"What rough beast, its hour come 'round at last,
slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"
-William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming."
He remembers being born.
The illusion of warmth in his mama's belly. Safety. Hearing her laugh, and her gentle voice, from the inside, telling him the world was waiting for her little man to come claim it. He remembers the gentle rocking motion of amniotic fluid...like sailing on the ocean. And then upheaval. Falling. Pain. Expulsion. Bright light and cold air and things too big and too noisy for his tiny eyes to focus on.
He remembers screaming.
She lied. His mama lied. The world wasn't waiting for him to claim it. Nobody was waiting except a two-bit doctor with a pair of forceps and a nurse who scrubbed him with rough hands and a rougher wet towel. Nothing was waiting except a bill his daddy couldn't afford to pay--because Ray McDonald was too busy forgetting the birth of another squalling brat over shots at Big Jake's.
But Mama held him close...and whispered to him. Told him about his future, about how he would get out of town and make her proud. About how her little man would be a better man than all those who'd come before him. Her tears fell on his face as they wheeled her out of the birthing room...each salty kiss like an unfulfilled dream.
And he kept screaming.
He's *still* screaming.
Each year, on this day, he opens a bottle of aged Kentucky bourbon. He pours himself a shot, knocks it back, and toasts the fact that he made it past the age of 9. That the belt whizzing through the air never wrapped around his neck and snapped it. That the clenched fist never quite broke his nose and sent bone up into vital regions of his brain. That listening to his mama and Marianne sob at night never quite broke his heart and killed him dead.
It is a salute. A salute to the fact that he'd succeeded, made it through high school, college, and law school...the first in his family...in the county, too. A salute to the fact that he wasn't abusive trash...that he didn't get off from hurting people weaker than him. That he'd never made a woman cry.
This year, his hand shakes as he tilts the bottle. As the dark amber liquid spills, haphazardly, into the shot glass he has set on the blotter. Faded Greek letters mark the side of the tiny glass...and the memory of camaraderie with good old boys and raucously loud Skynard LPs makes his fingers slip along the smooth neck of the Jim Beam bottle and nearly drop it.
But he saves it in time. No crash. No shattering. No secretaries knocking on the door asking if he's all right, if he needs anything. Funny, but they never asked *before*.
He fumbles with the cap of the JB, finally twisting it on tight after a few minutes of struggle and steadying the neck against the dry, itchy synthetics of his right palm. And then he stares at the shot. Brimming with perfect surface tension. Expectant. Sitting before him like a trophy, gleaming in the low track lighting.
He can't drink it.
He thinks about a dark-haired girl in a hospital bed...twisting in the sheets, sobbing as her eyes witness a thousand visions of torment. He thinks about a blond girl in the dimly lit back room of a runaway shelter biting back helpless tears as she notices that the utility payments have tripled. He thinks about Darla. Sitting on a bed in a seedy hotel room, next to...next to someone he can't think about...and pleading with her eyes. Pleading for him to let her die in peace. To let her *live.* She pleaded up until Dru's fangs sank in and her lashes fluttered shut. Until the inevitable.
He can't drink it.
He can't feel the victorious burn of it going down his throat. He's not even fit to touch it...to wet the tips of his fingers in it like holy water and receive it's benediction. Would it sting, melt his flesh, and punish him for his arrogance, for his pride, for his greed, for his sins?
Somewhere, in the midst of fire and heat and brimstone, Ray McDonald must be so very proud. Crowing that the fancy pussified lawyer ain't nothing but a fake...that the little man has finally embraced his blood, his true nature, his destiny.
Ray is laughing.
Laughing with the demons and the beast.
And he's still screaming.
Night creeps across the sky slowly. He can picture it scrabbling forward on claws, taking over the orange and pink sun-streaked canvas inch by inch.
He thinks that the darkness took him over in much the same way. Inch by inch. Starting with his feet--the feet that propelled him into these law offices--and ending with his head. Dropping a black veil over his mind. His sense. His morals. Everything he used to value. Everything Mama instilled in him on that first day, with her tears and whispers.
His eyes move to the untouched bourbon, to a salute he will never make, and he knows he must remember this moment.
He can't ever forget being born again.
Upheaval. Falling. Pain. Expulsion. Being pushed from the bright light and cold air and things too big and too noisy for his tiny heart to focus on.
Pitching forward into the abyss.
"Happy birthday, Lindsey," he whispers.
The words are wet....damp around the edges and weak in the middle.
He wonders if that's why he can't scream anymore, why the sound of a little man's terror refuses to rise from his throat.
And then he shrugs and turns his chair back towards the windows.
He has more important things to think about now.
He's coming to claim the world.
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