The following is the Epilogue for, Silentis.
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Only psychos and psychiatrists read manifestos. Okay, fine, and maybe the morbidly curious fringe readers. Which one are you? Whoever you are, you want to know the gritty aftermath. Right? Well, here it is.
The old man exploded in my ear when I told him I was at Silentis Cemetery. He didn’t calm down until I assured him that I hadn’t mucked up the Raynor Mausoleum with potential forensic evidence. He wanted to know why I killed her.
“She planned to kill me,” I told him. “I couldn’t let that happen. Not after she told me…” My eyes stung at having to revisit my brother’s death, yet again. Though an evil force to reckon with—even in the best of times—the old man valued family. A warped value system, but still, it wasn’t going to be easy for him either to know what Christina did. “She confessed to running Wade off the road to get even with you for killing her mother. I wanted revenge, and I got it.”
He fell silent again for a couple of seconds, then, “I should have gotten rid of her a long time ago. I’m glad you took care of it.”
Before he ended the call, he warned, “You keep your mouth shut about this. Do you understand me?”
I was standing by the chapel doors and my eyes flicked over to where Christina lay slumped over. Her eyes were still open, so much blood everywhere. My stomach churned and I was about to be sick. Not yet, though, I had to hold it back.
“You’ll help my friends?”
“I’ll take care of it,” he said.
“Okay. I’ll keep quiet.”
He ended the call and I ran to the bathroom. While I was throwing up, the old man was calling in a debt from a couple of cops who owed him big. They shut down the road to Silentis until a ‘traffic accident’ involving injuries was cleared. His dirtier connections with the military showed up next to clean the mess that was once Christina—the resultant mess of three different Raynor men.
I squirreled away her phone, her keys, the guns, our backpacks, and the knowledge of her plan and mine. When the medic tried to get me to leave the chapel, I pushed him away. There was no way I’d leave without knowing where the two shovel-carrying corporals intended to dispose of her body. One suggested it, the other shrugged and nodded. The Turkey vultures and I watched Christina’s burial. She’s in an unmarked grave behind the chapel. Only then did I allow the medic to take me to the entrance gate.
Other military medical personnel were there and had already loaded Ava into the back of their transport. Sunny was on the ground, surrounded by medics. I was too afraid to ask why. I didn’t want to interrupt what could only be their frenzied efforts to save him. After checking on Ava, finding her alive but unconscious, I went to Gal. He lay stretched out near the bottom step of the gatekeeper’s building.
His physical condition had been deemed stable enough for them to focus their efforts on Ava and Sunny. I sat with him for a bit, watching him while he tried coming to on his own. When he gave up, I took his car keys and told the medic I’d shoot him if he tried to stop me from leaving.
I found Christina’s house easily enough. The address was on the passport she had tucked away in her bag. Seeing the Matthews dead on the kitchen floor wasn’t so easy. Neither was the sight of their blood and brain matter splattered all over the kitchen cabinets. I ran upstairs at the first hint that I may vomit. That crazy bitch had turned off the air condition before she left and opened the kitchen window—just a crack, enough for the flies to get in.
It took me an hour to tear her room apart and gather her insanity along with every shred of evidence that could link her to me or my family. When I left, I called the old man and told him he still had work to do. He was pissed the Matthews were dead, but quickly bought up all their pharmacies by the end of the week so he wouldn’t lose that lucrative connection.
After walking through the downstairs stench again, I took off in Gal’s SUV and made one more stop before taking my broken nose to the hospital. I put my father’s gun back in the cabinet, replaced the two missing bullets, and returned the mags to their drawer. Rather than go upstairs and find something out of place in my room—proof my mother found my letter and tried to kill herself—I hid all of my and Christina’s accumulated crazy in our basement.
Once my nose was fixed, I had a lot of visits to make at the military hospital. The nurses told me my friends were stable, but still in critical condition. My first visit was with my mother. Though she was asleep, I held her hand and apologized to her. That’s how my father found us when he returned to her room. He told me Levi, Sr. had updated him about what happened, but I had my doubts the old man told him everything.
It took longer for Ava and Sunny to recuperate as Christina had drugged them with far more than what was needed to make them pass out. In fact, Sunny almost died. It scared his parents so much that he could’ve announced he wanted to join the circus and they would have been completely fine with it.
I was medically cleared to leave, but I stayed at the hospital waiting for them to wake up. When they did, and after they could form complete sentences, I visited them. Gal was the first I talked to. What I learned from him was that I wasn’t the first Raynor who had paid him a visit.
When I opened the door to his private room, his eyes darted to me. I stood in the doorway and watched relief relax a jumpiness I wasn’t accustomed to seeing from him. Gal set down what I assumed was supposed to be a fruit cocktail and motioned for me to come sit on the bed beside him.
“I thought it was your grandfather coming back with another threat he forgot to mention,” Gal said.
“He was here?” It wasn’t all that surprising, but it did bother me. Gal only nodded, leaving it up to me to ask the appropriate questions. “He wants you to keep quiet about what happened?”
“Oh, yes.” Gal raised a less meticulous eyebrow at me. “I don’t know nothin’ bout nothin’ till the day I die.”
“Tell me that son of bitch didn’t threaten your life.” I was already trying to stand when Gal grabbed my wrist.
“No, he didn’t. Not explicitly anyway.” Gal and I both waited for me to calm down. He seemed nervous for a moment, even glanced around the room for something—for what, I’m still not sure of. Finally, he said in a hoarse whisper, “He threatened to have my parents disbarred and said he has enough proof that they supplied us with illegal pot to make sure they’ll never practice law again. Actually, Payton, he has enough proof to send them to jail.”
The tables turned, and I had to shift gears to calm him down. “Hey, it’ll be okay. Your parents aren’t going to jail. Was that all he wanted? Just your silence?”
“I guess. But I’m not sure of what happened for me to be silent about.”
Of course. I realized it then. “Gal, he wants you to not ask questions. Ever. That’s all you have do.”
“What did happen?”
I shook my head and laughed softly. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t ask that. Not to me, not to anyone. Okay?”
“Fine!” He folded his arms over his chest. “Dammit!”
“Make sure your parents understand that, too.”
“If he hasn’t already done it, I’ll see to it they get the message,” Gal grumbled. “Can I ask how Ava and Sunny are?”
“They’re gonna be all right.”
It was his first true test of question boundaries. I took a moment to consider how best to get across the importance of never mentioning her name again. A truer test, really, of my budding capabilities.
“Remember all those things I said to you in the chapel, about how I view you?”
A confused frown etched several lines on his forehead. “Yeah.”
“I meant every word.” I had to swallow back a painful lump before I could get the next words out. “If you ever mention Christina’s name again, you’ll be lucky if all that happens is your parents’ sudden unemployment.” It felt like another piece of me died saying that to him, but he had to know. “Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you, Gal?”
He stared at me for a long time. His expression was indiscernible. Gal was never one to accept being told where to stay—even by way of innuendo—and I always admired that about him. Unfortunately, I needed for him to squash that tendency. He had to.
When his lips started twitching, I knew a smile was on the way, but who the hell ever knew what Gal’s next words would be?
“I understand that you haven’t told me yet when Ava and Sunny can have visitors.”
He hadn’t quite smiled all the way. Rather, he waited for me to register the unspoken acknowledgement. I hugged him. Though I couldn’t see his smile, I knew it was there when he uncrossed his arms and hugged me back.
I think it was about two months later when Ava found out she was pregnant. I’d already latched on to her as though my soul depended on being in her presence as often as possible. So, when Mrs. Caddo got the news she knew exactly where to point her finger. She was livid. Then, one day, she was calm and collected—about everything. The affair between her and my father ended. In fact, my father ceased having any affairs.
Ava had to put off college for a year to have our son, Levi Raynor III. My grandfather insisted on the name, and none of us challenged it. Blackmail was never beneath him. Ava and I did rebel a little by nicknaming him Lee.
By the time Ava graduated with a degree in Architecture, we were married and had welcomed our daughter, Emma. Where Ava and Emma were my salvation, Lee was determined to be my downfall. He owes his life to Ava. Had she not stopped me, I would have killed him. Lee had tied Emma to a chair in front of a mirror, making her watch while he used a chef’s knife to give her a haircut. He was ten.
I snatched the knife from his hand and put it to his throat. Our faces were so close and I saw the Raynor evil he was capable of shining in his eyes.
“Do it,” he said to me.
If Ava hadn’t have walked in at that precise moment, I would have.
Lee was too much for us, so we gave him to the old man. He flourished and thrived under Levi’s tutelage. Somehow, Lee charmed his way into a relationship with Geyan Legare, one of Gal’s daughters. Both families were dismayed when Geyan accepted his marriage proposal. They eloped a week after her high school graduation. She had his son, Arden Raynor, and still Lee abused her. She left him; and Arden, too. When Lee tracked her down, he put a bullet in her lover’s head, right in front of her. To this day, I still don’t know why he didn’t kill the baby she had clutched in her arms, Keenan. Perhaps, Geyan begged for mercy, or promised to come back and be a dutiful wife. It didn’t matter, though. Lee beat her to death years later.
It took a while for Gal to speak to me or Ava again. We knew he didn’t blame us, but the murder of his daughter at the hands of a Raynor kind of makes friendship difficult to nurture. I was so happy the day he called and asked us to meet him for dinner. It was strained at first, and it took a few shots of expensive bourbon to relax us.
A few months later, Gal started asking questions about a classified space program. He even knew the name of it, Project Ares, but refused to tell me how he came across the information. This didn’t settle well with me, not until he explained that all he wanted was to be in on the project. Of course, I made it happen. He also wanted me to use my connections to help make Keenan’s life a little easier. I did what I could. Lee had legally adopted Keenan and made access to him difficult. Arden was no better, and turning out to be just like Lee. It wasn’t until Keenan started his freshman year at the Citadel that I could finally have my connections there keep an eye on him.
Despite Arden’s repeated attempts to ruin him, Keenan thrives. He’s a fantastic person. Too bad he’s not a Raynor by blood. We could use a few more like him.
I’m Payton Raynor. This is my life’s final account.
* * *
The familiar voice resonates through the night air and tugs at an unpleasant memory. I lose my grip on the shovel and it falls with a thud. Fear of looking over my shoulder and seeing him again keeps me frozen, staring ahead at the massive oak in front of me. Maybe I’m imagining it. I’ve returned to this cemetery many times since that night and not one ghost ever showed itself.
And I wanted to see them, but it was always the same thing, nothing. At one point, I tried recreating certain elements of that day. Alone of course. There was no way I was going to involve Ava, Gal, and Sunny. I spent a whole day researching the same mausoleums, monuments, headstones—and the chapel. The chapel was a tough one for me. At closing time, I hid in the Raynor Mausoleum. When I stepped out into the pitch black, the only things that stirred were biological: possums, raccoons, and owls. The owls got my attention. I spent hours following a pair of them. They weren’t interested in welcoming a new ghost, only feeding their owlets several mice.
I gave up after that, and after promising Ava that I’d let it go.
Isn’t this what I wanted? Proof that we hadn’t all been hallucinating? Well, that proof is calling out my name and all I can do is stand here, staring at the tree the shovel handle is pointing to. I close my eyes and force myself to take steadier breaths. Turning in a step by step circle, I blindly face the direction of the voice. I feel like a child watching, but not watching, a scary movie.
“Open your eyes, Payton.”
I do, but fixate on the dirt of Christina’s final resting place that I unearthed. It takes a mosquito trying to land on my face, and a swat to prevent it, for me to make eye contact. He—it—looks unchanged since our last encounter. Monolithic. There’s a bit of a smile on his face. I remember our one and only conversation clearly.
“I hope you’re here to tell me it’s all in good time,” I say. He doesn’t respond. Like before, he’s waiting for me to say more. “Even if you stop me tonight, the tumor in my head has already decided. They can’t take it out without killing me and it’s too late for gene repair.”
“Very true.” His not-fading head nods. “It is time, Payton.”
With no reason to argue, I take a quiet moment to study this creature. Beyond his unreasonable size and stature, he glows, I guess. It’s kind of golden, in a glowing white sense. My eyes drift over to the outer wall of the chapel and I notice his light doesn’t reflect his presence.
“You look well,” the golden giant winks at me when I look back at him, “for your age.”
The odd compliment makes me smile and half-laugh. “Humans are vain. We sorted out the aging gene really quick.”
He lets go a hearty chuckle and his long white beard quivers in rhythm. “Vanity spans the cosmos, dear boy.”
Boy? I haven’t been called that in a long time.
“To me, you are a boy.” His flattens out a hand on his beard and smoothes it downward.
“More like an infant, really.”
Having not said that aloud, I assume he knows my thoughts. I have no intention of asking for clarification.
He gestures toward the shovel. “Have you taken a sudden interest in archeology?”
I turn a little and look at the stainless steel case I had amassed all the data in, both mine and Christina’s. Atop the proof of that night is the letter I wrote, my supposed final account that’s suddenly not so final.
“No. I wanted to bury the accounts of that night so Emma won’t find it after I . . .”
“After you kill yourself?” His eyebrows are raised when I look back at him. “With the gun you brought with you tonight?”
“That’s the plan.” Shaking my head, I add, “Not here, obviously. I want to be near Ava.”
I had convinced Ava, years ago, to create our own family plot in Silentis. I told her I didn’t want either one of us setting one dead toe in the Raynor Mausoleum. She relented. Not because she was disappointed, just that she had always assumed she’d go in an urn. I never thought she’d go before me. She and several others died when a homemade pipe bomb went off during a protest against the Stone-Davis Corporation—island creators who were rumored to be dabbling in human genetic experiments. I miss her so much. It hasn’t gotten any easier for me. Only worse. I’m too impatient to be with her again to wait for death by tumor.
“Have you thought about how devastated Emma will be?”
“I’ve thought of little else. But I think watching me waste away after I can’t even remember who she is anymore would be worse.”
To keep from crying, I retrieve the shovel. But when I toss in a scoop of dirt, the case is gone. I’m exhausted and the heavy sigh that escapes me reflects it. A quick glance confirms it’s sitting on the ground by the white-robed giant. Somehow, he’s managed to remove and read my final account.
“If you’re done being nosey, may I have that back?” I hold out my hand. The look he gives me over the top of the paper forces my addition of, “Please?”
It occurs to me that he’s somehow able to hold it. As I watch him tuck the letter back inside the case, I see a tiny pinpoint of light just behind him.
“You took the time to write it and planned to bury it with the records of that day, I assumed you meant for it to be read.”
“I suppose, but I wasn’t thinking it would happen today.”
“May I show you someone else’s personal writing?”
This has to be going somewhere and I’m thinking it must be an attempt to stop me from killing myself. But I’m determined this time. I’ll not have Emma watch her father die a slow, agonizing death. I reach inside my jacket pocket for the gun only to find lint.
I have no idea what sort of beast I’m dealing with.
“Please,” he adds, mimicking my earlier attempt at politeness.
“Fine, show me.”
The pinpoint of light expands when he turns to it. Colors swirl, almost beautiful if they didn’t seem so agitated. He regards it carefully, then snatches a scrap of yellowed paper from the eddy. The blues, greens, and various other colors calm after the delivery.
“Read it aloud,” he says, extending the tattered sheaf.
I retrieve the flashlight still leaning against the chapel’s outer wall and illuminate the crinkled paper that looks like it’s been folded and unfolded many times. The scrawling, leftward slant of the handwritten words seems vaguely familiar.
“Aloud, please,” he repeats.
“They meant to kill me, and almost succeeded. Rather, I’m disfigured now and look every bit the monster they perceived me as. I have no home, they stole my son, and sent my wife away to some other world with her lover. Her hands ran that beast’s scale through my chest and it’s changing me. She’s my wife and it’s my right to punish her for disobeying me . . . for trying to kill me and failing at it. I’m Arden Raynor, even death cannot conquer me.”
I’m at a loss, stunned. Making eye contact with him fails to provide answers to the questions forming in my head. I read it again, silently. It makes no sense to me.
“Arden is my grandson.” My head is pounding in my skull. “He’s not married.”
“He hasn’t written this yet, but he will.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Thoth.” He takes the letter from me and picks the case up, sending both through the pinpoint of light. It seems angrier at having to receive either one. “He’s a Raynor. Through and through, as you like to call it. I want you to help put an end to his vengeful plans.”
The circle of light and color behind him bursts to life and I see how. I see myself, a same but different me, in a different life—in a different world.
“You can raise the girl who will stop him.”
“Silentis.” He nods at the arc of light.
An elusive memory skitters around inside my head. My breathy reply echoes it, “The Seat of Silentis.”
“But this girl you want me to be a father to . . . she was already grown.”
“Time is vast, a beast in and of its own design. It becomes distorted in certain instances.”
“Dead, dying, or soon to be dead planets. Particularly, where outcomes are hard to predict. And especially when there are opposing forces and interference.”
“It’s all about the choices we make, Payton. I think you understood that concept a long time ago. You want redemption for killing your sister and I want to give you that chance.”
Something isn’t right about his explanation, like he left out the most important part. I guess my frowning thoughts stir the more forth-coming side of his nature.
“I right wrongs. I make important decisions on exactly who is right and who is wrong. I was given this opportunity as a temporary hold for who is truly in line for this decision making. I had thought it was someone else, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s her. She’s the one who leads the next generation of unity and equality among worlds. The truth is, I need you . . . she needs you. You, Payton, need to do this. You are linked to this mistake I made and I think you are the best hope she’ll have to do what she must do.”
He’s still wavering on the complete truth. I think I’ve figured it out.
“You want me to nurture and raise the one who’ll kill my grandson?”
“You should have said that to begin with.” I’m already stepping toward the swirling mass of light and color. “Lead on.”
“Wait.” Thoth puts a hand on my shoulder. “It’s my responsibility to tell you that there is no coming back to any part of this life.”
I’m not sure why, but I give him a reassuring nod. “I sort of figured as much.”
“Payton, there’s no taking any part of this life with you either.”
A clearer understanding dawns on me. I’ll have no memory of my life here. The man I saw in that light doesn’t know me. He doesn’t remember loving Ava, or loving his daughter, Emma. The memory of the best brother in the world is unknown to him. Even the best friendship I’ve ever had will be lost—twice.
“So it’s true then?” I step closer to the light. It’s already trying to pull me in. “You really can’t take it with you.”
He smiles a little, pats my shoulder a couple of times before gripping it firmly. “I need to hear you say it. You need to hear yourself say it.”
“I want to go. I’ll let go of this life.” Still, he’s not easing his grip. “I won’t take anything with me.”
And then he releases me. I don’t even know who he is anymore by the time the light engulfs me.