Superimposed upon this world she sees the future, creeping and crawling and pressing its inexorable self upon the present.
She sees a withered black thing reach up with long, long arms and yank a young boy down to the ground, stuff his body in its great gaping maw the size of its entire body. She screams and points, trying to warn them, but they look at her with scorn.
Crazy Cassandra. You’d pity her if it weren’t so hard.
The future turns and looks at her with its huge white eyes, hungry. The future is always hungry.
The boy topples screaming from the roof and now it is his mother screaming. You cursed us, she yells, turning on Cassandra, groping for a rock to throw, her face streaked with grief. You are a curse. Get away, death-omen.
Cassandra sees the black thing put its arms around the grieving woman and hold her close. It will have her too, before long.
The snakes in the temple like her. She lets them wind around her arms. There is no future for them, no present, no past. It is a relief.
She supposes she is grateful for the peace.
Around the priests, though – that one watching her with lust will die in a fire. She can see his skin melting and dripping to the floor. That one loitering in the corridor will fall in love with a woman who will scorn him. She can see him holding his beating heart in his hands, blood streaming from his eyes.
There is no beauty to these visions. Perhaps there was before. She can no longer remember, just as she can no longer remember what it was to see only the present without its future hovering over.
Cassandra has always seen.
Her brother Hector comes to find her, lays a hand on her shoulder. He smiles at her, and she tries not to see the way it stretches too wide, blood pouring over his chin, his nose smashed back into his face. Cassandra, he says, Come. You shouldn’t disturb the priests. Mother wants to see you.
I don’t want to see her, Cassandra wants to say, but what comes out is Hector, please don’t die.
He laughs, his rich, full laugh. His ribs are bare, all the flesh scraped off in ribbons. I don’t plan to, he says, and shakes his head a little. Don’t worry, little sister. You don’t need to worry.
But then he can’t see the future hovering over his head, hungry and waiting.
Andromache lets her hold her child. Astyanax soothes her, his soft noises and clear eyes cutting through her second sight. He tugs her hair and babbles non-words with delight. Andromache smiles.
He likes you, she says.
I like him, Cassandra says, and does not look at Andromache with her arms heavy with chains and her face heavy with sorrow, aged beyond her years. He is a beautiful child, she says, and leans down to kiss his forehead.
Her mother comes in and hovers around her, and Cassandra ignores her in favor of the child. Her mother thinks she is insane, as everyone does, but doesn’t treat her with kindness – more with wariness and fear.
She looks down at Astyanax and starts with a small cry, because there is a black creature at his feet, tugging on them. No, she says, sternly, no, you can’t have him.
Cassandra? Says Andromache worriedly, and as she watches Astyanax’s body crumples, his blood spraying up into her face.
She screams in surprise and fear, and her father bursts through the door and says, Paris is home, Paris has come home, his voice full of joy.
Cassandra covers her face with her hands but she can still see it, still see.
All of them, she says, all of them.
Andromache hands Astyanax to a nursemaid and embraces her. The chains clink as she moves, but her body is warm. Shh, she says, Cassandra, it’s all right. Come, let’s go see your brother. Come.
When she pulls her hands from her eyes, Astyanax is gone, and his future gone with him. Her mother and father are staring and she tries to collect herself. Yes, she says, shakily. Yes, I will see Paris.
She walks like an old woman down the hall with Andromache at her side. She can hear Hector talking, but he doesn’t sound happy, he sounds angry. She shies back and Andromache urges her forward. It has been years since she saw Paris, and she’s not sure what to feel.
Paris has not always been kind to her. But he is her brother.
The great oak door swings open and she steps inside.
There is a woman with him, and she is beautiful. She looks nervous, too, slightly uncertain, but she is beautiful. Paris is looking at no one but her.
The room is soaked with blood.
She stops. What is it? Andromache asks, but Cassandra cannot answer. There is blood running down the walls. The tapestries are torn and ragged. The air smells like smoke and there are corpses on the floor, thick as carpet, bloated, mouths gaping, entrails strewn as vultures pick at their eyes. The black things that summon death crawl among them, mouths wide and dark, cackling silently, and they are dead, all dead, blood ankle deep on the floor-
She screams. Paris is perforated by spears, his dead eyes staring, mouth gaping wide. Hector’s neck is broken, his head bent to the side, blood coating his front. Everywhere red, everywhere death, everywhere the stench of rot and decay-
And the woman, the woman with Paris that Cassandra doesn’t know, unchanged. Her dress white. Her face clean.
Except her hands. Her hands are red and dripping.
Her! Cassandra cries, It is her, she brings death, death is with her, she’s going to kill you all, look, look!
The woman with Paris looks scared. He covers her face, turns her body into his. By all the gods, he says, can someone stop her?
No she says, no, I won’t stop, I won’t, I won’t be silent, why are you so blind!
Because they are, not to see this, not to understand that this woman with the white dress and the red hands is their death, is the dark future she’s been seeing, might as well be a black thing with gaping jaws and white eyes.
But they are blind.
Cassandra – she sees.