Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Goodbye To A Good Friend. Part 6.

His Whispers filled my head. 

Filled every part of it. 

From then on, His Will was clear to me.

So long as I Listened for it.

He let me keep Alex and Leo as they were. But I needed to prove my loyalty.

His Whispers told me to kill Owen.

So I did.

His Whispers told me to make sure Jordan saw it.

So I did.

His Whispers told me... to Watch Jordan. To Follow her. Torment her.

To let her see the Truth that He taught me.

And then, when the time was right, I was to deliver her to Him.

So I did.

It was actually while I was on the road... following Jordan... when Valtiel introduced himself for the first time. He appeared out of thin air one evening. Fall was coming, and it was cold. I was... disoriented. Paranoid. Muttering to myself. I barely ate. Barely kept His Whispers from flooding through my mind and driving me insane each night as the temperature dropped and my body ached. As strange little thoughts danced on the edges of my brain and the world itself drifted away in the chilling grip...

I was stumbling through an alley - looking for a door that looked weak enough to break down in order to get out of the wind - when I suddenly felt a sharp increase in temperature. At first, I thought I was getting feverish. Even laughed a bit at the thought. But then I heard that voice for the first time. A smooth, pleasant voice that always had a habit of existing before its speaker did. Or, at least, that's what it seemed like.

I still remember his choice of words.

"Well, you're looking a little worse for the wear, now, aren't you, Sam?"

The figure I saw at the mouth of the alley... was someone - something - I'd never seen before then. His appearance made my groggy mind decide he was of Arabic descent, and he wore a black suit and tie over a dark red dress shirt that should have been too cold to get away with for the month. A long red scarf wrapped leisurely around his neck and draped down his shoulders. But there was something... strange about how he looked. He almost looked too... correct. Too... perfect. There was nothing about his appearance that was out of place, and that in itself seemed... wrong. Because it was too correct. Like something pulled from a magazine. An image of something that was of human shape, but was too correct to exist. Like a doll. There wasn't a strand of black hair that needed to be combed back, nor a thread on his scarf needing to be snipped. Not a speck of dirt or lint. Not a wrinkle of age nor a hint of a sleepless night...

Standing in that alley, he seemed... nearly alien.

Burning, Amber Eyes stared back at me. Openly. Pleasantly. Friendly. Just like the small smile he wore. But there was something behind that human expression. Something that twisted and slithered to fill the features. Something that was far too large to be contained in any human body. Something that brought the thought of snakes to my mind. A bag of them. Slipping and sliding over each other. Filling up the bag. A man-shaped bag...

He started walking towards me.

"...Do I... know you?" 

"No, but I know you. Our Father told me of you, you might say. 
 It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Sammy.
Though, I must say, you look absolutely frozen to the core. 
 When was the last time you got out of this frigid weather? Ah, no matter. 
We'll get you someplace warm to sleep tonight and we can talk a bit. 
Now, doesn't that sound nice? 

It's alright, Sam. You can trust me. 
We're Family, aren't we? We certainly are.
And Family looks for each other. 

Just like you did for Little Leo. 

Yes, Sam, I know about Leo.  And Laura too.
And how Alex is still refusing to answer the door a few States over. 

I've much interest in Proxies like you, Sam."

"...What's a... 'Proxy'?"

The heat in the alley increased with every step he took towards me.

The only thing that kept me from shrinking back was knowing that my knees would give out if I tried.

His frame wasn't much bigger than mine, and yet... he seemed to loom over me, all the same. Pressuring me. As if he existed not just in that body, but around it. Things seemed to... blur in his wake. As if his mere presence was a distortion. A mistake. A glitch. I tried blinking it away at first, thinking I was just tired, but it remained. And, I noticed, it even seemed to get worse... if you tried looking past him.

And yet he himself looked flawless in the center of it. Too flawless.

He introduced himself. Held out his hand for me to take.

I flinched away from it like a skittish deer. I didn't know what he was. He wasn't human, though he could act the part well. I couldn't understand it. The Whispers were getting louder and I just kept seeing the snakes. I almost thought... I could see them then. Shifting and sliding beneath that too-flawless skin. It made me feel sick.

That smile never changed. Amber Eyes remaining on mine as he kept that hand extended. Waiting.

I forced my arm to extend. And, just before my hand took his offered one... I noticed there wasn't a single line on his hands either. Not even a Life Line.

And it was from that hand... that a sheer heat rose. Spreading up my arm and through my chest. Chasing off the last chills of the night... to be replaced by the sun on a hot summer day. Pleasant and warm. Summer days which were a long ways away from where I stood then... but I wasn't complaining. I wasn't objecting. Not to that. It lifted the ache from the depths of my bones and muscles. All the tension and knots easing away, bit by bit...

When I opened my eyes (though I didn't remember closing them), I was in a small restaurant. It wasn't very busy, but it was some sort of bar and grill type. Probably a Ma-And-Pa brand. The smells in the air made me forget all about the sudden jump we'd taken and my stomach growled in approval, but I hadn't much of a chance to think of how there was barely a cent in my wallet before the snap of fingers called my attention. Valtiel was seated at the booth beside me (smiles and snakes) and gestured to the empty booth across from him with one loose hand.

He told me to sit.

I complied.

Despite what my stomach thought, I didn't feel all that hungry. I hadn't been. Not since the Whispers began. It was hard to think of other things when they were there. Hard to even remember to eat. They made my mind itch. I could barely sleep some nights...

Quite self-conscious of the fact that I looked like little more than a homeless bum, I tried to pay no mind to the other customers at their own tables. Tried my best to play invisible, you could say. But a slow, deep laugh from the thing who's company I shared told me I was having very little success in that regard. As if my every thought - every intention - was written across my forehead. He leaned forward. Placing his elbows on the table and interlacing his fingers in front of him as those inhuman eyes stared at me from over the dome he had created. His line-less hands just barely concealing that unpleasantly pleasant smile.

He said he knew I had questions. A mind full of them. As that's all I'd ever done all my life, wasn't it?

"Remember, class: No Answers for No Questions Asked."

He said he'd tell me whatever it was I wanted.

But I had to ask the right questions first.

And what it came down to... was that there was an Organization. A Cult-Centered Business that managed Proxies throughout the country. That managed operations as large as some of the most powerful companies in the world... and as small as things like the little restaurant that we were sitting in so comfortably. He explained that it was all undercover. All done to both Support and Hide where their true loyalties lie. He said I was to be a Field Agent once I got my feet under me. That that was my Place. That I was to continue to Follow Jordan... but only after I was fed into the System. 

Internally, I was already saying no. And, as if in response, those Amber Eyes glinted. Shifted. I began to feel more and more like I shouldn't be looking into them at all. In my mind, that bag of snakes suddenly mutated into the form of a single, massive Cobra. Reared back and poised. Sizing up its target...

He went on saying that the Organization had heard of my Conversion, and that they were coming to round me up soon. Very soon. To feed me into their System just like every other Convert. Because they didn't like Strays, you see. Still don't. Free Agents caused too many issues. Too many problems. Made too many loose ends.

They liked the leash tight.

I told Valtiel that The Whispers said to Follow Jordan. That it was His Will and I couldn't just stop. That I had to keep going. That I didn't know anything about any kind of Organization. That I'd never even heard of the term "Proxy" before he had said it. That, maybe, JUST maybe... he was mistaking me for someone else.

That smile instantly grew.

He assured me that the Highers weren't quite dumb enough to oppose any True Orders I had. But True Orders only came when He wished it. And not a second before. In the meantime, I had other matters to tend to. He told me... that it was in my best interest to go along with what the Organization wanted. That they could supply all I needed. And, when I told him I didn't need anything, he actually laughed. Asking me what I was going to do for money. For food. For clothes and a roof over my head. He asked if I was getting much sleep waiting for the cops to arrest me for breaking and entering. Asking me if I still thought it had been a good idea to use the last of my money to buy warm(ish) clothes instead of simply stealing them. Questioning how I'd been willing to commit murder, but how something like stealing just... hadn't come to mind. And now, instead of stealing food, I just wasn't eating. He asked how that was working out.

And, of course, that wasn't even mentioning my stupendous lack of any training once or ever.

I tore my eyes down to my hands on my lap. Not saying a word. He was right. I knew he was right. But I didn't want to voice it... and definitely not to those prying eyes. I became conscious of the aroma from the kitchen which seemed even stronger than before. Bacon cooking, maybe? If so, it was burning. But, no, that wasn't quite right either. It was difficult to pin-point. Not to mention a waste of time to try. But I wasn't willing to match that Amber gaze again, so I let my stare lift just enough to drift across the other faces in the room...

My blood ran cold.

I recognized them.

Every single one.

Every single face.

All sitting and chatting with each other.

Teachers. Students. Parents of students. Old Friends. New Friends. Neighbors. Colleagues.


They were scattered. All chatting in their own groups. But there was something they all had in common. Something that churned my stomach and fuzzed over my mind even as I struggled to grip what I was seeing. Even as my throat closed up and my mouth went dry.

They were all dead.

All of them.

Some had fallen to alcoholism over the years. Some to drugs. Some to freak accidents or medical complications. Others... others were... a lot fresher than that...

I saw my grandfather. He was puffing on his pipe just like he used to in every memory I have of him... and yet the smoke came out of gaping holes in his chest instead of his mouth. His chest nearly completely rotted away to expose black, cancer-filled lungs. He was chatting with my neighbor in University who'd ODed at a party on campus. Their nostrils in the same condition as my grandfather's chest and his arms ripped apart by years of using needles. All the holes now oozing and dripping. Foam dripping to the table from his mouth as he spoke.

Across the room was my fourth grade teacher who had died in a car accident. Her twin boys had perished with her when she lost control and hit a tree. Both of which were parked on the bench on either side of her. Blood puddling over the seats and down onto the floors. Their bodies mangled and bent wrong ways. And, sitting with them, was Nigel. The boy who laid a bullet into my chest and ended the lives of many others... before swallowing a bullet of his own. When he turned his head just right - laughing - I could see where the bullet had exited the back of his skull. The remains of brain and bone dangling, pulsing, amongst blood.

The faces of the other students and teachers from that tragic event peppered the remaining crowd. All their bullet wounds bleeding heavily as they spoke to others I once knew. 

A teenage boy who was swollen twice his size. Peanut allergy, I recall. The son of a colleague.

A parent of a student who had a heart-attack. The struggling organ bulging out of his chest with each beat. 

A friend of a friend who I knew only enough to recognize her. Still carrying strangle marks around her neck and wearing that pink prom dress. Torn and disheveled. Blood down the inside of her thighs.

And then there was... a nurse at a table closer to us... with massive blunt-force head trauma that had crushed in at her temple and was bleeding freely down her side. She was flirting with a man who I'd traveled with for months. Owen. His entire body covered in burns from head to toe...

I heard a scream... and realized it was my own. Screaming for it to stop as I scrambled from my seat. Dashing for the door. Cutting right through the gathering of too-familiar faces to get to it. A solid wood door... with no handle. And I noticed a mere half second later... that there weren't any windows either. 

I pounded on the door. Screaming for it to open. For someone to hear me. For someone - anyone - to get me out. Fresh tears staining my face as I listened to the laughter and conversations slowly bleed... into the shrieks and screams of terror and agony as each figure realized their own suffering. Adding their voice, one by one, to the deafening roar of pain that engulfed the restaurant. That swallowed everything. That clawed at my mind until all I could do was scream with them. My hands gripping my skull. My ears. 

And yet... I still heard his footsteps come up behind me. The Snake. The one who had brought me there. He crossed the room at a leisurely walk. Forearms crossed behind his back. Still wearing that same damn smile as he stared down at me.
He mused over the fragility of humans. 

Their baffling desire to "conquer the whole wide world" before they could even manage to conquer their own minds.

How simple it was to reduce a human to nothing. 

Once you take away the magic tricks.

Once you know their deepest secrets.

The secrets they kept from even themselves.

He told me I could be a Good Servant, but that I was "a guppy in a school of sharks". That I hadn't a single clue what I'd signed up for. That the suffering of those in this pretty little prison... they were the sufferers of MY world. Not His. Not Theirs. That, if I couldn't bear to hear the cries of cancer patients and road accidents... he pondered what would happen to my mind... when I started realizing what True Suffering was...

From amongst the chaos, a scream I knew all too well began above all the other voices. 

An agonized, hissing wail that I could never forget as long as I live...

I clamped my hands over my ears. Curling over myself. Yelling against it. I didn't want to hear that anymore. Not her. Not my Laura...

I felt a warm touch on my shoulder. The words he spoke delivered straight into my mind.

Valtiel told me... that, if I truly wanted to survive, I was to enter the Organization. I was to be their Dog, but to never forget who it was I truly Served. 

He said that there would be, however, one matter to take care of in the short time between now and then. Telling me that, if the Organization heard of Alex and Leo as anything other than dead... then they would be quick to correct that little problem. That they didn't like their Agents to carry any weaknesses. Any ties to the world of the Norms. Valtiel himself, however, was intrigued. Intrigued by the idea... that someone as useless as me just might be able to get turned into a True Soldier. He wanted to give me a chance at it, but knew I wouldn't unless Alex and Leo were alive. The Highers wouldn't understand that, but he did. Because he knew I needed a reason to go through with it. To not just die like all the rest of the sheep. A reason to rebuild who I was. He said he was willing to help me keep that reason intact. 

He told me that, if I could bury them... he'd make sure both found the care I wanted for them in new lives. 

But it was still up to me to grab the shovel. 

To figure it out. 

And fast.

 "Tick, tock, Sammy. Time to wake up."

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