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29. Operating Blind

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A side note for the reader…it’s very hard to operate when you’re on a cloud. Just so you know, as a…just in case, for future reference. Thanks.

I wasn’t there too long when things got very bizarre very fast. I wouldn’t say interesting…but definitely something. I don’t know. The effects weren’t the same, and I can’t say if it’s because I was alone or that I’d done it myself. I don’t know. I remember vaguely hearing the door open and Serkis came in. It might have been Layne. And I remember being dragged out, laughing like a fiend the whole way. I remember parts and pieces of the sewers, our sanctuary.

And everything after that is black. Just pure, plain, comforting black. I just nodded off and went to sleep. There was nothing more to know. Or remember.

I woke up in a hospital. I looked around apprehensively. It was family policy to never, ever resort to a hospital unless something was extremely severe. Meaning – unless there was an issue. Unless there was the risk of death. Only then would we resort to risk, to exposure. Only then would steps be taken. And even then, it was debatable. Everything was debatable. There

was nothing but white, typical, insane asylum white. Nothing else. I turned in the bed and looked around, finding nothing to comfort me. I was alone in the room, light kept out by blinds closed carefully. I thought of people bustling around busily. I thought of doctors creeping in and out as I slept. And yet, I was alone.

The door opened quietly, a doctor came in and checked on the machines, scrawling a few random numbers on charts as he went. He didn’t say a word to me, walking out briskly. I couldn’t have asked him anything if I’d wanted to. I reclined back again, trying to focus my eyes on a specific part of the ceiling, trying to zone out. The door clicked open again and Serkis slid in, with Layne in careful tow. If the room hadn’t been so silent, and I hadn’t been so sedate, I never would have noticed. They crept in and sat down at my side. I looked over at them.

“What happened?” I whispered, my voice shaky. They looked at the ground before coming back up to me.

“You overdosed.”

“That’s…”

“Bull?” Serkis questioned, finishing my statement. I looked at her as sharply as I could. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t dispute this and they both knew it. I was here. They had all the proof they needed. Like I said, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t real.

“I still don’t get it.”

“You’re not supposed to.” Serkis got up, looked around quietly, and put a hand out to me. I sat up in bed. “You need to get out of here. And we’re taking you.”

“Why the rush?” I whispered. I found that I couldn’t get out of the bed – I couldn’t get up as simply as it seemed. I felt like I was frozen, moving in slow motion. Layne bent down and scooped me up.

“You stay here, they’ll send the shrink in. This’ a drug related case. You’re young and you have no history. You’re not the typical junkie. They’ll put you away.”

“What evidence do they have to put me away? I’m not sick.”

Serkis raised a brow. “You’re not?”

And not another word was said the entire way out. Layne carried me close to his chest, wrapped up in his coat, tight, like a child. Serkis led the way, giving anyone who raised objection such a look that made them second-guess their actions for the rest of the day. She just

had something to her that could scare the life out of people. I don’t know if it was an acquired

talent or she was just born that way. But it was definitely something to see.

I was brought back to the sewers, where Serkis lived. Where Layne lived. I wasn’t sure where the hell Grey stayed, but he was a big boy, they let him take care of himself. Layne would know where he lived. Between them, Layne and Serkis knew everything. I was laid down and bundled up, put to bed as soon as I got there. Nothing else was really said. I couldn’t defend my actions and they wouldn’t make up excuses for me. I screwed up. I’d risked exposure. The whole family had been put to the test. And what was I supposed to say? They put themselves at risk. They were the ones killing people. I wasn’t half as guilty as they were. Right? I found myself wanting as I tried to justify my thoughts.

No matter how hard I tried to sleep, I just couldn’t drift off. I was coming back, down off the chemicals, off what the hospital had me on to stabilize my system. I was just here, with them. One of them stayed with me at all times, not a word uttered for hours on end. By around midnight I had the both of them back, curled up in each other. They were dozing off, watching

me as they slipped into slumber. I wanted them to see my remorse, to understand how bad I felt about the whole ordeal. But they’d see my mistake. It was late when Serkis spoke to me.

“I’m sorry. For this. Cassidy’s been dealt with. I’m sorry we hid things from you. We were…we did what we thought was best for you.”

“Since when am I too small to make my own decisions? I’m an adult in the eyes of the world. I thought I was big and bad enough to make my own choices.”

“Yeah? Look at the good job you did.” Serkis’ words were abrupt. She didn’t mean it, I could tell by the sharp inhale at the end of her statement. But the words had slipped out nonetheless.

She was right. I had screwed up when left to my own devices, but what else was I supposed to be left with? I heaved a sigh. She looked at the ground.

“Try to sleep, please?”

And with that, I was gone. To sleep, that is. I don’t know whether it was because I was honestly tired, or because of the pleading tone of her voice, but one way or another, I went to sleep. I don’t know. Serkis has a strange power. I take it she had the shit kicked out of Cassidy for his…stupidity. But it wasn’t entirely their fault and they knew it. They were more annoyed

with me because it was diverting their attention from Pandora. And Requiem. How the hell…no. Sleep. I’ll sleep now and consider more…pertinent matters later.

I woke up in the same place, a clean change of clothes left at my side. Layne was sitting on a chair, practicing guitar quietly. He looked over at me as he played, as I stirred.

“Welcome back.”

“That’s what they say in all the movies.”

“Huh?”

“In hospitals. When people wake up from anything, they always say that.”

He thought about it for a while, strummed a few more chords, and laughed. “Yeah, I guess they do. What would you like me to say?”

I got up shakily, grabbing my clothes stubbornly. I looked around for somewhere to trudge off to so I could change. Layne was being little to no help. So I trudged around on my own to look. I found myself a corner out of eyesight. Layne, being a brat, decided to try and start a conversation as I did so.

“So, you feeling better?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

“Ouch, you don’t sound fine. You mad at Serkis?”

“Why would I be mad at Serkis?”

He strummed a little, thinking. “I don’t know. She was being kind of harsh. I’d be kind of annoyed with her if I were you. You know?”

“No, I don’t know. And I’m not you.”

He laughed again, playing fast or slow to match the mood or conversation speed. “Well, obviously not…but you know. Just making sure.”

“Why don’t you ask her?”

He laughed again. “Why don’t you ask the moon why it shines?”

“Excuse me?” I muttered, creeping out from my corner. He was smiling, the guitar resting across a knee. He looked around sheepishly and then back up at me.

“She tells me about as much as she tells you. The rest of it I have to read.”

“From?”

“Her silence.”

I sat down across from him, watching him stare into space. “I’m sorry.”

Layne looked up at me suddenly, as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Nothing to be sorry

for. You’d be surprised…all that you can learn from silence….everything spoken through being unspoken…I don’t know. It’s something.”

“Talent.”

He laughed at me and resumed his playing. “Nah, it’s just pure dumb luck.”

“So are you going to explain what happened with Requiem?”

He heaved a sigh, playing as he went, trying desperately to lose himself in the sound. He couldn’t even lose me. But he tried like hell, but it only got shaky, more fragmented, the harder he tried. He eventually gave up and let the instrument rest on his knee, the strings still shaking. He cocked his head to the side and looked me dead in the eye.

“We run a show here, right?” Layne asked. I nodded. He continued: “We are masters of the art of illusion. Deception. Requiem’s…disappearance was our most impressive of talents.”

“How?”

He grinned. “Now you know a magician never shares his secrets.”

“Layne, I’m sick of being beaten around the bush. I want the truth. The answers. No more lies. No more games.”

“We run a show, kid. You know that. You passed out last night in the center ring. But think about the past, what it is, to the roots. All it is…is us. Nothing more. We do and we try and when we die, either someone else will keep it alive or it’ll go with us. We can’t be sure now. But it’s just a trick of time. Everything’s a trick, everything’s a clever deception.”

“Then why?”

“A family’s only loyal to itself. Right? Cassidy wanted in from the outside. We had to put his…allegiance to the test. Serkis came up with the only true test of his devotion – to kill the one he loved. Or to believe her dead. In my mind, that always comes up backwards, but it makes perfect sense to her. So she went to him and explained all this, telling him to prepare a special

batch for the family. But they switched. Requiem never got hers. She got the same as everyone else. Ta-da.”

“How?”

He smiled. “The hand is quicker than the eye, always. And you’re working with some of the best illusionists in town.”

“So if they switched…who got the real stuff?”

“Serkis.”

“But she’s alive?”

“Of course she’s alive. She’s got tolerance like you wouldn’t believe.”

“How? She’s not a…”

“Junkie?” He smiled. “Are you so sure?”

And I wasn’t. I merely smiled stupidly, pretending that I knew this all along. He knew I was clueless, he knew I was sheltered. Just like he knew she was using. And he allowed it. No. He didn’t allow it. He couldn’t stop her. Nobody could. And at the pace she was moving, and the way she did it…do you think anyone would really want to?

“Why did she take that risk? Why didn’t she just…not do it? She went last, it’s not like anyone would have noticed.”

He laughed again. “As much of a cheat and a trickster that Serkis is sometimes, she’s still loyal to her word when it counts. You did it. Hence, she did it.”

“Because I did it, she risked her life?”

“You didn’t have to do it. You shouldn’t have. We wouldn’t be here now. You don’t get it, do you? You are a younger version of herself. She sees her own mistakes in you, but before they’ve taken hold. There’s still time to make the wrong things right. And she’s trying her damnedest to make it work. She does love you, and that’s something.”

“She loves you.”

He shook his head, seemingly frustrated in a calm way. “No. It’s different with you. She loves you as a child, as her daughter, as the image of what she could have been. She’s failing with you and it kills her that she has to watch. I knew you’d come into your own, you’d stumble into bad habits…it’s impossible to avoid in a family like this. But I’m more comfortable with giving you room because we’re right there to catch you, 24/7. And we’re always braced and ready for a fall.”

I could feel a tear sneak down my cheek. It scared me when he reached out to wipe it from my face. He kissed me on the cheek. “Come on now. You wanted the answers – you got them. You nearly died for them. What’s the point in crying now?” He had a wide smile on his

Face; the guitar had been leaned against the chair he’d been in. He’d crept over to me quietly.

“Come on. You have people who care about you – can’t you see that? Yeah, times are

tough and we’ve been through all manner of stuff, but we got things to look forward to. Requiem will keep Cassidy in check. And Pandora’s pregnant. And Vagrant will take charge – he’ll pick up where Doyle left off. All right? It’ll work out.”

“I don’t understand something though, about Requiem….and Vagrant?”

Layne backed down – he was kneeling in front of me, a hand on my knee to steady himself. “You mean, how is it that Requiem Draft became Requiem Ransom?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, a long time ago, there was these two people and they had a baby girl and they named her Requiem…” he was talking all types of slow and foolishly. I went to take a swing at him and he laughed. “Come on, lighten up. Ha, the girl smiles after all.” I couldn’t help laughing – he was being weird in a time of severity. I needed him to stop smiling, to try and understand. And here he was being weird.

“Come on, Layne, the real story, please? You can be a weirdo later.”

“Weirdo?” He dropped down onto the floor, sitting Indian-style. “I might be offended.”

“Aw, come on, don’t be such a jerk.”

“A jerk too? Don’t you know when to quit? Kickin’ a guy when he’s down, I see how it is. You little beast…” He was pretending to pout and be real upset, I kicked him softly in his knee to get his attention. When he had enough of my kicking, he leapt off the floor and dragged me to the ground, tickling me like a fiend. I laughed until it hurt, until he stopped. Layne had turned into a child in front of my eyes. Every so often, I could understand what they were saying. Everything was always serious, there needed to be room for…release.

“They met ages and ages ago, before the show traveled. Vagrant used to be a part of it. Him and Doyle were good close friends for a spell – their families were close or something. Requiem idolized him; she modeled a lot of her life after him. Vagrant Ransom and Serkis were probably her biggest influences. The show traveled a lot though, when I disappeared…well – times are shifty. Somewhere along the way, her and him started going out. And one thing led to another and they got married. To keep the family name going, he said. It turns out that Doyle and Vagrant were both the last remaining namesakes of two great families. Ain’t that something?”

I nodded at the end of the story. It made sense that they’d find comfort in each other. I knew about the great families, there was a history of them written in blood, sweat, and tears. The volumes existed – they were the greatest legend of the streets. The infamous cycle, the tale of the fallen. It was there, in black and white, somewhere. “The Timeless Martyr Cycle,” it was called, a series of five pieces that comprised the history of thirty years of our home. Thirty years put into written word for us to see, an attempt to understand the differences made in that time. The history of leaders, the evolution of street demons…the whole works. Nobody alive had seen it, or if they had, they didn’t know where to find it. It was something that entire groups spent ages searching for, the value of which being infinite. But they were gone, or carefully preserved, protected…I wished that our legacy would live on to such an extent. But I knew I was just being…childish. Idealistic.

Layne got off the floor and helped me up carefully. I took his hand and dusted myself off. He looked me over, top to bottom. “Feel better now?”

I looked around, thinking about it. Layne was the most straightforward with me out of the entire crew. He had a hand under my chin, holding my face up to see my eyes. I nodded slowly. He kissed me on the cheek again and ushered me off.

“Thanks,” I muttered.

He was still smiling. “Go on home. There are bigger concerns at hand. Requiem should be making her grand reappearance soon. I’ll send Grey over to check in later. Just…stay away from chemicals, okay? Please? We love you – we don’t want to lose you. Ever. Okay? Ever. Just…remember that for me? For the family?”

I looked at him, his pleading eyes and almost desperate expression. He was praying for something, to a god that wouldn’t listen and didn’t care. I turned back and hugged him, losing myself in his depths. He wrapped his arms around me tightly.

“I promise,” I whispered. He kissed my forehead and sent me on my way again, seeming more satisfied with his answer. I went out the door with a lighter step and a heavier heart. I did matter – I wasn’t just a name or a number, not just facts on a stone. They would be affected

without me. Not because I was the ringmaster of their little show. But because I was family. Because they loved me. And I loved them. We all needed each other. “Need” is such a…superficial word…but it’s the only thing that comes to mind. No, we were devoted to one another. Now and forever. Always. Until death do us part.

Here’s to the marriage of interests. Of personalities. Of persons.

A new start. An enlightened beginning. A more obvious prologue.

As things go…I’ve been dying to live and living to die.

Here’s to living…to live.

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