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3. Faceless Odyssey

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Here’s the outcome of my ranting. Darius, who insists that I refer to her by her first name, read what I wrote, and she threw it back at me in disgust. The expression of absolute contempt on her face scared me, but it quickly faded. She sat down next to me and spoke in a calm tone.

“You’re writing for someone, don’t do that. It’s a waste of time, writing doesn’t have rules. Next time you write, put the pencil to paper and just let it flow. Don’t think about it, any of it. Your true words are locked away in your heart, give yourself the chance to find them. No matter how pointless it may seem, who cares, just write. There’s no such thing as bad writing.”

This is where the story really starts. Those words stayed with me my entire life, when in doubt, I’d repeat them to myself. Writing is freedom, pure, unrestrained, absolute – freedom. My philosophy on writing is that I don’t care. It’ll be honest, complete, no censorship. I’m writing to vent, it’s healthy, it’s necessary. So, let’s start with the bizarre happenings of today.

I was on my way to work when I heard noises that drew my attention, so, being a typical teenager, I went to investigate. A gang, I assumed, was hanging around in the alleyway, watching a spectacle occurring in the center. I watched until a gap shifted between the kids to reveal their victim, bruised and bloody. I assumed that the leader was the one in front, dealing the majority of the blows. I was going to go for help, but the abuse stopped. Everyone took a step back, the poor victim tried to rise. And they shot him. I watched the body stagger under the blows, then collapse. Blood stained the alley on all sides. I don’t know when I blacked out, but they turned to leave, and I ran. I kept going, knowing that they would come for me, until I reached work. Why I broke down, I don’t know.

I was witness to a murder. I could identify them, I’d seen most of them head on. And they’d seen me. The situation was dangerous, highly dangerous. There was a lot of risk involved here, I’d have to take my chances. That’s a lot of trust though, trust in myself; I’d have to take a moral stand. Society demands that I take a stand against opposition, they demand that I stand brave and tall and take the blows as they come. But humanity had me shaking, it had me by the shoulders and shook me to try and draw me back. And I was torn between the two; adult responsibility knocking at the door while childhood fear tried desperately to climb through the window.

I hid myself away, Pike’s presence was comforting. I cried, my body heaved with my sobs, everything shut down. And I heard them come, I heard their dull steps. And they left, they left when Syn told them. Syn was Pike’s girl, they worked well together. They were a bit scary at times, but very warm and amiable. They were freaks, but they were friendly freaks. They were respectful and calm, I don’t think I ever saw them upset or angry. They didn’t yell either. How they managed their relationship, I’m not sure, but they did a good job of it. The shop was composed of good kids, all of which had issues.

And there was always the story of Lyric. Lyric was the one that got away from us all. The story of Lyric was legend. It happened years ago, long before my time, when old Sketch first got the place. Sketch kind of fell into it, the owner trusted him immensely. I never knew his real name, I wonder if anybody did. But there was this girl that used to come in all the time, a freak, of course. She knew everybody in the shop by name and story, and she always talked to everyone before leaving. From time to time, she’d bring her “fella” with her, the shop was renamed after her. That comes later though. She had a long tattoo, it wound through most of her body, of a gorgeous black dragon. It was truly amazing, she managed to cover it up most of the time. The best part of it spanned her back, it was her trademark. She had quite a personality though, she truly did. She knew all the local gang leaders, though she was a member of none. She’d been shot, stabbed, beat up and nearly killed, yet she survived. She might’ve graduated from high school, she never made it to college though. And she never asked for help. Through her injuries, she never asked for help and refused the hospital. There were a few times when she had no choice, but still, she wouldn’t discuss it. She was invincible it seemed. But we all crack, we have to bend, or else we shatter. When she shattered, well, let’s just say…it was bad. Worse than bad, I thought the world would stop turning for this one. She was smart as hell and powerful, she was one of the most manipulative people that existed, but only when she wanted to be. Most of the time, she was cute and wholesome Lyric, love of the world. She was an inspiration. And to top it all off, her boy was one of those honor students. They were born enemies, yet, they pulled through. They were adorable together, it truly was a sight to see, or so the story goes. This was a bit before my time, of course. But we heard stories and have pictures. There were so many sides of the story, so many perceptions of her. But they all loved her, even her enemies. She was a legend.

Lyric’s been dead for years now. The story of her passing is burned into my mind. She was like a daughter to Sketch, he had done all of her work personally. According to him, she was never cold, always smiled and barely flinched from the pain. Her boy died before her, only by a few hours. Nobody expected that relationship to work, it wasn’t meant to. Yet, they managed, they made it work. They were hopelessly devoted to one another, absolutely in love. Nobody ever saw them fight, when they were together, they were unstoppable. Truly an inspiration. But he had a bad family, daddy was abusive, highly abusive. And the poor boy died from it. It was very tragic, but it happened. His brother came to tell her. They’d never met before, never laid eyes on one another, but they shared a common bedfellow that day – misery. They say you could hear her heart break as it screamed inside her chest, its’ echo thundering in her head. The child left her after a while and she went to Sketch. Only he knows what was said, and he never spoke of it. She talked to him for hours and set out from there, changed. She rounded up the crew and they set out with one purpose – vengeance. She’d snapped, or so I thought at first. That night she killed the father that had taken her beloved from her. She rights the wrongs committed against her. And she took her boy’s siblings, left them in good care. Then she turned the gun on herself. Whether she cried during any of this is debatable. The funny thing was that Lyric never owned a gun, never. The gun she used was never found, it disappeared. Rumor has it that it was a gorgeous pistol and it had the name “Sketch” etched down the barrel. Just a rumor, which are usually false. But how funny would that be, well, not funny in the humorous sense, but ironic. It’s like your father handing you the knife to kill yourself with, possibly even pushing the blade down himself. Sketch was heartbroken when she died, he renamed the shop for her. The Black Dragon was her home, she had no family, she went where the wind carried her. Lyric was always alone, she surfaced one day and lived her days one second at a time. Everything was decided on a whim. She was the wild horse that couldn’t be broken. Not even Despair could force her to trot. So she gave herself to Death, surrendering her soul to Purgatory, she was still free. The legend of Lyric carries on; there are pictures of her around the shop. Only the devoted few know the full story, some don’t know any of it. It depended on Sketch’s mood. He was the storyteller, the gatekeeper and the key-master, he blocked all the locks, held all the keys but the story lived on. Forever.

The story of Lyric is significant for various reasons, not only because it is tragic. She was free in both life and death. She was an inspiration, her legacy lived on with the shop, carrying through the employees. Lyric was 18 when she died, a political statistic. She forfeited her life for love; she could’ve moved past the pain and replaced her lost beloved, but instead she proved her devotion with the contract of blood. It was amazing; absolute proof of, “If love proves real”. That was tattooed on most of the shop’s employees somewhere. Raine had it across his knuckles on his right hand; Darius had it on the left. Both were shades of red and black, opposite of each other. Pike said he’d do it for me on my 17th birthday. It would finally unite me with the rest of the shop. Finally.

Jack understood how I felt; I explained the Lyric story to him. He listened quietly, absorbing everything in turn. He seldom gave advice, but when he did, it was great. He was deeply enlightened – I cherished him dearly. He was there to hold me when I shook, to help me when I cried. Why I cried to Pike instead of Jake, I’m not sure. I’ll explain it to Jack later, I’m sure he’ll understand. He’s like a brother to me.

Back to reality, even though I’d much rather sleep. They sent me home, Darius brought me there, we walked the way, it wasn’t long. I asked her if she was around when Lyric was. She stopped dead in her tracks. She looked at me blankly, searching for answers.

“Why do you ask?” There was a moment of darkness, a shift of shades in her eyes, I looked down at the ground. I shrugged my shoulders and told her I didn’t know, just curiosity. Jack was watching quietly. Darius kept moving eventually, her mind a bit distracted. We talked about menial topics to pass the time. Reaching home, she took me aside by the shoulder.

“Don’t go anywhere alone, someone will bring you to and from school and work. And be careful kid, they’ll be out for blood. Watch your back, trust no-one.”

I smiled and laughed softly, “Except you?”

She stared back at me, holding tighter to my shoulder. “No-one,” she whispered, “Especially me.”

On that note, she turned and left. I stood in shock for a few seconds before moving upstairs. My mind was a whirl of varied emotions and ideas, I wanted to hit a button and make it stop. But there was no button, nothing to stop the madness. I tended to my father, telling him nothing of the day’s events. He’s only worry for no reason – he had enough problems. He did some sort of work, I don’t know what type of work, being blind. We were very distant at times, then there were times we’d be close. Today I avoided his usual questions, replying with the usual, “fine” when it was anything but.

I laid on my bed, staring up at the ceiling in silence. It wasn’t really silence; there was music in the background, calming my mind, lulling my senses to a waking slumber. I felt torn between the dreaming and the waking. Sleep was nearly impossible, I tried at various points, all in vain. Jack went to sleep early, his conscience wasn’t weighed down like mine was. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it anymore. By about three in the morning, I couldn’t bear to think about it either. And by four, I slept, well, I might’ve.

Writing is my new past time, I have pencil and paper available at all times. I might not have any talent for it, but it’s healthy. It’s like emotional cleansing – it wipes everything out of your system until you’re stripped to the bone. All that remains is ash. A distant reminder of a forgotten memory. That’s all life is, a series of forgotten memories, playing through in reverse. I don’t really know what’s going on, I could almost swear that I’m sleeping. Maybe I am, if you get a chance, could you check for me? Please? If you only get one chance though, don’t waste it on me.

I woke up the next day calm. The weekend was here, that meant no school, just work. I loved the weekends. I went running out the door, kissing my father goodbye along the way, eager to face a new day. There was a guy leaning against the building casually, smoking contently to himself. He seemed to be waiting for something, but not in the overly excited sense. He got up when I started past.

“You’re Harvey, right?” His voice wasn’t soft, but it wasn’t rough either. I nodded apprehensively, he just stood there, watching. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.

“My name is Vincent.”

Vincent seemed lively enough, he had his darker features, but seemingly friendly. Darius’ words echoed in my mind, fighting for attention. I had shaken his hand by now, he seemed nice enough. Then again, you never can tell with freaks. He had a tattoo that snaked around his arm and hand, winding its’ way around. Something about his eyes was unsettling, they felt so…hollow. I didn’t know where he came from, I was slightly intrigued to follow. Common sense went on vacation and forgot the luggage.

Raine, Darius’ significant other, came out of nowhere like a rabid dog. He put himself between Vincent and myself, carefully pulling me away. A few threats were muttered in silent voices as Raine dragged me out. Vincent shrugged his shoulders and kind of sauntered off. I watched him go, avoiding Raine’s searching eyes. Raine, Mr. Drake, seemed a bit upset with me.

“Didn’t Darius warn you to be careful? It would be safer for you to ignore strangers. There’s a gang of cold-blooded killers out to get you. Are you paying attention? Harvey!” He was shaking me by the shoulders, I don’t know when I zoned out, but I was too preoccupied committing the knowledge of Vincent to memory. I hung my head down and apologized for being foolish. He was still upset, even after I apologized another half a dozen times before he conceded. Raine escorted me to work, reminding me to be more careful. I promised I would be.

Work was fun, as always. I love the Black Dragon; it’s like my home. I love the people, the atmosphere, the art. Above all, I loved the stories, everyone had a story. Pike and Syn had a story of sorts, nobody really knew it though. There were three or four other employees at the Dragon, I’ll get into them later. Raine hung around the shop a bit, checking around into things and keeping everything functional. After an hour or so, he left, but only after asking me once more to be careful. And again I promised. Things returned to how they were meant to be. Or as closely as possible.

The next few days were routine, I felt that someone was watching me. And sure enough, Vincent resurfaced. He dressed in black most of the time, helping him blend into the shadows. Only his piercing eyes gave truth to his presence. He would acknowledge me from time to time, sometimes he’d just stand mute. At first, I didn’t care, I just let it be. Over time, it started to bother me. I was constantly paranoid, so I asked Jack what to do. He was worried, he sent me to Pike.

Talking to Pike about Vincent was…bizarre. He sat motionless during the entire conversation, I could barely see him breathe. His response was calm and monotone, if you could call it a response. He got up and motioned for me to follow. I looked at him in confusion.

“Just follow me.”

And I did. Through winding roads and busy streets, I followed. He led me to an apartment building that seemed forgotten by the world. I went up a few flights of stairs, careful to keep up. We reached a black door with the words, “All Hope Abandon,” carved deep into its’ face. Pike knocked, the dull thud echoed through the desolate halls. A child opened the door, from his features I knew where we were. Sounds came from within the apartment, and the child made way for his mother. She looked disarmingly sedate. Pike left as I stood there in silence.

She looked me over carefully, checked the hallway, and ushered me in. The apartment was homey, all manner of bizarre artifacts covered the walls. I was left alone to my own devices while Darius went in search of her other. I heard the quiet hum of voices, and she was back as I continued to look around in awe. She seemed to creep up on me, slow, sinister…evil. I felt her hand on my shoulder as she urged me to sit. She remained standing, peering down at me. The leverage bothered me.

“What’s going on?” The words were planned, they rolled off her tongue as if she’d held them there for centuries. I shrugged off her question. She raised her eyebrows in a quizzical gesture. She’d begun pacing around.

“He’s dangerous, Harvey, please trust us. He’s out to clean up the mess. You know who I mean,” she concluded. I continued to shrug her off, I don’t know why. She grabbed hold of the arms of the chair, glaring at me as she threw a stack of pictures at me. They were of Vincent mostly, some were the two of us talking. The majority were of him engrossed in violent and highly illegal activities. I jumped up in disgust.

“Stalking is illegal in all 50 states you know, you’re beginning to scare me.”

Darius looked upset, genuinely sad. She sat down, confused, taken aback. She was whispering to herself. I sat down next to here, apologizing for being so ungrateful. She looked at me with sorrowful eyes.

“You’re like part of the family kid, we’re trying to protect you. Gangs are hard to handle, I know from exp…well, I just know. Trust us, we won’t let anything happen to you.”

I looked at her when she faltered. Darius seldom ever faltered in anything, especially speech. Being typically silent, she had plenty of time to arrange her words. I questioned how she knew what she knew about gangs. All she could do to reply was smile. Or rather, grin, that sinister grin, that secretive glance of evil malice. I knew the truth, so I let it pass.

Vincent had a reputation about him. Of all the street gangs whose history survived through the neighborhood, Vince was rivaled only by one other. The ancient god himself – Cicero. Cicero disappeared, but his actions preserved him in the world’s memory as the most heartless of gang leaders. Vincent was equally ruthless. And somehow, they got away with these things, they got away with murder. How, I’m not sure. They sure as hell didn’t have any witnesses. They were concerned because they’d stop at nothing until I was “neutralized;” I was a direct threat to their livelihood. Darius told me stories, horrific stories, things that Vincent had done without a qualm. I could only sit there, frozen.

I stayed there, absorbing everything, silent. Night seemed to settle in ages ago when Darius stopped. She got up, walking the tension off. She lit up a cigarette and let the smoke fade into nothingness, watching half-heartedly. I got up and stood next to her; she handed the pack to me. I opened it gingerly and lit up with her, handing the pack back. Darius glanced over.

“I thought you didn’t smoke.”

“You thought wrong.”

She grinned, “When’d you start?”

I coughed a few times, shaking them off simply, “Just now.”

Darius helped me get used to the awkwardness of the moment, and everything was fine. We stayed in that moment until she glanced at the time.

“I’ll take you home.”

And she did. We walked home, through the dark, searching. We were both watching for him, the demon himself. But we couldn’t find him, or rather, I couldn’t. Darius was a hard one to analyze. She never really let on everything that she knew, the important details were kept safely locked away, away from incriminating eyes. Her eyes were the safest place to hide your soul. Despite all else, I trusted her; I felt myself stop shaking, it’s just one of those things. She followed me to the door and refused to leave until a minute or two after it clicked closed behind me. I stayed on the other side and listened for the steps to move away. It felt like forever.

My father was already sleeping, I tucked his blankets in and went to my own room. A figure sat on my bed, patient, constant. My heart was racing as Vincent got up. He was smiling his typical broad grin, I couldn’t breathe. He approached where I was frozen and reached behind me to close the door. He stood barely a foot away from me.

“There, now we can have a nice little talk. You should’ve told me that your father’s blind, would’ve saved me quite a bit of trouble.”

He had his arm around the small of my back as he led me to sit in a chair. He looked around the room quietly before seating himself. He sat perfectly relaxed, calm…sinister.

“Awful nice little room you’ve got here, I let myself in and have been here for ages. You should have been home hours ago. Trouble at work?” He dared to smile, to grin that sinister little grin of his. But I was frozen. I was within mere feet of a notorious murderer.  Yet, I was still alive?

I remember hearing myself babble, “What do you want with me?” My voice was high and childish, but he didn’t laugh. He got up and sat down again – next to me. I could feel him breathe. He looked at the ground a while before speaking.

“You’ve heard some things about me, I’m sure. Probably terribly things. I’m sorry for what you’ve heard, but I won’t deny it. Most of it’s true. This is difficult for me to do. I’m a business man, you understand, right kid? I do what must be done in order to continue operating. You understand, right?”

I nodded. I don’t know why, but I did. He did seem genuinely upset. I don’t know what possessed me, but I hugged him. I don’t know what happened, but I felt I had to. And poor Vincent just sat there, lost, amazed – damned. The worst curse in human morality is conscience. That alone is what makes, or breaks, good people.

I felt something drop from him, his arm lowered to his side. He had a gun, I stared at it in silence. He’d meant to kill me, but then I threw him a curve. He looked genuinely amazed. I backed away from him, the silence was horrible. I needed Jack, but he’d long gone to sleep. The killer of killers just sat there, both of us at a loss for words. He turned to look at me.

“Are you insane? Are you mad? You’re supposed to be dead right now.”

“But I’m not.”

“Yet.” Something about his tone wasn’t right. He was like a child and I wasn’t afraid anymore. A simple touch had him on edge, just a touch. I started going through his pockets, he didn’t even try to stop me. Finding what I sought, I lit a cigarette, “borrowed” from him, lighter and everything, and sat smoking with him. After a few coughs he took it from me and smoked the rest himself.

‘These’ll kill you, don’t screw around kid.”

“If you don’t first?”

Again he paused. Where this burst of courage came from, I’m not sure. But I was ready for everything, anything that life could throw at me. In Hell, this fellow would be a god, but I had him faltering all over the place. He got up abruptly and paced the room, gun held loosely in his right hand. There was a silencer over the barrel, he did come with the intent to destroy. Yet, I lived. Every breath I took was a mockery of him, every moment more that I survived was a crime. How I survived, Heaven knows. And so, there we were.

He was pacing around aimlessly for a while. He was nervous, uptight, annoyed. I refused to bend to him. He stopped and glared at me.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Do you just not care if you live or die?”

“You can’t stop the inevitable. And how do you plan on getting away with it?”

“I’m the undertaker’s son.”

I still wasn’t scared, but I realized something then. The undertaker’s son, could you imagine? Growing up surrounded by death, loss, and misery. He was bred for black, he was born to wreck havoc. I felt bad for him, but not afraid. I stood toe to toe with him, but he refused to look back at me. I hugged him again, holding him close, trying to evoke some sort of response. He backed away eventually, looking at me in silence. And he moved to leave.

“Your life is yours, you’ve earned it.”

“How?”

He smiled, speaking, “By daring to embrace Death when no one else would.”

And he left. I was alone again. I felt my heart might explode, but I lived. I had gone up against the biggest of all tigers, yet I stood. The blood rushed through my veins and all I could do was stare at where he’d been. Should I tell Darius? She’d be…well, I don’t know how she’d react. She might be proud that I stood my ground, she might lecture me for not finding a way to call her. I don’t know, it’s just…bizarre. I decided to go to sleep and let it go. But some things can’t be let go of, especially if they don’t want to go. This was one of them.

I forgot about it for a while, but curiosity got the best of me. I went to the phonebook, decked myself in black, and left in search of a funeral parlor. It took a bit of time, but I found it.

The place was welcoming, dark, but there was a pleasant feel to it. A voice called to me from another room, I seated myself as I was told. And I waited. Steps approached, solid, even steps from a hidden room. I knew it was him without seeing him, this place seemed familiar. He stopped when he saw me, confused by my appearance, but he smiled nonetheless. I stood to meet him as he approached. And he dressed nicely, the suit threw me off, but it was still him.

“Business or pleasure?”

I smiled back at him, “Research.”

He stood there, looking me over, carefully noting every shadow or tint. Like I said, I was decked in black, bordering on freakish. I was thankful that my dear father was blind. The last few times he’d seen me, I could pass as normal. He as a tad thrown off by the change, but I didn’t let it bother me. Ironic how I was decked and he was in a nice suit.

I kind of smiled and went outside, he followed me out. I turned to see him standing there. I looked up at the sky – it was raining. My coat came down to my ankles, he’d get soaked standing there. He approached me, still smiling. I stood my ground.

“Why are you really here?” he questioned softly. I doubted that this was the same ruthless murderer that I had heard such horrible stories about. Reality’s tricky like that. The funny thing was that I didn’t have an answer; I forgot why I’d come, assuming that I’d ever truly known. And he knew it too, that I was clueless. All he did was stare down at me and smile. I went to step away from him; he took hold of my arm.

“If you ever get bored of living, let me know?”

“But that’s the point of living.”

He tilted his head, “What is?”

“Trying to get bored of it. But when each day is another chance to turn it all around, there’s a purpose to getting up each morning. The idea of getting bored is a challenge.”

And dear Vincent was silent. I left him standing there in the rain; I walked away, leaving nothing but the echo of our words in the moist air. The rain kept falling, despite any turn of events, it would continue until it saw fit to end. Rain’s interesting that way. It never rains when you want it to though. It’s usually a spur of the moment inconvenience, usually. But on this occasion, it was perfect.

My love-hate relationship with Vincent was highly eccentric, but only somewhat. He still presented a threat in my book, but I was careful. He didn’t scare me, hard as he tried. I’d usually smile or laugh. Vincent’s hard to understand and almost impossible to explain. I could destroy him just as easily as he could kill me. It was bizarre, but most things are. I walked away that day like something out of a movie, coat sweeping in the wind. He just stood there and let me go, watching. I knew his name, his job, his story. Perhaps I was slightly intrigued by the mystery of it all. Or maybe I was just excited about someone noticing me, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

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