CHAPTER 9

A DARKNESS DESCENDING

He saw her watching him. She came to the alley almost every day. Sometimes she gave out food; sometimes clothes and often she handed out blankets.  She always spoke kindly, not ignoring the homeless like so many did.  Her eyes were kind, but there was something more, he just couldn’t figure out what it was. 

Marcus noticed that she stayed away from the drunks. Paying more attention to the young, she seemed to be searching. When she caught his eye, he had quickly backed away. It was better for him, for anyone he met, if he didn’t get close. Leaving was painful and he’d left too many.  When he closed his eyes, he still saw them, though their faces grew more distant with each mile.  There was Jason, Newbie and Teddy the tree boy who had been so kind.  There were many others.  Even those who came into his life briefly held a place in his heart.  

He was tired.  The destination that brought him here was still many miles away.  Food on the road had not been plentiful.  He’d hunted, but nocturnal animals were more wary, harder to catch. The city offered more possibilities, so here he rested. It was not difficult to find food in a city so full of sinners.  The hospital was always busy. Blood was too easily spilled here.  But tonight he wanted more than blood.  

The liquor store was closed.  Inside, he smelled the contents of every bottle.  He wanted one so strong its fragrance couldn’t be ignored.

Returning to the alley, Marcus splashed himself with the liquor, careful to save some for another night.  

The smell made his stomach twist, but he managed to ignore it.  The day was bright when the blankets were ripped from him.  Pain surged through him, eyes on fire.  She stood before him, angrily pouting.

“You’re much too young to be drunk, living like this.  Come with me.  You can sober up at my place.”

The car door was open and with no other choice, Marcus jumped inside. 

She unlocked the door to an apartment that was flooded with light and Marcus backed away.

“Come on, you need to clean up.”

“I cannot come with you.”  His voice must have been menacing, for she dropped the arm she had been tugging.  “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“The light, is it the light?” She sounded surprised.  “Too many drunken nights, I guess.”

 “Disease.”  He replied backing further away.

“Wait.  I’ll shut the curtains.”  

When it was dark, Marcus entered.   “I will come, but not stay.  When it grows dark I will leave.”

“You don’t have to.”  There was real concern in her voice.  “I don’t mind the dark and you look like you could use the rest.”  She pointed to an open door.  “Spare bedroom.  I’ll get it ready while you shower.”

She moved quickly, putting out towels.  “I don’t have anything you can wear.  Just leave your things outside the door.  I’ll wash them for you.  You can wear my robe while they dry.”

She saw his hesitation, eyes frowning.  “What is it, surely you’d like a shower.”

“Last time, I found myself not alone.  It was not what I wanted.”

“I’ll go.  You can lock the door.”  She turned abruptly and he realized he’d hurt her feelings.

Marcus didn’t know how long he stood in the shower.  The hot water scalded his cold skin.  It felt good.  The water swirling around the drain was dark, dirt running between his toes.  He found the robe and was glad it fit well enough to cover his nakedness.  Coming out of the bathroom, he saw her waiting.

“I made some sandwiches.  You hungry?”

He was, but she could not feed him. “I…” he tried to keep the hunger out of his eyes, feeling them darken.  “I can’t eat.  Too many missed meals.”  He turned away from her disappointment.  “Why are you helping me?”

“Looked like you could use a friend.”

“I don’t deserve your help.”

“Everyone deserves help.  You can stay here as long as you like.  I made a place for you to sleep.”

“I hope it is not too early, but I am very tired.”

Her smile was sad.  “No problem.  You get some sleep.  I’ll leave your clothes by the bed.”

He turned to the room, found pillows, blankets and a sheet, carefully placed on the floor by the bed.  He did not question the arrangement, but lay down, pulling the pillow close.

Ξ

He remembered the camp.  The smell of the lake, grilling burgers and hotdogs had made his stomach growl.  It had been the first and the only time he’d gone to camp.  Only his sister’s entreaties had made him go.  Having helped her, he’d been glad.

His sister was too pretty.  Almost thirteen, she was already beginning to look like a woman.  The girls saw that the boys noticed and their cruelty grew.  It was easy to ridicule a girl with only three dresses, who frequently wore her brother’s hand me downs. They knew her shoes had been purchased at the second hand store. Though they fit well and were not too worn, they were still yesterday’s style.  Boys didn’t care, not even when Marcus wore the same sneakers until his toes began to poke through the sides.  The girls noticed everything.

“You’d better take that back.”  Cathy had the girl almost twice her size, pressed against the wall.  The hand holding tightly onto the milky neck was unforgiving and the look in his sister’s eyes made Marcus step back.  

 “I’ll get you sent home for this.”

Her lips curled.  “Do you really think I care?  At least I’ll be walking home.”

The older girl began to cry.  Marcus came back around the corner.  “You have to let her go.”

“Not really.”  There was real menace in his sister’s voice.  “Not until she takes it back.  The boys look at me because I’m pretty not because I put out and brother, don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”  She turned back to her prisoner.  “They look at me, not you, cause you’re an ugly cow.  I know cows.  I work on a farm.”

Marcus turned away, hiding his smile.  It was not the right time to laugh.  His sister’s eyes blazed.

 “What would father say?”   It was the only thing Marcus could think of to say.

 “He’d say she’s not as good looking as the cows.”  Finally she laughed.  Once again her attention returned to her prisoner.  “Do you want to die here?”

 “I didn’t mean it.”

“Don’t fu…”

“Cathy!”

“Don’t lie to me.  You meant it.”

 “I’m sorry.”

“That’s better.”  She released the girl, who crumbled to the floor.  

 “You are in so much trouble.”  She stood quickly, lip curling, though she kept some distance between them.

“No, I don’t think so.”  Marcus came to stand between them.  “You’re not going to say a thing.  The red mark on your neck, well you should have tied the scarf tighter.  I can see the hickey.”

“What…”

“You know what I’m saying.  Peter brags.  I wondered if he told the truth.  I do believe he has.  Would the good doctor like to know his daughter was studying anatomy with Peter.”

She turned away.  “I won’t say anything, but I won’t forget it either.”

“That’s a good thing.”  His sister called to the retreating girl.  “It might help you remember your manners.  I have a pretty good memory too.”

 “Jesus, Cathy, you could have killed her.”

“Don’t talk to me like that.  I believe you’ve had your fair share of fights.”

“The last one was to protect you.”  He hopped up on his toes.  “And even then I didn’t try to kill anyone.”

 “Wasn’t going to kill her.  Know when to stop.”  She smiled.  “Thanks big brother.  I’m happy I talked you into coming, be even happier when we go home.”

 “Glad I came too.  Hate to have to see you only during visiting hours.”  She punched him and he doubled over, laughing.  “Hit like a girl.”

“Didn’t try to hurt you.”

“That’s a good thing, cause I believe you could.  Let’s go to supper.  I want to hear the buzz.  I’m pretty certain she’ll tell her friends.”

“She might not want to admit that a skinny farm girl almost killed her.”

“Be careful or they’ll call you a skinny farm ghoul.”

“As long as the boys don’t.”

He shook his head.  “Don’t say things like that to your big brother.  I don’t feel like dueling.  Might get shot.”

“I’ll do the shooting.  You do the punching.  The deadly dueling Rollins’.”

 “Dad would be angry.”

 “Dad would be angrier if we let them walk all over us.  Now mom would be mad at me, my unladylike behavior.  I’m okay with that.  Long as I have my brothers support.”

“You will always have your brothers support.” He’d been smiling at his sister.

Ξ

Marcus woke. His head hurt.  Was Rollins his last name?  He’d heard his sister say it.  He could not recall her name.  Even now, with the dream memory fading, the name he had wondered was his own slipped from his mind.

He began to shiver when he realized he was naked, then the room came into focus and he remembered.  His clothes must be dry.  They were folded outside the bedroom door. 

He quickly dressed, listening to the quiet.  Her keys were on the stand beside the door.  Letting himself out, he found his way to the street, to the hospital.  Drinking his full, he was heading back before a hint of the day to come brightened the sky.

He was sitting on the floor; blanket spread around him, when she woke.  

“You there?” She spoke to the closed door.

“Yes.  Thank you for cleaning the clothes.  They feel much better.”

 “Your welcome.  I’ll take my robe back any time.”

When he opened the door, she was standing before him, the nightdress barely hiding her ample breasts.  

“Are you hungry?”  Her voice was hungry.

Backing up a step, he quickly closed the door.  He called out to her.  “I am sorry.  I will leave.”

“Even old women have needs.”

“I cannot fill yours.”  He desperately looked for an excuse.  “I have been hurt.”

She pushed open the door.  “There are still things we could do.”

“What is your name?”  She seemed surprised by the question.

“I’m Lenore Smythe.  What do they call you?”

“Many things.  Toy, slave, boy, monster, string bean, I rather liked that one.  Once I was” he paused, the name was familiar, though he did not know why. 

 “Allen.  I don’t remember him very well.  He died a long time ago.  I killed him to survive.  I do not know what you think of me, of what I am, but I am not this.  I cannot be what you are asking. There is so little of Allen now.  I must keep what I have.  Please understand.”

Her eyes softened, a slow red creeping up her cheeks.  “I am sorry.  It was wrong of me.  I have been alone for a long time now.  You are a good-looking man, especially now that you’re clean.  You said slave, is that why you’re running?”

“Yes my father,” his eyes narrowed as if in sudden pain, “I still call him that.  He follows me. I run.  Then I follow him.  He hunts me, and I haunt him.  It is a terrible game.  It has lasted far too long, but I have no choice.”  His eyes darkened, and Lenore felt the room grow cold.  “No, that is not true.” 

She frowned

“I will explain as best I can.  I met a man,” he looked confused, “or was it my mother, I cannot remember who told me.  They explained that what we do, no matter the …  I do not know the word.”

“I think you mean, circumstances.”

“Yes, our response is a choice we make.  I have chosen to continue this life.  I do not know if it’s the right choice.  My choice is to kill him.”

She shivered.

“I am sorry, this isn’t something you want to know.  The alley, I slept there to hide.  Once,” he made a face, “my father would have said I was hiding in plain sight.   I do not drink.  The smell, I wore it.”

“Why would you do that?”

 “Because you were coming around but always avoided the drunks.  I thought if you believed I was one, you would leave me alone, but then you brought me into the sun and I had no choice.  I am sick.  The sun hurts.  I have no medicine, so I stay in the dark.”

 “That is not a good way to live.”

 “The disease I did not choose. I do with it what I can.  I am not; I do not know what to say.  I do not sell what I am.”

“If you don’t mind very much, I would like to tell my friends, the bitches that we are…”

 “I believe I understand what we are supposed to be.”

“I may not have to pay you, but you’re still going to be expensive,” her eyebrows rode high on her pale forehead, a wicked grin circling her thin lips.  “Gotta get you some clothes.  You have to look good.”  He remained silent.  “They have been so cruel, my friends.  My niece and nephew, they’ll be okay after a bit.  They’re inheriting everything so they won’t complain.”

“I,” he waved her words away, “will take the clothes.  I have need and I will be what you want me to be but only for a short time.  I won’t be staying.  It will come and I must find him.”  

He looked around the room.  “If I could have just a few nights.”

“As many as you need.  The room’s empty, as empty as my bed.  If you change your mind, just walk in.”  

He thought then to ask why she wanted him to sleep on the floor, but it was far more comfortable than most of the places he’d slept so he swallowed the question.  

 “Is it the disease that makes you so pale?”

“Yes.  I burn so easily, you see.”

 “You’re not an albino, not with those dark eyes, that sandy hair.”

 “An albino?”

“There are some people, not many, born without natural pigments.  They have problems with light too.”

“Almost fits.”  He smiled sadly.  “I do not know what I am called.”

“I was wondering,” she turned suddenly serious, “where did you go last night?”

Marcus’ eyes narrowed, frowning,  “I thought I was quiet, I am sorry if I woke you.”

 “You were quiet.  You didn’t wake me either, it’s just that I don’t sleep very well anymore.”

 “I have family.  Because of the man I hunt, we do not meet.  I send money when I can.  Yesterday, I got some.  You do not want to know.”

“Actually I think I do.”

Marcus thought for a moment. “The man, he stays on the street corner.  I do not know the name, but he is always there.  He sells things that are not his to sell.  I borrowed some of his money.  One day,” he smiled, doing his best to look innocent, “I will pay him back.”

 “Sure you will,” she snorted almost spilling her tea.  “I have some money, lots of money.  I’ll give you some.”  She smiled, but the smile was bitter.  “Actually I think I’ll give you a lot if you promise to spend it well.  No drink, no drugs for you or anyone else.” 

 “You do not have to do this.”

“If I had to, I wouldn’t.  That’s how people like me work.  Call it an advance.  I hope you might actually find your way through my bedroom door.”

She looked his way.  He understood.  “Your family, wife, son, daughter?”

“Fatherless sister, husbandless mother.  The son, the brother unable to support them.”  He hung his head. 

“I’ll write some checks, get money out of the account.  Seventy thousand ought to support you, them for some time.  Am I to guess that the man you hunt, run from is the one who killed the father, the husband?”

“Yes.  My father.  I saw it.  He took me then.  I do not talk about it.”

“The scars on your back, he give you those?”  She saw his surprise.  “Sorry.  I watched you take off your clothes.”

He turned, seeing the glass blocks that added light to the bath.

 “It lets in a little light. You can’t see very well through it.  It’s called privacy glass, but I could see those scars, they’re hard to miss.”

 “I would blush, but my coloring does not allow for it.”  Once again the room seemed to grow cold and Lenore hugged herself, shivering. 

Marcus ignored it.  “Yes. The scars are…”  He turned away, the words dying in his throat. Walking quietly into the room that was his for this short respite, he crossed his legs, sitting as still as the bedpost he leaned upon.

Ξ

 “Criss-cross applesauce.”  The teacher had demonstrated how they were supposed to sit and Marcus had laughed.

 “Something funny, Master Rollins.”  

This was accompanied by a fit of giggles from the other kindergarten students.  Hatchet, the boy with the weird name and even weirder hair, laughed the hardest.  Red freckles melted into his reddening cheeks.  Milk bubbled from his nose and Marcus rolled over on the floor. Mrs. Michaels waited for the laughter to die down.  “Master Rollins,” her eyes dared anyone to laugh.  

The children remained silent.  “That is what we call this way of sitting.  It keeps your legs out of the way.  You have a problem with that?”

“No ma’am.” Remembering his mother’s words about respecting the teacher, he fought to keep the laughter  inside him.  He did not look over to his new friend.  He liked the name and he liked the boy.  He liked hanging out with him at recess, even better.  They’d looked into each other’s eyes, eyes that could not be more different, knowing they would be friends forever. 

Ξ

“Forever was not long for us.”  He whispered.  “I had thought to be there when you married.  Have you married?  Perhaps one day, I will find you.”  Marcus shook his head.  “That is not something I should do.  I do not want you to see what I have become.”

“I’m going to the bank, got a few other chores to do.   I’ll be back before dark.”  She called out, bringing him out of the past and the names slipped away. 

“Help yourself to anything.  There’s food in the kitchen.”

Long after she was gone, Marcus stared at the closed door.  Walking around the apartment, he took in all the things she had collected.  There were pictures of her at different ages.  In many she was with a man, who must surely have been her husband.  “You had a good life.  How did he die?”

He spoke to the photographs.  “No children.  There are so many lovely things.”

He carefully picked up some of the porcelain jars that had been placed on shelves and scattered about the house.

“My mother,” he tried to remember but still could not see her face. He only heard that one last cry, calling for her husband, her son.  

“I think she had things she collected, she called them.” He shook his head.  “I don’t remember.”

He returned to the bedroom, straightening the blankets, making it look as much like a bed as he could.  Having spent much of the night looking for food, Marcus crawled beneath the blankets, curling into a ball and let his mind wander.  The opening door woke him.

“I’m back.  I brought my friend.”  She looked to the closed door, calling a little louder.  “You up?”

Marcus stood.  Straightening his clothes, he did his best to look like the young man he was supposed to be.  His pallor was in stark contrast to the black of his shirt and pants.  Tucking his hands into his pockets, a habit that seemed to have started long before Gregor found him, he walked to where the women stood.

“Allen, this is Helen.”

Helen towered over her friend, dark brown eyes staring.  She looked him over.  Eyes narrow slits surrounded by too much eyeliner made her serious face comical. Blush was painted on, two dark red spots mid cheek, beside bright pink overlarge lips. Her lips curled as her eyes traveled down to his shoes.  Inspection complete she turned back to Louise. 

“Not bad.”  She turned to Lenore.  “How much does he cost?”

“It’s not like that.”  Lenore did her best to sound offended, but Marcus felt she had wanted the question asked.

“I am here, because I want to be.”  He filled the momentary void.  “I do not need payment.”  He walked over to Lenore, carefully placing an arm over her shoulders.  “She is beautiful, is she not?”

Helen snorted, trying to sound disdainful but instead sounding jealous.  “You must pay him well.

Marcus knew the part he was meant to play.  He drew up to his full height and walked closer to the woman he was rapidly growing to dislike.  “I don’t lie.  She pays me nothing.” 

Putting Lenore’s hand in his, he pulled her close, whispering loud enough for Helen to hear.  “I do not like your friend.  She doesn’t appreciate you.  I have missed you.  Must she stay?”

 “Well, I have never been so…”

“I imagine you have.”  Marcus interrupted, letting a scowl cross his face.  He turned away, once again giving his attention to Lenore. 

 “I think I’ll go home.”  Helen grabbed her coat from the couch, where she had thrown it.  

 “Good bye.  It was not nice meeting you.”  The last thing Helen saw was Marcus pulling Lenore into his arms.

The door slammed shut, Marcus stepped back.  Lenore began to clap.  “You should have been an actor. That was perfect.”

He turned away from her smile, his voice a whisper.  “I have had practice being someone, something I’m not.” To Lenore, he spoke more loudly. “Is that what you wanted from me?”

“Yes, pretty much.”  Her grin grew.  “But I would like it to be true.  Did you find something to eat?”

“Don’t eat much.”

“I guess that tells me how you got the name string bean.”

 “It was on the crate that was my temporary home.  The old woman thought it fit.”

He looked down at his tight stomach, strong but thin legs and arms.  “I think she was right.”

 “Yes it fits.  But I happen to like string beans.”

He turned from her.  “Nothing has changed.”

“I.” She blushed.  “I won’t speak of it again.  Thank you for that, I mean with Helen.  She’s such an ass, been taunting me for years.  My husband,” Marcus heard the catch in her voice.  “He died a long time ago.  Helen thought I never remarried because I couldn’t get another man.”  She bit her lip.  “I don’t know if that’s true.  I never tried.  No one could replace Nick and I felt it wouldn’t be fair to do that to someone, especially if he was a nice someone.”  She stood back appraising him.  “Have you never had a woman, girl friend?”

He looked away, putting more distance between them.  “No, I have…” Marcus walked back to his bedroom.  There was nothing he could say.

“Wait.”  She handed him a bag. “New clothes.”  

“They’re black,” she responded to his scowl.

Sitting once again with crossed legs, he stared at the closed curtains, waiting for the aura to fade.  He heard the door open.  An envelope was dropped in his lap.  “Here is some of the money I promised you.  You earned it.”

Her retreating footsteps were angry.  

 “What can I do?  I cannot explain.  I do not know what I would do to her, being what I am.  Has she not seen the darkness in my eyes, felt the cold of my anger?  She should fear me.”