Tyler opened his eyes to discover a sheet over his face. He pulled it off to find himself alone on a carpeted floor. Nearby was a collection of unused furniture, and on the wall behind the desk, a cross
Tyler climbed to his feet, his head swimming as he clutched the corner of the desk for support. He felt top heavy, his cranium like a lead weight; and yet his thoughts were empty.
He figured he’d forgotten everything, and yet there were no questions he couldn’t answer. Where was he? He was in the Cardinal’s residence next door to the church. Why was he on the floor? He’d died, his body placed in a storage room until he could be transferred to a mortuary.
He’d died so that he might live, Two Cities as much his home now as Los Angeles. He remembered losing his grandmother in Los Angeles, before moving in with his mother when Grandma Vi died. And he remembered losing his mother in Two Cities, before moving in with his grandmother after his mother died.
He was one man with two lives, but what was unusual about that? It would have been just as strange for two men to share the same life, one calling himself Tyler and the other calling himself Monroe or Magus or whatever name suited his mood.
Why had he been two men when it made more sense to live as one? Two men could forget each other, but one man could never forget himself; or could he?
There were two boys in two worlds, each one visiting the other. But it took a death to remind him he was incomplete; and he’d died so that he might live. La Reina took that life. In fact, she took two lives, returning one where, previously, there had been two.
What Tyler didn’t know was La Reina’s purpose, nor could even he recall her appearance. Laurel and the Grey Lady remembered seeing her, but why couldn’t he?
And why was anyone calling him Ozymandias? Although no sooner did Tyler ask himself the question than he answered it. He was Ozymandias because he remembered who he was. And he was Ozymandias because he was complete, two human beings no longer separated by ignorance or disbelief. How often had one man dreamed of his counterpart, only to forget upon waking?
Morning light filtered through the glazed window. Tyler faced the door, reaching for the knob, when a noticed a shadow against the wall. He turned.
There was a woman, her form undulating as if where were merely a reflection, long black hair cascading over a floor-length white tunic, her beautiful face olive-complexioned. She was barefoot as she closed her eyes and kneeled on the floor.
“Are you la Reina?” asked Tyler.
She gazed up at him and smiled. Was he expected to kneel as well?
“Yes,” was the reply, her voice as soft as a whisper. But her lips never moved.
“What do you want from me?” he wanted to know.
“What do you want?” she asked, posing the same question to him.
He thought of Laurel and he thought of Carmen, but he didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted a purpose. He was hoping la Reina might tell him what that was. Why, after all, had two men become one?
He remembered his life in Los Angeles, crafting stories and illustrations that never found an audience. Was it his purpose to merely seek meaning, or was there a better way to achieve it?
“I want to understand,” he answered, surprised by his answer.
The woman smiled. “Do you understand why you’re here?” she asked him.
He was here because of Murdoch, realized Tyler. He was here because he’d died. There was no purpose to it. It was only an accident. But it was his grandmother’s choice that gave it a purpose; and if Ozymandias was a choice, then Granma Vi was as much Ozymandias as he ever was.
“My grandmother is Ozymandias.” he suggested.
“Ozymandias is in all things,” she answered. But for Russell Murdoch, realized Tyler, there was only one Ozymandias, and that was Russell Murdoch. But did the future belong to Murdoch alone, or did it belong to everyone?”
Tyler remembered it was his purpose to contain Murdoch, and that Murdoch fed on hopes and aspirations, making them his own while enclosing his victims in forgetting and despair. Only someone free to traverse both worlds, someone capable of seeing in all directions, could see through Murdoch’s deception. And it was only through deception that Russell Murdoch had any power at all.
“He wants everything,” realized Tyler. Then again, so did he. But what could he have to call his own, if everything already belonged to Murdoch.
“You,” answered the woman. “He can never have. That is why your grandmother sent you here.”
It was to spare his life, realized Tyler; and it was to keep him safe. The more he remembered, the more inviolable he’d become; but one couldn’t pass from one world to another without forgetting what he’d left behind. The only way to remember both worlds at all times was to inhabit both at the same time, or for the inhabitants of separate worlds to become one.
“What about Laurel?” asked Tyler. He wondered if she was safe, but he knew the answer. As long as Laurel could forget herself, she would believe Murdoch’s deceptions.
“He seeks her,” answered the woman. “And when she takes off her watch, he’ll find her and bring her back.”
Tyler shook his head. It wasn’t Murdoch’s decision.
“There is war only because some have been kept outside and they want in, like everyone else. But when the Black Knights claim victory, they will soon belong to Murdoch as much as the Blue Knights do. And they will see only him. I won’t exist anymore.”
The woman was fading from view, the window visible through her torso, her every word a series of concentric ripples distorting her appearance.
“What will happen to you?” asked Tyler, realizing la Reina would disappear once Murdoch ensured everyone forgot her. Only the people Murdoch couldn’t manipulate could still envision her.
“I will endure, thanks to you,” she answered with a smile. Was this his purpose, thought Tyler? To save la Reina from Murdoch?
“I haven’t done anything,” he replied.
“You exist,” she answered.
“You might as well thank my parents for that, not me.”
“Where’s my father?” asked Tyler.
“He’s waiting for you, but Murdoch will find him first and hide him away because West is forgetting everything.”
The watch. West needed the watch to remember who he was. Laurel needed the watch as well.
“Where is he?” asked Tyler.
The woman closed her eyes.
“Don’t let him forget you,” she said, her image dissolving into dust particles captured by the light.
Tyler turned once again to the door to turn the knob, but there was no where he couldn’t go. Time and space were at his disposal. He could peer into the past or conjure up the future; and if imagining the future could shift his location, why couldn’t he shift location without reference to time?
He could move where he pleased because he knew it was possible; the physical rules of one world no impediment to anyone who knew of many worlds.
Tyler pictured his father, his image materializing before him as the storage room became a balcony and the window of light replaced by garden, neatly sculpted hedges surrounding a perfectly manicured lawn, Murdoch’s lawn.
West, appearing no older than 35, was kneeling, his hands to his ears.
“Dad?” asked Tyler, take his hand to his father’s. West flinched, glancing upwards.
“What?” yelped West.
“It’s me,” said Tyler.
West looked puzzled, turning as he peered inside the bedroom, a coverlet draped over the mattress of a canopy bed.
“Did you see her?” he asked.
“Who?” asked Tyler.
West shook his head, panicked by his failure of memory.
“Carmen?” suggested Tyler.
“How did you know?” asked West. “Where is she?”
“Do you remember me?” asked Tyler.
West hesitated, scrutinizing Tyler before turning away. “I don’t have a family.
“You left them. I know. And you left your family, left them for Carmen.”
“Who are you?” asked West, cringing fearfully.
“I’m the son you left behind. I grew up.”
“I …” answered West, his thoughts distant.
“I’m not upset,” said Tyler, his hand to West’s shoulder. “You don’t have to run away.”
“It’s my fault,” said West, averting his gaze. “I took her away from Mr. Murdoch, and he took her back.”
“Carmen?” asked Tyler.
“Did you say you’d seen my son?” asked West, changing the subject.
“I am your son,” replied Tyler.
“You look older than me,” answered West, before a shadow crossed his face.
“Because you chose not to grow old.”
“My son,” mused West before slumping to the floor of the balcony. “He was coming to see me. I’d finally come home, and he got hit by a car and he died. I was bad luck. I should never have come to see him. I should have left him in peace.”
West held his hands to his face. “He survived because I left. He must never see me again.”
Tyler couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He could remember running to see his grandmother, and he could remember the car. But he couldn’t remember his father.
“Tell me he’s safe?” asked West, tears in his eyes.
“Yes, he’s safe. And he wants to keep you safe too.”
“I never wanted to be safe,” explained West. “I wanted to risk everything. I wanted to know what it was to be alive. I once thought I could fly higher than anyone, but I’ve fallen so far, and my son … he deserved so much better than me.”
“If I were your son,” said Tyler, kneeling before West. “I would tell him to have no regrets. It makes it easy to forget what’s possible, and when you forget that, you can forget everything that matters. But you don’t want to forget your son, do you?”
“I’ll never forget him,” replied West decisively.
“You helped me out of here,” said Tyler, offering West his hand. “I’m going to help you.”
West accepted Tyler’s hand. “I helped you?” he asked, still puzzled. “I remember you,” continued West, a flash of recognition brightening his face. “You’re …”
West shook his head. “Tyler? It can’t be. You followed me here, didn’t you?”
“You remember me now?”
West nodded. “You shouldn’t have come here..”
“He can’t hurt us. Don’t believe anything he says.”
“He took Carmen.”
Tyler closed his eyes, imagining her, trees shrinking as time regressed.
“West,” cooed Carmen from the bed, an arm extended. She appeared to have just woken up, hair concealing one of her eyes. It was the same bedroom, but years now separated West and Carmen.
“It’s Tyler. You remember me.”
“You want to pretend we’re different people?” she answered with a grin. “Hmmn. My name could be … Laurel.”
“Why Laurel?” asked Tyler. She must have remembered; perhaps not consciously, but the memory was there.
“The name came to mind. You can think of a different name.”
“Did West bring you here?”
“It’s a beautiful home, isn’t it?” she answered, reaching for Tyler. He grabbed her hand and kissed it. He missed her, and he wanted her. Could he blame his father for leaving him for her? Would he have done the same?
“It’s Russell Murdoch’s home,” explained Tyler.
Carmen retrieved her hand, disgust twisting her face as she turned away. “A horrible man.”
“He’s keeping you here.”
“We don’t have to talk about him,” said Carmen. “We’re here for us.”
“You’re here for him. Don’t you remember? You were going to save your father from Twin Towers?”
Carmen lost herself in thought. “My father?”
“The freed the prisoners. You went to find him. Did you find him?”
“I did,” she answered, brightening with recognition. “Where is he?” she then asked, suddenly panicked.
“You remember?” asked Tyler.
“I don’t know.”
“Leave her alone,” demanded Murdoch, standing at the open door. He’d never looked so youthful. Was this the nature of his power, that he could defy the laws of physics more so than ever?
“Where is he?” asked Tyler, refusing to fear a man who had no power but for what others surrendered to him; and Tyler would surrender nothing.
“Your father is safe,” Murdoch told Carmen.
“Who are you?” she snapped, pulling the bed sheets up to her neck.
“A friend,” replied. “Anything you and West need, let me know.”
“Privacy would be nice.”
“Don’t hurt her now,” whispered Murdoch, gesturing Tyler just outside the door. “She’s been through enough.”
“She doesn’t belong in here,” answered Tyler.
“She’s happy,” noted Murdoch, gesturing to Carmen as she pulled a floral print shift over her head, her arms gliding through the holes in the gown.
“She’s not staying here,” answered Tyler before stepping outside.
“You want her, don’t you?”
“It’s my father she loves.”
“You can have her. Your father doesn’t deserve her.”
“You can’t make it up as you go along.”
“I built this place.”
“But it’s not real. None of this is real.”
“How would you know?” asked Murdoch.
“The city of the future is still just an idea,” answered Tyler. “And this. How was this possible if not for other people? What would you do without the people you keep here?”
“You think anything’s changed since the last time you were here?” asked Murdoch, eyes narrowed. The floor shifted and Tyler fell. Imagining a floor, Tyler found his footing. Shelves of books surrounded Tyler on all sides. There was no door.
“You don’t know my home as I do,” said Murdoch from behind Tyler. Tyler spun around.
“These people don’t belong to you,” replied Tyler, remembering it wasn’t just about West and Carmen. There were countless others lured to Murdoch’s home, reliving idealized moments, not for their benefit but for Murdoch, empowered by every wishful thought. What would become of Murdoch if those people were to realize it was all pretend and that they were merely prisoners of their own minds?
“They can be happy,” explained Murdoch. “They can have everything they ever wanted.”
“But it’s not real,” answered Tyler.
“It’s as real as they want it to be,” assured Murdoch. “From what I can tell, you can shift time at will. Is that not real?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you deserve better. They all do. And I give them something better. What’s your plan?”
“They should have a choice.”
“What they see is what they choose.”
“And what if they don’t feel like being happy?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t they have the right to choose how they feel?”
“Like I said. That’s up to them,” answered Murdoch.
“And what if they were all miserable? Would that make a difference to you?”
“West isn’t happy,” answered Murdoch with a grin. “He must be just as much a disappointment to you as he was to me. And he’ll suffer for it.”
“So you punish them when you please?”
“They should deserve their happiness.”
“They choose that?”
“Anyone here is grateful for all I’ve done for them.”
“What if they hated you?” asked Tyler. “For keeping them here against their will.”
“You don’t understand anything,” snapped Murdoch, wrinkles visible under his unblemished skin.
Tyler could feel himself falling again. He imagined a ledge to find his footing, but it was soon pulled away again, his descent interminable until he wondered if he was falling at all. What if he were only imagining it? What if it were as tangible as a dream?
He turned to find himself on the floor just outside Carmen’s bedroom. But Carmen wasn’t there. The room was unfurnished, the smell of fresh paint overpowering. The striking of hammers interrupted the unexpected bird song.
Tyler walked to the balcony. There was nothing Murdoch could do that Tyler couldn’t undo; and there was no one Murdoch could imprison that Tyler couldn’t release. If Murdoch’s home were merely a stage prop, how easy it would be to knock it down, to reveal the greed that disguised itself as the public good.
Tyler heard footsteps. He turned find several broad-shouldered men in double-breasted suits, hats tilted over their eyes as they leveled machine guns at Tyler.
“You had so much potential, Tyler,” exclaimed Murdoch, appearing to Tyler’s right, leaning back against the balcony railing. “It’s a shame it had to end like this.”
Tyler imagined the floor opening up under the men. Gunfire accompanied their descent into a lower level. Turning to Murdoch, Tyler imagined the railing giving way under Murdoch’s weight; but Murdoch merely vanished.
In the interest of divulging the secrets of the house, Tyler imagined the home turning inside out, interior rooms angled outwards, floors and walls vanishing to reveal load-bearing walls and support beams, this decorated archive of all things forgotten now a lifeless framework of shifting and interlocking parts.
As a staircase hove into view, Tyler leaped onto it from the balcony, his rapid descent blocked by Murdoch who stepped before him, a pistol pressed to Tyler’s rib cage.
Tyler imagined Murdoch pressing the gun to his own chest, and so it happened, Murdoch stiffening with terror as he turned the gun to heart and then to his head.
“Then it’s true,” exclaimed Murdoch, a smile concealing fear. “You think you’re Ozymandias? You think you’re invincible.”
Tyler shook his head. He wasn’t pretending to be anyone, much less Ozymandias. For once, he remembered he wasn’t helpless.
“And you know that Ozymandias will destroy all that stands in his way. Go on. Do your worst. I’m no match for you. No one in Two Cities can stop you now.”
Tyler refused to believe himself a monster, and yet he was taking Murdoch’s choices and subverting them, as if it were his right to choose for others.
Turning his thoughts from Murdoch’s pistol, Tyler spun around. The gunshot was immediate, but Tyler felt nothing. There was another gunshot, and still, he felt nothing, even as he dropped to his knees. Closing his eyes, he remembered what it was to bleed to death as a boy of nine, his grandmother leaning over him and vowing that she would surrender her own life to preserve his. He remembered waking up in a world that wasn’t his own, his imaginary friend Monroe more real than ever. And he remembered promising to return one day, to protect the world that saved his life.
He wondered if he was about to die, and then he realized that, as Ozymandias, even death was a choice, and he wasn’t ready to die, not until he’d fulfilled his promise to protect Two Cities from dissolving under the weight of disbelief.
Without a future, what use was belief? If didn’t have to be Murdoch’s future, but one would be required.
“You see how easy it is to die?” asked Murdoch, standing over Tyler.
“I already died,” answered Tyler, climbing to his feet. “I don’t have to die again.”
“What do you know of dying?” asked Murdoch, the gun at his side.
“It’s a choice, but you don’t make choices, do you? Other people do. And when they choose not to believe you, you’ll be left with nothing.
Murdoch shook his head. “You don’t know anything,” he glowered.
“Then what happens to you when your prisoners realize they’re not your prisoners?”
“They will disappear,” threatened Murdoch.
“No. You will,” answered Tyler, imagining a wall between Murdoch’s thoughts and everyone else, a wall that surrounded Murdoch until the fantasies he constructed could no longer hold, and all memory of Murdoch turned to forgetting.
And with forgetting came the darkness, swallowing up everything until there was nothing.