Everything I have known and believed for most of my life has turned out to be a lie.
That is a hard realization to face. But for once
As I lay in bed basking in the post coital glow of mind blowing sex. The connection between Apricus and I was undeniable. Now that I had shaken the fear placed in my mind by the wendigo that fateful night I realized she and I were made for each other. Meant for each other. That link of two souls intertwined with one another is indescribable.
The stuff of poets, which I am not. As we languished in bed, enjoying laying with her head on my chest I felt like I could be for a moment. Just a moment though. Poetry is for those that suffer or celebrate, a tumbling of words that try and frame a frozen image of intensity.
A new feeling swept through me. Content. A fleeting feeling my whole life. I kissed her head and She gripped me tighter.
“I love you dear Apricus.”
“And I love you Haley. I have dreamt of this moment for so very long I feared it would remain just that. Now that you are here it is more than I ever could have imagined.”
“Worth the wait?”
“A million times yes.”
And that is enough for me. Until my stomach tumbled loudly enough to startle us both.
“A second healthy hunger my love.”
“Nearly as strong it seems.”
“Let us head to the kitchen and see what we can scavenge. The others are waiting to meet you as well. We shall feast and celebrate.”
“Yes. Did you think I lived here all alone? There are many who live and work here.”
“In a sense. But they are more. They are family and friends.”
“Do they live in the other towers?”
“Enough questions. Come.”
She stood up and stretched and I was mesmerized. She is truly the summation of my every desire given form. I could stare at her lithe form all day.
She stared back. Completely unphased.
“A great hunger indeed.”
I blushed and hurriedly threw on clothes.
The kitchen was different than when I had snuck out to explore. It was alive and bustling with action. There were ten ladies moving about, chopping vegetables and pushing pans into the ovens. They all seemed to be dressed in a formal black like Apricus and her gown but more versatile. Diaphonous and nearly see through didn’t seem practical in the kitchen. As they saw us enter all movement froze.
A pan of what looked like stuffing hit the floor with a clang.
As one the ladies, and now I noticed a couple men as well that were lurking towards the back bowed deeply at the waist and together said, ” My Lady.”
“Oh so we pretend to be on our best behavior today?”
They all laughed. A real laugh not staged for my benefit.
“Everyone this is Mikhail. Mikhail meet the wondrous chefs that are trying so desperately to impress you.”
En masse they rushed over to me. I expected handshakes and introductions. Instead it was hugs and kisses on the cheek from the ladies and sturdy breath blowing hug and back slaps from the men. I looked at them, taken back. They covered every race and creed it appeared. And they all were happy to see me.
It is an odd sensation when a dozen or so strangers immediately treat you like family. They bombarded me with questions and names. I tried to answer as many as I could vefore they were drowned out by more. And I could not tell you a single person by name. Too much too fast for my feeble brain to handle.
“There is more than enough time to get to know each other. Where is everyone at?”
One woman stepped forward, by demeanor you could tell instantly she ran the kitchen. She was a short and heavy stocked woman. A thick blonde thatch of hair and at least three chins defined her. A look of confidence on her cherubic face and sharp intelligent eyes. As she came forth the rest returned to work and the chatter died down to a low roar. All eyes still on me as they worked. I felt naked.
“My Lady, they are in the village waiting for you to give the okay to come out.”
“Those silly fools. I told them today was the day. Yet still they lurk. Thank you Gwen. And allow me to say it smells delicious in here. And is that your secret lamb I smell?”
“Well it is the Master’s first meal.”
“So you thought to try and steal him from me the first meal?”
“Watch yourself Apricus. The way to a man’s heart is through the stomach,” she said with a wink.
“Mikhail, be careful around Gwen. She runs the kitchen with an iron fist and tongue sharper than any knife.”
Gwen blushed at this.
“It is a pleasure Gwen. It does smell delicious in here.”
She blushed even more. “We have been waiting for you for a very long time sir. A very long time for sure,” her accent was strange. Formal sounding and old.
“Mikhail. Call me Mikhail. That goes for everyone please. I am no sir. And I apologize for my tardiness.”
She stared at me for a long moment. And then ran over and gave me a long tight hug. As she returned to cooking I saw tears on her cheeks.
Fuck. Never had a reception like this before.
I looked at Apricus. “Did she say village?”
“Where do you think every one lives? In some big room?”
“Well. Yes. I walked the castle and stood on the ramparts and didn’t see any village.”
We entered the door at the back of the kitchen. It led to an elevator which took us down for what felt like fifteen minutes. As the doors slid open I was greeted with the sight of a gigantic cavern. It easily could have held three of the castle inside of it. And in front of me was city.
It was a mixture of eras, a hodge podge of wild west through modern time buildings spread across the land. A cluster of tents sat near the center of town. I couldn’t make sense of the design at all. Some homes seemed straight out of a fifties television show while a couple were little more than shacks. There was no rhyme nor reason to it. But it somehow worked.
As we got closer I could make out hundreds of people milling about. They dressed the same as the homes, in different styles that crossed many eras. I saw ladies in poodle skirts and men in nice suits. In fact I saw a zoot suit. And traditional Native American garb. And no shit, and honest to goodness cowboy.
Apricus was watching my face as I watched the people, a look of pure delight in Her eyes. She reached over and grabbed my hand. She was living this.
“What the fuck is going on down here my love?”
“Keep going, it will all make sense in a minute.”
The people stopped walking as we passed and bowed low for Her. I heard muttering questions wondering if I was him. As they saw us holding hands the murmuring grew louder. We stopped in the town square, just in front of the tents. Teepees? They were clearly made of hides. Gentle wisps of smoke trickling from the tops.
“Attention everyone. I am happy to introduce you to the one born under the blue flame, my love, Mikhail.”
As one a cheer erupted from the people. I was floored by the greeting. They all knew who I was from the prophecy.
But who in the hell were they?
I waved in acknowledgment of the cheers. I didn’t know what else to do. They seemed almost revertial towards us.
One man stepped forward. He was dressed in a sharp three piece suit. He had blonde hair and blue eyes and seemed familiar in a way that I couldn’t quite figure out. Apricus smiled wide at him and motioned for him to join us.
“Haley, this gentleman has been waiting to see you for a very long time. Let’s retire to the saloon so you can get acquainted.”
I kept staring at him and he looked right back. But whereas I felt I should know him, it was clear he knew exactly who I was.
We entered the saloon and everyone bit the bartender quietly left the room. The bartender poured three glasses of something, Old Red Eye I guess since it is clearly a wild west themed bar and set them on a table.
I pulled out a chair for Apricus and She curtailed to me. I took her hand and kissed it. The man didn’t sit. He just stared at me.
“Well introduce yourself to Haley, don’t be shy now.”
“Hey there Mikhail. It’s me. Timmy. Your cousin.”
I laughed. Alone. And really looked at him. Fuck me if he didn’t look like Chad. And Chad’s father, my uncle. A lot like them. I looked at Apricus and She just nodded. I looked at him again.
“Not possible friend. Timmy drowned when I was ten. He was taken under the ice.”
“I was getting Chad’s mitten. The blue one your mom crocheted. It flew off of his hand in the middle of the big snowball fight. I remember. You were covering me as I rushed out to get it.”
I felt wobbly. The room seemed to be at a tilt.
Apricus grabbed my arm to support me. I looked at Her, into her eyes. She nodded again.
“He tells the truth. This is Timmy, your long lost cousin.”
“How? I saw you go under. You were taken…”
“I was saved Haley. I was saved from an abusive home, from a drunken father that hit me and treated me worse than the dogs.”
“It isn’t possible.”
“It is. You got a Nintendo for your birthday two years before. I hated playing Mario with you because you never seemed to die and I couldn’t stand waiting. We played hot wheels on the tarp the bikes sat under in front of your trailer.”
“We got bb guns and you knew how to cock it without loading a bb. You would shoot dandelions at me. I tried to do it to Chad. Remember? I shot him in the cheek from like a foot away. He had on a C3PO shirt.”
“It was yellow.”
“Yes. And the blood came pouring out of the hole. Like a faucet. They took our guns away and I got the shit beat of me. And when we got the guns back the next year…”
“We shot the windows out of the shed in the forest where those guys grew pot.”
“And we lied and said it wasn’t us.”
“It really is you.”
I was crying, full bore tears raining down my face. I ran to him and we gave each other a crushing hug. I never thought I would see him again. Not ever again. Yet here he was, an adult living in a cavern under a castle in a realm outside of reality.
Fuck. When you think about it, It sounds insane. One hundred percent batshit.
I couldn’t speak. I slumped down into the seat next to Her. And just happy cried.
“He has been here ever since that day on the ice. When I realized he wasn’t you I planned to take him back. But he refused.”
“It is true. She offered to and I didn’t want to go back to that hell. Chad only went every other weekend. He never had to deal with him. But I did. I was going to run away from home that summer. I couldn’t take another year. The drinking, the fighting and getting slapped and punched whenever I did something he didn’t like. So I begged her to let me stay. I lived with a family down here. Got love and treated like a person for the first time.”
“I don’t know what to say. Chad will flip his shit when he find a out.”
“Chad cannot know. Not ever Haley. About any of this.”
I looked at him in shock. Apricus squeezed my hand, harder now.
“Chad is working with Destroyers my love.”
“No. Impossible. He is the only one who has been there for me the last ten years. He has supported me. He is the one who talks to Beth.”
“Exactly. He has been making sure you didn’t find your way to me. He has been feeding them information the last five years at least.”
“It’s true Haley. My own brother turned on us. Later I will show you how we found out.”
“Do not dwell on this my love. You and your cousin have catching up to do. I will go to the kitchen and get us some of the food Gwen is preparing. Timmy, your wife is making her lamb. Did you know this?”
“Yes ma’am. She told me if I said anything she would hurt me.”
“And you stayed quiet. There is hope for you yet Mayor.”
“Yup. Was elected two years ago. I help keep the peace down here in Icewater.”
She stood and I rose as well. She kissed me long and hard and made my toes curl in pleasure before walking out. I stared after her.
“You are a lucky man Haley.”
“Yes I am Timmy. Yes I am.”
And my long lost cousin and I sat and talked for the first time in over twenty five years.
He explained the city to me. Every one of the sacrifices taken under the ice were people from broken homes, or poor and destitute. The ones cast as outsiders and mistreated by society or the world in general. Apricus took them and brought them here and gave them the lives they wanted. She was always so lonely, waiting for her prophecy to come true. So she made a family of her own to ease the wait.
I filled him in on the family he left behind. He smiled and cried as he heard the good and bad.
“And your parents? Your dad was the greatest man I ever met. To this day I talk about Uncle John. How are they?”
“Oh shit. I’m sorry Haley. How?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He heard the steel in my voice and saw the look come over me and wisely moved on.
He had married Gwen twelve years ago. He said he knew the minute he saw her and began the chase then. She knew as well but had more fun being chased. They have three children and he was so excited that he could finally introduce me to them.
Eventually Gwen and Apricus came back with food. Suspiciously long enough for us to be caught up. I wondered if they had been standing outside the saloon waiting but didn’t question it. Timmy wasn’t the only one that could learn.
We feasted, the entire town, and drank. It was the largest party I have ever been to. I looked at my cousin and his love. Met my second cousins, Mikhail, Johnny and Stephanie. And the entire time had the most beautiful woman at my side.
After so long in the darkest pits of misery I had forgotten how wonderful things could be. And for that moment in time, I was the happiest man in existence.