It is nearly dawn when Carl drops us off just outside of downtown. During the trip we talked almost non-stop, and while I could have used some sleep, talking with Carl had been pleasant in its own right. I had been living low for so long that I had forgotten how nice it was to talk with normal people. Surrounding myself with what the news and politicians labeled the underbelly of society had been my choice, but they were not often the greatest conversationalists. The price of drugs and whores often dominated conversation at the best of times, death, starvation and crime at the worst.
Carl told me about his kids (Amy was six and Billy was ten), his wife (Glenda, his high school sweetheart), his job (he was looking at going independent), all of the things that made his life complete. I’m sure that some of the influence I had exerted helped him get started, but by the time he had dropped us off I knew that his good natured banter was part of who he was and was flowing naturally. I thank him once again as Julia and I get out and shut the door. He smiles and waves as he drives off.
While I had listened to our cabbie, Julia had slipped into a fitful sleep. It was too soon to be a withdrawal, so I’m sure it was the fear of the night racing through her subconscious as she slept. For all the horrors that the streets hold for most people, Julia had kept clear of some of the darkest parts. Fleeing from Albert had touched a nerve. I do not know if she has figured it out yet or not, but there is no way we can go back to the old neighborhood.
It is a death sentence the moment anyone recognizes us and that means no more drugs for Julia. If she didn’t realize it before, she will figure it out when she can’t get her morning fix. Julia is a good soul, she has just suffered a bad life so far and I was doing my best to help get her on the right path. An established addiction and no regular place to sleep at night makes recovery difficult, but I wasn’t here because things would be easy. She is worth saving and I am not going to fail her.
I stroll over to the bus stop that Carl left us at and note the first bus isn’t due for another hour. I don’t feel comfortable sitting on the wide open bench as the sun starts coming up. The sunlight would feel wonderful and the morning is not so cold as to make the wait uncomfortable. Our run down bus stop from last night had provided a place of refuge, as all such places do in the dark and pain filled parts of the world, but this stop is in a nicer part of town and is exposed to all who drove by.
I can’t risk one of Albert’s associates driving down this particular road and spotting us, intentionally or otherwise, so we head off the main road looking for a little shelter so we can plan our next move. It is the bitterest irony that the light that gives us hope and chases away the monsters of our mind is the same light that makes it so easy for the mundane monsters of the world to find us. Most villains prefer the night and the cloak of anonymity it provides, but it is rare that they completely shun the light, especially when they are hunting.
“Come on, Julia, let’s get off the street before the sun starts coming up.” She grumbles, but follows along once I grab her hand and pull her into the neighborhood that rests against the street where the bus stop stands. The third house down the street has a sale sign in the yard and the grass looks unkempt, so I peek in a window. The place is empty. I look around and see no one looking so we sneak into the backyard. I employ a small amount of will upon the back door’s lock, popping it open and letting us in.
The house is completely bare. The musty stink of stagnant air fills it, making me want to sneeze. The thin light of early dawn peeks around the edges of the thick curtains. We move to the front of home so that I can look out of the windows without being seen. Traffic is light, but steady. Car after unremarkable car drifts past the bus stop, but none of them slow down. I know Albert is coming for us and I doubt we are lucky enough for his goons to not notice the taxi company or the cab number. They will be hot on our trail soon enough.
Julia leans against the wall, sweat breaks out on her forehead, and her skin is starting to lose its color. I forgot how much of a junky she truly is. I have been amongst addicts for so long that I have grown blind to it and I am still surprised when it comes forward. In the time I have known Julia I have only ever seen her go without a fix once, and that was because she was late paying her dealer. She was good at getting money and keeping a steady stream of heroin coming her way.
When I gave up my old life so long ago I had never imagined that I would end up where I was. Grand visions of feeding the poor and making a difference had filled my head. I was tired of being detached, feeling like I made little real difference in the lives of the people I was assigned to help. So I gave up the power and the celestial prestige of my position in order to get my hands dirty amongst the people I wanted to help. The gritty reality of the material world was far different than it seemed when viewed from above.
A tortured moan from Julia draws my attention back to the present, pushing away the thoughts of a past that was and a present that will never be. I have made little difference in the lives of the junkies, whores and criminals around me, but I have learned very much about what it means to be human. It is little consolation at this moment and I would give much to have all of my power back in my possession. I need to save this girl more than I needed to save myself and that is going to be difficult.
We still have some time left before the bus is due so I decide to try a little meditation. When I first fell I had used prayer, though I doubted I was being heard. As time went on my prayers felt hollow and I gained little from them. Meditation seemed a reasonable alternative, though it did no more than the prayers when it came to maintaining the little power I had left. I knew it would happen, but living a life of simple mortality had proven to be more difficult than I had expected. Go figure.
I feel myself slipping into a place of calm inner refuge, letting my worries slide away. I know the respite is temporary, but I set it all aside, if only for a few minutes. I try something new, searching for the spark within me. I’ve sensed it before, but I feared reaching for it. What if I touched it? Would my powers return? Would I be called back into the fold? Would I be punished?
Being afraid sucks. Mortal life has filled me with more than my share of fear, but now is not the time to be afraid.
I push my way past the fear and doubt within, searching out my place of peace. Most people who spend half their lives meditating can achieve that mythical Zen-like state almost immediately, but I struggle with it every time I try. I can never get all of the darkness I have seen out my mind, much less my heart. I reach a compromise within myself at a certain point, but it never comes quickly. Today I force my way past all of the hurtful clutter of my soul, reaching for the spark that has eluded me for so long.
Time slows as I travel deeper and deeper into my subconscious. I feel the spark, pulsing with a regular beat of its own. I push myself further, finding my way around walls and through doors that I had put in place so many years ago. Recognition flits through my mind as I delve and it worries me that I have come to this point despite having sworn to forgo that which I had been created for. My friends thought me mad when I chose to leave the presence of the Light. Right now I find it hard to disagree.
I come to a point where I can go no further. There is a wall before me, the bricks fashioned from the heartbreak and loss of my past. My life before this one, a thousand-thousand years of misery suffered in silence, marked me though I remember little. It took an eye-blink of humanity to transform my pain into something tangible, something I could no longer ignore. I search my heart and know that I will not ignore it even if I could. I run my fingers over the wall and the agony etched through the mortar read like brail beneath my fingers, an autobiography I did not wish to write.
It feel like hours pass as I search my wall, but I know from experience that it has been a handful of moments. I read the tale and seek the cracks knowing they are there. All walls have cracks and a patient man can use those cracks to break the wall. I didn’t know how long it would take to break through my wall, but I had to start or the wall would never fall and I would never regain my spark. My search becomes frantic. I am impatient and I am full of fear. I need that spark.
Eventually I find a crack. I should not even call it that, it is more of a defect that I can turn into a crack. It is oh so small and it will take a long time to turn it into anything more than an aberration in the entire structure. Say what you will about me, but I am damn good at hiding things from myself. It is not a skill that is all that useful most of the time, but I know secret agents would kill for my powers of self-denial. It is a rare gift.
I work my fingers across the mortar, slowly wearing it away. I scrape until my fingernails are worn away and my fingers bleed. The progress is slow and painful, but I can sense the deformation weakening ever so slightly.
I feel a pull at my concentration, a niggling sensation of some force I cannot ignore. I release my focus and fall away from the wall, drifting backward faster and faster. Reality returns in place of my internal prison sanctuary.
“Justin, I don’t feel so good.” Julia has woken up and I can read the ravages of withdrawal written across her face.
I shake my head, clearing away the last traces of inner peace, and focus on Julia. “It will be okay, Jules. You just need a fix is all.” I made it sound simple, but neither of us had any heroine on us and looking for it would certainly bring the attention of Albert. “Just close your eyes and I will help as much as I can.” I look at my watch before placing my hands on hers. “The bus will be here soon, Jules, then we’ll see about getting you right.”
I did not find the spark, but there is still enough power within me to bring her a little peace, at least for now. The longer she goes without, the more I will need and I do not think I will be able to help her much longer. I can give her a little sense of peace, which will blunt the edge some, but that will only work for a couple more hours. The poor kid needs her fix soon or she will end up sicker than I can deal with while on the run.
I focus my thoughts, pushing aside the danger we are in and pouring as much positivity through the narrow conduit I can still access. I feel it creep along slowly until it drips from my fingertips into her arm. Julia breaks out in goose bumps, all of the fine hairs that are exposed stand straight as the power enters her. She is out of it enough to not know it is coming from me, but she will sense someone within her thoughts. I hope she will forget the sensation rather than hunt for it as a heroine substitute.
The kind of peace that I am capable of delivering can be quite addictive in its own right. While it won’t kill or damage someone physically, it is known to induce madness once it’s gone. I don’t think Julia will be at risk because I am giving her so little and she iss in so much pain, but this is definitely not a long term solution. There was a time when I could have cured her addiction outright and maybe I could do that still one day, but that takes time that we don’t have.
I give as much as I can before withdrawing my touch and slumping back against the wall. My mouth is dry and my eyes hurt, but Julia is no longer whimpering where she sits. I close my eyes and wait for my body to produce tears and saliva once more.
It takes a couple of minutes, but when I open my eyes again they no longer feel like my eyelids are made of sandpaper and swallowing doesn’t make me choke on my own throat. Julia is looking at me, her eyes wide open, concern and fear etched upon her face.
I expected her to be a little more lucid, but still fatigued. She looks like she just woke up from a night of blissful sleep that had ended with a nightmare of bewilderment and terror. “Justin, what the hell is going on?” Her words are halting, a quiet stutter prefacing each word as if she has acquired a chill that makes her voice shiver. “I feel empty, scrubbed clean and left hollow.” She is silent a moment, her eyes locked on mine, searching for answers to the question forming in her mind. “What did you do to me?”
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