“Did you?” Maryse asked. “Then why does he look so confused?” She sighed and stubbed out her cigarette on a small green candle next to her. “Dex, I’m going to tell you a few things and I want you to follow me, to not discount it. Each thing will have its own weight to it, a blow to the reality you think you know. I’m not trying to lay out a bunch of bombs to make your head explode. But there’s really no other way.”
I took in one last deep drag of the cigarette for strength then steadied myself for the verbal assault.
“The first is that Maximus, as a Jacob, was immortal. It doesn’t mean he’s been around forever, but at least his body has been. His job, like all Jacobs, was to act either as managers, guides, or gatekeepers between this world and the ones beyond it. The Thin Veil, the World Beyond, or whatever you want to call it. Maximus was assigned to you as a guide, and you in particular. You have a gift, Dex, and those with gifts must have someone there to show them how to manage it. To contain it. Sometimes gifts, like power for a priestess, can end up in the wrong hands.”
I blinked. There was nothing to say.
“Maximus was supposed to open your eyes to your abilities back then. It didn’t work out so well, for several reasons. One, is that Maximus became compromised.”
I looked at him.
“He lost sight of the goal and became obsessed with you and your life.”
Maximus glared at her. She shrugged. “It’s all in the open now, boy. You lost your way, and eventually you gave up. It happens. The job was difficult, more so because of you, Dex. You were a lot more than he had bargained for. So pushing aside his alliance to you as a friend and not his actual job, you were far too much for him to handle, for most Jacobs to handle. There’s a part of you, Dex, and I’m sure if you really look inside yourself, you’ll see it, that is more than normal. More than…this world.”
Finally, I had to say something. Everything was going over my head, but not that last part.
“I’m not of this world?” I asked.
“You are. You were born here, I can see that. But there’s more to it than that. What, I don’t know. Maybe it’s your lineage. But there is something in you, in your blood, that poses a challenge to someone as weak as Maximus.”
He grumbled at that but didn’t say anything.
“You’d pose a challenge to anyone, to be honest, even me. You aren’t a Jacob, but there’s a preternatural…thread…that has made you into something over the years that I can’t even classify. You’re very, very powerful, Dex, in more ways than one, and that’s how you became the exception. The exception to the Jacobs and the exception to this one right here. After Maximus defected, you were left alone to either figure yourself out on your own, or to bury it under a mound of medication. I was told it was the latter. Meanwhile, Maximus got reassigned to guide another person with similar abilities…Rose.”
“This…” I said slowly, trying to find thoughts and words from those thoughts, “is a lot to take in. Let alone believe.”
“I’m not finished,” she said tersely. “Maximus took care of Rose, opened her up to the world that was just out of sight. He did his duty. And when his duty was finished, he went rogue and gave up his immortality to live a human life. I suppose in his new existence, he went to find you, to maybe make right the things he wronged. Perhaps to check up on you.”
Maximus looked at me for a moment before quickly looking away. “I saw you, on the internet. In the lighthouse. You were ghost hunting. I knew just from watching you that you had no idea what you had, that no other Jacob had been assigned to you. I had to get in your life somehow. When I heard about the incident in Red Fox, I knew that was the way in. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“How very thoughtful of you,” I said absently, my brain still turning over on itself.
“And then I met Perry.”
And then he got my full attention.
He smiled, knowing it. “Perry was like you, just not as difficult. I’d been out of the network for some time, so I couldn’t figure out at first whether she needed a Jacob as well. I had gone rogue; it was no longer my duty, but I still felt like I had to do something. Later on, I learned that Perry did have a Jacob of her own in high school. Apparently it hadn’t gone very well.”
“The accident,” I whispered, remembering what she had told me in December while were shooting at the mental asylum.
“But…” I began, “say that what you two kooks are telling me is the truth, and I just don’t know what to think, why would Perry’s Jacob end up like that? He didn’t help her. He showed her demons and made her burn down a fucking house.”
“Because they’re not divine and they aren’t evil. They aren’t good and they aren’t bad,” Maryse explained. “They just are. The worlds beyond here are grey, just like they are. Maximus became too involved with you and your life and your humanity. He was weak and he fell to that weakness, fell to his insecurities and his jealousies. That’s neither good nor bad. It’s just the nature of things.”
I frowned in disbelief. “So poor fucks like myself or like Rose or like Perry, with all of these abilities and gifts and weights on our shoulders, we’re assigned a guide who might be an unreliable piece of shit in the end and do the opposite of trying to help us? That’s not fucking fair!”
She shrugged. “That is life. Real life is grey.”
“What about Perry’s grandmother? Pippa.”
“She’s just a woman, a woman like Perry,” Maximus said to me. “She had a Jacob too. From what I understand, he helped her.”
“She was put away in a mental institution,” I said through grinding teeth.
“Because she still had her own free will, her own choices to make. Jacobs can only guide, we can’t interfere.”
“But you did,” I snarled, remembering his involvement when Perry was possessed. “You did more than interfere, you stuck your dick in her!”
He flinched but calmly said, “I am not who I used to be. I have no more rules.” His eyes flashed to mine. “And I was trying to save her, to save both of you.”
“How is fucking the woman I love supposed to save us?”
“Because she’s not supposed to be with you!” Maryse said sharply, sharp enough that my head swiveled to her, almost giving me whiplash.
“It’s what I tried to tell you the other day,” Maximus said under his breath.
I raised my hands, anger flowing out of me with surprising strength. “Whoa. Back up. What do you mean she is not supposed to be with me, huh? You think this is fucking funny, some idea of a joke? What, Maximus, you got her on the same prank that you tried to pull on me?”
“I wish this was a prank, Dex,” she said, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “You’re special. You’ve got parts of you that link you to both worlds, the world of the dead, of demons and unimaginable power, and the world of the living.”
“How?” I exclaimed, slamming my fists on the table until it nearly broke underneath them. “How would I be linked to both worlds? I was born here, in New York, to a human mother and a human father.”
“Did either of your parents ever dabble in the occult?”
I was shocked into my thoughts. No, never. My mother had been a drunk, my father had enough and left. He was a businessman. I had a brother. Both of us were as normal as can be.
And then I remembered one thing my mom said right before she died, something I thought about from time to time, when I felt like wallowing in self-loathing. You are not my son, you are not my son, I was not me when I had you. I was not me when I had you. Then she died, in front of my face. I had never figured out what that meant and now I was too scared to.
“Dex?” Maryse asked. She was studying me.
“What does this have to do with Perry?” My voice felt laced with acid, her name on my lips was burning me.
“Like a mortal with a Jacob,” she said with deliberation, watching Maximus now, “two people with abilities shouldn’t get together. The energies shared and exchanged can cause ripples, holes in the fabric of the Veil, and where there are holes, bad things can get out. And they should definitely not have children. The children would have twice the amount of power that the parents have. The world is not cut out for people like us, people on the fringe, not anymore. Science and technology and fear have replaced the open mind that’s needed to embrace people like us. As you know, Dex, from what you suffered, people are far too quick to label you as mentally ill, to try and fix you with pills, when in reality there is nothing wrong with you. You can just see and do things that others can’t. It can be a beautiful gift, but unfortunately the world does not see that beauty. It fears what it doesn’t understand. You and Perry would produce a child that would end up going mad. And that’s if you were lucky.”
My heart was hammering hard in my chest, hard enough to hurt. There was truth in her words, I could feel it in my bones, and the truth would kill me if I let it.
“What do you mean, if we’re lucky?”
Her face grew very grave, very solemn. Maximus straightened up beside me, clearing his throat.
“Dex,” he said carefully, licking his lips. “Because we don’t know what makes you…you…we don’t know what would happen if Perry got pregnant again. We don’t know if the child would be a child at all. We already know that it would have enough power on its own to attract hosts that don’t want to leave. It wasn’t an accident that Perry got possessed. The pregnancy, the combination of you and her together, it was bound to happen. If there was a next time, I don’t think Perry would survive it. The next entity would stay in her, forever, and take the child too. I’m sorry.”
And suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly I couldn’t even see. The world in front of me clouded over and inside I was drowning in my sorrow and sadness. Because I believed what they were saying, even though every part of me was begging for me to ignore them, to discount them, to tell them they were liars and that they were wrong. But I knew that wasn’t the case. I knew in the deep-seat of my soul that everything they had told me, from what Maximus really was, to the fact that I had a little something extra in my blood, to the fact that Perry would probably not survive another pregnancy, at least not by me, was the absolute truth. I’d never been handed so many soul-crushing, reality-bending, life-altering bombs before in all my years.
But what killed me more than anything was knowing that Perry and I could never start a family together. I could never put my seed in her and watch it grow, never be a happy, expectant couple. It wasn’t like this was something I’d even discussed with her, for obvious reasons, but it was my dream that I secretly held on to and held on to tight. Now I’d have to let it go.
I’d have to let her go.
Maximus put his large freckled hand on my shoulder. “It’s for the best, you know it is. It’s for her best.”