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6. Family Portrait

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Click.

Advance to the next frame. Focus…stay still. Click.

Seconds really.

Let me, if I may, write you a story. Not a very pretty one, but a story nonetheless. Not a real story, more of a stating of solid fact in chronological order as best as my mind can manage. That makes it a fairy tale, no, a novel? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just silly. Plain, simple, and silly. We’ll see. Where to start? Anywhere, nowhere, doesn’t matter. I don’t know where I’m going, so anyplace will do.

Mom and Dad got married a long time ago. There was Jack and there was me. There was, of course, family. Our legacy is a stretch of stories – we’re all writers. Most of us, sometimes. Somehow our history was saved through primary or secondary parties. It’s kind of bizarre, but most things are nowadays. Now, where was I, or was I still nowhere? Maybe.

So, I was born. Turns out that Mom and Dad were good, close friends with the Drakes, they’d all grown up in the same neighborhood. Vincent’s real mother and uncle had been close friends of my father’s, he was deeply grieved to have lost them. Mom wouldn’t let him launch a dangerous vendetta. He loved her and I too much to disagree. So they knew each other from the neighborhood. Made sense. I think they all had gang ties, hence the loyalty. Dad was a cop, he might still help them, though I’m not sure how. I don’t remember Mom much. Her brother, Uncle Declan, he’s still around.

Uncle Declan and Aunt Hope were beyond bizarre. They’d fight for no reason, then kiss and make up. Melissa was Dad’s sister, like I said, she was dead. He had another sister, missing in the world. Missing…probably on purpose. She chose to be gone. That’s a hell of a choice to make. Back to Uncle Declan – three misfit children. Deklyn was the bad seed; he cared for nothing. No girl would stay by his side; they all feared him too much. He was a dealer – that scared enough people. Rook was my age, proper, perfect. She was everything I hated because she is ignorant. Rook, short for Brooke perhaps, I never asked. A rook is a black bird resembling a crow or raven. Eccentric parents, what more can I say? And then there was Salem. He had his father’s wisdom, his mother’s smart-ass remarks, strength and stubbornness on both sides. I respected him greatly for keeping with expectations. I was his elder, we were cousins, though he felt like my best friend at times. Or my worst enemy.

Now, let me think. Something’s missing I’d imagine. I might know more about the Merrick family than my own. Scary huh? My family legacy is wide and varied, it spans in several directions due to gang involvement. So there’s the blood line and the loyalty line. Funny thing is, the loyalty line ended up as mostly cops. Isn’t that ironic? That’s another story you know, of Damien’s crew, of the Hopeless Martyrs. And this alley is part of it. The real unifying force is…you guess it? The Black Dragon, of course.

Everyone goes to the Dragon. Whether by chance, by fate, by direction or otherwise, we all end up at the Dragon one way or another. My folks were casual friends with the Drakes, close enough for the Drakes to be my godparents. Or maybe there was no better solution, you do silly things out of desperation. Really silly things. Human nature, perhaps. Maybe.

We’re all drawn to places for certain reasons, sometimes that reason is difficult to find. The shop was a sort of vortex, it drew us all in and, in turn, it would do with us as it will. Some were destroyed in the fray, some were given power. Some got both. Thanks to the shop, and the great family, we had endless amounts of stories to show for our pain. And no two freaks were alike. Could you imagine?

Allow me to demonstrate. My father was the street bad-ass, but he knew when to move on, he knew that to be taken seriously, he’d have to let go. Mom never was a full-blown freak, she as just an outcast. See, there’s levels and specifications that define our eccentricity A freak is a general term, it covers a broad range of bizarre folks. An outcast is that kid in the corner, content, but outside of the standard social borders nonetheless. All freaks are outside of society’s binding walls. But a true “freak” dresses the part. Dad was more of a Goth, he favored black above all else. Raine and Darius are freaks, on several levels. Uncle Declan was bordering on normal, he was like a closet Goth. He, like his sister, was an outcast. Him and Mom were friends with mostly freaks, though they themselves weren’t all that bad. Then, compare the shop kids – they were freaks. The Martyrs were Gothic misfits – they didn’t belong anywhere. And the personalities made them even more varied. It’s not as complicated as I make it sound. We were all individually eccentric and as such, could relate to each other on surprising levels. All of us had dysfunctional families because every family is screwed up. Perfect doesn’t exist; it’s a pleasant fiction that merely gets us through the day. To accept who and what you are is your only salvation. We were free, we had each other and ourselves. To be a freak is to be free of society, free of judgment. All that remains is yourself.

Most of us were artists. How the family survived, I’m not sure. We had all sorts of deals working in our favor. Some were cops, there were rules and limits. We protected one another, no favor was too much to ask. Our loyalty knew no bounds. When one suffered, we all suffered. I hear stories. They say that the streets were calm and safe when Mom died. Nobody would disrespect her passing with vulgar crime. I hear of loyalties that transcend mortal devotion, trust held despite all else. The loyalty alone, the stories…

All we have is stories. Forever. We’ll always carry them in our hearts and souls, the burden stays on our shoulders as we pass it on. It started with my mom’s tragedy. Since then, I’ve collected a few more injustices. I keep them, written or remembered, locked away for myself. Everyone knows the stories, the clans tell tales of the legendary. Raine and Darius are legend, some bet on how long it’ll last. Those that know better know not to bet on when, but how. Time stopped for them, and only for them. The true legends outlast mortal ends. But they had love. True, honest, pure – love. Devoid of borders or boundaries, they made their own rules, always. That makes greatness, their open idea about everything. They were dreamers, yet they were realists. My parents clung to reality; they weren’t much into the arts. The Drakes were that pair that overcame the odds, set their own standards and came out better for it.

Stories are easier to pass along than anything else. Because they might be true, but there’s room for fiction as well. There’s the possibility that it might not be real. Stories are edited, improved, usually honest but partially dishonest. This combination is what makes them worthwhile. There’s that delicate balance that tempts us, usually successfully. That’s why everything worthwhile is a story, and all great stories last forever. My family preserved ours, the Drakes covered their end of it, I’m here tying together the loose ends. They’re not a series of separate stories. They combine to form one tragic epic that spans generations. It records our suffering, our joy, failures and triumphs. It’s all one long continuous story that started, “once upon a time,” ago and will continue for half of forever.

That should explain my direct family and my godparents. I won’t waste time on those that are already gone, their stories have already been told. There are friends, loyal companions and trusted acquaintances; they all play important parts. The biggest group of such “connections’ was the Hopeless Martyrs circle. They were a gang of kids years back, one of the “leaders” was my father’s sister. Dad’s family was bizarre, I’ll get to that. The Martyrs were a big group, they came from the suburbs, only a handful made it here. There’s another important group to consider, there was so many, please, bear with me. I’ll find the point eventually, I just got a bit sidetracked. Sometimes it’s hard to organize one’s thoughts. Sometimes, it’s impossible.

Back to Dad for a moment. Dad’s family is highly dysfunctional – I never met them. When Dad was a cop, they were on good terms, but only briefly. They never approved of his dark ways, he was disowned early on. Dad’s got two younger sisters, Melissa and Andrea, I should use the past term – had. After graduation, Melissa started growing up, following her brother’s example. Again he was disowned and this time, he didn’t care. Melissa was grieved by his leaving, Andrea didn’t even remember; she’s locked out the pain successfully for years. Melissa ended up with a dark crowd, eventually appeasing her dark desires of death. She hung herself on her birthday. Nobody told my father, how he found out, I’m not sure. But he fixed it as best as he could, sending his sister off for counseling and eventual foster care She disappeared in the system. As most tend to.

Between the pain, the war, he madness, my father was considerably well-adjusted. There was another legend though – the James family. All the freaks know of them, all protect them with their lives. They are Aunt Hope’s relatives, the image of perfection with constant good intentions. They were infamous for harboring runaways, helping the wounded, or giving shelter to the wanted. Mrs. James was locked away ages ago, she snapped. Her husband was the better of the two. His son went out in the world, became a success, as he was meant to. His other daughter, the baby, stayed with him in the house, lest he be lonely. They symbolized salvation, there were no rules. Nobody was turned away at the door, nothing too extreme. All misfits welcome, day or night, rain or shine. They were truly an inspiration.

The really funny thing is the family tree; we’re all connected – by madness. We’re all together by tragic twists of fate – Vincent’s “father’ buried most of us. If you count all the players, it’d equal more than 50. You must be lost by now, I try to discuss the important few. You’ve got the names to match the roles, just in case. The important players are the kids at the shop, the Drakes, Vincent and Lyric. It’s kind of funny, not in the humorous sense; but ironic. I don’t know, maybe it’s me. We were all born and bred through pain and misery; grief was my babysitter, darkness – my closest friend. Yet, we all met different ends. Some fell to the temptation of suicide, some were murdered for their freedom. Some changed, matured, grew out of their freakish ways. And the rest of us? We were lifers.

It’s not really possible to “grow out” of something like that. It’s always there, lurking in the shadows, ready to destroy. I plan on accepting it. Acceptance is necessary to move on in life, I’d be wasting my time and effort if I didn’t embrace the truth. Truth is the key to freedom, it either binds us or sets us free. And I like my freedom.

Family is important. There are all kinds of families; there are relationships bound by things stronger than blood, we all have something. Correction – most of us. I have my legitimate father, I have true blood relatives. Then I have godparents. And the kids at the shop. I’m truly blessed. I take it for granted you know, how fortunate I am. I really am thankful. I wish I could do something for them in return. I can try. That’s all any of us can do – try. Effort alone is priceless; it’s just about as important as family.

I love them all dearly, I’d do anything for them and I’d never replace them. They were absolutely priceless, to me, they were the image of perfection. I figured that a few paragraphs dedicated solely to them is only fair, considering the huge role they play in my life. And it’s easy to get lost along the way, caught up in the shifts from dreaming to waking and back. That’s just the way it worked. Family’s trust, it’s loyalty and honor. It’s forgiveness, peace, understanding and acceptance. And of course, family is love. Free, unabridged, devotion and caring for your fellow man, woman or child. It’s a familiar kind of love, something that matures and is tolerated. Every once in a blue moon, that kind of love blesses strangers. Only very blue moons.

And so there I was. Standing in the infamous alley where legends were born and died. If you listened carefully, you could hear the screams. You could feel the tension, the blood long wasted, stained deep into the walls. It was everywhere and nowhere all at once. And apart from the ghoulish cries, the screams and howls, there was silence. Absolute silence. And it was silent because it was pure, you could feel the tears, lost to the sky. And the solitary shot, the ring that echoed endlessly, singing damnation and pride. I stood there, afraid of the demons, fearful of my mortal soul. And the words just died away with the phantoms.

They took careful hold of me, and we left. I was drowning in revelations on the brink of madness as I stood, teetering over oblivion. But I never fell. I might’ve faltered, but I never fell. The brink of madness. We walked quietly, nowhere in particular. Their parental feeling toward me made sense. They truly were something. Raine’s mind wandered, he forgot a lot. I don’t know if he chose to forget, or he just couldn’t help it. Darius told me that his writing would sometimes reduce a catastrophe to a mere whisper. It was his way of handling the pain. He tried, as best as he could. They brought me home with some new things to consider. I bade them both a good night; they smiled at me.

“Sleep? Why, it’s only tomorrow.” Darius’ voice was chilling; they spoke in riddles at times. I liked the pretty sound of it, though the actual phrases were bizarre. Then again, we were anything but normal, I’m afraid it runs in the family.

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