For Bill, Jessica, John, Diana
Peter met the four reptilians on the train from Budapest to Paris. They had just pulled off a big, successful bank robbery after months of planning and were celebrating, dancing down the aisles of the train, whooping it up. Peter was in one of the bathrooms washing his socks when the four reptilians crammed themselves into the little room with him and shoved bottles of champagne under his face. “Drink, drink!” they cried out, and Peter accepted a little plastic cup full of champagne and drank, humbly, deeply, pleased to be in the midst of such happiness.
“Do you have a wife? A lover?” the leader of the reptilians asked Peter, who was a somnambulist, who was in fact this very moment somnumbulizing his way from Budapest to his new home. He shook his head, smiling, shy and overwhelmed.
“I’ve just received word that my parents have died and I am on my way to be with relatives in Paris while I sort out their affairs.”
“Wait right here,” the leader of the reptilians said to Peter, and then returned in a moment with a newspaper. “This is my fiancée,” the reptilian leader said, showing Peter a picture of a beautiful and haunted-looking girl. Underneath the picture the caption read “Lisa Jungenwalt, fiancée of the Marquis de Rose-Dammartin.”
Peter looked up at the leader of the reptilians with a smile. “Are you the Marquis de Rose-Dammartin?” he asked.
The leader of the reptilians went silent for a moment, his grip on the neck of the champagne bottle so tight Peter worried it would crack in his hand. “I am not,” the leader of the reptilians spat. “That filthy ape! That filthy, shit-infested animal…!”
One of the other reptilians filled a plastic cup with champagne for the reptilian leader, who threw it back then drank another slug from the bottle before saying: “But I have enough now to be worth her! I have enough money to ransom her—enough to ransom her even if that filthy animal knew her true worth!”
Peter’s mother and father ran a small theater in Paris. Before that, his grandparents had been a banker and a banker’s wife who had acquired a great deal of wealth. Before that, his great grandparents had been immigrants from Hungary, fleeing the war. Before that, for several generations Peter’s ancestors had been merchants in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and before that wanderers and occasional farmers, slowly making their way across the European continent, dodging war, famine, Vikings and Mongols, never quite managing to stay in one place for more than a generation or two, always known, in whatever villages or cities they landed in, as outsiders, newcomers, Others. Before that, Peter’s fifty-fifth great-grandfather and fifty-fourth great-grandfather served as soldiers in the Byzantine Empire; the fifty-fourth fell in with barbarians he had been sent to subdue, married a barbarian woman, Peter’s fifty-fourth great-grandmother, and with her had a brood of barbarian children, among whom included Peter’s fifty-third great-grandfather. Before that Peter’s fifty-eighth great-grandparents, from a long military line, escaped the fall of the Western Empire as the barbarians were quite literally clamoring at the gates of the fortified Roman city in which they lived and had given birth to Peter’s fifty-seventh great-grandfather. Before that Peter’s ancestors were more or less cowardly, more or less courageous, more or less selfish or selfless but none were able to stay in one place all that long, being sent to backwaters and small towns and crisscrossing the Roman Empire. Before that, Peter’s seventy-second great grandfather, the son of a centurion from a backwater province, made his way to Rome just in time to be forced out of the city by a fire begun either by the deeply unpopular Christians or by the emperor himself, depending on which source you believed. Before that, Peter’s seventy-third great grandfather was a Roman centurion in a backwater province who stabbed Christ in the side with his spear after the sixth hour that He had been hanging from the crucifix, an act of mercy.
Peter immediately felt like he was a brother to the leader of the reptilians, whose name, he told Peter, was Harold. “Passes, please, passes,” called the conductor as he walked by. One of the reptilians—Maury, who Peter understood was the organized one, the one who gave a definite material basis to Harold’s grandiose plans—handed out passports to each of the other reptilians. Harold noticed Peter glancing down at Harold’s passport as he presented it to the conductor—all five of them, squeezed into the tiny restroom, holding out their passes. The conductor, apparently satisfied, walked on. Harold grabbed Peter by the back of the neck and pulled him close.
“Are you hurt that I lied to you?” Harold said.
“I never would have assumed that you lied,” Peter said. “Only that the passport is not yours.”
Harold threw his head back and laughed. “Where did you come from, you angel?”
The reptilians looked exactly like human beings. But if you shine a UV light on a reptilian’s footprint, you will see, rather than the shape of a shoe, the outline of a three-toed, clawed foot, something like a bird’s foot (hence the theory that reptilians and birds share a common ancestor, or that birds evolved from reptilians some time long in the primordial past).
They arrived in Paris, the huge, busy city that Peter remembered, as though looking through gauze, from his early childhood. Jakob, the reptilian with unruly hair, dropped to the ground as soon as they arrived and kissed the street, then grabbed the ankle of a passing woman and kissed it as well. “Hey!” she yelled.
“Paris! Civilization!” he said, grinning stupidly even as the woman kicked at him.
“You need to keep that one under control,” the woman said to Harold, sensing, perhaps, Harold’s leadership qualities.
“Elizabeth,” Peter said, starting forward. The woman, in her early twenties, which is to say, about Peter’s age, stared at him for a long moment before backing away and then turning to disappear into the crowd.
“Elizabeth!” Peter called.
“I knew her when I was a child, when I lived here,” Peter explained to Harold. “She was the daughter of one of the actresses who worked with my mother and father. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is possible that my father was having an affair with her mother. As children, we were the best of friends. I don’t know how I recognized her after so many years, but I’m sure it is her—I’m absolutely convinced.”
Harold gripped Peter’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. He felt overcome every time he looked into those eyes. He wanted to start weeping.
The money from the bank robbery arrived in an armored truck, bags and bags of it.
“Jump in,” Maury yelled.
“This is a shard of the one true cross,” Harold told Peter, inside the truck. “I intend to stab the Marquis de Rose-Dammartin, that filthy subhuman bastard, with it in the ass when I see him.”
Peter turned his head. He could not look his friend in the face.
“You’re ashamed of me,” Harold said. “You have to understand: just because you’re not of this world, doesn’t mean that the rest of us aren’t. I believe in you, idiot. What I mean is: I believe that you are somehow capable of feeling what the rest of us feel and never once resorting to murder. But that’s what makes you an angel, idiot. The rest of us can only feel so much before we have to kill.”
“I know that he would do the same to you, if he could,” Peter said.
“I will stab him in the ass; and then I will throw two trashbags full of money at Lisa’s feet. She will look at me with an inscrutable expression on her face. I will fall to my knees and wipe my eyes on the hem of her black dress. She will ask: ‘How much is it? How much did you bring to ransom me?’ and I will say, ‘Millions, millions.’ She will put her slender arms deep into the pile of bills and she will carry as much money as she can to the blazing fireplace in the grand hall of the Marquis’s villa and she will throw the pile of it on the fire, laughing bitterly, and she will scream at me, at the Marquis, that she will not be bought. And then, my gun trained on the Marquis, my men’s guns trained on his men, I will ask what she would have us do. And she will say: ‘Kill them all.’”
“My God,” Peter said, tears streaming down his face.
“You understand why I must do this?”
“Yes, of course.”
The reptilians tumbled out of the truck just outside the gates to the Marquis de Rose-Dammartin’s villa. Maury, still in the back of the truck, tossed his compatriots large, evil-looking guns. He offered a gun to Peter, but Peter refused. “He’s too good for that,” yelled Harold, who had, in addition to his gun, two trashbags full of Euros slung over his back.
In the midst of the shooting, Lisa grabbed Peter’s hands. “Do you love me?” she asked.
“Yes,” Peter said.
“He loves everyone,” said Harold, firing into the Marquis’s men.
“But he will do as I say.”
That night as he lay in bed Peter found himself in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, seven dreams down. At the deepest level of the dream, dream-Peter removed the mask from dream-Harold to reveal the reptilian face underneath. “Originally we intended to institute the New World Order,” dream-Harold explained. “But then things got complicated.” In the dream, Peter understands this to mean: We were ourselves dragged down into your love of violence and wielding power over the weak; we were infected by you.
Each time Peter wakes up within a dream, he loses a little of this understanding, until by the time he awakens completely he has forgotten even Harold’s reptilian face.
He awoke finally in the same bed he had slept in as a child, in a room in the back of his parents’ theater.
Peter looked up “reptilians” on the old desktop computer on the cheap, ornate table in one corner of the room. Reptilians are also known as reptoids, saurians, or Draconians. According to prominent reptilian theorist and former sports announcer David Icke, the moon is a hollowed-out base constructed by the reptilians that they use to broadcast “a sense of self and the world,” A.K.A. reality, to human beings. Reptilians can shape-shift but they have no sexual organs—they must use human beings to propagate themselves. Certain people, psychics, can see the image of the true reptilian hovering over their human form, as if in a double-exposure.
On the news, there were reports of fighting between the Marquis’s gang and Harold’s men. They were openly killing each other in the streets.
Elizabeth, her long curly hair and suspicious eyes, entered Peter’s room. “They told me you were here,” she said. “Is it you? Is it actually you after so many years? They promised you to me, do you know that? And then they sent you away. I wanted to go after you, but they told me you had died.”
Elizabeth led Peter to her bed and Peter examined the corners of Elizabeth’s eyes for the slightest inconsistencies, places where the skin might be coming loose from the reptilian face underneath. When they were finished, and lying next to each other in bed, the elderly woman who now ran his parents’ theater knocked politely at the door and asked if Peter was prepared for the lawyers. “I don’t know,” Peter said. The woman, a grande dame of the theater, opened the door with a magnificent gesture and the lawyers descended upon him.
“You must sign here and here,” they said. “And here. Here. Also here.” Peter struggled to keep himself covered with Elizabeth’s blanket. Elizabeth, seemingly without shame in front of the lawyers, got out of bed and began dressing herself, fastening her brassiere, pulling on underwear, switching on a lamp near a small mirror on her dresser and reapplying eyeliner, blush, lipstick. Peter heard the sudden sharp voice of Lisa in the hallway: “I will see him, I will! I know you have him locked up in this fetid old theater, and I demand—” Forgetting himself, Peter sprang from the bed and stumbled around the lawyers, the grande dame, Elizabeth, through the door, out into the hallway, to Lisa, her sharp face and black hair. They stood a moment, in the midst of the lawyers, staring into each other’s eyes, Peter entirely unclothed and still unaware or uncaring; then Elizabeth, following closely behind, pushed in front of Peter and struck Lisa across the face.
Lisa’s hand felt where she had been struck, and for the briefest moment her expression was something like a smile. Turning, she said, “Come, Peter,” and Peter walked after her.
“You bitch!” called out Elizabeth down the hallway. “You cow! You cunt!”
“Are you safe? How is Harold?” Peter asked. “I saw, on the news, there was fighting…”
“Don’t think that I’m in love with him,” Lisa said. “I side with whoever I have to to survive.”
“Is this why you were with the Marquis?”
“There’s nothing I want more than to see that pig die.”
“Then is that what you want for Harold, as well?”
“You’d better get dressed,” Lisa said. They found, hanging among some costumes on a rack, a pair of pants that fit him and a voluminous white shirt. Lisa laughed. “You could be a clown,” she said.
“I could be,” Peter agreed, and tumbled backwards, then sprang again to his feet.
Lisa put her face very close to his face. “You may play with her however much you want to, but you are mine—you understand that, don’t you? I have so much more need of you than she ever could. From each according to her ability, to each according to her—” The lights went out; the room around them seemed to jolt and heave. Costumes flung themselves around like bodies.
“Shelling,” Lisa said. “The fighting has already moved into this part of the city. So soon—”
Peter moved though the fighting on the streets, walking as if possessed, body dancing like a handful of screws thrown out across the blacktop, entering the stairwell of the palazzio where Harold and his men were holed up, passing each of Harold’s guards, arriving in the grand hall on the top floor of the palazzio where light streamed in from the open windows and the sounds of the fighting seemed to press in on all sides.
Harold’s eyes had changed from blue to green.
"The last time I saw Elizabeth, when we were both very young, I frightened her terribly,” Peter told Harold. “I had one of my fits. I have no idea what I said or did, but soon afterwards my parents sent me away to the clinic in Budapest. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
Peter gripped Harold’s arm. Harold’s men started forward, but Harold waved them off, without removing his eyes from Peter’s as Peter continued: “They have told me I am cured. I am not sure now whether I am still in the midst of a fit, whether one day I will awake to discover I have no memory of my life until that moment.”
"Where is Lisa?” Harold asked. Peter began sobbing.
Harold unlocked a door in the uppermost floor of the palazzio and motioned Peter inside. On all sides of the room were large windows that appeared, impossibly, to look out on every part of the earth simultaneously. In front of each window was a set of gleaming, stainless steel controls: levers, readouts, buttons. “This is the interior of the moon,” Harold told him. “From here, we can see reality as it is being projected in real time.”
Through one of the windows, Peter could see David Icke giving a speech to six thousand supporters. “Official history has been tampered with in the most extraordinary way,” Icke said, “so that we continue to see the world in the child-like simplicity of good and evil, heroes and villains. The world is rarely like that. Therefore the need to create opposing ‘sides’ and encourage conflict becomes essential.” Through another window Elizabeth, in the role of Lady Macbeth, washed her hands over and over again. Through yet another Lisa’s body lay under the rubble of a building, destroyed in the shelling.
“Can you show me the moment when I went into my fit? The fit that frightened Elisabeth so badly, that caused them to send me away?” Peter asked.
“The moon only creates reality,” Harold said. “Once reality has been created and has passed, we can no more return to a given moment than you can.”
“Can you show me myself, at this moment?” Peter asks. “So that I can know for sure that I am not in a fit right now?”
Harold turned Peter to face a window that led to a window that led to a window that led to a window that led to a window that led to a window that led to a window that led to a seat on a train traveling from Budapest to Paris, a young man, his socks in his hand, shaking, four men approaching him, celebrating, dancing down the aisles of the train, champagne bottles in hand, whooping it up, and something about their eyes, a form hovering above their bodies, and then, a moment before they might speak to him, the young man turns to look out the window of the train and the four men pass by and disappear somewhere into the black depths of the train.
James Tadd Adcox's work has appeared in Granta, TriQuarterly, Barrelhouse Magazine and elsewhere. He's the author of a novel, Does Not Love, and a novella, Repetition, and editor at the literary magazine Always Crashing. He lives in Pittsburgh.