I had been out.
At first, it had simply been a walk to help settle a restless mind. A mind that was refusing to let some matters rest long enough for me to work. To sleep. To focus. So I thought I'd leave the Family Business in the hands of the others and go for a bit of a walk through the streets of the nearby city. Letting my single soul get lost amongst the flow of so many others going about their normal activities. Not paying much mind as to where I was headed, but more to who surrounded me as I went along my way. My pace leisurely taking me along. Playing the part of just another face in the crowd...
Just a stranger in jeans and a thin, long-sleeve turtleneck.
No more. No less.
Do you think... you would have recognized me if we had brushed shoulders, my friends?
They certainly didn't.
I moved among them without even one questionable glance given. Brushing past figures exiting a bus. Making way for a business man so obviously late for some important meeting elsewhere. Standing beside a mother and two young girls, waiting for a red hand across the street to switch to a green, walking figure. When it did, we crossed the road together. A mere step of difference between her family and I. And I couldn't help but wonder then (or now)... if my presence made her uneasy. If, for a reason unknown to her, deep down inside... her instincts whispered a warning. I wondered if she held her girls' hands a bit tighter. Kept them a bit closer. Was more aware of my steps following hers in comparison to the teenage couple that had been to my left.
I called her 'Diane'. Of course, it would be nothing short of miraculous luck if that, indeed, was her real name, but it was the name I gave her while our paths were the same. And her two girls. Hannah and Ashley. Two little blonde haired sweethearts. One perhaps seven. The other, nine. One, chatty. The other, quiet. Both looking very much healthy. Filled to the brim with the spark of young life. Even though their clothes obviously weren't new or brand name, they still sparkled with color. With energy. With innocence.
In contrast, however... Diane's clothes were faded and worn. The handbag she had hooked on an almost too-pointy shoulder had had its straps mended back in place once or twice. And the zipper itself was broken. Stuck part way down one side. The smile she turned to her children was a tired one. One which was reflected in the bags under her eyes. Amateurishly "covered" with concealer. Her hair was thin, almost seeming balding underneath the facade of the bun it was pulled back into... and I had to wonder. Cancer? Leukemia? She was obviously ill, but still smiled down to the children. Both blissfully unaware of how frail their mother appeared to the world...
Later on, I encountered Jim. A nearly stereotypical blue-collar type. A plumber or an electrician, perhaps. He was gathering up a few tools out from the back of a van. Shoulders broad and chin fashioning a beard, he seemed fairly average. A little overweight. Gut bulging out a bit over his belt. Only, what I found interesting, was the charm on to his cell phone attached to said belt. A "Hello Kitty" face. A gift, perhaps? From a daughter? A niece? A sister? Or perhaps it was his own symbol for something else entirely. An inside joke.
Tessa had a piece of toast in her mouth as she juggled a coffee, an assortment of portfolios, and a briefcase. Attempting to fish her keys out of her purse in order to open her car door. Black-rim glasses and a black dress-suit giving her the look of a lawyer. The red marks on the back of her ankles suggested new high-heels. As did her striding which was barely noticeable to be a bit shorter than what would be natural with someone of her build. Attempting to dress to impress, maybe. A new boss? A new client? An attempt to look younger? I'd be leaning towards the latter, personally.
Beverly, on the other hand, was sitting by the side of the road with eyes red and swollen from tears. Waiting for a ride, it seemed like. A heavy bruise on her cheek and a duffel-bag at her side. Cell-phone in hand. Texting. I noticed that a slight swelling had begun over her belly. Subtle, but there. The beginnings of a new life... one which I wondered if she was even aware of yet.
And, of course, there was Arnold. A young man who was having a bit of car-trouble. And, by that, I mean his scouting for a car to steal was painful obvious to any who saw him. He was mumbling to himself with nerves. Knuckles scarred and lip torn. Moving with a bit of a limp. I imagine he flubbed up his job before this one as well...
A new face and a new story around every turn.
Eventually, I came to find a seat on a bench. Just watching the world move. Watching its people go about their lives. Moving a sharp eye from one figure to the next. Picking details. Attempting to piece together their lives from what I could see. From what they told me by how they dressed. Moved. Acted. Spoke. Just a simple mental exercise. Letting my mind drift over possibilities.
I enjoyed the guessing game.
It was easier than attempting to answer the other questions that ran through my mind.
About that Town and the things I saw within.
About Lockjaw's flashdrive and computer. Her files that I was in the middle of decoding.
About Iblis and the figure I now call "Shooter".
About Valtiel's recent visits.
About Redlight's near disappearance.
About Malfatto's last words to me when we parted ways.
No, it was simpler to play my little mind game then to work through questions which had no available answers anyway. Simpler to pretend myself invisible as the world went around as it always does. Simpler to let my curiosity take over as I watched Normal Lives go about their business. Their daily drama. Letting my mind drift backwards in time to days when I myself went about the same drama...
And then... it started to rain.
I didn't bother moving from my seat as it started coming down - instead choosing to watch as figures hunched their shoulders against the offending element and picked up their pace. As they darted into buildings. Ran to their cars. All in such a rush...
All because of water. Simple. Basic. Water.
It amused me.
Even as the rain came down in absolute buckets, I neverminded it. Letting it soak me to the bone. Head turned up to the sky as I listened to the drops attack the city. Like a million drums. A symphony with the assistance of metal. Concrete. Pavement. Wood. Plastic. All giving a different pitch to the beat...
It was calming.
I barely even felt cold.
And then, from amongst it all, a fog began to roll in. Peaceful. Slow. As if it itself was out for the same leisurely stroll I had been on. It should have seemed odd at the time... but... it honestly didn't.
Next thing I knew, I heard a voice call out.
It was rough with age, like that of a grandfather, and my attention was taken under its wing nearly instantly. Drawing my eye to the figure of an old man. Withered and gray. Struggling in the rain to keep hold on the various packages in his arms as well as keep up his large umbrella. His words seemed so... natural at the time. Soothing. A simple request of a "youngster" to help him out...
I'm honestly not sure what came over me... but it felt like an obligation rose inside. Like it would be against the grain to turn the man down. To ignore the call and walk away. Whatever the reason, the man didn't have to ask twice. I had already stood and walked the short distance over. Taking a few of the packages from his load as he shifted the umbrella to hold the water off both our heads. I made a simple comment about carrying heavy burdens with my typical smile on my lips... and that was even as I wondered to myself what I was doing. It wasn't normal for me to interact with the... "Old World" so to speak. I just liked to watch. Only watch. Not interfere.
This was new.
He expressed thanks and commented about my actions being rare as "Most'a you youngins these days wouldn't be bothered helpin' an Old Man out."
My only response was that I had a spare moment or three.
I had nothing else to say to explain myself. I was... confused. So I asked what was the most obvious question considering my involvement: where he was headed. He simply said "The House" and that it "ain't far". Going on about how he was surprised that anyone even knew what a spare moment was anymore. Saying how he appreciated the help and how I "looked like the helpful sort". Commenting about how I have "Good Eyes" that, apparently, "show a devotion to [my] duty."
He began to walk.
I followed alongside. Offering only a simple comment that the world had become a hectic place. That pausing tends to mean falling behind for most. And yet... it seemed that I let something else entirely slip. Something I'd tried to ignore. I'm not sure what exactly betrayed me when he motioned my "Good Eyes", but, obviously, those dark gray eyes of his caught onto something... and used it to shift the conversation forward even more.
He apologized at first. Assuring me that he hadn't meant to offend me. Once again referring to me as "youngster" as he went on about how it was "gettin' rarer" to see eyes like mine...
And then there was something else. Something that I remember as clear as day. That nearly feels engraved into my mind. Branded...
"I've seen a lot a different eyes over the years. The bad ones are gettin' more common. Take this one feller I know. Amber Colored eyes that burn like Hellfire, and at the same time look so cold. Those are a Snake's eyes. Eyes that shouldn't be trusted under any circumstances. Ya hear? Those kind a people need to be avoided by kids like you."
I... hadn't realized until after... that he had specified so greatly. At the time, I would swear that he hadn't said anything even remotely this detailed. And yet... this is what I remember. This is what is in my head right at this very moment. That same grandfatherly voice speaking as if he was still here. So clear. Nearly impossibly clear... and yet, when I was walking with the man in that blanket of rain and fog... it had seemed like stereotyping. The "wise" mutterings of an old soul that was desperately clinging onto some old fashion delusion about eyes being set too close together or something of that likeness...
But, in my head, I recall it as so much more now.
How... could I have possibly missed that?
And then, as fast as the topic came, it was dropped. Swapped. Exchanged. The questions became rather personal. Asking if I had a spouse since I "looked the age to." I went along with the chit-chat. Answering his inquiries just as fast as he would fire them. Making it sound as if Alex and I had had a divorce. Most... would normally back off at such a mention. Let an awkward silence draw out... but not this man. Not this company I had gained and knew not what to do with. He continued to ask one question after another. About Alex's happiness now that we were "separated." About my own happiness. Asking if I knew what a "Stepford Smiler" was when I tossed out my little line about finding a reason to smile. Something that I immediately questioned as to the difference between someone who wears a fake smile and someone who finds reason to wear one...
He asked if I Alex and I had had kids.
I said yes.
"Boy or girl?"
My response... surprised even me. It was the Truth, but a Truth that I tended not to mind. That I tended not to mention. After all... Laura had entered the world dead. Or as good as. She was born while we had been on the Run, you see. Alex, Leo, Owen, Jordan, and I were still moving together at the time and had had a... particularly horrifying evening. One which had us traveling far over the speed limit in our panic to get away...
There had been an accident.
It was a miracle we all got out of that tangled mess of metal alive... but the trauma triggered labor prematurely. Laura's "life" lasting only a few hours. Major health complications.
And, by the next morning, I was in His Service.
Even as I bit back the word that had dropped from my tongue, the memory of that dawn came back. The smell of the grass out in front of the hospital. Remembering the bite of the dew against my skin when I had collapsed down on my hands and knees. When I had collapsed down in front of Him. Feeling that bite sink down deep into my flesh and into my very bones. The flimsy hospital gown I wore doing nothing to hinder the attacking dampness as I trembled and cried in front of the very being that had brought the chaos onto me. Onto my whole family. My fingers clawing into the grass. Threading in. Clinging to it for dear life as I felt His touch for the first time. As I felt His influence rush through my mind for the first time. Prying into every last corner I had...
Now that, my friends, had been painful.
And that was what I had to shove from my mind as my company's questions continued. Asking about Leo. Asking if I thought my children were resting in heaven. Asking if I thought they'd be proud of me.
And, thankfully, it was that memory that made me conscious... of the fog that had somehow enveloped my mind. A haze that had drifted into place so gradually that I hadn't noticed. Hadn't realized. Not until my tongue started to get looser and looser...
And when I turned a sharp eye to my company... when I began ignoring his questions in favor of asking my own... he only smiled in return. A kind smile. A look that was reflected in dark eyes as he drifted to a stop and gestured ahead of us. Informing me that we had arrived.
The fog cleared... and, before me, stood a house that was all too familiar. A home that I used to call my own. Back before His presence took over our lives and it burnt to cinders. A modest building, but cozy. Charming. The sound of a child's laughter - a laughter that sounded so much like Leo's - echoed from within those walls. A figure in the window matching the silhouette of Alex. Cradling a baby. A lullaby we used to use on raining days drifting on the air...
Little raindrop soldiers
Marching from the sky;
In uniforms of silver
I see them passing by.
Their drums, they beat, a ratta-tat-tat,
Their little feet going pitter-pitter-pat
If he expected me to flinch. To falter or fall apart... he left disappointed.
It wasn't the first illusion I'd been subject to. Probably won't be the last either.
I asked what he wanted.
My only answer was silence. And, when I turned, it was just to catch the very last of his figure disappearing into the fog. Those eyes still on me as he vanished. The packages that I was carrying disappearing with him in just a blink of an eye. The house I stood in front of at that point... had been abandoned long ago. Near condemned.
I didn't waste time dwelling. I just turned and left. My boots splashing through puddles as the last of the rain pitter-pattered weakly from the clouds above. The old rhyme playing over and over in my head...
The little raindrop soldiers
Have lots of work to do;
The thirsty earth they'll water,
And fill the rivers, too.
Their drums, they beat, a ratta-tat-tat,
Their little feet going pitter-pitter-pat,