“Everyone Is My Friend

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

VIEW CONTENT WARNING

Saturday was taken up mostly by fitful napping, with both Rory and Jules trying to make up missed sleep from the night before between alternating rounds of keeping an eye on Max.

Then came the awkward moment in the middle of the day when Max woke up fully for the first time since the incident, and Rory roused Jules, and the two of them sat by her bedside like parents breaking complicated news to their kid, telling Max how much they both loved her and that everything was going to be okay. Max didn’t seem to know whose hand to hold or whose eyes to look into. Both Rory and Jules were reserved when it came to their own displays of affection. Rory, for his part, felt too weird about acting couple-y with Max in front of Jules. He supposed Jules must feel the same way.

What little remained of the day after they’d caught up on rest was dedicated to domestic concerns: stocking the kitchen so they wouldn’t have to order all their meals from room service, hooking up Jules’s laptop to the TV so they could play Pixar movies for Max. When Rory turned on the TV to set it up, he caught a few seconds of a local news story about the strange and grisly murder of convicted rapists Jordan Knight and Ethan Kirkpatrick, before a panicked search finally turned up the button to change the input. Until that moment, Rory’d managed to shove the murders into some small, partitioned-off corner of his psyche—because there had been things that more urgently needed his attention, because he hadn’t yet had the luxury of time to contemplate the fact that he was officially a coldblooded killer. On some level, he’d convinced himself it maybe hadn’t happened at all, that he and Fabi had dreamed it—an illusion that shattered like sugar glass when he saw his handiwork plastered all over the six o’ clock news.

Jules happened to be nearby at that moment, crouching over his laptop on the floor. Through the palpitations, Rory felt him watching, sensed those sober eyes trained on the side of his face. “You okay?” Jules asked, quietly so that Max, who was curled up on the couch, wouldn’t hear.

“Why wouldn’t I be.” Rory’s eyes stayed riveted to his task.

When it came time to sleep again, Jules told Max she could choose which of them she wanted to stay in her room that night. Rory said it should be Jules, but Jules insisted the decision be left to Max, and Max refused to make a choice. Finally, Rory said tonight Jules, and after that they could alternate, and Max readily agreed, which seemed to satisfy Jules.

So Rory lay awake in bed alone that night, in his room next to Max’s, glimpsing flashes of gore in the shadows on the ceiling—of blood and fear and the black veins running through everything. He wondered if Jules and Max were having sex tonight, and thought probably not, since panchrest was no use on mundanes, meaning Max was still recovering from her injuries. But Rory hoped somehow they were, or were at least holding and kissing each other, because that would be so pure and pretty: a snapshot of love in the face of adversity he wished he could photoshop his perverted, cancerous self out of.

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Rory finally slept, but only in fits and starts, jarred awake repeatedly by night terrors.

His new suitemates were already up by the time he slouched out of bed later that morning, Max in her PJs installed in the middle of the sofa—which was clearly to be her new nest—and Jules fully dressed and at the cooktop, hovering over a skillet that smelled mostly like sautéed onions. Rory asked Max how she was doing, planted a chaste kiss on the top of her head, and shuffled outside to have a smoke, and she trailed after.

It was a bright blue, balmy day. Max huddled up next to Rory, shivering, on the balcony overlooking Downtown.

“I like the view up here better.” She nibbled her square.

“Yeah.” Rory sighed smoke through his nose. It was dizzying, draining, being this close to Max. It had been for a long time, he realized—just so subtly until now that he’d never noticed it.

“Are you really okay about this?” She squinted up at him, her face like a round pale moon in the late morning sun, the veins of the rift scarring her jaw above her now-perpetual scarf like the marbling in blue cheese. It was the first time the two of them had been alone since Friday, so he could only assume the question had been weighing on her mind.

Rory hesitated. “For the life of me, I don’t see how I belong here. But I’ll be here as long as you want me.”

“It’s just so I don’t Hulk out again, isn’t it?” She took a drag, gazed out over the square. “I ain’t dumb.”

Rory eyed her. “You not want me here?”

Max breathed out smoke through her nose, cleared her throat. “I’m not Jules.” She peered up at him again. “I can’t deny, deny, deny the things I need. And I definitely need you.”

“Why?”

“So I don’t have to be alone when he’s not here. And because you provide actual human companionship.”

Rory’s cigarette hung from his lips. “What does that say about Jules?”

“That he’s not human, he’s a freaking angel.”

Rory smiled.

“Which I also need,” Max went on. “It’s just with him it’s another kind of lonely. Like I’m some kind of unworthy slattern and he’s, Iunno…God.”

“Never tell him that. He hates it.”

“Does he? Fuck. I tell him all the time.”

Rory laughed. “You do?”

“Not the slattern part. Just how he’s my angel and I don’t deserve him. Stuff like that.”

“What does he say?”

“Now that you mention it, he always changes the subject. So maybe you’re right.”

“I know I’m right. The thing about Jules is, the same way you’re lonely being with him, he feels like that with everyone. I guess ’cause being God is lonely.”

Max laughed.

“You know, our Lord and Savior wants to be among us and doesn’t know how,” Rory went on, grinning a little himself. He then sobered. “And the only way you ever get past that is if you crack him open like an egg. Which I don’t recommend.”

“You speak as if from experience.”

Rory puffed his square.

The glass door slid open behind them. “Breakfast, if anyone wants it.” Jules poked his head out. “Vegetable omelette. But there’s also Hot Pockets in the freezer, ’cause I know you both. I gotta head out.”

“Where you going?” Rory asked.

“To see a man about a thing. I’ll be back tonight. You two have fun.”

“Wait,” said Max, as Jules started to retreat. She glanced uncertainly at Rory, then went over to Jules; stood on tiptoe to kiss him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He cradled her against him, his dark eyes straying mid-kiss to Rory.

He feels guilty. That’s cute. Rory gave a hearty thumbs-up in blessing.

Jules released Max, whispered something in her ear. She nodded, smiled. Rejoined Rory by the railing as Jules slid the glass door closed behind him and vanished from view.

“He always doing that?” Rory asked. “Leaving without saying where he’s going?”

Max huddled there, studied him with an odd look in her eyes. 

“What?” said Rory.

“Aren’t you even still the tiniest bit mad at me?”

Rory thought about it. “I wasn’t mad at you in the first place.”

“I think you may actually be more of a puzzle than he is.”

“Jules isn’t a puzzle at all.” Rory took a drag, released it. “Isn’t that what we were saying?”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Violent Night Rocks Metro Area

Northern Illinois Sets Homicide Record in Night of Extraordinary Violence

Wave of Unrelated Homicides Sweeps Chicagoland

Jules sat back in his chair in front of one of the microfilm viewers at the Harold Washington Library, reviewed the sheaf of old newspaper articles he’d printed out proclaiming the notoriety of March 8th, 1990, along with some others that focused on the individual crimes that had taken place that night at each of the eight locations Draven had identified from the coded ledger. Most, like the Bethel Lutheran Church incident, were gangland or organized-crime-related killings—orchestrated as such by the Nihilites, Jules could only assume, in order not to arouse too much concern or attention from the general public. But a few, out of geographic necessity, had been staged in lower-crime areas. One was a murder-suicide: An accountant had killed his wife, mother-in-law, and three children before turning his 9mm on himself. The most infamous of all the incidents had involved a church organist pulling a kitchen knife on her weekly senior women’s Bible study group.

Hard as he’d searched, Jules hadn’t been able to find anything on any strange happenings at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center that night, or even anytime within a pretty broad date range surrounding March 8th

By the time he left the library, his satchel stuffed with all the info he’d collected, the sun was low in the sky. He slid behind the wheel of the Volvo, chucked his satchel in the passenger seat. Called up Caliban, relayed what he’d found.

“Good job sleuthin’, kid. Damn weird that nothin’ newsworthy happened at the convergence point. Black magic ritual that massive…you’d think whatever the result was, it woulda for sure made headlines.”

“Not all cataclysmic events are obvious right away, I guess.” Jules suppressed a sigh. “We’ll just have to check out the hospital ourselves. Ask around, see if anything out of the ordinary happened there that night.”

“If we can find anyone been workin’ there long enough and still remembers.”

Jules leaned his head back on the headrest, rubbed his eye. It had been yet another long fucking day. “It’s the best lead we’ve got, short of tracking down a really good diviner.”

Caliban chuckled. “Can’t exactly go to one of your pythias with this one, can ya?”

“Might draw some unwanted attention from the Enclave. Though I guess it’s not completely off the table if we get desperate. Anything to report on your end?”

“Not much, seeing as all those friends and family members I was gonna interview of the guys killed at Bethel Church are dead.”

“Jesus…every single one of them?”

“Freak accidents. Sudden illness. Suicide. Or so it said on the coroners’ reports.”

Jules let this sink in. “These Nihilites sure know how to cover their tracks.”

“Ain’t too hard, I figure, if you’re ruthless enough.”

Jules remembered Burt’s Bad Day. Ground his teeth. “What say we hit that hospital tomorrow night, 7:30?”

Caliban’s tone lacked humor. “I’ll be there with bells on.”

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE
PREVIOUS CHAPTER: CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Join our Patreon to download an early-access ebook of the complete Part Two.

Want to start back at the beginning?
Download the complete Part One for free in ebook format.

Support Form and Void on Patreon