The Dead Hamlets: Book Two of the Book of Cross

BOOK: The Dead Hamlets: Book Two of the Book of Cross
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THE DEAD HAMLETS
PETER ROMAN

ChiZine Publications

EPIGRAPH

“Who’s there?”

—Hamlet

ENTER GHOST

I lost the angel Baal in Berlin during a rainstorm of biblical scale. Some might say the weather was a sign of things to come, or maybe a sign of things past. But if there was one thing I’d learned over the ages, it was that the weather was usually just the weather. Usually. So instead of killing Baal and getting drunk on his heavenly grace, I found a bar on a quiet street and got drunk on regular spirits instead. It wasn’t the same, but I’d learned to make do.

Make that drunker. I hadn’t been sober in months, not since the Barcelona Incident. The less said about that, the better. Let’s just say if I didn’t have a reason to kill angels before, I had one now.

If I had been sober, Baal might not have been able to lose me in the crowd at Potsdamer Platz after we got off the S-Bahn train, disappearing like he was just another person on his way home from the office. Sure, he looked like a regular man most of the time, simply another mortal hurrying his life away to the grave. But appearances can be deceiving. Take me, for instance. I look like one of you too, but I’m not. I wish I were. So do the angels. But if wishes were stars, the heavens would be on fire.

So, as sober as I am mortal, I had lost Baal in the rain and the crowd of commuters. Which meant I’d thrown away the money I’d paid to the priest in Madrid who gave me Baal’s location. It wasn’t the first time drink had cost me dearly. I’ve lost fortunes over the centuries, thanks to my bad decisions. It wouldn’t be the last time either. There’s no way I’m going to spend the rest of eternity sober, not with the sort of things that happen to me on a regular basis.

I told myself that it didn’t matter as I stumbled out of the rain and into the bar. I’d find Baal again, or I’d find some other angel to kill. There were always other angels to kill. Not as many of them as there used to be, granted, because I’d hunted down my fair share of them over the centuries. But there were enough seraphim left to get me through a few more Dark Ages. God had made a lot of spares.

I sat at a table in a corner of the bar, dripping water on the floor, and told a waitress with a blonde ponytail to bring me the strongest beer she had and to keep them coming. When in Germany, drink like a German, I figured. She smiled like I was the only person who had said that in the entire evening, which I strongly doubted based on the drunken laughter of the people at the tables around me.

I had good reason to drink. Many good reasons, in fact. The one love of all my lives, Penelope, the daughter of an angel and a mortal and thus my miracle, was dead and gone. We had both been killed decades ago when Judas had lured us to Hiroshima in time for the atomic bomb. I resurrected in the ruins, as I always do. Penelope did not.

Yes, the same Judas who had betrayed Christ. The same Judas who was not a mortal, as most believed, but an ancient trickster god who wanted to keep humanity mired in the blood and muck. The same Judas who was responsible for my existence, for if he hadn’t betrayed Christ there would have been no crucifixion and thus no dead, divine body in want of a soul so badly it created one for itself. Me.

Then there was the matter of Amelia, my unborn daughter who had died with Penelope. Only she hadn’t really died, because she’d recently been birthed by Morgana, the faerie queen, as an act of revenge against me. Revenge for . . . well, she had her reasons. And now Amelia lived with the faerie in the glamour, their world hidden away in ours—if you could say that someone who was still dead lived anywhere.

And if that wasn’t enough, Morgana had somehow laid claim to my soul—to me. And I was under her spell, thanks to a bone ring she’d given me that had fused with my ring finger and my mind alike. All I could think about was my longing for Morgana, even though we’d definitely had a challenging relationship before she’d bound me with the ring. The only way I could escape that feeling was to get drunk on alcohol, or high on the grace of angels. The same as it ever was.

Yes, things were definitely complicated. But things have been complicated ever since I’d woken up in that cave all those lifetimes ago, trapped in the body of Christ with no memory of who I was or how I had wound up there. Complicated is pretty much my life.

So I drank beer after beer, and the windows darkened from black to blacker, and the waitress with the blonde ponytail was replaced by a new waitress with dark pigtails. I emptied the latest glass and ordered another, and she worked the subject of the bill into the conversation. There’s always a price when you’re dealing with the Germans.

I didn’t have any money to pay, so I knocked my glass to the floor. When the waitress cursed and bent down to pick it up, I tried my usual trick of lifting the wallet of the man sitting behind me, one of a tableful of men wearing the sports jersey of some soccer team or another. But I was clumsy from the drink, and he caught me doing it and grabbed my hand before I could extract any money from his wallet. He hit me in the face with his beer mug like he’d had lots of practice at it, and then his table-mates joined in with their fists and elbows and feet and whatever else they could hit me with. Even the waitress gave me a few kicks before they threw me outside, back into the rain.

If I’d had some grace, I could have fought them off. If I’d had some grace, I could have ripped their limbs from their bodies and turned their blood into wine that I drank straight from their wounds. But I had nothing.

Yeah, how I had fallen.

I picked myself up off the street and stumbled bleeding into the night, just like usual. Tomorrow would be a new day. Tomorrow I’d get myself sorted out and track down Baal and kill him and drain him of all his grace.

Tomorrow.

I walked the wet, dark streets of Berlin without any idea of where I was going until I arrived there. An old theatre—the kind that still featured live actors on a stage, not its updated Hollywood equivalent. Most of the light bulbs on the marquee were burned out, but there were enough left to see the name of the show that was currently running.
Hamlet.
The lobby inside looked warm and inviting, so I considered ways to sneak in. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. The box office was empty, and the doors were open. I just walked inside. Maybe the theatre was desperate for more audience members. Times are hard in the arts these days. But times have always been hard in the arts.

There was no one in the lobby either, but I could hear voices from inside the auditorium, so I assumed the show was already well underway. I thought about stretching out on one of the padded benches against the walls. With any luck, I could get a few hours sleep. But eventually there would be an intermission or the show would end and people would come out and find me dozing there. Then it would be back into the rain for me. Do not go gentle into that good night, but go drunken and pushed. The story of my life. I’d be better off finding an empty seat in the audience and hope the theatre staff missed me when they cleaned up and went home after the show. It was live theatre, so I knew there’d be empty seats. Sorry to any thespians among you, but you know it’s true.

I followed the sounds of the actors’ voices to a door and slipped through it, into the darkness beyond. And it was complete darkness, not even a light from the stage. I’d entered in the middle of a blackout for a scene change.

I stumbled down the aisle until I tripped over someone’s foot and fell into an empty seat. No one in the audience said a thing. I couldn’t hear a single cough or anyone breathing. Not even a snore. It was the quietest theatre audience I’d ever found myself in.

Then the lights over the stage came on, and I stopped thinking about the audience.

I’ve sat through so many productions of
Hamlet
over the centuries that I knew instantly what scene it was, even though the only prop was a translucent curtain near the front of the stage, hanging from chains that disappeared into the darkness overhead. The bed chamber of Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, who was now shacked up with Hamlet’s uncle after the suspicious death of Hamlet Senior. The not-so-faithful royal servant, Polonius, stood on the near side of the curtain, his back to the audience. I guessed that to mean he was hiding in the closet, as per the stage directions of the play. Gertrude stood on the other side of the curtain, facing the audience. Hamlet entered from stage right.

“Now, mother, what’s the matter?” he said.

“Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended,” Gertrude said, without turning to face him. She was looking straight at me.

The actors spoke some more familiar lines, but I didn’t pay much attention to the words. I was too distracted by the people on the stage.

The part of Hamlet was played by the faerie Puck. The actor playing Polonius was human, but when he looked around he had a dazed expression that marked him as one of the fey, the mortals forever caught in the thrall of the faerie and doomed to entertain them until they are lucky enough to get killed in some prank or another gone wrong.

But Hamlet and Polonius weren’t the ones I cared about. It was Gertrude who had all my attention. Or rather, Morgana, queen of the faerie, in the role of Gertrude. I didn’t know what she was doing up there on that stage, and I didn’t care. My longing for her welled up inside me and pushed me to my feet. If there hadn’t been the rows of seats between us, I would have run straight to her. I don’t know what I would have done then, but it probably wouldn’t have been good for my dignity.

I truly, deeply hated her.

“Have you forgot me?” Morgana said and smiled at me as I stood there in the darkness before her.

“No, by the rood, not so,” Puck/Hamlet said.

“No,” I breathed.

I really needed to do something to break Morgana’s enchantment and her hold on me. Maybe once I was done admiring the way the stage lights turned her skin golden. . . .

“What wilt thou do?” Morgana asked. “Thou wilt not murder me? Help, help, ho.” She said the words as if they amused her, but the fey played his lines to the hilt.

“Help, help, help!” he cried. Maybe he was just sticking to his part in the play, maybe he was making a broader statement about his fate. Hard to say, really. It didn’t matter in the end.

Puck drew his rapier and skewered the poor fey through the curtain.

“O, I am slain,” Polonius said, but he sounded more relieved than anything else.

I’d seen enough men killed by blades in my days to know this was the real thing and not a stage death. An observation that was confirmed when Polonius slid off the rapier and proceeded to stain the floorboards with his blood. The stage crew who had to clean up afterward weren’t going to be too happy about this turn of events.

“O me, what hast thou done?” Morgana said, raising an eyebrow.

“I know not,” Puck said. He prodded the corpse with the rapier and giggled.

“Oh, enough of this,” Morgana said, breaking character. She pushed Puck aside and strode to the front of the stage, not bothering to lift her dress clear of Polonius’ blood. She glared at me.

“Cross, you know what happens next, do you not?” she called to me.

I wondered why the audience wasn’t saying anything about this strange turn of events. None of them so much as turned a head my way. Maybe they thought it was experimental theatre. This was Berlin, after all.

I rubbed the latest bumps and bruises on my face thoughtfully. I wondered if maybe I was dreaming. Or more drunk than I had thought. Well, dreaming or drunk or not, I didn’t have much choice but to go along with things.

“The ghost?” I said in response to Morgana’s question. “The ghost of Hamlet’s father makes his appearance to announce his betrayal at the hands of, well, you.” I looked at the crowd some more. They continued to ignore me. Something was not quite right about this theatre.

“Do you see the ghost?” Morgana asked, folding her arms across her bosom. Her ample, perfect bosom.

I shook my head to clear it and looked back at the stage. “No ghost,” I confirmed.

“Its absence is notable because it has already made its appearance,” Morgana said. “The ghost does not merely haunt the character of Hamlet. Now it haunts our very play!”

“I’m not really following you,” I said. Oh, but I would follow her. I would follow her to the end of the world itself and beyond. I would follow her to . . . I slapped myself to focus on what was happening on the stage.

Morgana kicked the body of the fey. “A stage rapier with a collapsing blade,” she said. “We tested it. We were certain. And yet.” She took the weapon from Puck and thrust it into the body again. The sound of the blade stabbing into the wooden floor beneath the corpse echoed in the theatre. I waited for someone in the audience to react, but no one did.

“The blade was switched,” Morgana said. “Supernatural trickery, obviously.” She shook her head, as if she had never engaged in any acts of supernatural trickery herself.

“Personally, I’d bet my money it was Puck,” I said, not without good reason. Although I already had a feeling it wasn’t going to be that simple.

“I am honoured, m’lord,” Puck said, smiling and bowing in my direction.

Morgana waved him away. “I was prepared for that,” she said. “He was under strict orders and fear of iron not to make any mischief for this performance. As were all my subjects. So it was not any of us.”

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