
“Yes, I know, the bidding of the gods,” Mariah/Alecto interrupted, “That’s why I’ve been here all along. You don’t need to lecture me. We were spared for a reason, now let me do it my way.”
“Just see that you do.” Tisiphone disappeared, leaving the two girls alone.
“That was close,” Crazy Girl shuddered, “She’s a real bitch, always has been. You’re lucky you got a pass, it could have gone another way.” Mariah said nothing, watching Crazy Girl fade back to the wraith she had been. “I warned you about falling for that boy.”
“And now I have to convince him the monster is going to go after his sister, and how can I do that if he wants nothing to do with me now? I almost wish Tisiphone would have stayed.” Mariah plopped down on the dirt that covered the grave that held the true Mariah’s bones. “I’m tired of this. When the Titans were killed we were spared, but for what? A lifetime of being the cops of the gods? I’m tired of this, tired of it all. I’m beginning to wish that I could be mortal, I want to rest now. It’s my turn.”
“That’s not for us, remember?” Crazy Girl warned her, “We have a purpose, we bring the guilty to justice, we weren’t asked if we wanted to, it’s our purpose. Eternity is your legacy, even if you don’t want it. We do what we do because no one else can do it. You never complained until you came here and started messing with that boy. You started this, now how are you going to finish it?”
“Well, I’m not going to finish it today. Damn you and Tisiphone! I’m still going to do things my way. I don’t care what you do to me. In the meantime, I have something to do.” She flew back out the window and into the darkness.
Michael couldn’t sleep. The revelation of the true Mariah, not the girl he had loved so much, but a strange creature from some mythological world played itself over and over in his head like a tape loop. Bad enough that he had come to believe in ghosts, worse still that old myths and fairy tales might be real.
He kicked off his sheets and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He threw on tee shirt and jeans, then opened his window. He paused a moment to breathe in the night air, the warm scent of early summer, then grabbed a branch of the old magnolia tree next to his window and climbed down it. He sat down in the old glider, swinging back and forth, trying not to think of anything and just let his mind wander.
What if she were real? How many girls disappeared every year? His town had its fair share of street kids, and though he looked down on them, he felt pity every time he heard that one of them went missing. How many of them were even found? How many Mariah’s lay rotting in basements and warehouses, or out in the woods like Susie McCann? How many bodies had been hidden in dumpsters like a newborn infant unwanted by its mother?
“Okay, Michael,” he told himself, “How much of a stretch is it to go from all the ugly things that go on in the world to believing that something exists out there to provide justice for those people who probably wouldn’t get it. You didn’t believe in ghosts until you moved into this house. Maybe it’s not such a stretch to believe that there are things you don’t know about simply because no one believes in them anymore. What did your English teacher say, that when people stopped believing in the old gods, they slowly started dying because they no longer had a place in the world?”
“It’s not much of a stretch, is it, Michael? A long time ago the gods spared three sisters because they had a very important task—to make sure that the guilty were punished. When the world was small, victims didn’t have to wait, but as the world grew, there were still only the three of us to do our work.” Mariah’s features seemed stern and serious in the moonlight.
She came and sat next to him, now in the form of Mariah. “Even when the rest of the Titans were killed, we weren’t, because we were needed. We find the guilty; bring them to justice, and then we repeat the cycle over and over again. That’s my blessing and my curse. I can help the helpless by giving them justice, but that’s all I can do. To do a thing like fall in love with a mortal is forbidden, but I did it. What I did was not fair to you, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. It’s never happened before, not to any of us. I’m the first one who broke the rules. I’ll always have memories of you, but you, you should forget that you ever found out I existed and, unfortunately, I don’t know how to do it. It’s all my fault.”
Michael got off the glider and turned his face from hers. He could not bear to look at her—hers was the face of deceit. He stood a moment breathing deeply, then turned around to face her, his fists clenched. “This is your fault, you should have left me alone. If you are some creature from back in time, you should have known what would happen. I’m the one taking the harm from this, you let me fall in love with you when you knew it was wrong. You did this to me. And I want you gone, I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“All right,” said Mariah, “but just remember, you pursued me too. If you’re going blame me, then blame yourself, too, because you had an equal part in this. I’ll stay away from you, but I’m not finished. There’s a murderer my sisters and I have to bring to justice, and he’s fixated on your sister. I don’t think you’re strong enough to handle him by yourself. Do you want to go to your grave knowing that you helped someone commit a murder—your sister’s?”
“Just. Go. Now. I’ll take care of my sister, I don’t need your help.”
“No Michael, you need my help, but you’ll have to find that out for yourself.” She vanished and Michael was left alone in the summer night.
How many times had Mariah disappeared from his life? The time he told himself he would not miss her. The heartbreakingly beautiful girl had turned out to be a monster in disguise, much like a changeling in as fairy tale. She had lied to him, betrayed him tricked him into falling in love with her. Well, he was free of her now, and he’d stay out of the clutches of any female so he wouldn’t be fooled again.
Dewey knew something was wrong but wasn’t sure if his hunch was right. On the outside, Mike seemed okay, but he seemed empty somehow as if he had lost a part of himself that completed him and made him whole. He wasn’t going to say anything; if Mike wanted to talk, he’d do it when he was ready. Dewey didn’t like this new Mike, but he was sure that his friend was in there somewhere. He had a feeling this had to do with the ghost girl Mike had been clinging to for the last two years. If she was gone, he’d breathe a sigh of relief that Mike had returned to a normal, ordered world.
It was Short Round that Michael couldn’t fool. He’d look into Short Round’s black eyes and know that the little Buddha was staring deep into his soul. There was pity in those eyes, but also a message that seemed to resound in the back of his mind. “I told you so, I told you so. I told you to be careful and you wouldn’t listen to me. Now you’re suffering the consequences of being so careless. I tried to warn you that she might not be what she seemed. You haven’t told me, but I know something is terribly wrong. You should have listened.”
Michael would turn away from Short Round, unable to look him in the eyes. Short Round had been right. He had allowed himself to be seduced by hair like chocolate silk and midnight blue eyes. He should have listened, then none of this would happen to him.
But then a voice would seem to whisper in his ear. “What about Mariah? She warned you about the danger lurking in that house, and it saved you and your sister twice. If it didn’t make a difference to her, why did she warn you? Why did she try to protect you? Does that mean nothing?”
He’d cover his ears and shake his head. He had the sensation that he was being sucked into a whirlpool, and Mariah was the center of it. It was the house, the neighborhood, the monster and Mariah that had him in this state. The only truth he believed now was that Kit did have to be protected—the monster would come after her, just as surely as he had attacked Michael in the alley. That he believed this truth because of Mariah, or the Mariah-thing, was something he would not allow himself to consider.
Thea, he ignored as best he could. She sensed, her woman’s intuition as she called it, that something had happened, but he treated her as if she was something that was now of no consequence. She wanted to confront him, shake him, bring him back to reality, but he’d warned her a long time ago that there would always be a distance between them that was insurmountable. She would have as much luck climbing Mount Everest as she would trying to get through to him, but she wished she could. She didn’t like being treated as if she was not there, but she didn’t know what to do about it.
Every year Michael kept a calendar, counting off until the last day of school. He had started on the first of June, now it was the fifth. Three more days until Dewey graduated. The marking off of days until the end of school had always been a joyous ritual, but now it felt like the counting down to an execution, a thing to dread, though he could not bring himself to stop.
Michael knew he shouldn’t be selfish, but it was hard to be happy these days. Dewey was excited and nervous all at the same time at the prospect of graduation and starting college. He and Anya were busy with exams and state testing for graduation. They had already taken their SAT’s and ACT’s. Dewey didn’t want to leave his friends, but in September he and Anya would be heading to Dartmouth, and a new life together. Michael would see him only on holidays and during the summers. He reminded himself that he too, could attend Dartmouth, but the thought of going to Los Angeles and living in California, being around more professional skaters was too tempting to turn away. Short Round had decided to join him and having his friend with him would keep him from feeling completely cut off from his old life.
He turned back to his calendar, ripping it off the wall and crumpling it. The inoffensive piece of paper was projected out his window with the accuracy of his pitch in Little League. He didn’t want his life to change, no part of it, with the exception perhaps of Thea. Mariah maybe, if she came back as her old self and not the thing that disgusted him. The year had started out with so much promise, now it seemed only a thing to be dreaded. Summer suddenly felt funereal, the death of happiness and hope, and the end of all things good and right.
He went downstairs, slamming his bedroom door shut behind him. Both his parents were at work, so there was no admonishment from his mother about door slamming. He grabbed an apple, and with pack and skateboard in hand he went out the front door, making sure it was locked, then headed to the bus.
He intended to hurry past the house, but his feet began to drag him slowly to the ruins of the fence. He looked up, not sure what he expected to see, but he felt like he was being pulled like iron filings to a magnet. The two windows like two eyes seemed to stare straight at him, taunting him with the secret they held that he could not penetrate. “Something is here,” the voice in his head whispered to him. He wished the voice would leave him alone, but it grew more frequent these days. He remembered what the medium had told him, and he covered his ears. “No, I don’t want this,” he said out loud, startling passersby. Something was happening to him that he could not seem to stop, and he ran up the hill to the bus as if running would make it go away.
At school, the “broody Michael” seemed to be in control. He rolled on his skateboard past Dewey and Short Round and headed straight to his locker. He pulled out the books he needed and shoved his backpack into the locker. Then, carefully, he fit his skateboard in, being careful not to slam the door, which he really wanted to do.
The lack of sleep from the night before was catching up with him. At lunch, he answered his friends in grunts and monosyllables; while in history he slipped and addressed his teacher as “Molly”, instead of “Mrs. Miller”. The class laughed, and he slumped down in his chair as far as he could, wondering what happened to make him use her nickname. He didn’t like to disrespect his teachers, was, in fact, a good and attentive student. Now he wondered who had stepped into his body and done that, embarrassed and ashamed at what he had done.
Molly answered glibly, wondering what was wrong. “It’s Mrs. Miller, please, Michael, or Divine Goddess. You can sit up straight now, you’re not doing a very good job of hiding under your desk.” The class laughed again, letting Michael realize he’d been let off the hook. He straightened up and exhaled, trying to shake the fog from his head. What the hell was wrong with him anyway?
Short Round caught up with him at lunch, steering him towards the table where Dewey and Anya sat when he would have veered off towards another table.
“No, you don’t,” Short Round said under his breath, “You’re not the only one having trouble dealing with this. You and I are going to sit at the table with them and act like we’re just as excited that they’re graduating as they are. And if Thea decides to sit down, you’ll be polite to her too. From today on, we aren’t going to think about ourselves. When Dewey leaves for school in the fall we can sulk all we like. You’ve been nothing but attitude lately, dude, so cut it out.”
“Okay, okay, but let go of my freaking shoulder,” Michael wanted to rub his arm, but his hands were full. Short Round liked to call himself the voice of reason, but this was one of the rare times he was right. He set his tray down, and forced a smile on his face, greeting Dewey and Anya as though nothing was wrong. He sat and listened patiently for the hundredth time to the plans Dewey and Anya had made. They were going to have to live in separate dorms, but they’d find a way to get around it. Some of the classes they were required to take were lame, but their sophomore year would improve. And they’d fly home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Michael tried to shut it all out. This was a torment worse than finding out about Mariah. He wondered if she and Crazy Girl were still in the old house, keeping a careful watch on the monster. He knew he was still living there, he’d seen fresh tire tracks the previous morning. Maybe it had been as harmless as a trip for groceries, but since Susie McCann’s body had been found, he hadn’t been able to walk by the house without wondering if he’d added yet another body to his private cemetery in the basement. After all, John Wayne Gacy had bodies buried all over his house.
“Michael?” Hearing Anya’s husky voice calling his name broke him out of his reverie. “You seem so far away; is something wrong?”
“Nah, just thinking about how different it’s going to be once you guys are gone.” He hoped his answer had been adequate. Anya seemed to accept it, but Dewey’s blue eyes were boring into his. No, he hadn’t bought it, and Michael hadn’t really expected him to.
The lunch bell rang, and they dumped garbage and lunch trays. Short Round grabbed him again, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Michael shook his head. “Okay, Blondie, I give up. See you at the skate park after school.” Michael watched him disappear down the hall. Plenty was wrong, but he wasn’t going to tell him that. He was just going to have to do a better job of pretending everything was okay.
After school, Short Round didn’t shut up. They had taken the bus and were going to meet Dewey at the park, but now Michael wished he’d ridden with Dewey. Short Round seemed to be talking about anything that came into his head and Michael had no luck in shutting him out. He wanted to grab the Little Buddha and shake him until his teeth started rattling and he couldn’t talk anymore. Michael wanted silence, silence to mourn the three days left until Dewey’s graduation.
“Don’t you get it,” he wanted to say, “Our lives are about to change and nothing will be the same again--ever. Our best friend is leaving, there’s only the two of us. Why are you acting so damned normal? The Band of Brothers is breaking up, our lives as we know them are over. We’re growing up and I am not ready for this to happen. How can you just sit there and talk?”
When the bus came to a stop, he got off and jumped on his skateboard and steering his skateboard over to where Dewey and Anya were waiting. For the first time, he noticed, really noticed, that Dewey was changing. He seemed older, more mature than his friends. He looked at Anya with an expression that Michael had never seen before, there was a kind of joy on his face when he looked at her that Michael didn’t like. How could he be glad he was leaving his two best friends—friends he had literally grown up with, that he had been through so much with?
Short Round rescued him. “Dude,” he said to Dewey, ignoring Michael. What time is the commencement ceremony going to be? Are you gonna do Senior Skip Day, or chicken out?”
“I’m not chickening out on anything,” Dewey retorted, “I don’t want anything coming between me and graduation, so I’m going to skip the “skip”. Commencement is at eight o’clock, so you jokers better be there. I’ll skip the whole thing if you jerks don’t show up—and just think how happy my parents would be about that. Get your asses straight to my house after the ceremony and make sure the beer is hidden. Three days, guys, three days and no more high school forever.”
Michael was at a loss for words, so he fell back on the familiar. “Let’s get our butts on the course. We’ve got a lot of skating to do between now and when you leave for Dartmouth.”