The demons spoke gibberish. Their muffled voices bathed her in their indecipherable prattle.
All over her—
Kak could hear the words but she didn’t know what they meant. The demons clutching at her now took firm hold of her. She fought. Kicking at them. Cursing and pinching them.
One of them even pretended to know her. Kak, it said. Kak. Open your eyes.
Only her right eye complied. The other seemed to be pasted shut by goop that glued her upper eyelashes to her lower eyelashes. The fuzzy view from her right eye revealed a small water stain on a ceiling tile above her. Of all the things to see in Hell. A stain on a tile?
The demon that said her name spoke again. This time she could see it. She blinked as it leaned over her, blocking her view of the stain. It was Philip. He pressed in close as if to tell her a secret.
“Kak,” he said. “Can you hear me?”
A dozen wet people crowded around and above him. Pressing in. Gawking down at her. She knew them. The rehearsal dinner guests. These were the demons that carried her inside after she’d been vanquished by the gods.
“Kak?” Philip said.
She groped at the floor on either side of her. “I dropped my sword.”
“Slow down. The ambulance will be here in a minute.”
“I don’t need an ambulance. I need my sword.”
“Kak, do you know where you are?”
“Of course. I’m in—anger.”
She heard someone whisper delirious.
“Delirious, my ass,” she said.
“Okay,” Philip said. “Okay. At least we know your hearing is coming back.”
It was all coming back. The lightning strike. The ride in the Beechcraft. Her fight with the police. The love-making with Rudy. Nono’s words. The path to anger is dangerous. But she’d followed the path. She’d gotten here. Arrived. Advanced to confront her tormentors under her own terms. And still, they struck her down. How had it gone wrong? How had she been defeated?
“I don’t know where you got these cheap flip-flops,” Philip was saying, “but I think they saved your life.”
He held one up for her to see. The bottom was melted. “It was just enough insulation to keep the ground current from stopping your heart.”
She reached up to take it from him.
“The other?” she croaked.
He got her the other flip-flop. She pressed them tight to her chest and tried to get up. Her head throbbed at the effort.
“Easy, honey,” Philip said, his hand resting lightly on her abdomen to keep her lying down. “Let’s wait for the EMTs.”
“I don’t have time to wait. It seduces you. Once you’re on it you have to move ahead quickly.” Where had that come from?
“Once you’re on what, honey?”
“The path to anger.”
She could see him now. Nono. In the cemetery. Could hear him in her head. The path to anger is dangerous. It seduces you. Once you are on it, move quickly ahead. Even as the words streamed through her head she knew she was misquoting him, hearing it the way she’d wanted to hear it. Because that wasn’t what he said. What he said was ‘the path through anger’. Not to it. Through it. For the first time she understood what he’d meant. Your sacrifice is coming. Nono had been warning her that the sacrifice required of her would be her anger. She was supposed to leave its power behind.
She clutched the flip-flops tighter to her chest. “He was right about everything.”
“Who?” Philip asked.
“Yes, yes. It’s okay, honey. Try to relax. They’re on the way.”
“I made a mistake.” She tried to sit up but Philip held her.
“You don’t understand,” she said, beginning to squirm away from him. “I have to get out of here.”
Other hands reached in to help restrain her. To press her down. Until the force from above was too great and held her fast. Pinned to the floor, her arrogant thoughts came back to her. Of ruling her world with the strength of anger. Of a new Kak. But it was a cruel illusion. Here she was. The same old Kak. The awkward clown. Embarrassing herself in front of a sympathetic crowd. Having to be saved. Taken care of. With no power at all.
She’d come all this way, only to allow her chance to be stolen. There would be no Perseus. She’d made sure of that. There was only Cetus. A monster she’d seen depicted in the classic ways. Scales. Claws. Jagged teeth. It was all wrong. This Cetus was far more dangerous. Far more horrible. This Cetus had a soothing voice and a hundred gentle hands to seize you. Protect you. From you.
There was one possibility.
“I’m going to be sick,” she said.
Philip put a hand under her shoulder. “Help me roll her onto her side, guys. Can we get some towels?”
Now, the hands that had busied themselves holding her down helped roll her off her back. If there was one thing she could count on, it was for Philip to take charge in a medical situation. He couldn’t have a patient on her back aspirating vomit into her lungs. Kak had no intention of throwing up. She used the momentum from the hands rolling her to her side to continue onto her stomach. From here she could get her hands and knees under her to push up against the awful weight. Somehow the hands knew. They repositioned on her, outflanked her, still too much to bear up against. The mass from above weighed down on her, held her as if she struggled to crawl out of a grave.
“Slow down,” Philip said, in his smooth tone. “Relax, honey. Lie back down.”
If she couldn’t go up maybe she could go out. She surged forward, crawling into the forest of legs. The hands pulled back at her as she struggled forward, countering her progress. Just when she felt her arms and legs weakening, ready to collapse back to the floor, she found herself face to toe with a familiar pair of black pumps. A hand extended from above, into her field of vision. Kak seized it. Hanging on like a toddler, she pulled herself up, legs quivering, until she stood at full height, face to face with her mother.
“I told you. I’d. Always be here,” Stammer said.
If Kak had ever felt love for Stammer, she’d held it deep, prevented it from coming to the surface.
“Well,” Kak said. “You look great.”
Stammer blinked away the fullness in her eyes. “You look. Awful.”
Kak put her hands on Stammer’s shoulders as if to pull her in. Instead she slipped around to put her mother between herself and the hands. She backed away, pulling Stammer with her. Philip and the entire wedding party pursued. Cetus wouldn’t give up easily.
Her head was clearing. They meant to stop her. Possess her. She felt the heat of anger rise again. Even stunned and bloodied from the lightning, she had enough juice left in the tank to handle them.
Somewhere under the anger she felt Nono squeezing her elbow. Heard him. The path through anger is dangerous. It seduces you. Once you are on it, move quickly ahead.
She knew what she had to do.
“Philip,” she said. Something in the way she said it, calmly, directly, silenced the room. “I can’t be your Andromeda.”
Philip opened his mouth to speak.
“What I mean to say,” Kak went on, “is that I won’t be your Andromeda.”
“Philip,” Evelyn said. “Stop her this instant.”
Kak smiled at Evelyn, letting the anger slip from her grasp and off her fingertips. She heard it clatter to the floor, a great blade with the power to hurt the one who wielded it most of all.
“The answer to your question,” Kak said, “is no.”
“Stammer,” Evelyn said. “Your daughter is hurt and confused. Talk some sense into her.”
“Do you understand, Philip?” Kak asked. “My answer is no.”
She pulled her mother along, backing her way past the hostess station. The hundred hands of Cetus hung at its side. It was dumbstruck.
Kak knew it wouldn’t last. Seconds counted if she was to avoid being outmaneuvered. She felt her behind bump the double doors of the establishment.
Evelyn broke from the ranks and came straight at her. “Kastle, stop this nonsense. You need medical attention.”
“Can you manage?” Kak whispered to her mother.
“Of course. I can,” Stammer said, plunging her hand into her purse. It came out clutching a tampon. She extended it toward Evelyn like a lance, the string dangling from the end. “And I’m. Not afraid to. Use it.”
Evelyn stopped short.
“You know,” Kak said. “These baubles at your feet? The ones you scramble for and grab at so quickly to keep from losing? Maybe it means they’re not for you.”
Kak gave Stammer a quick blood-smeared kiss. She burst from Old Captiva House, its double doors swinging open like Obatala’s rectum. She couldn’t pause to enjoy the release. Philip would be coming. Still dizzy, she wobbled down the steps and rounded the building toward the parking lot and rental car. To the left she heard the side patio door being knocked open and what she knew must be Philip’s feet making rapid reports toward her.
“Kak!” he yelled. “Stop!”
She hit the button to unlock the door and fell into the driver’s seat, closing and locking the door behind her. Philip arrived a split second later. He tried the door as she fired up the engine. He pressed against the window, steaming it with his breath.
“Kak! This is ridiculous.”
She touched the window button enough to lower it an inch. Philip pushed his fingers through the opening, gripping the window, as if by achieving this hold he could somehow keep the car from moving.
“You’ve had an accident,” he pleaded through the slim gap. “You’re bleeding.”
“I’m sorry,” Kak said. “You deserve someone better.” And by that she meant, I deserve something better.
“Wait. The EMT’s are almost here.”
“Also, I won’t blow you for a new SUV or give up my dreams for yours.”
“What? Who said anything about blowing me for an SUV?”
“It’s a long story. I don’t have time to tell you right now.” She caught herself. It hinted at a future conversation. It was dishonest. “Actually, I’ll never have time to tell you.”
A siren was audible in the distance. She put the car in reverse, letting it back up in an arc that swung its nose toward the exit and Captiva Road. Philip clung to the window, stumbling along beside her.
“I don’t understand this,” he said.
“It’s simple.” She stopped the car and put it in drive. “I made a sacrifice. I got through anger. I’m finally in denial.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Philip said. “But I know that when you love someone, you don’t just let them go.”
It may have been the most honest thing he’d ever said to her. He was right. And somewhere in Key West, Rudy was packed to leave.
She hit the toggle to close the window, pinching Philip’s fingers. He yanked them out. Others spilled from the restaurant into the parking lot. They gawked at the car, at Philip, at the stricken palm tree, now fully engulfed in flame, burning like a torch against the dying light.
The siren increased in intensity, closing fast. She pulled to the edge of Captiva Drive and stopped. Any threat of rain had passed. In front of her the last rays of sunset bathed the waves approaching the beach, drenching them in deep amber.
To the right, the flashing lights of the red and black Captiva Island Fire District engine came into view. A white Lee County EMS ambulance followed behind like a good dog. The vehicles swung past her and into the lot. They were here for her. For the woman struck by lightning. The palm tree blazed in her rear view mirror. At least the fire engine wouldn’t be wasted.
She pulled out onto Captiva Drive. South toward the causeway. If she drove straight through, stopping only for gas, she’d make Key West by one in the morning.
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