But to get to the fire — that would take time. And at that moment, my top priority — or, rather, my immediate priority — was to just get home. There are times when immediacy trumps primacy — and this was one of those times. I was dirty, filthy and exhausted, and I wanted to be home. But fire danced through my thoughts, though, yes — I was thinking of fire even as Reggie, Deacon and I reached the edge of town. Fire was paramount. But not fire like wrongbodies might understand it. Not cheap, destructive immolation, nor thoughts of pain or burning. But thoughts instead of the way the light of the golden trail drifted like fire. Thoughts of the fire at the edges of the vision I’d had in the woods — the one given to me by the Four Horses. I don’t remember much of the time leading Reggie and Deacon to their respective houses. I want to say it was quiet. I want to say we barely said any more after the words I wrote down — that any words said were simple things, like waiting for cars to cross or talking about someone who was out late that Fourth of July night. The sun hadn’t come up yet, but I knew it had crossed over well into the 5th by the time I dropped those two kids off. Walking the rest of the way back to my house, those thoughts of fire grew and grew. It felt like it I had been covered up by a kind of ashen waste, having to deal with Reggie and Deacon. I felt unclean. I wanted to burn the filth off my skin — the waste, the used-up blood, the dirt, the invisible muck on my fingertips that came with having to touch wrongbodies. I wanted to take a bath in fire — cleansing fire. I walked through the emptied streets of Drodden; it was mostly quiet. I heard a few fireworks go off, saw a few jets of sparks in the distant sky, but the wrongbody celebration had mostly come to an end. I remember thinking that the stillness created a curious sensation in me that reminded me of my duality — the feeling of peace in nothing happening, and the infuriating need for there to be more than what I was seeing. Peace and irritation, itching all over my filthy skin. And then the filth got to me, and my thoughts came again to fire — just as they come again to fire now. It comes to me that I could have burned this book that once belonged to the ghost Evelyn Diedz. I worry that doing so would give the book back to her somehow. I want to understand this book, but neither Cameron and I know enough of how ghosts work to know every detail. I want that knowledge. Knowing, I will more effectively be able to take my place and punish those who’ve wronged us. I am sick to death of being among the punished. It’s my turn. And this book — my book, I keep having to remind myself — is teaching me things, as we go. You remember when I told you that Beery House is warm and quiet now. And how I told you the windows are frosty, too. How time moves strangely when you step into these little pocket worlds — more slowly. I don’t really know what time it is outside. I told Cameron we could rest here for days — but I meant ‘here’ days. You see, that’s just how much slower time works inside one of these little pockets. But we must still be careful — and mindful — with the time outside this place. I’m guessing it’s well after noon out there, but I know that it’s still the third day of July, 2016. I say that I know it somehow — because I can just tell that we have not reached the sacred day. And, besides that, the sun is still up outside the windows. I know I would’ve noticed the sun going down. But it’s so restful here. I understand why the spirits sometimes feel the need to sleep. In the warmth here … and in the quiet … I don’t so much find myself sleepy, though. Instead, I find that the book guides me in much the same way that the blood guided me when I struck Penny Greenlee. Except that the book guides me in finding my memories. When I relax — and let the flow of blood proceed, unabated — the book still takes only as much as it always has, but guides me from thought to thought. Or maybe it’s me doing it, and it feels like the book. I don’t know any of these things — and, as I’ve said, how could I know? I’ll hopefully learn once we return to the True World. There are so many skills that have been lost to me and my brother. So many. So much terrible loss. Chief among the losses being the loss of time. We could’ve ruled the True World, as we were meant to. Are destined to. But how do you get back time? That’s the one thing that no amount of vengeance can restore. We were robbed of so much. But the theft of time — that can’t be given back, not even if you’re a Prince of Time. I try to think of it as our sacrifice. We two — Youknowme and I — we’ve made so many sacrifices to get here. Suffered so much indignity — raw pain and loss. We’ve sacrificed ourselves enough. It’s our turn. This wrongworld has been so unfair and unjust in its severity toward two children who deserved to rule kingdoms; we haven’t deserved to be the objects of scorn or ridicule — or even to be simply regarded as normal. We are not mere wrongbodies. And yet, even as we are brother and sister and king and queen of untold riches … we are also — in a way — servants, even after we achieve everything. Because the True People are beholden to the will of the universe. We bow to the blood; that’s humility is such an important key when you are asking for guidance from the True World — to the True World. But the True World — the world within the blood — always answers back, even when you’re stuck in a wrongworld place like Earth. If you know how to listen. Let the messages in the blood guide your hands, and it will move you like there are magnets on your limbs that are telling you truths: what to do, where to strike, how to cut. And you listen, and you obey the blood. Just as I obeyed that night. For, you see, that was another surprise. The golden path I walked led right back to my house. As I’ve said — there were innumerable paths. But at no point did I have to abandon the trail of golden-glowing blood entirely. There was a path right to my door. I remember standing on the doorstep, looking down at the shabby doormat with its steely mesh full of dried-up dead leaves. The path stopped right at the doormat, I thought. I remember that at that precise moment, it had started to rain. I remember just hanging my head for a long moment, standing in the rain, feeling so tired of doing so many things that I’d already done. Repeating the act of unlocking the front door and going inside — and everything that had come after. It had been so different out there in the woods, with Reggie and Deacon. The rush of adrenaline that had kept me going — from when I left for the woods until now — had finally left completely, as I stood there at my front door, and I felt drained. But I remember that I realized that it was a good kind of a drained feeling. An accomplished sort of feeling of being drained, like after an energetic orgasm. And that was part of the problem — because the high had departed me, and I was back to doing wrongbody things in a wrongbody world, even with the horses’ promises. Reggie and Deacon’s illusions had fed me somehow. That act — crafting those stories and telling them to them, in the moment — it had kept me energized. It had made trees and words and breathing exciting for me. And that realization energized me a little, in turn. Enough to keep going that night, or else I might’ve just sat down and waited for my parents to get home right there on the front step of our home. So — there I was, unlocking the front door and locking it behind me, walking through the dark bottom-floor business area. It was so quiet inside. I remember hearing the ticking of the round red plastic clock on the wall. I remember the stink of ammonia and the scent of lemon. I looked at the cleaning supplies for my parents’ business. Even then, after we’d long ago left the Litwack, MOTHER and FATHER were still cleaning and repairing. Fixing other people’s messes. But they weren’t there. They were away on vacation, which is why I’d felt safe to pursue my cutting in the woods. I remember that I felt a staggering, gut-churning hatred for them, looking at their works before me. I had hated my parents before that moment, and I have hated them since then — but that moment was something special. In that moment, I felt a confluence of everything I’d done in the woods — the made-up talk of the valkyrie and witches and rituals — and, here, among the piled boxes and the smells of soap and ammonia, what I’d told Reggie and Deacon came smashing hard into the reality of this false form I had been put inside of — the genetic sludge of two people whose greatest accomplishment was … all this. Picking up after the pissing-and-shitting wrongbodies of Drodden. Clock repair. Light bulbs and screwdrivers. Objects strewn everywhere. I remember thinking of MOTHER’s hands as she shoved a scrub-brush along the edges of toilets. I remember thinking of FATHER’s pleasantries as he chatted while ripping apart wiring in someone’s wall. Mostly, though, what I remember now is the sickening realization that vindicating myself and Cameron wouldn’t be enough. I hated Cameron, then, yes — but I still recognized his need to be vindicated. The hate was more from circumstance than Cameron’s fault, obviously. It was unfair of me. Unfairness weighed heavily on me then. I remember thinking of the nothing-creatues I was forced to call MOTHER and FATHER. And I thought again about they had been profaned against, in many way they wouldn’t possibly understand. Forced into nothing-roles, moving their objects around amongst the piss and shit and mistakes and broken things. Until they died, unimportant and unconsidered … unregarded. No one deserves that — a life of just manipulating objects until you die — not even wrongbodies like them. I realized how wrong that was. And that the crimes that had been committed against Friendlietta Flowergirl and Prince Youknowme also would have to mean vindication of the poor wrongbodies who had been forced to play the role of our parents on this wrongworld Earth-World. And that such profanity, even toward wrongbodies, would have to be answered. I reached down into my pants and withdrew the Holy Blade from where it rested still, cool against the skin of my hip. Sometimes it cut me when I held it there, but that surprising pain would only drive me further. That’s why I kept it there. It made my hatred more disciplined, my stride more focused and purposeful. Pain always pushed me to go further. And with the horses’ help, I now had ideas about how far it could take me. And I wanted it to take me there. I went up the rickety metal stairs that circled in on themselves, climbing to the second floor where we lived. I unlocked the door at the top of the stairs and locked that behind me, too. Plans were beginning in my head, and I wanted privacy. I went to my room, and locked that door, too, behind me. I sat down on the bed and stared out the bay window, looking at the empty streets of the town. I remember that I couldn’t really see specific drops of the rain, so it just looked like the rainfall was making the streets churn with blurry lines. I’ve always liked when rain did that — made things shimmery, like they would change their shape any moment and become something else. I remember wondering — as I often have right up until now — whether that’s what the shift from this wrongworld to the True World would feel or look like. We had no way of knowing that, either. We’ve never even seen our real home. Not yet. But even now, I like to imagine it would look like that shimmering of rainwater on pavement — that blurry incoherence that gives way when the rain stops to shining streets. I want there to be shining streets in the True World. So much so that I have to believe it’s some kind of precognition; Bellbrun never specified that the streets would shine, but it’s something I’m so sure of that I think it has to be true. Just newness to everything — like the water of rain on pavement here is replaced by cleansing fire there. And I remember how that was the thought that pushed me toward performing The Ritual of 1976. That I would take what had come before and make it something new — change it. Cleanse it. My recollections are so clear of those moments. Like my mind was working overtime, making those memories sacred and protected. I remember how it all became clear to what I had to do, and how that clarity brought with it a newfound energy that seemed at the time to be stronger than what I’d felt in the woods with Reggie and Deacon. Something to make the world new. Something to make the world answer for what it had done. Something to give birth to a line of divinity between the days that had come before and the days that would come after. It even spoke of independence, so that the wrongbodies’ world would have to acknowledge its truth, given their recent nonsense. My excitement in the perfection of my plan grew as I rushed to my parents’ open bedroom. I set the laundry bag down on their bed. I opened and then rummaged through my father’s dresser — the sock drawer. There, I retrieved the key to their Secret Closet. That’s what we all called it. But it wasn’t meant to be a secret to any of us Leeks; rather, it was meant to keep its contents secret in the event we were robbed. They viewed the contents of the Secret Closet as so precious that they wanted to try to double-up on protecting them, so there was both a keyed lock and a combination lock you had to open to even get to the keyed lock. My parents knew that I knew where the key to the Secret Closet was, but I’m not sure to this day if they knew I’d found the combination. MOTHER had written it in her diary, which I — like any daughter — had, of course, read. She worried about me; she needn’t have, but she did. Her thoughts were too pedestrian to discuss here, really. But she also had some pages tucked-in at the very end of the book; they were dedicated to lists of things she saw as important but classified. I doubt she realized the ‘lock’ on the diary was basically decorative, a clasp easily manipulated with a bobby pin. There, I’d found a series of numbers on one of the pages that had looked enough like a combination to be worth trying on the lock to the Secret Closet; my suspicions were later verified when I got the chance to try the numbers. So getting in there wasn’t a problem. My parents had a very large walk-in closet that FATHER had been divided into two parts, sealing the space between with a caulked wall of wood planks with a door in the middle. I fit the key into the padlock to open the metal cage around the combination lock, and entered the combination. It was GRANDMOTHER’S birthday, left-right-left, as it turns out. So … I suppose I could’ve just kept trying relatives’ birthdays until I got it, but my way took a lot less time and effort. Plus, I didn’t know a lot about locks back then — not that I do today, or anything — and I was ignorant of whether or not they seized up or something if you got it wrong enough times. Opening the combination lock, I set it aside on the dresser where my father kept his collection of ties for the special occasions he never attended. Then, I opened the door to the Secret Closet. On the other side of it were my films. The episodes of TK Wanderlad that I had appeared in. Thousands of feet of tape, stacked in reels by episode, in metal cans, one after the other — lining the walls, stacked on the floor, taking up every bit of free space except for the little path needed when they were first placed inside. I touched my fingers to the cool, dusty canisters; my fingertips made little divots in the dust on the reels’ metal covers. I remember standing there for a while, thinking of how The Ritual of 1976 would have to be. I felt moved by these thoughts. Driven. But my will was my own. And I willed myself to push past my doubts as I went back to get the laundry bag. I started filling the bag with the film canisters. I couldn’t fit too many in the bag; the bag wasn’t huge, and the canisters were heavier than I would’ve thought. But I filed it as much as I felt I could comfortably carry, and then I dragged the bag down the metal stairs, circling down that spiral back to the ground floor. The metal canisters banged on the steps as I dragged the bag, even through the cloth. Then I opened the door to the basement, and went down another flight of stairs. I spilled the canisters onto the basement floor. I remember staring down at the cement-grey floor of the basement for a long time, just listening to the sound of my breathing echoing in the big open space down there. Then, laundry bag in hand, I climbed the basement steps and then went back up the spiral staircase again, collecting more reels. And then did all that a second time. I spilled the second set of reels right on top of the first. The clatter of metal-on-metal made the hairs on my arms stand up. I went back up to the Secret Closet to collect more reels, before carrying them back down to spread them across the floor of the basement. I repeated these actions again and again. And, each time I repeated the process, my sense of urgency grew. And with that urgency came energy, again — as if the very thought of The Ritual of 1976 was sustaining me. I worked for a long time. I had, after all, appeared in hundreds of episodes of TK Wanderlad. And this represented every single episode I had been in. Which was, I knew, how The Ritual of 1976 demanded it. I remember making noises as I worked — not English, not words I knew. I don’t remember the sounds I made. I’ve wondered since then if I’d been speaking in True Words, a language I don’t yet fully know. It felt like I was. I remember only that the sounds felt right coming out of my mouth. By the time I’d brought down all the reels, I remember that I was dripping with dirty sweat. I stank. I was shaking. But The Ritual of 1976 wasn’t complete. Moving the reels wasn’t The Ritual of 1976. It was only the precursor. I returned to the ground floor and retrieved one of the industrial fans MOTHER and FATHER used. I plugged its power cord into an outlet and got the fan down the stairs, slowly but surely. I remember that it was so heavy that I almost dropped it a few times, but I managed not to. Then, I went back up the stairs and got one of the big, collapsible metal waste bins and carried it down the stairs. After unfolding the bin and pushing it over flush to the basement wall, I began opening the reels of film. I picked up one at random. Episode #359. I unspooled the film. I made a point not to look at any of the images; there wasn’t a lot of light in the basement, so I wouldn’t have been able to see much, anyway. But I didn’t want to see. That was part of The Ritual of 1976, not seeing what was on these reels of film. I unspooled each film reel, one by one. A few were hard to open. I caught my fingers a few times on the metal canisters; by the time I’d unspooled all the reels, my fingers had dried blood on them. I remember I was still bleeding a little when I finished. Which was fitting. Which was right. That blood should be a part of this. That blood should be present. Involved. The bin was tall, so I’d had to bend down to pick up each reel before unspooling it into the bin. My legs were burning with pain. But that felt right, too. Eventually, the bin got pretty full, even though all the reels weren’t fully unspooled. With the unspooling of the first batch of films done, though, I made one more trip to the ground floor and retrieved one of FATHER’s fireplace lighters. Stick-lighters, I think they’re called. I flicked the stick-lighter to life, and walked down the steps to the basement, holding the lighter out in front of me. This was when The Ritual of 1976 began. And I remember what I said, how the words of The Ritual of 1976 had just come to me like those True Words had, only the words of The Ritual of 1976 were in English. “I accept for myself to be reborn. In red and green and white and black light. I burn away that which is false. And in so doing find the Truth. That we were promised. That one was not ready for. This is prophecy. There is no retreat from it. He tried to run. But the Ritual of 1976 will bring him back to me. Come back to me, Prince Youknowme — you who are my beloved brother. Come back to me.” I had reached the bin by that time, with the reels of film piled high at the top. I realized I’d made a mistake, then, and so I had to put out the lighter and then open the basement window that lie on the wall nearest where I’d place the bin. It had still been raining, outside. I turned the stick-lighter back on. “I am more than this. I am Friendlietta Flowergirl — heir to the True World. Invoker of the Cosmic Circus. Crashing Day is here. Let me be reborn from this fire. Let me know the True World. Praise and seek Bellbrun!” And then I lit the film on fire. It was quick. So fast it seared me. I backed away, jolted by the intensity of the blaze. It blinded me, and smoke filled up the basement so fast I might’ve choked right then and there. I felt sick, and wanted to retreat because of how my lungs burned. But then I remembered the health films MOTHER had shown me about fire safety; I dropped to the ground; it was easier to breathe, there. Then, I turned on the fan, reaching up to hold it toward the bin, coughing as the smoke began to blow out through the open window as I pointed. I turned up the fan to its maximum power; the fan was vibrating so hard that it hurt to hold. Eventually, enough smoke left the basement that I could breathe again, and I tested it, getting back to my feet. I was coughing and my lungs still burned, but it was manageable. In a very short time, the film reels were nothing but dust. I felt nauseous. I think I might’ve poisoned myself, because I got violently sick later that night. But that wasn’t part of the Ritual of 1976. The Ritual of 1976 required more unspooling, more burning, more words: “Let me be what I am. Let me be who I am. Let me be where I must be. Let me become what I must become.” I said those four phrases over and over for the second batch of unspooling, filling up the bin. Then, I set fire to the bin, this time pulling back as far as I could stretch out my arm, and with the fan already turned on with my free arm wrapped around it, pointing the blast of air right at the bin immediately after setting it ablaze. The film still went up in a blinding blaze, but I hadn’t filled it as full this second time. I had learned. I was evolving even as The Ritual of 1976 progressed. And my word continued — filling the bin and speaking words to The Ritual of 1976. And, eventually, I burned away all of the reels of film, leaving the empty canisters behind. Just as I would leave behind this body. After disposing of the last of the film, I stripped down on the basement floor, rolling around on the empty canisters, feeling them cut into me as I pushed down against their open edges. I cut myself a few more times. I was glad of it. Filthy and bleeding, I got into a kneeling position on the floor of the basement. I voided myself; I befouled the floor of the basement. I held the industrial fan close to me, turning the power to maximum again, shrieked over and over again as I made the fan another holy instrument. Then, I stood, and left the trail of all that empty waste down in the basement. My parents would find it, and they would know what I had done. Which was also part of The Ritual of 1976. Those things were no longer my concern. I ascended back to the ground floor, but also ascended as if a new being. Where, before The Ritual of 1976, I had been enraged by what I saw — the clocks and tools and all that — I remember that after The Ritual of 1976 I just couldn’t make myself care about those things. I felt new life flow through me. Like my skin was fresh, even though I hadn’t yet taken a shower. I walked, naked, up the spiral stairs, to the bathroom nearest my room, and took the hottest shower I could stand. I remember that I burned my skin, badly. I remember how I screamed the entire time I was in that shower, but that it felt like a perfect moment — like I wanted that cleansing pain to last forever. And then I lay down in the tub, and tried to think about what The Ritual of 1977 would be.