Sometimes Things Are True

Now

Lucy rode an elevator to the cracked moon in search of her father. She slumped against the back wall, her eyes peeled for space pirates — zombie or ninja or otherwise. There was a guy next to her. His name was Bill. He carried a briefcase and smelled like cumin.

“You don’t even know,” Lucy said.

Bill said, “My mother was killed by a werewolf. I think I have some idea.”

Bill was not a monster. He was just a guy.

Lucy’s father was not just a guy. He was a ninja zombie werewolf space pirate.

Sometimes that happens.

You don’t even know.

Lucy said, “There are worse things than being killed by a werewolf.”

The elevator’s speed increased the further from earth it got. Lucy watched the sky falling beneath her feet. The elevator lights slowly came on as they slid into the darkness of space.

Bill said, “Like what?”

Lucy said, “Like being almost killed by a werewolf.”

Bill moved back into the corner. He clutched his briefcase against his chest. He watched the full, cracked moon fill the glass with its broken grin.

“What sort of work do you do?” Bill said.

Lucy said, “Apocalypses, mostly.”

“You’re a superhero?” Bill said.

“Depends,” Lucy said.

“On what?” Bill said.

“Who calls first,” Lucy said.

Bill didn’t ask any more questions.

Before now

“It’s not true what they say about werewolves, you know?” Lucy said to Jack. “You can’t become a werewolf by kissing. That’s just a myth. You can’t get it from sex either, unless it’s a very particular kind of sex. There are probably a few days out of the month when you’d probably rather not kiss one, or have sex, I guess. Sometimes things are true.”

“Am I even needed in this conversation?” Jack said.

“I enjoy listening to you listen,” Lucy said. “The sound of your breathing is very comforting.”

Lucy and Jack were talking on the phone. Lucy was in a restaurant in Rome having breakfast, taking her sweet, delicious time in taking down a recently reanimated and pissed off giant that had been taking a very long, and much-needed, nap beneath a piazza. Giants wear themselves out carrying all the weight of themselves. They need to nap more than people think.

The restaurant was called Bobby’s Buffet. It had a Korean menu on the wall. The walls were very blue. The tabletops a shade of sunshine. They served parsi-style scrambled eggs, mango lassis, and exceptionally good kimchi.

Jack was paddling through Manhattan in a canoe. Lucy could hear the rain falling around him. She could also hear distant screaming and tumbling stone towers. According to the last report she received, the recently reanimated giant was stumbling toward the Coliseum, clutching its chest. Giants often have trouble with their hearts, mostly due to them very often storing their hearts in eggs thinking that it’s safer, really, in the long run, to separate yourself from your heart. That never works, though. You can’t protect your heart if you’re always hiding it from yourself.

Lucy scooped up a bite of scrambled eggs. She asked for another espresso. Lucy didn’t believe in heroics before breakfast, or in storing her heart anywhere she couldn’t keep a close eye on it.

Jack said, “I’ve never kissed a monster before.”

Lucy said, “That’s a lie.”

Jack said, “How do you know?”

Lucy said, “I’ve seen some of your previous girlfriends.”

Lucy and Jack listened to the rain. The distant screaming had stopped. This was probably not a good sign.

Jack said, “You spying on me?”

Lucy said, “I’ve been known to lurk.”

Jack said, “When are you coming back to New York? The city misses you.”

Lucy said, “I don’t know. Maybe when I find this giant’s heart and crush it. Maybe when it stops raining in New York.”

Jack said, “What if it never stops?”

Lucy said, “Then you’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Jack said, “Which one of my girlfriends was a monster?”

Lucy said, “I’ll let you work it out.”

She listened to Jack breathe. Jack called himself a zen pirate, but really he was just a guy. Not a monster. Not a superhero. There was nothing special about him. He couldn’t fly. He couldn’t do magic. He couldn’t not die in any particularly interesting way. His beliefs had no more effect on the world than those of anyone else. Sometimes Lucy wondered if this was why she liked him. If maybe he was the yardstick for normal she measured herself against.

Jack said, “The firefly mermaids are beautiful this time of year. I’m thinking of sailing with Sally out to Central Park to see them.”

“Sally was my mother’s name,” Lucy said.

“I didn’t know that,” Jack said. “You never talk about her or your dad much, you know?”

Lucy said, “I’ve got another call.”

Jack said, “Good guys or bad guys?”

Lucy listened to the rain a little while longer. She imagined the fire maidens of Manhattan swimming and spinning through the air, dodging the rain drops. She thought about Jack’s face, about the plum cider he kept under his seat. She felt herself missing him. She looked at her phone. It was her father.

“C,” Lucy said. “All of the above.”

She answered the other call.

Before before now

Lucy’s grandmother was bitten by a ninja werewolf space pirate at a 7-11 during the early days of the ninja werewolf space pirate raids that took place along the northeast coast soon after the moon first cracked. She gave birth to Lucy’s father on one of the pirate ships as it flew back to the moon. In the confusion, the ninja werewolf space pirates did not notice the ensuing attack by their enemies, the ninja zombie space pirates. Most of the ninja werewolf space pirates were killed in the confusion of birth, flesh, and shambling kung-fu. A few stayed dead because a zombie here and there had silver fillings. A ninja zombie space pirate named Abigail found Lucy’s father hidden behind a barrel of raw meat. He was crying. She picked him up. She chewed away the left side of his chest, taking a kidney, a lung, some of his stomach, and at least half his heart.

Before now

Generally, Lucy and her father never met anymore except when the world, or a city, was at stake. It was one of those things. They had issues. He was a supervillain. She was uncertain whether it mattered if the world was destroyed or not, but she didn’t particularly want to die and she was a part of the world so, well, you know.

Lucy met her father on top of the ruins of the Roman Coliseum. He wore a tattered blue linen suit stained with ash and bone and a dab of something yellow on the left sleeve, mustard, perhaps, or giant’s blood. In his right hand, he held a half-eaten heart. He smiled at Lucy’s arrival, showing a mouthful of rotting, rusted teeth. It looked like a good punch might empty him out. Wrinkles stretched across his face, vanishing beneath the smoke and curl of his hair, once gold, now faded to brimstone. A winged marmoset sat on his shoulder.

The city smoldered and sparked around them. Pirates hovered down on hoverboats from her father’s vessel, a Z-gravved and pointlessly masted frigate called Never Mind the Pretense. Lucy’s father considered himself a funny ninja zombie werewolf space pirate. The ship bobbed overhead, magicnetically anchored to this precise point over the earth. Lucy generally turned a blind eye to her father’s activities, both because (a) his monstrousness tended to contain itself to the occasional monarchal pillaging or sacking of a city, and (b) she felt awkward every time she saw him, her chest expanding and contracting with a confusing mix of guilt, love, hate, pride, and fear.

She wasn’t sure just yet if her father had something to do with the giant, or if, in the chaos of stomping, he had decided it was a good time to attack.

“You’ve decided to sack Rome,” Lucy said. “Hilarious.”

Her father smiled at her around a bite of the half-chewed heart. He held the rest of the organ in his fist as if it were an apple.

“Got bored,” he said. “Plus, I wanted to see you.”

“You woke up a giant,” Lucy said. She gestured over her shoulder at distant plumes of smoke and a very large shadow making its way through the distant plumes towards the coliseum.

“That seems to have been the effect of me stealing his heart, yes,” her father said.

“When did giant hearts get put on the menu?”

“Round about the time I realized I was dying.”

Lucy had noticed, of late, that her father seemed to be getting older, or maybe just thinner. This hadn’t seemed possible, though, and so she ignored it. Her father was meant to live forever. That’s how it worked with monsters.

“You can’t die,” Lucy said, and hated herself for saying it. She sounded like a dumb little girl. She had never understood how it worked, really, this thing where your insides were made up of all different kinds of monsters. She guessed that the different variations of cruelty inside her father might be aging at different rates. Maybe the strain of the different time scales wearied him. Maybe the wolf in him could grow old, weak, dead, even as the zombie parts of him kept going. She could ask her father about it. She should ask, really. Everything in him, after all, was also in her.

“That heart doesn’t belong to you,” Lucy said.

“Found it fair and square,” Lucy’s father said. “Just under this coliseum here. Behind a few trap doors. Couple of hellhounds. A thrice-blessed knight of the Round Table guarding a swan’s egg. The usual.” He cocked his head in further consideration. The flying marmoset on his shoulder nodded.

Lucy asked her father if he could stop joking around so much. And also please stop doing that. The eating the heart thing. “There’s a giant,” she said, “who is going to be very angry if he finds out his one and only heart has been half-eaten.”

“I’ll try to stop,” her father said, still chewing. The giant roared closer, confused, lost, peeking under roofs and, in the search for his heart, generally making a mess of things. “No promises, though. I’m not very good with those. And this heart tastes especially good. Well aged. Good vintage. The stuff of fairy tales and legends.”

Lucy said, “Give me the heart, Dad.”

“Why?”

“Because I asked. Because I’m your daughter who has a job to do. Namely, to quiet that giant over there.” Lucy motioned at the giant who was, at the moment, stepping gingerly, if not all that successfully, around a cathedral. At this point, local police had arrived and then run away when they saw there was a giant.

“If you let me finish the heart,” Lucy’s father said, “problem solved. Dead giant. No problem.” The marmoset perched on his shoulder brushed its paws together as if wiping the accumulated dust from a job well done. The marmoset wore a dingy, dark purple vest. It was named Jim.

“Jim agrees with me,” Lucy’s father said.

Lucy rolled her eyes.

Her father continued speaking over the crashing sounds of the Roman giant stumbling through a very old-looking cathedral. “Still playing the hero is that it? Heroes don’t let their fathers destroy cities, though, do they? Why pretend you’re something you’re not?” Her father motioned with the chewed heart. He said, “I really like what you’ve done with your hair, by the way.”

Lucy had very recently streaked her hair with lilac and shadows.

Lucy said, “I never said I was a hero.”

“No,” her father said, “you didn’t. You just like to pretend. You’ll have to choose sometime, though. Some things are true and some things are not. You always had trouble with that. Same as your mother.” Her father continued eating the giant’s heart.

The giant continued stumbling closer, searching for the buried part of himself he had thought safe.

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to,” Lucy said. “I’m an adult, you know.”

Her father smiled. He swallowed the last piece of the giant’s heart. The giant clutched its chest. Fell to its knees. Then toppled over, shattering blocks of white-walled homes. Dust rose and settled in the air. It shimmered in the sunset. It was beautiful, if you ignored all the death.

Lucy’s father looked ancient, bronzed, untouched, a monument to himself.

“Being an adult means doing things you don’t want to do,” her father said. “Even your mother understood that. That’s why she was a hero and you, as of yet, are nothing. You’ll never be a proper hero or monster until you learn to make sacrifices.”

Lucy felt angry enough to cry. She swallowed the feeling down into her fists.

Her father smiled. One of his teeth fell out. He said, “Apologies. Still a bit of the human left in me, I guess. No other monster excels so at hurting the ones they love most. I really have missed you lately.”

Lucy said, “I haven’t.”

“Still a bit of human in you, too, I guess,” her father said. He licked his fingers.

Lucy punched him in the face, the bones in his cheek giving way with a sickening crunch not at all like she remembered. He fell a long way, tumbling end over end past the ruined windows of the Coliseum. He bounced a little at the end.

You can’t hurt someone who’s already kind of not quite dead. That’s what Lucy always told herself. She had trouble always believing that was true, though.

Before before now

As a child, Lucy had sailed the solar winds with her father, but mostly she never saw him. She spent most of her time with the crew, under the dead-eyed care of her father’s first mate, and second mother, Abigail, the ninja zombie space pirate who had rescued and stolen half her father’s heart — along with a few other tasty organs.

With her help, Lucy learned how to polish the anodized heat shields, rig the Z-gravs, and deliver buckets of gray matter to the crew in such a manner as to ensure that nothing spilled. Lucy loved the work. Her hands glittered with the dust of aluminum and bones. Her clothes smelled like spinal fluid. Some of the crew eyed her suspiciously, though. Some called her a little hero in a way that felt like they were spitting on her. Some said that the captain, her father, had made a mistake when he fell in love with “that caped woman.”

Lucy’s mom, at this time, was already dead and buried and not anything in particular anymore unless you believe in the idea that everything is everything and once we really and truly die we become one with the universe, our atoms slipping back among those of the dust, the trees, and the elevators to the moon.

She had been a superhero with the power to believe in anything, and a somewhat more inconsistent ability to make whatever she believed come true. She had believed, for a time, that Lucy’s father could be a good man, if someone gave him a chance, if someone just believed in him enough.

She, and her beliefs, died while giving birth to Lucy, her ninja pirate zombie werewolf superhero daughter.

Sometimes that happens, too.

When she could, Lucy would grab a moment to herself, stand on the foredeck — above the ship’s fire maiden figurehead — and let the wind tear through her hair, keeping her eyes open to the wonder of wondering and believing that somewhere among the stars and clouds anything and everything was possible, including that her mother still lived, scattered, distant, numinous. Occasionally, Lucy adjusted the architecture of things to suit her desires. She had inherited some of her mother’s faith-based abilities.

Once she believed her mother’s face onto the clouds, arranging the scattered atoms into something she could connect with.

When her father saw, he struck Lucy’s cheek with the back of his undead hand. He hit her again when she started to cry. He kept hitting her until she stopped believing long enough for the cloud to drift apart into nothing in particular.

“Why?” Lucy asked.

Her father raised his hand again. He ground his teeth. The muscles swelled along his jaw.

The crew stood still. No one asked the captain why. No one asked him any questions if they could help it, in fact, as he hated questions — ”why” being the question he hated most.

Lucy waited for her father’s hand to fall again, and it did, but this time it fell against his side, the violence burned out of him, his eyes dark and full of crushing loss. A pair of black holes.

The only time Lucy really spent alone with her father was on the occasional day when he would give her lessons on how to be a ninja, how to be at home in the darkness, for example, or how to be invisible in a way that killed people. Once he told her to sit for a week without moving.

Other days, he told her to close her eyes and try to strike him as hard as she could in what remained of his heart.

Usually, she missed.

On the first night she succeeded, and felt her fist press through her father’s flesh, touching his heart for the first and not-quite-last time, he invited her into his cabin. They sat in front of a fireplace over which sat a picture of Lucy’s mother, caped and glorious, bronze skin all aglow in the noon sun. A pot of socked feet boiled over the fire. The flames cast shadows in her father’s chest. His face shimmered, moonlight on an algae-scarred rock. He said, “I can’t have you around here anymore. You’re not cut out to be a pirate.”

Lucy protested. She asked why.

The flying marmoset rattled restless in his cage. The cage hung in a window through which Lucy could see the sun-bruised clouds.

“You’ll have to figure that out on your own,” her father said. He took a socked foot from the fireplace pot. He gnawed on the ankle. He offered some to Lucy. Lucy shook her head.

Her father nodded. He swallowed. He looked at her face for a very long time.

“You have her nose,” he said. Then he growled around a bit of toe. “Too much of the hero in you, I guess,” he said.

Before now

Jack called Lucy.

Lucy was still confused about her father and the thing where maybe dead things could still die.

“Sally freaked out over the firefly mermaids,” he said. “It was the teeth, I think.”

“The thing about werewolves and vampires having some kind of eternal war?” Lucy said. “That’s all moonshit, too.”

“Really?” Jack said.

“Really. It’s just the nom’s trying to stir up bad blood between the scary hairies. Pit one against the other, you know?”

“Huh,” Jack said. “I had no idea that monsters had it so bad. Also, I’m pretty sure ‘noms’ is not politically correct.”

“You don’t even care, do you?” Lucy said. Lucy was lying on her back in the dried-out pool bed in the center of Fatehpur Sikri. She was surrounded by stars and mountains and empty ramparts. It was one of her favorite places in the world. Her father probably loved it, too. She didn’t know what her mother would think. All Lucy knew about her mother came from the journals she had left in which she wrote stories. Mostly fairy tales. Lucy had loved them and then hated them as she got older because mostly she wished her mother had written something real and true about her own life, something that Lucy could hold close to her heart and say, yep, that was my mom.

“I’m cooking pasta,” Jack said. “It’s a delicate process. Especially on a canoe.”

“Moonshitter,” Lucy said.

Jack said, “Do you miss me?”

Lucy said, “Manhattan is the new Atlantis. You should move out before it’s too late.”

There was one story in her mom’s journals that she kept returning to. In that story, it was said that beneath Rome, Havana, New Orleans, Manila, and a mountain on the dark side of the moon, there was buried, in each place, a single heart that was stolen from a giant. These giants had once threatened to end the world if they didn’t get what they wanted. Each giant loved and lost and longed in a particular way. To make sure that they didn’t end the world, people stole their hearts and buried them in secret places so that the giants’ longings would remain hidden within the world, and the moon, forever.

People, noms, had always treated monsters like shit. Lucy had always wondered why they were so surprised when the monsters fought back.

Jack said, “Sally lives in a phonebooth. Those things have surprising buoyancy. I need you to tell me if she’s a monster or not.”

Lucy said, “What is it you have against monsters?”

Jack said, “Depends on the monster.”

At the end of her mom’s story, she wrote that the person who discovered, and consumed, all five hearts would be filled with the longing of the world and the planet would crack under the weight of his desires, and all manner of nonsense and apocalypse might occur.

Just before the villain in the story could eat the last heart, though, a hero came and stole the villain’s own heart and saved the world.

Lucy said, “What if the monster doesn’t know what kind of monster it wants to be?”

Jack said, “Then I’d say that’s one confused monster. I’d be worried about that monster’s ability to connect with the other monsters.”

It occurred to Lucy that her father had just eaten the heart of a giant who slept beneath Rome.

Lucy said, “I need to go. I’ve got this thing I need to do.”

Jack said, “What?”

Lucy said, “I’ll tell you later.”

Jack said, “Should I be worried? Are we talking apocalypse or something more like vampire robot hooligans thinking to make a landing and toss some pubs in Brighton?”

Lucy laughed. She rolled on her side.

She said, “I think I like you.”

She said, “I think my father might be trying to end the world.”

Jack said, “You and your father have a complicated relationship, I guess?”

“You don’t even know,” Lucy said.

Now

Lucy loved the moon. She loved the way dust fell slow through your fingers. She loved the fact that capes were pointless. Her favorite part of riding the elevator to the moon, ever since she was a little ninja zombie werewolf space pirate, was that moment when you realized that somewhere along the way everything had turned upside down and instead of flying you were falling, the world below your feet no longer warm, and green, and blue, but cold, and ashen, and pocked with craters and crags and crevasses.

Lucy had a special place in her heart for those places, and people, who didn’t bother, or couldn’t help but show, the violence done to them by the universe.

She met Abigail — now older, wiser, and with one less arm than the last time they had seen each other — at a bar called the Crow, a hunched and reflective bit of black and silver that perched on the lip of a crater and offered a lovely view of the Earth rising over the western edge of the moon. The bartender was a foxy troll: witty, bald, and bushy tailed.

Abigail said, “Your father protects us.”

“My father protects himself,” Lucy said. “And if he destroys the world, what’s the point?”

“The world isn’t our world,” Abigail said. “They shipped a lot of us monsters here back in the Before, just after the moon cracked and the monsters fell out. And then they tried to forget. They tried to stuff the crack full of our bodies, you know. Didn’t work, though.” She tapped the rim of her glass with her thumb. “We might be better off without it.”

“What would you eat,” Lucy said, “without all those tasty nom brains down there?”

Abigail laughed. It sounded like falling off a cliff. She took a sip of skinned bourbon. Lucy had often spent nights with Abigail in the galleys of the ship, learning about life, death, and the ways they were, and weren’t, all that different from each other. Abigail would lean against a barrel, cup pressed between her breasts. Lucy would sit on top of the barrel, legs crossed beneath her. She would ask questions. Abigail would answer as best she could.

It was Abigail who told Lucy her mother had been beautiful and fierce, like a tigerhawk. It was Abigail that told Lucy her father was a man of passion and curiosity who was in constant and desperate search for life and adventure, with the hope that it might stave off the dead depression so endemic to most zombies. She said that’s how he became captain. The wolf in him gave him a passion most zombies lacked, and the zombie in him gave him a place of calm that most werewolves, even when declawed, generally never acquired.

“If he finds out I helped you, then I could lose my head.”

Lucy said, “He won’t find out.”

“How do you know?”

“He’ll be dead.”

Lucy drank. Abigail’s glass sweated. The witty bartender with a bushy tail whistled a song about the time of an uncracked moon.

Abigail said, “He loves you, you know?”

Lucy said, “Love is for humans. Monsters don’t know how to love. We just end up hurting each other.”

“He’s never been the same since you left.”

“Everything my father loves leaves him,” Lucy said, “including you. He should be used to it by now.”

“Do you really hate him that much?” Abigail said.

Lucy bit her lip. She shoved the glass around on the table.

She said, “No.”

She said, “Yes.”

She said, “I love him with all of my heart.”

She said, “Are you going to tell me what part of the dark side of the moon he’s hiding in or not?”

Before before now

Lucy first met Jack while shadowing a dark-hearted unicorn across the sea of Manhattan. The unicorn could fly. Lucy couldn’t. She ran across the tops of trees and buildings. She had learned a little kung-fu along with the ninja skills the pirates taught her. Sometimes it came in handy. The unicorn had supposedly murdered several noms in the past months. Most of them young girls probably too dumb to know that within every class of creature, living or dead or otherwise, there lives a fairly wide variety of personality, one that generally ranged, in Lucy’s experience, from not so horrible to I-will-stab-you-in-the-heart-and-then-nom-on-your-intestines-horrible. Lucy followed the unicorn’s scent, running and jumping and swimming, until the unicorn landed somewhere in a seven-story red brick that still clung to life in the fashion district of lower Manhattan.

Lucy swayed in the top of an oak. She stared at the building. At the bottom, floating among the curved tops of streetlights, there was a canoe being paddled by a nom. Where his paddle dipped in the water, schools of firefly mermaids glowed.

Lucy jumped down. The canoe didn’t capsize. Lucy was good at being a ninja when she had to be.

The man put the paddle in his lap. The man had nice glasses.

“Um,” the man said.

Lucy said, “I’m looking for a unicorn.”

The man pointed up, “Seventh floor,” he said.

He held out his hand. “My name’s Jack,” he said.

Lucy didn’t shake it. She leapt from the boat, somersaulting her way through a shattered window at water level. She ninja-ed up the spiraling stairs and followed her nose to a room on the seventh floor. The unicorn was having a conversation with a little girl about magical worlds. The little girl was patting the unicorn’s nose.

Lucy told the little girl to run. The unicorn charged at Lucy. Lucy spun away from the unicorn’s horn, shin-blocked the beast’s back kick, and kicked herself off the wall and onto the unicorn’s back. Her arms bristled with the power of the moon. She did what she had to do. She threw the head out the window.

She told the little girl to sleep somewhere else. “Try not to believe everything you hear in stories,” she said. “Especially the ones with talking animals.”

The little girl ran away. Lucy watched her go. Jack stood in the doorway.

“That unicorn no longer has a head,” Jack said.

“I know,” Lucy said.

“I’m having trouble finding my zen,” Jack said.

“Your zen?” Lucy said.

“I’m a zen pirate,” Jack said. “I plunder calm from the heart of the universe.”

Lucy shook her head.

Jack didn’t move. He stared at the unicorn’s body.

“If you plan on hanging around for a bit,” Lucy said, “maybe you could help me get this thing out the window?”

Before before now

One night, after a defense of their bit of the moon from the ninja werewolf space pirates that saw a great many of the crew infected and/or injured, including Abigail, Lucy’s father invited Lucy, for the first time, into his cabin. He sat beneath a window, behind a rusted, bronze table. A globelight sat on the corner of the table. An ever-expanding cosmos of maps and haruspectic texts surrounded him.

Lucy’s father read a lot. Sometimes, he tried to see the future.

Lucy sat in the chair in front of his desk, spinning around, losing herself in the sight of her father’s maps and the smells of drilled bone and dried ink.

She was eleven.

Her father sang a song of a before time when the moon’s face shone unscarred and the earth and its people were whole and complete and monsters were just the stuff of myth and legend.

Lucy had never heard her father sing.

It sounded like a boulder rolling down a mountain and into the sea.

He said, “Abigail used to sing me that song as a kid.”

“I don’t believe it,” Lucy said. “How could there be a world without monsters?”

“I never did, either,” her father said. “People are monsters. Monsters are people. That’s the way it’s always been, and always will be. There’s no escaping who we are. There’s no such thing as before or after. There’s just the never-ending now. Nothing changes.”

Lucy sat forward. Her father leaned back. He said, “Your mother believed in songs like that, though. That’s what scared me about her. That’s what I loved about her. She believed too much in too many things.

“Once she almost believed the world into another universe,” he said. “She was a much bigger monster than me in some ways. Nothing I do really has much chance of changing the world. I just want to keep flying.”

“What if Mom believed she couldn’t die?” Lucy said.

Her father said, “Then she’d be very disappointed right now.”

Now

Abigail said, “Do you really think you could do it?”

Lucy said, “Do you think I can’t?”

“It doesn’t matter, what I think,” Abigail said. “I’m not the one trying to kill him. If you flinch, then it’s my head.”

“I’m not the type to flinch,” Lucy said.

Abigail shook her head. She finished her drink. “You used to be such a lovely little girl,” she said.

Lucy said, “Lovely little girls get their hearts stabbed by unicorns.”

Abigail put down her drink. She said, “Do you really think he’s going to try and end it this time?”

Lucy said, “I think he’s tired of the nowness of things. He’s digging for enough heart to change the world.”

Abigail said, “You mean destroy the world.”

Lucy said, “Change the world. Destroy the world. It’s all the same. You can’t change anything without destroying what came before.”

Abigail sighed. It sounded like the beginning of a dirge. She said, “Your mother always believed in him.”

Lucy said, “My mother believed in a lot of things.”

Abigail said, “You might try believing in something sometime.”

Lucy leaned back. She looked out the window at the blue curl of earth peeking over the horizon.

She said, “I believe in some things.”

“Like what?” Abigail said.

Lucy said, “Plum cider.”

Abigail stared at Lucy. She tapped the fingers of her remaining hand on the table. She said, “If I tell you, do you promise not to get yourself killed?”

Lucy looked away from the earth. She said, “I’m listening.”

Before now

On her last night on Earth before her trip to the moon, Lucy visited Jack in New York. She had coffee and doughnuts with him and Sally in a tree in Central Park. Sally had dark hair. Jack said, “Doesn’t she look like your mother?”

Lucy said, “I don’t think she could pull off a cape.”

Later, while sharing a cider in his canoe, she told Jack that Sally was just a girl. Nothing special. Perfect for him.

It was raining.

“I looked up old news stories about your mom,” Jack said. “She’s beautiful.”

“She was,” Lucy said. “I know.”

Lucy and Jack sat under Jack’s canopy of umbrellas, their bodies lolling along with the waves.

“Is it true she once saved Yokohama from a giant moth by believing so much in the physical impossibility of its flight that it collapsed under its own weight?”

“Sounds like her,” Lucy said. She reached under her seat for a bottle of plum cider. Jack made it himself. People need a lot of help coping with a world of monsters and cracked moons. People pay for what they need. Even zen pirates have to find a way survive.

“How would you know?” Jack said.

The rain continued. The boat rocked. Firefly mermaids rose and fell from the waters around them, sparking and fading down through the canals of the Bronx. It was beautiful.

Lucy took a long drink of cider.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said. “That was a stupid thing to say.”

“Don’t be,” Lucy said. “Being sorry never helped anyone with anything. My mom believed in a lot of cracked shit. That’s all I meant. You should read some of the stories she wrote.”

A single firefly mermaid leapt into the canoe. It fluttered and flopped at Lucy’s feet. She picked it up. The creature bit Lucy’s index finger. Her tail pulsed blue and gold in time with Lucy’s heart.

“You look like her,” Jack said.

“The fire maiden?”

“Your mom,” Jack said.

Lucy squeezed the fire maiden. Her tail dulled to copper. Jack frowned. “You’re saying I look like a corpse?” Lucy said.

“You have trouble with compliments,” Jack said.

Lucy stared a while longer at the monster in her hand. Fire maidens never lived very long anyway.

“You’re hurting it,” Jack said.

“It’s just another sort of monster,” Lucy said, twisting her wrist side to side.

Jack said, “Please.”

Lucy threw it back into the water. Where it landed, a circle of fire maidens leapt in surprise, burning a spiral into the air beside the canoe.

What can you do with a monster besides what everyone always does? How can you save a monster from himself?

Now

Lucy made her way to a mountain on the dark side of the moon. Her father had parked the ship at the top. He had an excellent view of the craters and the valleys. Lucy ninja-ed her way past a few of the crew left to guard her father. She slipped through the front window of her father’s cabin. She dropped inside the shadow of a giant astrolabe. She allowed herself to vanish into the darkness. The room was much as she remembered it. Bearwolf carpets on the floor, shelves of books and unrolled maps along the walls. In the air, smells of dried ink and drilled bone were now mixed with something sweet and sour, like rotten strawberries. Beneath the far window, at the back of the cabin, her father sat at his rusted, bronze table. His face was lit by a globelight. He held a heart in his hands. He ate it.

Lucy had never known her father to eat so many hearts.

Her father looked older. His hair had shriveled into his skull. His neck had thinned. The fingers that turned the pages mostly bone now.

“My own daughter come to kill me,” he said. “How heroic.”

Lucy stayed in the shadows. She listened to her father turning the pages. She kept her wolf at bay as much as she could.

“I expected you much sooner,” he said. He looked up from his book. He stared at her hiding place.

Lucy stepped around the astrolabe. She stood at the edge of the globelight’s reach. She said, “I was busy.”

Her father thumbed a page back and forth. “Doing what?” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Lucy said.

“It does to me.”

“You picked the wrong time to become a supervillain,” Lucy said. “You must have got your intestines crossed, I figure. Missed the part of the future where your daughter has her own life and maybe doesn’t have time to stop and see to her dad every time he decides to sack a city. You could have just sent me a cracking message, you know?”

“You didn’t fall in love, did you?” he said.

Lucy closed her eyes. She pressed her palms against her hips.

“You did, didn’t you? I wonder if he knows what you are. I wonder if he loves you the way you love him. Maybe he thinks he can change you.”

Lucy’s lips pulled back. She lunged onto her father’s desk.

Her father continued holding the book’s page between his thumb and forefinger. He looked up at her. He said, “It hurts, doesn’t it?”

Lucy looked down at her father’s books. She saw a diagram of the world with a grid laid over it. Some of the locations were marked. Rome. Havana. Manila. The moon.

Her father held the page a moment longer, and then let it drop.

He said, “This what I’ve learned in my life. There are seven ways to the end world. A few involve external events. A couple involve volcanoes. A total of three are a function of love.

“It just so happens, for example, that buried beneath Rome, Havana, New Orleans, Manila, and a mountain on the dark side of the moon, there is buried, in each place, a single heart that was stolen from one of five giants.”

“I know this story,” Lucy said. “It’s one of mom’s.”

Her father smiled.

He ate the last bit of heart in his hand.

“It’s said,” he said, “that the person who consumes all five will be filled with the longing of the world, and if he were to return, the planet would crack under the weight of his desires, and all manner of nonsense and apocalypse might occur.”

Lucy cracked her knuckles. She flexed her toes. She hated when her father told her stories.

Her father shut the book. Lucy saw a map of the human heart on the cover. The valley of yesterday. The hills of shame. The rivers of hope.

She said, “It’s just a story. I don’t believe it.”

Her father smiled.

“Your mother believed it,” he said. “She believed in all her stories. That was the magical thing about her.”

Before now

“Have you ever tried not being a ninja pirate zombie whatever?” Jack said.

“I’m not a pirate,” Lucy said. “I don’t take anything I haven’t earned.”

“Right, okay,” Jack said. “But, I mean, the ninja werezombie stuff. Isn’t there some mystical cure, or something? I mean, ninjas are cool. Everybody loves them. Don’t get me wrong. But I was thinking, hear me out, there’s this old man who lives on top of the Flatiron building who has racks of funky stuff that he swears can cure anything. Maybe he has an ointment that can cure you of werewolf zombie-ism.”

Lucy said, “I can’t change who I am.”

Jack said, “That’s the only thing any of us can change.”

Lucy and Jack were in Jack’s apartment. She held one of Jack’s bottles of cider at her lips. She inhaled the memory of cut grass and autumn plums. She looked out his window at the drowning buildings, the fire maidens burning between them, and the three-quarter moon that floated in the night above it all. The crack wandered across its face and disappeared into Earth’s shadow.

Lucy looked for the man in the moon. She couldn’t find him. She never had been able to.

“I protect people from what they don’t understand,” Lucy said. “That’s my job. That’s who I am. I don’t see any reason to change that.”

“But why do you do it?” Jack said.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lucy said.

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Why?”

Lucy threw her bottle at the moon. It crashed through the window. Shattered glass rained down among the rain and into the water and, unfortunately, probably sliced through a few fire maidens on the way down.

Jack didn’t move.

Lucy stood up. She kicked her chair against the wall. She slumped against the window and stared at the water, at the things that were burning, and the things that were drowning, and the things that floated along, from one place to the next, trying to survive.

“Why does why matter?” she said.

If her father destroyed the world, Lucy wondered, would she miss it? If she killed her father, she wondered, would she miss him?

Jack said, “Why is the only thing that matters. Otherwise, the world’s all just stuff and nonsense and none of it means anything.

“If you don’t know why,” he said, “you don’t know anything.”

Lucy looked at Jack.

She said, “Ninja zombie werewolf space pirates never ask why.”

Jack said, “If you don’t ask why, you’ll never know what you really believe.”

Now

Lucy and her father stood face to face.

Her father held the globelight in front of his chest.

Lucy asked her father why he wanted to end the world.

“Why?” she said, remembering the little girl she was before she became the woman she was now.

Her father said, “You know I don’t like that question.”

Lucy said, “I don’t care anymore what you like and don’t like. I’m not part of your crew anymore. I don’t have to be like you.”

Her father laughed. She thought he might cry. He said, “I’ve missed you.”

Lucy said, “And so you thought, I know, I’ll try to end the world.”

“It seemed like the only way I could get your attention,” her father said.

“Moonshit,” she said.

“I’m dying,” her father said. “My insides are tearing themselves apart.”

“If you stay with me,” her father said, “here on the moon, I promise never to visit the world again.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I’ll sail down to my old home, the Bronx, and crack the world open with the weight of my longing. Take it all with me.”

“You’re a pirate,” Lucy said. “You never keep your promises.”

“I might,” her father said.

“You won’t,” Lucy said.

Her father crushed the globelight and darkness bloomed.

He said, “I love you.”

“You have a dumb way of loving people,” Lucy said.

“At least I try,” he said.

Lucy swung at where her father’s nose was. She missed. He struck her in the sternum with his elbow. She doubled over. She flipped away.

Her father was already behind her, his arm around her throat. He said, “Eventually you get tired of everything you love leaving you, you know?”

Lucy elbowed him in his good kidney. She tried to believe that the flying marmoset wouldn’t attack her. She failed. It did. She punched it in the nose.

She tried to believe her father would never hurt her. She failed. He did.

Her father swept her legs from under her. He was on top of her. Hitting her. She kicked him away.

They stood in their corners of darkness.

Lucy was bleeding.

She thought about being a kid on the foredeck, believing that her mother lived on in the clouds. She thought about Jack in his canoe. She thought about Bill, the guy on the elevator.

Her father lunged at her.

She tried to believe that her father still had a heart somewhere and that if she tried hard enough she could find it, and hold it, as she once had.

She blocked a shamble-stumble kick aimed at her head, spun, and placed a fist through the side of his chest.

She touched her father’s heart.

She wrapped her hand all the way around it. She held tight.

She said, “Don’t move.”

Her father said, “Let go.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. “We don’t have to be monsters.”

“What’s wrong with being a monster?” her father said.

“If you move,” Lucy said, “you’ll lose your heart.”

“Let go,” her father said, “and stay with me.”

“And you’ll never visit the world again?”

“Never.”

“I don’t believe you,” Lucy said.

Her father frowned. He smiled. He looked surprised. He said, “You’re not going to let go, are you?”

“No,” Lucy said. “I don’t believe I am.”

He said, “You’re not much of a hero or a villain, are you?” he said.

“I’m just me,” Lucy said. “That’s all I’ll ever be.”

Contentment spread across her father’s face. “Well,” he said. “I’m glad I got to see you in the end.”

He pulled away. His heart slipped from his chest, held tight in Lucy’s fist. She was true to her word. She didn’t let go. She studied her father’s heart, and then she looked away, confused and sad and wondering, at his face.

“Daddy?” Lucy said.

He said, “I’m not sure if that kills me or not. I’m so confused.”

And then he fell.

He didn’t get up.

Lucy shook him but nothing happened. She tried putting his heart back, but it didn’t help. She went over to his desk. She read the book he had been reading.

A heart which feasts on longing, it said, tended to be consumed by it.

It said when such a person loses their heart, they generally lose everything.

Lucy looked at her father. He was still dead.

She didn’t believe it.

It didn’t matter.

Sometimes things are true whether you believe in them or not.

Lucy buried her father’s body and heart together in the shadow of the mountain on which his ship stood. She let the moon dust fall through her fingers. She stared up at the stars. She tried to find her way back to the beliefs of the little girl she had been before. The one who believed that everything is everything and once we really and truly die we become one with the universe, our atoms slipping back among those of the dust, the trees, and the elevators to the moon.

She wondered if all the constellations people saw were really just everyone believing hard enough to move the stars.

It was a silly thought.

She thought it might make a good story, though.

Lucy allowed herself a smile.

Just before now

Lucy waited for the elevator to the moon. Next to her, there was another man waiting. He carried a suitcase and smelled like cumin. He said his name was Bill. He kept checking his watch. Jack called. Lucy answered.

“I’m off to save the world,” she said.

“But you hate the world,” Jack said.

The elevator doors opened. Bill went inside. Lucy didn’t move. She looked at the clouds. She remembered when she believed enough to believe it was possible to change things.

“Not all of it,” she said.

She smiled.

She wondered if Jack could hear it.

Bill had his hand on the doors. He said, “Are you staying or going?”

Lucy stepped into the elevator. Her connection to Jack disappeared as soon as the doors closed. She stared at her phone. She put it in her pocket.

Bill stood next to her.

“How’s life?” Bill said.

Lucy didn’t look at him. She slumped against the wall. She thought of Jack and her on a canoe in the middle of Manhattan, with the fire maidens dancing and dying around them. The plum cider under the seat.

She thought about her mother and father and the end of the world.

She said, “Lonely and confusing and full of monsters.”

She said, “Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it.”

She said, “Sometimes it does.”

She said, “You don’t even know.”


Chris Kammerud’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in, among other places, Strange Horizons, Interfictions, and Phantom Drift. Along with his partner, he produces and co-hosts the short story discussion podcast, Storyological. He is a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and he received his MFA from the University of Mississippi, where he studied as a Grisham Fellow. He lives in London. You can find him online @cuvols or www.chriskammerud.com.