With a sudden jerk, he woke up. After a few fleeting moments of panic, he immediately calmed as the familiarity of his surroundings brought peace to his fears. Soft, white, cotton sheets embraced his form. A light down comforter on top. The very sunlight shining through the gossamer shrouded window seemed almost blindingly white. The temperature was perfect. The mattress was perfect. His pillows were perfect. The scent of pancakes wafting down the hall was perfect. With a deep, contented sigh, he stretched his arms over his head.
“Perfect,” he grinned to himself, as he scrunched back down under the covers.
“Honey?” A melodious voice carried on the wings of angels settled in his ears.
“Mmm,” his smile broadened.
“Honey? Come on now…”
He slowly pulled back the blankets. There, standing in the doorway, was a gorgeous woman. Light green dress with a belt across her waist and a bob in her hair. His wife, he had to remind himself, Isabella.
“‘Morning, Izzy,” he smiled from his place of comfort.
“Good morning, lazy,” she smiled, “It’s Sunday! Why are you still in bed!”
“Why are you making pancakes?” he giggled from beneath the blankets.
“Because! Ugh, tell me you’ve forgotten! Again! Sylus! It’s the church breakfast! We always bring pancakes and berry preserves. You know that,” she playfully smacked his feet under the blankets, “Now get up, Mr. Mayor of Police. Shower off if you have to, but we need to get going soon!”
Sylus rolled his eyes. Church. Church was Izzy’s thing. Gathering together with the community, praising the Vo-Lord… Backing cookies and cakes and pancakes… That was all Izzy’s thing. For Sylus… Sunday was about…
He finally found the will to throw his covers off and rise from his all-too comfortable bed. Standing up slowly, he caught sight of his stubbled beard and mussed hair. For a split second, he for some reason didn’t recognize himself. But as quickly as the moment came, it was gone. With a shrug, he moved to close the open window through which the most delightful spring breeze was blowing. Taking a deep breath, he took hold of the sill. Opening his eyes, he saw his neighbor mowing his perfect lawn.
“Good morning, Jeron,” He waved down from his window.
“Mornin’, Mr. Synclaire,” the man below saluted up to him, “Or should I say Mr. Mayor?”
Sylus laughed, “Neither. The promotion doesn’t mean anything, trust me. Just more of the same with bigger jerks. And cut the Mr. out, too. Why are you still doing that? It’s been years now!”
“Just tryin’ to be respectful, Mr. Synclaire,” Jeron nodded before returning to his daily chores.
“For the love of all that’s holy, we watch sports every Sunday! Drop the damn Mr.!”
Jeron shook his head, waiving Sylus away as he returned to work.
Shaking his own head, Sylus closed the window. Once more he caught himself in the mirror. He was topless. He was yelling down to Jeron… practically naked! And yet… It really didn’t bother him. Something about talking to Jeron, if only for that brief moment, felt right. He liked talking to him.
“Fuck it all…” he grumbled as he threw open the closet doors, retrieved his Sunday suit, and moved as swiftly as he could to the bathroom, the door to which was locked.
“I need to get in there,” he banged on the door, only slightly annoyed.
“I’m in here!”
Izzy appeared, “No… That’s your son… Vincent… Who’s Dan?”
“Dan?” Sylus thought a moment before realizing he had no idea what he’d even said, “I-I really don’t know where that came from. Weird dream, perhaps?”
Izzy gave him a smirking grin before returning to the kitchen.
A strange moment of blackness overcame him, but he was quick to recover from it. Shaking his head, he turned his attention to the occupied bathroom.
“I need to get in there, Vinny!” Sylus banged on the door again.
“I’m almost done!”
“What are you doing in there?!”
“What do people do in the bathroom, Dad?”
The door flew open nearly throwing Sylus off his balance. There stood his son, Vincent. A bright young lad destined for the finest university, if only he weren’t such a curt little bugger. He was dressed in his Sunday finest. Face clean, eyes wide, hair brushed back perfectly.
“You look great, son,” Sylus smiled uncontrollably.
“It’s the same thing I wear every Sunday, but thanks Dad,” Vinny patted him on the shoulder before sliding past him into the hall.
Shaking his head with a smile on his face, Sylus entered the bathroom, locking the door behind him. With a sigh, he turned the shower on. Holding his hand under the water, he waited for the temperature to be just right. As soon as it was nearly scalding, he dropped his boxers. For a split second, he was confused by what he found under them. He was compelled to do something strange… Like he suddenly had no control over his actions.
Opening the bathroom door and leaning out just a bit, he called into the kitchen.
“Vinny’s my kid… Right?”
Izzy leaned out of the kitchen, a look of utterly confused concern on her face, “Yes? Of course he is! I gave birth to him fifteen years ago in July!”
“Y-you gave…? Fifteen… July?”
Izzy glared at him, “Stop being so darn strange, Sylus. Take your shower and get ready to go. I’d really like to not be late this time…” With that she vanished.
What was going on… What were all these little things that felt so foreign… He’d been Sylus Synclaire his entire life. Nothing ever changed. A man’s man who loved God, country, and his local football team. Card-carrying NRA member…? What? Mayor of… a town…? Wait… Sylus stood naked in the bathroom staring at himself in the mirror running a hand over his stubble.
“Why does this all feel so… bizarre?”
He ran his hand over his belly. Obviously, he was a bureaucrat. So that, at least, made sense. Still didn’t feel right, though…
“Why doesn’t anything feel right…” he groaned as he resigned himself to his shower.
Once he was dressed, he opened the medicine cabinet to reveal his hair gel. He hated the stuff because he could never get it in right. Always got hard and gross. Looked more like a helmet than a finely combed head of hair. Maybe with the salary of a mayor he could finally afford better. Cringing at his particularly mobster-like appearance, he finally left the bathroom.
There, down the hall, at the door, stood his beautiful wife. Her arms laden with cake tins of pancakes. Smiling, he ran down the hall to take the burden off her with a peck on the cheeks. She smiled coyly.
“Vincent!” she called into the living room, “Let’s go!”
Outside, sitting in the driveway, glistening in the morning sunlight, was a vehicle he vaguely recognized as valuable. Sylus choked on his own breath.
“I-I own a car…?”
“Well unless you stole it…” his wife pushed past him, “Get in the car, Vinnie, we’ll be right there.”
Sylus stood utterly stunned staring at the vehicle.
“Sylus,” he could barely hear his wife calling to him, “Sylus!” she hissed, finally catching his attention, “What is going on? Why are you acting so darn strange?”
He swallowed hard, “I-I really don’t…”
“Why is it so hard to believe that you have this life? Are you unhappy with it?” her voice began to shake, “Are you unhappy with me?”
“What? No! No no no no! I…” he sighed deeply, “It’s not you, Izzy. I’m just…” his gaze darted around, “I’m just… tired and…”
She sighed, “Anxious?”
Izzy turned to the car in which sat their son. “This is your life now, Sylus. You’re the mayor of La Sombra. No more guns and bad guys. You worked hard for this.” She turned to him once more, “I am in no way suggesting anything’s gotten easier, but we have a nice car, a nice house in a nice neighborhood,” she flashed Jeron a sort of fake smile. He waved politely in return before getting into his car heading to the same church they were, “A smart, healthy son… Life is great, Sylus. You could almost say…” She smiled and waved to Vincent, “Everything is perfect.”
“Perfect…” he muttered. The word rattled around in his head, throwing up vague red flags he couldn’t identify. Pangs of discomfort would quickly disappear the more he took in the world around him. “Yeah…” he breathed as a smile crossed his lips, “Perfect.” He kissed his wife on her forehead before getting into his perfect car parked in his perfect driveway at his perfect home.
Perfect… His mind latched onto the word, but as much as he tried to figure out why it felt so wrong, this strange sense of uncontrollable contentment took its place.
Mass was the most uncomfortable experience of his life. Izzy greeted her parents with a beaming smile. They hugged her tightly before turning to Sylus, offering him firm handshakes.
“Mr. Mayor,” they called him. Over and over and over. Mr. Mayor this. Mr. Mayor that. They didn’t once use his name. He laughed uncomfortably. What else could he do?
As they entered the church, his perfect wife turned to him, “Will you be joining us?” There was the slightest hint of a threat in her voice.
“Ah,” he slapped his hands to his chest, feeling something in his chest pocket. Reaching in, he retrieved a cigar case and some matches, “Ah, just a moment.”
She playfully rolled her eyes, “Of course,” she laughed, “You know where to find us.”
With a coy nod, Sylus lit a cigar. He stood outside nodding politely to people as they entered. They all nodded in return. Occasionally with the added “Mr. Mayor”. Every time he heard it he thought his brain was going to explode. It kept ringing some sickly uncomfortable feeling deep inside, yet something about the perfect cigar in his mouth and the perfect summer breeze gently passing through his slicked-back hair kept easing the feeling away.
“Good morning, Jeron!” his voice boomed as his neighbor approached with his family.
“Morning, Mr. Mayor,” Jeron nodded politely.
“Gloria!” he smiled at Jeron’s wife.
She smiled gently and nodded politely. “Good morning, Mr. Mayor.”
An awkward smile spread across Sylus’ face. Clearing his throat, he stepped aside allowing them to enter the chapel. Jeron shot him a strange glance as he stepped inside. Shrugging it off, Sylus returned his attention to the meditative activity of smoking his cigar.
Once the people had stopped walking in and he was finished with his cigar, he entered the church himself. The second he stepped through the doors he was hit with a wave of stagnant heat. Loosening his collar, he looked around for his family. He was quick to spot Jeron and his own family near the back where he came in.
Leaning over gently, he whispered, “D-do you know where Izzy is?”
Jeron and Gloria both looked at him like he had seven heads.
“Front row,” Jeron replied, “Like always.” He punctuated the discomfort with a chuckle.
“R-right,” Sylus forced his own smile in return.
He wandered up the aisle, smiling to anyone who acknowledged him. Finally, he reached the front and quickly sat beside his family. The pew creaked a bit beneath him.
“Oh, dang it,” Izzy hissed, “I told them about that creak…”
“It’s old wood, Iz,” he whispered, “Old wood working hard to keep my fat ass up off the floor.”
She recoiled. “E-excuse me?!”
“What?” he was completely confused.
“What the HECK has gotten into you, Sylus?!” she hissed into his ear.
Izzy shook her head, “This has to stop. You have to stop. Go to confession today because there’s obviously something going on in your heart that needs professional attention.”
She folded her arms across her chest and turned her attention squarely forward toward the pulpit.
Sylus slouched in his seat.
As the pastor droned on, he found himself turning every sound around him into the same, empty, buzzing white noise. His eyes closed slowly as he continued nodding as if agreeing with the sermon. Suddenly, everything went silent. A roaring growl filled his mind. Sitting up with a start, his behavior didn’t go unnoticed.
“Is everything alright, Mr. Mayor?” The pastor was an elderly man with a gentle smile.
“I-I’m fine. I’m sorry…”
“Perhaps this sermon is meant for you, then. God never gives us burdens any greater than we can bear. Every moment that seems soul-crushing is merely a test of your conviction. The strength to come is always within you. A gift from God Himself. One He tests to ensure you’re using it properly.”
Sylus sighed deeply.
“Change,” the pastor continued, “Is God’s way of telling us He wants us to grow. And grow we must! By the glory of His will!” His eyes suddenly locked onto Sylus’. “WE WAKE UP!” The words boomed from his lips, yet it didn’t match anything he’d said before. It was like an entirely different voice had taken hold, if only for an instant. For some reason, Sylus found it strangely familiar… Unlike everything else that currently filled his world.
“And with that,” the pastor lowered his arms, “Let us thank our Lord in prayer… Our Father…”
The entire parish spoke along with the prayer as Sylus’ mind wandered completely off the planet and into some dark realm rooted deeply in the back of his mind.
As the sermon ended, Sylus remained in a trance. He could see and hear his wife talking to the pastor with concern, yet he felt trapped and unable to do anything about it. The pastor nodded gently as he motioned for Isabelle and Vincent to join the rest of the parish in the dining hall.
Once the chapel was empty, the pastor sat down beside him.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” his soft, yet commanding voice managed to penetrate Sylus’ daze. “Becoming mayor so suddenly. If I didn’t know any better,” he chuckled, “I would have said you were running as a joke.”
Sylus turned to the man with a dead stare. “You know what’s scary?” his voice carried little inflection, “I don’t remember why I ran in the first place…”
“Hmm…” the old man thought a moment, “I believe your slogan was something about equal rights and better futures. The usual idealist agenda.”
“Does that make me a fool?”
The old man sighed, “No, but it makes you sorely unprepared for the reality of politics.”
Sylus sighed, “So a fool.”
The pastor shook his head with a smile, “We all have our purposes, Sylus. If yours is to fuel the hearts of the people toward change? Then that’s your purpose. Even if you fail miserably as mayor, you brought out a lot of good in people.”
“We all seek causes to fill the VOID in our hearts. If God finds us worthy, and we do all we can to fulfill His will, we find our ultimate purpose. Perhaps being mayor isn’t yours, but I’m sure you have a purpose, Mr. Synclaire. We all do.”
A distant sense of comfort washed over him as a small grin crossed his lips. Seeing this, the pastor stood up and patted him on the shoulder with a smile.
Sharp pain suddenly shot up Sylus’ spine. With a stifled scream, he threw himself to the floor.
“Sylus?!” the pastor knelt down beside him, shaking him by his shoulders, “What happened?!”
“It’s dark…” his voice shook, “so dark…” he was nearly sobbing.
“Then perhaps you should try your best to wake up…”
Sylus’ wavering gaze focused intensely on the pastor’s eyes. For a moment, he thought they resembled violet stars.
“Qaitax?!” Choking on his words, Sylus quickly pulled away.
“Qaitax?” the pastor was visibly upset.
“W-what?” Sylus struggled to catch his breath.
The pastor laughed nervously, “Haven’t heard that one before. It’s me, Sylus, Quinton? I’ve known you since you were a toddler…”
“I-I know you…?”
“Y-yes, Sylus… You do… At least… You should…” Quinton stood up slowly, offering a hand to Sylus, “Listen,” he grunted as Sylus leaned on his arm, “There is something going on with you.”
“No shit,” Sylus grumbled under his breath.
“I’m no doctor, but I would suggest taking some time off of work. If you can…”
“I-I just got elected, Quin… I can’t just take the first few days off!”
“Sure you can! Sarah’s an excellent secretary. She’ll keep things under control. Especially after that last absentee mayor,” Quinton laughed, “Remember joking about how she was the real mayor? Could you imagine? A woman mayor?”
Sylus stared at him like he had seven heads, but really he was zoning out again.
“Oh, oh dear… You do plan on keeping her on, don’t you?”
“Did you just blackout again?”
Quinton put his arm around Sylus’ shoulders and patted him on the chest. “You need rest, my friend. This whole election thing’s taken a toll on you.”
“Y-yeah…” Sylus was distracted by the sight of the old man’s hand hanging over his shoulder.
“Do yourself a favor. Talk to Sarah then take some time, alright? She’s in the dining hall with everyone else. Just… Give the word and I know she’ll do right by you,” Quinton patted him on the shoulder before heading into the dining room.
Sylus stood in a daze. There really was something wrong with him. Something deeply upsetting. Something he hoped wouldn’t result in him hurting anyone… Why would he ever hurt anyone? Why did he even think that? Shaking his head, Sylus finally made his way into the dining hall.
Somehow Sylus was able to immediately recognize Sarah in the crowd. Something about the platinum blonde bob and inch-thick glasses gave her away. he was quick to approach her as he wanted this interaction done and over with.
“Oh! Mr. Mayor!” she jumped a bit, almost spilling her coffee, “What can I do for you, sir?” She was quick to recover, puffing her chest out with pride.
“I-I really do hate to do this to you…”
“Oh…” she dropped her voice into a whisper, “I spoke to Izzy. She says you’re not feeling well?”
Sylus cringed at the idea of his wife heading him off like this. “Y-yeah… Something’s, uh,” he forced a cough, “The flu.”
“Oh dear!” Sarah covered her mouth.
“Cold! I meant… Cold… Just a cold…” he forced a laugh.
“A-are you sure?”
“Quite,” he forced a grin, “You don’t have any plans, do you? I just need a few days, Sarah.”
She hesitated a moment before replying. “O-hh, yes, o-of course, Mr. Mayor!” she replied excitedly.
“Thank you so much, my dear,” Sylus was quick to bite his tongue.
“Sylus, honey?” It was Izzy. And she sounded upset.
Sylus turned around slowly. Just as she thought she was out of view, Sarah’s grin turned to a saddened frown.
“Have you forgotten who your WIFE is?” she seethed through a grin.
“It’s just a term of endearment, sweetheart,” he was quick to wrap his arms around her.
“Mmhmm…” she pulled Sylus aside, “You do know that harlot had an affair with your predecessor, don’t you?”
Sylus looked back at Sarah. Bright, happy young woman with a shine in her eye and a contagious smile. At a glance, Sylus would have pegged her as intelligent but naive, but definitely not one to participate in such heinous acts as infidelity.
“Really?” he turned back to Izzy, “But she’s so…” he glanced at Sarah again, “Small…”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Izzy spat, “Don’t let her charm you or so help me, GOD Sylus!”
“Hey hey woah now… I think I have enough control to honor our marriage, don’t you think?”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it…”
“No, actually,” Sylus could feel a frustrated rage rising inside of him, “I don’t. And you know what? I’m hurt that you’d think me so fragile and weak to have an affair with my secretary. I really thought we had more trust built into this marriage thing, but I guess not?”
“Or are you projecting because we haven’t fucked in months?” Sylus hissed.
“SYLUS!” Izzy screamed, covering her mouth as the room fell still.
“You only married me because of Vinnie.”
“And Vinnie only happened because you’re too cock-happy to wear a fucking condom!” She covered her mouth in shock. “I-I can’t believe I said that… Out loud… in a church… Oh God…”
“Well maybe if you weren’t so cock-hungry I would’ve had time to put one on!”
“For the love of CHRIST Sylus! Stop! Please!”
Quinton appeared beside them, clearing his throat. “Time and place?”
Sylus immediately felt an overwhelming sense of shame though it was barely strong enough to surpass his rage.
“Sylus,” the old man put a hand on his shoulder, “Please. Go home. Rest.”
Izzy shot her husband a death glare.
“And you, Isabelle, patience. Please. He needs your support right now…”
“I don’t need jack shit from you.” Sylus immediately wished he could put the words back inside of him. Where did they even come from… What the hell was he thinking…
Quinton glanced nervously between them. “Go home,” he finally spoke up. “Please. Go home. Both of you. I’ll see you next Sunday and there better be an improvement.”
“I’ll say,” Izzy spat as she went to retrieve her son.
“Fucking hell, Quin, what’s going on with me?”
Quinton sighed deeply, “How… real do you think any of what you feel is?”
“Hmm… Nevermind. Next weekend. Try your best to take it easy this week, will you?”
“Isabelle’s a good, patient girl, but I wouldn’t blame her if she changed her mind if this behavior continues…”
“You suggesting my wife should divorce me?”
“Absolutely not, but I wouldn’t blame her if she did. What I am suggesting is that you take the time to try to clean up your act.”
Sylus shook his head in frustration.
“This is sudden, Sylus. Last week you were espousing unity and Christly things… Now?” Quinton sighed, “Rest. Please. I beg you.”
“F-fine…” Sylus begrudgingly replied, “Fine.”
The ride home was silent.
“I’m taking Vinnie to my parents’ tonight,” Izzy suddenly spoke up. “I think you need some alone time.”
She closed her eyes tightly, “I really hope this is temporary because I want my loving husband back. Not… Whatever you’ve turned into…”
“I’m so sorry, Izzy…”
“Then prove it.”
With a heavy sigh, Sylus got out of the car. Before he could say another word, Izzy was behind the wheel pulling out of their driveway.
He spent the rest of the evening in disheveled church-wear with a bag of chips watching the vapid “entertainment” the television had to offer. Shirt unbuttoned, collar popped, tie loose… He looked like shit and he knew it.
A knock came on the door.
With a groaning grunt, he sat up. “It’s open! Just come in or whatever,” he slouched back into the couch.
The door opened and around the corner stepped Jeron.
“Jesus Christ, Sy, you look like shit.”
“Thank you for noticing,” Sylus nodded to him.
Jeron groaned, “Did you forget again?”
“Hm?” Sylus jammed another fistful of chips in his mouth.
“Gameday, Sy. Every Sunday. My place since I have the bigger television…”
Sylus swallowed hard, “Game? As in… sports?”
Jeron looked around before entering the room, “Sy, what the hell’s gotten into you?”
The sudden insatiable desire to slam his lips against Jeron’s fled through his mind. His cheeks heated up and he choked on his chips.
“Oh come on, don’t die on me…” Jeron slid behind him on the couch and slammed the palm of his hand into Sylus’ back.
The choking quickly shifted into laughter.
“I really scared ya, didn’t I?”
“Oh yeah, because you know, black man in the home of a dead white man’ll look real good on the police report. Right. Thanks for the heart attack, Sy…”
“To be fair, I was choking. And to be doubly fair, I’m helpless on my own.”
Jeron eyed him over suspiciously, “You don’t exactly look helpless.”
“I overcompensate with girth,” Sylus patted his stomach.
Jeron moved to shove him back into the couch. Instead, he lost his balance and found himself lying up against his neighbor. A warm glow raced through both their bodies.
“You saved the mayor’s life, Jeron,” Sylus whispered in his ear, “I should get you a medal for that.”
Jeron was quick to right himself, stammering as he struggled to find a reply. Sylus just sat there, spread eagle, pants undone, staring at him. Expecting something. Jeron’s fluster turned to rage which then fizzled into a bewildered calm.
“If you want bean dip and sports, my place. If you wanna sit around like a slob, stay here.”
With that, the front door slammed shut and Jeron was gone.
Sylus sat alone for a long time trying to sort the feelings racing through his mind. He felt something for Jeron he didn’t feel for Izzy… Something… Deep…
“Fuck me,” he groaned as he stood up, dropping chip crumbs onto the floor.
After washing himself off and grabbing an unopened bag of chips, he headed next door.
Knocking on the door, he stood beaming, clutching his bag of chips like a kid waiting for candy on Halloween.
His heart skipped a beat as Jeron opened the door. “At least you clean up halfway decently.” He stepped, “Come in.”
Jeron’s house was laid out exactly like his own yet rather than clean white walls and pale, blank furniture, his home was filled with color and textures on every surface. Sylus found a strange sense of comfort in what he knew his wife would find cluttered and disorganized.
“I was expecting you to bring beer,” Jeron laughed as he parted the beaded curtain into the living room, “But chips are good, too.”
Sylus shrugged, “Alcohol’s bad for Voidlords.”
“E-excuse me?” Jeron dropped the curtain closed.
“I said I’m trying to stay sober. Why what did you hear?”
“S-something about… Void?”
Sylus had no recollection of saying such a thing, but with the way things have been going, he wasn’t surprised he said it.
He sighed deeply, “I-I’m sorry, Jer… Things’ve been…”
“Jer?” Jeron laughed, “Since when?”
“S-since…” the world froze as if skipping a track. Everything around him fell still. He suddenly felt alone. Darkness crept in from every angle. He tried to keep himself focused on Jeron, but he was drifting away fast.
“Sylus?” a voice echoed in the vacuum of his mind, “SYLUS!”
A loud roaring sound filled his ears. A terrible burning sensation crept up his limbs. He was on fire. His flesh was burning. The darkness. The growling…
“I’m dying…” he breathed before everything went black.