“She said to go to St. Vibiana,” explained Laurel, her wrist still bound to Tyler’s. “Not me. You. And you agreed.” Laurel raised her arm. She, like Tyler, was seated in a noisy chair. “Maybe we don’t need this now?”
But Tyler suspected his arm needed to remain in contact with West’s watch, and that he and Laurel needed to leave this world together.
“Then what are we waitin’ for?” asked Mad Dog, his voice deep-toned and decisive.
“He agreed to help you,” explained Vi, her hand curled over Tyler’s.
“What about the war?” asked Tyler.
“That ain’t no use without you,” answered Mad Dog. “You think I woulda helped you if you didn’t matter?”
“You were trying to leave,” reminded Tyler.
“Just seein’ how serious you were. I had to see for myself what you were all about.”
“I told you to trust me,” said Vi. “Don’t you?”
To Tyler’s surprise, Mad Dog fell to his knees at Vi’s feet. “I do,” he said, taking Vi’s hand to his lips and kissing it. Vi retrieved her hand before caressing Mad Dog’s face.
“I love you,” said V, a sparkle in her eye as if by love she meant something more carnal. Sure, she was a young woman again, but she was still his grandmother.
Mad Dog rested a hand on Vi’s knee. “I love you too, baby, and I’ll take ‘em wherever you want.”
Vi smiled, reaching for Mad Dog, grabbing him by the collar and pulling his face to hers, kissing him on the lips, not perfunctorily but with longing.
As Vi pulled herself free of Mad Dog, she turned to Tyler. “I know what you’re thinking. But I’m really not all that old, in the grand scheme of time. And what’s time but an idea that we don’t get to have fun after a certain age.”
Laurel grinned but Faye had turned away, unamused.
“You don’t begrudge me small pleasures?” Vi asked Tyler.
“No,” answered Tyler, although he preferred not to think of her with anyone else; although she was still a woman, and a lovely one at that, still in the bloom of youth.
“And what happens at St. Vibiana?” asked Tyler, returning the subject to the matter at hand.
“If that’s where La Reina says you gotta go, so be it,” said Mad Dog, climbing to his feet.
“The Cardinal,” explained Vi. “You’re meant to see the Cardinal.”
“The one at my trial?” asked Tyler. The Cardinal called him false in front of tens of thousands. How could the Cardinal be relied upon for help? “And we just do what some woman tells us to do.”
“It’s la Reina,” explained Bandini. “She is the soul of this city, before they pulled it apart and made it two, thanks to Russell Murdoch. But there was never two. It was always one.”
“And Ozymandias?” asked Tyler. “What is he?”
“He is hope where she is love,” explained Bandini, turning to Faye, But Faye refused to acknowledge Bandini’s admiring gaze.
Magus sat in the corner, amused by a private thought.
“Why did you call me Ozymandias?” Tyler asked Magus.
“You believed everything was possible.”
Tyler realized he no longer believed in the fullness of possibility, uncertain if returning home was even possible, much less saving the world from the usual predators like Murdoch who wanted everything for themselves. If it wasn’t one bully claiming it all, it was another. How would that ever change?
“What are we waitin’ for?” asked Mad Dog, near the open door.
“What’s in it for you?” asked Tyler.
“Vi sees the future not me.”
“You said it was for the money.”
“I said what you expected me to say.”
“But how do you expect me to believe what you say?” demanded Tyler, wondering what he could ever know if no one told the truth. “And how can you expect me to believe what anyone has to say.”
Tyler turned to Laurel. “You say I have to go to St. Vibiana? Why?”
“I don’t know. It was what she said.”
“And I take your word for it?” he asked, realizing he’d been played for a fool.
“And you call me Ozymandias when it doesn’t a mean a thing, does it?” asked Tyler, his gaze fixed upon Magus.
“You found Laurel,” interjected Vi, turning to Tyler. “Only you could do that. But there are others like her. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but it did. And you were the only one who hadn’t returned, which was a relief to me. But you’re also the only one who can contain him because he can do as he pleases, feeding on the thoughts of people who don’t belong in this world and who think it’s only a dream. But in dreams, you can do anything.”
“But it’s not a dream,” replied Tyler.
“So I can’t do anything,” he continued, trying to reason it out.
“But you can, and you did,” explained Vi. “When you and … Tyler, both of you having the same name, were friends,” she continued. Magus looked wistful, his gaze to the window.
“He brought you here, though he should have known better. It’s one thing to dream of another world, it’s another to inhabit it, and to feel it against your flesh,” she added, tapping his hand with hers. “He brought others here. Other children.”
“They had no one,” explained Magus. “They were alone.”
“How did you know?” asked Tyler.
“I dreamed about them. I know how they felt and I knew where to find them. They deserved a real home. A place where they never had to be sad again.”
“There were few children here,” said Vi, “not when most people had outgrown childhood, outgrown hope. No one believed in the future anymore, except your parents. But they were different, but only because they knew of another world, and that this world fed on the feelings in that one, just as that one fed on what was here. Russell Murdoch knows that too because he doesn’t belong here anymore than your father did. He came here long ago, feeding on the power of possibility. And who couldn’t come here from another world without the assurance that other worlds existed? He’d invited the children to his home, realizing that their belief in possibilities made him powerful. He offered them a future, but it was his future not theirs. We returned them home, including you.”
Vi was gazing up at Tyler. “But, eventually, he found them all, because they’ve all been trying to get back here. And Laurel was the last of them.”
Laurel sat deep in thought as if trying to recollect the past.
“Well, you, Tyler, were the last of them. But you never believed him, and you wouldn’t have come back if we hadn’t brought you back.”
“To do what? Save the day? Free the world? How do you do that, because I sure the hell don’t know. If I came here, it was a mistake. But you weren’t honest up front.”
“She wanted you here,” explained Magus.
“You?” asked Tyler, turning to his grandmother.
“La Reina,” clarified Magus. “She told me this world would die without someone to believe in it. Someone from another world. Someone like me who believed that anything was possible and the future limitless.”
“I don’t know anything about her,” said Tyler
“She knew all about you. She told me my dreams were real, that you were real. And that I only had to enter your world and bring you back to mine.”
“Then this is all her fault, whoever she is.”
Bandini shook his head, as if speaking ill of la Reina were blasphemy.
“But this is the plan,” added Magus. “We were to bring balance to this world and yours. We were to remind everyone of what was possible.”
“But we took you away,” explained Vi, “and the people Murdoch brought back were no longer children. They were adults who’d learned to be disappointed, and it wasn’t hope but sadness he brought back, and that sadness he feeds on has closed the future to everyone but him; this, despite all his promises to the contrary. No one sees it anymore, and those that can’t see go blind and those that no longer imagine a future vanish, never to return.”
Tyler didn’t see how he could offer anything but his own disappointment. “And how can I do anything? I’m not a child either?”
“But you,” said Vi, standing before Tyler and Laurel, “well, both of you, know what’s possible. Remember that. And remember the future is open. It doesn’t mean it’s determined, not until you choose it, but it’s yours to choose unless you think Russell Murdoch should choose it for you.”
Only Tyler could choose his own future. He knew that, and yet they were trying to convince him they had the right to weigh in on it.
“You know, you could have told me all this the moment I got here,” said Tyler.
“You had to see for yourself,” explained Vi. “I know you. It has to be your understanding, your choice. Only then is it your possibility.”
“I still have to make decisions based on what you tell me. And I guess this is all because of la Reina?”
“You’ll meet her,” said Magus, enthused enough to show his teeth when he smiled. Considering Tyler saw little reason to be amused, the resemblance between him and Magus had never felt so superficial
“Now we’re going?” asked Mad Dog, his composure doing little to justify his name.
“You didn’t tell me everything before. Why should I believe you’re telling me everything now?”
“They all lie” interjected Faye.
“Not me,” insisted Bandini.
“I haven’t told you everything. But when you and Tyler are one, you’ll understand.”
“Aren’t we already one, he and I?” asked Tyler.
“It takes a death to be reborn,” said Magus, standing.
Was Magus Tyler’s intended, that the two of them should meet in a church and be joined as one, as the rope joined Tyler and Laurel. It still felt absurd.
“Is this the price I have to pay to leave this place?” asked Tyler, standing with Laurel.
“There’s no price,” said Vi. “only understanding.”
“Do I always gotta wait for you?” asked Mad Dog, leaning against the front door. Magus joined him.
Faye walked to the open door, but Mad Dog steadied her. “You’re not goin’ nowhere.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“You sold her out,” growled Mad Dog. “I know what you did. And you did it because you thought he’d leave you be. But it didn’t work that way. At least you can wait until you make good.”
Faye shifted her gaze, too embarrassed to look anyone in the eye.
Laurel turned to Tyler. “It’s good to have family,” she noted. “I wish I remembered mine. My real family, that is. ”
Tyler turned back, finding Vi where he left her, still seated.
“Whatever you haven’t explained,” he said, “you can explain on the way.”
“I’m not going,” answered Vi.
“I can’t. I can never leave this house.”
“They’re knocking these buildings down,” reminded Bandini.
“And when they do, they’ll take me with them,” said Vi.
“No,” said Tyler.
“You can’t stop the future from killing the past, not when he can divide the two of you. Together, there won’t be anything you can’t do.”
Was Tyler’s purpose to save his grandmother? How he wished he’d saved her as a boy. Was this a second chance?
“You are the change,” reminded Vi with a broad smile, approaching Tyler with outstretched hands. “And let all the changes be good ones in this ever changing place.”
Vi held Tyler, but it was Tyler who couldn’t let her go, wondering if he might never see her again. Getting something new meant losing something old and it meant replacing the past with the future, memory with possibility.
“Don’t go anywhere,” said Magus, chuckling to himself as he and Mad Dog stepped outside, followed by Faye and Bandini.
Vi grinned. “You never would have seen me again if you didn’t believe it possible,” she explained. “Remember that.”
Tyler was beginning to understand, though he couldn’t articulate it. Fortunately, Laurel didn’t press him to say or do anything. He wanted only to think. What was next? Was it still his choice, or was he going to St. Vibiana because it suited the expectations of others?
Outside, Tyler was struck by the strange beauty of the run-down neighborhood, Stately Victorian homes crushed by the weight of neglect, yet resilient in hope that all things would endure, even memory.
The beauty of the past was nothing without the hope of the future, the two achieving balance, neither memory nor hope claiming the collective unconsciousness alone. Both were required.
Distant gunfire reminded Tyler that there were changes afoot, changes that had nothing to do with him. It was a world, like his own, demanding fairness, one agonizing lurch into the unknown at a time.
Bunker Hill Avenue opened out onto 1st, parked Fords and Chryslers on a wide but surprisingly deserted street. The buildings were just as ornate, yet large enough to function as apartments, second level windows aglow with soft lamplight.
There were others on the palm-lined street, shoes scraping the pavement and heads low as if to keep from noticing anyone.
Mad Dog turned, waiting for others to catch up. “We don’t got all night,” he yelled as Bandini, Faye, Magus, Laurel and Tyler collecting together before Mad Dog once again stormed off, leaving it to the rest of them to keep pace.
Once Mad Dog turned right on Olive, the others followed suit. A Model T trundled past, followed by a 50’s Corvette. There was nothing about Two Cities that wasn’t a mismatched collection of anachronisms, memories layered onto the same congested span of ground.
Copies of the City Times were bundled in front of a news agent’s box. The cover article claimed that “Hoodlums Attacked Twin Towers and Fortress – Prisoners on the Lam.”; nothing about Ozymandias and the war between Blue Knights and Black Knights.
“I’ve been wondering,” mentioned Laurel. “Wondering if I came here for a reason. It’s not like everything in my life was working perfect. And I’m forgetting so much, it’s like I was a different person before I got here. Like that person wasn’t me, just someone pretending to be me, pretending to be happy.”
Tyler remembered Laurel was a psychiatrist. Wouldn’t that make her more useful back in Los Angeles?
“Didn’t you have clients?”
“Clients? Looking for clients, more like. And the ones I have just want a drug prescription. They sure as hell don’t feel like talking.”
The two walked in silence for a few moments before Laurel spoke again.
“You think it’s different there? Like we go back and no time has passed at all. Or maybe a hundred years has past and they lock us away because they don’t understand where we came from.”
Tyler didn’t want to hear such theories. He wanted hope, not the likelihood that returning would be even worse than this mess of a city that had yet to decide what it was.
As Mad Dog turned a corner between two buildings, Tyler saw the sign in bold print that read: Angel’s Flight. A small building housed the funicular, but the ticket booth appeared to be closed. It didn’t stop Mad Dog from entering the bunt orange carriage, everyone else collecting inside, sitting on narrow wooden seats. A young man in a white suit and cap appeared as if out of nowhere and blew a whistle. The carriage lurched into movement, angling down the narrow track alongside buildings of brick and stone, a ravine to the left, a street appearing underneath.
As the carriage neared Hill Street, the rest of the city stretched out along Third Street, a broad road dwarfed by imposing structures of cement and brick, and a lonely Red Car angling around a corner. Lamplight revealed shadows in human form, but the humans themselves could not be seen.
As they progressed down Third Street, people could be seen peering outside store fronts and then vanishing. Mad Dog gestured everyone to retreat to the shadows, as several squad cars howled through an intersection, disregarding a red semaphore light.
“What if they find us?” asked Tyler of Mad Dog.
“You think they care about you when they got an army of colored men ready to take the city so that one day we call get to walk tall and free, anywhere we want? For a fella who’s supposed to know everything, you really don’t know nothin’, do you?”
Mad Dog turned and walked off.
“He’s just sore ‘cause they wouldn’t let him fight,” explained Bandini in a low shiper. “Said he’s not one of them anymore.”
“I know you’re talkin’ about me,” shouted Mad Dog up ahead. “And I know you don’t want me leavin’ you out here.”
At Main, Mad Dog made a left. St. Vibiana cathedral may have been small as far as cathedrals went but it’s bright white façade, ornate pilasters surrounding an arched doorway, clearly stood out from its drab surroundings.
Up the street, flashing lights signaled the presence of squad cars, a cordon of Blue Knights marching south towards them..
“Hurry up,” shouted Mad Dog, breaking into a run as he dashed across the deserted street. Tyler and Laurel followed but they still had to synchronize their movements, which left them trailing the group.
“Clear out,” roared one of the officers through a bullhorn.
Behind them, a cordon of black appeared several blocks south. It seemed they were once again on the front lines. Could St. Vibiana have been at a worse location?
“You sure about this place?” asked Tyler.
“It’s what she said. I told you what I know. You think I don’t want to go home?”
“I think it’s probably a trap,” concluded Tyler.
Mad Dog, Faye and Bandini vanished inside the front door. At least it was open. Magus, however, waited, his eyes darting about before closing them and inhaling deep.
“The last time I see this place,” noted Magus as Tyler and Laurel caught up.
“We’re gonna be fine,” replied Tyler, although it was wishful thinking, and wishful thinking never helped him much before.
“Damn it,” boomed Mad Dog’s voice as he grabbed Tyler and Laurel. “Get in here.”
Magus chuckled as he leaped up the steps and inside. Tyler followed suit, guiding Laurel into a building seemingly without light. He might as well have been leaping into a hole.