Every villain thinks he’s the hero.
But after last night, I need to believe that some of us can be both. Last night I saw good versus evil, and their mutant bitch of a child. Heh, I love that kid. So here’s where I wish I could merely say:
Hello! I’m Timothy Dune, and I’m completely. Totally. Fucked.
But I’m not that lucky.
The truth is, my name’s Timothy Dune, and I’m cursed to kill everyone I love. And still fucked.
The curse, it’s no joke. An ancient island-god cursed me. Forever. Plus, I was only five years old when it happened. Yes, five! No, I wasn’t a saint. I’d assaulted slugs for fun, melted bugs with sun and glass. Kid crap like that. But I wasn’t a monster, either. And I definitely hadn’t killed anyone yet. Last night, I deserved to be cursed. Not when I was five. Look, I’ll admit I’m no expert on time, but you shouldn’t be cosmically condemned decades before any crimes. Right?
No, it can’t work like that. My life must be an aberration in an otherwise just and orderly universe. I’ll accept that life’s cruel, but then it must be fair.
Anyway, I hereby confess my great crime:
Picture the Bahamas, and you’re just barely five years old. You’re in a day camp for annoying kids, while Mom and Dad jet ski, or make love under coconut trees. You’re in a roped off section of the shallow ocean. The counselors watch like totems while you swim with manta rays, stingrays, all manner of strange fish and candy colored coral.
You’re given a minnow to feed the docile rays. You get hold of a baby ray, black and sleek and beautiful below. But then you turn it over and see slits and gills gasping up at you. That pale, milky, underside of this thing. When it swam below, it was so elegant and pure. Now, in your hand, its true face is wrinkly, white, alien.
You drop it in the sand.
You raise your foot. And… game over!
Your fate is sealed.
Now please believe me. I didn’t actually stomp the ray. The camp counselor slapped me away first. He cradled the innocent animal back into the water, his eyes welling up with sea and salt. Then he turned to face me, my elbows still deep in the sand, and the sun burning him into a dark colossus. Burning eyes of disgust. Thus, he invoked the Curse:
You have violated an innocent creature of Mother Ocean. And so you are cursed to violate, to poison all that you love and watch them die, to swim the barren seas alone.
As I grew up, I didn’t truly believe in the Curse, or his god, or any gods at all. Then they all started to die. Now I believe. Oh, do I believe. It’s taken everything from me. Piece by piece. All that’s left now is a deep longing for things that can never be mine, things that can never want me back, like oceans and ghosts.
Twenty-two years later, I sit alone on this sunset shore, remembering last night. Still cursed and definitely fucked. Covered in dirt, blood, and bile. I watch the ocean. It’s a flat day. I’m waiting for Bernard, my roommate, to bring coffee. My eyes are as red as the horizon, where the endless ocean meets the burning sun. They merely pretend to touch.
As of last night, most of my friends are now dead, insane, or on their way to jail. And unless Julio pulls another miracle, I’ll be dead soon too. Or worse, in jail. Why? I did everything right. I did my best. I saved him… How did things turn out so bad?
Almost made it to thirty.
But the sad part is, I’m finally happy.
For the first time since Tracy Cameron died, I’m happy.
I lie back in the sand, relishing the coarse grains in my hair. Last night I ran with devils. I faced the sharks, the cyclops, their Savage Boss, and a phantom fox. I’d seen Hell, wounded its king, and limped away.
Last night started a long time ago, as all these things do. My first mistake, fear of the ray. My worst mistake, loving the wrong girl. Being stupid enough to think I’m special. That curses are fake, that I wouldn’t violate and poison all I’d touch, as promised.
It’s getting dark now, and Bernard isn’t back with coffee yet, so I stare up at the sky and salute with one finger. Despite an unfortunate life in an unfortunate world, Tracy kept me going. Kept me naïve, hopeful, and strong. So the wrong girl? Yeah. The perfect girl? Absolutely.
Perfect girl, stupid boy, wrong world.
Of course I’d wanted her, too… but no arcane wizard could predict the chain of events our affair caused. She started it, but… She didn’t live to see them. Was it truly an overdose? Or a suicide? Kept telling myself for all these years that it didn’t matter, because I can still see us together as clear as the whitewash at my feet. Staring up, watching clouds shot with sun rays, the crescent moon rising like a scythe, slicing across all those shining gods we call stars.
Really need that coffee, Bernard. What’s the holdup?
Closing my eyes, I can’t help but go back to that August night, six years and another lifetime ago. To the fire pit nestled in the heart of the woods, the trails serving for ribs and veins. I see us, smell burnt wood and sweat, hear it word for word, even the insects spying on us. Tracy and I, sitting on burnt logs, the circle of trees as a shield. Yes. When she broke me, freed me, then pieced me back together. Before it all came crashing down, drowning my world in blood, sweat, and madness. The memory burns, taunting me. Daring me to relive it one more time. Are you going to cry again this time, Tim? Screw it. I take the dare. Closing my eyes, I return to the most important night of my life. To Tracy, my little fire cat, with flames dancing across her cheeks, as she blessed me with our first cursed kiss…
“No. No, Tracy, stop.” I’m pulling away from her lips, just as slowly as she’d leaned in. I keep my eyes shut. “We can’t do this.”
Yeah, Tim. Why not? She’s eighteen. I’m only twenty-two. But our friends, our families, what will they think? No, it’s not even that. That’s not the true fear. It’s because this is too good to be true. For the first time, my love isn’t futile. Tracy, little Tracy Cameron wants me. But Tracy’s grown up now, bonded to me over her entire life. That little girl, a victim of neglect and abuse, with only her brother and me to shield her, is now a young woman who wields her own sword in the darkness. A young woman who leaves me in awe. A survivor, a warrior who leaves her peers jealous, enthralled, or filled with lust. And she brought me out here to the fire pit as usual, her surrogate older brother. Always on call, to read, to talk, to console and vent. But then she kissed me. “We’re practically family. This must be illegal. Somewhere.”
“Illegal? Ha! Like legality has ever stopped you or Julio,” she says. Yet she looks down the night-choked trail. Her smile fades. “Shit, Tim. I thought you… Don’t you run away from me. Please. Not now.”
She’s dressed as always. Black, ripped jeans, leather jacket with useless zippers, chains, and leather boots. Her army of piercings, and my favorite one, the eyebrow ring. Despite her naturally red hair, she’s dyed it the color of flame. All this armor, hiding a brilliant, shining soul. Braver and smarter than anyone I’ve ever known. And she actually wants me?
“Look, Trace, it’s not you. Believe me, it’s definitely not you.”
As I lean away, she slides across the log and kills the gap between us. The fire crackles, waiting, framed in black branches under a full moon. We’re too far from the beach, but I can smell the sand, the sea, the salt and freedom on her skin.
“C’mon loser. What is it? Is it my brother? Don’t tell me you’re afraid of him.”
“Afraid of Barry? Come on.” I turn away, wringing my hands. “Remember, I know karate. I have my sword. I’m deadly.”
“Right, right. That’s not what I meant. Are you afraid he’ll hate you?”
A spider creeps out of the log.
“Hate me?” There’s the rub of it. Could my blood brother hate me for loving his younger sister? “Wouldn’t you?”
“What, would I hate you if you dated Barry? Ha, well, when you put it that way, I’d feel a little—”
“Look, even if this, this…” I can’t stop thinking about that kiss. A meteor coming out of nowhere. The taste of cigarettes and wet skin. Just like I’d imagined. “Whatever this is, you started it.” I flick the spider into the grass. “Do you really think Barry could hate me?”
Tracy and Barry Cameron are the closest thing to siblings I’ve ever had. Sure, my parents love me, but theirs certainly don’t. Still, we grew up together. Barry could hate a traitor. Anyone could. Need to derail this. “Anyway, have you read any of those books yet?”
“Yes. All of them. Don’t worry, I’ll give them back soon. But don’t change the subject.”
“Wait, you read all of them? Already?” As if she could ever stop impressing me. Most times now, she feels… older than me. Stronger.
“Yeah, dude. But I didn’t do any homework again.”
“You’re going to fail high school at this rate. What’s wrong with you? You could ace senior year, easy.”
No answer. She stares into the fire pit. Is she changing her mind? Realizing we’ve just crossed a serious line that still felt so god damned good? A fat little beetle scampers out of our log. She picks it up, turning it over, examining its awful, wiggling legs.
She flicks it into the fire.
“Fuck all that. Look at me. What’s your problem? I thought… I really thought you felt the same. You’re pretty bad at hiding it.”
Bad? Seven hells, I hope she’s wrong, or everyone we know is going to come crashing down on us in a wave of shock, hate, and disgust. Thinking I’m some kind of monster, preying on her ‘innocence and youth’. Instead of realizing, I just pray for her to survive this youth.
“Don’t you feel like my little sister?”
“But I’ve known you since you were born. You were just a little kid. Of course I love you, but I can’t forget…” My voice is receding like the tide.
“You sound like the kid here, Tim. People grow up. Granted, you’re doing it a little slower than average.”
“Very funny. Trace, I know you’re no kid, but this is some kind of pseudo-incest. Isn’t it?”
“You want this.” She leans in again. I don’t lean away. “I want you. Not for tonight, not for a week. I want you. And you want me, too.”
She’s right. She’s always right. I’ve spent two shameful years losing sleep over impossible dreams of this. But she wasn’t the aggressor in any of those. “It’s just weird.”
“True, it’s kinda weird. And you’re right about us. That’s the point. We’ve known each other forever. Like no one else has does. And everyone else sucks. Right? They’re boring, hateful, judging anything unsafe or unknown. Don’t you remember all the crap we’ve been through?”
I do. I bite my lip, remembering drunken nights of violence, absent parents, drugs, and worse. My own isolation, our families’ slow disintegrations. I bite harder.
“And you know this ain’t incest, you dork.” Her smile is creeping back. Just like a fox from the grass. Always hiding there, waiting to bite.
“But I used to babysit you! That doesn’t weird you out?” No, you idiot. Of course it doesn’t. Keep it up, Tim. You’re going to blow it. How long before she gets sick of this? And yet, I still weasel about. “College starts soon. I’m leaving, anyway.”
“Tim, babe, I’m glad you finally decided to go. Hell, most people your age already did that,” she laughs at me.
Your age. I can’t help being a late bloomer. Can’t help being chained to this place. I look up. She’s still smiling. So patient. She gets what she wants, and holy shit, she really, truly, wants me. I try to light a cigarette that isn’t there. She continues. She’s winning.
“But you’re going local. So you’ll just have to suck it up and come visit me. That, or I’ll skip school and come to you. We’ll only be, what, an hour apart? Hell, that’s closer than the hospital. You’ll come back. I know it. You always come back.”
Eyes shut, I put my hands down. Then stare at hers. She’s gripping the log steady and strong, but she’s trembling. Confidence flows over her, but I can see it, that faint tremor in her fingers. The fear of rejection. She’s shed her armor for me. Again. It’s your turn now, Tim. My hands close around my face. Finally free to hide, I let the happiness out. “You’re right. I’ll come back. Every time I can. I can…”
I kiss her. The damage is done. We don’t stop.
Her fingers dance slowly across my knee, and mine on the small of her back.
She looks back at the fire.
The beetle pops.
It’s okay. Namu amida butsu… But oh shit, shit, my best friend’s little sister is in love with me and I want it. I really, really want it. I want to wipe away her tears and hold her and fuck her and kiss her and fall asleep with her head on my chest.
It’s my fault that I’ve been alone. I’ve been waiting for her, never dared to think she felt the same. I didn’t ask. So that has to make it okay. Right? But no one can ever know, not yet, not now, because, because... No. Stop it, you idiot king. No more thinking, no more fear. It’s time for heart, for flesh, and blood. Kiss her again.
I press my lips against her cheek, where her jaw line slopes down to her neck. She twists into me, chest to chest. We press foreheads. A strand of her hair sticks on my lip. Her cheek slides against my temple, and then she arches up across my forehead, tracing my face with hers. Her mouth is just beneath mine.
“You don’t know how bad I’ve wanted this,” I said. Why am I out of breath? “But what if they find out? Barry could come walking through that trail any minute. They’ll never understand. They won’t let us…”
“Tim. Babe.” She puts her finger on my lips. Her eyelashes brush my skin. “Shut up. I don’t give a shit. I really don’t. We can keep this secret if it’ll make you just shut up and do this.”
Her knee slides over my leg, her head nestles against my neck. I shut up.
“And for real, you’re too paranoid. I get it, you think we’re being… scandalous or something. I’m not an idiot. Chill out, okay? We don’t have to go around town shouting about our star-struck undying love. Listen, Barry’s always trusted you to protect me. Even my mom does. She hates you, but she still trusts you. Think about that. Only you. They’ve always trusted to protect me. From monsters. Burglars. From my father.”
“Our friends got rid of him. I just hid upstairs with you.”
She bursts into an odd laugh, tears I didn’t see shining in firelight. She spits into the dirt before hugging me. I can’t stop staring at her neck, where her hair drifts away like damp sand at the shore.
“Of course you were with me. You’re more a medic than a warrior,” she says.
Already, smile wrinkles are pushing the tears away. We stare into each other, and we both know this is really happening. Her eyes. Her strange eyes, green around the pupil. Then they’re ringed in hazel, and at the outermost rim, a strip of blue. And they want my dull, brown eyes. And at that very moment, when I should feel desired and more loved than ever… I can’t shake this fear.
I scan the dark woods around us. We’re safely hidden, but my mind still sees that counselor in the shadows. I can hear his words echoing across time, see his veiny neck twisting sideways, his burnt lips bared back as he invokes the Curse. To poison all I love. To swim a barren sea alone. Never believed it, even if the words remained stitched in the back of my mind my whole life. Now, now it seems almost… It’s…
She hugs me tight, her face on my chest, her hair just beneath my nose, smelling like some pretty flower I’d never know the name of. Yes. Even if that crap curse exists, it was still unjust. I never even hurt that stupid ray. Injustice can be fought. And with her at my side… I go to kiss her head again, but cough. Every heartbeat screams that things are changed forever, even as we pretend they’re not. “Uh, so… so the books were good? I dumped a lot of esoteric, existential, alien shit on you.”
“Yeah, but I’m ready for more.” She runs her hand through my hair. “Next time, I want your favorite shit. The stuff about anti-gods and nightmare dimensions, invisible societies. I want your underground comics and dusty books full of ancient monsters, devils, and curses. I want to dive deeper. Right into all that fun, crazy shit you always ramble about. It’s cool. You’re cool.”
“Yeah. I mean, you’re cool too. Whatever. It’s all… Everything’s cool,” I whisper. This can’t be undone. So I was cursed, maybe now I’m blessed. No, I know I’m blessed. She could have anyone and she chose me. Me. I brush her hair back, tucking it behind her ear. The four rings running up it are cool, a balance against her hot flesh. “You are pretty cool. Too cool for a guy who’s never had a girlfriend.”
“No shit, I already know I’m cool.” She beams up at me, and I realize that for the first time in my pathetic life, I do have a girlfriend.
“So I’m, like, your boyfriend now?”
She snuggles in tighter, nearly knocking me off the log. “That’s the idea. My sexy, weird, secret boyfriend.”
Wow. This means we’re probably going to have sex soon. I wonder when. I wonder a lot, but really, right now, I’m perfectly happy. I wrap my lanky arms around my girlfriend. “Don’t worry, Trace. We’ll dive.”
“Good. Don’t worry, babe, this is going to be fun. And weird.” She somehow snuggles in deeper. “Just keep protecting me.”
I take a deep breath, cup her chin, then lift her face to mine. Kiss her forehead.
“I will. I swear to god, Tracy. I will always protect you.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Tim, you don’t believe in god.”
My eyelids peel open and six years pass. The memory fades. The sun is creeping down behind the sea. Still no Bernard. Still no coffee. Small waves start crashing in closer. I’m rubbing sand through my hair. Don’t hear any sirens. No shotguns cocking in the dunes, no ambulances. But last night still happened. It’s all still real. What would Tracy think of it all? Would she be proud of me? Or sickened? Or worse, ashamed?
Too many fucking questions. Too fucking tired.
So for now I’ll lie on this beach, just a life and a few miles away from the dead past. It’s almost over. I’ve finally failed everyone. It’s about time for the Curse to come and get me now. Save the least for last. Yet, strangely at peace with it. At least now, the truth of it all is clear. Now I know, I truly deserve this Curse.
But even that’s not enough. Acceptance still can’t erase that one question. The one where only silence falls. What if, that night… what if I’d just turned away?
If I’d had the courage to break our hearts, would she still be alive?