A House Divided Against Itself

Alexander Hammil has a moment of clarity, when he is red with blood to the waste and when the shrieks of the boy are still echoing off the parlor walls and ringing through the streets, a moment of pure awareness when he recoils in horror. Then he pushes on. The war must still be ended.

He takes the still warm skin from the child’s back and spreads it across the frame, pulls it taut. It lacks the shape of life, but the image is clear, North and South in matrimonial dignity beneath a spreading tree, the work of agonizing hours. He settles himself beneath it and cuts his own throat, quick and clean with a knife.

It will be days before they breach the walls and find him, but Death and History are there before the knife has fallen to his lap, have been there for hours, have always been there, watching.

“So unnecessary,” says History, revolted. “The Union will survive. The Union was always going to survive.”

“Let him have this moment,” Death says. “He tried, poor thing.”

History shudders and turns her eyes away. The Union survives, and Alex and his victim are forgotten, a gory footnote in a gory century, two minor deaths lost amid the noise.

Born of the Earth

Terpsichore dyes her hair red, cherry candy red, the color of revolutionaries and failed geniuses. A royal color, she tells herself, and a warning of danger.

They do not notice.

If they see her at all, it is as a blob of unreal hair moving down the streets. Typical. Even in this she is typical. You can change everything but yourself, her father used to say, but he never changed anything so the advice, now that she is older, is suspect.

She is red to the wrists, rust red, the color of failed revolutions and successful murders. They do not notice. Overworked, underfunded, more concerned with traffic stops than closing cases. They leave Tisiphone alone, new name, new hair, new face, new hobbies. The money she uses to pay the barista is red, dull red; a woman’s unsmiling face glowers up from the note.

The door closes behind her, the little bell at the top chiming. Alexander Hammil blinks, makes change, apologizes. “That woman,” he says, “I’ve seen her before.”

Red Steel

for Monica before she moves

Midway through the last of his life’s three great craftings, the god came to Alexander Hammil wearing the shape of his long-dead brother; came to tempt, to test. “This will not be enough. The curse still runs red and willing in her blood.”

“What is enough?” asked Alexander Hammil. “Enough is more than enough. This is what I can do. Others may yet do more.”

“You might do more yet, if you had the mind.” The god worked the bellows while he turned the steel, hair electric with forge light. “You are clever, you are kind. Steadfast and loyal. He is a good man, but only that. You might yet be more.”

Alexander Hammil said nothing, but kept working.

“Listen, brother: you cannot still this curse. She will fall upon her people like a wolf on the fold. But you, only you, might turn it. You might be the rock that turns the stream aside. Only speak, and he will fall aside. She will see your true worth at last. Lay down your hammer and your tongs! Speak, while still you can!”

“Begone, specter,” growled Alexander Hammil. “We need no more words between us. You think we have not spoken of this, as we speak of every other thing? Leave me to my work. I need no god to hold me to this forge.”

And the god was gone, much pleased, much angered. The work continued.

Prefiguration

Alex speaks a dream: “The land is beneath me and I hang, unsuspended, in the air. I look down upon the green tops of the trees, the nodding, shaggy heads of the cedars.” Idzukar nods, runs his fingers soothingly through his hair, one massive thigh firm under his neck. “I met there the voices of the air, the chattering djinn, that know many things and have no wisdom.”

“I too have known men like this,” murmurs Idzukar in a voice like a hushed avalanche, “and women, too.”

“They asked me where I was bound, and I said home; that is, North and West.”

“Auspicious destinations all.”

“And they asked me, what is the point of this gift of flight if you just trace the accustomed  routes? Be free, man, (they said) you are no longer just of earth.”

“As you said,” murmurs Idzukar, “much knowledge, but little wisdom.” His face, awful in its size, is gentled by the firelight and the stars.

Glass House

“Dry one,” Alex says to his wife.

“Ayuh.”

He twists his hands on the golf club and shuffles bare feet on the carpet. Outside is another perfect Martian day. “Cold, too.”

“Ayuh.”

The whole south wall is a window, like the north one, like the east and west walls, like the ceiling. They need the heat, the light. “Folks comin’ up. Looks like Martins and her like.”

“Aw hell,” his wife says, and goes back into the dark room. “You take care of ’em for me.”

“Ayuh.” He takes the club with him to the lock. “Something I can do for you, Martins?”

Martins is small and sandblasted, and she’s got two others with her, all with the red Sigma sprayed onto their helmets.

“Can do, Hammil,” she says. “Yes, you can. Notice you ain’t got the Delta on your place, like you ought. Could put that up for me, I’d appreciate it.”

“Nope,” he says. “Fraid I can’t.”

Martins leans in, the dome of her helmet a luminous blank in the pale summer sun. “Your children will be mongrels, Hammil, like their mother, like their father. Do us all a favor and put up the Delta.”

“Hell with you,” he tells her, and goes back inside.