pt. II

You hear a lot of civic leaders and preachers go on about responsibility, like it's some kind of cure-all for America's ills; What they don't tell you is that it stings worse than ants, salt and lemon juice in a deep, bloody cut.

Now, I knew that all the decisions that Joey had made to get where he was were his and his alone. I was dead by the time he got into it, so how could I have made him do anything?

But that didn't stop me from seeing where he was, then, as my fault - my responsibility.

I should have done more, I could have done more... hell, I could have kicked it all and driven off somewhere else, couldn't I? And maybe I might have, too, but I never got to have my second chance, thanks to Lenny and his fucking sense of humor.

{This is why I came through as an "accident," rather than a "murder," in case you're curious - he hadn't meant to kill me, for all the good that did.}

That bastard Lenny gave me the hot shot when Joey was nineteen, and was just starting to make the kind of "friends" I really wish he wouldn't. And I lost about three years Sleepwalking my way around my first apartment, imagining I was rocking little Joey to sleep.

So you can imagine that Waking up was a nightmare for me: I came out to discover that not only had my baby boy gotten really high up in the dealing set, but he'd been touching the merchandise, too.

Now, most dealers had the good sense not to touch the stuff they peddled, but Joey had always been a little lacking in the good sense department, just like his father. And if I'm going to be completely and brutally truthful, I bet you already know where he learned that from, too.

I mean, It's not like I was shooting up right in front of him; I tried not to let him see me when I was going up or coming down, or injecting for that matter.

And no, I didn't use him in the trade, either - God no. That's how a lot of those kids get into the shit in the first place: buying for daddy and selling for mommy, or vice versa, or both...

No - I didn't want him getting directly involved, because I knew I would lose him if I did, and I loved him too much to ever see that happen.

But there was no way he could have been in the same house and not known what was going on. And while I might not have used him in the trade, he was there, living it along with me, and it couldn't have not rubbed off on him.

So yes, I was at least partially responsible for what happened to him, and that stung worse than anything in the entire world.

Standing there, that day - dead, and seeing what that my son was following me to the grave - I knew that I was much, much too late for regrets. All I could do was try to stop things from getting any worse.

And I made a promise, right then and there, that I was going to be responsible for once in my fucking life, and see him through this, whatever it took.

So when I say I was running my ass off to get to my son, I mean it. I was charging down the road so fast that I was just a blur, burning through all the Juice I had just to get there as quick as my Numen would take me.

And yet it wasn't fast enough.

I ran past the living as they went to work or away from it, past the junkies as they shot themselves into oblivion with that new drug going around, past the Order on patrol and Messengers on their rounds. I ran through cars, busses, walls, trashcans, alleys and people, moving so fast that I barely had the time to register them before they were long gone...

But it still wasn't fast enough; It was never, ever fast enough.

I used to think I'd give anything to know how the Ferrymen can just appear out of nowhere. Laris once said that I had a long way to go before I could learn to do that, even if moving always was one of my talents.

But how fast do you have to go to run away from what you've done?


The think the moment I realized I'd come into the story more than a little too late was when I finally saw Laris. I'd seen him girded up for war, before, but never quite like that...

Sorry: just thinking about it makes my mind ache - you know how Ferrymen are.

His cloak and cowl had fossilized, somehow, and long, metal spikes were sliding in and out of the folds in the fabric with every step. And he had his hammer with him, right there in his hand, as though he were expecting to have to use it at any moment.

I braced myself for the rapid comedown, and skidded to a halt right next to him, shivering once or twice as I got used to normal movement again.

It is time, Laris said, before I could say anything to him: You have many questions. They will be answered, tonight.

"Why didn't you come and get me?" I asked, hoping he'd let it out.

And no, he didn't answer that, but I didn't really expect him to, either. Whatever questions I had would be answered by action or example, not by words, and that was the way these things always went.

Still, I had to push: "If my son's involved, I have a right to know what's going on..."

Yes, the Ferryman said as walked towards the front door of my son's apartment building: You do. And so, tonight, you shall.


When I say the building was my son's apartment building, I didn't just mean that he lived there. The truth is that it was his apartment building: bought and paid for years ago, and all of it with troubled money.

Drug money, if I'm going to be completely truthful, and you already know where he learned all that from.

Yeah, he'd come pretty far since I'd died, if you wanted to call that far. He had a couple really nice cars, a penthouse on the top of an apartment building he owned, a few girls, lots of soldiers... hell, he didn't even have to make the drops, anymore, now that he had others to do it.

But it was still my Joey - a big kid who mistook the bling for something meaningful, and was filling up his life with emptiness, one needleful at a time.

At first, I wasn't sure what I should do, after I swore myself to getting him off the junk. I knew I could do certain things, but I wasn't sure how good of an idea they'd be - what if I gave him a heart attack by appearing out of nowhere and yelling at him?

So I did little things, at least at first.

I tried avoidance therapy, by making his shootups cold, wet and clammy experiences. I imagined myself becoming a soggy blanket of humid air, and slid around him seconds after he injected, hoping he'd get the hint.

But that didn't work - he just changed his supplier, thinking he'd scored some bad horse.

So I tried appearing more fully, hoping I'd shock him out of it if he saw me reflected in a mirror, or saw me looking at him disapprovingly while he was nodding off. I imagined myself as I once was, looking down at him when he was a little boy and had done something naughty, and there I was.

But that didn't work, either - he doubled his dose.

About then I was getting pretty desperate. I could see the kind of damage he was doing to himself, and I was damned sure that if I tried to see his future - as I was learning I could - then it'd be really damn bad.

And one day, my Shadow told me it had some ideas on getting him away from the criminal element for once and got all - mostly by getting rid of them.

Yeah, it was pretty sick, but you have to understand - I was desperate. Here was my son, rotting himself away with heroin, one injection at a time, and all these scumbags who were hanging around him were helping to keep it going; Would any of them really be missed in the grand scheme of things, especially if I let my Shadow take one of them apart right in front of him?

Of course, that was when the Order finally got ahold of me, and showed me the error of my ways.


Their rules were pretty simple, at least in theory. They didn't mind if I did what I could to scare him straight, but harming him - or any of his "friends" - was a real no-no.

{Yes, I know the Injunction says Kill Not the Living, but the Order doesn't want to take any chances: today's injury is tomorrow's funeral, as they put it...}

So they loaded me down with work, education and some extra duties thrown on top of it all, just to try and keep my mind off of Joey, and stop me from brooding. But all I could think about was my son, nodding off on his bed with one of his "girlfriends" lapping him up for junk, and I knew that I couldn't be content to just show up and play little mind games on my occasional evening off.

I needed some outside talent, in other words, and that's how I got involved with the Haunters.

And that's how I learned about what that one freak was up to, which is what got me involved with Laris in the first place. And that's how we foiled the whole thing, and why the Haunters in this town want to kill me all over again, and probably would have if it weren't for Laris...

But you don't really want to hear all that, now, do you?

Suffice it to say that, after doing the Order's work for them, I gained enough leeway to shuck those extra duties. And between what I now knew I could do, the little tricks I'd picked up from the Haunters, and the privacy and time to do them, I started trying to get my son off the junk, again.

But it didn't work, dammit - it just didn't work.

He didn't listen to me when I appeared and spoke to him, and he didn't care about the little fears I showed him. Hell, he didn't even bat an eye when I made his best buddy - two seconds away from stabbing him, I might add - fall down dead right in front of him, courtesy of my Shadow.

But I still kept trying, getting a little more frightening each and every day, no matter the cost to myself.

No, I wasn't kidding when I told that Pardoner bitch I'd gladly pay for his pain a thousand times over. I owed it to him to set him straight, if I could, and if that meant I had to Damn myself, so be it.

He was my son, and I loved him, and I'd have done anything for him - wouldn't you?


All that went through my mind as we slipped through the front door, passing two security guards that stood on either side of it, watching the mortal nightlife pass by. I was getting a funny feeling about both of them, as though they were approaching their big moment {as we say in the Order}.

Yes, look at them, Laris said: See them as I do, and understand.

He put one of his heavy hands on my shoulder, and I winced, feeling him extending his senses into my skull. He'd done it a few times before, in order to make some kind of point, and I never liked it - the experience always felt like going down on amazing horse while having a killer migraine.

In moments like that, I was always lost inside that small piece of him that was in me: thousands of alien ideas sliding around in my mind, filling me with something that alternated between rusty sharpness and icy sweetness, but never lingered long enough to be made out with any kind of sense...

Now, look, he commanded me. And I opened my eyes up to see through his, knowing I wasn't going to like what I saw.

And I was right.

Imagine seeing the world coming apart all at once: everyone growing old, growing sick and dying, and everything sagging, collapsing and crumbling to dust. Imagine their pain, their past and their possible futures all rising up and screaming at you - crashing over you like waves on beach rocks - and you not being able to get away from it.

In the case of the guards, I was unable to get away from the fact that they were both dead men walking.

I couldn't tell how, or why, but the taut skin and empty eyesockets were enough to tell me that neither of them were long for life. I didn't need to cast lots to see that it might even be tonight, either, and I had the scary feeling that it was going to be brutal, whatever it was...

They weren't the only ones, either - not by a long shot.

In fact, everyone we saw in the downstairs lobby looked like they'd be going, and soon. 'Everyone' included the bored receptionist, the call girl in the chair, the old lady waiting by the elevator... even the pizza guy cooling his heels by the speakerphone, waiting for someone to come down and get their order.

"This is not good," I said, putting a hand over my eyes: "Doc Wallis said you were talking about the Damned...?"

The breach is immanent, Laris said, gently taking my hand away: The way has been prepared. Tonight, they will all die.

"Unless we do something?"

Not we, he answered, and then stood still, turning his massive, cowled head to look right at me: I will take no action. I will not interfere.

"You... you can't be..." I stammered, utterly floored - not only by what he said, but the fact that he wasn't being at all cryptic.

Yes, he said, putting a very heavy gauntlet on my shoulder, again: I will do nothing, here. What is to be done here can only be by your hand.

And then he took us both out of the lobby, and into the Barrier.