(Click here for The Furies, Part 1: Spite.)
Ellie pulled up across the street from the box-like house they had lived in until their family fell apart, the house he now lived in alone. “Whatever happened to Candice?” she asked abruptly.
“What? Why are you asking about her? Jesus, what timing! What does she have to do with anything?”
“I liked her a lot. I think she was good for you, you know, helped to ease your anger. Seriously. Maybe you should call her.”
“She left me. End of story.” He shrugged. “I should never have let her disrespect me. I should have shown her who was boss. Dad would never have taken her shit. Sure, I taught her a few good lessons, but it wasn’t good enough. I just wasn’t strong enough to keep her.”
“Dad’s your role model now?” she asked. “No wonders it didn’t work out too well. You know, they say you can tell how a man will treat his wife by the way he treats his mother.”
Alex laughed loudly. “Yeah? And what do they say about the way cunts treat their sons and brothers and boyfriends?” He rubbed his mouth. “Do you want to come in for a minute? I could open a bottle of wine. A good one. I need a little company, Ellie.”
“It’s late, and I have to get back to Oakland. This will be my fourth time across that damn bridge. Plus, I really shouldn’t drink and drive. I’ve got to be more responsible. Seriously. I open the antique store tomorrow. Speaking of being responsible, don’t you have a big presentation in the morning?”
He scratched the bandage on the back of his head. “I just don’t want to be alone. I’ve had such a bad feeling ever since . . . ever since I saw that bird.”
“Ever since you started bad-mouthing Mom, you mean? You shouldn’t say things about the dead. That bird was probably karma. I know Mom was no angel, but come on! She tried to be a good wife and a good mother. She was always planning family excursions around the bay and picnics on Angel Island. She gave up her dreams of being an activist for her husband and family. I can’t believe she drove Dad to suicide! I just can’t believe it. If it was suicide, where’s the body?”
“Good question, which brings us to the second possibility: someone hid the body.”
“Are you suggesting that Mom–?”
“If he abandoned us, why didn’t he take his stuff? Why didn’t he take his wallet, his I.D., his credit cards? Why didn’t he take some money from the bank account? Shit, why didn’t he take all the money? He earned it!”
“Sometimes people need a change, Andy, a total change. They want to start fresh, clean slate. You know he didn’t feel good about himself: the booze, the way he treated Mom.”
“The way he beat her, you mean?”
“Yeah.” She shifted in her seat and titled her head. “Yeah, I hope Dad is alive somewhere, living a good life. Is that a crime? Is it a crime to wish something better for your father?”
“So abandoning us was his form of repentance? Ha!” Alex shook his head. “It was not like Dad to change. He just wasn’t capable of it. It wasn’t in his blood.”
“How do you know? How do you know what he was really like underneath all that Greek machismo? He could be such a sweetheart sometimes, so gentle. You know he would even plays dolls with me sometimes? You wouldn’t do that. We always had to play Lord of the Rings or Gulf War. Dad had some serious issues, but he was not a bad man. How do you know he couldn’t change?”
Alex looked out the window. “Just one drink. Please come in, Ellie. I’ll be nice.”
Ellie began twisting a lock of hair around her finger, the way she always did when she was nervous. “No way. I haven’t stepped foot inside that hell hole since I packed up and moved across the bay. That house is haunted.”
“That’s right, you abandoned us just like Dad. He left, so you decided you would leave too. Like father, like daughter. Daddy’s little girl.”
“I left because you broke my arm, remember?”
“Come on! Are you saying you left because of me? Not the way Mom treated us? Not Dad’s disappearance? That arm was an accident, and you know it. I think you are rewriting history a bit.”
“An accident while you were accidentally trying to strangle me, right? You think I was Daddy’s little girl? I hated that piece of shit. I left because you were becoming Dad. It was like you were possessed. Mom too. Dad was gone, but she was taking it out on you, and you were beating me up. Uh-huh. No way. No thank you. Couldn’t do it. Toxic environment. Had to leave. Never look back. I don’t want to think about it. It gives me a headache.”
“So it’s my fault now? I drove you away, huh? I suppose it’s my fault that Mom got sick? It’s my fault that Mom treated us badly? It’s my fault Dad left? It’s my fault that Dad beat her? It’s my fault Dad didn’t make it as a lawyer and had to work in a sewage treatment plant? It’s my fault his dad beat him when things in America did not turn out so well? It’s my fault that a white guy from Kentucky raped Grandma Jones? It’s my fault–”
“Whose fault is it then, Alex? It’s a parade of victims! A parade of victims! Everyone keeps passing the blame onto somebody else. Somebody . . . has to take . . . responsibility.”
“Then why don’t you accept some? Tell me that! You left me alone with her when her lupus got bad. You have no fucking idea how bad it got: depression, confusion, paranoia, these rashes on her face, her fingers all purple and twisted, loss of control over bodily functions, in the end, complete psychosis. She thought she was a werewolf!” Alex guffawed. “Some asshole doctor told her that ‘Lupus’ meant ‘wolf.’ In the middle ages, they thought the disease was caused by a wolf bite. And that little idea became the core of her delusions. Man, could that wolf howl! Man, could she bite! And you know what? I had to do everything, everything, by myself, so don’t fucking tell me about accepting responsibility.”
She grabbed his bandaged hand and squeezed it hard. “I’m sorry I didn’t help out. I’m sorry I haven’t been the best sister. I am going to be better. I swear it! Seriously, I’m going to change! I’m going to take care of you, Andy.”
“Yeah? Yeah?” He rubbed his mouth. “Well, thanks for picking me up at the emergency room anyway. I do appreciate it. I’m sorry if I’m being, you know . . .”
“Whatever,” she said, then leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. He looked at her sideways, as if she were crazy, and opened the door.
* * *
As he was awkwardly climbing out of the car with his briefcase and bandaged hand, he saw the thing glaring at him from a barren tree behind the neighbor’s house, wisps of fog flowing over its folded wings.
“There it is!” he said. “Oh my God, it’s waiting for me! Look, Ellie, look!”
Somewhat reluctantly, she got out of the car. “Okay, where is it?”
“In the tree behind the Lee’s house, the ash tree! Oh my God, it knows where I live. Ellie, it knows where I live! How is that even possible?”
“Where did you say it was?”
He turned to look at her. “Right there, on top of the tree, the white ash. How could it know my address?”
“I don’t see it.”
“Uh, I don’t see it. There’s nothing there.”
“I’m not in the mood for your jokes, Eleanor. It’s as big as a fucking tiger, and it’s sitting up there, waiting for me.”
“There’s nothing there, Alexandros. There’s nothing in that tree.”
“How can you–?”
“Listen, I have to get back to Oakland. Call me if you need anything.”
“No wait, please. Don’t leave me! Not while it is– Can’t you please wait until I get inside? At least? Please!”
She shrugged her shoulders, and he ran for the door, his briefcase banging against his knee. It took forever to unlock the gate and the door with his left hand. Once inside, he ran upstairs and to the back of the house to look out the kitchen window. There was nothing in the tree.
* * *
He got ready for bed as fast as he could, brushing his teeth awkwardly with his left hand. He took a pain pill, then swallowed another, then sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of red wine to look over his notes for the presentation. He couldn’t concentrate.
Instead, he closed his briefcase and went to the bedroom next to the kitchen, the room Ellie had lived in until she moved out. Its walls were still barred with pink and yellow. His old room had been nothing but a big pantry, but it had been his private world, his safe house. Now it was stacked with boxes of his parents’ stuff, like his father’s collection of bobbleheads of sports heroes and his mom’s books on feminism. When he looked in the pantry, which he rarely did these days, he could only see the top of his Eminem, Gorillaz, and No Doubt posters on the back wall, and the pterodactyl he’d named Terry hanging from the ceiling.
He could have moved into the master bedroom, he supposed, but it still stank of sickness. He never even opened the door anymore.
He climbed into bed in his boxers, pulled the pink and yellow comforter up to his eyes, then looked nervously at the window. There was a shadow, a large shadow, on the lacy curtains. He struggled with himself for a long time, wondering what to do. Finally, he got up, determined to pull the curtains back quickly. If he didn’t, he would never be able to sleep.
When he opened them, it was there, wings spread, its breasts smashed against the glass, a wicked smile on its face.
Its face! He could see it clearly now, a woman’s face with scaly skin, wild hair, bloodshot eyes, and sharp, yellow teeth. It was smiling at him luridly.
“What the fuck are you?” he yelled, backing away. “Get away from me!”
It raised a fist, uncurled its long fingers, and began tapping at the windowpane. “Let me in, little Alexie, little Andy,” it whispered, then licked the glass, leaving a trail of slime. “Let me in. I have something I want to give you. I have something I want to tell you.”
He backed against the bedroom door, his injured hand throbbing. “What do you want with me? What the fuck do you want?”
“What do I want? What do I want with you? What do I want? What do I want with you?”, it chanted, as it turned slowly from the window. He felt a surge of hope. Maybe it would just go away, whatever it was.
Over its shoulder, high in the air, he saw another one plunging through the fog. The glass exploded. It tackled him, and they rolled across the floor, slamming against the wall. The family portrait fell and shattered on his head.
It scrambled on top of him. He tried to push it away, and it pulled him to her like a lover, its bat-like wings enveloping them.
“Please,” he said.
“I have something I want to tell you. I have something I want to give you.” It leaned towards him, as if it were going to kiss him, and vomited black bile in his face.
The first flew in through the window and knocked her aside. It grabbed him by the hair and leg, dragged him up to the ceiling and dropped him on the dresser, which collapsed underneath him. At once, they were on top of him, fighting over him like wild beasts, hissing and spitting. They tore away pieces of the broken dresser, tossing clothing everywhere, scratching him with their dirty, broken nails.
“Please,” he gasped. “Stop! Go away! Why?”
“Why? You know why, little Alexie, little Andy. You know why,” the one with white and black wings said and bit his ear hard, shaking her head and snarling like a wolf. She tore off a chunk, chewed it, and spit it across the room, a bloody wad of gum.
The other straddled him with her bird-like feet, her bat wings outstretched. He heard the sounds of farting, and something wet and warm spilled over his bare legs. The thing started grinding on top of him like a lap dancer, laughing shrilly.
The first started screaming in his face, screaming, screaming, screaming. He could see down her throat. Still shrieking, she punched him in the mouth, knocking a tooth loose, then hit him again, breaking his nose. She grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head against the hardwood.
Someone shouted, and he looked up to see a woman climbing in through the window. Not another one, he thought! Oh God, I am going to die!
“Alex! Alexie! Oh my God, what’s happening?” It was Ellie.
The creature howled and smashed his head against the floor again. With a flash of light, merciful darkness enveloped him.
* * *
He woke to pain, Ellie next to him, holding his unharmed hand. He looked around wildly. He was in the hospital with an I.V., bandages everywhere. The room was empty, but, oh God, two large shadows darkened the blinds. He squeezed Ellie’s hand as if it were the only thing keeping him alive.
“Ouch! What happened, Alex? What the hell happened?”
“You came back,” he said, his voice sounded nasal. He could feel a bandage on his face. “You saved me.”
“I–I don’t know about that, but as I was driving away, I guess I had a feeling, a terrible feeling,” she said, twisting her hair around her finger. “When I pulled up, I heard a fight, things breaking. The bedroom window was open. I called the police and ran to the window with my can of mace. I thought maybe–” She shook her head.
“You were moving around strangely on the floor like you were having a seizure or something. I don’t understand. I don’t understand it. I climbed in through the window–look, I cut my hand–and–and you were all covered with shit and blood. I grabbed you. I held on to you. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I did that. You were so . . . disgusting. The police want to speak to you. They want to know what happened. Your skin is cut up, two ribs broken, one tooth missing, your nose broken, black eyes, your left ear mangled. Alex, the doctors can’t save it. What the hell?”
“Ellie, that bird attacked me again. Only it wasn’t a bird; it was a–I don’t know–a bird woman. There were two of them. Horrible, horrible. Breasts and teeth and . . . Oh, God! They vomited on me! They screamed at me! They tried to kill me! Women with wings. And their eyes! Why, Ellie?”
She seemed to be weighing a difficult choice, looking at him carefully, then said at last, “Bird-like women? They sound like harpies.”
“Harpies. Harpies. Ouch, ease up on that grip, mister! You know, that’s what people call a bitchy woman, a harpy? I’m pretty sure they were from Greece. You know, women with wings, ugly women. They lured men to their deaths or something. No, maybe I am confusing them with sirens. I think they were winged too. I don’t really know.”
“Harpies? But why?”
“I don’t know much about them.” She took out her cell phone with her free hand. “Do you want me to look it up on Wikipedia?”
“Will that help?”
She shrugged her shoulders and typed the word into her phone. “Um,” she said, reading, “‘In Greek mythology and Roman mythology, a harpy’ . . . blah, blah . . . ‘was a female monster in the form of a bird with a human face.’ Look here’s a picture. Is that what they looked like?”
“Kind of. These ones had arms, though, human arms. Much uglier. One had bat wings.”
“Okay, so . . . ‘They steal food from their victims while they are eating–’ Huh, doesn’t sound too bad. Did they try to take your dinner? ‘–and carry evildoers (especially those who have killed their family) to the Erin–’ I don’t know how to pronounce this word, “the Erinyes. They seem originally to have been wind spirits. Their name means ‘snatchers.’”
“What? What did you say?”
“Snatchers. The Erinyes. I am just guessing on the pronunciation. Let me click on it and see what it says . . . The name means ‘the angry ones.’ They are also known as ‘the furies.’ Wow, what a name! The furies! Hey, they are winged women too, but they don’t look so bad. They look beautiful, in fact: ‘. . . deities of vengeance . . . infernal goddesses . . . A formulaic oath in The Iliad invokes them as “those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath.”’ Huh, have you broken any promises?”
“I took care of her. I waited on her every fucking moment of the day and night. I did everything she asked me to do, even when she swore at me and threw diarrhea at me, that bitch. I cleaned up after her when she–when she– I kept her alive.”
“What? Alex, what are talking about? Who are you talking about? Mom?” She pulled her hand away.
The window disintegrated. In stunned silence, Ellie watched as Alex rose, twisting and writhing, and floated screaming towards the gaping window, bandages flying, new deep cuts appearing in his skin. Ellie grabbed his leg and held on to him with all her might and did not let go until the nurses helped to pull him back into the room.