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.”

Darkness and Light, The Hunter

The book is now available in all ebook forms, except kindle which should be completed soon. Books to read has placed this ad.


 
 
 A new title byDebra Zannellion sale now!   
     
     Book Cover     Where There Was Darkness ends with Marcus using his heightened senses, to see into a person’s eyes, recognizing the evil some hide within.  Recruited  by FBI agents Yother and Greyson, he is able to use the abilities he thinks of as both a gift and a curse.  The shade of Gregor, the monster who captured him so many years ago, walks in the shadows beside him and Marcus must find a way to tame him.  As Marcus’ successes mount, so does the danger to the life he’s trying to live.  The terrorist attack on the President’s family forces Marcus to make a terrible choice.  Let them die, or do what he can to save them.  Saving them brings him to the attention of the government where skills like his are more than needed.  A new chapter in his too often changing life begins and his never ending hunt for monsters crosses into other countries where he faces dangers to both the life he’s leading and to life itself.  Now more than ever he must hide some of what he is and his nemesis, Detecive Brian Hawkins, is always watching.  With Maddy by his side and the friendship of Chief Raymond Daniels, Marcus struggles to walk in the light while still being welcomed into the darkness.  
I’m very happy with my first review, please review it on Amazon when you finish reading the book.

The next Book in the installment, Vampires will be out soon.

A DARKNESS DESCENDING

CHAPTER 8

Mrcus no longer counted the years.  The nights came too quickly.  He kept moving along a seemingly aimless path.  

“Where are you now?”  He spoke to the invisible Gregor that never left his side.  “Is it time for you to know I am still here?”  

The rhythm of his life beat to a single drum.  Stay free, let Gregor know you are alive, do no harm and try, try to remember.  The darkness covered him and he learned well how to hide where people could see him.  They did not look closely.  They were afraid and though it pained him, Marcus knew it was for the best.  Still the closeness allowed him to hear about Gregor.  Too many different serial killers were reported.  Many were one.  Marcus wondered if they noticed the pattern.  There were never more than eight and Marcus, carefully attuned, was often able to keep it to a smaller number.  

The leering face that haunted his dreams, consuming his memories, was often screaming.  It was a small satisfaction in the lonely life he could no longer share with the ghosts of his childhood. 

The world had grown cold.  Winter was coming.  Marcus knew he should turn south, walk where the nights were not so cold, but he found himself unable to move.  He could not see the faces he once loved, when he was alive.  Untethered, he was no longer sure he could move.  Gregor, he thought, you won.  The words crossed his lips. He felt his spine stiffen.  “Never,” the word exploded and it was then he realized he was not alone.

“Never what?” 

He was old, leaning on a cane whose three-pronged base was the only thing keeping him upright.

 “Never let my monster win.”

“Your monster?  Man or beast?”

“Beast.”

“Something with more or less than two legs.”

“Two legs.  He is a man, but no less a beast.  You should not come closer.  I don’t know that I won’t hurt you.”

“Not afraid.”  The old man, back bent, an awkward hump pressing him to the earth, approached.  “You don’t look too good.”

“I am not good.”  Marcus looked away, but the need to have a companion was too strong.  “I am a monster.”

“Don’t seem to me to be any more of a monster than a lot of people I’ve met.  I’ve seen a lot of monsters, but that’s a long story.”

“Tell me.  There are many things I cannot do, but I can listen.”

A smile made its way through a mountain of wrinkles.  With some difficulty, the old man sat.

“Are you not afraid?”

 “Nope.  You are a dangerous man with a good heart and I know you won’t hurt me.  Have I gotten it right?  If I’m wrong then I’ll find out if all those religious classes I attended made any sense at all.”

“Well yes, I am dangerous.  I no longer believe I am a man, but I think I still have a good heart, though it has long ago been broken.  I have no idea what your religious classes taught you or if any of it is true.  I can tell you that I will not hurt you, though it would be rather easy, that you look like food to me and I am hungry.  I haven’t eaten in a long time.”

The old man smiled.  “I’ve seen danger.  You may be hungry; I may even be food, but not tonight.  Another time perhaps.  At my age, the people I loved, they are almost all gone.”  His eyes, masked by cataracts seemed to float, a light blue in a field of bluish white.

“I see you do not understand.”  He made to rise but Marcus stopped him. 

“The people I loved are all gone.  If they still live I do not know where.  I,” Marcus’ voice softened, a hiss on the wind, “do not remember their names, can no longer see their faces.  Once a long time ago, I dreamt often of them.  If you are not afraid I would like the company.”

The smile, half hidden in the deep lines of his face, was warm. Once again he sat down, warm hand fighting its slight shaking.   “Many years ago I sat in a boat almost too afraid to do what I’d been trained to do.  I had to step over the bodies of men I called friends.  I never knew why they died while I lived.  I guess I never will.”

“Do you have children?”

The man frowned at the question and Marcus was surprised when he answered.  “Yes, a son, a daughter.”

“Grandchildren?”

“Yes.”

“They are the culmination of all that came before.”

“I would like to think that.”  He laughed harshly.

“My father,” there was a sadness in Marcus’ voice the old man could not ignore.

“You miss him.”

“I saw him die.  I could not save him, now I can no longer remember his name.  I cannot see him.  I think I still remember what he told me.  The big word was his.  I try to be what he wanted me to be, but I do not know.”

A deep silence filled the space between them.  Finally the old man spoke.

“I do not say this lightly, but I am sure you are the man your father would have wanted you to be.” He raised his hand, stopping Marcus’ protest.  “I am not saying the circumstances of your life is what he would have wanted.  I am saying that what you have done with what you were given, was what he would have hoped you would do.”

“I think that is something my mother would have said.  I cannot remember why but once she told me our choices make us what we are.  I have chosen.  The road has been hard.”

“If it makes you feel differently, I’ll tell you that I came here to join all the brothers I watched die.  It was Normandy.  Very few of us still live.  I miss them.  I have spent so many hours feeling guilty I’m still alive.  All the things I’ve been able to do.  They were young.  They missed so much.  You just made me realize there’s something I can do, something important.  I can be their voice.  I think it’s time I talk about what I saw.”

“What you saw?”

“I saw men rescued from Bergen-Belsen. Skeletons, searching in the ruins for those they loved.  I learned that evil has more than one face.  Evil, so many embrace it until it comes to them.  They were Christians, the Nazi’s.”

“I did not know, but then I hated school.”

The old man smiled.  “Many people accepted Hitler, welcomed him, the old way of governance. They wanted a leader, were used to following not deciding. When the war was lost, most of Hitler’s followers said they had no choice.  The Nazi leaders were tried for the crimes they committed, but the ones who knew and did nothing, nothing happened to them.  I know you can’t punish a whole generation.” He turned to look at the cane that was once again shaking.   “Sometimes when I see the faces of my lost friends, the skeletal bodies of the rescued, I wish we could.”  He took a moment to still his hands.  “They had choices. They just took the easy ones.  Maybe I would too.”

“I do not think you would take the easy way.”

“I can see your choices have taken you on a most difficult path.”

When Marcus did not reply, he continued.  “You’ve reminded me that I can teach not just my grandchildren, but those who will listen, that doing nothing, watching the world change and saying you cannot do anything about it, is a choice.”  He looked into the velvet night, starlight shining on the rocks around them.  “It is pretty, this world.  Yet we do so much to make it dirty. There is so much hate.  There is always someone, some group to blame.  Fear, hate is almost more unifying than words of love, the brotherhood preached in churches.  I guess”— he chuckled—“that’s why we use God as an excuse to kill those who don’t believe the way we do. I don’t think we’re making him proud. I’m talking too much.”

 “You are not.”  Marcus smiled, the muscles aching. “I like your talk.  I think people will listen.  There is passion in your words.  As little as I know of the world,” to the man’s surprise, he once again smiled.  “Of some things I know too much, but of the world, I know very little.  What I have seen tells me that you speak the truth.  It would be good for others to learn from you.”

A slow smile broadened the face, wrinkles stretching, showing that once he’d been a handsome man.  “Thanks for showing me that my life still has purpose.”

 “Please do not thank me.  You have also given me hope.  I had thought only to kill my monster, and I will.  But today you have taught me that I will have more choices to make.  I shall think carefully.  Today I have done something I am proud to have done.”  His face darkened.  “I am hungry and I have miles to walk while it is still dark.  Darkness is my light.”

The old man grabbed his arm.  “Go back to what you know, who you remember.  Find the peace you gave to them.  It will warm you.  Do it before you forget.”

 “How do you know?”

“I am forgetting.  You reminded me.  I am returning the favor.”

Marcus watched the old man walk away, back straighter than when he arrived. “Where shall I go?  What of Newbie, Jason, I would like to know.”

The road stretched before him.  Once again he walked.

He had been searching.  The camp, long since destroyed, stood a barren wasteland.  The boys, the girls were gone.  Marcus saw the shrine, a memorial to those who had died there.  The floorboard, names etched in its soft wood, the center of the shrine.  The names of those who died had been carefully carved into the granite stone, chiseled tears surrounding them.  Flowers were neatly arranged at the base of the plaque. 

“Jason, I do not see your name here.  I think I know how it would be written. I do not know Newbie’s name.”  He shrugged.  “I could not read it anyway.  Are you there with all these others?”

He could not search in the day and was afraid of going to the police.  What would they make of him, his questions? With slumped shoulders, he walked away.  He thought of Gregor’s offering.  He did not know her name. 

“You must have gotten away.” He spoke quietly to the night.  “Do you carry many scars? There are those that cannot be seen.  I hope you think kindly of me.”

 He knew the way. 

Leaving the camp behind, he took to the remembered road.  He walked slowly. “It may not last”—he saw Gregor’s imaginary scow—“but I am enjoying the freedom.”

He did not let the cold bother him, ignoring the pain.  Plodding through the snow, he stopped in a small town just long enough to steal boots.  He ate when he could, careful to remain unseen.  

The town was smaller than he remembered; but the park, its acres of roses, now soft in slumber, was familiar.  Even sleeping, awaiting another season, the fragrance was intoxicating.  A quick turn before the gardens and he was once again looking at the abandoned building that was, for a short time his home.  The windows were boarded up, no glass remaining.  Soon it would be day.  Marcus easily removed the wooden planks, stepping inside.  The stairs were soft, the wood rotting.  He walked carefully to the basement.  It was dark, the air reeking of death.  Many animals had died here.  He ignored their bones.  Searching hands feeling the floor, he found it, the glass shard.  His sharp eyes saw the blood stain.  His.  He once again felt pain as the knife sliced through the flesh of his neck. 

He saw the terror in Gregor’s eyes, felt the hunger when he woke.  He sat hard upon the ground.

How long he sat unmoving he did not know, but day grew bright then turned again to night and still he did not move.

“They say it’s haunted.”  Youthful voices found their way to where Marcus sat.

“I’m not going in.”

“Someone did.  Look, the woods been taken off.  Come on guys, chicken shits.  I’m not scared.  Take the flashlights.  It’s not real big, we’ll be on our way home before you can sing the National Anthem.”  The boy laughed and was soon joined by the others.

Marcus heard their approach.  He stood, waiting.  There was no place to go.  

The youngest of the four boys dropped his flashlight, yelling for his friends.  

“Who are you?”  Their chosen leader asked, fear underlying the bravado of his voice.

“No one.  I”— he searched their faces—“am a traveler.  I have no money and no place to stay.  It is cold.  This place offered as much shelter as I could find.  I did not mean to frighten you.”

“We’re not afraid.”  His voice shook, but he did not back away.  The four flashlight beams pierced Marcus’ eyes.  He turned his head.  “The girl, the one who left here, how did she do?”

“If you’re a traveler, how do you know about her?”

“How is she?” Marcus ignored the question.  “She made it home, has a good life?”

Finally the older boy answered.  “Yeah.  Clara made it to town.  Told everyone about this place, about the guy who took her, about the guy who saved her.  The police came here, did everything they could to find them.” 

“Figured the one who took her was the one who killed all those people.”  The youngest boy picked up his flashlight, continuing the tale. “They never found out anything about the guy who helped her. Why do you want to know?”

“I am glad.” He turned his back to them.  “It was worth it.  I’ll leave now.”

 “Your him.”  The oldest boy’s voice hushed.  “The guy that saved her.”

Marcus did not at first answer.  “I am.  Let her know that I am free.  Perhaps she will care.”

“Clara will care a lot.”  The youngest of the four bounced on the balls of his feet, voice rising. “She’s the Librarian.  Talks about him, you, all the time.”  

Marcus stepped between them, wondering what they would do.

“Jeez, your cold.”  It was the youngest. “Tom your place is closest, why don’t you give him your coat.  You won’t be out in the cold as long as the rest of us.”

The coat was thrown over Marcus’ shoulder.  He turned to face the boys, handing it back.

“Thank you.  That is kind, but if I remember my father, I believe going home without my coat would have made him angry.  I would guess coming here and talking to a stranger would not have sat well with him either.  Don’t get in trouble for me.  Do not stay here in the dark.  It is dangerous.”

He stepped aside, letting them pass.  They were moving fast and Marcus watched until they entered the town, the streetlights making them safe.

There was another place to go.  He held onto the memory of the name.  The pain pills had lasted weeks.  Another mystery Gregor could not solve.  In some ways they lasted far beyond the actual medicine.  His ability to ignore the pain had left Gregor unwilling to inflict more.

Marcus had seen his frustration growing.  He did not want to be continually bested.  Gregor stopped, though not completely, and life had grown easier.

Marcus paused, he knew the man’s name but it took him a few minutes to remember the place.  It had been close to Canada, he remembered Gregor wondering if it was time to head to that country, but he didn’t like the cold and this was as far north as he intended to go.

Once again he lost himself in memory.  It had been a national park.  Gregor had laughed at the thought of eating a grizzly.  He remembered him saying the state had a face, but Marcus could not go to a library to look at the maps.

Slowly walking the empty streets of the dark town, he looked for a bookstore, any place that would have a map.  

He could not read the store’s name.  There were many travel cases, pictures of the world, neatly placed.  Surely there would be a map.  He circled behind the store.  He did not bother with alarms.  With his speed, he knew he would be out of the store before the police could arrive.  The lock was easily broken.  There was no alarm.  He paced between the shelves. The book had one word in bold letters.  The word meant nothing to him, but the cover was a map.  Grabbing it, he went to stand as close to the streetlights as his sensitive eyes allowed.  The first page was useless.  He flipped past it. Finally he saw what he was looking for.  There were many maps. 

Very few people were on the street this late.  Marcus knew who he was looking for.  Some were far too young.  She was what he needed.

Before he approached, she called out.  “Fifty bucks buys you an hour.”

“I do not have the money and I don’t want the hour.”

She looked ready to walk away, but he was the only one near and she was bored.  “You were coming over weren’t you?”

“Yes.  I need your help.  I can see that you are…cautious.  You should be.  There are many things to fear in the night, but I am not one of them.”  He held out the atlas.  “I cannot read and I need to find a place. I do not know where I am.  Will you help me?”

She looked him over, carefully inspecting the clothes that didn’t quite fit.  He knew he was not well washed, his hair long and poorly cut.  He stood quietly awaiting her decision.

“Come over.”  She waved him towards the light.  Ignoring the pain, he handed her the book.

“You’re here.  Now where do you want to go?”

He grinned and he could see her face soften.  “I know only that I need to get to a city in the state with a face.  It is a large city outside the”—he paused—“Ice Park, I think.”

“You think?”

He nodded.  “I was taken there.  It was not my choice.  I do not know how to go back, but there is a person I would like to see.”

“You’re going to Montana.”

 “Montana.” Slowly, he repeated it. “ It has a face?”

She reached for the map, quickly flipping through the pages.  “This is the state.”   She pointed out the profile.

“I see.”

“The park must be Glacier National Park.  On this side”—her long red nails pointed to the map—“is the forest. The biggest city near there should be one of these.  Bigger dots mean bigger cities.  Here, put it down for a minute.”

He did as he was told.  

Reaching into her purse, she pulled out the ruby red lipstick she wore, circling the place they were and where he wanted to go.”  When she finished, she smiled.  It was kind.  “I don’t know who you’re looking for but I hope you find her.”

He turned away, clutching his map.

“Wait.”

Once again she reached out for the map.  “See this highway, it’s I ninety and goes north.  I have a feeling you’re walking.  Go that way till you see the highway.  Take it and just keep walking.  It will at least get you into Montana.”

 “I have met many kind people on my journey.”  Marcus tried to smile.

 “I would guess you have met many not so kind.”

He nodded. “They are not who I am looking for.”

A DARKNESS DESCENDING

CHAPTER 8

Marcus no longer counted the years.  The nights came too quickly.  He kept moving along a seemingly aimless path.  M

“Where are you now?”  He spoke to the invisible Gregor that never left his side.  “Is it time for you to know I am still here?”  

The rhythm of his life beat to a single drum.  Stay free, let Gregor know you are alive, do no harm and try, try to remember.  The darkness covered him and he learned well how to hide where people could see him.  They did not look closely.  They were afraid and though it pained him, Marcus knew it was for the best.  Still the closeness allowed him to hear about Gregor.  Too many different serial killers were reported.  Many were one.  Marcus wondered if they noticed the pattern.  There were never more than eight and Marcus, carefully attuned, was often able to keep it to a smaller number.  

The leering face that haunted his dreams, consuming his memories, was often screaming.  It was a small satisfaction in the lonely life he could no longer share with the ghosts of his childhood. 

The world had grown cold.  Winter was coming.  Marcus knew he should turn south, walk where the nights were not so cold, but he found himself unable to move.  He could not see the faces he once loved, when he was alive.  Untethered, he was no longer sure he could move.  Gregor, he thought, you won.  The words crossed his lips. He felt his spine stiffen.  “Never,” the word exploded and it was then he realized he was not alone.

“Never what?” 

He was old, leaning on a cane whose three-pronged base was the only thing keeping him upright.

 “Never let my monster win.”

“Your monster?  Man or beast?”

“Beast.”

“Something with more or less than two legs.”

“Two legs.  He is a man, but no less a beast.  You should not come closer.  I don’t know that I won’t hurt you.”

“Not afraid.”  The old man, back bent, an awkward hump pressing him to the earth, approached.  “You don’t look too good.”

“I am not good.”  Marcus looked away, but the need to have a companion was too strong.  “I am a monster.”

“Don’t seem to me to be any more of a monster than a lot of people I’ve met.  I’ve seen a lot of monsters, but that’s a long story.”

“Tell me.  There are many things I cannot do, but I can listen.”

A smile made its way through a mountain of wrinkles.  With some difficulty, the old man sat.

“Are you not afraid?”

 “Nope.  You are a dangerous man with a good heart and I know you won’t hurt me.  Have I gotten it right?  If I’m wrong then I’ll find out if all those religious classes I attended made any sense at all.”

“Well yes, I am dangerous.  I no longer believe I am a man, but I think I still have a good heart, though it has long ago been broken.  I have no idea what your religious classes taught you or if any of it is true.  I can tell you that I will not hurt you, though it would be rather easy, that you look like food to me and I am hungry.  I haven’t eaten in a long time.”

The old man smiled.  “I’ve seen danger.  You may be hungry; I may even be food, but not tonight.  Another time perhaps.  At my age, the people I loved, they are almost all gone.”  His eyes, masked by cataracts seemed to float, a light blue in a field of bluish white.

“I see you do not understand.”  He made to rise but Marcus stopped him. 

“The people I loved are all gone.  If they still live I do not know where.  I,” Marcus’ voice softened, a hiss on the wind, “do not remember their names, can no longer see their faces.  Once a long time ago, I dreamt often of them.  If you are not afraid I would like the company.”

The smile, half hidden in the deep lines of his face, was warm. Once again he sat down, warm hand fighting its slight shaking.   “Many years ago I sat in a boat almost too afraid to do what I’d been trained to do.  I had to step over the bodies of men I called friends.  I never knew why they died while I lived.  I guess I never will.”

“Do you have children?”

The man frowned at the question and Marcus was surprised when he answered.  “Yes, a son, a daughter.”

“Grandchildren?”

“Yes.”

“They are the culmination of all that came before.”

“I would like to think that.”  He laughed harshly.

“My father,” there was a sadness in Marcus’ voice the old man could not ignore.

“You miss him.”

“I saw him die.  I could not save him, now I can no longer remember his name.  I cannot see him.  I think I still remember what he told me.  The big word was his.  I try to be what he wanted me to be, but I do not know.”

A deep silence filled the space between them.  Finally the old man spoke.

“I do not say this lightly, but I am sure you are the man your father would have wanted you to be.” He raised his hand, stopping Marcus’ protest.  “I am not saying the circumstances of your life is what he would have wanted.  I am saying that what you have done with what you were given, was what he would have hoped you would do.”

“I think that is something my mother would have said.  I cannot remember why but once she told me our choices make us what we are.  I have chosen.  The road has been hard.”

“If it makes you feel differently, I’ll tell you that I came here to join all the brothers I watched die.  It was Normandy.  Very few of us still live.  I miss them.  I have spent so many hours feeling guilty I’m still alive.  All the things I’ve been able to do.  They were young.  They missed so much.  You just made me realize there’s something I can do, something important.  I can be their voice.  I think it’s time I talk about what I saw.”

“What you saw?”

“I saw men rescued from Bergen-Belsen. Skeletons, searching in the ruins for those they loved.  I learned that evil has more than one face.  Evil, so many embrace it until it comes to them.  They were Christians, the Nazi’s.”

“I did not know, but then I hated school.”

The old man smiled.  “Many people accepted Hitler, welcomed him, the old way of governance. They wanted a leader, were used to following not deciding. When the war was lost, most of Hitler’s followers said they had no choice.  The Nazi leaders were tried for the crimes they committed, but the ones who knew and did nothing, nothing happened to them.  I know you can’t punish a whole generation.” He turned to look at the cane that was once again shaking.   “Sometimes when I see the faces of my lost friends, the skeletal bodies of the rescued, I wish we could.”  He took a moment to still his hands.  “They had choices. They just took the easy ones.  Maybe I would too.”

“I do not think you would take the easy way.”

“I can see your choices have taken you on a most difficult path.”

When Marcus did not reply, he continued.  “You’ve reminded me that I can teach not just my grandchildren, but those who will listen, that doing nothing, watching the world change and saying you cannot do anything about it, is a choice.”  He looked into the velvet night, starlight shining on the rocks around them.  “It is pretty, this world.  Yet we do so much to make it dirty. There is so much hate.  There is always someone, some group to blame.  Fear, hate is almost more unifying than words of love, the brotherhood preached in churches.  I guess”— he chuckled—“that’s why we use God as an excuse to kill those who don’t believe the way we do. I don’t think we’re making him proud. I’m talking too much.”

 “You are not.”  Marcus smiled, the muscles aching. “I like your talk.  I think people will listen.  There is passion in your words.  As little as I know of the world,” to the man’s surprise, he once again smiled.  “Of some things I know too much, but of the world, I know very little.  What I have seen tells me that you speak the truth.  It would be good for others to learn from you.”

A slow smile broadened the face, wrinkles stretching, showing that once he’d been a handsome man.  “Thanks for showing me that my life still has purpose.”

 “Please do not thank me.  You have also given me hope.  I had thought only to kill my monster, and I will.  But today you have taught me that I will have more choices to make.  I shall think carefully.  Today I have done something I am proud to have done.”  His face darkened.  “I am hungry and I have miles to walk while it is still dark.  Darkness is my light.”

The old man grabbed his arm.  “Go back to what you know, who you remember.  Find the peace you gave to them.  It will warm you.  Do it before you forget.”

 “How do you know?”

“I am forgetting.  You reminded me.  I am returning the favor.”

Marcus watched the old man walk away, back straighter than when he arrived. “Where shall I go?  What of Newbie, Jason, I would like to know.”

The road stretched before him.  Once again he walked.

He had been searching.  The camp, long since destroyed, stood a barren wasteland.  The boys, the girls were gone.  Marcus saw the shrine, a memorial to those who had died there.  The floorboard, names etched in its soft wood, the center of the shrine.  The names of those who died had been carefully carved into the granite stone, chiseled tears surrounding them.  Flowers were neatly arranged at the base of the plaque. 

“Jason, I do not see your name here.  I think I know how it would be written. I do not know Newbie’s name.”  He shrugged.  “I could not read it anyway.  Are you there with all these others?”

He could not search in the day and was afraid of going to the police.  What would they make of him, his questions? With slumped shoulders, he walked away.  He thought of Gregor’s offering.  He did not know her name. 

“You must have gotten away.” He spoke quietly to the night.  “Do you carry many scars? There are those that cannot be seen.  I hope you think kindly of me.”

 He knew the way. 

Leaving the camp behind, he took to the remembered road.  He walked slowly. “It may not last”—he saw Gregor’s imaginary scow—“but I am enjoying the freedom.”

He did not let the cold bother him, ignoring the pain.  Plodding through the snow, he stopped in a small town just long enough to steal boots.  He ate when he could, careful to remain unseen.  

The town was smaller than he remembered; but the park, its acres of roses, now soft in slumber, was familiar.  Even sleeping, awaiting another season, the fragrance was intoxicating.  A quick turn before the gardens and he was once again looking at the abandoned building that was, for a short time his home.  The windows were boarded up, no glass remaining.  Soon it would be day.  Marcus easily removed the wooden planks, stepping inside.  The stairs were soft, the wood rotting.  He walked carefully to the basement.  It was dark, the air reeking of death.  Many animals had died here.  He ignored their bones.  Searching hands feeling the floor, he found it, the glass shard.  His sharp eyes saw the blood stain.  His.  He once again felt pain as the knife sliced through the flesh of his neck. 

He saw the terror in Gregor’s eyes, felt the hunger when he woke.  He sat hard upon the ground.

How long he sat unmoving he did not know, but day grew bright then turned again to night and still he did not move.

“They say it’s haunted.”  Youthful voices found their way to where Marcus sat.

“I’m not going in.”

“Someone did.  Look, the woods been taken off.  Come on guys, chicken shits.  I’m not scared.  Take the flashlights.  It’s not real big, we’ll be on our way home before you can sing the National Anthem.”  The boy laughed and was soon joined by the others.

Marcus heard their approach.  He stood, waiting.  There was no place to go.  

The youngest of the four boys dropped his flashlight, yelling for his friends.  

“Who are you?”  Their chosen leader asked, fear underlying the bravado of his voice.

“No one.  I”— he searched their faces—“am a traveler.  I have no money and no place to stay.  It is cold.  This place offered as much shelter as I could find.  I did not mean to frighten you.”

“We’re not afraid.”  His voice shook, but he did not back away.  The four flashlight beams pierced Marcus’ eyes.  He turned his head.  “The girl, the one who left here, how did she do?”

“If you’re a traveler, how do you know about her?”

“How is she?” Marcus ignored the question.  “She made it home, has a good life?”

Finally the older boy answered.  “Yeah.  Clara made it to town.  Told everyone about this place, about the guy who took her, about the guy who saved her.  The police came here, did everything they could to find them.” 

“Figured the one who took her was the one who killed all those people.”  The youngest boy picked up his flashlight, continuing the tale. “They never found out anything about the guy who helped her. Why do you want to know?”

“I am glad.” He turned his back to them.  “It was worth it.  I’ll leave now.”

 “Your him.”  The oldest boy’s voice hushed.  “The guy that saved her.”

Marcus did not at first answer.  “I am.  Let her know that I am free.  Perhaps she will care.”

“Clara will care a lot.”  The youngest of the four bounced on the balls of his feet, voice rising. “She’s the Librarian.  Talks about him, you, all the time.”  

Marcus stepped between them, wondering what they would do.

“Jeez, your cold.”  It was the youngest. “Tom your place is closest, why don’t you give him your coat.  You won’t be out in the cold as long as the rest of us.”

The coat was thrown over Marcus’ shoulder.  He turned to face the boys, handing it back.

“Thank you.  That is kind, but if I remember my father, I believe going home without my coat would have made him angry.  I would guess coming here and talking to a stranger would not have sat well with him either.  Don’t get in trouble for me.  Do not stay here in the dark.  It is dangerous.”

He stepped aside, letting them pass.  They were moving fast and Marcus watched until they entered the town, the streetlights making them safe.

There was another place to go.  He held onto the memory of the name.  The pain pills had lasted weeks.  Another mystery Gregor could not solve.  In some ways they lasted far beyond the actual medicine.  His ability to ignore the pain had left Gregor unwilling to inflict more.

Marcus had seen his frustration growing.  He did not want to be continually bested.  Gregor stopped, though not completely, and life had grown easier.

Marcus paused, he knew the man’s name but it took him a few minutes to remember the place.  It had been close to Canada, he remembered Gregor wondering if it was time to head to that country, but he didn’t like the cold and this was as far north as he intended to go.

Once again he lost himself in memory.  It had been a national park.  Gregor had laughed at the thought of eating a grizzly.  He remembered him saying the state had a face, but Marcus could not go to a library to look at the maps.

Slowly walking the empty streets of the dark town, he looked for a bookstore, any place that would have a map.  

He could not read the store’s name.  There were many travel cases, pictures of the world, neatly placed.  Surely there would be a map.  He circled behind the store.  He did not bother with alarms.  With his speed, he knew he would be out of the store before the police could arrive.  The lock was easily broken.  There was no alarm.  He paced between the shelves. The book had one word in bold letters.  The word meant nothing to him, but the cover was a map.  Grabbing it, he went to stand as close to the streetlights as his sensitive eyes allowed.  The first page was useless.  He flipped past it. Finally he saw what he was looking for.  There were many maps. 

Very few people were on the street this late.  Marcus knew who he was looking for.  Some were far too young.  She was what he needed.

Before he approached, she called out.  “Fifty bucks buys you an hour.”

“I do not have the money and I don’t want the hour.”

She looked ready to walk away, but he was the only one near and she was bored.  “You were coming over weren’t you?”

“Yes.  I need your help.  I can see that you are…cautious.  You should be.  There are many things to fear in the night, but I am not one of them.”  He held out the atlas.  “I cannot read and I need to find a place. I do not know where I am.  Will you help me?”

She looked him over, carefully inspecting the clothes that didn’t quite fit.  He knew he was not well washed, his hair long and poorly cut.  He stood quietly awaiting her decision.

“Come over.”  She waved him towards the light.  Ignoring the pain, he handed her the book.

“You’re here.  Now where do you want to go?”

He grinned and he could see her face soften.  “I know only that I need to get to a city in the state with a face.  It is a large city outside the”—he paused—“Ice Park, I think.”

“You think?”

He nodded.  “I was taken there.  It was not my choice.  I do not know how to go back, but there is a person I would like to see.”

“You’re going to Montana.”

 “Montana.” Slowly, he repeated it. “ It has a face?”

She reached for the map, quickly flipping through the pages.  “This is the state.”   She pointed out the profile.

“I see.”

“The park must be Glacier National Park.  On this side”—her long red nails pointed to the map—“is the forest. The biggest city near there should be one of these.  Bigger dots mean bigger cities.  Here, put it down for a minute.”

He did as he was told.  

Reaching into her purse, she pulled out the ruby red lipstick she wore, circling the place they were and where he wanted to go.”  When she finished, she smiled.  It was kind.  “I don’t know who you’re looking for but I hope you find her.”

He turned away, clutching his map.

“Wait.”

Once again she reached out for the map.  “See this highway, it’s I ninety and goes north.  I have a feeling you’re walking.  Go that way till you see the highway.  Take it and just keep walking.  It will at least get you into Montana.”

 “I have met many kind people on my journey.”  Marcus tried to smile.

 “I would guess you have met many not so kind.”

He nodded. “They are not who I am looking for.”

Chapter 7

Marcus remembered the face in the mirror, the one that once smiled at ….  She had told him he was good looking.  He remembered there had been a boy’s face, the one his mother had kissed, telling him he looked like his father.  The face in the mirror was a monster. 

Night had not yet fallen when Marcus woke.  The man was growling, shaking his shoulder, yelling for him to get out of his home.

“I am sorry.”  Marcus grabbed the wrist, careful not to hurt him.  “There was no one here.  I will leave when darkness falls.”

Spit dribbled off Marcus’ cheek.  He chose to ignore it, but there must have been something in his eyes, for the stranger backed out of the box.  “Keep it.  There are plenty of boxes.”

It was still too early to leave.  Marcus knew he would have to find another home.  He wished once again, as he so often did, that he had not woken.  The dreams were so much more pleasant than the real world.  The nightmare he lived.  

Dead blood did not satisfy and Marcus wandered the streets wondering what he could find.  The funeral parlor was busy.  There were too many people, so loud with their tears.  He could not enter.  Circling behind, he saw lights were on in the embalming room.  Two men were carefully preparing the embalming fluid.  Soon the blood would be pumped out, the fluid pumped in.  It would make an easier, if no less appetizing meal.  Waiting, he rushed in as soon as they left. He drank too quickly.  He did not taste the embalming fluid until he drank it.

“What will it do?”  He asked no one.  He felt strange.  His head felt like a balloon barely tethered to his neck.  

Ξ


      Uncle Ab had been arguing. Marcus’ father repeatedly saying no.  

“Come on, I’d do it for you.”

A slow shake of his head and once again he said no.

“Look, it won’t be for long.  It’s only a few kegs.  They have to age and you have the dry basement.  Goddamn spring rains flooded mine again.”  He wrung his hands.  “I have a buyer.”

“A buyer?”

“Didn’t Kate tell you?”

“Kate didn’t say anything about your wine, barely had time to say good morning.  You know it’s canning time.  So tell me what this is about.”

“At the food festival.  I brought over some of my best bottles. Gave out samples.  This guy from Augusta was there.  He said he was representing an Italian restaurant, the Roma Restorante.  I looked it up, did my research, just like my big bother told me to.”

His big brother just shook his head.  “Don’t try to flatter me.”

“It’s true though.  I did my homework.  I know I’ve been sloppy before, but not this time.  The place is real, and it has a good Better Business Bureau rating, and this guy really does work there.  I went to see Miles.”

“You already went to see a lawyer?”

“Want to have all my ducks in a row if this pans out.  Miles said everything seems legit.   As soon as the wines age the buyer will purchase them.  If it goes over well, he’ll buy more.  How much depends on how popular it is and how much I can produce.  This could be big for me, hell, for the family.”

“Okay, I can buy that, but why the other kegs, the old stuff?”

He shrugged, large muscular shoulders rising above his thin aging neck.  “Can’t bring myself to get rid of my early attempts.  You know, like your wife’s first knitting.  She keeps those scarves, the ones that start out six inches wide and end up almost a foot.  I thought you’d understand.”

“I do.”  He finally smiled.  “Well baby brother, I can’t say no to that.  Sounds great.  I really hope it works out for you.”

“For us.  I haven’t forgotten all the things you did for me, for all of us.  Family would have fallen apart when dad died if you hadn’t taken charge.  I wouldn’t have a job, at least not a good one, if you hadn’t sent me to college, took over the farm.  I make it, we all do.  Well maybe not Grey.”

“You ever gonna forgive him?”

“No.  I’m surprised you can.  Broke our mother’s heart and she always stood up for him.  She should have let him go to jail.  Maybe that would have given him some sense, respect.  You haven’t given him any more money, I hope? He just wastes it.”

“No, no more money.  I got him a job at the apartments.  He gets room and board for keeping the place up.”

“And if the tenants complain?”

“If they complain, Parker told me he’s out and he won’t get an argument from me.  This is the last thing I’m doing for him.  If he can’t keep this job, I figure he can’t keep any.  Hard to believe he’s our brother, he’s so different.”

 “I’ve been thinking that over a lot lately.”  Ab began circling his brother.  “Don’t say anything.  He’s the baby.  Dad, Ma was older. You remember how they didn’t discipline him, not like us anyway. He got away with things we never would have. I think you did more real teaching than our parents.  Then you moved out.  I think, well I guess they made him think he was the center of the world and he believed it.  Think how he must have felt when he found out he wasn’t, not only that but when he was compared to us.”

“Never wanted comparisons.”

“Me neither, but they happened anyway.  Well, like I was saying, he found out everyone thought he was a loser compared to us.  I heard one of his teachers say he wasn’t as smart as you, as athletic as me.  Wasn’t fair.  Made him bitter.”

“You could be right.  I know when I help him, at first he’s grateful, but later he’s just plain mad that I had too.”  Allen Rollins tucked his hands deep into his pockets.

“You know, Marcus does that too.”  He pointedly looked at his brother’s hands.

“Kate hates sewing the pockets back on. I think you’re right about Grey.  Wish I learned it a long time ago.  Maybe I can have a talk with him.”

Ab shook his head.  “Too late.  He’d just think you’re patronizing him.  Probably make it worse.  Let’s just see what happens with this new job and maybe, if he finds a woman like Kate, he just might make a life for himself. Good woman’s a big motivator.”

Standing outside the door, Marcus looked down to see his hands tucked into his pockets, the corners tearing.  He ran to Hatchet’s shortly after the kegs were put in the basement.

“Got six kegs of wine in the basement.  You ever have any?”

“No, but I got an uncle who drinks quite a lot of the stuff.  Always laughing, falling down, then puking.  Want to try it?”

“Not the puking, but yeah I don’t mind the falling down stuff.  Uncle’s got better stuff, wine he’s selling in the fancy kegs.  We can’t touch them.  How bout we sneak in after dad goes to bed.  It’s almost harvest time.  He goes to bed early.  I’ll be on the porch roof. Can you come about eight?”

“Sure.  Mom sleeps like the dead.  Used to scare me sometimes.  Can you get us in the basement?”

“Sure thing.  Dad never locks anything.”  Marcus grinned.  “I’ve always been a good boy.  Plan on being in bed sleeping before he gets up.  If we only have a little, he won’t even know.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Marcus checked on his sister as soon as his father began snoring.

Cathy was thankfully sleeping, so he didn’t have to bribe her.  He peeked into his parent’s bedroom where his mother sat up in bed reading.  Lost in the pages of good book, believing her children asleep, she wouldn’t hear a thing.  Still Marcus moved silently through the house.  Hatchet was right on time and Marcus, sitting on the porch roof, climbed down to meet him. 

The old wooden bulkhead creaked when it was opened.  The boys paused, but no one called down to them.

“Over there.”  Marcus pointed to two large oak kegs.  “Don’t touch those.”

 “They’re pretty.”  Hatchet ran his hand down the smooth oak, sniffing his palms.  “Even the keg smells good.”

Marcus returned with the two plastic glasses he’d nicked from the kitchen.  The spigot turned easily.

 “A toast.”  Hatchet laughed.  “To our upcoming adulthood.”

Marcus joined in the laughter.  They drank.

 “Let’s have another one.”

“Sure.”  It went down pretty smoothly and the boys decided they needed another, followed quickly by another.

It was his mother’s voice that woke them.  She was screaming his name.

 “Shit.”  Marcus looked at his friend’s eyes, blood shot and baggy.  “He felt his stomach churn.  His mouth tasted like he’d just eaten from the garbage pale.  “Do I look as bad as you?”

“I think you must look worse, least I hope so.  Oh God, it’s morning.”  Hatchet looked out the open basement door.  “Mom is gonna kill me.  She’s probably looking for me.  I gotta go.”

He ran out, stumbling and Marcus knew his parents had to have heard him.  He was about to leave the basement, when his father came to the door.

“Dad.”

“Don’t say a thing.  Your mom’s upstairs.  She’s frantic.  Mrs. Casey called. Hatchet’s missing.  Was that him running home?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Head hurt?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“You deserve it.”

“Yes Sir.”

 “Which one did you drink?”

He turned, taking his father over to the keg that was now laying on the floor.”

He heard his father’s sigh of relief.  “You know your Uncle has special plans for some of his wine.”

“Yes sir.  I knew which ones, I, we didn’t touch them.”

“I hope you don’t think that makes this alright.”

“No sir. Dad?”

“What.”  His tone was more patient than Marcus thought he deserved.

“We just wanted to try it.  We were only gonna have a couple of glasses.  I don’t…” 

Angry eyes looked his way, one eyebrow riding high on the man’s forehead.

“I guess I do understand.  We got carried away, drank too much.   I’m ashamed.”

 “Marcus.  There’s no sin in being curious.  We all make mistakes.  Lots of people drink wine, beer, all sorts of alcohol.  I expected you to try.  Just not like this.  You need to know.  Drinking too much can kill you.  You didn’t drink enough for that, but you could have.  It’s easy to forget how much you had.  Alcohol can poison you.  And if you’re out with friends and have to drive home you could have gotten yourself or someone else killed.”

“You said people who drink too much act stupid.”

“It’s not always stupid but it’s never smart or clever, like some think and it can be dangerous. When you’re drunk you have no filters.  Don’t ask.  I’ll explain.  It means things you know better than to do, or say, you find yourself doing.  On top of that you don’t do them well.  Then there’s saying things you know you shouldn’t.  Like calling your teacher a name. The next day, you’ve hurt a lot of people and your sick.  Not something to be proud of.  Some people call that having a good time.”

Marcus wiped the sweat off his forehead.  “I don’t think this is a good time.  Feel awful.”

“Just remember this next time you get offered a drink.  Maybe you can stop at one, some people really can’t and sometimes you just get caught up and drink more than you should.  I don’t know where you fall, so be careful.  Now for the worst part.  You’ve got to face your mother.  She was so scared.  You better find a way to make it up to her.”

“I’m sorry, I really am.”

“I know.  Just being a boy, but still scared your mom.”

“I thought you’d be more angry.”

“Can’t be angry with your being a normal boy.  Angry with myself for not giving you a drink, telling you what it could do to you before.  What I am though is disappointed.  Thought better of you, thought you’d come to me, not get your friend in trouble.”

Marcus had walked away feeling worse than if his father had yelled. 

Ξ

Head hurt.  He remembered this feeling.  It was so long ago.  Hatchet, he discovered later, had thrown up all over the floor.  Hatchet.  The name forced Marcus to stop walking so suddenly he fell forward.  

He couldn’t put a face to the name even though he knew he’d been important to him once, in the other life.  Where is he, does he, did he miss me, he wondered but there were no answers in the quiet night.

 “The fluid, not the blood,” he whispered to break the heavy silence.  “It has to be the fluid that’s making me feel like this. It’s worse than when we drank the,” he screwed up his face trying to remember what it was they drank.

In his lonely walks he’d seen people smoking, putting things into their arms and walking just the way he was walking now.  Once a dangerous looking man had tried to sell him something he called blow.  Said it would give him the best high he’d ever had.  If this is what he meant Marcus was glad he hadn’t tried it.  Walking into the woods, beyond the streetlights, he felt his stomach heave.  With an empty stomach there was only stabbing pains as his stomach clenched.  Sweat soaked his shirt.  A hammering pain pounded the back of his eyes.

“Never again.”  He whispered.  “Dad, I didn’t know.”

The night was young and Marcus decided this town was not a good fit, but he had no idea where to go.  He did not feel Gregor, had not heard anyone whispering of murders that could be his.

“Have I put too much distance between us?”  His head bowed.  “It is not time. Too soon, I will show you that I am still …alive is not what I am.”

Walking behind a large brick building, he avoided the windows even though the candlelight was soft.  It stunk.  On another day, he might have thought of food, felt hungry.  Today it only made his stomach hurt.  Large crates, reeking of decaying vegetables sat out back.  Some would not block out the sun.  Others were better built for his needs.  He carefully chose the one that upset his stomach the least.  He couldn’t stay here, so he carried the crate, staggering under its weight.  The park was too pretty, even with men lying on the benches, faces covered by newspapers.  Below the overpass, a number of boxes and crates had been lined up against the cement walls.  There was room for one more.

He was surprised to see a mother nursing her child.  Skin and bones, her breast was sunken and the baby sucked hard receiving very little for its efforts.  A different pain stabbed Marcus’ stomach.  He learned to never ask questions.  Questions were not well received; everyone was suspicious, weary of danger.  It was sad how often the preyed upon preyed upon each other.  But there were those you could trust.  The old lady, head wrapped in a heavy scarf was one.

Dark skin, mottled and grey, surrounded the dark blue eyes, eyes looking his way.  He could see her studying him.  

He turned, looking directly at her.  “I.”

“I don’t want to know you.”

“You won’t.  But I mean you no harm.  Just need a place to hide for a while.  I sleep in the day.  I ask only to be left alone.”

He was surprised when she rose, walking over to him.  “You young.”

“Not so much.”  He tried to smile, the corners of his mouth falling.  “I think you are younger than you would have me think.  Time has not been a friend to you.  Many people have proved to be no friend of mine.  But there have been a few.  I would like to add your face to those I remember kindly.”

Weathered lips, cracked and dry, smiled, showing a mouth with discolored gums holding no teeth.  “Not so nice to look at.”

“I don’t care what you look like beyond the look in your eyes and they are kind.”

She cackled.  “Been a long time since I heard anyone say something that nice.  I can tell that you mean it.  I don’t think you flirt too often.”

“Don’t flirt at all, least not as far back as I remember.”

“Well I bet you did once.  Better looking than me, at least you could be if you weren’t so pale, so hungry.  I have some food.”

“No please.  I really cannot eat.”  He returned a straight-lipped grin, knowing that at least this time he had a good excuse.  “Drank too much.”

“Is that your demon?”

“No my demon has two legs and a very bad temper.  The drink was a mistake. Thirsty and stupid.”

“Tired too.  You get some sleep.  I’ll tell the others to leave you alone, let you sleep the day away if that’s what you want.   Hal ain’t gonna need the space no more.  The dead sleep somewhere else.  Don’t know it’s a better one.  Don’t want to find out too soon either.  Good night.”  She looked at the writing on the crate, smiling. “String Beans.  Fits.”

Her laughter slowly faded away.  Marcus curled into a ball.  He was always surprised to find the generosity of those in need.  So often a blanket had been shared, the only blanket.  Food was offered, a kind hand helping him stand when he was too exhausted to stand on his own.  

He did not see the dawn.  The ragged people passing his home were warned to leave him alone and the laws of the homeless made them agree.  

He saw the hand, searching, coming close to where he lay.  Quickly he grabbed it careful not to break it.

“I have nothing for you.”  It was a hiss.

The voice, thick with saliva, had an accent Marcus was not familiar with.  “No money, watch anything I could sell for my family.”

Anger rose up and Marcus, pulled the man inside, grey eyes stormy.  “Don’t lie.  You have no family.  I can smell what you spend money on.  I do not have any.  Nothing you could sell.  Do not steal here.  You are not welcome.”

He could hear that a small crowd had gathered.  Crawling out of the crate, he dragged the man behind him.  Marcus hid his hateful eyes, knowing his anger had turned them black.  “Does he belong here?”

There was a long silence.  Finally the old lady responded.  “Battery comes and goes.  He has never stolen from here before.”

 “Don’t call me that.”  He squirmed trying to wiggle out of Marcus’ grasp.  

“From here?”  The tall man was so thin he could not stand straight.  His back was bowed; stomach caving in to create a void where it should have sat.  Between decaying teeth, he hissed.  “You have stolen from me.”  He turned to the old lady.  “I know it wasn’t right here.”  Pointing towards the street running beside their homes, his lips curled angrily.  “He knew who it belonged to.  You steal batteries, don’t use any other name, whatcha expect us to call ya.  Took the battery from my bike.  I needed it too.  Lost my ride, my job.”  He turned away but Marcus could hear him whisper.  “Once I had food.”  His voice trailed away as he stepped into the night.

Marcus saw his prisoner forming a reply and held more tightly to his arm.  Battery turned to face him and Marcus did not look away.  Black eyes, slowly reddening with blood vessels bursting, looked down.

“Don’t hurt me.”

Marcus swallowed, forcing his anger back. 

Fighting to control the growing hunger, his hands began to shake.  Finally, he turned to face those surrounding him.  They were angry and Marcus was glad to see they were not angry with him.  He pushed the man forward.  

Looking beyond the overpass, to the dark, Marcus felt his legs begin to buckle.  “I must find food.  There is nothing inside.”  He pointed to the crate.

Shading his eyes, he turned to the city lights.  He heard the old lady, addressing those gathered around.  “String Bean came last night.  He had nothing with him. Battery you are not welcome here.”  

“You’re hungry.  I got some food,” someone called out.  

“Her first.”  The crone cackled.  “She has a child.”

Marcus could no longer hear them as he moved quickly towards the funeral home.  “I will be careful tonight,” he told the stars.  

The home was dark.  He could see that it was empty.  Aimlessly he began to walk the streets.  Surely he would find a hospital.  The blood bank was always well supplied.

The fight caught his attention.  From the mouth of the bar, three men stumbled out.  The smallest was the angriest.  His drunken punches landed awkwardly.  After a few minutes, another man came striding over.  He was angry and sober. 

 “Insult my country.” The words, softly spoken, cut through their drunkenness.

“Joey, we didn’t mean anything.  Stupid talk, that’s all.”  He turned, but was spun around.  One well placed punch and his nose broke, spilling blood.

“I will take him.”  Marcus stepped out from the dark.

 “What da fuck.”  The three men stepped towards him, but Marcus easily pushed them aside, the wounded man falling into his arms.  Marcus carried him away from the others, lapping up the blood.  Knowing he would remember very little of what happened, drunks seldom did, Marcus knew he was safe. 

A few streets away he waited.  There were sirens.  His friend must have been found.  Marcus followed. The hospital was arranged much like the others he’d visited.  Tonight he would find the best path to take.  Tomorrow it would provide dinner. 

The underpass stood before him smelling strongly of piss.  Someone had relieved himself just outside where the others slept.  Marcus was glad to see his crate still standing.  

“Thought it wouldn’t be here, eh String Bean?”

 “I would not have been surprised.”

“They”—she waved her hand at the other crates and boxes—“all right.  We almost got us a neighborhood here.”

“The woman with child, what brought her here.”

“I would guess it’s the same kind of thing that’s got you running.”  She looked away, staring at the debris floating on the breeze.  Her grey hair hung in the wind, not moving.  “Lots of us here like that.  I am sorry for she with the baby.  For you too.”

“I would like to help”—he nodded towards the child—“but I have nothing.  I cannot even stay.  My demon will find me if I stay too long.  You do not want to meet him.”  He smiled, his sadness nearly breaking the old woman’s heart.  “What can I call you?”

“Once I was Frieda.  And you?” 

“I like String Bean, but a long time ago I was Marcus.  You should forget the name.”

He turned suddenly, sniffing at the still air.  “He is coming.  Give the crate to Battery.”

He ran.

Hiding in the shadows, Marcus listened to the words around him.  The city was afraid.  Two murders in one night and now a young man was missing.  Marcus knew it was time to be seen.  He felt his fear growing.  He could not ignore it, but he would not let it control him.  There was a chance, busy with his new toy; Gregor would not hear him approach.  

The house had been empty for years.  It had been made a toilet long ago.  Gregor would not have chosen it, but dawn was coming and he could go no further.

Marcus, watching, could tell by his expectant expression that he was eagerly awaiting the wakening.

 Gregor listened; the sound of stirring came with his slower breathing.  Then he heard another’s.

“I am still here.”  Marcus growled.

Gregor looked into the dark, but could not see where it was he spoke from.

“It was a mistake, this gift”—Marcus snorted—“you gave me.”  

Gregor heard the screeching wood, but was not prepared.  The wall collapsed.

“The sun will be up soon.”  Marcus’ laugh was cruel.  

“You will also die.”

“Did you not know that that is what I desire, as long as you go first?”

Gregor jumped to his feet, but Marcus moved too quickly to be caught.  The sky began to change, grey to rose.  The rose would soon become blue and it would be too late.

All those living on the outskirts of the town heard the cry.  Gregor ran, looking for shelter, hoping Marcus would watch the sunrise, skin burning in its light.

“Come,” Marcus shook the teen awake.  “You should go home.”

“Where’s…”

“He ran off.”

“Come with me.  They should…”

“I can’t go.  I do not need thanks.  Go home.  Live well.”

Marcus, leaving the house behind, ran as far as the brightening sky allowed.  The shed was locked.  He didn’t slow.  The wood shattered and Marcus, knowing it was foolish, held his breath, hoping no one would come to investigate. Backed into the corner, far from the only window, he lowered himself to the floor. Behind the door he heard the chaos of the sky as the storm approached bringing with it an evil wind.  The pelting rain beat upon the tin roof and Marcus found the sound pleasingly familiar.

 “Why do I know this sound?”  The rain would not answer.  In his head he heard a voice that had once been familiar.  

 “Reports called it the New England Hurricane.  Hit Rhode Island already.  They said it was pretty bad there.  We’re only getting some of the wind and rain.”

 “Is that my father’s voice?” Marcus shook his head impatiently.  “It does not matter.  It would seem I had once heard winds like this.  I wonder, was I afraid then?  I am not now.  Gregor”—once again he spoke to the image he carried—“I am afraid of only you.  You do not know this.”  His voice became a growl.  “You never will.” 

When the sky grew dark, he stepped into the shadows.  The house was quiet.  No one came to investigate the broken door, no lights shone through the curtains.  

Not knowing where to go, he walked towards the noise.  The highway would take him somewhere and that is where he decided to go.

Another city of lost souls grew before him.  Casinos stood between the bars and houses advertising the women dancing there.  Marcus looked for a place to hide. Finding no sanctuary, he walked into an alley, covering himself with the newspapers littering the streets.  Lying in the shadows, hands around his knees, he sat, not knowing if the shadows would linger.  Soon there were others.  Hiding in plain sight is what his father called it.

Ξ

His father had been watching the news, chewing on his bottom lip.  He had not seen his son enter the room.

Marcus stood silently at his side. 

“Marcus,” he jumped, bumping his knee painfully on the table’s edge.  “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry.  You were staring at the set.  What’s wrong?”  He looked at the blood gathering in the corners of his father’s mouth.  

“It’s just the news.”  Allen Rollins hastily sucked the blood from his lip.  “I’m frustrated.  A third boy had to die before the cops thought to check out the abandoned houses.  He was right there and they didn’t catch him.”

 “He was hiding.”

 “Not really.  I guess you could say he was hiding in plain sight.”

“You’d think they would have been looking everywhere.”

“Sometimes people overlook the obvious.  I’ve heard people say things like why would anyone hide there, it’s too easy.”

“It’s not easy if no one bothers to look.”  Marcus had frowned.

“Exactly.  This time three kids got killed.  The third one most definitely shouldn’t have.”  He rose, shutting off the television.  “Let’s talk about something else.  News is too depressing.  How was school?”

 “Okay.  It’s kind of boring.”

“Surely not the classes ….”

Marcus felt the heat rise up his neck.  “Not those classes.  I don’t learn much in those classes.”

“Well—he drew out the word—“if your last report card is any indication of what you’re learning, I’d have to believe she’s in all your classes.”

Marcus hung his head, kicking at the floor.  “I hate school.  The city kids make fun of my clothes, my everything.”

 “Tell me the truth.  You’re too big to let that kind of talk bother you.  What makes you hate it so much?”

He shifted from foot to foot, hesitating, but his father, looking directly into his eyes, demanded an answer.

“It’s Cathy. I’ve seen her crying.  Being the poorest boy in school is tough but I’m good at sports and too big to pick on anymore, so they pretty much leave me alone.  But Cathy, well the girls are brutal.  They tease her all the time.  Make fun of her clothes, her hair, her everything.  A couple of the older boys said that poor means cheap.  They ganged up on her.  I took care of them.  Signed the note,” he couldn’t look his father in the eye.  “Signed your name. Didn’t want you to know I was fighting at school again, not after that thing with Bobby.”

“Marcus,” he interrupted, walking to his son’s side.  “Defending your sister is different.  Do you know those boys?”

Marcus nodded.  

“I’m going to school with you tomorrow.  The principal needs to hear about this.  You’ll have to tell him what happened.”

“Won’t help.  Least I don’t think it will.”

His father’s voice turned hard.  “Have to try.  If they don’t do anything about it, well…”  He turned away from his son, “I will.”

“We will.”  

Father turned to son.  “I don’t want you getting into trouble.”

“Sir,” he stood taller.  “She is my sister.  If there is something you must do, then we will do it together.”

“You still want a dog for your birthday?  Think you can take care of it?

“I’m turning fifteen.”  Marcus ignored the sudden change of subject, seeing the appreciation in his father’s eyes.  “I think I can take care of a dog.”

“Me too.  We’ll go pick it out together.  Getting a rescue.  They’re the ones that need your love.  I know you’ll love it.  Have a big heart, my boy.  Protect it and even if it hurts, don’t ever stop caring.”

“Yes Sir.” Marcus turned, heading to his room.

“Hey, you already too old to give your father a good night hug?”

He turned back, hugging his father tightly.  “Never be to old to give my father a good night hug.”

As he passed the window, he spoke to the harvest moon, its bright glow lighting up the night.  “Be busy soon.  Harvest time. Then a dog.”  He’d been grinning when he went to bed.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Marcus walked slowly. Gregor, he knew was not far behind, but speed would not help him.  Gregor had been less surprised by Marcus’ sudden appearance than he had hoped.  Still, seeing that Marcus was alive had set the boy free.

Gregor smelled him.  Suddenly running, Marcus used his speed over the pull of gravity, to run up the steep side of the old factory.  It was a trick, and Gregor, still living in his castle, had not thought of it.   The bricks were rough.  Pulling off his shirt, Marcus scraped his back along their rough sides.  “It is good,” he once again spoke to the night, “that I haven’t washed.”  

Skin and sweat was left behind and to creatures of the night the smell was strong.  To Gregor it was alluring.

Running down the building was far more difficult.  With much effort and many wounds, Marcus had learned to slowly circle the building getting ever lower.  When the ground was close, he jumped. Learning the landing had been painful and one of the many times he was glad he healed so quickly.  

He heard him.  As quiet as he thought he was, Gregor made a slithering sound that Marcus was all too familiar with.  Once again he ran.  

Knowing that Gregor must surely have arrived at his marking, he was glad to know he could not hear his rage, for rage there surely would have been.  “Now a shower.”  He wrinkled his nose. 

Marcus turned south, looking for a warmer place. He felt the cold, the pain and always the hunger.  He needed a place to rest, a place where the warmth meant a public rest room could be found.  

The picture, the boat, the hiker and the swimmer told him that a park was not far.  He was sure no one would be sitting on the shore in the darkness.

Walking out of the forest’s edge, Marcus saw that he was not alone.  The couple, wrapped in a blanket, sat close, arms encircling each other. 

Ξ

Sarah had been waiting.  Marcus meant to turn away but had found himself drawn to the tremulous smile she’d worn.  She had bitten her lower lip to hold back tears.

“I’ve missed you.”  She pulled him over, hand holding tight to his forearm.  

“You have been too busy to miss me.”  Marcus saw the boys, too many for him to track, walking beside her on the journey home.

“They’re not you.”  She put on her prettiest pout and he found himself stepping closer.  “I’ve been trying to forget you, forget that kiss.”

Marcus’ carefully raised one eyebrow.  “What kiss?” 

The slap was gentle, her blue eyes laughing.  “The one my father interrupted, or perhaps the kiss in the hall, that was more demanding and,” she smiled knowingly, “I’m sure you remember them.”

“Yes.  I am not dead yet.”

 “Soooo, are you saying you’ll remember them until the day you die?”

“I believe that is exactly what I’m saying.”  He pulled her to him, not caring that some of his classmates had stopped to watch, but Sarah pulled back.

“Not here.”  She looked over her shoulder, voice husky.  “I want to take your clothes off and I certainly can’t do that here.  Tonight, when it gets dark, meet me at the lake.  It’s not that cold yet.”

“I can take blankets.  It’s not harvest time.  I still have a little time to myself.”

“What am I going to do when it’s harvest time and you work late?”

“Perhaps we will head to school a little earlier than needed.”

“Tonight then, right after the sun goes down.”

“I’ll be watching the sun very carefully tonight.”  He’d watched the sun dive below the horizon.

Ξ

Intending to go only far enough forward to see if there was a place, other than the cold lake water, where he could wash, he was sorry when they turned to him. He was surprised to see it was an older couple sitting on the shore, holding hands. The faces turned to him showed little fear, but Marcus saw the man reach for something hidden beneath the blanket.

“I mean you no harm.”  He took a quick step back.  “I am looking for a place to clean.  I have been travelling a long time.”

 “Martha, don’t get up.”  He rose. 

 “I’m Zachary, this is my wife Martha.”  His narrowed eyes looked Marcus over, noting the worn clothes, the shoes that barely fit. “Looks like you really do need to clean up, need a hair cut and some new clothes too.”  He paused, eyes searching the forest’s edge.  “You alone?”

“Yes,” he heard his heart add, ‘I hope.’

For a moment no one spoke.

 “There are a few cabanas about a mile down the beach.  I don’t know if they’re open.  Please don’t break in.  Every year vandals cost our town quite of bit of our tax dollars.  If they’re open, there will be running water, flush toilets and paper towels.”

“I will not break the locks.”  Marcus smiled.

He left them sitting on the beach, a gentle voice soothing his wife.  Then the kiss and once again…

Ξ

Marcus remembered feeling Sarah’s small hand in his.  His hard with callouses, hers soft.  It had felt right.  In the half-light, Marcus had studied her face. The blue eyes, small upturned nose, soft pliant lips that looked ready for kissing.  Her delicate bones had been visible beneath creamy, unblemished skin.  Soft brown curls had ringed her face and Marcus didn’t know if he’d be able to wait. 

As they approached the lake they saw they were not alone.  The couple sat unmoving, arms around each other.  The woman’s soft dusty hair hung to her waist.  Her head lay on a muscular shoulder.

 “Maybe tomorrow.”  There was disappointment in Marcus’ voice.

“I don’t want to wait any longer.  Let’s go back to your barn.”

The man turned, looking at his son.  “The barn would not be very comfortable.  We sold the hay.”

For a moment Father looked at son, son looking at his father, then the two began to laugh.

“I’m not…” Sarah blushed, holding tighter to Marcus’ arm.

“Not sorry, I hope.” Kate looked at her son, “But as a mother, I have to tell you that you are both too young. I do understand.”  Her eyes smiled.  “Marcus, why don’t you introduce us.”

 “Sarah, this is my father, my mother.  Mom, Dad, this is Sarah. I had hoped to introduce her to you in another fashion.”

“I imagine you had.”  His mothers voice was jingling.  “Hello Sarah.  It’s nice to meet you.”

Finally Sarah smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you too.”

Answering the question, Marcus could not find a way to ask, Allen Rollins grinned.  “We weren’t looking for you.”  He pointed to the lake, the moonlight glowing golden on its quiet surface.  Clouds floated noiselessly, their shadows peaking around the trees.  “This is where I asked your mother to marry me.  We still come here when we have a chance.  Harvest times coming.  Busy then, not so, as I see you already realized, now.”

His voice turned serious.  “I think you should take Sarah home, her father will be worried.  Walk her to the door.  There is no need to hide how you feel.  Unless,” he turned to Sarah, “you feel differently.”

 “Mr. Rollins,” she stood on tippy toes, kissing Marcus’ red cheek.  “I am very proud to stand next to your son.  I don’t know if he told you that he thought we should wait, that he said he would wait for me.  I…I didn’t know then what I know now.”  Once again she turned to Marcus.  “I will wait.  We’d better go now or my father will call the police.”  She turned back.  “I am really glad to meet you.”

Marcus nodded to his parents.  “I’ll be home shortly.”

He grinned and Sarah gently slapped his arm. “No stops I promise.”

“A kiss good night would be nice.”

 “Allen Rollins, don’t embarrass your son.”

 “I’m not.” 

Marcus had heard their kiss as they walked back to town.

Ξ

“Did she wait?”  He spoke to the brightening sky.  “We were young, too young.  I hope she did not, though it would be nice to know that she had…at least for a while.  Now, it is only she, I cannot remember her name.” 

He walked quietly to the cabana, leaning heavily against the rough wood, eyes tightly closed.  He could not see her face.  He’d been looking into her eyes, at her face, the beauty of the lake, even the words they had spoken began to fade. 

 “What color are they?  What time of year?”  There was no reply.  “Who was at the waters edge?”

He shook his head, pushing the frustration away.  “I don’t have time.  Gregor will be searching.  He leaned closer to the cabana’s walls; no sounds came to his ears. 

The door was open. The water was warm, the paper towels plentiful.  “Better,” he whispered to the closed door.  “If I cannot smell myself, perhaps he will not find me.”

Night deepened and Marcus walked on.  The sky began to lighten.  Still Marcus walked.  Only when the grey of night began to sparkle with the pink of the coming dawn did he look for a place to rest.

He pushed the grate aside, climbing into the darkness of the sewer. “There are too many dark places.” 

He looked at the rats as they came to investigate the intruder.  “Food.”

He slept.

Even in the middle of the night, the city was bright.  Marcus, shielding his eyes as best he could, was unable to read what the garishly lit signs said.  He watched quietly from the darkest corner.  The doors kept swinging, the lights like that of a strobe, so many times did people enter or exit the building.  Always smiling, hope on the faces of those entering, misery etched into the faces of those leaving.  

He struggled to watch, forcing himself to remain still.  It would be so easy. 

It was the little girl, tugging on the man’s arm that caught his attention.

“Please, daddy.”  There were tears in her voice.  “Don’t go.  We don’t have the money.  Baby needs food.”  She looked at the dollars, balled up in his fist. “Dad, that’s all we have.”

“It’s all I have.”  He pulled away from where she’d been trying to take the money from his hands. 

 “It’s the only way I’m gonna get more.  Besides,” his voice grew dangerous.  “I earned it.”

She drew in the air loudly.  Pulling herself up as tall as she could be, she nearly looked him in the eye.

Marcus saw then that she was older than he first thought.  It was the lack of food that made her seem so small.

“That’s my money.  I earned it.  Give it back.”

The slap sent her to her knees, and Marcus found himself running to her side.

“I think you should give her the money.”  He heard her behind him, pushing herself away from where he stood.

 “I am…”

 “No, you’re not.  You are not fast or nearly strong enough.”  He reached out, grabbing the man’s wrist, catching the money as it fell.  He felt his eyes grow dark, his anger barely held in check.  The wrist snapped and suddenly he was ashamed.  “You’d better go inside.”

 Wrist free, he did not look back, did not check on his daughter, closing the casino door quickly behind him.

Marcus bit his lip, swallowing his hunger.  He turned, money held in his outstretched hand, eyes looking at he dirt.  He did not want to see the fear in hers.

“I am sorry.  Please take it.  I will not hurt you.”

It was obvious by her slow, cautious movements that she was afraid, but her need was stronger.  Money in hand, she ran.

When he could no longer see her, Marcus moved far from the lights, breathing deeply forcing his anger away.  He was hungry, desperately hungry.

 There was so much blood.  It would be so easy.  He fought with a desire that told him they did not deserve the lives they wasted.  He fell hard against the wall, sliding to the ground.  

Then she was there.

“Too much to drink?”

He did not look up.  “Too little.”

“You hungry?”

He snorted.  “Very, but you cannot help me.  Please, you are very much in danger.”

He heard her step back, but she did not run.  “I saw what you did for that girl.  You got a good heart hiding in there.  I’ll show you the way to the hospital.  There’s a homeless shelter there.  They’ll get you something to eat.”

 “Why are you helping me?”

“Because I’m a whore with no customers.  Goddamn casinos.  Johns come out so poor they can’t even afford an old whore like me and I am cheap.”

He followed.  “You should not…”

 “Please save the speech.  I’ve heard it too many times.  Even tried some of the things they told me would help.  I always end up back here cause those people who say they want to help don’t mean it.  I’m their favorite charity, only as long as they can brag about their good works.  Then I’m just another used up old whore on her way to being a bag lady.”

She saw him, a few steps behind her, recoil at the bright lights but did not comment.  “Go round the back, the shelters close to the morgue.  Ironic isn’t it.”

“What is ironic?”

A tear fell to the breast of the torn blouse she wore.  “Do my best.  It’s saying something, proving something by doing the opposite.  Like, I guess, saying I’ll feed you when I’m really taking the food away.”

“I see it is ironic to say you are helping people live when you are putting them so close to where they will die.”

“You must have been a quick study.

“Hated school.”

She laughed, a rich hearty sound and Marcus wished he could bury himself in its tone.

“I gotta leave you here.  Gotta find a way to make some money.”

“I have none to give.”

“Figured that.  Skinny, dressed in rags, too young to look so old.  Go on now.  I have to go before someone notices and tries once again to rescue my soul.”

Marcus watched her leave.  He tried to memorize her face but it kept slipping away.  Another kind stranger he was lucky to meet. Another lost soul.

He did not go to the shelter.  The morgue offered him what he needed and he quietly entered, following the scent of blood.  The young woman lay on her back, blue alabaster skin under the cold white sheet.

Marcus could hear the men in the other room complaining.  There were too few dead and he wondered why they did not think this was good.

Lying on her back, blood pooled in her ankles and buttocks.  Marcus turned her over, taking the scalpel.  Blood, partially coagulated would not flow.

Using an instrument, much like a spoon he was able to feed.  The mirror sat beside the door.  A quick glance as he passed brought about a sudden stabbing pain and Marcus stumbled onto the street. 

Soon the morning would come.  He needed shelter.  There seemed to be no place to go.  In the narrow alley between casinos the other homeless lay.  In the chill night air, they hid in boxes.  Some covered themselves in newspapers.  Now, as the day approached, they prowled the streets looking for food.

Marcus crawled into an empty box, hoping the cardboard would be thick enough. He wondered why.  

“To out live you, if only for an hour.”  He told the image of Gregor.  

“It’s been a while.” The invisible monster did not reply. “You know I am still here.  I let you see me.  The child,” he almost grinned, “she lost her bicycle.  You lost a meal.  It was worth the hurt.  Do you know where I am now?”

He was about to chuckle, when he saw the face he’d seen in the mirror.  His laughter died.

Ξ

It wasn’t new, but it had been the most beautiful thing Marcus had ever seen.  The bike had been carefully tended, dents hammered out, shiny black paint applied, red flames decorated the fenders.  He’d just turned eleven and had gotten it for his birthday.  There’d been pride in his father’s eyes as he watched his son cheering, dancing around the bike.  His sister had clapped, asking when she could get one.  It had to be pink.  She made sure they knew.

 “Dad, when can you teach me?”

“Right now.  We have to go the road.  It’ll hurt more if you fall but it’s easier to learn on than dirt.  You ready?”

Marcus heard him laugh as he grabbed the bike, running down the driveway.  

The directions were easy.  It was balancing the bike that proved difficult.  Two scraped knees and scratched palms later and Marcus was riding down the street.  The first attempt at a quick stop landed him on the grass, teeth biting down on his tongue.  But Marcus was determined and he was riding back to the house before his father could get to him.

“I’m fine dad.  Take more than that to stop a Rollins, right dad?”

“You got it.  Came over on the Mayflower.  Families fighters.”

“Am I doing it right?”

“Are you flying down the road all by yourself?

The grin was returned and Marcus braked more gently, coming to rest next to his father.

 “How’d you do it dad?  I know it costs a lot and we…”

 “Son,” he interrupted, pulling him into his arms.  “We’ll always have enough for you and Cathy.”

“Why?”

“God, not another why.  Don’t you ever get tired of asking why?”

His dimples grew.  “Don’t think so, so why?

“Because we love you.  Because you and Cathy are the culmination of all that came before.”

“What does that mean?”

His father laughed, a rich throaty laugh that never failed to make him smile.

“It means that,” he stopped speaking, fingers scratching his chin.  “I can’t define it exactly.  It’s like the peak of a mountain.  The base, the center, everything on the way up comes together in the peak.  The peak is what all that climbing was for.”

“I think that’s a big responsibility.  I’m not ready for all that.”

“You will be.  Now enough talk.  We’ve got to get you cleaned up for dinner.  Your mother will make a fuss over your cuts.”

“That’s because it’s her job, and she loves me.”

Allen Rollins barked out a laugh.  “When did you learn that?”

He remembered his reply.  “She told me the other day, when you told her she was being silly.   Mom said it was your job to teach us how to handle life’s cuts and bruises and her job to kiss them better, but I think it really makes her feel more better than me.”

A DARKNESS DESCENDING

CHAPTER 5

Marcus woke to the hunger.  The little light entering the room caused him a kind of pain he’d never known.  He was hungry, a hunger he’d seen in Gregor’s eyes and he knew he’d been changed in a way he could not understand.  The rat lay beside him almost drained, still Marcus lapped up what remained.  He wiped tears from his eyes.

         “I don’t know,” he spoke through tears, tears Gregor would never see, “if I can do this.  I did not know, only hoped.  Once again I have lost.”  His head fell into his hands.  They trembled and he pulled away unable to still them.  “This is a pain I do not understand.  I do not know how to…” he shook his head, long tawny hair swinging about his face.  He looked once again to the rat, wishing it had more blood to give.  His voice growled.  “Where are your kin?”

         “How long have I lain here?  I cannot tell.”  The rock that had been his pillow invited him to try. Picking it up, he closed his hand around it, squeezing.  He saw the rock, now sand spilling from between his fingers.  His shoulders squared, back grew rigid. “I will get stronger now.  I know what I must do.  Will he remember that I did this once before?  I have nothing else to offer.  I will have that last look at the sun, when he can no longer see the dark.” 

It rose.  

Marcus felt his neck, the wound had healed and he wondered how long he’d been out.  He could not tell. He looked at his hands, willing the trembling to stop.  They stilled. 

Breathing slowly, his tears dried and he easily wiped away their traces.  “I have been hungry before.” He replayed his victories. Watched Gregor’s growing hatred, his frustration and found himself smiling.  “You will not understand, you never have, but even as this…whatever it is you’ve made me, I will still beat you.”

It was coming. 

Ξ

“Don’t stare.”  His mother had held tightly to his hand.

He remembered turning quickly away.

“Marcus, I want you to look at him just like you look at everyone else.”

“But he…”

“Is a person.”

“He looks…”

“Different.”  She bent to look into his eyes.  “No matter how different he is on the outside, he’s the same as us on the inside.   That’s what I want you to see.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He shrugged.

“It was hard for him, growing up, I mean.  He has a special diet, can’t do things we take for granted.  He’s done the best he can.  It could have defined him, his disabilities.  He could have chosen to hate.  Instead he found a way to make the best of it.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I went to school with him. You know Marcus,” she squeezed his hand.  “Sometimes we blame things, things that happen to us, for our actions.

He looked at her, confusion in his eyes.  “Like blaming a broken leg for a reason not to walk.  You may not walk like everyone, but you can still walk. Our responses to what life throws at us are a choice.  A choice we make.”  

 She studied her son’s serious face.  “It’s kind of like when you ate the apple pie.”

Marcus hung his head.  “I didn’t share it.”

 “Yes and it was wrong.  You were hungry so you ate it.  You didn’t think about us.  Don’t look so upset.  It was a long time ago.  You learned to control yourself.  Not everyone does. This may be hard to understand, but I’ll do my best.”  They stopped walking and Marcus could not look away from his mother’s serious face.  He could tell that this was important to her.  “Not scratching an itch is a choice, a really hard one too.  When you have poison ivy, you have to ignore the itch even though it’s more natural to scratch.  It may seem automatic, but it’s still a choice. You need to understand.  No matter what happens to us, our response is a choice.  Do you understand?”

“Maybe.  Is it like, we’re studying world war two in history, when people chose to ignore what was happening, then later said there was nothing they could do about it?”

“That is exactly what I mean.  Sometimes, even if it hurts, you have to choose to do the right thing.  Like him, he ignored the teasing.  He didn’t let it make him bitter or mean.  He could have hated those kids, hated the world.  Instead he became the nicest person I know. ”

Marcus turned back, tugging on his mother. He smiled.  “Hi.”

“Hi back at you.” 

The smile transformed a face that had been born with unusual proportions, and Marcus had forgotten the differences.

Ξ

“I will find a way.  I don’t have to be a.. What am I saying, he turned to face the wall.  “I am a monster.”

“I see you are awake.”  It waited, but Marcus did not turn.  “I can see that you are finally angry.  Will you beg now?  You can still die.”  He growled.  “Why won’t you ask me how?  Surely you want to know.  You tried to die.”

Marcus turned.  The hands held behind his back began to bleed.  

“I am glad you saved me.” He looked down, “I do not want to die.”

Gregor tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come.

“I have begun.. I do not know the words.  The pain, I am used to it.  It is the only life I know.  I want to stay with you.”

Gregor backed away.  “You lie.”

“Have I ever lied to you?”

Rushing forward, it grabbed Marcus by the throat.  “You’ve hardly ever spoken to me.  I could send you into the sun, watch you burn.”

“Send me into the sun, if you wish.”

Grabbing the glass, covered with blood, he slashed Marcus’ wrist.  Marcus watched, ignoring the pain.  The wound healed. 

“Will I always heal like that?”

 “It is good to hear your voice.  I feared you lost it. Over time I will tell you what you can and cannot do.  I will explain the gift I have given to you.  For that you must talk to me.  No more silence.”

 “I will talk sometimes, but I have lost many words.”

 “You are hungry.  I will bring back food.  I do not trust you to hunt. Blood makes us strong.  I have lived a very long time.   The blood has made me stronger than you can imagine.”

Marcus looked at his wrists, “I do not have to imagine.”

 “Yes.  Of course you know.  The chains will hold you.  I will not feed you enough to break free.  Do not think I have done this to you only to lose you now.  Now you truly are my son.”

Marcus couldn’t help himself.  “Did you not tell me how you, the son, killed the Father?”

The slap sent him sprawling.  He did not look up.  He heard Gregor leave.  Alone, he angrily lapped the blood off his hands.  “He will not trust me if I taunt him.”  Still he grinned.  “It felt good, but it cannot happen again.”

Marcus did not ask where the blood came from. He fought, trying to refuse, but the hunger was stronger, the smell intoxicating. He drank.

It left him then, heading to where it slept.  Marcus had never seen the places it chose for itself. 

“I do not have to kill people.  Mr. Rat gave me meat.  It must now provide blood.  I am glad I cannot see what I have become.  My time is soon to end.” 

He looked at the dead animal.  “I did not feel for you before, why does it bother me now.”  He carefully hid the carcass.  “It must be that this hunger is unnatural.”

The dead animal brought others looking for meat.  It was not difficult to catch them.  There were so many and he was faster now.  “There will be other things to hunt when I am free.”

Marcus knew he must now be sleeping in the day, but day and night had meant nothing to him so there seemed to be no change.

Bored, he let his mind wander, remembering what he could, making plans, all ending in Gregor’s death.

It came to him, once again a bowl of blood in hand.

“This is for you.”

Marcus ignored the blood dripping from its chin. 

“Don’t you want to know where it came from?”

“Why should I ask?  It is yours to take, it does not matter who was sacrificed.”

Gregor lowered himself to the floor, sitting beside him.  His face wore a keen expression as he looked into Marcus’ eyes.  “Have you really changed so much?”

Marcus shrugged, moving closer.  “Why should it surprise you?  You, this life is the only one I know.  I am what you have made me.  I barely remember a before.”

“What is it you do remember?”

Marcus took a long time answering. There was so much he would like to say, so much he couldn’t.  “I remember pain, darkness where there had once been light.  I remember a farm where boys were used as slaves.  The …”

He looked at the dark walls trying to remember. “He told me to call him Master, took me to his bed.  I got away from him, the boys escaped and you rescued me.”

“I remember that too.”  Slowly his forefinger tapped his chin.  “Is that how it was, he took you?”

“Yes, no he took them all.  It was my turn, but I did not let him.  That is what I remember.” 

He hung his head.  “You came for me.”  He turned to look at Gregor, who was still examining his face.  

“Have you no interest in me now?”

“I have not been interested in you for a while.”  He reached out, running his hand down Marcus’ cheek.  “Do you have need?”

Marcus swallowed bile, forcing himself to keep the hatred from his eyes.  “I am… I no longer know what to say.” 

Gregor reached to him, pulling him close.  He spoke in a whisper.  “If it is something you want, I will not give it to you though I have waited a long time.  I filled my needs tonight.  Perhaps if you prove yourself to me, I will help you with yours.  It is almost dawn.  Time to sleep.”

Testing the chains, he made sure Marcus could not break them.  “I think tonight you can have a blanket.  It will be cold and we are already cold.”

Careful not to change too quickly, Marcus spent many hours not speaking.  He did not ask Gregor the questions he knew Gregor longed to answer, but he carefully listened when Gregor spoke.  When Gregor fed him, he made sure to touch his hand, stand closer than needed.  The signs were not unnoticed.

It was early; the sun had not fallen when Gregor entered the room.  Marcus, lying on the floor, heard him approach.  This was the test, the price he had to pay.  There was no choice.  Hands reached around him.  The touch was gentle.  Marcus turned, returning it.

Ξ

Time had passed too slowly, and Marcus had found it difficult to wait.  She was there; the face that had once turned to him was turned to an older boy.  Marcus felt anger rise within him.  He had known, but still he had hoped. 

Once again he found himself waiting.  As the bell rang, students heading to class, Marcus caught her arm, turning her to him.

 “I thought…”

“What did you think, that this is a true enduring love?  We aren’t even fifteen.  It’ll be years before you become a man.  I’m not throwing my youth away waiting for a boy, a poor boy.”

 “I am,” his voice hardened, “more of a man than he will ever be.”

He’d pulled her to him, pressed her against him.  The kiss was at first harsh, then it had softened and she’d leaned willingly against him.  Marcus stepped back, holding her away.  The longing that had once showed in his expressive grey eyes, faded and he’d turned away, walking quickly out the door. 

Ξ

 “It is time to eat, my pretty one.  I will return with food.  Tomorrow we will hunt.  I will teach you.”

Once again alone, Marcus struggled with the pain.  “I had to.  Father, Mother, I had to.  I am glad now I can no longer remember your faces.  What would I see in your eyes?  Will I ever forgive myself?”

He had no answer.

Gregor removed the chains; careful to stand where he could keep an eye on Marcus’ every move.  Marcus shook his arms.

 “Feel light.”

“Yes the chains were heavy.”  He looked out to where the suburbs surrounded the city.  “I have been hunting here long enough for many to be cautious.  The city is careful, but those around it feel immune.  It is always that way.”  Gregor’s smile was cruel.  “Always those that have just crawled from the gutter despise those still crawling.”

“They feel safe.”

 “Yes the disease is not where they are.  We will feed there.  It is a test.  Stay close.  You do not want me to chase you.”

 “I do not want to leave you.”

They heard her long before they could see her.  She sang, a joyous sound.  Marcus had to force his feet forward.  He was determined to escape, but knew he could not let her die for it.

 A Darkness Descending

Gregor reached out, grabbing the swing.  The young girl slammed onto the ground.  Leering above her, Gregor pulled her into his arms.  For a moment she could not scream.  

“Take her.  She will be easy.  Your first kill.”

 “I won’t.”  It was a whisper spoken through tightly clamped teeth.  She looked up to Marcus, blue eyes turning green.  There was trust in those eyes.

Gregor’s eyebrow rose, surprised.  “I will take her, but you will feed.  It is time.”

“I won’t.  She will not be my first.  There will never be a first.”

“Oh there will.  Will you beg for her?”  A look of upcoming victory crossed his face.

Snarling, Marcus’ voice grew louder.  “I will not have to.”

Stronger than Gregor believed he could be, Marcus squeezed Gregor’s wrists and he was forced to let her fall.

“Run.  I will return for you,”

“You will pay for this.”  Gregor began to chase her, but Marcus was able to push him away and she made it into the house.

There was the angel.

“Azazel.”  Gregor howled.

Light flooded the yard, snaking into the woods.  Gregor turned. Marcus saw the woman behind the light.  He didn’t stop to wonder.   Running into the light, ignoring the pain, he was free.

The blaring sirens were like knives to his ears but Marcus could not stop.  He ran towards the sound, to the smell of fresh blood.  

The road twisted and suddenly Marcus was there.  Once, when he was alive, the misery before him would have forced him to look away, but today, there was only blood and hunger.

The man stood by himself, staring at the wreckage of what was once his car.  The ambulance stood before him.  The medics were working on a child. Her arm lay cruelly twisted, its pose unnatural.  Two shrouds, again so small, lay to the side, where a weeping woman screamed her husband’s name.  He did not move.  Blood streamed down his cheeks, pooling in the road, mixing with the chill rain puddling by the roads edge. 

“Are you close?”  Marcus looked over his shoulder; afraid he would see Gregor there.  It was the angel, his fear of her, her light that sent him running.  The light Marcus ran to.  He was alone.  With no one watching, Marcus began to drink.  He felt his muscles strengthen, a surge of energy giving him speed he was not used to.  Once again he chose to run towards the lights.  He saw the medics shiver as he passed.

Lively Literati

On July 28th the Greenwich Hotel will host the Association of RI Authors Lively Literati. There will be two authors speaking, Christine Lajewski and Christopher Paniccia, followed by open mike. Come and enjoy these wonderful authors and join in the fun by sharing something of your own creations: a poem, a short story, or a segment of something you’ve written. The event runs from 6:30pm to 8:00pm The address is 162 Main Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818 phone 401-884-4200

I will be there, so please join me. The conversations are always interesting.

The Next Chapter of A Darkness Descending

( 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.


Chapter 4
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.”

“You do.”

 “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.  

 “Dad?”

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.”

“Go on.”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.

Ξ

     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.

Ξ

  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.  

Ξ

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.

“Who you?”

“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.”

NEW POST

THE NEXT SECTION OF A DARKNESS DESCENDING HAS BEEN ADDED TO THE ON-GOING POST.

( “Welcome to hell”) ends the last post. There are many visions of hell, I chose the one some of us are forced to live with. If we, even when it is not our own suffering, do not struggle against it, it will swallow us and vomit our own hatreds back into our lives. I hope you enjoy the next section.