The temperature in Seattle
was a brisk 42 degrees on the morning of September 29, but the ever-present
clouds made it seem much colder. The snow had stopped halfway through
the night, and the morning commute had produced its share of fender benders.
By noontime, the sun had attempted to peek from the cloud cover, made it
for about ten minutes or so, then given up and resigned to leave the city
in dim grayness.
Sappho was unaware of the early morning sunshine, however. The single window in her room looked out over a brick walled alley, and even on the rare sunny day, it did not shine down into the narrow space. Not that she would have noticed, wrapped in a dingy blanket face down on a bare mattress. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels lay next to the bed, its neck inviting the cockroaches to squirm into it for the last dregs of the liquid. Next to that, an ashtray overflowed onto the threadbare carpet. The window was open slightly, as if in concession to the urge to remain in the fresh air; the stink of garbage filtered in with the cold.
Sappho twitched slightly in her sleep: she dreamed frequently, but did not remember. But this was a different dream, a terrifying one. She was trapped in a fire: it raged out of control all around her. She could barely make out other figures in the flames. She tried to scream to them, but her mouth would not make words, and all that came out was an impotent whine, like a kicked cub.
She came awake suddenly, still whining and thrashing in the folds of the blanket. For a second, muffled in the sweaty darkness, she was so disoriented she tried to change shape.
Then she remembered she had lost the wolf within years ago, and her life came crashing back in on her.
She sat up quickly, too quickly for her pounding head, and felt her stomach churn and hot liquid rise into her throat. She threw off the covers and headed for the bathroom, barely making it through the peeling door and across the discolored tile before last night’s fast food lurched its way out of her mouth. She knelt on the floor and heaved until there was nothing left to come up, then crawled to the sink, and dragged herself to a half standing position.
She ran the water until it was so cold it felt as if it burned her skin, then scooped up big handfuls and hurled them into her face. The shock of it staggered her for a moment, then she shakily stood upright and hung her head over the sink.
oh, dont i just look nice?... she thought, and the idea raised a fresh surge of nausea in her. She wandered back out into her room, and picked her jacket up off the floor. There was a crushed pack of cigarettes in the pocket, and she shook one out and lit it, shivering as she let the smoke roll down her throat. It caused another hacking fit that lasted a full five minutes, but she felt better for having the nicotine in her blood.
Then she started looking around the room for the bottle she knew she’d brought home last night. She found it – empty except for roaches – under her bed where she’d kicked it in her mad dash for the bathroom. She flung it down in disgust and racked her brain for a name of someone who owed her money – or from whom she could borrow money – to hit the liquor store with. But no names were forthcoming, so she decided her best course of action would be to hit up one of the churches along the Sea-Tac strip. She’d done it before, it required a good sob story and a willingness to agree with whatever the preacher wanted to hear, but it was as good as free money.
And besides, it was nowhere near the end of the month, and she was nearly broke, as usual.
what day is it?
And to that end she switched on the TV, perched precariously on a wobbly kitchen chair three feet from her bed. The day’s usual helping of talk shows spilled into her little world, someone was taking off a shoe to throw it at someone else, while a stern faced host played at retaining control of his audience. She turned channels in disgust.
like the fuckin’ last days of the roman empire … they’re gonna start puttin’ the electric chair on any day now …
Usually, the Weather Channel had the date and time. She scanned up the dial, her skin taking on a sickly blue-green from the light spilling from the screen. Then, something else caught her eye. Live footage on CNN, which she’d stopped watching years ago
got no more tears for this doomed world...
arrested her attention. A reporter standing in swirling snow, backed by a burning building. The logo at the bottom of the screen read “Montana Siege: America Under the Gun”.
Something stirred in the back of her alcohol fogged mind. She flipped the sound on, just in time to catch the recap.
“ATF agents, in a daring mid-morning raid, believe they have successfully put an end to the radical “Evergreen Warrior” movement, with the death of several of the leaders and the successful capture of most of the rest of the group. Agents reacting to a tip that this secluded trailer park was the home base for most of the groups’ deadly ‘missions for Mother Earth’ as an anonymous manifesto sent to news agencies last year called them, surrounded the area early today. There was an exchange of fire and ATF spokesman informed CNN that the decision was made for a surgical strike targeted at the leaders, in the hope that those who remained would surrender. This was carried out at approximately 1:30 PST this afternoon, with the cooperation of state and local….” the announcer put his hand to the earphone, then paused and frowned before speaking again.
“We’ve just received word that the leader, 37-year old Brenda Tubman, was confirmed as being killed in the fire that swept through this trailer an hour ago…” the camera panned back to reveal the smoking remains of a small mobile home.
Sappho’s jaw dropped. The cigarette she held in her hand slipped from her fingers and bounced on her foot before hitting the carpet. She absently picked it up and flipped it into the sink.
brenda tubman …boudiccea … oh sweet gaia they finally got her …
And, as if to drive home the shock, a picture popped up on the screen: it wasn’t a good likeness, blurred and grainy like a surveillance photo, but it was enough. The clincher was the white streak of hair running down the left side of her sister’s cheek. In the picture, she stood in a doorway, looking out. It had been taken at some distance, and if there were any wrinkles on her face, as there were on Sappho’s, they did not show. Her sister looked as fresh as she had five – no, more like eight – years ago.
She raised her hands to her face, trembling now. She covered her mouth. She began to sob, but no tears came. She hadn’t wept in 15 years; she thought herself incapable of tears.
Her dead sister stared out of the TV screen at her, silently accusing.
oh dear goddess it wasn’t supposed to be like this …oh boudiccea im so sorry …oh sister it should have been me that died, not you …
“… several accomplices still at large. State and Federal authorities are stressing the fact that these individuals should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. If you believe you know the whereabouts of any of these individuals, do not attempt to apprehend them. A special number has been set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, it’s a toll-free number, we’ll be showing it on the screen in just a moment…”
The television continued to chatter to an empty room. Sappho was crawling under the sink, searching for her old duffel bag. She found it, upended it to dump out a dead mouse and several roaches, and then began throwing her clothing, what little she had of it, into the open pack.
oh gaia I’m next … artemis has finally started it … they’ll be here for me …they aint taking me so easy … oh gaia sister, why did it have to end like this????…
She glanced up at the TV just long enough to see a school photo of a young man with bleached bangs and a serious expression flash across the screen.
“Bruce Kenneth Tubman, aka Kenneth Tubman is believed to have escaped the inferno of the compound just moments before the raid. As Ms. Tubman’s son and accomplice, he is considered the acting leader of the cult now. ATF agents have several good leads on his whereabouts; but they further caution that he may be traveling in the company of armed guards. If you have any information on the whereabouts of Bruce Kenneth Tubman, the number you are seeing on your screen now is the special toll-free number set up by the ATF…”
Sappho stopped and frowned, confused. She knew there were three boys. But the news was only speaking of one.
maybe she sent them back to live with their daddy...
or maybe he’s the one …
She regarded the face she saw on the screen. Funny haircut, cocky look on his face, but other than that, no sign if he was one of the changing breed. Perhaps Boudiccea had thrown no successor.
they wouldn’t be looking for him so hard if he wasn’t…
She pushed the thought away. She had things to do.
She paused to light a cigarette, then hoisted her bag and carried it into the bathroom. Some of her dirty laundry was strewn about, under the sink. She squatted to retrieve it, stuffing it blindly into the bag.
Then she stood and looked into the mirror.
Her sister stood behind her, face pale as death, reflected in the glass.
what th’ FUCK?????
Sappho spun about wildly, dropping the bag and spilling its contents across the dirty tiles. She was suddenly colder than she had ever felt in her life.
Behind her stood Boudiccea, staring at her. Her sister seemed hazy, as though she stood behind a gauze curtain. Sappho shook her head violently.
is she a spook, or is it just the booze?…
I AM NO SPOOK! her sister’s voice echoed in the room, booming off the tile. Several of the looser pieces peeled away from the wall and fell, shattering into the tub. Sappho felt the whole room shake under her feet.
THIS IS WHAT ARTEMIS’ PLANS HAVE WROUGHT! LOOK AT ME, SISTER, and with this, she spread her hands out, and Sappho could see fire playing over her sister’s body, blackening it in waves. She clasped a hand to her mouth and turned away, dry heaving into the tub.
Now Sappho was on her knees before her sister’s vengeful wraith. Boudiccea’s face darkened, came back to itself again, as flames flitted across it. Sappho looked up, shivering, tears streaming down her face.
I’m crying…at least I die crying… she thought disjointedly.
DO NOT GIVE ME YOUR THROAT, SISTER, I HAVE NO DESIRE TO TAKE IT! the voice boomed again, and Sappho was aware that her sister’s lips had not moved.
I SHOULD LET YOU DIE. I SHOULD REJOICE IN YOUR DEATH. BUT I CANNOT. THEY COME FOR YOU NEXT, SISTER. TAKE HEED AND RUN. YOUR PART IN THIS TRAGEDY IS WELL KNOWN IN THE WORLD BEYOND THIS ONE.
She raised her arms in a kind of benediction, and Sappho knew terror then, because she had once seen the face of Gaia, and now Boudiccea shone with the same fire, the same energy, as had the all-mother herself.
Sappho opened cracked lips to speak, but all that came out was a whimper. She knelt at Boudiccea’s feet, clumsily pawing the floor, trying to remember the Rite of Contrition she had known so long ago. It wasn’t meant to be done in Homid form, but Sappho now had no other.
DID YOU NOT WONDER WHY YOU LOST THE WOLF WITHIN YOU, SISTER? DID YOU NOT CONSIDER IT A PUNISHMENT FROM GAIA? STOP GROVELING AND LISTEN: YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A GEAS, AND IF YOU SUCCEED, YOU WILL BE FORGIVEN.
Sappho lifted a tear-smudged face and stared at her sister. Then Boudiccea knelt and brushed Sappho’s hand with her fingers, and Sappho’s mind exploded with images.
The boys, all three of them, popped into her head, and the vampire her sister had married – Tommie – was there as well. Then, the scene grew dark, and she could see a funeral procession, three hearses winding their way through the hills.
IF THESE THINGS COME TO PASS –And here Boudiccea sighed heavily –THEN WE ARE ALL DOOMED – THE WYRM WILL WIN. BUT WE ARE AS WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN, SISTER. WE ARE PAWNS IN THE GAME BETWEEN WYLD, WEAVER AND WYRM. WE MUST MAKE OUR MOVES, PLAY OUR PARTS.
MY SONS ARE OUT THERE – THEY ARE NAKED WITHOUT ME – FIND THEM AND TEACH THEM – BRUCE WILL GROW TO BE A GREAT WARRIOR SOMEDAY.
BUT FIRST YOU MUST FIND OUR TRUE LEADER – ARTEMIS OF OLD. SHE DID NOT DIE, SHE WAS DISPOSED OF. FIND HER – THE GYPSIES KNOW WHERE SHE IS, AND YOU WILL FIND HELP ALONG THE WAY.
And suddenly, Sappho felt as if she could hear the sounds of a calliope, somewhere far off in the distance, playing a mournful dirge.
THERE IS A CARNIVAL – THEY SERVE THE WYRM – LOOK FOR HER THERE – SHE IS A PRISONER BOUND WITHIN HERSELF – YOU WILL KNOW HER WHEN YOU SEE HER – THEY DO NOT STOP FOR LONG ANYWHERE AND EVEN I CANNOT TELL WHERE THEY WILL BE NEXT – YOU WILL FIND THEM ON THE ROAD.
She looked up at Boudiccea, and thought she saw her smile.
I FORGIVE YOU, MY SISTER. YOU GAVE ME TEN MINUTES TO RUN, ONCE. I GIVE YOU BACK THE SAME. I WILL WAYLAY THOSE WHO SEEK TO DESTROY YOU. FOR TEN MINUTES. RUN NOW!
And just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Sappho did not blink, she had just pulled in on herself somehow, and become gone.
And Sappho stood shakily, putting a hand to her temple, hoisting her bag, and slipping out the window and down, into the alley itself. Within ten minutes, she was away forever from the rat-infested tenement she had called home for three years, and hurrying through the anonymous streets of the big city.
She never read the newspaper article regarding the deaths of six women in a downtown hotel hallway. They were torn apart, according to reports, and several of them had teeth and claw marks on their bodies.
The killer or killers were never found. It was as if something stepped through a doorway in space itself, did the deed, and slipped away again.
The case is still officially open, but Seattle Police have more important cases to deal with. It was filed away and never opened again.
And, later that night, with eighty nine dollars caged from an understanding Unitarian minister, Sappho boarded a greyhound bus, heading east. She was following her intuition, her nose.
And her sister’s back trail.
She hoped she was enough for the task she had been sent to do.