A Not So Fatal Flaw
For just a moment, before he saw the thing he had come here to destroy, Leon reflected on his fear or lack thereof. There was a very real chance, he believed, that he would never leave the chamber he was entering into. But it was not so much trepidation he felt as interest. He wanted to know what lay at the center of the mystery, to discover how and why and at what cost his life had been taken from him.
Then he entered into the large, square chamber that vaulted some hundreds of feet over his head, terminating in a skylight that illuminated the place. But it wasn’t the skylight or anything else in the otherwise featureless square room that caught his attention. It was the beast chained to the wall opposite him.
It was huge. That was the first thing that impressed him, standing no less than one hundred feet tall at its shoulders, and it was butt ugly. It was shaped something like a dog, a great dane with four legs and a pronounced curvature of the ribs, except its skin, lacking fur of any kind, was puke green. It had great, black bat wings sprouting out of its back, which it began beating as soon as Leon entered its room, tongue slathering in its great maw. The thing’s bugging eyes were crazed and furious. The killers of Quixotes. Leon had seen those eyes before.
It beat its wings into flight and rose off the ground, but the chain around its neck kept jerking it back and downwards. It roared in frustration.
The Quixote, Leon noticed, had gone totally silent.
There was a vast distance between Leon and the thing. Leon wondered what they did to it down here, to aggravate or accommodate, study or pamper it. Should the chain break Leon would be dead within seconds.
He stalked cautiously across the room toward it. Energy beating out of the thing, it paced restlessly to and fro within the range the chain. It howled like a Jurassic Park dinosaur
“It has to die,” Leon said to himself. “I have to kill it.”
He shifted the Quixote to his left hand. Why had it abandoned him? As if a part of himself had been rendered less powerful by the beast’s very presence.
“It’s a part of all of us, isn’t it?” Leon asked, but received only the thing’s crazed howls in response.
It was as if the Quixote in his hand had become only a metal figurine.
“Where did you come from?” Leon asked, coming closer, “And when?”
Beating its great wings it lifted off the ground, but not very far thanks to the chain. Attention divided between what it might think of as a meal, and the constricting length of the chain, it stared wildly at Leon, who noticed that each of its four paws were fixed with a set of nasty looking claws.
“What do you eat? People? Can I get you any?” Leon continued, coming closer.
“How long have they kept you here?”
The thing, jerked down from taking flight, landed on all fours and began pacing again, howling and howling, echoing in the square chamber.
“You would eat me in a second, wouldn’t you?” Leon asked. “Your jaws look about just the perfect human-eating size.”
He kept getting closer. There was a grin as if of manic anticipation on the thing’s face.
He brought the Quixote forward, clasped between both hands at chest level, but nothing was happening. He felt no power.
The beast clawed at the floor, lowered its head to the floor, arching its back downwards, an exaggerated pouncing position if Leon had ever seen one. It probably knew just exactly how far its chain extended. It kept pulling on it.
Leon shifted the Quixote to his right hand and held it like a boxer or a street fighter with a roll of quarters hidden in his fist. He continued slowly to approach. Manic energy and anger shone out of the beast like illumination. Captivity had clearly driven it insane.
Leon wondered what was happening beyond this chamber, in the outside world. Was anything changing with the Quixote’s entrance into this chamber?
The beast pulled and slathered at its chain. Leon eyed its blade sharp teeth trepidatiously. Soon he would be within its range. He wondered when was the last time it had been free, if it had ever been free. The metal of the chain groaned and strained at the weight of the giant’s unpredictable pulls and jerks.
Leon stopped just, just shy of the creature’s range.
Bending down it dropped its snout face to face with Leon. Its mammoth tongue flicked and reached forward and slobbered the front of Leon’s shirts uselessly. Disgust overtook him, the thing’s breath like sulfur and brimstone.
The thing laid its snout down to the ground, arching its back, pulling and pulling at the chain. Leon kicked its nose, just to see if he could and the thing howled with rage and snapped smartly at him but missed.
“I can’t do this alone.”
You have to.
“And what happens if I don’t?”
Then it will eat you anyways.
“So that was your master plan? Build me up with power and then disappear. Make of me a meal for the beast.”
We can’t kill it.
“Neither can I.”
The creature, momentarily, seemed to have gone still.
Heather, watching from Headquarters, saw that Obama’s expression was exactly the same intense stare that she’d seen in the photo of the Situation Room when Seal Team 6 took out Bin Laden.
No, you can’t, the Quixote said, but you can nullify it.
The groaning links of the chain were now all too apparent. The metal was positively shrieking, bending and perhaps even breaking. The thing continued to stare at Leon, pushing with all its might.
“It’s a part of us, isn’t it?” Leon asked. “The thing that needs to die.”
It needs to die, but we can’t kill it. Congratulations, Leon, you’ve struck the paradox.
“So am I the problem, or are you?”
We are the problem. Of course we are.
“And you never had any attention of letting me walk out of here.”
No we didn’t.
“If the thing can’t die, but it needs to, then where does that leave me?”
You’re wrong, Leon, it doesn’t need to die, because it’s not going to, but you will.
It’s going to break its chain, then it will devour you. You can even hear it happening now.
Leon palmed the Quixote heavily, its power now sparking again, just like it had at the gates of the White House. The nexus. What a joke.
That’s right, Leon. There is no nexus. Only the beast.
“It’s going to kill me and take my power.”
You have no power, Leon.
“Run, Leon! Get away from there!” Heather shouted, but then two sun-orb creatures came up behind her and put hands over her mouth.
The chain was singing its song of strain. The beast was gnashing its teeth.
“You gave me the Quixote only to bring it to the beast? What’s wrong with you? Why will you give it more power?”
It will be satisfied with your blood.
“No it won’t be. It will never be satisfied.”
Heather, being pulled back from the screens, reached into her pocket for the thing she’d almost forgotten that Barack Obama had given her. She pulled out the sun-orb, which was lightning hot to the touch, and she brought it to the hands and arms holding her mouth, holding her back, and she scalded them and they let her go. Barack Obama turned towards her but it was too late for him, she’d already thrown the sun-orb talisman at him, and it hit him square in the chest, knocking him down to the floor with a “Hmph!” of escaping breath. Heather ran for the stairs, back the way she had come. Several sun-orb soldiers moved to intercept her.
“Run Leon! Don’t let it get you!”
Leon heard Heather’s voice, and then a loud metallic snapping. The sound of the chain breaking, and the thing’s snout came closer, closer, close enough, maw opened wide to swallow him whole, except Leon, holding the Quixote, shoved the thing into the roof of its mouth and let it go.
There was a deafening cry of pain as the beast swallowed the Quixote and retreated, beating its wings and flying up into the air.
Leon what have you done!? But the voice was quieter. It was already falling into the thing’s stomach.
Leon turned and ran for all his might.
Heather vaulted up the stairs while several of the sun-orb creatures attended to Barack Obama, who seemed to have been grievously wounded. When she looked back at him she saw a change taking place on his face. He was turning metallic. He was becoming one of them. On the screens of the monitors she saw Quixotes everywhere, people who had murdered Quixotes only hours earlier were turning. Whatever was happening in the chamber with the beast it was not happening in a vacuum. The entire country was changing.
The sun-orb creatures chasing her were closing in. She turned and redoubled her efforts.
The beast was flying about at the skylight, Leon was almost at the door he had come in through.
There was the sound of breaking glass. Leon looked up and saw that the beast had shattered the skylight. It was free. It flew out into the open air.
Heather heard the breaking glass too and the howls of release. Everyone across the country heard it, and they were afraid.
She came out into the halls outside the Headquarters and without missing a beat she closed the door and overturned a nearby shelf so that it was blocking the door. Not two seconds later there was a hammering at the door as the sun-orb creatures arrived. The talisman was red hot in her hand, and she let it go. Something told her that they wouldn’t be bothering her any more. She ran out into the corridor, trusting her instincts. The howls of the beast, even here, were deafening.
“They wanted you to die, Leon!” Heather yelled.
“I know they did.”
“Meet me at the gates,” she said, running through the White House’s labyrinth of offices, conference rooms and even, once, a day care center, multi-colored toys and balls spilled across the floor.
Leon retraced his steps. He remembered them perfectly.
“So you only came to free the beast?” Heather asked him, puffing and out of breath.
“I guess so.”
“Good job, man,” Heather said.
“I wonder…” Leon paused for breath, doubling over and propping himself up by putting his hands on his knees. “I wonder if there’s any danger any more.”
“I wouldn’t want to be that thing’s first meal. That’s for sure.”
Leon pulled himself upright again and resumed running, taking every turn exactly as he had on the way here. Like Heather, he sensed, he was trusting his instincts. She, like him, had become powerful.
Time, as before, had no purpose as they retraced their steps at a run. How long they had wandered the corridors, consumed in their private struggles, while the nation burned outside. How many had died, Leon wondered, just so he could get to the point where the creatures wanted him? It was he himself they hadn’t accounted for. He had let the Quixote go and it had given the beast the power it needed to break the chain, to escape. And maybe that was enough. Maybe the nation beyond the White House doors was healing itself. Because it was more important for them that Leon had died, one way or the other. But he wasn’t going to die. He was going to make them eat their actions. For the rest of his life he would make them pay.
Finally, he reached the entrance to the White House, saw the quiet, the dead bodies strewn across its lawn and piled at its mangled gates.
Heather was waiting for him there, and she looked quite lovely, a smile on her face and strength in her eyes.
It was just the two of them now. The entire country, with the beast’s escape, had turned Quixote. Even Barack Obama.
“Hey good looking,” she said to him.
He approached her and she cocked her head to the side, crossed her arms and watched him.
“I can’t believe we’re both alive,” he said.
“Yep. They really didn’t have much of a plan to account for us, did they?”
“A fatal flaw if ever there was one.”
“Yes, but not to us.”
He reached her and hooked his arm around her waist and brought her closer to him. She stepped forward willingly, and, bodies pressed together, he kissed her long and hard.
Overhead the beast circled. But it would not make a meal of either she or him. It was the rest of the fearful nation upon which it would feast, when and if it wanted to. But even that might pose less than an existential threat, as there was a chance that its rage would subside with the subsequence of its freedom.
Executing a series of figure eights over the White House, eventually it soared up into the stratosphere and was gone from sight and sound, leaving Leon and Heather, unafraid besides, openly making out on the president’s doorstep.
Maybe they would become lonely some day, surrounded as they would be by mute and acquiescent Quixotes. More likely it would serve to bring them closer together. They didn’t have much a choice any more, after all.
They held hands as they walked down the stairs, then down the drive towards the open gates. Beyond them the world still appeared abandoned. Perhaps everyone could hear the beast, and was staying in doors until it stopped howling. It was a part of all of them, after all, all of them except Leon and Heather.
They found, as they walked together, that they didn’t have to open their mouths any more. Apparently, from here on out, their thoughts would be enough.
Life did not return to normal, neither for Heather or Leon. Leon drove the both of them back to the Bay Area, and they both went back to work, but things were unaccountably different now that the entire world was composed of Quixotes. There’s had been a nation of divisions: black, white; rich, poor; educated and the unschooled. No more. There was only a blank homogeneity, and neither knew what was expected of them, though everyone looked to them, confused as to what had happened, how they felt, and how everything seemed strangely changed. Half of them had no idea what had come over them until they’d heard the howls of the beast, which had startled them out of their murderous rage. Both halves chose to forget about these episodes. It was much easier that way, and the Quixotes didn’t have much power for revenge anyways.
Stigel, Lewis was very different now. Gone were the machinations and office politics. Gone were Stuart, Cassidy, Vanessa and Frank. Gone was Louis Fitzgerald and his Box-Mart account. Sure, the accounts kept rolling in, but Leon didn’t have to apply himself to finish his work any more. Just getting something done was enough.
He saw Heather far more often than before. He went to her house after work almost every night. They would eat dinner, watch old movies (there might never be a new movie again!), and then they would make love, romantic and desperate together. They hadn’t needed each other before, but they sure did now. The only anchors to reality either of them still possessed.
Some days Leon wondered if he would see the beast again, if it still wanted to make a meal of him. No one had heard its call since it had escaped. One day, at Heather’s apartment, Barack Obama appeared on the television, and he had turned back into a human, couldn’t present himself as a sun-orb creature, that would simply be too much for the Quixote populace. Maybe there was an experimental procedure of some kind. Maybe in time they would share it with the rest of us. But not today, Leon thought, waiting for Heather, who was in the kitchen pouring them a glass of wine. More than likely they would keep that kind of power for themselves. In the end their little plan had worked: if nothing else, the nation was far more docile now than it had ever been before. There were hardly even any murders any more.
The day after seeing Barack Obama on the television, Leon went to work, wearing the same clothes he had worn the day before. Waiting for the elevator on the first floor he picked Stuart and Cassidy out of the crowd and approached them, but neither would speak with him. They were all afraid of him, of what he had inflicted, in their minds, on the rest of them, simply by existing and not allowing them to have the Quixote for themselves.
“Morning,” he said. He received no response. They rode the elevators to the 32nd floor in total silence with the rest of the Quixotes.
Leon surveyed his conquered territory en route to his office. Cowed and frightened Quixotes everywhere, no one would even hazard to look at him. He wondered what they saw when they did, but no one would tell him.
Mathilda, formerly his sweet young distraction, was a Quixote just like the rest of them, she of the short skirts and the lustful eyes. Her donkey was parked obediently just beside her desk. She handed Leon a small stack of folders. She had put the finishing touches on the Box-Mart account in Leon’s absence. If they still had promotions here, she would surely be in line for one.
Leon went into his office and shut the door. Immediately he sensed that something was different. The air was thick with significance.
He paced towards his desk, already knowing what to expect to be waiting for him there. Indeed, he found it, a new talisman, and it didn’t take him long to recognize it either: it was the beast in miniature, complete with gaping jaws and spread-eagled wings.
He picked it up and felt disgust wash through him, and he wondered what could be expected of him. Perhaps to hunt down the thing, to rescue the schools of Quixotes that it must be devouring simply for its daily sustenance. This was the thing that everyone feared now, and it had free reign over the entire world. Would it come to Oakland, where Leon’s adventure had began? He wondered. But he didn’t have to wonder long, because there was soon a sound of beating air and a familiar, shrieking howl and Leon turned around and saw the beast flapping its wings at his window, hovering over San Francisco. Before Leon could think what to do it had already flown forward and fixed itself to the side of the building, its disgusting maw on a perfect level with Leon’s window, obstructing his view completely.
The breath coming from its gaping nostrils fogged the glass, and Leon found himself walking towards it, holding the new figurine. The beast, his beast, watched him calmly. Neither had anything to fear from the other. But damn did it look ugly.
“You need a bath,” Leon said. “If you haven’t showered since we last met you still smell like shit.”
The beast gave no indication as to whether or not it spoke English.
Leon heard through telepathy that the rest of the building, full of Quixotes, was going into paroxysms of fear. How would they consider him now? None would even come near him.
“It’s not time yet,” Leon said.
The beast gave no response.
“We’ll make them pay for what they did to you,” Leon said.
The beast gave no response.
“Come see me after I finish here, later this evening, okay? We’ll decide what to do with Heather. She’s a part of this too.”
The beast still gave no indication that it spoke English. It struck Leon that it could dive its mammoth snout through the window and swallow him whole at any given moment, but he knew that it wasn’t going to. Not while he held the talisman. Indeed he believed that he had complete control over the creature, if only he could make it understand him. So, when the beast flapped its wings again some several moments later and lifted off from the building, Leon watched it go with a mixture of hope and trepidation. His adventure was not over, according to the beast. Things were still not how they should be, and it was still up to him to fix it. Barack Obama and the sun-orb creatures probably had another think coming to them. He would need Heather for that, but he knew that she would be game. They loved and needed each other now, and she had been doing swimmingly at the wine shop; they weren’t afraid of her the way they were afraid of Leon.
He watched the beast fly off towards Oakland, beating its wings, then turn upwards and disappear into the clouds. He wished it well, and looked forward to seeing it after work got out.
Something told him that it wouldn’t take long for them to understand each other.