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14. Haunted

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And the beat goes on.

Are we in too deep now to get out, to get away? Maybe, could be, possibly not. It’s never too late to run away. But we don’t run, we never run. Not ever. There’s a first time for everything, could be now. I sat and looked around me, bored of silence. I got up and wandered around blindly. I hear music in my head, repeating softly. I went in search of an instrument; finding a guitar, I plucked at it clumsily. I couldn’t play, but I needed sound. Darius crept out from a shadow, watching my stumbling. She moved quietly, smoothly. In a single moment she’d taken the guitar, placed it on her own lap, then set herself on mine. I loved her. I sang the song to her in a whisper and she played it softly back to me, humming to herself. This continued for quite some time.

There was a lot of significance here. Sitting, playing music quietly in the night in each other’s company may seem boring, but it was significant. We’d done this when we were young, all of us knew how to play various instruments; I was talented only when I had her to help me. Darius was talented in everything of course, she’s an artist. But this moment was important, these little things, time we stole for ourselves. The kids slept, dreaming their visions of peace and lullabies of happiness. We sat there, timeless; she replaced her hands with mine at some point. I loved her more than anybody could understand, she was my entire world. This moment was forever as we sat and kissed and listened to the soothing music. Nothing mattered for that moment. All else was ordinary; we were anything but. Normal love will never survive the winter, only extraordinary love can light the blazing sun to burn the sky.

I woke up with her curled in my arms, my sweet Darius. The guitar had been placed against a chair, a couple pictures lay next to me. I shuffled through them, recognizing Darius and myself. A little note was clipped to them in Syrius’ sketchy writing. It said something about love, devotion and peace; something about sleep was in there too.

I listened to her breathe; that was significant too. Many times in my life I would sit in silence and just listen to people as they slept, as air went in and out. With my fellows, with Darius and the children. Because that was the only way I could be sure that it was . . . real. If I could see other people breathing, I knew that they were alive. And if they were alive, so was I. That subtle involuntary act is what kept me sane as I saw that my life wasn’t fiction, I couldn’t just turn the page and start over. I wrote as she slept, nestled in my arms perfectly. She fit there as if she were made to be a part of me, as if she were tailored for me specifically. We’d been through hard times, this being a harsh one indeed, but it would work out. As I wrote, she started to shift and wake. I felt her eyes watching me, without blinking, just watching. She woke like a baby first, never mean or annoyed, always calm and peaceful. I kissed her forehead and finished my sentence.

“Still writing your silly stories?” she said to me in a childish voice, peering to see what I was writing. I smiled at her and she kissed me on the cheek and poked me in the stomach playfully. “I’m kidding you know, I love your writing.” I put the pencil down and just sat with her quietly, staring around in silence, just us.

“Let’s get the kids,” I whispered to her. She looked up at me in a sorrowful way, showing that she didn’t want our time to end. Soon everybody would wake up and we’d go to work and she’d be alone with the kids and Madison. It could’ve been worse. I kissed her and tickled her until she gave up, and I went to get the children myself.

My son woke up easily, a soft nudge and he’d be awake. Sometimes you could scream his name and wouldn’t hear you. We named him Dante but referred to him by Set, depending on the situation. I don’t know, we’re strange parents, what can I say? He woke up when I first nudged him and I helped him get clothes. I went over to my daughter’s bed and stared down at her, watching her sleep a few moments more. She tossed and turned and awake before I could touch her. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled at me.

“Good morning Daddy.”

Daddy. Father. Pop. As much as I heard the words, I could never get the shock of their sound out of my mind. Every time they were said, I felt like it was the first time I’d heard it. In the hospital, Darius had told me that I was a father now. I cried. I sat and cried until my body couldn’t function anymore. I woke up and she was watching me curiously, her eyes dry but laced with concern. She had asked me what was wrong. I started to speak . . . and then started crying again.

Father. I’m a father. Father of two. Husband, father. The thought of them looking up to me and needing me scared me. What if I failed? What if they got hurt? I cried and told all of this to Darius when we’d taken them home. She held me as my body ached and shook from the pain of it all. She just held me in silence as I cried like a child, like my children. Mine. Every day that passes I think I love her more, she never ceases to make me better. I’ll never forget that night, when she held me and rocked me until I was dry of tears. I swore to her that I’d never let them down, or her, ever. I’d never walk away. I’d never yell. And if I ever, ever raised a hand in anger, that she had every right to take them and leave me, I wouldn’t stop her. She just agreed to quiet me down until I was close to sleep.

“You’ll be a great father. Don’t worry about it anymore. Trust me.”

And that ended the debate. I trusted her with everything, my life, my pride, my soul. And she knew it. Never would I refuse her when she asked me to trust her. If she asked me to go to Hell with her and when questioned, “Why?” she only replied, “Trust me,” I’d find the fastest way to get there for her.

Anyways, back to the kids. I found clothes and sent them to get dressed, which they did well in a short amount of time. We let them pick their own colors and make a lot of their own decisions; we didn’t treat them like brain dead imbeciles like most parents. We recognized them as individuals and respected them learning for themselves, even if they were young. Our ideas were a bit radical for raising children, but it seemed to be working well. As they got older, we’d expose them to more and let them decide for themselves. We wouldn’t force our freakish ways onto them, but we were hopeful. With a little luck, they’d grow up all right.

They were dressed quickly and I helped them tidy up. Their features were dark, the two of them seemed intimidating in a sense. They had curious eyes that reflected all the world. They were a combination of Darius’ and my own darkest features. They each had jet black hair and dark eyes that may have shifted tints from time to time. They were always questioning, and not the stupid questions that most ignorant children ask. They asked important things that were deep and meaningful. And they reacted well to what was going on when we told them. They were great kids.

Anyway, to get back to the point. The kids and I went back where Darius was up and around, dressed for the day. I was feeling better today. Everything that had happened seemed to be in the past. Darius kissed me as I started passed, whispering in my ear.

“You’re taking the day off, all three of you.” She looked at me and moved past me a bit. “The commander called, he said to take a few days off and come back at the beginning of the new week.” She seemed glad to be keeping me from my job, I repressed frustration. I hated being locked out and sent away from my duty. It was almost as bad as running. I looked at her and it all melted away though. She hugged me tight and I held her, afraid to let go, and we were one for that moment. I agreed and let it slip. We sat and took care of the kids and ushered them off to school. Madison and Draven were waking up as I took the kids to school. Being I was always busy, I felt that it would be nice to take them myself.

The streets weren’t all that bad this morning, or maybe I just blocked it out. I had put up a mental wall between my job and my family. They were my life. I walked them to the school so that we could talk I could hear what they were learning about. We didn’t put them in religious classes because Darius and I opted to let them choose their own faith when the time came. No matter what they chose, we’d love them all the same. We reached the school in good time and I walked them to their class. I met the teacher that I’d heard about but never actually seen. She looked tired and worn-out. She eyed me suspiciously; I realized that I must still look a bit freakish to normal people. She spoke to me kindly nevertheless, praised my children highly to me, and I bid them farewell.

I walked back alone, sad to be without their company. I came across Syrius on the way though, he’d gone for a wander on his own. He was in a reflective mood I suppose, he didn’t say much to me. There wasn’t much to say. The feelings were understood without words. So we traveled back where the three we’d left were there, waiting. I don’t know what they were waiting for. They just were. Draven and Madison were in their own little corner, cuddled together, peaceful. Darius met me at the door with a kiss. Syrius found a place to sit as we stood and watched. The silence was earth-shattering. Nobody knew what to say, or cared to speak.

Madison was still a bit shaky, she was coming back to the world a bit more, but I doubted if she’d ever be the same. I’m not sure how much time off she had left, I asked her. She didn’t even look at me, she counted quietly to herself and told me that she still had a couple weeks. They’d given her a month or so. You can’t rush things like that, you know? I nodded and paced around for a bit. I looked at the guitar, left from the morning. It seemed cold. I grabbed it and played again, screwing up here and there. A look from Darius helped my fingers find the right places and music ensnared us. I remembered the times when we were younger were we’d just sit and listen and play music and do nothing else but laugh. And sure enough, Madison started singing along quietly. In a few minutes, we were all caught up in it and our youth returned.

It’s funny how we could just burst into little childish moments like that. Least, I think it is. We clung to those days when things were simpler, we weren’t obsessed with the past, but we liked to remember the good times. Assuming that there were “good” times. But anything is better than this, well, maybe. It could get worse, it usually does. We sat and played music and laughed for most of the day, time stolen once again. Madison came back to us and Draven was ecstatic. We were the old gang once again, protected from society and enforcers of peace and unity. Bonds like that never die, they just become dormant. We revived the past for a few hours, laughed over old tragedies and were whole.

“What do you suppose ever happened to Cicero?”

Silence.

Madison had asked an honest question in that childish tone that she’s got and we all snapped to attention. I turned to Darius.

“He was still there when I left, I think they locked him away for good.”

“No,” Syrius spoke up and we looked at him. He handed me a newspaper where certain areas were highlighted, I read it aloud.

“Lacking enough soldiers for military service, the United States has released prisoners from jail under the conditions that service will grant them freedom after the war. Only prisoners charged with minor offenses are open to this offer while the government may make exceptions. An example of such convicts being set free are,” I stopped. There was a long list of names, and in the middle of them all was a name that made my skin crawl and my eyes bleed. He was free in the world, again. Justice truly is blind, deaf, dumb, and stupid. He was out. And if he survived the war, he’d be out for good. This was not good.

After the trial, we’d talked to those two girls, we knew their names and addresses. We protected them with our lives, being as how they’d saved us from damnation. We were eternally grateful. But he was out now. They had locked him away, he would want vengeance. I jumped up and ran out the door. I heard steps behind me and saw that everyone had come. I was going to protest and insist that at least Madison should take it easy, but I knew that I wouldn’t win, so I didn’t bother fighting. We just moved as quickly as we could.

When we reached their doorway, we heard familiar voices talking and laughing. We knocked politely instead of making a scene, and they opened up. How they had avoided the draft, I’ll never know. One answered the door and smiled to see us, letting us in. The other was sitting, talking to a small boy that looked . . . like Cicero. I don’t remember the girls’ names; I feel guilty about it. The one who’d let us in led us over and we sat down and stared at the child. He had features that were exactly that of Cicero, but how? She smiled at us and stood next to the boy, watching our reaction.

“I’d like you to meet my son.” The newspaper was laid out on the table, the article open. She pointed to it. “Our son.” We understood then. It was Cicero’s son, his own flesh and blood. The boy was young, old enough to know a bit, older than my children by a bit. He was probably 8 or 9. He looked bright, a mirror image of his bastard father but yielding the compassion of his mother. She’d kept him hidden away from us for awhile, or maybe we just didn’t come around too often. Or maybe I didn’t come around too often. I watched the group’s expressions, some of them had known previously. I locked eyes with them. Darius knew, Syrius, maybe Draven. Madison wouldn’t have. It was a mind blow in itself. I just sat and stared at the boy, and he stared back at me in curious awe.

The boy took the cue to leave the room, quietly saying goodbye. The other girl left with him and we were alone with the mother. She sat and looked at us and apologized for not being more honest. She was forgiven, of course. She knew about Cicero as well. We offered to find them elsewhere to go, but she wouldn’t have it. She had pride, like we did. She was just stubborn. So it was decided that Syrius, Draven and Madison would stay with them, just in case. We refused to take a chance. The discussion was longer in reality, I just summarized the main points of what I remember. I was still in a bit of shock, but all was well. We sat and talked about some unrelated topics, then about the war, a little more on Cicero. And then we started toward the door. Darius and I would go home, we had to get the kids later. As we started down the hall to go down, we recognized the uniform of the enemy. Darius and I hid in a corner and watched the approaching shadow.

The figure walked in the military fashion, even steps echoing in the silence; the uniform was new and nicely pressed. This guy had a lot of nerve to be walking around here in the outfit of the other side. I waited till I could see his face to speak to him. Can you guess who it was? Of course, the son of a bitch himself – Cicero. He was smug as always and just shrugged his shoulders to see me. I was out of uniform myself.

“Long time no see.”

“What’re you doing around here?”

“Visiting old friends, if you don’t mind.”

I stepped out into his path, blocking him from moving on. When he tried to sidestep me, I was there, right in step with him. He just smiled and kept trying to move past.

“I think you’re lost. You’re on the wrong side of the fence and in the wrong neighborhood; wrong country maybe.”

He looked at me and laughed; blatantly laughed in my face. I could of killed him for what he’d done, but Darius stepped out and stood between us, her back to him. Her eyes pleaded with me, she took the fire from my soul. I still refused to let him pass. He just stood his ground and waited. We couldn’t stand there all day. He’d be arrested for betraying his country and get executed. I don’t think he cared, maybe that’s what he wanted. I asked him if he had a death wish, he only laughed harder.

The door opened then and the girl came out and watched us. Her eyes met his, and they stared a cold stare then. He tried to sidestep me, but again I was there. The girl locked eyes and set her jaw. She went inside and came back with the child next to her. He laughed.

“You think that’ll stop me?” He tried to force his way forward. We all glared at him. The girl looked back without a hint of emotion or compassion; whatever heart she’d had was destroyed long ago, only the child kept her human.

“It should, he’s your son.” She stared at him without blinking, the boy clung to her, afraid of the dark man a couple feet away. Cicero staggered, we saw him trip over his own two feet as he tried to step back. His eyes locked onto the boy, his own flesh and blood. He just stared in silence. He turned and left, muttering to himself. We waited till the echoes of his steps were gone and turned to face the girl. She was still there, staring. A stray tear rolled down her cheek which she tried to hide by turning away. She went back inside with the boy, leaving me with Darius.

A lot just happened. A lot. My mind was racing. I put my arm around Darius and we walked out of the building, to the street, away from the madness. All that mattered was getting to our kids, letting them know we loved them and cared about them. To just get away from it all for awhile. Cicero’s son, seeing Cicero again. I think he’s gone off the deep end. All that time being locked away to himself, no power, nobody to torment. He must’ve snapped. Wandering around in the uniform of the other side, he’ll get hung for treason. Somehow I doubt he cares though. Maybe he wants to die. Somewhere deep down, I started to feel bad for him and want to help him. But the memories of what he’d down surfaced. I held Darius closer, kissing her softly on the forehead. She just looked at me. She was the reason I couldn’t forgive. He had tried to take away all that had ever mattered to me, I couldn’t just look past it and feel bad. I couldn’t feel remorse for the idiot that tried to destroy my whole world. I loved Darius dearly and couldn’t live without her. So here I was, stuck in this petty little situation.

We walked to the school and picked up the children. We played things smooth for them, acted happy and normal. But the whole while my mind was racing, thoughts were scrambled and random. Cicero was free in the world, well, sort of. He was going go get himself killed if he wasn’t careful. I think that was the purpose though, how he could look himself in the mirror after he’d done all that he’d done? How could he repent for the lives he’d destroyed? Nobody cared about him, he could disappear if he wanted. The world would be better off. But that’s harsh terms. He probably had a purpose somehow, somewhere. He also probably had a tragic story as to why he was the way he was. I couldn’t afford to care, what was done was done.

The kids were innocent, young. They had Darius and myself to watch after them and protect them, always. Cicero’s son only had his mother, the wounded woman who’d kept him through hardship and misery. I knew his name, but it slipped my mind at the moment. I’d remember it later I imagine. I couldn’t begin to think what that child felt. To be born of such . . . pain.

His name was Doyle. It was Celtic for “dark foreigner”. Somehow that was suiting. I remembered that part of the discussion randomly, without realizing. I don’t know if he had a last name, or if it was told to me. I just remembered the name. Darius and myself played with the children and acted like nothing of import happened that day. She tended to them for the most part while I put the pieces together. I sat and wrote for a while as the pieces fit into place. I wrote because I had to, the only way to organize my thoughts was to put them on paper. When I was done, the paper was covered and the writing was in random patterns all over the sheet. I re-wrote it and my mind wound down. Later on that night, Madison showed up. She was a little frustrated and needed to vent, and Draven and Syrius weren’t helping. Darius and I sat and listened until she was mute. And we gave her comfort, well, maybe. I hope that our words were useful.

She stayed the night in the apartment, sleeping peacefully for the first time in awhile. She was coming back, calming down. She was sent home to remember what she was fighting for, or else, what’s the point? You can’t fight without purpose, that defeats will and necessity. She had to be reminded, as we all do from time to time, why her life was on the line. I risked my life for my children, for my wife, for their future. Madison had her own reasons. We helped her write a letter to her father before she slept, he was worried sick about her.

And Darius and I were alone again. We played with the children and sent them to sleep as usual, and we were alone. But we weren’t alone, we had each other. And that was worth more than anything else in the world, that bond. We sat and watched the sky darken, the colors shifting and turning with the day’s end, and we thought about what may happen tomorrow. Assuming that tomorrow ever comes. All of life is based on silly assumptions, and yet, we do nothing to change it. So it goes, goes it so. And here we are, watching an uncertain future come, powerless to stop the inevitable, and just waiting, watching. And breathing.

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