My brother, God rest his soul, used to tell me stories of the kingdom into the early morning. Our family had moved away when I was too young to have really been part of anything, all I remembered was loving it because he had. The older we got the more his stories made me feel like it was my birthright, like I'd been cheated out of something. When he died people I had never seen before but had heard about a million times over came to the funeral. Most notably a strange bald man who was not at all dressed for a funeral. Wearing gray camouflage cargo shorts and an old Celtics jersey, he puffed on the stub of a cigar. My mother and her brothers were visibly annoyed, but no one made a move to tell him to put it out. At first I was angry at these people who'd disappeared until it was too late. They were all my brother ever talked about when he was drunk, which was most all the time.Soon curiosity replaced my anger. Holding my breath I inched closer and listened. Their half whispered words, were barely discernible. They all seemed to be worried about a missing key. The strange man told them all that was why he was there. Kneeling before my brother's body he stretched his hands out toward the coffin and muttered prayers. My mother and everyone sitting in the metal folding chairs nearest the coffin fainted. Bile crawled up my own throat. I remember him kissing my brother's face but then he vanishes into the confusion.
Later that week sitting in my brother's bedroom I noticed a scrap of paper fallen beneath the dresser:
"It's weird, like I can actually feel the scars forming on my liver. It doesn't feel bad exactly. I've been reading up on OBEs and astral projection. When I die I want my soul to go to the tower"
Mom came in then and snatched the paper out of my hands before I could read more. The look on her face wasn't anger, it was fear,as if she'd just seen the bogeyman that tormented her in childhood. I was sure this tower had something to do with the kingdom. I spent the next months tracking down the few who actually left contact information in the guest book at the funeral parlor. Telling them I was compiling an oral history of the old neighborhood in memory of my brother, I pressed for information on the tower, the kingdom, the key, and the strange man at the center of it all. Some of them refused to say anything, others just called me an outsider and told me it was best to let it rest with my brother, but a few agreed to talk with me. Then, two days ago a letter arrived for me, all it said: Friday 4:30pm Harmony Hill.
Looking at my wristwatch beneath the harsh glare of summer I see I'm fifteen minutes early. The street would be empty if not for one man with a broad chin and a balding crown which was glistening beneath the noonday sun. Loading brand new card board boxes into the back of an old u-haul truck, he moved with the kind of wrote efficiency normally reserved for arithmetic. "Excuse me," I said, my voice seeming to startle him, "Can I ask how you liked living here?" His face scrunched into a tense question mark as the though the very notion of someone speaking to him was mystifying. "We didn't live here long enough to say, why do you ask?" "Oh I used to live here, a long time ago." Looking around everything seems faded, the houses, the pavement, even the sky. At the edges of the cul de sac, the once well kept portals into the wilds were overgrown or else blocked by the decaying carcasses of storm felled trees. "My brother and I always thought it was paradise." He chuckles and says something about his wife that I only half hear. "What's that?" I ask. He laughs again, a deep good natured laugh, the kind you only ever hear when the deeply patient are forced to deal with the deeply eccentric, "My wife, she's why we're moving - says the place is haunted. Every night the bats come out and she swears their screeching is the sound of ghost children in the woods."
"Has your wife ever seen the tower?"
"I think you should leave."
"Outsiders. They don't know shit about shit. People talk about him like he's a ghost, and some of them will tell you the vote was a sham, that he was going to build the tower no matter what the final count. Not everyone who was around was really plugged in. There are plenty of hangers on who'd be plenty pissed to know I saw them as outsiders, but I wasn't the only one to see them that way. The kids who went home when the street lights came on, who never really ran away from their homes to ours...they weren't pirates like the rest of us. We always kept the door open for them, and that's what the vote was about. Of course everyone voted in favor it, some of them might have been chickenshit, but they weren't dumb." - Romeo Vargas
"I was there when he proposed the tower. If anyone would have voted against it, it would have been me, but I voted in favor. We all did. My relationship with him was complex. Before he went out into The Taboo he was just another neighborhood rat as far as I was concerned. I mean, I knew who he was, everyone did, and not just in the way that we all knew each other. The Patriarch looked at him like a little brother and the Matriarch had set him up with her little sister. He carried weight. I was mostly removed from the politics, so I didn't think much about that for a long time. The neighborhood changed when he came back from The Taboo. He was different too, stronger somehow. His tribalism was terrifying. The neighborhoods had always been heavy on the locals only vibe, but he was , I don't know, religious about it. There were several landmarks in the area that he had some of the local kids venerating. Some of it was stuff you might expect: rock formations, trees, and the vernal pond - but other stuff I just didn't get- like the transformer box at the end of the cul de sac. One afternoon Eric, my first real boyfriend, carved our names inside of a heart into the red paint of that box. The next time Eric came over they were waiting for him. The problem wasn't that he hard carved into the box, but that he had carved his name into it. Eric was an 'outsider' even if he was dating me. I should have known it would be trouble, but I was young and in love and the gesture was so sweet I didn't even think about it. Anyway he had four or five kids hold Eric down and they all took turns kicking him in the face and stomach. His nose was broken, eyes nearly swollen shut, and as I cleaned him up afterward he vomited all over my parent's bathroom floor. During the whole episode three girls, real shit kickers, held me back. I was lucky they told me, because he could have had them beat me. I didn't feel lucky, especially not when Eric broke up with me the next day. So yeah, if anyone had reason to try and monkey wrench his plans it was me. I hated him, but it was obvious the land loved him and because I loved the land I loved him too in an awful sort of way. I would have done anything for him, not because of who he was, but because of what he represented, especially after the Patriarch killed himself and the Matriarch just sort of vanished." - Patricia DuBois
"I think it might be fair to say he brought a kind of paganism to the neighborhood, though only in what modern pagans would consider the pejorative sense. Most of the kids thought it was a game, but you know, just because it's a game doesn't mean you don't take it seriously. It's easy to remember him for his viciousness, and from an outside perspective he was that, but it was never personal. He operated on a level that was beyond hate or love. There was a tenderness in him too besides. Early one morning he took me up to one of the rock formations that has since been demolished to make way for a new tract of houses. The morning was so cold and so dark the only thing you could really see was your breath. When the sun rose over the tree tops it set the sky on fire, and the cul de sac which had always seemed so run down to me, was lit up in glory. Real 'Hosanna on high' shit. The neighborhoods, and especially the woods that connected them had always been weird, but it intensified when he came on the scene. Especially after he brought that witch around and started teaching magic to his inner circle. There was always the neighborhood, and it's still there today, but when one of us talks about the kingdom, that's something different, something that now lays in ruins because there's no one left there who acknowledges the spiritus mundi. His mother moved around so much he knew that the world could take it all from us at any moment and so I guess he wanted to preserve it at all costs? Maybe there was more to it than that, we weren't especially close, but as I understood it, that's what the tower was about." - Jasmine Constantine
"Every so often I run into one of us and because of who I was it's always bittersweet. They always want to know what happened, why I left after Z died. I don't think any of them would understand. I thought he was cute of course, all the girls did, but our lives were separate. Z knew it too and we'd occasionally talk about it as we watched the younger kids. The merger that happened was never my doing or Z's and I think the reason we encouraged my little sister to take in interest in him, was because we knew he was the reason for the merger. Besides, we liked our little game of royalty joining their kingdoms by arranging a relationship between our heirs. That's the thing though that no one understands, when it stopped being two neighborhoods and became the kingdom our titles were a vanity. I knew it the first time I really looked into his eyes, it was always him, always. How anyone could have doubted that after he returned from The Taboo I'll never understand. He never consulted me or asked me to vote for the tower. I think like a lot of them he hadn't forgiven me. I became a pariah of sorts like an outsider they put up with because of my past. It's a mistake you know, to think he knew what he was doing, or that he was some evil mastermind... whatever he's become, back then he was just a kid. Anyway, if I had been asked? I would have voted the way the rest of them did, in favor." - Michelle McCormick
"There were the special cases like the Matriarch after she renounced her throne. I asked him once, was he really that angry at her? He told me she couldn't vote for the same reason Z couldn't...not because either of them were dead, but because they were foundational. Whatever he had done, he was always aware, always grateful for the foundation that had preceded him. After her there was the tiny minority of children who kept a respectful distance from the whoe scene we had going on; 'friendlies' we'd call them. They were outsiders, but not the kind of outsiders that had to worry about catching a beating. If you asked them they'd probably tell you the tower was the wooden edifice he had us build out in the woods. But ask the inner circle and we all knew it was something else. The wooden tower was a sign of our commitment, and a confession of our desire. It had to be monumental because what we were doing was monumental. The tower itself, the real tower, existed in the woods with in the woods. Very few of us ever went there, some of us even had doubts, but everyone had that experience of being out there with him and in the blink of an eye he was gone. Then a few hours later, just as quick, there he'd be with some wild story to tell. In a dream I saw the real tower once: a giant black monolith, behind it, partially obscured by the tower itself, burned an alien sun. " - Roberto Diaz
"Hallucinations were common, or visions, whatever you want to call them. Yeah, I saw the monolith once too. Late one night headed out to the site to continue work , as I looked up the hill, for just a moment the woods grew strange and the black monolith's shadow fell over me. To say the real tower was that monolith is only partially true. He was the tower. The wooden effigy we built had ten locks. There were no actual doors, just locks through functionless latches. "Ten keys to the kingdom." he said. They were all combination locks except for the first. That was a keyed lock and he held the key, it was a symbol, like the wooden structure itself. He was they key to that first door." - Andrea Nudel
"The ten keys to the kingdom were basically these stories that would have to be ritually reenacted in order to open their respective door. Each lock had to be opened in succession. Each story had a theme or contained, what do call it? An archetype, something he considered essential to the kingdom. Not all the keys involved him so the notion that he alone is the tower doesn't strike me as quite accurate. It is true though that he hed the key to the entrance to the tower so there was no admission without appealing to him. I heard leaving the kingdom broke him though. A weird thought, he always seemed unshakable. My grandmother used to say he was the devil. Those stories, to reenact them you had to become the people involved, not just them but what they represented. He could see the mythic self hiding inside anyone. Many of us rarely had it in us to take on our own mantles and I don't think any of us ever had it in us to take on his. If it's true that he can't do that either, then I guess the tower stays locked. Maybe that's for the best or maybe not. I know what he put behind the first door. For it to just be sitting there, that's like leaving a battery out; eventually the corrosion will see poison leech into the ground. Who knows how long it might take the machine to corrode though. Him and those two witches, they built things that weren't machines in the way you normally think of a machine." - Stephen Robson
"He was the tower. None of us could have built it, let alone what was inside it. Each level contains a treasure, the total sum of the kingdom awaited anyone who could make it to the top of the tower- and you know, I'm going to stop you right there- an outsider will never reach the top. The keys you'd need... none of us would ever give all of them to you. There isn't even any one of us who possesses all they keys. Well, maybe he does, but you don't want to find him. An outsider ike you? Goddess only knows what he'd do with you. Knowing the keys is one thing being able to open the locks with them is another. I don't know what your angle is, or what you think you know about the kingdom. Look, he calls people to the tower. It's a thing of black magic. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into." - Lisa Pagliuca