( A new more defiant Marcus leaves the camp he helped liberate behind, realizing he has more strength than he thought he had. His defiance is answered by Gregor’s next move. Is it Gregor’s final victory or the beginning of his end. I leave you with the unanswered question, is the love Marcus experienced as a child, the lessons his family taught him, enough to overcome his new reality.
This memory tells him, freeing Jason and the others, while remaining behind is the honorable thing to do.
He remembered how the casket had frightened him. It had seemed to fill the room, though it only took up a small portion of the sanctuary. His mother standing to the side had held Cathy’s hand, crying. He had known she would, but the sobs racking his Father had been unexpected.
“Dad.” He whispered, putting his hand inside his fathers. He thought to be rebuffed, but his Father knelt beside him.
“Mark, I know you must be scared. It is hard.”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what?” Furrowed brows over dark stormy eyes looked down at his son.
“Can I help you? What can I do?”
The hug was rough, almost painful and Marcus felt his father’s sobs through the jacket he wore.
“You just did.”
“You can stay here awhile, dad, I can hold you.”
“I know you can. I love you, Polo.”
He hadn’t been called Polo for a long time and even under these circumstances it made him smile. “Love you too.”
How long they knelt together, he could not tell. Around them no one was talking. Finally his father rose, still holding his son’s hand. “You don’t have to go up.”
“She is my mother.”
“She’s my grandma. I’ll hold your hand. You’ll be safe with me.”
Holding back tears they made their way to the casket. Marcus could hear his father whisper his farewell, brushing his tears away.
The ride home was a long one. The car was quiet. Then his father began to sing. It was the lullaby he’d often sung to his children and Marcus understood that she must have once sung it to him.
The song stopped.
“I have a question.”
“You always do, I’m sure you have more than one, go ahead.”
“If it hurts to talk about Grandma, I won’t.”
“I heard Uncle Ab say something about her being an honorable woman. What did he mean?”
“Big question for a little boy. Let me see if I can get the best answer for you. My mother was a very honorable person and sometimes it was hard. We didn’t always understand. Looking at you and Cathy, I understand her more.”
Marcus waited patiently. He loved talking to his father, who never spoke to him like he was a baby. Cathy was sleeping in her mother’s arms. Mom was so quiet Marcus thought she must also be asleep.
“There are some people here, you’ll meet many like them. They think that people who look different, believe different aren’t good people. Seem to forget that God made us all. When the Pagers moved here, bought old Rosseaults farm, people tried to get them to move.”
“Well they’re black.”
“Everyone I know is trying to get a tan. They just jealous.”
He heard his father’s laugh. “Wish that was all there was to it. No son. They don’t have a great tan. They’re black, meaning their ancestors were from Africa, they were brought here to be slaves.”
“Slaves like the Jews in Egypt.”
“Exactly. Glad you know what that is. Can be a bit hard to explain.”
“Not hard to explain, but hard to think anyone could think like that. Anyone could be a slave. There’s always someone who has more. I heard you telling Uncle Ab that just the other day.”
“You got it. The city folk were pretty hard on the Pagers. Didn’t want black kids to go to school with whites. Your grandma brought over welcome pie, you know what that is?”
“Yeah. It sucks though. Wouldn’t welcome me.”
Once again his father laughed. “It’s a traditional dish. Your grandma walked with the Pagers. Took them with her to church, made a face at anyone who tried to stop them. The next day she walked the two kids into school. Friends said they could hear people yelling at them as they walked down the street. Your grandmother held her head high. Said she was doing the honorable thing even though she lost most of her customers. Cost her a fortune, but she didn’t change her mind, never apologized. Said once that you don’t apologize for doing the right thing. Uncle Gray never understood. He blamed her when no one wanted to be his friend. If you’re not a friend when you’re needed well then you never really were. Do you understand?”
“Think so. I think you mean that sometimes it hurts you, maybe even your family to do what’s right but you should still do it. I think you mean real friends stay.”
“For a boy your age, you sure do get things right. That’s what I meant. I’m proud of you, Polo. Thanks for holding my hand. It was hard, saying good bye.”
“It was hard for me too, but it was the honorable thing to do.”
Allen Rollins had been smiling when he pulled into the drive.
The night was quiet and Gregor was hunting. Marcus looked to the chains, they were strong but he’d been working on a few links, there were weak ones. The factory was filled with debris and Gregor, so certain Marcus did not have the strength to fight him, had not looked to see what was in it.
The screwdriver was heavy, the edge sharp from many uses. Wedging it in the gap between the links, Marcus was able to open them enough to break them apart. Each chain had been prepared. It did not take long before his arms were free of its weight, only a few links hanging from the manacles he wore.
“Later.” He told them, but his words were raspy, he could barely hear himself. The building was large. Marcus followed the smell of fresh air forcing its way past the long dried oil, the smell of perspiration that even after all these years, lingered. There was no light to follow but still he found the way. He was out. He did not hope to remain free, had no idea where to go or what to do. He did not trust the world he had been so long removed from.
Even in the dark, able to see well, he did not run. Sniffing, he followed the scent of the water he had been led past when they arrived. Ignoring the cold, he dove in. Would it disguise his scent, it didn’t stop the following dogs in the movies he had once seen, so he had little hope. It did remove the filth.
He heard them. The family. The barbecue made his mouth water. Hiding between bushes he had once known the names of, he watched hoping for just a moment the food would be unattended.
It was, and Marcus moved as quickly as his stiff legs could. He ignored the heat, the burns to his fingers as he grabbed the steak. He ran back to the bushes. Continuing beyond the next yard, he suddenly felt bad for the dog blamed for the theft. A few houses down, clothes dried on the line. He inspected them, deciding which ones would fit. “So far so good. Now for shoes,” He knew he would keep the clothes even if Gregor caught him. The soft cloth felt good. From back yard to back yard he passed unnoticed. There were boots, mud clinging to the soles after hours of working in the garden. They were too small, but the jagged rock easily sliced holes big enough for his toes to slide through. He sat below the apple tree. The fruit, not ripe tasted bitter, still he ate.
He walked aimlessly not knowing what he was looking for, what he would find. The tree house was high up in the large oak, the ladder lying at the base. Marcus stretched his arms. Ignoring the ladder, he was able to reach around the tree. He climbed.
The boys had been chasing him. He wasn’t supposed to be better at anything, specially their favorite sport, but twice his bat had connected with the ball.
The team won and he’d been voted MVP. They had waited for school to end, when he would be alone. Marcus would have stood his ground even though Ryan was bigger, but he had not waited alone and against the four of them he could not win. He ran, but they’d been gaining. There was no other choice. He jumped the first four feet, pulling himself onto the lowest branch. He’d climbed. Below he heard their taunts.
“Farm boy, you can’t stay up there forever.”
“You have to go home too.”
“Fuck you.” The largest boy was in another grade, two years older and far more muscular. “I’m going up there, show this prick his place.”
Marcus turned on the branch securing his position. The face peeking over the branch was met with a forceful kick and he landed on his back, gasping for air.
“Whose next.” The face that looked down made the boys nervous.
Marcus slowly climbed down the tree. Lying on his back, the older boy was moaning, blood pouring from a broken nose. The others looked at each other but only Ryan looked ready to fight.
“Shit,” the smallest of the three frowned. “He ain’t worth a broken nose.” He turned, walking quickly away.
“I think so too, going home. Ry, I think you should too.”
“What about Andy?”
“Stupid shit, chasing him up a tree, but we can’t leave him here. Come on help me get him up. We should take him home. Think MVPs gonna pay for this.”
Two days later Marcus had found his baseball career had quickly ended and though he’d enjoyed the game, he hadn’t been upset. Bad temper, the coach had said. No one had said anything about four boys chasing one.
Sitting in the tree house, looking down at the yard he could barely see, Marcus smiled. “I remembered. So many things are fading. Father, I can no longer see your face. I had a sister, have,” he quickly corrected, “but what she looked like is a mystery. Did she look like me? What do I look like?” The night was chilly. Marcus curled into as small a ball as he could, hugging himself. He didn’t believe he would sleep. The morning light woke him.
He heard the boy and backed into the corner.
Two frightened brown eyes followed a whispered “OH”. The owner prepared to climb back down.
“I won’t hurt you, please.” Marcus was certain his raspy voice would frighten the boy even more, but he climbed into the house, sitting as far away as the tree house allowed.
“Marcus,” he cast his mind for something to say. “I’m running away from home. It was cold so I came up here. Please, can I stay until it is safe for me to leave?”
The boy frowned. “You’re too old to be running away from home.”
“But I am.”
“You hungry, you’re awfully skinny?”
“I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Shit, won’t be any trouble, Ma’s always giving me too much food.”
“Then I thank you.”
He climbed down the tree and Marcus wondered if he would return and if he did, would he be alone.
“I’m Teddy.” He returned, two blankets and a blueberry muffin in hand. “Your old man must be a real,” he grinned, “Mom would give me a time out for this, bastard.”
The smile could not be ignored and Marcus returned it. “Yes. He’s not my father but he is a real bastard. I can’t thank you enough for this.”
“I’d bring you coffee, but ma never lets me have it. You can stay here a while, my friends don’t come here too much anymore. They say it’s baby stuff, but I like it. It’s quiet and I can be alone. Kinda like being alone.”
“You’re not lonely?”
“Nah, got an older sister who never shuts up, a baby brother who wants everything I have, do everything I do, but he’s afraid of climbing so he don’t bother me here. Dad knows I sit up here, so I can stay with you if you’d like. I brought a book. Would you like to read it?”
“Could you read it to me?”
The smile that crossed his face, made Marcus laugh. “Yes sometimes adults, I guess that’s what I am, need help reading.”
“Sure.” The book, a story about three boys solving a mystery was entertaining, well read. All too soon, they could here Teddy’s father calling for him.
“I’ll bring you dinner if I can.” The hand was gentle as he patted his shoulder. “Sorry you got it hard.
Marcus sat in the tree hoping that for this one night the tree would hide him. As the light began to fade, Teddy’s expressive eyes peeked in. “Here, it’s the best I could do. I’m not supposed to be out at night, so I can’t stay. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Maybe.” Marcus knew it was a lie. The sandwich was a banquet. He listened to the night. It was the furtive footsteps he’d been expecting. He could almost see him sniffing the air, Marcus shivered. It passed.
As the morning light peeked in, he rose. He was careful to leave before his friend would rise. He could not do the good bye. The respite had been too nice and he didn’t want to spoil it.
Marcus, walking in the sun, was glad to see the miles pass. All too quickly darkness returned. Walking the quiet streets, he was searching for shelter when he heard of a boy’s disappearance. He did not wait for morning, knowing he must return. Retracing his steps, he walked to where Gregor had kept him. The boy lying on the floor was small, unchained and Marcus was glad to see he was a stranger.
He shook him “You must go, hurry. The sun will be up soon. You’ll be safe then.”
Not hesitating, he ran. Marcus, shoulders slumping, made for the door, certain he would not make it.
Gregor walked over, closing the door. “I see he is gone.”
Marcus looked beyond the broken hinges, seeing the morning sun beginning to rise.
“I thought that would bring you back.” He snarled. “I don’t understand this need of yours. You got away. I could not have found you, not if you had gone far enough. You are not that important.”
Marcus knew this was a lie. Beneath the smug expression he could see Gregor’s rage. That Marcus returned, sent the boy to safety enraged him more than the escape. Finally his frustration bested him and he shouted. “Where do you get the strength to come back? You know what I am, what I can do. Tell me.”
Marcus sat down, crossing his legs. He did not fight as the chains secured him to the wall. He put Teddy’s face before him and smiled. The clothes were warm, he was clean and full and once again Gregor was powerless. There was nothing he could do. Gregor walked closer, fists clenched. Marcus lifted his head, ready for the blow, but it did not fall. Hands falling to his sides, Gregor left.
The sun had once again journeyed to the other side of the world when he returned.
“Will you never speak? Have you forgotten how?”
Marcus didn’t answer. Studying the silence he had learned many sounds, even gentle hardly audible sounds could tell him what insect was about. He could not name them, but he knew them well.
He tuned in to the sounds of the night. They grew so loud; he could no longer hear Gregor, even when he was near.
Gregor reached out, putting his hand on Marcus’ shoulder. Marcus did not move. “I haven’t touched you in a long time. Why would I want too? It is worse than touching the dead. We have been together a long time.” He looked at the scars. “Twelve years now. You have long been a man. Have you no needs?”
In his head, Marcus heard his reply. “None that you could fill.”
“Are those petty victories worth what I have put you through? You have saved lives. I do not count them, but one cry and you would have peace.” He squeezed Marcus’ shoulder. Blood flowed from the wound.
Marcus, playing with his sister, dressing up her dolls and drinking cup after cup of imaginary tea, did not notice. Instead he looked at the dolls, their numbers growing. ‘I have counted them. I think it will soon be sixty lives, all of them important to me.’
“Tonight I hunt more than food. Tonight I hunt for you. You need a companion.” The grin was terrifying. Marcus ignored it. When he was once again alone, he dug in the soft dirt of the mud floor. It was where he had seen it, the glass dagger. It could not be used to great affect on Gregor, but there were other things it could do.
He heard the footsteps, the faltering steps beside Gregor’s purposeful stride.
She was terrified, weak and beautiful. Hands bound behind her, dark brown eyes full of tears; make up carefully applied running down soft cheeks. Her long blond hair was held back by a headband that matched the light blue of her blouse. She had a full figure, and though her clothes accentuated her curves, he could see that she was modestly dressed. In her eyes he saw resignation and shame.
Gregor held her. Without him she would most certainly have fallen. “She is pretty.”
Marcus remained unmoving, watching as if he were not to participate.
“I will set her free if you make love to her. Surely you must have the need, or is it me you want?”
If he was looking to shame him, it did not work.
“Take her, or watch me tear her apart. Maybe I need to show you what to do.”
Still Marcus did not move.
“How can you do nothing?”
He did nothing.
Angry as he had seldom been, Gregor threw her at him. “You are her only chance.” He stepped back, waiting.
“I will not take you.” Marcus looked at his chains. Her eyes followed his. “He will kill you no matter what I do. I will not make you suffer both.”
She did not move in his arms.
“I am going to stab you, a carefully placed wound. It will not be gentle. The rat has bled for you. Hold your breath so that he thinks I killed you. The farce does not need to last long. The sun is almost up. I will stand between you. Run into the sunlight. Don’t look back; do not try to help me. There is no help for me.”
She said not a word and he could only hope she understood. He thrust the knife; it sliced through the blouse, nicking her skin. The rat was used to stain her shirt before he cast it aside. He threw her to the floor. She gasped, and then her chest fell. Marcus stepped before her.
Gregor screamed. “What have you done?”
The silence grew. She breathed quietly, holding still until Gregor walked to the stairs. “Wait till you see what I do to what is left of her.”
Marcus helped her rise. She ran. The sun was blinding. Still she did not look back. Soon her sobs faded and Marcus stood looking into Gregors’s eyes, smiling.
“I have not punished you in a long time, he turned to the mace laying by Marcus’ mat. The glass knife was used quickly. His whisper did not carry. “I cannot let you use me as a reason to kill.”
Gregor smelled blood, too much blood, familiar blood and he turned, screaming. He looked at the man he’d held for twelve years, the man escaping.
Marcus was surprised to see Gregor bending over him, its wrist bleeding.
Gregor pressed his bloody arm over Marcus’ wound. “Did you think I would let you go? Foolish toy. I thought to make you a man, now I will make you a monster.”