City of Destiny

 

You’re running through a muddy forest down the side of a mountain giving way. The ground sways, the sky darkens, and you hear a sound like a sustained sonic boom. You hopscotch over rivulets of lava that braid and separate. It’s not hard to avoid them. But it’s not the lava you need to fear. It’s the lahars, and the billowing heat of the pyroclastic flow that are right this minute hurtling down and undoing every act of creation in their path. You trip over a root. You look over your shoulder.

* * *

It was still winter and the deadline for entries to the Venice Biennale was months away when Holly called to hit me up for cash again, around the time her roof sprung a leak and she spent all her money trying to fix it only to develop respiratory issues due to mold. Gas money or repairs or some prescription she didn’t have insurance for, I wasn’t sure. Forty dollars. Always forty dollars. Our parents cut her off ages ago.

My sister looked tough. Ten years older but looks double. She sounded zonked when she called. I didn’t ask if she’d been using again. Maybe she’d been losing sleep, having nightmares—I had. Best not to go into particulars with her. I told her to meet me outside the shop. I co-own a small glassblowing studio-gallery in Tacoma.

When she showed up she was fidgeting with a lighter. “So why’d you make me come all the way out here? Your truck’s running fine, you can afford the trip.”

“Can’t just leave whenever I want,” I said. “Much as I’d love to. Responsibility.”

She lit a cigarette and offered me one. I waved no. I quit ages ago.

“You know if you trimmed your beard and dressed more professionally you might attract a broader base of clients,” she said, nodding at my threadbare hoodie. My sleeves were rolled, exposing my tattoos. I’m inked from ankle to forearm in serpents and shipwrecks and Hokusai swordsmen and Maori tribal patterns. I look like I could kill your dog by punching my fist through its throat and pulling out its tail. Which is good, because I can’t fight for shit.

* * *

. . . The octopus eye blinks at you. An obsidian marble that narrows to a slit, then opens. Unmoving, she watches you. The geologic folds and knobs of her fire red skin shimmer in the water, but her eye remains still and never leaves you. She sizes you up. She knows she is stronger than you. Shrewd, she knows how to keep you down with only her gaze. You cease your struggle and watch back, helpless and serene. You will try to summon her. She will come in her own time. She lives in her world, and you live in yours.

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